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The year Jimin turns 21 is the year the Orchid Dragon is fated to wake from his slumber. His kingdom rings in the new year with a suitably massive celebration, of which Jimin is the center. It’s a prettier sounding job in theory than in practice; he spends most of the festival seated in a red and gold throne by the king, trying not to doze off. The night before he had spent riddled with vivid dreams, none of which he remembered upon waking. He wonders if it has anything to do with this being the year. 

Jimin has been preparing since birth for the rise of the Orchid Dragon, and every previous year has built up to this one. He watches the kites whizzing through the sky in the distance as the ministers line up to pay their respects and feels anticipation knot his belly. This is the year, and he’s excited. Mostly, he’s nervous. He may have been preparing for this his entire life, but part of him is still doubtful. Will he be good enough for the Orchid Dragon? Will he be able to serve his kingdom the way he is meant to? 

By the time the feast begins, Jimin’s belly is knotted a hundred times over, and he barely touches the food his attendants bring him. 

“Come now, Lotus Dragon.” The king’s voice is smooth and coaxing by his side. “How will we ring in an auspicious new year if you do not even eat?”

“I am anxious,” Jimin admits, gaze averted out of respect. “I hope only to succeed in my duties this year.”

“I have no doubt you will,” he says, assured. “Now, eat.”

Jimin takes a bite obediently just as the dancers assemble in the courtyard. 

He’s tired when he returns to his home, a dwelling he has all to himself at a short ride from the palace, despite having done nothing but sit. His caretaker, Seokjin, notices his exhaustion right away. He promises a cup of herbal tea and disappears, leaving Jimin’s attendants to help him undress. They carefully unravel him from his ceremonial robes and put them away, helping him into his sleeping robes before they prepare his bed for the night. 

“Drink all of it,” Seokjin warns when he enters with a tray of steaming hot tea. Jimin settles on the floor cushion behind his desk with a huffy sigh and takes a sip of tea, burning his tongue right away. Seokjin returns his betrayed look with a judging one. “How old did you turn today, Lotus Dragon?”

His voice is a mocking singsong, and Jimin glares at him. He blows on his tea to cool it before he takes his next sip. 

“Is there anything else you require tonight, Lotus Dragon?” Mina asks. She and the others have laid his bed out. He shakes his head. 

“No, you may leave me.” They bow their way out, but Seokjin lingers, lips pursed. Jimin glares at him. “You, too.”

Seokjin edges reluctantly toward the screen door. “Don’t be nervous,” he finally blurts, and Jimin finds himself fighting a smile. “Goodnight, Lotus Dragon.”

“Goodnight,” Jimin calls, softer, but Seokjin is already sliding the screen shut behind him. 

As soon as he’s gone, Jimin pulls a scroll out of his desk drawer and unrolls it carefully, scooting his tea aside to make room. He has looked at it countless times, but even now the image makes his breath catch. Two dragons, twined around each other, reaching for the sky. The Lotus Dragon is a blend of yellows and reds, bright like the sun. The Orchid Dragon is blues and greens with a mane of pure white. Jimin’s fingers hover over the paper, tracing the shapes without daring to touch. 

After a moment, he puts the scroll away and retrieves its partner - the one he only dares to look at sometimes. It has been a while since he looked at it, but he thinks that tonight is a special night, and he has the right to look. It’s his fate, after all. As he unrolls it, revealing hints of the painting inside, the blush on his cheeks grows hotter. The Orchid Dragon’s human form is bigger than the Lotus Dragon’s, and the difference is made stark by the way he’s leaning over him. His robes slip off his shoulders, revealing a strong back, and his long hair conceals his face from view. It’s only the Lotus Dragon who is unhidden, lying in the pond with his legs hitched around the Orchid Dragon’s waist, his back arched in ecstasy and his head tossed back to bare his smooth neck. Around them is a splash of color - yellow for the Lotus Dragon, blue for the Orchid Dragon. 

It’s Jimin’s face in the painting, down to the very last detail. His full lips and slender eyes, sharp jaw and full cheeks. Each Lotus Dragon is born again with the same face. The Orchid Dragon’s face has never been permitted to be drawn, though it does not need to be. The stories tell of the way he makes himself known when he wakes, the burst of power that comes forth. Jimin stares at his counterpart in the painting, at this person who is both him and not him, and marvels at the pure ecstacy on his face. He wonders what it would feel like to take the Orchid Dragon into himself. 

Flushing hotter, Jimin rolls the scroll up and stows it away. He rises abruptly, abandoning his tea, and goes to his balcony. The screen is half-open for the fresh air, and he slips out, gazing out at the vast expanse of forest that stretches before him. He clutches the railing and looks up at the sky, his belly aflutter with nerves.

“Are you coming?” he breathes, soft into the night air. 

A flash of light catches his eye, and he turns to watch a shooting star on its path down, leaving a streak of gold in its wake. Jimin’s heart skips a beat. He swallows past a dry throat and clenches his trembling fingers into fists. 

It’s him. It must be. 

Jimin turns away and flees back into his room, giddiness turning his steps light until he feels like he’s floating on air. 

When Seokjin comes to wake him up in the morning, Jimin waves him off so that he can keep on sleeping. That means that when the king comes to visit, Jimin is still eating breakfast in his nightclothes. Everyone’s thrown into a panic; the king never visits. Jimin can count his visits on one hand, and he’s been living here since he was a child. His attendants hurry to clear away his half-eaten breakfast and fold up his bed, and Seokjin shoves him behind his screen so he can tug his clothes off. 

“Hold still,” Seokjin hisses, tossing Jimin’s robes carelessly to the floor so he can begin to tuck him into his hanbok. 

Jimin can hear voices outside, and his heart’s beating hard with the sudden rush of preparation. His attendants take over for Seokjin so that he can go out and greet the king; Jimin waits with bated breath as one attendant ties his hanbok together and the other yanks his hair into a topknot. The voices draw nearer, and he can hear Seokjin, deferential, as he apologizes for Jimin’s delay. 

By the time Jimin’s ready, the king is already seated in the room, waiting for him. Jimin sinks into a bow before he can get a good look at his face to see whether or not he looks angry. When he rises, he keeps his gaze down out of respect. 

“I apologize, Your Grace,” he says. “I slept in and was honored to hear of your arrival.”

“Of course. Be easy. Last night was a late one for all of us, no?”

“Yes, it was.”

Jimin dares to look at him, although he refrains from meeting his eyes. Youngwoo is a handsome man, as if his rank wasn’t intimidating enough on its own. He’s only a handful of years older than Jimin, still unmarried, to the disapproval of his ministers. He had ascended the throne when he was only 16 after the death of both his parents to illness, later proving himself in battle. As far as Jimin knows, the people like him. He is a good king. 

“Bring us some wine,” he says, gesturing to Seokjin, who bows and leaves to do as he’s bidden. Jimin does not want to drink on a mostly empty stomach, but he wouldn’t dare refuse the king. 

When Seokjin brings the tray, Jimin pours the king’s drink himself before turning away to take his own. The king settles back comfortably, hands on his knees, and stares at Jimin with intention. He does not speak at once, so Jimin carries on the conversation to be polite. 

“Did you rest well, Your Grace?”

“After that marvelous feast, I slept like a babe,” he admits, and Jimin laughs. 

“I slept well, myself.”

Youngwoo’s gaze flickers around the room. “You have everything you need here?”

Jimin nods. “I am well cared for, thanks to Your Grace.”

“I should visit you more often, Lotus Dragon,” Youngwoo says, and Jimin schools his face free of surprise. “I confess that sometimes I forget you are here in this place, distant from the palace as you are.”

“You are always welcome.”

“The astronomers saw a shooting star last night,” he says, watching Jimin’s face to see if he reacts. 

Jimin decides to be honest. “I saw it, too. I wasn’t sure, but - ”

“Your suspicions are correct. They believe it to be time.”

“I am ready to do my duty.”

Jimin pours the king another drink, and he downs it with an inscrutable expression. “The Orchid Dragon’s arrival will signal an era of great prosperity for our people. In this, we will always be grateful to you.”

Jimin inclines his head. “I hope only to do my best for our kingdom.”

“My revered grandfather spoke of the Dragon Pair of his time as his greatest confidantes, his best allies. He respected them dearly, and they him. They knew their duty was to the people. Our kingdom is a great body, and at its head sits the king, a humble voice for his people. May you and the Orchid Dragon be our wings.”

Jimin understands. It’s a warning. A question of loyalty. He keeps his expression serene, pouring the king more wine. “The Dragon’s duty is to lift his people heavenward.”

The king seems satisfied enough with the response. He moves on to other, smaller topics, simply passing the time. Jimin is grateful when he leaves, even if he promises Jimin he will visit sooner next time. As soon as he’s gone, Jimin slumps onto the floor with a drawn-out groan. 

“Can I finish my breakfast now?” he complains, and Seokjin gestures for his attendants to bring his food back out. 

“The sundew catches its prey with leaves that drip sugar,” Seokjin says cryptically, and Jimin glares at him. 

“I know that already,” he huffs, but he understands what Seokjin’s really trying to say. He would never dare speak ill of the king out loud. 

It’s reasonable enough, he supposes, for the king to feel threatened. The Dragon Pair united will have more power than the king could ever dream of, and their loyalty is always to the people first and foremost - not to the king. Jimin was raised by the king’s side, but loyalty is never set in stone, and the Orchid Dragon is unknown to all of them. 

But Youngwoo is a good king, and Jimin does not want to cause him any trouble. He only wants to fulfill his duty to his people, and he knows the king wants the same. As long as their goals remain the same, there will be no reason for distrust. 

“Your tutor has taken ill, so your lessons are cancelled,” Seokjin tells him as he finishes the rest of his breakfast. “You may spend the morning as you wish.”

Jimin’s eyes nearly pop out of his head. “Why didn’t you say that first!” He scarfs down the remaining rice and soup, snatches his hat off the desk, and skids out of his room. “I’ll be back for lunch!”

“Lotus Dragon, that hat better be on your head before you set foot out of this house - ”

Jimin slams it over his topknot and sticks his tongue out at Seokjin for good measure. 

“Don’t go too far - ” Seokjin’s calling after him, but Jimin can barely hear him.

He doesn’t get too many free mornings, so he likes to take full advantage of them when he does. 

He heads for the town teashop, his favorite place to go on his days off. The owner knows him quite well. Most townspeople don't recognize him as the Lotus Dragon, though the finery of his clothes sets him apart as a lord, but he has been visiting the teashop for long enough that the owner knows who he really is. He seats him in the best spot as soon as he arrives, serving him his tea promptly, and Jimin settles in to sip on it and spy on the other guests. 

Jimin was so young when the shamans recognized him to be the Lotus Dragon that he barely remembers his parents. They had brought him to the palace straight away, where he had been raised in the Lotus Dragon's traditional residence, a home on the outskirts of the palace grounds, deeper into the woods. His family was forced to renounce him; his duty was now to the kingdom, not to his parents, and so he was no longer their son. He knows nothing about them. That's why he likes coming to town so much - he finds it fascinating to see how ordinary people live. 

Given his rank, he doesn't have many friends either, so spying on the teashop guests is the only way Jimin gleans an idea of how other young men and women live their lives. The lords and ladies are always gossiping. Jimin enjoys listening in to their salacious stories about people he doesn't really know. 

Sometimes, of course, coming to town only makes him sad. It makes him think of everything he's missing. But mostly, he's content with his life. He knows he has a higher purpose, and he likes his home in the woods with Seokjin by his side. 

"Young lord," the teashop owner asks. "More tea?"

Jimin shakes his head. "No, thank you. I'll be on my way."

Jimin pays generously and leaves the teashop, adjusting his hat on the way out. He dawdles in the market for a little while, buying a few trinkets before he leaves town and heads for the river. Most of the time, Jimin feels like an ordinary human, not like the reincarnation of a dragon chosen by fate to bless his kingdom. He doesn't actually have any powers yet; he won't until the Orchid Dragon arrives. But dragons have an affinity for water, and Jimin has always felt the pull quite acutely. 

He takes his sandals off by the riverbank and wades into the water, feeling a sense of calm wash over him. Something about the water always feels like coming home. The Orchid Dragon spends his years without the Lotus Dragon asleep in the sea. Jimin wonders if he dreams during his long sleep. Wonders if he dreams of him. 

He leans down and cups his hands, gathering a handful of water. He splashes his face with and relishes in the sense of cool refreshment. Sometimes, when he doubts his place in life, he remembers what it feels like to stand in the water. 

This is who he was meant to be. There isn't long now; when he reunites with the Orchid Dragon at last, he will finally understand who he was always meant to be. 

Jimin wakes up to muffled shouting and decidedly less muffled banging. He sits up, running an irritated hand over his face, and calls for Seokjin. 

“What’s going on?” he demands when Seokjin enters. “I’m trying to sleep.”

“I can see that,” Seokjin says wryly, crouching next to Jimin’s bed and patting down the wild strands of his hair. Jimin tugs away from his touch, petulant. 

“What is all that noise? The sun has barely risen.”

“The sun has been up for quite some time, Lotus Dragon.” Seokjin raises an eyebrow, and Jimin looks outside with a frown. He’s right. It’s nearly noon. “Your tutor is still ill, so I did not wake you.”

“Oh,” Jimin mumbles, rubbing his nose. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

“Come see for yourself, why don’t you?”

Jimin wants to flail around and pout some more, but Seokjin is already calling for his clothes and food to be prepared. He listens to the infernal banging all through his breakfast, wincing while his hair is tugged into a topknot and someone shouts outside. It sounds like they’re building something, but he can’t imagine what they would be building on his property without his permission. 

When he’s finally ready, he heads outside with Seokjin at his heels. Across the lotus pond, a group of men are working on a small building. Jimin frowns, can’t figure out what they could be making, when Seokjin pipes up. 

“By orders of His Grace,” he says, “a bathhouse.”

Jimin freezes, flush spreading hot down his neck. “Oh.”

He doesn’t have to look at Seokjin to know he’s sporting a smug grin, and it takes every ounce of willpower not to elbow him in the gut. He turns around and glares at him instead, though he’s sure the effect is ruined by his furious blush. The king has built him a bathhouse. Not just him - them. Dragons gain power from water. Jimin supposes it’s more becoming for the Orchid Dragon to take him in the confines of a bathhouse rather than outside, in the middle of his lotus pond. 

“Well.” Jimin clears his throat, trying to remain dignified, as he turns back to his house. “That’s very kind of him.”

He’s pretty sure he hears Seokjin snicker but elects to ignore it. 

“Lotus Dragon,” Seokjin calls, and Jimin spins around, an annoyed retort on the tip of his tongue, expecting to be teased. Instead he sees the king’s palanquin coming down the road. Jimin straightens his clothes and adjusts his hat on instinct. He supposes the king has come to inspect the work. He had said he would visit more, after all, and what more convenient excuse?

Jimin sinks into a bow as the palanquin bearers come to a stop, staying low until the king bids him to rise. 

“The work seems to be progressing quickly,” he comments, coming to stand by Jimin’s side and survey the construction.

“As always, your grace is immeasurable.”

Youngwoo laughs. “I am only fulfilling my duty toward you, Lotus Dragon.”

Jimin inclines his head. 

“I’ll confess I came here with another purpose.” He gestures toward his servants, who unstrap a bow and a pair of targets from the back of their accompanying horses. “The rumors say you are quite skilled with a bow. Shall we play?”

Jimin’s belly lurches with excitement, and he doesn’t think he manages to hide it well enough because the king smiles. He loves archery, though he usually has no one to play with except Seokjin. Being the Lotus Dragon is something of a heavenly position. It means he doesn’t have a lot of friends. 

“I suppose you will have to judge the rumors for yourself, Your Grace.” Jimin nods to Seokjin, who disappears into the house to fetch his bow and arrows. The king’s servants set the targets up against a pair of trees at a distance. 

“Do not forget, I have been battle-tested,” the king warns, slipping easily into his stance and nocking an arrow to the bow. 

Jimin watches with anticipation as he lets the arrow loose. It flies true, embedding itself in the target just shy of its center. He resists the urge to whistle, thinking that would probably be rude, and takes the bow Seokjin brings him. 

“Impressive,” he says instead. “Your Grace has many talents.”

Youngwoo shoots him a grin. “You haven’t seen the half of it yet. Go on, then, Lotus Dragon. Let’s see if the rumors hold.”

Jimin, admittedly, is feeling a little cocky. He knows his skill. He widens his stance and nocks an arrow to the bow, aiming carefully at the target. When he lets it go, he watches it whiz through the air with satisfaction. Sure enough, it hits the target dead center. 

Youngwoo does whistle. “Look at that! You’re as good as they say.” He gestures for another arrow and nocks it, a determined glint in his eye. “But I won’t be outdone, Lotus Dragon.”

“Well, then,” Jimin says, accepting the challenge almost gleefully, “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”

Jimin dreams of two dragons intertwined in the sky, their power shimmering in the air around them. When he wakes in a cold sweat, the moon still high in the sky, he knows it is time. Tossing off his blanket, he skids out of his room on bare feet, calling for Seokjin. He meets him promptly, hair mussed from sleep, his eyes frantically flickering over Jimin as if searching for injuries.

“Lotus Dragon?”

“He’s coming.”

Seokjin understands. He nods once, firm and steady, then turns away. “I will send word to the palace.”

Jimin reaches for him, frantic, clutches the edge of his sleeve. “You won’t - you won’t leave me?”

Seokjin pauses. Then he turns back to him, his gaze softening, smile tender. He removes Jimin’s hand from his sleeve and takes it between his own instead. “I will be by your side until he comes. I promise.”

Jimin nods, feeling abruptly teary. He has been waiting his entire life for this.

“You were born for this,” Seokjin says gently. “You have nothing to fear.”

Seokjin leaves him to wake his attendants, sending two of them to the palace. Then he leads Jimin back into his room, where he takes out his clothes from a chest in the corner while two more attendants fill Jimin’s washbasin. Jimin watches Seokjin lay the ceremonial robes out. He has never worn them before; they were made especially for tonight, bright red like fresh blood, covered in stunning gold embroidery. 

They help him bathe in an herbal wash. Outside, Jimin can hear the preparations beginning. The whole palace will come to watch, and half the city, too. His belly is tight with nerves. He holds his hands together to keep them from trembling. 

“You must prepare yourself,” Seokjin murmurs, handing Jimin a tiny bottle of oil. He leaves, ushering the attendants out with him.

Jimin lies naked in his bed and coats his fingers with oil. He thinks of what it’ll be like to have the Orchid Dragon enter him, wonders if he’ll be too big for him to take. The thought has his belly stirring with want. He breathes out through his mouth and tries to relax as the first finger breaches his hole. He thinks of the Orchid Dragon in his scroll, bent over him, and he thinks of the Lotus Dragon, his back arched in pleasure. He wonders what it’ll be like to feel pleasure like that. 

When he can take three fingers comfortably, he wipes his hands and calls for the others to return. His attendants dress him in his pretty robes, winding his hair into a topknot. Instead of a hat, tonight he has a towering headpiece of red and gold. When he’s finally ready, he’s led out to where the king waits for him, just inside the entrance. Youngwoo is dressed for the event, too, in a beautiful hanbok and beaded hat. He looks tired, but some light returns to his eyes when they flicker from Jimin’s head to his toe.

“You look lovely, Lotus Dragon.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

The king offers his arm, and Jimin takes it. They step out into a night alight with activity. There are lanterns and drums and so much excitement that the air feels alive with it, buzzing. A hush falls upon the crowd when they emerge, and Jimin catches awe in their gazes as they look at him. He and the king stop before the bridge that crosses the pond; everyone else is beyond it, and the Orchid Dragon will cross it to reach him. 

Youngwoo says some words but Jimin can’t focus anymore. He stares into the woods, veins humming with anticipation, his belly tight and heart in his throat. Even if he had all the time in the world, he wouldn’t be able to describe how it feels to finally stand at the threshold of the moment he has been preparing his entire life for. More than anything, he thinks he wants to know what the Orchid Dragon’s name is. 

The drummers begin a steady beat, and Jimin’s hand tightens on Youngwoo’s arm. The king does not turn his head, and his lips move almost imperceptibly when he says, “Don’t forget. You were made for this, Jimin.’

Jimin glances at him in surprise, but the king’s expression remains impassive as he gazes over his people. He has never used his name before. 

Then something stirs inside Jimin, a steady fire under his skin, and behind him Seokjin whispers, “Look!”

He whips his head back towards the woods and sees him. 

The first thing Jimin manages to take in is the way the air shimmers around him - tinged with blue and bending reality. He walks with a purpose, and the crowd has grown silent around them. His robes are large and flowing, awash with blue and green, hemmed in white. They make him look bigger, take up space along with the way the air bends around him. He wears no hat, no topknot, and his long hair flows down his back. 

Jimin takes him in with his breath held and finds that he’s afraid to look at his face. 

“Jimin,” comes the sudden whisper, hardly a breath of air by his ear. “Remember where your loyalty lies.”

Then Youngwoo is pulling away, gesturing grandly at the approaching Orchid Dragon until the crowd bursts into cheers. Jimin doesn’t have the chance to ponder his words because the Orchid Dragon is there, across the bridge, and Jimin has no choice but to look at him now. 

He’s beautiful. His brow is strong and his jaw sharp, and when his full lips pull into a smile, Jimin sees that he has dimples. His eyes are fixed resolutely on Jimin, and they don’t stray once, even when the king greets him. The intensity of his gaze has a shiver running up Jimin’s spine. Jimin swallows harshly and wonders, suddenly, if he can do this at all. 

Then he feels a light touch on his back, urging him on, and he knows it’s Seokjin. He takes a deep breath and steps to the edge of the bridge just as the Orchid Dragon moves forward. Jimin realizes, suddenly, that the Orchid Dragon’s face is no stranger to him. He knows him - has always known him. He’s familiar, and Jimin’s nervousness begins to ease. 

The Orchid Dragon surges forward, the air around him shimmering brighter, and tugs Jimin into his arms. 

Jimin gasps in surprise, clutching the front of his robes in surprise as he’s overwhelmed by his warmth. The Orchid Dragon’s body is firm against his, and Jimin tentatively breathes him in. He smells like the ocean. 

“I have waited so long, Lotus Dragon,” he says, his voice a low rumble by Jimin’s ear. Jimin swallows harshly, fingers tightening in his robes. He’s shy, embarrassed because everyone’s watching, but the Orchid Dragon doesn’t feel like a stranger anymore. Jimin’s heart feels right. At peace. He finds himself relaxing against his chest. 

Jimin is the first to pull away, albeit reluctantly, because he knows everyone is waiting for them. The Orchid Dragon looks loathe to let him go, his gaze still fixed resolutely on Jimin. He tears it away with effort, turning to address the king.

“You will forgive me, Your Grace,” the Orchid Dragon says, “if I do not care for protocol tonight. I have been waiting many years for this day to come.”

Youngwoo inclines his head. “Of course. I expected nothing different. Please.” He gestures to the small bathhouse, decorated for the occasion. 

The Orchid Dragon doesn’t hesitate. He takes Jimin’s hand in his big, warm one and leads him back over the bridge toward the bathhouse. Everyone is watching them, knowing exactly what it is they’re about to do. The thought has Jimin blushing hot. He looks over his shoulder, and the king is watching him go, his expression unreadable. Behind him, Seokjin gives Jimin an encouraging smile. 

They leave their shoes on the patio. Jimin opens the door to the bathhouse and lets them in. He hasn’t even stepped inside since they built it. The main room is a small pool, and they’ve set lanterns around the room to cast everything in a warm glow. Three doors in the back wall must lead to smaller, individual bathing rooms. 

The Orchid Dragon closes the door behind them, and the firm thud has Jimin’s belly twisting in nerves again. He turns around to face him just as the Orchid Dragon pulls him in, hand on his waist. He’s gazing down at him with so much of what must be love - Jimin couldn’t think of any other word to describe it. 

It’s different for the both of them. The Lotus Dragon is reincarnated each life cycle. The Orchid Dragon never dies; he simply sleeps, resting in the sea until the time comes for him to wake and join with the Lotus Dragon. He must remember all of Jimin’s past lives, but for Jimin, everything is new. Unfamiliar, even despite the way his heart sings at the sight of his other half. 

The Orchid Dragon cups Jimin’s face in his hand, stroking his cheek with his thumb. “Don’t be nervous,” he murmurs. “We’ve done this before.”

Jimin flushes, holding his gaze. “I can’t remember. You know that.”

“I know.” A crease shows on his brow; it must bother him that Jimin never knows what has been. 

“Your name,” Jimin breathes. “Will you - will you tell me your name?”

The Orchid Dragon smiles, and Jimin finds his gaze caught on the indents his smile creates. “Namjoon.”

“Namjoon,” Jimin breathes, reverent, because all his life he’s been waiting to know his name, and now he has it. It’ll be his secret, only his - no one but the Lotus Dragon ever learns the Orchid Dragon’s real name. “I’m Jimin.”

“Jimin,” he murmurs, and Jimin’s enthralled by the way his lips shape the words. He tugs away, and Jimin misses his warmth. “You’ll forgive me, but I’m impatient. I’ve done too much waiting to do anymore.”

He’s already stripping off his robes. Jimin’s blushing so hot he’s sure he’s red all the way down to his chest. He wants to avert his gaze out of habit, but he reminds himself that he doesn’t have to. Namjoon is his - only his. He has the right to look. His eyes flicker over Namjoon’s skin as it’s revealed steadily - he has strong arms and a firm chest, small, dark nipples. A pearl necklace dangles from his neck, the glowing orb sitting between the curves of his chest.

Namjoon seems to have little care for the beauty of his robes. He leaves them in a heap on the ground, and when he undoes the knot of his trousers, Jimin swallows harshly. His belly flutters, but he can’t bring himself to tear his gaze away. Namjoon slips his trousers down quickly, kicking them aside, and Jimin’s heart pitter-patters in his chest. He’s huge . He’s soft and even then he’s far bigger than Jimin, far bigger than anyone he’s seen before - he swallows again, a hint of fear joining his anticipation. He doesn’t know how he can possibly take Namjoon when he’s so big. 

He looks up, and Namjoon’s mouth is curled in amusement. He raises an eyebrow, and a hot rush of desire shoots through Jimin’s body. “Will you join me?” he asks, lowering himself into the pool. As soon as his body touches the water, the blue shimmer around him intensifies. Jimin knows he glows like that, too, yellow instead of blue, but it’s hard to remember when he does not see himself. He wonders if everyone else feels as awed looking at him as he feels looking at Namjoon. 

“Lotus Dragon?” he presses, and the impatience in his voice bleeds through. 

Jimin removes his headpiece first, setting it carefully aside on a bench built into the wall. Then he unties the belt around his waist, letting his robes fall open over the inner jacket. He sets them aside, too, and feels a little pouty as he undoes the buttons of his jacket. He always has Seokjin and his attendants to help him undress, and ceremonial outfits always have so many more layers. He almost wishes Namjoon had helped undress him, but the thought of that makes him blush, so maybe he’s better off on his own. 

“You are pampered,” Namjoon comments. Jimin looks up, pouting harder now that he knows he’s been caught. His breath catches when he sees Namjoon leaning against the far side of the pool, his arms resting on the floor on either side of him. The water moves in small ripples around his chest. “You always are.”

“You could have helped,” Jimin blurts before he can stop himself. Then he flushes, embarrassed, but Namjoon tosses his head back and laughs. 

“I could have, but then I wouldn’t get to watch.”

Jimin undoes the last button and slips off his jacket, laying it by his robes. He’s bare-chested now, and he can feel Namjoon’s hot gaze roaming over his skin. He feels awkward pulling his trousers down when he knows he’s so much smaller than Namjoon, but Namjoon drinks him in hungrily, and his confidence returns. 

It’s hard to fight the urge to cover himself when he’s fully naked, especially with how intently Namjoon’s eyes roam over his body. He lowers himself carefully into the warm water, feeling the rush of energy he always gets when he’s submerged. He stops halfway into the bath, but Namjoon reaches out to take his wrist and draw him closer until they’re flush, skin-against-skin. Jimin can feel his cock against his hip and he knows his own brushes Namjoon’s thigh. He’s blushing so hard he feels dizzy from the heat. 

“You don’t know how good it is to have you in my arms again,” Namjoon says, wrapping his hand around the side of Jimin’s neck. “Even as I slept, I dreamt of nothing but you.”

Jimin reaches out with tentative fingers, tracing them down Namjoon’s cheek, along his jaw, over his prominent Adam’s apple. The pearl at the end of his necklace glows a little brighter. Even now, Jimin wonders if this is real. If they are really together at last. 

“21 years is so long to wait,” Namjoon murmurs. “It never grows easier.”

Jimin leans in, gaze flickering to Namjoon’s lips, and Namjoon meets him halfway. Their lips move soft and tender, and something warm and steady blooms inside Jimin. This is right. This is what’s meant to be. He parts his lips and Namjoon’s tongue slips past to slide against his, slick and wet. Namjoon’s hands run down his back to his hips where they settle, holding him firmly, and Jimin rests a hand on Namjoon’s solid chest, curling his fingers over his heart. 

“Orchid Dragon,” Jimin breathes, their noses brushing. “I have been waiting for you, too.”

Namjoon takes Jimin’s chin between his fingers and tilts his head back so he can kiss him again, and this time he is clearly impatient. He licks into Jimin’s mouth in a way that has a shudder running up his spine, and Jimin tries to keep up but he’s never kissed anyone before, so he tilts his head and lets Namjoon lead. The hand on Jimin’s hip slides back up his back, curling into the hair at his nape, just as his tongue grazes the roof of Jimin’s mouth. Jimin whimpers, pleasure shooting straight through him, and he almost pulls away but Namjoon only kisses him harder. 

Jimin can feel his hand in his hair, undoing his topknot. He doesn’t know where to focus, Namjoon’s hand in his hair or his tongue sucking on his or the warm brush of water against his skin that feels like a touch. They’ve barely done anything but Jimin feels overwhelmed already, every brush of their tongues sending something electric down his spine. 

Namjoon pulls Jimin’s hair loose, cascading around them like a waterfall, and nips at his lower lip with his teeth. Jimin gasps into his mouth, breaking their kiss so he can gather his hazy mind, his chest heaving. Namjoon follows, not so eager to let him go, kissing him once, twice, and a third time that lingers, sucking his swollen lip between his own. 

“O-orchid Dragon,” Jimin gasps, but Namjoon’s mouth is already on his neck, working the tender skin between his teeth. He sucks, his mouth hot and wet on Jimin’s skin, and Jimin moans, head dropping back, his hair nearly all submerged in the water. 

Namjoon moves lower, licking over Jimin’s collarbones, and reaches into the water to grip the fat of Jimin’s thighs. Jimin’s breath catches as he kneads the soft flesh, hitching his thighs up around his waist so he can hold him higher out of the water, his lips traveling down to his chest. Jimin whimpers in surprise, ankles locking behind his back, but Namjoon holds him steady. 

“How lucky I am to hear your pretty voice again,” Namjoon says, licking a stripe between Jimin’s pecs. “So many times I dreamt of your voice crying out my name.”

The walls of the bathhouse seem thick enough. Jimin can only hope that when he does cry out, none of the many people waiting for them will hear. The thought makes him squirm in embarrassment. He doesn’t waste his thoughts on it for long, though, because Namjoon’s mouth latches onto his nipple and Jimin finds himself crying out in earnest, arching back as a jolt of white hot pleasure shoots to his cock. 

“O-oh!” he gasps, head falling back and eyes drifting shut as Namjoon licks and sucks, works the nub between his teeth. 

He can feel himself growing hard, hips twitching, and Namjoon doesn’t let up until Jimin is writhing away from his mouth, his nipple red and raw. He moves on to the other one, and like before, the first suck has Jimin crying out, eyes rolling back into his head. He has never toyed with himself like this before, and he didn’t know it was possible to feel so good, so sensitive. 

Namjoon’s cock floats under him and Jimin has the urge to roll his hips down until he brushes it. Namjoon must not realize he’s done it on purpose because he goes on sucking at his nipple, fingers digging into Jimin’s waist. Emboldened, and growing a little wild from the pleasure, Jimin rocks his hips down again, trying to catch Namjoon’s cock. When he barely brushes it, he grows impatient and reaches into the water to take it in his hand instead. 

Namjoon hisses, head snapping up to look at him, eyes dark. His cock is thick and heavy in Jimin’s hand, and it’s so big he can’t wrap his fingers around it. “I wanted you to be hard and ready before I took you,” he says, and he sounds almost irritated. “But here you are, more impatient than I am. Perhaps I should just take you now?”

Jimin flushes hot, letting go of Namjoon’s cock like he’s been burned. “N-no,” he protests. “It’s too big. It won’t fit.”

Namjoon raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. “You take my cock every lifetime, Lotus Dragon. Is your hole smaller in this body?”

Jimin shakes his head, embarrassment flooding through him, his belly tightening. It was a silly thing to say. Of course it will fit. It always does. “No, Orchid Dragon.”

“You should think before you speak,” he says coolly, and Jimin feels silly and small. He shrinks into himself, but Namjoon places his fingers under his chin and forces him to look at him. His expression gentles. “Your body was made to take mine,” he murmurs, his voice soft like a caress. “Don’t be afraid.”

Jimin blinks, hazy, and finds himself nodding. “Yes,” he breathes. 

“Did you prepare?”

He nods again. It feels like a lifetime ago that he lay in bed with his fingers inside himself, but it hasn’t been that long at all. Jimin doesn’t think an hour has even passed between then and now. 

“Good boy,” Namjoon says, and Jimin grows warm and pleased from the praise. 

He carries him through the water, Jimin’s legs still locked around his waist, and reaches into his discarded robes lying on the floor near the edge of the bath. He removes a small vial of oil, not unlike the one Seokjin had given him earlier. Namjoon steps onto the first step, lifting Jimin clear out of the water. Jimin squeaks in surprise, arms wrapping tight around Namjoon’s neck as he goes from weightless to bodied again, but Namjoon’s grip is firm on his thighs. 

“Oil me,” Namjoon instructs, and Jimin lets go of him tentatively to reach for the bottle of oil sitting on the floor. 

He pours the oil onto his palm and reaches down to take Namjoon into his hand again. This time, he expects the way Namjoon lets out a trembling breath by his ear and doesn’t falter. He oils Namjoon’s cock thoroughly, feeling its ridges under his fingers, thumb running along the vein. He’s so big, but Jimin should have expected that from a dragon as storied as him. He can feel Namjoon growing and hardening from his ministrations, and when he thumbs at his slit, Namjoon growls into his neck. 

“Enough,” he hisses. “You will take me now.”

Jimin places his trust in Namjoon and lets go of him entirely. Namjoon’s grip doesn’t falter. Jimin reaches one hand down to pull his cheeks apart, and with the other he lines Namjoon’s cock up to his hole. The press of his tip against Jimin’s rim has him shivering violently, lashes fluttering, but from there Namjoon takes over. He grips Jimin’s hips and ass tightly, lowering him down until he breaches his hole. 

Jimin whimpers at the stretch, tears springing to his eyes. “Too big,” he gasps. “I can’t take it, you’re too big.”

“Shh,” Namjoon murmurs, turning his head to catch Jimin’s mouth. He kisses him sweetly, thoroughly, until Jimin feels himself relaxing. Namjoon lowers him a little further, and Jimin’s breath hitches, feeling stretched even wider. He whimpers, burying his face in Namjoon’s neck, fingers curling in his long hair. 

“Orchid Dragon,” he says, nearly a sob, and he feels Namjoon’s lips in his hair. 

“Relax, Jimin,” he murmurs. “You were made for me, remember? Your body has been waiting for me. Let go.”

Namjoon sinks him lower and Jimin’s belly constricts. He breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth, feeling himself loosen around Namjoon, and does it again until Namjoon can push in just a little deeper. He unearths himself to kiss him, licking into Namjoon’s mouth almost desperately, and Namjoon sucks on his tongue as he pulls him down onto his cock until he’s all the way in, settled against Namjoon’s pelvis. 

Jimin moans into Namjoon’s mouth. He can feel him thick and long all the way into his belly, feels like he’s being split in two, and for a brief, frantic second, he almost thinks he might come just like this, from the girth of Namjoon’s cock alone. 

“Namjoon,” he whimpers. “Please.”

The shimmering air around them has started to glow brighter, filling the room with light. Jimin feels full in body and in mind, feels revitalized, like he was tired, dim, and now he is bright and full of life. 

“I knew you could take it,” Namjoon says. “Good boy.”

He steps back into the water and the movement jostles his cock inside Jimin, has him crying out and clutching Namjoon’s shoulders. He can feel his cock pressed right against a spot that’s making him dizzy with pleasure, something he’s never felt before from his own fingers. He wants Namjoon to move, wants him to press harder against that spot, but he feels too incoherent already to ask for what he wants. 

“P-please,” he whines instead, feeling weightless when they’re in the water again, Namjoon’s grip loosening around him. 

Jimin winds his arms around Namjoon’s neck to anchor himself, feels too much like he’s losing himself, floating in the water and filled with the tingling warmth that had started when Namjoon entered him. He turns his head and Namjoon meets him in a kiss, licking messily into his mouth just as he thrusts his hips forward. Jimin feels his cock move deep inside him, rubbing against that spot in a way that makes his body jolt in pleasure, nails digging into Namjoon’s skin. He moans, fading into a gasp, but Namjoon’s tongue is tracing his again and he sinks into his embrace. 

Namjoon thrusts again and Jimin cries out, swears he can feel him in his stomach, his lashes fluttering and his nails breaking skin. It’s almost too much but he wants it again, wants Namjoon to keep going, to move faster and harder until the pleasure is steady under his skin.

“Again,” Jimin gasps. 

Namjoon’s fingers dig into his sides as he pulls him down, hips rocking up, and Jimin tosses his head back and moans long and low, overwhelmed already. Namjoon doesn’t stop this time. He holds Jimin down on his cock and thrusts into him, water sloshing around their bodies as he sets a steady rhythm, and Jimin’s mouth drops open as he moans and whimpers with each thrust. His cock rubs that spot incessantly and Jimin can feel the pleasure begin to build, his skin tingling. He keeps reminding himself to breathe, but when he forgets, the pleasure only intensifies. 

It’s hard to keep his eyes open but he wants to look at Namjoon, so he forces them open, gazing at him through his lashes. His brow is furrowed in concentration, sweat beading on his temples, his jaw clenched tight. He looks like he’s trying hard to stay in control, but Jimin wants to see him as affected as he feels, wants to know how badly he wants Jimin, too. 

“Please,” Jimin moans. “O-orchid Dragon, please.”

“Tell me what you want,” Namjoon bites through gritted teeth. “Aren’t I giving you everything you need?”

“M-more,” he whines, breath hitching on the next thrust. “Harder, please. Faster. I want - I want - ”

Namjoon’s hips stutter and Jimin whimpers, belly clenching. “What do you want, Lotus Dragon?”

“I want to feel you in me for days,” he gasps. “Want - want you to take me harder, please - ”

Namjoon lets out a noise halfway between a groan and a growl. He moves them, ignoring the way Jimin cries out and clutches at him, trapping Jimin in a corner of the bath, the edges against his back. He lifts him, and Jimin gasps, resting his arms on the edges, clutching them for support. Then he starts pistoning his cock inside Jimin, hard and fast, none of his prior restraint remaining. Jimin shrieks, fingers digging into the stone edges as his head falls back, too hard to hold it up any longer. He arches up, his hard cock standing out of the water, and Namjoon’s ramming into him so hard he knows he’ll feel him for days. 

“Ah, ah, ah!” he sobs, his limbs seizing up, tears suspended on his lashes. 

He has never felt pleasure like this in his life, never even dreamed of it, spent nights fantasizing about the day the Orchid Dragon would take him but even then he had never imagined something like this. He feels both weak and powerful all at once, his body limp and overwhelmed as he slumps against the walls of the tub and takes what Namjoon gives him. But at the same time he can feel it - the power, the energy flowing through his veins, strengthening the longer they remain joined. His head dropped limply back, he watches the blue and yellow shimmer in the air above him. They no longer exist apart; the colors are swirling together, melting into each other, creating a luminous green. 

“Mine at last,” he hears Namjoon say, voice low and strained. “Always mine. Only mine.”

His hand comes to cover Jimin’s belly, large against his skin, and presses down. Jimin shrieks, back snapping out of the water as the fire floods his veins, the pleasure so striking that he finishes, his cock spurting onto his belly and Namjoon’s hand. Some of it lands on Namjoon’s chest, too. Namjoon fucks him through it until Jimin’s sobbing and twitching away from him, falling limp. Only Namjoon and the water hold him up as he crumples. 

“Orchid Dragon,” he sobs, reaching for him. “Namjoon.”

Namjoon lifts him gently off his cock, kissing him until the haziness begins to recede and Jimin starts to regain his senses. His chest is still heaving, and his skin feels like it’s covered in pinpricks.

“You did so well for me, Lotus Dragon,” Namjoon praises. He reaches behind Jimin to spread his robe out on the ground, then he lifts Jimin out of the water and lays him carefully onto his back. Jimin doesn’t have it in him to protest, letting Namjoon slip his arms into the much-larger robe, encasing him in its warmth. He arranges his hair to spread along the warm stone around him. 

“But you didn’t finish,” Jimin accuses, eyeing Namjoon’s massive cock, still standing hard and proud. “You were - you were supposed to give me your seed.”

Namjoon’s lips curl, amused and a little mocking. “Is that what you want, Lotus Dragon? My seed?”

“It’s not just what I want ,” Jimin protests. That’s what’s supposed to happen. The transfer of power isn’t complete until Namjoon spills inside him. “I need it.”

He knows he’s only dug himself a bigger hole when Namjoon’s eyebrow shoots up. “Oh, is that so? You need it?” He pulls half out of the bath, hovering over Jimin with either hand pressing into the stone beside his head. Water drips down his torso in rivulets. “I didn’t realize you were so greedy.”

Jimin’s face flames. He fights the urge to hide it, shy, because he isn’t the one that’s being unreasonable here. Namjoon is supposed to keep going. He has to. The ritual isn’t complete until he finishes, too, and he knows that. 

“I’m not!” he says, petulant. “I’m following the rules. You’re not doing it right.” Despite the way his blush burns hotter, Jimin bends his legs at the knees, planting his feet on the stone, and spreads them. “You have to.”

Namjoon’s eyes flash. He winds his arms around Jimin’s thighs and tugs him forward, ignoring Jimin’s squeak of surprise, stretching his legs wide until Jimin’s soft cock is nearly in his face. “Look at you, begging for my seed,” he murmurs, his breath tickling Jimin’s skin. “Do you want me to pump you full of it until you’re leaking? Give you my seed over and over until your belly swells with it?”

Jimin’s eyes widen, breath quickening. 

“Maybe I should keep you here all night, since I’m not doing it right.” His last words are mocking. “Maybe I should keep on taking you long after you fall unconscious so that you spend all of tomorrow with my seed leaking down your thighs. How would you like that, Lotus Dragon?”

Jimin can’t do anything but whimper, teeth digging into his lip. He wants to look away but he can’t bear to tear his gaze away from Namjoon, entranced, like a sheep before slaughter. 

“You’re so quiet for someone who was so confidently ordering me around a moment ago,” Namjoon says, smug, as he rises and pushes his hair out of his face. It clings to his back, the edges floating in the water. “But as you wish, Lotus Dragon. I will give you what you need .”

He pushes Jimin’s thighs back against his chest so he can line his cock up to his hole. Jimin doesn’t realize he’s holding his breath in anticipation until he lets it out as a gasp when Namjoon sheathes himself in one sharp thrust. 

“Oh - ” He lets out an aborted little moan but Namjoon’s already thrusting, drawing more helpless noises from him that turn staccato as Namjoon fucks into him quicker. “N-Namjoon - ”

His cock has grown soft and he’s sensitive, but the force of Namjoon’s thrusts has him seeing stars. He arches off the floor, the robes clinging to his wet skin, his eyes rolling back into his head. He wants Namjoon to fill him up so badly, finds himself rocking his hips to meet his thrusts in the hopes that he will urge him on to the end. It seems to spur Namjoon on; he hears him curse under his breath, his hips stuttering, but more than that it intensifies the burn of pleasure under Jimin’s skin. 

His mouth is open wide, his moans ceaseless, but it feels strange and empty and he finds himself reaching up to slip his fingers past his lips. He sucks on them, lashes fluttering, and starts to feel boneless and hazy, his mind slipping away from him. The swirling green above their bodies has grown so bright the room is alight with it, but the energy that had flowed into Jimin before seems to be fading. He feels limp and tired, like he could fall asleep just like this. Eventually he can’t even roll his hips in return, just lies there and takes Namjoon’s cock, trying to keep his mind from drifting too far away. 

“Lotus Dragon,” Namjoon says through gritted teeth, his voice rough and affected. He must be close. He takes Jimin’s free hand in his and lays it over Jimin’s stomach, pressing down lightly. “Look.”

Jimin’s eyes fly open in shock. He can feel it, Namjoon’s cock, moving under his skin. 

He shifts, whimpering around his fingers, and lifts his head to look. He can see it, too, Namjoon’s thick length shifting in his belly, moving up and down as he thrusts. Of course he can see it. Namjoon’s cock is so massive he would be surprised if he couldn’t. Even then, he’s floored, white hot desire running to his cock. He lifts himself up onto his elbows so he can keep on watching, entranced by the shape of Namjoon’s cock in his body. 

“Faster,” he demands, and Namjoon doesn’t argue this time.

He rams his cock into him and Jimin alternates between watching it move in his belly and watching Namjoon, whose sweat is dripping onto Jimin’s skin, his jaw tight and teeth clenched. His thrusts grow erratic, losing their rhythm, the tendons in his neck stretching taut. 

“Yes,” Jimin breathes, finding it harder and harder to keep from floating away. “Please. Want you to fill me with your cum. Want - want us to be one.”

Namjoon groans, hips stuttering, and Jimin moans. 

“Please. Please, give it to me, Orchid Dragon - I need it - ”

Namjoon picks up speed and Jimin cries out, arching so sharply it hurts, and then he’s spilling inside him, wet and warm. The green light bursts, filling the room with its blinding color, and Jimin feels the energy flow into his body, overwhelm him, steal the breath from his chest. He collapses, and before he loses consciousness, his eyes close on green. 

Jimin wakes up in what he’s absolutely sure must be his room. 

He frowns at his ceiling because he had definitely passed out in the bathhouse, and now he’s in his room. His skin feels strange, a buzzing tingle underneath, but other than that, he feels fine. Maybe sore. As he shifts, he confirms it - definitely sore. 

“You’re awake.”

Jimin startles, turning, and sees him - the Orchid Dragon, lying next to him, smiling. He’s wearing a purple robe that’s untied, leaving his chest bare, and a pair of trousers. The pearl necklace is glowing softly. Jimin shifts again and realizes he’s wearing a robe, too. Someone must have dressed him - Seokjin, or Namjoon himself. For a moment, he finds himself unable to speak. Namjoon is breathtakingly handsome. 

“What happened?” Jimin mumbles, voice hoarse. “Is it late?”

Namjoon reaches out to run his fingers down Jimin’s cheek. His touch sends a shiver up his spine. “We consummated our union, of course. It’s nearly noon.”

Jimin flushes at the memory. “So it worked? I don’t feel any different.”

“It worked,” he says, “if reports of the giant green dragon of smoke rising from the bathhouse are any indication.”

“Oh,” Jimin breathes, a little awed. He wishes he could have seen it. 

“Later, I will take you to the river and show you how to fly.”

Jimin’s eyes widen, a thrill of excitement running through him. He can change now. He can be who he was always meant to be.

“But first,” Namjoon says, his hand running down Jimin’s neck, “I think we might need a little more energy.”

He dips down to mouth at Jimin’s neck, and Jimin sighs, lashes fluttering. “You don’t mean that.”

“Shifting takes a lot of power.” He brushes Jimin’s robe off his chest with his mouth, kissing down his skin. “It’s better to be sure.”

He hovers over Jimin, gripping his hip tightly and hitching his leg up. Jimin squeaks, clutching at his robes in surprise. “Liar. I can’t do it again, I’m sore.” He sounds exactly as whiny as he feels. 

“Come on, now. Don’t you want me to make you feel good?”

“Orchid Dragon,” Jimin whines, Namjoon’s mouth dangerously close to his nipple. 

“Yes, my love?”

Namjoon’s voice is soft, tender, and Jimin’s heart stutters in his chest. He’s rendered momentarily speechless, eyes wide. Namjoon drags his lips back up Jimin’s neck and kisses him, tongue tracing the roof of his mouth. Jimin melts into him, their tongues sliding together, and Namjoon’s mouth has him forgetting his inhibitions and his surprise both. He winds his arms around Namjoon’s strong shoulders, gasping softly. 

Namjoon reaches by him to fetch something, and Jimin’s too caught up in kissing him to pay attention. It’s only when Namjoon unties his robe for him and wraps a hand around his thigh does he realize what he’s doing. 

“Namjoon - ” he gasps, and then Namjoon’s sheathing himself inside him with one fluid stroke. Jimin moans, hips lifting off the mat, a mix of pain and pleasure running through him. He really is still sore, but the girth of Namjoon’s cock inside him is so arousing, so right, that he wants nothing more than to hold him there.

“Couldn’t help myself.” Namjoon presses kisses down Jimin’s face in apology. “Your body was singing for me.”

“Are you - are you going to fill me up again?” Jimin asks, shy, gaze dropping to the dip of Namjoon’s bare chest through his loose robes. 

Namjoon’s fingers tighten on his leg, digging into the flesh. When he speaks, it sounds like he’s gritting his teeth. “Do you even know what you do to me, Lotus Dragon?”

Jimin flushes, sliding his hands around Namjoon’s shoulders so he can fist his hands in his robe over his chest. “Show me.”

Namjoon lets out a throaty groan by Jimin’s ear before he gives a sharp thrust, sending Jimin arching off the mat with a hitched breath. He leaves searing, open-mouthed kisses down Jimin’s throat, each one sending a jolt of pleasure through his body. The next time he thrusts, even deeper than before, Jimin’s lips part in a moan. 

Namjoon fits an arm under his back and lifts him up so he can bury his face in Jimin’s neck, tongue dipping out to curl in the hollow at the base of his throat. Jimin whimpers, his head dropping back to bare his neck further, Namjoon’s fingers curling in his long hair. 

“Please,” he gasps, and Namjoon begins to move inside him with steady strokes. 

He can feel his cock standing fully erect now, brushing Namjoon’s robes as he moves. Heat is searing his skin and he feels so full, so good, that he thinks he really was born for this. Thinks he could take Namjoon’s cock all day and it still maybe wouldn’t be enough. He can feel the energy flowing through his veins along with the exhaustion that deepens the longer Namjoon fucks him. It’s bone-deep but it isn’t bad - it only makes him want Namjoon more, want the power he gives him even if the cost is this bone-deep weariness. 

The ceiling blurs in his vision and he finds himself begging for more, arching against Namjoon and clutching at him desperately when he gives into his request, fucking him harder and faster. 

“O-oh!” He gives a cry of pleasure, eyes drifting shut, can feel Namjoon all the way in his belly. “Yes, please - more - ”

Namjoon kisses him, licking messily into his mouth, and reaches between them to pump Jimin’s cock. Jimin squirms against the mat, whimpering, the assault on his cock and his ass both too much and not enough. When Namjoon’s thumb digs into his slit, he comes with a cry, spilling into his hand. His ass clenches tight around Namjoon’s cock and Namjoon only has to grind deeper into him to join, spilling inside him with a moan. 

The rush of energy is so intense Jimin blacks out briefly. When he comes to, purple spotting his vision, he feels so tired he doesn’t think he could move if he tries. Namjoon’s pulling out, hovering over him with his cum-stained fingers. Jimin flushes but Namjoon doesn’t seem concerned. He brings his hand to his mouth and licks it all off, pink tongue darting out to catch every last drop. 

Jimin whines, tries to cover his face with his hands but he can barely move his arms at all. Namjoon leans in to kiss him sweetly, pulling back so he can tie Jimin’s robe shut again. 

“Only lost you for a moment,” Namjoon teases. “That’s an improvement.”

Jimin pouts at him. It must be because they aren’t in the water. And Namjoon didn’t fuck him as long as he had last night. 

There’s a knock on the door. 

“Come in,” Namjoon calls. Jimin shoots him a frantic look; their robes might be tied shut now but both of them are beyond indecent, half their chests bare. It doesn’t matter that everyone probably heard them just now, and everyone knows the purpose of their union - still. 

Seokjin slides the screen door open and steps inside, bowing to them both. His expression remains impassive despite the way he finds them. “The king is here to see you.”

Jimin’s eyes widen. They’re in no state to see the king, and he doesn’t know how long it will take him to regain his energy enough to be presentable. But they can’t very well turn the king away, either. It is enough a sign of respect that the king comes to see them at all, rather than demand they come to him. 

“Send him in,” Namjoon says, unconcerned, and Jimin hisses a protest. 

“Would you like to meet him outside?” Seokjin suggests diplomatically, but Namjoon shakes his head. 

“The Lotus Dragon is in no state to move. He needs his rest.”

“Of course.” Seokjin inclines his head. “Shall I give you a moment to dress?”

Namjoon waves a careless hand. “No, send him in.”

Seokjin bows himself out. As soon as the door slides shut, Jimin hisses, “What are you doing!”

Namjoon remains unconcerned. “He should know better than to come so early on the day after our union.”

“It’s noon!”

“He shouldn’t be bothering us until dinner.”

“I can’t be seen like this,” Jimin wails. “It’s appalling. Inappropriate. Orchid Dragon!”

Namjoon pulls Jimin up to sit, arranging them so that he’s resting back against his chest, using as little energy to hold himself up as possible. Jimin manages to hold the front of his robes together over his chest, preserving what little modesty he can. Not that it matters - his hair’s loose and he can feel Namjoon’s cum dripping out of his ass when he moves. 

When the screen door opens and the king enters, Jimin is blushing so hard he feels dizzy. 

Embarrassed, he averts his gaze, staring at the king’s shoes. He dips into a small bow but miscalculates, nearly falling over from dizziness. Namjoon helps him straighten, winding his arm around his waist to hold him steady.

“We apologize for not receiving you in better form,” Namjoon says. Jimin can feel his low voice rumble through his chest as he speaks. “The Lotus Dragon is still recovering from the ceremony.”

Jimin huffs. As if he hadn’t just fucked him into this state a moment ago.

“I should have known better than to visit you so early,” the king says, and then he laughs. Jimin peeks up at him in surprise and finds that he doesn’t look offended at all. He looks amused. When he catches Jimin’s glance, he grins wider, and Jimin flushes and looks back down. 

Namjoon laughs, too. “We may not be presentable for a few more days.”

“Of course,” the king says smoothly. “I came to discuss your presentation. The people are eager to pay their respects; they have already been lining up outside the palace gates to wait. I thought it better I pay you a visit rather than summon you to the palace, as the Lotus Dragon will need his rest.”

“He will,” Namjoon agrees. “I, too, am eager to greet our people. What do you think, Lotus Dragon?”

Jimin swallows before he summons up the courage to answer. He just wants the king to leave already so he can wallow in embarrassment. “Tomorrow,” he decides. “I will be ready to meet them tomorrow.”

“Excellent,” the king says. “Then I will see you then.”

“Will you stay for tea?” Namjoon offers, and Jimin’s going to kill him.

Youngwoo laughs again, even heartier than before. “No, I don’t think you want me to stay. I’ll be going on ahead to the river for a day of fishing. Enjoy your afternoon.”

He rises and walks to the door, pausing before he opens the screen. 

“Don’t let him overdo it, Lotus Dragon. You’re looking a little frail.”

Jimin can hear him laughing all the way out of the house. 

The weather is beautiful by the river, and Jimin is acutely aware of the way Namjoon is looking at him. 

There are plenty of things to look at besides Jimin - the sun glistening off the crests of water, the green trees swaying in the wind on the opposite bank, the doe dipping her nose into the water not far from where they sit. But Namjoon’s gaze keeps returning to Jimin, and each time it makes him flush. 

Jimin is eager to try his newfound power, but Seokjin had packed them a meal to take with them, and Namjoon had suggested they eat first. They sit on a blanket spread out on the riverbank, small jars of food arranged before them. Jimin feels self-conscious and almost silly for the way a single glance from Namjoon has him heating up, unable to hold it for more than a second before he shies away, all while Namjoon himself looks calm and unaffected. It isn’t exactly fair. 

Jimin knows he’s beautiful. It’s in his blood; every reincarnation of the Lotus Dragon has been described as alluring, with a face like the moon. Though it is forbidden by pain of death for Jimin to give himself to anyone other than the Orchid Dragon, Jimin has been propositioned more than once over the years. Seokjin does a good job of keeping those sorts of people away from him - but still, Jimin has faced their arrogance and presumption before. As if he would ever bother with anyone when he knew he had someone like the Orchid Dragon waiting for him. 

But the attention is nice, and Jimin knows how to wield his beauty well enough. So the next time he feels Namjoon’s gaze settle on him, he pretends he doesn’t notice. He leans back on his hands, dropping his head back to look out at the blue sky, his neck bared. Then - in a gesture that might be a little too daring, even for him - he reaches up to undo his topknot and shake his hair free. 

He’s only getting started, but it turns out it’s more than enough for Namjoon. 

“Come here,” he demands, and Jimin bites his lip to keep from smiling. He turns an innocent gaze on him instead.

“What?”

Namjoon raises an eyebrow. He isn’t fooled. “Come here,” he says again, and Jimin scoots tentatively closer. 

Namjoon reaches out and yanks him into his lap, surprising Jimin into a squeak as he grabs his shoulders to steady himself. Namjoon arranges him so that his knees are bracketing his waist, his hands curling in Jimin’s hair. The heat of his body against Jimin’s has him blushing again. 

“I thought you wanted to turn into a dragon today,” Namjoon says, his gaze flickering over Jimin’s face. “Instead you want me to take you right here, in the middle of the woods?”

Jimin flares hot. “Of course not,” he says imperiously. “I simply cannot take you again today. My body can’t handle it.”

“Mm, so you were riling me up only to deny me?”

“I was doing nothing of the sort.”

“Of course not,” Namjoon indulges. 

He wraps his hand around the back of Jimin’s neck and pulls him down for a kiss. Jimin melts into him, lashes drifting shut, his belly lurching when their tongues brush. Namjoon winds an arm around his waist and pulls him closer. His thighs spread around Namjoon’s hips, their chests flush, and Jimin feels the heat traveling under his skin, the ache of desire in his cock. Maybe he wouldn’t mind taking Namjoon one more time. 

They break apart, and Namjoon’s hand cups Jimin’s jaw. He strokes his cheek gently with his thumb, gaze flickering over his face. 

“Does it bother you?” Jimin blurts abruptly. “That you love me but I don’t know you.”

For a moment, Namjoon’s face stills, and Jimin worries that he’s upset him. But then he sighs. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s the way the world wants us to be together. I get to have you, over and over again - how could I be ungrateful?”

“Oh,” Jimin murmurs, casting his gaze downwards. It feels like a heavy burden - to be loved. 

But Jimin has been waiting for Namjoon all his life. He thinks he must love him, too. 

“I wish you could remember our lives together,” Namjoon admits. “But sometimes, bits and pieces of them come back to you in dreams.”

“Really?” 

“Sometimes.” Namjoon curls his hands in Jimin’s hair, stroking it back from his forehead. “Does it bother you, that you don’t know me?”

“No,” Jimin says. “But I would like to know you.”

“And you’ll have a lifetime to do it.”

Jimin looks down, shy, resting a hand on Namjoon’s firm chest. His gaze catches on the necklace again, with its glowing pearl. He reaches out to touch it, then hesitates, unsure if he should. There’s power in that necklace. 

“You can touch,” Namjoon says, and Jimin runs his finger over the pearl lightly. It’s warm and smooth. 

“What is it?”

“My Yeouiju,” Namjoon says, and Jimin’s eyes widen in understanding. “Unlike you, I was not born with the power to become a dragon. It was gifted to me in the form of this Yeouiju.”

“It’s so small,” Jimin says in wonder, holding it up. “I thought it would be big enough to hold in a dragon’s claw.”

“When I shift, it shifts with me.”

“It’s beautiful,” he murmurs. “What happens if you take the necklace off?”

Namjoon laughs. “I don’t know if I want to find out,” he says wryly. “Come, you still have your power to explore.”

Jimin nods in excitement, sliding off Namjoon’s lap so they can rise. Namjoon leads him to the water’s edge and twines their fingers together. 

“There isn’t much to learn. Connecting with your other form can’t really be taught, only felt. It is a part of you - you only have to access it,” he explains. “When we lie together, what does it feel like?”

Jimin flushes at the abrupt question. 

“Beyond the physical,” Namjoon clarifies wryly. 

The answer comes easily. “Warmth. Energy flowing through my body, like I feel tired and powerful all at once.”

Namjoon nods. “Reach for the warmth. You already know what your dragon feels like. You connect with him every time we are together.”

Jimin closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, centering himself. Slowly, he gathers awareness of his body - the way his hair brushes the side of his face like a light touch, the solid warmth of Namjoon’s hand in his, the steady wood of his sandals beneath his feet, grounding him. He can feel the lingering warmth and energy inside him from when they lay together that morning. Thinking about it makes him blush, but he revisits the way it felt to have the warmth in his belly, the power flowing through his veins. 

The warmth inside him tingles; he can feel it growing, spreading through his body until it reaches the tips of his toes and fingers. He lets it spread even further, lets it envelop him until he feels nothing but warmth. Then he breathes in deep, and when he exhales, he opens his eyes. 

In his dragon form, he has found his way into the shallow water. He looks down at himself and sees how beautiful he is, just like the paintings, yellow and red, bright as the sun. Namjoon waits for him on the bank, and he’s smiling. Namjoon closes his eyes briefly and then he’s shifting before Jimin’s eyes in a cloud of blue, turning into the great Orchid Dragon with his mane of snow white. Namjoon lifts into the air, circling around Jimin, his body lithe and snakelike. It comes naturally; Jimin doesn’t have to think about how to fly, just lifts himself into the air alongside Namjoon. He flies around him, picking up speed as pure joy overtakes him. 

He flies higher and seeks the lake and the trees and in the distance, his home and its lotus pond, and everything is beautiful and small. All of Jimin’s imaginings weren’t enough to match up to how it really feels to fly - he feels like the entire world is at his fingertips. He feels weightless. 

He loses track of time, flying over the trees with Namjoon. Only when the sun begins to set, the sky awash with color, does he realize how long they’ve been out. It takes all the strength he has to force himself back down to the lake, where he returns to his human form with great despondency. 

“You can shift whenever you want now,” Namjoon comforts him as they walk back home. “Shift and sleep in the lotus pond tonight, no one would stop you.”

Jimin isn’t too proud to admit that he considers it. 

Jimin had been eager to greet his people as half of the dragon pair for the first time, but he can’t help but grow weary as the ceremony drags on. It feels like the entire kingdom has come to pay their respects. He and Namjoon are seated in high-backed chairs in the large courtyard of the main palace, where a line of people waits to pay their respects, one-by-one. The king is seated on a small pavilion not far from them. However tired Jimin grows, he feels worse for the drummers lining the perimeter of the courtyard. At least he and Namjoon have servants to fan them and seats more comfortable than the stone ground. 

Still, he’s grateful to receive so much love. Each person who steps forward has something to say, and some of them bring gifts, too. His sense of responsibility grows as he looks upon the faces of his people and hears their high hopes for their reign. The people are depending on them for prosperity and fortune, especially after the difficult decades they have had since the last Lotus Dragon died. Jimin wishes nothing more than to make up for the bitter time and hopes that their union will bring them as much good fortune as it always does. One man tells them his crops are looking greener already. 

The pomp and circumstance between each visitor is longer than it needs to be, but Namjoon and Jimin use the time to talk, mouths hidden by their hand fans so as not to be rude. 

"Are you close with the king?" Namjoon asks him curiously, in between an older couple and a young woman with a baby. "He seems quite relaxed around you."

"Hardly," Jimin murmurs. "I barely spoke a word to him before the past few months, when he began to visit more often." 

He pauses, considering, and Namjoon picks up on it. "What?"

"I just realized that isn't exactly true." Before them, the young woman sinks into a bow with her baby strapped on her back. The caller is announcing her name. "I suppose I spoke to him once, long ago."

When Youngwoo's parents had died, the kingdom had gone into a state of mourning. Jimin had been present for the funeral, and he had gone to pay respects to the new king personally. He remembers feeling sad for him. Even though he was older than Jimin, he had looked so young to him then, dressed in his ceremonial garb with his head held high before the rest of the world. It seemed unfair that he would have to take on responsibility for an entire kingdom when he should have just been mourning his parents. Jimin felt empathetic toward him - he had left his parents at a young age to be raised as the Lotus Dragon. It wasn't the same, but he felt a kinship toward the young king at that time. 

He had stayed in the palace that night and found sleep evading him. The mourning lay over the kingdom like an oppressive blanket, and he could feel it bearing down on his shoulders. He'd left his room quietly, taking refuge in one of the palace's many gardens. To his surprise and mild embarrassment, he'd run into Youngwoo himself turning the corner - the king had been sitting on a bench by the water. Jimin had hesitated, wondering if he could turn around and slip away before Youngwoo noticed him, but it was too late already. 

"Care to join me, Lotus Dragon?" Youngwoo had asked him without turning around. 

Jimin had taken the seat next to him tentatively, twisting his fingers in his lap. Youngwoo's parents had been inaccessible to him. He may have held a rank just under theirs, but he was only a child, and they were the king and queen. He didn't know what to do with the realization that he was seated next to a king. He may have been the Lotus Dragon, but mostly, he felt like a child, too.

But Youngwoo didn't look much like a king, then, sitting by his side with his shoulders slumped. He looked like the 16-year-old boy he was. So Jimin had turned to him and said, "I'm sorry about your parents. It isn't the same thing, but I don't really have parents anymore, either. So if you would ever like to talk about it, I would be honored to listen."

Youngwoo had turned to him in surprise, his eyes widening briefly. Then his face had softened. "Do you miss them?"

"I don't remember them too much," Jimin had said honestly. "I think I miss the idea of them more than anything. Like having someone to love you and take care of you."

"I don't know if they loved me," Youngwoo had confessed. "More than my parents, they were the king and queen."

Jimin had nodded; he could well imagine that. 

"Still. My heart feels empty."

"They were your parents in the end," Jimin had murmured. Youngwoo didn't turn away quickly enough for Jimin to miss the way his lip quivered. After that, they sat quietly. Then Jimin had taken his leave and returned to his room. 

He wonders, now, why he hadn't thought of that night before. The Youngwoo he knows now feels a world away from the boy who had sat with him on the bench. He supposes it's hard to remember he used to be a boy once, too. 

Namjoon is still looking at him curiously, but the introduction is over, and they return to their duties. 

In between a boy and his brother and a pair of old women, Namjoon unfolds his fan before his mouth to murmur, "After this, I want you in the bathhouse."

Jimin snaps his fan in front of his face to hide the furious blush that spreads across his cheeks. "Orchid Dragon, this is hardly the appropriate time - "

"What did I say?" There's amusement clear in Namjoon's tone. "I only said we should go to the bathhouse after this. You're the one with the dirty mind, Lotus Dragon."

Jimin blushes even harder. He's saved from answering by the end of the introduction; he lowers his fan and composes himself. 

They don't get to go off and frolic after their greetings are over, many tiring hours later. The king wants them to join him in a meeting with his ministers, so they follow him to the throne room where the officials have already assembled. They are given space to sit on either side of the king. The beginning is dull and Jimin wishes they could have just gone home, but then an official brings forward an issue that has everyone sitting up straight. It seems that there has been some movement along their border with the Southern Kingdom. 

Jimin doesn't immediately know why this is a problem. They have always gotten along well with the Southern Kingdom; they are a peaceful kingdom. He can't imagine why that would change all of a sudden. Their queen had been well-acquainted with Youngwoo's parents. But the minister who brings the news seems to find it suspicious, and the king is clearly in agreement. 

"I have long been wary of the Southern Kingdom's intentions," he says. "Perhaps it is time we look a little closer."

To Jimin's surprise, Namjoon speaks up. He hadn't thought they were meant to participate, but he supposes if they were invited to the meeting, then they must be considered participants. "Our relationship with the Southern Kingdom stretches back many centuries. The Rose Dragon is an ally."

The six kingdoms that surround theirs all have a dragon of fortune, but Jimin and Namjoon are the only pair. Jimin has met the Rose Dragon before - she, like him, is reincarnated each lifetime. Her current incarnation is in her forties, the same age as their queen.

"With all due respect," says the minister who had brought the issue to the floor, "when you last met the Rose Dragon, she was barely an adult. They say she has grown to be quite cunning."

"Who says?" Namjoon demands. "I may have met her current incarnation as a child, but you forget I have met many more of her lifetimes than you can imagine. I know her far better than anyone who would make a judgement such as that."

"You forget that she is not the one who makes decisions for her kingdom," Youngwoo says lightly. Jimin can see his fingers tighten on his knees; he's more agitated than he looks. "The queen is. We cannot account for any changes in her attitude toward us. In order to protect our people, we must remain prepared."

"Being prepared does not mean threatening an alliance of centuries. Will you question the judgement of your forefathers?"

It's a bold thing to say. Jimin swallows, tensing, gaze flickering between Namjoon and Youngwoo. For a moment, there is silence - a standstill. Then Youngwoo looks away. 

"Minister Lee, prepare an emissary to send to the Southern Kingdom. We will settle this matter."

They move on to the next issue, and Jimin finds himself staring at the king. The matter is most certainly not settled. He remembers reading once that one of Youngwoo's ancestors had wanted to expand into the Southern Kingdom, coveting the uniquely fertile fields they lay claim to. All of his attempts to expand were met with failure - the Rose Dragon had blocked them, and back then, their kingdom had not been blessed with the Lotus or Orchid Dragons yet. Eventually, the king had given up, and when their dragons had come into being, an alliance had been formed instead. 

Jimin can't help but wonder if Youngwoo has some of his ancestor's ambition. 

Namjoon's voice sounds lovely when he reads. 

It's smooth and deep and the words flow from his lips like water. Jimin's eyes droop as he listens, though he fights to keep them open. He wants to admire the shape of Namjoon's lips and his handsome profile as he reads, wants to trace his gaze along the long hair that drapes over his bare shoulder. Jimin had slipped into unconsciousness again after Namjoon fucked him in the bathhouse. He'd come to in his room with Namjoon by his side, stroking his hair as he waited for him to wake. He'd still been too lethargic to do much else than stare back at him, so Namjoon had opened his book and started to read to keep him company.

Jimin thinks he could listen to his voice forever. 

"...and so Sunwoo wept through the night, begging for the monster to take pity on him." Namjoon pauses, shooting Jimin a sideways glance. "I don't even know if you're listening with how hard you're staring at me. Should I stop?"

Jimin blushes, a whine creeping into his voice. "I can't help that you're so nice to look at."

Namjoon grins, miraculously looking flustered himself. "How are you feeling?"

"Is it always going to be like this?" he says, feeling even whinier. He squirms, pouting up at Namjoon. "I'm tired and everything hurts and I'm hungry, too."

Namjoon's gaze is indulgent. He sets the book aside so he can lean down and kiss Jimin's forehead, running a hand through his air. "Poor baby," he croons, a little mocking. "You always beg for more, yet your frail little body can't handle it."

"You're so mean!" Jimin huffs, pushing him away. Namjoon grins and kisses him, tilting his chin up so he can lick into his mouth until Jimin's melting into the blankets. 

"See," Namjoon murmurs when they break apart. "Your body wants me all over again."

"I think you're just full of yourself."

Namjoon raises his eyebrows, adjusting himself so he's leaning on his elbow facing Jimin. "Should we test it out?"

"No!" Jimin complains before Namjoon can come near him again. "That's quite enough."

"As you wish, Lotus Dragon."

Namjoon adjusts the blanket where it has fallen off Jimin's bare shoulders. Jimin sighs, blinking contentedly at him. At first, the way Namjoon looked at him had filled him both with apprehension and a nervous joy. This is what he had been waiting his whole life for, and yet it had felt intimidating, too. Namjoon loved him so much, and Jimin wondered if he could ever match the depth of feeling he had built up over so many lifetimes. 

But Jimin thinks he'd had it wrong. He's been building his love up over his lifetimes, too. Just because he can't remember their past lives together doesn't mean those feelings vanished. He can feel them every time he looks at Namjoon - he feels overwhelmed with it, like he's drowning in the depth of his love. Sometimes, when he looks at Namjoon, his eyes fill with tears unbidden. It is a strange thing, to look at someone and feel love that has lasted five hundred years.

Jimin reaches out, swallowing past the sudden lump in his throat, and runs his fingers over the smooth warmth of Namjoon's necklace. It pulses softly under his touch. He wonders what it feels like to lose the person you love, over and over again, lifetime after lifetime. Namjoon has watched him die many times. 

"How did it turn out this way?" Jimin asks quietly. Namjoon looks at him in question. "Why is it that I am reborn and you are not?"

Namjoon covers Jimin's hand with his own, stroking the back of his knuckles. "I don't know why fate willed it to be this way."

"I've always wondered. None of the other kingdoms have a dragon pair, and all the other dragons are born again like me. But you - you're different."

"It is simply the hand we've been dealt."

Jimin frowns at him, but Namjoon's face is unreadable, his thumb still stroking Jimin's skin. "How did you come to be gifted this Yeouiju? None of the old texts say."

A shadow passes over his face. "It is a long story," he says, "one that I will share with you in time. Let us not sully the evening with talk of the past. You said you were hungry?"

He's clearly avoiding the question. Jimin frowns deeper, but Namjoon kisses it away, twining their fingers together. He doesn't know why Namjoon is hiding the truth from him, but he must have a good reason. Jimin wants to trust him. Seokjin seems to trust Namjoon already, and Seokjin rarely trusts anybody. More than that, they are fated to be together. If Jimin doesn't trust Namjoon, who will he trust?

"Yes," Jimin says when Namjoon pulls away. "I'm hungry."

Namjoon stands, shrugging his robes on loosely. He doesn't bother tying them shut, slipping into his trousers and pushing the screen door back so he can go out and find something for them to eat. Jimin can hear him conversing with Seokjin, their voices low and comforting. He closes his eyes and melts into the bed. 

Namjoon is engrossed in looking at court documents, and Jimin is bored. He tries to pull Namjoon's attention away for a while but eventually gives up when he has no success. It's a free day, so in the end, Jimin decides to take a trip to town like he usually does. Seokjin wheedles his way into accompanying him, so he's helped into his hat and whisked out the door. 

"What a lovely day for a walk," Seokjin says cheerfully, strolling by Jimin's side. 

Jimin shoots him a look. "You're so clingy. Like a barnacle."

"A barnacle?" Seokjin feins a gasp. "Is it so bad that I wish to spend time with my charge, who has lately been taken from me?"

"I see you every day."

"For moments only! The rest of your time is spent wrapped up with your Orchid Dragon. If anyone is like a barnacle, that would be you."

Jimin huffs and walks faster to speed ahead of him, but Seokjin's legs are longer, and he catches up easily. 

"I just wanted the chance to speak with you," Seokjin says, his tone gentling. 

Jimin glances at him, the defensiveness leaving him. "Speak with me about what?"

"I only wanted to see how you were doing. Are you happy?"

Jimin falters, slowing down in surprise. Seokjin pauses and waits patiently for him to catch up. No one ever asks him if he's happy, especially not now. It's assumed that he would be happy, given that he has been reunited with the Orchid Dragon. And he is happy. But it's nice to have someone bother to ask. 

"I'm happy," Jimin says softly. "Thank you."

Seokjin smiles, and his cheerful gait returns. 

The town is busy, as it always is in the afternoons. Jimin and Seokjin stop for tea at his favorite tea room first, where the owner greets them warmly. Then they wander through the market, stopping at stalls of trinkets and pottery. Seokjin is far too interested in a new set of bowls, spending an absurd amount of time inspecting them for cracks, so Jimin slips away to look at a stall of hairpins nearby. 

"Shopping for a lover?" The stall owner sidles up to him as soon as he touches a pretty hairpin. 

"I'm not looking for anything," Jimin says firmly, but the man is persistent, pulling out a box of even lovelier hairpins from behind the stall. 

"Take a look at these, young lord. I'm sure you will find something of interest."

A hand reaches past Jimin to snag one of the hairpins from the pic, a pretty blue thing. Jimin draws back, startled, and when he looks to his left he sees a familiar face peeking from under a wide-brimmed hat. Jimin's eyes widen temporarily before he schools his expression. Clearly, the king does not want to be known as such. He is dressed in ordinary clothes, still finer than a peasant but ordinary for a king nonetheless. The corner of his mouth is curved up in a secret smile. 

"It suits you," Youngwoo says, holding the blue hairpin between them. Jimin blinks. "I'll have this."

He buys it off the stall owner without even bargaining, and JImin considers telling him that his disguise won't do much for him if he flashes his money around like that. But before he can open his mouth, Youngwoo takes Jimin's hand in his and presses the hairpin into his palm.

"Your - " Jimin hesitates, unsure of how to address him. "I can't accept this."

"Of course you can." Youngwoo closes Jimin's hand around it and lets him go. "Walk with me?"

He turns away and heads down the market; Jimin scurries to catch up. Seokjin spies them and joins, a cautious distance behind them. Knowing Seokjin, he has probably already recognized the king. 

"What are you doing here?" Jimin whispers, leaning his head toward Youngwoo so as not to be overheard. 

"Sometimes I like to observe without being noticed," he says easily. "It is difficult for a king to know his people when he is only a king."

Jimin understands. He finds himself nodding. 

"And you? Are you here alone?"

"Only Seokjin. I just came to spend some time."

"The Orchid Dragon did not wish to join you?"

There seems to be some hidden meaning to his words; Jimin doesn't miss it. He answers carefully. "He came into town yesterday. Today I left him to his reading; he seemed to be enjoying himself."

"I hope the adjustment to your new role has been a good one."

Jimin nods. "It has. Thank you."

"Do you mind if I speak without illusion?"

"No," Jimin says slowly, brows furrowing. His stomach jumps with nerves. "You are always free to say what you choose."

"You are very kind, Jimin," Youngwoo says, and Jimin starts in surprise. He can't remember if the king has ever called him by his name before. But it makes sense - right now they aren't the Lotus Dragon and the king. They are just Jimin and Youngwoo. "And it is a trait that I admire in you. But not everyone is as kind as you, and sometimes it can be difficult to remember that when your own intentions are pure."

Jimin is frowning fully now. He slows down, peering at Youngwoo carefully. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"There are things about your role and your past lives that have not always been easily presented to you. I believe everyone wanted to protect you, precious as you are. But perhaps that wasn't fair."

"You're saying the history I've been told is a lie."

"Not a lie, no. Just that there is always more to every story." He sighs, straightening his hat. “We have been blessed with the Orchid Dragon’s presence in our lives for a very short time. We know him only a little.”

It might be a mistake, but Jimin asks - “May I speak without illusion, as well?”

“Of course,” the king allows, and Jimin draws in a breath. 

“I know you only a little, too.”

The king inclines his head, the corner of his lip curling up. “You’re right, although I wish it didn’t have to be that way. I have always wanted to know you, Jimin.”

Jimin blinks at him, feeling a flutter of surprise in his belly. 

“Our positions made that difficult. But I still remember that night by the water. You were very kind to me.”

Jimin hadn’t thought he would remember. He had barely remembered himself, but he wonders if maybe that memory had mattered more to the king than it had to him. Youngwoo had just lost his parents, after all. “I’m glad I found you that night,” he says quietly. 

Youngwoo sighs, adjusting his hat again. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I'm saying; these days I find myself rambling. Ignore me, Jimin. The last thing I want to do is sully your outing."

He stops at the end of the market, smiling down at Jimin. 

"Have a good day, Jimin. I will see you."

He turns away and heads toward the edge of town, leaving Jimin standing there, reeling. Seokjin catches up to him; he's frowning, too. Jimin wonders how much he heard.

"You look upset," Seokjin says quietly, and Jimin knows what he's asking. What did he say ?

"I think he was warning me about the Orchid Dragon," Jimin murmurs. "And I think he was trying to tell me something hidden."

Seokjin's frown deepens. He would never speak ill of the king or of Namjoon aloud; he knows his place. Instead, with a troubled look on his face, he says, "Be careful."

"I know," Jimin says. 

The problem is, he doesn't know how to do that.

Jimin goes at night, when he knows no one will be there. The guards at the gate to the palace are reluctant to let him in until he lifts his hat to show them his face. 

"I have business with the king," he says, and they exchange a glance and let him pass.

The library isn't anywhere near the king's compound. Jimin slips quietly through to the library; he only has to show his face to any guard who stops him to be allowed through. They always back away as soon as they see him, as if he'll punish them for even asking. The guard outside the library is the same; Jimin only tells him he has business, and he bows as Jimin passes him. There is a lantern by the entrance, along with the means to light it. 

Jimin visited the library often when he was younger. Mostly, his tutors selected texts for him to read, but he was always allowed to come explore on his own. His interests were much less academic. The library has novels, too, the entertaining type, and Jimin has always loved those, even if Seokjin disapproved. Sometimes, when he goes to town, the owner of the bookstore saves him new releases by his favorite writers. He usually hides those ones from Seokjin; they're much more questionable than anything in the palace library. 

But tonight, his interests are purely academic, and he maneuvers through the shelves to where he knows they keep the historians' texts. Slipping on a pair of gloves, he holds his lantern up to peer at the spines until he finds the era he's looking for - the beginning of the current dynasty, 500 years ago when the Lotus Dragon was first born. 

Most of the texts he has read a hundred times in his classes. Studying his own history was, of course, the priority of all his teachers. But he settles on the floor to search again, sifting through page after page for something new, something he might have missed in all his studies. 

Jimin doesn't know how long he spends there, going over histories, but it feels like hours. His eyes burn and his head aches, and he has found absolutely nothing of interest. Still, there are shelves and shelves of texts remaining, and he doesn't want to give up yet. With a heavy sigh, he pulls one more off the shelf and opens it. 

Something falls out. 

Jimin starts, blinking rapidly. It's another book, thin and poorly bound. Someone must have slipped it between the pages of the other. With wide eyes, Jimin opens it and begins to read. 

The book contains a story about the Orchid Dragon. It isn't much different than the story Jimin had read growing up. In that story, the Orchid Dragon was the companion of the young prince - Youngwoo's ancestor - and a respected member of court. As young men, the Orchid Dragon nearly gave his life to save the prince's when they were confronted by an assassin. He was the oldest prince, and the only child of his aging parents. Without him, the new dynasty would have fallen as quickly as it rose. As a show of respect and gratitude, the prince had gifted him the Yeouiju that belonged to him. From there, the Orchid Dragon had been blessed with the power to rise as a dragon that would always protect the throne of their kingdom. Tragically, the prince died only a year later. But by then he had had a child of his own, and the dynasty continued. 

The story Jimin reads tonight is almost exactly the same, save for one key difference. The prince doesn't gift the Orchid Dragon his Yeouiju. The Orchid Dragon takes it after slitting the prince's throat, one night when he was let into the chambers of his trusted friend. His legacy is bathed in blood; the blessing was never his to have. 

Jimin's skin feels cold. He sifts through the text carefully, searching for signs of authenticity. It looks no different than the other texts of its age. It is signed by a court historian, his name identical to the one present on many of the texts Jimin had looked through tonight. He searches and searches, but he finds no clear sign that the text is a fake. 

In the end, Jimin slips it back inside the other book and puts it away. He puts out the lantern and leaves the library, hat pulled low over his face to hide the way he looks, like his whole world has shattered around him.

Namjoon's brow is furrowed as he sleeps. Jimin wraps his arms around his knees and waits for him to wake. eyes locked on the necklace at his throat. The orb glows softly. Every so often, it shines a little brighter. Even now, as he sleeps, Jimin can feel the connection between them. It is undeniable, impossible to fight - if he even wants to fight it. He doesn't know what to believe. The text looked authentic, and he can well understand why it would be hidden from him. He can also understand why the Orchid Dragon was permitted to serve the empire even after committing such a heinous crime; their power works together, not apart. The Lotus Dragon can't bestow good fortune upon the land without the Orchid Dragon's help. And without the dragon pair, their kingdom would fall to ruin aside the other more prosperous kingdoms before long. 

If it's true, maybe Namjoon had a good reason for killing the king. But Jimin can't come up with one that makes sense. He had killed him in a form of deception, invited to his room as a person who was trusted. They were friends. They grew up together. How could he kill his dearest friend? Whatever the king might have done, surely there were other solutions. 

It doesn't make sense. Jimin doesn't want to believe it, but he doesn't know what else to do. The Orchid Dragon is his partner - his other half. He feels wrong for mistrusting him at all. 

Namjoon stirs, face scrunching up as he stretches. His eyes open, bleary from sleep, and he blinks up at Jimin. The first thing he does is reach for him, curling a hand around his neck and bringing him down. Jimin lets him, closing his eyes and melting into their kiss. 

"You're up early," Namjoon murmurs. 

"Yes." Jimin rests his head facing Namjoon and reaches out, brushing his fingers over the warm necklace. "It was the king's first, wasn't it? Youngwoo's ancestor."

Namjoon looks a little taken aback by the question. He nods slowly. "Yes. It was the king's."

"How did it come to be yours?"

Namjoon yawns, stretching his arms up again. He stretches them past Jimin, lifting himself up so he's hovering over him. "You're awfully curious this morning," he teases, dipping down to mouth at Jimin's neck. His hand runs down his side, slipping under his robe to palm at his bare skin.

"I want to know about you," Jimin whispers, even as his body arches into Namjoon's touch. 

"Mm, ask me later." Namjoon's mouth travels lower, tonguing at his nipple, and Jimin gasps. "Right now I'm busy."

Jimin isn't naive enough to miss the fact that Namjoon is evading his question, but with Namjoon's hands on his body and his mouth on his skin, he forgets his question soon enough. 

Jimin needs help. 

He mulls over his problems for days on his own, and he grows no closer to understanding what should be done. He tries asking Namjoon again about the Yeouiju, but like before, Namjoon evades the question. Jimin is ashamed of the way he doesn't even realize he's been distracted until later, when he remembers what he wanted to ask in the first place. He doesn't know what to do, and he doesn't know who to ask for help, either. There are too many secrets at stake for him to speak with just anybody. 

But in the end, he grows desperate. Jimin needs advice, and no one is better at giving advice than Seokjin. 

Namjoon takes a trip to town to visit the bookstore one afternoon, and Jimin sees the perfect opportunity. He declines to accompany him, claiming he's too tired for the walk today. Then he asks Seokjin if he'll meet him by the lotus pond that afternoon so he can ask him something. Seokjin's curiosity is piqued, but he agrees without asking questions. When the sun is high in the sky, Seokjin joins him by the pond, tossing a handful of crumbs into the water for the fish. 

"Is everything alright?" he asks.

Jimin turns to him nervously. "No," he murmurs. "Not really."

Seokjin's brow furrows immediately. "Tell me."

"First, you have to promise you will keep this a secret." Jimin looks up at him earnestly, resisting the urge to grab his hands to show him his seriousness. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but I feel as if I'm going mad."

To his surprise, Seokjin's expression shutters. His shoulders stiffen. "Lotus Dragon, I ask you to consider whether sharing this with me is right."

Jimin frowns. "You don't want me to tell you?"

"I am only asking you to think twice. I am only a servant. There are things that should not reach my ears."

"You aren't just a servant," Jimin insists. "You're my hyung. You and your mother raised me. I trust you more than anyone."

Oddly enough, Jimin's words seem to distress Seokjin further. He won't meet his eyes, looking at the ground instead, and the set of his mouth is an upset one. Jimin wonders if this is a result of their distance lately, ever since Namjoon arrived. He doesn't want Seokjin to feel like he isn't important to him anymore. When they had taken Jimin from his parents to come live here, Seokjin's mother had cared for him like her own. He and Seokjin grew up side-by-side, and when she died, Seokjin had assumed her role as Jimin's caretaker. Seokjin is friend, brother, and teacher to him all at once. He doesn't have anyone else. 

"Hyung," Jimin pleads. He does reach out this time, taking Seokjin's hands in his. "I need your help. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm - I'm afraid."

Seokjin finally looks at him. His gaze is no less upset than before. "If you are sure."

"I'm sure. Will you listen?"

Seokjin nods.

"The king hinted to me that the Orchid Dragon’s past is not what I have been taught it is," Jimin starts. He pauses to swallow past the lump in his throat. "I found a text in the library. It tells a different story, one where hyung - he killed the prince to steal his Yeouiju. It was never a gift."

Seokjin's eyes widen imperceptibly. "That is a part of no history I have ever read."

"I know. But the text, it looked authentic. It was hidden inside another. And I asked him." His voice lowers to a whisper, even though he knows there is no one around but them. He thinks he's just afraid to give his doubt a voice. "I asked him twice, and he won't answer. He avoids the question each time."

"Jimin," Seokjin breathes, and that's how Jimin knows his shock is genuine. He rarely ever uses his name, even when they are alone. "You really believe this text to be the truth?"

"And there lies my problem. I don't know, hyung. I don't know what to believe."

"Have you considered that you were meant to find that text so shortly after its existence was hinted to you?"

"I have," Jimin admits. "It gives me no pleasure to doubt either of them, hyung or the king. But I don't know what to believe. Every time I look at the necklace, see the way the pearl glows - I can't help but wonder."

Seokjin's frown is deep and troubled. He squeezes Jimin's hands in his own. "Jimin-ah, I'm afraid that you are being placed at the center of something dangerous. Whatever the truth is, someone wants you to believe something, one way or the other."

"What do I do?" he whispers. "I was never prepared for this. I thought once the Orchid Dragon came, fulfilling my duties would be simple. I only had to be his."

"I know." Seokjin reaches up, cupping Jimin's cheek in his hand. "It isn't fair, Jimin-ah. And it shouldn't be like this. Your duties are separate from politics; they always have been, and they were meant to remain that way. Someone is disrespecting your role and jeopardizing the very future of our kingdom."

"Then what do I do? Do I tell him what I found? I'm afraid to confront him. I don't want to be wrong. I don't want to hurt him."

"What does your heart tell you?" Seokjin asks gently. "Who does your heart tell you to trust?"

His heart swells as if in response. He doesn't answer, but he doesn't have to - it must be written all over his face. His heart already belongs so fully to Namjoon that he doesn't know what to do with himself. But he's afraid that his heart will only blind him. 

"The Lotus Dragon and the Orchid Dragon have been together for five centuries, Jimin-ah. Every lifetime, he wakes up for you. When you die, he falls into a sleep from which he is unwakeable until the time to reunite with you comes once more. Your duty has and always will be to the kingdom first, but his? His is to you."

Jimin's eyes well up. He looks down, lump in his throat.

"Trust your heart," Seokjin tells him. "And your heart knows who to trust, too."

Namjoon is engrossed in his writing, wrist flicking resolutely as his brush travels down the paper. His strong brow is furrowed in concentration, lips parted. He looks handsome as always. Jimin was supposed to be working on his own calligraphy, but he found himself distracted by Namjoon like always. He sets his brush down and scoots over to Namjoon's side, careful not to jostle Namjoon's hand as he joins him. 

"What are you writing?" Jimin asks, peering up at him. 

Namjoon finishes the character he's writing and looks over at him, his smile fond and indulgent. "A poem. Aren't you supposed to be working on something, too?"

"No," Jimin says easily. As soon as Namjoon sets his brush down, Jimin scoots even closer and wraps both his arms around Namjoon's, curling into him. 

Namjoon gives in easily, like he always does. He kisses the side of Jimin's head, eyes crinkling in fondness. Jimin feels guilty for doubting him. He doesn't know the truth behind the text he found, but whatever it is, there must be more to it. He shouldn't have doubted him so easily, not when the king's interference had been so obvious. From the start, Youngwoo has wanted something. There's more to his mistrust of Namjoon, too. Jimin may not understand what's happening, but he understands that he needs to tread more carefully. 

"Of course not," Namjoon teases. "The only thing that occupies your time is seeking my attention, isn't it?"

Jimin blushes, squirming against him. "And if it is?"

"Then I am lucky." Namjoon fits his fingers under Jimin's chin and tilts his head up to kiss him. 

Jimin melts into the kiss, sighing against Namjoon's lips. He clutches at the lapels of his robe, arching into Namjoon's chest when he feels his arms wind around his waist. Every time they kiss, it feels new. Jimin thinks he could kiss Namjoon all day, lose himself in the press of their bodies. 

"We should go to the bathhouse," Jimin murmurs, fingers tracing the line of Namjoon's jaw. "I had them fill the water."

"So this is what you've been shooting me glances for all day," Namjoon teases, kissing him sweetly before standing. "You had a plan."

"No," Jimin whines. "If you don't want to go, just say so."

"That's not what I said." Namjoon catches him around the waist, and Jimin tilts his head for a kiss but gets his nose flicked instead. He scrunches it up, pushing Namjoon away, who ducks toward the screen door with a laugh. 

"Maybe I don't want to go anymore!" Jimin calls after him. He can hear Namjoon laughing through the house and scrambles to catch up with him. He passes Seokjin by the entrance, who gives him a knowing, raised-eyebrows look. Jimin huffs in embarrassment and brushes  past him. 

As he'd asked, the main bath is filled with warm water. Namjoon undresses Jimi before himself, catching him by surprise with the urgency with which he pulls him in as soon as they're inside. Jimin gasps into Namjoon's mouth, trying desperately to keep up as Namjoon's insistent hands tear at his clothes. He unties his robe and pulls down his pants, leaving searing kisses down his thighs as he does. This is what Jimin wanted but like always, he finds himself overwhelmed, flushing hot and feeling dizzy, clutching at Namjoon for support. 

In the end, they don't even make it to the water. Namjoon takes him on the stone surface, their robes still half-on, fucking into him hard and fast, like they don't have all day to do just this. Jimin loses himself in ecstasy, arching sharply off the ground, fingers scrabbling for purchase on the slippery stone as he moans, incessant and helpless. He can feel the familiar burst of energy mixed with lethargy as his eyes drift shut, tears slipping down his cheeks. 

"N-namjoon!" he whimpers, over and over, Namjoon's lips on his throat. 

He can sense Namjoon growing close to the edge, his thrusts losing rhythm and growing even more frantic. Jimin's cries rise in pitch, his eyes flying open and jaw dropping as he feels Namjoon's cock deep in his belly. 

Through his tears, he sees the figure standing over them, hand poised to strike. 

Jimin's eyes widen. His body goes still, horror turning his blood ice cold as he realizes the king is there, watching them, standing over Namjoon's back. 

"Namjoon!" he cries, terror taking the place of his earlier ecstasy, but in the heat of the moment, it must sound the same to Namjoon. 

He grinds his cock into Jimin and comes with a long groan, and as soon as he feels the wet warmth of his cum filling him up, he sees Youngwoo's hand dart out. 

"No!" he shouts, reaching for Namjoon, but it's too late. Youngwoo snaps the chain from Namjoon's neck and pulls the necklace off, holding it up to the light. The hunger in his eyes as he gazes upon the pearl is terrifying. Jimin has only seconds to register it, to feel the way the edges of his vision are beginning to go black like always, before Namjoon slumps on top of him. Jimin fights the urge to close his eyes, rolling Namjoon onto his back - he's unconscious, but his chest rises and falls as he breathes. 

"What have you done?" Jimin cries, staring up at the king in horror. Panic claws at his throat and he pushes down the scream that's growing inside his chest. He clutches Namjoon's face with trembling hands. 

Above him, Youngwoo is holding the necklace, and the pearl has begun to glow again.

Abruptly, Youngwoo slips the necklace inside his pocket and crouches, meeting Jimin's gaze with one that seems genuinely regretful. "I am sorry," he says, brow furrowed. "If there was any other way than this, I would have taken it."

"What have you done?" Jimin repeats, his voice shaking as hard as his hands. "What did you do to him?"

"It was never his in the first place," Youngwoo tells him. "He took it, and I have taken it back. This is how it was truly meant to be. I am righting 500 years of wrong."

"You can't," Jimin sobs, but his voice is weak, and he is finding it harder and harder to keep from slipping away. He slumps over Namjoon's body, shoulders shaking. "Give it back."

But Youngwoo is already standing up and making for the door. "I'm sorry," he says again. "I will tell your caretaker where to find you."

He leaves, and Jimin feels the darkness take him at last. 

When Jimin wakes up, he feels the panic seize him almost immediately. It feels like there's a weight on his chest, squeezing the breath out of him, and he jolts upright with a gasp. His vision grows spotty, head throbbing from the sudden movement. There are hands on him, pushing him gently back down. 

"H-hyung - " he gasps, and he can feel someone stroking his hair. 

"It's alright," Seokjin murmurs. "Take a deep breath, Jimin-ah."

Jimin swallows harshly, willing his frantic heartbeat to slow down. "Hyung - the king - he took it - "

"I know." Seokjin is sitting by his side, his brow furrowed. "He came to me after he did it. Told me where to find you both."

"And the Orchid Dragon?"

Seokjin casts his gaze down, shoulders stiff. "We've put him in the other room. He's sleeping."

"Sleeping," Jimin repeats. Seokjin's voice sounds wrong.

"He won't wake up."

Jimin sits up again, slower this time. He runs a trembling hand over his face. The silence falls heavy on their shoulders, and Jimin lets it.

"It makes sense," he finally says. "The power of the Orchid Dragon is what has kept him alive beyond his natural lifetime. Without it, he won't live long."

Seokjin nods. "It seems he has fallen into a slumber like he does every time you die. Only there is no guarantee as to how long his slumber will last."

"I should have told him," Jimin whispers, staring at his hands. They blur in his vision. "I should have told him about what I found, about my suspicions toward the king."

"It wouldn't have changed anything. You can't blame yourself."

"If I had said something, he could have prepared - "

"The Orchid Dragon is a smart man. Do you think he had no suspicions of the king on his own?" Seokjin's voice is firm, and Jimin knows he's right. "It's not your fault, Jimin. It's mine."

Jimin's eyes flash up to Seokjin's. His mouth is pressed in a tight line, and Jimin realizes that Seokjin's hands are shaking, too. "What do you mean?"

"I'm sorry," Seokjin says, and his voice finally breaks. "It's my brother. The punishment for stealing from a minister is death, but the king said - he said he'd spare him, if I helped him. He made me tell him about the Orchid Dragon's comings and goings. About the Yeouiju."

When Jimin had spoken to Seokjin about his suspicions toward Namjoon, Seokjin had seemed distressed. Like he hadn't wanted him to tell him anything. He had asked him repeatedly if he was sure. Jimin sees it now - he hadn't wanted to have a secret, knowing he would have to divulge it to Youngwoo. 

"How could you?" Jimin whispers, his belly clenching tight. He has only ever trusted Seokjin. 

But even as he says it, he understands. Seokjin's little brother lives in a different village; his mother had brought only her eldest son with her when she came to work for the palace. Seokjin's little brother had remained in their home with their father, until he had died a handful of years ago. Jimin knows Seokjin sends most of his pay home, supporting his brother from afar. 

"He's all I have left," Seokjin says, his voice hoarse, and Jimin reaches out to take his hands. He feels betrayed, hurt that Namjoon might die to save Seokjin's brother. But he understands. Seokjin loves his brother, and Jimin loves Namjoon. It is an impossible situation - and in the end, it's the king's fault. 

"I told you about the necklace," Jimin murmurs. "That's how he found it."

Seokjin nods. "He had someone keeping tabs on the house. When we had the bath prepared - I suppose he was waiting. I don't understand why he chose that moment, but he did."

"I do," Jimin murmurs. His brain is working fast as he begins to understand what is happening. The energy exchange occurs when Namjoon comes inside Jimin. Their energies join, then, only they join inside Jimin - and then they separate, leaving him weary and exhausted each time. "He took the necklace when the Orchid Dragon’s energy left him to enter me. By the time our energies separated again, the king had the necklace. The Orchid Dragon's power went back to him instead."

Seokjin sits up a little straighter. "Do you think there is a way to return the power to the Orchid Dragon?"

Jimin opens his mouth to explain, then hesitates. He searches Seokjin's face carefully. He had made the mistake of giving up a secret once; he does not wish to do it again. Seokjin seems to understand. He deflates, letting go of Jimin's hands. 

"I'm sorry," he murmurs again. "I don't think he will come to me again, now that he has what he wants. But it's best if you take this next path alone."

"I wish I could tell you," Jimin whispers, hoping he can convey the strength of his earnestness. "How I wish I didn't have to be alone."

"I wish it, too." Seokjin's gaze is sad and a little tired. He looks away, and Jimin finds the distance between them briefly impassible. No matter how important Seokjin is to him, how much he values his presence in his life, in the end fate has given them different stations. Seokjin is vulnerable, subject to the whims of people like Youngwoo and Jimin. 

Jimin vows to protect him. He won't let Seokjin be used like this again - he will find a way to keep him safe from the manipulation of those in power. 

"I will make things right," Jimin promises, and Seokjin looks like he wishes he could believe him. 

But Jimin has a plan - a solid one. Part of his education has involved learning about his power from a retinue of shamans, who have passed the knowledge down for centuries, since the two Dragons first appeared. When Jimin's first life, his original self, was fourteen years old, a shaman found and identified him as the kingdom's first shifter. Most of the other kingdoms around them had a shifter already, someone who brought prosperity to the kingdom with their presence in each lifetime. But Jimin was their first, and he was brought to the palace to grow up alongside the prince. 

But the problem was Jimin couldn't shift. The shamans did everything they could to help him access his inner power, but he remained an ordinary human, and the kingdom continued to struggle - diseased crops, floods followed by droughts. But Jimin remained in the palace, growing up with the prince and his childhood companion, Namjoon. The stories tell of how Jimin and Namjoon began to fall in love. When he was twenty, the prince stopped a coalition of townspeople from cutting down a forest when he learned an Imugi guarded the lake there. As a reward for his help, the Imugi gifted the prince with its Yeouiju, a pearl that remained powerless until the prince passed it onto Namjoon. 

They say that it was only when Namjoon and Jimin lay together for the first time that they both finally came into their power. The fated prosperity came to the kingdom at last, and both Namjoon and Jimin gained the power to shift into dragons. It was unheard of - they were the only dragon pair in all the kingdoms. 

But Jimin was born for this role, not gifted it like Namjoon. It is inside Jimin that their energies unite as one; Youngwoo may have the pearl, but without Jimin, he won't be able to do much. He needs him. And if Jimin gives him what he wants, maybe he will find the chance to take the pearl back - and take Namjoon's power back with it. 

Jimin is sitting by Namjoon's side when the king's invitation comes. 

He spends most of his time here, watching Namjoon sleep - waiting. He looks peaceful in sleep, chest rising steadily, his brow relaxed. But Jimin can see the way he is beginning to fade. His skin is losing color; his face is growing gaunt. Jimin can feel his life force leaving him. He doesn't know how long he will last this way - it could be months, but it could also be mere days.

When Seokjin enters the room after a quiet knock, Jimin says to him without turning, "He's going to die."

Seokjin has never been one to mince words. "Yes," he says softly. "He is."

For a moment, Jimin takes in Namjoon: the long lashes resting against his skin, his strong brow and plush mouth. He can't lose him. He won't. There are 500 years between them; if Namjoon sleeps when Jimin dies, waiting for him to wake, Jimin knows without a doubt that he will die when Namjoon does. 

Then he turns to Seokjin and registers the scroll in his hand. 

"An invitation," Seokjin explains, his voice and expression grim. "From the king."

Jimin brushes his fingers along the back of Namjoon's hand. His skin is warm, despite the way he has begun to fade. "When?"

"Tonight. He wishes it to be known that the kingdom's prosperity must always be the first priority."

Jimin nods. He stands, brushing down his robes. "Will you help me prepare?"

Seokjin eyes him carefully. "You understand what he wants?"

"I understand."

Seokjin looks upset, like he wants to protest, but in the end he just nods. "I will help."

Seokjin and the other servants help Jimin bathe and dress in robes of red and gold. He will be seen on his route from here to the palace, so they have to keep up appearances. They tie his hair into a tight knot and scent his skin with perfume. Like the night Jimin had first met Namjoon, Seokjin gives him a vial of oil and leaves him alone to prepare. This time, there is no thrum of anticipation under his veins. There is only a resigned acceptance. 

When the time comes, a palanquin arrives from the palace. Seokjin intends on coming with him, but the retainers sent by the king say it isn't necessary. Jimin goes alone. He should feel nervous, on his way to a man whose ambition has led him to battle a tradition of five centuries, but he finds that he doesn't. He keeps thinking about the boy sitting by the lake. My heart feels empty.  

In the span of a few days, Jimin has faced far too many betrayals: the hidden story about Namjoon, Seokjin's confession, and Youngwoo. The king had always made him a little nervous, but Jimin had liked him. Trusted him. For a time, when he was coming into himself, he had almost fancied him. Youngwoo has always been a handsome man, one to whom confidence comes so naturally - Jimin suspects he isn't the only one who had found their eyes drawn to him growing up. 

But in the end, Youngwoo is a king, and he has proved exactly what kind of king he means to be. He has allowed his ambition to come before his duty to the kingdom. He's endangered them all. Jimin owes it to his people to fulfill his duty if Youngwoo has chosen not to. He can't allow someone like Youngwoo to hold the power Namjoon should; it is part of his duty to stop him. He understands this. 

But more than that, Jimin has to save Namjoon's life. And he will do anything to save him. 

He understands this, too.

Jimin is led to the king's compound. They waste no time - they take him directly to his room, knocking to announce him before bowing him inside. Jimin had never thought he would see the king's personal chambers, but he isn't curious, doesn't really care. His eyes are on Youngwoo when he steps inside, preparing himself. Unlike Jimin, Youngwoo hasn't had to bother keeping up appearances. He's wearing only trousers banded at his waist and an open robe, leaving him bare-chested. Namjoon's necklace hangs from his strong neck, the pearl glowing softly against his smooth skin. His head is bare, too, his hair in a topknot. He's sitting on a gold-embroidered cushion with his legs crossed, waiting. When Jimin enters, he smiles. 

"Lotus Dragon," he says, his voice smooth, as if he hadn't done what he did. "I thought you wouldn't come."

Jimin takes a step inside. The screen door is shut behind him, and they're left alone. "As you said," Jimin starts, proud of the way his voice remains steady, "the kingdom comes first."

Youngwoo nods. "And it is for the kingdom that I have made the choices I have. I hope you can come to understand that."

Jimin's gaze flickers over Youngwoo's face. It feels strange, hearing him say that when Jimin knows it can't be the truth. But looking at him now, Jimin realizes that Youngwoo truly does believe he's doing what's best for his people. 

Jimin takes another step inside, and this time, Youngwoo rises to meet him in a few long strides. He's taller than Jimin, far larger, too - he has a warrior's body. Jimin has to tilt his head back to look at him, and with their proximity, he can feel the heat of his body. At last, he feels a flutter of nervousness in his belly. But when Youngwoo reaches out, his touch is gentle. 

"I meant it," Youngwoo murmurs. "I would like to know you."

When he leans in to kiss him, Jimin tilts his head back and lets him. 

He undresses him carefully, with more tenderness in his touch than Jimin would have expected. He unties his robes and slips them off his shoulders, kissing the bare skin that's revealed as he does. The nervous flutter intensifies, and Jimin lets it show as shyness - he wants to be convincing. He thinks Youngwoo will like it if he's shy. So he casts his gaze downward, flushing, and shivers when the air touches his bare skin. 

"Don't be afraid," Youngwoo says, his hands big and calloused on Jimin's body. "I'll make it good for you."

He walks him back until Jimin feels the screen behind him. Jimin looks up, and the intensity of Youngwoo's gaze means his flush isn't forced this time. 

"I'll make sure you forget all about him," Youngwoo promises. 

Jimin's hands twitch, but he looks away to hide his reaction. The nervousness is replaced briefly by anger, at least until Youngwoo begins to undress and Jimin realizes how big he is. His eyes widen briefly before he averts his gaze, but Youngwoo doesn't miss it. 

"I'll be gentle," he says, the hint of a laugh in his voice, and as promised, when he lifts Jimin's leg up and pushes inside him, he does it slowly. 

Still, he's huge, and Jimin's mouth drops open in a soundless gasp as Youngwoo fills him. He tries to relax but even then he can feel Youngwoo pressing against his walls, pushing into his belly, and part of him begins to panic. 

"You're too big," he whimpers, but he has to do it, has to convince him, so he flings his arms around Youngwoo's neck and buries his face in his throat. "Please," he says, lips moving against his skin. "Be gentle, Your Grace."

When Youngwoo moves inside him, Jimin's head falls back with a gasp. He presses him against the screen, grinding his cock deep inside him, and Jimin can't help the strangled noise that leaves him. His nails dig into Youngwoo's back, feels Youngwoo's lips on his throat - when Youngwoo thrusts, Jimin cries out, feeling him deep in his belly. His cock is so big it presses incessantly at the spot that has Jimin's eyes rolling back into his head, but the assault of pleasure is mixed with a cloying sense of guilt. He can't enjoy this, shouldn't enjoy this - Youngwoo is the reason Namjoon is lying unconscious, and Jimin is Namjoon's. This is a betrayal, too, even if Jimin knows it's his only choice. 

But Youngwoo knows just how to move his hips, just how to use his lips to have Jimin dissolve into a shuddering mess. He clutches at him desperately, moaning each time Youngwoo fucks into him. He can feel the familiar heat of energy inside him, but it's different than with Namjoon - weaker. The Yeouiju has not taken to Youngwoo as well as he might have expected it to. The realization fills Jimin with hope. There's still a chance. 

Youngwoo grabs Jimin's other leg and lifts him into the air, has Jimin crying out in surprise as he clutches at him, feeling suddenly weightless. His cock impales him even deeper as he bounces him up and down, sweat beading at his temples. Jimin sobs, eyes rolling back into his head, feeling like he's close to the edge already. 

"Y-Your Grace - " he gasps, "S-slow - "

Youngwoo's hands fit around his ass, tugging him down as he fucks up into him, and Jimin comes with a cry, his cock rubbed raw against Youngwoo's abdomen. He shudders against him then slumps, panting for breath. Youngwoo fucks him through it, until he's whimpering from sensitivity. Then he moves, walking toward his bed, licking a stripe down Jimin's throat when he whines as his cock chafes inside him with the movement. 

Youngwoo lays him down, and for a moment Jimin is relieved for the respite, melting into the silk covers, his chest heaving. He's dripping sweat now, too. But then his mind catches up and he reaches blindly for Youngwoo, pulling him in by the wrist. 

"Your seed," Jimin mumbles into the sheets. "I need it."

He hears Youngwoo laugh. His fingers card through Jimin's hair. "I know how this works, pretty one."

Youngwoo lifts his leg up and fucks back into him, sudden enough that Jimin's body jolts. His fingers twist in the sheets, cheek pressing against them as Youngwoo starts to fuck him again, thrusting quick and hard. He whimpers, eyes drifting shut, his body twitching with sensitivity as Youngwoo's cock rubs against his prostate. 

"You are so pliant," Youngwoo croons. "And to think, now you are all mine."

Jimin shudders, grip tightening in the silk covers. If tonight goes the way Jimin intends it to, he won't be Youngwoo's for much longer. 

"Your Grace," he moans, rocking his hips to meet Youngwoo's, and it has the intended effect - Youngwoo's hips stutter, and then he speeds up. 

He fists a hand in Jimin's hair, tugging him up, and Jimin cries out as he rams into him, his entire body jolting with each thrust. Youngwoo's close, he can tell, so he helps him along - moans louder, more wantonly, arches his back, lets his tongue slip out of his mouth obscenely, like he can't help himself. Youngwoo's grunting with every thrust, sweat dripping into his eyes, the pearl dangling from his neck. 

"Please," Jimin whines. "I need it."

But Youngwoo seems determined to make this last, slamming his cock hard into Jimin and grinding against his prostate until Jimin's seeing stars, mouth dropping open in a shuddering gasp. He fits his hands around Jimin's hips and holds him there as he massages his prostate in tight, hard circles. There are tears suspended on his lashes, and he feels like he's going out of his mind, the insistent pressure on his prostate forcing him close to finishing again. He sobs, fingers flexing against the sheets, his muscles tightening from head to toe. 

"P-please - " Jimin whimpers, trying to get the words out to beg him to slow down, but then Youngwoo's hand is around his cock, twisting until Jimin's coming again, trembling, tears spilling from his eyes. 

Youngwoo pulls out and Jimin feels delirious, lying there boneless, wondering how he'll do what he came here to do when he's gone out of his mind already. But maybe that's what Youngwoo wants - to have the upper hand. Keep Jimin from being a threat. He squeezes his eyes shut, panting, before he pushes himself up on shaking arms. Youngwoo is sitting there, watching him, his gaze raking over Jimin's body like he wants to devour him. 

"You said you knew how this works," Jimin slurs, peering at him through his tears. 

Youngwoo smiles. "I also promised I would make it good for you."

"Your Grace," Jimin breathes, crawling toward him. He climbs onto his lap, holding onto his shoulders, and Youngwoo's arms wind around his waist. 

Jimin reaches behind himself, taking Youngwoo's thick cock into his hand and rising to line it up with his hole. He sinks down with a gasp, slowly until his ass meets Youngwoo's thighs and hips. Youngwoo's gaze is too controlled and Jimin needs to push him to the edge, needs to have him delirious, too, so that his plan will work. He leans in, kissing him tentatively, like he's too shy for anything more than the brief press of their mouths. Then he pulls back with a shaky breath before leaning in again. This time he lets his tongue slip out to trace the seam of Youngwoo's lips. When he moves away again, Youngwoo's eyes are dark, his jaw clenched tight. Jimin kisses him a third time, tongue flicking between his lips, but this time when he tries to pull away, Youngwoo tugs him back in by the chin and kisses him hard, licking roughly into his mouth. 

Jimin starts to rock his hips, working Youngwoo's cock inside him, while Youngwoo holds his face in place to kiss him until there's saliva leaking from the corners of their mouths. When he lets him go, he grips his hips tight enough to bruise and thrusts up into him, jostling Jimin in his lap. 

"Your Grace," he gasps, clutching his shoulders for support as Youngwoo starts to fuck him again, pistoning his hips upward at a steady pace. 

Jimin lets his head fall back, baring his throat, moaning long and low. Youngwoo's lips find his neck and his thrusts pick up speed, pounding into him so hard Jimin's eyes widen in shock. He leans back, crying out with every thrust, and Youngwoo's hands on his sides are the only thing holding him up. His back arches, and he can see the outline of Youngwoo's cock pushing against his belly. Youngwoo sees it, too, reaching out to press his hand against it, causing Jimin to seize up with a cry. His hips are losing their rhythm - he's close, but Jimin's losing his mind, struggles to remember what he came here for. He sobs, his body twitching and trembling. Youngwoo slams his cock once, twice into Jimin and then grinds it hard as he comes, twitching inside Jimin's hole, the wet warmth of his cum filling him up. 

Jimin feels the pulse of energy inside him and remembers what he's here for. He surges forward, reaching for the Yeouiju, glowing brighter on his throat. It pulses, Jimin's fingers just inches from it, and then Youngwoo's hand is around his throat, shoving him back onto the bed. 

He's still coming, hips twitching as he holds Jimin down, fingers squeezing his throat until Jimin's eyes are watering. 

"Did you think I was a fool?" he hisses. "Did you think I would let you take it?"

Jimin claws at his wrist, fighting for breath, until Youngwoo lets him go abruptly. Jimin scrambles away from him, feeling his cum leak out of his ass as soon as he moves. Youngwoo is holding the necklace to his chest, safe in his grip. The bone-deep exhaustion that hits him after Namjoon comes isn't there this time - the energy was weaker. He'd barely felt it at all. 

"I was a fool," Youngwoo says, laughing a little bitterly, "to think you came to me because you wanted to."

"I trusted you," Jimin spits, the anger finally coming through. "I respected you. You betrayed us."

"I did what I did for the sake of this kingdom," he hisses back, rising to his feet. He towers over Jimin, and Jimin knows he wouldn't stand a chance against him in a fight. "This power was my birthright."

"Don't pretend you did this for the good of anyone but yourself." Jimin stands, too. He snatches his robe off the floor and pulls it on, tying it haphazardly. His legs are weak and trembling, but he holds himself up out of willpower alone. "You wanted power. That's it."

"Jimin - " Youngwoo reaches for him, and there's regret in his gaze, like somehow he still thinks he can make this right. 

Before his hand can brush Jimin's arm, Jimin turns around and runs. 

He hears Youngwoo call after him, but Jimin tugs the screen door aside and bolts off down the hall, bare feet slapping against the cold floor. His legs are shaking, nearly buckle beneath him more than once, but he keeps going. He runs out of the compound and into the courtyard, and he can hear Youngwoo behind him, calling for him to stop. 

"Jimin, wait!" 

The air is warm against his skin, and the full moon casts cool light over the courtyard. The guards look at Jimin in alarm as he runs to the middle of the courtyard and stops, spinning to face Youngwoo. He's standing on the stairs, his robe thrown on hastily, too. His hair is coming loose. 

"Give it back!" Jimin shouts, and then he begins to shift. 

He and Namjoon have been practicing. They spend a part of almost every day in their dragon forms, and Jimin loves nothing more than flying over the forest, free as can be. Shifting comes naturally to him now. He can see the awe and fear in the guards' eyes as they watch him change. Then Youngwoo steps forward to join him. 

His dragon looks nothing like Namjoon's. Only the colors are in common, but everything else is different. The pearl is not taking to him at all - that much is clear. It isn't meant to be his, and the adjustment will be a difficult one. Maybe an impossible one. Clearly, Youngwoo has been practicing, too, but when he lifts into the air to meet him, Jimin knows he is still inexperienced. It hasn't been long enough for him to truly know his own form. 

Jimin strikes first. Youngwoo writhes to avoid him but Jimin is quick to gather himself and strikes again. This time, his claws meet the soft underbelly of Youngwoo's dragon, tearing into flesh. Youngwoo moves like a child learning to walk - unformed, wobbly, and he's already sinking. Jimin sinks his teeth into Youngwoo's neck and Youngwoo writhes violently out of his hold, blood spraying in the air around them. Then he's falling, his dragon form shifting back into his human one as he descends. By the time he hits the ground, he is a man again, and he's bleeding heavily. 

The guilt rushes up into Jimin's heart. He descends and shifts, falling to his knees by Youngwoo's limp form. The gashes across his torso are large, bleeding freely, and a choked sob claws its way up Jimin's throat. He'd only wanted to stop him. He hadn't realized what that entailed.

The Yeouiju sits against his neck, glowing dimly. Jimin reaches out and rips it off him, clasping it around his own neck instead, feeling a welcome thrum of energy inside him. Then he tears off a strip of his robe and tries desperately to bind Youngwoo's wounds. 

"Youngwoo," he says, voice trembling. "Wake up. I'm sorry. Wake up, please."

The guards must have left for help because when they return, there is an entire retinue of soldiers behind them, led by Youngwoo's uncle himself. He has a sword in hand, and he points it straight at Jimin, the tip barely an inch from his throat. Jimin doesn't stop in his task, binding Youngwoo's first gash tightly before he tears off another strip for the second. 

"What is the meaning of this?" Daehyun spits. "Tell me why I shouldn't run you through right now."

"Because I'm the only one bothering to tend to him," Jimin hisses back. "If you don't want him to bleed out, you'll let me continue."

He can't deny the truth. The guards had gone for more guards, no healers, though Daehyun turns around now to send for them. Jimin ties the makeshift bandage and stands, his hands bloody, his body trembling. He holds the necklace up for Daehyun to see. 

"He stole this," Jimin says, hard and insistent. Daehyun is staring at him with anger and doubt, but Jimin refuses to back down. "This is the Orchid Dragon's. The king has put the entire kingdom in peril. The Orchid Dragon lies on his deathbed. I came to get it back, lest we fall into a century of famine on account of the king's greed."

Daehyun's eyes flicker. He is the closest to the king out of anyone, especially after the death of Youngwoo's parents. If anyone has an inkling of what he's really like, it would be Daehyun. "Tell me why I should believe you when you stand before me with the king's blood on your hands."

"You do not have to believe me. Go see for yourself. The Orchid Dragon is dying."

The healers enter the courtyard, running for the king. Daehyun directs them and then he turns back to Jimin, gesturing toward the gate. "Walk, then," he orders. "We will see the Orchid Dragon for ourselves."

Jimin marvels at the dissonance - he had entered the palace in a palanquin, in his robes of gold and red. He walks back home with blood on his hands, half-dressed, a sword pointed at his back. He is grateful, at least, that the late hour means they pass no one but more guards. 

The walk to his home feels like an eternity. Exhaustion wears him down to the bone - there's fear with it. Youngwoo's uncle is a smart, competent man - a good one. But Jimin had thought Youngwoo was a good man, too, before he did what he did. If Daehyun decides not to trust Jimin, then everything is over. Jimin failed in his goal, didn't snatch the necklace in time. He doesn't know if it even matters that he has it now, or if it will make any different to return it to Namjoon without the transfer of power. But the power had been so weak with Youngwoo, so Jimin retains a minuscule amount of hope. If it wasn't meant to be Youngwoo's, maybe it wants to go back. 

Seokjin is waiting. He must not have slept after Jimin left, and Jimin feels a touch of warmth at the realization. If no one else, at least Seokjin has always been on his side, even if Youngwoo forced him into an unwilling betrayal. He starts at the sight of Jimin and the guards, face blanching. 

"Lotus Dragon - you're bleeding - "

Daehyun orders Seokjin back before he can move toward Jimin. A guard ushers him aside, and Jimin gives him a nod to reassure him before leading the group to the room where Namjoon sleeps. Even though it's been a handful of hours, Namjoon looks closer to the brink already. Jimin's heart clenches. He kneels by his side, unclasping the pearl from his neck and returning it to Namjoon's. 

"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I failed you."

The pearl glows weakly when it touches Namjoon's skin. 

He sits back on his haunches and waits with bated breath. Namjoon's chest continues to rise and fall slowly, his skin colorless. He looks up at Daehyun, who watches them with an impassive expression. Isn't it proof enough, that Namjoon lies here on the brink of death? Jimin looks back down at Namjoon, and then - 

A gasp, a twitch of his fingers. 

"Orchid Dragon," Jimin breathes, voice trembling, a lump in his throat and his skin heating up with sudden emotion. "Orchid Dragon - "

He doesn't wake, but the Yeouiju begins to glow with a brightness that fills the room. Jimin feels Namjoon's familiar energy in the air around him, lending strength to his heart. 

Jimin puts his head in his arms and starts to cry. 

It's been a long night. A long, endless night, and Jimin thinks he will carry the burden of it for the rest of his life. But he can feel Namjoon's life force pulse and he knows he didn't fail. None of it was in vain. Namjoon will live, and that's all that matters. Jimin no longer cares what happens to him. If Daehyun has him executed for treason, so be it. He will go under the blade willingly, knowing he saved Namjoon's life for it. 

He feels arms around him, Seokjin's soothing voice by his ear. Jimin sobs once, twice, then wipes his tears roughly on his sleeve and composes himself. Daehyun's expression is stiff. His eye twitches. 

"I will return to the king," he says quietly. "I see something great has happened here. I will learn the truth, and I will deal with it accordingly. Rest, Lotus Dragon. I will send a healer to you."

He bows, spins on his heel, and leaves, the guards trailing behind him. 

Youngwoo survives the ordeal. Seokjin receives word from a friend at the palace that he is recovering, no infection and no lasting damage. It will take him time to heal, but Jimin is infinitely grateful. Some of the suffocating guilt begins to ease its hold on him. He doesn't know what it entails, but Daehyun is true to his word about investigating - the king is removed from his post. It is almost unheard of. Youngwoo is the heir to his dynasty and has no children; he, like Jimin and Namjoon, has been granted his post by fate itself. But the historians speak of a time once, when one of his ancestors was removed for risking the wellbeing of his kingdom, replaced by his brother. So it's possible, if shocking. 

Daehyun and the ministers - all of them in agreement, shockingly enough - decide that Youngwoo is no longer fit to serve as the head of their kingdom. Endangering the Dragon Pair is a heinous crime because it means endangering the entire kingdom itself. Youngwoo's defense in regards to Namjoon's supposed murder of the prince is thrown out by a coalition of historians who join to piece together the truth while Namjoon remains unconscious. 

The truth they find is only a little different than the one Jimin had learned growing up. Youngwoo's ancestor was gifted the Yeouiju by an Imugi for protecting a forest that might have been cut down for lumber otherwise. Later, the prince fell ill - a fact they hid from the people until the end. He married and had a child in time for his line to continue on, and before he died, he gave the Yeouiju to Namjoon, his best friend and the man he trusted more than anyone. The shamans believe it was fate, and that the pearl was always meant to be Namjoon's. The prince had only been a conduit, a way for it to move to its intended destination. 

In the end, Youngwoo is banished. He will live in relative comfort on the outskirts of the kingdom, and he will be kept an eye on. Daehyun will take his place as king, something that Jimin doesn't know how to feel about. He has always seen Daehyun as a strong, honorable man. But then, he had thought Youngwoo was honorable, too. 

He supposes that this experience has taught him well and truly how little he can trust anybody. 

It takes a week for Namjoon to wake. Jimin spends the week glued to his side, waiting, watching for every slight movement of his body as a reminder that he will wake soon. He can see life return to him slowly. He shows signs of movements, though they're slight, and his breath grows from imperceptible to the steady rise and fall of a sleeping man. Color returns to his lips and cheeks, and his power glows brighter in the air around him each day.

As the days pass and Jimin watches Namjoon return to life, he does a lot of thinking. Questioning, really. In the end, all he had to do was give Namjoon the necklace back. The transfer of power hadn't been needed at all. Jimin wonders, over and over, if what he had done was truly necessary or not. But he hadn't known any better; he hadn't known what else to do. So little is understood about the power of the dragons, and he hardly knows himself at all. Then he wonders if he would have even managed to steal the necklace from Youngwoo had he not been already weakened by what they'd done together. Maybe he never would have gotten the chance to best him otherwise. 

But he doesn't know the answer. He doesn't understand what happened, or what is happening now as the pearl takes to Namjoon again. He has so many questions. He thinks that maybe he will have to start writing things down as he begins to understand them, so that one day, his future incarnation will not have to struggle with the questions that he does. 

When Namjoon finally wakes, Jimin's half-asleep with his head pillowed on his hands, an open book by his side. 

At first, Namjoon's hand in his hair feels like a dream. His lashes flutter, and he sighs, knowing he's dreaming again, like he often does these days. It's only when he hears Namjoon's voice rasp his name that he stirs, realizing that something's different. He'd never fallen asleep. Then he shoots upright, his heart thudding hard in his chest, and sees Namjoon gazing at him through heavy lids. 

"Jimin," he says, hoarse, and tears spring to Jimin's eyes. 

"You're awake." For a moment, Jimin hovers, caught between showering Namjoon with attention and running to fetch him water and food. In the end, he doesn't manage to move. "You're awake," he repeats, the tears slipping out.

Namjoon clears his throat. "How long?"

His voice sounds dry still. Jimin dashes at his tears and comes to his senses, calling for Seokjin. He rises to go himself but Namjoon catches his hand weakly. 

"Wait," he says, so Jimin sinks back down. Namjoon reaches up, cupping Jimin's face in his hand. His eyes flicker over his face, like he can't believe he's there, either. "Felt wrong," he finally says. "Felt like I was drifting away from you."

Jimin swallows past the lump in his throat. He lies down next to Namjoon, curling his arm around his waist. Namjoon strokes his forehead, eyes fixed on him, not looking away even for a second. "You were drifting," Jimin whispers. "But it's alright. You found your way back."

"I will always find my way back," Namjoon promises.

He presses their foreheads together, and Jimin smiles through his tears. Whatever has happened is the past. There is only now - there is only this. 

Jimin blows lightly on the broth before holding the bowl out to Namjoon, who takes it warily. 

"I'm tired of broth," he complains, and Jimin shakes his head in mock disapproval. 

"You had better get used to it."

He's regaining his strength slowly but surely. After so long asleep, his body has weakened, though the return of the power is speeding up the healing process. Still, Jimin worries. He and Seokjin have been attending to him carefully as he recovers. Every day he manages to walk a little further into the woods. 

Despite his complaints, Namjoon drinks the broth diligently. When he's done, he sets it aside and beckons for Jimin to join him. Jimin tucks himself against Namjoon's side willingly. He had always wanted to be around him, but after nearly losing him, Jimin finds it almost physically painful to be apart. 

"I think it's about time," Namjoon says, "don't you?"

Jimin looks up at him, cheek pillowed on his shoulder. "For?"

"For you to tell me the story."

Jimin hums, understanding. He looks back down at their intertwined fingers. They had given him only the shallowest explanation when he had woken with a promise to explain eventually, when he had the strength for it. "I suppose it is," Jimin agrees, then he hesitates. 

Namjoon waits patiently while he gathers his thoughts. It's difficult to know where to start when there is so much to say and so much to ask.

"The king - well. He's not the king anymore, as you know." Jimin tightens his fingers around Namjoon's. Maybe he's the one who needs the strength. "I suppose I should start at the beginning. Some time ago, I ran into Youngwoo at the market."

He tells him the whole story - about Youngwoo's hints, the text he had found, the secret he had told Seokjin unwittingly. He tells him about the necklace and the way Namjoon had begun to fade away and the invitation. He can feel Namjoon begin to tense against him - perhaps knowing where the story would lead them. 

"I'm sorry," Jimin whispers. He can't look at him. "I did it. I lay with him. I thought - I thought I could steal it back, that I had to do it during the exact moment, and only then could I return it to you. But he - he was expecting it. I failed."

Namjoon tilts Jimin's head up, forcing him to look at him. Jimin's coiled tight as a wire, afraid of Namjoon's anger, his pain. He would be angry, too. He would be hurt. He can't blame Namjoon for feeling the same way. Namjoon's face is full of restrained fury, but of concern, too, and a deep sadness. 

"Did he hurt you?"

"I hurt him," Jimin admits. "I ran. Shifted, and he did, too, and we fought. He was like a newborn in his form, so it wasn't hard. I thought I'd killed him. There was so much blood. When he - when he went down, I took the necklace back. Then his uncle came, and I led them to you."

Namjoon is quiet. Jimin searches his face but finds no more than he already sees.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "I didn't know what else to do."

"No," Namjoon says softly. "I am the one who is sorry. You did this for me. I was wary of the king, but I did nothing. I should have anticipated this, should have done something to stop it. Instead you ended up in an impossible situation because of me."

"You couldn't have known."

"And you did what you thought was best. I am only sorry that you had to do it. Sorry that I lay here asleep, drifting away from you, while you suffered to save my life." He shakes his head, jaw clenched tight. "You should have let me die."

"I couldn't have."

Namjoon doesn't argue. His face crumples, and he presses their foreheads together. "I know. I'm sorry."

They breathe each other in. If Jimin closes his eyes for too long, he sees Youngwoo bleeding out in the courtyard. If he drifts too far, he feels his hands on his skin again. He doesn't let himself drift too far. He pulls away from Namjoon and wipes a few stray tears, dabbing at Namjoon's cheeks to catch his, too. 

"Will you tell me the truth?" he asks. "About the necklace and the first prince."

"I only kept it from you because it pains me to remember," Namjoon admits. "But I should have told you when you asked. If I had known Youngwoo was trying to plant the seed of doubt - "

"I should have just asked," Jimin murmurs. "If I had told you what I found, you would have admitted it."

"Yes. But even then, it might have been hard to tell the truth from a lie."

"I trust you. I always trusted you, even when I doubted. My heart knew the truth."

"You are very kind." Namjoon's smile is soft. "Yoongi was my best friend. We grew up together, he and I, and I hardly knew that he was a prince. He was just hyung to me. When we were young men, there was a forest that had been used for lumber. At first it was just a few trees, what they needed, but over time, the trees were cut down to make room for villages. Strange stories arose in those villages - sightings of strange creatures, chaos and unexplained injuries. We went to investigate. The forest spirits were angry."

"They were losing their homes."

"Yoongi knew immediately it needed to stop. He ended the projects, diverted them elsewhere, placed limits on the work. Then one night he was called to the lake, where an Imugi gave him its Yeouiji in exchange for what he had done."

"The shamans said the prince was a conduit. That the pearl was always meant to go to you."

Namjoon nods. "I believe it to be so. He kept it safe for some years. It gave him no power, no ability. It simply existed. But you were with us by then, the Lotus Dragon who had no power himself. The shamans were beginning to think there was some sort of curse on our kingdom, to receive such blessings but be unable to use them."

"So I just stayed in the palace, unable to do anything?"

"You were with shamans almost every day, trying different things to access your power. Of course nothing worked. But the king and queen were compelled to keep you on. There were stories of other kingdoms where harm was done to the dragon, and the kingdom plunged into blight and despair. So they kept trying, and you were treated like a prince, and I fell in love with you."

"So soon?" Jimin murmurs. 

"From the moment I saw you," Namjoon acknowledges. "And then hyung fell ill."

He sighs heavily. Even after 500 years, it seems the memory still pains him. Jimin squeezes his hands in comfort. "You do not have to tell it. If it's too hard."

"I want to," Namjoon says. "It was a grave illness. A fatal one. We knew it from the start. But his wife was pregnant, and he lasted through her pregnancy, saw her give birth to his heir. But he was fading away, always in pain. It was not an illness that could be cured, or one that would result in anything but death. And it would be a painful death, his body giving up on him."

He stops talking, and he stays quiet for so long that Jimin thinks maybe he has decided not to tell the story after all. Still, he waits, and when Namjoon is ready, his voice picks up quietly once more. 

"The text you found told the truth. I did slit his throat. But only because he asked me to. There was no hope for him. He did not wish to lose control of his body and die in pain. The healers suspected he had less than a year left, if that. He did not wish to be a burden on his loved ones, for us to suffer as he suffered. So he asked me to end his life a little early."

"And you did it."

"I did it. He gave me the pearl, and I killed him."

It is a heavy silence. 500 years and Namjoon still carries the burden of his best friend's death. For the first time, Jimin is almost grateful that he lives through incarnations. He thinks it would be awfully hard to carry 500 years worth of memories on his shoulders. 

"I'm sorry," Jimin whispers. "That must have been so hard."

"I'm glad I could grant his last wish. I'm glad I could spare him the pain. It is what he wanted, in the end."

"Yes. I suppose it was."

Namjoon sighs. "When I lay with you for the first time, we felt the energy of our powers at last. That was when we all learned that our kingdom was meant to have a dragon pair, the first of its kind, and that our power would only ever work when we were together."

"And we've been together ever since."

Namjoon kisses his head. "And so we will continue to be, until this earth ceases to exist."

"How is it that Youngwoo took your power at that moment but I gave it back simply by taking the necklace again? I don't understand it."

"The way Youngwoo took it was the only way to do it - at the moment of transfer, he stole it, and the power returned to him instead of me. But that is an unnatural way to take the power - a temporary one. He would not have managed for long with it. The power is mine, was always meant to be mine, and it would have wanted to return."

"So all it needed was to be placed near you again."

"Yes. And taking it away from Youngwoo again would have left him on the brink of death - although your fight with him seems to have already done that."

"He'll be fine," Jimin mutters. "Or so I've heard."

"I'm sure he will be," Namjoon says. "And I'll make sure he never comes between us again. I failed to protect you this time, but I swear I won't fail again."

Jimin shifts, pillowing his head against Namjoon's chest. "It wasn't your fault."

"And it wasn't yours," Namjoon reminds him. Jimin frowns a little. He knows it isn't, but it's going to be hard to convince himself of that. Even now the thought of Youngwoo fills him with a cloying sense of guilt and nausea. If only he had been smarter. If only he had seen it coming. 

He rubs his eyes. He can't keep thinking useless thoughts forever. "I was wondering something."

Namjoon hums to show he's listening, fingers curling gently through Jimin's hair. 

"Why aren't there texts written for the Lotus Dragon? There are so many things I don't understand, so many things my past selves would have known. But I've never written anything down, have I?"

"It's been frowned upon," Namjoon explains. "Your powers, your life - they're sacred. Writing them down is a risk, the same way my name has never been written for you to know."

"I think I would like to," Jimin says. "I want my future incarnations to be more prepared than me. Maybe - maybe writing down what happened to me will help one day."

Namjoon turns his lips into Jimin's hair. "Then we'll find a way to do it."

"Has nothing like this ever happened before?"

"There have been incidents, problems, as you know - you'll have read the histories. But nothing like this, no. No one has ever tried to take my place."

"I hope it never happens again," Jimin murmurs.

"We will find a way to make sure of it," Namjoon promises, and Jimin holds him to it.

Spring in the woods around Jimin's home has always been beautiful, and this one's no different. Jimin stands on the terrace with an open book and brush sitting forgotten on the table behind him. He had been trying to focus on his writing, but Jungkook is terrorizing Seokjin by the lotus pond, and that's proving far more entertaining. He'd only had to splash Seokjin with some water for the latter to dissolve into an indignant mess - now he's scolding him angrily, only for Jungkook to flick a spray of water in his direction again. The sight of Seokjin spluttering has Jimin bursting into laughter. 

"He's a menace," Namjoon says by Jimin's ear, his arm sliding around his waist from behind. Jimin jumps, not having heard him walk out, and looks back with a smile. Namjoon kisses him sweetly. 

"He's only doing his job. He's a little brother, after all."

Namjoon arches an eyebrow. "And what would you know about little brothers?"

"Nothing," Jimin says cheerfully. "But I'm still right."

"Of course, of course," Namjoon condescends. "You've never been wrong a day in your life."

Jimin pats the arm wrapped around him. "Exactly. Happy you've learned."

Over by the water, Seokjin's hat is askew, and Jungkook's laughing. They had sent for him shortly after Namjoon recovered; Jimin had demanded another servant now that Namjoon was living with him, and of course he had wanted only the boy from Seokjin's village who had been accused of stealing from a minister. No one had been very receptive to his choice, but Jimin had put his foot down. He would have Jungkook, or he would have no one, and eventually he got his way. 

He likes Jungkook, but more importantly, Seokjin has been changed since he arrived, like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He laughs more. The crease between his eyes has smoothed out. Jimin vows to keep his promise to him; he won't allow him to be used like that again. 

But still, Jimin can only control so much. After two betrayals - Youngwoo's and Seokjin's, even if that wasn't his choice - he has found it extremely difficult to trust anybody. Part of him wonders if he will ever be able to trust again, or if his heart will build a wall around him and Namjoon, with no room for anyone else to enter. Namjoon thinks that time will make it easier, but he understands, too, that something has changed in Jimin that will never be undone. 

But life goes on, and so far, Daehyun has proved to be a competent king. There is no word of Youngwoo, though part of Jimin remains tense, as if waiting to hear that he has decided to return, to challenge his banishment. Namjoon promises him that if that ever happens, they will find a way to fight back - together this time. 

"Lotus Dragon!" Jungkook calls. He's running up to the house, soaked head-to-toe in water, strong legs carrying him over in long strides. "Do you see what he did to me? I'll have to take precious time away from attending to you to change my clothes - "

"Don't listen to a word he says!" Seokjin's shouting. "He's a liar!"

Jimin's giggling, pulling out of Namjoon's arms to see to Jungkook, who's stepped onto the terrace. A puddle of water is forming at his feet. "Unbelievable!" Jimin exclaims. "Your own brother, and to think I had a task for you that must now be delayed."

"Lotus Dragon!" Seokjin exclaims, betrayed. "You'd believe him over me?"

"He's just a child," Jimin says sweetly, patting the top of Jungkook's wet head. 

Both of them gasp in indignation at the same time. 

"He's not a child - "

"I'm not a child - "

"Alright, enough of that," Namjoon swoops in, tossing a cloth Jungkook's way and maneuvering Jimin back inside the house. "If anyone's the menace, it's you."

Jimin grins up at him, batting his lashes in fake innocence. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't play coy with me," Namjoon warns. "I know exactly how to deal with you."

"And how's that?" Jimin teases, head tilted. Namjoon's pushing him in the direction of their bedroom. 

"Easy. As soon as I get my cock inside you, you lose all your words - "

Jimin shrieks, slapping a hand over Namjoon's mouth, but Jungkook and Seokjin are still bickering out on the terrace. "You are so shameless," he hisses, tugging him into the room and sliding the door shut. 

"I am," Namjoon agrees, "but you love it."

Jimin feels abruptly fond, his face softening. "I love you."

Namjoon leans down to kiss him, and Jimin melts into him. It will take time to heal from everything that has happened, if he ever really does. The Jimin who had waited by the bridge for an Orchid Dragon whose face he did not know is not the same person who stands here today, wrapped in Namjoon's arms. In some ways, that's a good thing. 

But no matter what, Jimin knows he's going to make it. He and Namjoon are together - and so they will be, until the earth ceases to exist.