The day Seokmin came into existence was a fairly ordinary one.
Festivities to celebrate the manifestation of a new god were an occupational hazard at best to Jihoon. He had never felt quite at ease in parties like these — not even when they were to celebrate the spoils of war. So he did as he had always done: nurse a formidable pint of nectar-wine by the sidelines as the other gods cavorted and whirled across fire-lit marble.
Chan had long since given up on trying to get him to socialise more, with his fleet-footed, fluttering pleas; Soonyoung still persisted occasionally, accosting Jihoon with blindingly bright messages and bad poetry that hurt to look at. Even now he was a beacon, his hair glowing with sunlight as he danced with Wonwoo, who seemed to absorb that brilliance with his dark cloak of night, studded with constellations.
But Jihoon had always been tenacious in his resolve, and so these had washed over him without particular consequence. The others had learnt not to bother him too much at these gatherings, save the odd spirit or two who he dismissed easily.
Jihoon sipped his drink, strains of music from Jisoo’s muses filtering through the air. Truthfully he wasn’t even sure what the godling this event was for looked like. Presumably he was at the nexus of the crowd, though Jihoon could not make out his face.
At any rate no one would be approaching Jihoon anytime soon.
“Hello,” someone said in a light musical voice.
Jihoon found he had to crane his head to look at the unfamiliar speaker in front of him. The willowy god had features as though cut from sharp marble, skin that was a burnished gold, dark shimmering eyes that showed he was no nymph or spirit but a god. Jihoon imagined the human sonneteers waxing lyrical about all this.
But then those lovely features creased into a smile, and it shone purer, brighter than any of Soonyoung’s sunbeams, brighter than any god or mortal who had ever looked Jihoon’s way.
For the first time in a short eternity Jihoon felt the stirrings of something.
This could only be the new god of love. Seungcheol had pronounced his name Seokmin.
“Hello,” Jihoon responded, unsure why of all gods Seokmin would approach him. Already he felt the stares of other gods on them, the curious, jealous whispers. Even among immortals there was a certain magnetism to Seokmin that drew one in.
Seokmin shifted, his ceremonial robe rippling like liquid gold in the firelight from the braziers. Jihoon’s eyes were inevitably drawn to how it gathered about his waist, trim and toned. “Does that armour ever get heavy, god of war?” he said.
Jihoon raised an eyebrow. “It weighs nothing in battle.”
“Ah, but we aren’t battling now,” Seokmin pointed out, his eyes sparkling with laughter. “I only wanted to make sure you were comfortable in that.”
“It is a second skin to me,” Jihoon said shortly.
“Don’t stand on ceremony on my accord.” Seokmin smiled. “What name shall I call you by?”
“Jihoon,” Jihoon said, his heartbeat pulsing loud in his ears. “What business do you have?”
“Jihoon,” mused Seokmin. Names had power, and Jihoon felt a shiver trace itself along his spine to hear his on Seokmin’s lips. “I’m only acquainting myself with everyone,” Seokmin said, his gaze drifting along Jihoon’s armour-clad form. “But I think I should be particularly acquainted with you.”
“War and love, inextricably linked,” Jihoon agreed. “Mortals love desperately.”
Jihoon was suddenly aware of how close they were standing. Close enough that Jihoon could detect Seokmin’s scent, the smell of flowers on a summer night. Close enough that Jihoon could make out two moles dotting Seokmin’s cheek, as though a lover had left a trail of their kisses.
“As do immortals,” Seokmin said, a wisp of a smile lingering on his lips, his gaze darting to meet Jihoon’s. Something crackled cosmic between them, like the air was charged with one of Seungcheol’s lightning bolts. But before Jihoon could parse it Seokmin smiled fully, leaning back, dispelling the tension.
“Till we meet again, Jihoon,” Seokmin said, dipping into a small bow. Jihoon’s eyes followed his back as he moved back into the crowd.
Almost immediately Ten materialised at his side, quicker than thought, a conspiratorial smile stretching his elfin face. He opened his mouth.
“Not a word,” Jihoon said. Ten shut it.
As time spooled onward and human history unfolded, their paths crossed just as Jihoon had predicted: inevitably. Unexpectedly.
Seokmin was beloved by all. Some called him the gentlest immortal in the heavens. All pronounced him the most beautiful. Even as Jihoon listened to the prayers of men before battle, some offered words to Seokmin as well, for the safety of their loved ones; that they could be together with the object of their affections after the war.
A war between kingdoms broke out one day, torn over a mortal princess whose face could sink ships. The prayers cast upwards were many; the fighting was fierce; the casualties were large. The clearest memory Jihoon had of the whole affair was the shy little wave Seokmin had given him as his chariot had passed by.
“You should go without your armour more often,” Seokmin said. “You look…” His gaze skimmed up and down Jihoon’s body with an odd look on his lovely face. “Nice.”
“I’m not sure I want to look just nice instead of intimidating and awe-inspiring,” Jihoon said. In fact, had anyone ever said he looked anything more than fearsome or strong or rough ?
“Yes, but you are no less magnificent,” Seokmin said, before his honeyed skin flushed fetchingly. Jihoon swallowed, feeling unnerved at his own discomposure. Was he an immortal deity of war or a hapless child?
Then Jihoon’s horses gave their distinctive nicker, stamping the grass with their great hooves, and Seokmin turned. Jihoon was reminded of the reason why Seokmin had asked to visit his domain at all — to see the horses. He watched an expression of wonder unfurl on Seokmin’s face like a flower. “They’re beautiful,” Seokmin said, going forward to pet them before Jihoon could stop him.
The four deathless Steeds of War were irascible beasts at best. They stood eight hands tall, with three pairs of muscular legs each, and ate only meat. In front of Seokmin, though, they actually deigned to let him lay a hand on their bone-white bodies without immediately maiming him with their sharp teeth, which for them was the equivalent of prancing about like ponies. It seemed even animals were not immune to Seokmin.
“I think they like you better than me,” Jihoon grumbled, watching them. “Traitors,” he told the horses. They whinnied and tossed their fiery manes.
Seokmin laughed, stroking one’s nose fearlessly. “They’re not so scary when you get to know them,” he said, then addressed the horses. “Aren’t you?” Seokmin’s eyes sparkled — they did not literally shine like Soonyoung’s, but in a softer, intangible way that brimmed with heart. “They remind me of a certain someone, in fact.”
Jihoon turned away from his teasing gaze. “You’re right about Seungcheol,” he said, feigning obliviousness.
“No,” Seokmin laughed. Then his voice turned high and sly, lilting like a stream bubbling over worn stones. “Seungcheol isn’t one bit scary. He’s more old and cranky than anything.”
Jihoon snorted. “I think you mean Jeonghan.”
“True,” Seokmin said, still grinning wide. His expression softened. “But they truly love each other. That is most important.”
“I don’t see them being any less annoying because of that,” Jihoon said.
Seokmin laughed again, the sound pealing like a bright golden bell into Jihoon’s chest. “Hush, before Seungcheol decides to strike us with a bolt of fury.”
“You want to spar with me?” Jihoon said later, eyebrows raising.
“Let’s try,” Seokmin said, bouncing from one foot to the other. “I’ve never done it before.”
Well, this was going to go well. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t,” Seokmin said. “I know you wouldn’t. And I might be good at this too!”
Seokmin’s body was lithe and limber, and he moved around Jihoon with a fluid grace. Of course, his form was nonexistent, but he blocked some of Jihoon’s unhurried blows with more coordination than Jihoon had expected from him.
“You have strength,” Jihoon confessed, admiration igniting brightly in him.
“But of course,” Seokmin said, smiling playfully. “There is no force stronger in the world than love.”
“There might just be one,” Jihoon said, allowing himself a small smirk of his own. In the span of a heartbeat he knocked Seokmin’s punch to the side and pinned him to the ground, reversing their positions. “Skill.”
A noise of surprise escaped Seokmin as his back hit the earth. Too late Jihoon worried — had he hurt Seokmin? But from under him, Seokmin looked up at him with mussed curly hair; with a wide gaze filled not with fear but something else that was soft and dark. From this close Jihoon could see that Seokmin’s brown eyes were flecked with gold and green.
His eyes drifted unbidden to Seokmin’s parted lips, the colour of a rosebud.
“So it might seem,” Seokmin said, voice soft and breathy. Jihoon felt the exhale of his words tickle his cheek, felt the flutter of Seokmin’s pulse through his grip on Seokmin’s wrist. “But I am not so fragile either.”
“I know,” Jihoon said eventually, his breath hiccuping in his throat, feeling as though he had been the one disarmed by Seokmin instead.
Seokmin’s eyes still darted over his face, making no move to rise, and Jihoon was suddenly aware of how prone Seokmin was, lying beneath him. How they were in a place where no soul could intrude. How close their faces were to each other.
“Jihoon?” Seokmin asked, or sighed. Jihoon could not tell which. His leg shifted against Jihoon’s thigh, bare skin against skin after their robes had rucked up from the tussle.
Everything in Jihoon’s divine nature was telling him to take Seokmin here and now, to close that agonising distance between them.
Jihoon got to his feet, offering a hand to Seokmin. “I hope that wasn’t too violent.”
Seokmin’s palm was warm and smooth against Jihoon’s calloused, rough one. “I enjoyed it,” Seokmin assured him, that soft warm darkness that Jihoon could not parse still lingering in his eyes. “You’re incredible, as expected of you.” His lips upturned mischievously again. “But I must be one of the rare few who fought the god of war and lived to tell the tale.”
“So you are,” Jihoon said, feeling a smile crease his own cheek.
“Have you lain with your delectable godling yet, Jihoon? Already his name is on the lips of many who desire to ravish him,” said Ten, reclining luxuriantly against Jihoon’s throne. Damned spirit, going where he pleased. Unfortunately there was no way to keep Ten out of any place.
“No,” Jihoon growled. “And he is not mine. Is this all you came to tell me?”
“Seokmin keeps himself chaste,” Ten mused instead of replying. “Did you know that? He rebuffs all his suitors. I can hear them, all the unceasing dissatisfaction of their thoughts.” His hair spilled like ink over his shoulder.
“That seems impossible,” Jihoon said, outwardly calm but his mind whirling. How could that be for a god of love — or a god at all? There was not a god that had not slept with another, mortal or immortal; even Jihoon had the odd tryst every few decades. Well, he hadn’t recently, but that was no one’s business but his own.
“Yet it is true. And now he is the most maddening source of desire in heaven and earth.” Ten sighed dramatically. “It is a headache to deal with. Please do something about it.”
“What am I to do?” Jihoon scowled. “Launch a war against immortal libido?”
Ten laughed hysterically. “That would rip the heavens apart long before any apocalypse. I mean that you should claim him before anyone else tries — say, me, for example.”
The smell of flowers in summer. The bronzed smoothness of Seokmin’s skin. The crinkle of the corners of his eyes as he smiled at Jihoon. “Stay away from him. He is not something to conquer,” Jihoon said, closing his eyes.
“How contrarian of you, war god. How sentimental.” Ten’s eyes gleamed like two wicked jewels.
“Go and do your job.”
“Claim him,” Ten repeated. “I hear Seokmin’s thoughts as well. He is an adorable little thing.” He faded into the mists with an enigmatic smile.
It was a decade in human years when Jihoon next saw Seokmin. In the light of their eternal existence, it was a blip, but it felt much longer than it should have. Never before had another being ensnared Jihoon’s attention, Jihoon’s heart, with such intensity.
In that time Jihoon found himself one day at the golden fields of Seokmin’s domain without much of a reason or a plan. How very human of him.
“Jihoon?” Seokmin appeared before him, his chestnut-coloured hair curling over his eyes. He wore a robe the colour of a pale winter sky. Every time Jihoon looked upon Seokmin’s impeccable beauty, his breath caught in his chest. “What are you doing here?”
“I…” Jihoon said, then told the truth, which was easier. “I wanted to see you.”
Seokmin’s lips formed a perfect little o, before he tucked an errant strand of hair behind his ear, avoiding Jihoon’s gaze.
“So did I,” Seokmin whispered. His lips stretched into a small smile. It was a sight that Jihoon would go to war for.
The knee-high wheat produced a sussurant murmur that filled the air as they sat on the ground. Seokmin knelt on the earth, and even the tiny flowers seemed to turn their heads to him. The space between them, though small, was heavy with things unsaid.
“Autumn is my favourite season,” Seokmin said amicably. “You must wonder why my domain is so.”
“It suits you,” Jihoon said. Indeed it did, gentle and golden and temperate like Seokmin himself. Though the domain was beautiful, Jihoon had eyes only for the god beside him.
A cool breeze blew Seokmin’s curly hair across his forehead. Boldly, with the most careful touch, Jihoon reached out and swept it behind Seokmin’s ear, as he had never done before.
Seokmin stared at him, surprise flashing again in his eyes.
“Seokmin,” Jihoon said, composing himself. He did not flush, but came very close to it. “I must ask. Do you desire me?”
Without fanfare they were suddenly in Seokmin’s abode; it had materialised around them as Seokmin had willed it. In here the air was redolent with Seokmin’s scent, bergamot flowers blooming on a summer night, fit to drown in.
Mortals prayed to Jihoon for courage, for strength in battle. But now, before Seokmin, Jihoon felt vulnerable as a newborn.
“Jihoon,” Seokmin said, as solemn as Jihoon had ever seen him. They were so close that Jihoon could see the gold flecking Seokmin’s irises seeming to deepen in tandem with the flush high on his cheekbones. “So many have approached me. But only you have my trust. Only you make me want,” Seokmin sighed, closing his eyes as though timid. As though he could ever be afraid of rejection from any soul.
“That is why I am still chaste,” Seokmin continued. “I do not want to lie with just anyone. When I do, it will be for love.”
Seokmin took his hand, their fingers tangling tawny and pale. His eyes seemed to contain the heavens and earth, and more. “And I love you, Jihoon. I know it like how I know that Seungcheol’s sky is blue.”
The air seemed to warp and shudder with his voice, Jihoon himself feeling an electrifying thrill trembling through his mind. It was as though Seokmin’s words had spoken something primaeval into existence, a divinely powerful edict.
But despite the confident words, a delicate rose spread over Seokmin’s cheeks and down the long column of his neck, utterly lovely, utterly bewitching. “Do you love me?”
How could he even doubt that? “You should know by now.” Jihoon’s heart throbbed in his ears, faster and harder than if he had launched into battle from his chariot.
Seokmin’s mouth spread into a coy little smile that Jihoon wanted to taste. “I just wanted to hear it from you.”
And then finally, finally, Jihoon took Seokmin into his arms, Seokmin’s honey-toned skin sliding smooth under his calloused hands.
“Then know this,” Jihoon said, pressing his words like a prayer into Seokmin’s skin. “You are maddening. You are kind and gentle. But you are also strong in ways I am not, in the purest way.” Jihoon’s lips worked along Seokmin’s jaw, feeling him shudder deliciously beneath his touch.
“My heart is yours,” Jihoon said, the truth of it searing his skin, his lips.
“Jihoon,” Seokmin gasped out, voice edging already on a moan, so sweet Jihoon ached to hear more. His long elegant fingers wound through Jihoon’s short black hair.
Jihoon raised his head and kissed him, adrenaline burning through him as Seokmin’s tongue slid along the seam of his lips. Even though Jihoon was Seokmin’s first, giving affection seemed to come as naturally as breathing to Seokmin.
The wet heat of Seokmin’s rosebud mouth was sweeter than nectar. Jihoon thought it would be an eternity before he drank his fill.
“I am yours,” Seokmin promised, hair a mess, his complexion flushed darkly and eyes and lips shining. Something selfish and possessive curled in Jihoon’s gut. Seokmin pressed forward, body flush against Jihoon to meet their mouths again.
The neckline of Seokmin’s robe had skewed to the side, baring Seokmin’s clavicle. Jihoon broke away to kiss and nip at its sharp peak, and it was as though it were made to be worshipped like this.
Jihoon had thought once that Seokmin’s beauty was the stuff of sonnets. But there were no words for this: how Seokmin made a noise between a sigh and a keen, how his head tipped back in pleasure, how his palm burned on Jihoon’s skin.
“It feels good,” Seokmin breathed, his lashes fluttering over his elegant cheekbones. “Oh, Jihoon.”
When they were kissing again Jihoon’s robe began to slip off his shoulder under Seokmin’s hand. Jihoon realised that it was intentional.
“Let me make you feel, too,” Seokmin said, the gold-flecked brown of his eyes almost swallowed by black, the tilt of his lips uncertain.
You already have, Jihoon wanted to say. The flame in him had kindled to a licking fire unreasonably quickly, but that was because it was Seokmin. He let Seokmin tug off his garment, exposing his pale, battle-scarred chest. Seokmin stilled, taking it in.
“I’m not beautiful like you are,” Jihoon said. Just having Seokmin’s eyes on him alone made him want to pull armour over his bare skin again. His skin bore the medals of his work. But in front of Seokmin they were less trophies than things that reminded Jihoon how different they were.
Seokmin traced a tan hand over the raised edges of his scars on his breast that stretched to his abdomen. A shiver thrilled along Jihoon’s spine. Had anyone ever touched him so tenderly before? “Not to me,” Seokmin whispered, breathing it against his skin. “No one is like you, could compare to you, Jihoon.”
Distantly Jihoon registered a soft weight fall at their feet. Seokmin had shed his robe.
“Desire is very familiar to me. But only that of others’,” Seokmin said, still whispering. The words trailed warmth along Jihoon’s skin, raising goosebumps. “Mortals, gods. I had never truly known my own. Until I met you.”
Where Jihoon’s body was a sword, Seokmin’s was a knife wrapped in silk, long and toned and with just enough tantalising give under Jihoon’s hands. It was intoxicating how fervently Seokmin pressed Jihoon into his bed, brought them chest to chest and kissed him. His full hardness pressed against Jihoon’s hip as he ground against it by instinct. Nerves afire, a sharp spike of arousal lanced through Jihoon himself.
“Take me,” Seokmin panted out against Jihoon’s lips. His eyes were two coals, his face glittering with sweat and a brilliant flush that bloomed down his chest. Seokmin was heart-stoppingly beautiful like this, as he always was, but what made Jihoon’s blood run truly hot was that this mien of Seokmin was only for him.
Seokmin bent his head and fitted his lips to Jihoon’s neck. Jihoon arched under him, tendrils of holy fire spiralling along his skin with every graze of Seokmin’s teeth.
They curled together like smoke in water; they made love in the way that only immortals could: with great ardour, for a long time.
The day of Seokmin and Jihoon’s union was a fairly ordinary one.
All through the heavens it had quickly become known that Seokmin was no longer celibate. Jihoon had never been the centre of such uproar since the ancient war. No one could believe that the one who had finally stolen the god of love’s heart was he: small, stubborn, dangerous, Seokmin’s polar opposite in every way.
“About time,” Ten had said, flipping his hair.
“Jihoon-ah,” insufferable Soonyoung had yelped, blinding Jihoon with sunlight. “I always told you you could!”
“It’s impossible!” spluttered Mingyu, and on that day the ocean waves had swelled and crested uncontrollably, so perturbed was he. Jihoon had smirked.
“Let them talk. There is no other for me,” Seokmin had proclaimed, mouth pressed to Jihoon’s neck, smiling when a sound tore from Jihoon as his fingers danced downward. “And there will never be.”
“Only you,” Jihoon returned, carding his fingers through Seokmin’s soft hair.
So thus were war and love inextricably entwined, for all eternity.