Sometimes, I think of the sun and the moon as lovers who rarely meet, always chase, and almost always miss one another. But once in a while, they do catch up, and they kiss, and the whole world stares in awe of their eclipse.
The year of 2015 is a busy one for NASA.
Busy, but good. They find a planet that is Earth’s older, more tired sister. Astronauts eat food that they manage to grow in space themselves. For the first time in history, a high definition render of Pluto is sent back to the space stations, and September will see the last supermoon eclipse for nearly two decades.
“I don’t get it,” Yoongi says, as he pillows his head on Namjoon’s shoulder. “It’s just the fucking moon.”
“Not yet,” says Namjoon as he spreads his arms out in snow angel formation, lying back in the cool grass.
Autumn has arrived with a grand sashay of wind and reddening leaves. Perhaps Yoongi should have wrapped one more scarf to join the two others already looped around his neck, and Namjoon has a feeling that his thin windbreaker won’t be enough to combat the evening chill. It’s good that they have each other. “It’s supposed to look awesome later.”
“Supposed to,” Yoongi says. “We’re lying out here in the cold because it’s supposed to look awesome later?”
“Science says it will.”
“Mm.” Yoongi’s grunt means Namjoon has won this round.
“We should go to the pojangmacha afterwards. The one with the chicken and lamb skewers we really like.”
“What, so you can make me buy them for you?”
“Yep,” Namjoon says, a smile in his voice.
“I’m pretty fucking sure you only date me for my credit card.”
“Well, you wrote me that song, that one time. And that other song, that other time.”
“Hmph.” Yoongi grunts again, softer, and Namjoon chuckles when he knows he’s won this round too.
They lie together in comfortable silence for awhile, the sound of the city cutting over the dusty evening. The moon hangs big and doleful over the tops of the tallest buildings of the skyline, dimpled with shadows. Even all the way out here, only the brightest of stars make it through the pollution of lights. It’s a quiet, serene kind of spectacle, one that the whole world is watching.
Yoongi shifts against Namjoon’s body a few times before he murmurs, “Wake me up when the cool shit starts happening.”
“What? Are you scared of the dark?”
“Then what is it?”
Namjoon doesn’t immediately respond, not even when Yoongi buries his face harder into his chest as if to take a nap in earnest.
“Can I tell you a story?”
“It’s a good one.” Yoongi offers a dubious silence in response. “No, I promise it is this time.”
“Fine. I trust you on this. It better not be your personal book review on The Joy Luck Club, because I saw you reading that yesterday.”
“Okay,” Yoongi says, tucking the woolen fringe of his scarf more tightly around his chin. “Tell me your story.”
Sometimes they skittered past on cloudy kitten feet. Other times they thundered across endless blue on winged stallions, hooves beating down upon the backs of the people who walked the Earth. But without fail, every time the village wells filled to the brims, the Sun would peek his lashes over the horizon with his Moon in tow, pale coral and orange in its lunar face. The time that they did was called Day. The time the water wells emptied, and the two of them slipped back under the line of the world, was called Night.
And Night was a time of fear.
There are stories, now, of monsters and of evil, that manifest after the sun sets. There are tales of ghosts, ghouls, vampires, babadooks, dybbuks, of things that go bump in the night. There are reasons why humankind is so afraid of the dark, why bad dreams only seem to wash away with the sunrise. There are stories, and they had to come from somewhere.
They come from many thousands of years ago in a time when history blurs into legend, when there lived a cruel, selfish emperor that wanted the light of the Sun to call his own. It was a time of deepening terror. In the era of the Goguryeo empire, the land was besieged not only with war, but rife with monsters.
Nightcreatures, they were called. The accounts of survivors who were lucky enough to escape them never matched up—some of them met beasts on four legs with red eyes, the size of lions with spines in their backs. Others said that they met beautiful women, unearthly women, whose smiles charmed them into their homes, and their beds, and only then did they show their claws and fangs. And still others would shake their heads, swallow their stale fear in memory, and say that what they saw was nothing mankind should ever know.
So, naturally, the cowardly emperor too lived in fear of Night, a time when blackness fell upon the world. He wanted some way to protect himself unconditionally, at any time he so wished. He wanted to be able to carry sunshine in his pocket, and he was hellbent on getting it.
Armed with the belief of his divine power and unstoppable ability to capture a celestial god, he rode out with his horsemen, his warriors, and his best archers. They waited on that endless horizon, a line of men and horses, waiting for Day. It was the tail end of Night before they’d come to a stop and decided this was as close as they could get and still remain safe.
The emperor had begun to doze when the sun finally yawned over the land, stretching his arms of orange and gold. A rumble of nervous anticipation had their horses stamping in the dirt.
And then, the moon—quiet and strong as always, forbidding by itself alone. It followed the sun into the skies and painted them a wash of blue. In the silence, the emperor’s command broke the serenity like the slash of a blade.
The warriors let their arrows fly. They dotted the air black, an unkindness of ravens, and for a few moments the mission seemed to have failed grandly.
But then, the sky cracked in half with an earsplitting boom, the Earth shaking beneath them. The horses panicked, rearing and throwing off their riders. Cries of pain erupted from men who were trampled under spooked hooves. The emperor felt his own mare whinny in terror, and when his back hit the ground, darkness pressed a pillow over his nose and cackled.
The moon is deepening in color now, a rich, pearly yellow. “You’re just making this up as you go, aren’t you.”
“Nah. This is an actual fairy tale, and I’m not just making it up as I go. Now stop interrupting me.”
Namjoon is shaken awake by urgent hands in the middle of Night. A figure is bent over where he lies in bed. A fresh candle flickers nervously in the lantern that seems to hang suspended by itself in midair until his eyes adjust. He sits up.
“What’s going on?”
“Something’s happened to your father,” his handmaid whispers with urgency, and Namjoon’s sleep-sluggish brain struggles to comprehend. “Do you know anything of how he rode out just before Dawn?”
“No,” Namjoon replies. “My father never tells me any of his plans. What happened?”
“Shortly after he left, the Sun rose. It was Daybreak, and the other ladies and I were just getting ready to wash the linens when we saw the most curious thing—the Sun disappeared from the sky. Poof, it was gone, as it something had swallowed it up.”
Namjoon casts a glance out of his window. There is a soft, milky blue light filtering in through the tempered glass. “What time is it right now?”
“We don’t know,” she says, pushing Namjoon’s slippers to his feet when he sits up properly, feet hanging down from the side of the bed. “It—it should still be daybreak, as all the wells are full. The villages have just started waking up. But the Moon hangs alone now, still shining.” She looks out of the window too, now. “I’ve never seen it in the sky alone.”
“And what of my father, you said?” Namjoon says, getting up now to light the candles around his room. “What happened?”
“Just now, before I came to wake you up, he rode back with only a few of his warriors and archers. All of them were disoriented, and some of them claim to be blind. It’s a testament to the palace horses that they knew their way home, because the men did not appear to be lying. Your father was bloodied, along with the rest of them, and he was not responding when the guards carried him into the palace.”
“What on Earth were they doing? Not leading a raid, were they?”
“No, I doubt it, Namjoon daegun,” she says, sitting down at the table in the middle of Namjoon’s quarters. The lanterns clacks as she sets it down on the wood. “Otherwise we would have all woken up, and the entire army would have ridden out. You would have known. No,” she shakes her head. “He has done something I am afraid is far greater than a simple raid.”
“How do you know?”
“Namjoon daegun, did your mother ever tell you the tale of the phoenix?”
“My mother died when I was two, remember?”
“Ah, I’m so sorry. You poor boy. The Phoenix, god of the Sun. It was a form that he would take to visit the other gods. And tied to the back of your father’s mare was a bird the size of one of our goats, dragged along by its head.”
Namjoon sits heavily back down on his bed. “You are telling me my father left at Dawn and came back having captured the Sun god.”
“Well,” says his handmaid, looking away. “The gossip travels fast through the palace. No one knows anything for sure, but I saw your father being carried inside, and I saw with my own eyes the sun vanish from the sky.”
There may be one person who will. Namjoon resolves to pay him a visit the first free moment he has, and with the buzz of villagers outside the palace, wanting answers from the royal family about the sudden plunge of the world into darkness, he does not get a chance for a while. Where his father is absent, Namjoon has to step up to the throne.
When the Moon is high overhead, at a time when Namjoon can only guess is midday, he finally manages to catch the Chancellor in his study chamber, bent over candlelight and scroll, a brush in hand.
“Jimin-ah,” he says, the second he opens the doors.
“Ah, Namjoon daegun,” says Jimin, looking up. “I was wondering when you’d come looking for me.”
“Cut it out, Jimin, I hate it when you call me daegun. We’ve been over this.” Namjoon sits down in the padded seat in front of Jimin’s desk, arranging his robes around his legs so that they don’t wrinkle. “You know what I’m here to ask.”
“Hyung, you know as well as I do that I don’t have the answers you want,” Jimin sighs, dipping the brush back into its inkpot. “And you know that the only person we can ask won’t tell us.”
“Who? Kim Seokjin?”
“He went out with your dad at dawn.” Jimin sighs again, heavier this time, as if exhausted. He must have been working all morning to settle the mess the emperor caused. “And he came back covered in blood and burns. Out of all the men, he seemed to be the only one who still had half his wits about him. The others were either blinded—their eyes are white and cloudy now—or just, off. Something was wrong with them.”
“Did you hear anything about,” Namjoon gestures vaguely.
Jimin’s frown creases his usually smiling cheeks. “About what?”
Namjoon glances over his shoulder, and stands up to close the doors surreptitiously. The Moon scowls at him from the highest point in the sky.
“Anything about a Sun god,” Namjoon says, hushed.
“Oh,” Jimin says. “Well, I.”
“You have to tell me,” Namjoon says. “Because if my father really did capture the Sun god, then we have a lot more to worry about attack or invasion. That’ll be the least of our worries, and if I’m not mistaken, he’s still unresponsive.”
“I don’t know what he brought back, if I’m honest with you,” Jimin says, and his voice is scared now. “I didn’t...Seokjin told me not to look, and to bring it down to the dungeons.”
“But you looked, didn’t you. You saw something,” Namjoon prompts. “Right?”
Jimin takes a breath. “You know I shouldn’t be telling you any of this, hyung.”
“The only other person who can give you orders has been unconscious for hours,” Namjoon points out. “So you actually aren’t breaking any rules if you do.”
Jimin chews his lip, clearly torn. He hesitates a breath longer, then stands.
“Okay hyung,” he says. “Come with me.”
When he comes to, he realizes that the Earth is not soft beneath him. It is sticky and cold as stone where his head is pillowed, and in his field of blurred vision he sees a furry body of a rat scuttle by. It sniffs at his cheek for a moment and scampers away when Taehyung smiles weakly.
Being back in a human body takes some adjusting. He remembers the feeling of limbs again, the feeling of having seeing eyes, and hands, and a beating heart that thrums hot with life in the cage of his ribs. It is the stabbing pain in his back and his belly that he doesn’t remember.
“Is he alive?”
“I think so. He’s in a different position than he was when I saw him last.”
“Wait—those arrows. The feathers on the ends.” A pause. “They used the most lethal, poison-tipped arrows on him, the smallest cut on one of those means you’re dead in a minute.”
A heavy silence. “So you’re saying he can’t be human?”
“I’ve never seen anything or anyone survive those arrows.”
The higher voice squeaks, when Taehyung pipes up, but Taehyung feels someone drawing closer to him—and then, at nearly an arm’s reach away, they stop. “Are you alright?”
“Save for whatever it is in my back, I am spectacular,” Taehyung slurs, tasting something bitter on his tongue, and he realizes he must be talking around a mouthful of his own blood. “I think this is what you call ‘dying.’”
“Are you,” a hesitant falter of words, “the Sun god?”
Taehyung forces his eyes open again. A face, filled with concern, watches him through wooden bars. It is not the same man that ripped Taehyung from his post in the sky, though he resembles him in his eyes and his mouth.
“Yes,” he sighs, closing his eyes. The poison that they had spoken of makes him terribly sleepy. “Kim Taehyung, God of the Sun and the Bringer of Day. What did you want me for?”
“Taehyung,” the words become an urgent whisper, “you’ve been captured.”
“I know,” Taehyung says. Talking, even, is draining his energy by the second. “What on Earth was so dire that you needed me at beck and call?”
“We can’t let him stay like this, he’ll die,” the voice mutters, an aside.
“Hyung, he’s a god. Gods can’t die.” Then, as an afterthought, “Can they?”
“This one will if we don’t do something!”
“We can’t, Namjoon daegun! The emperor will be furious—”
“Jimin, you know my father will be furious if we let the only thing he set out for die,” says Namjoon. “For whatever reason he captured the Sun god for, if he dies, then we will all know his wrath.”
“We can’t call the doctors,” Jimin says. “No one can know.”
“You’re suggesting we help him?”
“Do you have any better ideas? I’m listening.”
Namjoon is reluctant, Taehyung can tell. A protest sits on the ledge of his throat. “Okay. We can’t let him make any noise or bring anyone in here. Do you have keys?”
The cell bars rattle with a resounding clunk of the lock being opened. Then hands come down on Taehyung’s body, and these are scared, gentle ones, rather than the rough grip he had felt on his neck by calloused palms.
“We’re going to take the arrows out of you,” Jimin says with a shaking voice. His fingers are unsteady as he lifts Taehyung’s head into his lap, but his legs are warm. “You can’t make any noise, or we’re all dead.”
“Okay,” Taehyung says. “I trust you.”
“You shouldn’t,” Jimin says, but he’s looking away now, wincing. Taehyung feels Namjoon’s hand braced against his back, followed by the sudden, cruel yank of an arrowhead out of his body. It takes everything in his ability not to cry out and turns his face into the fabric of Jimin’s clothes, biting down on satin thread.
It goes quickly after that. By the time they’re done, the wounds have closed, gaping tears in Taehyung’s skin fusing together before their eyes.
Jimin sets down his head as they leave, and Taehyung watches them go. They’re whispering to each other, and both of them are covered in his blood. Namjoon holds a handful of broken arrow shafts tipped with acid green feathers.
He lets his eyes fall closed.
“He was attacked with poisons that could kill a human within minutes,” Namjoon says. “And he didn’t have his Moon.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Namjoon turns onto his side, so that he lies face-to-face with Yoongi. “The Moon may not shine without his Sun. But the Sun without his Moon dies slow and sad, ember by ember.”
The emperor, upon his recovery, tells Namjoon what he already knows. They have the Sun under their control now, and no army or Nightcreature will dare come near. He reacts with the appropriate delight of a filial son and loyal Crown Prince, and meets Jimin’s flickered glance where he stands beside the emperor’s throne. The emperor doesn’t tell Namjoon of the terror that grips the world now with the disappearance of the Sun’s protection, but Jimin receives floods of scrolls from not only their own kingdom but also distant nations. Letters of panic, of unrest, of unease, from as far away as India, pour in like frightened animals with no signs of stopping.
“We have to do something,” Jimin says, as he unrolls another scroll, this one complete with an artist’s depiction of a Nightcreature seen in northern China. “They will kill everything that moves. It is only a matter of time.”
“We can’t do anything as long as my father sits on that throne,” Namjoon says, running his hands through his hair. “The moment we try, he’ll have us executed. And then there’s no saying how long his reign will last when there is not a single person left in this court who will stand up to him.”
“And you will?” Jimin asks. “You will go against the emperor for this?”
“Between a god and human,” Namjoon says, “who do you fear?”
“A dying god, hyung.” Jimin casts his eyes down. “He’s dying.”
Namjoon balks. “How do you know? He’s a god, he’ll get better.”
“Remember the way he used to look when we first brought him here?” Jimin says. “He was like his own flame, and glowed in the darkness down there. I went down there today, and,” Jimin shakes his head. “Almost nothing. I had to light one of the lamps to see him, lying in the bed. He’s dying.”
“So the food hasn’t been working.”
“He says gods don’t need to eat, which is to be expected, but he ate it anyway. I think just for something to do. But he’s dying, hyung. There’s nothing food can do to save someone who doesn’t need it.”
“That’s not possible,” Namjoon says. “There’s no reason for him not to get better. We’re lucky he hasn’t burnt us all to the ground.”
“I know, and that’s what I thought, too,” Jimin says. “And I don’t know if this is possible, but I think he’s sad.” Jimin shuffles his feet. “No, I know he is.”
“The Sun god,” Namjoon says. “Sad?”
“We talk, sometimes,” Jimin says. “Yesterday, he said, out of nowhere, ‘I miss him.’ I asked who. He replied, ‘My Moon.’”
“His Moon,” Namjoon says, slowly. An idea is forming in his mind, and Jimin catches onto it, frowning at the expression on Namjoon’s face. “His Moon.”
“I don’t like what you’re thinking,” Jimin says immediately.
“If we can bring the Sun out of the sky,” Namjoon says, “who says we can’t do that for the Moon?”
“Are you crazy?” Jimin hisses. “The Sun knows mercy. The Moon does not, assuming you don’t kill him, which you won’t, because he’s a god, you’ll be lucky to survive his anger. He’s the Moon god, hyung, you have to know what you’re dealing with—”
“I didn’t say I wanted to shoot him,” Namjoon says. “Gods, no, I’m not stupid. Do you remember that high priest my father sent into exile two years ago, for practicing dark magic?”
“Hyung, this is such a bad idea.”
“Taehyung gave me that match with cursed fire,” Namjoon says, shouldering his pack and his sword. “He said as long as I carry that, I will be safe. It’s a fire from a god, he wouldn’t lie about that.”
“He did, but—”
“There are easier kills than a single man on horseback.”
“There are, but,” Jimin worries his lip. “I don’t know, I’d feel better if you had General Seokjin go with you.”
“Seokjin needs to stay here. If he leaves, you’re the only one in the palace who knows of Taehyung, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take if my father makes any decisions to dispose of you.”
“Hyung, you don’t even know if he’s still alive,” Jimin says. “If he’s really been living in exile, what’s to say a Nightcreature hasn’t gotten to him first?”
“Do you want to make sure the Sun lives or not?” Namjoon asks. “Jung Hoseok is the only hope we have. Unless you think we should try the same method on the Moon as we did on the Sun, and look where that got us.”
“You will let me go,” Namjoon says. “That’s an order.”
Jimin falls silent, helps Namjoon up onto his horse. “What do I tell your father if he asks?”
“That I’ve gone to see the villages,” Namjoon says, taking the reigns. “Tell him of all the ways you tried to stop me.”
Jimin gives the shoulder of his horse a pat, and steps back. “Be careful, hyung.”
Namjoon nods, kicks his mare’s flanks, and takes off into the Night.
Namjoon passes the outskirts of the village, the poorest fringes of the kingdom, and holds his breath to avoid the stench of carnage left behind. There really isn’t much left of the affluence right outside the palace, and where there is life left, it scurries and hides at the sight of him.
If this continues, there won’t be a kingdom left to rule.
For hours, Namjoon rides through dark forest towards no-man’s land. He can’t imagine Hoseok passing through this place alone—Hoseok, whom he remembers to be someone that always smiled. He was disproportionately happy for someone who played with spirits for a living, Namjoon thinks now. The branches are so thick they block out whatever light the Moon has to offer, and his horse walks with a slow, deliberate gait, pausing to step over roots and foliage every couple of steps.
Just as the sticky fingers of sleep start dabbing at Namjoon’s eyes, she stops. He looks around her, to see if there is a fallen log in their way, but nothing—instead, they’ve reached a clearing, as the path yawns wide before them. His mare stamps her feet in place and blusters, clearly in distress. Namjoon strokes a hand down her neck.
“Shh.” He raises his torch higher, but the blackness is too deep and impenetrable to see much more beyond a few feet in front of them. “What’s wrong?”
In a gust of wind, Namjoon’s torch is blown out. Then there’s a heavy thud not far from them, and his mare rears with a terrified whinny. Namjoon hits the forest floor with a grunt, and distantly hears her hooves taking off back the way they came. Another thud, this time much closer, and a rumbling growl so deep that it makes the very Earth vibrate.
It hadn’t been wind that put out the fire. It was the breath of a Nightcreature, who’d been lying in wait for them to walk right into its maw. Namjoon feels it more than sees it, feels the quiver of the soil beneath him as if dust itself flees in its presence.
Namjoon screws his eyes shut, tears leaking from the corners to dampen his lashes. He hadn’t pitted himself to be someone that would cry in his last moments before death, assumed that it would be sudden and at the hands of a blade in war. Hot breath blows across the soles of his feet, thick and pungent, and this close the reek of the Nightcreature is overpowering—putrid, sour, like the smell of rotting flesh. He turns his face away and prepares for—
Something soft clambers over Namjoon’s ankles. It feels like water, almost, and for a split second he thinks wildly that death isn’t as bad as he imagined. But a brightness pulses outside the thin film of his eyelids that makes him squints one open just enough to see.
It’s a rabbit. A rabbit, nothing more, with a gleaming white body almost pearlescent in its glow, sitting back on its hind legs and peering up into the face of the beast. It’s so small, barely bigger than one of Namjoon’s feet, but the Nightcreature pulls back in its presence as if stung. It is still dim, but the light of the rabbit is enough for him to catch a glimpse of a monster with a ghastly humanoid face with a slack jaw and empty eye sockets turning tail and disappearing into the darkness.
Calm settles back over the forest.
“What are you?” Namjoon asks, voice weak with disbelief and still caught in an iron vise of fear.
The rabbit turns where it stands between Namjoon’s legs. It peers up into his face, and Namjoon has half the mind to reach forward and stroke it, in some kind of gesture of thanks, when it ambles to sit some stone’s throw away. Then its body shines even brighter, hardening into harsh blue light, and begins to grow. Namjoon scuttles backward, startled.
It becomes too blinding to look at directly. Namjoon throws his hand up over his face, squinting through his fingers. For a moment it seems that this rabbit had saved him only to turn around and and kill him itself, but the silhouette begins to take on a humanoid shape. The light stabs at Namjoon’s eyes and he flinches, closing them, and then it cuts to black.
Namjoon lowers his arm, slowly. If his heart had been beating out of his chest earlier, it’s caught still and frozen in his throat now.
“Namjoon daegun, it is not safe out here.”
Namjoon cannot immediately see when he opens his eyes again. He hears it first, the rustle of fabric across the dead leaves of the forest floor. Then a figure slides into focus, and Namjoon doesn’t even realize that it should be impossible for him to see anything in this Night.
“What are you?” Namjoon’s elbows threaten to give way. It is not every day he, or any citizen, witnesses a rabbit morph into a full-grown human.
“My name is Jeon Jeongguk.” The boy looks down upon him, and his voice is not so much loud as it is resonant. The words reach down to Namjoon’s bones and cling to his skin. He is cloaked in robes so white that Namjoon’s eyes hurt to look at them, with hair as black as Night and a face as forbidding and pale as—
“The Moon,” Namjoon breathes. “You saved my life.”
“I am looking for someone,” says Jeongguk, “someone that you know where I can find.” His expression is hawkish now, as if he’s contemplating his decision to let Namjoon live. “Someone that you took away from me.”
“Oh.” Namjoon sits up. “I know who you speak of.”
“Someone that my father took away from you,” Namjoon says. “The Sun.”
“Your father,” Jeongguk’s eyes are slitted. “An easy place to throw blame where it will be backed unconditionally.”
“My father, the emperor.” Namjoon brushes his hands on the knees of his robes, smudging the gold satin and embroidery with dirt. “He and his men are the culprits. I don’t know if you can tell when mortals are lying, but you have my word that I am telling you the truth. I knew nothing of his plans to take the Sun from the sky.”
Jeongguk’s eyes are black and unfeeling, but his expression has softened to a bewildered frown. “He had no reason to take the Sun from me.”
“Everyone has their reasons for doing anything. His were selfish ones. Boredom. Protection. Hunger for glory. Fear of invasion, fear of Night.”
“Fear of Night,” Jeongguk repeats. A distant howl reaches their ears, and both of them stare into the impenetrable darkness. Jeongguk is still squinting at something Namjoon cannot see when when he looks back at him. “That beast that ambushed you,” he says. His jaw throws sharp shadows along his collarbones. “Are they common?”
“Only too much so,” Namjoon says. “They come out at Night, when they are protected by the darkness. Monsters, spirits, evil entities who have lost their way. For a while we believed they were running out of sustenance, running out of food. We were wrong.”
“They prey on humans for sport?”
“Humans, animals. They don’t kill for food, they don’t need any. They kill us, and leave us where they found us. Whole villages have perished in their teeth and jaws.” Namjoon shakes his head. “It is nothing more than fun for them.”
“Bring me to the Sun.”
“Do it now. I’m not sure if you know, but I do not have my own light, Namjoon daegun. All of it comes from the Sun, and if we stay out here long enough for you to truly see that for yourself I do not think you will live to tell the story.”
Nothing is, expressly, out of place. The torches burn as they should, and Jimin still sits quietly at the keeper’s table outside Taehyung’s cell, bent over scroll and lamplight.
“Do you feel that?”
Jimin looks up at Taehyung, then follows his gaze down the dark hallway. Taehyung stares into it, and it breathes back at him.
“Should I feel something?” asks Jimin, setting down his brush. He gets up, coming to stand by the bars of cell, then turns to Taehyung. “What do you feel? Is there something wrong?”
No, there can’t be. For the first time since he’s been locked away from the universe, warmth simmers under Taehyung’s skin.
“Something good,” Taehyung says, coming to stand at the bars as well. “Something great comes this way.”
“It’s not the emperor?”
Taehyung casts Jimin a glance. “You should be more careful with your words. The chancellor to the emperor saying such traitorous things means torture and execution.”
“It’s hard for me to fear the emperor when the Sun god has spared me for affiliation to the man who captured him.” Jimin ducks his head. Taehyung can hear it in his voice that he doesn’t entirely believe his own words.
“You know that’s not my job.”
“Bringing you fear and deciding your fate.” Taehyung sighs. “That has never been what I do, no matter what you or the emperor may think to do to me. I am the Bringer of Day. That has always been my title.”
“You’re a benevolent god, Taehyung.”
“One of us has to be.”
Jimin raises his eyebrows. “You mean the Moon is not?”
“What’s he like?”
“Quiet,” Taehyung says, sinking down to the floor where he can sit. The poison still has him exhausted. Jimin sits down with him, just on the other side and arranges his clothes around his legs. He gets comfortable like that, as if it’s story time. “He’s quiet until Night, when it’s just the two of us. Then he’ll talk a lot. He smiles a lot, too. He’s funny when he’s not frowning. That’s usually during the Day. He said he likes making me laugh more than anything. And we watch the universe move, together—there is so much out there, Jimin. There’s a dark blue world that spins on its side and an orange one with a great red storm. He says there are more living things, far, far away, but I can’t see them. He says he can. He says you will meet them one day.”
“He sounds like your best friend,” Jimin says.
“My best friend,” Taehyung repeats. He tips his head forward until his forehead rests against the bars.. “We promised each other we’d never go anywhere without telling each other. He must be wondering where I am.”
“Can he,” Jimin gestures with a noise in his throat, “become like this?”
“Does he have a human form, you mean?”
“He does,” says Taehyung. “But I’ve never seen him in it before.” He laughs softly. “He prefers to be in his animal form whenever we leave the skies. He says people ask him fewer questions that way. The Moon god walking around in his human form, he’s bound to look different from most people, after all.”
“You don’t look so different,” Jimin says, until Taehyung looks at him, and he takes in the gold rimming Taehyung’s lashes and his irises. “Well. Not so different.”
“I would be executed where I stood for wearing gold,” Taehyung says. “Or, the emperor would try to.”
“Ah, right,” Jimin says dryly. “Do you think you’d—?”
Jimin jumps when the spot where Taehyung’s head meets the wood sparks, and Taehyung lifts his face away. A thick, ashy scorch mark is left behind.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I—but I don’t know how that happened, I’m not even strong enough to—” His words cut away abruptly as he looks back down the dungeon hallway, lips parted.
“What is down there?” Jimin asks. “You’re scaring me.”
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes.
Barely in the last second does Jimin jump out of the way. A force strong enough to bring down the entire dungeon comes barreling out of the darkness in a flurry of white, coming to the most gentle, floating stop in front of Taehyung’s face. Initially, Taehyung is faced with nothing but a wispy, glowing entity.
“Why are you here,” Jeongguk cries, words tumbling from a mouth in a face Taehyung has never seen. He’s gripping the cell bars so hard his knuckles are white. “Are you okay? Who did this to you? What are you doing here, why haven’t you come back to me, why have you been here so long—?”
Jeongguk pants, as if he’s run a very long way. But now he’s here on his knees in front of Taehyung, separated by flimsy wood, his face twisted with desperation and relief.
Taehyung reaches out with shaking fingers until they meet Jeongguk’s face, and only now does he seem to also remember that Taehyung has never seen him in the flesh, not this one, anyway, and his breath catches as he holds so still. Jeongguk’s skin is cool to the touch, and Taehyung slides his hand over his face until his palm cups Jeongguk’s cheek. His breath, too, is chilly as he exhales when Taehyung runs the pad of his thumb tenderly over his lower lip. Jeongguk is, to Taehyung’s somewhat childish surprise, softer than he expected.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmurs. “My Moon.”
They sit there for only a moment. A kind of moment that is caught between seconds, the muted silence between heartbeats, and everything feels right again even for this small slice of time.
“Hyung,” Jimin stands. “What happened? Your hands, they’re bleeding—”
“I’m fine,” Namjoon says, and tucks them into the sleeves of his robes. “It could have been a lot worse. I might not have come back.” He nods at Jeongguk. “He saved my life.”
Jeongguk stands up now, and the gentle warmth in his face is gone. “Why are you keeping him here,” he asks, and Jimin flinches. “What use do you have for the Sun to be kept in here?”
“I can’t let him go,” Jimin says. “If I do it means my neck, General Seokjin’s neck, and Namjoon’s neck. We are the only ones who know of this, and we can’t afford to lose the general and the Crown Prince and allow the emperor to rule, unchecked, until his death.”
Taehyung closes his hand around the fabric of Jeongguk’s robes and tugs, and he turns to him immediately. He shakes his head.
“Let it be, Jeongguk,” he says. “If it means their safety, then I’ll stay here.”
“How can you say that?”
“Listen to me,” Taehyung says. “It’ll be okay. You’re here, everything is okay.”
Jeongguk is hesitant, chewing on his lip, but Taehyung nods. “Just come in and sit with me,” he says. “It’s been so long without you.”
“Okay,” Jeongguk relents. “Okay.”
“I will find the keys to unlock his cell and let you in, Jeongguk.”
“No need,” he says. Jimin’s eyes widen comically when Jeongguk takes a breath and walks through the cell bars. “God,” he says, looking over his shoulder with a shrug.
“This might take some getting used to,” Jimin says faintly. He opts to look at Namjoon instead, who, to his knowledge, has not taken on the supernatural ability of walking through walls. “Hyung, let me go fix your hands now.”
It isn’t until they turn their backs on them does Jeongguk sink back down onto his knees. Wordlessly, Taehyung snuggles closer until his cheek is cradled the hollow of Jeongguk’s throat. His chest is solid and warm against Taehyung’s, and it feels like home.
“You look different from what I expected,” Taehyung mumbles into Jeongguk’s skin. The arms holding him to Jeongguk’s body tighten, and Jeongguk inclines his head so that he’s looking down at Taehyung’s face.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asks.
“Just different.” Taehyung sighs, content, as he reaches up to wraps one of his arms around Jeongguk’s neck.
“Did you expect someone with green eyes and long, silver hair?” Jeongguk’s words come out in a scoff, but they are fond.
But Taehyung doesn’t reply, simply burying his face in Jeongguk’s shoulder. It is an awfully small embrace for such big, celestial gods, wrapped up in each other in a frail corner of the universe.
“The Sun was the benevolent god, remember?” Namjoon shifts his arm under Yoongi’s head, feeling the sudden rush of blood in his fingers after his hand had fallen asleep. “And I don’t think the Moon was an asshole.”
“No, he wasn’t. He really wasn’t,” Namjoon laces his fingers through Yoongi’s, folding ice into his grasp. “He was scared, and he was just doing what we all try to do, after all. Protect the only thing he loved.”
Yoongi contemplates this. “He loved the Sun, huh.”
“More than anything. In ways people like you and I could never fathom.”
In fact, you see it every day.
In the days that I knew them, I saw the way they would move around each other. There was something magical about it, how they gravitated towards and away from and around each other. Jeongguk would look at Taehyung or Taehyung would look at Jeongguk, and the other always seemed to know. They were so oblivious to everything outside of each other.
On second thought, I take that back. Taehyung saw everything, far and wide. He knew things before we did, sometimes as if even before they happened. It was Jeongguk who, for all the ways he was cold and quiet, never had eyes for anything or anyone else.
In the palace where the gossip travels faster than wildfire, it takes a fair bit of time for the news of the Moon god to reach everyone’s ears—especially those of the emperor’s, who as far as Jeongguk knows, remains weak from the expedition. The army has also been weakened significantly, what with the best warriors still disoriented with something that the doctors are calling Sun sickness.
“You’d think people would have heard more quickly by now,” Jimin says, absolutely not transcribing the memos he should be, instead opting to ink crags and peaks of miniature mountains onto Taehyung’s arm. “The Crown Prince surviving an attack from a Nightcreature? Even I would have started talking.”
“Mmm,” Taehyung hums sleepily as Jimin dabs blooms of red into the long-feathered birds he has painted into the crook of Taehyung’s elbow. The stone floor has been lined with blankets now, ones that Namjoon had snuck in so that Jeongguk could be comfortable. It turns out that Taehyung much prefers Jeongguk in his bed, and spends his afternoons lying on his stomach upon the blankets instead. “Lucky for us he’s so good at hiding, right?”
Jeongguk makes a face where he sits at Taehyung’s side. “I’m sapping my energy to shift back and forth between forms,” he says. “Energy that I can’t afford to be taking from you.”
“I’m getting better,” Taehyung says. “I’m a god, I will get better, and so will you.”
But news has spread of the Moon’s disappearance from the sky, too. There are villagers from the farthest reaches of the kingdom banging at the doors of the palace by the hour now, begging for help and answers. Jeongguk winces when he hears the crunch of a human bones when they are turned away, and the Nightcreatures descend upon an easy feast.
“You should finish more of your food,” Jeongguk says. “I thought you said you’ve always been curious about human food.”
Taehyung reaches for his half-eaten almond biscuit on the tray of food that Jimin would bring him, without fail, every day. Emperor’s orders, apparently. He’s never come down himself to talk to Taehyung, and for all they know, the emperor doesn’t even care about Taehyung.
“He’s afraid of you, and of Jeongguk,” he says, setting down his brush and blowing gently on the ink to dry it. “He doesn’t know how weak you are, but you’re a god, and he hurt you. Of course he’s afraid of you.”
“He should be more afraid of him,” Taehyung says, jabbing a thumb in Jeongguk’s direction with a chuckle. “I just wish I knew what the emperor wants me here for.”
“You keep away the bad without requiring him to do any work or expend any effort,” Jeongguk interjects. He tilts his face down to give Taehyung a small smile. “We are not gods to him. We’re only legends. Which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising because, from what I gather, the emperor is a right piece of—”
“He believes in us. So does the Crown Prince,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk follows his gaze into Jimin’s face. “Right?”
“I believe in you,” Jimin says. “But it’s not me who has the power to tell the kingdom what to believe.”
Taehyung chews on his food. “The emperor wants me to keep away what bad things, exactly?” he says, spraying crumbs.
“We’ve been living in an era of war and invasion for a while,” Jimin says. “For as long as I can remember, in fact, from the time I was born. Without the Sun, our enemies can’t mobilize, but you’d be a weapon against any mortal army. Even so,” Jimin places the inkpot back on the keeper’s desk with a metallic clatter, and crosses his legs. “It’s not the armies that we’re afraid of now.”
“It’s the monsters, right?”
It is Taehyung’s turn, now, to stare up at Jeongguk. “The same kind that attacked the Crown Prince when he was out in the forest, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Monsters?” Taehyung asks, eyebrows disappearing into his hair. “No one ever told me about any monsters.”
“Nightcreatures,” Jimin says. “The one that I mentioned Namjoon daegun barely escaping from, a monster that Jeongguk saved him from. They come in all shapes and forms and sizes, and make it their life’s work to attack and kill humans.”
“Are they animals?” Taehyung says, and he’s sitting up now, concern filling his face. “Wild beasts that need food? Is that the problem?”
Jimin shakes his head. “They do not kill for survival,” he explains sadly. “They kill for and wreak havoc because that is what they do. They are creatures born of darkness, Taehyung, and the only time we are safe from them is when you are in the sky.”
“None of you are safe?”
“The palace has been lucky, and has been fortified time and time again against them for years,” says Jimin. “But in the time I was a child, until now, they’ve grown in number. The attacks have gotten worse, and more frequent, and now without either of you to keep them away…” Jimin trails off. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Taehyung watches Jimin through the bars of their cell so helplessly, and Jeongguk reaches out until Taehyung takes his hand into both of his own, clutching it in his lap.
“We’ll return to the sky again,” Taehyung promises. “We will, and you will live in peace.”
“And what of the day we return to where we belong,” Jeongguk says, as Taehyung dozes beside him in bed. Jimin and Namjoon retired to their rooms hours before. Taehyung’s light is dimmer than ever before; the glitter in his irises is barely there when he blinks his eyes open at the sensation of Jeongguk’s fingers combing through his hair, tender and soothing. “What then?”
“We restore the order, of course.”
“The Night will still be just as dark and just as dangerous.”
“Do you suggest I remain in the sky for all Day and Night?” Taehyung jokes, tucking his head more securely under the curve of Jeongguk’s jaw. “Never just you and me, never a time where we can be together alone.”
“Is that so important to you?”
Taehyung opens his eyes in earnest at this, and Jeongguk nearly recoils at the severity in his gaze. “How could you suggest otherwise?” he says, voice a thunderclap in the stillness between them. “Is it not, to you?”
“No,” Jeongguk says. “Night is my favorite part of our lives.”
Taehyung drops his head back into the thin pillow, the fight gone out of him now. “How could you say such a thing,” he says weakly. “How could you even think that way.”
“Because you are the Sun,” Jeongguk says, and casts his eyes down. “You have never needed me the way I need you.”
Taehyung doesn’t speak right away, and pulls himself out of Jeongguk’s arms. “You think I don’t need you?”
“Why would you?” Jeongguk asks.
“Do you know what it was like without you, in here,” Taehyung asks, and there isn’t a hint of playfulness in his words. “Do you know what it was like for me to pass the days in this cell, knowing you thought I’d left you without a word?”
Jeongguk searches Taehyung’s face, eyes glowing cold and blue back into Taehyung’s warm yellow.
“You have light without a Moon,” he says, pragmatically, as he has this all figured out.
“Do I really?” Taehyung says, extending his arm out until his sleeve falls away. Sparks flicker across the pattern of his veins, hints of fish under streamwater. “Without you, do I really? No, Jeongguk, what you don’t understand is that without a Moon,” he brings his hand down until it cradles Jeongguk’s cheek, “there is no Sun.”
He can’t be sure if Jeongguk believes him, will ever believe him, but this time, Jeongguk doesn’t protest. His arm, instead, finds it place around Taehyung’s waist again to draw close until their foreheads rest together. The doubt furrows Jeongguk’s eyebrows, and Taehyung cranes his neck up to kiss the dimpled skin smooth.
Jeongguk opens his eyes in surprise at the touch of Taehyung’s lips, and yet--and yet, some part of him looks as if he’s been waiting for that touch for a long time. Too scared to wish for it.
“Taehyung,” he whispers.
Taehyung moves first, and Jeongguk, with the invariability of the Moon, follows him. Neither of them have ever kissed, not that they’ve ever had a chance to—not that they’d ever even believed it would be reciprocated if they did, and Jeongguk worries that his lips are clumsy. But the thought has barely formed before Taehyung leans back, and it might not have been anything more than the closest breath on each other’s lips.
Jeongguk is staring into Taehyung’s face already, but Taehyung is slower, dragging his gaze up from Jeongguk’s mouth until their eyes meet.
The air between them turns into a gasp when Jeongguk presses back. Taehyung sighs against Jeongguk’s mouth, as if he missed the taste of him in the seconds they were apart. He dips his tongue into Jeongguk’s mouth, but they’re not close enough, even with Jeongguk running his hands along the plane of Taehyung’s back.
“Jeongguk,” he repeats. It sounds different now, a little broken.
“Mm.” The bed creaks under as Jeongguk rolls them until his chest cages Taehyung in, and he rests all his weight on his elbows beside Taehyung’s head to kiss him deeper.
They can’t bring themselves to separate. It’s a new desperation that neither of them are familiar with, but it burns in Taehyung’s joints and spreads to the tips of his fingers, and that heat has been foreign to him since his plummet to Earth. It isn’t until he feels himself drifting off again, their kisses turning into little more than soft breathing into each other’s mouths, that Jeongguk’s warmth disappears.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jeongguk says, and Taehyung has to smile at the hoarseness in his voice. “Where there is a Sun—”
“There is a Moon.”
“There is a me,” Jeongguk promises.
If Jeongguk worries, he does not show it. If that feeling of unease grows in his belly like a parasite, he says nothing. He only smiles when Taehyung looks at him, holds him to his body, never leaves his side. The people that have come to know them—Jimin, Namjoon—have to watch as Taehyung slowly fades out in Jeongguk’s arms.
“This can’t be right,” Jimin says one night. He’s already in his shift for bed, but Namjoon had come in earlier unable to sleep for the same reason. “Gods don’t wither away slowly like we do. There’s nothing we can even do to help, I hate it. I feel so hopeless every time I look at him, there’s so much life in Taehyung and all he can do is sleep curled up against Jeongguk’s body—which you’d think should be helping, but it’s not.”
Namjoon sinks his fingers into his hair, resting his head in his hands. “If we don’t get them back home,” he says, “the fall of humanity is on us, Jimin-ah.”
“You can’t say that, hyung.” Jimin sits down beside him at the table. “You know it’s not your fault.”
“Can you really say that?” Namjoon asks. “Can you really say it’s not my fault, for not trying, the way my sister would have?”
Jimin’s face shutters closed. “Hyung, what happened to your sister wasn’t something you could have prevented.”
“So what do I do? Sit back and let my father do what she predicted years ago? Let him tear this world down? You’ve been getting correspondance now as far as the Middle East, Jimin-ah. Letters of panic and calls to unify and mobilize against an enemy that’s not even human.”
“I know,” Jimin says. “I know, we—it’s a lost cause to fight monsters with humans.”
“And the only god that can is dying in our dungeons,” Namjoon groans into his hands.
They sit in grim silence, the lamplight flickering on the table.
“Didn’t you say,” Jimin says slowly, “that Jeongguk saved you in the forest?”
“What if it’s not the Sun we need,” Jimin says, words coming together faster as the idea solidifies. “What if it’s the Moon?”
They stare at each other, before clambering out of their chairs and running for the dungeons. It is frightening, with only the guidance of a lamp to get them there, but when they do—
“Wait,” Jimin stops dead. “Where are they?”
Namjoon holds the light up to the cell, and it illuminates the empty bed, messy in the way that someone had just vacated it. Jimin whirls, searching the space around them and knowing he’ll find nothing.
The answer, if Taehyung is honest, is that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but someone had shouted into his ear as he was sleeping, and the sound of it had echoed in his brain. A voice he didn’t recognize. Taehyung could not ignore it, sitting up arrow-straight in bed to Jeongguk’s alarm.
It wasn’t that someone was calling him, a call he could ignore—no, whether it be by ritual or by curse, someone was summoning him.
“This way!” he shouts over his shoulder. Branches claw at his robes and roots snap at his ankles as he runs blindly through the forests outside the palace, and it takes everything not to trip when the voice rings through his ears again. Sun god! it shouts, and Taehyung gnashes his teeth together in pain as the words throb in his temples.
Then something white, with blue streaming out behind it, dashes by Taehyung’s feet. Jeongguk, as the Jade Rabbit, spins to a stop before him and sits back on his heels, blocking his way.
“Jeongguk, you have to let me go,” Taehyung says. “You know it is against the law of gods for me to disregard summons.”
But Jeongguk does not move, peering up into Taehyung’s face. Taehyung sighs, and sidesteps him, picking up his run again. It is coming from deep inside the forest, the summons, and Taehyung thinks he must be nearly upon it when he trips in earnest this time. Hard-packed dirt fills his mouth as he hits the ground, and something shifts in the forest.
“Look what we have here,” comes a snide, leering female voice. A face, haunting and beautiful, looms up in his. “The god of the Sun himself. What a catch this is.” Her head doesn’t seem to be connected to a body, and it’s strange that she is as low to the ground as Taehyung is. Then she turns her face, and he sees her neck covered in rotting scales, so long that it vanishes into the darkness. “Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” and this voice is pitched ever so slightly lower. Another head, identical to the first, appears to sneer in Taehyung’s face. “A god. What a kill for our record.”
They pull back, laughing, and then what sounds like a very heavy body slithers across the dirt. Taehyung can just make out an outline of a enormous serpentine creature with the body of a basilisk and dozens upon dozens of heads when there’s a burst of light behind him.
There is a symphony of a horrible, inhuman screeching. Taehyung throws his hand over his ears, looking up to see Jeongguk’s glowing, human form with his arms thrown out wide to shield Taehyung. The cacophony disappears into the Night, eventually, and Jeongguk’s light fades. His shoulders heave as he struggles for breath.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung says, standing up on shaky legs. “Jeongguk, you—you have your own light.”
Jeongguk shakes his head. “No, it’s yours,” he says, and takes Taehyung’s hands into his to steady him. “I took it from you. You’re not strong enough to use it on your own.”
Taehyung looks past Jeongguk’s shoulder, then back at him. “You can banish the Nightcreatures,” he says, words laced with disbelieving wonder.
“I did it once for Namjoon daegun,” Jeongguk says, “and I would do it a thousand times for you.”
They jump at the words, and Jeongguk shoves Taehyung behind him. A soft yellow firelight appears in the darkness, illuminating a thin, soot-ashen face.
“Who are you,” Jeongguk demands.
“Wait,” Taehyung says, stepping out from Jeongguk’s back. “He’s—”
“Sun god,” says the figure, a young man dressed in peasant’s clothes. His eyes dart to Taehyung’s face. “You heard me?”
“Of course I heard you,” Taehyung says. “What is your name? How did you summon me, what do you need me for?”
“My name is Jung Hoseok,” he says. “I was once a high priest. Namjoon daegun and the palace are in danger.”
“The Sun god does not have much time left,” Hoseok says, hidden away in Namjoon’s personal sleeping chambers. “Do any of you have a clue what ails him?”
Namjoon and Jimin both shake their heads.
Hoseok heaves a sigh. Though bathed and clothed in robes that Namjoon unearthed from the bottom of his drawers, he still looks gaunt and sallow where the candlelight carves into the hollows of his cheeks.
“You were looking for me that night, weren’t you,” Hoseok says, after a pause. Namjoon looks up to meet his gaze. “The night the Moon god chased away the Nightcreature for the first time. There wasn’t any reason for you to be so close to the land of exile.”
“I was,” Namjoon says. “I wanted to find you and ask if you knew a way to summon the Moon god from the sky.”
“And what for?”
“You already know,” Namjoon laces his fingers together. “The Sun god was dying.”
“Is dying,” Hoseok corrects. “I’ve never seen a god so close to becoming mortal.”
“Still?” Jimin asks. “He shouldn’t be anymore. He’s been recovering for all this time, with Jeongguk beside him.”
“I’ll talk to them when it’s safe to go down to the dungeons,” Hoseok says. “But you both said you were looking for Jeongguk in the time that he and Taehyung ran into the forest to find me. Can I ask why?”
“Oh,” Jimin says. “We were looking for him because we had an idea.”
“You saw the way he saved me and the Sun god from the Nightcreatures,” Namjoon says. “And we realized that perhaps it isn’t the Sun that they’re afraid of.”
Hoseok doesn’t say anything. Namjoon takes a breath and forges on.
“The Night is a time of fear and terror for us all. Only in the Day are we safe—but imagine if we had light in both Night and Day.”
“You propose,” Hoseok says, “to separate the two gods that have known the same skies since the dawn of time?”
“I propose the only way I know how to preserve life on this Earth,” Namjoon says evenly. “In the end, it isn’t my decision. It is theirs, and there can’t be any harm in at least suggesting it to them. What is the worst that could happen? They say no.”
Hoseok purses his lips. “I don’t like that idea.”
“I didn’t say it was a good one. But it might be our only one.”
“You’ll have to get the Sun to agree to it,” Hoseok says. “The Moon will follow where the Sun goes.”
“I’ll tell him,” Jimin says, softly, and they turn to him with a touch of surprise. “He’s my friend, I think. I will tell him.”
In the cover of night, the three of them make for a sad funeral procession. Hoseok shuffles along at Jimin’s side with his face down, with Namjoon leading the way. The dungeons are far out enough that no one will catch them.
“Taehyung?” Jimin calls, voice echoing in the long hallway.
“There’s someone who wants to see you.”
“Hoseok,” Taehyung says. He stands behind the cell bars, with Jeongguk at his back.
“Wait,” Hoseok bends down, reaching for the tray of food still left out in the corner where Jimin always slide it in. “Who gave you this?”
“Jimin,” Taehyung says. “Why?”
“No, who made this,” Hoseok turns, holding up the crumbling almond biscuit. “Who made these?”
“The cooks,” Jimin says. “What’s going on, Hoseok?”
“Who ordered these for him? Did he ask for them?”
“N-no, the emperor—”
Hoseok sweeps his gaze down, tosses the biscuit onto the floor in the way of a mouse nosing its way along the wall; it takes a curious sniff of it and nibbles into it. At first, neither Jimin nor Namjoon understand the point Hoseok is trying to make—until the mouse seizes, convulses, and rolls onto its side where it moves no more.
He looks at them. Jimin’s face is contorted with horror, and Namjoon’s face is stricken, fighting back the same expression.
“What happened to it?” Taehyung asks. “Why did you kill it?”
“It’s poisoned,” Jeongguk says first. His words are hollow. “All that food you ate was poisoned.”
“And of course he would not die, like mortal things do,” Hoseok says. “The emperor has kept you weak so that you cannot leave, Taehyung.”
The murmur of firelight punctuates the thick, somber silence.
“What do I do,” Taehyung asks. “I cannot stop eating or he will know we’ve figured it out.”
“That’s what I came here to ask you about,” Jimin says. “We—”
“Jeongguk,” Namjoon interrupts him, “can I talk to you?”
“It won’t take long.”
Taehyung nudges him, nodding in Namjoon’s direction. “Let me talk to Jimin,” he says, and only then does Jeongguk follow Namjoon out of the dungeons.
It is strange to be alone with Namjoon, and just as strange for Namjoon to be alone with Jeongguk. Taehyung had always been there to buffer with his laughter.
“I never had a chance to properly thank you for saving my life,” Namjoon says. “So, thank you.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess.”
“I only did because I knew you had information about the Sun,” Jeongguk says gruffly. “But you are welcome.”
“I know. But you still did, and for that, I believe some gratitude is in order.”
“Ah,” Jeongguk says. “Taehyung would have wanted me to.” He casts Namjoon a sideways glance. “Why were you looking for Hoseok, anyway? And what was he doing all the way out there?”
“He was exiled for trying to protect my sister.”
“You have a sister?”
“Had,” Namjoon says. “Princess Jansil.”
“What,” Jeongguk turns to look at Namjoon. “What happened?”
“She was beheaded.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk clears his throat. “I’m sorry.”
“You know, Jeongguk,” says Namjoon, “I don’t believe the emperor likes you very much.”
“That’s lovely to know,” Jeongguk says dryly. “I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I can’t be beheaded.”
Namjoon sighs. “My father planted evidence against her that made my sister look a traitor to the crown.”
“Your father, the emperor,” Jeongguk asks, incredulous, “murdered his own daughter?”
“He probably wants, or wanted, me dead, too,” Namjoon says. “Which is why I say his feelings towards you are not the best.”
Jeongguk blinks dumbly at this information.
“She was smart, and she had a big mouth,” Namjoon says. His shoulders are slouched, like it pains him to recall this. It must, and Jeongguk is stuck between patting his shoulder and standing where he is. “She knew what it was like outside these walls. Never sat still, never paid attention to her lessons. I guess in that way she knew more than I did. She knew people lived in poverty and died in droves to the Nightcreatures. It was so easy for them to say she was conspiring to kill our father, with the help of his chancellor and head general.” He scoffs. “Well, my father was one third right, his head chancellor had ulterior motives to seize the throne, but he wanted to eliminate any opposition at all. The only reason Hoseok is still alive is that my father was too afraid to murder a priest.”
“So General Seokjin, and Hoseok, and Jimin—?”
“Why do you think the other two are so young?” Namjoon says. “They were both their master’s respective apprentices at the time, and the only people fit to the take up the positions after they were all executed right in the courtyard. Humans are fragile, a blade to the neck. My father never leaves the safety of this palace, and anyone that ventures into the Night is taking a gamble on their life.” He smiles, and it’s sad and grim. “We are not gods like you, Jeongguk.”
“I’m sorry about your sister.” Jeongguk does reach forward now, putting a hand on Namjoon’s shoulder. “I’m sorry you lost her so unjustly.”
“It’s okay,” Namjoon says. “It’s been two years, so it has been a while.”
“Not so long,” Jeongguk says. He gives Namjoon a faint smile. “Two years is just a moment in time when you have forever.”
“Two years is a long time for someone like me, who won’t live past sixty at best.”
“Namjoon daegun,” Jeongguk says, and there is a knowing glint in his eyes that reminds Namjoon that he is talking to a god. “When a human has a request for the gods, that request is not granted free of charge.”
There’s no way Jeongguk could have known. Namjoon stares at him, wants to ask, but an unearthly scream pierces the air and they startle.
“Nightcreature!” come screams from the palace, and Namjoon flinches as the ground rumbles. The sound of rubble crashing onto stone reaches his ears, as if the palace walls had been demolished.
“They’re here,” Namjoon says, mostly to himself. “We’re out of time.” The Sun and the Moon are still grounded in this world.
Taehyung is standing at the mouth of the dungeon, hair whipping across his forehead as another winged Nightcreature swoops overhead, then dodges them when it comes too close.
“Jeongguk, you’re the one they’re afraid of,” Taehyung says.
“I am not saving the life of the person who brought you here and sought to keep you here,” Jeongguk hisses.
“Jeongguk, please,” Taehyung says. “They have such short lives—”
It is the emperor, dangling from the mouth of the many-headed snake creature. Blood drips from his feet where he hangs, screaming. “Namjoon daegun, tell the Sun to use his power!”
“How can you save the mortal who almost killed you?” Jeongguk demands.
“Because if I let him die, what sets me apart from that mortal?”
“Namjoon daegun, command the Sun to stop this!”
Namjoon steps forward, looking up hundreds of feet into the faces of the Nightcreature.
“I’m sorry, father,” he says, “But I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“How—of course you can, you are—”
“A human,” Namjoon says. “And you’ve forgotten that you are playing in a land of gods and monsters, father.”
Namjoon is shoved out of the way, and he nearly faceplants on the cement, but he catches his balance at the last moment to see Jeongguk’s body explode into light for what he believe will be the last time. The emperor screams as the Nightcreature releases him, recoiling in the pulsing glow—it’s stronger than the time Namjoon saw it. He hears the emperor’s head crack against the ground and winces, not opening his eyes until he senses the light fading out behind his eyelids.
“Begone,” Jeongguk says, out of breath, “stay gone.”
Namjoon’s coronation is swift. The first thing he does is toss out all his father’s unethical written laws. During the feast of the night of his crowning, the people of the palace can finally say that they have dined with gods.
They retire early. Cutting all the poisoned food has seen Taehyung’s explosive recovery—on some days, Jimin has to remind him to tone it down so that any of them can look at him without needing to squint. It makes Jeongguk laugh every time, where his mouth is pressed against Taehyung’s temple or his hair.
“I don’t know about you,” Jeongguk says, taking Taehyung’s hand in the serene quiet of the courtyard on the way to their personal chambers. Namjoon had ordered his sister’s old room to be cleared out for them to stay in. The building had been left untouched since her death. “But I’m ready to go home.”
“Mhmm,” Taehyung says as he leans in to brush his lips over Jeongguk’s cheek, smiling when Jeongguk turns his face so that their mouths come together in a kiss. “I am too.”
“You seemed distracted all through the dinner,” Jeongguk says, running his thumb over the mountains and valleys of Taehyung’s knuckles. Sparks jump from the friction. “There can’t be something wrong now?”
It’s not until they make it into their room, the doors closed behind them, with Taehyung sinking into the bed on the floor that he speaks.
“I’m ready to go home,” he says, as Jeongguk sits down with him. “But I’m not ready for the way it will be.”
The noise in Jeongguk’s throat is confused. “And what is wrong with the way it will be?”
“We can’t go back together.”
Jeongguk’s mouth pulls down into a frown. “What are you talking about, of course we can,” Jeongguk says. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“Jeongguk, you know if we go back together, and Night returns to the the same way it was as it’s always been, life here in this world will be wiped out in no time.” Taehyung smooths his thumb across the hem threads in his sleeve. “You know we can’t let that happen.”
“What’s wrong with the way things have always been?” Jeongguk’s frown deepens. “They have lived well in the way it’s always been.”
“Yes, it was okay, even good, with things the way they’ve always been,” Taehyung says. “But unless something changes, nothing will get better. Nothing will move forward.”
“What are you saying?”
“This world is the only one in our system that supports life.” Taehyung draws his palm across the empty space between himself and Jeongguk, and a tiny, floating model of their galaxy takes shape. “These are the gas giants, these are small and rocky and harbor nothing but toxic fumes. This world alone,” Taehyung cups his palm under the bottom of Earth, as the rest of the planets crumble away, “is one that needs both of us to survive.”
“And both of us they will have.”
Taehyung shakes his head, and drops his hand as Earth, too, fades into dust. “They need someone to guard the Night,” he says. “Someone Nightcreatures fear.”
Jeongguk doesn’t immediately reply, his expression puzzled as Taehyung watches the cogs turn in his head. More than anything, it seems that Jeongguk already understands his words, and doesn’t want to hear the meaning behind them.
“No,” he says faintly. “How could you suggest that?”
“If it means the survival of this world, how could I not?”
“You’re a god,” Jeongguk says. “We are gods. We do not owe these humans anything.”
Taehyung takes Jeongguk’s face in his hands, stroking fingertips over Jeongguk’s cheekbones. There’s a thick, cloudy sadness in Jeongguk’s eyes, for the moment Taehyung has made a decision, he won’t be able to change his mind.
“Yes, you and I are gods,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk reaches up to curl his own hands over Taehyung’s wrists, gripping tightly to ground himself. “Yes, you and I have decades, centuries, millennia to live. You and I have eternity. They have a few dozen years at best. They do not deserve to live all of them in fear.”
“That is the way of the universe, Taehyung.”
“Are we not part of that universe?” Taehyung reaches to intertwine their fingers, lowers them into their laps. “A universe that you and I have the duties of protecting?”
“You and I will see different skies for eternity,” Jeongguk says, and the words catch in his throat. “We will always be apart.”
“Not always,” Taehyung says. “Some days you will stand between the world and I, and we will be together.”
“Some days become many days in an eternity.”
“And you will take this,” Jeongguk says, and tears streak down his cheeks now, glistening and opalescent. “You will take many days instead of the eternity we were supposed to have?”
Taehyung leans in until his lips brush over the dampness of Jeongguk’s eyes, soft kisses to his lashes where the tears cling. “Maybe we weren’t meant for eternity. Not in the way we knew it.”
“Mortals,” Jeongguk says, as if he can’t wrap his mind around it. “You will give up eternity for those who live mortal lives? Those who live mere seconds in our existence?”
“I am the bringer of Day,” Taehyung says. “I am a new beginning, the reminder that no matter how bad one day might have been, a new Dawn will come.” He squeezes Jeongguk’s hands. “And I need you to be the one to tell them that no matter how dark the Night, you will always be there to protect them. No matter how dark the Night, if there is a you, there will be a me.”
“I will rise at Night,” Jeongguk says, “and you, you will follow me with the Day.”
“Where there is a Sun—”
“There is a Moon.”
“There is a me.”
Jeongguk tips until his head is pressed into Taehyung’s chest, helplessly. It is a burden he never needed to bear but it is Taehyung’s, and what is Taehyung’s is Jeongguk’s. From the beginning, there has not been a way to take the Sun out of the Moon, or the Moon out of the Sun. From the beginning, until now, they have only known how to move when the other does.
People call it making love. Jeongguk has heard about it in the times he has been on this earth, how it’s different from simply having sex. It is slower, the way Taehyung brings their mouths together to kiss, the way Jeongguk runs his hands under the collar of Taehyung’s robes and tugs it open; it is softer, Jeongguk’s hands are so soft against Taehyung’s thighs and his mouth gentle on his skin, even where he leaves marks; it is sweeter, infinitely so, as Taehyung holds Jeongguk’s face in both of his head and tilts it to kiss him.
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung whispers, when Jeongguk is inside of him.
“Taehyung,” he answers.
“I love you.”
Jeongguk stills above him, draped in his silver-white robes. The fabric has been yanked away from his shoulders, pooling halfway down his back, tangled in Taehyung’s legs where they’re wrapped around Jeongguk’s waist.
“I love you,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung gasps as he shifts in him, and they move in tandem until Taehyung is seated in Jeongguk’s lap. He whimpers, barely able to kiss Jeongguk back as the new angle pushes Jeongguk deeper. “I love you,” he repeats, without elaborating. Jeongguk needs Taehyung to understand this without any embellishment, anything else to complicate the barest of his emotions.
Taehyung curls his body around his Moon. For the first and the last time, they will know each other like this, one night in a very long eternity.
“I have a gift for you.”
Taehyung’s fingers are soft on Jeongguk’s hand. Jeongguk turns it over so that their fingers can lock together and smiles, a fractured upturn of lips.
“You have already given me everything.”
“This is the last thing I have for you,” says Taehyung, and he steps closer to bring his hands to Jeongguk’s face. Then he stills, staring.
“What is it?” Jeongguk whispers, unsettled by the intensity of Taehyung’s gaze.
Gently, Taehyung pulls his head down so that he can kiss Jeongguk’s forehead. At first, nothing happens, and Jeongguk holds himself as still as he can manage.
Then he feels a warmth spread through him, beginning at the crown of his head; it’s blurry in his field of view, but Jeongguk can distinctly see a streak of his hair, hanging over his eyes, turn a silvery blue. Taehyung runs his hands down his face now, stroking along the skin of his neck until they rest on his shoulders, and it takes everything in Jeongguk’s control not to startle when he feels the heat of flames simmer at Taehyung’s fingertips.
But he knows, feels it in his bones that will turn back into barren dust and rock, that Taehyung would never hurt him. Taehyung, the Sun, who has taken on this eternal responsibility to protect little people in a giant universe, could never dream of it.
The threads of Jeongguk’s robes do not fall away in ash, as he expects. Instead, where the fire burns, it spreads along the fabric and turns it into a midnight blue, weaved with studs of glittering silver to match the streaks in his hair. Taehyung doesn’t move to pull away until the color has spread down to the hems, and when it does, he releases Jeongguk with a rustle.
“They are called Stars,” Taehyung murmurs, fixing some nonexistent wrinkle in Jeongguk’s collar, and slides his hand down the plane of Jeongguk’s chest so that it rests over his heart. “This constellation will be named Heart, right where it should be. This one is Little Dipper,” Taehyung thumbs the pattern on Jeongguk’s shoulder, “this one is Wings,” he reaches with his other hand to Jeongguk’s back and spreads his palm in the warm space between Jeongguk’s shoulder blades.
They are nose to nose, and Jeongguk slips his hand between their bodies to hold Taehyung’s hand more securely where it rests against his chest. “Why?” He shakes his head, a tiny back and forth. “Why would you do this?”
“My love for you,” Taehyung says, letting his eyes flutter shut and resting his forehead against Jeongguk’s. “It’s but a fraction of what I can give you, but. This way, I will pin back the Night with you so you do not have to carry all the darkness in the galaxy on your shoulders. No matter what different skies we see, I will always be with you.” He smiles, a small happiness that Jeongguk cannot even pretend to feel. “I love you forever, Moon of my life.”
“I love you forever,” Jeongguk echoes. “My Sun and Stars.”
He closes his eyes, too, feeling. Soon, when they go back to where they belong, it won’t be like this anymore. Jeongguk has never known a life where he didn’t feel Taehyung’s warmth on his body. From the very beginning of time, they have been together.
And now, until the end of time, they will be separated.
“I’ll miss you.”
They’re small words to hold all the weight in Jeongguk’s heart. Taehyung’s hand is warm against it.
“Are you sure about this?”
Jeongguk will always go where Taehyung does. After all, the moon alone has no light.
“I am sure if you are.”
“I’m sure,” Taehyung says with resolve. “I have to do this.”
Such is the fate of someone who falls in love with another who has nothing but unconditional love and light in him. Someone who will chase away the Nightcreatures. Someone who, for better or for worse, will always rise on a new day, for a new beginning, no matter how bad yesterday was.
Jeongguk pulls away, but Taehyung simply finds his hand in his robes and squeezes it. Jimin appears in the doorway, uncomfortable in the way that he knows he must have interrupted them. “Jeongguk.”
“It’s time?” asks Taehyung.
Jimin nods. “We’re ready.”
The courtyard is quiet. Save for Namjoon, Seokjin, Jimin, and the high priest Hoseok, there isn’t another living soul waiting. A vast circular foil spans across the stone ground, and Hoseok’s hands are powdery with the chalk he used to draw their map home.
“Taehyung,” he says, striding forward, and even now the smile has not left his face. “You will stand here. And Jeongguk, come with me.”
He positions them with gentle hands. Jeongguk looks down where his feet are planted on an innocuous white disc just barely big enough to fit him, then across the space to meet Taehyung’s eyes.
“Are you both ready?”
Jimin is a flash of red with arms outstretched to catch Taehyung in a hug, and they turn into a small sunburst of color when they meet. It has always been strange to see humans cry, Jeongguk thinks, but in this moment he thinks he understands—and he knows. In the time he had shone alone in that sky, waiting for Taehyung to return, Jimin must have been the only person that Taehyung had a friend in.
“Hey, Jeon Jeongguk.” Namjoon is beside him now, holding out his hand.
“Pretty careless way to talk to a god, Namjoon taewang.”
“And yet you still call me taewang.” A smile tugs at Namjoon’s mouth. “You may be a god but in the time that I’ve known you, you have been like the little brother I will never have.”
Jeongguk slips his hand into Namjoon’s, and inevitably find himself in a hug. Namjoon is warm, not in the same way Taehyung is, but Jeongguk thinks that in some other life, he could have been Namjoon’s friend.
When everyone steps back out of the circle, Taehyung takes one last, deep breath. His face is impossibly calm, a stark contrast to how Jeongguk feels. It isn’t so much resignation as it is a sad kind of peace, but the smile he gives Jeongguk quite literally glitters with gold.
His body turns into the same kind of pure light that Namjoon had first witnessed when Jeongguk had found him in the forest so many weeks ago, but his body is tinted a fiery red-orange instead of Jeongguk’s blue. The outline of his shape contorts, contracts, and spreads wings over the open space.
By the time they can see again, Namjoon can just barely discern the outline of a plumed phoenix taking to the air. He leaves a trail of sparks that stutter out behind him.
But Jeongguk’s chest is heaving with breath, like the crushing reality is too much to bear. His gaze is fixed upon the scorch on the ground where Taehyung had been standing. There’s something silver on his cheeks and the thought crosses Namjoon’s mind that he never knew gods could cry.
“Jeongguk you have to go, now!”
Hoseok is edging along the rim of the circle, and though Jeongguk looks right at him, he doesn’t appear to see him at all. Namjoon makes to step inside to put a hand on his shoulder, perhaps, where it quivers under the weight of his star-studded cloak. “Don’t move!” he shouts, and Namjoon freezes. “You’ll be destroyed by his energy, don’t touch him!”
And finally, Jeongguk begins glowing. His body, still wracked with the shivers of unshed tears, turns into familiar blue light and shrinks until he barely comes up to their knees. For one last breathless moment, he hesitates, and before his body has even faded Jeongguk leaps, taking some invisible stairs two at a time back home.
“Is that it?” Jimin whispers.
“No,” Hoseok says. “We will know when they make it back. It won’t be a quiet affair.”
And just as soon as the words leave Hoseok’s mouth, the skull of the sky seems to crack in half in the same way that this legend began.
And so it was that the Sun and the Moon rose back up to their posts in the heavens. Upon their return to the skies, the people of the world rejoiced, yet crept wary of the Moon who wore a shadow of red upon its face. That was the first blood moon ever recorded.
But more curious was the splatter of light across the Night. It was no longer a pitch black, but a soft, eternal indigo with handfuls and handfuls of stars scattered across the distance. A curtain decorated with gemstones, it appeared, winking back like cat eyes where they pinned back the skies.
In time, people looked more and more to the heavens for answers. They’ve built telescopes so powerful they can see years into the past. They know, now, how long it takes to get to the Sun from Earth, how long to the Moon. Science has come in and told us that fairytales like this are just that, nothing but fairy tales.
But I disagree.
There is nothing science can explain about the reason people feel especially small and lonely at night, staring up at the Moon who, I can promise you, looks back at them and says, I know. I know. There is nothing science has against the feeling so many have that there is something out there for them, whether it be other living beings like us, or a home in that cold sky full of stars. Perhaps there is. After all, we look for homes in places of love. They are only places we can be ourselves for what we are. The last and only gift the Sun could ever give the Moon: a home, perhaps, where the Sun promised he would always be.
There are so many things that science can explain now. Why things happen, where they come from—but so many of those things come right from legend.
Solar eclipses are those small days that they have together, and the whole world seems to stop and stare. Meteor showers are nothing more than Jeongguk’s tears. Sunspots are nothing more than the marks Jeongguk left on Taehyung’s skin that last day. Taehyung made good on his promise, and sunsets have come to be some of the most breathtaking phenomena ever to be known. Not that I didn’t believe him, but it has been so many hundreds of thousands of years, and every day he continues to paint masterpieces, always different, never the same, for Jeongguk to see when he comes into the sky every Night. I don’t know if he misses Taehyung all the more, or is ever comforted by that show of color. I just hope he knows that the people like us, to this day and I’m sure for years to come, will never stop taking photos in hopes of capturing those sunsets.
And they say the universe gets bigger and bigger by the day. Astrophysicists could discover new stars for generations to come. They say they’re not sure exactly why, or where they come from.
But I think we already know the answer.
He must get tired. Jeongguk, that is. I think he does. Every month, he fades away, comes back. Fades away, comes back. He becomes a tiny slice of Moon, a slash of dimpled white. But he comes back, without fail, always returning to his full glory.
Nightcreatures, I believe, have all but died out. Some of them still lurk in the darkest, most desolate corners of this world. But most of them have become nothing but creatures that haunt dreams. We call them nightmares now, and with the day, they become harmless, laughable ghosts of what they used to be.
So do not fear the night. The night is filled with light you cannot see. It is something that the Moon and the Sun have made the ultimate sacrifice to give us, so that we will always be able to live under the light of the moon and the stars to guide our way.
It is true that the night is dark and full of secrets. It is true that the our cities have drowned out nearly every last star. But there is something to be said about the legend of the Sun and Moon and all the stars in the sky. So turn off your lights. Turn them all off, and look.
What do you see?
The wind, as predicted, is cruel now. Yoongi shivers a little against Namjoon’s body, but doesn’t move to shift closer, still rubbing the material of Namjoon’s jacket back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. The sound shk-shk-shk is the only one that punctuates the silence.
“That was a bullshit story,” Yoongi finally says, but there is no bite to his voice. Instead there is a quiet, smothered undertone to it, and Namjoon understands what he means. That was a sad story.
“I know,” Namjoon says. “It’s pretty bullshit, huh?”
“I thought fairy tales had happy endings.”
“Then you, I’m sorry to say, have not heard of many fairy tales.”
“Hmph.” Yoongi sits up. “Can we go home now? I’m about to freeze my ass off, and we’ve already seen what’s worth seeing.”
“Yeah.” Namjoon gets off, brushes off his pants. “It’s almost sunrise, anyway. We should probably get some sleep.”
“Nope, I’m going home and writing down this song the second I get my hands on pen and paper,” Yoongi says, bundling his scarf up tighter as he makes for the car down the path. “Then I’ll entertain the idea of sleep. I think I’ve already got most of it, actually, I just have to write it down before I forget…”
Yoongi hums to himself as he takes off at a power walk for the parking lot. Namjoon hangs back just for a moment, staring into the east where the sky is just barely beginning to turn a shade of a cold, cloudy blue. A promise of a new Day.
Where there is a Sun, there is a Moon. There is a me.
“Namjoon, come on!”
He shoves his hands in his pockets and hurries after Yoongi, leaving bits of stained moonlight in their wake.