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The Sun Half

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It began in darkness. Surrounded by darkness.

But he was not afraid, no. He had become accustomed to darkness now. When the darkness began to scatter, replaced, slowly, by the dim light of candles, he found himself inside a room where he had never been before. But that didn’t stop him from quickly discerning to whom this room belonged, as he observed its occupant seated comfortably in a chair beside the large window. It was the King. And so, he must have been in the King’s chambers.

Even in this instance, the details of the scene before the young man were impeccably acute. The unnatural, silver-blonde hair of the King reflected to look almost golden in the faint light of the candle. Between him and candlelight, he held a piece of parchment, and was quite focused on whatever was scrawled upon it.

So focused, that he did not see the newcomer approaching from behind him. This newcomer was not the young man himself, it was not he who was merely standing in the chamber, watching this scene unravel before him. This newcomer was someone entirely different, yet, in contrast to the pristine, exact imagery of the king, this newcomer was blurred and obscure. He held no features that could be seen upon his darkened, shadowy face or figure. Thus, it was impossible to see who this newcomer was; but despite this, the young observer, in the instant, felt that something was very, very wrong.

And to have his own intuition confirmed, this shadowy stranger brought forth a blade as black as a moonless night, and slid it so gracefully across the King’s throat. So graceful was the spillage of crimson liquid from that deep cut, and as the King fell down onto the ground, he did so with a silent elegance. There was no scream at all—which only made the scene even more unnatural and unnerving than had there been any struggle.

Only then did the young observer realize he had been screaming all along, at first attempting to warn the King, and now, in horrific mortification of what he had just witnessed.

“… My lord? … My lord!”

The words took some time to reach his ears and make any sense, only sounding like muffled mumbles at first. Eventually, however, the calls stirred him from his terror-filled nightmare. Beads of sweat stuck to his forehead, trickling carefully down his brow, and down past his widened, terrified eyes. When he turned to look at his guard, the man shared a similar look of terror as a result.

“I heard your screams, my lord, and came in as quick as I could! Lord Jeongguk, did you See something?”

Throat still sore, and very dry, from having screamed so much only moments prior, Jeongguk could only offer a stiff nod in response. His guard seemed to have enough wits about him to remain silent then, waiting for his lord to recollect himself enough to respond properly. And recollect himself he did, after a few seconds of silence, in which his taut features relaxed somewhat, and he was able to speak in a husky, yet wide awake, tone of voice. “I saw it again. But I saw how, this time. I saw how he dies.”

“Did you see who it was, my lord?” The man questioned carefully, but eagerly, to which Jeongguk shook his head, eyes dropping to his hands that were clutched at his bedsheets, only to relax their grasp when he realized.

“No… No, I didn’t.” There was disappointment there, in his voice, and in his look, but his trusted guard took no heed of it, instead, pressing onwards.

“Shall I make haste to the King’s chambers and tell him of the news?”

“No, don’t—” Almost immediately, Jeongguk answered, surprising his guard; evident in the raised brow. “—It’s the hour of the wolf, the King would be fast asleep. It would be rude to wake him on account of a dream I had.”

“But my lord, your dreams aren’t just any dreams—”

“Sometimes they are.” Jeongguk bit in, eyes flitting up from his hands to stare back at his guard, though not unkindly, to which his guard, a man who had seen him grow from the time he was just a babe, emitted a soft sigh. They both knew this dream was not just any dream.

“Why are we here, if not to tell the King of what you See in your dreams?” The question hung in the air as they looked at each other, and it needn’t an answer, as they both knew it. Nonetheless, Jeongguk didn’t change his mind on the matter, and his guard was in no place to dispute the fact, so he nodded solemnly, and turned around to take his leave. “Forgive me, I shall allow your rest. If you have need of me, I’ll be right outside the door.”

To this, Jeongguk nodded in return, watched his guard leave the room, and then laid back down onto his bed. He did not fall back asleep, but rather, stared out the open window of the castle chamber, and imagined that he was staring out of the chamber window of his own room back at Winterfell, and that he could smell the dewy scent of the Godswood seeping through, rather than the smell of manure and dead bodies that plagued King’s Landing. At least, he thought, regardless from where he was looking, he knew he was looking out at the same night sky he would see if he were looking out from home. It was a small comfort, but a comfort all the same. He continued to stare out that window at the darkness of the night sky, until it turned into the oyster pink hues of morning.

 

*****

 

“You look positively exhausted, my friend. Had a bad dream?”

These words came not from a friend at all, but merely, what Jeongguk would decide, as an acquaintance. If even that. Jeongguk’s eyes tore from the golden handle of the door in front of him to look at the young man who had spoken, and who was now giving him a strangely knowing look; knowing of what, Jeongguk couldn’t say. He was not much older than Jeongguk himself; or so it seemed as if they were the same age by appearance, the other being quite shorter than he was, and gentler, more youthful of facial features. Where Jeongguk’s own jawline jutted out like a man’s much older than he truly was, chiselled; the man before him had a softer structure and chin, with cheeks full enough to make him seem still a boy. What was most striking however, was not how green he appeared in age, but the intense colour of his hair; a true-red, as red as flame, which fell tousled around his forehead like he had spent quite some time styling it in front of his polished silver. And it was that which initially reminded Jeongguk to whom he was speaking with. “You’re Ser Jimin, the Red Knight?”

“That I am!” So easily did his features widen into a grin at Jeongguk’s recognition of him; Jeongguk instinctively took a step back as the other took a step closer, for fear the man might feel so inclined and overly friendly as to place an arm over Jeongguk’s shoulder—such skinship being something that the young lord had quite the aversion to, even from his own parents, let alone a stranger. Jimin seemed to notice the action, and corrected himself; he made no move to further close the distance between the two of them, but instead stood straight and placed his hands on his hips, smile waning to a casual expression of nonchalant cordiality. “I wanted to introduce myself to you at our first council meeting, but it seemed the King was just as eager for your presence once the meeting had finished, and I was not going to fight Our Grace for your attention.”

Jeongguk merely stared with a blank look about him at the other, not entirely sure what to make of the information, or of what use it was at all to tell him this—It was not as if he would hold the other accountable for not introducing himself earlier, as if it was some slight against him.

“… Not that you’re not worth fighting for, I’m sure. But I’m afraid, even I can’t hope to go against a King’s wishes and mean to live the next day,” with this, a sort of flirtatious glint sparkled in the redhead’s eye as he leaned close, and Jeongguk leaned away, quickly growing uncomfortable. And again, the Red Knight noticed this, but this time, he let out a light laugh and leaned away himself, before moving ahead to open the door in front of them. “Come, come. We wouldn’t want to keep them waiting now, would we?”

Such an introduction to the Red Knight had left Jeongguk, indeed, feeling very uncomfortable still. He was not sure why the knight had laughed; if there was some joke to be had, he had not understood it. And he was not sure why the knight had seemed to take such a liking to a man he had only just introduced himself to, or if that was simply the way he was by nature. But he obliged nonetheless, following after the other into the small council chambers, of which would be his second time upon the room.

Unlike its name, the small council chamber was anything but small in size. It was larger than Jeongguk’s own chamber room, of which had been arranged for him upon his reaching King’s Landing just a fortnight previously; so large that it felt exceptionally daunting to Jeongguk. In the center was a large table, and a large chair at the head of the large table, undoubtedly where the King would sit and fit the state of being largely important.

And so, sat there in that large chair, was the pale-haired King, large in height and proportions, that even though he was not a man of muscular figure (in fact he was quite lanky in comparison to the barely older, but very beautiful man seated beside him), he still instilled a sense of intimidation about him. It was the King whom Jeongguk scarcely tore his eyes away from, strangely fascinated by everything the young man did, or said, there in that chamber, intrigued by the air of wisdom he held beyond his years. And Jeongguk was glad that he was not once called upon to make any sort of discussion amongst the others that sat around the table, currently on the topic of the tourney happening on the morrow to celebrate the newly appointed King ; a topic which he had little knowledge of how to handle or orchestrate in any way, nor cared to know. He was allowed to observe in silence, and he did so until the meetings end, which also left him with an afterthought as to why he was requested to join them in these meetings at all, if not to contribute (not that he was complaining, but merely a curiosity).

“Now, if that’s all set, and everything is well organized for tomorrow’s tourney, I shall request some privacy with Lord Jeongguk here,” the King said with a finality that could only be answered with obedient nods from his council, and they took their leave. Though, Ser Jimin took a longer leave than the others, lingering a moment to glance at Jeongguk with an expression that was unreadable, at least to the young lord, before leaving after the others.

“… It seems our Red Knight has taken an interest in you,” the King opened quite casually, and with a slightly amused tone as he turned his head to give full attention to Jeongguk.

“He isn’t always like that?” Jeongguk was hoping that the red-headed knight was merely an overly friendly man by nature, rather than taking any particular interest in him specifically.

“Like what, Lord Jeongguk?” A raised eyebrow as the King asked, before he chuckled, shaking his head, and answering his own question as if he’d read Jeongguk’s thoughts. “It’s true, he is, by nature, an overly friendly man, that part is not reserved only for you, but is something we all must endure.” It sounded, on the surface, like an insult, but there was a fondness to those words as the King spoke them; a small smile pulling at his lips.

“Then forgive me, Your Grace, King Namjoon, but… How would you know if he’s taken an interest in me?” Jeongguk attempted as best he could to make his question sound innocent rather than impudent.

Impudence or not, Namjoon didn’t seem to mind as he answered rather indifferently. “When you’ve been around someone long enough, you notice these small differences in their behaviour. Tell me, do you know why Ser Jimin is called the ‘Red Knight’?”

It felt like too much of an easy question, that with the inquiring eyes of the king, Jeongguk was unsure of such an obvious answer.  He responded with slight hesitation. “… Because of his hair?”

And his suspicion was correct, for the king laughed and shook his head once more. “A common misconception. And entirely deliberate on his part, I’m sure. Don’t forget, behind all that hospitality there is an ambitiously astute nature and that whatever he does; he does with a reason well-thought out beforehand.”

Jeongguk found that hard to believe, unable to imagine that such a small, seemingly genuine and generously affectionate man had more thought put into any of his actions other than the inexplicable urge to be friendly for the sake of being friendly. Yet, he decided to keep note of this information regardless, trusting that the King’s judgement would likely prevail over his own in this circumstance (and most other circumstances, he guessed). “So… Why is he called the Red Knight?”

“Are you aware of the red priests and priestesses of R'hllor, Lord Jeongguk?”

“I can’t say that I am.”

“They are servants to their Fire God, whom they believe is the one true god. Powerfully, and undeniably devoted entirely to him, they are an exceedingly religious collective of exceedingly enigmatic people.”

“They don’t believe in the Seven Gods, or the Old Gods?” This information perplexed Jeongguk, having previously thought those two religions to be the only existing ones, and now he found himself wondering what this Fire God was like. He sounded powerful, intriguingly so.

“No, they do not.” Namjoon leaned back into his large seat, eyes staring ahead at nothing in particular as he continued. “Such is the case that causes quite the amount of unrest amongst our Septons, and other devout folk here in King’s Landing, about the red priests and priestesses. That, and their abilities.”

Now that, that struck a curious chord within Jeongguk, as he leaned closer to whisper, despite being completely alone in the room with the King. “’Abilities’, Your Grace? What kind of abilities?”

“It varies from gossiper to gossiper, things are easily exaggerated and misconstrued when used as a form of fanciful chatter between the nobles. But I can affirm that our Red Knight, at times, has an ability not unlike your own, actually being a red priest himself.” With this, Namjoon gradually shifted his gaze upon Jeongguk, as if to read his response upon his features. “Only, what you See in your dreams, he Sees in the fire. Now, do you see why our Red Knight—nay, priest, may have taken a peculiar interest in you?”

“And here I thought it was my own boyish charm that had provoked it,” Jeongguk found himself joking without realizing, and upon realizing, widened his eyes and promptly opened his mouth to fix himself in front of the King—but before he had the time, the King let out a hearty laugh, rolling in deep tones from the back of his throat, which put Jeongguk at ease. He was suddenly grateful, then, that the King was not much older than he, and he wondered if it would be unwise to feel more comfortable in his presence like a friend would.

“That may still be so, you never know. And don’t be so afraid to joke with me. I may be the King, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of humour.”

“I’ve been told that I sometimes joke too easily and too rudely, Your Grace, it’s a habit—“

“—That I fully encourage. You’re still young, too young to be forced into the stony seriousness of which so many Northern lords seem to acquire, especially the Wolves of Winterfell. No offence to your Lord father, of course. Speaking of which, have you heard word from him recently? How goes his health?”

There is something strange to be had at being spoken to as if he were a child and the King an elderly man, when in truth they were only a few years apart; but Namjoon had that way about him, Jeongguk noticed, acting as if he were an older, more experienced man within the body of a four-and-twenty year old. “He is well, fighting proudly for Your Grace’s honour, and he mentioned his sincere apologies that he was not able to accompany me here and greet you personally.”

“Ah yes, to be expected. Let him know I hold no ill will towards him for it. How can I? He’s fighting for my cause. A fight I didn’t want to happen, yet happened anyway.” The air quickly grew heavy at the topic, and some silence passed. Jeongguk was unsure what to say to the King and his hinted display at discontentment, but eventually the King sighed, and waved a dismissive hand. “Alas, there is no use crying over spilled milk. Some things are beyond even a king’s control. There are more important matters to discuss at the moment. I’m sure you’ve wondered why I requested you join us here in the small council meetings? So sure that you needn’t answer. The truth of it is that I want you to know all that I know. I want you to know the comings and goings of those in the council, those closest to me, so that you may be most informed, and thus, that your visions may be clear and more precise.”

The blasé manner in which Namjoon explained his intentions about Jeongguk’s Sight was something that caught the young lord completely off guard, and he stared vacantly for a few long moments.

“For a self-proclaimed joker, you appear to be much too quiet for a comedian.” The King’s tone was light, and not unkind.

“My apologies, Your Grace. I’m just… not used to being talked to so frankly about… Well—” Inwardly, Jeongguk cursed his stuttering, and despised the fact that he was appearing so meekly in front of someone he held in such high esteem (not realizing that fact exactly was likely why he was stuttering in the first place) and tried his best to regain his confidence. “Well, about my ability.”

“Why? Because no one believes? Don’t worry, I’ve seen stranger things with my own eyes.” There was a small hint of fear in recollection of such things, Jeongguk spied in the telling of Namjoon’s gaze when he looked at him then, and now, Jeongguk found himself wondering what those things were. Jeongguk found himself wondering a lot of things in the King’s presence, it seemed, as he was entirely a thought-provoking individual. “Now, tell me of anything new you have Seen, and tell it true, Lord Jeongguk.”

And so he did. He told the king about the dream, not unlike the first few dreams he had of similar circumstances, only this time it revealed by what means the king may die; that being by the hands of an unknown assailant, or more specifically, by the obsidian blade by which this assailant committed the murderous deed. All throughout Jeongguk’s telling, Namjoon watched and listened attentively, nodding ever so slightly as these details about his own death fell on his ears, and Jeongguk once again wondered, how could a man could appear so calm upon hearing his own end? There was some silence after Jeongguk finished, as if Namjoon was allowing himself to process the information better before eliciting his response.

“… Unsettling, isn’t it? To think that someone is already planning my death after my having been King for merely a month or so. Most demoralizing. Is my rulership that bad, do you think?” Glancing sideways at Jeongguk, Namjoon questioned him off-hand.

“Too early to say, Your Grace.”

The King seemed pleasantly surprised by the immediate answer, and laughed lightly. “You’re right. I’d half expected you to shower me with compliments and praise and say ‘nonsense!’ It would have been nice to hear it, but nicer still to hear an honest answer. And you said you couldn’t see the face of this man who killed me?”

“… No, Your Grace.” Again, Jeongguk’s eyes drifted downwards at admitting this, as if it was some great failure on his part not to See the most important detail.

“Very well. Don’t look so grim, you have no control over what the Sight shows you, am I correct?” Jeongguk didn’t know whether to nod or shake his head to show that Namjoon was correct, so he answered in a disheartened tone that he was right. “Then don’t beat yourself up over it. Your ability is a very useful gift, and you are very special for having been chosen for this gift, and that is why I have brought you here to counsel me. I’ll have my men look into this obsidian blade, as it is our only known lead, and whoever may own such a weapon is someone I would much like to know about. That is all, I’d like some time alone to ponder the information you’ve given me some more. Thank you, Lord Jeongguk.”

“As you wish, Your Grace.” A polite bow of head from Jeongguk in compliance, before he proceeded to stand up from his chair and waste no time in making way towards the door; only to be stopped short by the King’s deep, commanding voice behind him.

“And Jeongguk,” he started, “If I were you, I would hold more appreciation for our Red Knight’s friendliness. Ser Jimin is a true friend, red priest or no, and true friends are a very rare commodity here in King’s Landing. Oh! And don’t forget to enlist yourself in tomorrow’s tourney on the morn. It’s on my behalf, and I would like to see you take part.”

“… Yes, Your Grace.” Not knowing what else to say on that matter, Jeongguk merely nodded in acknowledgment of the advice, and the command that followed, and took his leave. It appeared the King was not aware that Jeongguk had no ‘true friends’ even at his home, having usually preferred the company of himself; his own presence always satisfied him enough without the need of anyone else’s aid. But there was something in the way Namjoon had said it that made Jeongguk feel as if having ‘true friends’ here at King’s Landing meant less to do with companionship, and more to do with something deeper; something which Jeongguk wasn’t quite sure of yet, with the city and its nature still being quite foreign to him. But, true to his house words, he felt that Winter was surely Coming, and that he was to remain vigilant in this strange place.

 

*****

 

If there was one thing Jeongguk enjoyed, it was fighting; in the physical sense at least. Its mental counterpart was rather exhausting — and often boring — in comparison. Whether the King had ordered him to do so or not, Jeongguk would have written his name upon the tourney’s game entry list regardless. He was never one to shy away from the chance of a challenge. Indeed, a proper challenge became increasingly difficult to find as he grew older, quicker, stronger, and more adept with a sword.

Though he was partial to a two-handed greatsword, Jeongguk had learned to fight with a vast array of weapons. Even still, he remained preferential to those which supported his aggressive style of ‘high risk, high reward’, thus often leaving heavy shields and armour out of his equipment set. Despite the cautioned warnings, of which were continually given to him by his master-at-arms back at Winterfell towards this unpredictably hazardous style of fighting, the outcomes were, on the contrary, always predictable; that outcome being that Jeongguk would always win. And as he had signed his name upon the sparring entry list, early in the day’s morning, he had no concern that such a streak might be broken.

“You’re not taking part in the games?”

A familiar voice, friendly, broke his unimportant thread of thought, and Jeongguk asserted his head towards the direction from whence it came; and he felt he should not have been surprised to see who had spoken. “Ser Jimin. What would give you that idea?”

“You’re not wearing any armour, and sparring is about to start.” The Red Knight himself was attired in a blaringly crimson suit of leather, with fire detailing sewn all across; an expensively exquisite, fine, hard leather armour. Jeongguk was sure, then, that Jimin must have either been a very wealthy man, or have had very wealthy friends; come to think upon it, the latter was more likely, he decided; given the knight’s inclination towards befriending others with such an eagerness one might have thought his life goal was to be everybody’s friend. Jeongguk then wondered if the leather bodice would be half as good at protecting him as it would be at attracting the everyone's eyes with its colouring; a matching hue to the bright red of the knight’s hair.

“I don’t wear armour.” Jeongguk answered frankly, and with a shrug. His eyes turned away from the knight to instead fixate on the king, who was now being lead onto his podium; presumably after having taken a break from watching the games. When Jeongguk’s eyes returned to Ser Jimin, they looked up and down at him as if to make a point. “And besides, you’re not wearing armour either.”

“You don’t wear armour when you fight? Oh, no. I’ve just started to like you, don’t go killing yourself so soon.” Jimin said with a dramatic tone lining his honeyed voice. An almost true pain in his words made Jeongguk wonder if the knight might actually have thought Jeongguk was going to get killed this afternoon, rather than merely making a joke of it. “And I don’t need armour,” Jimin said with a wink as if that was meant to impress Jeongguk, but Jeongguk merely blew a quicker gush of air through his nose, and shifted his unimpressed gaze over to the middle of the tourney field.

“I don’t intend to kill myself. Armour wears you down, makes you slow. I like to attack hard and fast. And I don’t need armour, as others do.” Jeongguk stated in a matter-of-fact tone, emphasising that he himself didn’t need the protection, but that others (hinting at the small, seemingly harmless Red Knight with a pointed look) did, to which Jimin shook his head in disagreement— his own tone starting to become increasingly whiny as he took a step forward, grasped Jeongguk’s shoulder, and shook it lightly.

“These tournaments, they aren’t like the ones you’ve had back at home, you know. People die in these tournaments. Men have died before in them, and men will die today. Don’t be one of them.” Why Jimin had suddenly become so dramatic, and hold Jeongguk’s life at such high value (as if there were really any risk to it today, which there was not), Jeongguk couldn’t say. A moment of silence passed between them, and Jeongguk had quickly turned back to look at Jimin’s hand where the knight had grasped his shoulder, and stared with an expression between shock and offence; of which Jimin took note of, and backed away apologetically. “… Do you hold your personal space in high regard, or do you simply dislike me?”

“I don’t know you well enough to dislike you, Ser.” Jeongguk increased the distance between them slightly, however, in order to feel comfortable again when there was appropriate space separating them. “And you only die if you get hit, if I recall. Something I don’t need to worry about.”

“It’s the former, then? Very well, I’ll try to remember to respect your personal space from now on, Lord Jeongguk,” but as he said so, he took a step closer suddenly— much to Jeongguk’s disagreement, who stiffened in response after having just asserted the distance moments ago, “—but I can’t promise I’ll remember all the time.”

So sly was Jimin's smile then, that his eyes disappeared momentarily into lines. Despite himself, the closeness and strange air about the Red Knight caused for a discomfort of the embarrassed sort, and Jeongguk furrowed his brow and pursed his lips in response, saying nothing. Eventually, Jimin was forced to restart the conversation.

“You’re a cocky little lordling, huh? To announce your means of attack so freely like that.” It may have sounded insulting if not for the light tone Jimin had said it in, denouncing any ill intentions behind the words and instead sounding like a friend teasing another. Or so Jeongguk imagined, not having had much experience in having friends up until now. “Do you have any idea who you’re going up against?”

“Someone named Ser Taehyung, whoever that is.” Another shrug from Jeongguk, as if this piece of information mattered nothing to him; which it didn’t, but it seemed to matter something to the the knight, who leaned away to let out a laugh, with muffled words about ‘coincidences’ between his chortles which made Jeongguk raise both his eyebrows. “You know of him?”

“Hah, yes. I know of him, a little.” Some more laughs, then he turned around with his hand in the air, beckoning the attention of another man who was standing in the barracks. “Hey, Yoongi! This kid’s gonna be fighting Taehyung!”

The man whose attention was being sought after, slowly, and with melancholy, lifted his eyes up from a bound book he held in his hands, and his expression seemed like one of slight annoyance that he had been interrupted. His hair was an ashen grey, but he was not elderly by any means, perhaps around the same age as Ser Jimin, perhaps a few years older. Similar to his hair was the paleness of his skintone, so much so that he stuck out like a ring of white silver in a bowl of copper, amidst all the other observers sitting around him; of whom were not tanned, but being near him made them seem so. He wore fine but plainly coloured robes, their dark colours contrasting intensely against the fairness of his skin. Sitting there in the sun, Jeongguk would not have been surprised if he was to suddenly combust and burn to a crisp, looking so delicately and vulnerably white under the sun’s hot rays.

He only heeded the Red Knight for a few moments before he retracted his attention and returned it to the book, without saying so much as a word. Jimin did not seem perturbed by this action, and Jeongguk figured it must have been a common occurrence to be ignored in such a way. Thus, Jeongguk figured also that this man must have been one of Jimin’s many friends.

“Wanna make a bet? Fifty Silver Stags on our Young Wolf, here!” Jimin had used the name others had coined to Jeongguk, for no other reason than that he was the youngest son of the Wolves of Winterfell. It sounded intimidating enough, so Jeongguk didn’t mind it.

If this offer roused an interest in the pale man, Jeongguk wouldn’t have known, if not for his slow raise of hand and two fingers, all whilst keeping his eyes trained on whatever words he was reading. Jimin seemed to understand this silent sign language, and laughed again. “Double? A hundred Silver Stags, then? You’re on!”

Jeongguk watched this odd exchange with a blank but curious expression. He wondered who this Ser Taehyung must have been, that someone of clear intelligence would bet one hundred Silver Stags on his victory. Jeongguk had concluded to the pale man’s obvious intelligence merely by the fact he was reading a book at a tourney, and anyone who chose to try and understand scribbled little words on parchment instead of pay attention to the games must hold a very high regard for the sharpness of their mind. He didn’t know who Taehyung was, but he had a feeling that perhaps he was finally going to have a challenging fight after all, and the thought excited him.

“Sorry to cut our conversation short, but it seems I’m to be fighting next. Would it be too much to hope that you’ll cheer for me, friend?”

“Do you need it?” Jeongguk didn’t mean for it to sound as rude as it came out, but it did. Thankfully, Jimin only snorted, seemingly amused, then shook his head and made a move to pat Jeongguk on the back, but remembered himself, and withdrew the hand.

“No, I don’t. But it’d make me feel good~”

And why should I care to make you feel good?  Was Jeongguk’s immediate thought, not to be unkind but merely to be witty, as his jokes were often of the cutting kind that got him into trouble. However, this time he was aware how rude it sounded, and it was his turn to remember himself. Albeit normally he cared naught how impudent he might act, finding the reactions to his attitude rather amusing, but the King’s words haunted him. ‘More appreciation’ for the Red Knight, he had said. And to make a 'true friend' out of him, for he was going to need one. “I won’t cheer for you, but I hope you do well, Ser Jimin.”

Surprised by this, Jimin's eyebrows lifted upwards, and his mouth fell slightly agape for a moment, before it quickly turned into a wide, genuine smile that spoke of his silent thankfulness for Jeongguk's kind words. And then he was off. After the knight had taken his leave, Jeongguk sat beside the barracks, away from the others, and watched the battles attentively and without interruption.

True to his word, it was not long before the Red Knight walked onto the field in the middle arena, dazzling all those seated in the barracks with his brilliant red hair and leather armour. Jeongguk snorted to himself and thought of how he had been chastised for not wearing steel armour, yet there Ser Jimin was, probably going to get severely injured for it. Though, as he watched Ser Jimin fight against his combatant, he soon discovered that they shared a similar reason behind their lack of protection after all.

Not once did Jimin's opponent manage to get close to landing a strike, for Jimin always seemed to be one step ahead of the other, almost as if he knew what was happening before it actually happened. Jeongguk remembered how Namjoon had told him of Jimin’s powers as a red priest, but he was under the impression it was in a similar fashion to his own; that they had no control over what they Saw and when they Saw it. Perhaps Jimin’s abilities were far more advanced than Jeongguk had assumed, and that both intrigued and unsettled him. Intrigued enough that the thought of inquiring for more information about such abilities from Ser Jimin entered his mind, and unsettled enough that he dismissed it, in case he might hear something that would make it too difficult to keep a friendship with the man.

He needn’t linger on such mixed thoughts for too long, as he was called upon to ready himself for the next match; his own, to take place once Jimin’s had finished. It took little effort to ready himself, since he only needed to pick a greatsword from the weapon rack and stand aside to wait for the current fight to finish. Thankfully, Jimin didn’t keep him waiting too long, and within less than a minute of standing around, Jeongguk was called to enter upon the field after Jimin’s victory, his name and the title that had followed him to King’s Landing bellowing out across the yard. “Lord Jeongguk, the Young Wolf, hailing from House Jeon of Winterfell!”

As he stepped forward, he felt the slight hint of self-consciousness bubble within his stomach, only now realizing that he was about to display his skills in battle in front of a countless collection of people; strangers, and more importantly, the King himself and his small council. However, also remembering his superior level of mastery in swordplay, that nervousness was able to be quenched and pushed aside for returning confidence. He came here to play at a sparring match, and he would do so, and in the process he would prove his skill as a fighter to those he wished to impress. He was sure of this. He was sure of it as he stepped into the circle, eyes scanning the dozens of faces in the crowd, resting briefly on the King’s, then continuing to turn, taking in the scene of the tourney.

By the time it was his turn to step up, the sun was high above him, beating down and keeping his shadow close behind as he walked forward. And then, as he stood at attention in the center of the arena, he heard the name of his opponent called out; ‘Ser Taehyung, of the Royal Kingsguard’, and finally he would get to see who this mysterious stranger was, and see what made him worth a hundred Silver Stags. And sure enough, the named man stepped forward onto the arena.

The first thing Jeongguk noticed, as any man would, was the armour his opponent wore. It was not built so heavily that it made him appear bulky or weighed down, no. Instead, it seemed as though it had been worked to perfectly fit his opponent’s apparently slender frame—and it was not painted, as accustomed to most Southern knights, but remained true to the colour of the metal used; which, without paint to cover the polished white, looked stunningly beautiful as it shone and glittered under the sun. It was no ordinary steel, Jeongguk noticed as his opponent came closer, and there were thin, delicate golden details lined in small patterns here and there throughout the metalwork. The armour was effortlessly fine-looking, and it attracted the eyes of their observers in a much more humble sort of way than the Red Knight’s crimson suit. Jeongguk was curious as to why he hadn’t seen such a style of armour, or such a superb looking metal before. He pondered if it was merely because he had scarcely travelled South to witness these things, whereas in the North they cared little for how armour looked and more for how well it worked in keeping you alive.

“No helmet, is it?” He heard the stranger ask from beneath his own helm in a deep, smooth voice and a slight accent that Jeongguk couldn’t identify. The stranger then reached up and pulled the helmet off of his head, revealing a face that caused Jeongguk to blink twice in surprise. For his entry, his strut, his fine armour and deep voice, the intimidation of that Silver Stag bet, and then to see the face of a boy behind it all—there with his innocently genuine smile shaped like a box, like none other he’d seen before, and with eyes that remained smiling even after the curves of his mouth relaxed— It was not what Jeongguk had expected. What he expected was some kind of hulking man, perhaps with a scar strewn across his face and deepset brows that made him look to be permanently scowling. The young man in front of him could not have been more of an opposite to the image Jeongguk had created in his mind, and as this man continued to speak, his voice still seemed an odd match for his youthful appearance. “Well, I’ll be fair and fight without one as well.”

Still shocked at the revelation, Jeongguk had nothing to say in the time between his opponents attempts at pre-battle banter, and the callout signalling the beginning of the fight. A few more blinks as he stared in awe, before he finally lifted his greatsword off the ground— the sharpened steel running the length of his own height, and felt to weigh as much as he did, too. But for all that, he managed to lift it easily, and hold it in readied stance just as effortlessly, as though he’d done it a thousand times before.

The knight, Ser Taehyung, appeared mildly impressed for a moment as his eyebrows lifted up while he watched. He then lifted his own greatsword to match Jeongguk’s stance, and in that instant, Taehyung’s expression and demeanour changed suddenly; as if the man who picked up that sword was an entirely different one to the man who had taken off his helmet and smiled at the crowd, and at Jeongguk. This new man had a concentrated look about him, eyes focused, lips straight, and his aura was completely different, too. This was more fitting to the man worth a hundred Silver Stags, Jeongguk thought. This was the man who would be his challenge.

Jeongguk lunged first, a test to see his opponent’s reaction time—and it was good. Taehyung parried it easily and countered with his own, in a similar way that was to trial Jeongguk’s reflexes. They both danced like that for a few lunges and counters, watching each other’s movements, trying to sense a pattern in each other’s styles of evading and attacking. And then, when they were ready, the real fight began.

The swings came harder, the dodges forced to be swifter; steel clashed against steel, the loud sounds ringing throughout the yard and gasps heard in response from the audience. Both men gave no sounds of struggle against each other, both remained silent as they lunged and ducked, backed away and blocked— there was not even so much as a pant to give away any sign of exhaustion while the fight continued. Neither of them grimaced or scowled before attacking, as was common when fighting, but instead they watched each other through intent gazes, never once shifting their eyes from one another.

In that moment, Jeongguk saw no one else but Ser Taehyung— his opponent. He saw nothing else but the movement of Taehyung's wrists, the way the knight swivelled them to manoeuvre his sword, or the shifting of his feet to redirect his weight when he was to lunge or block. In a battle like that, it was just the two of them who existed, and Jeongguk had never felt as alive as he did when he was fighting someone of equal measure to himself.

But it came crashing down suddenly, to Jeongguk’s surprise, when Taehyung managed to catch him off-guard for a split second; but that split second was all he needed. Only, instead of turning it into a victory as he so easily could have, he slid his foot underneath Jeongguk’s, grabbed his arm as if to feign he’d been tripped up himself, and fell backwards onto the ground— pulling Jeongguk over him as they both collapsed onto each other, hard and fast. Jeongguk wasn’t sure why he did this, and as he looked down into the equivocal brown hues of Ser Taehyung’s eyes, he was sure his own were wide and bewildered as they stared. But Jeongguk would not waste the opportunity like his opponent had, and he furrowed his brows then, pulling himself up quickly to reposition his sword at the knight’s throat.

“I yield!” The knight said, bringing both his hands up in submission, to which Jeongguk responded, after a few seconds of a silent, brooding stare, by dropping his sword and letting go of the firm grip he had on the other. Why did he do that?  The question was all that ran through Jeongguk’s mind while he wasted no time in getting up off the ground, and again, creating a comfortable distance from the boy knight and himself. He was otherwise too confused by current circumstances to feel embarrassed by how closely he had been forced near the other just moments prior. Jeongguk was declared the victor, but he couldn’t savour it like he had hoped— it didn’t feel like he had truly won, and it felt like the knight had slighted him in doing so, which compelled him to approach his defeated opponent after their match.

“Why did you yield on purpose?” Jeongguk questioned when he had found the young knight getting refreshments, his tone revealing both a hint of both annoyance and confusion.

“'On purpose'? I fell and you held a sword to my throat, I didn’t really have a choice, actually.” Ser Taehyung spoke with his side to Jeongguk, lips hovering over the tankard of water in his hand and eyes surveying over the food options laid out on the banquet table before him. The way he responded sounded as if he had expected Jeongguk to come to him in such a way, and that knowing tone behind his words only made Jeongguk furrow his brow even more. Why did it always seem like everyone in King’s Landing knew more about everything than he did?

“I meant before that. Why did you trip yourself, and put yourself in a compromising position by giving me the freedom to hold you down? You fought well, too well to make that kind of mistake by accident.” Jeongguk began to sound exasperated as he explained, and he stepped forward, nearer to the knight as though it would make his words clearer and easier to answer.

“Ooo~ You speak like an expert on the subject, but you’re only a boy. How did you get to be so good at fighting at such a young age, anyway?” Finally, the knight turned from the table to face Jeongguk, relaxing his arm and lowering the tankard from his lips, an innocently inquisitive look about him.

“You’re one to talk. You look more a boy than me,” Jeongguk retorted with a derisive snort, and Taehyung laughed rather than getting offended, to Jeongguk’s surprise. It caused him to pause, before he shook his head a little and persisted. “—Don’t change the subject. I want to know why.”

“Why? Will it keep you awake in the night if you don’t?” Taehyung teased, in a friendly sort of way that reminded Jeongguk of the Red Knight, and he wondered if they knew each other by some chance. “Hah, alright. I’ll tell you. You look like you need all the good sleep you can get, no offence.”

A short sigh of relief came from Jeongguk. That was all he wanted to hear (the last part of his sentence barely even reaching his ears after having heard the words ‘I’ll tell you’). He leaned forward when he saw Taehyung leaning forward and cupping his mouth as if to share a secret.

“… I wanted to see your eyes.”

“…” And now Jeongguk’s eyes narrowed while he processed such a strange reason, and tried to make sense of it. When he could make no sense of it, he backed away so that the knight could see his plainly confounded expression. “… Why?”

“You’re a curious individual, aren’t you? So many questions…” Taehyung leaned his hip against the table, disposition casual and warm as he shrugged, a grin spreading across his features. It made Jeongguk feel like he was talking to someone who considered him a long lost friend rather than a stranger. “— Maybe I just thought they were pretty.”

“…” Jeongguk could only cringe, then roll his eyes at the response he finally received. And after rolling his eyes, after the moments of silence that set in after the knight had made his joke, despite himself, Jeongguk gradually found himself laughing. As he laughed, his head lowered to direct his eyes to the ground while he shook his head.

At seeing the change of Jeongguk’s demeanour, and likely at knowing he’d caused it, the grin on Taehyung’s features grew wider, and then he laughed with him. When they were done laughing, Taehyung’s voice softened to a quiet seriousness, but remained warm. “… I like to look at people’s eyes. You can tell a man by his eyes, it’s hard to hide who you are behind them. I’d like to look into the eyes of every important person, if I can, to see what kind of important person they’re going to be.”

The unexpected gravity behind the knight’s words caused him to, once again, catch Jeongguk off-guard. Jeongguk was speechless for a time, as if trying to form an appropriate response. Eventually all he could come up with was, “And you think I’m important?”

“Yes, I think you will be.” Taehyung answered promptly, and honestly; eyes not leaving Jeongguk’s for a second. Jeongguk wondered if he was again trying to read into his soul through his eyes or whatever it was he did.

“And how do you know that? Can you see the future?”

“No, but I know you can.”

 

*****

 

“You should have seen the look on his face!” The eccentric way in which Taehyung boasted of the scene caused a resigned sigh to escape from the slightly parted lips of Jeongguk, yet he couldn’t help but contort his lips into the faintest of smiles, perhaps from the embarrassment. Taehyung seemed to notice the smile, and took it as permission to drape a lazy arm over Jeongguk’s shoulders, turning his head to show a cheeky grin. “He looked like a rabbit caught in a trap!”

“Caught many rabbits, have you?” A snide response from the Red Knight, but it appeared that this group of men happened to be close enough that throwing out sarcastically biting comments was automatic between them. Indeed, as Jeongguk sat there around the wooden table at the tavern, somehow finding himself caught up in their constant banter (at least between the two knights, the pale man remaining rather quiet), he had quickly realized that they were certainly very close, and that the previous guess at Taehyung and Jimin knowing each other happened to be more than true. If it weren’t for the persistent effort that Taehyung put forth in keeping Jeongguk involved in whatever they were talking about, he’d have felt like quite the outsider.

“What? Of course not!” A loud gasp came from Taehyung, as if offended by the mere notion. “Rabbits are adorable; I would never want to hurt them!”

“So… Your slaves caught them for you, then?” Jimin tilted his head, teasing, before he lifted his goblet of wine to his lips and took a sip, though not without smiling.

“Well…” Taehyung tilted his head too, but his eyes drifted to the side momentarily, caught out by his friend’s statement. Jeongguk thought he could sense an air of shame in his hesitation to answer, though he couldn’t blame him. Slavery was against the law in Westeros, and it would be not only shameful to admit to it, but also criminal.

“… —Just kidding with you, Tae. I know how things are over there. I’m sorry, bad joke.” Jimin’s cutting tone was completely absent from his tongue this time, and his smile softened apologetically as he reached a hand out to pat the other knight’s shoulder. Jeongguk, however, was not quite so ready to accept this newfound piece of information, even if Jimin seemed to regret bringing it up. His head turned to eye Taehyung apprehensively.

“You kept slaves?” He didn’t bother to hide the judgement in his tone as he asked the question in a straightforward fashion, and it made Taehyung pause. Looking back at Jeongguk carefully, Taehyung thought on his words before responding with honesty.

“… I did. Back in Volantis… Where I was raised.” As Taehyung answered, in a tone more sombre than he had used all night, his brown eyes withdrew to stare down into the half-filled cup of wine on the table in front of him. “It seemed normal, at the time. Until I met Jimin there. He was still training as a priest at the Temple of the Lord of Light. He told me about his home, here, in Westeros. It was only then that I realized how wrong it was to… to own people like that. So I came here with him.”

Taehyung kept his eyes low, focused on the wine even after he finished talking, and Jeongguk sensed he wasn’t telling the whole story. It was clear that it was not a topic of conversation he felt comfortable with, yet not one he felt was right to dismiss. It made sense now, the strange foreign accent and the exotically decorated, intricate armor. Jeongguk had heard Volantis was home to the finest blacksmiths in the world, and he wondered as to why he hadn’t made the connection sooner. But then again, it was not as if Jeongguk had ever met a Volantene before to know.

The silence hung for what seemed like an eternity, with none of the other men present caring to break it, as if they were waiting for Jeongguk’s reply. Or perhaps they were absent-mindedly staring into their own cups of wine as well. Jeongguk didn’t know, for his gaze did not move from Taehyung as he pondered on what had been said.

He observed the details of the man before him more purposefully now, noticing the warm, light brown of his naturally tousled hair and the way it matched the warm, walnut coloured hues staring down; and the way they matched the warm, sun-kissed colour of his skin. Everything about him was warm, and light, and good, and made Jeongguk think about the faraway lands he must have come from, smiling that box smile in the sun over there without a care in the world. And without a cruel bone in his body, or ill-intentioned thought on his mind. “… I’m sure you were nothing but kind to them.”

Jeongguk had only met him hours earlier, at the tournament, and he didn’t exactly understand how he was so certain of this, but as he sat there, looking at this gentle dark-eyed foreign knight, he could not imagine anything but the same earnest cheerfulness he had been radiating in his natural and winning way. And as Taehyung lifted his gaze from his cup to look at Jeongguk, and smiled, Jeongguk smiled back, soft and reassuring, and he knew that he was right. There was a silent thankfulness on the knight’s features, perhaps thankful for not hating him on instant for the culture of his home city; a notion which seemed ridiculous to Jeongguk, for if Taehyung had found slavery agreeable in any way, he wouldn’t have given up the never-ending summers and sparkling clear waters of Essos to sail across the Narrow Sea and live in Westeros, a country of sore comparison, he thought.

“You know,” the Red Knight finally spoke again, drifting his eyes to each of the men seated around him (of which there were only three, including Jeongguk, though the pale one was so quiet it was possible to forget he was there), “I don’t think I’ve received a ‘thank you’ for shouting your meals and drinks at such a fine place.”

“Greedy as ever.” As if he had heard Jeongguk’s thoughts, the pale one did speak up at last, and with a snort, “You’re the one who offered to pay for us, and who picked the most expensive tavern in King’s Landing.”

“You say that as if it’s a bad thing. Y’know, for someone from House Min, with all your golden lions and fancy steel, you sure don’t like spending all that money you’ve got. But then again, I did end up a hundred Silver Stags richer today thanks to you and our Young Wolf over here,” he announced proudly, gesturing towards Jeongguk with a wink. The man from House Min, whom Jeongguk had learned was called Min Yoongi, and whom also happened to be the Master of Coin (fittingly, and ‘among other things’ as Jimin had mentioned in those exact words), seemed to make a face not unlike he had just sucked a lemon.

“I should have known better than to make bets with a red priest.”

“Yes, you should have. As you should have the last time you lost a bet to me, and the time before that. So, why do you keep forgetting your own advice, and continue to make these bets with a red priest like myself, hm?” Jimin leaned his elbow on the surface of the round table, his chin nestled in the palm of his hand while he looked at the pale man with an audacious hint of a smile on his lips.

“…” Yoongi stared at the other for a moment, and Jeongguk found his eyes unreadable and his expression untelling, and Jeongguk had no idea if the man, in his moment of silence, was irritated, bored, embarrassed, or any other guess of emotion. Jimin, however, seemed to have the same knowing air about him as he did with everyone; as if, by some strange magic (which in his case may very well be possible), he actually could tell what Yoongi was thinking or feeling. After a drawn out moment of contemplative silence, Yoongi finally answered, “Must be a slow learner.”

“I very much doubt that.” Jimin’s instantaneous rebuttal caused the pale man’s lips to twitch, and Jeongguk thought he spied the slight narrowing of his eyes, before his expression recollected itself to the same blank, stoic look he so loyally held. As usual, however, Jimin was unfazed, and turned to Taehyung and Jeongguk as if nothing had ever happened, immune to the odd tension that had filled the air. “And you two, where’s my thanks, hm~?”

“I thought this idea was your thanks to us, since, as you said, you’re a hundred Silver Stags richer because of us, after all~” Taehyung returned in a similar honeyed tone to Jimin’s, which caused a look of playful disagreement to come upon the redhead’s boyish features.

“I did not! I said it was thanks to Jeongguk, not you.” Narrowed eyes and a pointed finger at the other knight caused Taehyung to laugh at the display.

“Losing has its own part to play, too. There can’t be a winner without a loser~” Taehyung swayed his cup idly from side to side, an already victorious smile on his lips as though he’d already won the repartee; markedly ironic considering he was talking about losing, Jeongguk thought.

“I wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for him. He forfeited on purpose, made it look like he lost. But he could have had me, easy.” Jeongguk looked at the both of them after explaining, and at Yoongi, who was watching him silently now, before the pale man switched his piercing gaze to Taehyung.

“I could have won that bet, you mean? If you didn’t fall over on purpose?” There was no attempt at hiding the irritation in his tone.

“And why would he do that?” Jimin's question overlapped Yoongi's as they spoke at the same time, and Taehyung and Jeongguk exchanged glances to decide who should answer first. But Jimin seemed to do that for them, as he answered himself, and Taehyung might have been glad to evade Yoongi’s question. “Wait. Let me guess… The eye thing, right?”

“How did you—” Jeongguk started, only to be interrupted.

“He’s my best friend. And he wants to have a special power like yours truly, of course.” Jimin grinned brazenly over at Taehyung when he said this, and the other knight rolled his eyes.

“Please. Aren’t you supposed to say it’s all from your Fire God or whatever, rather than take the credit for yourself?” The Volantene shook his head. “And my thing… it’s not a power, nothing fancy about it. Just good old intuition. Anyone can read a person’s eyes if they know how.”

“Hey, you work your magic your way, and I’ll work mine my way. ‘Cept mines real magic.” The redhead continued to tease, and all throughout their little banter, the pale man continued to grow tired, his brow slowly beginning to furrow while they spoke.

“… You’re both idiots.”

A moment of silence followed, and they both turned to look at Yoongi, whom had so easily insulted them. But, as Jeongguk had guessed, they merely chuckled and shrugged it off, clearly not the first time Yoongi had called them that. Jimin seemed to want to press his luck, as he outstretched his arm and used a finger to prod the shoulder of the pale man sitting beside him, causing Yoongi to rock from side to side slightly at the force; but otherwise Yoongi just sat there and let the knight do so. “Sounds like someone’s just jealous they don’t have any powers of their own. Actually, now that I think about it… Us three are kind of like special little snowflakes, and you’re…”

“—I’m the only one here with any real sense.” Yoongi finished the sentence for him, and his eyes looked heavenward as he let out a long, exasperated sigh— presumably asking the Gods why he had been made to be friends with such rabble.

“That’s not fair!” Taehyung protested, then pointed to Jeongguk, small spillage escaping from his cup as he did so. “You don’t know him, he could have some sense about him.”

This proposition caused a ponderous pause from the pale man, his eyes moving from Taehyung to instead dwell upon Jeongguk, considering the words. But then he shrugged. “I doubt it. He can’t have too much sense about him if he’s choosing you two for company.”

“Well, he hasn’t had much of a choice, really.” Taehyung shrugged back, then turned his head towards Jeongguk. “What do you say? Would you get up and leave if I let you?”

Jeongguk blinked, unprepared for the question, but, continuing the pattern from the men before him, he shrugged as well. “You guys aren’t so bad.”

“Thank you!” A wide, radiant grin came across the knight’s features then, as if Jeongguk had just given him a truly inspiring compliment, and then Taehyung wrapped an arm around Jeongguk’s neck and pulled him close, pressing his cheek against the Jeongguk’s, and Jeongguk wondered if it was the wine affecting him or if he just had no regard for personal space. “Besides, s’not like I’d let you leave anyway, you’re our guest for tonight!”

“Tae, we’re at a tavern, we’re all guests here,” Jimin corrected, but Taehyung paid him no heed. Jeongguk could only sit there and allow the barely older knight to affectionately rub their cheeks together, causing Jimin to give him that uncomfortably knowing look again for just a moment—but Jeongguk saw it, before it was replaced by his casual, but apologetic smile. “Sorry for him. He gets sappy when he’s had a bit too much wine— sappier than usual, I should say.”

“It’s fine.” Jeongguk answered plainly as he looked back at Jimin, body beginning to get used to it by now, his posture relaxing.

“Is it, now?” Jimin raised a peculiar eyebrow, as if Jeongguk’s response was an interesting one— Which it wasn’t, not to Jeongguk, anyway. It appeared the Red Knight found something interesting in everything. Jeongguk could only give a slightly confused look in response to what he assumed was a rhetorical question.

Their exchange had left an odd silence in the air, and whether he meant to or not, Taehyung saw fit to distract Jeongguk by pointing down to the practically full cup of wine in front of him. “You’ve barely touched it. Don’t drink?”

“I’ve…” Jeongguk hesitated, wondering how he could word his answer without making him sound younger than he actually was. “It’s my first time. Drinking, I mean.”

“First time? Ha! You sound like a maiden! You’ve really never had any before?” Taehyung laughed, and Jeongguk blushed in an irritated sort of way, due to both the embarrassment and the connotation of basically being called a virgin—something that was also truer than the Volantene knight knew. Not that Jeongguk would admit such a private piece of information to the men seated around him. If Taehyung had noticed Jeongguk’s discomfort, he must have ignored it, as he continued on in his brisk cheerfulness, leaning away from Jeongguk to pat him encouragingly on the back. “Go on! Tonight will be one to remember, then.”

“—Or to forget, since you’re a first timer and all, you’ll probably be a lightweight. How cute~” Jimin joined in on the rapport, an affable smile still on his lips.

Jeongguk’s eyes hovered over to Yoongi, and he wasn’t surprised to see he still held the same melancholic expression as before, features unmoving besides his lips when he spotted young lord staring at him. “Do what you want. But if you pass out, I’m not carrying you back to the Red Keep.”

“Don’t worry,” Jimin intervened before Jeongguk could even have a chance to worry, “If you pass out, me and the Sunshine knight will take care of you.”

He assumed the term ‘Sunshine knight’ meant Taehyung (not an undeserving nickname, he thought), and they both sat there looking at Jeongguk with beaming grins, and although Jeongguk had no cause to worry before, now he was worried about leaving such responsibility in the hands of the two; a man who acted more like a boy than Jeongguk himself, and a man who acted like he knew what you were thinking before you even thought it. Even if Yoongi seemed standoffish, Jeongguk thought he might be the most well-equipped to handle the responsibility. Except, he had already denounced any responsibility, and Jeongguk found him too intimidating to ask for a reconsideration. In the silence that had passed during the time it took for Jeongguk to deliberate, Taehyung simultaneously grew impatient with excitement, and bumped his knee against Jeongguk’s a few times, “C’mon~ We’re not getting any younger y’know!”

Jeongguk laughed at the fact Taehyung was insinuating that they were getting older, when in fact it seemed like the knight was perpetually stuck in his boyish manner and appearance, and that it looked as though he had stopped getting older a long, long time ago. Taehyung laughed because Jeongguk laughed, and then Jimin laughed at the both of them—Jeongguk spied even Yoongi’s lips tugging upwards into a repressed chuckle, and it was as if they were all in on the inside joke, perhaps finding the same irony in Taehyung’s statement as he did. And it was in that moment, then, that Jeongguk realized what it might have felt like to have friends, and that even if he had never needed friendship before, even if he was perfectly fine by himself, his life was made just that little bit more interesting upon meeting this strange little cohort of men. The realization made him smile down into the red wine of his cup, and made his worries melt away, just for that moment, before he raised the cup to his lips. To friendship.

 

*****

 

Slowly coming to, the first thing that greeted Jeongguk in the morning (or at least he presumed it to be the morning but couldn’t confirm, not being quite ready to open his eyes) was a dull ache around the crown of his head; which simultaneously felt so heavy he though it impossible to lift up. The urge to remain in bed, oblivious to whatever was going on around him, was just as strong as the days he would wake up after an extraneous day of training, back at his home in Winterfell; except on those days it was his body that protested, not his head. Drowsy and still barely conscious, Jeongguk groaned as he turned over in his bed, outstretched his arm to the side, and upon feeling it bump against the surface of one of his feathered pillows, curled his arm around it comfortably, not unlike a child with their soft toy in the night.

“You’re a lot more affectionate in the morning,” he heard a deep voice, a voice that should not be in his chambers, and it caused his eyes to snap open suddenly. What he saw just about gave him heart failure, and he froze for a few moments, entire body tensing; and he wondered if he was still dreaming—or perhaps it’d be closer to his nightmare. There was a man sitting beside him in his bed, torso upright and leaning against the bedhead, with one leg propped up so that he could hold his ledger against it casually, hand working at the words he was scribing onto the parchment, of which was on the ledger.

Gradually, after the span of about ten seconds, Jeongguk’s vision began to clear, adjusting to the rays of daylight spilling into the room through half-open shutters. And that was when another realization hit him; those weren’t the windows of his chambers, this wasn’t his bed, this wasn’t his room, and most disturbingly—it wasn’t his pillow he had his arm around, but the waist of a stranger. The shock of it all sent him darting away from the man next to him to the faraway side of the bed, into an upright position himself. The sudden movement was much to the disagreement of his headache, which called for one of his hands to lift up and hold against his forehead, as though it was so heavy he feared the whole thing might drop off his shoulders at any moment.

“What? It’s only cuddling, don’t you enjoy it?” The man spoke without looking at Jeongguk, his face staying glued towards the letter he was writing, though with a slightly amused smile—but Jeongguk only needed the side profile of the man’s features to remember who he was; and the remembrance didn’t help him feel any better about the situation. He had heard stories about what kind of things people got up to after having had too much wine… including stories that made him blush to think about, and he was glad then that the other man wasn’t looking at him. “You must, since you do it in your sleep when you’re unaware.”

“—Ser Taehyung.” Jeongguk stated abruptly, trying to sound stern, but he stuttered a little in the process.

“That’s me.” The man nodded, still focused on his writing, evidently unperturbed by Jeongguk’s attempt at assertiveness. “You remembered who I am?”

“The foreign knight.” All the while, Jeongguk remained at the edge of the bed, staring at the knight with such intensity it was as if he hoped to make him disappear with the powers of his gaze alone. Or, at least, for him to stop treating the situation as if it was nothing and actually address what was going on here. Of course, neither of those things happened, much to further Jeongguk’s exasperation. The knight merely stayed his hand at Jeongguk’s answer, and his smile disappeared, turning into a frown instead.

“You know, I never liked being called that…” The unexpected display of sensitivity threw Jeongguk off. His apprehensive attitude changed into a softer alternative, as he felt apologetic, though still thoroughly confused.

“… What should I call you, then?”

Taehyung shrugged. “Anything but that.”

“… Sunshine Knight?” It randomly happened upon Jeongguk to say the name, recalling its usage the night before, and having found it exceedingly befitting for the man. Taehyung seemed to think so too, his head finally turning to face Jeongguk so that he could beam his unique smile straight at him. Jeongguk felt lightheaded at that moment. His hand began to rub his forehead, and he wondered just how long the effects of a hangover were supposed to last, and cursed at how persistent these effects seemed to be.

“I like that one,” followed by a soft giggle, which one would think was an odd combination with Taehyung’s deep voice; but the two together resulted in a sound so harmonious it seemed to sooth the throbbing in Jeongguk’s forehead somewhat. Jeongguk wondered if he could get the man to do it again, only so that he could have some respite from the headache, but then remembered the dire situation they were both in, and his eyes widened once again. Taehyung noticed this, his smile waning naturally to his casual expression, though one eyebrow was slightly lifted inquisitively, “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

How Taehyung didn’t manage to see anything strange about any of this at all left Jeongguk completely aghast. “’What’s wrong?” He echoed, “I’m—… We’re—…”

Taehyung sat there, staring, waiting while Jeongguk struggled to form words into a sentence; the knight appeared to have no clue what Jeongguk was trying to get at.

With more hesitation, Jeongguk’s hands subconsciously and anxiously grasped at the sheets, and he could feel his face beginning to grow so hot the sensation soon clashed uncomfortably with the ache in his head. His voice reduced to a hushed whisper, tone sounding like a plea that the knight would catch on without him having to elaborate into details, “—Did we…?

“…” Taehyung merely stared straight at Jeongguk, with a blank face, mouth slightly agape in his seemingly clueless way, and Jeongguk was about to throw his hands up in exasperation—but then Taehyung burst into uncontrollable laughter, falling forward slightly, and his ledger slipped down from his propped up leg while a hand went to hold his stomach.

He laughed for a good amount of time, leaving Jeongguk to stare in bewildered silence, until he forced himself to speak up again. “What—What’s so funny?”

“You…” Taehyung finally managed to breathe steadily enough as he calmed his laughter down, a finger wiping at the corner of his eye as if he’d shed tears. “You think we—“

“Shhh! You don’t have to say it—Just. Tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” By now, Jeongguk’s blush had intensified so much that even his ears were red. Taehyung had to struggle to find the self-restraint not to start laughing again.

“Alright, alright~ No, we didn’t!” The knight held both his hands up in surrender. “We didn’t do anything. The most embarrassing thing you did was tell a story of how you had a crush on the Lord of the Vale’s daughter when you were five, how you told her when her family came to Winterfell again two months later, how she laughed at you and made you cry, and how from that point onwards whenever you liked a girl you’d give her a note that said ‘get out of my castle’.” Taehyung laughed, “You can’t avoid pretty girls forever, as scary as their powers over men are.”

“I—“ Jeongguk’s mouth froze, hung open slightly in shock, before his eyes narrowed and features sharpened; but if he tried to look intimidating, it would have been hard to do so while sporting such a deep shade of red across his cheeks. In fact, it likely made him look quite comically defensive. He chose to purposely ignore that entire retelling of his failed childhood love story and instead focus on the important subject they were talking about. “’No’ you say,” He reiterated as if nothing else was said, “… And how do I know you’re not lying to me?”

“I’m offended you’d even think that of me,” the brown-haired knight gasped, feigning the dramatics, but then chuckled, “Trust me. If we did, I think we’d remember it.” A moment of silence followed, and they both stared at each other, and it felt… odd. Jeongguk couldn’t quite put his finger on the feeling, but after a few seconds, Taehyung’s light-hearted expression faltered, and then his eyes withdrew from Jeongguk as he collected his letter and quill, setting up his ledger again on his leg. He cleared his throat, hand beginning to write. “We’re both fully clothed, haven’t you noticed?”

“I… Yes. But—“ Jeongguk hesitated, still feeling uneasy from whatever weird exchange they just had. “But then why are we sharing a room? And a bed? Why didn’t we just go back to the Red Keep?”

“Not everyone managed to win a hundred Silver Stags last night, and trying to find a vacant room with two separate beds, especially on the night of a tourney where all manner of lords and ladies have come from their holds and castles and were in similar need for a place to sleep, was harder than it sounds. And if you really thought we were going to drag you all the way up those steps to the Red Keep when there was a good inn right next door, you overestimate the will of intoxicated men.” The knight spoke fast, and clearly, and it surprised Jeongguk at how matter-of-fact he spoke—starkly different to the times when he sounded like just a boy. When he spoke like that, he really did sound - and look - like a man, and a knight, who knew what he was talking about. At hearing the explanation that sounded more than valid, Jeongguk could only nod, eyes drifting around the room momentarily, away from the knight.

“Alright. I believe you.”

“Thank you.”

Silence returned, though it was not the uncomfortable sort, but the sort where they both sat there and allowed each other to just exist. Jeongguk took the time to observe the room they were staying at, though there wasn’t much to observe; the room was rather plain, with walls painted a creamy shade of eggshell, and the floors made up of nothing but dark oaken boards. The only furniture within the room was the bed they were residing in and a table by the window (which he now noticed there was only one). There was no chair to accompany the table, however, which Jeongguk found rather counter-productive, and likely the reason as to why Taehyung had resorted to simply writing his letter in bed. There was no fancy décor of any kind in the room, but just the essentials. Yet, with the sunlight coming through the window, for all its plainness the room had an endearingly simple yet warm quality about it. It wouldn’t have costed much to rent for the night, he was sure, as Taehyung had said, but it didn’t need to be expensive or fancy. He felt that the pure simplicity of it matched Taehyung quite well, in that it wouldn’t matter if he was staying in the grubbiest of places, he was sure the Sunshine Knight would have found a way to make the place feel like a home, like he did when he sat there so insouciantly, working at his parchment and quill.

“… What are you writing?” Jeongguk asked, eventually breaking the silence as his eyes had drifted to the words being scrawled on the paper—though he was sure, as he could not read the words (and he was, by default as a lord, literate) that it must have been in a different language. Admittedly, he had glanced over and had tried to read the letter himself, and only after finding that he was unable did his curiosity insist that he ask the man.

“A letter to my family back in Volantis,” Taehyung answered nonchalantly, hand still working, eyes still down and comfortably concentrated. And he continued to respond like this, multitasking as if he were born naturally with the talent, “It’s High Valyrian. Would you like me to read it to you?”

The question was brought up with a tone of amusement that Jeongguk raised an eyebrow at, and only then did he realize he was practically on top of Taehyung, leaning over his shoulder to peek at the letter like a nosy child. After clearing his throat awkwardly, Jeongguk could only give a sheepish nod at being caught out. “I am a ‘curious individual’ like you said, after all.”

“At least you’re consistent, yes.” Taehyung spared a moment to tear his eyes away from the letter, chuckling as they instead settled on Jeongguk for only a second or two, then returned to the letter once again so that he may read it aloud.

“Dear Mother & Father,


Sorry for not writing you the past fortnight, a lot has happened since my letter last month. I’ve become a knight of the Royal Kingsguard! Can you believe it? The late king died suddenly, and since he bore no sons, Namjoon, as his only living relative, was made king! Naturally, he allowed me to join the Kingsguard so that I could always protect him. You always taught me to give back to those who give to me, no? It seems only fair that I protect Namjoon after he protected me when I first came here. I still wish you could meet him one day. He really is a good man, and he’ll be a wonderful king. I’ve also made a new friend! His name is—“

Taehyung paused there, and Jeongguk remained sitting beside him with an attentive gaze, waiting silently and wondering why he had stopped. He opened his mouth, about to ask, when Taehyung cleared his throat and continued again, as though after some reconsideration.

“—Jeon Jeongguk, the Young Wolf of Winterfell. He’s a Northerner, and he’s not at all like what the stories say back home.”

Another pause, and this time Jeongguk was eager for Taehyung to continue, eyes flitting back and forth between the paper and the knight. There was an exciting sensation in hearing about yourself from another, or so Jeongguk was beginning to realize—yet in all his years at Winterfell, he had never quite found himself caring much for what anyone said of him then. But this time he was very much interested in what the knight had to say, though he was quickly disappointed when Taehyung’s subject changed suddenly, and Jeongguk was left to wonder if he had skipped something or if he just liked to jump from topic to topic, giving you the feeling you'd had a rug pulled out from under you.

“And how is Kyuhwan and Seonmi? Is my little brother still getting into trouble all the time? And Seonmi, has she grown even prettier? Ah, I’m starting to feel like a protective brother at the thought, I should end the letter here before I say something bad. I miss you more and more each day, hopefully I will see you all again before my next letter.

Your homesick son,

Tae.

P.S. – Give Soonshim a scratch behind the ear for me, pa!”

A heavy silence replaced the dictation, then, as Jeongguk mulled over everything he’d just heard, and all the new information he now had to digest. He had gotten a personal look at Taehyung’s life, one he wasn’t prepared to be shown to him so early on in their friendship, but Taehyung didn’t seem to mind; his head turned to look at Jeongguk now with his bright brown eyes, as if expecting Jeongguk to comment on the letter. When a few long moments passed, and it didn’t appear as if Jeongguk was going to say anything after all, Taehyung broke the silence instead. “Soonshim is our dog—“

“—Is that all you said about me?” Jeongguk interrupted at last. Taehyung stopped his sentence, and then gradually grew into a mischievous sort of grin.

“Is that the only part you care for? I bet you’re wishing you could read High Valyrian right about now, hm~?” To emphasise his tease at Jeongguk, Taehyung lifted up the piece of parchment and waved it around in a provoking manner. “I guess you’ll never know.”

Jeongguk narrowed his eyes again then, but the question as to why he even cared so much in the first place entered his thoughts a second time, and he dropped the subject. He replaced his skeptical expression with a more casual one, shrugging smugly and pretending not to care. “I guess so. But I hope you wrote about how I defeated you at the tourney yesterday.”

At this, Taehyung’s grin loosened and he raised an eyebrow, while Jeongguk’s lips curved upwards in comparison, turning into a smug smirk. Taehyung retorted in a way that was obviously corrective. “You mean when I let you win?”

“Doesn’t change the fact that I won, though, does it?” Another shrug, and his smirk remained. Jeongguk found himself feeling more comfortable around the knight now, it seemed; comfortable enough to poke and prod him with his provocations. If Taehyung  was willing to do so to Jeongguk, he may as well return the favour. Was that what friendship meant? The passing moment of deeper thought caused Jeongguk to pause and ponder, glancing at Taehyung with a softer look in his eyes. “It’s not the only part, in answer to your question, before.”

“Hm?” Taehyung blinked, and it seemed as though he had no idea as to what Jeongguk was alluding to.

“Not the only part I care about. Your family,” Jeongguk elaborated, “You’re still close with them? You miss them? And Volantis?” The more comfortable Jeongguk became around the knight, the more curious he also became; he wanted to know more about the man before him, about his life and his aspirations. Jeongguk assumed that now, as friends, it was only natural to feel this urge to get to know one another. Apparently Taehyung had no objection, in fact he smiled at the questions, as if appreciative that Jeongguk cared to ask at all.

“Yes,” he answered plainly, but then hesitated, “… and no.” Taehyung’s eyes glanced back down at the letter, then, fiddling with the parchment between his noticeably large hands. “My family is very important to me, and it’s hard being so far away from them for so long. But I don’t miss Volantis, and I don’t regret coming here to Westeros. Actually… I want to bring my little brother and sister here, if possible. I want them to grow up here.”

At admitting his hopes, he looked back up at Jeongguk with an optimistic smile, his eyes matching as they seemed to close and smile in unison with his mouth. Although confused about Taehyung’s choice, his positivity radiated from him like heat from a fire, and Jeongguk couldn’t help but feel a warmth in his chest, and a hope that Taehyung might fulfil his wish; as questionable as it may be. “… Here? In Westeros? … But why?”

“But why not?” Taehyung questioned back immediately, staring at Jeongguk straight in the eye when his smile relaxed. “There is freedom in Westeros, slavery doesn’t exist. There isn’t so much disparity here due to ancient bloodlines like there is in Volantis. And we have a good king. My father used to say that people who were truly made to rule are only born once in hundreds of years, and I believe Namjoon is one of those people. I saw it in his eyes the moment Jimin introduced me to him… If I could have one wish in this life to come true, it would be that my little brother and sister might grow up under a good king, in a free land. And… you might not realize it, since you’ve lived here all your life, but Westeros is a beautiful land, Jeongguk. It’s wide, it’s open, and there is so much beauty in its raw simplicity. I hear the North is wider and more open than any other part of Westeros; vastly untouched by man and undeniably untameable. I should like to see it one day. Since you’re a Northern lord, maybe you could do me the honour?”

And once again, as per usual when the knight had switched from his regular, cheerful demeanour to one of solemn earnestness, Jeongguk was left speechless. Not often was he so consistently at a loss for words, but Taehyung seemed to surprise Jeongguk time after time with the hidden depth behind his carefree outer display. It would be a lie to say that Jeongguk didn’t have a preconceived idea of what Taehyung was like the moment he set eyes on him; the moment he saw that honest but harmless-looking knight beneath that helmet instead of an intimidating soldier.

Truthfully, he had assumed that for all his good looks and brilliant smiles, he must have been an ignorant sort of summer knight with an appreciation for only the surface details, unable to understand anything beyond how they appeared. It seemed Taehyung made much better judges of character about other people than Jeongguk did, and that Jeongguk had in fact done a great injustice to Taehyung for assuming him to be so oblivious and unknowing.

The real truth of it was that which was before him; a knight who knew and appreciated very much (perhaps more than Jeongguk himself), thought very deeply and considerately, and for all the things he knew, he saw them as reasons to smile rather than reasons to grow bitter. Jeongguk realized then, the reason behind why he was so often left speechless was because he had never met a man like Taehyung before, and so he had no idea what to expect or how to react. People in the North were often bitter, and harsh, and cold, like the lands they were raised in—The North being a very unforgiving place at times. Even Jeongguk may have been not unlike those people, as he saw the North in that light, while Taehyung saw it in his light, and the two perspectives, while describing the North truthfully, were very different in opinion.

In the long moment of thought that left Jeongguk silent, Taehyung grew nervous after his proposition, perhaps worried he may have overstepped some invisible boundary. “… Unless it’s—“

“—I could.” It appeared Jeongguk had a penchant for interrupting Taehyung’s sentences midway, but again, the knight barely seemed to mind; his open mouth halted at the interruption, then turned into an animated smile at Jeongguk’s acceptance. “But you’re part of the Kingsguard, you’re not allowed to leave the King’s side.”

“Says who?” Taehyung tilted his head, an air of a child-like rascality about him. “Perhaps the old kings wouldn’t allow it, but Namjoon is different, and he’s my friend. I’m sure he’d let me take a small time away—Once the war is over, and he’s safe, of course.”

Will he ever be safe? Truly safe?  Jeongguk couldn’t bring himself to say anything, knowing full well that the only people who knew about his dreams of the King’s murder were himself, and the King. Taehyung’s blissful belief that things were going to turn out well, as if the possibility that they could lose the war hadn’t even entered his mind, was endearing, but in a saddening sort of way. It was either that, or perhaps Taehyung did know. He had already shown that he thought of things in a deeper understanding than Jeongguk had given him credit for; perhaps he was mistaking Taehyung’s feigned obliviousness for true obliviousness. Perhaps Taehyung knew exactly what kind of terrible things may happen between now and then, and perhaps he was merely choosing to still believe that things would work out positively. Jeongguk nodded, and when he spoke, he selected his words carefully. “When the war is over.”

“… In the meantime, I can do you the honour,” a wide grin tugged at the corners of Taehyung’s lips now, “of showing you around King’s Landing.” He looked as though he’d just thought of the best idea since the round wheel. “You’ve only been here a fortnight or so, yes? And it’s your first time here? It would be ridiculous not to have someone give you a tour of such a lovely city.”

Jeongguk made a sour face. “A ‘lovely city’?”

“Alright, she has a few… flaws, here and there, but—“

“A ‘few’.”

“—But,” Taehyung repeated emphatically this time, “I think it gives her character.” Jeongguk rolled his eyes and snorted, and Taehyung laughed, hitting the other’s shoulder light-heartedly with his hand. “What? It’s true! We all have flaws, don’t we? And you can’t ignore her redeeming qualities.”

“What redeeming qualities?” Jeongguk sniffled indignantly and with a raised eyebrow of disbelief.

“Well you’ll find out, won’t you? Meet with me outside the Red Keep after your Small Council meeting.”

“Small Council Meeting?” Jeongguk raised both eyebrows this time; it was the first he was hearing of it. They had only just had a meeting two days prior, what would call for another so soon?

“Ah, I almost forgot to mention it! Someone came by to relay a message from the King. He’s called for another meeting later this afternoon. And… It just so happens that it’s nearing afternoon already, you slept quite a while. Might want to make a move on~”

The way Taehyung finished on a sing-song note, so lightly on something that sounded so important (especially if it was from the King himself), left Jeongguk with his mouth open in silent shock, before he reproached. “You left it this long before telling me? Why didn’t you wake me up?!”

Jumping off the bed in a right hurry, Jeongguk wasted no time in putting his boots on, and then his thick leather tunic (which he so stubbornly wore instead of the common silks made for the humid weather of King’s Landing), all while Taehyung looked on in a bemused fashion. “Why would I wake you up? You looked so peaceful, and you were hugging me. Hugs are nice, you know, and a natural display of human affection. And I doubt you’d ever hug me while conscious.”

This caused Jeongguk to slow down so that he could look over at Taehyung with an austere gaze, before he slipped into a chuckle when he only saw Taehyung’s curved lips and playful eyes. Jeongguk’s tone was light as he fixed his collar. “You’re a strange man, has anyone ever told you that?”

“Only all my life.”

 

*****

 

When Jeongguk had made his way towards the small council chambers for the third time since his coming to King’s Landing, it was not the Red Knight who graced his presence; this time it was the Silent Spide. Although the two were often seen together, and Jeongguk half expected Jimin to appear around every corner they passed — he didn’t, and it remained only the two of them for the entire way.

The pale man was clad in the same pitch black tunic he sported at the tourney, and Jeongguk realized he’d only ever seen him wearing that tunic, deducing that he must just have countless of the same coloured garment. He wore no pins, no lion embroidery; there was no way of knowing he was from Casterly Rock unless having been told the fact beforehand. When he walked, he did so with apathy and a discomforting quietness of foot that made Jeongguk feel as if the man might not have even been walking beside him at all, but was merely just an illusion. The name ‘Silent Spider’ was a fitting match, Jeongguk thought. “Min Yoongi, isn’t it? Your name.”

“One of them. The other one you thought of is also a name of mine. Don’t bother denying it.” Yoongi kept his face as a mask that on one part looked half emotionless, and the other as though the entire world were nothing but a plain bore to him. He didn’t look at Jeongguk when he spoke, but instead kept his uninterested yet somehow simultaneously severe eyes ahead of them; something that Jeongguk was actually glad for, as he wasn’t sure if how he’d handle that unnerving gaze staring him straight in the face. Yoongi seemed to sense Jeongguk’s fear, and a strange reassurance came from him in a monotone. “Don’t wet your breaches. You can call me by it if you like, it doesn’t matter to me.”

“Which do you prefer?” Jeongguk attempted to copy the other man’s demeanour, in order to try and hide his awkwardness at the endeavour of conversation with him. His back relaxed and his steps gained a lazy sort of walk (as if the mere act of walking was a mundane task), his eyes similarly staring ahead; but where Yoongi pulled it off in a way that looked effortless, Jeongguk only looked like he was putting in too much effort.

“It. Doesn’t. Matter. To me.” Yoongi repeated, slower this time, with a small pause between each word to make sure Jeongguk heard it properly and didn’t ask again.

A sheepish nod, and Jeongguk felt he was doing terribly at this. Befriending people was hard enough, let alone befriending a man like the Silent Spider. Jeongguk wondered how Jimin ever managed to pull it off. “Well… Lord Yoongi, has the day treated you well?”

“You don’t care, so why ask?”

“It’s—“ Jeongguk stuttered, wavering under the quick retort—though it was not sharp or unkind, but simply lethargic in tone, like the entirety of it was pointless. “It’s polite to—“

“—To pretend to care about someone you don’t care about at all? I know, I’ve grown up with people pretending to give a shit about me. Are you one of them?”

“No—I just wanted to be your friend,” Jeongguk’s tone slipped into the defensive, and his brow furrowed; the conversation having turned to make him feel like he was being interrogated for a crime.

“Friendship? A lie people tell to make themselves feel better. Friendship isn’t real. People make alliances when it suits them, people betray those alliances when it suits them. There are only two truths in the world. Love, and hate. Love gets you killed, and hate makes you kill others.” Yoongi spoke without so much as batting an eyelash. There was no emotion tied to his voice, and it him sound like a septon giving a lesson.

“… You’re a very pessimistic man.” Jeongguk braved to say.

“Only to an idealist. I’m a realistic man.”

“Alright, say you’re right, then… Which truth do you follow? Love or hate?”

“Follow? It’s not a choice. You’re a slave to one or the other. Sometimes both.”

“Then which one are you a slave to?” Jeongguk amended, beginning to feel exasperated by all these riddles.

“Me? A slave to truth?” For the first time, Yoongi turned his head to look at Jeongguk. His expression was as emotionless as before, however, but it still sent shivers down Jeongguk’s spine all the same. “I thought you knew my name.”

The Silent Spider’s apathetic gaze lingered on Jeongguk for a few moments, and Jeongguk could have sworn, as they walked through the courtyard, that the breeze that swept across the area felt so much colder than a summer breeze should have. Yoongi's gaze turned away from him again, and Jeongguk let out the breath he wasn’t aware he was holding. They walked the rest of the way in complete and utterly uncomfortable silence, and Jeongguk thought in the back of his mind of the comfortable silence of Taehyung and the inn room, and learned to appreciate the difference.

When they entered the small council chambers, Yoongi unsurprisingly took a seat beside the Red Knight, which only assured Jeongguk that Jimin must have cast some magic spell to bewitch the Spider into being his friend. Jeongguk also felt it quite hypocritical to denounce friendship and then sit beside a friend before the conversation had even had a chance to cool off.

Jimin smiled at Jeongguk when he sat down, making him unsure whether to feel comforted or discomforted. The more he came to know about the people here in King’s Landing, the more he came to realize that he really knew nothing at all. It was a frustrating paradox, and Jeongguk often wished the people weren’t so enigmatic here, without realizing that he himself happened to be an equally complicated individual to others.

“I’m just going to get straight to the point,” the King began the meeting, seated in his usual place at the head of the table, elbow propped upon the armrest so that he could lean his chin against his hand; giving him the most ponderous of appearances. “I’ve called you all here because I’ve received news from Lord Yoongi that we’re to be staving off a siege in a little more than a fortnight. His sources have revealed Jung Hoseok’s plan to attack us by ship while our recently defeated forces at the River Ford lick their wounds.”

“Wastes no time, does he?” Jimin interjected, a little too light-heartedly it seemed, as he gained a look of disapproval from the Hand of the King. “The Realm’s Last Hope, they call him, no? He does act with the resolution of a man trying to save the world, I’ll give him that.”

“This isn’t a joke, Jimin. We’re not prepared, we’re vastly outnumbered—“ The Hand started in a brisk manner like a mother scolding her child.

“—Yes, but we have the upperhand in a siege situation. Breaching King’s Landing’s defences is no easy feat. Numbers don’t matter if you can’t end up getting them through the gates. And prepared for what? Food stocks? I know you’re the type to worry, Seokjin, but you speak as if it’ll be a more than year-long siege.” There was amusement tugging at the edges of Jimin’s tone, and the two stared at each other in silence for a second, before the Hand (who Jeongguk now knew as Seokjin) let out a sigh.

“And how do you know it won’t be? Did you see it in your flames?” The way he asked the question didn’t sound like he was taking the notion seriously, but Jimin only smiled, still amused by something only he knew.

“No, I didn’t. But I believe in our power, and I believe we’ll hold them off. You don’t need to worry so much, you remind me of my mother.”

“She must be very beautiful.” Seokjin mused.

“Yes, she was,” Jeongguk noticed the way Jimin used the past tense. “Where do you think I got my good looks from?”

“—Alright, that’s enough, you two,” Namjoon pacified the pair without sparing either of them a glance, “Beauty doesn’t win battles, and as touching as your faith in us is, Jimin, belief won’t win a battle on its own. We need more swords.”

“The majority of our forces are garrisoned at the Ford, and aren’t in the right shape to be defending anything right now.” Seokjin returned to the important topic without hesitation. “We do need more swords, but we aren’t going to get any.”

A discouraging silence flooded the room at the harsh truth of the matter, and neither of the men seemed to have an idea to break it… except for the pale man.

“Wildfire.” Yoongi spoke one word, and the silence in the room suddenly felt infinitely heavier. Jeongguk had only ever read about wildfire during his lessons back at Winterfell; never had he seen it in real life, and judging by what he’d read about it, never did he want to see it, either. It was a man-made variation of dragon fire, perhaps even hotter and more disastrous than its original predecessor; so hot it melted flesh straight off the bone in seconds. Eventually, Seokjin whispered in disbelief, unsure that he even heard Yoongi correctly.

“… What did you say?”

“That’s right! We have the alchemists and their stored jugs of wildfire, from the late King’s fascination with the concoction.” Jimin answered for the pale man, allowing Yoongi to return to his preferred mode of silence instead of participating in the discussion. “More than enough to turn the tides in our favour, if used correctly.”

“… No. Certainly not. Wildfire is uncontrollable and used in such a chaotic situation—Do you want to burn the whole city to the ground?” Seokjin still sounded like a mother refusing her child a toy, except Jimin seemed like a child who already knew he was getting his toy one way or another whether his mother liked it or not, and remained smiling.

I can control it.” As Jimin said the words, Jeongguk watched him, and realized that he was beginning to grow more and more wary of what kind of powers the Red Knight had at his disposal exactly, and if that sort of magic, if true, was really by some divine power, or something darker. But he supposed he was in no place to judge, having a questionable ability of his own (although it seemed nothing compared to the Red Knight’s) and having no knowledge as to how or why he acquired it.

“—And you said these pots, they’re leftovers from when my uncle ruled?” Namjoon intercepted again, peeking over at Jimin with inquiring eyes, and he seemed merely like a friend discussing matters with two others friends rather than a king commanding his council. When Jimin nodded, the King looked straight ahead at nothing while he thought upon it, everyone else knowing well enough that such a look meant that he needed silence. Finally, after a minute or two of deliberation, he spoke again. “We’ll use the wildfire.”

What—! But Nam—… Your Grace—!“ Seokjin spluttered and stood up, horrified by the turn of events.

“Seokjin,” the King said in a fond sort of manner, and gave him a look that ended up calming the Hand’s frayed demeanour down, resulting in Seokjin relaxing back into his chair. Whatever silent understanding the two came to, Jeongguk couldn’t figure out, but he guessed that Seokjin trusted in the King’s judgement enough to let it pass. It was peculiar, Jeongguk noticed, how the two seemed to have a sense of equality about them, when normally a King should not have been allowed to do anything, but rather, just do as he liked without allowance from his Hand. “You said so yourself: we don’t have the means to hold out a siege for a long period of time, and we don’t have the men to sufficiently fight off Hoseok’s forces. Ser Jimin says he can control the wildfire, and I trust him.”

After the matter of the siege and the wildfire had been adequately discussed (as in not touched upon further after the King had decided), they begun to talk of other preparations and how they should go about readying the city and its townsfolk. It had been decades since the last attack on King’s Landing, and many of the folk had never been through a sacking before. Namjoon emphasised the importance of keeping the people calm at all times, and not to let them become aware of the wildfire outside the gates, for it’d only induce panic, and panic would induce chaos within the walls of the city, and that it’d be impossible to fight off attackers outside the walls when there’s madness happening inside as well. He appointed Yoongi the task of organizing payment for the Alchemist’s Guild, and Jimin the task of debriefing the guild on what was to be done.

Though Seokjin and Jeongguk were left out of the equation, once Namjoon ended the meeting he ordered the two of them to remain while the knight and the Spider left the room as commanded; presumably to set off and complete the duties handed to them.

In silence, the three sat there. Seokjin, Jeongguk, and Namjoon. The King’s eyes were glued to the table surface for what seemed like a long time, before they lifted, and he made eye contact with each of them, then offered a nod towards Seokjin, and they shared a similar, silent understanding as before; one that once again, Jeongguk could not discern. Seokjin’s air of confusion evaporated at Namjoon’s gesture, and then his eyes fell on Jeongguk, now with an air of stern solemnity that reminded Jeongguk of the look his mother used to give him when she caught him out in a lie. It was a hard look, but not one without a hint of benevolence. “Tell me what you Saw in your dreams, Lord Jeongguk.”

Jeongguk’s eyes widened, not having expected to be put on the spot in such a way, and certainly not having expected to be asked anything to do with his Sight. Sure, he had accepted the fact that everybody knew everything in King’s Landing, but no one had ever asked him about it in such a straightforward manner; except for the King, of course. Yet, as he switched his hesitant gaze between Namjoon and Seokjin, he sensed that the Hand would not be approaching him like this if it were not important.

Namjoon must have felt Jeongguk’s anxiety about responding, as he attempted to reassure Jeongguk. “It’s alright. There’s no other man I trust in this kingdom more than Seokjin, and we need his help. He has the connections that could prove vital to finding who we’re looking for. Sure, he’s no Spider, but you’d be a fool to put your trust in a Spider. Besides, I think we could use someone to share the burden of knowledge with, don’t you agree?”

Jeongguk wasn’t exactly sure what Namjoon meant by the whole spider business, and he much preferred carrying his own burdens in private solitude, but he nodded anyway, and carefully recounted his dreams in full detail to the Hand of the King, making sure not to leave a single thing out. When Jeongguk described the murder, he did so in full description, and Seokjin’s mouth parted in horror as a gasp escaped, his eyes flitting to Namjoon with a sense of urgency. By the time Jeongguk finished, Seokjin had recollected himself, and nodded in return with a whisper, “Thank you… for telling me.”

“So… An obsidian dagger. What are your thoughts, Seokjin?” Namjoon turned to the man coolly, still as unaffected by the account of his own death as he had been before, and Seokjin took a moment to think, leaning forward slightly.

“… Obsidian. Very rare, in scarce existence since the dragons died out. Understandable, since only a dragon’s breath of fire is hot enough to meld the material, hence its other name: Dragonglass. It’s so rare that even I don’t know a single person in possession of one. Valyrian steel, maybe, but obsidian?” Seokjin shook his head emphatically, and for once, Namjoon was shocked.

“Impossible. Not a single person?”

“Not a single person. I’ve never seen an obsidian blade up close. Only in the stories; they say it’s the only weapon that can kill White Walkers. I’d say it’s a good thing White Walkers don’t exist anymore, considering how few obsidian weapons we have left.”

The mention of the White Walkers made Jeongguk shiver without knowing, in fact he thought he spied the King sharing that shiver when Seokjin mentioned them as well. They were the darkest, coldest monsters of any scary childhood story, and when children grew up and discovered that White Walkers weren’t fake, but were once real, and existed (albeit thousands of years ago), they became the darkest, coldest monsters of an adult’s nightmares. They were said to have skin as cold as ice and as hard as steel, impossible to kill if you weren’t equipped with the right blade, and their eyes an unnatural shade of bright, sky blue. But dragons, White Walkers… it seemed that such magic had left the world a long time ago. The only magic that remained now was that of the red priests and priestesses; but Jeongguk wasn’t sure whether that was true magic, or sorcery and tricks.

“My apologies,” Seokjin said when he noticed how uncomfortable he had made the other two. “Quite unnecessary to bring up such macabre details. Especially around a young lord.”

Jeongguk blinked, and realized that in the Hand’s eyes, he must have still seemed a young boy; a young boy frightened of ghost stories. “You’re young too,” Jeongguk retorted before he was even aware, and Namjoon couldn’t hold in the short laugh that escaped him.

“Is it supposed to be an insult? I’m glad to be young. But if I’m young, and you’re younger, what does that make you?” Seokjin tilted his head, lips curving up into a hint of a teasing smile. “A kid?”

Jeongguk opened his mouth to make another immediate retort, but was stopped short by the King, who raised a hand to gesture silence, and only spoke when he was sure the two were not going to continue. “… Seokjin, do you think you can find out who our mystery assassin is, then?”

“It may take some time, but I will find out who it is. This, I assure you.” The man had such a sense of conviction in his voice that it truly made Jeongguk believe that, through his urgency, he would find the man with the obsidian blade; it truly did reassure Jeongguk, and he was actually glad that the King had forced him to share the burden after all.

Though, Jeongguk still felt a slight pang of guilt at not being able to See who the killer was himself. It was true that he had no control over his Sight, but what if that was only because he hadn’t taken the proper measures to fully understand it? What if he could control it, if he only knew how? It was when these sorts of thoughts ran through his mind that he wished there was someone, anyone, even just one person, who shared the same sort of struggle as he did. And then someone strolled into his thoughts the same way he strolled up to Jeongguk the first time they met. Jimin.

“Jeongguk?”

“Huh?” Snapped out of his thoughts, Jeongguk glanced back up at the King when he heard his name being addressed.

“Have you Seen anything new since then?”

“No, Your Grace.”

“Very well. In that case, that’ll be all. I still have… important matters that Seokjin wishes to discuss and that I must tend to, but you may leave us if you wish, Lord Jeongguk.” A grateful nod from the King (which made Jeongguk feel extremely honoured), and then the King turned his head back to Seokjin.

To Jeongguk’s surprise, as he made his way towards the door to the chamber, he heard them beginning to discuss the matter of what coloured bed linen best suited the King’s chambers, and as Jeongguk left the room, he was left to wonder what constituted as ‘important’ to the King and his Hand.

 

*****

 

It was one of those hot summer days that made one wish they might have instead been in the North rather than the South, or that winter would come sooner rather than later; only to remember that only a fool would wish for winter to come at all. The sun was beating down hard onto Taehyung’s already tanned skin, rays reflecting off of the shields and armour of the nearby guards standing sentry outside the Red Keep, and every now and then when a guard would shift, a ray of light would reflect straight into Taehyung’s eyes and temporarily blind him.

Not wanting to miss the chance of spotting Jeongguk walking out (so as not to keep him searching and risk him walking the wrong way), however, he kept his eyes straight ahead despite the fact. There was no shade for him to stand under, the only trees in sight being ridiculously tall palm trees that had skinnier shadows than Taehyung himself; not that Taehyung minded, being more than used to handling the heat after growing up in Volantis. The lands across the Narrow Sea, with their endless summer, seemed to know very little else but warm weather and sweltering sunshine, so this climate only agreed with the Sunshine Knight.

He leaned his back against the stone wall, a hand fiddling absent-mindedly at the silver pin on his chest, of which was shaped like an elephant, shining brilliantly in the light against the forest green fabric of his tunic. Eyes still trained on the direction from which he knew Jeongguk would appear, he started to worry that perhaps the young lord had forgotten their planned outing—but just as the doubt surfaced, it was immediately answered for, as he finally spied Jeongguk leaving the Red Keep. He had a slightly furrowed brow, and his walk was a little stiff compared to when he last saw him; Taehyung felt that Jeongguk walked like a man who had just added a new load of weight to his shoulders and was still readjusting his stride to account for it.

Taehyung was already smiling when their eyes connected, a hand lifting to offer an easy-going wave, and Jeongguk returned the gesture with a small smile of his own. Taehyung could tell by the way he hesitated a little that Jeongguk must have still felt awkward about the morning incident, but Taehyung decided it wise not to bring it up again unless he wanted a blushing, stuttering Northern lord. Except, part of Taehyung did want that, out of how amusing it had all been, and admittedly, how adorable it was to see the proud Young Wolf in such a vulnerable state. Taehyung liked to imagine that he was one of the few people who were able to witness it.

“It’s gotten hot,” Jeongguk opened rather obviously, eyes squinting slightly in the sunlight when he looked heavenward, before he realized he had fallen prey to using such a bland conversational starter as of talking of the weather. He coughed nervously, quickly changing topics. “Have you been waiting long?”

Taehyung’s smile remained steadfast as he shook his head, pretending not to notice Jeongguk’s evident shyness; another consequence of their waking up together in the morning, Taehyung guessed. It was refreshing to meet someone so genuinely innocent, especially in a place like King’s Landing. It also made it very obvious that the young lord was not from the city, and for once, Taehyung didn’t feel like the only alienated foreigner amidst its walls.

His smile softened as he watched Jeongguk loosening the collar of his black leather tunic, seeming to be struggling with the heat. He was a cute little lordling, that much was known, and already discussed between Taehyung and Jimin in a way that people discuss how cute a child is. He was especially cute when he fiddled with undoing the top lace of his collar, eyes inverted slightly to try and see below his chin, lips pouting in subconscious determination with his eyebrows unknowingly pulled together.

Taehyung observed all these little details carefully; as he always did about everything, yet because he didn’t always openly draw attention to his observations, people assumed him dim-witted and ignorant. But people had assumed a lot of things about Taehyung since his moving to Westeros, and being dim-witted was hardly the worst of them. When Jeongguk looked back up at the knight after finally relieving his neck from the tight collar of his tunic, Taehyung realized Jeongguk was still waiting for an answer. “Ah—No, not long at all. Did they talk about anything interesting in there?”

It was a lie, he had waited long enough that the material of his garment could possibly fry an egg with how hot the surface had become (hence why he made careful practise not to touch his own clothing – thankfully he needn’t worry about Jeongguk touching him). Taehyung was not one who wanted to keep people waiting, so to avoid that, he made it a habit of turning up to engagements half of an hour earlier than planned. He had never quite grasped the art of lying, as he never needed the talent in Volantis, but Jeongguk seemed to be similarly inexperienced in the art of recognizing a lie. “I’m glad, it would have been hell standing out here for too long, I bet. And, uh… Does an impending siege qualify as interesting? If so, then yes. We’re to be fighting Hoseok’s forces off in a fortnight.”

“On the contrary, the heat reminds me of Volantis, so I don’t mind it at all,” Taehyung smiled his box smile, telling the truth this time and feeling much better for it. The smile was quickly wiped, however, at the mention of the siege, and both of his eyebrows perked upwards in surprise. “A siege?” Relaxing his features, his hand lifted and rested against his lips in thought; lips which began to twitch upwards with a hint of a smile as he spoke mostly to himself, “Hm... Trust Yoongi to discover enemy battle plans a fortnight before their being carried out.”

“Yoongi,” Jeongguk broke into Taehyung’s mumbling, “The Silent Spider.” Taehyung had glanced up at Jeongguk, as though surprised Jeongguk had heard him (though he was not whispering when he had spoken). Jeongguk’s thoughts drifted back to the encounter he shared with the pale man on the way to the small council meeting, and particularly lingered on the last words the man said to him. “Why do they call him the Silent Spider? I always thought… I thought it was because he was silent of step.”

“… And they call me naïve,” Taehyung mused, but he meant no harm, and his soft smile stopped Jeongguk from feeling any sort of resentment towards the statement. Taehyung couldn’t help but continue to see Jeongguk’s innocence in an endearing light, reminding him of himself before Jimin explained the ways in which things worked in King’s Landing. He too was once confused about all these strange titles, and about all the lying and the scheming and the incessant need to always stay one step ahead of everyone else. Now he was well aware of all those things, yet he purposely chose not to take part in them.

“He’s called the Silent Spider because of the web he was spun all across Westeros, and even Essos, beyond the Narrow Sea. We’re all just flies in his web, and you know what happens when a fly moves in a spider’s web, right? The spider finds out. Always. His web sends vibrations, and through all his tendrils he receives those vibrations, and he knows exactly where each fly is and what they’re doing. And, if he sees fit, he can snatch any fly up off his web and eat it for dinner!” Taehyung gestured his hands out suddenly and dramatically as if he were telling a scary story to a child, but Jeongguk merely watched without so much as a flinch, and after discerning he would get no reaction from the young lord, Taehyung amended himself with a chuckle. “Metaphorically, of course. Yoongi’s an intimidating man but he’s no cannibal.”

“… That explains the ‘spider’ part, but why the ‘silent’ part?” Lines appeared between Jeongguk’s eyebrows as he brought them together in confusion and a slight frustration that the explanation really only explained one half of something. He ignored the unsettling shiver that ran along his skin at the prospect of murderous intent. It was hidden behind Taehyung’s light-hearted version of telling, but it was there; the fact that Yoongi was a dangerous man to those who crossed him.

“That, I do not know.” Taehyung admitted with a nonchalant shrug. “Guess it just sounds cooler. People love to exaggerate, after all. And it’s not unfitting, since he is pretty quiet.”

Jeongguk wasn’t satisfied, but he didn’t really know what he expected. Before he could voice his dissatisfaction, however, Taehyung took a few steps towards the stairs leading down from the Red Keep, and turned back to face Jeongguk.

“If we want to get to where we’re going before nightfall, we should probably walk while talking.” Taehyung tilted his head, awaiting Jeongguk to follow after him, and only when Jeongguk nodded and walked to his side did Taehyung turn forward again. His head faced straight ahead, but his eyes glanced sideways at Jeongguk with a tinge of interest. “Why so curious about the Spider, anyway? Did he say something to scare you?”

“He didn’t scare me,” Jeongguk answered swiftly, defensive, and Taehyung’s lips twitched, wanting to smile again. “He’s just…” Jeongguk struggled to find the right words to describe the man, “He’s…”

“Scary.” Taehyung asserted, still looking straight ahead. They walked in silence for a few moments, Jeongguk unable to disagree this time, before Taehyung reached over and clapped Jeongguk reassuringly on the back. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t make you weak to admit when something scares you. Actually, there’s bravery in it, I think! But when it comes to Yoongi… He’s a good guy—Hey, don’t give me that look! It takes some time to realize, but it’s true… At least to the few people he cares about. He acts like he doesn’t care about anyone, and it’s a very believable act, isn’t it? But that’s why he’s one of, if not the best liar in all of King’s Landing.”

Jeongguk’s eyes were locked onto Taehyung’s outstretched arm, then shifted to Taehyung, who smiled apologetically and withdrew his hand. “—Sorry, Jimin told me about how you don’t like—“

“It’s fine.” Jeongguk interrupted, looking ahead with a carefully blank expression.

“… Really?” Taehyung’s tone was surprised in the pleasant sort of way, and a little cautious, half expecting Jeongguk to change his mind and start scolding him. But he didn’t.

“Yeah. We’ve already slept together,” it took all of Jeongguk’s will not to stutter at saying the words, and to instead force a sly smirk to hide the resurfacing feel of embarrassment, “What’s a pat on the back going to do?”

Taehyung laughed, and Jeongguk’s smirk slowly turned into a smile, before he wiped it from his face and replaced it with a skeptical expression when he asked, “How do you know all of that stuff about Yoongi?”

“Why, it’s in his eyes, of course!” Taehyung turned his head to look at Jeongguk, his box smile returning, and his eyes shrinking into happy lines, and Jeongguk couldn’t find it in him to argue the point; his disbelief melted away by the sheer will of Taehyung’s conviction in his own belief.

Jeongguk didn’t know if what Taehyung had was an actual magic ability, or if it was just Taehyung being incredibly perceptive (and perhaps overly optimistic), but he trusted Taehyung’s judgement, because if there was anything he knew about Taehyung, it was that he wasn’t stupid, especially when it came to people. Magic powers or not, Taehyung knew people. Not in knowing their names, but something deeper. He knew who people were beyond their names. When Taehyung looked into Jeongguk’s eyes that day at the tourney, it felt like Taehyung was seeing Jeongguk for more than he was. Really seeing, in a way that was possibly more powerful than the way Jeongguk Saw things. In that moment, Jeongguk had never felt more vulnerable and naked in his life. Such an ability was indeed extremely powerful, and dangerous, if it were in the wrong hands. But it was in Taehyung’s hands—or eyes, so to say, and for that, they were all inconceivably lucky.

“And you have to consider,” Taehyung added, tone quietening and features falling more sombre, “The house he comes from; House Min. Jimin told me that people think it’s all gold and glory, but that stuff eats away at you eventually, doesn’t it? Yoongi’s been showered with sweet words and fake friendships since he was a boy, everyone hoping to get close to him only so they can get close to the riches of Casterly Rock. I guess that’s why he’s done so well here in King’s Landing. He’s been surrounded by pretenders all his life.”

There was a sadness in Taehyung’s voice, his head had returned frontwards facing again, though his eyes were downcast. Jeongguk could tell that it wasn’t just Jimin who had become close with the Spider— with Min Yoongi. The three of them had a bond deeper than Jeongguk initially thought, for it was not obvious on the surface, no; the bond was an iceberg, where only a fraction could be seen, but the real strength of their bond was far more than what could be seen or said alone. Everything Yoongi had said to Jeongguk earlier was a lie, but this time, Jeongguk didn’t curse him for it, he merely understood that it was a lie, and that lying was part of what Yoongi did. Instead, the mentioning of the Red Knight piqued a question from Jeongguk. “And Jimin…? What house does he come from? I’ve never heard anyone say his family name.”

“I… don’t know,” Taehyung confessed in a tone that sounded surprised at itself, like he’d never considered it before despite having known the man for years now. “He’s never told me, because I never asked. I’ve never really cared about all that, you see. And red priests and priestesses discard their family name, if they have one.”

“Oh.” Jeongguk blinked, again, not sure what he was expecting— perhaps that Taehyung might have all the information he needed to lay the mysterious Red Knight bare and make him easy to understand. But no, the mysterious Red Knight only continued to grow more and more mysterious, and Jeongguk more and more frustrated. How was Jeongguk to know if he should trust Jimin enough to come to him with questions about his Sight if he knew next to nothing about him? The fact Jimin seemed overly eager to know Jeongguk was even more discomforting, because Jeongguk didn’t know why Jimin was so eager. Everything Jimin did only created more questions, and Jeongguk didn’t want to go to Jimin seeking answers to his questions only to be confronted with ten more questions for every one he asks.

“You sound disappointed,” Taehyung observed aptly. “Why?”

“I wanted to know who he is,” Jeongguk sighed, turning over the dilemma in his mind without putting much thought into his response.

“And you need his family name to know that? I know who he is.” Taehyung commented in a way like he was like he was saying ‘Why didn’t you just ask me who he is instead?’, and Jeongguk cursed himself for appearing shallow enough to place so much emphasis on family name, when he knew Taehyung had a deeper way of thinking about people. “I think I know who he is better than he knows himself, actually. I’m his best friend, so I’m allowed to say that, by the way.”

And Taehyung gave Jeongguk a side glance that said ‘But don’t tell him that’, and Jeongguk snorted, causing a smile to spread across Taehyung's warm features. They were far from the Red Keep by now, walking through the marketplace, and every now and then a vendor would wave at Taehyung, and would exchange wide smiles with him, and offer him a free treat. He realized then that Taehyung was much loved by the common people of the city; and Jeongguk couldn’t blame them. Taehyung would eat some of that which was given to him, but most of it he would stuff away in the sleeves of his garment, for what reason, Jeongguk didn’t know, but he was sure that Taehyung must have felt exceedingly uncomfortable having fresh pies and pastries hidden away and making him hot in already humid weather.

As they walked, a dog had appeared from an alleyway, looking dirty and unkempt; a stray, for sure—it bounded and jumped and danced when it saw Taehyung, as though it knew him and saw him regularly. Jeongguk watched Taehyung kneel down and place one of the pies from his sleeve onto the ground for the stray to eat, and Jeongguk realized that Taehyung must have been much loved by the stray dogs of the city, too, and Jeongguk couldn’t blame them either. Even now, as Taehyung divulged the details of the enigma that was Jimin, Jeongguk found himself as equally fascinated by what Taehyung was saying as he was with Taehyung himself; the way he made extravagant gestures with his hands every now and then when he spoke, or how his face became so animated with so many different expressions to emphasise a point. Actually, Jeongguk only barely heard what Taehyung was saying, and was, truthfully, mostly watching the knight talk, with captivated eyes and barely a thought running through his head.

Taehyung had begun like a bard telling a story. “Jimin~ The mysterious Red Knight who seems unfazed by everything. Cocky and self-assured, he acts as if the whole world loves him, and as if he loves the whole world in return. He knows the names they call him, he knows no one trusts a red priest, though he pretends that people’s opinions are the opposite. But, just like everybody else in King’s Landing, it’s all an act.” Cue Taehyung’s hand moving slowly and dramatically in front of Jeongguk’s eyes.

“For beneath his confident façade is a man who, in actuality, cares far too much about what people think. A man who dyes his hair red so that people might associate that fact with him rather than him being a red priest, so that people might not feel so inclined to hate him for his religion. He wants to stay true to himself, but he also wants to be liked, and loved, and appreciated. Yet he can’t have both. How tragic, no? A man constantly being pulled in two directions. A man who is so incredibly sensitive, yet can’t show it, because he knows that the moment he steps out there, the moment all those lords and ladies of the Court sense weakness, they’ll tear him to shreds!” Taehyung said the words quickly and sharply with a sudden and threatening hand movement, making Jeongguk jump this time as he had been so enthralled, “… Because they’ll do anything to get a red priest out of their city. And that is the story of our complicated little knight, Jimin.”

“… You could have just spoken normally,” Jeongguk commented as he recollected himself, though with an amused smile that hinted he was maybe glad to have heard Taehyung talk so enthusiastically. That maybe there was a special way about how Taehyung told a story, in that it made you feel like you were just a child and there was nothing else in the world but wonder and excitement. A feeling Jeongguk thought he wouldn’t get to feel again, after he had reached the age that signified he needed to act like a proper, stern Northern lord.

“I could have, but this way was much more interesting, wouldn’t you say? It’s also good practice, for later,” Taehyung grinned, then stopped in his tracks, a hand moving in front of him proudly like a merchant showing off his goods. “And we’re here~”

Stopping when he noticed Taehyung doing the same, Jeongguk took a moment to identify where they were and what ‘here’ was, exactly, while in the back of his mind wondering what Taehyung meant by ‘later’. Where they were was easy enough, even for Jeongguk; the slums of King's Landing, by the name of Fleabottom, were quite infamous throughout Westeros, where the lowest of the lowborns were born and raised, where the shit from the Red Keep streamed down past the small, dirty houses and where little boys either turned into thieves or murderers in order to feed their little sisters. Those were the tales told of Fleabottom, anyway, and Jeongguk hadn’t really had the chance to see if any of them were true until now. So far, he hadn’t had anything stolen from him or had any attempts made on his life, but he had seen his fair share eof shit running through the narrow dirt alleyways.

What ‘here’ was… Jeongguk couldn’t have had the faintest idea. The building was narrow, cramped in between the two neighbouring houses, and there was no signage, only little windows that were covered in a sheet of dirt so thick there was no point in having windows at all, for all the good they did. It was three stories high, despite its narrow figure—like much of the houses in Fleabottom, all tall, skinny and crowded together. The walls of the building were a muddy brown, built from dirt and stone and sand and god knows what else they used to build the houses here, and the door was a dull, lifeless green; yet it appeared plenty alive when compared to how the rest of the shabby place looked. If Jeongguk didn’t know Taehyung, he would have thought the knight had brought him here to try to kill him, and stuff away his body somewhere where no one would think twice about the smell of a dead carcass. But, he did know Taehyung, so he gave the knight the benefit of the doubt, shifting his apprehensive gaze between the green door and the green-attired knight. “And what’s ‘here’?”

“You can’t tell?” Taehyung’s eyes widened, and Jeongguk couldn’t discern if he was only acting as shocked as he was or if he really was surprised. Jeongguk shrugged, silently asking ‘Am I supposed to be able to tell?’ with the dubious expression on his face, causing Taehyung to chuckle softly. “It’s an orphanage. Follow me.”

Obediently obliging, Jeongguk remained behind Taehyung as he opened the door to the building without knocking. “They don’t keep the door locked?”

“What for? To stop thieves? From stealing what, the children? I think that’s the point of an orphanage, Jeongguk.” Taehyung tapped his nose in a knowing way as he looked over his shoulder at him, and Jeongguk pursed his lips, realizing how ridiculous the question was when Taehyung put it like that.

As they walked through the narrow hallway extending from the door, the place seemed deserted; what little furniture laid scattered about the place was ancient and worn, the walls dusty and dismal with a floor that was more ground than floor. There was no sign of children, apart from a single child-sized slipper strewn across the ground that Taehyung almost tripped over and Jeongguk had, naturally, flinched his hand out to catch him — but wasn’t needed (or thankfully, noticed) as Taehyung caught his balance directly afterwards and continued on as if nothing had happened.

 Eventually they found themselves stepping back outside, into what Jeongguk presumed was meant to be the courtyard (something he hardly expected such a miserable little place to have). It was so overgrown with weeds that Jeongguk almost didn’t notice the little children playing about; but they certainly noticed Taehyung the moment he stepped out, halting their games immediately. A second passed, and then Jeongguk heard one of the children call out ‘Ser Taetae!’, and Jeongguk blinked. Before he could react, another child called out the same, and another after that, until all of the children in the courtyard were rushing over to Taehyung with wide, innocent smiles not unlike Taehyung’s own that he also wore in that moment. Even the older children, almost in their teens, walked briskly over to Taehyung with excited steps and happy glints in their eyes.

“Who’s that?” A little girl asked in a dainty voice, her arms wrapped around Taehyung’s legs as her head turned to Jeongguk with eyes wide and pretty and curious. Jeongguk felt suddenly shy as many of the other children turned their attention to him. He had never really dealt with children before; being the youngest in his family usually meant that he was the one to be treated like a child. Taehyung turned his head now, too, to say that he would have Jeongguk introduce himself, to which Jeongguk cleared his throat, and looked down at the little girl.

“I’m Jeongguk,” he attempted to make his voice sound clear and calm, but he was nervous. He could handle being rejected from a fully grown man just fine, in fact he could brush it off rather easily, but to be rejected by children was something far more debilitating. However, for all his nervousness, the children only beamed when they heard his name, and shouted ‘Gukkie!’ in a way that sounded very similar to ‘cookie’, and it made him smile the sort of smile that Taehyung thought made him look five years younger than he really was.

One of the children ran up to Jeongguk then, took his hand, and coaxed him over to the middle of the courtyard where Taehyung was walking towards as well, surrounded by the children encircling him. The unprecedented acceptance of the orphans was something quite unlike anything else, and it certainly was a breath of fresh air amidst the judgemental gazes of King’s Landing; always watching your every move, waiting for you to slip up so they could swoop in and capitalize on your mistake. It was one of the reasons Taehyung often sought solace here. He much preferred playing games with the children than playing at the Game of Thrones with the lords and ladies of the Court.

Once both Jeongguk and Taehyung were seated in the middle of the courtyard, both sitting cross-legged in the dirt while the children did the same, bunched up together in front of the two men, Taehyung pulled a book out from where it was tucked in his tunic. The children started to bounce impatiently, asking ‘what will it be today?’ and ‘can you tell us a dragon story?’ and various other questions all at the same time, making it hard to understand any single one. Though, Taehyung did hear one of the questions, perking up and tilting his head and putting on the same dramatic tone he had used with Jeongguk not long before, only a lot more comical (which made Jeongguk laugh, too). “A dragon story, you say? Ask, and ye shall receive, little ones!”

The children clapped excitedly, and the older ones sat on the sidelines, waiting patiently, some with smaller children on their laps. Taehyung discussed with Jeongguk, delegating him the task of being the dragon in the story; Balerion. All it required of him was to make loud roaring noises whenever Taehyung gave him a secret hand signal hidden behind the book he held as he read, but Jeongguk went even further as to jump out at the children, scaring them at first before they cracked into laughter and giggles when Jeongguk grinned cheekily. The scene made it hard for Taehyung to properly tell the story without also giggling alongside the children, surprised at how easily Jeongguk had adjusted into entertaining them. Perhaps, he thought, it was because Jeongguk was still much like a child himself.

It was nice to see the Northern lord let himself be a little more carefree compared to the usual demeanour in which he usually held, like he was constantly trying to impress some omnipotent presence that was always watching him. That’s when Taehyung realized they were almost like two sides of the same coin; where the surface of Jeongguk’s side was strong and stoic, there was the other side of Jeongguk behind it, the side Taehyung witnessed there in the orphanage, the side that was light-hearted, and warm, but not easily coaxed out. And on Taehyung’s side of the coin, was his warm, light-hearted surface, only to have his often overlooked, strong and resilient side behind it.

The thought dwelled in Taehyung’s mind as he watched Jeongguk chasing after some of the children playfully; story time had finished, but Jeongguk was still playing the part of the dragon, and the children were scream-giggling while they ran around in circles. As the sun beat down hard onto Taehyung’s already tanned skin, rays radiating down onto the roofless courtyard and colouring the scene like a perfect summer memory, where even the weeds looked a warm, homely green under the sun’s light, Taehyung thought it strange to feel so at home in a place so far from his homecity.

 

*****

 

It had already become a dark but beautiful summer night in King’s Landing, when Jeongguk heard the bells start to ring; foretelling the incoming ships of Hoseok’s forces. It was the uncharacteristic kind of beautiful night for the debauched city, for there was no smell of dead bodies or bodily fluids wafting through the streets, and there were no loud cries of pain or screams of pleasure. Jeongguk assumed that the people of King’s Landing had been frightened into a seriousness and solemnity before the siege.

A fortnight had passed quickly, with Jeongguk spending far too much time enjoying himself that in doing so, the time had slipped between his fingers like sand. He had no complaint, however, as there had been, in fact, the slight bubbling of excitement hidden beneath his controlled, deliberately stoic exterior; for it would be the first real battle he would take part in, before which he had only heard of fierce battles in stories and songs. Now, as a man, he would have finally — perhaps if he proved himself — been worthy of his own song and story. For a fortnight he had been thinking about the songs that might be written about him, but when the night before the battle came, and he Saw something in his dreams, it made his excitement disappear absolutely— leaving him to stand there on the battlements with fear of what he had Seen, and the dread of knowing that so far everything he had Seen had come true.

After spending much of the fortnight with the Sunshine Knight, allowing the knight to tour him around more of the places within King’s Landing in an attempt to have Jeongguk warm up to the city (which Jeongguk would say he failed in, seeing as he had found himself warming up to Taehyung himself more than he could say for the city), it should have been no surprise that the knight entered into Jeongguk’s dreams. Only, they were not the sort of dreams one might usually hope to find themselves in, and definitely not the kind Jeongguk wanted to find Taehyung in.

It had started out in a blackness, as all his dreams of Sight did at first, until he willed himself to open his eyes, in a similar sensation to that of trying to will your eyes to open when you found yourself in a dream you knew you were dreaming, or to force yourself to wake up during a nightmare you knew wasn’t real; it was a very difficult thing at first, but Jeongguk had learned to do so with an ease. When he opened his eyes, he was standing on the sands outside of the Mud Gate of King’s Landing, and the sounds of swords clanging against shields and armour began to swell into his ears, growing from a low murmur to such clear, sharp loudness that it at first made Jeongguk flinch.

In retrospect, when Jeongguk went through the memory of the dream, he had slowed the motions of it all to analyse it better— but when he was standing there amongst the fighting, nothing happened slowly. In fact, as with all his dreams of Sight, everything happened true to reality, so frighteningly realistic that sometimes it was hard for Jeongguk to tell if what he was seeing wasn’t in fact what was happening at that very moment; that it wasn’t just a dream.

That was exactly how he had felt then, as he pulled his sword out from the sad soul that must have fallen to his strike. Jeongguk couldn’t see who the dead man was, as his face was half covered by long, black hair, and the other half so charred and bloody it was impossible to discern any features. But it didn’t matter who it was, in truth. He was dead now, by Jeongguk's hands, and Jeongguk stood there in a frozen stupor as that fact hit him; it was the first time he had killed a man.

‘First time?’ a voice behind him had said in a voice akin to someone opening a casual conversation at a tavern, and when Jeongguk turned around, he shouldn’t have been surprised to see the voice belonged to Taehyung, standing there amongst the blood and the fire and the mess of war like someone who instead belonged somewhere calm, and beautiful, and serene. The scene matched Jeongguk well, in all his roughness and black attire— but it did not match Taehyung, who looked at Jeongguk with an unusual seriousness whilst he stood over the lifeless body of his victim. Yet it was Jeongguk who was not used to the experience of battle, and it was Taehyung who seemingly was.

His silver-white armour stood out just as he did, contrasting against the majority of the other soldiers’ armour of standard steel, of which seemed to blend into the dirt and the night, whereas Taehyung’s armour shone and glittered in the light of the flames that danced around them. Taehyung was walking towards Jeongguk, his pristine sword stained with blood (yet there was no blood or scratches on his armour, which Jeongguk could only then discern that Taehyung so far had no difficulty in killing any of his opponents) and he held the sword in a relaxed stance at his side.

When Jeongguk’s eyes noticed an almost dead mean gurgling his blood, and clutching his chest as he lay on the ground behind Taehyung, Jeongguk was again amazed at how different Taehyung was on the field compared to how he was off the field. Taehyung did not appear to be exhausted by any of the fighting in the least, and Jeongguk didn’t know if it was because no one offered enough of a challenge to tire him, or because he had an endless supply of stamina and energy— perhaps it was a bit of both.

The young Northern lord couldn’t think of a response, though he thought a response wasn’t needed to confirm Taehyung’s assumption; a thought that Taehyung shared as he gave a small nod, and Jeongguk swore he heard the knight whisper under his breath ‘it doesn’t get any easier’. But before Jeongguk could comment on it, the deep sound of blowing horns filled the air, and caused Taehyung to freeze in place. There had been no horns blowing up until now, it was an entirely new addition to the foray of sounds around them, but the addition appeared to affect Taehyung greatly. He was faced towards Jeongguk, and his eyes were pointed in Jeongguk’s direction, but he was not looking at Jeongguk— or anything, for that matter. Just staring ahead in shock as he whispered in a low voice, and this time Jeongguk heard what he said; “Impossible… Those hornsVolantene ships.”

Jeongguk had opened his mouth to reply at that moment, but something had stopped him— the terrifyingly soft sound of a surprised, choked gasp escaping Taehyung’s lips, of which now hung slightly open. It was indeed a soft sound, yet Jeongguk heard it clearer and more loudly than anything else happening around him.

The head of a spear was protruding below Taehyung’s chin, red, and sickeningly red, as it had pierced through his throat. Taehyung’s wide, shocked eyes blinked a few times, but he did not look away from Jeongguk, not even as the spear was pulled back out from his neck and he fell to his knees, blood spurting in horrifying quantities out of the hole it left.

Not for a moment did his eyes leave Jeongguk, as Jeongguk jumped forward quick enough to catch Taehyung in his arms before the knight could hit the ground. Taehyung’s lips moved, struggling to get anything other than crimson liquid out of his mouth; he clearly wanted to say something, but what, Jeongguk couldn’t know. The knight’s brow pulled together in frustration, presumably at himself, and at the pain, and Jeongguk’s did too, also in frustration of feeling so helpless, and in a different sort of pain. All he could do was hold his friend as he was dying, and for all the skill he had, for all the abilities he had that no normal human should have had, he couldn’t do a thing to save the man in his arms. When Taehyung coughed, seemingly choking on his own blood, the sound hurt Jeongguk so much that someone may as well have pierced him with a spear also.

Taehyung’s eyes had fluttered closed for a moment when he coughed, but he forced them back open to look at Jeongguk in a way that seemed like it was taking all the energy he had left to do so. Jeongguk remembered the first time they had met, and how Taehyung had stared so carefully into his eyes back then, and how he was doing something similar now— as if he was trying to read Jeongguk. And whatever he saw when he looked into Jeongguk’s eyes now must have satisfied him, as his own eyes softened, and a tired but acknowledging smile found its way onto his red lips. There was such a tender light in his eyes, before the light slowly diminished, and Jeongguk was left to stare into the emptiness that had become of Taehyung’s once lively, warm brown hues.

It took a few moments for what had happened to settle in, while Jeongguk sat there with Taehyung dead in his arms, coming to terms with the fact he was truly dead. Jeongguk’s own eyes grew from a wide, speechless, alarming sort of bewilderment to an angry, wild sort of burning at the edges, so that when he looked back up at the killer and his spear, his intent was exceedingly obvious: to kill him.

The man had given a strange sort of look then, as he had watched the entire scene, and his eyes now gave a hint of what Jeongguk might have guessed at being slightly apologetic, though more likely pitying; as though he had no idea the Sunshine Knight had meant so much to Jeongguk, just as Jeongguk had no idea of the fact either, until it was too late. There was also a sense of fear and cautiousness now as the man stepped back, readying his spear in fighting stance when Jeongguk stood up and brought his sword with him, eyes glaring with pained scorn so strong it seemed to make the other man tremble to behold them.

The man attacked first, thrusting his spear out to aim for Jeongguk’s neck, but unlike Taehyung, Jeongguk saw it coming, and dodged to the side. He swung his sword so swiftly in reaction that the man hadn’t even had time to pull his spear back, and Jeongguk cut the shaft of it in two; the bloodstained head falling to the ground and leaving nothing but a wooden stick for the man to defend himself with. Jeongguk closed the distance between the two of them, gripped the hilt of his sword, and just as he made to strike Taehyung’s killer— Jeongguk’s eyes opened suddenly to reality.

He had never been so glad that his dream wasn’t true.

Or at least, not yet.

He hadn’t told anyone about it, not knowing what good it would bring to do so; if he told Taehyung, he feared it would affect the knight's confidence in fighting, and once a fighter doubts himself and his abilities, he’s already lost. He had tried to find the King, in hopes he might allow Taehyung to stand out of the battle, but Namjoon had been preoccupied with organizing his forces for the entire day, and had no time to talk with Jeongguk; Seokjin had told Jeongguk as much, after he had asked Jeongguk if it was about his dreams of Namjoon’s assassination, and Jeongguk told him that it was not. ‘Then there are more important things at hand that need to be addressed,’ the man had said with a finality that Jeongguk wanted to argue with, but Seokjin as far too immovable on the topic, and walked away from the conversation, called to deal with another war matter. It was truly impossible to be able to speak to Namjoon without Seokjin’s allowance, Jeongguk realized, if Namjoon hadn’t personally called for him. Though Jimin was Taehyung’s best friend, he was not Jeongguk’s best friend, and he still did not trust the red priest enough to give him the responsibility of knowing what Jeongguk had Seen.

So Jeongguk stood there, on the battlements, staring out at Blackwater Bay, with nothing but dread and the thoughts of what were to happen, and the knowledge that only he could stop it. Except that he didn’t even know if he could stop it. He had tried, of course, to stop the horrible things in his dreams from happening; he had tried countless times throughout his life leading up until now, and not one of them had changed anything. Sure, some small detail may have been adjusted, and he may have thought he had changed the outcome, but in the end, his dreams always came true. It was a sick joke, Jeongguk thought, for the Gods to give a man who could win at everything he did, and enjoyed winning at everything he did, an ability that would forever remind him of the feeling of failure, and that no matter how many opponents he beat, there was always the one opponent that he could never win against: Fate.

“Getting cold feet?” The same voice that haunted his dream spoke to him now, snapping him from his reverie of trepidation, and as Jeongguk turned his head to look at the knight beside him, he was offered a boxy grin.

Taehyung had not yet switched over to his fearsome counterpart, and stood there still looking like the boyish man Jeongguk had spent much of his recent time with; so much so that Jimin had begun making prodding jokes about the amount of time they’d been spending together, which Jeongguk would snort at and shrug off, and Taehyung would laugh at, seemingly enjoying them without denial, as if he were encouraging the jokes (which Jimin took as permission to continue making them, much to Jeongguk’s dismay). “You had been so excited for the battle, before.”

“How did you—“ Jeongguk stopped himself, pursed his lips, and then turned his head forward again to stare out over the empty waters. Taehyung’s uncanny ability to know people, as though by instinct, had become quite evident in their time together, enough that Jeongguk already knew there was no point in asking how Taehyung knew exactly how Jeongguk was feeling (when usually everyone else either had no idea what he was feeling, or misunderstood his feelings entirely). It was both comforting to be understood, and terrifyingly vulnerable not to have that veil protecting his emotions anymore.

Jeongguk had not uttered a word about his sentiments toward the battle in the fortnight leading up to it, yet Taehyung knew regardless, just as he knew that Jeongguk was now feeling different. Jeongguk felt as if he was walking on very thin ice, then, as he thought of how to respond without eventually letting slip of what he Saw. It was hard for him to lie to Taehyung, he had also realized, so his best course of action was to simply avoid the matter entirely. “My master-at-arms taught me to control my emotions before a fight. I’m focusing now.”

Just ‘before a fight’? Seems to me like you try to control your emotions on a day to day basis. Why do you try so hard to look a certain way, or give off a certain impression, hm? Food for thought~” Taehyung’s voice was light and airy, as if he had not just posed the sort of question that might induce an identity-crisis if Jeongguk thought upon it too much. But he didn’t give Jeongguk the time to ponder it, thankfully, instead changing the subject so abruptly as he often did. Jeongguk wondered if there were always countless thoughts flitting around his mind and Taehyung couldn’t choose which one to talk about, so he always jumped from one to another with an excited impatience, and Jeongguk always listened with a strange, enamoured feeling, hanging onto his every word, no matter how trivial. Except this time where, as Taehyung went on, his words became only a blur, and Jeongguk could think of nothing else but how charmingly alive Taehyung was, in all manners of being, and how that liveliness drained from him right in front of his eyes. Taehyung was blissfully unaware, as he was blissful in everything else, too. “—Speaking of food, I’m already hungry just thinking about the battle. I hope there’ll be a good victory feast afterwards. Did you know Seokjin makes the best lamprey pies? You’ve got to try them one day. Actually everything he cooks tastes amazing. They say prodigies are found in the strangest of places, y’know. One time I met a guy on the docks in Volantis who—"

Cutting Taehyung’s story tangent off was a messenger from the King, of whom had rushed over to where Jeongguk and Taehyung were standing, and stood straight at attention, with a sense of strict urgency as he spoke. “Lord Jeongguk, Ser Taehyung, you’ve been allowed to lead the vanguard, alongside Ser Jimin. The soldiers are waiting for you below, at the Mud Gate. Hoseok’s ships are almost in the bay, so you must make haste—“

Before he could finish, another sound had begun to ring out against the toll of the bells; the intense beating of drums drifting ominously over the still waters, coming from the ships that, as Jeongguk and Taehyung turned from the messenger to look over at the bay, were gradually becoming visible in the moonlight, creeping towards them with a slow, threatening certainty. The three of them fell silent, and allowed the fast beating of the drums to fill the silence between them, and the thick air of tension to fall heavily on their shoulders.

Under different circumstances, Jeongguk would have felt exhilarated by the beating of the war drums, or by the prospect of a valiant battle and exciting action, but instead, he thought of each beat as another beat closer to a battle with his lifelong opponent. It was not a battle against Hoseok’s forces, in Jeongguk’s mind, as it was not the ships that made him feel asphyxiated with anxiety, and it was not the men on those ships that made him feel the crushing weight responsibility; the responsibility of having someone’s life in one’s hands. There had only ever been one enemy that could make Jeongguk feel so shaken as he did there, and it was no man.

“—The soldiers are waiting,” the messenger reminded the two of them in an imploring tone, but with a new firmness behind the words this time; the situation was clearly becoming more real to the three of them than it had been just moments ago. Taehyung and Jeongguk noded in unison, and Jeongguk followed behind Taehyung as they made their way down the battlements to meet with the rest of the vanguard. Jimin was leaning his back against the gate when they met with him, arms crossed and his flame-red hair and deep red leather reminding Jeongguk of the deep red that coated the spearhead in his dreams, and he suddenly felt sick. Yet he gave no sign of his unease, a master at keeping his face carefully blank now.

Jimin pushed himself off of the gate when he noticed Taehyung and Jeongguk approaching, eyes dark and thoughtful as they settled on the pair, and he moved towards them with the subtle certainty that came from knowing many things. “Come to join the fun?” It sounded like he was trying to make light of the situation when he knew too well the situation was anything but.

Taehyung humoured him, though, and grinned. “Join it? You know without me there wouldn’t even be any fun. I create it!”

They both laughed then, but it was short-lived, and silence quickly returned. Where Jeongguk had expected Jimin to make a remark back at Taehyung, he didn’t; he only looked at Taehyung with that dark, thoughtful gaze, almost sad, even— and then at Jeongguk, and at that moment, Jeongguk saw a tinge of pity in Jimin’s eyes. Jeongguk was past the point of questioning every obscure emotion he saw or didn’t see in the Red Knight’s eyes, and didn’t bother to think twice about it.

The hushed gasps and whispers of the soldiers erupted all around Jeongguk, and Jimin, and Taehyung, as the King was escorted onto the battlements above them. Namjoon begun making a speech, and Jeongguk knew that it meant the ships were not far off from docking in the bay now, and that the battle was close to beginning. What Namjoon’s speech consisted of specifically, Jeongguk had no clue, for his mind had been entirely elsewhere and no words had reached his ears. The only thing he could think of that the sound of Taehyung’s choked gasp, and the feel of his blood, warm on Jeongguk’s hands, and the hauntingly lifeless stare of his dead, brown eyes.

And Jeongguk couldn’t escape these thoughts, as Namjoon finished, and the soldiers roared with strong morale and fierceness (Taehyung joining them), and the Mud Gates opened, and they all stormed out onto the sandy bay that would soon turn as red with blood as Jeongguk had seen it in his dream. Jeongguk pushed forward with them, pushed forward as he was required to, being a leader of the frontline, but his head was not focused, and as Hoseok’s soldiers began pouring onto the ground from their boats and ships, and as one made to strike Jeongguk, his distracted mind almost lead to his early death.

Jeongguk instinctively dodged backwards from the swing of the other man’s sword, but the tip of the blade still cut Jeongguk’s cheek wide open, and blood trickled down the side of Jeongguk’s face as blood often did from a head wound — in vast amounts, though the injury itself was nothing serious. The sharp, stinging pain pulled Jeongguk out of his thoughts, and reminded him that he could not save Taehyung if he died beforehand, which he surely would if he did not pull himself together.

With a newfound determination and focus, Jeongguk fought, slicing through the opposing forces like a hot knife through a stick of butter, making many ‘first kills’ then, perhaps. Until, there came one fighter that could withstand Jeongguk. Blocking, parrying and evading with a precise swiftness that made it obvious the man was no ordinary soldier, perhaps a knight in his own right, or a sellsword, or a lord—their armour was good steel, too, Jeongguk noticed (and their helmet), and for the first time all night, Jeongguk was distracted from thoughts of Taehyung dying.

A formidable opponent, something so rare, so exquisite, Jeongguk couldn’t help but think of nothing else other than matching his stance with the other— thrusting, and moving, and side-stepping, circling each other as they danced. They fought like that for a good minute or two, both seeming to enjoy the battle, both revelling in each other’s abilities as though they were fighting against each other at a tournament and not a war, until a flaming arrow from an archer on the battlements struck exactly in the space between the opponent’s helmet and his steel chest, ending the competition of skill in an untimely manner.

Jeongguk’s heart sank with disappointment, but brightened again when he saw that no blood spilled, and that the arrow had not pierced the chainmail that the other man had worn beneath his outer armour. Yet, the man screamed, an excruciating scream that widened Jeongguk’s eyes, for he had never heard a man scream quite like that—it was high pitched, and shrill. As the man threw off his helmet in haste, in order to free himself of the flames from the arrow that were melting his face through the metal – due to the arrow having been stuck in the chainmail right below his chin – Jeongguk saw that it was not a man, but a woman, and that the scream was that of a woman’s screams.

She had fallen to the ground, fallen to her knees, her helmet in the sand beside her and her hands hovering over her face like they wanted to hold it but couldn’t—the charred skin probably protesting too painfully to be touched, but after a few moments, she had stopped screaming. And then, when she looked up at Jeongguk whilst she sat there so open to attack, so easily killed if only he dealt the final blow while she was weakened and already injured, Jeongguk was struck with the horrific revelation that he had seen her before.

He had seen her before in the way that her long, black hair fell around her face, and how she now had half her face burned raw, and blistering — it must have been in this moment that Jeongguk had killed her, in his dream. But now, in reality, he was too bewildered to move, and she too, seemed perplexed by the fact that he was not taking the chance to kill her when he should have. The prime moment had passed now, however, and she had regained her senses after being burned — but she knew better than to try and fight a man of his skill while she was so severely impaired, so she pulled herself up off the ground and retreated, disappearing into the chaos of the night.

“You granted her mercy?” The words were different, but the voice was the same, as it had been in his dream. When Jeongguk turned around, he saw Taehyung walking towards him. Jeongguk’s face must have turned sheet white, as Taehyung’s expression changed to a concerned one, rushing over to Jeongguk and clasping a hand over the young lord’s shoulder, his voice alarmed. “Jeongguk! Your face! Did she get you?”

And there it was. The blowing of the horns.  And it was all falling into place. Jeongguk had not killed the woman, but everything else was the same. He was frozen in the realization, stuck in place as the inescapable feeling suffocated him and sucked the air out of his lungs. And Taehyung stood straight again, stepping away from Jeongguk, his expression much the same as it had been in Jeongguk’s dream, and he whispered again, “Impossible… Those hornsVolantene ships—“

And Jeongguk reached out, hand grasping for Taehyung, trying to grab him and pull him away from the spear that was undoubtedly about to pierce his throat and end his life — but he couldn’t. He couldn’t reach Taehyung, for his body had felt so heavy in that moment, like some other force, some other power was physically restricting him from changing the course of what was to happen — like Fate, or the Gods, were saying there in that moment, that the gift they had given Jeongguk was not meant for Changing, but only for Seeing. Jeongguk let out a strained, desperate scream at his inability to save Taehyung, and at the cruelty of the Gods.

And then.

Taehyung just gave him an odd sort of look. And then the knight rushed back to his side, alive, and unharmed, and showering Jeongguk with the same concern he had shown him before. There was no spear, no blood, just Taehyung’s hands holding Jeongguk’s shoulders in a firm, steady grip, and Jeongguk only now realized that he was shaking, and shuddering, his eyes wide with terror and confusion and so many other emotions; so many emotions that Jeongguk could not even enjoy any sense of relief just yet, he could only shake terribly.

But Taehyung held him firmly still, until Jeongguk could finally look at the knight in front of him. They both stared at each other in silence, and Taehyung was looking into Jeongguk’s eyes, like he had done in Jeongguk’s dream, but this time he was, by some miracle, not dying. Taehyung looked, and he read Jeongguk like he had grown so adept at doing lately, and then he pulled Jeongguk to his chest, and hugged him. And eventually, gradually, Jeongguk stopped shaking.

But the thought remained engraved into Jeongguk's mind.

How was Taehyung not dead?

 

*****

 

It was by chance that the alliance had been born. By chance, that Jooheon had felt like raiding closer to Westeros these past few weeks. By chance, that they were hovering about that fancy castle on the mountain in the middle of the sea… Dragonstone, the Westerosi called it, didn’t they? Jackson had laughed when he first heard it—called so because of an Old Valyrian family that had built it, and had once kept dragons, long ago. It was folly, and nothing compared to the history of the Old Valyrians of Volantis. What was some old, beaten looking castle in the middle of nowhere compared to the extravagance of Volantis, then? The true living legend of what was left of Old Valyria, and of dragons.

Jooheon had always snorted at Jackson whenever he talked about Volantis in the way he did, saying things like ‘We barely ever step foot on Volantene ground anymore’, and ‘Why do you treat it like it’s your home?’, and ‘the sea is our home now, we’re pirates, remember?’. But Jooheon was a wild spirit, untameable, and fiercely independent — hot and untouchable like a flame, and just as dangerous and unpredictable. Jackson doubted if even the sea was his home, if anywhere was home to Jooheon, or if he was rather a constant vagrant, drifting from one place to the next without any attachment to anything. Jackson wasn’t like that.

Jackson was the opposite, and he grew attached to everything he came into contact with. With the bar wench serving him drinks of whose name he didn't know, of how her eyes glistened with wonder when he told her his stories, and how her cheeks dusted pink and beautiful on her chocolate-coloured skin. With the cat that slept on the fishnets at that harbour they always went to, and purred affectionately whenever Jackson would scratch its chin. Even with the man who always shouted obscenities at Jackson in that tavern he liked to visit, for he decided it would be quite boring a night if that angry man stopped appearing, and Jackson would miss his creative insults. Though it had been long since they were back in their homecity, Volantis was still in his heart, in his blood. He saw Volantis in the sails of his ships, he saw the city in the bronzed skin of his crewmates, in the thick accent of his tongue. He was hardly ever in Volantis, but Volantis was hardly ever away from Jackson. ‘A sentimental idiot’, Jooheon would snicker in his indignant sort of way, and Jackson, as always, would laugh and agree.

It was by this chance hovering about Dragonstone, however, the pair of Volantene pirate captains were found, and invited to dine with Hoseok, the one the Westerosi called their ‘Last Hope’, who had been residing in the castle. It seemed the Westerosi were an incredibly dramatic lot, and were convinced their vast and boring land was coming to an end. Whether it be at the hands of a boy king named Namjoon (because of his crazy uncle who killed thousands at a whim, and who by default had been charged guilty by mere association, which Jackson thought was stupid, but none of his business), or by, as the rumours had been swimming around as of late, White Walkers.

Yes, even in Essos the notoriety of the White Walkers was known, yet so far away and distant that while men spoke in hushed, scared whispers in Westeros when mentioning them (as if afraid speaking their name alone breathed life into the tale), men in Essos made jokes about them over wine sometimes; often they weren’t very good jokes at all, in fact, they were quite dull, and Jackson couldn’t even remember what they were.

Jooheon always told good jokes, though. It was probably why the two always got on so well; it being so rare for pirates to ever get on well, and they had even garnered somewhat of a name for themselves. The Pirate Kings. Alright, that was a lie, it was more of a self-proclaimed title for the pair. No one really called them that except Jackson and Jooheon themselves (and their crew), but it was only their opinion that mattered, after all. And no other pirates had been fit to test that title, as they had remained undefeated on the seas for years now, and had a whole fleet of ships and crewmembers at their back.

They could have been considered a pirate guild, of sorts, if pirates ever actually conformed to any sort of set outline or rules. Rather, it was just a large band of aimless seafarers who all shared a similar interest in gold and treasure and drinking and fucking, and all had grown to respect and like Jooheon and Jackson enough to let them be their captains. Their crewmembers called them the Pirate Kings, and they believed in the title, too. Hoseok seemed intrigued by it as well.

Hoseok was funny, like Jooheon. And made lots of jokes. And smiled a lot. Jackson liked him. Jooheon was a bit more apprehensive (as he always was) and had cautioned Jackson about trusting Westerosi, to which Jackson replied with the fact that Westerosi likely said the same about men from Volantis, or anywhere across the Narrow Sea, for that matter, let alone pirates from those places.

But Jackson liked Hoseok, and Jooheon liked Jackson enough to force himself to tolerate the Westerosi rebel (though Jackson sensed that Jooheon was jealous, but he couldn’t tell if his senses were true or he was just a tad bit narcissistic in thinking Jooheon cared enough about him to be jealous). Hoseok didn’t seem bothered by Jooheon’s standoffish behaviour, in fact he didn’t even seem to notice it. He just continued to smile, and offer them wine, and talk about trivial things like what it must be like to go for so long without stepping foot on solid ground, or what it must be like having no responsibilities—it seemed trivial to Jackson and Jooheon, at least, as it was so normal to them, but it seemed very interesting to Hoseok, who was leading a rebellion, and had many responsibilities because of it. Yet, the young rebel man had a smile like a poor man’s rather than a leader’s. Sincere and genuine, and it gave no sign of any burden. Looking at his smile was enough to trick a man into thinking there was no war going on.

He had offered them a proposition, there, in the dining chamber of Dragonstone: supply him ships to raid King’s Landing, and he would supply them with glory, and gold, insurmountable amounts of gold. Now, being the Volantene pirates they were, they couldn’t have cared less about whatever wars the Westerosi were playing at, whatever dramatics they were entertaining themselves with; they didn’t care about the rebellion.

But… Gold. Gold was the way to a pirate’s heart, and Jackson and Jooheon were no different. They had heard of King’s Landing before; it was where the King of Westeros lived, always, throughout Westerosi history, and where Kings resided… so did their wealth. And by definition, Kings were ridiculously rich, no? There was no king in Volantis, as they were held under the control of a council, so it would truly be a first for the Pirate Kings to steal from an actual King. How irresistibly exciting it sounded to them. Even Jooheon perked up at the notion.

It didn’t take much convincing for them to agree to lend their ships so that Hoseok might send more of his soldiers to King’s Landing, but they would not let their ships go without them, for captains did not leave their ships. An old, sentimental saying, but Jackson was a sentimental idiot, after all.

And so here they were, pulling into the bay of Blackwater, listening to the toll of the bells (a droll, irritatingly religious sound that did not match the feel of battle) and the pounding of drums (Jooheon had clapped to the beat with a devilish grin when they started). They had been told that the men of King’s Landing were not expecting pirates to join the battle, so they held off on blowing their horns until the last moment — to make a dramatic, memorable sort of entry. But when they were ready, and Jackson and Jooheon were hopping into the rowboats to get closer ashore, and Jackson gave the command to one of his shipmates, the horns blew.

Jackson’s fingers traced over the piece of metal hanging on a necklace around his neck, with one word engraved in High Valyrian: dāerves. Freedom. He thought of his mother who had given it to him, as she sat safely at home, back in Volantis, locked in a marriage she could not escape, as his father treated her with a distant sort of malice and neglect, and thought of how she had not wished this false life on her son, and had encouraged him to travel the world, to see its beauty, and everything it had to offer, in her place. Freedom, he thought, as his fingers left the necklace. The word didn’t mean as much to him as the memory of his mother did. Mother, he thought, more truly, as he picked up his spear, and jumped out of the boat and into the shallow sandbank.

Water lapped at his knees, soaking his feet completely as he waded through the shallows, and when he reached dry land, he readied himself for a fight. Two Westerosi attempted to take him down, and failed within seconds — for Westerosi fighters were not as accustomed to foreign styles of fighting, and the Westerosi style of fighting was often slow, and obvious. Indeed, it was strong, and piercing, but what use was that if your opponent could see the direction in which you were attacking, and know you were about to attack by the sound of your grunt? It was too easy for Jackson.

He took down another two, and then another, and eventually it was all becoming second-nature to him, killing men here and there without so much as a thought. He wasn’t even sure if he was killing the right men — Westerosi all wore the same boring looking armour. Except — He spotted something different. A man with his back turned to him; his armour was glittering, and shone brilliantly even in the night, as though it attracted the moon’s rays by some magic.

It was beautiful armour. A true treasure. Jackson smiled, his grip on his spear tightened, and he made his way over to the unsuspecting man. It was dishonourable to kill a man from behind while he wasn’t looking, but pirates were a dishonourable lot. Jackson drew his spear back, so that his thrust would be steady and true, and—

And then he dropped it.

A searing pain spread throughout his chest, like nothing he’d felt before — he couldn’t even manage a scream, he couldn’t make a sound. He could only drop his spear, look down, and see the edge of a blade — white hot like it had just been pulled from a smelting furnace — sticking out of his chest. It was only there for a moment, before it was gone again, as it was pulled out of his back, and he fell to the ground. The pain was excruciating, but only for an instant. And then it was gone.

And so was Jackson, the free Pirate King of Volantis, who, before he died, saw flashes of every little thing he had fallen in love with — of the bar wench, of the cat, of the angry man; he wondered if they would miss him like he would have missed them.

But the last thing in his mind, as he left the world, was the face of his mother, and her whisper.

‘Freedom’.

 

*****

 

“Taehyung! You idiot, you left your back wide open!” Jeongguk blinked a few times, then turned his head, and saw a red-haired man approaching them. Jimin’s voice had burst out towards Taehyung with the sort of frightened anger only close friends and relatives could muster, and his flaming hot sword intensified for a second, the flames licking up at Jimin’s side (though he seemed completely indifferent), then calmed, as Jimin did, after recollecting himself and running a hand through his hair, a loud sigh escaping his lips. “You could have died just then, you know.”

Jeongguk choked on his own breath. Jimin had no idea just how true his words were, Jeongguk thought. But he had regained himself too, somewhat, and nodded in thanks to Taehyung, who had helped him settle down during his episode — the nod had also meant that he was fine now, but Taehyung made no move to leave him, keeping his arms firmly around Jeongguk as the knight turned to Jimin, his voice low. “I was just surprised— Volantene ships? With Hoseok’s forces? It doesn’t make sense. Yoongi said nothing about them.”

“He couldn’t have known, the deal must have been made recently,” Jimin said, head turning to look at the vast number of men that continued to spill into the bay, with no signs of stopping.

“We were already outnumbered, this is just overkill,” Taehyung said, doing the same as he followed Jimin’s gaze.

“It appears Hoseok isn’t the type to risk defeat by not sending all his men,” Jimin commented in an observant tone, and there was a hint of respect in his voice, but he also sounded completely unconcerned, and not surprised in the least; compared to Taehyung, who was very much the opposite. “Actually, I was wondering when they’d turn up. Time to bring out our… wild card.”

Both Jeongguk and Taehyung gave Jimin a look, a squinty sort of look, as though they knew he was trying to get at something — but neither of them knew what, and Jimin just smiled at them.

“Don’t worry, we’re not dying tonight.”

And then Jimin ran off, sword swinging at his side — in some direction that Jeongguk didn’t follow, because he instead turned his head to look at Taehyung. And finally, he was able to feel the wave of relief wash over him at the realization that Taehyung was indeed, very much alive. Jeongguk decided that he owed Jimin an unmatchable debt, for doing what Jeongguk himself could not. Taehyung must have felt Jeongguk’s gaze on him, as he turned to return it— but his eyes quickly widened, remembering something he had forgotten amidst the chaotic confusion. “Jeongguk, your face!”

“What— Oh,” Jeongguk had raised a hand to touch his cheek, and his cheek replied by crying red tears and spilling them on his fingers. He had completely forgotten about his facial injury as well. The adrenaline rush must have still been running through his body, as he felt no pain. “It’s nothing, just a cut.”

“Your face is practically split open!”

“You’re so dramatic,” Jeongguk laughed, and Taehyung frowned. Jeongguk eased into a smile to try and reassure the knight, but he could taste the blood on his teeth from his wound, and Taehyung’s frown only deepened. He turned away from Jeongguk then, turning his head so that he could slide a hand under his chest plate from the opening of the armour near his neck, and Jeongguk wasn’t sure if it was just the effects of battle, but his eyes lingered on Taehyung’s neck for longer than necessary— before Taehyung pulled out a folded square of gauze.

“At least let me clean it up, then. It’s in your teeth and all over your lips, and blood doesn’t taste very nice.” Taehyung moved his hand, dabbing the gauze against Jeongguk’s cheek without waiting for Jeongguk’s permission; but Jeongguk just sat there and allowed him to do so, anyway.

“Unless you’re a cannibal,” Jeongguk joked, but didn’t allow it to settle, his eyes straying to their environment, and at the men fighting. He had been so distracted by Taehyung, so glad that he was alive, and talking to him, that he had forgotten they were fighting a war. Jeongguk’s hand suddenly lifted and grasped at the wrist of the arm Taehyung was using to clean his cut. “Wait, stop. There’s no time for this now, we have to—“

The loudest noise Jeongguk had ever heard erupted then, and rang out throughout the bay. It was so loud that even the women and children hidden in the Sept must have heard it, even the farmers in their beds just outside of King’s Landing must have heard it. Hell, he wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole of Westeros had heard it. The explosion was massive. Jeongguk had to use both his hands to cover his ears, but it was already too late, and the piercing sound already left an agonizing ringing in his ear drums. Taehyung suffered the same, scrunching his face up in pain and covering his ears in a similar fashion.

They had closed their eyes momentarily, in reflex reaction to the ear-splitting explosion, but when they opened them, everything was green. A terrible, ghastly green… of wildfire. Remnants of the explosion were still evaporating across the Blackwater, and jade flames were licking up so high into the sky they might have been trying to burn the clouds. When the ringing began to leave his ears, the screams replaced them. Screams of burning men. And the smell. The unforgettable smell of burning flesh— Jeongguk knew he would remember that until the day he died, and shudder in years to come, just as he shuddered now, throughout his whole body, at that scent.

The whole of the Blackwater was up in unnatural, awful flames. It was in its entirety, a mass of destruction and devastation that no man should have had the power to do. Jeongguk and Taehyung looked on, horrified. It was killing their opponents, it was saving their lives, most likely. But Gods, were they horrified.

 

*****

 

The battle of Blackwater had not lasted much longer after that cataclysmic event, after that one swift strike had annihilated more than half of Hoseok’s forces, and sent them retreating back to Dragonstone to recuperate. Hoseok himself remained unharmed, having been on the shore when it happened, fighting in the vanguard amongst his soldiers — but the advantage he had gained in the war after defeating Namjoon’s forces previously had all but been lost, and now both sides were recovering; it would be a long time before either was ready to have a go at each other again.

After what had happened at the bay, after the explosion, Jeongguk wondered if it had deterred anyone away from the war completely. After that night, Jeongguk himself had been struck with the terrible realization that war was nothing like in the songs and stories. That sort of destruction… Jeongguk could still see the melting faces when he closed his eyes, the countless ships turned into nothing but flames and smoke. It was nothing if not inhumane, and Jeongguk now understood why it had been a heated topic of discussion at the small council, and why Seokjin had urged against the wildfire’s usage.

But, for all that, Jeongguk knew that if it had not been for the wildfire, if Namjoon had not ordered all those pots of the liquid to be put into a single ship, and for that single ship to slip through Hoseok’s ships, and for that ship to be set ablaze by a flaming arrow shot by Jimin—causing the entire contents, all those pots, to erupt on top of each other—they would have likely all died that night.

It was a hard decision, and Jeongguk could see that it weighed heavily on Namjoon, now, as the King sat upon his throne, amongst all who had been called to Court that day. Namjoon’s features looked tired, his eyes a little less serene, a little more troubled, his brow furrowed a little more, lips pursed tighter than before. It was a hard decision, Jeongguk thought, a hard decision that only leaders could suffer the responsibility of.

It had also strengthened Hoseok’s rebellion, as, at the core, it supported why they had been pulled together before Namjoon’s ascension to throne; they had come together to remove Namjoon’s uncle from rulership, after he had massacred thousands with wildfire in a fit of rage. A fit of rage, and madness, that had lasted a year. By the time Namjoon’s uncle had died, Hoseok’s rebellion had already begun, and continued, it seemed, with the rebels still unhappy at having a relative of the former ruler sit atop the throne — wanting change in how kings came about in Westeros, wanting to elect their own king, like the Night’s Watch had been doing with their Lord-Commanders for centuries. Namjoon just happened to be the unfortunate next-in-line, inheriting not only the throne from his crazed uncle, but the war that he incited.

And now. Now with that action with the wildfire, Namjoon surely had struck a familiarity with his uncle, and as he sat there on the throne, there was apprehension in the eyes of some of the lords and ladies of the Court. ‘What will he do next?’ Jeongguk imagined them thinking, as he surveyed their expressions, ‘how long until he becomes mad, like his uncle?’, ‘how much more wildfire do you think he has stored away?’. Namjoon had saved all their lives, yet all they could do was stand there, and give him those disturbed looks, and scorn him in their minds. Jeongguk hated the Court, and all the lords and ladies with it.

He stood there, on the sides of the large throne room, watching lords and ladies come forward and present their issues to the King. Land disputes, inheritance matters, attacks on their houses by foreign entities (as it was the King’s duty to protect his kingdom and those in it), and other forms of crimes against the Crown, and Jeongguk had grown utterly bored. It was a stark change in pace, a week after the battle, and he didn’t know which was worse between the green, burning bay or this dull, monotonous affair.

His hand rose to trace the scab lining his cheek where he had been cut, and where the stitches that the maester had sewn in still held the skin together. It was ugly and would surely scar, he thought, as he had looked at it in the polished silver mirror within his chambers before coming to court — but it made him look older, manlier, of sorts, and he liked it. It served as a reminder of what would happen if he let himself be distracted again during a fight.

It also reminded him of the reason he had been distracted, and his eyes drifted over to one of the Kingsguard standing near the throne, with the other Kingsguard knights, all of which were positioned in a protective line in front of the King. The one he looked at was different to the others, and easy for Jeongguk to spot, even as he stood quite a ways away on the far side of the room.

The Sunshine Knight stood straight, his helmet in one arm, with a sort of relaxed charm that was unlike the other Kingsguard, who stood with a stiff, upright air about them—Aside from Jimin, who was so easily forgotten that he was part of the Kingsguard, never wearing any sort of steel armour like the others did, but always only his red leather light armour, or red priest robes. Today it was the light armour. Jeongguk’s eyes lingered on Taehyung in his boredom of everything else in the room, until a very upset, very loud man stepped forward from the other lords when his name had been called, and he had begun to call out against Volantis, his finger pointed straight at Taehyung, as if Taehyung himself had slighted him.

“The Volantene pirates— They attacked my ships! My trading ships! I had nothing to do with the battle, but they attacked me, a merchant!” He was very offended, seemingly by Taehyung’s very existence, as his eyes had not strayed from Taehyung for a moment. “Stole all my goods, they did! Just like that!”

“My Lord, you’re going to need to calm down,” Namjoon implored, leaning forward slightly, a sigh sounding through his words.

“I will not. I will not calm down. I was born here, raised in King’s Landing, this city is my home, and you are my King, Your Grace— But he—,” the man pointed angrier than before, and with such determination at Taehyung, “—He is not one of us."

"He is one of them. And you would have one of them in your Kingsguard? One of them, who are attacking and killing your own people? Innocent people? The Volantenes must be stopped. He is a Volantene,” the man spat, and his tone was so vitriolic that it made the hairs on the back of Jeongguk’s neck stand up in growing anger that he would speak in such a way towards Taehyung, who had done nothing to him, and deserved none of his ill-placed hatred. “A known pillow biter, too. A degenerate foreigner with no last name, you should send him back from whence he came.”

A tense hush fell over the Court, but Jeongguk could see some of the lords and ladies giving each other knowing looks, smiles half-hidden behind their raised hands; mocking Taehyung. Then, Jeongguk’s eyes shifted to hone in on Taehyung himself, on his expression. His posture had now become stiff, too, like the other knights, and his face carefully stoic; there was no warmth in it like there had been moments before. He had been hurt by the man’s words, Jeongguk knew, and Jeongguk grit his teeth, eyes darting back to the ridiculous merchant.

He was short, and fat, and Jeongguk could have bet that he was a coward, a miserable excuse for a merchant, and that he likely deserved to have been robbed by the pirates. Many more insults churned in his mind, then, as he continued to glare ferociously at the merchant, who was unaware, and only paying attention to the King and to Taehyung. Jeongguk had half a mind to walk across the room and settle matters with the merchant himself. It wouldn’t take long, he thought.

“He has a last name.” To Jeongguk’s surprise, it was Seokjin who spoke now in defence of Taehyung. He looked up from his ledger, where he sat not far from the King’s side, and had up until now been writing on the parchment with his quill — but this whole business appeared to have unsettled him, and he placed the quill down. His tone was calm, collected, but frighteningly so, in the sort of way that made you fear the quiet wrath of a patient man. “It would simply be far too difficult for you to pronounce, for you see, Taehyung here comes from a very old, very established and very noble Valyrian house. And you… You are a merchant, but not a well-educated one, I take it? I’d think an educated man would have enough wits about him to know that blaming a Kingsguard for the acts of pirates, merely for sharing the same homecity to be absurd, indeed. And to question the judgement of the King… Now that would definitely be something a well-educated man would avoid.”

The tension in the room thickened, as Seokjin’s eyes looked down at the merchant, and the feeling of superiority that emitted from every fibre of the Hand’s being, without him even trying, was astounding. The King had a presence in his own right, but so did his Hand, and even the merchant had to take a step back, stuttering as he attempted to pull together a sentence in reply. “I— I— “

“You, you?” Seokjin echoed, tilting his head. “Why, who else would I be speaking to? Tell me, what is it you want from the King? Do you want him to dismiss one of his Kingsguard for the acts of these pirates?” Seokjin had reversed the idea into sounding so ridiculous that the lords and ladies of the Court turned to each other, and whispered amongst themselves in disapproval of the merchant’s now impertinent actions. So easily did Seokjin sway the people’s opinions, and so, the merchant had no choice but to buckle under the pressure.

“N- No, forgive me— I had meant no offence to Your Grace’s judgement,” the merchant made no mention of apologizing for Taehyung, Jeongguk noticed. “I simply wish for the pirates to be dealt with.”

“Ah, now that is a little more reasonable, I’m glad you’ve come to your senses,” Seokjin gave the slightest of smiles, then turned to look at Namjoon, who had been sitting with his chin resting on his hand the entire time.

“Lord Yoongi, what of the pirate ships now?” The King spoke without looking at the Spider, eyes staying glued on the merchant.

“No sign of them around the harbour, Your Grace. It appears they have been satisfied enough, and left.” Yoongi said in a dry tone, as disinterested by the affair as he had been with every other affair today. Jeongguk could finally relate with the pale man over something (though this particular affair had left the Young Wolf’s fur feeling quite ruffled).

“Very well,” ‘there isn’t much we can do then’ hung in Namjoon’s silence afterwards; they had scarce naval force as it is, let alone sending anyone out beyond the harbour in search for pirates. “I cannot guarantee that we will find the pirates who did this to you, but I will make sure that your ships will be repaired, and your stolen goods will be compensated for, as any attack against you, is indeed at the fault of the Crown for failing to protect its subjects. I do hope this is enough.”

More than he deserves, Jeongguk had thought bitterly. But the man bowed his head, grateful and sheepish, and uttering repeated ‘Thank you, thank you Your Grace’s over and over again, and continued to do so as he was escorted from the court. He was likely lucky to be leaving without punishment for what he had said against the King and his Kingsguard, lucky that it was Namjoon who was sitting on the throne; a wise, and merciful king. If it had been Jeongguk…

The rest of the matters passed in a daze, and Jeongguk didn’t know it was possible to fall asleep with your eyes open, and while standing. No other notable events happened, but as the Court was adjourned, Jeongguk saw that Taehyung was still standing stiff, and with the same tight expression. As the men and women began streaming out of the throne room, and it began to grow empty, Jeongguk walked over to the knight as he stood in waiting for the King to leave (but Namjoon was still lingering, leaning over the side of his throne to talk with Seokjin).

Although Taehyung’s expression changed as soon as he saw Jeongguk approaching—to his airy smile that seemed so light you wouldn’t have thought him to have been bothered just before—Jeongguk still felt it necessary to offer some sort of comfort after the unpleasant event, but it was then that he also realized that in his lack of experience with having friends, and thus comforting them, he didn’t know what to say or do; so he just stood there, arms loose at his sides (though his shoulders were tense), and eyes staring at Taehyung in an awkward silence. Eventually, Taehyung realized Jeongguk wasn’t going to say anything, and decided to break the silence himself with a small forward tilt of his head, getting a closer look at the large scab on the other’s cheek. “Grand Maester Minhyuk did good on the stitches!”

“… Uh, yeah, he did.” Jeongguk said automatically and without thought, having already forgotten the Grand Maester’s name up until now (though he now remembered it was Lee Minhyuk), despite having spent the good part of a day with him getting his injury fixed up after the battle. His eyes stayed glued to Taehyung as the knight had leaned close to inspect the stitchwork, as if encroaching on someone’s personal space meant nothing to him — meanwhile Jeongguk was standing there as stiff as a statue, while he tried to ignore the increasing rate of his pulse at the close proximity. Yet, Jeongguk couldn’t quite find it in him to lean away, or clear his throat to remind Taehyung to back away himself.

“It’ll still scar though,” Taehyung commented offhandedly, giving it one last look over, then leaning back to straighten his posture and let his grin return to his face. “You’ll have a real neat-looking battle scar then.”

“I hear girls like a man with battle scars,” Jeongguk said in a casual tone and half a shrug, again without thought — but something flickered on Taehyung’s features for a split second, he noticed, and for some reason he had the strange feeling he had said something wrong. Jeongguk felt it a good time to change the subject, then, by bringing up what had happened.

“Listen… That merchant didn’t know what he was talking about,” Jeongguk paused, and watched Taehyung’s mouth turn into a thin, straight line at the mention — but he was looking at Jeongguk, interested in what he had to say. “You’re not just some foreign knight. Maybe you used to be, but you’ve been here for years now. This place is as good a home to you as it is for any of those pompous jerks out there. Hell, I bet you’ve done more for the people in this city than that man will ever do.”

Taehyung let out a stifled laugh when Jeongguk had insulted the people of the Court, but settled into a soft, earnest smile as he looked at the young lord when he was finished. A short, but sweet silence filled the air between them for a moment, before Taehyung once again broke it; his tone was sincere and heartfelt, and said through his smile. “Thank you, Jeongguk. You really have no idea what it means to me to hear you say that.”

“— Lord Jeongguk!” A skittishly cheerful sort of man had called out, making both Taehyung and Jeongguk turn to him as he made haste in appearing in front of Jeongguk, his hand extended out to him whilst holding a small vial of liquid. Jeongguk blinked a few times, then took the vial carefully, suddenly grateful that Taehyung had mentioned the man’s named just moments prior.

“Grand Maester Minhyuk— Thank you… But what is it?” Jeongguk’s eyes switched between the vial and the maester a few times, before settling on the maester. He was about the same height as Jeongguk, but his physique was slimmer — at least Jeongguk guessed it to be so, it was hard to tell under the thick draping of the baggy, brown robes he wore. Sandy blonde hair stuck out from his head in all directions, looking messy and unkempt and giving off the impression he was the disorganized sort of man with too many ideas running through his head.

Indeed, when he was stitching Jeongguk’s wound, he often paused to look run around his laboratory, saying ‘Now where’d I put it?’ and ‘Oh, what’s this doing here?’ more than a few times. But he was warm, and smiled a lot, in a similar way to Taehyung, so Jeongguk couldn’t help but like his scattered but kind demeanour.

“I mixed some for you this morning, to put on your wound,” Minhyuk said with a wide smile, not seeming to realize it didn’t answer Jeongguk’s question at all. He spoke quickly, and in a chirpy tone. “It’ll help it heal faster and keep it from getting infected in the process!”

Jeongguk popped the vial open to smell it, and regretted the decision immediately, flinching away from the top of the vial with a sour face.

“Ah… Yes, the smell is quite… unique,” Minhyuk said awkwardly, apologetically, before he returned back to his chipper tone. “But well worth putting up with it, I assure you!”

“Thank you, Grand Maester.” Jeongguk forced a smile, though the foul stench of the liquid was still plaguing his senses, even after having closed the top of it with the cork. Meanwhile, Taehyung had been standing aside watching the conversation with an amused air, and now readjusted the position of the helmet under his arm, head turning to the side where he spotted the Hand walking towards them.

“Ser Taehyung, Lord Jeongguk,” Seokjin bowed his head respectfully, then turned to look at the blonde man, “… Grand Maester Minhyuk… Shouldn’t you be working on the next batch of Milk of the Poppy for Our Grace? We’ve just about run out, and I won’t have the King staying up all night again with his worries.”

“Ah! Yes! Of course, of course!” Minhyuk jumped at the reminder. “I’ll get to it right away!”

After the hasty exit from the maester, Seokjin turned back to Jeongguk and Taehyung — or more particularly, Taehyung, as the Hand looked at him with empathy in his eyes, and although his words gave no sign of it, Jeongguk could tell Seokjin also cared about how Taehyung’s feelings had fared. “Quite the show it was today… Talking to insufferable men like that merchant makes me hungry, would the two of you care to dine with me tonight? I cooked a little something.”

If there was any chance of Taehyung and Jeongguk turning Seokjin’s invitation down, it evaporated at the words ‘I’ and ‘cooked’. The pup-like way their features had lit up made Seokjin let out a fond sort of chuckle, and after organizing a meeting with the Master of Coin for later in the evening, he returned to the two younger men and escorted them out of the throne room.

Upon reaching Seokjin's private chambers, the aroma of freshly baked lamprey pie was already wafting throughout the rooms, causing both Jeongguk’s and Taehyung’s stomachs to emit eager grumbles. Seokjin had put the pie out to cool down before heading to Court, and so it was perfectly ready to be carved and eaten. It was strange, Jeongguk thought, to meet a nobleman who didn’t let his house cooks do all the cooking for him, but he supposed Seokjin simply preferred his own skills over that of house cooks — the thought reminded Jeongguk that he didn’t actually know what house Seokjin came from, as he’d never mentioned it before.

“Lord Seokjin, what is your house?” Jeongguk had asked rather bluntly, mouth still chewing on a spoonful of the pie. Seokjin blinked and turned to Jeongguk with wide eyes, surprised by both the abruptness of the question and by the manner in which Jeongguk spoke with his mouth full, like a child. Taehyung glanced up from his piece of pie, too, switching his gaze between the both of them without saying anything (as he, on the other hand, kept his mouth completely shut while chewing).

“I’ve taken the Kim house as my last name, the same as Our Grace, Kim Namjoon.” He answered, eyes dropping to his plate as he gracefully carved a small spoonful of his pie piece and put it in his mouth.

“Oh,” Jeongguk paused, and chewed in silence for a few moments while he pondered the fact. It was not impossible to have your last name changed by royal decree, with the King’s permission, but that usually required some form of consent from the head of the house from which you’re to be removed from. “But before that?”

“Before that? Well, before that, I was part of the house of Highgarden.” Seokjin said it so nonchalantly as though he didn’t care for the name at all, as though it were nothing; when in actuality, the house of Highgarden was one of the most powerful in all of Westeros. And one of the richest. And they had sided with the Rebellion over the Crown. “After my family turned traitors, I had no choice but to disown them.”

Jeongguk watched Seokjin cut into his pie with such careful precision, and such a steady hand, while he spoke with just as careful precision, and just as steady a voice. It was the kind of precision and steadiness that took lots of practice. Jeongguk guessed that Seokjin had practiced saying that line to himself many times, perhaps in an effort to convince himself it was the right thing to do. However, Jeongguk could see the slightest hints of a faltering mask in the twitches of Seokjin’s lips, and the way his eyes stared all too determinedly into his pie. Seokjin was not a cold man, Jeongguk could tell, not the type of man who could just disown his family without any care for them. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help the question slipping from his lips, “Do you miss them?”

Taehyung stopped chewing, and Seokjin stopped cutting, both of their eyes on their plates; though Taehyung’s flitted upwards at Jeongguk, blinking, as if shocked he just went out and asked something so straightforward — and then turned to watch Seokjin, waiting to see how he would react. The Hand of the King had stopped cutting, but his hands still grasped at the cutlery, they were simply halted in place. He let out the softest, longest sigh, and spoke without looking away from his plate, but a small smile let itself show on his lips. “… I miss my mother’s cooking.”

Silence filled the room after he spoke, and Jeongguk knew that was Seokjin’s way of saying ‘yes, I do miss them’. He didn’t have to say the words, but he still said it. It must have been a hard decision, Jeongguk thought, choosing between your family and your King. It seemed that King’s Landing was a place full of hard decisions, and Jeongguk wondered if soon it’d place one upon him, too.

The conversation had left a damp air about them, and Seokjin was not one to let a damp mood ruin his cooking. He looked up to exchange a glance between them both, his voice now jovial, and light. “I never really understood why the term ‘pillow biter’ gets coined to us. Some of us are rarely ever the ones biting the pillows.”

Taehyung almost choked on his pie. He had to thump his chest a few times to get it down properly, and his expression was one of utter astonishment at first, before gradually turning into an uneasy laugh, eyes darting between Jeongguk and Seokjin. Jeongguk, of whom, was looking very confused by the new topic of conversation, and decided to voice his confusion with a tilted head. “Pillow biters?”

“Oh, you’ve never been called by it before? They must be a lot nicer about it up north. Down here it’s ridiculed to no end.” Seokjin gave a shrug, then resumed eating, leaving Jeongguk even more confused than he was before, and Taehyung clearing his throat to try and say something— but Jeongguk beat him to it.

“Um… I don’t quite understand—“

“It’s what they call those who prefer the company of men, here. Quite an unfitting term, seeing as, like I said, some of us rarely do the pillow biting.” Seokjin repeated his joke, and laughed at it, clearly thinking the first time wasn’t enough. Jeongguk’s mouth had fallen open into an ‘o’ shape, and Taehyung finally managed to get a word in.

“—He’s not—… He likes girls,” Taehyung said in a low whisper to Seokjin, as if it was some secret, when actually, up until now, Jeongguk had thought the fact rather obvious.

“… Really?” Seokjin’s voice went up an octave with a sound of surprise, and he tilted his head at Taehyung, then turned and tilted it at Jeongguk, acting as if it was the most peculiar revelation he had ever heard. “I could have sworn— I thought that you two were… Well, when I’d heard that you both spent the night at that tavern a while ago—“

Jeongguk groaned. Everybody really did know everything around here.

“—And then all that time you’ve been spending with each other lately… Taehyung, you even showed him to that orphanage, you’ve never taken Jimin there once.”

Jeongguk glanced over at Taehyung, and Taehyung let out another uneasy half-laugh, then looked at Seokjin with a glint of ‘now would be a good time to stop talking’ in his eyes. But of course, Seokjin either didn't get the hint, or chose to ignore it.

“—And I’m not the only one who has assumed so, mind you. Jimin thinks there’s something going on between the two of you as well. Actually, he’s even come to me, feeling quite down about his best friend finding someone and not telling him about it. Of course, he tried speaking to Yoongi first, but we all know Yoongi isn’t the most natural at comforting the more sensitive side of his other half. Though he does try, I’ll give him that much.” Seokjin had begun to go off on a bit of a tangent, speaking fluidly and fast as he finished off his pie, and saying all of this as if it was some kind of common knowledge, when really, Jeongguk had no idea what he was going on about at all.

“No, we’re—” Taehyung began, his voice slipping into a high pitch by accident, causing him to clear his throat and try to readjust it back to normal, forcing his voice back to its deep tone— though due to being forced, it turned out a little deeper than usual. “—We’re just friends.”

“… Mm.” Seokjin looked at Taehyung with a raised eyebrow, but said no more, before turning to Jeongguk. “… In that case, I sincerely apologize. It was wrong of me to assume anything of the sort of you without hearing it from you yourself. Please forgive me.”

“I—…” Jeongguk was still in disbelief he was taking part in this conversation at all, so he was quite mystified as to how to react. He simply blinked, opening and closing his mouth a few times without knowing what to say, before finally settling on, “It’s fine. I’m just— shocked, is all. But really, it’s fine.”

He waved his hand in front of him dismissively, and he wasn’t sure if he should have felt more offended by the assumption than he actually was— or if he was just feeling soft towards Seokjin because his lamprey pie was really good. Thankfully, he wasn’t allowed to dwell on it too much, as Seokjin soon stood up and began clearing the table of their empty plates, which was also a very strange sight to see a nobleman do, and made Jeongguk watch Seokjin with an odd look.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Seokjin had said with a smile as he spared Jeongguk a glance while cleaning up, “And I’m sorry to stop us on that note, but I just remembered that I’m required to meet our Master of Coin, Lord Min Yoongi himself— And to be late to such a meeting would indeed be very unfortunate for me.”

Seokjin and Taehyung exchanged a knowing glance, both smiling like it was some inside joke, before Seokjin turned away from the table to place the plates in another room, and then returned, clapping his hands together with an accomplished air to him. “Thank you for dining with me this evening, I would be honoured to dine with you again should either of you be willing.”

“You talk like we don’t see each other every day, Jin,” Taehyung used a nickname for Seokjin, but he didn’t seem to mind it. In fact, he chuckled.

“You’re right, force of habit. In any case, do let me know, yes?”

“You can bet on it.” Taehyung grinned.

“I’ll leave the betting to Yoongi and Jimin, they enjoy it far too much.”

Seokjin showed Jeongguk and Taehyung out, and, still not quite sure what had just happened, Jeongguk remained mostly in a state of dumbfounded silence besides a few courteous ‘Thank you’s and bows.

When it was just Taehyung and Jeongguk alone, both walking from the Hand’s chambers, and then down the steps of the Tower of the Hand, there was a heavy, awkward silence, neither of them knowing what to say. Which was strange, considering Taehyung always had something to say. But even he was left speechless this time, and in the end, it was actually Jeongguk who finally opened the conversation on the first topic that he could think of, which, naturally, was one of those which was just discussed before.

“It must have been hard to cut himself off from his family like that,” he remarked, eyes glued to the steps he was walking down.

Taehyung seemed glad for Jeongguk’s conversation, and replied immediately, as if he’d been waiting the entire time for Jeongguk to say something; as if the reason he himself had not said anything yet was because Jeongguk hadn’t, and now the vow of silence had been lifted and he could finally speak. “People will do anything for their true love.”

It sounded like something from a fairy tale, like Taehyung had read too many books to the children at the orphanage and had adopted the same ideal world written in those pages. But it was endearing, to find someone who actually believed in something like ‘true love’. Though, Jeongguk was not quite sure what that had to do with Seokjin. “’Love’? Seokjin did it for ‘love’?”

Jeongguk had lifted his gaze to Taehyung now, and Taehyung did the same when he heard the question, blinking, with an expression of confusion towards the young lord. “Oh, you couldn’t see it? … You really are still a boy.”

Jeongguk’s brow furrowed now. “I’m not a boy—“

“You are. You’re a boy who can’t see love even when it’s right there in front of you.” Taehyung finished before Jeongguk could protest, and the gravity with which the statement sounded left Jeongguk in a speechless stupor— But Taehyung didn’t even seem to notice, eyes returning ahead of him as he walked with a relaxed gait and loose shoulders. He often seemed not to realize how serious his comments sounded, Jeongguk thought, either that or he did realize, and chose to act with a purposeful aloofness. Without knowing what to say in reply, Jeongguk merely changed the subject.

“… Who is he in love with, then?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Taehyung moved down from the last step, then halted in front of Jeongguk at the bottom of the stairwell. “The King, of course.”

 

*****

 

Of course. On the days where Jeongguk actually managed to have a good night’s rest; no nightmare, no Sight, no interruptions in the night, he gets woken up prematurely by one of his men with the words ‘My lord, someone’s here to see you’. Given, it wasn’t exactly early morning, the sun was high enough in the sky that many others were likely already awake and going about their daily business—But Jeongguk so rarely had a good rest that when he did have one, he wanted it to last as long as possible.

He grumbled in response, turning over in his bed and lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the sunlight as he began opening his lids. His house guard was standing diligently by his bedroom door, hand on the hilt of his sword, ever-ready even in such a violence-free environment such as Jeongguk’s own sleeping chambers.

“Shall I let him in, my lord?” He said.

Jeongguk pulled himself upright, seated on his bed as he looked around, eyes still plagued with sleep and hair all in a mess. The guard waited patiently. “… No, I’ll be out there in a second.”

He had decided that he was likely not in the best of appearances to be greeting someone—and whoever it was, was likely in their best of appearances, and quite judgemental, as everyone usually was in King’s Landing. And there was no point in trying to chase back the peaceful sleep that had been ripped away from him so soon for it was far beyond his reach now; so he may as well get up and begin his day as everyone else had before him.

Only after changing out of his night attire, fixing his hair, splashing his face with cold, refreshing water and rinsing his mouth did he finally leave his chambers; and he was met with a line of his house guards blocking off the entry to a man armoured in shining, white steel. Jeongguk was still sleepy, but he noticed who the man was without a second glance, and he blinked, eyes widening. “Taehyung—,” he stopped himself, realizing his slip that must have happened due to his drowsiness, “—Ser Taehyung?”

“Jeongguk!” It didn’t seem to matter that Jeongguk had forgotten Taehyung’s title, as Taehyung didn’t address Jeongguk as a lord, either. Jeongguk only now noticed they had become comfortable enough to do so. Taehyung perked up and raised a hand to wave excitedly—still being held back by the guards from approaching further.

“It’s alright, let him pass,” Jeongguk commanded, and the guards stepped aside, allowing Taehyung to rush up to Jeongguk with his cheerful briskness and extravagant grin. As soon as he reached Jeongguk, Taehyung grasped Jeongguk’s shoulders with both hands and shook him a few times, but very quickly.

“Aren’t you excited?! Have you packed your things yet? What are you bringing?” Multiple questions escaped the knight, all too quickly for Jeongguk to register, especially given the fact that all he could do was blink some more while he was shaken, for it was still much too soon after having woken up for him to be shaken like that. It made him a little dizzy, so his reply was riddled with confusion (though he was confused enough about the questions regardless).

“What—… What are you talking about?” Upon the last word, Jeongguk had to raise a hand to stifle a yawn, and Taehyung, likely influenced by his extremely good mood and general lack of regard for Jeongguk’s personal space, brought one of his hands up to pinch Jeongguk’s cheek.

“I’m so glad I get to see you when you’re still sleepy and aren’t trying so hard! You’re so cute when you’re like this~” Taehyung said, like it was nothing, and then removed both his hands from Jeongguk, one instead resting on his hip. Jeongguk stared at Taehyung dubiously, wondering what his words were supposed to mean, but wasn’t given a chance to ask—as Taehyung, true to himself, jumped to another topic immediately afterwards. “You haven’t heard? Oh—Of course you haven’t. I keep forgetting that you don’t talk to Jimin much. He talks about you a lot, though, so you can see why I’d forget, right? Anyway—You’re coming to Volantis with me!”

Taehyung still spoke too fast for a sleep-ridden Jeongguk to process straightaway, so Jeongguk merely stood in a confused silence while he did process the words. But when he finally understood, he, at the same time, did not understand even more. “… I’m what?”

It was all he could manage to say at the time, even though numerous questions popped up in his head all at once, he could only manage those two words. And he could only manage two words when the information was confirmed later that day in the small council meeting.

“But—Why?” Jeongguk had asked, with a look not too dissimilar to how confused he was in the morning when Taehyung had told him.

“Ser Jimin is taking you to meet with the High Priestess of R’hllor, the Fire God.” Namjoon explained, hands clasped in front of him, both resting on the tabletop, as he looked at Jeongguk with a sense of authority that meant the decision had already been made, and he was simply relaying the information to Jeongguk. “The Temple of the Lord of Light is in Volantis, and that is where you will find the High Priestess.”

“… But why?” Jeongguk repeated in a child-like manner without realizing, and Namjoon let out a small sigh, before looking towards the rest of the men seated around the table.

“If I might have a word with Lord Jeongguk alone, thank you. The meeting is dismissed.” The others (besides Seokjin who was not leaving) made no protest, most of the matters having been already discussed; but Jimin smiled at Jeongguk when he pushed his chair under the table before leaving. If it was meant to reassure Jeongguk about their newly planned journey together, it did not.

Though the idea of meeting someone as powerful as the High Priestess (though he never heard of her, he assumed she was very powerful by the fact that regular red priests and priestesses were powerful) was exciting in theory, something in his gut simultaneously turned at the idea of travelling with Jimin. Over the time that had passed since Jimin saved Taehyung on that fateful night, Jeongguk had reconsidered his feelings towards the man, and had acknowledged that his distrust towards him was unfounded, and unfairly presumed. He had promised himself he would thank the Red Knight, and become better friends with him, yet Jeongguk had not made a move to speak to him at all.

Though Jeongguk was sure Jimin was a good man, and harmless (at least to Jeongguk himself), there was something in Jeongguk that prevented him from feeling comfortable around the red priest. Something that made his palms sweat—but not in the way they became sweaty around Taehyung, but the kind of sweat that ran cold and gave him goosebumps. Something that made his throat grow dry, and the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up. It was strange how such a small, seemingly innocent man dressed in red robes or leather could do that to Jeongguk, a taller, more muscular opposite. It clearly wasn’t because of anything Jimin was doing himself, or had done in the past, so what was it?

“Lord Jeongguk,” Namjoon began, pulling Jeongguk out of his thoughts and back into reality. “It’s been weeks, and we still have no leads on the obsidian dagger. At this point, we’re just sitting here waiting for my assassin to kill me. We need more information, and that is why I need you to see the High Priestess.”

“But what does she have to do with my Sight? I don’t understand. I’ve got nothing to do with their religion—“

“No, you don’t, that’s true. But they are the only other people who can help you, because no one else in the world but red priests and priestesses can See things like you can. I need you to See who it is that is going to kill me.” Namjoon’s voice is firm, strictly so, like he was forcefully keeping the fear out of his voice. It seemed that the longer time went on since Jeongguk had told Namjoon of the dream, the more fearful he had become, even though he tried to hide it. ‘Wise men do fear death’, Jeongguk had been told once by his older brother, followed by ‘that’s probably why you’re so fearless’.

“But the war—“

“Is temporarily on hold,” Seokjin intercepted, and Jeongguk bit his tongue. “Both our forces and Hoseok’s have been hit severely, and will take quite a while to recover. If we’re to do this, there is no better time than now. And now may be the only chance we get before Namjoon is--… attacked.”

‘Killed’, ‘assassinated’, ‘murdered’, words Seokjin evidently could not bring himself to breathe life into, Jeongguk noticed, and Taehyung’s words echoed in his ears, ‘You’re a boy who can’t see love even when it’s right there in front of you’. But he could see it now. Love wasn’t always obvious, laid out plain and bare in three words for everyone to hear. Taehyung was right. Love was more often than not shown in the little things, the small nuances that were only noticeable to those who were similarly in love, or had also been in love in the past. Maybe true love was real after all, but only as something that true lovers could see. Jeongguk halted his thoughts then, unsure of why he felt so curious about the idea of love all of a sudden, and of what he could and could not see about it.

“… Then why is Taehyung also coming?” There was no point in arguing, Jeongguk decided. Both for the fact that he had no say anyway, and that Namjoon and Seokjin were most likely right. And Jeongguk had no real attachment to King’s Landing, except for the friends he had made, two of which were joining him.

Namjoon nodded thoughtfully, as if he had expected this question. “After the business with the Volantene pirates, things are a bit… tense in the Court lately. It would be better for all of us if our Volantene knight took some time to see his family while things blow over here in King’s Landing. Seokjin ended the last affair swiftly enough, but not all angry merchants and fishermen seek revenge through court requests, and not all those that do are as dim-witted as the last one was.”

Jeongguk caught onto what Namjoon was getting at, and the thought made his blood run hot. “Taehyung is a great fighter—“

“A great fighter, yes. And an honourable, good man.” Seokjin intercepted again, with his quick answers that he had for everything. “Cutthroats aren’t great fighters. They are great killers. Do you know why? They are not honourable, nor are they good men. Would you want to risk Taehyung’s life on a bet that a knight, who must follow rules and oaths in a battle, will not fall to a paid cutthroat, who follows no rules and only has one oath: to kill whoever he’s been paid to kill? Better yet, multiple cutthroats paid by multiple angry merchants? One merchant might even be rich enough to pay for multiple himself.”

In exasperation, Jeongguk struggled for a moment, opening his mouth, then closing it with a frustrated look, then repeating the process. Arguing with Seokjin was impossible, he decided, as it seemed like he was always so… right. When Jeongguk turned to look at Namjoon, the king was looking at Seokjin, but redirected his gaze to Jeongguk when he felt his eyes on him.

“I take it you do not disagree, then?” Namjoon said, and Jeongguk could not say otherwise. “Good. You have today to pack whatever you need, the three of you are leaving tomorrow morning, before the sun rises. I wish you safe passage to Volantis, Lord Jeongguk. Enjoy the sun of the never-ending summer that is the land of Essos, for your house words are always correct in the end here in Westeros. Winter is Coming.”

 

*****

 

The next morning came quickly, but Jeongguk was prepared. This time he was not so disagreeable about waking early, as he had not had a good night’s rest. The Sight had come to him again, he thought, or perhaps it was just another nightmare. Sometimes it was hard to tell. When the dreams were given to him to be seen through memories, through his point of view, it was especially hard to tell. Not like when he dreamed of the King’s murder, where there was no possible way for him to be there that night; dreams like that were obviously the Sight. But this dream? This nightmare? Thankfully, it was short. But still equally as horrifying as any other.

He had seen the melting faces of Blackwater Bay again. Heard their screams. Smelt the burning flesh. But then everything changed. The green flames turned to ice, like careful sculptures that had been chiselled by an expert’s hand. Just as the people did, all turned to ice sculptures, captured in their moments of pain, and terror. Jeongguk could walk across the sand—no, it was snow now—he could walk across it and see everyone, frozen like that.

He could see their bone peeking through the flesh that had been burned away, see charred bits of skin falling from their body, see men with eyes burned out of their sockets, all with mouths open, screaming in silence—it was terrifying enough seeing it in real time, but to see it so detailed, with time stood still… there was a different kind of horror in that. When Jeongguk looked at them, he wondered, were they still aware, were they still alive, were they damned to feel their skin burning, melting, forever trapped beneath the ice that held them?

He had woken up suddenly, and with a cold sweat. Those kinds of dreams, where nothing was obvious, everything was vague, those kinds of dreams were the hardest to tell if the Sight was telling him something, or if his mind just wanted to torment him for no reason. Both were equally frustrating.

“I know I’ve said this before, but you really do look ill this morning,” the red-haired knight had commented while leaning his upper body forward against the ship railings. Though he was a priest for today, rather than a knight, as he wore his red robes. “Do you have bad dreams every night?”

“…” They had settled on the ship, and the ship had pulled out of the harbour, and Jeongguk was staring at the Red Keep, standing tall among the city of King’s Landing, staring as it had become smaller in the distance—but still visible.

Jimin seemed amused for some reason, as he always did when he was talking to Jeongguk— or anyone, for that matter, but Jeongguk supposed that came with knowing everything before everyone else. “Are you sure you don’t dislike me?”

“I don’t dislike you,” Jeongguk confirmed, with a sigh. “I just don’t—“

“— Trust me,” Jimin finished in a tone that expected as much, as if he’d heard it a million times before, from a million different people. It made Jeongguk feel a pang of guilt when he thought he spied some sadness in the way Jimin’s eyes turned away from him, and looked at the horizon. Taehyung was on the other side of the ship, speaking with the captain, so Jeongguk was left alone with Jimin.

Jeongguk thought of Taehyung for a moment, of how good of a person he was, telling stories to children, feeding stray dogs; and of how good of a friend he was. Jeongguk looked at Jimin again, and Jeongguk felt like something matured in himself. I’ll become a better friend, he thought, he deserves as much. Jeongguk didn’t know whether it was Jimin who deserved a better friend, or Taehyung who deserved someone just… better. But something matured in Jeongguk then, as for once in his life, he thought of what other people deserved, rather than what he himself deserved.

“It was a nightmare.” Jeongguk answered Jimin’s first question in the form of a correction of the word ‘dream’. Jimin had quickly turned his head back to Jeongguk with a look of surprise on his boyish features, and Jeongguk felt a small satisfaction in surprising the man who supposedly knew everything that was to happen before it happened. “And I don’t have them every night. I can’t imagine what kind of hell it’d be to have to See things like that every night.”

“Truly unimaginable,” Jimin said in a way that made Jeongguk think Jimin knew too well what kind of hell that was. But Jimin smiled. He knew the significance in Jeongguk having opened up to him about the Sight, and he smiled, and Jeongguk didn’t feel uncomfortable at seeing it. “Often times the most terrible of things are blessings in disguise.”

“Is that some kind of riddle for red priests and priestesses to preach?” Jeongguk asked in an accidentally skeptical tone, but Jimin only laughed.

“No, just something I thought up myself just now. Sounds kind of preachy, doesn’t it? Yoongi likes when I get all wise with riddles, guess it’s become a habit now.”

They had never outright said anything was going on between Yoongi and Jimin, but now that Jeongguk was becoming somewhat of an expert in seeing the Little Things, he knew something was there. But whether that was something they knew, the two men in King’s Landing who knew everything, Jeongguk didn’t know. “Well… What does it mean, exactly? I’m not a huge fan of riddles.”

“I could have guessed as much,” Jimin said and it sounded like an insult, but the kind of insult a friend gives, and it reminded Jeongguk of that night so long ago now, back in the tavern where Jimin, Taehyung and Yoongi insulted each other, and Jeongguk had felt an outsider because of it. Now he was being insulted in the same way, and it made him chuckle, and Jimin continued. “Gifts from the Gods are rarely like how they’re told in the stories. They aren’t magic swords or beautiful bouts of rain in a drought. They aren’t pretty miracles, but ugly ones. For if something good is to happen, first we must endure something terrible. That is the lesson of the Gods.”

“Gods,” Jeongguk points out. “Plural? I thought you only worshipped one.”

“I do,” Jimin said. “But you do not. You worship the Old Gods of the North, do you not? I can respect another man’s religion, as it is not my place to change it unless they are willing. The Lord of Light does not enslave people who are unwilling.”

Jeongguk scrunched his face up a bit, not entirely sure how they came to be discussing religion—as it was never something Jeongguk cared for. He worshipped the Old Gods because his father did, and no other reason. But it was something Jimin cared about, and, as a friend would do, Jeongguk would take interest in what Jimin cared about. “And… this Lord of Light. What kind of terrible gifts does he give? If my Gods gave me my Sight.”

“My Sight is no pleasure to have, either. But apart from that, there are also the Shadows, I suppose,” Jimin said without looking away from shape of the Red Keep, of which had grown even smaller now.

“Shadows?” Jeongguk had never heard of them in relation to the fire priests before. “Like the ones we cast behind us?”

A very small chuckle escaped Jimin. “No, not quite like those ones. These Shadows are alive, and they do the Lord of Light’s bidding.”

“… They sound dark, and kind of evil, if you ask me.”

“But why? They are slaves to the Lord of the Light, for without light, there can be no Shadows. Only darkness.”

Jeongguk stared at Jimin in silence, then, and suddenly he felt that same uncomfortable feeling again. Thankfully, Taehyung returned to their sides at that moment, and the conversation took a turn for the lighter side, as it naturally did when Taehyung was around. Jeongguk didn’t try to bring up the Shadows again. At least, not around Jimin.

But, a few nights later, when it was just Jeongguk and Taehyung sitting on a large box of wine caskets on one side of the ship (for originally the ship was meant for transporting wine, but the caskets had to be moved from below the deck in order to make room for the three additional men), with Taehyung fiddling with his silver elephant pin he had pulled from his green coat, Jeongguk’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Has Ser Jimin ever talked to you about Shadows before?”

Taehyung had glanced up from his pin, mouth slightly open in his cluelessness. “Shadows? Like the kind we cast in the sunlight?”

“No, like—“ Jeongguk stopped, and looked at Taehyung in his clueluessness. He was kind, and understanding, and all of those good things, but he was clueless about the Sight, and the Shadows, and all the other terrible gifts from the Gods that only Jeongguk and Jimin could fathom. And Jeongguk was glad for that.

He knew Taehyung would try to understand, and try to share the burden with Jeongguk, but it was not something someone as bright, and warm as Taehyung should burden his mind with. It was not a weight he wanted Taehyung to have. “… Nevermind.”

Jeongguk looked away, chewing his lip, and Taehyung stared, confused, but knew better than to press the issue. Instead, he did what he did best, and changed the subject. “Did I ever tell you why I like this pin so much?”

“… No,” Jeongguk answered, his head still turned away, but his eyes looking at Taehyung from their corner, his interest piqued.

Taehyung grinned. “My father gave it to me! Before I left. It’s shaped like an elephant because I like them—and because in Volantis you can ride elephants. So it always reminds me of Volantis. And it’s cute. Because it’s an elephant.”

Jeongguk laughed, and Taehyung laughed, and Jeongguk’s worries all melted away again, just for that moment. “You can ride elephants in Volantis?”

“Yeah! Well—If you’re special enough. And since my family has a very old, and very pure bloodline, we were special enough.” Taehyung glanced away then, eyes glazing over as he remembered times from long ago. “One time, on my nameday, I let my friend ride on one with me. He’d never ridden on one before, and he was so happy. It made me happy to see him happy.”

Taehyung’s features had drifted into a fond smile at the memories, and then they fell.

“But then one of the other noble families saw. He was a slave, you see—My friend. And slaves weren’t allowed to ride the elephants. It was forbidden. But I didn’t know back then, I was just a boy—I didn’t understand why we were allowed to do some things and slaves were not, everyone seemed the same to me.” Taehyung’s voice was beginning to crack, and with it, Jeongguk had begun to feel a strong urge to hold him. But he repressed it.

Taehyung had to stop to try and control his voice from breaking.

“Another family saw, and seized my friend, and said he had committed a great crime. I tried to tell them that I let him on the elephant, that it was me who told him to do it, but it didn’t matter. ‘It doesn’t change what has been done,’ they said. ‘The crime must be punished’.”

Taehyung became silent. Jeongguk dared not speak.

“They killed him.” Taehyung eventually said. The words came quickly, in a broken tone, like ripping off a bandage. And like ripping off a bandage, Taehyung had exposed an old wound, and it must have stung in its exposure, because tears welled in his eyes. “They killed him and it was my fault.”

A fog had come over the water then, the silvery mist touched by rays of moonlight, and the same rays touched the tears that dropped from Taehyung’s eyes. His hand had grasped around the pin now, hard, and he raised the clenched fist to his eyes to try and cover them while he cried. The tears were coming faster now, and plenty.

Jeongguk wasn’t sure what it was like to feel heartbreak, but he was sure that the pain his heart felt there, at seeing Taehyung cry, at seeing the white knight who was like he was born from sunshine itself have his light replaced by rain, was just like the pain described in the songs of heartbreak that the bards sung.

The urge Jeongguk had gotten before resurfaced, and this time he didn’t repress it. He leaned forward and extended both his arms out to pull Taehyung over to him, and Taehyung obliged; and Taehyung wept on Jeongguk’s black leather shirt. It was not a comfortable thing to weep on; it was hard, and cold in the night breeze, and his tears collected in little pools on the surface rather than soak in-- Yet Taehyung would not have preferred to weep on anything other than Jeongguk’s black leather shirt.

They sat there for some time, even after Taehyung’s tears slowed to a stop. They sat there with Jeongguk’s arms around Taehyung, and Taehyung grasping on Jeongguk’s sleeves—though it turned from grasping for stability while he cried, to grasping to keep Jeongguk’s arms close for warmth and protection from the cold winds that blew against them. And they said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. They simply sat there, together, under the moonlight, far away from land, with no sound but the wind beating the sails and the water lapping at the ship’s hull, and it felt like they were the only two people in the world. And if that were true, Jeongguk wouldn’t have minded.

The rest of their passage went on swimmingly, and without event. Jimin didn’t mention the Shadows again (he must have sensed Jeongguk’s uneasiness), or religion, or anything profound; but only talked about trivial things. Taehyung didn’t cry again, but only smiled. As he always did.

 

*****

 

Upon their arrival at Volantis, Taehyung had hopped off onto the docks with such excitement that Jeongguk worried he might hurt himself. The harbour of Volantis was not like that of King’s Landing. No, from the first impression, Jeongguk could already tell that this old, great city was already vastly different to King’s Landing.

There was an odd serenity and gracefulness in everything; in the boats tied to the docks, the way they swayed gently in the soft breeze; in the fishermen with fish tattoos on their face (Taehyung had told Jeongguk that in Volantis, slaves had tattoos on their faces so you knew what they were without talking to them) and the way they pulled in their haul without a word or a grunt; in the young girl selling oysters along the docks with a voice as clear and bright as the blue sky above them. It was serene, quiet, gentle—but in a way that felt restricted in order to be so. King’s Landing was noisy, and dirty, and a mess in comparison, but Jeongguk could now see why Taehyung saw freedom in it.

Jimin only stayed with them for a short while after they had come off the ship, before parting ways to head towards the Temple, where he was to congregate with the other red priests and priestesses. It was not yet Jeongguk’s time, he had said, first it was his time, Jimin had said, and then he had smiled and told Taehyung he would likely be back by the morning. Since Jimin had brought nothing with him except the clothes he had on his back, he didn’t require anything to be taken back to Taehyung’s parent’s home (for that was where the three men were arranged to stay).

As Taehyung and Jeongguk continued through the city (Taehyung still remembered it easily despite not having returned in years), Jeongguk discovered that the rest of it was much the same as it had been at the docks. Every now and then when they passed through a poorer district, things were a little more lively, a little less controlled, a little more like King’s Landing, but overall, everything was much the same as it had been at the docks.

Beautifully subtle, it seemed, as Jeongguk was now eyeing the elegant architecture of the larger than life buildings they were walking past, with golden decorations crawling up the walls like vines. Beautifully subtle, it seemed, as Jeongguk watched rich noblewomen in their fancy silks and painted faces with powdered blush dusting their cheeks and thin black lines outlining their eyes, their hair tumbling down their chest in straight waterfalls, glistening in the light—looking so untouchable, so far away in their quiet distance, though they walked close beside Jeongguk as they passed him; they indeed felt very distant. Beautifully subtle, it seemed, and subtly strange.

Jeongguk wondered how someone as carefree, as lively, as positively radiant as Taehyung could have come from a place like this. Comparing those noblewomen to him now, Taehyung was full of colour, yes, just as they were, but naturally so, he was. His sandy brown hair didn’t frame his face elegantly like a waterfall, but there was a softness to it that made it seem touchable rather than untouchable. Perhaps Taehyung was right to leave this place behind; perhaps he knew it was not his place. Jeongguk wondered what he would have been like if he had stayed. Like a plant perhaps, a plant that had been moved into the wrong sort of soil, and, lacking something vital, would begin to wilt.

But that was the city. When they reached Taehyung’s childhood home, the feeling was very different, and Jeongguk knew that this was where Taehyung had grown up. This place raised Taehyung. This place was not like the city. They had climbed up a small flight of stairs, and were met at the top with wide open gates, and the gates had real vines growing on them, not false golden ones made for aesthetics; and the real vines had small yellow flowers growing between the large, vibrantly green leaves. And all the green tendrils were coiling up, up, up towards the sun, twisting and twirling around the white bars of the gate.

And when they passed through, there was more life, more beauty that awaited them. More shrubbery and flowers, and slaves were tending to them, watering them, but they were laughing, and chattering together; Jeongguk would not have known they were slaves if not for the tattoos on their faces.

Even the path they walked on was paved with a warm coloured, light brown type of stone, and some dark brown, and some red here and there, there was no strict organization between the stones; unlike when they walked through the city, and they walked across nothing but white paths, white and grey, strictly those colours only. This was where Taehyung had come from, Jeongguk thought with an understanding, this was where his warmth had come from. For in every sense of the word, this place was so irrevocably, so genuinely, so whole-heartedly warm.

And when Jeongguk met Taehyung’s parents, it made sense for their home to be like that, as they were the personification of those qualities, just like Taehyung was. They greeted Jeongguk with open arms and welcoming smiles, and they greeted Taehyung with joyous tears that they didn’t try to hold back.

Taehyung cried too, but thankfully, not in the same way he had done on the ship—and this time he didn’t need Jeongguk to hold him, as he had his mother wrapped around him, embracing him with a mother’s love that, for a moment, made Jeongguk miss his own mother back at Winterfell (which meant a lot, as Jeongguk was not usually the type to miss anyone).

His father noticed the elephant pin Taehyung had stuck to the collar of his coat, and made a comment on it, and chuckled fondly, and Taehyung grinned. Their fluffy white dog came running up to Taehyung, and Taehyung scooped the dog up in his arms and let it lick his face.

Jeongguk felt like he was seeing something far too personal, then, like someone looking in through a window at a happy family in which he did not belong—But at that moment, as if he had read his mind, Taehyung pulled Jeongguk in closer by grabbing his wrist, and draped an arm over Jeongguk’s shoulder, and Taehyung’s mother said, ‘You’ll have to introduce him to your brother and sister!’ in a cheery tone, and Jeongguk didn’t feel like such an outsider.

The two younger siblings came running into the main living space the moment they had been told their older brother had returned. Once their tears were done, and they were calm enough (though still excited, Jeongguk could see, in the way their eyes darted around so quickly), Taehyung introduced Jeongguk.

Jeongguk was nervous again for some reason. Taehyung must have felt it in the light, accidental brush his hand made against Jeongguk’s when they stood beside each other—there must have been some spark of anxiousness there that Taehyung read, because he, in that moment, while he was looking down at his brother and sister with a smile, he grasped Jeongguk’s hand with his own and said, “This is Jeongguk. He’s a bit shy, but he’s very important to me, so treat him nicely, okay?”

They were finishing up with supper now, but Jeongguk could still feel the sensation of Taehyung’s hand against the skin of his own, and the burning of his cheeks from when it happened—though he prayed that they would have returned to normal by now. When he looked across the table at Taehyung, cleaning the last of his plate with a chunk of bread, wiping the last bits of soup up with it, and eating it, and then licking his fingers without a care in the world—There was a strange attraction in Taehyung, Jeongguk realized, though it was an unsettling, embarrassing realization; the type that made him widen his eyes at himself, and tear them away from Taehyung to instead stare determinedly into his own empty plate.

He felt his cheeks burning again. What had gotten into him? All this, because someone had held his hand? It was surely nothing but an innocent gesture on Taehyung’s part, Jeongguk told himself, trying to reason with himself. And so he sat there with that internal struggle going on, while Taehyung, completely unaware, discussed the past few years of his life with his parents in his animated, enthusiastic, yet undeniably charming way.

“Are you alright?” Taehyung’s sister asked with a concerned voice, leaning her head forward so that she might be in eyesight of Jeongguk. She had been seated next to Jeongguk by Taehyung, perhaps in an effort to become better acquainted. His sister did seem to have a way around her that made one easy to befriend, with her brown doe eyes and gentle features. “Did you not like the food? We heard that sometimes foreign food can be too new to those who aren’t used to it, so mother made sure the cooks did something simple.”

“N- No, the food was nice—“ Jeongguk stuttered, not having expected anyone to notice him in that vulnerable moment. He tried to control himself, but he only felt more embarrassed at being caught out blushing. “I liked the—the uh, the spices.”

“Me too! Spicy dishes are my favourite!” Taehyung’s sister, who Jeongguk now remembered was called Seonmi, smiled wide, and Jeongguk could see a part of Taehyung in her smile. She was very pretty, but also very young, a good few years younger than Jeongguk, so he did not feel as nervous around her as he might have if she were closer to his own age. But she had the natural sort of beauty about her that Jeongguk knew was only going to become even more enchanting as she grew into it, and he could tell why Taehyung felt protective over her. “… But you look as red as a tomato. Even your ears! Are you sure you wouldn’t like some water?”

Thankfully, she was under the impression he was red because of the spicy soup. Jeongguk thought it best to humour that assumption. “Uh—Yes, please. Thank you.”

She smiled as she poured him a glass from the jug of water at the centre of the table, and Jeongguk bowed his head a little to show his gratitude, and the heat in his cheeks finally started to subside.

After supper had all been done and cleaned up, Taehyung’s parents thought it best to get the two men settled into the rooms they’d be staying in for the rest of their visit. Separate rooms. Though, Jeongguk wasn’t sure why he expected anything different—perhaps the last time he and Taehyung stayed at the same place overnight left a lasting impression on him subconsciously. But this time the estate had plenty of rooms and plenty of space that they needn’t share the same sleeping chambers.

Jeongguk went to bed that night, looking through the open window to his room, wondering if Taehyung was doing the same with the window in his own room, and if so, what was he thinking about? Jeongguk had raised his hand in front of him, looked at it, and wondered, was Taehyung thinking about the moment they held hands, like Jeongguk was? Jeongguk turned over, away from the window to stare into the dark side of the room, and as he closed his eyes, he wondered; why can I not think of anything else but Taehyung?

And it took him a long time to fall asleep that night, because all he could think of was a chant. Taehyung, Taehyung, Taehyung; with his mind reliving the time he’d spent with the knight, analysing every word, every small, accidental touch, and wondering if any of it meant anything. Wondering if he had meant to see something in the little things, and realize if anything was there.

 

*****

 

The following week passed, and Jeongguk had by now pushed the thoughts about the hand holding incident into the far corners of his mind, and focused on the present instead. Taehyung didn’t make a move to hold Jeongguk’s hand again after that one time, so Jeongguk had concluded it must have just been something to do with introducing him to his siblings, maybe some kind of Volantene custom? It sounded ridiculous, but Jeongguk could not come up with a better explanation.

Perhaps he was thinking too much about something so little. Perhaps Taehyung wasn’t even thinking about it at all. It certainly didn’t seem like it, as he went on enjoying his time in his homecity, like he had not a care in the world.

But that was Taehyung, of course. He enjoyed life immensely. It was in his nature to enjoy. He dragged Jeongguk along with him to all sorts of places within Volantis, just like he had done in King’s Landing, and just like in King’s Landing, he saw magic and wonder in everything; while Jeongguk saw magic and wonder in Taehyung. When Taehyung would stare in awe at the fire breathers and the sword swallowers in the market square, Jeongguk would stare in awe of Taehyung. When Taehyung’s eyes glittered with stars as he looked at jars of vibrant liquids that changed colour in a certain light, Jeongguk’s eyes glittered with stars as he looked at Taehyung. He was so good. So purely, and wholly good, Jeongguk thought. There was no bitterness in him, not like the ‘good men’ who forced their moral virtues onto others as they sat on their righteous high horses. No, Taehyung was just… good, without reason. And he enjoyed practically everything, and Jeongguk was completely captivated by him.

Today, they had spent a good part of the evening at a brothel. Not doing what men usually came to do at a brothel, in fact far from it. Taehyung was showing Jeongguk another past time he liked to enjoy; paying the whores of a brothel to do nothing but sit and play board games with him, or exchange stories, or sing for him, or do whatever they liked really, for the time that he bought. ‘They so rarely get to do what they want to do,’ Taehyung had told Jeongguk, ‘You should see how bright they shine when they’re allowed’.

And indeed, the whores, with the tears tattooed below their eyes (as was the slave tattoo for whores) laughed freely, smiled dazzlingly and sung sweetly that evening. And it was not in the fake sort of happiness that they were paid to emulate by the men who bought them for a night. But real happiness. And it made Taehyung happy to see it, too. And so, it made Jeongguk happy. But it also made Jeongguk question how someone like Taehyung was even real, in such a harsh world like the one they lived in.

Here he sat, amongst whores, in one of the grimiest of environments, where terrible things were not unlikely to happen on a daily basis; here he sat, and made it feel like a home, radiated warmth and happiness so much that it was contagious to those around him. How did someone like that exist? How had the world not trampled out such a pure light?

A week had passed, and Jeongguk had not thought about the hand holding incident, that much was true. But for the entire week, he had not been able to keep his thoughts off of Taehyung. And that night, after spending the day at the brothels, Jeongguk realized why.

Taehyung was standing by the hearth, talking in that deep, soulful voice that made everything he said sound like a caress. His parents had asked what he got up to during the day, and he had told them in full detail, and they didn’t appear surprised in the slightest.

“Won’t you sing us to sleep, like you used to, brother?” Seonmi had asked in a voice too sweet to deny, after their parents had gone to bed and it was just the four of them left. She and the little brother, Kyuhwan, of whom could not have been older than eight, were sprawled out on the thick rug across the floor, looking up at their older brother with wide, hopeful eyes. Taehyung seemed obviously shy about singing, especially since Jeongguk was now looking at him with a shocked expression so to silently say ‘You never told me you sang’. But he couldn’t say no to his little sister, not when she asked in such a sweet voice.

“Alright, but it’s been a while so don’t laugh, or else I’ll tickle you,” Taehyung eyed the two younger siblings, and pointed at them, and they giggled and promised they wouldn’t. And then he turned to Jeongguk, and pointed. “You too!”

Jeongguk raised both his hands in surrender to Taehyung’s demands, with a slight smile tugging at his lips. When Taehyung put it like that, Jeongguk half expected him to belt out a song completely off-key and have the rest of them struggle at not laughing. But when Taehyung was satisfied enough with their agreement to his terms, and he cleared his throat, and stood there by the fire, and begun to sing, Jeongguk found that his expectation could not have been more wrong.

It was beautiful. It was in Valyrian, and Jeongguk couldn’t understand a thing, but it was beautiful. If Taehyung’s words when he talked were a caress, then his words when he sung were much more. Taehyung sung an entire song, and it was long, with quite a few verses, and Jeongguk sat, watching him in a trance that only broke when Taehyung stopped singing.

And when it broke, Jeongguk sat there, staring at Taehyung, his voice still lingering in Jeongguk’s ears after he had finished, and he realized why he had been so fascinated by the man by the fire with the deep voice and the sun-kissed skin, he realized the truth of it: He was falling in love. He was falling in love, deeply, and uncontrollably, with Taehyung.

“I should like to hear you sing one day,” Taehyung said as they each carried one of the younger siblings to bed; Seonmi asleep in Taehyung’s arms and Kyuhwan asleep in Jeongguk’s.

“No, you should not,” Jeongguk replied as they put the younger siblings in their beds. Taehyung laughed softly, so as not to wake them.

“As an authority on myself, I’d have to disagree,” Taehyung smiled as they stood outside the younger sibling’s rooms, in the dark hallway lit by nothing but the rays of moonlight streaming through the windows.

“As an authority on myself, and my singing abilities, I’d have to disagree with your disagreement.” Jeongguk smiled back.

“What if I like bad singers, then?” Taehyung stared at Jeongguk.

“Then I question your tastes.” Jeongguk stared back.

“What kind of taste should I have, then?”

They stared at each other.

The air felt heavy then; the sort of heaviness that hung before a storm. The heavy type of atmosphere filled with electricity that could turn into something more powerful, like lightning, if only a spark happened to set it off.

But then they heard the faint sound of a door opening, and closing, and the mood evaporated instantly, replaced by one of alertness at the sound—an intruder? A thought that evidently ran through both their minds, as they rushed to the end of the hallway in quick, but quiet steps. They peeked around the corner, craning their necks to see who had come through the main door of the house.

It was a man, but it was too dark to discern any features. Jeongguk and Taehyung looked at each other, and through some silent agreement, they both nodded, and then both jumped out from the hallway and grabbed the stranger—Jeongguk by his arms and Taehyung by the collar of his robes—

“—Whoa, whoa whoa!” The stranger exclaimed, in a voice all too familiar, and as the moonlight settled properly on the stranger’s face, he was no longer a stranger, but instead… became Jimin. “You’re not that angry at me for spending so much time away, are you?”

Taehyung’s eyes widened, and then he laughed and let go of Jimin’s collar, but didn’t back off without ruffling a hand through the shorter man’s red hair. “You scared us!”

Us?” Jimin questioned, then turned around after Jeongguk had let go of his arms. “What are you two doing up this late, hanging around in the darkness like this, anyway? No candles? Playing games with no candles, perhaps? I wonder, what kind of games can two play in the darkness without candles…”

“You’ve only just come back and you’re already teasing!” Taehyung poked Jimin’s shoulder, knocking him back slightly, and Jimin chuckled. “I thought you’d be back days ago.”

“I thought so too, but turns out I had a lot of catching up to do with the others. But what does it matter, I’m here now aren’t I?” Jimin smiled and outstretched his arms, and Taehyung pulled him in for a hug like they hadn’t seen each other in years (when truly it had only been a week). Jimin turned his attention back to Jeongguk, then. “And you. I’m to bring you to the Temple tomorrow, so whatever you two were doing…” His eyes switch slowly between Jeongguk and Taehyung with a sense of knowing, “… You’d best be done with it, so you can get some rest before we head there.”

Jeongguk had been so distracted by his growing feelings for Taehyung, and his acknowledgment for them, that he had practically forgotten about the real reason they had come to Volantis; to help him get a better control of his Sight by meeting with the High Priestess of R’hllor.

He decided then that for the rest of his stay in Volantis, it would be best if he focused all his attention on the real priority at hand. It would be a hard task, especially for a young man who had just realized he was falling in love, but Namjoon’s life was in his hands, and there was no other choice. Jeongguk willed his feelings into suppression, with a determination, and a sense of responsibility that he owed his King. That night, he didn’t think of Taehyung before he slept, but instead, thought of Namjoon, and the obsidian dagger, and the assassin shrouded in darkness.

 

*****

 

Taehyung was looking at Jeongguk differently that morning when they broke their fast, at least Jeongguk thought so—perhaps he was just trying to see little things where they weren’t truly there. But he had felt like Taehyung’s gaze would linger on him longer than usual (Jeongguk could feel it on him for Taehyung was not always subtle in his stares), and it made Jeongguk feel both shy and satisfied at the same time. Until he realized he was to be taken to the Temple today, and he was once again letting Taehyung take priority over his thoughts.

So, just as he did yesterday, he forced Taehyung out of his mind, and when Jimin told Taehyung that he wasn’t to come with them to the Temple, Jeongguk could only nod in agreement at the decision—which made Taehyung’s mouth fall agape with a sense of being betrayed by his two best friends. He tried to persuade Jimin to let him tag along, but Jimin was unmoving on his decision, and Jeongguk was silently grateful for it. He did not need Taehyung disrupting his thoughts at this very crucial moment in time.

So they left, Jimin and Jeongguk, for the Temple of the Lord of Light, and Taehyung watched them leave like a wounded puppy. It’s for the best, Jeongguk told himself, as he could feel guilt rising in his stomach, having a weakness for that exaggeratedly sad look in Taehyung’s eyes. He’ll forget all about it when we get back later.

Not a word was exchanged between Jimin and Jeongguk as they walked through the city. It was as if they knew the dire situation that had been thrust upon them, and there was a silent understanding that didn’t need words. Jeongguk had distrusted Jimin so fervently in the past, and even now he sometimes felt unsettled by something Jimin said every so often, but mostly, as they walked side by side in silence, they did so whilst sharing the same heavy burden upon both their shoulders. The burden of knowing. Through that burden, Jeongguk and Jimin related to each other in a way none of the others could.

Upon reaching the temple, Jeongguk was astounded by a factor of things: the sheer size of it, for it was three times the size of the Great Sept in King’s Landing, and its towers reached high up into the sky in ways Jeongguk had not thought humanly possible to construct; the architecture of it, for each tower was connected to one another through bridges and pillars, and it looked like the entire temple was chiselled from one very large rock; the colour of it, for it appeared like it had been fire once, then turned to stone afterwards, with the walls a mixture of red, and orange, and gold and yellow, and all blended into each other like clouds; and the army protecting it, for there stood hundreds, possibly thousands of armed slave soldiers outside the walls, and upon the towers and bridges, and Jimin had turned to Jeongguk and said ‘The Fiery Hand’ as the army’s name when Jimin noticed Jeongguk staring.

Inside the temple they were greeted by a red priestess by the name of Seulgi; who was very beautiful with her cat-like eyes and high cheekbones, and the porcelain look of her skin that contrasted against the jet black of her hair (besides the tips which looked as if they had been dipped in red), and her prettiness made Jeongguk fall silent, as he often did around pretty girls.

But it was no matter, for she did not speak to Jeongguk at all, but only to Jimin. In fact it was like Jeongguk didn’t even exist to her. She had smiled wide upon seeing Jimin, the kind of smile reserved only for long lost friends; genuine, and with a sense of unsaid ‘I had missed your absence’ that made the smile almost sad.

The two spoke in Valyrian as they walked through the seemingly endless halls, with Jeongguk behind feeling quite out of place. Every now and then Seulgi would lean forward and a musical sort of laugh would escape her lips, a laugh that echoed slightly in the empty halls like wind chimes, and one of her hands would cover her mouth to hide it, as if it was some crime to laugh so joyfully in the temple.

Jimin would chuckle, too, his eyes turning into smiles of their own at the sight of her, and Jeongguk wondered if the two had once been in love. Perhaps they still were. Or perhaps what Jeongguk was seeing was only a ghost of their past together, brought back to life just for now, just for the short time Jimin was to be back in Volantis. Jeongguk figured it was more likely the latter, for after every bout of laughter, Seulgi would fall into a gentle silence, and they would look at each other with a fond sort sorrow for what used to be, and an acceptance of what could no longer be.

Seulgi escorted them all the way to a very large chamber, with many steps, and upon the top of the steps stood a woman dressed all in red; terrible, terrible red. Her back was turned to them, showcasing her black hair that streamed down her back in that same untouchable way the Volantene noblewomen’s hair did. Seulgi parted with them then, and Jimin and Jeongguk began their journey up the steps; Jimin, serenely and with confidence of having done it many times before, and Jeongguk with caution but also confidence, of having never done it before but not wanting to show weakness.

“Jimin,” the High Priestess said in a voice that travelled the entire room. It was smooth, like silk, against Jeongguk’s ears, but it made him shiver. “I hope you have been behaving well since we last spoke.”

“I’ve been feeling very well, Gayoon” Jimin said in answer, stopping in his steps, and so Jeongguk also stopped.

“That’s not quite the same thing,” she turned around, and Jeongguk felt as if he’d been struck with the force of a blunt weapon with how unearthly her beauty was. The sort of otherworldly beauty that made a man question whether he was really seeing a human in front of him, or if it was some trick being played by the Gods to tempt him into doing something terrible, or perhaps that she was a Goddess herself. Jeongguk bit his own tongue when her eyes flickered on him for only a second, before returning to Jimin, who stood straight and seemed completely unfazed. “In fact, the two things rarely go together.”

She was speaking the common tongue rather than Valyrian, as if she meant for Jeongguk to hear what she was saying even though she was not speaking directly to him. Now, she was walking down the steps to meet them halfway, and upon having closed the distance, she stood one step above them; making her the same height. Her red dress flowed around her, ebbing in the non-existent breeze of the chamber, like water, and as she lifted a hand, having now stood in front of Jeongguk, to cup his cheek, the red fabric that hung from her pale arms rippled from the movement.

Jeongguk was frozen. She leaned in, so close to Jeongguk that their noses almost touched, and it took all of Jeongguk’s power not to jump away—because Jimin’s eyes were on him, and they said ‘do not move’. So he didn’t. And the High Priestess stayed close to Jeongguk for what seemed like forever, her eyes staring into his, making him feel like his soul, his entire being, was being stretched out like a piece of thin fabric being stretched out over a rock, all for her to examine every intricate little detail of him, every strand and every thread of him, under her close scrutiny.

Finally, she pulled away with a small gasp, as if she’d been in a trance, and Jeongguk let out a breath of air he had been holding as well, and he felt that from now on, Taehyung’s searching gazes would be nothing compared to what he had just experienced. Silence followed. For quite a while, in fact, and Jimin was forced to break it, as if he worried the High Priestess had forgotten they were there. “… Can you help him?”

“I can,” she answered simply, her back once again turned to them, so they could not see her expression, but it appeared she had her head tilted slightly towards the ground, staring at the steps. Jeongguk felt himself perk up at her words, before she shattered his hopes just as quickly. “But I will not.”

“—Why?” Jeongguk had heard himself say in a personally offended tone before he even realized, and he instantly regretted it—As the High Priestess turned around suddenly to stare him down with eyes so sharp he felt they were cutting his skin. Jeongguk glanced sideways at Jimin, as if asking for help, but Jimin only stared with wide eyes as well, unsure as to what was going to happen and knowing Jeongguk had overstepped some boundary.

Why?” the High Priestess Gayoon echoed, leaning in close again and making Jeongguk feel very small because of it. It was silent for too long, before she spoke again. “… Some things are not meant to be changed. I would have thought you to know this fact better than anyone.”

She burned him with her hard, fiery gaze for a few moments after what she had said—not literally, but Jeongguk felt so wounded he may as well have been burnt—before she backed away, taking a step back onto a higher rung of the stairs. Her eyes remained on the two of them, looking down at them now. And then she spoke, in her silky, low voice that had years of wisdom, years beyond whatever age she appeared to be.

“There will come the day of reckoning, where winter will come for all of us. It will sweep across all lands and all seas, and death will come with it. The ice winds will freeze oceans, sailors will die stranded in their ships, the summer isles will be buried in snows that fall a hundred feet deep. Mothers will smother their newborn babes rather than see them face a worse fate than death. For everything the winter takes will not be allowed to leave this world in peace, but will join the army of the dead.”

“There is only one who can stop them. Only one who can stop the White Walkers. He who is dead while he is living, and alive when he is dead. He, who like the moon, will only rise once the sun sets. Without the moon’s light when the long night comes… There will be only eternal darkness and never-ending fear, and the world will meet its end.”

“This is how things must be. It is the prophecy.” She finished, and Jeongguk felt his legs go weak underneath him, but he didn’t allow himself to fall. Jimin, however, seemed as he did before, unfazed by her words, like he’d heard them countless times before, like it was already common knowledge to him. “You have seen it too, have you not? You have seen the ice taking over the world.”

She was speaking directly to Jeongguk again, and again, he felt unable to move or speak, but could only nod. He didn’t know how she had known such information about him, but he didn’t bother to question it, or her powers. Jeongguk was not a weak man, not by any means, but the sort of powers, the sort of suffocating aura that surrounded the High Priestess was unlike anything he had experienced before.

“Some things should not be changed until the time is right.” With those words, she saw fit to leave them, turning around and beginning to walk back up the steps—But Jimin stopped her, moving forward and calling out with a question that must have been on the tip of his tongue for quite a while, and he would not have left without it being answered.

“Wait—Gayoon,” the High Priestess stopped, but did not turn around. Jimin continued. “The Moon. He is the Sword of Light? The Lord of Light’s chosen prince? The one prophecied to bring peace and light to the world? They are the same?”

“No,” she answered in the same simplicity she had done before, still without looking at either of them. “But they need each other. The prophecies are intertwined. The Moon will save the world from darkness, but only the Sword of Light can bring peace and keep the darkness at bay. You know what needs to be done.”

And so she climbed back up the steps, and stood at the top, and spoke not another word to Jimin or Jeongguk, and the meeting was over. It was a failure, Jeongguk had thought to himself with a heavy heart as they left the temple. They had come to better Jeongguk’s Sight, but achieved nothing, walked away with nothing but riddles. Jeongguk hated riddles. How could he save the King’s life with riddles? How could he see the assassin’s face with riddles? ‘They aren’t riddles’, Jimin had corrected as they walked back to the estate, ‘They’re prophecies’.

Riddles, prophecies, the Sight; Jeongguk had just about had enough of all of them. What good were they if one couldn’t understand them? If one couldn’t change them? That night he ate with a furrowed brow, and he sat by the fire with a furrowed brow even after everyone had gone to sleep, for he was unbelievably frustrated by it all. He hadn’t even thought of Taehyung once since returning.

“We’re to be leaving for King’s Landing tomorrow,” Taehyung opened at an attempt at casual conversation, moving from where he was standing by the hearth to instead sit beside Jeongguk on the rug.

“I know,” Jeongguk said, and it came out sharper than he meant. He felt guilty for it, but Taehyung didn’t flinch, he only stared at Jeongguk carefully. Jeongguk couldn’t help but feel sour at the thought; they were leaving for King’s Landing tomorrow, and what did Jeongguk have to bring back? Nothing. Namjoon was relying on Jeongguk to come back with answers. And Jeongguk had failed.

“… It’s not your fault.” Taehyung said as if he knew exactly what troubled thoughts were plaguing Jeongguk’s mind. Jeongguk wasn’t surprised at his intuition anymore, he simply stared into the fire, and his brow furrowed some more as it reminded him about the fire temple.

“It is. If I was stronger, if I had more control over it—“

“Jeongguk.”

Taehyung, for the first time since they’d first come to Volantis, put his hand on Jeongguk’s, and Jeongguk, for the first time since he had sat down on that rug, turned his eyes away from the fire. He looked at Taehyung now, properly, with full attention. He looked at how the flames of the fire and the shadows of the night danced in little movements across Taehyung’s bronze skin. He looked at how his eyes shimmered in their complexity of emotions while they looked back into Jeongguk’s. He looked at how his lips moved.

“You can’t do everything on your own. You’re only human.”

It was the words he didn’t know he needed to hear until he heard them. You’re only human. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You’re only human. Stop trying to do everything by yourself. You’re only human. Stop trying to control your feelings. You’re only human. You’re only human.

And then Taehyung leaned in and kissed Jeongguk on the lips.

And the whole world might have turned upside down and Jeongguk wouldn’t have known. It was only him, and Taehyung in existence for that moment. No prophecies, no assassins, nothing, but the two of them, and the kiss. Jeongguk’s mind was put completely at ease, and it was a peace of mind he had never felt before, a clarity of having nothing else in his thoughts but the feel of Taehyung’s lips against his; gentle, and confiding. You’re not alone, they said.

Taehyung had pulled away soon after, and they had looked at each other meaningfully, before Jeongguk once again returned his eyes to the fire, and Taehyung squeezed Jeongguk’s hand in his. Both of them knew that now was not the time to be getting carried away with each other, even though they both so badly wanted to. So badly did Jeongguk want to douse the fire, sweep Taehyung up in his arms and laugh and joke and tease each other all the way to a bed chamber. Or kiss him again, here, in front of the fire, lay him down on the rug and just kiss him.

But Jeongguk kept his eyes on the fire, his thoughts on the King, and the assassin, and the obsidian blade, but now with the fact that he was still human, and he was not alone, and Taehyung did not let go of his hand.

The next day, as they were getting aboard the ship back to King’s Landing, after Taehyung had said his teary goodbyes and Jeongguk had hugged Taehyung’s family with a sense of gratitude more profound than just for letting him stay at their home, but for bringing Taehyung into the world like he was (he hoped they could sense that in the way he hugged them), Jeongguk’s heart was a little less heavy.

He was still troubled with thoughts of how exactly he was going to save the King, but as he looked at Taehyung, talking again with the ship’s captain in his animatedly excited way, and at Jimin, who looked at Jeongguk with his knowing smile (which seemed even more knowing this time than it had been previously), Jeongguk knew that for once, he was not alone.