The market is bustling with noises; voices competing with the rumbling of hooves and wheels cutting through the crowd. Jimin’s moving quickly, easing his way forward by sliding between still bodies hovering around the colorful shops of the bazaar, tents lined up along the alleyways.
It will continue like this for a fortnight, and then the caravans will pack their goods and make the trek back to the larger cities only to set out again. They make the rounds of the full country, a small region along the southern coast of the continent.
Lieryia — this is Jimin’s home.
His feet beat against the uneven ground, a patchwork of beige flatstones and rare flashes of green grass. Around the edges of his vision is greens, blues, yellows and reds; in Lieryia, the colors are always heavily saturated, meant to mimic the corals and lives of the deep waters that surrounds it.
Jimin himself, of humble birth, is dressed in purple. White is reserved for royalty, the first year after birth, and funerals — it is the color of Mother Serpent, the ultimate depiction of the circle of life and creation. More than any other divine spirits, she is worshipped within the borders of his heartland.
He would have continued straight on toward the shore if it wasn’t for a familiar face appearing, a man his age suddenly grabbing onto his arm. Jimin stops, turning to face him and his face lights up.
“Hyungwon!” And then they’re hugging, arms wrapped tightly around each other because it’s been months since they last met. As with many of the people Jimin knows, they’re constantly traveling, often only returning to Jimin’s hometown during the time of the bazaar. Hyungwon is one of them, a resident of the northern part of the country.
“Jimin, it’s been too long,” Hyungwon sing-songs, palms cupping Jimin’s face. “You haven’t grown an inch, it’s like no time passed at all for you.” Jimin slaps his palm against the other man’s shoulder and then wriggles out of his grip, linking their arms together.
“You’re still as awful, I can tell,” he replies, showing his nose in the air in mock hurt. “Walk me down to the shore, you cruel, twisted being.”
Hyungwon snickers but continues by his side, eyes watching the market around them in reminiscence. Every year since they were children they’d meet up during the bazaar, keeping contact through letters during their months apart. The letters are far more rare now then they were before, but every time they meet it’s like the distance between them never existed at all.
The further away from the core of Jimin’s hometown they get, the more the market thins out. At the edge lies the seaport, dozens of boats bobbing on the water surface. Bridges of chipped, red wood seem to grow out of the sand as they curve around each other in half-circles, allowing the merchants and seafarers to avoid getting stuck in the heavy sand of their beaches by docking further away from land.
Lanterns are tied to posts along the edges of the platforms, heavy ropes attached to thick metal rings. It looks prettier than ever with the gentle breeze against the sails and the constant shuffle of people.
He has somewhere to be, and so does Hyungwon, but they promise to meet up again. Jimin blows him a kiss and Hyungwon pretends to swoon as he walks away, his figure soon swallowed by the crowd of sailors heading up towards the more crowded area of the bazaar.
Jimin jogs along the sand until he reaches one of the platforms further right from where he first arrived, jumping up onto the platform with too much spring in his step, ungracefully landing on the heated wood. He makes a face when he hears Yoongi laugh.
There, on their small fisherboat, Yoongi’s lying down on the worn-out hammock that he added on years ago. The sturdy fabric’s been bleached by the sun, now a faint pinkish-red. Yoongi has always preferred the quiet, so Jimin isn’t surprised to find him here already during the seasonal market.
Jimin throws his hands in the air, waving exaggeratedly and he knows Yoongi is smiling, even if his face is mostly hidden by a wide-brimmed hat woven from straw. They sell quickly and for little to none, but they’re one of the few things that can save a face from the harsh midday sun.
“Did you buy anything?” Yoongi takes the hat off, moving his legs off the side of the hammock so that they’re dangling, still seated comfortably.
Jimin raises the fabric bag in his hands, moving it from side to side to show it off. “I got some food.”
Yoongi hums, holding his hand out without a word, and Jimin tosses the bag in his face. The older man flails, almost falling onto the deck of the boat. Jimin grins at him afterwards, then moves closer as Yoongi looks through the bag. There’s the fish-candy Jimin’s so fond of, sweet with shrimp and honey, molded of clear paste.
Jimin’s glad he had made a few extra coins at the inn just a few days earlier. On the rare occasions they get him to join in the drunken singing, he’ll earn a little more; sometimes he’s even allowed up stage.
A little more time passes as Yoongi moves his hand inside the bag, briefly looking at Jimin’s other purchases.
“And this!” Jimin exclaims, snatching something from the Yoongi’s hand, holding it up to be admired. It’s an ankle chain made of thin, connected circles of wood and small, red crystals. The gems in and of themselves hold no value other than aesthetic appeal, but Jimin doesn’t mind. He’s always been fond of jewelry, gold attached to his ears in near excess.
“Can never get enough, can you?” Yoongi accuses him, but his tone is teasing, not reprimanding. Jimin smiles back at him, sinking down into the hammock while leaning back. His body folds with the fabric, only his calves dangling over the edge.
“Nope,” he replies, eyes closing to feel the breeze and the sun. When their arms brush together, Yoongi’s skin is warm. “When are we heading out tonight?”
“I think we should leave as soon as the sun’s halfway down the horizon. I already packed the nets and the lights, but we’ll have to stop by the market to grab some more fish food. And we’ll have to fill up the barrels again.” Yoongi curls up too, and Jimin takes the opportunity to playfully shove him, the hammock rocking with their weight. Yoongi shoves back and Jimin snickers, rubbing his feet together until his sandals fall off and land on the boat deck.
“I can go buy the fish bait if you fill up the barrels, and we can head out as soon as we’re done,” Jimin suggests instead, pulling one leg into the hammock so that he can tie his newly purchased chain around his ankle with the attached strings. It doesn’t clink the way royal jewelry does when woven together through gold, but sometimes he imagines what that would look like against his skin.
“I’ll take you up on the first part, but no way we’re leaving this early. It’s barely past noon. Run off to get some bait and I’ll do the heavy work.”
Yoongi knows how much he loves wandering the market, so he doesn’t protest. He also knows that there’s no other time of the year that grants Jimin as much time at the sea as the bazaar season, when they’ll glide out way past the shoreline and lay in wait for the glowing school of Plius.
It’s a type of fish that only migrates into Lieryian waters at the closing of the year, surfacing away from the coastline to feed on the newly hatched swarms of nightflies. They’re sought after by merchants and collectors alike, known for giving off a pale light beneath water, often thought of as a more physical representation of Mother Serpent. Jimin is not the only one to consider them to be one of the water’s many wonders.
Yoongi waves at him. “Shoo.”
Jimin makes a face at him, sliding out of the hammock and sliding his sandals back onto his feet hurriedly so that the heated wooden deck won’t burn the soles of his feet. There’s a skip to his step as he spins around, almost dancing, to face Yoongi again. “See you soon, then!”
“Even if you hurry back we’re not leaving until sundown!” Yoongi’s shouting after him.
And then he’s off, his steps slightly awkward until he works up a pace. Jimin nearly tumbles into one of the men at the end of the connected bridges, stopping in his steps to nod his head in an apology, accompanied by an “I’m sorry!”
He glances upwards, sees tan skin and the light beige of his clothing. Blond hair, eyes soft and nearly black — he doesn’t look like he’s from the area, from the color of his hair to those of his clothes. The only hint of extravagance is in the blue gems strapped to his ears and wrists, almost excessive amounts of jewelry when coupled with his simple clothing.
The stranger smiles reassuringly at Jimin before continuing onward, seemingly heading towards Yoongi where he’s most likely drifting close to sleep. Jimin watches him for a few moments longer, then turns around and continues back towards the bazaar’s liveliness. By tomorrow, more ships should have arrived from further up the continent, bringing gifts from the northern countries. It’s a plethora of options that most of Lieryia never have the opportunity to discover for themselves, even in a merchant coast-city like the one Jimin now lives in. Traveling is hard on the mind and the body, not to mention the cost of it all. Most people live off the tourism and through bargains with the merchants that come to them, rather than leaving the city themselves.
Still… Jimin finds himself helplessly lured in by the large, delicate maps that are sold in several stands at the market. Ocean-pattern maps, continental maps and even down to maps of smaller regions; out of all of these, the ones that depict the oceans and seas in all of their glory fascinate him the most. Showing the flow of the water with small lines and arrows, mapping out safe travel-routes and showing the migration of certain fish species, they are the works of lifetimes by the hands of dedicated masters. When Jimin was a child, he had wanted that for himself. After that, it had been the dreams of being a dancer. Now, older in both body and ambitions, he thinks an artist’s life is well beyond him.
The bazaar begins with occasional shops, fabrics draped around the tops to shield the goods and the sellers from the sun. Jimin stops every now and then to take a closer look at something: a foreign musical instrument, intricate carvings made out of wood, painted artworks. The only constant is the heavy smell of food, and Jimin pops another piece of dried mango into his mouth to avoid the temptation of getting another portion of smoked fish. He’d be broke by the time he saw Yoongi if he gave in every time he saw something that intrigued him.
Maybe he could make Yoongi buy him food tomorrow, since he’d been working so hard. If their catch of Plius is good enough that night, then it shouldn’t be too difficult. Yoongi has always spoiled him the same way any elder brother would spoil a younger.
People greet him occasionally, men and women who frequent the inn or previous customers. There are only two people from their city that know how to capture Plius, and one of them is Jimin. Merchants are directed to Yoongi, but everyone knows that it is Jimin who makes the ocean calm enough for them to venture that far off shore in such a small boat. To take something from the ocean, you have to give something in return: Jimin sings the waters into peace, to the Plius fish, and in return he’s allowed to bring them back with him.
“Madame!” Jimin calls, waving gently while putting on his brightest smile. She’s a lady in her fifties, always dressed in deep greens and silver, embroidered scarves wrapped around her neck and torso. Her age has made her features as soft as her heart, still young but old enough to have seen their hometown grow large and bustling with activity and prosperity.
“Jimin!” She responds, ushering him closer by waving her fingers towards herself and then sweeping her hand over the glass jars that are lined up and organized in wooden boxes on top of her table. “Yoongi stopped by earlier to ask me to put a box away for you! Five sols and eight terras worth. I didn’t expect to see you so early though, on your toes about going offshore again, aren’t you?”
Jimin hums in agreement as he fishes his coin pouch out of the bag he carries over his shoulder. It was a gift given years ago — black with lotuses stitched carefully onto the fabric. Yoongi had picked it out after Jimin got his job at the inn. His fingertips drag through the coins, looking for the ones with hexagon holes placed in the center, then the ones with square ones. Madame tends to the other customers as he fishes out the appropriate amount. The coins clink against each other inside of his closed palm when he hands the money to Madame.
“Be safe out there, you two, night waters are not the same as the ones we see during day,” she mutters, bending down to pick up the box of fish bait that Yoongi had requested to be reserved for them. Jimin takes it from her with a polite, short bow. She sighs, rubbing her forehead where the sweat is forming.
“I know better than anyone, Madame,” Jimin insists, but she gives him a look he can’t read.
“Better than anyone, he says,” she shakes her head. “Yes, yes. But still, the greatest man can fall if he steps on a poisonous snake, no matter his size.”
“I won’t be stepping on any snakes, they’re not around these waters.”
Madame looks both worried and pleased. She’s a good lady, Jimin knows, but she has never been at sea. Ironic enough, since she sells most of the fish bait used by the local fishermen. It’s her children and her husband that leave land to catch the fish they sell, as well as collect the small animals used to make bait.
Children run eagerly, a small dog slipping right between Jimin’s legs to chase after the youngins. There’s a couple of local schools available for the children of his city, but today is the first day of the bazaar and everyone is participating, leaving the students with free time and new exciting discoveries to make. Jimin would run around too, but Yoongi could never catch up to him, falling asleep in the shade of his house once he’d given up.
Someone’s playing a string instrument along the street. Putting aside his bag and the wooden box of bait, Jimin does a spin once he approaches, bending down in the bowing style of traditional dancing. Fluid in a way that allows intricate movements of the fingers and feet to melt into larger twists of the body, azpora is the dance style that has represented Lieryia as a country since it gained its independence from Hertha. Jimin gently places his bag on the ground and rises from his bow, right leg stretched horizontally from behind his right foot. It’s the first stance: the initiative.
His grandmother taught his father, and his father taught him.
If Jimin had worn ceremonial robes, then it would have been more of a spectacle than his rigid fabrics can create; azporan garments are light and flowy, in turquoises and greens and dark blues to recreate the shifting colors of the water that surrounded them. Fish, lotus flowers and corals are embroidered depending on the wish of the dancer or the performance itself. It is a captivating style of dance that Jimin has loved for as long as he has worshipped the ocean. Here, in his motherland, the water is the mystique and the goddess that has granted them life.
His blood is singing and his feet feel lighter than ever as he moves, only briefly, making people stop and watch before continuing on. He relives the moments of his younger self learning the precise movements for Mother Serpent, one of the most well-known piece of azporan dance. It is the dance that takes a fledgling and makes a master.
When Jimin is weightless like this, he’s almost able to forget.
He comes to a final pose, palm facing the sun and the back of his other hand curved so that it rests against his lower back. The offering: it represents the waves crashing against shores, the most common ending to azpora, simple and without putting too much pressure on the feet.
When he rises, the musician grins broadly at him, and claps his hands. Jimin applauds as well, smiling gently back at him before handing him two coins.
“I didn’t know they taught azpora in this region!” The older man says, still clutching his instrument where it rests between his legs. “Very good, yes!” There’s a thickness to his accent, a lisp that’s more prominent in the northern shores of Lieryia, so Jimin assumes that he’s a traveler. He crouches down before the man after pulling his bag over his shoulder, bait-box in his hands.
“They don’t. I lived in the capital for a few years, so that’s where I learned it.” Jimin had accompanied his father at the age of thirteen, returning back to his hometown two years later — still a resident of the capital (his father remaining there), they do not get to meet as frequently as before. There, in the midst of large, extravagant buildings, Jimin had met Hoseok.
“I see, I see,” the musician nods heavily. “I won’t keep you any longer.”
When they part, Jimin’s heart is racing and his ankles are hurting, but the feeling of the beat carved into his muscles as an echo is too addicting to give up. He feels alive and utterly aware of every inch of his body in a way he almost never does anymore. Jimin feels his mood threatening to turn sullen and ups his pace, heading back to Yoongi for another dose of laughter.
The moment he’s back on dock, Yoongi throws a glance in his direction, lying partly out of the hammock. It looks uncomfortable, but Jimin knows for a fact that Yoongi has the ability to fall asleep anytime, anywhere. “Got the goods?” he asks as Jimin bends down to place the wooden box onto the deck.
“Yup, madame wishes us a safe evening.” Jimin sits down and takes his sandals off, fishing out a small jar of cream from his bag. He rubs his fingertips together until the cream turns into oil, then crouches over his feet and begins to massage them gently. He works his way up to his sore ankles, doesn’t look up because he knows Yoongi is watching him.
“Feeling worse today?” It feels like Yoongi’s about to interrogate him, and Jimin just shrugs, trying to dismiss the feelings of guilt. He’d promised Yoongi time and time again to be careful, but some dreams are difficult to give up on — Jimin is relentlessly stubborn, and now he will face the consequences of his actions.
“I… fell on my way back, I’m just taking precautions, you know? Don’t worry!” Jimin insists, raising his hands and waving his fingers at Yoongi, his fingers glistening with remnants of soothing oil. Yoongi gives him a look of disbelief, finally getting out of the hammock. He sits down right in front of Jimin, legs bent in a half-lotus.
“Someone stopped by today, asking about that note I put up at the inn. Since you can’t always help me out here.” Yoongi leans his face against his palm, tipping his straw-hat further down to shadow his face. The midday sun is sinking lower, but the light is still bright and imposing.
Jimin’s mouth morphs into an oh of surprise, but he’s relieved too. It’s stressful for Yoongi, with his father accepting the offer to join a large trading company and do business outside of their country. While he’s gone, there’s no steady income except for what Yoongi makes from fishing, and what his mother makes at their restaurant. It’s not too little, but Jimin knows Yoongi has always wanted nothing but to be able to spoil his family the way he has spoiled Jimin himself. He’s always been admirable.
“That’s great news! Who is it? Are you hiring him?” Jimin leans forward, elbows resting on his knees.
Yoongi scratches his chin, the hint of a shadow along his jawline. “It’s that blond guy you nearly tipped over earlier today. Tall, stands out. I think he’s a foreigner, he’s got this weird accent I can’t pinpoint. Maybe from the cold continent? He could have arrived with one of the merchant ships, ready to settle here for the time being…”
“Well, I’m sure if you pay him money and give him a job he’ll be more than willing to answer all of your questions.” Jimin sticks his tongue out slightly, wetting his dry bottom lip as he tries to remember the stranger from this morning. All his mind’s eye can give him is stiff, beige fabric and hair so light it seemed to have sunlight spun into its strands.
Yoongi smirks. “You’re probably right about that. Well, I said we’d bring him with us tomorrow during the day. You know, trial of the dizzying sun? We can see how he works and acts, and then you can help me decide whether he’s a keeper or not. Sound good?” Holding his hand out, palm facing up, Yoongi looks straight at him.
“I’ll lend you my watchful eyes,” Jimin tells him, the tips of his fingers tapping against Yoongi’s palm to symbolize agreement. It’s not binding, but it’s a promise.
“Glad to hear it. I suggest we get some food and rest a little to get ready for the night, and make sure to send some thoughts to Mother Serpent before we head out. I think I caught sight of someone selling wishing blossoms not too far from here this morning.” Yoongi chuckles at the end, because Jimin’s eyes are sparkling at the promise of free food.
The wishing blossoms are a tradition they seem to never fall out of. They purchase what looks like white, handmade lotuses, crafted from a light material not available in these lands. By whispering their aspirations into the leaves, their minds can reach Mother Serpent. Sometimes she heeds the tiny dreams presented to her, sometimes she never even hears. At least that is what they’re told. Jimin always sings gently, hoping it will make her listen to his wishes above the others spoken quietly.
Yoongi buys them small cuts of beef threaded onto a stick, honey dribbled on top. Jimin shares his drinks from earlier as they hide in the shade that follows the roof of Yoongi’s family house. When they’re done eating, Jimin’s fingers are sticky with sweetness and he licks them off just to watch Yoongi grimace at him.
“Let’s nap,” Yoongi murmurs, arms folded behind his head where he’s leaning against the side of the stone house. Jimin rests his head on his arms, spread out over the grass. Most of the inner city’s been cleared out and covered in sand and flatstones to create good pathways, but Yoongi’s house is located closer to the shore where grass peaks through right before fading into sands. It’s nice and the voices of the market are dimmed by the distance between them and the bazaar. “I’ll wake you up right before sundown.”
Jimin sleeps restlessly, excitement too much for him to be able to rest heavily. He’s awoken by someone pinching his cheeks, face hovering just above Jimin’s head. “Rise and shine! The sun’s about to set, time to get going!” As if Jimin needed to be told twice. They race down to the boat, even if Yoongi makes a show out of whining about them going too fast all the way there. Jimin just laughs at him, awkwardly stepping backwards just to see the way Yoongi’s face twists in mock-exhaustion.
The shorelines are calm, but the bazaar goes on. Music rings deeply and they can hear it all the way from the boats, lanterns hovering above the buildings. At first, they were raised to guide Mother Serpent to land, so that she could gaze upon the festival held in her honor, the joy of the people that thrive because of her gift to the world: the oceans, the fishes, the coral reefs. No one has seen Mother Serpent in Jimin’s lifetime, or his father’s, even if rumors suggest differently. Jimin wonders if she’s still around, or if she has left these waters and migrated similarly to the plius fishes, in search of untainted waters.
Yoongi’s dark blue clothes look black without the light of the sun, and they light the smaller lanterns that line the edges of their boat so that they will have some guidance. Jimin finally undoes the heavy knot tying the boat to the bridge, pushing it off before running forward and jumping onto deck. His ankle whines but he ignores it in favor of walking around the small room in the middle of the boat, Yoongi waiting on the other side. Their boat is small enough to row, the sails fluttering weakly — the night-time wind is weak.
Jimin sings the ocean into calmness every evening they venture out. When the shore is further behind them, they place the wishing blossoms on the water and leave them behind, letting them be embraced by the movement of the water. Their aspirations will remain forever within the layers of pale, thick petals.
It takes time and effort to reach the area they know the plius fish will surface. Jimin and Yoongi had left a fortnight earlier and located the nightfly eggs on the surface of the water, what looks like a thin coat of dark green and bubbles of white. Yoongi looks at him as Jimin tests the water, dipping his hand into the water to see how warm it is. He pushes his shirt over his head, taking everything off but his undergarments. He’ll need dry clothes once he’s out of the ocean.
Yoongi hauls the nets from one of the crates huddled together. They’re small and circular, thin enough to be hard to catch in dark waters. The plius fishes aren’t big enough for them to be able to use the regular, sturdy nets Yoongi catches day-fish with.
The lanterns’ glow is reflected onto the water surface, attached to the sides of their fisherboat, Yoongi humming along to a childhood tune somewhere behind him. Jimin’s hand breaks the water surface again and Jimin closes his eyes, focuses on the feeling of soft water wrapping around his fingers; more pleasant than even expensive silks. Around them, the ocean gives way, the shoreline nothing more than silent fireflies at the horizon. They will not return until morning.
Almost like a rhythm, the sound of their footsteps drum against the wooden deck of the fishing boat. Soon, the school of fish will move up to the surface to soak in moonlight and eat the gathered nightflies. Then, they will strike.
“Jimin,” Yoongi calls his name and he looks up from where he’s nearly leaning halfway off the boat. “Don’t lose yourself to the spirits.” It’s a warning Jimin is told often — it will steal you away, the ocean. Greedy for all, it even swallows cities whole. But Jimin is fearless when he stares back into the abyss.
“Watch my back!” Jimin says back, skin looking unnaturally pale in the moonlight, his brown hair black.
Then they arrive, at first just flickering orbs far, far beneath them, easily mistaken for reflections of their lanterns. Yoongi has tied half of the net to the side of the boat, and Jimin will move beneath the fishes, then pull the rope that circles through the edge of the net, trapping them in what resembles a drawstring bag.
Too busy with feeding, the plius fish never bother with him. Finally, after a year of waiting, Jimin sinks below the surface and opens his eyes. The only source of light are the plius fishes ethereal glow as they rise to the surface in a large school, moving like one entity. He takes a moment to admire them, cutting through the water while gazing up at the surface. Something strokes against his foot and Jimin looks down, eyes widening as the plius fish encircle his feet and moves back towards their school, a stray grazing against his arm. It’s so rare for them to interact, even lightly like this.
His chest is hurting with the need to breathe, but Jimin never wants to rise again. Against his wishes, he pushes up, spreading the net out with his arms. He’s so close to Yoongi’s boat now that he won’t risk moving the boat by pulling at the rope. The school is separated and Yoongi’s watching anxiously as Jimin raises his hands above the water, pulling the rope taut so that the fish are trapped within the net. Jimin ties the knot against the side of the boat, the net finally forming a teardrop shape. Jimin hoists himself up on the boat with Yoongi’s help. The plius fishes are pushing against the net and they have to move them into the large barrels.
Yoongi has already filled them with water, the fish bait placed in the wooden box next to them. They’ll have to keep the plius fishes fed since they robbed them of their annual feast.
Working together to lift the net out of the water, they move it over to the barrels. Just one barrel stands as tall as Jimin’s shoulders, broad and meant for larger sea creatures. Carefully lowering the net into the barrel, Jimin unties the knot and the fishes spill out. They swim rapidly, confused about the sudden change in environment. Yoongi sprinkles fish bait into the barrel and the plius eagerly nip at the water surface.
“Let’s do another few, we have four more empty barrels and the school’s giant this year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as sizeable as this before,” Yoongi suggests, handing the empty net over to Jimin. They only use one at a time, so the fishing itself takes hours, but it’s worth it if it means the plius fishes are less likely to get hurt in the process.
“Alright, I’ll dive back in.” Jimin’s already heading to the side of the boat, hands clutching the edge.
This goes on until the plius fishes begin to retreat, the school still massive in size but the nightflies nearly gone. Jimin dives underwater one last time, just to watch the way the fishes gleam with silver light, moving, moving… east? Towards the shore?
Jimin stares in confusion, eyes stinging with the effort. The plius always head deeper, never towards the coast. They circle beneath the boat, and finally Jimin spots it: the snake. It must be, with its long, white body. He can’t make out its head, the plius fishes obscuring the view along with the exhaustion of his eyes. Still, Jimin doesn’t want to blink, scared it’ll be gone when he regains vision.
His eyes push close as he breaks the surface to gasp for air, the feeling of smooth scales suddenly scraping against his leg. Jimin’s head jerks down at the sudden touch, but with a last flash of white, the water serpent is gone. Yoongi’s shouting, but Jimin’s ears are full with the sound of ocean remnants.
Maybe somewhere he couldn’t see, his wishing blossom had been caught by the waves and brought to the Mother.
It’s always a storm when the plius fishes are delivered to the sellers. Jimin and Yoongi will receive their share of the money as soon as they’ve all been sold, content with letting others handle the heat of fascinated buyers and foreigners. Sometimes Jimin sticks around for the beginning of the day, watching the way people’s faces light up in awe when the plius fishes swim around the large glass tanks, their glow less apparent in the daylight but still mesmerizing.
Yoongi pats him on the shoulder and Jimin looks back, eyebrows raised — Yoongi had been preparing the boat for a short fishing trip during the afternoon, and Jimin hadn’t expected to see him so shortly after they parted ways earlier that morning.
“Change of plans,” he says. “We’re meeting up with Taehyung right now instead, so catch a last glimpse and then we’ll head out.” Jimin nods and balances side-to-side on his toes, craning his neck to see past the crowd of people. The fishes swim calmly, and Jimin wishes he could show how much more beautiful they are when they swim with their schools.
Jimin slips away alongside Yoongi, popping an almond onto his tongue as they walk back towards the shore.
“He’s waiting for us back by the boat,” Yoongi explains. “Stopped by a little while ago and chatted me up and, well, I decided we might as well just head out. Sorry if I’m intruding on your spare time, I know you have a shift at the inn tonight.”
Shrugging, Jimin shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants. “I’d rather do something than spend my day resting, and you know it. Other than that… So blondie’s name is Taehyung, huh? Sounds local enough, maybe he’s a not a foreigner after all.”
Yoongi tilts his head slightly, as if contemplating. “Maybe, I guess we can ask. It slipped my mind, should have brought it up before when we were talking.”
Jimin smacks his lips, sea-salt from the roasted almond stuck on his lips. “We’ll have time for all the questions in the world while we fish.”
“Maybe not that many,” Yoongi retorts, grinning. “Well, maybe he’s mysterious. I know some people hate talking about where they’re from.” They pass by a few familiar faces as they speak, waving and sending smiles towards friends from the area.
“Then we won’t intrude,” Jimin concludes, jumping onto the redwood bridge that the boat is anchored too. He spots a figure perched at the edge of the bridge, long legs dangling and calves exposed by the short length of his pants. It’s a nice view, Jimin thinks, a broad back and hair as golden as last time they passed each other by.
The man — Taehyung — looks up once the sound of them approaching grows louder. It’s the first time Jimin has gotten a good look at his face. Dark, dark eyes, a high nose and full lips. He breaks out into a polite smile and Jimin nods his head at him, Yoongi pushing past Jimin to hold a hand out. Taehyung takes it and stands up, dragging his sandals back onto his feet after dipping them into the cool water.
“Taehyung,” Yoongi greets him, gesturing towards Jimin as he turns around slightly. “This is Jimin, my helper.” Jimin waves again, stepping forward as he pushes two fingers against his lips before holding his hand out with his palm facing up. Taehyung mimics the action, fingertips pressed against Jimin’s for a brief second: a stranger’s greeting, less extravagant than the one used in the capital but with the essence of the gesture still remaining.
“Helper,” Jimin repeats after they’re done, rolling his eyes. “I’d like you to know I do most of the work around this time of the year, so I’m definitely not just a helper.” Yoongi laughs and Taehyung joins in.
“I believe you,” Taehyung says, the tense line of his shoulders relaxing. Hopefully, he’ll feel more comfortable around them soon. Cooperation is essential for their line of work, and Taehyung seems pleasant enough; Jimin doesn’t think he’d mind having him around. More than that, he really wants Yoongi to have some help available whenever Jimin himself is working shifts at the inn.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Taehyung adds.
Jimin raises an eyebrow. “Fancy talker, huh? So, Yoongi’s been pondering over something, you see. Where are you from? I’d definitely remember seeing you around here.”
Taehyung throws a look out at the water, then hesitates, as if he’s struggling to find the words. “I’m not from Lieryia. I’ve travelled from one of the northern countries of the continent.”
“Your accent isn’t even noticeable,” Yoongi chimes in, scratching his chin.
Taehyung shrugs, playing with the hem of his shirt. “I’ve been around for long enough to speak fluently.”
Jimin pushes against Yoongi’s back. “With that cleared up, let’s go, yes?” He radiates excitement. “The midday sun’s sinking, so I suggest we head out now so that we can return before evening.” He turns his head towards Taehyung to explain. “I work late shifts at the bar whenever I can, since we’re done catching plius for the time being.”
“Oh, I know. That’s how I found Yoongi’s recruitment paper,” Taehyung shifts his weight from one foot to the other, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “I visited the inn earlier this week.”
Jimin tries to remember, but the nights are hectic with the bazaar and his shifts are usually never more than a blur when he wakes up the morning after.
“I was there when you… when you sang, and then I saw you dance yesterday, and here you are again,” Taehyung rambles, sounding flustered, the tips of his ears flushed red.
Jimin rubs his neck. “Oh, yeah… Right.”
Taehyung looks confused when Yoongi sends Jimin a sharp look, the younger avoiding his eyes. Jimin can’t blame him — he didn’t know it was a secret to keep.
“Let’s head out, like Jimin said. Welcome aboard, Taehyung,” Yoongi breaks the silence and after preparations, they’re once again gliding over the water surface.
And Jimin thought he felt at home on the ocean, but seeing Taehyung, he wonders if there are more people that could possibly rival the comfort he moves with offshore. No mistakes, no hesitation — Yoongi agrees, they’d be glad to have his assistance.
Jimin watches the way Taehyung moves closely, how he interacts with Yoongi. Fishing during the day is a different style of sport compared to catching plius, and Jimin is not required to swim. Instead they use the thicker nets to sweep the schools up in larger quantities. The nets can be anchored to wooden poles pushed out from the edge of the boat, and when the rope is pulled taut (a similar style of net to the one they use to catch plius) the net-bag remains hanging off the pole until they return to shore, too heavy to be pulled onto the boat.
Taehyung is tasked with attaching the rope to the wooden pole as Jimin holds onto the ends. He bunches his sleeves up below his elbows, balancing without any look of discomfort. His hands move with confidence, looping the rope around itself once so that it’s properly tied to the metal ring along the pole.
If Jimin had judged Taehyung to be quiet at first, the illusion is broken quickly. Taehyung has already wormed his way into Yoongi’s affections, entangling the both of them in his spell with sweet jokes and a booming laugh. It’s easy to be caught up in it when Taehyung’s eyes are as dark as the ocean’s depth, and seem to hold just as many secrets.
The sun’s still hot by the time they gather up, all of them sweaty and tired. Jimin catches Taehyung glancing over from where he’s helping circle the rowing paddles, sending him an encouraging grin. Taehyung lowers his gaze and Yoongi smacks him square in the back of the head and tells him to look up, scolding him with the tone of an older brother.
Jimin’s intrigued, he can’t deny it. And this time, when Taehyung looks back, he smirks.
They return and Yoongi returns to his house to fetch his younger siblings, all eager to help them reel the long, slimy fish up onto the bridges. It’s nice to have some extra muscles to lift the full nets onto the cart that’ll help Yoongi push the catch back to the restaurant. His mother will take what she needs, and then he’ll head on to the other stores until the cart is empty and a day’s work is done.
Yoongi’s day ends, and Jimin’s night begins.
He shifts to the red-and-gold uniform of the inn he works at once he gets back home. The house is small and empty, just enough space for Jimin to live comfortably; his father only returns once every now and then, so there’s no need for a spare room. Jimin’s hands wrap the black belt around his waist, tying it at the back with a simple bow, fingers brushing through his hair to straighten the unruly strands that have curled up from the heat.
By now the inn’s regulars all know Jimin by name, and it never does him anything but good. The comfort a job with stable pay brings has allowed Jimin to enjoy the time he spends with Yoongi without spending every moment in worry. His father always sends him money when his friends visit their families, but Jimin has those gifts stored away beneath his bed for emergencies. He’s an adult, he should not need to rely on the allowances of his father, no matter how close they are. His father knows this, but he’s always been half as stubborn as Jimin and twice as kind.
Jimin blows out the candles in his room and heads out, moving down the steps that lead up to his house door. His bag is thrown over his shoulder as per usual, only filled with his coin pouch and a thick scarf. It is not a long walk, but Jimin enjoys it nonetheless. With the sky turned a dark blue, the moon is prominent and the lanterns’ lights are cast hypnotically across the fabric roofs of the bazaar tents.
Around him, people are both heading home or active participants of the festivities. He sees a father with a child sleeping in his arms, walking slowly in the opposite direction. There are young and old dancing along the streets, gathering around the many musicians. Jimin spares them a few glances before taking a right, walking down a crowded street towards the inn.
The sign is carved in wood, cursive letters spelling out Sweetwater’s Inn: Sleep and Sing, the engravings filled in with green paint. Jimin makes another turn, heading towards the workers’ back door. He slips into the room, immediately greeted by Joohyun.
“Jimin!” Her smile’s as fair as ever, black hair tied up without a strand out of place. “Uncle’s in his office, stop by before you head out, okay?” She picks up a bowl of soup from kitchen master Jooheon, placing it on the tray balanced on her left palm. Jimin nods, grabbing one of the black aprons so that he can tie it around his waist.
“I’ll go see him right now,” he waves at Jooheon when he passes him, heading to his left to reach uncle’s room. He’s not actually Joohyun’s uncle, but he is Jimin’s. The only blood-family that remains in this area after Jimin’s father set off to pursue his career in the capital. He’s a friendly old man with a booming laugh, and Jimin feeling like he’d keel over just from a rough pat on the back as a kid. He may be loud and intimidating, but the only people he’ll punch are the ones stupid enough to deserve it. At least that’s what he keeps saying.
There are miserable places to work at, but Sweetwater’s isn’t one of them, especially not when the owner will prepare you a drink and listen to sailor’s stories as if he has all the time in the world.
“I’m here for my shift, Uncle!” Jimin sticks his head in through the door opening, sending the man a smile where he’s sitting behind his desk.
“Ah! Jimin, my boy, glad to see you looking well. I take it the fishing went well, since I’ve been seeing Plius fishes all over the market?” The man is fiddling with the papers in his hand, ink and quill resting on the desk, a lamp placed at the edge.
“As well as every other year. With Yoongi’s help, of course,” Jimin steps inside.
“I’d expect nothing else. Tell that busy bee to come see me as soon as time allows it, he hasn’t had a drink with me in forever,” the older man huffs. Jimin laughs at the sight.
“I’ll let him know you demand it! He’ll try to slither his way out of it for sure, though. He’s always looking for an excuse so that he can drag his naps out. I bet he’d hibernate through the winter if I’d allow him to.” Jimin shakes his head and his uncle hums in amusement.
“I’d say we cut him some slack. He’s a harder worker than most, that man… I’d say he deserves a good rest. But that doesn’t mean he can ignore family! Any friend of yours is family of mine, and that Yoongi boy has been around since you were just a runt.”
Jimin leaves with the promise of bringing Yoongi with him next time, heading out through the door that leads to the dining room and the bar. It’s lively and every corner is occupied, Joohyun moving between the tables. When they meet up, she gestures towards a table by the window facing the street.
“New customer. He’s been here all week asking for you, so I let him know you weren’t taking any shifts until today. Lucky for him he finally caught you.” She marches back towards the kitchen and Jimin heads over to the other end of the room to take the order.
He doesn’t know who he was expecting, but it wasn’t Taehyung. He has changed clothes, covered in all black, short collar dipping down in the front to expose his collarbones; his sunny hair is unruly and there’s a hint of red on his cheekbones from where the sun had touched him during the day, freckles somewhat visible along his skin.
“Taehyung!” Jimin exclaims.
“Jimin!” Taehyung mimics with a broad grin. “It looks like I managed to be here at the right time today.”
Jimin drags his fingers down the short hair at the back of his neck, gaze flickering down to the floor. “I always take the first half of this week off to go fishing for Plius with Yoongi. You couldn’t have known, but I’m sorry you had to wait for me.”
Taehyung gives him a look of confusion. “Wait… for you? I think you got this backwards, I came here for some delicious shrimp soup, not your company.” He raises an eyebrow and Jimin’s face flushed pink.
“Oh! I— I didn’t mean to assume, it’s just that Joohyun told me—” Jimin’s voice goes a pitch higher and he wants to throw himself into the ocean and sink to the bottom of it. Just when the silence is about to make all of it even more awkward, Taehyung laughs at him, and Jimin covers his face with his hands.
“I’m just teasing you Jimin, I came here to see you. I told you earlier today, remember? I heard you sing last week, during my first evening here. Maybe you forgot already…” He rests his chin against his fingers, peering up at Jimin.
“I’m bad at remembering faces,” Jimin scrunches his nose up, still a little hurt. “And in my defense, I had no clue who you were until today!”
Taehyung sighs, folding his hands together on top of the table. “I suppose… But now you know! So don’t forget me, because I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Jimin shrugs. “I can’t make any promises,” he says, but the corners of his mouth are quirked as he tries to hide his smile.
Somehow, it’s as easy to talk to Taehyung as it is with Yoongi, and it’s exhilarating.
When the final night of the festivities arrives, Taehyung has been working with Yoongi for a fortnight. Jimin hasn’t been with them since he’s been needed at the inn, usually only seeing the both of them outside of work whenever he has a break before the evening rush. The inn has been fully booked all throughout the duration of the bazaar, and Taehyung has kept his room, insisting on eating in their dining hall every night. Jimin doesn’t understand, seeing as the menu has little variety to offer.
The thought hits him as he takes his uniform off — is Taehyung staying, or is he returning home? Jimin hadn’t even thought to ask, too caught up in his warm smiles and the dizzying rush of comfort that Taehyung always seems to provide him. He… He should ask, once they meet up for the night. Jimin and Yoongi had invited him to come with them to the festival, since it was his first visit to Lieryia.
‘Of course we want you to go,’ Jimin had said when Taehyung had voiced his surprise. ‘You’re our friend now.’
Jimin shakes the worry off as he pulls out a package wrapped in brown paper, hands trembling. Yoongi will be upset, but he will understand… Since this might be Jimin’s last chance to wear it. When Jimin carefully slides the clothes onto his body, the loose fabrics fall like water down from his shoulders, reattached to the cuffs around his wrists. It is a soft mix of shades of turquoise and green, golden embroidery lining the seams and painting water lilies and fishes along the curves of Jimin’s body. A water snake twists down his right sleeve and seems to move as he ties the waist piece tightly.
After tonight, Jimin will never dance again.
Something inside of him seems to break once that statement sinks in, and once again his fingers are shaking with loss. It’s fine, he convinces himself, what the universe wants for me might not be what I envisioned for myself, but at least I have my past. He stands up tall, attaching the seven pieces of golden jewelry to his ears before lacing his sandals on properly. For tonight he has discarded the sandals he wears ordinarily for the dancing shoes that Hoseok had gifted him for his first professional performance. They are worn and precious by now.
He heads out to meet the other two, nervous and terrified at the same time. Yoongi said they would meet him by the shore, so that they could walk to the heart of the festivities together while looking at the market stands. He hopes to take that piece of joy and clear the sky of the gloomy clouds that loom above his head, weighing his mind down. This is not an evening to be anything but happy, since by tomorrow evening, most of the bazaar will be gone and the boats will have set sail.
“Jimin!” He hears his name, tip toeing to see past a stranger’s shoulder and there they are, Yoongi and Taehyung both waving eagerly. He sees Taehyung cup his hands around his mouth, suddenly shouting his name.
“Jimin!” Taehyung repeats, drawing out the last i. His smile is blinding even from a distance and Yoongi laughs too. “Over here! Over here!” Taehyung’s excitement is as contagious as his laughter.
He walks over quickly and when he’s close enough to not be obscured by the shadows of the moving crowd, Yoongi’s face turns morose. There’s sadness in his eyes and he steps forward, reeling Jimin into his arms so tightly it’s almost hard to breathe.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.” Even though it’s not his fault. Jimin places his hands on Yoongi’s shoulders and gives him a look without a shred of fear or self-pity.
Jimin turns to Taehyung quickly, so that he won’t feel excluded. “You look handsome,” he notes, taking in the midnight blue clothing that Taehyung is wearing. There’s a thin choker around his throat made out of tiny, silver links and suddenly Jimin’s heart’s beating all too fast.
“And you’re stunning,” Taehyung answers smoothly. It doesn’t calm Jimin’s racing heart one bit. “I’ve never seen you wear anything like this before.”
“It’s for my performance,” Jimin explains. “Only those who dance azpora wear these garments.”
Yoongi clears his throat and Jimin gives him an apologetic look, lowering his hand from where he had been smoothing out a wrinkle along the fabric seam on Taehyung’s shoulder. “Let’s go!” He says, patting Taehyung’s chest.
As soon as they’re back at the bazaar, both Jimin’s and Yoongi’s demeanors change — it’s difficult to feel sad when the most beautiful festival of the year is in full spirit around them. Mother Serpent’s a common motif for artwork, festival lanterns present in the thousands, many of them shaped into waterdrop-like forms. Laughter and conversation mix and Taehyung wraps his arms around Jimin’s shoulders, hovering behind him as they make their way through the stream of people. The performance always takes place in front of the town hall building, a temporary stage made out of wood prepared in advance, so they head there right away.
“Excited?” Taehyung asks, mouth so close Jimin can feel his warm skin against his cheek.
“I’m always excited to perform.” Jimin sways side from side, steps a little more springy than usual. “You better keep your eyes on me, this is a rare opportunity.”
“I don’t think I could look at someone else even if I tried,” Taehyung murmurs so quietly Jimin isn’t sure he was supposed to hear. They separate and Taehyung attaches to Yoongi’s side, discussing an item he spotted in one of the market stands. His curiosity hasn’t been reined in at all ever since they first met, and there is something refreshing about listening to his culture from someone who is experiencing all of it for the first time. Listening in on their conversation, Jimin leads the way.
When they arrive, the crowd has yet to become dense. People will spill in from all corners of the city once the performance hour approaches, but there is still time left. Jimin takes one of Yoongi’s hands in his and dips his head in a sign of respect. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course.” Yoongi’s breath trembles. “You’re my brother, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Jimin repeats the actions and the words but this time, it’s Taehyung he is thanking. “We met just weeks ago, but you’re taking the time to see me dance. I’m very grateful you’ll let me show you what has been a very important part of my life.”
Taehyung’s confusion is evident, but he nods his head in understanding as he squeezes Jimin’s hands. When Jimin glances down at their hands, he feels small; Taehyung’s fingers wrap around his hand easily, his palm rough from work. It’s an anchor and Jimin doesn’t want to let go so soon. “Good luck,” Taehyung adds, finally stepping back.
Jimin waves at them and heads behind the curtains to where the other performers are gathered. There aren’t many of them; the dance of Creation of Man does not require a lot of dancers. The lead is Mother Serpent, followed by Water — Jimin. There are people dressed in bright colors meant to represent the creatures of the ocean, their role displayed through the embroidery on their clothing. The Great Moon’s men are dressed in plain brown, simple outfits old warriors would wear, the Moon himself clad in black to represent the night.
The only one whose face isn’t visible is the woman playing Mother Serpent. Because she is divine, beyond human, the dancer always wears a white mask resembling a serpent. Her clothes are heavy and pure white, her feet hidden by the length of the fabric. Silver threads are spun into every other layer, intermingled with gold to create the effect of light brimming from the cloth. Jimin smiles at her and the girl bows, but she doesn’t speak. No one will know who she is, no one but the people who dressed her.
The Creation of Man is a stunning performance, the impact made deeper because of the people’s understanding of the story. During the time before that of man, Jimin has been told, Mother Serpent and the Great Moon loved the world so much that it split into two; she kept the oceans and he had the skies. In between the two they let the humans live freely. But peace has its price — before humans first arrived in this world, the Moon and Mother Serpent were in constant battle.
And before they knew it, the world was red with the blood of their children. A compromise was made, domains established, and the continents became a place of neutrality, a new beginning. Nurtured from the land, Mother Serpent and the Moon oversaw the growth of the human race and guided them along, wishing for no more wars to stain the earth. And yet, humans fight each other tirelessly. It is a vicious cycle, and the Creation of Man is both its end and its beginning.
The Moon has long ceased to be a divine figure to the people of Lieryia. It is well known he distanced himself from the earth, content with watching it from the skies above. Mother Serpent remained, and Lieryia belongs to her.
Jimin talks to a few of those involved, confirming when he’ll enter and leave. They’ve practiced for over a month, and still Jimin feels the same nervousness as when he first began; it hits him almost as deep as the nerves he felt before his first professional performance in the capital of Vatir.
Then, the music rises and the audience quiets down on the other side of the curtain that is boxing the dancers in. Jimin stands up tall, stands up with pride, and enters. This is his world, and tonight he will share it with everyone present: with Yoongi, with the girl next to him on stage, with Taehyung. When the music first begins, it is quiet and soft, and Jimin’s back is to the audience, Mother Serpent facing the front. They are side by side, his fingers wrapped around her forearm.
When Jimin dances, he is weightless.
For this evening, he becomes the physical form of water; where Mother Serpent moves, he follows gracefully, leading the other dances in a storm of fluttering fabrics and rapid feet movements as the storm of the performance draws closer. The dancers that play the Mother’s children spread out in a wide formation, their movements growing slower as Jimin — spinning the Mother’s dancer in his arms — enters the middle of the group.
He can’t put his finger on it, but there’s something familiar about the way that she moves. A distinctive quality to how she prefers to move her wrists and her feet and the length of her steps. Jimin draws his attention from the details and allows his body to lead him through the choreography.
All of their movements slow down along with the music, as if they’re the waves crashing against the shore. Mother Serpent comes to a stop and Jimin falls to his knees, his face towards the audience as he drags his palms up his chest, his throat, his face — his expression is contorted to express grief, fingers nearly pulling at his hair as the dancers twirl and fall one by one. The warriors have entered, coupling with the ocean creatures in a brief and rushed battle; the music is loud and heavy, and while the world around them falls apart, Jimin and Mother Serpent remain frozen in their positions.
The Moon enters, his grief as apparent as Jimin’s. When the Moon and Mother Serpent meet, Jimin drags his palm along the woman’s forearm to where two stranger’s hands are joined, continuing along the man’s arm to his shoulder. They make it seem like he pushes, the force of the ocean splitting the two apart from then until forever, and the Moon disappears.
It’s drawing to an end, and the only ones left are Jimin and Mother Serpent. Her long fingers caress his face and they sway together as she wraps a bow of white fabric around Jimin’s throat. It is a delicate bow, so fragile, but it symbolizes the presence of Mother Serpent within the waves whether she is there in her physical form or far, far away. She slowly glides back across the platform, small spins leading her away.
All that is left is Jimin, the ocean.
He takes a deep breath and goes on, lives for this final piece of unparalleled joy so that he can keep it in his heart forever. With sure feet and movements that stretch even into his fingers, he twirls and hits another position before an audience that has fallen silent.
His knee hits the floor, his right leg stretched out straight as he bends over and wraps his arms around himself, fingertips following his jaw in a drawn out moment where all that moves are his hands, dropping from his face to waist. Pushing away with one foot, he spins and comes to a final stand on his knees, leaning backwards so that his face can watch the heavens and his palms are tipped forward in the direction of the shore.
His upper body is heaving, muscles screaming with exhaustion, and Jimin finally comes to term with his loss. He thinks he hears Taehyung’s voice within the roars of the crowd and a smile curls his lips.
The after-ending is a blur of bows and curtsies until Yoongi and Taehyung finally take him away. Jimin’s cheeks are red and his eyes are glittering, and he knows his hair is a mess. Still, he wants Taehyung to see him like this, see him so utterly at peace.
“What did you think?” he asks, and Taehyung smiles at him.
“I’ll never forget this for as long as I live,” Taehyung says before Yoongi approaches them again after having been grabbed by another of the performers.
“Mother Serpent wants to see you,” he pauses. “Uh, she’s been looking for you,” he explains, and Jimin can tell that he’s curious. Jimin excuses himself, but before he leaves he can overhear Taehyung asking Yoongi ‘Do you call her that? The dancer, I mean, do you refer to her by that name.’ And Yoongi’s ‘We’re not supposed to know who the dancer is, so we just call her that. It’s a new girl every year, I’ve heard.’
Jimin returns to the closed-off area behind the stage, slowly pushing the curtain aside so that he can step in. There’s no one there but her, the white fabrics billowing down the length of her body. He hadn’t paid attention to it before, but she must be taller than even him. When he approaches her, she turns around, hand raised to guide the mask off her face with a smile.
It feels as if cold water has been dumped over his head and he can’t get any words out. Hands cup his face and Jimin feels the tears well up in his eyes, jaw clenched together. He’s pulled into a hug and he clings to the dancer with all the strength that’s left in his body.
“Hoseok,” he sobs, “Hoseok, you’re here.”
Hoseok holds him in his arms, the dress-like clothing wrapped tightly around his body. Of course it was him, of course the familiarity of dancing with Mother Serpent had been because Jimin knows Hoseok’s style of dancing better than anyone else.
“It was only fair, no? That I’m with you for your last dance,” the older man murmurs, stroking Jimin’s back to calm the hiccups that are wracking through Jimin’s chest. “Your father showed me your letters… I managed to convince the committee to let me dance. It was difficult, someone else took my place during the rehearsals and then I arrived two days ago, and I couldn’t go to see you even if I wanted to, little brother of mine.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Jimin says as they sway lightly from side to side, still embracing. “I can’t believe you didn’t even tell me.”
“I’m all about surprises,” Hoseok laughs, stroking Jimin’s tears from his face with his thumbs. “Now, I’ll get changed and then we can enjoy this evening. I spirited you away like this without a warning, so we shouldn’t keep Yoongi waiting any longer.”
“Taehyung too,” Jimin adds, voice still weak. Hoseok looks at him with affection.
“Yes, him too.”
When Jimin has disappeared from sight, Yoongi places his hand on Taehyung’s shoulder.
“I need to speak to you about something important,” he says. Taehyung nods, and Yoongi gestures for him to follow. They both remain silent at first, Yoongi guiding them to an area where there are less people around them before speaking up.
“I don’t really have any right to tell you this, since Jimin hasn’t said anything yet, but I want you to know because you… You and Jimin are growing closer and I’m worried for him, and I know you feel that way too.” Yoongi doesn’t look away, makes sure he holds Taehyung’s gaze. “When Jimin was younger he danced in the capital city; he always knew that he wanted to continue it as a profession. He lived with his father then, so that he could study at the Academy of Arts. He fell ill a few years ago and moved back here to be close to home.”
“His ankles,” Taehyung murmurs. “I noticed.”
“Yes… His ankles,” Yoongi sighs, dragging his palm up the side of his face. “It’s genetic, his grandmother had it as well, but it’s not something our doctors know how to cure. He’ll be able to walk, but the pain grows with every year. He promised himself that this was the last time he’d perform, so that he wouldn’t cause more strain on his body. He’s afraid he’ll grow useless if he can’t even stand up without help.”
“What about the fishing, doesn’t that cause issues?” Taehyung scowls.
“You think I’d take him with me if it was that risky?” Yoongi shoots back, and Taehyung lowers his head and apologizes. “The pain subsides in the water because there’s less weight on his ankles, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have repercussions… I couldn’t force him to give that part of his life up as well, when he’s already had to give up on the future he wanted so badly.”
“Thank you for telling me.” Reaching out, Taehyung takes one of Yoongi’s hands in his. Yoongi’s shoulders slump and he drags his fingers through his hair.
“It wasn’t without reason.” When Taehyung looks at him with curiosity, Yoongi chuckles. “I’m not blind, Taehyung, I know you’re interested in him. I understand, he’s… Jimin is bright, he’s caring and bold. That’s why I told you, so that you wouldn’t push him to do something he’s left behind. You have to understand his situation.
“And I want you to know that I really do consider you a good partner, but if you’re planning on pursuing Jimin… You have to give him everything, he deserves it. He’s so young and so selfless, I’d like to see him just take what he wants for once!” Yoongi continues, finally stopping long enough to catch his breath. “If you have any interest in him, Taehyung, the whole ocean is your rival.”
The movements around them never cease, distant music still ringing. Taehyung’s experiencing a rush, a momentary connection with Yoongi he never thought he’d establish. Even if Yoongi is hard-working and social, he keeps his emotions restricted to remain professional. Jimin’s one of the few exceptions, and now Taehyung’s been gifted a glimpse of what lies beneath the surface. They might not be similar, but the fact that they can still understand each other like this is something precious.
“I already thanked you but, Yoongi, thank you. I’m really grateful that you trust me enough to encourage me like this. Everything you said… I’ll keep it close to my heart. I want him to like me, but if fate won’t have it that way—” Taehyung grins, “— I’ll have to at least try to make it change its mind.”
Yoongi nods, the weariness Taehyung had spotted in his eyes seemingly lighter now. Honesty is a rare quality in men, and yet Yoongi wields it with such expertise. It’s admirable.
“I appreciate that you take me seriously.” Yoongi makes a gesture and they start walking back. “Do you enjoy it so far? The festival, that is.”
Taehyung’s gaze drifts along the colorful decorations that cover the houses and the bazaar stands. “Yes, it’s very different from what I’m used to, but I think that’s what I like the most about it. Seeing something new for the first time is always exciting, and there’s so much new here I barely even know how to sort my feelings out… Not just Lieryia, people are coming from all over the continent, it’s definitely fascinating to see.”
“Mother Serpent is important to our people, that’s why this festival attracts so many visitors.” They’re getting closer to the area where they last saw Jimin when Yoongi brings him up again. “I’ve always said that if Mother Serpent had reason to love any human, then it would be Jimin. He is more of the ocean than any other. Sometimes I wish I could believe wholeheartedly in her existence, but if she is so powerful, how come she can’t even heal a boy who just wants to dance? He’s always been diligent in sending her his wishes and respect, and the closest he’s ever gotten to her was a water snake during fishing.”
“Yes,” Taehyung agrees. “The Mother has lost touch with the humans of this world… I agree with what you said about Jimin as well. Restricted to one place, gentle but also fierce… Yes, I can see it. He was definitely fit to play the ocean during that dance.”
Yoongi’s about to speak up when he’s interrupted by his name being called. Taehyung doesn’t recognize the voice and shifts on his feet, following the line of Yoongi’s sight. There’s a stranger wrapped around Jimin, their faces happy and voices so loud Taehyung can almost discern what they’re talking about. Recognition passes over Yoongi’s face as he opens his arms for the stranger to tumble into.
Jimin laughs and Taehyung watches in confusion, Yoongi looking both surprised and overjoyed as the man in his arm gives him a long hug. “Yoongi, it’s been so long!”
Walking over, Jimin tugs at Taehyung sleeve so that he leans down. “They’re old friends,” he murmurs. “Hoseok and I know each other from when I lived in the capital, and Yoongi would join us whenever we visited here.” Taehyung nods, raising his hand in a greeting once the stranger finally releases Yoongi.
“Taehyung, right?” The man holds his hand out and they greet each other. His hair is the color of copper, much flashier compared to Jimin and Yoongi. Even the way he smiles is bright, as if he feeds off the gleaming of the festival lanterns, the moon. It’s easy to see how he would go nicely with Jimin.
“Yes, that’s me,” Taehyung says, Jimin’s fingers still holding onto his sleeve. The stranger’s eyes flicker to the grip Jimin has on him.
“I’m Jung Hoseok, but I’m sure you already knew that. Jimin must have told you all about me, isn’t that right, little brother?” Hoseok raises an eyebrow at Jimin, who grimaces.
“No, actually, Jimin’s never talked about you before,” Taehyung rubs his neck. “We haven’t really spoken about—”
Jimin’s hands wrap around Taehyung’s wrist as he cuts him off. “Hey, Hoseok, can you grab Yoongi for a bit? I need to talk Taehyung alone.”
Hoseok sighs dramatically and Yoongi steps in, comforting Hoseok with an arm around his shoulder. “We were just reunited and now you want to leave me? I see how it is. Alright, I will take Yoongi and we will have a great time together.”
Jimin pushes Taehyung ahead of him, fingers splayed across his back. “Yes, yes, I hear you. We’ll be back before you can sing a verse.” Taehyung just gives the two an unsure smile, letting Jimin drag him away without resisting.
They walk side by side, just far enough for Yoongi and Hoseok to be out of sight. The crowd, ironically enough, offers them a sense of privacy.
“I’m sorry I cut you off like that, it was rude of me.” Jimin turns towards Taehyung. “I don’t want Hoseok to think I was running away from my problems by avoiding to talk about them. That really wasn’t why,”
“It’s okay, Jimin.” Taehyung leans over slightly, blocking people from walking between them. “Yoongi… He told me about your performance, how it’s your last. You were… You were very beautiful, up there. Nothing like when we fish but I can see it in you, the way you move — I don’t think there’s been anyone more fit to play Water.”
And then, without warning, Jimin bursts into laughter. It draws into slow, steady hiccuping and only then does Taehyung realize he’s crying. He reels back, then reaches out, hesitates before touching Jimin’s shoulder, unsure if he would mind the contact right then and there.
“Are you crying? Was it something I said? I should have considered your feelings more—” he rambles, eyebrows pushed together in a frown, kneeling down slightly so that it’s easier to try to look Jimin in the eyes. Shaking his head, Jimin finally pulls his hands from his face, staring right back at Taehyung, still red around his cheekbones and the tip of his nose. He drags the back of his hand across his upper lip, snot shiny and when he smiles it’s weak but it doesn’t look broken.
“No, no, oh, I probably scared you, Taehyung.” Jimin hiccups again, laughter spilling out as he lets the soft smile gleam a little wider. “I’m happy. It’s just coming out a little strangely. To have you see me perform makes me think that I can give up on this part of my life in peace, at least without too many regrets. Am I making sense? You’re my friend now, and even if this wasn’t how I wanted to explain my injury, I don’t mind that you know. It won’t ruin my life.”
He reaches forward, patting the sides of Taehyung’s face. “Don’t worry about me, I’m okay! I think there’s just a lot happening and it got to my head.”
Taehyung shakes his head, sighing in relief. “You start crying and then you tell me not to worry? You’re an enigma, Park Jimin.”
Wiping at the corner of his eyes while still smiling, almost as if to prove a point, Jimin exclaims: “Happy tears, I said. They’re happy tears!”
“You say so, but…” Taehyung swoops down, face so close to Jimin’s he can see his lashes, the faint prickling of scars on his face from adolescent years. He hums, rubbing his chin as if he’s inspecting all of Jimin’s features. Raising his hand, Jimin separates them with his palms.
“Just trust me, okay? I’m not lying,” he says, tone sweet. “Thank you, again, for coming to see me dance.”
“You don’t need to thank me, I’m your friend now,” Taehyung replies, holding his hand out so that Jimin can lay his palm flat against his for a brief moment. “I’ll support whatever you feel that you have to do, even if I can’t always be with you physically.”
“That’s what I was going to ask,” Jimin’s voice trails off, eyes downcast as he collects himself. “Are you leaving, Taehyung?”
First, he doesn’t really understand. Taehyung falls quiet, all while Jimin’s face grows visibly gloomier. “Leaving? Leaving to where?”
“That’s what you said when you arrived,” Jimin quickly explains. “That you travel all over the world, never staying in one place too long. So I’m asking you, are you leaving Lieryia after the festival is over?”
Taehyung realizes it’s a question that must have been boiling for some time now if the wrinkle between Jimin’s brows is anything to judge by. He’d been so caught up in the colors and the hands-on work that he’d put aside any plans for travels. The city had been welcoming and exciting, so different from the cold continents of the northern world.
“No,” Taehyung finally answers. “Not now.” He turns his eyes back towards the crowd of people moving away from the dance scene, lanterns glittering in the corners of his vision and Jimin is a shadow next to him. He tilts his head down, letting their eyes connect. “There’s something magical about this place, and I don’t have plans on leaving anytime soon.”
Someone, his eyes scream, not something. Someone here is magical.
Jimin is thrown off balance as Hoseok jumps on him in a hug, appearing from an opening in the flood of people. Yoongi isn't far behind, balancing three sticks of skewered meat in one hand, the other one busy forcing others to give him some space.
“I decided we’d given you enough time alone.” Hoseok presses a kiss against Jimin’s cheek, picking one of the food skewers from Yoongi’s hand, eagerly taking a bite. “I missed my brother too much.”
“Brother?” Taehyung asks, eyes wide as he accepts a skewer from Yoongi with a grateful smile. Hoseok laughs, sticking his elbow into Jimin’s waist.
“Not by blood, but as good as! Me, Yoongi, Jimin, we’re practically family.” He grins. “Jimin and Yoongi grew up here, and then Jimin met me after he moved. I would go with him during the summers when the Academy wasn’t open, so me and Yoongi met that way. Now we’re all stuck with each other for life!” Hoseok’s hand moves to grab Jimin’s face by his chin, turning so that they can face each other. “He grew up so handsome.”
Yoongi gives Taehyung a nudge, and he doesn’t have to speak up for Taehyung to know what he’s asking: have you made up your mind? Taehyung settles for giving him a smile and Hoseok glances between them, finally letting go of his tight hold on Jimin.
“Our introduction was interrupted earlier, Taehyung, but we have all evening. Take good care of my Jimin, okay?” Hoseok says, and Jimin sputters. Shoving at the man, Jimin glares at him in embarrassment, the tips of his ears red.
“What are you saying? I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself! Not to mention Taehyung has only been here for three weeks; if anything, I should be making sure he’s taken care of so that he’ll do well here on his own,” Jimin sniffs, posture somewhat stiff.
Pulling Hoseok to his side, Yoongi gives an awkward pat to Jimin’s shoulder. “Does that mean you’re staying, then? In Lieryia.” His attention is on Taehyung, and he can feel Hoseok’s eyes on him as well.
“Yes,” Taehyung confirms. “I think settling down for some time would do me nothing but good, Traveling without an end can be exhausting. I’ll begin to look for housing as soon as the festival madness has calmed down.”
“And you knew?” Yoongi pierces Jimin with a single look, the corners of his mouth twitching.
Defensively, Jimin raises his hands, shaking his head. “I would have told you! I found out just before you two barged in on our conversation. Were you worried you would be one good worker short?”
“I can’t deny it.” Yoongi looks as delighted as Taehyung feels, and it becomes another anchor that ties Taehyung to this new place, this new home. “It’s difficult to find people that you work well with and are stupid enough to accept half of what they should be paid.”
Hoseok jams his fingers into Yoongi’s sides to hear him give out a surprised squeal. “Very funny. Don’t take advantage of Jimin’s friends or I’ll personally come and put you in your place.”
“Yeah Yoongi, don’t pick on Taehyung just because he’s a foreigner!” Jimin agrees as he skips forward, grabbing Taehyung by the arm. They share a look and Yoongi grimaces, Hoseok still clinging to him.
“Alright, I got it,” he wheezes, but the half-smile from before is still there. Taehyung doesn’t think he could grow tired of listening to their banter, the way in which they tease and comfort each other. “And about housing, Jimin has an extra room, you know? Mister Park doesn’t come back from the capital very often, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if Jimin wanted a housemate.”
Jimin wets his lips, taken aback. Taehyung is quick to dismiss the idea. “I wouldn’t want to intrude. Maybe in the future, when we know each other well, but I think for now it’s better if I find my own place here.”
Yoongi shrugs, finally shaking Hoseok off.
“Yes, maybe in the future.” Jimin nods. “But if you need a place to stay while you look, of course I’ll let you borrow the room—”
Taehyung places his hand on Jimin’s shoulder. “No need, I’ll be okay. But for now, I really should be heading back to the inn…”
Maybe it’s because Taehyung wants him to be, but Jimin looks disappointed, going ‘oh’. “We probably kept you for longer than you planned to stay.” He scratches the back of his head.
“I said it before, but you’re amazing, Jimin. Being able to see you dance was the experience of a lifetime, there’s nothing I would have rather done tonight.” He beams, suddenly aware of the way he has grasped Jimin’s hands in his own. With the way Jimin stares down at them, he lets go as if the dancer’s hands are made out of hot coal.
“Honestly…” Jimin’s is bashful and rubs his palms together. “Thank you, Taehyung.”
Hoseok laughs at them both, pulling Jimin over to their side. “It was good to meet you, Taehyung, but I think I’ll steal Jimin away before you make him loopy for the evening.”
“Good to meet you too, Hoseok.” Taehyung waves as they part ways, eyes lingering on the trio’s backs as they walk towards the center of the city, shoving at each other and laughing loudly.
Beginning the walk back to the inn, Taehyung takes a detour, following the route along the ocean shore. The moon is rising and the water is black, crisp against sand that looks white. He feels as if he’s unwinding, unfolding like a paper crane, secrets threatening to spill out unless he’s careful, so very careful.
Maybe what he thought was his home is not what he’s spent all this time looking for. And with that realization, the days of the bazaar come to an end, and when everyone leaves Taehyung is still left on the bridge next to Yoongi’s boat. Sweat-soaked and with blisters on his hands, he has never felt better.