taehyung/jeongguk, namjoon/yoongi ≫ r ≫ 15,519 words ≫ fantasy violence, mild elements of fantasy horror
i miss you like the moon misses the sun, destined to chase it until the end of time.
|author’s note: historical fantasy/fairy tale au. shoutout to the moon embracing the sun ost for making this an otherworldly experience|
Sometimes, I think of the sun and the moon as lovers who rarely meet, always chase, and almost always miss one another. But once in a while, they do catch up, and they kiss, and the whole world stares in awe of their eclipse.
The year of 2015 is a busy one for NASA.
Busy, but good. They find a planet that is Earth’s older, more tired sister. Astronauts eat food that they manage to grow in space themselves. For the first time in history, a high definition render of Pluto is sent back to the space stations, and September will see the last supermoon eclipse for nearly two decades.
“I don’t get it,” Yoongi says, as he pillows his head on Namjoon’s shoulder. “It’s just the fucking moon.”
“Not yet,” says Namjoon as he spreads his arms out in snow angel formation, lying back in the cool grass.
Autumn has arrived with a grand sashay of wind and reddening leaves. Perhaps Yoongi should have wrapped one more scarf to join the two others already looped around his neck, and Namjoon has a feeling that his thin windbreaker won’t be enough to combat the evening chill. It’s good that they have each other. “It’s supposed to look awesome later.”
“Supposed to,” Yoongi says. “We’re lying out here in the cold because it’s supposed to look awesome later?”
“Science says it will.”
“Mm.” Yoongi’s grunt means Namjoon has won this round.
“We should go to the pojangmacha afterwards. The one with the chicken and lamb skewers we really like.”
“What, so you can make me buy them for you?”
“Yep,” Namjoon says, a smile in his voice.
“I’m pretty fucking sure you only date me for my credit card.”
“Well, you wrote me that song, that one time. And that other song, that other time.”
“Hmph.” Yoongi grunts again, softer, and Namjoon chuckles when he knows he’s won this round too.
They lie together in comfortable silence for awhile, the sound of the city cutting over the dusty evening. The moon hangs big and doleful over the tops of the tallest buildings of the skyline, dimpled with shadows. Even all the way out here, only the brightest of stars make it through the pollution of lights. It’s a quiet, serene kind of spectacle, one that the whole world is watching.
Yoongi shifts against Namjoon’s body a few times before he murmurs, “Wake me up when the cool shit starts happening.”
“What? Are you scared of the dark?”
“Then what is it?”
Namjoon doesn’t immediately respond, not even when Yoongi buries his face harder into his chest as if to take a nap in earnest.
“Can I tell you a story?”
“It’s a good one.” Yoongi offers a dubious silence in response. “No, I promise it is this time.”
“Fine. I trust you on this. It better not be your personal book review on The Joy Luck Club, because I saw you reading that yesterday.”
“Okay,” Yoongi says, tucking the woolen fringe of his scarf more tightly around his chin. “Tell me your story.”
Legend has it that once upon a time, the sun and the moon raced across the sky hand in hand.
Sometimes they skittered past on cloudy kitten feet. Other times they thundered across endless blue on winged stallions, hooves beating down upon the backs of the people who walked the Earth. But without fail, every time the village wells filled to the brims, the Sun would peek his lashes over the horizon with his Moon in tow, pale coral and orange in its lunar face. The time that they did was called Day. The time the water wells emptied, and the two of them slipped back under the line of the world, was called Night.
And Night was a time of fear.
There are stories, now, of monsters and of evil, that manifest after the sun sets. There are tales of ghosts, ghouls, vampires, babadooks, dybbuks, of things that go bump in the night. There are reasons why humankind is so afraid of the dark, why bad dreams only seem to wash away with the sunrise. There are stories, and they had to come from somewhere.
They come from many thousands of years ago in a time when history blurs into legend, when there lived a cruel, selfish emperor that wanted the light of the Sun to call his own. It was a time of deepening terror. In the era of the Goguryeo empire, the land was besieged not only with war, but rife with monsters.
Nightcreatures, they were called. The accounts of survivors who were lucky enough to escape them never matched up—some of them met beasts on four legs with red eyes, the size of lions with spines in their backs. Others said that they met beautiful women, unearthly women, whose smiles charmed them into their homes, and their beds, and only then did they show their claws and fangs. And still others would shake their heads, swallow their stale fear in memory, and say that what they saw was nothing mankind should ever know.
So, naturally, the cowardly emperor too lived in fear of Night, a time when blackness fell upon the world. He wanted some way to protect himself unconditionally, at any time he so wished. He wanted to be able to carry sunshine in his pocket, and he was hellbent on getting it.
Armed with the belief of his divine power and unstoppable ability to capture a celestial god, he rode out with his horsemen, his warriors, and his best archers. They waited on that endless horizon, a line of men and horses, waiting for Day. It was the tail end of Night before they’d come to a stop and decided this was as close as they could get and still remain safe.
The emperor had begun to doze when the sun finally yawned over the land, stretching his arms of orange and gold. A rumble of nervous anticipation had their horses stamping in the dirt.
And then, the moon—quiet and strong as always, forbidding by itself alone. It followed the sun into the skies and painted them a wash of blue. In the silence, the emperor’s command broke the serenity like the slash of a blade.
The warriors let their arrows fly. They dotted the air black, an unkindness of ravens, and for a few moments the mission seemed to have failed grandly.
But then, the sky cracked in half with an earsplitting boom, the Earth shaking beneath them. The horses panicked, rearing and throwing off their riders. Cries of pain erupted from men who were trampled under spooked hooves. The emperor felt his own mare whinny in terror, and when his back hit the ground, darkness pressed a pillow over his nose and cackled.
“You’re telling me a fairytale?”
The moon is deepening in color now, a rich, pearly yellow. “You’re just making this up as you go, aren’t you.”
“Nah. This is an actual fairy tale, and I’m not just making it up as I go. Now stop interrupting me.”
Namjoon is shaken awake by urgent hands in the middle of Night. A figure is bent over where he lies in bed. A fresh candle flickers nervously in the lantern that seems to hang suspended by itself in midair until his eyes adjust. He sits up.
“What’s going on?”
“Something’s happened to your father,” his handmaid whispers with urgency, and Namjoon’s sleep-sluggish brain struggles to comprehend. “Do you know anything of how he rode out just before Dawn?”
“No,” Namjoon replies. “My father never tells me any of his plans. What happened?”
“Shortly after he left, the Sun rose. It was Daybreak, and the other ladies and I were just getting ready to wash the linens when we saw the most curious thing—the Sun disappeared from the sky. Poof, it was gone, as it something had swallowed it up.”
Namjoon casts a glance out of his window. There is a soft, milky blue light filtering in through the tempered glass. “What time is it right now?”
“We don’t know,” she says, pushing Namjoon’s slippers to his feet when he sits up properly, feet hanging down from the side of the bed. “It—it should still be daybreak, as all the wells are full. The villages have just started waking up. But the Moon hangs alone now, still shining.” She looks out of the window too, now. “I’ve never seen it in the sky alone.”
“And what of my father, you said?” Namjoon says, getting up now to light the candles around his room. “What happened?”
“Just now, before I came to wake you up, he rode back with only a few of his warriors and archers. All of them were disoriented, and some of them claim to be blind. It’s a testament to the palace horses that they knew their way home, because the men did not appear to be lying. Your father was bloodied, along with the rest of them, and he was not responding when the guards carried him into the palace.”
“What on Earth were they doing? Not leading a raid, were they?”
“No, I doubt it, Namjoon daegun,” she says, sitting down at the table in the middle of Namjoon’s quarters. The lanterns clacks as she sets it down on the wood. “Otherwise we would have all woken up, and the entire army would have ridden out. You would have known. No,” she shakes her head. “He has done something I am afraid is far greater than a simple raid.”
“How do you know?”
“Namjoon daegun, did your mother ever tell you the tale of the phoenix?”
“My mother died when I was two, remember?”
“Ah, I’m so sorry. You poor boy. The Phoenix, god of the Sun. It was a form that he would take to visit the other gods. And tied to the back of your father’s mare was a bird the size of one of our goats, dragged along by its head.”
Namjoon sits heavily back down on his bed. “You are telling me my father left at Dawn and came back having captured the Sun god.”
“Well,” says his handmaid, looking away. “The gossip travels fast through the palace. No one knows anything for sure, but I saw your father being carried inside, and I saw with my own eyes the sun vanish from the sky.”
Gossip does travel fast. By the time Namjoon is washed and dressed, a quiet, nervous buzz has settled in every corner of the palace. The guards follow him with their eyes as he passes by, and gaggles of handmaids hush up quickly and cast their eyes down as they bow every time he approaches. Everyone has the air of wondering if he knows anything, but no one wants to tell him anything.
There may be one person who will. Namjoon resolves to pay him a visit the first free moment he has, and with the buzz of villagers outside the palace, wanting answers from the royal family about the sudden plunge of the world into darkness, he does not get a chance for a while. Where his father is absent, Namjoon has to step up to the throne.
When the Moon is high overhead, at a time when Namjoon can only guess is midday, he finally manages to catch the Chancellor in his study chamber, bent over candlelight and scroll, a brush in hand.
“Jimin-ah,” he says, the second he opens the doors.
“Ah, Namjoon daegun,” says Jimin, looking up. “I was wondering when you’d come looking for me.”
“Cut it out, Jimin, I hate it when you call me daegun. We’ve been over this.” Namjoon sits down in the padded seat in front of Jimin’s desk, arranging his robes around his legs so that they don’t wrinkle. “You know what I’m here to ask.”
“Hyung, you know as well as I do that I don’t have the answers you want,” Jimin sighs, dipping the brush back into its inkpot. “And you know that the only person we can ask won’t tell us.”
“Who? Kim Seokjin?”
“He went out with your dad at dawn.” Jimin sighs again, heavier this time, as if exhausted. He must have been working all morning to settle the mess the emperor caused. “And he came back covered in blood and burns. Out of all the men, he seemed to be the only one who still had half his wits about him. The others were either blinded—their eyes are white and cloudy now—or just, off. Something was wrong with them.”
“Did you hear anything about,” Namjoon gestures vaguely.
Jimin’s frown creases his usually smiling cheeks. “About what?”
Namjoon glances over his shoulder, and stands up to close the doors surreptitiously. The Moon scowls at him from the highest point in the sky.
“Anything about a Sun god,” Namjoon says, hushed.
“Oh,” Jimin says. “Well, I.”
“You have to tell me,” Namjoon says. “Because if my father really did capture the Sun god, then we have a lot more to worry about attack or invasion. That’ll be the least of our worries, and if I’m not mistaken, he’s still unresponsive.”
“I don’t know what he brought back, if I’m honest with you,” Jimin says, and his voice is scared now. “I didn’t...Seokjin told me not to look, and to bring it down to the dungeons.”
“But you looked, didn’t you. You saw something,” Namjoon prompts. “Right?”
Jimin takes a breath. “You know I shouldn’t be telling you any of this, hyung.”
“The only other person who can give you orders has been unconscious for hours,” Namjoon points out. “So you actually aren’t breaking any rules if you do.”
Jimin chews his lip, clearly torn. He hesitates a breath longer, then stands.
“Okay hyung,” he says. “Come with me.”
It has been years and years since Taehyung has tread soft Earth.
When he comes to, he realizes that the Earth is not soft beneath him. It is sticky and cold as stone where his head is pillowed, and in his field of blurred vision he sees a furry body of a rat scuttle by. It sniffs at his cheek for a moment and scampers away when Taehyung smiles weakly.
Being back in a human body takes some adjusting. He remembers the feeling of limbs again, the feeling of having seeing eyes, and hands, and a beating heart that thrums hot with life in the cage of his ribs. It is the stabbing pain in his back and his belly that he doesn’t remember.
“Is he alive?”
“I think so. He’s in a different position than he was when I saw him last.”
“Wait—those arrows. The feathers on the ends.” A pause. “They used the most lethal, poison-tipped arrows on him, the smallest cut on one of those means you’re dead in a minute.”
A heavy silence. “So you’re saying he can’t be human?”
“I’ve never seen anything or anyone survive those arrows.”
The higher voice squeaks, when Taehyung pipes up, but Taehyung feels someone drawing closer to him—and then, at nearly an arm’s reach away, they stop. “Are you alright?”
“Save for whatever it is in my back, I am spectacular,” Taehyung slurs, tasting something bitter on his tongue, and he realizes he must be talking around a mouthful of his own blood. “I think this is what you call ‘dying.’”
“Are you,” a hesitant falter of words, “the Sun god?”
Taehyung forces his eyes open again. A face, filled with concern, watches him through wooden bars. It is not the same man that ripped Taehyung from his post in the sky, though he resembles him in his eyes and his mouth.
“Yes,” he sighs, closing his eyes. The poison that they had spoken of makes him terribly sleepy. “Kim Taehyung, God of the Sun and the Bringer of Day. What did you want me for?”
“Taehyung,” the words become an urgent whisper, “you’ve been captured.”
“I know,” Taehyung says. Talking, even, is draining his energy by the second. “What on Earth was so dire that you needed me at beck and call?”
“We can’t let him stay like this, he’ll die,” the voice mutters, an aside.
“Hyung, he’s a god. Gods can’t die.” Then, as an afterthought, “Can they?”
“This one will if we don’t do something!”
“We can’t, Namjoon daegun! The emperor will be furious—”
“Jimin, you know my father will be furious if we let the only thing he set out for die,” says Namjoon. “For whatever reason he captured the Sun god for, if he dies, then we will all know his wrath.”
“We can’t call the doctors,” Jimin says. “No one can know.”
“You’re suggesting we help him?”
“Do you have any better ideas? I’m listening.”
Namjoon is reluctant, Taehyung can tell. A protest sits on the ledge of his throat. “Okay. We can’t let him make any noise or bring anyone in here. Do you have keys?”
The cell bars rattle with a resounding clunk of the lock being opened. Then hands come down on Taehyung’s body, and these are scared, gentle ones, rather than the rough grip he had felt on his neck by calloused palms.
“We’re going to take the arrows out of you,” Jimin says with a shaking voice. His fingers are unsteady as he lifts Taehyung’s head into his lap, but his legs are warm. “You can’t make any noise, or we’re all dead.”
“Okay,” Taehyung says. “I trust you.”
“You shouldn’t,” Jimin says, but he’s looking away now, wincing. Taehyung feels Namjoon’s hand braced against his back, followed by the sudden, cruel yank of an arrowhead out of his body. It takes everything in his ability not to cry out and turns his face into the fabric of Jimin’s clothes, biting down on satin thread.
It goes quickly after that. By the time they’re done, the wounds have closed, gaping tears in Taehyung’s skin fusing together before their eyes.
Jimin sets down his head as they leave, and Taehyung watches them go. They’re whispering to each other, and both of them are covered in his blood. Namjoon holds a handful of broken arrow shafts tipped with acid green feathers.
He lets his eyes fall closed.
“He didn’t get better right away?” Yoongi asks skeptically. “He was a god. The Sun god, no less.”
“He was attacked with poisons that could kill a human within minutes,” Namjoon says. “And he didn’t have his Moon.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Namjoon turns onto his side, so that he lies face-to-face with Yoongi. “The Moon may not shine without his Sun. But the Sun without his Moon dies slow and sad, ember by ember.”
And so Taehyung sits on the bed in his cell in the dungeon, unmoving for hours, staring into the full face of the Moon every day as it inches across the sky. Time moves slower, almost as if the Moon was hanging back to scan the heavens for his lost Sun.
The emperor, upon his recovery, tells Namjoon what he already knows. They have the Sun under their control now, and no army or Nightcreature will dare come near. He reacts with the appropriate delight of a filial son and loyal Crown Prince, and meets Jimin’s flickered glance where he stands beside the emperor’s throne. The emperor doesn’t tell Namjoon of the terror that grips the world now with the disappearance of the Sun’s protection, but Jimin receives floods of scrolls from not only their own kingdom but also distant nations. Letters of panic, of unrest, of unease, from as far away as India, pour in like frightened animals with no signs of stopping.
“We have to do something,” Jimin says, as he unrolls another scroll, this one complete with an artist’s depiction of a Nightcreature seen in northern China. “They will kill everything that moves. It is only a matter of time.”
“We can’t do anything as long as my father sits on that throne,” Namjoon says, running his hands through his hair. “The moment we try, he’ll have us executed. And then there’s no saying how long his reign will last when there is not a single person left in this court who will stand up to him.”
“And you will?” Jimin asks. “You will go against the emperor for this?”
“Between a god and human,” Namjoon says, “who do you fear?”
“A dying god, hyung.” Jimin casts his eyes down. “He’s dying.”
Namjoon balks. “How do you know? He’s a god, he’ll get better.”
“Remember the way he used to look when we first brought him here?” Jimin says. “He was like his own flame, and glowed in the darkness down there. I went down there today, and,” Jimin shakes his head. “Almost nothing. I had to light one of the lamps to see him, lying in the bed. He’s dying.”
“So the food hasn’t been working.”
“He says gods don’t need to eat, which is to be expected, but he ate it anyway. I think just for something to do. But he’s dying, hyung. There’s nothing food can do to save someone who doesn’t need it.”
“That’s not possible,” Namjoon says. “There’s no reason for him not to get better. We’re lucky he hasn’t burnt us all to the ground.”
“I know, and that’s what I thought, too,” Jimin says. “And I don’t know if this is possible, but I think he’s sad.” Jimin shuffles his feet. “No, I know he is.”
“The Sun god,” Namjoon says. “Sad?”
“We talk, sometimes,” Jimin says. “Yesterday, he said, out of nowhere, ‘I miss him.’ I asked who. He replied, ‘My Moon.’”
“His Moon,” Namjoon says, slowly. An idea is forming in his mind, and Jimin catches onto it, frowning at the expression on Namjoon’s face. “His Moon.”
“I don’t like what you’re thinking,” Jimin says immediately.
“If we can bring the Sun out of the sky,” Namjoon says, “who says we can’t do that for the Moon?”
“Are you crazy?” Jimin hisses. “The Sun knows mercy. The Moon does not, assuming you don’t kill him, which you won’t, because he’s a god, you’ll be lucky to survive his anger. He’s the Moon god, hyung, you have to know what you’re dealing with—”
“I didn’t say I wanted to shoot him,” Namjoon says. “Gods, no, I’m not stupid. Do you remember that high priest my father sent into exile two years ago, for practicing dark magic?”
Jung Hoseok, the last time Namjoon saw him, left the palace in bloodied white robes and a single parcel under his arm, and since then was never seen again.
“Hyung, this is such a bad idea.”
“Taehyung gave me that match with cursed fire,” Namjoon says, shouldering his pack and his sword. “He said as long as I carry that, I will be safe. It’s a fire from a god, he wouldn’t lie about that.”
“He did, but—”
“There are easier kills than a single man on horseback.”
“There are, but,” Jimin worries his lip. “I don’t know, I’d feel better if you had General Seokjin go with you.”
“Seokjin needs to stay here. If he leaves, you’re the only one in the palace who knows of Taehyung, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take if my father makes any decisions to dispose of you.”
“Hyung, you don’t even know if he’s still alive,” Jimin says. “If he’s really been living in exile, what’s to say a Nightcreature hasn’t gotten to him first?”
“Do you want to make sure the Sun lives or not?” Namjoon asks. “Jung Hoseok is the only hope we have. Unless you think we should try the same method on the Moon as we did on the Sun, and look where that got us.”
“You will let me go,” Namjoon says. “That’s an order.”
Jimin falls silent, helps Namjoon up onto his horse. “What do I tell your father if he asks?”
“That I’ve gone to see the villages,” Namjoon says, taking the reigns. “Tell him of all the ways you tried to stop me.”
Jimin gives the shoulder of his horse a pat, and steps back. “Be careful, hyung.”
Namjoon nods, kicks his mare’s flanks, and takes off into the Night.
The land of exile is not one far from here.
Namjoon passes the outskirts of the village, the poorest fringes of the kingdom, and holds his breath to avoid the stench of carnage left behind. There really isn’t much left of the affluence right outside the palace, and where there is life left, it scurries and hides at the sight of him.
If this continues, there won’t be a kingdom left to rule.
For hours, Namjoon rides through dark forest towards no-man’s land. He can’t imagine Hoseok passing through this place alone—Hoseok, whom he remembers to be someone that always smiled. He was disproportionately happy for someone who played with spirits for a living, Namjoon thinks now. The branches are so thick they block out whatever light the Moon has to offer, and his horse walks with a slow, deliberate gait, pausing to step over roots and foliage every couple of steps.
Just as the sticky fingers of sleep start dabbing at Namjoon’s eyes, she stops. He looks around her, to see if there is a fallen log in their way, but nothing—instead, they’ve reached a clearing, as the path yawns wide before them. His mare stamps her feet in place and blusters, clearly in distress. Namjoon strokes a hand down her neck.
“Shh.” He raises his torch higher, but the blackness is too deep and impenetrable to see much more beyond a few feet in front of them. “What’s wrong?”
In a gust of wind, Namjoon’s torch is blown out. Then there’s a heavy thud not far from them, and his mare rears with a terrified whinny. Namjoon hits the forest floor with a grunt, and distantly hears her hooves taking off back the way they came. Another thud, this time much closer, and a rumbling growl so deep that it makes the very Earth vibrate.
It hadn’t been wind that put out the fire. It was the breath of a Nightcreature, who’d been lying in wait for them to walk right into its maw. Namjoon feels it more than sees it, feels the quiver of the soil beneath him as if dust itself flees in its presence.
Namjoon screws his eyes shut, tears leaking from the corners to dampen his lashes. He hadn’t pitted himself to be someone that would cry in his last moments before death, assumed that it would be sudden and at the hands of a blade in war. Hot breath blows across the soles of his feet, thick and pungent, and this close the reek of the Nightcreature is overpowering—putrid, sour, like the smell of rotting flesh. He turns his face away and prepares for—
Something soft clambers over Namjoon’s ankles. It feels like water, almost, and for a split second he thinks wildly that death isn’t as bad as he imagined. But a brightness pulses outside the thin film of his eyelids that makes him squints one open just enough to see.
It’s a rabbit. A rabbit, nothing more, with a gleaming white body almost pearlescent in its glow, sitting back on its hind legs and peering up into the face of the beast. It’s so small, barely bigger than one of Namjoon’s feet, but the Nightcreature pulls back in its presence as if stung. It is still dim, but the light of the rabbit is enough for him to catch a glimpse of a monster with a ghastly humanoid face with a slack jaw and empty eye sockets turning tail and disappearing into the darkness.
Calm settles back over the forest.
“What are you?” Namjoon asks, voice weak with disbelief and still caught in an iron vise of fear.
The rabbit turns where it stands between Namjoon’s legs. It peers up into his face, and Namjoon has half the mind to reach forward and stroke it, in some kind of gesture of thanks, when it ambles to sit some stone’s throw away. Then its body shines even brighter, hardening into harsh blue light, and begins to grow. Namjoon scuttles backward, startled.
It becomes too blinding to look at directly. Namjoon throws his hand up over his face, squinting through his fingers. For a moment it seems that this rabbit had saved him only to turn around and and kill him itself, but the silhouette begins to take on a humanoid shape. The light stabs at Namjoon’s eyes and he flinches, closing them, and then it cuts to black.
Namjoon lowers his arm, slowly. If his heart had been beating out of his chest earlier, it’s caught still and frozen in his throat now.
“Namjoon daegun, it is not safe out here.”
Namjoon cannot immediately see when he opens his eyes again. He hears it first, the rustle of fabric across the dead leaves of the forest floor. Then a figure slides into focus, and Namjoon doesn’t even realize that it should be impossible for him to see anything in this Night.
“What are you?” Namjoon’s elbows threaten to give way. It is not every day he, or any citizen, witnesses a rabbit morph into a full-grown human.
“My name is Jeon Jeongguk.” The boy looks down upon him, and his voice is not so much loud as it is resonant. The words reach down to Namjoon’s bones and cling to his skin. He is cloaked in robes so white that Namjoon’s eyes hurt to look at them, with hair as black as Night and a face as forbidding and pale as—
“The Moon,” Namjoon breathes. “You saved my life.”
“I am looking for someone,” says Jeongguk, “someone that you know where I can find.” His expression is hawkish now, as if he’s contemplating his decision to let Namjoon live. “Someone that you took away from me.”
“Oh.” Namjoon sits up. “I know who you speak of.”
“Someone that my father took away from you,” Namjoon says. “The Sun.”
“Your father,” Jeongguk’s eyes are slitted. “An easy place to throw blame where it will be backed unconditionally.”
“My father, the emperor.” Namjoon brushes his hands on the knees of his robes, smudging the gold satin and embroidery with dirt. “He and his men are the culprits. I don’t know if you can tell when mortals are lying, but you have my word that I am telling you the truth. I knew nothing of his plans to take the Sun from the sky.”
Jeongguk’s eyes are black and unfeeling, but his expression has softened to a bewildered frown. “He had no reason to take the Sun from me.”
“Everyone has their reasons for doing anything. His were selfish ones. Boredom. Protection. Hunger for glory. Fear of invasion, fear of Night.”
“Fear of Night,” Jeongguk repeats. A distant howl reaches their ears, and both of them stare into the impenetrable darkness. Jeongguk is still squinting at something Namjoon cannot see when when he looks back at him. “That beast that ambushed you,” he says. His jaw throws sharp shadows along his collarbones. “Are they common?”
“Only too much so,” Namjoon says. “They come out at Night, when they are protected by the darkness. Monsters, spirits, evil entities who have lost their way. For a while we believed they were running out of sustenance, running out of food. We were wrong.”
“They prey on humans for sport?”
“Humans, animals. They don’t kill for food, they don’t need any. They kill us, and leave us where they found us. Whole villages have perished in their teeth and jaws.” Namjoon shakes his head. “It is nothing more than fun for them.”
“Bring me to the Sun.”
“Do it now. I’m not sure if you know, but I do not have my own light, Namjoon daegun. All of it comes from the Sun, and if we stay out here long enough for you to truly see that for yourself I do not think you will live to tell the story.”
Something shifts in the universe, and Taehyung opens his eyes.
Nothing is, expressly, out of place. The torches burn as they should, and Jimin still sits quietly at the keeper’s table outside Taehyung’s cell, bent over scroll and lamplight.
“Do you feel that?”
Jimin looks up at Taehyung, then follows his gaze down the dark hallway. Taehyung stares into it, and it breathes back at him.
“Should I feel something?” asks Jimin, setting down his brush. He gets up, coming to stand by the bars of cell, then turns to Taehyung. “What do you feel? Is there something wrong?”
No, there can’t be. For the first time since he’s been locked away from the universe, warmth simmers under Taehyung’s skin.
“Something good,” Taehyung says, coming to stand at the bars as well. “Something great comes this way.”
“It’s not the emperor?”
Taehyung casts Jimin a glance. “You should be more careful with your words. The chancellor to the emperor saying such traitorous things means torture and execution.”
“It’s hard for me to fear the emperor when the Sun god has spared me for affiliation to the man who captured him.” Jimin ducks his head. Taehyung can hear it in his voice that he doesn’t entirely believe his own words.
“You know that’s not my job.”
“Bringing you fear and deciding your fate.” Taehyung sighs. “That has never been what I do, no matter what you or the emperor may think to do to me. I am the Bringer of Day. That has always been my title.”
“You’re a benevolent god, Taehyung.”
“One of us has to be.”
Jimin raises his eyebrows. “You mean the Moon is not?”
“What’s he like?”
“Quiet,” Taehyung says, sinking down to the floor where he can sit. The poison still has him exhausted. Jimin sits down with him, just on the other side and arranges his clothes around his legs. He gets comfortable like that, as if it’s story time. “He’s quiet until Night, when it’s just the two of us. Then he’ll talk a lot. He smiles a lot, too. He’s funny when he’s not frowning. That’s usually during the Day. He said he likes making me laugh more than anything. And we watch the universe move, together—there is so much out there, Jimin. There’s a dark blue world that spins on its side and an orange one with a great red storm. He says there are more living things, far, far away, but I can’t see them. He says he can. He says you will meet them one day.”
“He sounds like your best friend,” Jimin says.
“My best friend,” Taehyung repeats. He tips his head forward until his forehead rests against the bars.. “We promised each other we’d never go anywhere without telling each other. He must be wondering where I am.”
“Can he,” Jimin gestures with a noise in his throat, “become like this?”
“Does he have a human form, you mean?”
“He does,” says Taehyung. “But I’ve never seen him in it before.” He laughs softly. “He prefers to be in his animal form whenever we leave the skies. He says people ask him fewer questions that way. The Moon god walking around in his human form, he’s bound to look different from most people, after all.”
“You don’t look so different,” Jimin says, until Taehyung looks at him, and he takes in the gold rimming Taehyung’s lashes and his irises. “Well. Not so different.”
“I would be executed where I stood for wearing gold,” Taehyung says. “Or, the emperor would try to.”
“Ah, right,” Jimin says dryly. “Do you think you’d—?”
Jimin jumps when the spot where Taehyung’s head meets the wood sparks, and Taehyung lifts his face away. A thick, ashy scorch mark is left behind.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I—but I don’t know how that happened, I’m not even strong enough to—” His words cut away abruptly as he looks back down the dungeon hallway, lips parted.
“What is down there?” Jimin asks. “You’re scaring me.”
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes.
Barely in the last second does Jimin jump out of the way. A force strong enough to bring down the entire dungeon comes barreling out of the darkness in a flurry of white, coming to the most gentle, floating stop in front of Taehyung’s face. Initially, Taehyung is faced with nothing but a wispy, glowing entity.
“Why are you here,” Jeongguk cries, words tumbling from a mouth in a face Taehyung has never seen. He’s gripping the cell bars so hard his knuckles are white. “Are you okay? Who did this to you? What are you doing here, why haven’t you come back to me, why have you been here so long—?”
Jeongguk pants, as if he’s run a very long way. But now he’s here on his knees in front of Taehyung, separated by flimsy wood, his face twisted with desperation and relief.
Taehyung reaches out with shaking fingers until they meet Jeongguk’s face, and only now does he seem to also remember that Taehyung has never seen him in the flesh, not this one, anyway, and his breath catches as he holds so still. Jeongguk’s skin is cool to the touch, and Taehyung slides his hand over his face until his palm cups Jeongguk’s cheek. His breath, too, is chilly as he exhales when Taehyung runs the pad of his thumb tenderly over his lower lip. Jeongguk is, to Taehyung’s somewhat childish surprise, softer than he expected.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmurs. “My Moon.”
They sit there for only a moment. A kind of moment that is caught between seconds, the muted silence between heartbeats, and everything feels right again even for this small slice of time.
“Hyung,” Jimin stands. “What happened? Your hands, they’re bleeding—”
“I’m fine,” Namjoon says, and tucks them into the sleeves of his robes. “It could have been a lot worse. I might not have come back.” He nods at Jeongguk. “He saved my life.”
Jeongguk stands up now, and the gentle warmth in his face is gone. “Why are you keeping him here,” he asks, and Jimin flinches. “What use do you have for the Sun to be kept in here?”
“I can’t let him go,” Jimin says. “If I do it means my neck, General Seokjin’s neck, and Namjoon’s neck. We are the only ones who know of this, and we can’t afford to lose the general and the Crown Prince and allow the emperor to rule, unchecked, until his death.”
Taehyung closes his hand around the fabric of Jeongguk’s robes and tugs, and he turns to him immediately. He shakes his head.
“Let it be, Jeongguk,” he says. “If it means their safety, then I’ll stay here.”
“How can you say that?”
“Listen to me,” Taehyung says. “It’ll be okay. You’re here, everything is okay.”
Jeongguk is hesitant, chewing on his lip, but Taehyung nods. “Just come in and sit with me,” he says. “It’s been so long without you.”
“Okay,” Jeongguk relents. “Okay.”
“I will find the keys to unlock his cell and let you in, Jeongguk.”
“No need,” he says. Jimin’s eyes widen comically when Jeongguk takes a breath and walks through the cell bars. “God,” he says, looking over his shoulder with a shrug.
“This might take some getting used to,” Jimin says faintly. He opts to look at Namjoon instead, who, to his knowledge, has not taken on the supernatural ability of walking through walls. “Hyung, let me go fix your hands now.”
It isn’t until they turn their backs on them does Jeongguk sink back down onto his knees. Wordlessly, Taehyung snuggles closer until his cheek is cradled the hollow of Jeongguk’s throat. His chest is solid and warm against Taehyung’s, and it feels like home.
“You look different from what I expected,” Taehyung mumbles into Jeongguk’s skin. The arms holding him to Jeongguk’s body tighten, and Jeongguk inclines his head so that he’s looking down at Taehyung’s face.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asks.
“Just different.” Taehyung sighs, content, as he reaches up to wraps one of his arms around Jeongguk’s neck.
“Did you expect someone with green eyes and long, silver hair?” Jeongguk’s words come out in a scoff, but they are fond.
But Taehyung doesn’t reply, simply burying his face in Jeongguk’s shoulder. It is an awfully small embrace for such big, celestial gods, wrapped up in each other in a frail corner of the universe.
“The Moon was an asshole.”
“The Sun was the benevolent god, remember?” Namjoon shifts his arm under Yoongi’s head, feeling the sudden rush of blood in his fingers after his hand had fallen asleep. “And I don’t think the Moon was an asshole.”
“No, he wasn’t. He really wasn’t,” Namjoon laces his fingers through Yoongi’s, folding ice into his grasp. “He was scared, and he was just doing what we all try to do, after all. Protect the only thing he loved.”
Yoongi contemplates this. “He loved the Sun, huh.”
“More than anything. In ways people like you and I could never fathom.”
Which is not to say that the Moon and Sun’s relationship discredits or diminishes the strength of anyone else’s. It is hard to explain. Truly, it is something you must witness to understand.
In fact, you see it every day.
In the days that I knew them, I saw the way they would move around each other. There was something magical about it, how they gravitated towards and away from and around each other. Jeongguk would look at Taehyung or Taehyung would look at Jeongguk, and the other always seemed to know. They were so oblivious to everything outside of each other.
On second thought, I take that back. Taehyung saw everything, far and wide. He knew things before we did, sometimes as if even before they happened. It was Jeongguk who, for all the ways he was cold and quiet, never had eyes for anything or anyone else.
It comes to a stalemate.
In the palace where the gossip travels faster than wildfire, it takes a fair bit of time for the news of the Moon god to reach everyone’s ears—especially those of the emperor’s, who as far as Jeongguk knows, remains weak from the expedition. The army has also been weakened significantly, what with the best warriors still disoriented with something that the doctors are calling Sun sickness.
“You’d think people would have heard more quickly by now,” Jimin says, absolutely not transcribing the memos he should be, instead opting to ink crags and peaks of miniature mountains onto Taehyung’s arm. “The Crown Prince surviving an attack from a Nightcreature? Even I would have started talking.”
“Mmm,” Taehyung hums sleepily as Jimin dabs blooms of red into the long-feathered birds he has painted into the crook of Taehyung’s elbow. The stone floor has been lined with blankets now, ones that Namjoon had snuck in so that Jeongguk could be comfortable. It turns out that Taehyung much prefers Jeongguk in his bed, and spends his afternoons lying on his stomach upon the blankets instead. “Lucky for us he’s so good at hiding, right?”
Jeongguk makes a face where he sits at Taehyung’s side. “I’m sapping my energy to shift back and forth between forms,” he says. “Energy that I can’t afford to be taking from you.”
“I’m getting better,” Taehyung says. “I’m a god, I will get better, and so will you.”
But news has spread of the Moon’s disappearance from the sky, too. There are villagers from the farthest reaches of the kingdom banging at the doors of the palace by the hour now, begging for help and answers. Jeongguk winces when he hears the crunch of a human bones when they are turned away, and the Nightcreatures descend upon an easy feast.
“You should finish more of your food,” Jeongguk says. “I thought you said you’ve always been curious about human food.”
Taehyung reaches for his half-eaten almond biscuit on the tray of food that Jimin would bring him, without fail, every day. Emperor’s orders, apparently. He’s never come down himself to talk to Taehyung, and for all they know, the emperor doesn’t even care about Taehyung.
“He’s afraid of you, and of Jeongguk,” he says, setting down his brush and blowing gently on the ink to dry it. “He doesn’t know how weak you are, but you’re a god, and he hurt you. Of course he’s afraid of you.”
“He should be more afraid of him,” Taehyung says, jabbing a thumb in Jeongguk’s direction with a chuckle. “I just wish I knew what the emperor wants me here for.”
“You keep away the bad without requiring him to do any work or expend any effort,” Jeongguk interjects. He tilts his face down to give Taehyung a small smile. “We are not gods to him. We’re only legends. Which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising because, from what I gather, the emperor is a right piece of—”
“He believes in us. So does the Crown Prince,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk follows his gaze into Jimin’s face. “Right?”
“I believe in you,” Jimin says. “But it’s not me who has the power to tell the kingdom what to believe.”
Taehyung chews on his food. “The emperor wants me to keep away what bad things, exactly?” he says, spraying crumbs.
“We’ve been living in an era of war and invasion for a while,” Jimin says. “For as long as I can remember, in fact, from the time I was born. Without the Sun, our enemies can’t mobilize, but you’d be a weapon against any mortal army. Even so,” Jimin places the inkpot back on the keeper’s desk with a metallic clatter, and crosses his legs. “It’s not the armies that we’re afraid of now.”
“It’s the monsters, right?”
It is Taehyung’s turn, now, to stare up at Jeongguk. “The same kind that attacked the Crown Prince when he was out in the forest, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Monsters?” Taehyung asks, eyebrows disappearing into his hair. “No one ever told me about any monsters.”
“Nightcreatures,” Jimin says. “The one that I mentioned Namjoon daegun barely escaping from, a monster that Jeongguk saved him from. They come in all shapes and forms and sizes, and make it their life’s work to attack and kill humans.”
“Are they animals?” Taehyung says, and he’s sitting up now, concern filling his face. “Wild beasts that need food? Is that the problem?”
Jimin shakes his head. “They do not kill for survival,” he explains sadly. “They kill for and wreak havoc because that is what they do. They are creatures born of darkness, Taehyung, and the only time we are safe from them is when you are in the sky.”
“None of you are safe?”
“The palace has been lucky, and has been fortified time and time again against them for years,” says Jimin. “But in the time I was a child, until now, they’ve grown in number. The attacks have gotten worse, and more frequent, and now without either of you to keep them away…” Jimin trails off. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Taehyung watches Jimin through the bars of their cell so helplessly, and Jeongguk reaches out until Taehyung takes his hand into both of his own, clutching it in his lap.
“We’ll return to the sky again,” Taehyung promises. “We will, and you will live in peace.”