Seokjin glares at his newest opponent as they leisurely walk towards him as if they had all the time in the world.
Jungkook smiles widely, teeth peeking out from behind rosy lips. “Hey, hyung.”
Seokjin is going to kill him.
He always knew the world was going to end. He just hadn’t known the cause would be monsters that made skyscrapers look like legos and were the literal living embodiment of nightmares.
The Pacific cleaved itself in two and out came a leathery hammerhead that caused mass terror then where now it would be nothing but a godsend. The world’s first Category One kaiju greeted the shoreline of Sydney and levelled the Opera House.
The first line of defence against these dastardly beasts was the Wall. Worthless, it crumbled from a single strike of the kaiju. Missiles could only do so much damage. Mankind’s next solution was to fashion a robot called a jaegar that could rival the size of a kaiju, powered only by the neural connection between two people. Such a thing was suicide.
The world grew in desperate need of the heroes that only existed in epics. The rate for men drafted into the military in South Korea had tripled and Seokjin happened to be one of the lucky few. Where Seokjin had been expecting basic combat training was instead the deadliest blind date to find out who would be his neural match in the only weapon designed to bring these kaijus down.
Sometimes, Seokjin feels like he’s dreaming. That he can’t be anywhere but at home dreading his alarm clock ringing to begin his day of classes. Reality's a cruel bastard as, when he wakes, he sees the leaking walls of his bunk and trudges outside where they listen to the scientists predict when the next kaiju would strike.
Amongst those he left behind, he misses his childhood friend Jeon Jungkook the most. It seemed almost a century ago when Jungkook’s family had moved in next door and his mother told him to be polite and greet their new neighbours. Seokjin had only been ten and Jungkook, five when he had reached out for him and followed him around with starry eyes full of hero worship.
Despite his timid demeanour, Jungkook’s doe eyes held a shimmer of mischief. One that Seokjin knew to be wary of at first blush. Adults seemed to fall victim whenever he stuck out his trembling lip. Only Seokjin could always tell when he was lying, it was a dangerous power that he wielded. Still, he listened to Seokjin well enough who had unwittingly taken on the role of his moral compass. In Jungkook’s eyes, Seokjin’s word was law.
Seokjin was raised to be good. To have responsible and compassionate as his epithets. But this was the first time that he would prove himself worthy of it. In order to make ends meet, Jungkook’s parents would need to work earlier and later hours. It had been something of an intense discussion, as Seokjin’s parents and Jungkook’s debated back and forth. The matter of Jungkook’s school was a touchy topic, until Seokjin, who had largely been quiet, volunteered to be the one to walk Jungkook to and from school and make sure that he did his homework. Jungkook had been sitting in between his parents, staring at all of them negotiate in growing decibels and frustration with wide eyes. No child should be allowed to feel like a burden.
Seokjin decided to make it an adventure.
“Jungkookie! Come hold hyung’s hand, roads are dangerous!” Seokjin gasps theatrically. He will not have Jungkook harmed on this watch.
Jungkook giggles when they hold hands, especially when Seokjin pulls him closer and again when Seokjin held his hand as they boarded the train. It was peak rush hour and people were compressed together like sardines. But Seokjin had insisted that Jungkook sit, standing next to him like he was on guard. He held onto Jungkook’s hand tightly when they alighted, dropping him off in front of his elementary school.
“Hyung will pick you up after school, okay? Wait for me, okay JK?” Seokjin stressed.
“Okay, hyung! I’ll wait for you after school!” Jungkook chirped back, running through the school gates and Seokjin walked further down the road to his middle school.
By the end of the day, Seokjin would be overcome with lethargy, steps leaden as he forced one foot in front of the other. The high volume of students only added to his slow pace but when he arrived at Jungkook’s school, the entire place was bizarrely desolate. Next to Jungkook was his teacher, their face thunder.
“What time is it?” they asked snippily.
“It’s 3:17,” Seokjin responded calmly.
“We’ve been waiting for nearly half an hour.”
“Half an hour?” Seokjin demanded, aghast, staring at Jungkook but he was currently looking at the ground.
“Classes ends at 2:50 - “
“But mine ends at 3:05 - “
“I can’t keep waiting here forever. This is the last time or you’ll need to come up with some other arrangement,” they concluded.
Seokjin bit back his words as well as his resentment. “Yes, seonsaengnim. I won’t be late again. Let’s go Jungkook.”
Jungkook is quieter than usual, even when Seokjin reaches for his hand when they have to cross another road.
“Did you have to wait long?”
Jungkook doesn’t say a word and Seokjin cursed himself. Half an hour was a long time for anyone to wait. Jungkook’s parents had trusted him. With him, they would be able to have complete peace of mind to focus on their work. The guilt nearly crushed him alive. He’ll do better.
His friends didn’t comment when Seokjin hoisted his leg high up on the wall to stretch and tore out the door as soon as the bell rang. He’s internally swearing up a storm at the students in front of him and repressing the urge to shove them behind him as he sprinted up the road.
“Hyung!” Jungkook said happily.
“Jungkookie,” Seokjin gasped, hands resting on his thighs, “Seonsangnim.” He held out his hand for Jungkook to take as he skipped forward, swinging their hands between them as he chattered to Seokjin about his day.
Seokjin never disappointed him again.
As he always had in the company of adults, Jungkook dodges all the questions his teacher heaps on him like a seasoned charlatan. It seems strange for an 8 year old to have that moniker but it was that or conman. He knows how to widen his doe eyes, when to wobble his lip in the image of contrition. Until mollified, they stop, not knowing that Jungkook had stopped listening a few minutes ago.
Seokjin rolls his eyes behind his teacher’s back and Jungkook nearly giggles at that. He manages to compose his face into a blank expression with a finesse that a kid shouldn’t possess.
Seokjin’s getting a little sick of hearing about it as well. He’s seen firsthand just how charming Jungkook can be. Seen him sweet-talk his relatives into giving him more new years’ money and deceive them into believing him over their own children. Kid is diabolical.
“There is a right and a wrong in the universe and that distinction is not hard to make.” Jungkook looks to Seokjin for approval, who nods and causes a wide smile to overcome his features.
Perhaps comic books weren’t a viable source to expand one’s vocabulary. If there’s anything that Seokjin has come to appreciate, it’s the lessons of morality and strength that have arisen from these figures forged by ink. Jungkook latches onto those a lot quicker when said by these beings garbed in red and blue than someone made of flesh and blood. He devours them, drowns himself in them.
“Do you understand?” Seokjin asks. When Jungkook shakes his head, he says, “It means, it’s easy to tell what you do is good or bad.”
Jungkook grows solemn and looks back down at the comic, at Superman who has always been a figure of virtue and bites his lip. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“But you can’t tell anyone,” Jungkook insists.
Seokjin adopts a cavalier air. “How about you tell me first? I promise I won’t say anything until you finish.”
“I… I took Minseok’s game,” Jungkook says quietly.
“Where did you hide it?” Seokjin asks, slightly impressed.
Unable to detect any anger in Seokjin’s tone, he says in a tremulous voice, “In Minji’s desk. When no one was looking, I put it back.”
“Why did you take it, Jungkook?” Seokjin doesn’t expect an answer. He’s already anticipating a future discussion like this but Jungkook surprises him.
He looks utterly miserable, unable to meet his eyes. “It’s too expensive, my father can’t buy it.”
Jungkook doesn’t have any toys to himself. Seokjin doesn’t know what his parents’ occupations are but he knows that it’s barely enough. For that, they’re grateful that Seokjin looks over him and keeps him happy. Almost. Until they hear the news that their beloved son was a liar and a thief.
“JK, your parents work hard because they love you. Can you imagine not living in your house with warm blankets and hot water?”
Jungkook shakes his head vigorously.
Seokjin presses on, knowing that he was navigating dangerous waters. If he pushed too hard then he would refuse to listen. “Those things are more important than a game. Do you think you should’ve taken it?”
Jungkook looks devastated at the idea that Seokjin could be angry at him, peering up at him through wide, fearful eyes. To him, Jungkook was an open book. He can tell when he’s lashing out from hurt or hiding his pain behind smiles. It flusters him how Seokjin is the only person that can tell.
“Are you mad at me, hyung?”
“No,” Seokjin says reassuringly. “What do you have to do to make things right?”
“That’s right. And remember, Minseok doesn’t need to accept your apology. You always apologise if you do wrong because you hurt them.”
Jungkook nods and holds out his arms, eyes shiny with unshed tears. He looks almost afraid that Seokjin would reject him, the only person that he had never managed to hoodwink entirely. Or maybe he had, Seokjin thinks wryly, when he hears Jungkook make a sound of happiness when Seokjin embraces him. He trusts the goodness of Jungkook’s heart that he won’t be led astray. He just needs someone to hold the candle higher to alight the path every so often.
Most children had a proclivity to be good. Jungkook was no different. At 8, he was still willing to learn. Tell any kid that they were being cruel and there could be no worse accusation.
He’ll be fine.
“How do you become a hero? Is there a school for it? If I get a sword do I become like Wonder Woman?” Jungkook asks enthusiastically, waving his pen with the same deadly decision as a blade. “What should my costume be?”
“Taskmaster uses a sword,” Seokjin says succinctly. “Deadpool uses a sword as well. But they’re not heroes, are they.”
“Deadpool is sort of a - Ow!” Jungkook protests when Seokjin gently presses on the bruise on his knee, glaring at him with the fullest power of his wide eyes, his shoulders always squared to fight.
“Stop getting into fights. You can’t keep hitting people, even if they’re wrong.”
“But Haknyeon’s a bully and the teachers don’t care, hyung. He calls Seunghyun…” Jungkook shakes his head and stubbornly continues. “He hounds him and it’s him that gets in trouble. He won’t stop.”
“JK, listen to me.” Jungkook falls silent, gazing up at Seokjin with such enthralment that throws him off slightly. “In school, the worst thing that can happen to you is expulsion. But outside of school, the real monsters are humans and their master is money. It makes them invincible. You can get thrown into jail if you disagree with them.”
“But that isn’t fair,” Jungkook gasps.
Seokjin smiles wryly. “Life isn’t fair, Jungkookie.”
Seokjin massages the back of his neck, feeling Jungkook relax under his touch. “I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do good. You can be kind. Lots of people think that to be soft in this world is stupidity. It can be true. People aren’t afraid to take advantage of you. So you have to be smart as well. It takes everyone of us doing a small part to make a big change. We don’t have powers that can stop time so that’s our heroism. Just remember to have heart and you can save more people than you can believe possible.”
Jungkook hangs onto his every word, mouth pressed together firmly and eyes shining in determination. “But I already have one.”
“Then use it. That’s all heroes have to be.”
“So I shouldn’t do anything?” Jungkook looks angry and that makes Seokjin smile. Even at 9, he’s never been one to turn a blind eye at any injustices that happen right in front of him. A fact that would put most adults to shame. But Seokjin knows that there’s a limit of battles you can fight before it turns on you and consumes you whole.
“I didn’t say that now did I,” Seokjin says casually.
Jungkook perks up, eyes widening in understanding and a shadow of deviousness crosses over his face that makes Seokjin sincerely wish for mercy on Haknyeon’s part. Jungkook hides behind armour but Seokjin had always been able to draw that sincerity from him.
“Can we go to the convenience store to get ice cream? Please, hyung?” Jungkook looks up at him intently as if he was trying to convince Seokjin with the sheer force of his thoughts alone. “It’s so hot today.”
“Did you even listen to me at all?” Seokjin sighs in exasperation.
“Yes, hyung. That I should be a good boy and sit down quietly in class and listen to my teacher,” Jungkook says in a sweet tone that Seokjin immediately distrusts.
“Ah, whatever. I did my part, so I’m not to blame by future historians if you become a super villain. So no, absolutely not.”
Jungkook’s face falls.
“Because we are going to a supermarket where we can buy it in bulk and it’ll be cheaper,” Seokjin continues.
“Thank you, hyungnim!” Jungkook is getting better at placating him, knowing full well that he isn’t as easy to deceive as everyone else. But even when he isn’t a terror, how can Seokjin deny those cute, big eyes anything. When they’re at the counter to pay, Jungkook suddenly turns around and hugs him, making Seokjin smile as he ruffles his hair.
They’re getting there, one step at a time.
Seokjin refuses to make it a big deal. But it’s now 9pm and Jungkook is still at his house. Fortunately, he’s too busy playing with Seokjin’s PS4 to even notice.
“Jungkookie, aren’t you sweaty in your uniform? I’ll give you something to change into but it’ll be a bit big on you,” Seokjin says, rifling through his closet. Due to Seokjin’s preference for larger things, even the smallest shirt that he has hangs on Jungkook like a sheet, falling off his tiny shoulder. Seokjin laughs, unable to stop at the spectacle until Jungkook joins in as well, waving his arms helplessly beneath the oversized material and giggling at his reflection in the mirror.
He pulls the white shirt over his nose and pretends to scare Seokjin by making woooo sounds.
“Ahhhh!” Seokjin cries and falls back theatrically on his bed, hands over his eyes. He feels Jungkook crawl onto the bed next to him, trying to encompass Seokjin’s frame with his smaller one, squirming on top of him. “Release me, release me!” Jungkook only frees him when Seokjin begs for mercy and makes weak offerings of banana milk, all the while cackling at him. Seokjin feels like he’s lost years of his life.
Seokjin’s parents are whispering to themselves and looking up where his bedroom is from the living room when Seokjin walks downstairs. He catches the words, emergency and late, trying not to panic. Unseen by either of them, he slinks into the kitchen then back to his room and hands Jungkook the tiny bottle, much more subdued. Then he challenges Jungkook to an all stakes game of Mario Party.
An hour later and the novelty has finally worn off. All the joy has been sucked from the air and Jungkook is lying on his bed, staring listlessly ahead.
"Did my parents abandon me?"
There is no game, no story that he could use as a distraction. It’s just Seokjin and he has no clever quip to make this right. Seokjin closes his mouth, all jokes and all trace of good humour vanishes. Jungkook is looking at him with frightened eyes and thinking of the same thoughts he didn't dare to voice. They normally work late but this is the latest that they've been. Treacherous thoughts of accident and abandonment whisper incessantly in his head. Seokjin refuses to indulge them. He looks so small in Seokjin’s shirt and it stirs something strangely protective in him.
"Hey JK, remember when I said your parents work hard because they love you?" Seokjin speaks softly, so softly that it makes Jungkook's bottom lip tremble.
"Sometimes ... sometimes parents can let you down ... even if they mean well. Sometimes we need to be patient with them. They'll be back.” Seokjin tries to keep the hesitance out of his words, as he brushes Jungkook's bangs off his face.
Jungkook looks like he's on the verge of crying.
Seokjin needs to do something quick. “Sign this contract where you’ll promise to stay loyal to me for all eternity,” he says seriously. “Thumbprint is also fine.”
“What’s loyal?” Jungkook asks, sadness forgotten for a moment.
“It means I’ll be with you forever,” Seokjin says smoothly and bites back his smile as Jungkook dutifully writes his name on the line. And why would Jungkook question it. To him, Seokjin was as much of a fixture in his world as the moon and stars.
A faint smile returns to Jungkook's face and Seokjin breathes a sigh of relief. Jungkook reaches out for him and Seokjin envelops him in his arms, pressing a comforting kiss to his temple. "It'll be okay," Seokjin murmurs. "I promise it'll be okay." He doesn't fill him with anymore empty promises and just strokes the back of his head until his breathing evens, clutching tightly onto the front of Seokjin's shirt.
Afterwards, he gets a designated drawer in Seokjin’s closet just for his clothes.
They settle into this routine. Every morning, Seokjin waits by his gate until Jungkook leaves his house. Hand in hand, they walk to the subway station, becoming one single being with how tightly compressed everyone is in the rush hour. Seokjin drops him off at school then makes the rest of the way to his own. When the bell signifying the day is at an end rings, Seokjin sprints like the devil is after him to pick him up.
Today is a little different.
Seokjin leaves behind a trail of fluttering rose petals as he makes the dash up the road. Jungkook’s eyes widen at the flash of red hurtling towards him. Cradled in Seokjin’s arms is a monstrous bouquet of scarlet roses, giving him likeness to a large red cloud.
“What’s this for, hyung?” Jungkook asks curiously, rubbing a velvet petal between his fingertips, transfixed.
“Valentine’s Day,” Seokjin gasps, nursing the stitch that had formed in his side.
“Isn’t that next week?”
“Can you blame your hyung for being so charming that he has an endless number of admirers?”
“Are you going to give them back?” Jungkook ask curiously, rubbing a velvet petal between his fingertips.
“They’re anonymous so I can’t,” Seokjin frowns. “They’ll make a nice decoration for the living room.”
On the way home, Jungkook is uncharacteristically silent, his eyes fixated on the roses in Seokjin’s arms. “I want one,” Jungkook says softly.
He’s been quiet lately, more subdued. Another thing had been added to the routine. He’s at Seokjin’s house later and later now. So much that they end up battling each other in rock paper scissors to see who would get the bathroom first, his uniform folded neatly in his backpack until his parents finally picked him up. He’s buried himself in Seokjin’s comic books. A friend that’s always there once the pages are opened.
A much wiser person would’ve left it up to fate, but Seokjin was no such person. “I could get you something special if you want. You’re my beloved dongsaeng,” he coos, holding his breath in case it backfired. His mother always said that he was too indulgent to Jungkook’s whims.
Instead, Jungkook lights up, so bright he looked like the embodiment of the sun. “Don’t forget!” He separates Seokjin’s pinky from the tight grip he has on the bouquet to link them together.
Seokjin is full of determination to not let Jungkook down. His mind fills with thoughts of grandeur, tossing about ideas that could please a king. Seokjin is beginning to wish that he had chosen to surprise Jungkook instead to free himself from this pressure. For 3 days, he labours over his creation, hastily hiding it under his textbook whenever Jungkook visits and regales him tales of the gifts his friends have been bestowed with whilst he looks at Seokjin hopefully. Seokjin only ruffles his hair and distracts him with Kingdom Hearts.
If Jungkook notices other people carrying their own bouquet of red roses or pink teddy bears, he doesn’t mention it. Seokjin pauses suddenly, gasps that he accidentally left his textbook behind as he ransacks through his bag frantically. Jungkook looks equally as panicked until Seokjin presents him the product of his labour with a smile. An elaborate, red origami heart.
With a profound tenderness, Jungkook handles it like Seokjin had given him his real heart. Seokjin is nearly bowled over when he flings himself into his arms and buries his face into his chest.
“You’re my best friend, hyung,” Jungkook says and Seokjin nearly chokes and dies on the spot.
“You’re mine as well,” Seokjin says, touched beyond anything else. “Close your eyes, JK, I’m going to give you a kiss.”
Jungkook scrunches his face, lips quivering slightly from the anticipation that Seokjin has to bite back a laugh. Very gently, he presses a wrapped Hershey’s Kiss to his cheek. Jungkook opens his eyes and glares at him.
“You don’t look very pleased with your kiss. Fine, I’ll have it then.”
“No, it’s mine!” Jungkook whines, unwrapping the foil and sticking the chocolate into his mouth.
It’s like the world rights itself at that moment. Seokjin can breathe easily again when Jungkook reaches for his hand as they make the trek home. Jungkook regards the heart like it’s something precious, always orienting it in his line of sight as if he’s worried that it’ll disappear if he takes his eyes off it for just one second. Seokjin is already full of ideas for upcoming Valentine’s. Sure it was time-consuming, but the way Jungkook completely lights up is worth it an infinite times over. Even when his parents arrive later than usual to take him home, the smile still hasn’t left his face.
A few years later, Jungkook boldly asks for a real kiss. His eyes are squeezed shut and he giggles when he feels Seokjin’s lips brush against his cheek.
“Me too, hyungnim, me too!” Seokjin cries out when Jungkook bumps his mouth painfully against his cheek from his overzealousness and he dances away when Jungkook offers to give him another one, eyes widening in horror.
Seokjin is at his breaking point. It’s a large family occasion and already he wants to light himself on fire. He’s been continuously bombarded with relatives insisting that he pursue medicine and law without room for much else.
Despite it being a momentous occasion for his family, Jungkook’s family had been invited as well. It was a rare time that his parents were actually present and Jungkook hasn't left their side. Seokjin’s cousins have monopolised his gaming consoles and their rivalry soon extends to more than just playing mere games. Soon, they’re bragging about their marks and the stellar accolades they’ve reaped. Seokjin has no refuge in this hell.
Seokjin really doesn’t want to be here. He doesn’t want to be a part of the pissing contest of ‘who has the best son’. He has to, he needs to study. He has an exam coming up and he feels like shit. His body is heavy with fatigue, exacerbated from the cold that he managed to catch. He has to study. He’s desperately taking medicine but the fog in his head refuses to clear. Everything is just a haze of heat and pain.
Seokjin tries to be invisible but the sharp voice of his grandmother, who he hasn’t seen for years, cracks through the air like lightning. “Seokjin-ah! Make sure you become a doctor and make us all proud!”
Seokjin is crumbling under the pressure of everyone’s expectations foisted on him. Left vulnerable from the cold and the deadlines looming above his head like a guillotine, Seokjin bursts into heavy sobs right on the spot. Everything comes to a standstill as they bear witness to his weakness with hanging mouths. His parents flock to him to comfort but he is inconsolable. They grant him pardon to his room where the only one he could disappoint was himself.
Every attempt he makes at calming himself ends up being an indulgence of his old fuckups until he’s just crying for catharsis. Seokjin hadn’t even realised that someone else is in the room with him when warm arms and a sweet, fruity scent envelops him in a protective cocoon.
“Don’t cry, hyung,” Jungkook says softly, embracing him tightly to keep him from falling apart, he looks on the verge of crying himself so Seokjin takes in a deep, steadying breath.
“Sorry, that was embarrassing.” Seokjin frantically brushes at the tears across his face and tries to put himself back together for Jungkook's sake at least.
He can’t help but feel resentful. Since he entered high school, it’s all he’s been told. Study hard, become a doctor. He doesn’t know what he wants to be outside his family’s expectations. Every high mark he’s earned is full of laments of why he couldn’t achieve higher. This is a crucial year for him and he’s already burnt out. At seventeen. What a joke.
As if sensing that he needed comfort, Jungkook squeezes him tighter, resting his head on his shoulder and a bit of the heaviness lifts.
“I could help you study, hyung,” Jungkook offers and Seokjin feels guilt added to the clusterfuck of emotions he’s already harbouring.
“No, JK. You don’t need this stress. I’ll be okay, you don’t need to help me.”
“I want to,” Jungkook insists.
When it came to decisions, Jungkook infallibly makes the right one every time. Even if it came at a large cost. It hits Seokjin all at once, how they’re gradually leaving the carefree years of youth behind them. Seokjin feels like he’s floundering. So he latches onto the hand extended to him and doesn’t let go.
They make games out of his study material. Seokjin spends his time ‘teaching’ Jungkook random physics concepts even though he doubts that he has a full grasp of it. Entering this sort of role, helps him immensely. All his notes are colour-coded as colour stimulates the mind. It’s 3am and Jungkook is frowning over his work with a red pen, brutally marking him.
“87%. You’re doing better, hyung. Let’s sleep,” Jungkook says threateningly. He pats the space on the bed, curling onto his side. When Seokjin reaches the bed, he pulls him into his arms as Seokjin lets out an undignified squawk and throws a leg over his hip to prevent him from escaping to his table for additional cramming.
Jungkook never gave the indication that was he was tired despite how long these study sessions dip into the night or how wearing Seokjin must be as he repeats his notes, verbatim to him. But he was out like a light as soon as his head hit the pillow. Seokjin turns in his arms, watching the moonlight illuminate Jungkook’s features softly in silver.
“Thank you,” Seokjin whispers. “You saved me.”
Seokjin thought all hardship would end as soon as he entered university. How naive. The exams that he had spent his entire life studying for was now crammed twice in a year. When Seokjin finally lifted his head from his textbooks, an entire year of his life had gone by. It was pure luck that made Seokjin love what he was studying. Otherwise, he would’ve been miserable.
He winces when he sees his message log on his phone. The latest one he had sent was over a week ago and his responses, short and curt. As he scrolls down, he sees Jungkook’s name and he’s overwhelmed with loneliness. How had they gone from seeing each other everyday to once a month if he’s fortunate? Seokjin misses him dearly. He misses Jungkook’s vivacity and his mischievous smile as he details him of his recent exploits.
Before Seokjin can dig himself into a hole overthinking, Jungkook responds almost immediately.
did you slip and fall in the shower hyungnim? it’s been 2 months
no, i was sleeping
will I be forgiven if I take you out to eat?
ily, you’re my favourite hyung
It’s impressive that Jungkook is able to weave his magic in a single sentence. After that, they begin to talk to each more. Seokjin texts him in between classes and before bed whilst Jungkook sends him morning texts.
Jungkook asks if he’s happy a lot, asks if he’s been up to date with the comics they had enjoyed so much when they were younger. He’s gripped with nostalgia when Jungkook tells him that the series was coming to an end. At one point, he sends him screenshots whilst he was online shopping and tells him to make a quick choice between two equally hideous pants before the sale ends. It’s almost like Jungkook is right by his side again. He seems happy, Seokjin feels a relief that sinks deep to his bones.
None of it prepares Seokjin for the call that Jungkook was in jail.
It had never been his fear that Jungkook would end up here despite the concern of every adult around him. Seokjin knew him. He almost doesn’t recognise the boy in the cell. A patchwork of blue bruises arise across his swollen cheek and down to his neck. His hands were heavily bandaged and he was currently looking anywhere but at him.
Outside, his injuries look even worse in the golden glow of the evening sun.
“Are you okay? Where else are you hurt?” Seokjin asks in a rush, gently turning Jungkook’s face from side to side to gauge the severity of his contusions. He feels Jungkook melt slightly at his touch, the heavy scowl lightening as he lets Seokjin examine him.
“I’m fine.” The corners of Jungkook’s mouth lift into a faint smile.
Seokjin neck slices him.
“What the fuck were you thinking! Did you know how worried I was after getting a call telling me that you were at the police station after getting into a fight?”
“OW, HYUNG! On the bruise!” Jungkook neck slices him back, glaring at him through his bangs. His fists are curled and Seokjin can see red gradually staining the bandages. Jungkook was meant to be bright, radiant like a star. Not this boy whose body could barely house his anger.
“Why?” Seokjin asks, the single word full of such soft disappointment that Jungkook visibly recoils.
All the fight ebbs from him and he’s biting down hard on his lip, trembling. This time, Seokjin is able to get the first clear look at him in months. They’re almost the same height now, his face had thinned out more, his jawline more visible. He had grown up without him.
“I … I don’t know what I want to do,” Jungkook says mournfully, the agony in his eyes cutting Seokjin like glass, jagged and unforgiving. “My parents keeps telling me to be like you, to be a doctor but … it almost killed you… I don’t want …“
Seokjin feels incredibly stupid. He never thought about how Jungkook had saw him drowning and would want that as the last thing for himself. How he had dragged him down when he grabbed his extended hand.
“What do you want to do Jungkookie?” he asks, so gentle that it has Jungkook whipping towards him. He looks much too young again and Seokjin’s heart aches.
“I don’t know,” Jungkook says desperately. “Everyone has a direction and I’m being quickly left behind. I … I can’t catch up… everything hurts.”
Seokjin can’t take it anymore. He pulls Jungkook into his arms, mindful of his injuries. Despite the fact that he’s utterly failed him, Jungkook clings to him tighter, burying his face into Seokjin’s neck.
“I missed you. I really missed you.” Jungkook sobs. “I was so happy when you started talking to me again.”
His heart feels like it’s trapped in a vice with every word that Jungkook utters, completely wracked with guilt. “I’m sorry, hyung is sorry. Hey, it’s not too late. I can help you like you helped me. You can do it.” Seokjin pulls away, cupping Jungkook’s face delicately in his hands and brushing away the stray tears. “Okay?”
Jungkook nods and Seokjin smiles in return. The fact he has to barely lean down to press a kiss against his forehead, makes him hurt all over again. “Let’s go home.”
They float a lot of ideas between them. It’s a daunting thing to confront for anybody, let alone for someone with ambition. But if there’s one thing Seokjin is determined to give him, it’s a choice. Something he was deprived of all his life.
“What do you want to be Jungkookie?”
If it had been anyone else but Seokjin asking this question, he would have hidden behind his walls and refused to answer. But Jungkook trusts him, trusts him with his most intimate secrets without fear that Seokjin would mock him.
“I want to be a shield. I want to protect people that can’t protect themselves,” Jungkook says resolutely.
Eventually, they settle on something that Seokjin should’ve seen coming a mile away. Law Enforcement. He can imagine that, Jungkook in a uniform and being the beacon of hope for anyone that lays eyes on him. It’s what he’s always wanted.
With newly-found purpose, Jungkook throws himself into studying. They even use Seokjin’s study methods. It had amused him greatly when he had opened the cabinet in his bathroom for his razor only to find a bunch of colourful post-its stuck inside, bearing notes in Jungkook’s meticulous hand and impressive stick figure art. When they end up in the fridge as well, Seokjin has to put his foot down.
They study alongside each other, Jungkook at his table and Seokjin on his bed, frowning at his notes as if that would make him understand them better. Every time Jungkook feels frustrated, he nestles into Seokjin’s side, soothed when Seokjin absentmindedly runs his fingers through his hair, gritting himself to try again.
“Hey hyung, could you call me tomorrow at exactly half past twelve? No reason,” Jungkook says lazily, poking Seokjin’s stomach with his foot that he rested in his lap.
“I’m not making you get zero in your exam tomorrow, try harder.”
“Not like I need your help anyway.” It takes everything Jungkook has to maintain the ego that so many people quickly sign him off with. It was his armour. Only Seokjin can see the fragility in his eyes that he tries so hard to conceal.
“I did not sacrifice my chair and break my back in ten places for you not to do well, okay?” Seokjin draws him tighter into his arms and he can feel Jungkook melt into him.
“Okay,” he says softly.
“If you try to cram more, you won’t remember it. Let’s sleep now,” Seokjin coaxes and he swings his leg over Jungkook’s hip to prevent him from escaping. The nostalgia is overwhelming and Jungkook giggles lightly, letting Seokjin hold him.
From: annoying dongsaeng
To: annoying dongsaeng
To: annoying dongsaeng
sleep or die
From: annoying dongsaeng
From: annoying dongsaeng
i love you
Despite the fact that he really wants to throw his phone across the room. Seokjin lays back against his pillow with a smile.
For a brief moment; a wonderful, sweet moment, Seokjin thought their lives were back on track.
And then came the news that the world was going to end.
Seokjin thinks it’s all a hoax. It must be. It has to be. Monsters arising from the sea hellbent to devour the earth. That’s ridiculous. The news articles pop up in Sydney, Beijing and San Francisco. Too far from his life to spare a thought to. Eventually, Seokjin forgets about it entirely.
And then Busan was totalled.
Jungkook is one of the first people to sign into the livestream maintained by a brave soul. The footage was immensely shaky but unmistakable. Within, there was a terrible, skyscraper-tall monster that destroyed buildings with a single swipe of its tail as if they were nothing but toys. From its large jaws dripped an electric blue noxious liquid and luminescent green rings beamed intermittently along its scaly body. Seokjin would never forget the unearthly shriek that it released, shattering all the panes of glass.
But that wasn’t the only bizarre thing to make an appearance in the video. From behind, a large figure emerged. A robot that rivalled its size, yanked it back by its tail, its arm flattening into a large cannon that blew its head clean off. The sound was deafening. Jungkook let out a cry of victory and Seokjin had forgotten where he was, entirely numb and focused on the video.
Then the helm of the robot popped open and from it walked two people heavily clad in their own indigo armour. There was a hush before they pulled off their own helmets and Jungkook may have swooned next to him.
“They call it the jaegar program, hyung,” Jungkook tells him one day.
“So they built monsters to kill monsters,” Seokjin remarks.
“The minimum age to enlist is nineteen.”
“And will anyone?” Seokjin asks wryly.
“I want to,” he declares, light dancing in his eyes.
When they began broadcasting the battles between jaegers and kaijus, Jungkook was always there with his tablet, eagerly pulling Seokjin down onto his bed to watch with him, tangling their legs together. Jungkook would tuck himself under Seokjin’s chin as Seokjin laid a hand on his hip, tracing circles over his shirt.
“They’re so amazing,” Jungkook sighs, stroking the faces of the pilots through the screen.
If resources weren’t low, Jungkook would’ve collected the playing cards of the pilots and jaegers they'd print. His favourite were Crimson Triptych, the only jaeger in the world that was powered by 3 pilots. Jung Hoseok had hair like flames, his smile brighter than the sun. Even Seokjin could begrudgingly admit that they were incredible. They finished each battle virtually unscathed, full of invulnerability that all heroes should possess. Seokjin wishes beyond anything that Jungkook’s heroes had remained static on paper.
Jungkook becomes obsessed.
“That’s Min Yoongi,” Jungkook says, pointing to the blond next to Jung Hoseok, then he points to the tallest of the trio. “And that’s Kim Namjoon.”
He excitedly details Seokjin his plans of enlisting as soon as he was of age. The boy with eyes full of hero worship decided to become a hero himself. They had spent nights talking about it, endless hours of weighing the pros and cons.
“Maybe I’ll help bring an end to the war.”
“Or you could be a statistic,” Seokjin reminds him. “When is the end of this war? What if it’ll become a thing that humanity has to permanently deal with?”
“Seokjin-hyung, it doesn’t matter if the war will end tomorrow or a million years from now. People will die if even one kaiju is left to live. It’s because of jaegers that we can discuss this peacefully right now!” Jungkook’s jaw is set and he’s looking at Seokjin like he was the only obstacle in his way to achieving greatness.
Jungkook is simply too good for his own good.
Seokjin makes the hardest decision of his life and yields.
Seokjin hugs him more these days. He feels like if he turns, Jungkook will simply disappear. Jungkook has been all too happy to spend time with him. It feels like when they’re children again and Seokjin is desperately trying to make sure that these morals stay trapped in his head. But Jungkook isn’t a naive kid anymore.
"What do you think I should call my jaeger?"
It was Jungkook’s way of extending an olive branch. His discussions of outlandish battle strategies are his way of lightening the situation, to truly avoid talking about the horror of his decision.
"Pain In My Ass."
"It can only be two words," Jungkook says, deflating in relief.
“Ass Pain,” Seokjin suggests eloquently.
They throw out nonsensical combination of words, far better than discussing the alternative. At least they’re laughing once more.
“Love you, hyung,” Jungkook starts saying again.
“If you loved me you wouldn’t do this,” Seokjin says softly to his retreating back.
Seokjin had been so dreading Jungkook’s 19th birthday that when his letter came with his unexpected call of enlistment he breaks down into hysterical laughter because of fucking course he would get it. It’s not until he misses his dinner date with Jungkook that he comes looking, spotting the torn envelope with the official insignia in the corner did he understand immediately.
“I’m scared shitless too,” Jungkook admits quietly and that was all it took for the dam to break.
Seokjin was never meant to be a hero but Jungkook was.
In the month before, they’re curled up on his bed, watching a live segment of a duo of jaegers taking down a particularly resilient Category Three.
“You’re so lucky,” Jungkook sighs, playing with Seokjin’s fingers and pouting slightly.
“Unlucky more like. It looks like a painful way to die,” Seokjin says bluntly, eyes tracing over the massive dents that the particular battle had left on the jaeger.
“This is like every game we play. You in a giant ass robot taking down a monster with nothing but your fists and a plasma cannon!” Jungkook proceeds to do a violent demonstration with his Kirby and Mario dolls filled with exuberant sound effects, it actually makes Seokjin smile for the first time in a week.
“Promise me you won’t do something stupid,” Seokjin says suddenly.
Jungkook looks back at him, staring back at him with every essence of his wide, doe eyes in the very portrait of innocence. He must be desperate if he thinks that will work on him.
“Promise me you won’t enlist early,” Seokjin insists. “Be a policeman like we discussed.”
Jungkook’s mouth sets in an unhappy line as he glances down at the tablet forlornly. It’s not until they pull out the pilot, nothing more than a mangled pile of metal does Jungkook wince. “Promise me you won’t die,” he says so softly that Seokjin almost misses it.
The words get choked in his throat as the reality dawns on him. That might be him, the people they watch so intensely through the screen. Jungkook pulls him into his arms, murmurs words of comfort and massages the back of his neck as Seokjin blinks back tears. Their days are numbered and he wont be spending them a blubbering mess.
“I promise I’ll live,” Seokjin says after drawing in a deep breath. “I’ll return quick enough that you won’t have time to miss me,” he sighs like it was an immense burden to make.
Seokjin learns early on that the survival rate of pilots is essentially naught. The Wonsu of the Shatterdome that has now become his home is an imposing figure. In that he gives motivating speeches that actually make you want to give your life away to a cause you didn’t sign up for.
To find a match that would befit the jaegers that are continually getting built, they are split into two and told to duel each other until the Wonsu deems fit. There's a nervous energy in the air, all of them desperate to not be reaped for the deadliest game of blind dating. Seokjin watches the people around him be deemed drift compatible, one by one until only he is left.
They're baffled but there's not much they can do. The consequence of pairing those not drift compatible is too dire. They fall out of the neural bridge, their minds snapping like an elastic band stretched too far.
For a place designed to deal with kaiju threats as soon as they emerge from the sea, it’s fairly monotonous in their downtimes. In one of them, Seokjin accidentally wanders into the lab where he encounters the kaiju fanatic, Park Jimin, who spends his time poring over the bits of kaiju flesh they manage to salvage from battles and formulating endless predictions on the next attack. He’s never wrong.
“Hello,” Jimin says breathlessly, then suddenly, there’s a spark of interest in his eyes. “Hello.” His elbow slips off the table. “It’s the apocalypse right now. Tomorrow might never come. How about you and I - “
“Jimin! I did not come in on you cheating on me like this!”
Both Seokjin and Jimin whip their heads sharply towards the new voice. Seokjin wonders how Jungkook will feel knowing that he’s literally one metre away from his idol. Should he ask him for an autograph or would that be weird since he’s trying to befriend them?
“I’m - “
“Jung Hoseok,” Seokjin breathes.
Hoseok raises a surprised eyebrow.
“My friend was a total fanboy of yours,” Seokjin says hastily. God, he’s magnificent. How does Seokjin sensibly slip in that he also knows what his favourite underwear brand is.
“You should try your luck elsewhere, Jiminie,” Hoseok sings. “He’s taken an oath of celibacy. He’s impossible to match.”
“I wasn’t aware that my reputation has spread so far,” Seokjin mutters. “Is it my fault that I have standards?”
“We could use an ally,” Hoseok says breezily.
What a way to remind Seokjin that those that had matched are now dead. Being difficult is proving to be his salvation.
“Don’t be rude,” Jimin reprimands.
Seokjin feels a surge of affection for Jimin.
“I bet double or nothing that he’ll find a match within the next week,” he continues.
Later, Seokjin meets the other thirds of Crimson Triptych. Namjoon and Yoongi are eager to welcome him. With Hoseok as their centre, it’s impossible to see them as anything but a unit. It’s jarring where Yoongi will pause as he’s eating and Namjoon will wordlessly reach over to hand him a tissue. It makes him miss Jungkook all over again.
God, he misses his stubborn ass. Hopefully he’s utilising that persistence to study but Seokjin isn’t too certain. What would he be doing? Probably watching more livestreams in hopes that he’ll glimpse Seokjin in his glistening, new armour. For all of his difficulty in getting matched, Seokjin forgets that it’s a very real fate for him.
Seokjin breathes a sigh of relief.
There had been another slew of recruits and Seokjin dreads seeing a familiar face. Jungkook actually listened to him. A concept.
Something has shifted when Jimin begins joining them for their training sessions.
Jimin had looked nervous when the Wonsu entered his lab, looking evermore dignified and composed as his eyes swept over the formulas written in Jimin’s hasty scrawl. The numbers don’t lie, kaijus are broaching the breach more frequently as the days pass. Category Three, Category Four, there are no more Category Ones now. They can’t afford to spare anyone.
Hoseok looks unhappy to see him and he keeps sending significant looks to the Wonsu that Seokjin can’t decipher.
“Come on, hyung, if you’re going to be difficult, you need to prove why!” There’s a glint of mischief in Hoseok’s eyes, one that squeezes his heart, so reminiscent of someone else he knows whose teeth peek out endearingly when he smiles.
Seokjin groans exaggeratedly. Hoseok has been a pilot for years, no one can best him in combat. Not even his fellow co-pilots Namjoon and Yoongi who essentially share his mind. But he was the only training partner that Seokjin had.
“I really like you, hyung,” Hoseok says casually, in between graceful swings, hardly taking a breath whilst he forces Seokjin to use every ounce of his concentration to scramble to protect himself. “Oohhh, nearly got me there.”
Even with his focus, Seokjin can’t escape the speed of his strikes, incurring yet another patch of vivid bruises that act as bitter mockery of Hoseok’s victory. His brain comprehends nothing but evasion and the occasional chance of a clumsy attack. Suddenly, Seokjin realises that those chances are growing more numerous and full of reckless determination, Hoseok’s startled face flashing before him, he manages to sweep him off his feet with one neat blow for the first time.
“Jimin!” Hoseok gasps, stretching out his hand and Jimin is by his side in an instant, brushing back his hair and the sweat that forms.
Different, long dormant instincts arise and Seokjin is gently inspecting his ankle. “It’s okay, Hoseokie. We just need to get some ice on it,” he says soothingly but Hoseok looks like he’s in mortal agony and Jimin leans down to whisper a stream of encouragement into his ear.
“I’m sorry,” Hoseok says. Seokjin starts when he realises that it’s him that he’s addressing. “Do you know why no one cheers when we say that we’ve been the longest pilots in the game?”
Seokjin shakes his head, stricken. He wants nothing more than to jam his hands over Hoseok’s mouth so that he can’t utter the words that he won’t be able to unhear.
“The prolonged exposure to the nuclear reactor from Crimson Triptych will make me permanently retire soon. Humanity needs you.”
There are many things a jaeger is called. A shield. A weapon. Defender of humanity. They’re all wrong.
It’s a coffin.
Was there an end to this nightmare?
They were still far from any resolution to this war, all their efforts had been nothing but a perilous game of whack-a-mole, obliterating any kaiju that raised its head above the surface of the ocean to breathe. Was there an end to this nightmare? Or just Seokjin’s nightmare with his death?
Seokjin feels like he’s gone through every almost person in the bunker and there’s not one person that could be deemed his match. He had all but reassured himself until Jungkook steps out in front of him, beaming the bright smile Seokjin had missed so much.
Seokjin sighs loud enough that it could be heard from the other end of the earth.
“Wow, do you see how absolutely surprised I am at seeing you?” he deadpans.
Jungkook grins, spinning his staff with more flair than necessary and Seokjin severely looks forward to hitting him several times. “Not going to lie, your reception is a bit frosty. I was expecting a bit of worship.”
“You’ll get worship if you listened to me for once in your life,” Seokjin growls.
Jungkook rolls his eyes. “You look good. Your shoulders look illegal,” he frowns. “Will I grow mine from the kaiju training?”
Seokjin can see Yoongi and Namjoon swapping what looks suspiciously like money between them and god he’s annoyed that he will be making a lot of people money today. He already knows the outcome of the match before it’s even happened.
Smugness makes his movements light and Seokjin can’t help but think that Jungkook looks right at home here in a way that he has never before. He isn’t holding a pen and pretending it’s a sword anymore. Never in his wildest dreams did he think that Jungkook could become the heroes he coveted so much.
When Seokjin swings the staff behind him in the way that Hoseok taught him, Jungkook’s eyebrow raises in interest. The months have honed his body and even if he has yet to be within a jaeger, he’s become a formidable opponent. Jungkook is quick, deflecting every one of his blows but his rawness shows. Just when Seokjin is about to land the disarming blow, Jungkook barrel rolls beneath his swing.
“Oh, what the fuck,” Seokjin demands.
Jungkook has the audacity to flash the peace sign at him.
“Keep up, old man,” Jungkook teases. “I learnt from the best.”
“We have a new match.”
They were so preoccupied in their battle that neither of them had noticed the Wonsu creeping up on them. Seokjin’s face reflects only horror where Jungkook is one of absolute delight. He finds that he can’t meet anyone’s eye. His dreams of arriving home in one piece have been cruelly shattered by his childhood friend no less.
Jungkook massages his nape when they’re about to undergo the first test in their drift compatibility. Jungkook is shaking for an entirely different reason. His eyes are alight with excitement, where Seokjin only feels dread. He keeps sneaking glances at Seokjin’s face as if hoping that he would say something.
“I missed you,” Seokjin sighs.
Jungkook smiles shyly at that. “Me too.”
Seokjin holds out his hand for Jungkook to interlace their fingers together, a gesture that had always conveyed immeasurable strength for them.
Nothing prepares Seokjin for the first neural handshake and he lets out a loud yell as memories, his and Jungkook’s slams into him at all sides. Their memories rear high like a wave before they crash against each other melding into one. Seokjin, at ten, greeting their new neighbour with Jungkook peering around the doorframe with curious eyes, deliberating how to deter Jungkook away from a life of criminality, explaining to Jungkook’s bemused boyfriend at the time of their Valentine’s tradition, the crushing loneliness he had felt in his first year of university, reuniting with Jungkook once more and receiving the news about the end of the world.
All at once, Jungkook’s memories are pressing into his head. Feeling flustered every time Seokjin could see through his act, letting thoughts of heroic idealism fill the void that his parents had left, how vulnerable he feels when Seokjin left, his armour from the world gone, the double take he had done when they had facetimed in a long time and despite the exhaustion that lined his face, Seokjin was still the most beautiful person he had ever seen and recoils alongside of him when he sees himself shaking his head at Jungkook in quiet disappointment outside the police station.
Hey, it’s not too late. I can help you like you helped me. You can do it.
Those words that Jungkook holds close to his heart, from that tender look in Seokjin’s eyes, to the way he cups his face so gently in his hands and how Seokjin always had unwavering confidence in him.
It’s hard to separate his memories from Jungkook’s from the way they feature in each other’s intimate memories so starkly and numerously. Those memories carry with them a kind of warmth that causes distance and time to melt away. They are undoubtedly, the happiest times of Seokjin’s life. And they were Jungkook’s as well. For every triumph, every adversity, they’ve always been by each other’s side both then and now. When the connection ends, they’re left blinking at each other, dazed at the immense weight of their relationship.
They’re drift compatible.
Seokjin taps his cheek impatiently, rolls his eyes when Jungkook sends him a questioning look. “I don’t think there needs to be uncertainty anymore.”
Jungkook practically bumps his mouth against Seokjin’s cheek and when he lets out an exclamation in pain, pecks him softly. He taps his own cheek and giggles when Seokjin kisses him.
Everyone gives them hushed congratulations for their successful drift. It’s only a matter of time now before they’re sent out to exterminate a kaiju. Jungkook is the only one that doesn’t feel the heaviness of the implication.
Just when Seokjin finds time to draw breath, they get called away to battle. The engineers move as swiftly as machines as they fit their armour to them and get them into their unnamed jaeger. Jungkook is looking up at it with stars in his eyes and Seokjin can’t suppress his laughter, gently massaging his nape.
“It’s so beautiful,” Jungkook whispers in hushed awe, hand over his heart.
“Please control yourself, we have a job to do.”
Jungkook nods fiercely. “Let’s kill that kaiju.”
They get dropped into a world of black, to rain falling down on them thick and hard in sheets. The moment of anticipation, where there’s nothing but silence, tracking the movement of the kaiju is unbearably tense. A Category Three. There is no better way to learn than to drown. There’s a muscle moving in Jungkook’s jaw and just when Seokjin is going to suggest moving to another area, a deliberating force slams into them.
“There!” Jungkook gasps and they whip around in tandem, jumping in sync and landing on the kaiju’s tail. It undulates in the sea, snapping its jaws and a shower of its electric blue acidic saliva cascades down on them.
As it turns out, livestreams did not fucking prepare them for seeing a real live kaiju right in front of them, illuminated by the fork of lightning in the sky.
“What the fuck?” Seokjin yells in terror. “What the fuck?”
Jungkook is no less composed, yelling his own obscenities that vividly reminds Seokjin of when they used to game together. That’s all it is. Defeat the monster, gain experience. Level up. That’s it. Jungkook draws strength from his resolve, calming almost immediately and the strategies they discussed filter into Seokjin’s mind. They ready the plasma cannon but it disappears into the iron sea.
“It’s heading for the shore! Don’t let it reach it!” the Wonsu orders in their ear.
The sea works against them, their movements sluggish as they battle to reach the shoreline. Out of the water, the true appearance of the kaiju is revealed. This one has a large hammerhead, prominent luminescent, blue veins snaking down its reptilian body. They don’t hesitate, raising their arm to activate their plasma cannon and bombard it with a prismatic beam that does nothing upon its thick hide.
“Shit,” Jungkook says eloquently.
It digs their claws into their shoulder, the metal tearing as easily as paper with a terrible high-pitched squeal. Red lights and the ominous WARNING burst forth in their display until it’s all that they can see.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck,” Seokjin chants, “What do we … sword!” They chorus together.
The hammerhead rears to strike again at the same time that Seokjin slams down on the lever, impaling itself on the glorious silver sword that disengages. With a piercing howl, it retreats and tide of the battle flips in their favour.
“Don’t let your guard down,” Seokjin warns but even then, Jungkook’s energy is infectious. His laughter is louder than any of the kaiju’s piercing wails as they drive the sword over and over again into its body.
Emboldened, the sword goes straight through its eye and with a clean upward slash, its head collapses in two, sending the filthy beast careening to a ground with a resounding crash that seems to shake the very foundation of the world.
Seokjin is dimly aware of the Wonsu making the orders for their return back to the Shatterdome. All he can see is Jungkook next to him, his face alight with open euphoria.
Afterwards, Jungkook comes to him, too wired to fall asleep. Seokjin is just as relieved, having resigned himself to staring at ceiling until the sky lightened outside.
“Well that was … wow,” Jungkook says, his words eluding him.
“And I thought years of reading comic books would’ve prepared me for this,” Seokjin sighs.
“I have a few ideas of a new strategy.” Jungkook walks into the centre of his room, rolling up his sleeves as he did so, muscles unfairly prominent from the seemingly insignificant gesture. “So I’m thinking, next time, when it goes to strike, we sidestep right at the last second, grab it in our arms and use its weight against it. SUPLEX!” Jungkook cries, falling back onto the mat enthusiastically.
Bring a hero suits Jungkook like nothing else does. The post battle euphoria is beautiful on him, settling in a rosy flush on his cheeks. Purpose changes his whole being and makes him walk with authority. Jungkook is divine.
“God, I love you,” Seokjin says, not even realising the words he had uttered.
Jungkook’s lips part open in slight surprise before it softens into a smile. “Love you too, hyung.” In a second, he’s climbing into his bed. It’s familiar in the way that Jungkook curls into him and tangles their legs together. Less so when Jungkook places a gentle kiss to the edge of his jaw and keens when Seokjin brushes his lips against his forehead.
“And you wanted this,” Seokjin muses.
“It started feeling like a bad idea when it got its claws into us,” Jungkook admits, fingers curling over the shoulder as if their jaeger’s damage was his own. Seokjin laces their fingers together and Jungkook’s smile grows more content. “Hyung?”
“Let’s go home.”
The odds are stacked against them like the volumes of comics that detail how even heroes could meet a gruesome end. They didn’t have alternate timelines to save them, no time magic to undo any glaring error they could make. But for now, being together was enough.
“What should we name our jaeger?”
“I believe we decided on Ass Pain.”
Jungkook splutters. “Hyung! I am not getting into a jaeger called Ass Pain!”
“Believe me, I would’ve called my jaeger that if Yoongi-hyung hadn’t stopped me,” a voice calls.
Jungkook and Seokjin whip their heads to the door in an eerily synchronised motion. When Jungkook sees Hoseok, Seokjin has never seen such a deep shade of red adorn his cheeks before. It’s adorable. And well, if his idol gives his approval then Jungkook would accept any name they deliberate on.
“No one can escape the Wonsu’s matchmaking prowess,” Hoseok brags.
“You’re mean,” Seokjin pouts.
“Believe me when I say naming a jaeger with three people giving their enthusiastic input is a real migraine.”
“So how did you settle on yours?”
“Oh, I have every belief that Namjoonie plans on changing it when we’ve let down our guard,” Hoseok says jovially. “Congratulations on your successful run. We look forward to having you as our allies.”
“We won’t let you down!” Jungkook bursts out.
Hoseok raises his eyebrow in realisation. “Oohhh. Is this the friend you mentioned, hyung? My fanboy? He’s so cute.”
Jungkook flails. They toss around random variations of names with Hoseok ‘helpfully’ suggesting his own which get more and more crude with each one and Jungkook completely enthralled by him.
“Look, at this point, I’m totally okay with something like Blue Blanket,” Seokjin says exasperatedly, drowned out by the others. Because naming their jaeger something like ’Iron Man’ wouldn’t get their asses sued even if they were the real heroes of the world now.
They deserve some modicum of happiness. So even if it’s ridiculous to see his worlds, old and new colliding like this, Seokjin suggests another lewd name even if it yields another one of Jungkook’s painful slaps to his neck. They’re screaming over the top of each other when Yoongi appears at the door and he looks too sombre for their festivity.
“It’s Jimin,” he says and the smile slides right off Hoseok’s face. “He’s in the medic bay.”
A sword had been unique in the way that it had yielded a piece of brain when they had driven it through its eye. And Jimin, sweet, well-meaning Jimin who knew the inevitable fate of all the pilots… drifted with it. A kaiju brain. The act was unprecedented and reckless as fuck.
It’s not Hoseok who screams hysterically. It’s the Wonsu.
“Taehyung! You need to stay calm!” Namjoon barks.
Gone is the man who could face a hurricane with unruffled composure. The pieces begin falling together. Like Hoseok’s frown when Jimin had joined them for their practice sessions.
“Busan,” Jungkook whispers in wonder.
They had been drift compatible.
This war was bloodthirsty and fed on countless lives to survive. How noble, that even when they were given their respective death sentences, they still continued to fight in ways that they could.
Jimin has yet to regain consciousness.
As if sensing a weakness kaijus begin pouring from the breach. They are the only shield between humanity and these monstrous beings. They spend more time in their jaegers than out of it. Jimin’s face is as smooth as a still pond and Seokjin longs for it to wrinkle from his smiles. Anything to know that he was alive other than the steady beeping from his heart monitor that did nothing but fill Seokjin with the urge to flee.
Late at night, bundled up in his arms, Jungkook seems determined to remind him of home. Bemoaning about the volumes of comic books that he’ll have to catch-up on and the dust that will surely settle a metre thick in his room. Anything to remind them of what they still have.
“You didn’t make me a heart this year,” Jungkook says, slightly accusing.
“Oh that’s right. Will my real one suffice?” At his disinterested look, Seokjin groans, “I knew I was never going to top that battery circuit one.”
In the drift, all their thoughts are shared, so technically it isn’t wholly necessary for them to speak.
“Cut its fucking arm off!” Seokjin yells, he feels Jungkook’s amusement before they raise their arm and bring down the sword. The battle is electric and he’s never felt more alive. And with Jungkook’s own enthusiasm, Seokjin feels like God.
Jungkook lets out a loud yell when the kaiju crashes into them blindly. Seokjin grits his teeth as they plant their feet within the ground, pushing back against it to prevent it from levelling the city. With the attacks so frequent and close together, their jaegers haven’t been unable to undergo regular maintenance. And what would’ve been minor damage before, is catastrophic now as the sirens blare in their ears. They need to end the battle. But this is a freshly baked kaiju from the breach and it shows no sign of stopping.
“We can’t send out Crimson Triptych, they’ll never make it in time. You’re on your own for this one!” comes the onerous words of the Wonsu.
With one single swipe, the helm gets ripped apart and for the first time, they’re able to look at the kaiju directly in its slitted eye. Taking advantage of their paralysis, the kaiju rams into them again and the force nearly sends Seokjin out of his harness. A pain so deliberating and intense overcomes him. Jungkook’s pain. His blood is ice. He sees Jungkook’s prone form barely held by the collapsing cockpit, blood running down his face and far too still.
Agony. Pain slamming into him at all sides, ripping him apart. He can feel his mind shredding as he takes on the entire neural load of the jaeger. It did no good to scream. No… Jungkook couldn’t be … the howl of the kaiju manages to be loud, impossibly loud over the sound of Seokjin’s mind shattering and the jaeger threatening to explode.
A hero… in a brief crazy moment, Seokjin wanted to be one too.
Somehow, he forces his leaden arm to move and his entire world goes white.
Seokjin thinks the only thing that kept him alive was the sheer hatred of the continual beeping of a heart monitor. God, his head feels like it’s splitting apart. Opening his eyes feels like a Herculean task. Why is he trying so hard? Jungkook was dead.
“He… He’s awake!”
“Someone get the Wonsu!”
Alive… so he’s alive.
Seokjin tries to sit up but a heavy weight on his chest presses him down. For a wild moment, he thinks that his body was broken, it must be. No one has been known to pilot a jaeger on their own, not without a cost. Has he been imprisoned by his own body? But when he forces his eyes down, he sees a shock of black hair.
Roused by his movement, the figure stirs, blinking up owlishly at him.
“Ju—… Jungkook?” Seokjin demands incredulous, his mind a tailspin.
“Why do you sound so accusatory?” Jungkook asks just as snippily.
“You died,” Seokjin snaps back.
“No… you did.” And from the way that Jungkook’s voice breaks Seokjin knows it must be truth. But how…? He remembers seeing Jungkook’s limp body, no longer able to hear his thoughts, certain that he was … Seokjin holds out a hand that is racked so violently with tremors that Jungkook carefully takes, placing it on his face. “I got knocked out during the battle so it left you bearing the entire neural load on your own… everyone was so sure … I was so sure…”
Jungkook blinks at him with his doe eyes, suddenly so fragile, the sight absolutely heartbreaking.
“I’m alive. I hope you can get a refund on the funeral arrangements,” Seokjin says weakly.
Jungkook lets out a loud wail, planting kisses wherever he can reach, muttering god, thank god, you’re alive, over and over again. Seokjin also thinks he hears a I hate you and go die somewhere as well and decides he isn’t conscious enough for this.
“How long?” Seokjin whispers urgently.
Two long days of thinking he was dead. Seokjin touches the bandage on Jungkook’s cheek and when he squirms away when Seokjin places a hand on his waist, he knew he was concealing far worse injuries beneath the oversized shirt he was wearing, one that Seokjin realises is his own. The days where Jungkook has worn his clothes before they had cleared a drawer for him was long past. But it still swallows his frame, makes him look smaller than usual, he observes with a pang to Seokjin’s heart.
“Did you push our beds together?” Seokjin tries to laugh, but it comes out as a pained wheeze.
“When I woke up, it was already like that. I think the Wonsu did,” Jungkook explains quietly.
“Tell me more … what - “ Seokjin winces, collapsing back onto the bed when he tries to sit up but Jungkook catches him, gently lowering him down.
“You need to rest, hyung. You’ll get briefed soon, I promise,” Jungkook coaxes, lying down next to him.
“I spent two days in bed,” Seokjin complains but Jungkook’s eyes are beginning to droop. Despite that, he looks reluctant to sleep, as if convinced that it was all an elaborate dream. Seokjin brushes his bangs back in a comforting gesture. “I’ll sleep if you do.”
Jungkook nestles in closer, pressing their mouths together in a sleepy kiss, lips dry and chapped from the sterile air. Seokjin wonders if he’s slept at all. He’s right though, he’s tired. So tired. Jungkook is alive and he is too, his heart monitor never letting him forget it.
For once, the sound isn’t so bad.
Seokjin ends up asleep for another 18 hours. He’s roused by voices above his head, low, like incessant insects. Reluctantly, he cracks an eye open and the first thing he sees is the Wonsu backlit with a soft ring of light. Seokjin doubts he truly is a deity.
But he seems more … human than usual. He congratulates Seokjin on living and for saving the city. At the Shatterdome, they had been ready to mourn, unable to dispatch reinforcements in time. All of that feels hollow when Seokjin recalls the devastation of that moment.
“You bisected it. No one had ever done that before.” The Wonsu looks like he’s waiting for an explanation.
Seokjin jumps slightly when he feels a hand on his thigh. He shouldn’t be surprised that Jungkook is by his side. The silent conveyance of strength is all Seokjin needs. “Crazy situation. Crazy thing.”
“Believe me when I say that I’d rather you rest but when do you think you’ll be ready to pilot again?”
Seokjin feels like he’s free-falling. Going back there where his mind was torn to bits trying to sustain the jaeger alone even for a few seconds. He hasn’t even spent that long recuperating before they want to throw him back into his coffin. “I need to think about it,” he says tersely.
“If there was any other way … we only have you and Crimson Triptych. Let me know if you’ve made a decision.”
Seokjin never agreed to be the shield in the first place but Jungkook had. It’s not the first time he’s had his body broken for the sake of justice. But Jungkook doesn’t say any of that. All he does is cradle Seokjin in his arms, squeeze the back of his nape and sprinkle his face with kisses. It was also Jungkook that had admitted that volunteering scared the fuck out of him.
“Do you think Captain America had a day after he woke up from the ice and just lays down on his bed and says… not today?”
Jungkook looks relieved that Seokjin was the one to break the silence but the exhaustion lines his face when he smiles. “Every day.”
“If I don’t want to … are you going to find another co-pilot?”
Jungkook hesitates. “I should … shouldn’t I?”
Seeing Jungkook so unsure makes Seokjin laugh in mild exasperation. “You can’t do that. You’re supposed to be my moral compass. Will I need to make my own decisions now?”
“What are you talking about, hyung?” Jungkook asks softly. “You’ve always been my moral compass.”
Suddenly, Jungkook looks much too young again and he looks like he’s bearing the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. Even if he was the only one to choose this, it’s cruel forcing him to live his decision.
“We’re a shield for people that can’t defend themselves. We can’t leave them as helpless prey for the kaiju. We’re the last thing standing between salvation and extinction. That’s why I want to fight.”
Seokjin doesn’t have the privilege of time to make his decision. Nor the privilege to have a decision. When another kaiju appears, they’ll drag him kicking and screaming to the cockpit. He looks into Jungkook’s doe eyes that shine resolute with purpose even if marred by slight indecision. The bandage taped to Jungkook’s cheek is whiter and purer than anything it’s allowed to be. Seokjin’s eyes flicker down to his body. He recalled Jungkook being careful with his movements.
“Can I see?”
“It looks a lot scarier than it is,” Jungkook tries to smile.
Without hesitating, Seokjin lifts up the hem of his shirt and he almost drops it in shock. Much of Jungkook’s torso is a mottled green and purple bruise. It’s haunting, sickeningly beautiful. Seokjin’s eyes dart back to his face, a question at his lips.
“It hurts a bit but it could’ve been a lot worse,” Jungkook admits.
Impossibly delicate, Seokjin grazes his fingers across the violet, forced to confront his memory of that night, hearing Jungkook’s breath hitch.
“I really thought you were dead,” Seokjin gasps and he wasn’t sure where the agony had come from. From the neural overload, his own injuries or the fact that his childhood friend was … it wasn’t him that raised the arm to ultimately deliver the killing blow to the kaiju.
“No, Seokjin-hyung, no, don’t cry,” Jungkook murmurs, brushing away the tears that had began to roll down his face. “I’m fine now, see?”
Seokijn brushes his sleeve over his eyes impatiently. “You’re so brave. You’ve always been so brave.”
Jungkook shakes his head. “You're just as incredible, you saved a city.”
Seokjin doesn't know how to contradict him although he is very wrong. Only Jungkook could withstand the weight of idealism without getting mercilessly crushed beneath it. Jungkook has always seemed invincible.
“You were always my hero, hyung.”
Seokjin wants to laugh again but the way Jungkook says it so earnestly traps the words in his throat. Of all people that he could’ve chosen to idolise, why him? He’s not built for this. He had long decided that his brand of heroism was to stitch people back together. He wasn’t meant to be a fighter.
And yet one he became. So if he must become the salvation from extinction, so be it.
"You'll never be able to find someone else who'll be drift compatible with your ass,” Seokjin declares.
Jungkook’s laughter is one of pure relief. ”Right back at you.”
“Hey, I thought of a name for our jaeger. Want to hear it?” he says in a casual tone.
“Sure.” The smile on his face, tender.
Jimin is awake.
They know of the news almost from the moment that he opens his eyes. For someone that had been in a coma for a week, he was rather animated. Scribbling hastily into a book to only a formula that he can see. He’s so preoccupied with lifting the numbers from his head that he doesn’t seem to notice when he’s reached the bottom of the page, dependant on Hoseok to hold a new sheet without interruption.
“I saw it, when I drifted with the brain,” Jimin hisses, still not looking up at them. “Everything is crystal clear now!”
“Is he okay?” Jungkook asks but Taehyung holds a finger to his lips. Despite his attempt to project calm, all of them could see how tense he is.
Namjoon is looking over his shoulder, mouthing the things Jimin has written, face growing white.
“I was right before when I predicted that they would be coming first within days, then hours, then minutes. Category 3, Category 4, Category 5 all pouring from the breach,” Jimin says breathlessly, when he looks up his eyes are glazed. “We’ve been going about this the wrong way!’
“The breach can’t be destroyed, we’ve tried it with the greatest nuclear weapons that we’ve had,” Taehyung says.
“From the outside. But from the inside. Look,” Jimin cries. “The breach only opens for the kaiju… it reads it like a barcode!”
“So we use that as a point of entry,” Yoongi says smoothly.
All at once, the plan is conveyed.
“Valiant Heart is up for battle,” Seokjin says.
“And we appreciate your sacrifice.” Hoseok beams.
“Today, we put a stop to the end of the world,” Taehyung announces.
Jungkook trails his fingertips down Seokjin’s arm before he interlaces their fingers together and smiles when Seokjin squeezes back. That’s never been enough for them as Seokjin uses their clasped hands as leverage to pull him into a tight embrace and it made the inevitable seem less bleak.
“The moment of a hero being made, you must be excited,” Seokjin says.
“There’s less excitement and more knowing that it’s a duty that must be fulfilled,” Jungkook says sagely.
“You’ll go down as a legend after this,” Seokjin muses.
“We’ll be legends,” Jungkook corrects.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The drift is hell.
The battle more excruciating than he remembers. A fire flares across his cheek and torso but it’s Jungkook’s scream that nearly has him panic and fall out of the drift. Seokjin relives the moment where he was forced to bear the entire neural load on his own again all over again. The pain splitting his head from the front to back. Jungkook is hyperventilating and Seokjin forces himself out of his thoughts to reach out and console him. And then … it’s not his thoughts anymore. The disorientation is Jungkook’s when he wakes, thinking that he had died. And then a relief flooded him when he saw Seokjin next to him and despite the breathing apparatus over his face, he still looked so beautiful, angelic.
And then the Wonsu tells him that he won’t wake.
Jungkook doesn’t understand. How. His face looks so perfect. How. Jungkook takes Seokjin’s hand. “Squeeze my hand, hyung. Squeeze my hand that you’re okay,” Jungkook whispers again and again. But Seokjin remains still.
The only solace Seokjin has is that Jungkook, lost in his haze of emptiness, did not feel pain.
And then beyond hope, Seokjin wakes up and their memories snap back into the present where they’re breathing heavily against their harness, sweat dripping down their bodies.
‘Are you okay?’ They both ask at once.
‘I asked you first,’ Jungkook has the audacity to think and when he hears Seokjin splutter indignantly, he laughs, shakily, but better than nothing.
‘I’ll feel better when we kill some kaijus,’ Seokjin thinks back.
“Focus,” comes the Wonsu’s steady voice.
It’s strange knowing that they could bring about an end to the apocalypse that has overcome their world. The silence, as they’re lowered into the sea, is almost poignant. Ever helpful, Jungkook conjures him his memories of classical music befitting the mood. The sea is a never ending night and despite Jimin never being wrong, Seokjin thinks that they’re being lowered into the kaiju’s waiting jaws.
“We’re okay,” Jungkook says aloud, but his voice sounds quavery and thin. “We’re fucking okay.”
‘Yes we are,’ comes Hoseok’s voice and they nearly jump out of their skin.
“I’m fighting with my idol,” Jungkook says in hushed awe and Seokjin bursts out laughing, high pitched, unrestrained and slightly strangled.
And with that, all their fear evaporates.
They let go of the fact that this is the battle of all battles. This is simply another expected prediction that Jimin had whilst hanging upside down on a table because he swore it helped him think better. Kill the kaiju, attach the nuclear reactor to it and shove it back to where it fucking came from and boom. Humanity saved.
“You should give motivational speeches,” Jungkook drawls and if he’s capable of teasing Seokjin again then they’ve won.
‘Category Five,’ the Wonsu whispers.
Their last battle is designed to be a messy one but none of them were going to die here without a brutal fight. It’s a mark of their experience that Crimson Triptych attacks as soon as they see the first sign of a kaiju.
‘Kaiju sense is tingling,’ Jungkook adds helpfully.
“You’re a fighter here, not a spectator,” Seokjin admonishes.
Jungkook pouts but his expression morphs into a smirk when the second kaiju makes its appearance. The body is gargantuan, its body continually writhing from what Seokjin can’t tell in the darkness. Jungkook is already filling his head with numerous strategies including his favourite, a good offence is a good defence. Seokjin prevents him from launching Valiant Heart at the kaiju like a torpedo.
Whilst chaos reigns all around them, they are nothing but calm. A Category Five is more cunning than its weaker brethren and any blow they manage to land on it, it gets them back in turn. Suffering has shaped them, refined their strategy. There is only Valiant Heart and Crimson Triptych standing between humanity and extinction. Jimin had learned that the kaiju have a hive mind and they’re lucky that it hasn’t called any of its kin for aid.
Its tail whips out faster than they can comprehend but their reflexes are sharper. Arms raised, prepared to catch it when it splits in two and pins them against the rock. Before they can so much as swear, the kaiju releases a sonic screech that shatters the sea bed around them, yelling in agony alongside of it. Seokjin adds his strength to Jungkook’s as they wrench their right arm free and disengage their sword at the same time, slicing its tail clean off and pulling the end trapping them carelessly aside.
‘It’s only surprising if it splits in three,’ Jungkook muses.
“Please don’t jinx it,” Seokjin groans.
If there’s anyone that was fit for the job to end the apocalypse it’s them, Crimson Triptych and Valiant Heart. They don’t need to waste time being concerned for the other when they can dedicate themselves to solely destroying their own designated kaiju. Seokjin can sense Jungkook growing frustrated with how the kaiju is weaving effortlessly between their strikes. Perhaps before, he would’ve gotten irritated and charged right into it and let it sink its teeth right into them.
Now, Jungkook charges their cannon, taunting it, daring it to strike. The kaiju doesn’t expect them to grab it in their arms and ram it head first into the seabed.
“FUCK YEAH!” Jungkook yells, elated at finally managing to drive the sword through its abdomen. Their victory is short lived when they’re unable to pull out the sword, caught within its barbs and literally a kiss away from the kaiju.
“Fucking - “
Pain explodes through his body when the kaiju’s claws digs into their side, prepared to rip them in two. White spots appear in his vision and Seokjin shakes his head desperately. They are humanity’s final defence and they cannot lose here. Not now. Seokjin throws his entire weight on the lever and activates the secondary sword in their left and stabs it alongside the one already trapped.
‘I love you,” they both think at once.
“I said it first this time!” Seokjin yells and then with strength they didn’t know they had they wrench their arms outward and cleave the kaiju in two.
“Don’t celebrate yet, we still need to attach the nuclear reactor!” the Wonsu yells in their ear.
“Almost forgot about you there!” Jungkook chirps, all respect forgotten from the high of their victory.
They drag the larger half of the kaiju body back towards the breach as water floods their cockpit, WARNING and sirens continually flash and blare all around them and with resounding finality, they thrust the ugly beast back where it came from, watching it sink below into nothingness with a savage satisfaction.
“No, you can’t pass out here,” Jungkook growls. “Together.”
They have precious seconds when they shut off their jaegers to get to the ejection pod, before the pressure of the ocean grinds them into dust. Once inside, Seokjin lets himself be consumed with fantasies of safety. For all he knew, they could be entering the line of fire. No. The others are seasoned veterans. If they could kill their kaiju then so could they. Especially with everything on the line.
When the pod breaks the surface of the water, it’s like he’s being reborn again. Even if the sun pierces his eyes from its radiance and is obscenely bright, he’s never been more ecstatic to see it. Jungkook’s pod rises to the surface next to him and Seokjin sees him blinking at the sun in wonder, basking in its warmth after being trapped in what felt like an endless night. Is that it? Is the nightmare over?
But when he sees Seokjin, his face morphs into something else. Reverence. Seokjin had always thought that Jungkook looked beautiful after the post battle glow. He’s resplendent now. At once they reach for each other and intoxicated from victory, they nearly knock each other into the ocean from their exuberance. Seokjin laughs when he tries to caress Jungkook’s face forgetting that he was still in armour. They don’t waste anymore time to kiss each other, so soft and sweet, jarring after the desperation of the battle. Seokjin can feel Jungkook smile as they lose themselves in it. Euphoria quickly burns into passion and Seokjin keeps pulling him closer, unable to believe that they have made it. Even when they part, they’re pressing gentle pecks to each other’s lips, alive on the prospect of life.
Seokjin counts the pods that rises to the top. Three. Even though anger paints their features as they squint up at the sun, they’re alive and well. All of them.
“We did it,” Yoongi says, in disbelief.
Those words free them and they’re pulling each other into a tight embrace.
“It’s over,” Hoseok weeps in relief.
“God, I hope my family still remembers me,” Namjoon whines.
Their jaegers lay broken at the bottom of the sea, the final things the war has claimed. They did it, they circumvented extinction. A normal life, there could be no sweeter thing to return to. Except there was, Jungkook, alive and well by his side. Seokjin starts to laugh and Namjoon almost falls into convulsions of hysteria next to him. Jungkook rests his forehead atop of his with a smile that makes the sun pale in comparison.
“Let’s go home.”
Seokjin never thought he would become a hero, but legends they became.