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Sonder
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

START

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                               •

 

Jeon Jeongguk, like every other day, was having an extraordinarily ordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, and he makes breakfast, as usual.

Today, he thinks as he eats his meal in silence, I'll go on an adventure.

Of course, Jeon Jeongguk thinks this every single day, and every single day, he remains where he is, never going on any sort of adventure at all.

Today will be different, he thinks idly. I'll make sure of it.

 

When Jeon Jeongguk gets to town, there's a new rumor swirling about in the air.

Have you heard? Apparently, there's a dragon loose in the town nearby! Whatever should we do? Where's our hero when you need one?

Jeongguk has to smile at their gossip. Every day, there are new rumors but nothing ever happens. Yesterday, it was an evil witch. The day before, the plague.

Today, it's dragons, but Jeongguk is too swept up in planning out his adventure to care.

Maybe, after he leaves this town of course, he can go to the City of Pearls he hears so much about. Nobody ever returns from the City of Pearls. They say it's because nobody would ever want to leave after arriving.

Jeongguk desperately wants to know what that's like. What it's like to yearn to stay in a place he traveled to.

"Jeongguk!" comes Mr. Moon's expectedly deep voice. "It's good to see you! Would you like to buy some of my wares?"

As Jeongguk does every day, he grins and shakes his head. "Mr. Moon, you know I'm not such a fool that I'd buy your wares at five times their worth."

Mr. Moon's never offended by Jeongguk's response and today is no different. He gives a hearty laugh, reaching out and patting Jeongguk's back fondly. "Good for you, son. I'm sure you'll make it far. Did you hear about the dragon in the town over?"

And as Jeongguk does every day, he grins wider, nodding as he doesn't even think to contemplate a different answer. "I did, of course. The town's looking for a hero, as always."

"Aren't you interested in being a hero? You were always fond of Miss Yi's stories when you were a child. Ah, Miss Yi… it's truly a shame what happened to her. Did you hear about that? She was attacked by a dragon at a young age."

Jeongguk has heard of this story but still, it pains him to hear. "How could I forget?" He looks wistfully up at the sky. "Besides… how can I become a hero? I wouldn't even know where to start…."

And as Jeongguk does every day, he keeps walking, his mind darkened by memories he can't quite remember as Mr. Moon keeps rambling to himself in the background.

Maybe today isn't the day, Jeongguk thinks as he walks himself over to the lake, staring at his reflection with a pounding heart. Maybe tomorrow, I'll finally set off.

On my adventure.

 

START

                                                                                            •

                                                              •

                                •

 

Jeon Jeongguk, like every other day, was having an extraordinarily ordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, and he makes breakfast, as usual.

Today, he thinks as he eats his meal in silence, I'll go on an adventure.

Of course, Jeon Jeongguk thinks this every single day, and every single day, he remains where he is, never going on any sort of adventure at all.

Today will be different, he thinks idly. I'll make sure of it.

 

 

When Jeon Jeongguk gets to town, there's a new rumor swirling about in the air.

Have you heard? Apparently, there's a horrible curse in the town nearby! Whatever should we do? Where's our hero when you need one?

Jeongguk has to smile at their gossip. Every day, there are new rumors but nothing ever happens. Yesterday, it was a dragon. The day before, an evil witch.

Today, it's a curse, but Jeongguk is too swept up in planning out his adventure to care.

Maybe, after he leaves this town of course, he can go to the City of Pearls he hears so much about. Nobody ever returns from the City of Pearls. They say it's because nobody would ever want to leave after arriving.

Jeongguk desperately wants to know what that's like. What it's like to yearn to stay in a place he traveled to.

"Jeongguk!" comes Mr. Moon's expectedly deep voice. "It's good to see you! Would you like to buy some of my wares?"

As Jeongguk does every day, he grins and shakes his head. "Mr. Moon, you know you can't so easily scam me out of my money as you do to others."

Mr. Moon's never offended by Jeongguk's response and today is no different. He gives a hearty laugh, reaching out and patting Jeongguk's back fondly. "One day I'll get you, son. I'm sure you'll make it far. Did you hear about the curse in the town over?"

And as Jeongguk does every day, he grins wider, nodding as he doesn't even think to contemplate a different answer. "I did, of course. The town's looking for a hero, as always."

"Aren't you interested in being a hero? You were always fond of Miss Yi's stories when you were a child. Ah, Miss Yi… it's truly a shame what happened to her. Did you hear about that? She was killed by a curse at a young age."

Jeongguk has heard of this story but still, it pains him to hear. "How could I forget?" He looks wistfully up at the sky. "Besides… how can I become a hero? I wouldn't even know where to start…."

And as Jeongguk does every day, he keeps walking, his mind darkened by memories he can't quite remember as Mr. Moon keeps rambling to himself in the background.

Maybe today isn't the day, Jeongguk thinks as he walks himself over to the lake, staring at his reflection with a pounding heart. Maybe tomorrow, I'll finally set off.

On my adventure.

 

START

                                                                                        •

                                                              •

                               •

 

Jeon Jeongguk, like every other day, was having an extraordinarily ordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, and he makes breakfast, as usual.

Today, he thinks as he eats his meal in silence, I'll go on an adventure.

Of course, Jeon Jeongguk thinks this every single day, and every single day, he remains where he is, never going on any sort of adventure at all.

Today will be different, he thinks idly. I'll make sure of it.

 

 

When Jeon Jeongguk gets to town, there's a new rumor swirling about in the air.

Have you heard? Apparently, there's a horrible monster in the town nearby! Whatever should we do? Where's our hero when you need one?

Jeongguk has to smile at their gossip. Every day, there are new rumors but nothing ever happens. Yesterday, it was a curse. The day before, a dragon.

Today, it's a monster, but Jeongguk is too swept up in planning out his adventure to care.

Maybe, after he leaves this town of course, he can go to the City of Pearls he hears so much about. Nobody ever returns from the City of Pearls. They say it's because nobody would ever want to leave after arriving.

Jeongguk desperately wants to know what that's like. What it's like to yearn to stay in a place he traveled to.

"Jeongguk!" comes Mr. Moon's expectedly deep voice. "It's good to see you! Would you like to buy some of my wares?"

As Jeongguk does every day, he grins and shakes his head. "Why, Mr. Moon, you know I buy my supplies from someone who prices their wares fairly."

Mr. Moon's never offended by Jeongguk's response and today is no different. He gives a hearty laugh, reaching out and patting Jeongguk's back fondly. "You sure know how to read me, son. I'm sure you'll make it far. Did you hear about the monster in the town over?"

And as Jeongguk does every day, he grins wider, nodding as he doesn't even think to contemplate a different answer. "I did, of course. The town's looking for a hero, as always."

"Is it now?"

Jeongguk stills, surprised to hear the voice come from right behind him. He turns around.

It's a man. Someone Jeongguk hasn't seen before, not in this town. He's handsome, tall, and he carries a sword at his waist. He looks like a—

"Yes," he replies, almost on instinct, his mind whispering Oh, so handsome people like this really do exist in this world. "We're in need of a hero, you see."

"That we are!" comes Mr. Moon's booming voice from behind him. "Would you like to buy some of my wares, young traveler?"

For a few seconds, the man stares at Jeongguk longer than Jeongguk's used to but finally, he turns to Mr. Moon. "What do you have to offer me?"

"I have more than you know…."

Jeongguk stands awkwardly next to them both as they both barter together, the man's voice deepening as he does his best to persuade Mr. Moon into lowering the price. It works, only slightly, and Jeongguk does his best not to pay attention to what the man is buying from Mr. Moon.

"Thank you for your service, young traveler! Did you hear about the monster in the town over?"

The man smiles sardonically at Mr. Moon as he nods solemnly. "I did. I'm going there now."

That piques Jeongguk's interest. "Oh? Are you a hero?" He feels foolish for even asking.

The man looks at him. "Why? Do you have an interest in heroes?"

The question makes Jeongguk flush a deep red and as he thinks of a response, unfortunately Mr. Moon answers for him.

"Of course he does! He's always dreamed of being a hero. Isn't that right, son?"

Jeongguk awkwardly laughs, pressing his hands together. "Mr. Moon's correct. I dream of traveling."

The man stares at him even longer. Jeongguk squirms under the interest. Usually, any of the young heroes that might pass through town don't interact so much with him. In fact, Jeongguk can't remember the last time he's spoken to someone that wasn’t Mr. Moon.

"What's keeping you from being a hero, then?"

Mr. Moon answers for Jeongguk again here. "Unfortunately, Jeongguk's only living relative, his uncle, died when he was just a boy. He has an attachment to this town. One he can't leave. I can offer you some tips, however, if you'd like."

The man ignores Mr. Moon, his gaze still intense on Jeongguk. "Would you like to be my traveling companion? You could be a hero."

Jeongguk blinks. This, he thinks, is not an everyday occurrence. This, he thinks, is an opportunity.

But then, "Like a sidekick?"

The man's lips quirk. "I guess."

"Jeongguk—"

Jeongguk shakes his head. "I don't want to be a sidekick. I want to be the hero." His mind, though, is darkened suddenly by memories he can't quite remember, and he looks down, his heart pounding in his chest. "How can I become a hero?" he mumbles quietly to himself, his hand fisting at his pants as he repeats a phrase he's said for years now. "I wouldn't even know where to start…."

"You can start with me," the man says, holding out his hand. "My name is Kim Seokjin. Would you accept being my traveling companion?"

"Oh, surely, Jeongguk wouldn't—"

"I accept."

Kim Seokjin smiles. "Great! Do you need to retrieve any valuables?"

Jeongguk thinks about it.

"No," he replies. "Everything that I hold value in, I carry with me."

Seokjin nods. "Deep," he smiles, "Well, then, follow me… wait, what's your name?"

"Jeon Jeongguk."

"Well then, follow me, Jeon Jeongguk."

Today is already so different, Jeongguk thinks while shyly smiling. I'm finally going on my adventure!

 

 

Jeongguk doesn't say much as they leave the town together, Kim Seokjin having stopped by to ask several other townsfolk questions about the monster in the town over. He buys potions from their town's potions master and he sells a knife to a man Jeongguk doesn't think he's ever seen before.

The only time Jeongguk does say anything is when they pass by the lake that Jeongguk's visited every day since he can remember.  

"I wonder if I'll see this lake again," he says, not even realizing he says it out loud. Seokjin hums next to him.

"Do you want to?"

Jeongguk doesn't know. "I'm not sure. Not if means I can't become a hero though."

"Nonsense. You'll become a hero anyway. Besides, you'll be sure one day and then you'll know your answer then. Did you come here often?"

"Yes. Every day."

"Every day?"

"Yes."

Seokjin is looking at him strangely again, in that way that his stare lingers like none other. Finally, he sighs.

"You really are just an NPC, aren't you?"

"I don't know what that means."

Seokjin sighs again. "Yeah, that's not a surprise. Ugh, I should have figured. It's just been so hard to tell recently and I'm new to this area of the map. Sometimes, people come online just to be picked up for a quest. They pretend to be an NPC. But that's not you, is it? You're an actual NPC, aren't you?"

Jeongguk stays quiet. Seokjin shuts his eyes tightly together before opening them again. "Fine," he says. "What's your goal? What have you always dreamed of, Jeongguk?"

"I dream of going to the City of Pearls. Somewhere I want to stay. Somewhere I can be a hero."

"Okayyyy, that's easy enough, I guess. I'll help you." At this, they start walking again, Jeongguk not even getting the time to think about saying goodbye to the lake he's grown up with. Seokjin is just so much and everything he's said has only made Jeongguk more curious.

"Wasn't I helping you? On your hero's quest?"

"You mean the monster?"

Jeongguk nods. He wonders briefly what kind of terrifying monster it must be, to garner such fear in the town over. Seokjin, however, only laughs brightly.

"The monster will be gone by tomorrow. There's always something new. Besides, the younger generation can deal with it. I'm here today because I'm finally on a vacation and I'll be damned if I don't use my time wisely."

"Vacation?"

"It means I'm going to spend all my fake money and buy a house by a lake somewhere and fish, after maybe killing a few monsters of course. I might learn some magic too."

Jeongguk's always wanted to learn magic. "Can I learn magic with you?"

Seokjin sends him a surprised smile. "You want to learn magic with me? Hmm, I didn't know NPCs could have such a want."

Seokjin obviously comes from a world Jeongguk has no understanding of and Jeongguk isn't understanding half of what he's saying, but Jeongguk feels strongly about this man and what he could bring to Jeongguk's life. Seokjin offered to help him become a hero, after all.

Jeongguk wonders which world he comes from. Maybe… maybe if he had left his town, he could have understood Seokjin more. But why would he? Jeongguk comes from a small town rarely visited by others and he's never left once. He's never left once. He's never… why didn't Jeongguk just leave earlier?

"I want to help you though, if you want me to help you. I can get you to the city. It's on the mainland so it'll be pretty easy. Should only take a few days in-game. We can learn magic together there too. It doesn't take long. Especially for the beginner stuff."

Jeongguk doesn't know what he means but he doesn't ask.

"You'll really help me?"

"I said I would, didn't I? Trust me, Jeongguk."

Jeongguk doesn't feel surprised that he does.

 

 

"So, what's the backstory they gave you?" Seokjin asks as he pulls his sword out of some indistinguishable beast that attacked them on the road to the City of Pearls. Jeongguk had wanted to save the day like the hero he wants to be, but throughout all the chaos, Seokjin had screamed at him saying that he didn’t have any kind of weapon to do anything. So, Jeongguk stayed back.

He doesn't know what he could have done anyway. He sighs.

"I… I was an orphan, but then my uncle took me in. He died when I was young."

"How did he die?"

"Monsters killed him."

Seokjin hums. "Are you sure it was monsters?"

"What?"

"Never mind. So, what happened after he died?"

Jeongguk peers at him, feeling like he should be more suspicious than he is. "I… I grew up. I haven't done much."

"Why do you want to be a hero? What do you think awaits you in the City of Pearls?"

"Something more. Adventure. A hero's journey. A place where I can be happy."

Seokjin's face remains blank but something sad flickers in his eyes. "Are you not happy now?"

"I don't know. I think I am. I don't think I'm really anything right now. I don't know."

"Well, hopefully you can know soon."

 

 

"You know, you're a very cute NPC."

Jeongguk stumbles over a rock, pulling a laugh from Seokjin. "You think I'm cute?" he finally asks.

Seokjin laughs again. "You are. Probably the cutest NPC in this entire game. I wonder why they were hiding you away in a town nobody likes to go to. I wonder who created you. That sounds so weird to say. It's weird that you aren't real. You seem real. But that's how they made you, right? How do you have so much conversation variance? Every conversation I've had with you has been different."

"Made me? Conversation variance?"

"Exactly. Most NPCs don't even respond so directly to something I would say. It makes you feel even more real since you're apparently able to do so. It's freaky."

Jeongguk doesn't know why but being told that makes his stomach drop. Seokjin seems to realize it wasn't the right thing to say though because he goes onto say, "You aren't freaky, that's not what I meant. It's just… god, why am I explaining this? You aren't able to process any of this information. It's not in your coding. I could tell you right now that you aren't a real person, you're just a character someone made up, but the information wouldn't stick, right?"

"Right."

Seokjin starts walking again, sighing softly. "And your goals are so unique. Usually, NPCs ask me to help them with a favor, but your goal is so much more philosophical. I wonder why. I wonder why you were made the way you were." He looks at Jeongguk. "But it's nice. You're better than anyone else in this game. You seem more real than anyone else, including those that are. So, if I say you're real, that means you're real, understand?"

Jeongguk nods, smiling and feeling out-of-breath. "I understand."

Seokjin nods. "Good."

 

 

As they travel to the City of Pearls, Jeongguk admires Kim Seokjin.

Seokjin talks about many things on the way there and after a while, he stops and lets Jeongguk talk instead.

Jeongguk mainly asks him questions like what his world is like and how often does Seokjin visit his own? Seokjin's response to the first one was Painfully magic-free and unfortunately Jeongguk-free too (this made Jeongguk blush profusely) and his response to the second was Way too often honestly, but it's been a while since I've gotten to dedicate as much time as I am to it.

At some point, Seokjin stops mentioning that Jeongguk is an "NPC" and Jeongguk is grateful for it, glad to be rid of the brief confusion the term gave him.

"I guess you could become my sidekick," Seokjin muses instead, "Like, who's going to stop us, you know?"

"I already told you, I'm not becoming your side-kick. I'm going to be a hero."

"Side-kicks can be heroes, you know."

"Yeah? Well, why don't you become my side-kick?"

That makes Seokjin laugh. "You're right, but what would we do? Should we stop crime? Should we save those from terrible fates? Should we—"

"We should Do Good," Jeongguk states plainly. It makes Seokjin laugh again and the sound of it makes Jeongguk feel tingles all the way down to his toes.

"You have a very strong moral compass, I see."

"It's what heroes do."

"Uh huh."

"I feel like you don't believe me."

Seokjin reaches out and pats Jeongguk's shoulder. "I believe you."

Jeongguk glares at him. "I feel like you don't."

"Have you always been so distrusting and mischievous?" Seokjin grins.

Jeongguk opens his mouth to respond but then closes it as he considers the question. Has he? He thinks back on his life just yesterday and finds that he can't remember too much. He doesn't think he has been.

Jeongguk is a good person. Mr. Moon always said so. Mr. Moon said he was smart and was going to go far one day. He can't really remember anything besides that though. He frowns.

"I'm not sure."

Seokjin nods. "Don't worry about it, I was just teasing you. Anyway, what kind of magic are you hoping to learn?"

At that, Jeongguk perks back up. "Any."

"What if the magic turned you into a frog?"

Jeongguk stops short at that, gaping at Seokjin. "W-will that happen?"

"Who knows?"

Jeongguk thinks about it, biting his bottom lip nervously. "I guess… that would be a new adventure, for sure. Would I get a handsome prince to kiss me to turn me back?"

This time, it's Seokjin that stops short. His eyes are wide as he takes Jeongguk in. "Prince?"

Jeongguk nods. "Yeah."

"Not princess?"

"Hmm, no?"

Seokjin looks down with a pained expression. "So not only did they code him as the cutest damn person in this game, but they coded him as gay too?"

Jeongguk does know what those words mean. He giggles. "I'm very gay." This only causes Seokjin's ears to flush a bright red in response. "I first kissed a boy when I was ten. He died in the Ogre War though."

"When he was a kid?"

"No, just a couple years ago, I heard."

"What was his name?"

"I… I don't remember."

"Was he cute?"

Jeongguk pretends to think about it. "Yes."

Seokjin pouts. "Cuter than me?"

"No," Jeongguk replies honestly, his heart skipping a beat. Seokjin smiles prettily at him at his reply.

"Unsurprising. I'm Worldwide Handsome, after all."

Jeongguk laughs.

 

 

The City of Pearls is everything Jeongguk has ever dreamed of it being. It's huge in the way that feels inescapable and wonderous, and Jeongguk stands still for a long time, taking it in with a fast-paced heart.

In the sky, large shining pearls float in the sky. On the ground, people from all different backgrounds walk around, their voices floating up to meet the pearls. Jeongguk stares at the wizards and mages and he stares at the many adventurers and he stares at the beautiful magical creatures he's heard so much about.

Jeongguk's hand reaches out for Seokjin's, needing some kind of comfort, something to ground him, and Seokjin lets him take it and squeezes his hand gently.

"Is it everything you hoped it would be?" Seokjin asks softly, kindly, fondly.

Jeongguk nods. "It's more."

Seokjin squeezes his hand again. "Good. Come on, let's explore."

 

 

The first time Jeongguk gets to play the hero is just a few hours later when he saves a little girl from tripping over herself. He sees it happen before it does and rushes off to catch her, making it just in time, his knees hitting the ground hard as she falls into his hands.

She looks shocked and Jeongguk grins at her.

"Be careful, miss," he says gently, helping her stand up straight. She nods fervently at him.

"Thank you! I will!" She rushes off just as Seokjin comes up from behind Jeongguk to help him up.

"Look at you. We've barely been here a day and you're already a hero."

Jeongguk flushes. "That...? You think?"

"Definitely."

It warms Jeongguk to the core.

Finally, he thinks giddily. I knew coming here was the right idea. I knew it.

 

 

As the day comes to an end, Seokjin is quick to find them a place to stay.

"I can buy you a small house in this city if you'd like. Houses are cheaper here."

Jeongguk stares at him in shock. "You have… money?"

Seokjin laughs. "A ton of it. I've played this game way too much, but yeah, tomorrow we can go house shopping. Today, we'll stay in an inn. I need to log out anyway. I think it's been at least half the day in real-time."

Jeongguk doesn't know what he means but he nods anyway, agreeing to the idea of staying somewhere to sleep.

Seokjin buys them two rooms, waving a teasing hand as he says good night to Jeongguk who nods curtly back at him. Jeongguk… Jeongguk needs to sleep now.

Sleeping has never been Jeongguk's favorite thing. He always feels like he loses a part of himself when he sleeps.

He gets into the bed anyway, feeling awkward, but as soon as he shuts his eyes, the world around him loses focus.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

Jeon Jeongguk, unlike every other day, was having an abnormally extraordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, but unlike the usual, he's in a room he's never been in before.

It startles him so much he almost falls out of his bed.

Where am I? he thinks with a panic, taking in the room without an ounce of recognition. Where am I? he thinks again.

As calmly as he can muster, Jeongguk leaves the room, his thoughts drifting to the breakfast he eats every morning but isn't getting to have right now. The place he's at looks like an inn and when he walks down the hallway, he's greeted by sounds of life.

"Hello, young sir! You look famished. Would you like some food?"

Jeongguk nods. "That sounds excellent, thank you."

"Is the usual good?"

Jeongguk isn't sure he knows what the usual is, but his mouth and stomach speak for him. "Yes, that's perfect."

Instinctively, Jeongguk goes and sits down at the table and waits for his food, sitting there for a long time in silence as he does. Finally, his food is served. Jeongguk eats it and then waits some more.

I should get up and go somewhere, he thinks. I'm not even sure where I am or why I'm here, but obviously, I'm finally on an adventure. I should take advantage of it.

Jeongguk doesn't stand up though. Instead, he remains sitting, too swept up in planning out his adventure to care.

 

 

A few hours later, Jeon Jeongguk remembers where he is when he sees Kim Seokjin leave his room and bound off into the room Jeongguk's in. Seokjin sees him immediately.

"Jeongguk! There you are. I was so afraid that maybe you'd reboot back in your town, but thankfully, you didn't."

Jeongguk blushes. "Reboot?"

"Don't worry about it. Were you waiting for me?"

Jeongguk doesn't think he was. "I'm not sure."

Seokjin hums thoughtfully. "You don't need to know. Let's go find you a house. Then, we can learn magic."

 

 

They find a house relatively quickly, Jeongguk satisfied with every single one they look at, but finally deciding on the fourth one just so they can start learning magic already. Seokjin pays for his house in full, handing him the deed to the house with an excited smile.

"Do you feel happy?"

Jeongguk nods. He does. He does.

"I do."

 

 

Learning magic doesn't take as much time as Jeongguk would have thought. Seokjin buys him tons of spell books and even sets up a room in his house solely dedicated to practicing magic.

They spend the entire day in that room, the pair of them giggling as they try new things, and Jeongguk wonders why Seokjin decided to talk to him at all, decided to make him his traveling companion.

Jeongguk wonders if he ever would have left his town if it weren't for Kim Seokjin showing up.

"Here," Seokjin says, reaching out and gently grabbing Jeongguk's hands, pressing them together. "You need to channel the magic from within you. It'll definitely take a few tries, but you can do it."

Seokjin's hands are warm, almost hot, but Jeongguk just nods, letting out a breathy, "Okay" and he does what Seokjin says, closing his eyes and absorbing all that feeling within him.

The first time Jeongguk uses magic is to create a flicker of light that has his eyes fluttering open and has his smile reach to the sky.

Eventually, after a long minute, the light fades, but Jeongguk revels in his excitement and relief. He can do magic. He can do magic.

Jeongguk can be whatever he wants to be.

"You did it, Jeongguk," Seokjin says softly, smiling at him proudly. Jeongguk nods.

"I did it."

 

 

Seokjin, like the night prior, eventually has to leave, and like the night prior, Jeongguk has a hard time falling asleep until he doesn't.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

Jeon Jeongguk, unlike every other day, was having an abnormally extraordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, but unlike the usual, he's in a room he's never been in before.

It startles him so much he almost falls out of his bed.

Where am I? he thinks with a panic, taking in the room without an ounce of recognition. Where am I? he thinks again.

As calmly as he can muster, Jeongguk leaves the room, his thoughts drifting to the breakfast he eats every morning but isn't getting to have right now. The place he's at looks like a house. It's sparsely decorated but it looks nice. Jeongguk wonders what it'd be like to live here.

Suddenly, Seokjin is in front of him, and like the day prior, Jeongguk remembers where he is.

He's at his new home. This is his new home. He made it. He's made it.

Seokjin looks slightly different today. His hair is styled a bit differently and his entire outfit has changed. Jeongguk frowns. It isn't often he sees too many people dress in something different, but he supposes Seokjin is different than all those people. Seokjin comes from another world entirely. Seokjin is a hero.

"You look nice," Jeongguk says.

Seokjin blushes and glances down, scratching at the back of his neck. "Ah, yeah, I changed my outfit. Haven't done it in a while in the game, but I don't know…" he glances back up, his gaze catching on Jeongguk's, "I wanted to look nice."

"You do," Jeongguk reassures him. "Really handsome. Yeah."

"Yeah."

Jeongguk looks away first. Finally, "I'm hungry. Is there somewhere I can eat breakfast?"

That breakfast is one of Jeongguk's favorites.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

Time passes strangely for Jeongguk, according to Seokjin. After a few more days and a few hesitant questions, Seokjin determines that when Seokjin isn't playing the game, Jeongguk is in a mode of stasis. At least, the Jeongguk thatknow, Seokjin unhelpfully adds. Jeongguk isn't completely sure what he means but it seems to bring some peace of mind to Seokjin so it doesn't bother him too much.

The second time Jeongguk gets to play the hero is when a hoard of cursed civilians attack the city and Jeongguk bravely protects a man from dying with a spell he learned just a few hours earlier. The man thanks him profusely, offers his services as a blacksmith to Jeongguk for free, and by the end of the next day, Jeongguk has a brand new sword attached to his waist.

"You even look like a hero now," Seokjin comments as Jeongguk practices unsheathing it. Jeongguk blushes but holds his head high.

"And you look like my sidekick," he retorts. 

Seokjin laughs himself silly at that.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

"Weren't you going to buy a house by the lake and fish?" Jeongguk asks before they head off to sleep. Seokjin pauses in his door and doesn't turn around.

"Ah," he says. "I can do that any time. Why? You want me gone that badly?"

Jeongguk frowns. "No. I don't want you to leave at all. I was just wondering though. I don't want to stop you from living your dream when you've helped me accomplish mine."

Seokjin turns around. "Oh, Jeongguk. That's very sweet, but really… it's okay. Besides, I'm having too much fun hanging out with you. Who cares about some fish?"

Jeongguk is determined though. "Let's go fishing tomorrow. We can go to the nearest lake and spend the entire day fishing. I want to fish with you, Seokjin."

Seokjin stares at him silently for a long time, but finally, he nods.

"Okay. That sounds really nice."

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

Jeon Jeongguk, unlike every other day, was having an abnormally extraordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, but unlike the usual, he's in a room he's never been in before.

It startles him so much he almost falls out of his bed.

Where am I? he thinks with a panic, taking in the room without an ounce of recognition. Where am I? he thinks again.

As calmly as he can muster, Jeongguk leaves the room, his thoughts drifting to the breakfast he eats every morning but isn't getting to have right now. The place he's at looks like a house. It's sparsely decorated but it looks nice. Jeongguk wonders what it'd be like to live here.

Suddenly, Seokjin is in front of him, and like every other time, Jeongguk remembers where he is.

He's at his home. Seokjin is here. Jeongguk feels light.

Seokjin makes Jeongguk feel so…

"Here, I brought you breakfast," Seokjin says, moving them to the table to sit down. "Then, we can go fish. If you still want to, that is."

"I still want to."

It makes Seokjin smile.

Seokjin is really beautiful, Jeongguk thinks, not for the first time. And then he eats.

 

 

The lake they go to isn't far but Seokjin says he's never been before. They buy fishing supplies in the city before they leave and for a while, they aren't the only ones on the road as they travel. After a while though, the others disperse and it's just Seokjin and Jeongguk again, the two of them coming up with names for the fish they're determined to catch.

When they arrive, Seokjin stops walking for a second, admiring the sight. Jeongguk watches him instead.

Seokjin is really beautiful, he thinks again, his heart pounding.

They set up by the lake, Seokjin immediately pulling out his fishing rod and sitting down to fish. Jeongguk, instead, lays out on the grass for a long time and practices his magic, making the water dance for them, which makes Seokjin laugh so brightly and so beautifully.

Finally, after a few hours and no caught fish, Jeongguk sits beside Seokjin and fishes alongside him, Seokjin's arm brushing his own. Jeongguk feels light again.

Seokjin makes Jeongguk feel—

"JEONGGUK! I CAUGHT ONE. WAIT. WAIT. SHUT UP. BE STILL."

"I'M NOT EVEN DOING ANYTHING. REEL IT IN!"

The next moments pass in deadly stillness, Seokjin pulling and stepping back, and finally, they see the fish before it's fully out of the water.

It's huge and a deep purple, its scales glittering in the sunlight, and Jeongguk stares in shock as Seokjin gives a final pull it and reels it all the way in, the fish landing on the ground in front of them.

"You caught one!!!" Jeongguk finally exclaims, staring down at the giant fish and then glancing back at Seokjin. "You did it!"

Seokjin is panting, but there's a wide grin on his face, and he looks elated and he's not even looking at the fish.

"I did it," he says disbelievingly. "I actually did it. God, do you know how hard it is for me to catch fish back home?"

Jeongguk laughs. "You say that like you weren't waiting all day for this."

"Jeon Jeongguk."

Jeongguk steps forward and hugs him tightly. "You did it."

Seokjin hugs him back, hesitating at first, but then tightening his grasp around Jeongguk. "Yeah." He looks back down at the fish. "Okay, time to put you back."

They pull apart and reach down, grabbing the fish and gently moving it back into the lake. The fish quickly swims deeper in, never to be seen again.

Jeongguk punches Seokjin's shoulder.

"Hey! That hurt! Is this how you repay me? With injury and pain?"

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. "You make us spend the entire day out here to catch a fish we aren't even going to eat. I hate you."

"You absolutely do not. Especially since I'm about to buy you dinner."

Jeongguk perks up at that. "Really?"

"Really really."

"Nice."

Despite what Seokjin said, they spend another hour by the lake, the two of them leaning against each other as they watch a turtle slowly making its way across. The sun starts to set and Jeongguk sighs happily.

He's happy.

He's happy.

He's happy.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

Time passes strangely for Jeongguk, according to Seokjin.

"You know, today marks a year of our friendship. At least it does in my world."

Jeongguk hums as he snuggles closer to Seokjin. Seokjin is warm. Jeongguk isn't going to give this up for anything in the world.

"Did you even hear me?" Seokjin sighs, shoving Jeongguk playfully.

"I heard you," Jeongguk grumbles. "That's cool. I feel like I've known you forever. I can't believe what a loser I was when we first met. I couldn't even hold a sword properly."

"Oh, and you can now?"

"Hey."

"Kidding. Also, you weren't a loser. You were cute. You still are."

It's times like these that Jeongguk wonders what they are. He wonders what they are. He wonders if somehow, they're both heroes, but together. A pair of heroes, here to bring Good to the world.

Maybe they're something even more than that.

Jeongguk closes his eyes, pressing his forehead against Seokjin's chest. Seokjin is so warm.

"What's your world like? You once told me you don't have magic where you're from."

"Maybe we do. Nothing like magic here though."

Jeongguk tries to shut his eyes even tighter, his hand fisting at Seokjin's shirt. "You once told me that I'm real if you say I am, right? What if I say I am? Besides, how do you even know that you're real? You seem as real as me. Why can't we both be real?"

Jeongguk's been wanting to ask this for such a long time now. Seokjin hasn't mentioned Jeongguk being an "NPC" in a long time and Jeongguk knows he can't even remember all that Seokjin has said about it, but he remembers that phrase. He remembers it because Seokjin used to use it so often at the beginning of it all.

He wonders if Seokjin even thinks about him, in his other world.

Here, Jeongguk isn't even given the chance to Not think about Seokjin.

You're in stasis, Seokjin once told him. If I'm not logged in, then you, this iteration of you at least, doesn't interact with the world that much. I think it's because you've become too personalized to my game. So, logically, there are other iterations of you in all other versions of this game, but in my version, you're Jeongguk. You're you.

Jeongguk doesn't really know what to think about that. He never has. But he knows what to think about Seokjin's slow breathing against him and he knows what to think about the way it makes him feel to do something good for someone else. He knows what to think about that.

He knows what to think about himself.

"You are real, Jeongguk. You've been real for a long time now. Sometimes, I wish I could stay in this world forever. You're just as real as I am, Jeongguk. Please believe me."

Jeongguk nods. "I do believe you." He presses a light kiss against Seokjin's chest. "I just… sometimes… I become afraid that maybe you won't believe yourself."

Seokjin never responds to that.

 

 

When Jeongguk wakes up that next morning, the sun just beginning to rise, Seokjin is holding him, sleeping soundly next to him. Jeongguk stares in shock at the wall in front of him, Seokjin's arms hot around his waist, and Jeongguk, for the first time in his entire life, doesn't want to get out of bed. He doesn't think about the breakfast he eats every morning. He doesn't think about adventure or being a hero.

He thinks about nothing at all. Seokjin is here. Seokjin is still here.

He lies in Seokjin's arms for a long time, but finally, Seokjin wakes up just as the sun reaches full bloom.

"Good morning," Jeongguk says.

Seokjin immediately stumbles out of the bed, eyes wide as he takes Jeongguk in.

"I-I slept here?"

Jeongguk nods. "Apparently, yeah. Why? Is it a bad thing?"

Seokjin looks conflicted. "Ah, I don't know? I have no idea. I've never… I've never done this before. I know some others do it, but like, those people they… they… I mean, that's not me."

Jeongguk hums. "But it was nice, right?"

That question seems to calm Seokjin down. He nods. He smiles. And then, "Yeah. It was. It was really nice. You're just… you're just so you, Kook."

"You want to make me breakfast since I'm so me?"

Seokjin laughs. "Yeah. Okay. I'll make you breakfast."

That breakfast becomes Jeongguk's new favorite.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

Time passes strangely for Jeongguk, according to Seokjin.

Jeongguk doesn't care though. He doesn't care and he knows that, at some point, Seokjin stops caring as well.

They're happy together, Jeongguk knows. They're happy being whatever they are. Friends, companions, heroes and/or sidekicks.

Every so often, they go fishing together, by their lake that nobody else visits, and each time feels better than the last time. Each time, something becomes more stable about the pair of them. Every time, Jeongguk feels like he's taken flight, Seokjin's hand in his.

It's on an extraordinarily ordinary day that they change. Birds are chirping, the sky is clear and sunny, a warmth that makes them rest comfortably under a nearby apple tree, and Jeongguk feels happy.

It's on an abnormally extraordinary day that they change.

Seokjin, next to him because he always is. Jeongguk, next to Seokjin because he always is. Feeling light. Feeling light. Feeling light.

Seokjin is smiling at him and he's beautiful.

"Can I kiss you, Jeongguk?"

This is what an adventure means, Jeongguk finds himself thinking. Getting to kiss the beautiful hero. Getting to— "Yes." And Jeongguk, taking Seokjin by complete surprise, leans in and kisses him first.

This is really awkward, Jeongguk thinks for a short second, but then it isn't, but then he likes the feeling of it and he likes how Seokjin's arm wraps around his back and brings him in closer and he likes how natural it feels. Kissing Seokjin sends a beautiful warmth all across Jeongguk's body and Jeongguk thinks that all along this was the true magic. Nothing he's learned so far has been this great. Nothing he's done so far has felt this great. Jeongguk feels… happy.

He feels like a hero.

Seokjin pulls away but not to escape his grasp. Instead, he rests his face against Jeongguk's neck and breathes in softly.

"I've been wanting to do that for so long."

Jeongguk laughs, resting his own forehead against Seokjin. "Me too," he sighs. "Me too."

The sun sets and they change.

 

 

⚔️🎣✨

 

 

In his time as a non-playable character, Jeongguk makes a life for himself. Time is strange in the game and at one point (and never again), Seokjin mentions that it's been twenty years in his own life since they first met.

It hardly matters to Jeongguk. Both of them still look as young as they did back then and both of them still hold on tightly when they fall asleep together in their bed. They live a life together. They save people. They teach magic to young kids and players. They travel and explore all the parts of Jeongguk's world. They go fishing and make breakfast as many mornings as they can make it.

Seokjin apparently has to leave for long periods of time in his life, but Jeongguk can never tell. Every moment of his life has Seokjin in it. Seokjin loves to complain about this, pressing kisses against his skin as he mutters about how unfair it is that he still has to go to work to make money so he can "technically" live in a world he barely cares about anymore.

Jeongguk always laughs at that. It's not like it matters to him.

Time is different in the game and they always take advantage of it. Jeongguk savors each moment, each new thing that comes up, each time he can make Seokjin laugh. He savors it. He knows Seokjin does as well.

At some point, years in the future, Seokjin stops coming.

Jeongguk's last memory of them is the two of them laughing and fishing by their lake. Jeongguk's last memory of them is the warmth of Seokjin's hand. Jeongguk's last memory of them is a memory that came after countless other memories of life and laughter and heroic deeds and love. Jeongguk's last memory of them is of them, happy and together on their adventure.

 

START

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                               •

 

Jeon Jeongguk, like every other day, was having an extraordinarily ordinary day. He wakes with the sun, as usual, and he makes breakfast, as usual.

Today, he thinks as he eats his meal in silence, I'll go on an adventure.

Of course, Jeon Jeongguk thinks this every single day, and every single day, he remains where he is, never going on any sort of adventure at all.

Today will be different, he thinks idly. I'll make sure of it.

 

When Jeon Jeongguk gets to town, there's a new rumor swirling about in the air.

Have you heard? Apparently, there's a beast loose in the town nearby! Whatever should we do? Where's our hero when you need one?

Jeongguk has to smile at their gossip. Every day, there are new rumors but nothing ever happens. Yesterday, it was—

                    

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END