As far as Jeongguk remembers, he and Seokjin didn’t always used to be enemies.
Born into the most influential families of their time, who just happened to despite each other, they were taught early to hold a grudge against the other. But seven years old Jeongguk was naive, too good-hearted for his own good, curious; he wanted to get to know the boy his parents always warned him about. Stay away from him as far as possible, they used to say. The boy is just a disappointment, not worthy of the attention of the latest born of the Jeon’s.
Seokjin was his name. Kim Seokjin, the eldest son of the Kim Clan.
Jeongguk remembers the first time he ever met him. It was a feast his mother had organized to impress her shallow friends. He was eight that time, young and foolish, when he had sat in front of thirteen year old Seokjin, who wouldn’t spare him a glance. Bored eyes wandering around, lip corners turned down in displeasure, arms folded, upright posture. Even after all the years, Jeongguk recalls the deep fascination he felt while watching the teen across from him. The elder just looked so cool, a natural charisma surrounding him. He wanted to be just like Seokjin, as effortlessly mesmerizing as he was under the chandelier lights.
Although at that moment it didn’t seem as awkward for him as it does now, eight years old Jeongguk did a lot to catch Seokjin’s attention. He - usually so quiet and barely talking if not needed - would raise his voice, emphasizing each syllable, loud enough for the elder to hear, reminding himself of the manners he had learnt as a kid while eating.
Jeongguk had tried sipping his cherry juice with finesse, lifting the glass to his lips with shaky hands. As far as good, but as he looked over the glass edge to see Seojin’s reaction, he got distracted by Seokjin’s lips wrapped around a strawberry and ended up spilling it all over himself. Ruining the snow white button up shirt his mother had designed for him.
Silence fell upon the table, every head turned to his direction. Amused, judging, mocking. There, gathered around the long desk were sitting the future heirs and children of the most influential politicians, mustering him with devious shine behind their eyes. With dread creeping up his throat, he looked up, catching Seokjin’s surprised glare. Blush crept up his cheeks, skin pricking with embarrassment (and sticky juice). He felt so humiliated, slipping like this while all he wanted was to catch Seokjin’s attention and now that he had, he wished for the opposite, to remain unnoticed. This wasn’t the kind of awareness of his existence he desired.
Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes, blurring his vision as he quickly stood up with too much force, chair scratching the ground. He winced, unable to meet anyone’s gaze. With quick steps he headed to the bathroom before he could make it worse.
As soon as he arrived he looked into the mirror with shaking shoulders. His reflection stared back at him, eyes reddened, wet cheeks and red liquide painting his clothes that stuck to his body. A sob left his lips. Jeongguk sunk to the floor, hands pulling his hair harshly, teardrops falling. His mind was racing and for young Jeongguk, this felt like the end of the world.
His frantic breathing was the only noise surrounding him, but with each passing second his thoughts got louder, resulting in loud sobs. This was so embarrassing. How could he ever show his face after that? Worst of all, Seokjin had witnessed it. The short moment their gazes locked, Jeongguk had seen the slight amusement in his eyes, no matter how hard he tried to suppress it.
Jeongguk was doomed. He would never leave this room ever again.
Living in a bathroom didn’t sound that bad. He had water here, access to the toilet. For food, he could contract Jimin. Jeongguk was sure his childhood friend wouldn't leave him alone in his despair. The boy was so gone with thoughts of possible scenarios that he didn’t hear the bathroom door opening with a soft click, someone nearing his figure with loudless steps, until stopping right before him. “Uhm...hey?”
Although he had been stressed, he knew for sure that he ran to a private bathroom only members of the Jeon family had access to. So, that meant this person had to be a relative of his or a really close friend of his parents’. But no matter how hard he tried to remember, the voice sounded unfamiliar to him. He had never heard it.
Could his day get even worse?
Slowly, he lifted his head, gaze running along lanky limbs, perfectly fitting grey suit, wide neck and then he finally met the eyes of his intruder. It was in this moment that he realized: he was fucked.
The day could get worse. Because standing in front of him was Kim Seokjin himself, in his full glory, eyes casted downwards to meet Jeongguk’s puffy ones.
“Are you alright?” Seokjin asked, sitting down so that they were at eye-level, placing his hands on his own tights.
Jeongguk was too mortified to form an answer, big eyes fixed on the elder boy. His head was a mess, unable to process the turn of events. Was Kim Seokjin really sitting with him and asking him how he feels? He pinched his arm, quietly wincing at the pain, but the elder remained in his position. The boy wasn’t dreaming. He really was there.
Seokjin seemed to notice his state of shock and took over the conversation. “Look, I know this is very embarrassing for you. But it’s not that bad, you know? It’s just spilled juice.” He was moving his hands, pointing at Jeongguk’s ruined shirt. When Jeongguk stayed silent, he sighed softly. “How about this: since it looks like there is no way to save your shirt, let’s go to your room and change into something else.”
Jeongguk had thought about that, but he was too paralyzed by panic to actually do it. He nodded slowly, not trusting his voice. Seokjin seemed relieved. At least he got some kind of a reaction from the boy and stood up, offering Jeongguk his hand. Hesitantly, he stared at it, then at Seokjin’s face, not understanding what’s going on. But he reached out anyways, allowing Seokjin to drag him out of the room after quickly checking the surroundings. Further down the hall with Jeonguk’s muffled directions.
All this time he didn’t let go of Jeongguk’s hand, firmly holding it and throwing him gentle smiles over his shoulder from time to time. Jeongguk appreciated it.
“So, here we are.” Seokjin announced, stopping in front of Jeongguk’s room. The two bodyguards casted them with curious looks, but the younger paid them no attention, motioning with his head for them to open the door.
Inside Jeongguk's room was utter chaos, paint and brushes everywhere, canvas standing in every corner of the room. A bed stood on the right side, the only neat object in all the mess. There were shelves filled with books, Jeongguk’s camera resting on his desk, and a stuffed closet beside the huge window. Clothes, random items, toys from his childhood everywhere. There was barely space to move at all.
Smiling sheepishly, Jeongguk threw Seokjin a small glance, jerking his head to his closet. Seokjin understood and together they started the search for an appropriate item to wear. It was silent, both not knowing what to talk about.
The ice was broken by Seokjin’s silent laughter as he spotted an Iron Man figure on his computer desk.”Marvel fan?”
Blush crept up Jeongguk’s cheeks. “Yeah. I uh- it’s a gift from my brother.”
Seokjin nodded, a smile plastered on his lips. For an unknown reason, it awakened a strange defensiveness in Jeongguk. “It’s still there because I couldn’t find the time to clean up this mess.” Seokjin lifted an eyebrow, eyes vaguely flickering to the chaos behind Jeongguk. The boy instantly understood the message and rubbed his neck sheepishly. “As you can see.”
As Seokjin chuckled softly and started talking about his collection of Mario figures, the tension between them diffused into nothing, laughter filling the empty space it left behind. From there, they seemed unable to shut up, talking and talking about the most random topics. Jeongguk was constantly smiling until his cheeks started to hurt, but he didn’t want to stop. It’s been long since he had someone to talk to like this.
He didn’t know how long they stayed like this, but at some point Jeongguk sat down on his bed while Seokjin took place in his computer chair, still holding up the conversation. There was something about Seokjin that Jeongguk couldn’t put his finger on, but made him feel so liberated. Seokjin truly listened to him, asking questions because he wanted to know, not for the sake of just asking. It was the attention Jeongguk craved for years and Seokjin gave it to him without a second thought. Jeongguk felt understood, like Seokjin figured him out despite not even knowing him for a whole day.
This was someone his parents despited and told him to keep at distance. He had heard so many stories about the Kim Clan and their cruelty, how unfair they were and how they didn’t deserve to be one of the most powerful clans. It’s all fraud, Jeongguk’s father said. The Kim’s had bought themselves into success. They had no credibility.
Yet, Seokjin seemed kind, his presence like a blanket in cold winter, so warm and soothing.
It made Jeongguk doubt his parents' words. Maybe the Kim’s weren’t that bad. Maybe all this hate was unreasonable.
A knock interrupted their togetherness, the guard from earlier informing Jeongguk that his mother had been looking for him.
“Seems like we lost track of time, Jeongguk-ah.” Seokjin said with a grin, his eyes glittering with mischief. “We even forgot that sticky material still covering you.”
Jeongguk looked down. Right, the shirt. The reason they were here. “Indeed.” He tugged on it, pulling a face. “Let me change quickly and we can go back.” He got a nod from Seokjin and went back to finding an alternative for the ruined one. Even though he tried convincing Seokjin that he didn’t need help, the elder joined him anyways.
“Look.” Jeongguk’s head perked up at Seokjin’s delighted tone, turning to the elder and finding him standing with a button up that resembled his ruined one. Seokjin gave him a wide smile. “This one is perfect. What do you say?”
Lips turning upwards shyly, Jeongguk nodded. Reached out to take the material in his hands. It was soft, and luckily clean. “Yes, this one is it.”
Jeongguk looked around the room. It would be rude to ask Seokjin to leave after he helped him, but Jeongguk had no space to change but this. His parents insisted on getting them separated bathrooms outside of their own rooms.
“Uh, Seokjin-hyu“ “Jin-hyung. Please call me Jin-hyung.” Jeongguk was surprised, but catched up quickly. “Jin-hyung?” Seokjin nodded gleefully at that, so Jeongguk continued: “Could you, uh, would you turn around please?”
Seconds passed. Seokjin’s eyes clouded with confusion. Then, he seemed to understand, ear tips turning pink. He nodded frantically, quickly facing the other direction. “Sorry.”
Jeongguk didn’t know what to answer, so he just started to undress. The shirt felt disgusting, sliding uncomfortably against his skin. He frowned once it was off his body, throwing into the basket next to his desk. Putting on the clean shirt was an easier task.
“Hyung. I am done.” Jeongguk said, now more at ease.
“Okay. The problem is solved then.” Seokjin avoided his eyes, instead looking around the room. “Oh, the question that slipped my mind earlier: You painted all of this?”
The boy nodded. “Yeah.”
“You are good at it.” Now Jeongguk felt flustered. “Thanks, hyung.”
Later they returned to the main hall, separating ways with a small smile and each going to their family. Jeongguk was sure he would never forget this evening.
The next time they met was after years, twelve years old Jeongguk regularly sneaking out the villa to meet up with Seokjin, ditching his duties to spend some time with his friend. They grew incredibly close, sharing a lot of interests.
Jeongguk found the best friend he always dreamed about in Seokjin. Someone who would understand him without a word, able to interpret each of his moves. He knew Seokjin like the back of his hand, more than he knew himself and loved the boy even more than that. The elder became an inseparable part of himself. He adored Seokjin.
“Hyung, sto- stop,” the words barely left Jeongguk’s lips before his breath was taken away again, a fit of laughter overcoming him. Seokjin just wouldn’t stop tickling him and he was too weak to fight against the elder. “I can’t anymore.” Now he was rolling in grass, trying to escape from Seokjin with tears in his eyes, face muscles hurting from smiling too much as was his stomach.
It took Seokjin another minute to finally stop his attack on the younger, removing his hands from his tummy and placing one on his waist, the other one making its way to swipe the hair away from Jeongguk’s face. Bright, doe eyes mustered him, pinkish lips mustered to a small, satisfied smile, brown locks too stubborn to stay put and escaping from behind his ears again. Jeongguk looked genuinely happy and Seokjin basked in that child-like happiness that brought a smile onto his lips too.
“Hyung.” The softly uttered word brought Seokjin back from his thoughts, eyes focusing on the boy lying in front of him. Alongside he registered the hand that was playing with his hair, fingers softly scratching his scalp and making him close his eyes. Jeongguk huffed amused, aware of how weak Seokjin was for head massages and people playing with his hair. “I really enjoyed today. Thank you.”
Seokjin only humed, keeping his lips sealed to fight that dopey smile trying to take over his features.
But happiness only lasted so long and no matter how much Jugguk wisheed to stay in this moment forever, he knew his time was running out.
“I believe it’s time for me to return home,” his previous happy tone changed to a loaded, sad one, both of them understanding the indications behind those words, “But let’s meet soon, hyung? There is a clans assembly in two weeks. My father wants me to join, so I will be there. Will we see each other there?” He pouted, knowing Seokjin can’t say no to him when he does.
The younger one gently cupped Seokjin’s face with a free hand, thumb stroking over the high cheek bone, pushing into his bread like cheek, eyes wandering all over his face in an attempt to remember every small detail before separating. Growing up, Seokjin had lost a lot of weight. His face was more mature now, body huge with wide shoulders.
It was ridiculous, but every time they met Jeongguk was afraid it would be the last one, that he won’t get to see his hyung like this again, so he tried to memorise every small thing about Seokjin. Tattooing the knowledge onto his heart again and again until it became an irreplaceable part of him.
He was so focused on mustering Seokjin, that it took him moments to realize the elder never answered his question. “Hyung?” Jeongguk’s voice wavered, he hated how insecure he sounded and Seokjin would love to take it away from him, so that Jeongguk would never have to wonder about reunion again, but his hands were tied. He couldn’t.
“Yeah, Jeonggukie. I will be there.”
Seokjin kept his promise. They saw each other at the assembly and Jeongguk was happy. Even if the only thing he could do was to watch Seokjin from afar, their eyes meeting for short moments, small smiles directed at each other. It was enough. Observing Seokjin from far away was satisfying enough.
It was the day before Jeongguk’s sixteenth birthday, when he sneaked out. Which was noticeably easier with his parents gone for a business trip. Seokjin had planned a picnic for them. Jeongguk was restless the whole week, barely able to concentrate on anything. Excitement to finally see Seokjin ran through his veins, blinding everything else. It has been weeks since the last time he got to spend time with his favorite hyung. With Seokjin growing noticeably busier the older he got, the small amount of their meet-ups was reduced even more. Still, Jeongguk looked forward to them every time. Seeing Seokjin became a privilege he knew to appreciate and treasure.
Jeongguk recalls arriving way too early due to nerves of seeing his hyung again and then waiting and waiting for so long. Hours passed with no sight of Seokjin. The boy sat there, watching the sun rise and slowly go down again, the warm breeze turning cold. He got worried too. Seokjin never came late. And most importantly, he never ditched Jeongguk. So, what had happened for him to be this late?
He never found out. Because that day, Seokjin never came. And Jeongguk went home with a sad, worried heart.
“Jeongguk-ah, there is something I need to tell you. Remember in the past - there were three months we couldn’t meet?” Jeongguk nodded, of course he did. It was such a hard time for him with the elder suddenly disappearing and being unable to reach out and contact Seokjin on his own made Jeongguk almost crazy out of worry. Those three months were hell. “I never really told you why.”
The elder felt the body next to his tense due to the sensitive topic but Jeongguk’s face betrayed nothing, so he continued. “That day before you turned sixteen I felt incredibly sick. So sick that I couldn’t even move and was rooted to my bed. My mother was very worried and called one of the docs to check what I have. I caught a really bad cold. Which shouldn’t have been possible because all the time I was supposed to be grounded.” Jeongguk shuddered, already sensing the direction this conversation was heading. “My mother sent him away after giving me some medications to get better - she,” he sighed with eyes screwed shut, unable to see Jeongguk’s reaction, “she knows, Jeongguk-ah. She figured it out. And asked me to stop.”
“Hyung.” His heart shattered, lungs collapsing with panic. Seokjin couldn’t do this to him. He wouldn’t, right? His Seokjin-hyung would never leave him like this. “Whatever it is you are thinking about: don’t. Don’t do it please.”
Seokjin’s expression was pained, eyes mustering him with sadness. “Jeongukkie.” Jeongguk averted his head, refusing to meet Seokjin’s pleading gaze. “Baby. Look at me.”
Seokjin’s soft tone, one that usually used to calm him and take away his worries, now stabbed him in the back, made him bleed. His breath hitched, a strangled noise leaving his mouth. No, no, no, no. This wasn’t happening. Seokjin wasn’t leaving him. Jeongguk must have misunderstood him. Yeah, he just got it wrong. He had that habit of interpreting people’s actions wrongly, it had happened many times. This was one of those.
“Jeongguk.” Seokjin’s firm voice said, his hand catching Jeongguk’s chin and turning his head, forcing him to meet Seokjin’s eyes. “Breathe.” Only then did he notice what he was holding his breath.
He took a deep breath.
Counted to ten slowly like Seokjin had taught him.
It didn’t help.
The tears flowed anyways.
He broke down so badly. Maybe under other circumstances, he would have been ashamed to do so in front of Seokjin, but at the moment pain blurred everything else. He was dying inside. Jeongguk couldn’t lose Seokjin. Please, everything else but not him. He wouldn’t survive that loss. A life without Seokjin in it was useless. He didn’t want it. Why did he have to? In moments when things got bad, when his parents pushed him too hard, when simply existing got too much to handle, Seokjin was always there on the other side, waiting for him with open hands, ready to catch him.
Seokjin was everything Jeongguk had.
“Jeonggukie, baby, please listen to me. Breathe, you hear me? Come on, inhale with me,” Seokjin showed it to him, hands desperately clinging to Jeongguk’s shoulders, panic visible in his eyes. “Good job. You are doing well, baby. Now exhale.” Jeongguk did. His whole body was shaking. It hurt, it fucking destroyed him.
“Hyung.” His voice shook, desperation thick. “Don’t leave me. Please, I can’t do this.”
Seokjin’s face fell. “Jeon-” “You are ending the friendship. That’s what you meant right? We don’t have to. We can continue being friends.”
He clung to the last straw of sanity left. The boy just needed to convince Seokjin that being from two families that hated each other to death didn’t need to separate them. It was the twenty-first century they were living in. Surely there was a solution. Jeongguk just had to search for it. They could work it out. Together. Seokjin just needed to believe in it.
“I am sorry, Jeonggukkie. I mean it from the depths of my heart.“ It was unfair. It was so fucking unfair how Seokjin was destroying Jeongguk with his words, yet his hands were so incredibly soft as they captured Jeongguk’s. “Hyung loves you a lot.”
Seokjin leaned forward. Jeongguk wished he had the strength to deny him anything, he wished he was strong enough to push Seokjin away as he plastered a gentle kiss on his forehead, as his hands softly stroke his cheeks, as they so softly brushed his hair away, tucking it behind Jeongguk’s ear like he did in thousands of situations before; now seemingly for the last time. He wasn’t. Jeongguk was too weak. Could only watch as Seokjin stood up with a devastating smile, so painfully gorgeous as he cruelly burned Jeongguk to ash.“I hope one day you will be able to forgive me.“ And he left.
Took everything with him. Every single atom that built Jeongguk had Seokjin attached to it, every single breath he took since meeting the elder was thanks to him, every memory since then connected to Seokjin. Seokjin’s exit from Jeongguk’s life left him heartbroken and empty handed. Crushed on the ground. He had nothing without Seokjin.
That day, Jeongguk lost himself at the age of seventeen.
Jeongguk cried for years, hidden in the darkness of his room, alone most of the time, grieving his loss. Jimin would check up on him, soft voice begging him to eat at least. Just a little bit. Assuring Jeongguk he would get through this. That the pain would subside. Jeongguk would be happy again. Without Seokjin in his life. Jeongguk wished with all his might that he could believe Jimin’s words, but he was too broken to care.
He just wanted to stop arching. Wanted the pain gone.
Jeongguk just wanted Seokjin back.
Seokjin didn't come back. Not days, weeks, months, years later.