Despite the "M.d." that followed his name, the sight of a pulsating vein throbbing beneath his pale skin makes Seokjin’s stomach churn. When he feels the tip of the syringe pierce through his flesh, Seokjin curses even more, letting out expletives while he watches the silver liquid flow from the cylinder plastic. It fills his veins with a million nanochips that were meant to change the chemical makeup of his brain. Seokjin almost feels the serum crawl under his skin and grab at his nerves--slowly, surely, climbing up his spinal cord and into the stars blurring his vision.
With a clang, the plastic tube drops against the cool white tiles of the comfort room. Seokjin grips at the sink as he feels the leaden liquid suffocate him; as the shooting pain of asphyxiation makes him look up at the glowing bulb hangs from the ceiling, swinging dangerously back and forth—and he is suddenly unsure if the swaying is caused by his whirring vision or the world crumbling beneath his feet.
A warmth blossoms on his temples, and he feels his nerve endings tingle in anticipation.
The flashing white pain signals another onslaught of torture, and Seokjin braces himself, holds his breath in an attempt to make it hurt less. But it doesn’t work—nothing seems to work. Seokjin grips his arm for dear life, every second excruciating as it hungrily licks his insides with a burning fever that was blissful in comparison to the searing pain that felt at home in his chest. This stuffy, suffocating, all-encompassing heat was a welcome feeling… because it was different . It was better than seeing the smiling face of Jeon Jeongguk invading his every thought, his every breath. Injecting mercury poison into his bloodstream was better than feeling the hollow longing in his very core at the thought of Jeongguk’s smile lines— or the friction of their soft callouses as they held hands. Anything, everything was better than feeling the guilt and the love consume him.
Seokjin feels the bile rise up his throat as he convulses again. Twitching, flickering, choking, as images fly through the back of his closed lids in a flurry of vibrant images. Soft fingers on his lips, blushing cheeks under the palms of his hands... Seokjin dry heaves into the bathroom sink as he feels Jeongguk’s strong arms wrap around his waist amidst the mildew of their sleeping bags in cold tents. He feels the tears begin to roll down his cheeks as he hears Jeongguk’s sweet, sweet voice sing into his ear, into his nape, until he was lulled to sleep despite the choppers that sung shrilly overhead. He remembers that the last time he didn’t wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, shivering and panting, was when there wasn’t an empty space beside him.
“I-It’s not—” Seokjin curses. He claws at his chest—at the pristine button down that covers his chest where the pain seem to emanate. “I-it’s not f-fucking working! ”
The serum was specifically made to make him forget, not remember every goddamn touch he once shared with Jeon Jeongguk. Seokjin groans as he feels a new wave of agony take over his whole body. It’s a mix of pain. A thorny longing choking him from the inside out, like a Hanahaki disease but without the beauty of the petals clogging his throat. He sees the first time Jeongguk made eye contact with him across the shooting range—the laughable jump of his Jeonggukie as he shot straight into the moving target… or the nice English coffee they had at their first date.
He feels the stressful grip of Jeongguk’s hand around his when they received the coded telegram from who knows where… he aches at the grief-filled cry from Jeongguk at the first time their hands ended the life of another.
Seokjin watches his relationship with Jeongguk progress like a movie, each second racking his brain for more, squeezing and squeezing until his mind is only filled with memories of Jeongguk. The thrill, the pain, the bliss—the hole that one single person had carved into the rollercoaster of Seokjin’s life.
The pain flashes white again, but Seokjin is relieved to feel that the fire doesn’t seem as hot as before. His breaths shudder. His eyebrows knit in pain as he struggles to hug his knees to his chest, plagued by more phantom touches and ghost whispers.
The blissful laugh of Jeongguk as they both ran away from the threat of responsibilities suddenly fades into the comfort of Jeongguk’s chin on his shoulder as they cooked. Barren fields, camouflage, and bullets transform into Jeongguk laughing as he uses a hair dryer to make Seokjin’s hair stand on one end… it shifts to Jeongguk smiling brightly with a baby in his hands, eyes sparkling as he whispers to Seokjin, “One day, let’s adopt one.”
He’s just trying to forget, to forget, to forget. He wants to erase any thought of Jeongguk from his past, his present, and any future they had planned together.
Seokjin’s angry sobs heave in time with the picture show inside his head… but he feels the serum working. The memories are dimming as his heart rate slows down, as his breathing descends from the anxiety ridden panic to a calm lull. The pain inside him still throbs enough to make him wince, but the pictures desaturate. They turn into soft blacks and whites, less vivid, less like Jeongguk was actually there. They blur—
A knock startles him out of his feverish stupor, and the voice from behind his bathroom door barely registers in his head as Namjoon.
“Docto—Seokjin hyung, are you alright?” Namjoon worriedly raps at the door, and Seokjin feels a sinking feeling of guilt as his secretary and friend earnestly calls for him outside the restroom cubicle. “I heard some screaming and—“
Seokjin breathes, tries to form a coherent sentence despite the ache. “I-I’m fine, Namjoonie! I’ll be- I’ll be out in bit.”
He hears Namjoon exhale in relief. “Alright, but your next patient is here. Should I chart him now?”
“Please- Please do,” Seokjin says with effort. He attempts to push himself up into a sitting position, leaning against the toilet seat when he finds that the bare minimum physical exertion makes him want to throw up. As soon as he hears Namjoon’s steps exit his office, he does.
Seokjin wipes his mouth with an arm, nose crinkling as he reaches past the hastily disposed syringe box for the rubbing alcohol. Whether he was in pain or not, Seokjin was still a doctor who prided himself in following instructions. The box specifically said to keep the remaining box at the bottom of a disposal bin—to prevent a relapse of memories, it said.
Sweat peppers his forehead, his temples, until every part of him feels moist. He almost gives up fighting the pain. Seokjin is so close to letting the torture drag him to unconsciousness and the loud drumming of his ears in his heart, where he can feel Jeongguk’s lips drag along the edge of his throat, where Jeongguk had once whispered a ragged “ I love you.” The memories ebb and flow out of his system, little wisps of smoke that Seokjin feels slowly leaving his body, evaporating into nothing. A calm settles over him. He feels nothing now. Just a numbness, an emptiness in his chest that he registers is there, but deems not worth acknowledging. It’s a little like getting drunk and high at the same time, he thinks: feeling nothing, having no inhibitions. But it’s different in the gradual revival of the clarity of his thoughts and the way his muscles ache like he had just competed in a triathlon.
“Fuck,” Seokjin says. Not as a curse, but as an expletive for relief. The numbness was blissful—ecstasy compared to the blistering pain of what he had just gone through. The cool tiles beneath his numb legs and the fresh air from his open bathroom window lick at his skin for some comfort.
Glancing at his watch, it alarms him to see that he’s been in his office comfort room for over two hours. It was no wonder why Namjoon had knocked with such fervor—it way past his allotted lunch break. Seokjin didn’t know why he had to self-experiment now, out of all the days. The small box from the lab arrived early in the morning with instructions and a waiver, and the hours with his last four patients couldn’t have gone by any slower. Maybe it was because of the dramatic irony that has plagued his life and today marks the one year-anniversary of Jeon Jeongguk leaving.
Or, more accurately: of Jeon Jeongguk being forced to leave him.
The image of Jeongguk being violently pried from his fingers and arms—of big burly men clad in all-white grabbing at his Jeongguk’s waist and legs in a way so rough that Seokjin was ready to bring out the customized Glock he kept under his socks compartment to shoot them all into submission. No one touched Jeongguk like that. Not even the trainers in the military could spar with Jeongguk without Seokjin throwing a hissy fit. No one.
It was by some miracle that Jeongguk saw the flash of bloodlust in Seokjin’s eyes and stopped struggling, leaving his abductors to release their tight grip on him out of confusion. With lightning reflexes, Jeongguk escaped their lax hold and ran to Seokjin in a way he’d forgotten he could. Jeongguk grabbed his wrist and dragged them both up the stairs of their apartment, sprinting past their bathroom and bedroom. Jeongguk brought them straight to the hidden closet that took up most of their second floor, hidden by a framed picture of where Seokjin and Jeongguk had met—in the awarding of the Silver and Gold in the 2012 Summer Olympics’ shooting event. Jeongguk’s fingers shook as he opened the room through its digital lock, baring the dirt of their past that the room once tucked safely from their memories. As the doors hissed closed, hurriedly shutting away the ragged stomps of the men as they searched for their targets, Seokjin panted, hyperventilating against the dim blue glow of the rows and rows of guns and weapons that lined the shelves of the large room.
For once, Seokjin was glad that he agreed to keep a part of their apartment as a hideaway from their new life. Jeongguk was right about this—all of this:
That their past would come back to haunt them.
“G-guk… what do—” Seokjin tried. His eyes were wide, frantic as he grabbed onto Jeongguk’s waist. He was eager to convince himself that Jeongguk was there, that the men in white hadn’t taken him when he wasn’t looking. “What do they want from you?”
With a pang in his chest, Seokjin winced at the sight of blood dripping from Jeongguk’s split lip. “I don’t know… I-I thought…”
“You thought what?” Seokjin said with a panic. His voice rose octaves. Hysterical— afraid. “Jeongguk, you thought wha—“
“I thought they wouldn’t find us here. I was... we were so sure.” Jeongguk finally deadpanned. Seokjin watched his fiancé wipe blood off his chin with the swipe of his arm, mind suddenly spiraling into a calculation of just what the fuck Jeongguk was spewing. They? We? Who were they? Was this about their old job? Last Seokjin heard, they had cut ties cleanly—handed in their badges and fancy, government-owned guns by the end of their contract and had even gone through the laborious process of clearances to make sure they wouldn’t be selling top secret information to the mafia or foreign governments. What could they possibly want from them?
Seokjin tried to think—harder, harder, but he couldn’t see past the present that he had built with Jeongguk after they retired from complex tactical planning, from shooting people instead of targets. They left that life behind. They had already made enough money through successful missions to start fresh and live how they wanted— together. For two years, Seokjin had gone back into being a practicing psychiatrist, and Jeongguk landed a job as a music and art teacher in their local kindergarten. It was difficult trying to convince the people around them that no, they were not competing in the next Olympics, and yes— their gym dates were for fun and maintenance as they were fully retired from competitive shooting, but they had escaped the dark, lifeless ways by moving to Daegu in a hurry. They were finally free from the peering, cold eyes of Seoul and all the enemies they had made in its confines, whether in the ranks or among athletes. Instead, they found themselves a company of friends who have kept them sane.
Yoongi was the curt but kind landowner who didn’t question what Seokjin and Jeongguk did to their apartment. The extra locks, the fingerprint activated bedroom door… he didn’t question them. And Yoongi’s roommates—Hoseok, who often invited them to rooftop dinners on their building, and Namjoon, the brilliant mind who helped him start up his clinic from the ground up, and became his partner in clinical crime, were nothing but nice. Taehyung, a cousin of Namjoon, had moved in on the floor under theirs with Jimin, his fiancé, and they had become loyal friends within weeks. Seokjin never felt like there was any danger posed around them. Jeongguk and Seokjin even left their families behind—in Busan and Seoul—to ensure that they could sleep without having to worry about their loved ones being held for ransom.
Seokjin searched Jeongguk’s eyes for more answers. Looked deeply past the poster paint stains that would decorate his hair when he picked up Jeongguk from work, past the little kids that clung onto Jeongguk’s legs when he came over for lunch— and all Seokjin could see was bitterness, salt, and suddenly— anger . “I thought they wouldn’t need us anymore.”
“They don’t need me,” Seokjin exclaimed. He was strong—able to carry on calmly under any situation. Other than his eagle-eyed aim, his psych training, and strength, it was his award-winning poker face that had him promoted as the general the South Korean Special Operatives five years ago. It should’ve been Seokjin they were after. Seokjin’s skill, his knowledge, his experience. But. “They keep on saying they need you.”
It was his sweet, sweet, naïve Jeongguk they needed. Jeongguk who was his second in command for years—Jeongguk who was recruited by the military alongside him, Jeon Jeongguk who had once hugged an open grenade and shouted for Seokjin and his team to run for cover as bright orange flames engulfed him. Seokjin’s heart was slowly cracking into a million pieces. In that very selfless instance, Seokjin had lost Jeongguk once before—but it wasn’t going to happen again. He wasn’t going to lose Jeongguk again because he couldn’t grit his teeth and fight .
“I’m not giving you up,” Seokjin said steely. His eyes suddenly alighted as he turned around and began strapping the multi-gun holsters around his torso his torso and around each thigh. He briefly glanced to his right and saw Jeongguk’s face shift into panic. “I’m not fucking giving you up, Jeongguk.”
Seokjin busied himself, fitting guns and knives along the expanse of his chest, by his ankles—a rifle fit snugly in between his shoulder blades. He tested a handgun in his hand, feeling the familiar weight of metal invigorate his senses. But he was still a creature of habit. After relishing in the familiar feel of a gun in his hand, Seokjin moved robotically. A product of muscle memory—of once having to get ready with only 3 minutes on the clock.
As Seokjin twisted to grab his favorite weapon, a sleek black pistol that he won a Gold medal with, he felt rough hands pry his frozen fingers off the gun’s handle until it clattered to the ground. Instead of staring emptily at the weapons that adorned his body, Jeongguk’s hands were suddenly on Seokjin’s cheeks, forcing Seokjin to look at him—to see the anguish that painted Jeongguk’s features.
“Hyung. Hyung, listen, ” Jeongguk clamored. He slid his hands from Seokjin’s face to his broad shoulders, whispering with a tone that pleaded, begged. Jeongguk rarely called him hyung nowadays. “If you fight them—if we attack them and pepper the entire building with bullet holes, do you think that’s gonna stop them?”
“Is pristine, yes, ” Jeongguk reassured Seokjin. The look of utter faith in Jeongguk’s eyes calmed him slightly. It wasn’t his ability that Jeongguk didn’t trust—it was something else entirely. “But hyung, those things out there… they aren’t human.”
Seokjin eyed the beads of sweat that mixed with the blood from a shallow gash near Jeongguk’s brow. His eyes shifted to see Jeongguk swallowing, to note the cogs in Jeongguk’s head turning, as if he’d finally resolved on telling Seokjin the truth. The panic grew in Seokjin’s chest.
“Do you—do you remember when I was gone for a month?” asked Jeongguk. He squeezed Seokjin’s shoulders. “After I took the grenade?”
Seokjin’s lax grip suddenly found Jeongguk’s waist. “How could I forget? We all thought you were dead.”
“Well,” Jeongguk admitted, looking at Seokjin in earnest. “I did almost die. I had both my legs blasted off and my left arm was left in pieces.”
Seokjin’s eyes widened. That was impossible. Jeongguk returned to him with clear skin, crutches, and a cast—not with ragged burns and prosthetics. Even then, only a month had passed after the explosion. His medical background pushed him to make the calculations that revealed Jeongguk’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle. He had never felt metal in any of Jeongguk’s limbs… much less deep scars of skin grafts and stitches. Unless—
“They gave you a chip,” Seokjin mused. “They gave you a fucking chip.”
As if to confirm his suspicions, Jeongguk gingerly grabbed Seokjin’s hand and pressed it against the top of his skull. Seokjin shuddered as he felt an elevated patch of skin under soft hair, too square and smooth to be natural. He felt the pulse of life and electricity emanating from the bulge, both awed and terrified at the sudden rush of the adrenaline that came through him at the mere contact.
“I thought chips were myths,” muttered Seokjin. “I didn’t think anything so powerful could exist.”
A biological microchip that generated energy from electromagnetic pulses and allowed the restoration of cells and the enhancement of the senses? It was an impossible dream for all in the Secret Operative Battalion—a product of an underground rumor from the research department that had everyone on their toes as they both wanted and feared its existence.
“Me too,” Jeongguk replied. “I didn’t believe it until I experienced it myself. I threw up every day for two weeks because I couldn’t stand to see my own limbs regenerating. Every part of it grew before my eyes—the bones, the muscle… everything. Even when I got back to you, they were still growing.”
Seokjin was silent. His eyes searched for more—for more that Jeongguk was hiding from him. He was still in a state of utter disbelief, not understanding how something this big could be kept from him. He desperately tried to keep the betrayal out of his voice.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Seokjin asked.
“Because you would worry,” Jeongguk replied. “Because the more you don’t know, the safer you’ll be.”
Seokjin attempted to hide the hurt and the pain—to mask it with anger instead. Even without the rampaging non-humans or whatever the fuck they were outside their hideout, Seokjin found that his world was falling apart just fine. “ The safer I’ll be? Jeongguk, we trained together. I don’t need you keeping me safe. We’re in this together. Just stop lying and tell me what the fuck is happening right now or I swear I’ll—“
A loud bang outside their hideout signaled that the white suits had found them. Seokjin calculated ten—maybe eleven minutes before the wall would give in.
Frantic, Jeongguk shook Seokjin’s shoulders as he babbled the rest of the truth. The words were clipped, hurried. They didn’t have much time. “The chip- it has tracking properties. They know where I am all the time. The Battalion—the higher ups claimed me as a weapon—I have a barcode. They didn’t want me to leave with you, so I ran away.”
“One of the guys I had therapy with—a radiologist—he was on my side. Wanted me to live my life. He told me I—“Another rumble sounded in the weapons room, causing some of the guns on the racks to fall. “—He told me I was still human and that I deserved a chance with you. He was the one who gave me this address in Daegu.”
Seokjin couldn’t hide it now. The poker face fell and revealed pain. So much pain from knowing that Jeongguk had gone through all this without his help—his heart caved in at the thought of anyone using Jeongguk as a weapon, as an object without wants or needs. But a voice at the back of his head prodded at him. Finding this apartment wasn’t by luck, then?
“It was Yoongi-hyung,” Jeongguk confessed. His lip quivered. “He was the one who helped me… helped us. The radiation and magnetics from his lab were to mask my frequency so they couldn’t track me. Please don’t be mad at him. I don’t think this is his fault.”
It was all too overwhelming. Seokjin’s brain twisted and turned and split into two, as each new detail was a puzzle piece but still a puzzle in itself. He racked his brain to think harder, deeper, but the pressure snapped his neurons as if he were on the verge of becoming brain-dead. His hands gripped at the barrels of the guns on either side of his hips, struggling to comprehend, to decipher, to realize that a portion of the past peaceful years had been an elaborate ruse. Planned. Faked. He began to doubt everything they had built their new life upon.
“That’s it.” Jeongguk affirmed. When Seokjin didn’t respond, he nudged his nose against Seokjin’s cheek.
“That’s it what?”
“That’s all I’ve ever lied to you about.” Jeongguk wrapped his arms around Seokjin’s neck, drawing them close. “Everything else is real. Our friends, our professions. I have no more lies, I promise.”
Seokjin choked on his own misery, immediately guilty of his mistrust of Jeongguk. The roof and walls around them suddenly shook, and Seokjin began to palpitate as the anxiety ate him alive. Six minutes left. Maybe seven.
“This is why I know we can’t fight them,” Jeongguk explained. “I hear the commands in my head. They’re like me—chipped—but brain dead and made to follow commands. They’ve been ordered to stop at nothing until I’m back in the Battalion. They’d take us both, but they have no hold on you since you’ve ended the contract. And absolutely not —“
“You are not going to volunteer to join me.” Seokjin’s words died in his throat as Jeongguk cut him off. “I need you back here. Protect our friends. Make sure they don’t get hurt because they helped us.”
“I can’t just stand there and do nothing!” Seokjin cried. “I can’t just watch them take you away like this. What if they turn you into one of those things outside? I can’t lose you. Not after everything we’ve—“
More crushing. Drilling. Maybe the stupid biotic humans finally got through the first protective layer. The clock inside Seokjin’s head blared five minutes.
“You just have to.” Jeongguk replied. “But I won’t let them turn me. I’ll make sure of it.”
Seokjin found that he had nothing left to say. He couldn’t think about anything other than the what ifs—what if Jeongguk had never met Seokjin. What if Seokjin had turned down the eager 18 year old all those years ago on the London bridge? Maybe Jeongguk wouldn’t have had to go through all this pain.
“And just so you know…” Jeongguk said softly. “I never regretted any of it. Following you to the Battalion, catching that grenade, even moving all the way here to start a new life with you.”
Maybe that was Seokjin’s number one fear: that everything he had built with Jeongguk was one big regret, one pile of mistakes that Jeongguk wished he could do over. But just like before, Seokjin found that Jeongguk knew what he needed, what he wanted— before Seokjin even knew it himself. They fit like a hand and a glove: snuggly, perfectly.
“You are the greatest thing to have happened to me,” Seokjin whispered. He said it as if he were begging, groveling—asking Jeongguk to stay. “I can’t lose you twice in one lifetime.”
Seokjin was startled to find teardrops falling from the corners of Jeongguk’s eyes, and his fingers fumbled to catch them against his cheeks. They shone like blue crystals, decorating his face softly, sweetly, as if the world around them wasn’t falling to absolute shit . He thumbed off the wetness and kissed Jeongguk’s temples, speaking into Jeongguk’s forehead as if he were just sending him off to work.
His knees wobbled at the feel of Jeongguk shaking, shivering beneath him. Jeongguk was never afraid. He was only afraid whenever it was someone he loved put in immediate danger, but this… Seokjin swallowed.
“Are you scared, Jeonggukie?” Seokjin whispered into his forehead, heart momentarily calming as he felt Jeongguk’s arms wrap around his waist warmly. A calm before the storm, perhaps— like a puzzle piece, Jeongguk fits his chin into the crook of Seokjin’s shoulder and neck.
“A little,” Jeongguk admitted. Seokjin held him tighter. “But to be honest, I’m more terrified of missing Jimin-hyung’s bachelor party later tonight. Shit. And Hoseok-hyung will have to perform the striptease alone! They’re going to hate my ass forever.”
At that, Seokjin found he was able to blink away the tears that threatened to spill out of his eyes. Leave it to Jeongguk to make him smile and laugh when both their lives were in danger. Back when they had both been in the Special Mission Battalion of the military, Seokjin’s special array of jokes was the only thing that kept Jeongguk from throwing up all over his all black kevlar suit. Now, it seemed that the tables had turned.
“You’re too hard on yourself,” Seokjin bantered, keeping up the ruse for both their sakes. “Jimin will forgive you. And Hoseok’s only gonna hate you for…oh, I don’t know. Maybe the next fifteen years?”
As soon as Jeongguk’s smile lines graced his vision, Seokjin embraced him tightly. Tighter than when Jeongguk had arrived on his doorstep, bandaged and wrecked at the time he’d resurrected. Tighter than the night Jeongguk agreed to marry him under the twinkling stars. Seokjin held Jeongguk as if it were the last time he would be able to do so. As if it were goodbye.
He pressed a kiss onto Jeongguk’s trembling lips—softer, sweeter, purer than any of the hungry kisses they’d shared before. Warm, trembling lips melding together, perfectly imperfect—a kiss so ignorant yet aware of the looming danger outside the door they leaned against. Come back, it begged. Stay, it pleaded. But Seokjin knew that there was no changing Jeongguk’s mind. Instead, he placed a hand behind Jeongguk’s nape as their foreheads touched—as Jeongguk started to sob into the warm space between them.
“H-hey,” Seokjin whispered, hands shaking as he wiped the tears from Jeongguk’s cheeks for the tenth time that night. “Why are you still crying, Gukkie?”
“Because,” Jeongguk hiccupped. “I’m going to miss you.”
Seokjin could hear his own heart shattering into fragments that could not be pieced back together.
“Then…” Seokjin breathed, eyes closing. He forced himself to memorize Jeongguk’s clean scent. Remember, remember. Mint, soap, and sweat. Mint, soap, and sweat. “Just hurry back, okay? So you won’t have too much time to miss me.”
Jeongguk nodded. Clung onto Seokjin with his wet face buried against a broad chest. There was only silence as Jeongguk looked up and searched for answers in Seokjin’s eyes—but Seokjin didn’t even know the question to begin with. Then, Jeongguk spoke.
“ Seokjin… ” Jeongguk said softly. “Shit, Seokjin, I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.” It took all of Seokjin’s willpower to smile. “And if there were, you’ve already been forgiven.”
With his throbbing heart broken for all the world to see, Seokjin watched Jeongguk step away from his arms to type into the keypad that protected their hideout. Seokjin felt pins and needles cover his arms, as he used all of his self-control not to grab the first weapon his could reach and shoot the lock so they would be safe and stuck inside forever. But he knew there was no way around it. If they were to keep everyone safe—if everyone they knew and loved were to be kept from the dangers of their past and the greedy eyes of their government, then this was how it was supposed to be.
Jeongguk turned around as the doors slowly opened. As he waved half-heartedly, Seokjin’s fingers absent mindedly pocketed a small handgun, even if he knew the effort was futile. “Jeongguk—“
“I love you, Kim Seokjin.” Said Jeongguk. His eyes were red-rimmed but free from tears now—instead there was only anger. A fire that had once burned brightly in Jeongguk’s eyes seemed to alight, and Seokjin found that it was that sense of righteousness, the need to do good and prove himself through a plight for justice. The fire he had fallen in love with. “I’m going to keep loving you, and when I come back, I’m expecting that you’ll still love me, too. Promise me.”
Seokjin is too preoccupied with trying to hold in his hysterical screams to respond. He watched Jeongguk step back into the dim light of their apartment, each step a retreat into the noisy barrage of crunching steps and the destruction of their home that the men in white relentlessly engaged in to find their target.
Seokjin caught a glimpse of Jeongguk hurriedly typing in the code that would close the doors to their secret room in order to keep the former safe, and before the doors completely shut, Seokjin managed to breathe out a garbled— “I promise! I’ll be waiting for you! Be back by October!”
The gap was closing in seconds, but Seokjin was still able to see Jeongguk turn his head to smile at him through the crack... until flashes of white wrapped around Jeongguk’s face and neck and forcibly dragged him away.
“No!” Seokjin cried. His insides were burning—he felt like a hot iron was shoved down his throat. “ Jeongguk! Fucking no!”
The doors hissed shut.
Seokjin, breathing hard, took a gun from his holster and shot a straight line down the crack of the closed door, masochistically wishing for a stray bullet to hit him. He let the distinct clang of metal on metal calm him down before he collapsed into a pile of grief. Like the barrel of his gun, Seokjin emptied his sorrows into the suffocating air of gunpowder, crying out as he slid down the cold walls of their saferoom and into a mess on the linoleum floor.
October, is all Seokjin cared to think about. It was July 16—and in October, two months from now, they would be getting married.
Two weeks later, Seokjin received a telegram from the 707th Mission Battalion that secret operative Jeon Jeongguk was shot dead. As he barged into the old headquarters in hysterics, screaming about biotics and microchips, the medical team morosely informed him that the chip was not able to resuscitate a gunshot to the heart. For all the sorrow, Seokjin was invited to the special awarding of a service medallion in honor of Jeon Jeongguk.
Three weeks later, Seokjin sent out a letter to notify all the guests that their wedding was canceled.
Four months later, the men in white barged into the apartment to force him to return as a special member of South Korea’s elite 707th Mission Battalion. His work as a military strategist was only part time and served as a replacement for Jeon Jeongguk.
Exactly one year after that fateful day, Seokjin volunteered to be the human lab rat of an amnesiac serum, created, with his help, specifically to forget, forget, forget memories. To forget Jeon Jeongguk.
And he does. In a matter of hours.
Even if there are faint traces of a silhouette—an awareness of a looming presence that caused a ruckus in his life and made him want to forget, this shadow had no face. It didn’t have a name. Mint, soap, and sweat were just a meaningless combination of words, and October meant nothing. This is how he wanted it.
Seokjin walks into his office with a calm he hadn’t known he missed. He wipes the sweat off his brow as he settles behind his desk, not entirely sure why he feels a feverish flush climb up the apples of his cheeks. The metal chair is cool against the heat of his thighs. Shifting some papers to the side, he finally gives himself the chance to look over his newest patient.
The eyes seem vaguely familiar.
“Hello,” Seokjin greets. As he smiles at the patient in front of him, he tries to emanate warmth, a necessary precaution in his line of work. He tries to ignore the multitude of bandages that wrapped the patient’s muscular body— he even ignores the pale blue facemask that hides the majority of his face. Some people were as sick inside as they seemed to be on the outside. Seokjin huffs, assuming that the sudden appearance of wrinkles around the patient’s eyes were a reciprocation of his smile. “Alright, miss—uh… mister…?”
His eyebrows raise as he flips through the empty record chart. There are only blanks—no name, no age, not even the gender was encircled in the profile. Seokjin hazily recalls asking Namjoon to chart the next patient, but Seokjin figures that he was getting old and that his own memory shouldn’t be trusted. Seokjin looks up and sighs, but is suddenly met by confused eyes. Thinking that his actions might have made the patient uneasy, he does his best to smile reassuringly.
“Ah, I’m sorry,” Seokjin says. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just that my secretary hasn’t filled in your profile and—”
The patient hastily removes his facemask, revealing the face of a boy. His eyes are big and round—glassy with tears—and his front teeth peek from behind a big smile. Seokjin’s heart constricts for a moment. What a handsome boy. It was too bad medical ethics prevented him from dating any of his patients. If it weren’t the case, he would’ve probably dropped a pick up line or two by now.
The boy speaks.
“I know I’m ten months late,” the boy grins. Seokjin eyes the trembling of his fingers against the desk—as if the boy wanted to reach out and hold something. “But I came here as fast I could.”
Seokjin’s eye twitches in confusion. Was his patient making fun of him? “I apologize, but I was clearly the late one here? I had Mexican for lunch and the bathroom break—”
“Hyung,” the boy rises from his chair, the earlier confusion now blatant on his face. His palms plant themselves firmly on Seokjin’s desk. “Seokjin. It’s me. They sent me somewhere I can’t tell you about, but I’m back now and—”
“Please don’t come too close,” Seokjin warns. He leans back into his chair to avoid the steely gaze of his patient. “I-I’m certain this is the first time we’ve met.”
And yet. There was just something so familiar about his eyes. The curve of his face.
“No.” The boy glowers. “Don’t play dumb with me. I just got back!”
“Got back.” Seokjin deadpans. This is his occupation—to understand and think of all the possibilities of why people behave this way. He forgot about the occupational hazards. “Okay. You just got back, but from where?”
With that, the patient’s eyes widen in surprise, frantically searching Seokjin’s face for something. An answer, maybe? Why does this patient seem to know him? When the boy refused to give him space, why was Seokjin slowly finding the lack of physical space comforting?
But the silence reassures him. He must be doing something right if he’s making the patient think and reflect. Seokjin blinks and clicks his pen, ready to jot down anything and everything about the boy in front of him. When he looks up, however, the patient takes a silver card from the edge of his desk. From where Seokjin sat, it read Special Mission Battalion Laboratory. Seokjin himself only cared for the private information that was to remain undisclosed to the public, but as he was about to grab the piece of paper from the patient’s hand, the boy begins to cry.
Waves and waves of tears roll down his cheeks, rimming his eyes with redness that call out to Seokjin’s chest. He wants so badly to cup his face and whisper ‘ don’t cry,’ but it might hinder the progress of his work. Instead, he forces professionalism to take over his knack for empathy.
Seokjin clears his throat as the patient continues to sob, noting how the boy is staring at the business card as if he can’t believe what is written on it.
“Sir?” Seokjin asks. He looks at his patient in the eye. “May I… May I first ask for your name?”
The boy looks up, face contorting painfully.
“I-It’s Jeongguk,” the patient sobs. He cries harder. “Jeon Jeongguk.”
Seokjin keeps ignoring the pain in his chest. “Okay, Jeon… Jeongguk.” Seokjin falters for a moment. The name sweetly rolls off his tongue. “Would you mind if I called you Gukkie?”
Jeongguk’s shaking stills. He looks up disbelievingly, eyes still reflecting pain that could only amount to grief.
“It’s okay. It’ll be okay,” Seokjin finally says. He gives in. “Okay Gukkie, can you tell me about what seems to be the problem?”
Jeongguk shakes his head, drops the card right in front of Seokjin. The card read “Amnesia Serum.”
“Someone forgot, Dr. Kim.” Jeongguk says with a sob. “Someone forgot and broke their promise.”
- • •
“Aren’t you afraid of the judgment?” Seokjin asked, sipping at the expensive and bitter coffee in his hand. He jumped at the shy prodding of Jeongguk’s fingers against his own. Seokjin was a playboy, but he felt the blush color his neck and ears. It was a sharp contrast against the cool, rainy grey of the London bridge.
As his fingers finally enveloped Jeongguk’s, gently intertwining each of their fingers together, Seokjin finds Jeongguk smiling, walking with a spring in his step. “What judgment are you talking about, hyung?”
Seokjin shrugged. “I’m five years older than you.”
“Won’t people talk?” Seokjin inquired, raising an eyebrow for emphasis. “I’m a cradle snatcher.”
“I don’t really care,” Jeongguk chuckled.
“Oh well. Maybe people will forget about us when the Olympics blows over.” Seokjin sighed. He felt his cheeks grow even warmer as Jeongguk looked at him with stars in his eyes. “People always forget anyway.”
“I won’t ever forget you, hyung,” Jeongguk beamed, swinging their interlocked hands back and forth. “You’re too beautiful to be forgotten.”
The simplicity of Jeongguk’s expression glared at Seokjin’s fear of commitment until it ran and hid. After a heartbeat, Seokjin was surprised to hear himself saying,
“I don’t think I can ever forget you, too.”