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Hope for a Dream

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It was designed to be the perfect system.  Keepers led and governed over the Watchers, who guarded and policed the Workers, who toiled to keep the nation functioning.  But somewhere in the order and discipline, humanity lost its way and people became numbers.

 

Paperwork.

The bane of every government, whether or not it was actually physically on paper.  Sunggyu stares balefully at the piles of paper on his desk, then on either side at the holographic screens filled with even more statistics and reports, and finally turns his gaze back to the man making his report in front of his desk.   He resists the urge to sigh – it was always bad news, these days, and today is no different.  The past few quarters, years even, had revealed a rather disturbing trend.

“…again in West-1, -2, and -4; East-1, -2, and -6; North-1 and -2; and South -1, -2, -4, and -5.   The supply caravans have reported between 15 and 30 percent losses in these raids, and these sectors specifically have also yielded lower than average contentment ratings based on the data from the Workers’ chips…”  Sungyeol continues, flicking through different pages on his tablet.

“Thanks, Sungyeol,” Sunggyu interrupts with a strained smile.  Sungyeol looks up, cutting off mid-tirade, and Sunggyu’s smile turns into a sort of grimace.  “I’m sorry.  I just need to…” he waves his hand at the papers and data screens around him.  “…can you send me a copy of that report?” he finishes weakly.

Sungyeol gives him an odd look.  “Sure, hyung.  Ah…are you sure you’re…” he trails off, looking a bit awkward.  “Ah…do you want to…” he tries again, but still can’t finish.  “Uh…never mind,” he mutters.  “See you later, hyung,” he says, and practically trips in his hurry to get out of the office.

Sunggyu frowns a bit at the odd behavior, but quickly pushes it out of his mind as he surveys the piles of information surrounding him.  General unhappiness.  Increasing raids.  Unregistered sightings.  It all adds up to a rather disturbing picture.

Sunggyu stares blankly down at his desk for a long moment, then let out his breath in a tired sigh.  He tossed the pen back down on his desk carelessly and slumped down in his chair, resting his head against one hand wearily.  How had it come to this? How could he fix it?

He glares at the data once more.  There are no answers here.  Not in these stark, unforgiving statistics.  But perhaps…

 

A lithe form lounges languidly in a plush armchair, one of two set at an angle to each other.  Bookcases line the walls, filled with leather-bound tomes and chrome ornaments, and a lush cream carpet pads the floor.  Tall brocade curtains colored a deep red are drawn to leave the room in shadows, but still feeble streamers of light illuminate the man sprawled with fluid grace facing the carved mahogany doors.  He raises his head and smiles as Sunggyu nearly storms into the room, but despite the welcoming expression, the man’s tawny eyes are flinty and cold.

“Our esteemed leader,” the man purrs, sliding slowly to his feet and approximating a graceful bow at the younger man.  “What brings you here to visit a humble prisoner such as myself?”

Sunggyu can’t help but notice the man’s devastating beauty, with his porcelain skin and toned physique, hair dyed the same color of his eyes.  Sunggyu takes a brief moment to steady himself and reign in his raging emotions; he will need every bit of his composure to play this game.  He knows he is the one in charge here but he can’t help but feel as though the man before him is the predator and Sunggyu the prey.

“Kim Jaejoong.”  He refuses to cross his arms and is relieved that his tone is hard and steady.  He can’t afford to show weakness to the older man and he suspects Jaejoong knows it too.  There is a self-satisfied glint in his eyes as he sinks back down into the chair and crosses his legs, and gestures at the other.

“Do sit down,” he invites, regarding Sunggyu with a knowing smirk.  “Might I interest you in a drink, perhaps?”  He waves a hand carelessly at the small round table between the chairs, where an unopened bottle rests in a bucket of ice and two glass tumblers wait.

Sunggyu scowls and doesn’t move, one degree of intensity away from full-on glaring at Jaejoong.  Jaejoong isn’t daunted, more amused as he raises an eyebrow and settles back more comfortably in his chair. “No?  Then perhaps our esteemed leader might deign to reveal the reasoning behind this little visit?”

Sunggyu leans against a tall, heavily laden bookcase and finally does cross his arms, feeling just the slightest bit exposed as he does so.  Slowly, in a low voice, “I,” he begins, “have done so much for this society.  I have created order from chaos -- a chaos you orchestrated.  I made sure each and every citizen had food, water, shelter, security…I raised up this nation from rubble to a safe haven for everyone.  So tell me,” he fixes his sole audience with a hard glare, “why would anyone resist this?  In the imperfection of humanity, here is as close to heaven as mankind can come.  I created this nation from the rubble of yours so the people could finally be happy, healthy.  Everyone is employed, everyone receives the sustenance they need, and I’m asking you this because you were the one that resisted since its inception.  Why?”

Jaejoong regards him with unreadable eyes for a long moment, head tilted to one side.  Dust motes dance leisurely through the air as Sunggyu tries to contain his growing ire.  He is not patient and really has never been patient, and so barks out, “Well?”

The older man’s eyes reflect something like triumph, Sunggyu thinks resentfully, as Jaejoong languidly drawls out, “So.  You are going to ask the man that represented the greatest obstacle to your reign to save it for you.”

Sunggyu raises his chin to fix Jaejoong with a harsh stare.  “Even through all these years, you’ve claimed you only wanted the best for the people,” he accuses harshly.  “You claimed you were trying to help, and that’s what got you house arrest instead of banishment – and certain death – beyond the walls of this nation.  If you are as you say you are, and you genuinely care about this country and its people, you will answer me.”

“Ah.” Jaejoong scrutinizes Sunggyu with unreadable eyes.  “Well, yes.  I suppose the people are the people no matter what you call this place.  I do care about the people here, and I suppose that is the reason you grace me with this gilded cage,” he waves at the heavy luxury of the room, “on good faith.” He pauses, and a curious smile creeps onto his face.  He rises slowly, hands tucked in his pockets, and prowls slowly towards Sunggyu with inhuman grace.  “But,” he continues, still in the same light, casual tone, “the thing about human beings is…we like our freedom.  Try and take it away, and men will fight tooth and claw to get it back.”  His smile turns ironic, and Sunggyu fights to keep from backing away as the other man advances.

Jaejoong’s tawny eyes lock on Sunggyu’s and hold for a long moment, before Jaejoong turns away and regards the room at large, with its extravagant trappings and empty, heavy luxury.  “And another thing,” he adds, almost as an afterthought.  “Mankind will never agree for very long.  There will always be…fighting.  Physical.  Verbal.  Psychological.”  He half-turns, fixing Sunggyu with a knowing stare once more.  “Kingdoms, empires, countries…have all risen and fallen in turn.  And let me remind you,” he continued, fully turning and advancing yet another step towards the transfixed younger man, caught in the honey of his voice and the echo of foreboding and those captivating eyes, “that a rebellion, unsuccessful, is called a revolt.  If it is successful, it is called a revolution.”  He smiles faintly, ironically.  “Food for thought,” he finishes lightly.

Sunggyu stares at him with narrow eyes, feeling his heart pounding in his chest, then turns abruptly. “We’re done here,” he snaps over his shoulder, striding out the door of the library and down the stairs to the main entryway.  Jaejoong says nothing, makes no move to follow him, and merely watches as the younger man slams the front door of the house to leave him in the gloom of the lonely mansion once more.

Sunggyu doesn’t know why he would visit his dethroned predecessor, a man he himself had overthrown, but something leads him back to the enigmatic man who somehow has all the answers but can offer him nothing at all.

And those cold, knowing eyes and that vague smile linger in his mind even as Sunggyu sweeps out of the mansion with the lush topiary and paved brick pathways to the waiting car.

 

Jungkook is a prodigy.  He knows it.  He knows it when he is five and the teachers whisper words like genius and prodigy in reverent tones when he gets a perfect score on a test intended for someone twice his age, when he brings down an opponent twice his size during sparring practice.  He knows it when the Keeper and the Watchers sweep him from shabby, far-out East-3 to the Inner City and the Overwatch Academy, with its understated luxury and casual opulence.  Classes are harder here in Inner Central, and the physical training more intense, but Jungkook doesn’t have problems keeping up.  He surpasses his peers, and his teachers move him up a grade, then another, and another.

He knows he is stronger, faster, smarter, better than all his classmates.

They know it too.  Jungkook sees it in their disdainful eyes and jealous glares carefully hidden from their teachers, the wide berth they give him in the classrooms and hallways, and the thinly veiled resentment when the rankings are posted.

They try to beat him back down when he iss six and new and painfully shy but still manages to outscore his Grade in the quarter evaluation, and almost the entire Academy on the yearly aptitude test that compares the performance and potential every student enrolled at the elite school.  He is curled in on himself because even then he knows to protect his more vulnerable body parts, but his tormentors are more than twice his age and had more Watcher training and more combat training and knew where to hit.  Jungkook wants it to end, to at least lose consciousness so he wouldn’t have to feel it, but then he hears another voice and it’s telling the older boys to stop.  And they listen.  Because ten-year-old Kim Seokjin is standing there at the end of the hallway, his kind smile gone and his warm eyes gone hard and stormy, and he is the one student at the Overwatch Academy Jungkook had not surpassed in the test.  Seokjin’s ten is still much younger than the boys that surround Jungkook, but the boys back off without question because Seokjin is still the jjang and could probably land all of them in the Medical Ward for weeks.

And then Seokjin is kneeling in front of Jungkook and asking if he’s okay, if he needs the medical ward, and Jungkook thinks the older boy must be a guardian angel as Seokjin wipes away the rebellious tears that Jungkook couldn’t keep from streaking his face.  “Jeon Jungkook,” says Seokjin, reading the tag on his uniform, and Jungkook sniffles a little.  Seokjin stands him up, brushes him off, and with a few parting words walks away back down the corridor, and Jungkook watches him go.

Everyone knows Kim Seokjin, with his tragic past and his brilliance both in academic subjects and combat training.  Even their teachers, seasoned Watchers and even Keepers, regard Seokjin with reverence and admiration in their eyes.  Because Seokjin is not just good, he’s also just good.  Everyone likes him.  Everyone respects him.  He has a gentle nature and is unfailingly polite, smiles often and at everyone because he doesn’t like to fight, and he genuinely cares about the people around him.

The Watchers that taught at the Academy worried about Seokjin because he was just too kind; they thought he wouldn’t be able to administer the law like their job dictated and fight and punish when the time came.  They’d thought about holding him back from his early, early graduation--he’d just turned fourteen--but they hadn’t needed to worry.  They’d sent him off to West-1, the worst sector, for a trial by fire on his first deployment in the Overwatch as a Level 2 Watcher, and Seokjin shone.  The teachers spoke of his cold efficiency, ruthless practicality, and rapid promotions with awe and fond reminiscence and lectured the other students that this was the model Watcher that they should all strive to be like.

And Jungkook did.  He never forgot.  Even when all the other students ostracized him and avoided him like they never had Seokjin, Jungkook focused on being the best, just like Seokjin, and strove towards his goal of being Head Keeper of the country one day.

“Jeon Jungkook, ranked second in the Academy,” Seokjin had said the day he rescued him, and smiled a little sadly. “Nobody will blame you for defending yourself.”  The boys hadn’t physically tried to beat him again while Seokjin was still at the Academy, but the year he left, they cornered him in an empty stairwell.  Jungkook put them in Medical for three days and after that nobody bothered him again.  Nobody willingly talked to him again, either.

Nine years later, at the tender age of fifteen and on the brink of graduation, Jungkook knew he was the best.  And it was a lonely place.

 

Jungkook’s eyes drifted open upon the first buzz of the alarm.  He lay still for a moment as the beeping continued, then mechanically sat up and rubbed his face, stifling a yawn.   Moments later, as the last beep of the alarm faded, the lights flickered on with a hum.  Jungkook frowned and squinted against the brightness, mentally cursing because despite seven years in the Overwatch Academy, he was still not a morning person.  He half rolled, half fell out of his bunk and stumbled across to the adjoining bed.  His roommate, Choi Junhong, was even less of a morning person and had once again wrapped himself in his blankets in an attempt to ward off the encroaching day. Jungkook groggily reached out and yanked on the blanket.  “Get up, hyung,” he groaned, but the lump of blanket that was Junhong didn’t even stir.   “Hyung.” He shook the other boy roughly, who finally rolled over.

“Yeah, okay, I’m coming,” grumbled the older boy as he unraveled himself from the sheets, and Jungkook abandoned his roommate to wash up and get changed.

They didn’t have proper rooms in the dormitories, one of which was assigned to each Academy grade; their ‘bedroom’ was more like a three-walled alcove shared between two of them in a large open room, but the relative privacy was ruined by the unfortunate few who snored or simply had loud sleeping habits.  The centrally located bathroom wasn’t exactly private either, with its large communal shower and rows of stalls and sinks.

Despite most definitely despising mornings, Jungkook preferred to shower early before his classmates got to the bathroom.  He was the first to arrive, and moments later was joined by his roommate.  Both of them, if not exactly targets, were not very popular with the general populace – a ten year old Junhong had been recruited when Jungkook was nine, relatively late for a prospective Watcher, but quickly proved himself worthy of the nomination, to the resentment of their peers.

By the time both the boys were dressed, the bathroom was filling with nineteen- and twenty-year-olds – their fellow classmates and prospective graduates.  A few younger boys had likewise tested into the class, but tended to keep their heads down and stuck together – much like Jungkook and Junhong, who were the youngest.  This morning, the usual chatter and conversation was subdued, tinged with a nervous air, and smiles were strained or nonexistent.

Jungkook’s face was blank as he walked out of the bathroom, past a couple of older boys that muttered and smirked and sent him matching dark stares, and he set off for the cafeteria.  It had been a long time since the whispers had affected him, and since then he had mastered his emotions.  He was a good soldier, after all, just like his teachers told him.

Junhong caught up before the younger boy reached the line, and Jungkook passed him a metal tray.  Jungkook’s dark eyes flicked down to where Junhong’s regulation light grey fatigues were tucked into light training boots, and Junhong peered down as well.  “Your shoes are untied,” Jungkook noted blandly, turning away to serve himself a helping of rice.

From the corner of his eye, Junhong blinked and smiled a little sheepishly. “Ah…well, I’ll take care of it later.”  

Jungkook marveled once more at Junhong’s openness and clumsiness, but as usual dismissed it as unimportant as he turned back to the food.  A bowl of thick, fish and tofu stew followed the rice onto his tray, then radish kimchi, and finally a pork-filled bun.  

They sat down at the edge of the room at a long table identical to the dozens of other rectangular tables in the room, and Junhong immediately attacked his food – he’d opted for double servings of rice and stew and forgone the bread entirely.  Jungkook ate more sedately and watched as the expansive room filled with uniformed children from age four to twenty, all wearing the same grey trousers and boots.  The quiet hum rose into a dull roar, briefly interrupted by the five-minute warning bell twenty minutes later.  Jungkook glanced down at his nearly empty tray, mopped up the last of his stew with his bread, and stuffed it into his mouth.   Across from him, Junhong let out a somewhat strangled grumble of agitation as he tipped the remainder of his second bowl of stew into his mouth.   What remained of his kimchi quickly followed, and Jungkook stood up to drop his tray off at the counter with Junhong on his heels.

Jungkook set off out of the cafeteria and down the corridor to their first classroom at an unhurried pace, but Junhong immediately overtook him, bouncing excitedly like an overgrown puppy.  “Hyung…” Jungkook hissed, pained, and glanced from side to side to make sure none of their teachers were nearby.

“Lighten up, Jungkookie,” Junhong tossed back cheerfully, slowing down to saunter just ahead of Jungkook.  “You’re too proper all the time.  People will think you’re an ice block or something.”

Jungkook frowned.  Junhong hadn’t transferred to Inner Central until much later than usual, and frankly, this hyung worried him.  Junhong wasn’t much older than Jungkook, but still retained an innocence and naivety that had nearly gotten him into trouble with the other prospective Watchers and their teachers.  He’d come from a school in the North-1 sector, which was apparently much more lenient than the Academy, and Junhong was much more prone to casual rule-breaking than Jungkook was comfortable with.  He’d also attached himself to Jungkook with the tenacity of a pitbull, getting himself promoted early as well until the two were in the same grade.  

They were early to class, and after scanning in their chips at the doorway, slid into their desks, side by side.  The seating was determined by ranking in the class, so Jungkook sat in the front and furthest to the left with Jinah, the girl ranked second, behind him.  Junhong, ranked eleventh, sat next to Jungkook at the beginning of the second row.

Jungkook eyed his companion with disapproval.  He suspected that the older boy could have ranked higher, but had played with the system and faked his scores to end up with the seat next to his three quarters in a row despite the ever-shifting topography of class rankings.  Junhong had denied it, of course, but considering his flippancy regarding the rankings at large and his maverick behavior in general, it was definitely suspicious.  

As though he could feel the stare, Junhong turned his cheerful smile on Jungkook once again, who fought to keep from rolling his eyes.  In comparison to Jungkook’s own neatly combed hair and buttoned collared shirt, Junhong’s shock of hair was exceptionally unruly and resembled a windblown mountain yak, and his collar was unbuttoned and half-flipped under his red regulation sweatshirt.  Jungkook blinked owlishly before turning to face the front resolutely as their classmates filed in.

However, he could still practically feel Junhong’s blinding grin, and seconds later, heard the muttered, “Don’t be so stiff, Jungkookie, the teacher’s not even here yet.” Jungkook slanted an impressive glower at Junhong, but the grin only widened. “If you’re not careful, your face will get stuck like that, and then where would you be?” Jungkook narrowed his eyes and angled his stare at Junhong, then pointedly down at the other boy’s collar.  Junhong rolled his eyes in exasperation and reached down to tug the collar out of the shirt. “Better?”

Their quasi-conversation was interrupted by tall, slim, nineteen-year-old Im Jinah, who stalked gracefully between the two to reach her seat.  Jungkook darted a glance at her; she appeared thoroughly unimpressed with their – well, Junhong’s – juvenile attempts at entertainment, but then again, Jinah never really did seem impressed with anything.  The only time Jungkook had seen anything resembling excitement on her face was when she had successfully executed a dangerously acrobatic but devastating combination during sparring practice for the first time.  The girl had represented the best of her Overwatch class until Jungkook moved up into the class, and although she consistently tested into the top five, she hadn’t managed to dethrone the young prodigy.  She hadn’t treated him with any outward disdain, but remained distant and professional in all their encounters.  Jungkook risked another wary glance at the older girl before turning forwards as their teacher strode into the room.

Level 5 Watcher Kim Junmyeon had taught their class for the past rotation, and would conclude his teaching duties with the upcoming quarter’s end. He was a more than competent teacher, but somewhat bland, and although he would never admit it, Jungkook had much preferred the quirky, cheerful, and inexplicably clumsy Level 6 Watcher Lee Jinki who had taught the previous rotation.  Watcher Jinki had not always known what he was doing, and sometimes the students had learned absolutely nothing of use, but classes were definitely interesting with his distracted ramblings and the colorful anecdotes of his division’s deployments in the outer sectors.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t Jungkook’s place to judge their teachers, so as Junmyeon coughed and cleared his throat, Jungkook straightened in his seat a little and focused his attention on the Watcher.

“Trainees,” Junmyeon began, and Jungkook was distantly aware of Junhong slouching down beside him, already bored, “today is the final test of the quarterly evaluation.”

Jungkook quashed down the small thrill of excitement and anticipation.  Around him, his classmates shifted around nervously or excitedly, too well trained to start talking as they would like.

“For some of you,” the Watcher continued, “this is your last chance to become a Watcher, including classifications of Reserve, Guard, or Medical.  If you have been a member of Grade 20 but failed to pass the tests for seven quarters, or if you reached twenty years of age during this past quarter and once again fail these tests, you will be removed from the Overwatch Academy and Central City and placed in a school in a Cardinal Sector for training as a Worker.” He paused.

Vaguely, across the classroom, Jungkook heard a stifled, almost hysterical gasp from Number 78, Lee Hongbin, who had spent six quarters in Grade 20, and had just turned twenty the week before.  Jungkook scoffed internally.  Trainees generally shouldn’t spend more than four quarters per grade, even in the highest and most difficult grade. This was Jungkook’s first quarter in Grade 20, for trainees deemed probable graduates, and he didn’t plan on taking more than two quarters in any one Grade.

“You all took the academic examinations already,” Junmyeon continued. “Some of you have already qualified to become at the very least a specialized Watcher, Class: Reserve or Class: Medical.  Others of you have already failed to become any kind of Watcher this quarter.  Several of you will have the chance during the physical evaluations today to become a specialized Watcher, Class: Guard if you did not score high enough on the test to become a Watcher or Watcher, Class: Reserve or Medical.”

The nervous energy in the room intensified, but next to Jungkook, Junhong was decidedly unconcerned.  The boy next to him, the current Number 30, however, was paper-white and looked as though he might pass out.

Watcher Junmyeon surveyed the class of over a hundred students, many of which were vibrating with excitement, anticipation, nervousness, or fear.  “Scores for the academic test and target scores for the physical test will be posted outside.  Physical testing will commence in one hour and may not conclude until more than 50 hours from now.  I suggest you take the time to rest, eat, or prepare in any other way you believe would be beneficial.”  Junmyeon paused and raked his eyes over the students.  “Remember: Advancement through hard work.  Dismissed.”  Junmyeon turned and strode out of the classroom.

As soon as the door closed behind him, the students erupted into quiet chaos.  Some trainees immediately rushed the door to check their scores outside, while others converged into small, excited huddles, talking urgently and nervously.  A few students also taking the graduation test for the first time clustered near Jungkook and Junhong.  One was shaking.  Another looked like she might throw up.

Jungkook glanced over, disdainful, then pushed himself to his feet and made his way towards the door.  He definitely wasn’t worried about the test – it was strenuous, yes, but probably nothing he couldn’t handle.  A massive group of his classmates blocked the hallway and spilled from the classroom, all vying to find their name on the lists.  Jungkook knew he had scored well on the test – high enough to become a Class: Reserve or even Class Medical if he wanted, so of course he’d had no problem passing the lower threshold to qualify as a Watcher.   His classmates weren’t moving, so Jungkook elbowed and shouldered his way towards the end of the hallway, fighting against the pressing crowd.

“Hey,” snarled one of the older boys towards the end of the hall, as Jungkook nudged into his back to try and get him out of the way.  Number 34, Lee Kyumin, nineteen years old, second quarter in Grade 20, his mind supplied.  Jungkook’s momentum had accidentally carried them both around the corner, and Kyumin whirled, grabbing Jungkook’s shoulder, and slammed him into the wall with an angry scowl.  Jungkook gritted his teeth and fought to keep from retaliating.  No fighting in the hallways, a small voice in his brain reminded.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Junhong had no such reservations.  Two years younger, Junhong was just as tall if a bit thinner, and he yanked Kyumin off Jungkook and hooked a leg around the older boy’s to send him crashing to the ground.  “Sorry, hyung, your shoelace is untied,” he said innocently, before Jungkook grabbed his arm and dragged him down the hallway.   He chanced a glance backwards to where Kyumin had picked himself back up and glared before turning back.

“Hyung, no fighting in the hallways! Or outside sparring practice!” Jungkook hissed, practically vibrating in irritation as he stormed back towards the dormitories with Junhong in tow.

“It’s not like there were any teachers around, Jungkookie,” Junhong pointed out with a lazy grin, letting the smaller boy drag him.  “Plus, he started it.”

“That’s not the point!” Jungkook seethed.  “It’s against the rules, Junhong hyung!”

“So what?” Junhong stopped abruptly, and Jungkook swung around to face him.  Junhong had a strange, sharp smile on his face.  “Are you going to report me, Jeon Jungkook?”

Jungkook glared, at a loss for words, but as he turned back towards the dorms, muttered, “No.” And Junhong followed him, the easy smile back on his face.

 

 

“…and Lee Hongbin passed the academic part, but barely,” Junhong continued as he and Jungkook wandered towards the gym with fifteen minutes before the physical test.  “Not high enough to make Class: Reserve, but enough to be a Watcher if he passes the physical.  Jung Sooyeon scored high enough to make Class: Medical, which is probably what she’ll go for.  Since she has the athleticism of a maimed anteater…”

Jungkook let Junhong’s ramblings fade to background noise as they entered the gym.  Several members of their Grade had already gathered on the bleachers of one corner of the expansive enclosure covered in rubber mats, the entirety of which had been reserved for the graduation testing.  A shiver of anticipation and excitement made its way down his spine as he threaded his way to the bleachers and perched near the edge, with Junhong’s incessant chatter in his ear.

His one-sided conversation cut off abruptly as their two PT instructors led a line of figures in dark grey Watcher uniforms into the gym after the last stragglers of their Grade.   Their first instructor, Ok Taecyeon, stepped forward as the trainees settled into a tense, uncomfortable silence.  “The physical evaluations will begin now,” he announced. “Remember that there are different thresholds to pass depending on whether or not you plan to specialize: lower for Class: Reserve and Medical, and higher for Class: Guard and unclassified.  If you rank an even number, you will begin with Watcher Yujin for general speed, strength, and endurance tests.  If you rank an odd number, you will begin with me for sparring and combat evaluations.  You will each spar at least five times, four against your classmates, and once against one of our guests.”  He waved a hand at the six Watchers behind him.  “Overwatch Divisions 148 and 222 happened to be on break in Inner Central this quarter, and some of their members were gracious enough to join us for your evaluations.”

“Enough talk.”  Watcher Yujin stepped forward, and a quarter of the Grade flinched instinctively from the diminutive but nonetheless intimidating instructor.  “If you rank an even number, line up outside.”  She abruptly turned and strode from the building, and half the class scrambled to follow.

Jungkook and the diminished class turned their attention back to Watcher Taecyeon, who was nonplussed but unruffled by his colleague’s interruption and abrupt departure.  “We’ll begin with individual sparring, no weapons.  Our guest Watchers will help referee, so come down to the mat when you hear your name called.  Stay in the circle and fight until one opponent yields or a referee calls the match.  If you are not fighting, stay in the gym but feel free to get food or water.”  Taecyeon paused to take in the class’ expressions.  “Good luck to you all, and remember: achievement through hard work.”

The Watcher moved on to calling out the first matches, and Junhong smirked crookedly and languidly rose to his feet when his number was called.  “I guess I’m up, Jungkookie,” he drawled, clambering down the bleachers among the other chosen fighters.  Jungkook didn’t move, but watched as Junhong meandered to circle six and faced off against his opponent Number 17 Kim Yuna, age 18, second quarter in Grade 20 as a Watcher stood between them.  Junhong would win, Jungkook decided.  Kim Yuna was smart and fast, but so was Junhong, and Junhong was also stronger and fought…unconventionally.

Case in point, Jungkook thought wryly, as Junhong yanked on Yuna’s ponytail when she ducked under his swipe, but promptly lost his grip when the flailing girl elbowed him in the throat.  The two combatants stumbled away from each other, glaring.  Then Yuna flung her entire body forward in an attempt to sweep out Junhong’s legs, and when he leapt upwards to avoid her, swung her entire body in an acrobatic circle and landed a double kick on his midriff in midair.  He grabbed her feet as she did so, and the pair went tumbling in a pile on one edge of the circle, still pounding at each other with limited success.

Bemused, Jungkook reevaluated his opinion of the results.  Apparently Kim Yuna was a rather inventive fighter as well.  He wondered if the pair realized that they were being evaluated on how well they fought with the proper techniques.

Yuna did, at least, because she rolled away from Junhong, a little worse for wear, and sank into a textbook ready taekwondo stance.  Junhong, crouched on the ground, eyed her warily. The two blurred into motion again as Junhong charged, and the pair exchanged a flurry of blows before the smaller girl managed to grab ahold of Junhong’s arm and threw him into the mat.  Junhong yanked on her exposed wrist, and managed to bring her down as well, but she twisted out of his grip. The combatants rolled to their feet and resumed circling, darting inwards every so often to exchange blows.  Finally, Junhong caught her by the arm and shoulder, tripping her to pin her on the mat with a knee in the small of her back. After about a minute of fruitless struggles, Yuna tapped the mat, and Junhong let her up. The two exchanged bows, then bowed at the referee Watcher, who made a few notes on this clipboard and waved at them to go.

Jungkook let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, and schooled his face into nonchalance as Junhong practically scampered back up the bleachers to join him.

“Not, bad, huh?” Junhong grinned as the plopped down next to Jungkook.

Jungkook hmm’ed and frowned.  “You weren’t fighting with much form, hyung,” he noted.

Junhong shrugged and ruffled Jungkook’s hair, ignoring the latter’s annoyed glare.  “It got the job done, didn’t it?”

Jungkook glowered, ducking away from the older boy and smoothing down the hair.  “That’s not the point,” he muttered.

The pair sat in relative silence as they watched the matches down on the mat until Jungkook’s number was called. Junhong slapped him gleefully on the back, and he nearly pitched headfirst down the stairs.  He didn’t bother turning to glare, instead heading down to circle four, where his opponent Number 3 Cha Sunwoo, age 19, fourth quarter in Grade 20 already waited.

“Alright,” said the Watcher once both trainees were inside the circle.   He was young – maybe the same age as Jungkook’s opponent, and slouched casually with one hand in his pocket and the other gripping a clipboard loosely. “Let’s try to avoid maiming or killing each other.  You’ll be graded on your performance, not necessarily on whether you win or lose.  Objections?”  Jungkook’s opponent shook his head, and Jungkook copied him, eyes already locked on the older boy.  “No? Okay, start.”

Jungkook lunged immediately, blocking the fist coming for his face with one arm and lashing at his opponent’s midriff with the other.  The hit landed, but in the next instant, Jungkook was yanked off his feet as the larger teen tossed him effortlessly over his shoulder. Jungkook landed in a roll and dove to one side as Sunwoo’s foot swept after him. He was on his feet in a flash, caught the next kick with crossed arms, then lunged without a pause.  Punch, duck, jump back, punch, block, kick, spin-jump-kick.  Sunwoo was stronger than him, and blocking his blows actually hurt, but Jungkook was faster, and if he could just get under Sunwoo’s guard…

Jungkook’s hits didn’t affect Sunwoo as much as he had hoped, when he could land them, and every time Sunwoo landed a solid hit on Jungkook, Jungkook was forced back on defense until he found an opening. An opening, Jungkook thought grimly, as he redirected Sunwoo’s punches as best as possible, that was long in coming.  Until it was there.

Jungkook sprang forward, ducking a punch, and grabbed Sunwoo’s other arm just above the elbow with his left hand.  In the same movement, he shoved Sunwoo’s chin with the other hand, hard, and the older boy fell backwards when Jungkook hooked a leg around his.  Sunwoo went down hard, and Jungkook pinned him with an arm bar, breathing heavily.  They lay still for a moment.  Sunwoo shifted a little, but Jungkook tightened his grip and Sunwoo stopped moving with a grimace and tapped the mat.  Jungkook rolled off the teen and to his feet, and both of them bowed at each other, then at the Watcher.

“Hm, okay.  Good match, you two.  You’ll get your results in two days and all that,” the Watcher informed them absently, still scribbling on his clipboard.  “You guys can go now.”

Sunwoo stalked back to the bleachers ahead of Jungkook, annoyance practically radiating out of his head, and the younger boy grimaced a little as he straightened his rumpled clothes and rejoined Junhong on his perch.

 

Hours later, Jungkook woke with a start as Junhong shook him awake.  “C’mon, Jungkookie, they’re about to start the spars with the Watchers.”  Jungkook blinked blearily up at the other boy, and sat up from where he had sprawled on the bleachers.

In the past twenty hours, they’d done individual spars with the standard-issue extendable batons issued to Watchers and team spars with and without weapons, formatted in skirmishes with the objective of capturing an object and taking down every member of the opposing team.  Jungkook had defeated his individual opponent handily, but Junhong had the misfortune to draw Number 33 Huang Zitao, age 18, fifth quarter in Grade 20, best in Grade at weapons sparring as his opponent, whose struggles with language comprehension were entirely to blame for his relatively low ranking.  Needless to say, Junhong put up a good fight but went down in the end.  Junhong’s teams won both weaponless and weapons sparring, but although Jungkook’s team won weapons sparring, his weaponless sparring team was soundly defeated, and in the end, Jungkook failed to fend off the half of the opposing team that survived.

For the next few hours while the remaining teams sparred, the pair took turns napping on the bleachers – although uncomfortable, Jungkook insisted that neither of them would have much rest for the thirty-some hours of the physical exam.

Both of them were called first for the first round.  Junhong’s opponent had refereed Jungkook’s first sparring match against Sunwoo.  Junhong’s tall, gangly figure made the Watcher, shorter than Jungkook, look laughably like a doll.  Jungkook’s own opponent was even shorter and had the same number, 222, marked in tiny white numbers on his collar.

Jungkook eyed his opponent, who grinned at him.  His dark brown hair was ruffled, as though he ran his hand through it constantly, and although rather short, Jungkook could see from his stance and posture that he was strong.  “Ready?” asked the Watcher, breaking him from his observations.  Jungkook managed a short nod.  “Okay.  Go!” crowed the Watcher, and immediately lunged at him.  Jungkook backpedaled, eyes wide.  He hadn’t expected the Watcher to be so fast.  He blocked a lightning fast jab, ducked another punch, but was completely blindsided by the spinning kick that sent him sprawling to the other side of the circle.  He rolled to his feet, darted to the side, and lashed out with his own kick.

The Watcher dodged out of the way, spinning to the side to avoid Jungkook’s next kick, and launched himself into a crazily acrobatic yet graceful flip that ended in a spinning kick a little too close to Jungkook’s head for comfort.

The Watcher was an impossible opponent.  Coming too close left Jungkook vulnerable to the lightning-fast lunges that could pierce his guard like wet tissue paper.  Letting his opponent get too much distance would set him up for another one of the acrobatic kicks.

Jungkook ducked yet another kick and tackled the Watcher, hoping to pin him, but his opponent slipped out of his grasp and lashed out with his foot again. Jungkook barely avoided it with a backwards hop, and landed in a crouch.

The Watcher was fast and aggressive, and Jungkook matched him kick for kick, unable to quite get the upper hand and instead frequently forced back on the defensive.  Five, maybe ten minutes passed, but Jungkook thought it had been days.  The Watcher showed no signs of slowing down, but Jungkook could feel the burn in his muscles and the stiffness from the four matches he’d already fought.  He could feel himself retreating in the face of the Watcher’s ferocious onslaught and gritted his teeth before launching recklessly into a spinning kick.  The Watcher leapt sideways out of his way, and Jungkook landed awkwardly on the mat.  Jungkook turned just in time to see the Watcher’s leg coming at his face.

Two minutes later, Jungkook blinked open his eyes dazedly to see the Watcher staring down at him in concern.  “Hey, are you okay, man?” he asked, crouched over him. “I didn’t mean to hit you that hard, I got carried away.  My bad.”

A string of unintelligible noises escaped Jungkook as he struggled to focus his eyes on the Watcher’s face above the pounding pain shooting through his head.

The Watcher clapped him on the shoulder, sending a white flash of pain in Jungkook’s vision.  “That’s the spirit.  Hey, you’re a pretty good fighter.  Haven’t met a trainee who could fight like that since forever.”  He grinned down at Jungkook, who blinked back.  “Alright, up you get.  Got more of these matches to do, you know.”  He dragged Jungkook upright, who tottered and almost fell against the older teen, head spinning.

“I’ll take him,” he heard Junhong say, and his classmate bowed at the Watcher before slinging Jungkook’s arm over his shoulder and half-carrying him back to the bleachers.  He was vaguely aware of his classmates staring at him with a mixture of glee, apprehension, and even a little concern as he lolled against the taller boy.

“Did you win?” he slurred as Junhong helped him lie down on the bleachers.

“Nope,” Junhong replied cheerfully.  “Got pounded.  Not as bad as you, obviously, but these Watchers are on a whole ‘nother level.  They bring in the best fighters for these exams, you know.”  Jungkook groaned and closed his eyes in an attempt to stifle the pounding headache.  “Here.” Junhong pressed an ice pack against his throbbing head, and Jungkook sighed in relief. “I give you three hours recovery time before we get the endurance tests,” the older boy continued blithely, and Jungkook’s sigh turned into a pained groan.  “You’ll be fine.  I don’t think you have a concussion.”

The endurance tests were, of course, hell.

Watcher Yujin declared that the first test would be a thirty-kilometer run, and anyone who finished more than thirty seconds behind her would ‘fail that portion of the evaluation, then and there.’  Apparently unfazed by the first run she’d done with the first group, and despite having herself not slept for at least twenty-seven hours, she set off at a fast clip that left the fifty-odd trainees scrambling to keep up.

Jungkook clutched at his head as he and Junhong followed their instructor out of the Overwatch Academy compound and out towards the wall that formed the perimeter of the Inner Central City.  The headache had faded to a dull throb localized to the lump where the Watcher had kicked him, fortunately, but he was still sore and aching from the spars and fatigued from lack of sleep.  Junhong, curse him, was apparently still perfectly fine, although his cheerful spirit had dampened a little about halfway through the run.  The two were at the head of the pack, about ten steps behind Watcher Yujin, and although the gap between them and their instructor wasn’t growing, it definitely wasn’t shrinking either.

He chanced a glance backwards.  Their Grade was strung out behind them, and a few stragglers were definitely outside the 30-second window already.  Jungkook faced forward again, closed his eyes, and wished it would end.  He could only keep moving his arms and legs, mechanically, one, two, one, two, one, two…

“Half a kilometer left,” Junhong rasped into his ear, breath coming in short pants.  Jungkook glanced at the older boy, noting the sweat slicking his bangs into his face, a face rapidly reddening with exertion.  Sunwoo had overtaken the pair about two kilometers back, and was still running as though on a morning jog.  Jungkook frowned and sped up a little, closing the gap between himself and their instructor.  “Come on, hyung, just in case she decides to sprint at the end.”

Watcher Yujin did, in fact, decide to sprint the remaining four hundred meters back to the Overwatch Academ.  This left Jungkook, Junhong, and the remaining fifty-some trainees in a panicked dash for the finish, while Sunwoo easily matched the instructor’s pace until the end.  Jungkook’s legs kept moving automatically after he’d passed the finish before he slowed his breakneck pace and stumbled to a stop.  Junhong tripped into him from behind, and too tired to stop his fall, Jungkook ended up in a heap with Junhong on top of him.  Jungkook groaned, and heaved Junhong off him, rolling towards the fence to prevent a pile-up of their classmates staggering after them.

“Fifteen minute break, trainees!” called Watcher Yujin, who didn’t even look like she was breathing hard.  “Drink some water, don’t throw up, and be back here!”

Jungkook dragged himself to his feet with the fence as support.  He lurched off in search of water on cramping legs, leaving Junhong, lying on the ground and moaning feebly, behind.  Some kind soul, probably Watcher Junmyeon, had left a large crate of water bottles outside the Academy building. Jungkook fished out two before wobbling back and throwing one at Junhong.  He collapsed next to Junhong, who rolled to a sitting position and twisted open the water bottle to take a long drink.  Jungkook copied him.

“You’re supposed to move around after a long run, Jungkookie,” Junhong pointed out.

“Yeah,” Jungkook grunted.  He made no move to get up.  Neither did Junhong.

He regretted it ten minutes later when Watcher Yujin called them back together, and he had to haul himself up on cramping leg muscles.

Wind sprints.  Kilometer races.  Bench pressing.  Deadlifts.  Situps.   Pullups.  Pushups.  Jungkook was one giant, aching ball of flesh when he collapsed next to the fence with a bottle of water once again.  The sun had set long ago, but in the darkness, he could still hear Watcher Yujin’s sharp voice counting out the pushups for the group that Junhong was unfortunately in.

The sun had risen for quite a while when the end was near, and the final hour of testing involved all of the fifty-some trainees bending their sore muscles in impossible shapes called “yoga.”   Jungkook privately thought it should be called “torture” as he balanced his entire body weight on one trembling arm with his other arm and legs pointed in different directions.  On the other side of the training ground, he heard Number 89 crash to the ground, unable to support himself.

Fortunately, even that test ended as the sharp-eyed instructor made a final few notes to the clipboard in her hand and dismissed the class.  As Jungkook lowered himself to all fours, panting, his classmates simply let themselves drop with dull thuds.  Junhong was one of them.   Jungkook dragged himself over to the other boy and hauled him up.  “C’mon,” he groaned.  “If we hurry, we can be the first to hit the showersbefore we sleep.”  It was 8am, but class for Grade 20 was cancelled due to the extensive physical exams.

“No shower,” groaned Junhong as he trailed after Jungkook, but Jungkook was adamant.

“You have two days’ worth of sweat on you, hyung,” Jungkook reprimanded, although he also wanted nothing more than to sleep for a day, or two.  “You’d feel horrible when you wake up.”

They managed to make it to the shower before their equally exhausted Grademates joined them and wobbled back to the dormitories.  Junhong slipped twice, and the second time he took Jungkook down with him, adding to both their collections of bruises.  Damp but clean, Jungkook flopped onto his bed and didn’t wake up for twelve hours.

When he did wake up, it was dark again, and his stomach demanded food.  He rolled out of his bunk, stifled a scream at his stiff and sore muscles, and dragged a half-asleep Junhong with him as he limped for the dining hall.  There wasn’t much left, but Jungkook shoveled a congealed chunk of rice onto his tray, followed by what appeared to be an egg casserole, and a lukewarm piece of grilled salmon.  The miso soup had gone cold, but he helped himself to a bowl anyways.

The only other people in the cafeteria were members of his Grade, also looking uncomfortably sore if their stilted movements were anything to tell by, and all ravenously devouring the cold food.   

Junhong slumped down across from him at their usual table. “Can’t move.  Everything hurts,” groaned the older boy, making no move towards his own heavily laden tray.

Jungkook eyed his friend’s tousled head as he stabbed into his blob of rice with his chopsticks.  It came apart in small chunks, which he immediately scooped into his mouth along with the fish.  “If you don’t want yours…” he began around a mouthful of food.

Junhong’s head came up immediately, and he winced from the abrupt movement, but levered a threatening stare at Jungkook as he reached for his own pair of chopsticks.  “Stay away from my food!”

Jungkook just smirked, then almost choked on a bite of the frankly disgusting egg casserole.  Scowling, he shoveled the mass onto Junhong’s tray, then watched with a kind of concerned fascination as his friend indiscriminately devoured it as well.  Minutes later, with a clean tray, Jungkook was sated and once again sleepy.  Lazily, with half-lidded eyes, he watched Junhong demolishing maybe twice as much as he had eaten at an alarming rate, before the last grain of rice was scooped up as well and the older boy sat back with a sigh.

“We’re almost Watchers,” Jungkook noted absently as he collected his tray and chopsticks and padded towards the deposit area.  “If we did well enough, and I think we did.  We could be Watchers stationed in one of the Sectors in less than a week.”

“Are you excited?” drawled Junhong, sauntering after him.

“Of course.” Jungkook glanced at him strangely.  “This is what I’ve been working for all my life.  Aren’t you?”

Junhong half smirked, half grimaced.  “Does it matter?”

Jungkook stopped and turned entirely to face him.  “Yes.  Don’t you want to be a Watcher?  It’s practically the best job in all of Muhan.”

Junhong dropped his tray on the counter with a clatter and turned away.  “No,” he answered absently.  “It’s just expected, is all.  I’ll be a Watcher.  Not everyone gets a chance like this.  No one would be crazy enough to choose being a Watcher over being a Worker, I’m sure.”

“But everyone does get a chance like this,” Jungkook countered, bothered by the ironic smile tugging at the corner of the other boy’s mouth as they wandered back to the dormitories.  “Achievement through hard work.  We have this opportunity because we worked hard at it, and everyone else would if they worked hard too.  Even Workers can have the chance to be promoted to the best Sectors and to Central City itself.”

“It’s not that simple, Jungkook,” snapped Junhong, and Jungkook drew back, eyes slightly wide.  Junhong never lost his temper.

 

Watcher Junmyeon was waiting as the class filed, or rather hobbled, into the classroom the next morning.  He was also smiling, which, although likely intended to seem caring or welcoming, Jungkook found unsettling and a bit threatening.  “Congratulations on completing the graduation evaluation,” the instructor began as the final students shuffled to their seats.  “Some of you for the first time.  Based on your scores, almost a third of you qualified to become a Level 1 or higher Watcher.  If you made the list, you will remain here in the classroom.  Those of you who did not pass will be dismissed until after lunch, and your new place in the rankings will be announced then.”

During the instructor’s short speech, the tension in the room multiplied until Jungkook practically choked on the anxiety and anticipation hanging in the air.  Jungkook’s breath had unconsciously quickened, and he forced himself to breath normally.  Why was he nervous?  He was sure he had made the graduation requirements.

Around Jungkook, the class was dissolving into relieved sighs and panicked gasps as the Watcher began reading out the names of those who’d managed to make it to be a Level 1 Specialty Watcher.  Behind him, he could hear Im Jinah nervously tapping a finger against the desk, and the lower ranks that hadn’t been called were fast nearing a muffled hysteria.  Beside him, however, Junhong’s face was still a mask of bored indifference.

Watcher Junmyeon cleared his throat as the class buzzed, and an eerie silence descended once more.  “Qualified to be a Level 2 Watcher,” he continued.  “Cha Sunwoo.  Im Jinah.  Lee Hongbin.  Jeon Jungkook.”

Jungkook unclenched his fist and let out a long, slow breath.

“Kim Yuna.  Song Mino.  Han Sanghyuk.  Lee Kyumin.”

Jungkook flashed a sideways look at Junhong, whose placid unconcern had not even been dented.

“Bang Minah.  Yook Sungjae.  Kang Seulgi.  Son Seungwan.”

He thought for a moment that perhaps Junhong had deliberately failed the examination, despite his multiple, rather unconvincing assurances that he actually did want to be a Watcher.  The instructor continued down his list of names, eliciting both sighs of relief and exuberance and increased tension in the class.  

Jungkook wondered why he cared so much.  It wasn’t likely that they’d be placed in the same Division even if they both graduated at the same time, and if they weren’t in the same Division, they very likely wouldn’t see each other again for years.  The idea bothered him more than he was comfortable with, but he pushed it away.  Serving the nation as a Watcher was one of the highest honors possible.

“…Oh Seunghee.  And finally, Choi Junhong.”

Jungkook relaxed back into his chair, stealing another glance at Junhong, who, as usual, appeared entirely unperturbed and merely blinked back at him curiously.

“Those of you whose names were not called may exit the classroom now.”  

Nobody moved until Watcher Junmyeon scowled and glared.  Then those who had not graduated migrated out of the classroom, some sullen, some despairing, some resigned.  Once the last student had exited, Junmyeon turned back to the thirty-odd students remaining, most sitting in the first two rows (although number 109, Kim Jihyun, who had just turned twenty and had apparently spent most of his seven quarters in Grade 20 sleeping during class, had somehow – or finally – graduated) with a few scattered graduates in the rest of the classroom.

“Congratulations on graduating from the Academy,” Junmyeon beamed in the face of the blank silence of the graduates.  “This is a wonderful opportunity for you, and you should be honored that you have been chosen to serve Muhan.  A quick reminder: those of you who graduated as a specialized Class of Level 1 Watcher may choose to test to join the regular Watcher ranks at any quarter evaluation, but we highly recommend you not to if you are Class Medical or Reserve.  Regular Watchers may choose to forfeit your Level 2 status to specialize in any Class.  Questions?”  He regarded the class expectantly.  Nobody moved.  “Would any unspecialized Watchers like to declare a Class?”

Jungkook wondered distantly why someone who qualified as a full Watcher would want to choose to specialize and forever be stuck as a Level 1 Watcher.  He was unsurprised when nobody volunteered.

“You’ll have your Division assignments delivered to you later today.  And congratulations on graduating, again  This is true achievement through hard work, as you all have demonstrated.  You’re dismissed, and welcome to the Overwatch!”

Having graduated, Jungkook had never had so much free time in his life.  He didn’t know what to do with himself until Junhong caught him by the arm and dragged him out of the building.  “We can’t leave Academy grounds, hyung,” Jungkook hissed.

The older boy grinned.  “We graduated, Jungkookie, those rules don’t apply to us anymore.  But don’t worry,” he continued hastily as Jungkook sputtered, “we’re not leaving the Academy just yet.”

A minute later, Jungkook frowned at his companion.  “Arguably, this is worse,” he complained, peering off the edge of the roof from where they’d perched atop the gym.  “Are we even allowed up here?”

“Have some juice.” Junhong passed him a small pouch of juice from the bag of snacks he had somehow acquired from the cafeteria and leaned back to enjoy the view of the rest of Inner Central City.  “Nobody ever told us we couldn’t come up.”

“I don’t know, maybe they thought that it goes without saying that climbing a three story building would be prohibited,” Jungkook retorted, taking the drink anyways.

“They’re training kids and teenagers into the military; they should have thought of that.  And at least we’re not getting wasted.  Or laid,” Junhong pointed out blithely.

“That’s against the rules, hyung!  And we’re all underage.  Nobody does…those…here.”

“Sure.  You’re so innocent, Jungkookie.”

“Wait, they do?! Hyung!”

Junhong smiled angelically and didn’t answer.

“We all sleep in the same room!” objected Jungkook indignantly, clawing at his ears.  “Arghh…”

The pair stayed on the roof until lunchtime, and after lunch wandered down to watch the lower Grades at their quarterly evaluations.  Jungkook couldn’t remember ever having so much spare time – it had always been class, evaluations, eat, sleep, for as long as he could remember, even before he’d been recruited to the Overwatch Academy.  And now, having graduated, he couldn’t shake the surreal sensation of not having anything to do and never again having classes.

“Look at the level 14s, Jungkookie,” cooed Junhong, breaking into his musings.  “Aren’t they so adorable going through their forms?”

Jungkook cast a disinterested glance at the group in question, then whipped his head around to glare at Junhong.  “They’re my age, hyung,” he pointed out with annoyance.

“Exactly,” Junhong hummed, smirking.

“Fifteen years old is not cute.”

“Mhmm.”

“You’re one year older than me.”

“Exactly.”

Jungkook growled, and Junhong laughed and ruffled his hair before Jungkook jerked away.  “And never forget it,” the older boy added with a content smile.

“Who’s that?” wondered Jungkook idly, motioning towards a group of higher level students.  They were probably Grade 17 or 18 given the general level of mastery they seemed to have over their martial arts skills.  One boy in particular, smaller, looked to be around Junhong’s age yet had just managed to put his much larger opponent on the mat.

“The next young up-and-comer, probably looking to take your place since you’ll no longer be here to defend it,” Junhong offered offhandedly, smirking at Jungkook’s annoyed glance.  “Okay, okay.  You’re in luck.  I just happen to know him since he came from my Sector.  Kim Han…min? Bin?  Something like that.  My age, but culled a couple years before me.  Really just cares about his family.  Saw him drawing his mom and sister once during class.”

Jungkook frowned disapprovingly.  “His family would be fine as long as they did their jobs; he shouldn’t be getting distracted in class thinking about them,” he pointed out. “Besides, he’ll probably end up in the Overwatch, and they’re just Workers.  It’s not like he’ll see them again.”

Junhong was quiet for a long time, watching the matches below.  “Yeah,” he said finally, quietly.  “I guess not.”

There was a white envelope atop a pile of neatly folded clothes waiting on his bed after dinner that evening.  Jungkook’s footsteps faltered briefly when he caught sight of the innocuous package, and Junhong bumped into him from behind with an annoyed “Hey!” that trailed off at the sight of an identical package on his own bunk.

“Ah,” the older boy said distantly, as Jungkook rushed forward to snatch his envelope.  “Our sentences.”

Jungkook ignored him as he ripped open the envelope.  The top page held a letter “to the Graduate,” with basic information regarding his new uniform, identification tags, and registration in the Overwatch database with his tracking chip.  It followed with a reminder of his duties to the nation, his responsibilities, and the honor he had been bestowed with.  He skimmed the page eagerly, then flipped to the next page.

It was his Overwatch assignment.  He skimmed over his name, registration number, date of birth, and read directly down to his placement.  He’d been assigned to Division 222, Unit 1, Beta Team.  He vaguely recalled that this Division was the same as that of the Watchers who helped with their testing.  For the next three quarters, he and his new Division would be stationed in West-2.  Jungkook definitely did not blanch, but having the fifth worst Sector for his first assignment was more than a little intimidating.

“Unit leader: Level 7 Watcher Gong Minji,” Jungkook read aloud. “Team leader: Level 5 Watcher Tuan Yien.”

Beside him, amidst the tattered scraps of his own envelope, Junhong’s head snapped up.  “Are you Division 222 1-B too?” he asked incredulously, eyes wide.

Jungkook couldn’t quite hide his grin as he nodded and waved his assignment at Junhong, who reciprocated with glee.

“And did you see who our Keeper is?” Junhong demanded, his tone probably as close to reverent – or perhaps terrified – as was possible for the older boy.

Jungkook glanced back down at his paper, and his eyes widened.  “Kim Seokjin.”