The first thing Seokjin remembers is his eomma’s love. Long before he was physically cognisant of anything else, he could feel what those around him were feeling, and the memory of the soft warmth he felt in his mind from him stayed with him.
He also remembers exactly when it stopped.
He’d still been very little, playing in his nursery under the watchful eye of his favourite nanny when he felt it. Sorrow so thick and pungent it had had him clutching his head in his tiny little hands and screaming. His nanny, scared out of his wits, scooped him up and ran all the way to the healer’s wing, further away but not far enough from the royal suite, where the true source of his pain was. After looking over Seokjin from head to toe and having no clue as to what was causing his distress, the doctor surmised that it had to be something beyond his abilities and as such summoned the warlocks. By the time the warlocks had arrived from their respective wing of the castle, Seokjin’s frightened wails had subsided to exhausted little whimpers, his throat raw and his head throbbing. When both his nanny and the doctor had been questioned three separate times by three separate purple-robed figures of indeterminate gender or caste, the warlocks finally turned their attention to him. For the first time since that first burst of sorrow, he felt something else.
Curiosity, quickly followed by certainty.
The little prince was an empath. And what had caused him such distress was his eomma, losing yet another babe to the clutches of death.
After several miscarriages, Seokjin was the first child his eomma carried to term, and it seemed he would be the only one. Despite this, Queen Minseok greatly resented his only child for not being born an alpha. It was his greatest shame to have been the cause of the break in a line of succession that had gone unbroken for nearly ten generations.
His appa, King Seokju was disappointed as well, but chose to focus on the future, making what preparations he could for the end of a dynasty. He knew he could not change the zeitgeist of an entire kingdom in his reign alone, especially a kingdom so notoriously set in its ways, but he would do what he could. He came to be known as the first king to select omegas for roles within the royal council. He famously changed the laws restricting omegas from owning properties or businesses. From these changes he also brought about improved trade with the far more progressive northern kingdoms, all before his son turned ten. A great deal of people, mostly traditionalists, despised him. But he came to realise that this handful of nay-sayers was far outweighed by the vast amount of people in his kingdom who now adored him.
He made the decision to limit his son’s exposure to his wife and chose to compensate for this by spending more time with him in his stead. It made for a strenuous schedule at first, but it became clear that Seokjin did not mind following his appa about, even into meetings that could drag on for hours and that had no entertainment value for a little one. Seokjin learnt at his appa’s knee, and eventually every official within the royal retinue knew not to voice any opinions on the presence of a little omega in places where state matters were discussed.
Ironically, Seokjin grew to be everything his eomma and sundry would have been proud of had he been of a different caste. He was self-assured, firm but understanding, loud when he needed to be and quiet when he didn’t. He never stopped attending state meetings, and eventually even partook in them, to the grumbling of almost everyone present.
Even physically he did not conform to what an omega would normally be. He matched his statuesque father in height and shoulder-width, he kept his hair short and refused to wear the long, flowing robes expected of him, unless the fancy struck him and he wanted to delight in shocking whoever would be in his company that day.
He became known for his rather extravagant choices of clothing, bold colours and cuts that accentuated his androgynous features. He liked to contrast his broad shoulders with his tiny waist, his striking eyes with his plush lips. All in all, he just really liked to perplex people.
When he was sixteen and already had a sound reputation for mystifying, he made a rather terrifying discovery.
He was in the company of one Chong Byungho when he sensed from the boy something that had him shuddering in revulsion.
It was by no means the first time he had experienced such a thing, and in fact had almost gotten blasé about sensing it from alphas that could have easily been his grandfather. But this one, this Byungho who was just a year older than him, had set off alarm bells in Seokjin’s head. For it was not just plain old, ‘let-me-knot-you' arousal, but the ‘let-me-knot-you-and-make-you-bleed’ variation. So disgusted had he been that he had subconsciously reached out to the boy’s mind and simply…twisted. Byungho had physically jolted upright from where he had been practically panting into Seokjin’s neck, and had removed himself from the room so fast it was like he had left his shadow behind.
Seokjin himself had been so startled, he’d sat there stock-still for a full minute before he’d gotten up and rushed to the only person he could trust to know what had happened.
His appa had been sparring with General Yi at the time, but had promptly left the General staring at empty space when he saw his son rush into his private sparring room, out of breath and looking green. He’d ushered his son into his study and sat him down with a cup of honeyed tea, as his eomma had always done for him in times of upset.
“What is the matter Jinnie? What happened?”
Seokjin took a deep, fortifying breath and instead of telling his appa what had happened, he settled for cryptically asking, “Appa, have you ever…changed people?”
Seokju frowned. As a king, he’d of course had influence over the lives of thousands. But he had a feeling that was not what his son was referring to.
His son had inherited his unique ability from somewhere, after all. Not that anyone but Seokjin and the Head Warlock knew about it. “You mean have I ever used my telepathy to influence others?”
Seokjin nodded, staring at the stone floor at his feet.
Seokju heaved a great sigh, and knew it would be of no use to try and hide his sudden rush of sympathy from his son.
The boy slumped where he sat, tears pooling in his eyes, “How can you bear it? How can you trust anyone to be truly themselves?”
Seokju rushed to sit next to his son and embrace him, heedless of his own sweaty state. “I have only ever used it twice, perhaps three times, each in self-preservation.” A sudden thought struck him, and he felt himself go cold with fury. “Seokjin. Who tried to hurt you?”
The boy sniffled, “It doesn’t matter. He won’t harm me, or possibly anyone. Ever. Not now, after what I did. And it is not like you can punish someone for what they feel.”
Seokju huffed into his son’s hair, his milky familial scent calming him down. “Nobody would have to know.” he half-joked.
His son snorted, “You’ve never been known to do anything quietly.”
“Neither have you.” He tugged pointedly if gently at his son’s bright pink hair. How he had managed the feat was beyond him, but he had already spotted several of the younger court-goers sporting sad imitations.
His son laughed that horribly endearing laugh of his, like an un-oiled window being swung open and shut, and Seokju felt himself settle. Even at such a young age, he could trust his son’s instincts. He could understand all too well that one could not retain one’s innocence very long with abilities like theirs. Perhaps his ready acceptance of their dying dynasty was due to the hope that their curse would die with it.
The incident brought home for the King something else he would have to start worrying about. Seokjin was bound to start having heats soon, and with them he would be eligible for marriage. Seokju would rather be drawn and quartered than let his son anywhere near a marriage bed before he was a round twenty-five, but he still had to find someone worthy of both his son and the throne before the time came. The gods knew he couldn’t just hand either over to some young little knot-head with no sense.
The very thought terrified him.
Little did he know that his concern had been for nothing.
Seokjin’s first heat came not long after, and as the only alpha immune to his scent it would have fallen to Seokju to guard the door from any roaming idiot alphas. Normally the duty would fall to an alpha sibling or even cousins and uncles, but Seokju was a wise king.
A wise king who would rather guzzle horse-piss than listen to anything that might escape the room, and so he assembled the kingdom’s first every Omega Guard. It was made up of mostly trusted servants and attendants, and did not look all that intimidating, seated outside the Prince’s door doing various domestic things such as knitting or needlework, but the gods have mercy on whoever underestimated a protective omega armed with sharp objects of any kind.
Seokju was preparing himself for the next battle, which would be fending off suitors left and right, but it would all be for nothing.
Three days after it began, Seokjin emerged from his rooms appearing even more devastatingly handsome than before, and immediately received no less than fourteen roses from various alphas. He took great delight in politely accepting the roses with a charming and flattered smile, only to efficiently crush any hope the alpha might have had of someday being his mate.
The reports came to Seokju as he was having his weekly supper with Minseok, and he laughed himself sick until his delight was soured by his embittered wife.
“Yet another useless womb in the family.” he muttered monotonously into his soup.
Seokju had never wanted to harm his wife in any way until that moment. He pushed back violently from the table, startling him into displaying the first feeling besides resentment in years, and he stormed from his quarters.
Ever since that fateful day he had been putting up with Minseok's nigh intolerably rancorous attitude, because despite everything, he still loved him. Despite knowing from the moment he met him that he did not love him back, he loved him. To his detriment.
He recalls the day he had decided to ban Minseok from seeing their son without him present. He had still been recovering from the stillbirth of the baby alpha, and Seokjin had been playing on the carpet in his room with a pinched expression. He hadn’t liked being around his eomma since his ability was discovered on the day of the stillbirth, but Seokju had still had hope that the sight of him would cheer his wife up. But then he had become aware of how dark Minseok's thoughts regarding their son had become, and vividly projected the image of smothering their son with a pillow. He'd had no idea of Seokju’s ability, of course, and as such had been jolted into the present when Seokju had stood up suddenly and rushed out with their son in his arms.
He knew Minseok was suffering, that such thoughts were the product of his own sorrow and declining self-worth, and as such had offered in the past to send him away to one of the country-estates, but every time he had refused on the grounds that he would be alone. He had conceded, and had stuck to keeping him away from his son as much as he could.
He wasn’t offering anymore.
Minseok had given him the greatest joy in his life, but he would not stand for him blighting it in such a way. He would have to leave.
The very next week he was carriage-bound for the country-side where his family lived, and Seokjin stood beside his appa as they saw him off, a confused frown on his face. He knew of his eomma’s resentment towards him despite Seokju’s best efforts, but thankfully didn’t know that his eomma was now disappearing over the horizon because he had been ordered to.
For a while, they had a bit of peace. Seokjin continued to turn down any and all suitors, and Seokju tried to make what differences he could to his kingdom.
Meanwhile there was some troubling news from the other kingdoms.
The South-Western Kingdom of Gunsan’s King Jeonghoon had been assassinated, but had supposedly seen it coming if his very peculiar choice of regents was anything to go by. His step-brother Namgi and his son, Namjoon had been chosen as Prince Jeongguk wasn’t of age yet. Peculiar because it was rare that two regents were selected, and even rarer that the son was included. This meant possible tension with Busan, the South-Eastern Kingdom that Seokju was the ruler of.
The Northern Kingdoms, Icheon and Pyeongchang had gone completely silent. The only trade taking place was through private merchants, who were studiously keeping mum about the situation. Seokju was worried that they might be on the brink of war and he wouldn't even be aware of it. But there hasn’t been war between any of the kingdoms in well over a thousand years, and even back then the Northern Kingdoms tended to stay out of things.
When he was still very young and his elder brothers had still been alive, Seokju had visited the Northern Kingdoms with his appa, King Seokhyun. His memories of that time are very vague, but he remembers well the floating palace in Pyeongchang and the walled-in, icy fortress in Icheon. The Northern Kingdoms were known for their supposedly strange customs, which involved a purely omega line of succession for both kingdoms, and rather frightening abilities passed down along the royal line. Seokju’s own family was by no means unremarkable when it came to otherworldly abilities, but hearing people’s thoughts or feelings tended to pale in comparison to making an entire building float or freezing a lake solid with the touch of a hand.
When Seokjin’s twenty-fifth birthday rolled around, however, Seokju actually did start to worry. For all his talk of his son not marrying until he was good and ready, he still had a kingdom to think of and there seemed to be nobody even remotely suitable in sight. Normally finding a mate for one’s royal offspring wasn’t difficult, but normally said mate wouldn’t be entitled to an entire kingdom. For all the change Seokju had brought about during his reign, he knew handing the throne over to his omega son was -as of yet- out of the question. Even if he knew his son to be more than qualified, most of his council would rather spit up cats than ever bow to an omega, and despite the supposed supremacy of the throne, it was nothing without people to back it. He had already stretched their patience thin with his ‘radical’ ways.
Still, the feast honouring the Prince’s twenty-fifth birthday was enormous. Seokjin wanted the whole city to have a day of celebrations, and so had every major kitchen in the city cooking up local favourites, and in every plaza there were open barrels of colour powder to be tossed about while dancing to music created by street musicians, and he had declared that he would buy every piece of street-art created on the day.
Seokjin was very much the people’s prince, not only for his charitable nature, but because he would often travel though the city and mingle with them, singing to the little ones in his sweet voice and dancing clumsily with them. Whenever someone would spot a red heart of any size drawn in the street or on a wall, they would know that the prince had been there.
As such, the people were joyful to be honouring their prince.
Even the weather itself seemed to want to celebrate the prince, for the day broke sunny and mild, with a gentle sea-breeze wafting it’s fresh scent through the whole city.
Up at the palace, however, the mood was somewhat more subdued. Courtiers of all ages were eager to imitate his colourful fashions and to pretend at being as noble and just, but the overarching feeling seemed to be jealousy. How an omega could behave in such a way was beyond them. By now, the prince should have been married and fat with children, not dancing with street rats and turning his nose up at the finest alphas the kingdom had to offer.
There was, at least, a handful who were truly happy to see the prince light up the kingdom with joy. The King and General Yi keen to make a round of the city with him, and the infamously lumbering general even brought smiles to the faces of everyone present when he let a tiny little omega of five or so stand on his toes for a dance.
When the trio returned to the palace in time for the main feast in the great hall, it was with great smiles on their faces at seeing first-hand the prosperity of their kingdom.
Smiles that quickly fell the minute the feasting was concluded and the messenger was finally brought forward.
The beta was wearing the purple colours of the citadel, the massive academy in the middle of the four kingdoms where the warlocks lived and learned, separate yet intertwined in the political fabric that made up the Four Kingdoms. He was a novice, if his youth was anything to guess by. But Seokjin knew that could be misleading. He was also fairly brimming with nervousness and anticipation, all in such a bundle that Seokjin almost wanted to reach out and calm him.
Seokju lead the boy to his own study, followed by his closest advisors which, to the vexation of many, included the Prince.
Once everyone was settled, the boy quickly assured everyone that he brought not bad tidings, but rather a summons. The citadel was hosting a summit, not at the citadel itself, no, that would be ridiculous, but at the infamous Floating Palace in Pyeongchang. It was a tumultuous time of power-shifts within each of the four kingdoms, and for that and various other reasons that could not be disclosed, it seemed imperative that rulers from each of the four kingdoms convened in one place.
Seokjin could tell that his father was very tempted to laugh, and some of the other people in the room gave in to said temptation, and when he felt the nervousness from the boy increase tenth fold, mixed with a bit of hurt, he was himself tempted to squash the humour in the room. He settled for bending his own rules of not using his ability on others, just a little bit, by finally calming the boy down. He knew his father could tell what he was doing, but he also knew his father trusted him not to go overboard.
“I’m sure you can understand, as King, I cannot simply leave for any amount of time. And some would object to me leaving my duties in the capable hands of my son.” Seokju nodded at the prince and there was some nervous shuffling in the room. Of the few people in the room, even fewer would actually object to this. It was the wider council that would throw a fit at the mere thought.
The messenger was quick to shake his head. “Forgive me Your Majesty, but it would not be you who would be going, but your son, Prince Seokjin.”
Before madness could descend, Seokju stood from his seat, “Everyone but my son, out. Now.” His command was that of an alpha and a king, and everyone in the room scrambled like scolded puppies to obey. Seokjin remained in his seat, quivering despite himself.
His father was a riot of feelings, ranging from anger to shame and most prominently, fear.
Seokjin fought his own instincts in reaction to the alpha command and found his own most abundant emotion to be anger. They were by no means a traditional family, and as such his father was very aware of how much Seokjin despised it when he used that voice on him. For all that he never acted as omega should, he was still subject to the baser instincts of one.
As soon as the room was empty and he was sure nobody was close enough to hear, he shot up out of his seat, still shaking, “Why would you do that? You know I hate that!”
His father slumped into his seat, his elbows on his desk and his head in his hands, “I know. I know and I’m sorry. I reacted without thinking.”
“Why? Why would the thought of me attending this summit garner such a strong reaction from you? Do you think I am not capable?” Seokjin rushed out, his shaking subsiding in the wake of his father’s obvious remorse.
“Of course not. You know I am fully aware of your capabilities. But you have never been away from me, you have never been where I cannot protect you.” He sighed, and looked up at Seokjin with pleading eyes, “And you are not the only one at the mercy of your instincts. It is in my nature as your family alpha to protect you for as long as I can, and sending you across the world to a place we know very little about does not constitute as protecting you.”
Seokjin huffed and dropped into the chair opposite his father, “How am I supposed to be mad at you when you do that.” He mirrored his father’s pose, resting his chin on his hand. “Appa…I need to go. You know I do. You cannot protect me forever.” He snorted, “Perhaps I’ll even find some knot-head who I can stand for longer than ten minutes and you’ll have yourself an heir.”
Seokju chuckled at his son’s bluntness, “I hadn’t considered that.” His face fell, and the room was suffused in regret, “I wish I could hand over the throne to you so you could marry whomever you wish. It pains me that you might have to marry someone purely for the kingdom’s sake.”
Seokjin ran his finger along the grain in the wood of his father’s desk, “We’ve known this was coming for a long time. I’ve resigned myself to my fate.” He sighed dramatically for emphasis, but his father wasn’t smiling.
“I have not. I do not want you to go into this actively looking for an heir. Go with the intent of learning more about the other kingdoms, and perhaps you’ll be lucky and meet someone you can love along the way. It would be good if you did, because it would be someone of equal standing.” Seokju looked down at his desk, “Station is important, as much as I hate to say it. You need someone who understands your life, and even if it ends up being a marriage of convenience, equal ground makes it easier to learn to love one another if not only tolerate one another."
Seokjin reached across the desk to squeeze his father’s wrist. He knew his father had married far below his station when he’d married Minseok, one of his grandmother’s body servants who had been from an old noble family and only there by the good graces of ancient family debts. He also knew it greatly hurt his father when it was whispered that Minseok’s less than stellarly royal blood had been the cause of the many miscarriages and stillbirths.
The fact was that it shouldn’t have mattered who Seokju married, for he had only been the fourth in line to the throne when he did, and the first four years of their union had been blissful, for they had felt no need to have a child yet. But then a horrible accident had claimed the lives of all three of Seokju’s older brothers and his appa, with his eomma following soon after due to grief.
It had been the worst year of Seokju’s life, but the brunt of it had landed squarely on Minseok, who had been totally unequipped to deal with his sudden shift in status. Seokju was almost certain that it had been that stress that had really made his wife unable to carry. He looked at Seokjin, squeezing the hand on his wrist in turn. His spouse might not have agreed with him, but he really believed that Seokjin was their little miracle. He could never look at his son and feel disappointment. All he felt was joy, love and the need to protect him at all costs. He sighed heavily. Perhaps that meant letting him go to this ridiculous summit. He snorted and his son looked at him questioningly, sensing the sudden resignation and trepidation.
“Fine. You may go. But you are taking General Yi with you. And your omega guards.” Gods know they’d had ample training by then.
The risk might have been worth it to see his son light up like a firefly and lunge across the desk to plant a kiss on his forehead. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you! I’ll start preparations immediately. General Yi you say? He’ll be sure to grouch about it all the way to the Floating Palace, but I’m sure he’ll secretly enjoy the adventure! And my omegas would not be able to contain their excitement! You know Sunmin has been obsessed with the Northerners for ages! And…”
And so it went on for the full month it took to fully prepare, and by the time the King was seeing his son onto his horse, he was quite looking forward to some peace and quiet. He still had some time to fret and worry, however.
“Promise not to be stubborn and move to the carriage when you start to get saddle-sore. Wear your hat so you don’t burn, remember the ointments so the pests don’t eat you alive and for the love of the gods, don’t eat or touch anything you find unless it has been approved by the hunters, yes?”
Seokjin had smiled fondly at the start of his father’s tirade, but was now looking at him with a flat expression that conveyed exactly how unimpressed he was. “Yes, eomma , I will be sure to remember that I have been on this earth a good twenty-five years and not forget to tell my nannies when I need to take a piss either.”
General Yi, who was standing nearby, had to be assisted onto his horse he was laughing so hard, and Seokju huffed and smacked his son upside the head before embracing him one final time for a full two minutes.
“Be careful, my Jinnie. I could not bear to lose you too.”
Seokjin inhaled his appa’s calming scent and hugged him back just as hard, “I will, Appa. You’ll see me again before you know it.”
Seokju had to use every last bit of his considerable will-power not to cry like a babe in front of the entire travelling party, tellingly free of courtiers so this moment of farewell could be as private as possible. He helped his son onto his horse even if he didn’t need it, and then stood there until the tail of the travelling party was long out of sight.
He sighed for what felt like the millionth time that day, and went back to his duties inside the palace while his son proceeded on to his own, far, far away.