Chapter 1: Wings
Kim Jaekyung was a very obstinate human being to begin with. Taehyung knew this for a fact.
The man was hard as flint, stubborn as an ox, and cold to the very cartilage of his bones. His words were brisk and sharp, like ice. He wasn’t cruel, no, but he wasn’t necessarily kind either. At a very young age, Taehyung learned to expect as much from his father. He learned when and when not to speak, when and when not to leave the home and more importantly, when his presence mattered and when it did not.
The Sun peeked its light through Taehyung’s open window, tickling his face and beckoning him to come out and play. Even at 20 years of age, Taehyung was just a mere boy, a child at heart. The Sun brought it out in him, his childlike giddiness, his happiness. It was something that he couldn’t fight, despite his father’s dismay. Taehyung practically pounced from the sheets of his bed, a tiger with chocolate waves of hair and beautiful brown orbs.
He knew what day it was but for now, he would cherish the toddler of a Sun, allowing its beams to stroke his long hair and honey kissed skin, nurturing his body with even more kisses.
“I’m going out to feed the chickens Eomma.” He says before sliding on a white headband and strapping on his wooden sandals.
“You do know what day it is, yes?” She asks. Taehyung sighs with a grunt as he pulls hair back, tying it with an ivory band and draping the hair over his shoulder.
“Yes, I do.”
“Come back as soon as you can so we can get you ready.” She says, her voice elated and bubbled with joy. Taehyung smiles at her, his mother’s glee something that he wishes would stay forever.
“Of course Eomma.” He says before bursting through the door frame, Yeontan already following behind him with that familiar pep in his paws. Taehyung coos at the pup as he makes his way to the stables.
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When Taehyung returns, his face is picked at and prodded. His hair is braided, enlaced with golden strands of thread and colorful beads.
He is to make the perfect husband, and the perfect husband does not have a single imperfection, that means every strand of hair should be in place. Every blemish is to be hidden. Every. Single. Thing.
Taehyung holds back an undignified yelp as a certain strand is yanked from the crevice of his scalp.
“Eomma is this really necessary? If she doesn’t love me enough like this then, is she even the one for me?”
His mother sighs. “Taehyungie, love is something that can be learned, it doesn’t have to be immediate. We just need you to be liked first, that is all.”
“Taehyung-ah, please , we are almost finished.” His mother pleads as she Taehyung sighs as his aunt pats his head, signifying that the worst part is finally over.
“Ooh, one moment Taehyungie.” His mother says softly. She makes her way towards the back of the hanok. Within a few moments, she comes back with a small jewelry box covered in golden hangul and unauthentic gems. She opens the box to reveal a silver pendant, a charm of the Sun hanging from it. Taehyung can’t fight back a smile.
Ah, my good friend, is all he can think.
“I’ve been waiting for this day, the day that you would become the perfect suitor. Your father and I met through the system this way as well, and although it has its faults, I was able to find my true love. You can do the same.” She says, her soft charcoal eyes filling to the brim with tears. Guilt seeps into Taehyung’s veins like venom, his heart thudding in his chest like a warning, a sign.
Taehyung’s eyelashes flutter as he blinks at her, his lips curving solemnly. “Of course, Eomma.” He says barely above a whisper as his mother rests the pendant in the center of his chest. He lifts his hair, allowing her nimble fingers to connect the clips with a slight click. Taehyung can’t help but to flinch at the sound.
This was really happening.
As he makes his way to the heart of the village, he looks up, the Sun’s rays gleaming upon him with hope and assurance.
Do this for her, the golden star seems to say. He smiles back.
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Taehyung is going to die alone. There’s no doubt about it.
Behind each scrim, he could hear sounds of praise and haughty laughter, followed by silent grazes and touching. Bogum and Hyungsik seemed to have major success with their maidens.
Taehyung has no such luck.
Not only did he manage to spill tea everywhere, but apparently he is unfit to be a husband to any living being that breathes.
The sentiment hurt, not as much as it should but, it did hurt, and the maiden to which he was supposed to be spending his time with was nothing short of embarrassed.
His mother’s expression hurt worse than anything else.
The sight of her face drawn in sorrow, more like disappointment, made Taehyung feel disgusted with himself. He physically felt sick to his stomach.
Maybe he just wasn’t made to marry.
Maybe he wasn’t made to find his true love.
“Eomma… Eomma I’m—”
“Taehyung-ah, don’t, please.” His mother says with her hand held up, as if she was asking Taehyung to stay away from her.
All Taehyung can do is obey her wishes, since he was incapable of doing so before.
Taehyung unbraided his hair, allowing the gold to detangle from his locks, the beads popping as they hit the wooden planks of the floorboard. His heart drops to his stomach as he runs. He doesn’t have a destination in mind, but his feet carry and carry and carry his broken body until his knees sink to the floor, before him, the statues of the Kim ancestors
“I’m sorry… I know I should have… I don’t know.” Taehyung weeps. “She’s so… she’s so hurt and… it’s all my fault.”
His ancestors seem to mock him. He can almost hear their laughter, taunting him.
He’s a disgrace.
“I don’t really know what to ask for, or what I want rather but… I just want my family to be proud of me… Is that… enough? Is there a way for us to just be... happy?” He finishes lamely. His words ring true, he doesn’t know what he wants, or even what he needs.
He just hopes that the spirits hear his plea.
Taehyung doesn’t know how long he stays there for. It feels like minutes even though it’s probably closer to an hour or two. He reads over the scriptured hangul ingrained into the stones of the different Kim ancestors. One is a dragon, another a snake.
His favorite spirit is the tiger spirit.
Sleep doesn’t come easy that night, and to make matters worse, his father is in an even more of a bad mood than usual.
He must have heard wind of Taehyung’s shortcomings.
Taehyung doesn’t bother to speak during breakfast. It’s a sharp rapt on the door that brings him out of his reverie. His father is quick to stand and answer it.
There at the door is a soldier with a pinched expression. His brows are knitted tight and his frame is square, sturdy.
Taehyung fears for the worst.
He doesn’t listen as they speak but, he can tell something is wrong, gravely wrong.
Within hours families are guided out of their hanoks and to the gates. Babies, children, parents, everyone. Horses weave in and out of the crowds, monitoring the people and forcing them to stay in line. It’s a treacherous sight to behold and it makes Taehyung’s heart batter wildly, rattling his rib cage. Once the people can travel no farther, a pretty man with a long face and heart shaped lips sits tall on his white horse, a barricade of black and brown horses behind him. He clears his throat, offering the best smile that he can give. It’s a nice smile mind you, just plenty forced and grave in nature.
“Hello, I am Jung Hoseok, advisor to the General. I bring you a proclamation from the Golden City. Seoul... is under attack."
The crowd sharply inhales as a collective. Taehyung's mouth is devoid of moisture, his throat burning and his chest uncomfortably tight.
"By order of General Hongi, one man from every family must serve in the Imperial Army." Hoseok says as he opens the scroll that he has in hand. Taehyung holds his breath as each family is called. It feels like forever before Taehyung's heart jumps into his throat.
"The Kim family."
Taehyung's father juts out his chin, walking with pride to the man on the horse. Taehyung feels nauseous, his blood running hot in his veins. His body moves faster than his brain, his feet breaking the cobblestone. He takes ahold of his father's wrist, his grip tight.
"You can't go back. You barely made it back last time you can't just—”
The young man flinches under his father's intense glare. He snatches his hand away from Taehyung's grip as he takes his conscription notice. Taehyung shrinks away from all of the prying eyes as he tears up.
"I, Kim Jaekyung, am willing to die for my country."
Everyone is dismissed back into their homes. Taehyung's mother places a hand on the small of his back, guiding him back into their hanok. Taehyung doesn't fight it.
The guardians must not have heard his prayers.
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"You can't go."
"Taehyung I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"You can't go."
"Taehyung I have fought before, I can do it again."
"You almost died in the war. Appa I mean no disrespect but you are older now. What if something happens to you? They won't tell us anything until you're dead. Eomma tell him."
A slam on the table makes Taehyung jump in his seat. He is met with the fire burning in his father's eyes.
"I said that's enough. This is not your decision to make Taehyung. I am going to enlist and there is nothing that you can do or say that will change my mind."
Taehyung's chair screeches as he stands. A tear slips from his eye, the others threatening to fall and join the other streams draped across his cheeks.
"Tell them to keep your sword when they come to tell us of your death. I won't want it." Taehyung snaps before he excuses himself from the table.
His father's sword is kept on an iron rack in the upstairs of the hanok. Taehyung passes by it everyday, he's just never thought much of it.
He traces his fingers over the blade, across the fuller is a single word.
Wings Taehyung reads. He wonders what exactly it's supposed to mean. It's unfortunate that he can't ask his father.
Seeing his father come home at the age of five, bloodied and bruised with the sword strapped to his hip, was something that Taehyung would never forget.
It's a lot heavier than he would have imagined. Feeling the weight of it in his bare hands puts so many more things into perspective. The brunt of its handle wrapped beneath his fingertips, the sharp edge of the blade that could easily break the surface of his sun-kissed skin. It's weight has become too much of a burden for his father to carry. The man whom has trouble walking up the steps, the same man who can't stay in the Sun for too long, or else he'll be short of breath from the heat.
The very man who struggles with eating certain foods because his digestive system is weak, or who still uses his cane on certain occasions when his knee hurts.
The very man who will not survive another year or more in the war.
Taehyung goes back to his ancestors. He asks them for forgiveness for the things that he is going to do. He then asks them to look after his family and protect them while he is away. He can't really remember a time where they had listened to him before. He just hopes that they do now.
Taehyung runs his fingers through his hair before grabbing his thick locks. He swipes his blade through them, his hair now falling a bit past his shoulders as the dead strands of chocolate fall to the floor.
The sword weighs a ton on his back but with some of the weight of his hair gone, he feels lighter, freer. Taehyung doesn't know why the conscription notice is much heavier than the two things combined. He doesn't really want to think about it.
Taehyung walks to the stables as quickly as he can. He doesn't have much time before his family realizes that he's gone. His feet are soft as they hit the firm dirt. Once he sees that familiar white muzzle, Taehyung skips forward with a small smile.
"Tata? Tata, my bun I need you." Taehyung whispers as he hands along the horse's neck. He giggles once the horse shakes himself awake. He pats the horse's face and opens the hatch of the gate. "Let's get you out of here, okay my love?" He says, taking the horse by the reigns and leading him away from the stables and into the crisp night air. He mounts his horse, the mammal picking up it's pace a bit due to Taehyung's unsteady hands. "Tata wait a moment." The horse halts. Taehyung cranes his neck to look at the stars.
Taehyung is no stranger to the Moon, but it is the Sun that is his friend, so as he looks back at his hanok one last time, he hopes that the Moon is as friendly as it is beautiful and that it guides him on his way.
And so, Taehyung snaps at the reigns, tears in his eyes and his heart cracked in two.
Please, please hear me this time.
Chapter 2: Stigma
HAPPY TAEGI WEEK!!!
I was so happy with the responses from the last chapter. It really means a whole lot! Thank you for reading and I hope that you enjoy this one! It'll be a bit long but we meet the other characters and maybe a teeny bit of fluff? We'll see y'all lmao. We'll see how far we get. Enjoy and please share!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The camp site is a day away. Taehyung is more than parched by the time he makes it there, his canister empty within the first hour of travel. Once he sees smoke billowing from beyond the hills, he knows that he's close.
Seoul is filthy. It's dirty and grimy and filled with people in haughty clothing drenched in royal colored satin, threaded with gold. The people here look untouchable, even though they live in a place of dread and pain. It's as if their aspirations are far stronger than the resilience of what Seoul has to offer.
Taehyung is in love.
Once he has arrived at the appointed campsite, he is fairly aware of all of the eyes that dart his way. He must be a sight to see, a son of the soil in rustic, farmhand clothing, mounted on a horse and smiling brightly, as if this town is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen in all of his twenty years of living. Tata's gallops are brisk and short lived. The horse himself seems to be aware of all of the unwanted attention. Taehyung combs his hands through his mane.
"It's okay bun, we're just visiting, that's all. We'll be home soon." He coos to the animal. The horse neighs in disdain but, continues to clomp towards the campsite.
Men, men as far as the eye can see clad in black and red armor with shells of steel. The armor reminds Taehyung of a beetle's skin, protective and shining with a glaze of uncertainty.
Taehyung is stopped at the gates by one of the soldiers. He dismounts his horse, holding up his notice. The evil-looking man squints at the inked hangul.
"Kim Jaekyung?" He asks. Taehyung opens his mouth to correct him but then, he remembers the whole purpose of this escapade and swallows down his words.
"That is my father, sir. My name is... Taehyung sir, Kim Taehyung." He replies instead. The man frowns.
"And why is he not here? We did not receive notice of his son taking his place." Taehyung gulps.
"My father he... he has fallen ill unexpectedly and did not have the time to write to you." The man eyes Taehyung up and down before nodding. Taehyung makes his way under the wooden archway of the site, pulling his companion gently by the reigns.
He is instructed to get into uniform and report to his assigned tent. He does so without words, not wanting to give off any slight and insignificant suspicions. He notices that there are two other cots within the tent but the men whom they belong to are no where to be seen.
Now, dressed in his uniform with his weapon in its sheath, Taehyung pulls his hair back, steadying his breaths and puffing out his chest.
Men are strong. Men are powerful. Taehyung is a man. He can do this.
Without warning, a sharp, ear-grating whistle can be heard from the center of camp. Taehyung looks out to see men of all shapes and sizes in the exact same uniform running. Taehyung's heart lodges itself in his throat as he bursts from the tent, following the flow of warriors as quickly as he can.
Once at the center of the camp, Taehyung sees that the men are in lined up in three rows. He doesn't know if the lines are organized purposefully but regardless, he makes his way to the back in an attempt to hide as best as possible.
A whistle resounds again, and Taehyung can't help but to flinch.
Every man straightens their spine, their eyes narrowed and dark. Taehyugn swallows thickly, following suit and trying to imitate his fellow solders as best he can. Brisk steps make the gravel crunch as four men stand side by side in front of the largest tent that Taehyung has seen by far.
The air surrounding the camp site is sucked out of everyone's lungs, the moment a man takes a step from the tent.
Taehyung's brows furrow as he tries to stand up on his tip toes in order to get a good look at the man that everyone has their eyes on.
Taehyung's eyes light up.
The man has black hair, neatly parted and swooped to the side, a slight curl poking up near his forehead. The man has feline-shaped eyes and porcelain skin, his cheeks are a bit on the chubbier side of the spectrum, and his lips are plump, puckered almost.
This must be General Min.
And Taehyung finds that he can't help but to smile.
"Recruits," the General begins, "I expect nothing but the best..." but, Taehyung is too busy internally cooing at how gentle and sculpted the general is. The man wears a front of concrete but, its edges are rounded.
Taehyung feels a pair of eyes begin to burn holes into his side.
"What are you doing?" A soldier beside him asks. Taehyung turns to see a younger looking boy with bright, doe eyes and a curved nose. He has a raised brow and Taehyung giggles.
"Is that the general? He seems much... softer in person." The boy's mouth is now agape. He looks as if he is on the verge of hysterics and Taehyung takes this time to look back at the general.
He doesn't even hear the snort from beside him before he is mercilessly shoved to the ground.
Taehyung breaks through the men with a grunt, falling to the ground and causing a swirl of dust to encircle his fallen form.
Everyone's breaths hitch as the General's eyes land on the fallen soldier before him. Min's dark brows furrow dangerously, his eyes on fire and his lip curled in annoyance.
Taehyung scrambles up, immediately at attention with his arms firmly by his side and his eyes panicked. General Min stares back, his eyes calculating and squinted.
Taehyung hears a hushed "Jungkook! What the hell was that for?!", followed by a "He's so strange! He deserved it!"
Taehyung swallows the bile that has crawled its way up his throat, General Min's stern, cold eyes light every one of Taehyung's nerves aflame.
"And you are?" General Min grits. Taehyung feels sick.
"K-Kim Jaekyung, s-sir." General Min frowns.
"Thee Kim Jaekyung? As in, the man who served under my father almost forty years ago?" He asks, unamused. Taehyung's breath hitches as the surrounding men begin to whisper and converse with one another in shock.
"I mean, I am his son, sir."
"Well I asked for your name soldier, not your father's." General Min bites and Taehyung inhales shakily.
"Y-Yes I'm sorry I'm um, T-Tae sir." Taehyung winces at how feeble and idiotic he sounds. General Min raises a brow.
"Tae? Just Tae?" Taehyung shakes his head frantically.
"N-No I'm um--"
"What is your name soldier?!"
"Taehyung, Kim Taehyung, General Min." Taehyung spits out before breathing heavily in an attempt to calm his nerves. General Min seems highly unimpressed as he takes a step forward, their faces a hair apart.
"Then I suggest Taehyung, that you get back in line and collect yourself accordingly." General Min says the soldier's name as if it is a curse upon his lips and Taehyung feels utterly ill.
"Y-Yes, General Min, sir." Taehyung steps back into line, ignoring the chortles from the boy beside him. Another soldier, one with dark hair and plump cheeks elbows the boy in the stomach, making him grunt in pain as well as clamp his lips shut.
General Min continues to speak to the soldiers, explaining that he will be the one to train them over the next few days before they pack up camp and move out north.
And even though the General is speaking to the entire group of men, Taehyung feels as though the man's eyes never leave his.
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"Taehyung-ssi?" A light, airy voice calls out. Taehyung turns around to face the other, recognizing him as the one to have saved his hide from before.
He smiles sheepishly. "I want to apologize for Jungkookie. He is just a boy and the youngest among us. He doesn't know how to act and I do hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive him." The fellow soldier says. Taehyung smiles with a him, picking at the ends of his long hair.
"It is alright. I understand. Thank you for coming to me." The soldier nods and extends a hand.
"My name is Jimin, Park Jimin. It is an honor to meet the son of such a prominent, brave soldier." Taehyung feels a pang of guilt strike his heart before he shakes Jimin's hand.
"The pleasure is all mine Jimin-ssi."
"No, I mean it. Your father saved my father's life many years ago. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here today, able to make my country proud." Taehyung is suddenly hit with a wave of emotions that he didn't even know he was capable of feeling.
He was unaware of how his father's actions had impacted the lives of others.
Taehyung nods solemnly, not knowing what else to say. They make the trek back to the tents, Taehyung clearing his throat slightly.
"Is today your first day on site?" He asks, wanting to fill the silence. Jimin shakes his head.
"Kook and I arrived a few days ago."
"Are you and he related to one another?" Jimin nearly cackles.
"Heavens no! Jungkook and I are both from Busan. We lived in the same district before conscription notices where given out. We decided to take the trip out together, seeing as it would be safer than traveling alone. I've only known him for about five days and I already can't stand the boy." Taehyung giggles, as does Jimin but, Taehyung is no fool.
He can sense the teasing tilt to Jimin's voice as he feigns annoyance with the younger soldier.
The pink on his baby like cheeks says otherwise, however.
The two walk back to their respective tent, Taehyung not realizing that Jimin is one of the soldiers that he will be living with. The other soldier seems to notice at the same time that he does and they both share a small smile. Taehyung ducks his head in order to enter the tent, face to face with a familiar looking boy who, is completely in the nude.
Jimin lets out an unmanly like squeal. "Jungkook! Why are you naked?!" Jimin yells. Jungkook turns around and Taehyung gasps before covering his eyes, already having seen way more than he needed to.
"I can barely breathe in that armor, let alone relieve myself! It's so uncomfortable I can't stand it." Jungkook states before huffing out a breath. "I'm going to wash up and I think the both of you should as well. This tent smells horrible and I can barely handle Jimin-hyung's stench, let alone another." Jimin scoffs before punching Jungkook in the arm, hard.
But, instead of Jungkook crying out in pain, it is Jimin who is the one with a pinched, pained expression as he flicks his wrist.
"I swear, you're nothing but a big ol' rock Kookie, and that includes your head too. There is really nothing going on up there!" Jungkook flashes the shorter man a grand smile, one that reminds Taehyung of a bunny, seeing that his teeth are shaped like one's.
Jimin turns to look at Taehyung. "Care to join us Tae?" Jimin asks and the sobriquet makes Taehyung's heart flutter in delight.
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Taehyung runs his fingers through his damp locks before pulling the wash robe tighter around his slim, tan form. Jimin and Jungkook are already asleep and oddly enough, they have chosen to sleep in the same cot. The sight makes Taehyung smile, Jimin's head atop of Jungkook's chest, the younger yet slightly larger of the two holding him close, protectively.
The sight is winsome.
Taehyung decides to exit the tent, desiring a breath of fresh air. He doesn't feel tired and as much as he knows he should sleep before training tomorrow, only one person weighs heavily on his mind.
The man is cold as ice, dark and brooding, just like another man that he knows.
But there is something within the general, something calm and collected that beckons for attention other than this.
Other than this war.
Kim Taehyung has always been a perceptive young man.
And he can tell that Min has the world on his shoulders, despite him not wanting the added weight.
Taehyung walks through the campsite. Every lamp is unlit.
Except for one.
Taehyung knows that curiosity is what certainly killed the cat but, Taehyung actually prefers dogs, which is why he is suddenly so surprised when the kitten of a general is the one to have caught his attention the most.
Taehyung stops in front of the General's tent, his hands trembling against his chest and his heart thumping wildly. He is about to leave before the general's advisor, Jung Hoseok, bursts from the entrance flaps of the tent with a troubled look on his face.
He stops dead in his tracks when he notices Taehyung. "Soldier, it is late. You should be resting. You have an early start tomorrow and a very long day ahead of you." Taehyung smiles shakily.
"Yes sir but, uhm, is General Min available? I just, I would like to speak with him, if that is alright." Hoseok eyes the underdressed young man warily before opening his heart shaped lips to speak.
"I am not sure if that is a good idea Taehyung-ssi. The General does not wish to see anyone right now." Taehyung swallows thickly, not knowing why he is fighting for a chance to speak with the General. Maybe it is the fact that they got off on the wrong foot and he wants to repair the damage that he had done.
Or maybe he thinks that General Min needs someone other than an ally and more of a friend.
"Please sir, it will be quick. I swear." Taehyung promises and Hoseok looks like he wants to oppose but, he simply sighs with a small smile. He nods.
"Alright. Make it quick Kim." Taehyung nods, gleaming before he swiftly enters the tent.
He sees the General, his back hunched over a table that has a plethora of maps scattered across it. He is without his armor, clad in a white blouse and brown trousers tucked into a pair of black boots. His eyes are focused and flitting over every miniscule marking of the maps as he writes on them with his quill.
"Hoseok, why are you back so soon? I thought I asked you to--" The General turns, preparing to lash out before his cold eyes soften at the sight of the boy before him.
Taehyung's breath hitches at the kind gleam in the General's eyes, before it immediately turns to stone.
"Soldier, did I send for you?" He asks, his voice deep and full of ire. Taehyung's blood runs cold but, he forces his feet to stay put and his heart to persevere.
"No sir, I just--"
"Yes, I know I did not. So if you don't mind, could you please--"
"I'm sorry." Taehyung rushes out, the tent going silent and the General's eyes narrowing in on him. Taehyung runs a hand over his bare collarbone, not realizing how unclothed he is until the wind from outside brushes against his tan, slender legs. The General's eyes are immediately drawn to the action and Taehyung withdraws his hand, his arms tightening around himself in order to appear smaller.
"Sorry?" The General repeats with a raised brow. Taehyung nods.
"I was out of line today. I didn't mean to make a fool of myself and I assure you that I will take this very seriously." Taehyung says, his cheekbones a slight shade of rose from the cold. The General blinks before scoffing.
"If you think coming to me with a mere apology will put you in my good graces than you are sadly mistaken." He says before he is about to turn back to his maps. Taehyung tilts his head with a frown, slightly agitated at the face that the General thinks it best to continue being rude to him, even though Taehyung has come bearing his heart and soul in order to remain respectful.
And suddenly, Taehyung remembers exactly why he is here. He is not here to make friends. He is here to save his father from death and even if the General would like to continue making this difficult, Kim Taehyung, the son of Kim Jaekyung will have absolutely none of it.
Taehyung intakes a sharp breath.
"General Min, I mean no disrespect but... I don't give a damn about being in your good graces. I came here to prove my worth and to apologize for being disruptive earlier but I see that you have no time for that." The General's brows knit dangerously before he parts his pouty lips to retort.
Taehyung doesn't let him speak.
"Goodnight sir, and I look forward to training with you tomorrow." He says before leaving the tent with his head held high, the sight of the General with his mouth agape and eyes wide etched permanently into his brain.
And the pride lasts for a while, that is, until Taehyung's head hits the dingy pillow of his cot.
It's then that he realizes.
He had just made an enemy of the General that he serves under.
Training is going to be a nightmare.
Chapter 3: 4 o' Clock
LONG TIME NO SPEAK FRIENDS!
I hope you enjoy this chapter! I plan on wrapping this up very soon. Everything is already planned out. Just need to add the finishing touches! I hope you enjoy and please leave me your thoughts!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sun hasn't even graced the horizon before Taehyung is brutally awakened, future soldiers screaming and rushing from their tents, fearful of punishment.
Taehyung's breath gets caught in his throat as he pounces from the oily cot, yanking on a white tunic as well as his baji. As he runs, his ties his hair low into a loose bun, the soldiers already gathered and finding their place neatly within the lines of order.
Taehyung falls back, far from the general's sight. Their last encounter was nothing short of a tragedy, and he would rather not have a repeat of it.
General Min stands tall despite being a man of short height, his joki from the night before having been replaced with armor that upholds a black sheen, gold edgings of beads lining the outerwear of it. Min's eyes scan the line of soldiers and Taehyung has never been more thankful for his quick thinking. The decision to hide was a clever one.
His father would be proud.
And somehow the General's eyes find Taehyung's anyway, as if the man had been looking for him.
Taehyung can hear his ancestors laughing now.
Yoongi's eyes are black as coal, stoic and stolid with a glistening rage that makes Taehyung feel so sick.
"Your training begins..."
First, a run through the mountains.
Taehyung is exhausted and out of breath by the end of the trail but, he knows that the day is far from over. He has a long way to go before he can give into his fatigue.
Taehyung can't even learn how to hold the bow right, let alone shoot the target properly. The other soldiers are quick to laugh at his shortcomings, despite how hard he tries.
But General Min is not laughing.
After what must be the hundredth time of shooting the arrow and not making the target, the bow is snatched mercilessly from Taehyung's, his skin jittered with anxious nerves and damp with sweat from the beaming rays of the sun.
General Min stares back at him angrily.
"You're done with this. Grab a staff and get to work." He bites before walking away from the weary soldier. Taehyung's hands are empty, as is his soul.
There is more work to do.
But next is Bo staff and when given a long wooden stick and told to stand in place and wait, the beat of his heart has mellowed out into something more tangible, more relaxed. It's a stick, how hard can it be?
Taehyung has been paired up with Jungkook and the boy is a menace to spar against. The boy's staff work is quick and agile, his movements calculated, thought through, and yet oh-so fast. Taehyung finds that he can't keep up, his muscles screaming out in protest, burning in agony.
Jungkook had been training to be a soldier all his life.
Taehyung had been training to be a husband.
"Trade." One of the higher ranked soldiers calls out, the circle formation now turning like a clock, grinding like a steady gear.
Taehyung walks aimlessly, his eyes wandering despite not knowing what he's looking for.
General Min comes into view, his armor long gone, a staff in hand.
His eyes look ravenous for blood.
"Follow my lead. Strike if you feel so moved. If you get hit that's on you, understood?"
The General doesn't even give the boy time to respond before the staff swipes down on his own, the solider-in-raining emitting a yelp in surprise. Taehyung jumps back, his hands flailing as does his staff.
General Min smiles.
"What are you waiting for Kim. Strike back!"
The General's staff whips in the direction of Taehyung's figure, the tip of it grazing his abdomen and puncturing the skin there. Taehyung hisses, his eyes screwed tight as he fists the clothing on top of where the wound lies.
The staff cracks against Taehyung's side, the soldier screaming out in pain as the impact forces him to drop to the grass below.
General Min doesn't hesitate before striking again but, this time, Taehyung is quicker, rolling to his side and avoiding the crackling of wood against bone.
Taehyung begins to pant as it takes more effort to bring forth the air into his lungs. His breathing is ragged and rough, his insides squirming in discomfort as he avoids another hit from the staff.
General Min isn't even giving him a chance.
It goes on and on like this, the rest of the soldiers having already switched partners multiple times. But the General is persistent, his body stamped in place as he takes hit after hit.
Taehyung feels the bruises begin to form beneath his clothing, the tenderness of his flesh aching in anguish.
General Min hits him again but this time, in the chest.
With his boot.
The soldier gapes, fumbling to the ground with wide, baffled eyes.
"That's not fair!"
"War is not fair."
The General strikes again, the staff clacking against Taehyung's skull, rendering him delirious and unbalanced beyond belief. His vision is blurry, his hearing going in and out and his voice buried deep within his amidst the stinging in his chest.
"Get up Kim." The General grits, his teeth clenched, his payback from the night before fulfilled.
Taehyung whimpers out in pain, his hands splayed to the dirt below to help lift him from the ground but, his sore muscles fail him, unable to withstand his weight as he falls to the dirt below.
The General lands a kick to his abdomen. Taehyung startles, the wind having been stolen from him.
Taehyung's face is wet with tears, the soldier's pent up aggravation is enough to make his skin crawl, his heart palpitating so fast that his ribs rattle from the force of it.
Taehyung snatches up his staff from the ground.
Enough is enough.
The General stands tall, a brow raised in surprise. He smiles before readying his stance, his staff held high and his head even higher.
"Perhaps you're not as weak as I thought." He murmurs, but Taehyung hears none of it.
A battle cry rips itself from Taehyung's throat, his staff raised behind his head before he brings it down with a whack.
The staff smacks against the General's, the soldier refusing to hesitate before he strikes again and again and again. The General's movements are more precise than they are quick but, every single time, he manages to block Taehyung's attacks.
Taehyung is blind with rage, his vision red as he whips the staff back and forth, back and forth. The wood nearly splinters at the edges, the force of its hits strong enough to hurt but not enough to break.
That is, until Taehyung miscalculates one of his hits, the staff much lower rather than high. Chalk it up to his dire exhaustion but, the tip of the staff butts the General right in the stomach, the older of the two gasping for a sharp breath, recoiling quickly but keeping his guard up.
The General holds up a hand, the gear of a formation now ceased, the soldiers stilling in their movements, their breathing loud and forced. His eyes land on Taehyung's red, sweaty face. Min's eyes still dark and yet, glistening with something unknown.
"That is enough for today."
«────── « ⋅ʚ❈ɞ⋅ » ──────»
Taehyung can't move.
Not only do his limbs feel like chunks of stone, but his entire upper body is a long plank of wood, beaten and bruised. His brain is a puddle of nothing, whipped into the state of mere exhaustion. He can't breathe. It hurts to breathe.
Taehyung groans at the sudden feeling of his cot dipping beneath an unforeseen weight.
"Hyung, it's time to wash up!" Jungkook informs with a haughty laugh.
Taehyung conjures up the bit of strength that he has left to slap his fellow soldier in the back.
"Leave... leave me alone..." Taehyung moans, dinner sitting heavy in his stomach as his muscles protest against the slightest movement, straining to heal.
Jimin has already begun to gather the robes for him and the other boys. He giggles.
"I know you're tired Taehyung but, it would do you some good to wash. The water will soothe you."
Taehyung whines. "When I can stand without falling, then I will but for now, please leave me to rest."
Jimin clicks his tongue as Jungkook begins to chuckle.
"Alright Taehyung-ssi." Jimin bids his goodbyes before him and Jungkook leave the premise of the tent.
Taehyung takes in a deep breath, covering his face with the palms of his hands.
General Min is a man of one's nightmares. He is wicked and cruel, and wrong for how he has treated Taehyung.
But the man is right.
War isn't fair. And if it weren't for the fact that his home had become the enemy of another, then maybe he wouldn't have to be here.
Maybe he wouldn't have needed to save his father's life.
But even if Taehyung conquer the day all over again, he wouldn't change his decision for the world. His father wouldn't have made it here.
And Taehyung might not either.
The soldier doesn't know how long he lies there, awake and in pain. Long enough for his fellow soldiers to have trickled into the tent quietly, preparing for sleep as well as another day's worth of training. Taehyung inhales a bated breath, one of promise and blithe.
Taehyung lifts himself from the grimy cot, his sweat having soaked it, making it even more stale. His bones creak in agony, the coming strength within him dwindling even faster than before. He grabs a robe, slipping through the sheets of his tent as he makes his way to the lake for a quick wash so that he can resort back to his death. Perhaps it was a good thing that he waited for the other soldiers. The lake seems to be devoid of other bodies, making the young man look forward to the peaceful wash ahead.
But he spoke too soon.
As there is someone in the lake, someone pale and small in stature. Someone with a head of dark hair, gently curled from the soaking of water.
Someone that looks like the General.
Taehyung's body freezes up, the soldier wincing in pain at the sudden halt in action. He supposes it makes sense, for the General to have to cleanse his body as well as the other soldiers but, why must it be done now.
Perhaps it's because he thought no one would be here.
Taehyung takes in a shrill breath before undressing himself and dipping his feet into the lake, allowing the water to crackle and flow around him. He travels deeper into the lake but, quietly, as to not disturb the other man close by.
But the sudden change in movement of the water is enough to warrant the man's attention, the plopping of and odd current of a lake so still forcing him to turn around. At first, the General's eyes are questioning but, calm.
It isn't until he recognizes the face of the boy, that his brows arch in anger.
"Leave." The General grits.
Taehyung wishes he could be surprised but, he isn't. In fact, with the feverish aching of his bones, and the incessant pain bouncing through his ligaments, Taehyung is more annoyed than anything.
In fact, he's furious.
"No." He says, continuing to soak his body in the cool water, nearly sighing in satisfaction at the cool sensation of wet skin.
The General raises a brow.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said, no." Taehyung repeats, his tone unchanged as is his stance in the water. He can feel the burning eyes of the General upon him but, he doesn't have the energy to move.
He simply can't.
The General scoffs, approaching the soldier slowly but surely.
"You must not know who you are talking to soldier."
Taehyung should really rethink his method of speech. It is a bad idea to speak so rudely to the man that could potentially kill you if he wanted to. Not only that but, no one would question the death of an unnamed soldier like Taehyung.
But Taehyung is tired of being talked down to. He is tired of being treated like anything less than what he is, and yet, he is expected to be everything and more.
Taehyung is tired.
Taehyung looks up, ignoring the way the General's pale skin glistens in the moonlight. He ignores the way the black, delicate curls upon the General's head swirl and crinkle into what almost looks like a halo. He ignores the man's soft stomach and the small, inconsistent scars that rest here and there upon the man's flesh.
Taehyung ignores it all.
"Sir, forgive me but, I am tired and I must wash―"
"I did not ask for an explanation soldier. I told you to―"
"Sir I know what you said but I refuse to leave until I am done."
Taehyung doesn't realize he is crying until the water spilling down his cheeks feels too warm to be water from the lake. The pressure in his chest is too agonizing to bear, the brunt of his emotions now pooling over and drowning Taehyung in the process.
He misses his family. He misses his life.
And he might not make it out of this war alive.
The water around Taehyung splashes, dripping down his waist and making him feel cold.
But the change of the current isn't because of him.
It's the General.
"Kim... Kim." He calls out, a hesitant hand reaching out to grasp Taehyung’s arms.
The soldier startles, the other’s hands surprisingly warm. He looks up, finding the crinkle in between the General’s brows still apparent but, more relaxed. The flint of his eyes has softened into something strict but, resigned.
The man sighs before retreating away, his hands dropping from Taehyung’s arms. He doesn’t say anything more. Instead, he turns around, traveling further away and into deeper waters.
Taehyung finds that he follows without really meaning to.
General Min notices but, he doesn’t say anything more. Instead he cups the surrounding water into his hands, allowing it to cascade down his shoulders and front side. Taehyung remains quiet, standing deep within the water till the surface of it kisses his chin.
The General takes in a deep breath.
”You shouldn’t be here.”
At this, Taehyung’s blood freezes cold, the man’s tone drenched in finality yet, indifference. He doesn’t know what more to say but he knows he should say something.
“I know.” He answers, because it’s true.
He shouldn’t be here.
The General turns to him, a bit shocked at the abrupt and earnest response.
”Then why did you come? Why travel all this way? Why did you take your father’s place?”
Taehyung swallows, more tears threatening to spill over at the onslaught of reasonable questioning.
”My father... he isn’t well. He isn’t strong enough to be here. There is no point in him coming here just so he can die.” He says.
The General huffs. “All of us could die Kim.”
Taehyung takes in another breath. “I know but, I’d rather it be me than him.”
General Min hums. “How noble of you.” It’s condescending almost, and Taehyung should be offended by it, he is unclothed and speaking to the General he serves under, the one that has been treating him poorly since they met.
Taehyung would rather have this anything else.
”Thank you.” Taehyung replies, ignoring the look of agitation that the General sends his way. Instead, he smiles, somewhat happy that he is able to get under the man’s skin without having to lose his head.
”And, you, why did you come here?” Taehyung asks, genuine curiosity sparkling within his tired eyes.
General Min frowns at him, his look wary yet, befuddled.
”Why would you ask such a thing?”
Taehyung shrugs. “You asked me the same question.”
”Yes but you had a choice, I didn’t.” He says.
Taehyung swims closer, the General eyeing him with suspicion.
”What if you had a choice? Would you have chosen to be here?”
General Min scoffs. “Of course I would. It is my duty to fight for my country.”
”But it doesn’t have to be.” Taehyung’s eyes trail downward, his fingers carding through the water in a sleepy haze. The General raises a brow.
”It is every man’s duty to protect their home.” He murmurs, his voice dark and edged with something acrid.
Taehyung looks up, the General’s eyes still on him, his gaze unwavering.
“But it wouldn’t have to be if there were no wars.”
The General goes silent, his eyes widening before suddenly, he chuckles bitterly.
”You are far too naive for your own good Kim Taehyung.”
The quirks of Taehyung’s lips turn up, the sound of his name trickling from the other’s lips making his entire body feel strange.
”Tell me, what would you be if you weren’t a general. I would like to know.” Taehyung nearly pleads, his voice soft and laced with a sweet sense of curiosity.
The General’s expression quickly hardens to one of a scowl, Taehyung feeling nervous but, not cowardice.
General Min looks like he doesn’t want to answer, like he is annoyed with the soldier before him but, against Taehyung’s kind stare, it is hard to maintain the facade, his wall of stone.
”A musician. I would have loved to be a musician.”
Taehyung gasps, the answer making his heart flutter with excitement.
Who would have known.
”What instrument do you play?” Taehyung asks, eyes gleaming with wonder.
The General gulps, his hardened look wavering.
”The gayageum. I played it as a child. I have forgotten but... If I had not trained to take my father’s place... that is what I would do instead.” He answers gravely, his voice faltering in few places, as if he is unsure in his answer.
Unsure in himself.
Taehyung hums in understanding. “Before taking my father’s place in the war, I had been preparing myself for marriage.” Taehyung recalls the memory with clenched teeth and a dramatic hiss.
The General raises a brow in question. “I take it that it did not go as planned.”
Taehyung chuckles. “Oh not at all. I spilled hot tea all over Chae-noona’s breasts. Her scream could be heard from miles away.”
The General’s eyes widen in shock, the quirks of his lips guiding upward, his bottom lip quivering almost.
“You... you spilled hot tea all over your matchmaker?” He asks, baffled.
Taehyung giggles with a nod. “She said that I would die alone but, I think she had overreacted just a bit.”
The General makes a choking sound from the back of his throat, one that sounds like a chortle, a very odd chortle. It makes Taehyung giggle once more, the crack in the General’s armor making his chest all too warm.
”I... I don’t know what to say...” The General chokes out. Taehyung smiles.
”I didn’t either.”
The water surrounding the two men has come to a standstill, the trickling in the night subtle and quiet.
Taehyung never noticed how pretty the General was when he wasn’t angry.
Perhaps it’s because he so far, has been the cause of all his anger.
”I know I must refer to you as General but... do you have a name?” Taehyung asks quietly. The General seems scandalized by the mere idea but, doesn’t say a word. He turns away from the soldier.
”I must not say. It is inappropriate for me to do so.”
”But I won’t call you by it. I would just like to know. You know my name.”
”Because you are a soldier and I, your General.”
”Yes but even a General has a name.” Taehyung chuckles deeply, the gruffness of his laugh somewhat pleasant and agreeable to the ears.
”General Min...” Taehyung sings playfully, sending a splash of water towards the General with a wave of his hands. The man scoffs.
”You are a child Kim.” He grits. Taehyung begins to pout, a coltish glint in his eye.
The General swallows.
Taehyung blinks, the pacing of his heart beat undergoing a fierce stutter.
”Yoongi.” He tastes the name on his tongue. It tastes sweet, like honey. It’s soft, like every feature of the General when he is not leading his men.
It is fitting.
”Yoongi.” Taehyung says again, his smile radiant uncontrollable. The General, Yoongi, snorts.
”You must never call me that, especially in front of the other men.”
”I promise.” Taehyung says with a nod. “Yoongi.”
The General splashes the soldier with water.
”Don’t think I won’t punish you soldier.”
Taehyung damn near squeals, the water now too cold to stand. He gives into his laughter, his eyes crinkling and his heart full.
The General has pink cheeks. Perhaps it’s the water, Taehyung thinks.
Night has fallen long ago, and Taehyung is sure that morning is upon them.
Yoongi makes his way to land. “It is late. Training continues tomorrow. Go to your tent and rest.” He says, gathering one of the robes hanging from the tree branch. Taehyung purposely looks away, his own tan cheeks reddening at the sight of his General, Yoongi, naked and bare.
Yoongi turns around, the robe pulled tight around his small form.
A smirk on his face.
”Because if you thought today was hard, just wait till tomorrow.”
Before long, the General is out of sight and Taehyung is left alone, treading dangerous, murky waters.
And even though he should be scared for his life.
He is not.
Because the General isn’t just the General anymore.
He is Yoongi.