Chapter 1: Interlude I
Tell me the tale of how life was so in love with death, she sacrificed her own children for him to have company.
"Have you been waiting for long? I apologize, I had some duties to-"
"Fool! What makes you think I'm waiting for you?" A sharp voice cut into the warm air. Air that smelled like burnt flesh.
With hurried steps had the angel come forward, but now he stood frozen on the spot a few inches from hell's gates. Blonde locks framed his beautiful face. The angel halted before he spoke. His hair was spun of gold and his bright eyes contained melted chocolate. Pink, full lips parted as his expression changed to contemplative. "You are angry." A statement that sounded like a question.
The demon tore his eyes off the other. "I'm a demon, idiot, I'm made of hate and anger."
"My apologies." With a hint of amusement hiding in the corners of his lips the angel sat down on the iron bars built into the ground - dividing the two.
There was a time where there had not been iron between the heavens and the hells, however, that was long before mortals came to be. Since the first human's feet had touched earth there was iron needed to keep them apart. Divine iron that stopped the sinners and the creatures of Jahannam from crawling out of their pits.
It was too tempting to attempt escape when burnt flesh clouded your senses. Now, between the illuminated white and the scarlet darkness was a division that could not be bent nor broken.
No creature remembered how they got down there but neither did anyone remember how they awoke in between cloudy blankets.
As had become routine, the demon raised one hand, barely far enough for his fingers to ask for the skin of the other. The space between the bars allowed nothing but a hand to be pushed through, just enough for fingers to intertwine on accident - that the angel and the demon had found out a long time ago.
The demonic being was sitting on high, rough rocks, which gave fools hope of escape from the underground cave. He had the appearance of a young man of great height and wore almost nothing to cover his dark skin.
The angel shifted closer on the iron bars. The cloth around his thighs was damp from the humidity beneath and peachy skin shimmered through the white. He fixed the belt made of gold around his waist, loosened the white fabric around his sweaty chest too. Then he nodded towards the woman standing in flames. "What's her sin?" Her piercing shouts were audible although she was far away.
"Infidelity. Betrayed the one she'd vowed eternal faithfulness a dozen times." The demon shook his head in disgust. "She still feels no remorse, no shame. Humans are filth." His voice was deep, demanding of attention and radiating power. The voice of a king.
Once - a long time ago - he might have worn a crown, or he might have been a God - before he turned into a caged bird.
A caged bird with silver horns growing from his temples and countless heavy chains hanging around his neck. He wore only simple black fabric tied around his hips, yet he had a certain air of wealth and opulence surrounding him. He was a prisoner of God in disguise of an emperor.
His soft-spoken companion protested, "She is the exception. Most of them are pure."
"Are you mocking me? Look around." The sinner lowered his arm, robbed the angel of his touch. He gestured around the caves. "They are rotten to the core. You don't know them, Angelo. I do. They are not capable of anything but selfishness, every single one of them rotten to the core. Out of all the creatures inhabiting the universe, humans are the lowest. Absolute filth." He spat on the ground. The ruby dust turned deep red where his spit fell.
Unwillingly, the angel's face softened as the demon reached for his hand again. The pad of a thumb brushed against his palms. Hesitant at first, then it found a home between the creases of his palm. He blinked a strand of gold hair away before speaking. "Your sight is clouded by the fires that surround you."
"And you're blinded by the light you fools up there are forced to look into."
"Humans are made of lo-"
"Don't! Don't you dare say it!" The demon spat again, this time flames hit the ground. "Love? Really? Look at him. He killed his own wife in a rage. Him there? His wrongdoings filled two rolls of parchment. These creatures shouldn't exist. Humans are a mistake." His unclothed chest rising and falling, the demon glared at the hopeless ones around him. "A fucking mistake. Selfish and rotten." Gradually, the anger fell from his face as his grip on the angel's fingers tightened.
When the clear sound of the last angel's singing reached hell, the one with hair of gold stood up, tightened his belt. "I have to leave. I will be back when the first angels sing again."
Looking down on the king of the underworld felt wrong, yet meeting his eyes felt awfully right.
"Stay away. I don't want to see you again." A command, one that left no room for disobedience.
The angel left wordlessly.
What use was eternity for those who knew nothing but loneliness?
As always, he hurried back when he heard the singing echo through the illuminated halls.
"I told you to stay away."
The blond-haired one sat on the marble statue of someone he didn't know with his tunic loose and his eyes fixed upon the man underneath the ground. His feet rested against the iron bars. Heat rose up in waves.
"Your words left me restless. They cannot be all bad, can they? I have met countless humans who were made of light and goodness. There are two sides to every coin."
The demon's muscles moved visibly under his caramel skin as he played with the sword in his hands. He refused to look up. "Is that what you came here for? To argue and fight? What a shame. I thought you might be here to tell me the story of Echo and Narcissus again."
"No, I came here for a bet."
A frown turned into a smirk as the demon's curiosity awoke. "Elaborate." He threw the sword up, made it float close to the iron bars. The blade met the angel's foot, poked the heel's skin without causing harm. It was a threat nonetheless: I could hurt you if I wanted to.
"Let us tie a thread around two souls. They will meet once in every lifetime, but that is all that is in our control. We will only observe them. No interferences. I bet-" He made a pause. "- they will fall in love. You will see that love always triumphs. I will prove to you that mankind's goodness is stronger than all the evil harnessed inside them. But-" He smiled, pushed the sword down with the heel of his foot. Blood dripped down the blade, but he didn't feel pain. He was not able to. "But, if they are as rotten as you say, I will grant you your heart's desire. It does not matter what you wish for. Except for freedom that is. That I cannot offer, you are aware of that. However, everything within my power I will do for you."
"Even killing yourself in these flames?" The demon gestured with both hands around the spacious cave. The sword was floating lazily in the air as he did so. "Even if I told you my one and only desire is seeing your sweet, innocent soul burn at the stakes these sinners occupy?"
There was no hesitation in the angel's gentle voice when he asked, "Is that really your wish?" He did not seem afraid. He would truly accept the outcome.
"Yes," confirmed the demon immediately. The evil smile drawn on his face was worthy of Lucifer himself. "You'll look pretty screaming."
"Then so it be. Remember: We are not allowed to interfere. We simply watch."
They parted in silence but knew they'd meet again when the first angels sang.
Chapter 1: Year 351
TW: death mention
Day 22, Xiāngguó
I am writing this because I think a miracle happened today. I still cannot believe what I saw with my own eyes.
But before I write to you of the miracle, let me tell you about our current situation.
First, the men are tired. We have lost many fellow soldiers the past days and the war has been going on for longer than they had planned. I fear that we will see nothing of what has been promised to us by the leaders. Even more, I fear that I will not live to see the rewards and honors which led me here.
Brother, I should have died today. I was foolish, I let my guard down for just a second - and a second is plenty of time to kill someone - I should have died. I knew it when I saw the smile on the enemy's face.
Now, right when I saw the arrow... There was this boy, maybe a year or two younger than me. Brother, he jumped right between me and the arrow. On purpose. Fully aware of what he was doing. He died for me, brother. I don't know who he was fighting for, I don't know his name. I could not lay my eyes on him for longer than a moment. Yet, his face - the face of an angel - has burned itself into my memory since. Surely, I have never met nor seen him before, for a face like his, I would not have forgotten. He sacrificed himself for me. That I know for sure.
I do not know why he did what he did. Maybe insanity struck him on the battlefield, or it was a coincidence.
Maybe he was my guardian angel.
I do not know. It makes no sense. All I know is I survived another day.
I will survive this war and come back home, brother. It is my destiny and I feel more aware of it now.
Thinking about it, perhaps he was really sent by the Gods. He smiled, brother. He died smiling. It makes no sense.
I will be back soon. Take care of our parents.
Chapter 3: Year 519
TW: more death & murder (I see a pattern here oop), physical & psychological abuse
"No." Jungwoo didn't bother looking up. He wasn't in the mood to see anyone nor to talk to anyone. For months had he discussed the arranged marriage with his father, only for the old man to decide that the princess was not worthy of his son a week before the date.
It was an act of arrogance, which would anger all parties involved and he would have to take the blame in the future. The decision hurt their kingdom's reputation. As the king aged his mood worsened and his pride grew intolerable - and the prince suffered the most.
His son was nothing like him. He was of gentle nature with his heart too big for his chest and his words light as feathers. As his father said, he was soft.
"Do not ask for me today. I will go to the riverside with three of my men and I will not allow any disturbances. Tell my father I will be back when the sun sets."
The man nodded. Although there was disapproval in his demeanor, he did not dare speak. He left the halls quietly and Jungwoo gestured the servants to help him dress.
He was sure his father was toying with him, was purposefully angering Jungwoo to upset him.
A long time ago had he judged the prince with the words, "You would have made a great king if you weren't cursed with your mother's heart." The mother of Jungwoo, his own wife, whom he killed, because she defied him. Because she didn't raise Jungwoo according to the man's principles.
Now, over a decade had passed and Jungwoo remembered nothing but her soft voice and the way her hand had felt on his back as he fell asleep in her arms. He might have been four or five then. For a long time, he had pretended to remember her face, but one morning he woke up with the realization that there was nothing left of her.
That was the blessing and the curse of time: it all fades until there are only fragments left - or sometimes nothing.
From the day she died every new morning announced war and every encounter with his father was a fight he certainly couldn't win. The prince lived to prove that he was worthy of ruling. The throne was his and Jungwoo would kill for it.
It began with the change in the horses' trot. It was a warning, which Jungwoo ignored. A prince and three armed servants - all of them once highly skilled soldiers. Who would be dumb enough to ambush them?
The river ran through the castle's gardens, which were still part of the well-guarded parks. Heavily equipped soldiers stood at every fence, gate and entrance.
So, when Jungwoo asked for a few moments alone and the servants walked away to offer some privacy, he assumed he was alone. He stepped closer to the water, took in the smell of grass and the afternoon sun. It was strange to him, how sometimes nature could feel more soothing than a supposed home.
When he slipped no one heard his scream. He had nowhere to hold on to as he fell face-first into the river. His head hit something - it felt like a rock - and everything turned black.
"Wake up. Wake up!"
He opened his eyes and stared right into the handsome face inches from his. He blinked, yet the face nor the large ears didn't disappear.
"I can't believe you almost died. Idiot, that wasn't supposed to happen."
"Idiot?" repeated Jungwoo slowly. His throat was aching. No, his entire body was aching. The inside of his nose was burning as if he had inhaled water. "What?" He interrupted his own racing thoughts. "What happened?"
The man crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Your majesty almost died. Because you slipped. And you fell face-first into the river." He shook his head. "I've never seen a human with such lousy reflexes." He had an accent, one that drew the vowels a little longer and made the words more melodious. Clearly, he was a foreigner. Jungwoo noticed that the man wore a soldier's gown and he was certain the man had stolen it.
The prince sat up, coughed. He was drenched in water. The cold made him shiver and slowly he realized that he was surrounded by trees.
The stranger had carried him into the forest.
"Who are you?" asked Jungwoo, took off his shirt.
A shadow fell on the stranger's face as he leaned against a tree. "Doesn't matter." He looked down upon Jungwoo - both literally and figuratively - and it drove the blue-blooded one wild.
"How dare you speak to me like that?"
With both hands, Jungwoo wrung out his wet outer garment. He didn't mind standing in front of the stranger in his undergarments. Having servants and maids constantly dressing and undressing him had made him quite shameless. Besides, he did like himself unclothed as much as clothed - if not more.
"Why did you bring me here?" Jungwoo pulled the wet fabric over his head and made a disgusted grimace. There was no feeling worse than having to wear wet clothing.
The stranger boldly watched his every move. "It's complicated, pretty one."
"Wait. How did you..." Jungwoo walked up to him, pushed him against the tree. "What did you do to me?" Fear and anger filled his stomach as he realized that he had been unconscious around a stranger.
If he had carried a sword, he might have killed him right then. But his sword was in his halls and he carried nothing but wet cloth on his shoulders. Additionally, close combat had never been Jungwoo's strength and given that the man was taller and more muscular than he was, he didn't attack. Instead, he pushed him against the tree again. "Speak!"
A smirk spread on the man's face. "I sucked the water out of your lungs."
Jungwoo took a step back. "What?"
The man puckered his lips. "Kiss of life?"
To Jungwoo's horror, the foreigner appeared amused. He was enjoying the situation.
"What?" He took another step back. He couldn't keep his voice from rising and his heart from racing. "You did what?" His hands found their way around the stranger's neck before he could stop himself. "You will die today!"
He couldn't speak the words, yet the thought was prominent: "My lips have never been touched before." His cheeks were flushed and his mind felt clouded as he processed what the man had said.
"Would you rather have died?" asked the man calmly.
Effortlessly, he removed Jungwoo's hands from his neck and grabbed both his wrists in one hand. "For royalty, you're acting incredibly prude. I didn't shove my tongue down your throat, I rescued you."
"Pr- Prude?" stuttered Jungwoo. Who was that man? No one had ever spoken to him like that before and Jungwoo needed to make sure it wouldn't repeat itself again. "I will make you rot away in the dungeons. Forever."
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't escape the man's hold.
The stranger sighed, "No, that won't happen, pretty prince. I have to disappear now. I've made a huge mistake, you know. I should've killed you. I did the opposite. Anyway, let me go before I change my mind and make you slip again." He let go of Jungwoo and picked up a bag that the prince hadn't even notice laying next to the tree.
It all made sense too late. This man had been sent to kill him. That was why he hid in the royal gardens. That was the reason he had been the only one around. Someone had planned all of this. Except for the part where Jungwoo almost drowned - that was on him and him only.
All air left Jungwoo's lungs (again) as the stranger's words settled in. "You... You are- Who sent you?"
"If I told you my little secret, prince, I'd have to bury you in this forest."
"Where are we? And where are my people? Did you - Are they hurt?" He didn't want to ask the question truly on his mind: Did you kill them?
"I don't know. You were my mission and very obviously I failed." The stranger ran a hand through his black hair, then tied it up with what looked like a dark blue ribbon. "I have to go before they find me. Go north and you'll find your way back. Tell them you took a walk or something. Don't mention me."
"Who are you to command me what to do?" barked Jungwoo. "You can't leave. I command you to stay."
His words were useless. The man had already turned to leave.
This time it wasn't an order. It was a plea. He didn't expect the foreigner to turn around, but he did.
Patiently, the tall man waited for Jungwoo to speak. He had a childish look, one that promised bickering and lots of trouble.
"Why didn't you kill me? You didn't even have to kill me. You could've just watched me die."
The foreigner cocked his head to the side, gave the question some thought. "Because you looked like you belonged to the Gods when you walked along the river. I may be a criminal, but even I don't want to anger the Gods, pretty prince."
Fire spread between Jungwoo's ribs. "I don't understand."
The man untied his hair. "Take this, your highness." He threw him the ribbon. It was made of navy blue fabric and messily stitched. It looked like the man had made it himself and something about that was utterly endearing.
"We will meet again one day. Don't forget me."
After the incident time passed fast. Jungwoo wasn't allowed to stray from the castle, for the king's idea of protection consisted of an eternity in study halls and at dining tables.
Every day the king found new ways to prove to his son that he wasn't fit to rule. When he couldn't skin a deer, his father called him pathetic and when he was found in the kitchen halls, eating sweets and treats from the maids that watched him grow with loving eyes, his father exiled them one by one. "They made you soft," remarked he. There was nothing but darkness left in his eyes. Darkness and popped veins, which seemed to swell whenever madness overcame him. "You might become one of the cooks if you don't man up." As he left Jungwoo alone at the dinner table that night, he sighed, "Weakling."
The prince played with the blue ribbon around his wrist, stared at the food that didn't taste like home anymore. That too had the king taken from him.
If only he was capable of murder, he would've had ended his father's life right then and there.
Sometimes his father called him to watch executions. "It'll harden your pathetic heart," he laughed.
It didn't. It only made the prince grow more afraid of the swords between his hands and the easiness with which a life can be taken.
Today again his father had called for him.
Jungwoo walked leisurely, hoped he'd miss today's gruesome death. His fingertips touched the bricks of the cold stone walls surrounding him as he walked downstairs.
The dungeons smelled like mold and sadness. He didn't fit in there with his eyes filled with light and his colorful traditional gowns. He tugged at the ribbon on his wrist and took a deep breath before stepping into the execution room.
His father sat on an old throne, one made of gold. Yet, it wasn't good enough anymore to be seen by anyone but criminals.
"Come closer, son," growled his father. "Look at the scum." He stood up, made a show of walking around the three men. "I considered cutting their tongues out, but I wanted to hear them scream."
Jungwoo didn't look up. Disgust filled his stomach at his father's words.
"I said look!"
The shout forced Jungwoo to meet his father's gaze. And then he saw the man in the middle, forced to his knees.
Dark lips and eyes that were once full of playfulness greeted him. There was no playfulness in them now. Defeat and numbness were all that hid in the beat, beautiful face.
The prince's mouth opened, yet he didn't speak. He couldn't. If he showed any signs of weakness his father would torture the men to death, just for the thrill of watching his son hold back tears.
The foreign man didn't show any signs of recognition. Blood vessels under his right eye had popped in violet and navy. Dry blood painted his lips scarlet. Slowly, his cold eyes wandered from Jungwoo's face to his chest to his... wrist.
For a second his curled-up lips betrayed his indifferent expression. No one but the prince saw the recognition light his eyes for a split-second.
"Father, let me leave. I have something to attend to. It's urgent."
"Nonsense," laughed the king. "You stay." He sat down on the throne again, as he was done humiliating the prisoners. He ordered the servants to bring him wine in golden cups. For the tyrant an execution was always a spectacle.
"Count down slowly from three, Jungwoo. Be useful."
The man on his knees gave the prince a smile that said "It's alright", yet Jungwoo knew it would never be alright again.
That day, Jungwoo lost the bit of himself he had tried so hard to keep alive. The tiny part that carried the innocence and goodness he had protected with all he had... It was gone. That day he left the dungeons with an empty stomach and a heart void of light. In seconds had he transformed into another person.
Centuries later, people still told legends of how the invincible prince defeated armies by himself and knew no fear. They told tales of how the man had killed his tyrannical father and united the kingdoms again. The once weak prince grew to become incomparable in strength and anger. Jungwoo made countless countries his own and accumulated more wealth than he had use for.
However, the storytellers didn't know that he had nothing to fear, because all he could've been scared to lose had been taken from him from an early age.
The deadliest soldier is the one who has no one to live for.
But no legend failed to mention the blue ribbon the man had tied around his wrist till the day he died. The Gods had given it to him, they mumbled. It was the reason for his supernatural strength, they speculated. No one knew the ribbon was a cruel reminder that once he too had owned a heart. Long, long before he had turned into a beast.
And it was a reminder that all that he loved would be taken from him. Such was his curse and his fate.
Chapter 4: Interlude II
"These two... are absolute fools. All they do is watch each other die." The demon smashed the mirror on the ground and turned away. "Ab-so-lute idiots! Could you not have chosen two better souls? Watching them is depressing."
With a snap of his fingers the angel made the mirror whole again. It floated up until it reached the iron bars. He looked at Jungwoo's pretty face and the stoic expression he wore on the battlefield. The boy's emotions hit him like a wave. He could feel all the boy had felt during his lifetime: the pain, the love, the loss. So much loss.
"Patience," spoke the angel with his melodic voice. "I trust them." He snapped again and the mirror disappeared.
For two lifetimes had they observed the souls and both lives were tragedies. Still, the angel had confidence that the two were destined for more than doom. It was the cycle of life, the way the universe balanced things out. Above all was something like a karmic law, a law no mortal could grasp and even the immortals had struggle comprehending. And the angel, who lived under the rays of the light, trusted it. All would be well.
"Did you miss the part where the prince watched his savior die and then proceeded to become a murder machine himself?" The creature of darkness spread out on a rock as if it was a bed. He laid on his back with his eyes fixed on the angel and his hands crossed under his head.
"He was aching, my love. Pain attracts madness." The angel snapped the mirror into existence again. How long would they have to wait this time for the two souls to come back to life? Another three centuries?
A scoff came from beneath him. "You're making excuses for the coward."
"Why are you so upset? Who disappointed you as the boy did his savior?" He spoke without the intention of harming the other, yet the demon fell silent and turned away, turned to face the everlasting fires. There was an untold story in the air. Maybe it was one both couldn't remember.
Creatures of other spheres lived for centuries, sometimes multiple thousands of years before their flames died. However, just like humans, they were blessed with minds capable of forgetting. Rumor has it, the first creatures were not able to forget. Their minds remember all there was - until the pain was too much to bear and they dissolve into nothingness.
"Hey." The demon threw a rock at the iron gates. "Pari. Ángel. Fool." Although there was no need to attract the angel's attention like that - for his attention was solely on the other creature- he felt the need to tease him in the most annoying ways.
"I have a name. Use it," sighed the angel. "I will call you Djinn, if you keep using Pari."
Another rock was thrown upwards.
"Make it Shaytan at least."
"Do not flatter yourself."
At last, they fell into the conversation again, however this time it wasn't of the two souls, but instead of Hera and Zeus. Once in awhile, both glanced at the floating mirror, wondering in what circumstances the two would find themselves in soon.
Chapter 5: Year 2006
Wong Lucas was an active child. That's what his teachers used to describe his tendency to climb up trees even when he promised he'd ‘only go to the toilet and come back instantly’. It’s what his mom said to her friends as she explained the broken windows in their house. The boy was a bundle of energy and a magnet for accidents.
Just now, his knees bled again. He'd jumped off the swing and hadn't managed to land on his feet - much to the disappointment of the three boys who'd cheered loudly for his stunt.
"Dude, my mom's gonna beat my ass!" He pulled on the ripped denim, tried to cover his wounds. "She said if I come home hurt one more time I have to stay home forever! Till I crampuate!"
"It's graduate not crampuate," sighed Xiaojun, handing his friend a tissue. "Tell her some kid pushed you and it wasn't your fault."
Lucas wiped away sand and blood after giving Xiaojun a glare for correcting him. "That's genius." He high-fived the tiny boy.
Lucas was the tallest of his friends and that was something the boy took pride in - along with his athletic talent. His friend Hendery, a child apparently gifted with more rational thinking skills than Xiaojun and Lucas, interrupted their scheme. "That's super dumb. Your mom would come to 'talk' to them." He made quotation marks with his fingers around the word talk. "You know how she is."
The tall child's lips turned into a thin line. "You're right. She's that... protective." He stressed protective the way his mom did active.
From across the playground, a black-haired, small boy caught his attention. Lucas couldn’t remember seeing him before. He pointed at him, asked Hendery and Xiaojun, "Who's that?"
"One of the Nerds. He's hanging with Mark and Jaehyun." Hendry spat the names like they were insults. It was no secret that the two groups didn't get along.
It had all started with Ten and Johnny, which was funny, considering the two used to be best friends. One day something happened - they never told anyone what - and they stopped talking. Ten's mom was good friends with Hendery's, so to get on the bigger boys' good side Hendery began teasing Mark (Johnny's cousin) - who in turn pushed Xiaojun during recess - and so the feud began.
"Why the fuck is he playing with my ball?" shouted Lucas.
The small boy was using his soccer ball to play against Jaehyun. Upset, Lucas didn't hesitate. With his most threatening expression, he ran up to the boys. "Hey! Stop!" He halted in front of the smallest, the stranger. Mark immediately retreated. It should’ve been considered an act of cowardice how quickly the youngest boy left Jungwoo's side – but then again, his last fight with Lucas had left him with a bloody nose. Mark had called him all the bad words he'd picked up by eavesdropping on Johnny and his older friends and Lucas wasn't a fan of being thrown insults at.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he asked threateningly, glaring at the stranger. Knowing his friends were watching made Lucas bolder and more daring. "That's my ball!" With only him and the boy present on the soccer field, he knew whatever happened, the outcome would mean his victory.
The boy shrugged, smiled widely. He didn’t look scared at all. "Sorry, I didn't know."
It was no kind smile. It was a "screw you" featuring puppy eyes.
Lucas looked down on him, furrowed his eyebrows. "Give it back."
Again, the smaller shrugged. "Make me, loser."
The boy had a tiny face and soft features that didn't suit his meanness. What annoyed Lucas the most was the boy's resemblance to Snoopy, the cartoon character. Only was Snoopy kind and cute and not the reincarnation of Satan.
Fake-Snoopy kicked the ball in the opposite direction and dared Lucas, "Bet I'll win?"
Lucas was on fire. "You're dead, dude." He forgot about his bloody knee and started running after the boy before he could even reply.
"You're not bad." Lucas fell on his back, utterly exhausted. "For a garden gnome that is."
"I'm still growing," barked Jungwoo. He let himself fall on the field next to the boy. "You sucked hard though." Both boys' clothes were stained with grass, dirt and sweat. It started with a "Bet I'll win" and ended in a three-hour match, that was played only by the two boys who didn't know when to give up. It was late now, the sun had set a long time ago, and everyone except the two had gone home. The other kids had joined their soccer match, yet no one was as stubbornly dedicated as Lucas and the boy - whose name turned out to be Jungwoo.
"Don't you have to go home or something?" wondered Lucas out loud. They were the only people left at the playground. It was dark now and he'd gotten hungry. Overtime Lucas had developed the habit of staying until everyone else had left. It made no sense because the loneliness hit him dreadfully. However, he didn't want anyone else to be the last one at the playground.
Quite rude, Jungwoo snapped, "Why do you care?"
"I don't know. I don't care, dumbo." Lucas turned to face him in the darkness. He could only make out the round Snoopy nose and the Snoopy lips. "I just thought... You could come over and play FIFA with me if you wanna. Then I could beat your ass there too."
"Does your mom cook?"
It was a weird question. No one had asked Lucas such a thing before. Didn't all parents do that?
"What? Like food?" He waited for the other one to nod, then proceeded, "Yeah. Every day."
Instantly Jungwoo sat up. "Okay. I'm in."
Lucas got used to Jungwoo. He got used to him in the way only the purest souls could: He opened the doors to his home for him and never hesitated to let the boy in. See, Lucas, long before he was aware of it, had developed a concept of friendship that would attract countless people to him during his life. He offered to be home, gave shelter with his big smile and his optimistic soul. It was easy to mistake his laugh for the sunrise and his cheerfulness for a place of refuge. And Jungwoo fell victim to that.
And Lucas - he yet had no concept of people leaving him. Over the summer he got used to Jungwoo being around to share meals and stories with during dinner. For one summer the small boy was his companion, his best friend, despite all his friends' judgments.
"He's weird," mumbled Hendery when Lucas announced his friendship with Jungwoo.
"You mean, you're playing stupid games with that stupid Jungwoo again?"
"He's been coming over quite often lately, the small one, hasn’t he?" asked his mom with a curious look on her face one night after she'd tucked him in.
Apparently, Jungwoo's sudden presence was exactly that: sudden. For everyone except Lucas that is. It felt natural to him, as if Jungwoo had been someone he'd always waited to encounter - and then did.
That summer was filled with laughter. The days turned into memories: Lucas making a mess in the kitchen when he tried to heat up pizza in the microwave, Jungwoo leaving handprints on the window as he secretly climbed into Lucas' room and hours and hours of the two boys playing games on the PlayStation. So, when the new school year began and summer ended, he expected the boy to appear in front of his window as was custom now. Jungwoo would sneak in and Lucas would bring him breakfast to eat in his room and they'd be extra quiet because Lucas' parents weren't supposed to know he was there. But Jungwoo didn't show up on Monday.
Neither did he on Tuesday. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and Lucas stopped waiting for the boy to show up in front of his window.
Eventually, Lucas forgot about Jungwoo.
See, when you're seven the world moves differently. Everything is so much faster and you don't know that most of what you're experiencing in those days will be forgotten by the time you're allowed to drive a car. Later, fragments would be all that remained: the way you had your cereal on Saturday mornings when Dragon Ball Z was playing on TV and the weekend still felt endless. The delicious taste of your mom's food when you came home from school, exhausted and starving. Your friend's laugh as you played pranks on your siblings. The horrible terror when you got a bad grade and you thought of 12 ways of hiding the test until you realized you'd need your parents’ signature and you had no idea yet how to forge it.
One day you will have forgotten what it felt like to be without a care.
When you're seven years old twenty sounds like forever away and it is really fucking far away. A decade of reality is ahead of you, but you don't understand that yet. You don't understand how life is beautiful and ugly at the same time - how people can be both good and evil and how nothing is really black and white. Things are simpler and you're too young to ponder philosophical questions.
No, when you're seven you watch SpongeBob and eat crushed, uncooked instant noodles out of the package, and you worry about who will let you copy their homework on the school bus. Later, years later, Lucas sometimes wanted to go back in time just to scream the following words at his seven-year-old self: "Don't grow up!"