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Taehyung has always been the type of person to say, “yeah, I believe in parallel worlds.”
Just because something isn’t scientifically proven doesn’t mean that it can’t actually exist.
He’s a logical individual by nature but it’s fun to live assuming that there’s a much greater force out there in the universe that no one can ever understand.
Be it fairies, time-traveling, spiritual encounters, or even the twists and turns of Feng Shui, Taehyung is okay with them all.
A sprinkle of magic in one’s everyday life is a beautiful prospect.
The downside to the mind of a creative is that while he lives with a playful kind of optimism, Taehyung often needs a temporary escape from reality.
Call it fuel for his imagination.
Once upon a time, to hermit in peace, he’d chosen to indulge himself in drawing and painting.
Throughout his teenage years, he’d lost himself to the throes of anime.
Nowadays, he’s quite obsessed with flinging himself down the endless chute of visual novels.
The visual novel: a perfect combination of plot, engagement, and aesthetic stimulation. Reading a story is one thing but actually seeing the characters on a screen, drawn-out beautifully against scenic backdrops is just a stone’s throw away from orgasmic.
With a portable console in hand, these novels are turned into video games with the usage of interaction: players can decide the fate of characters and the flow of the plot by making in-game decisions.
To escalate things even further, some of these visual novels are geared towards romance.
Players get to see the story from the eyes of the protagonist and accordingly have the power to select other characters – denoted as “love interests” – to date.
Taehyung romances hot 2D men in his spare time.
His Mary Sue energy is through the roof but that’s his guilty pleasure. If he wants to binge these games because he’s stressed out at work, he can damn well do just that.
So really, how ironic is it that one day, he falls asleep as a normal 24 year-old-male and then wakes up in a completely different world, trapped in the body of an eight-year-old?
Words cannot describe his current distress.
Taehyung sits in front of the mirror and just stares.
The face that gazes back at him is one he only remembers seeing in his childhood photos.
Wide eyes on a petite face.
He raises his right hand and the reflected boy mimics his actions.
That really is him.
He’s a kid again and his hair is a pretty blue.
At first, he thought he was stuck in a dream but it’s been a week since he woke up as the pampered son of Duke Kim.
The maids of the estate had burst into tears, lamenting about how they thought “young master Kim” had drifted into a coma after a bad fall in the garden.
Feeling the throbbing bump on his head had made everything terrifyingly real.
Gone is Kim Taehyung, project manager at one of the largest firms in Korea. He doesn’t know what happened to his previous body and whether or not he’ll ever return to Earth.
Then where is he?
In the magical country of Soul.
Why is he panicking so much?
Because he recognizes that this entire kingdom is from his favourite visual novel game: Boy with Luv.
Boy with Luv was a sensation when it first debuted.
To date, it remains one of the only LGBTQ+ visual novel games to be distributed en-masse.
In fact, Taehyung had lined up for hours to get his hands on a physical copy during the game’s initial release week.
The story revolved around a young man by the name of Park Jimin. Jimin was an ordinary member of the working class who went from rags to riches when he accidentally saved the crown prince during an ambush near his village.
Gifted with the rare magical power of time reversal, he had the ability to repair almost anything. The limitation was that he couldn’t bring back the dead.
Awed by his special ability, the crown prince brought Jimin to the palace where he was trained as a mage.
The game truly began when Jimin met the rest of the story’s cast, inhabitants of the royal castle.
Boy with Luv gave the player a chance to court a stellar entourage of 5 successful and utterly gorgeous men.
Crown prince Kim Seokjin.
The spy from another country, Min Yoongi.
Rich merchant's son, Jung Hoseok.
Captain of the guard, Jeon Jeongguk.
Finally, there was political strategist, Kim Namjoon.
Each character had his own storyline and when they were all pieced together, the entire underlying plot was revealed.
To understand the workings of Boy with Luv fully, Taehyung had to run through the game a total of 5 times.
Worth it though, just for the quality of the script.
On top of this, Boy with Luv contained stat-raising elements meaning that the player had to build up “love points” with characters before being able to pursue them.
Love points were either accumulated during special interaction scenarios called “capture events” or obtained through dialogue selection at choice moments during the game.
While all character routes had been amazing, Taehyung had loved Jeongguk's storyline the best.
The chemistry between Jimin and Jeongguk – the pair lovingly dubbed “Jikook” – had been phenomenal and he had shipped that shit hard.
Those two were the toted "canon" pairing of the entire game. In other words, the true route as many fans liked to declare.
In Jeongguk’s route, one of Jimin’s main cockblocks was a man by the name of “V”.
V was the son of the kingdom’s only duke and engaged to Jeongguk.
Entitled, prone to jealous rages and obsessive, V was eventually exiled. The countless underhanded methods he employed in an attempt to rid of Jimin were brought to light.
Jeongguk’s “happy ending” had consisted of Jikook declaring their love and V being utterly disgraced.
This is exactly why Taehyung is currently devastated.
Because, somehow, he seems to have replaced the role of V.
It’s a little weird how Taehyung got to keep his own face and name but other than that, he’s basically playing the part of V in this world.
Now that he thinks about it, V did look suspiciously like him…
Taehyung seriously wants to cry.
He looks on sadly at his reflection dressed in immaculate clothing. His butler had helped him put the outfit on.
Poking at the little bowtie looped elegantly around his neck, he tries not to cringe at how expensive he looks. The vest that sits on his torso has a cute row of buttons studded with actual amethysts that end at his waistline.
His clothing is worth more than everything in his bank account back on Earth.
How does he even deal with this?
Taehyung sighs in a way unbefitting of an eight-year-old and turns towards his desk. The last two days, he’s been secretly jotting down everything he remembers about the game and if there’s one thing he understands, it’s that he has to change his own destiny.
Above all else, Taehyung must avoid being exiled to live well.
He decides that in this lifetime, he can never love Jeon Jeongguk.
Preferably, he will never get engaged to Jeon Jeongguk.
The goal is to become self-sufficient, well-learned, and unattached – the complete opposite of V.
Also, Taehyung needs a new man.
He wonders if that dashing side-character, Park Bogum, ever got a route in the game’s sequel fan disc.
It was scheduled for release in the fall but Taehyung will never get to play it now.
If Bogum isn’t transformed into one of Jimin’s love interests, can Taehyung please have him?
Rolling up the parchments laden with plot information and stuffing them beneath the loose floorboard under his bed, Taehyung straightens himself and gazes determinately out the window.
He’s such a sight to behold, an adorable little child with the grit of a 24-year-old adult behind those eyes.
The time to pout and moan is over.
If he calculates everything correctly, the game’s storyline officially starts when Jeongguk is 22 and V turns 24.
Therefore, Taehyung has approximately 16 years to cultivate his character in a way that deviates from his intended bad ending.
He can assume his old body is now dead.
He’d be stupid if he died again.
Taehyung’s battle has just begun.
In half a year’s time, the wheels of fate have already been steered in a new direction.
Duke Kim is floored when after a tumble, his son Taehyung starts showing the signs of being not only a genius but also a seer.
It’s not just the duke, all the servants living on the estate become enamored with young master Kim. They constantly chatter about how kind and polite he is, completely amazed by the 180-degree difference.
It’s like Taehyung is a completely different person.
Yes, that's what tends to happen when one has the life experience of an adult whilst sporting the countenance of a child.
Instead of skipping his etiquette and history lessons, Taehyung abruptly starts to dutifully attend them. Outside of his tutoring sessions, he locks himself in the library studying up on the state of the country.
During the weekends, Taehyung practices his magic near the training grounds.
Logarithms whilst all his peers learn how to multiply, economics as others are just beginning to read the news, Taehyung’s transformation from typical brat to renowned prodigy has the Kim household bursting with pride.
Really, Duke Kim starts believing in miracles.
The thing is, Taehyung is average at best but here, he's far ahead of the crowd.
He has to use his knowledge to his advantage in order to further the distance that time promises to crush.
After all, talent can never outweigh the power of compact accumulation.
His plan spectacularly backfires however when the Jeon household catches wind of the outstanding young Taehyung.
They immediately propose a match-up.
The game never explained how Jeongguk and Taehyung got engaged in the first place.
As a budding control-freak, this news worries Taehyung to no end.
He tries to reason with his father, slipping into Duke Kim’s study with an expression that belongs at a funeral.
“Father,” he announces, “I object to this wedding.”
The best thing about looking similar to V is that Duke Kim very much resembles Taehyung’s real father. It’s made growing close to the older man and his wife frightfully easy.
In all truth, he’s begun to think of Duke Kim as his parent.
Taehyung watches as the Duke’s face contorts, his eyes fond as his lips struggle to not trip up into a smile.
Duke Kim just finds his lovely son adorable.
“Taehyung,” he sighs. Fingers come up to massage his temples. “I am not marrying you off right now. The idea of meeting little Jeongguk is just to ensure that the two of you will be a good match. At least give this a chance.”
Yeah no, Taehyung wants to stay a continent and an ocean away from Jeon Jeongguk.
“You can’t promise me off so early,” Taehyung rounds the mahogany desk to look up into his father’s eyes. They have the same long lashes.
“I’m your successor and a very important pawn. You have to evaluate carefully before you employ me.”
Duke Kim’s brain short circuits. He does that often nowadays as his son barely acts his age.
“Taehyung, how many times have I warned you to stop talking like that? What pawn? You are my son, my flesh and blood.” He frowns and reaches out to ruffle Taehyung’s soft blue locks. He definitely inherited his hair colour and personality from his mother, the duchess.
“Do you think your father incompetent? I’ve done my research. Jeongguk is quite impressionable and the Jeon family has been in good standing for near centuries. Marriage with them will secure our dukedom. The most important thing however is your future. I want it to be stable.”
If Taehyung were to truly assess why V turned out the way he did, it was because he was too doted upon at an early age and lacked the ability to be self-reflective. In comparison to the way Duke Kim spoils him, Duchess Kim is much better.
Still, however, she’s very pliant with her children.
"Do I look like I want to be someone's cushy husband?" Taehyung groans in a way ill-befitting of an eight-year-old, "I refuse to comply."
Duke Kim looks troubled as he stares down at his only child, lost for words. He’s saved from answering when a voice drifts in from the open doorway.
“Is our son using big words again?”
Taehyung whirls around and frowns.
It’s his mother. Her hair falls down in blue cascades and her pretty appearance makes the duke blush.
They’ve been married for a long time but the duke remains incredibly whipped for his wife. If she supports meeting Jeongguk, Taehyung is as good as done for.
She smiles at him gently. He doesn’t have a good feeling about this.
“Why the long face, little one? I heard that Jeongguk is very handsome, don’t you want to take a look?”
No, he’s serious when he says that he doesn’t.
Too bad he’s just a kid.
His parents dismiss his arguments with a wave of their hands. Apparently, he should embrace new experiences.
He’s forced to meet Jeongguk.
As previously mentioned, in a visual romance game, there are certain scenarios called capture events.
They’re essentially decision points crucial to a romanceable character's plot.
If the player successfully aces these events, it's as if they've captured a piece of the love interest’s heart, leading them down the path of a happy ending.
Sometimes, if a capture event is done correctly, snippets of the love interest’s past are revealed.
These are usually the answers to their key motivations, personality traits, and behavioral qualities.
As the story goes, Jimin unknowingly saves Jeongguk when he's younger from a group of bullies.
They meet by chance near Jeongguk’s summer training camp.
Jimin forgets the encounter but Jeongguk keeps the memory dear to him.
This recollection is a secret piece to the captain of the guard’s backstory unlocked near the completion of his route.
Jimin’s act of kindness is revealed to be the only thing that kept Jeongguk from losing hope as he was growing up and Jeongguk was brought to tears when he finally realized that he’d been reunited with the person who kept love alive within him.
How could Taehyung even hope to compete with such a cliché yet beautiful relationship?
Well, he can’t compete if he doesn’t get engaged.
"Young master, this way please," the Kim’s head butler beckons to him.
Temples already throbbing, Taehyung grimaces and steps out of the carriage to stand before the Jeon estate three weeks later.
It’s a gargantuan plot of land that houses not only a mansion but also a handful of pristine residences for soldiers in training.
Taehyung is formally being introduced to Jeongguk today and he’s panicking inside.
Behind him, Duke Kim helps the Duchess descend from the stagecoach. They both beam at him with excitement and Taehyung vaguely wants to be disowned.
It seems that no matter what, the two children will have to see one another because of their parents' wishes.
However, rest assured, Taehyung has no intention of playing extra nice with Jeongguk.
The original V had been head-over-heels for his "Gukkie", clingy and suffocating to the point where Jeongguk grew to hate him.
If Jeongguk hates him in this version of the story, that would be bad.
Taehyung is trying to avoid being exiled. The pair should be amicable at the very least, good platonic buddies trapped in an unwanted marriage at best.
It would be heaven-sent if the adults decide they’re a terrible fit but Taehyung’s not banking on that. Assuming they might really be engaged, he's going to tell Jeongguk he only wants to be friends and plant that idea so deep in the kid’s brain, romance will never ever happen.
15 years later, they can happily divorce and all will be well.
Boom, bam, done.
Trailing behind his parents, Taehyung greets Sir Jeon who welcomes them into his home with a grand smile. He stands before towering double doors and descends the steps two at a time before taking the Duchess’ hand into his own, laying a kiss on the back of her hand.
The general is sporting tall boots with a heavy sword hanging at his waist. That chiseled jaw looks like it could cut an entire tree trunk in half and Sir Jeon is every bit intimidating as Taehyung remembers from the game.
"Duke Kim, glad to see that you are well. Thanks for making the long trip," Sir Jeon says, gaze sweeping to land on Taehyung.
His eyes are very different from Jeongguk’s. They’re colder and somehow, more sinister. "I'm glad to know that our sons will be well acquainted."
Jeongguk is one of those silent and stoic characters in the game who keeps to himself until the player breaks down his walls.
Raised without the love of a mother beneath the stern and borderline abusive teachings of his militant father, he'd closed off his heart.
When Jimin finally gets through to him, it's revealed that Jeongguk has a shy and dorky side.
That facet of his personality was easily why Jeongguk became Taehyung's best boy.
He loves the contrast between before and after.
Taehyung wonders if Jeongguk is already emotionally damaged by this point.
“Taehyung, I’ve heard a lot about you. Really, I think you’ll be a great fit for my son.” The general manages a smile but it still comes across as frosted over. Taehyung faces him head on and nods his head politely.
“I imagine that you’re eager to meet our Jeongguk. There’s no point in making you listen to the banter of adults, isn’t that right?” With a wave of his wrist, Sir Jeon beckons to a man waiting on the side.
“Please follow our head butler to the training fields. I know Jeongguk is the middle of his drills, because he,” the general pauses, “needed more practice but it’ll still be a good chance to see his athletic side.”
Duchess Kim hums, snapping her fan shut. "Is that really the best? Maybe we should wait until after he’s done."
Taehyung’s mind races and he hurriedly shakes his head.
No, it's perfect, their first meeting mustn't go too swimmingly.
He doesn’t want to boast but he looks pretty good and Jeongguk is a romantic, who’s to say it won’t be love at first sight?
Haha, he’s definitely thinking too much but, better safe than sorry.
He has to maintain his distance after all.
"Father, mother, it'll be alright. I’m sure seeing Jeongguk during his training will be a good experience. I'll be back soon, don't worry." Taehyung puts on that smile he knows his parents can’t resist.
They immediately cave in and shoo him away.
He turns and bows to the general, "thank you Sir Jeon for having me."
“The rumors were correct,” the general comments just before he walks off with the head butler, “little Taehyung gives off an aura of wisdom beyond his years. How curious. For a minute, I thought I was in the company of someone decades older.”
The Jeon home is truly splendid, Taehyung marvels as he travels through wide corridors.
A light breeze blows his bangs from his eyes.
Sprawling green fields and spacious marble pathways, the gorgeous view is topped off with... the cries of a scared child.
Taehyung's eyes widen when he arrives at the training grounds.
The head butler refuses to meet his gaze.
He’d expected to see a small Jeongguk hacking away at a strawman with his sword but instead, all that he sees is a small form in the corner of the field being kicked around.
There’s no doubt about it.
Jeongguk's burdened past is literally unfolding mere meters away.
What’s going on definitely isn't "practice" at all and Taehyung is further stunned when the butler tries to steer Taehyung in the opposite direction. "Young master Kim, Lord Jeongguk appears occupied. We should wait in the dining hall -,"
While Taehyung’s plan had been to sidestep getting emotionally invested, his values tell him that if he doesn’t do something about this scenario, he’ll never be able to forgive himself.
A child is getting beaten right in front of him by teenagers more than half his age. There’s blood on the dirt ground.
On many levels, this world isn't that much different from Earth - it really is survival of the fittest.
Taehyung wrenches himself away with a grunt. His heart feels as if it’s beating out of his chest.
"Hold it," he questions, eyes blazing. "Why aren't we helping him?!"
The butler ducks his head, shoulders stiff. Under the interrogation of a child, he's ashamed but his employer will punish him if he tries to do what's right.
The jeers of the perpetrators ring through the air.
Jeongguk’s cries drop in volume.
Taehyung recognizes that time is of the essence.
"O-our young lord is... rather sickly. This is Sir Jeon's method of raising him to be tougher. We mustn't interfere, young master Kim. Let us leave quickly."
It's... so fucked up.
He really shouldn’t be surprised but still, it stuns him.
The trauma Jeongguk suffered in the game was truly no joke.
Taehyung’s eyes sweep once more to the crowd surrounding Jeongguk’s tiny body on the floor and his last strings of restraint break.
He thinks back to the time when he was in elementary school and no one invited him to any of the birthday parties. That alone had been devastating.
He can't imagine what kind of hell Jeongguk is currently wading through.
Damn, nothing goes according to plan.
Taehyung inhales and smacks away the butler’s reaching hand. In the next second, he’s jumping over the railing and rushing towards the scene of crime.
V's character was graced with the elemental power of ice, as indicated by the locks of light blue hair upon his head. While Taehyung is eons away from magic mastery, he understands enough and can probably take on a weak crowd at this point.
He pulls water from the hair and crystallizes them with a puff of frigid air. A snap of the wrist sends them hurtling at the attackers.
“Leave him alone you cowards!"
While Taehyung is increasingly worried about being outmatched, needles of ice to the back of the neck to prove more than effective when one of Jeongguk's attackers is knocked out cold.
The remaining yell in a surge of surprised outrage.
They swiftly redirect their focus and race towards him, fists ready to punch but if there’s anything Taehyung’s good at, it’s conjuring up heavy blocks of shapeless ice. His arms windmill as he throws them with his heart in his throat.
The last time he had this much adrenaline was when he was on a rollercoaster ride.
Taehyung brings down two more of the bullies as the sound of breaking bones resounds through the training field.
Still, it’s not enough.
Accuracy is the key to the battle and he, unfortunately, lacks precision.
There are at least three more enemies steady on their feet and they’re angry.
Taehyung imagines they're just short of releasing steam from their nostrils. Humanoid bulls.
“You want to get your face rearranged too, don’t you?” A stocky teenager snarls before charging at him.
It's a very unfair 3 player versus 1.
Taehyung tries to generate another ice block but finds that he can’t. His body is lethargic, his stamina completely exhausted and he won’t be able to restore his magic levels in such a short amount of time.
This is it; he’s actually going to be injured.
The hero who dies in the warzone.
Taehyung’s eyes scrunch up, fear overtaking his form as he prepares for the impact.
As his grandma used to say, "every ordinary person has a small magic power." Some people are always graced with the presence of good weather, others never fail to find their favorite items on sale.
For Taehyung, his special skill has always been being lucky at all the right moments.
Getting that gacha he needed, failing to write his paper only to discover that the professor declared an extension, coming out of a car crash totally unharmed, despite being in a different universe, this luck still clings to him like a silken cloak.
“Stop!” The butler shouts suddenly, “boys, he is an important guest of Sir Jeon!”
The bully’s knuckles stop a stone’s throw away from Taehyung’s face.
How ironic is it that the only reason why Taehyung makes it out unscathed is because of Sir Jeon’s influence?
Silence and then spit lands near his right foot. The wad lands in the dirt with a sickening splat.
Taehyung’s attacker wipes his lips and sends him a sneer, “next time you won’t be saved, pretty boy. Stay out of our business.”
If Taehyung wasn't stuck in the body of a child, he'd surely beat this person's ass.
With his blood is still pumping wildly through his veins, Taehyung hurries towards the heap on the ground as the bullies desert the scene.
His boots close the distance with a few shaky strides.
This isn’t how Taehyung imagined their first meeting.
When Taehyung properly catches sight of him, his chest aches.
The six-year-old boy is curled in on himself, face red and scuffed, lips bleeding. The anguish in his watery eyes is immeasurable and Taehyung falls to his knees before him.
It’s just the two of them in the empty training grounds.
"Oh my goodness," Taehyung mutters, mind going haywire. His hands flutter about, he doesn’t know what to do but he stills when Jeongguk flinches away from his touch.
"S-stop. Who are you?" The smaller child hisses, struggling to stand and protect himself.
Jeongguk ultimately fails when his legs refuse to support him, a sob escaping from his mouth when pain shoots up his body.
Jeongguk is his favourite character. To see him suffer strife like this is excruciating.
“I-I’m your friend,” Taehyung stammers but the comment is cut short when immediately met with a sneer from Jeongguk.
“I don’t have any friends,” the little one wheezes, tone deriding.
“Y-you’re just trying to trick me to hurt me. No one is nice to me here.”
His eyes say it all behind his mussed hair: he doesn’t trust Taehyung or the concept of a friend.
His upbringing has taught him that the hard way.
A child of his age shouldn’t be saying such sad words.
Taehyung stares at him with a frown. The situation isn’t an easy fix but Jeongguk is in terrible shape. “Well, it doesn’t matter who I am, you should get yours wounds looked at. Let me help you at least?”
Jeongguk still refuses to be touched, shrinking away from Taehyung’s fingers as best he can.
"Never get patched up anyway," the younger boy wheezes. The skin around his left eye looks tender. Taehyung just knows he's going to develop an ugly shiner.
"So, leave me alone."
This kid...doesn't he know that he'll scar if keeps delaying treatment?
Jeongguk's in-game body had indeed been ridden with scars but Taehyung had assumed they were entirely the result of military training.
There was even a distinguishing sliver on his cheekbone.
A glance behind him shows that the butler isn't going to help and Taehyung is anxious to stop the bleeding as soon as possible.
His brain stops filtering his actions.
What comes out of his mouth next will end up plaguing him for the rest of his life.
“Look, I’m not just your friend, I’m your fiancé,” he blurts like the true dumbass he is.
He's desperate for Jeongguk to believe in the fact that Taehyung’s not there to hurt him. “You’re safe with me.”
“What’s that?” Jeongguk ultimately questions, suspicion laced in his voice.
“Uh,” Taehyung winces but doesn't backtrack like he should, “a fiancé is someone who promises to marry you.”
“Marry…” Jeongguk trails off.
He shifts and peers up at Taehyung with more light in his eyes.
"Like in the stories with princes and princesses? With the… happily ever afters?” Jeongguk’s question is hesitant, tone fragile like glass and Taehyung nods his head in a show of encouragement.
“Yeah, like that. So, let me help you, okay?”
Jeongguk raises his head.
Their eyes lock and in that moment, it seems as if Jeongguk is peering right into the depths of his being.
“Okay,” the little one eventually whispers. “I trust you.”
The sentence Jeongguk just uttered is eerily familiar but somehow, Taehyung can’t quite put his finger on it.
Where has he heard it before?
Did Jeongguk… did he ever say it in Boy with Luv?
As much as Taehyung would have liked to further dwell on Jeongguk’s words, he isn’t given the time to critically analyze them.
Duke Kim’s distressed shout shatters the moment.
"Taehyung!" His father roars, running towards the pair with the wind against his back.
Air elementals are gifted with speed and the older man eats up the expanse between them before Taehyung can manage to blink.
He’s jostled into his father’s arms and squeezed tight. Warmth bleeds in through his clothing.
"My boy! Taehyung, are you alright?"
Turns out the Kim’s butler had trailed behind Taehyung and seen it all. Upon witnessing the Young Master jumping into a fight, he’d frantically rushed to get Duke Kim’s assistance.
"Taehyung?" Jeongguk echoes with a whisper. “...is that your name?”
Taehyung feels the way his father goes tense when his eyes land on Jeongguk.
His hold on Taehyung briefly slackens.
“What in the world?” The Duke murmurs, horrified eyes dimming with realization.
Taehyung can pretty much tell that this engagement isn’t happening anymore.
He should be happy, celebrating even, but he’s worried about what will become of Jeongguk if he leaves right now.
"My son,” his father states quietly. “We’re going home.”
"But Jeongguk," Taehyung protests despite his best interests. “He’s injured and they won’t treat him! Sir Jeon actually-”
"I know, I can tell as much," his father replies.
The sound of multiple footsteps announces the arrival of Duchess Kim and Sir Jeon, followed by a cry of, “Taehyung, my baby bear!”
Duchess Kim is pale with fright as she scrambles in her elaborate dress to get to her son.
Meanwhile, Sir Jeon walks calmly towards them, expression impassive.
It’s as if there isn’t a drop of empathy in his entire system.
The contrast between the two parental figures is staggering.
"Sir Jeon, your child-rearing habits go against the values of this kingdom,” Duke Kim says in a solemn voice. He doesn’t try to touch Jeongguk again after the little boy flinches away from him the first time. “It’s needless to say that this engagement won’t be pursued.”
Sir Jeon stops an arm’s length from where Duke Kim kneels. A small cloud of dust rises to settle over the clean surface of his boots.
“Your Grace, I assure you that I don’t teach my child to be beaten by his peers. However, I don’t help Jeongguk either. Standing up for himself is something he must learn to do on his own. Protecting someone too much does nothing but harm, taken from experience.” Taehyung squints at the flawed logic.
He can sense that there’s probably a tragic backstory to this that the game never elaborated on.
“Regardless, your measures are much too extreme,” Duke Kim pushes, gesturing towards the blood on Jeongguk’s legs. Duchess Kim strokes at Taehyung’s hair as she holds back tears.
Taehyung wants to tell her that he’s totally fine but holds his tongue as to not interrupt.
“To not even offer first aid to a child, to stand-by and watch as he sustains injuries is just absurd!”
Sir Jeon isn’t moved. “This is how I grew up and this is how he shall mature as well. Duke Kim, as an outsider, I advise that you don’t meddle with my family affairs. Of course, if we were to become in-laws, I would be more inclined to make changes. Since the engagement won’t be happening, I shall see Your Grace to the entrance.”
Duke Kim narrows his eyes.
While the Duke holds the most political power after the king in the country, the general of the army cannot be underestimated. There’s a conflict: does he save his own son and turn a blind eye to a suffering child or does he offer up his son's hand in marriage as a sacrifice?
Unable to stand how his father has been forced into a corner, Taehyung makes the decision for him.
“I will marry Jeongguk,” he announces to the despair of Duchess Kim.
“Taehyung, what are you say-,” she stutters. Taehyung raises his voice to speak over her. His eyes burn with fury and cold resolve.
“Since we’re going to be engaged, you’ll listen to my conditions, yes?” This is his 24-year-old self talking but in front of a monster like Sir Jeon, he has no qualms about revealing his true mental age.
The general can only be cowed through respect, never assuaged by empathy. Already, Sir Jeon’s eyes are widening in surprise.
A rare expression to all who have come in contact with him.
“I don’t appreciate the way Jeongguk is currently being raised - it’s an ill fit with his personality,” Taehyung continues.
“So I have a proposal: I can prove to you, in a year’s time, that Jeongguk can grow up to be mentally and physically strong through other means. If you would allow me to house him at the Kim Estate for the next 12 months, I can assure you the outcome will be positive."
Sir Jeon's face twitches before a slow smirk graces his features. He tips his head back and chuckles, utterly amused and intrigued.
"Young Taehyung, those are hefty promises. Don't you want to consult your parents first?"
"I'm his fiancé so I have confidence," Taehyung fires back with a sweet smile. "If I raise him well, can you promise to never use your methods again?"
Sir Jeon stares at him. "My methods are nothing more than being a bystander and letting him fight his own battles."
He appraises Taehyung once more before shifting his focus behind him.
"Fetch Jeongguk's things. He's leaving with them today. Get Nurse Im to give him a once over when he gets in the carriage."
The head butler rushes off to meet his demands as Sir Jeon bows low before Duke Kim.
"I'm looking forward to this union between our households."
His father looks like he wants to vomit blood and Taehyung suddenly feels very apologetic.
Jeongguk who had been silent this entire time is looking at Taehyung with eyes as wide as saucers.
Awe, disbelief, and hope swim in the rings of his amber irises.
Taehyung doesn't catch any of this, preoccupied with trying to calm down his panicking mother.
Hours later, in the carriage with Jeongguk resting his head on Taehyung's thighs, the young noble's mind drifts back to what Jeongguk had said to him.
"Okay, I trust you."
Totally normal words to tell someone but just what about them feels so weird?
He frowns at Jeongguk's sleeping figure and gingerly hovers his palm over Jeongguk's bruised cheek.
The little one's head is bandaged.
No matter the consequences, he’s glad he pulled Jeongguk from that kind of environment today.
Despite the fact that he didn't get to avoid their engagement, if he plays his cards right, he should still be able to stop himself from being exiled.
It's not the end of the world, he reassures himself.
“Okay, I trust you," Taehyung mouths, gazing out the window at the passing foliage.
The sentence spins itself in a pretty circle at the forefront of his mind.
Okay, I trust you…
Okay, I trust you…
Okay, I trust you.
Wait a fucking minute.
It hits him like a thunderbolt.
Taehyung's lurches forward with a gasp and Jeongguk whines in his sleep as he's jostled by the movement.
No, no, no, this can't be right.
Both of Taehyung’s hands grab at his temples. Fistfuls of his hair are crushed between the gaps of his fingers.
If he remembers correctly, Jeongguk might have said something along the same lines to Jimin the first time they met.
Does this mean that the bullying scene just now was supposed to belong to Jimin?
Yet, it doesn't make any sense.
Jeongguk had been at a training camp when that foundational event occurred. The scenario just now was quite different although fundamentally the same.
The new question is: will Jeongguk get bullied again in the future?
Another question: if Taehyung is welcoming Jeongguk to the Kim Estate for a year, does that mean he might miss the crucial training camp?
Does Jeongguk… ever get to meet Jimin?
What happens if he… doesn’t?
There’s an alarming suspicion creeping along the gaps of his ribcage. It whispers that he stole Jimin’s cornerstone event.
Ha ha ha.
Maybe he just destroyed a vital part of the entire plot. Taehyung really dug himself his own grave.
Sure enough, the cognitive dissonance sets in like a storm.
He screwed up, screwed up terribly but, maybe it was for the greater good.
Even if his greatest fear turns out to be true, how could he have known that he could override the backstory of a main love interest?
No one ever told him.
Can Taehyung have a redo?