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the opposite of loneliness

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yoongi wakes up in bits and pieces. he’s aware first of the light pressing in on his eyelids, a reminder that he’s slept later than usual, but in the grogginess of his first conscious thoughts, he remembers that he doesn’t work until almost noon. remembers that it’s september second, and he might end up being a little hungover, and it was jeongguk’s birthday yesterday and—jeongguk. yoongi feels the solid body under his, the warmth and the gentle rise and fall of the chest he’s currently lying on. yoongi makes a noise in the back of his throat, arms tightening around jeongguk as he’s pulled thread by thread into a new day, not wanting to wake up just yet.

he keeps his eyes closed, turning his face against jeongguk’s chest and squishing his cheek into the—not solid chest that he might have expected, but jeongguk might have gotten out of bed and put clothes on before coming back. he gets up earlier than yoongi sometimes, can go through a whole work out session and shower before yoongi even opens his eyes.

still. “why’d you wake up,” he mumbles, nuzzling into jeongguk’s chest a little more. “s’posed to stay here. cuddle.”

“um,” says jeongguk.

yoongi tightens his hold, kicking his feet a little as he’s dragged into consciousness, no hope of pretending he’s asleep now. “five more minutes, gukkie,” he sighs. then, yawning a little, he flings an arm out in search of one of jeongguk’s. he pats along jeongguk’s chest, up to his shoulder, and then down his arm until he can find jeongguk’s wrist and bring it over to his own head. “pet me,” he mumbles, placing jeongguk’s hand on his head.

“i—” begins jeongguk, sounding strangely frightened. despite the haze of early mornings, that much cuts through to yoongi, who finally peels open his eyes and blinks into the sunlight in the room before he shifts and looks up at jeongguk with furrowed brows. he’s about to ask why jeongguk is just awkwardly holding the top of his head when he actually sees jeongguk—who is staring down at him with eyes wider than yoongi has ever seen them, a look of pure terror and discomfort on his face.

yoongi blinks again. “s’wrong with your face?” he grumbles, lifting himself up a little and lurching up in hopes of doing something—kissing jeongguk, maybe, or running a hand over his face, but he doesn’t get so far. the moment yoongi lurches for him with intent, jeongguk lets out something akin to a shriek and shoves him backwards. the bed isn’t that big, though, and the momentum causes yoongi to roll and then slip right off the end of the bed, landing with a thump on the floor.

he’s still half asleep. but now he’s lying in a pile of limbs on the floor, and yoongi groans as dull pain radiates through his hip and shoulder. he hears feet hit the ground, footsteps, and then looks up to see jeongguk peering over the end of the bed at him, the same fear on his face.

yoongi groans again. “what did you do that for?” he asks. “my morning breath isn’t that bad.” he pauses then, bringing a hand to his mouth and breathing into it before sniffing. so maybe it’s a little bad, but jeongguk has never shoved him off of the bed to get away from him. normally it’s a little wrestling if needed, jeongguk usually letting him win because yoongi will resort to tickling if it goes on too long.

still. when he looks up at jeongguk again, jeongguk makes a weird noise and then disappears from view. realizing he’s going to have to help himself, yoongi finally rolls over and slowly drags himself to his feet, fully awake now that he’s already gotten injured once. he turns to look at jeongguk, who is standing near the door with a wild and panicked look on his face, watching yoongi with wide eyes. his gaze darts this way and that, but it’s not the skittish behaviour that worries yoongi most. it’s what jeongguk is wearing.

“what is that?” he asks, gesturing to the outfit jeongguk is wearing. it’s a… hanbok, although certainly fancier than any that he’s ever seen. “where did you get that from? you look like you’re cosplaying for moon embracing the sun.

jeongguk stares at him. yoongi waits for something—anything. jeongguk is acting weird, and not a ‘i might still be drunk’ kind of weird. they did fall asleep together last night. jeongguk was naked. now he’s standing with his arms out like he’s dealing with a wild animal, wearing some sort of traditional hanbok and—god, his hair is practically down to his shoulders. is that a wig?

when jeongguk still doesn’t answer, yoongi takes a step forward and says, “guk-ah, seriously, what’s going—” before he can finish, though, jeongguk turns and runs, tearing out of the room and into the hallway. yoongi panics, running after him. he catches sight of jeongguk’s ridiculous hanbok fluttering around the corner and into the kitchen, and yoongi chases him until he watches jeongguk stepping into the room and jerking back.

“what is happening,” mutters jeongguk, the first thing he’s said all morning. he turns and sees yoongi, gasping before he turns back around and seems to go one way before changing his mind, constantly reaching for something before thinking better of it. he spins around, eyes wide as he looks at the appliances, the pictures on the wall, everything. “where am i?”

“are you high?” yoongi ventures to ask.

jeongguk ignores him, squeezing past him and out of the kitchen, heading for the living room instead. he repeats the same thing he did before—looking around wildly, reaching out to touch something before snatching his hand back. yoongi is impossibly confused, trying to figure out what the fuck his boyfriend is doing in their own home. it’s like he’s never seen any of this before. he keeps muttering things that yoongi can barely make out, things like what is this, what does this mean, why?

jeongguk seems to get stuck on a framed picture of he and yoongi sitting on the coffee table. he reaches out and grabs it, bringing it to his face and staring at it. yoongi knows the picture well; it was taken at their housewarming party just over a year ago, after jeongguk had officially moved in with yoongi before his third year of university. it’s the two of them on the sofa, yoongi’s lips pressed to jeongguk’s cheek as jeongguk beams at the camera, holding onto the neck of a beer bottle. it’s a little blurry, a little wild—but it was the perfect snapshot of the night, and maybe the rest of their relationship too.

then—“min yoongi?” asks jeongguk, looking over at him.

yoongi’s brows furrow. “um, yes,” he says. “hello. are you done acting weird?”

jeongguk licks his lips. looks back at the picture, and then looks up at the rest of the room again. his eyes catch on the television, then on the laptop that yoongi left on the coffee table. finally, he turns back to yoongi and whispers, “what year is it?”

“jesus christ,” groans yoongi, marching over to jeongguk, who freezes when he gets close enough to snatch the picture of jeongguk’s hands and set it back on the coffee table. he grabs jeongguk’s shoulders, steering him back toward their bedroom and beginning to walk them there. “i didn’t think you had that much to drink last night, but if you must, i’ll entertain you. it’s 2019, you just turned twenty-two, i’m your boyfriend, we’ve been dating for three years and living together for one. i have to go to work in an hour and you have to enjoy the last few days of your freedom before you go back to school. now can you please get out of this ridiculous costume and let us get on with the morning.”

they don’t get to the bedroom; jeongguk wrestles out of yoongi’s grip once he finishes, turning around and staring at him with those same wide eyes. their friends always tease jeongguk about it, but now it’s beginning to freak yoongi out.

“can you repeat that?” jeongguk asks, breathless.

“which part?” asks yoongi. “the part where i asked you to snap out of it or the part where i reminded you of your inevitable doom via studying?”

“you said—it’s twenty what?”

yoongi sighs, dropping his hands from jeongguk’s shoulders. “twenty-nineteen,” he says. “two thousand and nineteen?”

jeongguk makes a little gasping noise, hand flying to his mouth as he stumbles back a step. “and you said,” he continues. “you said we are… dating?”

“yeah,” says yoongi, staring back. “you know. we go out on dates and argue over who pays for things and we kiss each other and hold hands and my dick was literally up your ass last night; have you really drunk that much?”

his eyes go even wider, if that’s possible. he looks scandalized, for a lack of a better word. and then jeongguk says, “i think something is terribly, terribly wrong.”

“what are you talking about?”

“i’m not—we’re not… hm.” jeongguk drops his hand, brows furrowing as he watches yoongi. he turns around then, looking down the hallway before he starts walking and then disappears into their bedroom. yoongi has no choice but to follow, even more confused with how his boyfriend is acting. jeongguk is standing by the bed when he enters, staring at it. then jeongguk says, “i would like to apologize, but i don’t believe i am who you think i am.” he looks at yoongi, still confused as ever. “my name is jeon jeongguk. i’m the personal guard of prince min yoongi, the second son of the king and queen of the kingdom of great joseon. when i fell asleep last night, it was the year 1719. i seem to have… traveled here by some form of magic.”

jeongguk looks at him like he’s meant to have some answer for that. but yoongi can only stare at jeongguk, replaying the words back in his head. and then, once the silence has stretched on long enough, yoongi begins laughing.

he can’t help it—it’s the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard in his life, and a poor attempt at trying to fool yoongi into something. his laughter echoes in the room, in the silence from jeongguk himself, and yoongi can’t help doubling over as his stomach begins hurting, the laughter trailing off into giggles that barely make any sound. he straightens up as he tries to get a hold of himself, giggling as he holds out a hand to jeongguk as though to tell him to wait—although jeongguk is just staring at him, perplexed.

“oh my god,” says yoongi, holding his stomach as he tries to calm down. “sorry, sorry, that’s just—so bad! oh my god, guk-ah, did you really think i would believe that?” he finally manages to stop giggling, wiping at his eyes, but—jeongguk is still standing there. he doesn’t look amused at all, doesn’t look like someone who has been found out for a terrible prank.

“what do you mean?” he asks. “of course i expect you to believe it. it’s the truth.”

jeongguk,” says yoongi, giggling again. he stumbles forward, reaching for jeongguk even as jeongguk flinches back, and tugs on the hanbok. “this is really cute and everything. where did you get this stuff? seokjinnie-hyung let you into the costume department or what?” he reaches for jeongguk’s hair, still giggling. “i like the wig, too, it’s a nice—” he tugs on the strands, intending to pull off the wig, but jeongguk just lets out a yelp of pain as his head snaps sideways with yoongi’s pulling.

“please stop,” says jeongguk even as yoongi tugs again, but—either the wig is really good, or the hair is actually attached to jeongguk’s head. which doesn’t make sense, because just last night, jeongguk had short hair, and yoongi stops laughing as he tugs one last time only for jeongguk to shout in pain again, finally grabbing yoongi’s wrist and tugging it away from his hair. “this is my hair,” he says.

suddenly, it’s not funny anymore.

“and that’s your hanbok, too, then?” he asks.

“it’s a jeonbok,” jeongguk corrects him, taking a small step back and smoothing down the front of his outfit, like he’s afraid that yoongi is going to try and tug that off of him, too. “these are garments for military personnel. i wear black and red, and wear a dragon to signify that i am a royal guard, and a high-ranking one.” he points to his sleeve, where a gold dragon is emblazoned. he almost sounds offended as he says it, like yoongi should just know these things. “and i am telling the truth.”

yoongi narrows his eyes. “fine,” he says. “if you’re a royal guard, where’s your sword?”

jeongguk grabs at his side, but comes up emptyhanded. “it must not have come with me,” he says.

“sure,” says yoongi. “a likely story. none of this makes sense. come here and i’ll prove that you’re just trying too hard to pull my leg.” he takes a step forward, making jeongguk step back again, but yoongi just keeps going until he can corner jeongguk against his desk. in the back of his mind, he has to wonder if it’s the best idea to corner an apparent royal guard who can probably kill him, but he’s far from believing that’s the truth so he makes a grab for jeongguk’s garments, turning him around and managing to tug them down despite jeongguk’s protests to find—

yoongi stops, staring at the top half of jeongguk’s back. instead of the tattoo that jeongguk himself designed—a sprawling design of flowers and music notes to match the tattoo on yoongi’s forearm—and that he got just a few months ago, there’s smooth skin. or—not. the top of jeongguk’s back is a network of scars, crisscrossing over the skin. they curl over his right shoulder and disappear past the fabric to the rest of his back.

he lets go of jeongguk, stumbling back a few steps as he stares, as jeongguk turns back around and clutches his clothes to his front, watching yoongi with that same fear he held earlier. somehow—somehow, it’s this that has yoongi saying, “holy shit. you’re telling the truth, aren’t you?”

jeongguk lets out a shaky breath, already relaxing now that yoongi has begun to believe him. “yes,” he said. “i’m telling the truth.”

the truth, as yoongi learns after he’s sat down on his bed because he’s shaking too hard, watching jeongguk who won’t get any closer to him, is just what jeongguk said—he’s from the year 1719, in a world where he’s a guard for the prince of korea. the prince of korea being yoongi, or another version of him—that jeongguk and yoongi are the same ages as this yoongi and his jeongguk. yesterday was that jeongguk’s birthday, too, although he spent it protecting prince yoongi as he does every day. prince yoongi did give him a book as a birthday gift, and they went for a long stroll through the castle grounds rather than staying cramped in the castle. jeongguk’s father is a military official, his mother helping care for his young nieces and nephews where their entire family lives within the palace like other military officials. he fell asleep last night in his own bed and woke up here, with yoongi snuggling into his chest.

which means—“oh shit!” exclaims yoongi after jeongguk has explained his own end of it, leaping off of his bed. “jeongguk—my jeongguk! he… you two must have switched places.” he hadn’t even thought about it until that moment, too busy being confused about the presence of this jeongguk. but if what he’s saying is true, then some sort of time travelling and parallel universe hopping shit has happened, which means his jeongguk is back there in 1719. and he’s supposed to be a royal guard.

“you have to switch back,” says yoongi suddenly, panicked. “he can’t—he doesn’t know what he’s doing! how is he supposed to guard someone?”

“i don’t believe that’s possible, your highness,” says jeongguk, and then—cringes a little. addressing yoongi that way is a force of habit, but this yoongi isn’t his yoongi. suddenly, yoongi realizes what a traumatizing experience all of this must be for him, since yoongi has not only tried to kiss him, but has touched him several times, practically yanked off of his clothing, and told him that they fucked last night.

jesus christ. this is a mess.

he lets out a groan, collapsing back on his bed and dropping his head into his hands. “you have to switch back,” he repeats, a little more desperately. he tries to imagine his jeongguk, his lovely, beautiful jeongguk waking up in a palace three hundred years ago, in some other universe where everything is the same but not quite. tries to imagine him putting on the guard attire and having to figure out how to go about things, how to protect a prince when he has no training. this jeongguk probably knows how to kill a man forty different ways without even needing a sword, but his jeongguk pouts every time he steps on an insect. all the fighting he’s done has been with seokjin, which mostly conflicts of kicking his ass in various video games.

“i’m very sorry,” says jeongguk. “if i knew how to return to my own time, i would. as it is, i’m perplexed as to how i ended up here in the first place.”

yoongi groans into his hands. then he says, very loudly, “fuck.

“your highness—”

“i’m not your prince!” yoongi exclaims, dropping his hands and staring at jeongguk. he cringes back again, and yoongi—yoongi wants to feel bad for him. he does. but he can’t stop thinking about his own jeongguk, and this jeongguk looks exactly like him, sounds exactly like him. but he’s not him. “sorry. i’m just… i’m not him. i don’t know what to do about this, but i’m panicking. what if he gets hurt?”

“the prince wouldn’t let that happen,” says jeongguk quietly.

“isn’t he supposed to be the one protecting the prince?”

“i’m—positive that your jeongguk and my yoongi are having a very similar conversation. so they will be fine, until we learn how to fix this.” for some reason, he seems so certain about it—and although he was panicking earlier about everything, now he’s the one reassuring yoongi. and yoongi realizes, with a jolt, that jeongguk is protecting him—like he’s used to it. that’s all he knows; he knows how to take care of yoongi, how to protect him from danger. and if the danger is a panic attack about his own jeongguk being in trouble, then of course this jeongguk is going to protect him from it.

so yoongi looks at him. the truth is that both of them are confused and unsure how to proceed and have no idea what’s going on. but there’s no immediate answer to this, and yoongi realizes they just… have to deal with it. this must be doubly as overwhelming for jeongguk, who has somehow been transported three hundred years in the future. none of this world will be familiar to him, and here he is, trying to make it easier for yoongi.

he takes a deep breath, in and out. in and out again. “okay,” he says. “this is just—so fucked up. i’m sorry for not believing you and for… all of that stuff.”

for the first time, jeongguk grins at him. inexplicably, yoongi wants to cry—it’s just like his jeongguk. of course, because they’re the same person, just in a different universe. yoongi isn’t sure how to wrap his mind around the fact that there are parallel universes to begin with, and what it means that he and jeongguk are still irrevocably wrapped up in at least one of them. and anyway. there’s not much he can do about it.

“i accept your apology,” says jeongguk. “and i apologize for causing so much trouble.”

“s’not your fault,” laughs yoongi. “i know all of this is probably really freaky and you don’t understand anything, but, um… i guess i can explain some stuff to you? so you don’t end up getting hurt or something.” he’s not sure jeongguk would get hurt, but he doesn’t want him to stick his head in a hot oven or something because he’s curious about it.

“that would be nice,” agrees jeongguk. “you said—we live here, together?”

for some reason, that makes yoongi flush—the we, as though it’s he and this specific jeongguk. “yeah,” he says. “it was my apartment for a few years and then you—or he, i guess—moved in last year. this is our bedroom, so most of this stuff is yours, actually.”

a beat. then—“do we sleep in the same bed?”

yoongi chuckles. “yeah, jeongguk-ah,” he says. “we sleep in the same bed.”

jeongguk goes positively red. “oh,” he says. and yoongi doesn’t want to think it’s cute, but it kind of is. he tries to remember that for this jeongguk, yoongi is the prince, just someone that he has to guard. he probably spends most of his time with prince yoongi, but from what he’s gathered, it’s certainly a professional relationship. jeongguk did say he would call yoongi a friend, but they’re certainly not anything like yoongi and his jeongguk.

and still, yoongi has always loved teasing jeongguk. so he adds, “sometimes, we don’t even wear clothes.”

jeongguk flounders, mouth opening and closing for a second as his eyes move elsewhere. yoongi giggles, knowing it’s probably a little mean to tease him like that, but he’s realized that they’re just going to have to deal with this situation until the universe rights itself—and that means he might as well try to enjoy this, even if he’s going to try to find a way to get his jeongguk back as quickly as possible.

finally, jeongguk settles on, “did you not say you have work to get to?”

yoongi blanches. “oh shit, you’re right,” he says, clambering off of his bed and grabbing his phone to check the time. he only has forty-five minutes before he has to leave, and he quickly runs for his closet to grab an outfit, already tugging his sweatpants down before jeongguk lets out a gasp and yoongi looks up to see him turning the other way. and—“oh yeah,” he says, realizing that he can’t just start undressing in front of this jeongguk. “force of habit. you can—explore if you want.” jeongguk all but runs out of the room, fleeing before he sees anything else incriminating.

yoongi sighs. it’s going to be a long day.

he tries to go about his morning routine knowing that the jeongguk hanging around in his living room is practically a relic from the eighteenth century. he tells jeongguk not to break anything as he sets about making breakfast for the both of them, occasionally peering into the living room to see jeongguk examining something with precision concentration. yoongi offers explanations for most of the items—some of the figurines, the books and cds, and laptop, which he finds is a lot harder to explain to someone who doesn’t even know what electricity is. jeongguk, for what it’s worth, seems to take yoongi’s word for most things, walking around the room like he’s in a museum and asking yoongi questions that yoongi wouldn’t even think to explain—things about the government (“who is the king now?” “oh, well… we don’t have those anymore.” “pardon?”) or more about he and jeongguk’s relationship.

surprisingly, it goes quite well. jeongguk watches him make breakfast and asks about all of the appliances in the kitchen, and yoongi has to stop him from touching a hot burner only once, so he takes that as a success.

it’s only once he calls for jeongguk to eat the breakfast if he’s hungry and then scoops up some food for himself that things go horribly wrong. yoongi’s chopsticks are almost halfway to his mouth before he hears a panicked, “your highness, no!” and turns to see jeongguk lunging across the kitchen. he smacks the chopsticks out of yoongi’s hands, and yoongi yelps as he jumps backwards, the egg he was about to eat falling to the ground below.

in the silence that follows, yoongi looks down at the mess on the floor and the chopsticks rolling a few feet away, and then up to jeongguk, who is staring at him. “what the fuck?” he asks.

“you can’t just eat that,” jeongguk says, stooping to pick up the chopsticks. “it could be poisoned. you must let me test it first.”

yoongi stares, bewildered, as jeongguk does just that—digs the chopsticks into each bowl of food and takes a small bite, and then when he’s satisfied, nods and holds out the chopsticks for yoongi to take back. he does so reluctantly, still watching jeongguk with all sorts of confusion colouring his expression.

“you just watched me cook all of that,” says yoongi. “how could it be poisoned?”

“you mustn’t underestimate your enemies, my prince,” says jeongguk. “they can slip poison into anything. those eggs could have been bought from someone who wants to do you harm, or the vegetables, or the meat. even the spices might have something in them.”

“first of all, i don’t have any enemies as far as i’m concerned,” says yoongi, “so you really don’t have to test everything i eat.”

“it’s my job,” says jeongguk, and gives him a small bow.

and yoongi—wants to be annoyed. there’s a piece of egg splattered on his floor, not to mention jeongguk just smacked food out of his hands and then proceeded to eat some of his breakfast. but he’s right—jeongguk is just doing his job. despite being transported to a new world and time, his need and inclination to take care of yoongi isn’t going to go away that quickly.

“you’re a really good guard, aren’t you?” asks yoongi.

he swears jeongguk blushes, but he just nods. “i am very highly trained,” he says, “and i am proud to say that prince yoongi has been involved in zero altercations, has sustained zero serious injuries, and has been put in true danger zero times since i became his personal guard three years ago.” he pauses, then—“i understand that you’re… not the prince, but for my peace of my mind, i would appreciate if you allowed me to do my job.”

it’s a little weird; he’s not sure he can let jeongguk test his food first, not to mention all of the other protective measures he’ll want to take for however long they’re together. but yoongi can do that much for him. so he says, “okay. as long as you believe me when i tell you something isn’t going to hurt me. like—the microwave. it makes beeping noises, but that’s to alert me that my food is done, not because it wants to hurt me.” Earlier he’d noticed jeongguk eying the microwave suspiciously, and jeongguk glances at it again with something like trepidation in his eyes. but then jeongguk nods. likely everything in this world poses a threat, but yoongi will literally go insane if jeongguk tries to smack his phone or laptop out of his hands in a misguided attempt at protecting him.

then—“can we eat now?” yoongi asks. jeongguk nods again, apparently deeming it safe since he hasn’t keeled over yet.

halfway through breakfast, yoongi adds, “you can just call me hyung, you know.”

jeongguk stops with his cheeks full of food, eyebrows rising as he looks at yoongi. after a second, he says, “technically i’m three hundred years older than you, though.”

“brat,” huffs yoongi. “i see you’re just as cheeky as my jeongguk.”

he grins, swallowing the food. “sorry,” he says, and then adds, hesitantly—“hyung.” he flushes at that, too. and yoongi can’t help but watch jeongguk as they eat breakfast; he really does look just like his jeongguk, and acts a lot like him, too, despite being different because of living in different centuries and circumstances. but it is jeongguk; he simply seems like the jeongguk from before they started dating, or when they had just begun: a little shy, unsure of how to act around yoongi, blushing whenever yoongi teases him. for someone who only knows yoongi as the prince and not as intimately as this yoongi is used to, it’s not surprising. and it’s kind of fun.

they finish breakfast and wash the dishes without any further incidents (“where does the water come from?” “i don’t know. pipes, i think.” “where does it go?” “i don’t know, jeongguk.”) and yoongi pulls on his coat and shoes only for jeongguk to stop him at the door, deer in headlights again.

“where are you going?” he asks.

“work,” says yoongi. “remember? i work at a health center, and i’m going to be late if i don’t leave right now.”

“i’m going with you,” jeongguk decides, reaching for the doorknob only for yoongi to stop him instead, confused.

“you can’t come with me,” says yoongi. “it’s my job. and since i’m a psychologist, it’s confidential. meaning you can’t be there with me.”

“i won’t send you out there alone,” says jeongguk. “you could easily get injured or killed. what if your horse bucks you off?”

oh, thinks yoongi. oh, it is a very terrible idea to let jeongguk go outside. but he looks so earnest and determined, and yoongi realizes that if he ends up arguing with jeongguk about this, he’ll be late for work. he doesn’t think he can tell his boss that his boyfriend was magically switched with an eighteenth-century version of himself who won’t let him out of his sight and therefore has to come to work with him, but… he’ll figure it out.

“alright, fine,” says yoongi, sighing. “but you’re not going out in those clothes. you’ll stop traffic, and not in the good way.” he turns and marches back to their bedroom, jeongguk trailing after him. he picks out one of jeongguk’s outfits for him, and jeongguk shyly asks for something to put his hair up with, so yoongi offers him a rubber band. jeongguk ends up in ripped jeans and a black shirt with a long black coat over top, and it’s genuinely just the first thing yoongi could find, but then he throws his hair up into a bun and turns around to look at yoongi and yoongi’s brain kind of just—short circuits for a second.

it’s fine. he’s going to be late, so he drags jeongguk out of the apartment with him and starts walking. thankfully, the center isn’t far, which means it shouldn’t take him long—but it does, at least this morning. jeongguk keeps stopping every two seconds and needs yoongi to explain something to him, since seoul looks nothing like what he’s used to. yoongi tries to keep them walking as he explains cars and fire hydrants and storefronts and bicycles. jeongguk still looks like a deer caught in headlights, flinching every time someone passes him as though yoongi is meant to be his guard, but maybe after work, yoongi can actually take some time to explain things rather than trying to run to work.

it goes well until they get to a stoplight. despite yoongi having explained what they are, jeongguk still holds his arm out in front of yoongi protectively, saying, “hyung, these mechanical death traps could harm you. i suggest you stay as far away from them as possible.”

“thank you, jeongguk,” says yoongi.

“is there an alternate route we could take? i don’t trust these paths.”

“it’s the only way, jeongguk.”

“but—”

“look, the light’s red! we have to go.” he steps forward, but jeongguk hasn’t moved, his arm stopping yoongi from moving. with a sigh, yoongi gives him a little shove, and then jeongguk is escorting him across the crosswalk in the most ridiculous fashion possible—he has one arm in front of yoongi but is facing the stopped traffic, arm held out to them too like that’s going to keep the cars at bay. he’s going too damn slowly, too, and yoongi rolls his eyes as he says, “jeongguk-ah, they’re not going to run us over.”

“they might!” says jeongguk, and they’re only three-quarters of the way across the street when the light turns green. immediately, the cars start honking and jeongguk practically jumps out of his skin, grabbing yoongi by the shoulders and hurrying them the rest of the way across the street as cars begin zooming past. “see?” he asks, seemingly out of breath. “they could have harmed you, my prince. it’s a lucky thing that i was there to protect you.”

yoongi just looks at him before letting out an incredulous snort. “alright, guk-ah,” he says, patting jeongguk’s arm. “good thing you were there.”

the rest of the walk to work is without incident, other than jeongguk ‘protecting’ yoongi from everything that crosses their path, including but not limited to: cars, dogs, other pedestrians, bike stands, and several leaves. yoongi isn’t late but is at risk of it by the time they get to the health center, where yoongi pauses outside of the door.

“you really can’t come with me,” he says. “do you think you could find your way back to the apartment?” panic passes over jeongguk’s face. “okay, never mind. i have a short shift today, only about four hours, so… i guess you can hang around here until i’m done?” he feels a little awful just leaving jeongguk out here, but he has no other choice. and considering how suspicious jeongguk is of everything, he has a feeling he won’t end up getting kidnapped. that, and he’s a trained guard, so anyone trying to mess with him will likely meet a very painful deterrence. “please don’t wander off too far, and don’t get into any trouble. here, in case you get lost or need help—” he digs a pen out of his bag and scrawls his phone number, plus the address of the health center on the back of jeongguk’s hand. he’s sure jeongguk will be fine. four hours isn’t that long, right? he hands over a few 10000 won bills, just in case. he really has no other choice.

they say goodbye, and then yoongi hesitates when all of his instincts tell him to kiss jeongguk. but—he can’t just do that. he and his jeongguk kiss goodbye and hello and plenty of other times, as well. this time, he has to settle for an awkward salute before he turns to begin work, still reeling from the wild few hours he’s had.

although yoongi spends the entire four hours at work worrying about jeongguk, he has to hope that he has more self-preservation skills than yoongi is afraid of him having. in any case, when he finally finishes his shift and leaves the health center, it’s with a wince in waiting. he’s afraid of finding jeongguk squashed on the pavement, or that he won’t find jeongguk at all, even though he told him the time to meet back here.

he stands outside of the health center and looks both ways down the street, hoping to find jeongguk just sitting on one of the benches down the way. all he sees are people and cars and the little park across the street, void of children. yoongi curses under his breath, trying to choose which way to walk to find jeongguk when he hears a loud prince yoongi! and turns to look back at the park. what he missed the first time his eyes passed over it is apparent now—because there is jeongguk on the swings, soaring back and forth. more than that, though, there’s a balloon hat on his head, paint all over his face, and a whole pile of empty containers at his feet.

yoongi stares at him for a long time before he makes his way across the street and into the park, watching as jeongguk launches himself from the swing at its peak and goes tumbling to the ground before he pops back up with the widest smile yoongi has ever seen.

“your highness!” he exclaims. “i mean—hyung. look at this!” he points to the balloon hat on his head, and then to the colour on his face. this close, yoongi can see that it’s facepaint made to look like a blue and purple butterfly.

“where did you find that?” yoongi asks incredulously, but jeongguk is turning back to pick up some of the empty containers from the ground and shoving them at yoongi. he sees a banana milk container, plus empty styrofoam that could have contained just about anything.

“this is really good!” jeongguk beams. “i especially loved the drink. can we get more of that? and there was this sweet bread with filling! they called it hoe… hoe duck?”

“hotteok,” says yoongi.

“yes!” grins jeongguk. “it was very delicious. after you left, i went on an adventure and there was a whole street with tables and signs and people selling things, like a market but better. i gave them the money and they gave me food and balloons and coloured my face. did you know they can make balloons float? it’s like magic.” his eyes are wide and bright, excitedly telling yoongi about what he found—and yoongi assumes it was some sort of festival he stumbled upon, maybe even for children.

the fact that he was able to go there and back without getting in trouble is a miracle. but yoongi isn’t focused on that—what he’s gotten stuck on is the fact that this jeongguk seems to be just as enthralled with the things that his jeongguk loves: banana milk and hotteok and face painting and playgrounds.

he’s the same person.

and yoongi is horribly, terribly endeared.

“i love it here,” adds jeongguk, still beaming. “i would very much like to stay.”

“oh,” says yoongi, and his heart does this thing in his chest. something like skipping a beat, something like lodging in his throat. something like never recovering from the sight of a version of his jeongguk who doesn’t understand this world yet loves it nonetheless, who is likely a trained killer but has found a childlike enjoyment in swings and pancakes. he’s not sure what to do with that.

“are we going home now?” asks jeongguk. “can you make hoe duck?”

“hotteok.”

“that’s what i said.”

yoongi snorts and realizes that despite being worried about all of this, despite panicking about his own jeongguk being stuck in a very different world—maybe all they can do is make the most of it. so he loops his arm through jeongguk’s, tugging him toward the park exit. “sure, guk-ah,” he says. “we can make hotteok. and i want to know more about your little adventure.”

they spend the walk home with jeongguk excitedly retelling every detail of his day—how he came across a dog tied outside of a store and had to stop to pet it (which is very much like yoongi’s own jeongguk, too), how he figured out how to use the crosswalk and didn’t get run over even once, how he didn’t worry about sticking out because the festival was a bit like ones that they have at home, and he always knows when he can trust good people. he still holds his arm at the crosswalk to keep yoongi from wandering into traffic, escorting him across when it’s their turn to walk, and tries to shelter yoongi from passing pedestrians to protect him.

this time, yoongi doesn’t find it annoying. instead, he finds it hopelessly endearing, seeing this jeongguk trying to adapt to the world around him while also maintaining so much of his own world. he keeps forgetting to call yoongi hyung, ends up going with some version of your highness hyung, or my prince hyung, or even just my hyung when he remembers halfway through.

he looks at this world with something bright in his eyes now rather than fear, like his afternoon in the festival changed his entire perspective. it’s better than someone panicking, so yoongi is happy to accept that.

when they get home, they do make hotteok—or yoongi does, as jeongguk stands a little too closely to see how each step is done, and then standing a little too close to the stove when yoongi tries to cook them. he makes other food, too, because it’s probably not the best idea to feed only pancakes to jeongguk, no matter how much he insists that he could eat twenty of them. jeongguk doesn’t try to fight the microwave this time. (he does try to fight yoongi’s phone when it starts ringing in the middle of the hotteok rising, having received a call from hoseok. yoongi spends ten minutes trying to explain how telephones work and then eventually has to hide his phone so jeongguk will stop trying to punch in random numbers and call them to see if someone will answer.)

when the food is ready, yoongi ushers jeongguk into the living room and plops him down on the sofa before turning on the television, explaining that yoongi and his jeongguk like to have some entertainment when they’re eating. yoongi flips through the channels in hopes of finding something good, finally settling on some game show that he hopes will be good. he lets jeongguk test his food first, just in case. as he digs into his food, though, he notices that jeongguk hasn’t done the same.

he turns to look at jeongguk, who has his plate in his hands but is staring at the television with the same confusion and concern as he stared at everything this morning.

“are you going to eat your hotteok?” yoongi asks, poking jeongguk with his foot. “you can’t beg for it and then not eat anything.”

“what are they doing in there?” jeongguk asks, brows furrowed as he watches the television. “are they okay? have they gotten trapped?”

yoongi can’t help but snort. “no, jeongguk-ah, the people aren’t in the television.”

“are you sure?” he asks, setting aside his plate in favour of getting up from the sofa and hurrying toward the television, pressing his hands against the screen. “hello?” he calls. “are you okay in there? do you need help?”

jeongguk,” laughs yoongi. “someone took a video of them and now it’s playing on the television. they recorded it ages ago, probably. it’s not like a live show.”

“i’ll get you out!”

“jeongguk, seriously. there are no people trapped in my television. it’s just a recording.”

jeongguk turns around to look at him, clearly still confused. he looks like a lost puppy, bottom lip jutting into a pout, and for a moment, yoongi finds it hard to believe that he’s a royal guard, someone who deals with danger and politics and potential terrorists every day.

“but—” begins jeongguk.

“bun, seriously,” says yoongi, and then—stops. coughs into his hand, and then pats the spot beside him again. “c’mon, come back and eat your food. there’s nothing to worry about with the television. i can take a video of you on my phone and show you how it works.” he hopes jeongguk didn’t notice the pet name he let slip, but jeongguk doesn’t seem bothered by it as he finally gets back onto the sofa, although reluctantly. he keeps almost all of his attention on the television, barely paying attention to the food that he slowly eats, seemingly too fascinated with the television and game show.

yoongi watches him as he eats, trying to keep his grin to himself. jeongguk mumbles to himself when something happens on screen, asking himself questions about how any of that is possible—not to mention the game show involves plenty of technology that jeongguk hasn’t seen before—and yoongi’s heart keeps swelling with how endearing it is. when jeongguk mumbles something like we don’t have that at home, yoongi reaches out to fondly touch jeongguk’s hair and then snatches his hand back the moment his fingers touch, realizing what he’s about to do.

he has to remember that this isn’t his jeongguk. he looks and sounds like him, and has so much of the same personality, but they’re not the same person. he can’t call jeongguk pet names or touch him, can’t keep all of the same habits, because it’s not the same jeongguk. and he has a feeling that this jeongguk would be uncomfortable with that, considering who yoongi is to him.

but the simple fact of the matter is that yoongi is comfortable here, with him. despite how panicked he was this morning, jeongguk has grown on him, and he can’t help wanting to make this world easy for him to live in. even if he’s not his jeongguk, he’s still jeongguk. and some other universe’s jeongguk is still someone that yoongi wants to take care of, someone he wants to love and cherish. besides, this jeongguk is fascinated with technology and food and helium balloons—how is yoongi not supposed to want to pinch his cheeks and call him cute?

they sit there and watch the whole game show, yoongi occasionally reaching out only to remember he’s not supposed to. and then the program switches, and yoongi recognizes the new show as a historical drama. it only takes a few minutes, and then jeongguk is gasping again.

“this looks like home,” he says quietly, eyes wide. “this is—it looks like the palace, kind of. the clothes…” yoongi watches him, watches as something different flashes in jeongguk’s eyes—something like longing. yoongi doesn’t even know what drama it is, but it’s clearly set in the joseon era, which would make sense, since that’s where jeongguk has come from. again, yoongi finds himself reaching out as he sees a certain sadness in jeongguk’s expression, hesitating with his hand hanging between them before he settles on patting jeongguk’s shoulder.

“they probably didn’t get everything right,” he says. “but we sure like our historical dramas around here. there are a lot set around the time that you’re from.”

“really?” asks jeongguk, turning to look at yoongi. “do people think we’re interesting?”

“very,” says yoongi, grinning. “there are sorts of stories we tell about you. lots of them are secret romances, or forbidden ones. the prince and a commoner, or the prince and… a guard, maybe.”

jeongguk’s cheeks flush a little, turning back to the television. “yeah?” he asks, breathless.

“maybe not that one specifically,” says yoongi. “but maybe. i don’t know. i don’t watch them that much.”

it must be strange to see a modern take on the place that jeongguk has lived for his entire life, and a place that he’s so used to. no doubt a lot of the finer details are wrong, no matter what kind of research went into the show, but he still looks enthralled with it. yoongi lets him watch, clasping his hands in his lap to keep himself from touching—because that’s what he wants to do. feels this urge to reach out and pet jeongguk’s hair like he does when his jeongguk is feeling a little out of sorts, but he can’t.

eventually, jeongguk says, “hyung.”

yoongi says, “ba—” and then realizes he’s about to say baby and switches gears, ends up saying, “aaaacon.”

jeongguk looks at him. “what?”

“nothing,” coughs yoongi. “what were you going to say?”

jeongguk leans back on the sofa, lips pursed. “what’s it like?” he asks. “dating—him, i mean. what’s he like?”

yoongi can’t help but grin thinking about it—thinking about his history with jeongguk, about how happy they are together. “it’s really nice,” he says. “he’s a lot like you, actually. he gets excited easily and it’s not hard to please. we go on dates a lot, although they’re not fancy things most of the time—just out to eat somewhere, or going to a movie, or going bowling. we don’t mind what we do as long as we’re together, because we—well, we love each other.” jeongguk nods, eyes round as he looks at yoongi. it feels weird to talk about jeongguk when he’s right there, hard to separate them when he’s looking right at jeongguk’s face.

“we’re not perfect, of course,” yoongi adds. “we get into arguments sometimes, but the point is that we want to make each other happy, so we make sure to work through it. we’re lowkey people, you know? we just like hanging out together, holding hands, cuddling. i don’t know.” he feels shy, suddenly, shoulders hiking up as he looks at the television instead of jeongguk’s eager expression. “i want to take care of him,” he says. “i want to make him happy. and apparently being with me makes him happy, so that makes me happy too.”

after a second, jeongguk whispers, “that’s very nice.”

yoongi grins, eyes shifting to him again. “thanks, bun.”

“why do you call me that?”

yoongi flushes, realizing it slipped out again. “it’s a pet name,” he says. “just something to show my affection. i—well. he and you look a bit like a bunny.”

confusion passes over jeongguk’s face. “i do not.”

“you do,” yoongi says, feeling like he’s arguing with his jeongguk—they had this very same argument years ago, when yoongi first brought it up. “it’s the teeth, really. your front two teeth are a little bigger than the rest, and they stick out. and my jeongguk, at least, scrunches his nose a lot. and hops around. so he looks like a bunny.”

jeongguk frowns, but he scrunches his nose—whether on purpose or not. either way, yoongi giggles, even though it makes jeongguk scowl even further, sinking into the couch as he turns away from yoongi. petulant.

“c’mon, jeongguk,” he laughs, reaching out and poking jeongguk’s cheek. “it’s cute. you’re cute.”

“i’m not cute,” huffs jeongguk, but his face is turning red. “i’m a—i’m a royal guard. i have killed people before, you know.”

“what, by stealing their hearts with your blinding smile and charming good looks?”

“with a sword!

“i don’t believe it.”

yoongi knows it’s true, of course, but he can’t help teasing as he does with his own jeongguk. and it works just as well, this jeongguk getting fed up and standing up from the sofa, pouting something fierce as he throws a glare at yoongi and then stomps out of the room. yoongi can’t help giggling, calling after him until he hears jeongguk yelp and yoongi goes running to find he’s discovered jeongguk has somehow nicked himself on a knife by the sink. somehow, that’s endearing too.

they spend the rest of the evening watching television, jeongguk constantly asking questions and somehow getting more confused with yoongi’s terrible answers; yoongi finds that he doesn’t actually know the logistics of a lot of things, like how videos can be taken and played back, or how cable works, or how electricity works in the first place. he does take a video of jeongguk on his phone, jeongguk sticking his face in the camera and then gasping when he sees himself played back—and then insists on taking videos of everything and anything in the apartment, giggling to himself when he plays the videos back and hears himself speaking, or sees a shot of yoongi on the sofa looking exasperated and very, very fond.

they talk about their worlds, too, jeongguk explaining more about his own world and life. he talks about prince yoongi with something like reverence, like his job is more than just a job; jeongguk grew up in the palace thanks to his father’s position in the military, which means he knew yoongi before he got the job—although yoongi was always just the prince, someone to be in awe of. once jeongguk became his personal guard, they became friends—and maybe something more, from the way jeongguk blushes every time yoongi asks him a question about the prince, the way he has such an intense determination to keep him safe no matter the cost. jeongguk is a good guard, yoongi figures. but more than that, he cares about yoongi more than he cares about even himself.

it’s a lot, to hear jeongguk talk about someone who is him, but also isn’t; he learns that he and prince yoongi have a lot in common too—mostly the teasing jeongguk thing. yoongi figures that they really are just from parallel universes where the two of them have somehow found each other again, and even though they’re not in love, they’re intertwined in ways that yoongi could never imagine.

come nightfall, with jeongguk yawning more than he is speaking, yoongi realizes they’re in an awkward situation; they don’t have a second bed, considering he and his jeongguk sleep together. but yoongi’s not sure that arrangement will be appropriate for he and this jeongguk. so he says, “you can… take the bed and i can sleep on the couch, if you want.”

“oh,” says jeongguk. “no, i couldn’t take your bed, your highness—hyung. you can take the bed. i’ll sleep here.” he pats the cushions, seemingly having made his home already. so yoongi brings him a mound of blankets and a pillow, figuring jeongguk can figure it out for himself.

once yoongi has finished his nighttime routine and all that’s left is to fall asleep, jeongguk having done a sweep of the bedroom to make sure there’s no one hiding in the closet that might pop out and murder yoongi in his sleep, he pauses in the doorway between the hall and the living room, watching jeongguk on the sofa. yoongi gave him jeongguk’s phone to play with, since he has the same fingerprint and can actually get into it, on the condition that jeongguk doesn’t delete anything or mess around. he seems content with the camera, though, taking pictures of himself and then giggling when he sees what he looks like.

yoongi grins, fond and soft and—tired, too. it’s been a long and trying day, but he recognizes that none of this is jeongguk’s fault, so he can’t be upset with him. and hopefully tomorrow he’ll wake up to find that all of this is over, that the jeongguks have switched back again and this will go down in his memory as the strangest experience of his life.

after a minute, jeongguk notices him, eyes widening as he looks over at yoongi.

“is there anything you need, my prince?” he asks.

yoongi’s smile tugs downward, something sad in it. “no,” he says, and thinks—he’s been apart from his jeongguk for weeks at a time. but even then, he’s never gone to sleep in the past three years without first receiving a kiss from him. “goodnight, jeongguk-ah.”

“goodnight, your highness.”

that night, yoongi realizes just how fucking big their bed is, and how cold, and how horribly empty without jeongguk to fill it.

》》》

when yoongi wakes the next morning, he almost forgets the events of the previous day. his hand slides over the other side of the bed, searching for someone who isn’t there, and it’s only when he opens his eyes that he sees the emptiness that jeongguk usually occupies. and then he remembers that jeongguk isn’t here at all—or is, just a different version of himself. he pulls himself out of bed, silently padding his way toward the living room and pausing at the entrance when he sees jeongguk sleeping on the couch, curled into a tiny ball—just like his jeongguk. something pangs inside of yoongi’s chest, and he takes a deep breath as he comes to accept that this is indeed the other jeongguk, his long hair splayed across the pillow. simply going to sleep and waking up didn’t switch them back, and yoongi enters the room only to pause at jeongguk’s side, hand reaching out. this time, he doesn’t stop himself, gently running his fingers through jeongguk’s hair. in his sleep, jeongguk’s face scrunches up.

yoongi takes another breath. and then he begins getting ready for work.

he doesn’t know how to get his jeongguk back, but after that first morning, they don’t switch back. this jeongguk is just here, and yoongi can’t put his life on hold for it, even if he’s still worried about what his jeongguk is doing back in 1719, trying to be a guard to a prince. so yoongi goes to work, jeongguk insisting on escorting him to make sure he doesn’t get injured on the way there even though yoongi informs him that he’s been walking to the health center five days a week for three years without so much of a scratch. jeongguk is adamant, nonetheless.

yoongi just… goes about his life, just with a different version of his boyfriend. he cooks for them, lets jeongguk test the food just in case someone has slipped poison into it. they watch a lot of television, as jeongguk’s fascination with it doesn’t go away. they spend evenings cooped up, yoongi showing jeongguk the internet and youtube and even some of the games that his jeongguk loves, like overwatch. predictably, jeongguk is enthralled with all of it, demanding that yoongi show him everything possible as though this is all some amusement park.

yoongi takes jeongguk out of the house, too, sparing some time to go to a restaurant and even to the movies, where he has to remind jeongguk not to speak or ask countless questions like he can in the comfort of their own home. they can only go as far as they can walk, though, since jeongguk refuses to get into a car or bus, claiming that he won’t subject either of them to that kind of danger.

toward the end of the week, the new semester at jeonguk’s university starts. yoongi figures it’s not wise for his jeongguk not to show up to the first days of class, despite this jeongguk not knowing the first thing about marine biology—although yoongi doesn’t know the first thing about marine biology, either. in any case, yoongi takes the day off work and suits jeongguk up in what he thinks senior college students wear these days, trekking him to the university which is conveniently also in walking distance. they sit through jeongguk’s classes, all of them thankfully only introductions, although jeongguk still asks yoongi countless questions. when they get home, he digs jeongguk’s textbooks out of their closet and stares at them, determined to learn like he actually is the marine biology major, wanting to save dolphins and whales out in the ocean.

despite the childlike wonder that jeongguk has for this world, yoongi notices how he’s different from the jeongguk that yoongi knows—there’s a certain hardness behind his eyes, even if they still contain the entire universe. he’s suspicious of almost everything, at least until yoongi reassures him multiple times that most household items don’t pose a threat. he won’t touch yoongi, always maintaining a respectful distance between them—and yoongi understands why, but it doesn’t help when it’s hard to swallow his own habits.

as the days pass and he begins to get more and more comfortable with jeongguk, he finds it harder to keep his hands to himself; he’ll reach for jeongguk without thinking, fingers searching as they walk down the street and will only realize he’s trying to hold hands when jeongguk moves a little further away. they’ll be watching yet another soldier coming home from war compilation (because jeongguk seems to love those, even though he says they make him sad) and he’ll have the urge to pet at jeongguk’s head, or brush his knuckles over his cheek, or fix his clothes, and he’ll start to only to remember that he’s not supposed to. he’ll constantly have to redirect his language when he starts using a pet name on jeongguk, although plenty of ‘baby’s and ‘bun’s slip past. 

but yoongi makes it work, somehow. they make it work. jeongguk tries to do the homework assigned to him over the weekend and only succeeds in getting confused, and getting yoongi confused when he tries to help, and getting distracted with technology. but jeongguk learns about this world, and yoongi learns how to live with a familiar stranger in his house, in his life—and soon enough, it’s not so weird at all.

jeongguk tells him stories about his life, about the things he knows—mostly in relation to how ridiculous he thinks this jeongguk’s life is—and can frequently be heard bemoaning how tight all of jeongguk’s jeans are. yoongi calls him cute. jeongguk gets incredibly flustered.

but despite getting comfortable, despite somehow beginning to enjoy this strange routine with a different jeongguk, yoongi can’t help the ache in his chest that grows worse with each day that passes. he likes this jeongguk well enough, but he’s not his jeongguk. his jeongguk, with whom he has so much history, whom he loves and is loved by in return. this is his home with jeongguk, his life with him. beyond the constant fear and worry that something is going horribly wrong in the other universe, or that his jeongguk will never come back, there lies the simple fact that yoongi misses him.

because yoongi does miss him—and even though some version of jeongguk is right there, shouting about overwatch the way his jeongguk does, it’s not the same. because yoongi can’t touch this jeongguk, can’t kiss him, can’t love him the way that yoongi is used to. it’s like having the ghost of jeongguk hanging around, with a similar personality and the same face, but they have to exist in completely different spheres. it’s like having jeongguk close but not close enough, and somehow that’s worse, like a special kind of torture that he’s not sure he can withstand for much longer.

beyond the habits, it’s yoongi not knowing how to exist without jeongguk. he’s become so wrapped up in him that jeongguk’s absence is like a whole other person, this barrier between he and the jeongguk he does have.

it takes a week for yoongi to realize he’s touch-starved. every night, he goes to bed feeling a little colder, hating the emptiness of his bed and the lack of warmth around him that he has every other night. it takes a week for him to feel it too greatly, a week for him to get fed up and snap. he’s lonely. he’s tired and misses jeongguk, and maybe this jeongguk isn’t him, but he can be a damn good substitute in the meantime.

yoongi lies awake after that first week, staring up at the ceiling. he remembers when jeongguk moved in, how he wanted to put glow in the dark stars on the ceiling and yoongi refused, said it was too childish. he’d give anything for them now, to have one more thing tethering them together—more than this home, or the promise rings, or their complementary tattoos. more than just love. he needs one more thing.

he hates how big and empty this bed is, and yoongi has always slept better when he’s holding something or being held. he and jeongguk have slept in the same bed for years now, and even longer, before they even lived together; jeongguk had practically been living here for a year already, burrowing into all of yoongi’s empty spaces, making a home within him. it’s empty again, though, and horribly so. there’s a weight on yoongi’s chest, too cold and lonely, and—it’s stupid. he should be able to go a week without his boyfriend, considering he’s gone much longer.

but that was a choice.

a car drives by, lighting up the room in stripes through the shades. yoongi glances at the digital clock on his bedside table, something restless flooding through him. and then he sighs, throwing the covers off of him as he slips out of bed. he might regret it, but—he can’t handle it anymore, can’t handle how terrible it feels.

the apartment is dark and silent as yoongi moves through it until he gets to the living room, flicking on a lamp that allows him to see jeongguk curled into a little ball on the sofa, wearing a hatsune miku sleep mask and with earphones on, likely listening to asmr—two things he’s gotten absolutely obsessed with in the past week. like always, the sight makes yoongi want to cry. it’s so easy to pretend this is his jeongguk, and it’s that aching and yearning that gives yoongi the push he needs to cover the space between them, squatting down beside jeongguk and reaching out for him.

“guk-ah,” he says, pulling one of the earphones out of jeongguk’s ears. “guk-ah, baby, wake up.” he scratches under jeongguk’s chin, knowing that tends to wake up his jeongguk—but in the next instant, he’s forced to remember that this isn’t his jeongguk, because there’s suddenly a hand on his wrist, an iron grip that twists painfully until yoongi yelps, and jeongguk’s other hand meets his neck as jeongguk springs off of the sofa and onto him, pinning him on the floor.

he straddles yoongi’s hips, one hand around his throat and the other still on his wrist, and yoongi manages to get out a, “jeongguk, stop, it’s me!”

jeongguk moves his hand from yoongi’s neck, instead lifting it to his face and pushing the sleep mask up as he looks down at yoongi. and yoongi stares at him, terrified as jeongguk sees him, and then realizes what he’s done and lets go entirely, awkwardly watching him. after a second, he says, “don’t do that.”

yoongi swallows tightly. “sorry,” he whispers. “sorry, i—i didn’t think. i didn’t think you’d—”

“my training,” jeongguk replies. “you can’t scare me like that.”

“sorry,” yoongi repeats, voice raspy. his chest is heaving, adrenaline coursing through him at the scare. “i didn’t mean to. i won’t do it again.” of course, he should have known—jeongguk is a guard, trained to protect not only the prince, but himself. his instincts are to detain anyone who makes quick movements that might be threatening, and trying to wake jeongguk up by touching his face was probably the stupidest thing yoongi could have done. jeongguk could have broken his wrist.

but—he didn’t. he stopped touching yoongi as soon as he realized who it was, and now they’re just staring at each other on the floor. jeongguk is still on top of him, seemingly unsure how to proceed.

then jeongguk asks, “what do you need?” and all of that yearning comes rushing up inside of him again.

“i just…” begins yoongi, feeling almost silly now. but he can’t go back to bed alone. “i was wondering if—i mean. would you mind sleeping with me tonight?”

jeongguk blinks at him, surprise in his eyes. and yoongi immediately regrets asking, wonders if it’s crossing too many boundaries—yoongi is still a prince to jeongguk, untouchable, no matter how comfortable they’ve gotten with each other over the week, and that first morning, jeongguk had seemed horrified to discover them in bed together.

but yoongi also knows that jeongguk has done everything in his power to protect yoongi over the past week, and it’s as much his training to take care of yoongi as it is to try to hurt someone who might want to hurt him.

still—“you don’t have to,” yoongi whispers. “if you don’t want to. i don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but i’m just—” he pauses, unsure if he should tell the truth or not. he doesn’t want to make jeongguk feel bad about taking the place of someone else, but even then he lets out a breath of air, deflating as he finishes—“i’m just lonely.”

“okay,” says jeongguk, doesn’t even hesitate. he licks his lips, opens his mouth like he’s going to say something else and then just nods, picking himself off of yoongi and reaching out a hand to help yoongi get to his feet.

for some reason, heat crawls up yoongi’s back as he leads jeongguk back to the bedroom, awkwardly stopping near the end of the bed before he gestures to it. “you can take whatever side you want,” he says, and watches jeongguk consider it before he takes the side closest to the door, like he can protect yoongi from anything trying to come in. it’s the side his jeongguk takes anyway, and yoongi’s heart clenches as he slips back below the covers, pulling them up to his chin as he tries to get comfortable.

still—he finds himself staring at the ceiling, prostrate where he lays. it’s not—weird. it’s just that jeongguk is beside him, a good foot between them, and he wanted jeongguk here to make him feel better, but somehow, this feels worse. the other side of the bed isn’t empty anymore, but when jeongguk sleeps with him, it’s never just about taking up space. it’s how touch-starved yoongi is, how his hands ache for something that maybe this jeongguk can’t give him. he can hear jeongguk breathing beside him, can barely feel his body heat from here.

“do you—” yoongi begins, too loud in the silence of the room. he cuts himself off, squeezing his eyes shut. he doesn’t know why it’s so hard to ask, so hard to be vulnerable when he has no other choice—but this is practically a stranger, no matter who he looks like. still. he puffs out a chest and then says, “would you just come over here, please?”

he hears movement, jeongguk turning his head. “what?”

“can you please come over here?” yoongi repeats, heartbeat wild in his ears. “i don’t—i need. fuck.” he slaps his hands down on the bed, hating how silly he feels just for stating his needs, for recognizing them in the first place. he has a feeling this jeongguk would do anything he asked just to make him happy, so he doesn’t know why he’s so freaked out in the first place.

a beat. then jeongguk asks, “do you… need me to hold you?”

yoongi could almost cry. “i don’t know,” he says. “jeongguk always fights with me about being the big spoon, but i secretly think he likes when i win.”

“spoons?” jeongguk asks tentatively. and something about it makes yoongi laugh, at how ridiculous all of this is, how he’s got his boyfriend who isn’t his boyfriend in his bed, how this jeongguk doesn’t understand their world but loves it anyway.

somehow, though, with jeongguk saying it for him, yoongi finally has the courage to say, “i’d rather hold you, if that’s okay. if you—i mean, if you’re okay with it. you can say no.”

“i think i’d like that,” jeongguk says, barely more than a whisper. it doesn’t sound uncomfortable like yoongi was afraid of, more like a little nervous. so yoongi turns his head to look at jeongguk, finding him even in the darkness. he takes a breath, and then he rolls over, scooting until their legs knock together. jeongguk rolls over too, back to yoongi’s chest, and yoongi lets out a sigh as he presses himself against jeongguk’s back, carefully wrapping an arm around his stomach.

“is this okay?” he whispers. he doesn’t tangle their legs together, doesn’t press himself inch to inch like he would normally, but—already, he can feel the stress bleeding out of him. it isn’t quite the same, but jeongguk feels almost the same. the lines of his body are harder, more defined from his lifestyle, but it’s still him. after living in this apartment, after wearing jeongguk’s clothes for a week, he even smells like him.

“it’s okay,” jeongguk whispers. yoongi takes a breath, and then another, and another—tries to let this be enough. it’s not his jeongguk, but he’s close enough, enough to make yoongi feel better, at least for now. he relaxes like this, melting against jeongguk’s back, pressing his face between his shoulder blades. he thinks of how his jeongguk will play with his fingers, will trace the lines of his hands when they’re like this, how he’ll run his foot up and down yoongi’s leg.

like jeongguk can read his mind, he asks, “do you miss him?”

yoongi almost laughs. but he has to be honest, so he says, “so fucking badly.”

“i’m sorry.”

“it’s not your fault,” says yoongi. “you didn’t choose to come here. and—for what it’s worth, i really like you. i like having you here, even though i wish he was here instead. i hope you don’t take offense to that.”

“i understand,” says jeongguk. “i wish i was back home, too.” they speak in hushed tones, only enough for the other to hear—and it’s different like this, in the darkness, when they don’t have to look at each other. all week, they’ve avoided the topic of the switch, of what might happen in the future. yoongi has tried to keep himself happy and keep jeongguk happy at the same time, treating it like some strange vacation. but they can’t keep running from the truth of it, and from the terror of it, and from how much it makes them ache.

“is it weird for you?” yoongi asks. “to have me be so comfortable with you, and keep accidentally touching you and everything even though your yoongi is kind of off-limits?” he imagines that as hard as it is for him to not treat jeongguk like his boyfriend, it’s just as hard for jeongguk to have yoongi constantly forget.

jeongguk laughs, though, breathy. “yes,” he admits. “the prince—he’s friendly. it’s not as though we don’t touch or speak to each other affectionately. he likes me. but not the way you two like each other.”

“i’m sorry,” says yoongi. “i keep forgetting, but it’s just hard for me. i’ve been doing all of these things with him for years and i didn’t realize how ingrained in me they are until i have to try to stop. and it doesn’t—i guess it doesn’t help with me missing him.” he sighs, tightening his hold on jeongguk just that much. “i get touch-starved sometimes, especially if he’s gone for long periods of time. i don’t know what to do with myself if he’s not around to keep me afloat sometimes, and i’m—well, i’m independent. but it’s hard to have him taken from me when i wasn’t ready for it.”

he doesn’t mean to make jeongguk feel bad, because it’s not his fault. but then he feels a gentle pressure on his fingers, and it takes him a second to realize that jeongguk is touching him, is worming his fingers through the spaces of yoongi’s. yoongi holds his breath, unsure, until jeongguk curls his fingers through yoongi’s, holding his hand.

“you can do all of those things you normally do with him,” whispers jeongguk. “i don’t mind, my—hyung. if it makes you feel better, you can do it.”

“i don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“you don’t.” he squeezes yoongi’s hand. “trust me. i will tell you if you make me uncomfortable, but if you want to touch me or call me—those things, i would be happy to let you. that’s how i can take care of this version of you.”

yoongi lets out a long breath, feeling tears sting the backs of his eyes. he doesn’t deserve it—doesn’t deserve that kind of love, even if it looks a little different from what he’s used to. and he doesn’t know how long this is going to last. it terrifies him, but he’s been determined not to let it overwhelm him, to be sure that he’ll get his jeongguk back sooner than later. but here is this jeongguk, who is willing to help him, willing to let yoongi love him if that’s what it takes to keep him sane.

still, he resists the urge to turn his face and press a kiss to jeongguk’s neck like he might usually. he has to draw the line somewhere, even if he feels as though some barrier has been broken between them because of this.

“okay,” he finally says. “thank you.” it’s hard not to love jeongguk—every version of him, even this one. especially this one. he’s horribly endearing, and curious, and smart. yoongi never stood a chance with his jeongguk, and he certainly doesn’t stand one with this jeongguk, either. in so many ways, he is yoongi’s jeongguk. he just wants to take care of yoongi, no matter what.

“you should sleep now, hyung,” jeongguk says. “maybe he’ll be here when you wake up.”

yoongi sighs, but he presses his face into jeongguk’s back. if he tries hard enough, he can pretend that his jeongguk is already here, that all of this has been a strange dream. he holds on a little tighter, and jeongguk holds his hand, and he hears jeongguk’s voice reminding him that he loves him, and it’s almost enough.

almost.

》》》

“i don’t need to learn how to do this,” says yoongi for the third time in as many minutes, frowning as he crosses his arms over his chest.

“yes, you do,” says jeongguk, standing across from him. “everyone needs to know these things, in the event that you may need to employ the strategies.”

“jeongguk, conflict frightens me,” says yoongi. “i’m a pacifist, so i prefer holding hands when i argue with someone. i can assure that i don’t need to know how to throw a punch. teach me something cool, like how to use a sword.”

“and when will you need to use a sword?”

“i don’t know. that’s just better than throwing a punch.”

jeongguk gives him an incredulous look. they’ve been at it for ten minutes already; after just over a week of yoongi teaching jeongguk as much as he can about this world, jeongguk finally offered to turn the tables and asked yoongi if he wanted to learn how some of his guard training. yoongi had envisioned sword fights and learning how to snap someone’s neck using only a pinkie, but jeongguk wants to start with the basics.

“everyone learns how to throw a punch first,” says jeongguk. “even the most noble of warriors have to start at the beginning. technically learning balance, stamina, and quickness is the beginning, but we can skip that.”

“yeah, but i already know how to throw a punch,” protests yoongi.

jeongguk’s eyebrows rise. “really?” he asks, although he doesn’t sound convinced. “show me, then.”

yoongi drops his arms, and then lifts them again in fists, but he’s barely moved before jeongguk says, “wrong.”

“what?” asks yoongi. “i didn’t even do anything!”

“you’re still doing it wrong,” says jeongguk, approaching him now and reaching out. he grabs yoongi’s shoulders and swivels them and then grabs his hips, doing the same. the fact that he seems to have no qualms about touching yoongi is a testament to how far they’ve come in the past few days; since yoongi asked jeongguk to sleep in his bed that night, he’s shown up in the doorway to yoongi’s room at nighttime with big eyes, and yoongi can’t decide if he’s offering to sleep with yoongi or asking. either way, yoongi slides over, and jeongguk slips under the covers, and it’s not awkward at all.

more than that, yoongi has done as jeongguk asked that night—stopped trying to hold back on all (or most) of his habits, letting himself reach out for jeongguk when he feels like it, pet names spilling forth like a dam has been broken. he’s even caught jeongguk trying to hold his hand once or twice on his own, or shuffling closer on the sofa until their thighs are pressing together. he seems to glow under the pet names and the physical affection, like yoongi’s jeongguk does too—and it dulls the ache within him, even though he has to constantly remind himself that this isn’t quite the same.

but it’s better, at least.

except with this barrier that has been broken between them, jeongguk seems to think it’s a good idea to tease yoongi back, or boss him around once in a while. or tell him that he doesn’t know how to throw a punch.

“you won’t have any power in the punch if you just use your arm,” explains jeongguk as he corrects yoongi’s stance. “all of the power comes from the rest of your body, starting with your legs. so you have to start with your dominant hand and foot back, and bend your legs.”

yoongi huffs, but he does what jeongguk says, bending his legs and keeping his right hand further back than his left. jeongguk nods, grinning as he takes a small step back. “good,” he says. “start with your legs, and then twist your hips before punching with your dominant hand. use your whole body rather than just your arm. you want to hit the other person wi—”

before he can finish, yoongi does just that, swivelling his hips and swinging out with his arm in an attempt to punch jeongguk. not surprisingly, jeongguk dodges out of the way before yoongi can actually connect anything, and when he straightens back up, he looks so bewildered that yoongi has to giggle.

“pardon me,” says jeongguk. “i wasn’t finished.”

yoongi grins. “surprise attack,” he says. “don’t you always want to gain the upper-hand on your opponent?”

“not if you’re going to hit them wrong and damage yourself,” jeongguk says, snatching at yoongi’s wrist before pointing to his knuckles. “i was going to say that you want to hit your opponent with thee flat of your fingers, just below the knuckles. you’ll break your knuckles if you try to hit someone with them.”

“can i test the theory?”

jeongguk narrows his eyes. “is this just an excuse for you to hurt me?” he asks. “i thought you liked me. you let me sleep in your bed.”

for some reason, yoongi flushes at that. “well,” he says, tugging his wrist out of jeongguk’s grip. “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

after a second, jeongguk says, “hey,” and then yoongi giggles as he tries to punch him again, and it doesn’t go over well, but jeongguk starts laughing too, and yoongi likes hearing it. something tells him this jeongguk doesn’t get a lot of laughter in his regular life, constantly on edge and suspicious as he tries to keep the prince safe.

the rest of their training session goes much the same way—jeongguk trying to teach yoongi techniques and succeeding, although just barely. yoongi is too interested in goofing off, making jeongguk laugh, although he does learn a valuable thing or two. he opts out of doing of the self-defence techniques that require them to climb on top of each other, figuring that’s a line they don’t need to cross. he still doubts that he’ll need any of those techniques, but after all of that, jeongguk finally agrees to teach him a thing or two about swords, and they end up playfully battling each other with empty wrapping paper rolls which his jeongguk insisted on keeping around for this very reason. that mostly turns into yoongi chasing jeongguk around the apartment and beating him with a half-mangled cardboard roll, but it’s worth it.

they fall into a routine that yoongi can’t deny is reminiscent of his actual routine with jeongguk—yoongi goes to work, and jeongguk escorts him before running to the university, because even though he doesn’t understand a damn thing that the professors talk about, he says he likes the architecture of the buildings, and people talk to him before and after classes, and he likes the excuse to take pictures of things he finds particularly fascinating so he can show yoongi when he gets home. when they both get home, yoongi cooks for them, and they spend the evening doing something together—more often than not watching a movie that jeongguk seems interested in, or exploring another part of their neighbourhood. jeongguk holds his hand. yoongi calls him baby, maybe a little more often than necessary because it makes jeongguk blush.

strangely enough, it’s—nice. he still misses his jeongguk, and worries about him. but in the meantime, this is good.

then on wednesday, when they both have the morning off, hoseok comes over to visit.

he, along with yoongi and jeongguk’s other friends, visit often. although things have gotten busier for all of them in the past few years, they still try to meet for a bi-weekly group dinner—but yoongi has been warding them off for the past week and a half, considering jeongguk isn’t himself. it would invite too many questions, and he’s not sure he wants to deal with all of them knowing that jeongguk has been sucked into some parallel universe. someone would definitely call the police. he’s claimed that one or both of them is sick, that they’re too busy, that jeongguk is swamped with the new semester at school.

it’s done remarkably well—until hoseok decides to show up unannounced.

when there’s a knock at the door, both of them freeze at the dining table, where they’re eating breakfast. yoongi reaches for his phone, wondering if he missed a text that someone was coming over, but jeongguk is already heading for the door; he’d never let yoongi answer it lest the visitor is someone with a sword, and yoongi panics when he sees the text from hoseok and realizes that jeongguk is about to blow the whole thing by demanding to know who hoseok is.

“wait, jeongguk-ah!” yoongi calls, hurrying after him, but by the time he steps into view of the door, jeongguk opens it, and yoongi sees hoseok on the other side, a wide smile already on his face.

“guk-ah!” exclaims hoseok happily, reaching for jeongguk, and yoongi can just see it—jeongguk’s instincts telling him to defend, accidentally injuring hoseok as he twists his arm or sideswipes his ankles and makes him faceplant into the doorknob.

so yoongi yells, “hoseok!” both jeongguk and hoseok turn to look at him, hoseok with that blinding smile and jeongguk with a look of panic and concern. “my best friend!” he says it while staring at jeongguk, trying to send him a message not to do anything rash.

hoseok just snorts, pulling jeongguk into a side hug as he steps through the door and into the apartment. “don’t tell seokjin-hyung you said that,” says hoseok. “he’ll bite you.”

“seokjin-hyung thinks that all of us see him as our best friend while he sees himself as his own best friend,” says yoongi. “it’s not exactly fair.

“ah, what can we do?” sighs hoseok, letting go of jeongguk as he heads for yoongi instead—and yoongi forgot, although it’s hard to, that hoseok is a hugger. he hasn’t seen yoongi in a few weeks either, which means he kicks off his shoes in the entrance and makes a beeline for yoongi, arms wide, and yoongi catches jeongguk’s eye over the top of his shoulder.

he realizes what jeongguk is about to do too late, that same panic and vaguely murderous expression on jeongguk’s face again as hoseok gets close enough to begin closing his arms, and it’s as though it all happens in slow motion: jeongguk taking off for him, and yoongi’s eyes widening, opening his mouth to tell jeongguk to stop, and hoseok unbeknownst to it all—at least until jeongguk physically throws himself at hoseok, body-slamming him out of yoongi’s way.

one moment, hoseok is about to hug yoongi, and the next, he’s on the ground with jeongguk’s arms wrapped around his middle, both of them landing in a heap of limbs. yoongi just stands there, shell-shocked as he looks down at the two of them. he knows why jeongguk did it—protection. no one is allowed to touch the prince, and despite being here for a week and a half with yoongi promising him that there’s nothing harmful about the food or the people he interacts with on a daily basis, it’s impossible to break habit. just as yoongi can’t stop calling jeongguk baby, jeongguk can’t stop trying to take out anything that might cause yoongi harm.

yoongi holds his breath as he stares down at hoseok and jeongguk, terrified that hoseok is going to demand to know why jeongguk is physically tackling him to the ground, and then the jig will be up. but despite how painful all of it sounded, hoseok just laughs and twists around in jeongguk’s grip, wrapping his arms around jeongguk’s head. “i missed you too, gukkie,” he says. “are you into wrestling now or what?”

jeongguk looks at yoongi from where he can, one eye squished into hoseok’s side. yoongi lets out the breath he was holding. “you’re not going to harm either of us, right, hoseok-ah?” he asks.

“if i wrestled you, hyung, i could probably snap you in half,” says hoseok. “i know you’re a gentle one. i think jeongguk-ah could give me a run for my money, though. fucking muscle pig.”

yoongi tilts his head as though to tell jeongguk, see? no reason to be worried about him.

so jeongguk says, “i tried to teach yoongi-hyung self defense the other day and he was really bad at it.”

“hey,” snaps yoongi. “i wasn’t that bad!”

hoseok is laughing, though, untangling himself from jeongguk and sitting up. “figures,” he says. “hyung is a lover, not a fighter.”

“but i’ll fight for what i love!” snaps yoongi.

“isn’t that a white girl instagram caption?”

“jeongguk-ah, please kick his ass,” sighs yoongi. jeongguk looks at hoseok almost imploringly, like he’s still not sure about him, but hoseok reaches out and boops his nose (thankfully jeongguk is wearing a beanie with his hair under it so that won’t raise any eyebrows), and jeongguk grins. yoongi almost regrets this, terrified for hoseok’s sake, but then jeongguk shyly asks if hoseok wants to learn some of the self-defence techniques, and yoongi knows neither of them stands a chance.

the two of them roll around the living room for a while, since hoseok isn’t afraid to get down and dirty. they do end up wrestling, although jeongguk wins easily because he actually knows what he’s doing—although hoseok seems to be having fun, so that’s nice, at least. they do talk, too, both jeongguk and hoseok out of breath and sweating from rolling around for so long, and jeongguk doesn’t even hesitate in plopping himself in yoongi’s lap in his chair. when hoseok goes for a glass of water, jeongguk quickly whispers that he’s acting, wanting to make sure that hoseok thinks there’s nothing strange about the way the two of them are acting around each other. yoongi wants to tell him that he probably doesn’t need to go that far, but jeongguk seems happy, so.

so.

hoseok stays for lunch. jeongguk does remarkably well in answering questions that he doesn’t actually know the answer to, pretending to be the jeongguk that hoseok knows well. hoseok doesn’t seem to notice anything, although when he’s leaving, he asks when jeongguk got so fucking strong—not that he wasn’t strong before. yoongi laughs it off, explains that jeongguk has been hitting the gym and it’s been hitting back.

at the door, hoseok asks, “will the two of you be able make it for dinner on saturday? it’s jimin and namjoon’s turn to host, which means we’ll be getting take out.”

yoongi panics, begins to say, “i’m not—”

“yes,” says jeongguk immediately. when yoongi looks at him, confused, he grins back. “right, hyung? we can make it.” he looks eager about this the way he looks eager about watching historical dramas, and as terribly as it might go, yoongi thinks that jeongguk really wants to meet his friends. really wants to feel as though he’s a part of this, wants to make the most of it.

so yoongi just nods, turning back to hoseok. “yeah,” he says. “i think we can make it.”

“great,” grins hoseok. “i want jeongguk to take down seokjin-hyung the way he took me down. someone needs to put that long-legged fucker in his place.”

“get out of here,” yoongi sighs, shoving him out of the open door.

“see you saturday, hyung!” he calls. “bye, guk!”

“bye!” jeongguk calls, waving at hoseok as he leaves the apartment, sticking his head out of the door until he loses sight of hoseok, and then closes the door, leaning his back against it with a little sigh.

yoongi watches him. “sorry,” he says. “if i had known he was coming over—”

“it’s okay,” says jeongguk. “i like him. i can see why you’re friends with him.”

“we don’t have to go to the dinner,” says yoongi. “if it’s overwhelming or something—i don’t want you to worry about having to pretend to be someone you’re not.”

“i want to go,” says jeongguk. “i—i like this life even if it’s confusing. but i… promise not to tackle anyone else.”

yoongi snorts. “at least hoseok was cool with it,” he laughs. “he’s a pretty physical guy, so he probably didn’t think it was weird at all.”

“i knew he wasn’t going to hurt you,” admits jeongguk, cheeks colouring. “but when i saw him approach you, something just overcame me and it was like my vision whited out for a second and i just had to protect you.”

“cute,” says yoongi, grin widening as he steps closer to jeongguk, enjoying the way jeongguk’s cheeks darken.

“it’s not cute,” protests jeongguk. “i was just doing my job!”

“it was cute,” laughs yoongi. “you’re cute.”

“am not,” says jeongguk, puffing out his chest and frowning at yoongi as deeply as he can, as though that’s supposed to change yoongi’s mind—but it just makes him look cuter, this little crease between his brows and his bottom lip jutting out in more of a pout than a frown. and yoongi is overcome with all of this affection, all of this want, and he sees his jeongguk when he tries to get upset with yoongi over something stupid, and yoongi can’t stop giggling, on autopilot as he just—darts forward, hand fisting in the front of jeongguk’s sweater. he rocks up on his toes, still laughing, and kisses jeongguk.

a second passes, and then two—and then yoongi realizes what he’s doing and yanks himself backwards, hands flying to his mouth as he stares at jeongguk, who is already staring back, frozen in place. he just kissed jeongguk—not his jeongguk, but this jeongguk, the one that he’s not actually romantically involved with, not in love with, but he just. he couldn’t help it, felt like he does every time his jeongguk does something painfully endearing and he kisses him then, too.

but this isn’t that. this isn’t that at all, and the two of them stare at each other as a very loud silence rings in the apartment.

“oh my god,” says yoongi, finally able to speak. “oh my god, jeongguk, i’m—i’m so sorry. i’m sorry, i just… i forgot.” that’s the thing, though, isn’t it—jeongguk makes it so easy to forget. this jeongguk is just like his: looks like him, acts like him, is fascinated with the same things as him. and as they’ve gotten more and more comfortable with each other, yoongi has found it harder and harder to remember that this isn’t his jeongguk at all, especially in the little moments. he’s let himself fall prey to his other habits, and this is just another one.

but it’s probably the worst one when this jeongguk isn’t his.

still, jeongguk doesn’t say anything.

“i’m so sorry,” yoongi repeats quietly, dropping his hands. “that was totally inappropriate and it won’t happen again. oh my god. if you want me to—to go somewhere, i’ll go.” he’s not sure where, but he’s just crossed so many lines, and he wouldn’t doubt if jeongguk was horrified at his behaviour. if he wanted to be as far away from yoongi as possible.

except—jeongguk just looks at him. and then he whispers, “do it again.”

yoongi’s breath hitches. “what?”

“do it again,” jeongguk repeats, and his hand reaches out, stops halfway between them like he’s not sure he’s allowed to ask for something like that. yoongi sees his adam’s apple bob, gaze shifting from yoongi’s eyes to his lips. “please.”

he shouldn’t. yoongi really, really shouldn’t, for a plethora of reasons, but—the way jeongguk is looking at him, all open and wanting, the way he’s looking… yoongi sees his own jeongguk three years ago, just on the other side of this door when jeongguk walked him home after their first date. sees jeongguk hovering between here and there, unsure what he should do, unsure if he should say what he wants, and then settling on reaching for yoongi’s wrist and whispering, softly and almost scared: can i kiss you again, hyung? please?

yoongi has always been weak for jeongguk. he was weak then. he’s weak now.

so he steps forward again, covering the space between them, and lets jeongguk’s hand bump into his chest. he swallows tightly, nerves fluttering up and down his spine as though he hasn’t kissed jeongguk hundreds of times before, as if they haven’t done much, much more. but it’s different. jeongguk looks the same, has that same sort of awe and uncertainty as he did three years ago, and yoongi feels on the precipice of something.

he leans forward, lifts his hands and lets them cradle jeongguk’s face gently so he can tip his head forward. yoongi lifts himself on his toes again, brushes their noses together and feels jeongguk’s breath hitch, hands wrapping around yoongi’s hips.

“close your eyes,” whispers yoongi, and jeongguk does. for a second, jeongguk just looks at him—and it’s his jeongguk. they have the exact same moles. they even have the same scar on their cheeks. it’s not fair.

“hyung,” breathes jeongguk, asking and asking and asking.

so yoongi kisses him.

it’s soft, gentle. careful. at first, it’s barely a press of their lips together, but something blooms inside of yoongi anyway. and then he presses a little harder, and jeongguk presses back—eager, wanting. jeongguk doesn’t know what he’s doing, and there’s something endearing about that, too, about the clumsiness, the way he’s holding yoongi so tightly, like he’s afraid that yoongi might slip away if he’s not careful.

yoongi pulls back just slightly, and jeongguk chases his lips, kisses him again; yoongi laughs, just a puff of air, thumbs rubbing against jeongguk’s cheekbones like a reminder: i’m here, take it slow, we have time. we have time. he moves his mouth over jeongguk’s, pries jeongguk’s lips apart just enough to tug on his bottom lip, and he feels more than hears the little gasp that jeongguk makes.

and yoongi pulls back again properly, opens his eyes in time to see the stained wine of jeongguk’s cheeks. he breathes heavily, out of breath despite the kiss lasting barely more than a few seconds.

“again,” jeongguk whispers without opening his eyes, and yoongi’s heart hurts. but he leans forward again, missing jeongguk’s lips to instead kiss the side of his mouth. “again,” jeongguk whispers once more, so yoongi kisses the mole under his lip—again, and yoongi kisses his cheek. again, and yoongi kisses the tip of his nose. again—the corner of his right eye, and then his left, the little scar on his cheek, his cupid’s bow. again, and his lips once more, just as gentle as the first time. he can feel jeongguk’s heart beating wildly in his chest where they’re pressed together, thumbing at his hipbones through his shirt.

yoongi kisses him like the first time—and it is. kisses him like he hasn’t for a week and a half—and he hasn’t. kisses him like it’s the only right thing about this, the only right thing in the world.

“again,” jeongguk whispers when yoongi pulls back once more, fingers trailing down jeongguk’s cheeks. “please.” it’s desperate, aching. “please, my pri—” he stops, cutting himself off. but yoongi hears it.

and yoongi understands.

he watches jeongguk’s face, the flush of his cheeks, the redness of his lips. slowly, he puts the pieces together: jeongguk speaking about prince yoongi, about the way he protects him, takes care of him. jeongguk shyly offering to let yoongi touch him, hold his hand, call him pet names. jeongguk just as shyly asking for another kiss, and another, and another.

“you’re in love with him, aren’t you?” whispers yoongi. jeongguk sucks in a breath, surprised, but—he opens his eyes anyway, wrecked, and looks at yoongi. there’s something sad there now, alongside the endless night sky of them, alongside the harrowing hardness.

it’s all the answer yoongi needs.

and still, jeongguk nods just once, barely more than a dip of his head.

“oh, jeongguk,” sighs yoongi.

“how do you—how did you know?”

yoongi grins, smoothing his thumbs under jeongguk’s eyes. “you look at me the way my jeongguk looks at me,” he says. “and i know what love looks like. i know what it feels like.”

“i didn’t mean to,” whispers jeongguk. “i just… i can’t help it.”

“you can’t choose who you love,” says yoongi. “there’s nothing wrong with loving him.”

“but he’s the prince,” says jeongguk. “i’m his guard. i shouldn’t—i’m not supposed to be in love with him. he could never love me back.”

“impossible,” says yoongi. “it is impossible not to love you, jeongguk-ah.” it’s different than should or shouldn’t—because the truth is that a prince shouldn’t be in love with his guard. he imagines prince yoongi is meant to marry a princess or a queen, is meant to rule a kingdom someday, maybe even his own. but that’s never going to stop him, not if prince yoongi is anything like this yoongi. if he’s at all as determined or stubborn or weak for jeongguk. if his heart is as soft.

“it’s impossible not to love him, too,” says jeongguk. he finally tilts his head back, letting his fall against the door. he looks tired, suddenly.

yoongi drops his hands, but only to wrap them around jeongguk’s middle, holding him as he lets his head rest against jeongguk’s shoulder. “you don’t have to be afraid of it,” he says. “you know, i was—i was afraid of my feelings for my jeongguk for a long time. i was so convinced that he wouldn’t feel the same about me, because i was just… me. he’s not a prince, maybe, but he’s like one to me anyway.”

“what happened?” asks jeongguk.

“i was sad for a while,” he says. “i was stupid. and then i finally told him, and it was such a relief. just having told someone, not having to deal with that alone. and—i mean, he had feelings for me, too. and now we’re living together.” it will never be that easy for this jeongguk and prince yoongi—can’t be. and maybe it’s hopeless, and maybe yoongi shouldn’t be encouraging him. but the idea of any version of he and jeongguk being in love and being afraid to say it, or choosing not to pursue anything out of fear of rejection or failure makes yoongi very, very sad.

“i don’t know,” says jeongguk. “i don’t think it’s that easy.”

“it’s not,” agrees yoongi. “but what i’m saying is—you’re allowed to let yourself feel it. you’re allowed to let yourself be in love with him.” and maybe that’s what this is about, anyway, for jeongguk—just letting himself feel it, and letting himself revel in it. here, he’s allowed to be in love with yoongi because there is no one to tell him otherwise, no one to keep them apart. yoongi is always happy to be that safe space for him.

after a moment, yoongi adds, “you can love me while you’re here, if it helps.” he lifts his head, looking up at jeongguk as jeongguk looks down at him, lip quivering. “you can let yourself feel it while you’re here. you don’t have to hide.”

jeongguk takes a very deep breath. when he lets it out, his eyes are wet, and yoongi feels like perhaps a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders; he’s been hiding it for so long, so this must be different. must feel different, or freeing, maybe. he might have to hide it again when he goes back home, but yoongi wants to give him the chance to understand what it’s like to love yoongi, and be loved by yoongi in return. wants to give him a taste of what he wants, and maybe needs.

“okay,” jeongguk says, voice wavering. “if it’s not weird—”

“it’s not weird,” says yoongi. “you’re still my jeongguk. and i love every version of you, no matter where you are or when you are. if you need me to love you, then i can do that.”

jeongguk nods. this isn’t about yoongi, of course. it never has been.

“okay,” says yoongi.

“okay,” says jeongguk.

“okay,” says yoongi, stressing the second syllable to make jeongguk giggle. he squeezes him.

then jeongguk asks, “does that mean you can kiss me again?”

yoongi grins, nose scrunching as he laughs and says, “if you ask me to just make out with you all day, i’m going to have to rescind my offer.”

no,” protests jeongguk. “you can’t! i just want… one. please?”

“just because you asked so nicely,” sighs yoongi, always teasing—but the smile jeongguk gives him is worth it, and always will be.

so he kisses jeongguk—and kisses him again before they part ways for yoongi’s work and jeongguk’s school, and kisses him again when they both get home in the evening. it’s hard not to, when jeongguk shyly asks or then less shyly will do something nice and demand that yoongi kiss him as a reward. yoongi sees it little by little over the rest of the day, and the next day, and the next, how jeongguk slowly lets himself feel his love for yoongi rather than hiding it the way he does at home. how jeongguk is open to it, finally, and reaches for yoongi’s hand with purpose now, and doesn’t even ask before sliding into his bed and pressing himself against yoongi’s side.

it’s new, but yoongi can see how jeongguk blossoms with it, with love, from the inside out. it’s like watching his jeongguk all over again, three years later, the way he softens, the way he looks at yoongi like something so, so precious. the way he says my prince as he plants a kiss on yoongi’s cheek. the way he wants, and finally lets himself want.

the way he lets himself love, finally, without holding back. the way he lets yoongi love him, the both of them substitutes for something more, something both of them want back so desperately that it almost hurts.

》》》

not for the first time, yoongi wakes to jeongguk staring at him. in the past few days that he and this version of jeongguk have been sleeping in the same bed, increasingly tangled up through the night and into the morning, yoongi has gotten used to waking long after jeongguk, to find him already rifling through the bookshelf in the living room or watching the news, which he’s taken a great interest in. back home, jeongguk rises with the sun during the summer months and long before in the winter because prince yoongi does, and he spends almost every waking moment with the prince to ensure his safety. it’s not something his body clock can easily get rid of now that he can sleep in, so he doesn’t.

this morning, though, when yoongi is pulled into consciousness and blearily opens his eyes, stretching his arms out, he hits something solid. blinking a few times, he turns his head to see jeongguk on the other side of the bed, watching him with wide eyes—or jeongguk always has wide eyes. this early in the morning, yoongi can’t tell if they’re any wider than usual.

yoongi makes a noise in the back of his throat, redirecting his arm above jeongguk to finish his stretch and then let his limbs flop back to the mattress. he smacks his lips a few times, mouth dry, and stares up at the ceiling before he turns his head to look at jeongguk.

“were you watching me sleep?” he asks, voice gruff with sleep.

“no,” says jeongguk immediately. then—“maybe. kind of.”

yoongi grins, lazy. he always likes spending lazy mornings in bed with jeongguk, even if the only thing they do is laze around and talk. he doesn’t think he’d mind getting to do that for the rest of his life.

“how long have you been up?” yoongi asks next.

here, jeongguk flushes, as though that’s an embarrassing question. after a second, he says, “not long. i thought—i would just stay in bed rather than explore this morning. but—well.” he clears his throat, averting his eyes. “i couldn’t really get back to sleep.”

“why not?”

“it’s—i mean, i tried,” jeongguk mumbles. his gaze meets yoongi’s again, and then his eyes flicker down yoongi’s body with purpose, tilting his head and raising his eyebrows in a clear gesture to something.

yoongi’s brows furrow. “what?” he asks.

“you—” jeongguk says, and his face is positively red, eyes returning to yoongi’s before they travel downward again, gesturing with his head a little more directly. still confused, yoongi looks down at himself, and—

“oh my god,” he gasps, immediately grabbing the covers that he must have previously kicked away and throwing them over his body, rolling away from jeongguk as his own face reddens. “oh my god. i’m—fuck. this is so embarrassing.”

“it’s fine!” says jeongguk quickly, although his voice is higher pitched than normal.

“it’s not fine,” hisses yoongi. “did it—oh my god, did it touch you?”

“it was just—yeah?” says jeongguk, but it comes out like a question. yoongi groans, stuffing his face in the pillow and hoping that the ground will just swallow him whole. after a second, jeongguk adds, “i thought it was your hand at first.”

“please stop talking,” says yoongi.

“it’s not—”

“jeongguk. stop talking.”

thankfully, jeongguk does. an awkward and stifled silence falls on them, yoongi’s face still in the pillow in hopes that he might just suffocate like that. it’s not going to help the fucking boner, though. of course his body decides to provide him with some ill-timed morning wood when the jeongguk in his bed is not his jeongguk and probably has no interest in feeling yoongi’s dick poking him in the back. he doesn’t even remember having a wet dream or anything that might logically cause this, but he supposes dicks just don’t care. his dick will just make his life an utter hell whenever it decides to.

he thinks of terrible things—dead animals, capitalism, pouring hot coffee on his dick. it doesn’t work.

when he hasn’t moved in a full minute, jeongguk clears his throat. says, “do you… um.”

yoongi turns his head enough to breathe, cheeks still hot and entire body flushed. he stares at the ceiling again, not wanting to turn around fully to look at jeongguk. “do i what?”

“do you want me to help?”

it takes a few seconds for yoongi to understand what jeongguk is offering, and then he turns around so quickly that he almost hurts his neck. he stares at jeongguk, who has somehow gotten closer so they’re only a few inches apart—jeongguk’s sheepish face filling his vision, with something eager in his eyes.

“i can do it myself,” he says, almost defensive. “or i can just wait for it to go down, if you would get out of here.”

“but i—” begins jeongguk, and he looks so shy for someone who has seen terrible things, done terrible things. he swallows, dropping his eyes. “i want to.”

yoongi sucks in a breath. he’s been kissing jeongguk for days now, but that’s different. he can excuse kissing, can trick himself into not feeling guilty because it’s still jeongguk, even if he’s a different jeongguk. but letting him touch yoongi’s cock is different—although. although.

his cock kind of twitches at the idea, not because it’s not jeongguk, but because it is. because his body has been missing jeongguk’s body for almost two weeks, every aspect of it, every soft part, every nook and cranny. there’s probably a reason he’s woken up like this, considering how long he’s gone without stimulation even if he’s certainly gone longer, but—jeongguk is so sweet, offering to help him. maybe it’s born out of his need to take care of yoongi however possible, even if that’s satisfying his sexual needs. maybe it’s because jeongguk is in love with the prince, and yoongi told him to feel it, to have what he wants even if it’s only here. maybe it’s because jeongguk just wants to, and because yoongi is presenting him with the opportunity, and because it makes sense.

whatever it is—jeongguk looks up at him, through his eyelashes. yoongi lets out a breath, closes his eyes, prays to god that this isn’t crossing some terrible moral line that means he’ll go straight to hell, and says, “okay.”

when he opens his eyes, jeongguk looks genuinely shocked. “wait, really?”

“yeah,” breathes yoongi. “just—have you done this before?”

“what, sexually pleasured someone?”

“don’t—jesus, don’t say it like that,” frowns yoongi. “but yes.

“just myself,” says jeongguk. “i don’t have very much experience.”

“okay, well,” says yoongi, and realizes that his voice is shaking as he carefully pushes the covers off of himself again. he’s glad that he’s wearing fucking sweatpants, although it really doesn’t do much to hide the bulge in them. “just pretend that it’s yours. do what you do to make yourself feel good, and i’m sure it’ll—yeah, you know.”

jeongguk watches him, teeth catching on his bottom lip. his cheeks are still flushed, but now he looks demure and yoongi has to roll onto his back and throw an arm over his eyes to keep himself from seeing it; it wouldn’t be a new sight, considering the amount of times he and his jeongguk have been in this position, but. it’s different. and if he just pretends that this is just jeongguk helping him, then he’ll be fine.

the problem with not looking means that he can’t anticipate anything, and he tenses when he feels jeongguk slide his hand under the hem of yoongi’s shirt. “fuck,” he hisses.

“what?” says jeongguk, pausing.

“just—your hands are cold.”

“sorry.”

yoongi breathes out, tries to make himself relax as he sinks further into the bed. “s’fine,” he murmurs. “just… do it.”

jeongguk snorts. “it sounds like i’m going to perform a medical procedure on you.”

“can you just touch m—ah!” he can’t help the way his voice jumps when jeongguk slides his hand down the front of yoongi’s sweatpants, the apparent shy and demure side of him disappearing. he also doesn’t seem keen on foreplay as he tugs the front of yoongi’s sweatpants down with his other hand and then must roll over as there’s suddenly a body plastered against yoongi’s side. and yoongi is already breathing hard, heart jumping in his chest as he follows the path of jeongguk’s hand through touch alone: over his lower stomach and then down, down, down, nose nudging at yoongi’s jaw as he slides yoongi’s briefs down enough to let his cock free.

yoongi holds his breath.

“hyung,” whispers jeongguk, hot breath skirting down yoongi’s neck where he’s pressing his face into it. yoongi makes a noise to show he’s listening, not trusting himself to say anything else as he tenses and waits. “tell me if i’m making you feel good.” and then he finally wraps his hand around the base of yoongi’s cock, skin cool against the heat of yoongi’s own skin, and yoongi hisses again, unable to stop his hips from bucking up at the pressure.

what’s worse maybe—the soft kiss that jeongguk presses to his neck, and how does he fucking know that yoongi is weak for that, that his jeongguk does that all the fucking time, and suddenly he’s already overwhelmed as jeongguk begins to move his hand.

“fuck, guk,” yoongi says. “s’too—too dry.”

“oh,” says jeongguk, sounding almost sheepish as his hand disappears. then it nudges against yoongi’s mouth, and yoongi makes the mistake of lifting his arm enough to look down at jeongguk, who is staring back up at him imploringly. he doesn’t even have to ask, but there’s something obscene in it anyway; he’s practically wrapped around yoongi like this, and yoongi takes a breath in an attempt to calm his heart before he opens his mouth and sticks his tongue out, licking a broad stripe up jeongguk’s hand.

“thanks,” jeongguk murmurs, and then lowers his hand again, and yoongi averts his eyes the moment before he sees it—but he feels it anyway, jeongguk’s slick hand wrapping around yoongi’s cock again. he can’t help the desperate sound he makes as jeongguk begins to stroke him, and he hates the way his stomach coils almost immediately, ready to burst.

he hates the way jeongguk is eager, making dirty work of the handjob; he doesn’t do much other than stroke and stroke and stroke, pausing once in a while to pay attention to the head of yoongi’s cock, and it’s by far not the best handjob he’s ever received—certainly not the best handjob he’s ever received from jeongguk. the angle is a little off, and it’s sloppy, his hand not as tight as yoongi likes it, but. it doesn’t matter.

it doesn’t matter because it’s jeongguk, and because jeongguk has his face in yoongi’s neck, pressing the softest kisses to his skin like he’s not sure he can even though his hand is on yoongi’s cock, and at some point, he begins gently rutting against yoongi’s thigh, growing hard himself, and yoongi has to shove his own hand into his mouth, biting down hard on the meat of his palm to keep himself from making embarrassing noises as his hips jump.

pre-come makes the slide even easier, then, as jeongguk speeds up the strokes, and he makes this little moaning sound into yoongi’s neck, and that’s—that’s not fair. it’s really, really not fair, and yoongi throws his head back, groaning into his hand as he fucks up, and his breathing is erratic and his head is already hazy, and jeongguk is still kissing his neck, and jeongguk pauses to toy with the head of his cock, and yoongi snaps, just like that—comes with a drawn-out moan, squeezing his eyes shut as it overwhelms him.

he breathes hard as he comes down from it, as he feels jeongguk remove his hand and come already growing cold on his stomach. when he opens his eyes, he sees the ceiling first, removing his hand from his mouth as he thinks: that was probably weird. but indescribably hot, too, as though a fucking sloppy handjob is really what gets the juices flowing, but it is. was.

he turns his head to see jeongguk leaning back from him, watching him with the same eager sort of want, still wrapped around him with his hand awkwardly hovering in the air. there’s come on his fingers.

jeongguk asks, “did i do good?”

it’s a bad time for it to happen, maybe, but yoongi’s entire heart sighs. he wonders if it’s possible to fall in love with the same person twice, or two versions of the same person. he wonders if he was fucked from the very beginning.

“yeah,” he says, reaching down to card his fingers through jeongguk’s hair. “yeah, baby, you did good.”

“do i get a kiss?”

yoongi grins, and then answers it by taking hold of jeongguk’s face and rolling over enough to bring their faces together, to kiss jeongguk eager and warm and soft. he can’t help it, he realizes, and doesn’t think he wants too—the heart is a fickle thing, and it’s impossible not to love jeongguk. he’s been in love with his jeongguk for three years, so how can he not love this jeongguk? this jeongguk, who has the same face, the same curiosity, the same love of competition and banana milk and making yoongi laugh? this jeongguk, who only wants to protect yoongi, who has gone so long without being able to reach for what he wants? this jeongguk, who has seen horrible things and has hardened because of that, but still has the same heart underneath it all?

this jeongguk, who loves yoongi. this jeongguk, who loves yoongi.

it’s tragic and wonderful. it’s the weirdest goddamn thing that has ever happened to yoongi, and maybe that’s okay. maybe all he’s meant to do is love jeongguk back.

so he kisses jeongguk. so he says, “you want hyung to help you, too?” and he hears jeongguk’s shy laugh, feels him nod his head as yoongi rolls on top of him completely and squishes him into the bed. he’s good at it, yoongi knows. it’s probably the thing he’s best at—loving jeongguk. it’s always been the easiest damn thing in the world.

》》》

two weeks to the day that jeongguk showed up here, yoongi takes him on a date. not just any date, though—he takes him on their first date, the same one that he and his jeongguk went on three years ago. what he’s learned over the past two weeks is that jeongguk just wants to be loved—just wants to be loved by yoongi. in his own life, it’s a little harder, a little farther away. but in this life, yoongi will give him everything that he needs and wants, and if he needs and wants that taste of the love he deserves, then yoongi will do whatever it takes to make that a reality.

it’s clear that jeongguk does love his yoongi. maybe they’ll never get to be together like this yoongi and jeongguk, but maybe that’s why jeongguk is here in the first place: to understand. to see. to feel it, at least once.

they go to the aquarium.

it was yoongi’s idea, three years ago—he’d long known about jeongguk’s obsession with sea life, and knew that he was majoring in marine biology. he’d known that jeongguk could sit and tell him about different species of fish and sharks for hours, about different reefs and ocean plants. and despite yoongi not caring nearly as much as jeongguk does, he would listen for hours. he does—because it’s jeongguk, and he loves anything that jeongguk does. he could listen to jeongguk talk about fish for the rest of his life.

and maybe this jeongguk knows much, much less—but is no less fascinated and amazed by the aquarium as they move through the exhibits. yoongi can’t stop grinning as he watches jeongguk press himself against the glass, eyes wide as he watches the different sea life. he demands that they read all of the information, wanting to know more and more, wanting it all. they hold hands, yoongi laughing at children that look at jeongguk strangely when he gets as excited as they do about the sharks.

it’s different from the first time, but very much the same, because yoongi feels the same. feels nothing but love and promise and hope.

“hyung!” gasps jeongguk, tugging yoongi toward an area with a small pool and children crowded around it. “we can touch them.”

yoongi grins, joining him at the side of the exhibit and watching jeongguk peer down at the little starfish in the water. “go on,” he says, nudging jeongguk with his elbow.

“i don’t want to hurt them,” jeongguk whispers.

“you won’t,” says yoongi. “although when we came here the first time, he said the same thing.” he sees jeongguk’s grin widen at that, like he likes imagining himself as the jeongguk that yoongi has known and fallen in love with—likes thinking about him here three years ago, and going on all of the other dates, too: the movies and dinner dates and picnics in parks. the study dates back when yoongi was still in school, too, and the late nights cuddled in bed.

so jeongguk reaches out, putting his hand in the water as he presses his finger against one of the starfish. “woah,” he whispers. “hyung, they feel weird.”

and is it ironic, he wonders, that this time, yoongi is able to tell jeongguk all of the silly little facts about the fish? he knows them now, knows from years of hearing jeongguk excitedly gush about new species of fish that someone discovered, or groan about information he didn’t want to be studying. either way—yoongi grins, squeezing jeongguk’s hand as he says, “not all starfish feel the same, you know. they can be smooth, or spiny, or other things. what you’re feeling is overlapping plates.”

“cool,” breathes jeongguk, running his finger over the arms of the starfish.

“you know, they can produce asexually,” yoongi adds. “and they can regenerate their arms, so if you cut one off, it’ll grow back. or they can lose arms as a form of self-defence.”

“i wish i could do that,” says jeongguk. “actually, i wish prince yoongi could do that. then i wouldn’t have to worry so much about protecting him.”

hey.

“i’m kidding,” giggles jeongguk, eyes bright as he looks at yoongi. “i like protecting him.”

“c’mon,” says yoongi, tugging him away from the starfish. “i want to look at other stuff.”

in the next exhibit, jeongguk asks, “what’s your favourite fish?”

“i like seahorses,” says yoongi almost immediately.

“why?”

“they’re terrible swimmers,” says yoongi with a grin. “it doesn’t make sense at all. a fish that can’t swim, who by design is bad at being what it is. i always found that—interesting, i guess. sometimes that’s how i feel too: just bad at being human. but somehow, i’m still here, and so are they, so.” he shrugs.

when he looks over, jeongguk is already watching him, something fond playing on his lips. “you’re not bad at being human,” he says. “i think you’re a very good human. probably one of the best i’ve ever met.”

“you’re just saying that because i’m holding your hand.”

jeongguk grins. “and because i need you to pay for me to eat.”

yoongi snorts, but he presses a kiss to jeongguk’s cheek anyway.

it’s calm, surprisingly. the past two weeks have been hectic and stressful, full of surprises, and otherwise everything that yoongi could have never expected. he’s seen jeongguk panic about technology, but learn to live in this world remarkably well. he’s learned things from jeongguk, learned things about himself. and as he stands before a massive tank and watches jelly fish float by, holding jeongguk’s hand, he realizes that this could almost be normal.

but it’s not—and that’s the point. jeongguk isn’t part of this world, no matter how well he blends in now. he’s not meant for this time, not meant for this universe. he’s not even meant for this yoongi—and yoongi misses his own jeongguk, wants him back so desperately, even if it means saying goodbye to this jeongguk. it sets something melancholy upon him as they keep walking through the aquarium, and yoongi pulls them to a stop in the middle of the underwater tunnel, water on all sides of them with sharks and sea turtles and other fish that swim over and around them. it’s dark save for the blue and green of the water, and yoongi watches as jeongguk grins up at a shark that swims over their heads.

yoongi sighs.

“this is where we had our first kiss,” he says, the memory bringing a grin to his lips. “we stopped right here and we were looking at the fish, and this one fish swam by—i don’t even remember what fish it was. but jeongguk said, hyung, if you see that fish, it means you have to kiss whoever you’re with. i told him it was bullshit, and it was, but—i kissed him anyway. i liked having an excuse to.”

jeongguk watches him. there’s something sad in his eyes, like he remembers once again that there’s another jeongguk somewhere whose life he’s living. “you’re really happy together, aren’t you?” he asks.

“yeah,” yoongi nods. “yeah, we really are.”

jeongguk turns back to the fish, watching them swim by. yoongi has been here so many times, practically has the aquarium memorized, but each time is new. each time, he discovers something new in jeongguk, about his love for this world and its sea life. about his need to protect it.

it takes a minute, but then jeongguk says, “i’m going to tell him.” he looks at yoongi again, expression determined. “prince yoongi, i mean. whenever i get home, i’m going to tell him that i love him. i don’t—i don’t want to pretend that i don’t anymore. it just hurts me, and… i don’t know. after letting myself feel it with you, i don’t want to go back to how it was before.”

yoongi squeezes his hand. “i’m proud of you,” he says.

“it might go horribly,” says jeongguk. “i don’t know what will happen. maybe he’ll think it’s wrong and have me removed from my job, or even executed. or maybe he won’t really care. or—” and here, he pauses, breath catching. without saying it, yoongi knows what he’s thinking: maybe he’ll love me back.

“remember what i said?” asks yoongi. “it’s impossible not to love you.”

“that’s because you’re already in love with me.”

“he’s a fucking idiot if he doesn’t love you, jeongguk-ah,” says yoongi, just to make jeongguk laugh. “but i’m serious—whatever happens, i’m proud of you. and i’m sorry if it goes wrong, and i wish i could make it perfect for you, but that’s not how this works. you have to be brave for you. but… i think it’ll be okay. this universe has been kind to us, so i think your universe will be kind to you, too.”

“you know,” says jeongguk, lips curled up in a crooked grin. “i think we’re soulmates. why else would we be together in more than one universe?”

the very thought has yoongi’s breath hitching in his throat, because—he wants to believe it. he wants to believe it so badly, wants to believe that whenever jeongguk finally goes home, that things will work out. he’ll get what he wants, he’ll be happy. that’s what yoongi wants more than anything.

then jeongguk says, “hey, yoongi-hyung. look at that fish.” yoongi turns to where jeongguk is pointing, a brightly coloured fish swimming by. “you know what it means, right? if you see that fish, you have to kiss whoever you’re with.”

yoongi looks at him. “you cheeky fucker,” he says.

jeongguk grins. “are you going to say no?”

and yoongi can’t—wouldn’t. he laughs, but he reaches up for the front of jeongguk’s coat and tugs him forward, closes his eyes as he waits for the familiar pressure of jeongguk’s lips.

but it doesn’t come.

when yoongi opens his eyes again, he’s alone. he’s standing in the middle of the tunnel without anyone by his side, no jeongguk beside him—and he was just holding jeongguk’s coat, just holding his hand. and now he’s gone.

“jeongguk?” yoongi calls hesitantly, panic thrumming through him as he turns around, searching; he would have heard and felt if jeongguk got out of his grip and ran away, but it doesn’t make sense. “jeongguk-ah?” he swallows around the lump in his throat, first taking a few steps in one direction and then in the other, unsure what to do, where to go. jeongguk was just here, and now he’s not, and that doesn’t make sense. how could he be here one second and not the next, how could he just—

yoongi gasps.

he could. he could be here one second and not the next, because that’s what happened the first time. jeongguk is gone, snapped right out of this universe, but if that jeongguk is gone then—

then yoongi’s jeongguk must have returned.

yoongi doesn’t think, just turns and starts running, panic and worry and excitement welling up inside of him like bile. it’s been two weeks—two weeks of the other jeongguk, and despite everything that has happened and how much he’s come to enjoy it, the idea of his jeongguk being home makes him want to throw up and cry all at once. suddenly, all of the fear he felt on that first morning comes back: the fear of something having happened to jeongguk, or the fear that he’ll get home and jeongguk won’t be there.

but he can’t think like that. he thinks of what jeongguk said just moments ago, as they stood in the very same spot that their story started: i think we’re soulmates. and if they’re soulmates, then they have to be together, then the universe must be kind. the universe will be. yoongi won’t let it happen any other way.

so.

yoongi finds jeongguk where he last saw him, two weeks ago: in their bed, under the covers, halfway to sleep.

the ride home on the bus takes too long, but then he’s skidding into their apartment, throwing the door open and closed behind him as he calls, “jeongguk-ah?” his heart is still racing, on the verge of tears as he stumbles into the apartment. the signs of the other jeongguk are still everywhere—newspapers and books laid out on the table, the pillows and blankets on the couch even though he hadn’t slept there for a week. but yoongi leaves those, instead darting through the kitchen and the living room, down the hall until he finally makes it to their bedroom.

his breath hitches as he sees the lump in the middle of the bed, coming to a stuttering halt. his eyes fill with tears at the sight, at the tuft of hair visible on the pillow—short, just like his jeongguk. suddenly, he’s afraid.

suddenly—jeongguk turns, rolling over and lifting his head. their eyes meet.

“hyung?” he asks. and it’s—the same voice, of course. the same face. but it’s different. it’s his jeongguk, finally, the one that he’s loved for three years and even longer, the one he will love for longer.

despite the race it took to get here, yoongi is slow now as he steps into the room, approaching the bed. jeongguk’s wide eyes follow him, and yoongi wipes at his own eyes as he says, “guk-ah. baby.” he tries to see it—tries to see that last two weeks on jeongguk’s face, the hardships and trials. but all he sees is the man he fell in love with, his favourite good morning and his hardest good night.

he pauses beside the bed. he whispers, “hi.”

jeongguk grins up at him. “hello.”

what is there to say, he wonders: so much, and yet so little. rather than say any of that, though, he just leans down and takes jeongguk’s face in his hands and kisses him—kisses him with everything he wants to say, and everything that he’s missed over the past two weeks. and jeongguk kisses him back with the sort of knowledge and experience that the other jeongguk doesn’t have yet but might, but could—this jeongguk kisses yoongi like coming home, like finding something that was lost.

with it, yoongi says, i missed you i love you i always want you here.

and he slides his hands down jeongguk’s neck, over his shoulders, presses him into the bed—

ah!” jeongguk gasps in pain, and yoongi jerks back, hands flying away from jeongguk as he stares down at him. jeongguk winces, adds, “sorry, sorry, just—hurts. sorry.” yoongi is bewildered until he actually looks, and he sees the bandage around jeongguk’s shoulder. he stares at it, remembering now all of the fear that has filled him for the past two weeks. he was always asking, always worried—what if jeongguk gets hurt?

“oh my god,” he breathes, hands hovering uselessly near jeongguk like he can fix it, like he can fix it with his hands alone—

“it’s fine,” jeongguk says quickly. “it’s okay, i’m not—i’m not going to die.”

“what the fuck, jeongguk,” says yoongi. “what the fuck happened to you?”

“i protected him,” says jeongguk. “that was my job. i had to keep him safe.” yoongi sucks in a breath, feels something clog in his throat, in his heart—and the tears come back just like that, something wrapped up in all of this emotion. he thinks of the other jeongguk swatting food out of his hands, tackling hoseok, escorting him across the street to keep him safe. and of course none of those things would have killed yoongi in the first place, but that was his instinct. that was his duty.

and back in 1719, someone had to take care of the prince.

“it wasn’t that bad,” jeongguk adds quietly, using his good hand to reach and grasp yoongi’s wrist, tugging him down until yoongi sits at his side. “most of the time, i was just fretting over him and he would laugh at me because i didn’t know how to hold a sword or anything, but—it’s not like they were in the middle of a war. no one was actively trying to hurt him.”

“then what the hell is that?” snaps yoongi, pointing to the bandaged shoulder.

“i took an arrow for him,” says jeongguk. “we were hunting and i don’t know if someone was trying to hurt him or if it was an accident, but i had to protect him, so i did. they took care of it—got it out, cleaned it, patched it up. gave me medicine.”

“oh my god, their medicine back then was probably shit,” gasps yoongi. “you could have an infection or lose your arm or—”

“hyung,” says jeongguk. “hyung, stop. i’m okay. i’m not going to die.”

die,” chokes out yoongi. “jeongguk, i’m taking you to the hospital.” he gets up with the intention of going, but jeongguk catches his wrist again, tugs him back onto the bed. the truth is that jeongguk does look okay—he’s not pale or feverish, although he certainly looks tired. taking a fucking arrow to the shoulder is brutal either way, and yoongi doesn’t trust joseon medicine to fix jeongguk. doesn’t trust the universe with that.

“just wait,” says jeongguk. he looks up at yoongi with none of that panic or fear, but something—something much more like love. “i just want to see you for a second.”

yoongi takes a breath. jeongguk was willing to get injured for the prince, to risk his life, to die for him maybe—this other version of yoongi, just as yoongi was willing to give the other jeongguk a taste of love, willing to hand over his entire heart. and strangely enough, it doesn’t feel like jeongguk was doing it for the other yoongi. it feels like jeongguk was doing it for him, feels like it was proof of his love for yoongi—every version of him, prince or not.

“i missed you,” says yoongi after a second, taking jeongguk’s hand. “i mean, technically some version of you was here the whole time, but it wasn’t the same.”

“being a royal guard fucking sucks, hyung,” says jeongguk, giggling. “i like this life much better.”

there is so much to talk about, so much to ask. he wants to know every detail of jeongguk’s life in the other universe, wants to know what the prince was like. he wants to know what he missed, wants to stay right here with jeongguk forever knowing that his love can somehow grow. but for now—for now, they have time just to be together. he’ll have time to show jeongguk all of the selfies on his phone, to talk about the aquarium, to awkwardly admit that the other jeongguk gave him a handjob, but—hopefully it’s not an issue. something tells him it won’t be.

for now—

“why do you think it happened in the first place?” asks yoongi. “the switching thing, i mean. it was so—scary and weird and amazing at the same time.”

“i don’t know,” jeongguk sighs. “but you know, i could guess. the whole time i was there, i couldn’t understand why there was more than one universe where we were together, even though the prince and his jeongguk weren’t together—not like us. but i could tell that there was something more. the way the prince treated me… it’s not how princes usually treat a personal guard. i could tell.” he grins, shaking his head like he’s remembering it. “i couldn’t stop myself from loving him, because—he was you. with a crown and a fucking ego, maybe, but still you.”

“sounds like an asshole.”

“shut up,” laughs jeongguk. “the point is—when i took that arrow for him, it was the most natural thing in the world. it was hard for me to remember all of the guard duties i had because it wasn’t instinct, but throwing myself into the path of that arrow was. because he was you, and i’d take a thousand arrows for you, hyung. when i woke up a day later, he was right there at my side, holding my hand. he looked so scared, hyung, i—i felt bad. but i think i get why i had to be there, because the last thing i remember is him telling me that he loves me. saying he thinks he always has, and then he kissed me. and i turned up back here.”

“the other jeongguk is in love with him, too,” says yoongi with his own grin. “has been for three years, but he just didn’t say anything. but he admitted it. right before he disappeared, he said—he said he was going to tell the prince. that he didn’t want to hide it anymore, that even if the prince didn’t love him back, he just wanted to be happy.”

“i bet they’re making out right now,” says jeongguk.

yoongi can’t help but laugh. “yeah,” he says. “i bet they are.”

“maybe that’s why we switched,” says jeongguk. “you know, the night before it happened, on my birthday… i wished that you and i would be happy and in love and together in every universe. so maybe the universes heard me and decided that prince yoongi and his guard needed a push in the right direction. and only once they realized their feelings and intended to act on them could they go home.”

it’s strange, maybe—strange that it sounds like a plot to a terrible romantic comedy, yet it kind of makes sense. “he told me that he thinks we’re soulmates,” yoongi says. “in every universe.”

“i think we are,” jeongguk agrees. his grin is lazy and wide. he looks terribly in love. “but whatever it was… i hope they’re happy. i want them to be as happy as we are.”

he still has so many questions. he still has concerns, still doesn’t fully understand what happened in the first place, but all he knows is that he has his jeongguk back. all he knows is that he’s in love. and maybe that’s enough for now.

so yoongi leans down again until their noses brush together, until he can feel jeongguk’s breath on his lips. “i’m really glad you’re home,” he whispers.

“me too,” says jeongguk.

“i’m still taking you to the hospital.”

“i’m practically a royal guard now, hyung. i can take it.”

“it only counts if you call me my prince.

jeongguk snorts. “did he do that?”

“oh yes,” says yoongi. “he was very eager to please.”

jeongguk giggles again, nudging his nose against yoongi’s. “you’ll have to get used to me being a brat again, i guess,” he says.

“i’ll make the universe switch you back,” says yoongi, and jeongguk laughs, and yoongi kisses him, and he thinks—he likes this version better. he likes this version, because he wants to believe that somewhere out there, in another universe, jeongguk and his prince are doing the same thing. and maybe there are other universes and other versions of them, too, and they’re happy and in love in all of them, or will be, or have been for a long, long time.

either way—yoongi likes this universe and this jeongguk best. he’d like to stay right here.