Jeongguk falls out of the sky.
Taehyung watches him do it too, with an impish grin on his face, cackling at Jeongguk’s incredulous expression right as he falls, spiraling down wildly.
Jeongguk wasn't scared, a fall couldn’t hurt him, he wasn't scared, but then he realized he couldn’t stop, couldn’t kick back into ascendancy, and then, the ground rushes up all too suddenly, a pasture of green dotted with daisies.
He’s lying on the ground with a mouth full of grass and the wind knocked out of him when he hears the sound of hurried footsteps, and a light touch turns him over onto his back. Oh, just wait ‘til he gets his hands on Taehyung—
“Oh, gods! Are you okay?”
Jeongguk opens his eyes, and the sun shines directly into his eyes.
He tries again, more successfully, and then wonders if he’s landed in the fairy realm.
Even Taehyung is momentarily thrown. Shit , he says, somewhere below Jeongguk’s left ear, shit, and Jeongguk can’t find it in himself to disagree.
Because the boy standing over him is, well, so pretty . Honey-gold skin and eyebrows knitted in concern. Black hair falling over his forehead, eyes dark and lips full. When Jeongguk doesn’t answer, he brings his face even closer, and Jeongguk is suddenly having a very, very hard time.
“Hello? Say something .”
“Um,” Jeongguk says, intelligently.
“You must’ve hit your head,” the boy tsks, running his fingers through Jeongguk’s wavy locks, searching for scrapes and contusions. “What were you thinking, climbing these flimsy trees? We need to get you to a healer.”
Jeongguk pulls the boy’s hands away, sits up, and realizes he is certainly not in the realm of fairies. The field he’s landed in stretches on as far as the horizon, dotted with willow trees and yellow wildflowers. A warm breeze caresses his cheek, the air smelling sweetly of honeysuckle and nectar. The sky is as blue as the boy’s cerulean robes. Fairies don’t wear cerulean robes, and Jeongguk has made a very, very big mistake.
“I’m okay!” Jeongguk springs to his feet, too quickly, too deftly. The boy looks up at him, startled.
“Are you sure?” He stands, patting off the bits of grass stuck to his front. “You fell pretty hard. I could hear it all the way over there by the river.”
“It’s fine, I’ve got a thick skull,” he says, rapping his head with his knuckles.
The boy’s petal pink lips twitch in amusement and Jeongguk decides then and there that he wants to see them curl into a smile, a laugh.
“If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure.” Jeongguk bobs his head, scratches the bridge of his nose. “Uh, I’m Jeongguk.”
“Jimin,” Jeongguk repeats, Jimin . Jimin sits warmly in his chest, right next to Taehyung and Seokjin, the only names he’s ever had to remember.
“Jimin, do you know where I am?” Jeongguk asks, sheepish. “I can’t seem to recall. I must have, ah, fallen pretty hard.”
Jimin smiles, and the world teeters dangerously on its axis.
When Jeongguk gets home, Seokjin is waiting.
“Where have you been?”
He jumps, plasters on a cheeky smile. “Hi, hyung.”
“Don’t hi, hyung me.” Seokjin crosses his arms. “Where have you been?”
“Here and there,” Jeongguk answers, vaguely.
It’s the half-truth. He had been somewhere at the eastern border of the realm, right at the partition between this one and the next, and then he had crossed the partition, suddenly in the one over altogether.
“You think I don’t know where you’ve been?” His brother is eerily calm. “You don’t think I know you’ve been sneaking down to the mortal realm almost every day for the past week?”
“ Hyung! Have you been following me?”
“It’s for your own good, Jeongguk. I’m supposed to keep an eye on you at all times. And you are not to go back anymore, you have no business being down there—”
“Why not?” Jeongguk complains. “It was all in good fun! Taehyung does it all the time—”
“ Taehyung is a minor divinity, there are fewer rules for him!”
“No but hyung , Jeongguk.” Seokjin’s eyes flash, and then he sighs, tiredly. “Jeongguk, these rules exist for a reason. Hyung doesn’t want you to get hurt.”
Jeongguk nods dutifully, but something ugly turns in his stomach. Jimin is going to wonder where he’s gone.
“We all have a place in this world,” Seokjin continues, very matter-of-factly, “If we were meant to walk around in the mortal realm, we would have been born mortals, see?”
If Jeongguk were smarter, he would’ve left some way for Jimin to contact him, but Jeongguk sheepishly puts an end to that line of thought right away.
Because maybe Jimin doesn’t want to see him again. Maybe he’s forgotten all about Jeongguk already. After all, Jeongguk doesn’t understand any of the books that Jimin is so fond of reading or any of the subjects that Jimin studies. Jeongguk doesn’t know how to write poetry or appreciate philosophy or talk about matters of public policy or—
“Jeon Jeongguk, are you listening to a single word I’ve been saying?”
“Yes, hyung,” Jeongguk answers easily, but it would be a long while before he would come to understand the moral of Seokjin’s concern.
Not all gods are enlightened.
Jeongguk is young when he meets Jimin.
Young enough to laugh at the sky and care not for who’s listening. Young enough to disobey, to believe in loopholes, to never consider what happens after ever after. He was still young enough to believe in the possibilities then, young enough to follow his heart and young enough to figure he has the emotional tolerance, young enough to believe that he will be able to pay whatever it costs.
When Jimin dies, Jeongguk’s heart breaks.
Jimin looks different, but his laugh is still the same.
His hair is lighter. In the sunlight shuttering through the courtyard, the blonde strands shine like spun gold. Two silver earrings adorn his right ear. Jimin’s face is angular where Jeongguk once recalls a softness, his features sharper, older. Jeongguk watches Jimin laugh like he never has before, unrestrained and carefree. He looks so different.
And yet Jeongguk knows that if Jimin were to stand, Jeongguk would still be taller than him. He knows the shy curve of Jimin’s smile, the crescent moons of his eyes when Jeongguk compliments him. He knows Jimin’s hands are small enough to be enveloped in his own, knows the way Jimin’s nose crinkles when he’s on the verge of sleep and on the verge of wakefulness, can recall counting the exact number of Jimin’s eyelashes on a night far away from this one, so long ago that Jeongguk aches with the immeasurability of it.
Jimin speaks animatedly, balanced on the balustrade across from the Queen mother. He picks at his silk sleeve delicately, purses his mouth as if in thought, and glances over at Jeongguk.
Jeongguk starts, nearly drops the scrolls in his grasp, but Jimin looks away before Jeongguk can even blink.
And although he had expected as much, there is still an intense feeling of something heavy and sharp in his throat, the thud of blood in his ears, at the vague disinterest adorning Jimin’s face.
Jeongguk is trespassing.
His footsteps are quick and sure, each underscored by the pounding of his heart. Jeongguk moves through the courtyard swiftly, taking care to avoid the servants on their night shifts. It’s second nature, muscle memory, and he makes it past the servants’ quarters without any altercation. He’s not afraid of them, not afraid of the guards, not afraid of the King. If Jeongguk is honest, it is hardly the King’s wrath he should fear, but his brother’s.
Seokjin would deeply disapprove, but there is hardly anything Seokjin does not disapprove of.
In his heart, Jeongguk can reconcile his behavior with Seokjin’s inability to understand. After all, Seokjin had never been in love.
“Jimin?” Jeongguk breathes into the rice-paper window.
A brief silence, and then the door slides open a crack. Jimin’s lips twitch into a smile when he spies Jeongguk.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” he says, and the absurdity of his thought has Jeongguk taking his hand, slipping soundlessly into his room.
In this life, Jimin is too ingenuous, too kind.
In this life, Jeongguk makes Jimin laugh with ridiculous jokes, amazes him with stories of his adventures beyond the stifling palace, and holds him on days where he draws into himself, on days where the responsibilities of this lifetime and the crown that Jimin has no desire to wear weigh heavily on his heart.
“I, uh,” Jeongguk clears his throat. “I have something for you.”
Jimin’s eyes widen. “You do?”
Jeongguk nods, reaches into the pocket of his trousers and pulls out a small drawstring pouch.
He watches Jimin undo the tie, pull out the jade pendant.
“I saw it yesterday while I was in the village.” Jeongguk laughs nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s not that fancy, but at least nobody will think strangely when you wear it.”
It’s the half-truth. Jeongguk did see it in the village. The translucent jade had stood out from the rest of the golden wristlets and silver necklaces. It glints in the dull candlelight, looking the very same as it did hanging on the front stand of a jeweler's shop a thousand years ago.
“That is, if you want to wear it,” he adds hesitantly, says it like a question.
“Of course,” Jimin says, of course , and he motions for Jeongguk to help him put it on.
He takes the necklace, their fingers brushing. Jeongguk fumbles slightly with the clasp, trying not to touch the pale nape of Jimin’s neck. He fixes the position of the pendant, fingers the carving of a tiger curled up around itself.
Jimin shivers when the coolness of the jade makes contact with his skin. He looks lovely, eyes wide, skin rosy, and Jeongguk can’t help but think of another night, another life, another Jimin with darker skin and even darker eyes, examining the same pendant with the same scrutiny.
Jimin smiles sweetly, looks up at him through his eyelashes, and Jeongguk’s heart stutters.
The candlelight reflects off Jimin’s irises, highlights the tiny smattering of freckles across his cheeks, the peony pink of his lips.
Jimin looks like he wishes Jeongguk would kiss him.
Jeongguk thinks about Jimin a lot.
He thinks about a large field of wildflowers and starry skies, where the air always smells of honeysuckle and pollen, thinks of a walk he had taken with Jimin, and which particular walk, he doesn’t remember because they had taken so many.
Jeongguk thinks about Jimin and thinks about how they had talked to each other so politely and nervously while the sun rose and set. How they had conversed about everything and probably nothing. Wonders what it was that made them so ready to promise eternity and so ready to say goodbye to each other forever. Marvels at how easy it is to see the beginnings of things and how difficult it is to see the ends.
He thinks about the jurisprudence of the heavens, the hardness in Seokjin’s eyes, and how long it’s been since Taehyung stopped coming around.
It’s dark out.
“Come away with me.”
The words leave Jeongguk’s throat unbidden, but ring with certainty. He touches Jimin’s bare shoulder, traces down his arm, his hand.
Jimin wiggles in Jeongguk’s arms until they are face to face, noses brushing and sharing the same quiet breath.
“What do you mean?” Jimin’s voice is sleepy content and soft around the edges.
“We could go somewhere far away.”
He smiles against Jeongguk’s cheek, his fingers combing through Jeongguk’s hair. “And then?”
“And then we can be together,” Jeongguk mimes biting Jimin’s nose, and Jimin giggles, bright and yellow, the way only beginnings are.
“Together?” Jimin parrots.
“Together.” Jeongguk grabs Jimin’s hand, envelopes it in his own. “Where no one knows who you are. Where no one cares.”
Jimin smiles again, but now it doesn’t reach his eyes.
“We could do it. You know we could.”
There’s a pause. Jimin looks down at their intertwined fingers.
“Leave,” Jeongguk murmurs into his skin. “Go somewhere where no one could find us. It wouldn’t be hard. I could get us two horses, and we could be long gone by the time dawn arrives — ”
“No.” Jimin has gone stiff beside him.
Jeongguk pleads, “We could be happy.”
“We are happy.”
Jeongguk searches Jimin’s eyes for that brightness, the yellow, but Jimin sits up, tucking his feet underneath his legs, agitation in the lines of his perfect posture.
“Yesterday, I met my betrothed.”
“She’s nice,” Jimin says, picking at his perfect nails. “And pretty.”
“Mother was hoping for a summer wedding, but I think the leaves in autumn would be more beautiful, don’t you agree?”
“What do you think?” Jimin’s eyes flash, and Jeongguk wonders not for the first time when it became so easy to see the endings.
“I think that would be lovely,” he says quietly. “You will look beautiful.”
Royal life is fickle. You never know who you can trust.
“Don’t cry, Jeonggukie.” Jimin’s voice is fond.
Jeongguk grabs Jimin’s small hand, draws him close, knuckles white.
“Why didn’t you come away with me when I asked?”
“I’m sorry,” Jimin says, quiet and shallow. His hand shakes when he strokes Jeongguk’s cheek. “Don’t cry. You big baby.”
“I’m not a baby.”
Jimin giggles softly, then winces.
“Don’t move— We need to— we’ll find you a doctor.
“You’re going to be okay.”
Jimin hesitates before he smiles, and Jeongguk wonders, not for the first time, if every ending will be so cruel.
“I’m tired, Jeonggukie.”
“I– I know.” Jeongguk is careful not to jostle him. “It’s okay, just– just close your eyes. Rest a bit.”
Jimin makes a soft noise in his throat as he obeys, his hand trailing to Jeongguk’s blood-stained collar.
“I’m here. I’m right here.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I–I’ll wake you up when it’s over.”
“I’ll wake you up once we’re far away.”
“Where are we going?” Jimin asks, and this is a game Jeongguk knows how to play.
“Somewhere where no one knows who you are. Where no one cares.”
“Where we can be together.”
“Okay.” Jimin’s eyelashes flutter, lips curve. “Don’t forget to wake me up.”
“I believe you.”
Jeongguk brushes at Jimin’s face with his sleeve, swipes a thumb across his cheekbone. Wipes away the blood and the dust and the tears.
Now he could be sleeping.
For Jeongguk, there had been no concept of time before meeting Jimin.
These days, the eons of his existence crash over him like waves, dragging him under, and stretching off into a continuum so incontrovertibly, devastatingly, suffocatingly long. He doesn’t remember when he had started counting his eternity in lifetimes, only knows he’s been treading water, hopelessly drowning ever since that night, forever ago, in a flowery field now faint in his memory, his heart on fire for a boy who made him feel alive, where he had waited and waited, in vain.
It’s another millennium before they meet again.
Jeongguk always believed that each time Jimin appeared again, it was a gift. A stroke of serendipity. Another shot at destiny, a redo. But for all of Jeongguk’s second chances, there had never been a life where Jimin was already someone else’s.
He watches Jimin kiss a boy much taller than him with a nameless feeling in his chest.
It doesn’t have to matter.
Jeongguk could pick a different day to bump into Jimin, a day when Jimin’s boyfriend isn’t around.
He could run into Jimin at the library cafe. He could spill his coffee all over Jimin’s shirt, could apologize profusely for being the klutz that he is, could get Jimin’s number so he could buy him lunch in apology. They could become friends.
Jeongguk could complain about his physics class and Jimin could generously offer to help him study, lend him his old notes. They could spend time together at Jimin’s tiny studio apartment, writing essays into the night and watching movies into the weekends, fall asleep curled up next to each other on the old suede couch. He could confess to Jimin one night after weeks of lingering stares and unnecessary touches, their heads bent over the wrinkled pages of his biology textbook, faces close.
He could make Jimin forget all about his boyfriend. He could make Jimin happy.
And then they could date, fall in love. Jimin could graduate, find a job in Seoul or Busan, or another city. Jeongguk would graduate a year later, find a job in the same location, and then they could start their lives together.
They could move in together, cook dinner together, eat breakfast together, leave for work on the same train together, adopt a dog together, buy a house together, fall asleep at night and wake up together— but never grow old together. They would never be able to do that.
Jeongguk suddenly feels exhausted.
When Jeongguk gets home, Seokjin is waiting.
For a long moment, Seokjin just looks at him, mouth pursed. After all, it has been a millennium.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, and wonders since when his brother’s eyes have been so sad. Thinks maybe his brother had been in love once, after all. Forever ago, maybe.