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Ribcage Refrain

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사람들은 변하지 나도 변했듯이
People change — like I have

세상살이 영원한 건 없어
Living a life in the world, there’s nothing that lasts forever

다 지나가는 해프닝
Everything is just a happening that passes by

Agust D - People

 

Seokjin knew he had the gene. He just didn't know Yoongi had it too.

He couldn't think to expect it, actually. Had just assumed that it was statistically unlikely and that they would have swapped before, maybe. Back when they first started sharing the dorms and the soulbond was something they should be rightly concerned about, something which would affect their future. After two and a half years, Seokjin admits he might have become a little complacent, not expecting it, even though it was the most obvious answer.

Seokjin got tested for the gene when he was young, almost too young to remember. Just has an image in his mind of a strict-looking person in glasses going over his birth charts, taking a blood sample. His parents, good parents, not too traditional but not terrified of the soulbond, were happy for him, but told him not to worry about it until later.

He really should have worried about it, he thinks now.

Namjoon, too, has been tested for it. Negatively, though. Which is good for agencies when they're trying to find someone to stay and last . It's always a risk that your trainee is going to wake up one day in another body and end up making questionable life decisions - running off into the sunset with a stranger at a moment’s notice. The number of people who elope almost immediately with their soulmate is alarmingly high, even in the modern era where they're told all their lives not to do anything stupid just because the planets happened to align.

Seokjin is about to do something stupid. He knows it, hasn't quite figured out what yet.

So Namjoon has had the test, too. Only him and Seokjin of the seven of them. Because the test is expensive and only around ten percent of the population have the gene anyway. To many, it's considered a waste, unnecessary. And of course there are those who would like to find their soulmate the natural way, no testing needed (though Seokjin knows most people at least have their star charts written down).

Seokjin, at least, is glad he had a test. He was given a list, when he was younger, of all the days in the next 80 years when his planets would align, when it was possible for him and his soulmate to switch bodies. He doesn’t entirely understand the mathematics, why not everyone has the same days. Something to do with the stars when you’re born, Mercury in retrograde. That sort of thing. Some of the nights are more than one, a period of three or four days where you run the risk of switching in your sleep. Seokjin had that in high school, spent four days torn between touching everyone and no one, just in case. 

All the potential nights for a switch are programmed into his phone calendar, lining up with dentist appointments and birthdays (and the day of their debut, blocked out in red, only one exclamation mark because he isn’t letting himself get too excited). There are surprisingly few possible switch days for Seokjin. He’s only experienced five stretches so far. Every one of those nights since he hit puberty, he has prepared himself, lying in bed and trying to soothe his worries.

Breathe in. It's going to be someone you've met before. Someone you’ve touched. Not a stranger. Someone whose stars align. Breathe out. Just a kiss, and you'll switch back. Easy as that.

And each time, he awoke the next morning thinking, for a moment, that he had limbs that weren't his. A phantom feeling - there's probably a psychological name for it, waking up and thinking you've switched bodies. After a few moments, things always settle down, Seokjin realising that he's in his own body. He's fine.

Breathe in. There's a hotline for these things, if they go wrong. A number which every person memorised in school. Breathe out. It's not going to go wrong, don't let it go wrong.

And, naively, Seokjin went to bed the night before this fateful morning thinking that it would be the same as all the other days.

(In the future, he'll be eternally grateful that it didn't take a little longer. That he didn't wake up in a fan's body, a few months after an event, or in the bed of an American music executive, next to their spouse. In the future, he'll learn to be grateful for a lot of things, but for now, he's afraid.)

He wakes confused, as per the usual scheme of these mornings. A few moments where his sheets and his skin and his very mind feel weird. But he's an idiot, and puts it down to this muddled just-awake energy. To the fact that he knew it was a potential switch night, so his mind is confused even when he can hear the clear sounds of Namjoon’s snoring along with the others getting up and dressed. 

Seokjin is usually the first to rise, but this morning he feels lazy, more disoriented than usual. He scratches at his midriff, stretches out and jolts when his right arm hits a wall that really shouldn't be there.

He's only just blinking his eyes open to check that he didn’t accidentally whack someone in the face, when something hits him in the face. A balled up sock, followed quickly by a t-shirt. Both of them are not entirely clean and he indignantly bats them away before sitting up to search for the culprit.

It takes him a long few moments to realise that the culprit is him, in his own bed, staring wildly back at him. And then another few moments to realise that no, in fact, it is not him. Nor is it his reflection. It is someone else in his body.

Oh shit. Oh shit.

After that, it's a matter of taking stock and trying to absorb information as it's thrown at him. It's all awfully overwhelming, so he breaks it into pieces.

Number one: The day is some day in May, a few weeks before their debut. It explains why his limbs are tired and achy, and the others are all groaning as they drag themselves out of bed, ready for another long day.

Two: He is in a bed which is not his own, staring across the room at a face that is his own. He's on the top bunk, on the far side of the room, which means-

"You're up early, Hyung," Hoseok says, appearing from the bunk underneath him, head popping up like a meerkat. Seokjin recoils, not expecting to be addressed so fast. He’d appreciate a couple of moments alone, a pause in time as he works out who is in his body, what this means, how to respond to statements like that. As Seokjin tries to gather his wits, Hoseok gives him a weird, but still genial look. "I'll get some coffee going."

Oh , Seokjin thinks, looking down at his hands properly for the first time. Large, pale, capable and a little calloused. There's raw skin around his thumbnails that's painful to touch, but even as he's realising that, he's getting distracted by the rest of his limbs.

No matter how many times he's thought about it, he couldn't have been prepared for the feeling of being in someone else's body. All too normal and all too irregular at the same time. There’s something entirely frightening about it. Even when it's one of his own group-mates. Even when it's-

"Yoongi-hyung!" Jimin calls, marching back into the room. Seokjin doesn't look up, it's not his name, but Jimin is standing at the foot of his bed. This bed, the bed that isn't his, is rather- "Sorry, should I call you Suga-hyung to get your attention?"

Seokjin's head snaps up, everything finally slotting in place. He doesn't look at Jimin, but rather over the room, towards himself, towards Yoongi. Who is looking back at him with eyes a mixture of shocked and angry and terrified. Who has a pair of shorts in his hand like he was ready to throw it. Who is, it transpires, Seokjin's soulmate.

The next few minutes are chaotic. Seokjin only gets a few moments to stare into Yoongi's eyes and try to sort out his own thoughts before Jimin is tugging at his arm, getting his attention for some styling choice or other. He clumsily climbs down from his bunk, absentmindedly nods at what Jimin is saying. He tries to speak, but he’s afraid of his vocal chords, what they’d sound like. It’s one thing inhabiting Yoongi’s body, it’s another saying things in his voice. Taking claim over the thing that Yoongi holds most valuable.

Luckily, Yoongi has never been a talker in the morning, so Jimin doesn’t seem to notice how quiet he is being. He’s trying not to glance back at Yoongi too often, but it’s hard. He doesn’t know what the protocol is here. Maybe he should just tell Jimin right now, tell all of them. But something in his gut says no.

Breathe in. It's just Yoongi. You know Yoongi. Breathe out. It's the rest of your life you have in your hands, be careful.

Hoseok shoves a mug of hot coffee into his hands with a smile and goes to rouse Namjoon and Jeongguk, shaking their shoulders with increasing firmness. Jeongguk is almost awake but he looks like he’s about to slip right back into sleep if one of them doesn’t do something, so Seokjin meanders over, carefully holding his mug with unfamiliar fingers, and yanks at Jeongguk’s sheets.

“Ah, Hyung ,” Jeongguk whines, but then his eyes widen when he sees who it is. Seokjin stalls, too. Yoongi doesn’t do things like that. Yoongi usually wouldn’t even be awake by now, let alone up and moving and pulling the maknae out of bed. 

He panics for a moment and then tries to affect a Yoongi-ish air, pulling a face and shrugging. Jeongguk gives him a weird look but doesn’t go back to sleep, rolling out of bed and rubbing at his eyes. Seokjin turns away, sees his own big eyes watching him, still perched in the nest up on the top bunk, like a chick afraid to fly.

Yoongi looks small in Seokjin’s body. He’s hunched over - his posture has always been terrible - and his arms are around his torso, hugging himself tight. He looks like he’s thinking, still scared, but over the initial shock. Seokjin, too, feels somewhat better after moving around some. The untouched coffee is warming his hands and he’s stretching out limbs that feel like they should be a metre or so away. 

He’s read about this, how weird it feels to be in someone else’s body. But nothing really prepared him for it. Especially being in a familiar environment. The top side rail of the bunkbeds come above his eyes where usually he can see over them. The mug he must have held a hundred times feels odd in his hands, heavier but smaller, too. It’s strange, to say the least, disconcerting.

“Are you ill, Jin-hyung?” Hoseok asks, and Seokjin is about to answer but then:

“Yeah, I think so,” Yoongi says, and it’s so weird to hear Seokjin’s voice like that. Yoongi is used to saying things lower in his throat, quieter maybe. He really does sound ill, like he has a cold or something, and, combined with how pale he looks, it’s convincing. “Quite rough, actually.”

Hoseok is kind enough to make a fuss, calling through to the kitchen for Namjoon to make some soothing tea. They don’t really have time for that, but Seokjin can see what Yoongi is angling for. A morning off, maybe. Or even half an hour more to process this, to sort it out. 

When Taehyung, toothbrush in his mouth, also pokes his head in the room, looking concerned, Seokjin decides it’s probably time to do something, rather than just standing slack-mouthed until the others notice there’s something wrong with him (or rather, Yoongi).

“I’ll look after him.” He tries to put all of his acting skills to good use, slaps on one of those confident smirks that Yoongi has in his repertoire. “We’re just working on our verses this morning and mine’s already better than anything either of you could write.”

He hears a “Fuck off, Hyung!” from Namjoon in the kitchen, and figures he’s done alright, turns to Yoongi with a proud little smile on his face. This could be fun. Yoongi levels him with an unimpressed look.

“Sure,” Hoseok says, texting their manager a quick update. “Do you think you’ll need the whole day?” He looks anxious, biting at his lower lip, and it’s understandable. Missing one day when you’re a trainee is sometimes all you need to drop out. At this point, a few weeks before debut, it’s the sort of time no one can afford to waste. 

“I’ll be fine,” Yoongi says. “Just give me an hour or so.” He attempts Seokjin’s attitude as well, terribly, though the fact that he’s ‘sick’ should make up for it. “Uh - Yoongi will take care of me.”

“Great,” Hoseok says, already distracted in ushering Taehyung out of the room. Seokjin thinks he and Yoongi might have a moment alone, but then Jeongguk wonders in to find something to wear, and Seokjin forces himself to get moving again, coffee still carefully held in his fingers. 

He feels like he’s constantly tripping over his limbs. Legs too short, fingers too long. His hair feels weird, too, heavier, somehow, and he never thought that Yoongi would have such terrible eyesight. He almost remarks upon that when he realises that there are still others in the room. 

They’re fortunate that, this close to debut, the others don’t have the time or patience or sense to stop and evaluate what’s going on. Seokjin dawdles in various places, pretending to drink his coffee and be productive. Yoongi seems to go back to sleep, tucked under the sheets, and Seokjin tries not to watch him too hard. It doesn’t help that he hasn’t found Yoongi’s glasses, everything just a little bit blurrier than usual. He keeps squinting at things, wondering how Yoongi copes without them.

And then the others are bundling out of their dorm, out and down with Namjoon sending one last concerned look towards them. He knows something is up, probably, just can’t figure out what. The door shuts with a resounding click and Seokjin and Yoongi are alone. 

Seokjin waits a few moments before heading back into the bedroom, taking a moment to gather his wits, to put on a straight face. To breathe.

"So," Seokjin says, leaning against the door. (It’s still unsettling that he has to put his head at a different angle to make eye contact with someone on the top bunk.) "We should talk."

"Are you going to drink that?" Yoongi says, instead of starting a proper conversation. His eyes are on the still full mug in Seokjin's hands. Untouched and more lukewarm than drinkable now.

"Ah, you know my stomach doesn't like caffeine," Seokjin whines, but acquiesces at the look Yoongi gives him, crossing the room to hand over the mug. Yoongi takes care not to let their fingers brush when Seokjin extends his arm up.

It feels odd to part with the mug, he'd been using it as an anchor, something keeping him in place in this unfamiliar environment. Without it, he feels a bit naked, crossing his arms over his chest and wincing when something twinges in his shoulder.

Yoongi doesn't seem to care about the coldness of the coffee, just drinks it down with barely a flinch. 

Seokjin, unable to bring himself to begin the conversation, takes a moment to watch his own features. It's definitely disconcerting. He's used to seeing himself in a mirror, his features flipped. His hair is sticking up at the back, something he can fix when they switch back -

Ah.

When they kiss to switch back.

He eyes his own lips worriedly.

Over time, it’s just become a cultural norm that soulmates - or whatever you call the two people who switch - are destined to be together. In a sort of fates entwined, stars aligned sort of way. In a big love, never breaking up sort of way. Obviously, not every pairing stays together. Things happen that change people, that change relationships. Seokjin’s cousin broke up with her soulmate two years ago and she seems happy whenever he sees her. 

But there is some truth in it, Seokjin knows. There’s a reason why people switch, because their planets are aligned, those complex systems that astronomers and doctors are still trying to work out. After they touch (just once is enough), the switch is liable to happen on one of the days again. Seokjin still doesn’t understand it completely, but he thinks that’s the point. Society wants them to stay a little in the dark, to believe this is a mysterious force that has thrust them together and they should stay faithful to that notion all their lives. 

(Seokjin tries not to think about how he’s heard Yoongi denouncing that system more than once. In lyrics, too. In tipsy ranting and in muttered conversations about the pressures and failures of the world and all its systems.)

It’s kind of ironic that this is happening to them, now. But Seokjin doesn’t dwell on it. Tries (and fails) to not dwell on the fact that they have to kiss soon.

The Kiss is a big thing. Where the whole True Love’s Kiss came from, even for people who don’t have the gene, they dream of that sort of love, that sort of undeniable circumstance. Their choices being made for them. Divine rather than stifling.

Seokjin has seen The Kiss portrayed in a few movies, turning the switch into a romantic, comedic thing, rather than the kind of terrifying notion which it actually is. The protagonists always lean forward for a chaste peck and then the screen whirls or cuts to black or has some weird camera trickery and suddenly they're back in their own bodies.

He has no idea if that is how it'll work with him and Yoongi. A single peck doesn't seem powerful enough to switch them back. And certainly he doesn't think the both of them will lean back in for another afterwards, like the love interests always do in those films.

He snorts at the concept and Yoongi sends him a look.

"Stop using my face for your snarky expressions," Seokjin pokes, trying to get Yoongi to smile for the first time this morning, "I don't want it to get stuck that way."

Yoongi doesn’t smile, but the corner of his lip twitches up and he looks down, scrunching his nose.

It's a moment of light relief which quickly settles into something more serious. Seokjin finds himself rubbing at the sore shoulder nervously. 

"So, you've got the gene, huh?"

"Seems so," Yoongi says, looking forlornly into the drained cup.

"You didn't know?" Seokjin asks, tentative.

"Of course I didn’t know, why would you think-" Yoongi's face (his for the moment, at least) rapidly turns from confused to understanding and then a little bitter.

Seokjin wouldn't blame him, if he hadn't told the truth. A lot of people wouldn't. Some might lie when they sign up to an agency, just for a chance at stardom. Seokjin told BigHit upfront, was lucky they kept him. Indeed, his contract was more thoroughly looked over than a trainee without a risk like that. But someone more desperate to debut than him, someone like Yoongi, might have kept their test under wraps.

"You think I'd lie about that?" Yoongi asks. He doesn't seem hurt, just closed off a little, like Seokjin underestimated him and he's cutting off from him in turn. There's a pause where Seokjin watches him, curiously, and Yoongi deflates under his gaze. "Well, I didn't, so it doesn't matter."

"Come on," Seokjin says, beckoning, "Let's eat."

"Before switching back?" Yoongi asks, like Seokjin is insane. "Let's do it right now."

"We've got time," Seokjin says, "and I know my body, if we don't get food in it now it'll be useless the rest of the day. Especially after you drank coffee on an empty stomach."

He turns to the kitchen as Yoongi looks worriedly down at his belly, distracting himself by trying to find a decent meal to make. He wasn't lying when he said it would be a good idea for them to eat; from the stories, switching back takes a lot of energy out of a person. His cousin said that she threw up right after her switch, and he is keen not to replicate that. Even if he isn’t planning on having a rom-com second kiss moment with Yoongi after they switch back. 

But there's an ulterior motive for him too, to spin this out a little longer. To work out some of the tangled threads between them before Yoongi has his own body back and can run away from Seokjin. And before Seokjin can run away from Yoongi. This way, they're both stuck there, both forced to say what's needed.

Breathe in. Debut is less than a month away. Breathe out. Just talk it out, it'll solve your problems.

Hopefully.

He's just reaching for the pan on the top shelf, arm stretching up, when there's a blistering pain running through the length of his arm, starting from the sore joint that he'd been rubbing earlier. He grimaces, drawing back and cradling the shoulder with his other hand. What the fuck was that?

Behind him, he hears Yoongi meander in, footsteps sounding uneven, unused to Seokjin's gait.

"Yoongi," Seokjin turns to him, voice tight, "Your shoulder."

Yoongi's face - Seokjin's eyes, lips, brow - crumples for a moment and he looks away. "It's nothing, Hyung, just worked it too hard yesterday."

Seokjin scoffs, he knows how aching muscles feel, how you wake up the next day almost unable to move them. This pain is different, bone deep and a dulled kind of searing. Like it's ingrained there, belongs there. He massages it again and clenches his teeth when another spark of pain flares through him. "How long have you had this?"

"Doesn't matter," Yoongi mumbles. "Let go of it, Hyung."

"Yoongi, how long?"

"It's nothing," Yoongi evades the question again. "It's worse in the morning, anyway."

That isn't comforting in the slightest, but Seokjin can see that if he keeps pushing Yoongi might just end up lashing out, and though he also wants to be able to help, it's really none of his business. Not right now, at least. Maybe later, once they're back in their bodies and have sorted this.

"I'll make breakfast," Yoongi says. "Just don't move it that much, told you we should have switched straight away."

Seokjin pulls a face at him when his back is turned, slumping down at the kitchen table. Something in him feels untethered. This isn't how he'd ever imagined, ever expected his switch day to go. When he was younger, he'd naively dreamed of the romance they spun in fairy tales. True Love's Kiss is the only way to switch back (or so the story goes). When he was a little older, he thought of it as one of those life events.

Graduating high school. Getting his first job. Losing his virginity. Switching with his soulmate. (Not necessarily in that order.)

So part of him is still in shock that it was Yoongi . His grouchy but loveable roommate and soon-to-be official bandmate. The person he's spent two and a half years working and singing and sweating with. The person who spits out rap about hurts that Seokjin has never experienced, who is as quick to throw up a shell around himself as he is to drop it as soon as one of them needs help.

Breathe in. It's just Yoongi. Breathe out. Yoongi is not 'just' anything.

"We'll be fine," Seokjin says, as he watches Yoongi fumble together some leftovers. "This is not-"

"Don't say it's not a big deal, Hyung," Yoongi says, voice wrung thin. "Don't fucking say it's not a big deal."

Seokjin snorts, "Of course it's a big deal, I was going to say that it's not going to affect debut. We won't let it."

Yoongi doesn't turn around, just pauses for a moment before continuing on with the food preparation. Seokjin watches him, beginning to understand why the others make so many jokes about his shoulders.

"How is it not going to affect debut?" Yoongi asks, after another minute or so of silence. Honestly, Seokjin was expecting a heated discussion from the get go, maybe an awkward kiss-and-run sort of thing. Rather than Yoongi placing a plate down in front of him and gesturing for him to eat. "There's literally no way this won't affect debut, Hyung. We have to get registered and then BigHit's going to push it back a couple more months and conveniently drop us or-"

"We've got too much momentum to push it back now," Seokjin says, "It would cost the company too much. They won't kick us out."

Yoongi snorts, like he doesn't believe it.

"Besides," Seokjin says, inhales a deep, rattling breath, fiddling with the hem of his shorts, "it's not like we're going to tell anyone."

Yoongi's gaze snaps up to meet his and Seokjin hates how it feels like he's looking in a mirror. Looking at his own reflection. A scared young man. Thrust into this situation when he's so close to getting what he's always dreamed of. What he's worked towards for years.

Breathe in. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Breathe out. There's only one thing to do, really.

Yoongi knows it, too. Seokjin can see it in his face. 

"Are you saying we just keep it to ourselves?" Yoongi asks. "Don't tell the others. Don't tell the company."

Seokjin nods, though he feels like he doesn't need to. Yoongi didn't tell anyone this morning, just threw dirty clothes at Seokjin until he woke up. He didn't look happy, or excited, or even mildly pleased that they switched. Neither of them want nor need to be in this situation right now.

The best thing for the both of them would be to at least wait until they're at a more stable point to address this. One where everything they've worked so hard for won't come crumbling down around them.

Yoongi still looks hesitant, though, and Seokjin is too, but he pushes through, is strong for the both of them.

“Yoongi, you know this isn’t the best time."

"It's the worst time," Yoongi laughs, kind of delirious, and it's weird to hear Seokjin's laugh from another source, lower from Yoongi's soul. "God, this is such shit timing."

"I know," Seokjin says, and shovels food in his mouth before he says something stupid like, ‘ Maybe under different circumstances .’ Like if he'd met Yoongi in a bar, or in class, it would be okay, they could do this.

“Hyung,” Yoongi says, his fingers tight on his chopsticks. “Look, we can sort something out.” 

A pause. Seokjin thinks, really tries to project ahead. They're all already running on too little sleep. Too little time for themselves, for their families. After debut it's going to be even more hectic.

“I don’t feel that way about you,” Seokjin says, “Do you feel that way about me?” 

Yoongi seems to falter, to realise. It’s been two and a half years in the dorms together. Two and a half years. Surely by now they would have felt something. That cosmic force. Two and a half years sharing everything, often spending over twenty hours a day in the same room. Two and a half years, in that time something should have shifted. If they were supposed to be romantic, that is. Surely, they’d already be in love.

Yoongi shakes his head, a curt little no that feels final, hurts Seokjin's chest though he doesn't know why.

“We’re busy,” Seokjin says, “and we’re about to debut .” 

“I know,” Yoongi says, looking miserable. Seokjin sympathises, all of his hopes and dreams are coming true in the next few months and all he can think of is how this conversation would have played out in any other situation.

But he was right, if they're not in love now, they'll probably never be. And keeping it secret from the others, from the company, from the government, will smooth over any of the issues that would have arisen otherwise.

"So we pretend like this never happened," Yoongi says. "Even with each other, we just ignore it?"

Seokjin hadn't been thinking about that, had been too worried about the big picture but - "Yeah. We just switch back and then forget about it."

"Forget about it," Yoongi echoes, a twist in his voice that's half humorous and half bitter. "This sounds like an awful plan."

"Yeah," Seokjin smiles weakly back at him. It's the sort of situation he never thought he'd get into, but it's the only thing that makes sense to him. And to Yoongi too.

Telling anyone isn't an option. Even acknowledging that they're apparently meant to be together feels like it'll backfire.

Breathe in. Maybe later, in a few years, you'll sort something out, get back on cosmic track. Breathe out. For now, just focus on getting through the next year. Focus on Bangtan.