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In this life, Yoongi loses him, as he has in so many before.

There’s nothing he can do as Jeongguk’s parents load up the last of the cardboard boxes, neatly labeled—Kitchenware, Jeonhyun’s Books, Keepsakes—into the back of their 1951 Standard Vanguard, check the mailbox one last time, pile in and in. Close the doors. Most of their belongings have gone on ahead of them—wherever they’re going. Yoongi hasn’t bothered to remember specifics, not when he knows there is no use. He won’t be staying here long—he never stays, not when Jeongguk leaves, or dies, or is taken from him in one form or another.

He had hoped that this would be the one. They’re childhood friends, neighbours in their little suburb in New York. Yoongi’s mother used to babysit Jeongguk and his older brother sometimes, when Mrs. Jeon had appointments or dates with her husband or was otherwise predisposed; that’s how they become friends, really, with Yoongi as something barely older than a baby himself promising his mother that if he got to play with little Gukkie, he wouldn’t ask for extra dessert at dinner. Wouldn’t pull his brother’s hair, wouldn’t do anything but sit and watch the television like she wanted him to.

It’s only been seven years, he thinks idly—which is much more than he gets sometimes, and he has to admit that knowing Jeongguk for all seven years has been much nicer than some of the others. Two lives ago, he’d searched for Jeongguk for thirty-eight years only to lose him at the last second. Like always. But he had hoped this would be the one, because growing up with Jeongguk would have been perfect. He had had it planned out since he’d been old enough to remember—he’d steal Jeongguk’s first kiss, he’d ask him on a date as soon as they were old enough, they’d run away together because it’s the 50s and Yoongi knows they’ll never be accepted, even in their own homes.

It was going to be… it.

And then—Mr. Jeon got a new job, somewhere in Connecticut, which isn’t even far from New York, but for an eleven-year-old, it’s a world, a world, a world away.

He watches Jeongguk climb into the back of the car from where he’s watching out of his bedroom window; he knows he should say goodbye, knows that Jeongguk will live the rest of this life remembering the boy from across the street who had loved him for seven years and then not even bothered to see him off, but Yoongi… Yoongi is bitter. Yoongi is frustrated. He always is at the end, when he realizes that all of his efforts have been in vain—again. It’s always again.

Of course, there is still the chance that this isn’t the end. Perhaps Yoongi will have the chance to grow up suffocated in New York and when he’s graduated, gone off to college and finally given the freedom he wishes he had now, he can look Jeongguk up in the phone book. He’ll find that his little bunny boy has grown so well, like he always does, that he’s still a high school student somewhere in Connecticut with his hair slicked back and all of the girls chasing after him, and he’ll drive all the way from New York just to surprise him. They’ll fall in love. They’ll live as bohemians on the outskirts of some growing city, never allowed to reach the American Dream because no one has ever offered it to them. But they’ll be happy, whole, together—finally.

But Yoongi feels the familiar slipping feeling when the car starts driving away—like he’s floating, a bit, waiting to sink into the ocean of nothingness that welcomes him at times like these. The retreating car swims before him, as does the street—perfectly manicured lawns, identical houses, asphalt and patterned skirts and Buddy Holly on the radio. He stumbles backward as the blinds go blurry too, his heart beginning to race. He hates this part, always has—not only because it physically hurts, his palms sweating and head pounding, but because it means he failed again, he lost Jeongguk again, and whatever he had here will disappear as soon as he feels himself collapse.

He realizes, a little belatedly, that he’ll actually miss this life. His dad took him to baseball games, they had a dog, he’d gotten the chance to be a child again. But he’s slipping, which means there is nothing to stay for here—he’ll never find Jeongguk again here, no matter his plans, no matter his hopes. Jeongguk had been the best part of this life, anyway, as he always is, so Yoongi lets out a gasp as his foot catches on something, maybe a stack of comics he forgot to clean up, and he’s falling, falling.

Yoongi slips into darkness, and then there is nothing.

When he wakes, in the very next instant, it’s to a dark room and a headache and the smell of smoke. He stares at the ceiling for a moment—at least he assumes it’s the ceiling, but he can never be sure. (He’d once woken up in the middle of a cornfield, once floating in a river. Once under the dining room table of a prominent soldier in the Roman army, and since then, he’s learned how to be careful.)

Then Yoongi groans, rolls over and discovers he’s in a bed—or was, because he manages to roll off of it and onto the hard ground below with a thump and another groan. It does nothing to help his headache, and he just breathes for a long moment. He can’t figure out where or when or who he is if he can’t even think, and once he’s sure he can move again, he slowly stands up. His eyes are pulled to the window, thin streams of light attempting to move through the blinds that are blocking it out. He stumbles over, almost tripping on whatever is left on the floor—bottles?—and then pulls the blinds.

He regrets it immediately, when the full force of the afternoon sun hits his eyes and he’s forced to jerk back, squinting. It makes the headache worse, somehow, and—fucking hell, he has a hangover. It’s not the worst state he’s woken up in, but he much prefers rest and relaxation.

The light from the window allows him to examine the room, though, once his eyes have gotten used to it. The first thing he notices is the massive Def Leppard poster on the wall—along with posters of other rock bands, something about motorcycles, Blade Runner. The walls are painted black, matching the bedspread. There are shelves, too, holding what looks like a mix of motorcycle memorabilia and cigarette packs, lighters, a grey Nintendo console.

He can’t ignore the mess of clothing and other belongings scattered across the floor, the desk—a massive metal stereo with a pile of cassettes beside it. He can see what looks like an electric guitar carefully placed in a stand in the corner of the room, perhaps the only part of the whole ensemble that isn’t hastily shoved somewhere. He can’t ignore the cans either, all empty, which might explain the headache.

Yoongi shuffles toward the door, needing a mirror; he’s already noticed the leather jacket he’s wearing, along with the dark jeans, the massive combat boots. He can only guess what the rest of him looks like, and as he peeks out of the bedroom door and fumbles his way toward where he hopes the bathroom is, he can also guess what time period he’s in, too.

It’ll all come to him soon enough, he knows—when he first wakes, he can never remember the past memories of the life he’s been thrown into, only the memories of all of the other lives he’s lived before—but he doesn’t like waiting. He has one goal, one objective in every life, and the sooner he can start looking for Jeongguk, the better.

It’s likely muscle memory that leads him to the bathroom and as he flips on the switch, he instantly catches sight of himself in the mirror. Yoongi freezes, staring at the boy (man?) that stares back at him. He gets it almost instantly, who he is, when he is. He can’t deny the bit of excitement that stirs in his chest as he leans closer to the mirror and inspects the mint green hair he’s sporting, and the stark tattoos peeking out from under the leather jacket and AC/DC shirt he’s wearing. He quite literally has a split lip—and split knuckles—and perhaps the headache is from more than just a hangover, especially as he sees the beginnings of a bruise blooming on his right cheekbone.

It comes to him, then, just a bit—the very basic knowledge.

In this life, Yoongi is a rebellious high school drop out. He is twenty-two years old, should have gone to college by now instead of still being stuck in his parents’ house. In this life, he drives a motorcycle, smokes too many cigarettes, laughs at the kids who talk about Star Wars in the mechanic shop he works at—he’s smart, kind of. Doesn’t apply himself, his teachers used to say. In this life, the when is 1985. The where is Henderson, Texas. The who is—is something he’ll learn, he knows. The who of Jeongguk is something he’ll learn, too.

He always does.

When all of this had first started, it had taken Yoongi one, two, three lives to begin to understand what the universe was granting him. In his first life, he had been a fisherman in the early twentieth century and he hadn’t meant to fall in love with anything but the sea, not really. It hadn’t really mattered when he’d lost Jeongguk, anyway, and lived the rest of his long life alone and miserable and wishing, praying for something else. Another chance. He hadn’t believed in reincarnation then, but when he finally succumbed to liver failure, thanks to his drinking, he hadn’t gone onto an afterlife, hadn’t simply gone into nothingness for eternity.

Instead, Yoongi woke in England in the year 1038 as a scribe, aged twenty-six. Instead, Yoongi found himself living again, the memories of the past coming to him slowly. His body and mind seemed to have lived an entire life without him, but his life as a fisherman was still warm in the palm of his hand. But he lived nonetheless, working as a scribe for nine years until, when his brother finally convinced him to take a wife, everything began to get hazy. It felt like he was floating, a bit, the world swimming even as the world spun around him, like nothing was wrong.

Then it was as though Yoongi merely winked out of existence—out of his life—and woke in another, the memories of the past nine years—and the forty-some before that—tucked neatly away in the back of his mind. He came to understand, then, what it meant: reincarnation, of a sort, at least. His consciousness was propelled, again and again, into different versions of himself at different periods of time in human history, seemingly at random.

It wasn’t until the end of that third life that Yoongi began to understand why.

Yoongi ran into him at a farmer’s market in Gyeongju—Jeongguk. It shocked him to see the other man standing there beside the peaches and mandarin oranges, speaking to the woman selling the fruit about prices and production and how her son was faring. But it was him—the same doe eyes, the same bunny teeth, the same selflessness as he fretted over giving more money than necessary to the stall owner. It was him, and Yoongi was so sure it was a dream, his first love here, alive, with him.

“Guk?” he’d asked, startling the other man, who turned to look at Yoongi with a bewildered expression. And… there was no recognition, no love. Jeongguk stared at him, expression and body language becoming increasingly frightened as Yoongi tried to push it, because this was Jeongguk and somehow they had both been reincarnated. It was only once Jeongguk was on the verge of tears and threatening to have him arrested that Yoongi realized—Jeongguk didn’t know him. Jeongguk didn’t know him.

As soon as Yoongi walked away, his life having lasted a total of three days, he started slipping. The market swam before him, he felt himself falling and falling, and then nothing.

He woke, again. A new life, new memories, new knowledge of the world he had been propelled into. He began to put the pieces together, at least when he met Jeongguk again six months later—for the first time, it seemed, for one of them. And he got it—the universe was giving Yoongi another chance to make things right. The universe was giving him another chance, and another, and another to be with Jeongguk, like they should have been in their first lives. The universe has been giving him chances for longer than he cares to remember—centuries, it seems, propelling Yoongi across nations and history in order to try again, again, again. To make Jeongguk his, because he couldn’t the first time.

It makes sense, then, that Yoongi is the only one who retains the memories of his past lives—because it’s his fault. It’s his duty now, his chances. When he loses Jeongguk for good in a life, Yoongi slips and reincarnates into the next lifetime—a new time period, a new situation. He always has the same name, the same face, just like Jeongguk, but it’s always a clean slate. It’s always another chance to get it right this time, this time, this time.

Perhaps something ought to be said about the fact that Yoongi has needed so many chances—but something always tears them apart. It never works. The timing is never right—Jeongguk falls in love with someone else first, or Yoongi doesn’t find him in time, or one of them dies. Yoongi isn’t sure what would happen if he finally succeeded in this game the universe seems to be playing with him, but he doesn’t stop to wonder about it—every time he wakes up, he searches until he finds Jeongguk, and then—then something goes wrong, inevitably. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes he wakes up and Jeongguk is already there, a friend, a co-worker. In all of his best lives, they’re already in love.

In this life, Yoongi discovers they are. It comes to him in bits, in pieces, as he moves through his bedroom and inspects the various items there—the parts of his new self that he will become better acquainted with while he’s here. He hopes, as he does in every new life, that this will be the last one. The one where he gets it right, where Jeongguk doesn’t slip out of his grasp like every other life before. He doesn’t think he would mind being this Yoongi for the rest of his life—he’s always wanted tattoos. He’s always wanted to be the cool kid.

The memories come to him as he relearns the room. The Metallica poster is from the concert he snuck into last year with some of his friends, a bottle of Jack Daniel hidden in the front of his jacket. The watch is from his boss, an old, overweight man who only hired Yoongi at his mechanic shop because Yoongi’s successful, older brother called in a favour—Yoongi nicked it three months ago after admiring it for three before that. The empty cigarette packs and beer cans are from the night before, the reason for the hangover that has slowly begun to disappear now that he’s woken up and drunk water and snuck a bowl of cereal from the kitchen; none of us friends had been free to hang out, so he’d decided to drink alone, even though Jeongguk doesn’t like it—

Jeongguk.

Yoongi gasps involuntarily, hand jerking across the shelf, but he pays no mind to the little trophy he knocks onto the floor (it’s the only award he’d ever gotten in school, and it was bought from Family Dollar by one of the janitors, tape and marker scrawling out Most Detentions in a Single School Year over the original #1 Dad! inscription). He lurches toward his desk, grabbing the keys to his motorcycle before hurrying out of the door, because—because he remembers. He remembers Jeongguk, the past twenty years of this life surging up in front of him as he slams the front door behind him.

Jeongguk, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his converse shoes and his chemistry textbooks. Jeongguk, with his blushing cheeks and his sweater paws and his big, big eyes.

Yoongi can feel a sort of relief rising in his throat as he knocks out the kickstand of his bike—a black 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000—and starts it; he fears he might start crying as he backs out of the driveway and takes off down the street, roaring through the little Texan town—in his past life, he had been able to grow up with Jeongguk, but they had been children. The life before, he’d known Jeongguk for a total of two months before he’d found out about the cancer. But here, now, the imprint of Jeongguk’s hand against his, the feel of his lips against Yoongi’s jaw is so real that he almost forgets he hasn’t actually discovered it himself yet.

He knows without having driven the route where he’s meant to go, overshooting the speed limit as he dares his bike to go faster, faster, he needs to see him, needs to confirm it himself. Part of him hopes Jeongguk will be able to hear him coming, hopes it leaves butterflies swooping in his stomach the same way they’re swooping in Yoongi’s now, discrediting every rebellious attitude that hangs about him like smoke. (In every life, Yoongi is soft, soft, soft for Jeongguk. His love for breaking the rules in this one thankfully doesn’t seem to change that.)

Yoongi turns another street, swerving around a car in the middle of the street and ignoring the honking—Henderson is the sort of town that doesn’t bother with stoplights, no traffic to conduct, anyway, and as he turns another corner, he sees his destination: the high school.

Heart hammering in his chest, Yoongi disregards all courtesy and urges his bike onto the sidewalk, then the grass. He rips across the parking lot, then through the tennis courts on the side of the school. He has Jeongguk’s schedule memorized, and a glance at his watch tells him the boy should be finishing his last class right about now. The school buses are already pulling into the school, parents waiting to pick up their freshmen, and something pangs in Yoongi’s chest when he knows, even without having to remember it, that he can’t wait there. Instead, he drives his bike to the back of the school, cutting the engine and setting up the kickstand where he’s sure no one will find it, and then he lights a cigarette and waits.

It doesn’t take long for the school bell to ring, signalling the end of the day. Then he waits and waits, anticipation building his gut the shorter his cigarette gets. Once he’s smoked it down to the smallest stub, he throws it near the front tire of his bike, taking a moment to inspect one of the side mirrors on the machine because—

“Hyung?”

Yoongi’s head snaps up, and all he can think is—finally.

The boy standing in front of him, carefully tucked against the wall of the school and hugging a textbook to his chest, is the image of innocence—overalls, a striped shirt under it (too big—the sleeves practically cover his hands), black hair carefully swept off of his forehead. He’s staring at Yoongi with those big eyes, like he’s a little unsure of himself and—Yoongi wants to wreck him. Instead, he swings his leg over his bike, straightening his jacket before he takes a few steps forward, moving until he can crowd the other boy up against the wall. He places his palm on the wall next to the boy’s head, smirks. Then he says, “Baby.”

And Jeongguk melts, back hitting the wall as he leans against it a little, lips curling into a bright grin. His teeth catch on his bottom lip, like he’s trying to hold it back, but Yoongi can’t miss the way he seems to flush just from that one word—even if it’s Yoongi’s favourite pet name for him. It’s been months and he never fails to get a reaction, and it’s—delicious, the way he can just look at Jeongguk and the younger boy will lose his train of thought, forget entirely what he’s meant to be doing.

“Hi,” says Jeongguk, voice barely above a whisper as he hugs the textbook a little closer. In lieu of returning the greeting, Yoongi takes a moment to look both ways. When he doesn’t spot anyone watching them, he ducks his head and presses his lips against Jeongguk’s. The action draws a surprised squeak from Jeongguk, which only serves to make Yoongi press a little harder, tongue darting out to drag along the seam of Jeongguk’s closed mouth, but before either of them can take it any further, he pulls back with a nip at the younger boy’s bottom lip.

There’s a smirk on his lips when he sees how Jeongguk is looking at him, face barely an inch from his as Yoongi says, “Hi, cutie.”

Jeongguk stutters through his response—“How w-was work?”

Idly, Yoongi thinks he was supposed to go to work today. Instead of thinking about it, he kisses Jeongguk again. It doesn’t have quite the same effect as the first one, unfortunately—partially because Jeongguk seems to realize it for what it is, one of his hands pushing weakly against Yoongi’s chest in protest. He pouts at Yoongi when he finally pulls away.

“You didn’t go, did you?” he asks.

“I was—preoccupied.”

“You mean you were hungover.”

Yoongi has never been good at lying to Jeongguk—not in this life, not in any life. He doesn’t mean to make a face, but he feels the frown anyway, and then Jeongguk is sighing, the hand on his chest sliding down to tangle its fingers in the hem of Yoongi’s shirt. His eyes are downcast, too, when he mumbles, “I told you not to drink.”

And Yoongi feels bad, but only a little, because he likes when Jeongguk is like this—pouty and needy and small, needing every bit of attention he can get. He’s not good at staying mad at Yoongi, anyway, especially when the man uses his free hand to pry Jeongguk’s fingers away from his shirt and locks their hands together instead, ducking his head again so he can press a kiss to Jeongguk’s cheek this time.

“I know, baby,” he says. It’s not an apology, nor an explanation. But he’s counting on everything else about the situation—their proximity, the way he peppers kisses along the rest of Jeongguk’s face until he reaches his lips again—to smooth it over. Their relationship is far from perfect, but Yoongi finds he can’t be upset when it’s the closest he’s gotten in lifetimes.

“How was school?” he asks.

Jeongguk’s sigh says enough, leaning his head back against the wall as he replies, “Nightmare. Sophia Emerson is the biggest pain in my butt.”

“Which one is she again? Acne girl or—”

“Stop,” Jeongguk giggles. “We’re co-leaders of Yearbook Club.”

“Ah,” says Yoongi knowingly, removing his hand from the wall so he can trace his fingers over Jeongguk’s nose, cheekbones, chin, distracted as he speaks. “Four eyes.”

Hey, I have glasses,” pouts Jeongguk, drawing Yoongi’s attention to them and he grins, thinking about how cute they make the boy look—he’s had glasses in other lives, too, but never quite like this, never paired with the overalls and the bit of fringe getting into his eyes. It’s something else entirely.

Yoongi pushes the glasses up Jeongguk’s nose a bit, leaning in as he says, “They make you look fucking adorable, though. Samantha Elderson—”

“Sophia Emerson.”

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m trying to compliment you, baby.”

Jeongguk’s cheeks go pink again, just the way Yoongi likes them—what he’d give to have him constantly flustered, whining, completely undone. This is nowhere near what he knows he could do, but he’ll take it as a bit of a prelude.

“Sorry,” mutters Jeongguk, ducking his head a little, and that just won’t do. Yoongi swoops in, planting another somewhat chaste kiss to the other boy’s lips.

“As I was saying,” he continues when he pulls back, thumb tracing over the high arc of Jeongguk’s cheekbones. “Sally Erikson could do well to remember that you’re the most beautiful student in that entire shitty school, not to mention the smartest, and the one with the most potential in life, and if she bothers you again, I’ll knock her fucking teeth out.”

Part of him thinks that Jeongguk shouldn’t find that kind of thing attractive—it doesn’t make much sense, considering how unalike they are, how the younger boy values honesty and kindness and patience while Yoongi once broke his neighbours window just because he felt like it. But maybe that’s part of the thrill of it—the idea of dating a bad boy, doing something that he shouldn’t, at least for Jeongguk. On Yoongi’s side of things, it’s more than just having something pretty and perfect, or wanting to taint Jeongguk in the most literal sense of the word.

A little belatedly, Jeongguk seems to realize that there’s something wrong with Yoongi’s face, and the teenager frowns as he raises a hand to lightly skim over the blooming bruise on Yoongi’s cheek. “What happened?” he asks.

Yoongi wasn’t there, although he was. It’s always a paradox; he didn’t experience it, but the memory is there when he needs it. Sometimes he wonders if the decisions he makes before his consciousness is placed in a life are ones that he would make, but he can’t be angry with this Yoongi—he got Jeongguk already, after all.

“Just some asshole, baby,” he replies. “Don’t worry about it.”

That doesn’t seem to satisfy Jeongguk, though, who lightly traces his thumb over Yoongi’s split lip, too. “Please tell me,” he whispers, eyes searching and a pout already forming on his lips.

And—Yoongi relents. He always does. “I went to the bar,” he admits, “and there was some jackass giving another guy a hard time because he ordered a cocktail instead of a beer. Like… as if that matters, but—he said some things I didn’t agree with.” He’s sure Jeongguk can imagine. “So I decked him. Turns out he was like, forty years old and a lot stronger than me, so…” Jeongguk presses into the wound on his lip, just a little, as if to prove a point.

“Hm,” he muses, and then the look of concern slowly disappears, replaced by something akin to pride. “Good. He deserved it.”

This time, Jeongguk is the one who leans in for a kiss first, and then lets out a surprised sound in the back of his throat when Yoongi instantly licks into his mouth, spurred on by the prideful look on the boy’s face; he tries to pull back, but Yoongi doesn’t really let him, too eager and touch-starved even though his memory tells him they saw each other yesterday. But it’s not this Yoongi who saw Jeongguk yesterday—this Yoongi had been eleven years old half an hour ago, and he can barely remember the last time he himself kissed Jeongguk. Literal lifetimes. Sometimes he thinks about how many first kisses he’s had with Jeongguk, always soft and uncertain, but he decides he likes this better, as his hands find the boy’s waist and he presses him into the wall, drawing out a sound of protest when Jeongguk tries to push him away again.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk mumbles against his lips, then pushes a little harder. “Yoongi-hyung. Someone could see us.”

“Then come home with me,” suggests Yoongi as he pulls back, just a little.

Blushing, Jeongguk replies, “As if you’d let us do anything.” It’s petulant, a bit, accompanied by another pout and—ah, yes. It’s the elephant in the room, the reason they’re hiding behind the school and the reason Yoongi’s heart is beating a little faster than it ought to be.

This is a secret. They’re a secret, forced to steal kisses in the shadows when no one is looking, forced to spend their dates on the roof of Yoongi’s parents’ house late at night when no one can see, when Jeongguk’s parents think that he’s studying at a friend’s house. It’s both something about the backwards ideas of a small Texan town, something about Yoongi being the town’s bad boy and Jeongguk being the nation’s baby boy. He gets straight A’s, volunteers on the weekends. He wants to be a kindergarten teacher when he grows up, and no one doubts that he’ll be good at it.

And Yoongi… is none of those things. It feels like the sort of thing that only happens in movies, but there’s no denying the way Jeongguk giggles again when Yoongi kisses him anyway, daring to lick into his mouth before the younger boy is pushing him away, saying it’s for real this time. He can’t deny the rush of it, the idea that they have to move in silence, in shadow, even if all he wants to do is stand on the roof of the school and force all of the bigoted assholes in Henderson to acknowledge the fact that Yoongi is in love with Jeon Jeongguk and they’re going to be happy. Forever.

Yoongi gives him a ride home, anyway, insides warm at the feel of Jeongguk clinging onto his middle. He drives a little slower than normal, because he knows that the bike tends to scare Jeongguk, even if he’ll never admit it. There are a lot of things about Yoongi that scare him—the drinking, the smoking, the self-destructive tendencies. None of them are enough to keep him away, though, and for the first time since waking up here, Yoongi is a little jealous that he didn’t get to experience that—how it happened. He remembers it, of course, how Jeongguk had always been the cute, shy kid from across town until suddenly he wasn’t anymore—still cute and shy, maybe, but there was more. There was the way he looked at Yoongi when they passed each other in the arcade, the way he lingered just a little too long outside of Yoongi’s house when he biked past on the way to school.

There was the way it started, and Yoongi is hoping like hell that there is no end.

He drops Jeongguk off a block from his house, knowing that Jeongguk’s father has a rifle in the garage that he wouldn’t be afraid to use if he ever saw his precious son associating with a fuck-up like Min Yoongi. It’s not just that Yoongi is a male, he knows, or even that he only means trouble.

As Jeongguk hops off the bike and hikes his backpack up a little higher on his shoulders, Yoongi is reminded of the next issue: he’s twenty-two. Jeongguk is seventeen. (Jeongguk reminds him almost daily that he’ll be eighteen come September, lips jutting out in a pout when Yoongi pats him on the head and kisses his nose. The thing is, as rebellious as Yoongi might be, he’s not going to fuck a minor. Jeongguk seems to take personal offense to the one chivalrous thing his boyfriend has decided to stick to for the past seven months.)

He imagines that Jeongguk’s parents have big plans for him—plans that involve settling down with a nice girl, raising a family of his own right here in Henderson where nothing ever happens and no one ever changes. There are two months until summer, until Jeongguk graduates, and Yoongi hates to rain on the Jeons’ parade, but they’ll be out of Texas before anyone even thinks to notice that they’re both missing.


 Yoongi has been in this life for two weeks when his parents leave for the weekend, heading to Dallas to visit their other, more respectable son. He’s come to remember that they care less about Yoongi than they do his brother, but he remembers the fights, too, how he’d crashed on friends’ sofas for weeks after he’d chosen to drop out of high school—until they made him come home, not quite forgiven, if only so they could ensure his safety.

He’s had ample time to wonder what they’d think about the parties he throws when they’re gone, inviting the other fuck-ups from across town and towns over. Never Jeongguk, in part because despite his actions, Yoongi does care about the boy’s safety. In part because Jeongguk would never come, anyway, always turning his cute nose up at the very idea of alcohol and weed. It’s been so long since he’s last gotten all of his friends together that he’s itching for it, but Jeongguk pouts when Yoongi mentions his plans, and… well. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s all there is.

He goes on a date with Jeongguk instead—as much of a date as they can have when everything about their relationship is hush hush—which means Jeongguk tells his parents that he’s going to the arcade with a friend and instead heads into the back alley, where Yoongi is waiting with his bike and a cigarette and a wide, wide smirk. They head to the next town over, where no one knows their faces or their names, where they can pretend, at least for a moment, that this is allowed. Jeongguk whines about wanting milkshakes until Yoongi agrees to take him to the 50s American diner on Main Street, swallowing against the lump in his throat as he’s harshly reminded of the life he lived for seven years before this one.

(He inwardly scoffs, too, at how horribly inaccurate everything is in the diner. He’d lived this, and diners looked nothing like that shit.)

The diner is mostly empty, thankfully, considering it’s nearing closing time, and they choose a booth in the furthest corner so that they can slip into the same side, facing the rest of the diner—this Yoongi has gotten good at watching, always aware of who is watching him back. He yearns for a life where he doesn’t always have to keep his eyes wide open, but he’s reminded of how good this one is anyway when he feels Jeongguk hook their ankles together until the table, cheeks already a little pink when Yoongi steals a glance his way.

The waitress comes around after a few minutes, popping the bubblegum in her mouth and staring at her notepad with a bored expression as she says, “Welcome to Frank’s Diner, may I take your order?”

“I’ll have a vanilla milkshake, please,” says Jeongguk, ever polite as he grins up at the woman. “Oh, and—um, d’you still have your apple pie?” When the waitress nods in confirmation, his entire face lights up. “I’ll have a slice of that, too, then,” he adds. “Thank you.”

Yoongi looks down at the menu as though he doesn’t always order he same thing—“A coke,” he says. “And a side of fries.” He’s marginally less polite than his darling baby boyfriend, but Jeongguk seems to compensate by thanking the waitress again, profusely, and giving her his best bunny smile as she walks away. Yoongi kind of wants to coo at him, but they’re in public, so.

They’re silent for a moment, and then he feels Jeongguk’s hand on his thigh, tapping once, twice, before it turns over, palm up. Yoongi knows he wants without having to ask, his own hand disappearing under the table so he can lace their fingers together on top of his thigh, well hidden by the table. It’s how they communicate most of the time, in light touches and silent questions, a whole language they’ve developed between them. He doesn’t have to look at Jeongguk to know he’s grinning again, something a little bashful because even now, there’s a newness to it all that Yoongi hopes will never go away. He likes the bit of nervousness, if only because it keeps him from getting too comfortable and slipping up, which, he has to remind himself, could have consequences he doesn’t want to think about.

He’s done it before—fucked up. It’s the worst kind of slipping when he knows it’s his own fault.

“Is Salty Erection still bothering you in Yearbook Club?” asks Yoongi, a little too loud, and Jeongguk instantly bursts into giggles even though he squeezes Yoongi’s hand under the table, tight enough to hurt. There’s no one in the diner anyway, but that’s kind of the point—Yoongi used to care so much more about his reputation, used to believe that being a rebel meant never being happy, and then he met Jeongguk. And then he realized that he’d say every stupid thing that popped into his head if it meant seeing that smile or hearing that laugh, and that’s what he does now: makes a fool of himself. For Jeongguk. It’s always worth it.

“I know you’re just purposely messing up her name, hyung,” says Jeongguk, looking at him a little shyly.

“What gave it away? I really thought Salty Erection was a real name.”

“Stop saying it.”

“What, Salty Erection? Salty Erection—really rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?”

He stops only because Jeongguk is giggling too hard to reply, leaning in a little, and Yoongi feels a fond smile on his own lips. He likes this, how easy it is. He wants to kiss the boy so badly that it almost hurts, but he’s reminded of their boundaries when the waitress returns with their drinks and Jeongguk’s hand instantly leaves his. The woman couldn’t see their hands, anyway, but he gets it—the jumpiness, the precautions. Yoongi has lived lives far, far in the future where they don’t have to worry about such things, and every time he finds himself back here, it hurts a little more.

Still, Jeongguk thanks the woman again when she hands over their drinks and tells them the rest of their order will be out shortly. Then he’s happily pulling his milkshake toward himself, pausing when he sees there’s only one straw in the glass.

“We should get another straw,” he says thoughtfully. (His shirt is too big today, too—Yoongi wonders if his has any shirts that fit him properly, although he likes how small it makes the boy look despite his height and his gangly limbs.) “Then we can share.”

Yoongi’s eyebrows rise. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Guk?” It’s less that he thinks someone will see them, more he knows Jeongguk fucking backwashes, even in milkshakes. Besides, Yoongi isn’t good at sharing.

Jeongguk pouts at him, though, a little crease appearing under those adorable glasses and between his eyebrows. “Of course it’s a good idea,” he says. “I only have good ideas, hyung.”

“Really?” asks Yoongi, picking out the memories easily even if he didn’t experience them—“What about the time you begged me to let you drive my bike and then you immediately crashed and almost split your skull right in half and I had to take you to the hospital and then—” He stops, suddenly realizing the end of the story. Yoongi had had to leave him there before anyone could ask questions, before Jeongguk’s parents could arrive, because it would ruin what they had. He’d been angry that night and drunk himself into such a stupor that he’d spent hours hunched over the toilet, crying about how fucking unfair all of it was, how he should have been there with Jeongguk, holding his hand at his bedside.

But he wasn’t. He couldn’t be.

Jeongguk seems to pick up on it, and then his hand is on Yoongi’s under the table again. “It’s better than the time you decided to try to lasso the moon for me,” he says, and it’s meant to be mocking, but it just sounds soft. Yoongi remembers that, too, how he’d nearly fallen off of his roof because he was so determined that he could do it. He’s still determined to do it, because maybe if he can get the moon for Jeongguk, he’ll want to stay—despite the hardships, despite all of Yoongi’s fuck ups. He has to make him stay.

That’s his goal, isn’t it? To find a way to keep Jeongguk, just like this. It feels as though everything has been handed to him this time around, knowing that he didn’t have to work to find Jeongguk or make him fall in love—he was lucky enough that he had already done all of that by the time his consciousness landed in this life. And still, Yoongi feels a little robbed, knowing that although the chase can grow frustrating when that’s all his life is, he still finds that he misses it.

Yet, he knows he just has to keep this. There are six weeks until Jeongguk’s graduation and then they’re free, they’re free—it can’t be hard. Yoongi has waited decades before, has searched for entire lives. He’s proved himself again and again, and although the Jeongguk of this life has no recollection of the Yoongi of any other life, he knows that no matter what, Jeongguk will fall in love with him. It’s just how all of this works.

The fries and apple pie come soon after, and they eat their food pressed side by side. If the waitress finds it odd, she says nothing, likely too bored with her job to care about the two kids in the corner of the diner. In the end, Jeongguk does convince Yoongi to share the milkshake, albeit out of the one straw. He giggles when Yoongi steals the cherry and proves that he can knot the stem with his tongue (admittedly something he’d learned in a different life, but there’s no reason he can’t use the numerous skills and knowledge he’s gained to impress the boy he loves). He giggles when Yoongi tries to play footsie with him under the table. He giggles a lot, Yoongi finds—his cheeks are always a little rosy, like he’s still the same kid trying to make a good impression on his hyung.

And still, it’s not quite what he wants. Yoongi wants to tangle their fingers on top of the table, wants to steal kisses between stealing bites of Jeongguk’s apple pie. He wants to do so much more than keep a watchful eye out for new customers that might have something to say about their proximity or the way Yoongi can’t help looking at his boyfriend. He’d never been good with secrets, even if keeping this one is already second nature to him. He will be extra careful not to ruin it, certain that this will be the last life. The only life.

As he admires Jeongguk when the boy tells him a story from the animal shelter he volunteers at, Yoongi can’t help feeling like it is the last life. He’s happy here—both of them are. He’s so, so in love, so hopeful for what this life can bring them. It won’t be easy, but Yoongi has been dealing with challenges since his very first life, so long ago. He can’t imagine losing Jeongguk in this life, because all he wants to do is protect him, take care of him. Losing him means… Jeongguk will grow up without Yoongi, will find someone else who might not love him the way he deserves and needs to be loved.

And that’s what frustrates Yoongi the most about all of his failed lives—the idea that, somewhere in history, there are hundreds of Jeon Jeongguks who lived their lives without Yoongi. Who had to find someone else, or who ended up alone, all because Yoongi didn’t love him enough, didn’t love him right, didn’t love him when he should have. The idea of Jeongguk—in any of his past lives—not being loved and adored and taken care of the way Yoongi knows he can do it all… it makes Yoongi hate himself, just a little. Just a little more.

It makes him all the more determined to succeed this time, and so he nudges Jeongguk out of the booth as soon as the last bite of pie is done. He leaves half of his fries and the last melted remnants of Jeongguk’s milkshake behind when they pay, and then he’s pulling his boyfriend out into the parking lot, toward his bike. Suddenly, it isn’t enough—the diner, the date. The secret. He has an empty house behind closed doors and pulled curtains, and if that’s the only place he can truly love Jeongguk, then so be it. He’ll never leave his fucking house again.

They spend the rest of the evening curled up on the ratty old sofa in Yoongi’s living room, Yoongi’s fingers tracing over Jeongguk’s hipbone, waist, ribs. They watch Ghostbusters even though it makes Yoongi want to vomit, a little—because Jeongguk loves it, fascinated with it all as he hums the theme song under his breath the whole time. But Yoongi will do anything for this beautiful boy, to make him happy—not just because he wants to stay here, but because in every life, he falls in love with Jeongguk a little bit more. In every life, he sees a side, a part of Jeongguk that is new. He’s always lovely. He’s always what Yoongi wants, and by the time Jeongguk has fallen asleep cuddled against Yoongi’s side, head on his shoulder, Yoongi finds himself praying again, to whoever is giving him all of these chances—let me stay, let me stay, let me stay.


 The pebble hits Jeongguk’s window hard enough to alert the boy inside, not loud enough to alert anyone else. Yoongi has become an expert at this, his bike parked in the back alley three doors down; now he hides a bit in Jeongguk’s mother’s bushes in the backyard, directly below Jeongguk’s window. It feels a bit silly, but he’d always wanted to do this—his lives before cell phones are so much more creative, and he feels a grin on his lips when Jeongguk’s blinds open.

He sees the boy at the window before it’s shoved open, and Jeongguk leans out slightly with a vaguely panicked expression on his face. “What are you doing?” he hisses down at Yoongi.

“I’m coming up,” he replies, ignoring Jeongguk’s quiet protests as Yoongi’s practiced hands find purchase on a tree near the house that, conveniently, allows him to hop right into Jeongguk’s room. He hauls himself up easily, shuffling along one of the sturdier branches until he’s able to swing himself onto the lower hanging roof. Jeongguk backs up in time for Yoongi to crawl to the window, and then he’s inside, brushing his hands off on his jeans to get rid of the bits of bark that have stuck there.

Jeongguk closes the window behind him and then turns to Yoongi, arms crossing over his chest. He’s cute when he’s angry, Yoongi thinks—standing there in plaid pajama pants and a massive Led Zepplin shirt (one of Yoongi’s, he notes with a touch of satisfaction) with his arms crossed and his body language rigid. He’s trying to glare, too, but looks about as intimidating as a small puppy. It’s the glasses, Yoongi decides.

“Hey—”

“What are you doing?” Jeongguk cuts him off, tone colder than Yoongi has heard in the near seven weeks that he’s been in this life. He doesn’t like it, but he also knows how to fix it, so—

“Baby,” he says, voice low, as he shakes his hair into his eyes a bit and advances on Jeongguk, who backs up until he’s pressed against the windowsill, but otherwise doesn’t change much of his stance.

“Don’t baby me,” is the cool response.

They’re only a foot apart, Yoongi leaning closer until he can reach out and bracket Jeongguk between his arms, hands gripping the edges of the window frame. He tilts his head, eyes flickering to Jeongguk’s lips. “What are you mad about?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, finally dropping his arms, but it’s only so he can shove a bit at Yoongi’s chest. He says, “You can’t just show up in my backyard whenever you want and expect me to let you in.”

“But you did,” says Yoongi, smirking. “Let me in, I mean.”

It weakens Jeongguk’s argument, which he seems to notice, although he eyes Yoongi for a moment before he says, “Seriously, though, hyung. What if my parents hear or see you one of these days?”

That idea has him grinning, and Yoongi removes one of his hands from the window frame so that he can bring it to Jeongguk’s mouth, pressing the pad of his thumb against the other boy’s bottom lip. Jeongguk looks a little less angry now, their proximity and the situation finally getting to him.

“Ah,” says Yoongi. “But there are only eleven days until your graduation, and then we won’t have to worry about that, will we?” He leans in a little closer, dragging his thumb down and Jeongguk’s bottom lip down with it, before his breath ghosts over the boy’s lips. He can practically feel Jeongguk shudder, just a little.

“Still,” he says, but it’s so, so weak—“Don’t need you messing it up when we’re this close.”

He has a point, but Yoongi cares less about that, more about what he came here for—which, come to think of, he isn’t even sure of. Sometimes, he just needs to see Jeongguk, needs to know that he’s this close to succeeding, finally. Yoongi knows that nothing will be perfect once Jeongguk graduates, and he knows that every day will be a fight to keep them together, and he knows that he has a chance of slipping every time he opens his goddamn mouth, but once they’re out of this godforsaken town, they’ll be one step closer to forever. One step farther from everything that is trying to hold them back.

So he can’t really blame himself when his love for this doe-eyed boy overwhelms him enough to need grounding, enough to need this—the way his fingers grip Jeongguk’s jaw to hold him in place as he leans forward, finally, and captures the boy’s lips with his own. He knows he’s forgiven when Jeongguk instantly returns the kiss, pressing back a little harder than necessary, although his mouth instantly opens to allow Yoongi access.

He licks into Jeongguk’s mouth, his other hand moving to cradle the back of the boy’s head as he deepens the kiss. The sound that Jeongguk makes—something caught between a groan and a whine—eggs him on, heatedly and feverishly kissing him how he’s dreamt of all day—all week. For lifetimes, it seems.

Yoongi feels hands in his hair, tugging a little, desperate and needy, and it’s enough for him to detach his lips from Jeongguk’s but only to move them elsewhere, kissing down the boy’s chin to his jaw, and then along the sharp edge of it until he can begin a trail down Jeongguk’s throat. The boy tugs at his hair again, whining high in his throat as Yoongi pushes him against the windowsill and—“Hyung,” breathless, desperate. “Hyung.

Yoongi picks a spot on the side of Jeongguk’s neck, sucking on it momentarily before licking over it—they have a rule about marks, most especially on Jeongguk. It’s too suspicious, although the only thing he wants to do is mark up his pretty boy and show the world that Jeongguk is his. He’s done it in other lives, and he knows he’ll be able to do it in this one, too, just… not now. So he returns to Jeongguk’s jaw instead, mumbling, “Baby,” in a belated response to whatever Jeongguk was trying to say to him.

He doesn’t get an immediate response, but he feels Jeongguk’s head turn, searching for his lips, and Yoongi easily complies—always does—and kisses him again, hands slipping down to the boy’s waist. He’s so tiny, would be so easy to wreck, and—in the heated moment, he almost can’t remember why he hasn’t done it already, a moan escaping his own lips when Jeongguk shifts against him and he feels that the other is already half-hard.

Which—is a bad idea. This is a bad idea. Yoongi doesn’t let things get heated for a reason, because it’s so much harder to turn back when they’re knee-deep, but there’s something so intoxicating about Jeongguk. About the way he clings to Yoongi, silently begging for more with how he brings him closer, whines into his mouth, opens up at just the right angle. Yoongi feels a little dazed with it, hands tightening on Jeongguk’s waist when he hears the breathless, “Hyung, ah—please.”

He pulls back, just enough to bump their noses together, breathing hard. He likes how swollen Jeongguk’s lips are, spit-slick, parted and waiting for more. How flushed Jeongguk is, how dilated his pupils are when he doesn’t let go of Yoongi’s hair.

“What do you want, baby?” asks Yoongi. It’s dangerous.

“You,” is the immediate reply, Jeongguk’s hands slipping down to the front of his shirt, which he tugs forward until their noses bump again. “Want you to touch me.”

And Yoongi—Yoongi wants to. God, he wants to. Jeongguk’s so vulnerable here, fingers tightening on the front of his shirt, eyes searching. He hooks one of his ankles around Yoongi’s calf and tries to tug him forward, needing purchase and friction wherever he can find it as he whines again, too loud.

“Guk,” breathes Yoongi, leaning forward for another kiss, which Jeongguk chases—“Guk, you know I can’t.”

He drops his head onto Yoongi’s shoulder, making a noise low in his throat that almost sounds a bit like a choked sob. “Please, hyung, please, I’m—I want you so badly.” His voice is so needy, tugging Yoongi even closer and slotting Yoongi’s thigh between his legs. Jeongguk breathes hard against his neck, sniffs a little, grinds down. “Please,” he whispers. “Just want you to touch me.”

The thing is, Yoongi considers it. Eight months is a long time to be close but not close enough. His hands tighten on Jeongguk’s tiny, tiny waist even as he leans back a bit, tries to take a step back so that Jeongguk can’t get himself off against his thigh, and he knows that the boy can tell what he’s about to do—he whines loudly, hands tightening in Yoongi’s shirt. His glasses are crooked.

“Guk—”

“No, please, just—” He stumbles after Yoongi when he tries to back up again, and Yoongi is surprised by the weight that comes with it, nearly tripping over the neat little pile of textbooks that Jeongguk has next to his bed. He accidentally sends them flying, clattering loudly to the ground but pays no mind in favour of latching onto Jeongguk to keep himself upright.

Jeongguk ends up with his face pressed in Yoongi’s chest, breathing hard before he pulls back and goes for his lips again. Despite himself, Yoongi allows it, kissing him back even though he places his hands on either side of Jeongguk’s face, intending to pull him back, to calm him down. He can’t deny the tightness in his own jeans, something about the begging, and he’s mumbling something against Jeongguk’s lips, something about needing to stop even though he can’t really, and—

And it’s only then that Yoongi remembers why sneaking into Jeongguk’s house is often a last resort.

The sound of the bedroom door hitting the wall with how hard it’s shoved open sounds like a gunshot, somehow, startling Yoongi so much that he physically jumps. Instantly, he detaches from Jeongguk, turning around to face—Jeongguk’s father, who stands in the doorway of the room and stares at them. For a moment, it’s as though all sound has been sucked out of the room, but that can’t be right because Yoongi is acutely aware of the pounding of his own heart. He’s aware of the ragged breathing behind him—Jeongguk, whose fingers are suddenly grasping his hand so tightly that it hurts. He wants to tell Jeongguk to let go of him, a habit, but he knows the damage is already done.

Then, surprisingly calmly, Jeongguk’s father asks, “What the fuck are you doing?”

He’s the second person to ask that night, and Yoongi is reminded of Jeongguk’s own words from earlier—something about not fucking it up before they can get out of town. The eleven days stretching between now and then seem impossible, suddenly, and Yoongi can already feel the panic rising in his throat.

“Sir,” he begins, terrified as he wonders why the other man hasn’t started yelling yet—

“I’m not talking to you, Min,” he snaps, and only now does Yoongi realize that the man’s line of sight is just over Yoongi’s shoulder, where he knows Jeongguk is cowering behind him. “I’m talking to my son.”

He’s not sure it should make a difference, and he doesn’t think there’s any answer they can give. It’s pretty fucking obvious what they were doing, and Jeongguk’s nails dig, dig, dig, into his hand. “Dad,” comes the choked reply, and Yoongi is suddenly aware of the fact that the boy is already crying. His hand suddenly tightens around the fingers.

Jeongguk’s father takes one step into the room. He hears Jeongguk’s sharp intake of breath behind him. “Answer me,” says the man, voice low. Yoongi doesn’t think he’s ever seen someone so stony before.

Dad—”

“What are you doing with him, hm? You think you can bring him under my roof and—and what?”

It seems like he’s waiting for an actual answer, and the sounds of Jeongguk crying behind him get louder, stronger—he needs to do something. He needs to do something.

“Sir,” he tries again.

“I said shut the fuck up,” the man snaps, eyes now trained on Yoongi. “You’re a homo, are you? And you’ve turned my son into one, too, you disgusting, little fucking—”

“Dad, stop,” Jeongguk cries, but it’s weak, it’s nothing. Yoongi wants to tell him that he can take it.

“Stop talking, Jeongguk,” says the boy’s father. “You’re just as bad as he is. At least we can blame Min’s parents for fucking him up—but you? My own son? A faggot?”

The thing is, Yoongi can take it. But he can’t let Jeongguk take it. Even then, he doesn’t realize that he’s moving until he hears Jeongguk shouting his name, but he does what he always does—he protects Jeongguk. It’s a quiet sort of rage that unleashes itself within him, a beast rearing its ugly head when he winds up and his fist connects with Jeongguk’s father’s face for the first time.

He wishes it were more satisfying, but it isn’t—it can’t be, not when he realizes, belatedly, that he’s much smaller than the other man. Likely weaker, too, and before he knows it, the other man’s fist has collided with the side of his face in retaliation. The force of it knocks him sideways, stumbling into the wall, but he has no time to retaliate before there are hands gripping his shirt and he’s dealt another blow.

And another. And another.

At some point, Yoongi is aware that he’s on the ground, but everything has gone hazy. He tastes blood in his mouth, pain blooming over and over—someone is screaming his name, but it’s no use. It’s no use because—the world isn’t just hazy from the pain, from the force of the man’s fists against his face.

He feels himself slipping, slowly. Jeongguk’s father’s face swims before him, the pain beginning to numb out into nothing, nothing, and—and Yoongi is conscious enough to be aware of what it means. No, no, no, he thinks—no, give me more time, let me fix it. I can fix it. I can fix it.

But he’s slipping, slipping, the force against him finally disappearing when it seems the other man has had enough. He can still hear Jeongguk screaming, but it’s muffled, mumbled—he tries to groan something, wants to scream at the universe not to take him. He can’t lose Jeongguk, not now—there has to be a way. There has to be time, and he doesn’t want to leave. They were happy. They were going to be happy, they were going to get out in eleven days, eleven days.

It was going to be good. It was going to be the one.

But if he’s slipping, then—then he’s losing Jeongguk for good. He’s losing him forever in this lifetime, and Yoongi doesn’t want to know why. He just closes his eyes, resigning to the tugging feeling in his chest. He wants this life, wants what they could have had, but he has no strength to fight against it.

The last thing he feels before he slips into nothing is a gentle kiss against his forehead, but he has no time to wonder if it’s real or only imagined before he’s pulled into darkness, and Yoongi loses him, again.