Prologue — 1591-1605
This story begins long ago, in the pages of your history books.
In 1591, Yi Yoongi, the nephew of King Seonjo, ascended to the throne of Joseon after a coup d’etat. He murdered his uncle, his uncle’s wife, and all of their children, with the exception of Crown Prince Gwanghaegun, who managed to flee. He was only sixteen and the shocked court struggled to fall in line behind this new ruler—much more sharp-toothed than his reform-driven uncle, who had been focused on rebuilding the nation after the chaotic reign of his predecessors. The palace ran with blood as more and more executions took place and the new king rapidly painted himself a tyrant in the vein of the notorious Yeonsangun nearly a century before him.
However, in the wet spring of 1592, Imperial Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi of Japan launched 700 ships in an invasion of the peninsula and the young ruler’s attention was diverted away from his own subjects and to a war that would last for six years. It was brutal and uncompromising, charring the earth and soaking it in the blood of civilians and soldiers alike. Though the aristocratic generals of the Korean army weren’t as practiced in the nature of war as the invading samurai, the Korean Navy was still a powerful force.
And then there was Yi Yoongi himself.
Records are scarce, but some speculate that he was born with a gift of foresight while others insist that the mudang intervened for him and he was therefore blessed by the gods with good fortune. Whatever the reason, he seemed to be aware of events long before they were set to happen. Though he was only seventeen, and had almost no military experience to speak of, he thwarted General Yukinaga at nearly every turn, preventing the fall of Hanyang and battling his forces to a near standstill in spite of limited resources. Eventually, Admiral Yi Sunsin was able to cut off Japanese supply lines at sea, opening a window for Ming forces under General Li Rusong to finally aid the weary Joseon army.
This led to peace negotiations in 1596 that rapidly fell apart and a second, failed invasion attempt in 1597, culminating with the complete withdrawal of Japanese forces in 1598. Yi Yoongi emerged victorious and seemingly omniscient, but the now twenty-three-year-old king didn’t let the blood on his hands dry. After a failed assasination attempt in 1600, he conducted a brutal purge of the entire court, torturing and executing numerous officials. Gradually, he grew more paranoid and unstable, retreating behind the walls of his palace with only a small contingent of guards and unwilling to deal with the political squabbling and vicious famine that was sweeping through the nation in the wake of the war.
His unpopularity grew. Terrified subjects praised him in public with one breath and cursed him in private with another. The dead lined the streets of Hanyang and even the palace courtyards themselves. Beyond the city, the kingdom continued to decay.
In 1605, there finally came a betrayal that the king did not predict. A mere servant boy slit Yi Yoongi’s throat in his own bedchamber, leaving him to bleed out on his bedsheets in the middle of the night, unable to call his guards for help. In a strange turn of events, the body of the king disappeared before he could be buried and so an empty tomb was erected. Because of his tyranny, he was never given a temple name—one of only four Joseon monarchs to be deprived of that honor. Another was Crown Prince Gwanghaegun, who assumed the throne after Yi Yoongi’s assasination. Several years later, he would be deposed in a coup d’etat just like his father before him. Meanwhile, Yi Yoongi’s name would fade into history, mostly forgotten amongst greater kings before and after him.
But this, as you’re probably aware, is only the beginning of the story.
One — 2018
Min Yoongi lives a quiet life. He writes historical novels and drama scripts hunched over a laptop in his small his Huam-dong apartment and publishes them under a pseudonym. He buys groceries from the same family-run supermarket every Saturday and knows all the ahjummas working there by name. He walks his little dog Holly in Namsan Park every morning, bundled up in numerous layers in the winter and griping about the heat in the summer. Once a week, he goes to the same local cafe and reads a book at the same corner table while sipping the same Americano.
Murmurs follow him, though. This strange young man with a scarred face, who drifts through the neighborhood streets like a ghost, burdened by an unseen weight. He has no parents or other family that he’s ever mentioned and though he claims to be from Daegu, there is no hint of satoori in his speech. No one has ever seen him with friends or a significant other, only that fluffy poodle he cradles in his arms like precious cargo. But he’s always polite and he pays his rent on time, so does it really matter?
Of course, if they were to ever visit his apartment the whispers would increase tenfold. On his walls are degrees from every SKY university, but the decades and names are different on each: Choi Yoongi, Seoul National University, 1988; Han Yoongi, Konkuk University, 1998; Kwon Yoongi, Yonsei University, 2015. Occupying another wall is a medical certificate from Yonsei University Medical School, dated 1890 and attributed to Lee Yoongi. Mounted next to it, a saingeom gleams in the light from the windows, nestled in its black sheath and likely to make a museum curator weep in astonishment. A bookshelf bristles with historical texts, covering the Three Kingdoms Period all the way to the 1988 Olympics, as well as European, Japanese, and Chinese history. On one shelf, a case contains polished medals: Korean War Service, Military Merit, Civil Merit—again all awarded to a different name.
Other trinkets surround it and litter the rest of the shelves, perched carefully around the books: vintage postcards from Paris and Berlin; a peranakan porcelain dish from Singapore, boasting blooming purple flowers and twisting green vines; a red Batik silk bag from Malaysia; a bottle of Mekhong Whiskey from Thailand; a few grainy, old photographs of London streets at night, a beautiful young man beneath Jinhae cherry trees, and an exhausted group of doctors in front of a military medical tent, dated 1952. If you were to look closely, you would find Min Yoongi among them—the calm expression on his face unable to mask the shadows in his eyes.
The journey through time continues in a photo book resting on the coffee table of the modest living room: another young man in front of the gates of Chonnam National University, clutching a protest sign and mouth opened to yell in spite of the blood on his face; a changing Seoul, skyscrapers blooming along its horizons; sketches of a Joseon era palace and a man with a scar on his face similar to the one that Yoongi bears, robed in the garments of a king; more sketches of blood-covered hands, the shape of a woman’s smile, the gleam of a man’s eyes, one of them closed in a wink; more photographs of a charred palance, of a graveyard covered in snow, of Japanese soldiers marching through the streets of Seoul.
The man from Chonnam National University dances in a studio, smiling over his shoulder as the morning light renders him ethereal, turning his hair into a halo. A different man sits in a different sunlit room with smears of paint on his cheeks and a boxy grin on his face. A woman stands ankle deep in the Jeju sea, arms stretched wide and coat billowing in the wind. Yoongi stares at the camera with those haunted eyes, dressed in modern clothes.
Portraits of love and loss, painted in decades—Yoongi thinks of them as shards of his heart, collected and laminated and placed outside of himself, where they can be remembered. It’s why he never brings anyone here, hasn’t taken another person home in so long.
But Kim Seokjin has never waited for an invitation.
Tonight he’s covered in blood as he stands in the middle of Yoongi’s living room. It drips from his hands to the floor beneath his feet, creating blooms of red against the weathered wood.
My blood, Yoongi thinks. Because one look at Seokjin tells him this is the youngest version he’s ever encountered: the one still clad in the servant’s robes he wore when he dragged a ceremonial dagger across Yoongi’s throat, centuries ago.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Yoongi says into the stillness as Kim Seokjin stares at him with wide eyes and trembling fingers. “You’re too early.”
“So it’s true,” Seokjin rasps. “You’re immortal.”
“I wasn’t before you killed me,” Yoongi snaps and then clamps his mouth closed.
He doesn’t like this Seokjin, never will, and so he’s going to give him as little information as possible. Though he supposes this is how Seokjin knew about Yoongi's immortality when they met again in the late 1600s—nearly fifty years after the first time and it was Yoongi’s turn to make an attempt on Seokjin’s life.
“What?” Seokjin blinks down at his own hands and then up at Yoongi with a dark frown. “I did this?”
“You should go,” Yoongi insists. It’s late and he has a deadline looming for a manuscript, meaning he’ll be up before dawn to write in a feverish, coffee-induced haze. He doesn’t want to deal with Seokjin, or the ghost of the past hanging between them. Doesn’t want to deal with centuries condensed into minutes, with the idea that Seokjin killed him and jumped forward before the blood dried on his hands.
Yoongi spins and pulls the saingeom from the wall in one fluid motion, clutching the hilt and unsheathing the blade enough for Seokjin to see the threatening glint of steel.
“Go,” he says, voice low with threat. “I have nothing to say to you. Not as you are now.”
“But you will?” Seokjin asks, unmoved by the sword, though Yoongi sees the coiled tension in his broad shoulders—the preparation to fight or flee.
“Some day,” Yoongi says, softer than he means to. “Now stop staining my floors and get the fuck out.”
Seokjin lips quirk at the obscenity, in spite of the rattled expression still on his face, and he dips his head in aquesience, raising one red-soaked hand to open a portal. It hums with magic along its rippling blue edges. On the other side, Yoongi glimpses a Seoul far more advanced than the one he currently occupies, though still bathed in familiar neon. And then Seokjin steps through and the portal closes in a blink, leaving almost eerie silence behind.
Yoongi blows out a stuttering breath, feeling his shoulders slump as the tension bleeds from them. He puts the sword back in its place and pads into the kitchen on slippered feet to retrieve baking soda and vinegar for the blood. Holly emerges from the bedroom as he’s scrubbing the floors, whining.
“It wasn’t the right Seokjin,” Yoongi tells him, pausing to pet his soft fur. “He wouldn’t have known you.”
Holly whines again and sniffs at the blood. Yoongi goes back to scrubbing with a sigh, willing his own hands to steady. He wants Kim Seokjin to stop haunting him, but that’s a laughable wish when he feels like little more than a ghost himself, doomed to wander the world in search of something he’ll never find, trapped between one life and the next. Immortality was supposed to come with a different realm, a higher state of being, not the endless, awful dredges of human life.
“I’m so tired, Holly-yah,” Yoongi whispers.
Holly presses a cold nose to his cheek in silent comfort. Yoongi keeps scrubbing until the last of the blood is gone, as though Kim Seokjin had never been here at all.
Two — 1651
Yi Yoongi is no longer a king and no longer a member of the Yi clan, but Choi Yoongi: a lowly sangmin peddling wares in the bustling marketplaces of Hanyang. He wears a satgat to conceal the scar on his face and speaks so little that most think he’s mute. But his wares, consisting mostly of woven baskets, spices and herbs, and the occasional medicinal remedy, are good quality, meaning he always has a steady stream of customers.
Though he appears placid and docile on the outside, within rage churns like a wild sea. He has spent over forty years barred from his throne, watching a parade of other kings sit on it instead. Forty years, eking out a living in the dredges of society when royal blood runs through his veins. Forty years unable to die.
He has tried everything he can think of: hanging, starvation, poison, drowning, burning, a knife, and even explosive power. Every time, he heals. Or wakes up as if nothing happened at all. Somehow, he is immortal but his gift of foresight is gone and an empty tomb marks Yi Yoongi’s resting place, so any attempt to explain his true identity would have him labeled a madman and probably executed.
There is nothing he can do except sit at this market stall day after day, use his meager profits to buy food, and spend the rest of his free time weaving or trading. He could, theoretically, take the gwageo but he would have to fake his lineage and that’s expensive. His head is full of half-baked coup and assassination attempts, but he’s still sane enough to realize most are doomed to fail.
Strangely, without his gift, he feels more sane than he has since childhood. It’s terrible and wonderful in equal measure.
Still, he hates the man who has cursed him to this existence—the mysterious servant boy who slit his throat and disappeared into the night without a trace. Yoongi looked, with his limited resources, and found no record of anyone matching his description. Now, it’s been nearly fifty years. The man is most likely dead.
Or so Yoongi thinks, until a familiar face passes by his stall one otherwise uneventful afternoon.
The man has a beard now, and is dressed in the attire of a government official, but Yoongi would recognize his eyes and the unusual breadth of his shoulders anywhere. He moves without thinking, abandoning his stall and pressing into the crowded street to follow the man. His murderer walks with purpose and authority, like he expects the crowd to part before him. Most do, cowed by the high-level hyungbae on his red dallyeong and the sternness in his dark eyes. Yoongi uses this to his advantage, sticking relatively close behind the man and waiting for an opening. When they finally pass a smaller, nearly deserted sidestreet on the edge of the market, Yoongi lunges, grabbing the back of the man’s robe and wrenching him into it.
He reacts with a fighter’s reflexes, immediately twisting free of Yoongi’s grip. Yoongi snarls and draws his dagger from its sheath on his arm, concealed in the wide sleeve of his jeogori. The stranger leans against the side of a nearby building, regarding Yoongi with wary eyes.
“Do you remember me?” Yoongi rasps.
“Yes,” the man says.
“You don’t seem surprised.”
The man’s mouth quirks in a smile. “I’m not.”
Yoongi tightens his grip on his dagger. “So you meant to make me immortal?”
“No, I meant to kill you.” The man’s tone is blasé and rage simmers in Yoongi’s blood.
“Why didn’t you?”
“The ritual went wrong,” the man says with a shrug.
Ritual? “Are you some kind of sorcerer?”
Another cryptic smile that Yoongi wants to carve off the stranger’s handsome face. “Something like that.”
Yoongi lunges forward. With equal speed, the stranger catches his wrist in a bruising grip, stopping the blade point centimeters from the vulnerable skin of his throat. They lock eyes and Yoongi bares his teeth while the stranger’s lips press together in a thin, solemn line.
“I can’t,” he says again, still keeping the knife at bay with unexpected strength.
Yoongi wrenches the knife away, then stabs it into the man’s stomach before he can defend himself, twisting it in deep. The stranger gasps in shock, fingers clawing at Yoongi’s shoulder, nearly tearing already worn fabric. Yoongi holds him in place in return, pushing him against the building and plunging the knife in again, then a third time. Blood stains the already red fabric of the man’s dallyeong a darker crimson, dripping onto the dirt beneath their feet.
“A life for a life, then,” Yoongi says, practically trembling with the typhoon-force of his fury.
The stranger … smiles. It looks almost serene, in spite of the stained hand pressed to the wounds in his stomach. “Ah, Yoongi-nim,” he says. “I’m afraid it’s not so simple.”
And then the wall behind him disappears. Yoongi gapes at the swirling blue that appears where there was once stone. It spins out in a large circle, giving Yoongi a glimpse of a strange, terrifying city with buildings that brush the sky and glow in brilliant, unnatural colors.
“I’m sure we’ll meet again, Yoongi-nim,” the stranger says before stepping through the ring of energy.
“Wait!” Yoongi yells, lunging forward, but the circle vanishes, taking the man with it, and Yoongi slams into the stone wall of the building, gasping as the air is knocked from his lungs by the impact. The pads of his fingers tingle when he presses them to the wall, looking for a way to reactivate the circle, but the sensation fades quickly and his search yields nothing.
The stranger is gone and Yoongi is alone again, with nothing left to do except live. He stares down at his blood-soaked hands and swallows back the scream that claws up his throat and presses hard against the back of his teeth.
Three — 2016
He doesn’t know how Seokjin keeps finding him. He’s changed names again and Seoul is nearly fifty times the size it was a hundred years ago, but here Kim Seokjin is, sitting on the curb outside his usual corner store. He looks weird in a striped t-shirt and green cardigan—fancy sneakers on his feet and hair dyed a platinum blond instead of the black it’s been for literal centuries.
“That hair color is ridiculous on you,” are the first words out of Yoongi’s mouth and Seokjin grins.
It’s been nearly twenty years since Yoongi last saw him and he won’t examine the notion that he missed the idiot. That’s impossible.
“Aww, Yoongi-yah, I’d say the same about you.”
Shit, Yoongi forgot he dyed his own hair blond last month in a fit of depressed boredom. His fingers twitch but he keeps them from darting to his scalp. Seokjin’s grin still widens, bright and knowing and infuriating.
“What are you doing here?” he asks instead of rising to the bait.
Seokjin arches an imperious eyebrow at him. “When have I ever answered that question honestly?”
Yoongi shrugs. “I was hoping today was the day you finally slip up. Now move, you’re blocking the door.”
He isn’t, but he still stands and brushes imaginary dirt from his designer jeans. Perhaps one of the things Yoongi hates most about the mysterious organization he works for is their fucking budget. Who sends people on missions in fucking Gucci sneakers?
“Are you shopping?”
Yoongi was going to, just a few essential because the lack of food in his apartment is reaching dire levels and he can’t be bothered to organize a proper grocery run when he’s in the middle of a writing spree. But now he imagines Seokjin trailing him through the narrow aisles of the convenience store, silently judging every item he picks out, and quickly rejects his previous plans.
“No.” He shoves his hands into his pockets and turns away. “I thought I needed something, but I don’t.”
Seokjin doesn’t call him out on that pathetic lie, just falls into step beside him. So much for being left in peace, though he really should have stopped expecting that a long time ago. He changes direction towards one of his favorite cafes—he doesn’t care if Seokjin judges him about coffee.
“So you’re Min Yoongi now,” Seokjin says as they walk. It’s a hot July afternoon but he doesn’t seem to be sweating in his layers. “Is that a reference to Queen Min?”
It is, but Yoongi shrugs. “Maybe.”
Seokjin hums. “How very sentimental of you.”
“I liked her,” Yoongi snaps, defensive. At Seokjin’s startled glance, he settles with a sigh and shakes his head. “I could relate to her.”
“Her life was a tragedy. She was brilliant, much more of a ruler than her husband, but people saw that as a threat instead of something to be admired. She lost most of her children. Her family was killed. She dealt with death threats long before they actually came for her head. And yet she never backed down. They had to murder her to silence her.”
Yoongi remembers hearing the news. He was a doctor by then, running his own small clinic, and the details of the Queen’s assassination rocked Seoul, then Hanseong, like an earthquake. Even after so long away from the throne, Yoongi still kept a close eye on the royal family and he’d liked Empress Myeongseong—admired her political acumen and her determination to push back against encroaching Japanese influence. If he had been a different monarch—born in a different time and free of the madness and cruelty that consumed him—he would have been honored to take her as a wife. He mourned her death far more than he had any other royal before her, especially when he learned the extent of the brutality and indignity she was forced to endure.
“I respected that,” Yoongi tells Seokjin now, staring up at the sunlight reflecting off the buildings high above them. “And I understood what it was like, to have to keep living.”
And though the death didn’t stick, Yoongi still remembers the terror he experienced in his first final moments—the feel of his own blood choking him, the realization that he couldn’t even scream as he gasped for air, the black closing in. Death has become an old friend now. He’s used to the pain of it, the cold embrace of it, but that first time has never completely left him, even after centuries have passed.
He’s startled by Seokjin’s hand slipping into his own. Seokjin isn’t looking at him as he twines their fingers together, but he doesn’t let go, just squeezes gently when he feels Yoongi stiffen. “Min is a good name,” he says quietly. “I doubt she’d mind you carrying it.”
Yoongi huffs. “I was a tyrant who died without honor.”
“You haven’t been that man in a long time, Yoongi-yah.”
“That man is the one in the history books.”
Seokjin hums and surprises Yoongi again by ducking down to plant a quick kiss on his cheek—featherlight pressure gone in a breath but still enough to punch the air from Yoongi’s lungs. “Her legacy was complicated too. Everyone’s is.” His expression darkens. “I say, Yoongi-yah, that you’ve paid back your debt. Many times over.”
Yoongi swallows thickly and shrugs. He doesn’t want to get lost in memories today, in the crush of the centuries. It’s rained all week, but today the sky is blue and the air is warm and he wants to enjoy a quiet afternoon in peace.
“Why are you here, Seokjin?”
Seokjin doesn’t let go of his hand. “To buy you coffee.” He throws a wink in for added levity.
Yoongi wants to ask if Seokjin is trying to woo him. If he thinks, after everything, that’s necessary. If he feels something more for Yoongi than someone he’s shared an unnatural connection with for centuries and fucked on occasion. If this is just another unpredictable move in the longest chess game ever played, or if somewhere along the way, they’ve stopped playing entirely.
The questions burn in his throat, but he leaves them unspoken. Seokjin’s hand is warm and dry in his own and they’ve reached the cafe.
“Food too,” he says to Seokjin. “I want lunch.”
Seokjin’s smile is too soft to look at for long. “Okay,” he says, finally letting go of Yoongi’s hand to open the door for him. “Lunch, it is. But you have to tell me about the book you’re working on.”
Yoongi blinks at him as he crosses the threshold into the cool interior of the cafe. Most of the tables are full, but the line at the counter is short. Yoongi stops himself in the middle of contemplating taking their food to a nearby park and having a picnic, like a proper date.
“You know I’m a writer?” He asks Seokjin instead. He keeps his real identity far removed from his pen name, but of course he should have expected Seokjin to figure out both.
“I love your novels,” Seokjin says and he sounds sincere. “I’ve read all of them.”
Yoongi cringes. “Even the first one?” It’s not nearly as skilled as the others, but it’s by far the most personal—about a tyrant king who survives an assassination attempt and learns to see the error of his ways, falling in love with a servant girl along the way.
Seokjin leans in close, to whisper in his ear. “That one was my favorite.”
Four — 1765
“A name, at least,” Yoongi snarls as he wraps his fingers around the stranger’s throat.
It’s been over a hundred years and Choi Yoongi became Han Yoongi, then Lee Yoongi, Jung Yoongi, Kang Yoongi, and now Choi Yoongi again, still a sangmin but one known for his fine cloths and silks and his skill with a needle. He has now lived amongst the lower class far longer than he ever resided in a palace and the sting of that change in status has mostly faded, but enough anger remains to want this man to pay for what he did.
Just like him, the stranger looks unchanged from the night they first met. This time, he’s not an official but dressed in the simple clothes of a peasant. He’d been carrying fish to sell at the market when Yoongi attacked him.
Now he’s on his back in the dirt of another forgotten alley, his hand fisted in Yoongi’s hair and anger on his handsome face.
“You owe me that.” Yoongi presses down and the stranger’s grip tightens, wrenching his head to the side.
“I don’t owe you … anything,” he wheezes, though he seems unafraid of Yoongi’s rage or violence.
“You killed me.”
“And yet … you’re still … breathing.” He bucks his hips, throwing Yoongi off of him and reversing their positions, pinning Yoongi to the ground by his wrists. Yoongi writhes and snarls again. “I did you a favor.”
Yoongi spits in his face. “You damned me.”
The stranger laughs, mocking, and presses down harder. Yoongi hisses. “You think you didn’t deserve it? How many people did you kill, Yoongi-yah.”
“It wasn’t for you to judge me.”
The man laughs again. “Too late for that.”
Yoongi stops fighting, sagging into the dirt. “Who are you?”
“Kim Seokjin,” the stranger says, cheerful. He finally lets Yoongi go and stands in one elegant motion. “And I’m on an assignment, so don’t get in my way.”
Yoongi sits up, rubbing his bruised wrists and contemplating if he could knock Kim Seokjin’s feet out from under him. “And if I do?”
A genteel smile. “I’ll kill you again.”
Yoongi scoffs. “I can’t die.”
“It would still hurt, wouldn’t it?”
It would, and Yoongi would rather avoid the indignity of being killed by this man a second time. “Fine.” He gets to his feet. “But this isn’t over.”
Seokjin picks up his ruined fish and frowns at them, before shrugging and throwing them back over his shoulder. “No, I imagine it isn’t. So—” He darts forward, still so fast, and buries a fist in Yoongi’s stomach. Yoongi wheezes and gasps, doubling over from the force of the blow. “That’s for stabbing me last time.”
“Bastard,” Yoongi chokes out.
“I’m sure you’ll pay me back,” Seokjin says, eyes dark. “Until next time.”
There is no swirling blue circle this time—Seokjin merely walks out of the alley and back onto the main street, whistling like nothing happened. Yoongi should go after him, maybe stab him again, but instead he sinks back to the ground and buries his head in his hands, trying to get his rage back under control.
At least he has a name to put to an infuriating face. And next time, he’ll be more prepared.
Five — 1958
Yoongi tips his head back with a gasp, eyes squeezed shut as Seokjin moves inside of him with measured, experienced thrusts. Seokjin who moans against his neck—one hand planted on the pillow near Yoongi’s head and the other gripping Yoongi’s thigh, lifting Yoongi’s leg to give himself better access. Yoongi’s hole aches from the stretch and the lack of prep, but the pain doesn’t feel like enough. So he yanks on Seokjin’s hair and hisses, “harder.”
Seokjin lifts his face enough to level Yoongi with a dubious frown, slowing inside of him instead.
“Fuck me harder,” Yoongi snaps. “Or leave.”
He never intended to let Seokjin back into his bed, into his sad little life in a country still falling apart, barely recovered from two wars and still under the iron fist of an oppressive ruler and a foreign military. But it seems he can never resist the pull of this man, because here they are. The only way Yoongi can cope with the frustration and shame coiled in his gut is to make sure this is as far from tender as possible. Just like the last time they did this almost a decade ago.
Seokjin’s teeth clench, but he snaps his hips forward, rough, and Yoongi moans as the ache sharpens. “Good. Harder.”
"Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
Yoongi laughs, though it’s little more than a wheezing gasp. “Please. You can’t hurt me.”
The things he’s endured in the last sixty years have already shattered him beyond what he thought possible. There is nothing Kim Seokjin could do to break him further, though a vicious part of Yoongi wants him to try. He wants to hate Seokjin again because that was easier. Hate is simple, but love….
“Come on,” he says and digs his fingers hard into Seokjin’s shoulder. “Give it to me. Stop pretending we’re gentle people.”
Seokjin slows his pace again—a drawn-out slide that makes Yoongi groan in frustration. “What if I want to be gentle with you?”
Yoongi slaps him across the face, hard enough to snap his head to the side. Regret wells as soon as the sound of skin against skin fades back into silence. They’ve tried to kill each other plenty of times and they’ve had rough sex, but they’ve never actually struck each other in bed. That isn’t the kind of man Yoongi is anymore. He worked so hard not to be that man, and now….
He tenses, waiting for retaliation—a hand to his throat or an answering blow. But Seokjin merely slips out of him, leaving him open and empty.
“I should go,” Seokjin says, sounding rattled. He hasn’t looked at Yoongi once since Yoongi hit him.
Yoongi closes his legs, pulling the discarded sheet over his lap as he sits up. “Wait. Wait, I’m sorry.”
Seokjin pauses in the middle of retrieving his underwear. Yoongi stares at the broad expanse of his back, at the circular scar near his shoulder that Yoongi now knows is from a gunshot wound, though Seokjin refuses to share the details of the mission. All this time and Yoongi remains mostly in the dark about the organization he works for.
Tell me there’s a better future, he begged in front of a medical tent in the middle of a war zone, a mere six years ago. Give me that hope, at least.
Seokjin looked infinitely sad and told him, I can’t share details of the future, Yoongi-yah.
Then get out, Yoongi said, furious. Leave us to our suffering. Just like you always have.
Now, Seokjin turns to face him with a grim expression. His left cheek is red and Yoongi winces. “Why are you so determined to have me hurt you? Are you trying to punish yourself?” He pauses. “Punish me?”
“Both,” Yoongi admits, staring down at his lap instead of meeting Seokjin’s eyes. He wants to hurt himself for still being alive after he watched so many of his own people die and he wants to hurt Seokjin for causing this immortality in the first place, and for his organization’s refusal to intervene as millions have suffered.
Seokjin sighs and comes back to the bed, crawling across the narrow mattress to Yoongi’s side and settling there. Yoongi drapes the sheet over him, too, and tenses when Seokjin runs his knuckles over Yoongi’s left shoulder. It’s his bad one—for some reason, it’s been the only injury since his facial scar that didn’t vanish upon his death. He’s still not sure why, but in some ways he’s glad for it. It’s evidence of all that he’s lived through in recent years—the only evidence he has.
“You still haven’t told me how this happened,” Seokjin says.
He doesn’t talk about his time in the mines or the year spent as a drafted soldier on the front lines of his oppressor’s war.
Seokjin sighs again, but kisses a hot trail up Yoongi’s shoulder to his neck. “I don’t want to punish you,” he murmurs. “I don’t want to be rough with you right now.”
“Why?” Seokjin hasn’t had any problems with it in the past.
Seokjin’s gaze is dark, almost haunted. “Because it’s been—I can’t tell you, but I’d like to remind myself I have a capacity for things other than violence. Will you give me that, Yoongi-yah?”
Yoongi’s throat clicks as he swallows, the last of his anger fading away. He leans over to Seokjin to grab his cigarettes from atop the stack of books next to his mattress and gestures to a nearby box as he puts one between his teeth. “Get me a light?”
Seokjin, after only a little bit of fumbling, procures matches and strikes one for him, holding it up to the butt of his cigarette. Once it’s lit, Yoongi inhales deep and then tilts his head back to blow a plume of smoke towards the ceiling. Seokjin wrinkles his nose in disgust.
“Your whole apartment is going to reek.”
“So open a window.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes but gets up from the mattress again to do just that, padding to the other side of the small studio to crack the windows open, letting in the winter chill. He still doesn’t bother to get dressed, just hurries back to bed and presses against Yoongi’s side again—his bare, now soft cock resting against Yoongi’s thigh.
“You know,” Yoongi says, exhaling more smoke. “I thought that after World War II ended, we’d finally be free. But we just traded one set of oppressors for another. We still have a foreign military stationed on our soil and Syngman Rhee is a king in all but title, just as much a tyrant as I ever was. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Nearly four centuries and so little has changed.”
“It’s not over yet,” Seokjin murmurs, running his fingers down Yoongi’s arm.
Yoongi arches an eyebrow at him. “Yeah? So someday, we’ll finally stop being a pawn in someone else’s war?”
“Tell me. I know.” He leans over and taps the ash from the end of his cigarette into the bowl on the floor next to the mattress. “I wasn’t really asking.”
Seokjin sighs and shifts, leaning up over Yoongi. “I’m sorry I can’t give you more information, Yoongichi.”
Yoongi hums. “So give me something else, instead.”
“Sure,” Seokjin says, earnest. “Name it.”
Yoongi drags a thumb over Seokjin’s lip. “Your mouth.”
Seokjin’s brow furrows and he tenses, but his voice is casual when he says, “want to fuck my throat, Yoongi-yah? Are we still talking about punishment?”
“No,” Yoongi promises, dropping his hand. “I won’t move. Or hurt you. Just …” he slides his gaze away from Seokjin, to his cracked ceiling. “Make me feel good,” he whispers. It’s been so, so long since he’s felt good. In body, mind, or spirit. “Please.”
“Hey.” Seokjin takes his chin, turning his face back so their eyes can meet. His are soft with rare tenderness, open in a way Yoongi’s only seen a handful of times before. “I can do that,” he says and plants a tender, almost chaste kiss on Yoongi’s mouth. “Just put out the cigarette,” he continues, tone turning teasing. “I don’t want ash in my hair.”
“You and your perfect hair,” Yoongi grumbles, but stubs out the cigarette and settles onto his back.
“My perfect everything,” Seokjin insists as he pulls the sheets back and starts kissing a hot line down Yoongi’s stomach and hips and then lower still, brushing over Yoongi’s cock, which is already starting to harden again.
Yoongi still rolls his eyes. “Please just shut up and suck my dick.”
Seokjin laughs, unhindered and a little squeaky—a sound Yoongi’s never heard from him before. It makes Yoongi’s chest go tight and strange, but before he can examine the sensation further, Seokjin takes the head of his cock between his lips, running his tongue over the slit, and Yoongi quickly loses himself in the wet, perfect heat.
Six — 1795
Yoongi cannot attend the funeral of the man he loves so he holds his own, in the forest far outside the city. He will be Kwon Yoongi soon, but for a few more days he is still Jang Yoongi, a blacksmith and a cheonmin who fell in love with a yangban far above his station. He’d never meant for it to happen—all too aware of what the consequences might be—but Kim Namjoon had been sincere and awkward and charismatic and Yoongi, so lonely, had caved easily.
Namjoon used to sneak away from his family estate, disguised as one of the servants, and explore Hanseong and the surrounding outskirts beyond the city gates. He’d met Yoongi when he’d needed his horse reshoed and they’d already slept together several times before Yoongi learned his true identity. By then, he was in too deep. He let Namjoon convince him that they could keep it a secret and for several years, he was right. Namjoon outwardly remained a dutiful third son of a local official, studying for the gwageo and preparing to take his place in society. But in his free hours, often in the cover of darkness, he would slip away to Yoongi’s shop and his simple quarters above it.
Yoongi showed Namjoon, so charmingly sheltered, how to touch him, how to fuck him, and they spent hours tangled up in each other. But they talked too. About family and dreams and fate and politics and so many things. Yoongi hadn’t talked this much with anyone since his first death and he found himself opening up to Namjoon more than he planned to, sharing his isolation, his guilt over a past that he never outlined beyond vague detail. He knew that Namjoon had questions about where he had come from and why a cheonmin seemed to have such a high degree of education, but he never asked them.
We could run away together, Namjoon whispered in his ear one night, as he moved deep inside of Yoongi and Yoongi clung to him, letting the pleasure build and build and build. Start a new life.
It was impossible and they both knew it, but Yoongi closed his eyes and allowed himself to pretend.
Pretending only lasts so long, though, and so do promises. Namjoon’s father found out, eventually, though how Yoongi still doesn’t know. And Namjoon was the third son of five, not needed to carry on a lineage. For the shame he’d brought to his family, his father killed him. He tied them up and ran a sword through them both before throwing Yoongi’s body in a ditch to rot.
Of course, Yoongi woke up. Namjoon did not.
Tomorrow, after Namjoon’s funeral, he will slip like a vengeful ghost into Namjoon’s family estate and enact his revenge. The head of the influential merchant Kim family will die by the same sword he used to gut his own son, but today is for goodbyes.
He wasn’t a spouse or family member so he does not have sangbok to wear and he will not have the resources to conduct jesa over the next three years. All he can give Namjoon is an oration, but that seems pointless: relaying the details of his life to a deaf, empty forest.
“I’m sorry,” he says to the trees and isn’t sure if he means for failing to protect Namjoon or for falling in love with him in the first place. Perhaps both. Love like theirs is foolish and doomed to tragedy, Yoongi should have remembered this before it was too late.
He sinks to his knees in the soft soil, curling his hands into trembling fists against his thighs. “I hope you were happy,” he whispers, stubbornly blinking back the blur of tears. He will not disgrace Namjoon further by crying. It is women who express their grief and men who bury theirs. “I hope I at least made you happy, Namjoon-ah.”
He wonders if his family will grant Namjoon full burial rites, if his spirit will be able to pass peacefully to the afterlife, if they will perform jesa for him as they do their ancestors. Or will he, for the shame he wrought, be struck from the family genealogy and purposefully forgotten? Perhaps that is the gift Yoongi can give: memory. Even if it is not the traditional kind.
A twig snaps loud in the stillness, like it’s been broken underfoot, and Yoongi’s head jerks up. He reaches for the sword he technically shouldn’t be carrying, but there are advantages to the blacksmith trade. He was expecting members of Namjoon’s estate, perhaps even the podocheong coming to arrest him, but it is Kim Seokjin that emerges from the trees.
Yoongi’s lips part in shock at the sight of him. Today, he’s dressed as a yangbang merchant in a pale blue hanbok and a gat perched on his head. Yoongi draws his sword, but Seokjin raises his hands.
“I am not here to fight,” he says.
“Then why?” Yoongi asks, keeping his sword drawn.
Seokjin hesitates, stopping a few paces away. “I didn’t … you shouldn’t be alone.”
He’s talking about Namjoon, Yoongi realizes, and he tightens his grip on the hilt of his sword. “How the fuck do you know about that?”
“I cannot,” Seokjin says. “It’s too early.”
Yoongi doesn’t understand what he means by that, but he’s too drained to attempt to pry more information from him. This Seokjin seems different than the one he met thirty years ago—less sharp-edged, less caustic.
"Fine,” Yoongi sighs, also too exhausted to chase him off. “But do not disturb me.”
“I won’t,” Seokjin promises and drops to his knees next to Yoongi in the dirt, seemingly uncaring about sullying his fine clothes. “I’ll just sit with you.”
He mimics Yoongi’s pose, putting his hands on his thighs and bowing his head. And they sit together in silence, side by side. Yoongi mourns the dead. He has no idea what Kim Seokjin thinks about and later, he’ll look back on the encounter and wonder if he dreamed it.
Seven — 2018
His magic is mostly gone, drained from him along with his blood in 1605 (during the ritual Seokjin committed that also caused the scar on his eye), but a faint spark remains. Just enough to send a flicker of warning a few minutes before Kim Seokjin falls in beside him on the path. It’s an overcast, miserable winter day, but that hasn’t prevented Yoongi from taking Holly on their daily walk through the park. Usually it’s a time for Yoongi to empty his mind, drink in the smell of the trees, and forget everything beyond his peaceful bubble for a precious hour.
Not today it seems.
Immediately he can tell that this Seokjin is a later version, one who’s visited him in the future before, evidenced by the fact that Seokjin coos at Holly with easy recognition and Holly barks happily back.
Today, he blends in with their surroundings—clad in jeans and white sneakers with a long brown coat buttoned to ward off the chill. A baseball cap obscures his eyes, but Yoongi still catches the smile that dances across his lips before he says, “good morning, Yoongi-yah.”
“I’m older than you,” Yoongi replies automatically—his half of this well-worn exchange.
“You don’t know that.”
“I’m literally four hundred and fifty years old.”
“I could have been born in the Three Kingdoms Period.”
Seokjin claps a hand over his chest in mock outrage. “You don’t know that.”
It’s true, Yoongi doesn’t. Seokjin has told him a little of it—of the magic he was born with and the noble house he was raised in. More than likely, Seokjin was born before him, but he also doesn’t know if this is a Seokjin who has shared that information with him yet, so he continues with their argument.
“You should still call me hyung,” he grumbles, pausing to let Holly sniff a nearby tree. He should have worn better shoes. The damp grass is steadily soaking through his flimsy sneakers and he hates the cold, wet feel of it.
Seokjin waves a dismissive hand. “Maybe someday.”
“Why are you here?” Yoongi asks while he debates telling Seokjin about the other night. Does this Seokjin remember? Or is that event still in his future? Time travel makes Yoongi’s head hurt.
Fortunately, Seokjin answers his unspoken question. “Because you had an interesting visitor two nights ago.”
“Ah,” Yoongi says, subtly tightening his grip on the leash. He’s not sure what he’s expecting. Anger? Regret? A fight? Him and Seokjin have had centuries to break each other apart and figure out how to shore up their ruins—though again, he has no idea how long it’s really been for Seokjin. “I did.”
Seokjin doesn’t apologize—that already happened long ago, in a tiny apartment, in a war zone, in front of the tomb of a long-dead king—but his big hand reaches for Yoongi, crooked fingers curling over Yoongi’s shoulder, and he tilts his baseball cap up enough that he can press their foreheads together. Yoongi sighs at the touch, closing his eyes and feeling the warmth of Seokjin’s breath against his cheek.
“Why did you never mention?” Yoongi asks after a long moment of silence, voice little more than a murmur. “That you came to see me after?”
Seokjin sighs and pulls away. His eyes reflect the same weariness Yoongi feels deep in his bones. “I never knew how. Or could find the right time.”
“You have nothing but time,” Yoongi points out, without the bite that would have existed even a few decades ago.
Seokjin laughs, self-deprecating. “And yet there’s never enough of it.” He shakes his head, then adjusts the cap that’s now almost in danger of falling off. “It’s against policy to tell anyone on the linear timeline events of the future, I’ve said that before.”
Ah, so this isn’t the Seokjin that visited him in 1993, but hopefully that isn’t too far into Seokjin’s future. Yoongi’s running out of patience waiting for that version to show up.
“You keep coming to see me,” Yoongi presses. “Pretty sure that’s against policy too.”
“Then why?” It’s a question he’s never dared to ask before, but the appearance of an earlier Seokjin rattled him more than he wants to admit. “What do you want?”
Seokjin smiles at him—a sad, affectionate quirk of his mouth. He lifts a hand again, this time to run his knuckles down the smooth skin of Yoongi’s cheek before moving up to brush the scar that’s stayed red even after healing.
“I’ll let you know,” Seokjin says, “when I’ve figured it out.”
Yoongi laughs, tired. “You’ve had plenty of time to do that,” he accuses without much real heat.
“You’re right,” Seokjin concedes and looks out over the park, a strange tightness in his jaw. “I have.”
Eight — 1883
Times are changing. After a relatively uneventful century, the last decade has brought strange new powers and familiar adversaries to Korean shores. Yoongi hears stories about the expansion of Japanese trade in Busan, sees foreign legations from places like the United States, Russia, and France pop up in Hanseong. King Gojong talks of modernization and reform but also sympathizes with Japanese military advisors and the people are restless and angry. Just last year, riots swept through Hanseong, resulting in the violent deaths of numerous officials and the occupation of even Changdeokgung Palace, forcing Queen Min to flee for her life. Now, there is peace but it’s the uneasy kind, like a kettle placed back on heat and steadily reapproaching an inevitable boil.
Yoongi’s own fortunes have slipped further into the dredges of society. He had a few good years as a trader and a handful more as a swordsmith, then a carpenter, then an architect, but he has struggled with his newest identity. Work was scarce and in desperation, he turned to butchery and tanning, which got him labeled as a baekjeong. When even that work ran out, he found himself begging on the streets.
I used to be a king, he thinks as he looks down at the rags he calls clothes and feels his stomach twist with now-familiar hunger pains. His last meal was nearly two days ago and consisted of half-rotted vegetables and some meager, bad rice that a restaurant was already planning on throwing out. Nearly three centuries ago, he repelled Japan’s first attempt to conquer them, and now King Gojong caves endlessly to their demands. It makes him furious, it makes him ache, but there is nothing he can do. He starved to death twice last winter and as the days grow colder, he finds himself staring down the same fate.
He has contemplated, a few times, about selling himself the way that some baekjeong women do, but who would want a scrawny, half-dead thing? Or a man, at that. He would probably just get himself killed, though at least that would be quicker than starvation.
A pair of leather hwa steps into his field of vision and he automatically lifts his wooden bowl in supplication, too ashamed to face whoever might hopefully toss coin his way. Unless it’s a city official or angry yangban here to tell him to stop sullying the street. Usually they start by kicking him, though, and the words come later.
“Yoongi-yah,” a painfully familiar voice says, even though he hasn’t heard it in nearly a century.
He lifts his eyes and isn’t sure whether to scream or laugh or cry at the sight of Kim Seokjin standing over him. He’s still a merchant, still a yangbang, but his hanbok is hidden beneath his black durumagi.
“What do you want?” Yoongi rasps. “Come to gloat?”
Seokjin actually crouches down to his level. “I have a room at a nearby inn. Come stay with me for the night.”
Yoongi squints at him. “Are you … propositioning me?”
Seokjin tilts his head, contemplative. “Would you say yes if I was?”
Humiliation burns like acid in Yoongi’s gut, but the hunger is stronger and he nods, trying to hide behind his unkempt hair.
Seokjin is quiet for a long moment. “I’m not propositioning you,” he says and his voice is kind. “I’m offering food and a bath and fresh clothes, as long as you don’t try to kill me.”
Yoongi’s too weak to even think about attempting murder, even though a part of him still hates Seokjin and would love to see him bleed. “Why?”
“It’s complicated,” Seokjin says, an echo of nearly a century ago.
Yoongi does laugh then, but lets Seokjin help him up and steady him when his frail legs barely hold his meager weight. “Hold on,” Seokjin says, ushering them off the main street. He sweeps Yoongi’s hair up in a loose topknot and settles his gat on Yoongi’s head, then takes off his durumagi and helps Yoongi slip into it.
“That’ll quiet some of the gossip,” he declares. “But keep your head down.”
Yoongi mumbles his assent. Seokjin guides him through the bustling afternoon streets, into a much nicer section of the city and to an establishment that Yoongi probably couldn’t afford to even set foot in. Seokjin nods to the woman who emerges to greet them and says that he’s going to his room, placing a handful of mun in her hands and also asking her to bring warm water for bathing. She eyes Yoongi suspiciously, but merely bows and lets them pass.
Seokjin’s room is the nicest Yoongi has been in in years, with warm blankets to sleep on and heated floors and a large table that could fit more dishes than Yoongi dares dream of. After they’ve removed their shoes at the threshold, Seokjin guides Yoongi to sit down on one of the cushions at the table. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to ask the innkeeper to prepare food for us to eat here and check on the bath water.”
He disappears, leaving Yoongi to fidget nervously. He pinches his arm, hissing at the sharp pain, but the room doesn’t disappear, increasing the likelihood that this is not a fever-fueled dream. After a few more minutes, Seokjin returns, carrying a bucket of water and a few cloths thrown over one shoulder.
He gestures to the folding screen erected on one side of the room. “You can bathe behind there. If you need help with your hair or anything else, just tell me.”
Yoongi raises his eyebrows, a little shocked at Seokjin’s forwardness and seeming willingness to see him naked. Seokjin smirks and shrugs. “I’m not very traditional,” he says. “Nudity is nothing to be alarmed at. But I’ll give your privacy. Though first….” He opens a trunk near the folded sleeping blankets and pulls out an extra set of clothes, much more common than the elegant ones he’s currently wearing but still far nicer than Yoongi’s pathetic rags. “You can change into these when you’re finished.”
And with that he takes a seat with his back to the screen, humming quietly to himself—a tune that Yoongi doesn’t recognize.
Yoongi takes the bucket behind the screen and strips from his filthy clothes. He’s become immune to the stench of them and his own body, but he still nearly cries at the first touch of warm water to his skin. It’s been so long. He scrubs vigorously, making sure to get every last speck of dirt while also not spilling too much water over the floor, then washes his hair as best as he can.
He dresses with shaky hands, fumbling with the layers of the hanbok until Seokjin says “let me” and comes over to help him fasten the jeogori in place.
“Thank you,” Yoongi murmurs, eyes back on the floor.
Seokjin hums in acknowledgment and touches the wet tangle of his hair. “Let me brush your hair for you too.”
Yoongi frowns. That’s an … intimate offer. Not something men do with each other in polite society. Once again, Seokjin must pick up on his unspoken question because his lips quirk and he goes to retrieve a brush and a comb from the trunk.
“I told you,” he says, gesturing for Yoongi to sit on a cushion again and kneeling behind him. “I’m not traditional.”
“No,” Yoongi murmurs, folding his hands awkwardly in his lap as Seokjin starts at the bottom of his hair, working out the knots with practiced, careful hands. “I suppose you’re not.”
“You can say what’s on your mind.”
Yoongi plays with his fingers, a nervous tic. “It’s been nearly three centuries.”
“Yes,” Seokjin agrees.
“And yet you’re unchanged, like me. Are you also immortal?”
Yoongi resists the urge to twist and stare at him. “What does that mean?”
Seokjin sighs. “I cannot tell you much, but I work for an organization that possesses the ability to travel through space and time.”
That sounds absurd, but Yoongi was magical once and his mind immediately darts back to a market in 1651. “That first time we met, after you killed me….”
“That was a portal, yes,” Seokjin says, still brushing. “I shouldn’t have done it in front of you, but you had just stabbed me and I was panicking a little.”
“So you can jump through time,” Yoongi murmurs, a little awed. “You’ve been to the future.”
“And the past,” Seokjin says.
"You know me there,” Yoongi surmises. “In the future.”
Seokjin makes a noncommittal sound. He’s reached Yoongi’s scalp and he leans up to smooth Yoongi’s errant bangs out of his eyes.
“Is that why you’re helping me now?”
Yoongi twists the fabric of his baji. “I have nothing to offer you in return, except—”
“I don’t want that,” Seokjin cuts him off.
Yoongi scoffs. “I thought you said you weren’t traditional.”
“I’m not.” Seokjin sets the comb aside and picks up the brush, running it from the top of Yoongi’s head to the ends of his hair, resting against the middle of his back. “I have no problem with men taking pleasure from each other and I don’t consider it an abomination, or anything like what society insists.” He pauses and his voice is soft. “I do consider it an abomination if one party isn’t fully willing.”
Yoongi bows his head, shivering at the feel of Seokjin pressed up against his back. It’s been so long since he’s touched another person, especially intimately. He’s not sure he would be all that unwilling. “I see,” is all he says and then pauses like Seokjin, thinking. “But we have slept together, haven’t we?”
It’s easy to see, now that he's looking. Seokjin touches him with familiarity, with intimacy that speaks of a deeper connection than the handful of moments they’ve shared across the last three centuries.
Seokjin’s answering silence is telling. Yoongi blows out a shaky breath.
“I don’t expect anything of you,” Seokjin insists.
“But it’s going to happen.” Yoongi finally twists to look at him and sees Seokjin’s gaze darts down to his mouth and then back up to his eyes. Ha. “For you it already has.”
“The future isn’t set in stone, Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says.
“And the past?”
Seokjin leans forward and kisses Yoongi gently on the cheek. “I don’t know.”
Yoongi fists a hand in his jeogori. “What if I said I wanted it?” He’s not sure that he does, but knowing that it’s happened. Well, it makes him curious. And sex is sometimes just another battle, one that perhaps he wouldn’t mind waging with Kim Seokjin. “Would you give it to me?”
“I don’t know.” But there is a yes in Seokjin’s eyes, it’s only going to be a matter of time.
Either way, they’re interrupted by the arrival of food. The innkeeper and two women who must be her daughters lay out a truly dizzying array of dishes on the table. Yoongi’s mouth waters at the smell and sight of them, but he remains seated where he is, keeping his head down to hide his face. Through the curtain of his hair, he can see the innkeeper pause at the door, slipping her shoes back on and frowning.
“I am happy to accommodate your request for a private meal, Seokjin-nim,” she says, and then her eyes move to Yoongi and linger. The frown on her face deepens. “However, I would like to remind you that this is a respectable establishment.”
“Thank you for the reminder, Soonja-ssi,” Seokjin says, bowing. His tone is respectful but firm, dismissive—a subtle reminder of their respective stations and how far Soonja is allowed to question him. “I promise that Yoongi-ssi is merely a friend that has fallen on some hard times. I am providing him a roof over his head, that is all.”
Soonja returns the bow and vanishes, her daughters trailing behind her.
“We’re friends now, Seokjin-ah?” Yoongi asks, arching an eyebrow.
Seokjin shrugs and sits down across from Yoongi at the table. “Do you still want to kill me?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, we can be friends in the meantime.” He gestures to the food. “For now, eat.”
Yoongi eyes the dishes, a little overwhelmed. It looks like a meal fitting of a royal table with dishes such as miyeok guk, gomtang, mandu and ddeokguk, saengchae, and even sinselleo. Yoongi accepts the chopsticks that Seokjin hands him and vows to eat slowly, determined not to embarrass himself in front of Seokjin. He steadily fills his stomach, also trying not to moan at how good the food tastes on his tongue after weeks of stale and rotting and soiled things.
Once he’s finished, Seokjin calls for Soonja or a member of the staff to clear away the dishes.
“Yoongi-yah,” he says when they’re alone again, “my assignment this time is longer than usual. You’re welcome to stay, for the duration of it.”
Yoongi eyes him warily, wondering where the catch is. “Why?”
“Because I owe you,” Seokjin says—the most straightforward he’s been all evening. His mouth twists. “Or I will owe you. And I’d like to repay that debt, if you’ll let me.”
“Fine,” Yoongi agrees after a moment, still a little too desperate to turn down a place to sleep and more food. “I’ll stay.”
Seokjin grins at him, pleased.
Nine — The Next Three Weeks
Seokjin is gone for long periods during the day and refuses to elaborate on what he’s doing or what the nature of his mission is. Yoongi eats the food provided for him and sleeps far too much and then talks with Seokjin late into the evening. Seokjin is the only one who knows his origins and his history, so Yoongi finds himself unable to stop from sharing his thoughts and opinions about recent events, or scraps of knowledge he’s managed to glean even during the years spent as a cheonmin or lower. Seokjin listens aptly, though doesn’t offer much in return—probably too worried about accidentally giving away future details.
And then one night, Seokjin comes back with blood on his robes. Yoongi, absorbed in a book of poetry Seokjin lent him, surges to his feet at the gleam of it in the candlelight.
“Is that yours?” Seokjin shakes his head. “So you killed someone?”
He’s not sure why it matters, it’s not like he’s a saint by any means. But suddenly, he’s back in his bedchambers so long ago, clawing helplessly at the sheets as he drowned in his own blood, and the force of the memory is enough to make bile crawl up his throat.
“It was my assignment,” Seokjin says, though he sounds a little hollow. He flinches when he glances at Yoongi and it’s then that Yoongi realizes that he’s wrapped a hand around his own neck, trying to stop a phantom flow of blood.
“Do you feel any guilt?” Yoongi asks, dropping his hand. “For what you did to me?”
“No,” Seokjin snaps, but his face says otherwise.
“For what you did tonight?”
“No, it’s a part of my job.”
Yoongi scoffs. “So you’re nothing more than a petty assassin.”
“It’s not that simple!” Seokjin clenches his hands into fists, glaring now.
Yoongi doesn’t know what possesses him. Perhaps it is the anger that hasn’t fully been exorcised, perhaps it is a long buried need, perhaps it is nothing more than pure desire that’s been taking shape over the last week. Whatever the reason, he stalks forward before his brain catches up with his feet and wrenches Kim Seokjin down by the front of his bloodstained jeogori to slot their mouths together.
Seokjin gasps, then groans into the rough kiss and buries an equally rough hand in Yoongi’s loose hair and from there the fight is on. They don’t take much care with each other as they shed their clothes. Seokjin scrapes red lines into Yoongi’s hips and Yoongi retaliates by wrapping a hand around Seokjin’s throat and squeezing until Seokjin wheezes for air and throws him off. They crash back together quickly though, biting mouths and bruising fingers. It isn’t anything close to the lovemaking he shared with Namjoon or the handful of short-lived flings he’s had over the centuries, but Yoongi revels in it. He wants to hurt Seokjin and wants Seokjin to hurt him in return.
This is who they are, not the charade of kindness they’ve been playing at for the past seven days.
“Did I take you?” he asks when he finally has Seokjin pinned on his stomach on the floor with a hand at the back of his neck. “The first time?”
“No,” Seokjin rasps, voice raw from Yoongi fucking his mouth a few minutes earlier. Most of his hair has come free from it’s topknot, hanging in streams around his red face.
“Well, I’m going to take you now,” Yoongi hisses—voice equally raw from Seokjin burying his cock down Yoongi’s throat and keeping it there until Yoongi’s eyes watered and his head swam. He knees Seokjin’s legs apart, exposing his hard cock and clenching hole, and hears Seokjin suck in a sharp breath.
“Tell me no now,” he says, because he won’t do this if Seokjin doesn’t truly want it. Even when he was a tyrant king, he was never that kind of monster. “And I’ll stop.”
“Fuck me,” Seokjin hiccups, nails scraping against the floor. “C’mon.”
That’s all the permission Yoongi needs. He goes too fast, with not enough prep, but Seokjin eggs him on the whole time and when Yoongi sinks into him, he claps a hand over his mouth to quiet his scream but his eyes look relieved, like he wants this pain just as much as Yoongi.
Yoongi fucks him hard, replacing Seokjin’s hand with his own and digging his fingers hard into Seokjin’s cheeks. Seokjin moans against his palm as Yoongi drapes across his back and nips at his ear.
“Look at how good you take it,” Yoongi sneers. “A killer and a whore.”
Seokjin reaches up and yanks on Yoongi’s hair hard in retaliation for the insult. Yoongi bites the inside of his own cheek to keep from crying out at the flare of pain and shoves Seokjin’s chest to the floor, pulling his hips up so he can push his cock in even deeper. He takes what he wants, uncaring of Seokjin’s own pleasure, though he bats Seokjin’s hand away when he reaches for his cock.
“You come on my cock or not at all,” he says.
“Fuck you,” Seokjin snarls back, but doesn’t try again, just squeezes his eyes shut, panting from the force of Yoongi’s thrusts.
Eventually, though, he does come, clenching around Yoongi with a bitten off moan and spilling on the floor. Yoongi laughs, delighted, and keeps fucking him, chasing his own release. Seokjin whines in a mixture of oversensitivity, pleasure, and pain, but takes it—not resisting when Yoongi yanks him back up onto his hands and knees.
Yoongi’s stamina is waning. He’s still weak from his years of hunger and he knows he can’t keep going much longer. Huffing in frustration, he pulls out of Seokjin and watches, a little enraptured, as the puffy, raw edges of his hole flutter at the sudden emptiness. He sinks three of his fingers back into the still-tight heat, enjoying the shocked noise that spills from Seokjin's mouth, and fists his own cock with his other hand, stroking himself rapidly towards orgasm.
He comes across Seokjin’s lower back and then slips his fingers free from Seokjin’s hole and flops to the floor, struggling to catch his breath. Seokjin sags onto his side, eyes still closed, and does the same. For several long moments, only the harsh sounds of their breathing fill the room.
Seokjin stirs first, reaching back to prod at his hole and wincing.
“You asked for it,” Yoongi mutters defensively.
“I did,” Seokjin agrees. “But the least you can do is clean us up.”
Yoongi groans but hauls himself to his feet and retrieves a cloth, wetting it in the now lukewarm water from the bucket Seokjin requested earlier that day. He wipes himself down first and then cleans the come from Seokjin’s back and the remnants of blood on his face. The floor is last and then Yoongi dumps the soiled cloth by the bucket and wordlessly unfurls the sleeping blankets.
“Come here,” he says to Seokjin as he settles on top of the thicker one.
“What, are we going to cuddle now?” Seokjin asks, scathing.
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Fine, sleep naked on the hard floor. I don’t care.”
“I’m the one paying for this room.”
Yoongi settles further beneath the top blanket. “I’m still capable of gutting you.”
Seokjin snorts, but crawls over, squeezing in next to Yoongi and blowing out the candles, plunging the room into darkness.
And Yoongi doesn’t plan on it, but it happens again. And again. And again—until they’ve fucked regularly for two weeks and they’re both sore and exhausted and satiated. It’s risky, this game that they’re playing, but neither of them back down from the precipice of disaster.
Finally, on the fifth night of their third week living together, Seokjin says, “my assignment is over. I leave tomorrow.”
Yoongi ignores the sudden, powerful sinking feeling in his gut. “Where are you going? Or when?”
“I can’t tell you,” Seokjin reminds him, though he seems sad. “But I’m sure we’ll meet again.”
Yoongi nods, schooling his features into a stoic mask. “Hopefully, I won’t be a beggar next time.”
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that,” Seokjin says. “If money wasn’t an issue, what would you want to do?”
Yoongi frowns, contemplative. He thinks of the riots last year, of people screaming and dying in the streets, and of the blood that he still can feel staining his bones—penance he has yet to pay.
“I’d become a doctor,” he says. “Study medicine.” He already knows quite a bit of traditional practices, but he’s had no formal schooling.
Seokjin nods and then pushes a box towards Yoongi. Yoongi opens it and gapes at the amount of money inside, more coin than he’s seen in several lifetimes. “Then do it. This is yours.”
Seokjin smiles at him, still sad. “You’ll be an amazing doctor, Yoongi-yah.”
He says it with the certainty of one who has seen the future and Yoongi swallows thickly. “Thank you.”
They don’t fuck that night, just lie curled up together in the dark, limbs entangled and mouths seeking—kisses pressed to lips, cheeks, necks, and shoulders. It’s a new, terrifying level of intimacy, but the next morning Yoongi wakes up alone. All of Seokjin’s things are gone and there is a note on fresh hanji draped on the table, informing Yoongi that the bill for the room has been settled and wishing him luck with his future studies.
I’m sorry, it says at the end. Yoongi wonders if Seokjin is apologizing for what happened between them over the past month … or for things yet to come.
Ten — 2017
Yoongi was planning on fully committing to the cliche of a hermit writer. He left Korea in 2003, determined to see the world. It was his first time outside the country since he was drafted in 1944 and he spent nearly a decade traversing the globe. He started in Asia, visiting China, India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines (but not Japan, not yet) and then headed west, into the Middle East and Africa and Europe before finally landing in the United States and winding his way south through Central and Latin America. He worked odd jobs when he needed money and made dozens of acquaintances from diverse walks of life. It was enlightening and uplifting. He liked being Cho Yoongi, with his easy demeanor and ability to befriend people wherever he went, but by the time he finally returned to Korea he was exhausted and drained and a little haunted.
Min Yoongi was meant to be quieter—private, reclusive, and alone. A new life to let him recover and settle back into his homeland and himself. But Lee Jieun changed that. The manager of the cafe a few blocks from his apartment that he found himself frequenting—she always stopped by to talk to him if she was working and their conversations flowed easy. She was a musician, in her spare time, and insisted that songwriting was just another form of storytelling.
She was kind and witty and Yoongi liked her immediately. But when she asked him on a date one afternoon, he still gently turned her down.
I’m gay, he whispered, though that wasn’t strictly true. He’d slept with women before and enjoyed their company, even if most of his lasting romances had been with men. But it was easier than getting her tangled up in his immortality or Seokjin or any of the other strange aspects of his life.
Actually saying those words still terrified him, and for a moment he had a violent flashback to Namjoon’s tear-streaked face, but then Jieun’s hands covered his own and she squeezed in tight reassurance, murmuring, I’m bi, Yoongi-ssi. Let’s be friends?
Which is why, three years later, he’s currently on Jeju, enjoying a week away from the bustle of Seoul. A creative retreat , Jieun called it, and they have worked on projects together and separately but also spent plenty of time on the beach and enjoying the local restaurants and cafes. It’s off season, so the island isn’t too busy, and for once Yoongi doesn’t mind the cold. He’s laughed more in Jieun’s company than he has in a long time and he’s gotten through the writing block on his latest novel that’s been stalling him for weeks.
Of course, he can never have true peace and quiet for long. Which is why, on his last night there, he answers a knock on his hotel room door to find Kim Seokjin slumped against the doorframe, bleeding all over the hallway floor.
“Fuck,” Yoongi exclaims, eyes wide.
Seokjin smiles with too-red lips. “I’m sorry … Yoongi-yah,” he rasps. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Back to your agency?” Yoongi suggests but still reaches out to grasp Seokjin’s arm and pull him inside.
Seokjin shakes his head. “Not an option … right now. Not enough magic.”
Yoongi shakes his head and closes the door behind Seokjin. “Lean on me,” he says, feeling himself slip into Doctor Mode. It’s been a long time since he was one, but it’s been his longest career and he hasn’t let his skills completely fade. “Let’s get your shoes off. I don’t want more blood everywhere.”
Seokjin giggles, sounding punch-drunk and halfway to delirious, but he dutifully toes off the stained boots he’s wearing. Yoongi leaves him swaying near the door to rush around the room and turn on all the lights. The increased visibility doesn’t put him at ease. The entire sides of Seokjin’s baggy shirt and jacket are soaked and he’s shaking as he presses a hand tight to where the wound must be—between his ribs, dangerously close to his stomach and plenty of vital organs.
I can’t lose him, Yoongi thinks hysterically and then shuts that part of himself down. Suddenly, he is back in a war zone and he has a patient to save.
“Stay with me,” he says as he returns to Seokjin, wrapping Seokjin’s free arm around his shoulders and half walks, half drags him into the bathroom. They’re staying at a modern hotel, full of Western features that Yoongi is suddenly grateful for as he lowers Seokjin down with his back to the large bathtub.
Seokjin wheezes, eyelashes fluttering. Yoongi snaps his fingers in front of Seokjin’s face and Seokjin startles, blinking up at him. “Stay with me, Seokjin-ah,” he says, firm.
Seokjin nods, keeping his eyes open now, and Yoongi turns to fish out his medical kit from where he stashed it under the sink. Seokjin gasps out another laugh as Yoongi sets it on the floor and opens it. “Knew … you were still … carrying that around….”
Yoongi shrugs. “Old habits.” He likes being prepared for any scenario—including, apparently, a dying Kim Seokjin coming to him for help.
“Okay, we need to stop the bleeding,” he says, shuffling on his knees to Seokjin’s injured side. “Let me see.”
Seokjin lets his hand fall away and Yoongi lifts the hem of his shirt and jacket, sucking in a sharp breath when he sees the deep gash running from his stomach all the way around his side to his back. “What the fuck did this? Sword?” But it can’t be, because there is also burn damage along the edges of the wound, like it seared as well as cut, though it didn’t cauterize the torn skin.
“Hasn’t … been … invented yet….” Seokjin chokes out, head tipped back against the edge of the tub.
“Great.” Yoongi sighs and reaches into the kit for a knife. “Fucking time travel.”
“It’s a ... bitch,” Seokjin agrees.
“Well, sorry, but I’m going to ruin this jacket and … Disneyland Tokyo shirt.”
“Long story,” Seokjin mumbles. “But go ahead … hate Disneyland.”
Yoongi cuts the clothes away, fully exposing Seokjin’s wound. He reminds himself that he’s dealt with far worse before, especially during the war, and sinks into the work. First, he presses gauze to Seokjin’s side and puts Seokjin’s hand over it, instructing him to keep the pressure on. The gauze turns red worryingly fast and Yoongi curses and swaps out the bandages, this time applying pressure with both hands. Seokjin’s skin is clammy to the touch and he looks far too pale, washed out in the bright lights of the bathroom, but he’s still fighting to stay conscious.
“You’re doing good,” Yoongi soothes him. “You’re doing so good, Seokjin-ah, just hold on.”
He swaps the bandage out with another and another and another, until ten minutes later, the blood flow has finally slowed to a trickle. Yoongi swears in shaky relief and smooths Seokjin’s sweat-soaked black bangs from his forehead.
“You still with me?” Seokjin nods weakly. “Good, I need to clean it now, okay?” Another nod.
Yoongi places another piece of gauze between Seokjin’s teeth so that he doesn’t bite through his tongue and to muffle his inevitable screams.
“Brace yourself,” he says as he carefully applies disinfectant to the torn skin of the wound. Seokjin shouts into the makeshift gag but holds himself still under Yoongi’s hands. The bleeding doesn’t resume its earlier intensity, thankfully, but it’s still far too deep and big for Yoongi to stitch.
“I’m going to pack it,” he informs Seokjin and Seokjin nods again, still biting down hard on the gauze in his mouth. “You can pass out now if you want.”
Another wheezy laugh, which Yoongi takes as a good sign.
He carefully packs the wound and then wraps gauze tight around Seokjin’s torso to prevent any further bleeding. Then he runs a washcloth under warm water and gently cleans the remaining blood and sweat from Seokjin’s skin. Seokjin smiles gratefully up at him, gaze unfocused, and Yoongi can’t resist dropping a kiss on the top of his head.
“Let’s get you into a bed.”
He helps Seokjin upright, biting back his own wince when Seokjin accidentally pushes down too hard on his bad shoulder, and waddles them back out into the main room. There is only one double bed, but Yoongi doesn’t mind sharing. He lays a towel down on one side, in case the wound bleeds further in the night, and then lowers Seokjin onto the mattress. Once Seokjin is settled, he goes back to the bathroom to mop up the blood on the floor and dispose of the soaked bandages, hopefully reducing it from “potential murder scene” to “mildy disturbing.” He throws his own bloody clothes in the trash, showers, and then redresses in fresh pajamas.
Seokjin is passed out when he gets back to bed, but his breathing is even and he seems out of danger for now. Yoongi still can’t resist taking Seokjin’s hand and cradling it to his chest as he falls into an uneasy sleep.
In the morning, Seokjin seems much more alert and there is only a little fresh blood on the gauze, meaning the packing is doing its job.
“Well, looks like you’ll live,” Yoongi declares and Seokjin smiles at him.
“Thank you. I owe you.”
Pieces rapidly fall together. “Oh my god,” Yoongi says. “This is what you were talking about. In 1883.”
Seokjin’s brow furrows. “1883?”
Of course, right, that’s still in his future. “You’ll see,” Yoongi says, then shakes his head. “Fucking time travel. It feels like nothing lines up right, not even our first time sleeping together.” Because by 1947, Yoongi remembered 1883, but Seokjin didn’t. And in 1883, 1947 was in Seokjin’s past and Yoongi’s future.
“It’s a bitch,” Seokjin agrees softly.
Yoongi frowns at him, another question bubbling to the forefront of his mind. “How did you even find me?”
“I always know where you are, Yoongichi,” Seokjin says and taps his own chest. “In here.”
Yoongi has no idea if he’s joking or not—it can be impossible to tell with Seokjin, sometimes—so he just rolls his eyes and lets it go. “Whatever you say. I’ll go get you some breakfast and—”
A knock on the door.
“Yoongi-yah?” Jieun calls. “Are you ready?”
Shit, he completely forgot about Jieun and their breakfast plans.
“Do you have a girlfriend, Yoongi-yah?” Seokjin asks with a waggle of his eyebrows.
“Just a friend,” Yoongi insists and doesn’t examine why it’s so important that Seokjin knows that. His stupid pining can be quiet for a day. “We’re getting breakfast and then going to see a museum.”
“Yoongi-yah?” Jieun calls louder, sounding concerned now.
“Just a minute, sorry!” Yoongi calls. “I overslept.”
Jieun laughs. “Okay, meet me outside when you’re ready.”
Her footsteps retreat and Yoongi rakes a hand through his hair. “I can tell her something came up—”
“Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says, gentle but firm, “go have fun with your friend. I won’t interrupt your vacation more than I have.” Yoongi frowns, not wanting to leave Seokjin. Seokjin makes a shooing motion with his hand. “You told me yourself: I’ll live. Go, Yoongi-yah.”
“Fine,” Yoongi relents and rushes to get dressed. He leaves Seokjin lounging on his bed and meets Jieun in front of the hotel, trying to tame his unruly hair into place as he goes. Jieun smiles when she sees him, looping her arm through his.
“Fine,” he promises. “Just a bad night.”
He’s told her, in vague terms, that he has nightmares sometimes—remnants of a past trauma he’d rather not speak about. Now, she makes a sympathetic noise and pats his arm. “Well, I’m sure coffee will fix it.”
He laughs. “Coffee always does.”
Predictably, when he returns to the hotel to check out later that afternoon, he finds his room empty and Seokjin long gone. One of his bigger shirts is missing from his suitcase and there is a little alpaca plushie sitting in the middle of the bed, probably from a nearby gift shop. Next to it, Yoongi finds a slip of paper with a cartoon heart scrawled on it and smiles around the familiar tightness in his chest.
Eleven — 1906
Yoongi is a doctor now, with his own small clinic tucked away in a relatively quiet neighborhood of Hanseong. The Japanese continue to steadily tighten their stranglehold on the now Emperor Gojong and the country but for the moment there is relative peace—in spite of the newly appointed Japanese police now patrolling the streets—and Yoongi is as close to content as he’s been in quite some time. He has a degree from Yonsei University Medical School in Western medicine, as well as several years of traditional training under his belt. He’s well respected in the community and amongst his regular patients. He has a roof over his head and food on his table.
And there is Taehyung.
Beautiful, charismatic Taehyung who owns a small art studio not far from Yoongi’s clinic and has introduced him to the wonders of photography, painting, and even ceramics and glass art. He’s most renowned for his paintings, though—breathtaking landscapes and portraits of the working-class citizens around him.
Yoongi is smitten from the moment they first meet, when Taehyung comes in for treatment of a burn on his arm. “Accident,” he says with a boxy, unassuming grin, and Yoongi is utterly charmed. Taehyung invites him over to his studio several times, then to his quarters, and then finally into his bed.
Yoongi is careful, much more than he was with Namjoon nearly two hundred years ago now, but he feels helpless to resist Taehyung’s pull. It’s been so long since he loved like this.
“I know it won’t be forever,” Taehyung tells him in the dark, a little sad and wise beyond his years, “but we should take what comfort we can, right, hyung?”
Yoongi draws him close, kisses him with all the reassurance he can give, but he knows that Taehyung is right. The ground beneath their feet feels made of quicksand and the faint sparks of Yoongi’s magic that remain sing a constant warning to him—a looming, unshakeable dread that something terrible is on their horizon.
Seokjin’s note from two decades ago haunts him.
I’m sorry, it whispers as the days unfold, as disaster creeps closer. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Twelve — 2017
Once a year, Yoongi rides Line 4 to Dongjak Station, to bring flowers to Seoul National Cemetery. He goes in the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and winds his way through the immaculate paths to a memorial dedicated to the resistance fighters of the Japanese Occupation. Taehyung has no individual grave, so he always lays his flowers here, at the base of the statue and says a short prayer, bowing for Taehyung and all the others who gave their lives in the name of freedom.
Today, he is just finishing when Seokjin speaks from behind him, “I never realized how beautiful it is here.”
“It’s the best we can give them,” Yoongi murmurs without turning around. “A good place to rest, after everything they did for us.”
Seokjin comes to stand beside him, hands in the pockets of his long black coat. He looks soft in it and the cable-knit sweater he’s wearing underneath.
“What are you doing here?” Yoongi asks, as expected.
“I never properly thanked you,” Seokjin says. “For the hotel.”
Yoongi opens his mouth and Seokjin holds up a hand. “1883 doesn’t count.”
“Oh, so you got there, did you?” Yoongi asks and Seokjin’s ears turn a little red as he nods, then coughs to dispel his embarrassment.
“I did. And that was human decency, I guess I wanted to offer more. I thought … you shouldn’t have to be alone to mourn. If you don’t want to be.”
Yoongi thinks back to a forest in 1795, Seokjin knelt in respectful silence at his side. “I don’t want to be,” he murmurs and allows Seokjin to take his hand.
To his surprise, Seokjin pulls his own small bouquet of white carnations from his pocket and sets them next to Yoongi’s.
“Do you want to tell me about him?” Seokjin asks and Yoongi realizes, suddenly, that it’s been over a century and he’s never spoken about Taehyung to anyone. The memory of him still hurts, will always be something of a wound, but it’s one Yoongi has learned to live with. He doesn’t regret loving Taehyung, even if the scars of losing him will always linger.
“He was ….” Yoongi grasps for words amidst the emotions flooding his chest. “Beautiful. And kind. And smart. And strange in all the best ways.” He blinks at a sudden rush of tears, blurring his vision. “I loved him.”
“How did he die?” Seokjin asks, so very gentle, and Yoongi squeezes his hand tight and tries not to break apart.
“We … we both joined the resistance movement, after the annexation in 1910. We were never armed fighters, or soldiers, but our positions made us valuable for gathering and passing information. Taehyung was often overlooked as an artist and I was a doctor with a good reputation—enough to acquire a handful of high-level clients, including some Japanese officials. We carried on for three years that way but….”
He sucks in a wet breath, eyes squeezed shut, and forces himself to keep talking. Taehyung deserves this, deserves someone other than Yoongi to know what happened to him. “Taehyung was caught in 1913. They tortured him. And when he wouldn’t give them any information, they executed him. Burned his body. I was too late, there was nothing I could do.” He claws at the fabric of his sweater, over his aching heart. “There was never anything I could do.” Seokjin shuffles closer, pressed against his side in silent comfort. “They burned all his paintings after, including his studio. All … all I have left of him is a single photograph. I kept it with me, through—through it all.”
Through the years of demonstrations and protests and uprisings, the years of forced labor, the years in two separate wars, the years of continued unrest and violence after that. He clung to that single photograph of Taehyung like a talisman, the only proof he had left of Taehyung’s existence. It wasn’t enough, but he didn’t get to keep anything of Namjoon except memories, so he was grateful for it all the same.
“He doesn’t have a grave,” he continues, wiping at his face with trembling fingers. He knows now that stociscism isn’t always healthy in the face of grief, but he still hates crying in public. “So I … I come here. For Namjoon too.” Once a year, he also makes a trip to Gwangju for Hoseok, visiting the memorial and also subtly checking in on Hoseok’s surviving family members.
“I’m so sorry, Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin murmurs.
Yoongi sniffs and shakes his head. “You know the worst part, Seokjin-ah?”
“He was just one of hundreds. Thousands. Millions. And they all deserved better.” He hiccups, half a laugh, half a sob. “And yet I’m still alive.”
Seokjin doesn’t offer any further platitudes, just wraps him up in a warm hug. They’ve already talked about this enough, though he has no idea if this Seokjin has lived through Gwangju yet, through Yoongi’s fury in a hospital ward with the blood of yet another lost love on his hands. He's learned to be accepting of the Seokjins that come visit him without having reach vital points in their relationship. Someday, Seokjin will experience those events too.
So now Yoongi closes his eyes and lets himself be held—at least long enough to stitch himself back together again.
Thirteen — 1947
“Are you sure about this?” Seokjin asks him, hovering over him in an echo of a long-forgotten time. They’re both naked, all the shutters of Yoongi’s tiny studio drawn to keep them in safe darkness, and Yoongi can’t even remember how exactly they got in this position or why Seokjin came to see him.
But he’s painfully sober when he doesn’t want to be (he’s rarely sober, these days, if he can help it) and he’d rather Seokjin fuck him than lie here alone with his thoughts and his ghosts.
“Yeah,” he mumbles, drawing Seokjin down until they’re pressed together on Yoongi’s worn sleeping pallet. “Yeah, we’ve done this before, don’t worry.”
Seokjin’s eyes widen. “We have?”
Yoongi hums and nods. “You’ll see. But it’s fine. Fuck me.”
He wants to fucking feel something. Anything. Even if it’s pain.
Seokjin is careful at first, stroking him, kissing him, and even licking a few hot lines down Yoongi’s shaft before he presses oil-coated fingers to Yoongi’s hole, rubbing gently. Yoongi smacks him on the arm.
“C’mon, bastard, I’m not made of glass.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes and shoves two fingers in. Yoongi whines at the burn, gasping in relief. “Yes,” he breathes to the ceiling. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Seokjin lets him babble, oddly quietly himself. He’s seemed that way since they first met up, since he saw how thin Yoongi is and the amount of empty bottles tucked into the corner of his studio. Yoongi can’t tell if it’s anger or sympathy and he doesn’t care. Right now Seokjin is a warm body who is going to give Yoongi pleasure and that’s it.
He tugs at Seokjin’s hair as Seokjin curls those fingers relentlessly into his prostate, making him leak precome all over his own stomach.. “Come on. Fuck me.”
“Impatient,” Seokjin huffs, but he flips Yoongi over onto his hands and knees and sinks into him without preamble.
It hurts, but the pain is so good and Yoongi moans, more alive than he’s felt since he finally returned home from the war. Seokjin keeps the pace brutal, fucking Yoongi without much care—his hands bruising at Yoongi’s hips; his cock pushing in so deep with every thrust that Yoongi swears he can feel it in his stomach.
It’s over too soon. Seokjin comes inside of him, then reaches between his legs and strokes him roughly to completion while he whimpers and trembles. Once he’s released all over Seokjin’s hand, Seokjin stands up and cleans himself with Yoongi’s discarded shirt. He stares down at the Yoongi, curled up on the pallet, and frowns—an expression Yoongi can’t begin to decipher on his face.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he says stiffly. “I’m sorry.”
And then he’s gone—the front door slamming closed behind him as he practically runs from the apartment. Yoongi flops over onto his back and closes his eyes, suffocated by the sudden silence.
He wishes, for the millionth time in the past thirty-five years, that he was dead.
Fourteen — 1980
There is blood on his hands. It’s all he can focus on: the red sunk into the lines of his palms and the beds of his nails. He sits on the floor of the chaotic waiting room of this overflowing Gwangju hospital, as people yell and scream and bleed around him, and hears nothing but a ringing in his ears. There is blood on his clothes, too, staining his button up shirt and his jeans.
All of it is Hoseok’s.
Hoseok, who gave him three beautiful, too-short years. Hoseok, who danced in his spare time, twirling Yoongi around the floor of a rented studio with laughter spilling from his gorgeous mouth. Hoseok, who was studying politics at Chonnam National University. Hoseok, who believed in freedom and democracy, who helped organize the protests that Yoongi promised to cover as a journalist. Hoseok, who came back even after he was beaten by soldiers sent to silence him.
Hoseok, who bled out in Yoongi’s arms from a gunshot wound to the stomach.
Yoongi thinks of Taehyung, of Namjoon, and claps a bloodsoaked hand over his mouth to keep from screaming.
I want to die, he thinks desperately, I can’t live with this. With any of it.
A shadow falls over him and he looks up to see Kim Seokjin standing over him, also dressed as a reporter with a camera around his neck. Yoongi’s own is long gone, lost in the melee, and as he stares up at Seokjin’s clean, unbruised, unbloodied face, rage unlike any he’s felt in centuries roars to life inside of him, mixed with black despair.
“Undo it,” he rasps. “Let me die.”
“I can’t,” Seokjin says.
Yoongi’s face twists. “I want to die. Please just let me die.”
“I don’t know how to—”
“Then leave,” Yoongi snaps. “Get out.”
Seokjin reaches for him and Yoongi flinches away, scrambling to his feet to put some distance between them.
“I’m sorry,” Seokjin says, helpless. “I’m so sorry.”
Yoongi rounds on him. “You think I care about your apologies? You knew. You knew all of this would happen and you did nothing.”
He’s talking about the Occupation, the war, the authoritarian rule after that, the chaos still raging in the city outside—seventy years of suffering and violence with no end in sight.
“We can’t alter certain events,” Seokjin says, voice almost pleading. “Some things—”
“No," Yoongi cuts him off, digging his nails into his own palms as he shakes. “Don’t you dare tell me this was meant to be. Don’t you dare tell me that we were meant to be invaded, to be slaughtered, to have our women trafficked, to be forced to work in mines and factories until we died by the thousands." Seokjin is staring at him with huge eyes, but he can't stop. All his dams are broken and the floodplain of grief that hasn't abated since Taehyung is drowning him.
"They burned our history, our literature, our homes," he rasps. "They took our language and our heritage. They even took our names. And then, then, we got new rulers who installed a fucking dictator and our country got torn apart in another war that killed millions. And now, we don’t even need foreign powers to slaughter our people, we're doing it ourselves.” Half-hysterical, he waves at the hospital around them, full of battered patients too distraught to pay them any attention. “How could any of this be meant to happen, Seokjin? Surely, there was a way to change it."
Seokjin looks flayed open. “Not always," he says. "Sometimes, trying to change it only brings something worse. Yoongi-yah—”
“You don’t even have to live it!” Yoongi yells, drowning him out. “You see all this in glimpses! You come and go as you please! You get to look away! You’re a fucking coward.” Seokjin flinches. “Do you know what I’ve survived? What I’ve lost? What I’m supposed to bear because I have no choice?” He holds up his trembling, bloody hands. “I know what I was. I’ve tried to pay penance for that for decades and it may never be enough, but you. You don’t care at all.”
“That’s not true—”
“If you cared, you’d stop with the excuses and fucking get in the trenches with the rest of us.”
Seokjin closes wet eyes, not refuting that statement.
“Get out,” Yoongi repeats.
“Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin whispers.
“Leave,” Yoongi snarls. “Or I’ll fucking kill you.”
Seokjin’s jaw works for a moment, but then he nods and slips away into the crowd. Yoongi hunches over, fighting back the sobs clawing up his throat. He can’t break yet. Not yet. He’ll mourn Hoseok properly later too. Call his mother, inform her of what’s happened to her son. For now, though, he has work to do.
He straightens, blowing out a shuddering breath, and then rolls up his sleeves and approaches the nearest harried-looking nurse.
“Excuse me,” he says and bows in apology when she turns to stare at him, “I have medical training. How can I help?”
Her frustrated expression swiftly melts into one of exhausted relief. “Thank you. This way, please.”
Yoongi follows her, banishing all thoughts of Kim Seokjin from his mind.
Fifteen — 1993
Yoongi floats through a decade in a grief-filled haze. Around him, his country continues to roil and change and grow. Industry booms, new buildings fill Seoul’s skylines, the people push and push and push until at last they are granted democracy. The Olympics come not long after that and with them the pronouncement to the world that South Korea is now a powerful nation, ready to take a place on the global stage. Faces are turned toward the future—one that looks brighter than it has in a long time. Hope is blooming, fragile and beautiful and ready to someday sprout into a forest.
Yoongi comes back to himself slowly. He works a series of part-time jobs and lives in a basement apartment before he gets offered a full time position at a booming telecom company. The work is boring but the pay is good and the basement is traded for a nice studio in a new high-rise building. He stops drinking himself to sleep but keeps the necklace Hoseok gave him under his shirt. He goes out to a norabang with his co-workers and actually has a good time, even if he stays somewhat removed from them.
The grief tempers, he remembers how to breathe. But he keeps waiting for Seokjin, who feels inevitable now.
And sure enough, on his way home from work one evening, Seokjin takes a seat next to him on the train. He’s dressed in a fancy, perfectly tailored suit with his black hair slicked off his forehead—so much like a chairman’s son that Yoongi almost opens his mouth to ask where his sports car is. But then he sees the exhausted, haunted look on Seokjin’s face and clamps his mouth closed. This is definitely a Seokjin that remembers Gwangju.
“I’m not angry,” he murmurs, when Seokjin just fidgets uncharacteristically instead of saying anything. “Not anymore.” There is no point in being angry, in continuing to cling only to the past, he's learning. So now he's trying to move forward, with the rest of his country.
“I still am,” Seokjin murmurs back. “At myself.” He glances at the map. “There’s a park at the next stop. We should get off.”
Yoongi checks the map too and sees they’re near Seonjeongneung Station and the park Seokjin is probably referencing is the royal burial grounds. “Sure,” he says, even though he’s tired and was looking forward to going home and sleeping.
They get off at Seonjeongneung Station and make their way slowly through the twilit park until they’re walking beneath the red gate leading to the tomb of King Seongjong. Once the burial mound comes into view, Yoongi slows his pace, stopping next to a large stone statue of a soldier.
“You know,” he murmurs, “Seongjong was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.”
“He was a decent man,” Seokjin says. “A gifted ruler. Quite the artist. Excellent at debate too.”
“You’ve met him,” Yoongi says, flat.
Seokjin smiles, but without most of his usual humor. “Once or twice.”
“Fucking time travel.”
Seokjin hums and keeps walking, stopping near one of the stone benches in front of the burial mound itself. “You’re the last surviving member of the House of Yi,” he says quietly, glancing back at Yoongi.
Yoongi’s mouth twists in wry amusement. “And I work at a telecom company.”
“You were also a doctor and a soldier and a rather renowned architect, if I recall.”
Yoongi shrugs. “And a beggar, a butcher, a farmer—I’ve been many things.”
Seokjin makes another noncommittal sound and crosses his arms in front of his chest. “I don’t remember much,” he says, eyes on the tomb, “about my life … before. I know I was born a long time ago, perhaps even before Joseon came to be, in Silla or Goryeo. I know I was the son of a nobleman and I was born with powerful magic that terrified my family. I know I died relatively young and that I was saved … or revived, I suppose, by a mysterious woman who worked for an organization she referred to as the Agency. She told me that to settle my life debt I should come work for them.” He looks at Yoongi. “They taught me how to harness my magic to travel through time.”
Yoongi frowns. “For what purpose?”
Seokjin shakes his head. “I can’t tell you much, but to prevent a coming catastrophe.”
“So you’re fighting for a greater good?” Yoongi asks, a little sharp.
“I’d like to believe so,” Seokjin says, with a note of doubt.
Seokjin frowns. “But I’m starting to wonder if that’s true. Or if it’s worth the cost.”
"What are you going to do about it?” Yoongi asks.
“Find answers,” Seok says, grim. “But that’s not why I came here. I wanted to apologize again—”
“Seokjin, you don’t—”
“—and give you a gift.”
Yoongi freezes. “A gift?”
“Yes.” Seokjin glances around to check that they’re alone. “Close your eyes.”
“Oh my god.”
“Please? Humor me, Yoongi-yah.”
Yoongi sighs grumpily and closes his eyes.
“Now hold out your hands.”
“Aish,” Yoongi says in disbelief but complies, holding his hands out palms up in front of him.
“Good, I’ll be right back.”
Yoongi hears a familiar buzz of magic, suggesting that Seokjin has opened one of his portals, and then a few moments later something long and smooth and hard is being placed carefully across his open palms.
“Open your eyes,” Seokjin whispers.
Yoongi does and gapes down at the saingeom in his hands. “This….” he examines it more closely and sucks in a sharp breath. “This is mine.”
Yoongi traces reverent fingers over the black sheath. “But … these were all destroyed during the Occupation.”
“Time travel,” Seokjin reminds him. “Though I broke just about every rule in the book to get this.”
Yoongi laughs incredulously and unsheathes the sword, watching the steel gleam in the moonlight. Tears well in his eyes as he clutches this piece of his past—this complicated reminder of the king he once was.
“Thank you,” he says to Seokjin, sheathing the sword again. Seokjin catches his shoulder as he starts to bow.
“Don’t, this is my apology. A small, stupid thing I can give you.”
“It’s not a small thing,” Yoongi insists. “But your apology is accepted.”
“Thank you,” Seokjin says and bows to him.
“Seokjin-ah,” Yoongi says, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
With another glance around, Seokjin steps forward and kisses him, deep and fierce and aching. “Me too.”
And then he summons another portal and vanishes, like the ghost Yoongi sometimes wonders he is. But back in his apartment, he rests the saingeom on his knees and is struck by a realization: I love him. It doesn’t feel sudden, it contains the slow creep of centuries, and it settles into his bones like it’s always been laced in his marrow.
He loves Kim Seokjin.
And he is afraid of that love, of the loss that might come with it. All his great loves have died before their time, taken by violence, but he has never regretted what he felt for them. Seokjin is different. Seokjin is mysterious and complicated and infuriating, and yet is the only person alive who knows the whole of him.
So perhaps, for a love like that, Yoongi is willing to wait. Hopefully someday, the two of them will finally land on the same page.
Seventeen — 2019
Yoongi jolts awake to the sound of someone trying to break his door down. “The fuck,” he gasps as Holly barks in distress and the pounding continues.
“Yoongi-yah!” A familiar voice shouts over the banging. “Yoongi-yah!”
“I’m going to kill him,” Yoongi announces to Holly and fumbles his way out of the covers to stagger out of his bedroom and to the front door. He wrenches it open and nearly gets hit in the face by Seokjin’s raised fist. Holly darts around their legs, barking excitedly.
“Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says. “Sorry.”
“Do you,” Yoongi glares up at him, “have any idea what time it is?”
“No,” Seokjin replies. “But I have to talk to you.”
“You could have just opened a portal in my apartment.”
“I’m going to get noise complaints and Sungho-nim already doesn’t like me.”
“Please,” Seokjin says. “It’s urgent.”
It’s then that Yoongi actually takes in Seokjin’s appearance. His suit is covered in ash and singed along the collar and sleeve; his hair is unkempt and equally soot-streaked; he’s got a manic glint in his eyes that Yoongi’s never seen before; he’s not putting any weight on his left leg; and he’s clutching a parcel of some kind under his right arm.
“What the fuck happened to you?”
“Let me in first?”
Yoongi wordlessly steps aside and ushers him into the apartment. He toes off his charred shoes in the entryway and pauses to stiffly bend and pat Holly on the head.
“Hi, Holly-yah,” he coos, “have you been taking good care of Yoongi?”
Holly barks an affirmative, little tail wagging furiously.
“Do you need medical attention?” Yoongi asks, hovering anxiously now.
Seokjin shakes his head. “We don’t have much time.”
Well that’s ominous.
Seokjin sets the parcel down and leans against the wall. Yoongi winces at the streak of black soot he leaves against the white paint but holds his tongue. “The Agency’s gone.”
“What? What happened to them?”
Seokjin grins, a little feral. “I blew them up.”
Yoongi’s mouth drops open. “What? ”
Seokjin makes an exploding noise and motion with his hands. “Gone. Rubble.”
Yoongi struggles to wrap his head around this. “And the people?”
“Gone, if they wanted to go. Dead, if they refused.” Seokjin pauses. “Though, I didn’t give any of the leadership a choice, so they’re all dead.”
Seokjin’s eyes drift shut. For a moment, he looks ancient. “Because they were lying.”
“Almost everything.” Seokjin sighs, rubbing his temple. “I meant what I said, in Gwangju. There are points on the timeline that are fixed, that I believe are inevitable no matter what we attempt to do to change them. I don't know what fixes them there or what's guiding any of this. A higher power? Another realm of existence? That's something the Agency never offered enlightenment on."
"So what are these fixed points?" Yoongi asks, huddled against the opposite wall. Holly glances anxiously back and forth between them, as if sensing the tension in the room.
"Usually major events or huge, sometimes calamitous changes. World War I and II. The Occupation. The fall of dynasties, the end of empires. Things that affect the world at large. I think perhaps they're fixed, because the amount of manipulation needed to prevent them exceeds even the Agency's talents. They have so many strings, so many facets. It's not as simple as changing a few details, pulling a few threads. But within the space between those fixed points, there is ... wiggle room, so to speak? The timeline can stray off course. The fixed events will still happen, but they might look different. A war will come, but in one scenario it's more devastating and in another it's less."
Yoongi rubs his own temple now. "Fuck."
"Let me give you a concrete example," Seokjin says. He looks like the wall is the only thing keeping him upright but his voice is steady. "Japan's first invasion of Korea is a fixed point. Toyotomi Hideyoshi is always going to send his ships and there is always going to be war. However, in one potential timeline, Seonjo is still king. He doesn't have your gift of foresight and so he's far less prepared than you to combat this threat. Therefore, Seoul falls to the invaders. The king flees north to Pyongyang and that falls too. The kingdom reaches the brink of total collapse before the navy and Chinese forces prevail. The war is much worse because you're not at the helm. Are you following?"
"Yes," Yoongi says, though his head is spinning.
"Right, my job—and the job of most agents—was small scale nudges to the timeline to keep it on a certain course. Eliminating people who would create big divergences or worsen these fixed points."
"Like me?" Yoongi asks.
Seokjin nods, haunted. "The Agency." He licks his chapped lips. "There was going to be a devastating war, that’s what they told me. The world was going to end, Yoongi-yah. All life as we knew it. They were dispatching us to manipulate the timeline in order to prevent that future from happening, no matter the cost. To try to make sure the fixed point was the least devastating it could be.” He laughs, bordering on hysterical. “I killed so many people, most of them innocent, but I told myself it was for a greater good.”
Yoongi aches to go to him, but isn’t sure that would be wise. He feels stupid standing here in his baggy pajamas and the fuzzy blue house slippers Jieun got him for his birthday, listening to Seokjn talk about an apocalypse. “But it wasn’t?”
Seokjin shakes his head. “The war they showed me, it wasn’t real. There was no apocalypse. It was ... a trick? An illusion. What they were really trying to do was create a future where they could amass as much power as possible. Expand their influence to the whole fucking world. There was a division for assassinations, where I was. But they were also recruiting far more agents than I realized—powerful magical beings that I think they were hoping to turn into a full-scale army someday.”
“How….” Yoongi rubs his temple. He needs coffee. “How did you find that out?”
“I went digging where I wasn’t supposed to, found out things they didn’t want me to know.” He laughs again. “All kinds of things. Like your assassination.”
Yoongi stiffens. “What?”
“The immortality … I thought I had done something wrong. Conducted the ritual meant to drain your magic improperly, but it was always supposed to make you immortal. They were planning on recruiting you. Wanted you for that army. With your gift of foresight and your penchant for cruelty—at the time you were king—you would have made a valuable asset, I'm sure. They would have restored your normal magic once you agreed to work for them.”
Yoongi shakes his head in disbelief. “Why didn’t they actually recruit me, then?”
“I went back,” Seokjin says. “Removed you from your tomb and forward a couple years in time. Told them you actually had died and that the ritual had failed.”
“Oh my god.” Yoongi’s eyes widen, mind racing. “Oh my god, when I woke up and realized the date … I thought I had been in a coma, but that was you? ”
Seokjin nods. “Yeah.”
Seokjin pushes off the wall and steps forward, limping on his bad leg. “There’s more. I can undo it.”
Yoongi feels dizzy. He can’t … he can’t mean….
“I can undo the ritual, Yoongi-yah.”
Yoongi shakes his head. “No … you said that was impossible.”
“I thought it was. I thought it was a mistake. But they planned it and I found a counter-ritual in their archives.”
“Before you blew them up,” Yoongi croaks.
“What would it do?”
“Make you mortal again. I can't ... I can't take you back in time. I can't undo the last few centuries. I've used up too much of my magic and with the Agency gone, I think I might have created a fixed point? Not a normal one but ... it's complicated. Think of it as permanently closing a door, so everything in our history can't be undone. We can't go back through the door. But, if I did the ritual now, you’d age normally from this point on.”
Yoongi wraps his arms around his waist, wondering if he’s about to hyperventilate. This is all too much to take in. “I’d … I’d age?”
Seokjin’s hands cup his cheeks. “Yes. You’d have a normal, boring life, Yoongi-yah.”
“Oh my god,” Yoongi whimpers, overwhelmed. A new thought pierces through the chaotic mess in his brain. “But what about you?”
“It would work on me too,” Seokjin says. “I’d lose my ability to time travel and potentially a lot of my memories of the future, but I’d age just like you.”
“It would cost you your magic,” Yoongi says, putting pieces together.
“Yes,” Seokjin says, not sounding bothered. “But that would make me invisible to any surviving Agency loyalists who try to track me down. It’s my only escape.” He pauses and runs his thumbs over Yoongi’s cheeks, a tender expression softening his face. “But that’s not the only reason. You asked me, once, what I want. I’ve figured it out. You, Yoongi-yah.”
Yoongi digs his fingers into Seokjin’s waist. “Seokjin….”
“It’s you,” Seokjin says with wet eyes. “I want an actual life with you. I want time with you. I know it’s a lot to ask, after everything you've lived through, but would you give me that, Yoongichi? At least a decade or so to be with you?”
“Yes,” Yoongi hiccups without hesitation, tears of his own welling. “I think I should be able to manage a decade. Hopefully more, as long as I don’t get into a tragic accident or something.” It's okay, lurks underneath the statement, I don't want to die anymore. I don't mind living and I mind it even less if it's with you.
Seokjin laughs, joyous and close to sobbing all at once. “Good. Because I'm selfish, Yoongi-yah, you know that." It sounds like: I love you.
Yoongi hugs him tight. “We're both selfish, so let’s do this.”
Seokjin nods, then freezes. “Wait, I have one more thing.” He picks up the parcel and hands it to Yoongi. “I made one more stop, in the past. In … in 1908.”
1908 … Yoongi lets out a sobbing gasp and tears off the wrapping of the parcel, unrolling a beautiful landscape painting of cherry blossom trees. Beneath the nearest one, a man sits in a serene, meditative pose, his black hair loose and flowing down his back. Yoongi recognizes the shape of his own features, remembers Taehyung playfully telling him to hold still, and crashes to his knees, pressing the painting to his chest as he cries.
Seokjin drapes over his back, cradling him. “I stole it from his studio,” he confesses.
“He told me it went missing,” Yoongi hiccups out. “He was so upset.”
Seokjin kisses the top of Yoongi’s head. “I think he’ll forgive me.”
“He will.” Yoongi sags back against Seokjin. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“You deserve it,” Seokjin says softly. “To have something of his.” He pauses, kisses Yoongi again. “And I might have taken a few more, before his studio was raided. Donated them to a museum a couple weeks ago. You won’t have to carry his memory alone anymore.”
Yoongi heaves out one last sob and wipes his face with the hem of his sleep shirt. “Thank you” he repeats helplessly.
“I’m just paying off my debt to you, Yoongi-yah,” Seokjin says and stands, helping Yoongi to his feet too. He takes the painting from Yoongi’s hands and drapes it carefully over Yoongi’s desk. “Now let’s become mortal.”
Yoongi pinches himself, just to check he isn’t dreaming, and nods. “Yeah,” he says, wiping his face again. God he’s gross. And embarrassing. “Let’s.”
They push aside all of Yoongi’s living room furniture to make space for Seokjin to paint the spell in a circle on the floor. He cuts Yoongi’s arm with a murmured apology and mixes his blood in with the ink, then Seokjin’s own blood, as well. They lay down in the middle of the circle, side by side in their messy, mismatched clothes. Holly whines from the bedroom where Yoongi confined him before they started. Yoongi stares up at the ceiling, heart pounding in his chest, and takes Seokjin’s hand.
Seokjin lifts his free one, glowing with magic. “Ready?”
Yoongi closes his eyes. “Yes.”
Seokjin presses his hand to the circle, activating it as he chants a spell in an ancient tongue. A few seconds later, Yoongi feels magic flare to life inside of him—like a long dormant dragon rising up from the depths of the sea—and the world dissolves into brilliant light.
Epilogue — 2021
Yoongi gasps through his orgasm, clenching around Seokjin’s cock inside of him, and then collapses onto Seokjin’s chest, basking in the hazy aftermath and the warmth of the morning sun spilling through the window. Seokjin pokes him in the arm.
“Yoongi-yah,” he huffs, “I haven’t come yet.”
“So flip me over or something,” Yoongi mumbles, sleepy. “Why do I have to do all the work here?”
“I would like to point out that it was your idea to ride me.”
“And that felt amazing,” Yoongi agrees and pats Seokjin’s head in thanks, “but ‘m done now.”
“Unbelievable,” Seokjin grumbles, but there’s affection in his voice. He grips Yoongi’s legs and rolls them over with athletic strength, settling Yoongi on his back and continuing to thrust.
Yoogin moans at the overstimulation, but spreads his legs wider and rocks his own hips up a little to meet Seokjin’s. Seokjin feels so good inside of him, spent a long time lazily fingering him open earlier before gripping Yoongi's hips and helping him sink down onto his cock with a reverent look on his face that Yoongi will never tire of. They've learned, over the last two years, how to be gentle with each other. Now Seokjin kisses him, open-mouthed and messy, and it isn’t long until he stills inside of him, coming with a low groan and burying his face in Yoongi’s neck as he spills into the condom they almost forgot to put on. Yoongi is once again thankful for his foresight because he’s too tired to deal with a lot of clean up.
“There,” he says, rubbing Seokjin’s back, “that wasn’t so hard.”
Seokjin laughs and pulls out of him carefully, getting up to dispose of the condom. “You’re insufferable.”
“Only as much as you are,” Yoongi points out, opening his arms as Seokjin climbs back into bed and settles next to him, nosing at his cheek and kissing along his jaw.
“A match made in heaven,” Seokjin agrees, tone overly saccharine. Yoongi smacks him in the chest in retaliation. Seokjin laughs again and sinks down into the pillows with a contented sigh.
But of course, right on cue, there’s a scratch at the door and Holly whines, wanting to be let out on his morning walk. Seokjin and Yoongi groan in tandem.
“It’s your turn,” Yoongi mutters.
“He’s your dog.”
“You adopted him through marriage.”
“We’re not married.”
“We might as well be.”
Seokjin sighs and holds up a hand for Rock Paper Scissors. Yoongi plays without opening his eyes, giving paper, and smiles when he hears Seokjin curse and climb back out of bed to get dressed. He slips out of the bedroom and chatters to Holly as he fetches Holly’s leash and puts his shoes on in the entryway. Once the front door closes, Yoongi flips onto his other side, glancing across the room to Taehyung’s painting hanging on the wall, secure in a glass frame.
They moved out of Yoongi’s old place last year to a two-bedroom in the same neighborhood so they could have an office, since Seokjin also works from home as a freelance software engineer. He may not have retained much knowledge about actual future events, but he still has an uncanny knack for technology and picked up coding practically in his sleep. With Yoongi’s books still doing well, they have a comfortable life.
He’s working on a fantasy one right now, about an immortal prince and a time traveler who go on adventures together, trying to rid a kingdom of a great magical evil. Seokjin’s been wheedling him to read the first draft but Yoongi refuses to grant him special privileges.
He decides now that he should make coffee as a silent thank you for walking Holly—even though he won the game fair and square—and forces himself out of bed. After pulling on a pair of sweatpants and one of Seokjin's sweaters, he stuffs his bare feet into his slippers and shuffles out into the kitchen. He glances at the counter, pausing to organize the glossy travel brochures Seokjin’s been accumulating for places like Abu Dhabi, New Zealand, and Hawaii—determined to take Yoongi on a trip for his birthday.
(You’re turning thirty, that’s a big deal, he said earlier in the winter.
I’m technically already thirty, Yoongi replied.
Min Yoongi isn’t, Seokjin countered and Yoongi had no rebuttal. Min Yoongi, according to all of the records he forged with a skill he should probably be ashamed of, was born in 1993.
Of course, when Seokjin got his own made, he designated his birth year as 1992 and crowed in triumph when he showed Yoongi his ID card, saying now you have to call me hyung.
Yoongi rolled his eyes and said, not in private. Seokjin declared that he would take what he could get and that was that.)
Yoongi gets the coffeemaker going and squints at the note on the fridge reminding them to go grocery shopping for dinner tonight. Why … oh. Right. Jieun is coming over and Jungkook and Jimin—the two grad students (and probably boyfriends, though Yoongi hasn’t managed to pry a confirmation out of them yet) crammed into a studio two floors down, who Seokjin befriended and then promptly adopted when he realized they were both relatively far from home and hadn’t had a homemade meal in almost a year.
Yoongi is still getting used to having so many people permanently in his life, but he likes it. Of all the people that he’s been, Min Yoongi is one of his favorites and he’s happy that he’ll get to die bearing the name.
Seokjin and Holly blow back in from the cold just as the coffee finishes brewing and Yoongi pours two mugs while Seokjin grumbles about the wind and shoves his feet into his house slippers, pulling the blanket from the couch to wrap around his shoulders like a cape.
“Here, you baby,” Yoongi says, handing him one of the mugs.
“If you went out there, you’d be complaining twice as much,” Seokjin says, but kisses his cheek with cold lips in thanks.
“See, that’s why it’s good you went. You saved yourself from me whining about it.”
Seokjin laughs and shakes his head. “Shameless.”
“Practical,” Yoongi counters and bends down to pet Holly, who is taking full advantage of the heated floors.
Seokjin checks the note on the fridge with a frown of his own. “Oh right, dinner.” He glances at Yoongi. “Are you still up for it?”
The ritual actually brought some of Yoongi’s magic back while it took all of Seokjin’s. It’s a much weaker version than the original but it still means he sometimes knows it’s going to rain several weeks before it does or that the train is going to break down in the afternoon. And there are night terrors. Not many, thankfully, and he usually doesn’t remember whatever horrible possible futures he dreams about when he wakes, but they make for some rough nights and last night was one of them.
"Yes,” Yoongi still says. “I haven’t seen Jieun in awhile. Or the kids. It’ll be nice.”
“Okay,” Seokjin says, pulling out his phone from the pocket of his sweatpant to start writing down supplies. “Dinner it is.”
Yoongi hums and leans back against the counter to enjoy his coffee and the sun spilling into their apartment, catching on the saingeom once again mounted on the wall. (Jungkook goggled over it and Yoongi lied through his teeth that it was a mere replica—a gift from Seokjn for his birthday.)
It’s a quiet life that him and Seokjin lead now, perfectly ordinary—in spite of the ghosts of memory that sometimes still linger in small hours of the night—but Yoongi wouldn’t trade it for anything.
At long last, he has peace. An identity that he can be proud of. A love that he gets to keep.
Nearly five hundred years, and here him and Seokjin are, penning the last chapters of their story together, finally washed free from blood and death and the ravages of time.
But hold me still, bury my heart on the coals
Hold me still, bury my heart next to yours
So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
‘Cause oh they gave me such a fright
But I will hold on with all of my might
Just promise me that we’ll be alright
But the ghosts that we knew made us blackened or blue
But we’ll live a long life
And the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we’ll live a long life