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Answer Me

Chapter Text

“Listen to my heart
It calls you at its own will
Because within this black darkness
You are shining brightly still.”
Save Me, BTS

February 2015, Part 2

“Jimin-ie, please let me in.”

Taehyung couldn't find his own room, but manages, after a few failed attempts, to locate Jimin's. He enters, bound for Jimin's bed, but collapses on the floor two meters short of the mark.

“Tae-Tae!” Jimin shouts. He's alone but has his phone in his hand. “What happened? Are you all right?” The words sound distant, as if from underwater. That's what it feels like, too, like he's drifting with the slow, sinking movements of a man who is drowning.

Jungkook appears out of nowhere. His wet hair dashes cold drops onto Taehyung's face as he kneels beside Jimin. “What's going on?”

Taehyung glances at Jimin's phone. “Did he call you?”

“Who?” Jimin asks. “Jungkook-ie?”

Taehyung shoves weakly at them. “No,” he says. “I have to go.” He tries to stand and fails. “I have to...”

Jungkook presses cool fingertips to Taehyung's forehead. “No fever,” he says. “But he's clammy, and he looks really pale.”

“He was off in rehearsal, too,” Jimin says. “Have you eaten anything?”

Taehyung doesn't answer but stares at the ground.

Jimin's phone glows with a text notification. He steps back to read it, then says, “We're meeting at the elevators. You can make it, right?”

Without giving him an opportunity to answer, Jungkook and Jimin haul Taehyung to his feet. Jimin coos, softly, “It's all right, Tae-Tae. We've got you.”

The hall seems like something from a nightmare, identically drab and impossibly long. Taehyung's pulse pounds against his temples. His vision blurs the lights into burning halos. The odor of the carpet shampoo stings in his lungs. He floats with Jimin and Jungkook as a tether on either side. If either of them let go, he feels he might fall from the earth and slide into the sky.

The six of them arrive at the elevators, the maknaes on one side, the hyungs on the other.

“Oh,” Hoseok says, panning in an exaggerated arc. “Where is Jin-hyung?”

Jimin's grip tightens on Taehyung's waist. He says, “We thought he was with you?”

Namjoon drops his head to meet Taehyung's eyes. “What's... going on?” he asks. Something in his tone rattles Taehyung. It's like he already knows.

“Did he call you?” Taehyung asks.

“No, he didn't call me,” Namjoon says. His eyes narrow, but no one else seems to understand what Taehyung is asking.

Hoseok takes out his phone to send a text. Yoongi leans around him to mash the call button for the elevator.

“He hasn't responded in the group chat,” Hoseok says.

“Call him,” Namjoon says.

Hoseok dials, presses the phone to his ear.

“Should we check his room?” Jungkook asks.

“Look,” Yoongi says. “We'll message him the address of the restaurant. It's Seokjin-hyung, all right? He's a grown man. He can meet us there.”

Jimin whispers, “Did something happen—?”

“No,” Taehyung growls.

“He's not answering,” Hoseok says. At the message tone, Hoseok singsongs, “Jin-hyung-ie, we're trying to reach you. We're going to Kyogyuso Sanbanchoten for dinner. I'll text you the address. We're getting in the elevator now, so... come and find us, okay?”

The words ping around in Taehyung's mind like the long-forgotten lyrics of a once-favorite song. Come and find me, come and find me.

The elevator arrives; the doors hush open. They pile inside, buffeting Taehyung along with them. Yoongi thumbs the button for the ground floor. The doors shut, and Taehyung's lungs seize. His knees buckle and he sways, but Jimin is there to hold him steady. Jimin's concern feels almost stifling and if he keeps it up, Taehyung will have to tell them. He'll have to admit what's happened, will have to acknowledge Seokjin's words, and speaking them aloud will make them real.

No. He can backtrack. He can find the place where things went wrong. He can still make them right.

Taehyung takes out his phone. As the elevator descends, he stares at the open KKT window to read Seokjin's last message from yesterday morning, after Taehyung returned to his room:

My handsome VV. Every morning when I open my eyes, I'm amazed. You and I, we have lasted till now, living under one roof, lying under one blanket, living like this.

Taehyung knows this quote. It's from Reply 1994, words that Sung Dong Il said to his wife, Lee Il-hwa. Taehyung wonders, Why these words? Why would he send these? He re-reads them, twice, ten times, a hundred. Then his heart snags on the phrase, We have lasted till now. Taehyung stares at them until the characters smear across the screen.

Seokjin was trying to tell him. Trying to soften the blow...

Well, it didn't work.

Furious, Taehyung types, Hyung, where are you?

After a moment, the cursor becomes an ellipse, a lifeline across an abyss.

Seokjin's text appears.

I don't know.

I'm lost.

And then, a snapshot.

Taehyung can read the address on the station sign. He knows the area, if not the exact place. He can catch him. He has to find him, has to tell him...

The floors count down, three, two, one.

“Okay,” Taehyung says, nodding. Resolute.

The elevator doors slide open. Taehyung breaks from them like a shot.

 

He takes the train to Harajuku. His pocket hums like a hornet's nest, but after reading the first twelve messages (all variations on a theme except for Yoongi's, which reads, This is why Bang PD doesn't like us to date), Taehyung ignores them.

The brisk run through the February night quells his panic and clears his head. He ascends from Harajuku Station, taking the steps two at a time, bursting onto a broad street embroidered with neon and gold.

Tourist crowds meander along the sidewalk. Taehyung slices through them, following a daisy chain of street lights leading to the torii gate of the Meiji Jingu Shrine. He jogs along, his hands in his pockets, the chill air crystallizing the tears in his eyes. Though the crowd thins as he enters the shrine, maybe a hundred people gather beneath the pine boughs, making their slow migration toward the temple beyond.

Taehyung calls out, “Kim Seokjin, answer if you can hear me!” He pushes his volume to shatter the pristine calm of the path. People part before him, ambling to the edge to watch him pass. “Kim Seokjin,” he cries. “Answer me.”

Gold light blooms up in the distance. The crisp tang of incense bruises his lungs, the burning prayers of Seollal cast in the hopes of a kinder fate.

Taehyung feels his faith dwindling, guttering like a candle flame. There are so many people, and it's so dark. It's been an hour since Seokjin sent his message. He could be anywhere now. He could have given up, left the temple and returned to their hotel. Taehyung may already be too late.

He pauses, his hands on his knees to catch his breath. A stitch jabs painfully in his side, and his throat feels like it's lined with fiberglass. Dense pine branches cloister above, smelling of smoke and snow.

He lifts his head and tries one last time. “Kim Seokjin—”

The image etches itself forever in Taehyung's heart: Seokjin turning at the sound of his voice, silhouetted black against a backdrop of lanterns, bright and orange as a gasoline fire. His face glows like a luminous mask cut with relief and fear.

Taehyung flies at him. He knots his fists in Seokjin's collar. “My answer is no,” he shouts. “You said it's best if we end it, but I don't agree.”

His voice as soft as snowfall, Seokjin says, “Please.”

Taehyung tightens his fingers. “My answer is no, Seokjin-ah. I am telling you no.”

“Please,” Seokjin says again. His voice hitches over his words. “Please forget everything I said. Please.”

Taehyung forces his fingers to flex. He dips his forehead to Seokjin's as he struggles to settle his heart. Seokjin nudges his nose against Taehyung's, and Taehyung finally dares to breathe.

“Never do that again,” he whispers. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” Seokjin breathes. “I am so afraid—”

“—I know—”

“—But this was worse than fear,” Seokjin says. “This is worse, it's so much worse.”

Taehyung smooths his face against Seokjin's, feels the rasp of his stubble against his cheek. Seokjin slides his hands under Taehyung's coat, pulling their bodies close. And there beneath the pines, in the company of passing strangers, within the glow of a hundred Seollal lanterns, Seokjin kisses him. It's full and deep and unrestrained, and Taehyung must link their hands to keep himself from falling.

He tastes the salt of Seokjin's lips. He feels their heartbeats align. Something once tenuous between them draws inextricably tight.

Taehyung whispers, “Tell me you love me.”

And without a blink of hesitation, Seokjin answers.