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What If, Maybe?

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“All of this is not a coincidence.
The two of us found fate.”
DNA, BTS

30 December 2017 – Daegu

Seokjin scrubs his thumbs over the hot packs in his pockets. He blows out a breath and bounces, anxiously, on the balls of his frozen feet. Even though he waited with his father in the rental car until the last possible second, he feels like he's never been colder in all of his life. He wonders, distantly, at how he could plan all of this, down to the finest detail, and yet he could forget something as simple as the temperature in December.

He decides, as he paces the narrow, unpaved lane, that it doesn't matter. According to the driver Seokjin placed at the train station, Taehyung is on his way. Seokjin will finally be able to share with him what he's been planning since July.

Although, Seokjin must admit that, right now, there isn't much to look at. From here, the sweep of the hillside resembles a desert – an unbroken field powdered with snow and bordered by tight, wire fences. Outbuildings huddle under tattered tarps along a treeline that pricks the sky with naked limbs.

That doesn't matter, either. Seokjin knows better than anyone that looks can be deceiving. A pretty face can mask a whole host of flaws. He used to hide behind his, fearing that without it, he was nothing. Or worse, that he was a monster.

And maybe he would have been, had his life taken a different path.

Seokjin comes to the place where the cement surrenders to gravel. Plump cedars hug the pebbly trail, which ends abruptly at a gate half-supported by vines. A graying sign reclines against a fencepost, its pink letters too faded now to read.

That also doesn't matter; Seokjin already knows what it says.

He scans the road he's just walked, searching for signs of Taehyung. He checks his phone, which contains a screen full of unread messages from Minnie, and his Mom, from Jimin, and from Namjoon. He'll answer them all in due time, but right now, he can do nothing but wait.

And freeze. He can wait and freeze.

And feel grateful for his coat, which has deep, plush pockets, but also gives him a splash of color, bright against the desolate landscape. The coat makes it easy for Taehyung to see him, even at a distance. Minutes later, when Taehyung appears at the bend in the road, he has no difficulty spotting Seokjin among the snow-penciled hedges at the driveway's end.

Taehyung waves, and Seokjin's heart flips. Time does this odd doubling-back on him. He recalls younger Taehyung, coming into the practice room in his garish red coat. Seokjin had teased him, had called him a fake. Taehyung responded by dancing up on him, by pushing back when no one else ever dared. And really, that was it for Seokjin. Two minutes into meeting Taehyung, and Seokjin was already gone.

Now here they are, six years later: so different, yet somehow the same.

The snow crunches beneath Taehyung's boots. He scuffles up to Seokjin, his nose and mouth concealed beneath a scarf, his eyes alight with intrigue. They're quiet a moment, standing face to face, each taking the other in.

Taehyung thumbs his scarf free. He says, “Seokjin-ah, I know this place.”

“I thought you might,” Seokjin says.

“No, but I played here as a kid,” Taehyung says. “My brother and sister and me, we came here every summer. My grandparents' place is—”

“—Right over that ridge,” Seokjin says. “I know.”

Taehyung's forehead furrows. He walks to the fence to gaze across the vacant field, the bare trees, the abandoned buildings. “There was a tire swing,” he says, pointing. “And a field of lotus flowers, over there. There's a bike path, and that way, there's a creek where we'd find freshwater snails. And there were strawberries, too. They grew strawberries, and we helped pick them.”

Taehyung's confusion deepens the furrows on his brow. He's too focused on the horizon to notice Seokjin nodding along.

“My Mom said the family had some health issues,” Taehyung continues. “They moved to Busan or something, but... I can't believe they sold this place.”

“I can,” Seokjin says, his tone, calm, his words, precise. “Because I bought it.”

Taehyung goes rigid. Seconds reel and reel before he says, “You... what?”

“We did, actually,” Seokjin says. “With BigHit’s help. It's an investment, for our future.”

Taehyung gapes. “H-how?”

Seokjin fights the urge to blather at him about split-capital trusts, investment portfolios, and fund diversification – all the things his Abeoji had been so keen to talk about on their trip down from Seoul.

Instead, he says, “Taehyung, you've told me about this place so often, I felt I'd been here, too. So when I learned from your Mom that the family was selling it, I had to do something. I had to get it before some developer turned it into high-rises or department stores. Anyway, it felt like fate how everything fell into place, and I hope... I hope I didn't act too boldly. I bought it when things were still so uncertain for us, but I felt that, no matter what happened, you should have this place.”

“Is this real?” Taehyung breathes.

“Yes, Taehyung. It’s real.”

“It's a farm,” Taehyung says. He cups a hand over his mouth. “You bought us a farm?”

Seokjin bristles at the note of anguish in Taehyung's tone. He asks, “Are you upset?”

Taehyung punches Seokjin's arm. “I got you a coat!”

“Please, Taehyungie,” Seokjin says, smiling. “You once got me a sunrise.”

“Hyung!” Taehyung puts his hands to his forehead. He doubles over, his breathing a sharp, unsteady wheezing. Alarmed, Seokjin rushes to comfort him, only to be swept into a hug so fierce it almost knocks them both over.

Taehyung's quiet a long time, his damp face buried against Seokjin's neck, so that he can smell the honey-snow scent of Taehyung’s hair.

So many things he thought he'd say to him in this moment. They all seem unnecessary now. Seokjin doesn't have any answers. Most of his questions end in more questions. He knows they're young, that they're supposed to want to experience things and explore. But there's only one thing Seokjin knows for certain, and that's what he decides to say.

"I love you," he says.

"You do," Taehyung murmurs. "You love me so well. I don't know how. But I... I hope you know that I love you, too."

"I do know it." Seokjin inhales, softly. He says, “This year, Taehyung, it's been the best of our lives, and in some ways the worst. We're rich men, yet we were practically homeless. We're successful, but we suffered so much uncertainty and doubt.” He peers into Taehyung's face. “I said I never wanted to hold you captive—”

“—You don't, hyung, you never have,” Taehyung says.

“So this is not a cage, okay?” Seokjin gestures to the land around them, the cloister of trees, the sagging gate. “It's a starting place.”

“Oh, hyung," Taehyung whispers. "The key.” He pulls it from his pocket to dangle between them on its strip of red thread.

“You can choose when to open it,” Seokjin says. “But it will only open if you believe that you’re worthy.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Hyung,” he groans. “I’m not a child anymore.”

“Even so,” Seokjin says, with an air of quiet mystery. “You can open it now, or never open it. It's yours, Taehyung. It's a home. For you.”

“For us,” Taehyung says. He goes to the gate and drops to his knees. He has to scrabble beneath crisps of dried vine to find the chain and the brass lock upon it. Then he gets back up and drags Seokjin down beside him. Kneeling together, Taehyung fits the key into the lock. The hasp clicks open; the chain slides away, and Taehyung looks ridiculously, deliriously relieved.

"It opened," Taehyung says.

Seokjin smiles. "Yeah. It did."

The sky above them is polished opal. It makes the world feel as though it’s glowing from within. Featherlight snowflakes drift in the air around them, and Seokjin reaches for Taehyung’s hand.

“This is it,” Seokjin says. “Of all our moments together, this one’s the most beautiful.”

“Better than our turtle beach?”

“Yes.”

“Better than Finland?”

Seokjin sucks breath over his teeth. “Ooh, it's close...”

“I got one,” Taehyung says. “Better than that night in Hongdae, which anniversary was that?”

“No, if you can't remember, then it's not better,” Seokjin says.

“True. Okay,” Taehyung agrees. “Then how about... last night, when you told the world you love me?”

“A good night,” Seokjin nods. “But even though it’s so freezing here, this moment’s better.”

Taehyung takes both of Seokjin's hands in his, rubbing warmth into his fingers. “Your hand is my hand,” he whispers. “My Jinnie.”

Through chattering teeth, Seokjin says, “We can have a look around.” He nods toward the open gate and the fields beyond. “The house is open, and there’s a barn…”

“Hyung, you’re frozen,” Taehyung says. “We can do it later.”  He locks the gate and pockets the key. Then he stands, pulling Seokjin with him. “We have forever.”

At the sidewalk's end, Seokjin leans to kiss him, a light brush to his lips that Taehyung meets and deepens. They're dazed when they part, breathless as they were with their first kiss, so many years ago. Their fingers lace as they take the pebbled path back to the road and their normal, crazy, chaotic life.

“Forever?” Seokjin asks.

“From now on,” Taehyung agrees.

“Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin says. “I love the sound of that.”