Seokjin, like on any other day, knows exactly where to find Taehyung. It’s only his second time living through this loop, but he’s not nervous. After countless attempts, he’s familiar with what he needs to do.
After all, he’s been keeping a close eye on all of the boys, partially to settle his own nerves. To the outside world, he can chalk it up to being their hyung. He doesn’t ask them invasive questions. He doesn’t pry, and doesn’t take notes like he used to. Until that fateful moment when Taehyung had slipped, he’d thought they were safe. Life was okay, at least as okay as things could have been considering half of them are near homeless or jobless or penniless.
Somehow, the weight and pattern of this loop is different from the others. When he wakes up that day—May twentieth, at exactly ten in the morning—there’s a kind of nervous energy thrumming through his veins. He knows, from trial and error, that he can’t rush this. Reliving over a month’s worth of interactions has been torturous enough, and he’s starting to grow tired.
He arrives at the Songju police department in the early afternoon (perhaps a little too early, but he tries to keep as many aspects of that day the same as the first time). He doesn’t visit Namjoon, but sends him a polite text promising to stop by that night. If all goes well, he will be visiting Namjoon that night, likely with a distressed Taehyung in tow.
It was actually Namjoon who had sounded the first alarms in the original successful loop (“successful” is a debatable label). After helping Jimin escape, Seokjin has spent as much time as possible helping him integrate into normal life. He makes sure to take care of the others, too. Namjoon isn’t as volatile at work with the thought of people waiting for him at home. Jungkook isn’t always alone. Yoongi, for some reason, does a complete one-eighty and his mental state miraculously stabilizes. Hoseok’s smiles are more honest.
But Taehyung is a complete mystery. He comes up in conversation with Namjoon, briefly. Seokjin still isn’t sure about the solution to the “Jimin issue,” but Namjoon insists that it was the right thing to do. Namjoon is essentially Taehyung’s guardian, so Seokjin finally asks about Taehyung.
He listens to Namjoon describe his worries and somehow things fall together, despite the fact that Namjoon doesn’t know the full story. Taehyung’s actions are unsettling, but unsurprising and in character. “It’s like I’m losing my mind whenever I see him smile like that,” Namjoon explains to Seokjin while they perch on top of his container.
It’s a pretty, warm day out. There are hardly any clouds. Gut-wrenchingly, deceptively beautiful. It reminds Seokjin that Taehyung is a master of deception. If he doesn’t want anybody to know something is wrong, nobody will.
Seokjin has the chance to think about the situation more—Taehyung not picking up calls, Namjoon’s sudden concern, and the fact that Taehyung routinely runs to Namjoon with bruises after a night of vandalism to vent—and that’s when it occurs to him that maybe things aren’t as perfect as he’d once thought.
He excuses himself, a vague plan already forming in his mind on how to approach Taehyung and check on him in the most subtle way possible, but that’s when Hoseok arrives with the news. After trying so hard, after saving all of the others, Seokjin loses Taehyung.
It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking and humiliating. Everything is lost in a second because he didn’t pay enough attention to Taehyung.
This time, Seokjin will be smarter.
Seokjin paces outside of the police station for a solid hour before Taehyung is released. He doesn’t know how long Taehyung was held, but he doesn’t question the fact that Seokjin is picking him up.
I’m not leaving you alone, Seokjin decides as he brings Taehyung to the car. To Taehyung, Seokjin asks, “Is there something going on at home?”
“Just let it slide,” Taehyung mumbles, turned away from Seokjin. He’d been vulnerable when Seokjin had picked him up, but now he’s hunched over, his hood drawn over his head, his eyes dark with an emotion Seokjin can’t place. “I’ll tell you...” Taehyung exhales audibly. “...when I’m ready to talk about it.”
Seokjin is disappointed, but not surprised. Hiding his troubles is a kind of defense mechanism Taehyung has developed. Seokjin can’t imagine what his home life is like. Granted, they all have an idea. They know his father is a violent alcoholic and that he has a sister. His mother seems to be out of the picture, but Seokjin doesn’t know why. Taehyung dodges their questions whenever anyone is brave enough to ask.
Taehyung is different from Yoongi, who Seokjin had had an enormous amount of difficulty figuring out. Yoongi had been unpredictable, but his solution was obvious. Seokjin isn’t sure there is a solution for Taehyung. He doesn’t know how Taehyung’s story began or if there actually is a way to save him.
But he’s going to try.
“Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin says. He doesn’t lift his eyes from the road, even as he senses Taehyung’s gaze land on him. He adjusts his hands on the steering wheel. “I’m not asking you to tell me everything you’re going through right now. But I want you to know one thing. Tell me when you’re ready to talk.” He inhales deeply, and adds, hoping he can convey his message right, “I’m always here for you.”
He doesn’t know what his words mean to Taehyung, or if Taehyung will believe him, or if Taehyung will ever come to him. But he means it with his whole heart. He needs Taehyung to trust him. Taehyung shifts in his seat as Seokjin adds, “And I’m sure the other kids feel the same way.”
They have an unspoken agreement, in their group, not to share personal information. It’s always worked for them, but now Seokjin believes it’s part of what got them into this mess. He doesn’t know the other boys as well as he’d like, but he knows that they would accept Taehyung.
As long as he can get Taehyung to accept them first.
“Hyung,” Taehyung says hoarsely, just as Seokjin is sure his words are lost. Taehyung is staring down at his lap, downcast. He looks a little nauseous. “Actually, there is one thing I wanna talk about.”
“What is it?” Seokjin asks carefully. The world around him narrows down to Taehyung.
“Lately I’ve been having this strange dream,” Taehyung replies, and Seokjin’s blood runs cold.
“What kind of dream?”
Familiar images flash into Seokjin’s mind as Taehyung lists the scenes. “Yoongi-hyung’s trapped inside a burning fire. Jungkook is falling from a building. Hoseokie-hyung gets injured, Jimin is locked up in a hospital, and Namjoonie-hyung is in prison,” he explains. “That kind of dream. Like every night.” Taehyung’s voice shakes a little. Seokjin expects Taehyung to try and brush it off, as he always does, but he doesn’t. “Strange, huh?”
How does Taehyung know all this? Seokjin wonders. Blood rushes in his ears. He shifts his hands again and feels sweat on his palms. The events Taehyung described are too close to the truth for them to be a coincidence. It’s like those futures were never truly erased when I did everything right. Or can they still occur? Is Taehyung still seeing these things because I might fail?
Will I fail?
Why is Taehyung involved at all?
Seokjin wants to laugh with the irony, but his heart is too heavy. It’s like the universe has cursed us all. I still don’t understand my own role.
“I’m in that dream too,” Taehyung blurts, shaking Seokjin from his thoughts.
“What happens to you in that dream, then?” Seokjin asks tentatively. It’s too much to hope that this is how he’ll discover Taehyung’s end, to help him find a solution, and yet....
“I don’t know. I can’t remember anything about what happens to me when I wake up,” Taehyung says, turning to watch out the window. “What’s up with dreams? They feel so vivid when you’re dreaming. Then they disappear into nothing when you wake up.”
Taehyung doesn’t seem bothered. Why is this going on? Seokjin shivers involuntarily. Why is Taehyung dreaming all of this?
He doesn’t have much time to think on it. This mind runs in circles as he finishes the drive to Taehyung’s apartment. A lump rises in Seokjin’s throat. The sky is rapidly turning gray, clouding over above the dingy apartment complex. It couldn’t be more dismal.
Seokjin imagines a universe where he and Taehyung are with Namjoon in this moment instead, and the thought aches.
“Thanks for the ride, hyung,” Taehyung says abruptly. He climbs out of Seokjin’s car and stubbornly refuses to meet his eyes.
“Taehyung,” Seokjin says, exasperated, like an overbearing parent. There’s only so much he can do.
“Don’t worry about me and go,” Taehyung says. His smile is plastic, fake, weaker than usual, barely masking his wince. “I’m okay, really.”
All of the sudden, there’s a loud thud, and shouting from Taehyung’s apartment. Seokjin catches a few words, but he’s more trained on the way Taehyung jumps, his whole body seizing, before he bolts without a word.
That’s not good.
Seokjin gives chase. He flings his car door open and runs, not caring that he’s left his keys while parked in one of the worst parts of town. Pure adrenaline keeps him going as he dashes up several flights of stairs. He doesn’t know Taehyung’s home well, but his panic prevents him from getting a good glimpse of his surroundings.
Please! Don’t do it, Taehyung-ah! He wants to yell for Taehyung, but he shouldn’t know what Taehyung’s about to do. None of his suspicions about Taehyung’s violent tendencies or his delinquency should lead to this. He nearly stumbles over himself as he jumps up the last few stairs.
When he yanks open the door, he finds Taehyung standing over his father, a broken glass bottle in his hand. Seokjin can only imagine what happened. “Taehyung! No!” he yells, and he lunges for Taehyung, wrapping his arms around his middle before he can do any more.
But Taehyung throws him off easily. “Get off of me!” he snarls, shoving Seokjin away.
I was watching him too closely. That’s why I didn’t see his misery, when it really mattered.
Seokjin gasps. He doesn’t know if Taehyung meant to hurt him. He’s out of breath from running up the stairs and to Taehyung and now he feels paralyzed. It takes every last ounce of will in him to force himself up and to reach for Taehyung again.
What he isn’t expecting is for Taehyung to anticipate his movement. He isn’t expecting Taehyung to turn around to meet him. He isn’t expecting Taehyung to turn on him—but he should have known.
The sound the bottle makes when it pierces Seokjin’s chest is absolutely disgusting. It’s like Taehyung forgot he was holding it. Somehow, Seokjin registers how it happens through blinding pain, but it takes a moment for the adrenaline to fade and for Seokjin to register what Taehyung did.
Everything is on fire. Seokjin is consumed by agony he never could have imagined and an overwhelming numbness at once.
He watches, distantly, as Taehyung’s expression shifts from wild, ruthless fury to terror. There’s blood splattered on his face and shirt. It takes Seokjin a moment to comprehend that it’s his. His thoughts drag to a halt as time stops and instinct takes over.
In all of the loops, he was almost never the one to die. For the first time in a long time, he’s uncertain.
Seokjin’s knees start to give out. Taehyung’s grip on his arm falters, so Seokjin reaches out to grab him for support. Taehyung, stunned, only falls with him. “Hyung, why...?” His voice is hushed, hollow, as if he has yet to process the scene in front of him. “Why did you...?”
Seokjin slides to the floor. Taehyung bursts into tears. Seokjin hears the bottle shatter when Taehyung yanks it away and it hits the floor. “Hyung! Wait!” Taehyung cries. He puts his hand over the wound in a futile effort to stem the blood. Seokjin whimpers, registering the sound from far away. He doesn’t look away from Taehyung, but he sees a rapidly growing red patch in the front of his shirt out of the corner of his eye. “Hyung, no!”
Seokjin coughs to clear his throat. The effort makes it hurt more. Even as panic sets in—his body’s way to make him last longer, he supposes—his thoughts slow and stick together, landing on one thing. This is another fail, isn’t it? Or is this how the story ends? “Taehyung-ah,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
It’s because of me that you suffer more, isn’t it? No matter what I do, things always get worse. We’re only here because of me.
I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.
“Don’t say that! What are you sorry for?” Taehyung wails. “Why did you come here? Why?”
What would have happened if you hadn’t come? You can’t see the way you’re destroying yourself—the way you need someone to stop you.
Coming after you was my job, and I failed. I needed to protect you.
“I’m really sorry,” Seokjin says. He squeezes Taehyung’s shoulder as his vision blurs.
Every time I couldn’t save you guys, you became more miserable (The loop gets worse every time. How much longer could I have watched you suffer like this, again and again? I’m powerless. Perhaps our lives were always meant to be this way).
No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t save you (Something goes wrong every time).
Have I really saved you this time? Seokjin wonders. Taehyung’s crying so hard. Seokjin doesn’t remember ever seeing him so overcome with emotion. Taehyung is shaking visibly, but he clutches Seokjin desperately. His hands leave trails of blood on Seokjin’s face. Is this the right path? If I don’t know who Taehyung really is, who am I to decide his future?
Seokjin trembles as pain ripples through him. What will happen to me now? To Taehyung? To the rest? (They can’t make it without me, can they?) If I die, will I still go back to that day? Or is this really the end?
(Did I fail, or is this how things are meant to be?)
Seokjin feels are though he’s watching himself from far away. The pressure of Taehyung’s arms around him is dull. Seokjin’s eyes fall shut. He knows, reasonably, that this is his end. After this moment, will none of this have ever happened? (How do I continue with this knowledge?)
Even if I did everything right, would our lives simply fall apart again?
Distantly, he hears Taehyung’s voice, shaken by terrified sobs. “No. Hyung, no. Come back.”
I would sacrifice everything for you. If my life is the price for your happiness—so be it. I accept my fate. This is nothing compared to what I have already given up.
But I can’t save them on my own.
And we never went to the sea.
Seokjin waits for the world to shatter as his senses fade to nothingness.
It’s hard for Taehyung to make it back down the stairs and out the building when his legs are shaking too hard to keep him on his feet, but he manages it. When he reaches a dead end in an alley, he collapses. He sinks to his knees and bends over and cries so hard he can barely breathe. His hands are uncomfortably sticky with blood and his face is damp with tears.
The alley is voiceless save for the sound of his labored breathing. He doesn’t know how much time has gone by, but the sounds of the city are duller here and the sun is steadily dropping in the sky. The alley is dirty, but Taehyung feels filthy on his own.
There’s blood pooled in front of him from where he had tracked it in. The stench of it hangs heavy in the air, suffocating and nauseating. Alcohol and blood is a familiar combination. Judging by the murky gray of the sky, it’ll probably rain soon, but he doesn’t know if the blood will completely wash away in the shelter of the alley. He frantically wipes his hands on his shirt even though he knows it won’t make a difference. He’s covered in blood and doesn’t know whose it is. His own, his father’s, Seokjin’s.
The thought of Seokjin sends him into a panic. Hands trembling violently, he digs out the half-filled water bottle he’d miracuously kept on him and spills it over his hands without care for how much lands on the ground. Some of the blood is dried now, taking some effort to remove, and his meager amount of water does little to remedy his appearance. He can feel blood and sweat staining his clothes, his face, his hair.
After some of it has washed off, he notices that there’s glass embedded in his hand—not too deep, but enough to send a shooting pain to his fingertips when he moves. He holds his hand up to the light and inspects the emerald shard in fragmented sunlight. He wipes his eyes on his sleeve to see better, but his head is spinning.
Drip. Taehyung winces and tries to locate the source of the sound. Muddy city water flows in rivulets in cracks between concrete. Taehyung curls his lip in disgust. He looks down at his hand, at the glass sticking out of him, and realizes dimly that there’s no way he can care for the wound.
With his good hand, he reaches for his phone. Blood smears across the screen as he opens Namjoon’s number. Namjoon picks up on the second ring.
“Taehyung-ah?” he says.
Taehyung chokes back tears. “Hyung,” he says. Namjoon will hear his emotion in his voice. He’ll know. “I need you now.”
“Taehyung?” Namjoon repeats, more fearful. Taehyung curses the universe, then, because Namjoon never asks him what’s wrong when he calls. He must already know. More time has gone by than Taehyung thought. “Are you okay? We heard that—something happened—is Seokjin-hyung with you?”
“Hyung,” Taehyung sobs. “Hyung, please, I need you to get me.”
“I’ll be there—Taehyung, where are you? Are you okay?”
“I-I don’t know, I—I’m near home, I’ll find you,” Taehyung gasps. “Hyung—”
“I’ll be right there, Tae. Please talk to me,” Namjoon says. Taehyung hears rustling and the slam of a door from Namjoon’s end. “Will you tell me what happened?”
“I—” Taehyung tries to stand. He puts his hand to the wall for support and hisses when the wall brushes his wound. “I….”
“I’ll find you,” Namjoon promises. “Don’t hang up. But, Taehyung, is Seokjin safe?”
Namjoon is silent for a moment. His voice breaks when he speaks again. “Stay where you are.”
Taehyung wipes his face and tries to get himself under control. He thinks he might be having a panic attack. He doesn’t know. He hobbles out of the alley and starts walking in the general direction of Namjoon’s, sticking to the shadows. He doubts that anybody, at this time of day, but it’s hard to miss the blood.
Taehyung doesn’t know if he cares whether or not he’s found.
His thoughts are a blur as he walks. He keeps reliving that one moment—and somehow every physical pain dissolves.
He doesn’t see Namjoon until he hears Namjoon’s exclamation of horror. Namjoon grabs him and pulls him close, looking him up and down. Taehyung reaches for him, suddenly aware of what Namjoon is seeing.
“Taehyung… what happened?” Namjoon asks, hushed. Fresh tears roll down Taehyung’s cheeks. Namjoon’s eyes flick down to Taehyung’s hands, taking in the red streaked up his arms, under his nails. “What did you do?”
“I killed him,” Taehyung says, and for the first time it seems real. “Seokjinnie-hyung, I—it’s my fault. I killed him.”
Namjoon freezes. His eyes widen. Taehyung watches him process the statement, his expression unguarded as his face crumbles. He lets go of Taehyung and stumbles back. “What? How—what happened?”
Taehyung doesn’t know what to say. Everything he wants to say—every explanation—makes him sound like he’s trying to defend himself. He doesn’t deserve that. He wants to die. He wishes it were him instead of Seokjin.
“I didn’t want to,” he says when he can speak. “I didn’t want to.”
“Did he do something to you?” Namjoon asks.
Taehyung is so repulsed by the idea that Seokjin have been the one to hurt him that he snaps. He stumbles back, collapsing against the wall of a nearby building and vomits until he’s dry heaving. Namjoon tentatively walks to his side. He puts a hand on Taehyung’s back and brushes Taehyung’s hair out of his eyes.
Taehyung whimpers. He wipes his mouth and says, “I didn’t mean to. He was trying to save me. I don’t know why he was there. I don’t understand, hyung, I don’t know what happened. My father, he—I was trying to help my sister, and Seokjinnie-hyung wouldn’t let me, and I didn’t mean to.” Taehyung clutches Namjoon’s sleeve tightly. “I can’t help it. He’s gone.”
“I didn’t—I didn’t even recognize who he was. Please believe me, hyung. I don’t know what happened.”
Namjoon pales. That’s when it starts to rain—the sky spontaneously spilling its contents as Taehyung stands still, chest heaving. Namjoon wipes the rain from his face and sighs.
“Fine,” Namjoon says. He places a hand on Taehyung’s shoulder firmly and leads him down the street. “Let’s get you home.”
Taehyung has always admired Namjoon.
He doesn’t regard Namjoon the same way as Jungkook, who watches after him with a hero-worship kind of appreciation. Namjoon is responsible and resourceful, so it’s only reasonable that he should appear to be older and more knowledgeable than he truly is. Out of their friend group, Namjoon has always been the one with solid solutions to their troubles, even though he’s not one of the hyungs.
Maybe that’s what makes him so approachable. He seems wise, but he’s just as much of a kid as any of them. Taehyung has distinct memories of Namjoon’s high school days before he dropped out, where they would skip class together and hang out during lunch and do graffiti together in the late hours of the night.
They have a special kind of bond. Taehyung knows he could count on Namjoon to be there for him, no questions asked. Who could he have called but Namjoon?
Namjoon had been close with Seokjin, too. The two of them were equally intellectual, often spending their afternoons reading together. Seokjin read as if he were searching restlessly for a solution. Namjoon was the one who took time to ponder things, who had too many questions for the world than could be answered. Taehyung had always admired the way he thought.
Maybe it’s only natural that he gravitates to Namjoon.
The walk to Namjoon’s container drags on farther than usual. Taehyung can hardly walk without his legs giving out. Namjoon is says nothing from beside him, silent tears dripping down his face. At one point, he sends a text, but Taehyung doesn’t bother asking who he’s talking to.
He’s too busy with his own thoughts.
He should have known it was a mistake to come home earlier that night. This is the time when his father is at his worst. He isn’t working, and he’s been drinking more lately, so Taehyung had known he’d have to keep his guard up. He just hadn’t been expecting things to escalate so quickly.
He should have known better.
After Seokjin had dropped him off (even that had been a mistake, since Taehyung had actually contacted Hoseok about his release), Taehyung had been quick to confirm his suspicions. He’d all but run up to the apartment and a bottle had been thrown at him seconds after he walked in and shattered against the wall, inches from his face. Taehyung is used to dealing with his father and knows how to avoid him when he’s in a mood, but is caught off guard for the first time in a while.
He can deal with the yelling, but it’s when his sister starts to interrupt that things head downhill. It brings Taehyung back.
After their mother had left, they’d had their last bit of protection taken away. Their father had had no sympathy for them back when they were children, either, but usually their mother would take the worst of it. And, after her, Taehyung’s sister. She was older and more defiant, more often in the way than Taehyung.
Taehyung was naïve, when he was younger, foolishly believing there was some way he could escape. That was when he hadn’t understood the world well enough to comprehend his father’s raging alcoholism and mother’s abandonment. It took him a long time to learn to stay out of the way and accept the reality of his world.
“You have to hide when dad’s beating me, you got that?” Taehyung remembers his sister saying. Taehyung had been so terrified. “If you try to take my place I’m really gonna be upset.”
So, Taehyung had learned to hide. He’s always despised that part of himself. When his father’s drunk, he tries to stay out of the house, or he locks himself in his room, or stands out of the way and tries not to aggravate anyone. It doesn't always work. Sometimes he comes home too late or snaps at his father at the wrong time.
Other times, Taehyung is guilty for what he’s indirectly done to his sister. Taehyung will flinch when one of the boys touches him when he’s not expecting it, so he can’t imagine how badly his sister reacts. She’s the one who has had to talk Taehyung out of bringing them to the hospital—on multiple occasions.
Taehyung doesn’t know what came over him today. Out of the dozens of times he’s come home to a drunken, angry father, he’s tried to hide for the majority of them. This time hadn’t been different, but he hadn’t been thinking. Maybe he’d had enough?
Upon entering and seeing his father, he’d started to feel like a stranger in his own home. The rows of glass bottles lined up on a nearby table, leaving scattered reflections on the floor, leave an enticing visual and choice in weapon. Under Taehyung’s boot, shards of glass from the bottle previously thrown at him turn to needle-sharp chips. He can see his own reflection in the fragments. The floorboards creak as he steps forward.
At first, he can hear Seokjin tailing him, but he starts to lose focus and all sound cuts out but his own breathing. That’s the instant in which he makes a choice. Subconsciously, it occurs that he can no longer continue this lifestyle. Consequence, through rose-colored glass, is an insignificant and foreign concept.
His vision narrows. Blood roars in his ears. In a single motion, he snatches one of the bottles and slams the door open. It hits the opposite wall with a resounding thud. He doesn’t hesitate before rushing to his father. He shoves him into the wall and swings the bottle.
It snaps in two when it makes contact with his father’s face. The end is left jagged and pointed, razor sharp. Taehyung stumbles back. Dread tastes like ash in his mouth. He finds it so cruelly ironic that he’s the violent one after withstanding so much during his childhood.
He fully intends to kill his father. He’s never felt rage like this before. He’s desperate. He’s not the one cornered, but it’s like he’s a mouse at the mercy of a fox. One of them isn’t making it out alive today.
If Seokjin hadn’t been there—Taehyung would have done it. Taehyung has never been so sure of anything. If nobody had stopped him, he would have killed his father. He might not have regretted it. He doesn’t know what would have happened to his sister—if she would have taken the blame or reported him or run away with him—because they aren’t close. Even so, they protected each other.
But Seokjin had been there.
“Taehyung,” Namjoon says, dragging Taehyung away from his thoughts. Taehyung makes an involuntary choked noise. “Why did you go home today?”
“My father doesn’t like when I’m out late,” Taehyung says. “I told hyung not to come with me.”
I wished he’d listened to me. At least he wouldn’t be dead. I would have killed my father, but Seokjin didn’t deserve to die. He tried to help me. But why? Why did he have to make it any of his business?
He can’t be dead, not Seokjin!
“Hyung took care of all of us,” Namjoon rasps. He doesn’t look at Taehyung, although his hand tightens on Taehyung’s shoulder. Taehyung tries not to shy away. They’re almost home, anyway. “He was still worried after we saved Jimin. I don’t understand why. He’s been acting weird lately.”
Bile rises in Taehyung’s throat at the thought of having to face Jimin again. I killed Seokjin. We all loved Seokjin. He was the only one we could all rely on. That’s unforgivable. I took Seokjin’s life. Now the others have to suffer, too.
“I don’t deserve to live,” Taehyung says. “Not when Seokji—”
“I don’t mean this unkindly,” Namjoon interrupts, “but shut up. You don’t get to decide that. I’m not going to let you throw your life away when you have the chance to keep living. None of us may like the lives we’re living, but you can’t throw away yours after what you’ve done.”
Taehyung shuts up. Neither of them speak for the rest of the walk. They find Hoseok waiting for them outside, and Taehyung hesitates.
Namjoon turns to Taehyung, but Hoseok is making his way over before either of them can react. “What—Namjoon, what’s going on? Taehyung, are you okay? You’re shaking like a leaf—is that your blood?”
Namjoon shakes his head helplessly. “Hoseok-hyung, can you wait out here for me? I’ll explain as soon as I can.”
Hoseok nods, his expression stricken. Namjoon keeps a steady grip on Taehyung as he leads him inside.
“Get changed and wash up,” Namjoon says, looking at the ground. “Take my clothes. I’m going to talk to Hoseok.”
Namjoon exits without another word, which leaves Taehyung alone with Jimin, who has been living with Namjoon since he left the hospital (mainly because he’s too scared to face his parents). Jimin had been dozing on Namjoon’s couch, but he sits up when he sees Taehyung. His face goes sickly pale at the sight of him. “Tae… what happened?”
Taehyung’s heart aches. Jimin was, at one point, his best friend. Seokjin is the only reason he’s here now, out of the hospital, and able to decide where his life goes. He’s better off here than with his parents.
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says, and he makes a beeline for the bathroom without meeting Jimin’s eyes.
Once he’s alone, everything presses in on Taehyung more. He gasps for air as he slouches over the sink. He can’t really wash his hand because of the glass, but he does the best that he can without becoming queasy. He splashes his face a few times, and when he finally looks in the mirror to check if the blood is actually gone, his stomach turns.
He can’t even face himself. How is he supposed to live with himself, after what he’s done?
He sits in a corner of the bathroom and curls in on himself, trying not to cry. His chest is starting to hurt from a lack of air. His hand is throbbing, but he can’t remember basic wound care and he knows he’ll only damage himself more if he tries to take the glass out.
He doesn’t know how long he stays there, head in his arms. Long enough so that a chill starts to settle in the air and it’s uncomfortably dark without a light turned on. Taehyung used to find Namjoon’s place comforting. His own home—which is technically much more spacious—isn’t close to as well-kempt as Namjoon’s, so Taehyung has never cared about the lack of modern comfort (how could he have, considering where he’d grown up?). The muted colors are usually familiar. But now the world is unwelcoming, and Taehyung can’t help but want to run away.
There’s a commotion from the kitchen, and then a knock at the bathroom door. When Taehyung doesn’t reply, Namjoon enters slowly, evidently having figured out that the door was never locked. “Are you better?” Namjoon asks, flicking on the light. Taehyung looks up. There’s a deep, melancholic weariness etched into Namjoon’s features. Normally, he welcomes Taehyung no matter what, but he’s colder than Taehyung has ever seen him, lips pressed into a thin line and eyebrows knitted together.
Taehyung shakes his head. Namjoon crouches in front of him. He takes Taehyung’s injured hand, which is still actively dripping blood. There are several open scrapes, none of which are particularly deep, but all of which are tender. Taehyung figures he must have cut it on the bottle, at some point, although he doesn’t remember doing it.
“You should probably see a doctor for this,” Namjoon says, and Taehyung tears his hand away. “Relax, I’m not going to take you unless you want to. I can get the glass out, but you should probably know that if you’re not careful, it could get really infected. This kind of thing is very dangerous.”
“I don’t care. I’ll live,” Taehyung says stubbornly. Namjoon pulls him up and turns on the sink. “I know you have a sewing needle, if worst comes to worst.”
Namjoon scoffs. “Don’t talk like that. Once I bandage it, you have to keep it covered. It’s not that deep, but I expect it’ll take a while to heal. You can’t get anything in it, you hear me?” He opens his cabinet to take out tweezers and gauze, and then begins washing his hands.
“Yes, hyung,” Taehyung says. Namjoon turns off the water and Taehyung holds out his hand obediently. He looks away and tries not to squirm as Namjoon flattens his hand and prods the opening of the wound with the tweezers.
Taehyung squeezes his eyes shut and bites his lip when Namjoon removes the glass. Fresh blood spills over his fingers. Taehyung suppresses a cry as Namjoon runs water over his hand. Namjoon pats it dry with a towel and begins to work on the dressing, and wraps it tightly with the gauze.
“You’ll want to keep pressure on it for a while,” he says. They both watch solemnly as the gauze begins to turn red. Namjoon adds a few more layers to secure the bandage. “It really wasn’t as bad as it looked, but you’ll still want to be careful with that hand.”
“Okay, hyung,” Taehyung says, subdued. Namjoon rinses off the tweezers and gives him a bewildered look.
“Will you talk to me now?” he asks. His voice is gentle even though his grief is so visible. It’s that moment that reminds Taehyung that Namjoon is barely older than him. Namjoon may have run away from home, and provides entirely for himself, but he can hardly be called an adult. He appears older than nineteen and carries the weight of years far beyond his own. After all, he’s been entirely independent since the start of high school. “I’m just trying to figure out what happened, Taehyung-ah. I’m not going to make you leave.”
Taehyung regards Namjoon for another moment before taking a shuddering breath. Namjoon deserves better than what Taehyung is giving him. “My father was going to hurt me. I wanted to kill him, Namjoonie-hyung. I would have done it. I tried. But Seokjinnie-hyung followed me. It was an accident. I wouldn’t have done it on purpose, hyung, and I would give anything—”
“That’s enough, Taehyung, I believe you,” Namjoon says. He still won’t meet Taehyung’s eyes. “I know you didn’t mean to, but he’s still gone.”
Taehyung’s bottom lip begins to quiver. “I don’t know what to do. Hyung, he was our friend.”
“We have to figure out what to do with you,” Namjoon says. He sighs quietly and dries his hands. “You obviously can’t go back home.”
Taehyung swallows. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks down. “It won’t take long for them to figure out it was me. Am I supposed to hide forever?”
“I don’t know,” Namjoon says. Taehyung has never heard Namjoon so uncertain, and it scares him. “Do you want to turn yourself in?”
Taehyung shrugs. “It would be honest of me to own up, wouldn’t it? That’s what you always say even though you’ve gotten in the same trouble I have. I can’t even say it was self-defense.”
“Legally, you’re in the wrong,” Namjoon says, leaning against the counter. “But what does that matter?” He thinks for a moment. “If you have nowhere else to go—I suppose you can stay with me.”
“I couldn’t do that to you,” Taehyung says. He squeezes his eyes shut. “You shouldn't have to be around me after I killed Seokjin-hyung. I can’t take up space here. And what if I got caught, or they found me here? You’d get in trouble, too. I can’t force that on you.”
“You think I care about getting caught?” Namjoon asks sharply. “It’s my choice to house you. None of us have much going for us. I have about as much of a future as you do.”
“But you have a chance. You can’t give that up,” Taehyung says desperately. Namjoon’s the only one of them who ever had the opportunity to move up. He was held down my poverty, but he was smart. Surely he’d find a way out, eventually?
“I won’t give that up, but I’m also not going to watch you throw yourself away,” Namjoon says. “I’m careful. Don’t worry about me, alright? I have ways out. And besides—that’s not what matters. I don’t even really care that you killed hyung, I care that….”
“I know,” Taehyung whispers. “We lost him.”
It doesn’t feel real. It hadn’t felt real, when Seokjin had been dying in his arms. It hadn’t felt real when he’d run away. Taehyung has yet to fully process it, but he’s going to be brought along whether he likes it or not. He’s so shaken. His own body is unfamiliar.
The thought of Seokjin being gone is wrong. It makes Taehyung’s skin crawl. Seokjin had been acting weird, in his last months, but he’s always been there. The pain is a tension that won’t snap. Taehyung doesn’t understand. Seokjin’s reaction had been so confusing. He hadn’t been mad. Why had he been there in the first place?
Taehyung doesn’t realize his anguish is visible until Namjoon pats his shoulder. “We’ll figure it out together,” he says. “Come with me. We have to go talk to the others.”
Had Namjoon not been so kind to him, Taehyung might have protested. Grief weighs heavily on him as he follows Namjoon out of the bathroom.
His panic grows worse when he sees that Yoongi and Jungkook have also arrived. They’re talking quietly amongst themselves, but the conversation dies off when Taehyung walks in. Yoongi is pacing by the door, lost and frustrated. Jimin and Hoseok sit on the bed, Jungkook sandwiched between them as though they’d tried to surround him for protection. Jungkook’s eyes are red-rimmed and his shoulders are shaking. There are tears on Jimin’s face, but his thoughts appear to be elsewhere. Hoseok is equally distant, a distinct sorrow knitted into his expression.
Taehyung stands back from Namjoon uncomfortably. He’s miserably vulnerable. He can’t imagine what the others must be feeling if his own soul is so raw. Even Namjoon’s façade begins to crumble.
“Is he really dead?” Hoseok asks. He wrings his hands. “Could you explain now?”
“He’s really dead,” Namjoon confirms. Yoongi abruptly stops pacing and stares straight at Taehyung. Jungkook puts his head in his hands. “It wasn’t on purpose, though.”
“But why?” Jimin asks. He is the most out of place. He still hasn’t regained his luster from years in the hospital. He’s alarmingly thin and shivers even though the air is still mostly humid. “What did Seokjin-hyung ever do?”
“Do you believe him?” Yoongi asks. He tilts his head. In terms of appearance, Yoongi has seen better days—his hair would greatly appreciate a trim and his skin is still raw from the burns in some places, still bandaged on his arms. The soft edge to his face present back in high school is gone, replaced with a colder, harder version of the Yoongi Taehyung once knew. “Who are we supposed to trust?”
“I was trying to kill my father,” Taehyung confesses, heart racing. He has to get it over with, but voicing the truth is a physical pain. He balls his hands into fists to distract himself.
“Why?” Jungkook asks, shifting awkwardly. Taehyung flinches, and then reconsiders the expression on Jungkook’s face. His eyes are unusually dull, but Taehyung registers understanding. “Did you kill him, too?”
“No, and—he would have killed me,” Taehyung says in a rush. He doesn’t want to elaborate, so he continues quickly. “I couldn’t do it anymore. S-Seokjinnie-hyung—got in the way—”
“Did you kill him so you could then kill your father?” Yoongi interrupts.
“No!” Taehyung cries. He shrinks against the wall. Yoongi takes a few steps closer. The thinly-veiled threat is unintentional, but Taehyung can only comprehend his own terror. It’s like he’s back in the apartment. His friends, his abuser—they’re the same. “I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t know he would come after me. Please, I—I want to go back and fix it. I didn’t want him to die.”
There is a lengthy pause. Taehyung discovers he has tears left to shed and wipes his eyes angrily. Namjoon gives him a concerned look, but he’s as distant as ever.
“I can’t believe it,” Jungkook mutters at last. “I never would have thought… Seokjin-hyung….”
Yoongi’s expression softens at Jungkook’s words. “I know.”
Hoseok’s eyes are glazed with tears. “It’s not right. Of all of us… he didn’t deserve that.”
“It won’t be the same without him,” Jimin says brokenly. He hugs his knees to his chest.
Taehyung meets Hoseok’s eyes. Hoseok edges away and mumbles, “But Taehyung….”
“Don’t ever forgive me,” Taehyung says. Everyone goes quiet again. “Don’t let me stay here.”
“Taehyung,” Namjoon says, warningly, but not unkindly. He shifts on his feet. “You have to stay here.”
Yoongi’s jaw twitches. “Are you good here?” he asks Namjoon.
“Sure.” Namjoon slides closer to Taehyung. Taehyung can’t see Namjoon’s face, but the way he tenses shows his aggravation.
“What are you going to do?” Jimin asks, glancing over at Taehyung. He folds his hands together tightly. “How long can you run away?”
“Until I figure out what to do,” Taehyung mumbles.
“You don’t have many options,” Yoongi says with a scowl. He throws up his hands. “If you’re not going to turn yourself in, you’ll have to hide forever. Once your name gets out, there’s no going back.”
Taehyung makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. “I don’t… hyung, I….”
“Let’s not talk about this now,” Namjoon says tersely. “After what just happened to Seokjin-hyung, we shouldn’t already be focused on this. We all need time. None of us have clear heads.”
“That’s not going to change any time soon,” Yoongi sighs. “But you’re right.” He looks Taehyung over. “But I don’t think any of us really understand what happened. Taehyung-ah, I hope you’ll have some sort of an explanation when we come back.”
Taehyung’s words stick on his tongue. Hoseok frowns deeply. “I know we never talked about what goes on at home, but we really need to know this time. If there were ever a time to talk to us, it’s now.”
“Yeah, Tae,” Jimin says. He sounds torn. “Take your time, but… we really need to know. For Seokjin-hyung’s sake.”
Nausea sweeps through Taehyung. It shouldn’t bother him now, but the thought of explaining what happened to the other boys is petrifying. He doesn’t deserve the security he has, and yet he clings to the idea.
“I know it’s late, but you should probably head home,” Namjoon says. “Yoongi-hyung, will you make sure Jungkook gets home safe?”
“Sure, whatever,” Yoongi says, stepping to the door. “I have a hotel nearby.” He motions for Jungkook to follow him.
Taehyung expects Jungkook to protest at the precaution, but he complies instead. Taehyung watches as Jungkook fits himself into Namjoon’s embrace. Jungkook is even younger than Taehyung, and it shows when he goes limp against Namjoon. Taehyung hears a soft whimper as Jungkook presses his face into Namjoon’s shoulder, hiding himself for a moment.
“It’s okay,” Namjoon says, the words meant for Jungkook alone. For the first time, Taehyung sees straight through Namjoon. Namjoon may sound as though he has things under control, but he’s too unsure of himself to reassure the others. He’s not the secure, parental figure Jungkook is searching for. Namjoon isn’t the one who can hold them all together. His reassurance sounds hollow.
“I should get going,” Hoseok says tensely. “I’ll see you around.”
“Of course,” Namjoon says uncertainly. “And, um. This didn’t happen.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Right. None of us witnessed you hiding away a murderer.” He walks out the door without another word. Hoseok and Jungkook hesitate before following him.
Taehyung’s back hits the wall and he slides to the floor, trembling. Namjoon’s brow furrows. “Uh… it’s getting late. Maybe you should try to get some sleep. If you can.”
“I don’t think I can,” Taehyung says.
“It can’t hurt to try,” Namjoon says. “I’ll find you a pillow.”
Guilt tears at Taehyung’s chest. There really isn’t enough room for Taehyung to stay with Namjoon. After all, there’s barely enough room for Namjoon himself, and Jimin has been sleeping on his couch.
But Namjoon has no complaints as he tosses Taehyung a pillow and slides a blanket over. “Make yourself at home. You’ll probably be here for a while,” he says, rubbing between his eyes. “Let me know if you need anything.”
Namjoon’s acting colder than he ever has before, but Taehyung doesn’t remember ever feeling so loved—except for Seokjin. Taehyung finds himself pathetic.
He stretches out on the floor and faces the wall. Namjoon has a lamp on in his corner, but everything else is dark. All is silent save for Jimin’s rough breathing and Namjoon shuffling around in the kitchen.
A chill crawls up Taehyung’s spine. Having his friends yell at him is much better than being left with his own thoughts. The image of Seokjin’s face in the moment he’d realized Taehyung had attacked him is stark in Taehyung’s mind.
The thought keeps him awake until the morning, when he drifts into his first dreamless sleep in months.
Taehyung wakes to the sound of a siren.
He sits up so fast his head spins, head already starting to pound. Namjoon is sitting at his desk on the other side of the room, watching Taehyung curiously. He looks like he hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, with deep bags under his eyes and his hair still a mess. “It’s alright, Taehyung. It’s not you. Relax.”
Taehyung’s pulse doesn’t slow. “What…?”
“You’re safe here,” Namjoon says. He sounds so detached, but Taehyung will take whatever he can get. The corner of Namjoon’s mouth twitches down in a frown when he sees Taehyung. Taehyung can’t tell what he’s thinking.
Taehyung inhales deeply, trying to orient himself. It’s late morning, judging by the pale sunlight streaming in through the window. His back aches from the floor, and his injured hand throbs distantly due to the weight he’s putting on it. Jimin looks perturbed even in deep sleep, making a pained noise as Taehyung watches him. He’s still sprawled over Namjoon’s couch, one arm hanging off the edge, his fingertips brushing the floor. He’s blissfully oblivious to the outside world.
Taehyung’s heart sinks as everything from the previous day comes back to him. I accidentally killed Seokjin because of my father and then ran away to Namjoon. Seokjin is dead because of me, after all he did for us. I have to live with myself now, knowing what I did. I have to get out of here now.
“Stop thinking, I know what you’re thinking,” Namjoon says. He gets up and sits beside Taehyung. Taehyung flattens himself against the wall, but makes no attempt to move away. “We have to talk, though.”
Taehyung swallows around the lump in his throat. “What is it?”
“The police found Seokjin-hyung in the night and—I’m sorry, Taehyung. Your sister called it in,” Namjoon says. Frigid despair overwhelms Taehyung. He’s not surprised. Loyalties only run so far. “She told the police about everything with your father, so they’re on him, too. But they know who you are and it won’t be hard for them to track you. I’m sorry. You can stay here as long as you need cover, but you’re going to have to decide what you’re going to do.”
Remorse is vicious in the way it poisons Taehyung’s mind, surrounds him like an inky web, drags him into turbid waters. Taehyung is slow and sick with it. Negative emotion is the demanding sort, the kind that prevents function and rationality. Taehyung might choke on it. It’s a disease that chews him out from the inside, heavy like pitch-dark sludge. It’s constantly there, lingering behind his eyes, a consuming agony that starts as a needle-like prick. It’s not fear—at least, not fear at anything but himself and what he’s done.
For the first time, Taehyung truly understands how Jungkook and Yoongi always feel. He’s never been so obsessively desperate and hopeless and sorrowful. He doesn’t see a future in himself at all.
“I can’t do this,” he whispers.
“Listen to me,” Namjoon says firmly. “You’re going to do this, because you have to. You’re not in the right state of mind right now.”
“I can’t do this to you,” Taehyung says, a little louder than he means to. Jimin stirs, shrinking into himself a little. “You didn’t kill Seokjinnie-hyung. I can’t let you take care of all the aftermath.”
“Tae,” Namjoon says tiredly. “Any one of us would have done the same. We all care about you, and we’re going to protect you as much as we can. You just have to be strong. Stay here today, won’t you? I have to work late, but you’ll be fine if you don’t leave. And Jimin will be here.”
“Until I find a job,” Jimin mumbles tiredly, waking up on cue. “Gotta finish school, too.”
“If you have a résumé, I can help you,” Namjoon says. “I know some places.”
“I just spent years in a mental hospital. I’m sure everyone will consider me extremely qualified,” Jimin says. He rolls over so that his back is to Taehyung and Namjoon and pulls a pillow over his head.
Namjoon almost smiles. “Regardless, you’ll be fine if you stay here. I wish I could stay home today, but….” He shrugs and gets up. “Message me if you need me. I’ll keep in touch and be home as soon as I can. Don’t forget to take care of your hand.”
The air becomes many times heavier once he’s gone.
Taehyung tries to stick to his side of the room. He gets up and changes the dressing on his hand, wincing as he does so. It’s still wide open and sore, but the bleeding has stopped and it doesn’t have any trace of infection. Taehyung can only hope it stays that way. He washes his face, pushes dripping hair out of his eyes, and sighs. Everything hurts so much that he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
When Taehyung leaves the bathroom, he finds Jimin up and wide awake. Jimin has the flighty air of a wild animal, strangely skittish. When Taehyung had seen him for the first time at the hospital, he’d been crushed. Now, he understands.
He watches from afar as Jimin silently prepares food. Taehyung can tell Jimin is distracted. Jimin waters Namjoon’s single, shriveled little houseplant and then sits down. Taehyung stares at him with the eyes of a sad puppy until Jimin pushes a bowl of rice in his direction.
“You don’t have to hide from me, you know,” Jimin says. He twists his chopsticks between his fingers. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“Okay,” Taehyung blurts. He pokes at the rice and avoids looking at Jimin.
“I mean it,” Jimin says. “I am really upset about Seokjin-hyung, but I know who you are. I know you wouldn’t have killed anyone without a reason—especially Seokjin-hyung. You didn’t mean to kill him, did you?”
“No.” What does that change? It’s still my fault and we still lost him.
“That’s what matters. I don’t have to forgive you—I can be upset, and I can grieve, but I still trust and care about you,” Jimin says.
“You trust a murderer?”
“I can’t judge.” Jimin picks up a clump of rice and points it at Taehyung accusatory. “Namjoon’s… Namjoon, and he breaks the law all the time. Yoongi-hyung gets in fights. Don’t look at me like that. Murder might be on another level, but none of us are angels.”
Taehyung takes a moment to process. He picks at the rice and reluctantly takes a bite. “That doesn’t mean you’re no better than me. What I did to Seokjinnie-hyung—” His voice cracks. “—you can’t just ignore that and pretend that it will be okay.”
“Fine, then. Nothing’s okay and you’re a terrible person. But you deserve a life,” Jimin says. He touches his fingertips together briefly, as if in thought. “I have faith in you, so…. I’m going to encourage you to take care of yourself. Eat your breakfast and take a rest. Your hyungs will take care of you.”
But they can’t fix this. Seokjinnie-hyung was the only one we could rely on, and he’s gone. Taehyung digs his nails into his palms to distract himself. He doesn’t notice how hard he’s pressing until Jimin takes one of his hands, gently uncurls his fingers, and massages the marks he left behind. “We can’t fix this, but you have to believe in us. You can let your guard down for us.”
Taehyung nods shakily. Jimin stuffs the rest of his rice in his mouth and dismisses himself, leaving Taehyung to his own devices. Taehyung leans back in his chair and takes a deep breath. He holds it for a moment, and then exhales slowly.
The world feels completely warped, as if it’s been flipped on its axis. Taehyung can’t think about it without becoming dizzy.
So he tries not to think about it at all, although there isn’t much for him to do alone and his thoughts wander constantly. Jimin sticks to his corner despite his eloquent speech earlier that morning. He’s migrated to Namjoon’s bed, hiding himself under a mountain of blankets while he reads and works on his phone. He looks completely at peace, and Taehyung is quietly glad that Jimin has found a safe place away from his parents, even if he doesn’t know the full story.
Bored out of his mind and aggravatingly anxious, Taehyung makes his first mistake.
He searches the local news. He can’t help but wonder how long Namjoon had stayed up and waited for reports on Seokjin’s death to be released.
Predictably, the results are somewhat vague, as the story is so recent, but Taehyung’s thoughts stall as he scans the headlines.
The articles don’t have much information, which seems to be a tactic to reduce alarm at the fact that Taehyung hasn’t been located. The first one Taehyung opens had been published an hour or two ago. It details his sister’s experience as a witness, in which she describes the way Taehyung lashed out at their father and Seokjin got caught in the crossfire.
There’s a haunting description of Taehyung himself. The local authorities are well acquainted with him by now but Taehyung can’t imagine they were expecting this. The article implies that Seokjin—early twenties, recent arrival from America—was a victim of some kind of gang violence, although the author seemed puzzled by Taehyung, who has yet to graduate high school, and his savage tendencies.
Most anxiety-inducing is his sister’s description of their shared abuse. She doesn’t defend Taehyung, per se, but she claims their father’s brutal behavior was the catalyst. With her short quote, she manages to paint their father as the perpetrator, with Taehyung succumbing to pent-up emotion and having aged into a tortured soul.
(Taehyung is aware that, somewhere, there are people who will claim his actions were the product of self-defense and that he’d reacted the way he’d been taught how in an abusive home. Taehyung doesn’t see it like that.)
The article claims Taehyung went missing shortly after the murder, and Taehyung has to stop reading there. He sets down his phone, abruptly becoming faint.
What am I going to do?
Taehyung spends the next few hours trying to distract himself. Paranoia keeps him away from windows and off his phone entirely, even though he wants to text Namjoon constantly (now he’s worried about Namjoon, because if the police figure out that he’s close with any of the other boys, they’re done for). He tries reading with Jimin, but he hasn’t read for pleasure in a long time and he doesn’t absorb the sentences. Jimin tries to start conversation once or twice, but Taehyung isn’t comfortable talking.
He doesn’t know how he’s going to make it through the week, or how he’ll survive beyond there. His misery has lessened to a dull, ever-present throb that threatens to burst whenever his mind strays. It’s like he’s physically been tied down.
If his mind hadn’t been racing so much, he would have gone to sleep. Regardless of this, he manages to doze a little, and scares himself again when there’s a knock at the door.
Jimin raises his eyebrows at Taehyung before carefully getting up and peeking out the window. Taehyung considers hiding despite the fact that his fear roots him in place. When Jimin’s expression relaxes, Taehyung decides he’ll be okay.
That lasts until Hoseok’s the one to walk in the door.
Jimin smiles a little, but Taehyung shrinks against the wall. Hoseok mumbles a greeting before sitting down at the table with Jimin. Taehyung’s heart leaps to his throat when Hoseok begins to speak. “Taehyung, I don’t mean to intrude, but how much of this is true?” he asks, holding up his phone to show Taehyung an article like the one he’d read earlier. “Nobody’s gotten the full story yet, but you’ve been all over the news. You’re the talk of the town, from what I’ve heard. People are wondering why you didn’t say anything sooner. Unless….”
“It’s, um. True. A lot of it is true,” Taehyung says, skin crawling. I can’t lie now.
Hoseok tilts his head. “So then, your father… this was a regular thing?”
“We already knew that,” Jimin says. He gives Taehyung a vaguely apologetic look. “We just never asked about it. But we all knew about… his dad.”
“We didn’t know Taehyung felt homicidal towards him,” Hoseok points out. Taehyung cringes. “I wouldn’t ask, normally, but Taehyung… what’s the story behind all of this?”
Taehyung looks out the window. Clouds coat the sky, leaving the world as dreary as yesterday. There are no people around, but Taehyung feels exposed. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay,” Hoseok says. Taehyung can tell he’s not happy about it.
Taehyung considers his options. Seokjin-hyung said I could trust the others. He said they’d be here for me when I was ready to talk. But does that stand true now? How can they still care for me?
I wouldn’t expect them to. What good will talking do, anyway? The time to talk was when Seokjin asked me to.
“Hyung,” Taehyung says. Jimin and Hoseok both look up. “I’m sorry. I’m not ready. The articles say most of it, anyway—about me and my sister. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.”
“We didn’t know it was that bad,” Hoseok says. He fidgets with a pencil left on the table. “If we’d known… things would be different.”
“It wouldn’t have changed the fact that I’d have to go home to him every day,” Taehyung says sharply. “If I had, say, hurt myself instead, nothing would have happened. We’re all trapped.”
Jimin and Hoseok share a glance. They know better than anyone. Hoseok is still trapped in his mind. Jimin hasn’t shaken off the hospital. They know Taehyung can’t pretend his father would have just gone away.
Jimin shakes his head. “I don’t know, Taehyung.”
“I won’t pressure you, but if you ever want to talk, it would help,” Hoseok says, standing up. “So we can understand you. Maybe Seokjin-hyung did have to die. But we’ll never know.” There’s a frustrated note to his voice. “I’m gonna go talk to the others. I’ll come back later.”
“Did he sound mad to you?” Taehyung asks Jimin once Hoseok closes the door behind him. Jimin shrugs, which Taehyung takes as a yes. A few minutes later, Jimin's phone buzzes. Jimin hardly acknowledges it, and neither of them address the group chat.
Taehyung doesn’t know what hurts the most. “I’m going to go on a walk,” he announces.
“What? No! You can’t just do that, Taehyung,” Jimin says, with more emotion than he’s spoken with since Taehyung had arrived. “They’re going to be looking for you. At least wait a few days. Go out at night and bring Namjoon-hyung, I don’t know. Don’t do stupid things like this.”
“I don’t care,” Taehyung says. If I got caught, you guys wouldn’t have to take care of me anymore. He walks to the door. “I’ll see you soon. I’ll let the cops know you’re the one who can bail me out when they find me.”
“Taehyung,” Jimin snaps. He jumps up and grabs Taehyung’s arm. “I’ll never forgive you if you get caught so soon. I know I can’t stop you. But take care of yourself.”
“Did you ever think you’d have to defend a murderer when you grew up?” Taehyung asks. Jimin’s grip on his arm tightens before he lets go.
“I don’t see it like that,” Jimin says. He clenches his jaw. “You’re my best friend.”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says. He leaves quickly, so that he doesn’t have to face Jimin any longer.
The air outside is cool despite the fact that it’s late May. Taehyung uses the incoming rain as an excuse to keep his hood up and head down. He’s lucky that it’s midday and nobody’s around. Namjoon lives in a fairly open area, but there are enough places to hide along the old train tracks. The only disadvantage is that people in the area will recognize Taehyung. He can only hope they either haven’t heard or won’t notice him from afar.
Secure after deciding the area is abandoned enough, Taehyung starts walking. He has no destination in mind, but he desperately needs to clear his head. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks to the sky, indulging in the feeling of a breeze on his face. He takes in the surrounding trees and shabby buildings and breathes.
Out here, it’s difficult to make a decent life. Namjoon has never known better, so he’s never asked for more (even though Taehyung knows he’s secretly bitter about the way he always falls behind). The same goes for everyone else living in the area. Taehyung is normally comfortable here, but right now he’s ill.
He walks until his legs start to burn, then slows down. Walking gives him a chance to think—or not think at all, if he needs it. Right now he needs to see the world and assure himself he has a place in it. He needs to assure himself that he’s alive.
What would Seokjin be doing right now, if he were still here? Taehyung doesn’t know enough about him to make an accurate judgement. He doesn’t know if Seokjin was still in school, or how well he’d kept in touch with his family, or what he’d done for work. But he does know that Seokjin had always dropped whatever he was doing to spend time on them and check on them. Taehyung didn’t know if Seokjin had had any dreams, but he did know that Seokjin had loved them enough to give himself away.
Everything slips out of Taehyung’s grasp. He stops walking and considers his situation.
He wants to go to the sea. His entire life has been torn up and shredded in front of his eyes, but every instinct is calling him to the sea. He could probably do it. It’s a long walk from here—an area Taehyung doesn’t know that well—but he could make the walk if he wanted to. Being careful enough not to get caught would lengthen that journey considerably, but Namjoon isn’t coming home until well into the night and wouldn’t even have to know Taehyung was gone.
But Taehyung knows it’s unrealistic. His attachment to the sea is entirely due to his friends. There’s no guarantee it would bring him peace of mind. Realistically, it’s not worth it.
He turns around and begins the trek home. He’s a bit tired now, but he speeds up his pace. He’s passed a few people by now, mainly on the other side of the road, and knows more will be coming as they get out of work. He doesn’t regret going out—not yet, at least—but he’s a little delirious with anxiety and lack of sleep.
Along the way, he starts to feel bad for running away from Jimin. Even if Taehyung doesn’t care about what happens to him (or much in general), Jimin doesn’t deserve any more pain. Ignoring his other messages, Taehyung sends a quick apology, and then bites his tongue and adds an explanation when it occurs to him that the text might be taken the wrong way. He doesn’t wait to see if Jimin responds, instead focusing his energy on getting home.
Thankfully, the walk isn’t too long. Taehyung knocks, and then waits, holding his breath.
“You took so long. I was starting to get worried about you,” Jimin says. He wastes no time in closing the door behind Taehyung. “How are you feeling now? Did anyone see you?”
“I don’t think so,” Taehyung says. At one point, he had gotten a weird look, but he’s fairly certain that’s because he technically should be in school.
“Please try not to do that often,” Jimin says. He puts his hands on his hips. “I understand that you want to get out, but….”
“I won’t,” Taehyung promises. He brushes by Jimin and heads to the bathroom to adjust his bandage. Jimin is dozing again when Taehyung gets back, so he takes a moment to check his messages.
There are several from Namjoon, starting with, “Jimin told me what happened. I’m worried about you, but if that’s what you need, I won’t stop you. Be safe.” to a more recent “Let me know when you get home.” Shame fills Taehyung and he hurries to reply. Namjoon sounds genuinely mad. Taehyung realizes he might have overstepped. Namjoon hasn’t asked much of him, and yet he’s only managed to make Namjoon angry and disregarded his one piece of advice.
I’m home now. Nobody saw me. Everything is okay. I’m sorry for upsetting you, hyung. I won’t do it again.
Namjoon replies almost instantly. You’re safe, and that’s all that matters. As long as you understand what going outside means, you’re free to do so. Just wait until things settle down and you’ll probably be fine going out.
Taehyung squints at the text. I’m safe? What should that matter? Me roaming the streets means other people aren’t safe. It doesn’t matter that I don’t spend my days filled with murderous intent now that I’ve proven what I’m capable of.
The other messages are more concerning, from numbers Taehyung never would have expected use again.
From his sister: Where are you?
Meanwhile: I saw what happened, Taehyung, his mother had written. Where are you? What happened?
Taehyung deletes his sister’s text and shuts off his phone. He takes a moment to process, and then rereads the text from his mother.
He knows it’s stupid to respond. Namjoon would tell him not to. He hasn’t even spoken to his mother in months, so he has no pressure on him to answer. His mother doesn’t care about him that much. Taehyung wonders if the police have already contacted her.
What do I have to lose?
It doesn’t matter where I am, Taehyung writes. Dad tried to hurt us. So I tried to kill him.
He reads the text over a few times, considers deleting it, and finally settles on sending it and turning off his phone. An hour or so later, he gets a reply.
Who is Kim Seokjin?
My friend, Taehyung writes. He presses down on the keys a little too harshly. To himself, he thinks, Seokjin deserves more of a title than that. He gave so much to us. “Friend” doesn’t even come close to describing who he is.
Why was he there?
Taehyung replies, To protect me.
Taehyung, you need to turn yourself in. Running away will make this all worse. I don’t know what happened yesterday, but you need to own up. Please call me, or your sister. I promise we can help you.
Taehyung’s wrinkles his nose. He considers blocking her, but hesitates with his thumb over the icon. He closes the message and sits back in his chair.
His mother had abandoned him and his sister years ago, when they were young kids. His father had been in a particular mood that night, and had beaten all of them badly. That was the night his mother had had enough. Taehyung remembers asking his sister what happened the next morning and getting shushed. Neither of them ever talked about it again.
Their mother’s absence was a part of their lives that affected them greatly and yet was never dealt with. Taehyung can’t remember the last time he’d seen her in person. Despite wanting nothing to do with the family she’d built, she keeps in contact with her children.
Taehyung never messages first. He knows his sister has more of a relationship with their mother than he ever could. Sometimes his sister mentions her, but Taehyung never pursues contact.
There’s a foolish part of him that hangs on to the good memories of his mother. From the years before she’d left, Taehyung only remembers kindness. He remembers his mother’s love as well as he remembers his father’s descent into irreversible alcoholism. He guesses his father started drinking more around the time he was born.
But he knows he recalls his mother fondly because people always regard memories differently. He clings to the idea of his mother loving him because he wants somebody to love him.
(He hopes nothing similar ever happens to him with Seokjin.)
The other part of him is bitter. His mother hadn’t cared about him or his sister enough to save them, too, leaving them to suffer at their father’s mercy. Taehyung can’t forgive her for that. All of this, in the end, is her fault. He really does want to love his mother. But she has no right to tell him how to fix things now.
She doesn’t care about what happens to me.
Taehyung struggles with this thought for the rest of the night. He paces for a while and declines to answer when Jimin asks what’s wrong. He checks the news a few more times, against his better judgement. The group chat is barren.
He can’t help but wonder what’s happening with Seokjin’s family. He knows some of Seokjin’s relatives live in America, but not how close they are. He doesn’t dare ask Namjoon if he knows anything. He has a feeling the others have an idea.
Taehyung waits for Namjoon by the door and he comes home late, as promised. “You had a busy day,” he remarks, shrugging off his coat. “What else have I missed?”
“I didn’t go far,” Taehyung mutters, at the same time Jimin says, “I made him eat.”
“Good,” Namjoon says to Jimin. “We can’t have him starving to death.”
“Um, hyung,” Taehyung says. He folds his hands together anxiously. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Namjoon’s expression turns somber. “Yeah. What’s up?” He brings Taehyung to the other room, although it doesn’t give them much privacy. Taehyung doesn’t care.
“My mother messaged me,” Taehyung says. He wasn't originally planning on telling Namjoon, but now he’s come to the conclusion that it’s better to tell Namjoon everything. Namjoon can only help him. “Guess someone contacted her.”
“Did you answer?” Namjoon asks. Taehyung digs out his phone and shows him. “Oh….”
“I wanted to block her,” Taehyung says bitterly as Namjoon scrolls through the messages. “Can you believe that? An answer was more than she deserved. I should have just ignored it.”
“Well, Taehyung-ah,” Namjoon says, handing his phone back. “You’ve never really talked about your mother.”
Taehyung scowls. “Maybe another time.” He takes a step away.
“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” Namjoon says. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m glad that you’re standing up for yourself. Don’t be pressured to do anything. If you wanted to turn yourself in now, you could, but—”
“I don’t want to,” Taehyung interrupts. He squares his shoulders. “I want to figure out who I am before someone else decides what’s going to happen to me.” I don’t need someone to tell me what I deserve. I’m aware of my punishment. But what would Seokjin have wanted me to do? Surely there would be no point to any of this if I turned myself in without understanding what happened?
Seokjinnie-hyung would have helped me.
“That’s fine with me,” Namjoon says. For the first time, he doesn’t sound bitter. Taehyung’s fragile hope rekindles. He doesn’t expect Namjoon to ever accept him, but this might be a start to some kind of repentance. “I’ll give you whatever you need if I can help.”
“Thank you, Namjoonie-hyung,” Taehyung says. He blinks away tears. “You do too much for me.”
Namjoon shakes his head. “You’re just a kid,” he says. “What else am I supposed to do?”
That night, Taehyung starts to feel safer, but his life begins to starts to fall apart.
The ache of losing Seokjin due to his own mistake hasn’t even started to fizzle out, but Taehyung is starting to accept it. Acceptance doesn’t make it easier, but Taehyung thinks that, someday, he might be able to envision his future clearly.
The dreams don’t return right away. Taehyung finds it hard to remember a time when confusing dreams didn’t plague his nights. He doesn’t know if they mean anything, but they’re the same every night. Taehyung doesn’t remember the resolutions, usually. But he sees his friends dying and suffering and Seokjin had been oddly accepting when Taehyung had explained.
Taehyung doesn't notice that the dreams have stopped until he settles down that night and recalls sleeping soundly the night before. Before Seokjin’s death, he’d woken up in a cold sweat more nights than not.
Seokjin doesn’t have a major part in the dreams, so Taehyung doesn’t expect his death to change them at all. That’s why Taehyung finds it disturbing when the dreams come back, but everything is different.
The first time Taehyung dreams, the dream is about Seokjin. He knows this dream means nothing because he’s simply reliving the events that brought him here. In fragments, he remembers Seokjin’s last words, and the way Seokjin had looked at him. He remembers feeling Seokjin’s pulse slow under his hands. He can still sense blood on his hands.
He wakes up shaking all over. It had felt so real. It’s so easy to relive those moments.
He realizes he’s crying when a choked, terrified sob tears itself from his throat. He wraps his arms around himself and blinks hard, as if it’ll help erase the images. It doesn’t work.
“Taehyung, you’re going to be okay,” Namjoon says. Namjoon? When did he get up? He sits down in front of Taehyung and gathers him into his arms. Taehyung buries his face in Namjoon’s shoulder and lets himself cry harder. “It’s okay.”
Someone’s stroking his hair. It must be Jimin. But why would Jimin have come for him? “You’re safe here, Taehyung,” Jimin says. Taehyung’s shoulders sag. He clings to Namjoon’s shirt until his breathing slows down and Namjoon decides it’s time to let go.
Taehyung had could have imagined this.
Neither of them address the incident or ask what had set Taehyung off. Neither of them leave Taehyung until he calms down and falls back into a fitful sleep. Taehyung apologizes countless times, but neither of them reply. Taehyung doesn’t mention it during the day, but whenever he wakes up in the night, one of them will comfort him. Taehyung is so thankful.
Those dreams tear him into pieces for nights on end. They’re a constant reminder of what he’s done, that stop him from getting any peace in the quiet days that follow. Taehyung finds it puzzling when the dreams start to change—and this time, the dreams have no explanation.
They have the same pattern as the dreams he used to have before Seokjin died. He sees the events like he’s watching from afar, distant from his own body. Yoongi is hurt and bleeding, but that doesn’t seem to be his problem. He’s so angry Taehyung can feel it. It’s not his usual broody energy, and that scares him—this Yoongi is an irrational Yoongi, a Yoongi who will diminish himself because he has no patience anymore. This Yoongi is violent.
Jungkook is hurt, too, like the way Taehyung used to hurt. It scares Taehyung so deeply to see Jungkook affected like this, in a wayTaehyung understands well. But like before, his pain is mostly on the inside. And yet it’s not like before, where Jungkook had felt empty because he was alone and confused. This Jungkook has seen the horrors of the world and has no reason to believe things will get better. It’s been proven to him that they won’t, and every bit of security he once had has been turned over.
Hoseok isn’t acting right. He’s ill and being shady about it. Taehyung thinks he knows him well, but it’s like a lie is finally unweaving itself. Taehyung sees the anguish on Hoseok’s face and everything turns upside down. Hoseok is careless and it’s only a matter of time before he gets in trouble. Taehyung can see that he’s already in too deep, that he’s holding his life together by fraying threads.
Jimin is sick again—not the kind of sick he was in high school, where he’d disappear for a few days and then come back acting like nothing had happened. This is the kind of sick where Taehyung is genuinely concerned he might die. Taehyung doesn’t know what’s wrong with Jimin specifically—only Hoseok has an idea—but Taehyung knows in that moment that Jimin’s condition is serious. But he can’t go back to the hospital, right? Isn’t that the worst place for him?
Namjoon is the most confusing. He’s—disappointed. Taehyung is used to the hushed disappointment that follows Namjoon, always, because Namjoon is brilliant and yet so helpless. This disappointment is different—it’s the disappointment that will sap Namjoon of all he has left. It’s what will finally prevent Namjoon from surviving. It’s so terrifying.
Taehyung is detached from himself as he sees the others, but he knows that he’s also in the dream. When he wakes up, he remembers nothing but that his end is dark and there’s no way out. Everything he has left will be taken away. For the most part, the scene is hazy, but he can see the blood on his hands.
We’re all going to die.
Taehyung wakes up with a start.
He lies still for a moment, trying to make sense of the scenes. The dream had felt much too similarly to his previous ones, even if it was nothing alike. He doesn’t know what it meant, but he has a sinking feeling. He’s always dreamed of his friends suffering.
Could it be true? Is this what’s going to happen now?
That’s ridiculous. I can’t be dreaming of things that have yet to happen.
“Sleep well?” Namjoon asks. Taehyung knows he’s referring to the fact that Taehyung hadn’t woken up in a panic over Seokjin that night. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have nightmares.
“I… It wasn’t bad,” Taehyung says. Namjoon hums in response.
Taehyung gets up. It’s early in the morning. He yawns. He glances around to find Jimin, half asleep with a cup of coffee at the table, and Namjoon shuffling a few papers together at his desk.
“I have to get a job,” Jimin whines, for about the hundredth. He glares into his coffee. “I’m starting to get bored and I need to start paying for my own place. I shouldn’t make you take care of me forever.”
Namjoon snorts. He inspects Taehyung’s injured hand and hums his approval when he sees that it’s starting to heal. “I told you it’s not a problem, but if you’re interested, I heard Hoseok is trying to find a roommate.” Jimin perks up. “And I can send you the names of a few places later. Some of the kids at work have been hunting, since the gas station is having financial issues and they’ve been thinking about letting a few of the younger ones go.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Jimin says. He sips his coffee. “Good thing you’re such a reliable worker.”
That’s what Taehyung thinks, too. He’s not concerned at all, even though he knows Namjoon must be worried about his job. The thought that Namjoon could also be in trouble never crosses his mind.
That’s why, when two days later, he’s devastated to hear that Namjoon actually was in trouble.
“They laid me off,” he announces when he gets home that day. Acid poisons his voice. “It wasn’t personal. They did the same to people who have been there even longer than me, so….” He sighs. “I should have prepared.”
“Oh, hyung,” Jimin says in a hushed voice. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to send out my application to some places tonight,” Namjoon says. He flips through papers on his desk. “And hope my experience will make up for the fact that I crawled through the end of high school.”
“Will you be okay?” Taehyung asks.
“Sure,” Namjoon says unconvincingly. “I have enough saved until I find a new job.”
Taehyung tries not to imagine the way Namjoon has been providing for Jimin and Taehyung on top of himself. Jimin looks terrified. Namjoon pats Jimin’s shoulder in reassurance. “I’ll go talk to some people tomorrow.”
“I’ll do what I can to help,” Jimin offers.
Namjoon shakes his head. “It’s really not that big of a deal. I’m a little scared, sure, but I know there’s plenty of places around.”
A little scared? I’ve never seen him like this. “Namjoonie-hyung, I—”
“Shut up, Taehyung. You’re staying here.” Namjoon gives him a look.
Taehyung gives up. Neither he nor Jimin confront Namjoon about the job search later, even as Namjoon comes home fruitless the next day. More intriguing is when Namjoon brings visitors home instead.
It’s Jungkook and Yoongi, for the first time since Seokjin’s death, which was less than a week ago. Taehyung strategically places himself in a far corner when they walk in. He is safe with Namjoon, and mostly at ease with Jimin, but even Jungkook scares him now.
But this Jungkook isn’t a Jungkook to be afraid of. When Yoongi walks in, his energy is prickly and warning. Taehyung has recent memories of a happy Yoongi, one who has gotten to enjoy himself for the first time in years, but those memories are hard to recall with this version of Yoongi replacing the one Taehyung trusts. Taehyung never would have expected Yoongi to react like this in the face of death.
When Jungkook walks in, Taehyung expects more of what he’s witnessed on the night of the murder. Jungkook’s grief that night had been palpable.
But the Jungkook who walks in today is terrified, and it takes Taehyung only a second to figure out that it’s not because of him. Jungkook spares hardly a glance in his direction even as Taehyung watches him closely. Jungkook appears to be hiding in his sweatshirt, hands stuffed in his pockets as he stares at the ground. There’s a large bruise across his jaw and a thin cut below his right eye.
“What happened to you?” Jimin asks. He doesn’t sound too alarmed. This is far from the first time Jungkook’s come home a little roughed up. Taehyung doesn’t know whether or not Jungkook purposely provokes arguments that lead to him getting beat up, but he suspects has to do with the time Jungkook had once let slip that he didn’t mind getting hurt because it distracts him from the emotional turmoil he’s been going through.
“It’s not what you think,” Yoongi says, in a tone that suggests “Don’t ask questions.” Jimin settles and gives up. Taehyung would find it frustrating that Jimin has no desire to learn what’s wrong if he doesn’t have so little energy to pursue it anyway.
“It’s okay, hyung,” Jungkook says, almost inaudible. He tugs on Namjoon’s sleeve to get his attention. “Do you have ice?”
“Yeah, give me one second,” Namjoon says. He rummages through the freezer and procures an ice cube. Jungkook takes it from him and hisses when he presses it against the bruise. Yoongi’s eyes narrow for the briefest second, and then the tension dissolves from his shoulders.
There’s a long, tedious silence. Taehyung cowers when Yoongi squints at him. Yoongi looks like he’s going to say something, but Namjoon speaks first.
“Uh, Jungkook,” Namjoon says. His gaze flicks over to Taehyung’s, making the briefest eye contact before he glances away. “You know you can tell us anything, right? No pressure, but we’re here for you.”
Taehyung’s voice catches. Jungkook looks like a scared fawn. Taehyung’s eyes burn with unshed tears when he understands the implication behind Namjoon’s statement. Seokjin was right. Maybe this isn’t how it should have happened—but he always knew. We were supposed to look after each other.
Taehyung sniffles and wipes his eyes. Nobody appears to notice but Jimin.
“I—it’s just some family stuff,” Jungkook says. He’s still talking too faintly for Taehyung to really hear. “I’m okay, hyung, I promise.”
Taehyung knows nothing about Jungkook’s family situation. Jungkook has always been the quiet one. Taehyung doesn’t think any of them have good relationships with their parents, but he’s never assumed, with Jungkook. It makes sense.
“Your mom got remarried, right?” Namjoon asks. He says it conversationally, but Jungkook’s whole body seems to freeze. Yoongi watches from the corner of his eye, but Taehyung knows he’s being cautious.
“Um… yeah, a long time ago,” Jungkook says. He shifts uncomfortably. Water dribbles down his hand from where the ice cube melts. He doesn’t seem to mind the cold at all. “My stepfather, um….”
“Did he do this to you?” Yoongi asks sharply. Jungkook flinches. His hand goes slack and the ice cube drops. Namjoon manages to catch it before it hits the floor and hands it back to Jungkook solemnly.
“He doesn’t like me,” Jungkook whispers. Taehyung has never seen him so crushed. “He doesn’t… I don’t know… I’m not good enough. Please don’t make me talk about it, hyungs.”
Oh, no. Not him too.
“You could have told us,” Taehyung says. Everyone turns to him and he becomes a lot more nervous. He swallows and tries to reorganize his thoughts. “We can… help you….”
“I don’t want you to,” Jungkook says, voice cracking. He sounds more scared than anything.
“Hey, Jungkook-ah, you’re safe here,” Namjoon says. He gives Taehyung a warning look. Taehyung already knows what they must be thinking. I had a similar problem and I said nothing. I don’t have a right to talk to him after where I ended up. It’s best I don’t speak at all. “You only have to say as much as you’re comfortable with. But you should know that we’ll help you in any way we can.”
“I don’t really feel good,” Jungkook says weakly. He drops the rest of the ice cube in the sink and wipes the blood from his face away with his sleeve. “I’m sorry, Namjoon-hyung. Thank you for letting me visit. I should probably get home now.”
“That’s alright,” Namjoon says. Indecision crosses his face. “As long as you get home safe.”
“Text me?” Jimin says when Jungkook walks by. He touches Jungkook’s shoulder. “If you need.”
“Okay,” Jungkook says unconvincingly. He steps out the door.
Yoongi is the last one out. “You wanted to visit, too?” Jimin asks skeptically.
Yoongi shrugs. “Felt like tagging along.”
The tension in the air once Jungkook and Yoongi are gone hangs so thick it feels like a physical weight. Nausea rises in Taehyung’s throat and his heart quickens. For the first time in a while, his visions of his father aren’t accompanied by Seokjin.
It’s hard for him to admit that his father had influenced him. Taehyung has learned how to brush it off and he’s good at it by now. But in these moments, when Taehyung stands alone, it’s too easy for him to recall what has happened and be afraid.
“Taehyung? You don’t look so good,” Namjoon says. Taehyung blinks at him. It takes a long time for the queasy sensation to fade. “Maybe you should lie down.”
“Maybe,” Taehyung says. It seems selfish, he thinks, as he watches Namjoon draw a hand across his eyes and give the door a forlorn look. Jimin’s distress is equally apparent.
This is one awful week.
Taehyung doesn’t think it can get worse until Jungkook does text.
The message comes a day or two later. By this time, Taehyung is well acquainted with his new lifestyle. His desolation is a funny thing that drags him down and makes basic tasks impossible, but he remembers his duty to Seokjin and pushes himself forward. When people walk by outside, he makes himself invisible. During the day, he reflects, and imagines where he could go to possibly figure himself out, or about what would happen if he turned himself in. His back is starting to develop what may or may not be a permanent ache from the floor. His mother attempts to contact him a few more times and he ignores it. He loses track of the days.
Recently, Jimin and Namjoon have taken to spending more time outside. Namjoon manages to find a sad, part-time retail job that isn’t enough to provide for all of them, but holds them together as he searches for something more. Jimin, still hiding from his parents, does the same, even though he still doesn’t have his bearings after leaving the hospital.
Visits from their friend group are infrequent. Hoseok doesn’t come by again, but Taehyung knows he’s in touch with Jimin and Namjoon. Jungkook is still in school. Yoongi has never been present, anyway. Taehyung would worry about them, but he’s too preoccupied with his own situation and soul-searching.
Through his whole life, Taehyung has never faced such internal conflict. He’s always had certain thoughts about his father, but he’s never considered the consequences of acting on them. He’s ever really considered the consequences of anything, on his never-ending quest for unattainable happiness. He can’t help but wonder what Seokjin would tell him. He considers talking to Namjoon and Jimin, but knows the wounds are still too fresh.
His own wounds are too fresh.
That’s why it’s hard for him to notice the shifts in his own sphere. He notes the look on Jimin’s face one night—anguish that he’s quick to cover up. He doesn’t guess it’s because of Jungkook until Jimin shows Namjoon his phone and they begin arguing, in low voices. Eventually, Namjoon takes out his own phone and starts a call.
“Hey,” Namjoon says. He holds the phone tight against his ear. “I was talking to Jimin-ah—could you explain to me? Alright, that’s fine.” He pauses. “Okay. I’m here.”
Taehyung waits with bated breath as Namjoon listens. Namjoon only interjects a few times, usually to ask questions Taehyung can’t hear. Namjoon’s expression grows darker by the second. “Okay. I’ll talk to you soon. Come by if you can. Or send Yoongi-hyung. Actually, I’ll talk to him myself. Thanks, Kook-ah.”
He hangs up and sighs as he pockets his phone. Taehyung tilts his head questioningly, but doesn’t ask. Jimin is the one who breaks the silence. “Did he tell you any more than he told me?”
“Not really,” Namjoon says. “He didn’t sound like he wanted to talk now. I bet I could get more out of him if I keep talking to him.” He sits down and puts his head in his hands. “You know, I really don’t care what Yoongi-hyung does with his life, but I didn’t think he’d start drinking again.”
Oh. Taehyung blanches. Without Seokjin, Yoongi is our hyung now.
“That’s what this is?” Taehyung asks.
Namjoon hums. “I talked to him in April when he was drinking a lot. I’m guessing it has to do with losing his mother, but I’ve never asked. He’s a different person when he’s drunk—a lot more confused. He lets go of everything he’s too scared to show when he’s sober. Jungkook keeps running into him and—he’s upset.”
Taehyung tastes bile. “Does he hurt Jungkook?”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Namjoon says, as if he’s sensed Taehyung’s distress. “They’ve been fighting a lot, too. They were fighting back in April but got it together for a while. I’m not sure what changed for them.”
“What didn’t change?” Jimin asks. He stares down at his hands. “I’m not surprised.”
Taehyung’s vision swims.
“The point it—I’m not sure if there's anything we can do for Yoongi-hyung. He’s hard to reason with when he’s drunk. If he’s having trouble again, we just have to let him figure himself out.”
Yoongi in a fire. Yoongi who wants to die.
“Are you sure?” Taehyung asks. What will happen to Yoongi if we leave him alone? Is that really all we can do?
Namjoon shakes his head. “If he’s relapsing, there’s nothing we can do. Hyung is fickle. We have to see what happens.”
This is the day Taehyung realizes everything is going wrong again.
It’s not the first time he’s witnessed an event like this. After they went to the ocean during the summer after high school, they’d stopped talking. That day had been the last day taehyung truly could have called them close friends. After that day, their bonds dissolved, and their lives began to shatter.
Taehyung knows the story in bits and pieces. He knows depression runs in Jungkook’s family, as it does with Yoongi’s, where it’s paired with alcoholism. He knows that Hoseok’s been in and out of the hospital and that Jimin is plagued by the shadows of something none of them understand. He knows that Namjoon is fighting an impossible enemy. He knows nothing about Seokjin—none of them did. Seokjin had never been secretive, but he’d always seemed to live a life contradictory to the one he spoke.
Taehyung thinks it’s impossible to go back to those days. He’s let himself gain false hope because Seokjin had made it seem like it would be okay. He should have known it was only a matter of time before things got worse again.
Are the dreams because of this? Or is there no use? Why do I see these things?
Is it even my place to worry?
The next days go by in a blur. Namjoon usually isn’t home, and Taehyung loses his regular companion in Jimin. Taehyung only leaves a couple more times, under the cover of night, Namjoon by his side. Every time, he stays out for shorter and shorter intervals. His paranoia somehow rivals his carelessness.
One day, Namjoon comes home early. Outside of his meager work hours, Namjoon spends his days in town trying to find work or doing odd jobs. It didn’t take Taehyung long to pick up on his pattern. He knows when to expect Namjoon and when there’s a problem.
He doesn’t expect the problem to be Jimin.
There’s a knock at the door and it snaps Taehyung out of his doze. He scrambles off of the couch and pushes aside the curtains just enough to see through them. After confirming it’s Namjoon, he opens the door.
Namjoon has one arm wrapped around Jimin, holding him up. Jimin looks ragged and exhausted, somehow both leaning against Namjoon’s side and cringing away from him. Jaw tense, Namjoon deposits Jimin on the bed. Jimin curls into a ball and hides his face,
“So,” Namjoon says. “Why didn’t you tell us you had seizures?”
Taehyung inhales sharply. Jimin whines. “Namjoonie-hyung? What’s going on?”
“We were out together and he had a seizure,” Namjoon says. He starts to fill a cup of water. “I wanted to bring him to the hospital, but he told me not to. He doesn’t have any symptoms that would hint at it something else being wrong, but we have to keep an eye on him.”
“I told you I’m fine,” Jimin says. He pulls a blanket over himself. “I know how it feels when I’m not, so…. Please trust me.”
“He was so disoriented when it stopped,” Namjoon tells Taehyung. Jimin is visibly distressed, but Taehyung can see why his comfort is a necessary sacrifice. “But I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know he had them regularly.”
“Jiminie—you have seizures?” Taehyung asks. I knew he had some health problems but I didn’t know it was like that. I thought it was emotional, mostly. Are they related? How could he have gone this long without anyone knowing?
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jimin says. Namjoon sets the cup on the table beside Jimin and sits down next to him. Jimin reluctantly gets up. Namjoon wipes a stray tear from his face.
“It’s not epilepsy,” Namjoon supplies. “He’s been having them since he was a kid and nobody knows why. They’re usually not serious and they’re fairly infrequent.”
“How do you know all this…?” Taehyung asks, bewildered.
“I told him so he wouldn’t take me to the hospital,” Jimin mutters. He makes himself comfortable in Namjoon’s arms and presses his face into Namjoon’s shirt. Namjoon has never been a particularly affectionate person, but he appears to recognize that what Jimin needs in this situation is comfort. Taehyung immediately feels guilty for pushing Jimin. He’s never seen Jimin so dejected, not even when he was in the hospital. “I can’t go back there.”
“You don’t have to,” Namjoon says, patting Jimin’s shoulder. He gives Taehyung a tortured look. Not unless you need to. “I’ll keep you out as long as possible.”
“They won’t let me leave,” Jimin says. The words are muffled, but Taehyung knows he’s crying. “They’ll remember something’s wrong with me and I’ll have to go back. I can’t do it, hyung. I want to go home.”
“Shhh. I’m not taking you back,” Namjoon says. “You’re with us now. If you need medical help, we can take you somewhere else.”
Nothing is guaranteed anymore. Taehyung knows they can’t reasonably take care of Jimin without knowing what causes his seizures, but they can’t tell Jimin that. Taehyung feels hollow as he waits for Jimin to fall asleep. When he does, Namjoon settles him on the bed again and beckons for Taehyung to follow him to the other room.
“What are we going to do?” Taehyung asks. Namjoon grimaces.
“We can’t take care of him,” Namjoon admits. “I’m not going to ask him questions today—or maybe for a few days. He’s in a lot of pain and I can’t do that to him when he’s unstable and needs rest. But after that—I don’t know how severe this is. If we can’t control it, we’ll need a plan in place. If he needs medical help, we can’t deny that from him forever.”
“But we can’t bring him back to that hospital,” Taehyung says softly. “That’ll only make it worse.”
“I’m not a doctor, though,” Namjoon says. “I’m worried that he could get hurt.”
“We have to just wait and see,” Taehyung says. He hopes Jimin is sleeping soundly.
“You finally sound like you’re going to stay,” Namjoon comments. Taehyung shivers.
“I dunno,” he says roughly. “I’ll stay if you’re willing to have me. But I don’t think I can stay idle forever.”
What would Seokjinnie-hyung want me to do?
I miss him so much.
“Whatever you want,” Namjoon says. “Actually, Taehyung-ah, Jimin-ah isn’t the only one I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. Hoseok-hyung’s sick, too.”
“He is?” Taehyung’s head begins to spin. “Why?” This isn’t good. Everything that I thought couldn’t happen is going to happen. How much more can we take if this keeps happening? Seokjin brought us together and now we’re all falling apart.
Namjoon shakes his head. “He hasn’t been able to handle his narcolepsy. He won’t tell me anything, but he promised he’d come by later today.”
By the time the sun has set, Hoseok still hasn’t come by. Taehyung settles for bed with a nervous feeling threatening to overwhelm him and a pounding in the back of his skull. He’s so overwhelmed. It seems impossible that so much is going on when he has yet to comprehend the fact that Seokjin was killed. He’s anxious to speak to Hoseok—he doesn’t know why. A part of him knows things can only get worse.
When he wakes to the sound of Jimin yelling, his worst fears are confirmed.
“How can you just—walk in here and lie to us?” Jimin spits. Taehyung is immediately wide awake. “I thought you trusted me.”
“I do trust you,” Hoseok says. Jimin has him backed against the wall. “But I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to you yet. Please, listen to me.”
Jimin is still worse for wear, but Hoseok is even more clearly unwell. He’s paler than usual and there are dark circles under his eyes. He’s unsteady as he steps away from Jimin.
Jimin doesn’t let him go far. He reaches for Hoseok’s pockets and pulls out a little bottle of pills—ones Taehyung recognizes from high school, from the few occasions where Hoseok would collapse in front of them. Hoseok simply lets Jimin handle him, as if he’s completely lost the will to fight. “What about these, hyung? Do you actually need these?”
Hoseok fumbles for words. He doesn’t get far before Namjoon steps in. “Calm down for one minute, would you?”
“He’s been lying to all of us!” Jimin hisses. He shoves the pills back into Hoseok’s hands a little too forcefully and stalks over to his side of the room. “I thought I could trust you, Hoseokie-hyung. I wanted to.”
“Jimin-ah—I want you to know that I believe in you,” Hoseok says. Jimin glares at him. “You’re the one person—I know I can always show my true self to.”
“You aren’t showing it,” Jimin says. His eyes narrow.
“I can’t talk now,” Hoseok says. He opens the door. “I’m sorry. I can’t convince you. If you’re willing to talk to me later, you can call.”
Jimin almost looks regretful once Hoseok is gone. He stares at the door for a long moment, as if considering. His whole body droops and he sits down.
“Are you okay?” Taehyung whispers. Jimin doesn’t answer.
“I think hyung struggles a lot with his past,” Namjoon says. “He struggles with the ghosts of things we can only imagine. He’s haunted by something that won’t just leave him. I think you understand that—don’t you, Jimin?”
To Taehyung’s surprise, Jimin nods miserably.
The don’t talk about it for the rest of the night, but Taehyung can see everything spiral downwards. Dread makes a permanent home in his heart.
That night, Taehyung recalls a memory from his earliest years. It had been raining and he’d been watching as a bucket filled with water. Eventually, it got to the point where the bucket was overflowing, but the water wasn’t spilling over. The excess was sticking on top of the water in the bucket. Taehyung had watched drop after drop land in the bucket, waiting for the bucket to finally spill. It never did. Before he could witness it, his mother came out and dragged him inside.
That’s what his current life is like. He’s watching the tension around him build to an unstoppable point, to where there’s only one option left: to break. He knows each of these little instances are almost insignificant, in the big picture, but they’re all contributing to this dreaded point. Sooner or later, the minor fights will lead to one they can’t recover from.
Seokjin had both encouraged and ended these fights, when he was alive. He was as confused and hopeless as any of them, but he’d been the midpoint they could all refer to. Now, nobody’s left to save them.
And we’ve proven that we can’t save ourselves.
It takes Taehyung a long time to bring himself to face what he’s done. He’s tired of the emotional turmoil—and knows there’s no cure for it. Reality is a hard thing to connect himself to, but Taehyung knows he needs to try.
He’s spent the last two weeks searching inward, to no avail. Namjoon was right—he’s nothing but a scared kid. He has no answers, and he can’t even be disappointed with himself. He decides it’s time that he tries to do something.
He knows where Seokjin is buried because Namjoon had conveniently sent him the address a week ago. Namjoon has been in contact with Seokjin’s family—he’d been very careful to contact them after the news got out without giving anything away. Namjoon had told Taehyung that Seokjin’s family had been reluctant to talk to him, but eventually opened up because of the situation. Taehyung knows that the other boys have all visited Seokjin.
The idea of Taehyung by himself going has always been a far-off, unrealistic dream. It’s a long walk on foot—one Taehyung has resigned himself to taking if he ever got the chance to go, because Seokjin was the only one of them who could actually drive.
Tonight, Taehyung can’t find a reason not to go. He wakes up a little before midnight from another nightmare and can’t fall asleep. He thinks about Seokjin and feels more of a sense of loss than regret. Grief grips him to tightly he can barely breathe.
He leaves a note. He’s confident enough in his ability to stay hidden, but he keeps his phone on. Namjoon has told him that things have calmed down a little since the first week after Seokjin’s death, but he’s still taking a huge risk.
But at this point, he’s tired of running. He’s tired of not being able to think of Seokjin without breaking down.
The night is cool, and Taehyung can’t help but shiver. He keeps a brisk pace while he walks and realizes after a few minutes that he has no idea where he’s going. He stops to search for directions and then continues.
Despite spending his entire childhood wandering the streets, his skin itches he walks. It’s odd, how everything can turn upside-down in such a short time. He passes by a few people, but none of them look at him too closely. He’s grateful for the cover of night.
I need this closure. What would I do if I couldn’t say good-bye? How could I ever come to terms with what I did?
His legs ache by the time he reaches the cemetery. His steps slow and he stops.
I am alive, I am here, and this is the price I must pay.
He wanders for a while before he finds Seokjin’s resting place. He starts to become paranoid about being accused of loitering even though there’s nobody around to do so—and then finds it ironic, because less than a month ago he’d been breaking laws for fun. It’s not easy to find what he’s looking for—because the site is new. Taehyung’s stomach turns when he sees the marker.
But even as he reads it over, the situation doesn’t feel real. He falls to his knees and takes a shuddering breath. This is what’s become of Seokjin—who had protected them.
“Hyung,” Taehyung mumbles to the empty night. “I’m sorry.”
Would Seokjin want an apology? Is he that kind of person? Taehyung closes his eyes. Would he ever want to face me again, if somehow he could live again and knew what I’d done? Or would he accept me?
The wind in his hair and grass beneath his palms is grounding, but not enough. He wasn’t even mad at me. Taehyung wants to be angry. He imagines the emotion that had overtaken him when he’d realized Seokjin was dying and can’t recall it. He has no emotion left to give. Seokjin loved me until the end. There had been no hatred in his eyes, even as he was dying. Would he have accepted an apology? Would I be guilty like this if I’d killed my father instead?
“I’m so sorry,” Taehyung repeats. Seokjin should have taken care of himself. He shouldn’t have come after me.
I know I need to carry on for him. That’s what he deserves. But I can’t sit back and watch everyone else fall apart.
It’s in that moment that Taehyung makes his decision, and once he admits it to himself, he’s inconsolable. He doesn’t know how long he stays there—but his tears don’t stop and he can do nothing but repeat Seokjin’s words to himself. Seokjin apologized to me. What could he ever have apologized for? He’s the reason any of us are here.
It’s a long time before Taehyung pulls himself together. Everything that he’s prevented himself from feeling and more comes out, and he can’t stop it. The way it aches is indescribable.
But at some point, he has to get up. He dries his eyes and stands up.
This isn’t a monumental thing—it shouldn’t be, at least. But the reality doesn’t sit right with Taehyung. Especially since he’s not the first one here—someone has left a bundle of flowers. They’re an odd color, like a dawn sky.
Taehyung knows that any one of them could have died. He’s come to expect it, over the years. None of them are in a good condition and they all have something going on that’s likely to kill them. But Seokjin was different. If anyone them should have died, it shouldn’t have been Seokjin—not Seokjin, who had a future.
Seokjin had always had a plan—even if he didn’t want to follow it. But more importantly—he was a beautiful person. He cared about his friends to a fault. It was difficult to see past the persona he had to keep—but Taehyung knew how idealistic he was. He was the Seokjin who would do anything for his juniors, who had hoped to find love, who had dreams none of the others could have held on to.
Out of all of them, he had needed a second chance the most.
As Taehyung turns to leave, light catches his eye. He stops and watches as a cat crosses in front of him and sits down, watching him intently. It’s pure white in color, covered in long, thick fur. It’s stockier than most cats Taehyung has met, with stubby little legs and tiny ears. Taehyung wonders why it’s here—this doesn’t seem to be the right place for a cat. But it’s perfectly comfortable with Taehyung, above the recently settled soil of Seokjin’s grave.
Taehyung isn’t that in tune with the world around him, but the cat’s energy makes him anxious. Something comes over him and he crouches down, tentatively holding a hand out to the cat. The cat sniffs him and then weaves around him without touching him.
“Hello, there,” Taehyung says. The cat ignores him and returns to the place it was sitting. Taehyung tries to pet it, but it jumps out of the way. Taehyung frowns and straightens back up, The cat confuses him, but he knows it’s not worth questioning. It’s funny how much a cat can distract him when so much preoccupies him.
To his surprise, the cat follows him when he starts to walk away. Taehyung expects it to become bored eventually, but it keeps up with his brisk pace and stubbornly sticks to his side. Taehyung decides to ignore it. He’s never had pets, so he doesn’t know what to do with it. If the cat wants to stay with him—so be it. He just can’t provide for it.
(But there’s something about the cat that unnerves him. Something about finding it while he’s supposed to be visiting Seokjin is too unsettling.)
He walks for a while longer, bone-deep exhaustion starting to set in. He finds an alleyway to shelter in and checks his phone. There’s a single message from Namjoon—Okay. Be safe. I think it might be good for you. Let me know when you’re coming back or if you need anything.
Taehyung’s anguish is tangible. More time has gone by than he thought, and imagining Namjoon awake now—surely he’s awake, probably nervous with the prospect of Taehyung so far from home, alone, in the middle of the night. I bet he’s worried I’m being reckless. I’d fit right in with the rest of them, wouldn’t I?
In that moment, he realizes what he has to do. He takes a deep breath, struggling to find resolve, and sits in the shadow of the alley. The cat, who had stopped at the same time as him, sits by his side. He still hasn’t found the closure he wanted—not completely. There are still a few things he needs to figure out before he makes a move.
He calls Namjoon. A part of him is convinced Namjoon won’t answer, but he does. Taehyung grips the phone so hard it hurts. “Hey. Namjoonie-hyung, I need to talk to you.”
“I’m here for whatever you need,” Namjoon says. He sounds a bit nervous. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m safe. I’m still out, but I’m alone,” Taehyung says. He glances at the cat. Or, maybe not. “I just—have a few questions.”
“Sure, Tae. What’s up?”
“I want you to tell me about Seokjinnie-hyung,” Taehyung says. His voice shakes a little. “I know you two were close. You probably knew more about him than any of us.”
Namjoon says nothing for a long moment. When he does, his voice is heavy. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I need it, hyung.”
The cat’s ear twitches.
“Fine. I can explain. Seokjin-hyung didn’t actually tell me much until the last month—I didn’t think he ever would. We went out and got a little drunk and I told him about me and he told me about him. We didn’t talk much while he was in America.”
“Why was he there?” Taehyung whispers.
“Okay, so first of all—his mother died when he was young. Before he met all of us. And his father was busy all the time and couldn’t take care of him, so he sent him to America. He has a few relatives there. If I remember correctly, he was with his grandparents,” Namjoon says. “He would have been completely alone if he were here. Eventually, he decided he wanted to come back, and that was when he found out about all of us—what we’d been doing. He was the only one who could see us reuniting, and he did his best to make that happen.”
“Why did he come back for us?” Taehyung asks.
“I don’t know,” Namjoon admits. “The only thing I do know is that he never got to be the person he wanted to be. When I spoke to him, he said he wanted to be a good person. But I doubt he ever got to accomplish that the way he wanted to.”
“He told me he always did whatever his father told him to. That his father was the one who guided his life. To fit what he thought his father wanted—he never made choices for himself. He disagreed with his father on a lot, but he never got away from all of it.” Namjoon’s sigh is audible. “Seokjin-hyung may have had it easier than us, but he was the most confused over who he was.”
“He never sounded like that,” Taehyung says. He wraps his arms around his knees.
“You know what he told me that night?” Namjoon asks. “I think about it a lot. He told me that when he decided to do what his father wanted him to, he stopped wanting to find happiness—as if the two can’t exist together. I don’t know what Seokjin-hyung had to do for his father, but I found it sad. His life was never fulfilling. In the end—something was up with him. He might have had the chance to figure out who he was if he’d lived longer. But he never told me why he was off, so I don’t know.”
Taehyung’s whole world tips and his vision blurs. He makes a pathetic sound as he tries to stifle a sob. Namjoon doesn’t seem to hear and he continues, “When you get home, we’re going to have to talk. The others are starting to get impatient—there’s a lot going on, and they’re frustrated that you aren’t talking. I’m not going to pressure you, but you should know that you’re running out of time.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Taehyung says. He couldn’t have cared less.
“Don’t get caught tonight, alright?” Namjoon says. It sounds like a poor attempt at a joke. “I’ll see you at home. Don’t stay out too long.”
“I won’t. See you tonight, hyung.” Taehyung hangs up before his voice cracks.
He waits for a few moments, trying to relax. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the cat observing him with wide eyes. He wonders if he should give it a name.
“Bam,” he calls. One of the cat’s ears flicks back. For tonight.
Taehyung considers going home then, but there’s one last thing he wants to do. It feels wrong to go without Seokjin, but he can’t imagine going the rest of his life without visiting the beach. The journey will add a considerable amount of time to his already lengthy walk, but he doesn’t care. There are still a few hours left to the night.
He remembers the first time they went to the sea—a stifling summer day when none of them had nothing else to do but wanted to be together. He remembers the things they had talked about—mostly petty things, but also the definition of a dream. Seokjin had watched over them all.
Taehyung hasn’t been to the ocean since then. He doesn’t want to go alone, but he needs to do this for Seokjin.
Apprehension sits heavy in Taehyung’s chest as the air starts to grow colder and the hard earth gives way to sand. His breath catches when he sees water.
The tide has come in, so he can’t walk far, but he stops at the edge of the water and crouches down. Bam sits next to him and meows loudly, leaning close but never touching. Taehyung tastes salt on the air. His nose stings from the sharpness of seaweed. The sea is different at night, but the energy is unmistakable. Moonlight leaves fractured reflections on the ripples.
Taehyung doesn’t know what he was expecting. It’s odd to be here and to relive the shadows of events that brought him here. It’s odd to think that Seokjin once stood here. It occurs to Taehyung that he’s the only one who has walked away unpunished from this ordeal—everyone else has suffered since Seokjin’s death, but Taehyung has yet to compensate for what he’s done.
I will never know what Seokjin would tell me now, Taehyung realizes. But I do know what he did tell me before he died. And before I let myself go—I need to listen to his advice. I have to tell the others what happened, because that’s what Seokjin wanted me to do.
I’m no different from the others. I can’t reverse what happened to Seokjin, but I have to take care of everything he left behind.
There are a few scenarios that can play out now. There are even fewer if Taehyung is realistic about his situation. He can probably last a long time with Namjoon, providing that Namjoon is able to find a stable job. He can leave Namjoon and live on his own, but he can’t last long and it would be too easy to slip up. If he turns himself in, there’s no telling how sympathetic the courts would be. A part of him is convinced that regret is enough of a punishment, but thinking he could ever get away free is unrealistic.
How much longer can I carry on? I’m some poor kid with corrupt ideals from bad parents. I was never meant to live the kind of life Seokjin could have had if he didn’t get mixed up with us.
Taehyung stands up. The ocean is special, but it’s not the same when he’s alone. He knows, a little better now, what he has to do.
He turns around and goes home. Reluctantly, slowly, Bam follows.
Namjoon is still awake when Taehyung arrives. Wordlessly, he brings him into a crushing hug. Taehyung doesn’t let go until Namjoon does.
Neither of them say anything for a long moment. Taehyung admits to himself that he’s finally come to terms with everything. Seokjin is gone—and he needs to do something about it. He doesn’t know if Namjoon recognizes this change, but Taehyung can see through his cold exterior for the first time. Namjoon has never despised him.
“Taehyung—” Namjoon begins.
“Let’s go to bed, hyung,” Taehyung says, strained. “I’ll talk in the morning. You can have the others come, and I’ll talk. But for now, we should sleep.”
Namjoon doesn’t answer right away. Taehyung watches as he tries not to frown. Bam meows loudly and Namjoon finally notices the cat.
“What’s this?” he asks.
“It won’t stop following me around,” Taehyung says. “I’m calling it Bam.”
Namjoon cracks a smile. “If it won’t leave, then I guess there’s nothing we can do but let it stay.” He leans down to try to pet Bam, but it jumps away. “Huh. It looks well taken care of. I wonder why it’s out here.”
“I don’t know,” Taehyung says. “I found it when I went to visit Seokjinnie-hyung.”
Namjoon’s expression saddens at the mention of Seokjin, even with Bam as a distraction. “...It can stay. As long as it doesn’t tear the place up.”
“Something tells me it won’t,” Taehyung says. Bam stays perfectly still until Taehyung brushes past Namjoon to settle down for the rest of the night.
Sleep doesn’t come easy to him, but he lets himself be vulnerable. He thinks about his childhood. Not just the bad parts—he thinks about the good parts, the happy memories that he uses to calm himself. He thinks about the day he met Seokjin and the other boys and how happy he’d been. The best days were the start of high school, when he’d felt safe and happy for the first time since he was young. They were the days before everything started to go wrong and the other boys got hurt.
Taehyung knows that time will never come back.
With that knowledge, it becomes hard for Taehyung to accept what’s happened. It’s hard for him to see a future or find a reason to go on. Seokjin is dead, and Taehyung is a murderer. Finding the sea gave him answers, and they’re the answers he doesn’t want to hear but needs to hear anyway.
Despite everything that had happened, Taehyung is still unsettled, and the nightmares don’t go away. If anything, they become sharper and more excruciating and more realistic, but he’s fortunate enough not to remember much when he wakes again.
He doesn’t get much sleep. It was early in the morning when he got home, and the sun is high in the sky when Namjoon nudges him awake.
“They’re on their way,” he says. It takes Taehyung a long moment to remember what he’s talking about, and then he scrambles up. Inches from his pillow, Bam gives him a sleepy scowl. “Get ready.” Namjoon pauses, and Taehyung takes a moment to study his face. Namjoon appears to have aged years in the past few days. “I’m not sure what you’re doing, but I’m proud of you.” Taehyung’s heart warms. “Oh, and your cat wouldn’t leave you all night. I’d say it’s endearing, but I’m mostly just scared.”
“I tried to pet it and it hissed at me,” Jimin says from across the room. He miserably flips through what is probably a job application. “I don’t know how you managed to find that thing.”
Taehyung makes eye contact with Bam. Bam gazes at him impassively. Taehyung shivers when he looks away, still aware of the cat’s pointed intensity. “Yeah. Me neither.”
Taehyung is tempted to explain things to Namjoon now, but he decides it’s better to tell everyone at once (or not at all, if he can get away with it). He doesn’t want to complicate things more.
He spends the ten minutes he has until the others arrive trying to make himself somewhat presentable. It’s not necessary, in any way, but he feels awful. He spends too long changing the dressing on his hand and trying to wash away stubborn grains of sand. Predictably, it’s pointless, but it gives him time to gather his thoughts.
Hoseok is the first one to arrive. Namjoon opens the door for him and he flinches away when he sees Jimin staring him down. He doesn’t look at Taehyung—he keeps his head down, as if he doesn’t want to be here anyway. Taehyung fiddles with his bandage and avoids Namjoon’s eyes.
Jungkook arrives a few minutes later. He sits by Jimin and makes himself as small as possible. Namjoon ruffles his hair—a comforting, easy gesture, but he’s more gentle than usual. Jungkook looks like he needs it.
Yoongi is the last to arrive. He stays close to the door, radiating bitterness, facing away from Jungkook. Taehyung is considerably more anxious with everyone in front of him, but the fact that none of them outwardly express any interest makes it easier.
(None of them seem to notice or care about the cat at Taehyung’s feet. Jungkook gives Bam a curious look, but nobody asks questions.)
“What did you want to tell us?” Hoseok asks, subdued.
There’s no easy way to tell people who are afraid of you that you’ve been abused your whole life, but Taehyung has no choice and has to make it work.
Taehyung starts at the beginning—slowly, with Namjoon to help him, because it doesn’t take much for him to become overwhelmed. He keeps his eyes on the floor as he recounts his childhood—his mother leaving, his father drinking, his sister’s sacrifices. He talks about how he’s never been able to bring himself to fight back—until that day, when Seokjin has tried to stop him.
It’s indescribably horrible. It’s not a story he tells for pity and not one he ever intends to tell again. These boys are what he has left for family. They’re the only people he knows he can trust. Seokjin has told him so.
There are a few interjections through the story, but for the most part, everyone just listens. Taehyung watches as each of them relaxes. “With that in mind, what are you going to do?” Yoongi asks. “With that story, your charges probably wouldn’t even be that bad.”
It takes Taehyung a moment to find words. “I don’t care about the charges.”
“Clearly the attempt itself was provoked,” Hoseok says. “It’s just, Seokjin-hyung….”
“I said, I don’t care what happens to me,” Taehyung says firmly. “As long as I got to tell you everything.”
Namjoon interjects. He gives the others a shortened version of the story he had told Taehyung about Seokjin. Taehyung expects him to stop there—it makes sense to offer Seokjin’s side of the story when he isn’t there to do it himself. But Namjoon continues.
He tells them about his own life, and things Taehyung has had an idea of but never had the courage to ask about—he describes the way he’s been working since it was legal, and how he had to abandon his family for a chance at his own future anyway. Taehyung expects to see regret—but there isn’t any. Namjoon is remorseful, but Taehyung knows he must have done what he needed to do. Maybe it’s selfish—but Namjoon has survived. He still has contact with his family, and he’s alive.
Namjoon’s sentiment catches on fast. Yoongi reluctantly shares a similar story: the death of his mother in a fire when he was young (that’s when Taehyung puts Yoongi’s words together and realizes that Yoongi’s obsession with fire is a way of coping, not entirely an obsession with death). Yoongi describes being raised by an indifferent father, and how he’d failed to ever make sense of his life. It makes sense—it explains his endless search for something in high school, and how that had manifested in his violent tendencies during high school.
It also explains his attachment to music—the way he’d clung to it during high school despite nothing ever coming from it. Taehyung wonders what would be different if he’d been able to pursue it. But Yoongi admits that he’s done with music, and Taehyung can do nothing but let him waste away.
Jungkook’s confession is more tentative. His father left and his mother was too distraught afterwards to take are of him, so he took a large part in raising himself. The neglect is responsible for his deteriorating mental state—particularly the way he speaks of death as if he has one foot in the grave. Jungkook doesn’t say much, but it’s easy for Taehyung to put the pieces together. Jungkook isn’t stable, and needs someone to attach himself to. He needs a role model who can convince him to keep going. That person has always been Namjoon—at least while Namjoon is present. The problem is when he’s on his own.
Hoseok and Jimin take more convincing. Hoseok falters while he speaks of his parents. His father left before he was old enough to remember. His mother was kind to him—at least, in what he can remember—so it had come as a complete, traumatizing shock when she abandoned him. He’d been raised primarily in foster care and spent his life searching for some kind of love, to no avail. He’d never managed to find someone who would care for him the way he’d sought—a replacement for what he’d lost.
It takes a little more of an effort for Jimin, even though he’d vague and rushes through his explanation so fast Taehyung can barely make sense of it. Jimin’s parents are restrictive—but they didn’t watch him closely enough, and a childhood incident left him scarred. Mentally, he still hasn’t recovered. His flashbacks and mental illness are why his parents left him in the hospital. The seizures are only a side effect.
Opening up about their histories won’t change much, but Taehyung feels lighter. Throughout high school, their friendship was built on finding an escape for each of them. That meant never addressing personal problems, but that’s what’s gotten them into this situation. Taehyung is relieved even though the stories had been told through gritted teeth and reluctance and without becoming as personal as they should have been.
In the end, Hoseok and Jimin don’t talk to each other. Jimin cowers by Namjoon’s side and shoots Hoseok the occasional forlorn glance. Hoseok does the same. Taehyung has never seen them so dejected. Taehyung spots Yoongi and Jungkook whispering to each other as they leave.
We all have someone we can connect with—someone who has the same troubles as us. That connection should have made everything easier.
When everyone leaves, Taehyung doesn’t know how to approach the situation. The gathering had a note of finality. Taehyung’s can’t exactly deny that it is the end. There’s nothing else left for him to do.
“Are you feeling any better?” Namjoon asks, blissfully unaware of Taehyung’s turmoil.
“Yeah, hyung,” Taehyung says tiredly. “I think I know what I want to do now. Will you stay with me while I make sure?”
Taehyung spends the next few nights trying to talk himself out of what he’s about to do. He turns his options over in his mind over and over, but finds nothing new. He hints to Namjoon and Jimin, but they don’t have much to offer. Both of them are more distracted than ever—Jimin trying to work out his living situation with Hoseok, and Namjoon making sure Yoongi and Jungkook don’t do anything stupid.
Despite this, Namjoon seems to have an idea that Taehyung is acting off, even if Taehyung never speaks to him. They both know time is running out.
That’s why Taehyung can’t bring himself to be upset when Namjoon shakes him awake in the middle of one night.
“Let’s do something illegal.”
“What do you want,” Taehyung snaps, because Namjoon has caught him in a moment of weakness and he’s overtired and it doesn’t occur to him until after to be more considerate of how he speaks to Namjoon given the situation. He was just dreaming—he can’t recall anything specific, but he has a few ideas. He rubs sleep from his eyes and considers Namjoon’s words. Namjoon is staring at him expectantly. “I’m sorry, hyung, what…?”
“I said, let’s do something illegal. Let’s break the law. For old times’ sake right? I was the one who taught you all of that,” Namjoon says, kneeling by Taehyung. Taehyung surveys the room. It’s probably around midnight. Jimin is fast asleep on the couch and Bam is curled into a neat ball inches from Taehyung. “You’re good at running. We won’t get caught. We won’t stay out long, anyway.”
“Wha—why do you want to?” Taehyung asks, sitting up. “That doesn’t sound like….”
“Something I’d want to risk doing right now?” Namjoon asks. Taehyung’s nod is apologetic. “I don’t know. It might be good for us. It’s not like either of us have any questions about the morality.”
Taehyung rolls his eyes and tosses away his blanket. “Fine. If you wanna go out. But it’s your fault if we get in trouble. What do you want to do, anyway?”
Namjoon shrugs. “Let’s just go out. We can figure it out once we’re walking.”
Taehyung stands and trails after Namjoon reluctantly. Namjoon looks like he’s been up for a while. The outing is obviously planned. Taehyung wonders how long Namjoon’s wanted to bring him out.
The irony of the whole situation aggravates Taehyung. When they met in high school, they spent almost all of their time after class together—afternoons and nights. Once Seokjin could drive, he’d started bringing them farther out. They’d entertain themselves with what they had.
But Taehyung most fondly remembers the nights he’d go out with Namjoon. Namjoon had introduced him to the art of vandalism—a habit he’d picked up with the guys at his old town, as a way of rebelling against the society that forced them into poverty. Namjoon was more careful than Taehyung and had never gotten caught. He’d taught Taehyung about spray paint, and Taehyung was so desperate to create art that he’d taken this method over nothing.
After a while, Namjoon lost interest in breaking the law and opted for safer ways to empower himself. But Taehyung keeps doing it. He’s daring with his projects and takes delight in running from the police. He doesn’t have a reason for it or any real method to his madness. Maybe he’s uselessly reaching for something, but he’s always needed a form of release.
How unfortunate is it that the only thing it’s accomplished is making the local police very familiar with him (more so than the neighbor’s concern over Taehyung’s father ever could have alone).
It’s odd to be back out with Namjoon after so much has changed—after he’s committed a horrible crime and Seokjin is dead. He’s been spending the last few weeks on Namjoon’s floor, wearing his spare clothes and surviving off of his essentials. After protecting Taehyung for so long, Namjoon is the one to encourage Taehyung to do the things he stands against.
“So, what percent of the times that you’ve gone out do you actually make it to me?” Namjoon asks out of the blue. “What’s your successful to unsuccessful escape ratio?”
Taehyung stumbles as he tries to come up with a response. “Like… sixty-forty.”
“Not bad,” Namjoon says, taking a corner. Taehyung has to speed up to match Namjoon’s longer strides.
“I mean—sixty percent unsuccessful, forty percent successful. And sometimes I just let them take me.”
“Not bad,” Namjoon reaffirms, with a straight face.
They keep walking, Namjoon with confidence Taehyung wouldn’t have guessed he had in the situation. Taehyung stays close to his side, head down, hands tucked into his pockets. Bam trails a few feet behind them.
Namjoon leads them down a few more streets, and then pulls Taehyung into an alley. He shoves a can of spray paint into Taehyung’s hands and says, “Get to work. We don’t have too much time.” He takes out a second can and starts shaking it vigorously. The sound makes Taehyung’s ears ring. Bam hisses.
“What am I supposed to do?” Taehyung asks. He reminds himself of the early days of high school, when Jungkook used to draw a lot and would whine until Taehyung gave him ideas. “You just brought me here, and—”
“I dunno. Make some lines, see what happens,” Namjoon says. He uncaps the can. “You like abstract, right? You’re the one who always told me you had no plan. You always just reworked what you originally did just because you could.”
“Yeah, I mean—it’s different now.” Taehyung grudgingly begins shaking the can.
“Because you killed Seokjin-hyung?” Namjoon folds his arms and tilts his head at Taehyung.
“Kind of, yeah. And everything else.”
“Listen, Taehyung-ah—” Namjoon says. He turns away from Taehyung and tests the paint on the ground. “There’s nothing we can do about it. You just have to follow how you feel. I can offer normalcy. But in the end it’s your choice. Do whatever will help you figure out what you’re going to do from here on out.”
Taehyung nods, but says nothing. He tries to mirror the pattern Namjoon has started on the other side of the wall. He can’t cling to the notion that things will ever be the same. He can’t pretend that he’s living the same life he was two weeks ago.
He tries to lose himself in his work, but it’s hard. He’s not an artist like Jungkook, as much as he wishes so. He’s never been the kind of person who’s had a statement to make.
He knows he can only distract himself so much, and it’s not long before everything starts to spill over. He grips the spray can too tightly and his hand shakes a little, so his lines are sloppy. They work in silence, movements concise in the way that would ordinarily allow them to finish quickly and make an even faster getaway. Taehyung is too distracted to think about the quality of what he’s doing or what will happen if somebody catches them.
“Taehyung,” Namjoon says, pulling Taehyung away from his thoughts. “You’re thinking too hard. Do you want to talk about it?”
Taehyung clenches his jaw. He doesn’t put down the can, even as Namjoon does so beside him. He uses the paint as an excuse to avoid Namjoon’s eyes. “Joonie-hyung—I decided what I’m going to do. I’m almost certain. But I wanted to talk to you first.”
“I’m here,” Namjoon says.
“When Seokjinnie-hyung—when he realized what I did,” Taehyung starts, words faltering, “he apologized to me. He wouldn’t tell me why he came after me and he wasn’t mad. I wish he was. He acted like it was something he’d done. I just wish I could understand. I—I don’t know why he cared about me.”
Namjoon moves to Taehyung’s side and begins rubbing careful circles on his back. Taehyung continues, gasping between his words. “I didn’t know who he was at all. Now I’ll never get the chance. And I still don’t understand what happened. I don’t know why it had to happen like that.”
“Seokjin-hyung didn’t tell me everything that was going on with him in the end, and I’m sure whatever he was up to is part of it, but I know he never could have been mad at you,” Namjoon says softly. Taehyung begins filling in a random pattern just to keep his hand moving. “He knew that you never would have done that without a reason.”
“But I didn’t have a reason,” Taehyung chokes out. “If I could have known how he felt—I think maybe I did know—maybe it would have ended differently. I’m mad, why wasn’t he mad?”
“I know you can’t recognize it—but you couldn’t have controlled what happened,” Namjoon says. Taehyung’s hand begins to ache from how hard he’s gripping the can. It presses into the glass wound and stings violently, but Taehyung doesn’t mind the pain. It’s grounding, at the least. Bam meows loudly. “You’ve been forced to live a certain way and it could have killed you. You’re lucky someone else didn’t die, too.”
“I’m not lucky,” Taehyung barks. “I can never make up for what I did.”
Namjoon doesn’t say anything right away. His hand retreats. “I’m not mad at you.”
“I’m upset because of Seokjin-hyung, and I miss him more than anything, but you are also so important to me,” Namjoon says. The can slides from Taehyung’s grip. “I’m not going to waste my time regretting something I can’t change. I’m going to make do with what I have.”
“I should have listened to Seokjinnie-hyung,” Taehyung says. “He wanted me to talk to him. I never did. I didn’t let him ask questions, and if he’d known….”
“But you talked to us,” Namjoon says. He slides into Taehyung’s field of vision. Taehyung can’t bring himself to reject him. “I don’t care how late you were. You’re trying.”
“I just wish…” Taehyung swallows and blinks hard, trying to pull himself together. “I wish I could fix this.”
Namjoon pats his hair. “I know.”
“Namjoonie-hyung,” Taehyung says. He takes a deep breath. “Thank you. For everything you’ve done for me. Even though you were Seokjinnie-hyung’s friend, too.”
He doesn’t deserve what I’m about to do to him. He deserves to have someone much better than me in his life for him. But I know what I need to do for myself. And if I’m right—everyone will be in trouble if I keep hiding.
“I told you it’s what I want,” Namjoon says. For the first time in a long time, his eyes meet Taehyung’s. “Honestly. It’s nothing.” Taehyung nods. “Are you any better now?”
“I think so,” Taehyung says. Guilt settles deep in his chest. It’s not about Seokjin, this time. “Thank you.”
Against his will, he glances down at Bam. The cat stands ominously stock-still beside Namjoon. Taehyung doesn’t want to think too hard about the why, and especially how about the how, but he knows nothing about the cat is normal.
If anything were normal, Seokjin would have died and that would be it. I wouldn’t be having these dreams, for one thing.
Namjoon gives Taehyung a tiny smile that he almost misses. “Okay. Are you almost done?”
Taehyung had genuinely forgotten what they were doing. He picks up the picks up the fallen can of spray paint and fidgets with it. “I mean. Yeah?” Usually he likes to work longer, tries to create something he’s satisfied with, but the situation feels weird.
Namjoon hums thoughtfully, and then pauses. Taehyung watches with confusion as his expression grows panicked. “Did you hear that?”
Namjoon grabs Taehyung and pushes him towards the exit. “Go!”
Taehyung considers staying still. This isn’t a bad way for his run from the law to come to an end. He’s made as much peace with himself as he can. He’s finally talked to the other boys. He knows something big is coming, but sooner or later he knows this life will come to an end. He can bare the shame of getting caught in such a pathetic way.
But then he remembers that Namjoon is with him. If Namjoon gets caught with Taehyung, it’ll be the end for him, too. Taehyung breaks into a sprint and takes off without a second thought.
He’s lucky that he knows the area well. He doesn’t have to stop and consider as he runs. Distantly, he registers Namjoon a little while behind him, and Bam keeping up surprisingly well despite having unfortunately short legs.
Taehyung never slows. This isn’t like any chase he’s endured before. Back before Seokjin’s death, he’d never feared consequence. Now consequence is a real, dangerously looming threat. His chest burns and everything hurts and he thinks he might collapse, but he doesn’t stop running until he’s made it back to Namjoon’s and slams the door shut behind him.
He collapses to the floor, panting. He coughs a little as he tries to rise to his feet again. It takes a second for it to occur to him that Namjoon hasn’t gotten back yet, and it’s hard for him not to panic.
It’s Namjoon. He’ll be fine. His stomach drops. If I got him caught, I’ll never forgive myself.
He gets on his feet unsteadily and half-stumbles to the fridge for water. He clutches the bottle, wheezing a little as he goes back to the door.
A million thoughts go through his mind before Namjoon walks in, Bam behind him. Taehyung’s knees go weak.
“Hyung, are you oka—”
Namjoon is smiling. It takes Taehyung a moment to put this together. Namjoon’s hair is a mess and he’s breathing hard but he’s smiling. Taehyung’s anxiety shifts into betrayal.
“You faked it,” he accuses. Namjoon makes an obvious attempt to squash the smile. “Nobody was there. You were teasing me.”
“Maybe so,” Namjoon says. He gives Taehyung a slow, dramatic wink. “Someone needs to keep you sharp.”
Taehyung pretends to scowl. He downs as much of the water as he can before he feels sick and then chucks the bottle at Namjoon. “You’re terrible, hyung, you know that?”
Namjoon grins. Taehyung is so grateful. “I’m just glad it worked.”
Taehyung’s guilt threatens to consume him whole.
The image of Namjoon on this night is the one Taehyung tries to keep with him as he walks outside that morning—along with Jimin’s smile, and sweet texts from Jungkook and Hoseok and a lame joke Yoongi made.
There are heartwarming moments like that, but Taehyung knows everything is far from perfect. Jungkook starts coming over more and Yoongi doesn’t stop drinking after Namjoon tries to talk to him. Hoseok and Namjoon are closed off. Jimin hasn’t had any more seizures, but his physical condition is deteriorating. They’re going to snap sooner rather than later.
So far, Taehyung is the only one who hasn’t started to break. He’s come to the realization that it’s his time.
The walk to the police station is long and gives Taehyung plenty of time to think. Bam, who is oddly active today, is hardly a distraction. Taehyung has grown fond of the cat, even though it remains distant and has yet to let anyone touch it. Taehyung still doesn’t know what it means.
In the end—he doesn’t want to turn himself in. The only thing that compels him to do so is the fact that he’s seen how bad things can get. It’s a miracle that there’s six of them left.
He just desperately hopes that his decision won’t hurt the others more.
He’d sent a series of texts before leaving. He’d had to rewrite them several times before deciding on a message that wouldn’t alert anybody to something being wrong. He’d written, to Namjoon and Jimin, I’m going to go out today. Don’t worry about me! I’ll see you soon. I love you both, and as an afterthought, Thank you for taking care of me. He figures it’s vague and familiar enough so that neither of them will be alarmed.
And that’s all he needs to do. There’s nothing else he needs to prepare for. He wishes desperately that Seokjin were here to tell him where to step.
Standing in the parking lot of the police station is surreal. Taehyung’s had more than enough time to change his mind, but he stands where Seokjin once stood and his mind stalls. He wipes his eyes and goes to sit on the curb. He’s stubborn enough to wait until somebody finds him. Bam sits in front of him and meows loudly.
Taehyung runs through his plan in his mind. The police will surely ask what he’s been doing for the past two weeks and he doesn’t intend on telling them about Namjoon. He scrambles to come up with an excuse for where he’s been and decides that as long as Namjoon doesn’t get in trouble it doesn’t matter.
He knows they’ll ask about his father and the abuse and he doesn’t plan on spilling all the details unless they make him. He doesn’t trust the police like he does his friends. He knows they’ll humiliate him and they’ll still charge him like they would anyone else.
He doesn’t know how he’s going to relive Seokjin’s last moments for the sake of legality.
A part of him is bitter it has to go down like this. He thinks of his mother, and how she’ll probably be satisfied—so he’s determined to do this for himself. It’s the least he can do.
In the end, it’s an officer he knows well who finds him. He’s run into almost everyone at the station due to his vandalism at some point. Taehyung times his surroundings out as the police corner him—the shouting, the panic, and it all seems irrelevant.
Bam screeches. The cat slams into Taehyung’s side and the contact feels like lightning. Taehyung can barely focus. There’s movement all around him and someone is yelling in his face, demanding to know why he’d attacked his father and killed Seokjin. Taehyung is complacent and lets himself be taken. There’s no point in resisting anymore. From somewhere far away, he hears a voice:
“If you could turn back time, do you believe you can straighten out the errors and mistakes, and…
Taehyung glances around but can’t place the source. Bam is bristling, hissing at everyone who approaches Taehyung. Taehyung doesn’t question it. He doesn’t need to know if this is a dream or if he’s going crazy. He closed his eyes.
“I have no choice,” he murmurs.
He’s a mess and he’s as broken as any of them. But he has the best chance of making a difference. He doesn’t know if it’s possible for him to have a second chance—but he’s desperate.
A second chance is all he’s ever wanted. He doesn’t know whether or not he’s capable of reversing his errors. He only knows that he has to. For Seokjin, at the very least.
How odd it is to be taking a chance after losing his will.
As the officers restrain him, as he loses his grasp on his future, everything around him shatters.
Seokjin arrives at the Songju police department early in the afternoon on May twentieth. This is after he’d woken up early and canceled his meeting with Namjoon, and called out from work. He’s been in a panic about Taehyung recently but he’s not completely sure how things are going to play out.
Lately, the universe has been out of his power. It’s an unpleasant feeling. After spending so much time in a position where he could decide his future, it’s alarming to have to watch with such a sense of detachment.
He’s accepted that things were never in his control. The future is not solely his and never was. He’s not a player in the game; he’s simply a pawn.
At this point, he’s convinced that his role is some kind of divine punishment. The first time, he had failed. He hadn’t figured out soon enough that he wasn’t supposed to do things on his own. It had never occurred to him that his fate is closely entangled with the others’.
It’s both a beautiful and terrifying thing. The universe has now forced him to cooperate, bent him and shaped him into a better molded role.
Seokjin grits his teeth. Any time now. He paces in front of the police department. He registers the sensation of something soft brushing by his leg but nothing is there when he looks down. His phone buzzes in his pocket but he ignores it. Any time.
I need to get my part right.
Seokjin presses one hand to his chest, recalling a phantom pain. I know what I need to do. I just have to be extra careful this time. Simple enough, right?
He’s almost given up so many times, but then he thinks of his friends and knows how many reasons he has to continue.
I will do anything it takes. I will try as many times as I need. And this time, I won’t do it alone.
He can’t bear to go through this so many times. He can’t bear to see Taehyung suffering—to see his sullen detachment and horror no person his age should have to witness. He’s gone through this with all the others and a new wound is opened every time.
He’s so wrapped up in his thoughts that he almost doesn’t notice when Taehyung walks out. Taehyung rubs at his neck absently, dazedly gazing at the ground as if in thought. His eyes widen comically when he sees Seokjin. “Huh? Seokjin?”
The fact that we’re here is my fault. I watched him too closely, so closely that I missed the important things. There are some things you can only see from far away—but maybe things will be better if Taehyung is with me.
It only takes him a second to realize that Taehyung knows. He must remember—there’s no other way to explain the look in his eyes. Neither of them move for a long time. Seokjin tried to convey everything he’s felt right there—if Taehyung remembers, they both have some explaining to do. Taehyung’s face twists like he’s trying to fit together the pieces of a puzzle.
I can only hope he doesn’t resent me now that he knows my secrets—now that he knows I’m the one behind this all.
Taehyung collapses in Seokjin’s arms. Seokjin holds him as he whispers, “I’m sorry. Can we try again?”
I won’t leave you alone, and we’ll save each other.