It's a nightmare.
It has to be.
"Taehyung, where are you?"
He's running, heart pounding against his ribs as hard as his feet pound the wooden floor. He shouts but he can't hear himself. Frantic beat of his heart sending icy dread into his veins and there's no sound but the deafening roar of it.
Door after door. The halls, the stage, the yard.
"Taehyung! Please answer me!"
Another door slides, his muscles protest to run more. He runs anyway. His throat hurts. He screams anyway.
"Seokjin-hyung what's wrong?"
Hoseok is wearing only sweatpants, his hair messy but his eyes are wide and sharp. Seokjin stops moving.
"I can't find Taehyung," he says. He sounds small and scared, like a kid who lost his mother in the middle of a crowded market.
"Did you have a fight?"
"No! No, we were fine, we..."
We finally got what we wanted. He was finally able to touch Taehyung.
"It's my wish," he says, his heart rhythm growing faster. He can barely breathe. The goddess gave them this. It's a conclusion to her lesson.
You shall learn that good fortune comes in many shapes, though you might not realize it at first. Such is the nature of humans. Always hasty, forever lamenting what they don't have and never cherishing what they do own until it's too late .
She gave them what they wanted and took what they already had. Seokjin had wanted so badly to touch Taehyung, too busy crying over the fact that he couldn't. He failed to see what a blessing just having him around was. And now he's gone.
She took him away.
"Oh God," he sobs, covering his face with both hands. He weeps like he's never done before, pain like no other vibrating through his body and he doesn't pay mind to the fact that there are witnesses to his pitiful misery. He cries until his voice disappears and his eyes burn, face tacky from salty tears. Cries until he can't anymore, he begs and swears to never ask for more, he knows what he has. Knows he's lucky and he'd give it all up if he'd just got Taehyung back.
No one answers him.
Hoseok and the others leave him alone when they realize they can’t console him and he loses time.
He wakes up curled on the floor where he broke down, muscles aching from sleeping in an uncomfortable position. The room has no trace of Taehyung, his clothes have disappeared with him. Seokjin crawls to his futon and buries his face in the pillow, inhaling the remnant of their mixed scent. He wants to keep the last breath he has of Taehyung forever, make the few seconds he can protect this scent go on for eternity.
He holds the air, his lungs fighting against him and his eyes tearing up again. It hurts but he refuses to let it go, gritting his teeth against his body's need for oxygen. He fails, the exhale escaping from him.
A heavy sense of loss settles in the space between skin and muscle, ache slots through his marrow. He accepts defeat.
Everyone stands up when he enters the kitchen. It's past nine but there's no sign that anyone has eaten breakfast. He'd be guilty for worrying them but he has no place beside the pain.
"I'm going back to Incheon. Thank you for having me." He bows and turns to leave. Someone follows him out.
"Do you need me to drive you?" It's Jeongguk. Seokjin faces him.
"I called a cab."
Jeongguk ducks his head, hands fisted and shaking by his thighs. "Is he..."
Seokjin chokes. "He's not here anymore."
Jeongguk's face contracts into a pained expression, eyes going liquid. He opens his mouth but clamps it shut before any words come out. He nods once, turns away.
"I'll leave him flowers in the hall."
They're sitting in front of Seokjin's laptop, watching a stupid romance movie that Seokjin would never have considered if Taehyung didn't like the description. The heroine got white roses and Taehyung smiled.
"They are beautiful."
"He likes roses."
"Roses it is."
Seokjin's apartment is too big for him and yet the walls close in on him as soon as he steps into the place. It's clean and furnished lavishly. Seokjin would rather have that empty room in the temple with just a futon and an oil lamp, Taehyung's chatter filling the place.
He showers and dresses in a formal suit, slicks his hair back and pockets his phone. It's a forty minutes drive to his father's office.
His phone rings as he settles into his seat. ID telling him it's his mother. He's meant to pay her a visit after he speaks with his father but if he's ripping off the band aid, might as well do it now.
"You're insane!" Is the first thing Yoongi says as he sits down. They're in a small cafe in the middle of Seoul, Seokjin using Yoongi's insistence to meet as an excuse to run out of his office.
"Well, hello to you, too. I've been good, thanks for asking."
Yoongi rolls his eyes. Seokjin signals the waiter to their table.
"Being sarcastic is my job."
Seokjin shrugs. He busies himself with the menu despite having already ordered. He knows what Yoongi wants to talk about.
"I'm really proud," Yoongi says once the waiter moves away. "You've been back for three days and you're already flipping shit. I almost lost hope."
Three days since he's left the temple, left a dream and stepped back into reality. The first thing he did was tell his father about his sexuality and his plan for the company and when his father's refusal and expected disapproval made an appearance Seokjin didn't care.
He simply didn't have place for more when everything in him ached with the loss of Taehyung. There's been a fire in his chest and he used it to snap back at his parents.
His father capitulated, allowing Seokjin to have his way. His mother told him she never wants to see him again. It would've hurt before.
"I'm regretting it." The place is buzzing with noise. Smell of coffee in the air, and the clicking of glass on glass. It’s too dim, stuffy. The shadows sneaking from under the chairs, Seokjin keeps his eyes there.
"You said your dad agreed to let you put a front and just continue from behind the scenes."
"That's not why I'm regretting it," Seokjin sighs. "Dad only agreed because he doesn't want his company to go to someone out of the family. He's been showing his annoyance by sending shitty cases my way while scheduling meetings with employees who might work as my CEO." He’s exhausted, hasn’t slept well in so long.
Yoongi whistles. "Did you find one, yet?"
Seokjin opens his mouth to answer but his phone rings and interrupts him. He pinches the bridge of his nose, answering without checking the name. It must be his assistant informing him of another meeting.
"Hello, Namjoon." Seokjin almost winces at his impatient tone.
"Did I catch you in a bad time?"
"I'm sorry," and he means it. "It's been a horrible couple of days. How's things at the temple?"
There's a pause in which Seokjin hears nothing, then Namjoon asks:
"A lot happened. I kind of had a fight with my father and drowned in his shit storm. I’ll need some time to wrap things up."
Another long pause, hushed sounds on the other side like Namjoon is fighting with someone.
"Namjoon-ah, what's wrong?"
"I actually wanted you to come over this weekend."
"I'm sorry, I'm really busy." Seokjin isn't lying, he is busy this weekend but he's got no intention of going back to the temple anyway. He can't . Staying there without Taehyung...
"When will you be abl--"
"I don't know. I'll call and tell you when I can. I really have to go now."
He catches Yoongi's disapproving look as he hangs up. "Don't start."
Yoongi clicks his tongue. "That's true for the next weekend, but you're not planning on going at all."
A scowl takes over his face, Yoongi lifts a hand to shut him up before he can say anything. "Don't even think of lying to me, I've known you since we were seven. You made friends there, don't lose them."
Seokjin purses his lips, fingers tightening around his cell phone. He nods his head and pulls his now lukewarm coffee. They don't speak again until Seokjin says goodbye.
Work winds down from piles and piles to nothing. A case won, a case lost. Two deferred to other dates. They're both hard but not hopeless like the one he lost, so Seokjin keeps his files organized and hopes for the best.
It leaves him with more time than he'd like. Namjoon calls twice more, insisting that Seokjin visit as soon as he can.
The night descends like a thick blanket. A suffocating thing that takes space and energy. Quiet settles in. Seokjin paces in his kitchen, waiting for the water he’s placed on the stove to boil.
The cup clicks on the counter. Seokjin opens an envelope of instant chocolate and empties the powder in the cup. Pours water over it, steam rising and warming his face. He lifts the beverage up, and before it reaches his lips.
“I wish I could give you chocolate.”
He throws the cup in the sink and marches to his room.
No lamps on, under the covers, he gives in. The light from the phone blinds him, his eyes dry. His thumb hovers over the app. He flips to his side, opens it.
Taehyung smiles at him in the picture. He’s laughing as he plays in the water. Seokjin keeps his eyes on the phone until he no longer can.
In the morning he calls his office and tells them he’s not coming in today or tomorrow.
Dressed in all black and with a bouquet of twenty two white roses on his passenger seat, he sets out to Bukchon Hanok village. He doesn't plan on spending the night, it’s an hour from his apartment but he knows he won't be able to get up and work after visiting the temple like he's visiting a grave.
The thought makes him park aside, queasy . His pulse runs thready and his skin clammy, his hands shake where they're gripping the wheel. Cars pass and honk, the colour of the sky changes. He gets himself under control, the scent of the roses filling the car helps tether him but the thorns settle in his heart and press deeper with every beat.
He arrives with the sunset, parks the car as orange and red spill over inky blue and bruising purple. The birds quiet, the dark settling in, his steps getting louder in the corridor leading to the prayer hall.
The place is exactly like he's last seen it. It should be darker and emptier, sadder. But it's the same.
Seokjin bites his lip, feeling ridiculous about the bouquet he's carrying. He stands in the middle of the hall, wondering if he should say something.
"Hello, Tae." His throat clicks. "I'm sorry it took me this long to visit but I--"
"Shouldn't you look at me when you apologize? I’ve waited so long."
Seokjin turns so fast he stumbles, the roses fall near his feet. Taehyung is standing by the entrance, holding a candle to light the way.
"Taehyung?" Seokjin whispers. Taehyung steps inside, sets the candle on the floor.
"A month and you can't recognize me anymore. I'm hurt, Seokjin." He shakes his head, but his smile is soft.
"You… you look different." More than anything, Seokjin wants to run and hold him, see if he's really there or if maybe coming back has set Seokjin's imagination free and now he is hallucinating. Taehyung laughs.
"It was Jimin's idea," he says, ruffling his now short hair and pointing to his modern clothes. "Hobi-hyung thinks I should dye my hair blue, I'm not so sure about it though."
"Hobi...hyung." Seokjin repeats, still rooted to the spot. "Hoseok?" Yes, that's what Jimin and Jeongguk call him, Hobi hyung.
"So that means, you..." His eyes tear up, his heart stutters and he finally takes a step. "Are you real?"
Taehyung laughs again, but it's softer, happier. "You keep asking me that."
The spell Seokjin's under releases him and he runs with his arms outstretched, Taehyung meets him halfway in a bruising embrace. He buries his face in Taehyung's neck and remembers the first time he got to do this, tightens his grip.
"How long have you been here?"
Taehyung hums, "It took me two days to get back to the temple."
"Two days?" Seokjin grips the upper of Taehyung's arms and pushes him back to look at his face, "Two days?" he shrills. "You've been here the whole time and no one fucking told me? I thought you were gone!"
Taehyung's shoulders go up. "Namjoon called you but you said you're busy. I knew if I talked to you, you'd leave everything and come here and I didn't want to ruin your work, so I waited."
Seokjin digs his fingers and Taehyung winces. "Damn right I would’ve left everything. I don’t give a fuck. Ruin my work? Are you for real? And the other assholes are all okay with letting me mourn you for a whole fucking month?"
Taehyung cups his face and Seokjin wants to lean away but he can't. He sighs into the gentle kiss, chases the feel of Taehyung's lips when he pulls away.
"I'm sorry," Taehyung whispers. "I felt like it was important, that you needed to sort out your family matters." He brushes under Seokjin's eye. There's wetness gathering there and Seokjin feels the hot tears sliding down.
"I missed you," Taehyung says, leaning in for another kiss. Seokjin holds him closer, can't stay angry when they're this close. When he's been wishing for nothing but this the past month. They break the kiss and Taehyung burrows closer, Seokjin's heart finally settling.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me. You suck."
"Jimin says that sometimes, I don't know what it means but judging from the circumstances I'm gathering I should be affronted."
Laughter bubbles in Seokjin’s chest, he thought he'd never laugh again. He turns his head, whispers the meaning of the insult in Taehyung's ear.
"Really?" Taehyung says but he doesn't sound as scandalized as Seokjin imagined. "I didn't think that was a bad thing. And here I was looking forward to doing it for you."
Seokjin chokes, Taehyung laughs.
"You are so unfair."
Taehyung takes his hand and bends to retrieve the candle. "Come on, let's go to the room I'm staying in."
"The room you're staying in?"
"Ah, it felt wrong to call it my room since it's only temporary until you come and get me," he says.
They walk into the house, everyone is out this time, preparing for the performances so they go directly to the stairs. Taehyung stops in front of the door, hand squeezing Seokjin's.
"I am coming with you, right?"
His shoulders are tense, his head ducked down. Seokjin's heart lurches, orders him forward. He wraps his arms around Taehyung, pulls him so his back is plastered to Seokjin’s chest.
"As if I'd ever go anywhere without you again." He kisses Taehyung's shoulder twice. Stepping back, he smiles at Taehyung. Taehyung returns it and opens the door, pushes Seokjin to sit on the edge of the bed and kneels down between his legs.
His hand goes to Seokjin's belt and he looks up at him with a glint in his eyes.
"Now about the sucking you mentioned."
They end up sweaty and sated, wrapped up in each other. Taehyung's head pillowed on Seokjin's chest.
"I still don't understand what happened," Seokjin says "if she didn't intend to take you away, why did you disappear that night?" He clings harder to Taehyung, just the memory of waking up to an empty room sending his heart into a frenzy. Taehyung slides his hand up, stops right over the drumming beats and pats twice. It works like magic, Seokjin relaxes onto the mattress and Taehyung cuddles closer.
"She was giving me what I wished for," Taehyung says. "When I begged her to save me, I told her that I only wished to go home. After I realized what the meaning of her words was, I felt grateful for what I already have. For meeting you, and so she granted me all of my wishes, as a reward for learning the lesson. First wish was to be able to touch you, and the second one was going home."
"But where is home?" Seokjin asks.
Taehyung shrugs against him, nuzzles into Seokjin's neck. "I believe it's the location of my village. I woke up in the middle of a forest. I had to walk a long while before I saw a road and even longer to find a city. I had to sell one of my earrings to get back here." Taehyung chuckles.
Seokjin remembers him standing in front of the mirror and removing his jewelry. He's so thankful that Taehyung left the earrings be. He kisses Taehyung's crown, tightening his hold on Taehyung's waist.
"Must've been hard."
"The worst part was arriving here to discover you were gone. Hobi-hyung screamed so loud when he saw me at the door, he jumped higher than I thought possible, he was really scared. It's fortunate that you showed them my pictures. Jeongguk hugged me and cried."
Seokjin laughs at that. "I wish I didn't leave so fast."
"It was for the best," Taehyung says.
Seokjin turns so they're facing each other, frames Taehyung's cheek and pulls him into a kiss.
The chatter in the kitchen is loud and happy, laughter mixing with the clicking of cutlery. Taehyung and Jimin bicker like they've always been friends while Jeongguk insists that Hoseok should call the scout who attended their performance and offered his card. Hoseok seems hesitant, looking at Namjoon as if seeking his opinion.
"You don't need my permission to apply, Hoseok." Hoseok rubs the back of his head, averting his gaze. Namjoon goes on: "You wanted to move to Seoul for a while, truth is, I don't want to stay here either. I was thinking of trying business again."
Seokjin perks up, a smile taking over his face without his consent, "Namjoon-ah, that's actually wonderful! I have a position to offer you."
The kitchen goes quiet and every head turns to Seokjin. "As I mentioned earlier, my father has agreed to let me choose a CEO and work from behind the scenes--"
"You want me to be your CEO?" Namjoon exclaims, hands slamming down on the table and rattling all the glass on it.
"You have some experience, a degree and I trust you."
"By experience you mean that two months internship?" Namjoon sounds incredulous, not that Seokjin blames him. No one would do what he's doing.
Seokjin counts on his fingers. "You have no problem running this place. You will learn what you need to learn in no time. I will help you of course, since ultimately all the real decisions will be made by me. And, I'll get you good assistants."
"This is great, hyung!" Jeongguk says, "You should accept!"
"But if Hoseok and I leave then what about you two?"
Jeongguk and Jimin exchange looks. They smile, Jimin blushing and ducking his head. Jeongguk covers his hand on the table.
"Actually, we're moving to Seoul, too," Jeongguk starts. "Jimin auditioned for an entertainment company and he got accepted. And I'm working as a freelance photographer."
"Hey, you got him to go!" Taehyung cheers. When everyone turns to him he shrinks in his chair. His face goes red, "That's what they were arguing about the day Jimin went to the construction site."
"So you did hear them!" Seokjin points. Taehyung gives him an apologetic smile. Jeongguk waves his hand.
"That's not all," he says. He glances at Jimin who smiles shyly and hides his face in Jeongguk's shoulder. "We're getting married."
"Oh my God!" Hoseok shouts. Namjoon stands up and Taehyung is already trying to hug Jimin.
"We know we can't make it legal but," Jimin shrugs. "We want a small celebration and of course all of you are invited. Once we decide the details."
"That's wonderful, congratulations!" Seokjin says. Hoseok leaves his seat so he can slap Jeongguk on the back, repeatedly.
"You dog! You were trying to convince me to accept so you'd feel less guilty about leaving!"
"Ouch, hyung! I genuinely want the best for you. You can do so much better than this."
Hoseok considers him for a second then pulls both Jimin and Jeongguk into a hug. "I can't believe you guys are getting married. I'm older and just now got into a relationship. I hate you."
Across the table Taehyung's smile lights up his face. He slides his hand to Seokjin and they entwine their fingers. There's much to consider, it's a new step for each one of them.
But it's a step forward and they're taking it together.
Seokjin tightens his grip on Taehyung.
He's never letting go.