There lie cadavers buried under the cherry blossoms!
This is a truth that you must accept. For how else could the flowers of the cherry tree be so magnificent in their bloom?
“Under the Cherry Blossoms,” Motojiro Kajii
He meets him again, in January, under a single, barren tree that stands alone in a field. They study each other in silence for a while, one standing awkwardly on the ground and staring up, the other peering curiously from within the net of branches that reach aimlessly and stand out in stark contrast from the white, clouded sky.
The one in the red hood and dark blue shirt is the first to move, carelessly shoving his hood off his head and squinting hard against the glare of the sun on the snow on the ground. He raises his right hand and shades his eyes, staring up at the man perched in the tree. The man smiles gently down at him, clad in a simple, loose white shirt and comfortable black pants. He is barefoot, and his legs dangle down the length of the dark trunk.
“Why are you here?” the man asks, slowly swinging his legs back and forth as he leans over to study the figure standing alone. When met with silence, he continues. “I don’t mind, though. It does get a bit lonely at times. People used to visit, but it’s been a while. I understand. It takes a while. Today is a nice day, though. People have come to visit.”
The figure doesn’t answer. He only stares quietly up, eyes wide open and blue-gray, reflecting the sky, dark purple hair ruffling in the wind, hands shoved in his pockets and feet spread shoulder width apart.
“My name is Seokjin,” the man offers, gently alighting down at the base of the tree. “You can call me-”
“-Jin-hyung,” the figure interrupts, then falters when Jin’s expression doesn’t shift in recognition, when the smile freezes on his face. “I’m sorry- I was-?”
Seokjin smiles at him. “No, Jin is fine,” he says. “It’s just a bit nostalgic, that’s all. Your name would be?”
“I-it’s. Namjoon,” the stuttered answer lingers in the air, like a rock clattering on a frozen puddle. “I… sorry. It’s been a while. Since I’ve done some things. Since I’ve done a lot of things.”
“Since you’ve introduced yourself?” Seokjin asks, hiding a smile behind one hand. “Since you’ve met someone? Since you’ve come to a tree?”
“Maybe all of them,” Namjoon says. “It’s been awhile since everything, actually.”
“That’s fine, then,” Seokjin says. “There’s still time to start again, you know. Names aren’t something you forget easily. That’s how people remember you, right?”
“Yeah,” Namjoon says quietly. He pauses. “I’m not really sure why I’m here, actually. I didn’t have much of a plan, I just had to go, and I just ended up here.”
“That’s no matter,” Seokjin says. “People come here for peace and quiet, sometimes. Other people end up here because they don’t know where to go. There’s a lot of reasons why people go places, and not always a reason why people go places.” He lifts a delicate shoulder in the semblance of a shrug. “Once you’re on a train, you don’t have to get off. You don’t always have to know where you’re going, either. Sometimes the train leads here -- you see that bus stop? There’s a bus that takes you right to the train station. On good days, when there’s no mist and it’s sunny, I can see the train station from here. The sunlight glints off the roof of the station and the train looks like a beam of light traveling through the fields.”
Seokjin smiles sadly, rests his head on the tree trunk. “You should come and watch, sometimes. It gets a bit lonely up here.”
“I promise,” Namjoon says, suddenly. “I’ll come up here again. I didn’t know why I came here this time, but next time. For this reason. I’ll definitely come here again. I’ll bring others, too- it’s too sad for you to just wait for me. Expect more people. I promise.”
“Thank you,” Seokjin. “But… you will come, right? A lot of people promise to come and go places. Sometimes they never go through with it. Sometimes they promise to come back, and they never do. I hate it when people make promises they can’t keep. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Namjoon.” He looks up at Namjoon, holding his gaze, unwavering and serene, as if he knows everything. “It hurts the most when people make promises they don’t keep, and never even say they can’t keep it.”
“I’ve made promises I couldn’t keep before,” Namjoon says, staring back at Seokjin. “I’m sorry for that. I know you hate that, now. But the promise to come back, the promise to bring friends back with me… I’ll keep that promise at all costs. I swear on everything I have left. I’ll do it.”
Seokjin laughs. “That’s a bit much to do for someone you’ve just met today,” he says. “We’ve literally only introduced ourselves, and here you are, making promises. It’s almost like Romeo and Juliet.”
“You remind me of someone,” Namjoon says, eyes traveling over the landscape. “I wish I could tell you who, and have you gasp in surprise. But you don’t know them. And they don’t know you. So it wouldn’t make any sense to tell you.”
“Is this nostalgia, then?” Seokjin asks. “Am I here to give you forgiveness in place of the person who isn’t there to give you forgiveness? Do you seek redemption from me in place of them?” He kneels down, gently brushing a thin layer of snow from the roots of the tree. Namjoon reaches for him, grasping his hands, pulling them away from the snow.
“Don’t,” he murmurs. “It’s cold, and your hands are bare. Your feet, too.”
“So they are,” Seokjin murmurs back, letting his wrists stay in Namjoon’s grasp. “So they are.”
“I’ll just have to bring shoes with me, then,” Namjoon says. “When I come back to visit. When I bring others to visit.”
“Again with visiting, and bringing others,” Seokjin says. “If you keep repeating it, it’ll lose all its meaning, Namjoon.”
“Everything has meaning,” Namjoon says. “I’ll repeat it as many times as I need, for you, Jin-hyung, and for me. That way we’ll remember it.”
Seokjin pulls his wrists gently out of Namjoon’s grasp and steps backwards from him. He points far, far away, towards the horizon.
“The train will be coming soon,” he says. “Soon we will see it come, like a long beam of light, making its way towards the station. Will you watch it with me, Namjoon?”
Namjoon pauses, staring towards the horizon. “No,” he finally says. “Not today. I’ve got some unfinished business to do. I can’t stay much longer. I’ll come back and watch it with you, with everyone else. For now, you’ll have to wait a bit longer, Jin-hyung. Wait for me to fulfill these two promises.”
“Alright,” Seokjin says softly. “I’ll wait. For you, always and forever, I’ll wait.”
Namjoon glances down at him, mouth twisting up into a half smile. “You won’t say anything about if I make you wait too long?”
“If it’s really a promise you’re going to keep,” Seokjin says, “then I’ll wait as long as it takes. I’ll wait for everyone, as long as it takes.” The pair stands in silence for a while, awkwardly, in the snow, eyes focused determinedly on the ground.
“I’ll miss you,” Namjoon says. “I’ll always miss you.” He laughs, an aborted, choked laugh. “Saying that will make me miss you more, thinking that will make me miss you more.”
“Go,” is all that Seokjin says. “Go, Namjoon, you’re running on limited time.”
“I’m running out of time,” Namjoon says. “I’ll see you again, Jin-hyung.”
Seokjin nods firmly. “You’ll see me again, Namjoon.”
Namjoon steps back once, twice, then turns around, pulling up his hood as if to draw it over his head, then letting it drop back to rest on his shoulders as he breaks out into a jog, moving swiftly down the path and away from the tree, never looking back. Jin watches his figure disappear in the sunlight, a hand resting on the tree trunk. He turns away from Namjoon, stepping lightly back to the spot he was at before, kneeling down to brush away a bit of snow near the roots to see the slab of rock that lies hidden under the snow. He bends down, brushing his lips against the cold surface of unmoving stone.
“Soon,” he whispers to the ground. “They’ll all be here soon, and we’ll be happy again, happy forever.”
Namjoon pays for his ticket in silence and steps onto the train. It’s midday, midweek and nearly empty, and passengers who are traveling at this time have urgent things to attend to (for why else would they be traveling in the middle of a workday?), and have chosen to seat themselves in private chambers towards the front of the train. The train is stalled, its conductor having left for a lunch break, and what few passengers that haven’t followed the conductor off are seated quietly in rooms, probably resting while they can.
A thought strikes him, unrealistic as it may be, and Namjoon is suddenly reminded of Jin pointing towards the train, of how he said he could see it clearly from the top of the hill. The impulse seizes him and he turns away from the path he was taking, turns tail and walks out of the more public cars at the end with their open benches and luggage shelves, and instead walks up towards the front and the private cars, passing closed doors and shadowy figures that are blurred by the frosty glass and curtains that hang within the doors to the private rooms.
He opens the door and steps out into the chilly air, onto the little platform with railing on the outside of the foremost car. From here he has a clear view of the tree, standing bare and alone across the snowy field that is dotted with brown where the snow layer hasn’t fallen thick enough. The sunlight reflects off what little snow there is and turns the field into a spread of sparkling crystals. He squints against the brightness and shades his eyes with one hand. Faintly, vaguely, he can see a light figure standing in the tree, the branches framing him and taking on the appearance of giant, skeletal wings. Uncaring of whether Jin can see him or not, Namjoon raises a hand in farewell, then his entire arm and waves slowly. Jin seems to raise a hand as well in return, and Namjoon feels warmth bloom in his chest.
Suddenly, the train jolts into motion -- the conductor must have returned and the final whistle must have blown without Namjoon noticing. Namjoon topples to the side, smacking against the iron of the railing and tripping over his crossed feet in the process, almost sending himself over onto the tracks in a flurry of windmilling arms. As he grips onto the railings and slowly hauls himself into a standing position, he thinks he can see the figure in the tree bent over and shaking. Probably Jin hunched over and laughing himself to death, his hiccuping laugh ringing through the air.
The train picks up speed and Namjoon holds tightly onto the railing, keeping his eyes fixated on the ever-shrinking tree as it fades into the distance, an empty frame of black against a grey-white sky. He imagines Jin, still seated in the tree, bare feet dangling, one hand resting on a tree branch and eyes fixated on the train, the column of light that speeds away carrying his first visitor in so long. Guilt finds its way into Namjoon’s chest and curls itself around his heart in a heavy lump.
The train speeds up further and Namjoon pulls the hood over his head, letting the cold wind buffet against the soft cloth rather than directly against his hair. He crosses his arms on the railing and rests his head on his arms, watching with unfocused eyes as the scenery blurs into white and grey and the sounds fade away into the rhythmic click-clack of the train wheels on the tracks. He wonders if Jin is still sitting in the tree, watching the train. He wonders if Jin is still waving at him, saying goodbye even though Namjoon cannot see him. He wonders if Jin is still smiling, still remembering the tumble Namjoon almost took.
The trip to the tree involves an overnight trip, so Namjoon just books himself an overnight car and drops into bed, managing to rinse and brush up, but ultimately too tired to properly bathe or undress, too tired to care either. He falls asleep, dreaming restlessly, expression twisting into grief as he lives through the memories he manages to escape during the day.
Seokjin remembers the last time everyone else was together. He was there to witness it, perhaps to even take part in it, if he so wished, but he stayed, for the most part, out of it, unwilling to join in. It seemed wrong, seemed disrespectful, seemed like he had no right to join in and pretend everything was okay and happy.
In the end, for the old times, he did throw something when everyone else did it, but it didn’t feel like it was him who was throwing it anymore. He remembers the joy, the screaming, remembers Namjoon standing in his birthday crown and holding back a smile and bracing himself as someone (Hoseok? Yoongi? Seokjin doesn’t remember too well, never has, never will) flings an entire cake at him.
Words that are not his, words at are his, thoughts that are not his, actions that are not his but are his at the same time -- they all come to mind, tumbling over each other like an avalanche, threatening to overwhelm him in their intensity. To distract himself, Seokjin looks up at the sky, watches how the falling snow blends into the clouds and lands on the branches. Usually people talk about piles of dust as a way to signify that a long stretch of time has passed, but there is no dust to pile up here now, not on a lonely tree in a snowy field. There is only snow that piles up, day after day. In the winter there is snow, plain and simple. Spring arrives and instead it is the cherry blossoms that replace the snowflakes, just as beautiful as the snow and far less colder, but Seokjin still feels the cold sadness in his chest when he watches the pale pink blossoms grow and die within a fortnight. Summer is when dust does pile up, but Seokjin carefully brushes away the dust from the stone and from the tree, determined not to let time claim back these precious objects. Autumn brings with it the falling of dead leaves, and Seokjin sits and watches the cocoon around him turn from green to red to orange, and watches as cracks appear and sunlight breaks through, watches as there is nothing left but empty branches to hide him. It continues, year after year, and while the world outside moves on and the trains keep running and people keeping dying and living, the world here, where the tree is, is frozen in time.
Seokjin wishes he could change it. Wishes he could leave this place, leave this frozen world behind, travel to the other side of the earth, where summer and sunshine and joy must undoubtedly be. If he could leave this place, travel to where everyone was…
The snow falls, faster now, and Seokjin holds his hand up, watches how the snowflakes fling themselves against his hand and then off the edge, glances up and watches the train fading away to a tiny black dot amongst the flurries.
“If I were the flying snow…” he whispers, “I could… reach you faster…” The snowflakes blow further away from him, and Namjoon is pulled further away from him as well, with so many others. Yoongi, Hoseok, Jungkook, Jimin…
“I miss you,” Seokjin says to the sky. “I miss you, Namjoon. How much more do I have to wait, Yoongi? How many more nights do I have to stay up, Hoseok? When can I see you, Jungkook? When can I meet you, Jimin?” He pauses, watches the figure who makes his way up the path for the first time in a long, long while. “Did you change, Taehyung?” Seokjin says to the snow. “Or did I change?”
“I guess we changed,” a low, deep voice speaks, and Seokjin turns his head to study the boy in dark blue and lighter blue, kneeling down in front of the tree. Seokjin watches silently as the boy brushes away the snow again, carefully digging it out from where it has collected, cold and stiff, in the carved letters. Kim , it spells out, and the boy stops digging, and moves over to where the image lies, imprinted into the stone and covered with a thin pane of glass to protect it.
“Don’t say that,” Seokjin says, dropping down from the tree. The boy doesn’t startle from his appearance, just moves over slightly so Seokjin can kneel down next to him. “Think of my feelings. When you say that, it just makes me miss you more. Why are you here today? Namjoon was just here. You missed him. You two could have talked.”
“I wasn’t going to come,” the boy admits. “But I thought I’d drop by, just to see how you and-” he gestures to the stone “-were doing. I’m looking at your picture, now, and it just reminded me of painful memories.”
“But you did come,” Seokjin says. “You did, Taehyung. Namjoon did too. So did Jungkook. But not at the same time.” They kneel together in silence for a while. “Did you know Namjoon made a promise today? He said he’d be back with everyone. Isn’t that nice, Taehyung? It’s been so long. Time is so cruel. Everyone was so close at the start, now… now it’s hard to even see each other’s faces.”
“I want to see them, hyung,” Taehyung says. “But it’s hard. I don’t think I can really reach them anymore, can I?” He smiles sadly. “I want so badly to see them all.”
“You will,” Seokjin says. “I have a good feeling this time. What you longed for will become real, after so long.”
“Is that so?” Taehyung says, and sits against the tree trunk. “How much longing do I have to experience?” He turns to Seokjin. “How much longing has to fall like snow before the spring days can come?”
Seokjin smiles and rests a hand on Taehyung’s bare head. “Not much longer, friend. So until we get past the end of this cold winter, until spring comes again, until the flowers bloom again, stay there a little longer? Okay?”
“Hey,” Namjoon says, awkwardly, standing outside the studio. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“It’s been awhile since a lot of things, if you want to say that,” Hoseok says mildly, stepping into his red shoes and straightening the backs. “What brings you here, after so long, to find me, Namjoon? Surely it’s not some kind of courtesy visit?”
“I’d like to say it is,” Namjoon says. “But it’s not, sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for that,” Hoseok says. “There’s no reason to. There’s too many people apologizing for things they don’t need to apologize for, these days.” He flashes a small smile. “That might’ve come off as rude.”
“It’s fine,” Namjoon says. “I have a request to make of you, actually. Or maybe a demand.” He sighs, runs a hand through his hair. “It is a demand. But I’d like you go to along with it willingly, happily, if you could.”
“That’s a bit of a contrast,” Hoseok comments, then, “Walk with me.”
They make their way down the street, the only light coming from the street lights that appear as soon as the previous disappears from Namjoon’s vision. Most stores are closed, and those that are still open are mostly late night restaurants that serve those who’ve been out drinking for too long.
“So, what’s your demand?” Hoseok asks.
“I made a promise,” Namjoon begins, and Hoseok groans. “Don’t make promises you don’t think you can keep,” Hoseok whines. “That’s something that definitely warrants apologizing, and I don’t even think you can apologize for making a promise you don’t keep.”
“I know,” Namjoon says. “But this is special. I went to visit and saw Jin-hyung the other day-”
“That’s new,” Hoseok says. “I think I’ve seen Jin-hyung maybe four times.” He falls silent, and they let the guilt sit between them for a while. “It’s horrible, I know,” says Hoseok. “But it’s just really painful. Every time I go visit, and I see Jin-hyung… I don’t like the memories it gives me.”
“So you avoid it, then?” asks Namjoon, tone more accusing than he means.
“Hey, you do it too,” Hoseok says, but his voice is joking and knows that Namjoon doesn’t mean any malice with his words. “But yeah. I avoid it. It’s my way of coping, I guess. We all have our ways, don’t we?”
“I mostly just move on,” Namjoon admits. “It’s happened. I can’t undo it. So there isn’t really a point in freaking out over it, I guess.”
“That’s probably one of the better ways,” Hoseok says. “See, I just ignore it all together. Yoongi-hyung tries to erase all of it, I think. Jimin… well, he’s been visiting the beach a lot. I’m a bit worried about him. Jungkook… he visits, and he goes to the beach, and sometimes with Jimin, so I think that could be alright.”
“I see,” Namjoon says. “So Jungkook goes and visits too, doesn’t he?”
“A lot more frequently than you, I think,” Hoseok says. “At any rate, I’m surprised you didn’t mention it. He went the same day as you did, so I was expecting you to run into him on the train or something.”
“No,” Namjoon says. “I didn’t. I thought I was alone on that train the whole time.”
“It seems like you weren’t alone, after all,” Hoseok says. He sighs, looking up at the sky. “Do you think he sees what we’re doing? Knows why we’re doing it?”
“I think so,” Namjoon says. “After all, he’s- Well, he isn’t alive anymore.”
“Yeah,” Hoseok says. “He’s always watching us, then. So that means that none of us are alone, are we? We’re never alone, as long as someone is watching over us. It’s reassuring.”
“I guess,” says Namjoon. “You think that’s why-?”
“If I were dead,” Hoseok says firmly, “I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer horribly because of my death. I’d also be worried about them. If I could protect them by lingering, I would. But I’m alive. And I don’t want them to linger. I think it’s too painful.”
He stops walking and turns to Namjoon. “Let me guess, Namjoon. Your request, demand, wish, whatever it is -- you want me to come with you to visit a grave. You want Yoongi-hyung to come with us. You want Jimin and Jungkook, too, you want Jin-hyung, you want Taehyung, you want us all, to be at a single grave, so we can let the dead move on, let ourselves move on.” He turns around and keeps walking. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Namjoon. And you probably made a promise when you visited, a promise to Jin-hyung , of all people, that you would bring us all together. And you’re staking everything on all of us agreeing to accompany you.”
“It sounds really pathetic when you say it like that, but yeah,” Namjoon admits. “All of that’s as true as it’ll get.”
“Alright,” says Hoseok. “I can roll with that. I’ll track down Yoongi-hyung, get him to agree, call up Jungkook to get Jimin… you can try and find Taehyung, I guess, with Jin-hyung-”
“I-wait, what?” Namjoon asks, halting. “You’re really-?”
Hoseok half turns and looks back at him, tilting his head slightly back so he can look him in the eyes. His left hand is shoved into a jacket pocket, his right hand hangs loosely at his side. A faint smile is on his lips. A faint smile that appears in vivid memories.
“Of course,” Hoseok says. “Anything for my friends.”
Yoongi opens the door of his apartment. Sees Hoseok’s face. Shuts the door again.
“Why are you here,” he groans, leaning against the door and pressing his palms against his eyes. He turns back around and peers through the peephole. Hoseok is still there. He sighs, letting his head thud against the door. There’s no escape, physically or mentally. This is what happens when you try and cut ties with the past.
He wrenches the door open. “Alright, Hoseok, what is it now?”
“You’ve got a job,” Hoseok says. “A duty. A responsibility.”
“Let’s not,” says Yoongi. “I’ve erased that part of me. It’s easier for all of us, less cruel than just hating that part of me, more reasonable than hatred, actually. Rather than feel the anguish, rather than taking that anguish on others, rather than being scarred by that anguish, that pain -- why don’t we just go on as if the anguish never happened? Forgive and forget, isn’t that what they say?”
“That’s flawed logic,” says Hoseok. “You should really stop lying to yourself, Yoongi-hyung. You miss him. You’ve never been able to erase him from your life. You haven’t erased him, or forgotten him, or let him go at all.”
“I hate you, you know that?” Is Yoongi’s response, but he’s giving in. Hoseok can see it. Deep down inside, Yoongi had felt horrible, and unable to deal with it alone or ask for help, he’d internalized it, carved it into himself. Then he’d cut off that part of him. Absorbing all the pain into himself. Then destroying a part of himself, so that he wouldn’t hurt others. But it hadn’t worked, and while Yoongi’s desperate to lessen the pain, he’s still not willing to ask others to help. Even reluctant to accept others’ help.
“I know you hate me,” Hoseok says. “I don’t really mind, though. What matters is that you don’t hate people who don’t deserve hatred. I certainly deserve some of your hatred, at this point, by showing up out of the blue and just throwing the painful past into your face.”
Yoongi laughs, but it’s short and dry and empty of joy. “You know it all.”
Hoseok smiles. “Of course. You’re my best friend.”
Yoongi slaps his shoulder, but he’s holding back a smile. “Let me clear things up,” he says. “It has been too long since we’ve been together. When are we leaving?”
“Just be ready,” Hoseok says. “I’ll come pick you up.”
He stands on the pier, stands on the wood, stares up at the sky, stares up at where a platform sits, high up, accessible only by a ladder. He reaches out, grips one of the rungs, feels the metal, cool and tangible and ungiving, feels it slowly warm up under his grip. He stares through the spaces between the rungs, and imagines a figure falling. Imagines a figure leaping. He imagines himself falling, imagines himself leaping.
“Please don’t,” a voice calls, and Jimin closes his eyes, pressing his forehead against the cold, dead metal. “Please don’t,” the voice says again, from above. “It’s not what you’re supposed to do. I wouldn’t like that at all.”
“You’re dead, hyung,” Jimin whispers to the sea. “I can’t hear your voice when you’re dead, hyung.”
“But you are,” Taehyung says, bare feet swinging in the air, the wind ruffling his hair. “You are hearing me. Or at least you think you’re hearing me. Isn’t that a message? That you shouldn’t do this?”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” mutters Jimin. “You’re just a figment of my imagination.”
“That just means it’s your imagination telling you what to do. You’re telling yourself what you want to do. Listen to yourself, for once. Why don’t you do that?”
“Shut up,” whispers Jimin. “Get away, get away from me. All of you,” he whimpers, gripping the rungs tight with both hands. “Just leave me alone-”
“We can’t leave you alone. Not like this,” a voice says, but it’s not Taehyung’s voice this time. The arms that embrace him, the chest that presses against his back, the head that rests against the side of his neck -- none of them are Taehyung’s. They’re solid, warm, decidedly alive.
“Jungkook,” Jimin finally says. “Why are you here?”
“Someone told me you’d be here,” Jungkook says. His face is hidden, pressed against Jimin’s shoulder, but Jimin can feel him smile a little bit. “They were right.”
“Really? Who was it?”
“Someone older than me.”
“We’re all older than you, Jungkook.”
Jungkook sighs, a tired exhale of breath unfitting for his age, and the warm air that rushes over Jimin’s neck makes him shiver ever so slightly. He’s reminded again that this is Jungkook, that this is life, that he is alive.
“Does it matter, Jimin-hyung?” Jungkook asks. “Someone told me you’d be here, so I came here, and I find you here, where Taehyung was so long ago, where we all were so long ago. I’m just glad that you weren’t on the platform when I found you.” He takes in a breath this time, shaky and trembling, and Jimin suddenly realizes.
“Shut up,” Jungkook says. “You don’t know how worried I was- I thought I’d lose you, too. I know I’m the youngest at that eventually I’ll have to experience this but- I wasn’t supposed to lose Taehyung, wasn’t supposed to lose Jin-hyung this early, was I? I couldn’t lose them this early. But I did, and it broke my heart. But even if I’m the youngest, I can’t escape the pain, so I tried to get over it. But it still hurts,” he whimpers, gripping Jimin tightly, as if he’s already convinced he’ll lose him. “I can’t lose you too. Please…”
“I’m sorry,” whispers Jimin. “I’m sorry. I promise I won’t do it again.”
“Promises are useless when you don’t intend to keep them,” Jungkook says. He spins Jimin around, grabs his shoulders, stares into his eyes. Jimin is suddenly reminded of how young Jungkook looks. How scared he looks, how despite the terror and sadness in his eyes, there’s some kind of resignation lying there. As if he’s ready to accept another loss. As if he doesn’t think he can stop anything anymore.
“Then you watch,” Jimin says, pulling Jungkook’s hands off his shoulders, gripping them tightly in his hands. “Then you just watch me, watch me live. And while you’re watching me, you live too, okay?”
Jungkook sobs once, twice, smiles through his tears, lets out a strange, hiccupy laugh. It hits Jimin hard, but he ignores it for now. That laugh is of the past, he tells himself as he smiles and pulls Jungkook into his arms, wraps his arms securely around those broad shoulders, sways soothingly side to side as if he’s comforting a small child. He looks across the beach and sees a boy sitting on the cab of a truck, sees a man in the driver’s seat. He blinks, once, slowly, and the entire image disappears. He closes his eyes and buries his face into Jungkook’s shoulders.
I’ll go see you, he thinks. So just… stay there a little longer. Wait a little longer.
“Cherry blossoms are blooming,” Jin says. He plucks a few, tiny pink blossoms and offers them to Taehyung. “Sit up here with me. We can see the train from here.”
“You’ve been watching trains for too long,” Taehyung says, but takes the offer, gently springing up from the ground and alighting on a branch. He carefully sits down and lets one leg dangle, leaving the other leg bent so he can rest his arm on it.
“Because they will come, one day,” Jin says. “The winter is ending. If I wait a little longer, then they’ll be here, for sure.”
“You’re suddenly very confident,” Taehyung says, but he seems as excited as Jin is. Maybe he feels it too, Jin thinks. “Any reason why?”
“If I stay up a few more nights,” Jin begins. “The morning will always come again, without fail, every night. And when morning comes, it’s another day of waiting. It’s monotonous. It gets boring. I want to give up. But what happens if I give up? Then they’ll never come. You’ll never see everyone again, together. I’ll never see everyone again, together. If I keep waiting, then eventually, we’ll see everyone again, together. Seasons will pass. Time will pass. Landscapes will change. People will change. Day shifts into night, night shifts back to day. No darkness, no season, can last forever -- and neither will this limbo we’re trapped in.”
Taehyung laughs brightly, and the sound of his laughter rings across the fields. He smiles up at the cherry blossoms, then jumps down from the tree, dancing and spinning as the wind blows and hundreds of petals shower down around him.
“Forever, we are young,” he sings, his voice soaring up into the air, over the fields, down an old iron train track. “Even when I fall and hurt myself, I keep running towards my dream…” he turns to Jin, still smiling, and Jin mirrors his acts, smiling and opening his mouth to sing too.
“Forever, ever, ever, ever… forever, ever, ever, we are young…”
The train rattles on, making its way through mountains once covered by snow, past the evergreen trees that stay vibrant despite the seasons, past a field of tiny flowers just beginning to bloom. Jungkook leans against the window and closes his eyes. He feels the cushion under his fingertips, listens to the ka-chink-ka-chink of the wheels, lets the quiet murmuring of others fade away into background static. The train passes through a tunnel, and he sighs, feeling a cold sensation rush across his skin as the sun fades from view. As the tunnel stretches on, he feels terrified, just for a moment, that it will never end, that he will spend the rest of time in darkness. But it passes - ends - and sunlight breaks through again, and he opens his eyes and looks through the window, then turns to survey the others.
Yoongi is sitting across the aisle from him, staring wistfully out the window, and Hoseok sits across from Yoongi, legs sticking out into the aisle, and he turns to his right to rouse Jimin, who’s dozing off with his hands around his knees and head pillowed on his arms. Namjoon sits in front of him, pressed against the side of the seat nearest the aisle, as if the space near the window is already occupied.
For a moment, he swears he can see Taehyung pulling the curtain on the window to the side, see him leaning to peer eagerly out the window. He thinks he sees Jin sitting opposite of Namjoon, a tender look on his face as his gaze passes over them all. He sighs contentedly. A dream, he thinks, and lets his eyes close once more.
“We’re here,” Jimin breathes, wrenching open the door of the train and leaping off onto the platform. He rushes to the gate, running into the field where a wave of flowers slowly covers the ground. He breathes in deeply, and holds his hands up to his mouth so he can blow warm air on them.
“Come on,” Jimin smiles, beckoning to them all. He turns and runs, fluffy blue sweater trailing behind him, a beautiful light blue that mirrors the sky. Hoseok grins and jogs after him, pulling along Yoongi, who doesn’t seem to mind the extra effort for once in his life. Namjoon follows after them, and lastly, Jungkook.
Jimin runs up to the tree that’s covered in cherry blossoms, and kneels down to brush away the petals from the grave. He meticulously brushes dirt off the stone, even pulls some wipes out from a pocket to clean out the carvings and scrub away the dirt.
Kim Taehyung , the letters read, almost glowing in the sunlight. Jimin scrubs at it more, and below it, in smaller script:
“It’s been too long,” Jungkook says. “I’m sorry you had to wait this long, Jin-hyung, Taehyung-hyung. But we made it here, we made it at last.”
“It’s nice to see you again,” Hoseok says. Yoongi nods, clears his throat.
“I’m sorry about trying to forget you before,” he says quietly, kneeling and running his hands across the smooth stone. “I’ll never do it again, I promise. This is a promise I’ll keep. You can be sure of it.”
“Jin-hyung,” Namjoon says, gazing up at the tree. He doesn’t see Jin there anymore - isn’t sure if he ever will again - but he looks up anyways. “I managed to fulfill my promise after all. Isn’t that nice?” He smiles blindingly, dimples out in full force, and he swears he can hear Jin’s offended gasp and Taehyung’s muffled laughter.
Jungkook steps forward, places down a small pot and sets up incense, lights it. They stand in silence for awhile, watching the smoke rise into the air.
“Oh, right,” says Jimin, and steps forward. He pulls out a pair of shoes, pale blue, and leaves them next to the gravestone, wrapped in a clean cloth. “Here. Taehyung… I think you were wearing shoes when you… so I didn’t bring a pair, sorry, but Jin-hyung… I thought you might need a pair for the winter, even if you don’t need it, just for appearance's sake, I guess?” He laughs nervously. “I know, it’s stupid-”
“I love it,” someone says, and suddenly Jin is there, standing before them, white wings spread wide and arms open. He pulls Jimin into his arms, smiling wider than ever before. “Thank you, Jimin.”
“No present for me?” Taehyung asks jokingly, peeking out from behind Jin’s wings. “Really, Jimin, the least you could do-”
“I did!” Jimin shrieks, “It’s-”
“No, wait,” Taehyung says, leaping forward and snatching Jimin’s hat off his head. He twirls it around, holding onto it with the knitted strings sewn onto the hat. “I want this . You won’t begrudge me this, will you?”
Jimin huffs and pouts, crossing his arms and turning his head away. It only lasts a second, though, and Jimin is running and throwing himself into Taehyung’s arms, and Taehyung lets out an “oomph” as he crashes back against Jin. Namjoon runs forward to catch Jin’s head before it hits the tree trunk, as Jungkook dives to protect the pot of incense and Yoongi dashes forward to keep Jungkook’s head from being kicked. Hoseok just laughs and throws himself at the group, sending them all crashing into the ground in an eruption of pink blossoms rising up into the air around them.
They broke apart in autumn, their friendship falling to pieces, crumpled and abandoned on the ground like dead leaves. They stayed distant and cold in the winter, their lives frozen in ice as they existed in limbo, unable to let go and unable to go back. They came together again, and flourished in the spring, their connections reappearing like the budding leaves on a tree, and their laughter ringing out into the world, bright and happy like the sunshine of an eternal summer, carefree and devoid of pain.