(6th Cycle of the Mourning Song series.)
6th Cycle: A Frozen Smile
It was always hard to let people get close.
To let down my guards and let them see me.
It was always hard to speak my mind.
It gave too many ways for vulnerability.
Darkness surrounded him. He could see the essence of a soft glow of light beyond his closed eyes. He could feel warmth wrapped around him even as he felt as cold as death. He could tell how small he was beneath the blanket, knew his bones jutted out where they should’ve been hidden and smoothed out by muscle and natural fat. He tried to grasp strands of his memories, tried to remember what happened before he was surrounded, blanketed by darkness.
He felt warmth again, different than the blanket. Rough, callused. He felt a brush against his forehead, his cheek. He felt strong bands wrap around the hand he distantly felt. The bands were strong and still; exactly what he needed when he felt so confused, so lost, so shattered. He wanted to cry out, wanted to open his eyes, but he didn’t have enough strength. He tried to move, knew he moved at least a bit. The warmth was gone suddenly and he was left bereft.
He had felt a strength he no longer found in himself. He had felt a warmth he could not find from the sun. His darkness was lit with wisps of white, of light and, dare he remember? Colour? He caught ghosts of memories belonging to that warm strength and they were filled with colours. Colours so bright it blinded him, made him envy the other for knowing colours as his own memories were completely in greyscale.
It had been over two years since he last saw colours. He remembered when first he lost the ability to see green. He had tried in vain to see the deep shades of the summer leaves, of the pale green of dew-covered lawns and had refused to leave the house for all of spring and summer.
Afterwards, the rest of his colours had disappeared fast in painful succession. Yellow and orange were ripped from the rays of sunlight he chanced to see outside of windows. Autumn leaves, which he had anticipated to see after the warmth of summer had drained away were suddenly seeped of colour. He had desperately searched for red in the leaves left to him. The last he remembered of red, of bright red, solid red, healthy red, bold red… the last he saw of the beautiful colour was as he watched blood slowly flow from a hanging bag to a needle inserted into his arm.
Then there was no more. Then there was darkness in his world without it being dark.
The memory of his world of grey shades, forced him to open his eyes to the soft light beyond his closed lids. The memory of his dark descent, forced him to seek the source of that peculiar, warm strength that made him remembered, forced him to recall what he had lost and that which he mourned so much everyday.
“Mijoon,” he said quietly, hoping the accusation was hidden from his tone, his eyes. He glanced around the dark room, lit by a single lamp on a desk. The crawling darkness, the diffused light, seemed all familiar from long ago. He looked back at his assistant, “My room?”
“It seemed safer to have the blood be brought here for a transfusion than transferring you to the hospital,” Mijoon said simply, sitting in a chair by his bedside, one knee crossed over the other; “The nurses just left. They’ll be back in a few minutes to take your vitals again.”
Slowly, weakly, Kyuhyun rolled his head along his pillow to look at his arm still outstretched along his side, his hand palm-up. The small band-aid on the crook of his elbow the only evidence of his condition. He closed his eyes a moment, raising his other hand to lay across his eyes, not allowing himself to sense even the light beyond his closed lids.
“This all seems so familiar,” he murmured,
“It should, you get one transfusion a month,” Mijoon replied dryly, propping his elbow on the armrest and leaning his jaw against his fist.
He hadn’t left Kyuhyun’s side since he had caught the fallen man just hours ago. He had lifted him high against his heart beneath the sun and knew he had to act quickly. He had shielded the younger man with his body and ran back into the house as if his life counted on it. Perhaps not his life, but certainly his h…
“I know that, but a different familiar,”
“That makes so much sense, Young Master,” Mijoon said in a flat tone,
“Just now I half-expected someone else to be sitting there,” Kyuhyun explained slowly, tentatively, feeling his way around the ends he was trying to grasp at in his mind.
“Who?” Mijoon questioned, his voice low, deep like a soft, deadly growl.
“A few weeks ago there was a young woman at the house visiting with Mother. When we were talking about my transfusion I just… I don’t know, half-expected to see her in the room,” Kyuhyun slowly lowered his hand from his face and opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling. He laughed quietly, self-mockingly, “Silly, I know.”
“Why would you expect to see that woman in your room?” Mijoon inquired, his tone even, plain, empty.
“What if I told you I might have a sister?” Kyuhyun asked tentatively, the worlds feeling odd on his tongue. Odd but not wrong; certainly not that. Never that.
“Might? Your parents never mentioned another child to me when I was hired,” Mijoon stated, curiosity seeping into his tone, softening the growl into oblivion.
“I overheard her and my mother talking,” Kyuhyun explained, turning his head to look over at Mijoon, their gazes locking immediately, instinctively; “Pieces, words, but the only plausible conversation would be if she was my sister. I don’t understand it, but I think my parents wronged her. Well, if I don’t even know about my own sister, then that in itself shows how she’s been wrong, don’t you think?”
“But if this is the first time you’ve seen her, how could you say you expected her to be sitting here?” Mijoon asked,
“Perhaps I met her before –”
Kyuhyun looked away then, staring at the wall beside his bed. Mijoon had been the one to stay real with him, to be truthful with him. Mijoon had been the one to be everything strong and right in his world when all others denied the truth and allowed him to suffer and weaken alone. Despite it all, he had wanted to keep this secret, wanted to keep at least some bit of normalcy
“Kyuhyun,” he said softly, gently, “Finish your sentence.”
“Don’t make me say it,” Kyuhyun replied, hating the begging tone in his voice,
“You think there is a part of you I do not know?” Mijoon probed tentatively, carefully; “I have known and watched you for a year, Kyuhyun. There is no need for you to hide a part of yourself from me.”
“I think she may have given me a blood transfusion before,” Kyuhyun answered slowly, hesitantly, still facing the wall; “I… I don’t know – no… I don’t remember when, but that must be why I thought she’d be here.”
Silence settled between them for a moment. Kyuhyun was tempted to turn his head, to look at the older man. He needed to know, needed to see the knowledge in those dark eyes. He had to understand what the other was thinking, feeling. He had to look at him and yet, couldn’t allow himself to do so.
“Your parents never told me,” Mijoon said then, “I figured it out just by talking to you… there’s only a certain point in your life you talk about. Anytime before that is never mentioned.”
“My earliest memory was waking up in a small, empty room by myself,” Kyuhyun admitted, his voice barely above a whisper; “I remember buildings and places. I remember objects and movements but… not people. Never people. There are wide gaps, spaces, blanks beyond that which have all faded now. I cannot remember beyond that small room.”
“Where were you?” Mijoon asked quietly, afraid that speaking louder would somehow ruin the atmosphere between them and would cause Kyuhyun to withdraw behind his usual wall once again;
“School… Shim Jang Academy,” Kyuhyun answered, “I remember the name and how it looks. I remember several names, but their faces have long slipped from my memory. I don’t even remember what caused my amnesia, but the doctors say my illness has made it progressive, permanent.”
“You remember names?” Mijoon asked, slightly surprised,
“Yes, a handful, but that’s more than I can usually remember,” Kyuhyun answered,
“Your bracelet,” Mijoon reminded hesitantly, “That engraving… could it, too, be a name?”
Kyuhyun thought about it, reaching with his right hand to his left, tentatively fingering the silver bracelet there. Ever since he had awoken in that small room, alone, he had met people who knew his name. Their faces, long gone from his mind, their names etched in his memory. He recalled promising to remember their names because they knew his. Now, three years later, he wished he had promised to remember their faces also. He searched his memory for the name, a building hope within him trying to find it, desperate, as if he should know the name, remember it and cherish it.
“I don’t know,” Kyuhyun said quietly, forcing himself not to look away from Mijoon’s gaze, dark and glinting peculiarly in the dimness of the room, not wanting to admit he didn’t remember what the bracelet said.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me before now? Granted, I figured it out, but still…” Mijoon leaned back in the chair, loosely crossing his arms about his torso,
“Because it’s not normal… nothing about me is normal and I just… at least one thing between us, I wanted to be normal,” Kyuhyun admitted; “And I didn’t know if I could trust you.”
“And now I’ve forced that trust upon you,” Mijoon stated cynically,
“No… I wouldn’t have told you anything if I hadn’t wanted to,” Kyuhyun shook his head slightly, closing his eyes immediately after as his world suddenly spun and tilted with dizziness. “I wanted to trust you, Mijoon… chose to trust you. This past year, I’ve learned where your loyalty lay and it was not to my parents as I previously presumed.”
“You thought…” Mijoon’s words trailed off, his jaw visibly dropping slightly as he leaned forward in his seat, disbelief evident in expression and tone;
A knock on the bedroom door signalled the return of the nurses. Mijoon looked from the door to Kyuhyun who had flung a forearm over his closed eyes.
“The nurses are back,” Mijoon said pointlessly, noting immediately the even and shallow breathing; Kyuhyun had slipped back into sleep.
Mijoon called for the nurses to enter. He stood from his chair and backed into the recesses of the room, into the fringes of light and shadow to allow the nurses their space. He turned his back on the scene and slipped from the room, closing the door firmly at his back. Without so much as a turn of his head, he knew he was alone in the corridor.
Taking a small, cellular phone from his pocket, Mijoon sighed as he stared down at it clasped loosely in his hand. He dialled a number knowingly, his thumb hovering over the ‘call’ button. For a moment, he closed his eyes and sighed heavily. For a moment, he allowed his thoughts to penetrate his awareness, allowed the conversation he just had with Kyuhyun to repeat in his mind. For a moment, he held Kyuhyun’s last words close to him, hugged them before allowing them to slip away and be pushed to the back.
“I don’t deserve your trust,” he whispered as he pushed away from the door.
He pressed the ‘call’ button and raised the phone to his ear. The other end of the line rang. He paused and looked back at the bedroom door. The call was picked up from the other end and he turned away from Kyuhyun’s door. Without another backward glance, without hesitance, he continued on and escaped down the empty hallway.
All the while, he spoke on the phone, Kyuhyun’s last words silenced from his mind.
But there you were,
keeping me strong,
keeping me brave,
saying "you can reach higher".
There you were.
It was way too hard when my heart first broke.
To let someone in only to have them prove me right.
It was way too hard to get up again,
To face the world and get back my will to fight.
A week later; end of October 20XX
Sitting at his desk, he was slouched over so his forehead was on the desk, while he could still see his cellular phone in his lap. One arm wrapped around his stomach, his other hand loosely held his phone, the screen the only light in the windowless office. He had just finished another board meeting and, after hours of more droning suits, he was quite ready to ban all board meetings when he controlled Jo Shipping Company.
When? No… If, he decided cynically, was the better word.
‘You think you have it bad – I just spent 2 hours in a boring meeting’ he typed on the phone, sending it off immediately.
He didn’t expect a reply and, belatedly, he realized how selfish his text was. Shouldn’t he have said ‘hi’ or ‘how are you?’ rather than jumping immediately into the topic at hand? Regardless of their occasional text messages to one another, he didn’t think they were at the stage of friendship where he could presume to just –
‘… I have crazy fans sending me all kinds of messages. I win.’
He laughed softly, slightly startled at getting a reply and so soon. He immediately typed in another message: ‘That doesn’t mean you win – hey! Am I one of those crazy fans?’
He tensed up then. Was he? Granted, they did exchange numbers and at her request but… was he assuming too much? Maybe she was just being friendly and he took it the wrong way. He was a crazy fan, but did she see him as that also? What if she just replied to be nice again and –
‘Yes. But I said it was ok before. What do you think is the craziest thing I could reveal to the world in an interview?’
‘Why? Are you going into an interview today?’
‘Yes. Answer the question.’
‘I guess anything. You’ve only had one interview since you debuted.’
‘Stalker.’ Kyuhyun’s jaw literally dropped and he breathed a sigh of relief when he got a message immediately after that one reading: ‘I’m kidding.’
‘Is there something you want to reveal to the world? It doesn’t have to be crazy. Are you going to tell them you’re kind of married?’ He sent,
‘Oh yeah, maybe I should reveal that first.’
‘What were you going to reveal?’
‘…I think I should say it to my husband before telling you.’
Kyuhyun ruminated over the last text. Say it to her husband? His mouth could not widen any more. Surely… surely she didn’t mean –
“Young Master – Kyuhyun!? Are you okay!?”
Kyuhyun slowly raised his head from the desk, straightening in his chair, “Yes, why?”
Mijoon was already at his side, staring down at him, “Because your head was down and the lights are off…”
“You know how I crash after a transfusion,” Kyuhyun shrugged,
Mijoon strode over and turned on the lamps in the office, deciding the Young Master would prefer their soft glows than the bright office lights. He walked back to Kyuhyun’s side, crossing his arms about his torso, “Why didn’t you alert me sooner? I would have gotten you something. Tea, at least.”
“You were already off on your errand –”
“I would have came back –”
“I didn’t want to bother you –”
Mijoon’s hand shot out, capturing Kyuhyun’s jaw in his firm grip. He forced the younger man to look up at him, held his gaze, silently daring him to try to look away; “It is no bother to me and do not ever presume to think so. Your health will always - always - come before anything else.”
“You mean… any of your duties,” Kyuhyun stammered, desperately trying to keep a hold of his senses as he stared up at the older man, finding himself drawn to those dark eyes, feeling as if he could drown in them and be happy forever.
“No, Kyuhyun, I mean anything,” Mijoon stated quietly, fiercely, his words like a soft, threatening caress.
Kyuhyun distantly wondered – hoped – that Mijoon would lean in and kiss him. He recalled the last kiss, recalled the warmth that seeped into him, into his soul and seemed to wrap around his heart he often forgot about. He recalled the feel of those firm lips against his own, demanding yet asking, pushing yet patient. Absent-mindedly, he slowly began to lean forward.
Mijoon stared down at the Young Master and realized immediately the moment the younger man capitulated; realized immediately how easy it would be. He could kiss him, hold him and the younger man wouldn’t push him away, run away. He could have the Young Master, surely completely, and it would be easy. Too easy. His heart ached painfully at the thought.
He saw the subtle leaning of the younger man and, with every bit of his strength, stopped himself from leaning also. Oh, how that was difficult. He wanted to kiss him again, wanted to feel those soft lips. He wanted that tender curiosity of someone so obliviously innocent. But he stopped himself.
He ran the pad of his thumb across Kyuhyun’s bottom lip, “Now isn’t the time,” he murmured while his subconscious screamed that it was, that he waited too long and should take what was his, what he deserved. Slowly inhaling, he forced his fingers to loosen their hold and, slowly, ever so slowly, released Kyuhyun’s jaw. He retreated to the safe distance of the chairs before Kyuhyun’s desk and gracefully sat down; “I have the information you sought.”
It took Kyuhyun a heartbeat – perhaps three, no, five, heck, maybe it was a hundred heartbeats – for the other man’s actions and words to seep in. He blinked several times as he looked at the older man before settling for an ungraceful, “Huh?”
“There are no records – anywhere – of your mother having another child. I assure you, I’ve checked everywhere, but the only record of your mother even being in a hospital was when you were born,” Mijoon revealed.
Kyuhyun absorbed the words, leaning back in his chair. His right hand absentmindedly fingered the bracelet on his left wrist, his fingers slowly stroking the engraved lines over and over again. The metal was warm after being pressed against his skin for endless hours, but its smooth surface comforted him, calmed him as he reigned in his thoughts, his emotions.
He wasn’t sure what it was, but he had gotten into the habit of playing with the silver bracelet, long before Mijoon even read the characters to him. He wondered distantly if those were the right – no, they had to be, he could feel it. That in itself was astonishing considering his lapse in memory, but he knew his instincts couldn’t be wrong in this.
He wished, desperately so, that he could remember what the characters were. He wanted to ask Mijoon again, but at the same time, he didn’t want to draw attention to it again, didn’t want to give special meaning to something that may not deserve it. Why should he become sentimental over a bracelet that eluded his memory so desperately? Surely, if it were important, he could remember what it said like those names he recalled without the matching faces.
“There’s nothing?” Kyuhyun asked, finally looking up at the older man again and pushing away idle thoughts about his bracelet.
“Well, not nothing. There’s nothing in regards to your parents, but I did manage to get a photo of her and did a little digging,” Mijoon answered, “Interestingly enough, her name is Jo Kyuri.”
“Jo? She must be my sister!” Kyuhyun explained,
“Calm down,” Mijoon laughed lightly, the pain in his heart easing at the Young Master’s outburst; “She works for the government – not sure what she does, but that’s what I got. She was transferred here from the Japanese government but is married to a Korean. A Kim Kibum.”
“You found out quite a lot from a photo,” Kyuhyun stated, surprised,
“You knew her first name,” Mijoon shrugged, “It was all a matter of asking around and contacting my, well, contacts.”
“Jo Kyuri… she must…” Kyuhyun suddenly dropped his phone to the ground as both hands shot to his head, holding it as he curled inward. He gritted his teeth hard, stopping himself from crying out as pain shot through his skull.
“Kyuhyun!” Mijoon exclaimed. He jumped out of his chair and was at Kyuhyun’s side in a heartbeat. He knelt at his side, turning the chair so it faced him as his hands gently covered Kyuhyun’s, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“It’s like a … a migraine,” Kyuhyun grounded out as shook violently, positive that his skull were splitting apart or that it would explode, “Worse… so much… worse.”
Kyuhyun suddenly fell from his chair, it rolled away violently, crashing into a wall. Mijoon immediately pulled him into his embrace, wishing he knew what was happening, knew what he could do. He held the younger man firmly, protectively, at least wanting him to stop shaking; “Let me take you home, Kyuhyun –”
“NO!” Kyuhyun exclaimed trying to pull away then, “No! I… I can’t leave work! NO! I won’t leave!”
“Please, Kyuhyun, please let me do something - anything,” Mijoon pleaded, not caring how scared, how weak he sounded. He wanted to feel useful in some way, no matter how small. He wanted to take away the pain, wanted to comfort and soothe, wanted to be the one the Young Master depended upon.
Kyuhyun saw it then.
He saw shadows seeping in. He saw red everywhere. He saw blood, he saw dead bodies. He felt deep sadness, bottomless sorrow. He felt the urge to push it all away, felt the urge to forget the death surrounding him. He looked down at his hands covered in blood. He felt the ruthless resolve to push all his emotions away, to remove all reactions, all feelings, all warmth. He walked away from the scene, not even bothering to clean up the horrid mess. He passed a mirror and the silver light of the moon lit up his reflection.
Kyuhyun forcibly pulled himself out of the older man’s arms, his body crying out from the loss of heat, of strength and protection. His heart cried over the visions that had filled his head, assaulted everything he knew – no, thought he knew about this man.
“STAY AWAY FROM ME!” He cried, the hot sting of tears burning his eyes as he tried desperately to scramble away from the other man, all the while still holding his pounding head.
“Kyuhyun – what… what do you mean?” Mijoon asked as he slowly crawled towards the younger man, slowly closing the distance between them, hoping the other’s hysteria blinded him from how close he was getting.
“Stay… Stay back!” Kyuhyun warned, clenching his eyes closed against the pain, against the bloody images practically burned in his mind.
Mijoon practically lunged at him then, grasping the younger man’s wrist, firmly holding him, catching him against the wall. He held Kyuhyun’s wrists against the wall, he knees outside of the other’s as he pressed his torso against the Young Master’s in an attempt to restrain him, to still and calm him.
“Kyuhyun – listen to me – you have got to calm down!” Mijoon hissed, silently thanking God he had locked the office door when he had entered.
“NO! NO! GET AWAY FROM ME!” Kyuhyun cried out, thrashing as best he could, not getting much leverage while kneeling and the older man physically restraining him.
Mijoon silenced Kyuhyun the best way he knew. He kissed him.
His lips were firm, unrelenting. He forced the kiss on the younger man, his fingers practically digging into Kyuhyun’s wrists. He straightened on his knees, pressing his body firmly against the other’s, sandwiching him securely against the wall, allowing for no movement. His lips moved against Kyuhyun’s, demanding more and more from the younger man, his tongue slipping in without so much as a warning or permission. He tasted him ruthlessly, aggressively, drinking him in and forcing him to take, accept his kiss. He took all he wanted and forced Kyuhyun to take what he offered.
Kyuhyun had started out fighting the older man. But slowly, slowly, he distantly tried to remember why he was fighting, why he wanted to push him away. He desperately tried to grab at ends of memories that had previously seemed permanent. Now, however, he was assaulted by different thoughts. He saw images of him and the older man together, their bodies coming together as one. He suddenly wanted that, wanted to be all he saw in Mijoon’s thoughts and desires. He wanted to feel the other man’s skin against his own, wanted to feel his mouth on him, on his skin, on everything. He wanted to taste the man, taste his skin, taste everything.
Mijoon broke the kiss then and Kyuhyun was left gasping. His mind was reeling as he replayed the images in his head, his face heated like an inferno as he acknowledged that he had just seen into Mijoon’s deepest desires. He heated even more at the thought of wanting to make those desires come true.
A part of his mind screamed then. It rebelled and tried in vain to remind him of the first images – memories? – he had seen. They eluded him as more heated thoughts slipped in and around his mind.
“Are you calm now?” Mijoon asked quietly, his voice grave,
Kyuhyun didn’t even try to speak. He knew his voice was long gone and all he could think about was what he had seen in Mijoon’s thoughts. As if the older man read his thoughts, Mijoon released his wrists immediately, crawling back a few inches so they were no longer touching even a little bit.
“Kyuhyun, what happened? Does your head still hurt?” Mijoon questioned firmly, tentatively, scared to touch him,
“No… it’s like it never happened,” He murmured, startled to realize that the pain had gone, swiftly and completely disappeared.
“Why did you want me to stay away from you?” Mijoon asked then, a hesitance in his tone and expression; “What did I do?”
Kyuhyun opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. After a few silent seconds, he said quietly, “I don’t know… I don’t… I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember? I know your memory… but this happened just minutes ago,” Mijoon said, concern drenching his words, his tone, his entire being.
Mijoon’s words rang true, hit too close to Kyuhyun’s heart. His memory did lapse, but never so immediately, so suddenly. Why? Why was his memory getting worse than before? And what was that headache? It had never happened to him in the past… No… No, it couldn’t be…
He slouched down against the wall until his bottom hit the floor. He curled his knees to his chest as he bowed his forehead to his knees, his arms wrapping around his bent legs. The tears burning his eyes now were not from pain.
“Kyuhyun? Kyuhyun –”
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” He asked quietly, hating how scared, how weak his voice sounded; “I always talk so blatantly about my illness but… but talking about it and… and living it…”
“You will not die,” Mijoon stated firmly, his words a low growl as he continued to keep a small distance between them, “I won’t let you!”
“How long, Mijoon?” He asked as if the other hadn’t said anything, “How long until I die? Until I can’t fight anymore? I’m so tired, Mijoon… so, so, so tired. Sometimes I think it’d be easier to just…”
“No, Kyuhyun, no! You are not allowed to give up, do you hear me!?” Mijoon demanded, suddenly grasping the younger man’s upper arms, his hold unbreakable, his fingers digging almost painfully; “You are not allowed to just let this get to you! I will not let you die, Kyuhyun, I won’t! I’ll find a way, I promise you. I’ll find a way to make everything better and you will not die!”
“What if you can’t? What if I die anyway?” Kyuhyun asked quietly, slowly raising his eyes to look up at the older man in the dim light; “What if there’s nothing left for me but death?”
Mijoon’s dark eyes searched his before he stated simply, sternly, “Then I will follow you into death.”
You, Jo Kyuhyun, are hereby sentenced to always talk to me if something is bothering you… if something worries you… if something scares you.
The words floated into Kyuhyun’s head, burst into his consciousness as if some door had been unlocked, as if the words had been banging against a closed door trying desperately to be free, to be acknowledged. The words were familiar, warm, comforting. Something was bothering him. He was worried and he was definitely scared. Who had said these words to them? Who had offered him solace? He looked up at Mijoon and knew he wanted these things from this man. He wanted to hear this man say these words to him.
You are sentenced to always share with me your anger, your sadness and your happiness. You are sentenced always to remain at my side… in good times and bad. You are sentenced to spend forever with me.
Forever. Was there even such a concept? Could he even want, wish, hope for forever? He knew he was dying, knew it was only a matter of time when his body gave up even if his will continued to fight. Did he even want forever and, if he did, who was he supposed to spend forever with? Who had wanted forever with him?
His mind spiked with pain and he blinked away the words allowing them to slip back slowly behind the locked door again. His gaze was locked with Mijoon’s. Whoever it was that wanted forever with him was not there, had clearly broken his promise, vow, whatever it was for forever. But Mijoon was here. Mijoon was with him and, more or less, was promising the same thing. Could he chance another forever with this man? Did he even want forever with this man?
‘Please stay with me’
‘I want to… Love you… forever.’
The words floated through his mind suddenly, quickly and were gone. What was that? Who had said that? Why were they suddenly replaced with more pain and then… nothing.
“Kyuhyun… please, stop crying,” Mijoon said softly, almost pleadingly. His hands raised to his face, cupping his jaw as his thumbs brushed away the tears now slipping down the sides of his face.
He returned to the present, to the man before him now. Mijoon stared at him with worry, fear and some other warm, elusive emotion that Kyuhyun couldn’t quite name; couldn’t quite dare to acknowledge. He didn’t know about Mijoon following him into death, but the thought of Mijoon being there until the end, well, that was a different kind of forever, wasn’t it? It was just as good.
‘I... I love you… I should have said it before now… should have said it so many times… but you already knew… you always knew.’
Suddenly, Kyuhyun launched himself at Mijoon, wrapping his arms around his torso and burying his face against his shoulder. Slowly, hesitantly, the assistant embraced him back, his arms like strong bands of metal, immoveable. Kyuhyun relaxed then. He forgot about the pain, about the visions. All he thought about was that moment in those arms with that man and how he wished he wasn’t dying so that maybe, maybe, he could wish for forever.
‘I have always loved you, Kyuhyun… But you already knew that.’
The words blazed in his mind like bright fire, extinguished then by pain and then covered by darkness. The bracelet on his left wrist felt heavy, warm against his skin. He raised his head and looked at the assistant through the dimness. Without words, without thought, without doubts, Kyuhyun lifted his lips and pressed them against the other’s.
His mind was a mess. His life was a mess. His memories had suddenly begun to haunt him, but he couldn’t think about them now. He had Mijoon and another chance of forever. The last person, whoever it was, had broken his promises. Now, there was Mijoon.
Kyuhyun pulled back from the kiss, his gaze sweeping over the older man’s face, taking everything in almost as if he were engraving each line, each curve, each detail into his memory so that there’d be at least one thing he’d never forget. Mijoon stared down at him silence, waiting and Kyuhyun felt as if he could hear the other man’s heart beating in time with his own.
“Will I get in trouble for kissing the Young Master?” Mijoon quipped, a slight smile on his lips.
“Yes,” Kyuhyun replied, his tone serious, “Your punishment is to spend forever with me.”
Mijoon’s smile disappeared then, a startled, confused look crossing his face at the odd, peculiar wording of the heir. His gaze bore into Kyuhyun’s as if trying to find something, understand something. The Young Master’s words echoed in his mind. They were strange, but, coming from the younger man, they seemed instinctive, familiar. So, he accepted them, acknowledged them as a part of Kyuhyun.
“I accept,” Mijoon swore, his tone equally solemn as he lowered his mouth to the other man.
Kyuhyun allowed his eyes to close as he felt those familiar lips against his own again. He exhaled into the kiss, not realizing until then how scared, how worried he had been that Mijoon would reject him, would turn him down. The words had come from his lips before he could stop them, before he could understand them. He had said it so weird, but it felt right, felt familiar. It was arrogance on his part, a command, demand and not a question at all, as if he wouldn’t accept anything less from his assistant.
‘Love you… forever.’
Pain flashed through his mind, but when it disappeared with the memory of those words, he didn’t fight it, didn’t try to grab at them again. He let the memory slip away and concentrated on the present, the now. He resisted the sudden, almost desperate, urge to look at his bracelet and read the words he could never remember.
But there you were,
keeping me safe,
keeping me sane,
saying "you are a survivor".
There you were.
And now I finally see,
why you expected so much of me.
Now, I'm living my life so free.
And there you were,
keeping me strong,
keeping me brave,
saying "you can reach higher".
There you were.
It was just before midnight when Kyuhyun came into the park. It was getting colder and colder as winter drew closer. He had finally begun to accept the jacket the Head Butler had begun to hand him as he headed out the door during his midnight escapades. Dressed in black jogging pants and a thick, white hooded sweater beneath his black jacket, he had made his way to the park with his sketchbook tucked beneath his arm, his fingers clasping his drawing tools in his pocket.
However, when he reached the playground, he found he was not alone. Near the jungle gym on one of the swings was a man who couldn’t be too much older than himself. Hesitantly, Kyuhyun walked forward. He should have turned back and left, he should have stopped at the jungle gym, but he continued on, almost drawn to the man’s side. The man looked up at him.
He had dark, short hair. His face was youthful, but Kyuhyun felt, almost knew, that he was older. But the eyes were what struck him. Dark, fox-like, Kyuhyun distantly imagined what they looked like when alit with mischief or creased during laughter. He stood there with the stranger looking up at him and Kyuhyun suddenly realized he had nothing to say and didn’t know why he had approached him in the first place.
“Did you… want to sit down?” The older man asked, his voice a soft tenor on the late-autumn wind.
Kyuhyun nodded stiffly and sat on one of the empty swings beside the man. They sat in silence for a moment, Kyuhyun blatantly staring at the other man. When the other man looked at him and caught him staring, he blurted, “I feel like I’ve seen you before.”
The older man hesitated, seemed almost as if he wanted to say something. Eventually, he settled with, “Well, I certainly know who you are. Jo Kyuhyun, heir to Jo Shipping Company, right?”
“Yes… Are… Are you from a competing company?” Kyuhyun asked, silently scolding himself to be so trusting around a stranger. He shouldn’t have sat down, shouldn’t have said anything. Heck, he should’ve just turned around and left the park immediately.
His self-scolding was halted at the man’s laugh. It was light, airy, but had a warm timbre that gave it depth. The man’s eyes seemed transformed, lit so brightly in the dimness of the moonlight. He looked away then, up at the sky with its blankets of cottony clouds that slipped over and around the moon. “No, I’m not that important. I’m just a high school teacher. My name is Lee Sungmin.”
Kyuhyun blinked at him.
Sungmin stared back and, at that moment, suddenly understood everything Taeyeon had ever said about watching him, about meeting him. In that moment, he wanted to keep everything to himself, keep Kyuhyun to himself. So great was his selfishness that he wanted to grab Kyuhyun, hug him, hold him and never, ever let him go again. Instead, he dug his feet into the woodchips at his feet and gripped the metal chains of the swing to stop himself from doing just that.
“Maybe that’s where I’ve seen you,” Kyuhyun fought back a cringe as he felt his skull begin to seize with pain again; “Shim Jang Academy… I went to school there.”
Sungmin was silent for a moment. How much to say? How much to reveal? He wanted to say too much, say it all. He wanted to reveal too much, reveal it all. He wanted to tell Kyuhyun about everything, remind him about all they had, all they were to each other. However, he knew it would be too much, too overwhelming for the younger man. He knew it could drive him away, could be the beginning of the end. And, so, he ignored Kyuhyun’s statement.
“This is a late time to be coming to a place like this,” he commented lightly, fighting the pain in his heart as he went against every instinct.
“I could say the same to you,” Kyuhyun stated baldly.
There it was again, that laugh that was so free and yet, so grounded. The laugh that seemed to lift a part of Kyuhyun that he didn’t realize was so heavy. The laugh that seemed to make life not so bad, seemed to make him feel like with him, with this Lee Sungmin, then he didn’t have to face life alone. Astonishing. Ridiculous. And, yet, there it was. Wherever Sungmin went to from that park, Kyuhyun had an urge to follow him.
He looked away then. There was Mijoon, wasn’t there? Why was he feeling this way towards this other man? Was his love so flimsy? Was he so easy? He looked at Sungmin then and felt the pieces shift and fall into place. No, this was a different comfort, a different urge. He wanted – or was it some innate need? – to follow Sungmin but for a reason other than the reasons he wanted to be with Mijoon. Perhaps it was because he was an only child – as far as he knew – and he saw something in Sungmin, felt something that cried for his companionship. Belatedly, he realized then that, other than Mijoon, he had no one outside his family in his life.
“Yeah…” Sungmin’s voice snapped him out of his reverie, “You see, I had a best friend…” he glanced at Kyuhyun before looking away, “I saw this park and just remembered all the times we had together.”
“It must be frustrating every time you see a park,” Kyuhyun commented,
Sungmin chuckled softly, “No, no… just this park. We used to live near here and this was a park we always played in. Heck, we probably called this ‘our’ park, we were so arrogant, like we owned everything we saw.” He clenched the swing’s chains even tighter, hoping his words and laugh didn’t sound as bitter as they felt,
“I live nearby,” Kyuhyun said, not knowing where the words came from,
Sungmin blinked at him, “For someone wary of competitors, you certainly blurt out the most peculiar of personal information.”
Kyuhyun knew he was blushing then, but he said nothing. Instead, he waited. He wanted to hear more of the other’s voice, words, stories. He wanted to hear about Sungmin, wanted suddenly to know everything about the stranger. Pain flashed in his mind and Kyuhyun began to contemplate if the onslaught of headaches was a new symptom of his failing health.
“Why are you here?” Sungmin asked then, his tone light, casual, his gaze turned away, scared that Kyuhyun would see more of his emotions and get scared by their intensity.
“It’s quiet. It’s open,” Kyuhyun answered, leaning his head against one of the swing’s chains. The metal felt cool against his skin and he allowed his eyes to close as he allowed the park’s peacefulness to engulf him; “You know who I am, but do you know what it’s like to be surrounded by all these corporate giants? To be raised by a father like mine?” He sighed softly, “The pressure builds throughout the day and sometimes I just need an escape.”
“In the middle of the night?” Sungmin quipped, amusement colouring his tone,
“I function best a night,” Kyuhyun shrugged, not wanting to reveal his sensitivity to the sun.
Sungmin looked at him for a heartbeat, for three of them. Then, slowly, he stood up from the swing and forced himself to turn away, to begin to walk away. If he stayed longer, he knew he’d say more, knew he’d never be able to leave. Kyuhyun’s voice stopped him. That voice he knew so well. That voice he hadn’t heard for years. That voice that reminded him of the child who was like a brother and the young man who was his best friend. He stopped, but he didn’t turn around, didn’t dare when he was so close to breaking, so close to crying in front of someone who regarded him a stranger when he regarded that someone as so much more.
“Your best friend… is he still your best friend? You spoke of him in the past tense,” Kyuhyun asked tentatively. What was with him and these insensitive questions? Really, was his tact disappearing with his health?
“What?” Sungmin asked, not caring how weak, how choked his voice sounded,
“I mean… do you two still talk?” Kyuhyun explained,
So many words, sentences, answers came to Sungmin in that moment. He wanted to say it all, but he knew he couldn’t, knew he had to pace himself. So, instead, he stated, “Those are two very different questions.”
“He’s still my best friend,” Sungmin answered, his fists clenching in his coat pockets; “But no, we don’t talk anymore.”
Kyuhyun didn’t understand it, but he felt heaviness then in the area of his heart. He felt a coldness sweep through him and he didn’t think he could attribute it to the weather. He had the sudden urge to go to the stranger and to hug him. He had the sudden urge to tell him it was okay, that things would be okay. However, he did none of these things. How could he when they were strangers? How could he when things weren’t okay with his own life? He hated false hope, so why offer them to a stranger? It seemed wrong somehow and, yet, he felt that if he said it to this man, this Lee Sungmin, that it wouldn’t be false hope.
“That’s… that’s very sad,” Kyuhyun commented lamely, quietly,
Sungmin blinked back the tears that were threatening to spill. He breathed slowly, steadily, concentrating on his breathing so that other thoughts, other emotions couldn’t overwhelm him and break the last of his composure. He clenched his eyes shut, gripped his fists so tight that his nails dug into his palms.
“Thank you,” he replied, his words barely above a whisper, riding the wind to the younger man. His words sounded strangled yet filled with relief. His words sounded like a prayer, like a question, like quiet desperation.
Before he could do any more, say any more, Sungmin put one foot in front of the other. He forced his body to move, forced his strength not to give away. He walked away, absently wondering if he’d ever see – no, he would. If it was the last thing he did, he would make sure to see that familiar, beloved, young man again. Forcing himself not to look back, Sungmin escaped into the night and darkness.
When he arrived home, Sungmin was slightly surprised to find Taeyeon sitting in the small living room watching the television. Dressed in shorts and one of his shirts, she had her hair sloppily pulled back into a bun as she flipped through the channels. Sungmin locked the door behind him and hung his coat in the closet to the side of the door. Slipping off his shoes, he walked over to the couch and ungracefully plopped down beside her.
He leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes, slowly gathering his thoughts.
Their apartment was not as large as Kyuri and Kibum’s. The kitchen and living room were more or less the same room, a high counter serving as a boundary between the two. They had a table set up between the two areas, but hardly used it since most meals were eaten around the coffee table. The only bedroom and bathroom were just doorways away from the common room, the apartment too small to accommodate hallways. However, they had a balcony that overlooked Seoul, which was to the south east of them and that had been appealing all in itself. They lived on the outskirts of Seoul and that’s all that mattered.
Sungmin stretched his arm out along the back of the couch, his hand finding strands of Taeyeon’s hair and absentmindedly playing with them. Taeyeon glanced at Sungmin who still had his eyes closed. She considered interrogating him, but decided against it. If he wanted to talk, he would. She’d give him his peace. She knew what tonight meant for him.
Sungmin cracked open his eyes, not so much that Taeyeon would be able to tell, but enough to see her. He watched her silently through his lashes. The sight of her, her presence, always calmed him like nothing else. He always understood how her songs could soothe Kyuhyun when they were growing up together. When she announced her desire to be a singer, he knew immediately her motivation.
“He looks the same,” Sungmin said quietly.
From there, he slowly, steadily recalled the encounter to Taeyeon. She had muted the television the moment he began talking and turned on the couch so she was fully facing him, her legs crossed. She hadn’t said a word. She hadn’t moved an inch. She wanted to hold his hand, to hug him, but she also didn’t want to disrupt him, knowing he needed a steady purge of his emotions. She, after all, had been through the same situation several times. When he was done, he opened his eyes wider, silently awaiting her reply.
She offered a small smile, her eyes alit, “Should I give you a pen and paper to write me a song?”
He rolled his eyes as he grabbed her arm and pulled her against him, wrapping an arm about her shoulders, “Cheeky.” He sighed as he held her against him, her body slight, soft and comforting; “I don’t know how you could stand watching him and not going over to him all those nights.”
“I would hug a tree and they are very difficult to move,” Taeyeon stated solemnly, her expression deadpanned.
Sungmin raised a brow at her, “You are in a ridiculously good mood, Sweetheart.”
Taeyeon slipped away from beneath his arm, swiping her phone from the coffee table before settling in his half-embrace once more. She flipped open the phone and, after a few button presses, showed the screen to him.
“Read from the top to bottom,” Taeyeon instructed as he took the cellular from her.
‘I met a man today. He was nice but seemed sad.’
‘Why was he sad?’
‘He lost his best friend… somehow.’
‘… I’d be sad, too, if I were him.’
‘This is going to sound weird, but I really wanted to be his friend.’
‘If you talked to him, then you were being his friend.’
‘Does this mean we’re friends?’
The corners of Sungmin’s lips slowly lifted into a small smile. He squeeze Taeyeon in a quick hug as he brushed his lips against her crown, “You’ve never showed me your messages with him before.”
“I thought perhaps you’d like to see them,” She shrugged as she put her phone away, “Did it help?”
“Very much,” Sungmin sighed with relaxation as he closed his eyes, “Thank you for showing them to me this time.”
“I’m sorry I never did before,” Taeyeon said, “It’s just… I wanted a part of him to myself. I know, it sounds so selfish of me and –”
“I understand,” Sungmin interjected swiftly. He hugged her closer, “I truly do understand. I would have done the same thing.”
Taeyeon straightened, leaned over and brushed a chaste kiss on his lips. She smiled brightly at him, “I knew I loved you for a reason.”
Sungmin stared at her peculiarly, his fox-like eyes reading her silently. He raised that inquisitive brow once more, “What are you up to?”
“Up to? Why do I have to be up to something?” Taeyeon blinked, “Is it because I said I love you? I need an ulterior motive to say that to you?”
“No…” Sungmin said slowly, “But something is off with you.”
Taeyeon sighed, looking away as she raised a hand, absentmindedly playing with the ring on her necklace. Sungmin saw the gesture and immediately captured her hand, stopping its nervous action. Stilling her hand caused her to look at him,
“What is it, Taeyeon?”
Taeyeon stared into his eyes, practically drowning in their warm depths. One heartbeat, two. She inhaled slowly, steadying and centering herself.
And there you were,
keeping me safe,
keeping me sane,
saying "you are a survivor".
There you were.
There you always were.
(7th Cycle - Forgotten Reflection)