"And this maiden she lived with no other thought / Than to love and be loved by me."
—Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee"
A/N: This is a sad SoEul fic, but it does have some (hopefully) heart-warming moments in it.
Warning: This story does contain suicide.
"You're late," the young woman in the pale pink dressing gown addressed the somber man seated across from her. The rich black color of his hair made his face appear ashen in the soft candlelight.
In his fitted black suit and gray waistcoat, he sat stiffly, staring at the array of home-cooked dishes set out between them from end to end of the long dining table.
The ornate wooden table—he'd picked it out—could seat sixteen people.
Tonight, there were two.
"Aren't you cold?" he asked, meeting the woman's gaze.
Slicing a piece of beef, she shrugged. Letting his gaze linger on her eyes, he saw the deep shadows under them and the lack of emotion in her stare. He saw the nervous quiver of her mouth.
Even while chewing, sipping her water, or cutting her meat, she never took her eyes away from him.
Sometimes, he wondered if she ever blinked.
The woman studied the man carefully. She always missed him when he disappeared, but when he reappeared sometimes she missed him more because she knew he would go away again. She liked to believe she had the power to make him stay, that she was the reason he always came back, but lately he'd been taking his time coming to her when she called for him. She feared the day would come soon when he wouldn't come back at all.
"You can stop burning a hole in my head," he spoke again. "I won't be leaving in the middle of dinner. It's bad manners."
She glared at him suspiciously but eventually cast her eyes back down to her gold-rimmed china plate. It was part of their wedding china, a gift from their good friends Gu Jun Pyo and Geum Jan Di.
"Did you have a good day?" she asked, forcing a light tone.
"I suppose. Good is relative. Did you?"
"I missed you."
"I know," he said so quietly she couldn't tell if he'd meant for her to hear it.
"I thought maybe after dinner we could work on something. I found some old sketches of yours that I want to try making, but I'd need your help."
He said nothing.
"I hope you don't mind," she continued, fussing with the dishes in front of her. "I wasn't snooping or anything. It's just that they gave them to me when they cleaned out your office."
"I thought you were going back to work."
She paused with a chopstick full of kimchi halfway to her mouth.
"I never said I was going back to work."
"You told me when you finished the collection—"
"It's not done yet." She took a bite, swallowed, stalled.
"It's supposed to be my collection. Don't I get to say when it's done?"
She gulped down the remainder of her water.
"Well...yes, but...given I'm doing most of the work—"
"You don't have to. I told you to leave it."
"No. I want to finish it. I have to finish it." She nodded, mostly to herself.
"I don't want you to finish it."
"What are you so upset about? You're the one who said I didn't have to work if I didn't want to. I'm finally taking your advice, and now you're mad at me."
"I just think you should finish this last collection." Her tone rose higher, near panic. "You were so excited about it, remember? You said it was going to be the best thing you ever did."
"Every artist wants to top their last achievement," he answered calmly.
"Exactly. So...you're going to. Don't worry, I'm going to help you." She smiled, but the man thought it looked more disconcerting than comforting, like she might crack completely at any moment.
Maybe he was pushing too far, but he didn't know how to make her see reason. They'd been going back and forth for months now as piece after varnished piece of pottery took up residence in a tall glass case she'd procured for the storage of his newest pottery collection until it was deemed ready for the public. He'd deemed it ready for the public more times than he could count.
She'd fought him every step of the way.
In the ensuing silence, he made the mistake of peering too closely at the white collar poking out of her dressing gown.
His own shirt collar, complete with the silver lapel from his favorite suit.
"All right, I'll help you. But with two conditions."
"First—there will be three more pieces. Only three. We can pick out the designs together, but that's it. And the other one—once we finish, you go back to work...Okay?"
Ga Eul shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She didn't like the unspoken implication in his request.
"Ga Eul-yang, do you understand me?"
She understood. She understood too well, but maybe she could drag this out a bit more.
A bit more time. That's all she wanted.
"Okay," Ga Eul whispered.
The man nodded, somewhat satisfied. At least one thing had always been true about Ga Eul—her word.
"We can go through the sketches after dinner?" she asked, leaning forward on her elbows, her tangled hair falling over her shoulders and hiding the sides of her face.
"Yeah." He allowed himself a small smile, and she grinned back at him.
"Thank you...Yi Jeong Sunbae."
She blushed like she had when he used to drop her home after school and she said those exact words, always with the pause in the middle, always with the 'Sunbae' at the end.
That night, in his restless waking moments while she slept, he remembered the first night they spent together. It had been about a month after they'd started dating, and they had spent all day wandering around New Caledonia, once again at the request of Jun Pyo. When he finally saw her to her cabin, he thought she'd be worn out from the day's events. He hadn't expected her to knock on his door a few minutes later, still in her shorts and blouse from earlier, shyly asking if she could come in.
She seemed nervous as she took a seat in the lounge chair next to the bed, probably because they'd never been in a bedroom alone together.
Well, except for that one time in the hotel.
But that didn't count.
"Can I get you some water?" Yi Jeong sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, as close as he could get to the chair while maintaining his cool demeanor.
"Oh, thank you, but I'm fine," Ga Eul answered. She glanced around the room as though searching for something.
Or maybe she just didn't want to look at him.
"Could you not sleep?" he asked.
"Oh, um, no. I guess I've been having too much excitement," she said.
"Come on." He held out his hand and stood. "Let's go."
"For a walk. Unless you'd rather stay here."
"Um..." A blush crept up her cheeks. "Uh, no. No, we can take a walk. That sounds fine."
"Great. That sounds great," she rushed out. She stood up and moved awkwardly toward the door. When she turned her back to open it, Yi Jeong could help but laugh under his breath.
She was too adorable sometimes.
Out of the confines of the room, Ga Eul visibly relaxed and let him slip his hand into hers easily.
Holding hands, they walked along in silence as they headed across the shadowy, moonlit shore, their feet sinking into the cool, wet sand at the water's edge.
After a moment, Ga Eul commented, "I always wanted to do this."
"Walk on the beach at night with my boyfriend."
"Well, how is it? Is it as good as the movies?"
"Aniyo...It's better." She glanced quickly at him, a smile on her face.
Suddenly, her foot slipped into a dip in the sand, and he pulled her to him so she wouldn't lose her balance.
"Sorry, I didn't see that there," she said, straightening herself back up.
"It's okay. Just watch out for those."
Ga Eul nodded.
"Sunbae, how long have you been coming here?"
"To New Caledonia?"
"Well, let's see, the first time we came here we were twelve, I think."
"With your parents?"
"Um, no...with our chaperones, actually."
"Oh...You mean like Jun Pyo Sunbae's butler?"
"Well, growing up, we all had staff who were...in charge of us, so to speak."
"Ah, I understand." Ga Eul nodded her head solemnly.
Yi Jeong believed her understanding was actually pretty limited on the subject, though it was common enough for kids in his circle to have been raised by nannies and personal servants. For the sake of conversation, he didn't comment.
"I used to go on vacation with some of my cousins," she continued after a long moment. "The older ones were always in charge of keeping the little kids out of trouble. It was supposed to give our parents a break, but usually all of us got into trouble, anyway." Ga Eul laughed. Her laugh had a nice ring to it, all the more because it wasn't meant to get his attention. She was genuine with her emotions in a way most girls he knew weren't, and he'd always liked that about her even if it meant she didn't hold back from scolding him when she thought he was in the wrong.
"Where did you go?" he asked.
"Oh, um, we used to go camping mostly. My dad loves fishing, so sometimes we would go on fishing trips with Jan Di's parents. I went to the beach—like, the actual beach—once, but I was little, so I didn't really remember it until I came here. The camping trips were fun, though, once you got past all the bugs. My parent's siblings would come and bring their kids. It used to be an annual trip, but now everyone's grown up. Half of us are in college. It's funny how fast time goes."
Yi Jeong nodded, looking down at their joined hands, at the imprints her small feet made in the sand beside him.
How much time did he have with her before reality forced them apart? He didn't know. It scared him, the not knowing. It also made him a bit greedy, he'd realized. He'd purposefully woken her up early that morning so they could leave on their sightseeing excursion before anyone else got the chance to tag along. She'd thought it was because he wanted her to see the sunrise from a particular point on the island.
Well, that's what he'd told her, anyway.
He'd spent all of the best moments of his life with F4 to this point, but he thought maybe he'd like to spend the next best moments of his life with her. However many there were.
Letting go of his hand, she picked her way around clusters of seaweed a few feet ahead of him. Kneeling down, she picked up a starfish at the water's edge and set it gently back into the ocean.
"You can't save everything, you know," he said, stopping in front of her, submerged past his ankles.
Arching her brow, she stood up, the water coming up almost to her knees.
"Well...just because you can't save everything, it doesn't mean you shouldn't save the little things you can. Would you have preferred it if I left you alone?"
Moving closer to her, Yi Jeong simply smirked as a devilish thought passed through his brain.
"Why would I want that? Then I couldn't do this." Picking her up in one swift movement, he carried her further out into the water.
"Yah! Put me down! What are you doing?!"
"I'm saving you. I'm going to drop you in the water. One...two.."
"Yi Jeong! No!"
"What? I caught you."
"That wasn't funny."
"It wasn't? You want me to do it again?" He pretended to almost drop her a second time.
"Yah! That water's freezing!"
"You should tell that to the poor starfish you put back in there."
Wrapping her arms more tightly around his neck, Ga Eul replied, "The next time you do that, you're going down with me." Her nose brushed against his.
"That's okay with me." He lightly touched his lips to hers and mumbled, "By the way, you just called me 'Yi Jeong.'"
"N-no I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
"No, I didn't. I never say that."
"You did...and if you don't say it again right now, I'm going to throw you in the water for real. One...two...two and a half...two and three quarters...two and-"
"Okay, okay, okay, Yi Jeong, Yi Jeong, Yi Jeong. What's the big deal about that?"
"I don't know. I just wanted another excuse to throw you in the water."
"So why haven't you already?"
Yi Jeong shrugged.
Her weight felt comfortable in his arms, and after a moment went by without him answering, she leaned her head against his shoulder. He didn't want to say what he was thinking then; he didn't want to admit how a part of him had longed to hold her his arms, to keep her safe.
"Because that's too easy," he finally answered, setting her back down on her feet. "Don't worry, tomorrow I'll throw you in when you least expect it...What?"
A sly smile had crept up on her face, and inched closer to him.
"Actually, I don't think you would, Sunbae."
"Oh? What makes you so confident?"
"Because I think you'd rather catch me than me throw me anywhere. And also...I think you like being called 'Yi Jeong.'" She said the last part in a whisper, and he could feel himself falling into her, could almost feel his lips on hers again, when suddenly instead he felt a push against his chest and his body crashing backward into the rough sand and cold waves. Momentarily submerged, when he came back up, soaking wet, he saw Ga Eul's silhouette disappearing along the shoreline, running back toward the cabins, his name punctuated by her laughter and that ever-present, all-knowing tone in her voice that told him he'd lost before he'd even begun.
Yi Jeong...Yi Jeong...Yi Jeong, where are you?
"Ga Eul...Ga Eul...Ga Eul, do you hear me?" Two fingers snapped in front of Ga Eul's faced, snapping her out of her reverie.
"You've got to get out of this house," Jan Di repeated. "It's been over a year already." Her friend of over twenty years sat across from her in the sunroom of the large mansion she and Yi Jeong had shared. Ga Eul hadn't expected her friend's visit but wasn't surprised by it. She knew she hadn't been in contact much lately. Part of her felt bad about that.
Part of her couldn't feel anything.
"I'm just finishing something." She offered the excuse as vaguely as possible.
"For Yi Jeong?"
Ga Eul hesitated, then nodded slowly.
With him actually.
"Ga Eul, he's not coming back."
"He comes back," Ga Eul insisted, lacing her fingers together. "He always comes back." Staring at her skirt, she locked them tighter.
"No. Not this time."
"He promised," she continued softly.
"I'm so sorry."
"He always comes back," she whispered, more to herself than to Jan Di.
"Ga Eul." Jan Di reached over and covered Ga Eul's hands with her own. She repeated, as tenderly as when she'd first told her the story over a year ago, "His plane crashed in the middle of the ocean. There were no survivors. You know that."
"No," she replied, her voice cracking.
"No, I don't want to hear this."
Jan Di continued, "This isn't what Yi Jeong Sunbae would have wanted. He would have wanted you to live your life."
Ga Eul shoved her hand away.
"Don't tell me what he would have wanted. You didn't know him like I did. You don't...understand the connection we had."
"You're right. I can't understand that. But this has been hard on everyone. We have to get through it by leaning on each other, not by staying buried in the past."
"All I have is the past."
"You have us."
You're not him, she wanted to say. Instead, she stood up and announced, "I'm sorry, but I'm not feeling well. I think you should go now."
"But Ga Eul—"
"Please just go. I want to be alone."
"At least tell me you'll see the grief therapist I recommended you."
"I'll think about it," she said, only to make Jan Di go away. She faced the french doors where she had a clear view of the gardens, bare now in the dead of winter.
"All right. I'll just see my way out then." She placed her hand on Ga Eul's arm. "If you need anything...Well, I'll see you." Removing her arm, she slowly exited the room.
Ga Eul didn't reply. She stared into the sun and let it blind her.
"I'm not him."
"You're his ghost, aren't you?" Ga Eul slipped out of her dressing gown and tossed it onto a chair. It clipped through the nothingness that was Yi Jeong's body.
"For the last time, I'm not a ghost," he lied. "I'm a figment of your imagination."
"If you're a figment, then why do you always wear the same suit?" Sliding into her bed—their bed—in the master bedroom, she clicked on her bedside lamp. The lamplight lent a deceptively healthy glow to her face.
"Maybe this was your favorite suit of Yi Jeong's." Yi Jeong remained standing a few feet from the foot of the bed. Even looking directly at her felt too intimate; it was like stabbing himself with a knife over and over again.
"It's not," Ga Eul answered. "I like your gray one."
"Which gray one?"
"The one you wore to Woo Bin's birthday two years ago."
"I didn't know that."
"I thought you came from my mind. Doesn't that mean you know everything I know?"
"Well...everyone has secrets, even things they hide from themselves."
"That's a convenient excuse. Will you lay down with me a minute?" Propping herself up on two pillows, Ga Eul patted his side of the bed.
Ignoring her question, he walked over to the window and stared out over the dark, expansive grounds.
"It's better if you turn the lights on out there," he answered. "The more light there is, the safer you are. Especially since you decided to get rid of all the staff." Turning to face her, he continued, "Care to explain that to me?"
She patted the bed again.
"You know I can't touch you."
"I know...but can you just...lay down with me? Please? If you're something I made up in my head, you shouldn't argue with me this much...And if you're not made up, then you shouldn't mind laying down with me."
"Has anyone ever told you you have an answer for everything?"
Yi Jeong almost smiled.
Slipping off his shoes, he laid down beside her fully clothed in the same suit he always wore to visit her. Tonight she wore her deep purple nightgown—the one with lace fringe and straps that cross in the back, the one he gave her for her birthday two years prior.
Yi Jeong took in a shallow breath though he knew he could probably stop breathing and it wouldn't matter.
He doubted she'd like that sentiment if he shared it with her.
Rolling over, she turned to him and mumbled, "Do you remember our honeymoon?"
Taking in a much larger breath, he let out a sigh.
He shouldn't indulge her. This was why he was stuck here, why she wouldn't let him go, why she couldn't move on.
To be honest, he needed to let go of her just as much as she needed to let go of him.
But tonight, he was tired—emotionally if not physically. He'd been teaching her to make glazes all day, and after she'd showered they'd rewatched their favorite drama together.
It was hard to believe, with them laughing like that at the same things at the same moment in time, that they weren't really together.
And he wanted to be with her, just for a little while.
"Sunbae?" she asked again, and he realized she was still waiting on him to answer her question.
"I'm sorry, what was that again?"
"I said, 'Do you remember our honeymoon?'"
"Which part?" he spoke to the ceiling. "The thirty percent where we were fully clothed or the seventy percent where we were fully naked?"
"Oh, you're right. Was it ten percent and ninety percent then?"
"You're insufferable," she complained, but when he stole a glance at her she had the hugest smile on her face.
"Hey, I have an idea," he said.
"Since we can't touch each other, should we pretend we're on a Skype call? Like we used to do when I was in Sweden?"
"Okay? That means you have to pick a topic."
"I already picked a topic."
"Oh, our honeymoon? All I remember is the hotel room."
"Hey! You can't hit me. I'm in a foreign country."
Her composure cracked for a split second, but then she stuck her tongue out.
"Then you can't tickle me."
"Fair enough." He stared back up at the ceiling. She'd put glow-in-the-dark stars on it when they'd moved into the house. Those same childish stars greeted him now. They were replicas of the stars in his old bedroom at his parents' house. Most people hadn't known they were there. Then again, no one slept over in his room except for the F4...and her.
"I remember Jan Di and Jun Pyo's wedding," he said. "Remember our hotel room was right next to the Witch?"
"How could I forget that? You got us into so much trouble."
"It was funny."
"Funny?! I couldn't look at her the whole weekend!"
"I told you, she never knew it was us. You know why? Because they rented out an entire fucking hotel so nothing was in our names. Besides, why would she suspect you? You don't exactly look like the type to...well...anyway...Jun Pyo said she was absolutely livid about the nymphomaniacs next door."
"She'd suspect me because I was with you. And here I was, sneaking out of the room the whole rest of the week."
"We weren't doing anything a five-year-old wouldn't do. We were just two kids jumping on a bed. It wasn't our fault she has such a dirty mind. Admit it, the look on her face complaining to the concierge was so worth it."
"That poor man," Ga Eul muttered. "And I admit nothing. Especially not to you."
"You were laughing. You were having fun."
"I was laughing because you were tickling me!"
"Well, I had to make it sound realistic, and you needed to loosen up. Your moans were, um, awkward." He coughed over the last words.
"Oh, well, I'm sorry I didn't work on that beforehand in my bedroom at my parents' house."
"I mean, you could have just worked on it with me."
"It wouldn't have helped. Your fake moans were just as bad."
"You're such a boost to my ego, you know?"
"My purpose in life is to counteract your ego, Sunbae."
"Now that I can agree with." Yi Jeong smiled.
A comfortable silence descended on the room. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of her breathing beside him.
"Hey," he whispered.
"Hey." He felt her move beside him, and he turned his head to face her.
"You're my best friend, you know?"
She nodded, her eyes shining with unspoken sadness.
She lifted her hand to touch his hair.
It passed straight through.
That night she dreamed about the day he left for an exhibition in New York. It was right in the middle of the school year. Otherwise, she would have gone with him. If she had gone with him, he wouldn't have headed back to Korea as soon as the show ended. They would have stayed a few extra days—wandered Times Square, took in a Broadway show, made love in the fanciest suite in the Ritz-Carlton. Instead, he'd booked the earliest flight home so he could catch the premier night of a play her students had begged her to direct.
They'd also begged him to come.
In her dream, they both stood in front of the mirror in his closet, fixated on the solid silver tie Ga Eul had been attempting to tie for a few minutes.
"It's the other way," Yi Jeong corrected. "You always tie it in the wrong direction."
"But I just tied it the other way, and you said that was wrong too."
"I said that was the wrong knot. I thought you wanted to do a Windsor."
"I want to do the one you normally do." Ga Eul squinted at the tie like it might tell her what she was doing wrong.
"Then you're really doing it the wrong way." Yi Jeong chuckled.
"Huh? I'm so confused," Ga Eul lamented, tugging on both sides of the tie.
"Here. Give it to me."
Grudgingly, Ga Eul let Yi Jeong extract the tie from her hands.
"Watch." He lined up the two sides of the tie exactly. "First you go over like this, then under here. Then like this, and this, and then you're done. See?"
Ga Eul nodded.
She didn't see. Not really.
He took the tie out of its knot and handed it back to her.
"Now you try. One more time."
So she did. She got the knot right, but it still looked slightly crooked when she finished, though Yi Jeong said it was "pretty good" as he eyed his reflection.
"You're going to retie it, aren't you?"
"Not until I get to New York." He winked at her, and she beamed.
"Will you bring me a souvenir?" she asked as he slid into his waistcoat and buttoned it.
"Of course. What do you want? And no more snow globes." He glanced knowingly at her and straightened his cufflinks.
"But I like snow globes. I only take them out at Christmas. Anyway, you might think they're tacky, but it's my souvenir, not yours."
He shook his head and took her in his arms.
"Fine. One snow globe. But I'll find you a nice one. None of that plastic stuff."
"Mmm, yay." She tightened her hold on him.
"I'll never figure out why fake snow trapped in water makes you so happy."
"You know, Sunbae, I think most things in life are as real as you want them to be."
"If it makes you happy, doesn't that make it kinda real?"
"Ga Eul-yang logic."
"You know you were happy on our first two dates." She poked his cheek.
"Ow. What am I supposed to say to that?"
"Just say yes unless you want to be in trouble."
"I'm going to be in trouble no matter what I answer," he muttered, kissing her lips, then her cheeks, then her ear and the curve of her jaw. "That's how this relationship works." Turning the arm he'd wrapped around her waist, he glanced down at his watch.
"Shit. I'm also going to be late."
Today felt like a win.
They had at long last come to the end of Yi Jeong's art projects and were toasting to their success.
Or rather, Ga Eul was toasting while Yi Jeong surveyed her handiwork.
The last design had taken the longest to complete: a glazed blue and white pitcher tapered at both ends with the white and blue flowers bleeding together to produce a watercolor effect.
"You should do this under your name, you know? I'm almost embarrassed by how good you are."
"Why should you be embarrassed?"
"Because I think you could be better than me." He set the new vase down. "The student will surpass the teacher."
"Or you could just be saying that because you're married to me."
"Yeah," he answered. "Maybe."
"Well." Ga Eul lifted her glass. "To the last work of the infamous potter So Yi Jeong, soon to be surpassed by his wife."
"To his wife." Yi Jeong lifted an empty glass.
To his surprise, Ga Eul downed all of her drink in one go. She usually sipped champagne.
"Wow, is there a party I don't know about?" he commented.
Ga Eul simply smiled as she set down her glass. The expression didn't quite reach her eyes. In fact she looked a bit nervous.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I just...Sunbae...Yi Jeong, could you get me some water, please?"
"Of course. I'll just get it from the kitchen."
"Um...and could you also bring me my pink sweater from the coat closet? It's kind of cold in here."
"Sure. Are you really okay? Do you feel sick?" He put his hand up to her forehead without thinking.
Right. Like that would do any good.
Lowering his hand, he grinned sheepishly.
"I'll never get used to that," he admitted softly.
"You shouldn't," she answered, conviction in her eyes.
"Well...I'll be right back." Stepping out of the room, he headed upstairs first, and as he rummaged through her closet looking for the sweater, his thoughts turned to one of the many times she had taken care of him. It had been days after his mother's funeral, after she'd finally done what she'd been threatening to do for years. He'd locked himself away in the same studio where Ga Eul now poured herself into completing his work, mired in guilt and anger at the unfairness of it all.
He'd been pouring himself drink after drink, unwilling to talk to or see anyone for days, when Ga Eul appeared in the doorway yet again. Instead of pleading with him to rejoin the living as she had been doing, however, she hadn't said a word as she crossed the room and sat down on the floor next to him.
"If you won't come up there, I guess I'll stay down here with you," she announced. She took a swig out of the bottle sitting between them.
Not a dainty, Ga Eul-like sip.
"Yah! Slow down," he scolded as she toppled over, coughing. He grabbed the bottle from her hand before she could tip it over onto the floor. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Keeping you company," she managed, wiping her mouth as she sat back up. "What is in that?!"
"By getting yourself drunk?" He ignored the second question.
"Well...if I do get drunk, then we can be drunk together."
"If you do get drunk, you'll pass out like you did on our honeymoon, and then I'll have to carry you back upstairs!"
She flinched ever-so-slightly, and he realized he'd been yelling.
Undeterred, she continued, "Oh come on, you're not still mad at me about that, are you? I made it up to you...in the morning."
She added the last part in a small voice.
Yi Jeong sighed again and tried to soften his tone.
"Look, Ga Eul-yang, I'm not really in the mood to talk right now—"
"I know, I know. So don't talk. And give me that." Ga Eul snatched the bottle back from him. "I need liquid courage to deal with your irritating temperament." She slammed the bottle back down as if to make a point. Wiping her mouth on the back of her arm, she leaned against the bench behind them, the same bench Yi Jeong had been sleeping on for the past several days.
After several moments, she adjusted herself to a different position. Then she tried another one, then another.
"Yah. You want a pillow or something?"
"Aniyo." She shook her head. "I'm fine." Scooting a little forward, she kept her back off of the bench entirely.
Still, she couldn't have been comfortable. Ga Eul was always complaining about her back hurting from bending over so much at work. She said the kids were making her old before her time.
What was she doing coming down here? What did she think this was, a sleepover? That they were going to have a little heart-to-heart, and everything would be fine?
No fucking way.
Nevertheless, pulling on her arm, he opened his legs and gestured for her to come over.
She let out a small "yay" and sat between his legs with her head on his chest. Every part him felt like dead weight, like he couldn't bring himself to care about anything, but he let her place his arms around her waist and lace their fingers together.
If it had been any other person, he'd have kicked them out already.
They stayed like that for the longest time, not talking, sometimes crying silently.
In the end, she'd been able to pull him out of his self-inflicted misery. She'd always done that, but he still hadn't been able to reach her, to convince her to let him go, to let his soul go to its final resting place, and, most importantly, to let herself be happy without him. Yi Jeong sighed as he tossed her sweater on the kitchen counter. He'd finally found it in the back of the closet, buried beneath his heavy winter coats.
He filled up her favorite glass with water and put light ice in it, the way she liked it. Chilled but not too cold.
When he descended the stairs to the studio, he didn't see her, though.
Not at first.
Not until he turned the corner, her name halfway out of his mouth, and saw her collapsed over on the floor, barely breathing. The glass fell out of his hand, shattering on the hardwood.
"Ga Eul-yang?!" He was beside her in seconds. Bending over, he tried to shake her though he knew it was useless. "Ga Eul-yang?! Yah! Can you hear me?!...Fuck...hell...Ga Eul-yang, what the actual fuck..." He rummaged through the purse she'd left sitting on the counter, right beside an unlabeled bottle of pills he knew had something to do with why she was lying on the floor, unconscious. Finding her phone, he dialed the emergency line with shaking fingers. Could a ghost be heard over the phone? He didn't fucking know, but he sure as hell was going to-
He jumped back, feeling a touch on his shoulder, only to come face to face with the girl at his feet.
What the hell?
"Ga Eul-yang?" He froze. How could she be on the floor and standing in front of him?
'What the hell, Ga Eul-yang?"
Ga Eul gulped. She'd known he'd be angry. In fact, she was sorry he'd had to see her body like that. She'd meant to, well, cover herself or something.
Not that one could really plan something like this.
She'd been half-terrified it wouldn't work at all.
"Are you...You're...You...Poisoning yourself? What the hell, Ga Eul-yang?!"
"I just...I just wanted to do this." She touched one tentative hand to his cheek, sighing in relief when she felt his skin instead of air. "You lied to me. You said you weren't real."
"You fucking lied to me! You said you were going back to school!"
"But don't you see?" Combing her fingers through his hair, she continued, "I did this for us. So we could be together."
"You think I don't want to be with you?" Knocking her arm away, he gripped her shoulders. "But not like this, you idiot," he hissed.
"I...I-I'm sorry. I-I missed you so much." She wrapped herself around him, clutching him like she might choke the life out of him, until his arms went around her just as tightly. If he scolded her anymore, she couldn't hear it over the sound of her sobs.
Oh god, she thought she'd never feel his hug again.
"I'm not mad at you," he said after a moment. "I should have known. You always were a fool." His voice broke, and when he pulled away, she saw that the tears on his cheeks mirrored her own.
Extricating himself slowly from her grasp, Yi Jeong shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"What is it? What's wrong?
"It...It doesn't work like this."
"Doesn't work like what?"
Yi Jeong wore a pained, almost guilty expression as he stared first at her, then at her earthly body. She followed his gaze to her fading body on the floor, to the blood on her lips.
"What do you mean?" she asked, turning back to Yi Jeong.
It shocked her how different he looked from the way he had looked a few seconds before.
His edges had softened, his image growing blurrier by the second, like a faded black and white photograph.
"Yi Jeong?!" She reached out for him, but her hand went through, just like before. "Yi Jeong, what's happening?!"
"You're dying." He said solemnly, the sadness in his eyes undiminished by the dimming of his body. "You're letting me go."
"No...No, no, no. You're not supposed to...That's not how it's supposed to work! No!"
"Saranghae," he whispered, and the last of him vanished.
"No," Ga Eul choked out over her tears. "No!"
Grasping at the air in front of her, she spun around, searching for anything that looked like him.
"Yi Jeong...Yi Jeong, no...no, no, no," she muttered, pacing back and forth, back and forth, searching every crevice and corner.
Blinded by her tears, she threw open cabinets and scattered papers and tools across the floor. She ran back and forth like a mad woman, chasing something she couldn't see, stopping her frantic search only when grief overtook her and she crumpled against the wall, first gasping for air, then screaming.
How cruel was fate, that even in death she couldn't be with him?
She wailed until her throat was raw, until even her cries felt pathetic, empty.
She'd only stopped for breath when she heard another voice scream from the entrance to the room.
When she looked up, she saw Jan Di's horrified face in the doorway.
But she wasn't staring at the body on the floor.
She was staring at her.