A/N: If you haven't seen it yet, I posted a drabble of Ga Eul's thoughts after the events of Chapter 9. It's called "Bad Fox Complex."
Finished this chapter earlier than I thought I would! :D Also, I stole a scene and a few lines of dialogue from the drama hehehe ;)
In the drama, there isn't a direct example for how a favor like this would go, so hopefully what I've written here makes sense.
The next chapter will be in Ga Eul's POV.
You do me a favor, and in return, I'll give you something you want.
"Something I want?" Rang repeated. He automatically glanced down at Ga Eul's hands. From what he glimpsed, her wounds from the other night were healing up nicely.
"A charm. A charm for soulmates. You can...do whatever you want with it."
Rang's full attention was on her face now; his chest seized.
"Yu Ri told me about it," she continued. "She said you want it so you can destroy it." Ga Eul spoke every word dispassionately, her face impassive. She was hiding something, but Rang didn't know what. Perhaps her displeasure with him. But how the hell did Yu Ri know he'd been trying to get the charm? Had she been tailing him? No, Yeon. Yeon must have mentioned it to Shin-joo. Rang scowled, and Ga Eul seemed to take his silence as a confirmation.
"You want it, right?" Ga Eul nodded to herself. "I'll give it to you, but since the charm was mine to begin with, it seems only fair that I get something for it, so...how about a favor for a favor? That's the fox thing, right?"
Rang looked her over, unsure of what she was playing at. She was too still, too emotionless, and she hadn't yet addressed how she felt about him being her soulmate. Rang prided himself on being able to read people, and the Ga Eul he'd met had been an open book, but this Ga Eul was closed off from him. He couldn't read her at all. He couldn't imagine the next thing she'd say.
"What's the favor?" he asked, just to get her talking.
"Ten minutes," she answered.
"Ten minutes of your time. I get to ask you anything I want, and you have to tell me the truth. The entire truth," she elaborated, finally putting the tiniest hint of emotion into her voice. "You can't lie. You can't refuse to answer. You can't give a partial truth. You can't answer in riddles. And you have to answer immediately. You can't draw out the whole ten minutes on one question."
Ten minutes of truth. He didn't like the sound of that one bit. Their last encounter had been one of tentative trust, but the frigid note he'd left her on must have counteracted any compassion he had shown her. So much for being a good person in Ga Eul's estimation. Whatever she wanted him to confess, it couldn't be good. She didn't trust him, not anymore. She suspected him of something. He could see it in her eyes. Well, he had basically told her not to trust him the last time they saw each other. What had he expected? And now that she didn't trust him—and probably had a binder full of information on him from Shin-joo and Yu Ri—he couldn't trust her either.
"You're doing it wrong." Rang scoffed.
"You're going about this the wrong way," Rang offered cryptically.
Yu Ri didn't tell you? You're supposed to do me the favor, not spell it out for me. That way, I'm trapped. I'm indebted to you. This way, you're at a disadvantage. I owe you nothing, and I don't have to hide from you anymore. I can take that fucking charm whenever I want.
"What's to stop me from taking that charm from you now that you're here?" he elaborated. "I could take it from you right now."
"If you could just take it from me, you would have done it already," Ga Eul commented, unperturbed. "Something's stopping you." She shrugged. "My best guess...some type of protective spell maybe? Or you can't steal it 'cause you'll be punished. Now, about that favor..."
She reached into her purse and pulled something out; Rang thought it would be the charm, but instead it was a sheet of paper with a few sentences in Ga Eul's neat handwriting and spaces for two signatures at the bottom. Her signature was already scribbled there.
"I made out a contract to be safe." She wandered into the kitchen area just off the living room and placed her purse on the small table where Rang had been taking his meals alone. There was one chair on either side of the table, and given that Rang hadn't been expecting company, he couldn't remember why he'd bought two chairs. A premonition, perhaps. That damn charm. Rang followed Ga Eul but didn't sit when she sat. Not yet. Ga Eul placed the contract on the table and motioned to the seat across from her. Beside the contract, she placed a pen for him to sign his name at the bottom of the page alongside hers.
"You really think you can test me with that? Why should I answer your questions?" Rang asked, covering his nervousness with scorn.
"Of you?" Rang gave her an incredulous look.
"You're right. Who would be scared of me? I'm a fragile, defenseless human." She was goading him; he knew that, but it was working. She was scaring him, too, with the only thing that could possibly scare him at this point in his life: truth.
Pressing his hands into the table, he leaned over it and angled his body towards her.
"No deal. Pick something else."
Ga Eul remained seated. She didn't flinch. A placid smile spread across her face.
"There's nothing else I want from you. Just the truth. Unless, of course, you want to be stuck with me for the rest of your immortal life, which by all accounts is a very long time."
With a glare, he pulled away from her and stood up straight.
She had him cornered, and he wanted to be pissed off about it, but he grudgingly respected it. Damn it, it only made him want her more.
It was genius really. If he took the deal, he'd probably be forced to tell her how he felt about her. Or, what was more likely given Ga Eul's standoffishness, he'd be forced to confess his crimes. If he refused, by default he was saying he wanted to be stuck with her. Or, worse, that he was scared of what she would ask. That he was scared of her. And what fox with any dignity would admit to being scared of a human? Yes, his soulmate was quite clever. Or perhaps Yu Ri had helped her along. Traitor.
"Ten minutes," Rang growled. "Not a second more." He narrowed his eyes at Ga Eul and pulled out the chair across from her with a screech and a clatter. Arms crossed, he slouched down in the seat, wishing he was wearing a suit or anything more imposing than his t-shirt and sweatpants.
"Of course." She smiled. A tight smile that didn't show her teeth. "Please sign." Once again, she indicated the contract. Rang skimmed the document while trying to act like he didn't care what it said. She'd been thorough, all her conditions neatly spelled out.
When he had finished signing and had slid the contract over to her, she took another piece of paper out of her purse and unfolded it. A list of questions, it looked like. The little teacher had come prepared. She also took out her phone and set it in the middle of the table. She set her phone timer at the ten minute mark.
"When this timer goes off, our time is up."
"Fine by me." Rang shrugged.
"Shall we begin?"
"Ask away," Rang answered coolly. He thought he might throw up. Maybe he should throw Ga Eul out. But no, he couldn't. Of course, he couldn't. Even without the contract he'd signed, Ga Eul had that effect on him. He was rooted to the spot like a potted plant.
Ga Eul tapped start on the timer, and he waited for the inevitable interrogation aimed to suss out the bad fox's evil intentions. He could tell how this was going to go.
First, she'd say, 'You said you were a bad fox. What crimes have you committed?'
And he'd answer, 'Mass murder, attempted murder, accomplice to murder, assault, kidnapping, assuming a false identity, cheating death, cheating in general, dealing deceptively with humans for selfish gain, theft, attempted theft, breaking and entering, stalking. Oh, and all of those multiple times. And mostly murder.'
First, she'd ask, 'Please confirm if you can or cannot do the following: shapeshifting, mind control, memory erasure.'
And he'd answer, 'The first and third things, yes. The second, to a degree.'
So she'd press further, 'Have you done any of those things to me?'
And he'd have to answer, 'The first one only, but multiple times.'
So she'd want to know: 'When?' No, no, actually: 'When was the first time?'
And he'd say, 'Before I moved out of Shin-joo and Yu Ri's place.'
And she'd say, 'Who did you appear as?'
And he'd say, 'The girl you talked to at the bus stop.'
And she'd say, 'The one I told about my first love?'
And he'd say, 'The one you told about your first love.'
And she'd say, 'You knew about that, and you still slammed a door in my face?!'
And he'd say, 'I warned you. I'm a bad fox.'
There were so many things she could learn if she only asked the right questions, but Ga Eul asked nothing. In fact, she didn't open her mouth. She let an entire minute go by, staring at her list like she couldn't understand her own handwriting.
Rang shifted in his chair. Perhaps he should let her continue in silent bewilderment until his ten minutes was up, but he was too curious for his own good and also mildly concerned. He couldn't keep his mouth shut.
"Miss Ga Eul?" he probed. "Miss Ga Eul?"
To the side, the timer ticked off seconds: 8:55. 8:54. 8:53.
"Miss Ga Eul?" he asked again, and Ga Eul lifted her head slightly, then lowered her page of questions and laid it flat on the table. She swallowed. The blankness was gone; she looked pained. When she finally spoke, she didn't look at him.
"I thought it would make me feel better to get some answers," she began. "because I'm so used to not having any. I had this whole list of questions here that I was going to ask you, but I don't think I want to anymore. I don't want to have a conversation with anyone if I have to force them to be honest with me." Reaching over, she stopped the timer on her phone and clicked the device off. She scooped the phone into her purse. She reached into her bag and placed a slip of paper on the table—a worn scrap with ancient writing. Rang recognized the talisman instantly. Her soulmate charm.
"Here. You can have it. Free of charge." Ga Eul snatched up the contract she'd set to the side and ripped the paper in two, straight down the middle, cracking their signatures in half.
"I release you from this contract." She ripped the contract into smaller and smaller pieces until tiny scraps of paper littered her side of the table.
"Why?" he asked, and she looked him in the eyes.
"I'm not going to see you anymore, and you obviously don't want to see me, so I don't think any of it matters." She stood. "Let's stop here." Ga Eul made her way back into the living room, purse in tow, where she paused to put on her coat and scarf. He realized she was leaving and she wasn't coming back, and it was all happening too fast.
"What were you going to ask?" he called out; he was glued to his chair, watching her like a slow motion video he wanted to pause but couldn't because of his sluggish fingers, though he'd turned so that he was sitting sideways. Ga Eul tugged the last loop of her beige scarf over her head and glanced at him.
"Does it matter? You don't have to answer."
Ga Eul buttoned up her heavy winter coat. She heaved her purse over her shoulder. Then she stood there, spending a ridiculous amount of time fooling with the purse's front clasp. When it finally clicked shut, she took a few steps toward the door, then turned back to him.
"I wanted to ask if the reason you didn't want to be with me is because I'm human, and that's why you've been avoiding me. I wanted to know how much of you being nice to me was the work of that thing"—Ga Eul pointed at the charm in his hand—"and how much of it was you. But it doesn't matter. It really doesn't. Because, regardless, if I hadn't tracked you down here, I don't think you would have ever contacted me again. Or, if you did, you would have just messed with my head more, and honestly, I've had enough of that to last me several human lifetimes. I'm young, but I'm not that young. Not in human years. I've lived a quarter of my projected lifespan already, and I've done a lot of stupid things because I didn't want to end up alone, but I'm really trying to break my patterns now. So whether you're my soulmate or not, I simply don't have time to waste on guys who don't know what they want. Goodbye, Mister Lee Rang. I promise I won't look for you again."
He hadn't run after her. He'd wanted to—her words had alarmed him—but he hadn't.
Partly because he didn't deserve to. Mainly because he was a coward.
Rang guessed this was what a breakup felt like, this emptiness caving in his chest. For six hundred years, he'd drifted around alone, taking his pleasure where he could but never growing attached to anyone. After his brother had left him, he'd closed himself off, filling the cracks in his heart with bitterness. He'd told himself he preferred being alone to being with someone who would inevitably betray him.
But that wasn't what Ga Eul had done. She hadn't betrayed him; she'd simply chosen herself. She'd chosen not to get hurt anymore. She'd chosen to give him what he'd said he wanted—namely, not to be tied to her. Yu Ri and Shin-joo must have told her how he reacted to the news that she was his soulmate. Ga Eul hadn't trusted him but not for the reasons he'd thought.
Maybe she'd finally taken his advice to heart, the advice he'd given her at a bus stop on the evening everything went wrong. Right before the downward spiral of their relationship—or lack thereof—had begun. She'd told him how her first love had played around with her feelings for years and then left her high and dry, and he'd told her to tell him to fuck off. He guessed her little speech was her telling him to fuck off. It made him proud of her and gutted him all at once.
Over the course of the next week, he discovered that he couldn't find her anymore. He could wander around Seoul all day and not run into her anywhere. He didn't go to her school or to her regular coffee shop; he wasn't that weak. But he did try every other place she could conceivably be, and nothing worked. It was absurd. When he hadn't been looking for her, he had seen her everywhere. Now, he still saw her everywhere, but it wasn't her. It was never her. Just someone with a similar face, similar height, similar clothing. He couldn't find her; he was lost.
He guessed that function of the charm only worked for its original recipient.
Rang stumbled clumsily from one meaningless task to another until he found himself at his regular hair salon, receiving the hair cut he'd missed two weeks prior. Maybe he was a wreck inside, but that was no reason to look scruffy. Rang prided himself on his appearance and fashion sense, and he was peeved that Ga Eul's last memory of him would be of a slovenly couch potato.
"On the internet, it says there's no better place than a hair salon to mend a broken heart," he commented to his hair stylist.
"Did you break up with someone? You should listen to sad songs then," she offered, raking her fingers through the tips of his hair.
"I tried everything," he lamented. "I listened to ballad songs, binge-watched dramas, and tried eating spicy food." He paused, then mused aloud on whether he should dye his hair or not.
He didn't. He let the stylist cut off his hair's dead ends. He tried to focus on how much lighter his head felt once the dead weight had fallen away, but it only reminded him that there was something missing. He missed Ga Eul. He missed his human.
His human. Even if he held onto the charm forever, Rang knew Ga Eul wouldn't see it that way.
I wanted to ask if the reason you didn't want to be with me is because I'm human.
I wanted to know how much of you being nice to me was the work of that thing.
She'd left her list of questions underneath the shredded remains of their contract. Rang hadn't touched any of it since she'd left—he hadn't even eaten at the table—but when he got home from his hair appointment, he shook off the loose scraps and flipped it over so he could read what she'd wanted to say. He'd been afraid to look at it before, but it was the only thing he had left of her. He held the paper up to his nose; the scent of her apartment lingered on the page. Her neat handwriting spelled out what would have been their last conversation. What had she wanted to know?
Did you like being my friend before you found out we were soulmates?
Her friend. Despite the situation, the word brought a smile to Rang's face. He was glad she had thought of him that way.
Or did you ever pretend to like me just to get something from me?
Rang frowned. He guessed it wasn't a far-fetched conclusion, but nothing could farther from the truth, and he hated that she thought that. The next few questions continued in that same confused vein.
Does the charm mess with your head? Can it make you think or feel or do things you otherwise wouldn't? Could it, for example, cause you to protect someone?
Kind of. It could produce feelings—only feelings, not actions—but Rang had spent enough time researching the charm's loopholes to realize that while it could draw people together, it couldn't make them like being drawn together. It was a fuzzy distinction, to be sure, but, basically, Rang wanted to want Ga Eul, despite his earlier reservations. If he had to feel drawn to someone, he wanted it to be her, and the charm hadn't done that. She had done that, so her next question felt like a punch to the gut.
Shin-joo said you kind of hated humans in the past. Is that why you don't want me to be your soulmate?
If not, is there something about me you really don't like? Is there someone else you like? Or do you prefer to be alone?
Why did you help me the other night?
Why did you apologize when you saw me in the café?
Why did you take care of my hands?
Have you ever been in love?
The questions were true to what she'd said when she'd left his apartment. She wasn't trying to uncover his sins, though apparently Shin-joo had offered her some information on that front. She only wanted to know things that pertained specifically to their relationship. There was confusion in her words but also hope. A knowingly futile hope. She'd been the one to walk out, but it was because she believed he didn't like her or was being coerced or, as she put it, couldn't make up his mind. She had no other strike against him. She hadn't come there to condemn him. She'd come there because she'd valued their relationship, and he'd broken it.
Rang paced his kitchen.
He could feel himself about to do something totally out of character and possibly stupid. But what was he getting for his stubbornness? Maybe he should stop fighting fate if it was looking to favor him for once.
If this went well, she'd want to know everything, and he didn't know that he wanted to tell her everything. But maybe he could start with the questions she'd written out.
He didn't trust himself to answer everything honestly, though. Honesty didn't come naturally to him now, if it ever had. It would be better if he was compelled.
All of the contract pieces were still there, thankfully. None of them had blown away or lay hidden underneath a kitchen appliance. It took only a few minutes for Rang to piece the contract back together. Layering the tape was the trickiest part. When the last tattered piece had been sutured in place, he felt it—the familiar tingle of a favor being owed. She'd held up her end of the bargain; now he had to give her the answers he'd promised.
A/N: To answer a guest reviewer who requested something for SoEul: First, thank you for your kind words :) To answer your question, I don't know how much more SoEul I am going to write as I am trying to shift attention to other projects, so I won't say I'd never write something on that premise, but it's unlikely I'd write a long fic about it. Sorry :( However, there is a great SoEul fic by on sleepless roads called "Winning Her Back" on here that is exactly the premise you're describing. It's a pretty common theme, so I know there are other fics too, but that's the one that came to mind.
To answer a guest review from chapter 8: The F4 (including YJ) will not physically appear in this story; it is *possible* I could write a one-shot with them later, but I'm not making any promises since in this story I wanted to focus on GE's life outside of their shenanigans. But thanks for the suggestion :)