xsinsofglassx's lovely prompt: You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes.
you must atone some.
geum jan di. she's resilient. like grass. like a weed. that's a bad analogy, that's a common analogy.
"We fought," she tells him.
The clink of the ice in the glass sounds like a high note in his sheet music. He wishes he was at the concert hall, with the grand piano. His fingers itch to press down on a key, press down on something that gives way beneath his hands.
"I thought it was love, you know, that sort of thing," she laughs, slightly rueful.
"Isn't it?" He keeps his eyes down on the steel holder. It catches the glint off her wedding ring when he twists it to the left. The glare off of it could blind him, if it shone directly in his eye. It weighs her hand down.
"It is," she says, firm, still, always, "it is how we love".
Geum Jan Di. She's resilient. Like grass. Like a weed. That's a bad analogy, that's a common analogy. He has studied enough to be able to do better, but he's far too tired for poetry these days.
I just wanted to tell you
—that is all.
He adds another ice cube to her glass, and watches the liquid froth.
"It is also exhausting."
The conversation is from weeks ago. He will pretend he does not know what she is talking about. She likes the disembodiment, the impersonality of the phone, he knows, she likes the distance.
"It's a beautiful day," he's sitting on the porch, alone, no nervous almost-love confessions to be made to a girl half-asleep and completely lost.
In retrospect, it wasn't fate's fault he was far too stupid, far too greedy, to read the signs.
"Isn't it?" his words, but her sigh is wistful. She is somewhere inside the mansion, he can tell. It dulls her inflections some. He sometimes counts the spaces between her letters to gauge her mood.
"I'm so tired, sunbae," she whispers, as if in a confessional, like an ashamed child.
It's easier through the static, he knows. She almost didn't say it, he almost didn't hear.
"Sunbae," she exclaims, when he runs into her at the medical camp. Again. It's the third in seven months.
She is embarrassed about the phone-calls, he knows, by the way her eyes dart about, never resting long enough to focus. She is embarrassed about her own truthfulness.
Her honesty is of the omission kinds. She does not lie, but she leaves the mask on.
He smiles too widely, hands in the pockets of his white coat, and is embarrassed too, after. He always seems to realize things after. There is a quote in there somewhere, about hindsight being 20/20.
"I don't feel like I'm playing dress-up anymore," she says, gleeful. He could probably hear the sound of her heartbeat through the stethoscope around her neck, if he just stood close enough.
(He graduated top of his class, with honors. He would have failed just to stay another year in med school.)
The coat always feels too loose on him, and when he opens them up completely, the sleeves reach past his hand.
"You were made to be here." she always has been.
He's just filling in the shoes his grandfather left behind. They're big for him too.
In the summer, Seo Hyun comes back.
The vacation is short— mostly work, and he's a side project for when she has time, and when he has time, which is not often. They get along better than he can remember in the recent past. There are things they don't talk about; her husband, the fact that he's in love with another woman in love with his best friend, that they've already had their time together and they lost it.
Falling back into a habit he once thought he'd broken is easy, too easy.
She shifts under his sheets, "you got over me."
He doesn't answer; it's not a question.
"You'll get over her too."
Seo Hyun is the constancy. He remembers being madly in love. He can still feel traces of it when he touches her, inbuilt into him; hours of kissing her posters, of waiting in her empty house, of flying halfway across the world. She was his first everything.
He's shifted markers; to a different set of photographs, a different kind of distance, but the fact is, he never really ever learned how to do anything other than love two women like a habit.
"Yeah," he says, and kisses her.
They run into Jan Di outside the Music Hall.
"Oh," she says, eyes wide, and he leaves Seo Hyun's hand. It feels wrong, somehow. He doesn't owe her anything, but it still feels wrong. Wrong to hold hands with another man's wife in front of another man's wife.
(At one point in his life, he believed himself, genuinely, to be a good person. He's far too old to think about that anymore.)
"Unni," her smile falters, her eyes shifting from their barely touching hands to their faces, but his Geum Jan Di, she's resilient, "welcome back."
(She probably believed him to be a good man too. It does not matter now.)
Seo Hyun smiles in return, takes Jan Di's hand with the one he left, "I've missed you."
They leave hands in the dark of the performance hall, and it is he who, somehow, perhaps inevitably, ends up in the middle, in a bizarre tableau of unrequited, and knows the irony is lost on none of them.
Seo Hyun is familiar with the individual pieces, the programme, the composers, and hums along under her breath, leaning her head against his shoulder sometimes. She's a creature of habit too, that way. Maybe they were always meant to be just a little bit in love with each other.
On his other side, hands clasped on her lap, tightly, so tightly her knuckles turn white, Jan Di sits still.
It is raining when Seo Hyun finally leaves. His bed is empty, and he cannot remember the taste of her perfume anymore.
He doesn't see her off, doesn't follow her to Paris again, nineteen and mad in love. It hasn't been many years since he was nineteen, but it isn't about the numbers anyway.
He takes his leather jacket, and gets on his old motorcycle instead.
He sees her from a distance outside the old gas station she used to work at. She's alone, she's always alone. He doesn't know why, he had thought that would be something that would change.
Her shoes squelch against the rain-soaked pavement, so loud, he can hear the sound through his helmet. For a brief, very brief moment, he considers turning around and driving away. There is nothing begotten by being a fool.
He doesn't, of course, eventually, and she turns around as he stops the motor, shading her eyes against the rain. Her hair is tied in plaits again, like all the times he remembers from before, her white coat plastered to her soaked clothes, and for a moment, he is in his third year of med school and watching her run towards him, coattails flapping against her legs, with a smile so wide, he's afraid it'll splinter her face in half, I did it, sunbae.
Her smile is dimmed now, "you always know where to find me."
Once, in a time when he was stringing together moments to make a thing with feathers, he would have said that he heard her alarm.
He is not the hero of this story, and she doesn't need to be saved, "I was passing by."
It rains for a week.
He cannot think of a definitive mood, a poetic metaphor to go alongside it. He hates the rain by the third day.
That is growing up, he supposes.
She hesitates at his doorstep, "will unni mind terribly if I come in."
He does not know how she knew, but he can't imagine that it makes much difference, "she left two weeks ago."
He cannot bring himself to open the door, though she is probably cold, probably freezing. He should have dropped her to Jun Pyo's house, her house, first, when he first ran into her. There is so much he should have done. There is only so many times a coincidence can happen, before he starts calling it fate.
(Soulmate, she'd called him, once, and laughed.
He had not.)
She doesn't ask to be let in, she's never demanded anything of him, as far back as he can remember. Perhaps they've both always been a little afraid of the ease with which he'd give in.
"I should drive you—"
She lowers her eyes, "I was jealous."
The pause is long. He notes it, with a fair amount of surprise.
"Of what," he asks, finally. There was a time he believed himself a good man, but he doesn't believe much anymore anyway.
"Of her," she whispers.
"I don't deserve to be," she answers, or does not answer, since he hasn't asked, "but I was. It isn't fair to you, I know. You don't owe me anything, I know. I shouldn't tell you this, I know. But I was."
Wanting something to not be true doesn't make it so. Not saying it out loud doesn't make it so. He should know about that.
If he kisses her now, she will let herself be kissed.
He has done it before. That was about comfort. This wouldn't be.
"I should drive you home," he finishes, from years ago. Old habits are hard to break.
(He knows it's her, because it's one in the morning and Jun Pyo is in another country whose language she does not speak and she always knocks thrice. It has been nine hours since he drove her back.
"I'm so sorry," she says, when he opens the door.
She's shivering, her teeth chattering against each other. She still hasn't changed out of her clothes from the day, and her lips are turning blue.
"You're soaking," he states, the obvious the only thing able to make it past the white noise swallowing his tongue whole.
And steps aside.)
The start of the affair is easier than it should be.
He does not call it an affair in his head. Maybe it is that they have been far too vulnerable, far too many times, before each other, for nakedness to feel sordid, to feel unfamiliar. He has been familiar with all her fault lines since long before he ever touched her.
He remembers this: she tastes of the city rain, that first time; part acid, part smoke and part cold. He remembers drowning.
Woo Bin is the first to notice, which is not as much a surprise to him as it would be to the others. Woo Bin has always been observant beneath the bluster. Perhaps more observant because of it.
"He broke your favorite toy once, twenty years ago," he notes, coolly, casually, "are you going to hold a grudge forever?"
The party is Jun Pyo's. The house is Jun Pyo's.
She is at the piano, on a special request, and when her fingers fall on the keys, the tune that comes out is one he taught her. He remembers sitting next to her. Remembers playing single handed that first time, the other slipping between her legs.
She hadn't stopped playing, he remembers. She had lost the notes in the middle, her head falling back, her mouth open just slightly, breathing shallow, but she hadn't stopped playing.
This is not about that, he wants to say, in his defence. But that would be untrue. Everything is, just a little bit, about that.
(Yi Jung punches him. Hard. He deserves it, anyway.
That she applies the salve, later, is rather ironic, he supposes, if he is still accounting for narrative.)
Jun Pyo looks at him askance a few times, but not nearly enough. He thinks he loves Jun Pyo in a way no one has ever been able to make him love them again. There is no particular reason why. Maybe that is true love.
"She'll leave me, if I say anything," he says, and he is drunk enough for honesty. Ji Hoo cannot remember ever having been that drunk, "and I'm too selfish to let that happen."
He has nothing to say in return, he finds. It isn't Jun Pyo's fault for being away far too often, running an empire built of history. Isn't Jan Di's fault for having wanted more. Isn't anybody's fault, for that matter.
Or maybe it's the fault of the people who they used to be, the people who believed love would be enough. Maybe it's all his fault because he was the one who had always known it wasn't.
"Between love and friendship," Jun Pyo says, quietly, (he has the weight of fifty thousand shoulders, not enough time, and he's quiet now, sometimes; only sometimes, but sometimes; he who wears the crown must bear its weight; Ji Hoo probably read that in a book once), "I would choose both. Always."
She's different from Seo Hyun.
He probably shouldn't compare, but he does. She's smaller beneath his hands, her hands are rougher with work. When she touches him, he can feel every crevice of her fingers, her palm, against his skin.
"Love is supposed to be enough," she says fiercely. She is sitting at the edge of the bed, far away from him. She's either too close or too far away. He has no reconciliation.
"I love him, Jun Pyo loves me and it should be enough, sunbae. This isn't fair."
He unconsciously plays with the string around his neck, his mother's ring sliding from one end to the other. He only realizes he's doing it once her eyes are drawn to it, and then to his face, naked pity in her eyes, grief at hurting him, and she doesn't— doesn't love him, still, this isn't about that. It is not a transference. He cannot be a fool enough to believe that.
He immediately brings his hand down, clenching and unclenching in a fist at his side.
He can see her dart another glance at his ring. The pulse at the hollow of his throat hammers, till he thinks he can hear it beat against the cool metal of the ring resting there. It's a cacophony of ugly, unmusical sound. He can't discern the notes or rhythm. Mostly like noise. It makes his head ache.
He smiles, forced, "never is."
He makes love to her slower the second time. She wants him to go faster, he can feel it in her insistent touch. He doesn't.
(The end is even less dramatic, if possible.
It isn't raining, for one. It's strange to remember in negatives, but he does. It isn't raining.
It's his bathroom she uses, and the line turns pink.
Jun Pyo throws another party.
He gets the invitation in the mail instead of over the phone, so it's special.
He spends the evening alone, getting drunk. It's the most sixteen he can remember being, which would be funny, if it wasn't so pathetic.
"Can you take me somewhere", she asks, like he can remember her asking once before, and this is how they end up at the art gallery.
"I don't think I understand it very much, sunbae. It is pretty, but I don't understand it." Another confession. Her clothes don't quite fit her anymore, and she keeps a hand protectively over her stomach when she trips.
She's always been clumsy. He thought it endearing, once. He's always been a fool.
"All art," he quotes, "is quite useless."
He knows the trick of the 'useless', knows the deconstruction of use-value and aesthetics. Remembers being taught it in a comfortable chair in the F4 classroom, encased in a cushy chair, behind a ridiculous office desk. He's always trying things on for size.
But it is befitting either way, and he is content with the surface.
She looks over, and smiles.
She is a catch in a drawer in his room; a set of fake wedding pictures and pink knitted mittens.
You're the one that got away.
He should probably return those now.
He won't, though.