“Mr. Han? Rion’s here to see you.”
“Send them in.” I walked through the doorway, the first time I’d been back in the penthouse since I’d been given the necklace I still had around my neck. I’d never been one to wear too much jewelry, but every time I went to take it off…I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So it and my engagement ring–the beautiful moonstone claddagh Luciel had found for me–stayed on, all the time.
Jumin turned in his chair and stood when he saw me, and there was a moment of nervous tension as neither of us quite knew what to do with the other. I broke first, walking over to him and wrapping my arms around him in a fierce hug–one he returned just as strong, actually lifting me off my feet briefly before setting me back down. “I’m glad you came,” he murmured against my neck.
“Of course I did. I said I would.” He pulled back enough to set his forehead against mine, hand at my cheek, and I waited…but he kept himself there, despite knowing what he wanted to do. “You said we needed to have a conversation. Luciel’s not impressed you didn’t let him come.”
“I…am not surprised. But I greatly appreciate his eventually willingness to let you come.” A beat or two of silence, and he breathed out, nodding and stepping back from me. “Yes. Conversation. One in which we clear up the…failure of communication I instilled between us. You were right to call me out for omitting truths, and…now I want to give those to you. It is the least you deserve.”
I went still. Answers. I could still remember the fury igniting me from the inside out while I was at that cliffside overlook, lashing out in ways I’d never done before, demanding to know why he hadn’t been honest with me. Why he’d never told me. Why. Why. And now he was sitting on his sofa, looking at me, waiting for the questions to come.
Why couldn’t I find one to start with?
“Why…didn’t you ever tell me?” I could hear the tears threatening to choke my voice again, and I fought them back. I was bound and determined to do this without breaking down into tears. “Why didn’t you ever say you were still in love with me?”
“Because I did not see the purpose.” Before I could object, he held up a hand. “Less for yourself, or my own, but for the situation at hand. Luciel’s situation in tandem with my own…yes, once you set foot in the penthouse I had no intention of letting you back out again. I wanted to keep you there…to have you, with me, for good.” I shivered, the way I usually did when he started talking like this. “It was irrational, and with Elizabeth vanishing as well…I was not thinking clearly. But when I saw your face, as you got the call…” He looked away from me. “I could see it. I could see those deep, twisting passions in you, the same ones that I wanted so desperately to wrap around myself and never let them touch anyone else…I saw where your heart was. Even through the irrationality, through the possessiveness, through the fury of you loving anyone but me…I couldn’t. It all shattered in an instant when you looked up at me, with that horror in your eyes, and begged me to let you go, to let you be with him, to let you help.” A sad smile slid across his lips. “And I could not keep you from that. I could not tell you then how much I loved you, and let it tear you apart while you were hurting from Luciel’s situation. And every time after, when I would see you two together, it was like watching a supernova. You were both so immensely happy…and I couldn’t bring myself to threaten it. There was no purpose, when I knew all that it would do was harm you.”
I blinked, and took a step toward him so I could sit on my feet in front of him. I don’t know why I found it so comfortable to sit there, especially given the pet analogies his mind occasionally cooked up, but it was what it was. “You never once thought…that you could win me back?”
“No. It never crossed my mind.” The words were so flat, it made my chest hurt.
“Because I knew what all-consuming love felt like, and looked like…and I saw it in you, and in him, every time your eyes met. And it was not…is not…there when you look at me.”
That knife in my chest gave another twist. “But I could have…I would have…”
“What? Could have done something to help? Would have worked around something? You said it yourself. It would not work the other way around. If you were mine…if you hadn’t left, I would not share you. I would not be capable of it.” His eyes flickered briefly to mine. “And I know that…you had never been overly fond of that concept.”
“Never? Not never.” That got his eyes back to mine, and I met his grey with mine and held them there. “Oh, there was certainly a time when I would have utterly submitted to that. I fell in love with you first, Jumin. And there were times…when you were reading to me…the pancakes the next morning. There were times that I considered staying. Never mind the apartment, never mind the party, never mind anyone else around me but you. Yes…there were times I would have stayed.” I bit my lip. “But they were never lasting thoughts. Something you would say, the way you would phrase something…when you blocked my way out the door.” He winced. “And I was frightened by the intensity of your emotions. And I just hoped that somehow, I would be able to both help you…love you…and also find some avenue of freedom.” I took a breath. “And that’s when I got the call.”
“Of course.” The bitterness I expected wasn’t there. “I knew, I think, even back then. I suppose…I merely hoped I was wrong.”
I waited a moment before asking a new question. “Why…did you go to the cliff?”
“You’re asking why I wanted to jump.” I bit my tongue. “Truth be told, I didn’t have any urge to jump. I went to the cliff to be alone…to be left alone. I simply wasn’t going to leave. I knew that very few people knew of the place, and that of anyone, V and Zen would be the last to come searching. I suppose it did not occur to me that you could simply call one of them.”
“You were just going to sit up there…and starve to death?” My voice could barely work.
“I presume I would have perished of dehydration before st–” I leaned up and over his knees to press a hand against his mouth.
“And your only goodbye was a wish for me to remember you as you were, and not as what you’d become?” I couldn’t keep the horror out of my voice or my expression. “Closed with a simple ‘be well, my friend’? My friend? I don’t know what we are, or what we’ve been, but you are more than my friend, Jumin Han, and you have been for quite some time now.” His eyes closed and I took my hand away. “Why didn’t you say anything more?”
“I didn’t want to burden you with confessions when there would be nothing left to receive the response, either positively or negatively.” He cleared his throat. “I assure you, I nearly said a great many things in that message that were not ‘my friend.’ I merely could not bring myself to say them.”
I tried to speak and couldn’t–swallowed, and tried again. “Will you tell me now?”
His eyes opened and I could see the pain in them again, but I still saw the resolve set in the back of his mind, that if I asked him something, he would respond. “My dear. My love. Angel. Beautiful. Princess. Darling. Beloved. My twilight flower.” His voice finally hitched at that. “And so many more. There was so much I couldn’t say.”
“Jumin…” I crawled up so that I could rest myself on his legs and wrap my arms around him, hugging him as tightly as I could manage. “Oh God, Jumin…”
I could barely feel his hands on my waist. “And you still are, and always will be, those things to me.”
“There is love out there for you.” I couldn’t bring myself to lean back and look at him.
“Perhaps. But as you told Luciel, I am not interested in it. I have found the great love of my life…and they are one of the deepest friends I could ever hope to obtain. Someone who sees me for exactly as I am, flawed and broken and scattered and they love me in spite of it. Perhaps because of it. Someone who loves so intensely and so deeply…that I never could have kept them to myself.” Now his arms tightened around me, pulling me flush against his chest. “And because I love you, I respect that part of you, and recognize that for that…I must let you go.”
I was still biting back tears, but I pulled back and reached into the pocket of my jeans. “Oh. I have this.”
“Now I am the one receiving dangerous packages, mm?” He looked at the velvet pouch I had in my hand.
I breathed out a laugh. “It’s nothing untoward, I assure you.” I must have gotten the reference close enough, because his lips twitched up into his small smile. “Go ahead.”
He took his arms from around me and picked the bag up out of my hands, opening the drawstring and tapping the contents out into his palm. Two square cufflinks tumbled out, each with four light green jewels and four misty pink gems making up the outer square, and then a single turquoise in the middle. He frowned. “I…they’re stunning. Very high craftsmanship. But…” His eyes traced up to me. “I know you, and there is a meaning behind this.”
I smiled and leaned my head against his shoulder, one hand resting against his as I explained. “Your topaz gift gave me an idea. I’ve always loved all the meanings behind gemstones, so I had these custom made. The green ones are peridot, which is supposed to help one understand relationships, and ease jealousy, anxiety, and depression.” He already looked amused. “The pinkish ones are rose quartz. It brings peace and calm to relationships, and eases harmony back in to where there was discord. And the center pieces are–”
“Turquoise. Your birthstone. And one I thought you hated.”
“I do, but at least these ones are pure color.” I shifted slightly. “Turquoise is a stone of friendship, though. And doubly fitting, since it is my birthstone.” I laced my fingers through his. “They are a reminder, Jumin. A reminder that we humans are complicated beings with a lot of sometimes conflicting emotions. That you have friends around you who care very much about your well-being, and want to live in harmony with you. And…” I squeezed my hand in his. “That no matter what, you will always have an eternal friend in me, and that I love you.”
His eyes kept watching mine, and without ever looking down, he set the bag and the cufflinks aside, and brought his hand back up to rest on my cheek, his thumb tracing across my lips. I kissed it softly–and he paused, frozen, then continued so that his fingertips rested against my throat. “You are far too good to me.”
“Probably. But it makes me happy to be.”
He set his forehead against mine and took a few breaths before speaking again. “Those could not have been cheap.”
“I don’t care about the price. They’re what I wanted, and I’m willing to pay for that.”
“You work as a server.”
“I had savings.”
“You also have a significantly more well off fiancé.”
I scoffed. “Trust me. I didn’t spend Luciel’s money on a gift for you. There are lines that I’m not willing to even approach.”
He breathed out a laugh, and then after a moment, spoke again. “I have something for you, as well.”
“This is the last of it, I can assure you. May I?” I shifted so that he could stand up, and as he walked into another part of the penthouse, I looked at the cufflinks sitting on their velvet pouch. I wasn’t ever going to admit to Jumin how much they’d cost…and I was probably never going to tell Luciel I’d spent that much money on not-him. But it was worth it…and I think if he knew the meaning of the stones, he’d agree. I hoped.
Jumin came back a moment later with a small cardboard box, about the size of a bread box. It was plain brown cardboard, no writing or labeling anywhere on it, just folded shut at the top. He handed it to me, and I took it was a certain level of trepidation, looking down at it. “What…is it?”
“A whole manner of things, that I located while I was cleaning last night. I…” He paused, crossing his arms, a classic pose for him when he was uncomfortable. “I only ask that you do not open it while you are here. And while I will not say anything as to your fiancé…these are for you, most of them from a time before your engagement. I simply…cannot hold onto them any longer, and would rather see them come to you at an inopportune time, than be discarded somewhere.”
My fingers traced the edges of the flaps on the box, desperate to know what was in it…but equally knowing that if Jumin asked, there was a reason he didn’t want me to open it in front of him. And I could accept that. “Thank you.”
He nodded, and I stood up from the couch. “I presume you need to leave.” His voice was more balanced than I’d expected.
I nodded in return. “Luciel’s waiting downstairs. He drove me over.”
“Send him my best.”
There was a pause before I set the box down and gave him a hug, which I got returned in force. After a long moment, I could hear him, but only just barely. “I don’t want to let you go.”
“I know.” I sighed. “I know.”
A moment later, he relaxed his grip on me, and I took the step back to remove myself from his arms. His face was a mask again, and I knew mine had to be as well. For now, this was the best we could manage. “Take care…” His voice caught, but he seemed to dismiss whatever had stopped him. “My angel.”
“You too.” I couldn’t say anymore than that. There were so many things I could say…but none of them were right. None were appropriate. I picked up the box, held it tight to my chest, and with a final small wave, ducked out of the penthouse before either of us could change our minds.
It wasn’t for another week, almost two weeks, that I convinced myself to open the box. I’d brought it back home with me and forgotten–a little–about it as time went on. But as I was packing up the rest of my things to move in properly to Luciel’s home, I came across it again. Sitting on my bed, I took a deep breath and opened the box.
He hadn’t been kidding when he said an assortment of things. Several were pieces of jewelry, which amused me–but he had chosen ones I wore: necklaces and earrings. Most of them were star related, and all of them likely expensive. Most of the box was filled with envelopes of varying sizes, all of them sealed with a single capital ‘R’ on the front in Jumin’s neat calligraphic handwriting. I didn’t dare open any of them right now. Underneath–well, I’d been hoping to avoid the tears, but this had done it anyway–was a book. Please don’t be the book I think this is. And yet it was, and I choked back a sob. I couldn’t even read the title, but I didn’t need to. It was the book he’d started to read to me when I was at the penthouse…the book Rika had given him, and that before he’d sworn he wouldn’t finish without her…but had decided to share it with me.
And now he’d never finish it. Dammit, Jumin. I blinked, desperately fighting back the tears. There were still a few more things I could see under the book. One looked to be a flash drive, so I reached for my laptop and plugged it in. While I was waiting for it to fire up, I sifted through the envelopes, making sure I hadn’t missed anything–and found two small boxes. Everything went cold for a moment, and my stomach twisted. Oh Jumin, please no…
I held my breath, opening the slightly larger of the two. Inside was a single key, no markings on it other than the stamp of the maker, and a small folded piece of paper. “You will always have a place, and a home, here.” It had to be a key to the penthouse. The tears were pricking at my eyes again, and just in time, my laptop informed me that it had finished looking at the flash drive, and…it was filled with audio files. Some short, others far longer…most were just numbered, but two had “first” and “second” as their labels. I set the key and its note aside, and double-clicked on the “first” file.
There was a moment of silence, and then a cough. “Rion.” Unsurprisingly, it was Jumin. But still, hearing him say my name…my hand covered my mouth. “I…do not know when you will receive this. If you will ever receive this. But if…and when you do, it is safe to assume that we have come to a final point in our relationship. I’m not sure what it is, perhaps simply… *sigh* I don’t know. But you hearing this means that I have determined that there is truly not going to be a chance for me to say any of this to you in person. You do not need to listen to any of these files. …If I had to choose one, it would be the file I’ve entitled ‘second.’ That is something I promised to you long ago, and never lived up to. The rest…are my thoughts. My attempts at working out my mind, and my feelings… Some of them are angry, others are sad. Many are ramblings, and I doubt any of them makes coherent sense.” I choked on half of a laugh. “But all of them are true, however sharp and unforgiving that may be. I say things I no longer mean, things that angered me in the past and I have since come to terms with. You’ll know which ones, if you hear them. …at least, I hope you will. *deep breath* I’ve gone on long enough. These are all the words I’ve never been able to say to you, and a lonely and broken man’s attempt to make one final effort to do good for a friend he holds very dear. …You will always be my angel, and I will ever remain your fallen one. *long pause, then whispered* I love you.”
The track clicked off, and I couldn’t stop the tears. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to listen to the other tracks, if my heart would ever be able to handle that level of emotion…but I was baffled by how much was there. What could he have said in all of this? What were all of these tracks? How long…had he been recording these?
I finally managed to see well enough to start the “second” track, and this time it started with music–not a tune I knew well, but one I felt I’d heard before. The piano played through the beginning, and just before the vocals started, I remembered where I’d heard it before. Jumin had it playing in the penthouse at some point when I’d been there. I’d commented that I liked it, and he just smiled…and I didn’t know why, since I hadn’t heard any of the lyrics.
“I stare into the dawn on a hill swept with faded memories
Leaves fall into a heap quietly when the sun rises
Only the bare branches remain, abandoned by the birds
one by one, my memories fade away, yet the sky is still smiling…”
but the tears have only scattered in time
I miss you, I miss you no matter how much I beg
I still can’t see you
Only a faint trace of longing remains”
I curled up and waited until the song was done. It was all I could do, sobbing into my knees for a man who I could not love the way he loved me…the way he deserved someone to love him. For all that I did love him, I was never going to be who he deserved, and he didn’t care. He’d fallen for me, and now day after day I was going to break his heart over and over again. Everything hurt. Breathing, existing…everything was knives in my heart.
Finally the track ended, and I managed to pull myself together enough to look at the final box. It was white and covered in satin, and I was terrified of what I was going to find. I tilted the lid up, and almost let it snap back shut on my finger. I forced myself to open it, and reveal that yes–I had guessed right, and it was a ring. It was either a silver or white gold setting, with what I had to assume was an incredibly expensive diamond at the center, flanked by sapphires and smaller diamonds. It was breathtaking, and I knew it couldn’t have come cheap. And like the key, it had a small note tucked into the box with it.
My hands were shaking as I unfolded it.
“Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy. Even love unreturned has its rainbow.” Even if you never wear it, I will be happier knowing it is in your care. I would have then, and would still now…and likely always will be willing to devote myself to you. And in my own way, I always will. Be happy with Luciel. It is all I have ever wanted for you. You are my most precious treasure. Be well. -J
I dissolved into tears again.