Length: 19,000..and counting
Genre: Romance, Angst (?)
Warnings: Too many narratives…?
Disclaimer: There’s a ton of reference here about angels. But like any other story about them, I made my own rules, symbolisms, and mixed pedagogies with my reality. EXO belongs to themselves, propriety-wise to SM I think, story belongs to me.
It was two years of pure bliss. Where the other lacked, the other filled out. When Minseok was drifting, Lu Han would call his name and pull him back again. Where Minseok was straying, Lu Han would hold his hand and pull him back again.
But they never grew out of it. Lu Han never grew tired, perhaps because of his other nature, perhaps because he wasn’t human to begin with, but he stayed. And Minseok learned; he learned to be part of the relationship. He learned to give and to sacrifice. Perhaps it was because it was Lu Han, and Lu Han was like no one he has ever met.
“Mr. Kim,” Kyungsoo called in the local phone line. “Mr. Lu is out in the lobby.”
“Tell him I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.”
In their two years together, Lu Han would stop by Minseok’s office every Friday before they head out for date night. He would always sit at the couch in the lobby or chat with receptionist who has grown fond of the happy man. Sometimes, Minseok would catch a glimpse of Lu Han staring at the advertising materials littered on the table or discussing theories with the employees who also have come to know their boss’ lover.
This time however, Lu Han was nowhere to be seen.
“Minju,” Minseok called the receptionist, a frown slowly forming on his face. “Where’s Lu Han?”
The girl looked up from her computer and looked around. She seemed as lost as the young executive was.
“He was just there a moment ago. I’m sorry, Mr. Kim, I didn’t notice if he- oh, there he is.”
Minseok turned to see Lu Han who seemed to have appeared from between the couch and the standees. He could have sworn his lover wasn’t there a few seconds ago.
“Where have you been?” Minseok asked as he gave Lu Han a once over. But he didn’t even wait for an answer as he grabbed the other man’s hand and gently pulled him out of the office. “Where do we eat tonight?”
“I reserved a dinner cruise at Hangang.” Lu Han beamed as he intertwined his fingers with Minseok’s. “We should be able to make it on time to board at Yeouido.”
Lu Han had been able to immerse completely in humanity. He had moved out of Sehun and Jongin’s apartment and moved in Minseok’s two months after he started dating the executive.
They dated, went out on trips, played around, and fell in love as if it was the most natural thing to happen. Lu Han fell so deeply in love with Minseok that he didn’t want this to end, that he wanted so much to be with the human forever. He didn’t think it was possible to fall in love – so madly in love – when he descended. He thought Sehun’s love for Jongin was rare and it only happened to a few.
But he was wrong. He fell in love with Minseok when he met the man. He might have been in love with him way before he descended.
And that made Lu Han scared. Scared not because it could be his weakness as a Guardian, but because he couldn’t imagine letting go of Minseok when he goes back to Ethereal. Scared because he didn’t want to leave Minseok behind.
One night after dinner, Lu Han made his way to Minseok’s room, knocked softly at the door and waited for his man to open the door.
Lu Han couldn’t hide his sadness as Minseok peered through.
Lu Han shook his head, but didn’t answer. Instead he hugged Minseok and cupped his mouth as he waited for the burning sensation to ease.
He could never lie. So he held it in.
Minseok led them inside and closed the door behind them.
“You know you can tell me.” Minseok sat Lu Han on his bed and turned on the lights. “I suppose I’m allowed to know, right?”
Lu Han shook his head, yet again, and tried to ease the burning feeling in his mouth. As he did so, warm tears escaped his eyes.
“Sweetheart, please. Tell me what’s wrong. I will listen.”
Lu Han breathed heavily as Minseok settled on the floor by his feet. He looked down at the man who has accepted him despite knowing so little. He let this man love him even if he was only telling half of the truth. He owed him a lot more, and yet he has only given him so little. He needed to know. Even if it’s just a little, he still needed to know.
“Will you believe me?”
“Anything you say, Sweetheart.”
“I know I tried to promise to be with you forever. But I don’t think I can keep that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll have to go sooner or later – but I’m praying – I’m hoping it’s later.”
To this, Minseok stood up and sat beside Lu Han on the bed. He held the other man on the shoulders and examined him left and right. “Are you sick, Lu Han? Is that why?”
“No,” Lu Han said almost immediately. He held onto Minseok’s strong arms and smiled a little at the concern etched on his boyfriend’s face. This is definitely one of the definitions of human love, he thought. “I’m not sick. I’m just... going away.”
“I can’t say.”
Minseok slumped from his side of the bed. He looked up at his ceiling and Lu Han fought the urge to kiss him. He will and he can, but there are more important things right now.
“I’m sorry I can’t say much-”
“This isn’t really saying much, Lu Han.” There’s an edge in Minseok’s tone, but Lu Han couldn’t fight it out. He knew he can never win, not when there’s really only little to nothing he could say.
“I’m sorry, Love. But I’m asking you to understand this side of me, too. Again.”
Minseok gazed at his boyfriend. He nodded, and Lu Han was sure he was fighting so hard not to get angry.
“You can get angry at me, you know that. Shout it out, scold me.”
Minseok stood up and paced his bed room. He went from exasperated, mumbled curses slowly to choked and silent sobs. Lu Han walked over to him and hugged his man tight.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Lu Han repeated the words like a mantra that would save him. He cried, too, and he wished his pain would be enough to ease the one brimming in Minseok’s heart. Because he could feel it, too.
As an extension of Minseok, he could feel his human’s pain. And the pain he felt wasn’t even a fraction of Minseok’s agony, and he felt like he could die from the hurt.
“I’ll be here for as long as I can, I promise you that. But when the time comes, you have to let me go. Please promise me.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Minseok, please?” Lu Han had begged.
“I promise.” Minseok forced out the bitter answer.
They were walking back home the next day, hands interlaced, laughter filling the air, when Joonmyeon appeared for the first time before Minseok. Lu Han wasn’t sure if the human can see the saint, but it was Joonmyeon who approached Minseok first.
“You must be Kim Minseok?” he had asked.
“Yes…” Minseok stammered, unsure where he has seen the smiling man in front of his apartment complex. “Have I met you before?”
“No, no,” Joonmyeon’s eyes bowed as his smile widened. “I’m Lu Han’s friend, back home. My name is Joonmyeon.”
“Ah I see!” like a robot, Minseok mechanically extended his hand in greeting. The saint held it and for a moment Lu Han reviewed his actions for the past few weeks and wondered if he had broken any rules. “I was beginning to think Sehun is the only other person Lu Han knows. Glad to finally meet someone else who knows him.”
“Listen, Minseok, I would like to really talk with you about him,” Joonmyeon glanced at Lu Han, “but do you mind if I can borrow him for a few hours, to catch up, you know? I won’t be around here for much long before I head back home.”
“No, not at all,” was Minseok’s answer as he straightened his shirt and eased his backpack. And to Lu Han he said, “I’ll see you tonight?”
And Lu Han only nodded. He was afraid of what will happen next.
Because a saint never shows up in humanity. And Joonmyeon isn’t the type to appear just to catch up. In a frantic decision, Lu Han hugged Minseok tight, surprising the human, but he hugged back and assured his love that he will wait for him at home.
They walked endlessly. Lu Han wasn’t sure where the saint was going but he just followed. And the crisp and sunny Sunday afternoon was beginning to darken with every heavy step Lu Han makes.
Still, Joonmyeon never said a word.
They finally stopped in front of the church that Lu Han first stayed at when he moved to humanity.
“I don’t think I’ve broken any rules, Joonmyeon.”
The saint laughed, but it was bitter, and Lu Han could say with a pun that it was soulless.
“You don’t have to worry about that, kid.”
Lu Han raised his eyebrow in question, but didn’t say a word. He has learned time and time again that Joonmyeon never really answers questions.
“You’re time is almost up.”
“You have to go back now.”
“Just as I said, you have to go back now.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
Lu Han instinctively covered his mouth at the burning sensation crawling up his throat and settling on his tongue.
“I don’t want to,” he barely made out.
Joonmyeon shook his head, in desperation? In sadness? In surrender? Lu Han slowly gulped air as the heat inside his mouth began to ease. It wasn’t the first time he felt it, but this caused pain not only physically, but mentally. Because it’s Joonmyeon. Because it’s someone from the Ethereal Place. Because it’s from someone close to his kind.
But what Lu Han now is beyond him.
“I know what you’re thinking, Lu Han,” Joonmyeon whispered. “You’re a Guardian, an Angel, you have to go back.”
Lu Han felt his legs trying to give way. He hobbled towards the bench in the distance and sat down, hands supporting his head that has started to throb. Joonmyeon followed him wordlessly.
“You’re starting to feel pain, aren’t you?”
Lu Han’s mind was not properly analysing this. He has felt pain before, the first time he saw Minseok fall from the stairs but that was because he was an extension of Minseok’s physical being.
“You’re beginning to fade, too.”
Lu Han remembered how a few days before Minseok was not able to notice he was waiting for him at the lobby. They were standing in front of each other but Minseok didn’t even see him until the receptionist pointed him out.
“Your light at Ethereal is fading.”
The image of the small orb in his room flickering flashed through his mind. It has happened once before, but last night, the orb fought so hard to keep its glow alive. It was when he decided to tell Minseok he cannot stay with him forever.
“I don’t understand, Joonmyeon,” Lu Han pleaded. “Why? You never said anything about a time limit. Why is there something like this all of a sudden?”
“I’m sorry, dear Lu Han,” the saint regretted. “I had promised Yifan that I will not tell you until the time comes. He didn’t – nobody did – want you to think you had no options.”
“What do you mean?”
The saint sat on the wooden bench beside Lu Han. He was contemplating whether he would explain or not. He decided against his gut feel and filled Lu Han with what he knew.
“Yifan asked me not to tell you about how long you have for this assignment before you return,” Joonmyeon started. He was clasping and unclasping his hands in what seemed to be a nervous bout. “I didn’t agree in the beginning, because all Guardians need to know for how long they are to live as humans. But Yifan was so afraid that you will not return. I believed you when you said you will, but the Saint of Seraphs will not have his best candidate, his most loved angel, fall to humanity. He knew that if you found out of a time limit, your decision to stay here will be final. It was for your best intentions – to not think about the end even before you started. That’s why I agreed, but in one condition.”
There is a thing called hope in the Ethereal Place. It is guarded not by angels but by Saints. For they were humans before they were saints, they understood hope the most.
Hope is a gift. And it’s only given to those who have asked with all their heart, to love selflessly, and to share without any hint of greed, and without expecting anything in return.
Hope was given to Lu Han that day he talked to Joonmyeon. It was given to him not in the form of an orb like all things in Ethereal, but in the form of a story.
Sehun busied himself in the counter as he looked at his friend absentmindedly take orders from the young students flocking in the coffee shop. He knew they were college students from the books they were holding, and from the giddy whispers they were exchanging. Sehun knew they were talking about Lu Han, but the barista manning the cashier was oblivious to all of it. Sehun knew something was off. Lu Han was never interested in girls or guys. He was only interested in Minseok from the very beginning, but he was never this disconnected from other people, from customers.
When the last glass of coffee had been served, Sehun asked Jongin to man the counter as he pulled Lu Han to the employees’ office in the back room.
He asked the older man what’s wrong, what the problem was, and if there’s anything he could be of help with. But Lu Han just shrugged. He refused to speak, like all those times Sehun noticed he doesn’t want to lie.
“You can’t lie to anyone,” Sehun said quietly, leaning against the lone table that was now empty save for papers that needed to be signed by the owner. Mismatched couches that have been previously used in the coffee shop dotted the room like nobody’s business. “I’ve known you for a couple of years, Hyung. You can tell me what’s been bothering you.”
Lu Han shook his head, and then covered his mouth as his face turned red. Sehun recognized the familiar action so he jumped up and grabbed Lu Han’s hand.
“Stop it! We’re one and the same, Hyung. Don’t shut me out just because it isn’t my business anymore.”
“I saw Joonmyeon the other day.”
Suddenly, Sehun’s knees lost their strength. He hasn’t heard that name in a while. He’s been too busy keeping up with this new life and even now, the name still rings and still weakens him like all those times before. Sehun collapsed at the nearest couch and breathed heavily.
“He said my time is over, Sehun,” Lu Han’s voice broke. It wasn’t the strong front he had before. It was confused and torn, and generally broken. “How can my time be over? How can there be a limit to this? Tell me, Sehun, you were in this position before. You fell and embraced this humanity. But you never told me anything. You never told me this life is just as beautiful as that in Ethereal. You never told me it’s this easy -”
“It’s never easy, Hyung,” Sehun admitted. “And you know there were rules.”
“But you’re no longer an angel; you’re not required to follow them anymore.”
“Old habits are hard to die,” the younger man smiled.
“It’s not like there’s an oath or something.”
“No, no there isn’t anything like that,” Sehun confessed, hands folded neatly on his lap. “Hyung, when I became human, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t quick. It took a long time in Ethereal. I had to adjust again, I had to adapt, I had to be human.”
“Joonmyeon told me I’ll have to lose my memories.”
“That was part of the package.”
“But you found Jongin again.”
Sehun paused, he never told Lu Han about Jongin and his past. “He found me. It was hard, and I almost gave up. But he didn’t. And it was all worth it.”
“What if Minseok doesn’t find me? What if I forget him forever?”
“That’s why you’re given hope, Hyung. You and Minseok Hyung, you will share that hope. And believe, you know, believe that it will work out in the end.”
And it was everything Lu Han could hold on to. He cried that day, to Sehun, in that dimly lit employee room. Where the dust is thick, and the windows were boarded; where the couches were mismatched and the papers abandoned. At least he had hope. That was the only thing he was going to hold on to.
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