Counting the Stars
A fanfiction series inspired by the mobile game Mystic Messenger
Excerpt from As Bright as the Stars:
They draped themselves in the color of death to attend its victory party.
She wore a short black dress, with thick black leggings, the black on her shoes polished to a fine sheen. She helped Saeyoung don the black shirt that he tucked into his black pants, the soft fabric rustling as her fingers held it in place. She fastened the buttons with fingers that were steady despite the shaking in her heart, the black lacquered pieces sliding into their homes like rows of soldiers standing guard on the tender soul held within. His jacket was black, draped over the shoulder of his injured arm, the blue of the sling strange with the rest of the ensemble.
He wore a white tie, and she donned a white flower in her hair. She had told him it was out of remembrance for the times when he had been what they needed, but the lily tucked next to her ear truly meant forgiveness. She might have been the only one who could hold such a sentiment, and she wanted to grant it to him as they laid him to rest.
There was no procession, nor was there a ceremony in a church. They had opted to say their goodbyes by the graveside, because no one could stomach the eyes of god watching their confusion over his loss. He had committed crimes out of desperate love, and they had not stopped resenting him enough to challenge faith in his honor. She could no more ask Saeyoung or Jumin to pray in for his wayward soul than she could bring herself to ask Heaven to open its doors. She was not a religious person, but V had been, and she wished that she knew how to speak on his behalf. She had seen the sorrow scarring his heart, making him blind to what he had done until his heartbeat had slowed enough to illuminate the destruction. She could could not ask them to carry that resolve in their hearts, but she could forgive him in place of the rest of them. She could try to ask for his peace despite all he had wrought.
They arrived at the cemetery, and the bars on the iron gates had been painted black. They were on time, and so the others had pulled in just after them. The parking lot was empty, save for the cars that carried the RFA. This service was for them, and for him, and those that had loved his photographs could hold their own farewells at another time. They all wore black under the heavy grey sky. The clouds dressed the heavens for tears, and they themselves donned the color of sorrow. She would forgive V, and she would cry for him, as well. She would cry in their stead if the others could not.
Jumin strolled across the parking lot to them as they got out of the car, his eyes full of black. She shut the door and held open her arms, and he needed no further invitation to accept her support. They hugged, and he did not speak a word of greeting.
“I’m so sorry, Jumin.” She could feel the tears building, but she did not let them fall. Not yet. They were for the graveside, to water the flowers so that they might bloom one day when the resentment no longer salted the soil.
“You have no reason to grieve for him. I do not expect you to be sorry.” He released her, his hands on her shoulders as Saeyoung made his way to stand by her side. “You did not have to be here today.”
“Of course I came. I’m here for all of you. Even him. I forgave him, so I grieve for him.” She allowed Saeyoung to pull her against him, his arm wrapping around her waist as he pressed a kiss against her temple. The petals of the flowers rustled where they brushed his face. The whisper of absolution, granted far too late to have done anyone any good.
The door to a car across the lot slammed shut, and she saw Yoosung leading Rika out into the chilling air. He looked at them, but made no move to approach, and she could see shame in his gaze. She realized that he felt bad for bringing her, knowing that none of them could bear to look at her since V’s death. It had been the right thing to do, though. Rika should be there, she should get to say her goodbyes. His loss had been her undoing, and that was just as sad as his mistakes nearly tearing them all apart. It would have been V’s dearest wish to see her smile as they sent him off, and Nicky could not begrudge him that gift. There were stories between the pair that would now never be told, but maybe Rika could imagine them while she was lost in her head.
She leaned over and kissed Saeyoung on the cheek before making her way across the parking lot. Yoosung stood up straighter, looking as though he was preparing for a fight, but when she reached him she only pulled him into a hug. His breath hitched, and she felt his sob rather than heard it as he buried his face in her shoulder.
“You’re not mad at me?”
She let him go, then flicked the tip of his nose. “Of course not, why would I be?”
He glanced at Rika, his gaze conflicted and pulled in every direction it could have possibly been. “I couldn’t…I didn’t want to come, but I couldn’t let her miss it. If she ever gets better, it would make her so sad…”
She gripped his shoulder, shaking him gently. “You did a good job, Yoosung. You’re doing a good job taking care of her.”
He cried then, although it wasn’t for V. He cried for the weight of the responsibility that he thought needed to belong to him alone. She pulled him into another hug, Rika ignoring them to stare at the sky. She was frowning as she gazed at the clouds, searching for the hidden sun. Perhaps she saw his face when her eyes found the light. Nicky hoped so.
She let out a small yelp of surprise as someone threw their arms around her from behind, swallowing both herself and Yoosung in a massive hug.
“Hey beautiful, did you miss me?” Zen mumbled the words into the back of her head. She didn’t quite have the temerity to laugh, but she did smile and roll her eyes.
“Get off me, you’re going to get glitter all over my dress.”
He let go, taking a step back to allow her to release Yoosung. “I’m not wearing any glitter.”
“You’re like a living pile of glitter.” She grinned at him, and when she saw the sadness behind his eyes she held out her arms to him too, letting him sweep her into a hug that spun them around in a circle.
“Thank you for coming. You didn’t have to, you know.” He let her go, tugging on the petals of her flower before stepping back.
“I wanted to.” She turned to see Jaehee standing behind him, wobbling on her crutches, and she rushed over to give her a hug as well. “How’s the leg?”
“Irritating, but I’ll manage. I always do.”
Saeyoung and Jumin joined them, and for a moment they stood saying nothing. They were all dressed for mourning, black layered on black layered on black, even if some of them weren’t sure how to do that in their own hearts yet. She wanted to hold them all, to keep them close and promise them that if it was too hard she could do it for them. She could mourn, she could bear their shadows on top of her own. She could forgive V and she could forgive Rika. They didn’t need to. They didn’t need to worry themselves with the complexity of betrayal and loss. They didn’t need to hang their heads and wonder if they were wrong for remembering their friend when in the end he had been more like an enemy. She would hold those struggles on their behalf. She would carry them in her heart until they were ready to let them go. She wished that she could tell them that.
A breath of wind stirred around them, and she felt the first drop of rain land against the side of her cheek. The sky was weeping, after all.
“We should go. I think the priest is ready to begin.” Jumin was staring at the plot just on the crest of the hill, where a man in robes stood clutching a bible to his chest. Jumin headed over first, and they each followed suit, marching like a grim brush stroke across the canvas of green grass below their feet. The rain continued, working its way into her hair and misting on the edge of the flower. She would weep, soon, too.
They gathered around in a loose circle, and the priest began his sermon. She didn’t listen to the words. She stared at the picture frame placed on top of the coffin, V’s smiling face centered in a halo of soft blue flowers. He looked so happy, and it made her mourn more than just his loss. She mourned the loss of what could have been, had things been different. How much would the world have needed to grant that smile to him for a lifetime? How many things would have had to change to sway the threads of fate towards that reality? She had only known the man after he had been swallowed by folly and sorrow. She never saw the smile in the picture, so it was as abstract as any painting in a museum. Lovely, and no longer real.
The priest finished, and the attendants waiting started lowering the casket into the ground. There was weeping among them, after all. Saeyoung’s cheeks glittered with more than rain, and Jumin had bowed his head to hide his feelings. She wrapped an arm around Saeyoung’s waist to pull him close, and she put her other arm around Jumin’s elbow, giving him something to hold on to. The fingers of his other hand found hers, covering them where they rested, and she felt them shaking beneath his gloves.
She watched V’s descent, and she held her loved ones, and she forgave him. She forgave him for the melancholy that took hold in his heart. She forgave him for loving Rika no matter how far she fell. She forgave him for his sins and his weakness, and for every shortcoming in between. She plucked the flower from her hair and tossed it into the gaping earth, and then she wept and let go of her resentment, hoping that there were better things for him in death than there had ever been in life.
The others drifted off, saying their goodbyes in hushed voices, bowing out of the moment when it became too great. She remained with Jumin and Saeyoung long after, letting the tears of the heavens soak into her dress. Jumin remained the longest, but in the end it was overwhelming to him, as well, and he had begged their pardon before leaving the cemetery on foot. She told him to call her if he needed anything, but she wasn’t sure if he heard her.
“I don’t understand how you could say that you forgave him.” Saeyoung spoke slowly, each word an effort as he stared at the last resting place of a fallen man. “Not after everything he did.”
“What if it had been me?”
He looked at her, his eyes wide. “What?”
“You saw what happened to me when the darkness got to be too much. What if the darkness inside me had grown, until it was out of control? What if I had become what Rika became?”
More tears welled out of his eyes as he looked at the grave, still open so that the picture of V was turned towards the sky. He could have protested, insisted that she could have never become something so cruel. She knew that he was thinking it by the way he held her tighter, by the way the tears rolled over his clenched jaw and fell to mingle with the rain in the mud. That had not been the point, however, and he knew that too.
“I don’t know if I would have found a different way…” he turned his eyes to her, full of grief and love in equal measure, and a flicker of understanding that made her feel as though she were not carrying the burden of V’s forgiveness on her own any longer. “But I know that if what happened to Rika had happened to you, I wouldn’t have given up on you either.”
He kissed her, and she let him breathe his sorrow into her lungs.
It would be a long time, but eventually they could all let go of what had happened and remember the man that he was, not the man that destruction had driven him to become. She hoped that gave him comfort, wherever he had gone. She hoped that he knew they still cared, even through the anger and pain, even through the blame that still lurked in their gazes. They had loved him, and his deceit had shaken that, but not broken it. She hoped that he knew that, and that it brought him the rest that he deserved.