Title: A Healthy Heartbeat
Genre: angst, supernatural, romance
Summary: Kim Heechul was impossible, and Han Geng was unlikely. Heechul is a dead man, trapped in time. Wandering aimlessly for years, cold and devoid of emotion he stumbles upon Han Geng, an infant in his mothers arms; and by saving his life, he in turn saves his own.
Han Geng. Chapter Two.
For all the children he’d looked after, he had no idea what to do with an infant. In his previous life he’d never had the chance to be a father to his daughter; he didn’t know how to bring up a child. He couldn’t leave him, though, not in this bitter cold. His mother’s arms were frozen stiff around her child, but when he pulled the ball of blankets away it was warm. He held it close to his chest, though no warmth resided there, and walked with haste to his home. If you could call it a home, that is.
He’d been living there for quite some time; it seemed no one noticed it was even there. Compared to his previous dwellings - derelict factories, alleyways and small houses on the verge of collapse - this place was quite fancy. It was clean, for starters, already leagues away from what he was used to. He had electricity, water, heat. But it was devoid of life. Rain dripped with a heavy rhythm onto the bare, dusty floorboards through a crack in the roof, the door creaked shut behind him. His footsteps made no noise, no footprints in the dust; though he knew they’d groan and shriek beneath the weight of any other trespasser. The house was dark, but Heechul had no trouble moving around. He set blaze to the great hearth in the living room, illuminated the vast space. His paintings were propped lazily against the walls, papers scattered over old desks and cobwebs hanging from the flat, damp settees. He knelt before the fire, felt the heat upon his face, and unwrapped the bundle of blankets in his arms slowly and tenderly until a cherub-like face peered up at him with curious eyes. ‘Hello.’ He’d whispered to it. ‘I’ll keep you, for a while.’
Han Geng – as he’d assumed he was named – was a rather quiet baby. He couldn’t have been more than eight months old when he’d found him, and as soon as those big, brown eyes had looked up at him he just couldn’t give him away. Sometimes he wondered what madness had overtaken him when he’d vowed to keep the child, but he coped. While his house was modest, he made it as warm as he could. His paintings were hung at last, and the tales he’d written over the years found their use as bedtime stories when Geng was old enough to understand.
He didn’t let Geng out into the world. Not once. And maybe he was selfish for doing so, but in his heart he was scared that the if Geng saw the world he’d want to see more and more, and he’d leave Heechul. This was all he could come up with to keep Geng close. He told himself it was to keep Geng safe, but really he was just being greedy. He taught him Korean, Chinese, how to read and write. Everything he needed to know about the world outside he found out through books. Sometimes Heechul would let him look out of the window with him, when it snowed. Geng liked the snow. ‘It makes me think of you,’ he’d said once, watching the flakes flutter past. Some stuck to the glass, and Geng pressed his fingers to them, as if he thought he could reach through the glass and touch them himself. When Heechul had asked why, he’d shrugged his small shoulders, looked back out into the white wonderland. ‘It looks cold. But it’s pretty. It’s a nice cold.’ He smiled. ‘Cold and pretty and nice. Like you.’
Geng grew in the blink of an eye, and with age came curiosity. He wanted to know what the world looked like, the world he’d seen through written words and Heechul’s vivid tales. Heechul tried to paint pictures for him, to capture the beauty of the universe; but there was no depth to his illustrations and Geng grew restless. He’d trapped the boy for too long, he realised. It was cruel. He’d lived for more than a century, seen all the beauties the world had to offer, yet he’d allowed Geng to see only a scant preview. When he looked at the boy, he saw sad eyes. Eyes full of kindness and compassion; but they were lonely eyes, too. Geng needed friends, people his own age. He was too quiet and reserved for a six-year-old boy, preferring to sit and watch Heechul paint than start a conversation. He never complained. But even though he was a quiet boy, since the day Heechul had found him he’d filled his bleak, hopeless existence with warmth and wonder. Heechul wondered if this was happiness, and if it was happiness, why did it feel as if he was doing something wrong?
It was Geng’s seventh birthday when Heechul finally let him go.
Geng had never had a birthday. Heechul had no idea when he was born, so he’d never thought to celebrate it. He decided it was February 9th, a cold day. Wind howled through the house and a blizzard whirled outside the window. They sat by the fire on the hard wooden floor, wrapped in blankets and watching the white world through the window. He’d made a cake, and they sipped hot chocolate as they ate it. Geng didn’t understand the occasion; it was just another day to him. The boy was entranced by the snow, as he always was, when Heechul placed a pile of clothes in his lap, a pair of shoes. ‘What’s this?’ The boy had asked.
‘A school uniform,’ Heechul had said. ‘You’re going to school.’
There was no snow the next day, but the fall from the day before still coated every surface. Geng’s eyes had gone wide with stupor when he’d stepped outside, felt the snow crunch beneath his school shoes. He’d never felt snow before, and the wet, coldness of it had left him awestruck; at least until Heechul threw a great wad of it at his face, and a mighty snow ball fight had been waged. They ran to school, laughing as they slipped and slid over ice, and Heechul was soaked to the bone by the time they reached the school gates. How long had it been since he’d laughed? Smiled? But as he stood there, saw Geng turn to leave, the happiness left him.
‘Have a good day.’ He’d said, and he’d started to walk away when a small hand tugged at his arm. He looked back, Geng’s small face looking up at him with a concerned frown.
‘Why do you look so sad?’ He’d asked.
‘I’m not sad.’
‘Your eyes are sad.’
For a moment he was stunned to silence at the boys’ words. He read him like a book, and he was only a child. How could he see the emotion Heechul couldn’t even feel? But he shook his head and smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes.
‘I’m scared you might forget me.’ He said softly. His voice sounded odd though, strained and choked. Something wet rolled down his cheek and he rubbed it away. Tears. He was crying. Small, skinny, warm arms wrapped around his torso tightly, and when he looked down he saw Geng hugging him, his head pressed against his chest.
‘I’ll remember you.’ He said. He let go, then. He walked away. Heechul watched him disappear through the crowd of children, lost in a roar of faces. He felt colder than ever before, but there was warmth in his frozen heart. Somehow he believed him, this boy.
Maybe this time someone would remember him. Maybe this boy wouldn’t forget.
He stood at the gates for an hour, maybe two. His feet had turned to ice, his fingers bone white. Tears streamed down his face but he didn’t sob. Soft flakes of snow started to fall, caught in his silken, wet hair, white against black. He felt the cold iron gate against his fingertips, and with one last long, lingering glance he left the school, left Geng, behind. He walked back to his cold, damp home. Snow blew inside as he entered; the door screaming shut behind him. He sat beside the fire, but it was unlit. He wrapped himself in the blankets he’d shared with the boy only a day before and he slept, long and deep.
And he disappeared.
His feet crunched through the snow as he skipped across the playground. There were children everywhere, older and younger, and the building he walked towards was the biggest he’d ever seen. A smile was plastered onto his face and he sped up, dashing into the building and looking around in wonder. But he felt odd all of a sudden, his smile faltered. Why was he so wet? He saw snow on his shoes, on the shoulders of his coat. Was he playing in the snow? His smile had faded to a frown, how had he got here? His eyebrows furrowed, his eyes welled with tears. People were passing him by, giving him strange looks, but they started to blur. He couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember anything. But he’d promised to remember. He was breathing heavily, his shoulders trembling. A hand touched his shoulder, a concerned face leaning down to ask what was wrong; but his tongue was like lead in his mouth and when he tried to speak all that came out was a dry, deep sob. He sank to his knees. Tears ran down his cheeks, his lower lip wobbled, and he balled his fists tightly as he cried.
He was taken to the infirmary, where he cried so hard he fell asleep. When he woke up, his head throbbed. He was in a bed beside a window, a blanket draped over his small, skinny body. He sat up and rested his head on his knees. Snow had started to fall outside, thick white flakes. He thought they would feel soft on his skin, cold on his face. It would soak through his clothes and make his skin go pink and sore. It mesmerised him. Snow was so cold, uncaring. He loved the snow, but the snow loved no one. It was soft and beautiful, but beneath snow was ice. Ice was hard, brittle. A woman entered the room and asked him how he felt.
‘I don’t like the snow anymore.’ He told her. ‘It hurts.’
The boy was diagnosed with amnesia. His whole life before his first day of school was a mystery, only his name and age were left behind in his application form, an elegant font sprawling across the pages was all that remained of the man who wrote it. And if he was quiet before, he was now a mute. His laughter still came easily, and he had a smile for everyone, but he spoke as little and as quietly as a ghost. Therapists had tried to understand his mind, to peel back the layers hiding his memories, but they found next to nothing; all Geng would talk about was the snow, and the man with the long black hair. If he tried to delve deeper into his past, his mind would scream at him, send jolts of burning pain through his veins and he’d scream, faint. They gave up on his past soon enough. He had no trouble making friends, though. People assumed he was quiet because he was Chinese, that he was struggling with the language. He let them believe that. He was taken into care, fostered, adopted, and he left his adoptive home to live alone when he was seventeen. He had a job, a modest apartment, and friends. He left school with average grades, had average girlfriends – he was an average boy.
But sometimes he felt like somebody was watching him. He’d feel a familiar gaze burn into the back of his head, and he’d look around, but nobody would be there. There was always a name on the tip of his tongue, a fond, familiar name. It would die before it passed his lips, though. He’d forget what he was going to say. He thought little of these odd occurrences, shrugged them off as side effects of amnesia. But whenever he felt the sensation, turned around to see nothing, felt the word die on his lips, he felt emptiness inside. Raw and sore, an unhealed wound deep in his heart.
Han Geng was a handsome boy, tall and tanned and soft at heart. There was always a girl on his arm, in his bed. They were always wide eyed, with plump lips and shoulder-length black hair, so silken he’d run his fingers through it as they slept. He didn’t stay with any one of them for long; they always dumped him within a week. He was too cold, they’d say, and he agreed. He felt nothing for them, not one. There was a hole in his heart and not a single one of them could fill it, but they made him feel better, even for a moment. He didn’t use them, he was a gentleman. They were drawn to his kind, caring personality, and maybe his quietness gave him an air of mystery. Sometimes he’d see someone else when he lay with them, a face he loved, and he’d cry out a name as he climaxed, a name he wouldn’t remember uttering. ‘Who were you thinking of?’ one girl had asked, but he’d been bewildered by the question. She took it as a front, as if he was shrugging the question off. ‘You must really love them,’ she’d said, ‘because before you said their name I’d almost believed you loved me.’
When winter came and the leaves abandoned the trees, when the snow covered the world like a big white blanket, Geng had always been disquieted. The season made him sad, and when the snow fell he would be plagued by headaches, bad dreams. Sometimes he’d lie in bed for days, shaking under his blankets and wishing for spring. His birthday was the worst, though. His friends used to invite him out for drinks; they’d ask him if he wanted a party, but not anymore. When he was younger, when he’d only just lost his memories, it hadn’t been too bad. He’d stomached the emptiness that gnawed at him. But as he’d grown older the emptiness, the hole in his heart, had consumed him. He grew feverish; and sometimes he’d kneel beside the toilet for hours, but he wouldn’t vomit once. It was the sensation, the churning of his guts, the feeling of falling. It made him feel as if he was spinning, spinning, spinning, endlessly. As if he was falling from space, tearing through the Earth’s atmosphere, through the soil and the rock and the fire until he came out the other side, and even then he continued to fall. And he always felt cold. So cold he’d shiver in a steaming bath, even if the water was so hot he’d step out with scalded red skin, tender to the gentlest touch.
When he’d left school, he hadn’t bothered with college. He was talented in martial arts and his teacher had handed his small gym over to Geng as soon as he’d left home. He didn’t get paid much, but it was enough. It was his twenty-third birthday, snowy and cool; but today he’d felt well enough to work. It was dark when he locked up the gym and he pulled his hood up to keep his ears warm, pushed his hands deep into his pockets. The snow rained down hard and heavy, as deep as his ankles, and he watched his feet as he walked. Something made him feel uneasy, and he wondered if his birthday sickness had finally kicked in; but this felt different somehow. He remembered the sensation, the feeling of being watched. It had been years since he’d felt eyes on his back, and just as before when he turned… there was no one; only passing strangers. Kids ran past screaming, snowballs flying back and forth as they laughed, and he found himself watching them with an odd expression. His head ached and he continued to walk home, as fast as his numb feet would carry him. Maybe he’d played in the snow before he’d lost his memories. Maybe he’d smiled like they had. But now the snow was a cold stranger to him, uncaring and bleak. It only caused him pain. The voices of strangers passing him by were muffled by his hood; the eyes on his back stared on endlessly. The pain in his head grew worse and worse as he walked home, so bad it felt as if it was being crushed, tighter and tighter it grew until he reached his apartment, breathless and groaning in agony.
His fingers fumbled clumsily with his keys, and when he managed to jam the stiff door open with a hard shove of his shoulder, he welcomed the warmth of his small apartment. His coat was soaked and his shoes were caked in snow and mud. He pulled them off, hung his coat over a radiator to dry and ran himself a hot bath to warm his frozen limbs. Somebody was setting off fireworks outside, he saw. Colours flashed, blurry through the steamy window in the bathroom. He imagined they were for him, to celebrate his birthday. He wouldn’t be doing any celebrating tonight, he never did. He just slept, and that’s all he could think of doing.
He didn’t bother eating. He took some painkillers and dove straight into his bed, wrapped himself in blankets like a caterpillar in its cocoon. He didn’t bother to close his blinds, and he watched the fireworks paint the snow-heavy clouds vibrant colours as he drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of a beautiful man; in his dream he couldn’t see the man’s face, but he knew he was beautiful somehow. He dreamt he was telling him a story, a long story about a man who couldn’t die; he never grew old, and he wandered and wandered from town to town, city to city, until one day he found-
‘Geng,’ Came a whisper, penetrating his dreams. His eyes opened wide, and when he saw him, his head felt as if it would collapse. But it was the man who collapsed first. His eyes had gone as wide as moons when Geng had woken up to find him leaning close, a pale hand on his cheek as fireworks screeched outside, casting a beautiful glow on the familiar face. The word had come out this time, though, and it rolled off his tongue the instant their eyes had met. “Heechul?” he’d blurted, and the man’s face was a picture of disbelief. He turned pale as a ghost, and in a matter of seconds he was lying flat on Geng’s bedroom floor, and the pain in his head had made Geng feel a bit like fainting himself.
When Heechul woke up he was warm, and he took a while to open his eyes; but the moment he came to his senses, felt a soft pillow beneath his head, he shot up, eyes wide and wild. He was still in his snow-soaked clothes, and the sheets clung to his legs. When he saw Geng standing in the doorway, though, looking at him, staring at him, he was at a loss for words. His mouth ran dry and a shaky breath escaped his lips before Geng moved, spoke softly. ‘I ran you a bath,’ he said, and Heechul thought he was going to say more, but he just licked his lips nervously and left the room, leaving Heechul alone in the dark, his arms wrapped around his knees as he shuddered. He said his name, didn’t he? He remembered.
When he left Geng’s bedroom, he knew his way to the bathroom without having to ask. He’d been here before, countless times. He closed the bathroom door behind him and leaned against it, tilted his head back til it thumped against the wood. A deep, shuddering sigh left his lips. His mind couldn’t process what just happened, his chest hurt. He pulled off his damp clothes and stepped into the bath, letting the warmth seep into his weary, cold bones. He’d never expected Geng to see him. He’d never woken up before. Heechul often followed the young man here and there; countless times he’d snuck into Geng’s apartment and just sat at the end of his bed, watching him sleep. The years of loneliness had worn away at him, and he couldn’t stay away; but whenever he was around, Geng always seemed miserable. Sometimes when Heechul followed him home, he’d have a girl by his side, and Heechul would feel a twisted, knotted feeling in his gut at the sight. The girls he took home were always beautiful, tall and slim and milky-skinned and it made Heechul feel rotten. He had no reason to, though. What was he to Geng? He’d left him in the first place, and besides, he was like Geng’s father. He had no right to feel anything for the man; he’d brought him up, told him bed time stories, it was sick and wrong. But he’d grown tall and handsome and Heechul found himself following him no matter how hard he tried to stay away. But what if he was mistaken? He’d said his name, and his voice was soft and it sounded like a song when it left his lips, but what if it had been a matter of instinct, a memory left behind that triggered when he saw Heechul’s face? He must’ve frightened Geng half to death, standing there at the foot of his bed with his hair blown all over the place, face as pale as a ghost. He’d woken up in Geng’s bed, hadn’t he? The bed Geng slept in. He wondered how many girls had slept in that same bed; whether Geng was gentle with them, if his hands were as soft as his voice, if his lips tasted as good as they looked. He shook his head, droplets of water hitting the floor with quiet, wet thumps at the motion. He couldn’t think such thoughts. He was old, so much older than Geng. If the young man remembered him, he wondered if he saw him as he had when he was a child; a father, an older brother What if he resented him for abandoning him? He closed his eyes. Geng was like a drug, he thought. Without him he felt hollow and old, older than his timeless outer shell could tell. But when Geng was near, it was as if his nerves were set alight, his skin would feel warm to the touch and sometimes he imagined he could hear his frozen heart beating. He opened his eyes, and he could see himself in the mirror above the sink, and his heart sunk at his reflection. He was so thin; his collar bones jutted out of his milky skin and his eyes seemed too dark and big for his face. His naturally red lips were a pale pink and his cheeks were hollow and flushed from the heat of the bath. He hated it. He couldn’t look any longer. He scrubbed at his skin til it was pink and sore and his face was red with tears. Since when had his tears flowed so easily? There was a burning in his chest, searing hot, and his hands scrabbled at the skin there, gasping in agony. His heart. Water sloshed over the rim of the bath as he writhed in pain, his teeth bit into his lower lip so hard that he drew blood. He thought he was about to die, truly, but then a gentle knock on the door cut through his agony and Geng’s gentle voice sounded from outside. He sucked in a desperate, drowning breath as the pain receded. What just happened? His hands were shaking, he reached for a towel. Geng started to speak.
‘I knew it was you. I remember everything. You look the same as you did when I was little,’ he heard him say softly from the other side of the door, but it was loud in Heechul’s ears, even if his own breaths were loud and rasping. ‘Why did you leave? What did I do?’ He sounded as if he was about to cry, and Heechul opened his mouth to object, tell him that he didn’t leave by any fault of his, but he heard his weight thud against the door, heard him sink to the floor outside before he continued in a flurry of words, his voice rough with repressed tears. ‘I promised not to forget. Why did I forget? But I remember now. You look the same, Heechul. I used to dream about you. You’d tell me stories and we’d watch the snow… I was happy with you, you know. You’ve been following me, haven’t you? I always felt like something was missing, ever since you left. You’ve been watching me for a while; I could feel it, sometimes. I’d turn around ready to shout your name but whenever I looked back you’d be gone and I’d forget all over again.’ He heard him sigh. Heechul stood, wrapped the towel around his skinny waist and padded over to the door as quietly as he could, and he stood there, just listening. ‘When I woke up and saw you standing there, something just… clicked. It’s as if I’ve been waiting for you to come back this whole time.’
Heechul felt his cheeks redden at his words, his fists balled tightly in the hem of his towel. ‘While you were sleeping I… I sat and watched for a while. I remember you being pale and cold but seeing you again… it’s as if you’re made of ice. I always had this foggy image of you at the back of my mind; black hair and a pretty face. I always remembered that. You look exactly the same, Heechul… It makes no sense. You should be in your fifties by now, surely, but it’s as if you haven’t aged a day. I won’t ask why, though. You might run away again.’ He paused, ‘I don’t want you to run away again.’
His breath caught at the change in Geng’s voice. A knot of guilt started to tighten in his gut and he gritted his teeth. Not a day had passed when he hadn’t regretted leaving Geng behind, but it was the only thing he could’ve done. He reached tentatively for the door handle, but hesitated. In that moment, Geng spoke again.
‘I don’t know how you think of me now, I don’t know if you still see me as a little boy, but when I saw your face again I realised every girl I’ve ever chased after, even slept with… they all looked like you, every single one. But none of them were as beautiful as you. I always felt like something was wrong. No matter how many girls I met… they were all wrong, because it was you. It was you all along.’
A pregnant silence hung there, a door between them, and Geng suddenly wondered if Heechul had escaped out of the bathroom window. He got to his feet, feeling a red flush creep down his neck. He shifted from foot to foot nervously, reaching for the door handle, but it twisted before his fingers touched it. His eyes met Heechul’s and his heart pounded so loud he thought Heechul could hear it too. His eyes wandered, took in every inch of the man before him in a matter of seconds, from his flushed cheeks to his jutting hipbones, scarcely covered by the towel that hung on them precariously. He could hear Heechul’s breathing, as loud as his own, and he watched with fascination as a droplet of water fell from Heechul’s hair, rolled down his pale chest, and in a matter of seconds his lips were against the older mans, insistent and needy and… right.
Heechul’s skin was cold to the touch while Geng was like fire, and when their lips separated for air he wondered if he was still dreaming. But Heechul gave him no time to think, locked their lips once again and Geng pushed him against the nearest wall, kissed him deeper. He felt long legs wrap around his hips, Heechul moaning against his lips.
He felt alive.