The fear that sat at the pit of your stomach rose up to your chest, stinging the mark there, creeping up your throat to settle at the roof of your mouth. Immediately you saw the ones near him come to a halt, he didn’t need to say ‘excuse me’ to get through, the sea of people parted itself to make way for The Jumin Han. Anyone would recognize the man, he appeared everywhere.
He was on the news, on the front covers of magazines, on the headlines of the newspapers, on every article written about power, business and politics. They said he owned the country; you couldn’t have said it better yourself. His father left a pile of dead bodies in his wake and Jumin Han, the devil himself, he used them as steps to climb all the way to the top.
‘A puppeteer and we are toys on his strings’, everyone would say. You didn’t wait for the man beside you to add ‘also Hyun Ryu’s friend’ because you already knew, the same way you didn’t wait for him to tell you why he said all of these things and what he meant because you also knew.
‘You’re not supposed to be here; this is not your world’
And you did just that. The ground swayed and your feet trembled at the adrenaline and dread that took a hold of your body. You didn’t bother apologizing as you pushed aside the people that stood in your way, and your mind was hazy, everything blurred to a single focus. You saw the damn bastard introduce your cousin, your family, to Jumin Han and you had to bite your lip to keep from shouting, ‘NO. NO. STAY AWAY. DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HER.’
This place, with all its noise and grandeur, may be a stranger to you but what’s happening now—you know this one all too well. This same unkindness has let their cruel world spin out of its axis and allowed it to collide with yours, leaving it broken and mourning.
But not this time.
Your heels clicked loudly on the floor as you walked with wide, urgent steps. You approached the bar with clenched fists, one goal in mind. Hyun Ryu’s friends stopped as you got closer, surprised at this stranger who barged in on their circle, but you couldn’t care less. Kyung-ju was talking animatedly, her good nature so out of place.
“Oh, hey!” she stopped mid-conversation as you walked towards her. “This is my cousin! She accompanied me-”
“We need to go,” you cut her off, and your resolve almost weakened as you saw disappointment flash in her eyes. You steeled yourself and continued. You turned to Hyun Ryu and prayed your voice wouldn’t crack.
“I’m sorry, but we really need to go,” then to Kyung-ju, “your mother called, she’s worried sick”. You know the lie was evident, coating the words with thick desperation.
“No. What the hell? What’s gotten into you?” she said in a shouting-whisper. She was just as stubborn, so you held her hand and hoped she would understand.
“Please,” you begged with gritted teeth, your eyes solely on hers. Your clipped nails unknowingly dug at her palm and she winced in discomfort. Please, please he'll destroy you, he'll destroy all of us.
Everyone was staring now. You knew that you were making quite a show, but she decided to make it into an even bigger one when she suddenly pulled away from you, anger and annoyance making her put unnecessary force in the act.
Her heels skewed with her balance. Her back hit the tall table behind her. Glasses of different shapes and sizes shattered into pieces.
And then even the music stopped.
Oh, you were fucked. You were the adult in the situation and that also makes you the liable one. But looking at the mess before you and knowing how much this place valued luxury, you knew the measly money you have wouldn’t even cover half of it.
You looked at Hyun Ryu first, and you were taken aback by the genuine concern you saw, but you ignored it and decided to address the trouble you brought. Any moment now a staff would come and have your ass handed to you, financially.
“Look, we’re really, really sorry about all of this,” you said, "I-I'll pay for it I-I just-," and Hyun Ryu was about to say something when Jumin Han himself, stepped forward and looked down at you.
The single movement made the room drop its temperature and reduced the people to hushed tones. You wanted to look away, to finally drag Kyung-ju and go home. But you couldn’t help but be frozen at your spot and be at the mercy of his shadow. He was tall.
The pictures didn’t do him justice because the man was unbelievable up close. You couldn’t believe how he looked even more menacing with that dark coat draped on his broad shoulders. You tilted your head up and detachedly thought that he looked younger in person, his untamed hair making him look quite boyish. Then your eyes landed on his.
And you felt your soulmark burn; it hurt so much that you wanted to pound your fist on your chest to make the pain go away. Those cold, grey eyes bore themselves at you, forcing you to carry the weight of its unkindness, eyes capable of taking and destroying without an afterthought.
“It’s alright,” you heard him say, “I’ll take care of everything”.
Your eyes widened. The barely there mutters of the people completely silenced. You felt the wind knocked out of your lungs.
You were supposed to say something, this was destiny, but you killed the words before they could escape from your mouth (the same words you just knew were inscribed on his skin).
You breathed slowly, and then you closed your eyes.
You were no longer in R.F.A. No obstinate cousin and no famous actor unknowingly dragging her to hell. There was no longer the lingering thought of shattered property that you needed to pay for.
All at once you were seventeen, your parents buried six feet under and labeled “collateral damage”. You were in the living room surrounded by your relatives.
“I’m sorry,” they said (that’s what they all said).
“We can’t do anything”
“They already sent money”
“It’s not enough. It will never be enough”
“But what can we do?”
And then you were in your room, your throat hoarse from all the screaming and crying. And then the night came and the soulmark etched itself on your skin. And then you couldn’t find the strength to stand, the physical and emotional pain mingled together, making you retch and cough ‘till you could do nothing but wheeze in anguish. And then—
You were no longer a child.
You opened your eyes and you’re standing here, here in the lion’s den with the devil before you. No longer seventeen nor crying on your knees but you find that it remains, the hurt and the anger were still there and years and years of grief and fighting did nothing to quell it.
You remembered then, that despite the fact that you were a nobody and you couldn’t do anything to make them face accountability, you still fought. In your own small ways you fought the unkindness that had befell upon you; you moved on with your life, studied hard to support yourself, loved the people in your life and you laughed and you lived. Because they can take everything away from you but never, never that steady heart with its gentle strength.
You now stood your ground and levelled your gaze with his. Although there was something in his eyes that you could not understand, you find that it did not scare you a bit. They said that the happiness you feel at the first encounter was incomparable, that after that you’d be eager to know everything about that person, then as the fates foretold, you’d find that you were a perfect fit, you’d have your happily ever after etc. etc.
Maybe it would have been like that, especially for you, having waited for so long. Maybe it would have been, in another existence, where your soulmate was not a monster. And you wanted to laugh, because even when the mark hurt you you still had the audacity to hope that the person would be worth it. Of course, of course it would be him of all people. Fate had been cruel to you before, what made you think they wouldn't be again, fool girl?
You suddenly thought that you're in over your head; someone like him, who could easily buy anyone would have no care for such an archaic thing as a soulmate. Even if you say the words they wouldn't matter to him the same way the lives of the people you loved did not matter to them.
“Miss…?” he pressed on, deep voice pulling you from your thoughts. You saw him raise an arrogant brow.
No, you thought. This was the only way you knew how to fight. People said that you were too gentle for your own good, but you thought that they were the foolish ones if they think gentle waters do not become tidal waves when disturbed.
Jumin Han could own the whole damn universe if he wanted to, but if there were something you could do, it would be this. You would deny him this.
You would deny him you.
He was your soul’s mate but he did not have the right to it in the first place.
So, you pulled your lips in a tight smile, bowed in gratitude, then grabbed your family by the wrist, towards the exit and out of the devil’s lair. Your silence a loud declaration of war against the Fates; and an earsplitting crash of a promise broken.