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EVEN DEATH COULDN’T BRING US APART

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Woojin tipped his head back as he downed his shot of liquor, the familiar burn on his throat causing him to scrunch his face only slightly. The loud bass shaking the floor and walls around him and even the bar spot stool he was sitting upon didn’t bother him, nothing bothered him anymore. Not since Chan passed.

They had had a funeral for him, two days after he was pronounced dead. Only the eight of them, because that’s the only family Chan had. They had gone to his favorite place, a small meadow in the middle of a clearing nestled deep into the forest upon the tallest hill in the city. Flowers of all kinds were in the fields, some tall and vibrant, others short and dark with prickly thorns protruding from them.

The group of nine called this place STAY, their own little hideaway where they could for once feel safe and free. A place where they didn’t have to be adults or live their current lives. STAY was a place where they were free to be who they truly wanted to be, not what society had caused them to become. STAY was a special place for all the gang members, but not one of them would deny Chan and Woojin had an even deeper connection to the meadow.

All those years ago, stumbling from being hungover and in tremendous amounts of pain, Chan had entered the clearing, bruised and beaten from a bar altercation. That’s when he met Woojin, the young teenager who had been picking flowers to make a bouquet for his grandmother who had been ill in the hospital. The boy who took him home, despite Chan looking like a criminal in his current state, and cared for him, gave him a home after begging his parents' permission to have a random, troublemaker kid live in their house. Chan met his best friend, turned lover, in this clearing.

They had their first date in the clearing a year later, a picnic in the beautiful meadow filled with dandelions and roses; a small lake running through with beautiful shiny rocks at the bottom. The night had been filled with laughter and joy, it wasn’t a night filled with nerves and anxiety as a typical first date is portrayed to be; it was perfect. Maybe it was because they had been friends beforehand, but they found talking to each other to be so easy, losing track of time staring up at the stars while basking in the warmth of the others company.

After three years of dating Chan had proposed in this field, exactly three years after gifting Woojin the necklace, that now adorned Chan’s ring, worn around his neck every day there as well. Woojin, of course, said yes, he said a million times left. That was the day he truly thanked himself for helping the wounded gang leader all those years ago because it gave him a family to rely on when he died.

It only felt right to bury Chan there. It was simply the only place Woojin would except, and as Chan’s husband and only connection in a legal viewpoint, what he said goes. The nine of them had debated on how they would bury him, or rather if they would bury him at all. It felt so cruel to them all, even if they knew he was dead, to them it was if he was trapping the leader underground for him to suffer in the suffocating darkness.

Eventually, while not practical, they decided they would have Chan laid to rest above the ground. A small mausoleum was built for him, and there his coffin had been built into the ground, it’s opening level with the floor. Over the span of a week, the eight came every day as a group. Over the span of a month, they would all make sure to come to sit with their leader and talk about their struggles at least once a week, as they did when he was alive. And even as a year passed, they all found themselves at the leader’s grave more often than not. Woojin, of course, visited more than the others.

Woojin ordered another shot and downed it quickly, paying his tab and leaving the musky club. Minho had practically forced him to at least go and act a little more alive because it’s what Chan would have wanted. But Woojin couldn’t act more alive, he couldn’t move on, not when everywhere he went he saw him.

When he brought this topic up to his gang members they just told him they saw him too, but they knew it had been their minds playing tricks on them. Woojin believed that they all did, that was until the unexplainable things started happening in their house. It started with random items going missing, like Felix’s tube of eyeliner, Changbin’s skateboard, Jisung’s spray paint holder, Woojin’s house key. All the missing items would show up again within a few hours, but at that point they were unneeded. Then it had been the way the lights would flicker at randomly times, usually when someone was upset or it was too eerily quiet in the house. As weird as it all was, the boys didn’t freak too much, but being gang members meant that they had to have good control on fear, so even if they were scared they didn’t show it.

It wasn’t until the more extreme things started happening that the ideas of Chan actually still being around surfaced. The sudden shattering of glass in the kitchen when no one would be in their, the falling of books off the bookshelf in Jeongin’s room, the way the TV would turn itself on and off in the middle of the night, and the final straw, the way how during a severe thunderstorm a lightning strike that illuminated the whole room also illuminated the figure in the corner, Chan. They had all seen him, all eight of them, all wide awake, it wasn’t a dream. They had seen him, no doubts about it. The gang members cried that night, tears of relief they weren’t being haunted by a random ghost, and tears of happiness that their leader was still with them.

One question lingered in the back of the eight members heads, why was he doing things that would scare us? Why break glasses and make loud bangs when it was quiet? Woojin and the other’s didn’t know, but they needed answers.

Woojin immediately felt better after leaving the bar, like this weird sense of unease had been lifted off his chest. But now, he also didn’t feel alone. Ever since the night of the storm Woojin would at times feel this presence, it would bring a wave of calm with it, but also a sense of something unidentifiable. Woojin, however, allowed himself to believe this presence was his husband, his guardian angel, to keep himself sane.

“I hope you’re happy Angel, being away from the cruelty of the world. The kids miss you like crazy.. every night they ask me to tell them the story of how we met at STAY and ask me ridiculous questions like why I didn’t run for the hills when I smelt the alcohol still lingering on your breath. They really do act like children, wanting bedtime stories from their older brother…” Cold brushed over Woojin’s hand and cheek as if cold fingers were gently touching his face with hesitance. Woojin let out a shaky sigh, tears beginning to brim in his eyes. “I wish you were still here by my side Chan…” He knew he was crying, the way his nose began to run, how his heart started to race, the lump he felt forming in his throat, the way he sank to his knees as they buckled beneath him and he began shaking, all telltale signs he was crying. Yet, there were no tears flowing down his cheeks.

He opened his eyes and saw him, his angel, Chan. The leader was on his knees in front of Woojin, his hair, that looked as if it was becoming matted, was greyed and clung to his forehead wetly, his eyes dull and lifeless as he looked into the mesmerizing brown of Woojin’s glossy orbs. His skin was a sickeningly pale color, purple and red tones showing through in some spots. Chan’s cold hands rested upon Woojin’s cheeks, wiping his tears as they fell. And just as Woojin was about to reach his own hand up to cover Chan’s with a single blink the leader had disappeared, and Woojin could begin to feel the tears falling down his face.

Woojin didn’t make a move to stand, he finally allowed himself to be vurnerable as he began to sob where he sat on the sidewalk.

 

The sightings of Chan and the bizarre things he did didn’t stop after the night Woojin cried in the street. In fact, it only seemed like the activity had gotten ten times worse. From throwing chairs against walls while everyone was asleep, turning on all the sinks in the house, slamming doors as one of the members is about to walk through, Chan even one night went as far as knocking over an entire shelf of books and DVDs in the attic in the middle of the night.

None of them could understand why he was scaring them. Why he would look so urgent and desperate when they would get the off chance of seeing his apparition. It didn’t make sense until that fateful night, the anniversary of Chan’s death.

The kicking down of the door woke all the members and in a sleep induced and panicked state they managed to realize two things. One, the gang was back and was stronger than ever, wanting revenge for killing their former leader and best men. And two, Chan was trying to warn them, all the scaring he had done an attempt to get them to leave the house because he could see that his friends, his family, were all about to suffer the same fate he did.

Woojin to this day regrets getting in the shower last that night instead of first like he usually does. “If only I hadn’t been so selfish and stopped moping around,” he thought to himself every day after that night filled with tragedy.

The first two gunshots went off in Jeongin and Minho’s room, the scream coming from them ripping through the otherwise silence. Then the twins, Jisung and Felix, the sounds of weeping loud before another gunshot was heard and it suddenly stopped.

Woojin in a frenzy trying to through on his clothes and retrieve the preloaded gun they kept in the bathroom could feel the fear creeping up his spine. His family was dying, the family he swore his deceased husband to protect. A loud banging and falling picture frame next to his head pulled him from his thoughts. He looked at the picture that had fallen and felt all the air leave his lungs. Behind the now shattered glass a picture of their family, all nine of them.

He quickly escaped the bathroom and held his gun up at the ready, taking out four enemies he saw immediately with quick well-aimed shots. He knew there had to be more, and he knew which rooms they had likely already been to. He couldn’t see another one of his friends die, not when he knew there was no way he could save them.

He walked in on the final gunshots, the ones that caused Seungmin, Changbin, and Hyunjin to fall to the ground in pain. He watched as they bled out and how the new gang leader smirked at him as he stepped over their bodies.

Woojin stared lifelessly at the doctor as he assessed his injuries. Numbness overcoming him. He lost everything. His brothers, his family, his friends, his husband. And now he sat here, alive, alone to suffer, and having to pretend he didn’t see the sad yet happy smiles of his family behind the doctor because only he could see them now after all.