Author's note: I edited the chapter a bit, mostly changing the verbs from past to present. I decided I like the present more!
Also, disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. -
Eun Soo PoV
I always was a rational person. A practical one. I was good at math and science, not at feelings or poetry and maybe that's why I never really connected with anyone. I rationalized too much.
Even while running all the way to that tree, the place where I left him dying what looked like an eternity ago, I can't stop thinking.
Is it really him? Will he be alright? Him being at that tree... it means he's still waiting for me? That he still loves me? And yet, while I only spent one year apart from him, here it has been five years. Five years alone. Can I really hope he clung to those feelings for so long? That he will welcome me in his heart again?
I know my Daejang, I know how his heart works. He's a man of honor. I was dragged away from him when he wasn't able to help me, failing to keep his promise to protect me forever. So my rational mind keeps shouting at me that it's entirely possible he's waiting for me out of duty. And maybe when he will finally see me, he'll say something like "Now I can finally keep my original promise". And send me back to my own time, going on with his life, just as he did in those five years alone.
And yet... just as my mind is trying to convince me not to hope too much, my heart roars its denial, shutting my mind up.
He loves me. He waited for me.
He longs for me as much as I long for him.
My mind was what kept me from getting to him for so long, my over thinking about everything, my doubts.
My heart was what finally guided me there, connecting with him, creating a bridge I could cross to reach him.
I'm positive of that.
That Heaven's Gate was never about science and solar flares... it was about hope, and Faith. Our Faith in each other brought us together again and I won't allow my mind to get in the way now that I'm so near to my final destination.
He will be by that tree and we will never be apart. Ever again.
I run and run and run, finally seeing that tree. I stop just a moment, while the pain clenches my heart again. This field is the one he was dying in, the last time I saw him. Frozen, unable to move, helpless. Alone.
Once again, that time, I proved to be just a weak woman, unable to protect myself... and for that he had to pay the price. Why couldn't I break free from Gi Cheol grip? Why couldn't I kick harder, or bite, or throw myself on the ground? Why did I allow him to drag me away?
The image of my Daejang lying there haunted my dreams since that day. Every day I kept hoping he survived, every day I convinced myself he did. And yet, I kept seeing his frozen body, his blank stare. It was my fault, it was because of me.
I fight back the tears and run once again. I will make it up for him. I'll spend the rest of my life on that task. I'll never allow him to get hurt again because of me.
The tree, the tree... the nearer I get, the clearer I see. Yes, there's someone by that tree. There is a man, sitting there.
My heart starts beating faster the closer I get. The man is wearing the Goryeo armor, and his sword is leaning against the tree. That sword. I could recognize it among thousands.
My throat closes up, almost cutting the air out as I stop running. And the man slowly, slowly turns to me.
It is as if time stopped in that moment. As if the whole world froze around us.
Tears fills my eyes, almost blinding my sight.
It's him. It's really him. I found him. After all this time, he's standing there, in front of me.
I'm chained to the ground, drinking in his sight, filling my eyes with his figure, unable to do anything else than just standing there while he's slowly walking to me. Stand there and smile.
My heart is chanting, my mind is blank. Can someone die out of happiness? I just learnt it's true.
How many times did I daydream about this moment? How many lines I practiced, how many things I wanted to tell him when I finally found him?
"I told you I would be back."
"Did you wait long?"
"Now I'm here and I won't ever disappear again."
And yet... words just don't come. I want to run to him, I want to cry, to laugh, to scream... but the feeling is so overwhelming I can't take even a single step.
Then he moves. He walks to me and slowly raises his hand, untying my hat. It looks like he's in no rush. Taking it off me, his teary eyes never leaves my own and when he finally tosses it on the ground, his hand gently follows the length of my hair, down to my shoulders.
I'm mesmerized. My head unconsciously leans on his hand and when I feel his fingers on my cheek, I stop breathing. The first touch after so much longing. It's almost too much.
Looking up my smile softens while I traces his features with my eyes. He grew a beard... He looks so much more mature now. But he looks so tired as well... Does he sleep enough? Is he injured anywhere?
Before I have the chance of voicing my concerns, I feel his hand on my shoulder, softly pulling me in his embrace and then I'm there, in his arms, just where I always wanted to be.
A strangled sigh escapes my lips and his arms tightens around me, as my head rests on his shoulder.
"Imja..." I hear him softly call me.
"I'm sorry, I'm so late..." I finally manage to utter. It's no more than a whisper, the most my strangled throat will allow me, but I know he will hear me.
I burst out in sobs as I feel his hand caressing my hair and I close my hands in fists on his armor.
"I tried and tried... I tried so much..."
"I know. I was always here, waiting for you."
I can't stop crying, hearing at last what I always hoped for: he never gave up on me. He always kept me in his heart. He still loves me. He still longs for me.
He slowly let me go and looks at me again and when his teary eyes sink in my features, my throat closes again, preventing me to talk. Those eyes of his have the power of chaining me where I am, keeping me from doing anything else than just looking at him.
He tenderly circles my shoulder with his arm and guides me where he was sitting before, making me lower on the ground, leaning against the tree. Sitting down beside me, his arm rests behind my neck, drawing me in his embrace, nestling my head on his armored shoulder.
I'm reminded of that time when we ran away from the Yuan envoy, sitting down against a tree. But this time his hand isn't on my shoulder. It keeps stroking my hair, slowly going up and down, like he can't stop touching me.
"Are you alright?" He asks me, his lips brushing my forehead as he speaks.
"Yes..." I'm slightly shaking in his arms, my heart galloping so fast I feel I could faint anytime.
"You survived..." I whispers, holding back new tears "I had to believe you survived, and yet I was so scared..."
"I had to survive." His voice is low, every word is matched by a soft stroke on my hair. "I had to live. You had to come back to a world where I was waiting for you. I couldn't leave you alone."
For some reason that makes me cry even more. He waited so long for me, holding on to the sheer hope I wouldn't give up on him. Five years alone, because I couldn't find my way back to him sooner. How stupid I was. I made him suffer so much... my Daejang.
"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..." I repeate over and over again, my hand closed on his sleeve, holding the fabric while my face turns to hide in his neck. I can't bear to look at him now. I can't bear to see the despair in his eyes, the long wait, the pain... It was my fault, all my fault. If I had been stronger... If I broke free from Gi Cheol grasp... If only I...
And then I am in his arms again. He hugged me fiercely, his hand sinking in my hair, just like that last time at the inn and my tears stop, held back by a new rushing of emotions that make me hold my breath.
What is this man? How deeply is he in my heart that a simple touch is enough to make me forget even to breathe?
"Don't cry, Imja. I never want to see you cry again. Please don't cry."
His hand tightens on my hair as he pushes me away just enough to look at my face.
I can feel tears down my cheeks, as my eyes finally raise to look at him. I slowly bit my lip, trying to regain some composure, closing my eyes to fight back the tears and then opening them up again.
His stare is intent, his eyes looking for any sign of new tears as he speaks again, his voice tightly controlled.
"Answer me. Never again. Promise me."
I can't help to smile now. I know that tone. How many times has he used it when he ordered me not to do something?
"You can't take a step far away from me."
"You can't go there."
"Don't go sleep that far or I won't be able to protect you."
Yes, I know it. I remember it. My heart clearly recalls all the times he used it.
So I slowly nod, still smiling, still feeling tears in my eyes.
"Yes, Daejang." It's all I can say, but it's enough.
He smiles back at me, then his expression turns serious as he asks me, slowly, one word at a time. "Imja... are you back to stay?"
My heart skips a beat. How can he ask me something like that? How can he doubt I will stay forever?
I open my mouth, about to protest, then I suddenly understand. Wasn't it me, just few moments ago, that doubted he would want me back? Wasn't it me who asked myself if he was waiting for me out of duty?
Maybe he feels the same way. Maybe he's afraid I came back because I promised I would, not because I want to be with him with every fibre of my being. Maybe he's afraid I will tell him "Now that you know I'm alright, you can be at ease. Now I can go back to my time."
Or maybe he knows I'm back to stay, just as I knew he still loved me. He just needs me to say it out loud.
I smile again, raising my hands to cup his face. He's so soft, just like I recalled. I trace his features from his forehead to his cheeks, stopping there, holding his face tenderly.
"Yes, Daejang. I'm back to stay." I softly answer.
His lips open in the sweet smile I remembered and I realize he was holding his breath, waiting for my answer. I smile more, my heart just chanting in sheer joy.
"So now..." He whispers, his hands coming to cup my face just as I was doing. "Will you be with me?"
I sob again, while smiling. That tone, again. How can he be pleading with his eyes and yet commanding with his voice? "Yes, Daejang."
"Forever? You'll never leave my side again?"
"I never want to be parted from you again, Daejang."
His thumbs softly brush my cheeks, drying up my tears just as his eyes clench tight and one tear finally falls down. It's the first time I actually saw him cry. I saw his teary eyes before, but never an actual tear. I watch as the slow drop leaves his eye, falling down until it stops its slow descent on the corner of his mouth.
"That word, Daejang..." he says again, opening his eyes, still holding my face. "Say that again."
Just as that time. Those eyes. Those magnetic, warm eyes. That gaze, able to see just into my soul. I hold my breath, closing my eyes.
The word dies on my mouth just as his lips touches mine, just when his fingers tighten on my cheeks, drawing me to him.
I let go of his face, my arms moving on their own to circle his shoulders, his neck, holding him close.
"Never again." He whispers on my lips. "Never leave me again, Imja."
"Never again." I whisper back, smiling between new tears. "I promise."
I'll stay with you.
I'll protect you.
I'll love you.
Through time and space, I'm yours.
We'll never be apart again, my Daejang.