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the sound of waves on the shore

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"Are you here to arrest me?” Eunho asks warily when Jiheon sits down next to the hospital bed.

The immediate spike in his heartbeat is picked up by the heart rate monitor. His heartbeat remains high and blood pressure rises to match it, causing the monitoring nurse to tense up and consider asking Jiheon to leave in order to maintain a stress free environment for the patient.

“No” Jiheon says, pulling his jacket closer and leaning forward. “Not yet anyways.”

Eunho is in too much physical pain to nod. He hums an affirmative and his tension gives way to a normal heartbeat.

“If you feel any pain or need assistance, you can press the emergency button on the side of the bed” the nurse informs him. “Can you reach it?”

Eunho finds the button easily, pressing the button once to check if it is working. The nurse nods and presses another button and the response light resets.

“Please do not stress the patient as he is still recovering from his injuries” the nurse warns Jiheon. He gets the impression that she doesn’t like him very much and he thinks the assumption is very accurate when she glares in a warning before leaving.

“Why are you here Detective Kang?” Eunho asks, when they are alone.

“I heard you had woken up. How are your injuries?” Jiheon replies.

Eunho shrugs but regrets it when his shoulder shoots up in pain. He shifts around, trying to find a comfortable position to lie in so that the pain eases.

“What did the doctor say?” Jiheon asks, standing up to help Eunho. He elevates the back of the hospital bed so that Eunho can sit while resting his back as well and rearranges the pillows till he is comfortable.

“They told me they removed the bullet but the wound was very deep and needed stitches” Eunho tells him.

Jiheon sighs in understanding. Stitches always leave muscles sore and restrict movement. Eunho took a gunshot to his chest, very narrowly missing his heart but still affecting a major blood vessel. It will take weeks of physiotherapy to recover fully.

“If you’re not going to arrest me now, will you arrest me when I am discharged?” Eunho asks when the moment of silence lapses into awkwardness.

“Yes.”

Jiheon doesn’t mince his words. Eunho finds it bittersweet. The stab of jealousy and envy returns. Jiheon is a righteous man who has the luxury to be honest.

That’s supposed to be good, his mind reminds him. One lesser person who has suffered in the world. He doesn’t want Jiheon to be intimately acquainted with the darkness the world seems to offer in abundance. But he wonders if Jiheon could ever possibly understand what it feels like to build a facade of lies and hide behind them like he has lived. To live with the assurance that wrong words will cause you more pain instead of the assurance that truth will always prevail.

“I bought you some seaweed soup” Jiheon says, changing the topic. He holds up plastic bags with containers that he has been holding since he came in. “Will be good for you.”

“Oh and some clean underwear and socks too. Most of your things are in police custody and I figured you would want a clean set” he continues, pulling a pack of tins from one of the bags. He opens the lid of one of the tins and pulls the fabric out to show Eunho.

“Isn’t it amazing?” he asks and Eunho’s lips twist wryly in response.

“Ah okay maybe you already knew about these. But I learnt about them a few days ago. So don’t judge me okay?” Jiheon protests, embarrassed at his own excitement when Eunho doesn’t share it. Eunho smiles despite himself and after a moment even Jiheon smiles, stuffing the underwear back into the tin and trying to reseal it the best way he can.

“I met Boy A. What was his name again...?” Jiheon tries to recollect.

“Kang Minki” Eunho supplies quietly. “Why did you meet Minki?”

“He came to visit you the very first day you were in the ICU” Jiheon tells him. “He grew up a lot from what I remembered.”

“How long have I been here?” Eunho asks, noting how Jiheon said first day.

“Seven days now. We were worried you might never wake up” Jiheon confesses. He removes the lid from one container of the soup and puts a plastic spoon in before handing it to Eunho.

“I don’t know which outcome would have been better. To have never woken up or to wake up only to live as a murderer” Eunho says, cradling the hot container.

This is perhaps the most truthful sentence Eunho has ever said to Jiheon and both men realize it. Now that Eunho’s confession has been recorded and surely processed as evidence in the case against him, Eunho no longer feels the need to lie. It’s a straightforward process now. He will be arrested, tried for murder and charged when found guilty. This is the only certain aspect of the dark future that looms ahead.

“When Minki saw me, he called me a murderer. Screamed and yelled and almost struck me across my face. You should have heard his voice. The policemen had to hold him down so that the other people in the hospital were not harmed” Jiheon starts. Eunho focuses on the cooling soup instead of looking at Jiheon but the older man remains unfazed.

“Looking back, I am grateful he did that because if he hadn’t then I would never have noticed the tattoo on his arm. The same tattoo as the one on that kid who hit that child’s negligent mother. You might even know the tattoo I am talking about. He got it at a local tattoo parlor when he was at Haemil.”

“Many people were part of Haemil” Eunho tenses up.

Jiheon knows.

Jiheon knows and he didn’t think it was possible for him to feel more dread and anxiety at his words than when he was being investigated multiple times and constantly having to prove his ‘innocence’.

“Many people were. Jae Kwang was. Minki was. You were too, along with your estranged brother. So strange isn’t it? The world really is very small” Jiheon laughs. There is more emotion behind that sound but it pales in comparison to the turbulence in Eunho’s mind. The heart rate monitor beeps faster and Jiheon glances at it worriedly before turning to Eunho.

“What happened to him?” Eunho gathers the courage to ask. He avoids the word brother or saying anything that could link the kind doctor to him or the Red Cry. There is still hope that Jiheon might not know the full truth, isn’t there?

“We investigated Haemil. There was another murder. Siwan’s father. He was caught soon after” Jiheon tells him. “The trials will begin soon.”

“I know what you must think of my brother. What you thought of Red Cry” Eunho starts. “But my brother wasn’t a bad person for what he did.”

“I used to think that way. When Park Jihye was murdered, I didn’t consider it a victory of justice. Murder was still murder. She hadn’t been able to protect her child. It should not have been enough to kill someone over but it was and it was still a crime” Jiheon recounts.

“But then I met Hana. Little Hana who had nowhere to go. Who wouldn’t even speak or cry because she was so terrified that even one wrong sound could get her killed. A little girl who knew death so closely at an age when it should never have crossed her mind. When we were in the danger of losing her, I found myself praying that the Red Cry would find and murder her father. That time, it didn’t feel like a crime. It felt like God’s will being carried out on an evil demon.”

“Taejoo hyung did find him and kill him in the end.”

“Even as someone who promised to uphold the law, I was relieved. When I saw that Hana and Wookyung were safe and that man could no longer harm her, I felt so relieved.”

“What else did Taejoo hyung tell you?”

“He told me about everything you went through because of the head director.”

Eunho feels his eyes well up and tears start to fall. Try as he might, the floodgate has opened and rushing water can never be stopped easily. His tears fall into the lukewarm soup that had been long forgotten in his arms but the rush of memories comes faster. He loathed that study. Still loathes it. He hated every word of every damned poem he was made to recite while standing in that damned room.

But above all he hates himself the most. Hates himself for always being helpless. Hates himself for being so weak that he couldn’t do anything against the monster of the man who had adopted him. Hates himself for not being stronger and leaving when Wookyung gave him the chance. For always coming back to the children center because it was the only home he knew and he couldn’t risk any of the children going through the same fate at the hands of the head director or his son.

The only thing he has successfully done in life is fail everyone.

Jiheon takes the soup away and places his jacket on Eunho’s shoulders. Eunho looks up to him, his vision hazy from the salt water.

“Yoon Taejoo hired one of the best lawyers to represent you. The lawyer is going to argue mental insanity and confession under duress” Jiheon tells him. “If they succeed, you might be free after a reduced sentence. They will also appeal to get you counselled for everything you've been through.”

This time Eunho really does cry. He lied to protect his brother and not the other way around. His brother had a successful life before he met Eunho. If he had never met Eunho and learnt of his suffering, he would never have been motivated to become the Red Cry. He could have lived a happy life.

“Maybe I should have died at the lighthouse” Eunho's voice is course as he chokes slightly on his tears. Jiheon is back on his feet and fetches water for him. The act doesn't provide any relief.

“Why are you still here? Why are you helping me after everything?” Eunho asks harshly. This kindness is not deserved and very unwelcome. Eunho doesn't want to stick around and find out how he will manage to ruin Jiheon's life too.

“Why did you go all the way to that abandoned lighthouse? Taejoo said that you were too young to remember your family when your mother abandoned you” Jiheon thinks out loud.

“I wanted to die” Eunho confesses. “I wanted to die but I also wanted to see that place. The place that changed my life forever.”

“What did you feel when you saw it?”

“That it was ironic that something beautiful could be the place of something so sad.”

“The mental asylum has a rehabilitation program for people admitted there” Jiheon tells him. “One of the programs is volunteering for the juvenile center. I'm sure they would admit a man with your skill level easily. You're allowed to spend some time with the children there if you're judged fit enough mentally.”

“If the lawyer convinces the judge” Eunho reminds him.

“I guess we just wait and see” Jiheon says to himself more than Eunho.

“You should go home Detective Kang. You've troubled yourself enough” Eunho says finally.

“I'm actually staying the night” Jiheon informs him, sitting on a chair and leaning back to get comfortable. “I sent Minki home to study for his GEDs. He could barely concentrate and his exam is in two days.”

“I think he will do well” he adds, noting Eunho's worried expression. “He said he didn't want to let you down after everything you did for him.”

“Will you be here tomorrow too?”

“If no new cases come up then yes.”

“Will you really stay the night?”

“My shift starts at 9 so I will leave by 8. But till then I am staying.”

The two men fall silent. It's a different kind of silence from the first time Jiheon walked into the room. Eunho still has no idea how to feel. Without the wall of carefully constructed lies and their antagonistic beliefs between them, he feels lost and unsure of what to make of Jiheon. He doesn't know how to interpret his jacket keeping him warm and the soup lying abandoned on the table.

“I'm sorry for everything” Eunho apologizes. It feels like the thing to say even though a simple apology would not even begin to cover it.

“I'm sorry too. For everything” Jiheon responds.

Eunho nods and lays back. He brushes off Jiheon, indicating that the half upright position is comfortable enough. He closes his eyes and dreams of standing at the lighthouse again, watching the water crash against the rocks and letting the mind numbing sound swallow his thoughts whole.