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Counted Blessings

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Chisels lay bare at his feet, calling out to his hands to do what they’ve always loved - tend to the clay, the stone, carve and sculpt. Repeat. But it’s like this time, they have a mind of their own, that is no less good than paralyzed. The piece above him has feet, a body and arms, yet when it comes to the face, Jimin finds himself grieving all over again - something he’d promised himself not to do.

 

On the tips of his fingers are marks from sculpting often, memories of each piece that Jimin has created for the royal family of Edessa. And so, it should be just as easy to create another one for them. But this alone appears like an insurmountable task to him, for his heart remains devoid of happiness, of peace and calm that it once had. All that he possesses now are shards as sharp as stone edges that pierce his insides each time that he moves, speaks, thinks ㅡ exists.

 

The royal order lays somewhere closer to his knee, opened and facing him, the notice being clear and profound for the royal sculptor - a full body sculpture of the prince be made to be displayed at the great hall, for the brave prince survived an unexpected battle by the skirts of Edessa. It’s been months since his return, and months since Jimin has continued to break, piece by piece - slow. The celebrations will be held as soon as the sculpture is ready, and the prince will be praised for being so courageous and fearless while Jimin will be here, enclosed in his room.

 

Hurt.

 

The prince made it out alive, but someone didn’t. Someone who should have, could have, someone Jimin would have brought the worlds together for, yet he couldn’t. Not when it was needed.

 

Their love was forbidden, wasn’t going to be liked and appreciated if someone was to ever know. And that was why all the memories he has of them are hushed whispers in the dark of the night, visions of his lover’s beautiful eyes under the moonlight, calloused fingers against Jimin’s skin and promises murmured so low under their breaths that they couldn’t even be fulfilled when the time came.

 

Jeongguk was the royal knight for the prince of Edessa, assigned to him ever since he was a teenager, bound by the oath to live for the prince. His life, possessions and even death belonged to the prince. But what didn’t belong to them was his heart - and that he gave away to Jimin. The royal sculptor often visited the palace, shy eyes fixated on the tall and gorgeous knight that accompanied the prince wherever he went. It didn’t take them long to meet in secrecy and confess the love they harboured. 

 

But they knew no matter how long this goes on for, they can’t be together, can’t hold hands and walk around like they all do. Because Jeongguk is bound to his duties and oaths that were taken on his behalf. More than once Jimin suggested for them to move away, leave the kingdom and start a new life where no one knows them, but Jeongguk had always refused, unknown fears gnawing at his brain. And in times like those, Jimin would then become his comfort instead of saying anything above on the matter.

 

When he wished he should have had.




 



Behind the beautiful Lake Gardens of Edessa, where the moon and water seemed to unite on the nights of full moon, there hid a small meadow. It was a hideout for the sculptor and the knight to spend some time together, obscured from the eyes of the world. The place held so many memories of their meetings for Jimin, of watching the full moon in its glory with his lover by his side. 

 

But it all seems to just pain him endlessly when he thinks of the last time they visited that place.

 

It was the night before the prince of Edessa had to leave for the neighboring kingdom, Jeongguk and another knight on his tow. There had already been attempts at assassination of the prince, leaving the safety of him, and of those around him, at stakes. The knight had proposed this idea of seeing each other one last time before he leaves, and that was when Jimin had asked him to stay.

 

To not to leave him.

 

"It is my duty, my love." Jeongguk had caressed his cheek, kissing it gingerly, "I cannot simply choose to look past it."

 

"But you know it's dangerous to cross the skirts," Jimin had told him, "They talked about it at the palace today, they suspect the neighboring kingdom to be behind the assassinations."

 

"I have no interest in knowing who it was," Jeongguk says, "I am but a knight, here to protect my prince at all costs."

 

Jimin had looked at his face, memorizing each detail as if he already didn't know him like the back of his hand - long lashes, pointed nose, rosy lips and a mole beneath them. "You would not stay even if I asked you to?" His voice had been hushed, as if he’d whispered an untold truth.

 

Jeongguk's forehead had creased, as if the thought had pained him deeply, "Jimin," he'd leaned closer, resting his face against the blonde, "I love you so dearly, my star. Please do not make it any harder for me."

 

"If something happened to youㅡ"

 

"Nothing," Jeongguk had stopped him, "Nothing will happen to me. I will come back to you, just like this." And a kiss was planted on Jimin's puckered lips. "I will bring to you, the silk scarf from the other kingdom. I hear they excel at cloth making."

 

"You do not need to bring me anything," Jimin had then embraced him close, "Just bring yourself back to me."

 

"That I will," Jeongguk had said. Though, never promised.

 

That night when they’d laid in the garden, Jeongguk’s heart beating beneath Jimin’s ears, and he hadn’t truly realized that it was the last time he was hearing it. It always had a rhythm to it, something the sculptor had noticed yet had never uttered a word about to his lover. Secretly, he’d continued to believe that the knight’s heart beats solely for him, chanting his name like a mantra that, each time, had drawn him closer than he already is. He’d kept this little piece of information undisclosed, cherishing it in the silent hours of the night when Jeongguk was not with him.

 

However, he is aware that even if he had told him, Jeongguk would have only admitted it.




 



The sculpture had to be turned in within two days and Jimin yet had the face to sculpt. He’d been provided with the references, several images of the prince pinned around the walls of his workplace. It’s evident how he is surrounded by that one face from every corner, filling his mind with the images that need to be sculpted out there. And yet again, when it should be easy like it always had, it wasn’t.

 

They say the grief ends with time, ticking away along with the clock, never halting. They even say time heals you, however Jimin had come to find that being the wrongest notion. Because where time heals people, it was ruining him. Each moment that passes, makes him want to curl in a ball, crying silently into his knees - cruel whispers in his ears that tell him that his lover is not coming back. Time here, had been like that one ruthless enemy that wouldn’t let him live but wouldn’t let him die either.

 

Powdered stone clings onto his hands and tears onto his cheeks. He has to work, to do what he’s always done because why would the royal family know he’s lost a loved one? Why would they care? They’re celebrating the bravery of their prince stepping over the necks of the knights who had given their life for him. But then again, that was the oath they’d taken - serve until you perish. 

 

How ironic, because Jimin here was the one who felt perished alive.

 

He raises his hands, heart heavy, chisels trembling in his hand as he begins with the first hit to the stone. The sound is louder than he intended it to be, startling him. His grip on the tool wavers, eyes brimming with tears once again when he thinks of that one time he’d suggested before Jeongguk the desire of sculpting him.

 

“Do you ever wonder, my love, what our lives would have been like, had you not been a knight?” Jimin had asked him one night, curled into his lover’s bare embrace, skin on skin.

 

“Not much different,” Jeongguk had wondered, “I might have been a farmer, and you a sculptor.”

 

“Why do I not get to be something common?”

 

“Because,” his lover had then held his hands, pressing kisses against each calloused knuckle, “These hands are carefully made to carve beautiful objects, one of their kind.”

 

“Yet I never sculpted you,” Jimin had breathed, “The most beautiful.”

 

Jeongguk’s lips then had been so soft against his, almost devoid of the fact that he was a knight, a dauntless soul meant for fighting. Because right there in Jimin’s arms, he was just an embodiment of care and security, of warmth and gentleness.

 

Of belonging and being loved.

 

“You flatter me, my beloved.” He’d murmured against Jimin’s lips, curling around them just then.

 

“Only if you could see yourself through my eyes,” Jimin had lamented, “Would you have known the way I have memorized you,” he’d traced the knight’s cheek with the tips of his fingers, “Each scar, each mark. Uniquely mine.”

 

“Yours.” He’d said.

 

Yet again, never promised.

 


 



Jimin wakes up with his head throbbing and limbs aching. His eyes adjust to the lights of his studio, making him realize he’d slept somewhere on the floor working on the sculpture. He knows he looks unkempt - stained shirt and unruly gold hair along with the face that's blotched with tears. Even in the mirror, who stands above him is a gastly figure that appears to be alive yet is dead inside. 

 

What he’s doing to himself is wrong, and he knows it better than anyone. But why would it even matter when his chest feels empty - just as empty as it had felt when he’d heard the news of his lover dying somewhere so far away from him, never to return in one piece - never to bring him the fine silk scarf he promised of.

 

Or himself? 

 

Somehow Jimin wills himself to get on his feet, to reach the sculpture, the abandoned work that needs to be finished. He doesn’t even remember how long he stayed up working on it or how far he went with it. And he frankly does not care. Though the care , that he’d blatantly claimed to be devoid of, comes crashing to him the moment his eyes witness the sculpture standing before him.

 

In the prince’s clothing, there attached was the face of his lover - the unmistakable round eyes, pointed nose and petal lips. With a sigh, tears come easy to Jimin, filling his heart to its brim and throat to a sob that escapes his mouth. His trembling hand caresses his lover’s face, just as he would if he were alive. He didn’t create something so lifelike everyday, and usually it would be the point where he’d sit down to marvel at his creation. Yet all he can do now is let another fit of tears blotch his face until breathing becomes a labour, and until he has to embrace the sculpture to steady himself.

 

“Why…” he finds himself croaking, “Why would you not listen to me? WㅡWhy did you not stay?” Both his hands find purchase on the sculpture’s face, thumbs brushing against its lips. “Did you not love me enough? Or was my love not enough?” 

 

The sculpture looks breath-taking, as if at any moment, it’d spring to life, being able to speak like it was meant to. It could have been Jimin’s most proud creation had it not been the sculpture of his lost lover. 

 

“What will I do with these hands,” he questions, “carving beautiful objects, if I can not bring them to life?” He pauses, “Cannot bring you to life?”

 

His thumb touches the sculpture’s bottom lip, jutted, much like his lover’s used to be. There’s more hurt, more tears, the sickness that comes with. The emptiness is gaping, wanting to swallow Jimin as whole and he almost wonders how long it will take to do so, how long will it take for him to finally see his lover in the other world?

 

“My one and only wish would be,” he breathes, “That you could exist.”

 


 



Something takes Jimin back to their little meadow in the Lake Gardens of Edessa. He wouldn’t know what it was or wouldn’t care to think, step picking after steps, bringing him to the little hideout where he and his lover had resided countless times. The moon shines just as bright as it had several of those nights, and it’s agonizing how he remembers what their thought processes would have been like, had his lover been alive.

 

Jimin would have talked about the moon goddess and the nature goddess, blessing them with both their beauties altogether. And Jeongguk would have been amused yet would laugh, wondering just why Jimin believes so much on things like this. The sculptor kneels to the ground, letting the wet grass touch his trousers. He doesn’t know why he came here - perhaps to cry his heart out, or to reminisce? Or to just complain.

 

Above him flies the familiar wings of a bird he recalls to know. Gradually, it finds its way down the ground from the branch it was earlier settled above. As it descends, Jimin recognizes it. The slightly crooked shape of the white dove’s wing reminds him of the time he had tended to its wound. 

 

“Why would you tend to it so dearly?” Jeongguk had asked him that night, right there in the meadow beside him, “It would not even remember you.”

 

“Would it remember me or not, does not matter to me, my love.” Jimin had told him, picking up the injured bird to caress at its wing, having already washed it with the lake water. He had torn a piece of his own shirt to tie around its wing, securing it closer to its body, “What matters is the fact that the goddess of nature has chosen me to take care of its creature.”

 

“Why would the goddess not take care of it herself?”

 

“Oh she would not,” Jimin had smiled at his lover’s attempt to amuse him, “Because if she did, then there would be no chance for me to be blessed.”

 

“I do not understand your desire to please the goddesses, my love.” Jeongguk had stated when Jimin let go of the dove, now back in the embrace of his lover. “But I love you, so I wonder less.”

 

“Do not wonder,” Jimin had told him, “Think of it as the blessings being collected somewhere away from us, would be given to us when we are in need.”

 

Need. Want? Heal?

 

Were those blessings really being collected somewhere? He so wonders, now that he sits here, eyeing the same dove that circles around him, seeming to have recognized him.

 

“Was there ever truly someone to listen?” Jimin addresses the little bird, as if it would even care, “To look down and see that I never wished ill for anyone?”

 

The dove tiptoes closer to his knee, reluctant. The wing that was once broken is now all healed - unlike his heart that ran quite the opposite. He’s always been kind to everyone, believing his good deeds will pay him back one day. Expectations kill you, true. But all he’d done was hope - no expectations, no demands. Only hope.

 

“Were the blessings ever collected? Counted?” He questions, “Would they bring me back the one person I had ever loved?”

 


 



Sleeping with a lifelike figure of his lover standing so close to him was hard. His eyes opened to Jeongguk being right there, yet there was no life to him. In broad daylight that breaks into his workplace through the window, it’d appeared even more magnificent, stone eyes and grey lips being just as realistic as Jimin remembers them to be. As soon as his heavy limbs leave the floor, where he seemed to have slept on, his steps turn sluggish, reaching the sculpture of his beloved. His hands out-stretched to hold the face of the sculpture, to express all the love that still ran through his system. All that to his own creation.

 

A jolt sets him back.

 

He was sure to turn into a maniac. Was he really thinking of confessing to a sculpture? A mere stone-made lifelike figure? People lose their loved ones all the time, he’d once tried to tell himself, but they recover too. Time helps them, or they are strong enough to do it on their own. But he’d waited and waited for months, then why was his wound still so fresh? Why did it still ooze the hurt he wished for to go away? Why did it still want for Jeongguk to somehow, miraculously, return?

 

Thoughts circle in his brain. Quick and suggestive. He cannot keep such a sculpture so close to him, to look at it and hurt everyday, perhaps turn into a madman someday for loving it. But he also knows that if he is to start over the sculpture for the prince, he will require weeks. He can easily write a letter to the royal family, desiring resignation from this position of being the royal sculptor and he is sure he will get it. He may then move away, somewhere he wouldn’t have to think of his lost lover and the Lake Gardens of Edessa.

 

But it all comes down to this sculpture that stands before him.

 

Each sight of it brings tears to Jimin’s eyes, hurt somehow still afresh. He can’t bear to have something like this around him, nor has he the heart to give it away. Hammer clutched in his hand, he even approaches to break the sculpture, to get rid of the sight of those round eyes that were nothing but made of stone. There shone no galaxy within them, were no stars to witness. Only emptiness, like his own gaping chest.

 

His hand raises to break it, to let the first hit strike across the face of the sculpture. But the tremor that runs down his body then is immense, as if the strike would not be against the stone but his own berated heart. He heaves, fists clenched. If he can’t bring himself to break it then what does he do? This fine of a sculpture will be sold anywhere, earning him more than he already does but would that satisfy him? Knowing that his probable last memory of his lover resides somewhere strange.

 

It wouldn’t. But it would stop him from hurting, from breaking each time he breathes.

 

So with his mind still wavering, Jimin for once decides to take the sculpture to the market, or any place they would will to buy it.

 

Lastly, he caresses its cheek. “I did not wish for this,” he whispers, “But I cannot bear to look at you and know that you do not exist.” He breathes, “Would it… Would it be too much to ask… if I wish to hold you close one last time?” his thumbs brush at the sculpture’s lips, “To kiss you one last time?”

 

Trembling lips omit the distance between him and the sculpture, face cupped in his hand as they meet the stone lips. Hurt gnaws at his chest like a bottomless pit, calling him a true maniac for kissing the mere sculpture - something that had no life to it. Call him one, he wouldn’t care, if he gets to feel those lips against him one last time. To hold his lover close.

 

When he backs away, he has no courage to look at the sculpture again, eyes squeezed shut as he turns around, heaving with his tears running down his cheeks, silent sobs seeming to be ripping at his heart. He has nothing to say, to hear anymore. Somehow, this kiss had been the closure he hadn’t gotten with Jeongguk. 

 

He can now believe that Jeongguk, his knight, was truly gone.

 

“Jimin?”

 

He sobs harder. He cannot be foolish enough to now be hearing Jeongguk so loud and clear, as if he is right there, beside him. Behind him. Turning around at the speed he’s never mustered before, Jimin refuses to believe his own eyes. Words chant behind his ears, deceive, lie, cannot be true, he’s dreaming .

 

But is he?

 

Stone breaks, starts from the hair down to the skin. It frees Jeongguk’s eyes, the hollow stone now replaced with darker orbs that he’s once fallen in love with. Cracks are loud and clear when they break the stone from the sculpture’s body, revealing his living, breathing love beneath it. It’s no less than a dream and Jimin knows it, would wake up tomorrow to the sculpture standing there, unmoving. But for now, he watches the stone break, the lips freed, the voice echoing through the walls of his workplace. 

 

“Jimin?”

 

“Jeongguk…?”

 

Steps are blurred to him when he holds at his lover, warmth of his body now filling Jimin’s system. The arms that once were made of stone are now wrapped around him securely, a heart beats under that chest and it’s the same rhythm as Jimin recalls it to be. It beats for him.

 

“Y-Youㅡ You areㅡ”

 

“Alive,” Jeongguk breathes, pearly drops trickling down his cheeks, “Or came alive.”

 

“It cannotㅡ” Jimin shakes his head, “I must be dreaming.”

 

“You are not,” Jeongguk’s lips are warm, so warm, against his, “You are not dreaming.”

 

“Jeongguk…” he pulls away, sobs way out of control, “My beloved…”

 

They don’t need to say anymore, to wonder what happened or what awaits them. The dilemma of whether is this a dream or not disappears when Jimin’s eyes travel towards his window and there he spots the dove, circling the rim before settling down. Its wing is now completely healed for it is spread when it glides. Stone keeps cracking beneath them, freeing Jeongguk completely from its cage, for Jimin’s to be. He wouldn’t be a knight anymore, Jimin wouldn’t be bound to the palace anymore. The bird at his window lets all his confusions run loose because this sure isn’t a dream.

 

It’s the blessings. Collected, counted and returned.