Title: my heart is still (remembering)
Word Count: 1,344 (63,816 total so far)
Warnings: Lots of swearing, depictions of a character having panic attacks, mentions of alcohol and drug abuse, some (mostly non-graphic) blood and gore, sexual situations(?)
Summary: He’s not a hero, and he’s not a spy. Really, he’s just a mechanic who nearly went crazy and got in over his head in order to cope.
Notes: What's this? Another update just a week after the last one? That's right; I've gotten about 5k words written in the last week and I'm still going strong, so I decided I'd go back to weekly updates, and hopefully I'll be able to keep it up until the end of the fic. There's not much left now, guys. I'm not gonna give you a definite number, but it's probably gonna be around five more chapters and possibly an epilogue. Enjoy!
Hongbin walks into the JF Industries building with the feeling that the leather satchel slung over his shoulder is like a 3,000-lumen beacon declaring, ‘I’m here to sabotage your entire company and destroy everything you’ve worked for.’
He’s nearly hyperventilating by the time that he reaches the elevator, and his palms are sweating so much that wiping them on his slacks does next to nothing. He’s shaking all over and his heart is hammering a thousand beats a minute and he’s only lucky that the lobby is nearly deserted, besides the bot at the front counter. He’s not sure that he would manage this otherwise.
The elevator doors slide open and Hongbin forces himself to step in, one foot after another, until he’s inside and the button for B18 has been pressed and he’s descending into the bowels of the building. There’s no turning back now.
An hour ago, Wonshik roused the company’s board of directors from their beds and called an emergency meeting. Hongbin thinks of all of those men, most of them probably rotund and graying and starting to cough because everyone always starts to cough, and he wants to feel nothing at the thought of what’s going to happen to them.
He can’t, though. Youngji would say that he wouldn’t be him if he could think of causing someone’s death and feel nothing. She would be right. She was always right.
The elevator lets him off on B18 and Hongbin starts the long, familiar trek down to his lab at the end of the hall. His footsteps echo rhythmically against the concrete walls and his breathing is harsh in his ears and there’s little other noise besides the constant whir of the ventilation system and the flickering of the fluorescent lights. There’s probably not anyone here, he tells himself. It’s the middle of the night and any sane person would be at home in bed at this hour.
He scans his fingerprint on the door lock and it beeps brightly at him, the door swinging open like it’s welcoming him home. This isn’t his home, and after today it’s probably not going to exist anymore. He tells himself that he feels nothing at the idea and forces away any thoughts that suggest otherwise.
It creaks as it closes behind him, and the slam and clank as it locks him in sounds more final than it should.
His computer is dark and silent. Hongbin sits down in his desk chair and turns to face it, runs his hands lingeringly over the keyboard, over the silver edge of one monitor. This place was his solace when he had none, the glow of the screen and its soft noises the only company he had in this vast, empty space.
As he waits for the computer to start up, he looks around, takes in all the sights that he’s never going to see again. The bot stand is silent and empty. Just a few days ago Woozi stepped off of that platform and Hongbin sent him off just like all the others. He wonders if the kid actually got the things that he wanted—comfy sweaters and a music studio and an existence where he wasn’t a slave. Hongbin has no way of knowing right now. It shouldn’t matter.
It does matter, to him in this headspace, where he’s trying desperately to think about anything other than what’s about to happen—no, what he’s about to do.
The computer pings at him, asking for his login credentials. He slides his finger over the pad, watches the monitor as it lights up pink and then dissolves into his home screen. There are a dozen things he could do at this point. If this were a normal day at work he would be opening his design program, picking up a graphics tablet to start drawing new bots.
He pulls the leather satchel off his shoulder instead, and flips it open to dig in the front pocket. It’s not hard to find what he’s looking for—it’s the only item in that pocket, and its hard metal surface is familiar down to the last scratch.
He stands to plug it in at the back of one of the monitors but has to pause. She’s standing there in front of him, between the bot stand and the desk, staring at him with wide, sad eyes.
“Youngji,” he hears himself say.
Her lips spread in a soft smile. She’s wearing one of his sweaters, the deep blue one with the flecks of white that she made him for his birthday and allowed him to wear exactly once before she claimed it as her own. Underneath it, white denim hugs her thighs and calves, disappearing into black boots that zip up the outside. Her hair is a sleek curtain over her shoulders. This is his wife as he’s struggled to remember her for the past decade, the woman that he fell in love with all those years ago.
“You’re doing the right thing,” she tells him.
Hongbin exhales on a sob. The relief that those words bring him is palpable, even if she is just a figment of his imagination. “I only ever wanted you back,” he says.
She takes a step forward and makes an aborted motion as if to reach for him. “I know,” she replies. Her voice is so precious, so tender. Hongbin wants to hold her so badly that it’s a physical ache inside him. “But that,” she waves a hand at the data card in his hand, “was never going to replace me.”
“I knew that,” he whispers. “I knew that even as I was doing it. I couldn’t help myself.” His free hand clutches at the front of his dress shirt, crumpling the fabric further than it already was. “Being without you felt impossible.”
Shaking her head, she says, “Would you have been happy, with a bot that looked and talked and acted like me, even though you’d always know in your heart that I was gone?”
Hongbin wants to look down in shame, but he’s terrified that she’ll disappear if he takes his eyes off of her. “No,” he says. “I wouldn’t have. I probably…would have done even worse, if I’d been allowed to keep it. But I just wanted more time.”
“There was never enough time in the world for us, Hongbin,” she says gently. She takes another step forward, and she’s right on the other side of the desk now, so close that Hongbin could reach out and touch her. He keeps his hands right where they are. “You’re going to be okay,” she promises.
Hongbin feels tears spill down his cheeks and fights the blur in his vision as he lets out a sob. “I miss you,” he tells her.
“I know you do,” she murmurs. Her eyes are soft and her hair looks so silky and she’s right there but Hongbin can’t touch her. “This is the last time, Hongbin.”
Somewhere inside him he knew that already. He hasn’t seen her like this in months. After this is over, he won’t have much reason left to keep drawing her out of the afterlife, if that’s what this is. He knows it’s probably all in his head, but something tells him…that by the end of this day he’s not going to have any need of her anymore.
“I love you,” he says, needs to say. Maybe she’s real, or maybe she’s not. If she’s not, he can at least hope that she can hear him in the afterlife.
She leans forward, across the desk, over his computer monitors, and her hand reaches for him. It’s a stretch even with the heels on her boots, but she cups his face and ghosts a kiss across his lips.
He can’t help closing his eyes, reveling in a half-remembered sensation. Her lips are plush and soft, dry and smooth against his own—or maybe that’s just how it is in his head.
“Goodbye, my love,” she whispers.
When he opens his eyes, she’s gone.