Detective Mun walked along the gravel paths of Kensington Gardens, his cell phone pressed to his ear.
"Are you sure she's here?" he asked, while casting a furtive look around. It was a sunny day, and the park was filled with joggers and Dog-walkers. They wove around ambling couples along the lake shore while trying not to collide with bicycle messengers on their never-ending quest to shave off ten more seconds from their latest run.
"Yes. She entered from Porchester Terrace ten minutes ago, and hasn't come out at any of the other exits. She must still be there."
Mun stepped around a young father who was pushing a stroller along the path and ducked below the low-hanging branches of an Indian bean tree.
"I can't see her," he said, as he cast his gaze across the wide expanse of grass. He walked along the park's artificial lake, his eyes drifting across the scattered boats to the elderly couple that slowly ascended the bridge which connected Kensington Gardens to Hyde Park on the other side of the Serpentine.
"I'm looking at the CCTV in the park," came the voice in his ear. "It'll take a few minutes. Hold on."
Mun's gaze was still glued to the couple. They had their backs to him and walked with the slow, deliberate movements of age while holding hands and chatting away with an easy familiarity that made him wistful.
He remembered his grandparents walking like this, side-by-side, both absorbed in political debates or – once his father's occupation no longer provided new fodder for their arguments – a vivid retelling of memories from their youth. As a child, he'd always preferred the latter, and had often found himself trailing closer behind them, momentarily diverted from his latest pursuit of a colorful insect or the ball he'd enthusiastically kicked into the bushes.
Even two years after their deaths, he still felt their absence keenly.
His eyes followed the couple as they traversed the bridge, and, for a moment, he was eight years old again, his head full of adventures and bedtime stories and the unshakable certainty that he was loved and safe and invincible.
It had taken many years for that certainty to vanish.
He blinked, shaking off the memories, when a flash of black hair caught his eye.
"Wait," he said into his phone and shifted to the side of the path so the elderly couple no longer blocked his view of the railing and the person bracing her forearms on it.
Ms. Bak was standing on the far side of the bridge, her eyes closed and her face lifted towards the sun.
He couldn't believe he'd actually found her after all these months.
"I see her," he said quietly as his eyes drank her in, and a dull ache settled inside his chest that he did not care to examine too closely.
"Great. Anything else you need?"
Mun declined, expressed his gratitude, and ended the call.
He approached her slowly, his mind racing as he studied her. Her posture was relaxed, her breaths deep and even, and he couldn't help but wonder what thoughts had lifted the severe line of her mouth into a gentle smile. She looked at peace, and this realization more than anything else, made him pause. He knew that that look would vanish the moment he made his presence known, and after everything she'd been through, he loathed having to watch it slip off her face, loathed it even more that he'd be the cause of it.
Thus, he lingered instead, no more than a few feet away from her, his gaze caressing the line of her nose and the freckles dusted across her cheeks. The ache in his chest intensified, and he pressed a hand to the spot where her brother's bullet had torn into him.
Even after three months of surgeries and recovery, he was not yet fully healed.
Casting his gaze across the water, he noticed a couple of small girls pushing paper boats along the shallows at the shore. A smile stole onto his face as he watched the girls chase after one of the vessels that had drifted too far into the lake, feet splashing and shouting to each other excitedly.
"My grandparents often took me to a place like this," he recalled, the words out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Instantly, her shoulders tensed. She whirled around, her eyes wide open.
Mun raised his hands in a placating gesture and kept his distance. "I'm on my own," he said softly, trying to put her at ease.
But she hardly seemed to hear him. Taking a step back, her gaze darted behind him, then over her shoulder, clearly searching for any back-up he might have enlisted to assist with her capture. Her arms hung loosely at her side, but he remembered all too well how fast and lethal her fists were. Sun Bak never pulled her punches. He imagined that life had taught her that she could not afford to.
"How did you find me?" she finally asked, when she was satisfied that he had indeed come alone.
He gave her a crooked smile. It seemed an easy question, but the answer was complicated, and he did not think that she would have the patience to listen to it just yet. Not when she seemed ready to bolt at any moment.
"I have friends in interesting places," he said, hoping that she would not press the issue, or worse, trust him even less than she already did.
Her eyes narrowed, and for a moment, he was certain that it had been the wrong thing to say. While he scrambled for a more tangible answer, she suddenly looked across her shoulder as if she'd heard someone call to her and relaxed almost instantly. A curious expression settled on her face, and she tilted her head to shoot him an indecipherable look from under her lashes.
Mun was a little embarrassed to note that he'd held his breath, wondering whether he'd have to fight her or chase her. His chest wound rebelled at either option, and, besides, he'd come here to offer her hope, not more violence. They'd both had more than enough of the latter. "I'm not here to arrest you,” he assured her. “I don't have jurisdiction here, and believe me, I'm in no shape to win a fight against you."
Her chin came up at that. "You would not win a fight against me no matter what shape you're in."
By the gods, he loved her confidence. There was something about her that made him want to fall to his knees and declare himself hers, in spite of the utter absurdity of such a notion. He'd underestimated her once, when he'd been young and foolish and far too full of selfish pride, when he'd looked at her, without really seeing, until it had been almost too late. And even though he'd eventually opened his eyes to the power and ferocity of her spirit, he would never forget her crestfallen expression when she'd presented her trophy to her father, another man who looked but did not see.
He'd made a vow that day: he would never be so willfully blind again
Still, he had yet to back down from such an obvious challenge.
"One day, I would like to prove you wrong," he said brashly, a teasing smile on his face. To his relief, he found it mirrored in her eyes.
"You already tried once. And failed."
Her gaze flickered away from him, and he couldn't deny the little thrill that went through him when he saw color rising to her cheeks. Of course, any recollection of their battle at the cemetery would naturally bring them back to that kiss. That endless, tender touch of mouth to mouth, that had existed in such perfect juxtaposition to the potent rush of adrenalin and the breathless pounding of their hearts.
Even after all these months he could still remember the blood from his split lip mingling with the sweet, heady taste of her. The world had dropped away in those few seconds as they'd reforged a connection they'd thought lost – delicate and fragile like the most finely spun glass – which he'd been all too aware could break under the merest breath of air. Thankfully, the entire universe had held its breath that day and gifted them a moment of perfection, of longing, of possibility.
Of course, that had been right before she'd knocked him out cold, but he had never been one to dwell on insignificant details.
Especially not when there were more important things that demanded his attention, such as the way she visibly pulled herself from her brief reverie, albeit, he was quick to note, with a vague sense of reluctance that settled like a warm caress along his spine.
Her eyes slid to the side again, across the calm surface of the Serpentine, before they settled on him, dark and piercing and with a note of calculation that made his heart beat faster. No, he would not be blind. She had been underestimated time and time again, and even though in one regard at least, it had served her well – had kept her alive – the injustice of it roused his anger. He would not be blind. How anyone could look at her – poised like a predator waiting to lunge, eyes sharp, bathed in sunlight – and not see that her mind was as acute a weapon as her body was beyond him. And yet, people had done just that all her life. The world truly had an endless capacity for fools.
"You're not supposed to be here,” she said. “According to your records, you're still in a coma."
Concern and relief mingled in her voice, belying the air of wariness with which she regarded him, and Mun found himself hard-pressed not to reach for her – to pull her hands against his chest to prove that, yes, he was here and alive and waiting, but he knew that this was an intimacy which she would not – and might never – permit.
For the moment, he contented himself with the knowledge that she'd been worried enough to keep tabs on him, even as he was surprised that she'd been able to. He'd made sure that his condition and whereabouts where not easily accessed. "How did you know?"
A wry smile stole onto her face. "I have friends in interesting places, too." Then her expression sobered. "What do you want from me, Detective?"
"I need your help."
This startled a hollow laugh from her. "My brother shot you. He almost killed you." Her hands fluttered towards his chest before she balled them into fists, instantly quelling the motion. Still, it was enough to propel him forward as if she'd tucked at an invisible string that wound around his chest. "And he got away with it," she concluded bitterly.
"I had a warrant for his arrest that night," he reminded her.
"I saw the news reports, Detective. He found another scapegoat for the embezzlement. Someone he blackmailed or bribed to take the fall. He shot you in public and was still able to blame it on me.” She sighed. “He has powerful protectors."
While he had to acknowledge the veracity of her observation, he refused to accept the note of defeat in her voice. "It is not that easy to make a close-range bullet wound look as if it came from the other side of the room. A lot of records need to be falsified for that."
Her gaze strayed off to the side again. "And they were," she said gently, her expression soft and remorseful, as if she was telling a small child that fairy tales were not real.
Before he'd woken up in the hospital, he would have reacted with irritation to what he'd perceived as condescension, but he knew better now. Even through the haze of pain killers, Mun had recognized that same look on his captain's face when he'd stood next to Mun's hospital bed and told him that the investigation into Joon-Ki Bak's financial dealings was closed. Orders from up high, no appeals allowed, sorry for your trouble.
It had been the same look his father had worn more than a two decades ago, sitting at the kitchen table, as he reassured a reassured an eight year old Mun that those true of heart would always, always, slay the beast and win the day. Mun remembered that evening as if it had been yesterday. The warmth in his father's voice, his mother's laughter as she stroked his hair, the doubt in their eyes. Looking back at it, Mun knew that his father must have already known what was to come; how scandal would bring him to his knees, trample the last vestiges of the idealism that had marked his political aspirations and expose the fairy tale or the lie that it was.
The beast always won.
But not this time.
This one time, the beast would fall, because unlike his father and unlike his captain, Mun was not fighting alone. And neither was Sun. He just had to make her see it, had to show her that there was hope, that together, they would be unstoppable.
They'd both fought too hard to give up now.
That was why he ignored the dejected slant of her shoulders and soldiered on. "I was able to procure the original reports of the shooting,” he explained. “And I will testify against your brother. That's the reason I am officially still in a coma. Because once you brother finds out that I am awake, I will have as much of a target on my back as you do."
Again, her hands moved toward him, and again she aborted the motion. But her face gave her away. There was something, at once dark and bright, unfurling behind her eyes, a protective sort of savagery that set his heart hammering inside his chest. Tension drew taut between them, and a slow, deep wave of heat rolled through Mun's body. He wasn't proud of the way he had to catch his breath, but the space around them suddenly seemed devoid of air, and it took every last shred of self-control not to lean in and plunder her mouth, stealing precious oxygen from her lungs.
The moment in which they hovered upon that precipice of want and caution seemed endless, and the only thing preventing Mun from pulling her close was the knowledge that the spell that held both of them would break the moment he moved. Still, it surprised him when she suddenly flinched, gaze darting to the side again. Her shoulders came up around her ears, and color rose into her cheeks, and Mun was almost sure that she was reacting to words spoken by someone he could not hear. She turned abruptly, mumbling something too low for him to hear, and started walking along the bridge. A glance over her shoulder invited him to join her.
"How did you manage to do all of this?" she asked hesitantly when he caught up to her.
He gave her a rakish look to disguise that he was still struggling to regain his equilibrium. “Did you think I was just a pretty face?” he asked in mock indignation, which earned him a bemused smile. “I have more skills than you like to give me credit for, Ms. Bak.”
"And more friends in interesting places," she said knowingly. He inclined his head, and they fell into silence as she considered his words. "How do you think I can help you, Detective?" she finally asked.
"You were the CFO of your father's company; a very competent and thorough one from all I've seen. If anyone can reconstruct the falsified financial records or find any missing files your brother may have left behind, it's you."
Her arms wound around her body as she looked at him. "My brother will have erased those long ago."
"Your brother is far too impulsive to mastermind this."
"His protectors, however, are not. They will have made sure that no traces were left behind."
She turned away from him again, back towards the balustrade. "I'm not giving up," she hissed underneath her breath, steps speeding up as she tried to put some distance between them. "I'm merely choosing to focus on the problem I can actually do something about."
“This is a problem you can do something about,” he insisted, and her head snapped around, a look of confusion in her eyes, as if she honestly didn't know what he was talking about.
He was neither stupid nor blind, and he knew that there was something going on just beyond his perception. She was talking to someone who wasn't him, and he cast an assessing look at her, but as far as he could tell she wasn't wearing an earpiece.
It was something to file away and puzzle out later.
Right now, he needed to convince her, and if that meant convincing whoever was privy to their conversation as well, then so be it. He would do it gladly, because knowing that she had people who looked out for her – people she could trust – was worth the additional difficulty of winning their approval.
"You brother's protectors don't know the company the way you do," he continued, appealing to her desire for vengeance as well as her professional pride.
She looked doubtful, and he wished he could run his thumb along her forehead to smooth out the furrow between her brows. He caught her throwing another irritated glance to the side, and, ever the optimist, he decided to take this as a good sign. It appeared that he might have an unexpected ally in whoever was listening in on them.
"I suppose it is possible that they missed something," Sun finally conceded.
There was a distinctly disgruntled note in her voice, that told him that this admission had not come easily to her. In fact, he got the impression that she would have preferred to walk away from this conversation entirely, which only made him more curious. He wondered what other “problem” could have possibly pushed her to disregard her brother's crimes, and he really, really wished that he could have heard what he surmised had been a very one-sided argument.
Instead, he silently thanked her mysterious confidant for changing her mind.
"I know people who can help you…" he began, eagerly seizing the moment, but she interrupted him almost immediately.
"I have my own people, remember?" Her gaze was shuttered, and he could feel her withdraw from him as she forced herself onto a path she was reluctant to tread.
Hours later, alone in his hotel room, he would admit that it hurt to watch her close herself off like this, but standing next to her, he nodded, unwilling to push her more than necessary.
However, a little was necessary. "If we're going to take on your brother, you will have to meet some of them,” he said, and it was a concession to her hard won self-reliance that he amended his demand. “When you're ready."
"We?" she asked hesitantly, and he could practically see her turn the word over and over in her head, examining it from all sides like a curiosity from distant shores. "So, what you're asking for is trust,” she said, and with one solemn look from her he found himself back upon the precipice, holding his breath and trying not to fall.
A long moment passed while he waited for her to make a decision.
He could see the struggle on her face. He knew how her loyalty had been betrayed. Knew about the deception, greed, and treachery that had brought her here. Taking the fall for her brother's crimes, the faithlessness of her father, who had acknowledged her worth far too late and paid for it with his life. The knowledge that, in spite of the allies she had found, the shadows behind her eyes spoke of abandonment and loneliness. It hurt to know all of this. It hurt to see it in her face, and Mun would have given anything to find the right words to reassure her that it would not always be like this. That she was strong and brave and bold, and that she would find her way through this. That he would be there for as long as she wanted him to be. But he held his silence, knowing that words would never be adequate – never be enough.
His actions would have to show her the truth of them.
To his relief, her shoulders eventually squared with resolve. "Do you have a phone?"
He handed it to her without hesitation, and she typed in her number, before calling herself. A moment later the phone in her back pocket rang.
"I will need time to look into it. I came here to help a friend. Someone who is in even more danger than I am, and I cannot leave until he is safe," she explained, before she returned his phone. "I will call you when I have news."
Repressing his curiosity, he held her gaze as his fingers brushed against hers. A pleasant spark danced along his skin, lingering, even when he withdrew his hand and pocketed the phone. He would not pry information from her that she was clearly reluctant to give. And though patience was not his forte, he could console himself with the knowledge that she no longer had cause to run from him, that they would work together to bring her brother to justice, rehabilitate her name and ensure that she was safe.
It was all that mattered.
It was all the hope he needed.
He woke to the insistent ringing of his phone. Reaching for it, he glanced at the digital clock on the bedside table. It was well past midnight, and his heart rate sped up as he shook off the last remnants of sleep. Few people had this number, and none would call him at this hour if it wasn't urgent.
The name on the display had him sitting up and running a hand through his tussled hair.
"Ms. Bak?" he asked, his voice raspy from disuse. He cleared his throat. “Is everything alright?”
There was a moment's hesitation before she answered. "Did I wake you?"
Pushing the blanket aside, Mun swung his legs to the floor. "No. No, I was still up."
Seconds passed as he listened to her breathe. There was a slight hitch whenever she inhaled; a pause that had him leaning in. He'd taken up kickboxing when he'd been four years old; he'd suffered broken ribs, twisted joints, bruises all over his body. The ache of injury was as familiar as his heartbeat, and he could tell, just from the way Sun inhaled, that she was in pain.
Her voice was quiet when she replied. "You're a terrible liar, Detective.” Then it dropped even lower, becoming impossibly soft. “That's what I like about you."
It seemed as if all air was pushed from his lungs. He made a valiant effort not to read too much into those words. His attention was better spent on figuring out if he could help her. "You're hurt."
"No, I'm fine," she said, her voice turning hard and stubborn. And while her denial let him know that she was unlikely to be in any an immediate danger, the fact that she was apparently as bad a liar as he was did little to reassure him in all other regards.
"You're in pain, I can hear it in your voice." he said gently, knowing how hard it must be for her to acknowledge it.
He counted his own breaths as he waited for her to reply, and just when he thought that he'd crossed a line by pushing her to admit to a vulnerability that she obviously loathed, he heard her shift, heard the catch in her lungs as she adjusted her body.
"I hurt my shoulder," she conceded with obvious reluctance. Her words were followed by an almost inaudible gasp that he would have missed had he not been listening so intently. "And bruised a couple of ribs."
He closed his eyes. His hand fisted in his hair. He had little doubt that if those were the injuries to which she admitted, then there were sure to be others. He knew that she wasn't delicate. He knew that she had fought for sport and validation since she'd been a child. Bruises and fractures meant little to her, beyond the annoyance of slowing her down. But he would have given anything to be with her right now, to help ease her pain, to protect her from whoever had dared to lay a hand on her.
It shocked him a little to observe just how deeply she had gotten under his skin, and a thoroughly inappropriate laugh bubbled up in his chest as he realized that, feeling as protective as he did, he had in all likelihood failed to see that it it had been her who had lain hands (or fists) on someone else.
He swallowed the sound. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No," she replied flatly. "I can take care of myself." There was a rebuke in her voice; as if he'd implied that she was helpless. If only he could tell her how deeply she misunderstood his intentions.
Still, he took the hint and retreated to more solid ground.
"Is it because of your friend?" he asked.
"Yes. He is safe.” She sighed. “For now."
"And are you?"
"For now?" he pressed, unable to keep the concern out of his voice.
He exhaled with relief. “I am glad.” There was more he wanted to say, but worry about how much compassion she would allow made him dally too long. She spoke before he had ordered his thoughts.
"The reason I called is that my friend and I retrieved some of the files you asked for. The data is not complete, but if we could compare them to the tax records of the past few years it should be enough to reconstruct a money trail."
His shoulders straightened, and he jumped on her words, eager to finally have something to contribute. "I already have those tax records. I can send them to you."
To his surprise this drew a soft laugh from her. "Do you, now? I have to admit that when you said you had friends in interesting places, I did not imagine it to be a tax office."
"My father still has friends there.”
“He was a revenue officer?”
Standing up, Mun walked over to the windows of his hotel room, his gaze skirting along the London skyline. “No, he was a politician. Local government, small constituency. He just wanted to do what's best for this town and the people who lived in it.” He could hear the pensive note in his own voice and frowned. Memories of his parents were always tinged with a bittersweet aftertaste, and for all that he had learned of Sun Bak's family during the course of his investigation, he felt oddly reluctant to share his own past with her.
Maybe some part of him was still trying to maintain a certain amount of professional distance between them, but standing here in this dark room, his bare feet cold against the laminate, and the warmth of her voice pressed against his ear, it seemed a foolish thing to do.
“What happened?” she asked.
Mun shrugged and took a deep breath. “What usually happens to fools who believe in the system more that they believe in reality. He got in the way of some powerful people.”
She made a surprised noise. “You're angry with him.”
He leaned his forehead against the window pane. “I... He wasn't perfect. But I know he loved us, my mother and me.” His voice wavered. “But, yes, sometimes I'm angry that he didn't put his family first, that he didn't yield, when they destroyed his reputation and his career.”
There was a hesitant tone to her voice, as if she was uncertain about this new familiarity between them. “Would you have...”
He interrupted her with a discerning laugh. “No. Of course not. I would not be here, otherwise.” Turning away from the window, he ran a hand through his hair. “I think I've gained quiet a new understanding of him in the past few months.”
She made a low humming sound that conveyed both compassion and curiosity. "So you get your idealistic streak from him?"
"I like to think that I got it from both of my parents. My father… he lost himself for a while afterwards. It was my mother who kept our family together, who held on and gave up her time, her energy, and in some cases even her pride to see us through the fallout.”
This was met with silence.
“Ms. Bak?" he finally asked already knowing to which thoughts his words had led her.
When she answered, her voice was eerily flat and sober. “Isn't that always how it goes?" she asked rhetorically. "One person being asked to sacrifice everything, just so another doesn't fall – so they may remain unblemished in the eyes of the world? It seems almost perverse to me to dress that sort of selfishness up as an appeal to duty and family honor.” She paused as her breath caught. “And, yet, for most of my life, I would never have questioned it. It is all that I've known.”
"Is that why spared you brother?" he asked, cautiously. "I saw the footage from the traffic and security cameras. You chasing him on the motorcycle. Him crawling away from you. You could have killed him easily. Why didn't you?"
"I have asked myself that many times, Detective. The easy answer would be that he is my brother; that one of the last things my mother asked of me was to protect him. But, after everything he's done, these reasons sound weak and foolish, and I am neither." There was an odd hesitancy to her words, as if she was trying to convince herself as much as him.
"You don't sound sure," he said, and then cursed himself for sounding callous, when it was the farthest thing from his mind.
He could hear the tremor in her breath as she exhaled, and the sound cut him to the bone.
"A woman once told me that my heart was as soft as a baby bird's, but a heart like that cannot survive in this world. It will break. And I cannot allow that.” She paused, and her voice grew ragged. “If that means I must encase my heart in steel then so be it."
Every part of him rebelled at her belief that she had to turn herself into something that she was not in order to whether this storm her brother had unleashed, and he scrambled to find the right words – any words – that would pull her from this self-destructive path.
"A phoenix," he rasped out haltingly, seizing on the first thought that crossed his mind.
"What?" she whispered brokenly, and he was sure that there were tears in her voice now. He balled his hand into a fist, praying for her to give him just this one chance to make it right. To let him show her how magnificent she truly was.
"Your heart is not a baby bird, it's a phoenix." And curse it, he was never one for poetry or sappy sentiments, but he would be damned before he listened to this woman – this force of nature – doubt and second-guess herself, thinking she had to turn herself to stone. "You burn bright and furious and constant, and it shows itself in both your anger and in your compassion. And as harsh as this world is, there must be room for both in it. And that is not weakness, Ms. Bak. It is strength. And that is why you will not break." Not if I can help it, he added quietly, fiercely.
For a long, agonizing moment there was silence, and then he could hear her muffled sobs. Panic gripped him tightly as he thought that he'd screwed up – that he'd made it worse – and then the phone clattered to the floor and the connection cut out.
He stared at the phone for a long time trying to gauge whether or not he should call her back, but in the end he decided to give her privacy. Placing the phone back on the bedside table, he sat down and laid back, his calves still hanging off the bed.
He wondered where she was right, now. If she had someone there who could comfort her after his bungled attempt at reassurance. But most of all, he wondered how long he could go on pretending that he was not in love with her.
She'd called him a week later asking to meet at a cafe in Wembley.
He was on his way there, just exiting the train station, when his phone rang. It was one of those friends in interesting places, who had proven himself invaluable tracking Ms. Bak to London.
“Hey, you asked me to let you know if I came across anything suspicious on my end.”
Crossing the tracks, Mun covered his ear with his hand to muffle the traffic sounds. “Yes. What is it?”
“I picked up some chatter connecting you and the woman you asked me to track to Kensington Gardens last week. Are you headed to the Ace Cafe London, by any chance?”
Mun stopped dead in his tracks. “How do you know?”
“Well, I'm not the only one who knows. Your line of communication was compromised. You need to ditch your phone and get out of there.”
Heart pounding, he disconnected the call, dropped the phone, and started to run.
Years of training ensured that he remained alert as he tore down the street. His gaze darted across the road, assessing pedestrians and vehicles, trying to determine who could be a threat. He searched for Sun the minute he reached the cafe's large window front, and saw her rise from a seat in the back corner, alarm written on her face. Her gaze focused on him, and, astute as ever, she moved before he even reached the door.
“What happened?” she asked as she approached him, and they both veered towards the back exit without another word.
“Get rid of your phone,” he told her, holding the door while he scanned the hallway and tearoom beyond. She complied without question.
A black SUV pulled up in front of the cafe. Two men jumped out, and Mun took note of the professional cut of their suits, tailored to hide the shoulder holsters beneath their jackets.
They ended up in a backyard that opened to the street on one side and a bridge across the river on the other. He turned toward the street, intending to return to the train station, but Sun stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“There are more of them around the corner.”
“How do you know?” he asked with a quizzical look, but she only raised her eyebrows at him and started running for the bridge. “Right,” he murmured and fell into step beside her. “Nevermind.”
They tore past a warehouse, rounded a fence and crossed the open space beyond, heading for the residential area across the street, when Sun suddenly pulled him to a stop just before they reached the corner of a large storage building.
Pushing him against the wall, she seemed to listen intently, then looked up at him. “Three gunman. Just beyond the corner. One falling back to give cover,” she whispered in clipped tones. “I'll take the first. Are you up to taking the second?”
Mun nodded and followed her along the wall, until they stood side by side, just shy of the corner. Sun held up three fingers, then two, then one. Then she balled her hand into a fist and lashed out, catching their first assailant squarely in the jaw as he stepped clear of the wall.
Mun darted past her, lunging for the second man and broke his wrist, forcing him to drop the gun in his hand. The man's outcry had barely left his mouth, when Mun pulled him back around the corner, out of the third gunman's line of sight. Bullets tore into the wall, and Mun flinched. His attacker threw a punch at his face, which Mun blocked easily as years of training kicked into gear.
The fight was short, but brutal, and by the time the man fell unconscious next to the assailant Sun had dispatched with considerable more speed, Mun sported a bruise on his jaw and nursed a dull ache in his abdomen, which he expected to get a lot worse before it would get better.
Sun motioned him to follow her again, and together they ran back the way they'd come, barely making it around the next corner before the third assassin shot at them. Veering left, a short sprint brought them across a parking lot to another warehouse. Sun kicked down the backdoor and they headed inside towards a staircase that led down into the basement.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked following her nonetheless into the darkness.
“I know where I'm going. Trust me.”
She led him deeper down into a maintenance tunnel and through the endless labyrinth of London's underground. At one point they emerged in a rail tunnel and followed the tracks for several minutes, before Sun pushed open another door, the keypad mysteriously lighting up green before she even touched it. Sometimes she would stop and wait, motionless, head tilted to the side, clearly listening to instructions, and Mun wondered what kind of communications equipment still functioned as deeply below street level as they were.
By the time they finally went up instead of further down, Mun was hopelessly lost. They climbed a dimly lit concrete staircase, the walls of which turned to brick once they made it above ground, and Mun breathed more easily when he heard the rushing sound of moving cars and the indistinct chatter of people outside.
Still, they climbed, until they reached a loft on the top floor where a heavy, metal door separated the stark open space from the stairwell. The loft was swept clean, but empty of furniture, and the windows where taped over with dark foil, only allowing for the barest glimpse of sunlight to filter through the material's ragged edges.
“We'll be save here. Some of my... friends will join us shortly and help you get back to your hotel or any place else you want to go.”
“What about you?”
She shrugged and avoided his gaze. “My brother found me. It's not safe for me to stay here.”
He stepped forward, his heart hammering. “Come with me back to South Korea.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Help me take your brother down. We can end this. I can hide you, make sure you're protected.”
A mutinous expression crossed her face, and it hurt to know that she still didn't trust him.
“You can't promise that. I was here for three months without my brother knowing where I'd gone. Then you find me, and suddenly I'm running from assassins again. Do you know if our communication was compromised on your end or on mine?”
He was at a loss as to how to answer her. She nodded grimly, as if she had not expected anything else.
“I cannot take that risk.” She moved to walk past him, her face forbidding any argument on the matter.
But he couldn't let her go like that, couldn't just stand by and watch her leave. He caught her by the elbow. “He will keep coming after you.”
Quick as lightning, she punched his shoulder viciously, hitting the nerve cluster there with perfect precision. His hand spasmed, and her arm dropped from his grip. A moment later, he found himself slammed face first into a wall. “I can take care of myself,” she growled.
“I know,” he groaned with his cheek against the concrete. Life as a police officer may have made him doubt many things, but he would never doubt this. His faith in her balanced the cynicism brought on by the daily grind of dealing with people of her brother's ilk. Yet, he could not ignore the consequences of the latter. “If we don't fight him, you will never be safe.”
He pushed himself off the wall and fell into a defensive stance, but after almost three months in a hospital, his reactions were slow. Before he could move, she'd swept his feet out from under him and lunged forward, pinning him beneath her. She straddled his chest, but kept her weight on her legs instead of his torso, no doubt trying not to aggravate the remnants of his injury.
Mun rested his head against the floor, his breathing more labored than he cared to admit. After a short, internal debate, he decided to risk her breaking his fingers and settled his hands on her waist.
She did not move. Instead, her gaze locked with his, and she sank lower until he could feel the heat of her against his chest. He swallowed heavily, his hands tightening around her as his breath turned shallow for completely different reasons. One of her hands fisted in his hair and pulled his head back. “I don't need you,” she insisted with just enough anger in her voice to bring him back to reality.
He needed a few breaths to steady himself, but when he finally addressed her, it was with a sober sincerity that he hoped she would not doubt. “I know that you don't,” he said, steadfastly holding her gaze. “What I'm trying to tell you, is that I'm here anyway.”
She looked at him for a long, breathless moment. Then she all but fell on top of him and crushed her mouth to his. It probably shouldn't have taken him by surprise, and yet, he still needed a second to accept the reality of it – of Sun Bak kissing him. Thankfully, his body proved to be far quicker on the uptake.
His hands came up to cradle her face, brushing errand strands of her short hair behind her ears. He tilted his head, changed the angle by a fraction... there. Perfect. A small sigh escaped her mouth, and he swallowed it eagerly as she caught his upper lip between her own, tasting him almost leisurely, as if she intended to savor every moment. It sent a pleasant shiver through his body. Heat coiled low in his abdomen as her tongue flicked against his mouth, and he yielded to her instantly, smiling into the kiss.
His hands skirted along her shoulders and down her back as she pushed his shirt up, her movements getting more insistent as their kiss turned from sweet to passionate. His fingers slipped beneath her shirt, palms flattening against the soft skin at the small of her back, and she sat up, tearing her top off with an impatient sound that turned his smile into a full blown grin.
For a second she glared at him, but there was something hesitant and playful to it that was so at odds with the confidence of her battle armor, that he felt emboldened to grab her hips and push her down his body, so he could sit up and press a kiss to her nose.
She blinked, expression flitting from surprised to scandalized, and then she laughed. It was the most wonderful sound he'd ever heard. I did that, he thought, his heart growing three sizes in as many seconds.
“You are wearing too many clothes,” she said, hands already brushing against his abdomen to raise the hem of his shirt again.
Leaning forward, he looped his arms around her waist and tugged his mouth beneath her chin, tongue flicking against the sensitive skin of her neck. She gasped beautifully and tilted her head back to give him better access.
“Take them off,” she moaned softly.
Her hips rocked against his rapidly hardening erection, and his hands tightened around her, desperately trying to still her movement before he lost all common sense.
“It's not that I don't want to,” he murmured against her, “but I don't think we have time for this right now.”
She looked at him impishly. “We have a little time,” she said, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth.
The sight made him groan helplessly, and he kissed her again, catching that same lip between his own, where it belonged, and trying to remember when exactly he had developed a possessive streak.
Probably in between kissing her in the cemetery and her kicking his ass seconds later. After all, he was nothing if not predictable.
“Tell me what you want?” he asked, his voice hoarse as they came up for air. “Tell me how you want to be touched.”
She looked at him wide-eyed, as if the thought had never occurred to her that someone would ask. She cupped his face between her hands, and kissed him with a quiet sort of reverence, that actually made him blush. He exhaled slowly, not knowing what he'd done to deserve any of this, but promising himself (and her) that he would hold on to it – fight for it – for as long as she wanted him by her side.
“I want to touch you first,” she said and laughed at his eagerness as he finally tore off his shirt.
He fell backwards under the pressure of her hands, and she leaned into him, her mouth trailing hot and wet along the planes of his pale chest, teeth sinking shallowly into the soft skin of his abdomen, mindful of his injury. Her hands brushed along his sides. His breathing became labored as he followed her with his eyes, watched her explore and enjoy his body with an ardent thirst that spoke of season-long droughts.
When her teeth fastened around the fly of his pants, his muscles seized with the sheer eroticism of the picture in front of him, and he sat up hastily, stopping her.
“I'm not going to last long, if you keep going,” he admitted.
She wrinkled her nose in the most adorable way (fuck, he was a goner. A hopeless, helpless goner. And he wouldn't want it any other way) and sat back on his thighs.
“Touch me, then,” she said and reached or his hands, pulling them towards her breasts. He cupped the soft curve of them in his palms and leaned in, mouthing at her nipple through the soft material of her bra until she whimpered. Her hands dove into his hair again, fingernails scraping along his scalp as she guided his mouth where she wanted him.
“I'm not made of glass,” she whispered, mouth brushing against his ear. “You can bite. Just a little. On the underside.” He followed her instruction hungrily, and her whole body tensed and surged against him as she sucked in a trembling breath.
“Yes,” she gasped. “Like that.”
To his surprise, his hands were shaking as he unclasped her bra and nuzzled his face between her breasts, leaving a wet trail as he kissed his way to her abdomen. Breath labored, he flipped them and settled with his chest between her thighs, mouth pressed against her stomach.
She kicked off her shoes and let him pull down her pants and undergarments, until he could finally pull her legs over his shoulders and suck love bites into the soft insides of her thighs. Sun arched against him, head thrown back, hands fisting in his hair.
“Higher,” she urged him, voice rough and trembling. “I want your mouth on me.”
He could not deny her anything and delighted in the fact that she wanted and demanded, and didn't hesitate to tell him what she needed. He wanted to give her everything.
He tasted her, reveling in her heady scent as he let her tell him how to move his tongue, how to suck and tease and tantalize, how to drive his fingers into her until she moaned, body tense and aching beneath his ministrations. She came with a soft, choking sound, hips surging against his mouth, thighs closing around his ears.
He eased her down with gentle kisses, lapping up her slick, before he sat up and sucked his fingers clean. She watched him with hooded eyes, and curled a finger towards him, beckoning. He leaned above her with a cocky smirk, which morphed into an expression of slack-jawed lust, when she wrapped her mouth around his fingers and sucked.
Her hands fell to his waistband, tearing at it impatiently. He helped her divest him of his clothes, and then she pushed him back and straddled him with predatory speed. It just made him want her even more. He was hard and throbbing in her hand, and he groaned with relief as she sank down on him without hesitation.
His breath came in shallow moans as she rode him, her gaze locked onto his, eyes bright and vulnerable and full of passion. He allowed himself to drown in them, gave himself over to the rhythm of their bodies, his hands settling around her waist as his body arched beneath hers. His thumb pressed against her clit, circling with a feather light brush until she dug her nails into his abdomen and begged him to go faster. When she shuddered above him he held her down, grip bruising against her hips as she urged him on. He thrust hard and fast into her tight, wet heat until he came, babbling her name amidst incoherent sounds of pleasure.
He was done for – a trembling, boneless mess – completely at her mercy. I don't want this to end, he thought idly and kissed her forehead when she collapsed on top of him with a satisfied sigh.
She rested on his chest as they caught their breaths, his hands tracing idle circles along her back. Her breath ghosted across his skin, and he closed his eyes, simply enjoying the way her weight felt on top of him, the way her lashes fluttered against his neck, the way her fingers lazily brushed across his nipple.
“Let me stay with you,” he said into the silence. “Give me a chance to convince you that we can beat him.”
To his surprise, she didn't tense against him as he had expected, but simply raised her head to look at him. She started to say something, but suddenly turned her head, and then her body did tense up, and she shifted off him.
“We're about to have company,” she said with a note of apology in her voice as she reached for her clothes.
Sitting up, he pulled on his briefs and regarded her pensively. “Alright, you're definitely not wearing an earpiece, and I kissed your neck thoroughly enough to say with confidence that you don't have any sub-dermal implants either.”
She flashed a bemused smile in his direction at this analysis, but didn't pause dressing herself.
“Someday, you're going to tell me how this works, right?”
Pulling her shirt over her head, she turned her head towards the footsteps coming up the stairs. “Maybe,” she said, then reconsidered at the challenge on his face, “You might not believe me.”
He looked at her earnestly. “Yes,” he replied. “I will.”
Holding his gaze, she weighed his words carefully. Her hand came to rest against his face. “Soon, then.”
The door to the loft opened while they were pulling on their shoes. Two men entered, both with short-cropped hair, one blond, one brown, wearing identical expressions of wary amusement.
“Ready to leave?” the blond one asked without introducing himself.
Sun looked at him, a smile growing on her face.
“No, he's coming with us.”
She held out her hand and pulled him up.