Chapter 1: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa Lee sat in her favourite seat at the café close to her apartment block, nursing the cheapest thing on the menu; a small white tea. It wasn’t as good as the coffee her body craved, but it was all her purse would allow her to have. She flicked through the pages of the application form she had on the table in front of her. There was no way she was qualified for a job at C&R, but it was the only place she could find that was currently hiring, and she was getting desperate.
She filled in a few basic details; name, date of birth. Address? She sighed. The landlord was on the verge of kicking her out.
This is depressing.
She put down her pen and picked up her phone. The notification icon showed that she had one new email, and she prayed to all the gods she could think of that it was a job offer.
You have been invited to test out…
She sighed, quickly scrolling through the message. It looked like junk mail, but she thought that maybe it was something she could get paid to do. At the end of the message was a link, which she pressed hoping that it wasn’t a virus.
She closed the email, hoping that it would stop whatever she had just started, but when she checked her phone menu she saw a new icon was installed there. She knew that she should probably delete it immediately, but curiosity got the better of her. She opened the app.
A chat room opened.
Unknown: Hi! Finally, someone to talk to, thank god…
Yu-hwa bit her lip and tugged at a strand of her dyed pink hair nervously. Unknown? Is this a chat-bot? These things seem to be popular lately. Tentatively, she typed her reply.
Unknown: Hi. Nice to meet you ^^ Yu-hwa… I’ve been waiting for you. Hope I didn’t surprise you. Don’t be nervous, I’m just an ‘ordinary’ person~
Yu-hwa felt her blood turn cold. The app must have accessed her personal data as her name and profile were displayed for Unknown to see. But what did he mean by he’d been waiting for her, and…
Yu-hwa: Why are you emphasizing the word ordinary…? It’s making me even more nervous
Unknown: You’re funny lol
Yu-hwa sighed and sipped her tea. Funny? Yeah, my whole life is a joke. She looked back at her phone. She knew that she should probably leave the chat before he asked her to send nudes or something, but she was a little curious too as she continued to read his message.
Unknown: But I can’t really say I’m extraordinary when I’m introducing myself. Shouldn’t I be humble and modest?
Yu-hwa couldn’t help but smile. She wasn’t the only comedian.
Unknown: In fact… I’m really excited. Cuz the first person to come in is you, Yu-hwa!
She cringed again at her name being used by this stranger she knew nothing about. He was being too familiar.
Unknown: I was so worried that no one would come in as I was making this app.
Yu-hwa’s eyes widened. So this guy is the apps creator? That explains some things I guess. She tapped at her phone.
Yu-hwa: What’s this app for?
Unknown: I was about to explain, but before that, can I ask a favour?
Yu-hwa inhaled. Have we finally arrived on Planet Perv? Her thumb hovered over the exit chat button.
Unknown: I know that it’s too much to ask from a stranger, but there’s something I really want you to help me with.
She chewed on her lower lip, moving her thumb and typing-
Yu-hwa: What is it?
She glanced at the application form in front of her. A few white lies might get her to the interview stage, but how far could her personality carry her? She rubbed her forehead as she felt the stress headache beginning to build, then glanced back at her phone.
Unknown: Well… This app isn’t just a messenger app, it’s a messenger game app. I wanted to ask if you could test it out for me. Game concept is chatting with pretty guys ^^
Yu-hwa: Why don’t you test it out yourself?
She didn’t have time for playing a game. She needed to find a job.
Unknown: It’s difficult to gain an objective view because I’m the creator. I want to know what others think of this!
He was persistent, but Yu-hwa knew she didn’t have the time. I just need to politely decline when I get the chance.
Unknown: The chats aren’t everything. There are also hidden stories… Amusing stories that will stir your imagination!
He’s really trying hard. She drank down the rest of her tea as she looked at the image of the characters he sent her. Cute, but not real. She rolled her eyes. I can’t keep a real boyfriend, I’m not going to spend my time chatting to artificial ones!
Yu-hwa: No thanks. Not my style.
She winced as she realised how harsh she might be coming across, but she was starting to get tired of the conversation.
Unknown: Just a little… Couldn’t you try it out for just a little? Decide whether it’s your style or not after trying it out.
She frowned. He seemed so desperate. She hoped that he wasn’t in a similar situation to her. Just imagining such a thing made her heart ache.
Yu-hwa: Fine. I’ll try it out.
Unknown: WOW! Thanks You’re a lifesaver… ^^
I hope you don’t mean that literally, she thought.
Unknown: I think it’ll be better to talk over the phone about the details.
The waitress took away Yu-hwa’s empty cup. “Anything else?”
“Um… no,” said Yu-hwa. Her purse was empty.
“It’s just… we have paying customers…”
“I get it,” Yu-hwa sighed. “I’m going.” She grabbed her belongings and rushed out of the café, red-faced. She glanced at her phone as she began to walk home.
Unknown: Don’t freak out when you see an unknown number and answer the phone plz ^^
The phone instantly started to ring. Yu-hwa inhaled deeply, her anxiety peaking. She closed her eyes and pressed answer
The voice on the line was soft, but she could hear the excitement in his tone.
“Hi, umm, how did you know my number?” Yu-hwa asked.
“It’s automatically collected when you log-on to the messenger,” replied Unknown. There was an awkward pause. “Oh ummm, don’t get me wrong. It’s only dialable within the messenger app.”
Yu-hwa sighed. It was a relief to know that all she had to do was delete the app and she would never hear from him again. But there was something about his gentle voice that she liked. She kept listening.
“As I mentioned in the chat room, I called to explain to you about this app.”
Yu-hwa rolled her eyes. The sales pitch.
Unknown explained the concept of the game, which was chatting to the characters he had created and becoming the party coordinator of a fundraising group called R.F.A.
“It’ll be much faster to understand by playing, instead of listening to all this,” he said eventually. “Oh, but the game hasn’t been released yet. To perform the tests, you have to come over here.”
Yu-hwa pressed her lips together tightly. Yes of course random stranger I’ve talked to for five minutes. I’ll trust you not to do who knows what to me. Of course I’ll come over, pop the kettle on!
“Just send me the file,” she said, trying to remain polite.
Unknown sighed. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s protected by a date leak prevention security system. Even if you download the file, it’s uninstallable. I need to directly install it to your smartphone. Please understand. And I also want to meet you in person before you play the game.”
Yu-hwa gripped her bag, feeling uncomfortable. He was insistent, so she knew that she had to be firm. “No, I’ll just pass.” She didn’t know why she felt so bad saying it. The guy was being weird, and he was a complete stranger. But she had also sensed a desperation in him, something that was all too familiar to her.
“Why?” Unknown whined. “Weren’t you interested? It’s an app just for you where you can chat with pretty guys. Others can’t play this. Only you can.”
Pretty guys? They’re more trouble than they’re worth, and I can do without!
“It’s not even real,” she said firmly. “I’m not going.”
“For real?” His voice was filled with sorrow and disbelief. “Then how about this? If you come here and test the game, someone real might be interested in you. For example, me.”
This is pathetic.
“I don’t need it. No thanks.”
“You don’t need me?” He sounded broken. “Ha, haha… haha… Sad. I’m so sad…”
Yu-hwa felt her heart pounding. He was crying. Was he so desperate?
“I really believed you were going to make my dream come true… Believed you were the one I would go to paradise with…”
Yu-hwa reached her apartment and pulled out her key just as the landlord stuck his head out of his door. He’d clearly been waiting for her.
“Paradise?” she sighed.
“The place I was trying to take you to,” said Unknown, his voice soft but filled with sadness. “That place is paradise. Where there’s no pain or sadness, just endless happiness. I’m the angel that will lead you there. You’ve let go of my hand… but don’t worry. I don’t plan to let you go just yet.”
The landlord stood beside her, breathing down her neck.
“Rent’s due,” he said as she pushed the door open.
“I want to see what kind of face you’ll make when you’ve truly been saved. I want to see it with my own two eyes.”
The landlord snatched the phone out of Yu-hwa’s hand and hung up.
“Hey,” she gasped as he shoved it back at her.
“I said your rent’s due,” he snapped. “Actually, it was due last week, but I let you off because you’re cute. Now I want my money.”
Yu-hwa bit her lip, muted.
“Fuck, you don’t have it?” he asked, then smirked. “There are other ways of paying,” he said as he advanced on her. “It’s been a while since I got my cock wet.” He stepped back. “Think about it. You give me head, you get to keep a roof over yours.” He laughed as he left, slamming the door shut behind him.
Yu-hwa hurried and locked the door, collapsing on the floor in tears.
Chapter 2: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa had spent the last three days avoiding her lecherous landlord, leaving her apartment early every morning and not returning until late in the evening. It was exhausting and dull and she had fallen into a tedious routine. She didn’t have the money to buy continuous cups of tea, so she ended up spending most of the morning wandering around the local park, sketchbook in hand. The weather had been nice, so as she often did, she enjoyed trying to capture the scenery on paper. But drawing the same green fields, the same tall trees, and the same rushing lake, even from different angles, had taken the fun out of it. The pages of her sketchbook were becoming as repetitive as the days of her life. Once the afternoon came, she returned to the café to enjoy a warm drink.
She almost spilled her cup of tea as her phone vibrated loudly on the wooden table. With trembling hands, she snatched it up, hoping it was one of the jobs she had applied for getting back to her.
It was Unknown.
Her finger hovered over the answer button as her heart pounded. She had thought of him often since their last call. Three days spent wondering if he would be angry because of how their call had been abruptly ended. She had even felt the need to apologize. He wasn’t that creepy, she thought as she held her breath and accepted the call. Not creepy enough to turn down paradise.
“Hi, it’s me,” the familiar voice said cheerfully. “What have you been up to? Sorry I couldn’t call you more often.”
“It’s… fine,” said Yu-hwa as an unbidden smile forced its way onto her lips.
“If I could, I want to spend the whole day connected to you. The only thing that connects us is this phone. I don’t want to let go of this.”
Yu-hwa held in her breath. She wondered if he knew how crazy he sometimes sounded. They didn’t know each other at all, but he spoke as if they were friends, or maybe even something more. She didn’t really understand their connection, but she knew that, even if it was strange, it didn’t feel wrong.
“I’ve been thinking of you the whole day,” the gentle voice continued. “Even when I was busy, I thought of you.”
Yu-hwa took a sip of her tea and held her tongue.
“I wonder if you think of me too… I’m going crazy because I want to know everything about you. I miss you. I want to see you.”
“Isn’t it too sudden?” Yu-hwa asked. She didn’t want to be rude, but she couldn’t understand how a stranger could be so passionate about a person they’d never met, least of all a person like her.
“We could have been together by now if you’d chosen to,” he replied, his voice breaking with tears. “We could have been together throughout the whole day.”
“I’m… sorry,” Yu-hwa whimpered, twisting her hair around her finger.
“No, no,” he said, a hint of panic behind his words. “You don’t have to be sorry. You’ll eventually end up with me. You’ll come to where I am.” He sighed, trying to regain control of his emotions. “I’ll hang up for today,” he said calmly. “Let’s talk again tomorrow. The minute I hang up, I’m going to miss the sound of your breath through the phone.”
“Bye,” Yu-hwa whispered.
“Bye,” Unknown replied.
The line went dead.
Yu-hwa stared at the blank screen, feeling very complicated. “Who are you?” she asked nobody. And why do I care?
It was after midnight when Yu-hwa quietly tiptoed into her apartment. She had spent several minutes outside trying to spot the landlord, straining her eyes to see into every shadowy corner. She was so tired and mentally drained that she stripped off all of her clothes and climbed straight into bed. She couldn’t help but think of all the things Unknown had said to her.
I miss you.
I’ve been thinking of you.
Yu-hwa sighed. Paradise? Any place that isn’t here could be paradise. She thought of Unknown’s voice, so soft and gentle in her ear. So kind and filled with his sincere affection. She wrapped the blanket around her naked body and fell into a peaceful sleep.
After a quick shower, Yu-hwa was dressed and out of the door, determined to avoid her pervy landlord until she could find the money for rent, or somewhere else to stay. She stuck to her routine, strolling around the park until she found somewhere quiet to settle for a few hours while she drew.
The weather was warm and Yu-hwa felt the uncomfortable scratch at her throat as the pollen flared her allergy. I can’t afford hayfever medication, Yu-hwa moaned to herself as she wiped her watering eyes with her sleeve. When it became too much and she could no longer stand the pressure building up inside her head, she took a walk back to the café near her apartment for a cup of tea and a sandwich, both of which she took her time consuming. She sat in her favourite seat, quietly people watching, wondering if he would call.
Then he did.
Yu-hwa answered without hesitation, longing to hear the gentle reassurance that his voice offered to her.
“You got it right away. I’m glad.”
He sounded cheerful and Yu-hwa felt her heart rate increase as her cheeks began to flush with heat. “Hi,” she replied, matching his cheery tone.
“Were you waiting for my call?” he asked. “If so, I’d be really happy.”
Yu-hwa smiled. She was coming to the conclusion that he wasn’t used to speaking with people often. If he was a loner, it would maybe go some way towards explaining some of his odd behaviour.
“Oh, right,” he continued. “I have a secret to tell you. I actually went to see you yesterday after hanging up. I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to see you.”
Yu-hwa opened her mouth, dozens of questions suddenly on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t find the words she wanted to say. Her heart pounded harder, but she wasn’t sure if it was from excitement or terror.
“I thought about surprising you by dropping by where you were at but decided to save that for later. I watched you from one meter apart, did you notice?”
Yu-hwa twisted a strand of pink hair around her finger, biting her lip nervously. She wondered how bad her judgement of character had become. But I suppose it’s never been great, she chided herself.
“Haha, I like the look you’re making now. How cute.”
Yu-hwa shot up from her seat, her eyes wide and searching the café, inside and outside through the window, for anyone using a smartphone, anyone who looked suspicious. Anyone who could be him.
“Ah… darn,” Unknown muttered. “Actually… I’m still watching you right now. How I’m watching you is a secret.”
Yu-hwa sat back down, her shoulders hunched, her entire body tense. Does this guy have access to CCTV? she wondered. She continued to twirl the strand of hair around her finger, wondering if it was normal to feel both excited and violated in such a situation.
“I feel like I’m with you as I’m listening to your breath and watching over you. Don’t you think so? You… want to feel me closer like I do, right?”
Yu-hwa glanced around at the café’s security cameras. I wonder how many cameras there are between here and my apartment? How much does this guy know about me? What has he seen?
“Don’t worry, I get the feeling we’ll meet very soon,” he went on. “Let’s talk again tomorrow. Bye.”
Yu-hwa put the phone back down on the table. Is he watching me even now? She felt so vulnerable, but… protected too. She slurped the rest of her tea under the glare of the waitress then picked up her stuff, ready to fill the rest of the afternoon with job hunting.
She arrived home earlier than she would have liked, but she was glad that the landlord was nowhere in sight. She locked the door with a relieved sigh, throwing her things down on the kitchen counter. I’m too tired to keep doing this, she thought as she stripped off for a shower. She knew that she was lucky to still have some hot water, let alone a place to live, and she savoured the cleansing heat of it against her skin. But alone in her small apartment, she had too much time to think, and tears began to prick at her eyes as she wondered what she could do about her landlord.
“Even if I get the money for this month, I’m just going to be in the same situation next month,” she sobbed as she washed herself, scrubbing her skin raw as she thought of his sickening proposition. She would never accept it, even if he threw her out onto the streets.
Feeling upset but determined, she dried off and climbed into bed, still sniffling pathetically.
I’m still watching you right now.
The memory of Unknown’s voice filled her head like a dream.
I feel like I’m with you…
You want to feel me closer, right?
Yu-hwa sighed as she ran her fingers down her body, her stomach trembling at the tickling sensation of her own light touch, opening her legs and slipping a finger between them, already slightly wet at the thought of him.
I want to know everything.
She moaned as she slowly pressed two fingers deep inside of herself, growing wetter, then withdrew them to slowly massage her clit.
I’m the angel that will lead you to paradise.
She slid the fingers of her other hand inside herself, thrusting them slowly in and out as she continued to pinch at her clit, moaning, her thighs quivering as the pleasure slowly began to build. She knew exactly how she liked to be touched. She knew just what to do to reach the perfect orgasm, to leave her fingers drenched in her own come. She gasped, hips bucking, as she felt her inner walls pulsing, constricting, and she slipped a third finger inside, wanting to feel it all.
I like the look you’re making right now.
She panted as she came, her fingers soaked in her essence as she squeezed her thighs tightly together, shuddering as she withdrew herself, her body overly sensitive to her touch, her mind filled with the soft voice of Unknown. She fell asleep feeling more relaxed than she had in a long while.
Chapter 3: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa woke up late. She could see the landlord watching her from his balcony as she rushed out of her apartment, still shoving her sketchbook into her bag as she clung onto her keys. She kept her head down as she hurried out from under his lingering gaze, her breathing sharp and panicky, heading straight to the safety of the café.
Maybe I can afford a muffin for breakfast, she thought hopefully, feeling the growl of her stomach after having barely eaten for several days. She ordered at the counter, counting the coins out of her purse, her face red with embarrassment as the cashier waited, patiently but awkwardly. Yu-hwa glanced up at the cameras now and then, wondering if Unknown was still watching over her, feeling conflicted by the realization that she hoped he was. She finally paid, and carried her order to her favourite seat, putting her phone on the table where she could clearly see it, then relaxed. She took her time eating the muffin, savouring each juicy blueberry that she plucked out and enjoying every crumb, eating it as slowly as she could so that she could remain in the café longer. She couldn’t help but to keep glancing at her phone, wondering when he would call. She wanted to hear his voice again so badly.
“So this is where you spend all day, is it?”
The landlord loomed over her with a smirk on his face. She had been so fixated on waiting for Unknown to call that she hadn’t even noticed his unwelcome presence entering the café.
“Did you… follow me?” Yu-hwa asked, her whole body trembling in fear. She gripped the seat, her nails digging into the soft fabric, her knuckles turning white as she clung onto it, something to anchor her as her head began to swim in terror.
“I was just wondering when I’m gonna get my--” He grinned like a devil, leaning over the table towards her, “--payment?”
Her eyes widened as she breathed in sharply, her heart beating rapidly as a cold sweat broke out across her body. She felt cornered. All she could see was the bulk of a man before her. There was no escape, no way out. She was trapped.
“If I don’t get what I’m owed, I’ll have to kick you out,” he went on. “Bad things happen to pretty girls out on the streets,” He pointed at her phone as he stood back upright. “You’ve got a missed call. Hope it wasn’t about a job. I’ll be seeing you later.”
He turned and left, not a soul having noticed their altercation, as Yu-hwa snatched up her phone with trembling hands.
1 missed call from UNKNOWN
1 new voice message
Yu-hwa pressed the phone up against her ear, tears flooding her eyes.
“Wait for me tomorrow.”
She let out a silent sob. Unknown’s voice sounded quiet but desperate. He’s just the same as me, isn’t he? Yu-hwa thought as she gripped the phone tightly. He’s just reaching out, hoping that someone will reach back.
“Come with me, please…”
The message ended. Yu-hwa replayed it again, then again. Would she really see him if she waited for him tomorrow? She dried her eyes with a napkin, feeling a hollow void inside her chest. She had never felt emptier. The tea hurt her throat as she swallowed it down, anxious to leave the café that had always felt like a safe space, even when the waitresses nagged at her to leave, and headed over to the park. She carried her sketchbook under her arm, but she knew that she would be unable to concentrate on anything except what could happen tomorrow.
She felt like she was in a dream when she reached her apartment. Her mind was filled with equal parts excitement and anxiety as she wondered what sort of person Unknown truly was.
“You’re finally back!”
Yu-hwa spun around at the sound of the sudden harsh voice, coming face to face with her landlord who quickly stretched out his arm to block her in against the wall.
“I’m still looking for a job,” Yu-hwa whimpered, pressing herself against the door, trying to create as much distance between her own body and that of the landlord. “I’ll get your money.”
“Haven’t you considered your other option?” he asked, leaning closer, his nose brushing her cheek as he used his free hand to push back her hair. “You might enjoy it.”
She gasped as he roughly kissed her neck. “P-please stop,” she pleaded, squeezing her eyes shut.
“But… the rent’s due,” he whispered, grabbing her breast through her top and squeezing hard.
Yu-hwa cried out in pain, but he just pressed himself against her, sandwiching her against the wall, his erect cock poking at her stomach.
“Just a quick fuck,” he said as he released her breast and slipped his hand between her thighs, pressing his fingers against the crotch of her jeans.
“S-stop!” she cried out, desperately but ineffectively trying to shove him away. “Let me go! I-I’ll call the police!”
He released her and stepped back, a look of pure fury on his red face. “You fucking slut!” he growled violently. “I give you a chance to keep a roof over your head and you threaten me? Fuck you! I want you out of here.” He slammed his fist against the wall, barely an inch away from her face, and she flinched in fear, her eyes squeezed shut so tight that her whole head began to ache. “One week to pack all your shit and get out!”
Yu-hwa turned to her apartment door the moment he walked away with a look of disgust on his face. She was trembling hard as she searched her bag for her keys, so blinded by the fear she felt that it took her several moments to find them. She snatched them up and thrust them into the keyhole. The door unlocked and she rushed inside, slamming the door shut behind her, locking it again as quickly as she could just in case that man decided that he wasn’t done with her yet after all.
The morning came too soon, and Yu-hwa stared bleary eyed at the world outside her window. She felt hollow. The sun did not cheer her. The water from the shower did not warm her. Her favourite sweater did not comfort her. She only had one chance to stop her life from collapsing beneath her. She grabbed her sketch book and headed to the café.
She ordered a coffee that was three times the price of her usual tea and sat at the table in the corner. There was nothing left for her to do, nothing left for her to lose.
Her eyelids were beginning to feel heavy, the weight of her exhaustion making even her bones feel like lead. Maybe he’s not coming… The chair was soft, the café warm, and she was so very tired…
“You fell asleep. How adorable.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the familiar voice. A slender young man in a magenta coloured jacket smiled down at her, his hair a shock of white, pink at the tips, his sharp green eyes looking only at her. His face was dazzlingly handsome, and she stared back at him, all her words having abandoned her.
“Sorry I’m late,” he continued, looking genuinely apologetic. “Did you wait long?”
Yu-hwa wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep. She glanced at her phone. “I think I’ve been here about an hour,” she said, rubbing her eyes.
“I’m so glad that you waited,” he said, but then he frowned. “How horrid was the reality that made you wait for me?”
Yu-hwa twisted a strand of pink hair around her fingers as she felt the sting of tears returning. It hurt. She hurt. She was tired of her fear, tired of her miserable, repetitive life, tired of losing everything, everyone…
“I kept thinking about that… Poor thing.” He gently touched her shoulder and she looked up at his sincere expression. “Why don’t we go together? Live happily in paradise.” He held his hand out for her to take.
Yu-hwa knew that this was it. She could scream and shout. She could escape from him. Or… she could take his hand.
She knew she would only be running away from her problems instead of facing them.
She didn’t care.
She took his hand.
Chapter 4: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa lifted her glasses and rubbed her tired eyes. After hours of staring at the monitor, the words on the screen were beginning to make no sense.
“Please pay attention.”
Unknown, the man she had come to know as Ray, sat at his own work station, tapping away at the keyboard with nimble fingers in a way that made her feel wholly inferior. She had become his assistant, but in the week since she had arrived at Magenta, she felt that she was more of a hinderance.
“We’ll never beat the redhead with this,” Ray snapped, his usually gentle voice raised in a way that made Yu-hwa wince.
“I-I’m sorry,” she said meekly, twisting her hair around in her fingers. “I’m really trying but I’m just not good enough.” She stared at the screen, feeling the burn in her eyes as she tried to hold back the tears.
“What’s with that look?” Ray asked, his voice hitched with panic. “Are you… You aren’t going to leave me, are you?”
Yu-hwa spun in her seat and stared at him, his green eyes meeting her brown ones, wide with distress. “I’ll never leave you Ray,” she reassured him. “Never! You saved me and I’ll never forget that.”
“That’s right,” sighed Ray softly, more to himself than to Yu-hwa, his terror ebbing away and his voice returning to the familiar gentle tone that Yu-hwa loved. “I did.” He gazed at her, a small, fragile smile forming on his lips. “So you just stay by my side. We’re a team. You and me, we’ll always be together.”
“Yeah,” said Yu-hwa, smiling at him. “You and me, together forever.”
Ray returned to his work, his body appearing less tense. Yu-hwa let out a breath and tried once again to focus on her work.
Ray leapt out of his seat, and Yu-hwa turned to see who had just stepped into the information room. A woman stood with the sweetest smile on her lips, but most of her face was shrouded by a beautiful and intricate black mask. Her blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders like molten gold. Yu-hwa gawked at the beautiful woman, feeling very plain in comparison. The woman looked around the room, and Yu-hwa blushed. She had been living in the information room since she had arrived. Everything she had, including the bed roll Ray had brought for her, and a few extra clothes, where piled untidily in the corner.
“S-savior,” Ray stammered, nervously glancing at Yu-hwa. “What brings you here?”
“Please don’t act like a fool, Ray,” the savior said calmly, looking over at Yu-hwa with a gentle smile. “I heard you got yourself an assistant,” she said as she stepped closer to Yu-hwa. “She’s quite pretty underneath all that hair.” The savior brushed back Yu-hwa’s pink hair with a delicate stroke of her hand. Yu-hwa could feel her cheeks burning, the touch feeling far too intimate for someone she had only just met. Savior turned back to Ray. “She isn’t one of us though.”
“I know, my savior,” said Ray. “But she doesn’t need to be. If she doesn’t venture out to the main building, there’s no need to make her take the elixir.”
“You cannot keep her in here like a caged bird,” the savior snapped.
Ray cowered, his eyes staring down at his gloved hands. “Yes, my savior.”
“She must have the ceremony to make her one of us,” said the savior sweetly. “Otherwise you must get rid of her. Do you understand Ray?”
He nodded. “Yes, my savior.”
The woman nodded, pleased that she had made herself clear. “Good. I shall begin making preparations.” She looked back at Yu-hwa once again. “After the ceremony, you won’t be forced to camp in this small dark room. You will have a place to call your own in this paradise of Magenta. You’ll be able to wander around freely. It will be a much more pleasant experience for you.” She smiled. “You will find true happiness here, my sweet child.”
Yu-hwa bit her lip feeling confused, but she nodded. “Th-thank you.”
The savior beamed at her. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. I look forward to seeing you again at the ceremony.” With a flick of her long blonde hair, she left the room.
Yu-hwa glanced at the little camp bed that was rolled up in the corner and sighed. “Maybe it will be better if I become a proper member,” she said, brushing her hair back across her face. “You’ll be able to show me around Magenta. We can go out and eat together. It will be better than being cooped in here all the time.”
Ray wiped the tears from his eyes as he looked back at her. “I knew you’d feel trapped in here eventually,” he said. “But still, I didn’t want you to have to take the elixir.” He sniffed as he tried to compose himself. “I know it’s better for you to take it. The Elixir of Salvation will make you one of us. It will bring you closer to the savior, make you stronger and happier… but when you take it…” He sighed. “For me, it was so painful. It’s different for everyone, but I didn’t want to risk you suffering the way that I did.” He grabbed her hands suddenly and looked deeply into her eyes. “Yu-hwa, I couldn’t stand to see you in pain.”
Yu-hwa couldn’t hold back her tears as she gazed back up at Ray’s earnest face, so desperate and full of fear and sorrow. “I can do it Ray,” she said, trying to keep her voice strong. “Like you said, it’s different for everyone, so maybe I’ll be just fine.” She gave his hands a gentle squeeze of reassurance. “Ray,” she said calmly, quietly. “Even if it is agony, I won’t regret it. I will never regret staying here with you.”
Ray held in a breath as his tears poured down his cheeks. “Will you really stay here with me?” he asked. “Even now, when my savior has given you a chance to leave me?”
Yu-hwa nodded as she wiped away her tears with the sleeve of her sweater. “I’m staying,” she said. “I’ll stay by your side Ray. I’ll take the elixir and stay with you forever.”
Yu-hwa’s breath hitched as Ray moved closer. She could feel the warmth of his breath, his hands trembling, the heat of his body, so close. Close enough to kiss.
“Th-thank you, Yu-hwa,” he said, barely able to get the words out. “Thank you for saying that. I won’t forget it.”
He released her and went back to his desk. Yu-hwa’s heart pounded as she was left hanging, still waiting for his lips to touch hers. She turned back to her monitor, but she could barely understand a thing that scrolled across the screen. She stared blankly. Ray, what are we doing? She grabbed her sketch book and started making small doodles in hope of clearing her mind enough to be able to work. She noticed Ray glancing over at her now and again, but he said nothing.
Ray sighed as he glared in the direction of the door. “Come in.”
A man clad in a black robe with a gold trim stepped into the room. Yu-hwa stared at him. A believer? She had never seen any of the other residents of Magenta, even though she knew there were many of them. Ray had done his best to keep her isolated in hopes that she would be able to remain with him.
“Mr Ray, the savior sent me,” the believer said, and Ray swallowed nervously. “She had some elixir prepared for another believer, but she said that your assistant is now her priority.”
Ray stood up, his hands clenched tightly in an effort to keep them from trembling. “When?” he asked.
“She is to be taken to the savior within the next two hours,” the believer replied.
“Two hours?” Ray cried out. “That’s too soon!”
“It is what the savior has decided,” the believer said firmly. “She must be ready to receive the ceremony within two hours.” He turned to Yu-hwa. “Please be ready to leave within that time.”
The believer turned and left as Ray collapsed back into his chair. “No,” he whined, his head falling forward into his hands, his white hair gripped by gloved fingers. “This is too soon. It’s too sudden.”
Yu-hwa released a shuddering breath. “I should finish my work,” she said. “I’m going through with it Ray. When you see me again, I’ll be able to live here at Magenta with you forever.”
He looked up at her. “I’m scared Yu-hwa. What if it is agony for you? What if you hate me for bringing you here?”
Yu-hwa forced herself to smile. “That’s not going to happen. There is nothing you can do that will ever cause me to hate you.”
Chapter 5: Ray
Ray’s finger’s hovered over the keyboard.
“Sixty-seven minutes,” he muttered as he quickly typed another line of code. “Is this enough? Can I afford to leave this for now?” he wondered aloud, absentmindedly chewing on the thumb of his glove.
He glanced over at Yu-hwa’s corner of the room. For the week since she had arrived, she had lived, worked, slept, and eaten, all in the small space that he had provided for her. He rolled his chair over to her work station. The only personal belonging that she had brought with her was a sketch book, which was now sitting open on her desk. Ray picked it up and flipped through the pages. Yu-hwa’s drawings were incredible to him. She had drawn pages of small animals and people that she had seen long before she had arrived at Magenta, but the flowers she had drawn were what captured his attention the most. Each flower etched in pencil looked just like a flower Ray could tend to in the garden. He closed the book and pressed it to his chest. He glanced at the time once again.
“Seventy-nine minutes,” he said and took a long breath inwards. “She’s been gone for seventy-nine minutes.” He got up and left the room, taking the sketch book with him.
The corridors from the intelligence room were quiet and his footsteps were the only sound he heard until he reached the more social area beyond the lobby. The library and games room were bustling with believers, and the canteen just beyond was full of people grabbing something for supper.
“My assistant,” Ray said as several of the believers noticed him approach and stood to attention. “She had the Salvation Ceremony with our savior…”
“Oh, Mr Ray,” said one believer, pushing blond hair behind his ear as he respectfully addressed his superior. “Miss Yu-hwa was taken to her new room on the first floor not long ago.”
Ray didn’t stop to hear more, quickly heading to the staircase, almost at a jog. Please be okay please be okay please be okay. He gripped the sketch book tightly in his hand. Every step he took barely seemed to cover any of the distance between him and Yu-hwa. He felt so slow, even as he tried to increase the length of his stride. It seemed as if she were so far away from him but finally he reached to top of the staircase and saw two fellow believers strolling towards him along the first-floor hallway.
“Is that Yu-hwa’s room?” Ray asked, panting from his exertion.
“Yes, Mr Ray,” said one woman. “She’s not doing so well right now though. Savior said that she should be left to get some rest.”
Ray was sure that he felt his heart stop beating for a moment, then he shoved past the believers and rushed to Yu-hwa’s door. He hesitated there, but only for a moment. If she was suffering the same way that he had done after his ceremony, she would definitely need him.
“Be brave Ray,” he whispered to himself, and he pushed the door open.
As soon as he stepped into the room he was surrounded by sunshine yellow walls, so bright and vibrant. A colour to bring a smile to the face of anyone who entered. It reminded Ray of daffodils, of sunflowers, of buttercups. It was a room that should be full of joy, but when he saw Yu-hwa, he couldn’t feel the slightest bit of happiness. She was laid on the bed looking so small, curled up in a foetal position, her hands gripping the sheets so tightly that her knuckles had turned a skeletal white. Her agony was imprinted all over her body. Ray rushed to her side without further hesitation, wanting desperately to hold her in his arms, to rock her gently, to stroke her hair and promise her that everything would be alright.
“God, you’re burning up,” he gasped as he gently stroked her face, tears filling his eyes.
Yu-hwa’s skin was scorching hot to the touch, her body damp with sweat. Ray dropped the sketch book on the bed and removed his gloves and jacket, then entered the bathroom. He set the shower running at a lukewarm temperature, grabbed some towels, hanging them on the rail so they were in easy reach, then quickly returned to Yu-hwa.
“Please don’t be angry with me, but I have to cool you down,” he whispered, not sure if she could hear him anyway.
He held his breath as he unfastened the buttons along her blouse, the thin material sticking to her wet skin. He struggled to remove it, pulling her against his chest to slip out her arms, feeling her soft body pressing up against him. His heart fluttered as he laid her back down, tossing the item on the floor. He glanced at her, the milky white skin of her chest heaving with her laboured breathing. Ray licked his lips and swallowed as he leaned over to unfasten her jeans. He pulled them down, fighting as they clung on to the sweat of her legs, and when he had won, he tossed the clammy clothes together on the floor. He bit his lip as he looked down at his assistant, quivering in pain on the bed. He reached for the clasp on her black lace bra, feeling the heat rush to his face.
“I-I won’t look,” he mumbled, closing his eyes. He removed her bra and tossed it on the floor, then ran his hands across her waist as he tried to find the elastic of her pants. He pulled them down, awkwardly trying not to touch her inappropriately.
“Right,” he said, sighing with relief. “Now just to… OH!” He snorted in frustration. Unless he wanted to walk back to the information room in wet clothes, he had to undress too. Keeping his eyes squeezed tightly shut he removed his waistcoat and unbuttoned his shirt. He wrapped his arms around his naked torso protectively. He hated revealing his skeletal frame, but he knew that Yu-hwa was too wrapped up in the throes of her own agony to notice how frail he was. He slipped off his trousers and nervously removed his underwear. He noticed that he was shaking almost as much as Yu-hwa was as he crept over to her. He touched her skin, still burning hot, then awkwardly slipped his arms under her sweat-slicked back and lifted her up to carry her to the bathroom.
The water from the shower was refreshing and Ray crouched down on the tiles, Yu-hwa laid across his thighs, her head resting on his bony shoulder. He opened his eyes and buried his face in her hair, the water raining down on the two of them. He gently rubbed her hair, her arms, her back, rinsing away the sweat, cooling her body. His heart pounded every moment he had his hands on her bare skin, threatening to burst out of his chest. She felt so warm against him. He could feel her breath against his neck and he couldn’t help but be hypnotized by the way the water rolled down the curve of her breast, hanging heavy at the peak of her nipple, then dripped off. He swallowed, feeling his own body beginning to react to hers. He felt his cock harden, something that was not a familiar sensation to him, and he tried in earnest to think of anything to soften himself, but then she stirred in his lap, her thigh pressing against the length of him.
“R-Ray…” she said breathily against his neck, causing him to grow even more aroused.
She touched his chest, her thumb accidentally grazing his nipple. His cock twitched, and he felt so shameful and hopeless that he wanted to cry.
“She told me…” Yu-hwa said in a low, trembling voice. “The savior… She told me that they’re real… The RFA. They’re real.”
Ray held her closer, her soft breast pressing up against him. “Yu-hwa, I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
“Ray… you still need me, right?” she asked. “You won’t throw me away will you?”
Ray couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but he suspected that her sudden insecurity was down to the effects of the elixir. He held her close, wishing that he would never have to let her go, and daring to plant a kiss on her pale forehead. “Oh, Yu-hwa,” he said quietly as he allowed the water to wash the tears away from his eyes. “I’ll never throw you away. I’ll never leave you. I promise that I will always be with you.”
Yu-hwa seemed to relax again, her head feeling heavy on his shoulder. She had stopped shaking and her wet skin felt cooler against him.
“Yu-hwa,” he whispered again, savouring her name as it rolled from his lips. “We will be together forever.”
Chapter 6: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa woke up, her head screaming in pain, her mouth as dry as desert sand and… Where are my clothes? She shoved off the bedsheets to reveal her body wrapped in towels. Her brow furrowed. She had a vague recollection of being in the shower, out of her mind with agony.
And Ray was there.
Ray, holding her tight in his arms, safe and comforting, making promises to stay with her forever. Sweet Ray, his white hair soaking wet, his pale skin gleaming under the cascading water.
Yu-hwa caught her breath, feeling the heat rising to her cheeks. She scrambled out of bed, throwing the towels into a pile on the floor, the muscles of her body feeling sore after hours of being tensed in pain. She slowly walked to the bathroom, desperate to brush her teeth. She savoured the cooling water as it hit her lips, her tongue lapping it up as if she had not touched a drop in weeks. Her hair was a mess, and she stared at her reflection in the mirror with disgust. She looked exhausted, the skin under her eyes puffy and grey and her hair looking like a cloud of candy floss. She grimaced and turned on the shower, desperate to make herself look somewhat presentable before she returned to work.
Once she had washed and fixed her messy hair, she dressed in her favourite sweater and jeans. She could already tell that the day was going to be warm, but she needed the comfort that the old sweater offered. It was soft and fluffy, and so oversized that Yu-hwa felt that she could hide herself inside of it if she needed a place to feel safe. Then she saw her sketch book laying on the bed. She picked it up and flipped through the pages, finding the last doodles she had made before being taken for her ceremony. How long have I been asleep? she wondered, and she couldn’t help thinking of Ray, alone in his dark room. Her heart ached. She badly wanted to go to him. She reached for the door, but as her fingers reached the handle there was a light knock from the other side.
“Wh-who is it?” she asked with a small gasp.
“It’s Ray,” came the reply. “May I come in?”
Yu-hwa opened the door. Ray smiled at her, his cheeks flushed with happiness.
“It’s been two days,” he said softly as he entered the room. “I missed you. I brought you some food.” He placed a small plate down on the table. “It’s just a sandwich, but I made it myself, and I thought, if you feel like I did after… Well, it might take a while for your appetite to fully recover.”
Yu-hwa nodded as she picked up the sandwich. The filling was pink and sticky, and she looked at him questioningly.
“Oh, it’s jam,” said Ray. “It’s sweet. I like it. I thought the sugar might help you feel better.”
Yu-hwa’s smile widened and she gave a soft snort of laughter before biting into the sandwich, chewing, swallowing. Ray watched her the entire time, his lips pressed tightly together.
“It’s good,” Yu-hwa said, nodding enthusiastically and giving him a thumbs up. “It’s really tasty.”
“Thank God,” Ray replied, becoming less tense. “I was worried that you wouldn’t enjoy it at all. I was told jam sandwiches are a bit childish.” He adjusted the blue rose on his jacket, breaking eye contact. “Umm, actually, I came here to see if you’d like to take a walk around the garden with me. Since you’ve never been there, and it’s my favourite place in the whole of Magenta…” He glanced up at her nervously.
“Oh, umm, okay,” Yu-hwa replied tentatively. “That sounds nice… umm…” She could already feel her body screaming at her to lay down. She ached in places she didn’t even know she could.
“You can take my arm,” said Ray, reading her like an open book. “The exercise might do you some good, but we’ll take our time.”
She hooked her arm through his gratefully, noticing how thin it was. He looked so happy to be walking with her though, and she didn’t want to mention it and ruin the mood. I’ll start bringing snacks into the information room, she thought to herself, and dropped all further thoughts from her mind as she allowed him to guide her through the halls of Magenta.
The building was huge, and it took them ten minutes to walk at a pace that was comfortable for Yu-hwa. Ray wore a small smile the entire time and Yu-hwa felt her heart flutter each time she glanced up at his kind face.
“Are you okay?” he asked as they walked. “We can stop any time you need to rest.”
“I’m okay for now,” Yu-hwa assured him, then huffed. “I can’t believe how strong that elixir was. I’m sorry I left you alone for so long.”
Ray frowned. “Please don’t worry about me. I know how bad the elixir can be. You’re a lot stronger than you think, Yu-hwa.”
She gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “Thanks Ray. At least I can always stay with you now. I never want to leave you.”
Ray glanced sideways at her. “The savior will always take good care of you,” he said, and watched as Yu-hwa frowned. He bit his lip. “Of course, I’ll always be by your side too. You mean a great deal to me.”
“I’m so happy Ray,” Yu-hwa said as the frown vanished. “I hope we can stay together always.” She leaned into him, both for support and for comfort.
“We’re here,” he announced eventually, leading her through a set of double doors.
It was like entering another world. The sun shone brightly onto the vibrant petals of a multitude of flowers. Yu-hwa stared in awe.
“It’s beautiful,” she gasped. “I wish I’d brought my sketch book, but I left it in my room.”
Ray smiled, taking her hand and pulling her further into the garden. “I knew that you’d love it. I want to show you the pots I’ve been tending. I’m growing all my own roses, and there is a flower called lil-”
Yu-hwa sneezed loudly, scaring the birds out of a nearby tree.
“Yu-hwa, are you sick?” Ray asked, the panic quickly rising in his voice. “I’d rather die than see you go through any more pain! Please tell me what’s wrong!”
Yu-hwa laughed as she rubbed at her itching eyes. “It’s just hayfever Ray. I’m fine, but I should go back inside before it gets any worse.”
“Oh,” said Ray, a mixture of relief and distress written all over his face, but only briefly. “Of course, let’s go back in. The garden can wait for another day.”
Yu-hwa felt her heart sink as Ray led her away from his beloved flowers. Having hayfever on top of recovering from taking the elixir was bad, but it was nothing compared to the pain of seeing Ray try to bury his disappointment with an understanding smile.
“We can come back another day,” he said, squeezing her hand gently. “Your health comes first.”
“I’m so sorry Ray,” Yu-hwa said as she twitched her nose. “You were trying to do something nice and my stupid allergy ruined everything.”
Ray pulled her closer, looping her arm through his. “Nothing is ruined,” he told her quietly as he led her back up the stairs to the first floor. “I got to see you today and spend some time together. That makes it a better day than yesterday.”
Yu-hwa gasped suddenly. The staircase was taking its toll on her aching legs. “Ray, let me sit down for a moment.” She didn’t wait for him to reply, slipping out of his arm and dropping down to sit on the step.
Ray’s eyes were wide with worry and he sat down beside her. “The elixir… did it hurt a lot?”
Yu-hwa frowned at the memory. Ray had warned her about the amount of pain it had caused him, but when the savior had given her the small bottle of green liquid to drink, it had seemed so harmless. It was just a small vial. But once she had drunk it, the pain had begun to set in almost immediately. The moment the liquid had passed her lips, it felt like she was burning from the inside. The believers had carried her to her new lodgings, the décor being mockingly cheerful as she writhed around in agony. She had gripped the sheets, barely able to breathe, until every motion she made became excruciating and her mind was so clouded by the pain that she could no longer see or hear. And when it had seemed as though her anguish would never end, she had heard his voice.
I promise that I’ll always be with you.
“It was worse than I expected,” she confessed, “but I’d take it again if it means that I can stay here with you.”
“You will never take it again!” Ray said sharply, causing Yu-hwa to jump in shock at his sudden change of tone. He softened quickly, seeing how he had frightened her. “You’ll never have to take it again Yu-hwa, I promise.” He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her gently. “I promise, I’ll keep you safe.”
“Thank you Ray,” Yu-hwa said quietly, resting her head against his collarbone. She felt his breath against her hair, a little more rapid than usual. “Ray?”
“We should get you back to your room so that you can rest,” he said, standing up.
“Oh… okay,” said Yu-hwa, and allowed him to help her to her feet.
He held on to her and led her back to her yellow room in silence. At the door, he kept a hold of her hand. “Please get some rest Yu-hwa. And don’t worry about work until you’re recovered. There’s no need for you to suffer more.” He let go of her hand and fidgeted with his gloves. “I’ll… see you later.”
Ray ran off, leaving Yu-hwa standing in the doorway. Did I do something? She sneezed, and her eyes began to water again. With a sigh, she closed the door and headed back to her bed, where she planned to remain for the rest of the day.
Chapter 7: Ray
Ray quickly said his goodbyes to Yu-hwa then rushed away, his cheeks burning with heat. I hope she didn’t notice, he thought as he jogged down the staircase, recalling the scene that took place there mere moments ago when Yu-hwa had leaned against him, needing him, remembering the breathy way she had said his name. His body had become involuntarily aroused by her, right there in the middle of the staircase, and this time the girl he was turned on by was fully conscious. That could have been traumatizing, he thought, clenching his teeth. She’d probably hate me if she’d noticed. What is going on with this weak body of mine? I need more self-control.
He reached the information room and slammed the door shut behind him, panting as he leaned back against it. He bit at his lip as he took off his jacket and slung it across the back of his chair, then removed his gloves, his palms feeling clammy. He felt so hot, hotter in some areas than others. He couldn’t ignore any longer the way his cock was straining against the constraints of his pants. He unzipped his trousers. His cock was already rock hard, and he whimpered a little as he touched the tip, already dripping with wetness.
“What’s happening to me?” he sobbed. “Is this because of Yu-hwa?”
Just the mention of her name sent shivers of pleasure running through him. He couldn’t deny that he felt good, thinking about her while uncertainly tracing along his length with the tips of his fingers. He collapsed into his chair, finally ready to give in to his urges. If I do this, then maybe… maybe it will be enough. He shoved his trousers and underwear down to his knees. Maybe I just need to get it out of my system. Then she’ll stop having this effect on me. Nervously, he touched the tip of his cock again, his breath hitching as it twitched at the contact. He touched it again, being firmer this time and wrapping his fingers around his girth.
“Yu-hwa,” he sighed as he began to slowly rub his shaft up and down, stroking the sensitive head with his thumb, spreading his wetness.
He remembered the way she had looked, naked in the shower, beautiful even in such a fragile state, the cool water sparkling on her hot skin. Her legs had been draped over him, trembling so close to the secret he wanted to both keep and share with her. Her stomach had been soft against his own skinny torso. Her breasts had fascinated him, the shape of them, perfect for the size of his hand, like they were meant to be there, like they were made for him.
He began to pump steadily harder at his cock as he imagined Yu-hwa’s breast cupped in his hand, her nipple hard, wanting to be touched by him. He imagined how it would feel in his mouth, imagined licking and sucking, maybe even giving it a gentle nibble, hearing her gasp and moan in pleasure, wanting more, craving his touch. And Ray wanted her to want him. He wanted her to cry out his name and plead for him to touch her, harder, deeper. He would. He would do anything she asked him to. He wanted to touch her everywhere, to obey her demands, to treat her like a goddess. He wanted to lay soft kisses on every inch of her body, to open her legs up and bury himself inside of her. He wanted to hear her cries of elation as she was satisfied by the pleasure he gave to her.
Ray knew that he was close, and he gripped the edge of the desk, his heart racing and his cock throbbing as he came, his essence shooting out onto the floor. He panted as he squeezed out the last of his juices, then uncurled his fingers from around himself, resting his forehead on the cool surface of the desk, staring down at the mess on the floor.
“This is as close to Yu-hwa as I can let myself get,” he mumbled as he began to pull his pants back up. “I can’t let myself fall too deeply. She already rejected me once.”
He grabbed a wad of tissue, wiping up the mess he had made on the tiles beneath the desk, feeling the shame and embarrassment setting in as he did. I shouldn’t have thought about Yu-hwa that way, he chastised himself. She’s my assistant, my friend. I’m supposed to protect her, not fantasize over her. He walked into the bathroom and flushed his mess down the toilet. I can’t believe I did this, he thought as tears began to well up in his eyes. I’m disgusting. Yu-hwa deserves so much better than this. No wonder she rejected me before. I’m pathetic. I’m repulsive. Ray wiped his tears and sat back at his desk. He watched the monitor, all the data that he had collected to clone the RFA messenger on the screen. The data that had been meant to allow Yu-hwa to access the chat rooms.
“Never!” exclaimed Ray, his hand clenched into a fist. “If I’m pathetic, then the RFA are far more miserable specimens. I’ll never let Yu-hwa talk to them… I… I…” He began to sob, the tears unstoppable and uncontrollable. “I can’t let them take her from me,” he snivelled. “I can’t risk her falling in love with one of them.” He laid his head down on the desk. “Yu-hwa, my Yu-hwa.” He closed his eyes. “I hope you stay with me forever, even if I am pathetic.”
He rested his eyes for a few moments more. His breaths became longer as his eyelids grew heavy, and his heart began to slow its pace. He felt all his worries begin to drift away, his body weighed down by sleep… He sat up sharply as he stifled a yawn.
“Oh God, I can’t fall asleep now, I need to work. I’m supposed to be finding someone to be the new party coordinator. My savior will be furious if I don’t find someone soon.”
He sighed as he skimmed through the list of potential candidates he had found. There were well over one hundred.
“None of them are as perfect as Yu-hwa,” he muttered to himself as he chewed on his nails. “Why did she reject me? Could she tell through the texts how much of a moron I am?” He yawned again, rubbing his eyes, then he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of caffeine pills, popping one dry.
“I can’t believe how tired I am. Is this because I…” Touched myself? He blushed at just the thought of what he’d done and pushed suddenly away from the desk.
“I need air! Fresh air,” he announced to nobody, but glanced over at Yu-hwa’s empty desk and sighed sadly. He felt his heart ache at her absence. How did I ever live without you? He put his jacket and gloves back on and walked to the door.
“I’ll go and see the flowers for both of us,” he said with a sad smile, and left the information room once more.
Chapter 8: Yu-hwa
Ray was already working hard at his desk, his fingers moving swiftly over the keys when Yu-hwa shuffled groggily into the information room. She felt unwell and her body still ached, but she hated the idea of leaving Ray to work alone for so long.
Ray stood immediately once he noticed that she had returned. His green eyes were filled with sorrow and concern as he observed her from head to toe.
“I’m fine now Ray,” she said, offering him a gentle smile. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
Ray frowned. “I can’t help but worry about you. You went through something terrible.” He hesitated before adding, “and you’re important to me.”
Yu-hwa felt her heart begin to race, but she calmly took her seat at her desk. She chewed her bottom lip, readying herself to speak the questions that were haunting her. She took a deep breath. “Ray… I think we should discuss what we’re really doing here.” She saw from the edge of her peripheral vision that his gloved hands balled into tight fists, his teeth clenched. “…the RFA app… What is it really?”
Ray inhaled through his nose, staring blankly at his monitor, and Yu-hwa wondered if he had even heard her question. She almost asked it again, when Ray took a deep breath and began to talk.
“You… already heard from my savior that they are not AI’s,” he said, avoiding eye contact as he spoke. “They are real people that we, the people here at Magenta, hope to save.”
Yu-hwa tilted her head. “Save?”
Ray nodded. “We do wonderful things here at Magenta. Mint Eye is a group that was formed by my savior in order to lead people to a paradise where they can find true happiness.” He finally looked at her, his eyes locked on to hers, searching for reassurance that she didn’t hate him. “The members of the RFA are suffering so much, and the Mint Eye wants to help them, but we are being stopped by two particular people. These people…” his eyes began to fill with tears, “they hurt me. They caused me so much pain that I wanted to die. I’m so lucky to have my savior.”
“Oh Ray,” Yu-hwa exclaimed. “I never realized… You must have been through something terrible.”
Ray nodded, biting at his glove. “It hurts to talk about it, but I want you to know… I want you to understand me, even if it’s just a little bit more.” He swivelled his chair to face her. “Remember the picture I sent you? The one of the RFA members?”
Yu-hwa nodded. She hadn’t looked at the picture again since she had received it, but she did vaguely remember the faces of the five members of the RFA.
“Well, the redhead, the hacker, he…” Ray covered his face with his hands as tears began to stream from his eyes.
Yu-hwa rushed out of her seat and embraced him, holding his head against her chest so he would surely hear how her heart was pounding. He wrapped his own thin arms around her waist, allowing her warmth to comfort him.
“He is my twin brother.”
Yu-hwa said nothing, but continued to hold Ray, feeling the prick of tears that threatened to spill from her own eyes.
“He abandoned me,” Ray continued. “I was a sickly child, nothing but a burden to him, so he left me alone with my mother who hated me. He left me and joined the RFA.” He pushed away from Yu-hwa and wiped his tears away. “He’s so happy in those chatrooms. He’s forgotten all about me.” He looked up into Yu-hwa’s eyes, squeezing her gently. “I’m sorry Yu-hwa. I’ve told you so many lies, but I just wanted you to stay with me. I want you to be happy with me. I’d die if you left me too.”
Yu-hwa buried her face in his soft white hair. “I’ll never abandon you,” she whispered, feeling his body tremble against hers as he began to sob silently. “Ray,” she continued, gently raising his chin so he was looking at her face. “It’s been so long since I felt really happy. I thought happiness was no longer meant for me, but when I’m with you, I can’t help but think that maybe I was wrong.”
Ray stared at her, his lips trembling. He slid his hand up to touch her face, gently caressing her blushing cheek. His eyes moved their focus to her lips, slightly parted, slightly pink.
“Ray,” she whispered as she leaned her face closer to his…
Ray snapped back, his focus immediately back on his computer monitor.
“What was that?” Yu-hwa asked, feeling slightly breathless and a little annoyed as she sat back at her own desk.
“I can’t believe it,” Ray said, a smile flickering on his lips. “Someone has entered my chatroom.”
Yu-hwa swallowed. “The chatroom? You mean…?”
Ray grinned at her. “Our new potential party coordinator.” He tapped at a few keys. “I wonder what she’s like. I hope she can do a good job.”
Yu-hwa frowned, wrapping a strand of hair around her fingers as she stared sadly at her own screen. She was certain that had that notification come later, she and Ray would have kissed. I should expect this sort of thing by now, she thought as the memory of the first and last boy to break her heart flashed up briefly in her mind. She pushed away any thoughts of him quickly, feeling the quicksand of misery begin to suck her down into its depths.
Ray’s voice was like a melody, gently bringing her back into the present. She returned her attention back to him, still feeling hollow, but her heart coming to life a little at the sound of her name coming from his lips.
“I’m not sure I can do this…” he said, his voice quiet, drained of his momentary joy.
“Why?” Yu-hwa asked, her brow etched with concern.
“I’ve already failed at this once,” he explained, dipping his head so he didn’t have to look her in the eye. “If I screw this up again, my savior will never forgive me.”
Yu-hwa’s heart wrenched, twisted with guilt, knowing that if she had said yes to testing his ‘game,’ Ray would have surely been praised for doing such a good job instead of being left to wallow in his fear of failure the way he was doing now.
“I’ll help you,” Yu-hwa heard herself say as she stood up and walked back to where Ray was sat.
“Yu-hwa… Thank you,” he said, looking up at her gratefully. “The user is in the chatroom now.”
Yu-hwa leaned over Ray’s shoulder and glanced at the open chatroom. The user was a pretty girl, with long dark hair and bright eyes. Yu-hwa adjusted her glasses and tugged at her own hair, wondering what Ray thought of the new girls’ appearance.
“Her name is Megan Cheung,” said Ray. “Hmm, she’s not the ideal candidate, but I should still try and get her to come here.”
“Let’s do this together then,” said Yu-hwa with a nod.
Ray smiled at her. “Of course, we’re a team.”
Unknown: Hello ^^ I’m so glad someone came in.
“You should use her name,” said Ray. “It’ll seem more friendly.”
“No way!” snapped Yu-hwa, swatting his hand away from the keyboard. “If anything, it’s more creepy to have someone you know nothing about talking as if they’re your friend.”
“But I can’t tell her anything about myself or this place,” said Ray.
“That’s fine,” replied Yu-hwa, “but just don’t be overly familiar.”
Ray frowned. “Is that why you turned me down?” he asked. “Did I seem too creepy?”
Yu-hwa stared down at the keyboard. “I had… a lot going on at the time,” she answered.
Megan: Umm, hi… What is this?
Unknown: I’m looking for someone to test out a messenger game I’ve developed. I was hoping you could help.
“Wow! That’s straight to the point,” said Ray, his face a perfect picture of concern. “Is this the best strategy?”
Yu-hwa rolled her eyes and continued to type.
Unknown: I realize it’s asking a lot of a stranger, but this project has a huge potential. By way of payment, we are providing testers with free board, meals and other expenses during the testing period.
“This is too much,” whined Ray, trying to shove her away from the keyboard. “You’re going to scare her away.”
Megan: So… is this like a job offer?
Yu-hwa smirked as Ray read and re-read the line on the screen. He looked up at her face in disbelief, then tapped at the keyboard.
Unknown: It’s a short-term opportunity. I will send you a document with all the details. I hope to hear your reply soon ^^
“That’s good,” said Yu-hwa as Ray sent the game details and RFA picture in a file. “This seems more legitimate. And… I’d be upset if you told her all the same lines you told me.”
Ray’s face flushed pink, but he gave a small smile. “The things I said to you were meant for you alone. You were my first choice.” He looked away. “I never wanted anyone but you. For me, there was only ever you.”
Yu-hwa felt the heat overwhelming her own face, and she opened her mouth to ask exactly what he meant…
“Oh! She replied so soon,” gasped Ray.
Megan: It seems like an interesting project. I’m interested in helping it along.
Yu-hwa grinned. “She’s very naïve.”
“But that’s good for us,” Ray said, smiling back at her. “I’ll message her about where to meet the driver. The sooner we get her to come to Magenta, the better.”
“Agreed,” said Yu-hwa, but she frowned. “This girl, you’ll be seeing her a lot…” She wrapped a strand of hair around her finger.
“Hmm, I’ll try to,” said Ray obliviously, “but I’ll be seeing you more. Once she’s accepted by the RFA, that’s when our hard work really begins.” He took Yu-hwa’s hands and squeezed them. “Are you ready? Paradise is right around the corner.”
“I’m ready,” she said. “Let’s do this.”
Chapter 9: Ray
Ray stood waiting for the car that would bring Megan Cheung to Magenta. His heart raced with nerves and he could barely stand still. He had combed down his hair half a dozen times, switched the blue rose in his lapel for a fresher bloom, and asked Yu-hwa more than once to wish him good luck. She had done so, but she hadn’t seemed happy, and her sad eyes had made Ray want to scoop her into his arms, to tell her that she was all he needed. But sadly, that would be a lie. He needed someone to become the RFA’s party coordinator, and that could never be Yu-hwa. He needed Megan.
The ground began to rumble, and he glanced towards the narrow dirt road shrouded by trees. He flattened his hair down one more time as the car began to slow. It stopped right by Ray. The driver quickly hopped out, and with a nod of acknowledgement towards Ray, he opened the car door and assisted Megan in getting out. The woman that emerged from the vehicle was stunning. Her hair gleamed golden brown under the light of the sun and flowed all the way down to her waist. She was tall, her heels making her the same height as Ray, and she stood with such confidence for someone who was meeting with strangers in an unknown location. Ray already liked her.
“Hello Megan,” he said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. “I’m so happy to meet you.”
Megan smiled, flashing white teeth, her eyes covered by the blindfold she had been asked to put on by the driver.
“I’m Ray,” he continued. “I’m the one who messaged you, the chief developer of the app.”
“Hi Ray,” said Megan with only a slight quiver to her otherwise cheery voice. “Can I take this blindfold off yet?”
“Oh!” Ray felt a bead of nervous sweat trickle down his temple. “I hope that you can understand, but we must keep a level of secrecy. If you would keep your blindfold on until we reach your room…”
Ray smiled. “Yes, I prepared it myself just for…” He hesitated, and his mind slipped back to his memory of finding Yu-hwa. He had prepared the room just for her, his first-choice tester. “…for the tester,” he said, trying to calm his heart rate.
“Wow, this is amazing,” said Megan, clapping her hands together. “I’m excited to get started.”
Ray brightened, a relieved smile appearing on his mouth. “I’m so glad to hear you say that. You’re being so understanding. Now, if you’ll take my hand, I’ll guide you to your room.”
He held out his gloved hand and Megan reached out and took it. Ray felt like he was floating on air. Her compliance and willingness to trust him made his heart flutter and his cheeks redden. He was thankful that she was blindfolded so she couldn’t witness how hard he was blushing.
“This way then,” he said, and gently squeezed her hand, noticing how it made a smile flutter on her lips.
She followed without question as he led her through Magenta’s long hallways and up the staircase to the first floor. He glanced at Yu-hwa’s room as they passed it by, continuing up the stairs. She wouldn’t be in there, instead still working at her desk in the information room. Or maybe she’d be doodling in her sketch book. Ray had noticed that about her. Whenever she was nervous or struggling, she’d pull out her sketch book, twist a strand of soft pink hair around her fingers and draw until her mind was clear enough to look into the problem at hand once again. He frowned. He knew that he would have to take on more of the workload now that the mission to use Megan to infiltrate the RFA was finally beginning. He hoped that Yu-hwa understood just how important their role would be.
“We’re here,” Ray said once they reached the room.
He took off Megan’s blindfold and beamed at her as she allowed her bleary eyes to adjust to the light.
“Oh,” she gasped as she gazed at him. “You’re cute!”
Ray couldn’t help but blush. “Me? Cute? Well, I’m flattered.” He pocketed the blindfold, looking away from her for a moment in an effort to regain his composure. “Did you read all of the information I sent you about the game?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Megan, still smiling. “I can’t tell anyone who you are. They assume you’re a hacker within the game. And I should tell them that Rika sent me to hold the party if it starts looking bad.” Her smile broadened to a grin. “I’m excited to play it, although pursuing a 2D boy probably won’t be as interesting as pursuing a 3D boy-” she glanced at Ray as his face blazed red, “-the concept seems fun, and I can’t wait to get into the storyline.”
Ray laughed. “You don’t know how happy it makes me to hear your excitement. Now, I’ll need your smartphone so I can install the game directly. May I?”
He held out his hand for her device and smiled as she handed it over willingly. As he installed the RFA messenger he couldn’t help but think of Yu-hwa. This was supposed to be for her. The job, the room, even Ray himself, had all been meant for her.
“Are you alright?”
Ray looked up at Megan, her golden eyes filled with concern.
“I’m… fine,” he replied. “Why do you ask?”
“You suddenly looked so sad,” said Megan. “Heartbroken even.”
“Did I?” wondered Ray. “I’m sorry if I worried you, but I’m fine.”
Megan nodded, and Ray continued with his task, sending all of the relevant code to her phone. The app began to install, and Ray felt his heart rate rise. It was almost time for his mission to truly begin. He smiled as the install completed, then passed the phone back to Megan.
“I hope I get to see you lots more during your time here,” he said. “For now, you’ll have to stay on this floor unless I’m with you. There’s a lot of secret development going on with the game. I hope you understand. We don’t want to spoil any surprises.”
“Of course,” said Megan. “I can understand that.”
“Good,” said Ray. “Then I should get going. I have lots of work to do in order to make the game a wonderful experience for you. I hope that you have lots of fun playing.” He bit his lip. “Please remember, it will be game over if you don’t keep our secrets, or don’t discover theirs. Do your best to play the game to the fullest so that you can get the happy ending.”
“You can count on me Ray,” Megan said with a bright smile. “I really hope I get to see you again soon.”
Ray laughed. “Of course. Well then, for now I’ll let you begin the game, but I’ll be in touch to hear your thoughts later. I hope you’re happy here Megan. Bye for now.”
Ray left the room, his heart pumping rapidly in his chest. Everything seemed to be going to plan. He took a long, deep breath and began the long walk back to Yu-hwa at the information room.
Chapter 10: Megan
Megan smiled as Ray disappeared through the door. Definitely cute, she thought as she looked at the app he had installed on her phone. I wonder if he’s single? Without hesitation, she pressed the RFA app icon on her phone screen and was taken to a menu where she saw she had access to email, calls and a chatroom that already seemed to contain several people.
“I guess the game started without me,” Megan said with a sigh, and entered the chat.
ZEN: Stop making Jaehee look after that damn furball! It’s not her job!!!
Jumin Han: She gets paid to be my assistant. She is assisting me by looking after Elizabeth 3rd.
707: I’d look after my cute little Elly for free! Bring her to me~
Jaehee Kang: Nobody knows where you live…
Jumin Han: And I will not hand over my precious Elizabeth 3rd to a cat abuser.
707: It’s not abuse, it’s love ^^
Yoosung★: That is a scary love
Jaehee Kang: I will take care of the cat, but please be more considerate in future, Mr Han. All that c-fur haunts me for days afterwards.
ZEN: Jaehee, you are way too considerate of that jerk.
Jaehee Kang: Yes, well…
Yoosung★: Wouldn’t her job be on the line if she wasn’t?
707: Nah, Jaehee’s too good at her job.
Jumin Han: Indeed, Assistant Kang is the only one I trust to properly look after Elizabeth 3rd.
707: Aww, don’t you trust me? I’m so sad T-T
Jumin Han: I don’t trust you with Elizabeth 3rd.
ZEN: Yeah, I hate to agree with the trust-fund jerk, but the furball is better off with Jaehee.
Jaehee Kang: Sad but true.
Yoosung★: Sorry Seven, I have to agree.
707: I can’t believe that none of you trust me to take extra special super lovely care of Elly. I love her <3 I bet daddy V trusts me! Right Daddy?
V: Sorry Luciel, I just received an unexpected email…
Jumin Han: Care to elaborate?
V: It’s from the office of the prime minister…
V: Don’t worry… He seems to want to meet with me in person. He’s apparently a fan…
ZEN: Wow! Congratulations! That’s amazing!
Jaehee Kang: That is rather exciting. You must be very proud.
V: Thank you…
V: Luciel, we should talk soon.
707: Wait! No!
Jaehee Kang: What? Where?
707: Here! In chat!
Jumin Han: How is that possible?
Yoosung★: Seven! Did our chatroom get hacked?
Megan couldn’t help giggling. The members of the RFA were already in a panic before she had even said anything. She sat cross-legged on the soft double bed and wondered about the best way to introduce herself. She recalled the information that Ray had sent her, and the key line she had to say if she was struggling to be accepted by them. She looked back at her phone.
Megan: Hello ^^
That seemed as good a way to enter the conversation as anything else she could think of.
ZEN: OMG is it a real person? It’s not just some glitch or error?
707: It could be a hacker. Is this a challenge?
Jumin Han: You’re saying that our personal chatroom could have been hacked, our security breached, because of you?
Jaehee Kang: This is no time to laugh. Can’t you kick them out?
Megan: Kick me out? No, I’m here because someone called Rika told me to hold a party.
Megan gasped. She couldn’t believe that she had got so close to a game over at such an early point in the game. She stared at the screen, hoping that the one line she had been told to say was enough to convince the characters in the group.
Yoosung★: Rika? Rika sent you?
Jumin Han: That is impossible.
707: V, I can cut this persons access right now. Just say the word.
Yoosung★: No! If they were sent by Rika they might have some answers.
707: Answers? Rika is no longer with us and this person has hacked their way into the chatroom. They could be dangerous.
V: You said you were sent to hold the party, Megan?
Megan: That’s right. That’s all I was told.
Megan was surprised to feel her heart beating so hard. The situation felt tense, like an interrogation. She hoped she had done enough to keep the game going. She knew that she needed to get V to trust her since the AI with the handle 707 was threatening to kick her out with a single word from him. She held her breath.
V: Luciel, I… Let’s not cut access just yet. I’ll call you.
707: Are you sure? They could be dangerous, and the timing… It’s too fishy.
V: I understand why you’re worried, but I’m sure. I’ll call you now, so please pick up… Megan?
Megan: Yes V?
V: I’d like to speak to you as well. Please answer when I call you soon.
Megan flopped back onto the bed in relief. She’d done it. She had avoided losing the game in the very first chatroom. She watched as both V and 707 said their goodbyes and logged out, relieved that nobody that remained in the chat had the power to expel her from the RFA. Megan watched as everyone trickled out of the chatroom, pleading with her for answers before saying goodbye and leaving.
“Phew, that was tough,” she moaned aloud as she also left the chat. “I should ask Ray about changing the difficulty settings.”
She sat up and looked around at her new room. It was beautiful, truly fit for a princess. She climbed off the bed and peeked into the en-suite bathroom. She had expected just a shower, but the room was large and had a bath as well as a shower cubicle. There were dozens of bottles with floral smelling soaps for her to use. She couldn’t wait to pamper herself. She stepped back into her room and crossed to the wardrobe. Inside were some of the most beautiful outfits she’s ever seen, but she was disappointed that they were all so dark. There was barely a splash of colour on the rail. She sighed and closed the door just as her phone began to ring.
“Wow, this game is immersive,” she said, and pressed the answer button.
“Hello, Megan?” came V’s soft voice. “I hope that I didn’t surprise you by calling.”
“Not at all,” replied Megan. “I was waiting for you to call.”
V chuckled lightly. “I’m glad. Truthfully, I’m probably the most surprised. Of all the things to happen today, having a new person join the RFA to hold a party again was the very last thing I expected.”
“And that includes getting an invitation to meet the prime minister. I’m flattered.”
“Yes,” said V with a sigh. “The prime minister…”
“My arrival seemed to be a shock for everyone,” said Megan.
There was a pause, silence down the line as if V was holding his breath. Megan waited, listening intently.
“May I ask you a question?” V said finally, his voice quiet.
“Of course,” Megan replied.
“How… do you know Rika?”
Megan hesitated. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve never met her. I just have a message from her asking me to hold a party. That’s all.”
“I see,” said V, almost inaudibly. “Rika was an important person in the RFA. She was the founder and the party coordinator. I’m so sad that she left us.”
“You loved her?”
“I… still do.” V paused. “I’m sorry Megan, this call is beginning to get depressing. I don’t want to burden you with my concerns…” He stopped to clear his throat. “Welcome to the RFA, Megan. It might be difficult at first as everyone will want to know the extent to which they can trust you. I hope you can understand. The members are all truly good people, and I want to believe that you are a good person too.”
“I understand,” Megan replied.
“Thank you,” said V. “I should go now. Please take care of yourself. Stay safe.”
“Thanks V, look after yourself too.”
The call ended, and Megan stared at the screen of her phone.
“This is so surreal,” she said, reaching out for the charger cable to plug her phone into. “I’m so glad Ray thought of everything.”
She got up and went to the bathroom, running the hot water for the bath she was craving. She poured in some rose scented bubble bath, and soon the air was filled with a warm, flowery scent that Megan breathed in deeply as her body relaxed after the excitement of the day. She closed her eyes as she swirled the water, the room beginning to mist up as the steam rose. Once the bath was full, she turned off the taps, grabbed a soft pink towel and began to undress. She got down to her underwear when she heard her phone ringing again. Pressing her lips together in frustration she hurried to where she had left her phone plugged in and was surprised to see that it was 707 who was calling her. She answered immediately.
“This is Seven Zero Seven, Defender of Justice! Is this my nemesis?”
Megan grinned. “How about ally? We could team up and take over the world.”
“Why stop there?” Seven asked, his voice playful. “We could take over the universe. Oh, there’s just one problem…”
“What’s that?” asked Megan.
“I have no idea where you are. If you tell me, I’ll come and pick you up in my newest baby car and we can drive off into the sunset together as we plot to become leaders of the galaxy.”
“Such a grand plan,” sighed Megan, “but my location is a secret.”
Seven sighed. “It’s such a shame.”
“I’m sorry,” said Megan. “I hope you understand.”
There was a brief pause before Seven spoke again. “Megan, listen to me. I don’t know if you’re safe where you are. I don’t know if you’re a good person. I don’t know how you got access to the app I created. Right now, I have no reason to trust you, and if V starts to agree with me, I won’t hesitate to cut your connection.”
Megan’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “Seven, I-”
“Don’t misunderstand me,” Seven interrupted. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. If you need me, I want to help you. But you need to give me answers. I need to be able to trust you.”
Megan rubbed the bridge of her nose in frustration. “The truth is, I can’t tell you anything, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t have the answers myself. “I’m really sorry.”
“Okay,” said Seven with a long sigh. “V called me earlier and asked me to do a background check on you. The thing is, I can’t find anything about you.”
Megan bit her lip. It’s just a game, she told herself. This is just part of the game.
“I’ll keep looking,” Seven went on. “There is one thing I need to know right now though. Megan, are you affiliated with Prime Minister Saejoong Choi?”
“N-no,” said Megan. “But V asked me the same thing. I have never met him or spoken to him, I promise. Is something wrong?”
“No, no. It’s nothing,” the hacker sighed. “Megan, don’t hesitate to call me if there’s anything you need, or anything you want to tell me.” He groaned dramatically. “I can see many sleepless nights ahead of me because of you. I have to go. Take care.”
The line went dead. Megan put her phone back down. She hadn’t realized how hard her heart was beating. She went back to the bathroom, not sure if the warm water and the floral scent would be enough to relax her any more.
Chapter 11: 707
Luciel Choi sat at his desk, the blue tinted glow from the several monitors he was surrounded by giving both him and his room an ethereal appearance. He rubbed his chin as he stared at a screen that showed him nothing. No answers, not even any clues. It was almost like Megan Cheung didn’t exist at all. He sighed and reached into a packet of Honey Buddha Chips, pulled one out, then crunched it noisily. It tasted good, the sweetness and saltiness dancing pleasantly on his tongue, but in reality, he just wanted to hear something other than the constant hum of his computer and the whirring of his own mind. He continued to munch on his snack as he picked up his phone and re-read the chatroom, wondering how he could have missed Megan’s sudden appearance. Sure, he’d been the first to notice her, but how long had she been there before he had? He’d let himself become too distracted, laughing and joking with his fellow RFA members. He was embarrassed that he had ever considered himself to be a genius hacker. Megan, or whoever she was working with, seemed to be much better considering the way that they had slipped through the layers of security he had applied and now had to improve upon.
“Aaaah, my brain feels like it’s gonna leak out of my ears!” he yelled, raising his fists up above his head. Then his arms flopped down as he let his body collapse into the closest thing to relaxation he could muster. “This would all be fixed if V would just let me eject her from the app. What the hell is he thinking?”
Luciel leaned forward and glanced back down at his phone to see a text message from Yoosung.
Please let me know if you find anything out about Megan or Rika. PLEASE!
Luciel ground his teeth as he dismissed the message. His heart ached for the RFA’s youngest member. While the other members had slowly been able to pick themselves up and carry on after the tragic loss of their founder, Yoosung was still suffering as much as he had when the news of her death was new. Luciel missed Rika too, but he refused to dwell on the pain her memory carried. If he got too lost in his past agonies, he’d never be able to carry on with his life. He only hoped that one day Yoosung would be able to pick himself up and continue on with his life too. He was still young and bright, there was hope for him. Answers from V would probably help, but the RFA’s head was never forthcoming with them, and Luciel refused to pry. He knew V was a good man, and even if he had his secrets, so did Luciel. I’m not such a hypocrite that I’d call V out for not sharing all that he knows. His fingers fiddled over the screen of his phone and brought up V’s number. Would V even answer if I called him? He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He felt that he rarely spoke with his father figure anymore, and it hurt more than he could put into words. Rika had taken a part of V with her when she died. A big part.
Luciel’s eyes snapped open. He had dialled V’s number without meaning to and had certainly only expected to reach his voicemail. He’d never anticipated that V would actually answer the phone.
“Luciel? Is that you?” V’s voice was hitched in panic at the silence from the hackers’ end of the line. “Are you okay? Luciel?!”
“Yeah… Yes, it’s me,” Luciel replied, leaning his elbow on his desk and resting his chin on his curled hand. “I was just surprised that you answered my call.”
“Oh.” V’s voice became flat. “It feels terrible to hear that. I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to talk much. It’s just… I’ve been travelling a lot and the reception hasn’t been great. I’m really sorry Luciel. I’ll try to do a better job of keeping in touch.”
Luciel sighed. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d heard apologies from V’s lips. The man seemed to be sorry for everything, even things he had no control over. “It’s fine V. I understand that the last six months have been really tough on you.” He pushed his striped glasses up his nose and glanced at the monitor in front of him. “I’m coming up with nothing on Megan. I’ve even tried hacking into rival agencies to see if she is an undercover spy, but there’s nothing on her at all. I have no idea who the hell she is.”
“That’s troubling,” V mumbled.
“You don’t think she’s working with the prime minister, do you?” Luciel asked, his heard skipping nervously at the mere thought of one of the prime ministers lackies infiltrating his security system. “The timing… it’s too much of a coincidence.”
“I’m not sure,” V admitted, “but if she’s a good person, and I hope that she is, she could be in danger.”
“V… be careful when you meet him, okay?”
“Don’t worry, I plan to be extremely cautious around that man.”
Luciel exhaled again, ruffling his curly red hair. “Yoosung sent me another message just before I called you,” he said. “He was so devastated after Rika’s death. This is just poking at a raw wound.”
“I’m worried about him too,” V agreed. “I’m going to see if I can find anything out about Megan too, so you won’t be alone in researching her. Whatever her involvement with Rika is, we must… oh… I…”
“V? What’s going on?”
“My signal… I have to… be in touch…”
The line went dead.
Luciel sighed and put the phone back down on his desk.
“Just who are you Megan?” he asked aloud. “Are you a victim yourself, or are you dangerous? Whatever you are, I won’t let you harm the RFA…”
He took another chip from the bag before his fingers hit the keyboard and began typing frantically. The letters were already fading from the keys due to the constant usage, but Luciel wasn’t worried. The keyboard could be blank and he’d still know every key.
“You’re going to owe me a new keyboard when I’m done, Megan Cheung,” he grumbled as he began hacking into a foreign agencies server, searching for any key words that might link him to his quarry. It didn’t take him long to find that he’d reached yet another dead-end. He sighed as he moved on, already resigned to the knowledge that it would be yet another sleepless night for him.
Chapter 12: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa glanced over at Ray and rolled her eyes. He’d been grinning like an idiot since Megan had arrived, and Yu-hwa couldn’t help but feel resentful. She knew that Ray cared deeply about her, but when their eyes met, his were always filled with sadness. Seeing Megan give him something that she never could just made the hollowness inside her heart feel bigger than ever. She felt so distant from everything, from everyone.
“Oh, it’s lunch time!” Ray exclaimed suddenly.
“You actually plan to eat something today?” Yu-hwa asked, an eyebrow quirked in surprise at her workaholic partners sudden excitement.
“Haha, no…” he admitted. “Megan will need to eat though, and she can’t leave that floor just yet, so food will need to be taken to her.”
Yu-hwa sighed, turning back to her work. “So, what are you going to eat?”
“Umm,” Ray rummaged through a drawer. “I think I still have an extra-large chocolate bar that Savior gave me…” He pulled a milk chocolate bar out of the drawer and waved it in Yu-hwa’s direction. “We can share it if you want.”
Yu-hwa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Please eat a proper meal Ray. Your diet is really unhealthy. I’ll go fetch you a sandwich or something if you’re too busy to go yourself.”
Ray’s eyes widened. “Well, if you’re going to do that, maybe you could fetch Megan her meal too.”
Yu-hwa pouted and glared over at Ray. “Really?”
Ray flinched. “Y-yeah. Why not? You might like her. It might be nice to have a female friend.”
“I don’t need a friend! I have you,” Yu-hwa blurted out, then gasped as if she could suck the words back in.
“Me?” asked Ray, tilting his head to the side. “But I’m…”
“Forget it,” Yu-hwa interrupted, getting up from her desk. “I’ll take up a meal for Miss Cheung, then I’ll get a sandwich for you.”
“Yu-hwa,” said Ray meekly, rising from his seat. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.”
Yu-hwa stopped at the door, her heart aching. She tugged at a strand of hair as she looked back at Ray. His mouth was turned down at the corners and his eyes glistened with tears that were yet to fall.
“It’s fine,” she mumbled. “You’ve done nothing wrong. I’m just hungry. I’ll grab something for myself too.”
Ray’s mouth twitched into something closer to a smile. “You must take care of yourself Yu-hwa. Your health is important.”
She smiled back, but it didn’t reach her eyes and she knew it. “So is yours,” she said as she left the information room.
The staff in the canteen were happy to put together a meal for Megan.
“It’s amazing that the saviors’ true vision for the future of Mint Eye is finally being realized,” said a male believer, flashing a handsome smile at Yu-hwa.
Yu-hwa forced herself to smile back, thinking of how Ray was cooped up in that dark room, malnourished and tired, working at a constant pace while the believers gushed about how wonderful the savior was. She grabbed the silver tray the moment that it was set down.
“Come back soon,” the believer said, his cheeks flushed pink.
“Thanks,” Yu-hwa grumbled, leaving the kitchen.
She huffed as she reached Megan’s door, tired from climbing the stairs and annoyed that she had to interact with Ray’s newest acquaintance at all. Balancing the tray on the palm of her hand, she knocked with the other.
“Who is it?” called a sweet, sing-song voice from within the room.
Yu-hwa pressed he lips together, forming a tight line, holding back all the mean replies she wanted to say, knowing well that she would regret them the moment they were out of her mouth. Megan had done nothing but exist. She was totally innocent, and Yu-hwa loathed herself for hating the girl that had done nothing more than draw Ray’s attention.
“I’ve brought your meal,” Yu-hwa finally managed to say, feeling the hollowness inside her growing exponentially.
The door opened, and Yu-hwa came face to face with Megan for the first time. She understood now why Ray had been wearing such a stupid grin on his face.
Megan was beautiful.
Tall and slim with waist length, sleek brown hair that hung like satin across her shoulder, bright golden eyes, and clear pale skin. Yu-hwa felt plain in comparison, her only stand out feature being the hair she dyed pink in an effort to boost her own confidence, but instead used it as a curtain to hide behind, along with the oversized glasses she’d started to wear since moving to Magenta. So Yu-hwa was very surprised by Megan’s words.
“Wow, you’re so pretty! Is everyone here at Magenta this cute?”
Yu-hwa’s eyes widened. “Wh-what?”
“Sorry,” said Megan, her hand covering her mouth to hide a cheeky smile. “I didn’t mean to make you feel embarrassed.” She opened the door fully and stepped aside to allow Yu-hwa to enter. “Come in. I’m Megan by the way.”
“I’m Yu-hwa,” she replied, glancing around the room as she placed the tray on the table. “This is a nice room.”
“Oh, is this your first time seeing it?” Megan inquired.
Yu-hwa nodded as she looked around, admiring the romantic colours and the floral decor. “Ray prepared all of this before I came to Magenta, so I never got to see it. I mostly just stay in the development room with him.”
“So you work as a developer too?”
“Uh-huh, Ray is my boss. I was brought here to work as his assistant.”
“Wow,” said Megan with a grin. “You get to work with such a cute guy. Lucky you. I hope I get to see more of him too.”
Yu-hwa narrowed her eyes at Megan. “Ray is not eye-candy! He’s sweet and kind and hard working and he’s better than any person in this whole fucking place!” Both hands shot up to cover her mouth as she shocked herself with the words she spoke.
Megan simply watched, completely unabashed, her mouth twitching at the corners. “I get it,” she said softly. “You’re in love with him.”
“I-I’m not!” Yu-hwa protested, her cheeks burning up with embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” said Megan kindly. “I won’t say anything to him if you don’t want me to, I promise.”
Yu-hwa was gripping her hair, her forehead creased up with worry lines. “I just don’t think he feels the same way about me. I know he cares about me, but…”
“He’s missing out then,” Megan said. “And I’m sorry for what I said. He is cute, but I don’t want to be a homewrecker. I seem to prefer fictional guys anyway.”
Yu-hwa cocked her head. “You’ve been playing the game?”
Megan nodded enthusiastically. “I’m already gripped. The characters all seem so real.”
“Ray did an amazing job,” said Yu-hwa. “Do you have a favourite yet?”
Megan blushed. “I like V, I think he’s a great character and he’s so sweet, but I fell for Seven straight away. His profile photo is so cute, and I love how he can go from being so fun and quirky to becoming deadly serious. I think he’s probably going to be the main guy for me, especially considering his attitude towards the prime minister!”
“Prime minister?” Yu-hwa’s interest piqued. Ray had never mentioned any member of the government having links to the RFA members, but such a high-ranking official would no doubt be beneficial if they could bring him over to Mint Eye too.
“Yeah, it was a bit strange,” said Megan, her brow drawn. “V told him that the prime minister wanted to meet him. Seven seemed a bit freaked out. He even called me to ask if I knew anything about it.”
Yu-hwa simply nodded, her mind going into overdrive. If 707 was in trouble with officials such as the prime minister, could that mean trouble for his twin brother?
“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” Yu-hwa said. “Please keep updating us with your feedback. You can tell me as well as Ray.”
Megan flashed a beaming smile. “Okay. Thanks for bringing my lunch. I hope we get to talk often.”
Yu-hwa gave a small, awkward wave as she left the room, remembering that she needed to make Ray something to eat before she returned to the information room. She rushed to the canteen.
“You’re back!” The believer who had helped her prepare Megan’s lunch beamed at her. “What can I help you with?”
“I just want a couple of sandwiches,” Yu-hwa said. “I need to be quick.”
“Of course,” he replied, grabbing some slices of bread. “I’ll whip you up something tasty. It’s Yu-hwa, right?”
Yu-hwa looked at the believer properly for the first time and nodded. He was an undeniably attractive man. He didn’t look Korean, his blonde hair, hazel eyes and slight accent marking him as European. She shuddered as an unwanted memory began to creep into her mind. Thankfully, the man was too busy making her sandwiches to notice her reaction.
“I’m Elliot,” he said. “I’m glad I finally have the chance to say hello. I’ve noticed you around, but you’re always so busy.”
Yu-hwa bit her lip, the tips of her fingers stroking the ends of her hair as she waited, not knowing what to say.
“All done,” Elliot said with a wide smile, handing her a plate covered in foil. “I hope you enjoy them. Let me know if you ever want anything special making. I’ll be glad to help.”
“Thanks Elliot,” she said, returning his smile shyly, then rushing out of the door. She was desperate to learn more about the redheads’ link to the Korean prime minister. She had to know. For Ray’s sake.
Chapter 13: Yu-hwa
The bright, warm sun bathed Yu-hwa’s room in a soft yellow glow, waking her gently. She sat up, her stomach still feeling surprisingly full. Working so hard and having very little time for eating had caused Yu-hwa to lose weight since she had joined Mint Eye. Like Ray, she had grown used to getting through each day eating very little, though Ray always made sure she got at least one break daily. She hugged her arms around her body, promising that she would take better care of herself, that she would look after Ray, because to her he was far more important than any mission. She slid out of bed and stretched, her body begging to climb back into the soft, warm sheets. She rubbed her sleep filled eyes and went to open the curtains. The bright light was blinding and Yu-hwa had to squint to see outside until her eyes finally adjusted. The morning sky was the bluest she had seen it in a while, not a single cloud to mar it. The sun shone as a bright white orb, bathing everything it touched in warmth. The birds were already out of their nests, enjoying the fine weather and singing proudly, and below in the garden she could make out the figure of one of the believers that had been assigned to keeping the hedges and grass in check. Yu-hwa sighed. She could already tell that if she stepped outdoors she would be a sneezing, snotty wreck in moments. She frowned, daring to open the window a crack to let in some air then headed to the bathroom to wash, preparing for another long day in the information room. At least it’s air conditioned.
Standing in her underwear, she stared into her wardrobe. There were a lot of dark colours, which was fine with her, but the bright yellow of her room and the warmth of the sun made her crave something a bit bolder. She rifled through the clothes that hung there, wondering if Ray had picked them for her. Then one of the dresses caught her eye. It was mostly black, but it was patterned with small pink roses. The light fabric was perfect for the weather, but there was no way that she would have the nerve to wear something so revealing outside of her room. But curiosity got the better of her and she pulled it off the hanger and slipped it over her head. She eyeballed herself in the mirror as she arranged her hair so that it draped over her shoulders. She glared at her pale legs, at the way the dress’s material hid nothing, all of her imperfections on display. She rolled her eyes and began to lift the dress to take it off.
Knock knock knock.
Yu-hwa dropped the hem of the dress again and stared at the door, then back at her reflection. She inhaled deeply as she moved to the door, opening it just enough for her face to be seen.
“Hello Ray,” she said with a smile.
Ray looked beautifully vibrant in his pink jacket with a fresh blue rose in his lapel. He smiled brightly at her, looking like an angel as the light from the window produced a halo of light around his shiny white hair.
“Yu-hwa!” he greeted her energetically. “It’s such a beautiful day.” He took a step closer to the gap in the door. “May I come in? I brought you a gift.”
Yu-hwa hesitated. “I-I’m not properly dressed yet. I was just trying something on, but I want to get changed into something that looks better on me. I don’t suit this dress at all.”
Ray tilted his head to the side. “You’re wearing one of the dresses? Can I… can I see?”
Yu-hwa felt the heat creeping into her cheeks as her heart began to increase its speed. “U-umm, o-okay,” she mumbled, opening the door and stepping back to let him through, keeping her head down to avoid seeing any hint of disgust on his lovely face once he finally got a good look at her.
There was a beat of silence and Yu-hwa pressed her lips into a thin line, her cheeks and the back of her neck burning up with shame, tears beginning to prick at her eyes. She lightly shook her head so that more of her pink hair fell forward to hide her face, a shield to protect her from the worst thing she could currently think of; Ray’s disappointment.
“You look… so pretty.”
Yu-hwa glanced up and saw that Ray’s face was tinted with a blush almost as deep as her own.
“Oh, umm… thank you,” she said, a small nervous giggle following. She finally looked up at Ray properly, twisting her hair around her fingers. He was still staring at her, his lips slightly parted, his green eyes wide, taking in every inch of her. He seemed to have forgotten the gift he’d brought. “Are those flowers for me?” Yu-hwa prompted.
“Oh! Yes!” Ray said, snapping out of his daze. “I thought you probably wouldn’t be able to go outside today, but it would be a shame if you missed out on all the flowers, so I put together this bouquet for you while I had a bit of spare time.” He glanced around the room, quickly finding what he was searching for; a pastel yellow vase that stood empty on an unused table in the corner. He took it and filled it with water before placing the flowers inside.
“They’re so beautiful,” Yu-hwa said, in awe of his nimble fingers as he arranged the blooms.
Ray smiled as he glanced up at her. “I’m glad you like them. It’s not like this room really needs brightening up-” he chuckled, “-but I wanted to share with you something that I love.” He moved his gaze back to the vase. “They’re roses. Red…” he blushed, “and white. There’s bindweed too.” He flushed deeper. “It has an ugly name, but it’s a pretty flower.”
Yu-hwa nodded, observing Ray’s awkwardness with interest. “I love them Ray. Thank you so much.”
Ray placed the vase back on the table. “I’m so happy to hear that,” he said, turning back to face her. “I’m not going to be in the information room until later, but I wanted to see you. It feels like we don’t see each other as much as I want to since you moved into this room, and we’re so busy…” He swallowed. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too Ray,” Yu-hwa admitted. “Are you seeing Megan?”
Ray nodded but added no further explanation.
“Okay,” sighed Yu-hwa. “I guess I should get changed and start work.”
“Don’t,” said Ray softly. “Don’t hide yourself away, Yu-hwa.”
She felt her heart flutter as he said her name, making it sound like something so precious to him. She felt her body heat up as his tender tone send shivers through her.
“You’re as beautiful as any flower,” he went on. “You shouldn’t bury yourself away in oversized sweaters all the time.” His mouth snapped shut and his cheeks burned as red as the roses in the vase. “Just stay as you are, if only for today.”
Yu-hwa took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay Ray. I suppose I’ll only be in the information room anyway.” She smiled. “The flowers. I’ll draw them for you when I have some time.”
“Wow, really?” Ray gasped, his smile turning into a full-on grin. “I’d love that. I’d cherish such a gift forever.” His chest puffed out with joy as he headed to the door to leave. “Today will be a good day, Yu-hwa.” I’ll see you later.” He stepped into the hallway but turned back to her, admiring her once more. “You really do look lovely,” he said, his voice so gentle that it made goosebumps pop up all over Yu-hwa’s skin.
“Bye Ray,” she managed to utter, and with one last smile, he was gone. She leaned back against the wall, flustered and exhausted from all of the emotions buzzing around inside of her, fighting for priority. With a long breath, she glanced in the mirror once more. Maybe… maybe I don’t look too bad… She smiled as she pushed her hair behind her ear and took off for the information room.
Yu-hwa sat at her desk. She had waited for this moment. Ray was out of the office. She finally had a chance to test out all that she had learned from him. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard. She would start with a preliminary search to find out what was publicly known about Prime Minister Saejoong Choi. Then she would dig a little deeper, searching the darker corners of the web. Then the hacking would begin. Personal emails, bank accounts, phone calls. She hoped she’d find nothing, but something in her gut told her otherwise. She pushed up her glasses and began with pulling up a recent photograph of the prime minister. It was at some charity event helping orphaned children. Yu-hwa squinted. She almost thought nothing of it, his groomed appearance, his handsome looks. She almost missed it. But she’d seen photos of the RFA, seen the face of that redhead, seen those golden eyes behind ridiculous striped spectacles. Now those same golden eyes were staring out of a picture of the Korean prime minister. Yu-hwa gulped. He was surely a relation of 707, and that meant that Ray too was related to this man. She felt a chill crawl up her spine as she remembered what Megan had said.
“Seven totally freaked out though. He even called me to ask what I knew about it.”
Yu-hwa knew she had to find out more. If the prime minister was a threat to the Choi twins, she needed to know. She had to find answers, but she couldn’t let Ray find out. Not yet. Not until she had something concrete. With time short, she began her new mission; to protect Ray.
Chapter 14: Megan
Megan glanced up from her phone as a light tap on her door demanded her attention. She looked back at the cosplay photos of 707 she’d been browsing, then put down the phone to answer the door. She was surprised to meet a stranger. Blonde hair shining in the bright sunlight that gleamed through lengthy windows. Black lace, shifting against long, slender legs. Green eyes hiding behind an elaborate ebony mask. The devastatingly beautiful woman certainly had an interesting style.
“Umm, hello,” said Megan, unable to keep the surprise from her face.
“I’m so glad to finally meet you for myself,” the woman said, her eyes trailing up and down Megan’s slightly taller body. “I was wondering what sort of person Ray would bring.” She peered over Megan’s shoulder into the room. “Ah, typical Ray. A room fit for a princess.”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” said Megan, a wide smile spreading across her face. “Ray said that he decorated it all himself.”
“He did,” the woman confirmed, her blonde hair bouncing as she nodded. “He took a lot of care over it since he wanted it to be a special place for the person he chose to bring here.” She smiled kindly. “You know that person isn’t you, right?”
Megan’s brow creased. “What do you mean? He said this room is for the tester, and that’s me.”
The woman blinked slowly, her green eyes filled with amusement. “This room was decorated with Ray’s first choice tester in mind. It suits her far more than it suits you.” She sighed, ignoring Megan’s pout. “It’s such a shame that she turned him down. She was so perfect. Ray was left heartbroken. He wanted her so much.”
“So I was never supposed to come here?” Megan asked.
The woman tilted her head slightly. “Things happen for a reason. We must make the most of what we are given. The other girl was so perfect for the role. She is so willing to give everything, until she is nothing. The RFA, they take and take. They want and need so much. She would have given them everything and asked for not one thing in return. A girl like that is so easy to fall for. She could have saved every one of them. You’re not like her though. The game might be too hard for you. You might be better suited elsewhere.”
“I’m doing pretty well so far,” sniped Megan, her eyes darkening as she folded her arms defensively.
“I’m sure you are,” the woman chuckled, “and I hope you continue to do so.”
There was a moment of silence, but there were too many questions bubbling up in Megan’s head. She knows it too, she thought, feeling irritated by the woman’s smugness.
“I wasn’t surprised when he brought her to Magenta despite her initial refusal,” the woman continued. “He was so desperate for her. It was almost as though he could no longer function without her, like she had become a part of him…”
“Wait!” interrupted Megan. “The girl who was supposed to test the game. Are you talking about Yu-hwa?”
“I am,” the woman said, barely keeping a scowl off her face. “But she is no longer able to test the game. She works with Ray now instead. You are her replacement. Everything in your room, it was meant for her.”
Megan glanced back into the room. Everything in it was beautiful. Each piece of décor was perfect. None of it was meant for just any tester. It had all been done for Yu-hwa. Ray’s heart had been put into that room, and Megan was just intruding.
“I’m only telling you these things so you realise the standard that was set before you arrived here,” the woman continued. “Yu-hwa is flawed, in need of love and salvation, but it is her weaknesses that made her so perfect for the part that has now fallen to you.” She swept her long locks behind her, a deep sigh escaping her lips as she looked away from Megan. “I should go. There’s so much to be done.” Without another glance in her direction, she gracefully walked away, leaving Megan standing in the doorway feeling more lost and inadequate than she ever had in her life.
Megan slipped back into her room, kicking herself for not asking any of the questions that were now plaguing her mind. Who was that woman? Why did she want to make me so uncomfortable? Why did she tell me about Yu-hwa? The questions danced in her head as she picked her phone back up and re-opened the RFA app. She sighed as she checked the chatrooms, but all her woes were forgotten the moment she saw who was there.
Megan has entered the chatroom.
707: MC has entered!!!
Yoosung★: Who’s MC? Don’t you mean Megan? Hi Megan!
Megan: Hi Yoosung! And Seven, don’t call me MC lol
707: But it’s so funny~
Yoosung★: I don’t get it…
Megan: MC. Megan Cheung.
707: Her initials ^^ Don’t you think it’s a cute nickname?
Megan: I do not ^^
707: Ah! Such an evil smiley. Fine, Megan it is~
Megan: Thank you Seven <3
707: Oof mah heart <3<3<3
Yoosung★: Umm… do you want to be alone?
707: Ya! Bye Yoosung!
Yoosung★: lolol I have to study anyway. Talk to you lovebirds later!
707: Chirp chirp
Yoosung★ has left the chatroom.
Megan: Poor Yoosung. He really left.
707: Yeah… actually…
707: There’s something that I wanted to say to you~
707: I’m sorry if I harassed you the other day. It’s just… I haven’t slept much, and there’s so much going on. Not that I want to make any excuses!
707: I just boiled over…
707: I am overcooked rice…
707: Soggy pasta…
707: A bland vegetable…
Megan: It’s okay, don’t beat yourself up about it and get some rest.
707: Haaa, I wish I could, but right now I can’t afford to rest. I’m taking a break just being in this chatroom. But break time is over. I have to go T-T No rest for the Defender of Justice!
Megan: It was really great chatting to you Seven. Please look after yourself, okay?
707: You’re so sweet Megan, but don’t worry about me. Look after yourself and call me if anything happens. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.
Megan: …okay Seven.
707: Good… Laterz then.
707 has left the chatroom.
Megan logged out but continued to stare at the screen in her hand. She sighed. Why are fictional boys so much more endearing than real ones? She flopped back onto the bed, her long hair sweeping to the side as she ran her fingers through it, admiring how soft it felt after she had used the products from the bathroom, all of it meant for Yu-hwa.
Megan sat up, hoping that it wasn’t that blonde woman coming back to make her feel bad again.
“Who is it?” she called out, excuses not to answer the door running through her head.
“It’s me, Ray.”
“Oh!” Megan sprang off the bed with a smile, answering the door to a cheerful looking Ray. She noted how her heart beat a little faster when she saw him, how her cheeks filled with warmth. There was no doubt that he was a beautiful man.
“Good morning Megan,” he said. “I’ve come to take you somewhere, since you must be bored of being cooped up here.”
Megan nodded. “It would be nice to get out of here for a while.”
Ray smiled. “Then I hope you don’t mind, but I need to blindfold you again.”
Megan nodded and allowed Ray to cover her eyes with the cloth, then she felt the leather of his gloved hand slip into hers.
“Now then,” he said, “let’s go.”
The warmth of the sun hit Megan’s skin, bathing her in a soft, comfortable heat she hadn’t felt in a while. Ray removed the blindfold, and her first reaction was to gasp in awe. All around her the garden bloomed with flowers of all colours and varieties.
“This is… incredible,” Megan gushed. “I didn’t know such a place could exist.”
Ray couldn’t resist the grin that spread across his face. “I love it here. There are even some flowers that I planted myself,” he told her. “I come here whenever I can. It’s so…” he sighed, looking up at the cloudless blue sky, a gentle breeze ruffling his perfectly groomed white hair, “…beautiful.”
“Ray,” said Megan quietly. “You seem to be a little sad.”
His green eyes dropped back down to meet Megan’s, the corner of his lips turned down. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll try harder to be happy.”
“No,” said Megan, holding up her hands and chuckling. “I didn’t mean that. I just wondered why you seemed down.”
Ray chewed on the thumb of his glove as her stared at the ground. “You’ve met my assistant, Yu-hwa, right?” he asked.
Megan nodded, noticing how Ray seemed to blush a little at just the sound of her name on his lips.
“I wish she could come here with me sometimes,” he went on, “but she can’t. She has a pollen allergy.” He let out a long sigh. “If I could, I’d cement over this entire garden and grow everything in pots.”
Megan smiled, admiring a patch of daffodils, their yellow heads each facing up towards the sun. Beside them, bluebells, their delicate petals hanging down, small and precious, looking as if they would begin to chime with just a small gust of wind.
“I think Yu-hwa would love this garden,” Megan said finally. “You should bring her here on an overcast day.” She looked at Ray. “You should check the weather report and plan a date for her.”
“A d-date?” Ray stammered.
Megan grinned. “Yeah, a picnic or something. It’ll be romantic.”
Ray looked as if he were about to pass out. The colour had drained from his already pale face. “Romantic? I don’t think I can be romantic with Yu-hwa.”
“What?” choked Megan, her eyebrows raised in disbelief. “But you’re in love with her, it’s so obvious.”
Megan watched him as he opened his mouth, then closed it again. Then he repeated the process. She smiled, knowing that he wanted to refute that she was right, but he couldn’t lie about his feelings. He loved Yu-hwa and his heart simply wouldn’t let him lie about it.
“Well, maybe I do love her,” he admitted eventually, “but… I’m so scared of being rejected by her again.”
“Again?” asked Megan, confused and intrigued.
Ray chewed on his lip, hesitant to speak.
“Ray, I already know that Yu-hwa was supposed to be the one to test the game.”
Ray stared up at her, quickly snapping out of his daze, his eyes narrowed. “How do you know that?” he demanded. “Who told you?”
Megan was shocked by his sudden change in temperament. “S-some woman came to my room. She had a mask on and long blonde hair. She’s the one who told me.”
“Savior?” mumbled Ray, his expression changing, becoming confused. He looked up at Megan. “She probably just wanted to check you out, to see if you’ll fit in well here.” He sucked in a sharp breath. “Megan, you seem so good and innocent, but I don’t think that you belong here.”
Megan was the one to appear confused now. “Wait, are you going to fire me? Did I do something wrong?”
Ray’s shoulders slumped, his arms hanging limply by his side. He looked exhausted, utterly defeated.
“I’m sorry Megan,” he said. “I’m so worried you’ll be hurt. I couldn’t bear it if someone else I brought here had to suffer in agony because of the elixir…”
“What?” asked Megan, her head spinning. “Agony? Elixir?” She sighed. “Ray, you’re not making any sense.”
He gripped his hair in frustration, grinding his teeth as he fought against some inner conflict. “There is no game,” he burst out suddenly. “The RFA, they’re all real. And Magenta isn’t a place that develops games, but rather it is a place where all the weak and broken people can come to be safe, to be saved. People like me, like Yu-hwa. And those in the RFA too. They are so damaged, suffering constantly. We want to bring them here so that we can help them. That’s why we need you.” He stopped, gasping for breath. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry.”
Megan stood with her mouth agape, processing everything she had just heard. “You lied to me?”
Ray’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry. I know that you probably hate me now, but it was just a small lie to bring you here, so that we could help people. They need our help, but V and that redhead, they twist everything. They want to destroy everything we’ve built here. That’s why we needed an outsider to help us. We need you.”
“You mean you needed Yu-hwa,” Megan snapped, clenching her hands into fists and looking at Ray with a venomous glare.
“Please don’t be angry at Yu-hwa,” Ray pleaded, the tears streaming down his cheeks as his voice cracking with emotion. “She’s innocent too. Please, I don’t care if you hate me, if you hurt me, if you torture me. But Yu-hwa is so kind and pure, far better than me. She… she’s too good for me… I’m so pathetic…”
He collapsed to his knees, his head falling into his hands as he began to sob uncontrollably. Megan was quickly shocked out of her rage and rushed to his side, draping an arm over his shoulders. Ray leaned into her and continued to cry, letting her comfort him. She rubbed his back, cooing softly, her anger temporarily forgotten.
“I don’t hate you Ray, and I’m not angry at Yu-hwa.” She sighed. “I just don’t like that you lied to me.”
Ray sniffed and looked up at her, his eyes bloodshot and still streaming with tears. “I’m sorry,” he whined. “I promise that I’ll never lie to you again. Just… just please stay with us.”
Megan frowned, but nodded. “I won’t leave,” she said quietly, “but you need to tell Yu-hwa how you feel, okay?”
Ray let out a small, shuddering breath and nodded. “Okay.” He continued to look down as he rubbed his eyes. “I should take you back to your room.” He stood up and walked out of the garden, his head hung low and his fist covering one eye.
“Ray?” called Megan, a hint of worry in her voice, but he was already out of earshot. With a frustrated huff, she did the only thing she could. She followed after him.
Chapter 15: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa shoved her glasses roughly up her nose as she stared at the monitor, her other hand tangled up in twists of pink hair. She could barely believe some of the things that she had discovered about the prime minister, but what she had read had left her feeling scared. Fathering two sons out of wedlock was hardly a crime, but the things he had done in order to keep them a secret were highly disturbing. There were payments made to shady organizations from secret accounts, enough to give her a very good idea of just what he had planned to have done to his illegitimate children. The boys had been lucky enough to disappear from their fathers’ radar, but there were others, reporters and rival politicians, that had seemed to vanish from the face of the earth. Saejoong Choi was a dangerous man, and it seemed that he still intended to tie up loose ends with regards to the twins. Yu-hwa pulled at the hair wrapped in her fingers, tugging so hard that her roots ached. She had no idea what more she could do other than try to keep Ray’s location a secret. But that also left her wondering what she should do about V, who would soon be meeting with the prime minister, and 707. If Choi knew about the RFA and had suspicions about the redheads’ place within it, then it could only be a matter of time before he found out about Ray. Yu-hwa was terrified. She could barely breath knowing just how much danger Ray could be placed in if they slipped up. She closed the window, bringing the chatroom logs back up, promising herself that she would be more attentive to her work from now on. Ray’s life is on the line, she thought as she untangled strands of hair. I can’t afford to mess up. She tried to even out her breathing, concentrating on the screen, the letters and numbers that filled it, the colours, the pixels. She could do it, she had to. She would protect Ray and make sure that he was never found. She slumped back into her chair as she watched the screen. Nothing much was happening. V had been absent from the most recent chatrooms, and 707 had apparently been too busy with his personal problems to focus on Megan much. All was quiet. Then she heard thumping in the hallway, angry foot stomps heading towards the information room. Yu-hwa spun in her chair, wondering who it could possibly be. She was shocked when Ray stormed into the room. He looked upset, holding a gloved hand up to his eye.
“Ray?” she gasped, fearing the worst. “Are you injured?” she asked as she quickly got to her feet, rushing towards him. “What happened?”
“I lost a contact lens,” he explained, avoiding looking directly at Yu-hwa. “I need to replace it before I start walking into walls.”
Yu-hwa chuckled, reaching out for his arm. “Let me see,” she said sweetly, tugging gently at his sleeve.
“Get off!” he snapped, slapping her hand away and glaring at her with not just a green, but a golden eye.
Yu-hwa quickly complied. The colour drained from her face as she stumbled back, seeing something in those eyes that scared her. It was like she was seeing a person she didn’t know, a person that wasn’t Ray. He looked away, rushing to the bathroom and slamming the door shut behind him. Yu-hwa collapsed back into her chair, silent tears falling down her face. She took several deep breaths, doing her best to recover herself. Ray had never spoken so cruelly to her before, but she knew that he was self-conscious about his appearance. I’m such an idiot, she cursed herself. She decided to wait until Ray came out of the bathroom to make sure he was alright.
Yu-hwa waited almost thirty minutes before the bathroom door slowly creaked open and Ray slunk out, his eyes both once again green, but also red from crying, and cast down in shame.
Yu-hwa stood, and without a word, she stepped up close to Ray and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head lightly on his chest. She felt a breath shudder within him, then he returned her embrace, one hand holding her tightly against him, the other gently stroking her long hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, brushing the top of her head with his lips. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Me too,” Yu-hwa sighed.
“What?” Ray put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back, his face a picture of heartbreak. “No, you have nothing to be sorry for. You’re perfect. I’m the one who messed up. I’m an idiot, an airhead, a-”
“Ray stop it!” Yu-hwa snapped, glaring him with all the intensity she could muster. “Stop saying all those awful things about yourself. None of them are true.” She closed the distance between them, placing her hands on his chest and looking up at his sorrowful face. “I said that I’m sorry because I crossed a line. I know you wear coloured contact lenses for a reason.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry that I acted that way, but rather than denying that I have anything to apologise for, why don’t you just accept my apology?” Her eyes dropped to look at Ray’s shoulder. “Or not. It’s your choice.”
“O-of course I forgive you, Yu-hwa,” Ray gasped. “I just… I think you’re so sweet… so lovely…” He blushed. “I still don’t think you have anything to be sorry for.” He pressed his hand against hers. Without his gloves on, his nails were a ragged mess, but she held on to them as if they were the most precious hands in the world. “I’m sorry Yu-hwa. I was horrible to you when I came back. I never want to be so unkind to you. I’m sorry that I frightened you.”
“Ray,” she whispered, a soft smile brushing her lips. “I forgive you. I never held it against you, so don’t dwell on it.”
He gazed at her, his fingers tracing her cheek as they brushed away the pink hair that covered her face. “Yu-hwa.”
Her breath hitched. The way he was looking at her, it was as if she were seeing all of her desires mirrored. His pupils dilated as he contemplated her features, his lips parting just slightly as his gaze lingered upon hers.
And then suddenly he snapped back.
“Oh, we should get back to work. I’ve been away from my desk for long enough.”
Yu-hwa almost felt like crying again, but she forced a smile and nodded as she took her seat, her heart still pounding as she wondered in confusion just what their relationship was.
Chapter 16: V
Please leave your message after the tone…
“This is Jihyun Kim. I’m an acquaintance of Minseok Park. Several years ago, he put me touch with an agency that could help with a child I had in my care. I was wondering if he could get back in touch with me regarding that situation. It’s rather urgent. Something has happened, and I am worried about the safety of that child. Could you pass on the message and have him get in touch as soon as possible. Thank you so much.”
V hung up the phone and sighed. He was outside the art gallery where the prime minister had agreed to meet him. Somewhere public, but at this time of day it was quiet. There was hardly anyone around except the odd low paid security guard, each displaying a different level of boredom on their faces. They barely even acknowledged V as he walked by, and he barely acknowledged them in return. His mind was already occupied, buzzing with worries, and he hurried along, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his favourite long jacket.
Saejoong Choi was already waiting, the tall, golden eyed man staring up at the large, abstract oil painting that hung on the wall. V quite like the piece he had chosen to stand before, a beautiful and chaotic mess of shapes and colours that was difficult to look away from and yet painful to focus on for too long. V loved the vibrancy, the courage of the artist to create something that would no doubt be criticized both positively and negatively. He wished that he had that level of bravery. As much as he enjoyed his artistic photography, he accepted that it was a safe option.
Saejoong Choi turned towards the sound of his name and raised his eyebrows at the man with soft mint-coloured hair. V knew that he must look tired, his eyes tinged pink after several sleepless nights, and dark bags developing on his puffy skin. His hair was longer and more dishevelled than Choi would have been familiar with if he had seen his headshot in any magazines.
“Mr Kim,” Choi greeted him politely. “It’s good to finally meet you in person.”
He held out a manicured hand and V shook it more firmly than his usual grip, no hint of a smile on his lips.
“You’re interested in my work, Prime Minister?” asked V, keeping his tone formal.
“Yes, indeed I am,” Choi confirmed. “I was lucky enough to stumble across a gallery of yours a few years ago with my wife. I’d love to purchase some of your photographs.”
V’s eyes widened, but only for a split second before the blank expression he had perfected fell back into place. “I’m sorry, but I’m not selling any of my work at the moment.”
Choi lifted an eyebrow. “Really? That’s such a shame,” he said, “but I’ve heard that you do auction off your photographs at the charity parties you hold. Now, what was the name of that organization again?” He tapped his lips as he pondered. “RFA, was it?”
Lines appeared in V’s brow. “That’s correct,” he said, but did not offer anything more. He could already tell that Choi had done his research, but V had no plans to freely divulge anything new as the prime minister probably hoped he would.
The corners of Choi’s mouth lifted. “I read a little about the RFA before I came to meet you,” he admitted. “I’m impressed that such a small group is having such a positive impact. How many members do you have? Six? Seven?”
V’s mouth became a tight line.
“It would be wonderful if I could meet everyone,” Choi continued. “I’d like to award you with an official commendation for your hard work in helping those in need. That’s another reason why I wanted to meet you in person. I wanted to meet the man so intent on helping those poor souls who cannot help themselves.”
V’s glare was cold as he considered Choi’s words.
“Of course,” Choi went on, “I would need a list of all the RFA members names in order to have them engraved on the commemorative plaque. Could you provide that for me, Mr Kim?”
V took a deep breath, ready to finally give the prime minister an answer. “I am truly honoured Prime Minister, but this is something that I would have to discuss with the other members first. I hope you can understand.”
Choi smiled pleasantly. “Of course. I hope you will get back to me with good news.” He gave a drawn out sigh. “It’s such a shame about the photos. If I ever have the pleasure of attending one of the RFA’s parties, I’ll be sure to place a substantial bid on them.” He held out his hand once again. “I believe this concludes our business.”
“I’m sorry that your time seems to have been wasted,” V said, shaking the prime ministers hand.
“Not at all,” Choi said with a smile. “I’m glad that I had this chance to meet you, and I’m sure that it won’t be for the last time.”
V arranged his mouth into a polite smile as he wished the prime minister a good day, then turned to leave. He glanced back over his shoulder as he reached the door. The prime minister had a smirk on his face, his phone pressed to his ear. V did not have a good feeling. I must speak with Luciel soon, he thought as he left the gallery, his mind filled with worst case scenarios.
He hit the street, the breeze softly playing with his hair and sending a chill down his neck. He popped his collar as he walked, wondering what his next move should be. I should wait for the return call from Minseok. I need to confirm whether Luciel is in danger before I worry him too much with this. If I spook him now, he might try to run, but I don’t know who is watching him. He might be placed in further danger if I’m not careful. Suddenly V’s head flashed in pain and his vision went black. He sucked in the air as he dropped to his knees, crippled by agony for only a moment before the pain subsided and his sight began to return. It was blurry, but he could see again. He panted, staggering up from the ground, brushing dirt from his knees. He was glad that there was nobody around to witness his moment of weakness. God, I just need a little more time to see things through to the end, then I don’t care if I go blind. I just need time to make everybody safe. He took a moment to steady his breathing, then continued moving forward on his quest.
Chapter 17: Megan
Megan brushed out her long brown hair, making it feel as smooth as silk. The scent was divine, and her locks had never been in better condition. She definitely wanted to know where Ray had purchased them from before she left Magenta to return to life in the real world.
After his reaction in the garden, she had chased after him, only to find him waiting for her halfway down the corridor. He’d still had his eye covered, but insisted on blindfolding her and walking her to her room. She’d tried making small talk then, but he had seemed so uncomfortable that she eventually gave up. He hadn’t even stayed long enough for her to say goodbye.
She sighed, putting down the brush and picking up her phone as she sat back on her bed. There were no missed calls, no text messages to reply to. She laid down. As much as she enjoyed her brief moments with Ray, and however much she loved her interactions with the RFA, there were so many hours in between where boredom enveloped her. She had been lost in her own thoughts, wandering the corridors of her floor aimlessly, taking long baths, but it just wasn’t enough to help the time pass quickly. She frowned and considered taking a nap when the phone began to ring. She sat up, startled, and checked the screen. It was V. Megan composed herself before she pressed the answer button.
“Hello Megan, it’s V. I hope you’re doing well.”
V seemed a little breathless as he spoke, and Megan could hear the crackle of the wind as it blew against his speaker.
“Are you outside V?” she asked. “It sounds like you’re running.”
V chuckled. “You’re very astute Megan,” he said. “I’m in a bit of a hurry.” He sighed. “Actually, there’s something I want to ask you. I hope you can answer me honestly.”
Megan swallowed. It was strange to speak like this with V after finding out he was not just an AI. He was a real person who wanted to know about her. She couldn’t help but feel anxious. “What do you want to know?”
“Have you had any contact with anyone from the prime minister’s office before or since you joined the RFA?” V’s voice was soft yet commanding, stern but not unkind. “Or perhaps even with the prime minister himself?”
“N-no,” stuttered Megan. “The prime minister, is he dangerous to you? Seven seemed to be worried about that man too.” She paused thoughtfully. “No, he was more than worried. He seemed scared.”
V’s breathing was beginning to even out. “Indeed,” he replied. “Luciel has a good reason to be worried about the prime minister. I can’t tell you the details, but I wish to protect him. So I ask you, if you receive any form of contact from a governmental official, please let me or Luciel know. Please.”
He sounded desperate, and Megan bit down on her bottom lip, her heart aching. “Okay,” she said. “If I hear something I promise that I will let you know.”
“Thank you,” V said with a sigh of relief. “I already feel quite a bit better after hearing you say that. I’m glad I had this chance to talk to you again Megan. I hope we can talk again soon.”
“I hope so too V,” Megan said, genuinely meaning it.
V said his goodbyes and Megan hung up the phone, fully aware of the heaviness that was resting in her heart. She didn’t understand how or why, but she knew that the prime minister was a threat to the RFA, and to Seven in particular. It wasn’t a game. It was real. 707 was not just some AI as she had originally been led to believe, but a real, living, breathing man, someone she wanted to help if she could find a way.
Suddenly Megan’s phone chimed, startling her, and she glanced at the screen to see that a new chatroom had opened. She accessed the RFA app, hoping that she would be able to chat with Seven and maybe help to reassure him a little, but she was surprised to find someone she had never seen in the chatrooms before. She entered the chat.
Yu-hwa: Oh, you’re here ^^ Hello Megan.
Megan couldn’t help but wonder what the pink haired hacker was doing, and she felt a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be chatting with Seven after all, but she decided that this was a good opportunity to help Ray out a little.
Megan: Hi ^^ I don’t think I’ve seen you in the chatroom before. What are you doing?
Yu-hwa: I’m just checking the security of the server. I didn’t plan to remain logged in…
Megan: Since you’re here, why don’t we chat? We don’t know much about each other ^^
Megan lounged on the bed, awaiting the hackers reply. A whole minute passed with nothing, though Megan could see that she was still logged in.
“Finally!” Megan said aloud, getting comfortable.
Megan: Great! Thanks. Ray always talks about you, so I really want to get to know you better.
Yu-hwa: Ray does?
Megan: Yes ^^ It’s clear that he thinks a lot of you. He really seems to like you. His face lights up whenever your name is mentioned.
There was another long pause, and Megan could feel herself growing frustrated.
Yu-hwa: What does he say?
Megan grinned as she began to type, thinking about how Ray had behaved in the garden. His whole world seemed to revolve around Yu-hwa, for better or worse. The boy’s got it bad, she thought.
Megan: He talks about how sweet you are and how he wishes he could spend more time with you away from work.
Yu-hwa: I see…
Megan stared at her phone in disbelief. Where Ray was so passionate, Yu-hwa just seemed cold. She scowled.
Megan: Yu-hwa… I’m telling you that he likes you. You like him too right?
Yu-hwa: I do like him… but whenever it looks like something might happen… uh… it’s complicated. I’m not…
Megan: Are you okay? I didn’t mean to fluster you.
Yu-hwa: I’m fine. I should delete this log before he sees it. I know how to do that.
Megan: Is it so bad just to let Ray know how you feel?
Megan’s brow was wrinkled in annoyance. God, you two are so alike, she thought as she waited for Yu-hwa’s reply.
Yu-hwa: Ray is… important to me. Our relationship is very precious.
Megan: So why not take the next step? You both care so much about one another. Would it be so bad?
Yu-hwa: I can’t.
Yu-hwa: I’d probably mess everything up…
Yu-hwa: I’ve had a bad experience… And it feels like the universe is trying to stop Ray and I from being together…
Yu-hwa: I should probably listen~
Megan: The universe? I don’t understand, but… fine. You seem to have your reasons, but it’s so sad to see you avoid your feelings.
Megan bit her lip, worrying that she was being too harsh. There was another extremely long pause, and she wondered if she’d actually scared Yu-hwa away until she finally replied again.
Yu-hwa: Ray probably already knows since he will have done his research before bringing me here…
Megan sat up straight, her phone clutched tightly in her hand.
Megan: Did something happen?
Yu-hwa: About 5 years ago, I was a complete wreck. My mother… she killed herself.
Yu-hwa: She was distraught after my father passed away. Even though they were divorced, she still loved him. She never got over it, and eventually she lost her will to live.
Megan: I’m so sorry. That must have been awful.
Yu-hwa: It was… I felt so hollow. I could barely drag myself out of bed in the mornings. I was on medication. I had panic attacks. It was…
Yu-hwa: But then I met someone… A guy. I thought he could fill the hollowness in me. He was my first boyfriend. My first love. My first… everything.
Megan: What happened?
Yu-hwa: He was from Germany. He had come over here to go to business school. One day he told me he was going back home. I didn’t understand, so he explained it to me…
Yu-hwa: I was a fling. An exotic affair. He had a girl waiting for him back in Germany…
Yu-hwa: I was a mess after that.
Yu-hwa: I love Ray, and there have been times when I’ve thought, if it’s him, I’ll be okay. But things keep happening that keep us apart, and we’re both broken people. Ray has his own trauma. The way we are right now… how can we ever find true happiness?
Megan closed her eyes. She didn’t have the answer. All she saw was two people who loved one another.
Megan: Maybe you need to stop looking for someone to fix you. Maybe what you really need is for someone to accept you, support you, and love you. I don’t think you need to run from love. Ray loves you as you are, and maybe that’s all you need.
Yu-hwa: I don’t know… I don’t want to risk losing the happiness I already have. God… I really need to delete this log. I should go…
Megan: Oh, okay… it was really nice talking to you ^^
Yu-hwa: Wait! Let me ask you one thing.
Yu-hwa: Have you heard anything strange from the RFA? Any nervous behaviour?
Megan: Actually, V called me just before I logged in. He asked if I had been contacted by the prime minister. He seemed worried.
Yu-hwa: Hvae yuo
Yu-hwa: Have you?
Megan: No, should I be worried?
Yu-hwa: No… but please tell me if the PM or anyone from his office gets in touch. Please.
Yu-hwa: Good. Thanks. I have to get back to work… Thank you Megan. Let’s talk again ^^
Yu-hwa left the chatroom, and as soon as Megan logged out, the chat log had vanished. Megan put down her phone and massaged her temples, her head feeling overloaded. With a sigh, she climbed off the bed, deciding that she needed yet another relaxing bubble bath.
Chapter 18: 707
Luciel listened as the doorbell rang for the third time. He didn’t get up to answer it, instead remaining in his seat, staring in frustration at the screen in front of him. The data didn’t add up, at least not to anything good. He yawned and took off his glasses to rub his tired eyes, rings of grey darkening the skin beneath them. He stretched, listening as the door finally opened, and a moment later he dodged to the side as an Arabic dictionary was hurled across the room at him.
“Gah! Madam! That’s dangerous!”
Agent Vanderwood stood, his brow furrowed in anger and his arms folded across his chest, glaring at Luciel as he struggled back into his chair.
“Didn’t you hear me ring the doorbell?” Vanderwood growled. “I pressed it at least four times.”
“I did hear it,” Luciel admitted with a sigh. “I just don’t have time to get up and answer it. I’m swamped with work.”
Vanderwood’s long legs carried him across the room in three strides and he loomed over the redhead. “Swamped, my ass!” he cursed. “The agency hasn’t issued you any more work yet.”
“Yeah,” replied Luciel, his expression becoming suddenly serious. “I guess they must want to reward their star hacker with some vacation time, right?”
Vanderwood frowned but said nothing.
“Let’s… not think too much about that right now,” said Luciel, turning back to his monitors. “I’ve already got plenty to worry about.”
Vanderwood leaned over Luciel’s shoulder. “Are you getting interested in politics all of a sudden?” he asked, looking at the information Luciel had pulled up on Saejoong Choi.
“HAHAHAHA no!” the younger man denied loudly. “He wants to buy some photos from… an acquaintance, so I was just checking him out. All perfectly innocent.”
Vanderwood snorted. “Innocent? Yeah, right. But isn’t that guy in the running for the presidency?”
“What?” Luciel asked, turning to his partner and staring in disbelief.
“That’s what I heard on the news,” said Vanderwood. “That guy could be running the country before too long.”
Luciel swallowed, staring at the photo of the prime minister that filled one of his screens as dread hit him like a cold shower.
“He looks a bit like you,” Vanderwood commented, tilting his head and squinting at the picture.
“I’VE BEEN HACKED!” Luciel cried out, and Vanderwood staggered backwards.
“Why the hell did you have to shout?” he grumbled. “My ears are ringing now.”
Luciel closed the window showing the information he had collected on the prime minister, bringing back the RFA chatroom data. “Hacked! Me! It seems that a chatroom was created, then deleted.”
“So how serious is it?” asked Vanderwood. “Did anything get stolen?”
Luciel shook his head. “Nothing. But now I’ll have to increase the security on the server again. I only just finished improving it after Megan broke in.”
“This hacker is good,” Luciel continued, talking as if the other agent had never spoken. “They are hacking in like I’ve left a door open for them.”
“So there’s a hacker better than you?”
Luciel looked up at Vanderwood with narrowed eyes. “Please don’t say such things. I’m already depressed.” He leaned forward, resting his head on the edge of his desk. “Why are you even here? I’ve finished all of my agency work.”
Vanderwood shrugged. “Just making sure that you don’t leave the country. There’s a chance a big job might be coming in from an important client. I’m just hanging around here until I know if we’re taking the job.”
Luciel gently banged his head on the table. “Fine, but madam, could you please clean up a bit? The mess is making it so hard to concentrate. I feel like, if it remains this way, I’m going to be constantly whining.” He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Vanderwood, who glared back. “Con-stan-tly.”
Vanderwood rolled his eyes and straightened his back. “Fine. This mess will drive me mad too.” He hung up his jacket, revealing his purple shirt which he rolled up the sleeves of, then headed over to the closet to get the cleaning supplies.
“My sanity is grateful,” sighed Luciel, staring back at the monitor. Seeing how easily the hacker had broken into the server made him shudder. “Will you bring me three cans of Doctor Pepper madam? I feel like I’m going to be here for a while.”
Vanderwood, holding the vacuum cleaner in his hands, scowled.
“Please, madam,” Luciel pleaded, putting on his whiniest, most effectively annoying voice.
Vanderwood swore under his breath, dropping the vacuum cleaner and disappearing into the kitchen. Luciel tutted as he glanced down at his phone. He’d heard nothing from V, and there was still no new information on Megan. It was infuriating, but he wondered if the person behind the most recent hacking could be the one who had hidden her so efficiently.
“Here’s your damned drink,” Vanderwood grumbled as he placed three cans down on the desk. “Now I’m going for a smoke before I start cleaning. Don’t make a bigger mess while I’m gone.”
“Sure thing madam,” Luciel muttered as he stared sadly at the screen.
Vanderwood shook his head and went outside, leaving the hacker to wallow in his inadequacy.
Chapter 19: Yu-hwa
Knock knock knock knock knock
Yu-hwa pulled the door open and was surprised to see Elliot, the believer from the kitchen who’d helped her make sandwiches, standing in the hallway with a big grin on his face.
“Yu-hwa! I’m so glad you answered,” he said cheerily, not noticing the confused expression she wore. “I was hoping to catch you before I go to the kitchen for my shift. I brought you a gift.” He held out a punnet of glistening red cherries. “They came in fresh. I thought you might enjoy them.”
“These are… for me?” Yu-hwa said quizzically, but took the juicy looking fruit from his outstretched hands.
Elliot ruffled his blond hair, still smiling at her. “I’ll be so happy if you think of me while you eat them.” He checked his watch. “Ah! I have to go. Have a wonderful day, pretty lady,” he said, and jogged off down the corridor before Yu-hwa had the chance to say anything in reply.
“That was… weird,” she mused, going back into her room. She placed the cherries on the table next to her flowers, then checked herself in the mirror. She had left her oversized sweater in the wardrobe and had instead put on a sky-blue cardigan which she wore over a white vest and slim jeans. She couldn’t bring herself to put on a dress again, but she thought the outfit she had chosen was pretty without taking her too far out of her comfort zone. She grabbed her sketch book from the bed, tucking it into the waistband of her jeans, then pushed her pink hair behind her ears as she put on her glasses. There was another unexpected knock at the door, and she quickly brushed her hair back into its familiar style before she answered.
“Yu-hwa!” Ray greeted her with a shining smile that she couldn’t help but mirror. “I’m so happy to see you! It’s a beautiful day.”
Yu-hwa glanced out of the window, seeing only a grey, cloudy sky. “Is it?” she asked.
“It’s a perfect day,” Ray insisted. “Will you come with me?”
Yu-hwa grinned, infected by the happiness that oozed from Ray. “Of course,” she said, and followed him out of her room.
They made their way through the corridors of Magenta side-by-side, chattering happily as they went, time flying by as the usually long walk passed with unusual speed.
“Here we are,” Ray said, leading her out into the garden. “The weather is perfect today. I’ve been tracking it all week, and you should be fine to sit outside with me for a while.”
“R-really?” Yu-hwa felt her heart swell at Ray’s thoughtfulness and her smile would not leave her face, even for a moment.
“It gets better,” he said excitedly, grabbing her hand and pulling her deeper into the garden. She giggled as he looked back at her, his smile brighter than she had ever seen it. “Here it is.”
They had reached a wide-open space, clear of building debris and surrounded by rose bushes. In the middle of the area was a large blanket spread out on the ground with a picnic basket on top.
“I thought we might have breakfast together,” Ray said softly, his hand resting gently on her back as he led her to the picnic area.
“Ray,” Yu-hwa said as they sat down on the soft blanket. “This is so wonderful, thank you.”
He blushed as he took a plate of sandwiches and a selection of fruit from the basket, then poured a carton of orange juice into two plastic tumblers, handing one to Yu-hwa. “I’ve wanted to bring you here for so long, but I wanted you to be able to enjoy it.” He glanced down at the ground, his face flushed to the tips of his ears. “This garden is my favourite place in the whole of Magenta, but having you here by my side just makes it that much better.”
Yu-hwa felt heat creep into her cheeks as he glanced back up at her, his smile shy and tentative as he watched her bite into a strawberry. He pressed his lips together and quickly looked away.
“Oh!” Yu-hwa gasped suddenly and reached around her waistband to pull out her sketchbook. “I have something for you.”
Ray’s eyebrows raised. “For me?”
Yu-hwa nodded as she flipped through the pages. “Here it is,” she said as she carefully pulled the page free of its binding and handed it to Ray. “It’s the flowers I promised you.”
Ray took the page, staring at the pencil drawn blooms. “Roses and bindweed,” he whispered with a smile. “I… I’m so grateful, Yu-hwa.”
She smiled as their eyes met, feeling her heart racing wildly in her chest.
“You have no idea how happy you make me,” he continued, his wide green eyes shimmering with his sincerity. “I never thought that I’d be able to feel this way, but ever since you came into my life, it feels as if the pain I’ve suffered since my birth hurts a little less.”
She watched as he tucked the picture into his jacket, remembering the words Megan had written in the chatroom. Maybe what you really need is someone to accept you, support you, and love you. Ray loves you. Maybe that’s all you need. “Ray,” she said, leaning closer.
He smiled back at her. “Yu-hwa… I… I really want to…” His face flushed deeper, but this time he did not look away from her, his eyes locked onto hers.
He didn’t need to say anything more. Yu-hwa leaned in, her eyes closing as her lips pressed against his. She felt him tremble against her, but he didn’t pull away. Instead, he slipped a hand behind her head, gripping lightly at her hair, pressing deeper into their kiss. Her lips parted and his followed suit, gasping as she softly teased her tongue into his mouth. He hesitated, then gently met her tongue with his own. She could feel his body shaking as they kissed, but he held her until she was left gasping for air and was forced to part from him, her face flushed and happy.
“Yu-hwa,” he said breathlessly. “I like you… No, I more than like you.”
“I… more than like you too,” she replied. “I really do.”
He stroked her face tenderly, his green eyes consuming everything they saw. “You’re beautiful,” he said quietly as he pushed back her hair.
Yu-hwa felt her body reacting, an aching pulse heating her to her core. She wanted him, but she was so afraid that a single wrong word would ruin everything. So she said nothing. She merely leaned in and kissed him again. She felt him gasp softly against her mouth, then she was pushed back onto the blanket with him suddenly on top of her, filling her mouth with sweet kisses. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he straddled her, pulling him in closer, his warmth making her whole body tingle. He seemed to be getting the hang of it now, and he pulled away to leave a trail of kisses down her neck, his fingers tracing her waist, seeking to explore new territory. She arched her body against his, feeling his cock hardening against her.
“Yu-hwa,” he moaned against her shoulder. “I-I want you.”
Is this really happening? Yu-hwa wondered, feeling drunk from his kisses. She lifted his chin so that she could see his face clearly. His cheeks were pink and his lips were slightly swollen, his mouth open and longing for more.
“Let’s go back,” she whispered.
Ray bit his lip, then slowly the understanding of what she said hit him and he inhaled a shaky breath as he sat up and nodded. She pushed herself up, straightened her glasses, and he helped her to her feet. Then, their breakfast forgotten, he took her hand and they hurried back indoors.
Neither of them noticed the savior’s silhouette as she stared down at them from a window on the upper floor. She watched as Ray gazed lovingly at Yu-hwa, as Yu-hwa handed him a picture, as Ray shared his first kiss, and how the two of them practically ran out of the garden. The savior had a fair idea of where they were going and what they were planning to do. She closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. You’re moving away from me, but I will bring you back to a place of safety. I won’t lose you, my child. The savior headed back to her room. She had some preparations to make.
Chapter 20: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa closed the door and let Ray pull her towards the bed, falling into his arms as he kissed her with such depth and passion that her entire body ached for him. She leaned against him, hearing him gasp, his warm breath fluttering against her lips, and slowly she untucked his shirt, slipping her hand underneath and gently tickling his thin torso with her fingertips. Ray froze.
“Are you okay?” Yu-hwa asked tenderly, sensing the moment he tensed up.
He nodded. “It’s just… my body… It’s so thin and ugly. I’m scared that the moment you see it, you’ll be repulsed.”
Yu-hwa gently removed her hand from under his shirt, a frown settling on her lips. “Nothing about you repulses me, Ray.” She pointed a finger towards his chest. “This body is the body of the man I adore. I will never be repulsed by it.”
Ray swallowed and looked up at her, his lips trembling, his eyes damp. Yu-hwa didn’t want to give him a chance to speak. She leaned in towards him, pressing her lips hard against his, pushing him back until he was laid down beside her on the bed. She swung her leg over his hips, straddling him, feeling the firmness of his cock as it strained against his trousers. He moaned, his fingers digging into her hips as she pushed against him, causing her a sweet pain that she didn’t mind at all.
“Y-Yu-hwa,” he cried out, his hips lifting briefly, desperate to keep her close.
“I love your voice,” she gasped between kisses. “I love it when you say my name.”
She trailed more kisses down his jawline, and Ray cupped her face as she sat up.
“Yu-hwa,” he said softly, his piercing green eyes fixed on the soft brown of her own. “Yu-hwa. Yu-hwa. Yu-hwa.”
Her heart threatened to explode in her chest as her hands reached for his trousers, quickly working to unfasten them.
She glanced up, her hands still. “Is this okay?”
Ray bit his lip and nodded, but his wide eyes and the way he trembled reeked of uncertainty.
“Is this… your first time?” she asked.
He glanced down at her fingers, still so close to that part of him and nodded again. “But… I don’t think it is for you, right? I’m worried that I’ll disappoint you.”
Her lips curved into a gentle smile, her eyes filled with all the love that she felt for him. “It’s you, Ray, so there’s no way I’ll be disappointed.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “It’s okay to be nervous, and if you want to stop, just say so, okay?”
Ray nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly, his thumbs tracing the curve of her hips.
Yu-hwa felt the heat rising in her face as she took off her glasses and started to remove her cardigan, slipping it off easily and tossing it onto the floor. She felt Ray’s breath stop as his eyes were drawn to the bare skin of her shoulders, her neck, her collarbone. She took a nervous breath and pulled at her vest. Ray sat up a little, helping her as she pulled it up over her head. He smiled, his fingers reaching to touch the little lace flowers on her bra, then without thinking, he leaned in to kiss the top of her breast, his hands moving up her back to find the strap. Yu-hwa gasped, arching herself to give him easier access to her body. He fumbled a little, but he managed to unhook it, and the bra slipped down her arms. Ray stared in awe at the way her breasts rose and fell with her every breath.
“You’re beautiful, Yu-hwa,” he whispered as his lips returned to her soft skin, his hands moving to cup her delicately. He stuck out his tongue and stroked it across her nipple, his warm breath on her sensitive peaks enough to make her moan with pleasure. He took her nipple into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it, suckling softly while he gently pinched the other between his fingers.
“R-Ray,” Yu-hwa moaned.
He looked up, his mouth still full of her. It was just too much to see him like that, and Yu-hwa pulled at his trousers again, this time managing to get to his black underwear. She could already feel a damp spot at the tip of his cock, and she pulled at his pants. Ray gasped, letting go of her as he leaned back, nervously allowing her to undress him. She pulled off his trousers and underwear together and threw them down to the floor. She looked back at Ray, still wearing his shirt, his face flushed pink, his entire body trembling beneath her, and his cock… She bit her lip. He was thick. He watched her expectantly, his eyes widening. He was so insecure, she knew that if she hesitated, he would probably assume that he disgusted her. Nothing was further from the truth though. Her whole body yearned for him, and she throbbed to her core, a desperate need aching deep within her. She had never felt that way before, and she badly wanted to satisfy the need that consumed her. But more than anything, she wanted Ray to feel just how much she wanted him. She smiled at him reassuringly, then bobbed her head down, gently mouthing the tip of his cock. He cried out in surprised pleasure something indecipherable, his head tossed back and his eyes squeezed shut. She took in more of him, swirling her tongue around the head, lapping up his salty wetness. She moved her head slowly up and down, spurred on by his moans. He began to writhe as the pleasure built. Yu-hwa moaned too, aroused just by the sound of him. His voice, hitched with desire, was music to her ears. She slowly moved up the shaft of his cock, releasing it from her mouth and allowing him a moment to recover while she slipped off her pants. Then she straddled him once more, this time completely naked.
He looked up at her, his mouth slack with admiration. “Yu-hwa.”
She didn’t need to hear more. She took his hot cock in her hands, positioning him beneath her, then slowly, she lowered herself onto him. He grabbed her, squeezing her thighs as she gradually took him all in, her eyelids fluttering as she felt him filling her up.
“Y-Yu-hwa,” he gasped.
She breathed out and looked down at him. “Are you okay, Ray?”
He nodded, too breathless to speak, so she slowly began to move, rocking her hips, taking her time so she could feel every inch of him inside of her.
She leaned forward, planting soft kisses on his face while still keeping the gentle motion between them. He kissed her back, his fingers tangled in her hair. He began to move too, trying to keep her rhythm, grinding himself deeper into her and filling her with his heat. They both moaned, and Ray squeezed her hips, gasping.
“It’s okay,” Yu-hwa whispered as she increased the speed at which she moved, feeling him hot and pulsing against her inner walls.
Ray cried out as he came, filling her with everything he had. Yu-hwa’s orgasm quickly followed, and she whimpered his name as she felt herself pulsating around his girth before she fell forward into Ray’s arms. She panted, happy and warm. She had never come so quickly, and never without lots of foreplay. But with Ray, she felt completely satisfied. Her heart beat fast as he rolled her to his side, kissing her deeply.
“Let’s stay like this for a while,” he whispered, his cock still nestled within her. “This is as close as two people can get. I wish I could stay this close to you forever.”
Yu-hwa smiled contentedly, her leg draped over Ray’s hip. “That might make things like getting lunch a bit awkward.”
He chuckled, pressing himself securely against her so he could remain in her warmth a little longer. “You’re so beautiful,” he said again, pressing his forehead to hers. “I’m… I’m so happy right now.”
She stroked his face gently, her body comfortable against his. They laid together, wrapped in one another’s embrace until Ray softened, separating himself from the body of his beloved. She felt the warm liquid trickle out of her, but she didn’t care.
“Oh, what’s that?” Ray asked, propping himself up on his elbows.
Yu-hwa twisted to see what had caught his attention. “Hmm? They’re cherries. One of the kitchen staff brought them for me earlier.” She sat up and pushed away from Ray, climbing out of bed and crossing the room to pick up the punnet. She glanced back at him, sitting with his eyes almost popping out of his head as he watched his lover, stark naked, standing at the end of the bed.
“Y-Yu-hwa,” he said breathily. “Please get back here.”
She giggled and climbed back across the bed with the cherries. Ray took them from her, then grabbed her waist, pulling her back on top of him, crashing his lips against hers with a desperate burning passion. She kissed him back, her fingers gripping his hair, not wanting to let him go even when she was desperate for breath.
“Yu-hwa,” Ray murmured. “Please never leave me.”
She pulled away, looking at his beautiful face and his crystal-clear eyes. “I’ll never leave you, Ray.”
He pulled her to the side of him, his arm still wrapped around her, and passed her back the cherries.
“Do you like cherries?” she asked.
He shrugged. I’ve never had a real one,” he admitted. “I’ve had cherry flavoured candies, but I’ve never tasted the actual fruit.”
Yu-hwa couldn’t help but laugh a little, and she passed him a cherry, still attached to its stem. “Some people can tie a knot in the stem with their tongue,” she said.
“Why?” asked Ray, clearly confused as to why anyone would do something so pointless.
Yu-hwa shrugged. “I don’t really know,” she admitted. “I think, if you can do it, you’re meant to be a good kisser.” She shrugged again and chuckled. “Or maybe that you’re just good with your tongue.”
Ray gulped, looking at the cherry, then suddenly he shoved it in his mouth, stem and all. Yu-hwa’s jaw dropped.
“Watch out Ray,” she said. “Cherries have stones in them.”
Ray looked at her and nodded seriously, his entire jaw working to try and tie the cherry stem in a knot. His brow furrowed in concentration, and he tried for a good two minutes before he spat out the stone and the stem, not a single knot in it.
“Don’t worry,” Yu-hwa laughed, seeing the disappointment that covered his face. “I can’t do it either. I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything.” She grinned. “You’re already an amazing kisser.”
Ray blushed, but the disappointment vanished, replaced by a huge grin, and he leaned over to kiss her once again, showing her just what he could do with his tongue.
Ray pulled back, startled, then reached for his phone. He looked at Yu-hwa and sighed.
“Who is it?” she asked, kissing his neck.
“Savior,” he answered, leaning into the warmth of her lips. “I think… I have to go.” He took her face in both his hands and kissed her again, taking initiative with his tongue and seeking out hers. He gasped as his cock twitched. Yu-hwa noticed, and with a giggle she shoved him away.
“Go get washed before you meet her,” she said as Ray hurried into the bathroom, nude from the waist down, with an enormous smile on his face.
Yu-hwa wrapped herself up in the bed sheets feeling blissfully happy. She felt so warm, so safe, and she already couldn’t wait to fall into Ray’s arms again. To kiss him again. To love him again. She heard the water of the shower begin to spray, followed by Ray softly humming to himself. Such a simple thing made her feel as if she was finally home. She closed her eyes, wanting to remember the feeling of his body against hers, the sweet ache between her legs, the soft kisses he’d planted on her skin. She never wanted the feeling to fade. A moment later, Ray was back in the room, wrapped in a towel and putting his clothes back on.
“I’m so sorry I’m rushing out like this, Yu-hwa,” he said. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
Yu-hwa grinned. “I look forward to it.”
He returned her smile. “I want to make it up to you for the rest of your life.” He grabbed her face and kissed her again. “God, I wish I didn’t have to go.”
She ran her fingers through his soft hair, gazing longingly into his eyes. “We’ll see each other again soon.” She kissed him, her heartbeat making her entire body quiver.
“Go!” she cried, laughing as she hit him with a pillow.
He laughed as he ran to the door, blowing her a kiss before leaving. Yu-hwa chuckled as she hugged herself. She knew that she had to clean up and get to work, but she didn’t want to leave the bed she had made love to Ray in. Still, better than remaining in the memory was the chance to see him again soon, so Yu-hwa dragged herself out of her warmth and got a shower, washing away the evidence that Ray had ever been a part of her at all.
Chapter 21: 707
Luciel glared at the monitor.
He could barely believe what he was looking at.
His private server had been hacked again. His personal server.
The only information that had been accessed was his latest research on the prime minister. The data had been quickly downloaded by the hacker. They had been in and out in moments. Luciel was furious.
“What’s up with your face?” Vanderwood asked, having finally finished his deep clean of the bunker.
“This damned hacker,” Luciel grumbled. “I hope I can get my hands on them.”
Vanderwood raised an eyebrow. “Hacked again? Are you losing your touch?”
“God, I might be,” Luciel replied, slumping in his chair. “I think I need some air, I’m going to step out for a few minutes.” He pushed himself away from the desk. “I’ll be back soon.”
Vanderwood watched as he slouched past. “You okay?” he asked, sounding more like a concerned parent than a disgruntled co-worker.
Luciel let out a long, dramatic sigh. “No,” he admitted. “I’m not.” Then he turned and left.
The sky overhead was grey, but the air was crisp and fresh, and Luciel took a deep breath, cramming his hands into the pockets of his favourite black hoodie. He began to walk, the gentle breeze tousling his red hair. He’d felt so heavy sitting at his desk, weighed down by each new attack from the hacker. Out in the fresh air though, he already felt lighter, felt freer. He wished that he could go for a drive, but he knew that if he got behind the wheel of one of his babies, he wouldn’t be back for hours.
Luciel stopped dead in his tracks, glancing behind him. He blinked in surprise as he saw the figure of a man he knew well approaching him swiftly.
“It is you,” said V, jogging up to the hacker. “I’m glad I caught you.”
“V? What are you doing here?” Luciel asked. “Did something happen with the prime minister? Is everything okay?”
V glanced down. “I… don’t think I’ve heard the last of the prime minister, but I promise that I’ll keep you informed.”
Luciel’s mouth became a tight line, his displeasure at the situation apparent.
“I’m sorry,” said V solemnly. “I’m here because I wanted to check on you. I wanted to see with my own eyes that you are safe.”
“I’m fine,” Luciel snapped, but then his shoulders slumped, and he let out a long sigh. “Except I’m worried. I can’t find anything out about Megan, and the agency is being weird too.”
“The agency?” V asked with concern. “What do you mean?”
“They haven’t given me any work.” He reached up to touch the silver cross he wore around his neck. “I haven’t asked for any holiday time. I don’t know if I should be grateful or worried.”
V remained silent, but Luciel could see his mind working to figure out whatever answers he could. But V was only a photographer. Sure, he has plenty of contacts, but there’s nothing he can help me with.
“Maybe I can ask Jumin to help you,” V said finally. “He has the resources to do almost anything. He’ll be able to offer some assistance in discovering something about Megan.”
“What about the hacker?” Luciel asked. “Whoever they are, they’re sneaky. It was bad enough that they were able to hack the app to give Megan access, but they’ve hacked in since then too. They’ve accessed my personal server.”
“That’s worrying,” mumbled V. “I’ll speak to Jumin. I’m sure there will be something we can do.”
“Okay V, thanks,” said Luciel.
“Look after yourself,” said V, placing a hang gently on the younger man’s shoulder. “Your health is important.” His voice became low and urgent. “Please be careful. So much is happening right now.”
“I know,” Luciel grumbled. “I’ll be careful. Don’t worry about me.” He met the eyes of the photographer, his face stern. “You need to be looking after yourself, especially if you expect to be meeting with the prime minister again. That man is dangerous. You know what he’s capable of.”
V nodded. “Then I’ll take care too,” he promised. “Please let me know if anything else happens with Megan or the hacker. I’ll speak to Jumin as soon as I can.”
Luciel managed a small smile as a light drizzle began to fall.
“I should go,” said V. “I’m glad you’re okay. Contact me if anything happens. I’ll do my best to keep in touch as well.”
Luciel bit his lip. “How are your eyes, V?” he asked.
V inhaled. “For now, I’m fine. Don’t worry, I still have most of my sight.”
Luciel watched him leave before retuning to the bunker. Vanderwood sat stiffly on the couch and glared at the hacker as he entered the room.
“There is nothing to eat in this place but chips.”
Luciel shrugged. “Go to the store if you’re hungry.”
Vanderwood huffed and rose from his seat, taking a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and looking inside.
“Those things will kill you,” sniped Luciel.
“I doubt the cigarettes will be what kills me,” Vanderwood chuckled darkly. “Right, I’m going out. I’ll be back soon.”
Luciel watched his partner leave before taking his usual seat in front of his computer. Nothing seemed to have happened during his brief absence, but he ran some preliminary security checks while he looked through his phone. The chatroom was empty. He pressed his glasses up his nose as he checked his calls. Three missed calls from Yoosung. No surprises there. I’ll call him later. One missed call from V, but the timestamp showed that it was from before they had met outside. I need to pick up his calls from now on. He bit his lip. There was nothing from Megan. He felt his heart sink, though he wasn’t sure why. He scrolled to her name in his contacts list and pressed the call button.
Luciel knew immediately that something wasn’t quite right. Megan sounded tired, her voice little more than a whisper.
“Hey hey, it’s your hero, Seven Zero Seven, here to brighten your day,” he said in a voice far more cheerful than he felt.
“Hi Seven,” replied Megan, sounding slightly brighter. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
Luciel felt his face heat up. “Ah yes,” he said seriously. “It is known that my voice has magical properties. I am able to fill your heart with joy with a mere whisper.”
Megan laughed, and Luciel felt his heart race a little.
“It seems that your voice has magical properties too,” he said. “If we got together and formed a band, we’d hit number one in the charts worldwide.”
“If only I could sing,” said Megan with a chuckle.
“Ah, not being able to sing could be a problem,” Luciel sighed. “Another plan failed. Such a shame.”
“It was a good plan,” said Megan. “Maybe I just need singing lessons.”
Luciel smiled, but he could hear the hint of sadness that still lingered in Megan’s voice. “Did something happen?” he asked. “Are you still safe?”
She sighed. “What would you say if I told you that up until recently, I thought you were just an AI in a game?”
Luciel’s brow furrowed. “An AI?” He ran his free hand over his red hair. “You mean you didn’t think I was real?”
Megan laughed humourlessly. “When I came here, I was told that I would be testing a game. That’s what he said.”
Luciel leaned forward in his seat. “He?” His eyes narrowed. “Is he a hacker?”
“He said that he was the one who developed the app,” Megan continued. “He installed it on my phone. I suppose he could be a hacker.” Her voice went quiet. “Does that mean she’s a hacker too?”
“She?” Luciel gasped. “Are you saying that there could be two hackers?” He leaned his elbow against the desk and rested his head in his hand. “Megan, are you safe?”
She sniffed. “They seem like good people, but I think they’re being manipulated. I really don’t think they’re dangerous.”
“Be careful Megan,” Luciel said, his tone deep. “I’m serious. You’ve already been lied to. You don’t know what they could be capable of.” He sighed. “I assume you can’t just walk freely out of there?”
There was a quiet sob down the line. “How did I not see this before? I’m not allowed to even leave this floor by myself. I have no idea where I am. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Luciel closed his eyes. “Just stay calm. I’m going to work harder and find out where you are. For now, try to stay on good terms with the hackers. I’ll do whatever I can to get you out of there.” He remembered what V had said about asking Jumin for help. “I’m not alone,” he assured her. “The other members of the RFA will be trying their best to help you too. I promise that we will not abandon you. But until I can see you with my own eyes, stay safe Megan. You must.”
“I will. I promise,” she squeaked.
He smiled. “Good. I’ll get to work on my heroic rescue right now, so I’m sure I’ll see you soon. Adios!”
He leaned back in his seat, staring at the empty file he had created for compiling any information he discovered on Megan Cheung, and he prayed to God that he had not just made her a handful of empty promises.
Chapter 22: Ray
Ray could feel the extra bounce in his step as he walked through Magenta, the beaming smile never leaving his face. Never in his life had he felt so contented and fulfilled. He was almost annoyed at his savior for dragging him away from the warm embrace of his lover. His heart beat faster as his thoughts became filled with memories of Yu-hwa. The tenderness of her kiss, the gentle way she had touched him, her sweet voice that spoke promises of happiness. He wanted more. Next time I want to be bolder, he thought, blushing. Next time, because I know she feels the same way, so there will be a next time. Just the thought of making love to her again made the heat in his belly sink. He wanted to think of all the things he could do with her now, all the places he could touch her, but he was on his way to meet his saviour, and letting her see him in a state of arousal would not be good for either of them. He took a deep breath to calm himself, but it wasn’t easy. For the first time in his life he was looking forward to what the future would bring. My future with Yu-hwa. His heart fluttered at the thought, and his grin widened. He knew that any of his fellow believers that noticed him might think he was crazy, but he didn’t care. Though he hadn’t said it to her out loud, he knew what he was feeling. This is love.
He was still grinning when he reached the saviors' rooms, and he did his best to compose himself before he knocked on her door. He brushed down his hair and straightened out the creases in his suit, hoping that what he had been doing just moments ago wasn’t written all over his body. He waited patiently, but there was no reply, and after another minute he licked his lips apprehensively and knocked again. Another minute passed before the door finally opened. The savior did not greet him with a smile, but with a look of sadness, and Ray could feel the nervous sweat trickle down his temple.
“Come in, Ray,” she said monotonously.
“Thank you, my savior,” he mumbled as he entered. His heart was pounding again, but it was no longer the joyful beating it had done for Yu-hwa. This time it beat filled with fear. “Savior, have I done something wrong?”
The savior closed the door and trailed her eyes over Ray’s slender body, up and down, making him feel as though his every flaw was on display to her.
“Oh Ray, my poor boy,” she said softly, her eyes filled with sadness. “You’ve forgotten your promises to me. You have forgotten your faith and have allowed the first pretty girl that offers you her attention to lure you away.”
“What?” Ray cried. “No! I would never-”
“Do you remember our slogan?”
“O-of course, my savior.”
The savior inclined her head. “Say it.”
Ray took a deep breath. “For Mint Eye’s eternal paradise, I solemnly swear upon all my wounds that I will stay by your side until the end, my savior.”
“Do those words taste bitter on your tongue?” she asked. “You swore yourself to me, swore that you would listen only to me, look only at me, that you would serve Mint Eye faithfully, and achieve our eternal paradise.” She frowned. “You look pale, Ray.”
“I-I still believe in all of those things,” he said defensively, tears spilling over his lower eyelids.
“But your world has been consumed by that girl,” she hissed. “She is all you see, all you hear.”
“Yu-hwa?” Ray swallowed and wiped his eyes. “I do think Yu-hwa is good and kind.” He blushed. “I… I think I might love her, my savior.”
The saviors' face darkened. “What would a pathetic boy like you know about love?” She shook her head. “How sad. Do you really think she will stay with you? Think about your brother.”
“Yes,” said the savior. “Your identical twin.”
Ray’s lips thinned as he did as the savior asked.
“He’s stronger than you,” Savior said. “A gifted boy. And you share the same face.” She smirked. “If your assistant were given the choice, do you believe she would pick you?”
Ray swallowed, the saliva thick in his throat. “Sh-she cares about me.”
“All your life you have been abandoned and rejected,” the savior continued. “What makes you think that girl will treat you any differently? In fact, she will be the one who hurts you the most.” She sighed. “A broken heart can be true agony.” She looked at him again with a softened expression. “I would know. You’re breaking my heart right now, Ray.”
“I’m so sorry, my savior,” Ray whimpered as his eyes once again overflowed with tears. “I never meant to hurt you. I’ll try harder. I’ll-”
“I’ve heard enough,” she snapped. “The only path to salvation is through agony.” She reached into a cabinet and took out a vial of green liquid. “The only way to save you is to throw you further into despair.” She uncorked the bottle and held it out to him. “With this elixir, you will be cleansed. You will become stronger. You will become more worthy.”
Ray took the elixir that she offered him. “I… I’m being cleansed?”
Savior smiled. “You’ve become so lost that you cannot even see it yourself. That is why you must not trust your own judgement. You’re too pathetic to think for yourself. I have told you this before, but it seems that you did not listen. That is why you have found yourself on this path that is destined to lead you into misery.” She glared at him. “Now drink the elixir and be cleansed.”
Ray lifted the bottle to his lips and closed his eyes. Yu-hwa, I love you, was his last thought as he downed the elixir in a single gulp.
Chapter 23: Megan
Megan stared blankly out of the window. For the first time since she had arrived at Magenta, she felt imprisoned, though the only thing that had changed was the knowledge of her situation. Still, it was enough to change everything. Although she was sure that Ray and Yu-hwa weren’t really bad people, she could tell that they were being manipulated into doing a bad thing. She heaved a sigh as she wondered, how do I get myself out of this? She watched as the clouds rolled lazily across the grey sky, her thoughts bringing her no closer to a solution.
The tap at her door was so light that Megan barely heard it, and at first, she thought she had imagined it, but a moment later the sound was repeated. She crossed the floor and opened the door to a man dressed in a long black robe. He pushed his hood back slightly to reveal his face.
“May I come in?”
Megan looked up into mint green eyes and gasped, taking a step back so that he could enter. He checked the corridor and closed the door behind him before he lowered his hood completely.
“I’m so glad to find you safe,” said V, grateful for a moments reprieve.
Megan continued to stare at him, her mouth hanging open in disbelief.
“Megan?” he said with a gentle smile, though his eyes were filled with concern.
“Y-you’re V!” she finally said aloud. “You’re really V!”
“Yes, I am,” he confirmed, glancing out of the window. “I’m sorry that I took so long to come and check on you. It isn’t easy for me to get in. I have to be careful not to be recognised.”
Megan nodded, but her brow creased. “I have no idea what’s going on anymore,” she confessed. “I was told that I was invited here to test out a game, but then Ray told me that the people in the RFA were real, and-”
“Ray?” V interrupted quizzically.
“He told me that he developed the app,” Megan explained, “but then he told me that he was actually trying to lure the RFA members here to save them or something…”
“That must be Saeran,” V mumbled. “I wonder why he changed his name.”
“Saeran?” asked Megan.
V nodded. “The man you know as Ray is actually named Saeran Choi.” He frowned. “I may as well tell you now. He’s the twin brother of Luciel. They were separated at a young age in order to protect them, but while I was away on a trip, something… happened.” He took a deep breath. “The person who built up Mint Eye is also the founder of the RFA, my former fiancée, Rika.” He swallowed and looked away. “I am so sorry that you have been dragged into this mess that we created. It’s bad enough that Rika made a victim of that poor boy, but to pull a complete stranger into this too…”
“I’m not the only one,” said Megan. “Ray has an assistant. She was supposed to come here as the game tester, but she turned him down. She was brought here anyway though.”
V looked close to tears as he spoke. “If I could be the only sacrifice, I’d be fine with that. Rika, why must you keep hurting people?”
“Wait! Doesn’t everyone think that Rika is dead?” Megan asked. “You mean she’s alive and running this… this… cult?”
V looked down shamefully and nodded. “Rika is not well. I wanted to help her, but she pushed me away. I thought I’d give her some space and left on a photography trip. But when I returned, she had taken Saeran and vanished. I found out later that she’d established Mint Eye and plans to absorb the RFA. She’s capable enough to do it too. That’s why I had to tell them she was dead. It was the only way I could protect them.”
Megan stared at him in disgust. “But to tell them that she had died? Even I can see how heartbroken Yoosung is. It’s just so extreme.”
“You haven’t seen the things they do here,” said V. “I’ve been investigating this place since I came back. The way Rika ‘saves’ her believers is by putting them through incredible pain using that elixir she created to torture their body and mind. It’s brainwashing. It’s what she’s done to Saeran, and probably that poor assistant too.” He grabbed Megan’s hand suddenly. “If you are offered the elixir, you must do everything you can to turn it down. Do not drink it!”
“I won’t,” promised Megan.
“I’m so sorry that you got involved in this,” said V sincerely. “I swear that I will do all that I can to get you out, but I need to prepare somewhere safe for us to run to and a route to get there.”
Megan inclined her head. “Do you think you can help Ray and Yu-hwa too? I know they’re good people, they just need help.”
“I will do my best to help those children,” V said with a nod. “But for now, I must ask you to keep the hackers identity a secret within the messenger, since we don’t want to provoke them.”
“I understand that,” agreed Megan, “but what about Luciel? He’s defending the messenger against his own brother. That seems so cruel.”
V rubbed his forehead. “I planned to ask Jumin for his help, but I haven’t had the chance to visit him yet. I didn’t want to ask in a phone call, but I think I’ll have to.”
“You should,” said Megan firmly. “Luciel doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. He’s barely sleeping and he’s working so hard.”
“I’m glad you care about him so much,” V said as his lips curled into a small smile. “That boy deserves happiness. I hope that he’ll find some soon.” He sighed. “I should go. There’s still so much that I have to do. I’m glad you’re safe. I’ll be back for you, Megan, and I hope I can help Saeran and his friend too.” He opened the door and peered out.
“V, please be careful,” Megan pleaded.
“Of course,” he said. “I will be back for you. Please stay safe until then.”
After one last smile of reassurance, V was gone. Megan slumped onto the edge of the bed. Her head was still spinning, and her heart ached for the two brothers. This is such a horrible situation, she thought as she glanced at her phone. She hoped that Luciel was safe and well, but she knew it was unlikely, given the circumstances. She laid back and stared at the ceiling, praying that everyone would be okay.
Chapter 24: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa fidgeted at her desk, the comfortable ache between her legs the only evidence that she had been with Ray at all. He had not returned from his visit with the savior, and Yu-hwa was beginning to worry - the worst-case scenarios all running through her head like bad movies.
He’s so thin. What if he fell and broke a bone?
What if the prime minister found him and had him kidnapped?
What if he regrets being with me?
Yu-hwa struggled to breathe as the pain of that single thought filled her chest. She leaned across her desk with a wheeze. I have to be rational, she thought, but the possibility of losing Ray consumed her to the point where she could not hold back the tears. No, he promised that we’d be together forever. She pushed herself up and staggered to the door, trying to calm herself. She leaned against the doorframe and took a breath, thinking as she did so. I’m panicking. I need to calm down. She inhaled, counting to ten as she breathed in, then slowly exhaled. Am I like this because of the elixir? she pondered. I need Ray. Straightening herself, she stepped out into the hallway. Her first stop was the garden, but according to the believer who was trimming the rose bushes, Ray had not returned there since he had left with Yu-hwa hours earlier. The believer commented on how he’d had to tidy up the discarded picnic, but Yu-hwa was no longer listening, tugging at her hair and wondering where else Ray might have gone. She rolled her eyes. Of course. He could have gone to check on Megan. She headed back inside and ascended the staircase to Megan’s room.
At Yu-hwa’s urgent knocking, Megan opened her door immediately, her eyes wide with panic.
“Has something happened?” she asked, her voice quaking.
“Has Ray been here?” asked Yu-hwa.
Megan’s panic was replaced with a sorrowful expression. “No, he hasn’t. Is everything okay, Yu-hwa? You’re shaking.”
Yu-hwa bit her lip and shook her head. “No,” was all she said.
Megan gently reached out and took Yu-hwa’s trembling hand, leading her into the room. The hacker took a seat, her heart still beating fast. Megan closed the door and sat beside Yu-hwa, placing a hand gently on her shoulder.
“When did you last see Ray?” she asked.
Yu-hwa sighed. “It was a few hours ago. He got called to meet the savior, but he should have been back by now.”
Megan smooth skin became lined with deep furrows of concern. “Could he still be with the savior?”
“I don’t think so,” Yu-hwa replied, knitting her hair in her fingers. “Even when he has lunch with her, he’s never gone for more than an hour. He would have sent me a text.” She slumped back in the chair. “I wouldn’t normally be so worried, but right before he left we were… we did… we…”
Megan watched quizzically as Yu-hwa’s face turned as pink as her hair, but then her eyes grew wide with understanding. “Wait! Did the two of you finally get together?”
Yu-hwa tugged her hair and nodded, her eyes cast down. “What if he regrets it?”
Megan burst out laughing. “Oh my god, Yu-hwa! Regret? He’s more likely to start a naked conga line through the corridors than regret being with you!” She doubled over with laughter as Yu-hwa glared at her, but eventually settled enough to speak again. “That boy is in love with you,” she said with a smile. “There is no way he would ever regret being with you.”
Yu-hwa couldn’t help but smile at Megan’s reassuring words and a warm feeling flooded her chest. “Thanks for saying that,” she said, “but I still have no idea where he is.”
“Just give him a little longer,” Megan suggested. “I’m sure he’ll call you. Or maybe you could call in on that savior person?”
Yu-hwa shook her head. “I’m not permitted to visit her rooms,” she said with a huff. “But you’re right, I should give him more time. We work together, so we’ll see each other again eventually.”
“Of course you will,” Megan said encouragingly. “I’m sure that once he’s finished whatever he’s doing, you’re the first person he’ll want to see.”
Yu-hwa felt a little more secure after talking with Megan, and she let out a long breath as she rose to her feet. “If you do happen to see him, will you let me know?”
“I’ll tell him to call you the moment I lay eyes on him,” Megan promised. “I’m sure that he’ll visit you before he comes here though.”
Yu-hwa smiled, her heart fluttering at knowing what an outsider thought of their relationship. How long have our feelings been so obvious? she wondered. “I should go,” she said. “I’m supposed to be working, and probably twice as hard since Ray’s out.” Her eyes narrowed as another thought popped into her head. “Megan… have you heard anything else about the prime minister?”
Megan sucked in her lower lip and gave a small shake of her head. “Nothing yet… but, is he really dangerous? Is he a threat to you, or this place in some way?”
Yu-hwa stiffened as she considered how much she could tell Megan. “He is a threat,” she said, “but he’s more of a threat to some than others.”
“Ray?” Megan asked.
Yu-hwa gave a small nod. “It’s best that you don’t know too much.” She pushed back her hair. “If anything happens… if V or the redhead start behaving differently, or if they… disappear, you must let me know, okay?”
Megan nodded with a fearful expression, asking no further questions.
“Thank you,” Yu-hwa said with a smile, her hand on the door handle. “I mean it, thank you so much. I feel a lot better after talking to you.”
Megan smiled back, her face quickly brightening up. “You’re welcome. I hope that you can visit me again soon, and I hope Ray comes back too. I’m rooting for the two of you.”
Yu-hwa grinned as she left the room and continued smiling as she headed down the corridor. Halfway down, she saw a believer rounding the corridor, carrying a tray of food. “Um… Elliot?”
The blond-haired man grinned from ear to ear when he saw her. “Yu-hwa, wow! I never thought I’d run into you here. It must be my lucky day!”
Yu-hwa laughed awkwardly, still not certain how to react to his eager friendliness. “Is that for Megan?” she asked, nodding at the tray he held.
“Yes,” he said, and his chest puffed up proudly. “The savior asked me herself to see that Miss Megan receives her meals today.
Yu-hwa’s eyes narrowed. “The savior asked you? Then, have you seen Ray?”
Elliot’s brow raised in surprise. “You mean you haven’t heard? He’s recovering in the savior’s room after his cleansing ceremony.”
“What!” Yu-hwa shrieked, the blood suddenly running cold in her veins.
“I overheard someone saying that his faith had become weak,” he explained with a sympathetic look. “It must have been tough for you, since you have to work with him. I’m sure that it will be easier though, now that he’s been cleansed.”
Yu-hwa didn’t hear anything more. Her head was filled with buzzing. Her body didn’t feel real. She felt as if she were watching herself from somewhere else. She took a step, then another, Elliot becoming invisible to her. She kept taking steps until she reached a place that was familiar. She sat down as her desk appeared before her unfocused eyes. She leaned forward and allowed the tears to silently fall.
Chapter 25: V
V folded the stolen believers robe and placed it on the desk he had just wiped clean of dust. The cabin he had found was run down and draughty, but for now it was safe. He cleaned up a few pieces of furniture and tried to make the place as comfortable as possible; though he doubted he would be able to get any sleep. Finally finding some time to relax and contemplate his next course of action, he sat down and took out his phone. I have to call Luciel, he thought. He has to know what I’ve discovered. He closed his eyes.
There had been three missed calls on V’s phone as he carefully made his way out of Magenta. Three missed calls - and one voicemail.
“Good afternoon. I’m leaving a message for Mr Jihyun Kim regarding his recent enquiry into the well-being of Mr Minseok Park. I’m sorry, but Mr Park was found dead last year. A suspected suicide. I can’t tell you anything more since the records into his death have been made private. It’s a bit fishy, but if you knew Mr Park well, you probably know he kept… never mind. I’m sorry I can’t help you more. Have a nice day.”
V’s throat felt dry as he heard about the death of the man who had put him in contact with the agency Luciel now worked for. He highly doubted that Minseok’s death had been a suicide.
V’s fingers found Luciel’s number and pressed call. It barely rang once before the hacker picked up.
“V? Is anything wrong?”
V took a breath. “Luciel, if anything were to happen, are you able to move quickly?”
“What?” Luciel’s voice was pitched with concern. “I mean, yes, I can disappear from this place in minutes and it would be as if I’d never existed. But why are you asking that?”
V rubbed his chest, his heart feeling like a stone within it. “The man who put me in touch with the agency,” he said, feeling as if his voice were coming from anywhere but him. “He’s dead.”
“How?” was all Luciel asked.
V felt his head ache from the tears he was holding back as he relayed to Luciel the message he had received.
“I doubt that it was suicide,” the hacker said, mirroring V’s own thought. “But if that’s the case - if he was killed on the prime ministers’ orders - that means he probably knows about your relationship to me.”
V held the phone away from himself as he let out a small gasp of pain, the agony of his failure to protect either brother cutting him like a knife.
V put the phone back to his ear. “Sorry.”
“Forget it,” Luciel snapped. “Do I need to leave now?”
V thought for a moment, then shook his head. “No, not just yet. Stay where you are for now but remain alert. I’ll call you as soon as I find anything.”
“Okay,” said Luciel. He sounded unhappy, but he didn’t question V’s decision. “V there’s just one thing I need to know.” There was a brief pause. “Is he okay? Is Saeran safe?”
V clamped his hand over his mouth. He felt wails of agony building up within him, threatening to explode.
“No,” Luciel continued. “I know I’m not supposed to ask. Forget I said anything. If something bad had happened to him, I’m sure I’d know it. For now, I’ll believe that he’s safe. I’ll believe that I did the right thing.”
V bit his lip, bottling up every emotion that viciously sought its freedom. “I have to go,” he said. “We’ll talk more soon.”
He hung up, put down his phone, and let his head drop into his hands. I deserve this pain, he thought. If only I’d been better, if I’d loved her the right way, I could have stopped all of this. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and picked up his phone again. This time he made a call to Jumin. After an exchange of greetings, V knew that he could get straight to the point with his childhood friend.
“Luciel has a lot to deal with right now and I’d like to lighten his workload. Do you think you could find a way to defend the RFA’s server using C&R’s power?”
Jumin mulled over the idea. “Putting together an intelligence unit doesn’t seem like a bad idea,” he said thoughtfully. “Once the server is properly secured, a team like that would be of great use to us in the future.”
“I’m glad you think so,” said V.
“I’ll get Assistant Kang to hire the most qualified people,” Jumin said confidently. “Don’t worry, Luciel will receive excellent help from C&R.”
“Thank you, Jumin,” V said with a relieved sigh. “I knew I could count on you.”
“Then I should go,” Jumin said. “I’ll be in touch once the team is put together. Have a good evening V. I hope I get to see you soon. Elizabeth the 3rd misses you.”
V smiled as they ended the call. He felt a little lighter knowing that he could count on Jumin’s support. He was sure that Luciel would need it. Closing his eyes, he leaned back in the chair. His body ached, the muscles in his back knotted with tension. He rolled his shoulders and let his head drop back, wincing from the stretch. It was a good pain though, and he allowed his body to relax for a moment. He breathed in slowly and deeply. The air around him was cool, and his lungs filled with a refreshing chill that made his body feel awake once again. He opened his eyes just as a loud buzzing sound filled the cabin, and almost toppled out of his chair in shock. Then his weary brain told him that it was his phone vibrating and he laughed at his own absurdity. He checked the screen and answered immediately. “Megan? Is everything okay?”
“I… I don’t know,” Megan admitted, her voice trembling. “Is Luciel okay? I wanted to call him, but I thought I should probably speak to you first.”
V wiped his hand across his forehead, feeling the build-up of stress once again. “Are you still safe?”
“I am,” she said, “but I was visited by Ray’s assistant and she said that the prime minister is a threat to him.”
V gasped. Oh god.
“She’s doing everything she can to protect him,” Megan continued. “I’m sure that he’s safe for now, but it made me worry about Luciel since you told me they’re twins, and he seems to be really scared of the prime minister.” Her voice hitched as she held back tears. “I’m scared he’s in the most danger.”
V’s lips pressed tightly together. He could hear the fear in Megan’s voice, and he desperately wanted to reassure her, but he had told more than enough lies. He couldn’t do it anymore. “I’m doing my best to protect Luciel and keep the prime minister away from him.” He smiled faintly. “Both brothers have someone looking out for them, so try not to worry too much.” He almost laughed at his blatant hypocrisy. His head was filled with worries, constantly spinning in the forefront of his mind. Asking someone else not to worry seemed ridiculous.
V smiled. “Good. Get some rest, we’ll talk again soon.”
Megan hung up the phone and V took a long breath. I need to look after Luciel better, if even that hacker knows about the danger the prime minister poses. He rose from the chair and wandered over to the window. The cabin was completely isolated, and he was sure he’d be safe to get some sleep, if only his mind would switch off and let him.
Chapter 26: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa spun in her chair, having finished running all the relevant updates. The redheaded hacker was quiet for the time being too, and she was left having little to do but sit quietly with her thoughts. It had been hours since she’d heard about Ray’s cleansing, and she had been through an entire spectrum of emotions during that time.
Once the tears had stopped, the anger had kicked in, and she had stormed around the room, planning the best strategy to get herself into the savior’s room and give her a piece of her mind. In her fury she had shoved over her chair, and that action had shocked her straight into panic mode. She had picked the chair back up, then collapsed on the floor, panting and wide-eyed, imagining all of the horrible ways that Ray would surely be suffering. Eventually she had become exhausted, laying down on the hard floor and falling asleep. Then barely five minutes later, she had woken up with a pounding heart, fearing for Ray’s safety once again. Finally, she had decided that the best thing she could do was bury herself in work, not allowing her focus to waver as she continued the multitude of tasks Ray had set. And then she was finished.
Yu-hwa spun the chair one last time, feeling dizzy as the room around her continued to move, even as she was still. As she tried to focus her eyes, she heard the door open, and she staggered to her feet. There - at last - was the familiar white hair, those sharp green eyes. She ran to him, her arms wrapping around his slight frame.
“Ray! I’m so happy you’re back.” She lifted her head and pressed her lips to his.
He hesitated for a moment, his hands tightening their grip on her upper arms, but then his left hand snaked its way up into her hair, deepening their kiss. His tongue slipped past her lips and she moaned as she pressed herself to his body, feeling him harden against her softness. But even as she was enjoying the kiss, it felt wrong. She didn’t feel like she was kissing Ray at all. She pushed away. There was Ray’s mouth smirking at her, and Ray’s eyes, shining with amusement.
“Wow, you’re quick,” the man with Ray’s face said, his voice sounding cold, a tone that she had only heard from Ray a handful of times. He looked her up and down, the smirk never fading. “I’ve been so curious about you,” he said. “Ray’s such a puppy around you, it’s pathetic. He’s such an airhead. I would have had you on your knees long before today.”
He took a step forward, forcing her back until she stumbled into her chair. She gasped as he leaned over her, his hands gripping the armrests and blocking her in.
“Did you think that idiot would make you happy?” He laughed, but there was no hint of humour in his eyes.
“Y-you’re not Ray?” said Yu-hwa. “But you have his face… his body…”
“That’s right,” he said. “The same body you fucked earlier, but I’m not Ray.” The man straightened, staring down at Yu-hwa like she was his prey. “Listen up. Ray is the weak, pathetic part of me that you will never see again. I’m the real deal, Saeran. And you, princess, work for me now.”
“S-Saeran?” Yu-hwa repeated. Her heart was drumming hard, her throat felt dry. “Elliot told me you were cleansed today. I... I was so worried.”
Saeran’s eyes narrowed. “Who’s Elliot?”
“A believer,” whimpered Yu-hwa. “He was in the corridor to Megan’s room earlier. He told me then.”
Saeran glared at her, then pursed his lips thoughtfully. As he stood before her, Yu-hwa noticed for the first time how his clothes had changed. Gone were the bright jacket and flower. Saeran’s suit was black, fastened at the collar by a short silver chain, and it seemed that his clothes weren’t the only thing that was different. His posture was more aggressive. He seemed to fill more space than Ray ever did, with his shoulders square and his stance wide. He had an air of confidence that Ray had lacked. Just as Yu-hwa was beginning to notice the more subtle differences, Saeran reached out and grabbed her neck, dragging her out of the chair and slamming her back against the wall.
“I don’t like you looking at me like that,” he growled, his lips so close to her face that she could feel the heat of his breath. “Ray’s gone, princess. You won’t find him here anymore.” He gripped her hair again, tipping her head back and running his tongue up her neck, across her jaw. “I don’t mind taking his place in your bed,” he said with a dark smile, “but if you don’t keep up with the work, I’ll make sure that you feel every inch of my wrath.” He traced his lips up to her ear, taking her lobe between his teeth and biting just hard enough to make her gasp. “Ray had so many thoughts about you,” he whispered into her ear, sending shivers down her spine that were far from unpleasant. “If you only knew the things he imagined… Maybe I can tell you, but I think it would be much more fun to show you.”
Yu-hwa pushed his chest, trying to create some space, but he just laughed, slamming his body into hers, his teeth biting down on her neck. Yu-hwa cried out in pain, trying desperately to shove him away. He finally released her, a hysterical laugh escaping him as Yu-hwa crumpled to her knees, panting and shaken.
“I wonder if that will leave a mark?” he said. “I hope so. I want everybody to know just who you belong to.”
Yu-hwa rose to her feet, rubbing the sore spot on her neck and wiping away tears with her other hand.
“Things are going to change now, princess,” Saeran told her, his tone suddenly serious. “You should be a good girl and do whatever I tell you. That way, I won’t have to punish you.” He snorted. “Actually, be a bad girl. Your punishment might be fun.”
Yu-hwa stood behind her chair as if it were a shield, and Saeran raised his brow in amusement.
“I can’t wait to play with you, but don’t forget; I want to destroy that redhead first. Once he’s through, you and I can have fun for the rest of our lives.”
Yu-hwa’s breath caught in her throat and Saeran chuckled as he sat down at the desk Ray had used. Yu-hwa cautiously took her seat too. He was still watching her with a sneer when a notification popped up on both their monitors. Yu-hwa adjusted her glasses and read it.
Saeran clicked his tongue. “Looks like he’s finally taking us seriously.” He flexed his fingers and grinned. “I’m going to mess this redhead up.”
Yu-hwa stared at him, then looked back at the monitor. “I’ll work on defensive measures then,” she said.
But Saeran was already pounding the keyboard with his fingertips, ignoring Yu-hwa completely. She started working too, feeling the hollowness she thought had vanished opening up to become a cavern.
Chapter 27: 707
Luciel stuffed another chip in his mouth as he finished implementing the final layer of security to the server. His next step was to follow the hacker’s traces and hopefully launch an attack of his own. His phone buzzed on the desk and he quickly checked it. It was a message from Jaehee.
Sent the files regarding C&R’s intelligence unit. Please check and give me your input.
Luciel opened his email and skimmed the documents. He was impressed by how thorough Jaehee had been, but he knew that he shouldn’t expect anything less from her. He made a mental note to compliment her the next time he saw her.
“Kitchen’s clean,” said Vanderwood as he entered the room holding two steaming mugs of coffee. “It’s instant, but you look like you need a caffeine fix and something warm.”
Luciel stared up at the older man, his eyes wide. “Are you… caring for me?”
Vanderwood scowled and turned away, while Luciel smirked and turned his attention back to his computer. His eyes narrowed, then widened again in horror.
“What?!” Vanderwood yelled in reaction to his partners outburst.
“The server is being hacked! Right now!” His fingers began to dance over the keys as he began his defence. “This is the most aggressive they’ve been. Did something happen?” His mind raced. I need to call V. I need to contact Jumin and Jaehee. I need to know if Megan is safe. He continued to type quickly with one hand as he picked up his phone and pressed Jaehee’s contact. She answered using a professional tone that told him she hadn’t checked who was calling right away.
“This is Jaehee Kang. Oh, Luciel! It’s you.” She sounded surprised to hear from him. “Did you look over the files so soon?”
“Yeah,” Luciel replied, holding his phone against his ear with his shoulder so that he could continue typing with both hands. “The candidates look good. Bring them in ASAP!”
“Um, okay,” said Jaehee. “It seems urgent. Did something happen?”
“The hackers are going all out,” Luciel told her. “It’s too much. I’m going to need backup.”
There was a pause.
“I’ll inform Mr Han,” she replied eventually. “I’ll be in contact again soon. Please do your best until then.”
The call ended and Luciel felt Vanderwood leaning over his shoulder.
“I have no idea what any of this is,” the agent said, gesturing at the screen filled with code, “but it doesn’t look good.”
“It isn’t,” Luciel confessed. “I’m completely on the defensive. Unless the hackers stop or mess up, this is all I can do until I get some help.”
Vanderwood straightened and grunted. Luciel noticed how tense he seemed. There had been fewer irritated outbursts and snappy comebacks than he was used to, and he had not forgotten that Vanderwood had no reason to be with him at all since the agency hadn’t issued him with any more work, which was strange in itself.
“Don’t you have a job to do?” Luciel asked.
Vanderwood took a sip of his coffee. “Looks to me like you’ve got more than enough problems to worry about without wondering about my work too.”
Luciel pressed his lips together, his eyes never straying from the screen. “Agent Vanderwood,” he said, his voice low and serious. “Are you going to become one of my problems?”
Vanderwood grimaced. “I just follow orders,” he said, “and right now I don’t have any either. I’m just on stand-by.”
Luciel frowned but said nothing.
“Tch, I’m going for a smoke,” Vanderwood griped, rolling his eyes. “I’ll be back soon.”
Luciel nodded, giving his full attention back to his computer. He clamped his teeth. The hackers were clearly working in unison, one aggressively attacking the servers while the other kept their defences impenetrable. Luciel couldn’t find an opening. He was fighting a losing battle.
“What the hell suddenly caused them to turn it up to one hundred?” he grumbled. “Before now, they’ve been sneaking in and out. But this is an all-out assault.” He bit his lip, praying to all the gods he could think of that Jaehee could put together the intelligence unit quickly. He needed them.
Chapter 28: Megan
Megan was beginning to feel better. After talking on the phone with V she had managed to get some sleep and had awoken to a bright new day. Seven will be fine if V is looking out for him, and I know Yu-hwa will do anything to protect Ray. Everything is going to be fine. She washed and dressed, then decided that she would call Yu-hwa, hoping that she’d managed to find Ray safe and well. The phone rang almost a dozen times before the hacker picked up.
“H-hello?” Yu-hwa whispered.
“Hi,” Megan said cheerfully. “I just wanted to check that you’re okay after yesterday. Did Ray finally make an appearance?”
“Um, yeah… but-”
“Who are you talking to?!”
The harsh male tone in the background made Megan wince, and she heard Yu-hwa yelp in surprise.
“N-nobody,” came Yu-hwa’s voice, muffled as if she were trying to hide her phone.
“Liar!” the man shouted.
Megan listened, completely horrified and totally helpless as Yu-hwa whimpered fearfully.
“It’s just Megan,” Yu-hwa explained. “She’s just checking I’m okay since I was upset yesterday. I… I should go and take her some breakfast.”
“Princess, you are not going anywhere. Now give me that.”
Megan heard the phone being wrestled from Yu-hwa’s grasp, then a voice she recognised spoke.
“Ray?” she gasped. “Is that really you? Wait, were you just yelling at Yu-hwa? What’s going on? Is she okay?”
“That’s a lot of questions,” was his reply. “I’m not going to waste my time answering them though. But I will be nice and come to see you.”
“Wait, no!” Yu-hwa cried out.
“Not now princess,” he laughed. “You stay here and do some work. If you impress me, I might give you a nice treat.”
Megan couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Ray, what’s going on? Did the two of you have a fight?”
“Enough of the questions!” he snapped, his voice raised in his annoyance. “I’m coming up.”
He hung up the phone. Megan bit her lower lip and sat down on the edge of the bed. Something has happened, she thought, unable to ignore the pounding of her heart. Something bad. She sat and waited, a sick feeling in her stomach, her palms sweating, though she had no idea why. Ray won’t hurt me, she told herself. But then, why did Yu-hwa sound so afraid? And Ray sounded so cruel. She felt her stomach doing somersaults as her heart fluttered nervously. Then the knock came. Her throat felt dry as she opened the door. Ray stood in the hallway, his vibrant suit gone, exchanged for a dark outfit that gave him a much more sinister vibe. His hair looked curlier, his eyes looked dim, and he wore a smirk that Megan had never seen on Ray’s lips before.
“Good,” he said, stepping into the room. “You answered quickly. I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
Megan didn’t take her eyes off him as he sauntered in. He had a dangerous aura about him that set her on edge. He looked around the room as if it were his first time seeing it, then snorted and shook his head.
“This room is much better suited to Pinky,” he said, then clicked his tongue. “Actually, I think the best place for her is in the information room. Lucky for you. That means I’ll let you stay.”
“What?” Megan asked with a frown. “What are you talking about, Ray?”
He scowled at her. “Okay, let’s keep this brief. I’m not Ray. He’s gone and he’s not coming back. He was the weak and pathetic part of me that I finally got rid of for good. I’m the strong one, Saeran. Don’t forget it.”
Megan’s eyes widened. “S-Saeran… what happened?”
Saeran’s eyes narrowed. “I told you. The weak, lame part of me is gone. Ray is dead.” He bared his teeth in annoyance then, before she even had time to react, he grabbed her by the shoulders and pinned her up against the wall. “I really don’t like repeating myself, so listen up. The savior said I have to be nice to you, so consider yourself lucky. You get to keep breathing in this nice princess room.” He moved his face closer so that he was looking her directly in the eyes. “I don’t like you. I hate your face, I hate your voice, I hate the way you smell. You’re so inferior that I’d probably feel sorry for you if you didn’t make me want to vomit so much.”
“Didn’t I say that I hate your voice?” he yelled, squeezing her shoulders so hard that she cried out in pain. He stepped back, but Megan remained pressed up against the wall, cowering. “You’re so pathetic. I don’t want you speaking in my presence, unless I demand an answer.”
Megan gasped, her eyes filling with tears as her whole body shook with fear.
“Also,” he continued, smiling coldly, “don’t look at me. Stare at the floor so I don’t have to see your stupid expression.” He grinned as she obeyed. “And as for the true princess; you stay away from her. I don’t want you poisoning her with your idiotic words. She’s mine.”
Megan nodded, still looking down at the floor.
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad that even airhead like you can understand how unworthy you are.” He walked back to the door. “Remember everything I told you. If you forget, I’ll make sure that you’re punished.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Don’t leave this room. I’m going to have some believers posted outside your door to make sure you don’t go anywhere.” He chuckled. “And I’m going to have a camera installed so I can watch as you sink deeper into despair.” He laughed as he walked into the hallway, closing the door behind him.
Megan sank to the floor, her tears finally streaming freely down her cheeks. “Ray, what happened to you?” she sobbed into her knees, still in total disbelief.
Chapter 29: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa knew that Saeran had scared the hell out of 707. The rival hacker was clearly resting up after the assault on his server. She didn’t blame him. She rubbed at her sore wrists, slightly bruised from where her ‘partner’ had grabbed her to get hold of her phone. It’s the elixir, Yu-hwa told herself. The savior did this to him. She took off her glasses, putting them on the desk, then rubbed her tired eyes. She’d only nodded off for five minutes earlier, but Saeran had woken her up by kicking her chair and scaring her half to death. She hadn’t slept since. She leaned back, running her fingers through her hair as she tried to relax. Her body hurt from hours of tension, but it was nothing compared to the pain she felt in her heart. It was completely broken. She slouched down and let the tears fall, her sobbing becoming almost hysterical. She could no longer hold back the agony of the loss she felt. It was excruciating.
“Oh, you poor thing.”
Yu-hwa gasped, the sudden shock of an unexpected guest in the information room, snapping her out of her anguish, if only for a moment. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her blouse and looked up to find the savior smiling at her pityingly.
“Oh shi- uh… you scared me,” Yu-hwa said as she awkwardly brushed her hair down to cover her red-rimmed eyes.
“Don’t worry,” the savior said soothingly. “I’m sure you must be very upset right now, but I believe that this situation is the best thing for everyone. Ray was weak. Saeran is strong. He listens to me, and with his help, the RFA will soon be able to find true salvation.”
Yu-hwa stood up, her mouth agape, staring at the blonde-haired woman in disbelief. “You got rid of Ray… because you thought he was weak?”
The savior’s smile slipped a little. “Saeran was always within Ray. I just helped him wake up. He has as much right to be here as Ray. Saeran is the stronger of the two. It’s no surprise that he got rid of Ray.” She glared at Yu-hwa. “Saeran will have less difficulty focusing on his work now, unlike Ray, who allowed himself to be led astray.”
Yu-hwa was so angry she was trembling. “Ray is my friend. I love him. He’s kind and loyal - and stronger than you know.”
“You are the reason he lost his focus,” the savior snapped. “He strayed from his path and paid the price. If you want to blame someone, blame yourself.”
Yu-hwa felt her temper flaring rapidly, but talking about Ray was causing her heart to ache so much she could barely speak. She knew that any word she uttered would be like opening a gateway to a flood of tears.
“Perhaps you will be able to perform better in your work now too,” the savior continued. “Although I think it will be best if you no longer have any communication with Megan. I believe you fall too easily under bad influences, just like Ray did. If you disobey me, I will have no choice but to perform the cleansing ceremony on you, just as I was forced to do with him.”
Yu-hwa clenched her teeth, her hands balled into fists as she bit back her rage. Then Saeran walked in, a smug smile on his face as if he’d done something he was particularly proud of.
“Savior, you’re here?” His eyes were momentarily filled with surprise.
“I was just here laying down some rules for dear Yu-hwa,” she said sweetly. “She is no longer allowed to see or speak with Megan. She is to focus on her work.”
“That’s fine with me,” said Saeran. “I’m going to have lots of fun with Megan.”
“As long as you remember our goal, you can do as you wish with her,” the savior said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I need to return to my room. Saeran, I’ll be calling on you soon to give me a report.”
“Yes, my savior,” he said, bowing his head.
She smiled. “For eternal paradise.”
“For eternal paradise.”
Yu-hwa wiped her eyes as the savior left and went to sit back down, but she was suddenly grabbed from behind. Saeran held her waist with one hand and her throat with the other, pressing his body close to her back so she could feel the heat emanating from him. She felt his breath at her ear, her heart pounding so hard she was sure he would notice it. He moved his hand from her throat and brushed her hair away to expose her neck.
“Princess,” he whispered softly against her skin. “Don’t you like how this feels?”
Yu-hwa closed her eyes. He was holding her so gently, just as Ray had done. His voice was low and seductive, making her feel hot as his breath tickled her skin.
“Don’t you want me,” he kissed her neck, “the way that you want him?” He slipped his hand from her waist to her torso, sliding it into her blouse.
She gasped as his hand found its way into into her bra, cupping her breast, gently rubbing her nipple with his thumb.
“Don’t you want more?” he asked.
Yu-hwa felt her knees weaken, and Saeran didn’t hesitate in taking advantage, quickly turning her to face him, and lifting her onto a space on his desk. He grabbed her hair and held her in place as he kissed her. She tried to deny him, but he kissed her like Ray had kissed her, he tasted like Ray had tasted, and her body reacted to him the way it had reacted to Ray. She let him in, her tongue seeking out his. He pressed himself firmly against her, and she gripped the shoulders of his jacket as he pulled open her blouse and slipped the straps of her bra down her arms. His fingers traced the shape of her breast as he continued to kiss her, then he pulled away from her with a wicked grin.
“You’re such a good girl,” he whispered as he lowered his lips to her nipple, teasing it with his tongue before softly sucking.
“S-Saeran,” Yu-hwa moaned, her head thrown back as she enjoyed the feeling of him touching her. Her back arched as his lips began to trail down her stomach, and his fingers masterfully popped open the button of her jeans.
“W-wait,” she cried out, suddenly scared about how far he was planning to go. “Stop, please.”
He looked up at her with a frown. “Princess,” he said, his fingers pulling on her zipper. “You were so eager when you were with him. I know what you did. This body is the same body you said you adored.” He grabbed his hardened cock through his trousers. “This cock is the same cock you put in that pretty mouth, the same cock that you let fill you up.” He leaned over her, taking her chin in his hand. “Princess, you already fucked me. I just wasn’t the one in control at the time.” His familiar smirk returned. “We would have had a lot more fun if I was.”
Yu-hwa pushed herself back. “This isn’t the same. All you want to do is have sex with me. Ray genuinely cared about me.”
“Does it matter, if it feels good?” Saeran asked, grabbing her thighs and pulling her back towards him. He pressed his fingers against the crotch of her jeans. Yu-hwa moaned, and he chuckled. “Deny it all you want, but you’d love me to fuck you right now.” He pulled down her jeans, ignoring her half-hearted protests. “Princess,” he whispered as he lowered himself to his knees and kissed her trembling thigh. “Tell me that you don’t want this. Tell me that you don’t want me.”
His fingers traced the outline of her underwear and she could feel herself getting wet, his fingertips so close to the sweet spot that could send her spiralling into bliss.
“Reject me. Tell me to stop touching you.”
“I… I…” She moaned as he began to tug her pants down. “Saeran, please…”
Saeran’s phone began to ring, and he snarled, taking it out of his jacket pocket. “Shit, the savior.”
He moved away, leaving Yu-hwa to pull herself back together. She quickly redressed herself, feeling shameful at just how badly she knew she had wanted him. She was almost thankful to the savior.
“Hello… yes… of course… When?... Now? But… no, I’ll be right there… For eternal paradise.” Saeran hung up the phone and turned to Yu-hwa, straightening out the wrinkles in his jacket. “I need to report to the savior.” He narrowed his eyes. “Remember her rule. The punishment won’t be pretty if you disobey.”
Yu-hwa managed a small nod, which seemed to be enough to Saeran, and he left without another word. Yu-hwa gave a sigh of relief and sat back down in her chair, feeling emotionally exhausted. I’m so glad that’s over, she thought, but she couldn’t deny the fact that a part of her had wanted him. She couldn’t deny him. She couldn’t reject him. Ray is still in him, she told herself. I won’t lose hope, not yet. She tried to get comfortable, but she felt too hot and her heart was still racing. She looked at the clock. I probably have an hour before he comes back. He won’t know if I go out and get some fresh air in the garden. She got up and checked her clothes again before she left.
Chapter 30: Yu-hwa
The air outside was cool and refreshing, but the place was filled with memories that made Yu-hwa’s heart hurt. She slowly walked through the garden, dragging her feet through the green grass, her arms wrapped around herself. She felt so lost and confused; her head and her heart were a mess of emotions. She wandered into the clearing where she and Ray had shared their first kiss, and she could no longer hold back the river of tears. She sank to the ground as she sobbed, her knees pulled up to her chest. She cried and cried, unsure if she would ever be able to stop, her eyes red and bleary, her jeans soaked with teardrops. She released all the pain that was bottled up inside her until she was void of the energy to cry further. She was exhausted.
“Are you okay, Miss?”
Yu-hwa jumped in fright, but she didn’t have the strength yet to stand, so she rolled her head to the side to see who had found her. A man dressed in a believer robe stood nearby, his hood pulled up so she couldn’t tell if she knew him or not.
“Who?” was all she managed to ask.
The man hesitated for a moment, then took a step closer. “I’m believer K709. I was tending to the garden when I heard you crying.”
Yu-hwa sighed. “I’m fine,” she mumbled, but the tears began to fall again, proving her to be a liar.
The man gasped and crouched down beside her. “Did something happen?”
Yu-hwa wiped her eyes and turned to look at the man, his face still hidden under his hood. “My partner was cleansed,” she said. “He’s not the same man anymore.” She sniffed as the believer awkwardly patted her shoulder. “I miss him.”
“I’m sure all is not lost,” he said, his voice gentle and reassuring. “We have to believe that. If our love is true and unwavering, we can save the people who need our light.”
Yu-hwa laughed dryly. “I have no idea what you’re saying, but I do love him. I love him with all my heart.”
“I’m sure he knows,” the man said. “Keep loving him, and your light will surely guide him back to you.”
Yu-hwa snorted. “Are you quoting lines from a bad romance movie?”
He chuckled. “Ah, I’m sorry. I’ve been told I can sound a bit…”
“Exactly,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry. I’m a bit hopeless at giving advice.”
“No, I think you’ve helped me a bit,” said Yu-hwa, smiling. “I won’t lose faith. Ray is in there somewhere.”
Yu-hwa nodded. “That’s my partner, though he goes by Saeran now.”
The man beside her suddenly became very tense. “Then you must be… Yu-hwa?”
She frowned. “That’s right… Is there a problem?” She glanced up into the darkness of his hood. “What was your believer number again?”
“Yu-hwa,” he said. “Please understand, I’m here because I want to help.”
“Who are you?” she demanded, finally getting to her feet.
The man rose from the ground too, lowering his hood to reveal his mint coloured hair and desperate eyes. “Please, I want to help you.”
Yu-hwa bit her lip as she glared at him. “You’re V? Ray hates you. He said you betrayed him.”
V bowed his head sadly. “It’s all my fault. I failed him. I hurt him deeply.” He looked back up at Yu-hwa. “All I want now is to put things right, to keep him safe.” He smiled sadly. “I know that you’ve been protecting him too.”
“From the prime minister?”
V nodded. “You already know the threat he poses to the brothers. He’s become very active recently. I’m worried that he may already know about Luciel.”
“What?!” Yu-hwa felt her heart begin to pound. If he knows about the redhead, it’s only a matter of time before he finds out about Ray.
“Please believe me,” said V. “I’m not your enemy.”
Yu-hwa stared him down a moment longer, then sighed. “Fine. If you really want to help Ray, I need all the help I can get. This is all such a mess. I know I’m in way over my head.”
“As long as you can remain by Saeran’s side, you’re doing just fine,” V said. “I know it must be hard, but I’m sure you can do it.”
“Things would be so much easier if the savior had just left him alone,” Yu-hwa said, wiping away new tears before they had a chance to fall. “He was starting to be happy - making decisions for himself - then she made him take that awful elixir and he changed.”
V’s eyes narrowed as he gazed at her. “Yu-hwa, did you ever take the elixir?”
She raised her eyebrow in surprise. “I took it because the savior said I’d have to leave Magenta if I didn’t.” She cocked her head. “Why do you ask?”
“You don’t talk like the other believers,” he explained. “They all worship the savior, but you don’t seem to like her much at all.”
“I just hate the way she treats Ray,” Yu-hwa admitted. “They all call her Savior, but the one who saved me was Ray. He gave me hope.”
V smiled at her words. “Did you… did you love him before you took the elixir?”
Yu-hwa blushed, looking down at her shoes as she twisted her hair in her fingers. “I… did.”
“Good,” V said, looking almost relieved. “That’s really good.”
Yu-hwa huffed. “He’s changed though. Ray cared for me so much, but Saeran…”
“How has he changed?” V asked.
Yu-hwa bit her lip, remembering Ray as she knew him compared to the man he was now. “I knew that there was a darkness in him,” she said. “I’ve seen it come out when he was stressed or upset. He was like a different person. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I think the man I saw was Saeran. Saeran and Ray are the same person, but-” She rubbed her temples. “Ah, this is so hard.”
“A split personality?” V suggested.
Yu-hwa nodded. “I don’t really know much about stuff like that, but I know that Ray has suffered trauma in the past.”
V nodded. “The abuse he suffered… It’s a wonder he survived.”
“Ray was kind and gentle,” Yu-hwa said. “Saeran is harsh and aggressive. Is it possible for them to merge together to become a whole person?”
“I hope so,” said V. “With therapy and the right treatment, Saeran could return to being the kind boy that I remember him to be.”
“Saeran is his true name,” V explained. “He was always gentle and thoughtful. He loved flowers and wanted me to teach him how to take photographs. If only I hadn’t left on that trip when I did, maybe I could have stopped this.”
“I hope that he can be that boy again,” said Yu-hwa. “I won’t give up on him.”
“I’m so glad that he has you,” said V kindly. “Listen, if you ever want to leave this place, there is a cabin a few miles out that is safe for now. It would be a good place to hide out for a few days if you need it.”
Yu-hwa pulled at her hair and nodded. “Thank you, but I’ll only leave Magenta if Ray is leaving with me.” She smiled. “You should get out of here, V,” she said quietly. “I won’t report you, but if anyone catches us talking together out here, I dread to think what the savior will do to us.”
“You’re right,” said V. “Please stay safe, Yu-hwa. I hope we meet again.”
“Me too, V,” she said, and headed back into Magenta, her heart filled with just a little more hope.
Chapter 31: Megan
Megan sat huddled on the bed, her heart trembling as much as her body. After Saeran’s visit she had shut herself in the bathroom, crying and scared he would return. When she had heard movement in her room, she had frozen, eyes wide with terror. Finally, she’d grown curious enough of the banging and murmur of several voices that she’d opened the bathroom door a crack and found three believers packing away their tools.
“A camera had been installed,” said the first believer to notice her. “I don’t know what you did to piss off Mr Ray - I mean, Mr Saeran, - but he will be able to see you all the time now. Watch your back.”
With that, they left, and Megan had remained quivering on her bed ever since. She didn’t know where the camera was. She didn’t know if Saeran really was watching her, but the memory of how he had spoken to Yu-hwa, how he had come into Megan’s own room and threatened her, how his eyes had glared, full of gleeful malice. He terrified her.
She almost stopped breathing as her door opened.
Like a waking nightmare, Saeran entered, his shoulders hunched, his fists clenched, his face contorted in rage. His angry gaze fell upon Megan briefly, and she shrank back into the corner of the bed, curling her legs in tightly, her eyes focusing on anything that wasn’t the white-haired man in her room.
“I was so close,” he snarled as he paced the floor. “So close! But the savior just had to interrupt, and not even for anything important. Just a routine report.”
Megan’s eyes lifted slightly. He was angry, but not at her. She relaxed a little, but kept her guard up.
“God, I had her on the desk,” he continued to grumble. “She wanted me, I know she did. She’ll want me more than that airhead.” Finally, his eyes moved over to Megan’s small frame, and his frown turned into a smirk. “I’ve had my fun ruined for today, but maybe I can play with you.”
Saeran’s stride brought him quickly to her side, and she winced, her eyes screwed up tight as he grabbed a handful of her hair and dragged her off the bed. Megan found her feet quickly and staggered as he pulled her across the room and into the bathroom. He threw her down on the cold tiled floor and stood over her with his arms folded. She didn’t get up. She waited, crouching, her focus roaming no higher than his knees.
“Strip,” he commanded.
Megan’s eyes widened, and she trembled, her arms reflexively crossing over her chest as if the word alone had left her nude.
She quickly fumbled, his rage reaching out and wrapping tendrils of fear around her. Her body shuddered as she lifted her dress and awkwardly began to pull it over her head. Her fear doubled as she lost sight of him, her fingers scrambling to pull the garment off quickly, but once she had done it, she found that Saeran hadn’t moved at all; the only change being that his frown was now replaced by a sneer. He lifted an eyebrow expectantly as she tossed the dress aside.
“Continue,” he said.
Megan bit her lip. She wanted to say no. She wanted him to leave. But as his smile slipped away and his eyes darkened, angry at her apparent disobedience, it was her fear that controlled her as she unhooked her bra, sliding it down her shaking pale arms and placing it in a pile with her dress. She covered her chest, her eyes quickly glancing up at his face before turning back down towards the floor. She didn’t know what she had expected to see, but she was still surprised to see his face twisted into an expression of disgust.
“Continue,” he spat.
Megan swallowed. Her pants were all she was left wearing. She held her breath, her body unwilling to move even as her mind ran through all the ways he could punish her for not obeying him.
Saeran crouched down to meet her eyes. He gently lifted her chin with his fingers, forcing her to look at him.
“Megan,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “If you don’t remove your underwear, I will do it myself; and I promise you, it won’t be pleasant.”
Megan gasped as he rose back to his feet, his eyes never leaving hers, a very real threat in the way he glowered at her. Feeling the tears, hot against her eyes, she placed her thumbs under the elastic and began to pull down the last of her clothing.
“Good,” Saeran said, grinning widely. His eyes traced the contours of her body, taking in every intimate detail of her. “Disgusting,” he finally said with a snort. “No one would ever find you beautiful. You’re hideous. Everything about you just pisses me off.” He opened the door to the shower and turned on the water. “I hate everything about you, but the way you smell makes me sick.” He grabbed her hair again and dragged her to the cubicle, shoving her under the cascading water before shutting the clear door.
“Saeran, please,” she finally cried out. “It’s freezing.”
The water pouring down onto her naked body felt ice cold, and her skin became an eruption of goosebumps. Saeran held the door closed, grinning at her. She pushed herself back against the tiled wall. It was cold, but the temperature wasn’t in the same league as the water that was pouring from the shower head. She glanced at the taps.
“Don’t you dare,” Saeran growled threateningly, following her gaze to the temperature control. “You don’t deserve warm water. You’re too pathetic. People like you don’t deserve to have nice things.”
Megan shuddered, cowering from the water as Saeran sneered and reached into his jacket. He pulled out something round and silvery, then opened the shower door just enough for him to toss it in. Megan squinted to see what it was, then picked it up.
“It’s a steel sponge,” Saeran informed her with a dangerous gleam in his eyes. “I got it from one of the cleaning staff on my way up here. Apparently, you can get ones that are soft against your skin, but that one…” He chuckled darkly, his eyes roaming across Megan’s naked and shivering form. “Clean yourself,” he ordered. “Get rid of that repulsive stink.”
Megan lightly brushed her fingers across the sponge. Saeran was right. It wasn’t gentle. It scraped her skin like sandpaper and she winced, looking pleadingly up at her captor. All his eyes showed her was contempt. She brushed her arm with the sponge, barely making any contact at all, when Saeran slammed his hand against the door in frustration.
“Harder,” he shrieked at her. “You really don’t want me to show you how,”
Megan felt the tears spill down her cheeks as she pressed the rough metal against her goosepimpled skin, dragging it across her flesh, over and over until it was raw. Saeran watched gleefully as she scrubbed her skin, leaving it red and bleeding in some areas. She sobbed, grateful now for the cold water that soothed the soreness of her skin.
“I’m bored now,” Saeran eventually said, yawning theatrically. “That was a good show.” He smirked. “Let’s do it again sometime.”
He turned on his heel and left the bathroom, and a moment later Megan heard the door of the room slam shut. She reached for the tap, turning up the heat, then collapsed to the bottom of the shower as the warm water cleansed and burned her.
Chapter 32: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa poked her head through the door of the information room and sighed with relief at finding it empty. Saeran still hadn’t returned from his visit to the savior. She headed to her desk, sat down, and immediately began to check the security of their servers. Everything was just as she had left it. Leaning back in her chair, Yu-hwa wondered what to do, then she remembered it had been a little while since she had checked up on the prime minister. She flexed her fingers and hit the keys.
Her jaw dropped.
Nothing much had changed in the prime ministers’ life, but a huge outgoing payment to an unknown recipient had been made from one of his personal accounts. Yu-hwa felt the cold touch of dread trickle down her spine. It was too suspicious; the amount, the timing. In her mind, there was no doubt that the money was being used to pay for an assassination. She inhaled deeply, noticing that her hands were trembling. Placing them flat on the desk, she tried to think. He doesn’t know where to find Ray, but if he’s found 707 then it’s only a matter of time. With one twin gone, he can focus everything at his disposal on finding the other. She clenched her jaw. I am not going to let that happen. She stood up. Even if Saeran became angry at her, she didn’t care. Protecting him was her priority, as it had been since the moment she had met him. Because Saeran was Ray. He was still the man she loved.
Yu-hwa reached the corridor that led to Megan’s room and frowned. Believers had been positioned outside of the door. She wondered if they’d mention her visit to Saeran or the savior, and that thought, along with the memory of the elixir, made her tremble. Still, she knew that she would take any punishment if it meant she could do something to keep her partner safe. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her chin, trying to appear as confident as possible. The two believers stood looking bored, leaning against the wall silently, but they stood to attention as soon as they saw the pink haired hacker approach.
“Move aside, I have business to attend to,” Yu-hwa ordered, grateful that her voice remained firm.
“U-u-um… Mr Saeran told us not to let anyone in,” said the taller of the two believers, glancing nervously at his colleague.
Yu-hwa had to ball her hands into fists just to stop them from reaching up and becoming entangled in her hair. Her stomach roiled, but she made every effort to appear as calm as she didn’t feel. “Do you know who I am?” she asked.
The believers exchanged a glance. “Y-yes ma’am.”
She raised her brow expectantly.
“You’re Mr Saeran’s assistant, Miss Yu-hwa.”
“Correct,” she said, trying to mimic Saeran’s smirk and not quite sure if she was pulling it off. “I’m Saeran’s assistant, and it’s my job to complete the tasks which he has bestowed upon me. Currently, that task is to check on the well-being of our guest.”
The shorter believer stepped forward. “Mr Saeran was here himself not long ago. It makes no sense that he’d send you here so soon.”
Yu-hwa felt a cold sweat chill her body. They don’t believe me. Oh god, I’m in trouble…
“Don’t you remember what happened?” the taller man hissed. “Remember the state that girl was left in? It makes perfect sense that Miss Yu-hwa is here now.”
Yu-hwa tried not to react, but her heart was beating painfully fast. Saeran, what did you do?
“Hmm, fine,” grumbled the believer, and they moved aside to let Yu-hwa pass.
She opened the door and slipped into Megan’s room, closing it quietly behind her. A sigh of relief passed her lips as she glanced around, but Megan was not in the bedroom. Yu-hwa could hear the water running from the shower however, and she could see that the bathroom door was ajar. She bit her lower lip, scared of what she might find in there, frightened by what could have been done by Saeran’s hands. She pushed open the door and entered the steam filled room. It was hard to breathe in the warm air that filled the room, and Yu-hwa opened the door of the shower cubicle to turn off the water. She gasped.
The RFA’s party coordinator was curled up on the tiles, her usually porcelain-like skin raw and bloody. Despite the heat, she was trembling, and her eyes were red and sore from crying tears that had been washed away.
“Oh god,” Yu-hwa mumbled as she grabbed a towel and turned off the water. “Megan, can you move?”
Megan whimpered as the towel was draped over her, and Yu-hwa carefully lifted her to her feet, holding gently onto the other woman’s hands and leading her to the bed. Megan followed without any resistance and sat down quietly, apart from the occasional sob. Yu-hwa’s face was pale as she inspected Megan’s skin, covered in bloody scrapes and blotchy redness. She said nothing though, carefully climbing onto the bed behind the brunette and drying her long hair gently with the towel. Megan slowly seemed to relax under Yu-hwa’s caring touch. Yu-hwa took her time, and once she was finished with her hair, Megan’s body had already air dried. Once satisfied, Yu-hwa started to look for something that Megan could wear. She had hoped to discover some soft pyjamas, but all she could find was a delicate silk chemise. Of course, Yu-hwa grumbled to herself, and helped Megan to slip it over her head.
“Thank you,” she whispered, the first words she had uttered since Yu-hwa arrived.
Yu-hwa smiled and sat on the bed beside Megan, taking her hand. “Did… did Saeran do this to you?” She swallowed nervously, afraid of the answer she would hear.
Megan gripped her hand a little tighter. “He made me do it to myself.” She sniffed, leaning against Yu-hwa’s shoulder. “He was really mad when he first got here. He kept saying that he was so close, but the savior had interrupted.”
Yu-hwa tensed. She knew exactly what had left Saeran feeling so wound up. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, holding Megan close, gently stroking the soft waves of her long hair. “There’s something I came here to tell you though. It’s extremely important.”
Megan shifted so that she could see Yu-hwa’s face, her bloodshot eyes wide with worry.
“It’s about the prime minister and his relation to Saeran and 707.” Yu-hwa took a deep breath. Where do I even begin? she wondered.
“I… I know they’re brothers. Twins,” Megan said softly.
Yu-hwa’s brow quirked but she didn’t press for answers. She already had a good idea of who she’d heard that particular piece of information from.
“That’s right,” Yu-hwa confirmed. “They’re twins, and the illegitimate children of the prime minister.”
Megan gasped. “He’s their dad?”
Yu-hwa nodded. “They’re his dirty little secret, something he’s been trying to get rid of for years.”
Megan stared at the floor in disbelief. “That’s why Luciel seemed so afraid.”
“He has good reason to be afraid,” Yu-hwa said, and Megan’s eyes snapped back to her. “I think he may have found 707. I think he’s paid to have him killed.”
“Oh god.” Megan’s hands flew up to her face as if she were trying to hold together a mind that was falling apart. “Oh god… oh god…”
“It… it’s up to you… if you want to… if you want to warn him.” Yu-hwa stood up. “I’m telling you, so you have the knowledge and the power to let him know of the danger he’s in. Only you can do it, Megan.”
Megan was already searching for her phone. Yu-hwa smiled. She couldn’t do anything more but hope that Megan could contact the redhead before it was too late.
Chapter 33: Saeran
The glow of the screen lit up Saeran’s face as he leaned forward to watch the video feed, his eyes wide with disbelief and his mouth twisted into a furious snarl. He hadn’t told Yu-hwa about the camera he’d had set up in Megan’s room, and the moment that he had left her alone, she had broken the one rule she’d been given. He slammed his fist down on the desk as he watched the way she gently towelled off Megan’s hair, dressing her and comforting her like they were best friends. Watching Megan receive Yu-hwa’s care just made him hate the brunette even more. If she were gone, Pinky would be here right now. Without Megan around, I’d have the princess on her knees. I’d make her forget that airhead ever existed. But now, the princess has to be punished. His mouth quirked into a smile as he considered the ways he could show Yu-hwa his displeasure and make her beg for his forgiveness. He continued to watch the footage until Yu-hwa left Megan’s room, then he minimized the feed and picked up his phone, firing off a brief message to the savior, informing her of the situation. Now he just had to wait.
Saeran spun his chair to face the door and steepled his fingers beneath his chin. He sighed, then spun his chair back. He slouched down, knowing that Yu-hwa wouldn’t be able to see him when she entered the room. She’ll be scared out of her wits when I suddenly start speaking to her. But the longer he stayed slumped down in his seat, the more he felt like he was hiding. I don’t like acting as though I’m prey. I’m the predator. He stood up and walked to the door, listening carefully. There were no footsteps out in the hallway yet. With a frustrated snort, Saeran leaned against the wall, his arms folded. This is better, he thought. I’m expecting her, waiting for her - my prey - to enter my domain. He waited, satisfied that he’d found the perfect spot to give Yu-hwa a fright and show his dominance. Closing his eyes, he imagined the fear on her face as she turned to see him awaiting her, as he caught her. There would be no getting away this time. He still wasn’t sure of the perfect punishment, but there was no more time to consider it. After hearing several quick, light steps in the corridor, the door opened and Yu-hwa entered as quietly as she could, her eyes fixed on Saeran’s desk. He sneered as he thought he saw her give a sigh of relief.
“I wouldn’t relax just yet, princess,” he said, marvelling as she turned, her face looking even more horrified than he had predicted. “The trouble’s just about to begin.”
He was impressed that she didn’t immediately break down in tears. She’s toughening up, he thought. Good.
“I was just in the garden, getting some air,” she blurted out, her body tensing as he approached her.
“Oh princess,” Saeran crooned. “Are you really going to lie to me?”
“Wh-what?” Yu-hwa seemed taken aback by his question. “I… I’m not lying to you. After you left, I couldn’t concentrate, so I went outside. I swear that’s the truth!”
Saeran grabbed her chin, staring intensely into her deep brown eyes. She doesn’t seem to be lying about the garden, he thought, but she’s hiding the fact that she went to Megan’s room because she thinks I don’t know. He smirked. “Okay princess,” he said. “You went out to the garden, since I got you a little hot under the collar. Tell me where you went after you got some fresh air.”
“I…” Yu-hwa hesitated, her eyes searching his for any answers they might hold. “I…”
“Why don’t you let me tell you, princess?” Saeran purred dangerously, running his thumb across Yu-hwa’s trembling lower lip. He leaned closer, pushing back her hair to place his lips to her ear. “You were a bad girl,” he whispered, noticing the effect his proximity had on her breathing. “You went to Megan’s room, knowing exactly what would happen to you if you were found out.” He trailed his hand to her throat, wrapping his fingers around her neck, but not squeezing. “Why would you do that?”
He admired the way she held her ground. Even though her whole body was trembling against him, she didn’t try to back away.
“I…” Yu-hwa squeezed her eyes shut, breathing deeply as if she could suck up the courage she needed to tell him the truth. “I went to ask Megan to contact 707,” she said.
Saeran’s eyes widened. He had not expected her to say that. His fingers tightened around her neck and he shoved her up against the wall he had been leaning on.
“S-Saeran,” she croaked, grabbing at his wrist.
“Why would you do that?” he growled, his face so close to hers that he could feel her panicked, rasping breaths against his lips.
“Aah, Saeran…” Yu-hwa choked, tears finally beginning to well up in her eyes. “I was trying… to protect you.”
That was another thing Saeran was shocked to hear, and he loosened his grip as he cackled. “You? Protect me? What the hell from?”
Yu-hwa was gasping, trying to get back her lost breath, but she managed to squeak, “From your father.”
Saeran cocked his head, fascinated by his assistant who was coming out with countless unexpected words. “My father?”
She nodded, her eyes meeting his. “I think he found the redhead. I was worried that if he finally got rid of him, he’d be able to focus solely on finding you. I’ve been keeping an eye on him since I worked out what your relationship was. I just wanted to keep you safe.”
Despite being impressed by her detective skills, Saeran shrieked with laughter. “Safe? While I’m a part of Mint Eye, he can’t touch me. He’ll never find me. I don’t need you to protect me. And as for that redhead; if I wanted to, I could hand him over with the touch of a button.”
“Then why don’t you?” Yu-hwa asked, her voice flat.
Saeran sneered. “Because there are some things that I want to save for myself. I want to see the light fade from his eyes when he realizes who I am, when he knows who’s beaten him.”
Yu-hwa frowned, no longer struggling against him, her arms hanging limply by her sides. “Will that really fill the hollowness inside of you?”
“Hollowness?” said Saeran, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Princess, I’ve never felt so full of life. The world is mine.” He slipped his hand from her throat to the back of her head, leaning forward and crashing his lips into hers. He was surprised when she didn’t fight him, didn’t put up any resistance at all. In fact, she opened herself up to him, her lips parting, her tongue lapping against his. Yu-hwa’s hands grabbed at his hair, and he moaned into her mouth as he felt his body begin to heat up, his cock stirring awake, just for her. He was sure that she could feel the rapid beating of his heart, but he didn’t care. This is it. This time I’m going to fuck her and make her mine. Then she’ll know how much better I am, how much stronger I am than Ray.
“S-Saeran,” Yu-hwa gasped, pushing him back.
“Hmm?” was his reply as he began to nip at her neck instead.
“Listen, someone’s coming.”
Saeran stopped kissing her. She was right. The footsteps in the hallway were almost at the door. “This has to be a fucking joke,” he snarled angrily, stepping back from Yu-hwa and straightening out his clothes. He glared at the door, waiting to launch his verbal attack on whoever interrupted.
“Saeran?” Yu-hwa whispered, still leaning breathlessly against the wall.
“Go sit down,” he ordered, and she obediently went to her desk and took her seat.
The door opened.
“I received your message,” the savior said as she stepped daintily into the room, her eyes as cold as ice.
Saeran swallowed, the erection he’d got from kissing Yu-hwa quickly shrinking away. Shit.
The savior stalked past Saeran and stood beside Yu-hwa, who was shivering in her chair.
“I’m very disappointed in you, Yu-hwa,” said the blonde, her hands clasped in front of her. “You have betrayed me, after swearing your loyalty to me. After I offered you salvation, you went against my will.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes were cast down at the floor. “I… I was trying to do the right thing.”
“The right thing?” hissed the savior. “The right thing would have been to adapt to the rules of Mint Eye; to stay faithful to our mantra. You have failed spectacularly.”
Saeran watched the two women, wondering just how Yu-hwa would react. He wasn’t surprised that she remained silent, keeping her head low. It was the smart thing to do.
“There is only one thing that can be done to bring you back to the right path,” the savior continued.
“Wait,” gasped Saeran. “You really plan on performing the cleansing ceremony?”
“Of course,” she said, turning her head to look at him with narrowed eyes. “Yu-hwa knew the repercussions her actions would have.”
Saeran’s eyes fell on his assistant. Something about how scared she looked made him feel so angry. But this is what she deserves, he told himself. I warned her what would happen. What an airhead. “You’re right, my savior,” he said, “but could you consider delaying the ceremony? We’re so close to achieving our goal; losing my assistant would slow things way down.”
She considered him for a moment, then shook her head, her long, sunshine-coloured hair swaying behind her. “I understand your concern, but I trust that you will be able to complete the task that was assigned to you.” She crossed the room, turning as she reached the door. “The elixir will take a few days to prepare. Make good use of her until then.” She swept out of the room, leaving Saeran and Yu-hwa staring at one another.
“Saeran,” Yu-hwa said quietly. “Thank you for trying to help me.”
Saeran tutted, taking his seat at his workstation. “You’ve only got yourself to blame for what’s going to happen to you now,” he grumbled. “Now get to work.”
Chapter 34: 707
Luciel crushed another empty can and tossed it into the bin beside his desk.
“I only emptied that an hour ago,” snapped Vanderwood. “Now it’s full again with cans of that disgusting drink and those chip packets.” He huffed as he picked up the bin and took it out to be emptied yet again.
Luciel’s fingers returned to his keyboard, frantically trying to secure his servers when his phone began to buzz. He glanced at the screen. Megan? He picked up the phone, one hand still on the keyboard, tapping away rapidly at the keys. “Hello?” He held the phone to his ear with a raised shoulder and continued typing. “Megan?”
Luciel’s hands stopped. She sounded like she’d been crying. and his immediate reaction was to comfort her. “Megan, are you okay? You don’t sound too good. But God Seven will do whatever he can to brighten your day, just name it!”
“Save me?” Megan said with a sniff, but then she gave a humourless laugh that made Luciel’s heart ache. “But you can’t, can you?”
Luciel leaned back, his chair creaking as his weight shifted. His fingers slipped under his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. She was right; he couldn’t save her. Not yet. But he could talk to her. “What happened Megan? You can tell me.” He tried to keep his voice smooth and calm despite the way his heart was thumping in his chest.
“I…” Her voice was small, nothing like the confident, chatty girl he’d spoken to before. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Luciel inhaled, closing his eyes. Something bad had happened. She was no longer safe. And I can’t do a damned thing about it! “Megan, we can talk about something meaningless if it helps.” He chuckled, trying to sound more light-hearted than he felt. “I mean, today, my maid, Mary Vanderwood the 3rd, went-”
He was silenced. It didn’t slip his notice that this was the first time she had ever used his baptismal name.
“Luciel,” she said again, quieter this time, her breath trembling into the speaker of the phone. “You’re not safe.”
Luciel felt a chill rush through his body and envelop his heart. He knew it. He had known it all along, but he hadn’t expected Megan to be the one to confirm it for him. “What do you mean?” he asked gently. “How do you know?”
Megan seemed to hesitate for a moment, uncertain of what to say.
“Megan?” Luciel prompted. “Is it anything to do with the prime minister?”
“Yes.” She let out a few quiet, gasping sobs, then she continued. “One of the hackers told me. She thinks he’s found you. She thinks he’s planning to have you killed.”
Shit! Luciel leaned his elbows on the desk, his fingers gripping his red hair as his mind raced. “Can you tell me how the hacker knows that I’m in danger? Why did she tell you?”
“She’s not a bad person,” Megan replied, sobbing again. “She has someone she needs to protect too. She wanted to help.”
Luciel sighed and straightened his back. “Thanks for letting me know. I think you might be right. It’s time for me to move somewhere safer. I don’t know for sure if what the hacker told you is true, but I know enough to realise when I have a target on my back.”
“What will you do?” Megan asked through her tears.
“Don’t worry, I have somewhere safe I can go,” he assured her, peering over his shoulder as Vanderwood re-entered the room with the empty bin. “Megan, I have to go, but I promise, I’ll be in touch.” He inhaled through his nose. “Please stay safe. I promise that somehow, I will find you. I’ll come for you.”
“Like a prince on horseback?”
Luciel laughed. “Like a Defender of Justice in my hottest baby car. Just wait for me. I’ll get you out of there.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to you later then,” she said, and he could finally hear the smile in her voice. “Be careful.”
Luciel frowned as he hung up.
“Who was that?” Vanderwood asked.
Luciel turned to his computer, typing briefly until a timer popped up on the screen.
“Right, let’s grab a couple of boxes of chips and my laptop,” Luciel said with a wide smile. “Then we should probably get out of here.”
“H-hey, what the hell did you just do?” Vanderwood’s face was wild with annoyance as his eyes looked from the monitor, to Luciel, then back again. “What’s going to happen in four minutes?”
“In four minutes, we should be in my car, driving towards my new bunker.” Luciel grinned as he stuffed a laptop and various cables into a bag and slung it over his shoulder. “We should probably hurry up.” He rushed passed Vanderwood and out of the door.
“Did I do all of this tidying up for nothing?” Vanderwood grumbled, following him outside.
Luciel tossed his bag into the back seat and took his place behind the steering wheel of his baby. “Let’s go.”
Vanderwood was staring at his phone, his face pale.
The agent quickly snapped out of his daze. “Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.”
Luciel watched his partner climb into the passenger seat. “Seatbelt.”
Vanderwood huffed but fastened himself securely into his seat.
“What was the text?” Luciel asked. “Did an order come through?”
The older agent sighed. “Yeah, it did. Looks like the mission is on.”
Luciel nodded. “Do you need dropping off somewhere?”
Vanderwood shook his head. “Let’s just get out of here.”
Luciel laughed as he started the engine. “That’s probably a very good idea.”
The car took off, Luciel grinning as the speed increased, while Vanderwood looked back to see the bunker crumpling into the ground behind them.
Chapter 35: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa was drawing clouds. She’d noticed Saeran glaring at her several times, but she didn’t care. If she was going to be cleansed anyway, she had no incentive to work. She sniffed and wiped away another tear that had rolled down the plane of her pale cheek. Then her stomach growled loudly. She glanced at Saeran as her face began to heat up. He had heard it too, obvious from the way his smile lifted his hollow cheeks.
“Saeran?” Yu-hwa said hesitantly, putting down her pencil.
He stopped typing and slowly looked over at her. “What do you want, princess?”
“Umm,” she panicked, twisting strands of pink hair in trembling fingers. “D-do you still have that bar of chocolate in your drawer?”
Saeran clearly hadn’t expected that, and his brow shot up in surprise. “Chocolate?” He rummaged through the drawer and pulled out the bar that Ray had once offered to share with her. He waved it at her, just the way Ray had. “You mean this?”
Yu-hwa bit back the sob that threatened to escape her quivering lips as she became overwhelmed by her memories. She couldn’t speak. She simply nodded.
“Hm,” Saeran frowned. “But this is my chocolate.”
Yu-hwa felt as though she might cry. She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten; she was tired, and she missed Ray’s warmth.
“I’ll share it with you,” he continued, tutting at her expression. “But it’ll cost you.”
“C-cost me what?” she asked, unable to stop her voice from cracking.
Saeran smiled impishly. “A kiss.”
Yu-hwa stared at him. “A kiss?” She stood up. “Where?”
He leaned back in his seat, grinning, and tapped his cheek. “Here.”
She narrowed her eyes, not sure if she could believe him, but she really wanted that chocolate. She took small steps to reach him, feeling the way her terrified heart thrashed in her chest. She was watching him, her eyes filled with distrust, when she caught sight of what else lay in the open drawer. Saeran’s rifling had uncovered a handgun, something she had never known he had. She took a deep breath, bringing her focus back to him, and leaned in, placing her lips on his soft skin. He didn’t move, and she slowly pulled away, her side of the bargain complete.
“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” he said, smirking up at her. He broke the chocolate bar in half and handed one of the pieces to her. “That’s all you’re getting, princess.”
Yu-hwa took the chocolate and hurried back to her desk, snapping off a square and shoving it into her mouth, letting it melt deliciously on her tongue. But it wasn’t enough; she was so hungry.
“I told you,” he snapped. “No more.”
“I don’t want more,” Yu-hwa whined defensively. “I… I want to go to the canteen.”
“No!” Saeran yelled, rounding on her viciously. “I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“Please,” Yu-hwa persisted, driven by hunger and the rush the chocolate had given her. “I’ll come straight back. You can watch me on the security cameras. I’ll get you something too. Please, Saeran. Please.”
Saeran’s dark eyes surveyed her, and he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I like it when you beg. Fine.” He huffed and crossed his arms. “But if you’re not back within ten minutes-” he grinned, running his tongue across his teeth, “-I will punish you.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes widened. “Y-you’re letting me go?”
He nodded, tapping his wrist. “Clock’s ticking, princess.”
“Thank you,” she laughed as she ran out of the door.
She sprinted through the long corridors, knowing that she would be cutting it close, even if she ran the whole way to the canteen and back. There was hardly any doubt in her mind that he planned to punish her no matter what, but at least it would be easier for her to bear with food in her belly. She took the next corner as fast as she could, when-
Yu-hwa smashed, full force, into another believer, sending them both crashing to the ground.
“Oh my god,” she moaned, rubbing the hip she had landed on. “I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”
“Aaah, oh! Yu-hwa?”
She recognized the European accent and blond hair straight away. “Oh, Elliot. I’m really sorry.” She grabbed his hand and pulled until they were both standing.
“Oof, thanks, pretty lady,” he said, his annoyance quickly melting into a smile. “Where were you going in such a hurry?”
“The canteen,” she replied, trying to move passed him, but he was still holding on to her hand. “I don’t have much time. I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Elliot said dismissively, his grip on her tightening, only slightly, but just enough for Yu-hwa to notice. “I can fetch you something any time, so spend a moment with me.”
Yu-hwa felt herself beginning to tremble. “I don’t think-”
“Yu-hwa,” Elliot growled. “I’ve been really nice to you. I helped you make those sandwiches, I brought you cherries, I looked after that girl while your boss was being cleansed, and just now I offered to bring you lunch. The least you could do is give me a little something in return.”
Yu-hwa felt her blood chill as Elliot pulled her towards him and pressed her against the wall. “Elliot, please! Don’t do this.”
His eyes narrowed. “Am I mistaken? Didn’t you take from me everything I offered? Haven’t I been nice to you? Don’t you think I deserve a little gratitude?”
Yu-hwa felt the world sway as she began to lose her focus. Her eyes glazed over as her mind tried to drown out what was happening. She thought of Ray and the safety she felt when she was in his arms. She longed for that security, that feeling of loving and being loved. She wished that the hands on her now were his, that the touch sneaking under her clothes belonged to him. Then, all of a sudden, it was gone. The unwanted contact had stopped. Yu-hwa blinked, and saw Elliot back on the floor, his mouth bloody, and Saeran looming over him, holding him by the collar, his fist raised and ready for another blow.
“You.” Punch. “Don’t.” Punch. “Fucking.” Punch. “Touch.” Punch. “Her!”
Yu-hwa’s voice was weak and shaking, but Saeran looked over his shoulder at her.
“Do you have and idea what this guy was planning to do to you?” he asked, sweat dripping down his temple, his breath ragged. He had obviously sprinted to get to her in time.
She couldn’t stop the tears then, and she nodded as she tried to wipe them away. With a huff, Saeran lowered his fist and dropped Elliot, leaving the blond groaning in agony as he clutched at his broken nose and bloodied face.
“Did he hurt you?” Saeran asked, lifting her chin so that he could examine her.
“No,” she muttered, relishing the gentle way he touched her, so much like Ray that it made her heart twinge once more at the memory of what was now gone. “I think I’m okay.”
“Good,” he said with a sigh, brushing away her tears with his thumb.
“Oh,” Yu-hwa gasped, grabbing his hand. “You’re bleeding.”
“Hmm, I don’t think it’s all my blood,” Saeran told her, observing his bruising knuckles.
“You’ve definitely grazed them though,” she insisted, beginning to cry again.
Saeran sighed, noticing some believers watching at the end of the corridor. He waved them over. “Take this piece of shit to the basement. He needs to be cleansed. Nobody assaults my assistant.”
The believers approached cautiously and dragged Elliot away, as Saeran glared in disgust.
“He’s going to be cleansed?” Yu-hwa asked, her body tensing up.
“Of course,” said Saeran. “It’s the only way to help him. He committed a serious offence.” He looked down into her tear-filled eyes. “You should be glad. Your own cleansing could be delayed because of this.”
Yu-hwa frowned but said nothing until she remembered his grazed knuckles. “Please, come with me,” she said quietly, and walked away.
Saeran’s brow furrowed in annoyance, but he followed silently behind. Yu-hwa felt as though she were lumbering through the corridors; every step she took seemed weighted down. She could hear Saeran’s footfalls in step with her own, and that was enough to keep her moving instead of crashing to the floor, giving in to her desire to give up, to just cry and cry with no care for who saw her. Before she knew it, she was opening the door to her room, leading Saeran inside.
“Why are we here?” Saeran asked.
Yu-hwa was impressed that his question lacked the suggestive tone she had half expected. She sighed and beckoned for him to follow her to the bathroom. She ran warm water in the sink and pulled the first-aid box from the cabinet. Saeran crouched down and sat cross-legged on the floor. When she was done, Yu-hwa sat opposite him. She looked up at him, surprised to see that he was staring at her with such intensity it made goosebumps raise up on her skin. She took a deep breath and held out her hand. With a roll of his eyes, he offered her his bloody knuckles. Yu-hwa soaked a piece of cotton wool from the first-aid box in warm water and began to clean away the blood.
“Who was that guy?” Saeran asked, watching as Yu-hwa tended to him
“His name is Elliot,” she replied. “He works in the kitchen. I hardly know him, but he’s the one who brought the cherries.”
“Oh,” Saeran mumbled, and Yu-hwa didn’t miss the way his eyes flickered to the side, glancing through the open door at the bed.
She continued to clean his hand until all the blood was gone, but his skin was raw and broken. How hard did he hit? she wondered as she picked out a tube of anti-septic cream and squeezed some out on to his knuckles, then began to gently rub it in.
“Why didn’t you see what that guy wanted from the start?” Saeran asked.
Yu-hwa bit her lip, knowing just how naïve she was about to sound. “I thought he was just being kind.”
Saeran lifted his eyes to look at her, but she dared not meet his gaze, focusing instead on making sure the cream was thoroughly rubbed into his skin.
“People aren’t kind, princess,” he said softly. “The only reason they give you anything, is so they can watch you break down when they take it away.”
Yu-hwa finally looked up at him, his eyes filled with so much sadness that all she wanted to do was hold him; but she didn’t. She let him go.
“Good job, princess,” he said, flexing his fingers. “This should heal up in no time.” He chewed the inside of his lip. “Why… are you doing this? I haven’t been nice to you, and… you were the one assaulted in the corridor. Why are you caring for me like this?”
Yu-hwa’s brown eyes held his. “I…” She took a breath. “I care about you, and no matter what, you’ll always be my friend. And… I love you. I loved you from the start, and I still love you now…” She looked back at her own hands, trembling in her lap as her lip began to quiver.
She gasped, looking up at Saeran with tear filled eyes, barely able to believe that he’d spoken her name. How long had it been since he’d last heard her name spoken with that tender voice?
“Yu-hwa,” he said again, reaching out to stroke her cheek. “You’re so soft.”
And then his lips were on hers, gentle and filled with longing; the complete opposite of the demanding kisses that had sought dominance over her. This kiss gave as much as it took.
“Sae-” she moaned, her fingers raking through his hair, then suddenly she was in his arms, and he was carrying her to the bed.
Chapter 36: Saeran
The moment Yu-hwa was on the bed, Saeran crashed his lips into hers, his hands dragging through her hair as her fingers nimbly unfastened the chain at his collar. He shrugged the jacket off, his lips moving ceaselessly against hers even as he became desperate for breath. He didn’t want time to think. Thinking left him with a feeling of intense dread like he’d felt when the savior insisted Yu-hwa be cleansed, or when he’s seen her on the security cameras being grabbed by Elliot. Thinking left him questioning his feelings and the way he felt about her. Something had changed, but Saeran wasn’t ready to admit it yet. Right at that moment, all he wanted was her body against his, writhing and needy, her desperate moans in his ear. He didn’t want to be afraid of losing her, of seeing her hurt. He just wanted her warmth, for her to give herself to him completely.
“Sae-Saeran,” she gasped, pushing him back.
He lifted his mouth from hers, his heart beating painfully fast and his breathing ragged.
“I… I want…”
He glanced down at her fingers, tugging at the buttons of his shirt, then at her eyes, filled with uncertainty. Ah yes, Ray was so afraid to show her this body, he thought. He nodded his consent.
She wasted no time in unbuttoning the shirt and slipping it off, making no comment on his waifish appearance, and pulled him in for another passionate kiss. He moaned as he found her mouth to be welcoming of his tongue, and a fire raged within him as her hips lifted to meet his. He groaned, pressing deeper, wanting to taste more of her.
Saeran pulled back, wondering how he’d hurt her, but when he looked at her, he burst out into peals of laughter. Her glasses were crooked, the frame digging into her cheek. Saeran gently took the arms of the spectacles and removed them, reaching across to put them on the bedside table. He leaned down and kissed the red mark they had left on her face, then moved his lips to her neck, her fingers gripping his hair, hungry for his touch. He sucked at her delicate skin, trapping the soft flesh between his teeth, eliciting a quiet gasp from Yu-hwa, her nails raking across his bare shoulders. He hissed at the strangely pleasant pain, feeling his cock growing achingly hard.
“Get this off,” he commanded, pulling at her top.
Yu-hwa acted quickly, removing the garment in one fluid motion, and Saeran immediately buried himself in her glorious cleavage, nipping at her milky skin and leaving his mark all over her. He tugged at the button on her jeans, wanting more of her, needing to make her feel him, desperate to consume every inch of her. He slipped them off, tracing along her curves with the tips of his fingers. A sighed with satisfaction, draping her bare leg over his hip and tugging at his hair to bring him back to her mouth. She kissed him greedily, their lips aching from their constant need to clash together. Saeran moaned again as heat consumed his body, his hand slipping into her bra, rolling her nipple between his fingers as his tongue explored her mouth. She purred with pleasure, her hips lifting again, grinding against his rigid length. Saeran gasped, pulling away from her, unfastening his trousers and dragging them off along with his briefs. Yu-hwa bit her lip. He knew it was the first time she had seen him completely naked, and he liked her awe-filled reaction. He smirked, slipping his fingers under the elastic of her underwear and rolling them down until they slipped off at her ankles. Yu-hwa’s face was flushed bright pink as their eyes met for a moment. Saeran could feel his entire chest pounding to the beat of his heart as he leaned down and began to trail kisses along her thigh, reaching her soft folds. He heard her gasp, waiting for his next move. Shit, what do I do? he asked himself, annoyed that Ray had been the first of them to make love to her. No, we’re just fucking. Love has nothing to do with this. But even as he thought it, his heart fluttered within him. He took a breath, desperate to empty his head of all the thoughts that spun his world into chaos. He plunged his tongue between her folds, tasting her wetness. He felt the sheet shift beneath him as she gripped it tightly. He traced his tongue along her slit until he brushed against her clitoris. She moaned loudly, her hips wriggling as he held her in place. He grinned, then repeated the motion again, slowly savouring her, taking his time as he listened to her cry out in pleasure; then again, his tongue getting her wetter with every pass. Then slowly, he began to focus his attention on the small, engorged nub that was sending her wild. She whimpered as he gently suckled and swirled his tongue around her clit, listening as she told him how good it felt, spreading her legs wider and begging for more. He could feel the wetness at the tip of his cock, desperate for friction, but he wasn’t done yet. He plunged a finger into her soaking depths. She was soft and warm, she felt so good. He slipped another finger inside, curling them around to get a feel of her, his tongue still working its magic.
“Oh! Oh! Saeran, I’m-”
He felt he pulsate around his fingers. Fascinated, he withdrew them. She whined in complaint, but he was quick to replace them with his tongue, lapping and sucking, while his thumb rubbed at her clit. She gasped, her thighs quivering around his ears as he drank up her orgasm like a man dying of thirst. She panted as he sat up, grinning and licking his lips. Yu-hwa smiled back contentedly, her body flushed, her chest rising and falling gently. She looked so beautiful.
He left her on the bed and headed to the bathroom, searching through the cabinets. They must be here somewhere. Every room has them. He pushed aside various boxes and bottles. Unless she’s been making water balloons, they should be… ah! He picked up a box of condoms and took one out, tearing the wrapper and pulling out the rubber. He took a deep breath, quickly reading through the instructions before he rolled it onto his erect cock. Then he went back to Yu-hwa, who looked at him with a raised brow.
“Some of us have the sense to use protection,” he chastised her with a smirk. “Can you imagine how much elixir the savior would make you drink if you let that airhead get you pregnant?”
He regretted the words as soon as he said them. Yu-hwa seemed to shrink into herself, her eyes glazed with tears. Saeran pressed his lips together. Stop it. Stop thinking. Let’s just fuck until we can’t think at all. He climbed back on top of her, kissing her frown until she came back to life, opening her mouth to let him in, rubbing his chest with a gentle caress. He played with her hair as their kisses grew more intense, his hips pressed against her, his cock hard against the softness of her skin.
“Yu-hwa…” He murmured her name against her lips as he adjusted himself against her opening, slowly pressing in as she allowed him to enter deep inside of her. He gasped as heat enveloped him, and slowly began to pull out. Yu-hwa’s head was tilted back, her eyes closed, and he pressed his lips to her throat as he thrust back inside of her, forcing the breath out of her. He did it again, harder and faster, his mind only filled with her image. Her fluttering eyelashes, her glowing skin, her parted lips, the softness of her hair, the heat between her legs.
“Look at me,” he panted, and she opened her eyes, looking straight into his. He gazed down at her as his thrusts grew more erratic. He could feel his pleasure building, desperate for release. He pressed his forehead to hers, gripping her hair as he gasped. She gripped his hair as they moaned in unison, and he pounded into her hard as he came. His lips met hers again, and he rolled her to his side, pulling her into his arms. His cock still deep within her, he pressed his hips tightly against hers, so she knew he had no intention of pulling away just yet. He held her close, pressing soft kisses on any part of her he could reach, while she gently stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers, tracing the lines of his face as if she were figuring out how to draw him.
“You’re mine,” he whispered, as she nuzzled into the crook of his shoulder. “You only belong to me.”
“Of course,” she murmured, her breath hot against his skin. “I was yours from the moment we met.”
Who is she saying that to? he wondered, squeezing her closer. Me, or… He wrapped his hands in her hair, pulling her head up, and kissed her forcefully. Her nails pressed into his chest, leaving small marks imprinted into his skin, but then her hands shifted, pulling at his hair again, kissing him with equal desperation. Because if we stop to think, we’ll fall apart, and I don’t want to think about how I’ll live without you, Yu-hwa.
Chapter 37: Saeran
Saeran held Yu-hwa tightly in his arms, feeling her heartbeat slow and her breathing becoming deeper. Kissing the top of her pink hair, he slipped his arm out from under her, hoping that her dreams were pleasant. He tossed the used condom in the bin before quickly washing and dressing, then checked his pockets to make sure that nothing had fallen out. Phone. ID. He slipped his hand into his jacket, pulling out a piece of folded paper. Glancing at Yu-hwa briefly to check she was still sleeping, he opened up the page. Roses and bindweed. Saeran never wanted to admit how often he looked at the picture she’d drawn for him. No wait, she drew it for Ray, not me. He felt a dull ache in his head and recalled how he’d wanted to tear it up in front of her but could never bring himself to do it. He’d wanted to shred that ugly brown sweater she often wore too. He looked up to see it draped over a chair. It was hideous. He despised it, but for some reason she loved it. It was something she wore that made her feel safe, he knew that much, but he didn’t know why, and he couldn’t find it even in the darkest depths of himself to destroy something that was so precious to her. He never wanted to hurt her again.
Saeran sighed, putting the picture away and quietly moving back to the bed. He gazed down at her sleeping form, looking so peaceful as if nothing awful had ever happened to her. Saeran’s heart ached so much he could barely breathe. He stroked the strands of pink hair that flowed across the pillow, silently hoping that she would wake up so that he could drown all his thoughts with her kiss. But she continued to sleep, so he turned to leave her alone in her ugly yellow room.
Saeran’s feet moved, but his mind paid no attention to where they were leading him. He remembered the way Yu-hwa had moved beneath him; her fervent kisses, her hunger and need. She was scared of the elixir and, just like him, she had done everything she could to forget. That’s all it was, right? As much as he wanted to believe that it had been little more than meaningless sex, he couldn’t ignore the way his heart yearned for her.
He didn’t want her to take the elixir.
He didn’t want her to suffer and change.
He remembered the way he’d held her shivering body in the shower after she’d been made an official resident of Magenta. No… that was Ray. Ugh, what’s happening to me? He grimaced, his head feeling as though it were being split in two. He pressed his palms against his temples, crying out in agony as tears filled his eyes. The sound of footsteps rang in his ears, running towards him, but all he could think about was-
“Yu-hwa!” he shrieked as he dropped to his knees, resting his forehead against the cool floor. He whimpered her name over and over until the pain slowly began to subside.
“M-Mr Saeran? Do you need help?”
Saeran slapped away the believer’s hands, pushing himself up from the floor as his head spun. “Leave me alone,” he growled. “Get the hell away.”
The believer backed off fearfully, then shuffled away from Saeran’s fury as quickly as he could. Saeran blinked as the world refocussed. Don’t think, he told himself, and once again began to walk aimlessly.
Yu-hwa’s skin. Yu-hwa’s hair. Yu-hwa’s lips.
She filled Saeran’s thoughts, protecting him from the what-ifs and terrifying uncertainties. He wasn’t sure when he’d given her so much power over him, or whether she’d had it all along, but he both loved and loathed it. His hand rested over the pocket he’d placed her drawing in. How did I ever live without you?
Saeran looked up and his brow furrowed. He was at Megan’s door, and the guards he’d had posted there were looking at him with mild confusion.
He took a deep breath.
He closed his eyes.
“No. Nononononono. Please no.”
Megan cowered away from the open door, retreating to her bed, her face drained of all colour and her golden eyes wide with terror. Saeran frowned, taking a step into the room.
“Megan… I’m not here to hurt you,” he said, his voice sounding hollow, distant even to his own ears.
Megan lifted her eyes to meet his; a small motion to test the waters and discover if he truly meant what he said.
“Megan…” Saeran approached slowly and perched at the edge of the bed. He sighed. “I mean it, I won’t hurt you. I’ll never hurt you again. I’m sorry.”
Megan let go a little of the tension in her shoulders and sat at the opposite end of the bed. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t really know,” he confessed. “I think… I’m changing.”
“Again?!” Megan exclaimed loudly.
Saeran chuckled. “It’s all because of Yu-hwa, I’m sure of it. She’s really something. She can find light when all I see is darkness.” His fingers interlocked and he tapped his thumbs together. “I’m so sorry. There’s no excuse for the things I’ve done.”
Megan nodded. “I don’t hate you,” she said, watching as his thumbs tapped out a rhythm. “I think it might take some time if you want me to trust you again. I know that Yu-hwa never gave up on you though.”
“Yeah,” Saeran agreed, swallowing back the ache of tears. “She’s always so kind and gentle. No wonder she fell in love with Ray. I can’t be the one for her.” His heart ached at his own words, but he forced himself to continue. “It’s impossible for me to throw away my hatred against the world and start all over again. But… maybe it is possible for Ray.” He chuckled. “He’s soft and scared, but he doesn’t know how to hate. He’d rather hurt himself than hate someone. Even if he was betrayed by everyone.” He looked up at Megan, praying that she could understand him. “Ray… he’s still inside me… still hoping. Hoping to see his brother again. Hoping that you can forgive him. Hoping he can make Yu-hwa happy. He’s terrified, but he’s hoping that everything will work out well and that he’ll be happy.” He reached out, gently taking Megan’s hand. “I… I know nothing but anger. I get angry because I’m scared my hope will turn into despair… Ray keeps on hoping though.”
Megan squeezed Saeran’s hand, shuffling closer. “Can’t you be one with Ray?” she asked.
Saeran smiled sadly. “We already are one,” he said. “It’s just that my voice is stronger right now.” He closed his eyes as they burned with unshed tears. “Yu-hwa misses Ray so much. When she looks at me, it’s written all over her face. She knows though. She always knew. Ray was never gone. He and I… are in this body together.” He looked down at Megan’s small hand. “The one that tortured you, is me. And the one that grins like an idiot whenever Yu-hwa’s name is mentioned, is also me.” He closed his eyes again, biting his lip. “I think she needs Ray more than me.”
“But if both are you…” Megan reached out, touching his face as if she were trying to stop him from fading away right in front of her.
“Eventually, we’ll naturally become one,” Saeran said. “I… should go, but there’s one thing I need to ask you first.”
Megan nodded. “Anything.”
“If you get out of this place…” he said, inhaling deeply, “will you take Yu-hwa with you?”
“Of course I will,” Megan said with so little hesitation that Saeran couldn’t help but chuckle. “But,” she continued, “you know she’ll never leave you behind. There’s no way she’ll go anywhere without you.”
Saeran’s laughter subsided as he nodded. “She’s such an idiot. She’ll suffer to her last because she’s too stubborn to give up on me.” He smiled again at Megan. “I’m glad the two of you became friends.”
“So am I,” Megan agreed.
Saeran stood up and straightened his jacket. “Thank you for hearing me out,” he said. “I’ll see you.”
Saeran left Megan’s room without another word. His heart felt a little lighter, knowing that she would take Yu-hwa away if she could. Yu-hwa had someone looking out for her. It was all Saeran could ask for. He turned to the believers, standing to receive any orders he had for them.
“If my assistant comes here… she has the same level of authority as I do with regard to our guest. Be sure to respect it.”
The believers nodded, and Saeran turned away with a quiet sigh. Resigned to the fact that the only place left for him to go was the information room, he walked, feeling as though his feet were made of lead. It felt like the longest walk of his life, and at the end of the trail stood his savior; she who had drugged him, tortured him, tormented him. But worst of all, she had threatened to do the same to Yu-hwa.
“Saeran,” she said, spitting his name as if it left a foul taste on her lips. “It seems that your faith has been wavering of late. You’ve let yourself be seduced by a light that a devil like you could never claim.” She smiled darkly as he was flanked by believers. “There is only one way I can save you, my child.” She strode past him, out of the information room, as he was ushered to follow.
Saeran knew that there was only one thing she could do. He smirked. If he was going to be forced to take the elixir, he’d do it gladly knowing that Yu-hwa would be safe for a few days more.
Chapter 38: 707
The car pulled over outside a tall fence covered in vines and shrubbery. The view beyond was impossible to see without passing through the gate, but it was much too high to climb over and appeared to be protected by a keypad lock.
“What the hell is this place?” Vanderwood asked as he opened the passenger door and climbed out.
“This is home,” Luciel said as he got out of the car and stood before the property. “Or it will be. It’s my back-up bunker.”
“Back-up…? You have a second bunker?”
Luciel grinned. “Safety first. I had to turn down the most beautiful matte black sports car to be able to afford this place.”
Vanderwood shook his head, joining the hacker at the gate
“Allah subhanah,” Luciel said in a sing-song voice. The gates lock clicked, and he pushed it open. “I’ll have to update the security,” he said with a sigh. “Next project; upgrade the gate.”
“I thought it was a keycode lock,” said Vanderwood with a deep frown, following him inside.
“Nope, it’s all voice activated. The keypad is actually a camera.” He entered the bunker, removing the laptop from his bag.
“This place is…” Vanderwood gazed around, his jaw dropping open, “a total eyesore.”
Luciel laughed. It was true that the décor was an acquired taste. Red and yellow stripes adorned one wall, while the other was stark white, and hanging in the centre of the room like a chandelier was a traffic light, the amber light it was currently showing casting a golden glow on the glossy floor.
“I’ve already got a headache just from the colour scheme,” Vanderwood complained.
“It’s big though,” Luciel said. “Four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom; the kitchen is enormous, and the basement is a huge storage space.”
Vanderwood merely nodded as he looked around in disdain. “At least it’s clean.”
Luciel grinned. “Yep. Hopefully, it’ll stay that way, though this place is already stocked with cleaning supplies.” He chuckled as he plugged in his various devices. “Almost done. I should be able to get back to work soon. You should make yourself at home, madam.”
Luciel froze, the sound of something he was more familiar with than he cared to be ringing in his ears. He turned slowly, his hands raised to his shoulders, to see Vanderwood pointing a gun directly at his head.
“So,” said Luciel, all humour leaving his voice. “This job you were waiting on… was me?”
Vanderwood sighed, but he didn’t take his eyes away from Luciel, nor did he lower his gun. “Yeah, the order came through just before we left the old bunker.” His brow creased, and he frowned deeply. “Jesus, Seven, what the fuck did you do?”
Luciel closed his eyes, smiling weakly. “I was born.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Vanderwood demanded.
“It’s just like I said,” Luciel explained with a sad shake of his head. “I was born. Which wouldn’t have been so terrible if only my father weren’t the current prime minister and my mother hadn’t been a violent alcoholic who used us to try and blackmail him.”
Shit. That wasn’t what I thought he’d question first. “Agent Vanderwood,” he said, his voice taking a serious tone as his gaze became steely. “I need you to answer something for me. Was the assassination order only for me? Nobody else?”
Vanderwood’s eyes narrowed. “The order only specified you. There was nobody else mentioned.”
Luciel laughed with relief. He couldn’t help it, despite the situation. He’s probably still safe. Thank you, God. Thank you.
“I’m pointing a gun at your head and you’re laughing,” tutted Vanderwood. “I’m not even surprised.” The gun lowered slightly. “Jesus, the prime minister is your father. Is he the client?”
“Probably,” Luciel said. “No, definitely. He’s wanted us dead since the day we were born.”
Luciel sighed. “I have a brother. He’s my twin.”
Vanderwood’s expression did not change, but his brown eyes seemed to glare more gently. “This is a lousy fucking job.”
“Tell me about it,” Luciel agreed. “I’m only doing it to keep me and my brother safe, but in the end, the agency sold me out.” He chewed his lip as his mind raced with possible solutions. “Vanderwood, if you could escape this shitty job, would you?”
“What kind of question is that?” Vanderwood snapped with a scowl, but he sighed and shook his head. “Of course I would, but it’s just not as easy as saying the words. They’d kill us before we had a chance to leave.”
“They might if they could find us,” Luciel smirked. “I could set up new identities for the two of us. This bunker is already off the agencies radar… as long as you don’t tell them about it.”
Vanderwood finally lowered the gun. “Can you really do it?” he asked. “New names, new lives, everything?”
“Of course I can, madam,” Luciel said, flashing his teeth as he grinned widely at his partner. “Shall we get started?”
Chapter 39: Saeran
Saeran stood in the savior’s chamber, awaiting his cleansing while the savior busied herself with preparing his elixir.
“This was meant for your sweet assistant,” she told him with a venomous smile. “Her cleansing will have to be delayed, but I assure you, it will happen.”
Saeran did not reply. Instead, he stood calmly, waiting for her next move.
“You’ve fallen for her charms all over again,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “I really thought you’d have more self-control than Ray, but a believer told me that he saw you crying out her name in the hallway. Not to mention the believer you battered for her. Considering that she’s supposed to be little more than a tool for you to use, you’ve become awfully protective of her.”
Again, Saeran remained stoic, but his heart was thrashing against his breastbone.
“Of course, I’d never condone what that young man intended to do,” she continued, “but what concerns me is the report that afterwards, you allowed her to lead you back to her room. You followed like a puppy. I expected better from you.” She held up the small bottle of elixir in her hands, her lips curved down at the corners. “What a disappointment you’ve become.”
Saeran’s eyes drifted down to the glass bottle, watching as his savior’s slender fingers uncorked it.
“Drink,” she commanded, holding the bottle out and pulling him by his tie down to his knees. “Let the elixir bring you back to me.” She took his chin in her hand and placed the bottle to his lips, pouring the bitter liquid into his mouth. “This one was made special, just for Yu-hwa,” she said as the bottle was drained. “It’s stronger than the usual elixir we use. I consider her original salvation ceremony to be a failure. She never truly accepted me as her savior. I always wondered why.” She placed the bottle down, her expression darkening as she glowered at Saeran, still on his knees. “It’s because of Ray. She saw him as the one who saved her. The elixir only intensified those feelings.” She smirked. “That girl was never in love with either of you. She only worshipped you because of the elixir’s influence.”
“That’s not true,” Saeran finally snapped. “Yu-hwa’s care was the most genuine I’ve ever received.”
“You?” the savior questioned, her head tilted. “Wasn’t it Ray she became infatuated with? Are you becoming confused?” She ran her fingers through his bleached hair as beads of sweat began to form at his temples. “You poor child. Soon you’ll see that the only person who truly loves you, is me.”
Saeran keeled over to the side as his stomach twisted in pain. Every muscle tensed, his teeth ground together and his eyes squeezed shut. He could barely breathe, and his already wrecked nails cracked as he scraped the floor.
“Don’t worry,” the savior continued. “I’ll take good care of you.” She knelt down beside him and began to tenderly stroke his hair. “But you know, I found something interesting while I was waiting for you in the information room.” She brushed his hair out of his face, doting on him like a concerned parent. “Your father is looking for you.” She shook her head. “All these years and he never gave up. Having someone like him in Mint Eye would be very beneficial to us. He is well loved and very powerful. We would become unstoppable. We’d be able to help people worldwide.”
Saeran could barely concentrate over his silent screams of agony, but hearing her talk about bringing his father to Mint Eye at least gave him the strength to groan out loud.
She sighed. “I’ll make him understand that you are no threat to him,” she said, her voice melodic and reassuring. “Perhaps having him around will improve your behaviour. Do you see the lengths I have to go to now, just to keep you in line?”
Saeran tried to move away from her lingering touch, but the elixir had left him in critical pain. He was going nowhere. His limbs felt as though he had hot pokers running through them, and his head pulsed as if it contained an ocean.
“You have nobody to blame for all this but yourself,” the savior hissed. “If you had only listened to me and done as I asked...” She sighed. “I should never have let you bring that girl here. Of course you’d drift off at the slightest bit of affection.” She sneered. “Once she’s had her cleansing ceremony, you’ll see for yourself that she doesn’t care for you. It was all down to the elixir.”
Saeran could only grunt at her words. She continued to observe him as he battled the effects of the elixir, sweating and struggling on the floor, looking away from him only when her phone began to ring.
“Finally,” she said, rising to her feet and stepping over him. “I forgot to mention, I already contacted your father’s office. This is probably him calling me back.” She smiled down at his writhing form as she answered the call. “Hello… yes, I did… Indeed, I have him right here with me, though he’s in no state to speak… I’m not sure about the other one, but we could use Saeran to locate him… Yes, I’m happy to do that… Oh? My name? It’s Rika Kim… Yes, I look forward to seeing you soon.”
“W… w… why?” Saeran managed to moan, though it left him on the brink of exhaustion.
“Don’t worry,” Rika said, putting her phone away and flipping back her sunshine coloured hair. “As long as you’re a good boy, I’ll ensure that you are safe.”
Saeran’s face contorted in anguish and pain as tears streamed from his eyes.
“I’ll have some believers come and lift you onto the bed,” she said, moving to the door. “I’ll fetch a cloth to mop your brow.” She glanced back at him with a sweet, maternal smile. “I’ll look after you, Saeran. I promise. There is nobody who loves you as much as I do.”
Then Rika left the room, leaving Saeran constricted in pain, wondering if death would be better than the fate that would soon befall him.
Chapter 40: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa nuzzled at her pillow as her eyelids fluttered open, and the memories of earlier that day all came flooding back. She sat bolt upright, looking all around the room, but Saeran had already left. She twisted her hair in her fingers, feeling conflicted. She knew that she hadn’t been in her right mind after what had happened with Elliot, but she couldn’t convince herself that sleeping with Saeran had been excusable. Ugh, what was I thinking? His head is a mess. He needs help, not sex. I’m so pathetic. She touched the side of the bed that Saeran had been laying on when she fell asleep in his arms, biting on her lower lip. He had been tender, as gentle as Ray when he’d touched her; and yet he was not Ray… Not quite. She climbed out of bed, wiping away the few tears that fell, and got a quick shower before dressing in jeans and her favourite sweater. She pulled the roll neck over her mouth and tucked her hands into the sleeves before she left her room.
She was terrified the entire walk to the information room. She had no idea how Saeran might react now that he’d finally had his way with her. She shuffled through the corridors until she reached her workplace, taking a deep breath before she opened the door. She frowned as she entered, a deep furrow forming between her eyebrows. The room was empty.
“Oh, Miss Yu-hwa.”
Yu-hwa jumped at the voice of the believer who had suddenly appeared behind her.
“Sorry to scare you,” she said. “I was asked to inform you that Mr Saeran will be absent. You’re expected to oversee the mission yourself for a day or so.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes narrowed. “Where is Saeran?”
“He’s undergoing a private cleansing in the savior’s chamber,” the believer said. “Good luck with the mission, Miss Yu-hwa. For eternal paradise.”
Yu-hwa closed the door in the believer’s face, feeling sick. He’s being cleansed? Again? Oh god, I need to do something, now! She closed her eyes, wondering what she could possibly do alone. Ray was my only friend in this entire place. Her eyes snapped open. No, that’s not true. Ray made sure that I made at least one other friend! She rushed to his drawer, opening it to reveal the gun she had noticed earlier. Her hands trembled as she hesitated, reluctant to pick the weapon up. But she did, tucking it under her sweater.
Yu-hwa felt lightheaded as she left the room, as though she were walking in a dream, not feeling any sense of reality. Soon enough, she found herself in the hallway to Megan’s room. She inhaled deeply and approached the guards still standing at the door. They stood to attention as soon as they noticed her.
“Leave,” she ordered in a voice she barely recognised as her own.
The believers exchanged glances, but they didn’t argue. They walked away, muttering “for eternal paradise” as they left. Yu-hwa couldn’t stop her body from trembling as she watched them go. She suddenly felt so weak that she thought she would collapse. She forced herself to Megan’s door, not stopping to knock.
Megan’s face was drained of colour, and she clambered off the bed when she saw that Yu-hwa was equally pale.
“I’m s-sorry,” stammered the hacker. “I didn’t m-mean to s-scare you.” She stumbled onto the bed. “S-Saeran’s being cleansed again. I need to get him out of this awful fucking place.”
Megan’s eyes widened in terror. “Oh god, of course. What can we do?”
Yu-hwa pulled out the gun, her trembling hands offering it up to Megan. “I have this. We can use it to threaten anyone who tries to get in our way.”
Megan took the gun, and Yu-hwa’s body became visibly more relaxed.
“Saeran came here,” Megan said quietly. “He asked me to get you out of here if I could.” She laced her fingers through Yu-hwa’s and smiled. “So, let’s go get Saeran and leave.”
Yu-hwa tugged nervously at her roll neck and returned a weak smile of her own. “I’m terrified, but let’s do this.”
The two women made their way through Magenta, hand-in-hand, Megan with the gun tucked into the waistband of her skirt, hidden beneath her blouse. Yu-hwa led the way to the savior’s chamber, her heart racing wildly every step of the way. They held each other tightly as they passed other believers, but nobody stopped to question them. Not one person did more than nod in greeting until they reached the corridor leading to the savior’s room. Yu-hwa exhaled nervously as Megan rubbed the back of her hand with her thumb, trying to keep her friend calm.
“Just try to act confident,” Megan encouraged. “You can do it. Remember, it’s for Saeran.”
Yu-hwa took a breath, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin. With her hand still trembling in Megan’s grasp, she made confident strides down the hallway. A trio of believers stood guard, dressed in the black uniform robes that made them appear much more ominous, crowded together against the white doors as they were. They watched with eyes enveloped within the darkness of their hoods as Yu-hwa and Megan approached.
“We’re here to meet with the savior,” Yu-hwa said, grateful that her voice remained steady. “Let us pass.”
The believer in the middle of the trio stepped forward. Yu-hwa tensed, but held her ground, squeezing Megan’s hand hard enough to make the brunette wince.
“The savior is not to be interrupted. She is in the middle of a cleansing.”
Yu-hwa’s lungs hurt as she tried to keep her breathing steady, but her chest felt too tight. Her throat felt as though it were held in a vice-like grip. Her knees were weak and she could no longer control her trembling body.
“Let us in, or I pull the trigger.”
Yu-hwa turned her head to see Megan holding out the gun, pointing it towards the lead believer. All three believers took a step back.
“Open the door,” Yu-hwa demanded, her confidence returning now that she was doing something she knew she was capable of. She was an assistant, and at that moment, her job was to assist Megan. Together, they took another step forward, pushing the believer’s backs to the door. “Open it!” she demanded.
One of the believers finally obeyed, opening the door as Megan ushered them inside.
“Savior! We’re so sorry,” a believer cried out.
Yu-hwa glared, meeting the green eyes of the savior, sitting beside Saeran who was laid on the bed, his skin looking sickly pale and his brow dotted with sweat.
“Get away from him!” Yu-hwa growled, stalking across the room towards the blonde.
“How far do you think you’ll get?” she asked, a smirk on her face as she stepped away from Saeran’s side.
Megan focussed the gun on her, glancing briefly at Yu-hwa. “Is he okay? Can he move?”
Yu-hwa gently cupped his cheeks. “Saeran?” she said softly. “Can you hear me?”
His eyelids twitched slightly, and his brow creased, but he managed to open his eyes. “Yu…” He groaned in pain as his body stiffened.
“You may as well give up now,” said the savior, still smirking. “He’s in too much pain to move yet.”
Yu-hwa pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. “Saeran,” she said calmly. “I’m so sorry, but I need you to get up. We have to leave.”
He gazed up at her, his eyes taking in every inch of her face, then with an enormous effort, he pushed himself into a seated position.
“Thank you Saeran,” she whispered as she helped him to slip his legs off the bed. He groaned and squeezed her hand, gasping in pain. “I’m sorry for making you do this,” she said, tears filling her eyes, “but we have to go somewhere safe.” She stood in front of him, holding on to his trembling hands. “You can lean on me, I won’t let you go.”
Saeran gave a small nod, and with Yu-hwa’s help, he got to his feet, his arm thrown across her shoulders and her hand holding tightly to his waist.
“Ready to go?” Megan asked, moving towards the door with the gun still trained on Mint Eye’s leader.
Yu-hwa nodded. “He’s light, we’ll be okay.” She shuffled through the door with Saeran staggering awkwardly beside her.
“Do not follow us,” Megan warned the believers. “I will put a bullet through you if you do.” With that, she backed out of the room and closed the door. “Yu-hwa! What now?” she asked, tucking the gun back into her waistband and supporting Saeran’s other side, lightening Yu-hwa’s load.
“I… was told about a cabin we could go to,” she replied. “It won’t be easy together to get to with Saeran like this, but it’s our best bet.” She glanced at Megan, who gave her a reassuring nod. “Thank you,” Yu-hwa said quietly. “I know that Saeran hurt you, but you’re helping us anyway. You’re such a kind person.”
Megan smiled. “You and I are friends. I’ll always try my best to help you.”
Yu-hwa chuckled. “You know, I’ll never regret my time here at Magenta, but I’m so fucking glad to be leaving.”
Chapter 41: Yu-hwa
It took over four hours to reach the cabin, Saeran’s poor state of health meaning they had to frequently stop for breaks.
“I’m… sorry,” Saeran groaned as Yu-hwa helped him to bed. “I’m such… a mess. But you’ve become… so strong.”
Yu-hwa blushed as she tucked him in, pulling the blankets around his shivering body and hoping he would be warm enough. “I’m only strong because I have you and Megan beside me,” she said quietly. “Now, stop worrying and get some rest. You’re sick because of the elixir.”
“It’s different,” Saeran muttered through clenched teeth. “She said… it was stronger.”
“The savior did that?” Yu-hwa’s eyes filled with tears.
“Rika,” Saeran mumbled. “Don’t call her… Savior anymore. Her name… is Rika.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes widened as suddenly a lot of things clicked into place. I never even questioned why the savior was so focused on the RFA. It makes a bit more sense now. She brushed back the white wisps of hair from his forehead and gently stroked her fingers down his cheek. “Get some sleep. I have to think about what to do next. We can’t stay here, so you need to get well, okay?”
Saeran frowned but nodded. “I’m… exhausted. I’ll try and get… some rest.” He grabbed her hand just as she began to pull it away. “Yu-hwa, I can never thank you enough… for everything you’ve done.”
She smiled sadly, and his eyes closed the moment she moved away. Quietly, she left the room to find an extremely concerned looking Megan waiting for her.
“How is he?” she asked.
Yu-hwa twined her hair around her finger. “The elixir he took isn’t the one that is usually used in cleansings. It’s stronger, and the effects aren’t wearing off easily.” She sighed and collapsed onto a wooden chair, feeling exhausted down to her bones. “I’m so worried. I have no idea how to help him.”
“Who would?” Megan asked, pulling a chair over to sit beside her.
Yu-hwa’s brow creased as she thought. She didn’t know anyone with the skills to help them, except maybe…
“Oh,” she grumbled as her shoulders slumped. “There’s one person, but Saeran will probably hate it. That redhead, 707.”
Megan nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! He has experience with all sorts of things. I’m sure he’ll be able to help Saeran.”
Yu-hwa bit her lip, but she recalled how V had been a lot different from how she’d imagined him. Perhaps 707 will be different too.
“Do you want me to call him?” Megan asked, her phone already in her hand.
Yu-hwa squeezed her eyes shut and gave a sharp nod. “Tell him I’d like to speak to him.”
Megan nodded as she brought up Luciel’s number and pressed call. The two women looked at one another, anxiously waiting for the call to be answered. Yu-hwa felt her body break out in a cold sweat as she tried to keep her nervousness under control. She had no idea if contacting her enemy to ask for help would be a huge mistake, but she knew that her options were extremely limited, and she had to act quickly for Saeran’s benefit.
“Oh, hi! It’s Megan.”
Yu-hwa felt her throat tighten as Megan finally reached Luciel.
“Umm, guess what… I got out. I’m at a cabin with both of the hackers.” She glanced at Yu-hwa, who took a deep breath and nodded. “I’m going to put Yu-hwa on the phone. She can explain everything to you.”
Yu-hwa took the phone and a long breath. “Hello?”
“Ahh, so you’re the hacker that’s being giving me so much trouble, huh?”
“Umm,” Yu-hwa wasn’t sure how to react. Even though they had been rivals, his voice sounded playful, almost teasing. She didn’t have time for it. “Seven Zero Seven, I need you-”
“Woah, woah, woah,” Luciel interrupted. “Just Seven is fine, or Luciel. You’re not a robot, are you? You don’t have to say the whole thing.”
Yu-hwa closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, trying her very best to stay calm. “Luciel,” she hissed. “I need you to help me. My partner, he’s been drugged. He’s really sick.”
Luciel snorted. “And you want me to come to the rescue?”
Yu-hwa clenched her fist. “Yes. I do. Because you owe him.”
“Owe him?” he asked, sounding somewhat amused. “How so?”
“When I first met him, he was going by the name Ray,” Yu-hwa explained. “I eventually found out that Ray is not his real name. His true name is Saeran. My partner is your twin brother.” For the first time, there was total silence on the line. She couldn’t even hear him breathing, and she checked the phone to make sure they were still connected. “Luciel? Are you still there?”
“Did you just say what I think you said?” Luciel asked, his voice low, the playfulness completely vanished. “I’m not just imagining it, am I?”
“You heard right,” Yu-hwa replied, her tone becoming softer. “He’s in bad shape right now. I need your help.”
“Of course. Give me the coordinates of your location and I’ll be right there.”
Yu-hwa gave Megan a thumbs up, and the brunette gave a sigh of relief.
“If you can,” Yu-hwa continued into the phone, “there are some things I’d like you to bring to help keep us safe while we’re stuck here.”
“Just name it,” Luciel said. “I’ll try to get anything you ask for.”
“I need a laptop and some surveillance cameras to put outside.”
“No problem,” said Luciel. He paused for a moment, then said, “You’ve been taking care of my brother, haven’t you? Thank you. Thank you for protecting him.”
Yu-hwa felt her breath catch in her throat. “I wanted to protect him,” she said as she tried to hold back the tears which were threatening to fall, “but he still ended up like this.”
“Yu-hwa,” he said, his voice filled with emotion. “You’ve done your best by him, but you’re not a superhero. I’m grateful that you got him somewhere safer, and I’m glad that you called me. You’ve done more for him, to keep him safe, than the people who were supposed to take care of him. Thank you.”
Yu-hwa’s throat ached as she tried not to start sobbing. “I’ll text you the coordinates of our location. Please hurry.”
She hung up and sent him all the information he’d need to find them, then handed Megan’s phone back.
“He’s coming, right?” Megan asked, her slender fingers wrapping around the device like it was the only source of protection they had.
“Yeah,” Yu-hwa said quietly. “I don’t know how long he’ll be, but he has fast cars, right?”
Megan nodded. “I’m sure he’ll be here as quickly as he can.” She leaned forward and pushed back Yu-hwa’s hair. “You look worn out. Why don’t you try and get a little sleep before he arrives?”
Yu-hwa sighed. Megan was right. She was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, but there was still so much to do. “I’ll take a nap on the couch,” she said. “Will you wake me up in an hour?”
Megan smiled and shook her head. “You need longer than that. You have to look after yourself if you want to be able to take care of Saeran.”
Groaning, Yu-hwa stood up and sloped towards the couch, flopping down and glancing back over at Megan. “Ninety minutes.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes narrowed. “Megan…”
“Yu-hwa,” Megan countered. “Just go to sleep. I’ll wake you if something happens, but you need your rest.”
Yu-hwa laid back. Her eyelids felt so heavy, her body ached, and she couldn’t stifle the yawn that she didn’t want Megan to see. “If Saeran wakes up-”
“I’ll let you know,” Megan said, her voice gentle. “I promise.”
Yu-hwa curled up, feeling safe in the warmth of her sweater. Having Megan nearby was a comfort too, and before long, she had drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Chapter 42: 707
“What’s wrong with you?” Vanderwood asked, nudging Luciel as he sat with a dazed expression after hanging up his phone.
“I… I just spoke with the hacker…” he said, blinking a few times in an effort to clear his head.
“You mean the one that’s been giving you so much trouble?”
Luciel chuckled. “She actually seems pretty nice.”
Vanderwood rolled his eyes. “Ugh, you don’t have a crush on her, do you?”
Luciel stared at his partner, his jaw hanging slack for a moment before he shook his head and tutted. “No, I’m just saying that even though I’ve been fighting her, she doesn’t seem to be a bad person, and…” He sighed, leaning back in his chair.
“And what?” Vanderwood pressed. “What is it that changed so suddenly that she’s calling you?”
“She’s…” He nudged his glasses back up his nose. “She’s with my brother. He is the other hacker.”
Vanderwood sucked in a breath but said nothing, and Luciel was grateful for that. His mind was still reeling from what Yu-hwa had told him.
“I need to grab some stuff and go,” Luciel said, standing up and grabbing a rucksack.
“What about the agency?” Vanderwood asked urgently as he followed the hacker who was packing up various cameras and cables.
“Don’t worry, I’ll sort out all the papers you need to be free of them,” Luciel assured him.
“That’s not what I mean,” Vanderwood grumbled. “I mean, there’s still a target on your back. If someone like the prime minister has the agency on his payroll, you can be sure they will send someone else out for you once they discover you’re still breathing.”
Luciel brushed his fingers across his silver cross. “That doesn’t matter. My brother is in danger, and those girls need my help. I have to go.”
Vanderwood frowned. “Since when have you been so eager to throw your life away?” he asked.
Luciel turned and looked his partner dead in the eye. “If it’s for my brother, I’d die on the spot.”
Vanderwood’s eyes widened in surprise, and he shook his head with a sigh. “So how do you want me to help?”
Luciel froze, his throat aching with withheld emotion. “You don’t have to do anything,” he said.
“Bullshit!” Vanderwood yelled. “There’s no way you can sort out this mess by yourself, and it’s not just you who’s stuck in it. If you want to protect your brother, you’ll need help.”
Luciel clamped his lower lip between his teeth, his eyes cast down as he fastened up the bag.
“You think you have to do it alone?” Vanderwood asked. “Because it’s your brother? Because of your father?” He clicked his tongue. “Those are the exact reasons you should get all the help you can. There are too many people counting on you for you to take responsibility for everything. If you do this alone and something happens to you, who’s going to help your brother then?”
Luciel finally looked up, his golden eyes meeting the piercing gaze of the agent before him. “You’re right,” he admitted. “I need help.”
Vanderwood nodded, glad that he finally seemed to have gotten through to the younger man, but then Luciel pulled out his phone. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Calling for help,” Luciel replied.
Vanderwood narrowed his eyes. “I meant me.”
Luciel grinned. “I know,” he said. “You’re going to be my back-up. If anything does happen to me, you need to make sure Saeran, Megan and Yu-hwa get to safety.”
Vanderwood sighed. “So who are you calling?”
“This is for the worst-case scenario,” Luciel explained. “If my father finds us before I can get everyone out, I need someone with the power to go up against him.” He raised the phone to his ear.
“This is Jumin Han.”
“Jumin, I need a favour.” Luciel slumped against the wall. “I spoke with one of the hackers.”
“Then you should be speaking with the head of the intelligence unit,” Jumin said. “They will need to know if you learned anything from the hacker.”
“I can’t tell them about this,” Luciel said, his voice slightly raised. “It’s personal. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“Then please explain,” Jumin said, remaining calm.
“I… don’t know exactly how everything happened,” Luciel confessed, “but the hackers will no longer be attacking us. I’m going to meet them. They’re in a dangerous situation.”
“You’re going to meet them?” Jumin said, his voice filled with concern. “Luciel, you realise that it could be a trap?”
“It doesn’t matter,” replied Luciel. “One of the hackers is my twin brother, and right now he’s really sick. I need to go to him.”
“You…” Jumin paused. “I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned that you have a brother.” He deeply inhaled. “What is it that you need of me?”
Luciel suddenly felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Thank you Jumin. I need to set up a live feed from the security cameras that I’m going to place around the hacker’s location. I need someone to watch and record it in case something happens, but… it could be sensitive material. I can only trust you or Jaehee to watch the footage.”
“What sort of sensitive material are you expecting?” Jumin asked.
Luciel gave a short sigh. “There’s a reason I’ve never spoken about my brother. I was trying to keep him safe from our father, but now he’s in so much danger.”
“Yes.” Luciel chuckled darkly. “Prime Minister Saejoong Choi. He’s been trying to have us killed since we were children. He already located me once, though thanks to the hacker, I was able to change locations.”
The line fell silent as Jumin considered everything he had just been told.
“Fine,” he said eventually. “I’ll have the team set things up to receive the feed and have it streamed directly to my office.”
The tension evaporated from Luciel’s body. “Thank you Jumin,” he said with relief. “I’ll update you once I know what’s going on. The hacker I spoke to told me that my brother was drugged, so-”
“Does he need to get to a hospital?” Jumin interrupted. “I can have a helicopter placed on standby to have him airlifted out.”
“I’m not sure if a hospital will be the safest place for him,” said Luciel, rubbing his aching brow. “Once I’m there and can assess the situation, I’ll let you know what I need. Thanks again, Jumin.”
“Of course,” the businessman replied. “The RFA is like family to me. If this hacker is your brother, my care will extend to him as well, although once he is well enough, I would like to hear the reasons for his actions.”
“Me too,” agreed Luciel, nodding absently. “When I left him, he was supposed to be safe. I need some answers.” He glanced up to see that Vanderwood was still waiting patiently, the rucksack full of recording equipment slung over his shoulder. “Jumin, I’m about to set off. I’ll be in touch.”
“Stay safe, Luciel. We’ll speak later.”
Luciel ended the call and grabbed his car keys. “Let’s go.”
The two men left the bunker side by side, no longer agents, but still partners.
“Are you ready for this?” Vanderwood asked, glancing at the redhead from the corner of his eye.
Luciel pressed his fingers against the cooling silver of his cross. “No,” he admitted, “but I will be. I have to be.”
Chapter 43: Yu-hwa
“Yu-hwa, it’s time to wake up.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes fluttered open as Megan gently roused her from her sleep. “How long?” she mumbled as her feet slid to the floor, and Megan took a seat beside her.
“Two hours, just like I promised.” Megan reached out and gently pushed back the pink curtains of hair that shrouded Yu-hwa’s face. “I checked on Saeran before I came to wake you. He was just starting to wake up. You should go and see him.”
Yu-hwa smiled, rubbing her eyes as she slowly nodded. “Thanks, Megan. I’ll go and check on him now.” She gave her friends hand a gentle squeeze and stood up, stretching her aching body as she walked to the bedroom. She opened the door quietly and peered inside.
“Yu-hwa? Is that you?”
Yu-hwa entered the room and closed the door behind her. Saeran groaned as he tried to sit up.
“Stop,” Yu-hwa said, her voice gentle. “You still need to rest.”
Saeran huffed, but he flopped back down. Yu-hwa perched on the edge of the bed, pushing his hair back from his clammy forehead. She could feel the heat emanating from him before she even laid a finger on his skin. His breathing remained laboured, though his awareness had clearly improved.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” she said quietly.
He gazed up at her with unfocused green eyes, the skin beneath them sallow and grey in comparison to his pale face.
“I spoke to your brother.” Yu-hwa bit her lip as she stared at the pillow, unable to meet his eyes which were busy searching her face for answers. “You probably hate me, right?” she continued. “I didn’t know who else to call though. He’s the only person I knew would be able to help you.” She felt a lump form in her throat as tears burned in her eyes, but then she felt slender fingers slip between hers. She glanced at her hand to see Saeran’s weakly holding it. “Saeran?”
“You did… the right thing,” he whispered. “I… could never… hate you.” His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat as he struggled to get his words out. “Thank you, Yu-hwa.”
She held his hand lightly in both of hers, squeezing gently as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“How long?” he asked.
“He’ll be here soon,” she said. “Probably within the hour.”
Saeran’s eyes closed, and she watched the gentle rising and falling of his chest, praying that it wouldn’t suddenly stop. She remained by his side as he slipped in and out of sleep, sometimes grinding his teeth or thrashing painfully against the blankets, but never once letting go of her hand. In his moments of wakefulness, he rubbed his thumb across the lines of her wrist as she stroked her fingers through his pale curls.
“Yu-hwa?” he moaned.
She leaned closer. “I’m here,” she whispered.
He sighed, his eyelids straining to remain open as he tried to look up at her. His lips were dry and cracked, but he tried to show her a small smile. “Thank you… for not leaving me.”
“I promised you that I never would,” she said, barely keeping the whimper from her voice. “I’ll be right here whenever you need me.”
He closed his eyes once again, but a smile lingered on his lips. “Thank you,” he murmured. “You have always… been my true… salvation.”
Yu-hwa continued her vigil over him, gently caressing his hair until sleep took him once more. He finally seemed peaceful in his slumber, and she hoped that he would stay like that a while longer.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat by his side when she heard footsteps approaching from outside, then a quiet knock at the door. Megan poked her head into the room as Yu-hwa untangled her fingers gently from Saeran’s hair and stood up. The two women nodded in silent understanding and went to the door. Yu-hwa prepared to open it as Megan readied the gun. The brunette took a breath, squaring her shoulders and standing beside Yu-hwa, who unlocked the door and opened it cautiously.
“Thank God,” the redhead sighed as his eyes shifted from Yu-hwa to Megan, then back again. “I was beginning to worry that I was too late.”
“Luciel!” Megan put the gun down and rushed passed Yu-hwa with tears in her eyes, throwing her arms around him. “I can’t believe it’s really you! You’re really here.”
Luciel’s arms slipped around her waist as he returned her embrace. “Megan, I told you I’d come for you.” He chuckled as he pressed his face into her hair. “You’ve been so brave.”
“You should come inside,” Yu-hwa said, tucking her hands into her sweater as she awkwardly watched her friend weep against the man she’d previously considered to be her enemy.
“Right,” said Luciel as he let go of Megan and took off his rucksack. “I brought everything you asked for, and there’s bottled water in the car too.”
“Thank you,” said Yu-hwa. “Saeran will need clean water. He’s pretty dehydrated.”
Luciel perked up at his brothers’ name. “We’ll need to make sure he takes in plenty of fluid. The medicine he needs to take is going to make him extremely sick, but it should clear his system of any drug.”
Yu-hwa bowed her head in gratitude as Luciel opened his bag and handed her a single bottle of water before spilling out the rest of the bag’s contents onto the table.
“I’ll get all this set up soon,” he said. “Is it okay if I see my brother first? We should administer the medicine as soon as possible.”
Yu-hwa nodded and led the way to the bedroom. Saeran had woken and managed to shuffle up the bed a little, but he looked completely drained, and Yu-hwa rushed to his side, opening the water bottle.
“Drink this,” she said, putting the bottle to his dry lips. “Just take little sips.”
He allowed her to pour the water into his mouth, humming his appreciation at finally having his thirst quenched. He drank a quarter of the bottle before she set it down on the bedside table, and his eyes searched hers, so filled with concern, until his focus finally shifted to the figure standing in the doorway. His glare narrowed as they met the golden irises of his twin brother.
“Saeran…” Luciel took a step into the room, tears pooling in his eyes
Saeran’s body tensed, and Yu-hwa gently brushed her fingers across his clenched fist.
“He’s here to help,” she said softly. “I won’t leave you alone, but I don’t know how to help you by myself.”
Saeran sighed as his fingers uncurled under her affectionate touch. “Yu-hwa,” he whispered as his gaze slipped back to her. “I’ll be alright as long as you’re here.”
Luciel stood beside Yu-hwa and handed her a small vial. “That’s the medicine. He needs to take it all.” He looked down at his brother, sorrow etched all across his face as Saeran refused to even look at him. “Saeran… there’s so much we need to talk about. I don’t understand what happened. V and Rika were supposed to keep you safe.”
Yu-hwa exchanged a brief glance with Megan, who was hanging back, leaning against the doorframe.
“Rika was the one who drugged Saeran,” Yu-hwa muttered.
“What?!” Luciel gasped. “How is that possible? She’s dead.”
“V… lied to you,” Saeran snickered. “She’s alive… and V abandoned me… just like you did.”
“Saeran?” Luciel whimpered as his tears finally spilt over.
“I think-” Yu-hwa interrupted, “there’s a lot that we don’t know, but now is not the time to discuss it.” She opened the vial of medicine. “Let’s focus on getting Saeran well again, then we can talk.” All eyes were on Yu-hwa as she helped Saeran down the new drug.
“It’s going to make you sick,” Luciel told his brother flatly. “I’ll go fetch a bucket from outside.” And with that, he turned and left.
Saeran let out a long breath and laid back again.
“Try and rest some more,” Yu-hwa whispered.
Megan lingered in the doorway. “Do you need me for anything?” she asked.
Yu-hwa frowned as she traced her thumbs over the planes of Saeran’s grazed knuckles. “Stay with Luciel,” she said. “He’s probably going to need your support.
Megan smiled and nodded. “I can do that.”
There was clattering in the hallway, and Luciel reappeared holding a tin bucket. He handed it over to Yu-hwa. “Right,” he said, his eyes roaming across his brothers’ fragile form. “I’ll get the rest of the water from the car, then I’ll set up the cameras. It shouldn’t take too long.”
“I’ll help you,” Megan said cheerily, her hand resting on the redhead’s back.
He smiled down at her. “Thanks, Megan.” He nodded to Yu-hwa. “I’ll leave him in your care. Thank you.”
She smiled back and watched them leave before returning her attention to Saeran. “You okay?”
“I… don’t know,” he groaned. “Can you help me sit up?”
Yu-hwa helped him to adjust his position, his thin arms draped around her shoulders until he was propped up comfortably. His fingers brushed against her cheeks, and he pulled her closer, pressing his forehead against hers. Yu-hwa could feel his heat radiating into her, and his body trembled against her lightly.
“Thank you,” he whispered, then he grimaced. “I think… I need that bucket.”
Yu-hwa quickly grabbed it, getting it to him just in time as he began to vomit, his body shivering as his gasping breath rattled his chest. Yu-hwa rubbed his back supportively, knowing that she wouldn’t leave his side until he was well again.
Chapter 44: Megan
“Are you alright?”
Luciel had been fidgeting with his car keys, pacing around the room and muttering to himself. Megan’s voice snapped him back into focus and he blinked rapidly as he looked at her.
“Sorry Megan,” he said with a stiff looking smile. “It’s just been such a long time since I saw Saeran. All these years, I thought he was safe… I thought he was happy…”
“Luciel…” She took his hand gently in hers. “This isn’t your fault. You trusted Rika, but she’s…” Megan broke off her sentence as she remembered the so-called savior’s dark sneer and madness filled eyes. “I don’t think she’s well.”
Luciel’s brow furrowed deeply. “V told everyone she’d killed herself. I just… I’m struggling to understand what happened between the two of them that caused all of this.”
Megan frowned, not knowing the words to say that would help him to feel better. All she could do was gently squeeze his hand and remind him that she was finally right there beside him and willing to support him in any way that she could.
“Megan,” he sighed, taking a strand of her hair in his free hand, combing his long fingers softly through it. “You have no idea how good it feels to have you here, right before my eyes.”
Megan felt the heat bloom in her cheeks, but she smiled up at him. “I don’t know, I think I have a fairly good idea.” She watched, her heart beating faster, as Luciel’s mouth curled up at the corners.
“Well then,” he said, his voice quiet and husky. “Care to walk with me to my car? I need to get the rest of the water.”
Megan’s smile widened as his fingers slipped between hers, his thumb tracing a line across the back of her hand. Her chest felt tight as he walked her out of the cabin, and she barely felt the chill of the breeze; the heat of his hand warmed her entire body. She glanced up at him to find his amber eyes looking right back at her, and she couldn’t help the red flush that filled her cheeks.
“Sorry for staring,” Luciel said. “I just can’t believe I finally managed to get to you. I mean, it’s not the heroic rescue I had planned, but I’ll take whatever I can get if it means that I can see your smile.”
Megan put her hand over her heart, feeling its insane rhythm, and sighed. “It’s been such a crazy day for everyone,” she said. “I’m so glad you’re here though. I really want to help Yu-hwa. She looked after me when Saeran-” She stopped suddenly as she realised what she had just been about to say. When Saeran abused me. She could tell that she had already said too much though, as Luciel’s gaze was fixed on her face, frozen in an expression of extreme concern. “He… he’s been through a tough time,” she said, trying to soften the blow that the truth would inflict. “Rika had drugged him and brainwashed him. He was so sweet when I first met him, but everything she did… changed him.” She gasped as Luciel’s grip on her hand became painfully tight. “Lu-Luciel?”
“Ah!” He released her hand as if she had just shocked him. “I’m sorry, I just… what happened?”
Megan bit her lip as she stared down at the lush green grass that their feet trampled over. “It doesn’t matter what he did. He apologized, and he’s gone through enough. I forgave him already.”
Luciel brushed a hand over his vermillion hair. “Right. I… need to talk with him when he’s feeling better.”
Megan nodded. “Good idea.” She hooked her arm through his, leaning her head against his shoulder. “You can’t do anything about the past, but you can make a better future for yourself, and that future can include your brother.”
Luciel looked suddenly downcast. “I’m not sure I even know how to be a brother anymore. So much has happened… I just don’t know how to make it right…” He pulled Megan in closer to his side. “And what about you? Can my future include you?”
She searched his eyes and found them to be filled with loneliness. In a single day, his entire life and the road he had been walking had completely changed, flipping him on to a route he had never thought he’d be able to walk.
“Megan?” There was a shiver of fear in his voice.
Does he really think I’ll say no? she wondered. “Of course, Luciel,” she said. “I want you to be a part of my future too.”
“My name. It’s Saeyoung. Saeyoung Choi.”
He pulled his keys out of his pocket, and Megan finally noticed the shiny black vehicle just ahead.
“Saeyoung,” she murmured, testing the way the new name felt on her lips. “Sae-young-Choi.”
Suddenly she was pressed against the cool metal of the car’s hood and Saeyoung was looming over her, pinning her down, his cheeks flushed and his breath coming out in short gasps.
“Say it again.”
She stared up at him with wide eyes, her heart pounding so hard she could hear the blood it pumped in her ears. “Saeyoung.”
He lowered his face, his nose almost brushing hers, his heated breath mingling with her own. “Again.”
Her breath was snatched away from her as his lips pressed against hers, hot and desperate, his tongue tracing her mouth, seeking an entrance which she willingly gave him. His fingers gripped her hair, pressing himself deeper against her as if he couldn’t get close enough. She pushed him back, gasping for air, so he nipped at her jaw instead, then nibbled at her ear. She pulled his shirt, grinding her hips against his as she moaned with pleasure.
“Megan?” he whispered breathily against her skin. “We’ve just met, but I feel like I know you. In a world filled with secrets, you’ve only given me truth.
Megan grabbed his face in her palms and brought him back to her lips. “I want to be more than that,” she murmured as his tongue slipped back into her mouth briefly, then he drew away completely, pulling her up with him. She tilted her head in confusion as he stepped around to the drivers’ seat. He quirked one eyebrow and grinned.
“Care to join me?”
She chewed her lower lip, knowing full well what his invitation truly meant. She didn’t hesitate for long. They may have only just met, but he was her knight in shining armour, and she had wanted him before she had even known he was real.
He opened the door of his car and took his seat, grabbing her hand and pulling her onto his lap. Her lips were instantly on his as his hands caressed the curvature of her body, his embrace making her feel as if electricity coursed through her veins. She straddled him, feeling the firm bulge in his jeans pressing against her thigh. His touch followed her curves all the way down to the hem of her skirt, which his long fingers nimbly slipped beneath. She scraped his shoulders with her fingertips, dragging them up his neck and into his hair as she adjusted her position, and he pressed a finger against the damp sweet spot through the fabric of her underwear. Megan gasped, pressing her forehead against his as heat spread to her core.
“Ah, Saeyoung,” she moaned through clenched teeth.
He groaned and pushed aside her pants to run a finger over the warm slickness of her folds.
She gasped, grabbing his erect cock through the course denim between her legs. His hips bucked at the contact and Megan’s head hit the roof of the car. She yelped, snatching her hands away from his member to protect her skull.
“Oh God, Megan, I’m so sorry,” Saeyoung cried out, gently rubbing the spot he’d caused her to bump, pulling her closer to his chest and dappling her face with apologetic kisses.
“I’m fine,” she whined, her face burning with embarrassment, but when she saw the concern in his eyes, she couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “This has got to be the worst car to try and have sex in.”
Saeyoung’s face split into a grin. “You’re right. My next purchase will be a van!”
She giggled into the crook of his neck, feeling the suppressed laughter contained in his chest. She tilted her face towards him and placed a soft kiss against his lower lip. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered with all the sincerity that her heart contained.
“Me too,” he said with a sigh. “This all feels like a dream.”
She stroked the soft skin of his cheeks, gazing into his glittering eyes. “This is real,” she said, as much to herself as to him.
He rubbed his hands across her back and she shivered with delight beneath his touch.
“We should take some water back to Saeran,” he said. “He needs to stay hydrated.”
Megan nodded as she slipped off his lap, adjusting her clothes as she climbed out of the car. He followed after her, holding her hand as they went to the back of the car and opened the trunk. Inside was an entire case of bottled water and a box of Honey Buddha Chips.
“I’ll carry the water if you can manage the chips,” said Saeyoung as he reached in and pulled out the box.
Megan chuckled, taking it from him. “No problem.”
Saeyoung heaved out the crate of water and slammed the trunk shut. “Let’s not keep them waiting,” he said, and they began to walk back to the cabin.
Chapter 45: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa wiped Saeran’s brow with a damp cloth once he had finished heaving into the bucket. He was panting and sweating, but as he laid back on the bed exhausted, he looked at her and smiled.
“How are you feeling?” she asked softly as she used the cloth to cool his heated skin.
He let out a small sigh. “Better, surprisingly.” He took Yu-hwa’s hand, removing the cloth and tossing it aside. “Yu-hwa.” He looked down at her slender fingers, twined with his own. “There’s a lot we have to talk about.”
Yu-hwa’s eyes also dropped to focus on their fingers, their only point of contact. That single, tender touch was enough to make her feel as though there was fire in her veins. She wondered if he felt it too.
“Firstly,” he said, “I want to apologise. I treated you badly. You’re the kindest and most wonderful person I’ve ever met, and I was so cruel to you. I’m really, really sorry, Yu-hwa.”
Yu-hwa said nothing, but she gave him a small, encouraging smile, prompting him to continue.
“I just… I need you to know…” He struggled to find the words he wanted to say, fidgeting with his fingers, rubbing them against hers.
“Hey,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. His eyes lifted, meeting the deep brown depths of hers. “I’m here, and I’ll listen to anything you have to say. But please, you’re my best friend. Don’t be afraid or hesitant with me. Please.”
Saeran stared at her for a moment, then his eyes softened, and his smile grew. “You’re right.” He squeezed her hand gently. “I need you to know that Ray isn’t gone. He never was. Saeran was just stronger, but now…” His voice trailed off as he watched the tears instantly begin to fall from Yu-hwa’s eyes. He used his thumbs to carefully wipe them away. “The part of me that is Ray, and the part that’s Saeran… thanks to you, they’re finally coming together.”
Yu-hwa smiled through her tears. Her heart felt as though it might burst. I knew it, she thought. Ray was never gone.
“Yu-hwa,” he continued, his own eyes filling with tears. “I know that I’m not the same man I was when I brought you to Magenta. I’m not the man you…” he blushed slightly, “…fell for. But I’d like to try and win your heart again… if you’ll let me.”
Yu-hwa was glad that she was sitting down because at his words her entire body became weak. She was sure she would have collapsed had she been standing.
“Of course,” she said breathily. “And I’m rooting for you.”
The laughter that tumbled from Saeran’s lips was definitely the relieved kind, and he pulled her tightly to his chest, folding his arms around her in a tight hug. She embraced him in return, her tears soaking his shirt.
“There’s something else,” he said quietly, his breath hot against her hair. “I’m both Ray and Saeran, and both want you to be happy. So call me by whichever name you feel comfortable with.”
Yu-hwa pushed herself back so that she could see his face, his eyebrows raised expectantly as he waited for her to reply.
“No,” she said, her hand cupping his hollow cheek. He gaped at her, but she continued. “Why don’t you decide for yourself who you want to be?”
He chewed his lip, pressing his hand against hers, still gently touching his face. “Is it really okay to do that?” he asked her, his voice edged with disbelief.
“Of course it is,” Yu-hwa chuckled. “There’s no longer anyone who can control you. You can make your own choices now.”
“Well,” he said, his mouth curling into a smile, “if I can really choose for myself… Saeran lived a miserable life… tortured, tormented, lied to. I have no happy memories connected to Saeran.” He took her palm and kissed it tenderly. “As Ray though, I felt things I’d never experienced before. As Ray, I met you, and I got to feel what real happiness is. For the first time, I felt hope for the future. Ray is trusting and full of love. If it’s truly for me to decide, I choose hope. I choose to love. I choose to be Ray.”
Yu-hwa could no longer hold back. She threw her arms around him, burying her face into the crook of his neck. “Then be Ray because it’s who you want to be, and not who you were forced to become.” She felt his hand warm her nape, gently stroking her hair as he held her close to his heart.
“Thank you, Yu-hwa,” he whispered.
“We’re partners, Ray,” she replied with a beaming smile. “I’ll always be here when you need me.”
They held each other gently, a warm feeling of contentment enveloping them like a blanket, until the sound of the cabin door opening broke their embrace. Megan peered into the room looking rather flushed.
“We brought more water and something to eat,” she said, her eyes darting between them. “You must be hungry.”
“Actually, I’m starving,” Yu-hwa said with a nod. “What did you get?”
Megan’s blush deepened. “Saeyoung actually brought a box of chips,” she said.
“Saeyoung?” questioned Yu-hwa.
“That’s my idiot brothers real name,” Ray grumbled with narrowed eyes.
“Right,” Yu-hwa sighed. “Did he really only bring chips?”
“Honey Buddha Chips,” Saeyoung cried out, stepping into the room and standing beside Megan. His face looked just as flushed as hers.
“Okay, I guess,” Yu-hwa mumbled, her eyes switching between Megan and the redhead. There was something off about the pair of them, but she couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
“Saeran, you’re awake,” Saeyoung said in a gentle tone.
“Don’t call me that anymore,” Ray spat through his scowl.
“He’s decided to go by Ray now,” Yu-hwa explained softly, her fingers twirling round in the tips of her hair.
“Really?” Megan gasped, her eyes wide as she stared at the bedridden hacker. “So you’re Ray again now?”
“I am Ray,” he replied with a frown, “as much as I am Saeran.”
“We’ll respect your choice,” Saeyoung said, nudging Megan with his elbow.
“Yeah, of course,” said Megan with a sheepish smile.
Yu-hwa’s eyes narrowed. “Wait, are you… did you?” She noticed how Megan’s hair was more unkempt than it had been when she’d left the cabin, and her skirt had many more wrinkles.
“What’s the matter, Yu-hwa?” Ray asked, glaring at his brother as if it were his mere presence that had flustered her.
Yu-hwa bit her lip, staring at Megan. Megan looked back, and Yu-hwa’s small nod towards Saeyoung was enough for a hot red blush to cover Megan’s face.
“It’s nothing,” Yu-hwa mumbled as she tried to contain her laughter. Wow, did they really do it? So fast.
Ray searched her face, but shrugged when he found no answer.
“Sae- I mean, Ray,” Saeyoung said awkwardly. “I have more water.” He held out a fresh bottle to his brother, but Ray merely sat with his arms crossed defensively over his chest, his eyes glaring venomously at his twin. The redhead didn’t even try to hide his sadness, and his eyes became glassy with tears. “Please…”
“Thank you,” Yu-hwa said, taking the bottle. “Ray definitely needs rehydrating.” She passed him the water bottle, which he took from her willingly. “Saeyoung,” Yu-hwa continued. “Would you set up the security cameras around the cabin? I’ll feel a little safer if I’m able to see anyone approaching from outside.”
“Sure,” he said, and with one last look at Ray, he left the room.
Megan frowned. “Should I go help him?” she asked, looking at Yu-hwa.
“Yeah, I think he’d appreciate the company,” Yu-hwa said, then with a smirk, she added, “especially if it’s you.”
Megan’s face turned scarlet, and she quickly turned and exited, leaving Yu-hwa giggling.
“Did I miss something?” Ray asked, utterly confused by the interaction.
Yu-hwa tucked her hands into the sleeves of her sweater. “Don’t get angry, but I think Megan had a crush on your brother before she even knew he was a real person.” She pursed her lips for a moment as a thought crossed her mind, and she broke into a fit of laughter. “Oh gosh, she said she thought you were cute the first time I met her. I bet it’s because you’re his twin.” She continued to laugh into her sleeves.
“Yu-hwa,” Ray mumbled, seemingly unimpressed. “Are you suggesting that Megan is interested in my idiot brother?”
“Don’t be so cruel,” she chastised him. “Please try and give him a chance to explain himself. He’s here helping us after all.”
Ray pouted. “Fine, but only because you asked me to.”
Yu-hwa smiled, reaching out to touch him, but he caught her by the sleeve.
“Yu-hwa, you’re one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever laid eyes on,” he said, his tone serious and his eyes so intense that she couldn’t look away. “Why do you insist on wearing this… sweater?”
Yu-hwa’s jaw dropped, shocked by his question, but laughter once more bubbled on her lips, and she hid her face in the roll neck until her giggles finally ceased. “I know it’s ugly, but it was the last gift my mother gave me. She wanted me to have something to keep me warm. She’d wanted to buy it in pink, but the store had sold out, so she bought this brown one instead. It’s awful, I know, but it makes me feel safe. It’s what my mother wanted.”
Ray said nothing, but he allowed her fingers to reach him, pressing gentle kisses on each fingertip, making Yu-hwa’s heart rate soar.
“Yu-hwa,” he whispered, “I know I’ll have to go into therapy once we’re out of this situation. I know how messed up I am, what a wreck my head is, but I want you to know that I want to be there for you. I want to keep you safe, but not the way I did before. I don’t want to hide you away like a caged bird. I want you to be happy.”
“I want all of that for you too,” Yu-hwa said. “Let’s get you well again so we can get out of here and find our happiness.”
She unscrewed the cap and passed the water bottle to Ray. He took a long drink, then frowned, his face a grimace.
“I think I need that bucket again.”
Yu-hwa smiled sympathetically as she passed him the bucket, which he immediately began to throw up into. She rubbed his back gently, her heart swelling with love, despite their dire situation.
Chapter 46: V
V stumbled as he made his way through the woods. He knew where he was and where he was going, but daylight had long since faded, and the terrain was uneven. He had no intention of stopping, however, no matter how hard his chest wheezed, his heart heaved, or his head ached. He needed to get to the cabin. He followed the treeline, staying out of sight of the road, his noticeable hair hidden beneath a black hood. His breath sounded so loud, and his pulse pounded in his ears. He felt almost certain that it could be heard outside of his own head. Continuing onward, he followed a path he had taken several times during his trips back and forth from Magenta, but in the darkness, it had become something entirely new, and a protruding tree root caught his foot, sending him flying forward, hitting the ground so hard that it crushed the air out of his body. He gasped, his lungs working hard to regain what they had lost. His head was filled with ringing, and bright colours blotted his vision. The pain felt like an ice pick to his skull, and for a moment he couldn’t move at all. Then his ears picked up the sound of twigs being cracked beneath feet. His pulse quickened. Is this it? he wondered. Has my destiny finally come to meet me? He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, waiting for his fate to arrive.
“A noisy one, aren’t you?” The sound of a gun being cocked. “Who are you? Are you with that weird cult?”
V gasped, lifting his head to get a look at the man standing over him, pointing a gun directly between his eyes.
“No, I’m not one of them,” V said, his voice calm and steady despite the burning in his chest. “May I ask who you are?”
“I’ll be the one asking the questions,” the man said, keeping his gun trained on V’s head. “What are you doing out here?”
V tried to look up at the man, but his face was obscured in the darkness. “I’m trying to reach someone. They’re in grave danger right now, and I fear that it’s all my fault.”
V heard the man quietly suck in a breath, his body tensing slightly at V’s words.
“Who are you?” he hissed.
V pushed himself to his knees, getting a closer look at the man who held him at gunpoint. Most of his face was shrouded by long brown hair, but it didn’t hide the unimpressed scowl he wore, nor the dangerous glint in his eyes.
“Are you looking to get a bullet put through you?” the man grumbled. “This thing’s loaded, you know.”
“I apologise,” V responded. “It’s just difficult to hold a conversation when I’m face down in the dirt.”
“This isn’t a conversation,” the man said. “I asked you your name, and if I don’t like your answer, you’re not going to like my response.”
V felt a chill creep down his spine, but he didn’t let his fear show on his face. Instead, he looked directly at the man who had more or less just threatened to kill him. “My name is Jihyun Kim, but most people know me as V. I’m a photographer.”
The man seemed to consider V’s statement, though the gun remained steadily pointed at his head.
“What are you doing here then?” the man asked again. “Who is a photographer supposed to save?”
V gazed up at the man, his eyes pleading desperately. “Twins, that were supposed to be safe under my care, but all I’ve done is place them in even more danger. I have to get to them before someone else does.”
At last, the man lowered his gun, and his eyes were shocked wide open. “Twins? You can’t be talking about Seven, can you?”
V gasped. “Yes, I am.” His mind raced as he considered just who the man standing before him could be. Even if he’s not with Mint Eye, he could be an assassin or one of the prime minister’s men.
“Shit,” the man hissed. He paused for a moment, then caught V by his collar and dragged him to his feet. “I was sent by the agency to kill him, but…” He sighed. “The name’s Vanderwood. That kid promised to help me get out of that shithole, so I’m currently helping him while he fixes up his brother.”
“You’re helping him?” asked V, a wave of relief crashing over him. “Then he’s safely at the cabin with the hackers?”
“Yeah,” Vanderwood confirmed. “I think he mentioned you once. The prime minister wanted to buy your photos?”
V frowned and nodded. “But I fear the prime minister may know they’re out here. I’ve been observing the goings on within Mint Eye, and…” He stopped, the truth feeling like a lead weight in his chest.
“Spit it out,” Vanderwood demanded.
V took a deep breath. “I believe that the prime minister has been contacted by the leader of Mint Eye. I imagine she believes she can manipulate him, but she has no idea of the things he is capable of. Those twins are not safe. They need to get away before the prime minister and Mint Eye find them.”
Vanderwood grimaced. “It’s a bit of a way back to the cabin from here,” he said. “Let’s stop talking and start walking.”
“You’re coming too?” V asked.
“Of course I am,” snapped Vanderwood. “Seven is my ticket out of the agency.” He tutted and gave a loud huff. “And… he’s not a bad kid. He doesn’t deserve half the shit he has to deal with.”
V stared down at the floor, his mint-coloured hair hiding his shame-filled eyes. “You’re right,” he muttered. “I… have to fix this.”
“Well, I don’t know how you plan to do that,” Vanderwood said, “but let’s start with getting to the cabin before anyone with bad intentions does.”
He turned quickly on his heel and began to stride away, confidently manoeuvring over the uneven ground, his black clothes blending too well into the darkness. V pulled his hood back over his head, and with as much haste as he could safely muster, he followed the agent in the direction of the cabin.
Chapter 47: Yu-hwa
Ray had just fallen asleep when Saeyoung poked his head into the room and beckoned for Yu-hwa to join him. She glanced down at Ray, a sheen of sweat across his face from the exhausting amount of throwing up he’d done. Quietly, Yu-hwa followed the older twin into the living room.
“Cameras are up,” he said, turning his laptop so she could see the screen, which was split into four windows, each showing a different view outside the cabin. “We can focus on a single camera,” he continued, making one of the windows expand to fill the screen, “and also…” He pressed a button and the screen was filled with his and Yu-hwa’s faces. “All the footage is being streamed to C&R, so if something happens…”
“Someone will know,” finished Yu-hwa. “I never considered having a camera inside the cabin, but I’m not against the idea. Did you tell Megan?”
Saeyoung frowned. “She agreed, but she didn’t seem too happy,” he said in a low voice, glancing over to where Megan stood in the kitchen.
Yu-hwa bit her lip. “Yeah, Ray… Saeran… he had a camera placed in her room at Magenta. He tormented her, but…”
“Saeran did that?” Saeyoung gasped in disbelief.
Yu-hwa sighed, dragging him out onto the porch where they could speak privately. “Your brother has been through hell,” she hissed. “He’s been tortured, drugged and brainwashed to the point that he developed a second personality in order to protect himself.” She frowned as she watched fat tears form in Saeyoung’s eyes. “He’s getting better, but the truth is, he was abusive to Megan. He did a lot of bad things, and I’m not going to make excuses for him. But he’s changing. He’ll need therapy, but he’s already trying to be better.”
“Is that why he decided to change his name?” Saeyoung asked, removing his glasses and wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his hoodie.
“He associates many more positive memories with his time as Ray,” Yu-hwa explained, “and it’s the first time he’s ever been able to choose something for himself.”
Saeyoung sniffed, but a smile appeared on his face. “Now that’s not really true, is it, Yu-hwa?” he said. “He chose you.”
Yu-hwa felt the hot blush creeping up her neck, and she stared down at the ground, twisting her hair around in her fingers.
“I’m glad he did,” Saeyoung went on. “You’ve done so much to help him. You have no idea how thankful I am. You saved him.”
“I just wanted to protect him,” she whispered. “I… I love him.”
“I know,” said Saeyoung. “And I can see that he loves you too. I’ll do anything I can to make sure that you get the chance of a future together.”
“I…” Yu-hwa used her sweater to wipe her own tears, then smiled up at the redhead. “Thank you. Thank you so much, Saeyoung.”
He squeezed her shoulder affectionately and they headed back into the cabin, where Saeyoung’s attention returned to Megan. “I should make sure she’s okay,” he said, giving Yu-hwa one last grin before heading to the kitchen.
She watched him, smiling as he went to Megan’s side and slipped an arm around her waist. The brunette leaned against him, her head resting gently on his shoulder, and Yu-hwa left them to have their quiet moment together, checking the cameras once more before returning to the bedroom where Ray was still sleeping, snoring lightly. She sat in the chair beside him, curling her legs up beneath her. She was glad she’d taken some time to rest before Saeyoung’s arrival, but now her body felt completely drained. She didn’t even have the energy to keep her eyes open.
Megan’s urgent tone roused Yu-hwa from her unplanned sleep as much as the shaking of her shoulders did.
“What? What happened?” Yu-hwa snapped, checking on Ray, her body trembling as the sudden rush of adrenaline coursed through her body.
Ray stirred too, sitting himself up drowsily. “Waz goinon?” he slurred.
Yu-hwa looked back at Megan, waiting for an explanation.
“Saeyoung said he saw someone on the camera outside,” she said, her voice pitched higher in her panic. “But they vanished, and now he can’t find them!”
Ray rubbed his tired eyes, his brow crumpled in annoyance. “Are you sure he’s not mistaken?” he asked. “Could it just be shadows or something?”
Megan shook her head. “He’s certain he saw somebody. He’s going out to take a look.”
Yu-hwa stood up. “That’s too dangerous!”
“That’s why I came to get you,” Megan said, almost sobbing.
“What is that idiot thinking?” snarled Ray, kicking off the sheets.
Yu-hwa placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “Stay in bed for now. You still need to recover. I’ll go check what’s going on.”
Ray huffed, folding his arms and pouting like a child, but he did not argue with Yu-hwa, and she smiled softly, leaning over the bed to press a kiss on his forehead. He gazed up at her helplessly as she walked away, following Megan.
Saeyoung was just preparing to leave, pulling up his hood as he checked the camera footage.
“What are you doing, Saeyoung?” Yu-hwa asked sternly.
He glanced up at her with a sigh. “Megan, I told you just to let her sleep.”
Megan shrank back at Saeyoung’s cool tone, but Yu-hwa stalked up to him with a scowl.
“I don’t need sleep,” she snapped. “I need to know what you think you saw.”
His lips pressed together as he moved aside so that Yu-hwa could see the screen of his laptop. “It was a figure standing by the treeline,” he explained. “There’s a chance that it could be my partner from the agency, Vanderwood, since I asked him to stay out there and look for anything that might be a threat to us while we’re here.”
“So, the person you saw could be Vanderwood?” Yu-hwa asked.
“Yes, but I can’t be certain, and I’m not willing to take a risk.”
Yu-hwa nodded. “Then I’ll come with you.”
Ray stood, leaning against the doorframe, panting heavily from the effort it had taken to climb out of bed.
“Ray?” Yu-hwa felt her heart ache. All he had ever wanted to do was protect her, but now she wanted to protect him too. She rushed to his side and carefully led him to the couch where he could sit down. “I’ll be fine, I promise,” she assured him, holding on to his hand. “I’m not going alone.”
“But it’s too dangerous,” he said with a whimper. “Please Yu-hwa, please don’t leave me.”
Yu-hwa pulled him close, resting his head against her chest as she ran her fingers through his hair. “Ray, I promise I’ll come back to you. No matter what, I’ll always return to your side.”
Ray held on to her tightly, his hands gripping her sweater, his tears soaking through the wool.
“Ray…” Saeyoung watched his brother with eyes full of sympathy. He looked at Yu-hwa. “It might be better if you stay here.”
“I can’t believe the idiot said something I agree with,” Ray sniffled.
“Ray, don’t,” Yu-hwa pleaded.
Ray sat up and wiped his eyes. “Yu-hwa, you’ve got to understand…” He glared at his brother. “He abandoned me. He left me with our mother, who only abused me more after he vanished. I thought he was dead. I cried until there was no moisture left in my body.”
“Ray…” Saeyoung’s eyes were brimming with tears. He looked like he had just been punched in the stomach. “I left because I was trying to protect you. It was all I could do to keep us safe from our father.”
“Do I look like I’ve been kept safe?” Ray spat. “I thought I would die!”
Yu-hwa held his hand and looked to Saeyoung. “He deserves an explanation,” she said.
Saeyoung sat on the nearby stool and sighed. “I didn’t want to leave, but V and Rika swore that they would take care of you. Rika even sent me pictures of you smiling. I thought you were safe and happy. I never imagined anything like this. I thought you were living a normal life, going to school, making friends, things like that.”
“It’s not as if Saeyoung has had an easy life,” Megan chimed in quietly. “The agency he worked for sent someone to kill him.”
Ray scowled. “You think I haven’t seen the chatrooms?” he hissed. “He laughs and has fun. He doesn’t think of me at all!”
“That’s not true,” Saeyoung muttered. “I always think about you. There hasn’t been a day go by when I haven’t thought about you. You’re my other half. Every day has been miserable without you. The laughing? The jokes? They’re all a front to hide just how much pain I feel being apart from you. You’re my brother, my twin. I love you.”
Ray stared up at him, and Yu-hwa could feel him trembling against her. His eyes were damp with unshed tears, but she saw something else in them too. She saw hope.
“Ray, maybe you should hear him out,” Yu-hwa said encouragingly. “You’ve only ever heard one side to this story, and I think you know by now that the sav- I mean, Rika, can’t be trusted.”
Ray’s eyes focused intently on the way Yu-hwa’s fingers fit between his own as he mumbled, “You’re right.”
Yu-hwa felt her heart flutter with pride. Ray was finally taking his first steps in thinking for himself and making his own judgements. She smiled at Saeyoung, who muttered a silent ‘thank you’ at her as he wiped away his tears.
“Ray,” he said with a sniff. “I want to talk to you about everything. I want you to know why I thought the choices were made for the best. Once you’ve heard it all, I’ll respect whatever judgements you make. I only ever want you to be safe and happy.”
Ray remained silent, but Yu-hwa could feel the gentle pressure he was applying to her hand, and she softly squeezed him back. The tension was broken a moment later by the ringing of Saeyoung’s phone.
“Vanderwood,” he said as he squinted at the screen. He pressed the phone to his ear. His brow furrowed as he listened. “The line’s breaking up. Can you move?... What?... I can’t hear you… Listen, where are you? Are you near the cabin?... Vanderwood? Hello?” He hung up the phone in frustration.
“Bad reception?” asked Megan.
Saeyoung nodded. “I don’t know what he was trying to say, but the fact that he called at all concerns me. I’m going to check outside. I won’t be long.” He opened the door without further hesitation.
Yu-hwa’s eyes widened as she saw him stagger back. Her whole body tensed, as did Ray’s, and he gripped her hand even tighter.
“It’s good to see you again, Luciel,” said a voice they both recognised.
Ray was quick to stand, shielding Yu-hwa, his breathing becoming frantic. She peered around him, a cold sweat coating her body. Megan had pressed herself against the wall, staring past Saeyoung in disbelief as Rika sauntered into the room.
“I’m so happy to see you all again,” she said sweetly.
Yu-hwa slipped back behind Ray. She could see the laptop. If she could angle it just right, the feed that would be received by Jumin Han could be enough to use against the woman who had abused so many.
“How?” gasped Saeyoung. “How did you find us?”
Rika chuckled. “I had some help.”
Yu-hwa quickly slipped off the couch while Rika was distracted by Saeyoung’s question and adjusted the laptop just in time to catch the prime minister, Saejoong Choi, walking through the door.
Chapter 48: Yu-hwa
Yu-hwa watched as she carefully adjusted the laptop, feeling strangely disconnected from reality as Saeyoung’s first reaction was to leap for the gun; but Saejoong was closer and reached it with ease.
“Is that any way to greet your father?” he chastised as he weighed the weapon in his manicured hands.
Saeyoung snarled and backed up, trembling slightly in shock. “It is when he’s been trying to have me killed my entire life.”
“Saeran,” Rika spoke up, her voice soft and her eyes fixed lovingly on the younger twin. “I’m so glad you’re safe. It was awful to have you kidnapped before my eyes, but now I can take you back home.”
“I wasn’t kidnapped,” Ray snapped, still standing defiantly in front of Yu-hwa. “I was rescued. And I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“He’s right,” sneered Saejoong. “He’s not going anywhere but the afterlife.”
Rika’s eyes widened as her head snapped towards the prime minister. “We had a deal!” Her expression twisted in anger as the calm and controlled demeanour slipped away entirely, revealing the madness within her. Her chest heaved with the rage she harboured. “You told me we could take them back with us, both of them,” she said shrilly. “They just need to conform to the ways of Mint Eye, then we can put them to work. They’re useful children.”
Saejoong looked down at her with smug pity. “I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” he said coolly. “While they still draw breath, they are a threat to my career. I’ve waited over two decades for this moment. I’m not going to let this opportunity slip away, even if I have to do it myself.” His eyes surveyed the room until they finally fixed on Ray. He smirked as he took in the shock of white hair, piercing green eyes and the way his thin body stood protectively in front of Yu-hwa, who had returned to her place on the couch, quietly peeking out from behind his hip.
“Saeran,” Saejoong said, a growl in his voice. “You’ve done an excellent job of staying off my radar, but you made a grave mistake when you rebelled against your savior.”
“It wasn’t a mistake,” Ray hissed. “The mistake was staying by her side for so long.”
Rika gasped, her face warping into a look of deep sorrow. “Do you truly hate me so much, Saeran?” she asked. “Even though I raised you? Even though I kept you safe?”
“Raised me?” Ray said with a laugh. “You kidnapped me, abused me, drugged me, and lied to me, all so that you could use me to help build your cult. If I hadn’t met Yu-hwa, I’d still be stuck there with you, suffering until I eventually died.”
Rika squared her jaw. “Saeran, I-”
“Stop calling me that!” he yelled. “I’m not answering to that name anymore.”
“Oh?” Saejoong quirked his eyebrow. “So what name do you prefer we use?”
Ray baulked at being spoken to directly by his father. “R-Ray,” he stammered.
“Ray?” Saejoong smiled dangerously. “That pretty little thing behind you; would that be Yu-hwa?”
Yu-hwa watched as Ray’s body became more still than she had ever seen it. She peered up at him, but she couldn’t see the expression on his face.
“Keep the fuck away from her,” he snarled threateningly, his voice low and rumbling.
Saejoong merely grinned and ignored his younger son. “Yu-hwa, my dear. Why don’t you come out from hiding and let me see you? I’ve already heard so much about you.”
Yu-hwa chewed her lower lip, shifting her position, but Ray twisted to look at her, his eyes pleading desperately. “Please stay there, Yu-hwa. He’ll hurt you. Please, stay away from him.”
Saejoong’s grin widened. “I won’t hurt you, my dear. Not if you’re a good girl and let me look at you.”
Yu-hwa felt her heart race in terror as she stared into the cold golden eyes of the man who wanted to kill the person she cared about the most in the world.
“Let me rephrase that,” Saejoong said softly. “Come here Yu-hwa-” he lifted the gun and pointed it directly at Megan’s head, “-or I will kill your friend.”
Saeyoung leapt in front of Megan, blocking her from the muzzle of the deadly weapon.
“Don’t worry,” Saejoong chuckled. “I’ll make sure that there’s a bullet for you, but if you insist on standing right there, I’ll simply kill you before I put a bullet through her.”
Yu-hwa could feel herself beginning to panic, her breath coming out in short gasps. She could hear Megan crying. She could see the fear on Saeyoung’s face. She could see Ray’s back, boldly defending her even as his hands trembled and clenched into fists.
“Stop,” Yu-hwa said, but it came out as an almost inaudible squeak that nobody else heard. She swallowed, but her throat felt so dry that her words stuck there. Closing her eyes, she tried to think. She knew that she was right in the middle of her worst-case scenario, but one thing was clear in her mind. She had to protect her friends. She had to protect Ray. Nothing had changed that simple fact. She put her feet on the ground, and almost as soon as she did, Ray spun and grabbed her wrist.
“Yu-hwa,” he said breathily, his eyes staring into hers, begging her not to move. “Please.”
She couldn’t speak, and her heart ached at defying him, but she stood up and hoped that the gentle touch of her hand on his face was enough to tell him everything she was feeling in that moment. His mouth opened, but no words came forth. Tears welled in his eyes, and she could see the pain that lay within them, but his fingers loosened around her wrist, and although he did not let go, she was able to slip free of his grasp. She took a single step past him, casting her eyes towards the prime minister, who still had the gun pointing towards Saeyoung and Megan. He smirked, narrowing his eyes as he lowered the weapon, and even Rika breathed a sigh of relief. Yu-hwa took another step, feeling Ray’s breath stilling behind her.
“Good girl,” Saejoong crooned as he admired her frightened expression. “I hear the younger boy is quite fond of you. I can see why.”
Yu-hwa’s feet continued to carry her in a daze towards the man she was sure would spell her doom. Her heart pounded in her ears, and everything else felt like an awful dream.
“She’s quite lovely,” Saejoong commented as she neared. “It’s such a shame that she knows too much.”
“You could use her,” Rika cried out, her tone sounding a little too desperate. “Her and Megan! You could use them to manipulate the twins. There’s no need to kill them if we can keep them loyal.”
Saejoong sighed and shook his head. “You don’t seem to understand what’s at stake here,” he said. “These children could ruin me. They know far too much. You don’t need any of them as much as you seem to think you do. Don’t you already have a good candidate to replace Ray with?”
Rika pouted but nodded her head. “It will take some time, and mixing the elixir is a slow process.”
“Then I’ll offer you my financial support,” said Saejoong. “We’ll soon have the equipment to produce your elixir by the gallon. You and I will go a long way together, but only if you give up trying to have these twins spared.”
Rika’s gaze fell on Saeyoung, then Ray, and finally back to Saejoong. She nodded.
“Good,” he said, returning his attention back to Yu-hwa. “Come closer, my dear.”
Yu-hwa felt sick as she took another small step. She could almost feel the threads that connected her to Ray being pulled taut, and it was agonising. Tears rolled along her eyelashes, dripping onto her cheeks. The prime minister stretched out his arm to reach her, his fingers stroking the soft skin under her chin.
“Lovely,” he muttered to himself. “Simply lovely.”
Yu-hwa could barely breathe at all as he traced the line of her jaw, then down her throat as far as the neck of her sweater would allow. Saejoong gave a small hum of distaste as he tugged lightly at the garment.
“Why would such a pretty girl wear such an ugly thing?” he asked rhetorically. He lifted the gun to Yu-hwa’s face and pushed back her shroud of pink hair.
“Get off her!” Ray shrieked suddenly.
Yu-hwa heard him take a step, but it was quickly followed by a thud. She turned, despite the gun that was dangerously close to her head, to see that he had collapsed to his knees, panting heavily. The stress had become too much for his frail body to take.
“Ray!” Yu-hwa called out, attempting to rush to his side, but Saejoong caught her arm in a tight grip.
“Not so fast,” he growled, the barrel of the gun pressing against her cheek.
Saeyoung used that moment to rush to his brother’s side, dragging Megan along with him. The motion took Saejoong by surprise, and he reacted by wrapping his hand around Yu-hwa’s throat, pulling her back against his chest. She let out a gasp and began to struggle until she saw that he now had the gun aimed at Ray. His green eyes were wide as he looked up at her, his hands tightly holding on to Saeyoung and Megan, who each embraced him back.
“I’ve had enough,” Saejoong snarled.
Yu-hwa watched as his finger curled around the trigger. Is this it? she wondered. Is this really how it ends?
Chapter 49: Yu-hwa
No! This can’t happen!
Even though she was struggling to breathe; even though her heart pounded painfully fast; even though there was fear burning through her entire body, making her want to wither up; she knew that she would not have another opportunity to act. This was her last chance to protect Ray, and that thought alone was enough to spur her into action. She furrowed her brow and looked at Saeyoung who was staring at his father in horror, but Yu-hwa’s small motion caught the attention of his observant eyes, and she gave him the slightest nod she could manage. She knew she had to be brave now. Taking a deep breath, she lifted up her arm, then rammed her elbow with as much force as she could muster into the prime minister’s ribcage. He gasped, and Saeyoung used that moment's distraction to lunge forward, wrestling the gun from Saejoong’s hand. Yu-hwa was shoved roughly to the ground, landing painfully on her hip, but a moment later, gentle arms embraced her. She looked up to see Ray, his pale face tear-streaked and masked with concern.
She blinked, then wrapped her arms around him tightly as he quickly pulled her away from the brawling. She could see that Saeyoung’s face was already bloody, and being the larger man, Saejoong seemed to have the advantage. Yu-hwa looked around desperately for a way to help turn the tables. Her eyes found the wooden stool, and she squeezed Ray’s hand before she let go, making a bee-line to the chair. Suddenly though, she was dragged back, feeling a sharp pain in her scalp as her hair was yanked violently.
“You little bitch,” Rika screeched, clawing and scratching at Yu-hwa’s arms and face with insane fury. “You ruin everything!”
“Get off her!” Ray yelled, wrapping his arms around Rika’s waist and dragging her away. “Yu-hwa! Go!”
Yu-hwa nodded and grabbed the chair, then rushed passed Ray who was struggling but still holding back the manic Rika. She lifted the chair and brought it down upon the head of Saejoong Choi with every ounce of her strength. The chair cracked, splintering into pieces as it made contact, and Saejoong’s attack immediately ceased as he toppled aside dizzily. Rika shrieked and struggled harder against Ray, who was clearly having trouble holding on to her. Yu-hwa dragged Saeyoung by his arm away from his father and towards Megan, who seemed frozen to the spot in fear.
“Megan?” Yu-hwa brushed her thumb across her friend’s cheek, the gentle contact alleviating some of the terror the brunette held in her eyes. This was me not so long ago, Yu-hwa thought.
“Let… go!” Rika screamed as she finally freed herself from Ray’s weakened grip, leaving his hands scratched and bloody.
“Watch out!” he yelled to Yu-hwa as the crazed blonde hurtled towards her.
Yu-hwa braced herself for the collision, but Rika passed her, and suddenly Yu-hwa realised why. “The gun!” she yelled in warning as Rika picked up the weapon with a maniacal laugh.
Then everything fell into chaos.
The cabin door flew off its hinges as a long-haired man clad in black burst through with a gun of his own aimed at Rika. Behind him, Yu-hwa was surprised to see V.
“Rika! No!” V cried out, shoving past the man with him, but his voice was lost beneath the ringing of a gunshot.
Yu-hwa screwed her eyes shut tight until the whining that filled her head died down.
When she opened them again, V was on the floor, coated in blood. The long-haired man she assumed to be Saeyoung’s partner, Vanderwood, was at his side, applying pressure to the wound in V’s shoulder. Yu-hwa stood frozen, unable to turn her eyes away from the bright red river that leaked down V’s arm until she felt warm hands on her shoulders.
“Yu-hwa,” Ray whispered. “Don’t look.”
She felt his fingers lace with hers and walked dazedly with him as he led her out into the crisp night air. He pulled her close and she fell into his gentle embrace. The floodgates finally opened, and she sobbed quietly into his chest, her tears soaking through his shirt, her body shaking. He silently continued to hold her until she was all cried out.
“Wh-what happened?” she asked quietly.
There was a beat of silence, hesitation before he answered. “Rika shot V, but she got away. Saeyoung managed to restrain the prime minister. Megan… I think she’s in shock.”
“And what about you?” Yu-hwa asked, looking up at Ray’s tired face.
“I’m…” He chuckled. “I think I’m going to be okay. I need help, I know that, but I think I’m finally ready for the truth. My brother… V… They’re not the monsters I was led to believe they were.” He pressed his lips firmly against her forehead as if it were the last kiss he might ever give her, and he wanted her to feel it even after he was gone. “Yu-hwa, remember when I asked you if you’d let me have another chance to win your heart?”
Yu-hwa smiled and gave a small nod.
“Well, I want to be a man worthy of it,” he said. “I know that I’m a mess right now. I have to figure things out with Saeyoung, with V. I need to detox. I need to figure out who I am. And… it’s going to take time. Yu-hwa…”
“I’ll wait for you Ray,” she said before he could finish. “Do whatever it takes to get well. I promise I’ll be waiting.”
This time, he was the one to cry, sobbing against Yu-hwa’s shoulder. “Thank you,” he gasped as his body quivered in her arms. “Thank you so much.”
Suddenly the area was filled with the loud, choppy sound of helicopter blades. They both looked up into the sky where the helicopter was descending into the clearing.
“This looks dangerous,” Ray said, loud enough for Yu-hwa to hear him over the racket. “We should go back inside.”
They wiped away the tears from their faces and headed back through the now door-less entrance
“Is that a helicopter?” Vanderwood asked as soon as they were back in the cabin.
Ray nodded, his arm gently holding Yu-hwa’s waist.
“It will be the security team from C&R,” she said quietly. “Saeyoung set things up so that the camera footage would be received and recorded.” She looked at V, who was clearly in pain but bearing it well. “They’ll be able to fly you to a hospital. You’ll be fine.”
V managed a pained smile, but little more, so Yu-hwa pulled Ray in Megan’s direction. She was huddled up on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chest, oblivious to the worried glances she was drawing from the swollen face of Saeyoung, who stood across the room keeping watch over his father. The prime minister looked far less dazed but remained silent, his wrists zip-tied behind his back, all the fight gone from him. Yu-hwa sat down next to Megan, and Ray took a spot on her other side, sandwiching her between them.
“Are you okay?” Ray asked softly.
Megan didn’t speak, but she gave a small shake of her head. Yu-hwa squeezed her trembling hand.
“Do you need a hug?” she asked.
Megan sucked in her lower lip as the tears she’d been holding back finally began to fall. Yu-hwa snuggled in, both arms folding Megan in a gentle embrace and letting her rest her head on her shoulder. Ray followed Yu-hwa’s lead, hugging Megan from the other side. They only sat that way for a few moments, but for Yu-hwa, having a few minutes of contact with the two people who meant the world to her helped her finally find some calm. Then a team of men in black suits filed in through the entrance, guns drawn as they secured the position of everyone.
“Target is secure,” one man said as he approached the bound prime minister.
The group separated, two men helping V while another approached Saeyoung to check his injuries. The remaining man started packing up the laptop and equipment.
“What are you doing?” Yu-hwa asked as she rose from the floor.
The man looked at her, scrutinising her from head to toe. “You’re the hacker, correct?” he asked.
Yu-hwa nodded, feeling Ray moving closer until he was pressed to her side.
“We both are,” he said.
The man nodded. “Mr Han asked for the equipment to be secured straight away to reduce the risk of tampering.”
“It’s fine,” came Saeyoung’s voice as he crossed the room, finally able to join them. He slipped his hand into Megan’s, pulling her into his arms as he offered her as reassuring a smile as he could while his mouth was split and swollen. “Let Jumin handle all of this. He has the power and money to use the evidence we have to put the prime minister away for a long time. His career is over, and his connections will want to distance themselves from him. He’s ruined.”
“What about Rika?” asked Ray.
Saeyoung shrugged. “They’ve sent people out to search for her. If they find her, she’s going to spend a long time behind bars.”
“Hey!” Vanderwood joined them. “They’re going to take V to the hospital now,” he said, then looked at Saeyoung. “He wants to talk to you before he goes.
Saeyoung’s eyes narrowed. “I have nothing to say to him. He promised to keep my brother safe. He lied. I never want to speak with him again.”
Yu-hwa, Ray and Megan all stared wide-eyed at the redhead, but Vanderwood merely shrugged, returning to deliver Saeyoung’s reply.
“You should speak to him,” Ray said. “I have a lot of questions to ask him about why things turned out this way, but…” he glanced over his shoulder as V was led out of the cabin with his head hung low, clutching his shoulder, “I think he’s a victim too. If you want someone to be angry at, be angry at Rika; be angry at our father. V made some terrible mistakes, but he also tried to protect us.”
Saeyoung stared at his brother in awe and gave a small nod. “Okay. Not right now, not while I’m still angry at him, but in the future, after you and I have had an opportunity to figure things out, I promise that I’ll give him a chance to explain.”
Ray nodded, seemingly satisfied.
“And what about you two?” Saeyoung asked. “What are you planning to do next?”
Yu-hwa looked up at Ray, who gazed sadly back at her.
“I want to get well,” Ray said, more to her than to his brother. “I’ve lived with fear, anger and insecurities for too long. I’ve been tortured, drugged, brainwashed and abused. I’m a broken mess, but I want to get help to become whole again. I want to be able to have a future, filled with love and happiness.” He took Yu-hwa’s hands and pulled her a step closer. “I love you, Yu-hwa. I’m so sorry for all the pain you’ve endured because of me, but once I’m well, I’ll never hurt you like that again. I promise.”
Yu-hwa let go of his hands and wrapped her arms around his slim waist. She rested her head on his chest and listened to the gentle drumming of his heart. “I love you too, Ray. I have from the start.”
Six months later
Yu-hwa looked at her reflection in the mirror as she brushed her long pink hair. After a recent trip to the salon to get it dyed and trimmed, it looked glossy and felt soft, and she beamed as she pushed it out of her face and tied it into a ponytail. Dressed in a floral blouse and slim blue jeans, she looked cute but casual, perfect for the day ahead. Feeling satisfied with her appearance, she grabbed her phone from the dressing table. The last message she’d received still made her heart flutter.
I can’t believe that I finally get to see you tomorrow! I can’t wait!
She checked the time to see that it was still early. She had just under an hour before she needed to be ready to leave. Time for a cup of coffee, she thought and headed downstairs to the kitchen.
Yu-hwa felt lucky to have received so much help in making a new life for herself after escaping Mint Eye. Jumin Han had moved her into a small cottage and introduced her to a therapist who, in just a few sessions, had helped to change her outlook on life for the better. She was still working on overcoming her self-esteem troubles and coping with the trauma of her past, but she was feeling more hopeful for the future. Jumin had even offered her a job at C&R once she felt ready to start work again. She couldn’t help but giggle as she remembered the C&R job application form she had struggled to fill out before she had been picked up by Mint Eye. For once in her life, things were finally working out. There’s just one thing missing.
She smiled to herself as she filled the kettle and set it to boil, then scooped a spoonful of instant coffee into a mug, gazing through the window at the small garden outside. She’d only managed to plant a few flowers in it, but she was proud that they seemed to be thriving under her care. The kettle came to a boil and she poured the steaming water over the coffee granules, then went to sit at the kitchen table. She reached for her sketchbook. It was a new one she’d bought to replace the one she’d had to abandon at Magenta, but it was already half full; some pages with detailed sketches of faces that had become familiar to her: Jumin, Jaehee, Megan and Saeyoung, each of whom she saw at least once a week. She’d only met Yoosung and Zen once, but they chatted often in the RFA messenger, and she’d sketched them both using the selfies they sent. There was one face she didn’t need a reference for though, and the majority of pages were dedicated to him. She flipped through the pad, his image peering back at her through the marks left by her pencil until she came to one final, incomplete piece. Maybe I’ll finish this tomorrow, she thought as she closed the book again. There’s far too much excitement already happening today. She grinned at the thought, her stomach fluttering with anticipation. Then the doorbell rang. Yu-hwa leapt out of her seat, her eyes wide with surprise.
“He’s early!” she panicked, but then she took a long, deep breath. “Of course he is,” she muttered to herself with a chuckle, leaving her coffee on the table as she went to answer the door. It took her a moment to battle her nervousness with her excitement, but upon opening the door, her face lit up with the brightest of smiles.
He smiled despite the tears in his eyes, still tinted green by his contact lenses, but he was different in so many other ways. Unlike Yu-hwa, who had decided to continue dying her hair the same soft pink colour, Ray had chosen to give up the bleach, and as a result, there was now three inches of bright vermilion at the top of his head, contrasting sharply with the familiar white. He hadn’t had it cut either, and the pink tips brushed against his shoulders.
“You… you look…” he stammered as he blushed endearingly.
Yu-hwa took a deep breath, trying hard not to stare. He was as beautiful as ever. “You’re early,” she said, hoping that the heat in her cheeks didn’t look as bright as it felt. “Do you want to come in? I just made coffee.”
“Oh!” Ray gasped, checking the time on his phone. “I’m so sorry. I was just so excited about seeing you again. It’s been six months…” He bit his lip for a moment as if the memory of the day they’d had to say goodbye was replaying in his mind, but then he flashed her a wide smile. “I’d love some coffee. Thanks, Yu-hwa.”
Yu-hwa led him inside and through to the kitchen where she poured him a cup as he took a seat at the table. His eyes roamed the room as she passed him his drink and sat back on her chair.
“This place is nice,” he said.
She grinned. “Yeah, of course it is. Jumin owns it.” She chuckled. “He’s been taking really good care of me. He even offered me a job.”
“That’s good,” Ray said sincerely. “I thought about you a lot. I always hoped you were doing well.”
Yu-hwa watched as he softly gripped the mug. He looked nervous. “I’m so happy to see you again, Ray,” she said, hoping to ease his mind. “I’ve thought about you often too. Saeyoung kept me updated on how you were doing.”
“Yeah, he always let me know how you were too,” said Ray. He sighed. “Things are slowly starting to feel normal between me and him. We’re finally figuring out how to be brothers again.”
“I’m so happy to hear that,” Yu-hwa said enthusiastically. She’d worried about the brother's relationship, and though she had seen the fragments of a bond forming between them previously, she knew that it was not something that could be fixed overnight. “Have you had fun living with him again?”
Ray nodded as a small chuckle escaped his lips. “He’s a little crazy sometimes, but it’s better than staying in the hospital. I have to take so many pills.”
Yu-hwa nodded, taking a sip of her coffee. She was glad that, even though she hadn’t seen Ray for six months, she still felt safe and comfortable with him. Her heart fluttered when she looked up at him over the rim of her mug and caught him staring. They both blushed a vibrant shade of pink.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I just… I worried that things would change between us, that we’d both become too different…”
“I’m still me,” said Yu-hwa, reaching across the table and taking his slightly trembling hand. “I just feel better about myself, I have a little more confidence.”
Ray gently squeezed her fingers, her touch grounding him. “Me too. I feel more like a complete person.” He stared down into his cup, his reflection in the dark liquid returning his gaze. “Saeran… Ray… they’re both just… me.” He kept hold of Yu-hwa’s hand, using his other to lift his mug and take a long drink. He gave a satisfied gasp, the bitter taste hidden beneath scoops of sugar, then frowned. “Saeyoung still won’t speak to V.”
“I’d heard,” Yu-hwa said sadly. “How about you?”
“I’ve talked to him on the phone,” Ray said. “I think he needs some therapy too, but he’s helping Jumin with the information about the prime minister, dismantling Mint Eye and finding Rika.”
Yu-hwa knew better than to ask for more details, so she simply nodded. She’d seen enough in the press coverage to know plenty about how the case against the prime minister was going. Thanks to Jumin’s incredible team of lawyers and the incriminating CCTV footage, Saejoong Choi would be in prison for a very long time. As for Mint Eye, she and Ray had both been told that they should have no further involvement regarding Rika’s cult, for their own safety.
“Rika’s still missing,” Ray continued. “I have nightmares about her sometimes. I’m scared she’ll try and hurt us. I worry she’ll come after you.”
“I have a panic button,” Yu-hwa said. “There are security cameras covering the house and garden, and Jumin sends over a security guard every couple of days to check that everything is in order. You don’t need to worry about my safety.”
Ray smiled. “That’s reassuring.” He drank down the rest of his coffee and stood up. “So, are you ready for our first date?”
Yu-hwa felt her heart skip a beat. “I’m really excited,” she confessed. “What do you have planned?”
Ray’s eyes sparkled. “There’s an ice cream parlour in town that Saeyoung took me to. There are so many flavours to try. I hope that together we can eventually try them all! Then I thought we could take a walk around the park before dinner. I bought a sketchbook! I hoped we could draw together.”
Yu-hwa’s face lit up. “That sounds fantastic Ray. Shall we go now?” She stood and moved around the table to his side.
“I borrowed one of Saeyoung’s cars,” he said with a grin, fishing the keys out of his pocket. His eyes met hers, filled with sincere contentment. “I’m so happy. Right now, Yu-hwa, I’m so happy we’re together again.”
Yu-hwa hooked her arm through his, a smile on her lips. “We’ll always be together Ray. We’re partners.”
They both broke into giggles as they walked arm in arm to the door. Yu-hwa leaned comfortably against him, knowing that they were both working towards their own happiness. They had both taken the steps to grow as individuals, but together, they could truly bloom.
Thank you to every single person who took the time to read Bloom.
I cannot express my gratitude enough. Just know that I could not have reached this final chapter without your support.