On their third morning in their new apartment Bong Sang Pil wakes slowly, turns instinctively towards Jae Yi—and sees she is already awake and just lying there propped up on one elbow, watching him. The idea that he slept in later than her makes him feel self-conscious in a way he is not familiar with: Sang Pil has not lived a life of lazy mornings. No one warned him, when they led Judge Cha to prison, that peace can feel so uncomfortably close to idleness. Jae Yi, with her steady surety, has been more helpful with adjusting him to that than anyone or anything else.
Have you been awake long? He asks, and she nods. Why didn’t you wake me?
She does not answer him, not quite. Instead she says: I had dreams I did not like. I think—Sang Pil, do you think it possible to stop missing someone?
(Sang Pil thinks, instantly, of his mother.)
Not particularly, he admits, rubbing at his eyes and yawning. But there is nothing wrong with that. I miss lots of people, you know.
She leans in towards him a little closer, a willow bending down to water.
Even those men in your uncle’s gang?
Yes, he answers, of course.
She reaches out towards the scar between his ribs but does not quite touch it, hovering. Even now, months after, he cannot convince her that it doesn’t hurt.
Even the one who gave you this?
He whispers: Yes.
He waits for her to tell him he’s insane. Instead she lies her head down on her crooked shoulder, looking up at him with a half moon smile from beneath her fallen hair, and she says: Sometimes, I miss Judge Cha.
He shouldn’t know what to say to that, but—he does.
It’s okay, he tells her, leaning over to kiss that half moon smile full. It’s okay. He is only half surprised, when he realizes that he means it.
Jae Yi does not think she knows much about love. She hasn’t had much opportunity for learning, not after her mother left her so young, not after Judge Cha’s affection was revealed to be poison.
But she knows Sang Pil.
It’s okay, he told her. Him, the boy whose mother will never return, because unlike Jae Yi, he had to watch her die. She lies beside him, warm with his warmth, and feels the tears starting but refuses to let them fall. Instead, she turns her face to his, and smiles. She sees with satisfaction how that smile hits him, coring all the breath out of his body, clean as a knife. He reaches for her again, but she catches his wrist this time before he can touch her face. The surprise jerks through him. She laughs.
You are beautiful, he whispers, and she is. She does not need the great lawyer Bong Sang Pil to tell her so.
Yes, she agrees sweetly. I am beautiful, and you are lucky.
Ha, he laughs, breathless. Jae Yi.
She runs her thumb down the path his tendons make in his wrist. He really does have ridiculously thin wrists, the fine bones there sharp beneath her fingertips. Everything about her man is ridiculous: his ruffled hair, his low lit eyes, his absolute arrogance in the courtroom, his outrageous collection of expensive suits. (He had moved into the apartment in Seoul two days before she did, and when she arrived he had been mortified to realize he had left no space in the closet for her clothes. She had never seen the dazzling Bong Sang Pil properly embarrassed before; it had been very endearing.)
Most ridiculous: the way he loves her, as simply as everything else about him is complex.
Jae Yi, he whispers again, and she will never, never grow weary of this: of hearing her name be the only words he can say. She closes her eyes, loving his voice—loving him—and leans down that last few inches to kiss him on the mouth. The sound he makes runs through them both, vibrating like a plucked thread, and his free hand comes up to pull her closer. She releases his other wrist, so that he might do it better.
She loves him. What else is there that can be said?
Bong Sang Pil, she murmurs, playful and heart-tender together, and that’s the only answer to that question there could ever be.
I love you, he whispers hoarsely, in the corner of her mouth for her dimple to catch. She laughs and takes one of his hands in her own again, this time raising it to her lips. She does not look away from his face as she kisses it—not the battered knuckles, not the scars, but that deadly place in between, soft and fluttering, where the blood from his heart runs through his wrist.
And maybe he was not made for pain, after all; maybe he was made for the color the sunlight makes when it fills Jae Yi’s hair.
On mornings like this, Bong Sang Pil can believe anything.