They’re Christmas present shopping together, hands entwined, when Jiseok spots the perfect gift for Yoo Ryung. He notices her lingering over the section of the cosmetics store they're browsing in with the fancy bath bombs, soaps and shower gels.
He picks one up called a “shower bomb” and brings it to his nose. He doesn’t even know how they work. Yoo Ryung slips her hand out of his and takes it from him, a faraway look crossing her face as she examines it.
He holds his now empty, abandoned hand out to her, wiggling his fingers in front of her face and doing his best to look Forlorn.
Yoo Ryung rolls her eyes but slips her hand back into his. “You’re like an octopus, Chief.” He grins as she squeezes his hand, interlocking her fingers with his. As much as she acts like she’s just indulging his need to constantly be holding hands, he knows that she loves it.
“Oh?” he says. “Who was the one who held my hand and refused to let go at the cinema? I thought all the blood circulation in my hand was gone.”
“I was scared! Ahhh, I’m going to have nightmares tonight because of that movie.”
He chuckles at her. “I thought you were fearless, Newbie. Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”
She smiles, a tiny private smile, almost to herself as she puts down the shower bomb.
“You don’t like it?” he asks, puzzled. He was sure she did. After all, she’d been looking at it the way she does when she gets a lead on a case, face lit up, alive with the satisfaction of having gotten something right .
“It’s not that…I’ve never used one. I just don’t think they’re for me...” she pauses, frowning, unusually, uncharacteristically tentative for Yoo Ryung, a woman that to Jiseok is like a hurricane, ferociously beautiful in its intensity, refusing to let anything bring her down in her fight to protect victims of crime. “Oh look, Jiseok! This scarf is so pretty. Yoo Jin will love it.”
He allows himself to be distracted and deterred by the scarf, does the Boyfriend thing where he oohs and ahhs over it with her but of course, he notices. (He watches and listens to a lot of things about Yoo Ryung, not only because she’s his girlfriend and he wants to know what her needs and desires are and how he can attend to them, how to give her care but because everything about her is fascinating). The way her eyes lit up when she saw the shower bombs. The way she can’t help but look back at the shower and bath products display even when she’s admiring the scarf she’s showing him and convincing him to buy it.
Later, after his shift, he doubles back to the store. Christmasses are hard for him now that he doesn’t have either of his parents anymore, now that his mom doesn’t recognize him. He’d gotten her a gift but she’ll never know it was from him. Instead, she’ll think it’s from his dad. Yet another gesture that’ll go unremarked, unappreciated, that he can never own as his . Losing his mom to dementia feels sometimes like an unbelonging. Still, he’s determined that Yoo Ryung should have a good Christmas now that she has her family back, even if he can’t, that she should have something to make her smile after the tragedy she’s had to endure.
There are so many different kinds of products with so many different scents and fancy descriptions promising to transport you to different worlds. A jasmine filled night woods. A tropical paradise. A good night’s sleep. Calm and rest at the end of your hectic day. He’s overwhelmed. Luckily, a saleslady notices that he’s hopelessly lost and floundering and she comes over to rescue him.
“Are you looking for a gift for your girlfriend, Sir?” .
“Yes,” he says, “my girlfriend.” Even after weeks, the word feels delicious in his mouth and he never gets tired of saying it.
The lady nods in response, beaming. “Ahhh, I remember now. You and your girlfriend came here earlier today. You look good together. A very nice couple. I think I know which one will be perfect for her.”
“Ahhh, I see,” he says, examining the product as the lady explains to him how to use it.
They decide to have their own private unwrapping a few days before Christmas at Yoo Ryung’s place while Yoo Jin is attending a workshop with her new friends at the group home. He watches her carefully as she unwraps her gift and sees the shower bomb. She holds it up to her nose, inhaling the scent and she looks like what he imagines a Yoo Ryung would look like who hasn’t been weighed down by tragedy, her face lit up with wonder.
“You deserve to have good things, Yoo Ryung,” he says, taking her face in his hands and stroking her cheekbone gently.
Because he’s seen it all - the instant noodle packets she’d lived on for years while she drove herself to search for Yoo Jin. The lack of care she’d given her own body. The way she’d recklessly thrown herself off balconies, stepped into the dark. The austere empty shelves in her bathroom. He remembers his mom’s before she’d gotten sick, the cabinets of his ex-girlfriends, how they’d been lined with bottles of make-up, fancy soaps and perfumes, skin care products, body lotions. How Newbie must have felt all those years, that she didn’t even deserve to look after her body because she’d abandoned Yoo Jin. The sales lady had told him about it and he’d researched it online afterwards - about the importance of self care and how fancy nice smelling bath products can help with that. It’d been part of her sales pitch, he knows that, but also he wants Yoo Ryung to have luxuries, to feel pampered and cared for.
“Wait...are you crying?” he asks in horror as she swipes at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“No, I’m fine,” she says, scrunching her face up. “I’m going to use it now. Come on.”
“It smells so nice. You’re the one who got it, Chief.”
“I got it for you ,” he protests. “It’s yours.” He wants her to have this, this pleasure for herself.
“Come with me, Jiseok,” she says, pulling him along and he never can resist her when she’s like this so that’s how he finds himself stripping off his clothes and standing under the shower spray with her, clouds of steam billowing up and frosting up the mirror's glass.
It’s so so warm and it smells so so good. Like you’re walking through an orchard in the sparkling sunlight, it’d said on the packaging. The citrus scent, it promises, will re-invigorate you. Jiseok remembers then, the time when he’d been accepted into the police academy, how he’d come home to the smell of oranges. Even now, they still feel to him like home and sunshine. His mom had been making them for his favorite dessert to celebrate his achievement and he remembers how the light had streamed in through the kitchen window, how it’d painted everything with its golden glow. He’d picked one up off the counter and popped a section into his mouth. He can still taste it, the juice exploding in his mouth, his hands sticky with it but he hadn’t cared because he’d felt lit up inside, aglow, like he had swallowed a bit of the sunshine, like he too was bursting, vibrant, alive.
Even better than that, Yooryung smells so good and her kisses are delicious, more wonderful than any orange. She licks into his mouth and he can’t help the groan that escapes him.
He rubs soapy circles up her arms and she laughs into the crook of his neck. “You deserve to have good things too,” she murmurs. “Jiseok.” The way her mouth holds his name like it belongs there makes him feel something that he hasn’t felt in a long time. Like he isn’t just plain simple Jiseok but a Jiseok who is valued, a Jiseok who is loved. Recognized. “You’re so good,” she murmurs wrapping her arm around his neck and pulling him close, her nose brushing against his,
“Mmmm. Say that again,” he says, teasingly. He soaks up every bit of her praise as she murmurs them into his skin, kisses his dimples as he smiles.
“You don’t have to try so hard,” she murmurs. “You’ll hurt yourself. You already take such good care of me, of everyone.”
“Ahhh I see,” he murmurs with an embarrassed laugh. “Tell me more.”
“Turn around,” she says. He obeys. “Close your eyes,” she whispers.
He does that too. Then he feels her hand on his back. He shivers as she rubs a sponge over his skin, massages gentle circles over his shoulders. “Relax,’ she says. “In here, with me, you can hurt. Don’t worry or think about taking care of anyone. Just trust me. You don't have to be okay if you're not.” He sighs and gives himself over to the sensation of her scrubbing his back, his hair, his shoulders, to the feel of her hands on him, the spray of the water washing away the heaviness of the day.
“So,” she murmurs, as they step out of the bathroom, him wrapping a towel around her body and rubbing her hair dry with another, “are you ready for your reward?”
He kisses her, slow and deep. He remembers then, what she’d said, the night of their first date, how sitting with him had transformed the way she viewed her neighborhood, the sky overhead. “Sitting with you makes me wonder if the sky from my bench has always been this pretty. It makes me wonder if my neighborhood has always been this bright.” she’d said. Being with her is like that for him too, like he’s somehow absorbed some magic. Like his body has been made anew. Less heavy. Brighter. Sun-soaked and radiant and most of all, belonging.