It is inevitable, she thinks, that something like this would eventually happen. They had been far too lucky for too many cases. All it took was a man cornered, a hidden knife, and a dark stairwell. Yeo-jin, for the first time in her life, had been too slow.
“No hospital,” Shi-mok mumbles through the pain. Yeo-jin holds her cotton handkerchief to his chest, her hands sticky with his blood. She hesitates, 119 already pressed into her phone.
“It’s not deep, Inspector,” he says more clearly. “We can’t risk a hospital visit, not now.”
He examines the slash through the gaps between her fingers, and even though she wants to shake her head, tell him to shut up, she knows he’s right. She holds her hand over his chest for a moment longer, willing the bleeding to stop, and tries to figure out where to go next.
No hospital. Pharmacy, then.
She wipes her hands on the handkerchief as best as she can, ignoring the scent of rust permeating the air around her. Leaving Shi-mok in the car, she checks her reflection once in the windows, trying to look calm, before buying up most of the nearby pharmacy’s stock of gauze and antibiotic ointment. She hesitates over a sewing kit, wondering if he might need stitches, and grabs it anyways.
The pharmacist ignores her shaking hands, eyeing the red under her fingernails instead. He looks up at her with an expression of fatherly concern. Yeo-jin glances away quickly, catching her reflection in the security mirror. It reflects her white face back. She looks awful.
“Do you need me to call someone?” the pharmacist asks quietly, kindly. He is trying to look more closely at her face, perhaps to catch sight of a bruise or another sign of abuse. Yeo-jin shakes her head, a bit too forcefully at first, and then with gritted politeness, her face drawing back into an automatic smile.
“I’m fine, my son just had a nasty trip,” she lies easily, and just like that, the pharmacist relaxes. A young mother worried about her child’s injury; no wonder she looks so frightened.
“Don’t worry,” he says, scanning her things. “Kids fall and get hurt all the time. It makes them stronger in the end. If it hurts too much, take him to the doctor. They’ll sort it out.”
She nods, still smiling. She hands him cash, grabbing the black plastic bag, and catches sight again of her pale face. She looks like a different person, with shadows drawn in dark purple under her eyes. Their days on the road have clearly caught up with her; they’ve caught up with Shi-mok too.
They check into a motel, Shi-mok hiding the giant bloodstain on his chest as best as he can until they’re in their room and he can sit on the ridiculous, heart shaped sofa. The blood has soaked completely through his shirt, a large spot of red on the light blue polyester.
“You should buy better shirts,” she says quietly as she unbuttons his collar, delicately peeling away the fabric. It makes a horrible squelching noise, and Yeo-jin winces on Shi-mok’s behalf.
“What do you mean?” he asks, his tone genuinely curious. He sounds almost normal, as if he wasn’t just sliced open by a lunatic with a pen knife.
Examining the wound, Yeo-jin sees that Shi-mok wasn’t lying. It isn’t as serious as it could have been. The suspect had mostly missed; there hadn’t been real intent to harm. If she thinks about it, they were lucky, luckier than they should have been.
“I mean,” she says, her voice lightening in its relief, “You buy really cheap shirts for your income bracket. Prosecutor Seo wouldn’t be caught dead in your clothes.”
“Prosecutor Seo doesn’t operate within his income bracket either,” Shi-mok responds, deadpan. Yeo-jin looks up from the wound, her eyes darting in alarm, because Shi-mok is joking, in the way only he can joke, and it might be because the wound actually is very bad, and he is trying to distract her.
“Are you —” she says, and then she follows his gaze to look down at her trembling hand, resting on the crook of his elbow. It takes a beat and a half for her to realize that he isn’t joking to distract her; he is joking to reassure.
Her hand tightens. She sits there for a moment, one hand on his arm and one hand holding the gauze. It is as if her breath has finally caught up with her. Her lungs feel too full for her to breathe.
“It’s not serious,” Shi-mok says again. He gently taps her knuckles with two padded finger tips. “I doubt I’ll need stitches.”
Yeo-jin chokes out a laugh and resumes wrapping his chest. “I bought a needle kit, what a waste,” she tells him, and Shi-mok, without speaking, grimaces.
Yeo-jin forces him to take two ibuprofen pills and a large multivitamin — “We barely ate anything today” — before herding him towards the bed. He must have been tired; he doesn’t resist. He obediently crawls into the covers, not thinking about the fact that there is no other bed in this room, not thinking about the fact that he is wearing nothing on his torso except his cotton bandages, and he sleeps, first fitfully, and then deeply.
Yeo-jin’s brain is humming too loud for her to do anything but sit on the couch, her knees hugged to her chest as she stares at nothing. This case has been difficult. They technically shouldn’t be here; the suspect is starting to operate outside of their jurisdiction, but like with so many other things, his crimes are connected to another, and another, and another, and really, neither she nor Shi-mok have had the time to think about proper procedures. She still would have felt better taking him to the hospital, but he was right; it wasn’t worth the risk of notifying the wrong people that they had caught on, that they were closing in.
It’s not like we’re fugitives, she thinks petulantly. But then again, here we are.
Around midnight, Yeo-jin wakes shivering. The room is dark and freezing, an icebox.
I forgot to turn on the gas , she remembers, and then she flinches in surprise at the sudden heat of a hand on her shoulder.
Shi-mok is sitting beside her, his bloodstained shirt draped around his shoulders. He was the one who woke her with a gentle touch to her arm.
“It’s quite cold,” he observes, and looks pointedly back at the bed. “It’ll take some time for the gas to heat the room. I can take the sofa.”
Yeo-jin sits up and shakes her head at Shi-mok, who has nothing else to put on beside his horrendously ruined shirt. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re the one who got injured. I’m okay waiting for the gas.”
And then, because life is about timing, she sneezes.
Shi-mok says nothing, just stares at her with a laughably innocent expression, before glancing once again at the bed. And Yeo-jin, after a long pause, concedes.
It is not much warmer inside the bed, even with the best efforts of her body heat. After a half-hour, Yeo-jin has to admit that the gas is probably broken. It’s too late to make a complaint, so she just curls into a ball and shivers into herself. Her feet will fall off soon, one toe at a time.
Eventually, she turns, seeking out the unexpected source of warmth at her side. She comes face to face with the prosecutor, who has long since drifted off into ibuprofen-laden slumber. Shi-mok is as expressionless in sleep as he is in his waking hours, save for the lines that have smoothed out across his forehead.
Staring at the blank canvas of his brow, Yeo-jin reaches out a finger. She rests the tip of it at the very center of his two eyebrows, where the furrow usually is. She doesn’t mean to wake him, but his eyelids flutter open, and Shi-mok looks out blearily into the darkness, into Yeo-jin’s pale face. They stare at each other, Yeo-jin’s finger still on his forehead.
“Inspector,” Shi-mok says, as if nothing is amiss. “Are you alright?”
Shit, Yeo-jin thinks, drawing her hand back quickly. “Yes, yes. I’m sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep.”
He doesn’t say anything, and it looks for a moment that he might listen to her, but then he reaches out, lifting her frozen hand gently away from her chest. “You’re cold,” he observes. He rubs a thumb along her knuckles.
“You’re not?” she asks, incredulous.
Shi-mok shrugs. “A bit,” he says, and then he comes closer, drawing inward like a fish on a hook.
It takes a moment for Yeo-jin to realize what he’s doing. “Oh no, that’s okay, you don’t have to —”
“It’s still a few hours until morning. You need your rest as well.”
There’s a new flush on her cheeks now that has nothing and everything to do with Shi-mok’s sudden intrusion into her physical space. The bed is quite big, so it takes a little bit of wriggling for him to come close enough, and he isn’t wrong; she’s suddenly very, very warm.
“Good night,” he says, and closes his eyes. It is simultaneously the biggest relief and disappointment, and Yeo-jin feels the energy leaking out of her like a balloon.
“Good night,” she replies. Impossibly, it doesn’t take long before she also falls asleep, as steadily as a rock slipping downstream, a hand curled in the space between her face and Shi-mok’s.
She wakes up once more, before dawn.
Shi-mok turned away sometime in the night, so that her nose is pressed almost flat against the base of his neck. Her arm is thrown around his side, hugging him close to her. It must have been instinctive; Yeo-jin sometimes sleeps with a large plush rendering of a fox, a gift from her Yongsan team. “Yeo-jin the yeo-woo ,” Gun said, grinning at his own cleverness, grinning because no one in their right mind who had ever met Yeo-jin would call her anything close to a fox.
And now there was another yeo-woo right here, and he didn’t even know it.
A part of Yeo-jin is appalled. There is no rule in any guidebook against a police inspector using a prosecutor as her own personal hot water bottle, but that’s probably because no one imagined a scenario where the rules of propriety would be shattered so outrageously. Then again, no one would have imagined that said inspector would be forced to hide with the injured prosecutor in a love motel while trying to unravel a massive conspiracy. Circumstance, by most accounts, is subjective.
In any case, she’s very warm, very sleepy, and very comfortable.
She closes her eyes, willing herself to drift off again, but Shi-mok’s outraged expression (two eyebrows slightly raised, eyes blinking faster than usual) seems imprinted against her eyelids. She doesn’t want to wake up to find him looking at her with that face, trying to delicately extract himself from her clutches. After a few breaths, she shifts back, lifting her arm back to turn away towards the other side of the bed.
A hand clutches her wrist, and she flops back into the same position.
Yeo-jin lets out a surprised Oh, her voice muffled by Shi-mok’s shirt. She feels his hand still on her wrist, not so tightly that it’s uncomfortable, but enough for her to be sure of his grip. She can’t see Shi-mok’s face.
“Um,” she says, not sure of how else to approach this situation.
There’s no response. The hand stays on her wrist, keeping it gently tucked around Shi-mok’s waist, so that Yeo-jin has no choice but to stay pressed against his back. He’s thinner than he looks when he's bulked out in his cheap polyester suits, but she can still feel a layer of fat, a layer of muscle. The idea of a knife, shredding through both layers, makes her shudder.
She closes her eyes, her face turned sideways so that she can hear his heartbeat. A steady pulse, no more than 60 beats a minute.
She wonders if his fingers, still wrapped around her own wrist, is also taking her pulse.
Fox, she calls him sleepily. She might have said it out loud, but she might have also said it in her dreams, half-way between wakefulness and slumber. Hwang the Fox, have you come to play?
In the morning, she will wake to find Shi-mok on the phone with his angry chief, trying to explain why the most disruptive prosecutor in the service has disappeared once again to god knows where. Shi-mok will miraculously have a new, equally scratchy polyester shirt, and he will tell her that the local police station was able to track down the suspect’s IP address to a place two blocks from the motel. There will be no time to remember, to think about the warmth of the bed, because they are a prosecutor and a police inspector, and there is work to be done.
But for now, Yeo-jin drifts, one hand closed tight around Shi-mok’s waist. He smells vaguely of soybeans and rice water — old man smells, she’ll tease him — and his scratchy polyester shirt rubs soft across her cheek.
And later, much later, when she has a moment to breathe, she’ll remember a fleeting hand rising to stroke her own cheek, to tuck a strand of hair back behind her ear, before coming back to rest on her arm, in a bed much too warm, in a room much too cold.