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Threads of Fate

Chapter Text

Ever since her father committed suicide, the same nightmare would replay as if it mocked her for what had happened.

"Appa! I'm home!" Ae Cha called out as she opened the door. She was eighteen at the time and had been living with her father, an executive turned bodyguard for C&R International, for three months after finally escaping her two-year contract with Much Music Entertainment. It was supposed to have been a typical day like every day the last few months. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

The sight of her father, Lee Han-sol, gripping onto a Daewood-51 was forever etched into her mind. His hands trembled as he raised the gun to his head. It would take several minutes before Ae Cha could react to the scene.

"Appa...? What are you doing?" She asked, panic replacing her cheerful demeanor. Seeing her father in this state was bizarre. Absolutely bizarre. But it was reality and that was why as much as she willed her body to pull the gun out of Lee Han-sol's hand fear had overtaken her and all she could do was watch on in horror.

Why was this happening? Wasn't everything okay? What had changed?

She would never forget how cold and lifeless his eyes were. Lee Han-sol was unrecognizable. This didn't seem like the man whose face would radiate with joy when he would spend time with his daughter. This didn't seem like the father who would read his little girl bedtime stories before she would go to sleep.  No... this was a different person in front of her and the resolve in Lee Han-sol's eyes sent chills down Ae Cha's spine.

Before she could speak, Lee Han-sol would say the last words she would ever hear from him. She never knew what those words meant.

"I'm going to Paradise... "

Paradise?

"Talk to me, Appa!" She pleaded. Her father remained stoic, and ignored her pleas.

Ae Cha would finally win the battle with her body right as he began to pull the trigger. She would finally step into the apartment, flailing her arms in stop motion and begging him not to leave her alone. One would think her hysterics would have notified another tenant living in the building. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be the case. They lived in a soundproof apartment in a business district. Before she could take another step closer, her father pulled the trigger.

BANG.

Blood splattered, staining Ae Cha's pristine clothes. His blood felt so warm on her skin. Lee Han-sol died instantly, his body crumbled onto the ground.  The dream concluded with the sound of heavy sobs filling the room. Ae Cha was broken, shocked, and confused as a pool of fresh blood surrounded her.

And then the dream would end with her jarring from her sleep. Bullets of sweat dripped down Ae Cha's face as her heart raced in a sheer panic as she sat up and glanced around the apartment.

"Don't leave me alone!" 

The memory felt so fresh each time her mind would replay the same nightmare. Like a wound that would re-open itself, the pain would never truly go away. Ae Cha's life changed forever after her father's suicide.

The days after what had happened were a blur to the girl. Lee Han-sol worked for C&R International and they became involved as soon as the incident occurred. In a world full of corporate politics, C&R wanted to ensure the incident did not get out to the public. What was once a terrible suicide was spun as an accident to the public.

If it was only an accident. 

The trauma of what had happened caused an extreme shift to Ae Cha's appearance. What was once a sweet, bright girl turned into a facade of a woman obsessive with fashion and makeup. Her wrists were covered in scars from the blade she began to take to herself in her moments of weakness.

Ae Cha consoled herself with the fact that even if she was truly alone, the Chairman of C&R International gifted the deed to the apartment to her name. She had somewhere to go to be safe. She had food, shelter, and all of the luxuries of being alive... under one condition.

She had to agree to never, ever confess to anyone under any circumstances what she witnessed that day or C&R International's involvement.  She would be subject to being monitored for the rest of her time in South Korea. 

And she agreed. What else could she do? She was scared and had no family.  Not everything that glitters is gold, however, because no amount of consoling could take the numb away. She lost contact with everyone she knew. She was truly, utterly alone in what felt like a prison to her. 

Ae Cha sighed as her heartstrings pulled recalling this information, sweeping strands of her brown & pink tipped locks out of her face.  She was about to lay down again to fall back asleep when she heard a chime from her phone. Ae Cha reached for her phone which was sitting beside her glasses to read the notification.


[ 1 New Email! ]

//From: Unknown Sender
Subject: INVITATION TO PARADISE ♥//


Huh?

"God, don't tell me this is another porn website," Ae Cha scoffed. It wouldn't be the first time she had received one of those since leaving Much Music Entertainment. But, something seemed a little different from the usual advertisement. Without hesitation, Ae Cha tapped the e-mail to open its contents. 

You have someone waiting for you on the other side.
Let us help you escape this disgusting world.

We can help you find who you are missing.
We will help you take the pain away.

There is no more suffering in paradise.

A world filled with pleasure...
A world filled without lies...
A world filled with love...
Accept the angel's invitation before it's too late. The reckoning will fall upon the world soon.

INFORMATIONAL MEETING - NOVEMBER 15, 2016
Enter Passcode: **** at door

[Click Here for Map]

Paradise. 

Ae Cha's eyes widened reading the e-mail contents. Her father mentioned Paradise moments before taking his own life. She had a nagging suspicion something didn't seem right in everything that happened and she had trouble accepting the fact Lee Han-sol was dead. In fact: there was a part of her that dreamed he was still alive. It's what happens in the movies, after all. And with C&R International so insistent to keep it a secret maybe... just maybe... Ae Cha could find out the truth herself. 

But she had to be careful because she was being monitored.  There is always a set of menacing eyes watching her and today that particular set of eyes were set to visit her. 

Ae Cha tapped out of the e-mail and scrolled through her contacts to find a certain number that belonged to the person from C&R International she must keep in contact with at all times.  She pecked out a quick text to them to let them know she would be late and to not worry about her. This would bide her enough time to at least check out the apartment without the fear of retaliation. Once she hit send, the girl rolled herself out of bed to get ready for whatever may be waiting for her.

It could be a cult, a pyramid scheme, or nothing at all. It didn't matter. This was Ae Cha's last chance at finding any clues before taking matters into her own hands.

Why? 

Because Ae Cha decided a week prior to this e-mail she was ready to die and join her father in the afterlife. She would no longer be a burden to the world and a prisoner of these these four walls.  Her death would not be missed by anyone. A similar Daewood DP-51 Pistol was hidden, tucked away underneath her mattress. 


If she was going to commit suicide herself, she at least wanted control in how she would die. 




She had always wondered what happened.

It’s been three years since she stopped receiving letters from her father. As far as she was concerned, he was not much of a father to her as he only sent her his support in the form of money and gifts, and her mother was too busy pining over a new man to pay any attention to her as she grew up.

Growing up proved to be a challenge, especially to someone who had half of her identity blurred way past recognition in a country where appearance often determined who someone was. She clearly had her Korean lineage with her almond eyes and yellow skin like her father, but her hair was the color of wine and her eyes were the color of clear jade-like her American mother. She really did not like to be associated to someone as promiscuous as her mother, so she often dyed her hair black and wore contacts, and proudly brandished the last name “Lee”, to be more like her father.

Her father. He was the sole salvation in her life that threatened to spiral downwards. Even though he was not physically present, his words of encouragement in the cards that he sends along with gifts were the most precious things to her. In her mind, he was a gentle—albeit invisible—being that somehow gave her the inspiration to live through another day.

Her father’s kind words were what kept her from breaking apart, especially when she had to deal with her mother’s—abusive—boyfriend. When she had to deal with abusive boys. Abusive men. Living in the slums, she had steeled herself from emotion and fought back every single time. She had been put behind bars for so many times she’s lost count, but her father’s words would always ring in her mind:

They may take everything from you, but keep your head high and have pride, my daughter.

Paradise will await you soon.

Reine immediately knew something was wrong when she stood in the post office the entire day, asking if a package had arrived for her. She had learned to pick up the package straight from the post office since her mother would often sell the gifts intended for her, and she had to beg to at least give her the card that came with it.

But this day was different. No package came. Heartbroken, she wished she knew other ways to reach him. Now, of all days, she needed her father desperately—but his presence seemed to have left her as well.

Coming home to the same apartment where the floor was once thick with her mother’s blood was not her idea of paradise. No matter how many times the tiles were mopped and the couch washed, she could still smell the metallic scent of blood and see the imaginary splatters on the walls. She would remember coming home to yellow police line tapes, and being questioned and harassed for months about a crime she did not commit.

Reine shook her head to will her thoughts away from the darkness that was her past. She came to Korea seeking answers, and the first clue she came across about her father became her target.

C&R International.

She stood in front of the mirror of her Seoul apartment, staring at her own reflection. Her boss, Jumin Han, insisted that if she wanted to work as his bodyguard she needs to be in her own identity; pointing out that he noticed that she was wearing colored lenses. The look on his face the following day was of surprise when she showed up with her auburn hair and green eyes.

As expected, the men in the team had tried to intimidate her more times than she can count, telling her that she should just work as the Chairman’s new girlfriend. It was an insult, sure, but she made certain it was not her back that was flat on the pavement at the end of the “conversation”. She would wordlessly assert her abilities to the men in the team, and fought her way on treating her as an equal.

Eventually, everybody in the unit regarded her as “Sanglante Reine”, French for “Bloody Queen”.

“Bullshit,” Reine muttered to herself, shaking her head as she adjusted her tie. She collected her hair and tied it in a high ponytail, then draped her holster over her left shoulder. Her gaze shifted downward to the dresser table to see her trusty Glock 26, which she checks and inserts in the holster along with the extra magazine. She placed the communicator in her left ear before getting her suit on and buttoned it up.

She grabbed the keys of her bike from the coffee table when an email notification sound was heard from her phone. Curious, she fished for her phone in her suit pocket and found the new message:

[ 1 New Email! ]

//From: Unknown Sender
Subject: INVITATION TO PARADISE ♥//

Her eyebrows furrowed. Paradise?

You have someone waiting for you on the other side.
Let us help you escape this disgusting world.

We can help you find who you are missing.
We will help you take the pain away.

There is no more suffering in paradise.

A world filled with pleasure...
A world filled without lies...
A world filled with love...
Accept the angel's invitation before it's too late. The reckoning will fall upon the world soon.

INFORMATIONAL MEETING - NOVEMBER 15, 2016
Enter Passcode: **** at door

[Click Here for Map]

Paradise will await you soon.

She immediately dialed the Chief of Security’s number and placed the phone on her ear.

“Chief, it’s me,” she spoke while she fiddled with her keys on her other hand. “I’m afraid I cannot report in today. I have an emergency.”

Chapter Text

You're on the fastest route. You should reach your destination at 12:30 PM. “

 

Ever since her father's death, traveling became Ae Cha's escape from the harsh reality of being under surveillance by C&R. She recently gained enough trust from her point of contact to not have to report every place she visited. During the weekdays, she would take day trips to the outskirts of the city where her favorite tea cafe resided. Ae Cha painted herself the identity of a sweet American foreigner living in Korea named 'Arlee' to the locals who also visited the cafe. On the weekends, she would spend her nights in Hongdae where she was a regular in the nightclub scene. To the partygoers 'Arlee' was a provocative girl looking for a good time.

Today felt different from her normal trips. This wasn't her first time looking for answers about her father's suicide on her own. She had spent countless days searching to the point her heart great numb with each false lead. Disappointment didn't phase her anymore. But today... surely today could finally be the day, Ae Cha hoped.

What did paradise mean to her father? She didn't know the nature of her father's work. At one point he was an executive at C&R. Before ending her contract at Much Music Entertainment, Han-sol Lee's nature of work changed. Ae Cha regretted never asking him. It just never came up in conversation. Maybe the answer was a paradise for her too. She believed paradise could be better than the fallacy she lived.

 

"You have reached your destination."

 

The directions she tapped into her phone's GPS earlier in the day lead her to a set of high rise apartments roughly two hours away from where she lived. This part of the city was uncharted territory for her. Doubt began to seep into her conscience and she questioned why the e-mail would bring her here. She brought up the email again, scanning the invitation carefully. There just has to be answers. Something. Anything . She needed an excuse to live another day.

We can help you find who you are missing.

"But, can you really?" She murmured softly. Sighing, Ae Cha pressed on the link containing directions within the e-mail, and casually sauntered in from the back entrance of the first high-rise apartment complex. She smiled at the receptionist who greeted her, but rejected any help the woman offered to give. If she did, Ae Cha would have known there were two entrances to each apartment.

Having someone who could immediately bail her out of trouble was the only part of the agreement with C & R she appreciated. It may have cost her any privileges of going out for a short period of time, but, she took minor comfort in having “back-up” if something went completely sideways. With that in mind, Ae Cha paid careful attention the settings around her such as the modern decor, and the classical music playing inside the elevator. She hummed quietly as the elevator climbed to the 14th floor.

 

Ding!

The elevator door slowly slid opened, revealing a silent empty hallway. She thought about what could be waiting for her. Soon her nerves would follow shortly after, and her heart raced a little faster with each step she took. Could it be an apartment rental application? What about a restaurant? Ae Cha didn't notice any commercial rooms while she passed by each door so she was sure it couldn't be that.

"Well... here I am," She proclaimed quietly as she stood in front of the door to the apartment. A digital key-less access lock stood between her and the answers she was hoping to find. Ae Cha glanced through her text messages a final time, surprised her point of contact at C & R did not respond to the text sent earlier in the day. Oh well, she thought, and shrugged her shoulders.

She took a deep breath and slowly entered in the digits. There was no more waiting around. Her fingers trembled with each stroke. A green light flickered on the access lock, and the sound of the door unlocking could be heard. Ae Cha turned the door lever silently, and made her way into the apartment. The door closed behind her, but did not latch. The light on the access lock faded from green to yellow.

"Annyeong? Hello!" She called out inside the dark, empty apartment.

 


 

Destination: 6.7 kilometers.

Reine sped through the highway in her bike, deftly overtaking slower vehicles. The message in the email flashed in her mind over and over, like a poetry that wanted to commit itself to memory.

She finds it ridiculous that she’s doing a 130kph towards a destination that provided no clear answer, but she can’t seem to shake off the possibility of it being a piece of the puzzle she’s been trying to solve for almost a year now.

She came to C&R to find answers about her father’s death, but the only information she really got was that Han-Sol Lee used to be the Research & Development executive, but stepped down to take the role of Chief of Security. When did she ask why, nobody really could give an answer—but she did notice that the people talk about him not with fondness, but with something else—fear? Pity?

And no matter who she talks to when asked, nobody seemed to know where he is. Some say he resigned and was never heard of again, others said they never saw him in person. Even the current Chief of Security gave her unsatisfactory answers.

No one disappears without a single trace. There has to be a clue, somewhere.

When she rose up the ranks in the Security team, she was hoping to be assigned to guard someone that has direct involvement in the R&D—this would be the best move if she is to learn anything about what happened to her father.

She cannot forget her frustration when Jumin Han called her to his office.

 

 

 

 

 

Reine Lee,” Jumin looks over her 201 file, casually shuffling the pages of the black folder in his hand.

Reine stood on attention, her legs slightly apart for perfect balance, her hands clasped behind her. Her posture was perfect, and so was her crisp suit and tie. Her wine red hair was tied in a high ponytail, and her emerald eyes fixated on the slim fingers slowly tracing the text on the papers of her employee file.

Mr. Han.” She responded with her usual deep and firm voice. She often regarded Jumin as somewhat of an asshole—which is often true—but she cannot deny that the man was attractive. She would often watch women fawn over him, and watching his reactions at the corner of her eye was one of her hobbies while standing guard in boring parties.

Jumin looked up at her. “You seem to have risen up the ranks in Security in a short period of time, Sanglante Reine.”

Reine was caught by surprise, and she immediately looked directly at Jumin’s dark eyes. A slight hint of a grin was forming itself on his lips. “Mr. Han, that is a nickname I was given. I dare not make that myself—“

I know that,” he interrupted, and closed the folder. “Let’s just say…I am curious. I’d like to see your prowess myself.”

Reine shot him an incredulous look. “I beg your pardon?”

You’ll be part of my personal guard,” Jumin stated, nonchalantly.

Shit”, Reine muttered in her mind, but kept her mouth closed. She clenched her teeth, trying to think of ways to get out of this mess. She cannot play babysitter to Jumin Han; she needs answers, and the answers are in the R&D!

Is there a problem?” Jumin inquired, although the tone of his voice does not really merit for any other answer.

There’s…no problem, Mr. Han,” Reine replied reluctantly. “It’s an honor.”

“Bullshit,” she mumbled the second time today. Jumin Han will not be happy with her sudden cancellation of work. And Jumin Han will definitely not be happy that she has been ignoring his calls for the past hour.

Destination: 3.2 kilometers.

She lifted the windbreaker on her helmet, allowing the cool air to seep in. She took the nearest exit away from the highway, and then pulled over on one of the stops. She is not familiar with this part of the city. She took her helmet off and rested it on her right thigh and placed her elbow on it to keep it from falling, and then she took out her phone to check the route. After familiarizing herself with the route, she lifted her suit sleeve slightly and her silver wristwatch read 12:30. She placed her helmet back on and went back on the road.

Destination: 0.7 kilometers.

“That must be it,” she slowed down and briefly glanced at the high-rise apartment a few meters away. She increased speed and the words in the email nagged at her once again. For some reason, she felt some sort of anxiety and a part of her was ringing all the alarm bells—but she just can’t let this pass. If it proved to be nothing, then at least she won’t be left thinking “what if?”

Yes, she can just turn her back, like all the false leads back then, and start anew. There’s nothing wrong if she’d check it out.

You have reached your destination.

Reine took her helmet off and let her red hair freely fall down her shoulders. She kicked the stand and got off the bike, and then placed the helmet near the handlebar.

She paid no heed to the receptionist in the lobby when she was asked which unit she was going to. Putting on her best scowl, the poor receptionist must have had all her blood drain from her face. Reine pressed the elevator button, and got on when it opened.

When she reaches the designated floor, she took out her phone to check the unit number. Walking down the hallway, she mentally counted down the doors, and stopped at the unit indicated in the email.

And as the email mentioned, there is a passcode.

Looking side to side, to make sure that this is not some sort of trap, she keys in the combination. The door swung open slowly. She noticed that the room was dark as soon as the door opened, so she instinctively drew her gun and stepped in.

Before she could even say hello to check if anyone is in the apartment, she heard footsteps from the kitchen.

[ 2016-11-15 13:10:59 - SECURITY PROTOCOL BREACH ]

[ 2016-11-15 13:14:00 - ACTIVATING SECURITY SYSTEM SEQUENCE ]

[ 2016-11-15 13:14:05 - SECURITY SYSTEM SEQUENCE ENGAGED ]


 

“Ahh, Yoosung! Come on, bro. Don't you want to play one more game?” Saeyoung lamented over the phone. He spun around in the computer chair and let out an exasperated whine. “I'll give you an entire case of Honey Buddha Chips if you say yes!” He begged.

After rescuing his twin brother Saeran with the help of Vanderwood, Saeyoung left the Agency and the three started their own agency named Spectre. 

Jumin Han took over duties as the leader of the RFA after V's passing. The group had every intention of organizing another party; an invitation to become the RFA's next party planner was sent out, but no one interviewed passed the next step. It was decided the RFA halt all activities until further notice. Even though the RFA has been inactive for months, Saeyoung always kept a monitor dedicated to the special security system. In the event of an intruder, the apartment would seal shut.

Today, business was particularly slow, which made Saeyoung anxious with all the free time.

“Saeran! Will you play LOLOL with me?” Saeyoung groaned when he hung up the phone.

His twin sat at his own computer desk across the room from Saeyoung. Unlike Saeyoung who was procrastinating on current work, Saeran busied himself in attempting to find leads for potential new cases. Saeran's eyebrow twitched at Saeyoung's question.

“I have work, ” Saeran uttered, his eyes focused on his monitors. ”Don't you have things to do?”

“But that's no fun!” Saeyoung complained.

As much as he enjoyed a “quieter” lifestyle, he found himself bored a lot. One of his rooms was filled with two dozen cat robots he built himself. Even making those was becoming a mundane chore. Sighing, he swiveled in his chair to the monitor dedicated to the RFA security system. “I suppose I can check the RFA--”

The sudden pause from Saeyoung caused Saeran to break his concentration from his own computer monitor. Saeran pushed himself back from his desk, and stood up. “What's wrong?” He inquired. Saeyoung's eyes grew wider, ignoring his brother.

“Saeyoung...?” Saeran pressed again, now standing behind Saeyoung. It was unlike Saeyoung to stop talking, causing concern for Saeran. He reads the text on the computer monitor from over Saeyoung's shoulders, and freezes.

[ 2016-11-15 13:10:59 - SECURITY PROTOCOL BREACH ]

[ 2016-11-15 13:14:00 - ACTIVATING SECURITY SYSTEM SEQUENCE ]

[ 2016-11-15 13:14:05 - SECURITY SYSTEM SEQUENCE ENGAGED ]

“Saeran, grab your jacket. We need to go. ”

Chapter Text

Ae Cha flipped on her phone's flashlight and cautiously inspected her surroundings within the apartment. Paying no attention to the other door on the other side of the apartment, she decided to tip-toe into the kitchen since it was the closest room to her.  “Hello? Is anyone here?”

Much to her dismay, the kitchen appeared empty as well. Every cupboard was empty, and the refrigerator was unplugged. A swipe of her finger on the kitchen revealed a light film of dust. “You gotta be kidding me,” She muttered out loud. If the kitchen was empty, she assumed the rest of the apartment would be empty too.

“Why am I such an idiot for falling for a stupid e-mail?” She grumbled. Maybe God did indeed hate her. She couldn’t blame him. It would be her luck to be tricked into being lead to a vacant apartment. The disappointment from her findings left a sour feeling in her gut. The final chance of finding answers appeared entirely out of her grasp.

We will help you take the pain away? Yeah right.

She let out a heavy sigh and scanned the apartment for a light switch. The idea of some other poor soul traveling here to be just as disappointed as she was didn’t sit well with her.  the more she thought about it, the more it agitated her. What type of jerk would scam people like this? No. Not on her watch. The least she could do was take pictures of the apartment interior, and warn others on Triptor of the scam.

What Ae Cha wasn’t prepared for, however, was someone standing in the other door she ignored earlier. And that would be exactly what Ae Cha would find when she flicked the light-switch.  Only a few feet separated the woman with crimson hair holding a gun and Ae Cha.  The surprise of the woman standing in front of Ae Cha started startled her to where her phone fell out of her hands as she covered her mouth to conceal a gasp.

“Pl-Please don’t hurt me!” She pleaded.

Reine was taken aback by the girl’s reaction.  She felt herself freeze and feel sorry for scaring the girl--she sighs and puts the gun down, re-engaging the safety lock and placing it back into her shoulder holster.  Her C&R ID was caught in her coat, so she readjusted it to sit snugly clipped on her pants belt.

“Apologies, miss...I thought it was someone dangerous,” she then crouches to pick up Ae Cha’s phone and checks for any scratches.  She found none, so she lightly brushed out some dust and hands it over to her.

Ae Cha sighed with relief as the situation seemed to diffuse easily. Almost too easy. When the woman approached her, Ae Cha couldn’t shake a feeling of familiarity which overcame her. Did she recognize the woman? She couldn’t recall. If she knew her, where would it be from? “No… it’s not worth the trouble”, Ae cha concluded, shaking the questions out of her head. She needed to leave the empty apartment, and fast.

“Gomawo... “ She quietly thanked and bowed to the woman who returned her phone. Everything was going fine until Ae Cha something caught her eye. Wait a minute. Ae Cha paused mid bow, examining the badge. “Oh for fuck’s sake… “ Ae Cha  Ae Cha knew the design very well. It was the badge everyone involved with C&R held. Could this day get any worse?  Suddenly it made sense why her point of contact never reached back to her.

“Really? They had to send a babysitter after me?” She recoiled, taking a step back to distance herself away from the woman again.

Babysitter? Reine stared at the girl, slightly confused.  The girl’s reaction threw her slightly off-guard; a hint of surprise passed by her green eyes.  And they?   Who are they?

What the hell is going on?

She lifted both of her hands, to tell her that she meant no harm.  The girl may have been very apprehensive of her since her initial greeting was her gun pointed at some random civilian.  “I mean you no harm,” she assured, taking a step back as well.  “It was just...instinct.  And I am absolutely unsure on what you’re talking about,” she explained.  

Upon closer inspection, the girl seemed someone that Reine has seen before. Somehow she felt... familiar? No, that can't be it. Something in her gut gave her an unexplainable feeling towards the girl, but what is it?

“I received instructions to come to this address,” she continued, since the girl did not respond, and was still eyeing her apprehensively.  “I was expecting to meet someone, I guess.”

“I’m not a child, you know!” Ae Cha interjected. The pitch of her voice raised with each word. “I see your badge,” she leered as she pointed to the woman’s badge clipped on her belt and added,  “I’m who you’re looking for.”

[ 2016-11-15 13:24:00 - SECURITY SYSTEM SEQUENCE ACTIVATED ]
[ 2016-11-15 13:24:59 - SECURITY SYSTEM LOCKDOWN COUNTDOWN BEGIN  ]

Reine’s eyebrows knotted in confusion. She somehow cannot put two and two together--it was quite obvious that the girl was as confused as her.

“Were you the one who sent the instructions?” she tilted her head slightly to the side, crossing her arms above her chest.  Her conclusion did not seem quite right, though; something tells her that’s just not it.

Her eyebrows raised in realization; she may have what's needed to clear the confusion somehow. She then fished for her phone in her suit pocket, and scrolled to find the email. “I'm looking for the person who sent me this message,” she flips her phone to show the girl the message she received; the mint green header in full view on her phone’s screen.

Ae Cha’s eyes widened at the reveal of the message.   How is that possible? There were too many questions racing through her mind, but, her head insisted on returning to her point of contact’s lack of communication. He was always punctual... too punctual to Ae Cha’s liking. It was unlike him to not respond back.  Having this woman sent by her point of contact made sense, however, she wondered why he didn’t inform the bodyguard beforehand of her identity.  

Her stomach twisted at the very notion of C&R tracking her emails. Were they watching her online activity? The thought of her online activity being tracked disgusted her. Today’s events unfolding in front of her was another reminder of why she desired to for anything to be out of this cruel agreement… even if it meant drastic measures.

“My POC isn’t with me. Don’t you have his number?” she answered and let out a heavy sigh. Her free hand massaged her right temple before pulling up her contacts list off of her phone. “I just want to put it out there I never agreed to these specific terms with the chair--”

Before Ae cha could finish, the sound of a pulsating beep over the intercom interrupted her. The sound startled the two women as it repeated itself five times. A voice would soon follow.

Attention: Lockdown sequence successful.

Reine spun around as soon as she heard an audible “click” at the door.  She placed her phone back into her suit pocket, and then strode to the door.  When she twisted the knob it seemed to have been locked.  Frustration had set in her features.  She tried to turn the knob again and again, shaking the door--but it was no use.  

They were locked in.

“What the hell is going on?” Reine whispered, her eyes darting around the edges of the door, trying to find some sort of latch that could be worked on for them to get out.  She then looked at the door’s digital lock.  Since every door’s mechanism is the same no matter what the make and model, dismantling it would be the best option.

Crouching to have a better view, she fumbles in her pocket and took out a small pen light.  She turned it on and placed it in between her teeth to aid her by adding more light to what she will be working on.  Afterwards she takes her hand inside her coat and it came out with a Swiss army knife.

She flipped the knife open and tried to pry the door’s lock open, but groaned when she realizes that the door itself was made with the lock, hence making dismantling possible.  She tried to stab as hard as she could, only to find her knife dulled and the door unscathed.

Dismantling it is out of the question...which means…

She stood and turned to the girl, took the pen light out of her mouth and replaced it in her pocket.  “Please head to the next room.  I’ll try to open the door, but it might be a little...dangerous.”

“Right.” Ae Cha didn’t argue. Instead, she nodded and hurried herself to the next room where a couch was located. She quietly crouched behind the couch and dialed her point of contact’s phone number. “Come on… “ She urged under her breath.

Reine then turned back to the door and reached into her coat for her gun.  She unlatched the safety lock and aimed at the knob with both hands.

And fired.

The room resounded with a loud “bang”, and with an enclosed space it seemed more deafening.  When the ringing stopped in her ears, Reine gave out an audible groan.

There was not a scratch on the door.  

“Fuck,” Reine cursed under her breath, and lowered her gun.

HAHA! Nice try!

“What?!” Reine almost jumped at the male voice that came out of nowhere.  Her eyes darted all over the room.  “Who’s there?!”


 

Jumin finally got the chance to actually straighten up from his desk.  He leaned backwards on his leather chair, tilting his head back to relax his tense shoulders and close his eyes.

The new Chiba merger deal was excruciating.   He cannot get enough supplies and shipment out on time, and until now he has absolutely no idea why his father had chosen to expand the business in an entirely different industry.

He lazily stretched his arm to let his sleeves hike up a bit and folded them back in front of him so he can look at his wristwatch.  It read 1:30pm.  He sighed and stood up, tightened his tie and straightened his vest.  He should visit his rose garden for a while; he has been working nonstop since five in the morning today.

He felt slightly irritated to be reminded that his personal guard had to be out for a supposed emergency.  He’s been calling her phone since this morning, and she never answered.

Jaehee walked over to his desk, and noted his dark expression while staring at his phone.  “Mr. Han, you need to have your lunch now.  Would you like to--”

“I’m going to the rose garden,” Jumin interrupted while he picked his coat up from his chair’s backrest.  “Please call driver Kim.”

As soon as he finished his sentence, his phone rang.  He looked over and saw Saeyoung’s name on the screen.  He picked up the phone and pressed the green “answer” button.

“It’s me.  What is it, Saeyoung?”

“Jumin! We have an emergency!” Saeyoung announced, his voice was a little too loud and added to Jumin’s accumulated irritation.  He placed his thumb and index finger at the bridge of his nose, feeling the onset of a headache.

He closed his eyes and sighed. “What is it?”

“The apartment!  Someone’s in the apartment!”

Jumin’s eyes went wide, but he caught himself right away and his brows furrowed both in confusion and suspicion.

“I’ll be there right away.”

Chapter Text

"We’re sorry. The person you are trying to reach is unavailable at this time.”

“What?!" Ae Cha dialed her point of contact’s number five times and each time leads to voicemail. Of all days to be unavailable.  “Why today!?” She sulked aloud, wincing at the sound of sound of the gunshot and the male voice which followed.

Her hand slipped underneath the front of her shirt. She reached for her C&R ID stored safely in a bra pocket she stitched together herself for weekends clubbing in Hongdae. She flipped the card over in case there was an additional number available to call.  Much to her dismay, the back of the card was blank.

“Shit!” She cursed under her breath and stood up. She blows a puff of air out of her nose out of frustration and marched toward the back entrance she came from. “Let me out!” She yelled and pounded on the door.

Say the magic word, sweetie!

Ae Cha jumped back at the sound of the male voice again. Was the door talking to her…? “No. There’s no way,” she thought and shook the crazy idea out of her head. Her eyes shot around the room. She feared someone was watching them from a hidden camera.

“Stop this cruel joke!” She shouted, and pounded on the door again. Ae Cha was fed-up, and she was not going to have some pervert watch her from a camera. “I’ll call the police!”

Incorrect.  Time for a punishment!

A ceiling tile above Ae Cha silently slid open, and water all of a sudden poured from the opening.

Splash!

Ae Cha shrieked as the gush of ice-cold water rained down, drenching her from head to toe. She turned away from the door, water dripping everywhere, and shivered. The apartment was already cool inside, and being soaked in cold water made the air three times as cold.

Reine ran to the other room as soon as she heard the girl's shriek. To her surprise, she found her drenched, shivering, and totally miserable.

“What happened?” she took quick strides to close the distance to the girl, took her coat off and draped it over the girl’s shoulder. While she did so, she looked around and saw the puddle by the door.

“Someone's playing with us,” she mumbled. “But first, here, at least wipe your face and hands.” she then offered her handkerchief to the girl.

“I’m fine,” Ae Cha assured, and pushed the bodyguard’s hand aside. Droplets of water pitter-pattered to the ground from the ends of her hair. Her body continued to tremble from the sudden damp and cold environment. She wouldn’t deny she was freezing, however, the last thing she wanted today was any assistance from someone she assumed sent to pick her up.  She tossed the coat draped over her onto the couch and folded her arms in an unsuccessful attempt at keeping body heat.

“Call the Chairman already,” she sniffled, distancing herself from the woman again by a few steps. “My POC isn’t picking up. He needs to be notified of this incident or I will be in bigger trouble than I already am.” Her eyes gradually darkened with sadness, and her glance lowered to the floor.  

“Don't be stubborn,” Reine replied sternly. “You are obviously shivering in those wet clothes and I am not about to be responsible for some stranger who gets sick because of being so damn difficult ,” she tossed her coat back to the.girl. “And what the hell are you talking about? Chairman? POC? You've been mumbling nonsense since earlier,” she felt herself growing impatient.

And what is up with these doors? Reine roamed her eyes around the apartment to find anything that can aid their escape. She needed to at least get the heater going or else she's going to end up taking care of a stubborn little girl.

"Nonsense?" Ae Cha refuted, shooting a glare into the back of the head of the woman, and sniffling again. "You must be new to the company. Let me explain to you how this goes, sweetheart." Her tone turned condescending, and her own frustration grew. Ae Cha pushed her luck by carelessly dropping the jacket to the ground, kicking it aside.

"I go on a trip, and for some damn reason, I'm not trusted.  I get picked up and questioned in the back of a van for an entire day.  I'm lucky if I'm allowed to eat that day. And then to top it all off, I'm restricted from leaving the apartment until I can prove myself trustworthy." Her words animated with hands during the explanation.


"And don't think I haven't tried to sneak out before. There is always someone watching me, " she added. While the woman’s attention was in the living room, Ae Cha quickly pulled her sweater over her head, and quickly wrung it out. Water dripped onto the floor, eventually soaking the jacket as well.

“So you take your frustration on me? How adorable, ” she crouched to pick up her coat and her expression changed from frustration to one of coldness. She hung her coat on the backrest of a chair, letting it dry. She wordlessly walked past the girl and went to the other room to find more ways to get out.

She paced toward the window and knocked on the glass. The sound it made was definitely not glass but some sort of plastic, and she knows the sound well. “Who the hell would bulletproof the entire apartment,” she mumbled to herself, her suspicion gnawing at her.

She started looking into the living room for any switch that would help them. If the door is talking, then there's electricity--which means they can at least have some heat.

However, when she found the main switch, it's been sealed shut as well, with the same mechanism as the door.

This is just awesome. Somehow she felt that all efforts would be quite futile.  She's pretty much tried her best to get them both out. The sky is starting to dim, and she felt a little helpless because once the sun goes out, it will be dark and cold.  There's nothing in the apartment to safely start a fire with, and with how they are locked in they might just end up suffocating.

She finally sat by the door and took out her phone. She actually was not surprised to find that her signal was gone.

She sighed. The situation reminded her of the many times she was placed behind bars back in her teenage years. There was no knowing what will happen, when you'll be out, if someone is coming to bail you out, or are you going to rot inside the cell. What happened inside the prisons made her spine shiver; she willed those memories out as soon as she could.

“Damn it,” she muttered under her breath, willing her mind to think. “Come on, Reine. Get us out of here. You're not in prison anymore. There has to be a way out,” she repeated to herself, trying to will out the sense of helplessness that’s slowly eating away at her.

Ae Cha eventually settled by the back door, and stared at her phone. The time read 4:15pm. They’ve been locked in the apartment for three hours together, and for Ae Cha it was three hours too long. The dread of facing her point of contact worried her more than the fact she felt cold all the way to her bones.  

“A simple phone call to the Chairman would have fixed this if you would have called before we lost signal,” Ae Cha mumbled a little too loud, pulling her knees close to her chest. She didn’t know who this bodyguard was, but she could feel hatred for this individual for the Hell she will be put through. Ae Cha didn’t bother to even ask her name. Did it really matter?

If her point of contact never reached out to her, someone would have already been at her apartment for her weekly check-in, and that would be a huge problem. Every time she missed her appointment, they would find her and she would be placed on a house arrest. In her defense, most of her check-ins were at random. It was part of the agreement as part of C&R’s “caretaking.”

“This is awful,” she whined to herself. “God, please let me go.”

Ah Ha! A second try? Say the magic word, and you’re free!


This again?  Ae Cha scooted herself back to her feet and faced the talking door. She bit her lip, and contemplated if answering would be worth it. If her first “punishment” was being doused in water, she worried what the next punishment would be. Who had the time to set up a talking door? She figured the landlord must be a genius. Her head turned towards the bodyguard sitting at the other door. She couldn’t shake the feeling of recognizing the woman. Who was she?

Time’s running out~ If an answer is not given, the apartment will blow up. Ha ha!

Reine’s eyes shot up as he heard the voice from the door.

“The apartment will what?!

She frantically scanned her eyes and listened to the silence in the room.  Aside from the beating of her own heart and the girl’s steady breathing from the other room, she does hear some sort of mechanism that has been ticking.

“Shit,” she muttered, “What is up with this door?!

Reine took a deep breath and stilled herself. She went to where the other girl is, and stood in front the door. “What answer does this stupid door want?”

Ae Cha shot a glare at the woman  and side-steps to keep her distance. The contents hidden in her pocket bra fell out from underneath her shirt, and scattered across the floor.  “How would I know!?” she whispered under her breath.  

Oi. I heard that.  

She felt a nerve pop in her head.  This door is most. Definitely. Irritating. “All right, magic door, can you please open up so we can get the hell out of here?”

“Oh! What if the phrase is “magic door?” Ae Cha questioned curiously. That gave her an idea. She brought up her phone’s browser to search “passwords for talking doors,” but grimaced when remembering her phone’s data was offline.

AWW! That’s cute.  Incorrect; but, cute! You gave the wrong answer!  I’m counting down now~

Ten~

Reine felt panic rise from her chest.  Never in her entire life did she think that she would actually die in the hands of a talking door.   She scrambled her mind for answers. Meanwhile, Ae Cha continued throwing out random sentences off the top of her head.

“I love pranking girls…? No… Um… Please open the door? No, No... OH! What about let it go?”

Nine~

Somewhere in her mind Reine just swore she will wring the neck of the person who made this goddamn door.

“Shit! I don’t want to die this way,” Ae Cha sighed, kicking the ground. “Is this real life?” She wondered, and held her breath nervously.

Eight~

“What, does this door expect me to say ‘ open sesame ’?”  Reine mumbled, deep in thought.

Her mind was still trying to find more answers, and then she realized that the countdown had stopped.  She counted “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two” in her mind to manually count seconds, just to make sure that she’s not making a mistake.

It really did stop.

A loud click almost made her jump, and she raised her left hand protectively in front of the smaller girl and pulled her to stand behind, while drawing her gun.  Why she did so, she’s totally not sure--and for some reason, Reine just feels protective of her.  She shook the feeling off and focused on the task at hand.

The door slowly cracked open--

--to see a pair of red-haired boys staring right into the apartment, and…

“Mr. Han?!” she exclaimed.

 

Chapter Text

Reine was taken aback to see two pairs of red-haired boys looking standing right outside the door, and from the expressions on their faces, it seems that they were equally surprised to see her... and her gun.

However, a third person, who's taller, with dark hair was standing behind them, and she felt her blood run cold.

"M-Mr. Han..?" she whispered.

Reine and Jumin locked eyes, both equally surprised to see each other in such a... peculiar...situation.  None of them said a word, but it slowly dawned in Reine’s mind who he was and why she is going to be in deep trouble.

One of the boys nonchalantly pointed at the girl behind Reine, his mint green eyes looking at what Reine assumes is his twin.  “You idiot.  She triggered the trap,” he said, which prompted the other boy with the same red hair and amber eyes to look at what his brother was pointing out.  “Hey!  It’s not my fault!  That was for Yoosung!”

Jumin sighed and crossed his arms over his chest.  “Stop it, both of you.  We have more important things to attend to?”

Reine was pulled from her stupor when Jumin spoke, and she lowered her gun, placing it back into the holster.  She lowered her gaze because she knows what Jumin’s current demeanor meant all too well.

She almost jumped when he called her name.  “Reine.  Come with me.”

“Wait a minute,” Ae Cha cut in.  Her eyes briefly met both of the red-haired twins, and then to the taller man behind them. She worked out the issue in front of her. The man in the back appeared to be an authority figure of some kind over the woman known as Reine. That must mean…

“Are two babysitters really necessary?” she questioned, spinning the rings on her fingers timidly. “No offense, but, it’s not like I hold a top government secret or anything.”

Reine looked at the girl in both surprise and horror.  How...wait, she didn’t just…

Suddenly, one of the boys burst out laughing.  He had to turn around and move away, unable to contain his laughter.  Reine watched all of this in horror.  She tentatively shifted her gaze toward the taller man, who was, expectedly, very annoyed.  

“Hahahaha!  Haha...I’m sorry, Jumin...hahahahaha!” the red-haired guy with glasses doubled over with laughter.  “Hahaha...ba... babysitter... hahaha!”

She shifted her gaze to the other twin, who also had a slight grin forming.  

“Mr. Han, there...there is some confusion,” Reine said, her voice pitch a little higher in panic.

The red-haired twin with glasses sudden reaction felt so pure it made the girl's cheeks flush to a rosy hue. That sensation quickly dissipated by Reine’s comment. Mr. Han?   She tilted her head sideways, her face contorting in confusion.

“Mr. Han? There’s no way he’s the Chairman,” Ae Cha blurted and pointed to the man. “He’s too young to be the Chairman,” she further insisted.

The young man with glasses finally got enough air to breathe as he straightened up, but his eyes were still a little teary from all the laughing and a grin was still plastered on his face.  He looks at Ae Cha and chuckles a little.  “Oh, he will be, soon enough!” he walked over and stood beside his brother, and then placed his arm around his twin.  “My name’s Luciel!  And this is my brother, Saeran!”

Saeran scoffed and glared at his brother.  “His name is Saeyoung, don’t believe all that Luciel crap.”

Saeyoung visibly pouted.  “Aw, come on; I was just trying to woo the ladies.”

Ae Cha’s cheeks flared up again at Saeyoung’s casual flirting. It was enough of a temperature change to remind her how cold she was from being in damp clothing for hours.  

“Oh, and Mr. Grumpy over there is Jumin Han, C&R Executive Director, and future chairman!”


Shit. He’s the Chairman’s son. Her stomach performed a cartwheel at the revelation. Why would the Chairman’s son be sent to retrieve her though?  Her eyes glanced over to Reine and back to Jumin Han. This doesn’t make sense.

“I make no claims of such,” Jumin interrupted.


Ae Cha’s mind wandered back two years ago being reminded, by gunpoint, not to interact with anyone C&R unless it was the particular team doing her “caretaking” from the Research & Development department. This included the Chairman’s son. Fuck. Ideas began spinning in her head of how she could get out of this. Would a lie work? No. She decided the best way out was to be polite.

“I-I apologize Mr. Han!” she bowed apologetically, and stepped back, unaware her foot is standing on her C&R identification card which fell earlier. She hoped she her charm would give her a quick exit pass the leave. The image of a gun pointed to her face stayed front and center. The Chairman cannot find out about her, ever.  “Please forgive me. I... I really need to leave...”

Reine noted the sudden change of demeanor, but somehow, something else was bothering her.  She turned to Jumin, who was looking at her stoically, but with a speck of confusion painted in his eyes.


“No.  I need to know why you are both in this apartment,” he said resolutely.  He closely observed the girl’s demeanor, and then he turned his gaze towards Reine, who kept the same stoic appearance but her heart was hammering in her chest.  “Especially you.


Reine instinctively stood on attention.  “Yes, Mr. Han.”


The C&R ID underneath Ae Cha’s foot catches the attention of Saeyoung.  How interesting. He nudged Saeran, and leaned in to whisper inaudible instructions in his twin’s ear. Saeran silently nods at the request and waited.


This isn’t right. Ae Cha was suddenly consumed with guilt for Reine being reprimanded. It bothered her how she felt like she needed to try to protect her. As much as she already disliked Reine from earlier, she could not let the woman take the blame for trying to track the girl to the apartment.


"She came here because of me!” Ae Cha cried out all of a sudden and approached Jumin Han.  


“I’ll stay on house arrest for an entire month, no, two months. My POC is not taking my calls. Call your father. Your father will know the situation. He knows me---”


Shit. Ae Cha covered her mouth when it dawned on her she spoke too much and gasped. Her eyes widened with panic, and her heart drummed a cadence like no other.


“I’m such an idiot,” she whispered.


Jumin narrowed his eyes at Ae Cha’s words. “My father?” he took slow, deliberate strides toward the small girl, his countenance looming over her. “My father knows nothing about this apartment, and I am sure I'll do everything in my power that he doesn't.”

Reine defensively pulled Ae Cha behind her. “Mr. Han, please.”


Jumin shot Reine an angry glare. “Please what? Are you going to claim you're attached with my father, too?”

Reine scrambled for answers. Try as she might she just could not explain why she is standing in between a helpless girl and her boss. “Let's...let's try to sort this out logically, okay? Why don't we sit and talk--”

“I have no time to sit and talk. ” he interrupted in an overbearing tone. He then turns to Ae Cha, locking his dark eyes on hers. “What is this business about my father?”

“Jumin, I kind of have to agree with the scary lady,” Saeyoung interrupted and let out a nervous laugh. “Why don’t we move the cute girl over to the couch and finish questioning there?” he suggested, eyeing the card underneath Ae Cha’s foot.  Saeran side-stepped around his twin, and entered the apartment to inspect the remaining rooms.

“Yes! That’s a great idea!” Ae Cha piped up and took a step back to gather some distance with the terrifying son of the Chairman in front of her. It may have been because of how cold she was, but, she couldn’t help but feel herself shriveling up like a dying flower from the amount of fear this man instilled upon her. The tenacity burning in Jumin’s eyes was truly terrifying.  She was standing in the fire of Jumin Han, and it burned her alive. 

“I’m… I’m so so-sorry. It’s a mis-mis-misunderst-standing! I can’t… um… ex-explain… , “ she stammered, and without second thought grabbed the back of Reine’s shirt.

“Mr. Han, please, you're scaring her,” Reine pleaded, and stepped forward to get Ae Cha out of Jumin’s line of sight.

Good. ” he replied with a sliver of threat in his voice, then sidestepped to enter the apartment. “I will hear what you two have to say. But if I see you being a threat,” he glances over to his side at Ae Cha once more. “I won't have many options.”

Jumin went to sit on one of the couches, and Reine visibly sighed with relief. She turned to Ae Cha and gave her a tense smile. “It'll be all right,” she tried to assure, although she knows it's of little credence as of this point. “I'm working for him.”


Reine leaned over to Ae Cha and whispered to her ear. “He cares about his father,” she said. “He's just worked up."


“No, it’snot okay,” Ae Cha interjected, and followed Reine, Saeyoung, and Jumin into the living room.

The ID laid in open view now. Saeran waited for the trio to exit the room before returning from the kitchen to quietly retrieve the card laying on the floor. He’s seen this type of badge before. It belongs to C&R International.  He carefully reached for the card, and thoroughly inspect it for any tracking or audio devices before flipping it over to read the printed text.

 

 

C & R International
ID No. 584523

Name: Lee Ae-cha
Age: 21

Department:
Research & Development

Contact:   Sim Yeong-ho 010-5555-5555

Expires: 2017/09/03

 

Wait. He stared at the contact name, hoping he misread it. He stared for a few minutes as the name rang inside his head. The name was someone he wanted to forget.


Yeong Ho Sim.

“Fuck.” He gritted his teeth, and shoved the ID into his jacket pocket. Yeong Ho Sim worked as one of the senior security officers from Mint Eye, and was in charge of providing firearms training to every Mint Eye operative, including Saeran. They did not have a good past together. Saeran’s first mission, and consequently his first kill, was overseen by Yeong Ho himself.

"How is she involved?” he wondered before stepping into in the other room.  He didn’t like the uneasiness settling in his stomach.  The girl didn’t have the “regular” temperament as other Mint Eye operatives. Mint Eye’s activity ceased in South Korea over a year ago. Yeong Ho Sim was assumed dead after the RFA ceased the Mint Eye building. The twins have found no traces of Mint Eye activity since the group disbanded. Was this a new branch?

All that he was waiting for was for the girl to tell her side of the story to set in motion the pieces needed to solve the puzzle. Perhaps the girl was lured into Mint Eye. He’s seen it happen with his own green eyes with other women turned into “assistants.” The women would be traded between operatives for after they were converted. He pushed the disgusting memories out of his head. There was no time for idle thoughts.

“I’ll figure it out and save you too… ” he mumbled under his breath,and focused on Ae cha.

Chapter Text

“Okay, let's be objective, here,” Saeyoung started, leaning slightly forward, and initiated eye contact with everyone in the room. “First, we need to establish limitations. Everything that we will be talking about will be kept with utmost secrecy, if needed.”

Saeyoung stalled his gaze on Ae Cha, whose demeanor was proof that she is definitely hiding something. The C&R ID card that she was stepping on obviously did not belong to Reine nor Jumin; he noted that Reine’s ID was clipped securely on her pants belt, and Jumin never needed one. He made a quick glance on where the ID used to be, and he trusts that Saeran was fast enough to grab it.

“Second, we need to establish identities,” he said, all the while holding his gaze toward the smaller girl. “I pretty much know Reine.”

“And how, pray tell, do you know about me?” Reine interjected, crossing her arms.

“I hire him for background investigations for my entire security fleet,” Jumin answered nonchalantly. “This is standard procedure.”


Reine was somehow surprised. The boy looked no older than 23, and yet Jumin Han trusts him for something of grave importance. She made a mental note of his name, and she had a nagging suspicion that there is more to him than meets the eye. She glanced over to his--she assumed--twin, and made a note of his name as well.

“And there's only one person in this room who we do not know,” he spoke with a softer, quieter tone, careful not to be too overbearing towards the smaller girl who was obviously very scared. “Cutie, can you please tell us your name?” he asks her, wearing a small smile on his face.

Ae Cha’s golden-hazel eyes quickly shot up and met with Saeyoung’s eyes in surprise. Something about the red haired boy, no, both red hair boys, calmed her. His voice was genuine, and she wanted to soak it in for the days. Could this already be a crush developing?  She wanted everything in the world to give him her fake identity. Her heart wouldn’t allow it.

“Lee… Ae Cha Lee,” she answered without hesitation. “But…” Ae Cha paused. She looked over to Jumin Han, and shuddered.  God knows what would become of her if Jumin Han found out about her and her ties to C&R. Her life flashed before her eyes as she imagined her point of contact throwing her body over the Han river himself.

“I can’t answer any questions with Mr. Han here. I’m sorry!” Her words trembled again as she shivered from cold air.

Jumin looked over at her, and Saeyoung gave the taller man a look that told him to calm down. Jumin closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch, his arms crossed on his chest.  Saeyoung gave a slight sigh of relief that Jumin understood the logic of what he was trying to do. “Ah, Ae Cha. That's a cute name,” he said softly, and he raised his hand to lightly touch her shoulder. “Look, I know that Juju is a scary man, but he's not bad. He just has a permanent scowl on his face,” he said in his gentlest tone.

“I do not,” Jumin replied, a proper scowl etching itself on his face. Reine kept herself from smiling by biting her lower lip. “And stop giving weird nicknames.”

Saeyoung gave a light chuckle, then turns to Ae Cha. “Well, that aside...if you are not comfortable sharing some things then that's fine, but we are all just here to find out why you are in this apartment. As you have experienced, this place has a special security system for a reason.”

He then realized that Ae Cha was still shivering in her damp clothes. He stood and took off his jacket, then placed it on her shoulders. He gave her an apologetic smile and scratched the back of his head. “The...door...was my doing. I am so sorry.”

Reine’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “I have to make a note to really hurt you after this.”

“Seconded,” Jumin added.

Saeyoung pouted. “I was just trying to protect the apartment, you know? Please don't hurt me,” he pleaded.

“But isn't all of this way overboard?” Reine asked. “What's in this place that made you want to bulletproof everything?”

“That's none of your business,” Saeran spoke from the other corner of the room. He stood leaning against the window, his hands casually inside his pants pocket. “What we need to know is how you got in here and how you knew the code on the door.

Saeyoung smiles at Ae Cha. “Ae Chan, please don't mind my scary brother. He's nice, I assure you,” he leans forward and asks her again. “I do have the same question, actually. How did you know the code on the door?”

She desired anything in the world for her eyes to tell her story. Pools of water formed on the sides of her eyes. There was no way she was getting out of this.  All she could do in the moment was beat herself up.  

It was her fault for following a stupid e-mail.
It was her fault for trying to find answers about her father.

“I just wanted answers. Please forgive me, “ her voice cracked, and she tugged Saeyoung’s jacket off of her shoulders to bury her face in order to hide tears she could no longer hold back. The stubborn girl from earlier in the day turned vulnerable in her current state.

"I wasn’t trying to break into anyone’s apartment, or anything like that,” she hiccuped, pushing her face even further into the jacket. She couldn’t let up from sobbing even if she tried. She was tired of all of the secrets, the threats, and being so damn cold. Why did no one bother to turn on the heater? Her small frame couldn’t handle anymore.

“It was just a stupid e-mail. Why am I such an idiot? I just cost my life being here with Mr. Han in the room,” she confessed in between heavy sobs.

Reine’s heart was crushed seeing Ae Cha break down like she did. Earlier today she was this feisty little girl and now she sort of understood that Ae Cha may be burdened by something.  What Reine cannot understand is that why do I feel like crying, too?

Saeyoung panicked. “A-ah! No, Ae Chan please don't cry,” he immediately scooted closer to her, and proceeded to tentatively rub her back. “Please, anything but tears! Oh no,” he tried reaching into his pockets, pulled out miscellaneous stuff; he must have something in here to make her stop crying!

Saeran sighs and walked over to Ae Cha, and sat on the other side of the couch. “My brother and I are on either sides of you. We will not let Mr. Han hurt you,” he assured, his voice surprisingly soft compared to the harsh tone he spoke with earlier.

Jumin straightened from his seat and stood. “We're obviously not getting anywhere. Reine, come,” he beckons his bodyguard, and it appeared to Reine that Jumin was being considerate of Ae Cha’s unexplainable fear of him.

Once they stepped outside the door, Reine closed it behind her, but then she stopped and realized something. An e-mail?

“Come to think of it, I received an email, too,” she said while fumbling for her phone in her pocket.


 

Saeyoung sighed in relief. He thanked Jumin in his mind for being considerate despite the fact that he knows he's noticed everything.

He turned to Ae Cha and smiled. “There, he's not here anymore. We won't let him hurt you, I promise. It's just really, really important to us to know what led you here,” he laid a hand on her small shoulder, which shook because of her sobbing.

“Oh... “ Ae Cha set the jacket on her lap, and lifted her head back up, wiping stray tears and smeared mascara from underneath her eyes. She was surprised to be surrounded in the presence of both boys. She felt safe.

What she didn’t intend, however, was insinuating the Chairman’s son was a direct threat to her. It was the furthest from the truth.

“I didn’t mean he would hurt me. It’s… It’s a bit complicated,” she admitted, sniffling once more. She softly patting herself looking for her C&R identification badge. Shit. Where did it go? The air in the apartment cooled more as the sun set outside.

“I suppose… it doesn’t matter what I say now,” she sulked, sadness hinged from each syllable. It didn’t matter how numbingly cold she was anymore. The girl believed she was as good as dead once she found eliminating the need for her to actually do it herself. Ae Cha swiped two screens on her phone and tapped on her received e-mails. The invitation appeared again on her phone screen.

“I was invited here. See?” Ae Cha flashed the phone in front of both of the twins revealing the invitation and the passcode for the apartment further adding“My point of contact is likely on the hunt for me now.  Once he finds out I spoke with Mr. Han, I’m as good as dead.”

The twins looked at the phone, and they gasped in unison. Saeyoung’s mouth was agape, and Saeran’s eyes went wide.

“Mint...Eye,” Saeyoung mumbled in a voice that was almost inaudible, as if the name itself strung a very sensitive chord in his mind.

Saeran felt anger well inside his chest. Mint Eye? He cussed under his breath and turned to Ae Cha. “Yeong Ho Sim. Is he the POC you're talking about?”

Ae Cha gazed at the twins, shocked they knew her contact’s name. “...Yes. Do you know him?”   

Saeran’s eyes darkened. “Oh, I know him.

Saeyoung looked at his brother questioningly. “Saeran? Is he…” he let the question trail off.

“Yes,” the green-eyed twin replied.

“Then this means trouble,” Saeyoung said with worry in his voice. “Serious trouble.”


Jumin could not believe his eyes when he saw the email on Reine’s phone. He was at a loss for words. As far as he is concerned, Mint Eye was already disbanded and forgotten when they busted their operations a year ago, and seeing this email resurface again gave him flashes of his only friend's death, and Rika.

Rika.

“Mr. Han? Are you alright?” Reine inquired, sensing the uneasiness from the man. It was very surprising to see him this...flustered...with the mere mention of the email.

“...do you know anything? Anything at all?” Reine prodded Jumin, when he suddenly grabbed her hand and was half-dragging her away from the apartment.

“M-Mr. Han?!” Reine’s heart leaped in her chest; half from surprise and half from an unexplainable heat that was slowly creeping towards her face. “S-sir, you're hurting me,” She needed to get his hand away from hers; and she ended up blurting the stupidest thing, she realized.

“No I am not,” Jumin said. He wordlessly took his phone from his suit pocket with his free hand and pressed a quick dial number, then placed the phone on his ear.


 

The trio was suddenly pulled from all the confusion when Saeyoung’s phone rang. He stood up to take the phone from his pocket, and was surprised to see Jumin’s name on the caller ID.

He pressed the green “answer” button. “Jumin! We're dealing with--”

Mint Eye,” Jumin interrupted. “Place Ae Cha under your care. Trace the sender. I will send bodyguards to everyone.”

The call got disconnected, leaving Saeyoung speechless and staring at the phone.

“But we already know the sender,” he mumbled.

Saeran started to bite his nails, his eyes focused but does not really see, and the cogs in his mind turned as he tried to connect the dots. “I don't think it's a good idea to tell Jumin now,” he mumbled, and Saeyoung nodded.

“I agree. But wait--why did he call?” Saeyoung stood up and went out to check on Reine and Jumin, only to find that they're nowhere in sight.

“Oh my God, he ran off with the scary lady!” he exclaimed.

Ae Cha blinked a couple times, and watched the twins immediately panic. What’s happening? She was thoroughly confused at the events unfolding. She reached for the jacket, and wrapped herself in it for the warmth. The fabric was oh so soft, and she smelled a faint scent of apple. Her face felt flush, almost feverish. Everything was suddenly becoming a blur.

“What’s going on?” she asked quietly, and squeaked out a small sneeze. Nothing was making sense anymore. The room spun around her, and she wobbled sitting up. How was she losing balance sitting up?  The spinning sensation became greater.  Ae Cha needed to steady herself and fast.

She pulled herself to the closest thing she could reach beside her, and rested her head. Her arms gently snaked around the object. Was that a heartbeat she heard near her ears? She couldn’t tell anymore. Whatever it, or who, she was clinging to they were warm. The welcoming scent of apple returned. Delirium slowly consumed her, and she felt all of her cares fade away. 

Jamsimanyo… I need to rest my eyes,” she whispered.

Saeran felt small, cold hands wrap around his waist and he froze from where he sat. His eyes went wide and he tried his best to move away, but Ae Cha clung to him and her head rested on his chest.

“H...hyung…” he called out to Saeyoung, who turned around in surprise with his brother calling him that way.

“Oh my brother~ what is--” he stopped dead in his tracks and sees Ae Cha wrapped around his brother, contentedly resting her head on his chest and her arms wrapped around his waist.

“Oh my God!” he exclaimed the second time in five minutes. “My brother is making out with a girl he just met!”

Saeran kicked his brother, and Saeyoung deftly avoided the boot that was aimed at his leg. “Idiot! Your trap made her sick!” he raised his hand to rest on Ae Cha’s forehead, and found that she was burning with fever.

“I’m… I’m… s-so cold.” Ae Cha mewed weakly at the unexpected movement. Her body shivered as her temperature continued to rise.

“Shit,” Saeyoung commented. “We’d better get her home.”

“More to the point,” Saeran interjected, and then a slight blush tinted his cheeks. “How do we get her wet clothes off?”

Both brothers turned red.


 

It’s been a relatively quiet afternoon for Jaehee Kang, a type of day that was very few and far between being Mr. Han’s assistant. She was able to finish the rest of her tasks earlier today, giving her some extra time to admire the latest pictures of Zen found on Triptor.  She glanced at her watch, and noted the time.

“5:13pm. I wonder where Mr. Han could be?” She pondered. She took a deep breath and enjoyed the silence once more. No cat projects, no sudden deadlines. Today was going to be a great day… Until her phone rang.

She sighed, knowing freedom was too good to be true. Jumin must have heard her sudden appreciation for a free afternoon, she grimaced. She paused when reading “Saeyoung Choi” on her caller ID. How intriguing.

“Do I dare answer?,” she muttered, clicking her pen on her desk. She recalled the handful of times Saeyoung called her out of the blue, and each time always lead to trouble. Sighing, she hesitantly answered and instantly dreaded the call.  

“This is Assistant Kang,” she answered.

“Thank God you answered!” Saeyoung exclaimed, the sound of him shutting his car door could be heard through the speaker. “We-We have a bit of an emergency!”

She raised an eyebrow, realizing Mr. Han still has returned to the office yet. “Emergency? I can contact Mr. Ha--”

“No, no. Juju’s fine! I think, “ He interrupted, and watched as Saeran carefully loaded Ae Cha into the back seat of his sports car. “Could you come by our house with a set of clothes for a girl?”

Jaehee’s eyes narrowed, and she instantly regretted taking the call. “Saeyoung, I must remind you the activities you and your brother partake in are not something I agree with.”

The back passenger side door shut, and Saeran soon slipped into the passenger’s seat of the car. Saeyoung’s face instantly turned red at Jaehee’s assumption, shaking unpleasant thoughts out of his mind.

“No. No. No.  We found a girl at the apartment, “ he corrected Jaehee, and chuckled. “She’s soaked, and running a fever. Ae Chan needs new clothes.”

Jaehee gasped. Who would be at the apartment? Her thumbs rubbed over her brows in an attempt to calm a lingering migraine she returning just from speaking to Saeyoung.

"I suppose the answers I need will have to wait, “ Jaehee sighed. “Is the girl thoroughly soaked?”

“I’m… I’m quite uncomfortable answering this question,” Saeyoung objected, his face matched the color of his hair from the dirty thoughts he failed to keep from lingering.

“Yes, she’s thoroughly soaked,” Saeran answered deadpanned. Saeyoung nearly choked at Saeran’s answer, and rubbed the cross around his neck hoping to be instantly cleansed of his sins from the last half hour.

“She’ll need undergarments then,” Jaehee concluded, and rose from her chair. It wouldn’t take her too long to get to the Choi house. If the twins were aware of Jumin’s location, then it shouldn’t be a problem for her to step out to bring some clothing for this girl she doubted was just a “stranger.”

“I’ll be over soon. What is her dress size?”

Chapter Text

Reine could not keep up with Jumin’s long strides as she helplessly got half-dragged by a firm and unyielding hand around her wrist. Jumin’s demeanor changed dramatically after she had shown him the email; he suddenly became more agitated but more focused.  The way his back was a bit more squared compared to how he usually is gave away the fact that there is a situation, and it's something that Jumin decided to take charge of.

She found herself watching him as she kept trying to keep up with his hurried pace.  His tailor fitted black suit sat perfectly on his broad shoulders, fitted just right for movement and for her to see the outline of his defined arm as he held her wrist. Her eyes traveled upwards to the collar of his suit, which was impeccable still, and wisps of raven hair slightly revealed the soft skin of his nape...

...wait, since when did I start noticing these things?

She shook her head and felt her face grow hot. As much as she wanted to think logically, the feel of Jumin’s cool hands on her wrist seemed like burning iron. The slight brush of his skin sent electricity all over her that even the slightest rubbing of her own clothes against her skin was breaking her concentration.

“M-Mr. Han, I can walk,” Reine said as Jumin continued to lead her.

“I can see that,” he replied, and continued to walk in his own pace without turning around to face her.

“That's not what I meant,” she retorted. “Stop dragging me!

Jumin suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned, looking straight into her eyes. The look in his eyes was something she can't put exact words to, but she definitely felt her breath trapped in her chest.

“What did you just say?” Jumin spoke in a low, calm and sweet voice, his eyes seemed soft but unbearably cruel. It was so...unsettling...to her, and it made Reine’s resolve almost shatter.

But no, she will not do something as humiliating as to shrink away. He may be the executive director of the country’s largest corporation, but she ought to teach him some manners. She stood straighter and yanked her hand away from his grasp.

“I said, stop dragging me,” she spoke in a firm, resolute tone.

Jumin’s eyes narrowed and grabbed her wrist again, which made her almost fall over in surprise.  She absolutely did not expect to be handled in such a childish manner, which made her even more irritated.

Jumin’s eyes narrowed. The way she talked back to him sent very...interesting...signals in his mind. Did she just talk back to me..?

He felt as if one of his restraints snapped. He felt his control being challenged.  A different kind of rush ran through Jumin’s veins.

“Be quiet and do as I say,” Jumin commanded in a quiet, calm tone.

Reine normally would have broken his wrist for talking to her in that manner. She could.

But why can't I?

And...why am I holding my breath?

They finally made it out into the plaza where Driver Kim waited. Confusion was painted on Reine’s face as she was dragged towards the van.  Jumin made her step in first and slid the door shut himself.

“Drive us home,” Jumin ordered.

Once they reached the building, Jumin found his hand on Reine’s wrist again. She tried to wrestle her hand away, only to be met with Jumin’s piercing glare. And once more, he wordlessly led her to the elevators, but when he led her into his penthouse suite, her patience had reached its limit.

She wrestled her hand free from Jumin, and he spun around to face her. “Mr. Han, with all due respect, what the hell is going on?” She rubbed her wrist slightly, trying to restore circulation on her hand.

“Why weren't you answering your calls this morning?” Jumin asked, his voice akin to the sound of rolling thunder in the distance.

“You know why!” she spat back. She felt heat rising to her chest as her patience is being sorely worn thin. “I told you, I had to go to that place because of the e-mail.”

Snap.

He felt his restraints slowly being snapped away.

Jumin closed the distance between them faster than Reine could react, his eyes never leaving hers.  He stepped even closer toward her, until it became too close for comfort.  Reine found herself stepping back, her eyes trapped in the intensity of his gaze. She almost panicked when she finally hit the wall, and was about to sidestep when Jumin placed both his hands on either side of her with his palms on the wall, effectively trapping her.  

Reine could almost feel Jumin’s breath on her skin, and then her nose caught the scent of his cologne. She knows she can fight and take him down, but his eyes were something she was not prepared for, and she was suddenly made aware of her own body reacting to him.

“What if something happened to you? What then?”

Reine was not prepared for his deep, deliciously smooth, baritone voice.  She unconsciously squeezed her legs together as a new kind of tension built itself in her abdomen. If it were not for the wall, her legs may have given way, too.

Shit. How the hell does he have this much control on me?

She won't have it.  Her pride got the better of her and she had to fight back. She steeled herself and closed her eyes to take a deep breath, then opened her eyes to stare back into his, challenging him.

Snap.

“I can protect myself, Mr. Han,” Reine spoke with a slight grin, taking as much resolve from however much was left of it. “I didn't become Sanglante Reine for no reason.”

The rich, deep, yet feminine voice that filled his ears, the green eyes that challenged his power, and the flowing red hair that cascaded like streams of crimson...it all reminded him of perfectly aged wine.

So exquisite.

It took Jumin almost everything to restrain himself.  The way her voice rolled out of her lips gave him a kind of rush he had never felt before. Feisty. Confident.

“Oh, Sanglante Reine,” his voice came out like a low, breathy sigh, and Reine felt air knocked out of her lungs. She desperately fought to keep control of herself; her hands were balled into fists on her sides, and she swallowed hard.

Jumin felt a different kind of satisfaction at seeing Reine’s resolve.  Watching her watch him chip off a small portion of her restraint was something he never thought that would feel so delicious.  He could tell how much control he'd stripped off when the intensity of her eyes faltered and her breath hitched when her name rolled out of his lips.

“M-Mr. Han, I have rights,” Reine challenged, but her voice was a little breathier than usual. “I have a gun and I am n-not afraid to use it."

A deep chuckle came out of Jumin’s lips. “You can take me down and be out of here in no time,” Jumin leaned even closer and he drank in Reine’s continuously losing battle of control.  He drew in a deep breath through his nose, taking in her scent and the heat that had formed on her face and neck. Her perfume wafted towards him, and at this point he found it so intoxicating.

“Hmm...wisteria,” Jumin mumbled. “How intriguing.”

Reine’s right hand reached for the gun in her left shoulder holster. “I-I'm warning you, I will shoot you.”

“Then why aren't you?” he breathed out next to her ear, and Reine regretted almost immediately how her sharp gasp had escaped her lips.  Jumin gave a low, husky chuckle and it meddled with her mind so much that she had to close her eyes.

To her mistake. Closing her eyes only heightened her senses, and whatever control she had left was hanging by a thread.  He was so close, that she could definitely smell the peppermint in his breath.

“I can feel you responding to me,” his voice trailed into Reine’s ear and sent sensations across her skin, and crawled towards the center of her desire that was threatening to burst.

“And I haven't even touched you,” he lifted his lips away from her ear and was now directly in front of hers. She could feel his breathing on her lips, and her mind gave her an idea on how close Jumin really was. She caught herself breathing quicker, and she couldn't even remember how and when that started.

“J-Jumin,” Reine breathed out his name involuntarily.  

Jumin’s breath hitched at the sound of his name coming from her lips.  He felt his desire grow, and he himself is also on the precipice of losing control. His hands are balled into fists on the wall, restraining himself from touching her.

But she was there. Wanting. How can one possibly resist?

“Again.”

Jumin lightly brushed his lips against hers, which made her gasp and open her mouth. He took this as an opportunity to destroy her defenses; he took her in his mouth completely, his tongue darted inside her open mouth and relished in her taste. Her lips were so pliant, so soft; and it makes him wonder how the rest of her would feel like in his hands.

She moaned into his kiss, and felt her control completely slip away. She is now aware, more than ever, of the wetness between her legs and the commanding presence of Jumin Han, who became the center of her desires.  

She leaned forward to deepen the kiss, both tongues flicking and tasting each other.  They kissed as if they were each other's source of air.

Jumin lowered both his hands and grabbed her by her hips without breaking the kiss. He squeezed hard on the pliant flesh over the fabric of her clothes and Reine had to break the kiss and gasp for air.

Their breaths intermingled with each other as they both became consumed with their desire. Jumin squeezed her hips hard, almost lifting her up, and he watched her as she let an open-mouthed gasp, her lips red and swollen from their kiss.  Her eyes were closed and her head rested on the wall and he heard it once more.

“Jumin…”

Fuck. He let out a shaky breath, which seemed like a low, feral growl.

Reine felt the vibrations of his voice resonate with her body; she instinctively grabbed onto his shoulder for support as his hands gripped and released her hips, playing her, strumming her strings that made her sing with his music.

Her gasps and moans shattered his self-control completely. He finally grabbed her by the hips and lifted her up to throw her on the bed.  Reine stared up at him with half-lidded eyes, and her flushed cheeks and her crimson hair that contrasted against his white sheets made him want to just rip off all the encumbrances and leave her naked and writhing under him.

But Reine is like wine.  He must fully taste her.

She watched him stand at the bottom of the bed while he took off his jacket and vest. Both of them had an urgent need to feel each other, the tension in their gaze was so strong that it made him want to just ravage her.

But he must practice restraint. The finest wine should not be treated crudely.

Jumin crawled on top of her and covered her mouth with his once more, with one hand propping him up for support, and the other hand undoing his tie. He tossed it aside and Reine raised her hands to feel his chest over the white fabric of his dress shirt, fumbling to open the first few buttons.

Reine pulled him down to her by the collar of his shirt and slid her hands inside to grab onto his firm shoulders, her thumb tracing the well-defined collarbone as her hands explored what the restrictive clothing could allow.

Jumin let out a moan and placed one of his knees in between her legs, and propped himself up with his elbows. Without breaking the kiss, he grabbed Reine’s hair from either side of her head, lightly tugging a fistful to tilt her head up.  His lips moved away from hers, and he placed an open-mouthed kiss on her neck, which elicited a most delicious moan from her.  

Reine instinctively brushed her fingers through his hair. It was unbelievably soft and silky to the touch. His hair smelled like mint, and the way his tongue made circles around her jaw was sending electricity all over her skin, covering her with goosebumps. The pressure in her abdomen was becoming harder and harder to bear; she felt her body shiver under him.

Jumin pulled away from her to drink her in. He watched her closely, and he felt his desire twitch in response when she ran her tongue across her lower lip, unknowingly adding more to the fire that's threatening to consume them both. Her legs were on either side of his hips, her center opened to him.

She is so vulnerable.

“Reine, Reine, Reine…” he purred, and she felt her sex respond to his voice. He ran both of his hands down from her knees up to her thighs, and squeezed them hard through the fabric, eliciting a moan from her lips.

Jumin slowly snaked his hands upward, and it took everything in her willpower not to grind her hips toward his hands, her body aching for contact. Somehow, Jumin knew this; the way her swollen lips quivered meant that her body no longer responds, but needs.

“You have no idea,” he spoke in between his clenched teeth. He felt his own body shiver, his dark gaze holding hers. “How much I've wanted to see you like this.”

Reine gasped as his mouth returned to her neck once more. She opened her legs wider to accommodate him.  She heard him growl on her neck, and he pressed his hardness against her through the fabric of their trousers.  She let out a moan and dug her nails on his shoulders, while he deftly took her tie off from her neck.

Jumin found himself growing impatient. He sat up once more and proceeded to rip her shirt open, buttons flying all over the room.

Before she could protest, she felt Jumin’s strong hand on her sex. He caressed her firmly through her pants, his keen eyes watching how her eyebrows knotted and how the swell of her breasts rose and fell with his ministrations.  She arched her back and one hand grabbed onto his arm, her other hand in a tight fist while gripping the pillow on her head.

“J-Jumin...ahh…”

He never thought his name would sound so sweet until he heard it spoken from her lips.  He bent forward and sucked at the exposed skin of one of her breasts, leaving a mark. Without missing a beat, he grazed his teeth on her breast over her bra, slightly biting on her hardened nipple through the fabric.

“Your body is just so willing for me, isn't it?”

Jumin can tell that she is close. She no longer had the strength to moan, all that was leaving her lips were ragged gasps and her hips were grinding itself against his hand.

He watched. He drank in every single part of her.   Sanglante Reine, a deadly weapon, trained to kill and protect…

... writhing under him.

He pulled his hand away from her sex and she fluttered her eyelids open in protest. Her green eyes shone like polished emeralds, and there was fire that burned behind them.

He bit his urge to take her right then and there. He wanted to savor her.

“Sit up,” he commanded.

Reine could do nothing but comply. Her shaky limbs struggled to sit up, so Jumin bent over and placed his strong arms on her back to help pull her up. He grabbed her from the back of her head and covered her mouth in a feverish kiss, his hand took a fistful of her hair and tugged ever so slightly.

His other hand helped her shrug off her shirt along with her shoulder holster and her handgun, and then reached behind to unclasp her bra. While he did so, Reine was busy fumbling at his belt, and she felt herself gasp at how hard he was under his dark grey boxer briefs.  She tentatively gave his sex a stroke, and she felt him shiver under her touch, his arms wrapped tighter around her, almost digging his hands on her skin.

Reine smiled at this newfound control. She continued to run her hands up and down his shaft, and she visibly saw his abs tighten in front of her.

“R-Reine,” Jumin managed to mumble, and he gripped at her hair so tightly that she moaned under the slight pain. “Keep doing that and I will ravage you.”

She mustered the courage to look up at him, and what she saw were dark pools of unbridled lust . She felt him shiver once more, his hands clutching at her shoulders, leaving red marks in his effort to restrain himself.

She was about to dip her hand into his boxer briefs when he took both of her wrists with his hands. Reine instinctively looked up at him and the raw desire in his eyes overwhelmed her, adding to the ache in between her legs.

He pinned her on the bed with both her hands over her head, and grabbed his tie from the edge of the bed with one hand.  His eyes never left hers as he did this; whatever semblance of control she had was completely taken back as he wrapped his silk tie around her wrists, securing her hands from moving.

“Must you be this difficult?” Jumin growled under his breath. He fumbled with Reine’s belt and roughly snuck his hand underneath her to grab her hips, and was delighted to touch bare skin underneath the pants.

“My, my,” he purred, and pulled her pants down. Reine suddenly remembered that she’s wearing a thong to avoid lines on her dress pants. She blushed a deeper red when he pulled her pants completely off and tossed it aside.

Jumin marveled at her. His eyes traced every single inch of her body as if admiring an exquisite figurine. Her hands were tied above her head, her pert breasts rose and fell with her breathing, and the swell of her hips perfectly complemented the width of her shoulders. Her crimson hair spread about the white sheets, framing her exquisite features.

He felt a slight ache in his chest.

She's so beautiful.

Jumin kept his gaze on her as he undressed, and she relished at the sight of him. His black hair slightly covered his dark eyes, but she knows that those eyes were looking straight at her.  He unbuttoned his dress shirt and shrugged it off, and stepped out of his boxer briefs.

Jumin stood at the edge of the bed, completely naked with his member hard and erect, the tip glistened with precum.

He moved toward her and trailed his hands from her feet, going slowly upward to her knees, and parted her legs. She felt her face flush as she is now completely open and displayed in front of him, the delicious ache between her legs was evident on how her inner thighs glistened with anticipation.

Jumin crawled on top of her, her legs on either side of his hips. He cupped her face with both of his hands and looked straight into her eyes.

He then ground his hips against her, allowing his sex to slip in between her folds but not entering her; his entire length rubbing against the sensitive nub that made her close her eyes and gasp.

“Don't close your eyes,” he instructed, slowly grinding his hips. “Look at me.”

Reine had no willpower to resist; she was completely at his mercy. She opened her eyes and looked straight into his, and the hunger in his eyes made her moan.

“Whatever happens, do not close your eyes and look at me.”

Without warning, Jumin shoved himself inside her. Though thoroughly lubricated, Reine felt herself filled so tightly, and Jumin was not in any way gentle about it. Her mouth opened for a shaky gasp, and she battled so hard to keep her eyes locked into his.

“So wet for me, Reine,” Jumin said in a breathy whisper, his expression unchanged but his knowing eyes told her everything.

“Ah! Jumin, oh God…” was all Reine could manage to say with the sudden onslaught of pleasure.

There were no introductions, no warming up--Jumin set a rough pace, his elbows rested on either side of Reine’s shoulders and his hands cupping her cheeks, forcing her to look at him while he set a merciless pace.

“Only for me.”

He slowed down the pace but thrust his hips that buried himself in the deepest part of her, and then pulled until he was almost out and back again. He kept to this pace and Reine was not faring very well in keeping her eyes open. She was feeling every single inch of him inside her, and there was not enough pressure for her to push her to orgasm and yet enough to keep her at the precipice.

“You will not a-allow any other m-man to make you feel this way,” he growls in between thrusts, and her moans escalated every time he buried himself in her. The louder she screamed the harder he pushed, and he took pleasure on watching her eyes flutter with every thrust.

He did not wait for a response, and there really wasn't a need to. Jumin’s statement was a command; that he has staked claim on Reine and she will comply.  He resumed his merciless pace, all the while keeping eye contact with Reine, who was already at the brink of release.

Reine was starting to see stars in the periphery of her vision. Her breath was becoming short and labored, and his tie dug on her wrists, creating welts on her perfect skin.

“You will come for me,” he whispered, quickening the already maddening pace, his hands gripping tightly on Reine’s auburn hair.

He took her lips into his as she released for him, taking in her breath, her moan, her ecstasy, her essence. He felt her walls pulsate around his manhood, and the gush of her essence coating him.

The sudden gush of warmth was too much for him to bear. He broke the kiss and buried his face in the crook of her neck, his teeth digging into the soft flesh. Reine moaned as pain and pleasure blurred, and he let out a grunt as he spent himself inside of her.

Reine felt him nursing her neck with gentle kisses, his lips lightly trailing pecks on where her pulse is. His heavy breathing tickled her neck, and she finally closed her eyes and let out a sigh.

Jumin rested his head on her shoulder as he relished the sound of her labored breaths and the beating of her heart in his ear.

 


 

After the euphoria ebbed, Reine found herself at a loss. She had absolutely no idea how to pick things up from here, as her past experiences with one night stands often ended with either them kicking her out, or them leaving...

Or them hitting her.

She steeled herself for the pain that may come after. It's not like it's anything new.  Somehow, she cursed herself for always making the wrong choices. The men she ended up with always treated her like some dirty whore, assuming that if her mother was one, then she must be one, too.

They're all the same.

He propped himself up and untied her wrists.  She squeezed her eyes shut, preparing for the worst; but then Jumin settled to lie down on his side, pulling her close to him to let her rest her head on his chest.

What..?

Jumin turned his head slightly and kissed her forehead, and then his hand gently caressed her hair.  She laid there, unmoving, unbelieving.

Reine stared at him wide-eyed as he took one of her wrists gently with his hand, and placed kisses on the red welts on her skin, as if he was nursing the sensitive skin there.  As he laid the last kiss on her open palm, he opened his eyes to meet hers.

Her heart skipped a beat.

Jumin let go of her wrist to caress her cheek gently.  She looked up at him in surprise, and Jumin was watching her with soft, admiring eyes.  

Why...why are you looking at me like that..?

She felt a tug in her heart, and now more than ever, she felt vulnerable . He was slowly stripping away her mask, and this scared her.  

He scared her.  

Because for the first time in her life, a man held her close, and oh so gently, as if she was something fragile , something delicate.

Something loved.

“Love? LOVE? My dear daughter, you're just a hole he can stick himself into. Don't be so full of yourself.”

Her mother's words echoed cruelly in her mind. She fell for someone once , and the relationship ended with her watching him snake his hands around someone else's waist and lips locked on someone else's neck.

I can't allow it.

I cannot fall for him.

But for now...she wanted to savor the feeling while it lasted.  She buried her face in his chest and closed her eyes.

She wanted to cry.

Chapter Text

“Saeyoung has brought me up to speed on the situation. The girl fell ill with exhaustion, so made a request to the on-call physician to provide a full examination at the Choi residence.  It is expected she will make a full recovery Please return my call when you hear this message.”

Click.

“Still can’t get a hold of Mr. Trust Fund Kid?” Saeyoung asked. He sat cautiously on the edge of a bed where Ae Cha was resting, his laptop propped on his lap and various gadgets scattered at his feet on the floor.  

Saeran sat cross-legged at the opposite end, his arms folded and his mind deep in thought. The trio carried Ae Cha to one of Saeyoung’s tidier guestrooms an hour earlier. It was during this time the twins partially explained the current situation to Jaehee  concerning the girls.  

Jaehee showed concern about the mention of Reine, as she had been working closely with her for the past eight months.  Reine and Jaehee had grown to be rather close, and the thought of her getting involved with Mint Eye activities was something she wouldn’t wish for her to be in.  Somehow, she is thankful for Saeyoung’s effective--albeit annoying-- method of security; otherwise things would have ended badly for the two women.

Jaehee agreed to assist in removing Ae Cha’s damp clothing and dressed the girl in a short-sleeved nightgown to the relief of the twins. Ae Cha’s clothing was sent immediately to be laundered, with the exception of the choker Ae Cha wore around her neck.  Saeyoung had the piece of jewelry woven in between his fingers. The crescent moon charm dangled from its chain. His mind was lost in thought.

“I’m afraid not,” Jaehee replied, and glanced at her watch on her wrist. Where could he be? This was very unlike Jumin to be out of contact this long. It was getting late. She decided it would be best for her to return to the office. Perhaps Jumin would be there. If not, the second step is to reach out to his security team at the penthouse suite.

Jaehee sighed, and stepped towards to the door. She feared it was going to be a long night for her. Even she couldn’t rest easy until hearing from Jumin.  “When I receive communication from Mr. Han, I will notify you immediately. Have a good night.”

Saeyoung waved goodbye, and reached for a handful of Honey Buddha Chips from an open bag laying on the ground when the door shut. Silence lingered awkwardly between the twins. It wasn’t every day a girl, a very cute one at that , slept in their home. A faint blush stayed permanent on their cheeks.

“You’re positive that necklace has a microchip?” Saeran asked his twin, his eyes focused on watching Ae Cha’s chest rise and fall with each breath she took. He wondered where the girl’s mind drifted off to after falling unconscious, and hoped it was a much safer place than the places he imagined she may been… especially if there really was involvement Sim Yeong-ho

“Yep. This is definitely an encrypted microchip,” Saeyoung announced, and leaned over to carefully place the choker on the nightstand beside the bed. He recalled earlier of how when they carried Ae Cha in, his doorway alarm alerted them of an unknown electronic device. Before Jaehee arrived, they did a scan on all of Ae Cha’s jewelry. The crescent moon charm attached to the choker contained a microchip.

“We could decrypt it, but, it would take weeks.”

“There’s not enough time for that,” Saeran countered.  

“I agree.” Saeyoung nodded, and looked over shoulder to admire Ae Cha peacefully resting. A million questions ran through his mind. Who is she really? Why is she involved with C&R? What does anyone of it have to do with Mint Eye? There was so much to tackle, and for a brief moment, even the boy genius was unsure where to begin searching for answers.  

Hold on.

C&R International.

A lightbulb went off in Saeyoung’s head when he realized the first piece of the puzzle was literally right in front of them.  He developed the C&R International database. It wouldn't be too hard to hack into the database, and to search for answers about Ae Cha’s involvement.

Bingo.

“Saeran, toss me her badge. I have an idea.”

Saeran rummaged through his pants for the card, and tossed it beside Saeyoung. It took a couple hours for Saeyoung to infiltrate the the C&R International Database. It was the largest digital infrastructure he rebuilt from scratch to date. Almost everything regarding the company could be found per Jumin’s request.

“Okay, Ae Chan; let’s figure you out,” he whispered, and keyed in the her ID number.  Saeran scooted himself closer in order to read off of Saeyoung’s screen. They were taken aback when the ID number didn’t lead to any certain employee. It lead to two case files from C&R International’s Legal Department.



// Case #: 584523A - Case Creation: 2013-09-03 10:39:59:45

Lee Han-sol, Chief Security Officer -  Research & Development

Status: Deceased

KNOWN RELATIVES:

1: Lee Ae-cha Rose

2: Lee Reine

Caseworker: Sim Yeong-ho, Senior Security Officer-  Research & Development
Case Notes: Contact Sim Yeong-ho for further information. ARIA SPED //



Sisters? Now that’s interesting,” Saeyoung frowned. “Ae Chan didn’t register as a relative any time during the background check I performed on Reine.”

“Someone tried covering her trace, then. I have a feeling it’s related to the microchip,” Saeran assumed. “Let’s ask her where she got the choker from when she wakes.”

“Right.” Saeyoung agreed.


// Case #: 584523B - Case Creation: 2013-09-04 10:20:39:12

 

Lee Ae Cha R.,  Non-employee

Status: Active

KNOWN RELATIVES :

1: Lee Han-sol

2: Lee Reine G.

Caseworker: Sim Yeong-ho, Senior Security Officer-  Research & Development
Case Notes: Refer to 584523A. Contact Sim Yeong-ho for further information.  ARIA SPED //

 

Aria Sped ?” Saeyoung questioned. He didn’t recall the code word anywhere in any of his dealings with C&R International. Jumin certainly never mentioned Aria Sped. Curiosity got the best of him, and with a few additional keystrokes he located a sealed file.  

Huh. What is this?

His eyes quickly scanned through the data.

 

//OPERATION ARIA SPED - CONFIDENTIAL

 

CURATOR: Sim Yeong-ho

INVESTORS: Seo Hye-sook, Im Ye-ryeon, Gi Jang-woo, Pi Yeong-ha, Gam Jeong-hyeok, Seo Hee-wong, Tae Jeong-min, Geum Seong-jae


ACTIVE LOCATIONS:
SEOUL, KOREA
JUNEAU, ALASKA

BEIJING, CHINA

TOKYO, JAPAN

PARIS, FRANCE


CURRENT FUNDS: 292523750000KRW

 

WATCHLIST:
Lee Ae Cha R.  - ANTICIPATED DATE OF CONVERSION 2016-11-15
Lee Reine G. - ANTICIPATED DATE OF CONVERSION 2016-11-15

The further they chased down the rabbit hole, the more they realized this was huge trouble. Aria Sped appeared to be an illegal operation going on within C&R International.  What’s worse: It appeared Ae Cha and Reine’s father was involved. Saeran’s eyes grew at the words anticipated date of conversion .

Conversion.

“Fuck…” Saeran blurted out and dug his fingernails into his thighs with rage.  The mere fact that Sim Yeon-ho is involved it means Mint Eye is active again. A chill ran down his spine at the very thought.

“Jumin’s really not going to be happy about this,” Saeyoung sulked, rubbing his face as he soaked everything they read. The nausea Saeran was feeling seeped over to Saeyoung. He did not look forward to how livid Jumin will be once he finds out.

What a mess. He predicted a mountain of work on his horizon. They had to get to the bottom of this before anyone could get hurt again.

“We have our work cut out for us.  We’ll need to talk to Ae Cha and the scary lady--ah, about that .” Saeyoung hesitated, and looked over his shoulder again when hearing the girl roll over over to her side. “Let’s not bring up how they’re related to each other yet. They’ll figure out soon enough.”

“Hngg…” Ae Cha murmured, and rolled again. She was becoming restless in her sleep.  At the sound of movement, both twins dropped the conversation. Whimpering from Ae Cha soon followed, and it was evident as her face contorted she was in the middle of a nightmare. Her breathing became very shallow.

“Oh no!”  In unison the twins dropped what they were doing, and immediately crawled on the bed towards Ae Cha. They sat on opposite sides with the girl in the middle. The twins know how terrifying dreams could become having night terrors themselves.

Saeyoung and Saeran took a good look at her, studying her body intently. They took note of how breathtaking the strands of her hair fell down her face, daydreamed of what the tiny cluster of stars tattooed on the base of her neck meant, and felt sorrow at the sight of the scars on her wrist.

The twins didn’t have to communicate it to each other to acknowledge how much they wanted to protect her. “She’s so cute… ” They whispered to each other under their breath. As much as they wanted wake her up from whatever terror she was experiencing, they knew it was best to wait.

And so they did.

It wasn’t too long before Ae Cha started clenching the bed sheet. More noises, and mumblings came out of her mouth before rolling from her side to her back. Her breathing became labored, and her heart raced. A tear fell from her eyes. The boys couldn’t stand watching the girl literally cry in her sleep. It made them want to cry too.

“No! Don’t go!” She pleaded aloud, and sat straight up in the bed. Still half asleep, her hands covered her face as she sobbed uncontrollably.  Saeyoung immediately pulled her to his chest, heartbroken at the state Ae Cha was in. He wanted anything to make the crying stop. He didn’t want to see her sad.  

“It’s okay. It’s okay. Shhh. It’s just a dream,” he whispered in her ear, wrapping his arms around her. Saeran moved closer to Ae Cha, and carefully massaged her back. “It’s okay. You’re okay,” Saeran consoled. His words delicate to not further disorient Ae Cha from her night terror.

As Ae Cha regained consciousness, she smelled the sweet scent of apple again. It was much stronger than before. It was nearly alarming how warm and felt. She wondered if she was dreaming again. When she opened her eyes, she was shocked to realize the warmth she was feeling was from being sandwiched in between the twins.

What happened?

“Where am I?” She murmured against Saeyoung’s chest. The twins scooted back a little at the sound of her voice to give her breathing space. Ae Cha looked around her new surroundings with confusion. This certainly was not her apartment, nor was it the apartment she was trapped in earlier. She noted an assortment of gadgets, and a random bag of Honey Buddha Chips scattered across the bedroom floor.

“Are you feeling okay?” Saeyoung asked, and placed his hand on her forehead to feel her temperature. “You had a pretty high fever. We were worried.”

Ae Cha nodded softly and pushed her hair off of her shoulders. She appreciated being far away from her troubles, even if it was for a short time. What time was it anyway?

Everything that happened with her encounter with Reine, Jumin Han, and the talking doors seemed to be a million miles away. She hoped in the back of her mind this would be the last time she would experience any of the three.

“Ae Chan, I need to ask you something.” Saeyoung’s voice brought her out of deep thought. He gazed at her with concern in his eyes, a look that told her that he knew something, but she couldn’t figure it out.

“Until you’re safe, you’re going to stay with us for a little bit. Is there anyone we could call to make your stay more comfortable?”

Like who? My mother’s family who disowned me, or my dead father?

Instead of answering with the thought that popped into her head, she shook her head. The twins turned to each other in surprise at Ae Cha’s answer. If she truly believed she was alone then that would mean…

.... The girls were unaware they were related.

“What about Reine? How do you feel about her?” Saeyoung inquired.

Saeran shot a glare at Saeyoung’s question. He knew what his idiot brother was trying to do.  Saeran cleared his throat loud enough to gain Saeyoung’s attention, startling Ae Cha. Saeyoung heard loud and clear. He responded with a quick wink when Ae Cha wasn’t looking at him.  

Reine ? Oh dear God. Why would the twins assume Ae Cha was friends with her ? That was the farthest from the truth in Ae Cha’s mind.  The woman was a pain, and she wanted everything in the world to no longer be associated with the red-haired woman.

“What about her? ”  Her tone instantly turned defensive at the mention of Reine’s name.

“That would be like asking me if air was made out of oxygen.”

“Poor lady…” Saeyoung mumbled under his breath. Saeran bit his lip to contain the smirk creeping on his face from Ae Cha’s sudden sassiness.

“Ah-a! You must be hungry,” Saeyoung realized, partially because he needed an excuse to change the subject. “I need to step out to make a quick phone call. When I get back in, let’s find you something to eat.”

Without hesitation, Saeyoung slid himself off of the bed and walked out of the room, leaving Saeran and Ae Cha alone. He walked far enough to be out of an audible reach of the two, and grabbed the phone out of his pants pocket. He scrolled to Reine’s information in his contact list and pressed “Dial.”

 


 

She just had sex. Hot, beautiful, passionate sex.

With her boss.

And to add to that, she knows that there are people in the security team-- her security team-- standing guard just outside the door .

Reine paused by the door to place a palm on her forehead for her utter stupidity.  In the heat of the moment, she--stupidly-- totally forgot that she works for C&R, and having sex with the Executive Director is a sure way to get fucking fired.

She would have slammed her forehead on the wall repeatedly if only it wouldn’t wake up the sleeping god of a man in the bed.  Reine turned to look at Jumin’s sleeping form from where she stood, and last night’s events flashed through her mind.

“Don’t close your eyes.  Look at me.”

No, no, no, no!   She shook her head repeatedly, and turned away.  Heat crawled to her cheeks and she willed her feelings away.  Nothing good will come out hoping for something she never had the right to have.

However, she has another problem.

She steeled herself for the reactions the men outside would give.  Knowing them, she’s never going to live this down.   She took a deep breath and gently turned the knob, careful not to make a sound.

The boys were smiling at her as she stepped out of Jumin’s penthouse suite at 3 in the morning. Her skin practically glowed with sex, her hair wet and smelled like Jumin’s shampoo.  Not only that, Jumin somehow, nonchalantly, asked one from the team to buy a woman’s dress shirt last night.

She shot them a glare. “Yes, I had sex with him. Got a problem with that?”

The men in the corridor went red and stared at her wide-eyed. They were not expecting her to just openly admit it, but what is there to deny? The nasty bite mark on her neck cannot be covered, and the screams she made wasn't necessarily something she can just gloss over.

However, she smiled at them; a genuine, grateful smile. “I made a horrible mistake, guys...this will be the last time you will see me.”

One of the men was jolted out of his surprised stupor. “Wait, what? Reine, you're not serious, are you?”

“Junghee,” she turned to him and smiled. “How can I possibly--”

How can I possibly find answers now?

I just wasted my only chance of finding anything about my father.

I'm so stupid! So fucking stupid!

She bit the inside of her lip and willed her tears back. She hoped the other man did not realize this.

Reine gave out a sigh and plastered on her professional mask. “It was great working with you, everyone. I will be in the Chief's office to surrender my effects. Have a good shift.”

The men watched her back as she entered the elevator and out of the penthouse floor.


The cool night breeze welcomed her as she stepped out of the building and into the empty streets.  

She fished inside her pocket for the keys of her bike, and cursed under her breath when she realized that she left the bike in that apartment with the talking door, since Jumin literally dragged her into the van and tossed her on the bed and…

Stop remembering stupid things!

She hailed a cab and traveled to the apartment. She smiled slightly as she caught sight of her bike exactly where she left it. She turned the ignition and was about to wear the helmet when her phone vibrated in her pocket.

Her heart skipped a beat. Jumin?

She pulled out her phone and gave a sigh of relief to see that it was Saeyoung who was calling--but paused in suspicion as she cannot remember registering his number on her phone.

Irritated, she tapped the answer button and placed the phone on her ear. “How in the world did you register your number on my phone?”

“Gah, scary,” Saeyoung replied.

“You're not answering my question.”

“Ah, life’s greatest mysteries! The se--”

Saeyoung.

“Gah…” He whined over the phone, and Reine felt her patience slowly chipping away.

“Madame, I promise this was done with the best intentions, as I am obliged to keep track of you for your safety,” he said in his most respectful tone.

Reine narrowed her eyes. “Are you mocking me?”

“Gah! No, no, no!  I'm sorry, I will not do it again,” he apologized.

Reine sighed. “So? Why are you calling?”

“Oh, right! Is Jumin with you?”

Reine felt her irritation escalate. Why the hell would she have to be reminded of him now? It didn't help that her mind kept replaying last night's passionate session, and how his gentle caresses felt so warm…

“No.”

Her voice came out deeper and more threatening than intended. Saeyoung swallowed hard from the other end of the line, thinking how he could continue to urge her to come over for her sister.

Her sister. Ae Cha and Reine were on two completely different sides of the spectrum. But Saeyoung cannot dismiss the fact that they are related, and the emptiness in their eyes…

...he just has to bring them together, somehow.  He knows very well how to live this kind of life, and he will not sit and watch the same thing happen in front of him.

“Ah....oh, right! I wanted to tell you that Ae Chan was burning with fever and was very chilly at that time, so we brought her to our house! And she's going to be just fine !”

If Saeyoung’s hunch is right, she should react like…

What? Fever?

Saeyoung grinned. “Ah yes...I felt so bad because she was drenched, and she apparently was very exhausted--”

“Send me the address.”

Ah, just like that.

“Okay!”

Saeyoung disconnected the call and started typing the coordinates to Reine. After he hit the “send” button, he smiled in satisfaction.


“Mission start,” he mumbled.

Chapter Text

“Where did the idiot go now?” Saeran murmured. He had a nagging feeling Saeyoung was up to no good. It’s been close to an hour since his twin was sitting in the room beside him, and with her.

Saeran kept recalling his time working for Mint Eye, and the horrors he was subjected to.  He vowed to kill Sim Yeong-Ho years ago.

His eyes fixated on her while she browsed through her phone, and he felt his heart crumble assuming what sort of Hell the girl must have gone through to experience such a severe night terror. His stomach tied itself in a knot recalling the panic in Ae Cha’s face while she slept.

Ae Cha idly twirled a section of her hair, and stared at her text messages. It’s close to twenty-four hours since she sent the initial text. So far, no response.

[To Sim Yeong-ho:  I'll be gone for a little bit today.^^]

She didn’t understand why her point of contact never reached back out to her. There were so many possibilities running in her mind, the thought of what could be waiting for her back at her apartment sent chills down her spine.

“Do you think he’s looking for me?” Ae Cha wondered. 

The question knocked Saeran back to present day. “Who?” Saeran replied, baffled at the girl’s the sudden inquiry.

Him .”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself before saying anything to the girl. She didn’t need to hear his plans of getting revenge on the Mint Eye operative.

“Ae Cha…” Saeran walked around the bed to crouch in front of her to be on her same eye level, and he gently rested his hands on her shoulders. This may be his only chance he had before he assumed his twin would eventually win her heart over to make a difference.

“You have to promise me something.”

Ae Cha dropped the phone to her side, and gazed at Saeran with wonder in her eyes. She focused on the tenacity of the inferno raging inside of his emerald eyes, and couldn’t look away. She felt herself being drawn more to him than before.

“I worked alongside that vile, disgusting worthless piece of shit before,” Saeran spat venomously acknowledged. “I know what he can be capable of doing, and…”

Saeran paused, waiting for the feeling of tears building up behind his eyes to fade away.  “I have an idea what he may have done to you.”  Without realizing it, Saeran’s hands squeezed her delicate shoulders.

“Promise me, if he reaches out to you, that you will call me,” he pleaded.

Ae Cha’s eyes widened with confusion, trying to grasp the reality of Saeran's request.  A dull pain settled into her eyebrows as she attempted at remembering every question she wanted to ask. 

“I don’t understand,” Ae Cha admitted. “How do you know him?”

Saeran averted his gaze, the memories of his distant past came crashing down on him and he is not about to let Ae Cha see him in pieces.  His grip on her shoulders loosened as he realized that he was holding her too tight.

“I...I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his eyes focused on her tiny hands on her lap.  “It’s...it’s something I really do not wish to bring up.”

However, he took both her hands in his.   Her hands are so small.   His hands covered hers entirely, and she felt so cold.  He could only imagine what Ae Cha may have been subjected to...and what she could have been subjected to if they arrived a little too late.

It was Mint Eye’s tactic-- to break their prospects, crush every single hope they had, and then promise them paradise.   To think that there are people who are still continuing Rika’s twisted vision of peace and happiness made his stomach churn.

“B-but...promise me,” he pressed again, his voice pleading. He was firmly holding her hands, and his green eyes implored .  “Stay away from him.  He…”

Saeran bit his lip as he felt his voice start to break, but he closed his eyes and willed himself to continue.  “Just...promise to call me, and stay away from him.   If you see him, run.   Do you understand?” his eyes bore into hers, the intensity of his eyes conveying the message that he could not verbalize.

Ae Cha’s heart jumped in her chest recognizing the look in Saeran’s eyes. Someone understood her pain, and she didn’t feel so alone.

“Saeran…” She hesitated, looking for the right words to say.

Instead of words, Ae Cha slipped her hands out of Saeran’s grip, and tugged his body towards her.  She then gently wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and she rested her chin on top of his crimson, fluffy hair once she situated him where his head was resting on her chest.

Saeran’s eyes went wide as he felt her body close to his.  Something tugged in his chest, an unfamiliar feeling that he did not understand, but he found himself unable to break away.  He remember the same feeling when his brother held him in his pain, but somehow, his heart understood the connection she wanted to convey.  He closed his eyes and let her hold him, his arms hung at his sides.

“He… they monitor where I live. I’ve woken up to an entire crew of bodyguards watching me sleep,” she said in a whisper. 

“Where do I run if I have nowhere to go?”

Ae Cha’s eyes fell downcast and heart drummed erratically thinking of what would await her returning back the apartment. Uncertainty poured out of her words no matter how hard she forced herself not to sound scared.  

He gently pulled away from her embrace and looked into her eyes.  Saeran does not understand the feelings he is having in hia chest, but there is one thing he is certain.

“Run to me.

I will protect you.


 

 

// YeongSo has entered the chatroom //

[DMor:]: Sir, the girl hasn’t returned to Han Sol’s apartment yet.

[YeongSo]: So I’ve heard.

[YeongSo]: What is the status on the sister?

[CRei]: Our insider informed the team at 0512 the sister will be resigning from her post on the security team.

[YeongSo]: Perfect.

[DMor] : Sir, I’m worried about the Chairman’s son being involved. Key investors will back out. Our overseas operation will become compromised if the Chairman becomes aware.

[YeongSo]: Arrange a team to keep an eye on the Chairman’s son.

[CRei] Yes, Sir.

[YeongSo] As for the girl, I’ll personally see to it she returns. She’s easy to manipulate.

[DMor]: How? Have you returned from Juneau yet?

[YeongSo]: Not yet. I had an important meeting with the Savior. I will reach out when I return to Seoul.

[CRei]: Sir! Wait! Sir! Wait! CCTV footage showed Agent 707 and Agent Unknown near the apartment.

[YeongSo]: …

[YeongSo]: Delete all documentation on this server immediately. We'll have to start a new one. I’ll inform the Savior of the situation.

[DMor]: Yes, Sir.

[CRei]: Yes, Sir.

// YeongSo has left the chatroom //

 

After a very abrupt--and embarrassing --meeting with the Chief of Security (who kept refusing to let her leave the company), and being constantly reminded of Jumin’s dark eyes because of the slight pain on the bite mark on her neck, Reine stood in front of two heavy steel doors in front of Saeyoung’s house.  

She double-checked the coordinates, and was positive that this is the place.  She shoved the phone in her pocket and proceeded to do what any sensible--and normal --person would do: knock.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! That hurt! You know if you wanted in you could have asked nicely!”

She stared at door, disbelieving. How much more is this day going to test my temper?

Reine sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Let me in.”

“Aw, come on babe! Be nice to me.  I'll let you in if you tell me the password. It's your lucky day! My master programmed me to request the easier password for sexy ladies like you~”

Reine felt a vein pop in her head.  She crossed her arms and gave the camera at the door a dark, threatening, and murderous stare.

Then she spoke to it with a sweet, yet dark, tone. “You see...I'm not in a very good mood right now. Why don't you tell your master to let me in before I wring his neck and toss his corpse into the Han river?”

“Gaah! Scary! Abort! Abort!”

An audible click was heard from the door and it swung open.  Reine raised her eyebrow at how peculiar the security system was, but she let it slide with a shrug.  

“Thank you, magic door,” she muttered, and stepped in.

She peered into the room, and it seemed like she was transported into some sort of a tech playground.  She was never the type that dabbled into technical stuff, but she definitely could identify some things from her trainings.

There is just so much tech power in this place; noting several supercomputers as she made her way through the dim hallway.  The steady hum of fans, random beeps, and an almost indistinguishable, high-pitched sound can be heard throughout the space, and the metallic scent of electricity lay heavy in the air.  She tread carefully and noted several small corridors made by what she assumed were servers and switches encased in glass. She laid her hand on one of the glass panels and found it was harshly cold; the temperature inside the glass could be close to freezing.

As she walked further, she noticed several voices, talking. It sounded quite far.

Just how big is this place?

She followed the source of the voice, and could clearly note that one of them was Ae Cha. The tone that she was using was of apprehension, and that put her slightly on edge.

When she turned the corner, though; she immediately understood the cause of her apprehensive tone.

“Wait! Who else saw me without my clothes on?!” Ae Cha panicked.  

Reine was about to blow a fuse. She leaned on the wall right next to the door, and folded her arms on her chest. Ae Cha, Saeran and Saeyoung were in the farthest corner of the room, right next to the window and the single bed.

I wonder why, ” Reine spoke in a dark, menacing tone; which made the twins visibly stiffen. She noticed them slowly turning to where she stood, like kids caught doing something that they shouldn't.

“Gaah! How did you get in here?!” Saeyoung said in panic. Reine unfolded her arms and paced slowly toward the twins.

“How did she get in here?” Ae Cha scoffed under her breath,  glaring at Reine. Her mood immediately soured being in the red head’s presence yet again. It was enough of a distraction to make her forget the upset of having her clothing changed by a complete stranger.

“More to the point, how did you manage to change her clothes? ” Her voice was deep, and the air seemed to crackle in the space she occupied.

“It’s none of your business,” Ae Cha thought to herself. While Reine focused on the twins, Ae Cha spotted a very suspicious mark on Reine’s neck. Come to think of it… something seemed off about the woman. Was Reine’s blouse missing buttons?

“I-I-w-we can explain!” Saeyoung held his hands up in surrender. “We had a friend! A female friend come by!”

Reine narrowed her eyes.

“Jaehee! It was Jaehee that dropped by! Y-you know Jaehee, right? Jumin’s assistant!” Saeyoung explained as he slowly backed away from her.

Jumin.

Reine felt another vein pop from her head. God damn it, why does his name pop up everywhere?!

“Gaaah don't be angry, please! We didn't do anything!”

Ae Cha bit her lip to conceal the grin creeping up her face, and folded her arms. The shirt, the neck, and the glow on Reine’s face. She knew . A brief snicker rumbled low in her chest, but she paused remembering Reine was still lecturing the twins for Ae Cha’s sudden clothing change. Her lip quivered with annoyance.

Reine stared at Saeyoung and Saeran. Saeyoung was trying to rationalize with her while Saeran was just frozen in place.

“If I make a call to Jaehee and find out that you're lying…”

“N-no, I swear in the name of my Honey Buddha Chips, we're not lying!”

“Stop it!” Ae Cha repositioned herself in front of the twins with her arms still folded, and her foot slowly tapping the ground. Her eyes narrowed at Reine. She was becoming furious at Reine’s sudden overbearing protection of Ae Cha. It’s not like they were related. Why would it matter?

“It’s not like you have any room to talk!” Ae Cha chided, raising an eyebrow at Reine. Two can play this game.
“Have you even looked in a mirror lately?” Ae Cha drew a circle in the air with her finger toward Reine’s mark on her neck and blew a puff of air out of her nose.

Reine froze from where she stood. She came all the way here to check on her, and she-- stupidly-- forgot to cover up that nasty bite mark on her neck.

Damn it! Damn you, stupid Han! You just had to fucking bite!

Heat rose to her face, tinting her cheeks a rosy red.  She stared wordlessly at Ae Cha, then turned away, covering the bite mark with her hand.  As if it would matter!
Saeyoung reached out to Ae Cha. “A-ah, Ae Chan, you've just recovered, please don't overexert yourself,” he said as he placed a hand on her small shoulder in concern. “Look, we can clear this out if we call Jaehee, she's probably in Jumin’s office right no-- wait , weren't you with Jumin earlier?” Saeyoung asked.

Oh fucking no.

Reine turned even redder, and did not answer.

Saeyoung’s eyebrows furrowed. “Well? Where is h--”

His eyes went wide, and his mouth slightly agape in realization. “Oh. OHHHH. Don't tell me…?”

“Not another word!” Reine turned around from the trio in a feeble attempt to save whatever dignity she had.

Can this day get any WORSE?!

Chapter Text

“She what? ” a very disgruntled Jumin glowered over the Chief of Security, who had Reine’s C&R ID, access card, and gun laid out on the table in front of him.

The Chief sighed. “She left just a few minutes ago. I tried to stop her, Mr. Han; but she insisted that she leave.  And with all due respect, sir...she did do something that is beyond her professional limitations,” he said, gently treading on dangerous ground.

Jumin closed his eyes. Somehow he felt a strong sense of guilt on how things have turned out...but he knew he couldn't help himself.

Reine is...an enigma to him. She was full of mysteries; even stripping her naked and having her lying and writhing beneath him only ignited more questions than answers. She wore her mask almost perfectly that he has absolutely no idea who she really was.

He remembered being told by Jaehee that one of the applicants was a woman.  That piqued Jumin’s interest a little, but he wouldn't care less as most women in the security agency would often be placed in guarding items , not people.

At one point, Jumin overheard a woman speaking with one of the people in his security team. The voice was... modulated. Sultry. Deep, but feminine.

He doubled back and peered through a corner, and found a tall woman with black hair and black eyes. Jumin's brows knotted; something is a little off with her, but he couldn't exactly place it.

After which, the Chief made a recommendation to have her into the bodyguard force. In an interview that followed, that was when Jumin noticed it:

Black contact lenses.

Dyed black hair.

It somehow looked normal to most, but to Jumin it just didn't sit right. It didn't look natural.

But when she came back the next day, Jumin immediately regretted ever asking her to come as her real self. Her wine-colored hair and emerald eyes were a surprise, but how perfect it looked on her was what made his heart start and stop and sputter.

Damn it. Why did I do that?

He ran his fingers through his hair.  Knowing her, he is absolutely certain that she will not answer his calls, but he needs to at least try to find her.

But... what do I want to do when I find her?

Apologize?

He took his phone in his hand and dialed Saeyoung's number. He'll think about what to say later. For now, he needs to find her.


 

Ae Cha raised her eyebrow at the reveal. The Chairman’s son? Really?  The girl heard her fair share of rumors regarding Jumin while eavesdropping Sim Yeong-ho’s conversations, but, she’s never heard of him being interested in a girl.

Something about the situation was unsettling. It bothered her thinking Reine would have been so reckless to have had sex with her own boss . Did she misjudge her, or, could Jumin had his way with her... ?

Fuck, why do I care what this woman does?

“She still didn’t answer the question,” Ae Cha pointed out, frowning, and turned her back away from the taller woman. Why is she here?”

“Ah!” Saeyoung exclaimed, following Ae Cha's lead in dropping the subject. He can't help but inwardly smile at how she ended up helping Reine out of the predicament of explaining herself.

Their blood speak to each other!

“The door!” He added and pointed at the general direction of the exit. “How in the world did you get through the door?”

Reine turned around with annoyance painted on her face. “Oh you mean the stupid door that kept prattling about passwords? It let me in.”

“Hey! My door isn't stupid,” Saeyoung visibly pouted.

“She's inside, so your door is stupid,” Saeran retorted.

“But hooowwww?!” He scratched the back of his head in frustration. “Hey door! Why did you let her in?!” He spoke a little louder, and then a beep was heard right after.

She scared me!

Scared you?! You're a door , you're not a--” he abruptly turned to Reine, who was watching everything with her usual deadpan expression. “Oh my God you're too scary that you scared an inanimate object!

Reine clicked her tongue. “Tch.”

“Uwaaa~” Saeyoung hid behind Saeran, who was trying to pry himself free from his brother.

Ae Cha giggled at the brother’s antics, biting her lip to keep a smile from appearing. Her heart fluttered thinking about both twins. Saeyoung, Saeran… she wanted to know them both.

Her hands instinctively reached for her neck to reposition her choker, only to be surprised her neck was bare. She felt a mild panic set in at the thought of the jewelry’s disappearance. The choker was a gift, and she promised to never take it off. Surely it must be with her clothes.

Saeyoung’s expression showed a hint of surprise, and then he dipped his hand on his pocket to look at his phone. Someone was calling, and he stepped a few steps away from the rest of the group to answer the call.

“Hello?”

“Help me find Reine. She left C&R a few minutes ago.”  It was Jumin, and Saeyoung fought the urge to look at the person in question.

“She's here.”

There was a few seconds of silence at the other end of the line. “I'll be there in five minutes. Open the door.” Saeyoung was already expecting the abrupt end of Jumin’s call, but somehow he still feels like Jumin needs manners when it comes to phone etiquette.

“She still didn’t answer the question,” Ae Cha sighed, and folded her arms again.  Her eyes glanced over to Saeyoung, curious. Who called?

Reine sighed and turned to Ae Cha, her expression softened. “Well, I was afraid you'll be needing help because Saeyoung said you were sick, but it seems like you're okay so I'll get going,” Reine turned toward the general direction of the exit.

“Wait,” Saeyoung called out, and Reine turned around to face him.

Saeyoung's tone was not the same as she's used to hearing--his voice was quiet, resolute. “Where will you go?”

Pain flashed very briefly in Reine's emerald eyes.  She caught herself and made a conscious effort to smear her expression with a business demeanor and answer. “I’ll find a place,” she answered.

Ae Cha froze, feeling a vein nearly burst. She thought she made herself clear to Saeyoung. She wanted nothing to do with Reine…

But why did Reine’s somber eyes remind her of someone in her life?

“Appa, are you okay? You haven’t been taking my calls.”

Her eyes flew open recalling a conversation with her father.   Reine looks like Appa . She shook the thought out with disbelief. Had she been missing her father so much she was projecting her feelings?

There was no way they were related, even if Reine appeared with the same expression she saw her father wear.  

As much as she wanted to push Reine away, her heart begged her not to. Perhaps they were related. Cousins, even?

“No. You can’t just leave after saying that,” Ae Cha insisted, and stepped towards Reine.  She stubbornly pushed each leg forward, fighting the wobbling her legs wanted to do.  No exhaustion was going to stand in her way for answers.

“Why would Saeyoung tell you I'm here?", the girl pleaded as she looked up to face Reine, sounding more desperate than intended. She reached for Reine’s arm, only to stop when realizing what her hand was doing. A wave of of embarrassment flushed her cheeks.

Reine felt a tug in her heart at seeing Ae Cha standing before her. She unconsciously laid a gentle hand on Ae Cha’s head and smiled. “I'm glad you're okay.”

She then shifted abruptly and turned to the twins. “I really need to get going.”

“You're not going anywhere.”

Reine froze at the sound the voice. She clenched her fist and steeled herself for the onslaught of pain.

She turned to face the man, anger written on her face. “Yes, I am going and who are you to stop me ?”

Saeran cringed at the contradiction Reine is doing. Why are women so complicated?

A flicker of pain and anger was seen on Jumin's eyes on Reine's challenge, but why is it so alluring to him? “Oh my, someone's feisty today. But I could clearly remember how pliant you were under me last night.”

Anger rose in Reine's chest and her cheeks flushed bright red. “Don't you dare--

“Or what?” Jumin challenged. “You shouldn't be this affected-- who am I to you, right?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Saeyoung interjected. “Both of you need to seriously chill ,” he said with a hint of nervous laughter. “Besides, you both just ran off! You could have told us you were going. Why'd you run off like that?”

Jumin raised his eyebrow. “I needed to protect her at all costs.”

Saeyoung made an “o” with his lips and Saeran nudged him roughly on his side. Reine’s face turned an even deeper red.

“You? Protect me? I'm your bodyguard . Are you insulting me?”

Dirty thoughts filled Ae Cha’s head with lewd ideas of the rendezvous the Jumin and Reine had. Judging by Reine’s appearance, the deed must have been rough. Her face turned a darker shade  of red from the fantasies dancing in her mind.

And then she thought of what Saeran and Saeyoung would do with women. What if that woman was her ? She shuddered airly and squeezed her arms around her body tightly. She thanked God for letting her keep her perverse thoughts to herself.

Get a hold of yourself, Ae Cha.

“Waaaah~! This is too much information,” she mumbled, and slowly backed away from Reine and Jumin. Maybe if she got herself out of the situation the lecherous images of everyone in the room would subside.

Jumin turned to Ae Cha, and remembered. “Ah. Ae Cha,” he spoke and stepped inside the room to stand beside Reine. “I remember--I meant to talk to you about something you said about my father.”

Well… that’s one way to swiftly kick every thought out of Ae Cha’s mind .

The girl paused as Jumin’s focus switched to her and gulped. At the very least, he wasn’t nearly as terrifying as he was back at the apartment.                

Reine turned to Jumin and to Ae Cha, a little fearful that Jumin might be too much for the smaller girl.

“Mr. Han--no, Jumin ,” she corrected herself. Calling him by his first name is still something she needs to get used to--it’s not really appropriate for her to address him formally now that she has left the fleet. “This is obviously something she's not comfortable talking about.”

Jumin turned to Reine, a thoughtful look on his face. Reine gave him a stern look to urge him to try to be a little more considerate.

Jumin sighed. Why the hell am I listening to her?

He crouched in front of Ae Cha, to try to make up with the difference in height. He looked up at her, and spoke in a quiet tone. “Ae Cha, my father is very important to me. If there is any way my father is in danger, I would want to know so I can protect him.”

Ae Cha was taken aback at Jumin’s sudden change in demeanor. She wished she had the chance to protect her father too. What a stupid thought. The girl couldn’t even keep her father from abandoning her and landing herself in the predicament she was in now.

It hurt.

“I apologize. I didn’t intend to imply your father is in any danger,” Ae Cha sighed, and bowed politely. Her facial expression turned grim. There was no point in trying to lie to him. What she saw before her was a son trying to protect his loved one. She had to respect that.  

If only her life gave her the same respect, too.

“The only one in this room that’s in danger is me. It’s in my contract not to speak to you. You shouldn’t even know I exist,” she admitted, before her gaze fell to the floor again.

“Contract?” Reine spoke, and she realized that everybody was standing up. “Look, can we move somewhere more comfortable?” She took her jacket off and wrapped it around Ae Cha’s shoulders. She is still in her sleeping clothes and Reine couldn't risk her getting cold.

Saeran and Saeyoung looked at each other and nodded. “Good idea. We have...some things we also want to clarify,” Saeyoung replied.

Jumin stood to allow space for the women to walk past, and Reine gently led Ae Cha out of the room with a hand on her shoulder.  She sat her on one of the plush couches, and sat beside her. Saeyoung and Jumin took the other seats, and Saeran stood against a wall, his hands in his pants pocket.

“You mentioned a contract,” Jumin started, as gently as he could. “A contract with who ?”

Ae Cha fidgeted nervously with the end of the blue nightgown she was dressed in, and stared at her knees. She couldn’t believe she was in this situation. She cursed at herself for following such a stupid e-mail.

“With Mr. Han,” she replied quietly, and instinctively patted her chest for her cards only to remember all of her belongings were somewhere in Saeyoung’s home. She wish she would have at least brought her phone with her to help keep her distracted.

“My father worked for your father,” she confessed and shrugged her shoulders.  “The contract I signed was to protect the company, or something. I don’t know.”

She looked around the room for her clothes. If only I had my ID. After the failed attempt to locate her clothes, she focused on Jumin and made a plea.

“You can’t let anyone know about this, or I’ll be killed. Please.”

Jumin's expression darkened in confusion.  He cannot imagine how C&R could go as far as this.  However, information is information and must be treated as such; it would be destructively naive if he would let his feelings get in the way.

“I don't understand,” Jumin replied, his mind in deep thought. “A contract with my father to protect the company? No offense, but my father has little regard about the company's best interests.”

He felt a vein pop in his head. “He gets his name on tabloids for changing women like he's changing clothes, so hearing about this doesn't equate to me at all.”

Reine felt sympathetic toward the man. Jumin had always been the Chairman's fallback whenever he did something incredibly stupid with the company. Jumin generated three to four times the revenue whenever his father did his antics just to cover up the losses.

Jumin had a nagging suspicion that there's something going on within C&R. For the past few years, the growth rate has been slow compared to the previous years. The executives’ reports blame the growing inflation rate and economic decline, but Jumin was not convinced.

Is this somehow related?

He turned to Ae Cha with a tired look in his eyes. “So you mean to say...C&R operatives have been threatening to kill you?” Jumin turned to Reine with a question in his face. “Have you caught wind about any of this?”

Reine shook her head. “No. But I did eavesdrop on someone about “special conditions”, and a name--Aria something, ” she explained. “Sounded like a girl's name, so I just let it pass.”

Saeyoung shot a look at his brother, and Saeran glanced at him as well. They both decided to keep quiet and see how this discussion will unfold.

Jumin sighed and straightened in his seat. “Very well. Regardless of what the information is, let's focus on the most important part: everyone's safety. Saeyoung, Saeran: I'll task you to Ae Cha’s protection for the meantime.”

He then turns to the smaller girl. “Thank you for telling me this. I just need to know one more thing: who is your POC?”

Ae Cha hesitated, debating on answering the question.  No matter how much protection was being granted to her, she wasn’t sure if Jumin knew the things her point of contact was capable.

Saeyoung sighs and leans back on the couch, his hands resting at the back of his head.

“Sim Yeong-ho.”

Everybody turned to Saeyoung, and was utterly quiet. Reine turned to Jumin and spoke, “Isn't he the head of R&D?”

“And how in the world did you know that?” Jumin questioned Saeyoung, his suspicion in this entire situation escalating.

“Oh! His name is on my C&R identification badge,” Ae Cha acknowledged, and looked over to Saeran, recalling their private conversation earlier. She felt another chill run down her spine, and her eyes turned glassy.

Stupid little bitch. If you want to live, you have to do what I tell you. Show me a reason why I shouldn’t put a bullet in your skull just like your coward of a father did to himself.

What? WHY? This wasn’t in the contract!  

The situation changed. Get on your knees and beg me not to kill you.  You forget I’ve seen every photo of you on your knees for other men like the slut you are. Now do it, or die.

Please, don’t make me do this...

You have no choice. Beg for me.

 

“Actually, where is my C&R badge?”  Ae Cha pondered, and turned to look at everyone. The tension was filling every corner of the room was reaching to a boil. She lowered her gaze hoping no one could see the fear hiding in her eyes.

The way that Ae Cha’s eyes turned glassy did not miss Saeran. He, among everyone else, knows what that sick bastard is capable of. He fought the urge to scoop her in his arms and run away from everything, but he knows they can only run so far.

Saeyoung pulled the badge from his pocket. “We found this on the floor in the apartment,” he placed the badge on the coffee table. “And ran a few searches about the guy.”

“That’s m-my badge!” Ae Cha exclaimed, doing a double take on her badge now sitting on the coffee table.

Tension hung thick in the air. Saeyoung glanced at his brother, and Saeran gave a quick nod.

“Sim Yeong-ho is currently the Research and Development executive of C&R, as Reine pointed out,” he started, and he gave out a sigh.

“He also leads a small group called “Aria Sped.”

“That's it!” Reine exclaimed, and turned to Jumin. “That's the name I heard-- Aria Sped.

Saeyoung nodded. “And apparently, Saeran is acquainted with him.”

A look of confusion was seen on the faces of the trio at the other end of the living room. “Aria Sped is not a name--it’s an anagram for paradise.

Jumin took a deep breath. His demeanor was still calm and businesslike, but his eyes were black pools of unadulterated anger. “Are you implying that there are Mint Eye operatives in C&R--even in the executive level?”

Saeyoung stared straight into Jumin's eyes, unfazed by the taller man's wrath. “I am not implying --I am telling you the truth .”

“Hold on,” Reine interrupted. “ Mint Eye? I've been hearing that since we were in the apartment. What the hell is it?”

“It's a cult,” Saeran answered. “A cult that has a twisted view of happiness. That email you received is something we usually send out to lure people to come to a designated area to convert them.”

Reine’s eyes narrowed. “ We?

“It's a long story, but Saeran used to be the Mint Eye’s ace hacker and recruiter,” Saeyoung explained.

Saeran nodded. “I used to work under Sim Yeong-Ho.”

“This is ridiculous,” Jumin spat through his clenched teeth. “So this is how Rika managed to acquire funds?”

“I'm inclined to think so, yes,” Saeyoung replied.

“And you knew about this?” Jumin shot a glare at Saeran.

“No,” Saeran replied nonchalantly. “That information was kept from me at the time. I didn't even know that bastard worked for C&R until today. I focused on attacking RFA as that was the sav--what Rika told me to do,” he explained.

Ae Cha sat quietly in the seat as the conversation continued. Everyone’s voice became white noise for her while she attempted to process the information. C&R, Mint Eye, Aria Sped… she couldn’t keep up anymore.  And why involve her, and Reine? Frustration settled in.

“I don’t understand. How does this involve me ?” Ae Cha interrupted, her eyes searching for answers from everyone in the room. Her voice sounded so small as, even smaller than her pint-size stature.  “Is it because of my contract?”

Saeyoung gave a sympathetic smile at Ae Cha. “I'm so sorry you have to go through this, cutie,” he reached out to her and laid a gentle hand on hers. “And I hope you don't get angry with me.”

He pulled out Ae Cha's crescent moon choker from one of his jacket’s pocket and handed it to her. “When we took you here, this rang an alarm,” he started, and placed it in Ae Cha’s small hands, then put his own on top of hers. He stared into her eyes and spoke in a quiet tone. “There's something your father left in this choker--something of great importance.

He gave her a soft smile. “I'm sorry, but I had to do a little research about your father.  I'm inclined to believe that Lee Han-sol tried to put a stop to all of it--and paid the ultimate price.”

They suddenly heard something drop to the ground. Reine’s phone lay on the floor, screen cracked.

“Lee...Han-sol..?”

Saeyoung gasped at his mistake. Saeran shot him a glare and Jumin turned to Reine, whose face was drained of all color.

“Reine?” Jumin noted the shock in Reine's face, his own twisting with worry.

Reine's mind raced, her eyes fixed at Ae Cha.

“Lee Han Sol... is my father.

Chapter Text

“Happy Birthday, Ae Cha.”

Lee Han-sol and Ae Cha were sitting beside each other on the bench at the apartment’s resident-only outdoor park. It was rare for the daughter and father to have time together after Ae Cha moved to the Much Music Entertainment training dormitory. She was already being scouted to possibly join an upcoming rookie girl group within the company which meant her days were spent training. She delighted in being granted a three-hour window to spend time with her father that day.

She leaned over to give her father a quick peck on the cheek. “Kamsahamnida!” Her face beamed with pride. She’d been struggling in learning Korean during her many classes at the Much Music entertainment.

“Your Korean is improving,” Han Sol praised, and raised his hand to pat his daughter’s head.  “I’m so proud of you. It’s hard to believe you’re already seventeen.”

“Appa, stop! I’m not a child anymore~” Ae Cha jested, and nudged her father away playfully after receiving several head pats.

“Very well,” he chuckled and discreetly reached for a burgundy trinket box he had hidden beside him.  “Are you ready for your present?”

“Do I get to guess first?,” she questioned, and lightly tapped her index finger on her chin in deep thought. Could it be a car or tickets to a concert? What about a sister? Ae Cha took joy in teasing her father about having a secret daughter whenever she would see him writing letters.

“Only if you stop growing up,” he said, and quickly added,  “I’m not ready for you to be an adult.”

“That’s not fair, Appa!” Ae Cha lamented. She crossed her arms, and stuck her lower lip out, pouting.

“I’m your Father. I never said life would be fair,” He reminded her. His words were stern, but not heartless. He was never cruel to her. Before Ae Cha could complain again, he laid the box on her lap.

What’s this? Ae Cha curiously picked up the trinket box, surprised at how much heavier the box actually was. The box itself was covered in a fine material, something out of a jewelry store. After a couple minutes, Ae Cha carefully opened it.

Inside the box laid a white choker with a crescent moon charm. The material of the choker itself was made out of velvet while the crescent moon charm appeared to be made out of platinum. As she stared at the piece of jewelry, her father started speaking to her.  Little did she know this would be one of the last conversations she would have with her father before he would pass away a year and a half later.

“Women desire to be the sun, but it’s important to be the moon too. While as the sun brings never-ending warmth, the moon controls the tides and lights up even the darkest places on our planet after the sun has set. Daughter, I know it in my heart you will be the moon to someone one day.

Promise me you will wear this choker, and never take it off. If I disappear one day…  I want you to remember to look for the stars to guide you to your rightful place as the moon.”

“And remember… if you are ever in trouble and I am not around, the answers you seek will always be right in front of you.“


 

Everything Ae Cha knew shattered in front of her like delicate glass, and she gasped for air as her eyes darted at Reine.

“No… N-No.” Her lip trembled while her brain processed the shocking revelation.  Saeyoung’s words echoed in her ears, deafening the girl.  

Lee Han-Sol paid the ultimate price.

The room became suffocating, and she squeezed the choker tightly in her now clammy hand. Her heart drummed erratically, occasionally skipping out of sequence. She lost track of everyone in the room as the room darkened in her vision.  Everything was a blur, and Ae Cha felt alone.

She wanted to run away from the fear of the unknown, and from the lies. She didn’t understand how her father hid something as significant as another sister. A familiar pain ached in her wrists, a reminder of blades cutting her skin years ago. If she couldn’t run away, then she determined she needed to satisfying a craving. But how--?

Stop it Ae Cha! Don’t give in to the demon inside.

Her vision normalized, shocking her to suddenly be staring at the ceiling.  What she doesn’t remember is how she pushed herself off the touch, and onto the floor to get as far away from Reine as possible. The girl literally fell off the couch. Panic continued settling into her chest, freezing her from moving. Her eyes wide-eyed with disbelief. 

Saeyoung rushed to hold Ae Cha. He lifted her up and wrapped his arms around her from behind. “Ae Chan...please...I'm sorry,” his gentle voice whispered in her ear. He tried desperately to calm her down. He sat her on his lap and tried his best to console her.

Reine felt her heart break into a million pieces seeing how Ae Cha had reacted. She immediately regretted what she said; hoping she could turn back the last few minutes and just kept her damn mouth shut.

Ae Cha's response to the news wounded her a lot deeper than the news Saeyoung bore.  Reine was not expecting her adamant denial of her existence. Every “no” Ae Cha muttered was a gash to her heart...she wanted to run and hold her but seeing Ae Cha so scared of her…

Am I that much of a monster to be hated this much?

//“You should just go and die.”//

“Reine!”

She felt strong hands gripping her arms, and she suddenly saw Jumin's dark eyes staring right into hers, his eyebrows creased with worry.

Her lips quivered in the effort of silencing her pain. Jumin's heart ached to see every ounce of pain in those eyes; for once he wished he could take all of it from her.

Reine turned her gaze downward, unable to hide any more of her emotions. She peered over the man’s shoulders to see Ae Cha’s wide, unseeing eyes and Saeyoung holding her, and for the first time in a long time she felt powerless.

She dejectedly turned her gaze downward again, and gently brushed Jumin's hands away from her. She wiped her tears with her sleeve.  Jumin stepped aside as she stood and moved towards Ae Cha, and then crouched in front of her.

“I-I’m sorry,” Reine spoke in a quiet, controlled tone. “You can...forget what I just said. I'll disappear if you need me to,” she heard her voice break. She wanted to reach out but stopped herself.

She stood and turned toward the exit. Sim Yeong-Ho, was it? She clenched her fists and started walking.

It does not matter, now. The least I could do is make sure she's safe.

“Just where do you think you're going?”

She looked up and saw Jumin standing in between her and the doorway. Her expression darkened.

“Jumin, please move,” her eyes turned cold. She feels as if her hands and feet are no longer hers. Her hands twitched.

“You're about to do something incredibly stupid so I won't.”

Jumin closed the distance between them and held her arms with both of his hands. He spoke to her in a quiet tone, his voice almost a whisper.

“Don't give up on her. For her sake.

She roughly brushed his hands away from her and walked past him, and then stepped into the hallway out of the living room. Jumin caught her by her arm and spun her around to face him.

She spoke first. “What do you expect me to do , Jumin? You saw. And I am dealing with this the only way I know how!” whispered at him angrily while yanking her arm off from his grasp.

“What makes you think that's the only solution?” Jumin crossed his arms and spoke in a stern voice in frustration. “Look. We're all connected in this grand scheme. Don't think this is merely just between you and your family. You do something stupid, you endanger us all.

Reine felt her breath hitch in her throat as Jumin lectured her. She found herself speechless--because as always, he's right.

She covered her face in her hands and sighed. “God,” she whispered. “This day is just too much .”

Jumin was about to reach out to her when she raised both hands and shook her head. He took her hands and squeezed them lightly.

Reine looked up at him with defeated eyes. She wanted to cry. All that time and effort spent finding her father, hoping he was still alive... finding one last person she can call family but hated her…

She shook her head once more and willed her emotions away.

I give up.  It was stupid to think I could ever deserve anything.

“Reine,” Jumin tried to pull her toward him, and this made her heart ache even more. She refused to move but kept her head hung and her face turned away, her eyes closed.

He tilted his head slightly, studying her. She was so tense , her body wound like a taut string.

She finally opened her eyes, but refused to face him.  “I came to C&R to find my father,” she quietly spoke.

“No wonder you kept on getting your nose into R&D.”

She finally lifted her eyes towards him in surprise. “You knew?”

Jumin smiled slightly and nodded. “Even the Chief of Security knew. You weren't exactly great at covering your traces.”

Reine’s face flushed a slight pink color. This made her creep even more inside Jumin's heart.

“I-I was trying to look for traces of my father,” she finally continued after clearing her throat.  “but all I found were more questions. Now the answer's right in front of me...I'm scared.

Jumin stood by her patiently. It was not often that she would open up to him, and he committed these moments to memory.  He found himself surprised on how so little of her moves him so much.

“Keep trying,” Jumin responded. “Keep pushing like you always do.”

Reine finally smiled, albeit a little. “Am I that stubborn?”

“Oh yes,” Jumin chided. “You have no idea how much trouble you are.”

She let out a small chuckle. “All right. I'll try talking to her again.”


 

Ae Cha’s golden-hazel eyes focused on the door Reine walked through. She mourned the chaotic mess of a life which turned out to be a fallacy. She couldn’t believe how much her own real life was a fallacy. The girl believed she was dreadfully pathetic.

She sat in Saeyoung’s arms silently, begging to God to provide her answers she deserved. Whe questioned to herself why she didn’t pull the trigger sooner to save herself from the horrible heartache consuming her soul.

“Everything I knew… it’s a lie,” she finally murmured despondently. Her glance lowered to the floor, and she wanted everything to cry…

...But her emotions turned numb.

“Ae Cha... ,” Saeran’s voice broke the silence, and he kneeled in front of her. He gently rested his hand on her delicate shoulder, pushing He pushed her chin up to look into her golden-hazel eyes. He recognized the signs Ae Cha was showing. She was close to a mental breakdown, and it greatly concerned him to see the girl in this state.  

“You’re not alone, Ae Chan,” Saeyoung whispered into her ear, pushing strands of her hair off of her shoulder. “You have your sister ... You have us . We’ll figure it out together. Okay?”

Ae Cha’s ears perked hearing Reine’s footsteps. Her heart begged her to empathize with the red-haired woman. Surely the news could be equally difficult for both of them to process, right?

Ae Cha stirred in Saeyoung’s lap, and the twins took that as an indication she wanted to stand. They helped her up, backing away as the girl steadied herself on her own two feet. It took effort, but, she approached the woman; her legs grew heavier with each stride.

She stood in Reine’s presence, her eyes boring into hers as she tried searching for answers. Their eyes both flickered with the same uncertainty each other had, and the walls surrounding Ae Cha suddenly closed in.

“And remember… if you are ever in trouble and I am not around, the answers you seek will always be right in front of you.“

The sides of her vision darkened, and she felt herself suffocating. Her wrists throbbed, begging her to give in to the pain she craved. She couldn’t fight her inner demon anymore, and dreadful thoughts filled her mind.

You’re helpless.

Seeds of doubt, and panic consumed the small girl. Everything turned into a blur again. An intense wave of nausea fell over Ae Cha, knocking her backward. Her heart raced, begging her to get away as fast as she could. She needed to run away.

And so she ran.

“Wait! Ae Chan!”, Saeyoung shouted. His fingertips brushed her arm, grasping to stop her, but failed.

She sprinted haphazardly out room, side-stepping Jumin and Saeran near the doorway. The close encounter of nearly bumping into the two knocked her glasses off her face.

Her chest burned as she ran, the steps behind her encouraged her to sprint faster. She turned the corner and spotted an empty bathroom out of the side of her vision. Once entering the room, she quickly locked the door and slammed it.

She panted heavily, leaning against the wall. Her eyes looked around the bathroom, searching for a way to appease her demons.

The bathroom was small in size, and by the appearance one could tell it was not the main bathroom of the house. The small room contained a vanity with a sink, a toilet, a mirror, and a few cabinets hung on the wall.

Ae Cha approached the mirror over the vanity, and gazed at herself. Tears streamed down her cheek, dripping into the sink. The girl became frustrated she could not longer recognize herself, and ripped the hair tie securing her side bun out.

Another wave of panic wafted Ae Cha, and she watched her own color in her face drain away. Pressure built in her chest, and it was enough to finally make the girl snap. She no longer acted rationally as she finally lost full control.

You’ll feel better if you release your pain.

Ae Cha scoured every cabinet, and drawer in a frenzy for something sharp. All she needed was something sharp to make a small cut. Nothing like before. Something to satisfy her hunger for pain.

Her movements in the bathroom turned erratic, slamming each cabinet after realizing they were empty. Fuck. Who keeps empty cabinets without a razor?! Her breathing increased, and she briefly contemplated if breaking the mirror could produce a shard sharp enough to cut into her own skin.

But then Saeyoung’s words of comfort rang in her ears, shaking her to her core. She froze in her steps, finally regaining control again. The uncontrollable desire ebb, and embarrassment knotted in her stomach. This is pointless. Cutting yourself will get you nowhere.  

She backed up, bumping into the door accidentally. . The surprise shocked her, and she slid to the ground as her knees buckled underneath her.

“I-I’m a fool,” she gasped, exhausted from her mental breakdown. She brought her knees to chest and rested her head. Finally she was no longer numb. All she wanted to do was cry.

And so she cried. She cried hard.

[New Message Received: 1 Unread]


 

Reine was about to open her mouth to say something but Ae Cha ran. She recognized the telltale signs, and was fearful of what she is about to do. Ignoring everybody she sprang to action, but the smaller girl was quicker--and slammed the door to her face.

“Ae Cha!” She pounded on the door, desperate to have her open. “Ae Cha, please !”

Saeyoung was about to step in the situation but Jumin raised a hand, stopping the red-haired man in his tracks.

“Jumin--”

“Let's give them their space,” Jumin said. “Let them figure themselves out. We can't do much but to wait.”

Saeyoung nodded and understood the logic in Jumin's suggestion. He's quite relieved that at least someone is here to think of things objectively.

Reine heard Ae Cha cry from beyond the bathroom door. It was a painful cry, and she wanted nothing more than to hold her. Her hands soften on the door. She let herself slide downward and sit by it, leaning her shoulder to the door, desperate to hear her sister.

“Ae Cha,” she softly called out. “I'm right here. I'm so sorry...I...I didn't know either,” she then leaned her head on the door while she listened.

“Please, please let me help you,” her voice broke, and she cleared her throat. “You're the only one I have.”

“It’s pointless,” Ae Cha hiccuped, her voice muffled through the door. “My life is nothing is but a lie.”

Reine closed her eyes. She felt her sister's pain through her voice.

Was, ” Reine replied softly. “But we're here, aren't we? We're here, crying like shit by a bathroom door, mourning because of the lie our lives were made to be,” her voice broke as tears fell from her eyes. She made no attempt to wipe them; she had no strength to.

“We're crying because of this truth ,” more tears came. “And this truth entailed me knowing I have one last , one only family...Ae Cha, I will do everything I can to get us our lives back.”

She finally wiped her tears and cleared her throat. “I may not be welcome in your life,” she clenched her fist. “But gods be damned if anyone ever hurts you again.”

Ae Cha blew air from her mouth, looking over her shoulder. Light partially covered from the fabric of Reine’s jacket from the bottom of the door. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself, wiping the remaining tears off of her cheek.  Maybe having a sister wouldn’t be so bad after all.            

“Did you ever see him?” Ae Cha asked curiously, breaking silence.

Reine smiled slightly on hearing Ae Cha talking again. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh of relief. “Never. I only had letters,” she replied. “His letters were everything to me.”

The news surprised Ae Cha. Han Sol was a loving, compassionate father.  He was always there when she needed her, why wasn’t he there for Reine? If only he was here to answer those questions.

“You know…” Ae Cha hesitated, sitting more relaxed against the door. “If it’s ever safe to return to the apartment, pending it hasn’t been entirely trashed by now, it’d be great if you could visit.”

She pulled a strand of her hair in front of her, and began braiding it leisurely, adding “After all, it’s not mine. It’s Appa’s.”

Reine's heart thumped as she felt a measure of happiness and excitement. She smiled, and let out a slight sigh. “Really? You're going to let me?” She covered her mouth embarrassingly; her tone came out a little too excited.

She laughed a little. “Sorry...I got a little too happy.” she then leaned back onto the bathroom door.

Ae Cha giggled at the sudden change in tone in Reine’s voice. “If you keep that up, the boys won’t think you’re so scary,” she wearily teased, smiling.

Reine laughed.  She felt her shoulders shudder in restrained laughter.  “Am I really that scary? I'm so sorry,” she couldn't wipe the smile from her face.

She stood up and brushed dust from her pants, and then turned to the bathroom door. “Isn't it stuffy in there, Ae Cha? You can come out if you want to,” she took a backstep from the door to give the girl some space.

“No, No, No. It’s okay,” Ae Cha rejected, shaking her head. Her tone wavered back into sadness. She pushed her hair off her shoulders again, and resituated herself on the ground to make herself comfortable.

“I’m a bit of a mess right now.”

Reine smiled and sat back down by the bathroom door. “Okay. I'll be right here.”

“No, it’s really alright. I don’t want anyone to see me like this right now,” Ae Cha insisted, hoping her new sister would take her cue. All she wanted was to be alone. It was all she felt she deserved for her behavior.

Reine chuckled a bit. “All right, I'll be a good unnie and go,” she stood up and turned to go towards the hallways. “I'll be in the next room. Tell me if there's anything you need.”

Reine entered the living room with three expectant eyes staring at her. She sighed and waved her hand dismissively. “She wants to be alone. She seems pretty stable.”

A collective sigh was heard from the boys, and Reine was quite surprised to see Jumin slightly smiling at her. She shot him a confused look, but decided not to press it since now that a part of her was settled, that smile is not helping her heart rate.

Saeyoung leaned back on the couch. “Man. You girls are intense !” He commented, which earned a scoff from his brother.

“It's your fault, you know,” Saeran reprimanded him. “You just couldn't keep your mouth shut.”

“Ah, but things happen as they are meant to happen!” Saeyoung spoke in an enigmatic tone as he waved his finger in the air.

Saeran crossed his arms. “I'm guessing you read that from a peculiar book again?

Jumin stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. “I will need to go to investigate on what you told me, Saeyoung,” he said, and Saeyoung nodded. “Reine, let's go.”

“Um...Jumin,” Reine looked up at him. “I'm...not your bodyguard anymore.”

A look of realization and annoyance crossed Jumin's features, but he finally let out a sigh of resignation. “Fine. It will be best to stay for your sister, anyway,” he said, which was returned by a grateful smile from Reine.

“However, can you come with me for a moment?” he asked, and started to walk out the room into the hall.

Reine looked at him with confusion and excused herself from the twins. She quickened her pace to catch up with him.

“Jumin? What did you need from--”

Reine's words were immediately cut off as a pair of strong hands pinned her against the wall and lips locked on hers. Jumin cupped her face in both of his hands and urged her to open her mouth with his tongue, which she was too surprised to resist.

Reine felt her world spin as Jumin savored her, and demanded her to yield . She involuntarily ran her hands up his chest to crawl around his shoulders and his neck.

She yielded.

Jumin slowed down and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her closer to him. Reine felt herself melt in his arms; he molded her like clay. His lips became less demanding, and his hands on hers a lot more gentle , almost loving.

They both slowly broke the kiss, but their arms still locked with each other's. Reine tentatively looked into his eyes and felt her heart ache with how gentle his eyes were.

“Please don't do anything reckless,” Jumin whispered, almost like a plea. “I will see you tonight.”

He then left a small kiss on her forehead, let go of her and walked out of the house, leaving her flustered and speechless by the door.


 

Reine walked back into the living room, a little disoriented but weirdly, in a better mood.

“Has Ae Cha come out of the bathroom yet?” She asked worriedly, and sat on one of the couches.

“No,” Saeran answered. “Good thing I threw out all the blades this morning.”

Reine sighed in relief. “Thank you, Saeran. And you too, Saeyoung,” she said, which earned a goofy smile from Saeyoung.

“However,” she interjected. “I have questions.”

The brothers turned to her with solemn expressions. Saeyoung leaned slightly forward.

“Let me see if I got stuff correctly,” she said, putting on her business demeanor. “Saeran worked with Mint Eye, under the tutelage of Sim Yeong-ho. Then who is Rika?”

Saeyoung sighed. “Rika...it's really hard to explain in simple terms,” he scratched the back of his head trying to find the right words. “Rika is a different person for each of us, I guess. Saeran has different views of Rika compared to mine, so I'm afraid I will have to give you a general answer.”

Reine nodded, and Saeyoung continued. “We all met Rika through V.”

Confusion painted Reine's face. “V? The photographer?”

“And Rika’s fiancée,” Saeran answered. “They both founded the RFA.”

Reine remembered. It's a charity party that was hosted by the RFA members, and she only attended once. It was a grand party with select guests, and she remembered standing guard on one of the most expensive photographs taken by V.

“Oddly, in my guard duty I have never seen either of them,” she looked at Saeran, who gazed back at her, unwavering.

“Something... happened, last year.”

Reine did not miss the flicker of emotions on Saeran’s eyes. Anger? Fear? Shame? “Saeran, if you're not comfortable talking about it, it's okay,” she gave him a little smile.

“So...this Rika , also founded Mint Eye, that cult you mentioned.  What's with them? And why was everyone so surprised?”

“You see,” Saeyoung started, and Reine turned her gaze toward him. “Rika has a mental disorder. She created Mint Eye as her way of getting people into her idea of utopia. Paradise . Thankfully we were able to put a stop to their operations last year...or so we thought.

Reine's placed her index finger on her lower lip. “So it means they are operating somewhere else.”

“Yes,” Saeyoung replied. “They're operating on many countries now.”

“Where is Rika?”

“She's in a mental institution in Alaska,” Saeran responded. “We thought it best to have her heal with professional help.”

Reine is deep in thought. “Even if the queen is removed, it doesn't mean that the soldiers won't sting,” she mumbled, and Saeyoung nodded.

“About Lee Han-sol,” Saeyoung said in a quieter tone. “From the looks of things I am inclined to believe that he tried to expose the Mint Eye operatives within C&R because of the large amounts of money they were embezzling. Unfortunately, he took his own life, and along with him are the pieces of a puzzle,” Saeyoung sighed, and looked at the general direction of the bathroom where Ae Cha locked herself in.

The trio almost jumped when they heard a phone vibrate on hard surface. Reine glances at the cracked screen of her phone, and saw Jumin's ID on the text message.

“I wonder what he wants now ,” she picked up her phone and swiped to see his message.

“2#(9ajjwne”

Huh? ” Reine's eyebrows knotted. Did he leave the phone unlocked in his pocket?

She tried to call but the phone screen flickered and turned off. Reine cussed under her breath.

Then she felt it. The feeling of dread.

She has learned, in her entire life living in the slums and dens of criminals, that the only thing you can really rely on to survive is your own gut.

And her gut is telling her something is horribly wrong.

“Saeyoung, Saeran... I'll leave Ae Cha to you,” she stood abruptly to exit, but turned back to them, glowering.

Do not do something I wouldn't want to catch you doing.”

“Y-yes ma’am!” The boys said in unison as she ran outside.

 

Chapter Text

 

Ae Cha placed her ear on the door, waiting until she believed no one would burst through the door to talk to her. When she determined she was finally alone, Ae Cha wearily picked herself up off of the ground.

Her body trembled with fatigue, and her mood flatlined.  The girl’s breakdown spent a good deal of her energy. She wanted anything in that moment to run back to her father’s apartment, forgetting about her problems by spending time on her social media accounts.

The girl developed a large following from the provocative photos she posted of herself. A small percentage of those followers were fans who followed her from her trainee days. The rest, however, were lustful men craving to see more of her.  Even if the comments were derogatory, she was getting praise and it filled the hole in Ae Cha’s heart temporarily...

... Until depression return  and she needed praise again. The cycle that would have repeated broke today and it scared her .

The girl was left without her phone and only had her thoughts. Ae Cha’s thoughts were becoming irrational; she was consumed with uncertainty on how she would be judged on her current appearance.

Ae Cha turned to the mirror again, and gazed at herself with disgust. She bent down to reach the hair tie she tossed on the ground, and used it to put up her now frizzy hair in a bun.


 

Saeran is starting to worry. She's been there for more than thirty minutes.

He knows the telltale signs all too well--he has worked with agents trained in Mint Eye and everyone had their share of horrors that they go through, and this particular aspect is something Saeran recognizes the most.

She needs to get out of there. From his experience, he spiraled downward when he was left alone with nothing to do--his idleness drove him insane.

He stood, and Saeyoung turned to him in surprise. “Where are you going?”

Saeran didn't bother to answer and walked toward the bathroom door. He sighed and knocked gently.

“Ae Cha,” he spoke. “Look...I know how you feel, but... I need to pee.

Saeyoung almost burst out in laughter upon hearing his brother's excuse. He covered his mouth and crouched over to the side while his shoulders shook in soundless laughter.

Ae Cha cursed under her breath. Of course the boys would want to use their own bathroom. It’s their house.

“Oh! Ah-Um… One moment!,” she called out, picking herself off of the ground she just set herself down on.  She glanced at herself again, dismayed from her appearance.

The door made an audible click before opening. Ae Cha stood in the door frame, glancing at the floor and her hand hovering over face to conceal her bare face.

Saeran immediately wrapped his arms around her. “Finally,” he turned to look at her, but she has covered her face with her hands.

“Ae Cha?” Saeran softly spoke. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay!” she replied with a nervous laugh. Her face and shoulders immediately flushed pink with embarrassment. “I-I don’t have my makeup on anymore…”

Saeran let out a small laugh, which was very rare even for him. He slowly peeled her hands away from her face, and he smiled at her.

“I think it's better without it,” he tilted his head slightly, in genuine curiosity.

Saeyoung's laughter can be heard and he gives Ae Cha a hug from behind as well. “Ae Chaaaannn~ you've been bare-faced since you woke up, you know,” he chided. “And you honestly look cuter without all of it!” he then gave Ae Cha a quick head pat.

“R-really?” Ae Cha titled her head, staring at the twins in confusion. It then dawned on her the house was quiet. Almost too quiet.  Was everyone gone?

“Is it just us right now?,” she wondered. 

Saeyoung smiled. “Yep! Your scary unnie went out and ran, but didn't say anything,” he said.

Saeran knotted his eyebrows. “ Do not do something I wouldn't want to catch you doing, ” is what she said,” he reminded.

Saeyoung laughed. “Yes she did say that, didn't she?”

Ae Cha giggled at the the instructions. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Saeyoung shrugged. “I dunno~ but come, let's sit you down, little cutie,” he pulls away and Saeran scoops her legs with one of his arms and effortlessly carries her to the couch. Saeyoung came ready with a blanket. “I'm sorry your clothes aren't here, Jaehee had it washed. Oh, Jaehee is Jumin’s assistant. Very nice person,” Saeyoung draped the blanket over her and Saeran wrapped it around her.

“Last time I knew she wanted to wring your neck,” Saeran retorted.

“Saeran-ah, must you scare the tiny cutie?” Saeyoung reprimanded.

“Tiny cutie? I might be dangerous , you know~,” Ae Cha teased the twins.

Saeran sat on one side, his eyes glinted at Ae Cha’s statement. “Then it will be true what they say…”

Saeyoung spoke next, sitting on the other side “...good things, and dangerous things…”

“...come in tinier packages,” Saeran added to the statement.

“Easier to hide,” Saeyoung said in a low tone.

“Easier to run away with.” Saeran said with a whisper.

Ae Cha’s cheeks flushed red, and she giggled at the twin’s sudden flirting. She covered her face to muffle her noises, and leaned over. “Both of you are too cute!”

The twins realized what they were just doing and they both turned as red as their hair at the same time. Saeran's eyes widened and he felt that unfamiliar, but not unwelcome , tug in his heart.

Saeyoung was a stuttering mess. “A-a-ah! I-I mean, no, I mean, yes, no--arghhhh,” he gave up and just sighed. “I hope you're not too weirded out,” he said, and a smiling Ae Cha was becoming more and more endearing. She looked a lot more real with her perfectly messy hair and slightly puffy eyes.

“You know what’s weird? Having someone beg for your lingerie,”  Ae Cha admitted, regretting a conversation she had a few weeks ago.

“To be honest, guys normally don't treat me as nice as you two do,” the girl confessed. “Look me up on Instargram and you’ll see. My username is ARoseLee.”

Saeyoung's eyebrows raised. “Oh? Let me see then,” he flips out his phone and searches about her online…

...his eyes went wide.

“Ae Chaaaaaaan!” Saeyoung stared at his phone with an even deeper red tint on his cheeks. “Wha-what...oh my god,” he muttered, and turned the screen off.

Saeran looked over, curious. “Let me see.”

“No!” Saeyoung extended his hand so the phone is beyond Saeran's reach.

Saeran scoffed. “Fine, I'll search on my own.”

Before Saeyoung could lunge to grab Saeran's phone, he stood up and went to the other end of the room to make the search.

His expression darkened.

“Ae Cha,” Saeran walked over to her. “Are you trying to get into trouble?”

“Exactly my thoughts!” Saeyoung holds both her shoulders and looks her in the eyes. “Ae Chan, you may not have realized this, but you are very pretty.  These... scum... don't deserve to see you in...in…” his cheeks turned even redder, and he pulled away.

Saeran sat beside her once again. “Did...did any one of these people hurt you?”

 


 

Reine regretted dropping her phone as she desperately sought where Jumin would be. He would be easily traceable if only her smartphone was working.

She could be wrong. She hopes that this nagging feeling was absolutely nothing, but she couldn't place the worry that's been eating at her, like an insidious worm.

What made her worry even more is that Jaehee said he has not been in touch with her at all since last night. She did assure the lady that she saw him this morning, but it was unusual for him not to call Jaehee for instructions the very moment he gets into the van.

She sped through the highway that she knew by heart as she always tailed Jumin Han’s van every single day going to the office.

“Dammit, Jumin... where are you? ” Reine muttered to herself as she raced through seemingly endless road.

And then she saw it. Tire marks on the road, the width and pressure on the asphalt is definitely identical to the van Jumin uses. It veered off the main road and into the smaller alleys, and judging from the way the rubber smelled like, they are mere minutes away from her.

Her heart pounded in anticipation; she tossed her helmet at the roadside and continued on to the fresh trail on her bike.

Seeing the trail just confirmed her suspicion.  

Please, please, please.  God, please!  Let me get to him in time!

She felt her heart sink when she saw the empty van, door slid open and no sign of Jumin. There were no obvious signs of struggle, and thankfully no blood, so she got off her bike and instinctively dipped her hand for her gun, and cursed.  

She surrendered it this morning.

God damn it!

She shook her head. There's no time!  She refocused her mind and concentrated on the task at hand.

Her eyes focused on the ground. People walk a certain way, and the blades of grass or dirt would be disrupted in a certain way as well. Once the displacement is identified, one can determine the direction to where the prints are headed.

She followed where the trail led her, and she looked up.

Just beyond a brick wall, Jumin stood at the edge of a bridge with a gun pointed at him.


 

There is no such thing as paradise,” Jumin tried to reason out as calmly as possible. In his mind, he has already thought of jumping over the river below if the situation went out of hand.

“There may not be,” the man answered, disengaging the safety lock of his gun while keeping it pointed at him. “But I will never forgive you for touching her!”

Jumin was taken aback.  

Motive and means.

Shit.

“You're blowing this way out of proportion,” he said, occasionally glancing over the river, waiting on a chance. “We can talk--”

“There is nothing to talk about!” The man screamed. “You can never have her!”

He cocked the gun aimed at Jumin's head.

Suddenly, a blur of red filled his vision.


 

She sprung into action. Her body acted on pure instinct. Her legs sprinted one after the other, building momentum in a split second, and then used this momentum to step on the side of the wall and stretch out her hand to grab onto the top.  Still in this same momentum, she used her arm as leverage as both her legs swung over the wall. Once over the wall, with gravity as her ally, her boots ended up on the man’s face and shoulder, making her straddle him and she locked her legs around his neck.  

She twisted her torso and grabbed on his arm to twist it, hearing the man yelp in pain. She knocked the gun from his grasp--

--her eyes went wide.

“Junghee?!”

Her eyes could not believe what it’s seeing. Junghee was her partner.  He was with her since training, and he was the only one that believed in her when she said she wanted to do bodyguard duty.  Most of the boys laughed and taunted her, but not Junghee.

With one swift motion, Reine slammed the balls of her wrists on one side of his neck, rendering him unconscious.  She slowly stepped away and turned to Jumin, who was equally disoriented but watched her wide-eyed.

Panting, she walked over to Jumin and made a visual survey of his condition. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?” she asked him, and he nods.

“Let's get out of here,” Jumin said, grasping her by the waist, leading her away from the area.

Reine nodded, eager to comply.  She made one last look behind her.

In a split second of decision, she pulled Jumin into a crouch, using what she had practiced in her countless hours of training.

BANG

Jumin's eyes went wide as splashes of red bloomed on his grey inner shirt. He looked up and saw her white shirt stained with red.

Reine!

 


 

Ae Cha looked at both twins in disbelief. This was not how she was used to being spoken about regarding her own actions. It both confused, and warmed her heart at the same time. She wanted to lie to create innocence, but she couldn’t. Not to these twins.

“I-I um… well… some of the more aggressive guys come up to me all the time saying they’re my fan,” Ae Cha revealed. She lowered her gaze, feeling ashamed of a lot of the decisions she’s made to get herself out of trouble. “I’m used to it.”

The girl didn’t understand the twin’s concerns of her own actions, however, the girl felt herself becoming guilty of her own actions. Before she could say anything else, A familiar tone echoed from the other room, perking up Ae Cha’s ears.  It was her phone.

Her phone was ringing.

She pushed the blankets off of her leg, and went for her phone in the other room. She was delighted to see both her phone, and her glasses sitting on a desk. She reached for her glasses and her phone simultaneously.  The caller ID on the phone showed it was the hospital calling.

The hospital?

She pressed the green button and brought the phone to her ears, returning to the living room.

“Yeoboseyo?” Ae Cha answered, twirling a free strand of her hair idly. It was a nurse on the other end of the line.  “Yes, this is her… Yes. Yes. Wait, what ?! Okay, I’ll be there shortly.” .

“Reine’s hurt,” Ae Cha announced, staring at her phone as it returned to the home page. .  She needed a way to get to Reine, and fast. She flipped through pages on her phone to return to her web browser.

“Where are we located? I need to find the nearest train station so I can go,” Ae Cha spoke out loud, stopping when when recognizing she  missed a text message notification.

What’s this? She flipped to her messages and clicked.  Her eyes grew wide reading the sender name. Shocked, the girl dropped her phone.

[New Message Received: 1 Unread]

[From: Sim Yeong-ho]

“Sae-Sae-Saeran…” she stammered, and pointed to her phone at her feet. The color immediately drained from her face, her stomach knotted with fear.

Saeran quickly went to where Ae Cha stood as soon as he saw all color drain from her face. He looked at the phone by her feet and bent to pick it up.  The moment he saw the sender, he wrapped his arm around Ae Cha's shoulders and raised his hand to rest at the back of her head, letting her hide in his chest.

He then gave a look at Saeyoung, who immediately understood that something was up. Saeran hands over Ae Cha's phone to Saeyoung, then he turns to pet Ae Cha's head.

“Saeyoung will find him for us,” Saeran spoke in a low voice. “For now let's go see your sister.”

Chapter Text

Saeyoung, with Ae Cha’s phone in hand, whistled as he casually strolled down the hallway, pausing when confronted by a set of steel doors with a digital face recognition system at the end of the hall.  The system immediately recognized his presence and began its scan.

Access Granted. Welcome, Saeyoung Choi.

The steel doors slid open, revealing the master operations room. It was a stark contrast from the living quarters from the other end of the house. The room’s focal point are the the computer workstations.  A large board also set at the other end of the room with various hacking algorithms pinned. Sectioned off from the rest of the room was a rest area filled with very basic necessities such as a cot, a refrigerator, and bathroom.

Saeyoung approached the furthest workstation where multiple plug-ins laid astray on the desk He could easily train Sim Yeong-ho’s location with his laptop, however, he had a nagging suspicion there were more clues of Lee Han-sol on the girl’s phone.

He carefully plugged Ae Cha’s phone into an available USB port, and sat down at the workstation. With a handful of keystrokes, he began a data transfer of everything on Ae Cha’s phone. Every place the phone has traveled since activation, every photo she snapped, every video she recorded, every text message,and every phone call in call history.

He warned phone companies how easily obtainable data could be recovered on devices as a kind gesture, however, his advice always fell on deaf ears. It probably didn’t help his “feedback” was always sent anonymously.

[DATA TRANSFER START]

[DATA TRANSFER COMPLETE]

“Jackpot!” Saeyoung exclaimed, opening multiple folders filled with data on every monitor. Filled with Ae Cha’s life.

He partially regretted prying into the girl’s personal life like this, but with such a large risk dangling over the RFA, the sisters, and his own family he needed to cover every base for everyone’s safety. It’s true hackers are like cockroaches. They eventually get into everything.

There was a lot of GPS data on the phone since activation three years ago. The timestamp led him to believe the phone was activated only a month before Han Sol Lee’s disappearance. His heart skipped a beat upon finding the photos of Ae Cha and her Father.

The resemblance in the sisters became clear. They both carried the same facial features of their father.  He admired her then naturally milk-chocolate wavy hair, and the full view of her beautiful golden-hazel eyes without glasses. Her presence in these photos felt breathtaking natural, and full of life….

Just like he witnessed her earlier.

And then he viewed Ae Cha build up a wall around her with each photo. His heart broke witnessing Ae Cha’s transformation into something so fake. He hated how unnatural it felt. Someone so pretty shouldn’t let the world see them like this.

His heart broke even further looking at her search history. Topics included How to commit suicide painlessly, and Lee Ae-Cha slut. “Ae Chan…” he murmured, holding back the urge to cry. As soon as he would see her again, he needed to hug her.

All he needed was time for him and his brother to help Ae Cha tear down her walls just like he had to do with his own brother.

Before finishing up, and writing himself a note to make some much needed “modifications” to Ae Cha’s phone, a deleted audio file caught his eye. It was larger than the others, and was dated the day the operation to rescue Saeran from Mint Eye.

Saeyoung’s eyebrow raised in suspicion. What’s this? The same nagging feeling from earlier returned, and he knew he had to listen.

The first attempt of playing the audio file failed due to it being heavily corrupted. Someone must have tried to remove it on their own. After a half hour, he was able to repair the file enough for him to read an audio file transcript of the recording.

[AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT BEGIN]

[INAUDIBLE NOISE]

VOICE 1: Sir, our operations in Seoul are compromised. Saeran Choi and The Savior have been taken.

VOICE 2: I’ll reach out to our other locations. Stay with the gir--

VOICE 1: Sir, there’s one more thing.

VOICE 2: Go ahead.

VOICE 1: Our technology specialists have successfully extracted a duplicate code of the RFA messenger application. We could use it for our mission going forward.

VOICE 2: Excellent.

VOICE 1: Sir, the girl’s awake.

VOICE 2: Little whores should do what they’re told. Sedate he--

[BATTERY LOW - AUDIO FILE TRANSCRIPT END]

 

“What!?” Saeyoung’s eyes widened in disbelief. He read through the audio transcript again. The only way they could have stolen his code would have been if a device with the RFA Messenger app was taken. Anger slowly built up, his eyes darkening, and his jaw clenched tightly.

There was going to be Hell to pay.

“Fucking bastards.”


 

His hands shook as he frantically dialed Jaehee’s number. Try as he might, he couldn't keep his adrenaline down; he kept pacing back and forth outside the ER operating room.

He was a grim sight to see.  His shirt, his face and his arms were stained red.  His coat had been discarded, and his bloody hands left stains on the screen of his phone as he tried to dial.

Jumin almost dropped his phone when it started ringing, and thank God Jaehee had the sense to call him so he wouldn't have to dial.

Why was I dialing anyway when I could have found her number in my call logs?

He pressed the green button on the phone and placed it against his ear. “Jaehee. Good that you called. Please cancel everything I have for today.”

“You're in no position to think about work! Are you all right?! ” Jaehee almost screamed at the other end of the line. “We received a distress signal from Reine and--”

“I'm fine,” he replied too calmly, and he mentally cursed at the beeping sound coming from within the operating room. “Someone from the fleet tried to kill me. I want every single one of them re-evaluated, background checked, and if you need to hire Saeyoung to do it then do it, ” he spoke with a calm yet very threatening tone.

What?! ” Jaehee exclaimed, “Who is it? Where is he?!”

“Ah,” he muttered, completely ignoring her question. “tell Saeyoung to prioritize investigation on Sim Yeong-Ho ,” he ordered, his tone dangerously low.

“The R&D executive? What about him? Did he--?!” Jaehee asked, confused.

Jumin clenches his jaw in an attempt to douse the burning rage in his chest.  “He’s affiliated with Mint Eye.”

“Mint Eye?!” Jaehee gasped. “W-what...M-Mr. Han, isn't it--”

“I was about to call you about it this morning when one of the bodyguards decided to try to kill me,” he said. “It's a long story, but I want to know how many of these roaches are in my company and I want them exterminated.  I don't care how--”

Beeeeeeeeeeeee--

Jumin's eyes widened as he heard the steady, high-pitched beep from the heart rate monitor inside the room.  

It was not stopping.

“No…”

He could no longer hear Jaehee's voice that was repeatedly calling for his name over the phone. All his thoughts and consciousness stopped as the sound of a flatline flooded his ears.


 

“Uuwaaa~! Amazing!” Ae Cha’s eyes sparkled gazing out the sport’s car window. It wasn’t just any sports car… it was a W Motors Lykan Hypersport; a car so rare there are only seven known manufactured in the world.

This was one of the handfuls of times the girl has ridden in a vehicle since her father’s passing. The streets of Korea looked entirely different from a passenger’s side perspective, and it was always exciting for Ae Cha to experience this type of travel, and it excited her.

“I should take a picture of thi-- Oh...that’s right,” the girl sighed, remembering her phone was back at Saeyoung’s home. After their concern from her photos, she dreaded the endless possibility of topics awaiting her.


She acknowledged the twins had every right to be concerned. For years she concealed her true self to everyone. Years of being told she had no one else in the world other than Sim Yeong-ho did their toll, and she didn’t know who she was anymore.

Who was Ae Cha Lee? Was she the former KPOP trainee starlet winning over the hearts of thousands or was she the sweet and innocent foreigner who frequented tea shops. Perhaps she was Arlee… the girl who drank and danced her pain away.

But not anymore. She has a chance to rebuild her life without Sim Yeong-ho no longer controlling her. The girl wanted to know who she was for her new life.  

She faced Saeran in the driver’s side seat, observing how deep in thought he appeared. She didn’t understand the fleeting feeling in her chest the longer she spent with the twins. Although Ae Cha has spent the most time with Saeran at this point, she couldn’t help but think of Saeyoung.

What was this feeling?

Saeran glanced over the girl surprised to see her staring at him, before acknowledging to himself how quiet the trip has been. He was too distracted from the feeling of rage building up inside of him. Saeyoung must have found something very unpleasant during his trace. When he got the time he would reach out to his twin to find out what was wrong.

“You can turn something on if you’d like,” Saeran suggested, nodding toward the radio. His tone fell monotone, and it worried Ae Cha she embarrassed him by staring at him for so long.  He recognized the doubt on Ae Cha’s face and cursed at himself under his breath.

“I’m sorry,” he sighed and placed his hand Ae Cha’s lap. “My idiot brother is in a bad mood,” He confessed.

“Really? How do you know?” Ae Cha asked. She gave him a confused look, glancing briefly at his hand now sitting on her lap. Her heart jumped out of her chest.

“We’re twins. I can’t explain it,” Saeran answered. “You don’t realize it yet, but you and Reine have a similar connection. The longer you’re together, you’ll be able to recognize when your blood speaks to each other.”

“It’s a shame I can’t yet...,” Ae Cha admitted, turning to face the window again. She dreaded visiting the hospital because something was unsettling about it all. She worried about her sister.

“What do you think happened?” Ae Cha asked a few moments later. They were fast approaching the hospital.

“I don’t know, but, I’m going to be honest with you…” Saeran sighed again, and hesitated in answering. He’s seen scenarios like what happened to play out before, and it wasn’t good. He already prepared himself for the worst case scenario for Ae Cha’s sake.

“I believe she was targeted.”

“Targeted?!” Ae Cha’s eyes widened as the words Saeran spoke sunk in. Her stomach knotted at the mere suggestion Reine could have been targeted. But who would target her…?

It couldn’t have been because of him , would it?

She wanted to jump out of the car seat as the car came to a complete stop in the hospital parking lot and run for her sister. Each second the car took to disengage and unlock was another second lost. She nearly leaped out of her seat when Saeran opened the car door.

Without a saying a  word, she reached for Saeran’s hand and hurried inside to the hospital entrance. Her heart pounded the closer the duo approached the sliding doors.  She had to see Reine.


Please be okay.

Chapter Text

“No…”

Jumin's thoughts halted to a complete stop. He felt his heart sink for every second that passed. The steady beep flooded his ears and his body went rigid as he unconsciously drew the phone away from his ear.

No. No. No!

For the first time in his life, he couldn't think of anything but her.  Her red hair.  Her eyes.  Her stoic expression.

Her voice.

BANG

In a split second, it felt like his world was being shaken to the core. A splash of red bloomed on her white shirt, and he couldn't do anything but to watch in horror.

He lifted his gaze toward her eyes, expecting to see pain, but all he saw was…

Softness.

Time seemed to have slowed as she blinked oh so softly, and a bittersweet smile was painted on her face.

In those precious seconds, she smiled at him.

He barely heard the multiple footsteps that surrounded them as he watched her close her eyes, her smile still painted on her face and lost her balance.  He unconsciously reached out to her, and caught her in his arms.

He was starting to hear voices, but cohesiveness was drowned by the ragged gasp that escaped from her beautiful lips, and the warmth that dripped on his hands.

“Reine…” he whispered as he watched her limp form that laid in his arms. Her hair came undone and cascaded down to frame her face.

“Mr. Han,” he heard a voice call him. “Are you hurt?”

“He's been restrained and will be taken into custody.”

None of it mattered. He felt pure anguish wash over him as the reality of what happened finally found its way into his mind.

“Reine,” he called out, louder this time.

She didn't move.

 


 

“Reine…” he called out once more, amidst the shrill beep of the heart rate monitor.

He has to get to her.

He needs to see her.

“Reine!” He heard his own voice shout out loud, and he unconsciously went straight to open the operating room door.

The sight of her lying on the hospital bed terrified him.  She laid there, limp and unmoving, save for the tiny jerks her body made as two hands desperately pumped on her chest.

So many tubes .  

So much blood.

“Sir, this is a sterile environment, please leave!” One of the people inside the room tried to stop him, but he paid him no heed.  He needs to reach her!

“Reine!” he called out desperately.

“Mr. Han, please calm down,” another person tried to push him back out the door.

Please…

“Reine...please!”

--eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.  Beep-beep.  Beep-beep…

“She's back,” someone in the room announced.

That, at that point, was the sweetest sound he could have heard.


 

// YeongSo has entered the chatroom //

[YeongSo]: Someone needs to give me a fucking explanation.  Now.

[YeongSo]: What the fuck happened?

[CRei]: Sir, the operation experienced an unexpected event.

[YeongSo]: No shit. Junghee sacrificed himself foolishly for our mission.

[DMor]: An alert has been sent out to all operatives to stay vigilant. Two of our key  investors are requesting hourly updates.

[YeongSo]: Idiots. I’m surrounded by idiots.  The Savior will not be pleased.

[CRei]: Sir, we just received word the younger girl has been spotted.

[YeongSo]:  Interesting. Do we have a location?

[CRei]: Yes, I’ll send you the coordinates now.

[YeongSo]: Send the coordinates to a team near the location and eliminate her. I’m tired of dealing with the little bitch.

[DMor]: What about the Chairman’s son?

[YeongSo]: I'm boarding my plane now. I will handle the rest when I return.

[CRei]: Yes, Sir.

[DMor]: Yes, Sir.

// YeongSo has left the chatroom //


 

“Miss Lee, follow us.”

When Ae Cha checked in at the hospital’s receptionist desk her surroundings blurred as she was escorted by two nurses to the trauma unit. Saeran stayed behind, leaving the girl on her own to make way towards the back.

The various voices, beeps, and sounds became disorientating. The entire experience felt surreal, almost out-of-body like.  The girl would have paid anything to close her eyes, and wake back up at the Choi residence where things were okay. Where Reine was okay.

She was lost in thought over how or why any of this could have happened. This woman who has barely been in her like not even forty-eight hours meant something to Ae Cha. Reine was the last trace of her father, and, she wanted to try to build a relationship with this woman.

So why did this have to happen now?

“We’re losing her!”

The panicked voice coming from the furthest trauma room snapped Ae Cha back to reality, punching her in the stomach. She froze in disbelief, hoping it was not her newfound sister. The nurses who were once escorting left Ae Cha behind, and hurried to the room.

It can’t be Reine.

A team of medical staff sprinted around the girl, her hair seamlessly floating in the direction the small team went.

No. I won’t believe it.

Unfortunately for Ae Cha, her fear turned real upon hearing a very familiar voice shouting from within the room.

“Reine… please!”

It was Jumin’s voice.

“No…” she mumbled, stumbling towards the trauma room. She was only a few steps away from the entrance, and she fought her fear with each stride she took. The closer she approached, a fiery rage ignited. How could the threads of fate which brought them together decide to take them away?

It wasn’t fair. How is this fucking fair?

“Miss, are you Reine Lee’s sister?” A male nurse from behind called out with a handful of papers clenched in his hand, startling Ae Cha. The girl quickly turned around, and nodded without making a sound. Her eyes wide with confusion.

“We need signatures so we can move her to the Intensive Care Unit!” The nurse stressed, gazing over Ae Cha’s shoulder into the trauma room.

Without complaining, Ae Cha on the request. She reached for a pen the nurse was holding, and scribbled her signature on every page. The nurse thanked her, and began to walk past her. When realizing the nurse was about to leave, Ae Cha reached for the nurse’s arm.

“Can I see her?” Ae Cha’s tone lowered, her voice cracking mid-sentence. What if this is the last time I will see Reine alive?

The nurse sighed, placing his hand on Ae Cha’s shoulder.  “No. Not until she’s stabilized,” he answered.

Two more nurses returned from the trauma room, and approached Ae Cha. One nurse took the paperwork the male nurse had and walked the other direction. The second nurse swiftly wrapped their arm around Ae Cha’s shoulder, and lead her to set of empty chairs in the trauma waiting room.

“We’ll keep you updated,” the nurse said before walking away. Ae Cha’s head lowered to the ground, watching the nurse walk away.

Ae Cha sat alone in the empty chairs, wondering if Saeran’s suspicion was true after all. Her eyes void of emotion as her cold heart shattered piece by piece. The more time she was left alone to her thoughts, the further she fell into a hole of guilt and regret.

 


 

Beep-beep. Beep-beep.

Jumin stood outside of the operating room and felt all adrenaline drain from his body. He almost slumped as he laid his back against the wall. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh.

She's alive.

He suddenly became aware of the state he was in. His shirt was all bloody, and his hands were covered in it as well.

He stared closely on the rivulets of blood on his arms that ran all the way to his elbows, and he looked at his phone and Jaehee was still on the phone.

“Jaehee.”

There was a moment of silence. At last, Jaehee spoke. “S-sorry, I was a bit taken aback. Are you all right? I was sent a report that Reine was hurt--”

“Book me a room in any hotel in walking distance from Sunrise Hospital,” he commanded, resuming his usual businesslike tone. “Bring me an extra change of clothes.”

“Miss, are you Reine Lee’s sister?”

Jumin turned reflexively at the mention of Reine's name, and saw the smaller girl speaking with one of the nurses.

Ae Cha.

Without letting the smaller girl out of his sight, he spoke over the phone once again. “Reine...Reine got shot. Protecting me. I…” his voice trailed off, and the unfamiliar pang of guilt crept into his chest. “I was supposed to protect her.”

“Mr. Han,” Jaehee spoke softly. “Just...stay. Stay by her. That's the best we can do for now. I'll be coming in fifteen minutes,” she said, “unless there's something else you want done?”

“No, Assistant Kang. Nothing else. I'll expect you, then.”

He watched as Ae Cha was asked to sit on one of the chairs, and saw Saeran approach her as well. Saeran wrapped his arm around her shoulder to console her, and he felt a pinch in his heart as he watched her wide eyes brimming with tears.

Jumin felt his fists unconsciously clench as he swore under his breath that we will do everything in his power to get rid of this filth called Mint Eye.


 

 

“She’s stable now,” Jaehee quietly spoke as Jumin sat on one of the chairs.

“What did the doctor say?” he inquired.

Jaehee gave a sigh. “The bullet almost went through her body, and it slightly grazed her liver. She also lost a lot of blood,” she explained while Jumin sat up, his eyes fixed on the doors of the Intensive Care Unit.

“She's lucky to have survived,” she said as she set her eyes on the same set of doors where Jumin had his eyes on.

Jumin closed his eyes and felt the searing pain in his chest. Jaehee took note of this, and laid a hand on his arm.

“Mr. Han...I know you care about her,” Jaehee said with a soft smile. “As much as possible, I'd rather have you not see her in such a state.”

Jumin's eyebrows furrowed. “No,” he replied. “I need to be here with her. This is...the least I could do.”

“I knew you'd say that,” she said with a sigh. “But before you go in there, I just want to tell you that I have had contact with Vanderwood. He's good with hiring the twins, and Saeyoung is in the middle of digging up information as we speak.”

Jumin nodded. “Good. What about the guards?”

“Background investigations are ongoing,” she replied. “Those who are cleared have been reinstated to their posts.”

“That should be enough,” he said.

“But Mr. Han,” Jaehee spoke with a tinge of worry in her voice. “It's quite a shock to know about Reine's family. How come Saeyoung missed it?”

“Someone has been deliberately manipulating those two,” he answered. “They have been pawns in this grand scheme that Rika’s followers have orchestrated.”

“Rika…” Jaehee’s voice trailed off as she allowed her thoughts to wander. “How...how are you dealing with this? I mean, you have been close,” she asked.

Have been seems to be the right term,” he said. “I'm not so sure anymore.”

Jumin wanted the discussion to end. Remembering how Rika was and how she used to move his heart gave a sour taste in his mouth. He's seeing the same pattern as Saeyoung and Saeran with the two sisters--and no matter how much anybody wants to explain why she did it, this is clearly deliberate.

I wonder how many more lives she has orchestrated to ruin?

He shook his head and willed his thoughts back to the situation at hand. He found himself standing in front of the door, and somehow he felt afraid . He paused for a moment, and took a deep breath.

Once he pushed the doors open, he felt as if air was knocked out of his lungs.

She laid there, motionless, amidst the tubes and monitors and all the ghastly things attached to her to keep her alive.  Her red hair is all disheveled, and she was just so pale.

The steady beeping of the heart rate monitor filled his ears. She was so still that this constant beeping and the slow rising and falling of her chest were the only indications that she was still alive.

For the second time in his life, he watched helplessly as the ones he cared about were robbed from his grasp, but this time, he swore to put up a hell of a fight.

He reached out his hand to touch hers, but stopped midway, afraid that she might fade to nothing if he did.

He clenched his teeth and swallowed hard, and went to stand right beside her.  He finally mustered the courage to lift his hand once more, and laid it on top of hers.

So cold.

She always had warm hands.

The ICU nurse turned to him and smiled. She was a small, middle-aged woman, and Jumin found it quite amazing how she remains a pleasant presence amidst all the sickness and death.

Jumin almost jumped when he suddenly felt movement under his hand. One of Reine's fingers oh so slightly curled against his thumb.

A small, minuscule movement...but enough to fill Jumin with such happiness.

She's here. She with me.

“Reine,” he spoke as he tried his best to swallow his tears. “It's me.”

There was no movement, no sound, but Jumin closed his eyes and ran his thumb over her hand gently.

“l’ll take care of everything...please...rest and be better,” he said softly.

He kept idly running his thumb at the back of her hand.  “I'm... I'm so sorry,” he heard his voice break.

“Come back…

He instinctively turned his head when he heard the door open, revealing Ae Cha, a pained expression on her face.  Jumin felt the pangs of guilt once more, and he let Reine's hand go.  He gave Ae Cha a nod, and stepped aside to let her spend some time with her sister.

Ae Cha silently walked past Jumin, diverting her glance toward the floor when their eyes met. Words could not express the range of turmoil going in her chest. She hated being helpless, waiting for answers more of the day. It’s been a tiresome day of what-ifs and emergency surgeries. The sun has set again, leaving darkness to cover the autumn Korean sky

Earlier in the day after the last surgery was performed a male surgeon in full scrubs appeared from out of the surgery center and introduced himself to Ae Cha

“It’s a miracle she survived. She’ll have a long road to recovery.”

Reine coded two more times before nightfall only to fight her way back to life, prolonging the time Ae Cha would be allowed to visit. Thankfully, before the night was over, Ae Cha was finally granted time to see finally see her sister when Reine stabilized. It wasn’t much time, only fifteen minutes, but the nurses promised the younger sister she could visit longer tomorrow pending no major complications developing overnight.

The sight of Reine’s lifeless body hooked up to so many machines and tubes would be forever etched into Ae Cha’s mind as she approached, pulling a chair close to the hospital bed. She sat down in the chair, and folded her arms on the bed rails to create a resting spot for her head. She stayed silent, waiting for the nurse to finish writing chart notes.

“This isn’t fair , you know,” Ae Cha whispered to Reine when the attending nurse finally exited the room. She knew she wouldn’t get a response, but yet, the longer the room stayed quiet the more anger she felt at the entire situation.

“You can’t just stumble into my life and then try to die!”, she criticized, fighting back tears like she has all day.

“I won’t forgive you if you leave.”

Chapter Text

Jumin stood in the waiting area outside of the Intensive Care Unit, his back leaning on the wall while his arms crossed his chest.

He just received a call from his father. Regardless of what happened today, he kept the events that happened a secret--his father does not have to get involved in the mess that is RFA and Mint Eye.

The cogs in his mind started turning after Reine had stabilized.  There are several things he must deal with.

First, security of the RFA. He trusts Jaehee on getting this done and explaining to Zen and Yoosung about what exactly happened for the past 72 hours, and to get them the security they need.

Second, the investigation of the fleet. If anyone else is found dealing with Mint Eye, he needs to find a way to restrain them. However, without concrete evidence he cannot restrict their freedom to move about--but at least they won't be in C&R.

Third, Mint Eye itself. Capturing Sim Yeong-Ho would be the pivotal part; this bastard needs to be removed from C&R’s executive branch at all costs. He clenched his fists in thoughts of the man.

Jumin was suddenly pulled from his thoughts as the ICU door opened, and expectedly, it revealed Ae Cha, her gaze turned to the ground but her hands were curled in small fists.

“This is my fault. I’m so… I’m so sorry,” Ae Cha scowled, fully aware Jumin was in front of her. Her hair concealed the frustration building in her face. Little emotion remained in Ae Cha’s voice. I’m so tired of being so useless.

“If I only came home five minutes sooner three years ago none of this would have happened, you wouldn’t have to be burdened with my family.”

Jumin was surprised with the sudden apology coming from the girl. He felt his heart clench and his eyes reflected guilt and pain. She had only spent hours with her newfound family, only to be taken away again…

He closed his eyes, trying to lock away the pain and regret. Seeing her before him, confused and hurt, and blaming herself for becoming victim to the poison that Rika had wrought he couldn't help but reach out to her.

He placed his hand on Ae Cha's shoulder gently. “It's not your fault. Nobody wanted this to happen,” he shifted his gaze to her, to the brown hair on top of her head. “Let us try to focus on what can be done for now. You did a good job getting here just in time for Reine to get the care she needed. Let me take care of the unimportant things.”

He let out a sigh. His demeanor might still be the same businesslike Jumin that everyone knew, but his eyes were pools of anger.

“I...need to apologize to you as well,” he said in a quiet voice. “She...things turned out like this because she protected me . I was supposed to be the one to protect her,” his other hand clenched into a tight fist, his body barely able to contain all the anger he felt. “I owe her my life.  And I swear , I'll give everything in my power to rid us all of this threat.”

He started to shiver. All this pain, anger, and regret was starting to manifest itself physically, and he had to turn away, else Ae Cha would see the anguish in his eyes.

Ae Cha lifted her head, and glared at Jumin after he turned away from her. She felt offended from Jumin’s unintentional disregard of her ability to help.  “Why won’t anyone ask me to help?,” she wondered in her mind.

Her eyes flickered dangerously behind her rose-colored glasses, contemplating ways she could get rid of the threat on her own…

… Even if it meant sacrificing herself .

Ae Cha attempted to sound grateful for Jumin’s assistance and strained out a sugar-coated “Thank you.”  She side-stepped an approaching nurse entering Reine’s hospital room, and leaned against the wall. After making herself somewhat comfortable in that specific standing position, she crossed her arms and silently the mix of hospital staff, patients, and visitors traffic in a separate hallway down the hall.

Saeran noticed the tension between the two, but had to put that aside when he felt his phone vibrate in his pants pocket. His eyebrows raised slightly when he noticed Saeyoung's name on the caller ID.

“Hyung,” he answered.

“Saeran,” Saeyoung voice rang from the receiver, and from the tone of his voice, Saeran felt himself tense.

“Get Ae Chan out of there. Now.

Saeran learned not to question his brother when he brought up that tone. Despite his misgivings, Saeran had learned how competent his brother was when it mattered, and this time was no different.

“I've contacted Jaehee to get more guards to protect Reine and Jumin in the hospital. Jumin can thank me later,” he said in a foreboding tone. “Get out of there!”

Saeran ended the call immediately and abruptly took Ae Cha by her arm.

He turned to Jumin. “Stay here and don't go anywhere. Saeyoung contacted me. He's found something.”

Jumin’s expression turned darker but he nodded. “Let me know if you need anything.”

With a quick nod, Saeran turned toward the exit, taking Ae Cha with him. “Let's go.”

“Huh? What’s wrong?” Ae Cha’s voice trailed behind as she was briskly lead away from Reine’s hospital room.

Saeran did not respond. He wore a determined expression as he tried to gently take her out of the building. The more time she spends here, the more chances of them succeeding in taking them all out at the same time, innocents included.

Separate them , Saeyoung ordered.

He knew he didn't have time. Ae Cha had been asking him repeatedly what is going on, but he paid her no heed. He can apologize later.

He shifted his hold on her and placed his arm around her shoulders as soon as they arrived at the sliding doors. He placed her slightly in front of him, and made sure his broader shoulders would cover anything that would come from behind.

He pulled her closer against him and almost half-dragged her despite her questions and protests. His heart was beating frantically in his chest as they approached the open space of the hospital's parking lot. His eyes darted nervously on every possible direction, scanning for any immediate threat.

He took the car keys from his pocket and pressed on the switch to open the car doors.

“Get in the car. Now.” He ordered.

“But--” Ae Cha hesitated, fretting over Saeran’s demands. The brisk cold air encompassing them created an unnerving ambiance. A chill went down her spine, and she swore she heard something move in the parking lot. She turned to glance in the opposition direction.  There was nothing but silence.

Is someone watching me ?

A sense of dread wafted her, and the growing uneasiness made her finally sit in the passenger's side seat.

Saeran immediately slammed the door shut and sprinted toward the driver's side, and ignited the engine. He was already shifting gears as he closed the door, his every movement denoted a sense of emergency.

Ae Cha kept calling his name, demanding an explanation. He ignored her as his mind and senses were heightened for detecting threat.

“Saeran? Saeran! Please don’t ignore me!”

A loud bang was heard from the distance and Saeran instinctively grabbed Ae Cha’s head and pushed downward.

“Duck!”

The bullet ricocheted off the door. Thankfully, all of Saeyoung's cars have been bulletproofed. However, Saeran is unsure how many of them are pursuing the pair, and he knew from past experiences with Mint Eye that that gunshot will not be the last.

He finally made the turn to get into the freeway. He stepped on the gas and glanced at the rearview mirror to see who exactly was pursuing them.

A black sportscar tailed the pair, and from what Saeran could see, there were four men inside the vehicle--three gunners and a getaway. In Mint Eye, they call these units a Quad --a team of four with one very specific order.

To kill.

Saeran gritted his teeth and swerved through the slower cars, deftly avoiding slower vehicles. Sending a Quad was very bad news indeed; Jumin’s foot soldiers were nothing compared to these people. These are especially trained men who will not stop pursuing their targets no matter who lived or died in their units. The only effective way to stop a Quad is to get rid of them altogether.

Another gunshot was heard and Saeran cursed under his breath, swerving the car to the right in an attempt to avoid the bullet. It hit the rear window, resulting in a nasty crack, but the window was not broken altogether.

“Shit,” he muttered. It will only be a matter of time when they will finally to break the glass.

He needs to get rid of them. But having Ae Cha with him, he needs to at least get her to base.

His phone vibrated in his pants pocket and he didn't have to glance to know who it was when he picked it up.

“We're kind of busy right now--”

Another gunshot and the glass finally shattered, and Ae Cha screamed in surprise. He cursed under his breath.

“Saeran! What's happening?!”

“What do you think ?!”

Another gunshot was fired and he deftly drove the car with one hand on the wheel and another on the phone.

“I've found you! Now let's get them off your tail--”

Saeran ended the call and tossed his phone at the backseat.  There were no cars before them and this was a serious problem.

No cars meant no cover. It is a long stretch of road that goes straight for miles, so there is no chance of him out-maneuvering their pursuers.

He needs to fight back.

Saeran placed the car on automatic cruise and grabbed Ae Cha’s hand. “Take the wheel!”

Ae Cha felt a knot form her throat at the sudden request, her eyes widening in panic. She’s never driven a sports car before. Weren’t high speed chases only for action movies?

This stuff only happens in movies, right?

In a split second before another gunshot rang, she bit her lower lip, causing it to accidentally bleed. She was living in a real life action thriller. Unbelievable.

But the girl needed to try or they would die.

She took a deep breath and slid into the driver’s side seat, determined to get them both out alive. Her small stature and flexibility made it easy for her to switch places with Saeran as she pulled herself to the steering wheel. Once she got herself situated into the seat, her eyes locked on the speedometer. 160 km/h!?

“Oh my God! ,” she mumbled, securing her hands tightly to the wheel.

Saeran managed to get Ae Cha into the driver's seat and make his way to the back seat. A bullet whizzed past his head and he nervously glanced at Ae Cha, and the bullet only managed to nick the windshield. He had no time to express his relief as he lifted the backseat up and under it revealed a long, black McMillan M1A rifle. He immediately picked it up and loaded the magazine, then placed the muzzle on the car’s rear.

Static could be heard from the radio, and Saeran rolled his eyes at how persistent his brother was.

“Saeran!” Saeyoung's voice was suddenly heard from the radio, “Don't let them take Ae Chan!”

“What do you think I'm doing? Negotiating? ” He then fires his first shot, and a screeching sound was heard briefly from their pursuants’ car.

Ae Cha looked at the radio, surprised to hear the familiar voice.“Saeyoung?!”

“Hello babycakes!”   Saeyoung playfully replied. “Ooooh I see you're driving! Good! Now let's try to calm down and let Saeran deal with the bad guys! I'll tell you where to go!”

Thoughts raced through her mind, and she found herself questioning everything she thought she knew in life. She sat in disbelief, imagining how the current situation has them in a scene straight out of an action movie…

… But unlike the movies, this was real. Her and Saeran were in grave danger. This could be her only chance to prove herself once and for all.

“Okay!” she nodded, and took another deep breath to calm herself. I can do this.

She stopped herself from speaking again upon realizing her hair was whipping her face. A quick peek to the rear view mirror confirmed the windshield has shattered.

“Fuck. When did the windshield break?!,” She murmured under her breath as the car passed a van.

There was more upcoming traffic, and the girl knew knew her long hair would become problematic if she maneuvered for a while. Ae Cha released her grip off of the steering wheel and shouted “One moment!” as she yanked out her hair tie.

It was only a matter of seconds with her alternating her hands that she was able to put her hair up in a messy pony tail. Much better.

“Alright! Now I’m ready,” Ae Cha hollered. The tone of her voice sounded far more confident.

“Saeyoung, guide me.”

“You got it, cutie!”

Saeran shot another round from the rifle, and he made a satisfied smirk as he knows he had hit one of the four. He was thankful for Ae Cha’s small stature as he didn't have to worry too much about her getting hit with her head sticking too high.

He ducked as another shot was fired at them, but it landed on the roof, resulting it to just ricochet off.

“In 800 meters, stay to the right to take the next exit.” Saeyoung spoke through the radio, mimicking the female GPS voice.

Ae Cha could help but giggle at the older twin.  Even with high stakes, she appreciated the older twin lightening the mood to help her relax in the situation they were in.

“Maybe they should hire you to do the voices, Saeyoung,” Ae Cha cooed.

Saeran scoffed, and made another shot. “Really, Saeyoung?”

A rain of bullets started to hit the car. They finally decided to take out the bad boys , Saeran mused, as he watched with amusement since those automatic rifles are for mid-range shoots only.

“Ae Cha, step on the gas.”

“Huh?” Ae Cha was stunned from Saeran’s request. The exit was quickly approaching them. There was no way they could make the exit safely.

“But we're nearing the exit!” Ae Cha responded.

Saeran cursed as the next car started to gain on them. Ae Cha needed to slow down to make the turn. A bullet whizzed past once more and Saeran fired back, aiming at the car’s tires.

The driver seemed to have noticed this and he deftly avoided the shot, the bullet hitting the ground below.

“Come on,” he repeated to himself, carefully aiming at the second gunner.

Ae Cha blew a puff of air out of her nose at their predicament. A car chase, in the middle of the night, and she was the getaway driver?  To make matters worse, the black sports car behind them was quickly approaching them again.

The only way for them to get out would be to do something she’s only done in video games. She had no choice.

She had to try.

“Hold on!” Ae Cha warned, and shifted the car out of cruise control. The car jerked as she stomped on the accelerator. The engine whined while the speed of the vehicle increased.

160 km/h… 165 km/h…

Ae Cha shifted the car into neutral,released her foot off of the accelerator, and gently tapped the brake repeatedly while the car got off the freeway and onto the exit.  

Much to her surprise, she was drifting the car.

“Woaaah!” Ae Cha bit the inside of her mouth, struggling for control of the steering wheel. One wrong move and they would fly off of the exit ramp and hit oncoming traffic.

The car managed to make it through the loop without any damage. Ae Cha, impressed with herself, pumped her fist with excitement to celebrate. “A-ha! I di-- Oh shit!

The small victory ended abruptly when she forgot she was still in neutral, and almost slammed into a passing semi-truck on the freeway.  The horn on the semi-truck startled her, causing her to jerk the wheel. The car slid briefly into the shoulder before Ae Cha gained control of the vehicle again.

“Sorry!”

Ae Cha made the turn without warning, almost making Saeran fall over. He quickly regained his balance, and glanced over at Ae Cha with a look of wonder in his eyes.

He was pulled from his thoughts when he heard screeching from a distance, and he turned to the rear end of the car with his rifle at the ready once more. He fired three shots, each of it landing on the enemy car’s windshield, effectively shattering it.

“That was sooo cool, Ae Chan!” Saeyoung spoke on the radio.

“It kind of excites me to see my babe being driven by such a cutie...sitting on my seat, too!”

Saeran glanced to his side. “Of course. It's the driver's seat , you moron,” he commented, and fired another round, and he finally hit another of the four gunmen.

Two left. Saeran glanced slightly at the spare magazine. It'll be a matter of time until they catch up, or kill them, whichever comes first. There's only one spare magazine left, and two more from the Quad to kill.

Ae Cha sped through the highway, and thankfully she seemed to be quite masterful behind the wheel. He took a couple of seconds to realize where they were headed.

“Saeyoung,” Saeran called out, “where the hell are you leading us to? This road leads to the bay--”

“Exactly.”

He turned to check the road forward and noted the drawbridge in a few hundred meters away.

“Saeyoung you--”

“Ae Chan, listen carefully. You're to cross that drawbridge ahead.”

“I’m going to cross what ?!” Panic riddled Ae Cha’s voice. Her eyes widened at the request coming from the radio.

Chapter Text

A bullet whizzed past once more and Saeran was pulled back to being rear guard. This did not stop him from reprimanding his brother, though. “What the fuck are you thinking?!” Then he made another shot, which hit one of the side mirrors of their pursuants’ car.

As they neared the bay area, they heard the warning siren of the bridge being drawn.

“You must get past the bridge!” Saeyoung's voice urged over the radio.

Ae Cha’s heart pounded as the car quickly approached the bridge. Adrenaline kicking in made it impossible for her to refuse Saeyoung’s pleading. She needed to get them over the bridge.

Oddly enough, the girl found comfort knowing if she died, at least it wouldn’t be in vain.

The warning siren sounded again, and Ae Cha’s knew time was running out. She stomped on the accelerator again. The car’s engine roared up as the speed increased.

165 km/h… 175 km/h … 180 km/h … 190 km/h…

The car hit the beginning of the bridge hard, jarring Saeran and Ae Cha from their seats. When the car began its steady climb up they both knew there was no turning back now.  

195 km/h… 200 km/h… 220 km/h… 240 km/h…

The ascent became deeper and the the road turned into a very steep uphill climb. The car struggled with the climb as they continued to go up higher and higher.

Saeran's mind was already searching for ways on how they would survive this, in case they fall. However, no matter how much he wants to stay rational, he felt his heart constrict as he worried for Ae Cha until the last minute.

“Shit. Shit. Shit!” Ae Cha realized they weren’t going to make the jump at the current speed they were going. They needed to go faster. Another bullet narrowly whizzed by Ae Cha’s ear, and the girl winced feeling the heat tinge her earlobe.

Just a little more,” she gritted her teeth and put all of her weight on the accelerator. She refused to look out the window to see how far off the ground they were even as the aroma of fresh water filled her nostrils.

250 km/h… 270 km/h…

Ae Cha!” Saeran screamed.

Suddenly, the usual friction and bumps of a road under the tires were gone.  They finally approached the end of the drawbridge, and the car jumped off the edge. Ae Cha screamed at the sensation of losing control. The car seamlessly floated in the air, the city skyline sparkled in the distance below them.

Saeran's eyes were wide, fixated on the other end of the bridge, which was also steadily rising.  He gripped at the car seats hard, his rifle long forgotten and had fallen off the open rear window.  

After what seemed like forever, the road was suddenly right in front of them, and the car fell nose-first on the concrete, dislodging the front bumper off and it went under the tires, damaging the side fender, causing the car to spin out of control.

As if out of instinct, Ae Cha slammed on the brakes, and straightened the steering wheel to help stop the spinning. The car finally slammed on one of the bridge posts, but Ae Cha’s quick act had helped lessen the force of impact.

Collective screams from people behind them and a loud explosion told them that the pursuers did not make it across.

Saeran finally let out the breath he was holding the entire time. His eyes were wide, and his fingernails dug into the car seat, his muscles unmoving. He managed to check on Ae Cha, whose hands were stuck gripping tightly on the steering wheel.

Ae Cha’s breath shuddered from Saeran’s warm touch on her shoulder. She stared out the broken windshield in disbelief.   Did we make it ?

The adrenaline crash kicked in rather quickly for her, feeling like a ton of bricks buried the girl alive. Her strength faded away causing her to finally release the tight grip on the steering wheel. She fell backwards into the seat, resting her head calmly on the back of the seat.

She turned to look at Saeran, her eyes softening to a dewy glow. It didn’t matter to her she was covered in dirt and scrapes, or that her off-shoulder sweater had ripped sometime during the rough landing.

She got them across.

“W-We… we did it,” she panted, her golden-hazel eyes focused on Saeran.  She felt his breath calmly blowing into her face, and she became steadily aware of how close the two became. Disheveled strands of her wavy hair delicately framed Ae Cha’s face.

“Ae Chan...Saeran…” Saeyoung's voice was heard from the radio once again.

Saeran couldn't pay heed on Saeyoung's voice over the radio. His eyes were locked on Ae Cha’s golden hazel eyes, and he felt an unexplainable feeling of drowning in them. He can't explain what it was, and he found himself wordlessly amazed at how much strength was contained in such a small, fragile form…

...the next thing he knew he had his hand on her cheek, and he had his lips on hers.

Her eyes grew wide from the surprise, and Ae Cha lost herself in the very moment Saeran’s lips came crashing down on her. Were they dead? Why was Saeran kissing her? What happened to the car behind them?  All of these questions faded away the longer her lips stayed locked to his.

Her body was exhausted and craved for the attention, and so she gave in to what it desired. She tried to lift her arm hd gently place her hand on top of his, but her body refused. Her arms fell to her side, and she savored every moment of his embrace.  

He tasted so sweet. Like candy.

“...Saeran! Ae Cha! Can you hear me!”

Saeran gasped and immediately pulled away, his eyes wide as his mind tried to comprehend what just happened.

What...what did I do..?

He felt heat creep up on his cheeks as he felt his heartbeat drum wildly in his chest.

She's...so close...

“Answer me!”

“W... we're here. We're...fine,” he replied to his brother in a low, soft voice; but he couldn't seem to be able to take his eyes off hers, nor move an inch away. He could feel her breath against his lips, her wide eyes drowning everything away.

“A-Ae Cha…”

He needs to pull away. He is now being aware of the small crowd that the commotion had caused, but he couldn't help but stroke the apple of her cheek with his thumb.

“Saeran…?” Ae Cha’s lips grazed Saeran’s when she spoke. Her eyes sparkled with curiosity as she gazed into his green eyes.

He found himself delighted on how soft she was. His eyes widened in wonder, as if she was something he needed , someone he craved…

He felt heat flood his cheeks and found himself gently pulling away from her, his eyes downcast.

What...what is this feeling?

And why am I stuttering like an idiot?

There are more people now. He needs to take her away before the police arrive. Sirens could be heard off into the distance.

Take her home.

He scooped her in his arms and easily carried her small form to sit on the passenger's seat; after which he squeezed into the driver's seat from the back. Ae Cha stayed silent during the move, although the expression on her face could paint a picture worth a thousand words.

Although she was confused, the girl craved the growing sensation in her chest more. She wanted to be loved .

The girl recalled the lack of time she had to development relationships. Her contract with Much Music Entertainment banned her from forming any romantic relationships, and she was too scared to bring real friends into her life thanks to the agreement she made with Sim Yeong-ho.

But... thanks to threads of fate, two boys were suddenly thrown into her life and she had a chance of a new family with her sister Reine.

Reine, are you okay?

A tinge of concern creeped up again from the thought of her sister. Jumin promised to keep her sister safe, and Ae Cha needed for him to keep his word.

She gazed out of her window as Saeran shifted the car into reverse, pulling the hair tie from out of her head. Using both hands, her fingers tediously ruffled her locks, knocking stray glass & debris. The car rolled out towards the main road on an easy cruising speed, and she watched as her hair wind-whipped around her.

Perhaps all of this was a new start for the girl. She always joked about being dangerous, but tonight she felt like she really could be a threat.

Maybe she wasn’t so useless after all.  

As they sped along the highway, Saeran eventually reached out to take Ae Cha’s hand and place it on the shift stick, then placed his on top of hers. Ae Cha’s looked over to Saeran, who stared at the road in front of him. The pitch-blackness of the outdoors made it impossible for her to see his face entirely. The street lights drew his silhouette in the darkness.

Ae Cha came close to asking Saeran what was on his mind, but decided against it in fear of pushing him or Saeyoung away from her.  

Saeran cruised quietly into the night and hoped that the darkness hid the red tint on his cheeks.

Chapter Text

“...Saeran! Ae Cha! Can you hear me!”

“Answer me!”

He heard their screams over the radio, and the subsequent squealing of the car brakes and the crash that followed….

… But then everything went quiet, deafening Saeyoung’s ears.

His hands clenched the arm-rest of the computer chair, focused on the monitor dedicated to tracking Saeran and Ae Cha. Anxiety rumbled through his core; his chest tightening with fear. Why weren’t they answering?

The car wasn’t moving from its last known location, and it terrified him to the point of his mind already setting himself up for the worst case scenario. An endless chatter of questions riddled him.

What if his decision cost his brother’s life?

How could he ever face Reine if Ae Cha met her demise?

God, why am I such an idiot?

“Fuck,” he grimaced. If only he went with a safer option for Ae Cha’s sake.

He was still in disbelief of Mint Eye should have ceased to exist over a year ago and yet it appeared the operation was far larger than him and his brother could even imagine. It enraged him thinking of other countless lives ruined by Mint Eye.

“W... we're here. We're... fine.”

Hearing Saeran’s words was music to Saeyoung’s ears. The red-head let out a sigh, and pushed away from the desk. What a relief! They’re safe . He reached for his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose to his eyelids with his fingers.

As his heart settled into a regular rhythm, his thoughts became consumed with the girl.  He pictured himself staring into Ae Cha’s glassy doe eyes. He wouldn’t stop until he could see her again.

Saeyoung licked his bottom lip, and gently flicked it with his thumb afterward after swearing he tasted something sweet in his mouth.  

Peaches?


 

“Finally!”

Ae Cha hopped out of the car, her knees almost buckling to the ground. She wanted to kiss the concrete. The girl was still in shock as her body attempted to replay certain movements such as floating in air. Never in her life did she ever think she would successfully maneuver a sports car in a high speed chase.

“I need to take this,” Saeran said when his phone began to ring and headed towards the stairs rather than the elevator.

“I’ll talk to you later,” he assured, and answered his phone.

Now alone, Ae Cha stood in front of the elevator. Her cheeks heated thinking of her and Saeran’s kiss.

It was amazing .

And yet, she wondered if the same thing would have happened if Saeyoung was in the car with her. The elevator door slid open, prompting her to step in. Ae Cha leaned against the metal wall.

“I’d give anything for a shower,” the girl muttered. Her eyelids were heavy with fatigue. She didn’t know the exact time it was outside, but estimated it must have been sometime after midnight when returning to the Choi residence.

Ding!

Ae Cha stepped out of the elevator, and looked both directions, surprised at how quiet the house appeared to be. The sound of fans hummed in the background. She wondered if Saeyoung was asleep. It was late after all.

“Ae Chan!”

Saeyoung ran down the hall, freezing when he stood in front of the girl. Remnants of stray tears left a watery trail down his cheek. She’s alive. She’s okay. He stepped toward, and pulled Ae Cha close. His placed both hands on her face, admiring the beauty in front of him.

Ae Cha’s breath shuddered from the sudden movements. Her gaze lifted to meet his eyes, staring at the older twin in confusion.  His eyes focused on her plump pink lips, and how much he needed a taste. His eyes showed a loss of control, and soon he found himself leaning toward her.

“Saeyo--”

Her words were interrupted by Saeyoung’s lip pressing onto hers for a very intense kiss. The girl’s eyes grew wide at first, but softened to a glow as his lips securely locked into hers.  Her eyes closed, and she lost herself in euphoria for the second time this evening.

In a span of a few hours the girl has been kissed by not by one, but both brothers.

Are we sure I didn’t die?

She couldn’t believe how soft and inviting his touch was. Her core craved for more. She wrapped an arm around his neck, and tilted her head to better angle herself so their mouths would fit together.

Saeyoung took the invitation willingly, pressing closer against her. His hand rested against the back of her head when he pushed her against the wall. Her taste was sweet; almost like fruit.. It reminded him of the taste he had in his mouth earlier.

She tasted like peaches.

He understood what happened earlier, and felt his cheeks flush a bright red. Twincense kicked into high gear. What he felt earlier was the moment Saeran kissed her.

He couldn’t blame his brother. He would have done the same.

Saeyoung knew he had to pull away soon. Ae Cha’s body trembled. Right as he felt her knees buckling, he pulled himself away from her.

“Incredible!” Saeyoung murmured and wiped his mouth.

It took few minutes for his head to stop spinning. He plucked his glasses off of his face, and used the bottom of his shirt to clean off his lenses.  When returned the glasses to his face he looked up at Ae Cha and froze.

Oh my God!

Ae Cha gawked at the red head, her jaw hung agape. Her face almost instantly matched the color Saeyoung’s hair.

Saeyoung gasped, covering his mouth with embarrassment.   “O-O-Oh M-my God! I'm s-so s-sorry!”

Not a word came out of Ae Cha’s mouth, and Saeyoung panicked --- fearing the worst. God. I’m so stupid! He placed his hands on her shoulders, and shook her gently to get a response.

“Fry me, burn me, offer me to the Gods of the internet, but please don't get mad at me!” Saeyoung pleaded, his voice cracking as he stuttered in between breaths.

He waited for her to hit him. Maybe she would yell at him. He deserved all of it for what he just did to her. Instead, the sound of soft giggles danced in his ears after he squeezed his eyes shut. He glanced up at her in wonder. Did I miss something?

Get a hold of yourself, Saeyoung!

“Hello,” Ae Cha stuttered, a wide grin grew on her face. Her face still tinted with a rosy hue.

Saeyoung.exe has stopped responding. Press F11 to refresh.

Saeyoung needed to change the subject or else he would be too embarrassed to speak to the cutie standing in front of him for the rest of the night. Think, Saeyoung. Think!

“Anyway, are you okay?!”

“Are you hurt anywhere?”

“You want anything?"

His speech and tone intensified with each question that came out of his mouth.  A puff of smoke could almost be seen coming out of both of his ears from how flustered the boy became.

Ae Cha, oblivious to Saeyoung’s panic, took a moment to subjectively think about what she needed in the moment.  Bubble tea? Nope.Too tired. Food? No. She didn’t feel like eating.

What about another kiss? Heat returned to her cheeks when the thought floated into her mind.

Yes--Wait! No. Maybe ?

Ae Cha tried to hide the blush on her face, and looked down at her legs. She cringed at how dirty they were. Worry started to sink into her stomach as she wondered about what the rest of her body looks like if lower half is this much of a mess.

“U-Um well...,” Ae Cha hesitated, and a hint of embarrassment was heard in her tone as she flicked glass and debris off of her shoulder. “I kind of need a shower, but, my stuff isn’t here…”

Praise Jesus Hallelujah!

Saeyoung thanked his Creator upon realizing the girl changed the subject on her own. He released his grip on Ae Cha’s shoulders, and hopped back to give her some space. At the girl’s request, he suddenly recalled what he wanted to show her..

“Aha!” Saeyoung snapped his fingers. His eyes almost immediately lit up with excitement.

“Madame it is your lucky day. I managed to find a few things you might like! Follow me!”

Saeyoung grabbed a hold of Ae Cha’s hand, and yanked her in his direction. The girl, anticipating another kiss, didn’t flail from the sudden movement. She followed Saeyoung’s lead through the hallway, and up through a set of stairs.

“Where are we going?” Ae Cha called out from behind, noting how different the rooms appeared to be in this part of the home. The ambiance was far relaxed. She remembered how much smaller the room was she woke up in. This area of the home felt much bigger, and grander.

“Ah… It’s a surprise!” Saeyoung looked back at the girl eagerly, and winked. His eyes glinted behind his glasses.


 

“Tada!”

Saeyoung stopped in his steps at a door, and turned to face her.  Ae Cha gazed curiously, and tried to look over his shoulder on her tiptoes to see what would be behind the door when he opened up.

He was amused at how adorable Ae Cha acted. Part of him wanted to keep teasing her, but he knew how rough the last few days were to her. A nd so this was his to try to make it all up to her.

Saeyoung turned the doorknob, and pushed the door open. Inside revealed a bedroom. It wasn’t any bedroom. It was the master suite of the home.

It was his personal bedroom.

Ae Cha’s eyes grew at the sight. She didn’t need to need enter the room entirely to realize the room was already bigger than the apartment.  She could just tell from the brief peeking she did.

“Tada! The master suite is now your room !” Saeyoung announced to Ae Cha,  beaming with pride. “A bathing room is attached.”

“But what about---”

Ae Cha wanted to ask about where him and Saeran stayed at. Shouldn’t they be living in this room?  Saeyoung pressed his finger on Ae Cha’s lips, and then wagged his finger playfully. His eyes glinted behind his glasses as the girl visibly pouted from him interruption.

“You need a bath, missy!” Saeyoung interjected, and gently nudged her into the room.  “Take a look at what’s inside and I’ll talk to you later!”

The door shut behind her before she could respond, and the sound of Saeyoung’s footsteps echoed down the hall. “That’s not fair,” Ae Cha pouted out loud, alone, in the quiet room. She had too many questions she needed to be answered.

For example: WHY did he kiss her? Why did Saeran kiss her, for that matter?

Ae Cha sighed with disappointment, and decided to take a look around the room. Her eyes grew wide again as she began to recognize things in the room that belonged to her. From the collection of cat gachas sitting above a fireplace, the Bintendo DS sitting on the nightstand, and the lit floral scented candle sitting on top of the fireplace.  

A nagging curiosity in her chest compelled her to search closets by the bed. She walked over to them, and carefully slid the doors open. She stood in front of the closet in disbelief. This surely wasn’t what she thought it was.

Ae Cha reached for a shirt, and looked for a size tag. She pulled out a sweater almost identical to the one she has been wear. When she found the tag she carefully examined it, only to realize it was in her exact same clothing size.  

“M-M-My clothes!?”


 

“Mr. Han,” Jaehee called out as she offered the man coffee from her own vacuum flask. “It's 3am. You should get some rest.”

Jumin took the steaming cup and took a tentative sip. Jaehee always made the best coffee; and one sip gave him a little bit of much needed energy. He closed his eyes as he felt the dull pain in his head throb with all the tension and lack of sleep.

“I can't,” he sighed. “Although I am a bit tired.”

Jaehee shook her head.  Too many things were happening too quickly; quick enough for Mint Eye to dig it’s claws securely on C&R right under the RFA’s and Jumin's nose.  If the Chairman found out about this, and that Jumin was in any way related to this group, it pretty much spells the worst for the corporate director.

Jumin sighed. “I am very angry, Assistant Kang. Everything is blowing up in our faces in such a short period of time. I also need to take care of that goddamn Chiba merger today,” he groaned as he gently pressed his fingers on the bridge of his nose. “Were the shipments sent out on time?”

“Yes, Mr. Han,” Jaehee answered. “Although there are expected delays due to the upcoming holidays...but it will arrive within the agreed timeline, just not earlier like we always plan.”

Jumin nodded. At least that was one less problem that he was going to have to deal with.  

“You may head home, Assistant Kang. I need you to be up and awake later.”

Jaehee sighed. “So do I, Mr. Han.  Please get some rest when you can. I've prepared a room in the hotel right beside the hospital as you've instructed; however, it doesn't have the facilities you're used to.”

“A place to take a shower and change would suffice,” Jumin replied. “She is my priority right now.”

Jaehee's heart ached for Jumin. He had lost a dear friend influenced by the same organization not too long ago, and now it almost took another person he cared about. She admired his mental strength and stability. The state he was in when she arrived was absolutely horrifying; yet he still took business phone calls and managed to work under the circumstances.

They both turned toward the door as it opened, and the ICU nurse gently closed the door behind her.  Jumin straightened in his seat, hoping for some news.

The lady smiled gently at the two. “She's resting quite nicely,” she said. “And she's fighting really hard. She's slightly conscious now--if she rests well she may wake up within a few hours.”

Jumin let out a relieved sigh. “That's the best news I've had for the last 48 hours.”

The nurse bowed and walked toward the floor reception area along with her clippings. Jumin turned to Jaehee, then stood up. “Arrange reservations in a C&R accredited hospital in case she comes out of ICU. Book the best room.”

“Yes, Mr. Han.”

Chapter Text

 

"Ahh… “ Ae Cha purred a satisfied moan, running her hands down her face to her collarbone and back up her arms and to her shoulders as she dreamily gazed at her figure in a full-body mirror. Her soft skin glowed, rejuvenated from soaking in a bath for over an hour.

She took time dressing, donning her favorite periwinkle satin & chiffon shorts with matching cami. Sure it was a little unsettling to suddenly have all of her belongings from her apartment only within a small reach away, however, the girl has experienced far more surprising things in her life…

… Such as narrowly avoiding death in a high-speed chase.

A feeling of empowerment drummed wildly in her chest, and she wondered at the things she could accomplish on her own now. However, the thought would be a conversation for another day.  Her eyelids were heavy, begging the girl to peacefully drift to sleep.  

When she slid open the bathing room door, her ears immediately perked up at the pecking sound of typing.  She tilted her head curiously and tiptoed out of the room, peeking from behind a divider separating the bathing room from the remainder of the suite.

Her heart jumped at the sight of a mop of crimson hair sitting cross-legged on the queen size bed, uncertain which twin was in the room.

“Ae Chan! You can’t sneak up on me~,” the voice called out playfully without moving from their spot.  

It’s Saeyoung.

Before the girl could respond, Saeyoung patted the open space on the mattress beside him, turning to look at her.  “Come, come! Sit. We need to talk.”

Ae Cha felt butterflies in her stomach from the request, her cheeks tinted a rosy hue thinking of the possibilities of the conversation. Maybe he wanted to talk about their kiss?

What if he wanted to talk about Saeran’s kiss?

“O-Okay,” Ae Cha nodded, making her way to the bed. She climbed up, and sat on her knees beside him. Saeyoung watched the girl intently with wonder in his eyes, amazed something so delicate contained so much strength. It was no wonder why Saeran was longing for the girl.

Saeyoung closed the case of his laptop, and scooted the computer to the end of the bed. Afterward, he shifted himself to where he was sitting cross-legged in front of Ae Cha, reaching out for Ae Cha’s delicate hands.

“Did I get everything right? Do you like it?” Saeyoung asked. His golden eyes bore into hers hoping the girl was pleased. He spent the day finding everything product based on Ae Cha’s shopping history on her phone.

“Yes!” Ae Cha giggled. “But how did you get everything? It’s like you went through my shopping history.”

A smirk grew on Saeyoung’s face, pleased with the answer. He leaned in, and gently poked her nose before saying “Ah~ It was intuition !”

“Uh huh. Sure,” Ae Cha covered her face to conceal laughter after scratching her nose. Her tired eyes sparkled with happiness, and a radiant glow Saeyoung has never seen before settled in Ae Cha’s features.

Ah ha! I found it. Her true self!

Saeyoung reached into his side pants pocket and pulled out Ae Cha’s phone. He placed the device into her hands, and pulled away.

“You should have this back. I’m sorry…” Saeyoung paused, sighing at what he was about to reveal.  “I had to make a few modifications to your phone for yours and everyone’s safety.”

Ae Cha gazed at her phone, relieved to finally have it in her possession again. She unlocked the main screen eagerly and searched for the changes made. Saeyoung remained silent, gauging her reaction.

Aside from social media accounts becoming deactivated, all Ae Cha could find that was different was her list of contacts now including Reine, Jumin, Saeyoung, Saeran, and two unfamiliar names…

“Saeyoung,” Ae Cha stared at her contacts, confused. “Who are Yoosung and Zen?”

“They’re members of the RFA,.” Saeyoung chuckled, running his fingers through his hair.  “They can’t wait to talk to you sometime! Hopefully when things aren’t so crazy...” Saeyoung let out a groan, slapping his hands on his cheeks and pulling them down.

“You’re going to have to stay here for a while until it’s safe. I’m sorry, cutie.” Saeyoung sighed.

Ae Cha thumb hovered over Reine’s contact information, and began to worry about Reine. She hasn’t heard anything on Reine’s condition since leaving the hospital.  

“Where will Reine stay?” Ae Cha asked without looking up from her phone. She opened up a new text message, and began to type out a message.

 

[To Reine Lee: You can’t just try to die like that on me. That’s rude. ]

[To Reine Lee: I’m sorry… Just text me when you see this, okay? I’m worried. ]

“With Jumin,” Saeyoung answered. “We... ah... have to keep you two separated until it’s safe.”

Ae Cha glanced up at Saeyoung after pressing ‘send’, noticing the boy’s attitude becoming tense. She didn’t understand the sudden change, but felt somber from his words.  Was this related to the conversations from earlier?

“Can... Can I know why?” Ae Cha asked softly, laying on her side on top of the pillowy mattress. The sun would be rising soon and her body was begging for rest. Her tired eyes glanced up at the red head. “It’s okay if you can’t tell me everything, “ she reassured Saeyoung. A yawn followed shortly after.

Saeyoung’s eyes widened, admiring how breathtaking Ae Cha appeared before him. The floral fragrance from the soaps and lotions she used for bathing wafted around him, and he felt himself being drawn into her presence. He scooted close to the girl, now laying on his side, and faced her.  

Saeyoung pulled a strand of Ae Cha’s hair with his fingers, twirling it idly as he explained.

“Saeran and I have been targeted since we were born. I... I was stupid enough to listen to someone who I thought cared for my well-being, and believed if I joined the Agency my brother would be protected.”

He scoffed, shaking his head regret filled the pit of his stomach. He hated himself for everything Saeran endured. Ae Cha listened to his story intently, scooting herself a little closer to his body. She felt his warmth radiating from his body, studying the visible scars on his chest.

“The opposite happened. Saeran was converted into a Mint Eye operative without my knowledge. I spent so many years praying to God he was living a good life when he was being brainwashed to believe Mint Eye’s ridiculous ideologies.”

Saeyoung paused, and pulled his glasses from his nose. Tears were filling the side of his eyes, and he felt he could cry at any moment. The emotion of recalling what he went through to save his brother was overwhelming.

“We don’t want that to happen to you and Reine. You two need each other,” Saeyoung’s voice cracked, a tear streamed down his cheek.

“Saeyoung,” Ae Cha whispered, feeling herself becoming lost in his emotions, and her eyes coming glassy. He sounded so heartbroken, and it hurt to hear it.  The burden her new friends and family bore was too unfair.

A new feeling of guilt crept into her chest, remembering how just a few short days ago she was set on ending her own life. As Saeyoung laid his raw emotion in front of her, Ae Cha’s heart tugged on hers to open up as well.

“To be honest…” Ae Cha set her phone aside, and began to nervously draw shapes around the scars on his chest with her fingertip.  

“There’s a loaded gun waiting for me underneath my mattress at Appa’s apartment. I had already made peace with ending my own life because… I… I didn’t feel like I had a life worth living anymore. But--”

Ae Cha hesitated, gathering composure with her newfound empowerment from the events of the day. She could feel Saeyoung’s warm breath blowing down on her, and she wondered if he scooted even closer without her realizing it.

“I have three people in my life I care about now. I’ll listen to whatever you and Saeran need me to do to be safe,“ Ae Cha concluded, her eyes crestfallen after her confession.

“Ae Chan…” Saeyoung reached for Ae Cha’s glasses, lifting them off of her face, and setting them on the nightstand beside the bed. He pulled the girl closer, snaking his arms around her petite figure. Her head rested against his chest, and Ae Cha listened to the rhythm of his heart.

“You’re worth living and dying for. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” he finally whispered into her ear, gently stroking the top of her head.

Saeyoung’s soothing touch, and the warmth of his embrace fully relaxed Ae Cha. She gave up fighting her body’s need of sleep, closing her eyes as they became too heavy to keep open anymore. She was content; something she didn’t think was possible for her since her father’s passing.

“Saeyoung,” Ae Cha murmured faintly against him, nuzzling his chest as she drifted in and out of consciousness.   

“I want to be greedy. I wish I could have you both , ” her breathing relaxed, rapidly falling into a deep slumber.  

Oh my God.

Saeyoung’s heart jumped again, and he prayed to keep his composure as long as possible until Ae Cha fell asleep. Thankfully the girl wasn’t paying attention to how red his face and shoulders became from her words.  He watched her drift into the world of dreams in astonishment, pushing strands of Ae Cha’s hair out of her face and behind her ear.

“Be careful what you wish for, Ae Chan.”


 

“Executive Assistant Kang Jaehee speaking,” Jaehee automatically answered without checking the contact details of the caller.  She had been brewing a new batch of coffee, and a familiar voice emanated from the phone's earpiece.

“Jaehee, good morning. I don't want to disturb you, but Mr. Trust Fund Kid won't answer his phone.”

Jaehee's face lit up. “Zen! Good morning. Is there something you need?”

“Not really,” he answered, “I'm just wondering why Jumin suddenly sent bodyguards last night. Is something up?”

Jaehee sighed, unsure of what to answer.  It has been an eventful three days, and she really doesn't know where to start. “It's a long story,” she started while pressing the power switch on the coffee maker. “But in a nutshell, two women were found in Rika's apartment, and apparently, it's Mint Eye's doing.”

“What?!” Zen exclaimed, his voice rising up a few notches. “And nobody bothered to tell us?”

“I don't know the whole story itself,” Jaehee responded. “But I guess it will be best if we all meet up and discuss this personally. Nobody uses the RFA chatroom anymore, and we couldn't find time to reach you or Yoosung.”

She heard Zen sigh over the phone. “I guess it can't be helped. I'm returning to Seoul in two weeks after my filming is done. Can we arrange something by then?”

“I'll check with Mr. Han and the twins,” Jaehee replied. “They're all very busy trying to deal with the situation. Our initial step is to provide you and Yoosung additional security.”

“Speaking of Yoosung... bit's weird that he has not contacted you yet.”

“He's probably still asleep,” Jaehee chuckled. I'm assuming he will start calling me any moment now.”

As if on cue, Jaehee heard the call waiting beep on her phone. She let out a sigh. “As I thought. He's calling me now, so I'll end this call. Please be safe, Zen.”

“All right. Call me if anything happens.”

Jaehee ended the call with Zen and smiled a little at how predictable Yoosung was. She pressed the green “answer” button and placed the phone next to her ear.

“Good morning, Yoosung,” she greeted.


 

“Mr. Han.”

Jumin opened his eyes, and the first thing that registered in his mind is how painfully bright it was. He didn't know how he fell asleep, but he assumed it's been a couple of hours since he was last awake now that the sun is high up in the sky. He straightened and found a blanket draped over his shoulders.

I must have been really tired.

He looked up to see one of the guards from the fleet standing in front of him. “Mr. Han, the nurse told us that Reine is awake now.”

Jumin's eyes widened with the news. His heart suddenly skipped in his chest, and he immediately felt the sleepiness getting shrugged off. He took the blanket off him and folded it neatly. “Who gave me the blanket?” He asked the fleet.

“I did, sir,” one of the men responded.

“Your name?”

“Jin Dae-sung,” he replied.

Jumin gave a curt nod and walked toward the man to place the neatly folded blanket in his hands. “I'll remember.”

He turned and picked up the receiver outside of the ICU. The nurse answered, and allowed him to come in. “However, she's still not fully aware,” the nurse warned, “she is still very disoriented.”

“Got it,” Jumin answered, and placed the receiver back on the wall mount.

He tentatively opened the door and saw the ICU nurse, her back turned and she seemed to be writing something on her clipboard.

The door clicked closed and the nurse turned to him. “Mr. Han, she is disoriented but this is due to the meds. She may not be a hundred percent coherent but the effects should wear off in a few hours.”

Jumin gave a quick nod and the nurse excused herself and exited the room.

He finally turned his gaze toward where she laid, and he suddenly felt so nervous that he half-thought of going back out of the room to collect himself. However, as he moved closer he noticed her eyes flutter open, and she was moving her toes under the blanket. Her lips were dry and chapped, but they were parted and were moving as if she was trying to make coherent words.

Seeing her alive brought out so many emotions in his heart that he thought never existed. Her small movements are so precious to him that he took his time watching them closely. Such a stark contrast from her motionless, limp body a few hours ago.

He let out the breath he realized he was holding and finally gained the courage to stand right next to her. Her eyes darted on many things; telltale signs of grogginess. But they fluttered and moved, and her eyes were the loveliest shade of emerald green.

He gently took one of her hands in his, his thumb gently stroking her knuckles.

She finally noticed his presence. She turned her head slightly toward him, her eyes still unfocused, and her eyebrows knotted trying to comprehend what was going on.

Her eyes widened slightly.

“D... Daddy?”

Jumin felt heat rise to his cheeks. He was mistaken to be someone else, but hearing her say it was somehow endearing.

“Reine... it's me, Jumin.”

“Dad…”

Jumin sighed. “I'm not your--”

“Dad... I finally get to see you…”

Tears welled in Reine's eyes and Jumin felt his chest constrict to see her in this state. The moment her tears rolled down her temple and the bridge of her nose, he raised his hand and gently wiped them. Reine closed her eyes and leaned into the touch, causing more tears to fall.

“Dad... I met Ae Cha,” she said weakly, and then her lips curled into a slight smile. “Why didn't you tell me that I had such a cute little sister?”

Reine's voice was still hoarse and weak, but she spoke with so much color . She seemed to be a completely different person...she seemed so fragile , so innocent.

“But... I feel sad that I can't be with her for long,” she spoke once more, and Jumin felt himself gasp.

“No, Reine... you're staying right here,” he said, his voice low and controlled, trying not to break.

Reine's eyes became half-lidded and melancholic. “She looks really sad, daddy,” she mumbled, almost a whisper. “She has not been okay since you left. I wish I could have taken care of her longer…”

Jumin swallowed hard. “You can, and you will, Reine. You will.”

“I hope... I hope the twins take care of her.”

Reine paid him no heed, and this caused pain to bloom in Jumin's chest. But he trusts what the nurse told him, and for now he will be content by the fact that at least she's awake.

“I... I know you know what I did in the past, daddy.”

Jumin's attention was piqued. He listened to her intently.

He could do nothing but watch as Reine started crying in earnest. He reached out for the tissue box beside him and dabbed on her face, wiping the tears that kept falling.

“I haven't exactly been a good daughter... but I tried... I tried so hard, dad…”

He felt himself biting his lip, trying to steel himself from the emotions that she was rousing inside him.

“I met a man, dad,” she said, her voice a little clearer but still filled with pain. “I'm so scared of him.”

A pause. Jumin's eyebrows knotted in confusion.

“He’s so beautiful.

Jumin gasped and stared at her. He felt his own tear roll down his cheek, and he was too dumbfounded to even care to wipe it off.

“I'm so scared he'll hate me too…”

“What?” Jumin exclaimed. “How can I possibly--”

“I know it's wrong for me to feel this way,” she continued, completely ignoring Jumin's words. “I have no right to any of this.  But…” her voice trailed off.

She spoke once more in a voice so soft it was barely a pained whisper.

“At least I was able to save him... that's...good enough, right?”

He ached to hold her.  Whatever was it that happened in her past? He wanted to tell her he didn't care. At this moment he just wanted to hold her to take the pain away.

He raised his hand to caress her forehead and her eyes closed once more, leaning into his touch. He tried so hard to keep his tears at bay but to no avail. He clenched his jaw and took a deep breath, and then bent forward to plant a gentle kiss on her forehead.

“Saranghae,” he whispered.

Chapter Text

 

// chatroom deleted by YeongSo //

// NOTICE:  All units have disbanded until further notice. Stay vigilant.

 

Sunlight peeked in between the curtains, shining partially on Ae Cha’s cheeks while she slept. The sun was was near the highest point in the sky. The warmth of the sun woke Ae Cha from her slumber.

I feel so warm. Is this a dream?

Ae Cha mewed, stirring underneath multiple layers of sheets and comforters. She rolled from her side to her back, and curled her toes as she stretched out. The rarity of not waking in a panic was a welcomed, refreshing change.

Her eyes fluttered opened as she fully regained consciousness, focusing on the ceiling first. The hum of the ceiling fan was the only background noise in the room. The silence was a sweet reverie to her ears.

“I should thank Saeyoung for letting me sleep in such a nice bed…,” she thought, stretching her arms in front of her. Living at the Choi residence wasn’t so bad after all.

“Hhhnnggg…”  

“Huh?”

The foreign sound startled her, causing the girl to turn her head in the direction of where it was coming from.

“S-Saeyoung!?”

She gasped, her heart racing as she gawked at the sleeping twin. Why was he in here with her? Ae Cha’s mind flashed to the few moments she recalled before falling asleep.

“Ae Chan…” Saeyoung reached for Ae Cha’s glasses, lifting them off of her face, and setting them on the nightstand beside the bed. He pulled the girl closer, snaking his arms around her petite figure. Her head rested against his chest, and Ae Cha listened to the rhythm of his heart.

“You’re worth living and dying for. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” he finally whispered into her ear, gently stroking the top of her head.

Ae Cha’s cheeks flushed a rosy hue, unable to remember the rest of the conversation. She swore she said something to him before falling asleep. Did she ask him to stay with her? That could definitely be possible.

“Breathe, Ae Chan. There’s surely an explanation…”

She gazed at Saeyoung with wonder in her eyes. Ae Cha  couldn’t believe how peaceful he appeared with his lips partially opened, snoring lightly. Curiosity set in and she scooted herself in the bed a little closer to his body. She raised her hand, gently running her fingers through his hair.

“So cute…”

Ae Cha fidgeted herself into Saeyoung’s arms and rested her head against his chest. Still asleep, Saeyoung wrapped his arms around the girl and tugged her body toward him. Her heart settled again; tranquility settling in surrounded in the red head’s warmth.

She laid in his arms quietly, daydreaming over the events from the last few days Her mind wandered to Saeran.  His personality was such a stark contrast to Saeyoung, but she found herself lost in Saeran’s presence every time he was near her. She pressed her lips together trying to remember the moment of their kiss in the car.

Would Saeran hold me like this too…?

Wait. What? Ae Cha’s squeezed her eyes shut, her stomach knotting when catching herself deep in thought over Saeran while cuddling with his twin brother.  She wondered if the feelings she was developing for both twins was normal.

“What am I doing?”


 


“The number you dialed is unattended or out of coverage area. Please try yo--”

Beep.

“Earlier you were not answering...now your phone ran out of battery? ” The man stared incredulously at his smartphone's screen, staring at Saeyoung's contact information.

The events of this morning was chaotic.  He just cannot believe that his boys had caused a major ruckus in a freeway , witnessed by hundreds of people .

He felt a vein pop in his head, remembering how he had to sweet-talk his way through the press and literally bribe witnesses to keep mum about the fucking car chase.

“I just can't understand what you boys are thinking,” he murmured. “We haven't even been able to earn anything for the past two weeks, and you went and gone gallivanting in the middle of the night, shooting each other, and now getting questioned by police because of four people dead. Next time, please do it in broad daylight, so we can pretty much kill ourselves.

Saeran scoffed as he drove, his eyes squinting slightly. He hasn't had any sleep for more than twenty-four hours, and the bright morning sun was not helping the strain in his eyes.

“And now, your brother won't even pick up . Next time you do something like this I am taking it out of your paychecks.”

“Tch,” Saeran said under his breath. He turned a corner and a door opened, leading to the underground garage that the brothers owned.

Once the car was parked, Vanderwood immediately stepped out and walked briskly toward the general direction of Saeyoung's room, his coat billowing slightly behind him as he walked.

“Wait till I get my hands on you, you stupid hacker,” he murmured under his breath. He noticed that Saeran was following behind, but paid no heed as he made long, purposeful strides toward Saeyoung's bedroom.

He stood in front of the door, beating it with his fist. “Oi Saeyoung! Wake up, sleepyhead! You got so much explaining to do!”

The sudden pounding on the door startled Ae Cha, causing her to push herself with all of her might out of Saeyoung’s arms. She overcompensated and almost rolled off of the edge of the bed.

“Who is that ?” she wondered, glancing at the door. The threatening voice was unfamiliar, but left an unsettling feeling in her stomach. She looked back at Saeyoung surprised he didn’t seem to stir.

“Saeyoung,” Ae Cha carefully crawled back toward the twin, poking his cheek to wake him up. “Someone’s asking for you…”

Her expression deadpanned as Saeyoung lightly swatted her hand away and rolled over to his stomach.

You’ve got to be kidding me! Why now?

Ae Cha gulped and slid out of the bed, paying extra attention in not disturbing Saeyoung’s sleeping. She tiptoed toward the door, and slowly turned the doorknob. An audible click could be heard from both the hallway and the bedroom when the door began to open. Behind the slightly ajarred door, the small girl stared at the man standing in front of the door doe-eyed.

“An-anyong Ha-haseyo…”

Vanderwood stared at a girl opening the door to what was supposed to be Saeyoung's room. He moved his eyes behind her and found the other twin, sleeping soundly.

He looked at the girl again.

And then at Saeyoung.

He felt yet another vein pop in his head, and he let out a nice, welcoming smile. “Oh hello there, cutie pie! Would you be so kind to step aside; I have business with the... tomatohead ...behind you.”

“Oh… um. Okay...” Ae Cha nodded hesitantly, and stepped back to let the taller man enter the master suite. His voice didn’t sound as threatening as before. Perhaps he really is an acquaintance.

Vanderwood smiled at the small girl and bent forward to gently pat her head. “Good girl,” then he walked past her and stepped into the room. Once at the foot of the bed he straightened and fished for something in his pocket. He brought out a strange device, and a loud popping sound of electricity resonated in the room.

A Taser.

“Saeyoung,” Vanderwood’s demeanor suddenly changed into a menacing predator.

“Explain all of this in less than three sentences!”

What the hell!? Ae Cha’s eyes flew open upon the sight of the taser.  Just who exactly was this person? Panic stirred in her chest.

As if on instinct, Saeyoung jumped from the bed and resumed a defensive stance, his trained body reacting to the immediate threat. His eyes darted toward the source, and he let out a sigh.

“Vandyyyy! Don't scare me like that!”

“Oh you will know scary if you don't tell me what the hell happened last night , and why do you have a lady inside your room?!”

I should go now…” Ae Cha murmured, backing up nervously toward the door.

Saeran gently grabbed Ae Cha by the arms as he noticed that she was in distress.  He delighted at seeing her slightly disheveled hair and puffy eyes. “Good morning,” he spoke to her in a quiet tone, almost a whisper.

“That scary man is Vanderwood. It would do you good to steer clear of him.”

Saeran!? Ae Cha whipped around to face the other twin. Dread fell over her as she dreaded  Saeran’s reaction in learning she slept with his brother. He had every right to be mad, no, furious at her and she couldn’t blame him for avoiding her going forward.

Much to her surprise, Saeran seemed delighted to see her. Why? Shouldn’t he be mad at me? Saeran’s calmness confused her, leaving her with a perplexed expression on her face.

“Good m-morning, Saeran...” Her words came out a stuttering mess while she tamed her scruffy bed-head using both of her fingers.

“Oi. I heard that.” Vanderwood shot a glare toward the other twin, which caused him to tense a little.

“Well?” Vanderwood turned back to Saeyoung while he tapped his foot impatiently on the floor, his arms crossed against his chest.

Saeyoung rubbed sleep from his eyes and sat on the bed. “First, I want to let it be known that nothing happened. We just slept together.”

“Slept together?” Vanderwood replied in a threatening tone.

Saeyoung raised his hands. “N-not as in 'slept together’ l-like the u-uh, the whole thing but we just literally slept right next to each other! I promise!” He clasped his hands over his head and squeezed his eyes shut. “Ae Chan, I didn't do anything, right?!” His eyes pleaded to her as she stood beside the other twin.

“Ae Cha..? Ohhh,” Vanderwood remarked as he suddenly realized who she was. He turned to smile at her and he dipped in a slight bow. “Sorry that you had to see this first thing in the morning. My name is Vanderwood, and I manage these two boys. Now, please make sure to direct all your complaints if the boys do anything untoward to you,” he turned and gave a look at Saeyoung. “and I'll be more than happy to tase them to submission.” His voice fell from pleasant to threatening when he said the last sentence, which caused both men to swallow hard.

“Vander-wood?” Ae Cha blinked, noting how uncomfortable both twins suddenly became.

She studied Vanderwood intently. Who was Vanderwood?  Was he their boss? When the taller man’s eggplant and ebony top caught her eye, the girl immediately lit up recognizing the brand.

“Your top is from Hongdae, isn’t it!?” She asked Vanderwood enthusiastically, her eyes sparkled with curiosity.  Fashion was one of her favorite things to talk about. If this top really was the one she’s seen before…. then that would mean Vanderwood would also have a love of clothing.

You can never have enough friends to talk fashion with.

The tall man blinked once and was delighted with her reaction. “Ohhh! You recognized!  Well, someone's got a good eye,” he bent forward to pat her on the head again.

She approached Vanderwood to admire his top, reaching out to touch the fabric.  The top’s design was deceiving; the sheen made it appear it wasn’t nearly as durable as it truly was. It was soft, but breathable. The fabric was some of the best in the world. This was the one. The girl covered planted both of her hands on her cheeks, unable to contain her excitement.

It is ! Wow, there’s only a handful Alexanber McKing designed. You’re so lucky!” She cooed, marveling at Vanderwood.

He beamed. His eyes sparkled with admiration. She's so tiny and cute!

He turns to the boys nonchalantly. “Can I take her home?”

This surprised the twins, who spoke in unison. “No!”

He turned and smiled at Ae Cha once more. “Hey, Ae Chan, I bet you're hungry. Would you like to have breakfast? Tell me what you want and I'll make it for you.”

Saeyoung pouted. “Hey, how come we don't get breakfast?”

Vanderwood sighed. “All you ever eat are those damn chips. I've told you to stop eating it because it'll make you stupid , and apparently it did it's job very well,” he snapped.

He turned to Ae Cha once more. “You, however, need more sustenance. You're going to get sick with the way you're treating your body.”

Vanderwood sighed. He certainly felt like he's taking care of three children. “Well? What do you want for breakfast?” he spoke as he walked toward the kitchen, grabbing the apron hung on the wall as he entered the preparation area.

“Bacon and eggs!” Saeyoung gleefully answered, and turned to Ae Cha. “Vandy is the best cook ever! Let's go for breakfast!” He said and bent forward to kiss her on the cheek, then happily strutted to the kitchen.

Saeran patted Ae Cha's head. “I'm skipping breakfast... I'm so tired,” he looked at Ae Cha with half-lidded eyes, and then broke a yawn. He tried to rub sleep away from his eyes.

“No you're not,” Vanderwood shouted from the kitchen. “Eat something and then sleep.”

Saeran stared at the general direction of the kitchen in surprise. “How the hell did he hear me?”


 

Vanderwood laid his back on the chair’s backrest as he sighed. He took a sip from the freshly-brewed green tea that rested in a small teacup on the kitchen island.

Sitting across him was Ae Cha enjoying the last of her strawberry pomegranate smoothie. He watched her and questions upon questions played in his mind.  

During the short time he was able to interact with her, he did not miss the different emotions that flashed across her eyes, and most definitely the stronger emotions of nostalgia and the pain that was associated with it.

“Did you like the smoothie, Ae Chan?” He smiled at her as he leaned forward on the counter, one elbow propped on the countertop and his chin rested on his hand.

“Yes! Thank you!” Ae Cha nodded, and lightly dabbed her lips with a napkin. She glanced at her phone to check the time before she returned focus back to Vanderwood.

“Breakfast was so delicious. I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in--oh,” the girl paused, pain flickered in her eyes while she remembered home-cooked meals her father used to serve her.  She sighed. “It’s been awhile .”

Vanderwood smiled at her, but his expression softened a little. “We will just have to change that, don't we?” He took another sip of his tea. “I'm not always here, but I'll make sure to cook for you when I am. You're so tiny ,” he chided.

Ae Cha’s expression contorted. "Tiny? Me ?” She chuckled, and shook her head. “It’s the opposite, actually. I’ve been told I'm too heavy. I was thinking I needed to lose a couple more kilograms.”

Vanderwood stared at her incredulously. “What? Good lord, you're already tiny as you are. You need to eat something more substantial to get a good glow going,” he took a sip from his teacup again. “I'm having such a hard time trying to make those twins eat something better than those blasted chips...and I'm pretty sure they aren't eating well when I'm away.”

He leaned back once again and collected himself. “Sorry. I vented a little bit,” he sighed off his tension and took another sip.

“It's been a very rough night for all of us...most especially you,” he gazed at her empathically. “You almost died with the guidance of the brothers and I would like to extend my apologies for that.”

He leaned forward and wore a solemn expression. “But I am quite happy that they did. The group that hunted you was a Quad--no ordinary foot soldiers--and I am sure the brothers only acted the best way they know how.”

Vanderwood gave her a puzzled expression. “I am surprised, though--you seem unfazed by all that happened. I was expecting you to be in a state of shock...and yet you sit there content with your smoothie. You're pretty resilient,” he commented.

Ae Cha nodded to Vanderwood’s observation. A sense of uneasiness settled into her chest. If there was one thing Ae Cha disliked, it was any conversations about her. She could feel Vanderwood’s eyes staring upon her as if he was waiting for a response.

“Quad? What’s that?,” Ae Cha deflected. She reached for the glass with trembling hands, and took a generous sip of the smoothie before setting it back on the counter in front of her. placing the half-empty glass back on the counter in front of her.

Vanderwood sighed. “According to Saeran, it's a group composed of four men, sent out for one purpose: to kill. These people have been thoroughly brainwashed, and will do everything to do what their “savior” tells them to do, without question, while they still draw breath.”

He was about to take another sip when he realized his teacup was empty. He sat it down on the countertop, and turned to Ae Cha. “We're trying to fix the situation right now. For now… I hope you don't mind staying with us so we can keep you safe. Also,” he winked at her as he leaned forward to rest his chin on his hand once more. “I'll cook anything you like! Just tell me what you'd like to eat and I'll make it.”

“A group sent to kill ? That must mean...” the girl gasped when the pieces of the puzzle seamlessly put itself together in her mind. Everything happening had to be related Sim Yeong-ho. It finally made sense.

Mint Eye was hunting her down. Jumin was attacked and Reine nearly died because of her. Pain crept up in her abdomen causing her to clench her jaw. She didn’t understand why everyone around her has to suffer in her name.

It felt unfair in her mind for him or the twins to selflessly offer to protect her without complaining. There had something useful she could do. Let me help fix the situation.

“Everyone’s in danger because of me ,” Ae Cha grimaced.

“You're sorely mistaken,” Vanderwood replied. “Mint Eye is a formidable organization--I’m afraid all of us are being played as pawns in this scheme they orchestrate. Don't think of this as your fault--you never intended this to happen.”

He turned the bar stool to his left so he can fill his cup with more tea. “But I am sure you still feel accountable no matter what I say, so I'll say this: this whole thing is bigger than any of us alone. It's not just about you or us. We're all being played for whatever twisted reason they have, and we fully intend to defend ourselves, whether it involved you or not. It just so happened that you were added to the picture, but for us it's the same battle we’re fighting since a year ago.”

He leaned back once more and rolled his shoulders. “Everyone has their own interests in mind--Jumin’s C&R. Saeran’s battle with his past. RFA’s memory of V. Saeyoung is his brother. I'm not sure what yours is, but the mere fact that you're here means you have one, too. Me? I'm just here for the business,” he winked at Ae Cha and got up the bar stool, taking his cup of tea with him.

“Or maybe,” he stopped and smiled to himself as the twins entered the kitchen with washed plates in their hands, ready to be replaced in the cupboards. “They may have a new reason to fight,” he muttered under his breath, and he smiled widely to Ae Cha who was staring at him with a confused expression.

Vanderwood turned to the twins. “Oi. Did you clean the sink?”

“Yes, mom,” they said in unison, which made Vanderwood's eyebrows knot.

“Are you asking to get hurt?” He asked menacingly, reaching for his pocket.

Vanderwood turned to smile again at Ae Cha. “Well, little one, I have to go,” he said while he flipped his arm to look at his wristwatch. “I have matters to attend to. Saeyoung,” he called. “Meet me at the docks by eleven. We need to get the little lady some good food for later.”

Vanderwood exited the room with the twins watching his coat flutter slightly as he walked. They both gave a sigh as Vanderwood finally closed the door, and they both looked at Ae Cha empathically.

“Ae Cha, we're sorry about that,” Saeyoung said, sitting at the bar stool in front of the girl. “He's pretty harsh, but he means well.”

Saeran yawned openly as he closed the cupboard door. His shoulders slumped slightly, a clear sign of fatigue. He then remembered the scene this morning, and turned to his brother. “Hyung, did she get a good night's sleep last night?”

The girl was mid-sip of her fruit beverage, and reading an article on her phone when the twins began their conversation. Almost instantly her cheeks flushed red at Saeran’s question. The shock made her release the grip from her phone. It landed gently on her lap.

 

“Yup! I made sure of it,” Saeyoung replied.

The brothers went on about their conversation about some computer stuff that completely eluded Ae Cha. The girl gasped mid-sip on her smoothie, resulting in her choking on the liquid already inside her mouth. She shoved the glass away from her and covered her mouth, coughing. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment.

“They KNEW about this?”

The twins both turned their attention to Ae Cha as they heard her choking on her drink. Saeyoung was fast to respond, standing up and running his hands on her back. “Saeran, get some clean towels,” he requested, and Saeran was fast to comply.

“Are you alright?” Saeyoung asked, his eyebrows knotted in concern.

Saeran came back with a clean towel and Saeyoung used it to wipe the tears that collected in her eyes because of the coughing.

“I-I-I I’m f-fine!” Ae Cha insisted.

The girl sat on stool quietly with both twins hovering over her. It was astonishing how normal both twins were treating her. When Saeyoung finished wiping her face, Ae Cha smiled.

“Argh, I need to meet Vanderwood by eleven,” Saeyoung whined. “I have a few errands to attend to. Saeran, take care of Ae Cha and do not go out. Who knows what's lying in wait for you outside,” he firmly instructed, and Saeran nodded.

“We'll be in the room,” Saeran called out to his brother who was already halfway out of the kitchen.

Saeyoung stopped and doubled back, then gave Ae Cha a quick, tight hug. “I'll be back for lunch,” he promised.

Before Ae Cha could respond, a familiar tone was heard playing in the room. All three of them looked at each other before turning to see who was calling Ae Cha, and they all gave a collective sigh relief when they saw Jumin's caller ID on the screen.

Jumin? She wondered if there may have been an update on Reine. Ae Cha snatched her phone off the counter, and pressed the green answer button. “Yeoboseyo?”

“Ae Cha,” Jumin's baritone voice emanated from the phone's receiver. “I...hope this is a good time to call.”

“Of course!” Ae Cha reassured Jumin. She pushed herself off of the stool, and waved at Saeyoung who was heading out. She then gently tapped Saeran’s shoulder to get his attention, mouthing “I’ll be right back” before walking out of the kitchen.  

He sounded so tired . There was a tinge of sadness in his voice, but he cleared his throat and spoke with a more resolute tone.

“Reine...she finally woke up.”

Jumin smiled a little when he told her the news. “Reine is sleeping soundly after the whole ordeal, and the nurse said it's better that she's getting as much rest as possible.”

“That’s great,” Ae Cha sighed as she approached the hallway leading to Saeyoung’s room. What a relief. She perched herself on the bottom steps of the stairs, and twirled a strand of her hair.

“She was...disoriented, though,” he said with a tinge of pain in his voice. “But the nurse said it's due to the meds, so it would eventually wear off and she'll be fully conscious by afternoon.”

“Thank you for being with Reine,” her tone wavered.  As wonderful as the news was Reine was awake, Ae Cha still felt responsible for her sister being injured. It hurt.

“Can I ask you something, Jumin?” Ae Cha changed the subject. Her mind wandered to the car chase from last night. Even she couldn’t believe how they made out it alive. There was a voice nagging inside of her that if she could do this, then maybe… just maybe...

“Do you think I can be strong enough to protect my sister one day?” She asked.

Jumin noted the pain in her voice.  He closed his eyes and sighed. “The mere fact that you ask this instead of turning away is strength on its own. You are strong, Ae Cha. Don't let pain cloud how you see yourself.”

“You really think I’m strong?” Ae Cha lit up from Jumin’s advice. She found comfort in his, no, she found inspiration in his words . Maybe Jumin was right. Maybe the girl could be strong enough to stand on her own and protect the people she cared for.  

“I... I needed that. Thanks,” her smile resonated. She stood up and strolled back into the kitchen, surprised to see the room was empty.

Jumin was confused. What did he say? “Ah, the doctor wants something. I have to go. I trust the twins can take care of you. I'll let you know if something is up.”  He stared at the phone for a time and ended the call.

“Jumin?” Ae Cha lowered her phone at the sound of dial tone on the other end of the line, and decided to head to the living room. She then spotted a familiar mop of red hair peeking over the couch.  

“Reine’s awake!,” the girl announced as she plopped on the couch. She ruffled her hair casually.  “I’d like to try to see her again when it’s safe to.”

The girl’s train of thought was interrupted by the sound of light snoring beside her. She glanced over to her side at the noise. Her eyes grew wide when she felt a slight weight and saw tufts of crimson hair on her shoulder.  Saeran was sound asleep and using the small girl as his pillow.

“I didn’t get to properly thank you for protecting me last night,” Ae Cha whispered, and smiled at the sleeping twin. She thanked the stars he couldn’t see the ever-growing blush on her face.

This will have to do for now.

Chapter Text

The Quad has failed .”

His initial thoughts were to throw the phone against the glass door, but he closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, and stopped himself from being overtaken by his simmering anger.

“Do you have any instructions, sir?”

The man felt the familiar uneasiness in his left arm, which made him unconsciously reach into his pockets for the stack of coins he always carried. He would take one coin from the top stack and place it on the bottom, again and again, until the familiar movement and the sound of metal rubbing against metal doused his escalating anxiety.

“Lay low for the moment,” he instructed, his voice calm and composed as opposed to the frantic flickering of his fingers on his left hand. “I will delete all messages in the messenger. Wait for further instructions and don't rouse suspicion.”

“Understood, sir.”

Do you, really? He wanted to say, but he practiced restraint as he stood in the middle of the airport’s valet waiting lounge. He disconnected the call and expertly tapped on the root commands on his smartphone, then dropped it into the nearest trash bin. As if on cue, a black limousine pulled over and he wasted no time to get in as soon as the parking assistant opened the door.

Once the assistant made sure that the man was seated comfortably inside the car, he handed him another phone. The man took it without a word, and motioned the assistant to close the car door.

When the car rolled out of the valet waiting lounge and into the main road, the man turned the new smartphone on and it was satisfyingly the same make and model, settings, and contents of the other phone he threw out.  The only thing that differed was the phone number. At least something went right today, he mused.

He has had enough with all this incompetence . Although he didn't really expect much from those drug-heavy fanatics, but they are especially trained to kill.  

How hard was it to get rid of a small, insignificant girl?

At this point, he was also reminded of another failed attempt to end the redhead’s life. He felt another pang of annoyance in his chest and his left hand fiddled with the coins even louder.

Both of these whores are becoming more trouble than expected .

With this happening, he knows he needs to be careful in returning to C&R. Junghee had pretty much compromised the integrity of the security team, and knowing Jumin Han he will not stop until everyone is found.

And there is also the problem with the goddamn twins . Sooner or later they would find his involvement with all of what's happened. He personally bore witness to the older twin’s capabilities when he took Saeran, and he has no intention of getting caught.

Saeran.

His left hand stopped fiddling with the coins and his fingers clenched around them. I should have killed him when I had the chance.

The car pulled over to the condominium's driveway and into the underground parking lot, where it stopped by the elevator area. The driver opened the car door for him, and the man alighted the vehicle to quickly stride toward the elevator. He tapped his access card on one of the sensors and pressed “up”.

The doors opened and he stepped in, and once he alighted and reached the door to his suite, he pressed his hand on the biometric scanner.

“Access granted.” the text read on the small LED board, and the door slid open.

He tossed his heavy coat on the couch and assessed the entire situation in his head. He walked toward the window and watched the city below.

Why did Rika insist on sending them to the damn apartment? It would have been more efficient to just kidnap them if she wanted them.

As if on cue, his phone vibrated in his suit pocket. He knew who this call is from. He clenched his jaw and pressed the green “accept” button.

“Savior.”

“Yeong-Ho,” the female voice emanated from the phone's earpiece. “I will be straight to the point. Your actions have caused some of our investors to back out, and you will deal with this on your own.”

Somehow, he has expected this. “What would you have me do, your Grace?”

“Kill them.”

His ashen eyes widened with the absurdity of the request. “The men you're asking me to hunt down are no ordinary people, your Grace.”

A sigh was heard at the other end of the line. “Can you not do it? I thought you more capable than this. This would have been nothing to Saeran.”

His anger burst in the mention of the bastard’s name. You already have me, and you fucking talk about someone else?

“Ah, I'm sorry. I must have struck a cord. But you know it's true. He could have--”

“I'll do it,” he snapped, and a satisfied giggle was heard at the other end of the line.

“As expected of someone in your caliber. I will be waiting for good news.”

The call ended with a beep. He never knew what Rika was thinking--and that somehow gave him a sweet taste in his mouth. He relished in the cruelty of it all. Rika knew how to play the game, without even lifting a finger.

A human being’s worst enemy are themselves. It just takes a minute to observe them. Tell them what you see and watch them fall at your feet.

So beautifully cruel, Rika.

A rush of excitement flooded him. As much as the current development was not to his liking, he cannot deny in his heart that the new mission made the hunt even sweeter. He could just imagine the horror in Jumin Han's heart as he would feel tortured to find who is killing off his executives.  The fear that he could instill to the sisters. The desperation he can give to the twins.

He licked his lips and a grin slowly crept on his face, his ash-colored eyes glinting with a desire so primal and dark.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he whispered.


 

Beep-beep. Beep-beep.

She felt the pull of consciousness once again, her ears focused on the steady, unnatural beeping sound. She felt a sharp pain in her midsection as consciousness slowly took over, and upon noticing the pain it slowly built up and multiplied, robbing her of sleep.

Suddenly it was difficult for her to breathe normally. Her eyebrows knotted in the effort of slowing her breathing, and the pain became unbearable enough for her to let out a small groan.

Why...why is it painful?

And they said there will be no pain in death.

She felt a warm hand envelop hers and she unconsciously grabbed onto it to at least have an outlet for the pain.

Her eyes fluttered open and the first thing she saw was Jumin’s grey eyes looking at hers. He looked calm and complacent, but his eyes were ridden with worry.

He placed his other hand on top of hers, and gently caressed the back of her hand to help ease the pain.

Her eyes widened in surprise upon seeing him, and then she felt her heart swell with happiness.  

He’s here.  Jumin’s here.

Alive.

The pain no longer mattered.  She let out a shaky sigh of relief feeling Jumin’s warm hands against hers.  Unbeknownst to her, her lips slightly curled up to a smile, her eyes softened in seeing him.

He’s okay...thank God he’s okay.

“Hey,” Jumin spoke oh so softly, his eyes that used to be cold, dark pools became so soft and warm.   He removed one of his hands from hers and stroked her forehead, and she leaned into his touch.

“J-Ju...min…” she found that she could barely speak, the smallest effort was shooting pain from her midsection.

“Shh,” Jumin lightly pressed a finger on her lips. “Don't talk.”

Jumin sat in silence with her for a few minutes, his fingers continued to lightly stroke her hair. Her head feels strangely oily and matted, and somehow she felt self-conscious on how she looked like at the moment. Despite this, she allowed herself the small indulgence of closing her eyes and just feel his hand on her forehead.

After a while, she finally realized that Jumin wasn't wearing his normal suit--he wore a black, long-sleeved button-down shirt with the first two buttons unfastened, and the sleeves folded right by his elbow. He had dark circles under his eyes, but he still looked ethereal, like a dream.

Reine felt warmth flood to her cheeks as she watched him. Her heart fluttered while watching him dutifully fix her blanket so she could stay warm.

“H..how long have I been out?” She asked, and Jumin shot her a worried stare.

He sighed and sat on a chair beside her bed. “Must you always defy what I ask you to do?”

She felt herself smile. “I'm sorry, Mr. Han,” she weakly replied as she teased him.

“So stubborn,” he huffed. “You were in the ICU for two days. We transferred you out just this morning.”

She gasped. “Almost three days? I was asleep that long?”

Jumin turned to look at her, as if he was studying her. She stared back, confused. “You...you don't remember?”

Reine's eyebrows knotted in confusion. “Remember what?”

“You woke up on the second day,” he said while he stood to adjust the window blinds to let a little more natural light in. “But you were quite disoriented, still.”

“Well that explains why I couldn't remember,” Reine replied. “I…I didn't say anything embarrassing, right?”

Jumin suddenly froze. The memory of her in such a state stabbed at his heart, and created a whirlpool of emotions he was unsure how to swim out of.

“Jumin..?”

I failed to protect you.”

Reine felt her breath hitch slightly with Jumin's words. He sat back down on the chair and placed his forehead on the metal braces of the hospital bed, his hair covering his eyes from view. “I became too careless. I was confident in what I do...and all I did was endanger you.”

“Careless? Endanger me? Jumin,” Reine muttered, the pain slowly being forgotten the more she paid it no heed. “I am your bodyguard. It was my--”

“No you are not,” Jumin retorted. “ You're not .”

“Fine, but I was . And I've been trained to--”

Jumin stood up abruptly. “I never thought of you as one! You're my--”

He caught himself as if he were about to blurt something he would've regretted. His eyes were black pools of swirling emotions, and Reine felt as if she had struck something in him.

“Jumin? What..?”

“N-never mind what I said,” Jumin cleared his throat and regained his composure.

“I've arranged the transfer from the ICU to one of the premium rooms as soon as you got better,” he said, his professional facade immediately set on his features as he looked around the hospital room. “It's not to my liking, but this should do until you can move to a better one.”

For the first time in minutes, Reine let her eyes roam around the room. The place was huge . The room had it's own lounge area, and is that a kitchen?

“Jumin...i-isn't this a bit too much? I-I’m--”

“Let me do this for you. Please,” he implored, his voice softer. “Let me take care of you, at least.”

She somehow felt a pang of guilt. She was nobody. Being alive was more than she deserved, and yet someone of his stature fussed over her like a lover.

Wait.   Does he..?

The reality of it slapped her in the face so hard she almost forgot to breathe. Images of her past came crashing down at her like a deluge, her sins crawling up her skin to remind her of her place in everything.

She doesn't deserve this. She doesn't deserve him .

She deserved to die.

 

“Do you like it when he slithers his hands all over you like that?”

“No!”

“Or do you enjoy being an old man's plaything? My, oh my. You're nothing but a filthy whore, like your mother who opens her legs to any man who had coins in his pockets.”

“Don't you dare--”

“I know you want to kill him. Oh, yes. Your eyes tell me everything, Reine. Your anger burns. Every time he touches you, you want to wring his neck with those hands of yours. Every time he looks at you with those lecherous eyes you know how much you want to end it all.”

"You can end it all, Reine. You have power in your hands to take it all.” 

 

“I'm...sorry, Jumin,” she mumbled and looked away. “I...I don't deserve any of this.”

 

“--like your mother who opened her legs to any man who had coins in his pockets.”

She clenched her fists. I will not be like my mother.

Jumin turned to her. His body may seem sturdy but his eyes betrayed his pain. All he wanted was to take care of her. To at least show her that it's okay.

“I...I can't accept all of this, Jumin,” Reine spoke quietly, her voice on the verge of breaking.

Jumin stood beside her and held one of her hands in his. “Why?”

Reine looked away. How can I possibly tell you? “I'm... I'm grateful for the help thus far. I'll pay you back once I get better.”

Silence hung heavy in the air, and if it weren't for the steady beeping of the monitor, it would have consumed her.

 

“You robbed my daughter of her father. You robbed her of a life! You robbed me of my husband...I hope you die and rot in hell. Why don't you just die?!” 

“I see,” Jumin said with finality as his face turned cold, but his voice was thick with suppressed anger and pain.

Reine clenched her fists as Jumin's words hung in the air.   She couldn't say or do anything but watch him as he turned to open the door and close it behind him.

 

“And now you cry?! Good. Remember this pain, you fucking whore. May it follow you wherever you go, and I hope the dying face of my husband haunts you until your own death!” 

This is for the best, she assured herself as tears silently rolled the sides of her face.


 

“Mr. Han. You're on your second bottle of wine. And God forbid, it's a Sunday,” Jaehee placed the pile of papers on Jumin's desk, while the man furiously scribbled on his notebook.

“Thank you, Assistant Kang. It is a Sunday. You may go home,” he replied without looking up. “I'll take care of the rest.”

A sigh was heard from Jaehee and she leaned both her hands on Jumin's desk. A small box was sitting on top of his desk right next to the desk lamp, and Jaehee stared at it with curiosity.

“Saeran Choi is at the lobby, as you requested,” she said after finally giving up to talking some sense into the C&R Director. “Is there really nothing I can do to help?”

Jumin finally stopped writing and lightly rested his pen on the desk. He straightened his back and looked up at her. “I'm fine. You may go.”

Jaehee straightened and gave one final sigh. “All right. See you, Mr. Han.”

Jumin picked up his pen and went through the first stack of papers that Jaehee left as she closed the door. The fountain pen made scratching noises on paper as he scribbled with an unusually heavy pressure.

 

"I don't deserve any of this."

A surge of emotions flooded him as Reine’s words echoed in his mind. He abruptly lifted the pen from the paper and closed his eyes to let out a sigh, his fist clenched as he fought to control the feeling of…

...what was he exactly feeling? Anger? Sadness? Worry?

“It doesn't make sense,” he mumbled to himself. He swiveled his chair to turn toward the glass window behind him, his eyes scanning the city below. He leaned his elbow on one of the chair’s armrests and his index finger idly stroked his lower lip.

“Nothing has been making sense for the past few days,” a familiar voice responded to him, and Jumin immediately turned to its source. Saeran stood just by the door with his hands in his pockets as he laid his gaze on Jumin, studying him.

Jumin closed his eyes and stood, then opened them and gave a lingering glance at the box on his desk. “Saeran...could you gather all of Reine's phone data and transfer it on this one? She broke her phone,” he opened one of his desk drawers and placed the bloodied, broken phone on his desk.

Saeran noted the pain that passed in Jumin's features. “That's easy enough. When do you need it?”

“Immediately,” he replied. “I plan to give it to her before she leaves.”

Saeran's eyebrows knotted in confusion. “ Before she leaves?

Jumin sighed and turned toward the glass window and away from Saeran. “She refused help. I am assuming she will take things in her own hands the moment that she can make the tiniest of movement,” he spoke in between clenched teeth, and Saeran watched as Jumin clenched and unclenched his fists as he tried to keep his emotions at bay.

Jumin's sigh pulled Saeran out of his reverie. “Why must she be so stubborn? ” Jumin remarked. “Why couldn't she just accept help? Why couldn't she just sit down and be taken care of?”

Saeran watched him with understanding as Jumin vented his frustration. The pieces fell into place in his mind as a familiar scene developed before him, and knowing Jumin, he may not be the best person to set things in order.

“Apologies, Saeran. It must be the wine,” he said and gestured toward the empty wine bottles sitting on top of the shelves.

Saeran wasted no time. He grabbed both the bloodied phone and the box on Jumin's desk. “Immediately, you said. Leave it to me.”

Chapter Text

Her eyes watched every color in the sky as the sun set. A sharp pain in her midsection has been hampering her movement since she woke up, but so far she managed to go as far as relieve herself on her own and sit up from her bed, to the nurses’ horror.

She felt herself recovering very fast. The doctor informed her of the damage, and she was relieved to know that the bullet had only grazed her liver.

But on top of all, she needs to get out of here. Fast.

Her fists clutched at the blanket tightly. She can't stay useless like this any longer. The doctor has been repeatedly telling her not to move, but she knows her own body--she will force herself to get better if she needs to.

A heavy sigh snapped her back to reality as a nurse entered her room. “Miss Lee, you're not supposed to sit up yet!” She commented, and went to adjust her bed.

Reine smiled at the nurse. “I feel way worse when lying down. I don't feel any pain,” she reasoned.

The nurse started scribbling on her clipboard. “You might open up the wound,” she reminded. “You've only been here for four days. It may not be bleeding as much but it's still not healed...please be careful,” she smiled at Reine she flipped the clipboard closed.

Reine turned toward the window, admiring the last rays of sunlight over the cityscape. “I plan to get out of here as soon as possible,” she said solemnly. “I can't inconvenience people more than I already have.”

She heard a giggle. “You mean Mr. Han?”

Reine felt blood rush to her cheeks. She turned to the nurse with a surprised expression.

The nurse covered her mouth. “I am so sorry, miss. That was uncalled for,” she quickly apologized.

Jumin. She felt her heart ache for him. She knows she hurt him, but what was there to do? She longed to be with him, and yet she was so scared. She had nothing to give him, and while she wasn't afraid of him turning away, she will not forgive herself if being with him tainted his good reputation.

“No, it's fine,” she smiled, and turned her eyes back toward the scenery at the window.

“He’s...he’s a good friend . He's a little intense, but his heart is in the right place,” she spoke with fondness.

“You must care about him so much to stand in between him and a fired bullet.”

A familiar voice rang inside the room and both women turned toward the door. Saeran had opened the door without them noticing, and Reine found herself unable to respond.

The nurse excused herself and left the room, and Saeran stood quietly a good distance from the bed.

“How...how’s Ae Cha?” Reine spoke which finally broke the awkward silence.

“Why don't you check on her yourself?” He replied, and placed a box on the bed, beside her lap. Reine looked at the black box with curiosity, and then turned to Saeran, who nodded towards it, urging her to open it.

Reine gingerly opened the box to find a brand new smartphone, and she shot a surprised look at Saeran.

“We took the liberty of transferring the files from your old, broken phone on this one,” Saeran said.

Reine sighed and gently replaced the phone back in it's box. “It was...Jumin, wasn't it?”

Saeran looked into her eyes. He definitely saw guilt behind them, and he gave a frustrated sigh. “So what if it was?”

“Then I can't accept this,” she replied. “I can't owe him more than I already do.”

“Don't be stupid,” he retorted. “You said it yourself-- his heart is in the right place. Jumin isn't doing all this for anything in return.”

Reine clutched at the blankets as she turned her gaze away. “That's even worse,” she said with a pained chuckle. “I don't deserve any of this.”

“Aren't you being awfully selfish right now?” Saeran replied through gritted teeth. “Do you honestly think you're the only one who suffer?”

“I did not say that,” she interjected, her voice slightly agitated. “But if I have to hurt him to protect him, I would.”

“Bullshit,” Saeran snapped, which made Reine turn to him abruptly.

“What?!”

“I don't know what you're thinking, but if you think you're the one to take him down, then you're mistaken,” he argued. “You're treating him like an idiot.”

“Do you think this isn't painful , Saeran?” Her voice finally broke, her tears staining the pristine white blanket as they fell. “I'm left with no choice! My past will forever haunt me. I'm so afraid I'll end up hurting him if it does!”

“Then shut up and listen ,” Saeran interrupted.

“I don't know what happened to you in the past. But I killed his best friend. And he forgave me . Took me in like family. Do you honestly think that your past that he had nothing to do with would actually matter ?”

Reine's eyes widened in shock. “W-what…”

Saeran's eyes were furious . She felt the tenacity of his suppressed anger behind them. “I owe him my life. If you so much as hurt him, I swear I will repay you tenfold.”

Reine wanted to respond but no words came. Saeran's revelation shook her to the core, but it spoke to her like none other.

Saeran sighed and turned toward the door. “If you really care about him, then shut up and get the help you need,” he said in an exasperated tone as he exited the room and closed the door behind him.


 

 

He always found humans fascinating .

It was an easy deal to lure him out. A simple mention of a name was all it took. A small message, inconspicuous--but to someone with secrets , it meant everything that he ever feared about.

Sim Yeong-Ho sat contentedly at the back of his black limousine. He adjusted his leather gloves as he waited, his car parked in a dark corner.

He's late. He flipped his fob watch closed as he grew impatient. He tapped his fingers as his hands sat on his lap, his eyes hovered on the phone that sat on the leather seat just beside him.

Then he heard footsteps. He smiled to himself; he felt the rush of excitement course through him. He felt the urge to grab the stack of coins in his pocket, but not now.

Patience, Yeong-Ho.

Soon he heard three abrupt knocks on his window, and turned to see the man he was waiting for. He rolled the window down and gave his most professional smile.

“Good evening, Yoon Tae,” he greeted, but was met by an angry shove of a leather bag.

“Here's your fucking money,” Yoon Tae snapped. “I did my part. I want no ties with Mint Eye from now on. Leave my daughters alone.”

Yeong-Ho smiled. “Now, now. I've always been true to my word, haven't I?” He took the bag from the window and placed it on the car floor.

As soon as the bag hit the floor, he turned toward the other man, swiftly grabbed onto the hilt of a dagger and plunged it into Yoon Tae's chest. The man stared at Yeong-Ho with wide, terrified eyes, and he started regurgitating blood.

“Now your ties to Mint Eye are cut, as promised,” he whispered with a smile as he watched life leave Yoon Tae's eyes, and he landed on the ground with a thud.

He took out his handkerchief from his suit pocket and wiped the blade clean, then threw the soiled cloth out the window and rolled the window closed.

“Let's go.”


 

 

Reine kept on glancing at the black box that sat on the bed beside her. It's late in the evening, and she has not seen Jumin since the morning when she woke up.

Saeran's words echoed in her mind the entire afternoon. There were several times when she wanted to open the box and just call him, but she really didn't know what to say. She had been a stubborn, selfish, ungrateful woman and her heart ached at the words she spoke to him.

Dammit, Reine! Why can't you just call him?!

She opened the box for the nth time today. This time, she took the phone out, and placed the lid upside-down on the bed.

She noticed a white sheet of sticky note underneath the cover. Her eyebrows knotted in confusion, and brought the note toward the light.

Reine,

I hope you feel better.

Jumin

Tears threatened to fall from her eyes as she read the note over and over again.

“Damn it,” she whispered. “Even your handwriting is beautiful.”

She turned the phone on, and she gasped at how everything was the same before she lost her old one. Her contacts, her messages, even her photos. More tears flooded her vision and she was taken aback on how much care Jumin had put into setting everything up for her.

As she scanned through her contacts, her thumb stopped when Jumin's number came into view. She wiped her tears with the blanket and took a deep breath.

Finally, she pressed the green call out button.

She felt her heart beat so fast as the phone started ringing. Would it be rude if she terminated the call now?

Suddenly, the ringing stopped, and it felt like her heart stopped with it when she finally heard his voice.

“Reine.”

She couldn't respond. All she felt was her heart bursting, and she tried to hold her tears back but failing miserably.

“J-Jumin,” she finally gathered her courage to talk, and oh God she sounded so awful. She planned on just blurting out her apology, but now that she heard his voice she couldn't control even her erratic breathing.

Wait for me.

The call was disconnected before she could respond. She stared disbelievingly at the phone, noting to herself that Jumin really needed some lecturing on phone manners...

...but oh God he's coming over. What will she say?!

She literally dropped her phone on the bed when the door flung open, and Jumin immediately stepped in. Her eyes widened, and opened her mouth to utter her surprise but a few strides was all it took until she felt his strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her head to rest against his chest.

“Why are you so damn stubborn? ” He spoke as he held her, and it was all it took for her to cling tightly on his arms and buried her face in his chest.

“I'm so sorry…” she whispered, her tears stained her cheeks and Jumin responded by wiping them off with his handkerchief.

“You should be,” he replied as he rested his chin on the top of her head. “But... I'm glad that you called. I was getting tired of waiting.”

Reine suddenly remembered the question she was supposed to ask when he suddenly showed up at the door. She pulled away and looked at him. “How did you get here so fast?”

He smiled at her, his grey eyes shone like silver against the dim light of the room.

“I've always stayed the night. I don't see how tonight would be any different.”

Reine gasped.

“You mean...since...five days ago…?”

“Yes.”

Reine’s emerald eyes overflowed with tears. “Why, Jumin? Why do you do this? Why…”

Jumin took her in his arms once more and gently stroked her hair.

“Enough questions. Just sit there and be held. Alright?”

Reine giggled, for the first time in days. She let herself go and finally gave up to settle in the warm comfort of his arms.

“As you wish, Mr. Han.”

As you wish.


 

 

Jumin felt himself smile as he watched Reine sound asleep in the hospital bed. The slow rising and falling of her chest, the sound of her breathing, and her fingers intertwined with his brought him a sense of peace he never thought existed.

At this moment, nothing else mattered. He watched her every movement, even the slight twitching of her eyebrows as she traveled in the world of dreams.

But this moment, above all else, was just breathtaking. She was almost robbed away from him, and he felt his heart ache remembering how lifeless she was just a few days ago.

He was jolted from his musings when he felt his phone vibrate from his pocket. He reluctantly took his hand away from hers and reached for his phone, and saw Jaehee's caller ID flash on the screen.

He pressed the green answer button and placed the phone against his ear while he hurriedly stood and opened the door to exit the room.

“Assistant Kang,” he finally spoke as he closed the door gently behind him. “What is it?”

“Mr. Han,” Jaehee spoke with unnerving urgency.

“The accounts manager, Sang Yoon Tae, was killed just a few hours ago.”

“What?!” he exclaimed.

Chapter Text

Five more days have passed since Jumin broke the news to Ae Cha that Reine was awake. The girl was on her way of adjusting to living with temporary roommates. In a short amount of time she was gaining weight, and her skin no longer appeared as pale thanks to Vanderwood’s persistence of ensuring the girl ate a proper meal.

It took getting used to waking up with at least Saeyoung sleeping in the bed with her. Occasionally she would wake up to Saeran sleeping on the other side of her. As confusing as the situation with her and the twins was, she decided not to question it when it came to the circumstances of the sleeping arrangements. After all...

It was rather pleasant to wake up so warm and cozy without nightmares. Having proper sleep was more than enough to improve her spirits.

“Vandy,” Ae Cha called out from the living room. She laid on the living room floor with her phone in her hands, a leg crossing over another. Her phone’s screen revealed the new otome game Secret Messenger. Since being pulled off of social media, she began playing video games again, and she remembered how much fun they were.

“Reine’s been awake for almost a week, and I still haven’t seen her,’ she frowned, tapping her phone screen.

Vanderwood stepped out of the kitchen with two steaming bowls of ramen, and sighed at Ae Cha who was lying on the floor. “What are you doing down there? Should I remove all the couches in this house?” He set the ramen down on the coffee table, indulging Ae Cha’s insistence of not eating in the dining area.

“It's still not safe. She has been talking to you through text, has she not?”

“She has,” Ae Cha admitted, and sat up to eat. She set her phone on the coffee table, straightened the lavender oversize shirt she was wearing, and pushed her hair out of the way before reaching for the chopsticks.

“I… I just keep getting this feeling I need to see her in person” Ae Cha admitted, stirring the ramen with chopsticks. She took a deep breath, savoring the aroma of fresh broth.

It didn’t help how the knot in her stomach grew each day she didn’t see her sister. She was getting anxious to see Reine. Unfortunately, due recent events, there was more no way the girl could visit her older sister. She has tried to think of ways, only to be shut down.

The silence in the room jarred her out of her thoughts. She glanced up, noticing Vanderwood was staring down at her. Shit, I almost forgot. Where were her manners?

“Thank you for the meal.”

Vanderwood continued to fondly watch the smaller girl, and he reached out to place a light pat on her head. “Good girl.”

Once they were done eating, he proceeded to collect the bowls and carry them with him as he stood up. “If you want to see Reine that badly, maybe we can escort you...but I'm really not up to the idea of having another goose chase on the highway,” he sighed, and looked at Ae Cha with sympathetic eyes.

The sound of running water filled the air as Vanderwood went to wash the used bowls.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to go undercover, like an agent?,” Ae Cha jested, chuckling at her own whimsical idea. She pictured her and the twins going undercover and she found herself grinning stupid over it.

She sighed realizing how stupid the idea sounded, and reached for her phone to resume her sprawled out position on the carpet. The phone’s screen illuminated her face as she read her previous text message conversations with Reine.

“Hey. Don't lie down on the floor; it's cold. And you'll regurgitate what you just ate,” Vanderwood reprimanded as he re-entered the living room, carrying a cup of hot ginger tea. He set it on the coffee table after taking a sip.

“Actually, I think that idea would work,” he said in response to the girl's earlier statement. “But you need to take the boys with you. Otherwise I will not permit it.”

“What idea?”

A voice came from the hallway outside the living room, and later on a very unhappy Saeyoung stepped in, carrying five bags of groceries in each arm.

“Ae Chan wants to visit Reine,” Vanderwood answered, “and she suggested to go undercover.”

Saeyoung's golden eyes lit up like Christmas tinsels. “Ohhh! Ohhhhhhh! Ae Chan, we can play dress up!” He skipped hurriedly toward the kitchen to set the grocery bags on the counter. “That would be so much fun!”

Saeran came in the living room next, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What is he so happy about?” He sighed and shrugged his leather jacket off his shoulders and tossed it on one of the couches.

Undercover, Saeran!” Saeyoung called from the kitchen, and he skipped back into the living room with a smile plastered on his face. “We're gonna dress up as Ae Chan’s noonas!”

Saeran froze. “What did you just say?”

Vanderwood laughed. “Well, his idea ain't half bad.”

Noona? ” Saeran repeated with an incredulous look in his face. “I am not going to dress up as a woman.”

“Aww come on!” Saeyoung interjected. “Just this once!”

“No.”

“I'll make you pretty! You won't regret it!”

Saeran's cheeks turned bright red. “No!”

“Please? Ae Chan wants to see Reine, and this is the less suspicious way!”

Saeran glanced at Ae Cha who was staring at him with wide, expectant eyes. He bit the inside of his lips as he tried not to give in, but her golden hazel eyes were imploring.

Stop looking at me like that!

“...fine,” he said reluctantly, to Saeyoung's glee. He glared at his brother and grabbed his collar. “You will not take any pictures nor videos!”

“Yes, yes, I won't,” Saeyoung promised.

“Really?” Ae Cha squeed, pushing herself off of the ground and hopped toward the twins with extra excitement in her step. She grabbed both of their hands suddenly, and swung their arms in tandem. Her face lit up with delight as she rubbed her legs together, standing in front of both twins.  The movement caused the right ebony-colored thigh leg warmer to slip below her knee.

“There’s just one problem,” she paused.

Ae Cha looked up at Saeyoung and Saeran perplexed, unaware both leg warmers have now slipped below her knees, revealing bare thighs while she fidgeted.

The twins did not miss how her leg warmers revealed each and every inch of smooth skin on Ae Cha’s thighs. They both felt blood rush to their cheeks and unable to move or do anything.

How can we?,” Ae Cha wondered, curiosity dazzling in her eyes. An image of the twins flashed in her mind, and she chuckled at the absurdity. “No offense, but, I think my clothing size is too small for the both of you,”

“Hey.”

Vanderwood's voice jolted the twins out of their trance as they heard the threat in that one word.

“Just where are you boys looking?”

If they could get any redder, they would have. Their eyes suddenly snapped open to see Ae Cha’s round eyes staring at them questioningly.

“Ah!” Saeyoung willed himself out of his daze, trying his best not to imagine grabbing her thighs hard and leaving red welts on it.

Dammit Saeyoung, focus!

“Clothes! Clothes, yeah,” he stammered, and winked at Ae Cha. “Don't underestimate the powers of agent Seven Zero Seven!”

Saeran let out an exasperated sigh and went off to sit on the couch, but he just could not take his eyes off Ae Cha’s thighs.

He felt how Vanderwood shot him a glare on the periphery of his vision and immediately turned his gaze toward the window.

Saeyoung laid both hands on Ae Cha’s shoulders and gave her with a serious, intense stare. “What I am about to show you is one of my deepest, darkest secrets,” he said in a solemn voice.

“Come with me.” He beckoned the girl.

Out of nowhere, the girl felt a cold draft on her legs which made her look down. Her eyes widened at the sight of own bare thighs. No wonder Vanderwood called out both twins like he did. Heat returned to her cheeks and she pulled both leg warms back up to her thighs.

Maybe Vanderwood was right about her weight, she thought to herself. Even she was unsure how much weight she lost in the last three years.    I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to gain a couple of pounds.

“O-okay,” Ae Cha agreed to Saeyoung’s request, reaching for his hand. The seriousness of the older twin’s tone worried her. Wherever she was being lead, it sounded terrifying.

They reached the doorway when Ae Cha turned back to Saeran who appeared to be lost in thought as he looked out the window.   What could he be thinking about?

“Saeran, are you going to come with us too?” Her eyes pleaded for him to follow.

Saeran looked her way and the red tint on his cheeks were very evident. He stood up and noticed the worry in Ae Cha’s face, which made him smile very slightly. As much as it annoys him, Saeyoung's humor is admittedly one of his most endearing traits.

Deepest, darkest secret?

Ae Cha had no idea.

“Yes, I'll come with you,” he replied as he followed the pair.

Saeyoung led them toward two flights of stairs heading downward, and at the foot of the stairs were metal doors and what looked like a scanner on the side. Saeyoung paused and turned to Ae Cha as they all stood before the door. “I hope you're ready,” he warned, and then placed his hand on the scanner.

Access Granted. Welcome, Saeyoung Choi.

“Whoa... What is this place?” Ae Cha marveled at the steel doors, but couldn’t help but wince at the sound of the voice coming from the door. The memory of being doused in water was very fresh in her mind.

The doors unlocked with an audible click, and slowly slid open. Saeyoung straightened as the lights in the room flickered open to reveal…

...rows after rows after rows…

...of costumes.

In the middle of the room was a massive mirror that extended from floor to ceiling. The wall on the left side was covered with hanged clothes, with a movable, remote-controlled ladder to help reach clothes on the top rack. On the right side of the mirror stood mannequins fitted with complete, head-to-toe outfits, and a part of the wall on the right side were shelves upon shelves of mannequin heads that stored wigs of every hair length, color, and style. A little further to the right was a revolving cabinet of shoes , mostly in neutral shades to compliment any clothing color, and at the very center of the room was an island table with a vanity mirror and stacked full with every make-up imaginable.

“Behold!” Saeyoung raised both his arms as he spoke in his proudest voice. “My wardrobe collection!”

“No way,” Ae Cha muttered under her breath, staring at the room in wonder. Her jaw hung agape. She stayed silent for a few minutes. Her eyes going between Saeyoung and the contents of the room.

And then she remembered what Saeyoung said earlier, and nearly broke into laughter.

“This is your deepest, darkest secret?” Ae Cha asked in between deep breaths. She sauntered into the room and perched herself on top of the vanity, crossing her legs in the process. She reached for a small hand mirror, and looked at herself.

“I like it~,” Ae Cha cooed. She pulled off her rose-colored glasses, and set them delicately beside her. She looked at the twins, a spark of deviancy showing in her golden-hazel eyes.

“I can’t wait to see you both dressed up as Noonas,” Ae Cha sing-songed, kicking her legs playfully.

Saeyoung gave her a big smile and leaned in to whisper into her ear. “Let's dress up Saeran!”

Saeran frowned. “Hey. Don't you dare.

Saeyoung pouted. “What? Wouldn't it be great to have Ae Chan choose clothes for you?”

Saeran’s cheeks turned pink. “I-it is.”

“That's settled then!” Saeyoung said with a brief clap of his hands. “Ae Chan, would you like to dress me up, too?”

“You couldn’t have asked a more qualified girl!” Ae Cha proclaimed, throwing both of her hands in the air with a thumbs up.

She hopped off of the vanity and skipped around Saeyoung and Saeran, taking a quick look at them. The idea of playing dress up sounded like Christmas, and she was eager to begin.

“I’ll make you both pretty!”

Ae Cha crossed her arms, her eyes dazzling with curiosity. She was determined to choose the perfect outfits, but to do that she had to understand their body types . Sure, they were twins, but even an identical twin could have enough differences to where the same outfit for one twin wouldn’t work on the other.

“This is going to be odd request,” Ae Cha mused, tapping her index finger on her cheek as she lost herself in thought. “Could you both… take your shirts off ?”

The twins felt themselves grin at the unusual request. They glanced at each other a while, and in that moment there was an understanding.

Without hesitation, they took off their shirts. As trained agents, their bodies were nicely chiseled.

Saeyoung had slightly broader shoulders than Saeran, and his skin a shade darker. His upper arms were more defined, but remaining lean than bulk, same with the rest of his body. His pants hung low, revealing the cut of muscle where his hips would start.

Saeran had a lighter skin tone. His shoulders were a little smaller than his brother's but his arms were well-defined. Among the two, Saeran’s chest was more defined, and had a slightly slimmer waist. He also sported a low-cut dark denim pants that revealed a little of his hips.

They both stared at Ae Cha with a serious expression; Saeran casually placed his hands in his pockets while Saeyoung rolled his shoulders backwards as if relieving tension.

“Great! Th-” Ae Cha paused, drawing a deep shuddering breath as she took a moment to take in the beauty right in front of her own eyes.

What did she get herself into?

Heat rose through her abdomen, and she imagined being pressed up against the vanity, lazily drawing circles into Saeran’s defined chest. She also pictured being pinned against the mirror while Saeyoung showered her neck with kisses.

Stop it. Get a hold of yourself, woman!  

Ae Cha’s cheeks flushed red, and she shook her head hoping to push the lewd desires running amuck in her mind.

“Th-thanks!” Ae Cha finally spoke, flashing a nervous smile.

It took every bit of her composure to approach both of the twins, holding her breath as she took in every detail. She circled them, praying for that heat in her abdomen to eventually go away.  Soon the friction of walking bothered her, and she bit the inside of her lip in frustration.

“D-do either of you have a pr-preference in wearing pants or skirts?,” The girl stammered, whipping around to face the massive wardrobe.

It didn't help that the twins followed her with their eyes everywhere she went. Tension hung thick in the air and the tiny bit of her thighs peeking from where the hem of her shirt ends and her leg warmers start weren't exactly making the boys comfortable.

The twins stood behind her, and stood close enough that they could feel the heat of her body on their skin without touching.

“Pants,” Saeran replied in a low, husky voice.

“I don't care,” Saeyoung replied as well, his voice a few octaves lower than usual.

The tension was becoming intoxicating. The body heat of the twins tingled on her skin, causing her breathing to become erratic. Her heart drummed wildly, and her body ached to release the build up surrounding the girl.

“Then let’s get started on doing m- I mean. Um. Uh. O-O-Okay! ” Ae Cha continued stammering, flustered with her body’s longing.

A sudden beep jolted the three as Vanderwood's voice echoed from the intercom.

“Boys, come up. We got work.”

Saeyoung smiled at Ae Cha and patted her on the head. “You heard mom! Let's go up!” Then he turned to grab his shirt from the chair and wore it over his head. Saeran gave her a lingering gaze before turning to put his shirt on as well.

A disappointing ache rocked Ae Cha’s core from the abrupt stop of whatever was happening between the trio. The girl’s gaze fell to the floor to conceal the color of her face and the lingering lust sparkling in her eyes.

Chapter Text

“Three gunshots to the chest,” Vanderwood spoke as she tossed the boys a brown envelope. The boys immediately flipped through its contents, and stopped at the copy of the C&R employee file. “Sang Yoon Tae, one of the accounts managers in C&R. He was stabbed five days ago at the corner of 26th and 24th streets. Details of the police report are in there.”

Vanderwood turned to Ae Cha, who was seated on one of the couches. He smiled at her. “Ae Cha, you may listen in if you like, but if it becomes too uncomfortable then you may leave,” he warned, then continued to address the twins.

“This may have passed as a simple murder case,” he continued. “But another was killed just a few hours ago. Kim Song-min, one of the senior managers in C&R’s Research and Development branch.”

Saeran’s eyebrows furrowed. “Kim Song-min is a familiar name,” he commented, and he stood up to grab his laptop that laid on top of the table.

“Close proximity gunshot through the chest,” Saeyoung mumbled to himself as he flipped through the crime scene pictures.

Vanderwood turned the living room TV on and projected the data from his phone, which showed a CCTV feed. “I was able to gather some footage and unfortunately all I was able to capture was this man. He wore the same suit, and to our awesome luck, he seems to be brilliant enough to know where all the CCTVs are...so in all of the records, his back was always turned.”

Ae Cha had been listening to the entire conversation, intrigued at the developments. Something didn’t settle quite right with her when she heard the mention of the C&R Research and Development Branch, but she couldn’t put her finger on it yet.

She casually glanced up at the CCTV footage displayed on the television and froze as she got a good look of the person in the image. It was him.

“Sim Yeong-ho!” Ae Cha stood up and pointed at the television. “I know that’s him. He never has his back turned to his victim.”

Ae Cha’s eyes darkened after her accusation. The sound of metal rubbing against metal echoed in her ears.

All three men turned to her with a surprised expression. “Ae Chan...are you sure?” Saeyoung responded, noting the darkness that loomed over her.

“I know… how he carries himself. That’s Sim Yeong-ho.” Ae Cha sighed, rubbing her arm as her gaze fell downcast. Her nose caught wind of something. Was she smelling absinthe?

Saeyoung dropped the files he was holding on the table and gathered her his arms for a tight hug.

“Are you all right?” he asked. Ae Cha quietly nodded, her arms falling to her sides.

Saeran made one last tap on his laptop and leaned his back on the couch. “I was right. Kim Song-Min was one of the names that bastard Yeong-Ho made me blackmail a few years ago,” he sighed and turned to Vanderwood. “He's with Mint Eye.”

“Then Jumin's hunch was true,” Vanderwood sighed. “And since Ae Cha has identified our mystery man to be Sim Yeong-Ho, then we must find a way to make him come out.”

“We cannot risk Jumin,” Saeyoung reminded as he held Ae Cha.

The girl listened in silence, however, the cogs began turning as she tried to figure out an answer on her own.

Reine’s injured.

Using Jumin C&R could put the company in danger.

Saeyoung and Saeran were in charge of the mission.

Vanderwood was in charge of Spectre.  

“I agree,” Saeran followed. “He’s keeping low since Reine is pretty much a dead weight right now.”

“She'll skin you alive if she hears that,” Saeyoung commented.

I got it. Ae Cha’s eyes grew wide when figuring out the answer. There was only one person in the room capable of bringing Sim Yeong-ho out. Someone who knows him from experience.

She was tired of feeling so powerless.

“Use me as bait,” Ae Cha called out.

A deafening silence fell over the room. Saeran suddenly stopped his typing and stared at Ae Cha in horror.

“No,” he said in between clenched teeth. “I will not let you near that bastard again!”

“Saeran,” Saeyoung spoke softly as he tried to calm his brother down.

“Why not?” Ae Cha pressed.  “People are dying because of him. It makes sense to send me. I know him.”

Vanderwood straightened and looked over to Ae Cha. “Although your idea seems plausible and your intentions admirable, I will not permit it,” he stated firmly. “Saeyoung, gather as much data about the man. Let's take him down the safer way.”

Ae Cha stared at the three men in disbelief. There was no way she was going to give up this fight.

“No. Listen to me !” Ae Cha broke away from Saeyoung and stomped over to Vanderwood. She puffed up in her pint size stature as he towered over her.

“I am tired of not having control of my life,” Ae Cha huffed, pushing her hair out of her face and clenching her tiny fists.

Vanderwood crossed his arms against his chest. “If something goes wrong, what then? You can't even defend yourself!” He snapped back at her.

“Train me then,” she pleaded, her eyes focused onto Vanderwood’s.

Vanderwood did not falter. His eyes studied the girl’s intently. Silence fell over the room again with tension hanging heavy in the air.

“Please?” The girl insisted for a final time.

“Ae Cha,” Saeyoung gently placed his hands on her shoulders. “We'll take care of it, okay?”

“Three months,” Vanderwood spoke.

The twins sighed in defeat. “Vandy, are you su--”

We will train you ,” Vanderwood said with a hardened voice. “If I don't see results in three months, I'm calling this off and we will take him down the way we know how.”

Saeran gave a heavy sigh, and looked at Ae Cha with sympathetic eyes. “I really hope you don't regret this,” he commented.

“Hey. You'll train her for offense, younger Choi,” Vanderwood lifted a finger to point at him. “And you,” he pointed at Saeyoung “will train her for marksmanship.”

He then turned to Ae Cha. “I will train you for defense.”

“R-Really?” Ae Cha’s eyes lit up. Even she was impressed with her own victory. Out of appreciation, Ae Cha stepped toward Vanderwood, and wrapped her arms around him to give a tight hug.  

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Vanderwood gave a sigh and worriedly stared at the ceiling. “I really hope Jumin won't kill me for this,” he then turned to Ae Cha and patted her head. “Those big puppy eyes are too much!”

Saeyoung chuckled. “Wait until you meet her sister . That one's way scarier,” he sighed.

 



After the conversation with Vanderwood, Ae Cha assisted the boys as promised with undercover outfits. What should have been an exciting charade was turning out to be far more somber.

Ae Cha kept the season in mind when dressing the twins. Saeran was dressed in an ivory-cream cotton lace sweater with navy denim shorts. The combination accentuated his smaller waist.The ebony colored stockings, and onyx heel ankle boots helped in balancing out the colors. He wore a fleece coral winter jacket, lined with cream-colored faux fur.

Saeyoung was dressed in a simple rayon ivory cream dress, ebony-colored knee-high stockings, and a similar onyx heel ankle boot. For his coat he was dressed in a form fitting fleece mint jacket, lined with wool lining.

Both twins wore the same chocolate-brown mid-length wig with Ae Cha opting to straighten out Saeran’s and adding loose curls to Saeyoung’s. The girl couldn’t believe how convincingly feminine the boys appeared after adding finishing touches to their outfits.

For Ae Cha’s outfit, she opted to wear one of her own outfits Saeyoung managed to get his hands on. She wore a v-line cotton cloverdale tunic sweater with a monochrome heart print, cedar leggings, and knee-high charcoal heeled boots. A charcoal colored wool infinity scarf concealed her crescent moon choker. A curly auburn wig and the absence of her rose-colored glasses completes the outfit.

Ae Cha quietly followed the twins as the trio headed toward the garage. The clicking sound of heels punctuated each step. Both twins seemed deflated by Ae Cha’s decision. Saeyoung’s vigor faded away, and Saeran’s demeanor turned grave. Both twins would look at her sympathetically when she would look away.

They both still couldn’t believe the decision the girl made, already thinking ahead of what would happen if this mission failed. They didn’t want to imagine the unthinkable for the small, delicate girl.

Unfortunately… that’s all they could think about.

So when Ae Cha finally caught a glimpse of their sad, broken hearted ember-colored eyes, the girl took it upon herself to try to cheer them up.  After all, it was thanks to them entering her life she would even have the confidence to make this decision.

“Hey…” Ae Cha broke the silence between them, and pushed herself in front of the twins, blocking them.

“I know you’re both worried. I can see it in your eyes,” Ae Cha spoke softly, reaching for both of their hands. “I really have to try to do this, but...”

She paused, her golden-hazel eyes gazed upon both twins.  She tried smiling, and squeezed their hands before reassuring them “If anything happens to me, I will alway s run to you.”

“I promise.”

The twins squeezed her hands back, and intertwined them with hers. “I understand,” Saeran finally spoke.

“This is something you must do for yourself,” Saeyoung added. “But if it doesn't work out, we value your life over the mission.”

They stood in somber silence and Vanderwood sighed impatiently from behind them, lightly tapping his leather boots on the concrete floor. “ Ladies , can we save the sentiments for later? Clock’s ticking,” he reprimanded. “And Saeran! Stand up straight! No lady should walk all defeated like that!”

Saeran turned to glare at Vanderwood, his perfectly shaped brows knotted in annoyance. “I don't walk all defeated! It's just that these… tights… are pinching me all in the wrong places!” He mumbled, frowning darkly at his legs.

“Tights are supposed to be tight ,” Ae Cha stated very matter of fact, and pulled out her smartphone from a small heart-shaped purse she was carrying. “You have to walk in them to stretch them out.”

She flipped through her phone’s screen, pulling up a Noogle Maps. “But they look really nice on your legs,” the girl complimented.

“Come on, Saeran,” Saeyoung stuck out his bottom and mimicked the seductive pose from magazines. “Show them those curves!”

“Tch,” Saeran huffed and grabbed the keys from Saeyoung. “I'm driving.”

“But that's my car!”

“Can you please shut up, Saeyoung?” He growled and winced slightly as the tights dug into the wrong areas.

Ae Cha stepped in between the twins, and interrupted the sibling bickering. “Could we stop somewhere before we get to the hospital?,” she asked, waving her phone.


 

Ae Cha and Saeyoung strolled into a popular cafe in Seoul.  They were greeted with aroma of confectionery sugar, flour, and butter upon entering, much to Ae Cha’s delight. It was Sunday evening which meant the normal crowd in the cafe was practically non-existent. Only a handful of couples lingered at the cafe tables.

The cafe had a modern design with muted colors. At the center of the cafe stood a glass case filled with dozens of baked goods, and desserts. Ae Cha had always wanted to visit this cafe, but, it was too far for her to travel on foot without being questioned by Sim Yeong-ho

Two young girls passed Ae Cha, and her eyes sparkled spotting cups of bubble tea in their hands.

“Ooh!” Ae Cha purred, already placing the order of what kind of tea she wants in her mind.

If given a chance, the girl could write songs of devotion to the creamy beverage.  Her very first encounter with Bubble tea was at the international airport back in the United States.  Since then, the girl made an effort to have bubble tea once a week.


However, this cafe trip simply wasn’t about ordering a simple cup of bubble tea.

This trip was about Reine.

Ae Cha had barely gotten to know her sister, but, she was taught as a young girl when someone is ill, you bring them a get well gift...

… And what better gift was there than cake? If they truly had the same blood, cake would speak out to Reine like it did Ae Cha.

Ae Cha leaned in front of the glass case in awe, entranced by sugary sweets. She counted at least 20 different flavors in the case which was proving to make her decision on cake flavor difficult . It was almost their turn to order, and the girl was still undecided.

Saeyoungella ,” Ae Cha spoke, and glanced slightly to her left where the older twin stood. “Have you ever had bubble tea?”

“Oh please, call me Ella,” he replied, too ladylike , while he mimicked Ae Cha's mannerism of twirling a small section of her hair with her finger. “And yes, I have! I prefer my good old Dr. Pepper, though,” he replied while his eyes scanned through the dozens of cakes on display.

His acting was too natural, it's scary.

Ae Cha covered her mouth, concealing the sound of giggling. She found herself perplexed at how much of a girl-friend Saeyoung, erm, Ella was.

“What about Sae… Sara ?” Ae Cha pulled out her phone from her purse, and began snapping pictures of various cakes.  “Has Sara tried bubble tea?”

“Ohh, good point! Let's get some for Sara! She's been hormonal since earlier,” he rolled his eyes in mock exasperation.

The smaller girl couldn’t believe the words coming out of Ella’s mouth, however, she had guessed if Sara heard the comment… a scene would have been made.

“Hello! What would you like?” A female cafe worker from behind the glass case called out to the ladies, interrupting the conversation. She wore a white apron, and had pen & paper in her hands.

Ae Cha shoved her phone back into her purse, and straightened herself out. There was just one problem: she was entirely undecided on what cake flavor to bring to Reine.

“Hiya,” Ae Cha recited in English, and flashed two fingers in front of the worker.  “I need two bubble tea please!”

“What flavors?”

“Two Honeydew milk tea with extra pearls,” Ae Cha replied.

The woman nodded, scribbling the order down on the pad. Ae Cha twirled a section of her curly auburn hair idly, staring at the cakes again.

“Anything else?”

“Oh…” Ae Cha paused, her mind going black on what cake flavor to request. Why did this have to be so hard!?

Ae Cha glanced up, noting the frustration in the female employee’s eyes settling in. She felt embarrassment watching the employee become impatient with her.

“I want a slice from each cake please!” Ae Cha finally answered. The massive request garnered an interesting look from Ella.

The woman’s eyes grew wide at the smaller girl’s answer. A co-worker behind her paused, giving Ae Cha and Ella a baffled expression. “All tw-twenty? Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll give you a generous tip if you honor my request!” Ae Cha nodded, placing multiple large bills on the glass counter.

As soon as the female worker grabbed the cash, two more employees appeared from the kitchen, frantically preparing twenty slices of cake for Ae Cha and Ella. The other customers in the store looked at the two, amused at such the spectacle.

“I hope there’s a flavor here Reine will like,” Ae Cha commented to Ella as they waited for the order to be completed. “If not, well, I guess we have cake to eat.”

Ella winked at the worker at the counter. “That's my baby girl! She goes big or nothing,” she then took the receipt from the cashier and went to pick up two huge paper bags with ten cake slices each.

After they said their thank yous and goodbyes, they finally opened the store's front door to get outside where Sara waited. She still had a permanent scowl on her face, but as soon as she saw the huge paper bags, her eyes widened.

“Saeyoung, why is there so much cake?

“My name is Ella, Sara.” Ella responded as she placed the paper bags carefully at the backseat.

Sara? ” Saeran looked at them incredulously.

“Saerraaan,” Ae Cha skipped in front of Ella, grinning as she held two cups of honeydew bubble tea in her hands. “Have you had bubble tea before? It’s delicious!”

She held out one of the cups of bubble tea in front of her, eager for Sara to try.

Saeran's eyes were wide with curiosity as the drink was offered to him. He took a tentative sip, and his eyes sparkled .

“W-what is this?” He mumbled as he held out the heavenly concoction in front of him.

“Honeydew milk tea with tapioca pearls~,” Ae Cha chirped. “Do you like it? It’s my favorite!”

“We need to get going,” Saeyoung reminded. “Visiting hours will be over soon.”

Once the twins made sure that Ae Cha is safely seated at the back, Saeran stepped on the gas, holding the milk tea with one hand and driving with the other.

Chapter Text

“Jumin, you have to admit it--you just suck at taking pictures!”

Reine giggled at Jumin, whose hands were a shaking mess every time he held anything that resembled a camera. She laughed even more while scrolling through Jumin’s phone gallery and found even more blurred pictures.

“I'm no photographer,” he reasoned.

“Jumin, that's not an excuse,” she said as she smiled at him. “Here, hold out your hand.”

Jumin held out his hand and Reine placed the phone in them, then she gently guided his long,slender fingers to where he should be holding the phone.

“Just tap gently,” she spoke softly, slightly aware of the blush spreading on her cheeks. “Like this,” she gently placed her index finger on top of his thumb and pressed lightly, the phone taking a clear picture of her.

Jumin's eyes lit up as he stared at Reine's picture with wonder on his phone.

Suddenly, they heard three beeps on the intercom by the door. Jumin lightly tapped Reine's hand and stood to answer the inquiry. “Yes?”

“Mr. Han, Miss Lee has three visitors,” the receptionist replied.

Jumin looked at Reine questioningly, and Reine shrugged. She has no idea who would visit her on a Sunday night.

“Send them up,” Jumin replied, then he immediately tapped on his phone and placed it against his ear. “Dae-sung,” he called out. “Three people are coming up. Please inspect them as necessary.”

Reine looked worriedly at Jumin who always became agitated whenever someone would want to come up the suite. “Jumin, it's going to be okay,” she assured him. “I'll be fine.”

Jumin crossed his arms on his chest. “Sorry, Reine. Someone got killed again this morning. I'm going to try my best not to worry when you're in top fighting shape, but right now please let me worry,” he implored.

Dammit, how do I say no to that?

Three knocks on the door made both of them turn toward it. “Mr. Han,” a male voice called beyond the door. “Shall I let them in?”

“Yes,” Jumin replied.

The door slowly opened, revealing three feminine silhouettes. In the doorway stood a smaller girl with curly auburn hair, and two twin girls sporting dark brown hair holding paper bags.

The smaller girl gasped. Her golden-hazel eyes laid on Reine sitting on the hospital bed. She’s alive, and she’s okay.

The girl rushed over to the hospital bed, and wrapped her tiny hands around Reine to pull the red-haired woman into a hug.

“You’re really alive !” The familiar female voice exclaimed. The girl pulled back, her hands lightly squeezing Reine’s shoulders as she stared into Reine’s emerald eyes.

“You didn’t even say goodbye back at the apartment, and then you think it’s okay to try to go and get killed?”

Reine's mouth was agape at the sudden onslaught of affection, and stared at the unfamiliar person in front of her. She replayed the words the smaller girl had said.

Apartment?

“A...Ae Cha?!” She muttered in shock. “I-is it you?”

The girl smiled reached up, yanking multiple pins out of her hair. She lightly tugged on the curly auburn locks which eventually gave way. Underneath revealed rumpled honey-colored to rose ombre hair Ae Cha was notorious for.

“The one and only!” Ae Cha’s fingers ruffled through her hair. Strands fell almost perfectly into place to frame her face.

“You can’t get rid of me that easy,” The girl teased.

Jumin closed the door behind him and noted the two women that the smaller girl was with. They both held two big paper bags from a famous pastry shop.

“You had me fooled the first time,” Jumin let out a light chuckle. “The disguises are pretty good.”

Saeyoung looked at him with wide eyes. “Awww how did you know?! And here I thought my disguise was perfect ,” he whined.

Saeran still had his eyebrows furrowed. “Can I please get out of this now?”

Ae Cha caught wind of Reine’s confused expression. She must have not heard what happened.  The girl walked back to the twins to retrieve both large paper bags. “Sorry, I forgot I was in disguise.”

“Disguise?” Reine repeated, confused.

“There was...an incident, ” Ae Cha glanced over to Saeran briefly, returning to Reine’s hospital bed.  The girl intentionally stayed vague to not upset her sister.   Incident? That’s an understatement.

“But it’s okay now. Saeyoung has the largest wardrobe I’ve ever seen!” Ae Cha mused, unpacking the bags on Reine’s bedside tray. “As long as we’re undercover, I should be safe to visit you.”  

Ae Cha stopped mid-thought, and cursed under her breath at her mistake of wording. Maybe Reine didn’t catch that. She quickly set more boxes on in front of Reine. The sweet aroma of confectionaries filled the room.

Reine watched as boxes after boxes after boxes of delicious cakes were taken out of the paper bags, and when it reached past seven she was just staring at Ae Cha with wide eyes. “Oh my God, so much cake !”

Jumin looked at Saeyoung. “Is this your idea?”

Saeyoung shook his head. “She's been wanting to visit Reine the moment you called to tell her that she's awake,” he replied. “But it has been dangerous out lately. Vanderwood won't allow her to go without a disguise.”

Reine gratefully took the small box of strawberry shortcake and immediately plunged her fork in the velvety pastry. She sighed in delight as it melted in her mouth.

She set the fork down and looked at Ae Cha. “Thank you,” she smiled, and opened her arms to pull her sister into a hug. “I can only assume what happened to require you to be undercover, but I will make sure to get better fast so I can wring the necks of some people who put my baby sister in danger~” she said with the sweetest, gentlest tone.

It was a good thing Reine wasn’t paying attention to the color of her younger sister’s face slowly drain away. The girl took a deep breath, gingerly patting the older sister’s shoulder five times. Ae Cha imagined a glass window crackling under friction. The same friction could be felt in the room.

“Um… about that ,” Ae Cha swallowed hard, her arms eventually falling to her sides. “I have some news.”

Reine blinked once and looked at her sister. Somehow she feels that this is something not good , but she is willing to listen. Besides, it would be better if she knew what her sister is going through.

“Tell me,” she urged.

Ae Cha let out a heavy sigh, reaching for Reine’s hand. Her eyes revealed a combination of dread and determination dazzling in them.

“Sim Yeong-ho is on the move. He’s the one murdering all those people,” Ae Cha confessed as she released her hold on Reine’s hand and spun the rings on her own fingers. “There’s no one else that can lure him out of hiding. You’re injured, and Jumin is the Chairman’s son. So…”

Ae Cha bit her lip when she paused, instantly dreading her sister’s response. She didn’t want to tell Reine this news, she really didn’t, but she knew she had to. It was like ripping a bandaid off.

“I volunteered to be bait.”

Before Reine could open her mouth, Ae Cha quickly added “I’ll be okay! Vandy, Saeyoung, and Saeran are going to train me for this mission!”

Reine felt anger rise to her chest. Her fists clenched on the blanket, and she turned a sharp eye toward the twins. “And you allowed this?”

The twins turned to Reine with a pained expression, but were unable to speak.

Reine felt her heart ache with worry, but Jumin's hand on her shoulder pulled her from her anger. She quickly looked up at him and he shook his head, and she gave in to his silent request to hear them out.

She let out a sigh. “All right. Tell me what happened.”

“Well…” Ae Cha pushed herself up from the bed, straightening her tunic out. The pent up anxiety nagged her, forcing unnecessarily hot sensation around her neck. To relieve her anxiousness, she  unwrapped the scarf off of her neck and placed it on a counter, breathing a sigh of relief.

The girl paced the floor, making elaborate hand gestures as she explained in vivid detail of the important events of the last week such as the car chase, meeting Vanderwood, and going undercover while omitting the minor notes such as kisses with a pair of particular red-headed twins.

“Someone recently told me not to let pain cloud my judgment,” Ae Cha concluded, her eyes shifting to Jumin.  “I don’t want to be a defenseless little girl anymore. I want to be strong for the three people I care for.”

Jumin was surprised how his words may have affected the girl greatly. However, he turned to observe Reine, whose expression changed quite often during the time when Ae Cha was telling them what happened.

Reine felt like she was hearing an espionage novel from her sister. Her eyes lit up on certain parts and darkened on some. At the end of Ae Cha’s story, and hearing her words said with finality, she sighed and turned to Ae Cha.

“I cannot stop you, can I?” She spoke softly as she rested her back on the inclined bed, her eyes closed. “But tell me this--what do you plan to do when you capture this Yeong-Ho?”

Saeyoung stepped in. “This is a job that Jumin set out for us to do, for C&R. I meant to talk to him about this today,” he shifted his eyes to Jumin, who was standing on one side of the bed. “Since everyone in this room will be pretty much involved, then let me explain.”

“Capturing Yeong-Ho is the first priority,” he started as he slowly took off his wig and jacket. “But with the information we have, it would be next to impossible to lure him out.”

“And Ae Cha volunteered,” Saeran added. “Provided that we provide her enough training to get herself out of trouble if needed.”

“However,” Saeyoung started again, “the mission will be delayed for three months if we go this way. We have backup plans, but we just wanted to get this to you and seek your approval.”

Reine opened her eyes and stared at the twins. “Actually,” she started “if you capture him, that would mean illegal detainment. I'm pretty sure that whatever method you will employ will spell legal actions against you, and you cannot jail the bastard because he's not convicted yet. Once he demands a lawyer all of this will be in vain.”

Jumin stared at Reine for the entire duration of her speech, and damn. She's right.

A moment of silence hung in the room and Jumin's eyebrows knotted in thought. “I think Ae Cha being bait would be a more feasible idea,” he mumbled, and Reine looked up at him.

“Hear me out, Reine. If police were on standby to wait until he lifts a finger against her, that would immediately put him in jail, lawyer or not,” he explained. “And I can put up a lawsuit against him for embezzlement to buy us time and stop him from killing more people. I will make sure it's sensational enough to stir the public. If I can't keep my eyes on him, then the media will.”

Jumin's expression darkened. “And if I know Rika...she will make Yeong-Ho lay low. That should buy us some time until Ae Cha is done with training.”

While the conversation continued, Ae Cha hopped onto the counter. She found herself lost in deep thought.

”If only your Appa could see how look right now… on your knees… begging.”

A chill ran down her spine as she remembered Sim Yeong-ho running his fingers down her neck only to grab her chin by force, forcing her to look at him when she would look away. In present day, her fingers ghosted his touch.

 ”Did I say you could look away?”

Sim Yeong-ho made it a hobby of breaking the girl down. In the past, remembering this memory haunted her. But since coming to her own terms of her decision… she no longer felt afraid. If anything, the girl felt anger rising in her chest.

“Then it sounds like it’s settled,” Ae Cha proclaimed, a fire burning in her eyes. I have to do it.”

I’m no longer going to be someone’s play-thing.


“I want to do it.”

Chapter Text

His fingers curled around the tie clip as he adjusted it while he gazed at his reflection on the window glass that span from floor to ceiling. Darkness has gone over Seoul once more, but to the new Vice Chairman, this is an opportune moment to set all his plans in motion.

Satisfied with his appearance, he pressed the speaker button on his desk phone and dialed Jaehee's extension. The phone rang once and Jaehee's familiar voice emanated from the phone speakers.

“Mr. Han?” Jaehee inquired.

“Is everyone in?”

“Yes. Shall I prepare refreshments?”

“No,” he replied. “The meeting will be quick.”

“All right. We'll be waiting.”

Jumin disconnected the call and straightened. He flicked his wrist to look at his watch as it ticked its last few seconds. Once the second hand hit twelve, a slight smile played at the corner of his lips.

“Time to play,” he whispered to himself.


 

All board members and executives stood as Jumin entered the room. He stood at the end of the long conference table, and motioned them to take a seat.

He opted to remain standing up, and then his eyes scanned the room. He took effort to showing any expression on his face as he saw Sim Yeong-Ho seated on the far corner of the table.

“Assistant Kang,” he turned to his right and was met by Jaehee's inquisitive look. “Are we ready for the minutes?”

“Yes, Mr. Han.”

He then turned to address the directors.

“Thank you for taking the time to come in today. As everyone is well aware, we are seeing exponential growth in the need for manpower as soon as the Chiba merger was completed.”

Jumin made eye contact with every person in the room, but lingered a little longer over at Yeong-Ho, who held his gaze.

Jumin was not about to falter. His gaze turned venomous.

I will destroy you.

“Our client is demanding,” Jumin said, finally breaking eye contact as he turned to the person to his left. “This means we need to increase our ninety-eight percent output to as high as one hundred ten percent.”

A collective groan was heard from the room, and Jumin noted Yeong-Ho's reaction in the periphery of his vision. He wore a smug, almost knowing expression, and Jumin couldn't help but remember how he killed two people in cold blood. He felt anger simmering in his chest.

Patience, Jumin.

“No offense, Mr. Han,” one director voiced out. “We are short of manpower. If we could get a release in budget then we may be able to meet this demand.”

Jumin nodded. “I am aware. However, I project that starting today, we will see a seventeen percent increase in profits; we can invest two percent of it for hiring.”

“Mr. Han, could you share how you came up with these figures?” C&R’s financial director asked incredulously.  “The Chiba merger should yield a fifteen percent profit; where do we plan to get the other two percent?”

Jumin could not hide the slight smile that briefly crept on his lips. “Gladly.”

His mind suddenly went back to the hospital, and an image of Reine sitting on the hospital bed came to his mind. His rage was fueled remembering how Yeong-Ho almost killed her.

“Please be careful, Jumin,” he heard her voice in his mind.

With a remote, he turned on the large LED screen behind him. A six-year financial trend presentation came up, and the directors stared at it with disinterest.

“Everyone is familiar with these numbers,” he started, “and we are seeing trend of a two percent “loose expenditures” every year for the last four years.”

“Since it's become a trend, we dismissed it as a normal occurrence.”

“However,” he continued, flipping to the next slide. “Nobody could give me an explanation on where these loose expenditures are exactly going. Now, before you react,” he pressed a button on the remote and the screen showed another slide.  “Our yearly operational loose expenditures sum up to an average of only point five percent, including all the fluctuations on exchange rate, stocks, and miscellaneous expenses.”

“So my question is, gentlemen: where is the remaining one point five percent?

The room was tense. He took note of several people in the room that were behaving in a rather peculiar manner--and Jumin made a mental note of all their names.

Jumin stood balanced on two feet, his hands clasped in front of him and his expression turned cold . “With a few months of gathering information, this is what I found. Jaehee,” he turned to his assistant, “please hand the folders out.”

Jaehee made a nod of affirmation and stood to pick up the stack of folders prepared prior to the meeting. She handed it over to be passed around, and the men in the room immediately took out the documents enclosed therein.

“As you can see, those are digital traces of transactions that were filed under a moniker Aria Sped.”

Jumin had to stop himself from looking at Yeong-Ho. He is absolutely certain that the man is starting to feel the tendrils of dread creeping into his body.

Someone ,” Jumin stated with a voice that brimmed with cold justice. “Has been embezzling money.”

There was a collective gasp throughout the room. “For four years, ” he announced, “we are being tricked on our profits.”

The men took out documents and proof after proof after proof of transfers and transactions were collected painstakingly, and the amount clearly summed up to the missing one point five percent.

Jumin took this opportunity to check his watch. Any moment now.

Jumin watched with a cruel satisfaction as color drained from Sim Yeong-Ho's face. His eyes fixated on how his hands trembled in anger as he flipped through the pages of the report.

With a flick of the remote, he changed the display on the screen and, as the TV news audio filled the room, everyone turned toward the screen.

“In breaking news: C&R Vice Chairman Jumin Han filed embezzlement charges against C&R’s Research and Development executive Sim Yeong-Ho this morning. The charge was submitted to the regional court.  News of this spread throughout the internet from a video that went viral.  The source of the said video is yet to be found.”

Suddenly everyone's eyes were on Sim Yeong-Ho. Finally, the contents of the documents made sense to the entire board, and the expression of surprise etched on their features.

Jumin turned to Yeong-Ho, his facial expression and demeanor remained cool and composed, but his eyes were black pools of anger. Jumin could feel the hatred bleeding from Yeong-Ho's eyes, and he relished in that moment of small, but important, triumph.

For C&R. For his father.  For RFA.

“Sim Yeong-Ho, I would suggest you get yourself a lawyer,” he spoke over the TV audio, and Sim Yeong-Ho visibly trembled with anger and humiliation.

“From this day forward you are no longer affiliated with C&R or any of its subsidiaries. The guards will show you the door.”

For... Reine.


 

 

Finally, there was blessed silence when the car door was shut.

The moment he stepped out of the C&R building he was ambushed by a swarm of these fucking lowlifes that had nothing better to do than pry their nose on somebody's business. But more than that, he could feel the rage boiling in his chest as the voices of these pests buzzed in his ear with their incessant noise.

The constant flashing of cameras still permeated through the heavily tinted window of his limousine. His anxiety kept rising to dangerous levels as his left hand immediately dipped inside his coat pocket for his stack of coins.

“Shall we go, sir?”

The driver's question almost made him blow his top.

“Are you a fucking idiot?” He spoke in a dangerously low tone. “Get me the fuck out of here.”

The driver dipped his hat with a short nod, and went on to slowly step on the gas as people were still blocking the way. Sim Yeong-ho hastily fiddled with his stack of coins--placing the bottom coin to the top of the stack--over and over in his hand and he felt himself quiet down once he heard the reassuring grind of metal against metal.

“These fucking pests,” he murmured angrily. “I’d take pleasure slitting their throats if I had the chance.”

The driver was quiet, and busied himself in maneuvering through the swarm of reporters. Once the car got on the main road, he went on easy cruising speed through the highway.

Yeong-Ho bit his lower lip in panicked contemplation as he forced his mind to come up with a plan, but the humiliation he was subjected by Jumin Han was worrying in his mind and igniting his rage.

Jumin Han.

He gripped the set of coins tight in his hand until his knuckles had gone white. The mere thought of the man brought about murderous urges. He longed to feel the sensation of warm blood in his hands and the life slowly escaping from those arrogant grey eyes.

His phone vibrated in his suit pocket and felt his blood boil even more.

This bitch.

He pressed the answer button, but before he could talk, the familiar female voice was heard from the receiver.

“Calm yourself, Yeong-Ho,” she warned. “There is no time for anger right now.”

“What the fuck do you mean by that?”

“You dare speak to me crudely?” Her sickly sweet tone sent a trail of shiver in his spine.

“Apologies, your Grace.”

“That's better. I know what happened, but do not fret, my dear Yeong-Ho...not all is lost,” she assured him in the sweetest, most seductive tone and he felt an extraordinary euphoria bloom in his chest; a feeling that almost replicated orgasmic bliss.

“You long for me,” she spoke in a rich, sultry voice. “And you long for revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge,” she purred, and Yeong-Ho almost felt his blood grow hot.

“Yes, my Savior, I do,” he moaned.

“Jumin Han is an idiot,” she mocked as she let out a light chuckle. “He thinks he's got it all figured out. But you, my dear Yeong-Ho...you inadvertently drew the attention to yourself...and this gives us the perfect opportunity to find Charity,” she spoke in a darkly sweet tone.

“Forget C&R. Find her,” she ordered. “Play with their circus. Hold their attention...while we hunt her down.”

Yeong-Ho smiled for the first time in hours, a smile that ignited the feeling of stalking prey. He licked his lips and let out a breathy sigh.

“So perfect as always, my Savior,” he whispered.

The call was disconnected and he felt laughter start to bubble in his chest. The cogs of his mind started turning, and then he smiled as he thought of the first plan for his little game.


The moment the driver rolled in the drop-off area underground, Yeong-Ho did not wait for the driver to open the door and immediately stepped out of the car. For some reason he was in such a hurry to get to his apartment; and if everything about the man was suspicious, his current demeanor definitely was.

The driver watched Yeong-Ho from afar for a long time, and he was careful that he didn’t trigger his murderous urges today.  Thank goodness for Jumin’s tactic of having media everywhere Yeong-Ho goes--this means he will need to stop killing for now.

He rolled the car into the parking space and then reached down under the passenger’s seat to retrieve his laptop and phone.  He opened his laptop and a message that said “call recorded” flashed on the screen.  He grinned at his accomplishment, and with a few keystrokes, he encrypted & exported the data to his laptop.

Once done, he popped his earbud on one ear and clicked on the call audio file.  He listened to the call that just transpired a few minutes ago, and found himself cringing.

“You dirty old bastard,” he whispered, then immediately switched to a secure network.  He let the laptop dial the specific satellite he needs to transmit the message directly.  A few more keystrokes and he entered the secure line, which gave the familiar ringing sound of a phone and then a beep.

“Force unlock satellite N7374LP. Password: purple haze.” he spoke, and then another beep was heard, then a familiar voice emanated from his earbud.

“This is Purple Haze. Hey Tom,” his colleague greeted.

“Hey, I got a call log for you,” he swiftly sent over the file through the secure channel.  “Evidence.”

“Got it,” the man spoke.  “Be careful now.”

The line got disconnected.  He immediately shut down all the tools and flipped his laptop closed, then tucked everything back neatly under the passenger seat.  He reclined the chair and placed his feet on the steering wheel, and stared at his phone while his finger hovered over Saeyoung’s contact information.

He almost dropped his phone when it rang, and it showed Sim Yeong-ho on the contact screen. He grinned at how predictable he was.  “Sir,” he answered.

“We’re going somewhere.”

“Sorry, sir,” he apologized.  “There seems to be a problem with the wirings in the car.  I’m still investigating it.”

Sim Yeong-Ho’s fury could be felt in the sigh he made over the phone. “It was working fine earlier!”

“I-I’m really sorry sir,” he acted.  “I will work all night tonight to fix this...j-just give me until tomorrow!”

“You’d better,” Yeong-ho threatened.  “You know what I’m capable of.”

“Y-yes sir,” he mumbled.

Tom sighed as the call ended, and leaned back onto the driver’s seat. He could call Saeyoung right now to tell him of Yeong-ho’s plans, but he cannot just yet--but somehow, he felt torn with the idea that he cannot tell his friend that little Ae Cha is to be hunted.

“I can only delay him for so long,” he mumbled.  “Get the hell out of here.”

Chapter Text

“Earlier today it was announced charges have been filed today against C&R Research & Development Executive Sim Yeong-ho who was immediately released from the company. We will have the full story tonight at 6:00pm”

“Wow,” Ae Cha muttered, surprised the lawsuit happened so quickly. Jumin wasn’t kidding after all.

Ae Cha pushed herself off of the ground, keeping her eyes locked on the television screen. She raised her arms above her head to give herself a nice stretch, and felt her limbs awakening after a few days of consistent stretch routines. It wasn’t a secret to her that her body’s flexibility was rather was stiff compared to a few years ago.

Ae Cha lived for dancing as a young child. Her childhood dream was to become a graceful dancer. She would bring books home from the library and practiced in her room. When she asked to join a dance class in middle school, her mother referred to dancing as the “Devil’s Work” and placed her in the local church choir instead.

So... Ae Cha decided to take things into her own hands.

She went behind her mother’s back and continued practicing dance own her own, and found herself to be quite talented.  When she was thirteen her father introduced her to K-POP music. Ae Cha, wanting to be closer with her father, decided to go with her friends to audition with Much Music Entertainment in Denver, Colorado rather than attend Church Champ. Ae Cha’s actions lead to her parent’s divorce, and ultimately her mother’s complete disowning of the girl.

The same resolve from years ago was brimming again with all of Ae Cha’s every waking moment. Her decision to begin training felt liberating. Fragmented remnants of her former self were appearing faster each day. She still had a long ways ago but for for the first time in a long time… empowerment rumbled inside her.

If she could successfully pass the training, she would be able to lure Sim Yeong-ho out of hiding and into jail where the bastard belongs. That would be all of the empowerment she would need.

However, she would be lying to herself if she tried to deny the amount of uncertainty lingering in the back of her mind.

“Any day now. I hope.” Ae Cha let out a sigh and twirled before flopping back couch cushions impatiently.  She found herself to be riddled with anxiety from the impending training. Each day that passed was another missed opportunity for her to begin.

It didn’t help the twins have been particularly busy, so she spent most of the days alone in the house. The twins being gone for such a time was a stark contrast to what she was used to. Just what exactly were they doing?

Are they avoiding me?

“Stop being ridiculous ,” Ae Cha reprimanded herself for the unreasonable thoughts. Get a hold of yourself. The twins were buried in work on top of keeping her safe. Guilt began to settle into her heart.

And it wasn't like she could justify her clingy feelings. After all, it’s not like she was dating the twins. Which lead to the question weighing heavily on her mind. What were they?  They’re friends, right?

Friends don't necessarily kiss each other or cuddle in the same bed together.

Heat flared up in her cheeks with confusion as it did each time she thought about what happened after the car chase. How does she explain what happened? Should she ignore what happened? The twins went on with their daily lives, which made the girl believe the twins didn’t want the other twin to know what she did. She found herself becoming overly worried at the thought the twins resenting her if she confessed kissing each twin.

“Is it really okay to be this greedy?” she wondered.

Thankfully the fleeting inner turmoil dissipated at the sound of Saeyoung’s voice approaching from the hallway. Her thoughts quickly returned to training.This might be a good time to bring it up again.

She was eager to tell the red-heads what she saw on television. She hopped up from the couch and rushed to the hallway entrance where the twins stood.

“I saw the evening news,” Ae Cha chirped. Her golden-hazel eyes twinkled delightedly. “This means I can begin training, right?! I can’t wait!”

Ae Cha was surprised to be met with somber gazes from the twins.  Saeran did not seem to be too happy with how the situation has unfolded, and Saeyoung gave out a slight sigh.  

“Ae Chan,” Saeyoung started.  “I really, really wish you would reconsider.  There are other methods we can use to lure him out, and we can easily avoid the law if we need to.”

Saeran felt worry nagging in his chest; its tendrils creeping in his heart.  He somehow beat himself for not being able to voice out how dangerous the operation would be, not to mention the pain he is being asked to inflict to someone he just wants to hold and protect.

He clenched his fists as he spoke without turning to the girl.  “Why aren’t you running away?”

Saeyoung abruptly turned to him.  “Saeran…”

Saeran impatiently turned to Ae Cha, his voice brimmed with frustration. “Why can’t you just stay where we can protect you?”

Saeyoung sighed when he felt the panic in Saeran’s heart.  As twins, they always felt what the other felt at some degree, and Saeyoung’s heart ached at the worry that has been eating at his twin.  

Vanderwood’s training is by no means easy and that’s a given, but what they both worry incessantly about is if Ae Cha would be emotionally ready to do one thing:

To kill.

Somehow, they both know that they cannot force Ae Cha to do what they wish she would do, and Saeyoung felt both their hearts break at how Ae Cha’s innocence may be forever erased if she had to pull a trigger to end someone else’s life.

And somehow, he understood Saeran’s hostility against the whole operation.  Ae Cha was a patch of innocence in their world tainted with never-ending deceit...and now they’re going to be instruments to mar the only innocence they can hold and cherish.

“Saeran,” Saeyoung spoke quietly.  “We...we need to respect her decision.  Ae Chan, I’m...I’m sorry.  You’re not obligated to answer that.”

Saeran stared at his brother incredulously and gave out a sigh, his shoulders slumped dejectedly. “Sorry,” he finally spoke after a long pause.  “I’m just...after what happened that night with the Quad, I…”

He shook his head and willed himself to say the rest.  “I’m scared we might really lose you this time.”

Tense silence took over the small space the three of them shared.  Saeyoung’s sigh broke the silence, and he gently took Ae Cha by the hand and sat her on the couch in the room.  “I’d rather you stay where it’s safe, too.  We have...grown very fond of you.”

He gave out a sheepish smile.  “We’d rather...k-keep you...ah never mind!” he let out a nervous laugh while he scratched the back of his head, and Saeran shot him a glare.

“But the fact remains,” Saeyoung continued, changing the subject. “That we are actually gearing you to be placed in harm’s way.”

The girl fought tears brimming from the sides of eyes the entire time the twins spoke. She felt a tinge of disheartenment creep into her chest. Why weren’t they getting it?

“You don’t understand,” the girl finally spoke with eerily calmness. Her darkened eyes peered at Saeyoung and Saeran.

“Staying safe is what lead me into this situation. I thought it was safe to listen to Sim Yeong-ho, but, it was all a lie! Look at what he’s done!”

Ae Cha jumped from the couch cushion, and whipped around to face the twins with tenacity in burning in her eyes.  

“Look at what he’s done to me! ” She exclaimed, pointing both of her fingers at herself. Pain weaved into her words.

“Do you know this is the longest time I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in three years?” She confessed. “Absinthe. Vodka. Whiskey. The list goes on. Whatever he wanted me to force me to drink, I had to. Soon it became a habit, and eventually… I became used to everything being in such a haze.”

“But--” Ae Cha paused, pulling her honey brown to rose ombre hair over her shoulder. She loosely braided her hair as her gaze fell to the ground. “There’s clarity in my life now. I can see everything so clear.”

Saeyoung wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to him, and he gently squeezed her shoulder.  “We understand...we just...feel like we’re getting you out of the frying pan and into the fire, you know?”

He paused a while, and the twins looked at each other, a slight pink tint showed on both their cheeks.  “We forced many things on you that you never asked.  Staying here, keeping you here...we...we even…”

Saeran stared wide-eyed at his brother in slight embarrassment as his look told Saeyoung to stop fucking talking.   Both men had a red tint that ran from their cheeks to the tips of their ears, and none of them could speak any further.  They avoided talking to Ae Cha about how they felt.  How in the world would they explain that that day they both had a taste of her was something they couldn’t get out of their minds?

How would they tell her that they both wanted her?

The twins weren’t the only ones in the room with a red tint on their face. Ae Cha became doe-eyed from Saeyoung’s words. He surely couldn’t be referring to what happened over a week ago, was he?

Was he?

Fuck. Why did it have to be now? The elephant in the room she had been dreading to bring up was suddenly thrown at her front & center. Tension hung over the trio as they stared at each other in silence. It took a couple of minutes before the girl realized they were literally staring at her lips.

And that’s when she knew.

“W-Wait!” Ae Cha stuttered as her eyes shifted from Saeran to Saeyoung and back to Saeran again. “You both k-know about… um... What we … uhh.. what I…?”

“Yes.”

“Saeran!” Saeyoung reprimanded.

“What?” the younger twin snapped.  “You started it.”

Saeyoung sighed, admitting defeat as he slumped against the backrest of the couch.  “Yeah...we knew.   We’re twins.  Instinctively we can feel what each other feels...and I know this is all very weird right now, but we’re basically a half of each other, you know?  Ah, I’m not making any sense…” he covered his face with both his hands, while Saeran stared incredulously at his brother’s inability to stop talking.

Wonder filled in her eyes, reminiscing each moment she’s had with both Saeyoung and Saeran as she stared them. She bit the inside her lip, fighting the sudden desire to ask a question lingering in her mind.

You’ll never know unless you ask, Ae Cha .

“Would you both do it again if you had the chance?”

The twins shot a surprised look at the smaller girl.  A tiny fire was lit in their hearts, a tinge of hope that maybe , just maybe…

“Every single time!” they both replied too earnestly in unison, and their cheeks turned even redder realizing how absolutely stupid they might have appeared.  

Saeyoung let out a nervous chuckle.  “Haha...you must be very angry…” his voice trailed off uncertainly.

“We just...kind of did what we wanted to...so…” Saeran mumbled.

“We’re sorry if it made you uncomfortable in any way,” Saeyoung added.

Saeran stared at Ae Cha resolutely.  His hands gripped a little tighter against his jacket.  “But we’re not regretting it.”

“No! You didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all!” Ae Cha admitted. Although the girl hated how eager the words came out of her mouth, a grin grew on her face.

“It was nice.” She concluded, attempting to sound very-matter-of-fact while she regained her composure. Her eyes would tell another story as they sparkled with delight. She enjoyed being kissed by both twins.  

“To be honest... I’ve been afraid to bring what happened up to either of you,” Ae Cha confessed, the red tint on her face grew brighter.  

“I… I didn’t want you two to think I’m greedy.”

The twins stared at her with surprised confusion.  “Huh?  Why greedy?” Saeran voiced out his wonder, his head tilted slightly as he stared at the girl.  “If anything, it’s us that are being greedy.”

“Because I really like you both!” Ae Cha blurted out without a second thought.

Oh fuck.

Ae Cha’s entire face matched the shade of the twin’s hair realizing the words that came out of her mouth. She stood there in disbelief of how she confessed her feelings for the twins. She pulled her sweater & up over her face, and whipped around in the other direction with embarrassment.

The tiny spark of hope ignited into a full-blown fire in the twins’ hearts. Saeyoung felt as if his heart was being snatched from his chest when he heard the words escape from Ae Cha’s lips, and he couldn’t stop himself from just wanting her as he watched her cover her face in embarrassment.  Saeran felt the warm tug in his chest as he found her blunt and unintentional honesty so endearing .

They want her. They want to hold her.

Saeran sat on the left side of the couch, while Saeyoung remained seated on the other side.  Saeran gently peeled her hands away from her face, an action that felt nostalgic.  Ae Cha was so different from the time she came out of the bathroom that day in this same house, and the changes in her were rousing feelings in his heart he never thought existed.

Saeyoung noted how his brother’s eyes stared at Ae Cha with softness, and he couldn’t help but smile.  He reached out and placed a hand on Ae Cha’s shoulder, slightly rubbing his thumb on the fabric of her sweater--a wordless assurance, an action to tell her that they appreciate it.

“Oh?  Did I hear that right?” Saeyoung teased as he spoke softly mere inches from her ear from behind.

“Can you say that again?” Saeran picked up his brother’s cue, and they both exchanged knowing stares above Ae Cha’s head.  A small smile played at the corner of his lips as he waited for the smaller girl to respond.

Suddenly, a familiar tune filled the room.  This broke the tension building from the trio, and they all recognized the tune.

Ae Cha’s phone is ringing.

The girl looked around the room in a frenzy, her face still red from how flustered she was. She forgot the phone was literally right in front of her on the coffee table. The phone rang three times before the girl’s eyes found thee device.
She reached for the phone, only for it to slip out of her hand like butter, landing on Saeyoung’s lap. She quickly snatched the phone from his lap, and tapped the the answer button right before the call went to voicemail. Instead of looking at the caller ID, she immediately pressed the green button the phone.

“Yoboseyo?” Ae Cha answered.

“Ae Cha~” Reine spoke excitedly over the phone as she sat in the wheelchair.  “I’m being released from the hospital today!”

“Wow! Really!?” Ae Cha’s smile beamed over the phone. “That’s great!”

“I know, ” Reine replied, rolling her eyes.  “I’ve been so bored staring at the same four corners of the room.  Oh, have you seen the news?” Reine stared worriedly at Jumin, who was standing at the hospital’s releasing area.  

Reine can’t help but feel as if the situation is being blown beyond what they can handle.  Although Jumin is a powerful man, the mere fact that Junghee was able to slip through almost undetected and almost killed him was something she just couldn’t shake off.  

“I saw it earlier tonight. The look on his face was priceless,” Ae Cha replied with a satisfied smirk, sitting back on the couch in between the twins. There was a brief silence on the phone and Ae Cha couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief talking to casually with her sister over the phone. However, the girl also had a nagging feeling she was forgetting something important. What could it have been?

Ae Cha’s eyes wandered to the doorway, and that’s when she remembered what was almost forgotten.

“It’s a shame,” Ae Cha sighed, changing the subject.  “I don’t think it’s ever going to be safe for us to visit Appa’s apartment now. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to go.”

Reine smiled wistfully as she heard the words from Ae Cha.  “You remembered,” she spoke softly, her hands idly straightening the folds of the heavy fleece blanket that laid on her lap.  “Well...it could be that it’s not time for me to go there, I guess.”

She stared outside the window with her phone on her ear, and spoke in a quiet voice.  “Jumin said the same, actually.  With all the commotion that happened, things cannot be safe for me around here.  He’s thinking of flying me out.”

Reine let out a small chuckle. She spoke in a somber tone, a tinge of sadness spilled over her quiet voice.  “I just met you--and I’m going to be separated from you again.”

Earlier this morning, Jumin made an offer to have her stay far away from the city until she fully recovered.  She wanted to protest, but she couldn’t deny the logic in Jumin’s idea.  She will be a huge liability for everyone, especially now that Jumin has a lot of cleaning up to do.

She paused when she noticed Jumin watching her with a curious look on his face.  She smiled at him and decided to change the subject.

“So. I was told that you’re staying over at the twins’ house,” she spoke teasingly.  “So which of them is it?”

Ae Cha’s eyes widened at the sudden change in topic. Her head immediately turned to both twins, and she felt her cheeks re-heating yet again. She prayed to the heavens neither of them heard her sister’s question over the phone.

“Mmhmm! That sounds great!” Ae Cha jumped from the couch cushion, springing to her feet and rushing toward the kitchen to get out an earshot from the twins. She stood over the kitchen island, and leaned against it before speaking again.

“What’s that supposed to mean!?” Ae Cha whispered, keeping her mouth partially covered to contain her voice.

“Come on, Ae Cha,” Reine giggled.  “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know they both like you.  So which one is it?  The charming, outspoken one?  Or the precious, quiet one?”

Was this real life? Ae Cha fell silent over the phone, debating on if she should answer the question or not. She wondered if this is how siblings bonded all the time. Ae Cha scanned the kitchen one final time to make sure she was entirely alone before speaking.  

“I might like them both ,” Ae Cha admitted in a hushed whisper. Heat flared from her cheeks all the way to the tips of her shoulders.

Was she really admitting her feelings to her sister so willingly?

“B-Bu-But it’s not like what you think!” Ae Cha added, blowing strands of her hair out of her face.

Reine laughed, for the first time in a long time.  Jumin stared at her with confusion painted clearly on his face, which made her giggle even more.  “Oh you naughty girl ,” she said when she finally caught her breath.  “Well, they both like you and that’s for sure!  I hope they are taking good care of you,” she said, her enthusiasm dying down.

“Ae Cha,” she spoke in a quiet tone once more.  “I’m really glad to have met you...when all this is over, I really want to spend time with you.  I would...I would like you to tell me more about Appa, about everything .  Oh, and I want to eat more cakes with you,” she smiled at remembering how much cake Ae Cha brought to the hospital.  


“I really, really liked the strawberry shortcake.”

Chapter Text

Reine felt thankful as Jumin shut the car door.  The heated seats and interior were a stark contrast with the chilly winter air outside, and the cold was somehow making her muscles contract which, in turn, worries the semi-fresh wound on her midsection. After a few seconds, the left side of the car door opened when Driver Kim let Jumin enter from the other side of the vehicle, to sit beside Reine.

She gave him a tight-lipped smile which he returned.  “Is everything settled?” Jumin asked her, and she gave a light chuckle to his confusion.

“You’re the one who settled everything,” Reine teased.  “I’m supposed to ask you that.”

A slight smile painted Jumin’s features.  “I suppose.”

Reine looked out the window and remembered the conversation they both had in the morning.  She will be flown out of the city at the soonest possible time, and she will be spending most of her time recuperating in hiding.  Somehow she felt sorely indebted to him, and yet so alone.

She felt his cold hands on her arm and she shivered, looking up at him.  “Oh my God, your hands are freezing ,” she commented, and without thinking, she curled them into loose fists and wrapped her hands around them.  

Jumin paused and stared at her for a while as his heart and mind momentarily stopped.  He tried to find any witty remark, any smart comeback, but his mind refused to work.  Instead, a slight warmth was felt on his cheeks and the tips of his ears.  

Her hands were so warm , even in the winter cold.  

“You should have told me that you didn’t have gloves,” Reine reprimanded. “I could have lent you mine--oh, my hands are a bit smaller than yours,” she said, while she opened up his left hand and placed her right hand against it, comparing the sizes of their hands.  

She let out a small laugh.  “Haha...you have long fingers, Jumin,” she commented.

He can’t take it anymore.  He wanted to kiss her.

“Mr. Han,” Driver Kim called out from the driver’s seat. “Are we ready to go?”

Jumin almost missed the message.  His mind took its time to decide, which does not happen often, if at all.  He looked down at Reine’s hands and stared into her green eyes.  “Home,” he answered, his voice a little breathier than usual.  

Reine was suddenly made aware of the situation as soon as Jumin laid eyes on her.  His eyes seemed fixated on her lips, and she felt her cheeks flush red.  “Y-you’re warm enough, I think,” she smiled at him and gave a nervous laugh.  

The vehicle rolled out of the pick up area and into the main road.  Reine watched as the scenery passed by the car window, trying to hide the growing redness on her cheeks.

And then she remembered.

Home ?” she turned to Jumin, who also turned to her in curiosity.  “You mean your penthouse home?”

“Yes,” he replied matter of factly.

Reine felt the rush of panic.  Being in the penthouse suite would mean that the fleet will be there, and if she is to stay in Jumin’s suite--

“Whatever it is you’re thinking, stop it,” Jumin interrupted.  “You are staying in the penthouse as it is the safest place you’ll be.”

“I know ,” she replied. “I just...the fleet is there, Jumin.  My colleagues.  I don’t know, I just feel like it’s not right--”

Jumin’s exasperated sigh interrupted her.  “You’re over-analyzing things.”

Jumin reached out to wrap his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close to him.  Reine suddenly realized how irrational she has become after Jumin pointed it out.  She sighed and let herself be held, and a strange yet welcome feeling of calm settled on them both.

“Jumin,” she spoke quietly.  “When am I leaving for the cabin?”

He looked at her and spoke in a quiet tone.  “Tomorrow.  Why?”

Reine leaned her head on his chest and closed her eyes.  His heartbeat was so calming.  “I...if possible...I really want to visit appa’s apartment with Ae Cha,” she mumbled, and she felt Jumin’s cool hand brush stray hairs away from her face.

“You know it’s very dangerous, right?” he reasoned.

“I know,” Reine replied.  “But... it’s really important to me.”

She pulled away from him gently and felt his hand slide down to her waist.  He looked at him in his eyes and saw genuine concern in them.  She felt a measure of happiness whenever she was with him, and to her it meant so much more than what her words can ever be capable of describing.

This man has done so much for me.   

“Please, Jumin?” she implored.  “I know I’m being a handful, but I’ve been wanting to see my father for so long.  I’ve spent three years trying to find out what happened to him, or find any traces of him.  All I had were his letters, I--”

She was stopped in mid-sentence as Jumin gently laid a finger on her lips.  A smile played on his lips and Reine immediately halted talking.

“How can I say no to that?” he spoke with a hushed tone, almost a whisper.

“You will go, but with tight security.  The fleet will survey the perimeter first, and if there’s any threat, I cannot let you go.  If there’s none, then you may. You will take bodyguards with you, and--”

Happiness bloomed in Reine’s heart as he heard Jumin’s words and she immediately wrapped her arms around him in unbridled joy.  “Thank you!  Thank you Jumin!”

Jumin’s eyes softened at the happiness he saw in her emerald eyes.


 

It was like she never left.

Ae Cha led the trek up to the third floor of the officetel with Reine following close behind. Ae Cha memorized where the CCTVs were located outside the building, and learned to take side entrance to avoid Sim Yeong-ho or what she believed at the time was C&R from watching her movements.

A simple keypad was all that separated the sisters and entrance into their father’s apartment. The younger sister approached the keypad and pressed the key combination on the pad.  With each punched-in key, a soft bell tone played through the keypad’s speakers.  

20-8-18-5-1-4-19-15-6 6-1-20-5

A jingle played after the correct password was entered, and the door made an audible click signifying the door was unlocked. Both sisters couldn’t help but wince slightly at the melody after dealing with certain talking doors .

“I think I almost miss the other one,” Ae Cha mused before turning the door knob.

“You mean those stupid doors ?” Reine giggled as she remembered.

And then the door finally opened.

“Well… here we are,” Ae Cha announced, slowly stepping into the small hallway of the studio-sized officetel apartment. Her voice echoed through the room. As much as it was a relief to see everything intact, a knot formed in her throat from the anxiety of everything she has endured alone for years.

I can’t run away. Not now.

She used her newfound strength of knowing she was no longer alone to push herself from not running out of the apartment. After all… Reine never got a chance to meet their father. The very notion pained the younger girl.

Reine paused at the doorway of the apartment that her father and Ae Cha shared. Somehow, she felt filled with wonder as she took in the small space with her own eyes.

Reine’s own hospital room was far larger than the space the two were standing in. The girl took liberties in attempting to decorate the tiny space as her own. Splashes of her personality covered simple modern furniture. The couch was covered with colorful blankets. Sets of multi-colored starry string lights dangled overhead, wrapped around the staircase leading to the bed, and lined the sliding glass door leading to the balcony. On shelves where various family photos sat, various miniature cat gachas danced in between frames. The walls had pictures of K-POP idols, art of video game characters, and pop culture references framed with clear tape.

Reine took a tentative step inside the apartment, and that small step felt as if she entered a world entirely disconnected and different from the others. Sure, there are many traces of occupancy, primarily by Ae Cha, but she cannot shake off the sense of neglect.  Cool, stale air permeated the small space, and everything looked as if time had stopped at a certain point in certain parts of the small abode.

The kitchenette counter was full of various glass alcoholic containers which were either nearly empty or close. An empty absinthe fountain was the centerpiece of the counter. The scattered unmarked pills on the counter punctuated the stark contrast to the rest of the apartment.  Ae Cha felt a cold chill go down her arm as she spotted a set of coins beside the absinthe fountain.

In the corner of the apartment sat a small make-shift memorial for their father. Scattered across the memorial were Han-sol’s obituary, candles, and various photos. All of his belongings were stored in a chest underneath the stand. Beside the chest sat a small black safe which appeared to be untouched.

Ae Cha let out a sigh when her eyes met the memorial and sorrow began to settle into her chest. Why did Han-sol keep the sisters apart? She couldn’t fathom the answer. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she would bring home a sister to pay respects to their father.

Ae Cha glanced over to her sister and tried to gauge her sister’s expression before finally speaking.  

“What do you think?” Ae Cha called out as she slowly climbed the staircase leading to the bed. She slid her jacket off of her shoulders and tossed it on the bed where she soon followed. It was weird to lay on her own mattress for the first time in over three weeks. A frown grew on her face at how uncomfortable this mattress was compared to mattress she slept on at the Choi residence.

Reine had no words on everything she's seen. Different emotions churned and melded in her chest as she gingerly took one careful step after the other, almost afraid to disturb a single speck of dust. She felt as if she was looking into someone's life, like a tour of a museum; as if a part of this life was snatched from her with such permanence that all she could ever do was to scavenge whatever remnant of how it once was.

She then spotted the memorial. She felt her tears fall as she gently ran her fingers on the picture frame with tiny Ae Cha, her golden hazel eyes bright and eager like cut and polished amber. She also felt herself smile at how young her father looked, and how terrible his haircut was.

However, laying eyes on Lee Han-Sol's obituary slammed her heart with such cruel finality. Somehow, in the middle of it all, no matter how incredulous it may have sounded, she wished her father was alive. Alive, somewhere … but any hope of this had been completely crushed, and to Reine, the sudden silence of her father's passing felt as if she was wordlessly abandoned .

She felt her knees give way and she found herself sitting on the floor, her hands covered her face and she sobbed uncontrollably.

“Dad…” she wailed breathlessly; her sobbing inconsolable. Years and years of pain erupted at this very moment, and it felt as if her body was too small to contain all the pain that was trying to claw themselves out.

The sound of Reine’s wails filled the air, causing Ae Cha’s heart to throb in agony. In that very moment, the younger sister leaped out of the bed and rushed down the stairs. Her feet skidded across the laminate wood flooring, stopping mere inches away from Reine.

Why did life have to be so cruel? It was one thing for Ae Cha to carry the burden of witnessing her father’s own suicide, but Reine never had time with their father like the younger girl did. Memories of Ae Cha’s childhood flashed in her eyes. The idea of not having Han-Sol in Reine’s life at the same intimacy as Ae Cha did… felt like a world painted without color.

I’m disappointed in your actions. It’s important to open your heart and open your mind when faced with uncertainty. Only then can you see what lies in front of you is a truth or a fallacy.

A cool draft blew in from the seams of the balcony door, and the girl thought she recognized a hint of his cologne drifting around the sisters. Ae Cha became overcome with guilt for how much of a fucking brat she was to Reine when they first met.

Ae Cha fell to her knees beside Reine, wrapping her arms around Reine’s shoulders wordlessly.  She pulled her older sister close to her chest and held onto her for dear life. Like a cork popping, a barrage of tears streamed down her cheeks.

She mourned for Reine, and she mourned for their father. The pain grew unbearable as the two sat on the floor in front of the memorial.

“I’m sorry,” Ae Cha cried out in between her own inconsolable sobs. She rocked as she held her sister. Teardrops dripped into Reine’s wine-colored locks, slowly saturating parts of the older girl’s hair.

“Reine, I’m so sorry.”

Chapter Text

The moment Reine emerged from the doors of the officetel complex, Jumin already noted the way her shoulders slumped as she carefully strode toward the opened car door.  He watched her as she turned and shared one last tight hug with her sister, and he could make out her lips saying “thank you” as billows of white formed from her mouth when she spoke in the cold December air.

She paused a while when she spotted Jumin standing beside the opened car door, and suddenly she felt the remnants of her broken heart stir. She steeled herself once more, and shook her head to lock the pain away.

“You're not wearing your gloves again,” she reprimanded him, albeit a little too weakly.

“Then hurry up and get inside,” he replied teasingly. “Or else you're going to have to warm me up again.”

Reine smiled, but her smile did not reach her emerald eyes. She held out her hand to Jumin who carefully assisted her to crouch and get seated in the backseat.

The trip going to Jumin's penthouse suite was quiet. Jumin did not quite know how to approach her--she was mourning , and yet he found himself unable to reach out and help her. He watched her from time to time, and she seemed to be lost in her thoughts to even notice him doing so.

Her eyes are so puffy.

She didn't even make any comments about spending the night in the penthouse suite. She stepped inside almost mechanically, and Jumin sat her on the couch with care.

Jumin straightened and stood up, and was about to take a step toward the kitchen when he felt her hand tugging at his shirt sleeve. Surprised, he turned to see her hand curled tightly on the fabric, her eyes cast downward.

“What is it?” He asked with a gentle voice as he crouched in front of her.

Reine finally raised her eyes to look into his, and in the dim light he cannot mistake the way her tears collected, threatening to fall.

Without a word, he pulled her to him. She rested her head on the crook of his neck and she slowly wrapped her arms around his torso. In the churning chaos of her heart and mind he felt like an anchor, and all she wanted was to hold onto him until the storm settled.

“Come,” he said. “Let's get you somewhere more comfortable.”

“I don't want to move,” Reine finally spoke, and Jumin smiled at how her stubbornness would still prevail despite the situation.

“Still as stubborn as ever,” he teased, and without warning he placed his left arm under her legs and his right around her shoulders, then stood to carry her.

“Jumin!” she exclaimed.

“Shh. Just be quiet, Sanglante Reine.”

Reine buried her face in his shoulder in embarrassment. “D-don’t call me that,” she protested, and Jumin let out a deep chuckle.

“If I get to see you this cutely embarrassed every time I do, then maybe I should do it more often,” he teased, and noted the growing redness that tinted her cheeks.

“I should really hurt you,” she quipped.

Jumin let out another chuckle and gently laid her on the bed. He was aware of her eyes studying him in the dim lamp light. He was about to pull the blankets over her and she suddenly placed her hand on his to stop him.

“Jumin,” she spoke before he could ask. “Can… can I be a little selfish?”

Jumin immediately turned his gaze on hers. He smiled at her as he held her hand. “Anything.”

Reine's fingers interlaced with his, and her eyes implored.

“Could you… hold me tonight?”

Jumin felt something in his heart bloom. He longed for her, even more so that she actually asked. He couldn't ever say no to her when she does; how can he possibly say no now?

Reine watched him as he made his way to the other side of the bed, and as soon as he laid his back he was taken by surprise when Reine immediately wrapped her arms around him. She laid her head on his chest and sighed as a different kind of calmness took over her.

“Thank you,” she whispered while she listened to the steady beating of his heart.

She felt his arms wrap around her and his hand unfastening her hairclip, letting the gentle crimson waves of her hair cascade down on top of the pristine white sheets. He then ran his fingers through her hair, and she sighed contentedly.

“Thank you, Jumin.”


 

Ae Cha watched Reine head toward Jumin’s car’s before turning to walk in the other direction toward Saeyoung’s car which sat parked a block away. Her gaze immediately sunk to the ground, her heart ache from the time the sisters spent in the apartment fresh on her mind.  Stray teardrops fell to the ground with each step she took.

Somewhere in between the chaos, November slipped away and the air was much cooler now. It was December which meant the holidays would soon be arriving. Multi-colored lights sparkled in the windows she passed by. Even with her heart in it’s current shattered state, she found herself standing at one of the store-fronts. Her darkened eyes slowly lifted to look into the window.

They were so beautiful.

The colors dazzled in the reflection of her pupils. For a moment, she admired the lights in wonder. A small smile formed at the side of her mouth. It was enough to stop tears from flowing. Christmas lights reminded her of twinkling stars, and how she just wanted just one peaceful night to watch the stars.

Disappointment crept back into her mind when realizing she probably won’t get to look at lights this year. Her training would be beginning very shortly, and Ae Cha needed to focus on preparing for the mission. Her life depended on it.

Maybe next year.

Her thoughts about the upcoming training jolted her back to reality. She really needed to head to the car.

Ae Cha quietly scooted herself into the middle of the back seat once she opened the back car door, shutting the door after situating herself. The sudden warmth from the car’s heater was very much welcomed.

“Thank you for letting me take my sister to see the apartment,” Ae Cha said after several minutes of sitting in the car, her puffy eyes focused on her petite hands fiddling with the hem of her skirt. She knew before bringing Reine to the apartment the pain the two would experience was inevitable, however, what she didn’t expect was how this pain affected her right to the core.

She thought of herself as a master of bottling her emotions, but, as of late that hasn’t been the case. As a matter of fact, she knew she was the opposite of that. However, a lingering thought in the back of her mind made her wonder if her emotions were always on display for the world to see and she was simply too drunk to realize it.

“It’s not like it matters anymore,” Ae Cha grimaced to herself, slumping her shoulders as pain and sorrow crept its way deeper into her heart. She watched from the car window as snow flurries fell from the sky.

Saeyoung watched her from the rearview mirror. He did not miss the sadness that hung heavy over her as she settled in the back seat. “Of course,” he replied.

Shortly after, the door to the passenger’s seat opened, and Saeran sat in the car.  He shrugged off the stray flurries that got stuck in his hair, to Saeyoung’s dismay. “Door combination’s changed.  Let's go, hyung.”

“Do you really have to shake those off here?”

“If I do it outside, more would just fall on my head. It’ll be pointless.”

Saeyoung groaned and undid the hand brakes. Somehow the twins couldn't shake off not being able to do anything to lift Ae Cha’s spirits. Now that she needed them, both of them were just stuck at not knowing how to console her somehow.

As Saeyoung sped through the highway, an idea struck him. He suddenly made a turn towards the nearest exit, which made Saeran look at him with surprised confusion.

“We're going somewhere,” he announced. “I'm hungry for Tteokbokki!”

“Tteokbokki?” Ae Cha asked curiously. Saeyoung’s announcement peaked Ae Cha’s interest and the tone of her voice lightened.“It’s pretty popular at most of the night markets,” she added.

“Hmm! Hmm!” Saeyoung nodded enthusiastically. “Just be quiet about it with Vandy, okay?” he smiled and nudged his twin. “And I think Saeran needs his sugar before he gets any grumpier!”

“I'm not grumpy,” Saeran snapped.

The delicious smell of warm food wafted through the chilly wind as the trio made their way toward the busy street. Unlike the rest of the city, the night market was bustling with people; some making their own conversations, store owners were either marketing their goods or saying thanks to their customers. Lanterns of many colors adorned the stalls, and most of the stores had multicolored LED lights that added to the festive atmosphere.

Before they entered the area, the twins held both of Ae Cha's hands.

“Don't get lost!” Saeyoung warned. “Hold onto us so we don't get separated~”

With Saeyoung leading the way and Saeran following behind Ae Cha, they combed through the stream of people in the market.

“Choose anything in this whole market that you like, Ae Chan!” Saeyoung gleefully announced. “We'll get it for you!”

Ae Cha’s eyes sparkled as she scanned all of the stalls. It’s felt like forever since she’s had her fair share of time at a night market and being out lifted her spirits in an instant. Spicy delicacies like Tteokbokki were great this time around, but there was something specific she was craving. Something sweet .

She let out a small squee of delight spotting what she was looking for.

“How about Hotteok!” Ae Cha pointed at the street vendor stall. “Please?”

Saeyoung playfully points toward the general direction of the sweet treat Ae Cha's eyes were directed. “Hotteok it is!”

“What's a Hotteok?” Saeran mumbled and followed his two giddy companions.

“Hotteok is like a pancake,” Ae Cha cooed. “But better!”

The trio finally got what they were craving for: Ae Cha and Saeran with two servings each of Hotteok (due to Ae Cha's insistence that Saeran try it), and Saeyoung's Tteokbokki. As soon as they bought everything they wanted, Saeyoung practically half-dragged them back into the car and told them to hold off eating the treats for a while.

Saeyoung stepped on the gas and sped toward the outskirts of the city. After a few more minutes of driving, he finally found his favorite spot, and veered off the road to reach near the precipice of a cliff.

The area provided a breathtaking view of Seoul, and at night the city lights sparkled like clusters of stars. Over the horizon were silhouettes of the distant mountains, and the sky was painted a dark blue because the moon was bright and high up in the sky.

“We're here!” Saeyoung announced as he sat on the grass, careful not to spill his precious treat. Saeran appreciated the view of the city high up from where they were, and sat beside Saeyoung but left a space in between.

Saeyoung took off his jacket and laid it on the grass in between them. “Come, sit,” he called.

Ae Cha nodded, treading carefully in the grass to not drop the fried sweet snack. She delicately situated herself in between the twins, bringing her knees close to her chest as she sat. Although the temperature was rather chilly, the three were seated together like insulated peas in a pod.

“The sky’s beautiful tonight,” Ae Cha mused, taking in the gorgeous nighttime view.

However, the twins were more interested to watch her eyes as they shone, reflecting some of the light being cast by the moon. Instinctively, they both scooted closer to her to keep her warm.

“Ae Cha,” Saeyoung spoke with a quiet tone. “Things are going to be very difficult from now on...but we just want to let you know that you can always run to us, whatever happens,” he said as he watched her golden hazel eyes.

Saeran leaned over sideways to rest his head on hers. “I hope you don't forget that.”

Ae Cha smiled for the first time that evening. For that moment, it didn’t matter how brisk the air was or how sad she felt. As long as she had the twins nearby, she believed everything could be okay one day.

“I’ll never forget. I promise.”

Chapter Text

 

He tapped repeatedly on the impeccably clean, white window sill as he watched the tiny specks of frost starting to form on the glass.

The cogs of his mind painstakingly deliberated on several ways to get himself out of Jumin Han's little stunt. Rika had instructed to have him play with the game, but he doesn't know how much more of these imbeciles he can stand. Every single flash of a camera is stripping off a sliver of his patience.

His left hand yearns for blood, or at least the feel of soft, pliant flesh. The tension building on his arm has been becoming a little too hard to control lately, and sooner or later he will need to find a way to satiate this thirst other than seeking comfort on the sound of metal coins rubbing against each other.

It was then that he had the  perfect idea.

He took quick strides toward his study, where his phone rested on top of the white wooden table. He quickly scrolled down to the long list of names of his drivers--or the numbers of what used to be his drivers, but shortly got rid of them since most of them just knew way too much.

He made a mental note to delete all those numbers at a later time, but for now, he found the latest one’s, and pressed the callout button.

After a few rings, the driver finally answered. “Is the car ready?” He asked, while he felt blood rush to his left hand as he imagined how his plan would turn out.

He can already imagine the dread in the little girl's face as he would set on fire every remaining memory of her father. Imagining her wide, scared eyes and trembling hands gave a sudden rush to his loins, her tear-stained face so beautiful as her soft, red lips would beg for him.

“It's ready, sir,” the driver answered.

“Pick me up at the lobby,” he instructed. His eyes glinted maliciously as he immediately took his coat from the rack. “I'm going to visit an old friend.”


 

Yeong-Ho did not even wait for the driver to open the car door for him--he immediately got in by himself, and the driver feigned surprise as he looked at Yeong-Ho through the rearview mirror.

“You seem to be in a hurry,” he commented. “Where shall I take you today, sir?”

Tom did not miss the older man’s malicious expression as he made eye contact. The glint in his eyes were a clear indication that he is set off to work on something with ill intent.

As always, his laptop and phone are carefully concealed under the front passenger seat, ready to intercept signals from the phone he himself handed over to Yeong-Ho when he recently flew back to Seoul from Juneau.

“Get to the freeway. I will tell you where to go.”

“All right, sir.”

As he drove the car outside the gates of the high rise building, the familiar sound of a phone vibrating was heard from the back. He took a quick glance at the rear view mirror as he watched Yeong-Ho pick up the call.

“Your Grace. Oh, has he?” Yeong-Ho spoke, and then his eyebrows knotted in confusion as he listened to Rika over the phone. “I am on my way to do just that, but what in the world do you need her choker for?”

Tom suddenly felt the icy tendrils of dread when he heard what Yeong-Ho said. If Rika spoke about wanting the choker, then that would mean…

...no. No. Calm yourself, Tom.

“Bitch,” Yeong-Ho muttered as he placed his phone back into his suit pocket.

The drive along the freeway was uneventful, but Tom could not ease the worry nagging in his chest. When Yeong-Ho told him to take the next exit, his heart sank.

This is the way to Han-Sol's apartment.

His mind raced on what he can do to delay this, somehow. He already has an idea what Yeong-Ho is planning, and if Mint Eye already knows about the choker, then it meant two things: one, Yeong-Ho is going to use whatever's in the apartment to lure Ae Cha out, and two…

...his hands gripped tighter on the steering wheel.


 

 

Sim Yeong-Ho stepped out of the elevator as soon as it opened, his left hand idly played with the stack of coins. The sound of metal rubbing against metal echoed throughout the empty hall, and the quietness somehow amplified it which made Yeong-Ho smile a little.

How many times had he come up to this door for the past three years? He felt another rush of anticipation as flashes of the past played in his mind.

She was so small , so innocent.   He could not forget the fear in her eyes and the chattering of her teeth when he first pressed the barrel of a gun on her temple. The tears flowing down her face was exquisite.

He let out a long, shaky sigh as the images of Ae Cha while she slept played in his mind, and the fear she wore when she woke up with him standing at the edge of her bed, invading her at a time she is most vulnerable.

“Well, Ae Cha,” he muttered breathily. “It's time to play once again.”

He then entered the combination to open the door in the keypad, the same combination that he had entered whenever he felt like playing with Ae Cha for the past three years.

He expected the usual chime music as it always did, but this time it gave him two short beeping sounds and the LED screen next to the keypad flashed a message he's never seen on this door for three years.

“ACCESS DENIED.”

Frowning, he pressed the keypad to go back to the previous menu and entered the combination, slowly this time.

Two beeps.

“ACCESS DENIED.”

“What the fuck?” He mumbled, anger slowly rising to his face. He entered the combination once more, and another time, but he was given the exact same message.

Rage boiled upward to his face and he took his rage on the door, kicking it with his right foot.

She dared defy me?!

Wasting no more time, he took his gun out, intending to just shoot the entire lock mechanism. He stepped back and aimed the gun at the intended area and fired.

The bullet pierced the wooden door, but it surprisingly ricocheted toward the floor. Yeong-Ho crouched to inspect the door, only to find out that it had metal and kevlar underneath the wooden facade.

His face went red in rage. He cursed under his breath as his body trembled as he went absolutely livid.

“So you've been in here, little girl,” he muttered, and a deep, sickeningly sweet chuckle left his lips. His mind was now flooded with how he will make her suffer, especially that her defiance had riled his inner desires once more.

“Just wait until I find you...Savior never said she needed you untouched, now did she?”


 

Tom wasted no time as soon as Yeong-Ho left the car. He found himself a good place to park, and he immediately retrieved his laptop from under the chair. He sighed in relief when he saw that the call was captured, and he then proceeded to encrypt and save it on the laptop.

Somehow, the loading bar on the screen felt like it has been loading for ages . He needs to find out what transpired in that call. His stomach had been in a knot since that call from Rika, and--

His phone suddenly rang. It halted the exporting process and he cursed under his breath, immediately aborting the downloading process and he pulled the data cable attached on his phone to answer the call.

“Sir,” he immediately answered.

“What took you so fucking long to answer?” Yeong-Ho seethed on the phone. “I'm going to fucking shoot you if you delay next time.”

“I-I'm sorry sir,” he pretended to stammer.

“You'd better be in front of the lobby when I get back.”

The call was ended and Tom cursed at the phone, his own anger surfacing. He took a deep breath and immediately tucked away his effects, then started the engine.

“Be glad I can't kill you just yet, motherfucker,” he muttered under his breath and rolled out of the parking area.


 

“I don't care how you do it,” Sim Yeong-Ho spoke with gritted teeth over the phone, his left hand clenched over the stack of coins. “Savior wants her found, and she has to be found. Tell people she's ran away from home--or dangerously crazy--anything. Get a police blotter,” he instructed.

This didn't miss Tom's keen observation. He needs to find a way to at least get the Chois to take Ae Cha away, but how?

After Sim Yeong-Ho alighted the vehicle he immediately made sure that everything that transpired today was carefully collected and saved. He let out a sigh of relief as all of the calls done by Yeong-Ho today was safely recorded.

His hand hovered on the sound file that had the call to Rika. He hesitated on pressing the “play” button, and proceeded to the next one.

His suspicions were confirmed on the plan Sim Yeong-Ho had laid out--it will be a city-wide manhunt, and the fastest this could happen would be two to five days. This gives him time to give out a warning, but how?

He sighed. The audio file of the earlier call seemed like an ominous presence on his tablet, and he shook his head, trying to shake the hesitation away.

His finger finally pressed on the “play” button, and he adjusted his earbuds to listen better.

 

 

[CALL RECORDING BEGIN]

“Your Grace.”

“Yeong-Ho,” Rika spoke with a tone that held a hint of fatigue but brimming with excitement and satisfaction. “Lee Han-Sol finally died this morning.”

“Oh has he?” Yeong-Ho replied with the same tone, but his seemed had a tinge of mockery on it.

Rika let out a small giggle. “He was good at keeping his mouth shut to protect his precious daughters for three years,” then her giggle turned into full-blown laughter.

She finally caught her breath and her voice switched into a commanding tone. “I have a job for you, Yeong-Ho. I want Charity and her damn choker brought to me.”=

Yeong-Ho blinked twice, trying to make sense of the order. “I am on my way to do just that, but what in the world do you need her choker for?”

Rika sighed. “Too many questions, Yeong-Ho. Don't fail me.”

[CALL RECORDING END]

Tom was pulled back to reality when the quiet beep that indicated that the call had ended was heard. The file had closed itself, and his tablet is back to the file list screen, but his eyes remained wide and his body unmoving. His mind was screaming at him to move on and report, but he felt as if his heart had stopped beating because of the pain.

He knew it was coming, but why does it hurt this much? Lee Han-Sol was one of the men in NIS that he really looked up to. He remembered meeting him the first time--he was an imposing character, even much more imposing than the Prime Minister himself.

However, outside of training, he would brag about his daughters to everyone, and show everybody how beautiful they were. Tom smiled slightly remembering that Han-Sol even joked setting him up to marry Reine when she's a little older.

The ghosts of the past was a burden, but the knowledge of Han-Sol's situation for the past three years was what weighed heavily on his shoulders. He felt his chest constrict as he tried to will the memory away while connecting the laptop to the nearest satellite.

“Force unlock satellite N7374LP. Password: purple haze.”



The room was damp and dark, and so very cold. Tom can just imagine how much more can the old man hang onto the threads that held his life.

Once inside the chamber, he found Han-Sol, clothed in thin tatters, his teeth chattering because of the cold as billows of steam wafted from his open mouth. He used to be so huge and imposing, and Mint Eye had reduced him into a wiry, starved man with an overgrown beard.

However, no matter how weak his body seemed to be, his eyes were different. Han-Sol had an incorruptible spirit, and no matter how much torture he was subjected to, he held on, month after month, just to make sure his daughters were safe.

Tom walked slowly towards the man who held--and still holds--his utmost respect. He saw his eyes focus on him, and a weak smile spread across Han-Sol's face.

Han-Sol chuckled weakly. “God...you shady bastard. How'd you get back in?”

Tom bit the inside of his lip and let out a small chuckle himself. “Hey, it wasn't easy!”

“This is purple haze. Hello, Tom,” the familiar voice answered again, and he had to clear his throat to keep his voice from breaking.

“I have evidence,” he said weakly, but his hands hover over the laptop's touchpad.

 

Han-Sol's smile widened even more, a patch of genuine happiness in this sea of despair. “I remember when you came to NIS so fresh. A military nurse. Now look at you.”

Tom was about to speak when Han-Sol turned away to look up the ceiling, a view that he may have been stuck with for the past three years. “You should get out of here. I don't have much time.”

Seeing Han-Sol resign to his fate was something he thought he was prepared for. All that training of putting the country first, he never knew that watching someone who could have had a better life waste away this way.

Tom strode toward the wall where Han-Sol was chained, and reached inside his robes. He pulled out his smartphone that he managed to sneak in.

“I made a promise,” Tom murmured quietly, almost inaudibly to prevent anybody from hearing. “And that is why I'm here.” 

“Please send the evidence over, Tom,” his colleague’s voice snapped him back to reality.

“Oh right,” he said. “Sorry; I had a rough day today.”

 


Han-Sol weakly looked up to focus on the video Tom had shown him on his phone. Reine sat in the hospital bed, being hugged by Ae Cha. The phone's volume was turned low, but to Han-Sol, hearing and seeing them together meant everything.

“A...Ae Cha?! I-is it you?” He heard Su-Yeong speak, surprise etched on her beautiful face. Han-Sol felt his chest tighten in yearning for his eldest, and broke in sadness and regret that he never got to hold her, not even once. But despite all that happened to her, she shone and persisted. Su-Yeong is like the sun.

“The one and only!” Ah, my little Ae Cha. He almost wanted to reach out to her image on the phone, his tears rolling down his cheeks while he watched. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was that he couldn't stop what happened. He was once afraid that she will fall completely into darkness, but like the moon, a night of darkness meant being reborn into a new light.

“Thank you,” he spoke, his voice ragged and weak, and for the first time in three years, Han-Sol felt tranquility in his heart.

“Data received,” Tom’s colleague spoke, and then there was a few seconds of silence in the air.

“Is there anything else you need, Tom?” Purple haze inquired, and Tom had to lean back on the car seat and cover his eyes with the sleeve of his coat.

“Lee... Lee Han-Sol has passed away,” he finally spoke, but his tears rolled at the sides of his face. “Died today inside Mint Eye headquarters, in Juneau, Alaska.”

He immediately disconnected the call. He cannot allow his colleagues to hear him break down in tears.

 

“Please protect my girls when I'm gone.” 

He rolled his hands into fists as his shoulders shook in grief.

“You got it, Boss.”

Chapter Text

“Jumin, why are we here?”

Reine looked up at the building towering in front of the group. The C&R tower loomed over them as they alighted the van in which Jumin insisted that they all get into for an “important discussion”.

It appeared that Saeyoung and Saeran were aware of what was going on, so they managed to urge Ae Cha to sit between them at the back, while Reine and Jumin shared the seat in the middle.

“It's an important discussion, hence it must be held in a place where important discussions take place,” Saeyoung said, his hand casually shoved inside the pockets of his black and yellow hoodie. “And where else could it be than the C&R’s secret facility!”

“Secret facility?” Reine turned to Saeyoung in confusion.

“Like a secret testing facility?” Ae Cha piped up from the backseat. “For science?”

Jumin scoffed. “There's no such thing as a secret facility, Reine, you know this,” he let out a small smile as he offered his arm to her. When Reine looked at him questioningly he sighed. “The concrete is slippery,” he said, and Reine gingerly took his arm for support, while she carefully trod the icy floor.

Saeran followed closely, half of his face hidden inside a fluffy muffler and his hands in his coat pocket. Saeyoung gently placed a hand on Ae Cha’s elbow to make sure he caught her in case she slipped.

Ae Cha shivered as a harsh brisk cold wind smack her cheek, and pulled the furry hood of the pastel pink puffer jacket over her head. She gave a quick smile to Saeyoung as he guided her closer to the entrance.

Warm air greeted them as the glass doors of the C&R building opened. They were welcomed by the impressive interiors of the C&R lobby that was a perfect harmony of stone and glass. Stone columns soared thirty feet upward towards the high ceiling, which was covered by glass in multiple shapes and sizes that dangled all across the area, creating the perfect play of light all across the expanse. Most of the exterior walls are made of glass to maximize natural lighting, while the textured stone, strategically placed indoor plants and wood furniture created the sense of warmth.

Everything in here is like Jumin, Reine mused as she stepped into the lobby for the first time again in a few days.

As soon as Jumin stepped in, everyone was suddenly on alert as usual, but stopped and stared at Reine who was casually holding onto the Vice Chairman's arm.

Reine noticed this cue and moved to pull away, but Jumin held her arm in place.

“Jumin!” Reine whispered. “These people are going to talk!

“Let them talk,” he smiled at her. “It's not like I'm doing anything wrong.”

Reine sighed and turned over her shoulder as they walked. Ae Cha was walking right behind her, and was being tailed by the Choi twins.

Ae Cha looked at around the building with curiosity brimming in her eyes. Just where exactly were they? Her eyes watched the subtle gestures between Reine and Jumin, and she couldn’t help but grin.

Right at the reception area, a familiar face greeted the group. Reine felt a smile spread across her face when she spotted Jaehee standing right next to the reception counter.

“Jaehee!” She greeted, which was returned by a smile.

“Reine! I'm glad to see you're recovering fast,” she replied, and then turned to the smaller girl behind her.  “And you must be Ae Cha,” she said as she offered her a smile.

She then turned to Jumin. “Mr. Han, they're at the sky lounge. I had it closed and reserved for the meeting.”

“Excellent,” Jumin replied. “Is Vanderwood there as well?”

“Yes, Mr. Han,” she answered.

“Huh? Vandy’s here?” Saeyoung asked curiously. “That’s new.”

“Well, he is your manager,” Jaehee pointed out. “But let's discuss later. Zen and Yoosung are waiting.”

Reine remembered the two names. The one named Zen should be Jumin's actor friend, while Yoosung is the young college student.

Which means…

“Jumin, are you sure it's okay for us to join in an RFA meeting?” she inquired.

Hearing the names Zen and Yoosung reminded the younger girl of a past conversation with Saeyoung. The girl pulled out her phone from the jacket and swiped over to her contacts page.

 

 

“Saeyoung,” Ae Cha stared at her contacts, confused. “Who are Yoosung and Zen?”

 

“They’re members of the RFA,.” Saeyoung chuckled, running his fingers through his hair.  “They can’t wait to talk to you sometime! Hopefully when things aren’t so crazy...” Saeyoung let out a groan, slapping both of his hands on his cheeks and pulling down. 

“I don’t understand,” Ae Cha turned around to face the twins, bringing her jacket hood down.

“Why are we here?” Ae Cha added as she pulled locks of her hair that became tucked into the inside of the jacket with her free hand. “I thought I needed to stay in hiding?”

“There are no threats here,” Jumin assured the smaller girl. “And C&R is not your enemy. This is my building...and the guard fleet’s ex-commander is with us,” he then turned and gave Reine a smile, which was returned with a glare and a slight tug on his arm.

Reine’s trained eye spotted the guards where they're supposed to be. She smiled to herself slightly on how awkward this situation is.

When they turned toward the elevator lobby, Reine felt her face turn red in embarrassment. “Ugh, Jaewoo,” she groaned. “Of all people I just had to meet you here.”

The man gave Reine a laugh and dipped into a slight bow teasingly. “Sanglante Reine,” he greeted, and Reine scoffed.  

Jumin felt a smile start on his face at their small antic, but turned to the guard as he bowed curtly at Jumin. “Mr. Han,” he greeted. “I'll be accompanying you to the lounge.” He then tapped his access card on the scanner and the elevator doors opened, then ushered everyone in.


 

Zen leaned back as far as possible in the leather office chair, his thumb flicking the wheel of the disposable lighter in his hands out of agitation. Yoosung sat quietly on the other side, his face illuminated by the screen of his smartphone.

“God, where the Hell is he? ” Zen gave an exasperated sigh and tossed a pack of cigarettes he retrieved from his pants pocket onto the cherry conference table. “Not everyone has free schedules to come and go as they please! Some of us have tight deadlines to follow.”

He knew the basics. Mint Eye has returned from the depths of Hell, bringing two unknown women to Rika’s apartment. He was thankful for Jaehee keeping him and Yoosung up to date on the current situation, but the lack of information was making Zen grow incredibly impatient.

Yoosung looked up from his phone and glanced at the large clock hanging above the conference table. All of this waiting weighed heavy like lead, and he found himself dreading the upcoming meeting. He thought Mint Eye was buried over a year ago.

“Zen, I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Yoosung admitted, dark circles evident under his eyes. “A lot of weird things are going on again.”

The past year was a blur for Yoosung. For years he thought his beloved cousin Rika had died, only for her to be found, suffering from aphasia, at the Mint Eye headquarters in Korea. With the help of Zen, they worked together to find a treatment center in Alaska to aid in her recovery.

Yoosung has spent many sleepless nights worrying about Rika’s safety with Mint Eye’s return. Unfortunately, there would be no way for him to ever find his cousin while she was in Alaska. The treatment center changed locations on a regular basis so there was no known address.

Yoosung sighed and rested his head on the cherry conference table. A few minutes passed before remembering the topic he was itching to bring up.

“Did you hear about the car chase that happened a couple of weeks back?” Yoosung asked.

“Huh?” Zen turned his head to the blonde with brief confusion. Chase? What Chase?  And then he remembered what Yoosung was talking about.

“Oh, yeah! I saw the video on Triptor. I’m surprised it wasn’t all over the news.”

Yoosung lifted his head back up from the conference table and yawned. He raised both of his arms to stretch, hoping the movement would wake him up. If he wasn’t careful, he knew he would fall asleep in the conference room.

“Didn’t the car look like one of Saeyoung’s cars?” Yoosung reached for his phone to find the car chase video again on Triptor. “I swear Saeyoung’s sent us photos of that car before.”

“Because the car is mine!”

Saeyoung casually pranced into the conference room, his left hand idly played with the cord of his headphones. The two men stared at him disbelievingly and followed him with an open-mouthed stare until he slumped in defeat on a chair beside Yoosung. “She's badly damaged, though. My poor baby,” he whined.

Jumin entered the room next, with Reine's arm loosely entwined with his. He immediately turned to the agitated Zen, who visibly scoffed at his presence.

“Nice of you to finally show up, jerk,” Zen chided, rolling his eyes.

Jumin stared at him blankly. “I’m surprised you actually found something nice about me.”

“Oh my god, do you have to make everything about yourself?” Zen replied in annoyance.

“Don't you?” Jumin quipped almost immediately, then pulled a chair for Reine. “Careful now,” he said while he held her by the elbow to assist her to sit.

“Now, now,” Yoosung held both his hands up, trying to dissipate the brewing friction between the two men. “Not in the presence of a lady!”

“Ladies,” Saeran spoke from the door, and as he stepped in he held the door open and nodded at Ae Cha to enter.

Zen and Yoosung watched the small girl with chocolate to rose ombre-colored hair quietly meandered into the conference room from outside the hall. Zen’s eyes grew wide, the shock of seeing this particular girl caused him to drop the pack of cigarettes onto the conference table.

“No way,” Zen mumbled under his breath in disbelief. Could it really be her ?

Although the girl posted under the username ARoseLee, it was no secret to insiders who Arlee was, and Zen was no exception. The industry either makes or breaks a person. He recalled his concern a couple weeks back when the ARoseLee accounts became suddenly deactivated and hoped this might have signaled her return to the K-POP industry.

As soon as Yoosung recognized Ae Cha, a red tint bloomed across his cheeks.  He stared at Ae Cha with wonder, remembering her voice on television. To him, her tone is so vivid, like colorful fireworks lighting the night sky.

Ae Cha unzipped her pink puff jacket with trembling hands, and slipped the jacket off of her shoulders. She stood on her toes to hang the jacket on the coat hangers near the door frame before turning to face the group with a smile, still undecided which seat she would sit in.

“An-Annyeong haseyo!” Ae Cha introduced herself to the room, bowing politely.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Ae Chan~” Saeyoung called out to her. “Come sit here!” He said as he tapped an empty seat in between him and Saeran. When the girl was seated, Saeyoung placed both hands on her tiny shoulders. “Guys, her name is Ae Cha. Isn't she cute?” He gleefully announced.


“Ae Cha Lee?!” Yoosung exclaimed, his enthusiasm bursting from its seams as he leaned over the table to get a closer view of the girl.  “Season Five Winner of So U Wanna Be a K-POP Star and former rumored upcoming maknae of CUTiE?”

Ae Cha nodded, her cheeks flared a pink hue from the unexpected doting. She was both surprised and flattered someone had something positive to say about her K-POP training days.

“Saeyoung, don’t you know who she is!?” Yoosung looked at Saeyoung puzzled from how casual Saeyoung sat beside the girl with his hands on her shoulders. “I can’t believe you’re sitting so calm beside Ae Cha! She’s a star!”

Former idol trainee,” Zen corrected. “Netizens can be brutal. Can’t really blame her for leaving.”

Yoosung ignored Zen’s comment and sat back into the office chair as he mind processed the situation at hand. His paid attention to how Saeyoung was touching Ae Cha so effortlessly.

“Wait!” Yoosung exclaimed with a gasp. “Is Ae Cha your girlfriend ?!”

“Girlfriend?” Zen raised his eyebrow, and swiveled his chair to face the twins and Ae Cha. He studied the girl and Saeyoung intently.

Girlfriend!?

Wait.

When did I become his girlfriend?

… Could I become their girlfriend?

Ae Cha stuttered when attempting to say something, anything. When realizing her words were incomprehensible the girl’s eyes widened. She immediately looked for her sister, her eyes darting around the lounge.

Reine couldn't stifle her giggles as Ae Cha was suddenly shoved in the spotlight. Saeran gave a soft smile at Ae Cha and patted her head, his heart blooming with adoration watching her get flustered with compliments.

“Ah, the mysteries of the world,” Saeyoung said enigmatically, waving a finger toward the two. “But she's so cute isn't she? I want to put her in my pocket~” he mused.

“Well… yeah !” Zen huffed, and folded his arms across his chest. “But that doesn’t explain how she ended up with you .”

“Zen’s right,” Yoosung added. “Why is Ae Cha here?”  

Jumin sat beside Reine and leaned back on the chair. “I believe Assistant Kang gave you an idea the last time I sent bodyguards over, yes?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Zen groaned, drumming his fingers against the wooden surface. “Two women were found at the apartment . Mint Eye is back. But who are the girls and who the hell is behind this? ”

“I thought we agreed to no more secrets after what happened with Ri-” Zen paused, and looked over at Yoosung whose gaze fell downcast from talking about tragic past memories. He could almost feel the heaviness of Yoosung’s sadness in the air.

“--With what happened , there would be no more secrets!” Zen corrected himself, and shot a glare at Jumin. “No offense, but, it sounds like there are secrets again.”

“Zen’s right,” Yoosung sighed. “No one’s talking to us and I’m very worried! I want to help protect my cousin if she’s in danger!”

“This is why I called this meeting,” Jumin replied in a calm, collected manner. “Many things happened over the past two and a half weeks, and in summary, we were too busy to find answers, plan, and keep these two women alive . My apologies if it made you uncomfortable--we just needed to deal with the direct threat as soon as possible.”

“Whoa, whoa. Wait. That means the two women found in the apartment was Ae Cha and Reine?” Zen’s eyes widened at the realization.

Reine fought the urge to reach for Jumin's hand from under the table as things are obviously being directed at him. As much as she wanted to object and defend him, she needed to respect Jumin's authority in this situation, even if it doesn't make her very happy to see him taking the all the heat of the argument.

Jaehee and Vanderwood emerged from the kitchen with steaming cups of coffee to help dispel the December cold. Saeran stared at the coffee cup with curiosity as Jaehee laid it in front of him, while Vanderwood served Zen and Yoosung, to the boys’ surprise. After which, Vanderwood sat beside Zen with Jaehee on his other side.

As the conversation between Jumin and the rest of the group continued, Ae Cha hid her smartphone underneath the table, looking down occasionally to her thighs to reply to chat room messages in the Secret Messenger game.

“So, what’s the hold up then?” Zen pressed. “That Sim Yeong-ho asshole just gives me the creeps looking at his mug on the news.”

Yoosung, revitalized with coffee, nodded in agreement. “What are we going to do?”

“Ah, that’s where I come in,” Ae Cha interjected nonchalantly, her eyes focused on her phone’s screen. “I’m going to be used as the bait to lure him out.”

A silence fell over the room which made Ae Cha return her focus off of her phone and back on Zen and Yoosung sitting across from her. A look of horror painted across their faces, and their jaws dropped for the third time during the meeting.

Ae Cha turned her head to look at both twins with concern growing in her eyes. She whispered to the twins, “Did I say something wrong?”

“What did you say?” Zen’s eyebrows knotted in confusion, unable to comprehend the words coming out of the small girl’s lips. It sounded as if she volunteered herself to be used as bait.

“She volunteered to be bait,” Vanderwood replied, confirming Zen's suspicion.

“She will undergo training,” Jumin added. “So she can at least deal with the worst case scenario.”

“The idea is to imprison Yeong-Ho with evidence beyond reasonable doubt,” Reine spoke, starting on the explanation of the plan before Zen and Jumin start going at their throats again. “Saeyoung and Saeran had planned to merely capture him, but that would place the eyes of the law on us--Yeong-ho is an influential man,” she reasoned as she bore her eyes on Zen and cast a piercing stare at Yoosung.

“And the best evidence would be getting caught red-handed attacking Ae Cha,” Jumin said with a sigh. “I didn't like it, but that's a sure imprisonment,” he spoke as he crossed his arms on his chest.

“Are you fucking out of your mind!?” Zen sharply rose from the chairs, slamming both hands on the table while he started at Jumin incredulously.  He felt a vein pop in his forehead.

Ae Cha opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Zen’s yelling.

“And if this goes wrong?! What happens then? The poor girl gets killed, that’s what! ” Zen countered. Anger grew in his eyes at what a ridiculous plan Jumin had prepared. Who sends a defenseless girl to risk their life like this? It’s suicide.

The smaller girl attempted to talk again. She was just itching to tell her side of the story, but, Zen’s voice boomed over hers causing Ae Cha to groan.

“This is fucking insane and you know it Jumin!”

Ae Cha crossed her arms and stared at the ceiling, blowing a puff of air from her nose in frustration. Was she ever going to fucking defend her own decision?  

“Zen,” Saeran spoke with a forceful tone, albeit his demeanor remained calm. “You’re not the one who decides on what happens or not, nor is Jumin.”

“Saeran’s right,” Saeyoung smiled at Ae Cha, who's been fuming at not being able to speak. “Why don't you ask her yourself? I think you're unfairly directing your anger at the wrong person.”

The twin’s speaking up for Ae Cha settled her rising temper. Ae Cha smiled at the twins and mouthed “Thank You”.

“Look, I’m sorry!” Zen let out an exasperated sigh, falling back into the leather office chair. His eyes focused on Ae Cha, his expression overcome with dread. “It’s just that jerk sitting by Reine has an entire fleet of bodyguards already trained to take on threats like Sim Yeong-ho!”

“An entire fleet that's been compromised,” Reine corrected. “Besides, none of them are trained to handle the monstrosity that is Mint Eye right now. It's no longer the same organization we knew from years ago,” she reasoned.

“These are no longer ordinary thugs, Zen,” Saeran said. “We can't take them head-on.”

“But we can cut their source of resources,” Saeyoung added. “Cutting off this guy gets them off their money source.”

Zen sighed, his eyes watched the smaller girl with sympathy. He was genuinely concerned about Ae Cha’s wellbeing.

“Are you really okay with doing this, Ae Cha? Why not stay with Yoosung or myself while the rest of the gang takes care of that asshole?” Zen offered.

“I’m sorry for interrupting… but...” Yoosung interjected, and all eyes fell on him. “I think Zen’s right.  “This sounds too dangerous, Ae Cha! Can’t someone else go for her that’s already trained?”

“Yeong-Ho is not stupid,” Saeran answered. “If he knows someone trained would go after him he won't be found. To him, Ae Cha is a defenseless little girl--which will lure him out and trap him.”

Jumin let out a sigh, and looked over at Ae Cha with concern. “I was about to open this up, Ae Cha. You still have a choice, and once we get out of this room we will start on the operation. If you would like to change your mind, then this is the time to do so.”

Two pairs of eyes, both crimson and violet, pleaded at Ae Cha to reconsider. Ae Cha sighed, understanding their concern. It’s been the same concern everyone else has had, and she couldn’t invalidate their fears. If this was a few weeks ago, she would have wholeheartedly agreed…

...But Ae Cha was turning a new leaf in her life, and has fully accepted the consequences of her decision.  

What she hoped to invalidate was the belief the plan could be a failure. She planned on working as hard as humanly possible for Vanderwood to give her approval to be a part of this mission.

“Look,” Ae Cha spoke to the group with a resonate tone. She subconsciously laid her hands on both of the twin’s thighs underneath the table.  “I appreciate the concern, but, I’m not the same girl I was three years ago. I’m not... a K-POP idol. I’m not... someone’s toy. I’m not… a defenseless little girl. I am Ae Cha Lee.”

She looked over to Yoosung and smiled. “I’m sorry if I have let you down. I have to do this for my sister, and for myself. My Unnie nearly died.”

Reine felt her heart melt with Ae Cha’s words. She gave Ae Cha a warm, tight-lipped smile, and urged her to go on.

Ae Cha turned to look at her sister and felt her own heart warm from her sister’s encouraging gesture. Both Yoosung and Zen looked at the smaller girl with defeat dancing in their eyes. Yoosung replayed her words carefully. There was something off in what the girl said, but he couldn’t pinpoint yet.

“My mind's made up. I’m going to continue this operation underneath Vandy’s guidance,” the girl announced.

Jumin turned to Ae Cha and gave her a nod of respect, then turned to Yoosung and Zen. “There's your answer. She will be trained to fight, just so if the worst comes to pass, she will have a fighting chance to survive.”

“However,” Vanderwood interjected, which made everyone in the room look at him. “I only agreed to three months--no more. If she does not attain defensive fighting form by that time, I will call this off. That's the agreement,” he said.

“Yoosung,” Saeyoung called the young blonde’s attention, which was returned by a wide-eyed, confused expression.

“We still do not know if this whole thing involves Rika or not,” he started, but gingerly trod on the subject as evident with his careful tone. “But I hope you keep an open mind. Things aren't always what they seem, and this may hurt us all more than we are prepared for. This all started a little over two weeks ago, and it's still too early to make assumptions.”

“I just hope she’s okay,”  Yoosung worried. “I don’t have a good feeling about all of this.”

“Saeyoung is right,” Jaehee chipped in. “I really hope we all act as a unit in taking care of this--this goes for you too, Zen,” she then turned to the silver-haired man seated beside Vanderwood. “Let's all try to respect Ae Cha's decision.”

“Fine,” Zen hung his head with a pained expression. “But if something happens to Ae Cha, I’m going to kick someone’s ass!”

Jumin cleared his throat and straightened in his seat. “So the plan is to get rid of Mint Eye's main source of funds--Sim Yeong-Ho--to weaken the entire unit,” he switched to a leader role, leaning his elbow to rest on the edge of the table. “To do this, Ae Cha will undergo a three-month training under Spectre. During this time, I will also need Saeyoung's help to find any more of these filth inside C&R and get rid of them. I will be busy,” he then turned to Reine apologetically, which was returned by an understanding nod by the woman. “And since the security team is compromised, Reine and I will fly to one of our mountain villas along with my most trusted men so she can recover without any outside threat. We really need her to be in good fighting form before the third month for good measure,” he explained as he made eye contact with everyone in the room.

“Since I will be preoccupied...Zen, Yoosung, I have a favor to ask,” he inquired. “Please take care of RFA affairs while I'm unavailable. I’d ask Assistant Kang, but she will also be taking care of some official C&R tasks, so your help would be invaluable,” he said as he clasped his hands together while maintaining eye contact with the two.

“You’re in luck,” Zen replied. “The movie I was going to be in has been delayed for filming until the spring. So, I'm free for a while.”

“Of course! Anything for the RFA!” Yoosung added.

Jumin gave a tight-lipped smile and a nod in appreciation. “If Ae Cha or Vanderwood calls the operation off for any reason,” he leaned back and sighed. “Then we need to just take them down the way Spectre knows best...although it may take time, money, and Yeong-Ho might end up killing off every single Mint Eye connection that wishes nothing to do with them anymore,” he said with a voice tinged with exhaustion.

“Duly noted,” Vanderwood replied. “We will prepare for training as soon as possible.”

“Speaking of which,” Jumin turned to Vanderwood. “Reine would be in the mountain villa--I really don't want to leave her alone in there when I am needed here. The mountains offer good resources for training,” he said. “Would you consider training there during the winter?”

Vanderwood’s eyebrows raised at the offer. “Mountain training in the winter? That's perfect,” he mused. “You got yourself a deal, Mr. Han. We will be there in a week. I'll just need to prepare our tiny Ae Chan for the cold.” he said as he offered a playful wink towards the smaller girl.

“I’m not that tiny Vandy!” Ae Cha whined, scrunching her nose toward the statement.

Saeyoung grinned. “Yeah! She's not tiny... just pocket-sized,” he teased.

Reine giggled. “Thank you,” she smiled at Vanderwood in appreciation. “I would also like to see how Ae Cha’s training is going, I may have a few things to teach her.”

“Oh!” Saeyoung chirped, which made everyone turn to him in surprise. “If we're going there, then I should send this to your phones!”

Suddenly everyone's phones made a sound. Reine turned to reach for her bag but winced as the pain in her midsection stopped her movement. Jumin noticed this and tapped her shoulder to stop her, then helped her grab her bag.

“Delete the old RFA app,” Saeyoung instructed. “The reason why I disabled it is because it's been compromised.  Some Mint Eye bastard stole my program, so they might have a way to hack into it like Saeran did before,” he said.

Saeran scoffed and tapped the “install” button on his phone. “If you made the security stronger I couldn't have hacked into it,” he teased.

“Ah, but only you had the same methods as mine,” Saeyoung replied. “And if I did, I wouldn't have been able to rescue you.”

“RFA app?” Reine stared at her phone in confusion. “Why did I receive one?”

“I got one too!” Ae Cha waved her phone at her sister, looking at the link curiously. “What is this?”

“Woohoo!” Yoosung pumped his first with excitement after installing the application. “Does this mean we will be talking on the messenger again? I missed everyone!”

“Whoa,” Zen looked at his phone with wonder from the newly updated application. Yoosung leaned over to look at Zen’s screen, his eyes sparkly at how different the RFA app had become.

“Wow! The RFA got a huge facelift!” Yoosung excitedly exclaimed. “Saeyoung, you’re such a genius!”

Zen began exploring different aspects of the app. Sounds of Oohs and Ahhs came from both Yoosung and Zen’s lips from all of the new features they stumbled upon.

“Private group chats? Ae Cha. Reine. Want to join a private group chat with me?” Zen asked, winking at both girls. “You won’t regret it.”

Jumin shot a glare toward the silver-haired man, which Reine did not miss. Feeling a little mischievous, she feigned surprise when Zen winked at her, then turned to fiddle with her phone.

“Okay, I will!” She gleefully announced.

“No you won't,” Jumin replied to her in a manner that seemed nonchalant, but the knot on his eyebrows were very obvious.

Reine’s laughter burst out in giggles as she covered her face with her phone, glancing slightly at Jumin, who gave a slight huff and crossed his arms on his chest.

“Unnie, you need to play nice ! ” Ae Cha teased. A mischievous smirk pursed on her lips.

Both Yoosung and Zen looked up from their phones at the girl with a puzzled look on their face.

“Huh?” Yoosung tilted his head in confusion, realizing that statement was the same statement earlier which threw him off.  He opened his phone’s browser, and searched Ae Cha’s information on the old fan cafe he managed.

“Ae Cha, I’m confused. It says you’re an only child.”

“You have a sister?” Zen asked.

“Ah right,” Saeyoung raised a finger. “They're sisters, Reine Lee and Ae Cha Lee. They had the same dad.”

Reine gave Ae Cha a quick smile and turned to Zen and Yoosung. “We didn't know of each other's existence until recently. I was originally born in Canada, moved to the US--and when dad stopped communicating with me I thought something was off, so I went to Korea and worked under C&R in hopes of finding clues about dad.”

“A lot of things happened, but they found out they were sisters in the middle of this whole ruckus,” Jumin explained.

“Unfortunately,” Saeyoung turned to Ae Cha and held her hand under the table. “We have enough proof that Mint Eye got their dad. For what reason, we don't know yet,” he explained, deliberately being as vague as possible as to not upset Ae Cha.

While Ae Cha nodded at Saeyoung’s statement, her glance wandered to the other direction of the room to distract how warm his hand hand felt holding hers. A red tint subtly colored her cheeks.

“But for now, we need to get rid of Yeong-Ho,” Saeran said, who somehow managed to slip past everyone and take the entire sugar and creamer containers from the kitchen. He doused copious amounts of creamer and sugar on his coffee. “He's an immediate and real threat. I worked for him when I was still in Mint Eye--and I can personally attest how dangerous he is,” he said while nonchalantly mixing his coffee-flavored cream drink.

“Hey,” Vanderwood pointed at Saeran. “You're ruining perfectly good coffee!”

Saeran’s eyebrows furrowed. “But… it’s bitter .”

“You'll die of diabetes if you keep doing that,” Vanderwood warned.

“Man,” Zen sighed, using his fingers to rub the tension out of his temples as he changed the subject. “It really worries me how many innocent people keep getting pulled into this mess.”

“I don’t even want to think about that!” Yoosung grimaced. “I’m still in shock Ae Cha has a sister!”

“Well, here I am,” Reine smiled at both of them. “I'm just so happy I am not alone--it’s great to know I have family,” she spoke with a smile.

“Speaking of family,” Jumin spoke. “Since everyone is here...I would like to have your consensus about inducting Reine and Ae Cha into RFA.”

“Induction to RFA?” Reine watched Jumin for a while and studied him.

Ae Cha’s head snapped back to the group with wide eyes.  “Induction?” The smaller girl wondered cautiously. She shimmied slightly in the chair. The red tint on her face grew brighter when remembering her fingers are still interlocked with Saeyoung’s underneath the table.

“That's a wonderful idea,” Jaehee spoke softly towards the girls. “I'm giving my full consent.”

“Oh! Oh!” Yoosung nodded vehemently. “Yes! Absolutely!”

“An opportunity for these two lovely ladies to join us?” Zen’s crimson eyes dazzled. “Sign me up.”

Saeran turned and smiled at Ae Cha. “Is that even a question?”

Saeyoung squeezed Ae Cha's hand with both of his hands over hers and he was grinning from ear to ear. “Welcome to RFA, Ae Chan!”

“Oh… ah... K-Kamsahamnida,” Ae Cha bowed to the group again, offering a smile to everyone. She wasn’t sure what being a part of the RFA entailed, but, she couldn’t help but be delighted in her small world suddenly growing.

Jumin wrapped a protective arm around Reine and was hell bent to get her eyes off the silver-haired haired man. He turned to Reine and spoke in a low, smooth voice. “Then… I guess you'll be part of the family then.”

Reine stared at him wide-eyed and somehow in the middle of it she realized she forgot to breathe. A red tint stained her cheeks and she offered a gracious smile to everybody. “T-Thank you,” she muttered.

Chapter Text

Her hair whipped erratically as the cold blast of air almost threw her off balance.  The constant whirring sound of the helicopter blades rang in her ears, and she had to pull her faux fur-lined jacket closer to herself to keep the cold at bay.

Jumin immediately saw her predicament and wrapped his arm around her. His hair whipped about as well, his eyes slightly winced as cold, strong winds went about them.

“All is set, Mr. Han,” Dae-Sung announced, his voice raised enough to be heard above the loud chopper noise. Jumin gave a quick nod and two more guards opened the door, and Jumin carefully helped Reine to get up the stairs and into the small cabin.

Reine took a second to admire how luxurious the interior was. She was half-expecting the kind of choppers she often saw in action movies, but Jumin’s had a fairly large cabin with two white leather reclining seats and a multifunctional desk in between. She did not miss the other curious compartments right in front of the seats; she will look into them later.

Once the chopper doors were shut, thankfully, there was silence, and Reine was already comfortably seated on one of the plush chairs, admiring the workmanship.

“Do you like it?” Jumin asked as he loosened his tie, amused by Reine's curiosity.

“I've never seen a chopper like this before,” she said, her eyes twinkling with curiosity. “Don't we have to wear those headphone things?”

Jumin let out a laugh. “No, we don't,” he then continued to watch as her eyes widened and she excitedly watched out the window as the chopper finally lifted off.

Reine let out a childish squee as the city lights came into view. Seoul has always been alive at night, but since it was nearly Christmas, the city became even more dazzling.

“It's so beautiful,” she muttered in wonder, and she could even make out the tiny tents of the night market, the smoke that's coming out of the food areas, and the swarm of people in between them.

Jumin watched all of this in adoration. He watched as her emerald eyes shone with wonder at seeing the city lights inside the chopper, and the childish smile she had on her face tugged at his heart more than ever.

That was when he decided that he wants to protect this happiness.


The chopper finally landed on a forest clearing in the middle of the property, and Reine braced herself for the cold once more. Jumin had them wait for the chopper's blades to stop spinning as it is significantly colder out here in the mountains. Once the blades have stopped, Jumin finally opened the cabin door, and the biting cold was there, but thankfully there was no wind.

He extended a hand to Reine and she graciously took it, then slowly alighted the chopper. After which, they were ushered by even more people she knew from the security team, and thankfully nobody made any indication of distaste--it was actually quite the opposite. The team had been quite accepting of the situation--and Reine couldn't help but wonder if this is was influenced by a certain Vice Chairman.

Once finally out of the chopper, they were led toward a black van and the warm blow of the vehicle’s heating system once the door was slid open was more than welcome. Reine immediately got in, while closely followed by Jumin.

After a few minutes of driving in the dark, the van finally entered a small fenced area, where Reine could make out warm lights from the distance. Once they rolled into the driveway, she felt her jaw drop.

The villa was breathtaking.  It was a perfect combination of wood, stone and glass--the main door can be accessed from the side, while the frontage was an impressive thirty-foot glass window that showcased the living room and the mezzanine floor that led to the different individual rooms inside. On the left side was a porch area that seemed connected to the dining room, and the right side seemed like a garden area that led to what she assumes is a hot spring at the back. The warm lights that illuminated strategic areas of the house made it so luxurious, and all Reine could do was stare in awe.

“Jumin,” she said, excitement evident in her voice. “This place is magnificent.”

“I’m glad you like it,” he smiled at her as the car door opened. “Shall we?” he offered his hand to her, which she happily took, and continued to marvel at the villa's facade.

Once the front door opened, she gasped even louder. The interiors were no less grandiose than the exterior--they were welcomed by a stone-covered wall where the fireplace sat, and a large, plush couch faced the fireplace on top of a faux fur rug that covered the entire fireplace area.

Wood was everywhere--from the floor, to the ceiling, to the beams that held the electric candle chandelier that was also made of wood. Hanging glass lamps illuminated the corners of the living room, and the tall glass window was situated to the left, while the wooden staircase leading to the rooms was to the right.

Right past the living room is the dining area, and to the left was the glass doors that lead to the porch area connecting to a veranda. To the right is the kitchen area.

At the right side of the house, just a little past the stairs going to the mezzanine is the door going towards the hot spring.

After unpacking her belongings, Reine managed to change into a pair of black fleece-lined leggings and an oversized grey fleece hoodie, with her hair put up in a messy bun.

She sat in front of the fireplace while she watched the tiny embers fly and die as they burned themselves out. She felt exhaustion kick in after an entire day of shopping for clothes and the RFA meeting, and then flying to the villa.

Suddenly, a hot steaming mug of chocolate was in front of her, and she looked up to see Jumin smiling. “I was calling you and you weren't answering,” he said, and Reine smiled her apology then happily took the steaming mug.

“Thank you,” she softly spoke while Jumin sat beside her on the fur rug. “Sorry… I was just...thinking,” she smiled as her fingers curled around the mug, warming her hands.  “This place is beautiful, Jumin...never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'll be experiencing everything I've experienced today--being in RFA, the helicopter ride, this villa…”

Her voice trailed off and she looked over at Jumin, who was studying her every expression and movement.

Reine let out a laugh. “... C&R’s Vice Chairman serving me hot chocolate,” she continued, which made Jumin laugh a little.

Her emerald eyes shone as it reflected the dancing flames in the fireplace. She took a tentative sip of the hot drink and she let out a satisfied sigh, then placed the mug on the coffee table behind her.

After the entire day was done, with all the scheduled trips they needed to do, only now did it occur to Reine that...

… they’re alone.   Nobody but just the two of them, in a house in the middle of nowhere.

She suddenly felt her heart skip a beat in this realization, and the memories of the days past started to come back like flashes of intense feelings and thoughts. However, it would probably be the best idea to keep these thoughts locked away for now, and she needs to focus more on getting better so she can be of help with their issues with Mint Eye.

She has been getting all the help she needed, and this is not the time to think about her personal feelings. Besides, it's wishful thinking that a man like Jumin would ever truly stick by her if he knew who she was, and what she did.

It hurt to think that she and Jumin cannot be more than what they were, but she would rather take this pain than have memories of her past taint his good name.

“What's wrong?” Jumin suddenly asked.

She whipped her head to his direction, her eyes wide and startled, but she soon guarded herself and turned to watch the fireplace once more.

She let out a small chuckle. “Ah, no,” she replied. “Nothing's wrong.”

“Reine,” Jumin reached out to touch her cheek and she looked up at him in surprise. “I really wish that you would be more truthful to me,” he spoke with a voice so quiet, it seemed almost a whisper.

“I-I'm sorry,” she replied, but couldn't take her eyes away from him. His presence pulled her in, her eyes drowning in his.  “There really isn't anything wrong,” she tried to turn away, but Jumin abruptly turned her face towards him.

“What do you take me for?” He responded, his voice still faint, restrained.

“Jumin, I don't understand, I--”

“Can you not see?” He spoke, his voice thick with suppressed emotions. “I've been trying to get through to you and you keep shutting me away.”

All she could do was open her mouth but no words came.  She clenched her jaw and swallowed hard; her eyes breaking contact from his.

“It hurts me to see pain in your eyes, Reine,” he confessed, and he fondly caressed her cheek.

“I’ve been watching you.  All this time.  I just wish you would tell me what I can do to take the pain away.”

She felt his hands tremble, and finally let go of her, sliding down her arms as his unrestrained sorrow surfaced in his grey eyes. A long period of silence followed, and Reine wished she knew how to answer.

What could she say? The pain was always there. It became attached to her for so long that she doesn't know of a life without it anymore.

“I love you.”

Reine let out a sharp gasp as the words rolled out of Jumin's lips. Her heart hammered in her chest and her mind, as if refusing to believe what it heard, played the words over and over in her head.

She felt his fingers tremble as they held both her hands. The way he looked at her now was so different from the way he stared at her with lust that one night in his penthouse. His eyes were soft, almost begging.  There was pain there, pain that threatened to shed tears as they collected around his bottom lashes.

Reine felt her own tears surface as Jumin’s first tears dropped from his eyes. She felt her own heart ache with sorrow seeing him this way.

She reached out instinctively and wiped them off, and shook her head. “No, no, no, Jumin, please don't cry for me, please, not me,” she wiped them with the sleeve of her hoodie.

Jumin caught her hand with his and leaned towards her touch, closing his eyes.

“Jumin…” Reine whispered.

He turned his face toward her open palm and planted a kiss on it, the same way he did at his penthouse, but this time he kept his eyes closed and held her hand with both of his so reverently as if her touch was something so precious.

“Let me love you, Reine,” he whispered into her hand, and he finally opened his eyes to gaze into hers.

She opened her mouth but found no voice. Her chest ached. He was everything she ever dreamed of...and yet...

“I… I can't,” she replied, her voice breaking along with her heart.

She tried pulling her hand away but Jumin held onto it tightly.

“Then tell me why.”

His broken voice hurt so badly. Her eyes were wide and lost; her mind unable to come up with anything. She tried speaking, but no words came. She finally averted her gaze and made a motion to stand up, but Jumin held her hand tight, slightly pulling her back down.

“Don't run away and at least tell me…”

Jumin clutched at her hand tight, and yet held it so reverently that his feelings bled from the contact of his skin to hers.

He's hurting.

No… please no...

Her heart kept reaching out to him. No matter how many ropes and restraints she had managed to cage her heart in, Jumin tore all of them away, leaving her open, defenseless. She tried to repair the walls that have crumbled, but Jumin's tears and his touch left her powerless.

She felt the rusty door of her heart crack open, and Reine rose to her knees and wrapped her arms around him.

Jumin welcomed her in his arms and held her tightly as he buried his face on her shoulder in silence. Reine ran her fingers through his hair, the faint scent of mint wafted towards her and she was immediately reminded of how gently he held her that night in the penthouse…

...how he wiped her tears in the hospital…

...how he quietly held her as her inner storm passed...

 

”Reine, please!”

He called for me.

“Will you listen to my story?” She whispered in his ear, her voice quivered with every word. “Will you not turn away?”

Jumin pulled away to look into her eyes.

Fear was evident in her eyes as they stared back into his. She felt her hands tremble as she held him. Jumin pulled away from her embrace and gave her hands a reassuring squeeze, but otherwise he remained quiet.

Reine closed her eyes.

There's no turning back now.


“I have always been told that I was an accidental child,” Reine spoke quietly as Jumin held her on his chest, idly stroking her wine-colored hair. “My mother decided to keep me despite our situation. I remember growing up like a normal kid. We had very little; we even lived in someone else's kitchen for a time. It was hard, but it was okay,” she spoke quietly, her eyes half-lidded and glassy, as if she was looking through an unseen window to the past.

Looking back in the past felt like picking old scars. The pain was there, but dull. “Then we moved out to a house of our own,” she smiled a little in remembrance of the time. “That house was cold . There were holes everywhere.” She looked up and found Jumin smiling slightly, which sent her heart aflutter.

However, her eyes turned skyward as sadness overcame her once again. “But when I turned twelve, things went upside down,” she let out a sigh. “I would go home every day to the sounds of my mother having sex with some guy I never met...and I would find used syringes, tourniquets, and some weird white substance on the table. Mom told me those were medicine, and I believed her,” she felt Jumin's arm hold her closer, and she smiled up at him.

“I had to throw all those out just to make a damn sandwich,” she said as she shook her head. “I got the worst beating I could remember because she said I wasted her “medicine”. I was too young to know that my mom was addicted to morphine.”

“This continued to happen. When I turned fourteen, I was branded as the “whore’s daughter”, and my name didn't matter. This was when I started dyeing my hair black and wore black contact lenses--I did not want to be associated with my mom. I embraced being Korean.”

“The only thing that kept me sane were my dad's letters. I think my mom tried to extort money from him when I was twelve, and that's when he knew I existed, I think. He sent me letters on my birthday, on Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's… he sent a lot,” Reine smiled in remembrance of the letters, and she made a mental note that she needs to retrieve those in her apartment when she gets better.

“I was doing okay on my own, living off the streets. Despite the dire situation, there were still kind-hearted people that helped me a lot.”

“Until I turned sixteen.”

Reine felt herself grow numb as her story took a darker turn.

“My mother sold me off to an old man,” she felt her world grow darker as she recalled this painful memory.  She clutched at the hem of her hoodie tightly, her hands curled into fists. “He tried to force himself on me many times. I fought. I can't remember how many times I received a backhand from him,” she felt a shiver run down her spine and she curled up against him tightly.

“I was… I was lost. I didn't know what to do. For a month I was kept like a hostage in his house. I would go to school every day, but I would still find myself back in his house. He kept me in invisible chains... because I knew he will kill me if I tried to flee. He... trained me to obey.” She shivered at the memory of how the man’s cold blade traced lightly on the skin of her neck and shoulders.

Jumin has stopped moving. His breathing was still slow and even, but Reine was slowly feeling the tendrils of fear creeping into her very being.

“One night… on my way home, I met a man. He… he encouraged me to fight back. He claimed that he has been watching me, and I had the right to fight back. He promised to save me if I did. I was so confused and paralyzed with fear that I didn't know what to do.”

“That night I stayed out in the streets. I kept walking, and thinking of how I could fight my cursed fate. Suddenly I felt pain at the back of my head and I fell to the ground, my vision was spinning.”

She felt herself shiver once more, but not with the cold winter chill. Bile threatened to come up her mouth as she remembered everything in horrible detail.

“I opened my eyes and I saw the old man on top of me. I was so scared. My mind kept screaming for help but no sound came. For the first time in my life I begged, in my mind, please let me die.”

Reine shivered visibly, her wide eyes stared out at nothing as she remembered everything in painful detail while her tears blurred her vision.  “He hit me many times.  I tasted blood in my mouth.  When I felt his hands under my shirt I was struck with panic. I struggled, and finally got my hand a heavy piece of chipped-off concrete.  Without thinking, I smashed it on his head.”

She gently pulled away from Jumin, her gaze on the floor, afraid of what his expression would be like. She rubbed her hands all over her upper arms as if trying to dispel the cold that crawled on her skin, and the fear that crept in her chest.

She steeled herself from the pain, and closed her eyes.

“I killed a man, Jumin. A father of three kids. I...I was so scared. His blood was all over my hands and my half-naked body.”

Jumin reached out to her and held her hands. He knew about this. Saeyoung did research about Reine and her criminal records, and her case was dismissed as self-defense.

However, he was surprised when Reine began to speak once more.

“I was behind bars while the trial was being done,” she returned Jumin's gesture by opening her palms upward and Jumin started caressing the backs of her hands with his thumb. “It felt like I was being pried open, a spectacle for everyone to see. My life and my personal space were gone. I had to stop school. It felt like the world thought it was my fault I was--”

She abruptly stopped, unable to utter the vile act that was done to her. She shook her head and squeezed Jumin's hand for reassurance.

“And then that man came. He said he came to save me.”

Jumin was puzzled to see the look of hate in her eyes when she mentioned about this particular man.

“Did the man do anything to you?” He dared to ask.

Reine felt her breath come in restrained bursts. “When he got me out, I was so happy,” she spat, and Jumin did not miss the anger in her tone. “But I was naive. When I finally turned eighteen he blackmailed me and said that he can turn the tide around and have the world believe that I am a whore like my mother, and that I am selling drugs.”

“I didn't want to go back behind bars,” she then felt her eyes burn once more. “But I was more scared of this man than jail. I didn't even know what he looked like; he always wore a mask to see me so I didn't have any leverage against him.”

She paused for a while, her eyes downcast as she considered her words. She opened her mouth several times but couldn't find the right words. Jumin waited patiently, his thumbs idly stroking her hands.

Reine finally drew in a deep breath and let out a shaky exhale. “So I did his bidding... I sold drugs. I... I...”

She closed her eyes.

“I killed.”

She finally let her heart break. She covered her face with her hands and her body shook with unrestrained sobs.

I finally said it. Oh God I finally said it.

“Oh God…” she whispered, and her heart broke even more as she realized that Jumin was not moving, nor was saying anything. She let herself fall in a downward spiral. The pain in her midsection was nothing compared to the pain she felt with his silence.

Jumin was beyond surprised with this revelation. He was absolutely certain that Saeyoung had dug up each and every information, but it seemed that this man had broken her for years and no one knew about it. He felt his chest hurt with simmering anger, and he reached out to her.

Her thoughts were suddenly cut off as she felt Jumin's gentle arms wrap around her as he pulled her back to him. His hand firmly grabbed the back of her head and she could feel his arms tremble.

“Jumin--”

“Did you honestly think that would change how I feel about you?” His voice quivered, a tinge of pain and anger in them. He pulled away and gently stroked the apple of her cheek, wiping the stream of tears from her eyes. “You think my feelings are so feeble that I would turn away from you after that?”

Reine pulled away from him with a hand on his chest. “But what if this comes up and damages you? I won't forgive myself!”

“Stop thinking of others for once!” He snapped as he gently but firmly shook her with his hands on her shoulders, which made her look up at him with wide eyes.

“Stop it… stop hurting yourself already…” he implored.

Reine collapsed forward and covered her face with her hands. She wailed. All the sorrow, the loss, the emptiness that she had bottled for years and years burst open. Jumin watched over her as she spilled over her sorrow.  He felt the pain of emptiness and hopelessness she carried around with her, but somehow he was in awe at how she managed to fight through it all day after day.

“Reine,” he cupped her face with both his hands. “Look at me, and tell me one thing.”

Reine looked up at him with glassy eyes and tear-stained cheeks, her breath still coming in erratic bursts.

“Do you love me?”

Reine froze. Her eyes were trapped in his gaze, and she knew she couldn't lie.

“I-I do,” she replied as her voice shook.

“Tell me.”

“I love you."

“Then let me love you,” he spoke with his voice almost a whisper, his lips slightly grazing on hers.

“Share your burden with me, Reine. Please… let me love you.”

Chapter Text

Reine felt an indescribable calm come over her as she felt his thumbs caress her cheeks. Something ached in her heart that felt like the wind getting knocked out of her, and yet made her head spin in an unexplainable euphoria.

One after the other, she felt her defenses being mercilessly torn down, and the moment his lips met hers, she knew she had no choice but to accept defeat. Her heart laid bare out in the open, and she felt her body give way as balance no longer existed in the onslaught of emotions.

Yet, Jumin’s gentle arms caught her effortlessly, held her so carefully as if she was made of glass. That moment she gave way, his lips grazed on hers ever so gently, careful not to break the delicate bond that was being shared. He tentatively tasted her, a small flick of his tongue, and she opened up to him.

His heart bled through his kiss. He conveyed feelings he couldn't put words to in the way his tongue would taste and his lips caress hers. He could still taste the faint traces of chocolate on her lips, and the small whimper that elicited from her lips lit a fire that burned inside of him. It was not the overwhelming heat of passion, but more akin to the gentle, constant heat of the fireplace that burned but never scalded.

He gently laid her on the fur carpet, his arm supporting her weight, careful not to agitate the still unhealed wound on her back without breaking the kiss. He felt her arms wrap around his shoulders and her fingers ran from his nape into his hair. Her touch made him shiver, causing him to involuntarily let out a deep throated moan on her lips.

The fire in his heart grew hotter. He gently broke the kiss and gazed down at the beauty that laid under him. Her wide emerald eyes stared up at him, and he could see traces of fear in them, but ultimately, he saw trust.

He took one of her hands from the back of his neck and intertwined his fingers with hers. She watched him with curiosity. He held her hand close to him and showered the back of her hand with slow, subtle kisses. His eyes watched her as she let out a tiny gasp, fear slowly fading from the depths of her gaze.

He took her hand and placed it on his chest, and then he gently planted a long, gentle kiss on her forehead. Reine closed her eyes as the warmth of his lips on her forehead made her take a deep, slow breath, and let out a long sigh. His cologne wafted towards her, and she instinctively let her nose graze upward to touch his chin. She felt herself smile a little when she felt tiny stubbly hairs there, and she tilted her head to plant a kiss on it.

His irises shone like fine silver as the light of the fireplace illuminated his eyes. She slowly ran her fingers up his chest and shoulders. He felt solid, masculine. His muscles were taut with the effort of propping himself up, the thick fabric of his v-neck sweater clung to the rolling valleys of his broad shoulders and arms.

He claimed her lips once more, his trembling hand grabbed at the elastic that held her hair. He shrugged her wine-colored hair free from its restraint, and then ran his fingers through it as he held the back of her head to deepen the kiss. She let out an involuntary moan in his mouth, and he felt the fire in him grow hotter and hotter.

Their lips broke contact to lay an open-mouthed kiss on her neck, his hand slowly gliding the front zipper of her hoodie down. He delighted at the sight of her skin underneath. He bent forward to gently plant wet kisses on every inch of exposed skin as the zipper gave way.

“Jumin…”

The labored rise and fall of her chest and her half-lidded eyes that watched him trail his way downward ignited the desire in him even more.

He wanted to please her. Every fiber in his being wanted to see her enraptured in happiness and pleasure enough to forget all the sorrow, all the pain. He wanted to show her that she deserved everything in this world and much more.

So much more.

When he reached the end of the zipper he removed the lock, and let the soft fleece fall to her sides. His hands gently glided on her skin, going from the band of her leggings and upward, which made her arch her back and shiver under his touch. The fabric eventually gave way, and inch by inch he kissed his way upward once more, until his gentle hands reached the underside of her breasts.

He took them both in his hands and gently rubbed his thumb on her pert nipples, and watched her as she closed her eyes and let out an open-mouthed gasp. He took one of her mounds in his mouth, his tongue relished at the sweet taste of her skin. He felt her heartbeat in her chest, and her hand found itself in his hair once again.

“You're so beautiful,” he murmured as he went to plant a wet kiss on her other breast, his heart being filled by the sweet sounds of pleasure escaping from her cherry red lips.

He wanted more.

He moved to lean on his left side so he could slowly run his hand down her stomach and slide under the band of her leggings, to reach the heat in between her legs. He was delighted to find that she was drenched, and he watched her as her cheeks flushed an even deeper red, her head thrown back and a restrained moan escaped her lips.

He covered her lips with his once more as his finger slid in between her folds, pressing on the sensitive nub. She shivered under his touch and moaned in his mouth, her hands held on his shoulders tight, her fingers clutched at the material of his sweatshirt.

He broke the kiss to watch her as she became lost in ecstasy. He could feel her ragged breath on his lips as his finger continued to stroke the sensitive bud in between her legs, her eyes closed and head thrown back, her lips quivering as her breathing became faster, shallower. She involuntarily squeezed her legs together to get as much contact, her body responding to him like an instrument to a musician.

“Oh Reine,” he whispered, and he felt her shiver even more. “Would you sing for me?”

Two of his fingers slid easily in her, her opening slick with her moisture. She almost let out a scream as she felt herself being filled, and a secret, sweet spot inside her was strummed repeatedly that sent her mind reeling.  

She no longer felt or saw anything except him.

She opened herself to him completely, her legs parted involuntarily as he sunk his fingers even deeper. She squeezed her eyes shut as she held on him, while the sweet friction in between her legs soon become almost unbearable.

“J-Jumin... I'm--”

He suddenly withdrew his fingers, which was met by a whine of protest from Reine. He moved to kneel in between her opened legs, and then grabbed the band of her leggings from her waist with one hand and the other supported her lower back so she won't make the effort. Jumin pulled the leggings upward along with her drenched underwear and socks.  His eyes darkened in passion as she lifted her legs to assist him in removing the cumbersome clothing, to gently fall on either side of him.

The apex in between her thighs was glistening. Inviting.

Jumin licked his lips and discarded his own sweater over his head and tossed it aside. He took some time to admire the smooth firmness of her legs with his hands, carefully bringing one leg up to rest on his shoulder as he planted hot, wet kisses on her calf and up toward her inner thigh, while he held her gaze.

At that moment they shared a language that no one else could replicate nor understand. Their eyes spoke to each other of pain, of passion, of lust, of love. Tonight, the night was their own, and no one else in the entire world mattered.

When Jumin broke eye contact, he leaned forward in between her legs, to Reine’s surprise. She tried to close her legs but he pried them open gently.

“Reine, please.”

“W-what? Jumin, you're not--!”

Her words turned into a sharp, ragged gasp and a whimper of pleasure as she felt his tongue taste her. Her mind reeled in the sensation of his lips curling around the sensitive nub and gently kissing it. Whatever pain she felt on the recovering wound on her back was somehow forgotten as his tongue and lips made stars appear in the periphery of her vision.

Her hands found the fur rug underneath and grabbed onto it, and she felt the pressure build once more, getting stronger and stronger, her breathing becoming more and more labored.

All of a sudden, fireworks erupted from under her eyelids. Her moans filled the room, and her body shook as her sex pulsated under his kiss.

She tasted so sweet in his tongue. Her essence filled his lips like nectar, and her entire body shook as she released for him. He kept his ardent kiss in between her legs until she settled down, and then sat up to admire his handiwork.

Her labored breathing and flushed cheeks, her naked body splayed over the stark white fur rug, and the glimmer in her eyes made him ache. He wanted her, but for now he has to be content to have pleased her this night, at least until she gets better.

He laid on the rug beside her, and pulled her into his arms. She still had the remnants of her orgasm on her body as she still tried to catch her breath.

“Jumin?” She called to him, her voice thick and breathless.

“That's enough for today,” he said as he caressed her hair, lightly stroking her forehead. “I don't want to hurt you.”

“That's not fair,” she retorted. “What about you?”

“I'm fine,” he smiled and kissed her forehead. “Now, get some rest. It's very late.”

Reine sat up and stared at him. The fireplace behind her cast a fiery halo around her disheveled hair, and her green eyes shone as it reflected light.

Without warning, she straddled him and pinned him down on the rug with both her hands on each shoulder. Jumin looked up at her in surprise, while she smiled at him softly.

She kept him pinned as she dipped forward for a deep, passionate kiss; her tongue tasting her own essence in his mouth. She then lifted her hands from his shoulders and gently traced down his chest to his stomach, which made him shiver as the muscles contracted with the contact.

Jumin broke the kiss and let out a gasp. “Reine…”

“Shh,” She laid a finger on his lips, then she gave him a quick peck before she sat up once more and moved to sit in between his thighs.

Jumin watched her with wild, dark eyes as she fumbled with his belt while she bent forward and planted kisses on the ripples on his stomach. He clutched his fists to his sides, restraining himself from just grabbing her and doing whatever he pleased.

However, when he felt her hand around his shaft, his world spun. This simple touch was enough to have the tip glisten with precum, and he heard himself hiss as she wrapped both her hands on his length, stroking him.

Reine watched as Jumin gave in to the pleasure. Somehow, something about his raw passion ignited the desire in her; his usually calm eyes and composed demeanor suddenly turned around to be more chaotic, more primal . And yet, she can clearly see his restraint, out of consideration for her, and the constant looming fear in his eyes that somehow she wanted to dispel.

Wanted to dispel?

You're just a hole he can stick into. Don't be so full of yourself.

She felt herself smile as she finally understood.

So this is love.

She took his length into her mouth and felt her heart fill to the brim as Jumin unintentionally let out a low, delicious moan.

She wanted to hear more. She wanted to give back to the man who gave her so much .

She took his sex from her mouth with a pop, and rolled the head around her lips, watching him. He reached down and gently caressed her hair with trembling hands, love and lust swimming in his eyes.

He suddenly grabbed a fistful of her hair as her tongue hit a particularly sensitive spot, and she knew she had to do it more. She flicked her tongue over and over, and then she started to feel him twitch in her mouth.

“R-Reine... s-stop, I'm going to lose it if you keep doing that,” he spoke with a voice akin to rumbling thunder.

And she did. She sat back up slowly, careful not to hurt herself, and held him in her gaze the same way, she realized, he often held hers. All this time, she thought it was just him. She thought it was just his personality.

How long have you loved me, Jumin?

She straddled his hips and positioned him in between her legs. He watched her with reverence as she lowered herself on him, inch after delicious inch sliding inside her.  The sudden fullness inside her made her weak in her knees, and she ended up falling forward where Jumin caught her in his arms, her body nestled on top of his.

“Reine,” Jumin spoke next to her ear, his voice thick with restrained lust. “I don't want to hurt you.”

She pushed herself up to look into his eyes and smiled.

“I know you won't.”

She moved in to claim his lips with hers, and she relaxed and laid on top of him, her breasts pressed against his chest. The motion caused his member to shift inside her, and a moan left her lips as she held onto his shoulders.

Jumin returned the kiss in fervor, his tongue darted inside her mouth and savored her sweetness. His hands moved to her hips and grabbed tightly on the pliant flesh, then slowly and gently, he thrust himself into her.

Reine had to break the kiss as she gasped for air, and the movement inside her built up the pressure once again in her abdomen. She opened her eyes and saw Jumin watching her, and she held his gaze in the middle of raw, unbridled passion. Her cheeks burned as his gentle, but deep thrusts filled her, her lips parted and chest heaving.

Reine felt the familiar pressure getting stronger with every thrust. Her body started to rock with its own rhythm, her eyes glazed over in pleasure watching the same sweet chaos in Jumin's gaze.

“Reine, I-I’m--”

“Jumin!”

She felt the warm gush of his seed inside her, and she also felt the walls of her sex pulsate around his. Her eyes fluttered closed as waves of pleasure consumed her, while Jumin grasped tightly on her hips, leaving red welts on her skin.

Reine collapsed on top of him, her own heartbeat almost synchronizing with his as she listened to it with her head against his chest. She felt his arms wrap around her and caress her hair.

She suddenly felt a wave of happiness that she couldn't contain. She couldn’t believe how much of her sorrow left her heart empty, only to be filled to the brim with so much love.   Her tears started to well up in her eyes, and Jumin suddenly stopped moving.

“Reine?!” He reacted, worried. “Did I hurt you?”

Reine let out a small laugh and wrapped her arms around him even tighter, as if she could get even closer than this.

“Thank you, Jumin,” she said in between tears “I’m... I'm so happy...  I...

Jumin kissed the top of her head and ran his hand up and down the uninjured side of her back.  “Thank you,” he whispered.  “Thank you for entrusting your heart to me.”

Reine smiled and laid her head on the crook of his shoulder. “I love you, Jumin Han,” she whispered as she drifted her thoughts to the words her mother had told her.

All her life she was made to believe that she was nothing. Unwanted.

She wished she could tell her how wrong she was.

Her lips curled up to a smile as she slowly drifted into the land of dreams, while Jumin's heartbeat played like music to her ears.

Chapter Text

“Miss, how are you doing in there?”

The words from the feminine voice followed soft knocks on a dressing room door. With Christmas merely days away, stores were packed with holiday shoppers searching for a perfect present. Ae Cha used that to her advantage. With so many people out shopping, it would make finding her in the crowd difficult.

“I’m doing okay,” Ae Cha lied, her eyes focused on her reflection in the body mirror with her phone in her hand.

Twenty minutes prior, the smaller girl entered the dressing room of the sportswear store, and she hasn’t been seen since. A medium length brunette wig and Ae Cha’s trademark rose-colored glasses laid neatly on top of pile of assorted training gear she picked out to try.

“Okay. I was just checking. You’ve been in there for quite a while. Let me know if you have any questions,” the woman stated.

“Thanks,” Ae Cha said as she rotated herself in front of the body mirror, a frown growing on her face as her mind waged a civil war.

Although the sisters shared the same facial features, their bodies were entirely different. Reine carried her voluptuous hourglass figure with grace. Ae Cha, on the other hand, carried more padding in her thighs and butt than her bust which meant tight-fitting leggings accentuated her pear shape. The girl was gaining weight back at a healthy rate thanks in part to Vanderwood’s persistence and copious amounts of boba tea the twins have been spoiling her with.

But why do I look so big?

This wasn’t the first time she fretted with her size. Her self-consciousness regarding her size stemmed back to when she was a teenager and the netizen criticism about her weight. The constant articles and opinions about her size the assumption she should have won “So U Wanna Be a K-POP Star” because she is considered a foreigner pushed her to eventually leave Much Music Entertainment.

The girl stood in front of the mirror for a few more minutes, studying the fullness in her thighs and the increasing roundness of her posterior eventually exiting out of the dressing room in her undercover attire.

“I could get used to this,” She mused to herself, savoring every moment of being able to walk carefree in the public without Sim Yeong-ho’s eyes on her as approached the checkout register with an assortment of training apparel ranging from shorts to full body suits held tightly against her chest.


There was a certain sense of freedom the girl was beginning to feel. She began to believe in a life where she no longer had to walk without looking over her shoulder. It was a sense of freedom she forgot about for so many years.

Ae Cha stepped out of the store towing a large paper shopping bag in one hand, weaving in between the sea of holiday shoppers in the mall.  The sounds of conversation intertwined with Christmas Carols danced in the air. The aroma of the holiday circled around her with each store she passed. Somewhere in the food court gingerbread cookies were being made.

Ae Cha reached for her phone out of jacket she was wearing and smiled. She wanted to at least say hi to everyone in the RFA before leaving for the mountain villa. She was surprised at how friendly everyone was to her, and it encouraged her to try to socialize with her new friends nearly daily.

 

 

// Ae Cha has entered RFA chatroom. //

 

[Yoosung ☆]: Hi Ae Cha!

[Ae Cha]: hihi! ♥

[Yoosung ☆]: What are you up to?

[Ae Cha]: Walking in the mall~

 

// ZEN has entered RFA chatroom. //

 

[ZEN]: Ae Cha! How’s Reine doing?

[Yoosung ☆]: Hi Zen!

[Ae Cha]: I think she’s doing okay? I haven’t spoken to her in a few days.

[ZEN]: Huh? Why not?

[Ae Cha]: It’s been busy. Vandy’s had a chore list of things I needed to get done before I could even think about going to the cabin. ;_;

[Yoosung ☆]: Don’t you leave with Spectre in a day?

[Ae Cha]: Yep!

[ZEN]: I just hope Reine’s alright. I had a dream about her and Jumin last night. It was a nightmare!

[Yoosung ☆]: A dream? What happened?

[Ae Cha]: O_O

[ZEN]: I’d rather not talk about it. I might throw up in my mouth again.

[Yoosung ☆]: Why?

[Ae Cha]: lol…

Ae Cha giggled at the conversation occurring. She accepted the impending relationship with Reine and Jumin during Reine’s recovery in the hospital as soon as she realized the look in Jumin’s eyes every time he spoke to Reine was love .  And besides that, Reine has known Jumin much longer than the girl knew prior to them meeting in Rika’s apartment. It was none of her business.


Ae Cha looked at the time on her phone and sighed realizing it was only 4:30PM. She needed to be heading toward the cafe the twins agreed to meet her, there was still so much time left. Surely there was something else she could do.

Ae Cha stood and looked around the mall, and spotted a hybrid craft & bath & beauty store across from her. An idea began simmering in the back of her mind.

 

 

[Ae Cha]: I’ll be back in a little bit!

[Yoosung ☆]: Bye Ae Cha!

[ZEN]: Later! Stay warm cutie.

// Ae Cha has left RFA chatroom. //



Ae Cha skipped out of the store, her heart bursting with excitement with the purchases she made. She hummed a whimsical melody with each buoyant step, stashing the medium size bag into the large paper shopping bag. Her excitement easily masked over the dull full-body muscle pain from the physical endurance training Vanderwood tasked her with the past week.

Everyone deserves gifts on the holidays, and the small girl was determined to give meaningful gifts to her new friends and family. It didn’t matter to her if she received a gift or not, this was the first holiday in three years she had people in her life to gift.

The girl glanced up to the glass ceiling of the mall, noting the sun was beginning to set.   The sun was setting lower, which signaled the girl reach for her phone to check the time. It was getting close to the agreed meet up time.

Her mind wandered to what the twins could be doing in the mall. They’ve been fairly busy with preparations themselves, so she hoped the twins were enjoying this brief amount of freedom as well. After all it must surely get tiring watching after he----

“Excuse me! Have you seen this woman?”

Ae Cha was jolted back to reality hearing the man’s tenor voice ringing in her ears. Her eyes eventually met with a man standing in front of her. His cold, sapphire eyes bore into her golden-hazel eyes leaving an unsettling feeling in her chest.

Before responding, her eyes looked over his shoulder to the group behind the man. They were passing out flyers to everyone, asking the same question. Have you seen this woman? She couldn’t put her finger on it, but a sense of dread loomed over her.

“Did you hear me?” The man insisted and pointed at the woman on the flyer. His patience was running very thin.  “Have you seen this woman?”

“Oh...” Ae Cha reached for the flyer and studied what was written. Her eyes widened upon realizing the picture on the flyer was her .

It was a picture of her.

 


[ MISSING PERSON - $10,000USD/ $12,000KWR Reward]

NAME: Charity Lee

AGE:  21

NATIONALITY Korean American

DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: 20/12/2016

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: SUFFERS FROM SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS

EVIDENCE SHOWS CHARITY WAS LAST SEEN RUNNING AWAY FROM HER GUARDIAN THE NIGHT OF 20/12/2016. CHARITY HAS A HISTORY OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND NEEDS HER MEDICATION. IT IS IMPORTANT SHE IS FOUND AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  SHE IS CONSIDERED A DANGER TO HERSELF.

ANY DETAILS OR TIPS ON CHARITY’S LOCATION IS APPRECIATED.

Sponsored by: Nirvana Institute of Behavioral Health

Her stomach began doing somersaults trying to process every emotion running her through veins. It took every ounce of her energy not to run away from the group as paranoia lingered heavily over her head.  She knew if she ran, it would signal the group she was undercover. That would be huge trouble.

“No. Sorry.” Ae Cha quickly shook her head, shoving the flyer into the shopping bag, and skedaddled as fast as possible across the other side of the mall before the man could say another word to her. The girl deftly weaved into another large group of shoppers. She hoped this will stop the group from possibly following her.

I guess I can’t be really free after all, huh? She fought tears that were begging to stream down the sides of her face.  There was only one person in the entirety of Korea who called her by her English given name. The name which brought horrible memories of her mother… the same mother who disowned her.

That name was Sim Yeong-Ho.

 

”Mom, why can’t I go by my Korean name?”

“Do you not like the name the Lord has given you?”

“I like the name Appa gave me.”

“I prayed for nine months for the Lord to bless us with your name. Charity is the name the Lord told me to call you. Do you dare defy our Creator’s choice?”

The further she walked away from the group, the more flyers she spotted in people’s hands.  At nearly every intersection in the mall stood more groups handing out flyers. Fear crept its way into her chest, her heart fluttered with panic. The girl felt so stupid to wear a wig so close to her natural hair color.

Freedom? What’s that?

Ae Cha nervously fumbled through her phone to open up the RFA app. She needed to get a hold of the twins to let them know of the situation, rapidly striking each keystroke and keeping her head low so people surrounding her could not see her face.

 

// Ae Cha has requested a Private Chat with Saeran and Saeyoung. //

[Ae Cha]: I know you guys are busy, but we have a problem. <_<

[Ae Cha]: Have you seen the flyers?

[Ae Cha]: There are groups of people passing out flyers with my face on them.

[Ae Cha]: I’m scared.

After pressing send, the girl rushed towards the cafe. She hid behind a tall menu sign in front of the building and grasping her bags tightly to her chest. Her body trembled with fear from thoughts of what Sim Yeong-Ho could do to her.

 

“Do you really think running away from me will save you? Who will you run to?”

“Such a stupid, little girl. I will always find you.”

She stared at her phone, hoping and praying the twins have read her messages by now. Tears fell down the sides of her cheeks as hid herself behind the sign.

Saeyoung… Saeran… please let me run to you.


The twins suddenly froze when they heard the chat notification sound on their phones at the same time. It is very rare for anyone to message them both at the same time, and for some reason they felt the cold sense of dread.

“Excuse me, sir! Have you seen this woman?”

Saeyoung turned as he heard the unfamiliar conversation in the mall from a distance. His curiosity got the better of him and he strode toward the group of people giving away the flyers.

He felt something crunch under his feet and his blood ran cold.

“Saeran!” He spun to his brother behind him.

“Dialing,” the other twin responded.

Saeyoung grabbed the flyer under his foot and the brothers went into two different directions, blending into the crowd.


Saeyoung took a picture of the flyer and pressed the “Share” button to send to Vanderwood. A few seconds after, his phone rang, and he stepped out of the cubicle he was hidden in, and casually answered the call.

“Oi. You got it?” He spoke.

“Get out of there,” Vanderwood spoke with urgency in his voice. “That damn Yeong-Ho has the nose of a fucking wolf. We leave immediately.”

“Got it,” Saeyoung ended the call and casually walked toward the parking area.


Saeran walked along the crowd, blending in his surroundings. He dialed Ae Cha’s number as soon as he saw the message, and his priority now is to get Ae Cha away from the mall as fast as possible.

Her phone started ringing, and he stood right across the cafe Ae Cha was in. He cannot risk getting near to her--he cannot risk Yeong-Ho knowing that the RFA had Ae Cha.

Her phone rang once.

Twice.

“Where are you?” She whispered.

“Don't worry, I can see you,” Saeran replied. “Try to stay calm. I can't go to you. That bastard cannot know that we have you.”

“Don't look around!” Saeran warned as he saw her turning and trying to find him in the crowd. “Just keep the call connected, and walk as normally as you can toward the main entrance. I'll be close by.”

“Okay.”

Ae Cha stepped gingerly out from behind the menu, looking both directions to spot what resembled the main entrance. Her hands visibly trembled with fear as she clutched onto her phone. Once she found the direction for the entrance, the girl strolled as calm as possible toward the doors. Every step forward felt like concrete was attached to her legs, and the girl continuously reminded herself to breathe .

Saeran watched her weave into the crowd, his trained eyes tracked her from a safe distance. He noticed the way she clutched at her phone, and he felt his heart ache with the fact that she cannot even enjoy this small freedom without fearing for her life.

I was looking forward to bubble tea with her, too.

“You look cute,” be blurted over the phone as he watched her reaction.

“Huh?” Heat instantly flared in her cheeks from Saeran’s compliment. Her voice raised from the whisper to her normal speaking tone. Knowing she couldn’t look for him in the crowd as well made it difficult for her to keep her composure on the phone.

“O-Oh. Um. You t-think so?” Ae Cha sheepishly stammered. “G-Go-mawo.”

“It's been a while since I did guard duty,” he said, a slight smile spread on his lips. “I could watch you all day.”

“R-Really?”

Saeran’s last words were more than enough to cause her to drop her large shopping bag to the ground, her cheeks now a deep rosy hue. An elderly couple walking beside her watched her with curiosity as Ae Cha haphazardly reached for her bag. They gave each other a look, their eyebrows raised imagining what sort conversation the younger female could be having.  

“I remember when I was young and in love ,” the elderly man mused, loud enough for Ae Cha to hear.

She stared at the couple doe-eyed, a half embarrassed grin on her face. The man winked at her before being tugged along by his second half into a store.

“S-Sorry,” Ae Cha stammered again, obviously very flustered. “I d-dropped my bag.”

Saeran let out a deep chuckle at the other end of the line. “I know. I told you, I can see you,” he teased. “So cute.”

As Ae Cha approached the large glass doors of the main entrance, Saeran cleared his throat. “Saeyoung's car should be waiting there. Tell me once you're in the car. I'll meet up with you guys later,” he instructed.

“Right,” Ae Cha nodded feverishly, pushing against the glass doors of the main entrance. Her eyes quickly scanned for the car, and as soon as she spotted the vehicle she headed towards it and opened the passenger’s side door as quickly as possible.

“I’m here,” Ae Cha spoke into the phone, situating herself in the seat.

“Good,” Saeran sighed in relief. “I'll meet you guys at the side entrance.”

“Oh, and,” he paused, then a smile was painted on his lips. “You look cute when you blush.”

Saeran ended the call and rushed toward the side entrance where he is set to meet the two.

Ae Cha opened her mouth to speak on the other end of the call, only for it to be quickly disconnected which made her cheeks flush a brighter shade of red. She gave a restrained smile to Saeyoung, her hand fumbling as she attempted to set her phone on her lap. Instead, the phone slid off of her lap and straight into her shopping bag.

Ae Cha sighed with relief as she shut the door. A heavy burden instantly lifted off of her shoulders.

I’m safe. Everything will be fine.

“I’m so glad you two found me,” Ae Cha admitted, subconsciously reaching for Saeyoung’s hand.

Saeyoung gave her a smile and gave her hand a squeeze. “Of course. We will always find you,” he said, then let out a small chuckle. “Well, maybe not always but we will not leave a stone unturned!” He grinned at her and held her hand while he slowly drove to the side entrance.

While heading toward the side doors, Saeran came across another group of people giving out flyers. A woman handed him one, and he took a look at the entire content as he walked.

His eyes darkened. He crumpled the piece of paper and tossed it in the trash bin.

“She's ours,” he murmured.

Chapter Text

There. I’m ready.

Ae Cha zipped up the floral pattern hobo bag as she sat cross-legged on the large bed she’s been thankful to share with the twins for the last few weeks. Her eyes scanned the room, reminiscing every moment she’s savored with the twins and Vanderwood. They would be leaving for the mountains any minute. Sadness lingered in the back of her mind the longer she wondered about the unknown .

Where does she go after training? She dropped into everyone’s lives so suddenly, and there were so many variables that needed to be figured out.  Too many questions remained unanswered. Guilt simmered at the front of her mind at the notion of asking the twins if she could stay with them just a little longer after training was done.

Reine’s despair back at their father’s apartment weighed heavily on her mind. Ae Cha decided when this was all done, she would give Reine their father’s apartment. It was the right thing to do out of respect for her older sister. To her dismay, that left the girl without somewhere to call a home. 

The twins were already putting their lives on the line for her, and have supported her decisions up to this point. They’re even going to be training her. It would be too selfish to ask them for even more help.

I… I don’t want them to forget me.

Ae Cha sighed heavy, falling backward on top of the mattress. She was going to miss this big, comfortable bed. She was going to miss Saeyoung comforting her at night. She was going to miss those nights waking up to Saeran quietly crawling into the bed and wrapping his arms around below her waist. She was going to miss their warmth.

Stray tears trickled down the side of her face as she imagined what her life could be after finally being released from the shackles of Sim Yeong-ho and Mint Eye. The thought of being without them filled her mind with uncertainty for the future.

“Three months,” Ae Cha hiccuped underneath her breath. “It’s all the time I have left with them, huh?”

The girl sniffled, and reached to her face to gently wipe the tears using her fingertips.  “Appa… I really want to live with Saeyoung and Saeran after all of this is done,” she whispered out loud in the quiet bedroom.

Already running way past the five minutes Vanderwood gave her to grab the belongings she needed, she knew she needed to head to the living room. Ae Cha stared at the ceiling, clenching onto these newer, happier memories filling the deep scars in her heart.

Please, don’t let this be the start of our goodbye.

Vanderwood stood at the doorway of the bedroom the twins and Ae Cha shared. Unbeknownst to her, he had been silently observing her for weeks, and watching her slightly defeated form from behind made him almost reconsider going through the training.

However, he knew that within Ae Cha burned a fire that refuses to be diffused. Even if she may not make it to the end of training, at least there's something she's bound to learn from it. It would be better than nothing at all.

For the past few weeks, it has been absolutely impossible to discount that the three had feelings for each other. Vanderwood was even surprised that nothing has been established, and yet they already behave as if they've dated for months.

Kids these days, he mused.

But this also brings some uncertainties.  As someone who grew up with nothing, he understands the value of finally finding someone but being unsure how long they're going to be around or if they're going to be around. It's a constant fear that lingered in the back of your mind even if you feel all the world's happiness in your heart. It lurks, laying in wait, waiting for at least an ounce of doubt to latch on to.

He understood the way her tears rolled down her face as she straightened and turned about in the room.

He sighed and crossed his arms on his chest. If anything, he must be firm to her if she is to have a chance to survive.

“It's not like we're not coming back, you know,” he said as he finally announced his presence.

Ae Cha whipped around, revealing remnant tears speckled across her cheeks. She wasn’t surprised to see Vanderwood standing in the doorway. After all, she was incredibly late . However, it still shocked the smaller girl how Vanderwood magically knew what weighed heavy on her mind.

“How did you know?” Ae cha glanced up at Vanderwood, glossy wide-eyed and dumbfounded.

The man walked a few steps to stop in front of her. “I know separation anxiety when I see one. Besides, the twins took you in, and I don't see why they won't take you in again.”

A glimmer of hope shined in her eyes.  “You really think so?”

She couldn’t contain the small smile creeping up on her face. Could there really be a place for her in this house? With the twins, nonetheless? Ae Cha carefully slung the hobo bag on her shoulder, and looked back at the room for one final time.

“I wouldn’t take up too much space--- Just my clothes, makeup, and some knick knacks. I could even get a job to pay rent!” Ae Cha mused. “That would be great!”

Vanderwood could not help but smile at the changes that he had seen from her these past few weeks. The first time he met her, he doubted that she wouldn't even be looking forward to the future. Somehow he felt proud of the small girl’s courage to face her weakness head-on.

You're going to be a lot of work though. He sighed.

“You’re going to have to tell them that, not me,” he said as he turned toward the door. “This is their house.”

“The question is,” He stopped to look over his shoulders, with a grin on his face and spoke with a soft, challenging tone. “Will you have the courage to?”

Vanderwood let out a small chuckle and left the room. “We’re going,” he called out from the hallway.

“Oh. R-Right.” Ae Cha cleared her throat and headed toward the doorway.

I’ll have the courage to ask them one day. I know it.

She reached for her smartphone & a pair of earbuds laying on a wooden dresser, stashing them in the front pocket of the hobo bag before shutting the door behind her.

“I’m coming!” Ae Cha called out, rushing to catch up with Vanderwood.

 


Ae Cha stood at the end of the massive car garage, admiring the clear winter night sky from the open garage door. A full moon donning a lunar halo hung high in the sky, illuminating the darkness encompassing the night. She blew air from her mouth and watched as her breath turned into billowy puffs of smoke.

With as tense as the situation was, there an alluring charm to embarking on this minor road-trip. Ae Cha grew up on the western Kansas prairie where a five minute trip outside of her small-town would lead to acres of sunflowers, tumbleweeds, wild grass, and open roads on the flat lands. This would be her first time really exploring life outside of the city since moving with her father when she was fifteen.

This wouldn’t be so bad, she thought to herself. As much as she enjoyed the city life of Seoul, there was something naturally raw of living far away from the hustle and bustle of the constant chaos of a city that never sleeps. She smiled as she recalled the trips Denver she and her father would take when he was home. The snowy mountains were always painted as a backdrop on the horizon, and she imagined what it would be like to climb one of those mountains.

And now she’s been given a chance to do so.

Ae Cha yawned, fighting the fatigue setting in from being awake for nearly twenty-four hours. She imagined falling asleep on the pillowy mattress only to remember she won’t be able to call that bed her sleeping quarters any time soon. A disappointing frown appeared on her lips.

I’m going to miss sleeping in such a comfy bed… with them.

Her cheeks flushed pink from her thoughts, but she quickly regained composure at the sound of footsteps echoing behind her. She turned around and strolled to where Saeyoung, Saeran, and Vandy stood.

“How long will it take us to get there?” She asked to the trio, shoving anxious thoughts of Sim Yeong-ho’s to the back of her mind. As she waited for an answer, the girl a brush out of the floral hobo bag and began brushing her hair to tame her messy locks.

“It's going to be a long drive,” Vanderwood answered and took the car keys from Saeyoung's hand. “If we're in luck we'll get there in four hours.”

“Hey, those are mine!” He retorted.

“You need to sleep. We need you to take care of the setup in the cabin once we're there,” Vanderwood reasoned. “We'll have heavy snow for the next few days until after Christmas, so we need you awake.”

“Yes madam,” Saeyoung replied with a mock salute. “So who gets to sit with Ae Cha then? Saeran or me?”

“Neither,” he answered as he pressed the button to open the car doors. “She's riding shotgun.”

“Whaaaat?! No,” Saeyoung whined.

“Ae Chan,” Vanderwood turned to the smaller girl and smiled at her. “Let's allow the twins to get some sleep, okay?”

“Oh… Okay.”

Disappointment seeped through the tone of Ae Cha’s voice. She returned a half smile back at Vanderwood.

Pitiful doe-eyes quickly glanced to both of the twins before she stepped into the front passenger seat of the car.  She pulled the car door shut as soon as she sat and rummaged through her hobo bag to pull out the set of ear-buds she grabbed back from the bedroom and her smartphone before setting the bag on the car floorboard in between her legs.

Saeran quietly sat on the space behind Vanderwood as he intended to sleep through the trip. He shut the car door and was already leaning on it to position himself for sleeping.

“You're impossible,” Saeyoung commented as he sat behind Ae Cha and closed the car door right after. “We haven't even left the garage yet and he's already sleeping!”

Vanderwood went around the car and opened the car hood to make some last minute checks. Saeyoung takes care of the cars well, but Vanderwood doesn't want to miss any minor issues. Satisfied, he let the hydraulics close the car’s hood and sat on the driver's seat. With a press of a button the car’s engine roared to life. He adjusted the chair, rear and side mirrors, and once satisfied, he turned on the headlights.

“Saeyoung, are we set?” He called out.

“Yep,” The older twin answered. “The house will be in lockdown as soon as we roll out.”

“Ae Chan,” Vanderwood turned to her. “Do you have everything?”

“Yep!” Ae Cha replied.

“All right, time to leave,” Vanderwood announced and he expertly maneuvered the car out of the garage, and drove into the night.

Chapter Text

Vanderwood always preferred traveling at night.  Not only does the darkness cloak their movement across and outside the city, but it was also comforting that the roads are clear and devoid of people.  Street lights illuminate the long stretch of road every few meters, and casted a bright yet fleeting light inside the heavily tinted car.  

He checked on his passengers at the back as his eyes slightly hovered on the rear view mirror--Saeran leaned on the car door, fast asleep, while Saeyoung’s face was illuminated by the screen lights of his Bintendo.  He should be reprimanding him for not being asleep, but he let it go for now.

There will be so much work to do once they reach the villa.  They carried their bare essentials stored neatly in the car’s trunk, along with the tools they will be needing if they are to make the villa their base of operations for the next three or so months.

He slightly glanced at the small girl seated right next to him, her eyes wandered outside the window as she slightly bopped her head in tune to the music she was listening to on her earbuds.  Her small hands curled around the phone on her lap, while she leaned slightly toward the door to appreciate whatever sights there was to see in the dark of night.

He was suddenly reminded of the herculean task of turning this small woman into a fighter in three months.  Somehow, he wished that there would be some other evidence that will come up in the next three months that would convict Sim Yeong-Ho to jail.  He always had the reputation of being a very strict manager, but Vanderwood always carried a hurt in his heart whenever he had to resort to methods just to get the job done.

This training would be one of those times--unless they find more substantial evidence against Yeong-Ho.

His eyes fixed back on the road, his mind reverted back to Sim Yeong-Ho.  Somehow, he knew that this was going to happen--the visit at Lee Han-Sol’s apartment should have given him a hint that the girls are still in the city, and the action that Yeong-Ho took was surprising but not unexpected.

A grin crept its way on his lips as his mind mused at how horribly easy it was to manipulate Yeong-Ho.  He found it ridiculous that Yeong-Ho would resort to the same tactic as Jumin Han-- God, have you no originality?-- and assumed that the public would serve as his eyes and ears. Although it may have worked, but it only would if Ae Cha were the same as she was since he last left her in Han-Sol’s apartment.

Heh. Tough luck, bastard.  

He glanced at the rear view mirror once again, to the twins seated at the back.  Somewhere in his heart he felt proud of these two.  Regardless of what happened in their pasts, they always had an open heart to anyone who needed them--and in that case, when Ae Cha fell into their lives, they never hesitated to offer their helping hand.  Vanderwood guessed that it may also have been the reason why he chose to run away with Saeyoung than stay with the agency.

However, how they feel about Ae Cha may complicate things.

However, it may be that how they feel about her became her catalyst to change.

He gave a sigh and a smile.  It didn’t matter.  For now, they need to focus on giving Ae Cha a fighting chance to survive.


Ae Cha continued watching in wonder what little she could see in the darkness from the passenger-side window. She appreciated the alluring beauty of the night and the electrifying atmosphere it brought to the city.  

The girl gently tugged on her earbuds, setting them on her lap. The sound of KARA’s Step played from the tiny speakers before she tapped the pause button on the phone.

She shifted herself from the leaning position to where she sat forward-facing in the car seat, glancing slightly over to Vanderwood. In these short few weeks she has learned a lot about the twins, however, Vanderwood remained a mystery . Even she couldn’t deny how much of a parental figure Vanderwood had quickly became in her life, from small gestures such listening to her talk about what she read on the internet to ensuring she properly took care of herself.

She appreciated Vanderwood’s seemingly selfless guidance, but, she wondered to herself just who exactly Vanderwood was. Sure, he was the twins’ boss, but, everyone has a story for how they got to where they were. She believed he did too.

“So…” Ae Cha’s voice quietly broke the silence, idly fiddling with the bottom hem of her sweater between her thumbs. “How did you get into this type of work?”

Vanderwood quickly glanced at Ae Cha and smiled as he immediately turned his attention to the road. “Well... Saeyoung and I worked for another agency before,” he replied. “I was assigned to manage him.”

He let out a small laugh, remembering the first time they met. “He was 17, fresh right out of school. He graduated top of his class, so I was expecting this bright and optimistic boy...but when I finally met him he was quite the opposite.”

“Vandy, I'm just right here,” Saeyoung whined from the backseat. “I can hear you, you know!”

“Anyway,” Vanderwood continued, ignoring Saeyoung's protest. “Would you believe he was a completely different person from back then? He was a genius hacker--”

“I still am !” Saeyoung retorted again.

“--but compared to what you see right now, he was a dream to manage. He worked tirelessly.  Worked to make sure everything was perfect ,” Vanderwood continued as he smiled in remembrance.

“Really?” Ae Cha looked at Vandy in disbelief. She brought her hand to her face in a partial fist, tapping her index finger on her cheek repeatedly as mulled over his words.

“He was also...  very serious. Not like the tomatohead you know right now,” he knotted his eyebrows trying to get the right words. Then, his eyes brightened at the perfect example. “Oh, I know. Think Jumin Han. But younger.”

“Hey!” Saeyoung pouted. “I was not!”

“Are to,” Vanderwood chided. “You always wore black. You talked in a flat tone. You worked to perfect even the littlest minute detail.”

“Ah... But people can change ,” Ae Cha concluded out loud, half daydreaming in her own thoughts.  “How Saeyoung was before sounds… like he was very lonely. ”

Vanderwood let out a chuckle, but the tone of it wasn't of happiness, but of bitter remembrance. “He was. We all were. We were people who had nothing , brought to a place where our unique talents can be of use. Of course, we were lonely,” he then glanced at Ae Cha and gave her a smile.

“But Saeyoung met the RFA. Or more like, I found out he was having friendships outside the agency. As his superior, I could have reported him to the boss, but somehow I couldn't make myself to,” he sighed and glanced at the car's side mirrors. “I couldn't take away that ounce of happiness from him.”

“When he learned of his brother's situation, though...things turned out for the worst,” he continued. “He disobeyed any and all orders and went to rescue him. I was ordered to kill him... but instead Saeyoung gave me a chance to escape. And I did,” he said as he placed his left elbow to lean on the car window.

Ae Cha turned to look out of car window again, focusing on the seemingly endless white line on the road as a dull ache pained from deep inside her heart hearing Vanderwood’s past recollections. Somehow in all of this, Ae Cha believed Vanderwood was only scratching the surface of trio’s past and wondered what tragedies remained hidden.

“Is this why Spectre was created?” She asked.

Vanderwood gave a sigh. “Well...we really didn't know much else than what we used to do,” he smiled and Saeyoung's slight chuckle was heard from the back. “We don't have real identities. It's kind of hard to just pretend as if nothing happened, you know. Besides, we try our best not to be acquainted with most people because we’ve made enemies-- lots of enemies--and working in, say, an office exposes them to the threat that always surrounded us.”

“It’s funny… I always thought agencies & spies were stuff made up from movies,” Ae Cha admitted. “I wonder what Appa would think if he knew what I was doing and who I was doing it with.”

Ae Cha’s phone on her lap began to vibrate, startling the girl back to facing forward in the car. Who could it be? She reached for her phone, and unlocked the home screen. Her cheeks flared with heat when reading the message from her phone.

 

// Saeyoung has requested a private chat with Ae Cha. //

[Saeyoung]: You look cute today.

“Fiction has an ounce of reality on it, you know,” Saeyoung replied, sticking his head in between Vanderwood and Ae Cha. “And the reality we perceive is almost always just the tip of the iceberg--whoops,” he fumbled for his phone in his pocket, then adjusted his glasses to see the person calling.

“Huh, it's Tom,” Saeyoung pressed the green answer button and placed the phone on his ear.

“Tom! Haven't heard from you for a while!” He greeted with a smile.

Saeyoung’s voice made Ae Cha turn and stare at him with wide golden-hazel eyes. She lifted her own phone and began typing on a response while Saeyoung answered his phone.  A coy smile spread on her lips. Maybe this journey wouldn’t be so lonely after all.

 

// Ae Cha has accepted private chat with Saeyoung. //

“Yes. Okay. Why would he--! Fine. You’re so shady, Tom. Yeah, I know.” he immediately terminated the call and looked up the rearview mirror.  “Tom wants to see us in the gas station thirty minutes from here,” he said, which was returned by a raised eyebrow from Vanderwood.

“We will need to make a stop there anyway,” Vanderwood replied.  “We couldn’t refill in the city, so we’ll get fueled there.”

“Roger,” he then leaned back in the car seat, then immediately turned to look at Ae Cha’s text on the RFA app.

 

[Ae Cha]: You look like a cute tomato today~ ^^

Saeyoung’s eyes widened and warmth spread across his cheeks.  His heart started beating fast and he had to restrain himself from making unnecessary movements so not to rouse suspicion from Vanderwood.

 

[Saeyoung]: omg…

[Saeyoung]: you just made me want to jump

Ae Cha’s eyes lit with excitement watching the new notification pop up. Why didn’t she think of this before? Before reading Saeyoung’s messages, she brought up her phone’s sounds settings and silenced her phone.

 

[Ae Cha]: jump in the car? O_O that’s dangerous!

Saeyoung snickered at reading Ae Cha’s response.  He leaned toward the car door to let himself lounge comfortably.  His smile lingered on his face as he typed his response.

 

[Saeyoung]: Yeah I had to stop myself

[Saeyoung]: ...I wish you were sitting with me.

Ae Cha’s eyes widened reading Saeyoung’s sudden change of topic in the RFA App. Her heart began drumming wildly, and she let out a small gasp. The sound was more than enough for Vanderwood to look over at the smaller girl. Ae Cha’s cheeks grew a shade darker with embarrassment.

“Sorry,” Ae Cha sheepishly apologized to Vanderwood and quickly spat out the first excuse that came to her mind. “I thought I was going to sneeze.”

She turned herself slightly to conceal her phone’s screen and leaned against the car door and against the car seat’s headrest. Strands of her honey to rose ombre hair fell in between the space of the car seat and the seat buckle. Once she situated herself, she let out a sigh as she typed her response.

 

[Ae Cha]: I’d do anything to sit by you.

[Ae Cha]: Did you see what just happened? Vandy gave me a look T__T

Saeyoung couldn’t help but smile at the excuse that Ae Cha gave.  He ran his fingers through his hair as he thought of how to respond, and he was slowly being made aware of how his words are affecting Ae Cha.  He grinned and responded.

 

[Saeyoung]: Tell him to keep his eyes on the road!

Ae Cha’s jaw dropped from Saeyoung’s response. Without hesitation, she quickly responded.

 

[Ae Cha]: O_O!

[Ae Cha]: WHAT?

[Ae Cha]: He’ll kill me! T___T I’m too young to die.

Saeyoung couldn’t contain his giggles as his shoulders shook, his hand covered his mouth to stop himself from laughing out loud.

 

[Saeyoung]: hahaha!

[Saeyoung]: come on you can do it!

[Saeyoung]: tell him "mom, keep your eyes on the road."

Ae Cha began contemplating the scenarios in her mind of what could happen if she listened to what Saeyoung suggested. It would be over in a flash and then she’ll have sweet warmth again! All she had to do was---

No. That’s crazy Ae Cha! The car will get totaled when someone gets tased.

She looked up from her phone over to Vanderwood, the cogs of her mind churning. She was finding it extremely difficult not to listen to how her heart was jumping out of her chest to be near the twins. Ae Cha attempted to return a message back to Saeyoung in the RFA App, only to delete her keystrokes multiple times.

 

[Ae Cha]: Do you really want me to?

Ae Cha’s stomach knotted watching her message show up in the private chat.

I can’t believe it.

I wrote it.

I really did.

She blew a puff of air out of her nose and waited anxiously for an answer.

Saeyoung stared at the phone for some time.  He tried to type a response but end up deleting it.  He gave a careful thought; then smiled as he typed a response to her.

 

[Saeyoung]: Don’t get in trouble for me, babycakes.

[Saeyoung]: But I do want you to sit with me. T_T

He placed the phone on his forehead, trying to hide the growing blush on his cheeks.  He suddenly wanted to hold her so badly.

Without thinking, he glanced over at Ae Cha, and found that her brown and pink ombre hair spilled over the sides of the car seat.  He restrained himself from reaching over to touch it.

 

[Saeyoung]: so cute. why are you so cute?

[Saeyoung]: I want to put you in my pocket cute!

Saeyoung covered his mouth with the text he sent her.  He let out a sigh and pulled his hood over his head, in an attempt to hide at least a little of the emotion that was threatening to burst.  He was very close to just asking Vanderwood to stop the car so she can transfer over and he can hold her until the end of the trip.

Ae Cha’s cheeks turned an even darker shade of red, and she would give anything in the world to turn around and look at him. Unfortunately being in the front seat, that notion would most definitely bring Vanderwood’s attention to Saeyoung and Ae Cha’s shenanigans.

Unfortunately for Ae Cha, that only made the craving to be wrapped in his arms far more tempting. An intense longing for him began heating between her legs. She bit her lip, and feverishly typed into the messenger.

 

[Ae Cha]: You’re making me go crazy. Do you know that?

[Ae Cha]: It’s not fair.

[Ae Cha]: I can’t even look at you without Vandy knowing. T_T

Saeyoung’s hands trembled as he tried to think of a response.  Somehow, he felt like being too careful would just end up with him telling a complete lie--it was a natural response to his years of training as an agent--and he couldn’t lie to her.  Not her.

 

[Saeyoung]: What is not fair? For me to tell you how I see you?

[Saeyoung]: I can’t help it... you're too cute.

[Saeyoung]: I wanna put you in my pocket~

[Saeyoung]: take you on walks~

[Saeyoung]: pet your head~

[Saeyoung]: …

Ae Cha was dangerously close to bursting from her seams of desire, and Saeyoung’s messages were not helping. At all. Rather than thinking carefully when the conversation began, the girl gave in and let her heart do the typing.

 

[Ae Cha]: Would you…

[Ae Cha]: Kiss

[Ae Cha]: me

[Ae Cha]: again?

[Ae Cha]: I really liked it.

Saeyoung’s hand curled into a fist, clutching at his hoodie as his desire for her burned . He shifted to sit upright, with the passenger seat right in front of him.  

 

[Saeyoung]: every

[Saeyoung]: damn

[Saeyoung]: chance

[Saeyoung]: I

[Saeyoung]: get.

[Saeyoung]: .........

He leaned forward and laid his forehead on the back of Ae Cha’s seat, his hand involuntarily reached out for the stray pink locks of Ae Cha’s hair.  They were so soft to the touch, and he took a deep breath to still his burning emotions.

 

[Saeyoung]: ....your hair...it feels nice.

The pressure of Saeyoung’s forehead on the back of the car seat nearly set her heart into a fiery inferno of need. She froze as her hair was slightly tugged, forcing herself to close her eyes and focus on breathing normally after reading his messages.

She needed him. She needed to be held by him.

Ae Cha forced her eyes open again and gripped her phone close to her chest for a few minutes. All she could hear was her heartbeat over the humming sound of the car’s engine.

 

[Ae Cha]: I really want to sit with you.

All caution was almost thrown out the window. Saeyoung twirled Ae Cha’s hair in between his fingers and restrained himself from grabbing a fistful of it.  His hands trembled in the darkness of the car, and his growing desire making his mind a little fuzzy.

“There’s the gas station,” Vanderwood announced, which broke the tension of the two people in the car.  However, Saeyoung still idly twirled her hair, but looked up to check the surroundings from the window.

“I-I think that’s the one,” Saeyoung spoke, his voice deep and thick with desire.  He cleared his throat and took a deep breath.  “I guess we can all stretch our legs for a bit and continue on after meeting Tom.”

Vanderwood pulled over to the station, and instantly spotted someone familiar sitting in front of the 24-hour convenience store who busied himself with something on his tablet.  He flashed the headlights twice to signal their arrival, and the man looked up and waved.

“Yep, there he is,” Saeyoung gave Ae Cha’s hair one last caress and reluctantly let it go.  He watched as the soft locks of hair fell freely.  He took his phone and typed in one last message to her.

 

[Saeyoung]: I want to hold you, Ae Chan.

Chapter Text

Wah~! It’s so much colder here!

It’s all Ae Cha could think about as she stood by the trunk of Saeyoung’s car, her arms crossed over her chest. The cold air tingling against her skin gave woke her up more than an energy drink could have in that moment. She still felt slightly hung over from the tension between her and Saeyoung in the car and she worried if she had the capacity to handle even another hour of that .

She peeked into the car window, and she looked at the sleeping twin with softened eyes. “Did he feel it too?” she wondered with a smile slowly spreading across her lips.

A cold breeze blew through the gas station which was more than enough for Ae Cha to decide to retreat to the warm vehicle. She was about to open the passenger side door when she realized Saeran hasn’t woken up yet. It would be good for him to move his legs as well. Instead of returning to her seat, she opened the back seat car door, and carefully slid into the back seat beside Saeran.

“Saeran, we’re at a gas station,” Ae Cha whispered. She slightly shook his shoulder to carefully rouse him from his slumber. “Chocolate sounds good right now. Do you want to grab some with me?”

No response.

“Saeran? Saeran… ”

After several shakes, Ae Cha’s shoulders slumped in defeat and she softly whined.

“I want to eat chocolate with you,” she pouted and rested her head carefully on his shoulder before yawning.  It was no use. He was not waking up.

Less than five minutes later the fatigue which had been taunting her all evening made its great return when she rested her head on Saeran’s shoulder. The girl didn’t realize she spent all of her remaining energy refusing her body’s desires   until it was too late. It didn’t help how comforting his presence was.

“I’ll just put on a song,” Ae Cha mumbled while she swiped through her phone as a final attempt to stay awake. Her eyes tried to focus on the luminous screen, but the fatigue was too overbearing.  Her eyelids became heavy, and all she could think about was closing her eyes a quick rest.

Not for too long.

“Just a few minutes…,” the girl muttered under her breath before her eyes shut. Her phone slowly slipped out of her hand, and her arms fell to her sides as she drifted into much-needed sleep.


“Sometimes I really wonder how you always know what we're up to,” Saeyoung approached the man seated on one of the coffee tables outside the convenience store. The man gave him a sheepish grin and tucked his tablet away.

“Agent Seven,” Tom replied, which made Saeyoung cringe.

“Can you please stop calling me that?” Saeyoung said as he sat on a chair across where Tom sat. He looked over at Vanderwood who was busy filling up the gas tank and checking around the vehicle while the pump did its job.

“Sorry, force of habit,” he said apologetically. “I trust the travel has been uneventful so far?”

Saeyoung gave him a sideways glance, his eyes studied the man. “You never answered my question.”

“I am but a humble informant,” he said with a smile. “I give information to those who need it.”

Saeyoung sighed. “Tom, I have very precious cargo right now. I can't afford any of those shady moves of yours,” he warned as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table.

Tom gave him a wide smile. “Do you want the information or not?”

Tom watched Saeyoung as he straightened and leaned on the chair's backrest. “What do you have?”

Tom brought out his tablet and tapped a few times, and Saeyoung's phone made a notification sound shortly after.

“Follow the line,” Tom warned as Saeyoung took his phone and gave him a nod.

Saeyoung was used to speaking with Tom in a coded manner; this is to avoid any eavesdroppers picking up on any information. Once Saeyoung opened the file sent by Tom, he understood. “We got flashlights?”

“Yeah,” Tom replied.

Saeyoung stood up and replaced his phone in his pocket. “Thanks, Tom. I trust you like I always have.”

Tom watched as Saeyoung stretched, his hands clasped over his head. “Oh right! You wanna go see?”

Tom nodded. He stood up and they both made their way to the car. Vanderwood looked over in their direction and Tom nodded at the man in greeting.

“I want you to meet her,” Saeyoung gleefully spoke, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets. “I'm sure she will be part of--huh?” He tilted his head slightly as he gave a puzzled look at Vanderwood when he saw the front seat empty. The long-haired man nodded toward the back seat and Saeyoung immediately turned and checked to find Ae Cha fast asleep, her head leaning on Saeran's shoulder.

Tom peered into the car and smiled. “Oh she has glasses now,” he mumbled.

Saeyoung turned to him. “What?”

Tom laughed. “Nothing,” he replied. “Well, nice to meet you little missy,” he said in a quiet tone, but to Vanderwood it seemed like he knew more about Ae Cha than he let on. He observed Tom closely, noting his statement about her glasses but decided not to press. The fact that Tom met them outside the city probably meant that Sim Yeong-Ho might have caught up to their goose chase, and Vanderwood needed to get Ae Cha within the heavily guarded Han estate as safely and as soon as possible.

“Get in the car,” Vanderwood stated with urgency. “We cannot stop here for too long. Sit with her at the back,” he ordered, which puzzled Saeyoung at first, but eventually understood.

“Gotcha,” Saeyoung replied and gave Tom’s shoulder two firm pats.

“See ya, Tom,” he said, and Tom returned to pat Saeyoung's shoulder as well.

“Safe travels,” Tom replied. “I'll let you know if something's up.”

Saeyoung got in the car as soon as Vanderwood closed the door at the driver's seat. Saeyoung waved at Tom before rolling up the car window, and Vanderwood made two quick presses at the car horn to say goodbye to the informant.

Tom watched the blue sports car roll back into the mountain road. He placed his hands in his pocket and fished out a set of keys. He walked towards the white and blue bike that was parked near the convenience store and started the engine.

After a few revs, he rolled out toward the main road and made one last look at the direction where Saeyoung’s car went.

“Be safe, Spectre,” he muttered, then he switched gears to accelerate the bike towards the opposite direction.


“Send the route to the car's GPS,” Vanderwood immediately spoke as soon as they got a few meters away from the gas station, to Saeyoung's surprise.

“How the hell do you always know everything?” He said incredulously and tapped on his phone to send the route information to the car's GPS.

“Common sense, Saeyoung,” he replied. “I just have a habit of observing people.”

The car’s LED dashboard monitor beeped once and showed the route. Vanderwood glanced at the route several times and his eyebrows knotted.

“Shit,” Vanderwood muttered. “We take the scenic route, then,” he sighed. “It's probably going to take us four hours more. Try to get some sleep, and keep Ae Cha's head down,” he instructed as his eyes fixed on the road once again.

“Roger that,” Saeyoung answered.


The sound of Saeyoung and Vanderwood’s voice was more than enough to slightly wake Ae Cha, leaving her in the space between reality & dreams. Her arms reached over her head for a brief stretch. A yawn followed afterwards.

The girl re-situated herself in the back seat, eventually turning her body toward Saeyoung in an attempt to become comfortable again. Her phone and earbuds slid off her lap, the phone’s screen glowing underneath the empty car seat. The sound of Davichi’s “ 8282” quietly played from the earbuds.

The warmth of Saeyoung’s body heat beside her drew a soft smile out of her lips. She snaked her arms around his neck and pulled herself closer to him.

That’s better.

Saeyoung was busy with configuring the RFA app on his phone when he suddenly felt a pair of hands wrap themselves around his neck. In his surprise, he instinctively backed away and found himself leaning on the car door. When he finally realized Ae Cha was clinging to him he felt his face grow hot as he suddenly remembered his desire for her a few moments ago.

Saeyoung… be a good boy, Saeyoung. She's asleep, Saeyoung. Don't take advantage, Saeyoung...

“Don’t move,” she mewled as she nuzzled her head into his chest. Her body relaxed again, the sound of soft snoring vibrated against his chest.

He looked down at her sleeping face as soon as she started talking and found himself sigh in resignation. He couldn't help but smile when Ae Cha snuggled into his chest.

“Ah… am I a pillow?” He murmured almost inaudibly, moving his legs slightly to accommodate Ae Cha’s sleeping form against his chest. He could smell the flowery scent of her shampoo as he laid his chin on top of her head, and somehow he instinctively ran his hands on her head.

Then he had an idea.

Grinning, he took the two ends of his jacket and wrapped it around Ae Cha. He smiled widely when both ends wrapped her completely.

So tiny and cute~

He fastened the link at the hem of his hoodie and zipped his jacket up, effectively creating a snug cocoon around her. He felt her shift against him, and the slight smile on her face told him that she was warm and comfortable.

“Heh, pocketnapped~” he whispered, a smile of satisfaction etched on his face.

Ae Cha's steady breathing on his chest somehow took his mind to a place where it seemed so quiet, peaceful. He gently brushed stray hairs from her face and watched her tranquil expression as she slept. He smiled slightly, and ran his hands up and down her back gently, urging her to relax in his arms.

He took off his glasses and placed it on the small area behind the backseat and the rear windshield. After letting out a yawn he wrapped both arms around Ae Cha, and nuzzled at the top of her head.

The smell of flowers filled his mind until he fell into unconsciousness.


Vanderwood glanced at the route on the car’s GPS system as he slowed the car and veered it a little off road to pause at one of the areas where it overlooked the main route going out of the city. Once at a full stop he switched the hazard lights and opened the glove compartment to reach for a pair of binoculars. He rolled the window down on the driver's side and peered into the lens.

As Tom had warned, several checkpoints were set up along the highway. Going through the expressway would have saved them four hours of travel, but it would be dangerous for Ae Cha if she were to be found. Vanderwood sighed and shook his head, then replaced the binoculars back into the glove compartment.

As soon as he got the car back on the road, he glanced at his three passengers at the back seat from the rear view mirror. He let out a slight chuckle seeing Ae Cha cocooned in Saeyoung's jacket.

A slight smile painted on his face in seeing how the three so obviously fell for each other and yet no one wanted to take the first step. Being Saeyoung's work partner for a long time, he was not privy to the younger man’s life. Living in solitude was not something he would want to wish for him, hence he kept mum about RFA back then.

Thinking of RFA made him smile even more. At this point he's glad that he did what he did; because Saeyoung being in the RFA led him to one of the greatest and most precious gifts of his life. He felt a grin spread on his lips as he reached out for his phone on the dash, and pressed 0 on speed dial. He placed the phone against his ear with one hand while the other manned the steering wheel.

The sound of the phone ringing emanated from the earpiece, and after two rings, a female voice spoke.

“Van?”

Vanderwood couldn't help but chuckle at how she spoke his nickname. Her voice was always perfect, and in that one word alone he felt a measure of happiness.

“Why are you still up?” He chided, unable to wipe the grin on his face.

“Are you trying to crack a joke? Because it isn't working.”

Jaehee balanced her phone on her shoulder since both her hands were occupied in organizing the pile of paperwork that sat on her coffee table. She sat on the floor clad in t-shirt and sweatpants, her hair pushed back by a white headband.

“You sound happy though,” Vanderwood spoke with a hint of amusement in his voice.

Jaehee paused and smiled. She gave one final look at the document folder and flipped it closed, then her right hand reached for the phone so she could hold it properly. She let out a slight laugh, and laid herself down on the fluffy rug on the floor.

“I am,” she replied. “I didn't say I wasn't. How's everyone?”

She heard Vanderwood sigh at the other end of the line. “Oi. You're asking about everyone but me?”

A slight blush tinted Jaehee's cheeks and she let out a giggle. And then, she noticed that she could hear a familiar white noise in the background, like the steady hum of a vehicle motor.

“Van, are you driving?” She asked worriedly. “you shouldn't use your phone while you're driving!”

Vanderwood let out an amused chuckle. “I can shoot people while driving, so I can use a phone just fine.”

“Van!”

Vanderwood laughed. It was certainly one of Jaehee's endearing traits--she always looked out for everyone, and Vanderwood always found her protectiveness appealing to him. “I should be the one nagging you for staying up this late!”

“I’m not na--look who's talking!” Jaehee retorted.

“I don't do it every day, unlike someone I know.”

“Who, Saeyoung?”

“Woman, you--!”

Jaehee let out a light-hearted laugh. Hearing her happiness over the phone made Vanderwood's heart ache to see her.

“I have a name, Sir Vanderwood.”

“Yeah,” he replied in a low, quiet tone. “A pretty one at that.”

Something bloomed in Jaehee's heart as she heard Vanderwood's tone over the phone. Unbeknownst to the man, she also felt her heart yearning for him. They both had responsibilities, and being away from each other just shortly after they confessed their feelings felt heavy, but Jaehee doesn't want to add to the burden Vanderwood carried on his shoulders.

She rolled over to her side and decided to keep the conversation light.

“You’re very bad at flirting,” she teased, hoping that it would distract them both from the loneliness of being apart.

“Oh so you're good?” Vanderwood chuckled.

“I said no such thing,” Jaehee replied.

“But if you say I'm bad, then you're better, right?”

“It seems like you've been around Saeyoung too much.”

“Oh look at you,” Vanderwood teased. “You are not getting away from this, beautiful.”

Jaehee felt her face turn red at what Vanderwood said. She tried her best to come up with a witty reply, but her heart sputtered and her mind stalled. Her lips silently hung open and was about to form the words her heart wanted to say, but she stopped herself and sat back up.

“A-anyway,” she cursed herself for stuttering, then shook her head again. “I have reports to finish and I need--”

“Come with the fleet tomorrow.”

She felt herself gasp. She paused for a long while trying to make sense of the loud beating of her heart. “... what?”

“Come pick Jumin up tomorrow.”

Jaehee suddenly realized what he meant. Her heart fluttered once again with Vanderwood's plea, and this also meant she can see him--

--no. It was out of schedule, and she, like him, had responsibilities that need to come first.

“Van,” she spoke softly. “You know I can't--”

“I want to see you.”

Her heart broke a little when she heard the painful yearning in his voice. She wanted to just tell him yes, but they both knew it won't be that easy. She sighed and clutched at her phone with both hands, her mind already started to work to figure out how his request can be done.

“I... I'll see what I can do.”

Vanderwood smiled. Somehow he knew that it wouldn't be possible, but he wanted to hope--once they get to the villa, he doesn't know when he can see her again.

“Well...that’s better than a no,” he chuckled. “Go to sleep. You'd better be asleep the next time I call!”

Jaehee smiled. “Okay!”

“I'll see you tomorrow!”

“I never promised!”

“I'll look forward to it!”

Jaehee was about to respond but stopped herself when she heard the steady beeping on the phone's receiver. She huffed in frustration and turned off the phone's screen, then rolled to lay on her back once more, her arms splayed freely on her sides.

“So pushy,” she murmured as she pouted, then moved to unlock her phone once more. She typed in a few characters and gave a satisfied smile when she finally sent the message.

Vanderwood's phone made a beep, indicating a message. He glanced at the phone and noticed it was from Jaehee.

He gave a warm smile when he saw the message. He didn't have to touch the phone to read the short message she sent as it flashed on the screen.

“I love you.”

Chapter Text

They were always so naive.

Could she really blame them? Everyone involved in the RFA is so broken. Lost little lambs looking for their beautiful blonde haired Savior to save the day. It was child’s play to feign tears when her precious Unknown murdered her ex-fiance in cold rage. Faking aphasia after his murder made manipulating Zen and Yoosung into sending her to Alaska easy.

What the RFA wasn’t aware of was her plan of permanently moving Mint Eye Headquarters to Alaska. Her plans wouldn’t have been delayed if it wasn’t for certain bastard red-headed child and a certain heir to the C&R International legacy who doesn’t know when to not get into her fucking business.

Not all is lost, however. Minor setbacks pay off in the end. They always do. Patience rules the day.

Rika admired the breathtaking Alaskan scenery out of the balcony window of the Mint Eye Headquarters. She had the building constructed in vision, everything had to be elegant as her vision of Paradise would be.

Patience, Rika.

Her green eyes glinted as she imagined a future when she would be everyone’s Savior. She often meditated watching the ferocious waves of the Gulf of Alaska crash into the port nearby the coast. One day her mission of a Paradise will spread all over the world as a never-ending ocean.

Rika reached into her pockets of her robe, revealing a blood-stained letter. She felt her blood boil like poisonous venom thinking about how she had been deceived by that fucking undercover NIS Agent Lee Han-Sol.

“You should have died earlier. It would have saved me trouble,” Rika seethed, crumpling the letter in between her tightening fist.

Potential funders, the new conversion serum, and all of her hard work is in jeopardy all because of two fucking women. Dumb girls.The longer the younger sister was missing, the higher the chance the choker will be decrypted and the RFA becoming involved. And if the RFA became involved…

… she knew the Prime Minister would become involved too. That would be problematic.

She was growing impatient. Saeran wouldn’t have failed her. He never did. Her mistake was allowing her dear Unknown to keep his memories.  To be fully cleansed, she learned a person must start with a clear mind empty of impure memories.

She missed her obedient disciple. He never questioned her motives. He even looked up to her as the true Mother he never had. And now she’s stuck with the egotistical psychopath Yeong-Ho who has lately had a knack in screwing up everything.

Such a disappointment. I had hoped in welcoming him to Paradise, too.

“Yeong-Ho, I look forward to the day I can get rid of you,” Rika mused.

Until then, she needed to control the strings of her marionette Yeong-Ho to do her bidding. The thrill of his spontaneous results is such a breath of fresh air.  She knew Yeong-Ho won’t fail her this time. His life depended on it.

The day of reckoning will fall upon the world soon.

 


“You stupid little bitch.”

The sound of Sim Yeong-ho’s voice swirled around Ae Cha as she sat on the ground, surrounded by a dark void. Her eyes fell to her arms, and she was surprised to see her arms covered in cuts. Her eyes focused on trickles of blood streaming down her arm.

“How naive to think you can run away from me. Who are you going to run to? No one wants you.” Sim Yeong-ho taunted her.

“No! I won’t give up!” Ae Cha shouted out into the void as she lifted herself off of the ground.  Something deep inside of her convinced her to get up and fight .

Before she could move, the girl was quickly spun around to face the opposite direction. Sim Yeong-ho’s menacing eyes glimmered in the darkness, boring into hers. A gun was pointed at her, the barrel resting against her temples.

“You’re mine ,” he growled before pulling the trigger.

“NO!”

Ae Cha’s eyes flew open as her heart pounded out of her chest. The familiar sound of the car’s engine eased her back into reality while she caught her breath. She let out a sigh of relief realizing the scenes she experienced were not real.

“Where did I end up, anyway?” Ae Cha murmured to herself, confused at why she felt oh so cozy and oh so warm . Her eyes picked up immediately on the dark-blue night sky. Sunrise must be close.

And then she heard a familiar heartbeat against her ears. Her cheeks heated realizing who she was sleeping against. It was Saeyoung.

The girl carefully slid her hands underneath her to search for her phone. She paid extra attention not to wake Saeyoung, but being zipped up snug in a hoodie is making the task difficult .

My phone has to be here somewhere.

Saeyoung somehow registered the small movement in his sleep, and the soft, familiar warmth against him was too inviting. He unconsciously nuzzled at Ae Cha’s forehead, then settled again as much-needed sleep overcame him once again.

Ae Cha gave up the search for her phone when Saeyoung stirred. She let out a small sigh and relaxed against his body again, wrapping her arms around him. The sound of his heart beating along with his warmth was more than enough to settle her back into the world of dreams.

-----

He could not imagine how mornings would even be more perfect than this.

Her red hair had grown long; it fell like rivulets of wine down the gentle slopes of her shoulder to the swell of her breasts. Sunlight that seeped through the curtains danced on the dip of her waist and the swell of her hips, her long legs hidden under the blanket she managed to almost kick off her in her sleep.

Jumin watched with wonder how he could feel any more love for the woman that laid beside him. Day after day he woke up to her peaceful countenance as she slept, and day after day he felt her sinking even further in his heart.

He smiled as she knotted her eyebrows in her sleep, and wondered what she may have been dreaming about. He gently brushed his thumb on her forehead, hoping to dispel the gentle creases that formed there.

She visibly relaxed as he caressed her, a small smile formed on her lips. His heart skipped as she opened her emerald eyes that were glassy and half-lidded from sleep.

“Does it hurt?” He asked while he gently moved stray strands of hair from her eyes.

Reine giggled and scooted closer to him. She snuggled against the smooth skin of his bare chest and planted a kiss on his collarbone. “Aren't you supposed to say “good morning” first?”

She felt his chest vibrate with the low chuckle that escaped his lips. “What about “saranghae”? Would that count?”

Reine giggled and nuzzled at his neck. “Yeah. I think that would count.”

Rachmaninoff then started playing in the room, which made them both turn toward the side table where Jumin's mobile phone laid. He reached behind him with his right hand, but still kept Reine snuggled in his arms.

His eyebrows knotted in confusion when Saeyoung's name showed on the Caller ID. “Saeyoung. What is it?”

“Good morning~” he spoke gleefully on the receiver, and in the quietness of the morning, Reine heard Saeyoung's giddy greeting and rolled her eyes. “We’ll be there in an hour!”

“What?” Reine remarked, puzzled. “Aren't you supposed to arrive tomorrow?”

“Ah! Good morning, Reine!” Saeyoung spoke louder on the receiver, which made Jumin wince.

“You're being awfully loud at six in the morning,” he warned.

“Ah, sorry, sorry. Well, plans changed,” Saeyoung sighed. “And we couldn't do a phone call unless we were well outside the city. Sim Yeong-Ho is sniffing Ae Cha out,” he explained. “I'll explain the details later, but I just wanted to tell you we're coming--we don't want to run into you doing...you know~”

The couple looked at each other, aware of the red tint that spread on their faces. “I will hurt you, Saeyoung,” Reine threatened, and Jumin let out a slight chuckle.

“Don't be jealous, Saeyoung,” Jumin teased.

“I will really hurt you!” She threatened with a low voice.

The line was disconnected. She sighed and looked up at Jumin, who was watching her fume with an amused smile on his face.

“What?” she pouted.

“Nothing,” he replied, then planted a kiss on her forehead. “I'll get the bath running. We should be ready...and dressed ...before they come in. Although I'd rather watch you like this all day,” he teased, which was answered by a wide-eyed, flushed expression from the redhead.

Reine playfully smacked him with a pillow. “Go get the bath running then!” She said as she buried her face under the blanket.

“As my lady wishes,” Jumin replied as he left a light kiss on her shoulder.


“Zen! Wait up!”


The smaller blonde called out from behind to the silver-haired actor. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon in the city, and the sky was slowly changing from navy to a purplish-red hue. A new day was beginning, and what better way to start off a new day than with an invigorating jog…

… Or so that’s what Zen believed every morning.

Zen and Yoosung decided it would be best for the two of them to stay together until they received word the twins, Ae Cha, and Vanderwood made it safely to Jumin’s mountain villa where Reine was staying tomorrow. Jumin entrusted the two with watching over the RFA until Sim Yeong-Ho was behind bars so the two knew any slip up with jeopardize the operation.

However, that still didn’t stop Zen from maintaining his early morning routine. What it did mean was Yoosung was dragged along to run as well. Once Zen found out Yoosung had a crush on a girl at the university he attended, Zen made it his mission to turn Yoosung into the perfect boyfriend material . What Zen didn’t realize was how much work it was going to be.

The distance between the duo continued growing until Zen came to a stop in front of a cafe in order to catch up. He signed realizing Yoosung was a half a block behind him.

Even covered with sweat glistening all over his body, Zen still looked so damn beautiful . Girls froze seeing him pass by, reaching for their smartphones to take pictures. Zen made note of the growing crowd of females around him and turned back to watch Yoosung finally catch up.

“Yoosung! Hurry up!” Zen shouted.

“I...I’m….h-here…” Yoosung keeled over in front of Zen, attempting to catch his breath once he finally caught up. The only exercising this blonde really participated in was exercising his fingers during LOLOL raids.  He reached for a bottle of water from his hoodie’s pocket and chugged the liquid.

“God, you really are out of shape,” Zen shook his head with dismay. “Do you only play computer games? Tut, tut. That’s not healthy!”

“I do more than play games!,” Yoosung retorted.

“Yeah. Yeah. I know,” Zen chuckled as they both walked in between the two buildings. It was a quick shortcut to city parking where Zen’s motorcycle was parked.  

“I’m just messing with you. You really are slow though!”

“Do you think they’ll make it there safely?” Yoosung asked vaguely, changing the subject. He pushed his hair out of his face, shoving his hands into his hoodie’s pockets.

“I ho-- Ah-a-achoo! ,” Zen sneezed, scaring a group of tom cats sitting around a trash receptacle. The felines scattered in every direction. Zen reached for a kleenex and a bottle of allergy medicine  from his hoodie pocket. He quickly opened the bottle cap, popped the pill into his mouth, and swallowed.

Before the two reached the other end of the alleyway, two women blocked the way out to the sidewalk. When Yoosung caught eyes with the women blocking the way, he grabbed a hold of Zen’s sleeve to get his attention.

“Huh?” Zen glanced up and noticed the women in front of him. He looked at Yoosung and back at the women. Ah, they must be fans, Zen reasoned.

“Good morning Ladies,” Zen smiled and winked at them. They were pretty cute. The girls had to be in their twenties. One sported blonde hair, while the other had red. But why were they here?

“You.” The red haired girl pointed at the blonde, ignoring Zen. “Are you Yoosung Kim, leader of the of the Ae Cha Lee fan cafe?”

Yoosung’s eyes widened at the question and he felt anxiousness growing in his chest. No one has asked about Ae Cha Lee since she disappeared three years ago. Before he could answer, Zen grabbed Yoosung’s arm and pulled the younger boy behind him.

“Why does it matter? She’s been gone for years,” Zen insisted, his crimson eyes locked on both of the girls.  He knew the situation was turning dangerous, and so he did what he knew what to do best. He was going to protect his friend.

“I’m the leader of the fan cafe,” Zen lied. Yoosung shot his friend an incredulous look.

A silence fell between the two girls and Zen and Yoosung. Tension hung heavy around the four. To the girl’s advantage it was early enough in the day from an upcoming major holiday there was barely any foot traffic on the streets of Seoul.

The sound of feminine laughter filled the air. The boys watched as both girls reached inside their coat pockets, pulling out handguns. They pointed their weapons at the men, and slowly approached them.

“We know that’s a lie,” the blonde girl mocked, placing her handgun’s barrel on Yoosung’s chest. She stood close to Yoosung to conceal her weapon. Yoosung swallowed hard as she watched the girl stare at him with menace.

“We won’t kill you if you do us a simple favor,” the red haired girl smirked, also placing her gun’s barrel on Zen’s chest. She followed the same strategy as the blonde. To any normal passerby, it would appear two couples were displaying their affection to each other.

If they only knew the danger Zen and Yoosung were in.

The two boys glanced at each other and back at the girls. A sense of dread fell over them, and they knew as soon as they were able to make it out alive they needed to contact Jumin as soon as possible.

“We need you to compose a message asking for help in locating her or we will unload all of these bullets in you,” the girl with blonde hair hissed.

“You’ll help a girl out, right?” The crimson-haired girl added.

“F-Fine! I’ll do it,” Yoosung stammered while he carefully reached into his hoodie’s pocket and grabbed his smartphone.

Both girls gave a sickening sweet grin and took two steps back from the duo, keeping their guns aimed at the boys. Zen gritted his teeth and felt anger reaching its boiling point deep inside of him. Why did it have to be girls? If it were guys, he would be more than happy to instigate a fight. But… girls? Girls are Zen’s kryptonite.

Silence filled the air again while Yoosung brought up the fan cafe page on his phone. His mind filled with pain for the girl who he idolized, and he worried what sort of danger the girl truly was in.

His thoughts were quickly disturbed when something caught his eyes.

“Huh?” Yoosung said aloud as he scrolled through the fan cafe. His eyebrows knotted in confusion reading new message titles.

 

[The missing girl “Charity” behind the mysterious flyers is Ae Cha Lee! PROOF INSIDE!!]

[Netizens should be ashamed for the downfall of Ae Cha!]

[Please come back, Ae Cha! We will support you in your mental health battle!]

[Resource guide to the mental health facility taking care of Ae Cha]

[How Ae Cha Lee Became Charity Lee: Discussing Split Personalities in K-POP]

[Ae Cha Lee Search Party: Let’s band together and find our idol!]

[Thank a Police Officer for their efforts in finding our lovely Ae Cha!]

“Hey, what’s wrong bro?” Zen asked, trying to lean over to view Yoosung’s screen.

“There’s a bunch of new messages about Ae Cha in the----”

The blonde girl snatched Yoosung’s phone out of his head and quickly looked over the phone.  Yoosung and Zen looked at each other with worry written all over their faces. Panic settled in both of their chests.

“Well this is certainly interesting. Inform our Boss of the developments,” she instructed the red-haired girl, her back now facing Yoosung.

The blonde girl whipped around to face the Yoosung. The grin on her face became menacing. The handed the phone to Yoosung and leaned in to give him a quick peck on the cheek. Yoosung’s eyes widened with fear, expecting to be shot at any moment.

“Looks like you’re safe for now. Goodbye oppa~” the blonde teased before turning and then running away with the redhead.

Once the girls were out of their sight, Yoosung collapsed to his knees in shock. Zen let out a sigh of relief and fumbled through his jacket for his motorcycle keys.

“What the hell was that!?” Zen whispered.

“I-I d-don’t know” Yoosung stuttered. “We need to talk to Jumin and Saeyoung!”

“Let’s get back to my place where it’s safe,” Zen walked over to Yoosung and helped him up. Yoosung smiled, thanking his silver-hair friend before they both headed toward the parking lot.  They were surprised to see no trace of the girls who had nearly killed them.

“What the fuck is going on?” Zen thought to himself as they ran to his motorcycle. Whatever this was about, he knew it wasn’t good. The duo needed to reach out to the rest of the RFA as soon as possible.

Chapter Text

The morning sun was merely peeking through the silhouettes of the mountains when Vanderwood finally approached the heavily guarded perimeter of the Han mountain estate.  They spotted the men in familiar black ties, but this time they are clad with heavy black coats to battle the winter chill.

As they approached the driveway, a man raised his hand to halt the vehicle. Vanderwood rolled his windows down and smiled. “Good morning,” he greeted.

“Good morning, Mr. Vanderwood. Mr. Han is waiting for you at the villa,” the man smiled, and turned his gaze inside the car and visually inspecting the passengers.

Satisfied, he gave a curt nod. “Just go straight this road and turn left on the crossroad. It'll take you to the mountain pass all the way up to the villa,” he explained, and Vanderwood nodded.

“Thank you,” Vanderwood smiled, and rolled the windows up.

The estate was way bigger than anyone expected. Vanderwood tried to visually check how far out the perimeter wall was, but he can't make out where it actually ends. Did they buy the entire fucking mountain?!

Saeyoung whistled, his eyes darting around the area. “Someone wanted to show off and impress a lady,” he chuckled lightly. “Although I have to admit, it's impressive in size alone,” he commented.

When they got to the mountain road they could already see the villa on top of it. Saeyoung shook Saeran awake gently, and two green eyes fluttered open and Saeran let out a yawn.

“Where are we?” He rubbed sleep away from his eyes, then stared at Saeyoung and Ae Cha in curiosity as Ae Cha remained zipped up in Saeyoung's jacket.

“We're in the Hans’ mountain estate,” Vanderwood replied, which prompted Saeran to take his curious gaze from Ae Cha and his twin to the mountains outside.

Saeran's eyebrows furrowed when he realized that it's already bright outside. It should have only taken them four hours to get to the estate. He checked the time, and it was a quarter to seven already.

“Did something happen?” He spoke, letting out another yawn.

“We had to take the scenic route,” Saeyoung replied. “Apparently the main route was riddled with checkpoints. I don't know how Yeong-Ho managed it, but he did,” he spoke, distaste evident in his voice.

Saeran blinked once. “How'd you know where to pass?” The question was obviously directed to Vanderwood, who smiled as he glanced at Saeran through the rearview mirror.

“We met Tom along the way,” Vanderwood replied. “He told us where to go.”

“Shady bastard,” Saeran murmured.

“I asked him how he knew,” Saeyoung sighed as he spoke softly, careful not to wake Ae Cha. “But as long as he keeps us out of trouble, then I can forgive some secrecy.”

Even as the twins spoke softly in the car, the sudden noise was more than enough to elicit the sound of a small moan out of Ae Cha as she stirred in her slumber. She let out a breathy yawn before nuzzling her face into Saeyoung’s chest. A smile grew on her lips as her body relaxed again.

“Saeran… share your chocolate with me,”  Ae Cha murmured quietly against Saeyoung.

The twins looked at Ae Cha's sleeping form, and Saeran started patting his jacket pockets in case he had any chocolate with him. He frowned when he found that he didn't, and Saeyoung chuckled lightly.

Suddenly, they stopped their upward ascent and the road to the villa was right in front of them. Vanderwood whistled at how extravagant the villa was.

As soon as they got within a hundred meters from the house, Saeyoung spotted Reine emerging from the front door, who was followed closely by Jumin.

Saeran gently ran his hand up and down Ae Cha’s arm through Saeyoung's hoodie. “We're here,” he spoke, trying to rouse her from her sleep.

Ae Cha’s golden-hazel slowly fluttered opened from the sensation of Saeran’s touch running down her arm. Her eyes focused on a set of ember eyes and a set of green eyes staring at her. Her eyes widened in surprise.

How did I end up back here?

… And how long have they been watching me?

“Good morning,” Ae Cha yawned with confusion in her tone. The girl stretched out inside of Saeyoung’s hoodie, contentment filling her features again as her head rested on his chest.

I guess I got my wish after all ,” Ae Cha mused to herself, recalling the chat between her and Saeyoung sometime overnight.  The brightening sky meant it was morning. Just how long were they on the road? She wanted to check the time.

Oh, that’s right.  She was looking for her phone. It’s probably dead by now.

“Where’s my phone?” Ae Cha asked, looking up at the twins.

“It slipped under the seat,” Saeran replied, noticing the earbuds from under the front passenger seat. He reached forward to retrieve it, his arm and chest resting slightly on Ae Cha’s leg, then finally got the device and handed it over to her.

“Thank you,” Ae Cha said with a smile and pressed the power button on the side of her smartphone hoping there may be some power left. An empty battery icon displayed on the screen, signaling the phone was indeed dead.

“We're here,” Vanderwood announced as he rolled the car into a space in the front yard and turned off the engine.

Reine was smiling from ear to ear as she saw the blue sports car roll into the driveway. She almost forgot that she was still recovering from injury that she almost ran to her when she alighted the vehicle; pain shot from her midsection that made her wince and reconsider her pace. Jumin caught her gently by her elbows to steady her, and she turned to him and offered a quick smile of thanks.

“Ae Cha!” She greeted and smiled slightly at her sister's disheveled hair. She took careful strides and finally stood in front of her little sister, and easily wrapped her arms around Ae Cha for a long, tight hug.

“Unnie! You look well,” Ae Cha noted as she was wrapped in her sister’s embrace.

A gust of wind blew through the group, and Jumin felt a slight humidity in the air. He turned to the group and spoke. “Let's get inside,” he beckoned. “The air is humid--let’s get out of the cold.”

With an arm around Ae Cha, Reine nodded and proceeded to tell Ae Cha how lovely the villa was; her voice excited and giddy. Vanderwood was busying himself with gathering all the items they needed for a temporary base along with Saeyoung, while Saeran carried all the bags.

Jumin stared at the sky. He often spent time in between flights and watching nature as a kid, and he knew the telltale signs of a snowstorm. He opened the door for Saeran to step in with the bags and same with Saeyoung and Vanderwood.

“I feel so special,” Saeyoung mused. “The C&R vice chairman opening doors for me!”

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Jumin replied, and then shut the door behind him as he hung his coat on the rack by the door. “It will never happen again.”

Reine was already busy excitedly touring Ae Cha around the villa. There were more than enough rooms for everyone, and she excitedly pointed out the hot spring infinity pool.

The pool was situated in the villa's backyard, on the precipice of a mountain drop. The edges of the pool seemed to disappear seamlessly into the horizon and overlooking it was the grandest view of the snow-capped mountain ranges that extended as far as the eye can see, and the rolling white clouds that blanketed the forest below.

“This is my favorite place!” Reine smiled, and she breathed deeply, enjoying the warm steam from the heated pool.

After which, Reine led Ae Cha to the kitchen to help get at least some hot tea ready. While Reine waited for the water to boil, she turned to Ae Cha, who was busy placing tea bags on each of the cups.

“Say,” she started, and leaned slightly on the granite counter. “What happened out there?”

Ae Cha’s hand hesitated over the cup she was dropping a teabag into. She bit her lip and lifted her head to look at Reine. Her eyes darkened slightly as she felt fear constricting her chest.

You can’t hide from me. 

“Ah… Nothing that special ,” Ae Cha replied, sarcasm intentionally blending into each syllable.

“Unless my face being plastered all over Seoul in a missing person flyer counts as special ,” Ae Cha concluded, finally dropping the tea bag into the cup.

Reine contemplated on the news that Ae Cha shared, and then sighed. “It was a good call to leave the city immediately--who knows what could have happened if--”

The sound of Rachmaninoff emanated from the living room, which made Reine stop in mid-sentence.

Jumin's phone rang as it vibrated on the wooden table, and he turned to pick it up. His eyebrows furrowed when he saw Zen on the caller ID, and found it odd that he would call at this hour, or call at all.  

He gave a confused look at Saeyoung, who stepped over to look at the caller ID. Jumin noted the slight tinge of worry that passed in his expression, while he pressed the green answer button.

“Zen.”

“What the hell is going on!?” Zen exclaimed over the phone, out of breath. His voice echoed in his living room.

A muffled, panicked voice then interrupted Zen.  It was Yoosung.

“Is Ae Cha okay? I can’t get a hold of her!”

Jumin placed his thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose, his eyebrows furrowed in keeping a blooming headache out. “Why is everyone so loud today?” He murmured, and then straightened to place a hand on his hip. “Spectre just got here along with Ae Cha, now can you please stop shouting?” He replied with an exasperated tone.

He sighed but his expression changed into suspicion in an instant. “Did something happen?” He asked almost immediately.

“Of course something happened. Why would I be calling you?” Zen sighed. “Yoosung and I were nearly fucking shot by two very cute, but very creepy girls not even less than an hour ago! They wanted Yoosung to post something in his little fan cafe for Ae Cha, but ran off all of the sudden.”

“Fan cafe?” Jumin’s eyes were puzzled, but that was enough hint for Saeyoung. He fumbled for his phone and shouted loud enough for Zen to hear. “Tell Yoosung I'm borrowing his password!” He said as he logged into Ae Cha’s fan cafe.

And there they were: threads upon threads about Ae Cha and connecting her to Charity Lee. Saeran looked over by Saeyoung's shoulder and he immediately turned the TV to the news channel.

Reine wondered what the commotion was as she strode into the living room with cups of hot tea. She settled the tray down on the coffee table by the fireplace and watched as the newscaster's voice emanated from the speakers.

“In entertainment news: former idol trainee and grand champion of So U Wanna be a K-POP Star, Lee Ae Cha, is allegedly suffering from a mental illness, and is “in danger of hurting herself”.

According to the representative from Nirvana Institute of Behavioral Health, she allegedly escaped the facility yesterday morning. Lee Ae Cha was taken in for intensive treatment around two and a half years ago, and had stayed within the facility ever since. Her escape from the institution was most unfortunate, and NIBH stated that “she is most in danger of hurting herself because of her condition”.

The institution declined to comment about the specifics of her mental issues and opted to keep it private as respect to their patient.

Thousands of her fans have taken their voices online through social media sites, online blogs and fan cafes, showing support and love in her trying times, and bashing the K-Pop industry for causing her “breakdown”.

As of yesterday afternoon, police have been mobilized, as well as fans and supporters, in search of--”

“Zen, whatever you do, don't leave the house,” Jumin spoke over the TV audio, his voice stern and concerned. “Call Jaehee when you're ready to leave. I'll instruct her to have you stay in C&R and make the necessary precautions for you to be well-protected.”

Reine felt the tension on Jumin's shoulders as he spoke to Zen over the phone. The feeling of dread washed over her. The past few days were nothing but blissful, but now things have finally caught up to them.

“I'll get on a chopper early tomorrow--I just need to wait this snowstorm out. For now, I'll end this call so I can make the necessary preparations.”

Reine's heart sank a little as she watched him end the call. She pressed her lips together tightly at the thought of Jumin leaving too soon. She knew it was necessary; Jumin has a responsibility with C&R and RFA that he needed to attend to, but it did not mean it would make her any less sad to see him go.

A light thud disturbed the growing tension in the living room. Ae Cha’s phone laid at her feet as her widened eyes took in every word and image displayed on the television. She had intended on following Reine but froze upon seeing her face on the television, opting to stand in the doorframe connecting the kitchen to the living room. Her head slightly tilted as the cogs in her mind began processing what she just witnessed.

“My… condition?” Ae Cha mumbled in disbelief as her chest drummed a very familiar and frightening sensation. She fought back tears trying to fall from the sides of her eyes. 

Don’t cry, Ae Cha. You have to be strong. You can’t let everyone down.  

“You knew about this?” Saeran questioned Vanderwood, who was nonchalantly reorganizing wires from the corner of the room, seated with the pile of electronics they brought in.

The man looked up, surprised with the question. He took a glance at the TV and then back to Saeran, then gave a small sigh as he busied himself once more. “Pretty much,” he replied. “It wasn't so hard to guess. But that man has no originality whatsoever,” he inserted the CAT5 cable on one of the sockets on the network switch. “It was pretty easy to figure him out, hence we got to leave way earlier than he expected.”

Reine bent to pick up Ae Cha’s phone on the floor, and winced as she stood back up. She checked and wiped the phone with her hand and handed it over to Ae Cha.

She then lifted her hand to pat Ae Cha's hair and gave her a gentle smile, but the worry was still etched on her face. “Are you alright?” She asked quietly.

“I’m okay, “Ae Cha quipped, however, the look on her face painted a different story. The girl’s hands trembled as she reached for her phone.

I will always find you.

“I need some fresh air,” Ae Cha announced and quickly turned away to head outside to avoid crying in front of the group.

Reine watched as Ae Cha strode across the room to exit from the front door. She let out a sigh as she grabbed a thick fleece blanket and made a move to follow her outside, but Jumin held out his hand to stop her.

“Let her be,” he said, gently rubbing her shoulders through the thick fabric of her sweater. Reine worriedly glanced at the direction Ae Cha went, and clutched the blanket to her chest.

Vanderwood sighed and stood up. “And it's cold outside, Reine. You're injured. Saeran, go after her. Saeyoung,” he then grabbed the TV remote and turned the device off. “I need you to place additional security around the immediate perimeter of the estate. We need to make sure that there are no snooping eyes around. It is imperative that Ae Cha is not to be found until she's ready.”

Saeyoung grabbed a toolbox and a backpack from the pile, then fished inside his jacket for his winter gloves and beanie. Saeran loosely wrapped his wool scarf around his neck high enough to cover his nose. Reine placed the thick fleece blanket on Saeran's hands, to help keep Ae Cha warm when he finds her.

“Be back before sundown,” Jumin reminded. “A snowstorm is brewing.”

Reine looked up at Jumin wondering how he knew.

Chapter Text

There was a certain calmness in the cold, humid air which tempered the burning pain Ae Cha felt growing inside of her. A mix of emotions ran through her veins, which caused the sensation in her chest to drum unevenly.

Is this what the world gets to see me as now? A girl gone crazy? What if Saeyoung and Saeran believe that?  

The girl studied her new surroundings to find a place where she could sit. Her eyes took in the breathtaking nature around her, and she instantly wished she could see the full potential of beauty the mountain could bring during the spring. She spotted a large, protruding rock behind a tall tree a few yards away from the blue sportscar.

She felt goosebumps forming on her arms underneath the black and gray polyester sweater dress she had been wearing since yesterday as a gust of wind blew her hair from the north. She straightened out the hem of the dress as she sat down on the hard surface. Her glance sunk to her legs where she idly picked at her at tights, losing herself to her own thoughts.

Why does the media suddenly care now? I’ve carried a burden of being someone’s toy, alone for years.

Now people care because I have a label?

Stray tears fell down the sides of her face the longer she sat in silence outside. The sound of the wind blew in her ears again, sending a shiver down her spine.

Suddenly, something warm and soft was wrapped around Ae Cha's shoulders, dispelling the cold.

Saeran leaned on the tree right beside the rock where Ae Cha sat, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket while his eyes watched the colors of the sky.

“Are they that important to you?” He asked with a quiet voice, his breath creating billows of mist as he spoke.

Ae Cha looked up Saeran with glossy eyes and flushed cheeks, surprised at how it was like he always knew the thoughts lingering in her mind. It was like he had a window into her psyche. She wondered if she was easy to read.

“Do you believe what is being said about me?” Ae Cha replied. 

Saeran looked down into her round, golden-hazel eyes and he turned to face her. “I asked you a question, first.”

Ae Cha sighed as Saeran insisted on his question being answered. His green eyes implored for an answer from the girl.

“I don’t know,” Ae Cha confessed, her glance sinking to the ground again as she clenched the warm blanket.

“I can’t decide if I should be frustrated the entire country is eating up this lie, feel offended at the  sudden care about my well being because I have a label, be angry so many people believe Charity Lee is some name I made up for myself when it’s my English name, or---”

 

I will always find you. 

“-- be frightened he’ll kidnap me from my new family before I’m taught how to defend myself. There are so many people involved in hunting me down, and none of them know they are part of some scheme to take me away.”

Everything she said was true to her, but perhaps, she contemplated the thought maybe she was thinking too much what others thought of her. Ae Cha clenched onto the blanket a little tighter as her gaze lifted again. Her eyes watched fast-moving clouds float in across the sky, deciding if she should share the burden hitting the hardest.

But with Saeran, she could never hide her insecurities. Not him. Never. She couldn’t explain the connection she instantly felt with him the moment they were alone for the first time after waking up in the Choi residence.

“You and Saeyoung barely know me… I… I wanted the both of you to get to know me. The real me. The girl that hid underneath all of the makeup,” Ae Cha admitted, her glance falling to the ground again.

“I... I don’t want you two to look at me any differently because of what’s being said.”

Saeran let out a snort. Afterward, he stifled a chuckle while his shoulders shook slightly. “Barely know you?” He moved to stand before Ae Cha and gently traced his finger along her jaw to her chin, making her look up at him. The laughter in his eyes is gone, but was replaced with something more... sensual.

“We know you,” Saeran spoke in a low, quiet tone. “We know enough to tell which is real or not. If other people affected you this much I must say I'm getting jealous,” he moved his thumb to gently brush on her chin, almost touching her lower lip.

A cold gust of wind blew from the valley below, and the chill brought Saeran back to his senses. He withdrew his hand from her and was about to step back. “We need to get back into the villa,” he said. “We'll get sick in this cold.”

Was it cold outside? Ae Cha lost her sense of temperature, a heat began burning deep inside of her. Before Saeran could take a full step backward, Ae Cha grabbed his hand.  

“Wait,” Ae Cha called out softly, biting the side of her lip.  She took her other hand and reached out for his jacket, her fingers idly thumbing the hem.

“Can you… tell me what you know is real?” Her eyes flickered with softness and curiosity.

Saeran stared into her round golden hazel eyes and he pressed his lips together for a small smile. He used this opportunity to help Ae Cha to stand up, and he took the two ends of the fleece blanket to wrap it tighter around her.

“What I know is real is you standing here in front of me, uncertain, frightened, but brave. You are nothing like what others paint you to be,” he replied, then he finally stepped back to try to conceal the redness of his cheeks.

A coy smile spread Ae Cha’s face hearing Saeran’s words. She stepped forward again and looked into his green eyes.

“I’d love to know what you paint me out to be one day, Saeran,” Ae Cha giggled.


“Shouldn’t Saeyoung be returning soon?”

Ae Cha’s words filled the living room quarters where she watched for any sign of the older twin from the tall mezzanine windows. After returning to the villa with Saeran earlier in the day, she spent the day unpacking her belongings in her new living space for the next three months, as well as catch up with Reine in what she’s missed the last few days.

It warmed her heart to see her older sister so calm and relaxed. Reine’s expression reminded her so much of their father.

Ae Cha’s concern at the moment was the sun was setting and she still hadn’t seen Saeyoung since the car ride. To make matters worse, snow began to fall within the last hour and the snowflakes were dropping a very steady rate. The ground was already covered in at least a couple of inches of wet, fluffy snow.

Her face was nearly pressed against the glass as her eyes followed snow blowing in different directions, flakes alternating between sleet and slushy snow.  Her warm breath left a small patch of foggy condensation as her eyes continued to watch for Saeyoung. She became increasingly worried as darkness slowly overtook the day, leading into nightfall.

“Where are you?”


“Saeyoung. Get back here,” Vanderwood commanded over the communicator, which was answered by a moment of static and the familiar sound of Saeyoung's voice.

“Just two more and I'm done! I can't risk anyone snooping around on her,” he reasoned out, which made Vanderwood sigh.

“Don't whine when you get sick, stubborn brat,” he murmured, and was already making his way towards the kitchen.

Reine came out from the storage room with an armful of fluffy blankets and saw Ae Cha staring at the distance. She remembered Jumin mentioning that a snowstorm is set to happen, and she immediately placed the blankets on the couch and walked to stand beside Ae Cha.

“Come,” she urged. “Let's make some dry heating pads.”

“Huh?” Ae Cha turned to face Reine with a confused expression on her features. The girl has stitched, sewn, and built with her hands an assortment of things, but the words coming out of Reine’s lips were foreign to her.

“What’s a dry heating pad?” Ae Cha asked, her eyes wide with curiosity.

Reine smiles at her and takes her hand, then leads her to the spacious kitchen where Vanderwood was busy boiling chicken for stock. Reine opened the overhead cabinets and handed a few thin towels to Ae Cha. “Saeyoung is going to be cold when he gets back. This is to help him warm up,” she closed the cabinet and turned to Ae Cha. “Let's sew the ends together to make pouches.”

The sisters busied themselves on stitching the ends of two towels, and once done, Reine filled the pouches with uncooked rice. With all edges sewn shut, they have what looks like a bean pillow.

“You pop this in the microwave and set for one minute on medium high once he comes in,” she explained. “Hot towels will just make him feel colder since it's moist--this will help warm him up without that problem,” she smiles and hands the pouches to Ae Cha.

She then hugs her sister and speaks softly. “It's our duty to worry about our boys,” she said. “But standing around won't accomplish anything. Let's just trust Saeyoung and wait, okay?”

Ae Cha’s cheeks instantly flared a rosy hue as Reine’s words replayed in her head. When did the twins become hers ? Were they hers?

Just as Reine started to pull away from Ae Cha, the sound of the front door opening and the howling winds from outside was heard all the way to the kitchen. Vanderwood immediately turned off the stove and removed the pot from the heat, then threw his apron on the counter. He wordlessly ran toward the living room.

Reine turned to Ae Cha and grabbed the heating pads from her hands. “Go to him! Quick!” She urged her as she popped the pouches in the microwave.

Without hesitation, Ae Cha nodded and hurried into the living room. Cold air which lingered in the villa from the brisk, howling wind intensified the closer she reached the front door. She felt a sense of dread realizing anyone that would have went out in this weather and stayed out for as long as they did would surely catch the flu at the bare minimum.

Saeyoung stood by the doorway, his red hair wet and plastered to his forehead, his face deathly pale and movement sluggish. His eyes were a dull gold, and once he locked his sights on Ae Cha, he let out a weak, almost non-existent smile and fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

Vanderwood thanked Reine mentally for placing the heavy blankets on the couch. He immediately wrapped Saeyoung in one, then carried him over to the couch.

“Ae Cha, can you please fetch the heating pads you made?” Vanderwood requested, which Ae Cha was more than eager to comply.

As soon as Ae Cha got back into the kitchen, Reine placed the heated pouches on a towel to not burn Ae Cha, then urged her to run back to the living room where Saeyoung laid.

Vanderwood was busy getting rid of Saeyoung's cold, wet shirt when Ae Cha came into the living room. Saeyoung looked deathly pale, his fingers were starting to turn white. Once his shirt was completely removed he grabbed the pouches and the towel from Ae Cha's hands. He placed the pouches on the couch for a moment and used the warm towel to dry his upper body. Afterward, he took the pouches and placed them on his chest and shoulder areas.

Reine did not miss the peculiar behavior from Saeran, who was oddly content to watch everything from a distance. She found it quite odd that he wouldn’t lend a hand to aid his brother.  And the look in his eyes-- fear?-- made her tilt her head in wonder.

She shook her head; this isn’t the time to let her mind wander.  She walked over to Ae Cha instead and placed her hands on her shoulders.

“Let's leave Vanderwood to do his job,” she gently urged, although the knot of worry on Reine's eyebrows was hard to dismiss. Saeyoung was not shivering despite the cold--it is possible that hypothermia has gotten to a dangerous stage.

“Isn’t there anything else I can do?” Ae Cha implored.  She couldn’t take her focus off of Saeyoung’s pale body. He appeared practically lifeless with only shallow breaths showing signs of life. This wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t hunted in the first place.

What sort of cruel joke was this? Everyone close to me is getting hurt.

All of a sudden, Saeyoung began to shiver violently. Vanderwood and Reine shared a sigh of relief. Shivering is a good sign that the body recognizes that it's cold--and is trying to warm itself up. Reine watched as Vanderwood draped the blankets around him for warmth.

“There is one very important thing I'll have you do, Ae Chan,” Vanderwood said as he stood and turned to Ae Cha.

“Take your shirt off and cuddle with him in the blanket.”

“Say what ?” Ae Cha’s jaw dropped and her heart jumped out of her chest the moment her mind processed Vanderwood’s instructions.  He surely could haven’t meant....

“I’m sorry, I think I misheard you Vandy,” Ae Cha let out a nervous chuckle. “I thought you said I needed to take my shirt off and cuddle with him in the blanket.”

“That's exactly what I said,” Vanderwood sighed. “Let this be your first lesson. When sharing body heat in the event of hypothermia, the best way is to do it skin to skin under the blankets,” he instructed. “I'll carry him to his room and you have to do as I tell you,” he said. “Or else we will risk losing him.”

Vanderwood effortlessly carried Saeyoung over his shoulder and made his way up the stairs. “Follow me, and bring the pouches and blankets,” he instructed.

As soon as Vanderwood laid Saeyoung on his bed, the redhead started shivering once again, his teeth chattering.

“I'll leave you two in here,” Vanderwood sighed. “Please, do as I say. As soon as he stops shivering, call me on the phone. Don't leave him alone even for an instant,” he said to the smaller girl. “I'll prepare something to warm him up.”

Vanderwood hurriedly paced toward the hallway before Ae Cha could protest, and closed the door behind him.

“Is this really happening?” Ae Cha whispered the moment the door closed. The girl was quickly becoming a bundle of nerves at the very thought of…

Breathe. You have slept with this boy for almost a month. This is just the same but without clothes.

Without clothes.

Unlike the dress she was wearing when they first arrived, Ae Cha had made herself comfortable in a robin blue oversized sweatshirt sometime after returning to the villa. A pair of loose black shorts hid neatly underneath.

The girl walked over to the other side of the bed, setting her phone and the dry heat pads on the nightstand. She carefully laid the blanket at the edge of the bed, her hands visibly trembled. In the back of Ae Cha’s mind, she feared Saeyoung would think she was taking advantage of him.

The sound of Saeyoung’s chattering teeth startled the girl out of her thoughts, and she immediately grabbed the bottom hem of her sweatshirt.

“Fuck,” Ae Cha mumbled, spinning around with her back now facing Saeyoung. The longer the girl procrastinate, the higher the chance Saeyoung would be in serious trouble.

You can do this, Ae Cha. Saeyoung’s life depends on this.

Ae Cha carefully pulled the sweatshirt over her head and laid the piece of clothing on top of her body and dry heat pads on the nightstand beside the bed. All that remained on her body were her shorts and a monochrome polka-dotted push-up bra.


She carefully crawled into the bed to avoid disturbing the redhead more than needed. She reached for the blanket as she scooted towards Saeyoung, pulling it over the two of them once she settled.

“Please, please don’t think I’m trying to take advantage of you,” Ae Cha whispered, situating herself underneath the blankets to become more comfortable.

“Ouch!”

Ae Cha bit her lip from the uncomfortable pinching sensation in between her breast. Push up bras were excellent at helping create lift, however, that came at the price of comfort. Ae Cha’s face flushed a brighter shade of pink at the realization…

… her bra needed to go, too.

Ae Cha let out a sigh before sitting up again in the bed. Her fingers fumbled as she unhooked the strap to the back of her bra. Once every clasp on the back of her lingerie became unhooked, she pushed the straps off of her shoulders and placed the bra on top of her sweatshirt.

Ae Cha sighed with relief with feeling more free with the current situation and scooted closer to Saeyoung’s cold body, rolling him to his side where he rested almost lifelessly.

He looks so sick…

Ae Cha took a deep breath and pulled Saeyoung close to her chest, making skin-to-skin contact with him. His cold, clammy skin sent a shiver down her spine, causing the girl to react by wrapping her arms around him and pulling him as close as possible to her.

“There,” Ae Cha mumbled, nuzzling her chin into the top of cool, damp crimson locks.

Let me be the one to help save you.


“Yes. Please report to me if anything happens.”

Reine gingerly entered the room she and Jumin shared, careful not to disturb him. She would often see him working on the same desk at odd hours of the day, and today seemed to be no exception.

She brought with her a pitcher of freshly dripped tea, which she had learned how to prepare from Jaehee while she was still in C&R. She carefully placed it on the separate table right next to his working desk, and she saw that he seemed engrossed in what he was doing, so she made sure not to get in the way.

However, when she was about to turn back towards the door, she felt a firm grip on her arm.  Jumin effortlessly turned her around as he swiveled his chair, then wrapped his arms around her waist. He nestled his forehead on her abdomen, and she instinctively placed her hands on his shoulders for balance.

“How's Saeyoung?” He mumbled, his voice clearly showing signs of fatigue.

“He's with Ae Cha,” she answered softly, and ran her fingernails through his scalp, hoping to somehow dispel at least a little of his stress. “He was dangerously close to severe hypothermia,” she added.

Jumin sighed as he visibly relaxed under her touch. “Is he going to be all right?” He asked as he wrapped his arms tighter around her.

“He'll break a fever soon,” she replied. “But it should be under control.”

Jumin turned his gaze upward at her, which was met by a soft smile from the woman. Reine continued on running her fingers through his hair, and he closed his eyes in response.

“How are Zen and the others?” She inquired.

“Safe, as safe as I could possibly have them,” he replied. “Dae-Sung is taking care of everything.”

Reine remembered Dae-Sung. He didn't really seem to be one that was fit for the guard job despite him being the Chief of Security's son, but he compensates it with thoroughness. She's happy that Jumin has learned to trust him in managing his personal fleet when she resigned from her post.

“Will you be all right?” Jumin's voice broke her train of thought, and she looked down at him, his eyes slightly open and glassy with exhaustion.

“You know I will be,” Reine replied.

“You're not going to miss me at all?”

Reine let out a giggle and continued to stroke his hair. “You must have had too much wine for you to talk like that,” she chided, and Jumin let out a slight chuckle.

Worry slithered into Reine's heart as she remembered the things Jumin would have to face alone in Seoul. Sim Yeong-Ho is still at large, and the lawsuit against him makes the Vice Chairman an easy target. Jumin was playing bait so everyone can be safe, and her heart feared for what could happen if no one was quick enough to protect him.

“You have to call me at every chance you have,” she declared. “Even if it's just for a minute. I...I need to know you're okay.”

Jumin pulled away from her and took her left hand to his lips. He planted a long, warm kiss at the back of her hand and stared into her emerald eyes.

“I promise.”


So warm.

Saeyoung felt his consciousness gradually build up, but his eyelids felt so heavy that he can't even muster the strength to attempt to open them. In his lucid state, he unconsciously tried to manipulate his dreams to remember what had happened--but none of his efforts work. He cannot seem to be able to remember anything other than being bitterly cold, and the crunching sound of snow as he dragged his boots towards…

...towards where?

Where was I going?

Where am I?

A wave of dizziness washed over him as he struggled to remember, and yet he couldn't. He felt the familiar tug of fatigue pull his consciousness back to slumber, and then his mind's eye suddenly remembered two round, golden hazel eyes staring into his from a distance.

“Ae Cha…” he mumbled in his sleep, before he finally drifted back to unconsciousness.


“He's running a fever,” Vanderwood sighed, looking at the thermometer in his hand. “Sorry, Ae Chan, but can you look after him for now? Saeran and I are busy setting up everything,” he then proceeds to place the bottles of medicine on the side table beside Saeyoung’s bed.

“These should be taken every four hours. Wake him up an hour from now, and have him take his medications,” he instructed. “Call me if anything happens.”

Ae Cha looked at the bottles of medicine as she stepped back into Saeyoung’s room with the large paper shopping bag in hand. She carefully dropped the bag beside the nightstand where her phone sat, climbed on top of the mattress and sat on her knees beside the twin.

“Of course!” Ae Cha nodded, her features still painted with concern as she studied Saeyoung’s near lifeless body.

He still looks so pale…

The sound of the door closing behind Vanderwood signaled she was alone with Saeyoung again. Her eyes grew wide with panic hearing a small whimper escape his pale lips.

Ae Cha tilted her head, her eyes softening as she reached out to gently brush her hand against Saeyoung’s cheek before placing her hand on his forehead. He was burning with a fever just as Vanderwood said.

“I’m so sorry Saeyoung,” Ae Cha whispered low, her fingers slowly running through his hair. Sadness filled her golden-hazel eyes.

“I’ll do everything I can to help you recover. I’ll help you and Saeran help me get strong enough to fight. I’ll help you figure out what secrets hide inside my choker. ”

Ae Cha pressed her lips together, forming a smile as her free hand reached for the choker around her neck and idly thumbing the dangling crescent moon. It’s true the contents hidden inside the piece of jewelry was pushed to the backburner after Sim Yeong-Ho began his malicious murdering spree, the girl thought about what could be hidden inside her choker on a daily basis.

But for now, all that mattered most to her were two precious twins she literally stumbled onto. Has it only really been a month since she was found? Time seemed to stop the longer she spent time with the twins. There was so much she wanted to know about them, and she wondered if maybe….

Just maybe…

“What is it about you two? I can’t get you out of my mind,” Ae Cha whispered, gently caressing Saeyoung’s cheek. Her heart yearned to be held by Saeyoung. To be held by Saeran. She wanted to be kissed by them again.\

Her eyes grew wide at the realization. This feeling she felt around the twins, the butterflies in her stomach. This wasn’t a crush or flirting. No. This was much bigger.

This was love.

Chapter Text

“Where...where am I?”

The periphery of his vision was blurred and dark. There was noise everywhere--voices of men shouting, voices of men dying. The sound of feet as they scuffled on the ground, and the deafening sounds of guns being fired from everywhere.

He remembers this. This was the day when everything went spiraling down out of control. He was absolutely certain that he could've saved his brother without having to resort to this kind of violence.

He was naive.

His heart remembered the ache as they left V’s lifeless body in Rika's inner sanctum, urged on by Jumin's men to get them safely away from harm's way.

“I'm... I'm so sorry…”

The sound of a nearby explosion shook him off balance, and he felt his vision starting to fade as the sound rattled through his weakened body. Amidst all the chaos, his ears caught a sound that is far too different from the sounds he's been hearing, and seemingly out of place.

A voice.

A woman's voice.

“Saeyoung,” it called.

“What…” he mouthed incredulously, his name being spoken in the middle of the battlefield. The voice was soft, and felt so warm; his eyes frantically tried to find the source.

A surprised squeal got his attention, and he lifted his gaze toward the direction of the voice. He found himself looking into golden hazel eyes, widened in fear and panic. Somehow he felt a strong sense of familiarity in them, and he kept her gaze for a time, wondering what she is doing in all this chaos.

“Saeyoung,” the warm voice called again, and Saeyoung tried to open his mouth to respond.

“W... who... who are you?”

He watched as a pair of hands grabbed the small girl by the ropes that bound her and forced her into the back of a van.

“It's me, Ae Cha…”

“Ae Cha?”

He suddenly felt the rush of panic in hearing the name. He tried his hardest to break free of Vanderwood's grasp to get to her, but he couldn't move his limbs.

“Ae Cha! No!”

He watched helplessly as the distance between him and the black van increased, his eyes hot with tears. He watched as the van drove away, his breath coming in short bursts.

“Saeyoung!” The voice calling him sounded more urgent now.

“It's her! Oh God it's her, they took her, she--”

“Saeyoung!”

His eyes snapped open as his heartbeat drummed loudly in his ears, his eyes wide and tears streamed down his cheeks. Right in front of his gaze was the familiar pair of round, golden hazel eyes that stared at him with worry.

He wasted no time and pulled Ae Cha to his chest. He wrapped her in a tight embrace, his body shivered in relief that she is here, here, in his arms.

“You were there…” he mumbled, his voice ragged and unsteady, and in pain.

Ae Cha felt as if she was embraced by the scorching sun when she was suddenly pulled to Saeyoung’s chest. His skin was burning with fever. There was a slight rattle of congestion she could hear with her ear resting against in him as he spoke.

“Saeyoung… I think you were having a dream,” Ae Cha reassured. She wiggled herself carefully out of his embrace and pushed herself back onto her knees.

“I have vivid dreams when I’m sick too,” Ae Cha quietly giggled as she leaned over to reach for the medicine and a small glass of water on the nightstand.

“Vandy wants you to take this medicine,” she said, offering the medicine and glass of water to Saeyoung. “It’s a fever reducer. It should help you feel better.”

Saeyoung gratefully took the medicine from her upturned palm, only to fall on the blanket. His hands were shaking and weak, and he did his best to pick up the tablet from his lap and popped it into his mouth.

As soon as he flushed it down with water he felt his head swim, his balance unstable. He laid down on the warm pillows and stared at Ae Cha, and held her hand.

The way the tiny lamplight illuminated the edges of her tiny shoulders and delicate hands made his heart skip a little. Her eyes were perfect little pools of amber, and the way they shone with emotions already made Saeyoung weak before he realized it. His gaze lingered on down the small of her back and onto the swell of her hips, and he found himself catching his breath.

Even the way she slightly tilted her head and stared at him questioningly was most positively adorable, and yet the glint in her eyes and the redness of her cheeks as he took her hand and placed it on his lips told him she was a woman, with the right amount of innocence added into the mix.

“You were there…” he repeated, albeit weakly, as he closed his eyes while he remembered that night.

“Your hands were tied behind your back. You were wearing a short, black skirt and a grey shirt…”

His eyes searched hers, and he felt the unusual pain in his heart. Painful, but oh so sweet. Painful, because he wanted to pull her in his arms so badly, and sweetness, because everything that he sees about her warmed his heart so.

“I saw you... back there... your eyes locked with mine…” he coughed and breathed deeply. “Someone shoved you inside a black van…” his voice weakly trailed off as talking took most of his energy, but the longing in his heart ached more and more as he remembered how she was forcibly taken.

 Get her back in the van. We leave now! 

Ae Cha stared at Saeyoung for a few minutes, her mind attempting to recall a memory which was felt extremely hazy. However, she vividly remembered the black van she would be dragged to when questioned about her whereabouts by Sim Yeong-Ho and the rancid smell of alcohol and cigarettes wafting in the air.

A familiar feeling of panic began creeping into her chest, and the sound of gunfire rang in her ears. The memory was like a haze, as if the scene was covered in a blanket of fog.

Black skirt, grey shirt, hands tied behind my back…

… dull golden eyes.

As if there was a brief moment of fog lifting, Ae Cha let out a gasp as part of the memory played clearly in her head. She’s seen those eyes before.

She’s seen his eyes before.  

Her hand squeezed Saeyoung’s a little tighter and she lazily drew circles with her thumb against his knuckle.

“You… You should rest,” Ae Cha insisted. Even the half-smile on her lips couldn’t hide the emotion lingering in her tone. She had so many questions she wanted to ask, but, this was now not the time. 

He could feel the vengeful anger welling in his heart as he watched waves of emotion and painful memories painted Ae Cha's eyes. His grip on Ae Cha's hand became tighter as he fought his own emotions that threatened to burst from his chest. The emptiness he saw in her eyes for a brief moment roused feelings in him that he didn’t know he was capable of.

He wanted to hold her.

He longed to take her in his arms and protect her, take her far away, away from all this pain.

The gentle touch of her small hands that moved to rest over his was more than enough to shatter his train of thought. He stared at her wide-eyed, and his gaze was returned with warm, soft eyes.

He felt as if his body was on fire, and he hoped against hope that his fever would mask the redness that slowly crept on his cheeks. A simple smile managed to break all his walls, and until now he has never felt so open, so vulnerable.

But he never thought being this vulnerable would feel so... beautiful .

Saeyoung's breathing became a little more labored, his mouth slightly open to get in as much air in his heat-ridden lungs, as if the air around them can somehow alleviate the burning sensation he felt. He grasped Ae Cha's hand, his palm feverishly hot.

“...don’t...go anywhere...okay?”

He felt himself drift back into unconsciousness with the picture of her warm smile burned in his mind.


Reine woke up with a start, her sleep interrupted by the sound of a car rolling into the driveway outside. Jumin remained asleep on his side, and she instinctively grabbed Jumin's phone from the side table to check the time.

Jumin's phone read 6:02. She set the phone back down and gently scooted beside Jumin, her bare skin touching his under the sheets. He looked so peaceful in his sleep, and somehow it pained her to have to rouse him to go.

She let herself have a minute to take in everything in front of her, memorizing every detail, her heart already aching with longing as she knew what today was supposed to be.

Today is supposed to be the day he would leave.

She bit her lower lip and tried to fight back childish emotions. She reluctantly raised her hand to gently run her thumb on his cheek, attempting to gradually rouse him from sleep.

“Jumin,” she gently called out.

Jumin stirred slightly in his sleep and pulled Reine closer to him, his arm nestled on her full hips.

She was about to make a second attempt to wake him up, but now she's hearing familiar voices downstairs.

Vanderwood… and Jaehee?


The sound of Ae Cha’s alarm chime echoed through the room. Ae Cha yawned and grabbed her phone laying between her and Saeyoung. The time read 6:00 which meant it was time for Saeyoung to have another dose of medicine.

“Saeyoung,” Ae Cha gently rubbed Saeyoung’s shoulder to rouse him from his sleep. She was relieved his skin no longer felt severely hot with fever, and some color to his complexion appeared to be returning.

“It’s time to take more medicine. Would you like to try to eat breakfast?”  

Saeyoung stirred in his sleep, and without opening his eyes he took Ae Cha’s hand and placed it on his cheek, cuddling it.

“Five minutes,” he mumbled, leaning a little over to his side.

Ae Cha’s cheeks tinted pink watching the red-head in slumber. Saeyoung possessed a certain amount of playfulness she adored, and she felt love continuing to bloom as she watched with wonder. The was absolutely no way the girl could justify ignoring his request. He was sick, after all.  How can I say no to him? 

And so the girl waited another five minutes, staring at her phone to watch the time pass. As soon as the clock on her phone stated it was 6:05, Ae Cha rubbed Saeyoung’s shoulder again to rouse him from his sleep.

“Saeyoung. It’s been five minutes,” Ae Cha cooed. “You need to need to wake up and take more medicine.”

Before Saeyoung could even wake, a soft knock on the door was heard. After which the door opened, revealing Saeran, clad in a beige sweater and black sweatpants, stood at the door.

“Breakfast,” he murmured, traces of sleep still evident in the crease marks from the covers that still lingered on his cheek, and his slightly puffy eyes. “How is he?”

“Good morning Saeran,” Ae Cha greeted the younger twin with a smile on her face before yawning again.

“He seems a little better this morning. Overnight was really scary," she replied. 

Oddly, Saeran does not make a single step inside the room. He stood by the doorway, his eyes looking at Ae Cha. “I...can you take the tray from here?”

“Oh… um… sure!” Ae Cha looked at the twin confused. Saeran’s behavior this morning seemed very strange. She wondered if perhaps maybe he was worried about catching a cold as well. But for a twin that almost never left the other’s side… this change was very peculiar .

Was it something she did?

Ae Cha sprung herself off of the bed and approached Saeran. Light shining from the hallway revealed slightly dark circles under the girl’s eyes from the exhausting night as she took the breakfast tray.

“Are you okay?” Ae Cha asked.

Saeran blinked twice and immediately let go of the tray and stepped back. “I'm... I'm fine,” he answered, but noted how tired Ae Cha looked. “Make sure you eat some, too. I made a separate serving for you.”

He looked into her eyes and found himself smiling. He wanted to touch her again, to see those golden eyes go wide in surprise.

But he can't, not today. Catching a cold would be the worst thing that could happen to him. He made a mental check to remember if he packed the vials in his bag, and he sighed in relief that he did.

“Jaehee is here,” he told Ae Cha. “She's going to take Jumin back with her to Seoul. I'll... I'll be downstairs.”

He then gave Ae Cha a warm smile. “Thanks for taking care of my idiot brother,” he said with a soft voice.

“Of course! I would do anything for the both of you,” Ae Cha looked at the breakfast tray, and remembered Saeyoung still has not taken his medicine yet.

“Thank you for the meal,” Ae Cha said and was about to turn when she paused mid-step before remembering something. She looked back at Saeran with uncertainty in her eyes recalling Saeyoung’s words last night.

“Oh.. Saeran! When Saeyoung is better… we need to talk…” Ae Cha stated.

“I remembered something last night. I’ve seen Saeyoung before... before I met you two at the RFA apartment.”

Saeran tilted his head slightly to the side, confused. He was supposed to say something when Vanderwood's voice was heard from downstairs.

“Saeran! Don't linger in there too long!”

His eyes went wide at the realization that he had stood by the sick room far too long. He took a step back. “Yeah, let's talk when Saeyoung is better,” he said. “Call me if you need anything.”

“Okay. I’ll see you later,” Ae Cha gave Saeran a small wave before closing the door behind her.

She returned to the bed and set the tray carefully on the mattress. She grabbed her phone to look at the time.  Her heart sunk in her chest when she read the time at 6:15

“Oh no! I’m late,” Ae Cha groaned. She crawled on top of the bed and rubbed Saeyoung’s shoulder for the third time this morning.

“Saeyoung… you really need to take this medicine,” Ae Cha urged quietly.  “Saeran brought us some breakfast.”

Golden eyes cracked open and surveyed the surroundings, then settled at Ae Cha. The smell of warm food wafted to his nose and stirred his stomach, which made him want to wake up.

He extended his arms above his head and his toes curled, like a stretching cat. He let out a yawn and finally sat up. He rolled his shoulders backward, a habit he usually does since he always sat in front of a monitor.

Saeyoung turned to Ae Cha and gave her a lively, happy smile. “Good morning!”

Ae Cha’s tired eyes widened with surprise at Saeyoung’s liveliness. It was such a stark contrast from how deathly ill the boy was last night. A sense of relief overcame her.

“How do you feel?” Ae Cha reached for the medicine on the nightstand before scooting closer enough to Saeyoung where she could easily set the tray on both of their laps. She then grabbed the small bowl of assorted cut up fruit on the tray and plucked out a small piece of honeydew.

Before Ae Cha could take a bite of the honeydew, Saeyoung grabbed her by the wrist and popped the honeydew in his mouth. His lips slightly caught the tips of Ae Cha’s fingers, and then he let go. “Of course I'm feeling great. I had the best nurse in the world!”

“I-I I’m not that great! Vanderwo-wood g-gave me instructions,” Ae Cha stammered as the heat rose in her cheeks. It felt as if her heart could burst out of her chest at any moment. Her voice trailed off as the scene from last night replayed in her head. Saeyoung’s body was so, so cold as she caressed him against her bare chest.

Her bare chest.

Ae Cha’s face turned red with embarrassment remembering that really happened last night . She dropped the small bowl back onto the tray and fumbled around for the medicine, almost spilling the entire bottle.

“I’m so happy you’re feeling better, but, I still need you to take this medicine,” Ae Cha insisted, grabbing Saeyoung’s wrist, and dropping a single white pill in the palm of his hand.

Ae Cha then reached for the small bowl of white rice with a fried egg laying on top and a pair of chopsticks. It was the perfect fried egg, cooked to over-medium. With the chopsticks in hand, she carefully broke the yolk. The golden, creamy substance trickled into the rice.

“Do… you remember anything from last night?” Ae Cha asked while performing the same action to the fried egg in Saeyoung’s bowl. She lowered her glance to conceal the redness of her cheeks.

Saeyoung's eyebrows knitted as soon as he gulped down water from a glass to chase down the tablet he just popped in his mouth. “Hmm, let's see,” he tried to recall the fleeting moments of consciousness. “I remember being very warm and cozy,” he noted. “It's as if I was being wrapped around silk sheets.”

However, Saeyoung's eyes glassed over when his mind started to drift towards the dream he just had. He unconsciously clenched his fists, his mind replayed the images and his heart ached at the desperation of saving Ae Cha.

He willed those thoughts away and grabbed his pair of chopsticks. “Hey, Ae Chan,” he said in a quiet tone. “Thank you.”

Saeyoung’s sudden soft voice made Ae Cha look up. She gazed at the red-head with wonder sparkling in her eyes before handing Saeyoung the bowl of rice topped with fried egg. She then carefully rested her head on his shoulder and let out a sigh.

“I should be the one thanking you for letting me be here with you,” Ae Cha mused quietly.

“Mm,” Saeyoung replied, which was quite uncharacteristic from his usual upbeat replies. He quietly let Ae Cha rest on his shoulder, and he stared blankly at the steam that swirled from the bowl of rice.

It was as if the weight of everything that is to happen has finally settled on his shoulders after that dream. What if they fail? What if Ae Cha gets taken? What if they couldn't train her good enough and she gets hurt?

He couldn't get rid of the image of Ae Cha’s wide, terrified eyes in his remembrance. His mind was filled with all the thoughts of just keeping her from going through all this in the first place.

Suddenly, there were scratching noises at the door, and Saeyoung was pulled back to reality. He shook his head and reprimanded himself--those thoughts were not his .

Saeran?

The scratching noises became louder and more frequent and was followed by a familiar voice outside the door.

“No, not there,” Jumin’s low, baritone voice was heard outside the door. “That's where the cat abuser is.”

Saeyoung's eyes lit up like Christmas tinsels. “Elly?!”


Reine sat on the couch in the living room, with Elizabeth the 3rd settled on her lap. The cat let out a purr and curled up against her warmth, but her blue eyes remained wide open, watching her master go about his business.

“She will only eat using this bowl,” Jumin instructed. “Feed her in the morning and before bed so she won't wake you up in the middle of the night.”

Reine nodded and absentmindedly stroked Elizabeth's chin, which caused the cat to close her eyes and lean into the touch.

After everything was packed and ready, Dae-Sung took the luggage out of the villa and into the van. Reine watched everything with fear and sadness in her eyes, despite her efforts to hide it.

“Don't look at me like that,” Jumin spoke, as he knelt on one knee in front of the two most valuable women of his life. “Do you want me to win this?”

“Yes,” Reine replied in a soft, almost inaudible voice.

“Then I need you to smile for me,” he said as he stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I don't know how long I will need to fix things, but I don't want to take your tears with me. I need your strength, Reine. Please smile for me.”

Reine felt love in her heart bloom, warm and gentle like summer breeze. She smiled, and Jumin's eyes softened to see her warmth. “Thank you. I will take it with me,” he said quietly and stood up to plant a kiss on Reine's forehead.


Vanderwood stood near the driveway in front of the villa, while everyone else stayed at the porch area to see Jumin and Jaehee go. Saeyoung, still wrapped in blankets, insisted on seeing Jumin, and Jumin spent a considerable amount of time to give warnings that sounded more like threats about keeping his hands off Elizabeth the 3rd.

“Everything ready?” Vanderwood spoke to Jaehee, who turned to him after she had loaded the rest of Jumin's belongings at the back of the van.

She closed the door shut and sighed. “Yes, that should be everything, Van.”

Vanderwood's eyebrows knotted slightly with a passing worry and watched as Jaehee diligently organized Jumin’s paperwork that he worked on while staying at the villa for a week.

“We're ready to go,” Dae-Sung called out, and Jaehee turned to Vanderwood with a sigh.

“You heard the man,” she said, and the unmistakable glint of sadness passed through her hazel eyes.

Without warning, Vanderwood pulled her into a quick, but tight embrace, and planted a kiss on Jaehee's cheek, which caused a faint redness to spread across her face.

Happy with her wide-eyed expression, Vanderwood smiled. “Call me.”

“I-I will,” Jaehee stammered, but her lips were already curled with a shy smile. “Please take care.”

“I should tell you that,” he replied with worry in his voice. “Let me know if something's up.”

Jaehee tiptoed and planted a small peck on Vanderwood's cheek, then she turned to get into the van with Jumin.

As soon as van’s door closed, Vanderwood watched as the vehicle rolled out of the driveway. When he turned to the porch, however…

...the sisters and the twins’ mouths were agape; the wide-eyed, disbelieving, and dumbstruck expression painted on their faces.

“O-o-oh my God,” Saeyoung broke the silence, his speech stuttering in surprise. “J-J-Jaehee?! Vandy, Jaehee?”

Reine also had the same wide-eyed expression, the corners of her lips curling up and she let out a childish squee. “Oh my God, since when?!”

Vanderwood sighed and shook his head, but a slight smile played across his features.

Saeyoung flopped his arms around Saeran, and let out a whine. “Saeraaaaaan mom’s going to get married!”

“Get off me!” Saeran snapped, prying Saeyoung away from him, his hand on his brother's face, pushing him away.

Vanderwood laughed and turned toward the mountains. Today would be the very last day for them to enjoy things as they are.

Tomorrow, the real work starts.

He let out a sigh, his mind taking in the gravity of the herculean task of making sure this plan is successful. Seeing how happy the twins are with Ae Cha in their lives all the more spurred him on to make sure she wins.

She has to survive.

Whatever it takes.

Chapter Text

The air up in the mountains was thin, cold and unforgiving. The sun was yet about to rise, but two people already were making their way through the treacherous, ice-covered mountain trail. They had to progress in a quick pace--they had to move their bodies to keep the cold at bay.

Vanderwood slowed the pace as he had observed that Ae Cha was still trying to negotiate the rough, ice-covered trail.

Even as Vanderwood slowed the pace, Ae Cha trailed behind. Jogging was no problem for the girl, however, the rocky terrain was proving to be very difficult as she found herself sliding across icy patches the entire trek up the damn mountain .

Ae Cha blew a puff of air out of her nose out of exasperation as she realized the distance between her and Vanderwood was still widening. The girl pushed herself to jog just a little faster in order to keep up the pace.

“There, that’s better!” she thought to herself. This should be a piece of cake. It’s only jogging, after all.

What she still forgot to consider, however, was the thin layer of ice. Ae Cha slipped forward on dead leaves, snapping a tree branch, and landing backward in a bush.

Thud!

“Ow!” Ae Cha yelped.

Ae Cha’s view of the treacherous rugged terrain quickly turned to the early morning sky as she fell backward. She stared at the sky in disbelief, noting how the night relinquished darkness with purple hues mixing with midnight blue from a rising sun hidden on the horizon.

Ae Cha winced as she sat up, rubbing the dull ache in her lower back. Her back wasn’t the only part of her bruised. So was her ego. This should have been easy, right?

It’s jogging, Ae Cha. Simple. Jogging.

She pulled stray twigs logged into her vest before wobbling to a stand. Frustration simmered, and she threw all of her cautions out the window. Vanderwood couldn’t see her like this on the first day of training. She quickly glanced around the terrain, identifying icy patches in front of her and began to jog again.

Unfortunately, her momentum would be short-lived, again. Ae Cha made fifteen strides before falling face first onto the ground, tripping on an ice-covered rock on mountainous terrain. A sharp pain shot through her ankle as the joint rolled in an awkward position.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ae Cha mumbled inaudibly, spitting pebbles and dirt out of her mouth. She rolled her ankle to get a feel for the damage possibly done. A dull pain radiated off her her ankle. A heavy sighed followed.

Vanderwood backtracked and stood right next to Ae Cha, barely broken a sweat. His breathing was still normal, and he leaned down to lift her off the ground with his hands on her arms.

“Don't push yourself too much,” Vanderwood smiled and helped pluck leaves and twigs off her hair. “It’s just your first day. We're merely scouting the trail.”

A slight wind made stray honey brown hair fall on his cheeks, which he immediately tucked behind his ear. “We need to keep moving...or else the cold will get the better of us. Can you walk?”

“I can,” Ae Cha nodded, dusting off debris from her pants.  She followed behind Vanderwood, wincing slightly from the pain in her ankle.

They continued on the mountain trail even well into mid-morning. Vanderwood diligently recorded the coordinates of the new trails they make or discover along the way. He intended to have the trail vary in difficulty for Ae Cha to use all her senses to progress.

When they got back to the villa fifteen minutes before noon, a stark difference was readily seen from the two. Vanderwood seemed fresh and only slightly flushed, while Ae Cha was way too exhausted, her cheeks flushed from the mad pace set by Vanderwood.

Reine was slowly making her way towards the kitchen when she caught sight of Ae Cha on the couch, an ice pack placed on her foot.

“Ae Cha?” Her tone was of surprise and concern. “What happened? Did you sprain your ankle?”

Ae Cha panted heavily while she leaned over the edge of the couch, rummaging through her own bag of supplies.  Her ears perked at the sound of Reine’s voice, and her head popped up to stare at her sister as she reached for a roll of kinesio tape. Her cheeks flushed with frustration.

“I’m fine,” Ae Cha huffed raspy, a tinge of irritability in her voice. A scowl was evident on her lips. She winced as she resituated herself on the couch, pulling her injured leg closer. She quickly wrapped her ankle, a small groan slipping out of her lips from the pain.

“It was just a small fall,” Ae Cha snarked, avoiding eye contact with Reine.

Reine couldn't help but grin at her sister being irritable. She leaned back on the couch and crossed her arms, watching Ae Cha administer first aid on herself.

“How was the mountain trail?” She dared to ask, eager to know what Ae Cha had seen and experienced outside.

Ae Cha hesitated wrapping her foot at Reine's words, blowing another puff of air out of frustration from the mere mention of a certain fucking mountain trail . Who would have ever thought Hell would have frozen over on some random mountain in Korea?!

“It could have gone a lot better,” Ae Cha deadpanned, her gaze finally returning to Reine.  Her lip twitched with more frustration.

Reine went into a fit of giggles on the contradiction of Ae Cha’s expression from her words. “I'm very interested. Go on, whine to your unnie,” she said, expectantly waiting to hear her story.

Ae Cha whined and tapped her sister with her uninjured foot to push her sister away. A groan shortly followed as Ae Cha’s body reminded her of the early morning hell she just endured.

“How can I tell you what I saw, Unnie!? Unless you count the ground!” Ae Cha bemoaned, ripping the final piece of kinesio tape in between her teeth to secure the final piece around her ankle.

“Oh. Wait. I’m sorry. I also saw the sky as well when I landed on my back,” Ae Cha scoffed sarcastically.  

Reine was in a fit of giggles once more, her eyes sparkling with Ae Cha’s remark. “You'll get better, don't worry,” she assured her sister, patting her head-- is that a leaf stuck in her hair?

“I have a bit of a favor though, if you could,” she spoke, her tone became a little quieter. “I...I can't get out of the villa just yet,” she pointed at her midsection, and then she gave a tight-lipped smile.

“You see... I'd love to go out in the snow,” she spoke, her eyes fixed at the many specks of crumbled dry leaves on Ae Cha’s hair, gently taking them out of her hair one by one.

“It reminds me so much of home. If...if it's okay, can you take pictures for me?”

Reine suddenly realized what she said and felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment. “B-but it's okay if you can't,” she immediately tried to take back her statement, brushing off the rest of the leaves off Ae Cha’s head.

Vanderwood emerged from the kitchen, still in his running clothes but is wearing an apron. “Lunch is ready,” he called out to the two women, and he looked over at Ae Cha who was nursing her painful legs. “Ae Cha, you'd better eat, we have more to do after lunch.” With this, he disappeared back into the kitchen, and the smell of cooking food wafted into the living room.

“Yes, we're heading there,” Reine responded, then turned to Ae Cha. “Come on,” she beckoned her sister. “You still have more to do later.”


Vanderwood stood with his arms crossed on his chest, and before him lay a tractor tire.

“Now that you've eaten lunch,” he smiled at Ae Cha, then tapped at the edge of the tractor tire with his hand. He effortlessly lifted the rubber wheel with two hands to an upright position. “We'll be flipping tires.”

He then proceeded to demonstrate the correct form to lift the said tire. “Remember to lift with the weight mostly on your legs and not your back. Keep your spine straight as you lift, else you'll run the risk of injury,” he explained. It seemed to be too easy for Vanderwood, so it was easy to assume that the task can't be too hard.

Ae Cha looked at Vanderwood and back at the tractor tire. She’s seen workouts involving tires before in gym videos and recalled how effortless it was made out to be. Sure, the tire is bigger than her, but everyone she’s seen flip a tire did it with ease.

This won’t be that bad , she mused to herself.

Ae Cha approached the tire and gently tapped it with her foot. The tire made what appeared to be a hollow sound, thus further proving to her this would be no sweat. A piece of cake even.

Ae Cha positioned herself and bent over to lift the tire. Her eyes widened realizing how fucking heavy it was.

“No fucking way,” Ae Cha gritted under her breath, staggering backward.

Ae Cha took a step forward, repositioning herself and attempting to mimic the posture Vanderwood had as made a second attempt to lift the tire. She winced as she felt the muscles in her back and shoulders tightening to the point she felt like they were going to snap as she lifted the tire.

“Lift with your legs,” Vanderwood reminded. “Your arm should only serve as the hook for the tire, and nothing more. Again.”

At the second attempt, the tire finally stood after what felt like an eternity. Ae Cha pushed the tire over with all of her tiny might.

“There we go,” Ae Cha announced, her cheeks flushed brightly.  She smiled, catching her breath from the giant feat.

“Great! Now let's do that twenty more times!” Vanderwood said with a wide grin.

The same color in Ae Cha’s cheeks instantly drained at Vanderwood’s words. Her body ached from the terrible morning jog, and a sense of dread ran over her wondering how much pain she was going to be in by the end of the day.

“Oh. Okay,” Ae Cha answered, her tone falling quiet.

Ae Cha repositioned herself to begin her attempt at flipping the tractor tire twenty times without complaints.  She took a deep breath and bent over again to lift.

Her upper body muscles ached after flipping the second tire. By the third tire, she felt the same burning sensation now reaching her thighs, which made her stop and bend over to catch her breath.

“Four… down” Ae Cha mumbled

Her eyes became glossy looking at the tractor tire.  Doubt lingered in her mind heavily on if she could hold up for another sixteen tire flips.

Vanderwood kept himself within arm's length of the girl in case her body gives up, but seeing how her eyes have glassed up he placed his hand over hers when she was about to make the fifth attempt.

“Ae Chan. Relax. We're not in a hurry. Listen to your body,” he reminded her with a gentle voice, careful not to disorient her. “If you need to rest, take a rest, and try again,” he then allows her a sip of warm water.


Ae Cha looked up at Vanderwood and feigned a smile before admitting “I don’t understand why this is so hard.”

She sighed and pulled herself on top of the tire to sit. Her eyes wandered around the gym, eventually focusing on the large mirror on the other of the space.  “I’m not out of shape. I had days where I practiced for fourteen hours.”

Vanderwood sat beside her on the tractor tire. “This is why there are people that specialize in different things,” he said with a sigh. “What's happening right now is your body doing what it was never trained to do. That's what makes it hard. You'll get better with practice, just like dancing,” he assured her.

He laid a firm hand on her shoulder and stood up. “Take your time in between flips. Rest if you must… but don't stop.”

He took the bottle of water from Ae Cha’s hand and stepped back. “Now, let's resume, before your muscles become too rested.”

Ae Cha rolled her shoulders and slid off of the tire, wincing as pain seared through her body. Every muscle in her body burned.

Remember, you’re the one that wanted this Ae Cha.

She faced the tire again, bending back into position to lift. The girl took a deep breath and lifted the tire again. Her legs wobbled as she lifted the tire above her, and eventually pushing it over.  The fire in muscles burned even more.

Instead of going immediately for the next tire flip, Ae Cha listened to Vanderwood’s advice and gave herself brief moments of rest in between cycles. As soon as burning sensation in muscles would let up briefly, she pushed again bringing the total tire flips to six.

A look of dismay grew on her face as she counted how many flips she completed in her head. She hadn’t even managed to reach half way and her body felt like it had been hit by a bus from the sheer intensity of pain throbbing in every muscle.

As much as she wanted to give up, she became defiant against her own body’s plea. She needed to prove her worth to hew sister, to the RFA, and to the twins. Her joints began to feel like gelatin, threatening to collapse at any moment.  

She took another step forward, fighting the buckling of her knees. She slowly bent back into position. Sweat glistened off of the girl’s skin. Her body trembled as she struggled to lift the tire, and a groan escaped from her lips. Darkness filled her peripheral vision.  The darkness continued to spread until--

Ae Cha let out a small cry and then stumbled backward, losing grip on the large tire. Her knees buckled underneath her from pure exhaustion.

Vanderwood caught her surely and steadily, and he sat her down on the tractor tire as carefully as possible. Exhaustion was reflected in Ae Cha’s eyes, but at the same time the disappointment of her body not being able to match with the determination she had.

“You did well,” Vanderwood said with a smile. “Now, close your eyes and rest.”

Ae Cha’s glanced up to Vanderwood, eyes glazed over with exhaustion. She opened her mouth to speak, and was going to insist pushing forward for the day.  But before a sound could come from her lips, her head felt like it was underwater.

And then her vision went dark.  


Vanderwood deftly jumped over a large protruding rock on the mountain trail, then landed with a roll over to the other side.

Taking a glance back, he couldn't help but smile at how Ae Cha had progressed in such a short period of time. It's only been a week since training started, and she was already gaining a lot of confidence in her decisions on how to scale the natural obstructions along the forest floor.

He can definitely see in her face how much pain her body is in, but the fiery determination in her eyes was something else. She makes slow progress on the tire flips, but that is to be expected. Nobody would even try to attempt flipping a tractor tire the first day of training--let alone do it six times. Despite the fatigue, she maintained perfect form; and this may have been because of her years of discipline in dancing.

And now, even with the drastic drop in the temperature, Ae Cha compensates with more movement--her strides are becoming faster, her footing no longer tentative.

What Vanderwood wanted to train her for was not body building--she needs to survive . Ae Cha needs to learn to make use of the environment around her; the same way he trained Saeyoung, and subsequently, Saeran.

Once Vanderwood reached the front yard of the villa, he turned around to see Ae Cha following not far behind. With a grin, he waited until she finally caught up. She's breathing hard, but her body is still far from exhaustion.

“We finished the trail early today,” he said to Ae Cha with a smile, then pointed toward the low cliff face less than five hundred meters from the villa.“I got ropes done in those cliffs yesterday. Do you want to try scaling it?”

Ae Cha looked past Vanderwood toward the cliff face, estimating to herself the total climb appeared to only be nine meters. Unlike everything else she has endured, wall climbing did not appear as intimidating as, say, a tractor tire or treacherous mountain trails. 

“Sure,” Ae Cha nodded and reached for a pair of gloves stored in a side pocket of her backpack.

She took strides toward the cliff face as she strapped on the gloves to each hand. The air was becoming more frigid outside even in broad daylight. She’s learned when the temperature drops at their altitude, this meant an uptick in bone-chilling wind gusts would be occurring soon.

She concluded even at mere nine meters, if there were any wind gusts it would still feel far colder than the ground the two stood on. This meant she needed to climb as soon as possible or risk exhausting herself from the even colder temperature.

The girl’s small strides soon became a light jog, and then eventually to a sprint. She spotted the ropes as she quickly approached the cliff face, and deftly jumped to grab onto the rope once she reached a distance she felt was safe enough without falling flat on her face again.

She hugged the rope in between her thighs initially until she could wrap the rope around one of her feet. There was a sense of freedom the girl felt as the wind gently swung her as she climbed. She couldn’t believe how naturally liberating this particular exercise was.

“Aha! I made it~,” Ae Cha cooed softly. Once she reached the top of the cliff she pulled herself up and over the edge of the cliff. The girl looked down from the cliff and spotted Vanderwood. Her face was brimming with a smile as she eagerly waved at him from up above.

“How was that?” Ae Cha called out.

Vanderwood stood at the base of the cliff as he admired Ae Cha’s perfect form and natural technique. He grinned and this grin turned into a full-blown laugh. “That was perfect ,” he commented.

He scaled the cliff as well, and reached the top with little effort. After which, he sat on the precipice, his feet dangling off to the side. “I should have chosen a more difficult one,” Vanderwood smiled at Ae Cha, offering her his flask of hot tea. “You're a natural.”

Ae Cha reached for the flask of hot tea and took a small sip. She then returned the flask to Vanderwood as she sat down beside him.

“I look forward to it,” Ae Cha beamed. Her eyes sparkled as she admired the different view of the mountainside and then she remembered what her sister’s request. This was a perfect opportunity.

Ae Cha pulled her smartphone out of another side compartment of her backpack and snapped a couple pictures of the snow-covered mountains. Humming lightly, she swiped to Reine’s contact information and sent her sister the photos.

Vanderwood admired the view with Ae Cha, and took in a deep breath. “I guess we should start heading back,” he spoke, replacing the cover on the spillproof flask and shoved it in one of the side pockets of his pack. “The clouds over the mountains look ominous. There might be snow in Seoul tonight.”


Jumin casually swirled his wine as he looked down at the guests from the top of the grand staircase. Clad in his grey and black Chinese tunic suit with silver embroidery, he stood tall and imposing among all the guests in the party.

Tonight's event is the C&R’s black-tie gala to celebrate the new year.

The ballroom was nothing short of grand. Situated at the top floor of one of C&R’s towers was the Sky Dome, a ballroom made of glass walls and an enormous, domed glass roof that showcased Seoul’s spectacular winter skyline. At this hour, the winter sunset bathed the entire room with violet and pink hues, which blended perfectly with the aqua blue and white crystals that dangled like morning dew from the roof, and the subtle play of lighting illuminated the entire ballroom.

The sound of many voices speaking in hushed, refined tones emanated in the air, accompanied by a twelve-man orchestra that played the happiest of music for the festivities.

But to Jumin, this is merely one of the many parties that were necessary . As far as he was concerned, he would rather be in the mountain villa, enveloped by the warmth of blankets and hot tea, and the arms of his most precious treasure.

His heart gave a dull ache when he remembered Reine. He stared at the red wine in his glass, and he couldn't help but smile remembering that her hair was of the same color.

Christmas and New Year passed and he has not been able to go to the villa to visit her. Her safety outweighed the loneliness, and he knows Reine would do the same thing if it involved him. He felt his lips curl up in a smile, and decided to take his phone out.

// Jumin Han has requested a private chat with Reine //

[Jumin Han]: You always remind me of wine.

“Mr. Han,” a female voice disrupted his thoughts, and he made a conscious effort to don the mask that he always had. He gave the lady that charming smile that he has long perfected, and as expected, it instantly turned this woman into a predator.

But of course , he knew this. He had always known these types of women for the longest time.

“Miss Park,” he greeted her back with a subtle bow. “I hope you are enjoying the evening.”

“I am,” the lady replied, inching closer to Jumin. “This ballroom is beyond magnificent.”

Jumin fought the urge to step back, as the lady was being uncomfortably near. He immediately set his eyes back on the crowd below the grand staircase, faking an expression of admiration. “You are quite magnificent as well,” he commented and turned to look at her once more. “Your brooch matches your eyes.”

“Oh,” the lady laughed bashfully. “You must have had too much to drink, Mr. Han.”

“Not at all,” he replied. “I still have--”

A beep from his phone cut off his statement, and he felt his heart flutter when he saw the message.

// Reine has accepted your request. //

[Reine]: You'd better not be flirting there, Jumin Han~

Jumin turned to the lady and smiled. “It's a message from work--I must apologize, I need to make a call,” he said, and after exchanging a few words, he exited the ballroom and walked towards his office.

The dark, hardwood doors swung open as the familiar scent of mint and sandalwood welcomed him. He was glad to have this moment of silence, away from the crowd and noise. He loosened his tie slightly, and stood by the window.

Winters made it dark way too soon; he can now see the entire city bathed in lights. The rooftops of smaller buildings were painted white with snow, and he set his eyes on the mountain ranges in the distance. His eyes softened with longing.

He reached for his phone in his suit pocket and lightly tapped on the screen.

[Jumin Han]: I'm not flirting with anybody--or is someone jealous?

Just when he sent the message over, he felt as if eyes were watching him. He instinctively controlled his movements so as to not give away the fact that he has noticed it.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds--three? No, four people. He opened his eyes once more and casually walked and sat on his office chair. He placed the phone inside his suit pocket. He leaned into the backrest, while his elbows rested on the armrests with his fingers intertwined under his chin, his forefinger slightly brushing his lips.

He let out a deliberately loud sigh and his eyes turned cold.

“Quit hiding, Yeong-Ho.”

Chapter Text

Reine sighed at the last message she received. She knew Jumin was a very busy man, and with the gala going on, it is quite possible that he cannot be contacted immediately until the party is done.

It's fifteen past seven in the evening now, and with how the yearly parties went, this may go all the way to three in the morning the next day as food and drinks were always abundant in C&R’s yearly gala.

She placed her phone in her pants pocket, and made her way to the room she and Jumin shared.

Elizabeth watched her curiously from the bed, her white fur well groomed and combed. Reine smiled at the cat as she set the glass of water on Jumin’s desk.  She sat on the edge of the bed and held out her hand. The cat nuzzled at her finger and rubbed her head on her forefinger, purring loudly.

“Yeah, I miss him too,” Reine spoke softly, her hand went down to Elizabeth's chin and gave her a good, gentle rub. “I'm sure he misses you too, princess.”

Suddenly, Elizabeth sprang out of bed, and ran to the desk where Jumin always stayed. When she jumped on top of the desk, she knocked over Reine’s glass of water, easily spilling its contents all over the desk and the floor.

“Ah, Elizabeth,” she sighed, careful not to raise her voice with the cat. She stood up from the bed to set the glass upright.

Suddenly, she felt the tendrils of icy dread crawl all over her body. Her heart suddenly beat loud in her chest, that she paused a bit to feel it calm down after that split-second of dread. Her stomach felt like it was being tied in a hundred knots, but as soon as she recognized the feeling, it was gone as suddenly as it arrived.

“What...what the hell was that?” she felt her hand clutch at her chest over Jumin’s sweater that she wore.

Something wet crawled on her toes and she remembered that the water was spilled. She immediately shook her head and went off to the kitchen to get some rags.


Jumin’s eyes remained cold and unfeeling as he called out his intruders. He made sure that he is assessing the situation accurately, and he deliberately brought himself to the nearest and most defensible part of his office--his desk.

He willed himself to calm down, as he understands that Yeong-Ho seems to be a very resourceful and volatile man. He made a mental note to mull over the opening in the security that they exploited once this situation is over.

A figure stepped out of the shadows and stepped right next to the large, backlit glass wall. His greying hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, just like how he always did, and he wore his usual black Prada suit.

“I'm quite impressed,” Yeong-Ho commented, and Jumin noted the slight flinch of his left hand.

“My nose is very good at sniffing out useless filth,” Jumin replied, but his voice and demeanor were dangerously calm like the quiet before a storm. “You should know that by now.”

Yeong-Ho let out a laugh. “Playing tough, Mr. Vice Chairman? Well, let's see: one hundred guests. One hundred innocent guests. I wonder how much C&R would lose if they have to compensate the losses?”

Jumin’s eyes turned cold and he clenched his jaw. He willed the anger in his heart to be still; being angry now won't solve a thing. For now, he needed to buy the guests time.

“Ah, that's it,” Yeong-Ho said, pleased by the conflict in Jumin's eyes. “You're a few years too young to catch up with experience, boy. But, I'm glad you're smart enough to get it.”

Yeong-Ho slowly walked toward the desk, then stopped at two arm's length, grinning at Jumin. He unsheathed his short sword from its scabbard and placed the tip on Jumin's throat.

“Let’s cut the chase, shall we? Where's the little bitch?”

 


“Shit.”

Saeyoung’s eyes widened as he watched the commotion at the C&R building from the street CCTV. Most of the guests were being escorted away from the scene by their respective bodyguards, while others, in sheer curiosity, decided to stay and watch what will happen.  

There has been an alert of an explosion on the surveillance system that Saeyoung had placed on all RFA members--this was one of the new features in the RFA app. When an explosion or any loud noise goes beyond the normal range in decibels would register on their phones, Saeyoung would be alerted.  Of course, he always has cameras, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the RFA members keep their own security devices with them at all times.

“That bastard,” Saeran spoke with venom in his voice.  He immediately hacked into the Office of Civil Aviation’s database to retrieve a flight permit.

Saeyoung was busy getting the flight orders placed in the police’s rescue instructions.  The plan is to have the police receive a direct order that Jumin is to be rescued via chopper.  The police can do this, of course; but from their experience in dealing with the cops, it would take way too long for the flight order to be issued and the flight permit to be approved.

“Are we ok for the permit, Saeran?” Saeyoung asked.

“Getting ready,” the other twin replied.  “Any moment now.”

Another sudden explosion made the twins stop what they are doing and stare at the monitor.  Saeran was the first to shake his head and willed himself to work on getting the flight permit done.  

“We need to tell Vandy,” Saeyoung offered, and Saeran nodded.


Jumin’s icy stare did not falter as the tip of Yeong-Ho's sword touched his throat. “I know not of any bitches. I don't own female dogs,” he replied, which made Yeong-Ho nudge the sword tip enough to break Jumin’s skin, but not enough to draw blood.

“Ah, so she is with you then. I see, I see,” Yeong-Ho said as he let out a laugh. “So you took her in out of the kindness of your heart... or is it because of a certain red-headed whore?”

A flicker of anger passed in Jumin's eyes, which Yeong-Ho did not miss. His lips slowly curled into a smile, knowing that he hit a button.

“Oh my. Did I offend you?” He let out a chuckle and shook his head. “Tsk, tsk. Look at you, Jumin Han--getting wrapped around Su Yeong's little fingers.”

“Su Yeong?”

“Oh she hasn't even told you her name? You poor little boy,” Yeong-Ho chided, his words rolled out of his mouth in mockery. “Little do you know she's already whoring herself into your bed for money, just like her mother did!”

Yeong-Ho's laughter echoed in the room, which was also joined by chuckles from his companions. Jumin’s anger was simmering in his chest, and he tried his best to will the emotion away.

“So,” Yeong-Ho said in between gasps of laughter, “how was she? I heard she's very good,” the group erupted in laughter once more, which Jumin used as a chance to press the lock under his office table. The secret compartment slid open without a sound.

“I never knew you to be so romantic,” he said, tilting his head to the one side. “She isn't worth dirt. Ah, but you, Jumin Han,” he said with a sickly sweet voice laced with maliciousness. “I wonder how much you'd sell. One billion? Five? Twenty?”

“But...that won't be fun, now would it?”

Jumin’s eyes narrowed slightly as Yeong-Ho's sword dug further, finally breaking the skin.

“Maybe I can break a bone or two...to show little Su Yeong how you scream and suffer so she will come out to play,” Yeong-Ho spoke with a tone almost low enough to be a whisper, his left hand tingling with excitement.

Jumin’s anger is boiling dangerously close to bursting. He could feel himself struggling to keep his composure. He thought nothing of the pain on his neck--his adrenaline was going on overdrive and it took almost all his efforts to keep his anger at bay.

“That would be awesome, wouldn't it? She would come out to save her dear prince charming,” he paused with a mischievous laughter. “We get to play with her, while you sit and watch, both of you calling each other's name...oh, isn't that sweet?”

Laughter erupted in the room once more, and Jumin's wrath is on the verge of tipping over.

Yeong-Ho stared into Jumin's eyes and licked his lips. “I personally would enjoy breaking that nice, pliant flesh--”

Without warning, Jumin moved so quickly that not one of his intruders had time to react. He brushed away Yeong-Ho's sword, causing it to leave a hairline scratch on his neck. He stood up from his chair and his long arms reached out and grabbed Yeong-Ho by his hair, then slammed his face on the desk, breaking the glass in the process.

Yeong-Ho managed to topple backwards, the left side of his face came up in a bloodied mess.

“Shit!” Yeong-Ho yelped in both surprise and pain, and then the disciples that came with him immediately stepped in to his rescue.

Before the disciples could even take two steps to his direction, Jumin already had a silver, custom-engraved Jesse James Grandmaster in his hand, his cold eyes fixed at the disciple nearest him.

Everyone paused cautiously as the gun was aimed at the man closest to Jumin. There were a few seconds of quiet, with both sides waiting for the next move.

Yeong-Ho's laughter broke the silence. His voice echoed throughout the room while his left hand still pressed on his left eye. “Impressive, impressive,” he chided. “But you are no soldier, Jumin. Do you actually think you can pull that trigg--”

BANG.

Blood splattered all over Jumin's grey suit, staining as the fabric absorbed the dark liquid.  The disciple’s screams filled the room as he toppled over and clutched at his thigh.

Jumin nonchalantly aimed his gun to the next person, his demeanor as calm and composed as ever, but his eyes shone with pure, unadulterated wrath.

“Shoot him!” Yeong-Ho ordered.

Jumin immediately ducked behind the solid wood table as bullets rained from the front.  In a split second, the wall to his left swung open.

Dae-Sung and his fleet of personal guards were there mere seconds after he shot the first bullet, answering the intruders with their own precise gunshots.  The exchange of bullets happened in mere seconds, and not long after, all that could be heard inside the room were the groans of pain from incapacitated Mint Eye disciples.

Jumin finally stood from his defensible spot and quickly made a scan of the room. He gritted his teeth in frustration.

Yeong-Ho was nowhere to be found.

“Mr. Han,” Dae-Sung called out to Jumin, with his hand held forward with palm open, urging Jumin to step into the secret door. He gave Dae-Sung a quick nod and stepped into the dark, secret passage.

“What of the guests?” Jumin asked as he took the extra magazine from Dae-Sung, who offered it to him as they both walked through the passage.

“Father is in the ballroom,” Dae-Sung answered, his quick strides easily matching Jumin’s.  “We are now evacuating guests.”

“Good,” Jumin stared icily at the end of the dark tunnel.  “Someone from the guests must have gotten ahold of the building’s blueprint. Find out who it is,” he instructed, his tone matched the biting cold of his gaze.  “I want this person found, and Yeong-Ho caught.”

Dae-Sung wasted no time and gave instructions over the communicator on his ear.  Jumin placed the extra magazine inside his pocket and cocked the gun upward as they approached the end of the dark tunnel.

The moment the door to the other end opened, the deafening sound of gunshots reverberated inside the tunnel.  The noise made Jumin flinch, but his purposeful strides still remained in the same cadence, unfazed by the danger at the doorway.  Without a word, he stepped right next to his guards, and cocked his gun with an easy grace, his eyes fixed on the moving targets before him.

Jumin fired the first shot, which landed on the intruder’s gun hand, effectively knocking off the gun and incapacitating his dominant hand.  His eyes immediately found a second target by nearest movement, and  found a woman, and a woman he definitely knew.

He turned his cold eyes toward her, the smoking end of his gun’s barrel immediately aimed in between the woman’s eyes.  The woman gasped at the realization of who was holding the gun, and froze at the lack of hesitation in his eyes.

“I believe you owe me an explanation, Miss Park,” Jumin spoke, his voice akin to rolling thunder in the distance.


[Reine]: Of course I'm jealous. I miss you.

Reine sighed as she read the last message she sent to Jumin through the RFA app about an hour ago. On Jumin's desk sat her calligraphy materials, and her most beloved pen and nibs placed neatly inside its box.

The piece she was working on sat on top of the table, staring at her to get it done. However, she couldn't shake off the uneasiness in her heart as it was quite odd for Jumin not to respond, or at least tell her that he will be busy. Sure, there's a gala going on, and she tried to reason out with herself on why she should stop being so worried, but her heart is telling her otherwise.

“Nothing’s going to happen with all this worrying,” she spoke softly, reassuring herself.

Suddenly, she heard the TV turned on from the living room.

Maybe I can just use a companion, she thought. All this time in solitude and quietness is making her antsy, and maybe she can get rid of this baseless worrying.

She stood to open the door to join whoever's in the living room.


“M-Mr. Han,” Ms. Park stammered, her eyes glued to the gun's muzzle, and slowly trailed to the slender finger that was rested on the trigger, ready to pull. “I-I think there is some misunderstanding--”

“Oh?” Jumin spoke with threat evident in his voice. “Then help me understand what you are doing in this room, which is known only by security?”

The look of horror spread across the woman's face, and she took several steps back from Jumin, who compensated the distance with one single, easy step forward.

“Let me go!”

A very familiar voice echoed from the other room. Miss Park felt her grin spread across her face, the mask of innocence now replaced with a snarl. “Forgive me, Mr. Han. You're a businessman just like me...and when your money source gets throttled, something has to be done.”

Jumin’s eyes widened as he saw Jaehee, covered in bruises and concrete dust.

His cold eyes spoke murder as he bore them into the other woman’s gaze, his presence becoming a hundred times more intimidating without him moving a muscle.

“W-well, Mr. Han, put the gun down,” Miss Park spoke as she tried to pretend she was unaffected by the cold chill of Jumin's anger.

Jumin did not move; however, he spoke with an icy tone that sent pinpricks of dread in Miss Park’s skin.

“You call this a threat?”

Without warning, the howl of the Grandmaster echoed throughout the walls, which was followed by an almost deafening silence. Jumin aimed his shot mere millimeters away from Miss Park's cheek, which left a trail of red, burned skin on her ears, and singed part of her hair.

The bullet landed safely on the wall behind her, but the fear in Miss Park’s eyes was worth more than shooting her dead.

“I won't miss next time,” he warned. “Let my assistant go.”

Jumin did not miss the sour look of defeat on Miss Park’s face as she slightly turned her head to her right.  Without taking her eyes off Jumin’s gun, she called out to the disciples behind her.

“You heard him,” she spoke, her voice raised for the others to hear her. “Let the woman go.”

Before Jaehee got out of her captors’ hands, she wrapped her hands on one of the man’s wrists and did a Judo takedown, injuring his arm in the process.  As she did so, she immediately turned to the other man and did a sweep of her leg, and in a split second, both men were down, disarmed, and Jaehee had taken one man’s gun from his hand and placed the muzzle on his temple, then she kicked off the other gun, far away from the two, and the weapon slid across the floor and stopped near Dae-Sung’s shoes.

Dae-Sung let out a whistle in admiration.

“Curse you,” Miss Park muttered through gritted teeth.  “She will never let you go.”

Jumin raised an eyebrow at the woman’s words, and cocked his gun back up to her forehead.  “And who, pray tell, is she?”

“You know who I speak of, Vice Chairman,” the woman responded.  “She has become powerful--more powerful than you can ever be.  You cannot escape, Jumin Han.”

Two of Jumin’s guards went behind the woman and restrained her hands behind her back.  Jumin finally lowered his gun and turned his gaze toward Jaehee.  “Let’s get out of here,” he commanded, his voice resonating with unquestionable authority.  Jaehee nodded and started walking toward Jumin.

Mere inches before passing by the other woman, Jaehee froze as a loud gunshot was heard from a distance, then the sound of the glass window shattering filled the room. Her eyes widened as her beige dress was splattered with blood.

Jumin’s eyes widened to see the familiar scene play before his eyes once more; his heart started drumming wildly in his chest.  However, even as Jaehee froze, she did not fall, but it appeared that she merely froze in shock.

Jumin’s gaze moved instinctively towards Miss Park as she suddenly fell in a heap on the floor, groaning in pain.

“Do not shoot!” Jumin shouted, his anger welling in his chest and his grip on his gun shook.  “Who the hell told you to shoot?!”

“Mr. Han!”

As soon as Jaehee called out to Jumin, Dae-Sung started firing at a mystery gunner outside the window, which turned out to be two more of the intruders that posed as guests in the gala.

“Jaehee! Take Mr. Han and run to the helipad!”

The two were more eager to comply.  They both winced as they heard more gunshots in the room that they just left, and Jaehee kept looking behind her as she and Jumin raced down the hall and onto the stairs going to the roof deck.

“Dae-Sung!” she called out.  “Mr. Han, we can’t leave Dae-Sung and the others in--”

“We’ll just get in the way!” Jumin replied forcibly.

The pair were spurred to run once again as they started hearing footsteps from behind.  Jaehee took her high heels off her feet and threw them down the stairs, then started running upwards, barefoot, with Jumin close behind.

Once they opened the access door to the helipad, a strong gust of wind almost threw them back.  The whipping sound of the helicopter blades flooded their ears.

Without hesitation, the pair ran toward the open door of the helicopter, a silent sigh of relief was shared by the two.

Suddenly, a sharp clang of metal was heard, and Jumin immediately noticed the hole on the chopper’s body.  As soon as he noticed it, another hole was made, and another, inching closer to the chopper’s engine compartment.

Someone is shooting the damn escape route.

As soon as Jaehee finally got into the chopper, Jumin slammed the door shut, and immediately turned behind him while his eyes scanned the area for the shooter.  He must at least prevent this shooter from doing further damage--else both he and Jaehee will fall to their deaths if the chopper’s engine gets shot.

“Mr. Han!” he could hear her muffled voice and her fists banging on the door.  He paid this no heed as his eyes scanned the area for the shooter.  He gritted his teeth when he heard another hole made on the chopper’s body.

Jaehee was frantically banging on the chopper’s door, trying to open it. However, in her panic, she couldn’t make out how it could be opened from the inside. She felt the cabin move under her feet, and sheer terror filled her heart as she knew that the chopper was leaving without Jumin.

“Mr. Han!” she shouted, but her cries remained unheard.

Chapter Text

Vanderwood was on his way out of the shower when his phone started ringing, the intro of ACDC’s Highway to Hell started playing inside the bathroom.

After a quick wipe of his hands on his towel, he smiled slightly to see Jaehee's name on the caller ID. While one hand dried his hair with a towel, the other pressed the green answer button and placed the phone on his ear.

“Jaehee,” he greeted.

“Van! Oh thank God you picked up. Turn the TV on!”

A sense of dread washed over Vanderwood; it felt as if someone had doused him with icy water. He dropped his towel on the bathroom counter and sprang into a quick jog to get to the living room TV as it was the nearest. “Are you alright?!” He asked worriedly as he grabbed the remote and pressed the power button on the device.

“Yes, yes of course I am,” Jaehee answered, although Vanderwood cannot miss the edge in her voice.

“--point, we don't know what's happening inside. According to witnesses, they heard several gunshots inside the building, which prompted the guests to flee the area. Fortunately, all the guests are accounted for, thanks to C&R’s in-house security.”

The news anchor’s image was merely a small box at the bottom left of the screen, and the entire screen area was occupied by the live broadcast of C&R’s building. There was a faint smoke coming from the top floor, and the faint sound of gunshots could clearly be heard during the live feed.

Vanderwood froze from where he sat, water still dripping from his hair and onto his sweater. Although he was expecting that Yeong-Ho would do something to get back at Jumin, but he has to admit that this is the most foolhardy. What does he intend to accomplish by getting himself caught in public?

“Have you seen it?” Jaehee spoke on the receiver, which pulled Vanderwood from his thoughts.

“Yes. But are you sure you’re safe? Is Jumin with you?”

There was a long pause, and Jaehee could not hide her fear anymore. Vanderwood's heart broke when he heard Jaehee's ragged gasp, as if trying to hold back tears. “Mr. Han let me escape,” she said, her voice still firm but started to break. “He's still in there!”

The panic in Jaehee’s voice was unmistakable--and knowing the woman, it would take a lot to have her pale under any circumstances.  He yearned to hold her, but this isn’t the time to dwell on it.  

“Jaehee,” he spoke softly, intended to reassure the woman.  “First, make sure that you are safe.  If you are, then ensure the safety of the rest of the RFA members. Can you do that?”

Jaehee held the phone close to her ear, her hands trembled with adrenaline coursing through her body.  She took a deep breath to still her nerves, and let out a shaky sigh.  “Okay. I’ll make sure the arrangements are made.”

“That’s my girl,” Vanderwood smiled, and he gave a sigh of relief as well.  As much as he wanted to go and help, being hours away from Seoul wasn’t going to do any good.  His heart bloomed with love as Jaehee stood strong amidst everything, and with Jumin being... unavailable ...all he can offer her is his assurance and support.

He just hoped it’ll be enough.


“Vandy! C&R is--!”

“I am aware,” Vanderwood spoke in a dark tone in response to Saeyoung’s urgency.  His eyes never left the TV screen; the live feed still going on with commentaries from the news anchors.  However, none of them ever mention where Jumin Han was, but from Jaehee’s story, the C&R Vice Chairman might be in deep trouble--or worse.

“What of Jumin and Jaehee?” Saeran spoke quietly, careful not to let Reine hear his question from the room upstairs.  

Vanderwood turned to the green-eyed twin.  Saeran saw the hesitation in the long-haired man’s eyes, which made him clench his fists to his sides. Vanderwood then turned his gaze back on the TV screen.

“He’s still in there,” he spoke in a somber tone.  “He let Jaehee escape.”

Without a second thought, Saeran immediately turned back toward the room. Before he could take two strides away, however, Saeyoung grabbed his hand to stop him.

“Just where do you think you’re going?” Saeyoung spoke with a firm tone.

“I can’t stay here and do nothing!” Saeran snapped at his brother, and swatted his arm free from Saeyoung’s grasp.

Saeyoung’s stomach started to turn with worry, and his chest throbbed with anger.  He could clearly feel how much Saeran cared about Jumin--and what is this? Gratitude?

“Can’t you see?” Saeyoung argued as he willed the feelings away.  He clearly knew those feelings weren’t his own, but being Saeran’s twin he can’t help but share the other’s strong emotions.  “That’s what they want us to do!”

“Saeyoung is right,” Vanderwood called out, which made the twins turn toward him. His eyes were still glued to the TV while he pressed the top of his phone idly on his lower lip. “Jumin is buying the girls time, and keeping them safe. We can't let ourselves be discovered,” he reasoned.

“Bullshit,” Saeran cursed under his breath. “Jaehee is in there, too!”

Vanderwood turned to glare at the younger twin. “You think I don't know that?” He growled, doing his best to contain the worry and fear in his chest. He stood and closed his eyes to take a deep breath, willing himself to be more objective about the situation. “If you really want to help him out then let's do it however we can from here. Unless you have wings, sweet-tooth, you or I can never make it there on time.”

“Make it where on time?”

All three men froze when Reine spoke, her clueless tone made them hold their tongue in surprise. She stood at the base of the stairs, her expression puzzled.

“--the shootout has been going on for an hour now, and so far the police was able to rescue Jumin Han’s executive assistant…”

Reine's eyes widened as she finally got to comprehend what the news anchor was saying on TV. She felt as if all color was drained from her face as her heart throbbed with dread.

“Rescue?” Reine felt herself shiver at the words she heard. She unconsciously walked towards the TV, her shaking hands clutched at her phone close to her chest. When she finally saw the C&R building on TV, her heart sank as she knew this was the venue of the New Year's gala.

Her vision blurred almost instantly as tears flooded her eyes. Her wide eyes turned to Vanderwood, then at the twins.

“Where… where is Jumin?”


Ae Cha pulled the door to the gym behind her and climbed the stairs leading to the living room. She decided to take a shower in the gym rather than risk disturbing the entire household after an extensive period in the gym. Goosebumps covered her shoulders as cooler air met moist legs. Her slightly damp hair draped against the oversized sweater she wore.

As she continued climbing the stairs, her ears perked at the faint sound of the television. The lights were also on in the living room, which she found odd.  She climbed the stairs faster, her curiosity motivating to get to the living room as soon as possible.

“Is Jumin back?” she wondered. Jumin wasn’t due for returning to the villa for quite some time, however, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the vice chairman made a return so soon. The way Jumin’s eyes softened looking at Reine was a sign of undying love for her older sister, a trait Ae Cha found endearing .

Once Ae Cha made the top of the stairs, her eyes instantly grew wide in surprise seeing the entire household congregating in the living room. She looked around the room, baffled by what was happening. Vanderwood sat on the couch with his phone by his ear, likely in a conversation. Saeyoung stood behind the couch, panic etched into his features while Saeran appeared to be brooding in the corner.

What happened… and where is Reine?

Ae Cha’s eyes darted around the room searching for her sister.  If Spectre was in the room, then Reine should be here as well. She felt a mixture of relief and pain she finally spotted her sister standing in the archway from the living room and the kitchen. Relief because she found Reine, and pain for the horrified expression Reine wore. Reine had lost all color in her face.

“What’s going on?” Ae Cha finally spoke up, her eyebrows knotted in confusion. But before anyone could respond, the sound of gunfire rang from the television.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

The sudden sound startled Ae Cha, dread washing over her as her panicked eyes locked onto the television scene where everything played out in aerial view. Smoke billowed out of a C&R building, dozens of policemen scattered on the ground.

It was in that moment Ae Cha’s heart shattered into pieces. If C&R was under fire, and Jumin was not here…

Jumin was likely the target of another attack, and it was her fault. Again.

“Oh no! Not again,” Ae Cha mumbled.


Jumin paid no heed at the chopper leaving as his eyes darted around the roof deck for the shooter. He quickly ran down the stairs and off the raised platform where the helipad was, then sought refuge under it.

The winter cold was already taking its toll on him; his fingers started to grow numb and billows of white clouds formed as he breathed out. He was only wearing the suit he had for the party and did not have the time to put on any outerwear.

The sound of a bullet ricocheting on metal dragged him from his thoughts. He could feel his heart start to panic, but he took a deep breath to calm himself and remain objective of the situation like he always did whenever he was in a tight situation at work. He willed his emotions away and tried to think logically--he needed to find this gunner, and fast.

He observed that the gunner stopped shooting the chopper as soon as he went under the helipad, so it confirms his suspicion that he was the only one being targeted. Jumin thanked the heavy snow and the cold whip of air from the chopper’s blades that may have caused the shooter to miss.

His mind’s eye recalled the scene earlier, with him and Jaehee running towards the helipad. There isn't a lot of defensible areas on the roof deck, and his eyes tried to scan the possible hiding spots.

“If I'm a sniper,” he murmured, “where should I stay in the middle of winter?”

Jumin’s mind became a map of cause and effect, action, and reaction. The constant falling snow made it hard to see where the next gunfire would come from, so he had to rely on reason.

Another gunshot ricocheted on one of the steel beams that was dangerously close to where he stood. This prompted him to move around under the platform; a moving target is still harder to hit, and it would keep his body from succumbing to the cold.

His mind kept working as he moved around, careful to keep away from any wide gap or opening. He found a relatively defensible spot behind one of the larger posts, so he darted towards it and crouched behind it with his gun at the ready.

“I can't let my body temperature drop too low; my aim would be shaky at best,” he muttered as his mind continued to reason. “So I need to stay warm.”

His eyes darted across the area once more, and then his eyes caught the billows of steam coming from the central heating vent, and right next to it was a small, grilled compartment. The heating vent was a source of heat, Jumin mused, but it would be scalding hot to stay inside it.

But sitting right next to it would be perfect. The steam coming from the vent would mask the mist coming from the gunner’s breath to not give away his position, and the grilled compartment would be large enough to hold building-grade cooling systems, which can hold a person if crouched.

He felt a grin form on his cold, dry lips. “Found you,” he whispered as he tried his best to keep his hands from shaking because of the cold.

At this point, Jumin no longer cared if his shot would kill the man on the spot. He made an oath to himself to never kill a man again, and in other circumstances, he would have debated about taking another life.

But things are different now. He cannot let himself be killed--he still has not given her the happiness she deserved.

I can't die here.

With one, precise pull of the Grandmaster's trigger, the sound of gunshot howled into the night.


“We just received a report from our correspondents on the scene. The shootout has been officially declared over, after three hours of grueling gunfight.”

Reine raised her eyes expectantly at the TV screen. Her heart ached with worry and she often had to wipe her eyes with the sleeve of Jumin's sweater to keep her tears from falling.

“Based from the report from our colleague deployed on the scene, the alleged perpetrator of tonight's shootout is a man named Sim Yeong-Ho, a former C&R director.”

The footage showed the man emerging from C&R’s main entrance, his hands bound on his back while surrounded by C&R security and police alike. He seemed to be injured--he walked on a limp, and his shoulders slouched in defeat.

“Oh my God,” Saeyoung gasped as he watched the story unfold on TV. “It's Yeong-Ho!”

Vanderwood stared at the TV screen, his heart finally settled somehow that the incident was over.

Or was it?

He couldn't place the exact source the lingering doubt somewhere in his mind. Questions begged to be answered: why'd Yeong-Ho do something as foolhardy as this, while he behaved so differently before? What changed? What does he hope to gain by showing aggression against Jumin? It won't help his embezzlement case, so why?

“Something's not right,” he mumbled.

“Last December, a lawsuit for embezzlement was filed against Sim Yeong-Ho by the C&R Vice Chairman, Jumin Han. So far there is still no confirmation if the shootout was an act of vengeance against the C&R heir, but we are glad to know that this shootout is finally over.”

“Speaking of Jumin Han,” one of the news anchors started. “We have not seen him on any of tonight's footage. Was he in attendance in the New Year's gala?”

“According to the guests, he was there,” the correspondent replied. “But no one has seen him since a few minutes before the shootout. We have tried contacting his PR manager but they refuse to give a statement as of now.”

Reine's heart ached with pain in the mention of Jumin Han. She clutched at her phone tighter against her chest and squeezed her eyes shut, her heart crying out in prayer.

“Please...please let Jumin be safe. Please.”

Ae Cha slowly approached the television in disbelief, studying the man the media hailed as Sim Yeong Ho. Her thoughts drowned out the anchors discussing the situation on the news broadcast. Doubt weighed heavily on her mind.

“I-I don’t get it,” Ae Cha muttered.

Although the man looked exactly like Sim Yeong-Ho, why would he spend all of these years under the radar only to be caught in such a manner? She recalled the day she almost escaped from Sim Yeong-Ho, the very same day she recently learned Saeyoung was there.


That day was pure chaos, and it was a day she believed she was going to die. But even with how the situation planned out, Sim Yeong-Ho still made it out intact.  So why would he get caught?

Why was this different?

“Something isn’t right,” Ae Cha voiced her concern, breaking the silence in the room. She looked over to Vanderwood who also appeared to be in deep thought. “Why would he go through all of this trouble of trying to find us, only to be caught so easily?”

Vanderwood turned to Ae Cha as he felt his suspicions validated. “I'm asking the same question as well,” he replied with a sigh and turned his gaze back to the TV. “None of this makes sense. I see Sim Yeong-Ho on TV, but I have a nagging feeling in my chest.”

Reine turned to both Vanderwood and Ae Cha, their statements lodging fear even deeper into her heart. She wordlessly watched them with wide eyes.

“Can it be..? No, it can't be,” Saeran mumbled, which made everyone turn to look at him as he pondered on a thought.

“What is it, Saeran?” Vanderwood asked.

“That man doesn't seem like Yeong-Ho at all,” he answered.

Everyone's gaze turned to him then, and Vanderwood voiced the question on everyone's minds. “Care to explain further?”

Saeran's eyes did not look at any of them, but seemed to be looking into some distant memory. “I had suspected something back then as a hacker in Mint Eye,” he explained. “Rika was doing deals with rogue bio-engineers in the darkweb. I remember her spending a lot of bitcoins for it,” he continued, and he turned his gaze to Vanderwood. “Then she made me make a multi-layer encryption on a file that she told me to never read--the file name is called Duplicate.”

“Duplicate,” Vanderwood echoed, lost in his thoughts.

Ae Cha focused on Reine as the conversation continued between Spectre. That indescribable pain grew hotter in her chest. The way Reine tried her best to keep her composure as clung onto her phone for dear life was an image of her sister that will be burned into her mind for a long time. It wasn’t fair how Reine suffered so much in such short time.

And yet, even through everything, Reine always seemed to persevere. Ae Cha still had a lot to learn about her older sister, however, she was confident this was a trait Reine surely must have had all of her life. After all, it reminded Ae Cha of her father and how he seemed to overcome odds as well.

Ae Cha couldn’t help but wonder if Reine had to persevere in order to survive.  Would that also mean Han-Sol was trying to survive? Ae Cha’s heart sunk.

The threads of fate were weaving a dangerous path of despair for everyone Ae Cha has come in contact with. Reine was still barely recovered from being shot, and was on the path of finding a new life with her love Jumin Han. Now everything Reine had gained was threatening to break yet again.

Jumin Han was someone Ae Cha was explicitly told to avoid by Sim Yeong-Ho, and now she understood why. The vice chairman was passionately devout to people he cared about. The members of the RFA, C&R, Reine. Even… her. And this was his repayment for his generosity? To suffer as well?

And don’t forget Saeyoung and Saeran. They have painstakingly taken on the task to watch over her, to train her, to protect her. But is the cost worth of people dying because of her worth it? She didn’t deserve it.

Tears formed in the bottom of her eyes as guilt overwhelmed the girl. Ae Cha unconsciously raised her hand to touch the crescent moon shaped jewel on the choker she wore every day. It was something she has done when she wanted to feel her father close to her.

Wait. The choker . Her father’s voice filled her ears, as she recalled the words he spoke on the last birthday he would ever spend with her. Ae Cha’s eyes grew wide, tears threatening to spill over. She knew what she needed to do.

 

“If you are ever in trouble and I am not around, the answers you seek will always be right in front of you.“ 

“Was this your plan all along, Appa?” Ae Cha whispered.

Ae Cha reached behind her neck, her fingers trembling as she unhooked the clasps securing the jewelry. A quiet clicking sound followed shortly after, and Ae Cha grabbed the end of the choker.  She then held it out front of her, dangling in mid-air.

“Could this stop everyone around me from getting hurt?” Ae Cha turned and faced the group, interrupting the conversation. She then turned and faced the group and held out the choker in front of her.

Saeyoung's eyes softened with an understanding of what Ae Cha was trying to do. His heart was filled with sadness as he took both of Ae Cha’s hands in his, with the choker held in her small fingers.

“Ae Chan…” he spoke, but unable to find the right words to say. He took her aside toward the kitchen and away from the living room, and then leaned forward to look her in the eyes. “This is precious to you. I'm sure even Reine cannot ask you to give this up.”

“The people in my life getting hurt because of me …  are more precious than this gift,” Ae Cha’s voice cracked, and she bit the side of her lip in a final attempt to back her emotion.

“Appa said when he gave this choker to me...if I was ever in trouble … if h-he was gone the answers I seek would be right in front of me,” Ae Cha hiccuped, stray tears beginning to fall down her cheek as she struggled with the words she wanted to say. Her eyes bore into Saeyoung’s, trying to convey the right message. There was so much sorrow and guilt riddled in her eyes. “Saeyoung, we’re all in trouble. I think we know where those answers will be.”

Saeyoung finally pulled Ae Cha in his arms. He embraced her fiercely, his arms pulled her as close as he could. Her sorrow spilled over to him; the sadness in her eyes pulled at his heart.”None of this is your fault, Ae Chan,” he spoke, while he held Ae Cha’s slight form against him.

“We'll get through this. I promise.”

Ae Cha couldn’t contain her emotions any longer, and weeped quietly against Saeyoung’s chest. There was so much pain in giving up the gift she cherished; however, she wouldn’t be able to live contently with the knowledge of people being hurt because of her own selfish desires of ignoring what answers could be on the choker.

It would be what Han-Sol would want her to do. She was sure of it.

“Please take good care of it,” Ae Cha insisted, her hand grasping the choker falling to her side. The crescent moon jewel dangled in mid air, glinting in the reflection of the moon’s light shining through the window.

Chapter Text

“Don’t fail me, Yeong Ho.”

Rika sat on top of the mattress inside of her sleeping chamber, donning a long satin turquoise robe with her phone in her hands. A wicked smirk grew on her lips, her emerald colored eyes focusing on the illumination of the phone’s screen. It was soon to be morning in Alaska which meant the operation to take Jumin Han hostage and learn the whereabouts of the sisters was under way.

Ah. Jumin Han . It was quite enjoyable manipulating his poor heart. Enthralling , really. C&R’s heir had difficulties in expressing his own emotions, even as a teenager. It wasn’t surprising Jumin’s source of affection would come from a disgusting, white feline after Rika faked undying devotion to V.

How pathetic.

If this plan was successful, Jumin Han’s capture will ignite a massive domino effect. It would begin the Chairman paying whatever necessary to bring his precious son back to Korea. The ransom funds would aid in expanding Mint Eye’s operations around the globe.

Let’s not forget the RFA. With the RFA’s precious leader missing, surely Han-Sol’s daughters and the entire RFA would come out of hiding. Rika was going to kill two birds with one stone.

And… if the plan failed, Rika already meticulously prepared. She was able to successfully create a Duplicate of Sim Yeong-Ho from one of her failed disciples, giving the operation a failsafe. If the situation arose where Sim Yeong-Ho could not obtain Jumin, the duplicate would surrender. This would lead to the RFA reappearing from their hideout.

The end result was fantastic: Rika would be able to destroy the information on the choker, and she would succeed in finally converting the entire RFA into disciples of her everlasting paradise… including the reconversion of Saeran.

She missed her beloved Unknown dearly.

A moan escaped her lips at the thought of having her most devout disciple return, her delicate fingertips softly brushing her bare thigh. Arousal burned inside of her as she recalled how pathetically weak, and fragile Saeran was tied to his mother’s bedpost. The hopeless in his then golden eyes was delightful.

It didn’t take long for her to convince Saeran his twin abandoned him to live a happier, safer life.  After all, a daily reminder from Rika of how Saeyoung was burdened to tow Saeran by his side was more than enough to plant the seeds of revenge. “Saeyoung was a coward, leaving you alone to die. But I will never leave you alone,” she would say. The glowing rage in his now mint-colored eyes was even more delightful.

But Rika knew he had potential to be so much more than a disciple.

Oh, so much more.

Saeran proved to be a fantastic lover in bed when he reached adulthood. His hopelessness and rage translated into raw passion in between silken sheets. He was so young and full of unrequited energy.  It was sex she never dreamed of having with Jihyun.

Only Saeran could fulfill her deepest, darkest, fantasies… and he did it in her name.

Three knocks interrupted Rika’s musings.  She pushed herself off of the bed and approached the door of her bedroom chamber. Her smirk turned into a soft smile as her eyes studied the disciple entering the room.  Her focus turned to lost, as she began to imagine the disciple’s olive covered skin sweltering with her essence.

“Samuel,” Rika purred as she confronted him. Her fingers ruffled his obsidian-colored hair gently. “You have a very important test.”

Samuel’s gazed into Rika’s, longing for approval. His eyes remained fixed watching Rika slowly remove her silk robe, standing in front of him entirely nude. Suddenly, Rika grabbed his hand, and lead him to the bed. His face grew hot, and he felt longing in his core.

“How devoted are you to your Savior?” Rika cooed, pushing her flaxen locks off of her shoulders when returning to sit on the bed.

“I’m very devoted, my Savior,” Samuel replied, almost too eagerly.

“Then show me your devotion. That is your test.”


 

 

 “I don't want to take your tears with me. I need your strength, Reine. Please smile for me.” 

Reine found it very difficult to keep her promise. It's only been a little over a week since Jumin was gone, and now she felt as if her heart was being broken into a million pieces.

She cursed her inability to go and help him. Being stuck in the mountain villa and recovering from her gunshot wound, she felt frustration and helplessness fill her heart.  All she could do was bow her head and pray, to whoever is listening, to please keep Jumin alive.

How long has it been since the TV was turned off? She didn't even know. She was starting to feel exhaustion seep into her body, but her mind and her heart kept sending images borne of fear in her lucid state, and sleep eluded her too many times tonight.

She sat in the living room, in front of the fireplace. She remembered how Jumin gave her a cup of hot chocolate the first night they were in the villa, and how he stripped himself bare in front of her. She remembered how his trembling hands felt as it grazed down her arms, and how she felt that finally, finally, someone knew who she was and accepted her with no reservations.

 

“Let me love you.” 

She immediately raised her arm to wipe her tears as she remembered Jumin, but the more she wiped, the more tears came forth.

Reine straightened when she heard footsteps coming from the kitchen. She hurriedly wiped her face with the sleeves of Jumin's sweater and turned towards the door. She found Saeran, his expression sullen.

No words were exchanged and yet Reine felt the same worry that Saeran seemed to carry towards Jumin. She gave him a slight, tight-lipped smile, then turned to watch the flames as they danced inside the confined space of the fireplace.

“You should get some rest,” Reine called out to Saeran without looking away from the fire.

“You should tell yourself that,” Saeran spoke. She heard him sit on the couch behind her, apparently wanting some company.

Reine appreciated the gesture with a small smile. She brought her knees to her chest and rested her chin on them. “Do we have any news of Jumin?”

She heard him sigh. “None. Even Dae-Sung’s phone is out of reach,” he replied, exhaustion evident in his voice. “Saeyoung and I are working on it.”

Reine continued watching the flames, willing her heart to be calm. Saeran may be doing the same thing; she of all people knew how much he cared about Jumin. This may have been frustrating to him, too; as they were too far away and unable to directly go to C&R as much as they wanted to.

“Thank you, Saeran,” she spoke softly as her eyes fixated on the embers flying from the flames. “How's Ae Cha?” she asked, hoping to distract herself from thoughts of Jumin.

“With Saeyoung,” he answered. “She thinks this is her fault.”

Reine sighed and felt her heart ache for her sister. As much as she wanted to go and comfort her sister, she knew she cannot offer her any strength at this point as she, herself, is very close to breaking. Reine knew that if Ae Cha saw her sorry state it will just spur her on to do something even more dangerous than what she is planning to do in two months’ time.

She sighed. “Please help me comfort her,” she spoke, her voice cracked as she was barely holding her emotions together.

Saeran did not say a word, but Reine already knew his answer without saying. She heard him stand behind her and felt the warmth on her shoulder as he laid a comforting hand on it. She offered him a small smile of gratitude, and then she heard his footsteps walking away and up the stairs.

A simple touch was more than enough to open a barrage of emotions from her. The moment she heard the door of the twins’ room close, she hugged her knees closer to her torso. With one hand still clutched at her phone, she buried her face on her knees and wept.


A black Audi S8 sped in the ice-covered highway despite the steady downfall of snow.  Normally, this would have been considered a very reckless act; the roads are slick with ice and sleet.

But this was no normal day.  

The man behind the wheel expertly used the momentum of slides and skids on the road to deftly avoid slower vehicles on the road, his eyes focused solely on driving, and ignored the smell of blood and gunpowder that came off of his passenger at the back seat.

His eyes focused solely on the long, black limousine a few hundred meters away, speeding along the highway.  From the man’s calculation, a vehicle of that weight and length cannot maneuver well on a busy highway, and an icy road is no exception.

They will catch up to it soon.

Biting cold air came into the vehicle as the passenger reached upward to open the car’s sunroof.  He peered towards the car’s front windshield and tried spotting how far they are from the other vehicle they were pursuing.

The man grinned from ear to ear as he spotted the vehicle, and how fast they were gaining on it. Blood oozed from the gash he received from a certain corporate heir earlier this evening, and he is hell bent to make him pay.  

He felt his blood sing in his veins with the prospect of not only making the public believe the lies fed to their tiny little brains, but also to be able to capture Jumin Han.  He couldn’t keep himself from chuckling aloud--poor Jumin must have believed everything is over; that he can rest easy with his army of fools.

Yeong-Ho’s skin tingled with anticipation.

He gave no heed on the driver’s earlier warning of dangerously slippery roads; instead, he pressed the muzzle of a handgun on the driver’s head and made him chase the limousine.

“You’re pretty skilled with a gun on your head,” Yeong-Ho chided, which earned wide, terrified eyes from the driver.  “If you get my car dented I’ll plant a bullet in that skull of yours, you hear?”

The limousine was only a few meters away.  Smiling, he hoisted his AK-47 from under the upholstery. He stood up, getting the rifle through the sunroof opening first, and his head and upper body followed.

“Got you,” he mused as he carefully aimed at the vehicle as they drew nearer.  

He pulled the trigger and the sound of gunshots at 100 rounds per minute shattered the silence of the night.  A rain of bullets marred the limousine’s perfect finish, spiderweb cracks also trailed on the car’s rear windshield. He continued to barrage the car with bullets, his own laughter drowned by the merciless assault of gunfire.

The limousine finally swerved off road, and violently skid on the slippery surface, going on a full three-hundred-sixty-degree turn before finally hitting one of the concrete posts.  This would have easily caused an ordinary sedan to flip and turn.  Since the limousine was longer and heavier, it only tipped to its side slightly, then settled back down.

“Stop the car!” he yelled at the driver, who was more than eager to comply.  The car skidded slightly, which made Yeong-ho almost go out of balance, but the driver compensated just in time for them to safely roll out of the road and onto the grassy patch on the side.

Yeong-Ho smirked as he alighted the vehicle, but stopped and turned toward the driver before closing the door.  “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, Tom,” he warned. “I’d hate to lose you, but I will kill you if you go stupid on me.”

Satisfied with his threat, he turned towards the wreckage of Jumin’s limousine, and with the impact of the collision, it is possible that both he and his driver could be unconscious inside the vehicle.

“Oh, Mr. Han~” he called out in a sickly sweet tone, his rifle rested on his shoulder as he strode toward the vehicle. He smirked and smashed the butt of his rifle several times on the window, causing it to crack and crumble.  “It’s time to wake up and get your little whore to pla--”

His eyes went wide as the window finally gave way and revealed the car’s interior.

There was no one there.

He felt his anger rise to his face as his eyes traveled to the driver's seat, where a box with a pulsating LED light sat instead of a driver.

He seethed. His whole body trembled with pure, unadulterated rage.  Unable to contain his fury, he screamed at the top of his lungs and opened fire on the side of the vehicle, smashing whatever was left with the windows into nothing, bullets damaging the once beautifully crafted limousine interior.  

When the rifle finally ran out of bullets he smashed the windows one after the other, but as he was about to channel his anger on the last glass panel, he saw his reflection on the glass.  Half of his face was a bloodied mess, his left eye shut, and blood dripped and stained his white undershirt.  His chest heaved with anger, and his body trembled.

Then an idea struck him.

Suddenly, his heart was filled with an overflowing sense of joy that his shoulders shook with mirth.  He doubled over in laughter, his right hand leaned on the side of the car as his mind replayed the sweet, sweet images of a certain little girl and how she would get on her knees with just one word from him.  His body felt a surge of renewed energy, his loins tingled with the prospect.

“Ah, my little baby doll,” he mumbled as his trembling hand moved to his lips. The corner of his mouth turned upward to form a smirk, while lust danced in his eyes.

“You will always be mine.”


A pair of grey eyes watched as the building's roof became smaller and smaller as he was being airlifted to safety. He still felt the effects of the cold that seeped into his body, and still could not stop his own teeth from chattering.

He also wondered if the way his hands shivered was also from the cold, or was it in fear? He didn't know, but one thing was for certain.

For the first time in his life, he was afraid to die.

Jumin tossed his Grandmaster on the empty leather seat beside him, and shortly after came the bloodstained tunic he wore. He placed his elbows on his knees while his hands cradled his head, his fingers slowly brushed through his tousled hair.

He sighed in frustration and mentally reprimanded himself for being careless. Because of him, Yeong-Ho now knew that the sisters are in RFA’s care--that placed all of RFA in more imminent danger than they were supposed to be.

He couldn't risk connecting to the internet after he left the C&R building, else Yeong-Ho might pick up anything from his phone. He has long switched it to airplane mode, mainly just to be able to see Reine’s messages on private chat before he completely disconnected from all communications.

 

[Reine]: Jumin, are you okay?

[Reine]: Please...say something…anything...

His chest constricted with yearning. She's probably crying her eyes out, now.

He pressed and held the phone's power button to turn it off completely. He watched the city lights below, and hoped that Jaehee can take care of Zen and Yoosung, somehow.

“Would you think he'll take the bait?” Jumin asked the man seated in front of him, who was nursing a slight graze on his upper arm and is now wrapping it with gauze.

“I really hope so,” Dae-Sung replied as he replaced the gauze inside the first aid kit. “I'm very surprised though, Mr. Han, on how RFA managed to come up with this escape plan so fast.”

Jumin sighed and leaned backward to rest his head at the edge of the backrest. “That would be Spectre’s work,” he closed his eyes as he felt adrenaline slowly seep out of his body. “I'm glad that they knew the Yeong-Ho in that roof deck was fake.”

“How did that happen, though?” Dae-Sung wondered, which made Jumin open his eyes once more. “I saw Yeong-Ho in your office with my own eyes, and yet I also saw the Yeong-Ho you injured at the roof deck. What the hell is going on?”

“I'd like to know, either,” Jumin replied, his voice laced with exhaustion. “But that's not important right now--how’s your wound?”

Dae-Sung’s eyes widened at Jumin's concern. He gave him a smile and tapped his own shoulder lightly. “It's a minor graze, Mr. Han. Nothing to worry about.”

“Good,” Jumin replied. “After I get to the villa you will be taking care of RFA,” he spoke resolutely, which Dae-Sung responded with a disbelieving look.

“B-but Mr. Han--”

“The villa will be the safest I can be, at least for the meantime,” Jumin interjected immediately. “Spectre is there. Reine, your ex-commander, is there too. I'm safe in the villa, Dae-Sung. Instead, I need you to protect people that are also equally precious to me.”

Dae-Sung was in for another surprise. Newfound respect was seen in his eyes, and now he understood why his father placed the Hans with such high regard. “You can count on me, Mr. Han,” Dae-Sung responded.

Jumin's eyebrows knotted while observing Dae-Sung's expression. “Don't tell Zen I said that,” he mumbled.


“Force unlock satellite N7374LP. Password: purple haze.”

“This is Purple Haze. Hey Tom, how did it go?”

Tom sighed and placed both feet on top of the car’s steering wheel and laid back on the reclined car seat. “Smooth as butter,” he replied and balanced the phone on his shoulder while he reached for his laptop on the seat beside him. “Such a waste of good limousine though; the bastard did a number on that one.”

“So we're really calling him “the bastard” over an encrypted and recorded line.”

Tom chuckled at the playfulness of his colleague. “Hey, it suits him well,” he said with a grin. “Although I'd personally code him as “sick psycho” if I were in charge of this project.”

It was his colleague’s turn to laugh. “So, anything to report?”

“Ah yes,” he expertly tapped on the keyboard of his laptop to enter several commands, and sent over an audio file. “I managed to intercept the radio comms from C&R’s fleet--pardon the noise, there was so much interference--but based on the conversation a certain Miss Park from Deiji Corporation was one of the pawns the bastard used to get into the C&R complex undetected. I did a quick check, and oddly, she is affiliated with a US-based pharmaceutical company that I still have to take a deeper look into--it’s way too much of a deviation from the textile exporting business she operates.”

Silence was the response he got, and he took it as a signal for him to continue. “That, and I was correct in the assumption that Mint Eye already had successfully developed working Duplicates. The man the police arrested was very much like Sim Yeong-Ho not just in appearance but also with skills. This development came faster than we expected; it means we have to act soon.”

A sigh was heard from his phone's earpiece. “Roger that. Any news on the choker?”

“I assume that the twins are decrypting it,” he replied. “Ae Cha is smart--she will figure out what needs to be done.”

“Noted. Any pre-emptives you'd like us to help you with?”

Tom paused as his mind ran all different possibilities within the next few days. He sighed and closed the lid of his laptop. “I'd like to request surveillance of the villa, Han-Sol's and Reine's apartments. With how Yeong-Ho acted this morning I am dreading what he's cooking up next.”

“You got it, Tom,” his colleague answered.

“And one last question,” Tom ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Can I just kill the bastard already?”

“You know that's not possible.”

“Shit. Well, had to ask.”

“Would you like to ask the Prime Minister?”

Tom sighed. “No, it's fine, he's important to the mission, we need all information, blah blah,” he answered dejectedly in a flat tone. “I just want to end the cycle. I want to at least leave the sisters unscathed.”

His colleague paused before answering. “Tom, please remember that you are under orders to gather information and not for personal ga--”

“I know that,” he snapped. He had so many words, so many arguments he wanted to spit out, but he held his tongue. His mind suddenly remembered the pain of the news of Han-Sol's death, and the pain of not being able to let him die with dignity.

“Tom over and out,” he managed to speak to the phone before closing off the secure line.


After a long, dark flight to the estate, the lights of the villa finally rolled into view. Jumin's heart felt a sense of relief that the place remains peaceful, intact; he has seen so much destruction for such a short period of time. Seeing the villa gave him an overwhelming feeling of peace, knowing that his greatest treasure would be waiting within.

I want to see you.

As soon as the chopper landed, he did not even bother to wait for the blades to be still; the strong drive in his heart urged him to get into the van that waited at the distance.

The moment he opened the door of the chopper, cold, biting wind and particles of ice whipped at the skin of his face and hands. Thankful for the heavy coat that Dae-Sung insisted that he wore, he squinted his eyes against the onslaught of freezing winds as his dress shoes uncomfortably dug into fluffy snow under his feet

I want to see you.

He paid little heed when flakes of snow collected on his hair and clothes melted on his skin as he drummed his fingers impatiently on his lap. When the car finally rolled to the driveway he wasted no time and got off the van himself as soon as it stopped. His legs were moving so fast on their own, his gait quick and purposeful.

I want to see you.

The house was dark, and understandably so; it was a time for them to sleep, but when Jumin saw that the fireplace was lit, he knew.

He turned the keys immediately and opened the door. His eyes darted towards the warm spot, and then he finally found what he was looking for.

There she laid, on the fur carpet in front of the fire. She laid on her side, her arm served as a cushion for her head and her other hand still clutched at her phone. She was fast asleep, but right next to her were a box of tissues, with several sheets crumpled and discarded right next to it.

Jumin gently closed the door behind him and heard the van roll out from the driveway. He shrugged his coat off and gently placed it on the sofa, then he walked towards the fireplace as quietly as possible. A smile painted itself on his face as he felt his chest grow lighter. Happiness filled his heart in seeing her this peaceful and tranquil. He crouched beside her, and watched her steady breathing as she slept.

Jumin stifled a chuckle when he noticed that she was wearing one of his sweaters. It was covered with Elizabeth's fur; which meant that the cat may have slept on her just a little while earlier.

The fireplace let out a small popping sound from the burning wood, and this roused Reine from her sleep. He watched her quietly, observing every small movement she made. Her eyes finally fluttered open, and were suddenly wide with surprise as she looked up at him.

Her eyes were always so beautiful.

Even now, bloodshot and tear-stained, she remained so very beautiful.

“J-Jumin…” she spoke, and the relief in her voice that broke made him smile. He watched her eyes collect tears to her bottom lids as she stared at him disbelievingly.

“Reine,” he replied, and he raised a hand to brush the smooth skin of her cheek.

She took his hand away by grabbing his wrist gently. She sat up without taking her eyes from him, as if she was making sure that it was indeed Jumin that she was seeing.

Her tears finally rolled down her cheeks and she slowly buried herself in his arms. Her shoulders shook with her sobbing, but no sound save for her ragged breathing was heard as all her worry and anxiety burst in the open. Her body shook against him as she quietly cried on his chest.

Jumin buried his face in the crook of her neck as he held her tight, his arms circled her back and held her as close and as tight as he could. He closed his eyes and breathed in her warmth, and to Jumin, he finally felt that he was home.

Chapter Text

The sun shone brightly against Jumin’s closed eyes, forcing him awake. He groaned in displeasure as he rolled to his side, trying to re-orient himself and push back the cobwebs of sleep that clouded his senses.

A dull headache started to make its way towards his forehead; lack of sleep and tension being the culprit. He groaned once more, trying to keep his eyes closed against the brightness of the morning sun.

He managed to crack one eye open and found that Reine was no longer in bed, and that would also explain the drop in temperature beneath the covers. He sighed and sat up on the bed while he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. He took his wristwatch from the bedside table; its metal hands read 9:15.

Once he was decent, he made his way downstairs to find Saeyoung slumped on the couch, with Elizabeth 3rd lounging beside him as his fingers worked their magic over the keyboard. He didn’t know which would surprise him: the fact that Elizabeth seemed to have warmed up to him, or him not abusing the poor feline.

“Ah! Jumin!” Saeyoung looked up from the laptop in surprise, which also stirred the sleeping feline beside him. Elizabeth yawned and stretched her legs, then languidly walked over to rub her head on Jumin’s legs. “We’d like to talk to you about what happened yesterday--after you get breakfast,” he made a few more keystrokes and scratched the back of his head.

“You can talk to me now,” he replied, his voice still thick with sleep. “Before my headache plasters me back to bed.”

Saeyoung sighed and put closed the laptop’s lid, and gently laid it on the couch. He watched as Jumin gently picked up the white cat, who let out a purr as soon as she was cradled in his arms.

When the duo entered the dining room, they spotted Ae Cha enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while seated on the bar stool. Saeran was also relaxing on the seat nearest to the glass window that leads to the patio, and regarded him with a small nod. Judging from the noise of knife hitting the wooden chopping board from the kitchen, Vanderwood must be there.

Jumin’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Where’s Reine?”

“I saw her at the gym this morning,” Saeran replied.

That wasn’t good. Jumin felt worry creep into his chest as he knew that Reine was still recovering from her injury. His mind scrambled for reasons to keep her safe and keep her from injuring herself. Should he bring her back with him to Seoul? “How...long has she been there?”

“Let her be, Jumin,” Vanderwood spoke as he emerged from the kitchen. “Reine knows her body more than anyone else.”

“I don’t like it,” he bluntly replied. “But I will discuss this with her personally. Ah, I’d like to thank you for sending out the decoy plan--that really made my escape a lot easier.”

The twins and Vanderwood looked at each other, each wore a confused expression on their faces. “Decoy?” Saeyoung repeated in a tone that meant to clarify.

“Yes...something the matter?” Jumin asked in return as he noted the confusion in their faces.

“We meant to directly go to you, Jumin,” Saeyoung spoke, his tone tentative. “We planned to get a chopper to get you out of there personally. We were surprised when the perimeter guards told us that you just arrived in the villa.”

It was Jumin’s turn to be surprised. “That doesn’t make sense--I received information that a decoy is set up to make Yeong-Ho think I’m leaving with my limousine. So you’re telling me this was not your doing?”

Vanderwood sat on one of the chairs and leaned on the backrest. “No, it wasn’t us.”

“Then who?” Jumin asked.

“That’s what we’d like to know,” Saeyoung sighed. “But it seems you don’t know who it was, either.”

Jumin’s mind was lost in thought. “Although I am appreciative of the help, it’s just utterly unbelievable that someone with that kind of skill would go out of their way to come up with such an elaborate plan. It feels like--they knew the shootout was going to happen.”

“I agree,” Saeyoung commented. “Even I can’t come up with that plan in such a short period of time.”

Vanderwood stood up from the chair to go to the kitchen. “What’s important for now is Jumin is here, safe. Whoever it was that helped him--must have his reasons, but whatever those reasons were, at least it kept him alive,” he said with finality as he quickly strode back to the kitchen to attend to the pot that sounded like it was boiling over.

However, this news generated numerous questions in Saeyoung’s mind. Although he didn’t feel the sense of foreboding, he just couldn’t contain his curiosity to know who it was. Vanderwood’s ambiguous statement didn’t help either, and he somehow felt he was missing something really, really important.

He stepped out of the main house and into the patio, where the view of snow-capped mountains greeted his eyes. He breathed in the fresh mountain air and closed his eyes to clear his mind, letting the gentle breeze flow through his auburn hair.

He sighed and let his mind wander through the possibilities. If Jumin’s statement was true, that someone may have known that the shootout is going to happen in the first place, then it may mean they have an ally in the ranks of Mint Eye. As to why and how it would be, Saeyoung was still at a loss.

Looking back at how everything unfurled, most especially the high-profile entities that seems to be involved with Mint Eye, Saeyoung somehow believes that this has reached the notice of the government. The only way that he could think of that to have this escape plan to come to fruition is having the government plant an agent within Mint Eye and give the word for the footwork to begin.

And if the government is involved, then Mint Eye might have gone way too huge of a monster for them to deal with.

Saeyoung sighed and opened his eyes, his golden irises squinting slightly as he watched the clouds roll above him. He needs to confirm this hunch, and the best way to do this is to listen to all the information that has been floating around the exosphere. But with all the information being exchanged, picking up what he needs is like finding a particular ant in a city.

He let out another long, drawn-out sigh as his mind continued to worry about the nagging feeling in his gut.

Wait.

He seemed to have frozen as information that was stored in his mind came flooding in. If it was covert work, then NIS must be involved, and if they’re involved…

“Hello, NIS metal chunk in the sky,” Saeyoung mumbled, and the spring in his step was unmistakable as he grabbed his laptop from the living room couch and ran up towards the control room without saying a word.

He immediately wore his orange over-the-ear headphones and entered the string of commands to lock on and infiltrate the secured line. All he needs is to hear, and not download information, so he assumes he won’t need to have the aid of the computers at home remotely.

The laptop gave a small beep when the audio was finally connected.  He turned up the volume and listened to the encrypted audio.

 

 

 

“Force unlock satellite N7374LP. Password: purple haze.”

“This is Purple Haze. Hey Tom, how did it go?”

Saeyoung’s eyes widened at the sound of a familiar, very familiar voice, and a familiar name. However, he couldn’t help but grin at this revelation.

“Shady bastard,” he mumbled.


Ae Cha stared listlessly into the fiery embers of the fireplace laying on her stomach on the sofa in the living room, her arm draped over the edge. Today was a final resting day before another grueling week of training would begin. She looked forward to the training, however, she couldn’t deny the lingering question in the back of her mind of if she could really pull this operation off.

She underestimated the amount of work that needed to be done, and she was becoming aware Vanderwood had barely skimmed the surface of everything entailed for this mission to be successful.

Did I take on far more than I can handle?

Perhaps her doubt was linked to the recent events. It felt like the group could never catch a break. Jumin returned safely, however, with the conversation she overheard earlier another mystery had been added on top of the fact Sim Yeong-Ho was still loose and likely planning to make his next move.

Ae Cha sighed, her gaze following the fireplace to the clock above. It was close to noon, and she already wasted a majority of the day loafing around from room to room. She fully expected Vanderwood or Reine getting on her case if they still saw her in the same spot.  

When her eyes returned to fireplace, however, a pair of mint-colored eyes stared at her curiously. It was Saeran.

“Oh! Um.. Hi Saeran,” Ae Cha greeted, heat rising in her cheeks from embarrassment because she was unsure how long he had been staring at her. She swallowed waiting for a response.

Silence.

The two stared at each other intently, the sound of the clock ticking above the fireplace the only sound in the living room. Several minutes passed before Ae Cha decided Saeran must be waiting for her to get off of the couch in order to take a nap.  This wouldn’t be the first time, she was used to Saeran’s sporadic sleeping schedule.

“Here, you can sleep here. I’ll move,” Ae Cha smiled, straightening out once standing and resituating her sweater.  

She pulled a hair band from around her wrist, and quickly tied her tresses into a loose bun as she strolled toward the stairs. If she wasn’t able to loaf on the couch anymore, she decided her time would be better spent loafing on her bed.

Before Ae Cha could make it halfway across the room, she felt a warm hand wrap around her wrist and pull her into a different direction. Her eyes quickly darted toward… Saeran! ? What Saeran doing? She stared at him flabbergasted.

“W-Wait! Where are we going?!” Ae Cha asked, looking around the villa to see if anyone was seeing what was going on. The last time she was dragged out of a building, a car chase shortly followed. Did something happen?

Saeran continued to wordlessly pull her towards the living room door, which he immediately shut with his foot as soon as Ae Cha was outside. Without letting go of her wrist, he fumbled in his pocket to grab the keys to his car, and opened the door for Ae Cha, which she obliged but with wide-eyed confusion painted on her face.

He immediately got into the driver's seat, and he reached for the black jacket that was draped on the seat’s backrest.  He wrapped it around her shoulders and then reached once more towards the back seat for a… black beanie.

“Put this on, and hide your hair inside the hoodie,” he spoke, not a request but more of a command.

“But where are we going?” Ae Cha pressed again, sliding the jacket off of her shoulders and onto her lap, and quickly pulling the hoodie over her.  She then yanked her hair out of the loose bun and into a ponytail, making it easier to conceal thick locks within the hood.

A shade of pink spread across Saeran's cheeks, as he sped through the mountain trail down. A thousand different ways of explaining what he just did raced in his mind.

I want to go out with you. Wait, no that's...no.

Let's have a few drinks..? No, sounds like Vandy…

I'm sorry I just grabbed you out of nowhere and we're driving to the--argh too long.

I'd like to have a d...date..? No! No, no, no.

His eyebrows knotted and his mind was lost in thought when he suddenly realized they were in town. He felt a surge of embarrassment when it dawned on him that he didn't only grab Ae Cha out of nowhere, but he also ignored her question.

An awkward silence fell in the confined space, and the girl couldn’t help but nervously smile. She bit her lip, fumbling with the sleeve of the oversized hoodie between her fingers as she studied Saeran, noting how his eyebrows knotted. What exactly was he thinking?

“Wahhh! He’s so hard to read!” she pouted to herself.

The sound of the car’s engine humming was reminiscent of the last time they were in a car together. She briefly turned her head toward the window to watch outside, admiring the lightly snow-covered scenery as they traveled down the mountain. She hummed lightly for a few minutes and then decided--

“Saeran, I’m going to turn the radio on,” Ae Cha eventually spoke up, leaning over to gently pat his lap as she twisted the knob on the turner and surfed through the radio channels.  A smile grew on her face when she found a pop music station. “Much better!”

Saeran found it hard to concentrate on driving when he felt her warm hand on his lap. Even if it was just a split second, his cheeks burned and his grip on the steering wheel was tight. He suddenly felt an unexplainable surge of desire, at the same time his heart beat a thousand pumps per minute.

The catchy melody from the radio made him glance at her slightly, and she was gently bopping her head in tune with the music. She sang softly with the song’s lyrics, and the tune of her voice sounded so sweet.

He didn't realize he was holding his breath. He let out a sigh, and slowed down to park the car.

“W.. we're here,” he announced as he turned off the car engine. He immediately alighted the car and hurried to open her side of the door. As he did so, he wore a very apologetic look on his face, his cheeks tinged pink, and offered her his hand.

Ae Cha took Saeran’s hand and stepped out of the car.  She glanced both directions, unsure of where they were. Concern grew inside of her, acknowledging the regretful expression on Saeran’s face. “Is everything okay?”

Saeran took notice of how small and delicate her hand was. He stared at her hand for a time, and unconsciously, he gently ran his thumb over her knuckles as he fumbled for an explanation.

“I... I wanted bubble tea,” he mumbled apologetically.

“Really?” Ae Cha let out a squee, her eyes instantly sparkly in delight from the magical words which escaped Saeran’s lips. Then the realization hit her about Saeran’s behavior.

There weren’t in danger.

Not at all.

Saeran was being shy , and she found his bashfulness endearing. The concern in the back of her mind became replaced with thoughts of the delicious beverage.  “I knew you would like bubble tea!”

Saeran visibly beamed when Ae Cha’s eyes lit up. He cast his eyes downward, trying to hide his smile and hopefully, the growing redness on his cheeks, too.

They found a small cafe that served bubble tea just a few meters away from the parking lot. The small space was charming; the entire ceiling was filled with lamps of different shapes and sizes, and the brick and wood walls were covered by small framed artworks and mementos that made the place homey and warm. The chairs and tables were made of polished wood, and big glass windows afforded natural light and had no obstruction to the mountain view.

They chose a seat by the corner, right next to the window with the best view. Saeran couldn't get enough of watching her as she took in the small space with delight in her golden hazel eyes.

A middle-aged lady approached the pair with two menus on hand, and offered them a very polite, warm smile. “Hello! What would our lovebirds have today?”

Saeran's cheeks flushed red and stared at Ae Cha with wide eyes. He realized his thoughts were getting the better of him again, so he went and took the menu from the lady and went to concentrate on reading each and every item in hopes of hiding his embarrassment.

“H-Hello!” Ae Cha’s cheeks also flushed red and slid the menu closer to her in order to read the contents. Unable to concentrate, she glanced briefly over to Saeran to see if he would be the first to speak up and order. Unfortunately, this would only make Saeran bury his face even further into the menu.

“O-Oh. Um,” Ae cha stuttered and looked up at the waitress doe-eyed. “What do you recommend? This is my first time here.”

The lady smiled and helped Ae Cha on the menu. “What are you craving for? If you like something filling but light, we have great kimbap. If you’re looking for something to warm you up, we have ramen…” she continues to point out the items on the menu for Ae Cha.

Saeran watched in interest at how Ae Cha’s eyes would light up when she saw something on the menu that she liked. His lips curled up into a slight smile despite himself, and he was suddenly caught by surprise when both the lady and Ae Cha looked at him.

“How about you, young fella? What are you going to have?”

He realized he never made a decision as he was too preoccupied with watching Ae Cha. The lady took note of his dumbstruck expression and laughed. “Well, little miss, someone’s clearly smitten with you!”

“Just give me bubble tea,” he murmured as he looked out the window in embarrassment. “And I’ll get whatever she got.”

“Let’s order a plate of mayak kimbap and a plate of yachae-hotteok,” Ae Cha quickly interjected and leaned over to grab Saeran’s menu, sensing his uneasiness.

“For the bubble tea, both of them milk tea and with pearls,” Ae Cha paused as her eyes looked over the top menu a final time. “Let’s make one of them winter melon, and the other honeydew. Kamsahamnida!”

The lady finally excused herself and Saeran mentally thanked Ae Cha for taking care of it. This is one of the reasons why he rarely went out for food; he would often settle for whatever Saeyoung has stocked up or what Vanderwood whips up in the kitchen because small pleasantries never appealed to him. Although common courtesy is okay, but some people just tend to be overly familiar.

He tentatively looked up at Ae Cha, whom he caught was also looking at him. He couldn't help but smile when she averted her gaze, and he decided not to press further. He knew there was an attraction between them, but he decided to just enjoy her company away from everyone else in the villa for now.

The food was delicious; Saeran revelled at how Ae Cha would light up in delight with every bite she took. He felt an overwhelming happiness in his chest watching her enjoy, and he knew that he wanted to keep that smile of hers no matter how much he has to work for anything she wanted.

His eyes went wide with wonder as the bubble teas were served last. The way Ae Cha sighed in pleasure with her honeydew tea made him very curious on how it tasted like.

“Can… can I have a taste ?” He asked.

“Of course! All you have to do is ask,” Ae Cha beamed, delighted Saeran was interested in sharing something simple as bubble tea with her.  She leaned slightly forward, holding out the plastic container of honeydew milk tea in front of him.

Saeran leaned forward to reach the tip of Ae Cha’s straw, but it was a tad bit too far, so he placed both his hands over hers and pulled slightly so he can have a taste.

The sweet drink was heavenly, but the feel of her small hands under his somehow felt a lot sweeter. The straw already slipped off his lips but his hands seemed to have a mind of their own. Saeran's eyes focused on how her hand fit perfectly under his, and brushed his thumb slightly on her skin.

Ae Cha’s eyes widened, her arms becoming paralyzed as time seemed to freeze.  Butterflies danced in her chest while her stomach knotted tight. It was extremely rare for Saeran to interact with her, but even rarer he wasn’t keeping his distance from her.

The warmth of his hands and the slight brushing of his thumb over her skin made her knees feel weak even as she was sitting down. Heat flared in her cheeks as she stared at him wordlessly.

Her heartstrings tugged at her in two directions. One path would lead her to ask him why she was avoiding her, while the other path would lead to her confessing how she felt about the twin. This wasn’t fair.

“Do you like it?” Ae Cha blurted out instead, disappointment filling her mind. This was her chance to ask him or say anything, but she blew it. She only hoped she would feel the warmth of his hand just a little while longer.

Saeran took another sip of the drink. Any excuse to keep touching her hands--he fought a battle inside him to keep himself from pulling her close in his arms and just hold her. He found himself craving for her touch, so his hands gently slid towards her wrist.

The dangers she is going to face in the near future scared him that he somehow wanted to just take her and hide her where she will be safe.

He held her hands and looked up at her. The way the subtle light came through the window and illuminated her eyes made him catch his breath.

“T-thank you,” he managed to mutter, and with a herculean effort, he restrained himself and let her hands go. “It was delicious.”

She shot a glance at her own hands when Saeran released his grasp from them and prayed to any & every Deity to remember the exact feeling of his warm, gentle hands. Her focus returned to Saeran who was staring at her again which made her heart jump out of her chest and her cheeks flush a shade darker.

“Ah~! I’m glad you like it!” Ae Cha quickly took a sip of the bubble tea in hopes the delicious taste of the milky beverage would contain her feelings.  Instead, her mind wandered to how his lips touched the straw of her bubble tea.

They shared the same straw. Was this technically a kiss?  She made a note to herself to search on online. No. Ae Cha! Stop it!

She needed a distraction to keep her from blurting out what was really on her mind, fearing Saeran would revert back to his distanced self. Her eyes then focused on his red locks as she thought about what topic she could bring up to change the subject.

 

 

 “How’s your left arm?” 

Like a flash of light, a hazy memory of an unidentified man with white hair triggered in the back of her mind, unable to recall where this memory came from. It surely sounded like Saeran’s voice, but there was no way she met the younger twin before. Saeran has only had red hair that she knew of.  The man’s hair in her memory had white.  

No, I’m thinking too much into this, ” Ae Cha concluded, but even still she wondered...

“Have you thought about ever dyeing your hair?” Ae Cha set her container of bubble tea on the table and slid closer to Saeran in the booth. “I bet it would look really nice in a different color,” she cooed, unconsciously raising her arm to pet fluffy, red locks. “With your tattoo, people might think you were an Idol or a model!”

Saeran’s eyes widened and his desire came in one sweet rush through his veins as he felt her hand brush through his hair, her nails very lightly tickled his scalp which sent goosebumps down his arms.

His lips parted slightly as he tried to stifle a gasp, but his eyes started its faint glow as his desire for her escalated. His hands were curled into fists on his legs under the table as he restrained himself from grabbing her wrist and kiss those tiny little fingers, one by one…

Her finger brushed on the top of his earlobe and that was the last straw. He clenched his jaw and grabbed her wrist, but he immediately realized that they were in public.

“I will bite you,” he blurted out.

“Oh! I’m so sorry,” worry quickly etched into her features as she apologized. Shit. I went too far!

Her eyes glossed over with fear, and her heart began to splinter from the mere thought she ruined this time she had with Saeran. The rejection hurt so much. She attempted to scoot back in the booth while Saeran held a firm grip on her wrist.

Saeran immediately felt horrible as her eyes reflected a tinge of fear. His mind raced on what to say; he didn't mean to push her away like he seemed to have. He did not let go of her wrist even if she tried to scoot back, and his eyes searched for hers. “I-I'm sorry,” he mumbled under his breath and eased the grip on her wrist. “I was just... surprised.”

He then leaned forward towards her, offering her full access to his hair. “Here,” he mumbled.

Ae Cha remained silent, but she was very surprised at Saeran’s response and how he sat in front of her, offering to let her touch his hair. This was an entirely new side to him she has never seen. He was so... awkwardly adorable, it reaffirmed her feelings for him as well.

She cautiously lifted her hand again, hesitating centimeters away from stray hair before her nails grazed his scalp. His hair was so, so soft and perfect for petting. The longer she played with his hair, the hesitation which was once there faded away.

“It’s so soft and fluffy. I could do this all day,” Ae Cha mused, her lips curling into a smile.

Saeran felt her fingers through his hair, her nails grazing his scalp. He felt his shoulders relax as he started to enjoy the attention; so he crossed his arms on the table and used it as a cushion while Ae Cha played with his hair.

Somehow, in this small cafe, at this moment, everything was peaceful. There were no Quads, no Yeong-Ho, no Mint Eye in this quiet little nook in the mountains. His eyes watched Ae Cha’s reflection on the glass window as he continued to bask in her gentle touch, and he felt that his heart was full and filled to the brim.


“Just where in nine hells have you been?”

Vanderwood tapped his foot impatiently on the wooden flooring on the porch, his arms crossed on his chest.

“Out,” Saeran replied.

“Of course I know you've been out. But let me get this straight: what do people in hiding do? They hide! Meaning, they stay hidden!”

Vanderwood continued on his lecture, but Saeran's mind was preoccupied with the feel of Ae Cha’s hands in his hair. That moment was bliss, and even if it meant suffering through Vanderwood's lectures, he would definitely do it again, every chance he gets.

He looked over at her direction, and so did she, and a small smile was shared between the two. There was understanding, there, that no one else can see. He had never felt so certain in his life, and he made a promise to himself that even when everything is over, he will still hold her close to his heart.

“Are you even listening to me?” Vanderwood asked, which broke Saeran's train of thought.

“Obviously not,” he mumbled.

“Why you--” Vanderwood sighed as Saeran nonchalantly strode towards the living room, and he then turned to Ae Cha. “You guys worried the hell out of me!”

“Sorry Vandy,” she said with a giggle, following Saeran into the villa.

Vanderwood let out a long, drawn-out sigh, but a small smile played on his face as he watched them walk into the living room.

Chapter Text

The sun was setting over the mountainous horizon, untouched snow shimmered in remaining light touching the ground from the window in Ae Cha’s room. It was that time of the day where the sky mixed  purple and orange hues. Today marked the beginning of week three of training. It seemed as if time was passing quickly.

The door to Ae Cha’s room in the villa slowly opened, revealing Ae Cha clinging onto a lavender towel wrapped around her body as she shut the door behind her. Strands of her wet tresses dripped into the towel.

Ae Cha pursed her lips, approaching the tall mezzanine windows by her bed. Her eyes sparkled admiring the snow-covered scenery outdoors. The constant noise from the city was turning into distant memory. Although she struggled with the routine, she found the structure enjoyable. She had forgotten what it was like to have a routine, and the longer she stayed sober the more clarity returned to her.

She imagined what a conversation would have been like if Lee Han-Sol was still alive, certain he wouldn’t quite know how to take the news of everything that’s happened. Her hand unconsciously reached for her choker, only for her fingers to touch bare skin.

A tinge of sadness slightly darkened her golden-hazel eyes remembering she no longer had the jewelry. There was uncertainty running rampant in her mind, and she couldn’t help but feel like everything occurring could possibly have been orchestrated for something much bigger…

But did it have to come to this? All of their answers may potentially be on the choker, but, she still slightly resisted the decision she made to give it up. However, her father sacrificed his life to save others. And if her father sacrificed his own life, she can surely give up a piece of metal attached to the fabric.

A chime echoed from Ae Cha’s nightstand, returning Ae Cha to reality. Ae Cha turned around and walked over to her bed, dropping the towel on top of the mattress as she in front of her night stand nude. The sound was from her phone.

“Huh? What’s this?” Her eyebrows knotted in confusion. It’s been quite some time since she received any regular messages. She reached for her phone, and slid her index finger across the screen to unlock.  A notification popped up.

 

 

[New Message Received: 1 Unread]
[From: Unknown Sender]

Ae Cha’s heart skipped a beat reading the notification. Her thumb hovered over the message icon, hesitating to open in fear it Sim Yeong-Ho as the glow of the screen illuminated her face.  Ae Cha looked up from the screen, and toward the door.

Should she get Saeran?

Her mind recalled the outing the two recently had together. Her heart swelled with adoration, and the feeling of his warm hands holding hers made her weak in the knees. She had worried things were tense between herself and the twin, but, maybe this outing was the start of something new.

However, that did not detract from the fact she made a promise to him that whenever she was in trouble she would run to him. But… did she need to flee anytime she felt easily uncomfortable with a situation? The last thing she wanted was for both Saeran and Saeyoung to view her as a damsel in distress.

“I’m being too paranoid,” Ae Cha reasoned out loud, taking deep breath as she tapped the message icon. If it was something, she would  Her stomach knotted in anticipation until the notification revealed… an advertisement?

 

 

[ Get ready for spring with a new wardrobe! Click here to check out the latest fashion~ You won’t believe your eyes! ♥ ♥ ♥ xoxox ]

An overwhelming wave of relief washed over her. All it was, is a simple ad. Ae Cha chuckled at herself, falling backward on top of her mattress with the phone in her hand. She was being ridiculous over a stupid ad .

Ae Cha tossed her phone beside her, sat up, and walked over to the dresser for her night clothes. She couldn’t wait for the day she could possibly update her wardrobe with even more fashionable outfits.

She wondered what type of fashion spring would bring. A sense of excitement built inside of her as she tossed chiffon tank top over her head and pulled her chiffon shorts to her waist. Curiosity filled her mind.

Ae Cha swiftly returned to the mattress, sitting on the edge of the bed. She quickly unlocked her phone, humming as she navigated to the message once more.

 

 

[ Get ready for spring with a new wardrobe! Click here to check out the latest fashion~ You won’t believe your eyes! ♥ ♥ ♥ xoxox ]

“I hope they’re cute,” Ae Cha mused, and with a stroke of her finger, she tapped the advertisement. The link took her a blank web page with a video which automatically began to play. It must be a commercial advertisement.

Suddenly Ae Cha’s eyes widened hearing a very familiar voice at the start of the clip. It wasn’t just anyone’s voice. It was her voice .

“Appa, I’m home!”

“Huh?” Ae Cha’s eyebrows knotted in confusion, her eyes still locked on the screen. As much as she wanted to turn away, she was paralyzed with fear. The video was from inside her father’s apartment. Inside their apartment. How was this possible? No one has been in the apartment since she left which meant…

Someone had recorded her father’s suicide inside the apartment.

A man stood in the view of the screen, his back turned to the camera. He was holding the same Daewood DP-51 Pistol her father used to commit suicide. She remembered this day clearly. It was her father. Lee Han-Sol.

She felt her throat begin to tighten, panic settling in. Her chest became heavy, and she felt trapped within the walls of her body. If this was the day her father committed suicide then this meant...

“Appa! Wh--What are you doing?”

Ae Cha spotted the younger version of herself standing in front of the door. There was so much fear and confusion in her eyes. Just like there was in the present day Ae Cha.

Ae Cha’s eyes grew even wider watching the scene continue to unfold, her hands trembled as she gripped tightly to her phone. Her breathing turned erratic as the next scenes played.

“No, no, no,” Ae Cha shook her head, her thumb repeatedly tapping the back button on her phone. However, the video continued to play in mockery of her attempts to stop it.

"Paradise? Talk to me, Appa!"

Her heart drummed rapidly, threatening to pound straight out of her chest. All attempts to call for the twins failed as her mind was replaced with debilitating fear.

BANG!

The sound of the gunshot, and the video playing the graphic image caused Ae Cha to let out blood-curdling scream. Without thinking, she threw her phone away from her. The screen instantly cracked when the glass collided with the corner of the doorframe.

The video continued to play, the sound of her sobs from the video filled the room. Ae Cha stared into empty space in shock, the color draining immediately from her face.

Her chest rose and fell rapidly, and suddenly she was no longer in the villa. Her eyes darted around the room, surprised to see the bright walls of her father’s apartment.

Was this reality? If it was, then that meant… her father’s suicide just happened. The villa must have been a dream. Was it a dream?

The smell of blood wafted her nostrils, causing her eyes to fall downcast. A pool of fresh blood spilled towards her feet. Bile rising in her throat. When she looked up she saw her father’s body in front of her on the ground with the gun laying beside him.

“No, no… please don’t go,” Ae Cha begged, reaching out for her father. Her entire body quivered as she fell to her knees. Blood continuing to surround her.

Inside the villa, Ae Cha was now on the ground, her eyes wide and unseeing.The sound of sobs echoed throughout the room.

“Please… don’t leave me alone… ”

 


The twins felt their heart constrict in their chests as they heard Ae Cha’s fearful scream. They looked at each other for a split second and, wasting no more time, were on their feet, headed towards the room next door.

Ae Cha was on the floor at the edge of the bed, her eyes wide open but unseeing.  Her lips quivered as her small frame was desperate for air, as if she was being choked by an unseen assailant.  

Saeyoung was quick to his feet as he closed the distance, his mind wild with trying to find out what was wrong.  His eyes inspected her--there seemed to be no obvious physical injury, but her eyes were wide and pupils dilated, and her irises moved erratically as if she was seeing something they didn’t.

Saeran watched all of this in horror, his body stuck and unable to understand the pain he felt in his chest.  

Then, he heard a peculiar sound somewhere in the room--a woman’s voice.

“Paradise? Talk to me, Appa!”

His eyes darted toward the source of the sound. He found Ae Cha’s phone, screen cracked, but the dim light of the phone’s screen still played the gruesome memory as if in mockery.

BANG!

Saeran picked up the device and his eyes widened in shock at the image of a younger Ae Cha, her mouth open as she called out for her father.  Then the video stopped, and began once more with the view of her father from behind as he placed the gun on his head.

He felt his hands shake.  His blood surged and seemed to be concentrated in his chest, and it took almost all of his willpower not to burst.  He contained his rage, but it burned, and it burned white-hot; his right hand curled into a fist with his nails biting into his skin.

He looked over to his brother, who was crouched in front of her with his eyes in the verge of tears in desperation as it appeared that Ae Cha was not responding to anything.

Saeyoung held Ae Cha’s face in his hands, his thumbs stroked the apples of her cheeks and he desperately tried to get any reaction.  “Ae Chan,” he spoke softly, in an attempt to calm the girl. “Ae Chan, can you hear me?”

His hands trembled in fear and of heartbreak.  She was doing so well for the past few months.  She even found her own wings and have been trying to fly.  She was getting better.

Now it felt as if they were back to square one.  Saeyoung cannot help but think that Ae Cha had reverted to how she was the first time they met her, and this caused an indescribable grief in Saeyoung’s heart.  She braved so many things for the past few months, and endured so much pain, only to be shattered by this.

Saeyoung felt his sight turn blurry as tears collected in his eyes, threatening to spill.  Most of all, his heart broke at the sight of the woman he has learned to love, his precious, precious Ae Cha, be rendered helpless like this.  He bit his bottom lip in an effort to keep his emotions at bay, but it was a losing battle.  

“Ae Chan,” he spoke, his face mere inches away from hers.

She must feel so alone… lost in her mind like this…

He planted a kiss on her forehead and then touched his forehead with hers, his hands still held her face.

“Ae Chan, please,” he winced as he heard his own voice break, and his emotions came in like a tidal wave that almost knocked him over.  He felt his own shoulders shake with grief.

“Come back to me… please…”

He closed his eyes and tears started to roll down his cheeks, and in desperation he claimed her lips in his, hoping against hope that if his voice cannot get to her, then maybe his heart would.  He kissed her, fervently, and pulled her closer to him, as he willed his feelings to reach her, to please, reach her.

The brightly colored walls in Ae Cha’s vision disappeared in a blink from Saeyoung’s desperation to bring her back to reality. With a blink of her eyes she was surrounded by polished wooden walls of the villa yet again. Her eyes returned to focus and eventually locked onto Saeyoung who was kissing her.

Saeyoung…? What’s going on?

She felt woozy, the room spinning around her. Ae Cha desperately attempted to say something , but the girl was unable to force a sound out.  Her body was still in shock, unable to quite recall what had happened.

Saeyoung’s eyes widened as he thought he got some sort of reaction from Ae Cha. He finally broke the kiss and checked on her immediately.  When her eyes finally focused on him, his tears flowed once more in relief.  He let out a shaky sigh and smiled at her.  

“Hey,” he whispered as he held her cheek with one of his hands, stroking the smooth skin gently.  The fear in her eyes was still there, and she trembled, but nothing could have made him happier to see that her eyes are now looking at him.

“I’m right here, babycakes,” he spoke very softly, as if the slightest sound might disrupt the fragile connection they had at that moment.  He gently placed his hand on her hair and petted her.  “I’m here. You’re safe.”

Ae Cha swallowed and nodded slowly at Saeyoung’s soft spoken words. Her eyes became heavy with fatigue. As she returned to the real reality, guilt brewed inside of her having realized she must have experienced a flashback in front of the twins. If only she would have taken her phone to them after receiving the text message, they wouldn’t have found her on the floor.

Ae Cha’s eyes fell downcast as thoughts of self-doubt continued to swirl in her mind. Tears formed from the sides of her eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment. If only she were stronger, none of this would have happened.

“I-I’m sorry,” Ae Cha whispered, her voice cracking. “I only th-thought it was just an a-ad…”

“Shh...it’s not your fault,” Saeyoung assured her as he pulled her to him. He quietly held her as her emotions spilled out, and he tried his best to lend her the strength through his embrace.

He turned behind him towards Saeran, who watched quietly in the doorway as everything unfolded. The sound of Ae Cha’s sobs lodged a blade in Saeran's heart, and the rage in his eyes set his mint-green eyes aglow.

Saeyoung gave a slight nod at his brother, which Saeran responded with the same. Saeran placed Ae Cha’s phone in his pocket and turned to walk out of the room, his teeth clenched with suppressed rage.

The scene in Ae Cha's room played over and over again in Saeran's mind, and the sound of her screams in the video played on a loop in his head.

He cannot sit down and remain quiet anymore.


Reine’s eyes were suddenly wide open when she heard a bloodcurdling scream. Despite being slightly disoriented from the sudden awakening, she sat up and her instincts dictated that her eyes scan the immediate area.

It was only then that she realized she was still in the mountain villa, and she slowly felt her adrenaline drop. She let out a sigh, and ran her fingers through her crimson locks.

She heard quick, sudden footsteps not long after, and she straightened her back with her ears peeled towards the source of the sound.

Something really is going on.

She climbed out of bed as quickly as she could, careful to mind the sleeping white feline beside her. Elizabeth 3rd did not stir as she slipped out of the blankets and out of the room.

When she opened the bedroom door, she spotted Jumin on his desk, typing away on his laptop. He may not have heard the commotion outside as she could see two white wires coming from his ears, and the display on his laptop showed that he is in a conference call. He has been working remotely from the villa since the day of the shootout as his safety far outweighed his actual presence in C&R.

As if he sensed her presence, Jumin tugged at one of the wires and one earbud popped off. “You’re awake,” he greeted, but he tilted his head slightly when he noticed the concern on Reine’s face.  “What’s wrong?”

Reine turned her gaze towards the bedroom door. “I heard Ae Cha scream,” she said as she unconsciously reached out to tilt Jumin’s chin up to face her, and she bent forward to plant a chaste kiss on his lips.

“I’m going to check it out,” she said, and hastily walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

Heat rose to Jumin’s face, which left his cheeks and the tips of his ears pink. Other than the fact that he was not expecting Reine to be unconsciously forward, she may not have noticed that he was still in the middle of a conference call, and everyone who may have been paying attention to the video feed might have seen that.

It also didn’t help that the entire panel went unusually quiet.

Jumin immediately collected himself and cleared his throat, replacing the earbud in his ear and proceeded with the business meeting. He kept his gaze on the papers before him, hoping that the dimness of the room could hide the redness on his cheeks.


Reine walked through the hallway and onto the mezzanine area which connected the left and right upper wing of the villa, in hopes to find out what was happening.

As she turned the corner to the left wing where their rooms are, Saeran wordlessly walked past her, his shoulder slightly brushed against hers. She meant to stop and ask him what was going on, but he seemed to be in such haste that she knew she wouldn’t be able to get answers from him even if she wanted to.

Once that option was dropped, she immediately turned toward the left wing hallway, towards Ae Cha’s room. She could faintly hear her sobs through the walls, and this made her concern grow even more.

As she was about to reach for the knob of the door that led to Ae Cha’s room, the door suddenly opened, ushering Saeyoung, his expression sullen and his lashes slightly wet. Tears?

“What’s going on?” she asked Saeyoung, and her eyes trailed behind him towards Ae Cha who was sitting on the bed, hugging her knees to her chest. “I heard her scream.”

“A-ah! Hi Reine, uh...she’s okay, she will be fine,” Saeyoung stammered and cursed at himself for his inability to say anything convincing.

Reine looked over his shoulder once again and gave him a stern gaze. “She does not look okay,” she retorted as she felt her chest grow heavy with worry. Without a word she slightly pushed Saeyoung aside, and entered the room.

Saeyoung scratched behind his head, debating within himself if he should tell Reine about what really happened. How does he tell her? What does he tell her? It just seemed that any other explanation might just incite unnecessary grief for her.

Besides, it is not his place to say. This is something personal for the siblings, and he would have to respect if Ae Cha decides to keep this secret from her.

Reine gently sat on the bed beside Ae Cha, letting her hand gently stroke her hair. She recognizes these symptoms; something might have triggered her sister’s dormant anxiety issues. She scanned her eyes around the room anxiously, looking for something that may have brought this on, or anything in the room that she may use to hurt herself with. She finally relaxed when she found nothing of the sort, and then she turned to Ae Cha once more.

“Ae Cha,” she gently spoke, her eyes wide with worry. “What happened?”

Seeing Ae Cha’s obvious distress in Reine’s question, Saeyoung decided that a small white lie shouldn’t hurt. He sighed and leaned on the doorframe, his hands shoved into his jacket pockets. “She woke up from a bad nightmare,” he said in a soft voice, but his eyes were fixed on the floor.  He tried his best to make the whole situation seem a lot less than what it really was, even though he knew that his eyes are starting to sting with the lie he had to tell her.

Reine visibly sighed in relief, and this made the guilt in Saeyoung’s heart wedge itself even further. He turned his gaze towards Reine as she wrapped her arms around Ae Cha and laid her head on her chest. Ae Cha was still in distress, but her shoulders at least relaxed a little as she settled into her sister’s arms.

“I’m right here, okay?” Reine spoke softly, her hands drawing circles on her sister’s shoulders to ease out the tension. “You’re not alone. We’re all here for you. Okay?”

All Ae Cha could manage was a small nod, and closed her eyes.

Saeyoung’s heart ached watching the scene before him. How many more of these are they going to go through? How much more of their tears should be shed? What he feared the most was when the time comes that the both of them would just give out at a moment’s notice; and all they could do would be to helplessly watch, like he was at that moment.

He cursed under his breath; his helplessness turned into fuel for his anger. He felt his chest ache with white-hot rage; his hands clenched into fists at his sides.


The night was quiet, save for the sound of trickling water that emanated from the bathroom of a dingy room that he rented out for the night.  He does not plan to stay here for long; he had planned to be on the move as often as possible to keep distractions at bay.

He cannot afford to be distracted now.

The smell of chemical permeated the air, almost threatening to choke him. He has done this so many times before, but the smell was something he could never, ever get used to. The smell brought back so many memories of everything he had endured.

He cannot take this any longer. He cannot sit back and watch the world unfurl around him helplessly like he did before. Somewhere in his heart was a great refusal to accept this kind of fate, especially that this fate no longer involved only him.

Warm water sprayed from the shower as he turned the knob; he watched as the chemical flow towards the bathroom floor, along with remnants of his identity.

This was more of a symbolism to him; he desired to have his other identity stay untainted. He had long abandoned that part of him years ago, thinking him weak, and unable to fight back. Does he think the same still? Maybe. But one thing was for sure--that identity does not belong to him right now. Again.

As soon as the water ran clear he turned the knob to turn the shower off, and he stepped out into the powder area. He grabbed one of the towels provided by the inn he was staying at, and haphazardly toweled his hair.

His eyes trailed toward the countertop where two phones laid side by side, albeit one with a severely cracked screen. He placed the towel on the counter and took the damaged phone in his hand, his thumb tracing the hairline cracks along its glass surface.

He gritted his teeth in remembrance of how her eyes were wide yet unseeing, her body shaking as if not her own. The sound of her voice that cracked painfully with every word of apology, thinking that this was her fault, that everything was her fault.

Enough is enough.

Saeran finally shifted his eyes to examine a familiar reflection-- his reflection--in the mirror; a reflection he never thought he would be seeing once again. His platinum white hair with touches of magenta coupled with his mint green eyes reminded him of unpleasant memories, but it also reminded him of memories of power.

He leaned forward to look into his own eyes on the mirror. While his outward appearance seemed calm and collected, his eyes were a storm of their own, a reflection of the rage that has been quietly burning in his chest. His white hair was still dripping wet, leaving rivulets of water running down his shoulders.

“You want to play this game?” he asked in a voice that was so far detached from the gentle tone he talked to her with just yesterday. His chest ached and his hands shook as he remembered that quiet afternoon, when her hands felt perfect in his...when her fingers laced into his hair...the way her cheeks flushed when embarrassed, and when her eyes sparkled as he mentioned bubble tea.

She was happy.

He gritted his teeth and his entire body shook with rage.


“You got it, motherfucker,” he growled.

Chapter Text

“Where are you going this early in the morning?”

Jumin's voice made Reine gasp sharply in surprise as she wound elastic bandages around her waist in front of a floor-length mirror.

“Jumin!” She exclaimed, and let out a sigh to still her heart. “You surprised me!”

Jumin sat up from the bed and noted that the sun has yet to rise. He walked over to stand behind her, and he gently took the bandage roll from her hand. He wordlessly continued wrapping Reine’s waist with the flesh-colored bandage, and planted a kiss on her shoulder.

“Does it still hurt?” He spoke in a low, quiet tone; his voice seemed like a languid purr of a predatory cat. Reine closed her eyes and she leaned backward to rest the back of her head on his solid chest, then she rested her arms on top of his.

“Not anymore,” she replied and smiled. “I get phantom pains, though.”

Jumin paused for a second, his expression showed his unhappiness. “Then why are you training? I can’t allow you to go out if you’re still in pain, phantom or not.”

Something in Jumin’s tone irked Reine, which caused her to give him a defiant stare at him on the mirror.

“Jumin,” Reine placed her hands over his, and searched his eyes through its reflection in the mirror. The way Jumin's forehead creased was an indication of his absolute disagreement, and Reine cannot have that. “It’s been three months.  My wound has almost fully healed--it will heal a lot slower if I don’t do something.”

Jumin let out an exhausted sigh. He did not say a word, but his eyes reflected his disapproval.

As soon as he secured the end of the bandage, he placed both his hands on either side of her hips, and pulled her close.

“If you’re going to be like this, I will take you back to Seoul with me today,” he spoke as he ran his hands up and down her arms, and stopped right above the elbow and grasped her possessively. “I cannot have you in danger again.”

Reine felt anger start to bubble inside her chest. “What? Jumin, I can’t come to Seoul with you and you know that,” she reasoned. “And something is obviously wrong with Ae Cha. I can’t just go and leave,” she spoke, her tone taking on a notch of forcefulness.

Jumin’s eyes stared into hers through the mirror, and they reflected his insistence on absolute obedience. “You will stop doing this. You’re going back to Seoul with me.”

Reine felt herself grit her teeth and pulled away from Jumin’s embrace, then abruptly turned to face him with eyes that burned in defiance. “I cannot remember giving you the power to tell me what I can or cannot do,” she spoke in a low, harsh tone.

Jumin’s words left a sour taste in her mouth. She shoved him aside and strode towards the edge of the bed where her clothes were, and she let her gaze fall downcast. She felt the pang of hurt in her chest as she donned a black, long-sleeved thermal wear as a base layer for her winter running clothes.

She went on to layer her clothes methodically without glancing at Jumin. She bit the inside of her lip to keep her from crying. Sure, she knew that Jumin was merely looking out for her, but she admitted that it did hurt when she couldn't even get the encouragement she needed from someone she cared about.

When she finally zipped up the black insulated vest, she paused and grabbed a pair of gloves on the dresser. “I'm heading out,” she quietly announced without so much of a glance at the man.

She immediately opened the door of the room they shared and closed it behind her. She needed to get some distance from him for the meantime as she fought to keep herself from saying anything more in hopes of not adding more to the pain she felt in her heart.


“Rise and shine, little lady!”

Vanderwood knocked on Ae Cha’s door and spoke with high energy. “There’s a lot of meat for breakfast today, so gobble up!” He continued to speak as he walked down the hallway.

Reine was just about to turn around the corner into the main hallway when she found Vanderwood donned in a frilly purple apron over his black tracksuit and holding a ladle with one hand. She stifled a laugh and paused to greet him. “Good morning, Vandy!”

“Ooh, morning,” Vanderwood greeted back. “Isn't Jumin coming for breakfast?”

Reine shook her head and tried to suppress her emotion at the mention of Jumin. “He's having a bad migraine--I’ll probably take some food for him later.”

After a few seconds several knocks were heard once more, and this time it's at the twins’ door. “Oi, tomatohead, breakfast is ready,” Vanderwood called out with a flat tone that was completely different from how he tried to wake up Ae Cha. Reine giggled, everyone knew who was Vandy’s favorite.

Ae Cha’s door slowly cracked open, and a pair of dull golden hazel eyes peeked out from the room. Her gaze trailed Reine and Vanderwood as they continued walking down the hallway. She wiped the sleep out of her eyes and sighed.

Most of yesterday was still a blur, but the pain she endured from re-witnessing her father’s suicide, as well as the embarrassment from the twins finding her in the middle of a flashback, was fresh on her mind.

Her heart broke again thinking about her sister. She didn’t have the heart to tell Reine what happened. For now, it was best her sister believed she experienced a nightmare. Ae Cha would rather have her own anxiety issues blamed than to have her own sister’s memory of their father tainted by that horrible... video .

Ae Cha slowly wandered to the farthest end of the table which had a perfect view of the mountainside terrain although her gaze remained downcast. The sparkle in her eyes was replaced with something far more melancholy. Using her fingertips, Ae Cha slowly drew invisible lines on the table and sighed again as she became lost in her own thoughts.

Reine glanced over at Ae Cha and noticed that her movements were slow and sluggish.  She walked over to her and immediately placed a hand on her forehead. “You're not down with fever,” she spoke. “Are you not feeling well? I think you should skip training today,” Reine said worriedly, then glanced over to Vanderwood who just emerged from the kitchen carrying a bowl of fresh pumpkin soup.

“She looks fine to me,” Vanderwood spoke, and Reine noticed the subtle hardness on his voice. “I don't think she is unable to do whatever she wanted.”

Ae Cha shot a quick glance at Reine and Vanderwood, catching on to the stern tone of Vanderwood’s voice. She needed to find the strength to continue training. Perhaps it would keep her mind off of what happened.

“Oh… right,” Ae Cha mumbled before her eyes lowered again.

Reine stared at both Vanderwood and Ae Cha, feeling that they shared knowledge that she wasn't a part of. It's quite common with teacher and students, so she just let it go with a sigh.

Saeyoung half-dragged himself to the dining area, his left hand still rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Good morning,” he mumbled and gave out a big yawn. His eyes settled on Ae Cha, who was seated at the farthest end of the table. He smiled and sat on a chair beside hers, then gave her a gentle smile. “Ae Chan,” he greeted, his voice gentle. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Ae Cha mustered enough energy for her voice to sound somewhat cheerful. Her eyes briefly met Saeyoung. She waited a few moments for Saeran to come into the dining room as well. She wondered what mood he would be in after what happened yesterday.

Silence.

Ae Cha looked around the dining room, surprised the other twin hadn’t arrived to yet. She found that particularly odd, given the twins were almost always in the same vicinity.   Could he be mad at me?

“Saeyoung, where’s Saeran?” she asked curiously.

Saeyoung's eyes went blank in surprise for a split second, and then he averted his gaze. He gave Ae Cha a smile and he sighed. “He left last night. To where, I don't know. I'm sorry, but I couldn't find him,” he reached out for her hand to give it a light squeeze. “I-I'll try finding him again today!”

“Why would he leave?” Ae Cha bit her bottom lip and placed her free hand gently over Saeyoung’s hand, imploring for answers. Hurt filled her eyes as she expected one of the reasons for Saeran to leave was because he could no longer be in her presence. After all, she did break her promise to him.

Saeyoung sighed and took both her hands in his, then leaned forward a little to look straight into her eyes. “I'm sorry, Ae Chan. I can lie to you and tell you he's out on a job, but I can't do that to you. I'm really not sure why he left… but I trust Saeran, and I hope you can trust him, too,” his golden eyes implored as he caressed the backs of her hands with his thumbs.


The gym was eerily quiet save for the sound of leather hitting against leather, the groaning of chains, and the series of sharp exhales from the exertion of delivering hard hitting blows on the heavy bag.

After the early morning warm up, Reine took to the gym clad in a black sports bra and black gym shorts, her hair tied in a high ponytail to keep it away from her face. Her midsection is still supported by an elastic lumbar brace to keep her from worrying her wound while working out, and provide support for her back that has been weakened by her injury.

Beads of sweat trickled down her strong shoulders and toned arms, the tips of her crimson hair saturated with perspiration. Her eyes were focused on the heavy bag’s momentum as it swung back and forth, the muscles of her legs strained she deftly sidestepped to deliver another set of blows on the heavy object.

The blows she dealt were well-intended and timed, quick and precise...but any person watching would know that she was not merely training. Within her body laid anger that begged to be released in some form, and at this point, she just refused to cry and take it like she has been for the past three months.

Who does he think he is? She cannot fathom how Jumin could ever dare talk to her in that manner. She wanted to snap at him and tell him she's no longer his subordinate, and she is most definitely not his property that he can do whatever he pleased. What he wanted was completely irrational; how could he ask this of her seeing that Ae Cha is obviously not okay? And if she did agree to go back to Seoul, judging from how he possessively held her, she's sure he would most likely lock her up in his penthouse until things settled.

She can't have that. As if I could be a doormat.

Ae Cha pushed the gym door open, her face flushed from her daily morning run on the mountain terrain. Her eyes immediately trailed to the sound of leather being pounded, repetitively. Based on the height and long red tresses alone, she knew it was Reine delivering the blows.

Her eyes grew wide as she cautiously approached the corner of the gym, both amazed and terrified at how much stamina her sister is exerting towards an inanimate object. She winced thinking about what Reine could be capable of doing when her sister was fully recovered.

“So scary,” Ae Cha whispered under her breath as she sat cross-legged on the ground, staring at her sister in awe.

Reine was oblivious of her sister entering the gym, as she was too focused on timing the blows and sorting out the anger she felt in her mind. The bag swung like a pendulum, the chains made loud clinking sounds with every blow.

Jumin’s words echoed in her head and this gave her another spurt of energy. She felt angry, angry that the man she loved and gave her heart to would disrespect her free will.

And it hurt. It hurt, because she loved him, and despite this, she still does. She felt betrayed; she hoped to at least find some encouragement from the man she gave herself to, and it hurt that he was the first one to attempt to douse her fire.

Discontent with the punches she was dealing, she placed both fists against her chest and bent her torso to the left side, and swung her right foot once, twice, three times. While the bag is in momentum, she abruptly turned and the back of her left foot slammed on the bag, sending it swinging sharply. She returned to delivering punches at it to steady the swinging, then continued to deliver the blows from her powerful legs once more, her shouts echoed in the gym borne from physical exertion.

Tears from her eyes mingled with the sweat that came steadily down her face, some of her hair sticking to her wet skin. She delivered one final tornado roundhouse kick which made the bag swing sharply, and then she finally collapsed in a squat, her lips parted and her chest heaved with both shortness of breath, and the incredible hurt that spilled out.

“Unnie!” Ae Cha pushed off of the rubber flooring at the sight of Reine collapsing, and rushed toward her sister.  She knelt in front of her, and placed a hand on Reine’s shoulder. “Are you hurt?”

Reine looked up at Ae Cha in surprise; her chest still gasping for air. “I-I'm okay,” she replied in between breaths, then she lifted her arms to remove the boxing gloves on her hand and tossed them aside.

She immediately took the towel that was conveniently tucked into one of the straps of her lumbar support, and wiped her face. She hoped Ae Cha didn't see her tears.

“You shouldn’t push yourself so much,” Ae Cha stood up and held her hand out to her sister, worry etched over her face. “You’re still recovering. Does Jumin know you’re training like this?”

Reine sighed and stood up, and felt another twinge of pain in her chest. “Not you too,” she mumbled under her breath, and gave her sister a bittersweet smile. She raised her hand to give Ae Cha a pat on the head.

“I'll be fine. See? No pain,” Reine smiled as she presented herself to Ae Cha, her palms facing upward. “I'm more worried about you about what happened last night. You gave me a scare.”

Ae Cha’s demeanor changed drastically at the mention of what happened the night prior. She lowered her gaze and looked away from Reine to conceal the pain her eyes, holding her own arm. “I’m sorry for making you worry,” Ae Cha muttered half-heartedly.

Ae Cha sighed and turned away from her sister. If she lingered too long, she was certain Reine would continue to press for answers. Reine didn’t deserve to suffer either. Not anymore. This was Ae Cha’s burden to carry. “I’ll keep working hard so I won’t scare you anymore.”

Reine noticed the change in her expression and felt horrible for bringing it up. She sighed and placed her hands on her hips, assessing her sister. She just felt that something else is amiss; but she cannot exactly point her finger at it.

“I'm sorry I brought it up,” she spoke with a gentle tone. “If it's something too personal for you to talk about, I would understand. I just want to let you know that we are all willing to share the burden with you...and if you decide to lean on us, you can,” she gave Ae Cha a wink, and ruffled her brown and pink tresses, making them stick out in various places.

Ae Cha leaned as far as she could from her sister, quickly batting her hand away. “Hey! That’s not fair. You’re taller than me,” she whined.  

“You’re so much like Appa sometimes.”

Reine lets out a laugh, and leans forward to tease her. “Cute tiny Ae Chan,” she giggles and ruffles her hair some more.

“Well,” she said as she sighed, then straightened up. “I won't keep you from training. Mind if I join you?” She spoke as she bent down to pick up the punching gloves she discarded on the floor. “I have so much pent up energy that I need to exhaust.”

Ae Cha’s eyes grew wide at Reine’s request. “Can you? I mean, you’re still recovering,” she pointed out, pointing her finger at Reine’s midsection. “I’ll feel bad if you get re-injured because you’re training with me.”

“Plus… Jumin might actually get mad at me if I’m the cause of re-injuring his girlfriend,” Ae Cha teased. “He’s as scary as you!”

Reine felt anger at the mention of Jumin. She put on her boxing gloves and turned to Ae Cha. “No he won't,” she spoke with a different kind of hardness in her voice. “Besides, I was the one who offered--he will not tell me what I can or cannot do,” her demeanor changed into hostility in remembrance of the discussion she and Jumin had this morning. “I'm not that stupid not to know what my body is capable of--I’m a trained fighter, for God’s sake,” she added.

She immediately realized the tone she was speaking to Ae Cha with, so she shook her head and let out a sigh. “I'm sorry. We...we had an argument. I'm very angry at him right now.”

Ae Cha swallowed hard, taken aback from Reine’s sudden frustration. I lied, Reine isn’t scary. She’s terrifying. She felt embarrassment when her eyes met Reine’s again, realizing she was briefly lost in thought.

“Oh… well… ,” Ae Cha mumbled, now idly spinning a lock of her hair around her finger as she tried to find the right words to say.  “There’s a lot of tension in the house. I’m sure you two will work it out.”

“Maybe you two need some time alone,” Ae Cha scratched her head, thinking out loud as she tapped her foot. Her eyes lit up when an idea popped into her head.  “Oh--- A date! Isn’t that what couples do?”

“You would look even prettier in a dress,” Ae Cha mused. Your body type is perfect for almost any outfit! It’s so unfair.”

Reine blinked twice and laughed, then she turned to walk towards the tractor tire and sat on it. “I don't know,” she rested her glove-covered hands on her sides. “I can't even face him right now, let alone a date.

Her eyes watched the view outside as the branches swayed with the strong winds. “He...he wanted me to go back with him to Seoul, to contain me. To keep me from training, keep me from fighting. He knows I can't do that--this operation needs all the help it can get,” she reasoned.

Reine shifted her gaze back at her sister, who was looking at her quizzically. “He talked as if I had no choice in the matter, that I was his property, his possession. It hurt a lot,” she said and smiled, then let her gaze fall downward.

“I'm sorry... I'm babbling nonsense,” Reine reprimanded herself for spilling unnecessary information, then stood up and walked back towards the heavy bag. She threw in the first few punches, keeping perfect stance but the expression on her face was of frustration.

“It’s not nonsense,” Ae Cha countered, walking towards a shelf of dumbbells sitting alongside the large mirror. “I just wish I could give you advice. I don’t know anything about dating,” she confessed, reaching for the smaller weights.

Reine grabbed the heavy bag with both her arms to keep it from swinging and let out a breathless laugh. “We're so horrible at this,” she snickered, and backed away from the heavy bag once more.

“Although I'm glad you listened to me. I feel a lot better now,” she said as she landed another punch.


The sound of snow-covered leaves crackling underneath Ae Cha’s footsteps disturbed the silence whispering in the wooded area near the villa.  Moonlight illuminated the path, providing Ae Cha with just enough light to tread to a very familiar spot she stumbled upon the first day they arrived at the villa.

Ae Cha scanned the area, searching for a very familiar landmark. She had an excellent memory recalling places she thanks to years of attempting to avoid Sim Yeong-Ho and his men on the city streets of Seoul.  Once her eyes spotted the large rock, the girl sighed with relief and rushed toward it.

It was like deja vu.

Ae Cha put on a pair of gloves and brushed loose snow from the stone before sitting down. The girl then unconsciously reached into her pocket again to pull out her phone to check the time, only to find a small flashlight she tucked away. She was going to have to make note of how high the moon rose in the sky each night to keep track of time.

After all, no one in the villa knew she was outside this late at night. She waited until she made sure everyone was in their rooms before heading outdoors. Part of her resented how this all came to be, but, could she blame everyone for being so worried about her wellbeing?

She was very well aware she had her own anxiety issues which she thought she was getting over. However, that was definitely not the case when her demons returned the day the video was sent. When she was feeling vulnerable, usually laying wide awake at night, her chest would constrict with fear reminding her how she had a mental break in front of Saeyoung and Saeran. It was embarrassing.

Ae Cha blew out a puff of air out of her nose as she felt her nerves getting to her again, deciding to focus on how her air transformed a billowy cloud before quickly dissipating. When that didn’t work, she nervously fidgeted with the hem of her jacket. The scars on her wrist ached slightly, reminding her there is a way to relieve the tension.

“No, not anymore,” Ae Cha muttered the declaration. She was better than this. No more giving in to her fears.

Ae Cha rubbed her wrists and stuffed her hands into her jacket, sighing again.

The fact she could fight the growing urge was not something she could fathom months ago. She has grown tremendously from the girl lost and starless, hiding underneath the mask of Arlee. The day when Saeran coaxed her out of the bathroom of the Choi residence, Ae Cha Lee was uncovered thanks to both Saeyoung and Saeran.

Thoughts about the red-haired twin caused an immense amount of pain in her chest. He seemed so happy the day before he left. But now Saeran was gone. How many days has it been? Perhaps that didn’t matter. It was her fault.

Ae Cha sighed, pulling her knees to her chest as she sat in silence on top of the large rock. She wanted to feel his hands on hers once more. They shared something special that afternoon, a unique bond with the younger twin different from Saeyoung.

Saeyoung reassured her he would find Saeran, but, what if Saeran didn’t want to be found?  He couldn’t stay gone… forever… could he? What if he’s in danger?

What if… he resented her?

Her thoughts were becoming overbearing, causing her to glance up to the sky as stratus clouds quickly passed above her. It was silent on the mountainside with only the sound of the breeze rustling in through the trees surrounding the area.

In a way, the ambiance reminded her a lot of Saeran. Although the breeze was gentle, an occasional gust of wind would be a warning of how dangerous the weather could become in a blink of an eye.

She found his mint-colored eyes alluring, but sometimes she felt she could sense a dangerous storm brewing inside of him. Just like the wind.  Her cheeks flushed thinking about that night when his lips met hers. That was when it at all started, her love for both of the twins blossomed from that night.

A stronger gust of wind blew against her small form, bringing her back to her senses of how she was sitting alone on a giant rock on a mountain in the middle of Korea with everyone depending on her not to fail her training. The same training she stubbornly fought for which is proving to be far more difficult than she imagined.

And so when after passing this rock several times during morning jogs she realized if Saeran was to return, he would have to go past this exact spot because the road was only a few meters away from the place she was sitting. Which had lead her to this idea.

Ae Cha decided earlier on in the day, she was going sit on top of this damn rock every night because she needed Saeran as much as she needed Saeyoung.  She didn’t care how steady the temperature dropped around her, or how flurries were beginning to fall.  If she could no longer run to him like she promised him she would, she was going to wait for him.

“How can I run to you if you’re gone?”  Ae Cha buried her face into her hands as her shoulders shook with grief. It took a tremendous amount of effort to keep her falling apart during the day, and now she was alone she could finally spill her emotions. The sound of her sobs carried away by the wind, leaving nothing more than a faint cry.

Chapter Text

The night was still. No wind, nor any speck of clouds could be seen over the horizon, and the moon shone like a lone beacon of light, illuminating the skeleton of what once was a pharmaceutical factory; its beams cast hard, black lines on the rubble below.

A pair of mint green eyes scanned the area, his white hair glistened as moonlight touched them. He sat precariously on one of the steel beams that used to support a domed roof, his back leaned on one of the supporting beams.

He dipped his hand into his leather jacket and brought out a familiar item. He held up the broken phone into the moonlight, his eyes tracing the spider-like cracks on the screen that shone when he moved the device side to side.

“Paradise? Talk to me, appa!"

His gloved hands clenched at the device unconsciously as the scene in her room replayed over and over again in his mind.

“Come back to me...please…”

He felt his anger overwhelm his sense of being. His rage wasn't of a boiling cauldron or a violent eruption, but a constant, white-hot burn akin to the earth’s core. In the outside, he remained calm and cool, but in his heart were a thousand violent deaths that hungered to be released.

He cannot stand still any longer. Reine almost got killed, and so was Jumin… and now, they risk losing Ae Cha and everything she worked so hard for. His heart screamed vengeance, and it was about time that his body obeyed. He is not about to let Mint Eye have its way with his family again.

He will kill them all. One after the other.

It was child's play to hack into the earlier version of the RFA messenger that Mint Eye stole, and even more so in trying to get into Yeong-Ho's login.

What fueled his blind rage even further was how Yeong-Ho would share pictures of Ae Cha, unconscious and helpless like a sick fetishistic bastard.

He started to imagine how Yeong-Ho's blood would feel in his hands. Warm, thick, and sweet. His mouth upturned into a smirk, while his eyes glowed with mirth.

Tonight, he shall bathe in the glorious fury of his vengeance.

Tonight, he shall be Unknown.


“No!”

Saeyoung immediately dropped the pen he was holding as he felt his stomach churn. He was in the middle of decrypting the choker and searching for his brother when the unmistakable feeling of bloodthirst slammed on him so strongly that it almost knocked air out of his lungs.

He had to stop everything he was doing as bile rose to his throat. He had to clamp a hand over his mouth to keep him from throwing up, and ran towards the washroom.

Saeyoung immediately splashed cold water on his face while his heart raced erratically in his chest. He straightened and held both his hands in front of him. Cold water dripped from his fingers and they shook uncontrollably.

“Saeran, no,” he muttered under his breath.


Footsteps.

His eyes glanced towards the source of the sound, and he spotted a lone shadow at the doorway. He sat in his spot, unmoving, as he knew the man did not notice his presence just yet.

“Oi, Yeong-Ho,” the man called out in the dark, and he opted to turn his phone on to make sure that the coordinates that were sent to him were correct. He scratched the back of his head, confusion painted in his expression.

Darkness loomed over Unknown as clouds finally dimmed the glow of the moon, but his mint green eyes shone with their own ethereal light. Still, he observed, like a panther hunting its prey, his eyes transfixed on the helpless, lone target.

“Huh, that's strange,” the man mumbled, because he was absolutely certain the GPS coordinates pointed at this very spot. He shrugged and locked his phone, then made his motion to turn back to where he came from--

--to be met with a pair of glowing, mint green eyes.

The man yelped and fell on the ground in surprise, and fear , for he knew those eyes.

Unknown stepped out into the moonlight, his white hair illuminated by the pale light from above. He wore a cold, expressionless mask that sent tendrils of icy dread crawling on the man's skin.

“Hello,” Unknown greeted, his voice sickly sweet and laced with pure venom. He took one step toward the man, which was received by a pitiful yelp.

“U-u-unknown! I...I didn't know you're back! You-you should h-have told us s-sooner so we could--”

The man’s meaningless babbling was cut short when Unknown's boot met his face. The man screamed in pain and dark liquid poured out of his nose.

“Where is Yeong-Ho?” Unknown asked in a low voice that was almost a whisper.

“I don't know!” The man tried to crawl away from Unknown as fast as he could, but the white-haired man merely placed both his hands in his pockets and nonchalantly strode towards him.

“P-please, I really don't know,” he begged, which made Unknown even more irritated. He took out his silver Desert Eagle from the holster at his back, and with an audible click, he placed the muzzle in between the man’s eyebrows.

“Is that so? I don't have any use for you, then,” he pressed the muzzle harder that it dug into the man’s skin, and made a motion to pull the trigger.

“Wait, wait, wait!” The man tried to delay, and Unknown’s eyes glinted with impatience. “Please, I have other information that you may want!”

Unknown straightened and put the gun down, and turned to the man with a raised eyebrow. “Oh? Let me ask you, then: Yeong-Ho was supposed to have been arrested. Did they finally manage to create a Duplicate?”

The man nodded quickly. “Yes, yes. Duplicates, yes. Yeong-Ho was not the first, though. There was one successful duplicate three years ago,” he stammered. “S-she plans to recreate Quads this way,” he offered too enthusiastically. “B-but I don't know where they are made.”

Unknown saw no hint of lies on the man's face, but if this were true, then this could mean disaster--Quads are hard to come by since they have to be the most valiant, loyal, and selfless of all of the disciples, not to mention physically capable of carrying out assassination tasks until their final dying breath. If Rika has been Duplicating Quads for years…

“Give me your phone,” Unknown commanded as he held out his hand.

“B-but Saeran--”

Unknown's eyes glowed with rage. His eyes bore into the other man’s that it so much as felt like staring into the sun; his gaze burned.

“Don't you dare call me by that name, filth.”

He grabbed the phone from the man’s grasp and took a few steps away from him. The man was left staring at him in horror, his blood seemed to have left his face as he sat on the floor.

While busy with the man's phone, Unknown cocked his Desert Eagle towards the man once more. The man wailed in fear, and tried to crawl further away.

“Y-you promised! I gave you information!”

Unknown's eyes shifted from the phone towards the man, and dark laughter erupted from his chest. A smile traced his lips and his eyes burned with malice.

“I said no such thing, puppet. But I do want to thank you for the information. It's very useful.”

The man started to run away from Unknown, clumsily stumbling over the rubble inside the abandoned factory.

Desert Eagle's howl broke the quietness of the night, its song reverberated back and forth against the walls and into the endless expanse of forest beyond.

 


He hissed in pain as his hand tried to touch the bloody mess over his left eye. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror while he assessed the damage Jumin Han did with his face.

There were sutures on his left eyebrow and cheekbone, and although his eye still seems to be functioning, it had been severely injured that it needed to remain closed for the time being.

But more than the pain on the left side of his face was the pain of failure and his hurt ego. Sim Yeong-Ho gritted his teeth and grasped at the sides of the bathroom sink until his knuckles turned white. Not only was he bested once--who knew that moneymaking son of a bitch actually knew how to fight--he was tricked into going in circles running after a remote-controlled car.

He needs to get his old team ready. They were efficient , unlike these mindless drones addicted to Paradise. He needs to have his old team back, and regain Rika's favors no matter what.

Sim Yeong-Ho shuddered at the thought of the slight woman. He could never forget how she tasted in his mouth, and her slight form so soft and pliant under his touch.

But then again, there's a better, younger woman at the ends of his invisible chains.

He remembered how she laid on the mattress, groaning and drugged, and oh so innocent. Her scent filled him with a thrill like nothing else, and the way she squirmed when she ran his hands over her--

His pleasant thoughts were suddenly disrupted by a message alert tone from his phone. He sighed and made one last glance at the mirror, then turned to grab his phone from the bedside table.

A smile came across his face as a familiar name was shown on the screen as the message sender. Speaking of the devil. Without thinking twice, he opened the email message that was sent to him.

As soon as he clicked the email message, a picture of a man popped up on his screen, lying face down on the ground over some concrete rubble. Blood pooled from under him, and the tattoo on the man's nape told Yeong-Ho who exactly this man was.

His colleague, DMor.

Before he could even react, his phone started to ring. He almost threw the device in surprise, but when he saw DMor’s name on the screen, he sighed in relief and pressed the green answer button.

He immediately placed the phone on his right ear and spoke. “What the fuck are you thinking man? It's not even April fool’s yet--”

Laughter. Dark, malicious, twisted.

He felt his blood grow cold. At the very recesses of his mind, the image of a boy with white hair and glowing mint green eyes covered in blood came clawing out, and sent chills to his spine.

“Hello, Sim Yeong-Ho,” a familiar voice spoke on the phone. Yeong-Ho felt fear creep into his body, and his left arm suddenly shuddered in pain.

“I hope your left arm is doing great,” the man's voice on the phone teased, thick with malice. “I'd hate to have no fun in hunting you down.”

The boy's dark, playful tone spoke over the phone, and was followed by twisted laughter.

He smashed his phone against the wall in panic. His body shuddered in memory of that day, when Saeran finally broke, and almost killed him in the cruelest way possible. His left arm twitched and ached as if in remembrance, and he felt bile rise to his throat.

His mind was in chaos. He looked back and forth toward the windows and ran to immediately lock them. However, this is not going to protect him from Unknown--as long as he remains in the city with technology, he will find him.  

All this time he thought Saeran will no longer revert, and he thought he would stay as Saeran for good.

But Saeran being Unknown is a whole different matter.

He must flee. He must hide.


The moon rose in the sky again, signaling another night where Ae Cha would sneak out of the villa to wait for Saeran once more. It didn’t take her long to make her way to the area with the giant protruding rock. And just like previous nights, she sat on top of the rock with her hands inside of pockets.

But tonight the small journey felt different than previous nights. There was an energy Ae Cha felt underneath the full moon tonight she couldn’t place. Ae Cha glanced up at the moon, and noted how the moon appeared to be a lone beacon of light illuminating the sky.
“Ah, it must be lonely up there in the sky,” Ae Cha mused. “I’m lonely too, so, maybe we can keep each other company tonight.”

She pulled out a small thermal container from her jacket and took a sip of the hot chocolate she prepared for herself after everyone went to sleep, setting the cup close to her side. Her eyes returned once again to the moon.

“You can see everything, right? The moon lights even the darkest places on earth after all,” Ae Cha leaned back, shifting her weight on her arms as she continued staring into the sky. There was not a single cloud in the atmosphere, making the night sky appear to be a vast and endless sea of stars.

“Can… you see him? I hope he’s okay,” Ae Cha paused, realizing the absurdity of her conversation after no response. “What am I saying? I’m talking to a giant space rock in the sky.”  She then sighed, hoping to stifle her emotions.

As she sat underneath the moonlight, however, she swore she could feel his presence. He was somewhere, out there.

“If you are listening to me, I’m asking for a favor,” Ae Cha laid back on the rock, lifting both of her hands above her to create a rectangular frame with her fingers.

“Please, keep him safe,” she begged, a stray tear falling down the side of her cheek. “Keep shining brightly so at least the path he wants to follow will be illuminated so he won’t be lost.”

Chapter Text

Vanderwood casually paced through the dim hallway that lead to the room that he occupied in the mountain villa. With a steaming mug of coffee in his left hand, Vanderwood turned toward the room with a door that was slightly ajar, and heard the steady clacking of the laptop keyboard from where he stood.

Tilting his head slightly, he turned toward the door and stuck his head in the opening, and found Saeyoung slaving away on his laptop, his focused expression bathed in an eerie blue light. This was the control room; the first room on the left wing where Ae Cha and the twins’ rooms were also located.

“Saeyoung,” Vanderwood called. “It’s three in the morning--you should get some sleep.”

Without looking up at the man, Saeyoung pressed a few buttons and the screen shifted, loading a series of command strings. The red-haired man raised both his arms over his head and stretched his back, and let out a yawn. “I’m trying to find Saeran,” he replied. “I just had a really bad feeling earlier and I need to find him, and fast.”

Vanderwood finally let himself in the room. He casually leaned on one of the tables and placed his coffee mug beside him, then looked over at Saeyoung with a sullen expression. “You boys are nothing but trouble,” he said with a sigh. “Sometimes I wonder why I still even care.”

“Sorry,” Saeyoung mumbled, which made Vanderwood turn to him. The tone Saeyoung had spoken with was something he didn’t hear often; it was sincere, and had a hint of exhaustion--not of the physical body, but of the soul. The image of the kid he met as a fresh college graduate came back to him--he could clearly see the resemblance of his actuations the moment he came in the control room.

Vanderwood watched him closely as his fingers continued the tapping on the keyboard keys, his tired eyes fighting back sleep. He was about to speak when Saeyoung spoke first, with the same flat, exhausted tone.

“I can’t stand another night of Ae Cha waiting for him out there.”

Vanderwood turned to him quizzically. That statement came out of the blue, and what does he exactly mean by out there?

“Huh? What do you--”

“She sneaks out to wait for him,” Saeyoung spoke with finality in his futile attempt to hide the hurt in his voice. “Every fucking night. And then she goes to train the entire day, and wait for him again. I--” his hands suddenly stopped their motion over the keyboard and he let out a sigh.

“She loves him, Vandy,” he spoke in defeat as he finally allowed his shoulders some rest when he leaned on the backrest. “And I love her. But he--my fucking brother just throws her around like a--”

Saeyoung’s eyes widened when he finally realized what he just said, and what he was about to say.

Vanderwood stood leaning on the table as he always did, his face held no expression save for his eyes that understood. Having worked with Saeyoung for six years, he knew he was a very secretive man especially when it came to his feelings--and now he has turned inward since Saeran left. As his manager in Spectre he shouldn’t care less about how he goes about with his personal problems, but he cannot deny that the friendship they had built will refuse to make him turn the other way.

“Saeyoung,” Vanderwood finally spoke with a hint of gentle understanding in his voice. “Focus on what you need to do. Whether if it’s for the mission, or for Saeran’s return, or for Ae Cha’s peace of mind--just do what you can. You will have time to sort out your feelings later.”

Saeyoung turned to the long-haired man and sighed. “You’re right. As always.”

Vanderwood chuckled and picked up his coffee mug to take a long sip. “I’m not your manager for nothing, gingerbread.”


 

BANG.

Reine hissed as the bullet whizzed past the red mark on the moving target dummy for the second time, and scowled darkly at her shaking arms. Ever since she was shot, her apprehension for firearms escalated to the point of her finding herself shaking at the sight. She had always held them before, and were comfortable in using them--although, admittedly, she wasn’t as great at it as her other colleagues, but she wasn’t this bad.

“Come on,” she whispered, as if by doing so she could will her body to cooperate. For some reason the pistol was recoiling far too much, but this wasn’t too different from the pistols she used to fire. She used to be able to aim nicely with higher caliber pistols with no sweat, but this 9mm gun is now giving her a hard time.

She took another aiming stance, and willed herself to ignore the phantom pain she felt around her torso. The steady drumming of her heart did very little to steady her grip, and her vision wasn't cooperating either. Frustration started to set in as her mind steadily played tricks on her, but her will to face it head-on was far greater than this fear, or so she wants to think.

“The gun’s going to recoil badly if you hold it like that.”

A deep, baritone voice interrupted her from concentration, which shattered her focus. The voice sounded like a languid purr of a great cat, and she felt herself gasp at how near the voice was. She was too focused on trying to still her shaking arms that she didn't notice him come into the shooting range.

She let out a sigh of frustration and replaced the gun's safety clip before placing it on the counter. She turned her gaze to Jumin, who stood with his arms crossed on his chest, his expression bore no hint of sarcasm, but real concern showed in his gunmetal grey eyes.

“Really,” Reine replied in a challenging tone. In the entire year of knowing him, he was the last person to know anything about shooting guns, as far as she can remember. He depended on his security fleet for his safety, and it was quite unthinkable to see him even remotely going anywhere near a fist fight, let alone a lethal weapon.

“Really,” Jumin challenged back. “I wonder how you passed the fleet assessment when you handle a gun so poorly.”

Reine stared at him incredulously; her hands started to curl into fists on her sides.

“Are you challenging me?”

“No, I'm merely stating the obvious.”

“What do you know?”

Jumin’s eyes narrowed, and a slight trace of a grin formed on his lips. “You're underestimating me, my darling.”

“Oh?” Reine returned the same challenging stare back to the man. She recognized the game that he was trying to play, but she wasn't in the mood for games right now--right now she just wants to break away from the invisible chains she perceived that he was spinning around her.

“Okay then. Let's make a deal,” she boldly suggested. “Whoever gets three of five first, wins.”

Jumin chuckled and his grin almost turned into a smile, but he stopped himself. He found it amusing that Reine knew nothing about his abilities, but he decided to humor her just this once.

“What would the winner get?” He kept himself from grinning too widely, and then tilted his head slightly to one side.

“Anything that any of us could give with the best of our abilities.”

Jumin’s eyes glimmered with mischief despite the supposed blank expression he wore. Without a word, he went to the window next to hers, and turned to his left to choose from the set of guns that were neatly stored in a pistol rack.

Reine watched him as his slender fingers wrapped around the grip of a 9mm pistol, and he turned his wrist, tilting the gun from one side to the other, as if gauging the weight and feel of the gun. Unsatisfied, he took another gun, and did the same.

Reine gave him a puzzled look when he seemed to have settled for a .50 caliber Desert Eagle. She immediately worried that he may be underestimating the gun recoil. “That's...a big gun, Jumin.”

Jumin glanced at her for a moment and turned his gaze upon the gun’s smooth, black finish. “Go easy on me, then,” he replied, but Reine couldn't miss the mischief in his voice. What is he planning now?

She sighed and gave up, and settled with something she can handle fairly--a .40 caliber Glock.

“I'm not going easy on you,” Reine replied as she snapped the loaded magazine into the gun and unlocked the safety lever. In spite of her words, she couldn't help but constantly glance at Jumin, and found herself a little more worried about him than she let on.

Surprisingly, it seemed that he knew what he was doing, which confused her. When did he learn to handle guns?

“Did Dae-Sung teach you?” She asked while she went on a shooting stance; her left foot   forward and knees slightly bent, upper torso slightly forward and her right hand curled around the gun’s grip supported by her left hand to guard from the recoil.

“Who knows?” Jumin answered enigmatically, and assumed the same stance.

Reine shot a glare at him and noticed how natural his stance was, and how he seemed to command the gun. Never in her life did she imagine Jumin Han holding a gun in a shooting stance, and the way his eyes were intently focused on the target sent butterflies in her stomach.

“Eyes on the target,” Jumin spoke without looking at her, and she felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. She immediately turned towards the moving dummy, but her mind couldn't tear away from how good he looked with a gun.

Later on she was surprised to see that her arms were no longer shaking--her aim was stable, and the front sight no longer wobbled like it used to. Confident, she fired her first shot, which landed just mere millimeters from the center of the target.

“Yes!” Reine whispered under her breath.

Her eyes widened, however, when she heard Jumin make his first shot. Somehow, she worried if he made the right shot when…

...second shot. Reine completely forgot about the competition. The .50 caliber beast seemed nothing to his strong grip, his perfect stance, and there were no other holes on the target except the very center.

Third shot. She watched him with bated breath, her eyes wide in surprise. Everything around her seemed to have slowed down; the competition completely forgotten. She just watched him with utter amazement. None in the fleet could even shoot anywhere near as accurately as he did, and he was holding a powerful gun.

Jumin finally straightened and cleared the weapon by pulling on the slide and peeked into the barrel to make sure that nothing is loaded, then took out the magazine before carefully setting both magazine and gun on the counter. Reine stood, frozen and transfixed on his every movement with her hands still around her gun’s grip.

“I guess I won,” Jumin finally broke the silence and turned to her, a satisfied grin painted on his face. He let out a small chuckle when he saw that Reine was frozen and speechless, and he stared into her wide, green eyes.

His eyes held hers with such intensity that Reine felt her knees almost buckle from his gaze alone. He stepped forward to carefully take the gun from her hands, engaged the safety lock and placed it on the counter of her target window without breaking eye contact. He took one more step forward, which put him mere inches away from her while she looked up at him.

She couldn't move. His stare paralyzed her from where she stood, and every word she had planned to tell him were instantly burned into nothing by the fire in his eyes. Reine had forgotten how much power Jumin held over her, and she is being reminded of his imposing, yet breathtaking presence again today.

He leaned towards her, and her skin sent shivers down her spine as she felt his breath on her neck and her ear. His soft hair tickled her cheeks, and she let out an involuntary gasp as he spoke to her ear.

“I'm claiming my prize,” he whispered, and without warning, he wrapped his lips on the soft skin of her neck, his teeth digging on the sensitive skin. Reine let out a pleading moan, both in pain and in pleasure, and placed her hands on his shoulders to steady herself as her knees could no longer hold her up.

Jumin grinned slightly as he saw that he left her the perfect mark, a dark red contrast to her milky white skin. He pulled away to see her eyes hazed but still defiant; questions still lingered behind the emerald irises.

“B-but...how...I never knew…”

Jumin grazed his fingertips on her cheeks and into her hair and pushed the red locks to the back of her head. Gently, almost reverently, he grabbed fistfuls of her thick, red mane to coax her to lift her head towards him.

“Too many words, my queen.”

Jumin felt his heart burn with passion as he saw her eyes glaze over in submission, and he smiled to himself before taking her parted lips in his own. Her lips were soft, and her tongue oh so sweet. He felt her yield into his arms; her body melded onto his so perfectly like a piece of a puzzle. Everything about her was so soft under his touch, and once more he was reminded of how fragile she really was behind the facade. He gently pulled away, gazed at her with softness in his eyes.

She looked up at him, her lips red and slightly swollen from the intensity of his kiss. He saw the confusion, defiance, the fragile strength, and the love in her eyes. He kneaded his fingers behind her head, which caused her to let out a sigh. He steadied her with an arm wrapped securely around the small of her back, and guided her head to rest on his chest.

“You’re angry,” Jumin spoke with the softest tone while he kept her close in his arms. “Even if you yield to me so easily, you’re angry,” he paused to tuck her hair behind her right ear, which he stroked with his thumb and forefinger.

Reine wrapped her arms around Jumin’s waist and pressed her left ear on his chest as she listened to the quiet purr of his voice and his heartbeat. She had so many things she wanted to say, and yet in the sanctuary of his arms, none of them made much sense compared to how she thought they’d be.

However, Reine knew that she needed to voice out her concerns sooner or later; she cannot allow him to overpower her into silence. This, she recognized, was something Jumin did naturally, and he needed someone to show him to learn to compromise.

“Yes, I am,” Reine replied with a quiet voice, a voice that bore no hostility: soft and gentle, with words carefully chosen out of love. “Because it hurt. It hurt because I felt like I'm being forced into ignoring what I feel I must do. I was injured, not disabled. It wasn't easy to be sitting around all day and trying to ignore the feeling of being everybody's burden--”

Jumin’s arms tightened around her and buried his face at the crook of her neck. “Burden? Reine,” he pulled away to tilt her head up to look into her eyes. There was hurt, there; and fear . He gently brushed her hair away from her face with the tips of his fingers. “You took a bullet for me. If there was someone who felt like a burden, it was me. You threw away your life to save mine because I was too stubborn to take up arms and defend myself when I definitely could, as you have seen. Do you realize how helpless I felt when you were dying in my arms?

And now Yeong-Ho knows that I have you and Ae Cha with me. I am scared, Reine. So scared,” he spoke with anguish in his voice, and she could feel the subtle shaking of his hand. “I’m scared that you will decide to take your sister’s place. Scared that you will be put in the line of fire again. I cannot take that, Reine, I can’t.”

Her eyes widened at the emotions and words coming from the man who held her heart. It was her turn to raise her hand and cup his cheek this time. Her eyes searched the depths of his gaze, and she felt herself drowning in the myriad of emotions that danced in his gunmetal grey eyes.

“I need to help my sister, Jumin,” she spoke softly, and her heart broke at the pain that passed in Jumin’s eyes. “This is something I must do. I cannot carry the guilt of not doing anything when I could,” she added, citing the way Jumin had described it. Understanding reflected in his expression, but the pain and fear etched in his features were also undeniable.

“Please let me do this, Jumin,” she implored.

Jumin averted his gaze, but Reine would not relent. She asserted herself by tilting her head to wherever he turned and coaxed him to look at her with a gentle hand on his cheek.

“Please?”

He finally met her eyes once more, and held it for a moment. He finally let out a sigh and closed his eyes, then turned to her. “So stubborn,” he mumbled under his breath.

His reaction made Reine smile a little, and she felt his hands slide up her arms to rest on her shoulders.

“Promise me one thing,” he said, his voice firm. “Promise me that you will never engage them alone. You have to tell me.”

Reine finally smiled and rested her hands on his chest, and pulled him to her by the collar of his shirt to plant a gentle kiss on his lips.

“I promise.”


 

Saeyoung stretched from his chair, and then took his glasses off to rub his tired eyes.  He had been working on decrypting the microchip hidden in Ae Cha’s choker, which laid inside one of the desk drawers.  Sometimes he wished he was still in his house where several supercomputers can be available to be of direct use. All he can do is to access them remotely, and the network connection is nothing short of sluggish compared to him having direct access to it.

He sighed and shook his head. The training is still ongoing, and that would give him more than enough time.  With how things are going, he should be able to decrypt and rearrange the data contained in the small storage device.

He also felt a small pang of loneliness on the absence of his other half.  Saeran had been missing since the night when the video was sent. All the while he thought Saeran was merely going to trace the origin of the video, but he definitely didn’t expect that his twin would leave the villa entirely. He wasn’t sure what information Saeran saw on his initial dig, but he is sure that Saeran went out and ended someone’s life--again.

His gut twisted in a hundred knots remembering that feeling he got a few nights ago.  And with Ae Cha reverting to her distant, blank state…

He wished he could just take her pain to himself.  He wished he did better to protect her. He had been searching high and low for his brother, and the ache in his heart seeing Ae Cha in such a state was way worse than the pain of losing her to his brother.

He smiled. Wistful, bittersweet.

Saeyoung sighed and stood up from his chair, then adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. He needed to get some fresh air.

He opened the door and the sound and smell of food from the kitchen welcomed him.  He took a long sniff at the inviting aroma, and he realized that he was hungry. He pulled the sleeves of his jacket to check his wristwatch, and was surprised that it was already four in the morning.

Along with the smell of food, he caught wind of familiar voices from downstairs.  He cocked his ear to listen more, and stepped toward the stairs to join his housemates for breakfast.

“I told you, I’m fine,” it was Reine, her voice hinted with slight exasperation. “I feel no pain. I will continue to train.”

“At least have yourself checked before you do,” the voice belonged to Jumin, whose tone also held a hint of firmness.

“And how do you suppose I do that?” she retorted. “I can’t wait for another week to start, Jumin. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to go out and kill myself.”

Saeyoung shook his head with the couple’s banter. He could clearly hear the defiance on Reine’s voice, and knowing Jumin, this may be something he has a hard time coming to terms with.  

The couple both turned their heads to his direction as he took the last step from the stairs, and he gave them a grin. “Is breakfast ready yet?” he asked, hoping to change the subject.

“In a few minutes, alien boy,” Vanderwood called out from the kitchen.  “Please tell Ae Cha to come down and eat.”

Saeyoung tilted his head in confusion.  “Huh? I thought she’s here.”

“No,” Reine replied, a quizzical look in her face. “She hasn't come down yet. I thought she was with you.”

Saeyoung scratched the back of his head, and turned to go up the stairs once more to wake her up. Did her days of having little sleep finally catch up to her? It's quite unusual for her not to  be up at this hour. He sighed and turned towards the left wing, and paused at the second door along the dim hallway.

He lightly tapped his knuckles on the wooden door. “Ae Chan,” he called. “Breakfast is ready.”

Saeyoung listened closely and heard no sound of anything moving from inside the room. He gave another knock, and then another, but still no response. Worry started to slither through  Saeyoung, and the red-haired man reached for his phone to call her, but stopped himself as he realized that Ae Cha’s phone is still most probably with his brother.

“Ae Chan?” He called, louder this time. “Can you hear me?”

No response.

His heart suddenly felt like it wanted to escape the confines of his body. Dread washed over him like cold water, and, without thinking, he turned the knob to open the door…

...to find the room empty.

“Tch,” he clicked his tongue and bolted towards the stairs. If Ae Cha wasn’t in the house…

No. He was absolutely certain that none of the CCTVs he installed in the estate’s perimeters showed anything out of the ordinary, so she might still be within the estate walls. However, snow has been steadily falling, and the night had been bitterly cold.

He stepped out of the front door and ran out, his breath went out in billows of mist as snow crunched beneath his feet.  His eyes scanned the immediate area, and found no signs of her.  He took out his phone and turned on the flashlight, to see if there are any footprints that hasn’t been covered in snow just yet.

His heart pounded in his chest.   What if Ae Cha fell somewhere? What if she’s unconscious? What if--

He immediately stopped in his tracks as he saw a dark figure seated right next to a tree.  

Saeyoung sighed in relief as he recognized the tiny shoulders that were hunched over.  He replaced his phone in his pants pocket, and removed his jacket.

Ae Cha sat on a protruding rock against a tree, her arms wrapped around her legs. The forlorn look in her eyes stabbed at his heart and made his hands shake, and by her being here at this hour meant she stood here, waiting , all night out in the bitter cold.

He quietly approached her and wrapped his jacket around her small shoulders. His heartstrings pulled at the wide, tear-stained eyes that looked up at him in surprise.

“Ae Chan,” he spoke to her softly, and lifted his hand to wipe the tears from her cheek with his thumb.  “You’ll get sick out here...let’s go back inside.”

Ae Cha continued to stare at Saeyoung, unable to make a sound. Her eyes were puffy and swollen, which told of hours of shedding tears.

The sight of her in this state was more than Saeyoung could take. He wrapped his arms around Ae Cha from behind, his face buried in the crook of her neck. His heart broke in a million pieces seeing her in this pitiful state. He fought tears from coming forth as he held her slight form tightly.

“Ae Chan,” he was surprised how much his voice betrayed his emotions.  He used to be so good at hiding them before, years before, but in the face of her suffering, none of those skills could even stand a chance. “Come back inside, please? I don’t know what I would do if something would happen to you, too,” he begged.

Ae Cha sighed, her voice raspy from enduring the cold all night long. “I’m so sorry for making him hate me, Saeyoung. I… I hope he’s happy wherever he is.”  

Her shoulders shook slightly as tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. The sound of her sobbing made Saeyoung weak in his knees, and he knew these tears were not for him, but his brother that she deeply loved. This reality that was starkly shown before his eyes felt like a fist that kn