Actions

Work Header

Ars Moriendi

Chapter Text

[Two years prior...]

“What’s all this?”

Vivere handed Rika a small bag, standing with her in the airport. She glanced up at the monitor that listed the times for departure. They had ten minutes before Rika had to leave so she could get through security and make it to the terminal on time.

“You know, some stuff, just in case,” Viv shrugged. “I didn’t tell anyone, you know? I just uh, opened these accounts under my name. You probably don’t need it, but…”

“Thank you.”

“The cell phone has unlimited everything- internet, calling, texting, there’s music subscription on there too, and the headphones that came with it are in the box but I know you have your own headphones I figured I should keep everything that came with it in tact… and I picked out a phone case I thought you’d like… and that’s a black credit card without a credit limit.”

“I see,” Rika giggled, eyes crinkling along the edges. “You’re giving me an credit card with an unlimited charge in your name for what reason now?”

Another shrug. “You know, if you ever get in trouble for any reason, you’ll always have a way out. I doubt you’d ever charge anything on there that I couldn’t afford or something. And if I couldn’t, you know Jumin would help. I’ll only tell him about this whole arrangement if I need help getting you out of some trouble you’re in or something, so — just don’t worry, alright? I just want you to be ok.”

“You’re not going to try to stop me?” Rika asked curiously, tucking both items into her purse.

“No. You have to do what’s best for you, Rika. You need something… I just want you to be happy, and I’d do anything to make sure you get where you need to be, even if that means not seeing you for a while.” Vivere smiled. “I know we’ll see each other again.”

“Thanks for being my friend, Sujin.”

Rika graced her with a gentle smile, the sort of smile Vivere had missed for the last two years. Viv tried to take a snapshot of it in her mind so that she’d never forget. They wrapped each other up in their arms for a long moment, but the electric beeping from an overhead speaker blared to mark the time.

“And this last thing?” Rika asked as they started to make their way to the security line, a piece of paper between her fingers.

 

{kaleidoscope}

chips along the edges that cut
hidden among the clarity
at some angles it’s hard to see
cracks along the vast transparency
teeth that catch in the crevices
break both glass and enamel
revealing white beneath the tarnish
from coffee leaking through the lines
cracks that hide in plain sight

through the looking glass
spreading the lies of colored shards
the ears can hear what the eyes ignore
the broken colors of a looking glass

collecting dust in a china cabinet
the sun refracts in a thousand colors
each day duller than the last
saved from a hand’s mistakes behind
doors locked up tight and the key missing
as the clarity begins to cloud
the honesty of memory ends
to resemble stories of old instead of
the smile of the sunlight’s rays spread
through the cracks in clear glass

through the looking glass
spreading the lies of colored shards
the ear can hear what the eyes ignore
the broken colors of a looking glass

 

“Just an unfinished song.” Viv smiled, shrugging one shoulder. “The next time we meet I’m sure you’ll have added something to it. You know… because that’s what we do.”

Rika laughed. It sounded like the bells of a wind chime, uncapturable, unescapable, and certainly what it meant was more important than what it did. “Of course.”

 

 


 

 

[Present Day...]

  

The cashier looked at her with surprise, apparently recognizing her face. Viv hated when people realized who she was but, really, there was nothing she could do to avoid it. All she could do is make sure she didn’t act in a manner that tarnished her family’s reputation too much. Honestly, it’d only been a few hours since she was last at this food stall on the corner of the street her that condo is located. She was just glad that the person working there had changed shifts.

“What’s up?” She greeted the older man probably more informally than she should, tilting her head cutely with a smile. He’d been staring after all.

“Ah-h-h Miss Park I didn’t mean to offend you!” He quickly bowed his head several times.

Her head shook. They always assume she’s offended, no matter how genuine the smile. She wondered why that was, but human reactions were only human for being predictably unreasonable. “Nah, don’t worry about it. I’m not a big deal. May I order three fish?”

“Vivere,” she heard her name and suppressed making a gross sound. Now she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy her bread.

“Just one moment, Miss,” said the frantic street food stall owner. Did he see the irritation on her face?

“No, take your time, I’m not upset with you or anything, don’t worry.” She flashed another smile that she hoped didn’t look as fake as it felt.  

“You’re going to gain weight eating that much junk food,” the deep voice scolded. She ignored him.

“Mr. Han, Afternoon,” the bread vendor bowed to the man standing behind her. “It’s a-“

“Don’t bother being so polite to him, Mister. He’s the one who should be being polite to you,” she huffed, still refusing to turn around.

Jumin cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, Sir. You must have a good product if my friend here frequents your establishment so often.” 

“Um! – thank you!” the vendor stammered as he handed over the bag. Viv immediately shoved the head of the fish-shaped bread in her mouth, giving the man a small bow of thanks.

A hand appeared from behind her and extended over her shoulder, handing over a bill that was much too large for what she’d bought. When it had been lifted from his hand, it waved dismissively. “Please keep the change. Have a good evening.”  

That time she did make a disgusted sound around a mouthful of bread, not really appreciating him paying for her but not wanting to make a scene by causing one of their usual fights. Instead she dodged his hand when he attempted to lay it on her shoulder and lifted her free hand in a vulgar gesture as she walked past him back towards her condo.

He laughed and followed her.  

“Is that going to be your dinner for today, Viv?”

Her head shook. It was a lie. It was totally going to be her dinner, and her midnight snack. She was on a fish-shaped bread craving binge. It’d pass in a couple days, but in the meantime, it was going to be her breakfast, lunch, and dinner until she was sick of the stuff.

“That’s good. You should be having regular meals other than pastries.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Then I will arrange for my chef to make dinner for the both of us tonight.”

Head shaking, ‘no’, she turned to look at him, brow creasing, and pointed an improper pointer finger at his chest and shook her head no a second time just in case he wasn’t paying attention. Then she attempted to swallow, the amount of bread she’d stuffed her mouth with having sucked up the moisture in her mouth and – well, it was stuck there. She watched his eyebrows lift. It was that incredulous face he so often gave her when he’d made time to see her. Viv didn’t remember making any sort of arrangement to hang out. Had they? She’d been so busy lately that she couldn’t keep track.

Vivere fished her phone out of the deep pockets of her sweat pants and opened up her calendar to make sure she hadn’t promised to do something with him.

“Don’t worry, you didn’t forget.” His hand covered her phone, drawing her attention back up to him. “I hit a wall with work and decided I needed the break.”

She swallowed, finally, though her mouth was still thick with red bean paste. “So you came to see me? Couldn’t you have texted me first?” The half of the bread she wouldn’t be able to finish was placed into the bag with the other two fish and the bag carefully folded up.

Jumin flashed a wry smile down towards her. “You’re still working,” he stated after a moment. “It’s getting late, you’ll make yourself sick.”

He didn’t need confirmation so she didn’t bother giving him any, she was just as busy with work as he was. “I have a couple songs that are hitting a deadline soon, and I’m trying to free up my weekend to go see Dad.”

“Ah.”

He kept walking beside her, but said nothing after that, casting his eyes somewhere else. Viv exhaled heavily, but silently enough that it wasn’t really a sigh he’d hear and ask about. It felt like there was a weight on her chest when she tried to breathe. Suddenly, she had the urge to stuff the bread back in her mouth just so that she’d have a reason to not talk anymore, but they came up to the resident’s door to her building a lot quicker than she’d expected. She shoved her hand into her other pocket to take out her keys and pressed the tear drop shaped fob to the automated lock.

Jumin paused.

Viv rolled her eyes dramatically enough that he’d see it, then forced herself to half-smile up at him. “Are you coming in or what?”

His own half-smile mirrored hers, just as forced but equal with relief. “For a few minutes, then.”

“Cool.”  

The elevator took a while to get to the bottom floor, and then a while to get up to her condo. She wondered if it was having issues. Maybe she should call maintenance? It broke down last month and she had to climb the stair to the 7th floor. That was an exhausting day. Viv wasn’t so sure she had the energy to do that today. The doors opened and a young woman that looked about her own age that she hadn’t met before stepped out. She sort of looked like an idol with her magenta hair, thin waist, and golden brown eyes. Did she recently move in or was she visiting someone? It wasn’t really Viv’s business, but she turned around to watch her cast a glance up to Jumin quickly and keep walking.

Too bad Viv didn’t have a business card on her.

Once inside her condo, they shook their shoes off at the door and Viv moved automatically to the kitchen, leaving Jumin to get situated. Her fish-shaped bread was tucked into the corner of her counter until it could cool off and she could put it in the fridge. Then she moved to her electric kettle, flicking the switch on to boil the several cups of water still there from before she left.

She hear the slap of his designated slippers against the floor that stopped when he took a seat, presumably.

“What do you want for dinner?” she asked, drifting about her kitchen, looking through her fridge and cabinets.

“You’re going to cook?”

“That a problem?” She turned to look at him, her brow lifting to a peak. “You’ve had my cooking before.”

“I certainly hope you’ve improved.”

Viv stuck out her tongue. “You can leave if you want.”

“No, I’d rather evaluate your culinary skills. I can call my chef later if you leave me unsatisfied.”

“I’m not a chef.”

“Oh, I know.” He smirked and she knew it for what it was – bait. She didn’t take it.

“Tea?”

“Black.”

A simple nod once, and she shuffled over to the cabinet that she kept her teas and coffee, making sure to choose a higher quality tea than she’d normally drink since she had a guest. He was a much pickier shit than she was, but then again she couldn’t blame him. She was the same way when it came to chocolate. She took down two raku tea cups, but prepared one, since she was going to start cooking in a moment and she didn’t want to over brew her tea. In a small strainer she measured loose tea to steep in the hot water, she covered it with a towel and collected a sugar dish, assembled together on a tray.

He'd sat on a stool at the island in the middle of her kitchen.

Once she’d joined him for the moment, hand cupping his chin and elbow on the counter, he made small motion with his free hand.

“I’ll have mine once I’m finished prepping,” she answered the question he seemed to be asking.

“It would be rude of me to partake without my hostess.” His left eye narrowed at her, making him look displeased.

“Ok, then.” Viv didn’t feel like protesting as it would take too much of her limited energy. She fetched her own cup from the adjacent counter, filled a strainer with tea and filled the cup with water, bringing it with her to the kitchen island and sitting across it from him. “I feel like there’s more to why you sought me out today.”

Watching her remove the towel from his cup and wait for the tea leaves to drain when she rose the strainer from the cup, he curled his fingers over his mouth. A breath expelled that was heavier than a sigh. “There is much happening between myself and Father at the moment. It’s not something I want to bother you with.”

“Of course you do,” she smiled in spite of him, a laugh that was more noisy puffs of air than sound through her lips. “I bet I can guess. He’s pestering you about finding a wife again?”

“Am I that easy to read?”

She lifted the strainer from her own cup, preferring to brew this specific tea lighter for herself than Jumin preferred it. The tips of his fingers dropped two sugar cubes into her cup and one into his own while she set aside the two strainers on a small plate. “No, it’s just the only thing he bothers you about these days, that’s all. My dad’s been the same way.”

“Has he?” He sounded surprised. “I wasn’t expecting that. I thought he was more concerned about Ars Moriendi.”

“Yeah, well, at the end of the day, AM is Han’s responsibility. Besides, exit strategy and all that has been in the works for about a year. Since he was diagnosed.”

“Right. Kenji is supposed to step up as Head of Production, is he not?”

Viv nodded.

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Why would it? Kenji has been working for AM for over a decade. I wouldn’t expect to take over the director’s seat after being in production for four years.”

He took a sip of his tea, swallowing slowly, and Viv mimicked him, taking the opportunity of his silence to gather her own thoughts. Her father wasn’t really happy about the selection for the new head of production, which was pretty much the top position in the entirety of Ars Moriendi – especially because of the amount of work he’d invested training Viv since she returned to Korea after she finished college. She was frustrated that he would take away someone else’s hard work and achievement simply because he wanted her to ‘take after him.’

“It’s my opinion that you should at least be promoted to an executive position. Head of songwriting, or a senior producer. It would be helpful to have you on Board.”

She shrugged, abandoned her half-finished tea, and took the chicken shrink-wrapped in a marinade plus various vegetables out of the fridge. She knew it was rude but it wasn’t really something she wanted to talk about. It was hard to explain that to Jumin when his mind was always wrapped around C&R and the welfare of its assets. At the end of the day, she knew that Ars Moriendi would be fine without her father and it would definitely be fine with her, but she didn’t know if she could say the same about her father or even herself.

A look of concern accompanied him when he came up to her side and took a knife from one of the drawers to begin chopping vegetables. “You’re tired. You should have just let me call the chef.”

“I just… like cooking, that’s all. Be careful; don’t cut your hand.”

“As much as I enjoy hearing you fret over me, I’m not so inept that I can’t help prepare food.”

He smirked when she rolled her eyes at him, and she couldn’t help but reward the little quip with a smile. The chicken went in the oven, then she thoroughly washed the rice and threw it into the rice cooker.

“You’re unusually decorous today,” he stated, loud in the silence of the large room. It could have sounded like an insult to anyone else, but Viv didn't care. Actually, he was right. “I’m starting to think I came here because you needed the company.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, now, Jumin,” she huffed a soft laugh. “I’m ok.”

“That’s the thing, you’re not,” he grumbled, his eyes still on his hands. “I hate it when you hide things from me.”

This time she did sigh, head shaking. “It’s nothing I haven’t told you before.”

“Then tell me again.” When his head lifted, his expression was stern and his slate gray eyes glinted at her as if daring her to continue like this. A threat, of the most friendly kind. Then his eyes dropped again, allowing her to take a deep breath and center herself.

“I hate being selfish.” Vivere paused, leaning against her counter next to him, watching Jumin slice orange bell peppers into strips. “It’s so meaningless. I don’t want to deal with dad’s bullshit. There’s more important things going on than bickering over who does what when. He’s not going to get better, you know?”

“I know,” he answered, calm, deep, warm. His voice rumbled softly, monotone enough to sound non-judgmental.

She didn’t realize how much she needed it until she heard it.

“Is it horrible to not want to take over as head of production? He’s so intent on me taking the position when I’m in no way qualified for it and he’s willing to use his name and power to pull strings to get me there. But the thing is, I’m perfectly happy on being on the production team. I know at my age it’s a feat in itself to be the lead songwriter on some of the top artists AM has. I want to continue growing as a composer, not be shipped off to administration. I know you’re fine but I’d literally slit my own throat if I had to do paperwork for the next forty years. I know it’s important to him but…”

His motions stopped, and he looked to her, watching her carefully. “I’d never let your talent waste away in administration.”

“That’s reassuring coming from someone barely involved with AM,” she chuckled.

“I may not have direct power over Ars Moriendi, but I am on its Board of Directors. I could petition to make sure you’re not moved somewhere you don’t want to be, and at the end of the day, Father knows you’re a valuable asset in production. He could veto any decision your Father made to prematurely promote you to HP.”

Viv sighed, this sort of work discourse making her brain hurt even more, even though the assurance did help somewhat.

“I think I just want to be with dad when he’s going through all this, but all this drama at work is preventing me from going home.”

“That can be arranged, you know. You can take all the time you need.”

“I know but I want to save that time for when dad is… you know…” she meant near death, when she would have to do things like arrange the funeral and get him to a hospice, or worse. In his state, it’s hard to know how he’d go, but feared it wasn’t going to be peacefully in his sleep. From what she knew, that’s not going to be the case. Jumin nodded. “He has a specific way he wants AM run, and Han trusts him to know what’s right for the production company so he feels like I’m the only one who can carry out his legacy. I just don’t care right now. Right now all I can feel is frustrated.”

She ran a hand through her hair, both of them falling silent, the tension she was feeling twisting up her shoulders.

“Jumin… that’s normal, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

She placed a hand over his to stop him from continuing to chop vegetables, then lifted herself to her toes to press her lips lightly to his cheek. “I’ll finish this, go pick out a wine.”

He nodded once, laying the knife on the board, pausing to take a long look at her, eyes sweeping across her face looking as if he was searching for something. It seemed like he would ask her a question, but instead he moved around her and at last went to the sink to wash his hands before crossing her kitchen to the wine cabinet. Viv sliced onions and carrots to add to the cast iron pan with the peppers, adding broccoli at the last minute so that it retained its crisp. Finely chopped fresh herbs and a bit of salt and pepper.

“What about the Sangiovese?” he asked, turning to look at her with a bottle in his hand.

“That’s is a good idea. That one is should pair well with chicken since it’s not too heavy.”

“I thought you don't like wine?” It was less of a question and more of a tease. 

“Between you and Jiji, I swear I'd be an idiot to not have learned something by now.”

“True.” he opened the bottle, pouring into a glass and bringing it to her to taste. She paused her attention to the food she was stirring in the pan, allowed her chin to be held lightly as he tilted the glass against her lips. “Good?”

“Yeah.”

He wandered off somewhere with the glass in hand, probably to air out the wine, and returned empty-handed. A hand swept under her hair. The tie that was loose from her running her hands through her hair removed and then replaced, now holding the entirety of her waist-length hair back more securely. “Ever consider getting a haircut?”

“You’d hate that and you know it,” she scoffed.

“It doesn’t quite matter how I’d feel about it; it merely seems inconvenient.”

“It is, but I think it suits me so I keep it.”

He made a soft sound of agreement from somewhere behind her, then she felt his presence leave completely.

Viv took the second alone to reflect on the way her body tensed up when he did that, which was weird to her. Probably because they hadn’t been in that sort of close proximity for a while, but it wasn’t as if it was unusual. They’d been friends since they were kids. They’d slept in the same bed, had slumber parties, went to school dances together as friends since Jihyun always had Rika. Even more recently, the four years since she’d graduated college, they’d shown up at each other’s homes drunk at ungodly hours and slept wherever. She shook off the tingle at the nape of her neck. He’d probably just tied the band too tight.

She had to let the food cook, and so she trailed over to her phone and pulled up her music app to put on a classical piece. “Have you heard this? Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach’s cello suite in G major magnificently.” Her hand pressed to her chest as her eyes closed. “What I wouldn’t give to play with him one day.”

“I’m sure it could be arranged,” he laughed.

“I don’t want it to be like that!” she practically hissed. “Besides, when I get the right opportunity I bet I can at least get him to play my music for a soundtrack or something. That’d be enough for me.”

They listened silently to the prelude before she laid down her phone, letting the suite play over her sound system.

“Is it because you don’t think you could match him?” he asked curiously as the movement continued to the Allemande. “You know how absurd that is?”

“No, that’s not it. I just don’t like performing.”

His gaze cast down, then he busied himself with pouring a second glass of wine. Viv was grateful for the lack of response, turning to the stove instead to plate and serve their dinner. When she’d returned some minutes later, the bit of conversation they’d just had seemed to have never happened when she set his plate in front of him.

“Thank you.”

She stopped mid-bite to watch him lift his food to his lips and taste it. One of his eyebrows quirked up before it reached his mouth, and he smirked at her.

“Cute.”

She felt her face blush from her neck to her ears, and felt completely stupid for it. “Fucking eat, Jumin.”

A small snort of amusement at her embarrassment made Viv stare down at her plate when she began to eat, deliberately repressing the urge to watch him take a taste.

He hummed. “Not bad.”

“Asshole.”

She hid her smile behind her wine glass.

 

 

***

 

 

White.

Vivere looked around the relatively empty room, smoothed her hands down her skirt, and crossed the room to perch at the edge of the large conference table in the middle. Jumin was already sitting on the other side of the table, face down in a pile of papers, Jaehee bustling around the room. They weren’t really here for a meeting, it was supposed to be just a quick check in with their parents. Both of them were late.

Jaehee set a white mug of coffee next to Jumin wordlessly, who made a face when he sipped it. She handed a second mug to Vivere and several packets of sugar. A stir stick sat at in her cup, leaning against the side.

Viv made her way around the table to sit on it next to Jumin’s papers. He didn’t look up. She ripped open three sugar packets at the same time, dumping two into her own coffee and one into his.

“Oh, um, Miss Park, Mr. Han doesn’t like sugar in his coff…ee…” she trailed off, realizing the deed had already been done and sighed, starting to get up to make Jumin another cup.

“Nah, he’s fine,” Viv answered with that lighthearted, offhanded business voice she had, stirring her coffee with the stick and then stirring his. Then she pushed it into his hand.

He drank automatically, paused, and flashed a glance up to Vivere. “Thanks.”

“Sure.”

The pair of them drank their coffee in silence. White chairs, a white table, white walls, white floor tile, and a white board that practically blended into the wall. It was so sterile. She plopped her black heels on the seat of the white chair just to get it dirty, maybe get rid of some of the feeling of hyper-cleanliness.

Jumin clicked his tongue at her. Viv saw Jaehee tense out of the corner of her eye. Poor girl, she was always on edge around Jumin. She couldn’t blame her, he could be a slave driver if someone allowed him to, which everyone did to be precise. It was the reason he continued to do it. In an act of pointed defiance, she uncrossed her legs and planted both feet on the seat of the chair. He released a huff of amusement.

The door creaked as it opened, a pair of middle aged men entering the conference room. They were laughing, and it filled the space in echoes. Viv turned enough to look at them, but she didn’t bother to get down from her perch.

“Hey Dad. Mornin’ Mr. Han.”

“Mornin’ Birdie.” Her father circled the table to hug her, holding her a little closer than he would have before and shaking her gently from side to side as if he was happy to see her. She could feel the jut of his cheekbone against her face as he grinned, the thinness of his skin when he pressed a kiss to her temple. Viv had to tamp down the budding feelings of worry by pushing him back. With him at an arm’s distance, she adjusted his shirt collar and his tie before he sat next to her on the table.

Chairman Han sat down next to Jumin, turning his seat to face the three of them, elbow on the table. He took a glance at Jumin’s work for a long moment, then placed a hand over it and flipped it over to take Jumin’s attention away from it. “Good morning, Sujin. It’s been some time hasn’t it?”

Viv suppressed a cringe at hearing her real name. “Yeah, it’s good to see you. I’ve been spending weekends at home with Dad, so I haven’t been coming around for dinner lately. Oh, Daddy? How was the move? Did everything go ok?”

Daesuk Park nodded, a hand at his daughter’s back to pat it as if he was trying to comfort her. “Everything was fine, the movers you hired were great, and I’m settled back in comfortably. It’s good to be back at work. I made sure to get your room together, too, in case you have to stay over sometime, just like you asked.”

“You’re going to call me if you need something, right? And you can call Juju, too, right?”

Jumin nodded, tilting his head back to deliberately make that flinty stern eye contact with her father. “My penthouse is only a few blocks away. Please contact me for whatever you need.”

Park laughed and nodded, clearly attempting to shake Jumin and Vivere’s concern. “I promise, I promise. But I’ve been feeling good, I’ll be fine.”

The pair shared a look of disbelief between them, but didn’t pursue the matter further. Jumin cleared his throat to change the subject. “Now, what was it you wanted to see us for?”

That made Chairman Han sit up straight, shoulders back. He seemed rather pleased with himself, Viv thought. “It would be more appropriate for us to discuss this over dinner, but we wanted to tell you two right away. We think you’ll be quite happy with this arrangement.”

Viv roll her eyes. “Ok, let’s hear it.”

“We were talking about how good of a match the two of you would be, that’s all.”

“Excuse me?” Jumin’s face slipped into a blank, business-like expression. It was a default reaction that was his initial reaction to something that would otherwise be negative. She couldn’t blame him.

“I mean, I’d like you to consider marrying Sujin, son.”

Chairman Han grinned up at her. Vivere turned to look at her father, who nodded, his eyes bright. “It’s the best match that we’ve probably ever thought of. I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it before. The two of you are such good friends.”

Vivere’s head shook. “Ok, but, what else is going on? You two are scheming something, aren’t you?”

He sighed, a hand reaching up and scratching at the back of his neck. Viv knew that was one of her dad’s nervous tells. “Ah, it’s more that, you know, a parent can’t help but worry about making sure his daughter is taken care of before –“ he trailed off, eyes falling to his lap. “I know you can take care of yourself, birdie, but when I’m gone, you’re not going to have any family left. Everyone gets into situations where they need their family, and your mother and uncle, well –“

She set a hand on his knee. “Yeah, I got it.” It was a gruff answer, but she wanted to cut him off before he continued rambling. Her heart felt like a hand was squeezing it.

“That’s an admirable purpose, Mr. Park, however –“ Jumin started.

“-Don’t just rule it out immediately, Jumin,” Chairman Han interrupted. “I know you need to see the business advantages to everything, and well… there’s not a lot of direct benefits, but there are no penalties either. It’d be a perfectly safe arrangement with no investor objections, no public upheaval. Sujin’s reputation is as clear as crystal. She has potential for being massive asset to C&R, and she’s an incredible artist in her own right. Besides all that, you two could be happy together. That’s the most important part. You’re already happy together.”

When put like that, it was hard to come up with an argument. Viv looked down to Jumin, finding that he was already looking at her. She rose her eyebrows at him as a prompt for him to say something. He’s the one who was good at arguing, after all. His thumb and forefinger began to readjust his cuff links that didn’t need to be fixed, at which she knew that he didn’t have a reason to refuse either.

She sighed.

“Do you understand how weird this is?” she let a little smile spread over her lips and passed a hand through her hair, trying to give them some reason that they shouldn’t expect them to agree to it. Except that the entire thing was actually reasonable, for once, and considered their happiness instead of a business deal. She didn’t know if Han had done that for Jumin before, but she knew her own experience was all money related.

“It is awkward,” nodded Jumin, allowing himself to share an exasperated expression with her. “You were correct, Father: this would be much more appropriate for a dinner discussion.”

“I guess we could always back out if the whole thing sucks.”

“Betrothals are typically expected for at least a year of engagement.” Jumin leaned in to the table, setting his chin on his hand as he looked up at her. She tapped her feet in frustration in the chair. “I’d imagine that would be more than enough time to test our compatibility.”

“It’d get the dads off our backs for at least a year, then. That’d be nice.”

“Quite.”

Park scoffed beside her, but she ignored him.

“That doesn’t mean you can use your influence to promote me to executive so you can get me on Board, you know.”

“That's not my call. I'm not involved in HR in any capacity unless it's to transfer someone from C&R to a subsidiary. Who turns down a promotion, Vivere?” He chuckled at her.

“But now people will think it’s because we’re betrothed and not because I earned the position. I don’t want that sort of reputation.”

“They’d think that whether you’ve been with Ars Moriendi for ten years or two months. Some people don’t understand a celebrity’s child is capable of being successful in their own right. I'm sure Kenji wants to promote you because you'll be good in the position, and internal promotions cost less money for the department.”

“Fine! Fine.” She threw her hands up before folding her arms over her chest and glaring at him. He smiled even more at her agitation.

They fell into silence, his smile falling away and his face becoming that blank, unreadable thing again. Viv turned her attention to both of their fathers, her own who had this stupid hopeful look in his eyes and a tiny smile curling the corners of his lips. He looked a mess. Tired and just not as well as he should be to be returning to work, but it was his own decision and he wanted to make sure Kenji’s training was complete and his own projects wrapped up before something drastic happened. Chairman Han was watching his own son with the same sort of hope, but probably feeling her eyes on him, shifted his attention to her with a large smile.

Jumin placed a hand at her wrist, long fingers curled almost all the way around it. It wasn’t a tight grip, but it was enough to feel the weight of his hand and warmth through the fabric of her blouse.

“Perhaps…”

He didn’t say more than that, other than drawing her gaze back to his face and the hesitant partial-smile on his lips. His eyes were warm, darker than usual, capturing her attention for much longer than they should have. Viv drew a deep breath, sighed, and then nodded.

“Sure, why not?”

The clatter of their excited fathers’ voices echoed in the too white room.