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Earned It

Chapter Text

Chief Assistant Kang would like to see you.

The words had come as a shock, and Poppy fidgeted with her fingers before herself as she made her way across the unfamiliar floor. As an intern she had only been up here on her first day, during orientation. The conference room on this floor was all she had seen, since it was large enough to hold all of the interns. Now she walked past its glass windows searching instead for an office she never thought she’d see.

At the end of the hall she saw a collection of desks and cubicles laid out neatly before an important looking office. There was a bustle of activity, a frenetic energy that surprised her, and she hesitated at the sight of it. She knew they were busy, after all they were in the midst of launching their arts and entertainments business. But this stress in the air felt like something else entirely.

Smoothing her hair back with her palms, she double checked her low chignon as she took a deep breath. Whatever Chief Assistant Kang wanted to see her for would be over soon, and then she could get back to the humdrum of her daily tasks.

Quashing the small voice in her head that hopefully whispered, maybe you’re getting fired, she took steady steps down the hall.

Chief Assistant Kang was easily spotted, sitting at the desk before the Director’s glass-walled office, shuffling papers and giving orders to a small collection of note-taking workers. When she dismissed them they scurried off in opposite directions, hardly looking around as they set off to whatever tasks she had given them.

Again Poppy noticed the frantic look on the assistants’ faces and wondered what catastrophe had occurred. She tried to push the curiosity aside as she stepped before the desk and lightly cleared her throat to announce her presence.

“Ch-Chief Assistant Kang? I’m -”

“Poppy Owens?” Assistant Kang greeted, her tone clipped but a hint of a smile coming to her face. She gestured for the chair in front of her desk as she searched with her other for a slip of paper nearby. “Thank you for coming up so quickly.”

“Of course, I was told it was urgent,” Poppy replied. She pulled lightly at the hem of her skirt, lining the edge up with her knees as she tried to steady her trembling fingers. “Is something the matter?”

“Yes and no,” Kang told her, rather unhelpfully, scanning the paper she held before she raised her gaze. “You’ve been with us for several months now, correct?”

“Yes,” Poppy answered, frowning slightly. Had she done something wrong?

Oh no - her father hadn’t called and arranged this, had he? She suddenly felt put on the spot, as if for an interview, and she worried what request Mr. Owens had thrown his weight behind.

“I understand from Assistant Lee that you’ve done well since you joined us,” Kang continued. “She spoke highly of how quickly and efficiently you complete all of your work, as well as how much extra work you’re willing to take on.”

“She - she did?” Poppy stuttered out, eyebrows raising high on her forehead. She hadn’t realized she had stood out so much, since all she did was what was needed. It was a daily struggle to focus on the work at hand, thinking how much she’d rather be anywhere else and simply read, and so she persistently buried herself in the monotony of her tasks to get through.

Apparently it had paid off.

Assistant Kang gave only a passing glance in response to her surprise at the praise before she spoke again. “I’ll be brief, because I have little time to spare. We are in the middle of creating a unit of the utmost importance and confidentiality - and I am to head it. Because of its nature, and the amount of work I am expecting...I need an assistant to answer directly to me, and only me.”

“Oh?”

“Besides Assistant Lee’s glowing praise, you came to us highly recommended.”

“You mean - um, my father’s connections, don’t you,” Poppy murmured, deflating slightly.

“Well, those were mentioned, but those aren’t the references I spoke of,” Assistant Kang told her as she set aside the paper she held. She folded her hands and adjusted the glasses she wore as if they were bothering her. “The nature of the unit being formed meant that I did a more extensive background check. A Ms. Agnes Owens, Miss Lydia Blake, and Mr. Kenneth Nichols all had nothing but positive things to say about your work ethic and goals for your future.”

“I - I’m sorry, you spoke to - those three? I - um...”

“As I said, they had nothing but positive things to say, although Miss Blake sounded surprised to be contacted,” Assistant Kang told her. She shrugged. “She gave no specifics as to why. Anyway, as I said - you come highly recommended both from within and outside C&R. I have a few questions, though, to see if you’re the correct fit.”

“For your - assistant? I see,” Poppy said. “Ask away.”

“Yes, thank you. First, you are working on your undergraduate degree, is that correct?” At Poppy’s affirmative nod Assistant Kang cleared her throat. “You have a year remaining, and took a gap year for this internship? What are your plans once you finish your degree?”

“Either trying to continue with C&R or - elsewhere, I suppose,” Poppy answered. She held back the sigh she wanted to give, the confession that she wished instead to pursue something else, but she’d come this far.

A steady job, a comfortable life - no use dreaming of what else lay out there for her. That’s what hobbies were for, right?

“I see,” Assistant Kang commented. She considered Poppy for a moment before she straightened her glasses once more. “The work we’ll be doing with this new unit is highly classified, and everything will be confidential. How are you with secrets and confidential information?”

Poppy held the other woman’s gaze for a moment before she gave a wry smile, honesty coming to her before she could second-guess herself. “I’ve kept it secret from everyone for over three years now that I do not wish to study business and do not want to go into it, despite my father’s insistence. As well as the fact that for two years, I was in a relationship with Lydia Blake, which no one knew about until that blew up in rather spectacular fashion,” Poppy answered evenly. “Both are things incredibly important to me, that those closest to me did not know about me. So imagine what I can do with information that is not related to me or does not matter to me.”

Assistant Kang listened intently the entire time, her face a neutral mask that gave Poppy no indication how her blunt confessions had been received. For several moments they simply regarded one another, and then a hint of a grin pulled up the corners of the Chief Assistant’s mouth.

“Please get me a cup of coffee as well as the documents I am about to send to the printer,” Assistant Kang told her. “In ten minutes we will be having a meeting with Director Han and several others, and I need you to have the documents stapled into packets for all the participants. I will also need you to take notes - I trust you can write quickly.”

“Yes,” Poppy answered the last question, slightly stunned by the abrupt slew of directions. She hesitated only a moment before her mind kicked back into gear and she stood. “Um…”

“Break room with coffee is there down the hall to the left, printer is across from it,” Assistant Kang told her without looking up as she began to gather papers from the corner of her desk.

“Right,” Poppy agreed, and she hurried off to find the break room.

Within three minutes she had brought coffee as well as the copies, and resumed her seat so that she could staple the papers into four-page packets. As Assistant Kang worked she muttered softly under her breath, reminders to herself and small gripes about things that still needed to be done. Some of the items Poppy caught stuck out to her as things she could take care of, and she jotted notes on a legal pad that rested beside where she worked.

When it was time for the meeting, Assistant Kang stood and picked up her documents and Poppy did the same, gathering the packets as well as her notepad. She followed the Chief Assistant without a word, surprised when they didn’t head to the conference room. Instead they hurried down one of the hallways to an inconspicuous door, and it was surprisingly dark within compared to the rest of the office. The walls were lined with electrical equipment, large servers, computer workstations, and a large screen lined the wall most of the computers were facing.

Before she had a chance to ask anything, Assistant Kang took a seat behind a computer and began to organize her things. She glanced up to see Poppy standing indecisively behind her and gestured for the seat to her left. Poppy took it quickly, trying to get set up so that she was ready to do anything needed of her.

She felt as if she was on autopilot, simply doing the tasks dictated to her, even more than normal. It hadn’t quite sunk in for her yet that she was sitting beside the Director’s Chief Assistant, in a new position. She hadn’t even thought to ask about the salary or anything else, since she assumed it would be better pay and benefits than her lowly position as an intern.

Just as she turned to ask, the door opened behind them and a crowd of people filed in. Some were in business attire, but a few were dressed entirely too casually by comparison, and she wasn’t quite certain what to think of the mix. After everyone had filed in, Assistant Kang stood, adjusting the bottom of her blazer, and Poppy followed her lead.

A tall figure in a well-tailored, three-piece pinstripe suit entered, looking over the crowd before his dark, hard gaze found the Chief Assistant. He took a few long steps to her, fixing the cuff of his sleeve as he did.

“Are we ready, Assistant Kang?” he asked. His deep voice was slightly softer around the edges than Poppy had expected from a man who looked so severe.

“Yes,” she replied. “Poppy, would you please pass out the information to everyone?”

“Of course,” Poppy agreed, grabbing the stack to begin handing out. Deciding it was best to start with the Director, she held one out to the man standing before them. “Mr. Han.”

He glanced at the proffered packet and then at her. For a long moment he simply held her gaze before he almost seemed to drag his away to search out the Chief Assistant’s. “Assistant Kang, is this a new recruit as well?”

“You told me to recruit the best, and who we needed,” Assistant Kang answered firmly. “And I need the best assistant, to maintain my workload now that I am head of the intelligence unit. This is Prudence Owens - or Poppy, as she prefers. She was our best intern until ten minutes ago.”

“I see,” Mr. Han said. He considered for a moment before he looked back to Poppy, who inclined her head in greeting. “I suppose - I’ll make certain a contract is drawn up, then. After the meeting.”

“Thank you, Mr. Han,” Assistant Kang said, smiling at the slightly baffled look he gave her before he glanced once more to Poppy.

He finally took the packet she held out for him and moved away, studying the information as Poppy passed it out to the others. When she returned to the Chief Assistant’s side, she picked up her legal pad and shot her a furtive glance. Unable to resist, she cleared her throat and leaned closer to the other woman. “Um - did he - did he not know you were hiring an assistant?”

“He knows now,” Assistant Kang replied, and she gave Poppy a smile before she returned her focus to the papers in front of her. “He left recruitment to me, and so I recruited everyone I needed to be successful - including you. Don’t worry - you’ll be more than fairly compensated, I’ll make sure of it. And so will he.”

Poppy nodded and resumed her seat, balancing the legal pad on her knees so that she could begin taking notes. She felt aware of eyes on her, but did her best to focus, merely writing down everything even though she didn’t understand most of it. The situation seemed bizarre - what was this RFA they kept mentioning? And a hacker? A messenger under attack? These three named Chloe, V, and Luciel - or was it Seven? - all seemed in a precarious situation as well.

Deciding not to question any of it at the moment, Poppy merely focused on the task at hand, which she had gotten good at in three years of feigning interest in her studies. The prickling sensation of being watched continued to irritate her until she finally glanced up, surprised to find the keen gaze of the Director on her. Perhaps he was assessing her work ethic, if she was going to be working directly under his Chief Assistant, and so she merely returned her attention to her notetaking.

What an unexpected start to her morning...

Chapter Text

One hour and twenty-three minutes had passed since Luciel told him V’s transmitter had been destroyed and that he was heading there alone.

After the information he had been looking over as it was brought to him, he was more than a little concerned that things would go smoothly. He stood at the back of the room, letting Assistant Kang fulfill her role as head of the unit while he read everything about Mint Eye and its criminal activities.

His mind went through plans A through Z, trying his best not to dwell on the worst-case scenario. Entertaining the thought of his best friend not making it through this ordeal was not the best use of his time or energy, and so he buried the worry as he always did. They would handle this, and he would keep the promises he had made to Chloe; she and V would be rescued and brought to safety.

He felt complicated, though, after the events of the last twelve hours - no, the last few days. Ever since Chloe had shown up in the chatroom things had been a mess inside his mind. It was the sort of stress even petting Elizabeth the 3rd and a glass of wine hadn’t been able to quiet.

“Mr. Han? Chloe’s in the chatroom,” Assistant Kang’s voice carried across the room. He glanced up to see her typing on her phone with one hand, pointing with her free hand to the legal pad perched on the knees of her new assistant.

“Is she still safe?” he asked.

“Yes, at the moment.”

“Good.”

His gaze lingered on the assistant as she glanced at her watch and then quickly jotted a few more notations on the pad. The entire morning she had said very little, focused on handling the work dictated to her without question. Whatever she thought about the situation she kept to herself, and he was curious what Assistant Kang had told her.

For a moment he assessed her, taking in the slightly plain yet professional clothing she wore. A beige sweater over a high-collared white blouse and a black skirt that went almost to her knees, and heels he knew to be Oxford style. Her dark hair was pulled back into a bun, unassuming and out of the way. He had been impressed with the lack of obvious makeup, unlike some of the other interns and assistants.

It suited her.

Frowning he looked back at the papers he held and refocused his attention on what he had been reading. The appearance of the assistant was merely another thing that left him disquieted; an unexpected recruitment. He had left Assistant Kang in charge of what she needed for the unit, but he still hadn’t expected her to recruit her own assistant.

That was all.

He finished reading the page he had been before he set it aside and crossed to stand behind Assistant Kang. Looking over the screen of her computer, he absorbed all of the information quickly but found the start of a throbbing in his temples. He needed to be able to focus, and considered a few options before he decided on one.

“Assistant Kang, could you please get me a coffee?” he requested as he tugged at the cuff of his sleeve to straighten it once more.

Hardly a breath of a moment passed in silence, the habit a reflexive one that didn’t take her new work into account. Before he could think how to correct the situation, the new assistant put her notepad down and hopped to her feet.

“Coffee as well, Ms. Kang?” she offered, and at the curt nod of the Chief Assistant she turned on her heel and hurried off.

Jumin stared after her before he lowered his arms and cleared his throat. “She’s very eager,” he commented.

“No. She is good at her job,” Assistant Kang told him, a wry smile tugging up one corner of her mouth. She was still typing away at her phone, and he barely had to glance at it to see the familiar sight of the RFA chatroom.

“I suppose we’ll see,” he replied, glancing at the door. “Does Chloe know anything else?”

“No, and Yoosung is…” Assistant Kang trailed off into a sigh. “Handling this as well as can be expected, shall we say?”

“Anything to be worried about?”

“Chloe is handling him surprisingly well, actually,” she mused. “That boy, I swear...But Chloe seems - quite mature, for how old she is.”

“I believe she mentioned losing family young, and working too much recently to support herself. Or at least she sympathized a great deal with you and Luciel for your long hours in the chatroom,” he mentioned absently, thinking of the details he had stored away as he tried to learn more about their newest member. The door had opened once more, though, and his gaze was drawn to it immediately.

The assistant entered, carrying a small silver tray bearing three coffee cups as well as a sugar bowl and creamer set. She crossed quickly to clear a space beside Assistant Kang so that she could set the tray down.

“Black, yes?” She looked at Assistant Kang first, and when the other woman simply held out a hand for a cup she passed it over. “Mr. Han, would you like any cream or sugar?”

He had noticed before when introductions were made that her eyes were a bright, sparkling sapphire blue. When accompanied by a warm smile, though, he found himself most intrigued by the way the light played in their depths.

Clearing his throat he shook his head and held out a hand for the cup. She passed it over, inclining her head before she turned to resume her seat.

“Miss Owens, correct?” he asked, and she faced him once more and clasped her hands before herself.

“Yes,” she answered simply.

“Assistant Kang, do you require her at the moment?”

“I - do not, but I will soon,” Assistant Kang answered, glancing up over the rim of her coffee cup, phone still in hand. “Why?”

“She needs to sign her contract if she is to continue working in this room. After all, confidential information is being shared and we’re in the middle of crisis.”

“Of course.”

Assistant Kang nodded and went back to her work, and Miss Owens looked between the pair before she took a step forward. He realized she meant to follow him, and after a curt gesture to indicate the door he turned to lead the way.

Behind him the soft clack of heels measured her pace, but he noticed there was a lightness to her step instead of the clomping he often heard down these halls. Once he reached his office he held the door for her, watching as she briskly passed him and stopped in the middle of the room to wait.

“Please take a seat,” he told her, crossing to his chair behind the desk. There was a small stack of papers slightly off center on his desk, and he frowned at the sight of it. “I told them to place it eight-point-five centimeters from the edge of the blotting mat. It’s too far to the left, by at least two centimeters.”

“Perhaps they forgot their ruler,” Miss Owens suggested as she took her seat.

With a glance he determined she did not seem to be laughing, and was actually making a serious suggestion. Clearing his throat he pulled his chair closer to his desk and straightened the stack of papers to where they ought to be. “I should have Chief Assistant Kang remind them to bring it next time.”

“I’ll make a note.”

He looked at her again, slightly distracted by her continual eagerness. “Your accent,” he mused, almost to himself. “You’re from London.”

“I - yes, I am,” she answered, her dark eyebrows raising slightly as she met his gaze across the desk. “You recognized it quickly, do you visit there frequently?”

“Yes,” he answered as he picked up the top sheet in the stack of papers. “Your last name is Owens, are you perhaps related to George Owens, the CFO of -”

“Of your sister company in London, with whom you do most of your business in the region,” she finished for him, and he raised his eyes to hers. She tugged slightly at the hem of her skirt, lining it up with her knees before clasping her hands once more. “Yes. He is my father.”

“I see,” he commented, noticing the rigidity in how she sat, unflinchingly holding his gaze. He looked away from her curious reaction to study the CV he held. There was nothing incredibly helpful on it, and he set it aside for Assistant Kang’s notes on the references she had found. These too he merely scanned, noticing the names and relations - aunt, former close relation, former instructor - but they offered little of interest to him. “Miss Owens, do you like cats?”

When he looked over the edge of the paper he held he noticed a slightly surprised look on her face, though it quickly gave way to a wide smile. After a soft giggle she nodded. “I do like cats, very much so. I had a calico when I was younger named Mr. Buttons, and I loved him dearly.”

He noticed the past tense and put down the paper he held, folding his hands on the remaining stack. The silver-framed photo of Elizabeth the 3rd that rested in the corner of his desk caught his eye, and he studied it for a moment. Looking back into bright blue eyes he inclined his head in sympathy. “I am terribly sorry for your loss,” he murmured. “I know a pet, especially a cat, is not easily replaced in one’s life.”

“I do miss him terribly,” she admitted. “I’ve often hoped maybe once I’m done with school I’ll look into adopting another, but that’s quite a ways off at the moment. Thank you, though. Do you - do you have a cat?”

“I do. She is the light of my life,” he answered. He considered her for a moment more before he picked up the framed photo and held it out to her. “Her name is Elizabeth the 3rd.”

“Oh, she’s absolutely lovely,” she cooed, her eyes lighting up as she accepted the photo to study. “Her name is perfect, I can’t imagine her with any other.”

“You have good taste. It’s nice to see someone appreciate her elegance.” Taking the photo back from her he carefully set it in its place, making certain it was angled as it had been.

“It would be hard to miss it.”

He nodded and began to search through the stack of papers before him for the contract. The rest was information that was relatively useless to him, simply facts and figures. “What did Assistant Kang tell you about the Intelligence Unit’s work?”

“That it was confidential and that I was to answer to her and help her with her workload, in whatever capacity I can.”

“I see.” He flipped through the pages of the contract, double-checking the terms as he had dictated them to the legal department over the phone. “From what you have seen so far I assume you have questions.”

“Plenty, but I am also willing to accept that I may not be ‘need-to-know,’” she told him. “My job is doing what Chief Assistant Kang asks me to. Taking notes and bringing coffee likely doesn’t require me knowing what the RFA is or who Chloe, V, and Luciel are.”

“You retain information well, though,” he pointed out.

“Especially when I write it down, yes. Again though, perhaps curiosity is best left unanswered in some cases,” she mused with a shrug.

“There are a number of cats who could take advice from you, if popular opinion is to be believed,” he deadpanned.

A trickle of bright laughter greeted the words, and he looked up in mild surprise. Miss Owens caught her bottom lip between her teeth, trying to suppress her giggles, and she cleared her throat as she looked down.

She was laughing at something he had said, and genuinely seemed to think it was funny. He was glad.

Considering her for a moment he glanced at the contract he held and then set it down once more. “Do you drink wine, Miss Owens?”

She frowned, tilting her head slightly as she regarded him. “These are odd questions for an interview. Are you second-guessing Assistant Kang’s choice?”

“On the contrary,” he assured her, leaning back in his chair and adjusting his tie. “Merely a passing curiosity.”

The upward tug of one eyebrow was the only indication she gave that she was confused by his reasoning. After hesitating for a moment she nodded and said, “I do drink wine, yes.”

“What kind of wine do you prefer? Sweet? Or dry?”

“Reds are my favorite, although I suppose the occasion and the dish it’s accompanying matter as well,” she answered evenly. “To simply sip and enjoy, though, I prefer dry reds. The bold ones that make you take your time to savor them.”

“We share the same taste. How intriguing. Most young women prefer sweet wine, at least statistically,” he mused. He studied her before he nodded, content with her honest answer.

“Sweets have their place. But a good Argentinian Malbec or Italian Chianti is better in my opinion.” She shrugged and rested her clasped hands on her knee, waiting patiently for him to continue.

Picking up the contract he had set aside, he flipped through it to the space he was looking for and took his pen from its holder. After initialing and signing the line meant for him he held the contract out to her.

With a brief smile she accepted and turned back to the first page, settling back into her chair to read it over. It had been since Assistant Kang that someone had taken the time to study their contract so thoroughly. Instead of being annoyed at the minutes she was taking to do so, he sat comfortably sipping the coffee he had brought with him. Even here, her effort impressed him.

Once she had finished looking over the contract, she sat forward and picked up a pen so that she could sign. “Is that everything?”

“Yes, thank you, Miss Owens.” He accepted the contract from her. “I will pass that on to legal and HR. In the meantime we should get back to work.”

“Of course, Mr. Han,” she agreed. She stood and bowed her head slightly before she turned to lead the way out of his office.

Her posture was excellent, carrying herself with the grace of a woman at ease with her place in the world. Thinking over his observations of her, he followed her back to the Intelligence Unit, deciding that Assistant Kang had made the right call. She was certain to be a valuable asset, and at the moment they needed as many of those as they could find.

Chapter Text

When was the last time she had slept for more than three hours together?

Poppy gave up trying to figure that out as she rubbed at the corner of one eye. Surely it was the night before she accepted this job, three days ago, only it felt as if weeks had passed since then. Giving up the temptation to sneak a quick nap at the moment, she instead opened the bag in her lap to triple-check its contents.

A woman’s small sweater and pair of jeans, black ballet flats, a long-sleeve men’s shirt and jeans, and a thick cable-knit sweater for Mr. Han. She considered for a moment before she began to pull off the tags, realizing it would be better if everything was ready to be worn. The likelihood of the Director caring about the price or the ability to return them in this situation felt laughable.

Continually going over her mental checklist and making certain she didn’t have any missed calls was helping to keep her steady and sane. Taking this job, she hadn’t expected that she would be making late night trips to Mr. Han’s penthouse building to buy clothes and feed his cat before they headed to the hospital. And she certainly hadn’t expected anyone to be stabbed.

With that she checked her phone compulsively, but it didn’t have any new notifications. To be entirely honest, she wasn’t certain if that was a good thing or not. On the one hand, it meant that she was trusted on the mission she had been sent to accomplish. But on the other, it meant that she didn’t know what had happened in the time since she left.

Glancing at the front seat she watched as Driver Kim focused on the road, easily navigating as he led the black SUV that carried the security team that had been sent with her. She couldn’t tell if she felt trapped or like precious cargo, as if sent on a secret mission to acquire needed items before they left for the hospital.

Assistant Kang would have normally taken care of this, would be the one to act as liaison between he and the intelligence unit once he left to handle things on site. Only her position of Chief Assistant seemed to be put on hiatus at the moment, and Poppy was taking up the mantle in her place while she donned that of Head of the Intelligence Unit. Trust in his assistant seemed to translate to unequivocal trust in her judgment of her assistant, and so it was that Poppy had now completed tasks other minor assistants had never been given. She wondered if it was solely trust in Assistant Kang’s judgment of her character and competency or the result of their conversation when she had signed her contract.

Since that surprisingly intimate interview they hadn’t had time to do more than speak briefly about the intelligence unit and the situation they were handling. Things had escalated so quickly on her first day that she hadn’t stumbled into her aunt’s apartment until almost four in the morning, promptly falling asleep on the sofa instead of making it to her bed. Yet even as busy as they were, the long hours and tight quarters of the intelligence unit gave her ample opportunity to notice that while he didn’t seek out conversation with her frequently, his eyes did.

His stern, unwavering stare as he listed every task she needed to complete before they left had been only mildly unnerving. In a way she felt as though this had all been another test, and yet she had also been able to tell there was an earnest plea in the way he entrusted her with each delicate matter. From everything she had gathered as she helped the Intelligence Unit, the man who had been stabbed was Mr. Han’s lifelong friend, and his life was now in danger. What might have seemed a nuisance of overly detailed, complicated requests was, in her eyes, a struggle to keep hold on a world that must have felt as if it was spiraling out of control. The hint of a surprised smile when she repeated everything back to him word for word had warmed her heart, but she had been too tired and busy to really consider why she wanted to help ease his worries so much.

When the car slowed and pulled over she glanced up from the bag in her lap to see the silhouette of C&R’s impressive skyscraper. Driver Kim pulled the keys from the ignition and got out, straightening his suit as he looked around. Poppy hurried to check that she had everything, tightening her hold on the bag and phone, as well as the ridiculously heavy black metal credit card she had been handed by Mr. Han.

Driver Kim opened her door and she quickly slid out of the backseat, murmuring too many words of thanks in her flustered state. He merely smiled and nodded before he made certain the security team behind them had exited the SUV. Bodyguards flanked her, checking the surroundings, and again she felt her unease increase as she was escorted into the building. She was merely an assistant; it had to simply be the items she carried that they protected, the duties she was carrying out under his direction.

The ride in the lift was long, and awkward was hardly the word to cover how she felt squeezed into the middle of so many burly men wearing crisp black suits. She couldn’t tell which would make her feel better, small talk or their silence, and she spent the entire ride in a daze of indecision and discomfort. As soon as the lift slowed and the doors parted she felt her shoulders relax, unaware of just how much tension she had been carrying.

Any relief was temporary, because as soon as she stepped out of the lift she was greeted by the Director and the Chief Assistant. They looked up as the entourage exited, and Poppy stopped before them and inclined her head briefly in greeting. Mr. Han’s eyes moved over her quickly as if doing a rapidfire assessment, and she held out the weighty black card, wanting to be relieved of it as soon as possible.

He accepted it from her, holding her gaze for a moment before he gave a curt nod. “Meet me on the roof,” he told her. With that brief instruction he approached the lift behind her as one of his security team pressed the button for him. “Assistant Kang, I will let you know once we arrive.”

“Oh, Mr. Han -”

But the doors closed before Poppy could ask him why the roof, or how soon to meet him there. Turning to face the Chief Assistant, she raised an eyebrow, but the other woman was buried in her phone. After a moment she finally raised her gaze, adjusting her glasses with a scowl before she offered a slightly reassuring smile.

“The roof?” Poppy managed to ask, hating that her voice almost came out as a squeak.

“The pilot just arrived,” Assistant Kang told her. “Take the elevator to R, and please keep your phone on you. You should be there within the half hour.”

“Wait -”

“I’ll be in touch. Well then, thank you, Assistant Owens.”

And with that brief farewell Poppy found herself ushered onto the elevator between two guards as if caught up in a current. It occurred to her that she hadn’t thought at all about how they planned to get to the hospital, but she had assumed Driver Kim would take them. It seemed a rational conclusion, but as she rode the lift to the roof she felt her stomach drop as she realized she should have known that wouldn’t be fast enough.

It wasn’t that Poppy was scared of flying; she’d spent so much of her life jetsetting across the globe that she was more than used to it. But she’d never ridden in a helicopter, and somehow the thought of doing so like this was daunting, compounding the nerves and stress she was still feeling at her entire situation. Mr. Han hadn’t asked her at all how her tasks had gone, and she wondered how to take that.

Did he expect that she had done a good job, or was he waiting to interrogate her about it all, doubtful that she had carried out his orders?

All of this anxiety was the entire situation, she was sure. She had never imagined a position as Assistant to the Director’s Chief Assistant would mean a late night helicopter ride to a hospital because someone had been fatally stabbed.

With a deep breath she refocused herself, intent on merely performing her duties and tasks to the best of her abilities. She was to accompany and assist Mr. Han, that was all. The rest did not concern her personally - just her job, filling in for Assistant Kang.

Poppy repeated that to herself as she passed through the heavy door to the roof, held open for her by one of the security guards. Her thank you to him was lost in the sound of the helicopter’s rutters, already spinning and creating a vortex of wind that disoriented her. Instinctively she tried to keep her skirt down even though she was wearing opaque tights. With a grimace she struggled to hold on to the phone and bag she clutched while doing her best to keep her dignity.

As she got closer her low ponytail whipped about her head. The ribbon tied in it, which had already been loosening all evening, gave up its silken hold and slipped from her strands. With a muttered curse under her breath she took a few steps across the helipad to pursue it as it slithered across the cement, not looking up as she chased it.

A black wing tip oxford shoe pressed its toes on the hunter green ribbon, and Poppy halted her pursuit. Long, thin fingers stretched for their prize, delicately picking it up and running a thumb over the satin length. Poppy raised her gaze from the elegantly large hands that twisted the ribbon slightly as if brushing off any dirt it may have acquired, only to find herself staring into black eyes.

“Miss Owens, you seem to have lost your ribbon,” Mr. Han observed, raising his softly commanding voice so she could hear him.

“Th-thank you, Mr. Han,” she replied, swallowing to alleviate the dry feeling in her mouth and throat. With one hand she continued to try brushing her now loose strands out of her face, but no matter how she tried they swirled around her to obscure her vision. She did her best not to think about how tangled they would all be once they arrived.

He nodded to her once as he held out the ribbon, his fingers surprisingly warm when they pressed the satin into her palm. As soon as she had it he turned back to the helicopter, exchanging a few brief words with his security team that she couldn’t distinguish. She returned to her struggle with her clothing and hair, determined not to lose her professionalism in this situation. That had to be why her heart was racing, and she couldn’t get it under control.

The Chief Bodyguard opened the door to the helicopter, and she stood waiting for Mr. Han to board first. When he noticed her waiting he held a hand out in gesture for her to precede him, and at her attempts to deny he shook his head.

“Please, sit there, behind the pilot. I prefer to sit on the left so I may speak with him more easily,” he explained. “Quickly, if you will, Miss Owens.”

“Of - of course, Mr. Han,” she stuttered, but for a moment she considered the daunting task of climbing into a helicopter, in a skirt, in front of her boss’ boss and his bodyguards. Gritting her teeth she approached the door and looked for a handle, but when she didn’t immediately see one a hand suddenly appeared in front of her.

She didn’t need to follow the pinstriped sleeve to its owner to know whose hand it was, and she resisted the urge to look up into his face. Her cheeks heated as she placed her free hand into his, closing her fingers on him as she tried not to let her mortification at his assistance make her falter. For such a slender, fine-boned hand she was surprised at the strength he showed as he lent her leverage to step into the helicopter. Somehow she managed without her skirt riding up her thighs too much, and she released his hand as soon as she was able. Once she was in the seat he had specified for her she tugged her skirt back to her knees, brushing her desperately tangled hair off of her face.

Poppy resisted looking up as the Chief Bodyguard, security team, and Mr. Han all took the other seats in the helicopter as she settled in with her seatbelt and headset. She knew more of the security team were already on their way to the hospital, that they had left as soon as they knew which one Luciel was headed for. Yet still when she raised her gaze to see the coils of wire linking their earpieces to their collars she felt her anxiety spike once more.

A sudden lurch drew her eyes out the window beside her, and she realized they were lifting off from the helipad. Her fingers tightened on the bag she held in her lap, clutching at it to hide the way her hands shook. She wondered if she would have found the new experience delightful if it weren’t for the otherwise dire circumstances.

Now familiar fingers startled her out of her attempts to calm herself, and she glanced down to see them remove a single long white cat hair from the sleeve of her tweed blazer. She followed them as they raised the hair up for him to inspect, and he studied it for a moment before he met her gaze. There was no accusation, instead only mild curiosity, as if a bland eagerness to hear pleasant news rested in the slight quirk of his brow.

Unable to resist a wide smile and the urge to reassure him, she fumbled for her phone. “Oh, I meant to tell you. Elizabeth the Third was grateful for her meal, I gave her the salmon with gravy as you specified. Also I filled her water bowl with a bottle from the fridge, and observed her eating some,” she rambled. When he merely held her gaze, still holding the hair before his eyes, she took a deep breath and continued. “She was meowing near your sofa, and so I looked under it because it seemed she was distressed. One of her toy mice was stuck under it, so I made certain to remove it so that she could continue playing after I left.”

“I see,” he commented after a moment. “Is that when you got her hairs on your sleeve? There’s a few…”

“No, actually,” she shook her head and smiled, “she kept rubbing on my legs. I thought perhaps she wanted some attention and reached down to see if she wanted me to hold her. She gladly let me pick her up, and I cuddled her for a bit. I took a picture.”

Poppy glanced down at her phone and swiped the screen, noticing that Mr. Han leaned eagerly across the armrest console between them. When she found the picture she brandished it so that he could see, still smiling when she took in the gleam that came into his eyes at the picture. She had been holding Elizabeth the Third, and the opportunity to take a picture of her cradled in her arms like a baby, purring contentedly, had been too good to pass up.

“What an elegant photo of my beauty,” he said, and a soft hint of a smile played at the corners of his lips. “Could you send that to me? I would appreciate being able to look at it during times of stress or when I take a break from work.”

“Of course, Mr. Han,” Poppy agreed. “Um, I don’t have your personal number, should I send it to -”

“Here,” he said, holding a hand out for her phone. She hesitated only a moment before she passed it over, watching carefully as he shared the photo with himself. As soon as he finished he passed her phone back to her with a curt nod. “Thank you, Miss Owens, for looking after her.”

“I was pleased to meet her, she’s even more beautiful and perfect in person. Oh, and the owner of the shop in your building said to tell you thank you, and anytime you needed him to let him know,” she relayed with an easy smile.

For a moment he simply stared at her, and then again he gave a nod before he focused on his phone. His attention became absorbed in it, and when she glanced aside she saw him saving the photo he had sent himself to his gallery. To her surprise it seemed he also saved her phone number, putting her in as Miss Owens and setting the contact photo as the selfie with Elizabeth the Third.

Feeling her cheeks heat once more she looked to her own phone, checking for anything from Assistant Kang before she decided she should save his number as well. She almost considered asking if he minded her saving his personal number, but rationalized that in the course of her duties she would likely need it. Who knew what they were really in for as the night progressed.

Locking her screen once more she looked around the interior of the helicopter, taking a moment to notice that speaking with him had distracted her from the case of nerves that had gripped her. The helicopter carried itself differently than an airplane, but she found now that it wasn’t unpleasant, and settled back into her seat. With a glance at Mr. Han she noticed him intent on the lit screen of his phone, taking only a moment to realize he was in what she now knew was the RFA chatroom.

With a calming, steadying breath she looked out the window, letting her mind stabilize and wander as she took in the sight of the city below them. Fatigue weighed heavily on her, but she set it aside for the moment with her determination to assist the Director to the best of her ability. After all, they weren’t merely attending a board meeting, and she needed to have a level head.

That thought made her search out his face, trying to decipher his mood and emotions, and when she caught his eye she offered a smile. Before she could ask if he needed anything, he tilted his head slightly. “Are you all right, Miss Owens?”

Her eyebrows rose on her forehead and she sat stunned for a moment before rapidly nodding her head. “Y-yes, I am, thank you Mr. Han. Do you need anything?”

“No, I am fine. We will be at the hospital soon, and I was telling Chloe to expect us to be waiting once they arrive. As soon as we arrive I would like for you to speak with the staff about securing a space for us to work in private, if you would.”

“Of course,” she agreed. “I’ll call ahead -”

“I believe Assistant Kang already did. I was merely instructing you as to what should happen once we’re on the ground.”

“All right,” she agreed. She frowned slightly as she watched him, noticing the way he fidgeted with his phone, running his finger over the screen as well as how rigidly he sat in his seat. “The best surgeon in the country is already there, Mr. Han. It will be all right, I’m certain of it.”

He stared at her until it was unnerving, and beneath the hardness of his gaze she noticed a softer look that made him seem almost lost. “While I know that is what one is supposed to say in this situation, the probabilities -”

“Hope is better than focusing on probabilities at the moment,” she assured him. Immediately regretting interrupting him she cleared her throat and shrugged. “If you don’t mind me saying, Mr. Han. Apologies, I -”

“No apology necessary,” he told her, and the softer edge of his gaze became more pronounced. “Thank you for believing in the better scenarios. The worse case scenarios, thinking of losing my oldest friend, I…”

“Of course you’re worried. But he’ll be in good hands,” she insisted, smiling warmly when he met her gaze once more.

“Thank you,” he finally said, nodding his head before he returned his gaze to the phone in his hand.

Something warm blossomed within her chest, but in her exhaustion she decided she was merely pleased to have done a sufficient job. Looking back out the window she let herself relax, doing her best to gather her thoughts as she saw the distant red lights of the hospital’s helipad come into view.

Chapter Text

Prudie.

Somehow in the midst of recent events, he was staring out the window, tugging his sleeves straight as he considered the name with which Luciel had addressed Miss Owens. He had been able to tell that the background check was carried out by Luciel. It had born small hints similar to the way he always did for party guests and the other members of the intelligence unit.

It had been brazen and just like Luciel to drop the hint to the assistant, and she was quick enough to pick up on it. The gratitude she expressed had almost sounded tinged with sarcasm. Perhaps it was that that had Jumin musing over the exchange. He wondered at whom the sarcasm was directed, and lost himself in trying to determine its source.

At the least it was better to focus on than the memory of the small group’s arrival at the emergency entrance. Miss Owens and Assistant Kang had worked to clear the entrance beforehand as requested. It was not only a matter of security but because the idea of a crowded waiting room observing V being rushed in was distressing. Blinking away the image of Chloe standing covered in his friend’s blood, he glanced instead to Luciel’s empty work space.

The hacker had stepped away for a break, an attempt to do his best to try to stay awake. The surly, leather-clad man who had been following Luciel and Chloe had also left after an exasperating conversation about convenience stores. Alone in the room they were using as their base, the images seemed determined to stick.

Fidgeting with his sleeves once more he considered checking the messenger, or calling Assistant Kang for an update. A distraction would be more than welcome at the moment.

The sound of two soft voices, both with different accents, drifted through the open door from the otherwise quiet floor. Jumin listened intently as they approached, realizing that he recognized them - and that they were speaking in rapid English.

“Well, I lived here for over half of my childhood, and my Aunt Agnes still lives here for work,” Miss Owens was saying. “The longer you’re here you’ll get a better grasp of it.”

“You’re right. It’s just frustrating sometimes, but it’s nice to have someone else who speaks English,” Chloe replied. “You know, I didn’t even think about it - I bet V speaks English. I never thought to ask. After all he was educated with Jumin, I’m sure he had to learn it.”

“Something for you two to talk about when he gets out of surgery,” Miss Owens suggested. “In the meantime, I would rest if I were you. I can ask about finding you a quiet room if you’d like.”

“No, I’m - I’m fine out here in the waiting room. Thank you so much though, Poppy. And thank you for the tea and lip balm, you didn’t have to get them for me.”

“It’s no trouble, really. Please rest, and let me know if I can get anything else for you.”

“You’re working so hard, thank you. Really. I hope you get some sleep after all of this.”

A trickle of laughter greeted these words, and then the soft click-clack of heels measured the assistant’s pace into the room. When she saw Jumin waiting alone for her, she seemed to hesitate for the briefest moment before a kind smile came to her face.

“I apologize for the delay, I made certain to get Chloe some items as well,” Miss Owens explained. “And I managed to find a better mug for your coffee than the styrofoam cups. Is this - acceptable?”

The slightest gleam in her sapphire eyes made him quirk an eyebrow, but when he glanced at the mug she held out to him he determined its cause. A white mug with an elegant black cat design on it, and the cat’s tail appeared to curl and form the handle. Before he could stop them, the corners of his lips twitched up in a smile and he raised his gaze to hers once more.

“That is - perfect,” he told her. “Thank you, Miss Owens. Another job well done.”

Her own smile widened, a dimple appearing on her left cheek, and her eyes crinkled invitingly as well. “I’ll get you some coffee for it then. Do you need anything else, Mr. Han?”

“Not at present, no,” he assured her. He found himself having to resist the temptation to ask her for a distraction, and instead watched as she walked briskly to attend her task, mug in hand.

Even as he stood alone in the room once more, he found the slightest bit of calm returning. The steady rhythm of footsteps on the tile, the soothing cadence of her modulated, soft voice had acted as pacifying elements. His head had been buzzing, everything around him too loud even in the near silence of the floor they were on. Yet something about Miss Owens’ presence and attention to every detail and need was relaxing his fraught nerves.

He glanced at the charcoal grey sweater that rested on a chair nearby, thinking over his confusion that she had purchased it for him. When she had offered it to him, she had stuttered slightly on the words and he wondered if his look had been too severe as he accepted it. He merely hadn’t expected it, but her explanation that the hospital might be cold or he might want to feel more comfortable since they didn’t know how long they’d be there had made excellent sense.

More surprising was the fact that he actually liked the sweater, admiring the color and the pattern of the knit - straight lines, perfectly even.

Quickly undoing the few buttons on his jacket and vest, he carefully shrugged out of them and hung them neatly over the back of the chair. He shook out the sweater and pulled it over his head, adjusting its sleeves and collar over his shirt.

Brisk steps gave him a warning of her return, and he glanced up to watch her walk back in. She stopped inside the door, eyes darting over the sweater, and a bright smile broke over her face. After a moment spent smiling at him, she seemed to remember herself and tried to force the smile off her face, clearing her throat as she stepped forward.

“You take it black, correct?” she asked as she held out the ceramic mug she had purchased for him.

“Yes, thank you, Miss Owens.” He accepted the mug from her, noticing the smile she struggled against once more. “You’ve worked hard and done well, I appreciate your efforts. Things are going smoothly because of you, and I am glad that Assistant Kang sent you.”

“I - I - um, thank you, Mr. Han, but I’m just doing my job,” she stuttered out. Brushing a loose bit of hair behind her ear she seemed to take a deep breath, and he wondered why she seemed flustered.

After all, he had only spoken the truth.

“I only mean I can see why Assistant Kang selected you for her personal assistant. You are incredibly efficient, and I only meant to point it out.” He frowned as he watched her pale cheeks tinge with pink, and she tugged at the front of her tweed blazer.

“Thank you, Mr. Han.” Her voice was slightly steadier than it had been before, but she still avoided his gaze. “Would you like for me to check on the surgery’s status, or do you require anything else at the moment?”

She finally raised her gaze, and there was something guarded in her eyes and the way she lifted her chin slightly when she met his stare. It intrigued him, and he found himself curious why praise had provoked such a response in her. He rarely expressed such emotions, but the events of the night and her calming presence had made him feel the need to break from his norm. Now, in the face of a response he had never received, he wasn’t quite certain what to say.

Before he could, the phone in the hall began to ring. Miss Owens turned on her heel, clearly intending to answer it, but Jumin crossed the room in a few long strides.

“I will take it, Miss Owens,” he instructed brusquely, his anxiety renewed at the shrill rings echoing through the otherwise hushed floor.

Stopping beside the white phone in the hall, he took it from its cradle. “Jumin Han speaking.”

“Mr. Han, we wanted to give you your hourly update,” the nurse greeted. “Surgery is still continuing, we are not certain as of yet how much longer.”

“And his status?”

“Still severe. The surgeon is confident but at the moment there is still -”

“Still a risk. Thank you for the update as requested. Please let me know if anything changes, or again in an hour if nothing does.”

“Of course Mr. Han.”

Hanging up the phone, he hardly had a moment before footsteps ran down the hall toward him. As he sipped from the mug of coffee he turned, certain he knew who it was.

“Was that the nurse? Is he okay? Everything’s good?” Chloe slowed her jog and stopped in front of him, a deep frown on her face as she searched his for answers.

“He’s still in surgery,” Jumin answered.

“Thank god,” she muttered in English, wiping a hand along her brow. “Um - is he still danger?”

“In danger,” he corrected.

“I - right, in - in danger,” she stuttered. Her slightly choppy Korean had already stood out to him before when they spoke. Now though it seemed her fatigue and stress were hindering it even more.

“Chloe,” he said firmly, trying to regain her attention from how she was running her fingers through her hair and scuffing her toes awkwardly. “I will tell you if anything changes. In the meantime, you should rest. V will need you when he’s out of surgery, and you won’t be able to help him if you’re exhausted.”

Her gaze snapped up to his, and it took her a moment to reply to his English, though he couldn’t tell what may have caused her surprise. “Th-thank you, Jumin. I’m just...I can’t sit still, I just want him to be okay, and where I can see him again.”

“He has the best surgeon, and a stubborn will. Until he’s out of surgery, though, there’s nothing you can do except take care of yourself.” He took a few steps toward the room he was working in before he turned back to face her. “Get some rest, and let Miss Owens know if you need anything.”

“I will. Thank you Jumin, and I - um, let me know too. I don’t like feeling so helpless, so if I can do anything…”

Jumin considered her for a moment, noticing the way she clutched her phone and chewed her bottom lip. “I will. Now please, rest.” With a curt nod at her, he walked back into their workspace.

Luciel must still be in the waiting area on the phone, since he wasn’t at the desk. At first Jumin thought the room was empty, until he glanced to the right and noticed Miss Owens in the corner.

Asleep.

She seemed to have finally sat down for a moment and merely rested her head against the wall beside her. Again the calm he’d experienced in her presence returned as he watched the way her chest rose and fell with her deep breaths. Somehow it was soothing to see her sleeping so peacefully, and he lost himself in quiet observation until his anxieties slowly dissipated.

His coffee finished, he set the mug down and instead pulled his phone from his pocket. It seemed Chloe, Jaehee, and Rika had been in the chatroom and he had missed it. As he read over the log, he listened to the soft breathing of Miss Owens behind him, still amazed that it kept him calm as he read Rika’s words.

Chapter Text

Poppy shouldn’t have said it.

The hush that had fallen over the office was deafening, suffocating, and even Assistant Kang beside her almost seemed too terrified to breathe. Poppy’s hands trembled and she clenched them into fists even as she raised her chin and straightened her back.

She shouldn’t have said it, but now that the words were out, she wasn’t going to take them back.

It had simply been too much, watching Mr. Han snap ungratefully at the Chief Assistant yet again instead of thanking her for how much she had done for him. Especially over something as trivial as the placement of the items on his desk.

Now, holding the piercing black eyes of the Director, Poppy did her best not to cower or show weakness. He had deserved her chastisement, and after all, there were worse ways to lose a job she was less than interested in. It wasn’t as if the Intelligence Unit had lacked excitement for the last few weeks; more like she could see a monotonous path laying itself out before her, and no way off of it.

Unless, of course, she was about to lose her job for scolding the Director of C&R over his childish behavior.

As the shock wore off, several of the assistants began whispering amongst themselves, a few turning back to the work on their desks as if hoping to avoid drawing the Director’s ire. But his gaze was still fixed on Poppy, his expression inscrutable, and he reached to fix his cuff as he studied her.

“With me, if you will, Miss Owens,” he said at last. His voice wasn’t raised, wasn’t harsh. It was still deep, and soft, and yet it felt more commanding than if he had shouted.

Without glancing at Assistant Kang beside her, Poppy kept her head held high and briskly followed him into his office. He glanced at her as he circled his desk, and once he had taken his seat he held a hand out to indicate the chair across from him. The same one she had sat in weeks before when she signed her contract.

Something about it tugged at her, and her resolve gave way to a small regret that only worsened when she met his gaze once more. There was a curious look in his eyes, and her bottom lip quivered before she caught it between her teeth.

After a deep breath, she shook her head. “If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Han,” she began slowly, grateful that her voice barely shook when she spoke. “I would prefer to stand if you are about to terminate me.”

“Terminate you?” Mr. Han repeated, raising one eyebrow as he considered her. He cleared his throat and gestured once more to the chair. “You misunderstand, Miss Owens. Please, take a seat.”

Poppy merely stared at him for a moment before she slowly sank into the chair opposite, perching on the edge. She clasped her hands in her lap, trying her best to steady their shaking. “You’re not going to fire me?” she asked before she could help herself.

“No,” he said simply. “I value honesty in my employees, and you were - incredibly honest.”

“Some would say too much so,” Poppy murmured. “If you’re not going to fire me, then…?”

“I am curious of your opinion of me,” Mr. Han answered her unspoken question.

"You - want my opinion of you?" She repeated, trying to wrap her mind around the request.

"Yes."

"Oh, I - um."

"Please, Miss Owens. I would like to hear more from you. It's clear you have some thoughts about me I'd like to hear."

"I - I spoke out of turn, really…"

But when she trailed off once more he merely sat watching her, his hands folded on his desk. He was waiting patiently, and she realized he wouldn't take no for an answer.

"You are...an excellent director."

He raised an eyebrow. "I value the truth more than compliments."

"That is the truth," she hurried to say. She took a deep breath when only silence met her words. "Only...I think perhaps sometimes you are too harsh."

"Would I be a better director if I coddled my employees when they make mistakes?" He prompted. It wasn't an accusation, and she wondered at his continual soft tone.

"No, you don't need to coddle them. But showing gratitude for their hard work would go far in your relationship with them." She did her best to continue to hold his gaze, not allowing his piercing eyes to sway her from telling the truth now.

"My relationship with them begins and ends with the contract they sign to become my employees."

"I disagree," she challenged.

"You do?" Still he merely sounded curious, and the steadiness with which he regarded her was unnerving.

"An employee has more motivating them than a paycheck or a contract," she continued, and cleared her throat. Looking down she tugged gently at her skirt, aligning it with her knees. "They wish to know their hard work and effort for your company is valued and appreciated. Yes, they make mistakes. But if you only acknowledge the mistakes and nothing else, you'll find that they lack the eagerness to strive to be better. After all, when they do something right, it goes unrewarded."

Chancing a glance at him once more, she found a thoughtful frown on his face. It made her wonder if she was the first person to point any of this out to him.

"I see," he finally murmured. "I've always thought that trivialities such as that did not need to be said. That their continued employment would be the obvious sign that I approved of them."

"Everyone appreciates validation," she said, giving a small shrug.

"Do you require such praise?"

When she met his gaze, there was such an intensity in the way he watched her that for a moment she couldn't find her voice.

"I - I'm only human," she stuttered. "It feels...nice to know what you do for another person is valued and appreciated."

They fell into silence, and Poppy was just beginning to wonder if she should excuse herself when he looked up at her.

"You are very - sure of your opinions. And express them quite thoughtfully."

"Oh, I - th-thank you, Mr. Han," she told him, and she could feel heat creep up her neck. "If that is all…"

"I'm curious, if you would indulge me another question," he said, his voice softer as if in thoughtfulness.

"Yes, of course." She swallowed hard, uncertain what else he could wish to know.

"If you were - keeping a secret from a friend at the request of another, even though you knew the truth could put that friend at ease...would you continue to keep it? Or would you break confidence to tell them?"

The question caught her off guard, and she frowned as she studied him. It was clearly driven by something, and though she wished to ask she dared not. Instead she considered him, and finally noticed the strain around his eyes, the way he seemed to nearly be pleading for some sort of clarity. Something was weighing on him, and for a reason she could not fathom he was looking to her for guidance.

"I - I would consider the consequences of my options," she began slowly. "My duty and loyalty to my friends, and where they lay. If such a secret has been requested of me, there must be a very important reason. Which could mean that telling that secret could possibly cause more harm than good to the friend it is being kept from."

Mr. Han's lips pursed, and he straightened a pen on his desk as he thought. "You would keep the secret, then?"

"I would trust the faith I have in my friends. If such a promise was made, I would hope that it was made with everyone's best interests at heart."

He raised his gaze to hers, and for a moment looked so lost that she wished she knew a way to help him. A sudden urge to comfort him overcame her, and she cleared her throat and looked away, confused by the unexpected desire. But seeing such a powerful and imposing man look at her the way that he was almost broke her heart.

"Thank you for your insight, and for sharing it with me, Miss Owens," he told her. "I appreciate your honesty, and hope that you will continue to be so forthright with me in the future."

"Yes, Mr. Han," she agreed. She peered at him from the corner of her eyes then quickly away, unable to shake the feelings the look he was giving her inspired in her.

"I am having dinner with my father this evening," he interjected, and she glanced up, surprised to have the silence broken again. "I was wondering if you might look after Elizabeth the Third while I am gone."

Poppy's eyebrows rose high on her forehead. "But Assistant Kang -"

"I would prefer for you to do it." It wasn't a request, and he stood from his chair, straightening his suit jacket as he did. "I will see to it that you have everything you need, if you give me a few moments."

She nodded and stood as well, uncertain what to make of the change in his demeanor. A soft smile was pulling at his mouth, and he held out a hand for her to precede him from his office. Automatically she did as bidden, leading him back into the main office. The other assistants shot her curious stares, but quickly looked away and busied themselves in their work as soon as Mr. Han appeared.

"Mr. Han, Driver Kim has pulled the car around for you, and I spoke with Mr. Chairman's assistant a moment ago. He's on his way now." Assistant Kang had appeared at his elbow, speaking as if none of the last few minutes had transpired at all.

"Thank you, Assistant Kang," he told her pointedly. "I appreciate it."

Poppy tried to stifle the laugh that threatened to break free of her lips, and avoided searching out his gaze. Before she could ask for instructions, a deep voice behind her interrupted her thoughts.

"Oh, excuse me, Miss…?"

Turning to see who addressed her, she found herself face to face with Mr. Chairman. He was smiling at her, and an eager gleam came into his eyes as he gave her a once over.

"Pardon me, Mr. Chairman -"

"No apologies necessary, Miss. I'm always happy to meet such a - wonderful sight in the office," he said. "I'm not certain we've had the pleasure of meeting, Miss…?"

Again he trailed off, and she gave a quick, polite bow. "Miss Owens, sir."

"Miss Owens! I see. That must account for the lovely accent, I take it you are here from London, if I'm not mistaken?" His eyes gleamed once more as they roved over her face.

Shifting on her feet, she merely gave a perfunctory nod. "Yes, I am, sir."

"You must be quite homesick," he speculated, though he smiled brightly even as he said it. "But what a joy to have someone such as yourself working for C&R. I wonder that I haven't seen you before. I like to make it a point to get - familiar - with some of our more prestigious hires -"

"Ah, father, what a pleasant surprise.” The greeting was severe, and Poppy startled at the sharp tone of the normally soft voice. Mr. Han had stepped away from Assistant Kang to join them, and positioned himself so that he was standing slightly in front of Poppy. “I thought we were to meet at the restaurant.”

“And I thought perhaps we could ride together, and have some more time before we join Madam Kim,” Mr. Chairman replied. “I’m glad I decided to come down, I did not realize you had hired such a lovely assistant. I was just making her acquaintance -”

“I am afraid something urgent has come up,” Mr. Han interrupted. His voice was still verging on dangerous, though it was contained, just a slight edge to each of his words. “I hope you’ll excuse me but I must cancel our dinner.”

“Surely it’s not so important that you have to cancel just before we are to leave,” Mr. Chairman scoffed. “Be reasonable, Jumin. This is the first time you are meeting her -”

“I’m sorry, is it Madam Kim still? Or have you moved on to someone else?”

Poppy wanted to shrink away, and looked sidelong at where Assistant Kang stood for guidance. But the other woman was staring at Mr. Han with her eyebrows raised, unable to keep the shock from showing for a brief moment before it was replaced by a smooth, emotionless mask. Folding her arms across herself, Poppy did her best to take a few steps toward the Chief Assistant, as if seeking shelter.

“Jumin, not this again. And not here,” the Chairman protested in a harsh whisper. He took a few steps closer to his son, brows furrowed in a deep scowl. “If you meet her, you will like her -”

“My time is valuable, father, as I have told you before. I cannot be spared this evening to meet your latest girlfriend,” Mr. Han insisted. “I apologize for the late notice, but if you will excuse me.”

Despite his father’s continued protests, Mr. Han turned on his heel and marched away. A tense silence fell as the office door snapped shut behind him, and Poppy glanced between the Chairman and Assistant Kang. The same urge that had seized her when they had spoken in the office overcame Poppy, and this time she resolved herself to act upon it.

“Excuse me,” she muttered, and hurried to the door.

She carefully opened it, poking her head in before she entered the room. Mr. Han was unbuttoning his jacket, and she watched as he tossed it to his desk before he began pacing.

“Mr. Han.”

He jumped slightly at her soft address, but the glare on his face gave way to that same lost look she had noticed earlier when he saw who it was.

“Miss Owens -”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to disturb you,” she said, shutting the door behind her. “I can leave, if you’d rather be alone, but I thought - I wanted to see if you - if you were all right.”

For several moments he simply stared at her, and then he shook his head and turned away. Poppy heaved a sigh, assuming he was dismissing her, and she reached for the doorknob.

“I am sorry.”

Surprised, she looked back to find him staring at her, a pained expression on his face.

“For what?”

“That you had to see that. Family matters should not interrupt business.”

“You don’t need to apologize for that,” she assured him. Tentatively she took a few steps forward. “I take it - things aren’t always easy between you two?”

When he merely scowled and looked away she chewed her lip.

“I’m sorry, it’s not my place - forget I said anything.”

“It’s all right.” He met her gaze once more, and frowned as he studied her. “If he made you uncomfortable...”

Again she felt her cheeks heat, and looked away, folding her arms across herself. But she couldn’t find the words, and certainly did not want to say anything unflattering about his father. Silence was the only course of action.

“He’s a wonderful father, except,” he heaved a sigh, “when it comes to women.”

“Thank you for stepping in,” she murmured.

She hadn’t quite meant to say it, and yet the gratitude she felt overpowered her so that the words slipped out before she could hold them back.

“I’m sorry you even had to,” she added quickly. “I just - I - I didn’t know what to say.”

The silence continued to stretch on, but Poppy didn’t know how to break it. When she looked up once more, she was surprised to find that he was standing much closer than he had been before.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked again.

“You are - concerned for me?” he countered, frowning thoughtfully.

“Yes,” she breathed. “I - I -”

But she swallowed the words she knew she shouldn’t say, the realization of why she had wanted to make certain he wasn’t distressed.

Before she could think how to correct her thoughts and words, she became aware of him looming over her. She looked up, meeting his gaze, and found herself speechless at the intensity in his eyes. He was standing so close, enough that she had to crane her neck slightly to look up at him, every nerve in her body prickling as if keenly aware of his proximity.

“Mr. Han -”

But the rest of her words were lost as he cupped her cheeks with his large hands and crushed his mouth to hers. The force of his kiss made her stumble, and the hard glass of his office wall met her back as he pressed her against it. She tried to steady herself, and clutched at the front of his shirt as she parted her lips invitingly.

The first touch of his tongue to hers was gentle, but seemed to go through him like a shockwave. He slanted his lips against hers, eagerly deepening the kiss as he encouraged her tongue to take up a dance with his. Her heart thumped wildly against her ribs, knees weakening as she lost herself in the searing kiss.

He slid one hand into her hair and tightened his grip on it to keep her steady as his other slid to her waist. Holding her tightly to him, he continued his unrelenting kiss until she was breathless, unable to think and unaware of anything but the passionate embrace. It was never ending, demanding, and when she moaned into his mouth he pressed his body against hers more firmly as if to hold her in place.

“M-Mr. Han,” she finally gasped, pushing lightly at his shoulders. “I - we’re - I -”

“Was that too rough?” he asked, and his voice was hoarse, his breathing ragged. “I’m sorry, I meant to be gentle but then I felt how soft your lips are and I - lost myself.” As he said it he brushed his thumb over her lips, tugging slightly at her lower lip so that it parted her mouth once more.

Poppy stared up into his eyes, uncertain why she had pushed him away but unable to pull him back to her. It felt like too much, the way her heart felt near to bursting, the desire she hadn’t even fully recognized before now coiling tightly in the pit of her stomach.

“Poppy,” he breathed, such tenderness in his voice that she felt herself tremble. “I’ve wanted to do that since the moment I saw you.”

“You - you have?”

He returned his hands to her cheeks, cradling her face between his hands as he traced her cheekbones with his thumbs. “Yes, I have. You are...extraordinary.”

“Jumin, I - I think I’ve wanted you to do that since we met as well,” she confessed. “But you’re...I mean, I’m...um.”

The reality of their situation came crashing back, clouding her thoughts as she remembered that he was her boss, and she was just a lowly assistant.

“Is it that we’re in the office?” he asked.

“Well, that and you’re - I mean, I work for you, I -” she stuttered out.

“I am not trying to take advantage, I just know my feelings for you, though I have only just now fully grasped their depth. My position, your position, do not matter to me.” He said it simply, as if that settled the matter. But he considered her for a few moments, still tenderly stroking her skin where he held it. “Are you bothered by it? If it makes you feel better, I can release you from our contract -”

“What?”

“I want you to feel comfortable with me,” he assured her. “And I want you to feel free to accept me as I am, as I accept you as you are. If not being my employee would help you agree to my offer of dinner -”

“Your what?” She stared up at him, trying to make sense of what he was saying.

“Oh, apologies. I have yet to actually ask,” he murmured, and he chuckled softly. “Poppy, my dearest Poppy, will you please have dinner with me tomorrow evening?”

“You - you want to take me on a date?”

“Of course. I should have asked sooner.” He sighed and shook his head, as if annoyed with himself. “I should have asked before I kissed you, but your concern, the way you were looking at me...I couldn’t resist you.”

Poppy had always tried to play it safe, had done what was expected of her, had tried to be the good girl her parents wanted her to be. Even in her previous relationship she had played it too safe, had allowed it to be hidden to avoid the fallout that might have occurred had it been widely known. Yet playing it safe had led her to heartbreak, and set her upon a path that could only lead to boredom and a hollow, lonely lack of fulfillment.

Staring up into Jumin’s intense gaze, letting his words sink in, she let herself recognize how much she would be risking. What surprised her the most was how it all made her feel secure, sure of herself and her desires, in a way that playing it safe never had.

“Yes, Jumin,” she told him, offering him a tender smile. “I’ll go on a date with you.”

Chapter Text

Jumin knew of Agnes Owens from his dealings with her brother’s company, and he respected her work. She was a powerhouse of marketing and design ideas, and the business their companies had conducted together had been more than satisfactory. It had been incredibly impressive.

To find himself at her door now, holding a bouquet of perfect red and white roses for her niece, was almost amusing. He knew the protocol for a first date, though, even if it had been many years since he had made use of the knowledge. Or at least, with anyone who mattered.

He had made certain to arrive promptly, bearing a beautiful gift. It was imperative he was not too early so that he would not catch her still getting ready. With one last glance at his watch, he found he had a moment to look over the roses to ensure they were perfect. And then he raised his knuckles and rapped several times on the door.

A familiar face greeted him, surrounded by unruly brown curls as it had been the last time he met with her. Agnes Owens gave a knowing smirk at the sight of him, and then held out a hand.

“Jumin Han, how pleasant to see you again,” she greeted in her warm voice. Her accent was far less noticeable than her niece’s, considering she had spent the majority of her adult life in Seoul.

He took her hand in a firm grip, nodding his head as he greeted her. “Ms. Owens,” he said, and then gave a charming smile. “I trust you have been well.”

“Busy as ever, as I’m sure you are as well,” she answered. She stepped back, tugging slightly at the long, hunter green cardigan she wore. “Feel free to come in. Poppy should only be a moment.”

“Thank you.” He stepped across the threshold, suddenly worried that he had actually been too early. They had agreed to him picking her up at seven, and he checked his watch against the clock he saw hanging in the open living space.

Before he could say anything more, the soft click of high heels sounded from the hallway that led further into the apartment. Poppy hurried into the room, closing the clasp of the small black clutch she held. For a moment Jumin could only stare, words escaping him as she met his gaze.

At the office, she was the epitome of professional; modest, prim and proper. He had often thought that some of the other assistants could take heed of how she presented herself, the minimalist effort she put into her appearance.

It wasn’t that her current outfit was loud or revealing. Just that it was so different from how he had ever seen her that it took him several moments to process. The black lace dress she wore hugged her curves, ending with a sheer overlay of lace several inches above her knees. Similarly her chest, shoulders, and upper arms were covered in sheer black lace, which managed to both cover and reveal her in such a way that he found himself thoroughly intrigued. Her hair, normally pulled into a low chignon or ponytail with a ribbon for work, was loose, smooth strands of soft brown catching the light as she strode forward.

When she turned to pick her long wool coat off of the sofa, he saw that the back of her dress was an open diamond-shaped panel surrounded by lace. The sight of bare, creamy skin made him swallow hard, still unable to speak.

“Sorry I was a few minutes late,” she said as she stepped before him. She opened her mouth to say something further when she glanced down, her eyes going wide at the bouquet he held. “Are those…?”

“For you,” he told her, regaining his senses at last. He held the bouquet out, presenting it to her with a small smile.

“Jumin, thank you so much.” Poppy accepted the flowers from him and buried her nose in them, inhaling deeply. “They’re lovely.”

“Not as lovely as you,” he replied easily, but he noticed her raise a slightly curious frown to him.

“I’ll put those in a vase in your room, Poppy,” Agnes offered, holding out a hand for them. “You two kids should get going.”

Jumin turned a mild stare at Agnes, taking a moment to recognize the way she had addressed them. As if they were teenagers, out for a first date on a school night. Remembering decorum, though, Jumin helped Poppy into her coat before he turned to say farewell to her aunt.

“I promise to get her home at a reasonable time,” he assured her.

To his surprise Agnes laughed, shaking her head before she waved a hand dismissively. “Please, she’s an adult,” she reminded him. “All I ask is that you take good care of her.”

“Ags,” Poppy bemoaned softly. But she giggled and turned to Jumin. “Shall we?”

Offering her his arm, he smiled when she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and let him escort her from the apartment. As they waited for the elevator, Poppy peered up at him, tugging slightly on his arm as she stretched up on her toes.

Her lips were soft against his cheek, and her warm breath tickled his skin as she exhaled a quiet laugh. When she pulled away he glanced at her, meeting her sapphire eyes with something akin to wonder.

His impulse the day before to kiss her had surprised him, but perhaps only because of how eagerly she had responded to him. The stress of everything with the RFA had already been enough; the secrets he was still keeping for V, the fact of his best friend leaving with nothing more than instructions on how to take care of Chloe while he was gone. And then his realization after Poppy had scolded him that he cared what she thought about him more than almost anyone he had ever met, only to be made worse by seeing his father make advances on her.

They had been subtle, and he had wondered if she had even recognized them for what they were. After what had happened with his previous Chief Assistant, it had sent him into a rage to see his father trying once more. Most of all with the woman he had only just realized he wanted for himself, if she would have him.

Now he stared down at her smiling so sweetly at him after having kissed him on the cheek as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“How was your day?” she asked softly.

“It has - been busy,” he told her. He did not want to discuss business, though, but before he could say so she tugged him gently by the arm onto the elevator.

“Well, hopefully dinner helps you relax,” she murmured.

There was something different about her now; a hesitancy, yes, but also something open that was even more calming to him than normal. As they rode the elevator down she frequently peered up at him, smiling brightly when she caught his eye. He escorted her out of the building as he thought about it, still puzzled as he helped her into the car after Driver Kim opened the door for her.

They sat side by side in the backseat, comfortably quiet, only remarking occasionally on something they spotted out the windows. Yet she sat with her knees turned toward his, and when he set his hand on his thigh she reached over to take his fingers in hers.

She moved with admirable grace and poise as they were led through the restaurant to the table he had requested, and softly murmured her thanks when he held out her chair. For the first time he was incredibly aware that she was the daughter of George Owens, and had likely been raised in the “silver-spoon” class as well. It amazed him to see how much natural ease she had, so unlike the way he constantly felt so tense and trapped.

For several moments they sat in silence as he looked over the wine list and she perused the menu. He glanced up at her often, transfixed by the sight of her as she sipped carefully at her sparkling water and looked around the candlelit restaurant.

“Perhaps we could start with a glass of champagne?” he suggested. At her eager nod he set the wine list aside, clearing his throat as he tried to decide on a topic of conversation.

“I understand from Assistant Kang that you collect rare books?” Poppy asked just as he opened his mouth to comment on the menu. When she saw the frown he gave her she smiled softly. “Sorry, I just - I know you probably have to spend your days making small talk. We don’t need to do that tonight, I’m sure you’re sick of it.”

Jumin felt a wave of gratitude at the words, realizing it was as if a pressure lightened in his chest. He didn’t want to waste his time speaking of the weather or other uninteresting topics with her. The desire to know her, to learn more about her was overwhelming, and it was as if her observation had granted him permission to do so.

Wanting to do something in return, he straightened his tie as he sat forward slightly. “Yes, I do. Collect rare books, that is, but I suppose that applies to the small talk as well,” he told her, speaking in English.

At his words she perked up slightly, a smile fighting its way across her face as she caught her bottom lip between her teeth. “Do you have a specific niche you’re collecting, or is it just the rarity that you appreciate?”

Her voice was even lovelier in its native tongue; a soft, low purr almost that made his heart skip unfamiliarly against his ribs. It made him want to take her hand, or pull her into his arms, urges he wasn’t certain he had felt before he had kissed her the day before.

They were interrupted by the arrival of their waiter, and Jumin requested champagne and a small plate to share before their meal. The server gave a quick bow and walked away, and Jumin tried to remember the thread of their conversation.

“Ah, yes, I - I prefer rare books on just about any topic,” he finally answered, continuing in English. “Learning something out of the ordinary, that not many people know...it’s an invigorating hobby. The latest book I found was supposedly written by a vampire, and it was an interesting read to say the least.”

“A vampire?” Poppy raised an eyebrow. “That must have been fascinating.”

“They were supposed to come to the RFA party, and I had been looking forward to speaking with them,” he confessed. “But unfortunately, well - you know what happened.”

“Maybe another time,” she suggested, smiling brightly at him.

“How about yourself? What hobbies do you pursue in your free time?”

“I haven’t had much, lately,” she confessed. Then she almost blushed, clasping her hands and looking away. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t a critique. Just that we’ve been - busy.”

“I hope not so busy that you haven’t had time for yourself,” he told her, frowning slightly.

“Um - somewhat.” She chewed her lip for a moment and then picked up her water to take a sip. “When I have time, I read as much as I can. That’s why I’m so fascinated by you collecting rare books.”

“And what do you read?” He raised an eyebrow as he asked it, not having realized perhaps they had such an interest in common.

“History, mostly. I’m absolutely obsessed with French history, and recently I found an excellent book on the Court of the Sun-King,” she told him. Her slight embarrassment had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, her bright blue eyes lighting up as she spoke. 

Their champagne and appetizer arrived, and soon they lost themselves in speaking of history and other rare books Jumin had found or was seeking. It was amazing to him how easy it was to converse with her, how he didn’t feel the need to force himself to charm or dazzle with his words as he did in his business dealings. Instead it came naturally to him, smiling at her across the table and making attempts at humor.

To his surprise and delight she rewarded his subtle jokes with laughter, occasionally replying in kind. She was brilliant, fascinating him with her observations and thoughts, her voice and smile both soothing and exciting to him. He could not recall the last time a dinner had passed so quickly, or in such relaxed pleasantry. Even when she reached across the table to brush his fingers with hers, the electric sensation racing through him felt almost calming.

When they finished dinner he actually found himself disappointed, helping her into her coat to escort her out to the car. Time had gone by far too quickly, and all he wished was that there was a way to slow it to a standstill so that he could spend more time with her.

As they exited the restaurant, a man with a camera hurried forward, kneeling to snap a photo of them leaving together. Jumin seethed internally, but kept his face a stoic mask as he placed a hand in the small of Poppy’s back to guide her safely to the car. A glance at her showed her looking down, making an attempt to let her hair at least partially obscure her face.

Driver Kim held the door open, and Jumin helped her into the car before following her in so that they could leave quickly. Outside the car windows he saw his security move to block the paparazzo, and Driver Kim quickly resumed his seat behind the wheel.

“I’m sorry, I -”

“You don’t need to apologize,” Jumin assured her. He reached for her hand and took it in his. “I had an absolutely perfect time tonight, and the press can say what they like. I only care what you think.”

She interlaced her fingers with his, again tilting her knees to rest against his. “I had a wonderful time,” she murmured. “I’m sorry for the night to be ending…”

For a moment she held his gaze, and then leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. It was a gentle kiss, unlike the searing embrace of the day before, but then she parted her lips. She caught his bottom lip between her teeth and nipped it, the sharp pain making him suck in his breath. As she tugged it she slid a hand along his thigh, slowly, and he felt his stomach tighten pleasurably.

He gripped her wrist with his hand, stopping the progress of her tentative caress, and slipped his other hand in her hair to pull her head back. When she met his gaze with hers she almost looked worried, as if she thought perhaps she had been wrong to tease him.

Instead he found that her hint and teasing had excited him, his blood almost feeling hot in his veins as he began to harden in his slacks. Women had made passes at him before, but they had left him feeling cold and, honestly, disgusted. But hers felt like a provocation, inciting him to action.

“Would you care for a nightcap, Princess?” he breathed against her lips.

“Yes,” she replied, just as softly, unable to tear her gaze away from his. The doubt in her eyes had turned into something else, an eager gleam now visible as if she was excited by how he had grabbed her.

He released his hold on her, watching the way she let out a breath and ran a hand through her hair as if trying to regain her senses. Leaning forward he instructed Driver Kim to return them to his penthouse, and then sat back comfortably as he watched the flustered way she was fidgeting under his stern gaze. Yet he could tell she wasn’t uncomfortable, and hoped that perhaps she merely felt as he did.

He took her hand again once they had arrived at his building, and he led her inside with his security detail following. They rode the elevator up in silence, and he nodded to his bodyguards as they opened the door to his penthouse for them.

Elizabeth the Third meowed happily when they walked inside, and quickly ran over to rub on Jumin's legs. He knelt down to pet her, and she arched into his hand before she crept over to Poppy.

"Hello again," Poppy greeted her, and to his amazement Elizabeth the Third rubbed eagerly against her legs as well. With a soft coo Poppy bent down to pet her, and Elizabeth the Third began purring contentedly.

When Poppy straightened he smiled, and circled behind her to take her coat. "I have a bottle of white wine chilled that I think you would like," he told her. "It's one that V gave me, and I've been waiting for someone to share it with."

"That sounds wonderful," she agreed with a smile.

He led her to the kitchen, noticing how Elizabeth the Third stayed close to Poppy, still rubbing on her legs and chirping softly for more attention. It had been a long time since anyone but Assistant Kang had been to the penthouse, and Jumin found himself pleased as he watched the interactions of the two. Vaguely he realized it felt like the approval he needed, seeing the cat so warm and affectionate with the woman he had brought into their home.

As he poured them wine Poppy looked around the apartment, absently stroking Elizabeth the Third, who had taken her place on the kitchen counter in order to continue receiving scratches beneath her chin. When he passed Poppy a glass of wine she smiled and held it up to his as if to toast.

"To a wonderful night," she murmured, clinking her glass against his.

"Agreed," he answered. Holding her gaze as he took a sip, he noticed the coy look that came into her eyes as she did the same.

"This is an excellent wine," she commented.

"Yes, V has similar tastes in wine to you and I," he told her. With a frown he glanced down into the golden liquid in his glass. "I wish you two had been able to spend time together. I think you would get along."

"There's always time," she pointed out with a hint of a smile.

For a few moments they were quiet, sipping at their wine as he fell into his thoughts about the last few weeks. The stress seemed to have lessened over the course of the night, and he realized again just how much her presence set him at ease.

Before he could suggest that he show her some of the rare books they had spoken of over dinner, she took a few steps towards him. He met her gaze, curious at the way she always sought to be near him. It was as if to her he was just Jumin - not Mr. Han, not someone cold and detached as everyone else seemed to think him.

"I know the last weeks - months - probably haven't been easy for you," she said softly. "Watching friends go through something like that is difficult. I hope - that is to say, if you ever need a respite, or to talk, I'm here for you."

"Thank you, Poppy," he murmured. For once they didn't just feel like words, or a hollow offer. That alone meant more to him than he could express.

She was even closer now, still peering up at him with a gleam in her eyes. He let his hand linger at her waist, wanting to pull her to him but also merely enjoying the moment.

When she tilted her face up to his he leaned down, meeting her lips in a gentle kiss. He could taste the wine on her tongue as she opened her mouth to him, and slowly he explored her. The passion he had felt for her the day before slowly began to build, and soon he was slanting his mouth across hers as if he could drink her in.

He heard the soft sound of glass on the counter as she set her wine aside, one hand reaching to his neck and sliding into his hair. Her other hand trailed down his waist, around his hips until he felt her ghost it over his crotch. Desire coiled in the pit of his stomach, such a small hint from her at what she wanted slowly breaking the reserve he had maintained over the course of the evening.

His own glass quickly joined hers on the counter, and he pulled her roughly against him. Poppy circled his neck with her arms, clinging to him as she swayed slightly under the sudden intensity of his kiss. They weren’t in the office now, and the impulses he had tempered the day before came back in full force.

Contrary to the teasing from the other members of the RFA, he was neither inexperienced nor uninterested. He merely hadn’t found anyone who inspired such longing in him, but now as he listened to the soft moan that left her as he ran a hand over her breast he knew exactly what he wanted.

“Poppy, stay with me,” he breathed into her mouth.

“Yes,” she managed just as breathlessly before he resumed their kiss.

Slowly he began to guide her back, unwilling to part from her even as he took small steps with her towards the bedroom. She let him, her fingers grasping the lapels of his suit as she encouraged him to lead her.

When they crossed the threshold into his room he finally broke the kiss, closing the door behind them before he turned back to her. She offered her back to him, moving her hair so that he could access the fastenings of her dress. He undid them and parted the fabric, sliding it slowly down her arms until it hung loose from her hips. Pulling her back against him he pressed a kiss to her neck, following the column of her throat to her shoulder as his hands reached to the front of her to take her breasts in his hands.

“Jumin.” It was said as a sigh, in a soft purr he’d never heard from anyone before, as if a confession for his ears alone.

Turning her in his arms he kissed her once more, pushing at her dress until it fell and pooled around her feet. She stepped out of it, her fingers reaching to his jacket to slide off of him before they began to work at his tie. As they worked at his clothes they took several steps back until her thighs rested against the bed, and he encouraged her down onto it.

For a moment he merely stared at her in silence, clad only in black lace underwear, her pale skin almost shining against the satin of his sheets. He knelt and took one ankle in his hands, pressing a kiss to the inside her knee as he gently slipped her high heel from her delicate foot, and then he repeated with the other. When he stood again to finish removing his clothes she watched him, smiling softly once he was bare.

Stretching over her he took up their kiss once more, his hands sliding over her soft skin as he parted her thighs and lay between them. They lost themselves in their caresses, in their explorations of one another, until he could hardly stand it any longer. He slid the last piece of clothing that separated them, throwing the lingerie aside before he slipped his fingers between her legs.

A soft cry met his first touch, a whimper leaving her as he parted her slick folds and began to run his fingers along her. He took up a slow, steady pace, eagerly watching her face as she relaxed beneath his attentions. When he breached her wetness with two fingers her back arched, pressing her hot skin against his chest as she whispered his name again.

Poppy pulled him back down to her in a searing kiss, her fingers tangling in his hair as she rolled her hips in rhythm with his fingers moving within her. “I want you,” she murmured, meeting his gaze as she pulled back from the kiss. “Please, please, Jumin.”

“Say please again,” he directed her, loving the sound of desperation in her voice when she said it.

“Please,” she repeated, trailing off into a sigh when he removed his fingers from her.

He sat up and reached for the nightstand, to the stock of condoms he kept mostly out of a sense of propriety. As he tore open the foil her fingers closed around his length, her thumb flicking over the tip of him as she tenderly explored him. A shudder passed through him, something more than pleasure spurring him on.

The experiences he had had before had almost been routine, merely something to be done. He had treated it as a skill to be learned and mastered, as many others, yet none of the liaisons had left him with the sense of urgency that was building within him at her touch. With practiced hands he covered himself with the condom before he settled back over her, pushing her thighs on either side of her chest so that he could slide easily within her.

As he buried himself deep within the welcoming give of her body, she let out a deep moan and reached above her for the pillow. She twisted her hands into the fabric of the pillowcase, her eyes fluttering shut as she adjusted to him within her. For a long moment he simply studied the look of her, the way she felt around him, and then he tightened his grip on her thighs and began to move.

Each of his thrusts brought a cry from her throat, her legs trembling slightly in his hold as she tried to respond to his rhythm. After several minutes he released her thighs, allowing her to wrap her legs around him as he rested his weight on top of her. The heat of her skin was welcome, the taste of her lips intoxicating, and he felt any last composure he had maintained finally slip away.

Poppy rolled her hips against his, gasping as she tightened the hand in his hair and dug her nails into his back. She was exquisite like this, teetering closer to her undoing, and Jumin watched her eagerly as he slipped a hand between them. Resuming the way he had stroked her before, he felt her tighten around him and increased the pace of his thumb. With his other hand he grasped her wrist, pulling her hand from his hair and pinning it above her head.

“Ju-Jumin - yes!” she cried out, and her back arched as he felt her spasm, convulsing on the bed beneath him as she fell apart.

He pressed kisses to her arched neck, nipping and biting a path down to her collar bone. When she stilled he rested his head against her shoulder, pinning her other wrist above her head as he sped up the way he was snapping his hips into hers. A blinding pleasure surged through him, and he thrust roughly into her as he came.

Collapsing on top of her, he slid his hands from her wrists to her fingers, interlocking them together as he kept his face buried in her neck. He was breathing heavily, trying to come back to himself, but it was as if his world had broken apart and left him raw; changed.

“Poppy, my princess,” he murmured into her skin, his voice muffled from how his lips were still pressed to her neck. “You’re wonderful.”

“Oh Jumin,” she sighed, and she wrapped her legs around him to hold him tightly to her. “So are you.”

He finally raised his head and released her hands, moving one of his to cup her face as he peered down at her. Cheeks flushed and eyes wide, she looked even more beautiful than he had ever seen her. The fact that she was looking at him like this, as if she really saw him, compelled him down to her for a deep kiss.

“I’ve never…” he began, but he trailed off, uncertain how to express the emotions coursing through him. They felt palpable, almost overwhelming, and he rested his forehead against hers as he tried to steady the buzzing in his mind.

“Never - what?” she asked tentatively.

“This feeling is so new to me, I don’t know how to describe it,” he told her. “I’ve never been good with emotions, though, and this is…”

“A lot?” she suggested when he didn’t finish. “I feel the same. It’s strange, but I feel...free.”

Frowning slightly he raised his head so that he could search her gaze once more. “Free?”

She chewed her lip for a moment, and then reached up to brush his hair off his forehead. “I’ve always tried to just - live up to expectations. But this, with you,” she paused for a moment as if trying to think how best to phrase it. “I feel like you just - accept me as I am. I know you said that yesterday, but now I’m just realizing how true that is. No one’s ever just seen me , and - approved.”

He considered her words thoughtfully, and then nodded. “I think those are the words I was searching for myself,” he agreed.

“I feel...safe with you. I’m sorry,” she said suddenly, shaking her head as if embarrassed. “It’s only our first date, I don’t mean to sound -”

“Poppy, Princess,” he interrupted gently. He rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone and offered her a small smile. “I want you to stay with me.”

“T-tonight? Of course.”

“No, I mean - stay with me, be with me. When I’m with you, I feel at peace. Free, as you said.”

The smile that broke across her face was slow, but brighter than any she had ever given him. “Yes, Jumin,” she murmured. She clung to him and pulled him down to her to nestle her face against his chest. “I want to be yours.”

“Then you are mine,” he whispered, and he pressed a tender kiss to the top of her head as he cradled her against him.

Chapter Text

Besides the few days following their first date, Poppy wasn’t certain they were apart for even a night for the last month.

Immediately after their first date, the RFA had gone from its sudden calm to chaos, and he had left for a few days to handle the situation in person. While he was gone he called her frequently, seeming to seek refuge in speaking with her. His promises to tell her what had happened she met with insistences that it was fine and understandable, since she was not a member of the RFA. Instead she merely focused on her work with the intelligence unit, gleaning tidbits about the situation from her duties.

The day that he came back he swept her off to his penthouse again, as if a few days away had been too many. He requested his personal chef to make them dinner, complete with candles and fine wine, just a private date for the two of them.

Then he told her everything.

It amazed her that he did not restrict himself to the details of where he had been, the way that the situation had resolved itself with Rika. She sat listening to his confessions, awestruck by the confidence he showed in her as he revealed the troubling details of the last few months - no, the last half year.

Starting at the very beginning, he explained about Rika and V’s relationship, Rika’s apparent suicide, the attacks on the messenger and how Chloe had come to join the RFA. He told her the truth of the intelligence unit, of their time at the hospital, of V’s recovery, and the part that Jumin still played that no one but he and V knew.

“Ray, the hacker - Saeran, truly - is alive,” he confided at last. “My team was at the compound, after the explosion. They found and extracted him, rushed him off for medical care. I told V as soon as I knew, and he made me promise to keep it a secret.”

“The - the secret you asked me about, wondering if you should tell it,” Poppy mused slowly, remembering the conversation from about a week before. The day he had kissed her.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “After the events of the last few days, I found myself even more in doubt of keeping it from Luciel - Saeyoung, I should say.”

“Did V tell you why? That’s quite a big secret to keep from someone.” Even as she said it she reached for her glass of wine, needing to steady herself against the long history that had been laid out for her over dinner.

“He - he wants Saeran to heal, on his own, before trying to reunite them. He was drugged for - a very long period of time. We were uncertain what his condition would be as he detoxed, or even if - if he would make it.”

“It would have been cruel to reunite them only to have him succumb and be snatched away again, so soon,” she pointed out. “I - I would trust V.”

“I never thought it would be so hard for me to,” he confessed.

The lost look he sometimes got in his eyes returned, and she reached to take his hand in hers, squeezing it to reassure him. Such a subtle action seemed to change him, and he returned the pressure of her fingers as his slouching shoulders straightened. As if relaying his burdens to her had lifted the weight of the stress he had been under for so long, he was able to meet her with a smile when he sought her gaze once more.

That night she knew she couldn’t leave him, but she found the next day she wanted to be at his side again, and he seemed to expect that she would be. After another date she again found herself at his penthouse, again and again - until a month had passed and she found she felt at home at his side. More than she had anywhere else.

Many nights he took her out or treated her to a wonderful private dinner in his home, seeming to need to pull out all the stops as he courted her. She enjoyed it mostly because of the small smile on his face as he revealed the next surprise he had planned for them, the way he watched so eagerly to see if she was happy with his efforts.

When it came to Christmas Eve, she finally put her foot down and begged him for a quiet night at home together, decorating the tree they had gotten and sipping mulled wine. He agreed, and when she woke up that morning and wandered out wearing one of his shirts she found the living room overflowing with boxes of lights and ornaments for the tree.

“Good morning, Princess,” Jumin greeted her as she wandered toward him, carefully picking her way through the boxes to where he stood in the kitchen. “I’ve got coffee ready and I made you pancakes.”

“Jumin, this looks perfect,” she purred, and rested one hand on his shoulder as she stood on tiptoes so that she could press her lips to his cheek. He turned and caught her lips with his, sliding one hand under the hem of the shirt she wore so that he could run his fingers along the skin of her back. “Do we have any champagne?”

She was breathless when she pulled away from him, trying to steady herself against the way her heart raced from just a simple kiss good morning. Yet everything with him felt perfect, wonderful and exhilarating, bringing her both peace and thrills every time she met his black gaze.

“Champagne would be an excellent start to the day. I feel as if we have quite a bit to celebrate,” he agreed, and he resumed plating the pancakes he had made.

“Oh?” She bent to retrieve a bottle of champagne from the small wine refrigerator beneath the kitchen counter, picking out one they had shared before.

“Well, it is a holiday, and it has also been a month since we began dating,” he told her.

“I suppose it has been,” she agreed, realizing it had all passed so wonderfully she didn’t realize it had already been a month. “Happy anniversary, darling.”

She strained again on her toes beside him, and he pressed a tender kiss to her lips. He pulled away and took the bottle of champagne from her, working to open it as she took the plate he had prepared for her and sat at the kitchen counter. After pouring them each a glass he took his place as well, and they gently clinked their glasses together as they held one another’s smile.

They settled into breakfast, the delicious strawberry pancakes Jumin had made a wonderful complement to the champagne they sipped together. When they had finished enjoying their quiet morning, they changed out of pajamas and set to work unpacking the many decorations he had bought for them. She found a spool of a beautiful red satin ribbon, and cut off a length to tie in her ponytail, feeling the desire to be more festive than the sweaters they both wore.

Jumin smiled at the sight but did nothing more than flick it gently with his fingers, kissing her before he resumed unpacking a box of silver and gold ornaments.

The day passed in wonderful domestic bliss, hanging tinsel and garland, wrapping the tree in twinkling lights before covering it in glittering and shimmering ornaments. Poppy stood on a stool to finish hanging ornaments near the top, and Jumin passed her the box with the elaborate North Star he had gotten for a tree topper. She carefully removed it and placed it on the tallest part of the tree, securing it before she admired their handiwork.

“What do you think?” she asked, turning carefully on the stool to face Jumin behind her.

The question was instantly forgotten, her jaw dropping as she took in the sight of Jumin kneeling at her feet, a black velvet box cradled in his hands.

“Poppy, my dearest,” he began firmly, his English crisp and unwavering as he held her gaze. “The last month of my life has changed me, having you always at my side, supporting and caring about me. Really about me, seeing who I am as no one else has...It’s as if the threads in my mind have untangled and I’m finally free. You help me see clearly, and be myself.”

“Jumin…” She rested a hand on her chest, feeling her eyes swim with unshed tears as she took in the wide smile he gave her.

“Please, my Princess,” he continued, and he opened the box he held. “Will you remain by my side, my partner in life, my wife?”

“Oh, darling,” she whispered, and a watery laugh left her as she nodded. “Yes, yes - I will.”

Perhaps it would seem crazy to anyone else, perhaps she was due for lectures from all of her family and loved ones. But she had never been so certain of anything before, unable to describe the way he made her feel, the security his presence in her life had given her. There was no hesitation or doubt as she held out her left hand, and he took it in his and carefully slipped the ring onto her finger.

It glittered in the light surrounding them, and she studied the way it caught in its many facets. A large emerald cut diamond was surrounded by a flowery, regal halo of smaller diamonds that almost reminded her of a crown. Tiny baguette rubies lined the entire rose gold band, reminding her somehow of the ribbons she always wore, and she wondered if that was where he had found his inspiration. After all it was clear to her, studying the ring and knowing just how perfectly it aligned to her taste, that Jumin had designed it specifically for her.

He had pushed himself to his feet, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, giggling as he swung her down from the stool. Their lips met in a tender kiss, though she swayed when he set her on her feet and slanted his mouth to deepen it. Overwhelmed by their feelings, they clung tightly to one another as their kiss intensified, until finally Jumin swept her back into his arms.

Carrying her through the doorway to his bedroom, he laid her back on the bed and knelt between her legs so that he could pull his sweater and shirt over his head. She moaned and reached to run her fingers over his stomach, the sight of him exciting her until she was desperate to see more. As she fumbled with his belt he stopped her, and a curious gleam came into his dark eyes.

He encouraged her to sit up so that he could remove her sweater, and then made short work of her pants, throwing her clothing aside until she was completely bare. She frowned slightly as he loomed over her, holding himself so that he wasn’t resting on her.

“I want to make you mine, Poppy,” he murmured, eyes wandering over her naked body as he ghosted a hand down her side.

“I am yours, Jumin,” she answered breathlessly.

“Truly, and completely, mine,” he emphasized, and as he said it he sat back on his heels and removed his belt.

“Yes, please,” she confessed.

Her heart was hammering wildly against her ribs, and she let out a soft gasp as he settled over her, straddling her waist as he wrapped her wrists together with his belt. He fastened it tightly, and then placed her bound hands on the pillows above her head. The pointed look he gave her told her he wanted her to keep them there, and she nodded.

“I want to have my way with you, to show you what you mean to me. To make you mine so that you never forget.”

“Yes, please,” she repeated, eyes fluttering shut as she felt a wonderful throb between her legs.

“You want that too?”

“Yes, darling.”

“Sir,” he corrected firmly.

An involuntary moan left her at the way his voice coursed through her, making her shiver as if he had whispered it against her ear. There had been times he had gently taken control, leading her and holding her still so that he could do things to her to bring her pleasure. Each had excited her, awakening something in her she hadn’t known about herself. They had spent the last month exploring one another, figuring out what made the other shudder. Yet she felt as if they had learned just as much about themselves as they did each other.

“Yes, Sir,” she said breathlessly, holding his gaze as anticipation coiled within her.

He reached behind her head and gently undid the ribbon she had tied into her ponytail, dragging it through his fingers as he watched her. “Tell me a word, Princess.”

She considered for a moment, trying to think even as her brain seemed to be malfunctioning at the sight of Jumin’s commanding eyes boring into hers. “Versailles,” she sighed.

Jumin nodded and gave her a slow smile. “Close your eyes.”

“Yes, Sir.” Poppy closed her eyes, trying to take deeper breaths to still the rapid pace of her heart.

The ribbon was silky against her eyes, and she lifted her head slightly so that he could tie it behind her head. He made certain it was secure, his touch gentle as he traced his fingers down her cheeks.

Without her sight every touch on her skin felt electric, until she was gasping and writhing just from how he delicately caressed her waist and thighs. He parted her legs and she moaned as anticipation overwhelmed her once more, but he merely left her legs spread and withdrew his touch entirely. She couldn’t tell what he was doing, or what he wanted, but she felt herself dripping with excitement as she laid there spread, waiting for his attention.

When it came it was light as a feather, and softer than she expected. As it trailed over her lips she realized it was petals, the scent of rose filling her nostrils as he dragged it down her face and throat. It tickled her stomach and she flinched, rolling her hips slightly as she tried to stay still despite wanting to beg him for more.

The moment she whimpered he pulled the rose away, again leaving her bereft, her skin almost buzzing as she waited for something to touch her. The shock of wet heat swiping across one of her breasts made her cry out, her back arching to seek his mouth as it was pulled back once more. When she pouted and relaxed back on the bed, the sensation returned as he caught her nipple between his teeth, gently tugging it as he flicked it with his tongue.

She strained against the belt on her wrists, wishing to reach for him and pull him down to her but knowing she shouldn’t. He had told her to stay still, had bound her so that he was in command; she just wasn’t used to feeling this desperate, and she felt certain she would shatter just from pure want of him.

The way that he sucked at her breast made her legs tighten around him instinctively, and he immediately pulled away from her. His fingers took hold of her knees and spread them, firmly placing her feet back on the bed. He removed his touch from her once more, and this time went longer without returning to her until she was letting out petulant whines.

A soft “please” finally slipped from her, and she felt certain she could feel him leaning over her, his breath warm on her face. His fingers traced her jaw before they closed around the column of her throat, holding her delicately yet firmly enough that she moaned.

“Please what?”

“Make me yours, I want to be - I want to be yours,” she breathed.

She could feel his lips close to hers and tried to strain for them, but he held her steady with the hand on her throat.

“What do you think I’m doing, Princess?”

With a whine Poppy strained against the belt, and he removed his touch from her. She bit her lip in an attempt to keep herself from begging again, doing her best to remain still even as she felt herself throbbing and wet. Never before had she felt so needy, fighting the urge within to beg him with no regards to dignity or pride, if he’d only let his touch remain on her.

As she parted her lips to do just that, the shock of his flat tongue sliding along her clit broke her resolve so that she let out a desperate cry. He pulled away for a moment and she swore, only to find a light tap of fingers against her wet folds in response to the word.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered instinctively, even as the action sent a jolt of pleasure through her.

“Sorry what?”

“Sorry, Sir,” she hurried to correct.

“Good girl,” he praised, and she groaned at the way the words made her feel.

“Please - please, I’ll be good.” The words came pouring out, an urgency building within her, wanting to feel him against her again, to hear him continue his praise for doing as he asked.

“Will you?” he prompted, and he swirled a finger along her pulsing opening.

“Yes, yes, Sir. I’ll be good, please. Tell me what to do, tell me - I want to come. I want you to make me yours. Completely and totally yours, I want...I want you, Sir.”

“You can only come if I tell you you can,” he instructed. “Understood, Princess?”

“Yes, Sir,” she panted.

“If you come without permission I’ll be angry,” he told her.

“I won’t.”

“We’ll see.”

She whined at the words, at what she realized was coming. His tongue slipped against her clit again, slowly moving until she was shuddering at the languid, prolonged feeling of each lick. Her knees shook and she already found herself having to resist the way she wanted to hurtle toward the edge, taking deep breaths to slow herself down.

He continued the torturous pace of his tongue, and when he slid his fingers into her and curled them she shouted his name.

“OH - oh, Jumin, please - Sir, please!”

“Not yet,” he instructed before he resumed the movement of his tongue against her. 

He had wound her so tightly she was writhing, clenching her muscles in an effort to hold back. As she gave a particularly loud cry he pulled away completely, until she was left panting and shaking. Despite how overwhelming his touch had been, the lack of it was almost worse, and she mewled as her head lolled side to side on the pillow.

What felt like an eternity passed, her panting breaths calming slightly and her heart slowing just a tad until she was back under control. As soon as she was she felt his mouth against her once more, his fingers slipping within her so that he could push her back to the edge.

Again and again he did this, getting her just on the brink before he removed his attentions, letting her calm so that he could repeat it all. She had lost herself to sensation, had given up any pretense of dignity as she begged him in ways she hadn’t ever thought to beg anyone. The words passed her lips as if spoken by a stranger, a part of her that had been hidden away exposed now as he claimed her.

And that was exactly what she knew he had wanted, to see all of her, to transform her with his touch until she was completely bared, raw and truly, deeply herself.

When he slid into her at last and took up a relentless pace, she knew that they were one, two souls who had found one another at last. There was nothing beyond the way they moved together, the way he made her his and gave himself to her in turn. As she found herself shaking and careening closer to the edge once more, he removed the blindfold so that he could meet her gaze.

He held it for a moment before he put a hand behind her head and lifted it, guiding her gaze to where he rapidly thrust into her. She gasped at the sight, again letting her pleas slip from her throat, so close she considered disobeying him because she couldn’t hold on any longer, hang the consequences.

“Come for me, Princess, and watch yourself do it,” he instructed her.

It was all she needed to hear before she shattered, unable to look away from where her muscles flexed and shuddered or the way he looked as he finished with her, thrusting sporadically into her as he did.

He released her head and relaxed them both back onto the pillows, holding her tenderly against him. His hand stroked her hair in a soothing rhythm, pulling her back to herself as her heart gradually slowed how it had raced and she tried to catch her breath. After several moments he reached to undo the belt around her wrists, removing it and pulling her hands between them so that he could rub where the leather had bound her.

“You were such a good girl, Princess,” Jumin finally murmured. He pressed kisses to the top of her head before he tilted her chin so that he could meet her gaze. “I love you so much. My dearest, my Princess, my Poppy.”

“I love you too, Jumin,” she told him. “I - that was -”

“Was that too much? You never used your word so I thought -”

“No, it was - it was perfect. I’ve never - I guess I didn’t realize that I…”

“That you want someone else in control?” he guessed softly.

“Yes,” she confessed in a whisper. “I guess it makes sense, it comes naturally to you. You’re always in charge.”

“That is true, but I...I get the sense from you that you want to be led. And I - I want to provide that for you.”

“Oh Jumin,” she sighed, nestling closer to him. “You do so much for me, you’re so wonderful.”

“I would do anything for you. For instance, at the moment - how does a nice bubble bath and some wine sound?”

“Absolutely delightful.”

She watched as he climbed off the bed, but turned before he walked away and took her left hand in his. He studied the ring resting there for a moment before bowing over it and pressing a kiss to the back of her hand.

Giggling softly she watched as he put his robe on and began preparing the bath and two glasses of their favorite red wine. When he was done he helped her into the tub and then followed. She settled back into his arms, inhaling the scent of the fragrant bubble bath he had used as she sipped her wine and studied the ring.

“The ring is perfect,” she told him, turning it this way and that to catch the light.

“I designed it for you, I was almost worried it wouldn’t be ready in time.” He took a pensive sip of wine and she craned her neck to look up at him.

“How long has it been in progress?” She raised an eyebrow as she watched him, trying to determine the look in his eyes. It wasn’t quite apprehension, but there was a sheepish quality to it that was unusual compared to his normal steady confidence.

“Since after our first date,” he confessed. “If everything hadn’t happened with the RFA as it did, I might have paid for it to be expedited so that I could ask you sooner. I decided our anniversary would be a decent time to ask.”

She considered him for a moment and then laughed softly, shaking her head. “Thank you for - doing it this way. I’m happy it was just us.”

“I realized perhaps sometimes you prefer it that way,” he speculated, and at her smile he nodded.

“Considering where it led us I’m sure you’re glad you did it at home too,” she teased.

He chuckled, the way he only seemed to around her, the relaxed, happy smile reserved only for her. Tucking an arm around her waist he pulled her back against him, holding her close as he could as if it still wasn’t close enough. They sat silently enjoying the peace of the moment, each glancing at where the ring rested on her finger.

“I suppose I will have to tell everyone,” he said. “I should tell Saeyoung to give you access to the messenger, as well. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a member of the RFA.”

“I - I am?” she asked, peering up at him with her eyebrows raised.

“Yes.” He smiled and brushed a loose tendril of hair off her face. When his smile gave way to a frown, she reached for his hand and squeezed his fingers.

“What is it, darling?”

“I wish I could tell V, maybe over dinner or a bottle of wine. But I haven’t heard from him in weeks,” he muttered.

Poppy considered for a long moment, turning her fingers in his so that she could lace them together. “You still have his email, though,” she pointed out. “He’d want to hear this, he’s your oldest and dearest friend. You should send him an email, hopefully he’ll check it and see.”

Jumin raised her hand to his lips and pressed a lingering kiss there once more. “What would I do without you?”

She smiled and she relaxed back into his arms. “You’ll never have to find out.”