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One Year Later

Chapter Text

Se-ri watches him eat the strawberry. It’s almost surreal how red the fruit is, how deeply the juice stains his fingertips, his lips. But even more improbable is the reality of him here, just two feet away from her, close enough to touch.

All of it feels unreal: the lawn and the house and him sitting just there like he doesn’t belong to anyone or anywhere else. She would be wary and mistrustful, the way she is in dreams, but the light here is too bright. There’s no haze. When she threads her fingers through the grass at her side, the blades feel real and cold and damp. And when she looks behind her, she sees the house that she found and paid for. When she looks up at him, his perfect lips are still stained from the berry.

She arrived barely a half hour ago to find that he’d come a day early, unpacked a truckload of the furniture she’d ordered. That he’d already shopped and filled the small refrigerator in the kitchen, that he’d set a picnic out for them on the broad, lush lawn. He does the work of ten men, and makes it look easy.

She swallows, and stares at him, choking on a thousand words, mired in the awkward and thrilling newness of seeing him again. Ri Jeong-hyeok chews unselfconsciously, gazing out at the sky, content in the quiet...

Too late she realizes she’s lost in her fixation and has started mirroring his actions—licking her lips when he does, bringing a finger to her mouth to suck off the phantom juice. He's noticed.

“Se-ri.”

“Hmm?” She blinks down, caught, but not before seeing the teasing gleam in his eye.

“Are you still hungry?”

She ducks her head, pulling her hair over her shoulder. Isn’t he suffering the way she is? She can barely keep her hands to herself. A picnic! She wants to run her fingers up the sides of his smooth neck, cup his jaw, feel the impatient press of his mouth to hers.

“No.” She smiles politely. “I’m full.”

He unleashes a tiny, dimpled grin as he surveys the wreckage of the picnic. “I would hope so.”

“I eat when I’m happy,” she tells him, “and I’m happy with you.”

“You were looking at the berry the way a lion looks at a bird.”

“I was looking at you that way. Just because I’m full doesn’t mean I’m not still hungry.”

His brows slowly rise, and Se-ri laughs. Sometimes, his innocence makes her feel even more depraved about him.

“What is that look?” he asks quietly.

“I’m having thoughts that would probably shock you.”

Lips and skin and sweat and sound. It’s been a year, Ri Jeong-hyoek. How can you always be so restrained?

His laugh is gentle, but condescending. “I doubt that.”

“Really?”

“I’ve been around soldiers all my life.” He shifts, laying down on his side and propped on an elbow. “Even the best behaved among them can be stupid about women.”

Se-ri frowns. “Women can also be stupid about men.”

“It isn’t the same. Men lose themselves.”

She plays with a loose thread on the blanket, thinking. “Hmm.”

“You think I’m wrong?” he says.

Se-ri shrugs. “I think you forget.”

Jeong-hyeok goes still. “I forget? What do I forget?”

“How it was.”

At his lingering silence, she looks up and meets his eyes. “How it was when?” he asks.

She looks up at him, and her wide, expressive gaze hooks his. “When I was lost in you.”

His full lips part, eyes immediately drop to her mouth. Distance and time had made them shy again, but it’s back out there in the open now, the breathless flash of a hundred memories from their last visit, their first time together in love. Mouths moving together, limbs tangled in the darkness of night, in the bright sunshine of noon. Once they’d started, they seemed unable to stop.

But here they are, and even though he held her for a full minute when she arrived, he still hasn’t kissed her yet.

Awareness is heavy and settles like a warm fog over their small picnic spot. It’d been the thought she couldn't get out of her head; in meetings, while making coffee, when trying to fall asleep every night: Once we are in Switzerland together, he will make love to me, every day and night for two weeks.

Maybe she was wrong.

His voice is a quiet growl. “You think I could forget?”

Se-ri had looked down, but at the tight strain in his voice, she looks back up. “Then tell me what you remember.”

She knows what she remembers: everything, starting with that very first kiss of reunion on the hill. She hadn’t seen him in three years, hadn’t laid eyes or hands on him in so long and when he pulled her against him, it felt like a gasping inhale of bright, clear air. His fingers stayed entwined with hers the entire drive back to her hotel. And that night, there was more kissing—but only kissing. Even if his hands shook in restraint, he held himself back. At least, until it seemed to sink in that they were truly all alone. Once her hands went into his hair and she let out a quiet plea for him to let go, the desperate bruised-lip coming together made her sure she could never get enough of his mouth on hers. Sucking, biting, the shocking surprise of his deep groan only once. Maybe twice.

“I remember kissing you, Se-ri.”

She pretends to pout. “Is that all?”

He clears his throat, struggles against a blush. “Of course not.”

He’s thinking of it too now, she’s sure: The second night when he let her pull his sweater up and over his head. When she finally got to feel the expanse of warm, smooth skin under her hands, and she gently dragged her nails down his back, pulling that sound from him again. Her mouth on his chest and shoulders and abdomen turned his hands tight and frantic.

Ri Jeong-hyeok had carefully coaxed her shirt up her body an inch at a time, almost as if he thought doing it slowly might hide that he was attempting to undress her. Did he actually think she’d protest? It was a battle to keep her clothes on at all when she looked at him. And when he finally tugged it over her head and absently tossed it to the side, the way he gazed down at her naked skin made her ache with such intense desire she felt bruised between her legs and he hadn’t even touched her there yet. Instead, he kissed every inch of her skin from jaw to belly button. His deep, sucking kisses left tiny pink marks on her breasts that she saw the next morning, and which he traced with an apologetic finger on the third night.

“I remember the bruises,” he growls.

“They weren’t exactly bruises,” she says. “They were from your mouth.” She wonders if, unlike her—who has been dreaming of every perfect touch for months—Jeong-hyeok has been berating himself for each potential misstep. “You were so hungry for me. I liked that you were lost in me the way I was lost in you.”

He scoffs at this, at the memory of his loss of control, and stares down at his plate. “I don’t ever want to hurt you.”

“I know you don’t,” she tells him. “But I don’t mind if, sometimes, you’ll have to ask the next morning whether you did.”

Jeong-hyeok’s eyes fly up to hers, scandalized. “Se-ri-ya.”

“See?” she says, laughing. “Now you’re shocked.”

He blinks away; his neck turns a sweet pink.

“I like when I feel how much you want me.”

Returning his attention to her face, he asks, “You don't see it in every glance?”

“No, I do.” His eyes turn heated, breaths jagged, and it gives her the bravery to add, “But when it’s just us, and we’re in bed together, I like to make you forget you’re a quiet man.”

“If I’m quiet,” he says carefully, “it’s because I’m listening.” Jeong-hyeok turns his gaze up to hers. “Every breath you take, every tiny sound, I replay over and over when we’re apart.”

Her blush overtakes her quickly because maybe now he’s remembering their third night, when he played the piano in the hotel lobby for her until she was overcome with longing and begged for his touch, for the long press of his fingers inside her. Up in their room, he carefully learned every curve and angle of her body: listening, watching. She had made noise that night; sounds she didn’t even know she was capable of.

And after, he was so hard she could feel the urgent press of him against her back as he pulled her against him to sleep. Se-ri pushed aside his protests and promised him that she wouldn’t be able to sleep unless she gave him relief, too. With coaxing, he’d shown her how to touch him, and he was as calm and patient as he was teaching her anything else, except this time his words eventually fell away and his mouth grew soft and slack as she kissed and sucked at his lips, her hand moving between them in the steady, tight grip he’d shown her. The savage, possessive look that came over his face when she’d boldly spread his pleasure over her bare stomach had been charred in her thoughts like branded wood.

He woke her up before sunrise the next morning with his mouth on her neck, making a lazy path downward. He must have still been half asleep because only in her dreams was Ri Jeong-hyeok ever that bold.

He whispered secrets between her legs, kissing and licking with heavy-lidded eyes. He wound one muscled arm around her hip, and stretched the other above, cupping her breast, fingers gently rolling the tight peak. It wasn’t fast—he was new to it, and she didn’t know how to be with him doing that, especially because it was still so easy to access that fluttery, anxious feeling when she had loved him so deeply but wasn’t sure of his feelings for her at all—but then he looked up her body at her like he could spend all day there if she needed. Like he wanted to.

She had to close her eyes against the magnitude of Jeong-hyeok watching her watching him. His adoration had been too intense, the patient cockiness made her feel fevered. But even with her eyes closed, she could feel his steady assured gaze, the vibration of his encouraging groan against her when she started to fall to pieces.

He kissed his way up her body afterwards, and she’d been embarrassed to taste herself on his lips.

“Did you like doing that?” she’d asked, eyes closed.

“What do you think?” Jeong-hyeok took her hand, guided it down. If she thought he’d been hard in her grip the night before, it was nothing compared to this. She felt she’d only gotten her fingers around him and found the pace that made his eyes go unfocused when he was shaking over her, spilling in her fist.

The memory of how fast he fell apart in her hand gives her the courage to ask him now, “Do you remember waking me up with your kiss between my legs?”

His expression used to be impossible to read. Not anymore. Two feet away, in the bright mid-day sun, the tiny spasm in his jaw, the heavy bob of his neck as he swallows gives his desire away. “Of course I do.”

“I think about that,” she whispers, “all the time.”

“I’m not sure whether I ever stop thinking about it.”

And he’d done it again that afternoon just inside the hotel room after they’d returned from a trip out shopping, surprising her with her back pressed against the closed door, his mouth moving urgently down her body as he pushed her dress up and her underwear down with greedy hands. But when she followed him into the shower afterward, he stared at her in confusion as she dropped a folded towel between them. It grew wet immediately in the steady deluge of the shower head. He understood finally what was happening as Se-ri lowered herself to her knees.

Of course, he’d tried to pull her up, almost angry in his refusal. But then she’d kissed his sweet mouth, sucking that bottom lip, warm water falling like tropical rain between them. He’d stretched his neck so she could kiss it, and watched with fascinated eyes as she dragged her teeth along his collarbone, and then she took him in her hand, and whispered in his ear, “Do you love me Jeong-hyeok-ah?”

He had to swallow before he could get the words out: “Yes, of course.”

“When you kiss me there, is that why?”

He nodded, bending to meet her mouth with his.

Se-ri spoke against his kiss. “And now that you’ve done it, can you fathom not having me that way?”

He blinked the water away, thick lashes clumped. “No.”

“Then let me.”

He’d nodded just barely, almost apologetically because it was clear to both of them how desperate he was for it.

Jeong-hyeok blocked her from the water as best as he could, stroking her face as she kissed, then licked, then took him in her mouth. The sound he made . . . the lowest groan, the deepest relief. She’d never felt so powerful—not in the face of her thriving business, not when Yoon Se-hyung begged her to drop charges, not ever. She looked up at her lover’s face and found his eyes closed, mouth slack, hair plastered and dripping over his forehead by the water’s hot stream. His hair had grown long enough that it half-covered his eyes. Water sluiced down over his lips, off his chin. For the first time he quietly babbled to her about his pleasure, the hoarse Yes and please, Se-ri, yes and then only a string of unintelligible words about her lips and the wet heat of her mouth.

And finally, an insistent hand on her shoulder, a roughly growled, "I’m too close, Se-ri, you have to stop."

She did—the edge in his words hit her in an instinctive, obedient nucleus—and pulled away just as he pulsed once on her tongue; the warmth of his release landed on her chin, her neck, but was quickly washed away.

Looking back, she thinks that was the moment that changed everything. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been intimate—they had, of course—but she knew from the way he looked at her when they stepped out of the shower and he wrapped her in a thick plush towel before he grabbed his own that he wanted to return to bed. He’d seen, maybe, that she wanted him every way she could have him. It was three in the afternoon, and they weren’t going outside again.

Sometimes, when Se-ri closes her eyes at home in Seoul she goes back to that night, naked with him between the cool, cotton sheets. The sky went from warm and blue to deep like an ocean and almost lit from within. And then darkness fell, and they could barely see each other, but knew the pattern and shape of each other’s bodies like the inside of their own minds. The entire time, the kissing felt endless and perfect and it was enough

until it wasn’t, and then his hands and mouth on her skin were enough

until they weren’t, and then she was coaxing him over her.

“Se-ri, no.”

She wondered how he’d justified everything else to himself but not this. She knew he held quiet, traditional values, but this . . . how could he not know they’d been headed here since her very first landing? “Yes, Jeong-hyeok.”

He heard something final in her voice and came over her, his muscular hips sliding between her thighs and she brought her knees up his sides, smooth skin sliding over smooth skin. Ri Jeong-hyeok paused, pressing against her, asking the question with those dark, searching eyes.

His final argument came out as a loving whisper, “We aren’t married.”

“Aren’t we?”

In the darkness, his eyes glimmered. “Are you sure you want this?”

“Can you think of a single thing you want more right now?”

He was shaking, hard and insistent and pressed right against where she ached. Jeong-hyeok kissed her, chaste like the very first time, and then his mouth opened in a quiet groan, his tongue swept over hers and the hunger started again, turning the kisses deeper and more urgent. Finally, when her hips circled under his and she begged in tight cries for it, he reached between them, making himself wet with her, carefully guiding.

Inch by painful inch. He was broad everywhere. Se-ri trapped the cry in her throat, because she loved the hot tempo of his breath near her ear, his sharp gasps of restraint as he carefully pressed forward, and she didn’t want those tiny treasures to vanish. But her cry expanded inside her, tight and searing, until she couldn’t keep it in anymore and it escaped in a broken, abrupt sound.

Jeong-hyoek startled, going stiff over her before jerking back to look at her face. His slack pleasure sharpened into horror. “We’re stopping.”

He pushed up on his hands as if to begin his retreat, but she held his hips in place with strong legs wrapped around him. Even though she had a bright, painful heartbeat where he filled her, she ground out a determined, “No.”

“Se-ri-ya, you’re in pain.”

“That’s just how it is.”

“Not for us.”

She laughed then, reaching up to cup his face. “Oh, really? You’re going to find a way to make my first-time pain free?”

His eyes fell closed, jaw working. Se-ri ran her hand down his neck, along his chest, to his stomach. When he looked back down at her, she realized his reaction wasn’t simply worry; he was staring at her with an emotion she’d never seen before. What had she said?

She stared up at him working it out, and then it hit her: he was triumphant.

He didn’t know it was my first time.

“Kiss me, husband,” she whispered. “I love you. Come back down here.” She slid her hands into his hair. “When you kiss me, I relax.”

His expression cleared in longing. Slowly, he lowered his body over hers again, careful to not crush her, resting his elbows on the bed above her shoulders. He kissed her tenderly, holding everything else very still. With restrained hunger, he sucked at her lips and dragged his teeth over her jaw, telling her he loved her, that she was his everything, worth more than every object and soul in this world. His hand came up over her breast, palming her, lightly circling the sensitive skin at the peak until she’d forgotten what the pain had ever been to begin with, and was moving below him, moving on him in her own tight fever, coaxing him deeper into her.

And then somehow, like water flowing along a riverbed, they were moving together, kissing through it all, laughing because the perfection of it was hard to believe. She brought her hands to his backside, pulling him deeper until there was nothing between them but rhythm and sound and heat, until he pressed his face to her neck, realizing that he was fighting a losing battle and would find his pleasure before he was able to give it to her. But she didn’t care; Ri Jeong-hyeok making love to her was a revelation. He did forget he was a quiet man, and for a flash she left her body and let herself imagine how he must look from above: muscled and bare—even the sheets had fallen away in their lovemaking—his skin glistening in the Swiss night air.

“Should I stop?” he asked, voice tight with restraint. Always protecting her.

But she was always just a little reckless. “Promise me you won’t.”

He didn’t, and came with a low, desperate groan, his palm cupping her backside to hold himself deep in her as he shook.

He’d held her like a precious stone afterwards, his hand holding the back of her head. With her face pressed to the heat and salt of his neck, she fell impossibly more in love. Her need for him was irrepressible, insatiable. It was too big to stay hidden inside her this way, a creature living and breathing in the confines of her ribcage.

“I will make it good for you next time.”

She drew back to gape at him. “It was already good for me.”

“You know that isn’t what I mean.”

She reached up, cupping his face. “Jeong-hyeok. You make me so happy, I worry my heart might melt.”

His head bowed down, lips covered hers, and he generously offered up the bottom lip, the one she liked to bite and suck.

“Can I say something now?” He pulled back, looked back and forth at her eyes. “It might not be the time.” He slid a hand down her body, between them, touching her carefully. “Do you hurt?”

“No.” Stop worrying, she thought, and pulled his hand back up, kissing his knuckles. “Tell me what you want to say.”

The intensity of his focus sometimes made her stomach tremble. “I want to marry you.”

She looks at him now, only two feet away from her. One year older; somehow impossibly more handsome. His neck is strong and long, jaw chiseled. He’s always been composed, but now he’s grounded in a new way by the sheer fact of her love. He smiles more. She reaches forward, dipping her fingertip in his dimple. His eyes carry that adoring brightness as he captures her hand and kisses her ring.

She can wear it here, the band he bought her years ago framed by the new ring he saved and saved for and slid onto her finger their final afternoon together last year. He said his vows, and then got on a plane.

But even when he’s an impenetrable border away from her, at least he’s entirely hers.

She draws her thumb across the bottom lip she wants to suck and bite and lick. “What are you thinking?”

“That I just got here and already don’t want to leave.”

“Do you want to hear something silly?” she asks, watching him kiss her ring finger from the shell-pink nail up to the back of her hand.

Jeong-hyeok hums, closing his eyes as he turns her hand over, passing his lips over the delicate skin on the inside of her wrist.

“You haven’t kissed me yet.” She swallows back a sob that seems to rise out of nowhere. “Do you still want me?”

He laughs. It may be her deepest fear, but to him the thought that he wouldn’t is so absurd he doesn’t even bother to open his eyes.

“I worry I’d see you,” he counters, “and I’d be unable to keep my hands to myself for even a minute.” He pulls her close, kissing her in apology. It lingers, warm and soft on her lips and it’s like a match struck against a brick. His breath was warm but now it’s a flame against the skin of her neck when he bends and gently sucks her there. “I wanted to look at you and be with you before I lost myself in your touch. A year later and it’s our first night together as man and wife.” He draws a long finger across her collarbone, down into the soft space between her breasts. “I didn’t want you to think it changed me or that I didn’t value you the same way.”

“And? Are you satisfied Mr. Big Stoic Soldier?”

Her husband reaches to slide his fingers into her hair, angling her face so he can suck gently where her pulse races in her neck. “I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied,” he whispers, “but I’m willing to try.”

Chapter Text

Here’s how she pictures it:

They go inside and become a tangle of limbs, lips clashing. Maybe he tears loose a button on her skirt in his haste. Maybe he’s moving inside her before he’s even fully kicked his trousers off his leg.

But it shouldn’t surprise her at all that he carries in the picnic, carefully packs everything up, and takes the time to put it away in its place. Cut vegetables get neatly stacked in a glass container. Sandwiches are wrapped. Water is re-capped.

“I should help,” she says, standing behind him and watching him work.

He laughs out a quiet grunt. “It’s okay. You seem distracted.”

“I am,” she agrees.

In fairness, anyone else watching Jeong-hyeok from the back wouldn’t be any help, either. Those tight muscles bunching under the cotton of his sweatshirt; big hands carefully stacking things in the refrigerator. Even if she knows he’ll treat her body with the same meticulous focus whenever he gets around to it, she still wants to take the food and throw it back out on the lawn. She suddenly—rashly—hates every bite of it.

He hums distractedly in response, and this makes her growl. A year. A year! How does he have his back to her? How is he so focused on a pile of sliced cucumber?

Se-ri turns, walking down the hall to the bedroom. Inside, she is a monsoon. Her love is rain; her frustration is wind. She wants to climb over him, take him into her body and make him curl fists of desperate restraint in the sheets.

Pulling up short just inside the bedroom, she sees their new bed and remembers seeing it in the store and wanting with such aching intensity to curl up with Jeong-hyeok under the covers. It’s enormous, but the way he sleeps—wound around and around her like silken rope—they would only take up a fraction of it. And now the bed isn’t just a wish. It’s here in this room, in this house, and he already took the time to make it: white sheets, white duvet, so many plush white pillows. Se-ri turns and launches herself backwards onto it, staring up at the ceiling fan as it slowly spins.

“I think of you every second of every day,” she calls down the hall to the man with the cucumbers in the kitchen. “When I wake up, I hear your voice, and when I blink, I see your face.” She pushes up onto her elbows, sending an annoyed gaze down the empty hallway. “At home, at night, I close my eyes and try to feel your hands.” She falls back onto the pillows again, closing her eyes and exhaling a quiet, “I am so in love with you and you’re making me wait.”

She startles when a shadow darkens the space above her, and she opens her eyes to find him bracing over her on the bed.

Jeong-hyeok’s hair falls over his forehead, and he gazes down at her, frowning thoughtfully. “It took me five minutes,” he says quietly.

She scowls. “Exactly.”

She can tell he’s fighting a laugh. For them, five minutes is nothing, she knows, but it’s the principle. The idea of it all. A year ago, he gazed at her in solemn adoration, sliding the ring on her finger. When the Swiss clerk asked him whether he vowed to honor, encourage, and love her through their life together, he whispered a reverently broken, “I do—I will. I promise to, Se-ri-ya, always.”

She’d had to swallow past the clog of emotion in her throat to get her own vows out, and then he’d kissed her—cupping her face with shaking hands and, eventually, pulling away with hooded, glazed eyes. His love was its own raw, quivering beast. Protective, growling, but infinitely tender. He’d barely even turned his back to her even when he had to finally step away through security at the airport in Zurich.

So why is she still fully dressed?

“I feel like I’m chasing you,” she whispers.

He looks around them playfully, at the room where he came to find her, his amused question written all over his face. But instead of stating the obvious, he brings a hand up, and very carefully unfastens the top button of her silk blouse.

“When have you known me to waste food?” he asks, and bends to kiss in the hollow where her throat meets her chest.

Oh. She wonders if he can feel the way her heart immediately twists beneath the skin and bone there. He has unpacked everything, fed me, and cleaned up. I am a selfish, insatiable animal. “Jeong-hyeok-ah—"

“And,” he interrupts gently, unfastening the next button, and kissing the tiny sliver of exposed skin between her breasts, “does my wife really think I’ll be able to stop touching her once I start?”

Her hands come up to his hair, holding his head there as he unbuttons and kisses his way down her torso. “She hopes not.”

Ri Jeong-hyeok rises back up over her, eyes smiling as he peels one side of her unbuttoned shirt away with long fingers, and then the other, exposing her chest and stomach to the breeze passing through the room. “Can she forgive me for making her wait?”

She bites her lip, smothering a smile. “She can.”

He slips a hand beneath her back, releasing the small hook on her bra. She feels suddenly like a bare wire; Se-ri wouldn’t be at all surprised to look down and find electric sparks licking across the surface of her skin. With shaking hands, she reaches for the hem of his sweatshirt, tugging it up his sides, and over his head.

His hair comes away messy, eyes shining, and she runs greedy hands from his waist, along his ribs, and up over his chest. Ri Jeong-hyeok’s eyelids grow heavy under the teasing strokes of her fingertips.

“I’m sorry I was jealous of the cucumbers,” she whispers, trailing a fingertip down the center of his chest and along the line of soft dark hair at his navel, dipping a finger beneath the waistband of his trousers. “They were very good, and very carefully sliced.”

Jeong-hyeok shifts his hips back, an unspoken Not yet, you, laughing as he drops kisses over her stomach, her ribs. “Thank you for noticing.” He slides his thumb beneath the lace of her bra and drags the cup up with tormenting, deliberate friction up over her breast, exhaling across her skin. His wedding band glints in the light coming in the window, and she wonders if he pulled it from the chain around his neck and slid it down his finger the exact second his plane set down in Switzerland.

He gives the taut, aching skin there only the very smallest flicker of the tip of his tongue. “Now what should I do with you first?”

Her eyes fall closed, back arches. Finally. “Put your mouth on me.”

When he speaks, he lets his lips graze her breast. “But where?”

Se-ri groans. Her brain is a frantic whirl of want. “Anywhere.”

“Anywhere?” he asks before lightly circling his tongue around the peak. He slides his hand down her body, coming to a pressing stop between her legs.

“That.” She winds her fingers in his hair. “I mean that.”

He laughs, a maddening, teasing puff of warm air.

She expects him to indulge her, but of course he takes his time. Ri Jeong-hyeok juliennes cucumbers in perfectly symmetrical pieces, after all. He draws his compositions to the most dramatic climax, pulling his audience breathlessly along. Of course he’s going to build hunger in his lover’s body until she’s pulled taut as elastic, ready to snap. He drops words in exhales down her body, sucking her flesh into his mouth, biting, making her beg in tight, airless words for his mouth lower, please lower.

And when he does go lower—smiling as he leans forward to kiss her, groaning with his own blistering relief at the feel of her on his tongue—he gets her just to the point of falling before he stops, looking up at her from beneath his lashes, from between her thighs, and then kisses his way back up to start the entire process again. And each time she reaches for him, for the smooth brushed metal of his belt buckle, for his hips to grab and urge him against her, he shifts out of her grip, grinning into a kiss.

“I’m still chasing you,” she laughs breathlessly, walking the knifelike bridge between desire and delirium.

“It makes me feel so good,” he says between her breasts, “feeling you want me so much it makes you shake.”

She looks down at him, raking a hand through his hair and breathlessly echoing his own words back to him: “You don’t see it in every glance?”

He grins, dimple digging into his cheek. “I do,” he whispers, kissing the bottom swell of her breast, “but when it’s just us, and we’re in bed together, I like to make you forget you’re a patient woman.”

She laughs, playfully smacking his shoulder and rolling so she comes to rest on his hips, naked over the soft fabric of his trousers.

His laughter fades, and he stares up at her in the fading afternoon light, running warm palms up her thighs, gently cupping her hips. “I’ve missed you, Se-ri-ya.”

Se-ri draws a path from his breastbone, over the peak of his Adam’s apple, to his chin. She has to count to three to keep her voice from breaking. “I missed you, too.”

She bends, in control now, taking that bottom lip between hers and sucking, kissing his jaw, and dragging her mouth down to the point in his neck where his pulse beats wildly. She’s hungry for the shadow of salt and heat beneath the clean linen smell his clothes leave on his skin.

His voice vibrates against her lips when he asks, “How long do you think we can do this?”

Sitting up again, she gazes down at him, purposefully misunderstanding because addressing the real question feels like staring directly at an eclipse. “Well, it seems like you wanted to make me beg for hours.”

His smile is there and gone. “I meant how long can we live apart. I hate it.”

Se-ri has to choose her words carefully. Jeong-hyeok can steal her phone and fill it with hundreds of texts to be delivered when they’re apart; he can even record voice messages that she can listen to again and again—sweet, playful, profane—but she can’t do the same for him, and even for her it’s like a single drop of water on a parched tongue.

So of course she hates it as acutely as he does, but she is, after all, not the one who is ever in danger, whose family is ever in danger if he decides not to return. “I don’t think I get to make that decision.”

“I kept thinking,” he says quietly, “that we were very lucky last year.”

She immediately knows what he means—how easily she could have returned to Seoul with more than just memories.

“I’m taking precautions this time,” she tells him.

“I don’t want it to always be like that,” he says. “I want a real marriage.”

Se-ri shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the control here.”

And maybe that’s what it is, she thinks. Coming here and not being able to have him the second I landed. I don’t get any say in when and how we meet. At least here I can say: I want you now, and again now, and now, and now.

Jeong-hyeok closes his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

There’s no easy answer tonight, and so when she bends to put her mouth on his, he opens to her, groaning in relief that there’s this, at least they can be sure of, his hand sliding up her sides and over her shoulders to hold her face to his. He seems to be over the game of waiting, and meets her seeking rhythm when she starts to move, giving up any worries that he might leave a mark with his kiss, that he should draw this out, make it last.

He tells her how she feels, so soft, that his need seems to push up from under his skin. Is this what it feels like to succumb to madness? With her hands and mouth moving over his chest, his ribs, his navel, Ri Jeong-hyeok leaves the quiet man back in the moments that came before this one.

When he senses he might roar if he doesn’t feel her, he reaches behind her hips and grapples with the last article of his clothing until, with a metallic clatter of his belt, he’s kicking his trousers down and off the foot of the bed. He watches her hand with wide eyes as she reaches down, strokes him, takes him in. Flushed, Se-ri gazes down at his face, pausing for a shaky breath before she reaches back, resting her small hands on his thighs, and begins.

He falls back into the pillows, dizzy, watching her head fall back, witnessing her discover what her body can do, worried that if he blinks, he’ll miss something. Sometimes can’t believe what his Se-ri-ya has become.

Chapter Text

At the startling shriek of a bird outside the window, Se-ri drags her eyes open. The view from her side of the bed is a giant window overlooking the downward slope of their hill. In the distance: a lake, houses, mountains.

The air here is so bracing it feels like an astringent, detoxifying all the way deep to her bones. And the way she can unplug entirely still surprises her; even her time in North Korea wasn’t marked with such a complete dissociation from the idea of responsibility and schedules. There is nowhere in the world like Seoul, no place she loves with the same protective ferocity, but there are times when she really can imagine staying here forever.

Se-ri carefully turns in the tight circle of her husband’s arms. He’s heavily asleep still, though he unconsciously shifts to accommodate her the way he does all night long: loosening then tightening his grip as she rolls into him and then, when her breath grows humid and suffocating against the skin of his chest, away. It’s a testament to his exhaustion that the hazy filter of morning light hasn’t roused him yet. Ri Jeong-hyeok is usually awake at dawn.

She’s glad, though. Unless he’s been sick or injured, she’s never able to study him like this: brow smooth, lips slightly parted and pouting. Se-ri wonders if he ever breathes as evenly, as deeply, as he does here. She tracks her gaze over the arch of his cheekbones, the razor-sharp line of his jaw. His lips are a point of such paradoxical lushness on a face that is otherwise so chiseled. Unable to resist, she reaches forward and, with the tip of her index finger, draws the shape of them.

Slowly, his eyes open. His gaze swims, and then comes to focus on her mouth, and he smiles just enough to show a shadow of his dimples.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I was hoping it wouldn’t wake you up.”

He shakes his head, running a leaden, sleepy hand up the side of her naked body, coming to a lazy curve around her breast, thumb lightly circling. He lets out that quiet sound, the groan-hum of longing, and arches reflexively into her.

“Did you sleep well?” she asks, kissing his jaw, his neck, his sleep-swollen mouth.

He grunts out an affirmative sound and stretches against her; his yawn turns into a mildly pained groan.

She wonders if he’s sore, too, whether the physical intensity of the first time, and the sheer duration of the second last night wore him out. Se-ri feels the fatigue like a drug in her bloodstream; her arms are heavy and loose, skin just on the cusp of over-warm.

But even so, her body wants his again. The longing seems to only grow over time, never ease, and after only a few moments of quiet cuddling he’s ready, too, rocking against her. Even as his eyes roll closed again, he pulls her leg over his hip, dragging his hand down to cup her calf.

Still barely awake, Jeong-hyeok asks permission with a sweet, inquisitive hum, and she holds his face to her neck, nodding. His groan, when he slides into her, is sleep-coarse and deep. The light is muted, and the room is otherwise quiet; it’s easy to pretend they’re in a shared dream where they don’t have a concert to attend later, where the love they make can be slow and lazy and marked by long pauses in movement when they’re only wrapped around each other.

And for a while it is only that: the honeyed, unhurried roll of his hips up into hers. The cessation of movement for a few breaths when his drowsy body can still only focus on one thing at a time, and he wants to kiss her shoulder, her collarbone, her breast. A sleuth for these things, she turns her head to better detect his sounds: the abrupt catching of his breath when she teases her nails down his back, the soft rhythmic panting that begins and builds when she reaches down, gripping his backside to pull as he pushes. In the middle of this sweet love, Se-ri remembers a moment from the night before, when he admitted in a broken gasp that he was barely hanging on, and the knowledge alone sent her tumbling into pleasure. Now, her body clutches his in recollection, and Jeong-hyeok groans sharply, instinctively pushing deep.

He’s fully awake now, drawing back to gaze at her face. “It’s good?” he confirms, quietly.

Nodding, she urges him over her, and he rises up onto his hands, staring in wonder down at their bodies coming together. He stretches down to kiss her, and then straightens his arms again, watching fascinated as she moves her hand down her own body.

“Tell me,” he says, “when you’re close.”

Shower, shop the farmer’s market, succumb to pleasure: Ri Jeong-hyeok wants to do as much as he can together with his wife.

She stares up at his face as he watches her circling fingers, and the determination in his expression—the furrowed brow, the gently slack mouth, and heavy bob of his throat when he swallows, push her there, and faster.

The boulder of sensation rolls over inside her and, with a gasp, she manages only, “Jeong-hyeok-ah.” Relief clears his expression and he immediately shifts his attention to her face as he moves in earnest: catching how her teeth sink into her lip and the flush crawls up her neck, and then—finally—her back arches, head presses into the pillow.

Afterward, he gathers her back into his arms, holding her head to his heaving chest. Several quiet minutes pass before he speaks. “You need to eat.”

“So do you. You’ve done most of the work so far.”

He laughs. “I’m fine.” And he moves as if to get up, but she stops him.

“Let me cook.”

He grins. “What will we have? Rice?”

“Jeong-hyeok-ah, I can cook.”

“Since when?”

She laughs. “Listen! I’ve been practicing. Let me make this for you.”

He gazes at her dubiously. “…Toast?”

Se-ri lightly smacks his chest. “No.”

He buries his face in her neck. “I’m hungry.”

“Then I’ll make a lot of it.” Pulling back, she kisses his chin, ignoring his wary grimace, and slides out of bed.

He watches Se-ri cross the room and slip into the bathroom. The faucet runs, followed by the sound of her brushing teeth and cleaning up, and then she returns: naked, clean, smiling. She digs into a drawer, pulling out one of his T-shirts, smelling it with a happy moan before pulling it on.

“You forgot underwear,” he calls out as she steps into the hall.

She turns her head but doesn’t stop walking. “No, I didn’t.”

He pushes up on an elbow as she disappears around the corner into the kitchen. “We have big windows, Se-ri-ya.”

Her voice filters from the other room. “Our closest neighbor is a hundred meters away.”

Jeong-hyeok frowns, falling back onto the pillows. But he stays there for only a handful of seconds, before he’s climbing from bed with a growl, pulling on sweatpants, and grabbing a pair of sleep shorts for her. He tosses them onto the kitchen counter with a pointed look, and then goes to brush his teeth.

Something sails past the open bathroom door.

Ri Jeong-hyeok looks back into the bedroom. The sleep shorts lie in a pile near the dresser.

“Se-ri-ya.”

“Your shirt goes halfway down to my knees!”

“But if you bend over,” he says around his toothbrush. “What then?”

“Then you get a nice view. Stop talking to me, I’m busy making you a big breakfast.”

He bends, spitting, before walking back down the hall. At the counter, she’s slicing fruit and behind her, on the stove, she’s cooking breakfast meat and eggs. His stomach rolls over in longing, and when she looks up, she winks.

“You can’t deny it looks good.”

Jeong-hyeok grunts, walking to the window and squinting out. He doesn’t think she’s right; the closest neighbor is definitely not a hundred meters away. Maybe, at best, eighty. “We’ll get a privacy screen.”

“We will not. It‘ll filter out the light, and the light is what we liked best about this house.”

Leaning forward, he searches for a flash of a reflection—a hint of a camera lens or telescope. Straightening, his arm shoots out. “There. There. Look.”

Wiping her hands on a dish towel, Se-ri strolls over, coming up behind him and putting her arms around his waist. “What?”

“That house. See the wide window at front?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see that reflection?”

She stretches to see over his shoulder. “No.”

He shakes his arm, pointing more insistently. “There. That light in the window.”

“Hmm,” she hums, gently biting his shoulder, “I guess I see it.”

“It’s a telescope.”

She turns back to the kitchen. “Oh, I bet that’s nice to have around here.”

He stares at her, wordlessly agape.

Finally, she looks up from the counter and notices. “What?” she asks again.

“A telescope can see into our home. And here you are, in a shirt with nothing else on.”

She gestures down her body. “Husband, what do you see?”

“Bend over.”

She sets down the knife, steps out from behind the counter, turns her back to him, and slowly bends over. All the way so she touches her toes. And when her flat palms hit the floor, cool air kisses skin still sensitive from the love they made not ten minutes ago.

“Up. Stop,” he says abruptly. “Absolutely not.”

She stands, pulling the shirt back down as she rounds the counter and picks the knife back up. The sound of the blade carefully slicing through apples cuts through the room. Finally, she says, “I am so lucky. Sometimes I can’t believe I found a man so caring, who’s always so worried about me.”

He looks at her with sincerity. “It’s my job, Se-ri-ya.”

With mirroring adoration, she gazes back at him, and then sighs. “Even if it would have been so nice to make love on the couch there at sunset.”

His smile fades and he turns then, frowning at the enormous, plush sofa near the window with the best view in the house: the lake, rolling green hills, and wide-open skies. Se-ri picked it out after weeks of searching, and selected it for its unusual width, it’s firm cushions with soft covers. It fits the large space perfectly and extends far enough for him to stretch his long legs out, and wide enough for her to cuddle easily beside him.

“And here.” She lifts her chin to the counter in front of her and his attention flies to where she pats the stark white granite with her free hand. “It seems like the perfect height for you to stand with my legs around your waist, but—” She clucks her tongue. “Also in view of a window. This house is just full of windows.” She laughs, shaking her head at herself. “What am I even saying? ‘Kitchens are for cooking anyway, Se-ri-ya.’ I have to pull my mind out of the gutter. We don’t need to make love everywhere.”

His neck slowly reddens as he begins to look around their home with new eyes. His gaze snags on the velvet double chaise in the reading nook. The solid oak table of the dining room. The thick, plush rug in front of the fireplace.

Ri Jeong-hyeok stares at the rug near the fireplace, in particular, for a very long time. Finally, he turns his attention back out the window. “You know, that house is at a very strange angle relative to ours.”

Behind him, Se-ri grins down at the fruit.

“He’d have to angle a telescope very sharply to see in here,” her husband explains, ducking and pointing as if to demonstrate how difficult it would be. He leans in, surveying the contraption in the distance. “I can’t imagine how he could do it. It’s positioned to angle up to the sky.”

“Hmm.”

“I bet he uses it only to see stars.”

She dishes eggs and meat on to a plate and sets the plate on the counter beside a bowl of fruit. “You think so?”

He crosses the room, sitting at the breakfast bar, putting a napkin in his lap and smiling with assurance at his wife. “I’m confident that you’re safe without underwear.”

Chapter Text

Captain Ri Jeong Hyeok can disassemble a rifle faster than any soldier he’s ever met. Beethoven’s Fifth, Rachmaninov’s Third, Tchaikovsky’s first—he can play each one without a single flaw. His fingers memorized the intricacies of his wife’s body immediately, as if it was his life’s most important quest. But this very man now stands in front of the mirror and frowns. He has worn a suit more times than he can count, so how can a bow tie confound him? This time, his seventh attempt, the result is even worse. It looks clownish: loose, uneven, too high on his throat.

Jeong-hyeok finds her in the bathroom putting on makeup. Her hair is piled in a complicated series of braids on her head; she’s wearing only her lingerie—bra, barely-there lace underwear. He stares for a second, swallowing the question down: Is that what you’re wearing tonight?

She could be covered in a dress, and a coat, and cloaked in the darkness of night and he’ll still have to tuck fists into pockets and force a smile on his face when anyone looks her way.

“You okay?” she asks, and he drags his attention away from the contrast of the dark lacy strap of her bra over the creamy skin of her shoulder, meeting her eyes in the mirror.

He nods and she grins knowingly, leaning in and drawing eyeliner in an elegant, dark line across her lid. “My dress is black,” she says, and straightens, surveying her work. “Long sleeved.” She meets his eyes in his reflection again. “Completely opaque.”

“Oh,” he says, brows rising in feigned ignorance. She reads him as if his thoughts are projected directly onto her lids when she blinks. “Sounds nice.”

Proof again: she turns immediately after finishing her eyeliner on the other side and reaches for his bow tie. “Come here. These are terrible.”

“I couldn’t get it straight,” he says quietly, watching her brow furrow as she focuses. His heart seems to turn over inside him and it takes a fortified mental gate to keep himself from pushing her hands aside and pulling her with him into the bedroom. “Who wears these anymore?”

She winces. She picked out this tuxedo. “I thought a classic tux would go best with what I’m wearing.”

Jeong-hyeok stares down as she quickly and capably ties the knot and leans back to inspect it. “You’re . . . very good at that.”

Se-ri smiles as she straightens the tie, and then smooths her hands down his lapels. “You’re so handsome,” she says quietly.

He stares at her, wanting desperately to kiss her. But if he kisses her, he’s sure—with her black lingerie and exposed neck—he won’t be able to stop. Tonight is one of the few evenings they actually have anywhere to be.
“I haven’t tied a bow tie in a long time.”

Jeong-hyeok goes still. He isn’t sure he’s in the mood tonight to hear about the legion of exes.

“Se-hyeung never really talked to me,” she says thoughtfully, tilting her head as she adjusts the black silk handkerchief in his breast pocket, “unless he needed help with an essay for class, or with tying a tie. These always remind me of him.”

He frowns as his protectiveness takes a different shape. “Why did you choose this, then?”

“It didn’t remind me of him this time,” she says, smiling up at him. “When I picked it out, I was only thinking about you. His face didn’t even come to me until now.”

Now he does kiss her, just a brush of his mouth over hers. But Se-hyung’s name sticks in his thoughts like an oily film. Straightening, he confirms that nothing has changed: “He’s not out?”

Se-ri nods, turning back to the mirror and picking up a big, puffy brush. She swipes powder across her cheeks. “He’s got about thirteen months left on his sentence. Go Sang-ah will be free by Christmas.”

“December thirteenth,” he says. The details she gave him last summer of the criminal sentences are engraved in his mind.

“Umma still goes to see him, but she knows I don’t want updates. I get the feeling she worries that he won’t let go of this.” Her eyes flicker to his face in the mirror, and then she rolls her eyes in amused exasperation.

Jeong-hyeok goes still. “Your mother is worried?”

She hums, yes.

He stares down at the counter. “What specifically is she worried about?”

“That he holds a grudge and will make trouble for me when he gets out.”

“What kind of trouble?” his voice has gone quiet and thin.

“I don’t know. But what can they do, Jeong-hyeok-ah?” She turns to face him. “They have nothing, and their reputation is ruined. Trust me when I say that they’re not a threat to me. I imagine once they’re out, they’ll leave Korea.”
He takes a step closer, resting his hands on her hips, strangling his panic. “I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.”

She reaches up, cups his jaw. “I have people who will track every single one of my brother’s movements as soon as he’s released. I’ve paid off every one of his guards to tell me anytime he speaks my name in prison. He may hold a petulant grudge,” she says, grinning up at him, “but I have a much darker grudge and money.”

**

It doesn’t matter what she says. This is her husband’s red button; whenever it’s pressed, he goes into bodyguard mode and it takes him a long time to find his way out. As they gather their things, as they walk to the garage and get into their car, as they drive down the winding mountain roads to the event venue, Jeong-hyeok is quiet, jaw working.

She could say something to soothe him, or at least try—knowing at best it would be only partly successful. She could distract him with her hand drifting up his thigh or rambling stories about her life when they’re apart, but there’s a weird mental block there, and it takes her half the drive there to understand it.

She . . . likes him this way.

Not always, and not even for very long, but a glimpse of the bodyguard has adrenaline pulsing warm and vibrating through her veins. It brings forward those secret images that, in the dark silence of her bedroom, she allows to roll around in her thoughts for hours.

Knowing that she is genuinely safe, his tight grip on the steering wheel excites her, and his gaze fixed intensely ahead excites her. The idea of a brief appearance of Captain Ri tonight excites her.

“I like you like this,” she admits quietly.

“Hm?” His eyes shift to the rearview mirror, and ahead.

“Protective.” She chews her lower lip. “Stern.”

He gives her a bemused smile and turns his face back to the road. “You like when I’m worried about you?”

“I don’t want you to worry, but I like that you will anyway.”

Jeong-hyeok exhales slowly. “I feel better now. But I don’t like thinking about something happening to you when I’m not there to handle it.”

“I know you don’t. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“Bring it up if it’s something we need to talk about,” he says, quickly turning his eyes to her and then away. “Maybe I worry too much, but you never worry as much as you should.”

“Is there anything I can say to you to convince you that I’m taking care of myself?” Jeong-hyeok doesn’t answer, and she turns her face forward. “I think you would feel better if you were with me in Seoul and could see for yourself.”

Without question, this was the wrong thing to say. He strangles the steering wheel.

Wanting to change the subject, she reaches for him, stroking his cheek with a thumb. “I’m excited for tonight.”

His gaze turns to her again as they come to a stop at a red light. The main performance tonight is a scholarship recipient he chose himself from nearly eighty finalists. “I am, too.” Slowly, he leans in and kisses her.

The light turns green and he straightens, clearing his throat. “What did you mean earlier when you said you like me like this? In what way?”

Guiltily, she feels the heat spread from her stomach down between her legs and up into her chest. “It’s—it’s sexy.”

He laughs, repeating the word in an incredulous exhale: “Sexy?”

One memory in particular pierces her thoughts and Se-ri has to take a deep breath to clear the heavy longing from her voice. She shifts in her seat. “I love how we are now. But seeing you feeling protective reminds me of what it was like before, too. I don’t want to lose those memories.”

He gives her the briefest glance. “‘Before?’”

“How you always came for me.” She laughs. “How you told everyone I was your fiancée even when you could barely stand me.”

He rushes to correct her. “Se-ri—”

“And lots of other things,” she cuts in haltingly, looking down at her hands. Her heart punches her breastbone, but she pushes on, bravely. “Like . . . when Cho Cheol-gang called you from my phone in the parking garage. And you came.”

He is incredulous. “You like being reminded of that? This is the same as when I said you were my fiancée?”

“No,” she says quickly. “I like that in hindsight I know it turned out okay, and I can remember how it felt to—”

When she looks up to take in his expression, she sees that his jaw has turned to stone. Se-ri blinks away, letting the sentence hang.

Jeong-hyeok glances at her again as they pull into the hotel’s valet. “How it felt to what?”

“Promise you won’t be angry with me,” she says.

“How can I promise you that when I have no idea what you’re going to say?” The valets approach the car, smiling, but Jeong-hyeok doesn’t move to open his door, and they politely turn away. “Se-ri.”

She exhales slowly. “I remember how it felt when you found me. You pulled me against that wall.” She swallows, willing the burning heat in her cheeks to dissipate. “And you cupped a hand over my mouth and looked at me with this—just . . . desperation.

He goes completely silent, and she focuses down at her lap, smoothing her skirt, wishing she’d never said anything in the first place. Saying it aloud changes it. She can only hear it with his ears now.

Finally, he leans in, trying to catch her eye. “When I—? This is a memory you like?”

Of course Captain Ri wouldn’t understand. He was worried she would be killed, and she’s romanticized the memory with the lusty scrawl of hindsight. Still, her mortification bleeds into disappointment: she’d hoped she could tell him anything, and maybe she can’t.

“Never mind. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Se-ri bends, collecting her purse before flipping down the visor to give her makeup a final once-over. And then, without looking back at him, she climbs out of the car.

**

In silence they move through the lobby, to the elevators, and up to the mezzanine where a small group remains in the foyer, mingling with cocktails just outside the banquet hall. The entire time she can feel his attention on the side of her face, hear the short intake of breath just as he begins to speak to her, and, invariably, the sharp exhale when he changes his mind.

But then Jeong-hyeok catches Se-ri just before she can pass through the doors, wrapping his fingers around her wrist and pulling her down an empty hallway into a quiet alcove. Momentum propels her back into the wall, and he crowds into her space. Bracing a hand above her shoulder, he watches the reaction to his looming proximity pass over her face: her lips part, her breath catches. With a quiet thud, she lets her head fall back against the wall.

“It’s a fantasy,” he whispers, confirming.

Se-ri closes her eyes.

“I see.” He swallows, leaning in until she can feel his breath on her lips. Ghosting his mouth over hers, across her cheek, and over to her ear, he whispers, “I didn’t understand, Se-ri-ya. You didn’t give me time to understand.”

When he pulls back, Jeong-hyeok’s gaze moves across her face, scrutinizing, logging every tiny reaction. Her pulse feels like rolling thunder in her chest, down her arms, in every fingertip.

His voice is a low, rumbling warning: “Stay by my side tonight.”

Se-ri’s eyes go wide. Relief and longing spread in a heated flush through her. “I will.”

“I’m worried you’re not being careful.” He leans in to kiss her neck. His teeth graze across the sensitive dip below her jaw where her pulse races. “I don’t like letting you out of my sight when I feel this way.”

**

He threads his fingers with hers and, together, they walk into the banquet hall. They’re immediately surrounded by people: benefactors, musicians, patrons, business acquaintances wanting to come see the ever-growing spectacle of the annual scholarship concert. Through cocktails and mingling, Jeong-hyeok keeps hold of her hand, pins her close to his side. When other men move to give Se-ri the customary Swiss greeting—three alternating kisses to her cheeks—they invariably break their path abruptly and reach to shake her free hand instead. Captain Ri’s presence is a wordless deterrent.

He sits beside her at dinner, chin up, watching the room. Attentive, he claps at the performances, makes easy, polite conversation with the VIPs at their table, but Se-ri doesn’t miss the way his gaze continually scans the room, carefully studying every window, every alcove, every dark corner.

When she gets up to excuse herself to the restroom, he stands, too.

And then follows.

Out of earshot of the other guests at their table, Se-ri pauses, smiling up at him. “You don’t have to follow me to the ladies’ room.”

He fights a smile; a dimple makes only the briefest appearance. “Go. I’ll be right outside the door.”

What’s better? she thinks, touching up her lipstick at the mirror. That he would play this game because I want it, or that he does it without any effort at all? This is how his heart beats. Protective Jeong-hyeok is the path of least resistance; it is water flowing smoothly downhill.

**

Jeong-hyeok is quiet on the drive home, and she looks over at him, wondering what’s going on behind that inscrutable exterior. He’s always quiet; that isn’t the problem. It’s that, now that they’re alone in the car, she doesn’t entirely know what to expect.

“Are you okay?”

He nods, checking the rearview mirror before changing lanes to turn up a steep hill. “Just trying to figure out where to take you.”

“Where to take me?” Se-ri frowns. “We can’t go home?”

His brief glance is incredulous. He huffs out a laugh, but then doesn’t say anything else.

Even still, he turns up their hill, and down their street, and along the long private drive to their garage. Pulling in, Jeong-hyeok reaches to remotely close the door behind him before killing the engine.
Se-ri stares at him in wide-eyed silence.

“Stay here,” he says quietly.

He leans forward, kissing her, catching her bottom lip with his teeth before flashing only the briefest of smiles and ducking out of the car.

She sits in the silence in the darkness and the reassurance of his parting smile starts to fade. Only a small light near the side door is illuminated, and it casts a cone of pale yellow over just enough space to make everything else start to appear ominous. The longer she sits there alone, the more genuinely unease begins to rise in her chest. The shadows of gardening tools take on the illusion of eerily shifting figures; the hulking mass of a convertible next to their sedan—hidden by a gray car cover—transforms into a massive body, a creature, something sinister and unidentifiable beside her passenger door.

Se-ri startles when her phone vibrates in her hand.

Where are you?

She blinks, confused. I’m in the garage.

I’m coming to get you. His message says. Stay where you are.

She swallows, curling her phone in her hand and her hands to her chest, listening to all of the creaking and groaning of the dark garage at midnight. Se-ri cries out in surprise when the small garage light goes out; the automatic timer has rendered the space completely black.

She glances at her phone again. Stay where you are, his message said.

Se-ri thinks about how much she hated to be apart from him when she felt like this—scared and irrepressibly human; frail—how she hated not knowing what he was doing, where he was, whether he was okay. Even though she’s sitting in her car, in her garage, and has asked for something—although now that she’s here, she’s not entirely sure what she’s getting—it’s still so easy to access that tight, breathless feeling of panic that this might be the time when everything unravels. This might be the time when one or both of them does not walk away intact.

A scream rises from her throat when her door is abruptly jerked open, and a strong hand comes around her upper arm.

Jeong-hyeok leans in, gently resting his fingertips over her lips. “Shh,” he says.

He’s wearing a black sweater, black trousers. His eyes have a wild shine to them: wide, hyperaware. He tilts his head to the side, an unspoken Follow me.

Adrenaline is dumped all at once into her bloodstream; lust and fear mix potently in her stomach. With his hand wrapped around her wrist, he leads her inside the house. He’s left the lights off and the wood-floors of the hallways have an eerie shine from the moon coming in the largest window; the house holds its breath in absolute stillness. Se-ri trips after him as he makes a left down the first hall but then a right down the next, away from the kitchen and living room and the path to their bedroom, to the wing of the house they haven’t really explored.

Of the four bedrooms, one is theirs, another is an office with only a desk and stacks of unpacked boxes, a third is a guest bedroom and the fourth remains unfurnished. The unspoken room, the empty room full of hope for someday.

He looks back over his shoulder, not at her but past her at something in the darkness, and with renewed urgency pulls her forward. From somewhere deeper in the house comes a quiet shuffle, followed by a louder tumble of something crashing onto hardwood. For the first time, genuine alarm hits her, and her heart scales her ribs, claws its way up her throat. Jeong-hyeok jerks her into the office, closing the door with a slam and pressing her against a wall, bracing his arms over hers as he shelters her. From somewhere in the house, a series of crashes sound, and she gapes up at him, mouth open in a silent cry.

“Jeong-hyeok-ah—”

His hand flies up and over her mouth, eyes fixed intently on her face. His lips form a quiet, Shhh, but he doesn’t make a sound, only shakes his head once.

Heavy want fills her stomach, rising rapidly up her chest and into her throat until a strangled cry comes out behind his cupped hand.

Jeong-hyeok doesn’t take his eyes off her and doesn’t remove his hand over her mouth as he reaches back with his other arm, and slowly unzips her dress. Carefully, quietly, he peels it down one arm and then the next until it slides in a quiet hush down her body, pooling on the floor at her feet.

Another quiet rumble comes from the front of the house and Se-ri startles, panting against his palm. What is out there?

“Shh,” he warns. With his free hand, he curls a fist around the lace of her underwear, tugging it down, freeing one leg.

Heat streaks down her thighs, and he drags a long finger through the fire, beginning from the inside of her knee to the pulsing ache between her legs. She brings her shaking hands between them, fumbling with his belt, with his zipper. Under the weight of his dark eyes that seem to sharpen with focus, she pushes his trousers down his hips just enough to free the thick heat of him.

He gives her a vibrating, warning look and he drops his hand from her mouth, tugging his sweater up and over his head. Tossing it aside, he grips her waist, hoisting her up. Her legs curl around his hips, pulling him close but with the movement, his belt clangs against the wall and he tenses, looking to the door, listening.

Inside, she is a rubber band, pulled tight. He’s right there, straining in his own need; she would only have to shift her hips forward the tiniest bit to take him in, but he holds her with firm, stern hands. She knows it’s a game but still doesn’t understand how. He wouldn’t dare let someone in their house while he made love to her, would he? But, then, what is out there? The not knowing trails a teasing finger of fear down her arms.

When he turns back to her, his breath comes out in a shudder across her lips. Jeong-hyeok pauses, pressed against her, flattening her against the wall. “If you can’t be quiet, we stop.”

Se-ri nods desperately, knotting her hands in his hair, drawing his mouth to hers. His tongue slides hot and demanding into her mouth but his first thrust into her is a maddeningly slow and controlled one.

He lets the smallest groan escape, and whispers, awed, into her mouth, “It’s so wet.”

She swallows a cry, hungry mouth moving over his, but as he draws back and then forward with the same purposeful patience, she starts to worry she might lose her mind. Jeong-hyeok pulls away from her mouth, bending to kiss her neck, bringing one broad hand down to cup her backside and hold her up while he slowly works his body in and out of hers. The other comes up her ribs, behind her back to unhook her bra before sliding to the front where he cups her breast for his open mouth, sucking her deep and hard.

It’s a move he uses sometimes to pull that stubborn orgasm out of her, when she’s tired and boneless beneath him but he’s convinced she has one more to give. He’ll give her everything he has, with his hips and his mouth and his rumbling, encouraging sounds. But right now, there’s no sound and there’s no urgent pivot of his body into hers; there’s only the hard, wet suction of his mouth on her breast contrasted with the slow easing in, the heavy, maddening drag of him nearly all the way out.

Se-ri’s pulse is a flapping, panicking bird in her neck. She feels the cry expand in her throat.

He lifts his head, scraping his gaze up her body to study her face: her lip trapped between her teeth, eyes tight almost as if she’s in pain. She rocks against him but without leverage, and under the hard press of his body pinning her to the wall, his movements guide their pace, and he remains infuriatingly slow and deliberate.

He sucks his bottom lip, watching her suffer. His free hand comes up again, thumb making feather light circles over her wet nipple.

And then, as she stares back at him, his eyes shine with a knowing glimmer and he sinks his teeth into his lip, stifling a groan as he shoves in once, hard and deep.

A cry rips from Se-ri’s throat and Jeong-hyeok’s gaze flashes in victory as he claps the hand back over her mouth, pressing her head back into the wall. With his attention fixed on her wild eyes, he lets out a rumbling exhale, and finally, finally lets the tension snap.

In an instant his intensity matches hers, hips working in deep, fast thrusts, his hand sealed over her mouth, lips pressed in a growling warning just beside his hand, against her jaw. But under the building urgency and the sharp muffled sounds of Se-ri’s cries against his palm, his lips curl back, and he pants out a tight rhythm through clenched teeth.

Pleasure and thrill form a heated vine that grows upward from where he drives into her in a frenzy, rising up over her hips, around behind her ribs and to the front, framing her breasts. It climbs her neck, filling her throat, and his teeth part in a warning bite pressed to her jaw. A grunt escapes his throat with each deep thrust, and everything in her grows fuzzy and overwhelmed; pleasure seems to come from every direction until she can’t localize any point on her body that isn’t consumed by it. She tilts fully into it with a scream against his hand and he clamps it down over her with more force until, mindless with pleasure, she bites down on it, hard.

He endures it, his mouth open in a silent, riveted cry as her body rhythmically clenches his for what feels like an eternity. Finally, her jaw goes slack with a final gasp, and Se-ri tilts her head back, limp in his arms as she stares up at him with heavy, drunk eyes. Her breaths come in deep, jagged hiccups.

Jeong-hyeok carefully shifts his hand, heart pounding in desire and guilt when he sees the red imprints of his fingertips on her right cheek. He slides his thumb lightly, reverently along her swollen lip, and, when her lips part, over her teeth. With a lush, frantic love in her eyes he’s not sure he’s ever seen before, she pulls it in, sucking. His stern composure breaks, and he bends to kiss her, not bothering to move his hand, kissing her around his own thumb. Everything feels wet and warm, and with such clear evidence of her satisfied, shaking relief, the promise of his own pleasure rises. He closes his eyes, bends his head to her neck, and feels the suction of her mouth on his thumb and the suction of her body all around him. Moving with purpose, Jeong-hyeok lets himself succumb to sensation so intense he worries his legs might give out.

And when he finally stills, leaning his weight into her, he’s grateful to find that he is, in fact, still standing. Se-ri holds him, her arms wrapped around his neck, face pressed to his shoulder as they catch their wildly stuttering breaths.

Jeong-hyeok pulls back, running his hand carefully over her cheek, pushing her sweat-dampened hair out of her eyes. He traces the lingering evidence of his harsh touch, following with a fingertip the faint imprints that remain on her cheeks. “Are you okay?”

She stares at him, astonished and mute.

“Se-ri-ya? Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you?”

“You didn’t hurt me.” She swallows, and sucks in a lurching breath. “But I’m honestly not sure I can walk yet.”

His mouth curls up into a shy smile, and he leans in, nuzzling his face in her neck. “I’ll carry you wherever you need to go.”

“Okay.”

“Was that,” he starts, and then rests his open mouth on her neck for a slow exhale. “Was that what you wanted?”

She doesn’t know how to answer that, how to articulate that she’s never felt sensation like it. Even with her legs still tightly wrapped around him starting to cramp, she doesn’t want to let go yet. Every time she thinks he can’t possibly be everything she’s made him out to be, he does something like this.

So, she says simply, “I don’t know what I would do if I had to live without you.”

“You don’t,” he says immediately, hoarse with sincerity.

“I wouldn’t have believed it could be like this.”

Carefully, he lowers her, holding her waist until she finds her footing. When he pulls his pants back up, she lets her bra drop from her arm, stepping her other foot out of her underwear. He leaves the belt hanging loosely around his waist, and they watch each other for an unhurried beat in this dark room with no moonlight streaming in. He reaches forward, running a long finger down her neck, between her breasts, and then sends his hand around her back, pulling her close. The hug turns desperate at the edges, under this shared realization that, somehow, they excavated a new place tonight. She didn’t think it was possible to feel more, and yet here she is, in the arms of the man who loves her irrepressibly, feeling like she’s choking on feelings that are too big to hold inside. This consuming adoration seems to suck all of the air from her lungs.

Jeong-hyeok steps back, carefully so he doesn’t trip on her discarded clothing or heels, and then bends, scooping her up into his arms. “Where to?”

Sleepily, she mumbles, “Shower.”

He nods, moving to the door and bending slightly so he can both carry her and open it. He walks down the hall, turning left, and then right, and then stepping into their bedroom and into their bathroom where he sets her down on one of the plush bathmats. He leaves the lights off, but reaches under the sink for a pair of her favorite candles, lighting them with the careful focus he puts into every task, and then leaning to turn on first one showerhead and then the other.

“What was the crashing?” she asks, finally.

“Books,” he says, undressing. “Empty boxes. I made a number of very unsteady stacks.”

“How did you know they would fall when they did?”

“I didn’t.” He steps in, testing the water, and then holds his hand out to her to help her step in on legs that still seem likely to give out. Pulling her against him, he bends, sucking the falling water off of her lips, her chin, her neck. Jeong-hyeok reaches up, pulling the pins from her hair, gently coaxing her braids loose.

Se-ri watches him as he focuses on meticulously unraveling her. She doesn’t know what she’ll find in the morning out in the living room. Giant piles of books that tumbled to the floor, maybe; empty boxes strewn around the dining room. But she hopes he leaves it there when she invariably falls asleep before him tonight. She wants to wake up tomorrow and still remember how she told him, and he listened, and then spent his entire evening thinking about how to do this, simply because he loves her.

“Am I enough?” she asks him, cupping her hands around the back of his neck.

He frowns at his hands gently digging into her final braid, loosening it, then smoothing her hair down her back. “Are you enough?”

“It doesn’t seem fair,” she says. “I don’t know how I can possibly give you back everything you give me.”

He grins; a cocky, satisfied smile. “You’re right,” he says. “I hardly enjoyed myself at all tonight.”

She laughs and smooshes his cheeks, stretching to plant a loud kiss on his lips. While he runs soapy hands all over her body, Se-ri reaches for the shampoo, lathering it into his hair, coaxing it into a mohawk, slicking it back. He laughs indulgently when she digs for his ticklish spots; with his fingertips, he draws long, looping shapes all over her skin. Later, they tumble into bed, naked and dry and clean, and he curls around her like a vine, exhaling in relief.

“Really?” he asks, and it takes a second for her to understand what he’s asking.

That’s it, she thinks. He only wants to do his best at everything.

“It was perfect,” she says, rolling to face him.

The vine shifts and rearranges around her new position. She can feel his smile on her shoulder. “Good.”

Chapter Text

Se-ri wakes up, sweat-soaked in a hot beam of sunlight. Her neck is bent at an odd angle; the heat streaking in the broad window is already suffocating. Clutching her shoulder, she looks around, reaching for her phone and swiping it awake. 11:13am? She extends an arm out, feeling for him or the hint of his recent presence, but is met with only a cooler stretch of sheets. Disoriented, she pushes up onto an elbow, calling for him. “Jeong-hyeok-ah?”

In response, she hears the low murmur of his voice speaking in the other room. Se-ri falls back onto the pillow, listening to birds outside, to wind, to the quiet rumble of his words that she can’t quite make out. He let her sleep past eleven. What on earth?

But then down the hall his tone turns louder with frustration and insistence. “Why? Explain to me.”

And just as her concern begins to take shape—What phone call is making him so frustrated?—Se-ri hears another, unfamiliar voice inside her house: “You can ask all of that once we get there.”

Panic washes icy cold through her blood. Who is here? And then, her panic turns hot: Get where?

Jeong-hyeok calls out a sharp, “Wait!”

Se-ri bolts from the bed just as the house seems to fill with the panicked swarm of voices overlapping, the sounds of a struggle. Crashes sound from the living room.

She trips over the discarded blankets they kicked off the end of the bed in the middle of the night, and frantically digs into the nearest drawer for a pair of his boxers, for one of his shirts, tugging the clothing on and bunching the waistband of his shorts in her fist as she trips down the hall.

She can’t immediately count how many men are standing in her living room. There are at least twenty, crammed into a space that, when it’s just the two of them alone, feels cavernous. Some are wearing black suits, some wear green uniforms, but all of them are holding guns. And fenced in the middle of the rows of bodies is Jeong-hyeok in his black sweater and trousers, handcuffed and barefoot and staring at her with wide, wild eyes.

“Se-ri-ya, go back to the bedroom,” he growls.

“What? Why?” She pushes forward. “What’s going on?”

Bodies shift in front of her, blocking her view of him, but over their heads, his eyes find hers.

“Just—go back to the bedroom.”

“What’s happening?” She forces her way forward, ducking beneath outstretched arms, shoving her way to the deep center of the labyrinth of bodies to reach him.

Her hand comes over his sleeve just as Ri Jeong-hyeok is tugged out of her grip, roughly dragged backward through the living room and out the front door. His feet tangle together as he’s pulled down the front stairs, and she sees his knee crack against the wood step, witnesses his pained grimace. But the men holding him don’t even pause or slow; they continue to violently haul him down the long pathway to the main road. At the front door, a wall of bodies steps between her and her husband, but she evades their grasping hands, digging her way free and out of the house.

“Jeong-hyeok-ah!”

“Stay here,” he calls back over his shoulder. “Don’t follow.”

Is he serious? How can she watch this and stay here? Her heart is being carried away from their home, by men she’s never met before, for reasons no one is taking the time to explain.

“Where are you taking him?” she screams, bunching his clothing to her body as she chases. “I’m his wife! This is our home! How can you walk in here and just—do this?”

The four men marching him down the road don’t bother to turn around, and she’s clearly so insignificant a threat to whoever these people are that no one follows her out of the house, either. Jogging now in bare feet, she can see in the distance where they’re headed: to a row of black vans, yellow tape, a line of men with machine guns.

What on earth is going on?

Her heart scales her windpipe until she can barely breathe.

“Stop!” She begins to sprint, clutching the boxers as they threaten to fall down her hips, ignoring the way the asphalt begins to shred the bottom of her feet. “How can you take him? What did he do?”

Jeong-hyeok turns, looking over his shoulder at her. “Don’t.” His eyes go wide at the trail of blood she’s leaving behind her on the street. The tendons in his throat strain with his shout: “STOP RUNNING!”

The road elongates beneath her. He’s now a hundred meters away. How? The dark road warps in the bright sun; dry wind lashes her hair across her face.

“Jeong-hyeok-ah!”

But he can’t hear her anymore; how is he so far away?

In the distance, a hand is put over the back of his head and he reacts by ducking carefully, letting himself be obediently ushered into a black van.

She shreds her throat when she screams for him, and a hand comes over her shoulder, gently pulling her back.

“Hey.”

Se-ri flips over, ready to shove past whoever’s there. “No. Stop—”

“Hey.”

She’s pulled into heavy, tired arms. Her cheek meets a bare chest and inside it is the steady drum of a heartbeat.

“Come here, shh.”

Se-ri still can’t pull her mind out of the heightened grip of panic. Even as she’s slowly dragged into awareness—she’s in their bed, she’s in his arms—it all still feels too real. Her terrified scream sticks high and tight in her throat, and the image of him climbing in defeat into the black van is as sharp as the sensation of his breath on her shoulder. Grief and pain and relief rise in her so abruptly that she can do nothing but shove her arms around his neck and hold on as if they’re both tumbling over a cliff.

“Don’t go.”

Half asleep, all he reads is her fever; the urgency propels him to rise over her, to kiss her hungrily, hands moving with the middle-of-the-night craving and their bodies instinctively come together, messy and rough. He reaches up, gripping the low headboard and using it to pull his body deep into hers again and again, but even now Se-ri isn’t sure which is the dream. Which can be trusted, she thinks, my body or my brain? He’s making love to her—she can feel the steady drive of him, the forceful grunts of his unrestrained pleasure in her ear—but everything else feels too real to forget so quickly. Maybe right now she’s actually alone in the middle of the street, hallucinating a better outcome. Maybe this is her break from reality. Se-ri presses her face into his neck. Jeong-hyeok’s thrusts, so deep and urgent, are just on the limit of what she can comfortably bear but she wants more anyway; she would split herself in two if it meant that he wouldn’t be taken from her again, real or imagined.

As pain and pleasure start to crystallize, and his sounds turn intent and urgent, the fog of the nightmare clears. Se-ri comes fully into consciousness, and the details of the dream evaporate into the background. It didn’t happen. No one came to their house. No one took him away in handcuffs. Relief and fear clash brightly, and she bursts into tears, digging her nails into his shoulders.

His movements slow, and then Ri Jeong-Hyeok comes to a breathless stop over her. Pulling back, he whispers in quiet horror, “Did I hurt you?”

“No. Don’t stop.” She reaches up, cupping his face. “You were so close.”

He releases the headboard from his grip, flexing his fingers and taking several long seconds to catch his breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were upset.” He presses his face to her neck, lifting a hand to her cheek, but stills when the pad of his thumb meets a wide streak of tears. “I thought you woke up wanting—”

“I did.”

“It was a nightmare?”

She nods and tries to take a deep breath, but the air comes in broken, catching on the raw emotion in her throat.

He deflates, rolling to the side and gathering her closer. “What happened?”

“They tried to take you.”

“Who did?”

“I don’t know,” she says, adjusting her grip around him as the images come into focus again. “Men. With guns.” It’s still right there. She turns her face into his neck and sucks in another jagged breath.

“Do you think it’s because of . . . earlier? With the game? I shouldn’t have—”

“No.” Of course, he would somehow blame himself.

“It brings things up for you,” he says. “How can you so quickly say ‘no’?”

She breathes in the clean spice of him. His skin smells like home. “Maybe. I don’t know. It was so awful. It was like the border, but here. They came into our house and took you out in handcuffs. I was wearing your boxers and a shirt and chasing after you in bare feet. My feet were bleeding and I didn’t care. You looked so broken, but I couldn’t save you.”

“Shhh.” He kisses her neck, her jaw. “It isn’t real. I’m here, and no one is after me here.”

“I don’t want you to go back.”

He pauses, absorbing this. “I don’t either. But even when I do, Se-ri-ya, it won’t be like that. I won’t be taken from you.”

“Maybe to my sleeping brain it feels the same.”

He lifts his head and kisses her, slow and claiming. “Breathe. Your heart is racing. I can feel it in my own chest.”

“I’m trying.”

“No one is going to take me,” he says again. “And if anyone tried, I wouldn’t go willingly.”

“Okay but if someone does come,” she says. “Promise you won’t just let me sleep in.”

She can feel his reaction to this in the amused smile pressed against her jaw. “…What?”

“I woke up and—” She hears how it sounds now, before the words come out: “I’d overslept and woke up when I heard you talking to someone, and I threw on your clothes and there were twenty men in the living room.”

“You think if twenty men with guns appeared in our living room that I wouldn’t immediately be by your side?”

She sighs, fighting a smile. “I know. I hear it now, but it felt real.”

Se-ri can hear the laugh in his voice. “I promise I’ll wake you up if you ever sleep through the military raid of our home on the Swiss mountainside.”

She pushes his chest, rolling him onto his back but the urge to pretend to be mad is immediately overshadowed by her need to touch every part of him and convince herself that he’s here in one piece. She kisses his smile, his dimples, his earlobes. The same attention is given to his chin, his throat, and his collarbones while she sends her hands along his arms and down every finger, over his ribs, back up into his hair.

He winds a strand of her hair around his long index finger, watching her with a faint smile. “Just making sure?”

Humming a quiet Yes, Se-ri drags her mouth across his chest to his bicep where she bites gently, growling up at his smile. While he looks, eyes heavy and hands lazily touching whatever he can reach, Se-ri slowly works her way down his body. She drags her lips over his chest, his stomach, and when her intentions grow purposeful, he gently tugs on her arm.

“If you’re doing that,” he says, “turn around. Bring your legs up here.”

She nibbles his hipbone and smiles up at him, pulling free of his light grip. “No.”

Jeong-hyeok laughs out an overwhelmed, breathless sound, pressing his head back into the pillow when she strokes him with her hand. Her own need is barely a speck in the distance; she’s not even sure she could calm down enough to let go after all that. With her gaze on his face, she watches him sink his teeth into his bottom lip as she leans down and kisses him. His eyes roll closed and he lets out a helpless groan, making heat spread across her skin like a drop of ink in water.

It’s slow and teasing, and Jeong-hyeok watches her play, piling her hair in his hands and holding it so he can see what she’s doing in the streak of moonlight cast across their bed. But with this view, and her determined teasing, his breathing changes—from quiet and measured to shallow and faltering—and Se-ri focuses in earnest on getting him there. His stomach tenses beneath her flattened palm; his sounds grow more rhythmic, encouraging, needy—and then he’s pushing up onto an elbow, watching her with parted lips as he comes.

He collapses backward, dragging her up his body with clumsy, love-drunk hands.

Exhaustion rolls over her like a heavy fog as he coaxes her to her side and then curls up behind her; a big, warm spoon. Jeong-hyeok groans happily into her ear, kissing along the side of her neck, his hand sliding down over her breasts, across her stomach.

But she captures it before he can make it lower, bringing his fingers up to her mouth to kiss.

“Hm?” he asks sleepily. “You don’t want . . .? Or want something else?” He gently sucks her shoulder.

Se-ri shakes her head, pulling his one outstretched arm free from beneath her pillow and encircling it around her chest. The other, she folds across her stomach. She’s pretty sure she won’t fall back into the same dream, but just in case, she wants him to be wrapped all around her so that if he goes, at least she goes with him.