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To Say That

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To say that Jeong Tae-Eul was confused was an understatement.

 

She wanted to do something but didn’t quite know what, so she paced the length of her sitting room while trying to think. And she was thinking because she was falling far behind. Gon was ahead of her when it came to surprises – he took her on all these amazing dates, he cooked for her, he bought her all these little things she loved and he was just perfect.

 

Tae-Eul felt like she wasn’t doing enough. She never was used to people going above and beyond for her, no one treated her the way he did, like she somehow deserved everything in the world and more. It was overwhelming at times, but it also made her feel so loved that she always felt like she was holding back tears.

 

She wanted to do the same for him, he deserved it more than anyone in the world. He had gone through too much for one person alone and when she thought about all the tears and sacrifices, it made her just want to hold him and never let go. She wanted to spoil him rotten, to take care of him, to love him like he deserved to be loved – the way he reacted to any sort of affection with those big mesmerizing eyes of his made her heart break. She wanted to give him everything he didn’t even know he wanted.

 

But her problem was that she didn’t know what to do. Her husband was one of the richest men across any world. She couldn’t buy him anything he couldn’t get on his own, except the little things he loved from her world that she had her father bring every time he visited. Little packages of things that were stashed in their room and other private places so as to not raise suspicion regarding their origin. But that wasn’t enough.

 

Lately she had taken to walking into the room in new lingerie, but she wasn’t sure that it was enough even though he said that was his favourite type of present – unwrapping her. He was such a smooth talker sometimes, it was ridiculous. But she wanted to do more, she just didn’t know what. She wasn’t the artistic kind, she couldn’t make him something he’d love and her mind kept drawing blank when she tried to think about what she could try to make him.  

 

She sighed as the same idea kept running through her brain, that she cook for him, like he did for her. But the problem with that was that she couldn’t make him something that wasn’t ramen or plain rice, she wasn’t good in the kitchen, at all. Her father usually forbit her from stepping into the kitchen because she ruined everything.

 

But she wanted to try, for Gon. Maybe she could learn, and then he could have meals she cooked as well as the ones he cooked without having them tasted. She was sure that no one except the chefs and Lady Noh cooked for him, he would appreciate it. And she had watched him work in the kitchen enough to pick up some things, she was pretty good at cutting veggies now since he had recruited her to help with that when he cooked. He gave up on letting her cook the actual meal, she had what her father called slippery hands – she never meant to add too much of an ingredient but when someone said “add salt” she just added what she thought was right and it never was.

 

Tae-Eul knew she would need help. She grabbed her phone, putting it in her pocket in case Gon called, and found herself heading to the one person who she knew could help with this. It was last minute, but her brain usually worked well under pressure.

 

Tae-Eul stepped out into the hallway and nodded at Park In-Young who greeted. “Do you know here Lady Noh is?”

 

“I saw her heading down towards her sitting room.” In-Young answered.

 

“Thank you!” Tae-Eul said as she scurried down the hall towards the room, she knew if she wasn’t fast enough Lady Noh would disappear into one of the other parts of the palace, she was always running around and awfully difficult to track down at times.

 

Tae-Eul nodded at all the people that stopped and bowed at her as she practically ran through the halls, they were no longer surprised at the way she ran around like they had been at first. Gon teased her about overhearing maids saying that the Queen seemed to be driven by a motor.

 

She came to a stop outside the sitting room and knocked on the wooden door, sighing in relief when she heard the older lady’s voice asking her to enter. She opened the door and was met with Lady Noh jumping up from the couch in order to greet her.

 

“I told you that you don’t have to do that! Stay seated!” Tae-Eul said as she closed the door behind her, she still wasn’t used to how everyone stood up to greet her whenever she walked into the room, bowing and uttering your majesty. The first few times she had looked for Gon as if they were greeting him.

 

“Protocol dictates I must.” Lady Noh said as she bowed.

 

“There’s no need for protocol when there is no one else around. I need your help.” Tae-Eul said as she walked towards Lady Noh, pushing her gently so she was sitting again before sitting down right beside her, sideways so she was facing her, one leg on the couch.

 

Aigoo! Aigoo! We went over this, Queens don’t sit like this, if you wanted to have a conversation there are better seats for you to occupy across from me!” Lady Noh reprimanded her.

 

“There is no one else here.” Tae-eul whined.

 

“You have to get in the habit.”

 

“Later. Are you busy?”

 

“When am I not busy?”

 

“I wanted to do something for Gon and I need your help.” Tae-Eul said, not missing how Lady Noh’s face softened at the mention of Gon, it always seemed to.

 

“What do you want to?” She asked, looking rather curious.

 

“I want to cook a meal for him, myself.”

 

Pyeha forbid you from stepping in the kitchen alone after last time.” Lady Noh chuckled. Tae-Eul groaned, she would never live that down, she had just wanted to make savoury pancakes, how was she supposed to know that the stoves were professional grade and emitted a lot more heat than her stove at home had – she might have started a small fire, very small. It didn’t even damage anything!

 

“That’s why I am asking you for help, I know I can’t do it alone.”

 

“What do you want to make?” Lady Noh asked.

 

Rabokki and dakgangjeong.” She said.

 

“His favourites.” Lady Noh nodded.

 

She smiled and nodded, Gon’s favourite food was this interesting mix of ramen and tteokbokki that was so delicious that even thinking about it made her salivate, and he loved popcorn chicken – he was working on rating different world’s version of it but insisted the Corean version with the sticky sauce was the best so far.

 

“When do you want to prepare the meal?” She asked.

 

“For dinner tomorrow? He comes back tomorrow evening.”

 

“Meet me in the kitchens tomorrow afternoon, I’ll send someone out to purchase all the ingredients.” She said and then quietly added. “Multiple servings in case there is a problem.”

 

“I am not that helpless in the kitchen.” Tae-Eul whined.

 

“It’s good that you’re the Queen and don’t need to cook much.”

 

“Isn’t insulting the Queen against protocol?”

 

“You said there is no need for protocol when it’s just the two of us.”

 

Tae-Eul sighed. There was no winning with Lady Noh. “Thank you, for helping.” She said instead and the older woman nodded just as her phone went off.

 

“Must be pyeha.” Lady Noh smiled as Tae-Eul took her phone out of her pocket. “Your face just lit up.” She chuckled when Tae-Eul looked towards her with a sheepish smile.

 

“I’ll see you later!” Tae-Eul said as she ran out of the room while picking up the phone.

 


 

“No, first lay out all the ingredients you need and prep them, you’re not skilled enough to cook and prep as you go.” Lady Noh reprimanded as Tae-Eul tried to turn the stove on.

 

“Yes.” Tae-Eul said, she was standing in the middle of the empty kitchen, hair tied up and an apron wrapped around her as she tried to make sense of everything in front of her. Lady Noh had even taken the liberty to have a copy of the recipe that Gon loved most for her to follow but it still wasn’t easy.

 

“Follow the ingredient list and prep everything you need.”

 

Tae-Eul grabbed the packet of ramen first and opened it, laying it out on a plate. And then she grabbed a handful of rice cakes and put them in a bowl.

 

“Count them!”

 

“It says 16, this looks like there are 16.” Tae-Eul said while shaking the bowl.

 

“Cooking for beginners needs to be an exact science, the recipe says 16, any less or more will alter the taste.” Lady Noh said, Tae-Eul sighed and counted the rice cakes, putting away the two extra.

 

“It just says soak in warm water, how warm?” Tae-Eul asked.

 

“Not boiling.”

 

“That’s helpful.” Tae-Eul murmured as she turned the hot water on, waiting until it was hot and then filling up the bowl.

 

“Timer.” Lady Noh reminded her.

 

“Gon doesn’t do that.”

 

Pyeha can count time in his head while doing other things.”

 

“Of course he can.” Tae-Eul sighed, he didn’t count time in the normal way, recited all these weird things in his head instead. She picked up the timer and set it to ten minutes. She then went back to the recipe page and picked out the two sheets of Korean fish cakes and rinsed them under hot running water for 1 minute. “Ahhh!” She said when they fell out of her hand and into the sink.

 

“Try again.” Lady Noh said as she looked into the sink and shook her head in disappointment. At that moment, Tae-Eul decided that Gon was a better teacher, he would have told her it was okay or made a joke about how he didn’t want those sheets anyways – before kissing her pout away. She missed him.

 

She tried again, with success and then grabbed the cabbage leaves. “It says 80g, where’s the scale?”

 

“You don’t have to weigh them.”

 

“You just said it’s an exact science!”

 

“The cabbage won’t absorb or thicken anything.” The woman sighed as if it was obvious.

 

“Well I didn’t know that.” Tae-Eul murmured.

 

“Chop them into small pieces.” Lady Noh instructed and she did, but she knew it didn’t meet Lady Noh’s standards because she wrinkled her nose. “Pyeha was a much better student.” She murmured causing Tae-Eul to pout. “Onion, thinly sliced.”

 

Tae-Eul grabbed the onion and started to slice it only for Lady Noh to sigh. “Thinly sliced.” She said, Tae-Eul sighed and made the pieces smaller while trying to make sure she didn’t cut herself…again.

 

“Now you have to make the seaweed rolls.”

 

“I thought you could buy those frozen?” Tae-Eul whined, she knew they had them at the grocery store.

 

“I thought you wanted to make this yourself?”

 

“I do, but not from scratch – there are so many opportunities to mess up!”

 

“It’s not that difficult, it’s just seaweed sheets, noodles, carrots and garlic chives.”

 

“He better love this.” Tae-Eul murmured as she got to work with Lady Noh watching over her shoulder – apparently she didn’t have the skill to julienne the carrots properly because Lady Noh stepped in to do it for her.

 

She mixed the ingredients for the sauce into the bowl. “1 tsp sea salt.” Lady Noh said. “NO NO! THAT’S A TABLESPOON!” She yelled when Tae-Eul went to scoop some salt. Tae-Eul smiled sheepishly and corrected herself.

 

“Mix in the noodles, carrots and garlic chives into the mixing bowl with the sauce.” Lady Noh instructed, while she prepped the batter. Tae-Eul sighed as she mixed the ingredients before grabbing the seaweed sheets to roll them.

 

Lady Noh sighed with every roll she broke. She was awfully judgmental, sighing and wrinkling her nose whenever she messed up. It was kind of cute…and discouraging. It took her four tries to get the hang of it, and then Lady Noh started with additional instructions that weren’t in the recipe – brush water on the edge after rolling it so it will stick better.

 

“This is why I suck at cooking, why is that not in the recipe?!”

 

“Some things come with practice and common sense.” Lady Noh said as she took her rolled seaweed and put in the batter bowl to coat. “Put oil in the wok.”

 

“How much?”

 

“Half-fill.”

 

It was all going okay until she dropped a roll into the oil to fry and then the oil started sizzling, a drop hitting her hand. She was screaming while moving away, almost tipping the pan over while a frazzled Lady Noh caught the handle and stopped it from flying off the stove.

 

Aigoo! Aigoo! Aigoo! You’re not allowed in the kitchen again, you could have spilled all this hot oil on yourself!” Lady Noh gasped as she calmed down, her hand over her heart.

 

“It splashed me!” Tae-Eul defended.

 

“You can’t just drop it in like you did!”

 

“But how else-”

 

“I’ll do the frying.” Lady Noh insisted as she took over that. “So we both don’t die.” She murmured.

 

“What do you want me to do?” Tae-Eul asked while pouting, she wanted to do it herself but maybe it wasn’t the best idea.

 

“You know how to hard-boil eggs?”

 

“Yes!” Tae-Eul said, she knew that perfectly, her house was always filled with eggs.

 

“Do that. And then start the broth, follow the instructions.”

 

Tae-Eul nodded and followed the instructions, confirming each ingredient with the older woman before she put it in – it was where she always messed up. She put the water on the stove and boiled it for 10 minutes, removed the kelp and then boiled it more, then took out the anchovy – apparently it was necessary for flavour even though it was disgusting.

 

While the broth cooked, Lady Noh asked her to get the chicken they had prepped earlier and left to marinate, that part hadn’t been too difficult but she had cut herself a little while cutting the chicken into bite sized pieces.

 

By the time Lady Noh was done frying and mixing a sauce, the broth was ready. She insisted on being the one to transfer the broth to a wider pot after it was sieved to remove the small particles – afraid that Tae-Eul would spill it, it was a definite possibility so she wasn’t too offended while she peeled the eggs. She added all the other ingredients to the pot and smiled as it started looking like what it was supposed to look like.

 

Lady Noh nodded and then instructed on how to prep the chicken, coating each piece with starch powder thoroughly. She insisted on deep frying again while Tae-Eul pouted, she knew it was for the best but she wanted to do it herself. “The trick to make it crunchy is to double fry it.” Lady Noh shared while Tae-Eul poured the sauce into a heated skillet and stirred. “I’ll finish this off, he’ll be home soon and you need to shower.”

 

“I showered earlier I am fine.”

 

“You’re covered with flour from head to toe, your majesty.” Lady Noh sighed. “And you have something on your face.”

 

Tae-Eul looked down and sighed, she was in fact covered with food. “I am hopeless aren’t I?” Tae-Eul sighed.

 

“We’re both alive and the food is not burnt so not completely hopeless.”

 

“I could never do this alone.”

 

“You married well, you won’t have to.” Lady Noh smiled making her sigh.

 

“Gon is so good at this.” She pouted.

 

“He has been learning since he was a young boy.” Lady Noh said as the chicken sizzled in the wok.

 

Her words triggered another question she was dying to ask but had forgotten about for some reason. “Who has Gon cooked for before?” She asked coyly, trying not to be too obvious.

 

“For himself and you.” Lady Noh said, her face looking confused.

 

“No, has he cooked for…another woman before?” She asked quietly and Lady Noh laughed.

 

“If I count as one.” She said with a knowing grin. “He cooks for my birthday.”

 

“That jerk!” Tae-Eul scoffed.

 

Aigoo!” Lady Noh said while whacking her arm lightly. “You can’t call him that!”

 

“He had me believing he cooked for other women.”

 

She chuckled. “If that was the case then I wouldn’t have been hiding talismans all around the palace for years.” Lady Noh shared with a  smile. “And it finally worked.”

 

“I found the ones you hid under the mattress.”

 

“For fertility.”

 

“I know.”

 

“It’s been a while since this palace has been filled with sounds of children.”

 

Tae-Eul sighed, she shouldn’t have brought up the talismans.

 

“Now go get ready, I’ll wrap up in here.”

 

“Thank you.” Tae-Eul said while hugging the woman tightly but she just groaned and started going on about how she had ruined her clothes and gotten flour all over her. Tae-Eul was sure the lady had a soft spot for her sheepish smile so she just smiled at her in apology and ran out of the kitchen to get ready.

 


 

Tae-Eul rolled her eyes and smiled when she saw the three outfits hanging on the wall of her closet where her stylist usually laid out her outfits. She wrapped her bathrobe around her and padded further into her dressing room.

 

On the left was the outfit she would have chosen if she dressed herself, a pair of  lounge pants and a matching top. They looked very comfy but she decided against it for tonight.

 

On the far right was the outfit Bong Se-Ra, her stylist, would have picked for her, a spaghetti strap floral dress. She debated it for a bit, knowing how Gon seemed to be unable to keep his lips off her neck when she wore dresses like that. But she actually wanted to eat what she made so she decided against it.

 

She looked at the dress in the middle and nodded,  it was a more casual shirt-dress with sleeves, a light pink that was almost beige. She walked over to the drawers that housed her lingerie and slid on a light pink set that matched the colour of the dress perfectly. She slipped the dress on and buttoned it, loving how soft it felt against her skin. She was starting to become a fan of dresses, heels not so much, she didn’t even have to debate between the flats and the heels, deciding on the flats right away.

 

She sat in front of her mirror and let out a little giggle, this was all new to her – caring about how she looked. It had started shortly after she met Gon, suddenly she started investing in products that made her skin look glowy and kept running a chapstick over her lips to keep them soft. She had even started putting on the masks that Na-Ri swore by.

 

She patted in her moisturizer into her face and then sprayed it with her favourite face mist. She even used perfume now, one that smelled like roses but wasn’t too sweet, Gon’s favourite. She sprayed it into her neck and put on the necklace Gon had given her recently, it was oval-shaped but he said it was a zero – a diamond studded one – because she was still the 0 he had was always looking for. She understood what he meant more now, it took a couple of tries, but it made her happy to be his zero.

 

A knock sounded on the door and she stepped out towards it, opening it to find Jangmi on the other side. She raised her eyebrow at him. “He’s here, he’ll be here soon.” Her informer whispered.

 

“Give me one second!” She said while she ran back towards the bed, grabbing her phone and the note she had written Gon. “Give him this when he gets here.” She said, she knew if he didn’t find her in the room he’d hunt her down, but she wanted to give him a surprise.

 

Jangmi grinned a bit too much as he watched her scurry out of her room and down the hallway so Gon didn’t catch her. Although a part of her wanted to run in the opposite direction, towards him, and leap at him like she usually did. All the guards were used to it now, they all looked in different directions with small grins on their faces when they saw her running towards him.

 

She stepped into the kitchen to find that Lady Noh had already plated the meal and left it in the warming drawers. She grinned when she saw the note about which wine to pair with the meal – she still had difficulty with that but she rather liked her husband’s aged and expensive wine collection.

 

Tae-Eul opened up the freezer to make sure that the ice-cream she had stashed there – Gon’s favourite  -was still there, it was. She walked over to the counter she had sat at on her first visit to the Kingdom and set up the plates and glasses, waiting ten minutes before she pulled the food out of the warming drawers, she knew he wouldn’t take too long.

 

 

To say that Gon was surprised was an understatement. He had expected to be greeted by his wife like he usually was, she usually threw herself at him when he was away for more than a day but she was missing, and a grinning Jangmi had just handed him an envelope and left.

 

The room smelled like her perfume, so he knew she had been there just recently, the scent strong. But she was nowhere to be seen, he pulled out the thick paper from the envelope – it was from her desk - and smiled when he saw her chicken scratch writing.

 

Gon,

 

I know you’re probably confused as to why you’re reading this letter…I have a surprise for you. Take a shower, get dressed and meet me in the kitchen! Don’t make me wait too long, we both know how impatient I can be…and I might have missed you. Maybe.

 

-Tae-Eul

 

He smiled at both her words and the fact that she had a surprise for him. He hadn’t realized how happy little things like this would make him, at how just a simple note from her would make him feel delighted - she seemed to pick up on that too and left him random sticky notes here and there.

 

 And the fact that she loved him enough to go out of her way to do things for him always made him want to cry with happiness. The first time had been when she made a big deal out of his birthday. Sitting at her dining table in her world with her father, Eun-Sup, the twins, and Na-Ri with a children’s party hat on his head and Tae-Eul standing beside him singing happy birthday was one of the best birthday memories he had. It was everything a birthday party for a child should have been, even though he was no longer one.  

 

She even noticed the little things, her father now snuck snacks he liked into the Kingdom at her request and she would just pull them out and stash them in their hidden snack drawer – the fact that they had one was hilarious. She had one in her bedroom back in the Republic, stashed with junk food for when she was too lazy to go out into the kitchen, apparently it was even more imperative now that the kitchen was so far from their room.

 

The other week she had organized a surprise picnic on the Palace grounds under the Magnolia trees because he had been holed up in his office for too long and she insisted he needed a break. It was new, no one had cared if he got enough fresh air and sun before, and no one had ever cancelled all his meetings on his behalf because he had dark circles that they didn’t like. He had laughed so much when she said it was just because she wanted to ensure her husband stayed handsome.

 

He had always known she was caring, even when she was handcuffing him and calling him a liar, because she kept checking on him. Even though she didn’t need to, he knew a part of her had cared for him from the moment they met, both times. And he had picked up on the way she babied the people around her, it was hilarious. She reprimanded her father for not eating properly – picking up food and putting it in his plate. She treated Eun-Sup like he was her baby rather than a functioning adult. All of it extended to him but it was so much more. She burst into his office and demanded he eat lunch with her, yelled at him when he didn’t moisturize his pretty face as she called it, texted him throughout the day to remind him to take breaks.

 

She always asked him how his day went, and she listened to his whining – he had never felt the need to whine and complain about things before. He had just accepted things the way they were but he suddenly had someone who listened and threatened to have people beheaded for him, even though he wouldn’t do it, it was nice to have someone that got angry on his behalf. She was always just there, to support him, to make him happy and to love him.

 

Her last surprise had made him cry, she had been going through the Palace archives for an event with the Royal Public Affairs Office, she had pulled together every picture of his parents she could find and put them in an album – both a hard copy and virtual. She apparently had the whole Palace searching for pictures of him as a child with his parents. He had never thought to do that, he knew the pictures existed, knew that he could go look for them if he wanted to. But he had never done it, and no one had thought to do it for him. They had spent hours going through the pictures, him telling her everything he could remember, his fingers tracing over their happy faces. She had just turned to him and said let’s take lots of pictures of our babies and us, he had just nodded.

 

He sighed and folded up the note, putting it in the drawer of the nightstand by his bed before running to the bathroom, taking a quick shower and getting dressed in a pair of slacks and a cream shirt, her favourite on him. He ran down to the kitchen, bounding down two steps at a time in a way he knew she would scream about. He stopped outside the kitchen door and took in a deep breath before opening it, preparing himself to see her again.

 

She was standing by the counter, clad in a light pink dress he hadn’t seen before but decided he really liked, it had buttons. Her hair was out and straight and flying behind her as she ran across the small space and leaped at him. He smelled her perfume before she crashed into him, her arms going around his neck and shoulders, her legs wrapping around his waist causing him to laugh as he wrapped his arms around her to support her weight.

 

“I thought you missed me maybe.” He whispered, referring back to her note.

 

“I always miss you, I am changing the rule, I forbid you to leave me for more than two days, three days is too much.” She said while burying her face in his neck and taking in a deep breath and humming.

 

He loved how she clung to him, like he hadn’t seen her just three days ago, like they hadn’t talked on the phone. Even though things had changed, it always felt a little overwhelming to leave her – the old memories hard to stop, the fear that he might not see her again still present.

 

“Yes, my queen.” He whispered as he pulled her tighter against him and rubbed her back. She pulled away slightly so he could see her face and he smiled at the way she looked at him, her eyes tracing his face as if cataloguing if he was okay, habits were hard to break for her too. “I missed you.” He told her.

 

“Liar, you barely called me.” She pouted, definitely playful today.

 

“I wanted to.”

 

“I know, it must have been hectic.” She whispered and he nodded as her nose twitched.

 

“So much. And I really missed these chipmunk cheeks.” He said before kissing her cheeks, left, then right while she giggled. “And this nose.” He said while rubbing his nose against hers. “And this smile.” He whispered before pecking her lips, loving the way he could feel her smile against his own lips.

 

“I missed you too, a lot.” She whispered and he grinned, she no longer felt the need to pretend that she didn’t miss him.

 

“What’s my surprise?” He asked as she unwrapped her legs from around him and placed her feet on the floor. “Do I get to unwrap you?” He teased as he tugged on the belt around the waist of her dress.

 

“No!” She said whacking his hand gently. “I made you something.” She beamed, he loved the way she smiled at him, her nose scrunching, eyes shining.

 

“And the kitchen is still in one piece?” He laughed while looking around, it was surprisingly clean and not burnt anywhere. But what surprised him even more was that his wife, someone who never cooked, had made him something.

 

“You’re so mean, I am not that bad.” She pouted and he couldn’t help but bring his fingers to either side of her lips to turn the frown into a smile.

 

“You’re perfect.” He said before leaning in and kissing her forehead. “Why are you slaving away in the kitchen?” He asked, curious.

 

“I wanted to do something nice for you.” She smiled.

 

His heart warmed at her words and the way she grabbed his hand and squeezed before dragging him towards the island furthest from the door, the one he liked to use when cooking. He smiled when he noticed that she had set the table, she still put the glasses and silverware on the wrong side despite all the classes with Lady Noh, but he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

 

He chuckled as she pulled out his stool for him. He sat in it and took in a deep breath, trying to smell what she had made but the dishes were covered and it was hard to make out what it was. He wasn’t sure what she could have made – she made ramen really well, only when she boiled the water and emptied out the contents of the package. He watched as she walked over to the other side, sitting in her stool, she had a nervous smile on her face as she uncovered the first dish.

 

Dakangjeong!” He said, one of his favourites, he liked all popcorn chicken but the one in the sticky, spicy, tangy and sweet sauce was his absolute favourite. “Double fried?” He asked as he peered into the bowl and she nodded with a smile. “Looks really good!” And it did, almost as if he had made it himself.

 

“And for the main course.” She murmured before uncovering the other dish.

 

Rabokki!” He beamed, another favourite. “You made this?” He asked sounding a little surprised, it looked amazing.

 

“Lady Noh helped…a lot. I am apparently hopeless without supervision.” She said while holding up the index finger of her left hand with a pout, it had a small bandage on it. “I cut myself, it’s very small though.”

 

“I can kiss it better.” He teased while grabbing her hand and bringing her finger to his lips to kiss it, she rolled her eyes but he saw the way her lips pulled up.

 

“Try it.” She said while shifting in her stool.

 

“Are you sure I am going to survive?” He teased.

 

“If you stop annoying me the chances of you surviving are a lot higher.” She glared, giving away her nervousness despite the snark.

 

He grabbed his chopsticks and picked a piece of the chicken, popping it into his mouth, he chewed and assessed the flavour – it was crispy the way it was supposed to be, she made it a bit too spicy and it could use a bit more salt. But despite that it was the best popcorn chicken he had ever had because she made it for him.

 

“Did you cut the pieces?” He asked before popping another piece in his mouth, they were all different sizes, it was perfect.

 

“Yeah, that’s how I cut myself.” She pouted.

 

“This tastes really good, I think Dakangjeong made by the Queen tops my list of best popcorn chicken.” He said, his heart fluttering with the way her face lit up with a huge smile, she was perfect. She grabbed her own chopsticks and popped a piece in her mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

 

“It needs more salt.”

 

“No, it’s perfect, sweet like you.” He said causing her to roll her eyes.

 

“Try this!” She said while shifting the Rabokki closer to him. He scooped some onto his plate and took a bite, humming happily as the flavours melted into his mouth.

 

“This tastes better than when I make it!” He said as he scooped up another bite.

 

“You’re just saying that.” She said before taking a bite herself with a thoughtful look on her face. “Okay, this is really good.” She said excitedly.

 

“I guess we’re going to make a chef out of you after all, my Queen.”

 

“No, I almost injured Lady Noh and myself and it would have been a disaster without her.” She pouted.

 

“I am sure you weren’t that bad.”

 

“Lady Noh wasn’t impressed.”

 

“She isn’t impressed with much.” He laughed. “I’ll teach you.”

 

“Liar, you’ll just use it as an excuse to feel me up.” She teased.

 

“That’s your fault, you’re too irresistible.” He shrugged as he ate. He had tried once to teach her, but standing right behind her with his arms wrapped around her as he helped her chop had been much too tempting.

 

She chose not to answer in favour of stuffing her face with food, he loved how she only ate like that around him now, when they were out she ate like Lady Noh said she should eat and he hated it.

 

“You know, this is the first time a woman has cooked for me, usually it’s the other way around.” He said a few seconds later as he took a sip of the wine she had picked out, knowing it cause her to glare at him and act jealous, he adored how possessive she could be.

 

He grew confused as she grinned, putting her chopsticks down, looking much too pleased as she looked at him. “I know who the other woman you’ve cooked for is.” She said while glaring at him over her own wine glass.

 

“Oh?” He asked, surprised.

 

“Lady Noh.” She said before reaching towards him to whack his arm. “I suspected it but she confirmed it.”

 

“I am going to need to have a talk with her about preserving kingdom secrets.” He mumbled, she gave him away and now he could no longer enjoy her whining voice and pouting when he mentioned other women.

 

She snorted. “Just eat.”

 

“This is really good, thank you.” He said as he polished off yet another serving.

 

“I am glad.” She beamed.

 

“I have a surprise as well.” He said.

 

“Noooooooooooo!” She whined. “You’re already winning at the surprise game.”

 

“I didn’t think it was a competition.” He laughed.

 

“Not today, today it’s my day to surprise you.” She pouted.

 

“Fine, it can wait until tomorrow.” He said, while leaning across the counter to kiss her pout away.

 

“No kissing in the kitchen.” She murmured against his lips.

 

“And why not?” He whispered before sucking on her plump bottom lip. “Hmm, you taste like wine.”

 

“Gon.” She whined as she pulled away a little.

 

“Yes?” He said while following her lips and pecking them.

 

“Hurry up and eat.” She mumbled.

 

“Do I get dessert after?” He asked before letting his tongue trace her bottom lip, she sighed but moved back.

 

“Yeah, your favourite.”

 

“You?”

 

“Ice-cream.” She said while placing her right hand on his face and pushing him away.

 

“That’s not what I want.” He said, he wanted kisses. He wanted her to be clingy, like she always was when he came back. He loved the way she held him, tucking herself into him, her ear over his heart, her fingers caressing his neck. They sat like that for hours it seemed, touches reassuring, as if telling each other that things were different, that nothing was pulling them apart.

 

“You can’t always get what you want.” She murmured.

 

“No, I always get what I want.” He whispered, and he knew he would eventually. She’d be the one to just grab him and kiss him until they both forgot to breathe.

 

“We'll see.”

 

“I like that dress.” He said, and he did, the colour looked amazing on her and it had buttons. He loved dresses with buttons and zippers – she had this one sinful dress that unzipped all the way and he adored it.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“It’ll look much better on the-”

 

“Finish that sentence and I won’t give you any ice-cream.” She snapped.

 

“You’re so mean.” He pouted as he went back to finishing his food.

 

He watched as she got out of her stool and ran over to the freezer, her little feet sliding across the floor. It was almost funny seeing how small she looked next to the huge fridge, she pulled the freezer open and pulled out a small container, the colour and size giving it away. It was his favourite flavour – salted caramel almond.

 

She sat back in the stool and he couldn’t help but lean over and pull it towards him, it screeched against the floor but it wasn’t too hard to pull her until she was right by his side. “You were too far away.”

 

“Of course.” She rolled her eyes but smiled as she popped the container open and passed him a spoon.

 

“My hand hurts.” He said, refusing to take the spoon from her.

 

“You’re such a baby.”

 

“Babies need to be fed.” He said before opening his mouth and making an ahhhh sound as she giggled and scooped up some ice-cream. She brought it up to his mouth and then turned it right around and put it in her mouth while laughing.

 

“Your face.” She laughed.

 

“Treason!”

 

“Pick up your own spoon, pyeha.” She teased as she took another bite.

 

“You’re no fun.”

 

“I know.” She smiled as she moved her body until she was right up against him. “How’d it go?” She asked, inquiring about the series of meetings he had attended with international leaders this week in China.

 

“You’re even richer.” He teased causing her to roll her eyes.

 

“I don’t want to know.” She groaned causing him to laugh, he had handed her a file that documented all their assets recently, she had barely gotten through the first two pages before she shut the file and exclaimed that she didn’t want to know what she owned.

 

“They surprisingly, unanimously, agreed to the new climate agreement. And we’ve secured more clients for exporting precious metals.” He said, grinning when she sighed, he knew what she was asking about.

 

“Gon.” She whined and he laughed, he loved that whiny voice she used.

 

“I have planted the seed, there are talks about setting up an International Criminal Sentencing Advisory Board.” He said. “They were looking for a chair, and the American President is apparently smitten enough with you to have suggested that the Queen of the Kingdom of Corea was a good fit for the role.”

 

“Me?” She asked, sounding shocked.

 

“Yes, you.” He chuckled.

 

“I don’t know how to be a chair of anything!”

 

“It’s just bringing ideas to the table and ensuring everyone stays on topic, you’ll learn.” He said before placing a kiss on her cheek. “It’s only fair since it was your idea.”

 

“If I mess up I’ll kill you.” She mumbled before taking another spoon of ice-cream while leaning her head against his arm.

 

“You’re going to be great.”

 

“Can I have a co-chair? Divide the responsibilities.” She asked while looking up at him, the spoon against her lips – it was awfully distracting.

 

“Sounds like a plan, we’ll see what comes out of it, but if I was you I’d expect some calls over the week.” He said, he had seen a lot of interest after talking about the work Tae-Eul was doing to reform the criminal sentencing processes and prison conditions in the Kingdom.

 

He still remembered that it had started off as a conversation about beheading which had somehow turned into about how she felt that someone had just decided on an arbitrary number of years as punishment for crimes. She had all these examples of how sometimes the severity of the crime didn’t line up with the severity of punishment. And it had grown to her pointing out how there were so many inconsistencies across the world that just made no sense and how lots of crimes against women and children weren’t punished as severely as they could be.  It was a subject she was passionate and knowledgeable about, and he loved how excited she got when she realized she could change the things that were unfair.

 

“Want to go on a walk with me?” She asked.

 

“Another surprise?”

 

“No, I just missed you and our walks.”

 

“Why don’t I believe you?” He asked, her eyes were shining with mischief.

 

“I don’t know, why wouldn’t you believe your innocent wife?” She asked.

 

He chuckled. “Innocent?”

 

“Innocent until proven guilty.”

 

He watched her closely, waiting for the slip he knew was coming, she was trying to look nonchalant but it didn’t last long. She bit her lip to hold back the grin.

 

“What are you up to?” He sighed as she scooted out of her seat and up, putting the dishes away. He got up and helped but she refused to say anything.

 

She just held out her hand towards him and he grasped it, letting her pull him out of the kitchen and towards the door that led to the Palace grounds. He smiled when she lifted his arm over her shoulder and tucked herself into her side as they got outside. He pulled her into him as they walked, it was a warm night with a gentle breeze.

 

“How were your meetings?” He asked.

 

“Boring, I think my secretary has a crush on the Minister of Finance.” She shared making him chuckle.

 

“He’s rather good looking, he came seventh in the list of most eligible bachelors, I am of course number one.” He said and then bit his lip to hold back the chuckle as her eyes snapped up to his and narrowed.

 

Was.”

 

“Ah yes, was number one.”

 

“You better not forget the was.”

 

“Yes, my queen.” He said. “Anything else exciting happen?”

 

“Not since I spoke to you on the phone, it’s pretty boring without the troublemaker here.”

 

“I am not a troublemaker.”

 

“Sure.” She laughed. “Now close your eyes.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Just do it!” She said.

 

He sighed and complied, she acted like he hadn’t grown up here, as if he didn’t know that around the corner was the large oak tree. He still humored her though, pretended that he didn’t know where they were going as she led him around the corner.

 

“Okay, open your eyes.” She whispered.

 

He smiled as he noticed the setup, she had gotten a projector and white screen set up, the logo on the screen told him it was his favourite movie that they were probably watching, under the huge oak tree strung with faint lights was a double lounger, with pillows and a throw.

 

“What’s this?” He asked.

 

“Movie night, outdoors.” She said as she pulled him towards the lounger, she picked up a remote and told him to sit down, he complied and smiled when she climbed into his lap, her legs stretched out over his and pulled a throw over herself.

 

She hummed happily as he wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. “This is pretty impressive.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“But I don’t feel like watching a movie.” He whispered as she pressed play, the familiar intro track playing.

 

“I know, you never do, but the sound of the movie will keep the guards oblivious.” She whispered and he couldn’t help but burst out into laughter.

 

“Didn’t you just call yourself innocent mere minutes ago?” He teased.

 

“I am not the one that doesn’t feel like watching a movie.” She shrugged and he couldn’t help but pinch the side of her stomach, making her squeal loudly.