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#jaehyun imagines
ninarisa · 2 days
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— 花は木 when spring comes ੈ✩‧₊˚
pairing jeong jaehyun x reader | wc 1.2k | contains hanahaki au, angst, mentions of death, heartache, rejection | a/n i haven't written anything in ages but here are my feelings from my recent heartbreak ajsfkl pls enjoy!
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it’s been over a decade, fifteen years really, of the neverending winter that you’ve grown so accustomed to. the settled snow has been your comfort zone, a weighted blanket tying you down to his presence since primary school, freezing the ribbon that tied your heart to his for eternity—though only now, you realize that ribbon was a chain, shackling you to a hopeless series of unrequited feelings that couldn’t be returned. you’ve imprisoned yourself…to an idea of love that never was. love that you viewed as your personal one-of-a-kind snowflake between the two of you, something special and passionate with no barriers or boundaries, which softly flurried around you for your entire lives—but snowflakes melt when they touch the ground. it’s nothing but water now, dirtied water on the blood-ridden pavement, speckled with the pink petals of a flower that you used to love. the snowflake is dying. it’s dead. and spring has come.
“tilt your head up,” he murmurs with the softest, most lovely voice you’ve ever heard. “you’ve still got some on your chin.”
jaehyun’s being generous with his words. you know your skin is stained red, dripping with blood and broken leaves that refuse to be wiped away. luckily for you, he tells you that red is his favorite color—that the scarlet shade compliments your complexion and makes you look beautiful—but you know he’s lying. the deep clots and black chunks would send anyone into a nauseous fit, he’s too kind to you. you wish he would be horrible. that he’d hurdle insulting comments, awful remarks, and unforgivable curses—but he’d never. and you love him for that.
it’s too bad that jaehyun doesn’t feel the same. he never has. 
“does that feel alright?” his washcloth is cold and damp, it’s a muddied mahogany after previously being a gorgeous forrest green. “it’s still warm, right?”
you nod, believing that one more lie won’t hurt your already dreadful situation. “i think you’ve got it all,” the reflection before you is one you recognize, a person of the past that you can’t seem to let go of no matter how many hours you spend wishing them away. “thank you, really.”
despite the normal appearance you now display, with rose-tinted cheeks and swollen eyes, there’s a garden growing in the sink. vines slithering their way down the drain as the water stream attempts to rid them from view. torn tulip petals are strewn across the bathroom floor, and in another life perhaps it would have been romantic to see a flower petal pathway leading towards the bedroom—that’s not your life though. you’ve been left with emptiness and a void of feelings with no return. 
“i’m always here to hold your hair back, i hope you know that.” he smiles with kindness, a genuine goodness that can only be portrayed by him. jaehyun’s the best person you know. there’s no mystery as to why you fell for him all those years ago, and why that love has followed you through adulthood. “it’s almost pretty…y’know, in a morbid way.”
“yeah,” you reply in a snap. “maybe they can be my funeral flowers.”
“don’t even joke about that, what the hell?” he always gets angry when you say those type of things. his vision turns red and he’s blinded by his own sadness that he forgets that he’s the cause—he’s the calamity that uprooted your formally blissful life. he’s the one who fell in love with someone new. 
winter could’ve lasted forever had jaehyun not gone to class that day. you could’ve been hand-in-hand dancing beneath the moonlight on a snowy eve if she hadn’t asked for directions to the library. his kisses could’ve been peppering your face rather than hers if only you’d been more fun, more outgoing, more persuasive, more everything, then maybe he would’ve stayed. 
but he didn’t stay. he left.
he left as the leaves grew on the barren trees and pollen drifted through the breeze. he said his brief goodbyes to your heart while his chased her's in yearning. he didn’t so much as glance your way as the hanahaki roots planted themselves in your heart—only choosing to show concern after they’d already grown terminal. he disappeared from your point of view before you could even acknowledge his absence—which was and continues to be unfair.
jaehyun was yours and now he isn’t. it’s as simple as that. as awful and simple as that. 
“we both know i’m dying, jae.” you murmur, hands folded together as if they were the only things you had left to hang onto. you wish one of those hands could find its place in his warm palm, but the black permanent marker ink etched onto his skin in mini hearts and smiley faces were more than enough to drive you away. “there’s no point in denying it anymore. i can barely breathe.”
he shakes his head, backing away from you despite your obvious need for physical comfort. you thought he knew you better than that. you thought he’d know exactly how to ease your pain, but he doesn’t. he’s very clearly not your soulmate, but for some reason your heart tells you otherwise. “you’d be able to if you’d just get the surgery.” he says. “please.”
his eyes look dark under the overhead light. “please don’t make me have to see you in a casket.”
the surgery in which the roots are removed from your heart is a tricky one. a procedure that many endure and survive, where they get to continue living their lives healthy and happy—though, are they truly living if they’re void of the love that once consumed them?
“i wouldn’t be able to live with myself, you know that.” your voice is firm, after having had this conversation many times before, “i’d know a part of me was missing. you’re too important for me to just…erase.”
if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you’d rather remain in your eternal winter for the rest of your soul’s existence. yes, it’s cold and dreary, with little to no sunlight and hope of a new love or progression in your relationship with jaehyun—but it’s familiar. you find it comfortable and there’s no fear in the feelings that you’re already so accustomed to living with every day. the thought of spring is terrifying. the season following your beloved winter that represents rebirth and new blossoming love is one that you’ll never come to know—which is completely by choice. there’s no point in limping yourself toward spring when there’s one you’d rather love than jaehyun. 
these hanahaki tulips won’t see the sunshine that they yearn for when the grass regains its color. they’ll simply wither away with you and the lock that refuses to fall, holding your feeling for him in an eternal slumber that will never be woken.
“i love you.” you say, whilst knowing that that’s the last thing he wants to hear. “i love you so much.”
your confessions of love are a reminder of your little time left, and he hates it. he wishes it would all stop, but it can’t and it won’t. perhaps he should’ve given you a chance when the opportunity arose, then you may have been happy. however, he knows that there’s no forcing love. you’ve been doomed since the moment you’d laid eyes on him. 
“i'm only ever going to love you, jae.”
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i didn't proofread this, so please let me know if there are typos ajdskl replies and reblogs are greatly appreciated!! tyyyy <33
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jungyxxnxh · 2 days
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warning(s): mentions of speeding(please don’t ever speed and drive carefully!)
there was something about the night time that you loved. the way that it could be so quiet yet so lively was something that you fascinated you. it was the way you could feel comforted by the night time when you’re by yourself, but there was something special about the nights you have.
you never shared the night alone. you always had one person and it was that one special person. no matter the day you both had, you had found time for each other during the late hours of the day before you both could call it to an end. your schedules have the tendency to become hectic mostly with not knowing what he could be pulled away for. 
at first, you were reluctant to have him drive over. it was night and he would be tired  so naturally you would tell him to stay home and rest. he came anyway. he mentions that he would always have enough energy to see you. he also notices the way your eyes light up when you get to answer the door and he’s there at your place within minutes. you would let out a soft giggle every time he greeted you with a kiss. you would never say it to him, but you are happy that he makes the drive over. 
it was the same on his end too. he worried about your safety, leaving your job late at night and deciding to drive over to his place. he would be the only one awake in his dorm room to make sure that you got home safely. he was okay with coming to you, but you always insisted that you make the effort too. just like the same emotion he notices within you, you notice with him too. the way his dimples show when he opens the door quietly to see your face before he engulfs you in his arms.
this then started to become a normal thing between you two, taking turns to drive to each other’s places. soon, it became a habit of just spending the nights with each other right after schedules, arriving just at the end so both aren’t waiting for too long. the car rides would be filled with soft laughter, singing to whatever song that was playing, and the occasional hand squeezes or kisses as you try to decide what to do together. 
it comforted you both. any day that could’ve been bad, you were there for each other to make the bad go away. you shared your worries, concerns, love with each other in the car, at each other’s places, or even the convenience store that you both always go to if it got too long for actual food. you celebrated your highs with each other and battled all your lows together. 
tonight was like no other night. you were working while he was finishing up the last of his filming schedules. he insisted that he picked you up for the night in which you retaliated that you would be finished first, but there was no use trying to persuade him. the day was a long and boring, but you didn’t care mostly when you were off in less than five minutes which means that you were gonna see him once you locked up. 
turning the key into the lock, your phone started to buzz in your hand. you picked up the phone right away seeing the caller id while tugging on the doors to make sure they were locked properly. you can hear the sound of cars driving by and the faint sound of the turn signal going on and off again.
“hey jae, are you still on your way?” you questioned while leaning back against the front doors of your shop, staying under the light. 
“yeah, i am so sorry baby. i thought we were gonna finish early but that didn’t happen so i rushed out as soon as i could,” his voice was soft yet anxious which caused you to laugh a little.
“it’s okay. i just closed up so i don’t mind waiting. drive safe and i’ll see you soon, okay?”
“actually, i’m pulling up just now.”
you made a noise out of sudden confusion. your work places weren’t that close to each other and by the sounds of his explanation, he finished his schedules not too long ago, probably around the time you closed up, so how was he here already? you saw the car pull up right away and you ended the call, walking up to the vehicle and hearing the locks switch.
you make your way into the passenger seat being met with that dimply smile that you loved so much. it almost distracts you from the concern you had of him making it here in a short amount of time. jaehyun leans over and gives you his normal greeting kiss. when he pulls away, he studies your features and lets out a soft chuckle.
“how did you get here so fast?” as if you were reading his mind because he was gonna ask you about what you were thinking.
“what do you mean?” he was trying to play dumb, knowing that he did drive in a way that he wasn’t supposed to after you promised to be safe. you crossed your arms and gave him a look that instantly made him give in. “okay, okay– i may have or may not have driven a little faster than i usually would.”
“jae, i thought i told you to drive safely.”
“i was!” he smiles at you while taking your hand in comfort. “i promise.”
you slightly jutted out your bottom lip into a pout, knowing that this was one thing you both agreed on mostly since you both worked and lived opposite from each other. all you hear was his soft laugh that filled the car as he leaned in to give you another kiss. how were you able to resist that?
“i could drive for a while, for as long as it takes to get to you. i would drive over 85 because i wanna be by your side, my love.” in which he did, but he never would admit that to you.  
you had a feeling for the reason that you were the same type of driver as well, speeding over the limit. knowing this, it made the nights even more special. you couldn’t hide your smile anymore as you reach to buckle your seatbelt, ready for the adventure you were about to create with him. the night life lulling you both into the comfort you shared. 
you, too, would drive over 85 just to be by his side, where you felt like you belong. 
☾ ── © jungyxxnxh 2022
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vad-hander · 9 hours
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LET’S KEEP IT SECRET
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pairing: Yuta x reader
others: Jaehyun as y/n’s best friend, SM Rookies
genre: series | idol!au | smut | angst | fluff
warnings: smut! (read if you're 18+ only), idol!nct, idol!y/n, from SM Rookies till today, readers mom is degrading, love triangle
words: 14k
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3
-
Why did life feel so overwhelming? Why did it feel like you were stepping on your own throat when you were just trying to chase after you dreams? 
Why were you avoiding contact with outer world for the past three days if what you were doing was for your own good? Why were you hiding in your room and chocking on your tears instead of spending your last minutes with the people that became your family?
”You should only do what’s best for you.” Your mom stated plainly, placing chopsticks in front of you. 
”Is it best for you to move there?” your dad asked softly.
”Maybe?” you looked up to the ceiling with a spoon in your mouth.
”It is. As long as they’re going to put money on your bank account and give you success they are much better than that company that left you caged in.” 
”SME is still probably the best out there.” You sighed.
”If they did not put you into that group, they are most definitely are blind for talent. What was the name of the group? L-red? Whatever it is, even the name is tasteless.” you paused, glitching with your mouth open as the chopsticks were about to deliver food on your tongue. What-, was your mom blaming the company? Was she not eating your brains out for not being enough- ”What are you staring at? Eat! Eat!” She hurried you suddenly, making you choke on sprouted beans.
”Did you hear that?” You whispered, following the figure of your mom with eyes. ”She tried to… cheer me up?” You squeezed your face in confusion.
”We’ll always be on your side, child. Now eat, you’ll need a lot of strength to show your best in the new place.” You nodded, wishing you could just give up the feelings inside you.
The moment you stepped out of the meeting room all the confidence faded and it became harder to walk, to breathe even. You got back to your room in dead silence as the SME employee dropped you off in front of the dorm and haven’t gotten out since, unless it wasn’t for the bathroom or the fridge or the lunch to tell your parents the news. 
It was hard to come out and look at the people you were about to abandon. It was difficult thinking of the unknown that was on your path as soon as you left the comfort of the company, the dorm that became your home. Were you selfish? Is the wish to be famous even pure? Were you just dying to be on stage because singing is your dream? Were you just an egoist and next steps would be walking over people just because you wanted to reach something else? 
A single thought of Yuta hurt your insides. He’s going to be pissed, he’s going to scream and probably will not talk to you ever again and to be fair, you’d probably do the same. You felt anxious because you knew there was no reason for him to happily accept the news, to let you go and wave as you exited the dorm and a huge part of his life. What would it be like to not have the safe space where you could see each other whenever? What would it be like to have to put in real effort to make it possible to see each other? The thoughts were just giving you anxiety, you were anxious before, when the word of NCT debut spread, but that feeling in the past was nothing in comparison to what you were feeling now.
You knew Jaehyun would at least try to understand, it is so him to try and put in effort to make everything better. You gulped and sat up. He would put in so much effort to make you feel better even now and you could feel it with your whole being, he had that utter believe in you and it would help him understand where you were coming from. He’s probably going to be upset and hurt but he’ll take the news because he’s the soft-hearted boy you love dearly and he would never want anything less than the best for you. 
Koeun would just cry, you knew that and knew that you would cry too so it’s probably the easiest to tell her. You almost jumped up to go and find her but you couldn’t. You couldn’t risk saying it all to anyone because saying it would make it real.
You knew that it was pretty real, there was an article prepared by the management already to announce your parting from SME activities starting Monday after you signed the contract and you could only wonder when will someone at the dorm see the article, you wanted them not to at all, but it was kind of inevitable to get attention from everyone at the company at least. You almost hit your head on the wall, realising that every one of your friends would understand everything even before the article, when you’ll move out.
Your phone made a sound that made your insides flip. Getting notifications became a disturbing thing, living a cave life. 
from: Jaehyun. 
“i have a very important question.”
to: Jaehyun
“go ahead”
from: Jaehyun
“are we still getting drunk on your birthday?” 
to: Jaehyun
“yeah.” 
“trying to back off?” 
from: Jaehyun
“you were silent I got confused” 
“tbh I wonder what to buy”
to: Jaehyun
“ask Yuta?” 
from: Jaehyun
“he’ll ask why I’m asking and would want to come too” you smirked.
to: Jaehyun 
“I won’t mind” 
from: Jaehyun. 
“I thought it’s just you and me.” 
It took less than a moment for a message to follow up. 
“I mean, if you want other people then that’s cool.” 
to: Jaehyun
“No, you’re right. Just you and me.”
“Just get sojus and beers.”
”And you should buy a lot, I’m sure I have great alcohol tolerance kkk”
“I want to be real drunk”
”Like real-real.” To tell you, that I’m not going to be here anymore, you swallowed. 
from: Jaehyun
“is everything okay?” 
to: Jaehyun 
“yuuup.”
“It’s our first time drinking!!!”
“we’re going to a safe place, I trust you. I want to have fuuuun”
from: Jaehyun
“no twister then…?:(“ you laughed at the message
to: Jaehyun
“oh”
“if you’re not scared to break your skinny legs then why not kkkkkk”
You stared at the phone for a while, but Jaehyun seemed to be off the chat already, putting your phone away too. 
What exactly did your plans for the future sound like? Not the future future, but at least a couple of days before you’re leaving? 
Well, they were vey unclear to you. One thing was set for sure - on Friday you’re signing all the official papers, right after you turned of age. 
Your breath hitched when you realised. 
“My parents.” you mumbled and looked at your phone to see what time it was. Not that late to give that JYPE woman a call, you reckoned and ran up to the jacket you wore on the day of meeting, fishing a card out of your pocket. 
“Lee Soonhyuk, I’m listening.” she picked up the phone quicker than you built up courage, her voice already was filling the line as your brain was coming up with words to say. 
“Mrs. Lee Soonhyuk, it’s Y/n, we met at SME.” you gulped. 
“Oh, Y/n! How are you doing? Nice hearing from you, I hope you’re not calling me to say you’ve changed your mind.”
“No, no.  Mrs. Lee, I wanted to ask you questions, and you’ve told me to call you if I have anything to ask. Actually….” you realised that maybe you should’ve not taken her words literally “maybe you could give me your colleagues contacts, I could ask them.”
“No, no, no. Y/n, darling, you could ask me, it’s fine. We’re going to work together, I have to make sure you understand perfectly how the work flows at JYPE.” You nodded and then realised that she wouldn’t know if you did so or not. ”Go ahead, you can ask.” She broke off the silence that suddenly hung between you.
“Right, do I need my parents with me at the signing this Friday?” 
“How old are you, again?”
“I’m 18 this Wednesday.” 
“No, you’re legally okay to sign these papers yourself, but if you want to, they’re more than welcome to support you through the journey.”
“I… okay, thank you.” 
“For sure. Anything else?”
“Yes. Can I move to JYPE dorms this Friday?”
“Can I ask if everything is okay between you and your friends?”
“Yes, yes. I just hoped I could start adjusting to my new home quickly.” 
“Oh… oh… sure, if that’s what you want I’ll happily arrange everything.”
“Thank you.”
“Thank you for calling! And have a great birthday! See you on Friday.” 
“Yes, Mrs. Lee, thank you, goodbye.”
-
“Koeun?” you called out when three knocks on your door disturbed the silence. There was no response, just three more knocks that kind of made you mad. “Yes?” you called out once again and finally stood up. “What is it?” you sighed and opened the door. “Oh…”
“Happy birthday to you!” A loud group sang in front of your door. 
“Wha-, what are you all doing.” you smiled shocked, suddenly feeling like you could cry right this very moment. You were trying to abandon these people, pack your bags and runaway without a notice and they were in front of your door singing a happy birthday and caring for you. You hid your mouth in your palms staring at each of your friends.
“Blow the candle!” Jaehyun exclaimed and you finally focused your eyes on his face. Your best friend held the cake, smiling all too widely showing off to you his dimples. You smiled too, finally, holding your palms under your chin to make a wish. 
“Make it a good one.” Yuta’s voice stroke through your body right into your heart. You grinned widely noticing the boy you were missing terribly due to your recent life decisions. 
“I will.” you nodded and closed your eyes before you could blow out the candles. 
“Hey.” Yuta called out for you after the hugs and birthday wishes from all your friends were finally given and wished, as you stood in the corner of your room with Jaehyun glued to your side by wrapping his hand over your shoulders. You were trying to discuss quietly the plans for your secret party while others were too preoccupied to share the cake equally. “Can you help me?” he walked up to you two closer, running his eyes visibly over your hand that was entwined over Jaehyun’s waist. 
“Yeah? How?” 
“We need plates for the cake, can you show me where you keep ‘em?”
“Yes, sure.” you smiled at Yuta and untangled yourself from Jaehyun, leading the way to the kitchen. “We keep th- Ugh, ouch.” you cried out and ran your hand over your mouth immediately. “What are you doing?” you giggled, wrapping your hands over Yuta’s neck, as he turned you around to face him. 
“I wanted to wish my beautiful girl a very happy birthday.”
“You already did.” you teased. 
“I did, but it’s not everything I wanted to do.” he walked you slowly backwards over to the countertops.
“Yeah? What else is there?” you couldn’t stop smiling even for a second with the way Yuta’s eyes burned holes into yours. You licked your lips as your back hit the countertops. 
“A lot was planned, but since we’re short on time…” Yuta placed his hands on the back of your thighs, helping you to jump onto the flat surface. 
“This is… new.” you chuckled, as he pulled your body closer to the edge, forcing you to allow him stand between your legs. 
“There’s a lot of things that are going to be new to you in the nearest time.” he chuckled and made your heart miss a few beats. He didn’t even know how right he was about it. “I’ve got something for you.” 
“You do?”
“Yes.” he reached out to his back pocket and showed a fist in front of your face. You caressed the skin of his fingers with yours and he opened them up. 
“Are we getting married?” you joked before you could think, you didn’t mean to be mean towards Yuta’s gift. 
“No, but these have your birthday and mine engraved.” you grabbed the ring and did see it for yourself, there was a heart engraved on the outer side of it as well. 
“This… must’ve cost a whole lot.” 
“It wouldn’t matter even if it did.” 
“Yuta.” you sighed and placed the rings back into Yuta’s palm. Your eyes met his and you got emotional. 
“This is getting heavy…” he paused “I’m into you, I hope you know that, but the job is getting heavy on me, not letting me see you, be with you, take you on open dates, kiss you when I want to, tell the whole wide world I’m in love with the most talented, beautiful, outstanding girl in the world. I know these rings won’t help much to stop missing you when we’re not together, but… just by looking at it I’ll remember I have you during hard times… Will know that I have someone to hold and love, and I want you to feel the same way when you’re having a hard time, or if you just miss me suddenly. This,” he held the ring with his birthday engraved between his fingers, putting it onto your finger. “goes onto your finger, and this one, is supposed to go on mine, but…”
“But…?” you asked still smiling.
“But to not draw attention, will go onto my neck.” he reached out to the chain he wore and made the ring go through it and put the chain back on his neck. 
You reached out to play with the ring hanging over his chest, before you hid it under the shirt, reaching out to caress Yuta’s cheek and then leaning in more to kiss his lips softly. 
“I really-really do love you.” you mumbled into his lips. 
“I love you too.” Yuta’s hands held your head, pulling you a little back. “Let’s spend some time alone.” you nodded excitedly. You would spend all the time you had alone with Yuta, he didn’t need to ask. “Tonight? Or tomorrow night?”
“Oh, no…” 
“Mmh?” Yuta pecked your jaw and made you shiver. 
“I can’t tomorrow.” 
“Something exciting?” 
“No…” you shook your head. “Just agreed to hang out with Jaehyun earlier.” 
“Will I ever be the first one to ask you to hang out?” 
“Mmm… no?” you squinted your eyes. “He seems to always be one step quicker.” you teased, Yuta moved his palm onto your jaw, squeezing it between his fingers. 
“You’re mine anyway even if he’s 10 steps quicker with invitations” he tried to sound serious but his eyes gave him away. Yuta pulled your face closer to his, peppering kisses all over your face all of a sudden. 
“Yuta.” you cried out for mercy, holding onto his wrist as he didn’t leave a single inch of your face, finally being done with it and moving his lips onto your neck, to hide his face in the crook of it, holding your body tightly with his hands. 
The sudden silence dropped over the room, you ran your hands over Yuta’s back a couple of times, finally setting them over his nape. 
“I really want you to stay when everyone leaves.”
“Why?” he raised his head a little to see your face. 
“To… I don’t know, maybe just do the same thing but horizontally.” 
“Okay.” he chuckled, and bent his neck weirdly to be able to kiss you. You quickly kissed him back, pressing onto his body with yours. Your fingers ran over his nape soothingly, while you asked for permission to enter his mouth with your tongue. You haven’t kissed Yuta for so long, you haven’t touched or seen him at all for so long you were not able to possibly detach yourself from his body. 
Of course, if only the situation didn’t ask for it. The little screech your door always made was inevitable for you to miss, and even though just a moment before the sound flooded your mind Yuta rocked his hips into yours and turned you into a flooded pool, your hands were quick to push him off and your feet were even quicker to jump off that countertop. 
“Shit!” you exclaimed, hitting your foot as you jumped off on one of the handles. 
“Are you okay?” Yuta squatted in front of your seated body, reaching out to your cheek. 
“Are you guys okay?” Jaehyun asked concerned and Yuta moved his hand away. 
“I hit my toe!” you cried out.
“H… how?” he asked confused. 
“This stupid door, ouch.” 
“I’m at a loss of words.” Jaehyun smiled a little. “I could not possibly imagine hitting your toe on the door handle of a cupboard.”
“What do you want?” you hissed. 
“Plates, people are starving in your room.” Jaehyun’s eyes ran over the kitchen. “Where are they? I thought you went to get them.” 
“Yes.” you sighed, still holding on to the toe you hit. “Yuta, they’re in the cupboard on the left.” 
“Okay.” the boy stood up to finally get the plates. 
Jaehyun watched you sit on the floor and when his eyes focused too much on your probably way too swollen lips, you reached out a hand to him, and his eyes moved to it.
“Please, help.” you whined and reached out your other hand too, so Jaehyun could pull you into the standing position. “Thanks.” you pecked his cheek as the pulling motion he made forced you too close to him. 
“I’m taking these back to the room.” Yuta shoved the plates between you two. 
”Okay.” You nodded. 
“Did you cry?”
“Mmh?” You asked confused.
“You’re flushed like you cried or something.”  
“No.” You quickly replied, slowing down with your words to not seem weird. “Blood rushed to my face after I hit my toe.“
“Okay.” he chuckled. 
“Do you plan on staying for long?” you asked hesitantly as you two walked back to the room. 
“Me?”
“Everyone else.” 
“Do you-, I mean, should I tell everyone to go?” 
“Yes, please… I’m a little tired.” 
“Okay, I’ll tell everyone to go.” 
“Thank you.” you raised your head to take a look at him, caught with Jaehyun’s stare as he was already looking at you.  
“Of course.” his hand ruffled your hair, before opening the door. 
-
“I think, we should head back.” Jaehyun stretched out his arms, acting tired not much later after the two of you returned. 
“Yeah, you’re right, I have school tomorrow.” Mark put the plate on the floor. 
“Me too.” Koeun jumped up next to the boy.
“Let’s call it a night then.” you pursed your lips, catching a glimpse of Yuta. He sat in the corner quietly, not attracting anyones attention. You wondered if it really would work out like that, moving your gaze from him to not give him away. 
“You know… I thought…”
“Mmh?” you raised eyebrows at Jaehyun attentively. The others were leaving your room but Jaehyun was slow and almost teasing with the time he took to leave. 
“I wanted to make your birthday special. Can we have the whole day tomorrow together? Like a birthday breakfast, then we could do something fun and have our little party afterwards? What you think?” Jaehyun bit onto his lower lip while expecting the answer. You smiled at him softly, he couldn’t look any cuter than that. 
“Do you not have schedules and other things?”
“I really don’t.”
“Let’s see in the morning, parents probably will call me.”
“Okay.” he nodded and sat a little away from you. “Ugh, Yuta?” you almost swore loudly in distress. “Is he asleep? He sleeps with his eyes open sometimes.” Jaehyun looked at you confused.
“I don’t know… should we just let him be?” Jaehyun chuckled at you. 
“Yuta?” The boy called his friend, calling his name once again when Yuta didn’t react. 
“Yes?”
“Let’s go, the party’s over.” Jaehyun stood up and looked at you as a goodbye. 
“Go ahead, I’m catching up.”
“I’ll wait, it’s fine.” Jaehyun walked to the door and turned around to face both of you. “We’re going to the same floor anyway.” he looked attentively at you. 
“I was actually planning to go to a convenience store.” Yuta stretched out his body nonchalantly.
“At this hour?” you held back to not make a joke about Jaehyun’s nerd antics. 
“Yes, I’m craving a lemonade.” Yuta shrugged and walked up to Jaehyun. You watched the figure of the older guy pass you quickly confused. He must’ve gotten an idea on how to trick Jaehyun out of your room. “Want to go with me?” Yuta turned around to look at you, ignoring Jaehyun’s presence in a weird attempt to hurt him, probably. 
“She’s tired.” Jaehyun stated sounding tired himself. “And asked me to make everyone go.”
“Including you.” it wasn’t a question, Yuta stated the obvious to Jaehyun’s face for no reason. 
“I know.”
“Honestly.” your heavy sigh broke off their head butting. “You two should probably leave already.” 
“I’m sorry.” Jaehyun lowered his eyes to the feet like he was scolded. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, you two.” 
You sighed once again, as the boys closed the door behind them. 
Jaehyun needed to know the status of your relationship with Yuta, you thought to yourself undoing the sheets of your bed. If he did know he’d allow the private space between you and Yuta to at least exist. The frustration bubbled up in your stomach. You just wanted to hug Yuta’s waist and feel his hands cover you like a shield, feel his hot breath and listen to whatever he had to say. Probably something that would make you chuckle and blush. 
You dropped the pillows onto the floor with force. 
”I should not be mad at Jaehyun. He meddles unknowingly.” You started talking to yourself in an inner battle, probably looking insane to everyone on the outside. ”Maybe he gets in the way just because he doesn’t understand how it is when you want to spend time one on one with someone you love?” With a pyjama set in your hands you grabbed a fresh towel to shower. 
The best way to get over your frustration and longing over Yuta’s touch was to just get to bed quickly and wake up fresh and happy tomorrow. 
A knock on your door though invaded your loneliness and your eyes focused on the door expectingly. It didn’t open, you voiced out what you thought. ”I’m in bed already.” You lied tired, someone probably forgot their belongings in your room, but you were not in the mood to give it back even if their life depended on it. Another knock followed and you threw clothes in your hands onto the bed, fiercely walking up to the door.
”I’m sleeping, who are you?” You turned off the light on your way to the door to make it less obvious you weren’t in fact yet in bed. 
”I thought you wanted to see me.” Yuta smirked as you opened the door, being swayed away by his hands, that pulled you swiftly away from the door to lock it from the inside. He then quickly pushed you against the door before you could even come up with any words, all sorts of emotions circulating over your body. 
”How-”
”I messed with Jaehyun.” Yuta chuckled, pressing his fingers onto your cheek. You leaned in to capture your boyfriends lips in a kiss, holding on to the hem of his shirt. Yuta let go of your face, keeping the eye contact with you, his fingers trailed down to your shoulders. You felt heated just by being close to him, standing next to the door of your pitch black room, not even a dim street light inside with your black out curtains. Was it normal to feel so heavy in your lower stomach from this brief interaction? 
Yuta pressed on your shoulders, making you lean against the door. His lips followed yours, and when you were about to open your mouth to talk, Yuta laid his lips atop of yours. ”I thought you said you were in bed already, these seem to not be your sleeping clothes.”
”I lied because I was frustrated.” Yuta tried to talk more, forcing you to wrap your arms over his neck so the boy in front of you would not be able to move away anymore. You tried to kiss him slower, savour the kiss, make him stay for as long as possible because actually, you didn’t know for how long was he planning on to stay with you.
You opened your mouth and Yuta slipped in his tongue, pushing your body more against the door. You pulled him in closer too, Yuta pushing his thigh between your legs. 
”I actually came here for a reason.” he pressed your head to the door to not let you follow his mouth for more kisses. 
”Yeah? What is the reason?”
”To spend time with you. I’m not sure you’ve been missing me, but I obviously miss spending time with you. Now that you’re going to spend an entire day with Jaehyun, not just a day - your birthday, I thought we could at least be together at night.” You pouted slightly at your boyfriends face expression. “In case your brain wonders if I’m playing or not, I am not. I might be a little hurt at the fact he’s ahead of me.“
”If only Jaehyun knew, it’d be so much easier to reject him.” Yuta pushed himself off the door, walking over to the bed. You followed behind. ”Now if I’m going to tell him I can’t see him during the day, he’s going to ask why and I’m terrible with lying.” You kneed your mattress next to Yuta, wrapping arms over his shoulders. ”I think I’m going to tell him tomorrow night.” You attracted Yuta’s attention. 
“I think I’m at the state where I don’t really want to stop you from telling him.” you nodded your head in agreement, wrapping your hands tighter. 
”Since you’ve began debut preparations we barely interact.” You gulped, kissing Yuta’s temple. ”Maybe later on we won’t be able to even have this.” There was only so little time to tell Yuta you were moving out and you were wasting it, tip-toing over the topic like a fool.
”Don’t.” his arm wrapped your body, pulling you down onto the mattress with him. ”When we’re going to Japan next-”
”I’m not going to Japan this time.” You didn’t let him finish feeling full on ashamed. The damned SMTown in Japan that you completely forgot about. 
”Why?”
”I was told I’m not, I didn’t ask any further questions.” you cringed at your own lying. You were terrible, indeed. You hid your face against Yuta’s chest.
”I’m sorry.” Yuta pulled you more onto his body, running his palm over your cheek. ”I wanted to say since last time we didn’t get the chance, I wanted you to meet my family this time, but-.”
”Oh, Yuta.” You felt more upset than you probably should’ve in Yuta’s perspective, but in your perspective - when would you get a chance to visit Japan next time at all?
”It’s okay, it’s not your fault, baby.” It is, in fact, you sighed. ”Next time they’ll visit me here you’ll come with me to meet them, okay?” You nodded, Yuta capturing your lips with his. 
“I wish I could meet your sisters.” 
“Momoka probably will come to Korea with my parents and Haruna… I’m not sure.” he suddenly thought too seriously of it. 
”Do you think you’d want to meet my family…if we had a chance…?” Yuta paused his breathing. 
“Mmmh, yes baby.” He nuzzled his nose against your cheek, pressing your side against his body. “This makes me feel so happy and calm. I want to sleep here with you every night until we’re moving somewhere else.” 
“Is that happening soon?” 
“The date’s not set, but, probably, yes.” 
“We’ll still be able to see each other, right?”
“Of course, baby, I’ll make all the time in the world to see you.” 
“I worry… sometimes… how will it be when you’ll debut.” 
“We, debut.“ He corrected you “First we’ll have to get used to the new reality in front of us and then… we’ll have each other and will be happy.”
“I wish it’d be like you describe it.” you turned more onto your side to rub the back of your hand against Yuta’s cheek. 
“We should not be sad about us on your birthday. It’s better we have some fun.” you smiled at the boy. 
“How?” His hand pulled your face in front of his. “In that way?” you whispered. 
“I didn’t bring condoms.” 
“Why? I thought you came here for that.”
“No.” he chuckled at you fully amused. “I came back without a second thought. Just to have time with you, sleeping is also good, we can do just sleeping.”
“Okay.” you stretched out a smile. “I’m going to shower first, though.”
“Okay, I’ll be right here.” he smiled and you smiled back, pecking Yuta’s lips quickly. 
-
“Hi.” you said quietly, clearing up your voice as you tried to sound more cheerful. 
You couldn’t work out what time it was but the sun was already beaming behind the curtains, you could tell. Your body still felt genuinely tired and you wished it wasn’t too late into the day. 
“Honey, are you still sleeping?” your dad asked softly. “It’s midday.” Oh fuck, you thought. So it is pretty late in the day, you tried to move yourself in bed but Yuta’s deadly grip on your body was of no help. 
“Yeah, I got to bed pretty late last night.” You didn’t actually know what time you got to bed even. It was hard to tell since after you got out of the shower Yuta felt like taking a quick shower too and when the both of you got in bed the time stopped moving in the little universe you were in when you were next to Yuta. You talked and kissed, embraced each other and then just quietly laid next to one another, before everything turned out a little more heated than you expected, finally being completely tired and unable to keep on functioning. “Don’t tell mum.” you chuckled.  
“Happy birthday, baby.” your dad finally said what he planned to start the conversation with.
“Thank you.” you smiled. 
“I love you very much, I hope you know that I’m always on your side, I’ll always support you and do anything for you. I hope you’re healthy and happy.” he paused for a moment before you could get too sentimental at his words. “I know you’re going to achieve in life everything you wish for. Just, please, be happy, healthy and eat well. I love you.”
“Dad.” you gulped. “I hope you’re not crying.”
“I’m a though cookie baby, I’m not.” a breathy laugh left his lips.
“I love you too, thank you.”
“Of course.” the line went silent, you heard a little shuffle next to you, feeling Yuta’s lips land over your pulse point. You smiled at the boy, squeezing his fingers under the blanket. “Your mom called you earlier but you didn’t pick up and now she’s running around the house preparing a grand dinner for us. Would you… mind join? Of course if it’s not conflicting your schedule.” he added awkwardly in the end. 
“Dad, it doesn’t. I would love to come home and eat moms food. Maybe I could even stay to sleep home?”
“That would be absolutely great.” your dads voice brightened up. Your stupid brain suddenly remembered you can’t, you had to go see Jaehyun in the afternoon. 
“Dad?”
“Yes baby?”
“Can I bring a friend?” you took a look at Yuta, the boy moved his head from your neck, hiding his smile behind your shoulder. 
“You mean Jaehyun-ie?” You almost chocked on nothing at his tone.
“No, not Jaehyun. You’ve actually never met him before.” 
“Okay, is he-.” you cut off your dad mid-sentence. 
“He’s maybe a boyfriend.”
“Maybe?” his voice didn’t change one bit in concern or fear or anything you imagined he would feel after you told him you had a boyfriend. 
“I mean, just a boyfriend, not maybe.” you expected too feel more cringed while talking about this to your dad. 
“Okay, of course you can.” he seemed… to not care, your insides finally were able to function again.
“Can you please-“
“Talk to mum about it?” now it was your dads turn to cut you off. 
“Yeah, please. I’m worried about her…”
“Yes, baby, me too. I’ll talk to her, don’t worry. You can bring your boy over, I’ll tell your mom to set one more plate for him.”
“Thank you.” 
“See you, then?”
“Yes, bye.“ You dropped the phone onto the night stand. 
“I didn’t know your parents loved Jaehyunie.” Yuta teased the very next moment. 
“Me neither.” you turned your body on the side to face him properly and move your limbs from the numbing position “Good morning.” you smiled. 
“Hey.” 
“This feels nice, right?” 
“What does?” 
“Waking up and seeing you.” 
“It sure does.” he grinned, sucking on your lower lip. 
“Oh, by the way.”
“Mmh?” 
“You’re kind of invited to the dinner at my place tonight.”
“What time? I gotta check my schedule.” You pushed his body off you, his morning husky voice filling the room with a chuckle. “I should probably look presentable and shit to sweep your mom off her feet and satisfy your dad?”
“Hmm…” You made a thinking face. “My dads probably going to be fine but my mom… oh, you might have to fight for her liking.” 
“Just for reference, are you teasing or for real right now?”
“Come and find yourself.” you giggled, kissing Yuta on the mouth. 
-
“Are you upset with me?” you stared at your feet like a scolded child standing next to Jaehyun. 
“No, I’m not.”
“For real?” you raised your eyes relieved. “I stupidly overslept and then my parents called and now I’m going to see them for dinner and I promise I’ll be at yours as early as I could possibly make it.” 
“Okay, okay.” you grabbed onto his wrist, making sure he did actually mean what he was saying. 
“Jaehyun-ah?”
“I swear it’s fine, we didn’t set on hanging out for the whole day anyway.”
“You know that I love you a whole crazy lot?” you smiled. 
“I actually do.” he smiled a little. 
“Okay, then I guess I’ll see you at your place, right?”
“Right.”
“You’re the very best, see ya!” you waved your hand at him as you ran out of the boys apartment, counting down the stairs as you paced down to your own floor to get ready. 
You wanted to look pretty, you wanted to feel that it was your birthday, spend the day with a light heart and go into the night with a heart even lighter. 
-
“I might sound rude.” you immediately turned your head to face Yuta. The two of you were in a taxi on your way to the birthday dinner with your parents. The air in the car was thick as hell, you wouldn’t be able to cut through it even with a saw, thanks to you, not Yuta. You were just the tiniest bit nervous and even the taxi driver could probably sense that. 
“I don’t think you will, go ahead.” You squeezed his fingers that were laying lifelessly on your knee. 
”Can’t get the feeling off my chest that you’re dreading inviting me to come home with you.”
”No I’m not.” You immediately protested making it sound weird, like you were dreading but tried to hide it. 
”It doesn’t even seem like you’re breathing with how tensed up you are.”
”Yuta, it’s definitely not about you.” ‘It’s about me, the fact that my mom doesn’t love anyone in this world, most likely the list is including me and she wouldn’t act nicely to you at all and I already have the image in my head and most likely, which is almost the worst part, she’ll start talking to you about my company transfer and the next second you find it out in such a dumb way you probably wont ever talk to me ever again.’ You wish you could add all of the words that bubbled in your head to your sentence but you just couldn’t. You still had a little hope and that hope was your guiding star. A simple wish to get this dinner over with and go see Jaehyun, tell him everything you are too scared to tell Yuta and hopefully get accepted and possibly get advice on how to tell Yuta. 
”What is it then? It’s your birthday, please smile just a little.” Yuta pulled onto the seatbelt to be able to reach out to your face in a soothing manner. “Will you?” He smiled and you couldn’t hold back the butterflies inside your stomach at the proximity and warmth that he radiated. “Yeah, that’s much better” he chuckled, seeing the smile rise up on your lips. “I’m with you so you don’t have to be scared of your mom or anything else.” His lips pecked the corner of yours, making you melt completely, making the nerves bubble inside of you untangle. “I love you, you know that? Your mom won’t change that.”
“I know… And i love you too. And I do really hope you mean what you just said.” You kissed him too, on the cheek, wrapping your hands over his neck as much as possible in your position to give him a hug. 
“I am.” He nodded, rubbing your back with his palm.
“I’m sure next turn is where my house is.” You suddenly gulped, being able to see outside the window while hugging.
“Is it?”
“Yeah.” You nodded
“Should we run away?” He chuckled obviously amused, moving your head to watch your face. You felt like your body got electrocuted, fully understanding what he said was a joke but somehow still wishing to catch the bait. 
“Shall we? Can we? Do you want to? I mean we can if you want to. I could tell we have to practice and can’t make it.” You suddenly moved very quickly, looking for your phone. Yuta watched your sudden burst of energy confused. “I can text my dad right now.”
“Baby, baby.” He called out multiple times to catch your attention. 
“Yeah?” You looked at him, slowing down.
“I thought this will make you laugh, I didn’t think you’ll actually get hooked on the idea.” 
“We’re here.” Taxi driver announced before you could tell a thing. 
“Mean.” You squinted your eyes, pecking Yuta’s lips afterwards just so he knows you’re not mad at him, finally getting out of the car, and walking around it to watch Yuta get out too. 
“Darling.” Your attention was attracted in a different direction though as soon as you heard your fathers voice. 
“Dad!” You ran up to your father. 
“Happy birthday, baby.” 
“Dad.” You rubbed your face against his chest a little. “Thank you. Were you waiting by the door? How did you know it’s us?” 
“I was, it was about time you two arrived. Will you, by the way, introduce me to the someone that came with you today?” He chuckled, brushing your hair with his fingers. 
“Oh, I sure will.” You smiled and straightened your back. “Dad, this is my boyfriend Yuta. He used to be a soccer player before he came to Korea and now he’s already fixed to be in a boy group, so you can brag to your friends you met an idol.” You teased a little.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Yuta bowed awkwardly you almost cooed at how well behaved he suddenly got. 
“It’s great to finally see who my daughter spends time with.” you nodded, ungluing your body from the hold of your father that you missed so much to stand next to Yuta, hold his hand in the nerveracking event of meeting your mother. “Shall we go in? Your mom made an excessively massive dinner, so I hope Yuta you have a great appetite.” your dad patted Yuta’s shoulder. 
“He doesn’t, idols have to keep in shape.” you chuckled. 
“No, no. I do” Yuta immediately corrected you, nodding his head and threatening you with a finger. “I’m sure I won’t be able to stop once I try the food.” your dad nodded satisfied, finally walking inside the house to find his wife. 
“You’re such a well behaved cutie.” you stood on your tiptoes to mumble into Yuta’s ear so your father wouldn’t hear it, pecking his cheek afterwards. 
“Honey, look who’s here.” 
“Y/n!“ She exclaimed loudly, making you jump. It’s not that you hated your mom, it wasn’t the case at all. The case was that it seemed like she only cared for you to make you achieve goals that she wanted you to achieve and once you drank in a life without her it felt even more wrong than before. You never really wanted to get in contact with her because she would nag, critique or point at your flaws and ‘obvious’ to her eyes reasons you were lacking in something. You had a feeling Yuta wouldn’t like her the minute he hears any of her casual rants and the realisation made you worry even more. Now, besides all other things you were scared of, you feared Yuta would want to fight your mom, which you could only pray for not to happen. “Oh, my child!“ She exclaimed, taking your face in her hands. You expected a snarky remark about your appearance. “You’re too early for the dinner. Go upstairs, the kitchen is a whole mess!“ She pushed you back to the corridor, so your feet wouldn’t pass the threshold of the kitchen. Yuta’s fingers brushed against your back as he caught you.  
“Mom, it’s my birthday.“ You chuckled pissed. “You could’ve said happy birthday.“
“I’ve called you in the morning.“
“I was asleep.“ 
“Exactly.“ She nodded and walked to the stove as if there was no further explanation needed.
“Can you pay attention to the person I brought with me?“ You gulped to not get furious. Yuta sensed that you were on the verge, caressing your shoulder. Why did she have to be like that on your birthday? Why the day when she decided to act sweet wasn’t on your birthday?
“Let’s go upstairs, let’s wait until everything is done.“ He tried to keep his voice low.
“Yes, listen to the boy.“ Your mom nodded and gestured with her hand for you to disappear. 
“Dad!“ You hissed. 
“Honey, please go upstairs. I’ll have a word with your mom.“ You grabbed Yuta’s hand, storming to your room. 
“Hey, hey.“ He caught your shoulders with his palms as soon as you entered the room.
“That’s exactly why I was nervous.“
“I don’t care.“ Yuta said softly, you turned around to see his face. “I don’t care if she for a weird reason doesn’t want to acknowledge my presence, if you’re worried about it. It only matter to me that you wanted me to come, share this with me. It only matters to me that I can spend my time with you and see what you had to live through your entire life.“ you sighed, lowering your head onto Yuta’s chest. “I wonder though, do you not have anything from your mom or will it poke out as you’ll get older and I will have to deal with you.“ He chuckled, pressing you more onto his chest. 
“Straight up just choke me then.“ You chuckled. 
“I kind of fear you would enjoy it much.“ 
“What?“ Your lips raised in genuine amusement now. 
“Would you find it weird if I told you I really want to have you right now. Like, for real fuck you.“
“Yuta.“ You gasped a little scandalised and at the same time, maybe, turned on at the idea. 
“Mmh?“
“I don’t know about that.“
“Okay.“ He chuckled as if he didn’t suggest a thing. “Come here.“ He pulled you by the hand onto the bed, sitting down. “I just want to kiss you. Can I?“ He snorted at your mortified face expression. 
“Yeah.“ You gave in, allowing him to pull you in. Yuta’s hands roamed over your body softly, pressing you onto his lap. The position wasn’t comfortable one bit and even though you really didn’t want to, you crawled a little onto his lap, forcing your knees onto the mattress. Yuta didn’t just leave you be, as soon as his lips were able to reach yours, his hands crawled under your legs, pushing you more on top of him, dropping his back onto the mattress and making his butt sit further on the bed. “Yuta!“ You broke off the kiss to scold him through laughter. 
“Yes, baby? You’re so pretty when you’re smiling. Thats exactly what I wanted to see on your face.“ His hand brushed your hair behind your ear. You dove into the kiss, caging his head between your elbows. Yuta touched up your body, running his palms firmly against your sides, caressing your jaw and cheeks with his thumbs, almost tickling your thighs with how lightweight his touches were at first, making a loud and very unexpected moan leave your lips as his fingers kneaded your thighs roughly, lifting up the dress you wore as the touch went up your legs. You pulled onto his lower lip, pulling away as his head tried to follow your lips up.
“You wanted just to kiss.“ You reminded him of his words.
“I still just kiss.“ He smiled innocently. “Or… do you somehow want more now?�� He chuckled, trying his best to act surprised. You squinted your eyes at him. “I do have the condom.“ He whispered more seriously, your breath hitched at the baldness of the suggestion.
“I can’t, you know that. It’s the birthday dinner.“ 
“I know. I really do. You don’t need to worry.“ He added softly, running his fingers over your cheek.
“Why did you bring it then?“ You smirked.
“Now that we don’t have any legal restrictions between us I just feel like I’m obliged to have it with me at all costs to secure your happiness.“  
“You’re such a fool.“ You cackled. 
“Can I please have my tongue in your mouth now?“ 
“Mmh…“ you thought for a minute. “Yes…?“ You made it seem you were unsure. Yuta took your head in his hands, rolling you on the bed so he’d be on top. “What is this?“ He pulled one of your legs onto his waist, rolling his hips right against your clothed centre. “What are you doing?“ You mumbled into Yuta’s lips as he smashed his lips against yours. 
“I forgot to mention that the other part of my gift besides rings was an orgasm.“
“Yuta.“ You hissed for him to keep his voice quiet. “That is not funny.“ he pressed against you once again with his hardening length. “You’re insane.“ You gasped. “We’re not having sex.“
“We’re not, I know.“ his lips trailed a line from your chin to the ear. “But you’re going to cum.“ Yuta mumbled into your ear, biting onto your earlobe.
His hands little by little closer to your clothed heat, the dress you wore already was pulled up your thighs, making it much easier for Yuta to touch you. His thumb ran up your clothed slit and your leg got tighter over his waist. “I’m not going to stretch you out, okay? Just your clit, we have to be quick.“
“Yeah.“ it sounded more like you meowed. 
“Try to hold back the sounds.“ You granted him with another weak reply, before Yuta’s fingers crawled behind the thin fabric. “Shit.“ He gasped at the feeling of your completely wet folds. “So wet.“ 
“I know, so please be quick.“ Yuta smirked at you, kissing your lips while his middle finger rubbed into you. It didn’t take him much time before the pleasure started to build up in your lower stomach. It really didn’t surprise you at this point how quickly he took you to the peak and even higher than that. Both your hands wrapped his neck tightly, pressing his chest flush against yours. You wanted to whine but his lips swallowed every sound that came out of you or just tried to. “So, so close.“ You managed to let him know. “Yuta?“ you asked sheepishly, even his hand slowed down to pay attention. “I kind of want the sex.“ you felt terrible by admitting. 
“Are you sure?“ He asked clearly not believing the words that left your mouth.
“Yes, is it weird that now I can’t think how would it feel to cum with you inside of me?“ You asked innocently.
“Fuck.“ Yuta cursed under his breath and moved away from you. You felt like you scared him away for some reason and already were ready to take your words back if it would make him feel better. “Does your door have a lock?“ 
“It does, but why?“ Yuta rushed to the door, locking it immediately. You almost asked why he didn’t find it important to lock the door when he was doing what he was doing before. “This is so fucking not how I actually wanted to have real sex with you for the first time.“ He mumbled as he got closer back to you, gesturing for you to crawl to the headboard and lie down. His hands quickly took off the plain white shirt he was wearing, undoing the pants with the same pace.
“You’re going to undress yourself completely?“ 
“Yes, and you should take your dress off quickly.“
“Okay.“ You nodded, pulling the material up your body. “Come here.“ You whispered with trembling hands. You wanted him terribly, the orgasm that almost washed over you was of no help to stop staring at Yuta that was visibly hard even through his underwear. You had seen his cock before, you’ve touched it even, but never with the idea of him getting in beetwen your legs and inside of you.
“Are you scared? Or nervous?“ Yuta asked carefully, as he crawled over you.
“We don’t have time for that.“ you gulped slightly upset. “I am literally about to have my first time while my parents are downstairs about to call us to have the birthday dinner.“ 
“You’re crazy for that.“ 
“I am, and you’re with me.“ You smiled, catching your breath at Yuta’s fond smile. “But please be quick.“
“I’m sure I’ll be, no worries. I haven’t been in a pussy for a really long while.“ you chuckled a little at him. “Just if it hurts, I’m going to have to stop.“
“Yeah.“ You nodded and spread your legs for Yuta to get between them. His fingers quickly pulled down your underwear, lowering his head suddenly to move his tongue against you. “Yuta.“ You pushed him away by the shoulder when he seemed to forget what you were about to do, you were almost cuming from his tongue.
“Right, you’re right.“ He nodded and pulled a condom from the jeans he thoughtfully left laying on the bed. Yuta’s hand quickly lowered to his cock, freeing it of clothing and placing the rubber material onto it. You watched him do it closely, forgetting to say that you actually were deadly scared of getting pregnant even if he wore that. Suddenly your throat felt too dry because the whole thing felt too real to be right. This somehow made you feel like you were in a movie, an awkward teenage movie where the first sex was one of the disappointments in life. How long will it take? Will this feel at least a little pleasurable? 
“This is fucked up.“ You mumbled once again finally realising what you made you two do. 
“Shh.“ He was focused, lining up himself with your entrance. You gasped before you could even feel anything, swallowing loudly. “Okay.“ He gave you a nod, pushing little by little. You were just focusing on how you felt, how he was pushing inside of you more and the expression on your face probably made Yuta scared. “Are you… okay?“ 
“No, yeah, I mean I’m good, you can go deeper.“ 
“I don’t think I should if you want me to last for at least minute.“
“Why?“ You asked concerned.
“Too tight.“ He panted, sucking on your lower lip. It did feel too tight, he was right. Tight, but somehow, still right. Your face expression changed into a brighter one. Yuta moved back, going back a little further than before. You were so scared of all the things combined you didn’t even realise that having him inside of you didn’t actually hurt. He was moving his hips in and out of you now and the both of you breathed harder. “Is it good?“ He suddenly asked.
“Yes, so good.“
“Right.“ Yuta mumbled under his breath. “Can I go harder?“
“Please.“ You nodded, feeling Yuta’s hips slap against yours for the first time. The sound was so loud and nasty, you almost chocked out of fear. If your bed will start to creak you’ll most definitely die of shame. 
You felt a little stiff and you knew for sure Yuta couldn’t possibly not feel it. You wanted to tell him you were sorry and you couldn’t even focus on the feeling of him stretching you out so perfectly, making you feel so heavenly, you could only focus on all the little sounds you two made during the intercourse and it almost felt like your soul drifted behind that door to stay on a watch. 
Soon enough Yuta rubbed your clit again and you felt like cuming. You were already pretty much spent and when he got you clenching you moaned into his mouth, almost crying. It felt too good to wrap around his cock when your body was spasming, feeling him push your walls while chasing his own high. 
You couldn’t understand who came first and who chased behind, you just liked to think you were connected on so many levels your bodies made you do it at the same time.
You panted, Yuta dropped his weight over you. 
“You’re the literal best.“ He found it in him to raise his head and peck your cheek. 
“Thats not true. It’s like you fucked a brick.“
“No.“ He cackled, leaving kisses over you neck. “I don’t think we took more than like what… 10 minutes? Embarrassing.“ he chuckled “I wouldn’t cum this quickly if you were a brick.“
“Thanks.“ you forced a smile and Yuta shifted his body weight.
“I don’t want to pull out.“
“Why?“ 
“It doesn’t feel nice to you?“
“I don’t know.“ you told sincerely. 
“We’ll work this all out later when we’ll have real time to get into things that you like and don’t.“ Yuta pecked your lips, pulling out and standing up. You kind of immediately understood what he meant by not wanting to pull out. Could you possibly ask him to come back?
“Do you have a bin?“ 
“Yes, but isn’t it going to be weird if my parents found a spent lonely condom in there?“
“Do you want me to take it?“ He chuckled but then realised you were serious. “Well if you’re okay I’ll leave it here for the dinner.“ He chuckled again, wrapping it into many paper towels and placing almost under the bed. Yuta quickly put on his clothes and nothing in his appearance gave away he just came. “Are you okay? Can you move?“ You nodded quietly and moved forward, collecting yourself back together. 
“Wait, is that you?“ Yuta smiled widely, staring at one of your childhood photos. 
“It is.“ You walked up to him after cleaning yourself up and getting your clothes back on. “Why are you laughing?“
“Can I steal this? You’re so cute.“ He cooed, caressing your cheek.
“No, its mine.“
“But please?“ He whined and you stared him in the eyes, getting scared when you heard knocks on your door. 
“Yeah?“ You replied as your dad already walked in. 
“Dinner’s ready. I hope you two didn’t get too bored while waiting.“
“No, I was looking at her baby photos.“ Yuta smiled.
“Okay, come downstairs.“ Your boyfriend nodded and grabbed your hand in his and walked you behind him. 
-
“Mom,“ you cleared your throat. “This is Yuta.“ The dinner was going relatively well with your mom keeping herself quiet. You thought that this maybe was a great opportunity to introduce Yuta properly, since she paid him hardly any attention for the past 40 minutes. 
“Yuta?“ She finally raised her eyes at the boy next to you. Yuta, who was pushing chopsticks full with meat and rice into his mouth pulled them away, making all the food drop into the bowl mixed. 
“Yes, Mrs.Y/L/N.“ He stretched his lips in a polite manner. 
“You’re a foreigner?“
“That’s right, I am Japanese.“
“You speak Korean well for a foreigner.“ She sighed, chewing on her rice. Her manners gave off royalty out of nowhere. 
“I learned it thoroughly.“ He bowed. 
“And your ancestors didn’t try to do the same when they occupied our country.“ A cold sweat ran down your spine. What the actual fuck was all this.
“Mom?“ you chuckled awkwardly.  “Why suddenly?“ 
“Maybe you need a reminder what your great-grandparents went through because of Japanese?“ 
“I don’t, I know it way too well.” Your eyes ran from your dad to Yuta. ”I just don’t understand what this has to do with Yuta.“ 
“I’m not sure now that you’ve brought him to the house where people that suffered from his countries’ hands lived.“
“Honey, I’m sure Yuta’s ancestors didn’t take part in the terrible things that happened to our people.“
“Are you so sure? Or trying to pretend like you are?“ She looked dissaprovingly. 
“Mom, you don’t even care about it.“ You bursted. ”You had too much to drink already, dad. Take the soju from her.”
“Y/n, it’s fine.“ Yuta squeezed your palm under the table. “I will ask my grandparents if they have any knowledge on how their parents lived during the occupation of Korea. I’ll give you my deepest apologies, Mrs.Y/L/N, when we’ll see each other next time if I’ll learn something regarding their relationship with Koreans.“ 
“Sure.“ She gave him a careless nod and the topic seemed to be closed, for now, thankfully. “That is exactly why you’re still a trainee while other girls get to debut.“ She didn’t let you to just have a conversation with your father about his co-worker.
“Yes?“ You stretched out your lips in a thin line and blinked.
“If you gave all of your attention to work, instead of boys, maybe you would’ve debuted in that girl group.“ 
“Honey.“ Your dad sighed. “It’s our daughters birthday.“ He finally grabbed the glass from his wife’s hand.
“Yes, and I’m wishing her to focus on work in her next year of life. First that sweet boy Jaehyun, now Yuta.“ Her voice shown disgust when she said your lovers name. “What happened to Jaehyun?“
“Nothing, he’s my friend. Always has been.“
“Thankfully you’re transferring to that other company, I hope they’ll take better care of your free time. When is your first day there, by the way?“ She raised her head to look you in the eyes. Your head turned to Yuta in fear, you almost cried in an instance, seeing his head low, focused on the rice bowl. “Y/n.“
“I’m moving on Friday. From the dorm and from the company.“ Yuta’s head flew up to see you with confused eyes. 
“Will you need any help with moving?“ your dad asked. 
“Yes, I guess I’ll need your help.“ You gulped, feeling a buzz to your butt. You almost didn’t understand what it was but remembered you sat on your phone. Jaehyun’s name and face lit up the screen. You almost declined the call but felt like you needed an excuse to leave the room that suddenly became so sickening. You hated your mom now for sure, you wanted to cry and throw up and never stay alone with Yuta because you were scared. Jaehyun’s voice would make it so much better, you gulped and jumped up. “I need to pick this up.“
“Hey.“ Jaehyun smiled and you could hear it through his voice. 
“Hi.“ You tried to smile but couldn’t at all.
“I’m at the store, I was thinking of cooking something for you.“
“Yeah?“ You were just lost.
“Please don’t get too full at the dinner.“ His voice turned into a whisper with a cute undertone. You wondered why would he whisper in the grocery store.
“Thank you.“ You smiled.
“What for?“
“For making me smile with your call.“
“Is everything okay? How’s the dinner?“
“You know what my mom’s like.“
“Yeah…“ he sighed.
“She said I should’ve brought you.“ you tried to smile.
“Yes you should’ve.“ He chuckled.
“You’re a fool. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay here for too long, so expect me to be early.“
“Okay, I’ll go back home quickly then.”
“Okay.“ You nodded.
“Wait, hold on.“ He suddenly rushed when you almost hung up.
“Yeah?“
“What are you favourite flowers?“
“Why you’re asking?“ you bit onto your lip to not smile too widely. 
“Just… for reference.“
“Well, for reference… you should know by now, are you my best friend or what?“ You scolded him playfully.
“You’re right.“ You could tell he was nodding.
“Okay, I’m going back.“
“Yeah, bye.“
“Love you.“ You hung up and dreaded the idea of going back in. You so wish you could just teleport to Jaehyun.
“Is everything okay?” your dads eyes trailed your figure as you entered the room. 
“Yes, yeah. Just a friend wished me a happy birthday.” you nodded, trying to see how Yuta was with your peripheral vision. 
“I think your mom unintentionally sounded like she’s too harsh on you, right, darling?” your dad chuckled, squeezing his wife’s shoulder. 
“On a brighter note,” your dad cleared his throat loudly. “Your mom baked an amazing cake, I, might I say, helped her decorate it. Will you blow the candles? Honey, shall we bring the cake?”
“Yes, yes. I’ll go light up the candles.” your mom jumped up with such a sweet tone to her voice like she was the most loving and caring mother. 
“Yay.” you faked a giggle, watching your dad get up and leave you alone with Yuta. 
You gulped, he seemed to be frozen for the previous couple of minutes. You were debating whether to touch his hand or not, would he shake you away in an instance or would he give you a chance. He broke off the silence first and you almost jumped up in your seat completely startled to hear him speak. 
“I think I should be going, will you excuse me to your parents?” those weren’t exactly the words you expected from him. You didn’t know what you expected exactly, but you wanted to talk. Yuta stood up and pushed the chair with his foot. 
“Please.” you mumbled almost inaudible. “I’ll blow those candles and tell them we have to leave, please stay.” 
“Why? To not ruin the picture for your dad?” Yuta spoke from behind you, there was no chance you would turn around and look him in the eyes so easily. 
“No! Not for that, I’m so sorry and embarrassed for what my mom said about your ancestors… I couldn’t even imagine she’d bring up something like that…She usually never drinks. I swear to god, I feel so sorry. And besides that I think we should talk about something else. We should’ve talked way before in fact.“
“I think we’ve been doing pretty good, fantastic even, without the aspect of sharing important things that happen in our life’s and talking them through. Aren’t we?” this stung. 
“Yu-“ you wanted to stand up and drop onto your knees to beg him. 
“Happy birthday to you!” distant singing interrupted you, a moment later your dads hand showing up to turn off the lights and then entering the room. 
“Yuta, sing along, aren’t you a singer!” 
“Ugh, yeah.” Yuta took a step back to the table, clapping rhythmically without making a sound. 
-
“Please wait for me.” you whined as Yuta’s feet were making around a meter wide steps. “Yuta!” 
“What?” he snapped and turned around, stopping. You finally caught up with him, lowering your eyes on his chest to not hold his piercing gaze. You could see the shape of the ring hanging on his neck through the shirt he wore.
“I wanted to talk to you earlier, about all this, but I was scared. I had a feeling you’ll be upset.”
“So you’re blaming me for this?”
“I’m not blaming you. It’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I was postponing this conversation out of fear.”
“Fine.” he turned around and walked away from you, this time much slower, as if expecting you to walk side to side with him. This was a good sign, it was… a good sign… right?
“Will you not ask me where I’m going? Or do you not want me to tell you everything?”
“You’re going to see Jaehyun.” 
“You know I didn’t mean where I’m going like, now.” 
“I meant you’re going to Jaehyun after this, don’t ruin your mood and don’t bother and just go.”
“I-,” you chocked on air. “This is bullshit.” you hit his shoulder from behind and regretted the move a little. 
“Excuse me?” Yuta was scandalised. His eyes dilated to the state they might’ve popped out any second. 
“I know it’s the worst way to find out I’m going away from the dorm and the company… at this stupid ass torture dinner… from my drunk venomous mother. I-, Yuta.” you grabbed his palm with yours and he jerked away immediately. “I was scared to tell you, for your reaction, for the idea that telling you will make it real, and I’m still so scared to move somewhere else where I won’t have you.”
“Does Jaehyun know?”
“No, nobody knows. I haven’t told him either.” You couldn’t decipher what his face expression said. Was he relieved by the fact Jaehyun didn’t know too? “I really, Yuta, I don’t want to fight. I love you. We just did what we did in my bedroom couple of hours ago and now you’re looking at me like I disgust you.”
“Is that why you wanted sex?” he snorted and all your insides dropped.
“No-, NO!” you made it loud and clear. “I only wanted it because I wanted you.” 
“I need a minute by myself. Go to Jaehyun’s.”
“Can I say something else?” he gave a nod. “I’ve never loved anyone before you. I may be doing dumb and stupid things, I can make things harder, I can be closed off, maybe I should indeed share more, but… I was suffering so much. I was, I mean, I’m still depressed because people around me move forward and I stay just there and I kept things partially to myself because you’re in a boy group and I’m just there. I’m so tired of hearing words like you’ll do it, you’re great from people who actually do have a future. I didn’t have one before I got in contact with JYPE. Maybe that’s for the better I’m moving to a different company, if I’ll get to live my dream, wouldn’t you be happy?” 
“What about us?” his eyes dropped onto your face finally, inspecting it. You took a step closer. 
“Weren’t you just yesterday telling me how we’ll fight for what we have? What happened to that?”
“Nothing. It’s going to be different and that’s the thing.” 
“Are you mad because you’re worried for us?” you pouted. 
“No, I’m mad because you’re moving almost tomorrow and I didn’t hear a single thing about it until now!”
“Will you forgive me?” you blinked at him apologetically. 
“I don’t know.” your heart stung. 
“L-, like…like seriously don’t know?”
“Yes-“
“Yuta.” you gasped, tears prickling your eyes. 
“I’ll get you a taxi, don’t cry and go to Jaehyun’s.”
“I-, I’ll cancel that. I want to be with you.” 
“No, I don’t want that. Go ahead and have all the fun you can.”
Yuta caught a passing taxi with his hand, forcefully pushing you inside. 
“Happy birthday.” he said without even looking at you and closed the door. 
“Where to?” the driver turned around.
-
“Hey-y-y.” you sung as Jaehyun was opening the door, you placed one of your hands on the hip, the other going up in the air with a bottle of strong alcohol in it. 
“Hi.” Jaehyun smiled, immediately after focusing his eyes on your hand in the air. “What’s that?” 
“I-I-It’s soju. I got it on my way here because I felt kinda bad for going to a party empty handed.” you puffed your cheeks, passing the threshold to wrap your hands over Jaehyun. 
“I’ve bought more than we could possibly consume, it’s fine.”
“But still, it’s a gift for you.” you moved back, pressing the bottle against his chest. Realising a moment later Jaehyun was wearing an apron, you couldn’t hide away the smile at how cute he looked wearing it. You let the bottle slide down his stomach, finally dropping into the pocket in the front part of the apron. “I actually have one more thing for you.” 
“Yeah?” 
“Yeah, I might’ve opened the gift number one on my way here, sorry.” You pouted. ”The jelly’s. They’re completely yours.” you announced loudly and Jaehyun chuckled, placing the bag in the pocket as well. “So what are we doing?” you slid the shoes off your feet, quickly grabbing Jaehyun by the elbow. “I didn’t want you to put too much effort.” you said as the smell got into your nose. “We should’ve just ordered.” 
“It’s fine, I wanted to do something for you, you’re my best friend after all.” you felt goosebumps run over your body. 
“Your girlfriend will be the happiest girl ever.” 
“Shut up.” He rolled his eyes, letting go of you as the two of you reached kitchen. 
“Mmh, pasta?” you smiled widely. 
“Yeah, tomato sauce pasta with seafood.”
“Yummy.” you smiled. 
“You haven’t tried it yet.” he smirked lightly. 
“You made it I’m sure it’s bomb.” Jaehyun grabbed your hand, smiling at you. 
“Yeah?” you nodded at him, smiling playfully. “ I bought many snacks because I know what you’re like, will you help me put the chips in a bowl?”
“Mmh.” you let him part your hands. “Is that it? Pasta and snacks?” 
“No, I have a pizza in the oven.” Your mouth made an O. “Before you scream it’s a pre-made pizza, I just defrosted it.”
“Thank god.” you chuckled. 
“But it’s a cool one if it matters to you, a handmade.”
“Cool-.” you started, as your phone vibrated, making everything inside of you stir. You only expected it to be Yuta, your brains going in complete overdrive while you were trying to see. “God.” you sighed, dropping the phone on the counter. 
“What’s up?”
“Koeun lost her blow dryer and asking everyone in the chat.” 
“I think I know where she lost it.” he cackled, bringing to you a pack of chips with a bowl. 
“Mmh?”
“Donghyuck might’ve said he found a blow dryer that seemed to be no one else’s when he came to your floor to wish you a happy birthday.”
“He didn’t wish me a happy birth-.”
“He saw the blow dryer and ran away I assume.” you laughed loudly. 
“Okay, sounds like he’d do that for a blow dryer.” 
“Yeah.” Jaehyun made a breathy laugh. 
-
“And the weirdest part?“ you exhaled, lowering your hand a little as the thought drifted away from your tongue. What was Yuta doing at this very moment? Was he asleep, was he thinking of you? Was he mad at you? Or did he calm down a little and is ready to talk? Should you maybe call him?
“Wait, wait.“ Jaehyun grabbed your wrist, pulling your hand back up and getting your brain off the triggering topic. “You’re spilling on my jeans.“ you focused your vision on his thigh, the material turned darker than on the rest of the leg. 
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry.“ you finally let him take the glass from your hand. “We should go back inside and wash it.“ You turned your head back, staring at the sky for the last time. 
“It’s just a somaek spill, it won’t stain my jeans.“ He shook you off, grabbing onto your wrist once again as you tried to get into a standing position. “Sit back down.“ you disobeyed, causing him to pull onto you harder and force you to drop your body back onto the terrace with a loud thud. You fell onto your back, finding it impossible to not laugh. You were most definitely too drunk to even walk. “I’m sorry, did this hurt?“ You forced him on his back too, laughing still. “How drunk do you think you are?“ He asked as your laughter seemed to die a little. You turned your head for the slightest moment to take a glance at your friend and then turned back around to measure amount of alcohol you had by the empty soju bottles on your side, there were barely any. It hurt your pride a little, you expected yourself to at least go through three of these with ease. Was this day bound to be the day of disappointments and first times? You cackled.
“I consider crawling back inside.“ You looked at Jaehyun once again with a smile, taking a hitched breath as your eyes could take in his focused face expression. He must’ve looked at you the whole time, you thought and gulped with the unusual burdened feeling to it. His teeth nibbled on his lower lip and at this very moment he seemed to be completely sober. “I can’t walk.“ You added to make it more clear what you meant. Jaehyun’s eyes traveled all over your face, batting his eyelashes as his eyes paused on your lips.
“Want me to help you walk?“ he sighed, moving his head an inch closer to yours. Jaehyun caught your eye out of nowhere, you found your eyes focus on his face a little more than you usually did. Under the drunken spell his face looked a little funny to you and you pulled your head a little more toward him in hopes of focusing your eyes properly and unseeing the funny features that weren’t even there in the first place. Was that the reason he stared so thoroughly? Did you look too funny to him too, but in his case he’s just too well-mannered to point anything out. You gulped and stared down his soul to not laugh. 
“No.“ You smirked.
“What? What did you think of?“ You bit onto your lip, holding in the grin on your face.
“Should we crawl back to the kitchen?“
“Crawl?“ 
“Yeah, who gets there faster, gets to… hm…“ you ran your eyes over the sky.  “Let’s crawl and then decide.“ You suddenly turned around onto your stomach, getting on your knees and elbows, you false started in your silly competition, hearing Jaehyun’s protest and whimpers behind you. You crawled to the terrace door, getting onto your feet as soon as you got inside, sprinting back towards the kitchen island. 
“This was meant to be a crawling competition!“ Jaehyun whined behind you, getting on his feet, by the sound of it, too. The sudden reassurance that he indeed was on his feet took you by surprise, you gasped and grasped onto his hands that were now pressing your body against his, unable to make any sound as the air got beaten out of your lungs by the push. Jaehyun giggled next to your ear, dragging you the rest of the way to the island. “You’re a terrible cheater.“ You tried to turn your head but to no avail. “You should tell your manager you want to be an actress, you acted like a drunk naturally.“ He chuckled.
“I might be drunk but I would never allow myself to lose in a competition.“ you finally found your voice back, holding onto Jaehyun’s arms tighter, pulling for him to let go. 
“What was the point… of this, again? The competition?“ 
“Turn off the light and get on the floor.“ you gulped, not knowing if you were really not that drunk, if the alcohol faded away or you were shaken by something else that your senses began to come back to you. 
“Ugh… oh?“ Jaehyun malfunctioned. “Why?“
“I want to drink more… and maybe share a secret or two with you… I think I might’ve lost the drunken haziness after the sprint.“ 
“Me, too.“
“Hm?“ You got on your knees to plop on the floor next to the island.
“I want to share a secret with you.“ 
“You do?“ you lit up, unable to contain the smile. “My baby’s all grown up.“ You felt an excited shiver run down your spine. “Come on, sit down.“ You tapped the space next to you. Jaehyun walked over the light switch, turning the room pitch black. It was, to be fair, a little scary, the house was big and creeped you even in the day time, but when the lights were completely off you felt your palms get a little sweaty before you felt the warmth of Jaehyun next to your body. You squeezed more into his side, just in case. The boy gave you the glass you left on the island before the two of you got outside a good hour ago, tasting the drink with your tongue, you took a couple sips to build courage. Maybe, Jaehyun wouldn’t mind sharing his secrets first?
“Do you want to go first?“ Jaeyun broke off the silence. 
“Oh, man.“ You sighed and plopped your head on his shoulder.
“No?“ he chuckled. 
“Mmh, I’m kinda sober now… should we not?“ 
“No, I don’t think we’ll get any other chances like that.“ 
“You’re right, but-“
“If you’re shy and I’m shy too, should we tell each other on the count of 3?“ 
“That’s silly.“ You sighed, feeling Jaehyuns fingers brush over you in search of the glass. “But I agree.“ 
“Do you?“ 
“Yeah.“
“Okay, should I count down?“
“Yeah.“ You nodded, feeling your heart beat faster. Which secret exactly should you spill out first? You swore at yourself for having so many. 
“1… 2…3…“ Jaehyun counted down slowly, but still not slow enough for you to come up with words. “I l-.“ 
“Stop!.“ You cut him off before he could say any more. “I-, I wasn’t ready. Can you count down once again?“
“For real, this time?“ 
“Yes, I’m sorry. I was just unable to form words into sentences.“
“Okay, one.“
“Two.“ You said as Jaehyun took a longer pause. 
“Three.“ He almost whispered as he swallowed. “I am in love with you.“
“I am dating Yuta.“ You said loudly in unison with Jaehyun, blood pumping in your ears so loud you were not able to hear a single word Jaehyun said. 
“What?“ The face expression he made was visible even through pure darkness.
“Wait, did you hear what I said?“ You gasped, you didn’t think his words would be so quiet. 
“Yes, you’re dating Yu-“ he didn’t finish saying his friends name. “How? When… why?“ You could only imagine how betrayed and shocked he felt. And it wasn’t even the main news you wanted him to know. 
“But what did you say? I couldn’t hear.“ You whined, ignoring the boys’ questions completely. 
“I- It doesn’t matter at all.“
“It does.“ You touched his arm with your suddenly cold fingers.
“No, I- it doesn’t.“ Jaehyun chocked on his words almost for the first time in front of your eyes, he never felt this small next to you before. 
“Hey.“ You furrowed your eyebrows. “You heard mine, that’s unfair.“
“Yeah, that’s why we’re going to talk about yours first and come back to mine later.“ He spoke firmly, putting everything in him to hold back his true feelings. You wouldn’t know that, you wouldn’t know that the tremble to his voice wasn’t caused by the shocks of betrayal. Well, maybe, partially, betrayal too, but Jaehyun couldn’t come in terms with his feelings at this very moment to say surely what he felt. He wanted to get all the information he could from you first, he was focusing his brain on the possibility of you hearing him and immediately playing pretend just because it’s not what you expected. But what did you even expect? How could he be sure in anything if a big, no, a huge part of your life slipped from his attention. Was he not reading the room right? Yuta? For real? He wanted to smash his head into the wall. He wanted to smash Yuta’s head into the wall, to be exact, and tell him you two were meant to be together. No you and Yu-. Jaehyun suddenly found disgust in his friends name and wanted to fight with your boyf-. He swallowed again because even the thought of Yuta being your boyfriend made him gag. And then he swallowed again, realising that fighting and confrontation in general was so out of his character, and as Jaehyun took two steady breaths and the first aftershocks left his body he was able to focus his attention on you. You were trembling on his side, sobbing, even. Wait-.
“Are you crying?“ he asked, taking your face in his hand. “Y/n, I- I’m ha-.“ No, Jaehyun wasn’t happy and he couldn’t even lie that he was. “Are you crying because you’re happy that I finally know or because you didn’t want to tell me?“ 
“No.“ You sobbed, untangling your hand from Jaehyun’s to hide your face in your palms. You were crying because after saying the words you suddenly remembered what happened between you two, how he said he weren’t sure if he’d forgive you, and you questioned if there was even a point in telling Jaehyun about this if it’s almost over. 
“I don’t understand.“ He sighed lost.
“I am leaving SME and Yuta found out about it from my mother tonight in between her blaming him for everything that happened to our country. Now you found out about it in a fucked up way too. Jaehyun-ah, I’m so sorry, I’m such a terrible friend.“ You cried. ”I didn’t want to upset you and now I’ve ruined everything you prepared and I-” you broke down.
“You- you’re what?“ Jaehyun felt his own tears prickle his eyes. He had to swallow them harshly before you could sense that. “Leaving SME? Where to? Why? I mean, weren’t you happy here, with us.. you were-.“ He chocked as the world he built so thoroughly around you was shuttering terribly with every passing minute. He wasn’t sure what else could leave your mouth the next minute. Was there anything else that could hurt him more?
18 notes · View notes
purinpeach · 2 months
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he fell first, and he fell harder
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summary. jeong jaehyun really loves basketball. but also, he’s terribly in love with his childhood best friend of seventeen years, you.
pairing. basketball captain! jaehyun x fem! childhood best friend reader
genre. basketball captain! au, college! au, childhood best friends-to-lovers! au, slow burn, mutual pining, angst with fluff
word count. 18,746
warnings/tags. cursing, drinking, a few angsty moments of quarrelling :(, mentions of food, dual-pov, many many taylor swift references (especially from the lover album!!!) bc i am insane, a few of the other nct members make a cameo in this!
(long) a/n. did i expect the word count? no. i did not… but i’ll never let the jaehyun bolton agenda die down, so i’m immortalising it through my writing. i also don’t know how i’m able to churn out this many words but have trouble coming up with the title… but i thought it would be fitting! (my google doc title is literally “jaehyun bolton” …) this has bits and pieces of high school musical, the summer i turned pretty, and dear. m in it <3 don't usually capitalise my works because it's a bit of a hassle (i write on both mobile and laptop) but since this is a long fic i tried capitalising it... hopefully there aren't many errors lol. sorry for the long a/n but as always i hope you enjoy this~ pls lmk ur thoughts and if i missed out any warnings!!
“You coming to my game tomorrow?” Jaehyun asked, eyes not leaving his screen. 
Clad in a black hoodie, the Computer Science major had been working on his assignment for the past three hours. Cigarettes After Sex record on loop, it’s occasionally accompanied by his rapid, and sometimes, aggressive keyboard typing. Mumbles of apology follow after he thinks he’s being too disruptive, but you don’t pay any mind to it. 
You were on Jaehyun’s bed, begrudgingly watching your lecture that you’d missed on Monday because you slept through your alarm that morning. Alarms, to be exact. Your eyelids already felt heavy from listening to your professor drone on about how rain is formed. No offence to him, but you were simply taking this Geography module to clear your general education credits.
Jaehyun's voice shook you awake, even if it’s just by a little bit. Taking out one of your earbuds even though you’d already paused the video, you looked through the mental image of your calendar that you have in your head to see if you had anything planned for the next day, but nothing came to mind.
“Probably,” you shrugged. 
You’ve never been one to miss any of his games, so you most likely cleared your schedule for it already. Besides, it’s not like you could bring yourself to not watch his games in the first place, especially not when your childhood best friend slash neighbour is the star player of the school. Not forgetting that he’s also the captain of the basketball team who has led them to victory after victory through the years.  
Being in his life for more than a decade, you wanted nothing more than to be a part of every chapter of Jaehyun’s life, just as how he’s been there for yours.
An elated yes! sounds across the room, causing you to look at him weirdly. 
Jaehyun has this habit of saying something, and then getting distracted by something else even though only mere seconds have passed. When he eventually goes back to the topic, he doesn’t remember where to pick up from. 
“Sorry. Where was I?” Jaehyun finally turned his chair away from the computer, an indication that he was finally done with his assignment. Making eye contact with your best friend who’s now stretching his arms because he’d been sitting in the same position for a long period of time, you forced yourself to bite back a smile. There’s just something about having extensive knowledge about someone to the point that you’re able to predict their mannerisms. Completing their sentences, even.
“Your game,” you refreshed his bad memory, “I’ll be there.”
“Right,” he smiled. 
“Chinese takeout at my place afterwards?” Jaehyun confirmed, and you nodded excitedly in agreement before going back to your lecture.
Ever since Jaehyun started playing for the basketball team in high school, the two of you have made it a point to celebrate with each other by buying takeout from a Chinese restaurant within your neighbourhood. 
Don’t get Jaehyun wrong, he’s an extrovert who feeds off the energy that he receives from spending time with other people. It's just unfortunate that celebratory parties did the opposite, draining every bit of his remaining energy that he had left after a physically demanding game. 
Socialising skills thrown out of the window, he finds himself wanting to leave even though he’d only arrived at the party for a few minutes. Along with loud party music blasting from the speakers and getting squeezed by random bodies as he tries to make his way around the frat house, his discomfort multiplies tenfold. All he can think about is leaving. 
If Jaehyun had a choice, he’d choose not to show up at all, but that would be very rude of him. 
So instead, this is what he does: go to the party, strategically mingle around his teammates, and sometimes stick around for a round of beer pong to make it seem like he’s been really involved. By seven-thirty, he’ll be making his way back home to you, waiting for him with his favourite jjamppong. 
Of course, Jaehyun enjoyed partying with his teammates. In fact, he’s been through hell and back with them, so it would make the most sense to celebrate the team’s win together considering the amount of time and effort they’ve put in. It's just, Jaehyun loves spending time with you too. It’s as simple as that. Granted, you two practically see each other twenty-four seven. But could any measure of time with you be ever enough? He didn’t think so. 
It’s like how the two of you could have separately completed your schoolwork today. Yet, you spent the day together again, which proved that best friends truly didn’t always need a special reason to meet. That’s how things have been between the both of you, and how he intended to keep it.
Shuffled footsteps sounding across the room, Jaehyun walked over to his window to draw the blinds when he noticed that the sun had already started to set, letting some natural light into his room. He turned back, bemusingly shaking his head when his eyes landed on your lying figure. Making yourself comfortable on his bed and snuggling into his blanket, he reckoned that you’ve stopped paying attention to the lecture a long time ago. 
“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” Jaehyun turned off the air conditioner and record player, grabbing his phone and wallet from his desk before walking over to his bed. “Let’s get dinner.”
“I wasn’t sleeping!”
You sat up, glaring at Jaehyun because of his false accusation. An incredulous look on his face because of your reaction, he laughed at your poor attempt to fight back. Messy bed hair and tired eyes, anyone would have thought that you’d just woken up from a nap.
“And I’m not done yet, I still have ten minutes of the lecture left,” you informed him. But before you could resume your lecture, Jaehyun hurriedly closed the lid of your laptop, prying it out of your hands to leave it on his desk. 
“What was that for? I said I wasn't done.” You whined, his impatience starting to irk you. 
“The lecture is two hours long.”
“And?” you asked, not really seeing his point.
“And it’s been three hours!” Jaehyun stated matter-of-factly as though you weren’t aware. “If you actually paid attention, you’d be done by now.”
Your expression darkened at his words.
Now, you’re well aware of the fact that Jaehyun is a top student with multiple scholarships and stellar grades. He never fails to keep up with his weekly readings and always submits his assignments on time. Sometimes it's even submitted days prior to the actual deadline. Jaehyun's consistency is one of the many aspects that you greatly admire about him. Even so, it didn’t feel very nice to have him rub it into your face that he was more productive than you were, given that the both of you had the same duration to complete your individual tasks.
“You’re being very mean, Jaehyun.”
Pulling the blanket away from your body, you got up from his bed. “I may not be a genius like you, but at least I'm trying.” You avoided his eyes, not wanting to look at him in fear that you’ll start a petty argument with him over something so trivial. It's been a long day, so maybe you were being overly sensitive too.
“Hey,” Jaehyun extended a hand out to your forearm, gaze softening upon seeing how upset you looked. “I’m sorry, I didn't mean it like that.”
“I–” his mouth closes, unable to find the right words to say. 
“Hey, you look tired. Let’s continue studying after dinner?”
Why didn’t he just say that from the start? It’s not even that difficult. He may not be the best with words, but he sure felt terrible for being the reason you’re upset. 
His grip on your arm tightened. “I’m sorry,” his voice resigned, Jaehyun apologised again. “Let's not fight over this, please?”
You removed Jaehyun’s hand from your arm, finally turning to look up at him. And there they were, the infamous puppy eyes he’d give you whenever he wanted to apologise or ask you for a favour. At that sight, you couldn’t help but let a tired sigh leave your lips. 
This is the Jaehyun that you’ve come to know. 
Treating everything as if it’s a competition. Too honest with his words. Impulsively saying his thoughts out loud without considering how others may interpret it, then realising that it’s too late to take back what he said if it ended up being too harsh. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because you could always depend on him to give you his truthful opinion without sugarcoating. He told you what you needed to hear, not what you wanted to hear.
Nonetheless, it was also times like this that made you wish he’d think before he speaks. Although you were slightly offended by what he said, you also understood where he was coming from. He’s tired, you’re tired, and there’s no better time than now to take a break. 
“I accept your apology,” you said, moving to open his room door. “But dinner’s on you.”
“Okay,” Jaehyun responded almost instantly, going over to stand behind you. He placed two hands on your shoulders and started massaging them before saying, “I’ll get you caramel milk tea with pearls too.” And even though you were not facing him, you could already see his frown from earlier disappear. 
“With less ice and less sugar,” he added. 
You’ll be lying if hearing him repeat your bubble tea order perfectly didn’t bring a smile to your face, but Jeong Jaehyun shall not get the satisfaction of knowing that. 
You first met Jaehyun when you were five.
It was a Friday afternoon, and you were very excited because your mum promised that she would bring you to the neighbourhood playground. You were supposed to go on Monday, but it has been raining heavily so you had no choice but to (quite literally) take a rain check on that. And fortunately, the sun was finally out today, shining brighter than it ever did this past week. 
As a kid, the neighbourhood playground was one of your favourite places. Other than having different types of slides, there was also a suspended rope bridge that you’d occasionally go on if you were feeling slightly more adventurous that day. Mini tree houses situated along the bridge that basically acted as checkpoints for when you’re crossing the bridge, these tree houses were definitely one of your top spots too.
But that day, you were more interested in the sand play area that’s adjacent to the playground. With just two swings in the middle of the sand pit, it was comparably less fun than playing on the slides or going on the tree houses. Though, the fourteen-piece sand castle building set that your mom had recently bought you for your fifth birthday definitely proved otherwise. 
For as long as you could remember, visiting the neighbourhood playground had become a weekly occurrence. In the time you spent there, you always had this tendency to notice the other kids who sat around playing in the sand pit. While they were using a variety of tools to build sandcastles of various sizes and shapes, you could only watch them with envious eyes from the tree house. Your parents have always been very generous with buying you toys, so you didn’t want to come off as a spoiled brat by asking for more. Instead, you tried to enjoy your time there with all that you had. Playing catch with the other children, having a competition on who could go down the slide the fastest. It was enough to make you content. 
Luckily for you, however, your mum seemed to have caught onto the fact that you too wanted to try building sandcastles, thus buying you one of those sandcastle building sets. You recall unwrapping the gift, screaming in excitement and thanking her profusely by enveloping her into a bear hug and giving her multiple cheek kisses. 
With the toys laid out in the sand, you decided to start slow. 
Steadying the blue bucket against the sand, you used the shovel and filled it up to the brim, smoothing out the top surface until you were satisfied with it. You carefully tipped the bucket over such that the sand wouldn’t fall out, and silently prayed for the best as you slowly removed the bucket. 
“Mummy, look!”
A proud smile on your face, you eagerly pointed to the sandcastle that you’d successfully built on your first try. Seated on the bench diagonally opposite from where you were, she praised you for doing a good job and gave you a thumbs up.
This went on for about the next half an hour or so, as you tried to build as many sandcastles as you could, experimenting with the different toys that you had, even going so far as to smooth out any crevices that you spotted with your bare hands, not caring that the sand particles would dirty them. It was a pity that there was no one else at the playground because it would have been more fun if you had a companion, but this would do for now.
Blowing out your cheeks once you’ve completed your little ‘art project,’ you looked at it with a triumphant smile. Albeit simple, it was pretty decent for a first timer. Although you wanted to keep going, it was admittedly tiring and required a lot of concentration on your part. As such, you decided to call it a day. Cautiously moving the toys away so that you would not accidentally topple the sandcastles over, you started to pack up your things so that your mum didn’t have to wait once she came back from the restroom.
Only, crackles of footsteps over the fallen leaves caused you to cease your packing. Not-so-subtly turning behind to look for the source of the sound, you scratched your head in confusion when there was no one in sight. You shrugged it off, thinking that you misheard it and that it was probably the sound of the bushes rustling since it did become more windy over time. Picking up the plastic shovel, it was the last of your things that you were going to keep before leaving the playground. But just as you were about to put it together with the rest of your stuff, you heard a sniffle. It was silent for a few seconds, and the sniffling continued again. And again. 
It sounded like… someone was crying?
With the plastic shovel still in your hand, you took one step back, then two, trying to get as close as you could without making any noise. You wanted to wait until your mum returned, but curiosity got the better of you. It seemed alright to assess the situation first, since you just wanted to check out what the noise was about. 
Frankly, you had no idea why you were being so secretive, but perhaps it was because you didn’t want to alarm whoever was there. If they were already crying, you shouldn’t startle them any further, right? At least, that’s what you thought. Upon closer inspection, you realised that they were hiding behind the bushes, and all you could see were their shoes. It was mostly white, the familiar black swoosh logo imprinted on it.
Walk away and pretend you didn’t hear any of this. That thought came straight to your mind when you started to remember the terrifying stories that your parents told you in order to warn you about stranger danger. Your mum would be here soon, so it would be a good time for you to escape too. Just go back to packing your things, and everything will be okay.
But… that would be cruel, a small voice in your head insisted. 
No matter how apprehensive you were about this entire situation, a part of you did not want to leave the person alone, whoever they may be. Because you knew that if you were in their position and someone was nearby, you would want them to help you too. 
So, with hushed steps, you moved even closer to the bush, instinctively stretching out your hand that carried the shovel. You know, just in case you needed to use it as a weapon if you were attacked. You also made sure to not stray too far away from the sand playing area so that when your mum came back to the bench, you would still be in her line of sight. Turning at the corner so that you could finally take a look at the person behind the crying (and bushes), you slowly raised your arm down such that it was now resting against your side, your gaze fixed on the culprit.
There was a crying boy in front of you.
He had a bowl haircut and was wearing a white crew neck short sleeve t-shirt. He also had really chubby cheeks that resembled peaches. Not that it mattered, but it was one of the few things that caught your attention when you first saw him. His eyes were red and swollen from all the crying, and he had yet to notice your presence yet, still huddled in the bushes. Every now and then, he’d wipe his tear-stained cheeks, but the tears just kept falling and falling like a waterfall. About half a head taller than you, he looked like one of those boys in your kindergarten, so you guessed that he was around your age too. 
Seeing as to how the crying boy was literally harmless, the paranoid feeling that you had from before dissipated completely. It was instead replaced by a sense of helplessness. You were usually a good problem solver, but you didn’t know what to do right now. Your parents often distracted you with a toy whenever you were crying, but what could you possibly offer to him when all you had was a silly plastic shovel that was dirtied with sand?
Still determined to make him feel better, you took a deep breath before walking up to the crying boy, two fingers timidly tapping on his shoulder. 
“I'm sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you.” You quickly apologised with both hands raised up defensively when the boy jolted upright, now looking straight at you with frightened eyes. So much for not wanting to scare him… You were going to be upset at yourself if you made him cry even more. 
When he didn’t respond and instead backed away from you, a pang of hurt washed over you. You genuinely didn’t have any ill intentions and just wanted to help him, why couldn’t he see that? What’s more, it wasn’t like you could physically take him down with your comparatively petite size. The only good thing was that he finally stopped crying, and you couldn’t help but think that maybe he was embarrassed by it.
Before you could let any irrational thoughts of leaving him alone consume you, you dared to take another step closer to him, gently placing a palm on his shoulder as assurance that you were not going to hurt him. 
“Are you okay? What happened?” you asked.
His shoulders immediately relaxed, but still, no words left his mouth for a few seconds.
“My grandma brought me to feed pigeons,” he explained, and you nodded, prompting him to continue. “But I got scared because a group of them suddenly came up to me. I could only think about running away, so that’s what I did,” he said in between hiccups. 
“I heard grandma calling for me, but I just wanted to get away from the birds so I ran all the way here and now I can’t find her.” Tears welling up at the mention of his grandma, you patted his shoulder in an attempt to console him. It was only then that you noticed bits and pieces of uneaten bread in one of his clutched palms. You felt really bad and wanted him to be back with his grandma, safe and sound.
“What's your name?”
You didn’t mean to bombard him with more questions, but surely, you couldn’t refer to him as crying bread boy, especially not if you were going to help him find his grandma.
“Jaehyun,” he answered. 
“Jaehyun,” you repeated after him, liking how it was a nice name to call out. At that, Jaehyun asked for your name, also repeating it after you told him.
Looking out in the distance, it was fortunate that you saw your mum walking back from the restroom, about to reach the bench that she’d been sitting on this whole time. You quickly turned back to Jaehyun, a comforting smile etched on your lips. 
“My mummy is there,” you gestured at her before continuing. “She’s really nice and will get you home safely to grandma, okay?”
He was silent again, and you wondered if he was doubting you or your intentions. Removing your hand from his shoulder, you grabbed his free hand, intertwining his pinkie with yours, “I promise.”
Jaehyun smiled for the first time ever since you saw him that day, deep dimples forming. “Thank you,” he inched forward, bent down to your eye level, and blew at your temple. “You got sand there. It’s gone now,” he said. You were slightly caught off guard by the close distance, but nevertheless thanked him. 
The focus was to find Jaehyun's grandma, you reminded yourself. Without wasting any second, you interlocked the rest of his fingers together with yours, running towards your mum, who had a surprised look on her face. With pursed lips, she still kept a polite smile, gaze shifting from you to Jaehyun as she patiently waited for you to introduce him to her. 
Doing the honour of telling her what happened so Jaehyun didn’t have to repeat himself, it turns out that you were right about your mum knowing what to do.
She revealed that the Jeong family actually moved into the empty apartment opposite yours just last week, and she had already met them when Jaehyun and his mum came over to give rice cakes as part of tradition. Due to it being a brief interaction and Jaehyun hiding behind his mum the whole time, that could be why he didn’t recognise your mum at first glance. He was apparently shy when it came to meeting new people, though, you’d like to think that he just enjoyed hiding behind people and things for no reason.
After you’ve gathered all your things, the three of you walked back to your apartment together. Sandwiched in between you and your mum, Jaehyun was holding onto both of your hands. You did not know how he was feeling on the inside, but you could visibly tell that he’d already calmed down.
On the way home, you and Jaehyun ended up talking with each other, pretty much like how you would in kindergarten when getting to know more about a new friend. You learnt that he does not like bright colours and prefers sticking to monochrome colours, his birthday falls on Valentine’s day, and that he’s living here for five years because of his dad’s job. Oh, he enjoys playing basketball too. 
The walk to your apartment proved to be faster than expected as you and Jaehyun continued chatting until you reached. The two of you were in your own world, neither of you noticing your mum smiling at how well the both of you got along. It was as if you’ve known each other your entire lives.
His frightened eyes resurfaced while waiting at his front door, certain that he was going to be reprimanded big time for recklessly running away like that. To his surprise, however, the door opened to his mum and grandma standing side by side, the both of them letting out a huge sigh of relief the moment they saw him, not a tinge of anger in their voice or face. Running into their embrace, he apologised for making them worried and promised not to do it ever again. 
Other than the few sand particles that stained his once pristine white tee (the culprit shall not be named), they were glad that he made his way back home safely with you and your mum’s help.
Like yin and yang, black and white, Jaehyun and you were two-halves, who by the roundabout way of fate, found your way to each other, complementing and contradicting every bit of your souls in an imperfectly perfect manner that was like no other.
And the rest was history.
It was the final game of the season, and also the last day of the junior year. Despite winning all of the previous games by a large margin, Jaehyun didn’t want to get too complacent and take it easy just yet, since they were up against one of the stronger teams today. After all, it was the finals that determined if they would become champion, and if there’s one thing that he learnt growing up, it’s that he should either go big or go home. In other words, it’s either champion or nothing. 
Both teams have already arrived at the stadium, now wrapping up their warm-up exercises and ball handling drills as the spectators started to fill up the seats. Out of habit, Jaehyun looked to a particular area in the audience that’s near his team’s benches.
You’ve always been Jaehyun's biggest supporter, not just in basketball, but throughout his life, ever since that fateful meeting.
At age ten, his world almost came crashing down when he thought that he’d have to fly back to the other side of the world since his father’s contract had ended. He couldn’t imagine not having you by his side, and Jaehyun did not want to bid farewell to you, not at that time, not ever. But life had a funny way of working out, because you still ended up being his neighbour when he went back to Seoul, both of you promising that you wouldn’t leave each other’s side.
Because if it weren’t for you, he’s positive that he wouldn’t have made it this far either. 
Sad to say, his biggest supporter also happened to have a frequent problem of tardiness. Reaching on time already proved to be a challenge for you, so Jaehyun’s not sure why he expected you to be early for his game. Although you promised him yesterday that you'd come watch him play, he couldn’t help but sulk in disappointment when he did not see the one person that he’s waiting for. 
“Don’t worry Cap, she’ll be here soon. You know how it is.” Feeling a bump against his shoulders, Jaehyun looked away from the audience and came face to face with his teammate, who shot him a reassuring smile. 
Mark Lee, Vice-captain of the basketball team, and also Jaehyun's ride or die. Meeting through basketball, they’ve been playing alongside each other ever since high school days. Mark was the next person that Jaehyun could comfortably confide in after you, and the closest thing that their bond could be likened to was that of biological brothers. 
Save for the celebratory after parties, a few spontaneous outings, and the several common classes that they shared, the two did not typically hang out together on the regular outside of basketball. Even so, having been a part of each other’s lives for so many years, it was not surprising that there’s still a mutual sense of understanding between them. Like how some things don’t need to be said aloud, and you’ll still get it. That was the nature of their friendship. Brotherhood, if you will.
And so, it was only a matter of time before Mark eventually latched onto Jaehyun's undying crush on his long-time childhood best friend of seventeen years, you. The way Jaehyun’s eyes twinkled at the mention of your name in conversations, how his jaw clenched at the sight of his teammates getting too chummy with you for his liking whenever you popped by his training sessions; Jaehyun was obviously not an expert at concealing his feelings for you. And as far as Mark's concerned, these feelings were definitely not platonic. 
Jaehyun awkwardly cleared his throat at Mark's words, going over to his team’s benches as if he wasn’t just caught red-handed looking for you in a sea of people. Having a crush in itself was already embarrassing, but it’s worse when other people are aware of it. Even though Jaehyun trusted that Mark isn't the type of person to expose him, it didn’t help that you and Mark were also friends, because the Mark that he knew could not keep a secret to save his life. Case in point: Mark accidentally adding Jaehyun to a group chat with the subject name: Captain’s Birthday Surprise Party.
Perhaps the least of his concerns as of this moment, but someday if Jaehyun ever decided to make his feelings known, he wanted you to hear it directly from him. 
“Jae!” 
Jaehyun snapped back to reality when he heard a familiar voice, standing up from the benches to look back at that one spot in the audience. Unable to hide his smile, he waved at you, chuckling at the raised banner in your hands that read: MY CAPTAIN ♡ #23.
Wearing the number 23 jersey came with great expectations, and even though Jaehyun was no Michael Jordan, he’d proven himself to be worthy of owning it. Carrying the burden of being the star player and team captain was not easy, to say the least, but Jaehyun was grateful that he has the support of his teammates, and most importantly, you. 
There were days in which he got really stressed out because of practice, venting to you about how he needed to stop shooting air balls when it was only days away from the competition. Or when Yuta, his teammate, continuously used illegal contact in spite of his instructions. He could not be emotionally charged when dealing with his teammates, so you were the only person that he could go to. 
Unlike him, however, you weren’t familiar with basketball so your responses often came in the form of understanding nods, a listening ear, and becoming a shoulder for him to lean on. 
And even that was enough for Jaehyun.
“You can do it!” 
Jaehyun thinks back to the time that you tried to cheer him up with encouraging words. It was one of those days in which he ended practice with a heavy mind, and he could only let it all out while ranting to you. 
“You’re Jeong Jaehyun, there’s literally nothing you can’t do. Troy Bolton?” you scoffed. “I’ve only ever heard of Jaehyun Bolton!” Jaehyun bursted into laughter the moment he heard that, visibly entertained by how you could come up with something so absurd yet hilarious. But just like magic, Jaehyun also felt a heavy weight lift off his shoulders at your affirmation.
“You’ll do just fine, Captain.” You gave him a comforting pat once he calmed down from laughing, adopting a more serious tone to let him know that you weren’t kidding about him doing well.
Even if it was a spur-in-the-moment kind of thing, it somehow aged really well, for Jeong Jaehyun has never lost a single game in his life, and he didn’t plan on losing any game in the near future. 
It’s the fourth and final quarter of the game. To be precise, it was down to the last two minutes.
Jaehyun’s team was playing offence, and even though they were in the lead, the opposing team was very close to catching up to their score. These two minutes were extremely crucial.
Eyes trained on the ball, Jaehyun watched Jungwoo dribble it, getting as close as he could to the three-point line. Except, Jungwoo struggled to do so because he was surrounded by the opposing team, which practically made it impossible for him to inch any closer. 
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
The referee blew the whistle, signalling for Jungwoo to hand the ball over to the opponent because he went past the five-second rule. 
Jungwoo wore a look of disappointment on his face, reluctantly passing the ball over. Jaehyun noticed this, and quickly jogged over to his teammate. “It’s okay,” he muttered, patting Jungwoo on the back. 
As the seconds went by, the opposing team passed the ball within their team, but never quite made it close to the scoring lines either, Yuta powerfully smacking the ball to block their advances. One of them continuously shouted at their teammate to shoot once there was an opportunity, but he didn't, and Jaehyun guessed it’s because it’s too far and risky a shot to take, especially with the clock ticking. 
Failing to make any further advances, they ended up losing their possession of the ball to Jaehyun's team. He signalled for Sungchan to take it, mentally formulating a strategy for him to get the ball over to their scoring zone smoothly. All of them exchanged glances with one another, collectively nodding after Jaehyun held up three fingers. 
After the whistle beeped, Sungchan wasted no time in passing the ball to Jungwoo before it could get intercepted. 
“Nice!” Jaehyun’s shout echoed, and he ran over to manoeuvre around the empty area just behind the three-point line of their scoring zone. 
They had sixty seconds left. 
Jungwoo was once again blocked, but unlike before, there was only one defender in front of him this time. Not expecting the ball to leave Sungchan’s hands so quickly, the other defenders were still running from the other side of the court, which gave him a bit of an advantage. 
“I'm free!” Mark called out, raising his hand to get Jungwoo’s attention. 
Jungwoo always played it safe, so he planned to dribble the ball to ensure that he could make a smooth pass to Mark. But dribbling the ball also made it easy for the defender to snatch the ball away, so he decided against it. 
Instead, he steadily raised the ball over his head as though he was about to do a shoulder pass to Mark, then waited for the defender to raise his arms knowing that he would try to smack it down. The second the defender’s hands were raised above his waist level, Jungwoo speedily brought the ball down, successfully bouncing the ball into Mark's hands.
Clearly outnumbered, the defender did not even try to stop Mark’s pass to Jaehyun. 
With the ball now in his possession, the entire stadium turned silent, suspense growing as all eyes fell on Jaehyun, waiting for him to take the shot. They’d already won the game, but it was still undeniably exhilarating to watch, considering that there were only eight seconds left until the game ended. Furthermore, it’s a three-pointer at stake here. 
It’s now or never. 
Jaehyun’s gaze was fixed on the hoop. Flashbacks of his air ball moments started playing in his mind, and he had to shake his head to physically clear out such thoughts. He exhaled deeply, the image of you with the banner that you probably stayed up to finish appearing instead, and he thought back to what you said to him before. No matter how ridiculous, he must admit that your words gave him a boost of confidence that faltered for a while when the opposing team kept scoring earlier. Positioning the ball over his head, he made a jump for it, effortlessly flicking the ball out of his palms… 
And he scores.
The crowd erupted in massive applause and loud cheers. Splashes of red, yellow, and white of the team’s flag colour decorated the entire stadium. Jaehyun’s teammates made a run for their captain, engulfing him in a group hug as they celebrated their victory. Before both teams returned to their benches, they lined up in a row for a handshake, mutters of good job and good game exchanged between players and coaches alike. 
As he did in every other game, Jaehyun returned to the benches and turned back to look at you. Even though most of the crowd already dispersed, you were still seated there, banner in hand. Pointing at it once again, you mouthed exactly what’s written on it, showing him a thumbs up. Grinning from ear to ear, he did not make any effort to hide his happiness.
Forget movies. If the multiverse was real, Jaehyun hoped there is a version where you become the Gabriella Montez to his Troy Bolton. 
Summer vacation rolled around soon enough, and before you knew it, you were sitting on the passenger seat of Jaehyun's car, buckling up your seatbelt while he started the engine.
You didn’t usually make any extravagant plans for summer vacation, but this year was slightly different in that both of your families decided to rent out a villa at Fluffel Heights. A three-hour drive away, it’s a small town located up north from your neighbourhood. It’s rare for everyone to be around, so this was the best time to spend the next three months together. 
You were supposed to set out at seven in the morning, but as always, you overslept again. Your parents left you a text saying they’d go over to check out the villa with Jaehyun's parents first, and that you and Jaehyun could come together later. Turns out, he also had difficulty getting out of bed because he was up all night gaming. By the time the both of you got ready, it was almost nearing noon.
“Wanna get Starbucks?” Jaehyun asked after keying in the address of the villa into his GPS. The shimmering heat of the sun tempted you to say yes, so the both of you stopped by to get drinks and snacks for the long ride. You decided to try an iced shaken tea with lemonade that’s new on the menu, while Jaehyun got his usual iced americano.
The first two hours went by quickly with you and Jaehyun screaming out the lyrics to your favourite songs at the top of your lungs. You rolled down the windows too, relishing in the pleasant feeling of the refreshing summer breeze brushing against your skin. 
Before the trip, Jaehyun came up with a brilliant idea of creating a shared road trip playlist together. Your music tastes were similar to each other, so it was easy to add songs that both of you would definitely enjoy. Titled I got my driver’s licence last week, the playlist ended up being five hours and seventeen minutes long, with almost a hundred songs in it. 
Every now and then, Jaehyun would glance over to you with a questioning look on his face whenever one of Taylor Swift’s songs came on. He was not an avid listener of her songs, but he might as well be, from all the times you recommended her songs to him. Your obsession wasn’t something new to him, but he didn’t realise how most of the songs that you added into the playlist were hers until now. 
“At this point, you should just play her entire discography,” he said, sighing. It was only five seconds into the song, but he was already able to recognise it because of how often you listened to it.
“But it's cruel summer!” you retorted back, feeding him a biscuit since his hands were on the steering wheel. “The title has the word ‘summer’ in it, so I had to add it in.” Jaehyun chuckled at your reasoning, but eventually gave in and sang along with you too. How could he not? He practically has the lyrics memorised all because of you.
The singing continued for the rest of the drive, but it wasn’t long before you got tired, simply sitting in your seat and bopping your head to the songs. Jaehyun also quietened down, eyes focused on the road since he’s taking an entirely new route that’s foreign to him. The songs were not as upbeat as before, and you found yourself dozing off every few minutes, the air conditioning making you even sleepier. Eyes shut, Jaehyun’s voice was the last thing that you heard before you completely drifted off to sleep, but you didn’t catch what he said to you. 
“… Mum said there’s a bowling alley at the country club. Let’s go there tonight?” 
Jaehyun’s eyes were still focused on the road, patiently waiting for your response. However, there was nothing except music playing from his speakers, making him tilt his head quizzically. Were you even listening to him?
Jaehyun briefly turned to your direction, and he felt a smile creeping up on his face once he saw you. Phone clutched in your hand, you’d fallen asleep, head dangerously close to hitting against his car window. He’d always known that you would end up falling asleep if you had to travel for more than two hours, but he still found it amusing whenever he caught you doing that.
Shifting his attention back to the road, he continued driving until he exited the expressway, finding a suitable spot for him to stop the car by the side of the road. He reached over to the backseat to get his pillow, carefully positioning it between your head and the window so as to not wake you from your slumber. He also took the spare hoodie that he left in his car to cover over your body as a makeshift blanket. 
Before leaning back into his seat, Jaehyun took in the sight of your sleeping figure for another time, and it took everything in him to not press a kiss against your cheek. 
These days, he’s finding it increasingly difficult to be around you, for the sole reason that your presence made it feel as though his heart was going to burst out of his chest. As much as he likes you, he didn’t know how much longer he could hide his feelings. He’s been doing well all these years, so why now? 
Perhaps it’s because the topic of relationships has started to come up more in your recent conversations with him. Expressing your concern about not being able to find the one, you told him that maybe you should be more serious about your love life and actually put yourself out on the market. He laughed it off and told you that it wasn’t something that you had to worry about, but deep down, it awakened the unmistakable feelings of panic and jealousy in him. That someday, you’ll be with someone who’s not him. 
Jaehyun doesn’t know what he’ll do when that happens. 
It was ironic, really. 
A part of him wanted to muster up the courage to shoot his shot. It’s risky, but even if he missed, at least he tried and wouldn’t be left with any regret. At the same time, however, the thought of potentially destroying your friendship outweighed everything else, and it would be selfish of him to prioritise his feelings over what the both of you have built together over the years. 
“Yuno,” you called out, breaking Jaehyun out of his thoughts. 
He looked at you, surprised, since you didn’t usually call him that. In fact, you’re the only person who ever calls him that. He leaned in closer to hear you properly, but he’s unable to make out your incoherent mumbles. He sighed, not knowing what to do with you, or more specifically, his feelings for you. But before he could let his thoughts of you consume him again, he started the engine and continued the drive to the villa. Because if there’s one thing that Jaehyun’s good at, it’s pretending.
Jaehyun pretends to be unaffected each time you have a new eye candy in school, when on the inside, he secretly hoped that it won’t progress to anything beyond that. He pretends that you’re not the reason for his past breakups because he always saw glimpses of you in every single one of his dating partners. But most of all, he pretends that he cares and looks out for you in the name of being your best friend, when in reality, it is the only way he can be affectionate with you like lovers do.
Jaehyun guessed the bowling alley could wait. After all, he has the entire summer with you.
Summer isn’t summer if you didn’t visit the beach, so that’s where you and Jaehyun went today. Except, it was apparent that the two of you had very different ideas about what to do at the beach.
“You’re not seriously reading a book at the beach.” Jaehyun stared at you with judgmental eyes.
You glanced up at Jaehyun, ignoring how he looked almost offended before flipping over to the next page. “I’m on the last chapter.” 
Jaehyun took the empty spot next to you under the shade, attempting to snatch the book out of your hands, but to no avail as you turned your body away from him. “Stop it. We can do whatever you want later, let me finish this first.” 
“We don’t have all day,” he grumbled. 
In spite of his complaints, Jaehyun obediently sat there while he waited for you to finish the novel. Soon he got bored and started to pick out the seashells that were scattered across the sand, gathering them in the palm of his hand. Since he didn’t move beyond the shade, you tried your best to not get distracted by his movements, until he moved back to his original spot, calling for your attention to show you the seashells that he’d collected.
“This one’s pretty,” you pointed at one of the seashells that took on the shape of a traditional hand fan.  
“Right?” Jaehyun took the seashell that you picked out, leaning in closer to you. 
You backed away instinctively. “What are you doing?”
He wordlessly raised the seashell, holding it up to your ear. “Just listen.”
You could hear the afternoon waves crawling gently to the shore, the metramonic lulling making you feel like you were sitting by the water there and then, even though you were relatively far away from the edge of the water. Eyes widened, you looked over at Jaehyun in fascination, amazed by how such a phenomenon was possible. 
“I know,” he said, as though he could read your mind. 
After what felt like hours to Jaehyun, you were finally done with your book. He didn’t want to waste any more time and practically dragged you along with him. 
The both of you tried standup paddleboarding for a few hours, but it always ended with Jaehyun laughing at you whenever you lost your balance. Too bad for you, your best friend was a natural at sports, so you couldn’t poke fun at him the same way he did to you, and the best you could do was shoot daggers at him. 
You thought that the both of you would return to the villa after that as you and Jaehyun took a slow stroll along the beach, leaving your footprints along the trail. That is, until Jaehyun suddenly carried you up in one swift movement when you weren’t paying attention to him, and the next thing you knew, you were in the water. 
“Jeong Yuno!”
You shouted at him once you got up from the water surface, raking your fingers through your hair to get it out of your face. 
Jaehyun stuck his tongue out. “Come and get me if you can!”
“Oh, I will.” You took large strides towards the shore, determined to drag Jaehyun into the water too. He wasn’t really making a run for it, and that spurred you on to go faster, making it far enough to be just an arm’s length away from him.
Before you could reach out to grab him, however, your foot came into contact with something sharp and hard, causing you to let out a loud shriek. You didn’t know what you stepped on, but it was so painful that you could feel your legs giving up on you. Closing your eyes as though it would cushion the impact of the fall, you were surprised to feel an arm wrapped around your waist instead. You slowly opened your eyes, only to come face to face with Jaehyun. Eyebrows drawn together, his concerned eyes glazed over yours to check if you were okay.
“Be careful, will you?” Jaehyun murmured. “You’re always making me worried for no reason.” You swallowed hard, trying your hardest to feign ignorance at how his body was pressing against yours, so close that even the thin piece of cloth separating your bodies didn’t stop you from being able to feel the outline of his well-defined abs.
You looked away from him for a moment to recollect yourself, and that seemed to make Jaehyun think that you got hurt somewhere else. Letting go of your waist, Jaehyun bent down in an attempt to check on your supposedly injured foot. A mistake on his part, it seemed, Jaehyun was caught off guard and hastily pushed into the water seconds later.
You smiled in victory, bursting into fits of laughter once you saw Jaehyun’s priceless face. “Gotcha!”
In retrospect, maybe Jaehyun should have insisted on going to the bowling alley with you the first night you two reached the villa.
Six weeks into summer vacation, his extended family were invited over for an impromptu poolside party since they happened to be around the area. They were too tired to drive back by the time the party ended, so they crashed in the villa for the night. But one night turned into two, and they eventually decided to spend the entire summer here too.
And the thought of it was enough to make him clench his fist in anger.
It’s not that he hated them. Their families were pretty close, so this arrangement was not something out of the blue. But with them around, Jaehyun could hardly spend a moment with you in peace. Not just that, there’s been days in which Jaehyun woke up to texts of you cancelling plans, and he didn’t even know where you wandered off to.
It’s true that you and Jaehyun had the opportunity to explore different places of interest around the town. From paddleboarding at the beach to renting bicycles at the park, he has had his fair share of quality time with you to try out new activities you haven’t done together before. Minus the bowling alley, of course, because it somehow slipped Jaehyun's mind.
Still, no amount of time spent with you would ever be enough for him.
Ever since his extended family joined, you’ve been around his cousin a lot more than he’d liked. To make things worse, his cousin did not have a very good concept of personal space either. Catching his incessant touches on your arm or shoulder, Jaehyun was unable to suppress the green-eyed monster in him.
Johnny Suh was a little bit of a handful. 
Notorious for his reputation as a player who changes his significant other every two weeks, you’re someone that Jaehyun would never let him get close to, even if Johnny was the last person left on earth. If he had to be honest, he wasn’t even sure if those people were even significant enough to be called his significant other, but that’s beside the point. The point was that his efforts were proven to be futile, especially from the way that you didn’t mind how Johnny has his arm around your shoulder, giggling at the sweet nothings that he whispered in your ear.
Jaehyun wasn’t used to any of this. He recalls a conversation he had with you in the kitchen where he tried warning you about Johnny, but it was apparent that his words fell on deaf ears. 
“He’s just being friendly,” you said, and Jaehyun had to physically hold himself back from letting out another sigh. 
For the lack of a better word, he thought that you were being really stupid. You might not have had much experience in the dating scene, but surely, you’ve spotted Johnny flirting with random strangers at the country club before. Even if you didn’t personally witness it with your eyes, you must have at least heard him flirting with people over the phone. That should’ve been sufficient for you to see that Johnny wasn’t serious about you.
“He's my cousin, I'm sure I know him better than you do,” Jaehyun retaliated. Why were you being so stubborn? It was not like you at all.
“Okay and?”
You kept your phone in your pocket and looked up at him, rolling your eyes. “Do you want an award for that? Why must you consistently prove that you’re better than me?”
Jaehyun scoffed, unable to believe the words coming out of your mouth. Turning off the tap, the kitchen was filled with the clanging sound of Jaehyun angrily placing the washed plates and mugs back into the dish holder. “Is that what you really think of me? A competitive asshole? After all these years we’ve spent together, that’s all you have to say about me?”
You fell silent. Regret instantly showed in your eyes, and even Jaehyun knew that you only said it in the heat of the moment, but it was still hurtful. He hated this. It was inevitable for arguments to arise in friendships, but lately, that was all the both of you did. Argue. And it was always over Johnny. 
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Jaehyun spoke again, back leaning against the kitchen counter as he turned to face you.
“I wouldn’t be saying all of this if I didn't care about you.” His tone was much gentler than before, because honestly, he didn’t have it in him to stay mad at you too. “I’m just looking out for you, as a friend.”
A friend, he said.
“Then as my friend, can’t you be happy for me?” Jaehyun felt the touch of your hand over his, your gazes locked. “You know better than anyone how much this means to me, so can’t you let me have it?”
He can’t. 
More than anyone, Jaehyun wished for your happiness. But he also wished that you could see where he’s coming from. It goes without saying that he’ll be happy for you if you found someone, but Johnny is really not who you think he is, and definitely not the one for you.
Jaehyun pulled his hand away, causing you to take a step back at how cold he was acting. It was evident that he’d given up and didn’t want to continue the conversation. Because to him, there was no point in talking if you were not going to listen to him. Body turned towards the door, he slowly made his way out of the kitchen.
“Jae, about earlier, I–”
“Save it.” His footsteps came to a halt, but Jaehyun did not even bother turning back to spare you a single glance. It was awful that he cut you off, but it couldn’t possibly compare to what he said next, the words cutting right through your heart.
“Just don’t come crying to me later on.” 
Looking back, Jaehyun wished he could turn back time because he’s sorry for being so harsh towards you, for unintentionally starting a cold war. Other than greeting each other when your parents were around, it really killed him that you barely spoke to him. 
It killed him even more right now to see you by Johnny's side, affectionately leaning into his touch. And because ignorance is bliss, Jaehyun averted his eyes right before you pressed your lips against Johnny’s, hiding behind a corner where he faded away with the rest of the world that no longer seemed to have you in it.
–  
In the course of your friendship, Jaehyun was always the first to reach out to you, attempting to patch things up whenever the two of you fought, taking the blame even if it wasn’t entirely his fault. And while you acknowledge how unfair it is to him, you could never find the right words to say to him, and by the time you figure it out, he’d have beaten you to it. Of course, you would admit that you were also in the wrong, but it still feels bad that he’s constantly the one giving in to you.
This time, however, you were convinced that he did not want anything to do with you anymore. 
It’s been almost two weeks since the two of you argued, but Jaehyun has yet to approach you. Considering how your previous fights never lasted for more than a week, you wondered if the friendship could still be salvaged. 
In an attempt to clear your mind, you decided to go out to get some fresh air. So here you were, sitting on a swing in the park. And even though it’s not the same, it reminded you of the neighbourhood playground that you and Jaehyun always went to when you were much younger. Gone were the carefree times where the only thing the both of you worried about was how you were going to talk the adults into letting you play a little longer before going home. 
You think you miss Jaehyun a little more than you usually do today.
Maybe it’s a sign for you to reach out and apologise first. It’s just two simple words, and Jaehyun has said it to you so many times before, so there’s no reason that you couldn’t do it. But admitting to your wrongs is always a difficult thing to do, even if it’s your best friend that you’re being honest and vulnerable with. Or rather, because he’s your best friend, all the more it makes it harder for you to swallow your pride, because he was right about Johnny after all. 
True to Jaehyun’s words, you were nothing more than a side piece to Johnny. Coming and leaving as he pleased, your iMessage conversation with Johnny was increasingly filled with blue speech bubbles only. Even if he did text back, his responses were often one-word replies or things that were difficult to reply to, as if his intention was to end the conversation there and then.
It was not a nice feeling at all. 
Although things between the both of you have ended, thoughts about Johnny didn’t fail to make you tear up.
You hated how desperate you were during that time, shredding every piece of dignity you had in you to hold onto Johnny in hopes that he would do the same too. Spending most of his time on his phone instead of sparing you his attention, cutting short your hangouts, openly flirting with other girls in your presence; you still decided to put your trust in Johnny and ignored all these signs that blatantly presented themselves to you. 
Why? Because he was the first ever person that made you feel like you’d be able to experience the love that you always dreamed about. It would be too far a reach to say that he was your first love, but he was undoubtedly the first person to ever make you have feelings you didn’t know you had, both good and bad. The last straw was him accidentally calling you by another name, and you weren’t sure how you were supposed to end something that never really started, but you did by deleting every trace of Johnny in your phone. And eventually, your life. It was a difficult step, but one you had to take.
Never mind that your first experience with the closest resemblance to love was agonising, you were also on the brink of losing your best friend that you’ve practically known your entire life. You went from seeing him every day to almost forgetting how his voice sounded, as though a part of your soul had been taken away from you. You don’t know why you quarrelled with Jaehyun. It was not worth it though, that much you’d know.  
Gaze fixated on a little girl and boy playing on the see-saw, the feelings of despair grew stronger, and the sight of them made your heart clench. It’s not fair, the way everything reminded you of him. You tried to push the thoughts of him to the back of your mind to convince yourself that you didn’t care about him, but the tear that escaped your eye betrayed you.
If only you had listened to him then.
“I’ll be at the balcony, call me if you need anything!”
Your dad hummed in response, momentarily looking up at you walking up the stairs before returning his attention to the barbeque pit, entirely focused on grilling the meat.
Summer was about to come to an end, and so was your stay at the villa. By the courtesy of Jaehyun’s and your parents who thought that it’ll be a good way to end the vacation with a barbeque party, they’ve been planning it together over the past few weeks. As opposed to you and Jaehyun who were still not on talking terms, it’s unfortunate that you didn’t manage to find an opportunity to properly apologise to Jaehyun. He was avoiding you, it seemed, from the way he’d devour his meal within minutes and return to his room, door shut and locked. There was never a chance for you to approach him, and soon you gave up even trying knowing that it would be a waste of your time. You didn’t want to ruin the party tonight knowing how much planning went into it, so you tried not to think too much about Jaehyun too.
The balcony had a splendid view that oversaw the small town; it was especially pretty when the sun set and rose. You’d accidentally discovered it a few days ago when a bird flew to the balcony railing, its loud chirps waking you up from your sleep. Groggily getting up to chase the bird away, you noticed how the morning sun was situated perfectly on the horizon. Its bright orange hue unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, the small town came to life during those few blissful minutes. 
Not wanting to miss the last sunset before you left the villa, you made sure to check the sunset time and even set an alarm for it. Today, the cloud cover was more extensive, which provided a beautiful contrast to the pinkish hues that splattered across the sky. As you took in the scenic landscape in front of you, you were in awe of how fast the colours changed even if you looked away only for a few minutes, very much like how fast the entire summer went by. 
“Mind if I join?”
Your solitude gets interrupted by a voice, and you almost jumped because of the sudden intrusion. But the moment it hit you, whose voice it was, it was your heart that really almost jumped. 
“Sure.” You pondered if you should turn behind. You don’t know how you’d react, seeing him again after such a long time, even though you’ve been meaning to see him because you only caught him whenever he passed by the hallway over the past few days. Not to mention, these rare sightings were extremely short-lived too. His voice alone was enough to make you break. Jaehyun eventually put an end to your dilemma by standing next to you, his arms crossed, elbows resting against the railing.
You felt like exploding.
You sneaked a peek at Jaehyun through your peripheral vision. He was wearing a plain black tee, which was basically what he wore every other day, and somehow you find yourself missing the sight of him appearing in the same few clothes that he owned. A small smile was playing on his lips as he looked over the horizon, and you thought about how if it wasn’t for the ongoing cold war between the both of you, this would have been an adorable moment that you shared together – watching the sunset. 
“It's so beautiful,” Jaehyun mused, and only when he spoke did you catch a whiff of alcohol on his breath.
“Have you been drinking?”
Voice laced with concern, you turned to him fully this time, getting a clearer view of his face. While his cheeks were not tinted red, his droopy eyes definitely gave it away. You didn’t even have to hear his reply to know the answer to your question. 
A lazy smile formed on his face, dimples peeking out. “Just a few glasses,” he said, slowly closing the distance between the two of you. It almost took you back to the day at the beach.
Jaehyun rested his chin on your shoulder, caging your small frame in his arms. You were taken aback by the sudden physical intimacy, considering how he’d not looked you in the eye for more than five seconds since the argument broke out. You’re not sure if it’s because of the close proximity or because he’d been drinking, but it was tremendously warm, and you could feel your body heating up too. It was warm in a good way, however, and because you couldn’t deny that you missed your best friend dearly, you returned the hug too. 
Jaehyun called your name, pulling away from the hug first. Staring deeply like this into his honey brown eyes is akin to the feeling of putting on your favourite cardigan, and it makes you realise just how much you missed him, his hugs, and everything else about him. 
“I missed you,” Jaehyun mumbled, his voice low. And if it weren’t for the fact that his face was just inches away from yours, you would’ve missed what he said. What struck you more was how he verbalised exactly what you were thinking of at that moment, even more so knowing that it wasn’t typical of Jaehyun to say such things.
You leaned back slightly, slowly letting go of him. “You’re drunk, Jaehyun.”
“So I can’t miss you when I’m drunk?” he challenged, pulling you even closer to him. His gaze on you didn’t falter, and the intensity of it made you want to scream; he has never looked at you like that before.
“No,” you muttered, “but you don’t usually act like that.”
“What if I want to?”
He was genuinely making you puzzled. “Huh?”
“What if I want to be this close to you all the time?” 
You let out a harsh breath at his words, trying to break free of his hold. “Let’s talk when you’re sober.”
A mirthless laugh escaped Jaehyun’s lips, your response making him look away for a moment before turning back to you. “I have a high tolerance. You know I never get drunk.” 
His hands were no longer around your waist, and you wondered if something happened for him to behave this way. You didn’t even understand the hidden layers of meaning behind his words, but it wasn’t something you wanted to think about when the both of you have yet to resolve your previous argument. If anything, he was confusing you even more with his words and actions.
“We should talk about this another time,” you insisted.
“No,” Jaehyun protested, bringing a hand up to tuck away stray pieces of hair behind your ear. You felt small under his gaze, shy because of his affectionate gestures. At a loss of words, it was difficult for you to predict where this was heading, but you prayed that it wouldn’t end up in another argument. A brief silence took over as neither of you said anything, until you noticed his eyes trailing down to your lips. 
“I want to kiss you so bad.”
“Jaehyun,” you gasped in shock. You put your hand on his chest to push him away, withdrawing it as soon as there was a considerable amount of space between you two.
“Don’t say such things when you’re not in the right state of mind.” Even though those words were meant for Jaehyun, it felt as though you were trying to convince yourself instead. That your best friend definitely didn’t see you in that way, and that it was just the alcohol talking. Yet, as you watched how the smile on his face fell when you pushed him away, it was getting harder to convince yourself otherwise.
“But I do,” he said, eyes searching your face for any signs of discomfort before carefully taking a step closer to bring you into a hug again, your forehead resting against his chest. “I don’t want to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. But I really want to kiss you. On the lips.” 
You immediately shook your head. “We can’t.”
“Why? Is it because of Johnny?” Jaehyun questioned, the pain in his voice went unhidden. 
“I’ve ended things with Johnny,” you clarified quickly, and for some reason it didn’t hurt as much as you thought it would, admitting that to Jaehyun. 
“Then why can’t we kiss?”
You blew out your cheeks, dumbfounded at how he was asking the obvious. “Because best friends are not supposed to kiss each other.” 
“You’re not just a best friend to me,” he stated. 
“Jaehyun, don’t do this.” You huffed, frustratedly cutting in before he could continue as you did not anticipate his confession. 
But he’d only moved his hand up, holding you in place through the form of gentle pats on your head, like he was silently telling you to listen to what he had to say. Knowing that this was going to come up again even if you avoided it now, you decided to give in, leaning into his warmth. Once he felt you relax, Jaehyun drew in a long breath before speaking again. 
“I like you so much,” Jaehyun started, the sense of resignation embedded within his confession so apparent that it made you curious just how long he’d been bottling this up for. “I really like you so much, I think it might even be love.” He repeated, as though you didn’t hear him right the first time. And if his words made your heart flutter, you pretended that it didn’t, hoping that he wouldn’t be able to feel how fast your heart was racing.
“But I knew it was wrong to have romantic feelings for my best friend. I wasn’t going to jeopardise our friendship, so I did everything I could to get rid of them. Told myself it was just a phase, and even started dating around,” Jaehyun continued. 
“It didn’t work, obviously,” he chuckled bitterly. “I ended up liking you more and more every day, I thought I was going crazy. For a while, it was easy for me to just ignore my feelings,” he hesitated for a moment before resuming.
“Until Johnny came into the picture.” 
You were steeped in guilt, grateful that your face was buried in Jaehyun’s chest. 
“I hated that you dropped me to be with him. Fuck, it hurt me so much to see the two of you doing things I’ve always longed to do with you. It’s true that he’s a player but all I wanted was to be selfish and keep you for myself. I felt stupid and sorry for not being to able to stop you from getting hurt, because that’s not how you’d protect someone you like.” 
“Don’t be sorry, it’s my fault for not listening,” you murmured. While you didn’t want to ruin the moment, you thought it was important to let Jaehyun know that getting involved with Johnny was solely your decision, and that it wasn’t something he could take the blame for even if he wanted to. It was also part of what you’ve been wanting to tell him in the few times that you attempted to approach him. 
Jaehyun tenderly threaded his hand through your hair upon hearing your apology, but neither accepted nor rejected it. “I know it’s unfair of me to suddenly dump all of this on you, but I can’t hold it in anymore. You don’t have to do anything about it, I just wanted to let you know that…” He huffed, “I really, really, really, like you a lot… Buttercup.” 
Buttercup. 
Hearing that nickname aroused unexplainable feelings within you, partly because Jaehyun didn’t call you that often. It was an inside joke that started in middle school, when you told him that Buttercup was your favourite Powerpuff Girl character because you found her really cool. Mischievous since young, Jaehyun responded by saying that it was really fitting because the two of you shared the same grouchy face, especially on early mornings when you had to wake up for school. He never stopped teasing you since then and would call you that whenever an opportunity arises. 
This time, however, there was a hint of adoration behind the nickname that was definitely far from concealed. And you don’t think you want Jaehyun to stop calling you that. 
You felt Jaehyun press a soft kiss to the crown of your head, rendering you speechless because it made you forget what you wanted to say to him. It was too late, by the time you fully processed what had happened, for Jaehyun had already walked away, leaving you alone on the balcony just as you were waiting for the sunset earlier.
Only, the sun had already gone down. You couldn’t even find it in yourself to bask in the lovely afterglow that painted the sky when all you could focus on was the darkness surrounding it. 
It was indeed a cruel summer. 
– 
“Dude, so you just walked away after pouring your heart out to her? And the kiss. Dude, I really thought you would’ve gone for her lips!” 
Jaehyun almost spat out his food at Mark’s exclamation, not expecting the younger boy to raise his voice. Jaehyun’s eyes rapidly scanned the cafeteria to see if anyone heard him, and was relieved to see that they were busily engaged with their conversations to catch what Mark said. 
“Not loud enough, Mark. You should just announce it through the PA system and make sure even people in the Design School can hear you,” Jaehyun scowled at Mark, causing him to quickly apologise with a sheepish smile. 
The Design School was located on the other end of the campus from where they were, so Jaehyun probably wouldn’t have the cheek to turn up for classes if they could actually hear him. Though, Mark technically couldn’t be blamed for being so excited, since it’s not every day that he got an update on his close friend’s love life. He’d been invested in this for years. 
“But to answer your question, yeah. I’ve been avoiding her because I don’t know what else I should do,” Jaehyun said, mindlessly using his fork to play with his food instead of putting it into his mouth. He didn’t have much of an appetite. He didn’t even feel like he deserved to eat after what he pulled. Still, he had to get something into his system, because if not, there was no way he would survive afternoon practice later.
“Oh man,” Mark said, a tinge of disappointment in his voice. “She probably feels like shit though,” he added, his eyes widening immediately after realising the implication of his words. 
“Not saying you don’t feel like shit too, but you know, like, getting ignored after all that. I’d be bat shit confused,” he attempted to clear up. 
It’s occasionally difficult to comprehend Mark’s words because he speaks in the same way that he thinks, as though he’s still trying to piece his thoughts together, but Jaehyun knew what he was trying to get at. Mark did have a point, however. A point that, as Mark put it, made Jaehyun feel like shit. He knew better than anyone that it was wrong of him to leave you hanging without an explanation of any sort. 
“So you think I should approach her first?” 
Mark shook his head. “It’s not up to me to tell you what to do,” he replied, scraping up the remaining few bits of his food before taking a spoonful of it. “Just think that at the end of the day, you should follow your heart. Put aside the whole friends since childhood thing. There’s no way things would go back to how they were anyway.”
If you told Jaehyun five years ago that he’d be receiving advice on his love life from Mark, he’d probably laugh at you until he had tears in his eyes. Mark wasn’t a bad adviser, per se, and he could trust Mark to be a hundred percent honest with him. Jaehyun simply found the entire situation laughable, how it’d all come down to this. 
Following his heart… Jaehyun couldn’t do that easily, especially not when it’s something that he’d been trying to hold himself back from doing all these years. He always had to think logically and thoroughly consider what would happen to your friendship if he decided to act upon his feelings – and all the possible outcomes that came up in his head often didn’t end well. Following his heart? It was much easier to follow his head. It was already unsettling enough that he was so open and vulnerable with you about his feelings given that he rarely showed that side of himself to you, or anyone else for that matter. Coupled with that, is the difficulty of casually slotting himself back into your life to talk about what had happened; it’s not as if he was going to ask you about the weather. Decisions, decisions… Jaehyun was both curious and afraid to know how this would play out. 
“Alright man, I gotta go for my next class.” Mark pulled out his chair, the sound of metal creaking against the cafeteria floor. “It was nice catching up. I’ll update you on how she’s doing so don’t worry too much, okay? See you at practice later.” There was a nice ring of assurance to Mark’s voice, and it made Jaehyun grateful that you and Mark shared the same classes so he could still look out for you through him.
“Thanks bro,” Jaehyun said with a sincere smile on his face. Even though he still didn’t know what he was going to do, at least there is now a glimmer of hope that lies still in his heart.
If there was one word that you could use to describe how you were feeling, it would be sorrow.
Several days have passed since that night but you’ve yet to hear from Jaehyun. Initially, you were worried about him and thought that he needed some time and space alone. So you gave that to him. After all, it probably took him a lot of courage to say those words to you. 
But one day turned into two, and soon, it became a week. You began to doubt Jaehyun’s feelings for you and wondered if he meant what he said, or if it was just the alcohol talking. Surely, this was no way to treat someone you claimed to like.
Truthfully, it’s been quite some time since you came to know about Jaehyun’s feelings for you. Or rather, had an inkling that he didn’t just view you platonically. You just chose to ignore it. For several reasons, but mostly the fact that your seventeen-year-long friendship was on the line.
In recent years, you started to notice the way that Jaehyun would pay special attention to you. There was nothing inherently wrong with that, since it’s normal for friends to look out for each other. But the foreign twinkle in his eye that started to show up when he listened to you talk about your day or complain about completing your assignments; it was difficult to brush it off as a friendly gesture when you were so used to him spacing out five minutes into your past conversations. 
Jaehyun also seemed to have taken a mental note of how forgetful you could be. More often than not, you’d forget to bring a hair tie out with you because you were always rushing out of the house. But at some point in time, together with his silver bracelet that he usually wore, Jaehyun would also have a black hair tie wrapped around his wrist. When he notices how your hair almost got into your food, he’d put down his utensils, chiding you as if you were a child while he tied your hair up into a simple ponytail.
And how could you possibly forget the time that he pulled an all-nighter to help you study for an exam? 
Jaehyun’s major was anything but closely related to yours, yet he took the time to familiarise himself with the important terms that you needed to know for the exam. Making flashcards so that it’ll be easier for you to remember those terms, Jaehyun even went as far as to record and send you audio notes explaining the concepts that your professor highlighted in your notes, which saved you so much revision time. All of this, simply because you made a comment in passing about how on top of that exam, you had so many other deadlines to meet in the same week, and he’d dropped everything to help you as if he didn’t already have a lot on his plate. He didn’t even ask for anything in return except for you to have a meal with him after the exam because he knew that you didn’t get to eat any proper food since submission week began.
It was certain that Jaehyun’s special treatment towards you made your heart do leaps and bounds, but you were in denial and didn’t want to believe that you saw your best friend in a different light. It was only when he confessed to you that you felt relieved. For all the times you thought you were committing a crime by overthinking every single interaction you had with him, even down to a simple text message from Jaehyun asking, “Did you sleep well? :)”
Perhaps a mistake on your part, but your friends were also Jaehyun’s friends. There were other people that you knew outside of that particular social circle, but they were people that you’d group as acquaintances, nothing more than polite greetings exchanged before and after lectures. It didn’t even matter that the both of you were neighbours because he wasn’t even around much. You didn’t dare to go knocking on his door in fear that he’ll just throw you another excuse to avoid you. 
Several nights, your hand hovered over Jaehyun’s contact in your phone. Typing, backspacing, typing, backspacing; these unsent messages ended up residing in your notes application for no one but yourself to read. Time spent away from Jaehyun was painful. Painful because it was only prolonging. 
Even walking home felt miserable because Jaehyun would usually be by your side, but only the music that played through your earbuds accompanied you.
This street was filled with memories that the both of you have made together over the years, and it was so painful thinking about how they turned into nothing once love came into play. It didn’t even take longer than a day for you to feel the full force of his absence in your life.
You hope you’ll never lose Jaehyun.  
“Hey ____, is my shoebag at the café?”
You got up from your chair, walking over to the other side of the table where Mark was seated previously. “Yup,” you said, pulling out his chair to find his black shoebag lying on it. “I didn’t even notice you left it here until you called.”
“Dang it. Could you bring it over for me? I wore slides today and there’s no way in hell I’m training in that. Coach would bench me.”
A particular someone filled your thoughts at once, and you turned quiet, almost forgetting that Mark was still on the line until you heard his voice again. “Jaehyun won’t be there if that’s what you’re worried about. He has an interview today.”
And that’s how you found yourself standing outside the indoor basketball court with Mark’s shoebag in hand. 
After the whole ordeal, Mark was the only person in Jaehyun’s social circle that really talked to you. Mainly because the both of you still had classes together, but you genuinely felt lucky that you still had company. If not, school would be so much harder to get through. 
Most of your conversations tended to gravitate toward school and assignments. Though, that didn’t stop Mark from dropping updates on how Jaehyun’s doing even if you never brought him up a single time. He was respectful about it, however, careful not to overstep. He also didn’t ask or say anything that would make you uncomfortable. And for that, you thought that the least you could do for Mark was to pass him his shoebag so that he wouldn’t get into trouble.
Your palm turned sweaty as it hovered over the doorknob, and it didn’t help that you could hear a bunch of rowdy voices from outside. Although Mark already assured you that Jaehyun wouldn’t be coming, the anxious feeling still didn’t go away. What if his teammates gave you shit for what happened? Or what if they ended up humiliating you? 
No. Jaehyun isn’t the type of person to talk bad about you behind your back. Besides, you’ve seen a few of his teammates around campus and they would still smile and wave at you. It was all in your head. Taking a deep breath, you opened the doorknob, resonating a click sound that echoed throughout the indoor court. 
“____!” Within seconds, someone had already come running up to you, his arm thrown over your shoulder. 
“Hi Jungwoo!” 
“Have you been busy with school? We don’t see you around anymore,” Jungwoo pointed out, pouting. His child-like expression brought a smile to your face. Jungwoo was like a loveable little brother to you, always sharing his snacks with you whenever you stayed behind to wait for Jaehyun. 
Even though you felt apologetic on the inside, you still found yourself coming up with a lie so as to not make things awkward. “Sorry. It’s always hard adjusting back to the new semester, you know?” 
“Well, drop by when you’re free! I miss you. We all do.” Jungwoo said, and it wasn't long before the rest of the team flocked over to the benches where the both of you were standing. 
“You owe me one.” Throwing the shoebag over to Mark, it was fortunate that his fast reflexes prevented him from having a broken nose. He thanked you quickly before changing into his shoes. 
“I need to go to the washroom. I’ll leave my stuff here first.” You announced to no one in particular, hiding them behind Mark’s things on the benches. 
Despite being a regular visitor to their practices, their coach was admittedly not fond of you having you over because their break times always went beyond the designated duration, which ate into their practice time. The boys would always crowd around you and chat for a long time, forgetting what they were really there for. And since he had yet to arrive, you figured that it would be better to disguise your things as Mark’s first, lest the coach gets into a bad mood even before practice starts. You weren’t planning to stay for long, but you know, just in case. 
“It’s not like anyone is going to steal them,” Yuta remarked, a second too late. 
“You’re the reason I don’t come here anymore.” You deadpanned, your comeback making the rest of the boys playfully jeer at Yuta. 
Practice had already started while you were in the washroom, the beeping whistle that would sound every few seconds told you so. Peeking out from a corner, you took in the familiar sight of the team warming up, their shoes squeaking on the wooden flooring. Upon further scrutiny, however, your entire body stiffens once a familiar figure comes into sight. You could only see his back-view, but the white headband that he wore was recognizable anywhere. 
Didn’t Mark say he wouldn’t be here today? 
Your lips curled inwards thinking about how you were going to get out of here without getting noticed. The coach was the least of your concerns, it was Jaehyun that you worried about. You weren’t ready for any form of confrontation yet, not that you expected him to talk to you about it, and you didn’t want to watch him ignore you. Maybe you should just stay here until they end practice. You didn’t have anything on after this anyway. But you also couldn’t imagine waiting around here for hours, and potentially risk getting locked up in here for the night when you don’t actually end up making it out. Racking your brain for unfeasible ideas made you curse in frustration, it was clear that going out by where you came from was the only option.
You turned around the corner from where you were hiding, silently jogging to the benches where you left your things together with Mark’s. You gave the court a quick once over, exhaling in relief when you see them preoccupied with their drills. Gathering your things, you made a run for the exit while they weren’t looking.
“____, you’re leaving already?” Jungwoo’s voice stopped you in your tracks. It was too late to ask him to be quiet since he practically announced your exit to the entire court, but in a moment of panic, you ended up turning around even though you should have continued walking. Jaehyun’s eyes were on you. What shocked you more, however, was the unpleasant surprise that followed after.
Jaehyun, who was supposed to receive a pass from Sungchan, got distracted by you, or rather, Jungwoo saying bye to you. Ball hauled straight at Jaehyun, his teammates shouted at him to watch out, with Yuta even rushing over at the speed of light to hit the ball away. Which unfortunately, backfired, because while he managed to prevent Jaehyun from getting hit by the ball, Yuta ended up colliding into him, the both of them tumbling to the ground. 
“Are you okay?” You don’t know how you ended up in front of Jaehyun, but your trembling hands held him by the shoulder, your eyes glossing over his figure to check if he was okay. 
Jaehyun looked extremely pale, and that’s saying a lot given that he was already very fair to begin with. Eyelids shut, he was profusely breaking out in cold sweat. Their coach snapped his fingers to get Jaehyun’s attention, but there was hardly any response. 
“I’ll take him to the infirmary,” you said.
“Don’t be silly, ____. How are you going to carry him?” Yuta stood up while massaging his right shoulder, recovering from the fall faster than Jaehyun did because it wasn’t as severe for him.  
You unintentionally glared at Yuta because of his snide comment that always seemed to come up at the wrong time. Though, you thought it was warranted this time, because you were fretting over Jaehyun’s injury. Sensing your panic, Yuta raised two hands defensively. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’ll take him to the nurse. You get his things, I’ll meet you there.”
– 
The wait was awfully long. 
You didn’t want to disrupt the process so you stayed outside with Jaehyun’s things, waiting patiently until you could go in to check on him. You didn’t even feel an ounce of anger towards him, only thinking about whether he was okay or not, because it didn’t seem like he was. Judging from the past few times, you roughly knew that this time of the year was also nearing competition season, so you genuinely hoped that Jaehyun’s injury was nothing serious. It would be so demoralising for him if he had to sit out, and that’s the last thing you wanted for him. 
You hurriedly got up from your seat when you heard the door open, looking over to see the doctor walk out of the infirmary first, with Yuta following right behind. The doctor gave you a polite smile before leaving. 
“How is he?” you dared to ask.
A knowing chuckle left Yuta’s lips. “Your boyfriend’s fine.”
“Yuta.” Your death glare from earlier made a reappearance, and it caused him to straighten up before relaying the doctor’s words.
“Good news is that he didn’t fracture or break anything. The swelling went down after they iced his ankle, but…” Yuta’s voice trailed off.
“But?”
“He caught some flu bug that’s been going around school so his body is kind of weak. Doc said he needs to take a week off to recover, he even prescribed him antibiotics.” That explained his sickly complexion. 
“Can I go in to see him?”
Yuta nodded, holding the door open for you. “I’ll get going first. Take good care of your–”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”
“… Boyfriend.” A triumphant smile on his face, Yuta got out of your sight even before you could do anything (throw your laptop at him). 
You walked into Jaehyun lying on the bed. His eyes were closed, but the sound of him humming to a tune told you that he wasn’t asleep. You crouched down to put both your things by the bedside, careful not to make a loud ruckus before settling down on the empty chair next to the bed. 
“I’m sorry.” Your voice came out as a whisper, as if you were scared to break the silence. 
Jaehyun’s eyelids fluttered open, now looking in your direction as he slowly sat up. “Why are you sorry? It’s not even your fault. I was careless and tripped.” Would it be a stretch to say that he tripped because of you? You’re not sure, but you somehow felt responsible for his current state. 
“Let me take care of you,” you offered.
“No. I don’t need you to take care of me.” 
“But you’re sick,” you persisted. “Stop being so stubborn.”
“I don’t really want to be around you, ____.” Jaehyun said coldly, and your heart sank upon hearing his words. It was hard to believe that this was the same guy who wore his heart on his sleeve. For you. 
You blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. “Do you really mean that?” 
“Yes.” Jaehyun’s reply came faster than you’d expected. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. What broke you was how he answered you with a stoic expression that was void of any emotion. 
“I can’t get rid of my feelings if I continue to be around you all the time.” Jaehyun explained, his head hanging low. “So just let me be, and we’ll be okay again once I get over you.”
I don’t want you to get over me.
You wanted to tell Jaehyun, how unfair it was that he never once asked you how you felt about everything, but no words left your mouth. You could only sit there, looking down at your hands, feeling unwanted in a space where even your best friend couldn’t tolerate your presence because you were hurting him as much as he was hurting you. Lines were blurred, and boundaries have been crossed. How could you bring yourself to believe that the two of you would be okay again? 
You fiddled with your hands, earning the courage to look Jaehyun in the eye again. “I’m still going to take care of you.” You said firmly, not allowing for Jaehyun to object before continuing. “It’s your feelings so you deal with it. I’m just here to take care of you”—you paused—“because friends are supposed to be there for each other no matter what. And unless you want me out of your life for good, then you can say no and I won’t bother you anymore.” 
–  
It wasn’t as easy as you thought it’ll be, taking care of Jaehyun. 
To be fair to him, he didn’t inconvenience you a lot since he spent most of his days in bed. He could still do simple chores, but since you offered to look after him, you made sure that he didn’t have to move around the house so as to focus on recuperating. But even all of that was manageable for you.
The difficult part was feeling like you had to walk on eggshells around him all the time. It didn’t seem fair that you knew about his feelings for you, because there were several instances in which you found yourself thinking: Is it too much? Am I giving him a harder time by doing this? 
So you kept your interactions with him short. 
The same could be said for today. It’s been a week since he fell sick, but Jaehyun was already feeling much better thanks to you. You didn’t have any classes so you stayed over at Jaehyun’s, catching up on your readings while he napped the day away. Even though he was close to recovering, it was unfortunate that the medication that he took was drowsy, so most of the time he spent, he spent asleep.
As it was nearing dinnertime, you decided to cook a simple meal for him so that he could continue taking his medication after getting some food in his system. Turning off the stove, you took a small spoon to taste the porridge, almost letting out a yelp because of how hot it was. You opened the cabinets directly above you, grabbing the salt and pepper to add just a tiny bit of each seasoning into the porridge, just like how Jaehyun would like it. You meticulously poured the porridge into an empty bowl, putting it on a tray before carrying it into Jaehyun’s room.
Leaving the door slightly ajar so that you could hear Jaehyun from the living room in case he needed anything, you were welcomed with the sight of him tucked under the covers, still deep in sleep. Setting the tray down on his bedside table, you walked over to sit on the edge of his bed. You ruffled stray pieces of his hair away to feel his forehead. He had a bit of a temperature earlier, but the medicine seemed to have helped in bringing it down. 
You gently woke Jaehyun up, asking him to eat. Sleep still evident in his eyes, you thought he looked cute with his lower lip protruding out as it took some time for him to sit up, mindlessly looking around his room to process his surroundings. You almost felt bad for interrupting his sleep, but you didn’t have much of a choice because this was his first proper meal of the day, only settling for bread earlier because he said he didn’t have any appetite. 
You took the bowl in your hands, taking one spoonful of the food. Blowing lightly at it to cool off the heat, you fed it to Jaehyun who was still staring into blank space. 
“How are you feeling?” you asked, feeding Jaehyun another mouthful.
“Better,” he said, voice deep and raspy because he’d just woken up. “Still feeling sleepy though.”
“You can go back to sleep after this,” you said with a quiet laugh.
Silence took over as Jaehyun continued to have his meal, but it was neither uncomfortable nor tense. In fact, it was almost like things had gone back to how they originally were, where the two of you were able to spend the entire day without even talking to each other until you were done with your own things. 
Jaehyun took his medication once he finished his meal, chugging down the last bits of water from his 1.5 litre bottle too. You got up from his bed, putting the bowl back onto the tray. 
“I’ll leave the door open again so just shout if you need anything.” You don’t wait for Jaehyun to respond before turning your back to him, getting ready to leave. But he’d surprise you by extending a hand out to your arm, the sudden contact almost causing you to drop the tray. You promptly turned to look at him.
“Can we–”Jaehyun choked out, his voice still hoarse–“can we cuddle?”
With his hand still on your arm, you stood rooted to the ground. The voices in your head fighting with each other at his proposition, you didn’t know how to answer him. Cuddling with each other wasn’t something new, but in light of recent events, you weren’t so sure if the two of you should be doing something so intimate together.
Sighing, you put the tray away before holding onto Jaehyun’s hand. “I’ll do the dishes and come back up, okay?” It felt like you were talking to a child, the way you were so gentle with him as if he was going to break. He nodded, finally letting go of your arm. 
Technically, it wouldn’t hurt to leave the dishes untouched for a while. But you needed that time away to mentally prepare yourself… to be that close to Jaehyun again after such a long time. As you loaded the dirty cutlery into the dishwasher, memories of his confession came rushing to your head. All you could think about were the words he said to you and how it felt to be in his warm embrace. 
You could feel your heart thumping against your chest as you went up to Jaehyun’s room. Closing the door, you laid down on the empty side of the bed next to him. You were cautious at first, but soon that went away when his arm reached out to bring your body closer to his. 
You tried not to think about how right it felt to be in his arms. Holding you in a way that was not in the least uncomfortable, you don’t think that anyone else would know you better than Jaehyun did. 
“Good night, Buttercup,” Jaehyun said, his voice lulling you to sleep.
–  
For the first time in a while, Jaehyun felt well-rested. He didn’t usually have trouble falling asleep, but with so much going on recently, he rarely woke up feeling content.
But the bed felt warmer today, and he knew that it’s because of you. He didn't even plan to ask you to cuddle with him, but he unknowingly blurted it out, and you agreed. 
Jaehyun tilted his head, supporting it with one hand while he looked at you. His feelings for you were all coming back to him again, not that they were ever gone in the first place. He’d simply pushed them aside, convincing himself that he’d be able to get over you. 
But that’s the thing. Because he kept avoiding them, all the more they continued to plague him. Granted, he lied about things being able to go back to how they were, but if he didn’t lie, how else was he supposed to continue staying by your side? 
Jaehyun’s predicament was put on hold as you stirred in your sleep, opening your eyes one at a time before you looked up at him with a lop-sided grin. 
“Morning,” you greeted. 
Jaehyun returned the smile. “Did you sleep well?”
You nodded. “Best sleep I had in a while.”
“Thanks for staying with me even though you didn’t have to.” 
You got up from his bed, stretching your entire body. “It’s no problem. Do you want breakfast? I can whip something up real quick.” 
Jaehyun followed suit, also standing up to make his bed. He spreaded the blanket cover over the mattress, tucking in the corners. “No thanks. I’ll be heading out soon to meet Da-eun at the newly opened café at Med School to—”
“Da-eun?” Jaehyun looked up, frowning at how you didn’t let him finish talking. 
“Yeah, Da-eun. She’s in the same year as us. Remember?” Jaehyun, though confused, didn’t miss the dejected look on your face.
“I’m so sick and tired of this, Jaehyun.”
“What’s wrong with you? I didn’t even do anything,” Jaehyun huffed. Are you seriously picking another fight with him now? 
“Didn’t do anything?” you scoffed. “You’re hurting me, Jaehyun.” 
Jaehyun’s eyes softened after hearing your words.
“You confessed to me and pretended I didn’t exist for weeks. If you really liked me, you wouldn’t ask me to cuddle with you and then go on a date with another girl the next day. You say one thing but do another. I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe when you keep confusing me but for some stupid reason my heart still flutters every time you do or say something sweet,” you rubbed your temples, sighing. “I guess it doesn’t even matter that I like you because this is a joke to you. I’m tired and I don’t want to be a part of your games anymore.” 
Jaehyun couldn’t stop himself from breaking into a wide smile. “You like me?”
You rolled your eyes in annoyance. “Out of everything I said, that’s the only thing you caught?” 
“I wasn’t even done talking,” Jaehyun retorted, going over to the other side of the bed where you stood. The grin on his face didn’t disappear. “I’m meeting Da-eun to complete our paired assignment. I was going to say that we can go to the café the next time if the food’s good.”
Jaehyun looked at you earnestly. “And for the record, I still like you. There’s no need to be jealous.”
“I’m not jealous!”
Jaehyun’s smile is graced with fondness this time. Looming closer to you, he gently pushed you against the wall, trapping you in between his arms. He looked down at your lips and then back at your eyes, trying to hold back his laughter when he saw that you’ve closed them. Leaning in, Jaehyun placed a tender kiss on your right cheek.
You opened your eyes, sulking. “What happened to wanting to kiss me on the lips?” 
“Patience, Buttercup. Don’t want to spread whatever virus I have to you. Promise I’ll make it up to you next time.” He left another kiss on your left cheek. 
“I think I like seeing you jealous.” Jaehyun added as an afterthought, which earned him a smack on the shoulder from you. 
–  
You and Jaehyun were currently lying against the couch in his living room, feeling like you were about to enter a food coma. It was supposed to be movie night, but the jjamppong was so filling that you two could crash until the next morning. Earlier that day, you’d woken up to a text message from Jaehyun asking you to check your laptop. He claimed that he accidentally saved his assignment in it, and needed you to forward it over to him because it was due in two hours. Rather unbelievable for a Dean’s Lister, but you gave him the benefit of doubt and went ahead to check your laptop anyway.
When you turned it on, you were welcomed by a grey pop-up window. It was completely empty, and despite clicking on the cross button several times, the window simply refused to close. You mentally cursed thinking that you got hacked. You were about to contact Jaehyun about it until a few messages came up in the same window.
Hi girlfriend ♡
I hope I didn’t scare you :) hahaha. 
Your computer is attacked by a virus. 
But if you wear my jersey to the game later, I will wipe it out for you.
Do you accept it? 
The question appeared with two options below: yes and no. You shook your head at another one of Jaehyun’s antics, already envisioning the whimsical smile on his face while coding all of this. He could be using his degree for greater purposes, yet here he was, pranking his poor girlfriend with a pseudo virus attack. You moved your mouse over to click yes, and another series of messages came up.
Wise choice!
I’ve left the jersey in your closet next to where my hoodies are.
See you later and don’t be late.
Love you.
So as promised, you wore Jaehyun’s jersey to his match. The second he saw you, he couldn’t stop smiling. His teammates kept making ooh and aah noises, you had to shush them from afar so that they would stop teasing your boyfriend. Eyes on him the entire time, you were beyond proud when his team had successfully emerged as champion again, the both of you exchanging sweet smiles with each other after the game ended. Afterwhich, Jaehyun came home to you, celebrating the end of the season with Chinese takeout.
“Can I ask you something?”
“You already did,” Jaehyun quipped. 
You moved away from him, faking anger. You tried standing up, but that only gave Jaehyun a chance to grab your arm, pulling you down to sit on his lap. “Ask, baby.”
“Why do you hold three fingers up during your games? Like is it supposed to mean something? You keep doing that a lot, even today.” 
An amused hum escaped Jaehyun’s lips upon hearing your question. Although it’s already been established that you only went to basketball games for him, his heart still turned warm at how you attentively observed him throughout his games even if you didn’t understand the sport well. Much less wanting to know about his team strategies.
“It just means that we’re going to try for a three-pointer,” Jaehyun disclosed, pressing soft kisses against your shoulder blade. “We change it up every time. but the main gist of it is that we will make three passes before going for the three-point field goal.” 
You hummed in acknowledgement. “So that’s what it meant! That’s so cool.” 
Jaehyun’s kisses stopped. “I have a gift for you,” he said. 
“A gift?” you felt bad. You should be the one giving him something for completing his season. Before you could protest, however, Jaehyun asked you to close your eyes.
At first you felt him shifting below you, curious about what gift he could possibly be hiding when you didn’t recall seeing any paper bag of some sort when you entered his house. Thereafter, you heard him opening something, taking it out of... a box? You could hear something dangling. Not long after, that something was around your neck. You knew by now what it was, but Jaehyun asked you to open your eyes only after he fastened the clasp.
“No way!” you exclaimed. Gaze shifting downwards, you brought a hand up to touch the necklace that Jaehyun had helped you put on. It was a silver initial necklace with the letter J, a tiny heart charm hanging just next to it. 
“J as in Jaehyun?” you asked. You turned to look at him with doe-eyes, like that one emoji that you’d always use whenever you needed a favour from him. “No way…” 
“Do you like it?” 
“What do you mean? Of course I do! I just had my Gabriella Montez moment…” 
Jaehyun let out a hearty laugh. “I’m glad you like it.”
While you were still admiring the necklace, Jaehyun slyly snuck an arm around your waist, effortlessly lifting you up and putting you down to lie on the empty spot next to him. He changed his position such that he was now hovering over you, slowly taking your hand in his so that your attention would shift from the necklace to him. 
“So pretty,” he breathed.
With parted lips, Jaehyun moved in bit by bit to connect your bodies together. Just centimetres away from you, you could feel his lips ghosting over yours, making you want nothing more than to reach up to close the gap that separated the two of you from sharing a kiss. His eyes darted down to your lips for a mere second before he dived right in, going straight for your upper lip first. He pulled back slightly, silently checking if you were okay with what he was doing. And when he felt you kiss him back with a sense of urgency, Jaehyun brought a hand to the nape of your neck to deepen the kiss, smiling in content.
If his life was a movie, then you were the best part.
3K notes · View notes
anashins · 7 months
Text
His Love in Her Force
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Pairing: undercover detective!Jaehyun x ballerina!reader
Genre: fake marriage au, hate to love, action, drama, fluff, romance, small town au, slow burn, smut, suspense
Word Count: 28k (it's worth it if you like slow burn, promise)
Summary: Fleeing from a ruthless stalker, you are forced to participate in a witness protection program at the other side of the world, pretending to be the wife of a taciturn undercover detective from now on. Despite all differences, you slowly start to settle with your new life as a married couple - until your newfound happiness is stripped away from you all over again.
A/N: Loosely inspired by a friend's friend case that went viral where I live. Jaehyun goes by several names here (Jay Jung, Jung Jaehyun and Jeong Yuno).
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Imagine leaving everything behind. 
Your home, your friends, your family.
Life as you knew it, vanished overnight, and you had to start anew at the other side of the world.
People easily let such a wish slip when their ordinary life got too exhausting. But what many truly meant was that they wanted to take a break from their daily routine and relax a few weeks under the tropical sun. 
They could always come back to the security and comfort of their stable home, and that was why only the minority was serious and courageous enough to actually go through with the plans of starting anew somewhere far away.
And then, there were people like you. The ones who didn’t have a choice.
“Mrs. Jung, please put up your table, we’re starting to descend,” the stewardess told you.
Mrs. Jung. That was your new name now. 
You had no relation to this surname that you had gotten assigned to only sixteen hours ago through a fake ID and passport at the airport. It sounded so foreign and disturbing to your ears. 
This “Mrs. Jung” wasn’t you, yet you had to slip into her role and pretend to have been someone else’s wife for a significant part of your life already. It was a role you didn’t deem yourself to be suitable for at all.
You were a young, single woman who lived her childhood dream of being a ballet dancer. After having attended different dance academies around Asia and Europe, you had settled with your first engagement, the Korea National Ballet, back in Seoul for the meantime where your family was residing.
A week ago, you had gotten the confirmation letter that you were accepted into the Dutch National Ballet after having studied there the year prior.
Your life was finally everything you had been working so hard towards since you were little.
And then, your future had gotten stripped away from you. Just like that.
“Mrs. Jung?” The stewardess passed by again. “The table.”
“Oh sorry,” you quickly apologized and put it up to properly lock it.
You then proceeded to stare out of the window, the plane having brought you to a continent you had never set foot on ever before. Narrow streets, tiny houses and small forests passed by you in a blur of earthly colors as the plane slowly angled downwards to start its final descent. 
You hated your new life already.
_____
“My duty here is finished,” the officer, who had been accompanying you all the way to the US, told you. “I’ll be taking the next flight back. But no worries, a driver is already waiting for you and will escort you to your new home. You must be relieved, you’re almost there now, Miss.”
“Relieved, detective?” you mocked and crossed your arms in front of your chest. “I’ll be exchanging the life of a successful ballerina for the one of a housewife, stuck in the nowhere on the other side of the world, because you couldn’t do your job right. What in the hell should I be relieved about, tell me?”
“Listen, Miss.” He lowered his voice as though there were other people besides you in this domestic charter flight. “Detective Jeong is one of our best people for this job here, I heard. So when it’s about life or death, there is no other place you’d rather be at the moment. He surely wants to be elsewhere as well, so that makes you two people that have to arrange themselves with this situation.”
“Jeong?” You raised a brow. “Isn’t his name Jung also?”
“Your fake name applies to the both of you of course. It’s a fine, but grave detail to his real one, also for easier spelling. Don’t ever use it in front of anyone though.”
You barely listened to him. “I don’t care. I don’t care about any of this.”
“I’m sorry this happened to you, really.” He sounded almost empathetic. Almost. 
“Don’t be, I know that deep inside, you aren’t. You think you did a good job, detective. If you wouldn’t have sat on your asses all day long and laid out all my collected evidences properly instead, I wouldn’t even be here on this stupid plane, in this stupid country!”
“I already told you there is nothing that we can do anymore, Miss. Stalking cases, where the suspect hasn’t done any harm yet, are always hard to handle since not everything can be considered solid evidence. That’s the thing with social media.” He was tired of leading this conversation, but you weren’t, because you knew you were right. “Besides… The judge hasn’t even passed the sentence yet.”
“But they’re close, and we all know what the sentence will be, otherwise I wouldn’t be here! And it’s only because my father pays such a huge amount of money that you’re willing to get me into this program and away from him.” Your heart was full of hostility, and you let him feel every single bit of it. “Otherwise I would possibly be dead by tomorrow.”
“Again, I’m sorry this happened to you, Miss.”
“Screw your half-assed apologies! I’ve lost my trust in the police a long time ago!” you yelled at him. “You’d rather want a woman dead than get a stalker behind bars!”
And, once again, replied with, “I’m sorry, Miss.”
You didn’t want to hear any more of this, so you remained quiet for the rest of the landing approach and just bid an annoyed farewell to the detective when you disembarked the aircraft. By the exit, after you had picked up your luggage, you were welcomed by the announced driver. 
“Hello, Mrs. Jung. I will accompany you to your new home,” he greeted you. “Welcome to Connecticut. Follow me please. Here, let me help you with your luggage.”
You tagged along with a distance of two steps until you got out of the airport and into his car. The ride distanced you from the airport and thus from the next city as well. While you were hoping to cross another town soon, no such thing happened.
“How far is it?” were the words you finally brought out after half an hour of driving. “It’s been quite a while and all I’m still seeing is… green.”
“Oh, it’s still an hour, Mrs. Jung.”
“An hour?” you squealed and sat straight up from the backseat. “Where are we driving to? Maine? This was Connecticut already, how far into the province are we going?”
“Where your persecutor won’t find you that easily, Mrs. Jung.”
You swore to god, if he called you “Mrs. Jung” again, in every sentence… But it was the first time someone used the word “persecutor”, and it kind of caught you off guard to have someone not talk down on your case.
You leaned back in your seat and closed your eyes to relax after such a long flight that also included a layover. It worked out a bit too well in the end though, sleep eventually engulfing you with the mundane sound of the car rolling over the road in the background.
You only woke up much later when the car had already come to a halt. At the outside, when you groggily opened your eyes, you saw two figures talking to each other in front of your side window. One of them was the driver who had brought you here, the other though, you could only make out the outlines of as he stood with his back turned to you, but it was definitely a much taller man.
“Couldn’t you have gotten someone else?” the unfamiliar man spoke. 
“Since when do detectives in your position get to choose the person they will protect?” the driver asked back.
“It’s just… that she’s…” He faltered.
“A young dancer at the peak of her career?”
“Don’t go there.”
At that moment, he turned around to you and your eyes met. You didn’t know who was more shocked to see the other. So that was him, your “husband”. How dare he speak about you like that! As though you were happy over this situation!
Your eyes were wide open now and you aggressively unbuckled your seatbelt. Opening the door, you stepped outside, getting greeted by the driver right away.
“You’re awake, Mrs. Jung! May I introduce you to your husband Jaehyun? Around here, for better pronunciation, he’s known as Jay.”
The unfamiliar man, obviously going by the name of Jaehyun/Jay, said nothing to you, not even during the entire time your eye contact didn’t break. You felt him clearly examining you from head to toe though, but not in the way a guy checked out someone he was interested in.
No, he was eyeing you from head to toe like he was inspecting a piece of leftover meal that he was unsure of whether to still eat after finding it in the very back of his fridge seven days after preparing. He was full of disgust, and his off-putting behavior was masking how ridiculously good he looked at the same time. 
In the end, he decided against the meal and shifted back to the driver. “She’s looking even gaudier than in the pictures.”
“Excuse me?!” You clenched your fists. “What do you mean?!”
But he ignored you. “She’s looking like a Christmas tree, drawing attention to her wherever she goes. So flamboyant.”
“This is called fashion! People in Seoul wear such outfits!” you retorted, upset that he was still treating you like you weren’t there and simultaneously insulting you. 
The driver just patted his shoulder. “I’ll get going.”
When he had driven away, you were left alone with Jaehyun or Jay - if that was even his real name, but you supposed it wasn’t, a fake name like yours and your both’s surname most likely as well. 
You stood there kind of awkwardly in the small driveway of the house you needed to call your new home from now on. Judging from the outside, admittedly, it looked like a cozy country style bungalow, spacious enough for two people and with no other houses in the immediate radius. 
You would have liked it very much for a short vacation if you wouldn’t have to share it with a stranger who apparently didn’t have the hots for you anyway.
“Let’s go inside,” he barked with suppressed anger, and you wondered why he was already behaving so hostile towards you. 
But at least, the feeling was mutual since he was a policeman as well. Starting from the day they had laughed at you when you called 911 shortly after the physical stalking had started, you had vowed to hate every single one of them.
When you stepped through the entry door, heaving the luggage up the stairs yourself, because Jaehyun was not gentleman enough to help you, you were positively surprised. 
The interior was bright and modernly furnished. There was a huge kitchen, open to the living room that looked equally comfortable and cozy with a soft couch. Additionally, there was an entire wall filled with books only at the opposite of the window facade by the entrance.
“The bathroom is over there.” Jaehyun stood next to you and pointed with his finger to one of the two doors behind the kitchen. “And that is the bedroom. No worries, it’s all yours, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“You better do so,” you murmured and went straight to the bedroom, dragging your luggage behind you.
“You’re not allowed to go outside all alone. Either I accompany you or you ask for my permission and tell me exactly where you go and for how long.”
He spoke like a robot who had memorized an instruction, and who knew, perhaps he was even one. This already felt like jail. Whether you were here or at home, leaving either wouldn’t be safe for you. It didn’t make any difference except that you hated it here. And him.
Jaehyun cleared his throat. “I’ll prepare dinner.”
“I’m not hungry.”
You shut the door behind you and looked around in the room before you let yourself fall onto the huge bed and stared at the ceiling. Minutes later, you found yourself crying so hard like you had never cried before in your life. 
Your entire body shook, and you sobbed so loudly, you feared that Jaehyun might hear it. But you actually didn’t care. You would gladly let him know that he wasn’t the only one feeling miserable in this situation you two were in, even though you voiced it differently.
Missing your parents, grandparents, friends and everyone else dear to you, you now realized that you were all alone. You hadn’t been allowed to keep your phone in case you’d be tracked down and thus weren’t allowed to get in touch with anyone from your former life either in case someone accidentally revealed your whereabouts.
Another part of you mourned the end of your career that you had been working so hard towards and that hadn’t even really started yet. This same part hated your father for putting you into this program, but loved him at the same time to go through these lengths to ensure your protection. 
But the biggest part of you hated the man who had laid his eyes on you a year ago and vowed to never leave your side again in the most controversial ways. 
The man who had ruined your life. 
This was what he had wanted for you - cornered, shut off, frightened. When admiration turned into hatred, there was no space for happiness anymore. You had never felt more agonized. And lonely.
And with this feeling, after your sheets were all wet from too much crying, you slept in long after night had fallen.
____
The ringing doorbell woke you up, and judging by the misty light that flowed into the bedroom from the outside, it must not be past nine in the morning. You must have slept for over fourteen hours.
Opening your eyes in a slow manner, it took you a few moments to adjust to your surroundings. At first, you were happy to have woken up in your home again - until you realized it quite wasn’t and reality dawned on you, a dreadful feeling instantly weighing down on your heart that nearly caused you to bawl right there and then again. 
You grabbed a pillow and put it over your face to drown out the noise that was coming from the door. If anything, it was Jaehyun’s responsibility to open it as he was closer to the source, and you weren’t even sure whether you were allowed to let strangers in. 
But the string of constant noise just wouldn’t subside, and jet lag was hitting you hard.
“Goddammit!” you yelled in annoyance, jumped out of the bed and stormed into the living room.
But there was no sign of Jaehyun, the couch neatly made, so no one was even able to suspect that someone had slept on it the night before. You tiptoed to the window close by the entrance door to get a look at the person standing outside. 
It was an old, asian woman with gray hair. 
The moment she spotted you by the window, she quickly hurried over and excitedly signed you to open the door. In her hands, she presented a bag, dangling it in front of your vision. You neither had the time nor the patience to put up with her right now, but since she had spotted you already, there was no chance that you could still avoid her.
“Yes?”
You opened the door, not paying attention to your disheveled hair and the clothes from the day before. Whatever she wanted, you hoped that she would finish fast.
“My, my!” she called out in delight. “You must be Mrs. Jung, having arrived yesterday, right?”
You nodded, still not having adjusted to that name. At least you were fluent in English. “Yes, that’s me. May I help you?”
“I brought you a set of dumplings as a welcome gift. Here, take them. According to the villagers, they taste the best in my restaurant, Mrs. Jung. I’m sure they only say it because I’m running the only restaurant here, though.” She winked and then laughed as you took the package into your hands, slowly waking from your petrification. “Far away from your home country, I thought you needed something familiar, and food always manages to lift the mood, am I right? I must know, because when I immigrated here from Vietnam, I also felt lonely.”
This old woman’s surprising genuine gesture seemed so sweet to you though, you had to gulp big time to hold back your tears that were still present from before. Amidst a sea of turmoil, she radiated so much warmth and grandmotherly love, it made your chest tighten and soothed your pain at the same time, and you regretted your malign thoughts from earlier.
“Thank you so much,” you said wholeheartedly, softly.
“Grandmother Anh!” The two of you simultaneously spotted Jaehyun hurrying in your direction while crossing the front yard. “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
“I wanted to drop by and bring you a set of dumplings as I remembered your wife must have arrived by now,” she explained and pointed at the bag in your hands. “Freshly made.”
“Thank you so much, grandmother Anh!” He wasn’t paying attention to you. “It wasn’t necessary for you to come all the way up there though!”
She waved aside. “A short trip up to here hasn’t hurt anyone yet, right?”
“You want to come inside for a cup of tea?” you offered her as you deemed it suitable for a situation like this despite not knowing whether you actually had tea. It earned you an angry gaze from Jaehyun though, and you wondered what you had done wrong.
“No worries, dear, I have work to go after now, and I’m sure you want to have some time to adjust yourself to your new living situation. Thank you for the invitation though. And don’t forget to step by my restaurant!”
When she was gone, you retreated to the inside, but as soon as the door closed behind you, Jaehyun threw a fit.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he yelled at you. “Oh, I know! You weren’t even thinking! Opening the door for someone you don’t know, even though you’re currently in a security program, are you nuts?!”
“Of course I’ve looked through the window before!” you shot back at him angrily. Stranger or husband, nobody was allowed to talk to you this way, and in contrast to the day prior, you had enough energy now to give him hell back. “If it was a suspicious looking man, I wouldn’t have let him in, but this was a nice grandma! My stalker is still in detention until the court decision, so he won’t come here so easily, and I doubt he has accomplices in the middle of the american nowhere when he’s just a simple korean man!”
“Listen up here, I’m trying to teach you a point,” Jaehyun pressed through gritted teeth, urging you to move backwards until your feet hit the baseboard and your back rested against the wall. “You know why you’re not allowed to use the phone or the internet? You log yourself into your social media account, congratulations, you just disclosed your location and he’ll appear here once he’s free. You call a friend while being connected to a local radio mast, congratulations, you’re now in danger again, because he’s hired a technician to track your steps. The same goes for people. One tells the other who they’ve seen here, words spread, someone knows someone who knows someone who knows him. Or one of them takes a picture, it lands on the internet, and things on the internet stay on the internet. It will then only be a matter of time until he comes across it. How do you know what he’s capable of? Because he’s ‘a simple korean man’? You’re smarter than this!” For the time he paused and inhaled deeply. “I’m here to prevent all this from happening, to prevent him from finding you, so you have to follow me. Since you’re not known by anyone yet, I have to run a background check, and we still have time to study our story so that they’re going to match. Until then, you’re gonna stay quiet and inside.”
“I didn’t ask you to be my protector!” you defended yourself, his closeness flustering you still. “No one from the police has ever helped me anyway, so stop acting like you care about my wellbeing!”
“Care about your wellbeing?” He revealed his pearl white teeth when he scoffed. “I don’t care about your wellbeing. It’s just that I want to get out of here as fast as possible and you’re just something that holds me back if I don’t take care of it. So you play by my rules or you go back now.”
“You-!” You swallowed the rest of the sentence.
With a slip to the side, you escaped from his fearful presence and crossed the living room in a hurry to lock yourself inside the bedroom again.
Only hours later, when hunger got the better of you, you dared to come out. The dumplings laid on the dining table where you had dropped them off earlier, and you couldn’t ignore the gurgling sounds your stomach was making anymore. 
Jaehyun was sitting on the couch, typing something into his laptop and minding his own business without looking up to you. You were grateful for his ignorance as neither of you wanted to back off from your argument earlier, so you took half of the dumplings and retreated back into the bedroom from where you didn’t come out for the rest of the day.
At night, you cried yourself to sleep again.
____
“Let’s go grocery shopping.”
You were very much surprised when Jaehyun offered to take you on a short trip to the supermarket two days later. Yesterday, you had only been living off leftover dumplings and hadn’t felt any appetite, even until now. This was your very first interaction since the argument.
“I don’t want to,” you blocked it off.
“It’s weird and actually more suspicious when everyone now knows that you’ve already arrived, but don’t show yourself. We have to blend in, that’s how it works here in the countryside. And I have already done a background check on everyone, they’re clean. Besides…” He hesitated. “You should start eating properly.”
You didn’t care about his reasoning as you didn’t want to go out at all. Staying inside, hiding and being left alone sounded like the proper activity according to your mood, but Jaehyun wouldn’t budge, so you had no other choice than to finally dress up and accompany him against your will.
You hadn’t seen anything from the village except for your own house so far, so you got a bit excited when you finally stepped out onto the streets. The sun was shining brightly that morning, and it was kind of comfortably warm already for early spring. 
When you did a 360 degree turn, you silently noted that the village was located on the slope of a hill, your house placed on the highest point and the other houses stretching a few hundred meters apart from each other along the main street and scattering into narrower ones. 
The view and the location were splendid, you had to give credit for that. You weren’t the kind of person to seek this kind of tranquility as you were more a fan of a buzzing city, but somehow, you didn’t find it so bad here. 
The houses were all so small and looked so cozy, embedded and blending in with nature, and the village overall was surrounded by trees and the greens of the connected grasslands that reached to the very top of the mountains.
“If we should come off as a couple, you have to stay by my side.”
You hadn’t noticed how Jaehyun had gone ahead already and quickly fell into his step. You were kind of grossed out by the idea that he would suddenly want to take your hand or do something else that young couples usually openly showed to prove their affection towards each other, so you kept your arms close to your body. But luckily, he didn’t seem to be fond of such a thing right now as well.
As you were walking down the street leading to the village center, Jaehyun told you, “I’ll be starting my work tomorrow. I’m a police officer here, so I’ll be gone for the majority of the day.”
“You work?”
“In contrast to you, I have to.”
“I see,” you noticed curtly. It wasn’t like you minded. No, you rejoiced even!
“But don’t get the wrong idea,” he reminded you as though he was reading your thoughts. “It doesn’t mean you can do what you want and go wherever you want.”
You rolled your eyes. “I understood the first time already.”
“Very well. We’re here,” he then declared when you stood in front of a store, not bigger than a 7/11.
“That’s it? That’s the grocery store?”
“Yeah. What did you expect anyway?”
Yeah, what exactly did you expect to discover in this small village? You sighed. “Let’s go inside.”
A high-pitched voice directly greeted you from the inside. “Mr. Jung! Is this your lovely wife? I can’t believe I finally get to see her! Welcome, Mrs. Jung!” A middle-aged man approached you from the counter, took both of your hands and shook them excitedly. “I’m Mr. Jones. Please help yourselves. You’ll find here everything that you need. My store might be small, but it’s rich in its ingredients.”
You felt Jaehyun’s stares in your back when you carefully greeted him back with a, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Jones” before you went back to his side like the obedient wife you were supposed to play.
Jaehyun was wandering through the small aisles and put one grocery after another into his shopping basket. From afar, he truly looked like a caring husband. But you knew better. 
“What do we want to cook for dinner?” he asked nonchalantly, almost kindly.
For the first time, his voice wasn’t filled with anger or tension that you would also find in your own tone whenever you opened your mouth to speak to each other. In front of the people, you had to conceal your negative feelings towards each other. 
“Hmm…” You looked through the shelves, Jaehyun tagging along. “I’m kind of craving fried rice.”
“I’d rather have steak.” He put the meat in the basket. 
Of course he’d get what he wanted. But you didn’t want to back down either and bought the ingredients for your own cravings.
“Mrs. Jung, please make sure to step by again,” Mr. Jones told you when he packed your groceries. “We always have fresh fruits, you’ll love them!”
You nodded, totally not in the mood for smalltalk with strangers.
Back at home, you waited until Jaehyun had finished preparing his steak before you cooked your own dish. You ate in silence, him on the couch, you in the bedroom, both of you then cleaning after yourselves in silence, too. 
And that slowly became your arranged routine. Silent and separate, yet still together physically.
____
You had spent the past days inside the house mostly, reading, watching TV and staring at the ceiling. At home, you barely had time for these trivial things as you were always practicing, even during your free time. But your free time now was endless, and simple leisure activities prevented you from falling back into this deep, black hole that engulfed you every night, luring out your tears.
You didn’t want to go out, you didn’t want to talk, you barely wanted to eat.
When you felt like this at home, you would just start dancing, but now, you didn’t even have that. Your life was dull after you had been ripped off your passion and your entire future. You didn’t know whether, if you’d ever return, you could catch up again.
At this point, you were asking yourself whether this life was actually worth living. But if you were to give up now, it only meant your stalker had succeeded. This was what he wanted, and you wouldn’t give him this.
As you were lying on the couch that evening again, staring into space, you heard Jaehyun coming home and immediately shot up to go back into your room. You wanted to spend as little time around him as possible.
But he didn’t let you go far. “Mr. Jones saw you in the driveway this morning as he drove by.”
“...And?”
“You know for sure that this isn’t allowed,” Jaehyun hissed sharply. “I prohibited it.”
“But why?” you genuinely wanted to know. “I was only catching some fresh air, nothing to fret about.”
He didn’t show any compassion. “If you want some fresh air, open a window, but, under no circumstances, are you allowed to leave the house when I’m not there. Think about what would have happened if it was someone else driving by, not Mr. Jones!”
“You’re totally nuts!” you yelled now. “And paranoid! That man doesn’t even know I’m here, so technically, I can roam around freely if I want to!”
“This is why I didn’t want you,” Jaehyun growled, his voice full of contempt. “The moment I saw you in the car, I knew what kind of person you would be. And I was proven right. You’re so reckless and neglecting in regard to your own life. On top of that, you’re so audacious as well, and I actually despise people like you. You didn’t even need this program, you’re only here because your father wanted to protect his little princess!”
You froze, and Jaehyun turned stiff in the same breath, your eye contact not breaking despite the interruption. Almost simultaneously, it became clear to you both what he had just said, and the extent of his hurtful words.
Jaehyun opened his lips, his eyes wide in shock. “I-”
The ringing doorbell broke through the distressing silence between the both of you and Jaehyun crossed the living room to hurry to the entrance door.
“Hello Mr. Jung!”
“Grandmother Anh, what a surprise!” he greeted her, still a bit overwhelmed, but trying to downplay the situation. “What brings you here?”
“I was wondering whether you and your wife already have plans for dinner and whether you are interested in joining me and a few other villagers at my restaurant this evening?” she asked politely, trying to get a glimpse of the inside. 
“My wife is doing fine, only still adjusting. There is just so much work to still go after inside the house, so we barely have time at the moment. I’m afraid we have to decline.”
“That’s unfortunate,” the old woman commented. “But I still hope that you can make time this evening and join the dinner. We would be really pleased!”
“I’m going to ask her, alright?”
“Actually I wanted to ask her pers-…”
“Grandmother Anh?” you popped up behind Jaehyun and interjected. “I would happily join the dinner along with my husband! Thank you so much for the invitation!”
“Oh dear, I’m so glad! Then I’ll be going to prepare something nice for you two then, alright? See you later!”
When she was gone, you didn’t resume the topic from earlier, but instead said, “She probably heard it. She probably heard everything and was anxious about what was going on in here. Perhaps, she even thought we were physically fighting, so I had to show myself to let her see that everything is okay.”
“You could have just politely declined,” Jaehyun interposed.
“That’s not the point,” you explained calmly, walking around in the living room and pulling the curtains together. “The whole point of us being here is that we will pretend to be a happy couple, not drawing any suspicion on us. Doing grocery shopping every few days together just doesn’t do it. Didn’t you yourself say that words spread fast here?”
He didn’t want to concede it, but Jaehyun’s following words were his own gesture of acknowledging your believability. “So, what do you suggest we should do?”
Perhaps, he also realized at that moment, that he was missing something that you had been contributing from the very beginning: the ability to not only think rationally, but also compassionately. 
And that sometimes, your reckless acts originated from this character trait of yours, being a person who relied mostly on emotions and urges. He opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it again.
“We’re going to show everyone how happy we are as a couple. That it was a usual lovers’ quarrel, that we don’t physically fight, and that you don’t keep me locked up or whatever. And since you’ll be there too, it’s safe. Satisfied?”
You weren’t fond of all that, of the thought of going out, meeting people and pretending you were living the happy life of a married couple. But you had no choice.
You didn’t admit this openly, but this was your only way to survive this hellhole and eventually return to your old life one day.
____
You were more anxious than excited to finally step out of the house again. When you stood in front of the restaurant later that evening, you barely brought yourself to crack a smile. How were you supposed to pretend to be happy when all you wanted was to cry?
“Stop.” Jaehyun held you back when you already wanted to enter through the front door. “Didn’t you forget something?”
You cursed inwardly, having hoped that he had forgotten about it. Why had you even mentioned such a thing as holding hands to prove the nature of your relationship? You would rather not, but you also saw that it was necessary to come off as a true couple and not two strangers who had just met. Even though the latter was true.
So you placed your hand in Jaehyun’s for the first time. It felt surprisingly warm and tender, and so different from the attitude he always showed you. How could someone so grouchy and cold have such tender and warm hands?
Jaehyun’s fingers enclosed around yours, and the unexpected feeling he caused you to experience currently didn’t have anything to do with the fear of getting touched by him. By far not. Not even something close to it.
You were so flustered that you barely noticed how he led you into the restaurant, right towards a large table on which a handful of people were already seated, and all their heads turned to you.
“Oh my, it’s the Jungs!”
You directly spotted grandmother Anh who approached you from behind the counter, taking your hands into hers and out of Jaehyun’s grip.
“Welcome! Dear, let me introduce you to the other villagers,” she addressed you. “Mr. Jones already told me that you two met, but these are…”
She proceeded to list four names that you forgot right after again, and you then took one of the two left free seats at the table along with Jaehyun while the old woman was bringing in one dish after another.
“Please help yourselves!” grandmother Anh then announced after she had sat down well. “Dig in!”
The entire table was filled with different dishes from the region, but also asian food. You felt your mouth watering after having lived off your humble cooking skills ever since your arrival.
“You see, this is a special restaurant,” grandmother Anh explained to you. “I’m not specialized on Asian or Western food. Basically, I can cook anything by order.”
“That’s true,” a middle aged woman next to you answered, Mr. Jones’ wife. “Mrs. Anh started off with an Asian restaurant, but since she’s running the only food place here, the requests started to pile up.”
You swallowed the last bite of delicious fried rice - your go to comfort food - before you responded, “No matter Asian or Western, your food is very delicious, grandmother Anh.”
“I’m so happy you like it, dear!” She smiled from ear to ear. “Hurry, eat up before all the others do!”
You nodded, and for the first time since you had gotten here, you didn’t only feel hunger, but also appetite as you reached for fried chicken, more fried rice, baked potatoes and steamed vegetables all at once. 
When you were training - which was usually all the time - you hadn’t had the pleasure to eat such delightful food as you had to follow a very strict diet to remain your figure. Just a few grams more would have gotten you kicked out of every academy. Of course you stole a secret bite of fast food and sweet treats here and there, but tonight was the first time you could actually eat without compunction.
“... And you left everything behind for your husband, even your job?” Mrs. Jones casually dropped when the dinner slowed down and everyone was finishing off. “That’s so courageous!”
Before you had come here, you had studied both of the roles that had been assigned to you very thoroughly. Jaehyun was the cop who had found a new job here, and you, his wife, had followed from Korea to settle with him in rural Connecticut. That was the part of the script that bothered you the most as this was something you would never ever consider doing in the first place. Giving up your dreams for a man - they wished!
“The things women do for the love of their life, hm?” you only brought yourself to say reluctantly, dripping with hidden sarcasm.
“My husband also made us both move from Vietnam to here,” grandmother Anh clinked herself into your conversation. “He was always dreaming so big, dreaming about living the American dream. I wasn’t fond of the idea, but I was even less fond of living a life without him. So I followed him.”
“Where is your husband now?” it blurted out of you, and you regretted it right at that moment already when her face fell. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s alright, dear,” she brushed it off in understanding about your unawareness. “It’s been five years without him, and I still miss him dearly. With my experience, I can put myself in your shoes very well. You feel lonely and depressed very often, hm? A new country, new people, an entirely new environment, and a husband who’s not home for the majority of the day. It’s hard to adjust.”
Those feelings had nothing to do with Jaehyun, but with yourself only, so you confirmed them with a nod. 
“How about you join our female poker round every wednesday?” Mrs. Jones then proposed. “It’s grandmother Anh, the girl sitting over there named Rosie, and me.”
When the girl heard her name, she briefly raised her head and smiled at you.
“Poker?” you asked carefully. “I’ve never played poker before.”
“You’ll learn it in no time!” Rosie encouraged you. “I’m pretty sure we aren’t playing it accurately either, but we’re having lots of fun and drinking lots of wine. You’ll love it!”
Poker with two elderly women and a girl around your age that you had barely interacted with before didn’t sound like your usual pastime activity back there in Korea. But at least there would be alcoholic drinks, and it would help you avoid this dark hole for a little while, you assumed.
“I’m afraid my wife might not be able to join,” Jaehyun then cut you off at the moment you wanted to excitedly accept their invitation. The three women looked at him in the same confused manner as you. “She’s really busy with work around the house and chores.”
“I’m sure I’ll be done by wednesday, that’s how fast but thorough I always work,” you affirmed to the women, avoiding Jaehyun. “So I’ll join you for sure.”
Jaehyun opened his mouth again, but it perhaps dawned on him that when he objected now, he’d look more like a husband mistreating his wife. The fact that he was known as a police officer didn’t affect the situation positively. 
“Okay,” he then gave in. “I’ll let you ladies have fun.”
“Oh it’s going to be so fun!” Rosie exclaimed and clapped her hands together. 
You were really looking forward to something now as well, for the first time since you had gotten here.
____
“Go, yell at me,” you provoked Jaehyun when you walked through the front door of your house after the dinner.
But he didn’t. Instead, he hung up his jacket, totally muted, put his phone on the kitchen counter and walked straight into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Whatever, if he didn’t want to talk about it, then you didn’t need to talk about it either.
With dragging steps, you then moved over to the kitchen yourself to get something to drink before your eyes fell onto Jaehyun’s phone.
Your front teeth sank into your bottom lip as you stretched out your hand in the direction of the device. You knew it was wrong, you knew what consequences it would all bring, yet you couldn’t hold back. The temptation was too strong.
Your fingers glided swiftly over Jaehyun’s display as you typed the name of your stalker into the search bar. And the first article that popped up was the one reporting about his release. 
Dated today. You knew it. You just knew it.
You cursed under your breath as you read through the comments that were almost all defaming him and the acquittal following everything he had done to you. When it had gotten public that a popular ballerina had been stalked, the media was quick to cover the story. Before, no one had cared about it. 
The majority of people having your back in the comment section were only a drop in the bucket. But it still was soothing somehow.
When you went back to the search results, you found an article about you retiring from the Korea National Ballet. It wasn’t a big one, but had still gotten covered by a local newspaper after your absence from the performances had been noticed, and they were quick to link your decision with your stalker not getting a sentence because the state of evidence was too insufficient. 
Your fingers trembled, because now, as soon as he picked up these news, he would start searching for you and carry out his threat that he had sent to your home through a letter a week before you had started your new life here,
I will come for you.
“You know for sure that this isn’t allowed,” Jaehyun scolded strictly next to you, and you flinched, nearly letting the phone drop before he snatched it out of your hands. “Didn’t I already tell you that with today’s technology, every time you go online, you leave traces? You want that? Having him here?”
“I didn’t log into any social media or anything,” you defended yourself. “I just… looked him up, and hundreds of other people pulled up that website also, so.”
“Even that is not-”
“He’s free,” you interrupted him, your breathing only coming in hitches as you realized what it meant for you. “As of today, he’s free again, and he’ll come for me. Like he wrote in that letter.”
You shut your eyes, ready to get yelled at, but Jaehyun didn’t say a word again. With the phone in his hand, he went into the bedroom - your room - and you followed him. You didn’t know what this meant. Had you gone too far tonight? 
“What are you doing?”
He jerked something out of the closet, and at second glance, you recognized the thing in his hands as your suitcase which he then threw at your feet.
“Go pack. You’re going home.”
You blinked in confusion. “What?”
“If you don’t give a damn about your life, you don’t deserve to stay here. So you should go home.”
He was so cold and indifferent about it, it made you shudder. And that stare of his. You hadn’t seen it before. This was serious.
When you had first come here, you would have rejoiced and would have willingly accepted a flight ticket back. But with this knowledge, the thought about setting a foot on Korea’s grounds with your stalker on the loose raised your hackles. Then, this entire nightmare would start all over.
Hesitantly, you brought yourself to admit that this was where you were the safest now. On the other side of the world, by the side of a detective. 
“Please…” you started.
“What am I supposed to say?” Jaehyun asked, overly annoyed, not breaking eye contact. “You defied my orders. Again. You think I didn’t know about this? I knew before you did, before the media did. It’s because of your reaction that I wasn’t supposed to say a word. Now look at what it has done to you! Will you ever get a good night’s sleep again?”
“I’m sorry!” You had never said that to him before, so this was a huge step for you. But you meant it. “I couldn’t resist. I had to know.”
“Of course you had to. You always have to meddle. Did something positive ever result from your meddlings? Perhaps, your meddlings have even brought this upon you!”
You stared at each other and Jaehyun’s face fell when it dawned on him what he had just said. Once again.
“You’re not better than any of them,” you hissed. “Yet, I’m not going anywhere.”
You picked up your suitcase and threw it back into the closet. When you turned around, Jaehyun had left your room already, so you quickly closed the door in case he would return and hid in the safety of your familiar four walls until the next morning. 
____
When wednesday finally came around, you were still feeling some sort of anticipation that Jaehyun’s hurtful words hadn’t been able to entirely tear down. You had only interacted with him when it was truly necessary since the day he wanted to kick you out, otherwise avoiding him at all costs. At least, he hadn’t prohibited you from going today.
“Remember to only share the most necessary things about us,” Jaehyun repeated again as you walked along the streets to grandmother Anh’s restaurant. “And not more. Don’t invent anything, just dodge the topic. If someone wants to take a picture, prohibit it. But luckily, people here aren’t so obsessed with social media.”
“It’s so easy for an emotional klutz like you to say such things,” you grumbled. “But it’s something entirely different when people put pressure on you, especially when you’re in such a small group.”
“Whatever,” he shrugged it off. “Just dodge everything you can dodge.”
You rolled your eyes. You hadn’t wanted him to come with you, but one of his conditions was to still accompany you everywhere once you stepped outside of the house, so you had no choice but to walk with him all the way there. 
“I’ll pick you up at ten, okay?” Jaehyun confirmed, and you nodded. “If something happens-”
“What should happen? We’re in the middle of nowhere and I’m just playing poker with the three less suspicious people on earth. Give it a rest already.”
“If something happens,” he continued unbothered, “or you start to feel uneasy… even if you only want me to pick you up no matter the reason, even if you’re only a few minutes away…” He reached his hand into his pocket. “Take this, just in case.”
He held up a black flip phone in front of you. One which you had only seen in action way back then in primary school, and which you deemed antique by now, because you were only able to send text messages and make calls with it. That kind of phone.
You took it into your hand and opened it up. The black and white display only showed one number when you pulled up the contacts list. You proceeded from the assumption that it was Jaehyun’s.
“It’s curbed, so you can only call me. Shortcut is one. The card has fifteen bucks on it, but I doubt you’ll spend it all unless we talk to each other for six hours straight. So don’t even think about calling someone you know from back home.”
Perhaps, a tiny part of him did care in the end. At least more than any policeman back there in Korea throughout the span of a year.
“Okay.” He cleared his throat. “See you later then. At ten.”
What you had wanted was an apology. But this was nearly just as good and his very own way of saying sorry, you saw that now.
Jaehyun turned his back to you and slowly walked back while you stored the phone away in your purse and entered the restaurant through the front door.
Not much later, you found yourself laughing among the other three women, having forgotten about your miserable situation for the evening as you hadn’t had so much fun in a long time already. 
Poker had faded into the background and you were getting to know about the other women more than playing cards. And while you were talking, you emptied one bottle of wine after another.
“So tell me,” Rosie urged, “how did you and Jay meet? It’s so rare having such a young couple deciding to live with us so secludedly!”
“We’ve met when we were both still in university,” you revealed, having studied this part of your new identities very carefully so that your stories would match. Yet, you couldn’t help but to spice it up a bit. “Through mutual friends. We couldn’t actually stand each other at first. I hated his guts, and he hated mine. But we slowly warmed up, and the rest is history.” 
“At first, I couldn’t quite read him as well,” Rosie admitted. “So I found his character very off-putting. But Jay is actually really warm-hearted and caring.”
No way she was talking about Jaehyun. You suppressed a laugh.
“That’s true!” Mrs. Jones nodded. “When he came into the hardware store earlier today, I was there too, talking to Mr. Alden. And he was searching every shelf high and low for an MP3 player. You know, one of these old things that you can only listen to music with which no one uses anymore. Mr. Alden didn’t have one of these of course, so he ordered it for him. He looked very stressed about it, but in a desperate and not angry way. More like a gift he needed promptly.”
An MP3 player? What would he need it for? In your world, your husband wasn’t capable of showing or even bearing feelings at all. Why was it then, that these people had a whole other picture of him?
“One time, at my father’s pharmacy,” Rosie added, “he asked what my father could recommend if someone suffered from a stomach ache. Apparently, his wife, so you, was in pain one night, and he wanted to be prepared for the next time this could occur. So, I would say you truly have a dedicated husband.”
You frowned. You had indeed suffered from a stomach ache one night, searching through the shelves and ending up making tea instead as you hadn’t found any medicine. That you had found it the next day, you had blamed it on your absent-mindedness.
“Mr. Jung surely has a warm heart despite his stoic demeanor. Otherwise he also wouldn’t have helped me when I had fallen on my back. That happened only last week. He carried me all the way to the doctor’s,” grandmother Anh continued.
There had truly been a day when Jaehyun had only come home much later than usual, and he was commonly very strict in keeping his routines. You hadn’t asked him about it though and had shrugged it off again. That was how indifferent you always were at home. Perhaps, you then realized, you should start doing exactly that: communicate. 
You couldn’t continue living with a person you openly despised and didn’t care about. Jaehyun had said a few awful things to you, but the phone in your purse and what people were telling about him were proof enough to you that he was, indeed, different from the cops you had encountered until now.
Most likely, he wasn’t so awful and you had only failed to see. Jaehyun had given you a few second chances. Now, it was your turn to give him one.
“Why the long face?” Rosie pulled you out of your thoughts. “Let’s celebrate the start of your new life here! Grandmother Anh, I’m going to open another bottle, alright? The night is still young, cheers!”
You heard it pop for the second time.
____
You woke up the next morning with a headache. You didn’t know how you had gotten home or when, but the last time you had gotten so drunk, it was in the academy in the Netherlands. These village people’s alcohol tolerance was really on a whole other level!
A glimpse at your phone told you that it was midday already, and you suddenly were sitting up straight in your bed. But since you had no business anywhere anyway, you fell back against the mattress.
You then slowly drifted off to sleep again when the doorbell interrupted your nap. That was the downside of living in such a small village. People just came over whenever they wanted.
“Have you just woken up?” Rosie asked you.
A bit embarrassed, you scratched your head. “Maybe…”
“It’s been a tough way home, hm?” she laughed. “Jay also didn’t quite know what to do with you.”
“To do… with me?” you repeated with widened eyes.
“Oh my!” Rosie covered her opened mouth with her hand and giggled. “You can’t remember a thing?”
You shook your head. “Nothing.”
“You were so drunk after our fourth bottle of wine, you slept in right there and then. Jay had to carry you in a piggy back out of the restaurant and all the way home up here, and you didn’t even bat an eye.” She chuckled again. “And then, you only cried, ‘I wanna go home, I wanna go home!’ while he constantly replied, ‘You’re gonna be home soon’. And you said again, ‘But not this home!’”
“Holy!” you gasped. “I really can’t remember!”
Everyone knew about the drunken truth, and Jaehyun had also certainly known that you didn’t mean this home when you had said you wanted to return. If the alcohol had gone to your head much more, you would have probably revealed your true identity by accident! You suddenly felt so defeated. You had put yourself in danger. Again.
“Make sure to reward him properly for all the convenience with a nice meal or otherwise, okay?” Rosie winked and handed a paper bag over to you. “And start out by giving him these painkillers for his back pain. My father doesn’t recommend using it on a daily basis. Perhaps, change your mattress to a less soft one as they probably stem from that.”
“But our mattress is not soft,” you commented naively and accepted the painkillers when it suddenly crossed your mind that he didn’t even sleep on the bed. “It’s probably only because he naps on the couch so often,” you briefly corrected yourself. “I’ll have an eye on it.”
After Rosie said goodbye to you, you closed the entry door behind you and directly went into the bedroom to prepare something before Jaehyun came home.
When he eventually walked through the front door a bit later that day, he didn’t say a thing about the night before, but calmly took off his jacket and went to sit on the couch without greeting you. 
Communicate. Your start. “Can you come to the bedroom real quick, please?”
Without a complaint, he arose again and followed you. When you opened the door, you presented a room to him with your clothes and other stuff all gone, the bedding freshly exchanged.
“This is your room from now on.”
Jaehyun blinked in irritation, and it was not the first time that you witnessed him turning so startled. You continued to take him aback. “I don’t understand…”
“I’m sorry,” you apologized to him quietly and bowed. “For having caused such havoc last night, being a burden to you again. When Rosie told me what happened because I can’t remember a thing, I realized that I put us both in danger again, now with my habit of drunkenly telling the truth. It wasn’t my indication to do so, and I will look after my alcohol consumption much better from now on. As I will do with everything else, of course. I will be obedient and follow the rules.”
He slowly turned around to you, his expression not quite distinctive enough for you to read. “Okay.”
“And because of your back pain, Rosie dropped by earlier with the painkillers. But I know it’s all because of me too. So, here, have the bedroom. It’ll be much better if you sleep on the bed as the mattress is not as soft. I’ll take the couch, I’ll be fine.”
You both stood there, quiet for a while. Until Jaehyun broke the silence himself. “There is a mattress.” 
“What?”
“Here.” He crouched down, put his hands in the compartment under the bed and pulled out a small mattress that had been kept there apparently. “It’s too small for me, but for you, it should be fine. Let me carry it to the living room for you, okay?”
You smiled and nodded. “Thank you. And thank you for the stomach medicine as well.”
He opened his mouth to return something, but seemed to get too flustered and closed his lips again. It was familiar to you.
“I’m sorry too.” You turned keen-eared. What had he just said? Jaehyun’s ear tips turned red as he looked to the side. “I- I didn’t mean it. You’re not… you know.”
He didn’t elaborate what he referred to. But he didn’t need to. You knew what he had exactly apologized for, and accepted it. All the things, little and big. About you being a princess, about you always meddling. And about you having brought this upon yourself.
Your husband wasn’t a man of many words, but he had silently accepted your apology too by starting to sleep in the bedroom that night and leaving the new mattress to you. 
You hadn’t been much of a great wife either, and you silently promised to him to be a better one from now on.
____
You were alone the next night, Jaehyun working overtime as one of his colleagues had spontaneously wanted to change shifts, so he had to take up on two in a row.
That was why, even by 1am, you still weren’t able to sleep. In your pajamas already though, you wandered up and down the living room, your thoughts swimming. You had kept the lights turned off as you went back to your mattress every now and then when you felt ready to finally fall asleep, only to fail once again.
You had gotten so used to having Jaehyun sleep in the room next to you that now that he was gone, you couldn’t fall asleep at all as you felt so defenseless. You were not paranoid about your stalker having gotten here, but with Jaehyun around, you had been able to fall asleep with more ease.
All by yourself though, you felt at your own fear’s mercy.
THUD
You froze on the spot. What in the hell was that?
You were currently facing the window, but the noise came from the other side of the closed door where the bedroom was located. Believing that your hearing might have fooled you, you held in your breath and listened closely.
Thud.
Again. This time, not that loudly, but it was clearly the same noise as before. You almost didn’t dare to make a move. It was in the middle of spring, the weather was warm and the moon was shining brightly. This was not the background noise of a thunderstorm.
Thud.
No, you hadn’t been fooled by your own hearing. There was definitely something going on in the bedroom that should not be going on, and Jaehyun was not here tonight! Restraining your breathing volume, you tiptoed to the kitchen area, hoping the parquet under your feet wouldn’t audibly give in.
THUD.
Louder. Your heart was racing, but you told yourself over and over again that you couldn’t afford losing your nerves now. Perhaps, it was an animal trying to get in, perhaps the wind pressing a branch against the glass, but perhaps also someone trying to break in. 
It couldn’t be him.
… right?
He was still in Seoul, you had obediently followed Jaehyun’s rules, you had left no traces. There was no possibility that he could be here.
… right?
The faults you had made hadn’t been that grave. You were now obediently following the rules.
… right?
As your gaze fell upon the kitchen counter, you reached for the phone Jaehyun had given to you and dialed the shortcut. The phone was shaking in your trembling fingers as the display lightened up and you saw it trying to connect to Jaehyun. 
But he didn’t pick up. You tried again and again. But he didn’t pick up even after the fifth attempt. You nearly wanted to cry. What was a police officer husband good for when he wouldn’t even come to rescue you? 
Whatever, you didn’t need him anyway. You were a strong, independent woman, you would take matters in your own hand. Literally. So you grabbed the pan that was lying on the stove and headed for the bedroom door. 
At this moment, you didn’t know what was louder. Your own heartbeat, your own breathing or the thudding that came from the bedroom. Perhaps, all at once, and the only thing that kept you going right now was the thought that you just didn’t want to die here, all alone, on the other side of the world, without having seen your friends and family again. 
BAM.
“Hey!”
You flinched the second you stretched out your hand to press down the door handle as the lights suddenly turned on, and a sharp scream escaped your lips as you were sure your life was flashing before your eyes. The pan fell onto your feet, missing your toes by a hairbreadth, as a pair of strong arms wrapped around you from behind.
Then, you realized that you were crying as you twisted and turned, trying to escape. “Let me go! Let me go!”
“It’s me!” a familiar voice then came through to you. “It’s Jaehyun! It’s me!”
His voice, his scent. This all suddenly embraced you as it dawned on you that indeed, it was him. You had just not known what it was like to be held by him which had startled you so much as you had never had any physical contact before.
In his arms, your chest was still heaving up and down heavily, but he held you closely and tightly, with no intention to let you go now as tears continued to stream down your face.
“It’s okay,” you then heard Jaehyun whisper, his voice close to your ear. “I’m here now.”
He only let you go after you had stopped trembling and crying out loudly, and only reluctantly with a deep sigh from your part. You didn’t know where that had exactly come from though.
As you then turned around to him, you clenched your fists and hammered against his chest. “You idiot! Where have you been?!” you yelled at him. “I’ve called you five times, but you didn’t pick up! What do you have a cell phone for!”
Jaehyun didn’t hinder you from letting out your anger. Only when your strength was slowly subsiding as exhaustion settled, he enclosed your fingers and explained to you calmly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear it ring as I was in the car with my colleagues, and when I got out, I was already here and saw that you have called five times.”
“I- I… I heard,” you stuttered, but you didn’t quite know how to explain your situation. What if he would think you had only imagined it and didn’t take you seriously? 
But Jaehyun did exactly that without you having to explain yourself. “My colleagues are currently searching the property high and low. I came here the moment I left the car.”
“I heard a thudding noise coming from the bedroom. As though… I don’t know. Someone was trying to get in. Through the window… I don’t know, there was definitely something!”
“Okay, let me check.”
You were hiding behind Jaehyun as he slowly pushed the door open and got in position. Then, he switched the lights on and you saw, as you peeked from behind him, exactly nothing. With slow steps, Jaehyun crossed the room and positioned himself in front of the closet. As he drew the door open, as expected again, you only found clothes inside of it.
“All clear inside here,” he then confirmed and approached the window to open it, calling outside, “What’s up out there?”
“All clear out here!” you heard someone yell in the distance.
“All clear in here as well!”
“You want us to stay put?” 
Hesitantly, Jaehyun turned around to you, and then back to the window. “It’s okay, for tonight, I got this. Thank you.”
“Alright.”
Your teeth sank into your bottom lip as you stood by the door and felt embarrassment crawling up your cheeks. “I’m sorry. I was so sure…”
“Don’t ever apologize for such things,” Jaehyun cut you off, and you faced him with insecure eyes. “You were scared, and your feelings are valid. Nothing else matters.”
The majority of people would have brushed it off. But Jaehyun had taken you seriously the moment he saw you all alone, so scared.
Only later that night, when you were ready for bed again, it sank into you that this was probably what the other women had talked about when the topic revolved around Jaehyun last week. Finally, even for only a short moment, he had shown you this part of him as well.
“Where is my mattress?” you then asked when you came out of the bathroom.
“In the bedroom,” Jaehyun deadpanned. “Come.”
You raised a brow, but willingly followed him to the bedroom where you found your mattress lying next to the bed. 
“Tonight, you can stay here. Just…” You heard him gulp. “... just… in case you feel unsafe and scared again.”
He made it sound like you had requested for it, which you surely hadn’t, and you both knew. It was Jaehyun’s manner of offering you some kind of security and solace, just because he wanted to, not because you had asked for it.
“Thank you.”
“And next time when I have the day off, I’m going to show you how to shoot with a gun.”
“... what?”
For the first time since you had come here, you didn’t cry yourself to sleep. You didn’t know whether it was because of the shock that was still lingering or because of someone else sleeping right next to you, even though not on the same bed.
“Jaehyun?”
“... Hm?”
You had your back turned to the side of the bed and were facing the wall from your small mattress, eyes wide open while listening to Jaehyun fiddling with the blanket just two feet away from you.
If you had faced him at this moment, you didn’t know if you would still have said what you were about to say.
“I take it back. You’re better than all of them combined.”
He knew what you meant, and despite his missing audible answer, you were sure he had gratefully acknowledged it.
When Jaehyun’s breathing rhythm became quieter and more regular, you could finally relax as well, a foreign nervousness falling off your shoulders and letting you drift off to sleep shortly after.
You felt so safe like never in your life before.
____
“What exactly happened with that man, if I may ask?” 
You were standing in the backyard, Jaehyun getting the gun prepared while you watched him.
“I thought you had all the background info about me before I got here already?” 
“Not the details. I only know about a guy who’s stalked a popular ballerina in Seoul. She dragged him to court, but the judge decided that the evidence was too insufficient and that he’d most likely get free. Since the ballerina claimed he had threatened her again, she was put in this program voluntarily.”
“I didn’t claim that he threatened me,” you disagreed. “He sent a letter. With a death threat. To my home. But the judge said it cannot be proven that it’s from him.”
“I only told you what I heard.”
Yet, he had still taken your fears from the night before seriously. You wondered whether, if Jaehyun had been responsible for your case back there in Seoul, you would still be here now.
“It started with a simple bouquet of roses after every performance shortly after I joined the Korea National Ballet a year ago,” you started. “I just returned from the Netherlands and it was my first engagement as a professional ballerina. At first, I found it flattering to already have such a dedicated fan. He’s a man in his early thirties, neat, groomed and very polite. Until he made his intentions clear and I rejected his advances. That’s when he stopped being polite.”
“That’s where it usually starts,” Jaehyun noted.
You nodded. “Admiration turned into obsession with bouquets that got even bigger and more pompous. With letters that claimed his unconditional love for me. With presents that I’m too embarrassed to talk about. Then, obsession turned into harassment. With phone calls from different numbers over one hundred times a day. With a date’s car tires all slashed. With fake online profiles of mine where manipulated nudes popped up. Back then, I still thought I could handle this all by myself. I’m a grown up woman. I’m responsible for myself.”
“When did it change?” Jaehyun questioned. “When did you report everything to the police?”
“When I started getting texts like ‘Better pull the curtains together when you sleep’ right after I went to bed and ‘Home sweet home’ with a picture of me entering my apartment building. I never disclosed my home address to anyone.”
Jaehyun was lost for words.
“And what did the police do? Nothing. Because they had too little conception of such things, they told me. The guy never signed his gifts, never showed up physically again as well. Presents, calls and letters aren’t a crime. And they didn’t take the phone calls as well as texts seriously enough to track the source as they claimed they wouldn't be able to do it.”
“I’m sorry.” Jaehyun released the gun’s safety catch, and you heard it in his voice that, in comparison to the detective from the plane, he was sincere about it. “There are detectives who care and detectives who don’t care. After all, we’re all normal people. But they were clearly people who didn't care enough.”
“I’m not alone with this situation. There was a case where the stalker waited under the girl’s bed. Another one waited in her roommate’s closet. Another one waited for her right on the streets. And they all ended up dead. I don’t want to join them. I’m only lucky to be here, because my father had the money to. These other girls weren't so lucky. But I want to be lucky and strong for all the girls who couldn’t be and can’t be in the future.”
“What do you mean?”
“I will come back home,” you responded determinedly. “I will come back home and get him imprisoned. This time, forever.”
“I haven’t encountered a woman like you until now,” Jaehyun concluded after some beats of silence passed by in which his gaze didn’t divert from yours.
You furrowed. “Like me?”
He nodded and held up the gun. “So fearless.”
You took it as a compliment and smiled. You hadn’t heard such kind words out of his mouth until now. But then again, this was the first proper conversation you two shared since you lived together.
“Here.” Jaehyun showed you how to properly hold the weapon. “Make sure this finger is here and this one here. Right now, it’s not locked anymore. If you pull the trigger…”
“... it will shoot.”
“Yes. Here, let me lock it again and then try releasing the safety catch yourself.”
You took the gun from his hand after he was done and placed it in your own palms. Positioning your fingers where Jaehyun had shown you, you weren’t able to get it right on the first attempt.
“Your index finger must be here.” Jaehyun touched it and moved it around. “And your thumb… right. Here. But a bit lower for a better grip.” He gently motioned this finger down as well. 
Where you had loathed his touches before, you still minded them. But oddly, not in the same, negative way. No, better say in a way that made you wish he would have his fingers placed on yours for a little bit longer and one that made you crave for more than these little touches.
“You wanna know how to aim at your target?”
Excitedly, you nodded and heard Jaehyun chuckle. For the first time, very genuinely. It was like last night had broken the ice between you two that should have melted weeks ago already.
“Hello? Someone home? It’s me, Rosie!”
“Quick.” Jaehyun took the gun from your hands and hid it behind his back.
“We’re outside!” you called out and saw Rosie turning around the corner a moment later. 
“Hey you two! What a beautiful sunday, right? I hope next week, the weather will be just as beautiful, because then… drum roll please… we’re going to hold our annual spring festival!” She lifted up her hand and presented a few colorful flyers to you. “Please come, okay? There will be boots, an animal competition and a stage for karaoke!”
Immediately, you were hooked. “Of course!” But then, it crossed your mind that you were only allowed to go outside with Jaehyun’s confirmation and instantly fell back into silence, unsure whether to face him.
“You two have fun together. I have volunteered to patrol that day, so I’ll be kind of there anyway.” 
Jaehyun had indeed given you indirect permission!
“Oh, it’s going to be so cool, trust me!” Rosie clapped her hands. “Okay, I’m going to inform the next house! I’m telling you, the people coming into the village center less than you are the Schmidts! See you next week at the latest, alright? And you, we’ll be seeing each other tomorrow at poker, okay?”
You hadn’t known that you were invited again, that you had gotten welcomed with open arms and accepted into this community. But it made you very happy, and you nodded.
“Of course. See you tomorrow.”
Later that day, Jaehyun placed a small object on the table that you hadn’t seen in quite a while. Since primary school, to be exact.
“This is for you.”
“What’s this?” you asked, even though the answer was quite clear. 
You were sleeping in the living room again, but somehow, since the night you had spent by Jaehyun’s side, you felt a bit more lonely than before. You weren’t crying yourself to sleep at all anymore, yet the feeling of loneliness still lingered. 
And it was not the kind of loneliness that made you long to hear a family member’s voice, it was more than that. This, you were sure of.
“An MP3 player,” Jaehyun announced and crinkled up his nose. “I figured, if you were to spend your time here with no connection to the outside world aside from the TV, you might as well spend it with your passion.” He placed a pair of earphones next to the device. “You can use it to listen to music only or to dance. Just as you please.”
You looked at Jaehyun, and saw it clearly now. With the person who had made you feel so unwelcome the day you had landed in this unfamiliar country, he had nothing in common anymore. 
This was not only a side of him, this was him. 
The man Mrs. Jones had talked about who had searched the shelves high and low for exactly this device. The man Rosie saw buying stomach medicine and the one who had helped grandmother Anh when she had fallen. 
This man had finally shown himself to you too in all his aspects.
You didn’t know what had made Jaehyun accept you for who you were to him, but somewhere along the way, he had settled with this arrangement.
And you were getting adjusted to your new life as well, you realized as your features softened. 
“Thank you.”
____
When the day of the festival finally came around, you stood with Rosie in front of grandmother Anh’s booth and tasted her dumplings together.
“My dear girls, you need to try these too! I experimented with another filling, so please give me feedback.”
The old woman shifted another plate in your direction, but you and Rosie waved aside in unison.
“Granny, we’re so stuffed already!” Rosie said. “And you don’t even want us to pay! Leave these for your actual paying guests.”
“Alright, alright! But I’ll make them for our next poker night! And then, you’ll tell me how they taste!”
“Okay!” you agreed. “We’re going to Mrs. Jones’ booth now, grandmother Anh. See you later!”
Linked with Rosie’s arm, you made your way through different booths, passing by people from neighboring villages as well as the stage, until you reached Mrs. Jones at the other side of the festival ground.
“Hello my favorite girls!” she greeted you cheerily. “Look what I have! A cotton candy machine! You can each have one for free!”
“Are you sure you can operate this?” Rosie skeptically raised a brow. “When people serve these, they look so professional, but you haven’t ever used one before, or am I wrong?”
“That’s not true!” the woman whined playfully. “Don’t be so rude, Rosalind Richards, or I’ll have a talk with your father!”
“Guess I’m not one of her favorite girls anymore!” Rosie whispered to you, and you chuckled while Mrs. Jones prepared the cotton candy for each of you.
In the end, the outcome wasn’t even that bad, she only needed to practice a bit more. With the cotton candies in each of your hands, you and Rosie walked over to watch the animal competition. 
People had brought their dogs and walked with them up the stage where they demonstrated different tricks. You and your friend were standing there for the entire time, eating your cotton candy and watching the dogs show off what they had practiced for. When the competition was over, you rode a few rounds on the small ferris wheel and visited the other booths, only finishing your tour when the sun was already setting.
Your last stop was a shooting gallery where you met Jaehyun overlooking the situation. He had been here since the morning, so you assumed he was off duty now as he wasn’t in his uniform anymore, standing at the sidelines, joking with another colleague. 
You had never seen him effortlessly interacting with other people in daily situations before, and for the first time, you perceived him as the normal man that he was outside of your fake marriage. Casually standing there, talking, laughing. A normal man whose dark hair was blowing in the wind, his sleeves rolled up, his arms folded in front of his chest.
A perfectly normal man who was also very attractive. 
As his head slowly moved to the side, your gazes met, and you gulped, somehow embarrassed that you had gotten caught, although it was only natural to look at your partner. 
Jaehyun was a man you could have easily felt attracted to if you had met under normal circumstances, not as your fake husband and your taciturn protector.
You had only failed to see clearly until this day.
“Oh look, it’s your husband Jay!” Rosie then finally noticed as well. “Let’s go over to them!”
A smile spread across Jaehyun’s face and he lifted his hand to wave at you. When you approached his group though, he got called over to the booth and took a rifle in his hand. Apparently, he had lined up to shoot.
“Oh let’s watch him!” Rosie urged.
“Jay is our best shooter,” one of his colleagues said proudly. “Look closely.”
He was leaning over the booth’s counter, his rolled up sleeves revealing his muscular arms and veiny hands. His entire body was tensed up, every single nerve concentrated on bringing down the targets. The air was almost static due to the tension as even other people stopped to watch.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Before you could even process what had happened, Jaehyun had shot down all three targets at the first go, and the spectators were rejoicing. 
“Wow!” Rosie exclaimed. “What was that? I couldn’t even follow the happenings!”
Indeed! You watched Jaehyun giving back the rifle and having presented the prizes in the back of the booth which offered everything, from giant plushies, different toys to knick-knacks. Knowing Jaehyun, he would probably take a pass on that, so you were quite surprised when he chose something from the knick-knacks.
You couldn’t see what it exactly was, but as he shifted around to you, Jaehyun approached you with a keychain dangling between his fingers. It was a yellow elephant that wore a red tie. It looked hella ridiculous and childish - but not to you. 
Stretching out his hand, Jaehyun held it out to you, and you were stunned, not exactly knowing where to turn your attention to: the gift or Jaehyun who looked at you with a gaze you had never seen on him before.
As you didn’t move, you felt Rosie’s elbow poking into your back, pulling you back to reality. No, you shouldn’t behave like a dumbfounded twelve-year-old, this was officially your husband after all!
So you raised your hand and took the keychain between your fingers. It was a plush knick-knack that probably wasn’t valuable at all. But Jaehyun had chosen this one among everything he had been offered to give it to you. And you would treasure it dearly.
You smiled. “Thank you.”
“It’s late. Let’s go home?”
You nodded and said goodbye to Rosie before you followed Jaehyun across the festival ground. You had trouble keeping up with his steps among all these people, so Jaehyun did what every other good husband would do: he reached for your hand and kept it in his until you had left the premises.
That was only for the show in front of all these people, you kept telling yourself the entire time. You had to prove to them that you were a happily married couple, and such couples did things like these.
The keychain, which you had attached to your purse, dangled with each step you took as you raised your voice, “Jaehyun…”
“Hm?”
“Why are you here?” you wanted to know. “You know my story, but what about yours? Is this your department?”
You spent every day alongside this man, yet knew nothing about the true him. At first, you hadn’t cared either. But the more time you spent by his side, the more it irked you that he was still such an enigma.
You thought he’d stonewall, but he gave you a clear answer, “I’m the NYPD, as a matter of fact.”
“Oh, I see. New York, hm.” You nodded. “And… why are you here?” 
The way his fingers cramped up around yours made you freeze despite having to keep up with his pace while walking. You had hit a sensitive nerve, you immediately became aware of that.
“I’m sor-”
“You really want to know?” he asked back. 
“Yeah.” You shrugged. 
“I did something a good detective should have never done.”
And with this sentence, he wasn’t about to tell you more. He didn’t need to express this, you were able to read the atmosphere. But that only kept your thoughts spinning. What was something so terrible that a detective could do that got him transferred to another area of responsibility?
You didn’t believe that Jaehyun was a bad person. 
He was cold at times, but an entirely cold person wouldn’t have let you sleep on the bed while they were enduring back problems. He was grumpy at times, but an entirely grumpy person wouldn’t have warmed up to the point of letting a smile slip every now and then. He pretended not to care at times, but a person who entirely didn’t care wouldn’t make sure that the people around them would be well and healthy. 
He was crude at times, but an entirely crude person wouldn’t have held your hand until you were home.
____
“What are you doing?” Jaehyun asked you when he came home from work that day and found you sitting at the edge of the bathtub with the bathroom’s door wide open.
“Dyeing my hair.”
“Pink? Red?” he asked.
“Magenta. It was quite an adventure until I had the base, but I think I’m there now,” you explained while you stirred the color in the small bowl in your palm. A huge amount had already been put on your head.
“Isn’t it too…” He stopped.
“Too flamboyant?” You intentionally used the word he had described you with the first time you had met. “Probably. But, just in case someone will ever make a connection between me and the ballerina from Seoul, they will dismiss the thought immediately since my English is almost flawless and my hair doesn’t match the color.”
Jaehyun seemed to ponder about it, but then confirmed your way of thinking. “I think you’re right.”
“Besides…” You smiled mildly. “Ever since I was little, I was never allowed to alter my appearance. A ballerina has to look perfect where perfect means we all have to look the same. Same hair, same makeup, same figure. It’s kind of nice to try something new after all this time.”
“Okay.” Jaehyun held up a plastic bag. “Grandmother Anh gave me these dumplings when I dropped by her restaurant today. I’ll prepare them for dinner, okay?”
“Alright!”
“Hurry up, they’ll be done in a few.”
“Got it.”
You quickly finished dyeing your hair and wrapped it all up with a shower cap before you went to the dinner table where Jaehyun had not only prepared the dumplings, but also different side dishes such as rice and vegetables.
You hadn’t known that he was such a good cook, but thinking back, Jaehyun had always prepared more extravagant dishes in comparison to you who just threw rice and vegetables together.  In fact, you had never quite learned how to cook.
This was the first time that you and Jaehyun ate dinner together and the first time that he had cooked for you, too.
“You look ridiculous,” he commented while he scooped rice on each of your plates. But was this a chuckle that had accompanied his voice?
“It’s not quite done yet. Wait until it’s washed out and dried. I’ll be the only pink-haired ballerina walking on this earth!”
You threw your hands in the air, almost tipping over a bowl, but you didn’t mind. Somehow, this was a very good feeling - to finally make your own decisions for your own body, your own appearance. It was only a minor change, but to you, it felt like you could conquer the world. 
“Enjoy the meal!” you announced and then dug in. 
By the first bite you could tell that Jaehyun was not only a good cook, but an exceptionally good cook. This, you also told him, which turned him all flustered. He then asked about your day to which you answered that you had thought of finally picking up dancing again after much struggle.
“Why did you struggle?”
You lowered your head. “Because the last time I danced, it only brought me misery.”
You were at your last bite, but suddenly didn’t feel like finishing anymore. Before, you had felt something like easiness, even happiness almost for quite a constant while. Now, your thoughts got thrown back to your stalker who was roaming around in freedom.
“If it’s your passion, you shouldn’t lose sight of it. Because you don’t know whether you will still be able to enjoy it whenever you want in your future.”
You didn’t know what he meant with that, but he wasn’t keen on explaining either as he gathered your plates and brought them over to the sink the moment after.
It was the first evening in a long while that you peacefully enjoyed without a burdened heart. You wouldn’t mind this becoming your routine.
Later that evening, when you had washed out the dye and dried your hair, you hid in the backyard of your house where no one could see you with earplugs in and the MP3 player attached to your body, picking up some ballet moves again.
Sheltered from the whole outside world, you tried to let the fact sink in that you were safe here and that no one would come to make your life miserable after a performance. Here, you could actually be at peace again.
And then, you danced until it turned dark.
When you returned to the inside, Jaehyun had accidentally fallen asleep on the couch with a book on his chest. On tip-toes, you sneaked up to him and wanted to take the book out of his hand to put a blanket over him when something suddenly urged you to halt.
The first two buttons of his white shirt were open, and right there, between the first and second one, you spotted a scar.
Of course. A detective always went hand-in-hand with danger. He was your husband, you saw him every day, yet this was the first time that you noticed this visible mark on his chest. How many more dangers had he encountered so far? How many more bullets had he caught during his young career? You knew nothing about it.
You stretched out your hand, determined to touch the spot, but snapped out of your trance-like state just before you laid your fingers on him. In your head, you scolded yourself. What in the hell were you thinking, behaving like such a creep?
You tried to calm yourself down when suddenly, Jaehyun’s hand snatched forward and wrapped around your wrist before you could even blink. You got bent forward over the backrest with his other arm then enclosed around your neck, his eyes full with surprise as he brought your face close to his.
“You’re so beautiful.” Barely a whisper from him.
You stared at each other for a moment in near disbelief, and you didn’t know where the ground and where the ceiling was anymore as everything around you seemed to rotate. Your whole body felt so hot as though you were suffering from a fever, but your heart beating out of its usual rhythm told you that the reason for your body reacting this way was nowhere near something rational things could explain.
A part of you wanted to break free, another part wanted to look into his soft eyes just a bit longer.
“It’s you!” With a sigh of relief, Jaehyun let go of you and fell back down on the couch. “I wasn’t able to recognize you at first because of your new hair! I thought it was a thief or something!”
“Ha.” You couldn’t even explain the sounds coming out of your mouth anymore, and thus decided to remain quiet about it. “I’ll go take a shower.”
“Okay. I’ll go to bed then. Good night.”
When the door fell close behind you, you leaned against the bathroom’s tiles, trying to calm yourself down once again. But even when you placed your palms on your cheeks a few minutes later, you were still hot all over.
Staring at your face in the mirror over the sink, you gritted your teeth, having tried to fight against this feeling for so long. But looking at your reflection, you came to the realization that this was the expression of someone who had lost this fight a long time ago.
You had never wanted this to happen, because you wanted a way out of this fake marriage someday. 
Now, it seemed like the exit door was blocked by your own feelings.
____
“Can I tell you something?” Rosie asked you the next time you gathered to play poker. “Because you’re my friend now, I want to be honest with you.”
Mrs. Jones was currently giving out the cards, and while you collected them, you nodded. “Go ahead. Is it my hair? You’ve been staring at it forever. I like it though.”
“I love the color, but it obviously looks like you did it yourself. Why didn’t you call me? I could have helped!”
“I’m sorry, it was an urge, I’m very impulsive. So, what is it then?”
“To be honest, in the beginning, you and Jay didn’t quite radiate the happiness of newlyweds to me. You were so distant and cold towards each other,” Rosie laid out her first impression. “I thought it was because of the cultural difference. I know from grandmother Anh that in Asia, public display of affection is not very common and you both immigrated from there. But it was like…” She halted. “Like you were strangers. Not familiar with each other at all. As though you had just met.”
You didn’t know how to properly react to this revelation, and Rosie wanted to apologize right away before grandmother Anh stepped in to support her, “I second that. You tried so hard to conceal it and pretended to be a happy couple, but my old eyes can see beyond that. When he bought the music player for you though… I knew that something had entirely changed between you two.”
Between you two?
You had only assumed that for you things had changed since the day of the festival. When he had looked a little too good that day. When he had smiled a little too genuine. When he had held your hand a little too long.
But never for him either.
“Everything has changed,” grandmother Anh continued. “You look so in love, just like when my late husband was courting me back then.”
You pressed your lips together to a fine line and you tried so hard not to blush, but to no avail as you looked into everyone’s eyes and encountered a smug grin from each side. 
No, you were wrong. The day of the festival was the day you had assumed first, admitting it to yourself the day you had picked up ballet again. But something had changed for you before all that. Slowly, continuously. And it was still in process.
“See?” Rosie teased. “This is how Jay looked as well when I told him exactly the same!”
“Quit joking,” you replied briefly, but your voice only came out as a whisper while the hotness wandered further to the very tips of your ears. “You’re giving out cards now or what?”
“Let me tell you something!” Mrs. Jones now meddled too, not wanting to be left out. “After so many years of marriage, I haven’t seen my husband getting so stressed about buying a gift for me, not even on my birthday!”
But you hadn’t even talked to each other regularly back then when Jaehyun was looking for the MP3 player for you. 
It just didn’t make sense to you.
Or were you just in denial because it couldn’t actually be possible? After everything that had happened between you two, Jaehyun had grown fond of you from the very beginning already, even before you? 
“Oh dear, why are you making such a face?” Grandmother Anh sounded worried as your hands still laid on the table, not touching the cards you had been given while everyone else had already picked up theirs. “Are you not feeling well?”
You were certainly not feeling well. Your stomach had turned upside down, and you suddenly felt like you couldn’t breathe, on the verge of a collapse. While it had become so obvious to everyone around you, you had been left in the dark this entire time.
“I need to get fresh air.”
You arose, pushing the chair under you away with your legs and hurried to the entrance door before you thought you were going to run out of air entirely now. But even the outside didn’t make a difference, and you were supporting your arms against the wall while breathing in and out heavily.
After a while, you heard the entrance door open and close again, and judging by the shoes that you could see from your position, Rosie had followed you to the outside. 
“I called Jaehyun to pick you up.”
“What?!” Your eyes widened and you felt your stomach turn. In your hot ears, you heard it ringing while simultaneously, your loud heartbeats tried to steal the show. “I’m all fine!”
“Yeah,” she chuckled. “But I thought you’d rather want to be with your husband today than with us, and this is a good excuse to leave the round. Just pretend to be a little dizzy.”
“Rosie!” you called her out while the next moment, you heard fast footsteps approaching in your direction. “I’m not coming to your birthday barbecue anymore next week!”
“I know you’re lying.” She winked.
“Are you okay?!” Jaehyun came to a halt in front of you, totally out of breath and beads of sweat visible on his forehead. He only needed a brief moment to take a breather before he faced you, his features drawn with apprehension, his eyes mirroring pure concern. 
The next moment, his palms were on your cheeks, and he gasped, feeling your heat burning against his skin.
“You’re all glowing and hot!” Jaehyun stated in shock. “Do you have a fever?”
“I-I’m… I’m all fine!” you tried to brush it off, but his hands cupping your face possibly made it only worse as you felt like melting from within.
“Jay, you need to take her home, okay?” Rosie persuaded him. “The gathering is over. Have a good night!”
With these words, she turned around and closed the door behind her, leaving you alone with Jaehyun. Despite having been alone with him so often already, with all this new knowledge, everything was different now.
You were jittery and all nervous around him, having problems looking into his eyes, and he noticed of course - but for all the wrong reasons.
“Come, we’re going home! You’re sleeping in the bed tonight, no questions asked. I’ll get a few more blankets so you’ll have it all warm in case you’re catching a fever. Tomorrow, you’ll be doing fine again, no worry. It’s probably the change in weather since it’s been unusually hot these past days for spring.”
You hadn’t ever seen him so talkative and openly expressing worry, and it somehow took you by surprise. Goosebumps raised all over your arm as Jaehyun’s hand slid down your side and his fingers intertwined with yours.
There were no other people aside from you out here at this hour, there was no need to pretend being a couple - yet, he held your hand as you walked all the way up to your house in silence.
It didn’t feel real to you.
But the night sky was your witness.
____
A few days later, long after nighttime had fallen, you were lying on your mattress, still wide awake like the nights before. 
You hadn’t noticed until now, but your life wasn’t so dull anymore. You weren’t on the verge of depression anymore in contrast to the first month in your new home. You had made new friends, had picked up your passion for ballet again, trained during daytime, and spent the evenings with Jaehyun, cooking, eating and then watching a movie or taking a stroll on the hill behind your house together. 
It was an entire different life from the one you had lived back at home in Seoul, but nothing you enjoyed less. No, which you enjoyed even more, if you said so yourself. 
A warm feeling embraced you every time the clock approached the hour your husband would return home, and even though you saw each other every day, it was like seeing him for the first time, your heart almost jumping out of your chest whenever he walked through the door, greeting you with a smile.
You were able to clearly name that feeling now that made you so excited, you were barely able to sleep at night while Jaehyun was lying in the room next to you, sleeping peacefully.
Or… could he not either?
There were noises coming from the bedroom. You sat straight up on your mattress, feeling a rush of hotness wash over you with your heart beating out of its usual rhythm. Flipping the blanket over, your naked feet touched the wooden floor, but you didn’t bother slipping into your shoes.
You tiptoed to the bedroom to make sure that your ears hadn’t misled you, but you swore you could hear him walking up and down in there as well. With a trembling hand, you placed your fingers on the handle, but before you could even think about how in the hell you could explain what you were doing in front of Jaehyun’s bedroom in the middle of the night, only dressed in your light pajamas, the door suddenly opened from the other side.
Jaehyun was just as shocked to see you as you were shocked to see him. You wanted to stutter something about sleepwalking, but as you made eye contact, you realized that he wasn’t expecting an explanation from you.
He wasn’t expecting anything as he closed the last remaining gap between you two, his hands cupping your face again, this time to pull you against his chest. 
And as his lips met yours, you now were assured that he had lied awake every night like you as well. 
____
With hasty movements, Jaehyun unbuttoned your pajama top all while not letting his lips slip from yours, his fingers rather fumbling, but knowing exactly and precisely what they were doing and the carelessness most likely stemming from pent-up anticipation, because he was finally getting what he had wanted all along:
You.
You felt him smiling into the next kiss that came rather sloppy in his hurry as your shirt glided from your shoulders, the palpable traces along your skin getting replaced by Jaehyun’s fingers that drew down the same path in a feathery-light manner. 
He was holding himself back until it almost hurt, you felt it as his fingers’ grips were first tight, then froze and softened lastly. But you didn’t want him to hold back. You had both been holding back for way too long already.
Both of your hands slung around Jaehyun’s neck as you deepened the kiss until it almost became hard for you to breathe, that was how wildly and hungrily you were craving for each other. With a little jump, you also hooked your legs around his waist, feeling him supporting you instinctively from the bottom with a strong grip.
You moved from the door frame to the bed where Jaehyun seated himself down and placed you on his lap, but you had no intention of moving away as your fingers vanished under his shirt and pulled it over his head in one swift motion.
But Jaehyun’s lips didn’t find their way back to your mouth. Instead, they traveled down the side of your neck, eliciting a moan from you in the process, and stopped by the raising of your breasts. You threw your head back, your nails digging into the flesh of his shoulders, leaving red marks as he took your nipple between his lips.
Sucking sounds mixed with the audible rhythm of your heavy breathing, thwarted by suppressed squeals whenever he bit into it, pulling it between his teeth and teasing you until you couldn’t take it anymore. So Jaehyun then wrapped his arms around you and flipped you both around.
“You have no idea for how long I’ve been holding back,” he told you with an expression on his face that you had never encountered before as he was hovering over you. 
Lust, desire, and so much… passion. 
Yes, you for sure had had no idea. But you luckily did now. 
Strands of your red hair had gotten disheveled, partially disturbing your view, and he brushed them off, smiling. For a short while, you shared a moment of loving understanding, and your heart thumbed so fast against your chest, you were scared he was going to hear it.
There was a distinct feeling growing inside of you that didn’t want to admit. That you couldn’t confess, not even to yourself. Because you knew, this was only temporary.
“Then show me,” you challenged him.
“Very well.”
His grin widened, revealing his teeth even in the semi-darkness when his mouth came back down on yours, his hands roaming across almost every single inch of your body as though he wanted to keep a map of your body in his mind. As though he shared the exact same thought with you:
That this was not permanent, struggling with holding himself back to prolong the experience and going through with the act as fast as possible because he had been looking forward to it for so long already.
Jaehyun’s lips left yours, passing by your neck and tracing down to your stomach where he placed butterfly kisses around your navel, and you shuddered from the soft touches that you had been missing out on for a very long time already.
Your hands disappeared in the thickness of his hair as his lips further approached your nether regions, and you gave him credit for still being so patient when release was so close as it made you almost go crazy in contrast.
Tender warmth covered your core, the fabric of your pajama bottoms being the only barrier between the two of you, and you craved for nothing more than to feel his tongue inside you right now, feel how it dipped into your wetness, his mouth doing the same as he had done to your breasts before.
But Jaehyun’s patience had reached its limit. There was nothing left of it anymore.
After several moments of internal conflict, Jaehyun decided to not withhold anymore and to go for it instead. At the end, he had the entire night, and he would make use of every single second he had left.
The mattress gave in under you when he hooked his fingers into the waistband of your pajama bottoms after he had removed his own boxers, the feeling of his weight then carefully pressing back down on you, now the both of you entirely naked. It felt so surreal to you as you locked your gazes, and you needed a moment to process this situation, to let the fact sink in that this was indeed real.
Then, as though he had just done the same, Jaehyun eased between your thighs and started to enter you. The night was still so long, but it felt like he didn’t want to lose any time, and neither did you. You hadn’t noticed how wet you had gotten throughout the foreplay which had made his entrance so easy, almost imperceptible.
Your pupils rolled to the ceiling as he adjusted and you finally felt him inside you fully. You couldn’t quite remember the last man you had been intimate with, even though it had happened only shortly before moving here, but somehow, Jaehyun had clouded your memories of every other man in your life who wasn’t him at this point.
As a matter of fact, on the contrary, you now knew that you had never desired another man this much. Every fiber of your body was longing for him so badly that despite him being right here, it ached so much not to have him even closer. And that wasn’t even physically possible.
“What’s wrong?” Jaehyun asked suddenly, having noticed your conflicted expression and coming to a halt.
You shook your head. No, nothing was wrong. Everything was perfect, it was almost unbelievable.
“I-... I…” You were so overwhelmed by your feelings, the words nearly slipped carelessly out of your mouth. Luckily, for you though, you were able to swallow all of them. Instead, you said, “I’m just so happy.”
The corners of Jaehyun’s lips tilted up, and he took this moment of sweetness to tenderly peck your lips and confess, “Me too. I’m happy too.”
Soft moans fell from your lips as he started moving inside of you again. His motions were deliberate and powerful, and you enjoyed every single thrust of his. Jaehyun was so excited, but put you first still, and you appreciated that.
There were times, his thrusts seemed insatiable as he rammed into you nearly in a trance, seeking for his release, but despite you enjoying these rough phases very much as well, he always calmed down and feeded you with slow, sensual pushes that put you on the verge of being delighted and desperately wanting more.
His lips were wet and warm against your lips when his hips got a rest on top of yours, and you were quick to hook your ankles around his waist when he picked up his pace for the nth time, but this time being the last that would finally bring the long awaited release, you both knew at that moment.
Jaehyun’s chest glistened with a paper thin layer of sweat, and your eyes wandered along his neck to his face where you watched him in awe changing his features to a more tensed one, working towards your orgasms. Your fingers slithered up his arms that were propped up to the left and right of yours, and you held tightly onto him, breaking your eye contact to not let his hard work go to waste and concentrate on yourself.
You bit into his arm as you came, and he let out a groan, whether it was because of your bite or because of him reaching his own heights as he released into the sheets next to you, you didn’t know. But at that moment, as you slipped out of this world for a few seconds, you wished that you could have this for the rest of your life.
Especially for - no, because of - what followed after.
Your grumpy and always stoic husband rolled onto the space next to you to take a rest, a smile spreading across his face that just wouldn’t vanish anymore as he turned his head aside and looked at you. And you genuinely felt the same. 
Instinctively, you moved over to him, and he stretched out his arms to pull you onto his chest where you laid yourself down. You didn’t say anything for a long time until you felt him pressing his lips on your forehead.
Now, you truly felt like you had arrived at home.
There, it was so warm, and so comfortable that you wanted to stay forever.
____
Rosie’s birthday barbecue took place the next day where the festival had been held weeks prior. If anything, you knew by now that her father, the pharmacist and major apparently, technically built this village. Aside from the pharmacy, he owned several other stores here.
Unfortunately, you had come all by yourself. 
Jaehyun had left early in the morning already, rudely awakened by a call from his supervisor, so you weren’t able to fully concentrate on celebrating Rosie’s big day right now as you wished, but for reasons that couldn’t wipe that grin from your face.
Your thoughts revolved around Jaehyun as well as around what had happened the night before - several times in different positions as though he had feared he was running out of time to do all this to you.
This morning, you had woken up with your limbs entangled and strands of your hair in his face, but he hadn’t complained. Instead, after getting the call, he had pulled you closer to him, lying in bed with you a few minutes more and even kissing you goodbye when he had walked out of the door.
You flushed when you recalled the memories.
“My, my! What’s that?” Rosie called you out as she took the seat next to you. “What’re you blushing for? Long night with your husband?”
“Rosie!” you called out indignantly, totally shocked, but she only laughed.
“Come on, nobody heard! Lucky you!”
You shook your head and shifted a small box in your friend’s direction. “Open it.”
“What are you doing?” Rosie feigned upset. “I told you to not get me anything!”
“Well, the gift shopping area in this village is very limited, but I didn’t want to come empty-handed.”
You could tell Rosie was very excited as her fingers fiddled with the ribbon that held the gift wrap together. As she untied it, a small, flat box was revealed.
“It’s not much, but where I come from, these are very trendy now, and I’m more of a personal gift giver than buying something random. My husband had to order them from the internet, but the rest was made by me. I hope you like it.”
Rosie stilled her motions. “Did you just say ‘my husband’?”
Did you? You gasped nearly inaudibly. You had never referred to him like this before, and truth to be told, you hadn’t even intended to do so now. It had just slipped somehow.
Your friend giggled. “Your husband always refers to you as ‘my wife’, and I found it odd that you hadn’t until now. Perhaps, it took you longer to get used to it, right?”
“...Right.” You kneaded your fingers in uncertainty.
“Are you kidding?!” Rosie then squealed as she opened her gift fully and pulled out a pearl bracelet. “It’s so cute!”
It was made of freshwater pearls in different colors that you had beaded yourself with all the colors Rosie liked the best. You had never seen her wearing jewelry, so she apparently didn’t want to bother taking them on and off.
“It’s an elastic band, so you don’t have to close and open it every morning. You can wear it all the time or take it off and put it on easily.”
Rosie pulled it over her hand and held her wrist against the sunlight. “Such pretty colors! Thank you so much! I will cherish this all my life! It’s a token of our friendship!”
She cuddled you a little bit too tight for your liking, but you didn’t mind. You hadn’t seen such an openly pure reaction to your gifts ever when you had given presents to your friends or family all along. And they had been more expensive and impressive than what you had given to Rosie.
Here, life was much easier. People seemed to be content and satisfied with the little things life had to offer, that was why they had chosen to stay in the countryside. You admired this mindset as people in the big city always thrived to achieve more and to be better than everyone else. 
You wanted to be more like Rosie and the villagers.
“Okay, let’s eat now! The meat is ready!”
You really wanted to enjoy the barbecue, and more often than not, you earnestly did. But watching Mr. and Mrs. Jones' banter-like but loving interactions, along with many other married and dating couples, made you long for something which you had never expected to be missing. 
“What is it, dear?” Grandmother Anh then asked you as most of the people were slowly finishing their meals and moved on to play with the children or to talk with each other. “You look so somber.”
You, among only a handful of other guests who were still eating, had remained in their seats. Next to you, there was an extra plate with food that hadn’t been touched yet.
“Grandmother Anh…” You turned to her, your eyes expressing exactly what was going on inside of you. “Is it possible to miss someone so much, your heart hurts even though you had only been together in the morning?”
Because that was how you were feeling now. You wanted to be around Jaehyun all day, all night, not missing out on his presence even a single moment. Where you had loathed his existence before, it was all you could think about now and how you’d probably die of a heartache if he was ever gone.
You had never experienced something close to this.
“Oh dear…” Grandmother Anh squeezed your arm and smiled compassionately. “I miss my husband starting from the moment I open my eyes in the morning. And I even felt like that when he was still with me. We weren’t separated for a single day, and I know that even now, he’s with me.”
Because they loved each other wholeheartedly. You couldn’t say the same about what Jaehyun felt for you.
“But why are you so upset right now, dear?” she asked you. “He’s here now.”
“... what?”
You looked up and spotted Jaehyun walking down the street in your direction. You suppressed the urge to blink a few times in case this wasn’t real. But grandmother Anh had just said so, and he would be standing right in front of you not too long from now.
Suddenly, you were all nervous and excited like a child on the first day of school. Jumping out of your chair, hitting the table’s edge in the process and flushing to your cheeks, you didn’t quite know what to do at first. You wanted to run towards him and jump into the safety of his arms like this morning, but were too shy to do so.
What if he rejected you?
What if last night and this morning were an exception?
What if he had returned to being the reserved and taciturn Jaehyun from the beginning?
These were thoughts that were running through your head when you were standing there awkwardly to welcome him.
“I…” you then started when he stopped right in front of you, his mien not quite expressive enough for you to read. “I saved you some meat and potato salad.”
You didn’t know what you were saying, you were only trying to downplay this awkwardness that had weighed down the lighthearted atmosphere of the party as Jaehyun also clearly didn’t know how to behave after your intimate encounters.
“Are there n-”
But your words got stuck in your throat as Jaehyun stretched out his arms and cupped your glowing cheeks with his palms. It was almost magical how instantly, you were able to calm down. Then, he pulled you towards him, covering your lips with his as though he had been waiting all day only to do that.
As he kissed you there, in front of everyone, chastely, but also deeply, you knew that this wasn’t an act. This was not staged for the villagers to believe that you were a truly married couple.
This was honest. His feelings were real.
“God, I’ve wanted to do that all day,” he admitted, tucking a strand of your hair that had gotten loose behind your hair. “I thought time would never pass.”
And you were on the same page.
You were still on the same page when the front door of your house closed behind you later that evening and Jaehyun shoved you against the door, devouring all of you with an open mouth and his tongue, his fingers locked with yours in a tight grip, pinned against the wall above your head.
You were still on the same page when he bent you over the kitchen counter, not even showing the slightest patience by undressing you clothing for clothing as he just dragged your pants down and pushed into you from behind with a long-suppressed groan that made you scream in excitement.
You were still on the same page when you laid your palms flat on the surface in the illusion of getting support, moving along his length to meet his thrusts whenever he pulled out to just slam back into you full-force, because you couldn’t take being apart from him for even a second.
You were still on the same page when you were shaking from past-orgasm spasm, his cum dripping down your hips as he had released on your back, and he carried you on his hands to the bedroom with the words,
“I’m not done yet.”
It was raw.
And it was real.
____
For the fifth morning in a row, you woke up next to Jaehyun. And every time, it still felt so surreal to you that you wanted to give yourself a pinch to make sure this was real. But whenever you turned to his side, his arms tightly wrapped around you, and looked into his eyes that were so sincere and clear, you didn’t mind if this was a dream after all if only you wouldn’t wake up from it.
But today, his expression was clouded, and you could tell something was bothering him gravely that he couldn’t let go of.
“What is it?” you asked him, barely awake yet, but irritated that he wasn’t cuddling with you as usual. “Did something happen?”
It was odd. The fact that you could live with a person for so long and still know nothing about them. That was what Jaehyun told you the next moment.
“What do you mean?”
“That you don’t know my biggest secret yet. And that it might make you hate me.”
You feared that your whole world would teeter under your feet the further he spoke about what he had to confess to you. At this point, you loved him so much, you didn’t know what could possibly make you hate him. After all, he was a detective, and one of the good ones.
The last thing he would have done was kill an innocent person.
… right?
Jaehyun’s struggles were almost palpable for you as he inhaled and exhaled deeply, the muscles on his chest straining and never seeming to relax anymore as he withdrew into a deep hole of silence.
Minutes passed without him crawling out of it, and you sat up yourself, leaning against the headboard while Jaehyun was leaning forward, not facing each other. You wanted to hug him from the back to give him comfort, but also sensed that this would only restrain him from crossing over the final line he was so close to reaching.
And he really wanted to pass it.
“I could never hate you,” you told him. “I l-...” You gulped. “You’re a good person. What would ever make me hate you?”
“Not even knowing that I ruined someone’s life?”
There it was. The elephant in the room that rendered you totally motionless and emotionless. Ruining someone’s life was a wide term and could come in many shapes and forms, each that had a different impact on the victim, and the culprit. 
You desperately wanted to know Jaehyun’s dimension, and you knew he desperately, finally wanted to tell you.
“Explain to me. Has it got something to do with the scar on your chest?”
“Yes. As a detective, my job is to protect the victims. But I failed to do so once when I purposely hurt them.”
“How so?”
Jaehyun bent further forward, and you perceived how he lifted his hands to ruffle his hair in aggravation before he continued, “Last week, at Rosie’s birthday party when I got called to my supervisor, I told you it was about my case.”
You nodded. You hadn’t pushed the topic, because if Jaehyun had wanted to talk, he would have come forward. And now, it was apparently the time.
“This case has brought me here to this witness protection program. I’m clearing my name and serving my sentence, because I hurt a victim. The trial is long finished since the victim decided not to press charges, but hurting a hostage is not seen as a peccadillo among the police nonetheless. After I got suspended for a few months, I got sent here to prove myself again while working in another unit and eventually return to the NYPD.”
You had a hard time processing what Jaehyun tried to get into your head. Inwardly, you were repeating every single syllable until they settled.
“I ruined a life. That hostage, a woman… I shot at her,” he pressed bitterly through gritted teeth. “There, you have it. The reason to hate me.”
Your brow arched. “I don’t quite understand. Why did you shoot at a hostage?”
Being nosy was one of your characteristics, but the best part of it was that you never judged a situation before you got all the details, and you hadn’t collected enough details to waive Jaehyun’s action as something bad yet.
“The kidnapper was holding her hostage with a gun pointed at her head.” 
It was difficult for Jaehyun to speak about this situation, you could tell from the way he expressed himself, with hitches and deep breathers in between, but you gave him all the time he needed.
You lifted your hand and touched his back in a reassuring gesture, scared he would shy away, but still wanted to try. Instead of retreating, you felt his muscles relaxing under your palm, and you exhaled in relief, letting him know you were there for emotional support, no matter what was to come.
And what was about to come was really hard to digest.
“Instead of shooting at the kidnapper, I shot at the hostage’s leg. Of course I didn’t want to hurt her on purpose, but at this moment, it was the best thing that I could do. I could see it in his eyes. He really wanted to pull the trigger, that was how ruthless and brutal he was. As soon as I would shoot at him, he would shoot at her. So I had to do the last thing a policeman is supposed to do, and aimed at the hostage instead.”
Your forehead was in creases. You couldn’t grasp the entire situation as it sounded just so absurd to you. As a ballerina in the spotlight, you had never gotten in touch with this dark side of the world.
But Jaehyun was a good person. So good, that he omitted the entire story from you.
“You shot at the hostage, because an injured hostage is useless to the culprit,” it suddenly became clear to you. “You’re not a bad person, Jaehyun. That’s very courageous. And honorable as you did everything to save the hostage.”
His shoulders shook, and you were irritated whether he was laughing or crying. Until you noticed that his shaking was actually trembling, and that he was uttering indistinct sounds. Only moments later, you realized that he was, indeed, silently crying.
You just weren’t sure whether these were tears of guilt or tears of relief for finally coming clear with you.
“The scar… it’s from a bullet, right? Did he shoot directly at you after that? Is that how you got it?” 
“Even if, at the moment I pulled the trigger, he let go of the culprit and shot at me, I didn’t save her life.”
You felt a tight knot in your stomach. “Jaehyun… that woman… is she still alive?”
It didn’t sound like she didn’t survive the entire incident, but you wanted to hear it from him. Almost instinctively, he nodded with much hesitation, and relief washed over you. 
“But at what cost?” he broke through your thoughts. “That woman… one of her legs was rendered useless. I hit der at such an unfortunate spot-”
“But she still has her life,” you interfered. “And you risked your own life for her. You were ready to die for a victim. But she’s still alive, and you as well. That’s all that matters.”
“All that matters? Here’s the thing you’ll hate me for…” He sucked in a rush of air. “She was a professional ballerina. Just like you.”
You didn’t know what to say. Perhaps, it was best to not say anything at all now.
For a ballerina to lose the ability to use even one of her legs was the most unfortunate thing that could happen. All your life, you were trained to rely on your legs. They were your pillars that carried your passion, your career. You were dependent on your legs. You hadn’t learned how to use anything else to get through life.
You leaned forward and replaced the palm of your hand on his back with both of your arms. Gentle, you snuggled up against him and held him in your arms, resting your head in the crook of his neck and closing your eyes, listening to his silent cries.
“Jaehyun. Still. You didn’t ruin a life.”
Everything happening in the past weeks suddenly made so much sense to you. Why Jaehyun had been behaving so hostile upon seeing you for the first time, why he hadn’t wanted you to think so lowly about your safety, why he had wanted you to pick up your passion again, why he had bought you the MP3 player…
“You saved hers.”
Reluctantly, he placed his arms over yours. You really felt his insecurity, but your support was unwavering, and you let him know.
“And you saved yours as well. No lives were lost. You’re a good detective.”
At that moment, you assumed that you were the first person he actually opened up to. And the first person who actually truly understood his deepest feelings.
“Thank you.”
Jaehyun turned to you and kissed you. It tasted of tears and despair. 
And a bit of wishful thinking.
____
“I’m still in therapy because of it,” Jaehyun spoke the day after when he was ready to pick up the topic again. “Well, when I’m in New York, I mean.”
It was constantly warm outside nowadays, you two sitting on the slope of the hill behind your house, and you couldn’t wait to finally embrace summer fully in this part of the world where you had never experienced this season before. 
Your hair was glowing in the bright sunlight. Jaehyun liked to compare it to a pink rose when you woke up in the mornings and he ran his fingers through the strands.
“That’s good,” you coaxed him, showing full support ever since his confession. “I think it’s always good to speak with a professional about traumatic experiences. They will never go away at some point, but we all have to learn to live with them.”
You stood by your opinion that Jaehyun had had no other choice and actually had made the right decision in this situation. You respected him for that, and you had learned that the hostage, who had attended the trial of course, thought so as well as she had voiced during the process.
It was only the inner demons Jaehyun was fighting now, and you would help him get every single one of them caged.
“It’s odd.”
“What is?”
You stretched yourself, enjoying the warmth. “The fact that I know about your most traumatic experience, but not even where you were born.”
“I was born in Seoul, as a matter of fact,” he clarified instantly.
“The city where I live?” you called out in surprise. 
Jaehyun nodded. “I lived there with my mom until I graduated from high school. Then I went to New York because my dad has been working there, and pursued a career as a policeman.”
You pulled grass between your fingers, the mild breeze playing with the tips of your hair strands. “Why did you want to join the police?”
“I’m good at solving cases. And I really want to help people, but didn’t have the patience to go to med school.” Jaehyun looked up, smiling softly against the wind. “Why did you take up ballet classes?”
Yeah… why? You shrugged. “It was something I was passionate about ever since I was a little child.” Your reasoning was not as extensive and detailed as his, but for you, it had always been enough.
And for Jaehyun as well. He turned his head against the sky and basked in the sun. “That’s great. Anything else you want to know?”
“Fair enough, since you knew every fact about me before I even set foot in this country. Do you have siblings?” you jumped at the chance. 
“No.”
“Favorite food?” 
“Nothing specific. I like anything.”
“A country you’d like to visit one day?”
“Japan.”
“A country you have visited and is your favorite?”
He smiles. “I’ve only been to South Korea and here, so… Here.”
“Can you imagine going back there though?” you then asked. “To Seoul, I mean.”
“Absolutely not.”
You didn’t know why his answer hurt you. Disappointment seeped deep into your heart at the realization that your real home and his real home were separated by an entire ocean if you were ever to go back. 
“Do you miss your home?” Jaehyun then returned.
Did you still?
You weren’t so sure about that anymore. You missed your family and your friends, as a matter of fact, and not a day passed in which you didn’t think about them. But not as much and as hurtful as in the beginning where tears had kept you up all night. Your sadness had stepped back, making space for a feeling that was much greater.
But you didn’t want to tell him that.
“Yeah, I do.”
Jaehyun shifted his head back to you. “I can imagine that.”
He kissed you then, right at your favorite spot in the entire village, his fingers entangled in your rosy hair. You felt so happy, yet so regretful as you hadn’t had any memory of a moment where you had been at such a high in your life back there in Seoul.
There, you had everything. The spotlight, your family and your friends. But despite everything, right here and now was where your heart was going to burst because you didn’t know how much bliss it could still grasp.
There were so many more questions you wanted to still ask him.
How his life back there in New York was. How he imagined life when this was all over. Whether he had someone he held dear back home.
But you swallowed all of them down. You were scared of the answers.
You didn’t need to know every little detail about a person’s life to fall in love with them. All it took was to know how they treated others, how they treated you and their outlook on life, nothing more.
Not even their real name.
The rest would fall into place.
Deep down, you had accepted your new life with every aspect it offered itself to you, and whenever you thought about the village and its people, a certain warmth enclosed your heart that nearly made you teary-eyed.
You didn’t want to leave anymore. That was now clear to you.
____
Call it intuition. Gut feeling. A woman’s instinct.
Whatever it was called that you were experiencing that day, it would be right. Your whole world crashed when Jaehyun walked through the door after work that day.
“You have to leave,” were his first words as soon as he spotted you. “Now.”
“... what?”
With widened eyes, you watched the sweat drops on his forehead slowly rolling along his temples. Had he run all the way here? And why did he seem so anxious as though he was trying to uphold a friend? You had never seen him like this.
“Go pack your things. You have five minutes.”
“Jaehyun…” You stood up from the couch. “I don’t understand, only last wee-”
“It’s all settled,” he interjected calmly but curtly. “The day I got called to my supervisor, you remember? They told me I was free to return to the NYPD. My job here is done as they finally found someone else for you. I can go back home, to my old life.”
“That means…?” You halted. You wanted to cover your ears. You didn’t want to hear.
But Jaehyun broke the hard truth down for you. “You’ll be moved to another city, get assigned another fake husband, exactly. The driver will be here in a few.”
You were flabbergasted at how factual his way of delivering the news to you was. “You only stayed with me to deal with your bad conscience, right? Because I’m a ballerina as well, and for protecting me, you would pay your debt? Now that the time is over, you want to get rid of me?”
Of course you hoped he would deny everything you had just accused him of. But he didn’t. This was like a nightmare.
“This program works like that,” Jaehyun explained to you like you were some twelve year old, with much repulsion written all over his face. “You move from one city to another, from one husband to another. You brought this upon yourself.”
Here was the deal with anger. You didn’t feel how it got implanted into you. You couldn’t feel it grow and feed on your pain. Suddenly, it was there, and you didn’t have any control over it until, from one moment to another, it made itself aware verbally and physically.
You wanted to scream, grab for the nearest vase nearby and throw it against the wall, yelling at him how much of an asshole he could be, leading you on this entire time. But sometimes, people were stronger than anger.
And so were you.
He had never led you on. You had always been aware of the rules. He didn’t owe you anything.
“Is that all?” you only brought out dryly, the vowels stuck in your throat. 
You didn’t want to cry, you didn’t owe him a single tear in return, not a single word anymore, because you had known all along that this was about to come eventually. 
This… all this wasn’t real. This wasn’t your life. And the next one wouldn’t be your real life either.
You didn’t know what your next fake home and fake husband would be like. You didn’t know for how long they’d stay this time. All you knew was that you didn’t want them. You didn’t want anyone else other than Jaehyun.
“That’s all.”
But he didn’t want you anymore.
You just wondered how he could stand there, as stoic and taciturn and as cold as when you had first met. 
What had happened to the Jaehyun that woke up next to you every morning, playing with your hair, snuggling up against you and kissing the nape of your neck? The Jaehyun that showed you a different side every night, making you feel so special and loved? The Jaehyun that had let you into his deepest secrets?
Perhaps, he was just so good at his job. No wonder they wanted him back in the NYPD.
Your fingers grabbed just whatever piece of clothing they could find, regardless of whether you had picked up everything that belonged to you or not.
When you rolled your suitcase to the door a few minutes later, you had digested the first waves of shock and were only barely able to hold back your tears. You had expected that the end would come in little steps, with signs that would indicate the last days were approaching, giving you time to adjust, prepare and linger around.
Now, it was like ripping off a band aid. 
As you turned away from him, who had not moved since, tears were burning behind your eyes, but you didn’t want to lose your dignity in front of him. You wanted to defy him again, show him that you were just as strong as him and that it all didn’t bother you. That you had only played the role of a wife so perfectly, you had not only fooled the ones around you, but him as well - just as he had done with you.
But in contrast to Jaehyun, for you, it had meant everything to the point you had wished that this was your real life.
This, you couldn’t lie to yourself about. And it was the thing that hurt the most.
When the car pulled up the next moment, you expected Jaehyun to still say something to you, but he just stood there, with an expressionless face, watching you getting into the vehicle. Your eye contact didn’t break, even though you wished so. You just couldn’t tear your gaze away from him as you still hoped that he would raise his voice and beg you to stay.
And you would have.
But he didn’t.
When the car reverted, he just stood there. When you drove along the main street, he just stood there. Even when you were almost out of his sight, he just stood there.  
“You’re going to Phoenix this time, Miss!” the driver, the same as from your first day, told you, looking through the rear mirror. “I’m sure you’ll like it there!”
No, you wouldn’t. 
This was the most miserable day of your life, and still in the car, you broke down in tears.
You would have given everything to sit down with Rosie, grandmother Anh and Mrs. Jones just once again, playing cards and drinking wine. You would have given everything to go shopping with Rosie and hear her lighthearted laughter again. You would have given everything to eat grandmother Anh’s dumplings and get her advice again.
You would have given everything to just spend another day in the village, appreciating what you had had and saying goodbye to everyone.
But even this, he had pried out of your hands, rendering you so defenseless and vulnerable.
You hated him.
And whenever your gaze fell upon the key chain of the yellow elephant wearing a red tie on your purse, you cried even harder, wanting to rip it off and throw it out of the window.
But no matter how much you wanted to hate him and talk yourself into it, you couldn’t bring yourself to truly feel so.
You didn’t care about your old life anymore. You didn’t care whether you could never go back. You didn’t care about your career, about your future.
You were willing to give all of this up forever just to spend another day in the life that had been such an illusion, but had made you the happiest so far.
“Uhm… Miss…”
____
Klick.
The sound of the safety catch of a gun getting released.
“You’re late,” Jaehyun announced into the semi-darkness as he took the weapon back into his hand. “She’s not here anymore. She just left.”
“I know,” a voice he had never heard before, answered back. “I actually came for you.”
“Oh. Be my guest then.” Jaehyun chuckled with sarcasm. “I wasn’t sure when exactly you’d arrive since my people couldn’t find the flight you boarded, but this is what I call perfect timing as I just left the door open. So, how did you find us exactly?”
He shrugged. “You know… it cost me a fortune and a few private detectives, but I was always watching her, even during detention. I always knew where she was. That I’m only coming now is because I thought that eventually, when she sees that I’m free and behaving, she’d come back.” His voice cracked. “But she didn’t.”
Jaehyun remembered the night you had claimed to have heard someone roaming around in the bedroom or garden. So there had been truly someone among you, a private detective most likely. He hated himself at that moment for not having been able to protect you better. 
“You know what happened to the former guy she dated?” 
The stalker stepped into the light that flooded into the room from the window, and as Jaehyun looked into his face, he encountered a man who he, and probably every other person, would deem harmless at first glance. He looked like a normal office worker, not intimidating or even dangerous at all with his slicked back hair and wide glasses.
“They packed their things and went away as soon as they met me,” he illustrated, almost boastful with much pride in his voice. “One of them didn’t want to back off, so I had to slash his tires. That was when he got the message.”
“Lucky you that I’m not one of these guys. I’m not scared of you.” Jaehyun grinned. “I’m her husband, and I’m going to protect her at all costs.”
“She doesn’t belong to you!” he then yelled, throwing around his arms. “She belongs to me! … But… she’s always running away from me… She never comes back to me. Why would someone do that when you’re destined to be together?”
Despite the semi-darkness, Jaehyun saw the insanity coming forward in his eyes that gradually slowly took power of his entire body. He wasn’t familiar with stalking cases personally himself, but had read quite a few things prior to your arrival.
Clearly, this guy followed the delusional disbelief of your both’s romantic destiny despite you having made it clear several times that no such thing existed at your side. Yet, his obsession with you had made him want to continue being a part of your life and change your mind at all costs until it turned unhealthy and dangerous for you, watching you and following each of your steps. Admiration had quickly turned into the sadistic urge to torment you, because if he couldn’t have you, nobody could.
And now, you didn’t even deserve to live if it wasn’t with him.
“I’m not going to run away like the other guys,” Jaehyun spoke calmly. “I’m here to set an end to this, because she deserves to live freely and happily. And I want to give this to her.”
“No!” he screamed, sweat dripping down his temples, and only now, Jaehyun saw the blade glistening against the dim light. “She can only be happy with me! With me only, not with someone else or even alone!”
Jaehyun lifted up his arms and aimed the gun at him. He flinched. “She’s happy with me. How does that sound, asshole?”
Suddenly, he laughed. “If you shoot at me, you’re going to jail, and you’re not going to have her either.”
“I don’t care,” Jaehyun spoke calmly and the guy raised his brows. “I don’t care if I might go to jail because of this, because no one else before cared enough. I don’t care if I have to give my life for hers, because my life is not worth living if she’s dead. I don’t care if I have her or not. I just want her to be far away from you and live her life to the fullest, because she deserves it. Because this is what love is.”
“Oh, you fool.” He laughed again, this time like a maniac. “She has you in her force. That’s what she usually does.”
“Maybe.” Jaehyun’s finger enclosed the trigger. “But that’s what love also is. Forceful.”
The stalker raised his hand, the huge knife between his fingers fully visible now as he prepared himself to dash forward, but the second he moved, your voice echoed through the house.
“Stop!”
You stepped into the living room, totally out of breath, but lucky to have convinced the driver to turn around before it was too late after he had empathized very much with you during your breakdown in the car and told you the entire truth.
“It’s okay,” you breathed, having reached the premises only seconds ago. “I see it clearly now. I can’t be with you, Jaehyun. I can’t run away from my feelings either.” You smiled mildly and stepped closer to the stalker. “I see where I belong to.”
Jaehyun couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “What-!”
“I know we didn’t have a great start,” you said, your gaze not wavering from the guy who had made your life on earth a living hell, yet you tried to conceal that you were trembling all over and sweating in fear as this was the only way to save Jaehyun. “While you only wanted to protect me, I always tried to defy you. I felt caged, imprisoned and really unhappy. It was only later that I realized that you did all that because you cared. About my safety… about me.”
Jaehyun saw that you were directing these words to your tormentor, but he also saw that they were not lies. They were only directed at the wrong person.
“Yes, yes!” the guy blurted. “That’s totally it!”
“Will you now please put away the knife? I will willingly come with you.” Then, you finally spun around to Jaehyun. “Please put the gun away as well.”
“But-!”
“Please!”
Hesitantly, he did as he had been told, so did the persecutor. He knew where you had come from as the guy wouldn’t have done the same, but still didn’t find the thought to be so weaponless appealing. 
After the stalker had placed the knife on the kitchen counter, he turned around to you with a bright smile on his face, but it got wiped out very quickly - with your knuckles rolling nearly in slow motion over his cheek and continuing along the bridge of his nose. He lost balance and was thrown against a chair, folding like a piece of paper as he collapsed against the furniture.
Your fist had met his face full-force, and you stilled the seconds after, having totally caught him off guard - and yourself as well.
“The knife!” Jaehyun then screamed, reaching for his gun once again.
But as your fingers moved to reach for the weapon, your hand got slapped away and the blade vanished in front of your eyes and back into the possession of the stalker. Only this time, the knife was not the only thing he claimed to have taken control over.
The sharp blade slightly buried itself into the side of your neck as he had rendered you motionless by having you in a choke with his other arm wrapped around your middle. All your twisting and turning didn’t benefit you in any way as he was much taller and stronger, and you could only watch all the color drain from Jaehyun’s eyes as he looked back at you in horror.
“What wishful thinking, I’m such a fool,” the stalker whispered into your ear, blood streaming down your side, and the pain slowly overshadowed the shock you had initially felt. “If you can’t have someone yourself, all you can do is kill the person.”
You heard it click as Jaehyun was now pointing his gun at you. “Not before I kill you first.”
And then, there was pain.
____
When you were in the hospital, you dreamed of Jaehyun.
He was holding your hand at night, not leaving your side. It was tender and warm, just like the first time he had held your hand when you had joined the dinner with the other villagers. You could even hear what he was saying to you. Many words you had been longing to hear for so long.
Too bad that these were only fever dreams.
Because instead, when you woke up three days later, there was Rosie.
… Rosie!?
But you weren’t able to bring these words out as your throat was dry, so the syllables only came out as rasping sounds. She was quick to serve you a glass of water before you were finally able to ask,
“...Rosie? What happened?”
“Jesus!” she let out in wonder. “You can’t remember a thing?”
You shook your head. “Do you?” And then cocked your brow. “... what do you know exactly?”
“Jay told me everything. About you. About the program.” Your eyes widened and you prepared yourself to sit up, but Rosie gently pushed you back against the pillow. Only then you noticed that you couldn’t have made it further anyway. Your entire middle hurt. “It’s okay, lay still. Nobody can harm you anymore. He’s dead.”
“... dead?” You barely believed your own ears. 
Rosie nodded. “Jay’s bullet hit you, but it was only a graze, barely visible, but enough to take the stalker by surprise so that he suddenly let go of you. But… he was on top of you the next moment… with the knife.” She struggled to find the right words. “When I arrived after the reinforcement you called before… there was so much blood, and Jay was holding you in his arms… he was screaming… wailing. He thought he’d lost you, and so did I.”
You got stabbed?!
That would explain the immense pain that turned more distinct with each bypassing second, and you were so close to calling a nurse to pump some more morphine into you.
“W… what happened to… him?” you asked, though a part of you already knew the answer.
“Jay shot at him. He died on the spot.”
You didn’t blame yourself for feeling so much relief at this moment. For the past year, this man had robbed you of all your happiness and freedom. Now, it was all over. You were safe and free. You had every right to be happy.
But you weren’t.
“Where is…” Suddenly, you stilled as a dangerous thought crossed our mind. “Is he-”
“He’s fine.” The corner of Rosie’s lips tilted up. “Even now, you’re only thinking about him. He’s outside. Should I call him in?”
“Yes, please. And Rosie?” You reached for her hand, squeezing it. “Thank you for coming. It means a lot.”
She squeezed your fingers back. “Even though this life of yours wasn’t real… I know our friendship is.”
She was so right.
When Rosie left, Jaehyun didn’t come in right away. You waited for at least five more minutes until the handle moved downwards and the face you had been longing to see all along finally appeared in your room.
“How are you doing?” he asked, and it made you shudder how distant he sounded as opposed to the look in his eyes. 
They were telling a whole other story, and you wondered what was holding him back from running over to you and finally taking you into his arms. 
“Fine.”
The pain in your stomach really did feel fine when the pain in your heart was a much graver one.
“Don’t lie to me. You got stabbed right through. It’s not like it’s nothing.” He lowered his head. “And it’s my fault. Again.”
You saw where he was coming from after everything that he had been through. Your mind was still working only slowly as it hadn’t been able to make the connection right away, but now, it was all clear.
“It’s thanks to you that I’m still alive. I’m very grateful.”
Eventually, the pain in your stomach would pass, leaving only a scar. You couldn’t imagine what the stalker would have done to you if Jaehyun wouldn’t have been there. You counted yourself very lucky to still be alive.
“Thank you, honestly.”
He acknowledged your feelings with a nod, though you weren’t entirely convinced that he thought the same about you. And as he didn’t move away from the door further in your direction, you finally grasped that he just wasn’t there by your side yet. Not only physically, but also emotionally.
At some point, everything happening in the past months had been real for him too. But now that he could have it all, he was getting cold feet. You didn’t know why, but you knew that it wasn’t your fault, and it certainly wasn’t in your power to lay out all the reasons as to why he shouldn’t feel this way.
He just wasn’t ready.
“You’re going back to the NYPD, right?”
“Yeah. Tomorrow already, as a matter of fact. I have things to take care of.” He scratched his head in nervousness. “You’ll be okay?”
Oddly, you could affirm his assumption.
You’d return to Seoul and to the Korea National Ballet. If you’d had a talk with the academy, you were positive that you could also still join the Dutch National Ballet as originally planned. You had your old life back, and it would all fall into place.
Your future, everything you had worked so hard for, laid in front of you again.
And without Jaehyun. 
Again.
“I’ll be okay.” Despite these insights, you smiled through your pain. “Really.”
“Okay.” Jaehyun’s smile was equally painful. 
Perhaps, he had wished for another outcome as well. But whatever was holding him back was more powerful than everything he’d ever felt for you, and you wished that you could share his pain again, telling him that he didn’t need to go through this all alone.
But you knew, this time, he wouldn’t let you.
Rosie was there for you after he had long left, comforting you throughout the entire night. She was also there when you got discharged two weeks later, bidding you farewell at the airport and showering you with so much love a friend could possibly feel for another. 
“We’re going to meet again,” you promised her.
“I’ll come visit you,” she promised you too.
And with that, you returned to your old life.
____
The curtain call was your favorite part of each performance. Then, all the burden and pressure fell from your shoulders and you could finally breathe again, showering in the spotlight and relishing the applause.
Today was the first time that you stood on the stage of the Korea National Ballet again after the events in the States and thus, your first curtain call after such a long time.
Your hair had returned to its natural color, and despite the fact that you hadn’t changed at all from the outside, you knew that on the inside, you were an entirely different person. Nothing would be like before ever again.
“Good performance,” your instructor remarked and moved on to tell the same to the others as well.
You hadn’t danced an important position, only moving in the background as your instructor had been sure that you had let things slide in the months you were away. Before, you would have gotten angry, practicing day and night to lose the remaining weight and catch up with the others. Yes, you surely had let things slide, but to you, nothing of this was important anymore.
The Dutch National Ballet hadn’t wanted you back, and you couldn’t hold it against them. You were glad to have been able to pick up some kind of engagement again. Until you were back at the top, a lot of time would pass.
You just weren’t so sure anymore if you wanted to climb up that high again.
You took off your tight shoes in the dressing room and rubbed your wounded feet, your thoughts drifting off. You had seen him again. In the audience, sitting in the first row and watching you. Usually, you didn’t let your eyes wander through the people, but this time, your role had given you enough time to do so.
Not your stalker, but Jaehyun.
He had sat there, in a black tuxedo, and had watched you with the same gaze that he would share only with you during your time together.
You knew immediately that this wasn’t real. He wasn’t here. He couldn’t be here. 
Because lately, you saw and felt him very often. Next to you on the bed when you were waking up, walking close to you as you strolled through the streets, and in the mirror whenever you lifted your head after washing your face. 
This was what it was like when you couldn’t let go of a person you had once loved so much.
“There is someone waiting for you in the lobby,” another dancer told you in passing.
“Who is it?” 
“Said his name was Yuno.” She shrugged. “Wears a black tuxedo and waits by the stairs.”
“Okay.”
You didn’t know a person named Yuno, so you didn’t hurry changing your clothes and took your sweet time, until a sudden thought crossed your mind. This was how it had started out with your stalker as well! 
But it couldn’t be. He wasn’t alive anymore, and here, nobody would give you the same attention as you were only a background dancer. You sucked in a rush of air, halted, and then continued your way.
You’d be fine.
Just as you had promised Jaehyun.
“Mister…” you called out when you came around the corner. You didn’t know his surname, so you faltered, only able to watch him from behind as he stood with his back to you.
“Jeong. Mister Jeong.”
“... Mister...”
Your voice was stable, in contrast to your inner feelings as a storm broke free deep within you. You hadn’t seen him in so long, and you wanted to cry, scream and slap him all at once.
“I saw your performance.” He smiled. “You’re marvelous. I wanted to bring you a bouquet of flowers, but thought it would be a bit too tactless…”
“You’re late,” you interrupted him.
“I know,” he agreed. “There were a few things I had to take care of.”
“Things that took you three months?” You folded your arms across your chest. “I thought… I thought you moved on.”
“Is that what you think of me?” He looked hurt. “Have you moved on?”
Not a single bit. Every night, you lived through every moment you had spent together in the States. As much as you had wanted to, you hadn’t been able to move on.
Almost unnoticeably, you shook your head.
“You want to know what I did during this time?” He stepped closer to you as the lobby was emptying, and you didn’t retreat. “I visited the ballerina. She’s doing well. She’s a counselor now, helping people who are as handicapped as her. She said it’s fulfilling and that she’s very happy, and she thanked me again for saving her life. Hearing it from her personally takes a huge burden off my heart.”
Despite your controversial feelings, you smiled. “That’s good to hear. I’m happy for you.”
“And I finished my therapy sessions,” he continued. “For a long time, I thought I was the person bringing harm to people. I’m a detective, why am I only bringing harm to people I desperately want to protect? It just didn’t get into my head. My therapist said that not everyone is made for this life and I should focus on finding a partner who is as equally courageous and fearless as me. Who shares my views on life, who doesn’t back down and looks danger right into the eye. Only then, when I have a partner who can take care of themselves, I don’t have to fear for two lives, but only for one. For mine, because my partner will be fine by themselves.”
Then, he smiled too as you recalled, “I slapped the hell out of that asshole.”
“Yeah, you did. You also defied all my orders. You always know how to take care of yourself. You don’t run away when it’s getting dangerous. And you didn’t hesitate even for a single second when you found out that I lied that day. You came back right away to help me. If there is a woman suitable for me, then it’s you.”
You chewed on the inner flesh of your mouth to keep the growing smile from showing. You still didn’t know what exactly this all meant, but you were eager to hear it from him soon.
“But I didn’t come here to tell you this only.”
You tilted your head. “What did you come here for then?”
“I came to pick up my wife,” was his answer that nearly made your heart jump out of your chest.
You stared at him, lost for words and mouth agape.
“I’m sorry that it took me so long. I wanted to get everything cleared and settled. I wanted to be emotionally ready for a new path in my life, with you by my side. I… I mean… If you hate New York and want to stay in Seoul instead,” he hemmed and hawed, “I would be happy to cross the ocean again as long as you’ll be waiting for me at the other side. But if you want to come back to the US, I’ll be fine with that as well. In Seoul, New York or Connecticut… I can call any place my home as long as you’re with me. This time, as my real wife.”
You felt tears gathering in the brims of your eyes. “As… as your wife?”
“As my wife.” He nodded. “You want me to repeat that again?”
“Yes, please.” You blinked, your shoulders starting to tremble.
“Perhaps, you rather want to read it,” he dismissed softly and reached into the inner pocket of his tuxedo to pull out a sheet that he carefully unfolded and handed over to you.
You read attentively.
MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE APPLICATION
of
Jeong Yuno
and
….
There it was. His real name. Your real name. 
This was real.
You looked up to him, the tears now streaming down your face, and you desperately tried to dry them with the back of your hand.
“If we get all your papers together, we can apply tomorrow and be officially married by next week.”
You could barely see through the blurry curtain of tears. 
“This time, for real?” 
you asked as Yuno, as his real name was, took your hands into his, and it felt just like the first time when you had walked along the streets of the little countryside village.
“This time, for real,” he promised.
3K notes · View notes
lattaeyongs · 2 months
Text
sugar pt. 2 (jjh)
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↳ pairing: jung jaehyun x reader
↳ word count: 14k
↳ genre: ceo/single dad!jaehyun, secretary!reader, friends to lovers!au, fluff, slight angst, smut
↳ summary: They say it’s lonely at the top, especially for Jung Jaehyun, owner and founder of Jung Industries. As a single dad who just wants to be the best father to his daughter, he realizes that you make his life a little sweeter when you’re by his side.
↳ warnings: explicit sexual content (oral, penetration, thigh riding, dirty talk, rough dom!jaehyun, sub!reader, daddy & sir kink, spanking, reader has big boobs, implied use of birth control, etc.)
↳ a/n (1): read part 1 here. not necessarily required to understand the second part since most events in part 1 are explained here, but i highly suggest you do so.
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There was a line between personal and professional life. 
In a matter of seconds, you crossed that line after Jung Jaehyun, CEO of Jung Industries who is also your boss, asked you out on a date. Well, that line was sort of crossed after you attended his daughter's seventh birthday party and even after you became good friends with him while working so closely with him as his secretary at Neo City Tech and at his startup, Jung Industries.
It has been one week since his daughter Yeona's birthday party, the Saturday that Jaehyun arranged for you to go on a date together. Tonight, you would be dining at The Sunset, a hot new restaurant that opened downtown a few months ago. Apparently, there was a waiting list, and patrons that made reservations three months ago are only now able to dine due to the popularity this place has gotten for its delicious cuisine. But apparently, Jaehyun made a few calls and was able to squeeze you both in on such short notice. 
You and Jaehyun weren’t the go-grab-a-beer-together type of friends, but more of a working-together-in-a-friendly-way arrangement. You gave him advice about managing his professional life because you knew his schedule and his personal life intimately as a part of your job, and that was how you got to talking. Never had you once seen him outside of work, except for that day that you babysat Yeona after her babysitter had to cancel last minute and then Yeona's birthday party. There was a part of you that always noted how handsome he was, how beautifully sculpted his face is, how his hair kisses his forehead in a way that makes him look like the boy next door, not the CEO of a huge, successful company. 
But sometimes to you, he seemed like the boy next door, with the prettiest smile and the sweetest, honey-like voice. 
So you have a tiny crush on your boss, and your boss may have a tiny crush on you, thus asking you out on a date. Many people have been in your position.
It took every fiber of your being for you to not squeal with giddiness when you see Jung Jaehyun at your doorstep, looking as gentlemanly as if he's going to pick you up for prom. Jaehyun wears a gray suit, designer, a white, pleated dress shirt at the neck, and a red rose is in his pocket, fresh. His hair looks clean and washed, and he wears a pleasant smile on his face. He holds out a hand after admiring how you look; you're wearing a red dress that hugs your figure, one that has thin, red straps and a sweetheart neckline. 
"We're matching," Jaehyun notices in a sheepish voice; this was completely not planned. But you can’t help but notice Jaehyun’s voice; that wasn’t the type of voice that CEO Jung has, but tonight he's not CEO Jung, but just Jung Jaehyun, a boy who likes a girl. 
You and Jaehyun walk arm-in-arm out of your apartment, careful not to make eye contact with people nearby, who are speculating that the guy you're with looks suspiciously like Jung Jaehyun. 
In a visitor parking spot is a white Kia, an older model that wouldn't be immediately tied with a rich CEO. Jaehyun opens the door for you. "My lady," he says dramatically, with a jubilant smile. You smile as well, rolling your eyes at Jaehyun's joking chivalry, and Jaehyun gets into the driver's seat. The two of you make the thirty-minute drive downtown, and Jaehyun takes another ten minutes to find parking. 
In the crowded streets, people are busy with their own business to notice the two of you together, and you successfully make it to The Sunset. 
This is where the fun begins. 
There's always paparazzi around here due to all the high-profile clientele, and you told Jaehyun that he didn't have to do this, that you would be perfectly happy doing something more lowkey like grabbing a beer, but Jaehyun insisted that you deserve something nice after serving him for so long and for so well.
Ignoring the stray flashes you can see reflecting through the window as you wait in line for the hostess to match your name with the reservation, you observe the scenery. The room is filled with warm tones, browns, oranges, burgundies, and clean whites and off-white. Not a single thing is out of place; not a single table cloth has a stray fiber and not a single inch of the hardwood floors is not freshly waxed. Such opulence is something you never thought you would see for yourself, only through a window or in a movie. 
"Jung for two," Jaehyun gestures to the hostess. She smiles as she drags her finger across the old-fashioned reservation book, meant to give the place an old-timey, classy vibe, and when she sees the matching name, her eyes light up.
"Yes sir. This gentleman will take care of you," she briefly looks at an older man wearing formal pants, a dress shirt, and a vest, who takes you up a flight of stairs
The table that the waiter leads you to gives you a view of the other dining customers and you are next to a large window, which shows the city at night, beautifully lit. You stare in awe. 
"Been living in this city for ten years, and the view never fails to strike me speechless," the waiter interjects when he notices you staring. You meet his gaze bashfully. 
"Yeah," you agree, a lippy smile on your face. "Everything just feels so small after seeing such a view," you comment astutely. 
When you and Jaehyun sit down on the soft, velvety chairs, the waiter changes the subject. 
"Back to the food," he hands out laminated menus. 
He waits as you two scan the menu for something to eat. Even after looking at The Sunset's website, you're still not sure what you want to order. Half of the meats offered, you never tasted in your life. 
"What do you suggest?" You ask wistfully, trying to sound cool as if you're not at a loss about what to order. 
"I absolutely love the creamy spinach stuffed salmon in garlic butter," he says, the light in his eyes dancing as he gives this suggestion, happy that someone wants his opinion. 
"I'll have that," you smile. 
Jaehyun looks up from the menu, looking sure of himself. "I'll have the roast beef tenderloin," he says courteously. 
"Rare or medium rare?" 
"Medium rare," Jaehyun replies as if his order is practiced. Of course it is, given how many fancy dinners he must have attended as CEO, dinners that you arranged.
The waiter acknowledges, writes it down on a small pad, and walks away. A few feet away from you and Jaehyun are another couple, taking turns exchanging kisses over the dining table. Another couple on the first floor, which you have a view of from your high position, laugh politely, with smiles on their faces, yet affection brimming underneath. You and Jaehyun remain stiff in your places. Usually, you both are able to exchange playful banter no matter the situation, but there is only awkwardness in the air. 
The question that is bugging your mind: where do you both stand in your relationship? 
Despite how high you are, you still manage to see flashes from the ground outside, from cameramen zooming in. Although Jaehyun has dealt with being a celebrity for a long time and has thus gotten used to being watched, you haven't, and your nervousness can be felt on the other side of the table. 
"Y/N, I just want to thank you again for your services. You have managed to keep me afloat all these years, and I would never trade you for the world." Jaehyun's eyes look serious as he says these beautiful words, but he doesn't reach for your hand, only offering you a consoling smile. 
"I should thank you for being a really great boss," you chuckle. "How many employers take their secretaries out to dinner at the hottest restaurant in town?" You say, your heart breaking a little as you avoid calling this excursion a date.
Jaehyun smiles, and by this time, and not long after, dinner is served. The waiter comes back with full trays in both hands, carrying them on his forearms as waiters do in the movies. 
You're a bit disappointed with how small the serving is. Although the tray is large, it was mostly meant for the presentation of the dish. There were only a few pieces of stuffed, flavorful salmon in the center, on top of rich, green leaves. 
You don't let your disappointment show. 
"Bon appetit!" The waiter says with a playful glint in his eyes. "Let me know what you think." He shuffles away, leaving you and Jaehyun alone again. 
Jaehyun's portion is also pretty small, and he takes his fork and knife and starts digging in after he puts a thick, white napkin on his lap. You imitate him. 
The cheese and spinach give a fresh and umami flavor to the dish, but you're not sure how you feel about the slimy salmon. Only occasionally did you eat seafood, preferring something simple like chicken or lamb or potatoes, and the feeling is unfamiliar in your mouth. Sure, the meat is well-cooked, but the salmon taste wasn't for you despite how the waiter raved about it.
At how slowly you're eating your food, while Jaehyun is more than halfway done with his pork tenderloin, he gives you a cheeky smile. 
"Don't like the food?" 
You're shocked by Jaehyun's sudden words. You didn't think you were so transparent, but noticing how only one of the four salmon pieces is gone, you realize you weren't doing a good job hiding your distaste. 
You feel a little bad that Jaehyun will be picking up the bill on a meal that you're not finishing, so you force another piece into your mouth, a tight smile on your face. 
"I like it," you say in your most convincing voice. 
Jaehyun titters. "Y/N, you wouldn't even fool a two-year-old," 
You laugh, deciding to come clean. "Okay fine. It's not that I don't like the food but that I'm not used to it. When I was younger, chicken tenders were a delicacy," you say fondly, remembering your childhood years. Your parents were middle-class, hard-working people, and growing up without lots of money to spare meant you weren't eating medium-rare tenderloin or stuffed salmon. 
Then Jaehyun understands. He puts down his fork and says, "How about a run to the convenience store? I'm really craving instant ramen." Before you can argue, Jaehyun calls for the check. 
"What did you think, miss?" The same waiter asks. You manage to pop two more pieces in your mouth, revolted by the slimy taste. 
With a forced smile, you report, "It was good." You even give a thumbs up, which makes Jaehyun almost laugh on the spot. 
The waiter is oblivious to these signals. "I'm glad you enjoyed it." He eyes one last salmon piece, and you quickly pipe in before he can ask you about that. 
"The flavors were so rich, like a storm! I think I need a break," you try to save. 
You're thankful the waiter doesn't ask too many questions, and he leaves you both after taking your dishes, fetching you the check. 
After Jaehyun pays, you both stand up, and Jaehyun's hand is at the small of your back, leading you through the crowded streets. Some people start asking him for a comment about Jung Industries’ high stock prices, and he successfully avoids them, but you know the real questions they have are about you, the mystery woman who it seems that Jung Jaehyun went on a date with. Jung Jaehyun, who has been so busy with work that he barely dates, is seen with a strange, unknown woman, not even a socialite or an heiress. 
You both are able to lose them by the time you are in the parking garage, and Jaehyun quietly pays before getting out of there and landing head-first into city traffic. 
"I know a good place on the outskirts of the city," you say. Jaehyun nods, and you give him the directions. 
The convenience store parking lot is practically empty by the time you and Jaehyun arrive, except for the employees' cars. When you walk into the store, it's as empty as you thought, and the bell on the door dings, signaling your presence. The girl at the front desk meets your eyes for a millisecond before going back to reading her magazine. You're glad she didn't look too hard; she's probably seen weirder at this hour.
So here you are with your boss, the CEO of Jung Industries, completely overdressed and about to buy instant ramen. Not exactly how you thought the night would go.
Jaehyun starts pushing a cart and you both read the signs hanging from the ceiling, labeling where everything is, and you both are scanning the aisles until you find the "microwavable food" section, where you turn. You drop five packets of instant ramen, and go to the nearby "sandwich meats" section, grabbing some pork wrapped tightly in plastic. Then, Jaehyun suggests that you get chicken tenders, for old times’ sake. You oblige, heading to the "frozen foods" section and grabbing two boxes before getting to the checkout. To avoid recognition, Jaehyun hangs in the aisles, giving you his credit card to check out the food at the counter. You do as he says and check out without any problems, and Jaehyun meets you outside the store
"Let's go to your place," you suggest. "Surely all this food is too much for ourselves to eat," you say. 
"Yeah," Jaehyun agrees. "Yeona likes chicken tenders."
You and Jaehyun hop into his car after loading the food into the trunk, and you start driving back to his penthouse. After parking in the attached garage underground, you and Jaehyun lift a bag and carry it into the lobby, taking the elevator into his penthouse. 
When the door dings and the elevator opens, you're instantly met with Yeona, playing chess with Mrs. Kim. No wonder Jaehyun thought she was the best babysitter for Yeona. 
"Daddy! Y/N!" Yeona shouts, completely forgetting about the chess game and running to you both. Jaehyun drops the bag and kneels down to hug his daughter. You do the same when Yeona gives you a tight hug as if she hasn't seen you in ages. 
"Hi Yeona, how are you?" You ask. 
"Great now that you and Daddy are here. Mrs. Kim and I were playing chess, and she says I'm a natural!" Yeona says excitedly, looking back at her babysitter. Mrs. Kim has a soft look on her face as she looks at Yeona before standing up and talking with Jaehyun for a few moments in a hushed tone. You don't hear any of what they say, deciding to keep your attention on Yeona. 
"Your daddy and I brought some goodies," you say, holding up your bag. Yeona looks inside curiously and gasps at the chicken tenders. "Yay!" She squeals. "Can we have them now?" 
"Of course." You lead Yeona into the kitchen and arrange the frozen food on the toaster oven tray, watching as Yeona gazes with wide, excited eyes. Jaehyun joins you guys after Mrs. Kim leaves. 
"Having fun without me?" He asks with mock hurt.
"Yes." You giggle. "Have you heard of a Jung Jaehyun?" You ask Yeona. 
Playing along, Yeona shakes her head. "Nope, never." 
"Well, I guess if there's no Jung Jaehyun, then I guess there's no ramen," Jaehyun has a playful disappointed face as he holds up his plastic bag with the ramen and meat. 
"Of course I know a Jung Jaehyun," Yeona says now that the ramen is in danger, and you and Jaehyun laugh. 
The laughs dissipate after Jaehyun finds a large pot and fills it with water. As he waits for it to boil, the chicken tenders are done in the oven, but not well-cooked enough, so you set the toaster again, much to Yeona's disappointment. After the second time you cook the chicken tenders, they are well-cooked and crunchy, after you had a taste test, of course. 
In a few minutes, the ramen is done after Jaehyun poured all five packets inside and stirred, watching the fused ramen noodles separate in the boiling water. 
Since your job is practically over, you decide to open the pork and start searing it on a pan. Jaehyun makes sure that Yeona doesn't eat the chicken tenders too early. 
You take a knife and a cutting board and cut the meat into strips before putting them on the oiled skillet and hear the meat sizzle. You flip it over after adorning the pieces with spices, and wait until there is a nice char. Then you put the pieces on another plate. 
"Now we can feast!" Jaehyun says, and Yeona squeals happily. Jaehyun takes out three plates, and you distribute the ramen on the plates, sprinkle the pork, and then add three chicken tenders for each person. 
All three of you have the same thought and make a beeline for the couch. Jaehyun tries to find the remote, but Yeona finds it first, turning it to Peppa Pig
"Aw shucks!" Jaehyun says, careful not to use a curse word around his daughter. 
You both sit around, watching for a few moments as Yeona explains the story (she has seen this episode before). You and Jaehyun listen intently until Jaehyun interrupts. 
"Sweetie, I'm going to use the restroom, but why don't you talk to Y/N? I'm sure she's very interested." Jaehyun gives you sort of an evil look, and before you can narrow your gaze, Yeona looks at you with joy in her eyes. 
She continues explaining and talking about her favorite characters, and after a while you both fall into silence, eating your ramen and chicken tenders. 
"Y/N, can I ask you a question?" Her voice sounds oddly serious to your surprise. She looks from the TV, where she sees Peppa, Mommy, and Daddy Pig with George. 
"Sure, what is it?" 
"Are you going to be my mommy?" 
You almost drop your spoon in shock. In the scene on screen, Mommy Pig and Peppa are hugging, and of course, you know why this question is cropping up. 
"Why would you say that?" You ask, in your most gentle voice. 
"Because you and Daddy went on a date. Doesn't that mean that you're gonna get married, and you're going to be my mommy?" 
You chuckle at how innocent yet logical Yeona's remarks are. "Your daddy and I like each other a lot, so we went on a date just to get to know each other a little more." You reason. "I'm not going to be your new mommy just yet, but we don't know what the future holds." 
At the end of your monologue, Yeona looks crestfallen. 
"Everyone else at school has a mommy. They make the best food and come to all the school events." She pauses for a moment. "Why don't I have a mommy?" 
You take a deep breath. You're not sure how to handle this. The topic of Yeona's mother has always been a touchy subject for Jaehyun. Recently after Jaehyun took in Yeona when he was at Neo Culture Tech, you asked about Yeona's mother and what happened to her, and you were received with the coldest look. 'She's dead' you recall him saying. 'At least, dead to me.' The words send an icy shiver down your spine. You're not really sure if she's dead or alive or if Jaehyun has any contact with her. After that, you decided to never touch the subject again for the next eight years. From what you know from organizing his schedules, Jaehyun hasn't been officially meeting with her. 
Before you were stuck with answering that question, Jaehyun reappears from the bathroom, and you silently thank him. 
"Hey look, daddy's back!" You swiftly change the subject. Yeona receives him with the same excited manner that she has, but there is a darkness in her eyes that you think you're the only one that notices. 
One thing's for sure: Yeona hasn't forgotten this conversation. 
-
Just like Yeona, you haven't forgotten the conversation either. On Sunday, you were pondering the events of your date. After eating and helping Jaehyun clear the plates since the maid went home early, you decide to take a cab home rather than let Jaehyun or his driver take you home. On Sunday morning, you got a text from him asking if you got home safe. 
All of a sudden, you feel like everything is moving too fast between you and Jaehyun. His daughter asked if you were going to marry him. Sure, kids say the weirdest things, but there's something you cannot shake from your interaction with Yeona. 
She's becoming too attached to you only after you have been with her a couple of times. You never really thought about what dating Jaehyun would be like, only crushing on him from the distance. Imagine if it doesn't work out. Can Yeona take it if she becomes more and more attached to you? Are you ready to be a step-mom? These questions might seem like they are really in the future, but it doesn't hurt to think about them now.
On top of all that, you just saw an article from the Daily Star, a trashy celebrity spotting magazine, and the headline reads "Jung Jaehyun on a date?" It shows a picture of you and Jaehyun at The Sunset and at the convenience store. You guessed the cashier was more attentive than you thought. Of course, you knew that the paparazzi and celebrity sightings would be a part of your life if you dated Jaehyun, but now that it has really happened, you suddenly feel anxious, watched. Not to mention if this becomes office gossip, where your reputation will suffer more than Jaehyun’s.
All of this stuff sounds romantic in the books and the movies, but they were definitely not what you expected it now that you really thought about it. 
You decide that the best course of action is to maintain a strictly professional relationship with Jung Jaehyun, as much as your heart hates it. 
On Monday morning, you quietly slip into work, taking your place at the desk outside of Jaehyun's corner office. You resume taking calls and adding events to Jaehyun's calendar as if nothing at all happened this weekend, and thankfully, no one has approached you about the article in the Daily Star. You're ready to put this all behind you. 
As you sip the coffee you have in the flask that you brought, a figure enters your field of vision. You look up to see a woman in a white blazer and matching pencil skirt, wearing a silky blouse under her blazer. She wears a heavy opal necklace and matching earrings, and her hair is in a tight ponytail. You stare at her for a few moments longer than you should without saying anything, swearing that this face is oddly familiar. 
"How can I help you?" You ask the woman. She looks about Jaehyun's age, and she clutches the purse hanging from her shoulder, expecting that you were just supposed to let her in just because she was standing there. 
"I need to see Jung Jaehyun," she says. 
"Name please?" you ask politely, opening up Jaehyun's calendar on your computer. She looks like she could be a client. 
"I don't have an appointment," she says tersely. You stare at her, puzzled. 
"I'm sorry, but Mr. Jung won't see anyone he doesn't have a previous appointment with." As you finish your sentence, you can see Jaehyun approach you from across the hall from the bathroom, where he took a five-minute break before he was arranged to be in a meeting.
"Y/N," Jaehyun says. His face pales at the sight of the woman in front of you. 
"I was just saying that you don't see anyone without an appointment-" 
"It's okay," Jaehyun says quickly, his gaze not leaving the woman. He gestures for her to open his office door, and she does; Jaehyun follows in suit. 
You find the whole interaction weird, and the way that she looked so familiar also struck you, but you don't let yourself get too lost in your thoughts. As you continue with your work, you can hear muffled, angry voices inside Jaehyun's office. 
Slowly, you turn around and face Jaehyun and that woman. Jaehyun is tense as he claws at his desk angrily, and he grits his teeth as he responds to the woman. She looks as though she is pleading, but Jaehyun is having none of that. In a few minutes, the argument ceases, and before Jaehyun and the woman can accuse you of eavesdropping, you turn around as if your attention for the past few minutes has only been to your work.
The woman bursts out of the office and huffs, walking away with anger and disappointment. 
You've never seen Jaehyun this angry before. Right now, it seems as though he is having a personal moment, so you take the time to leave your desk, go to the break room, and grab a cup of black coffee, his favorite. You knock on his office door, with a weak smile on your face as you hold up a black coffee for him. Jaehyun curls his finger to gesture to you to come in. 
When you walk in, you start to feel uncomfortable. "I brought you a coffee." You say. You step forward to place it on his desk. "You need to be in a good mood before you meet with Huang Shipping, Co." You say, laughing, but it was a harsh sound from your throat. 
"Thanks," he says. Clearly, there is a lot on his mind. 
"Do you want to talk about it?" You ask without thinking.
Jaehyun doesn't respond for a long time, so you think it's your cue to go. 
As you turn around, you hear Jaehyun speak. 
"That was Yeona's mom." You stop in place. Yeona's mother, the subject that Jaehyun never wants to talk about? You turn back to face him, shock laced in your expression. You wait for him to keep talking. Indirectly, you're doing your job – you're giving him an outlet to express his feelings before his meeting. But it better be quick because the representatives from Huang Shipping are notoriously on time, and that meeting is in five minutes. 
"Yes, Yeona's mother. Kwon Yeonjoo," he says with relief, finally letting go of the secret he has been keeping for so long.
"Kwon Yeonjoo," you murmur to yourself. It was a name that sounded eerily familiar. 
Sensing your thoughts, Jaehyun continues. "She was a corporate lawyer at Neo Culture Tech, second in command to Go Hyungwon. Brilliant legal mind," Jaehyun says, his expression impossible to decipher, full of regret, longing, and admiration. 
"We instantly hit it off when I was chief analyst," he says, smiling as he remembers the fond memories. "We constantly were hooking up outside of work, so HR wouldn't get on us. Fraternizing was a fireable offense. Then she told me that she was pregnant." 
"I was only five years out of college, and my career only just started. I couldn't get married so soon or have a child. And neither of us wanted an abortion either. So Yeonjoo had Yeona. I was under the impression that she would give Yeona up for adoption because she wanted to further her career, to become head lawyer at Neo Culture Tech, or start her own firm. And if she was a mother, she knew she couldn't do that. But," Jaehyun chuckles ruefully, "apparently she already decided that I was to be Yeona's adoptive parent. She didn't want to give up her child to a stranger." 
"And you took her in." You finish the story. Jaehyun nods. So much you didn't know behind the scenes in Jaehyun's life, the person you have been working with for eight years. You used to see Kwon Yeonjoo occasionally around Neo Culture Tech when you were in the break room or heading to the bathroom; your paths never really crossed since she was in a completely different department than you, but also probably because Jaehyun was keeping their relationship under a tight lid. 
"Yeonjoo asked if she could become more involved in Yeona's life. I," Jaehyun pauses, "lost control. I just," Jaehyun's lips flatten into a thin line. "She hasn't been involved in Yeona's life for seven years, and suddenly she wants to act like those seven years didn't happen. Where was she when Yeona needed her?" Jaehyun's voice is raw with emotion. "You know what Mrs. Kim was telling me on our date?" Jaehyun asks, more rhetorically. "Yeona apparently asked her who her mom is." 
You gulp. You decided that you would keep your encounter with Yeona a secret. 
"I think you should let her get involved in Yeona's life." You say suddenly. Jaehyun cocks his head. 
"It isn't fair to Yeona to never know her mother just because you don't want her to meet her. It feels petty," you say boldly. 
Rather than getting mad at you for rejecting his anger, Jaehyun smiles. 
"This is what I always liked about you Y/N. You're not scared to give your opinion." At the compliments, you smile. Jaehyun doesn't say anything for a while, looking pensive. 
"You're right. Every child has the right to know their parents." Jaehyun nods, all traces of anger gone from his face. Behind you, you notice two Chinese men, standing by Jaehyun's office. You quickly rush out and welcome them in. 
Getting involved in your boss's personal problems? So much for a professional relationship. 
-
From what you were able to gather, Yeona has been regularly meeting her mother on Sundays, supervised by Jaehyun. Things have been peaceful for the past two months, and thankfully, Jaehyun has not been asking about another date. He has been pretty busy with meetings from various suppliers, so he has not been able to address the way that you are distancing yourself from him. 
But one day, you are unable to keep your mouth shut and work only as his secretary. It was a Sunday, a day that Yeona would be meeting with her mother, and when you answered the door, you were surprised who you saw. 
"Jaehyun?" You ask. You feel a little embarrassed at what you are wearing; just some sweatpants and an old T-Shirt. You were planning a night in before you started the week again tomorrow, and you were expecting to be alone until tomorrow morning. 
“What are you doing here?” You blurt out. Jaehyun isn’t wearing a designer suit, but a gray hoodie and some light-wash jeans. He swings his car keys around his finger, biting his lip as he tries to find a good explanation for why he is at his secretary’s doorstep on a Sunday night. 
“I let Yeona’s mom take Yeona to her city unsupervised for the night and is dropping her at school tomorrow morning. I don’t really have much work to do, so I thought we could…” Jaehyun trails off, shrugging his shoulders. His eyes are crinkled as he flashes you a friendly, dimply smile.
A second date. You don’t even realize you’re holding your breath when you suddenly feel the urge to take a deep breath. 
“Oh,” you say, a bit more despondently than you thought. Jaehyun came all the way here to be with you, and although you don’t owe him anything for showing up at your house unexpectedly, you could use the company. 
“Come in,” you say, a bit nervously. You step aside, and Jaehyun walks inside. You’re a little embarrassed about how messy your apartment looks, with an old pizza box still lying in the kitchen and a bunch of clothes and blankets hanging on the couch. Quickly, you scoop your clothes into your arms and smile. 
“I’ll be right back,” you say, going to your room. You drop them on your bed and look into the mirror hanging on your wall. You take your hair out of the loose-ish ponytail it is in and run your fingers in your hair to quickly comb any unruly strands. You straighten your shirt and realize that there’s a sauce stain. You curse to yourself and go into your closet, grabbing another T-Shirt. After a few moments of analyzing your appearance, you come out of your room and see Jaehyun in your living room, eyeing the pictures of your family hanging on the wall. 
“Do you want anything?” You ask, afraid that you were interrupting him. 
“Just some water, thank you,” Jaehyun says. You go into the kitchen, get a cup, and fill some water into it. You hand it to Jaehyun, who is still observing your family photos. 
“Sorry it isn’t mineral water and just plain old tap water,” you chuckle. After years of knowing Jaehyun, you know that he only drinks mineral water. 
“That’s okay,” Jaehyun responds, a small smile on his face. A moment of silence ensues between the two of you. 
“You know a lot about me and my life, but I don’t really know anything about you or your family,” Jaehyun says. 
You knit your fingers over your stomach, the same pose you have when you’re reporting to Jaehyun at the office. 
“Because it’s my job to know about your life, and I’m just your secretary,” you say formally, despite how informal the current occasion is, given your setting and your outfit. 
“You know you’re not just my secretary,” Jaehyun says impulsively, turning his gaze to you; he is searching your expression, wondering what happened to the girl he went on a date with a short two months ago.
You feel uncomfortable under his powerful gaze, so you clear your throat in an attempt to regain control of the situation. 
“Want to watch a movie or something?” You ask, changing the subject. Jaehyun nods, and he follows you to the couch. 
“Should I make popcorn?” You ask. 
“Sure,” Jaehyun replies. You go back into the kitchen and open a cupboard where you keep the microwavable popcorn, and you pop it into the microwave for two and a half minutes. You open the microwave to a steaming bag, and after a few moments, you pull open the bag, pouring the contents into a bowl. You appear back in the living room and place the popcorn between you and Jaehyun. 
Jaehyun looks disappointed, only for a moment. 
You grab a blanket off the couch and spread it across your lap. Jaehyun takes another blanket and does the same. Taking the remote from the coffee table, you turn on the TV. 
“What do you want to watch?” You ask politely. 
“What’s there?” He asks.
“Let’s see,” you say a little awkwardly. You open your Netflix account, anxious that your boss, the man who is giving you employment, is looking at what is suggested for you or what you have watched recently, but you take a deep sigh and open your “watch later” list, which after filibustering for ten minutes, made you realize that you would be more productive browsing the shows Netflix recommended you. Finally, you both agreed on a documentary about otters, and you start the show. 
Periodically, you get some popcorn and check your phone, but your attention remains primarily on the documentary as you try to forget that your boss is sitting beside you in a sweatshirt and jeans, watching an otter documentary – not exactly where you thought your Sunday night would go! It seems as if the film is the last thing on Jaehyun’s mind as he stares into the side of your face longingly, but he masks his looks as he takes a few pieces of popcorn at a time, using it as a chance to look at your face. 
When the forty-minute documentary is over, the popcorn is long gone. Jaehyun takes this as a chance to put the popcorn bowl on the coffee table, and he scoots closer to you. 
Your heart is racing with newfound fervor as you can feel the heat from Jaehyun’s body radiate. It’s as if you can feel the disappointment in the air as Jaehyun wishes for you to be less distant, but he just doesn’t know the extent of it all. You’re not doing this because you don’t have an insane crush on him, but because there are repercussions to your actions, especially if your crush is the CEO of Jung Industries who has a young daughter already. 
Jaehyun turns to face your cheek, one leg hanging from the couch and the other folded. You try to ignore him, fiddling with the remote. 
“I think there’s a lion documentary by this same documentary maker–” Your dialogue evaporates from your tongue as Jaehyun grabs your wrist. Now, you’re forced to look at him.
“Why are you ignoring me?” Jaehyun asks directly. You weren’t ready for such direct confrontation, searching your brain for a professional response.
“I’m not ignoring you. I do whatever you ask at work–”
Jaehyun’s hands are suddenly at your waist as he presses you against the couch. Your breath catches in your throat. 
“We’re not at work.” He murmurs. The space between you both is alarmingly low. No more words need to be said to convey the way Jaehyun feels about you right now. You can feel your pussy lurch with arousal; Jaehyun has never been this close to you.
“You should know better,” you say softly. “We need to think about the consequences. About our futures.” 
“I’ve been thinking about the future for so long,” His breath hits your skin. For the past four years, all he was thinking about were ways to make Jung Industries more successful than it was. Jaehyun took a loan from his well-off parents to start his own company, one of his oldest dreams, and if he wasted their hard-earned money, then he would never forgive himself. He hadn’t the time to think of love or relationships, especially since he wanted Yeona to have a steady life. But he can’t just ignore his manly urges, manly urges that have been festering slowly for eight years. “I want to think in the present.” 
With that, he seals your lips with a kiss. You don’t want to keep kissing him, you want to pull away and tell him that if your relationship flourishes, you’re not ready to be a step-mom, or that CEOs shouldn’t be making out with their secretaries, but you don’t care either. All these years of pent-up sexual tension between you both is released as Jaehyun brings you onto his lap, and you can’t help but feel warm and blissful at this moment. Your bodies are pressed up against each other as Jaehyun readjusts his position and lies down on his back on the couch, and not for a second does he let you go, forcing you on top of him. He brings his hands down to your clothed butt and gives it a squeeze, and you moan in Jaehyun’s mouth at the feeling of his firm, confident hands. You can feel his length grow against your upper thigh as your bodies readjust. Jaehyun’s hands slip under your shirt, caressing his body. You straddle his thigh, your pussy throbbing at how it’s brushing his jeans, how close you are to his length. 
“That’s hot,” he mutters before kissing you again, nibbling on your lower lip. He takes his time with you; it’s been driving him crazy to see you come to work for the past eight years, to see you in a tight blouse and pencil skirt that highlighted your womanly curves and not touch you at all. He wants to feel all of you, and he wants to feel you now. 
Jaehyun slides you out of your T-Shirt, leaving you with a tight bra and your sweatpants. He plays with the clasps of your bra, but you move away, getting off of his body after you feel a sinking feeling in your gut. This feels wrong. This wasn’t just making out anymore, you realize as Jaehyun’s hands grip your naked waist, looking up at you hungrily.
“Jaehyun, we should really think about this. How am I supposed to come to work every day now?” You ask breathlessly. Your breasts bob as you pant, and Jaehyun’s gaze doesn’t leave your chest as he eyes it shamelessly. 
“The same way you’ve been coming to work for the past eight years.” Jaehyun has you trapped in his arms as he leans over slowly and pins you down. He brings his lips to the shell of your ear. “Only this time, you’ll know what my cock feels like.” 
Jaehyun doesn’t let you second guess him when he slides off his jeans, throwing them down, leaving you to see his white underwear, an erected, aroused member poking through. 
“You see,” Jaehyun murmurs, “You’ve been doing this to me. I think you should pay.” You watch Jaehyun’s eyes as he drinks in your body lustfully. 
You can’t keep your eyes off of his massive erection as your body is in between his legs. You realize that you want him, no matter the consequences; you can feel your being become ensnared with lust, all sirens of reason becoming quieter. 
“Turn around,” Jaehyun commands in that CEO voice you’ve been hearing for years that suddenly makes your pussy feel tight with arousal. You bend your leg a little, and your knee meets his dick gently. 
“Make me,” you say defiantly, a confident smirk on your face. 
Jaehyun gets off the couch and without hesitation grabs your arms. Forcefully, he turns you around as if you weigh nothing, and your chest is pressed against the couch cushions. In one fell swoop, Jaehyun kicks off his underwear, and you can see a flash of white hit the ground. Jaehyun’s fingers grasp the waistband of your sweatpants and underwear on your hips and pulls it down to your ankles, removing it effortlessly and throwing it away. You whine as Jaehyun repositions himself on top of you, your body between his legs, his hands gripping your ankles and moving up your calves, your thighs. He can feel wetness on your bare pussy. 
“Wet so soon?” He murmurs in your ear. You nod, and Jaehyun forcefully takes off your underwear and throws it carelessly. “I’ll take care of that later.” Jaehyun squeezes your bare ass affectionately. He is in absolute control, and he loves it. The dominance he feels in the office with the way everyone works under him isn’t enough, and he needs to establish his dominance in sex, his dominance on you, who have been making him horny for years behind closed doors.
You’re not at all prepared for the way Jaehyun thrusts you from behind. You scream so loud that you’re pretty sure that your neighbors heard you.
“One thrust for every year you’ve worked for me. Two,” he continues. You squeal out in pain at how rough he is, at how tightly his hands grip your skin, at how he shows you no mercy as he satisfies his erection, his craving to make you as submissive as a child. You thrash around, but with the way Jaehyun is perched on top of you, he can have his way with you.
“Four,” he counts. He takes off his sweatshirt and it lands on top of his underwear. He takes off the shirt under his sweatshirt and flings it over the couch; he is completely naked.
“Five,” continues methodically. His hands are on your back as he has a good view of the clasps of your bra, and he unhooks them. He cleanly brings the straps down your shoulders and your arms, and after he removes it from your body, he yanks the article of clothing from under you, throwing it on top of his other discarded clothes. 
“Six.” His fingers become the barrier between the couch cushion and your stomach. They trail up your hot skin until he squeezes your breasts. You feel hysterical at the pleasure that’s coursing through your veins. 
“Seven, eight,” Jaehyun finishes counting, yet he doesn’t stop. 
“You cheated,” you whine feeling his continued hard thrusts. Jaehyun doesn’t let go of your breasts, only leaning in closer, and bringing his lips to your ears. 
“No, I didn’t. I make the rules, darling.” You’re screaming with pleasure, and you start to feel dizzy with the way he is groping your breasts, rubbing your nipples, and thrusting into you, all at the same time without a break.
“Call me Mr. Jung,” he mutters into your ear. “Then I’ll stop.” 
“Yes sir, Mr. Jung,” you say obediently. 
“Nice bonus,” Jaehyun says. He relaxes his grip on you as you turn around as a means to face him. Jaehyun is completely naked, and you don’t hurry as you gaze at his bare body. Jaehyun is somewhat of a working-out aficionado, so his arms are muscular, and his stomach is toned. The sheer power that you’ve been imagining under his dress shirt at work is no longer a fantasy but something completely real as Jaehyun is naked in front of you. 
His dick is dripping with fluid, and as you watch this, Jaehyun roughly takes your hair. You yelp as his grip doesn’t slacken until he lies down on the couch and brings your head to his dick. 
“You know you want to do it, my dirty little slut,” he says. You carefully place a hand on his thigh as you wrap your lips around his cock, sucking whatever is left. You gulp the whitish fluid down obediently, and you can hear Jaehyun moan. The foreign sounds from your boss make you hesitate as you suck his cock, but Jaehyun spanks your ass. 
Hard. 
“More, baby, more.” He continues to groan at the pleasure of your lips on his cock, and after a few minutes of sucking, you unwrap your lips from his cock, a few drops of his fluid dripping on your chin. You stare at Jaehyun with wide eyes, eyes that are ready for Jaehyun to command. 
“Good girl,” Jaehyun mutters in a raspy voice. You both sit upright as he pets you. “Don’t you think it’s time for me to return the favor, baby girl?”
You don’t say anything. 
“That’s not the answer I was looking for.” Jaehyun pries open your legs as he dives in, deliciously squeezing your thighs as he brings his mouth into your pussy, kissing it. This was the same dominance that ran a huge company that Jaehyun brought home with him, and you want more. 
You giggle at the sensation of someone’s lips being at such an intimate part of you, and you loosely wrap your legs around his neck. You feel wetness trickling down your thighs, and Jaehyun laps it up. You can’t stop yourself from laughing and moaning as hard as you do at Jaehyun’s rough tongue on your skin, steadily licking.
Jaehyun’s done eating you out, and he forces you against the arm of the couch as he starts kissing your neck. You feel his dick rub against your leg rhythmically as he nips and sucks your neck, and your breasts bob under his chin as you pant, your back arched. He squeezes your thighs so hard that you think that you’re going to wake up with bruises tomorrow morning. Jaehyun enjoys manhandling every single part of you, touching you as if he’s never going to touch you again. He hasn’t dated in so long, and that’s because he’s only had eyes on you, on your firm ass as you walked around the office oblivious to your own sexual power. 
The rage at how he didn’t fuck you sooner consumes him, and Jaehyun brings his hands back to your breasts. Your back is arched over the arm of the couch as you feel Jaehyun’s hands once again, at how his thumbs brush your breasts. His lips let go of your neck, and he feathers you with kisses along your collarbone, down down down. 
He brings his face close to yours, continuing to massage your breasts. Your waist is between his legs as his dick crushes your lower stomach.
“I’ve waited a long time to do this.” Those tight blouses that your closet was full of, God those drove him crazy. The neckline was deep enough to still be considered modest for work, but he could still see some cleavage from your perky breasts. If he was lucky, the office was chilly, and your nipples would stick out of your shirt. 
Jaehyun buries his face in between your breasts, leaving long, open-mouthed kisses on the hot skin as his face kneeds the delicate flesh. His face slowly moved to the nipples, which are proudly sticking out now with enough arousal. He sucks your nipples, his hand finding a way in between your legs. He gently traces designs on your legs with the wetness from your pussy, and it takes him a good three minutes for him to start sucking at your other breast. 
“Why are you so obsessed with my boobs?” You giggle at the feeling of Jaehyun’s teeth gently nipping at your full breasts. Fourteen-year-old boys are less obsessed with breasts than Jaehyun is with yours. “It’s so childish.” 
Without a rush, Jaehyun stops sucking on your other breast and brings himself close enough that his bare chest touched your breasts. The feeling was intoxicating, your hard nipples against his skin.
“Are you calling me a child?” Jaehyun asks. 
“N-No, Mr. Jung,” you stutter.
Jaehyun runs with your hesitation and sticks his first and middle finger into your dripping cunt. You scream an ear-shattering scream.
“Mr. Jung! Sir!” You say, trying to appease Jaehyun.
“That won’t help you now, girl,” Jaehyun says in a sultry voice. “If I want to do something, I’ll do it.” He sticks his fingers into your cunt over and over again, and it feels like you’re drowning in a pool of pleasure. 
Suddenly, you don’t feel hard fingers, but you feel Jaehyun’s fleshy, aroused dick. You gasp at the feeling of Jaehyun inside you again. 
“I wanted to look into your eyes this time, baby,” He says. “Can you keep focused on me?” 
You nod, whimpering again. Jaehyun’s brown eyes are lustful as he thrusts his dick into you over and over again, and you can feel him fill you up inside, compared to the last time, where he was only releasing pent-up sexual desire. 
You have a hard time keeping your gaze fixed on him as he pleasured you, so Jaehyun grabs your face, holding your cheeks with one hand. 
“Y-You’re so big,” you groan. The walls in your pussy trap around his dick, as if forcing him to squeeze his cum inside of you. 
“I know babycakes,” He murmurs. Jaehyun leans in and kisses you, and this is a messy, open-mouthed kiss as he takes your lips inside his mouth. Jaehyun is dripping all over your couch, spilling his seed all over your stomach and your thighs, but you don’t care, you just want him in you over and over again. 
“Mr. Jung,” you whine, “more. Please. I want more.” 
Jaehyun does as he is asked, and it feels so delicious to have Jaehyun’s seed inside of you. You’re so dizzy from lust that you can’t stand the feeling of Jaehyun not touching you. 
“Jae, Jae,” you moan as he continues to thrust. 
“It’s Mr. Jung. I told you a million times,” Jaehyun smacks your thighs hard. 
“Mr. Jung, Mr. Jung sir,” 
To get a more powerful thrust, Jaehyun separates from you, and you whimper. 
“It’ll only be a second.” He takes you by the legs and drags you in a way that you are completely flat on the couch. Jaehyun now straddles your hips and thrusts himself inside of you. 
“Mr. Jung,” You whine, your vision becoming hazy. He needs a place to put his hands, and what’s a more apt place than your squishy breasts?
In between your middle and ring finger, a bulbous nipple protrudes from Jaehyun’s hands. From the sheer feeling of it all, you can feel yourself climaxing, your vision turning black despite your eyes being wide awake. You feel cups and cups of cum leave your pussy and moisten the couch. 
“I can’t,” you whine. At the glazed look in your eyes, you’re orgasming, and after a few moments of leading you to complete ecstasy, Jaehyun stops. Slowly, you return back to Earth, back to the completely naked Jaehyun and completely naked you. You feel your cheeks flare up. 
You don’t know how you let this happen but at the same time, you know exactly how this happened. Immediately, you want to kick Jaehyun out and hide in your room in shame after having sex with your boss, but suddenly, you hear a loud crack of thunder and aggressive rain pattering against the windows. From the look of the roads, pools are collecting in divots; It’s been like that for some time, but you haven’t bothered to notice until now.
You shudder. You didn’t want to send Jaehyun home in this bad weather, yet at the same time, you feel too embarrassed to see him right now. 
“Y-You can stay the night,” you say. “I heard thunder, and I don’t want you to go home in bad weather. You have an important interview tomorrow.” You crack a smile, forgetting that you’re completely naked. Jaehyun hears your words, but his eyes shamelessly remain on your shapely body, your big breasts, how small your waist was compared to your ass. 
“Yeah.” Jaehyun says, finally looking you in the eye. 
“So, do I sleep on the couch?” Jaehyun asks. It’s stained, and you look at it bashfully, at how much cum you both spilled. You make a mental note to put the couch covers in the wash later. 
“No,” you say softly. “You can sleep on my bed.” 
“With you?” Jaehyun asks hopefully. He comes closer and caresses your naked back. His cheeks are against your collarbone as he stares at you in a soft manner.
“Yeah,” Jaehyun sits upright and you kiss him with passion, the passion that you tried to hide for so long, the passion that’s been lying dormant since you’ve been working for him. 
“One night.” You murmur against Jaehyun’s nose. “Tonight, I’m completely yours.” There was no point in trying to pretend that these sexual feelings that you had for Jaehyun didn’t exist anymore. And if he was going to spend the night anyway in your apartment, it was like the heavens above wanted you to spend even more time with Jaehyun.
You’ve already dug a deep enough hole for yourself the second that you stopped fighting against Jaehyun’s kiss. And there was only one way to get out of this hole. 
You weren’t going to like it, and Jaehyun wasn’t going to like it, but it was the only way. 
-
 That night, you and Jaehyun indulged in fiery, passionate sex. Jaehyun was in you more than he was out of you, and that wasn’t a problem. Your bedsheets were soaked by the time the pale rays of the sun penetrated your windows. Jaehyun is still fast asleep, and it would be one hour before his alarm would go off. 
Carefully, you displace his arm that is slung over you, and you put on your slippers. You’re sore and completely naked, but since no one else is awake, you pad out of your bedroom and into the living room. In the mild morning light, you can see bruises forming around your neck, around the rest of your body as Jaehyun bit you and bit you as a way he could claim you as his little slut, at the way he tightly clawed at your flesh as he forced his member into your throbbing, dripping cunt. 
You want to keep reliving the night, reliving Jaehyun’s open-mouthed kisses and his hands kneading your soft breasts like dough, but you stop yourself, shaking the thoughts away as if they were pesky flies. You don’t take the time to sift through the pile of discarded clothes and take the first thing, which is Jaehyun’s shirt he wore under his sweatshirt. 
Your apartment is a bit chilly this morning as you find your laptop on the kitchen counter. But first, you make yourself a pot of coffee. 
With the bubbling sound of coffee brewing, you take a deep breath, find a mug from the cupboard, and pour black coffee. 
This morning, you needed especially strong coffee, you think as you take a seat. 
You open Microsoft Word on your laptop and place your fingers on the keys. 
Dear Mr. Jung, 
I thank you for the years of employment you have given me as your secretary, and I value the professional friendship that we have kindled. Unfortunately, we must part ways, and you know the reason why. My parents have taught me to be a professional, and due to the nature of some of my actions and yours, I am unable to maintain the professionalism that I strive to maintain at any job that I hold. At 5 PM today (8/15), my resignation is effective.
I hope we can meet again under different circumstances. 
Your’s truly, 
Y/N. 
After you press the period and space key, your resignation letter feels complete. The words needed little re-drafting – they were vague enough so that any nosy people at HR looking at your resignation letter won’t know the true context to your letter: although, it can give them a pretty good idea. But as long as it’s not written blatantly, like ‘I am resigning because you came over to my apartment, and we had some of the hottest sex I’ve ever had in my entire life’ will completely tarnish your’s and Jaehyun’s reputation. It’s better that you and Jaehyun now can at least deny sexual relations. 
“You made coffee?” Jaehyun asks in a tired voice. His alarm hasn’t gone off yet. The scent of coffee must have woken him up from a slumber. He’s completely naked, and you try not to look, closing your laptop abruptly before Jaehyun has the chance to see what you were doing. 
Jaehyun saunters into the living room, looking for his shirt, only to find out when he looks a little closer that you’re wearing it. 
Jaehyun has a cheeky look as he approaches you sitting down by the kitchen counter.
“You’re wearing my shirt,” Jaehyun chuckles in a deep, manly way. You sniff him. 
“And you used my shower.”  
He bends down and kisses you on the lips. He nibbles your lips as he brings his hands to your waist, bunching his shirt in one first and squeezing your thigh with another. You stand up after indulging in his sweet, soft lips. 
“Hey, I only said you had the night,” you say weakly.
“It’s not fair,” Jaehyun gripes. He presses you against his body and fondles your butt. “I want to be with you every night.” Jaehyun picks you up and places you on the kitchen counter. Now, you’re at eye-level with him as he holds your neck gently, sucking on your soft, cherry-flavored lips lustfully. His hands get bored of your neck as he moves his lips there, licking the purpling bruises; he grips your waist, holding your thighs and wrapping them around his waist. You can feel his dick in between your legs, and you can already feel your pussy starting to get wet, how it begs for Jaehyun to come in you once again.
This was a slippery slope. 
“I’m going to shower,” you say abruptly. Before Jaehyun can say or do anything else, you scurry to the bathroom and strip of Jaehyun’s shirt before hopping in the shower and rubbing bodywash on yourself. When you’re done, you take Jaehyun’s shirt and put it in your room with only just a towel on your body. You change into a high-necked blouse and pencil skirt, your purse slung over your chest. 
After fifteen minutes, you reappear into the kitchen. Jaehyun is sitting at the dining room table, playing with his fingers. 
“Should I make breakfast?” You ask kindly after you pull away, in a disarming voice that didn’t give away any of your future plans. 
“Absolutely. Does it include you?” Jaehyun flirts. You roll your eyes. 
“No. We have to get to work soon,” you say, looking at the microwave clock. You should be changed and ready to leave your apartment in fifteen minutes.
“Oh, right,” Jaehyun’s voice sounds deflated as he gazes at your figure, wearing your regular uniform of a blouse and a pencil skirt, but of course, this was a high necked blouse that hid any of his markings. Of course he had been thinking about how it would be like to go back to work, with the secretary he banged sitting outside his door. He just didn’t think it would be this soon.
Jaehyun didn’t even realize that you were scouring the fridge for something. “I have milk. Maybe we can have cereal.” You say to yourself. 
“Sure,” Jaehyun says. You whip your head around to face him. “We do need to get going soon.” You nod, grabbing a cereal box from the pantry. 
“Fruit Loops?” Jaehyun asks. 
You wrinkle your nose at him in good humor. “It was on sale.” 
Without another word, you and Jaehyun eat two bowls of Fruit Loops between you both.
“By the way,” you tell Jaehyun, who is now wearing the pants he discarded in your living room last night. “Your shirt is in my room.” Your tone didn’t mean to seem cold, but slowly, you were turning on ‘business professional’ mode in your brain. 
Jaehyun nods in response and goes into your room. You take this as the perfect time to email your resignation letter to yourself on your work email so you can print it out later.
Before Jaehyun can ask you what you’re doing when he comes out of your room, you close your laptop loudly. Jaehyun stares at you quizically. 
“Just checking my email.” He seems to believe you. 
You leave five minutes before you initially plan on leaving. Jaehyun takes his white Kia back to his penthouse, and you wait for him in the front passenger seat as he goes to find a suit and fix his hair. He comes back out and sits in the driver’s seat; he’s probably opted out of his driver taking him to work so that he doesn’t know about the situation with you. 
You’re thankful for that consideration. 
The two of you make the fifteen-minute drive to Jung Industries, and Jaehyun parks his car in his designated parking spot. 
You don’t know what sparks you to do what you do right now – maybe it’s the finality of the resignation letter burning a hole in your purse. You’re doing what you’re doing because you care about both your careers, but that’s not necessarily what your heart – or pussy – wants. 
After both of you unbuckle your seatbelts, you grab Jaehyun’s wrist. You climb over the parking brake and spread your legs so that Jaehyun’s legs can fit in between. Your skirt is hiked up to your waist, and you kiss Jaehyun one final time.
You pull away, but Jaehyun doesn’t let you go for long. He grabs the back of your head and shoves your face in his, and he messily kisses you. At the way your face changes its angle while kissing Jaehyun, trying to taste every milimeter of his lips, your body shifts against his, your back gently hitting the steering wheel, but the animalistic urge in you doesn’t mind. Jaehyun lifts up your skirt, and your ass is sticking out as he gropes your butt shamelessly.
You can already feel yourself starting to get wet at the way Jaehyun’s dick becomes aroused at this activity, and you pull away. Your breasts are tucked under Jaehyun’s chin as you sit on his lap, shifting to feel his erected member against your pussy one last time.
“I thought you said it was only for the night.” 
Your index finger traces his lips. “I felt bad leaving you hanging like that his morning.” You feel confident in your lie.
“You’re so sweet,” Jaehyun murmurs. He lets his hands slide up and down your bare thighs one last time before he looks around. At this point, everyone has already clocked in for work, so the parking garage is practically empty. 
Jaehyun opens the door. “You go first. I’ll join you in twenty minutes.”
-
It’s the end of the work day. 4:58 PM. In two minutes, you will officially be leaving your post as secretary to CEO Jung Jaehyun. After using the printer, you haven’t left the letter at his desk because you’re afraid that Jaehyun will see the letter before 5 PM and confront you about resigning. In a way, you weren’t being fair, but this was for both of your well-being. 
Seven minutes have passed, five minutes after you have quit your job. Since Jaehyun is away at an interview with TIME magazine, he won’t be back for another thirty minutes. That gives you enough time to drop the letter at his desk so that it won’t get lost in all his papers and leave Jung Industries for the last time. You knew that he would first try your apartment when he saw the letter, so you planned to go to the lake on a long-needed vacation. And if Jaehyun tried to call you, you wouldn’t answer his calls. By the time you got back in town, Jaehyun would have found a new secretary and would have forgotten all about you; he must only have had sexual urges around you because you were friendly and well dressed, prancing around him for eight years. It was the perfect escape plan. 
You follow the first part of your plan: you drop the letter on Jaehyun’s desk. Then, you packed your desk using a small trash bag you found; despite working for Jaehyun for eight years, you weren’t fond of having personal possessions at your desk. 
Then, you took the elevator with other people who were leaving work. 
Everything seemed to be going according to plan until you saw Jaehyun on the first floor of Jung Industries talking with the doorman. You freeze. The TIME interview was supposed to last longer! 
Jaehyun, after finishing his conversation with the doorman, starts walking to the elevator. You make a run for the bathroom on this floor. As you watch him wait for the elevator, you don’t move a muscle until you see him get inside and the doors close. 
You then scan your keycard for a final time and walk out of Jung Industries. The parking garage is on the other side of Jung Industries campus, and it was about a five-minute walk. If you walked fast enough, then Jaehyun might not be able to intercept you.
You’re walk-running in your platformed shoes as you head to the third-floor parking garage where you parked. It was a reserved spot just for you, but before you can open your car, you hear someone calling your name. 
“Y/N!” A breathless Jaehyun shouts. Your fingers are nervous as you click the unlock button of your car, but before you can get in, a hand snatches your keys, putting it in his suit pocket. There goes your perfect escape plan.
Jung Jaehyun is standing in front of you, his hair windswept and his suit wrinkled. You’re pretty sure you see a dirt stain on his socks. 
“What’s the meaning of this?” Jaehyun asks. He holds up a crumpled piece of paper, your folded resignation letter. 
“Exactly what it says,” you say stiffly. “I’m resigning.” 
“No you’re not,” Jaehyun says. 
“Jaehyun, I can resign whenever I want.” 
“Then who’s going to be my secretary?” 
“HR will find you a new one,” you say. To Jaehyun, this seems like blasphemy. 
“A new one?” Jaehyun echos, confused. 
“Yeah, a new one,” you reply. “I’m just your secretary.” 
“You very well know you’re not,” Jaehyun says pointedly. “Y/N, when I asked you on a date, you seemed thrilled. When we went on said date, you were thrilled.”
“I’m allowed to change my mind.” 
“Don’t lie to me,” With his free hand, Jaehyun grabs your wrist and pins you against your car, crumbling your letter and throwing it on the ground. You’re glad no one here is able to witness this. 
“I’m not lying to you.” You argue. 
“Then yesterday,” Jaehyun brings up. “What was that?” 
“I indulged a bit. I realized I was wrong, and I can’t work for someone that I had sex with!” You whisper-exclaim. 
You take a deep breath, composing your thoughts. “It’s the most professional thing to do. It won’t look good for you or me if we ever date. I realize that now.” 
“I don’t care about professional,” Jaehyun says. “In the papers, it looks like I haven’t dated after eight years because I am so focused on my career,” Jaehyun says. He tilts your chin upwards, forcing you to face him. “While that’s a part of the reason, it’s also because of you.” His voice becomes quieter. “After me and Yeonjoo craashed and burned, I only wanted you.” 
“Can I tell you something?” You ask Jaehyun. He nods in acknowledgment. “On our date, Yeona asked me if I was going to be her new mom,” you say. “I-I don’t know, I sort of freaked out after that. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be a step-mom or even a recurring maternal influence in her life. She’s a sweet girl, but I…” You lose track of your words. 
“So that’s what changed,” Jaehyun murmurs. 
“And then I thought about my reputation. And yours. What if people think that I’ve been sleeping with you for years?” You ask. “If anything, my reputation will suffer more than your reputation.” You laugh wryly. 
“If that’s the case,” Jaehyun says, “then I must really not know you at all.” 
You look at him, confused.  
“I only know the strong, independent Y/N that doesn’t care what anyone thinks, not even me.” Jaehyun smiles a dimply smile. “If she loved something or someone, then she would dive headfirst into the chaos.” 
“Love?” You ask dumbly. 
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jaehyun asks. He laughs. “You’re so oblivious, it’s adorable. I’m so, completely, utterly in love with you Y/N.”
It’s as if the world just… stopped. Jaehyun, a big fish in the corporate sector, is in love with you? His secretary? 
“The question is,” Jaehyun asks slowly. He takes both your hands in his. “Do you love me?” 
You think. Of course, you had sort of a crush on Jaehyun; who didn’t with his good looks! Many publications even recognized it, calling him the most handsome CEO. You admired how he was able to run a Fortune 500 company and raise a daughter and be in her life. You admit that he’s a great kisser. You love how he treats you as his equal despite you being his secretary, you love how there was barely ever an awkward moment in your relationship. You love his voice, you love how kind he is to his employees, you love how he’s a hard worker despite being born into money, and he never gives up. 
You do, in fact, love Jung Jaehyun.
“I love you too,” you say. You look into his eyes, his beautiful eyes that you just want to keep staring at until the world ends. 
Jaehyun pushes you against your car and steals a famished kiss from you. He puts his knee in between your legs, and you loosely sling your arms around his neck as his nose bumps into yours at the different angles he’s kissing you, making sure he fully kissed your plush lips. 
“You’d make a great stepmother,” Jaehyun murmurs against the shell of your ear. 
“Should we take this somewhere else?” You ask, noticing the way Jaehyun snuck his hand under your shirt. 
“Sure.” You and Jaehyun decide to go to the closest place you can think of: Jaehyun’s office. It’s in a secluded part of Jung Industries, so any people working late wouldn’t be able to see you or hear you. Plus, people still thought he was at the TIME interview, which means less people would be by his office now.
Today, that works in your favor because no one in other departments will be around for another forty minutes. 
You and Jaehyun manage to keep your hands off each other as you take the elevator into his office. Only a few people see you, and it was commonplace for either of you to be around each other. You and Jaehyun walk to his secluded corner office, and when he closes the heavy glass door, his gaze is pinned on you, sultry and lustful. 
You weren’t leaving this room until Jaehyun fucked your brains out. 
Every step Jaehyun takes, you take a step backward until your butt meets a wall. Jaehyun shrugs off his expensive suit jacket and throws it to his desk, displacing some papers. He takes a few steps back, observing you as if you’re a specimen in a science experiment. 
“Strip.” He says. 
“Wha–” You’re at a loss for words. 
“I said strip.” 
“Y-Yes sir,” you say hesitantly.
You bring your hands to the buttons of your blouse, eyeing Jaehyun as you do; the building could be on fire, and Jaehyun’s penetrating gaze would still be on you. 
You feel a little anxious at how he’s staring so intently, waiting for the show to start. 
“Don’t be shy,” Jaehyun says in a sultry tone. “You know you want Mr. Jung to take care of you.” He bites his lips, and all you can think about is how you want him so badly.
You first kick off your platform heels, standing barefoot in front of him. Then you unbutton your silky, white, high-necked blouse. Jaehyun stares lustfully as he gets a better view of your cleavage, your red bra bleeding through your cami. You pull off your cami, leaving Jaehyun to ogle your full breasts. You take the zipper of your pencil skirt in your hands and pull it down, and you let it fall to your ankles. 
You pull of your underwear, and unclasp your bra, revealing your naked breasts. Jaehyun stares as if he hasn’t been groping, gripping, biting, kissing, and spanking your body in the last twenty-four hours, and he eyes the light bruises starting to form from the hours and hours of rough sex, evidence that you’re his and only his. 
He’s more turned on than ever before. 
“On your knees.” He says. When your knees hit the carpeted ground, he curls his index finger, instructing you to him. 
“Crawl.” He says. You crawl like a child who hasn’t learned to walk yet. Jaehyun watches as you do so, watches how your breasts bob up and down, how your ass moves. Your head is inches away from his dick when he tells you to stop. He undoes his belt and throws it on the ground. He lets his unbuttoned pants fall to his ankles. 
“Suck,” He points to his erected penis, and he leaves you to take off his underwear. You suck like you’ve never sucked before. 
Jaehyun’s groans at your innocent lips around his cock, and he massages your hair. 
“Good girl.” He says in between moans. He has a warm look on his face mingled with lust.
“You’ll continue to work for me, right?” He asks. 
You nod, your legs folded under you as you look up at Jaehyun in complete submission. “Yes, Mr. Jung,” you say obediently, knowing it’s the answer he wants to hear. 
“And you’ll never quit?” He asks softly. 
“Never Mr. Jung.” You shake your head violently. 
“Good. But just in case you do,” Jaehyun looks down on you. “This is what you’ll get.”
His hands grip your shoulders as he forces you down on the ground. The couch in his office is only a few feet away from you, but he wants you on the ground, wriggling under him as your waist is in between his legs; he wants to express his full power. 
Jaehyun holds your wrists above your head with one hand as he pins you down, watching how you look meek under him. You struggle a little at his strength, but you’re no match for Jaehyun. With his free hand he grips the sides of your clit and pinches it. You think you’re seeing stars in your vision as Jaehyun’s fingers become forceful, bruising such a delicate area of your body.
You’re screaming uncontrollably in pain and pleasure, but Jaehyun puts his palm to your mouth. “Do you want everyone to hear how much of a little slut you are for Mr. Jung?” 
You shake your head. 
“Then you better keep quiet, baby girl.” Jaehyun brings his head in between your legs after he holds your thighs apart. He rubs his face against the hot skin of your thighs, and you shudder and moan loudly at the pleasure. Suddenly, Jaehyun’s teeth sink into your meaty thighs, and you scream shrilly.
Your shrill voice is muffled under Jaehyun’s hand, and he narrows his eyes. 
“You want the whole world to know that you’re Mr. Jung’s pretty little toy.” He stands up and grabs you, forcing you against the glass walls of his office. 
Your breasts, stomach, and legs are squeezed against the glass as Jaehyun starts possessively biting the side of your neck, leaving fresh bruises to cover the bruises from last night. You whine loudly, and that is when Jaehyun starts thrusting from behind. 
Stars and flashes enter your vision as Jaehyun does this thrusting, groping your waist tightly, his knuckles hitting the glass as he starts to squeeze your bulbous breasts. Jaehyun has the ultimate power, and you can’t think of any other way you would have it. 
You moan loudly, turning into wails. 
“That’s right, let everyone hear. Let them come this way and think you’re a little slut who’s good for Mr. Jung.” 
“Mr. Jung, sir!” You whine. You’re silently praying that no one sees you like this, so weak for the man most people (including you) call “boss.” 
Jaehyun bangs you against the sturdy glass. He stops for a moment to untie his tie and drop his dress shirt onto the ground. He turns you around and grabs your deliciously thick thighs, forcing you ass to rub against the glass as Jaehyun holds you up. The wall makes a loud squeaking sound, but the throbbing in your ears, the obsession with Jaehyun groping you, was louder. You wrap your legs around his waist and sling your arms around his neck as you kiss him and kiss him and kiss him, with more fervor and passion than you felt like you’ve never felt before. 
You tilt your head every few moments to snatch Jaehyun’s mouth into yours, at the pleasuring feeling that Jaehyun’s hands are giving you as they wander around your body, moving up your abdomen, squeezing your breasts, shoulders, then wrapping around your neck. 
The act of choking you isn’t what gets him off but that he can at any time.
Jaehyun forces you down a little, and your cunt is wide open for him to force his dick inside. You gasp at the sudden sensation of his dick fully inside of you – not mere thrusts to enforce his power. You can feel him fill you up, feel the bliss if him inside of you. 
“You’re not leaving this office without a baby in you.” 
“No sir Mr. Jung,” you say. “I want a little Jaehyun.” 
The stars in your vision return as Jaehyun’s seed brings you to climax again for probably the twentieth time in the past twenty-four hours.
“Fill me more,” You say breathily. At the way your walls close around Jaehyun’s dick you want to scream again at the pleasure, but you only let out a few weak moans. 
At the glazed, ecstatic look in your eyes as his seed flows in you, Jaehyun can tell you’ve reached your limit and reluctantly pulls out. He lets you go, and you stumble, so he carries you bridal style, back to his desk. You feel sleepy – you barely got a wink of sleep last night with how much Jaehyun pounded into you, and you can’t help but feel that you’ve overextert yourself now. 
“Jae,” you murmur softly. Jaehyun smiles a soft smile, showing his dimples. This was the Jaehyun you fell in love with, the Jaehyun who’s romantic and sweet and hard-working.
“Yes?” He murmurs, dipping his face into the crook of your neck. He moves his face along your collarbone and leans down to plant his face in your breasts, giving your chest loud smooches. 
“Nothing,” you pant softly. You couldn’t express in words how much you loved how Jaehyun was dominant, in his work as a top CEO and in sex. The bruises on your skin are starting to show, evidence of his rough handling that felt so delicious, that you suddenly feel like you can’t live without. 
“You’re still my secretary, right?” Jaehyun murmurs, his lips still between your breasts. 
You giggle at the sensation of Jaehyun’s face buried in such an intimate, womanly part of you. But Jaehyun made you feel like a woman who was in love with a man. 
“Mmh?” Jaehyun hums in a throaty voice, still waiting for a response. 
You couldn’t think of working for someone else, now that you think about it. All that was on your mind after Jaehyun gave you the sex that has made you feel the giddiest you’ve felt in a while was resigning, but you didn’t know what you were going to do after that, truthfully. Maybe send your resume to some places, but you weren’t sure.
Now, you were ready to embrace the love that has been wrapping your heart for eight years like vines on a tree, slowly, without you knowing it was love. You relish the fact that you know a Jaehyun that no one else has ever met, a Jaehyun that you want to hang on to. 
A Jaehyun that you still want to work for. Sure, it would take some getting used to, to show up to work, seeing the man who banged you from front and behind, who ruthlessly yet deliciously grabbed and groped you from lust as if you were a play-thing, but there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to leave him, to not see him every day in his crisp suits, even though you could still date if you quit being his secretary. 
“Yeah,” you say. “I’m still your secretary. That notice was invalid,” you say professionally, which is jaring compared to the situation you’re in. Jaehyun has his chin mounted in between your breasts as he stares into your eyes. 
“Good.” Jaehyun says in his brisque CEO voice. “I don’t have to teach you again what happens if you quit.” With that Jaehyun moves his face to kiss you, a long loud kiss as his nose bumps into yours. 
He sets you down on his desk after he pushes some papers away, spreading his legs to trap your knees. He holds your waist as he stares into your eyes, a soft, loving look on his face before he presses his forehead against yours. 
“I think I broke a record,” he says in a deliciously deep voice. “Most times to bang secretary in a twenty-four hour period.”
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a/n (2): thank you so much for reading! this was way longer than i expected it to be, and the series isn't even over here! hopefully, i will get around to writing a third part. let me know what you think in the comments or in an ask! don't be shy!
2K notes · View notes
miragewitch · 6 months
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JAEHYUN FIC RECS
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(M) stands for NSFW
total fics: 62
updated:  28th November 2022
note: credits go to the authors!!
Oneshot
Domaine de la Romanée - by @heartau​  | (M) fluff, angst, rich kid au | warning: infidelity | 41.2k words
all these years - by @domjaehyun​ | (M) fluff, angst, college au, neighbors au, childhood friends-to-lovers | 34.5k words
His Love in Her Force - by @anashins​ | (M) fluff, small town au, undercover detective!Jaehyun x ballerina!reader, fake marriage | 28k words
Broken Mirrors - by @neovisioned​ | (M) fluff, angst, college au, cursed!Jaehyun | 25k words
A Lover’s Fate - by @loeycity​ | (M) CEO au, CEO!Jaehyun, enemies to lovers, arranged marriage | 24.7k words
You’re the one - by @jaehyunnie77​ | (M) fluff, angst, college au, enemies to ewb (enemies with benefits) to fwb to lovers, soulmates,  | warning: mentions of car accident and death | 23.9k words
Promised - by @doiebunny​ | (M) childhood friends to enemies to lovers, arranged marriage | 20.9k words
no guidance - by @yutaholic​ | (M) | 19.8k words
runway - by @wincore​ | fluff, angst, model!jaehyun x fashion designer!reader, enemies to lovers | 18.7k words
ordinary people - by @ppangjae​ | fluff, angst, CEO!Jaehyun, friends to lovers, fake dating | 18.3k words
winter bird - by @yutaholic​ | (M) fluff, angst, exes | 17.3k words
all I wanted - by @yutaholic​ | (M) | 16.9k words
checkmate - by @doiebunny​ | (M) secret agent au, enemies to friends with benefits | 16.8k words
sun&moon - by @ppangjae​ | fluff, angst, CEO!Jaehyun, enemies to lovers, fake dating | 14.6k words
Team Captain - by @smileysuh​ | (M) crack, frat!Jaehyun | 14.2k words
Sleep Well, Princess - by @anashins​ | (M) fluff, angst, big brother’s best friend | 12.5k words
I Like Me Better (When I’m With You) - by @tyonfs​ | (M) fluff, crack, college au, sports au, friends with benefits, friends to enemies to lovers | 11.8k words
the more you know, the harder you fall - by @j0hnj4e​ | enemies to lovers | 10.8k words
Waiting Game - by @suhglow​ | (M) fluff, angst | warning: infidelity | 10.3k words
push&pull - by @baobaojng​ | (M) fluff, angst, idol au, established relationship | 10.1k words
Spending the Night - by @i-am-regular-scenarios​ | (M) | 9.3k words
Dive - by @yougotthatbilly​ | (M) frat!Jaehyun | 9.2k words
Tease - by @whereisten​ | (M) fluff, angst, idol!jaehyun x photographer!reader | 8.2k words
Young - by @ithinkilikeit-reactions​  | (M) best friend’s little sister | 8k words
Reaching Out - by @thenctaddict​ | fluff, angst, CEO!Jaehyun | 7.9k words
first times- by @moonctzeny​ | (M) fluff, angst, CEO!Jaehyun, childhood friends | 6.5k words
Love Talk - by @markresonates​ | (M) fluff (minor), angst (minor), new roomate!Jaehyun | 6.4k words
hot girl bummer - by @domjaehyun​ | (M) | warning: dubcon | 6.2k words
one of us - by @taurusjaehyun​ | (M) frat boy & fboy!Jaehyun | 5.9k words
adult swim - by @markresonates​ | (M) angst (minor), lifeguard!Jaehyun x camgirl fem!reader | 5.8k words
make a mess out of you - by @domjaehyun​ | (M) | 5.8k words
cookies n’ cream! - by @guanana​ | (M) fluff, crack (minor), established relationship | 5.3k words
Of Course I am Jealous - by @i-am-regular-scenarios​ | (M) | 5k words
holy fuck - by @haikuun​ | (M) dilf!jaehyun x pastor’s daughter!reader | 4.8k words
redamancy - by @minghaoss-archive​​ | (M) angst, prince!jaehyun | 4.7k words
Dalliance in Drudgery - by @caiuscassiuss​ | (M) fluff, angst, CEO!Jaehyun x secretary!reader | 4.6k words
Call Boy - by @caliboyjaeffrey​ | (M) | 4.2k words
The Charming - by @notnctu​ | (M) fluff, college au, housemate au | 4.1k words
kiss me - by @taurusjaehyun​ | (M) fluff, bf!Jaehyun, college au | 3.9k words
be mine - by @cozyjae​ | fluff, single dad!Jaehyun | 3.7k words
Brother’s Best Friend - by @suhsexual​ | (M) angst (minor) | 3.6k words
Arranged - by @smileysuh​ | (M) angst, mafia au, mafia!Jaehyun, arranged marriage | 3.5k words
We’ll be alright - by @yoursinfulurges​ | fluff, angst | 3.4k words
Sleep Well? - by @starryhyuck​ | (M) incubus!Jaehyun | 2.9k words
Make a Wish - by @jeongvision​ | (M) fluff, bf!Jaehyun, established relationship | 2.9k words
Boss - by @maknaesdancersrappers​ | (M) | 2.7k words
under wraps - by @starryhyuck​ | (M) dilf!Jaehyun | 2.3k words
Better than Me - by @neochan​​ | (M) sugar daddy!jaehyun x sugar baby!reader | 2.2k words
Wheel of Fortune - by @h2yeri​ | college au | 2k words
Dangerous Game - by @starryhyuck​ | (M) dilf!Jaehyun | 1.9k words
Teach her a lesson - by @starryhyuck​ | (M) CEO!Jaehyun | 1.8k words
Series
Ethereal & Aurora - by @celestialmark​​ | fluff, angst | 45.7k words
healing - by @nctream​​ | part 1, part 2, part 3  part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9 | (M) CEO au, single dad au | completed | 32.6k words
when Icarus falls - by @baobaojng​ | part 1, part 2, part 3 | fluff, angst, college athlete au | completed | 32.1k words
Our Kids Talk about Us - by @anashins​ | part 1, part 2 | (M) fluff, angst, single parents au | completed | 20k words
sugar - by @lattaeyongs​​ | part 1, part 2 | (M) fluff, angst, ceo/single dad!jaehyun x secretary!reader, friends to lovers | ongoing, active | 18k words
under your skin - by @neoculturetravesty​ | part 1, part 2, part 3 | (M) fluff | completed | 17.6k words
I’m Not the Only One - by @theje0ngs​ | part 1, part 2, part 3 (alternate ending) | (M) angst, marriage au, cheating au, non-idol au | warning: driving under influence, infidelity | completed | 17.1k words
Seven Letters - by @ppangjae​ | part 1, part 2 | fluff, angst, soulmates, childhood friends to lovers, fake dating | completed | 16.7k words
Paradiso - by @caiuscassiuss​ | part 1, part 2 | (M) fluff | warning: infidelity | completed | 16.4k words
Repetition - by @doycngs​ | part 1, part 2 | (M) college au, established relationship | completed | 10k words
Nevermind, Let’s Break Up  - by @ppangjae​ | part 1, part 2 | fluff, angst | ongoing, inactive | 6.5k words
2K notes · View notes
ilovjaehyun · 10 months
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this genre of jaehyun
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ppangjae · 6 months
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FIVE PLUS ONE | JAEHYUN
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SYNOPSIS. Five times world-renowned chef Jeong Jaehyun tried to end your journey to be a chef  because you weren’t ‘qualified enough to be a chef’ and that one time you proved him wrong. 
—or: your villain story quite literally 
PAIRING. jaehyun x fem!reader
GENRE. fluff | angst | enemies to lovers!au | chef!jaehyun | aspiring chef!reader
WORD COUNT. 28.8k+ words (is this my new record? omg)
author's note. i posted a long time ago about how i must write a chef!jae fic and now, here she is. i'm so sorry for such a long wait (and all those postponements oop) but i'm glad that she's finally done and posted for you to enjoy reading! i hope you enjoy this fic as much as i enjoyed writing it :-) also pls reading the author’s note at the end for all my thoughts about writing this fic! happy reading~
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THE FIRST TIME.
The first time you and world-renowned chef Jeong Jaehyun crossed paths was when you were doing your culinary internship at Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Italy. In fact, you had no idea who Jeong Jaehyun was. It was your second day of internship at the Michelin-starred restaurant and because you needed a bit more time to adjust to the new working environment, you worked as a waitress. You had no customer complaints about working as a waitress for the first week and had agreed it was the best way for you to get accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. While you had no idea who Jeong Jaehyun was at the time, he made sure you knew who exactly he was when you had accidentally stumbled over your two feet and spilled his glass of Barolo all over his cream-coloured button-up shirt.
“I’m so sorry!” You exclaim, looking at him with extreme horror all over your face. Your knees were planted onto the red carpet floors, and you were too horrified and embarrassed to bring yourself back up onto your own two feet. You would rather be sucked into the red carpet floors and the pits of darkness, never to be seen again. Slowly looking up at him, he stares down at his stained shirt before meeting your gaze.
Your blood has never run cold until that very moment. He reads your name on your name tag with a piercing gaze before muttering. “Please get back up. You’re just creating a scene and humiliating yourself even more by gathering attention from other customers—”
“Oh, mi dispiace! Here’s a napkin, Mr. Jeong!” The executive chef, Alessandro, rushes over to the two of you with a large napkin. You’re not sure if you should be relieved to have Alessandro come in to save yourself from the embarrassment, especially with Mr. Jeong staring straight at you with eyes like shooting daggers. You’ve settled on standing behind Alessandro, feeling completely ashamed and embarrassed of yourself. 
“Is she new?” Mr. Jeong asks, burning two holes through your forehead with his dark brown eyes. With your head hanging low, you could only momentarily distract yourself by noticing that the heel of your two-inch black high heels has completely broken off. 
Great. You had just bought these high heels, and they've already broken. You’re left with no choice but to glue the broken heel back on. 
“Yes, she’s new. I apologize, Mr. Jeong. She’s still in training, and thus, she’s a little flustered," Alessandro explains. You don’t have the strength to look at any of them, but the damage has already been done. You’re no superhero with the power to turn back time and undo mistakes. Although, you wish you did have those superpowers at this very moment.
Your conscience forces you to do what you’re supposed to do. First, apologize. Second, make an offer to clean up the spill. Three, offer compensation after consulting Alessandro with ideas. Four, scan the tables around and apologize for the commotion. You learned this in culinary school. You draw in a deep breath, stepping towards Alessandro’s side and forcing yourself to look at Mr. Jeong.
That piercing gaze… that stone-cold face… You wonder who did him so dirty to be so cold-hearted. 
“I apologize, Mr. Jeong. The mess will be cleaned up and we’ll get you a new glass of Barolo. In compensation—” You begin until Alessandro decides to finish it for you.
“In compensation, your main course will be on the house. We deeply apologize, Mr. Jeong.” Alessandro bows and you take it as your cue to bow with him.
Mr. Jeong slowly nods his head. You can still feel his burning stare. Who is he? Why is he being acknowledged with such high regard? Mr. Jeong mumbles, “no worries, do you mind showing me where the washroom is?”
“Yes, Mr. Jeong. It’s right this way.” Alessandro takes over and leads Mr. Jeong to the washroom. As they’re walking away, Alessandro flashes you a look. It’s not a warning look. But with his gaze, you can tell that he’s telling you to head to the storage room to clean up the spill before Mr. Jeong comes back to his table. 
As you head to the storage room to grab hot towels, you bump into one of the other waitresses, Stella, who looks just as horrified as you are. Your legs almost give out at the sight of her. 
“Stella, do you mind taking over his table? I don’t think I can—”
“No, yeah, sure, I’ll take over that table for you. Are you sure you’re okay?” She asks with a face filled with concern. She bites her lip. “You do know who that man is, right?”
You slowly shake your head. “I have no idea who he is—”
“Oh mio dio!” Stella gasps in shock. “Bella, that is Mr. Jeong Jaehyun. Chef Jaehyun. He is a world-renowned chef. He owns five three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the world—”
“World… renowned… chef…” You trail off, growing more horrified by what you’ve done. 
“He’s won almost every cooking competition you could think of. He’s a legend. Both of his parents are culinary chefs too. His parents also teach at one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea for its culinary arts program. He started cooking when he was only ten years old—” She continues to hammer it into your head that the man you have spilled expensive wine all over is a living legend that cannot be messed with.
And you… have messed with him. 
Unknowingly.
“A legend… started at ten years old… won every competition…” 
You’re going to pass out. You feel faint. Your legs feel like jello. You’re surprised that you still haven’t been sucked into the red carpet floors. Maybe fate wanted you to experience this humiliation. Did you do something horribly wrong in your past life to deserve this? It’s only been the second day of your internship and you already want to go home. Hell, you haven’t even started cooking—which is why this culinary internship is for—and you already want to go home to your parents and cry your eyes out. 
“Yeah. He’s a big deal, Y/N. But don’t worry, I got you covered. I’ll take over his table. In the meantime, you stay here and get yourself together, alright?” Stella reassures you. 
You slowly nod your head, falling back against the stool. Stella grabs some towels and leaves you in the storage room all by yourself. Complete shock and embarrassment, you’ve really dug yourself a huge hole. After you’ve gathered yourself together, you head towards the door to look out the small round window that peeks into the restaurant. You could see Stella wiping up Mr. Jeong’s—or should you say Chef Jaehyun’s—table. When Chef Jaehyun returns, she greets him with a wide, pearly-white smile. He returns the same energy as her, almost mirroring her warm and bright aura. It’s a complete one-eighty from how he was with you. You can’t help but feel small. You can’t help but feel miserable.
Maybe you’re not fit to be working in a restaurant. Maybe you’re not fit to be working in a kitchen.
If you can’t even handle guests on the floor, what makes you think you could handle cooking meals in a kitchen? What makes you think you could even step foot in a kitchen? As a chef?
Maybe you’re just not fit to be a chef at all.
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As you clock out of your shift, you kick off your high heels to replace them with a pair of running shoes. It’s almost midnight, and you’ve spent the closing hours cleaning up the dining area and the kitchen. It’s been hours since your encounter with Chef Jaehyun but it still feels fresh in your mind. You don’t think it’ll ever leave your mind for a while. 
You hear Stella call out your name as you put on your sweater. Looking over your shoulder, you spot her entering the room with a box in her hands. You quirk an eyebrow out of curiosity. 
“Hey, bella. This is for you.” 
She hands you the box, and you take off the cover to see a new pair of high heels. They look just like the ones you had on earlier, but it has a shiny finish. It’s an expensive brand as well. You place the cover back on, shaking your head and returning it to her. 
“Oh, no, Stella, I don’t think I can take this.” You hand back the heels to her.
She shakes her head. “Oh, no, bella, this is not from me. These heels are truly for you. I was just told to hand this over to you.”
“Oh…” You mumble softly. “Alright, then. Thanks, Stella. Thank you for having my back.”
“No worries, beautiful.” She smiles. “Now, forget about what happened today because tomorrow will be a new day! I don’t want to see your frown tomorrow morning when you clock in, alright? Promise?”
You chuckle. “I promise. By the way, do you know who gave the heels?”
She waves it off. “Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about who gave them.”
“What secrets are you hiding from me?”
“I’m not hiding any secrets from you, beautiful. In fact, I have no idea who gave them. Alessandro just told me to give them to you.”
“I should probably thank Alessandro for these,” you mumble softly.
“Oh, no, these aren’t from Alessandro. He just told me that someone dropped by to give these heels to you and then he asked me to give them to you before you leave.” 
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THE SECOND TIME.
You didn’t think Mr. World-Renowned Chef would come back, especially on the last day of your culinary internship. Ever since your full experience of a nightmare with Chef Jaehyun, you were quite surprised that the restaurant made you stay. You were expecting them to kick you out and let you find your way on your own. The first time you encountered Chef Jaehyun, you were a waitress. But this time… you’re a line cook.
And you’re cooking two dishes for him.
“Bella, is the filet mignon and gnocchi Sorrento ready?” Alessandro asks when he pops into the kitchen.
Ever since Alessandro announced and acknowledged Chef Jaehyun’s presence in the restaurant, you’ve been a jittery, nervous mess. This is all because you want to prove Chef Jaehyun wrong. You want to see him sit in his chair and dig into the dishes you’ve made for him, appreciating every single second of your hard work and effort. There are many dishes in the hot sanitizing bath; most of them are yours because they haven’t turned out the way you want them to be. You’ve been assigned two dishes; the filet mignon and gnocchi Sorrento and tiramisu. Two completely different dishes, one is the main course while the other is a dessert. 
“It’s ready.” You answer, placing the dish of filet mignon and gnocchi Sorrento over the counter for Stella to serve the intimidating chef sitting right outside of the door. In terms of what happens beyond that door leading to the dining area, you hope it’s everything but a repeated nightmare.
You take a step back and wait for Stella to return to the kitchen with Chef Jaehyun’s input on your dishes. A couple of minutes later, Stella returns to the kitchen with not a single trace of a smile spread across her lips. You wait in absolute terror. 
It’s almost as if you’re experiencing a real-life Kitchen Nightmares episode. But the chef tasting the food is not Gordon Ramsay (fortunately). It’s Jeong Jaehyun (unfortunately). 
“He doesn’t like it,” she mumbles softly. She draws in a deep breath, eyes finding yours. “He actually wants to have a word with the chef who made it.”
“Oh god,” you groan, rubbing at the temples of your head. You’re feeling a migraine beginning to throb every single angle of your head. It feels like your head is becoming a construction site, pulsing and pounding painfully every thirty seconds. “I’m going to pass out.”
When you step out of the kitchen, you nervously make your way toward Chef Jaehyun’s table. He’s sitting there, eyes shooting daggers right through your head. He definitely remembers you. There’s no doubt about it. There it is… the same piercing gaze he gave you the first time you encountered him. But that piercing gaze that he gives you is for a similar reason.
You messed up.
And he’s going to grill you for it.
You clear your throat and muster up a small smile as you reach his table. “Hi, Chef Jaehyun, I’m—”
“Y/N.” He cuts you off. You clamp your mouth shut. You were hoping he would be a bit nicer this time around. With the way he shuts you down, you’re starting to learn that you shouldn’t hope for better outcomes in your miserable situations. He tilts his head. “You’re the one who worked as a waitress for my table during my first visit. It’s quite surprising to see you in a chef’s apron. So… tell me, are you actually a culinary intern?”
You slowly nod your head. “Yes, chef.”
“Well, you have many things yet to learn. I’m surprised Enoteca Pinchiorri even considered taking you in as a culinary intern because the dish you had sent out to me is quite… disappointing.” One by one, his comments throw axes at your weak heart. “Take a good look at the gnocchi. Is this hand-made?”
“Yes, chef—”
“It’s rubbery. You’ve added too much flour.”
“I apologize, chef—”
“And I asked for a medium-rare for the filet mignon. It’s well-done.” He points at the filet mignon that he’s sliced with a fork and knife. You feel defeated yet again. You’re not sure if you would rather have the same person or a group of people criticize your cooking. “You should be grateful to be an intern here at this restaurant. This isn’t something you should be taking for granted. It’s not something that should be taken lightly. Other aspiring chefs desire to be in your shoes but don’t have the resources for it.”
“Again, I apologize, Chef Jaehyun.” You bow at him. “I’ll work harder.”
“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to your co-chefs. You are lacking in many skills, Y/N. Take this and my comments as a way to improve, or else you will never make it as a chef in this industry.”
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That night, you barge into your bedroom with red, swollen eyes and a heavy heart. There must be a reason you keep fucking up in front of Chef Jaehyun. But you’re not sure if you’re courageous enough to be able to withstand such embarrassment. You want to go home. You want to stop your journey of becoming a chef. If the world’s most renowned chef thinks your cooking is horrible, how different would it be for a regular customer?
“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to your co-chefs. You are lacking in many skills, Y/N. Take this and my comments as a way to improve, or else you will never make it as a chef in this industry.”
You feel crushed.
Just like your dreams of becoming a chef.
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THE THIRD TIME.
When you told your father that you would take a chance at MasterChef, he didn’t believe you until he saw you on his TV screen. Ever since you signed up to be a part of the competition, you’ve worked diligently to create the perfect dish to cook and present to the chefs. But when you stand behind the curtains that lead into the kitchen, you can’t help but grow afraid that all you’ve tried to remember and keep note of has completely vanished from your brain. You can’t afford to mess up.
You can’t afford to lose this chance, this opportunity.
It’s been years since your mother passed away due to cancer. She had run a diner, Mina’s Place. She named it after her. It was the only diner in the city that had good reviews. The reviews were a reflection of her passion for cooking. She loved cooking for others but mostly for herself. She had many skills. She perfected many dishes. The university nearby had a highly reputable culinary program, and the professors of that program had frequented the diner from time to time. They would always tell her that there was something special about the diner and that it was surely on its road to something even bigger. 
But before your mother had seen the highest success of her dream, her diner, she fell ill and was diagnosed with cancer. In a short time, her health deteriorated, and she eventually succumbed to her illness, leaving the diner and bringing all its light with her. 
If there was something you wanted to get out of this competition, it was a reputation. It was another chance to continue your mother’s dream. You know that this is something your mother would have wanted if she was still alive, to see her diner up until its end. But she was the one who let go first. Your dream is to bring back the diner, and you’re not sure how, but all you want is to fulfill her dream. 
Your mother’s dream has become yours. 
“Let’s welcome the next potential contestant, Chef Y/N. She’s interned at many restaurants in Florence and wants to open up a restaurant of her own someday.” The host introduces you as you wheel your cart into the kitchen. 
When you reach the workstation situated right in the middle of the room, you place your things down before looking up to introduce yourself to the judges. As you look up, the first person you meet eyes with is Chef Taeyong. Chef Taeyong is known for being the co-owner of a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Florence. You’ve always wanted to become a culinary intern at his restaurant, but you always chickened out. Standing right next to him is Chef Doyoung, who nods his head at you. Chef Doyoung is known for being a world-renowned chef in the making. He was the winner of MasterChef four years ago and since then has opened a lot of successful restaurants, all of them with Michelin stars. And standing right next to Chef Doyoung is—Chef Jaehyun?!
When Jaehyun’s eyes land on you for the first time in years, his eyebrows raise with surprise. Seeing you for the third time cannot be a pure coincidence. He tries to compose himself and get himself together when you finally acknowledge his presence. From the corner of his eye, he could see Taeyong glance at him. His shoulders tense up, but he feels them slowly relax when you look away from him. 
“Plans to open up a restaurant, huh?” Chef Doyoung smiles and you bite your lip, nodding your head in reply. “You know, that was my plan when I started my journey here in MasterChef. My plan worked out in the end! That means you can fulfill whatever your heart desires, as long as you put your mind to it.”
“I truly believe that if you put your mind into something, it'll be easily attainable if you put in the work and effort.” Chef Taeyong agrees with his co-judge. “Do you have anything planned for today?”
You clear your throat. “I’m planning on baking up a dish that my mother used to make for me. Well, it’s a dessert among many desserts that my mom used to make for the family.”
“But will this dish be enough to give you a spot in MasterChef?” You almost choke on your spit when you hear his voice for the first time in years. Chef Jaehyun. His voice still sends shivers down your spine. As you slowly look up from the stove, you find him already looking back at you with the same piercing gaze that you never seemed to forget. 
You gather yourself together. You nod. You like to believe that you’ve learned to handle your nervousness and anxiousness. “More than enough, chef.”
“You seem to have a close relationship with your mother,” Chef Doyoung begins. While you’re conversing with the chefs, you’re preparing your dish. You start by dipping the truffles in melted chocolate. “Is she the one who inspired you to join MasterChef?”
You smile at the thought of your mother. You answer as you place each chocolate-covered pumpkin pecan truffle onto the plate. “Yes, chef. She’s very special to me. I just want to make her proud.”
“Well, what are you making us for today?” Chef Doyoung questions. You’re placing the spiced pumpkin roulade next to the truffles and adjusting them to make the dish look presentable overall. 
“I’ll serve you a spiced pumpkin roulade with pecan maple truffles. It’s something my mom used to make every Thanksgiving.” You answer. “It’s also my dad’s favourite dessert, and because it’s his favourite, my mom would make it for him every now and then. I would have to sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a bite because the whole thing would be gone the next day.”
Chef Taeyong chuckles. “Sounds sweet, spicy, and delicious. It also sounds like it brings warm memories. You have five minutes left, Y/N.”
Five minutes later, your dish is ready. You place it right in front of you at your station. Chef Taeyong is the first one to taste your dish. He heads over to you and picks up his spoon. He scoops a spoonful of everything in your dish underneath the warm spotlights that shine over your station. Pumpkin pecan truffles… spiced pumpkin roulade…
“Do you mind walking me through this dish?” Chef Taeyong asks. 
“What you have on this side are the truffles… the pumpkin pecan truffles, to be exact. It’s glazed with maple syrup.” You explain before pointing to the sliced pumpkin roulade on the other side of the dish. “And on the other side of the dish is a spiced pumpkin roulade.”
“You seem nervous,” he says softly. 
You let out a shaky laugh. “I am indeed quite nervous, chef.”
“How bad do you want this, Y/N?” He asks. 
“So bad.” You answer simply. “You don’t even know how bad I want this.”
“Let’s see if this dish is enough to earn you a spot in the competition.” He tastes your dish.
You study and observe him as he tastes the hints of pumpkin and pecan, all punched deep with some spice. You fiddle with your fingers nervously. It’s a bad habit of yours. If there’s one thing that you wanted to get out of this audition, it was at least one yes. One yes is enough for you to be satisfied. But oh, how you want this so badly. 
“Wow.” He tilts his head with surprise. It’s almost as if he’s caught off guard. “It’s delicious.”
“R-Really?” You blurt out before shaking your head. “I mean—thank you. Thank you, chef, that means so much to me.”
“It tastes amazing.” He smiles before heading back to his seat. 
You’re starting off strong. You like what’s happening. Two more chefs and your fate will be determined. You hope fate is on your side this time. You know you deserve a break from all of your horrible chances with luck and fate. You deserve this. You’ve worked so hard for it. It would be a huge disappointment if you didn’t earn a spot in the competition. 
Next up is Chef Doyoung, who grabs his spoon and digs into your dish without uttering a single word. Once he’s finished tasting your dish, he folds his arms and raises an eyebrow. “Y/N, are you satisfied with how your dish turned out today?”
“More than satisfied, chef.” You mumble softly, but there’s a hint of a lack of confidence in your voice. You’re sure the chefs could pick up your low self-esteem. Chef Doyoung purses his lips into a tight line.
“Are you a perfectionist?” He asks. 
“I try to be, chef.” You answer.
“Well, perfectionism is one of the best qualities to have as a chef.” He adds. He clasps his hands together and sucks in a deep breath. “I taste a light hint of lemon, but I am immediately kicked with the spices. I could taste the hint of cloves that burst right through the hints of lemon. I think you have a great sense of flavours. You have a great sense of spices. This dish has the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and savoury.”
“Thank you, chef.” You smile, not sure how to contain your happiness. 
“Well done,” he complements you before heading back to his seat. 
Last is Chef Jaehyun, who walks up to your station. Your smile immediately vanishes from your face and is replaced with horror. You’re especially nervous around him. With all the horrible encounters you’ve had with him, you wish he had a poor memory because you wouldn’t want someone like him to remember you. You’re looking everywhere but him. 
“I’m not a fan of sweets and desserts.” He says flat out. You wince. “That should be more than enough to make you nervous.”
“I hope that with this dish, you’ll start to appreciate desserts more, chef.” You mumble softly. It’s just barely above a whisper. You sound like a guilty child admitting fault after being caught lying. But you’re not lying, not at all. You’re just nervous. 
“is this dish going to change my mind? Is this dish going to be enough to change my mind about desserts?” He continues to grill you, and you let your head hang low.
“I just… want to impress you, chef.” More like prove you wrong. 
“I hope this dish doesn’t disappoint me.” His low voice sends shivers down your spine. He takes a spoonful of the cake and the truffle before shoving them into his mouth. 
It feels like it’s just the two of you at that very moment. It doesn’t feel like Chef Taeyong and Chef Doyoung are there. Your entire body feels tense just standing within his line of sight. He folds his arms and looks down at your dish. “It’s good. But it’s not good enough. There’s something that’s lacking in this dish. Do you know what that is?”
“What is it, chef?” You ask. 
“The presentation.” He answers. “Look at how you presented this dish to us. It does not look MasterChef-worthy. The presentation of this dish, I might say, is predictable. The presentation of a dish that you make is something you must pay attention to because if it doesn’t visibly look good, your customers would assume that it doesn’t taste good.”
“I understand, chef.”
“Thank you, Y/N.”
Chef Jaehyun definitely remembers you. Why? Because he loves nitpicking every single lacking detail of your cooking. He truly never changed. He’s still the same cold-hearted, selfish, rude prick. 
The three chefs discuss their decision. You continue to fiddle nervously with your fingers to calm yourself down, to distract you from what’s about to come. You’re so sure that you’re not going to get a spot in the competition, and it’s all going to be because of Chef Jae—
“Y/N?”
“Yes, chef?” You blurt out with surprised, caught off guard eyes. 
“It’s a yes for me,” Chef Taeyong smiles. 
“It’s a no for me,” Chef Jaehyun says. “Simply because you’re lacking in presenting your dishes. I think that is very crucial to becoming a chef. I was not impressed with your dish simply because I’m not a fan of desserts. I was hoping you would change my mind, but I guess it just fell short.”
“I understand, chef. I agree that I could’ve paid more attention to the plating.” You nod your head in agreement. For the first time, you agree with Chef Jaehyun. 
“Now, that leaves the pressure on me.” Chef Doyoung smirks. “If I say no, you won’t have a spot in the competition. But if I say yes, you will advance in the competition, and you will have your own MasterChef apron.”
“You won’t regret giving me a chance, chef. I want this so bad.”
Tension continues to fill the air. Chef Doyoung’s touch gaze softens, and you feel your tense posture relax. He clasps his hands together before saying, “it’s a yes for me. Congratulations, Y/N.”
“Please come up and take your MasterChef apron.” Chef Taeyong gestures for you to come up to the front. 
“Oh my gosh,” you sigh with relief. “I promise I’ll do my best, chef. Thank you so much for taking a huge risk on me.”
As you near the three chef judges, you stand in front of Chef Taeyong, who helps you put your apron on. You smile, taking his hand that he extends out to you to shake. Moving onto Chef Doyoung, you shake his hand, thanking him many times for giving you a chance. Last but not least, your eyes meet Chef Jaehyun. You’ve never been up close to Chef Jaehyun like this. He’s quite handsome, you think to yourself, but it’s also a shame that he’s such a rude, cold-hearted person. He extends his hand out to you for you to shake. When your hands interlock, you can’t help but notice how warm and soft his hands are. The both of you exchange such intense looks. You’re the first one to break away, pulling back your hand. 
“Long time no see. Congratulations, Y/N.”
“Thank you, Chef Jaehyun.”
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THE FOURTH TIME.
On a quest to become MasterChef, you are expected to learn how to work with a team of chefs. The round that awaits you is a team challenge, where you and a couple of other contestants will work together to cook up a full course meal. The team challenge usually occurs after the first mystery box challenge and elimination round. Sitting at the front of the kitchen is a box filled with two different coloured aprons, red and blue. These aprons will split everyone into two teams based on their apron colour. From the corner of your eye, you can see your station mate, Taeil, gawking at the box at the front. 
He turns towards you and whispers, “I hope we’re on the same team.”
You flash him a small smile. “I hope so too.”
Ever since the competition began, you have learned how to become a competitive chef. You’ve also learned how to make connections and new friendships. It’s what you have learned to value the most, especially working in an industry that relies heavily on networking and connections. Two rounds into the competition, you became friends with Taeil simply because he cooked up his dishes right next to you, and, over time, he also looked out for you and helped you with your dishes. He’s completely different from you. You’d like to think that he’s the complete opposite. But somehow, you both work in tune with each other. You wouldn’t have asked for a better station mate. Both of your different personalities shined the most in your cooked dishes. 
“Y/N, please step up to the front and pick your apron for the team challenge.” Chef Jaehyun calls out to you, and your heart beats out of your chest. You share a look with Taeil. 
As you make it to the front of the kitchen, you stick your hand into the black box to pull out a red apron. You avoid eye contact with Chef Jaehyun like you always do, but you could still feel his burning gaze. You always feel insecure and nervous around him. How embarrassing it must seem to him. 
“Taeil, your turn has arrived. Come up and pick your apron.” Chef Taeyong smiles. 
You wish Chef Jaehyun was like Chef Taeyong. Nice… sweet… genuine. He genuinely wanted every contestant to be successful, whether it be in their dishes or their confidence. You wish Chef Jaehyun would forget about all the horrible encounters you’ve had with him. You wish Chef Jaehyun would break out of his shell and turn his cold personality into a personality similar to his co-chef.
When Taeil arrives at the front and sticks his hand into the box, he pulls out not a red apron but… a blue one. The both of you share looks, and a pout can’t help but form across your lips. Chef Jaehyun notices your slight pout, and you immediately let it drop from your face. Taeil returns to his station, and you begin to overthink. Who are you going to work with? You’ve only become acquaintances with the rest of the contestants. Taeil is the only contestant you’ve become close to and the only contestant you consider a good friend. He’s the only contestant you see having a friendship with even after the competition ends. 
After all the contestants have been called up to choose their team, the chef judges have you gather together. You and Taeil wave goodbye as you both part to your own assigned teams, you with the red team and him with the blue team. As you walk over to your team, you can’t help but notice how you’re the only woman. Your teammates are Junhwa, Jay, Mason, and Euntae.
“Today’s challenge will be quite different because you’re all expected to work together as a team with your teammates.” Chef Doyoung announces. “For today’s team challenge, we will be headed to the beach to cater for a wedding.”
Your head shoots up. You’re doomed. You know that your team is done for even before the team challenge begins. Junhwa was just saved from the elimination test the other day because he had messed up his dish for the mystery box challenge. Jay hasn’t been up to par with his dishes and has yet to cook up his best dish in the competition. Like Junhwa, Mason had messed up his dish for the mystery box challenge but was saved from the elimination test by Chef Doyoung. Euntae, however, is the only one on the team that’s been performing well in the competition. But as for you… you’re not sure where you stand in this competition. 
“Let’s all head to the location and we’ll explain more about the team challenge.”
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It’s the perfect day to have a wedding on the beach. The wind currents aren’t strong, but they bring a light warm breeze. The wedding takes place on a weekday which explains the small number of people hanging out at the beach. When you all arrive at the beach, the first thing you spot is two different cooking stations, differentiated by your respective team colours. You draw in a deep breath. This is going to be a long day. 
“Everyone, please gather around as we begin today’s challenge.”
Everyone gathers around the three young world-renowned chefs following the producer's command. You can see Chef Jaehyun staring right at you from the corner of your eye. He’s drilling two holes through the side of your head. It’s almost as if he’s praying and manifesting for you to mess up in the team challenge. You wouldn’t be surprised if you mess up and his prayers and manifestations were served right to him on a golden platter because his intensity and strive for perfection always cause you to do so. 
“Today, you will be cooking up a three-course meal for wedding guests at the beach. The couple that will be wedded later on today has laid out their menu and their expectations.” Chef Doyoung explains. 
You have learned one thing so far; never have a team of aspiring chefs competing in competition be in charge of cooking and serving your guests’ food. Why? Because there’s huge room for failure. Food poisoning? Traumatizing. Undercooked food? Horrifying. You wouldn’t imagine getting married and having scared chefs-in-the-making cater to your guests at the reception. To you, it sounded like a nightmare waiting to unfold right before your two eyes. And here you are now, living out that nightmare in disguise. 
“The menu consists of cranberry and brie bites for the appetizer, roasted pork loin on wild mushroom risotto for the main course, and a spiced carrot cake for the dessert.” Chef Taeyong reads off the menu that the wedding couple has put together for their guests. 
You hold in a sigh of relief. You think you could handle doing the appetizer and dessert. Baking is your expertise. It’s something your mother loved doing the most. Baking up a dessert can be daunting and taxing, but once you’ve mastered the basics, everything you pop into the oven will come out beautifully. You’ve spent most of your childhood sitting in the kitchen helping her make the desserts. You’ve spent most of your childhood sitting in the kitchen and breathing in the aroma of sweet desserts. 
You just hope that your team leader assigns you the appetizer or dessert. If not… you’re not sure how you’re going to put up a good performance. Will you be eliminated? Is this going to put you at risk for elimination? 
“Have you all picked a team leader?” Chef Jaehyun asks. 
On the blue team, Taeil raises his hand. You smile. Taeil is quite the introvert, but you know that he’ll be able to bring his team together and make the most out of it. On your team, Euntae raises his hand. It was predetermined that he would be the team leader mainly because he’s the only one who’s been doing well in the competition. 
“Taeil for team red and Euntae for team blue.” Chef Jaehyun notes it down on his notepad. “Alright. Let’s have you go over to your stations to start prepping for the service.”
“You will have one hour and thirty minutes to complete your three-course meal.” Chef Doyoung announces. 
“Please use your time wisely because regardless of whether your dishes are done, they will be served to the guests.” Chef Taeyong warns you. Everyone falls silent. “Your two goals are one, to make sure that there is food on the table for every single guest and two, that the food you serve has been cooked to perfection.” 
“Yes, chef.” Everyone says in unison.
“Alright. Get ready because your time starts in three…”
“Two…”
“One…”
“Go!”
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Thankfully, you’ve been assigned to work on the spiced carrot cake. Euntae and Jay will work on the roasted pork loin on wild mushroom risotto. Euntae will work specifically on the roasted pork loin, and Jay will work specifically on the wild mushroom risotto. Mason and Junhwa will work together on the cranberry and brie bites. It’s been about twenty minutes since the timer started, and you’re almost done mixing the batter for the cake. You’ve added carrot bits and slices in the cake batter to make the carrot stand out when someone takes a slice out of it. You’re also planning on making a cream cheese frosting to drizzle on top of the cake. 
“Y/N, make sure you don’t go off track with the cake, alright? I know you’re excited, but we don’t have much time left.” Euntae commands, and you nod your head.
Euntae is such a perfectionist. It’s been obvious since the start of the competition. He’s been winning almost every challenge. If he wasn’t the winner of the challenge, he would most likely be second. Carrying your team must be difficult for him because most of his teammates have been performing poorly. 
“Yes, I’ll work faster.” 
“And make sure you follow the demo recipe.” He adds. “I don’t want you making something completely different from what we’re asked to do.”
You like to think of your dishes as an experiment. Most of the time, you depend heavily on your sense of taste and extensive knowledge of spices. Thus, this results in you neglecting recipe books and instructions. You like experimenting in your cooking because there’s a thrill when something turns out delicious. There’s a sense of excitement and surprise when two unlikely ingredients somehow pair well with each other. 
Euntae probably notices your experimental way of approaching your dishes. He doesn’t want you to fuck everything up. You can’t blame him for playing it safe. You would do the same thing. 
“This look different to you?” You ask, pointing to your cake batter.
He dips his fingers into the batter and tastes it. “Put more clove. I don’t taste the kick. I thought spices were your thing?”
You purse your lips into a tight line. He looks taken aback by your confused gaze. If there was one thing you wish you could change about yourself, it’s how you are easily readable through your facial expressions. Your emotions are easy to detect because they’re spread across your entire face. Knitted or raised eyebrows, jutted chin, pouty lips, you’re very expressive with your emotions. 
“It is. I did put in clove. Is it not enough?” You dip your finger into the batter to taste it yourself. Indeed, you taste the kick. Your gut tells you not to add any more of the spices because it will be too spicy for the guests if you add more. “I don’t think we should add more. I think it’s enough—”
“I don’t taste the spices, Y/N—”
“Well, I do—”
“But I’m the team leader, right?” He reminds you. You clamp your mouth shut. Where is all of this coming from? How could he talk to you like this? You could feel your gaze hardening at him. “Do you want me to save you a spot in the competition? You do, right? So follow what I tell you to do, and everything will be fine.”
You squint your eyes at him before shaking your head. “No way. I’m not letting you sabotage my cake.”
“And I am not letting you bring the entire team down. We cannot afford to lose.” Jay butts in as he shoves you aside to place a pan on the stove. You almost stumble back, and you’re on the verge of tears. 
“Ugh, this is ridiculous.” You mutter to yourself, grabbing your bowl of cake batter and moving to a different table in your station to work. You’re standing alone as the rest of your team gathers together to talk about how they will prepare the dishes. You feel left out. You feel like an outcast. You wish you were on Taeil’s team. 
You feel like this is planned. 
You feel like they’re planning to sabotage you. 
“Y/N?” Chef Doyoung calls out to you. 
You look over your shoulder to see him waving you over. You dust your hands off before heading up to him. You don’t know that Euntae walks over to your bowl of cake batter and puts in a couple of more teaspoons of clove and cinnamon behind your back. He adds a bit more than what is required. Chef Doyoung folds his arms at you. 
“Yes, chef?” You mumble. 
“Why aren’t you being included in your team?” He asks. He noticed, and that’s all that matters to you. 
You shrug your shoulders. “I’m not quite sure, chef. We have different opinions on how we should make the spiced carrot cake. Euntae thinks there’s not enough spice, while I think there’s more than enough.
“Trust your gut. But you should also keep in mind that this is a team challenge. You’re all supposed to work together as a team.” He reminds you. “I’ll let you get back to work.”
“Thank you, chef.”
Suddenly, Chef Jaehyun yells out. “Your spiced carrot cakes should be in the oven right now or will be undercooked!”
Upon returning to your station, you grab your bowl of cake batter to pour it into a baking pan. Hurriedly, you place it into the preheated oven. You do not want to mess this up. You can’t mess this up. If your team fails the challenge, you are at risk of being eliminated. 
You can’t afford to lose the competition. 
You can’t go home. 
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You’re not surprised that the cranberry and brie bites were almost burnt out of the oven. You’re not surprised that your two teammates were running behind on time with the roasted pork loin and wild mushroom risotto. At this point, you wouldn’t be surprised if your team were unable to put out your dishes on time. 
When you pull out the tray of cranberry and brie bites, you place them on the table. One by one, you place the burnt ones aside and the good ones on the serving trays. Standing behind you, Mason and Junhwa continue to panic, not even bothering to help you save their dish that they’ve been assigned to do. 
“Y/N, what are you doing?” You feel yourself stiffen. Chef Jaehyun stands next to you and looks at the burnt and unburnt cranberry and brie bites. He clicks his tongue and lets out a frustrated sigh. “Were you the one assigned to do the bites?”
You shake your head. “No, chef.”
“Who was assigned for the cranberry and brie bites?” He asks your teammates. 
“Us, chef.” Mason answers. 
Chef Jaehyun points at you while looking at Mason. “And why is Y/N taking over your task?”
“Because she likes getting into everyone’s business—” You hear Euntae mutter underneath his breath. You’ve confirmed it: Euntae is plotting your elimination. He hates you. 
“She said she would help us salvage some of the cranberry and brie bites for the guests. She’s picking it out for us while we make another batch.” Junhwa explains. 
“And you’re both just standing there and watching her?” Chef Jaehyun furrows his eyebrows with anger. “Where’s your team leader?”
“Here, chef.” Euntae walks over. 
“Where is the direction, Euntae?” Chef Jaehyun frowns. You could see steam coming out of Chef Jaehyun’s nostrils. “Your teammates are lost. They’re panicking, and you’re just standing in front of your pan doing your own thing. You’re in your own little world, Euntae. It’s time to wake up.”
“Excuse me, I have to take out the carrot cake.” You mumble softly as you excuse yourself to head to the oven. You take a quick peek before putting on your oven mittens to take the cake pans out. 
It comes out beautifully. They’ve baked and risen to perfection. You can smell the strong aroma of spices. Hidden within the sponge cake are the grated bites of carrot, giving it a beautiful orange colour. From your periphery, you see Chef Jaehyun walking over to you. You hold in your breath. 
“Can I have a taste of the cake?” He asks. 
You slowly nodded your head. “Yes, chef.”
Chef Jaehyun digs into the cake with a small teaspoon while your teammates gather around to watch. He winces, and you wish you could disappear. You’ve noticed that he always winces and grimaces with disappointment whenever you mess up. It’s like you could tell what’s about to come before it even happens. 
“You were in charge of the cake, right, Y/N?” 
“Yes, chef.” You mumble. 
Clatter. He tosses the teaspoon onto the table and frustratingly runs a hand through his hair. “You can’t serve that. It’s too spicy. You’ve put too much clove and cinnamon.”
You look at him confusedly. Completely flabbergasted, you take a bite from the cake yourself and indeed, it’s too spicy. It’s overpowering the sweetness of the carrot and sugar. But wait—you never added any more clove or cinnamon. 
“You can’t serve this. This entire team is set up for failure. You cannot save yourselves from this challenge. Take off your aprons. You don’t have any more time to send out any dishes. You’ve completely failed the team challenge.”
You glance at Euntae, who avoids your gaze. He turns around and walks back to his pork loin and mushroom risotto pan. He tosses the pans into the sink out of frustration and anger. 
Euntae sabotaged you.
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At the end of the team challenge, you and your teammates find yourselves standing in front of the three disappointed chefs. You’re too ashamed of yourself to look at them. You distract yourself by fiddling with your fingers. You were thinking of all the ‘what if’s’. What if you were on the blue team? What if you paid more attention to your teammates that were plotting your failure? What if you worked harder? What if—
“As you are all aware of what happened today, your team lost the challenge. This only means that not one, not two, but four of you will be eliminated from the competition.” Chef Doyoung says. 
“But first, we are going to tell you what you did wrong and where you all went wrong.” Chef Taeyong frowns, “as a team.”
“The first thing that went wrong were the cranberry and brie bites. They were overcooked to the point that they were burnt. You had only realized that they were burnt when you took them out of the oven too late, leaving you no time to make another batch.” Chef Doyoung explains. 
“We are aware of that, chef.” Mason and Junhwa speak in unison. 
“The second thing that went wrong was the spiced carrot cake. I was surprised that Y/N put too much clove and cinnamon into the batter. From your audition, Y/N, you had a good sense of the spices, so I figured this task wouldn’t be difficult to do.” Chef Taeyong outlines the second mistake of the team. 
“The third thing that went wrong had completely gone over our heads.” Chef Jaehyun begins. “We were wondering why out of all the dishes you were assigned, the roasted pork loin and mushroom risotto turned out fine.”
“It was because we—” Euntae begins.
“It was because you wanted to sabotage your own teammates. Am I right, Euntae?” Chef Jaehyun catches him red-handed. “Don’t try to lie to us. Don’t you dare try to lie to me because I saw it myself.”
“I did not sabotage any of my teammates—”
“Y/N, you know why your spiced carrot cake was too spicy?” Chef Jaehyun asks you. 
You courageously look into his eyes. “Why, chef?”
“Because your own teammate, Euntae, sabotaged your cake and added three tablespoons more of clove and cinnamon, which is way more than what we asked for in our demo.” Chef Jaehyun reveals. “I saw it happen right before my eyes. Euntae, if you were going to sabotage your teammate, you should’ve made sure that none of us chef judges would see it.”
“Chef, I—Y/N has always been doing her own thing in the competition, and I didn’t want her to sabotage our team by doing things the way she wants to,” Euntae explains. 
“You’re supposed to work together as a team.” Chef Taeyong shakes his head in disbelief. “Did you plan this all out so that Y/N would be eliminated from the competition? Don’t lie to us because I overheard you planning this out with the rest of your teammates.”
“I—”
“Okay. That’s enough.” Chef Doyoung raises up his hand to shut him up. “We have made up our minds on who will be leaving the competition.”
“The first contestant that will be saying goodbye is…”
You clench your eyes shut as you wait for your name to be called out. You hate everything that’s happening right now. You’ve never been so careless. Now, you pay the consequences. 
“Jay. Please say goodbye to your teammates.”
You feel your heart drop. 
“The second contestant that will be saying goodbye is…”
Your heartbeat begins to pick up its pace once again. Once your name is called out, you’re going to have to pack your things and head back home. 
“Junhwa. Please say goodbye to your teammates.”
You hold in your breath. 
“That leaves Y/N, Euntae, and Mason.”
You close your eyes again, praying that your name wouldn’t be called out. You’re already thinking about what you would say to your father if you’re eliminated from the competition. 
“Y/N, please say goodbye to your teammates…”
Your eyes flutter open. This is it. You’re officially eliminated from the competition. You shake hands with your two teammates who have completely sabotaged you. You’re keeping yourself together. You’re holding yourself back from bursting out into anger. 
“Because you will advance to the next round of the competition. Euntae and Mason, you are both eliminated from MasterChef, please take off your aprons.” 
Your heart stops. Wait.
“Wait, what?” You look at the chefs in shock.
“Y/N, you are the only one that will stay in the competition.” Chef Taeyong smiles. 
“It was a tough decision.” Chef Doyoung adds. 
“But we do not tolerate cheaters in this competition. You are innocent and had no bad intentions, Y/N, which is why you are safe from elimination.” Chef Jaehyun confirms everything for you. “But that does not mean you are safe from the remainder of the competition. What this means is that we will all be putting more pressure on you to be the best chef you say you are.”
“I will do my best, chef. I am confident that I will win MasterChef.” 
Chef Jaehyun purses his lips into a tight line. 
You feel your blood run cold. 
“Don’t make us regret choosing to save you from elimination.”
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THE FIFTH TIME.
“Don’t make us regret choosing to save you from elimination.”
The pressure is all on you. Chef Jaehyun’s voice echoes throughout your head the entire hour that you’re granted to create a dish. In this round, all of the contestants are given a mystery box filled with random ingredients. In your mystery box, you were given beetroot, beef tenderloin, and blackberries. They are three completely different ingredients that you’re not quite sure will mesh well together. 
Five minutes before the timer started, you decided to make beef tenderloin with roasted beetroot, all covered by a blackberry sauce. And now here you are, thirty minutes in, and you just hope that your dish turns out well. 
“Hi, Y/N.” 
“Hi, Chef Jaehyun.” You mumble softly, checking up on your beef tenderloin to see if it’s being cooked correctly on the skillet pan. You’re hoping to cook the tenderloin medium-rare to keep the monochrome colour of your dish. 
“What are you making for us today?” He asks. 
He’s distracting you. Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s breaking your focus. You clear your throat as you answer, “beef tenderloin with beetroot, all covered by a blackberry sauce.”
“Are you sure this is going to work out well? It seems quite… difficult to pull off.” He grabs a spoon and digs into the blackberry sauce that you have boiling in a saucepan. He tastes it and steps back, tilting his head as he loses himself in thought. “Interesting. You’re truly making this difficult for us, huh?”
What is he trying to say? You bite your lip, pretending to ignore him. “It should work out well. It is a mystery box challenge, after all. I’ve been given three ingredients that you never truly see together in a dish, but here we are.”
“The blackberry sauce is perfect. But regarding whether this blackberry sauce will complement your beef tenderloin and beetroot… you’ll have to prove that to us.” He gently places his spoon into your sink and moves on to the next contestant.
“You have fifteen minutes left! In about five minutes, you should all be plating your food!”
You turn off the stove to cool down your blackberry sauce. With fifteen minutes left, you need at least five minutes to let the beef tenderloin rest. You’re still not sure if it’s cooked medium-rare. It’s a risk you’re willing to take. You take the skillet pan off of the stove and transfer the beef tenderloin onto a wire rack for it to rest. As for your beetroot, you take each slice out to begin plating them.
“I’m not going to lie, that looks incredible, Y/N.” Taeil compliments you. You almost jump in surprise. You’ve been so focused on making sure you do well in this challenge that you forgot about Taeil. As you glance at him, he lets out a low chuckle. “Sorry for scaring you. I’ll shut up now.”
“Thanks, Y/N. I just hope it’s edible.” You crack a joke to ease your nervousness. He snorts.
“I’m sure it’s edible. You’ve made it this far, Y/N. You should give yourself more credit for your hard work.” He reassures you.
One minute left on the timer, and you’re placing the beef tenderloin right in between two slices of beetroot. To complete your dish, you drizzle blackberry sauce all over the dish. To amplify your dish even further, you take a couple of blackberries and scatter them across your dish. Overall, your dish is a dark magenta colour. Monochromatic. 
“Five…”
“Four…”
“Three… Two…”
“One! Time’s up!”
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“Y/N, please bring up your dish.”
With shaky hands, you grab your plate and head up to the front. You place your dish down onto the table that stands right in front of the chef judges. Each one of them looks surprised to see what you have presented to them. Chef Doyoung is the first one to take a bite. He steps forward and grabs a knife and fork, slicing himself a bit of beetroot before poking at the beef tenderloin.
“How did you cook the beef tenderloin?” He asks.
You bite your lip. “I was hoping to cook it medium-rare. But I didn’t have enough time to let it rest, so I’m not quite sure if it turned out that way.”
“Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” He insists. You slowly nod your head. Standing behind him, you can see Chef Jaehyun standing on his tiptoes to get a look at the tenderloin. As Chef Doyoung slices through the tenderloin and you sigh with relief. “It’s perfect. You doubt yourself a bit too much, Y/N. The tenderloin is indeed medium-rare.”
“Thank goodness.” You let out another sigh of relief.
He takes a bite. As he chews, you study him and wait for his reaction. When he finishes eating, he clasps his hands together and breaks out into a smile. “I think it’s quite delicious. I would definitely serve something like this in my restaurant.”
“Really? Oh wow… thank you, chef.” You beam.
“Blackberries, beef tenderloin, and beetroot. These three ingredients seem hard to cook together, but you balance them beautifully. The plating is amazing. You’ve improved your plating skills since the start of the competition. Overall, this dish is my favourite.” He places his cutlery down and flashes you one last smile. He heads back to stand next to Chef Taeyong, who’s the next one to step forward and taste your dish.
“First off, the dish looks lovely. I love the monochrome theme you have going on here. It amplifies your dish. But as for the taste, we shall find out.” Chef Taeyong takes a bite of the beetroot and tenderloin, making sure he dips it in the blackberry sauce. He tilts his head and lets out a chuckle. “That’s… amazing. You truly have a great sense of your spices. I wouldn’t even have thought of making a dish like this with these three ingredients. Well done, Y/N. You continue to perform well in this competition. I also see Chef Doyoung serving something like this at his restaurant.”
“Thank you, chef.” You hold in a happy sigh.
Next up is Chef Jaehyun, who barely waits for Chef Taeyong to step aside for him. He quirks an eyebrow at you before digging into your dish. “After we spoke earlier, I wondered how you could pull off a sour blackberry sauce with savoury beef tenderloin and beetroot. They are two unlikely tastes that should not be paired together.”
“It is a mystery box, so I just tried to work with what I was given. I hope it tastes good for you, Chef Jaehyun.” You avoid his eyes. But you could see him trying to look into them.
He takes a bite. He chews and swallows. He places his cutlery down and purses his lips into a tight line. “I’m going to be quite honest. I don’t like it. The sour blackberry sauce completely overpowers the savoury tenderloin and beetroot. However, I could definitely see why others may like it. This dish is catered for people with a specific palette. I’m not one of those people. The plating looks beautiful, however.”
“Thank you, chef.” You whisper.
“As I’ve said time and time again,” he says sternly, “you are making this extremely difficult for us, Y/N. You need to step up to the plate. I know you can do it. You have the tools and the talents to do it. You just need to use them.”
As he turns his back to you, you can feel your eyes well up with tears. Throughout this entire competition, you’ve learned that you not only want to win it, but you want to prove Chef Jaehyun wrong. He’s ignited a fire within you, a burning passion. His brutal honesty truly gets the best of you. 
If you can’t prove him wrong, what’s the point of continuing your journey?
He’s a world-renowned chef. He knows what tastes good and what doesn’t. He knows whether a chef will be successful in the field. He knows everything about the cooking and food industry. If he thinks you’re not fit enough, then maybe you’re truly not fit to be a chef.
You’ve already tried to step up to the plate, but he thinks it’s not enough.
You’ve already used all of your tools and talents, but he thinks it’s not enough.
You’re not enough.
What is considered enough?
He looks over his shoulder, and you hear him mutter.
“We saved you from elimination. You must prove to us that saving you was the best decision. You must prove to us that you are more worthy of winning than your teammates that were eliminated. Remember that.”
A tear almost slips from your eye.
You give up.
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THE ONE TIME YOU PROVE HIM WRONG.
“I have come to the decision to withdraw from the competition.”
“If that’s your decision, then so be it. We regret seeing you go. Thank you for showing us your talent. You may go and pack your things because your journey at MasterChef ends here.”
Upon entering the huge kitchen, you head towards the light switches to turn on the spotlight for your workstation. The kitchen has never been so quiet nor has it been so peaceful. You feel your feet being glued to the ground, almost as if they’re keeping you from leaving. When you were a kid, you loved ditching your homework to spend time with your mother in the kitchen. You would even take a stool from the dining room to place it right next to her to have a full view of how she cooked your meals. Your home kitchen was your safe haven, your safe space, where you could truly be yourself. It was what brought you closer to your mother. It was what reminded you of your mother. 
But you had no choice. You force yourself, trudging your way towards your station to pack up all of your utensils. From cooking knives to ladles, you packed them away in a moving box. From your favorite fine China dishes to your custom-made chopsticks, you admired them one last time underneath the spotlight before tucking them away. You turn on the sink to dampen your towel. You wipe down your station one last time before wringing the towel out. Letting out a sigh, you wipe the beads of sweat that are forming on your forehead. This is it. Your journey at MasterChef ends here—
“What on earth are you doing?”
Looking up from your counter, you spot Jaehyun walking along the front of the space. He’s the last person you want to see. He’s the last person you want to talk to, especially right now. He has his hands tucked into his pockets as he makes his way towards you.
“I’m packing up my things.” You answer simply with a blank face.
“Why are you packing up your things? The competition isn’t over yet.” He finally makes it to your counter. Underneath the spotlight, he notices how bloodshot red your eyes are. You’ve cried all night over this competition and it brought you to your decision of withdrawing.
“The competition isn’t over yet for my fellow contestants,” you begin, “but the competition is over for me.”
“I’m not sure if I understand what you’re saying—”
“I’ve withdrawn from the competition.” You make it make sense for him. Jaehyun takes a couple of seconds for your words to sink in. Once he’s processes your words, his eyebrows furrow in confusion and frustration. 
“What?” He blurts out. “W-Why?”
You grow confused. That’s his reaction? “Shouldn’t you be happy that I’m leaving the competition? It’s one less thing to worry about, right? Your decision in choosing chefs to advance to the next round won’t be hard anymore because I’m leaving. Everything will be better without me—”
“Why would I be happy over a contestant’s voluntary withdrawal from the competition?” He cuts you off. 
You fall silent. Suddenly, you have no energy trying to defend yourself. With everything piling up, you’ve decided to give up. Everything that has happened to you in the past has led you to this moment. From spilling wine all over Jaehyun’s drink to messing up Jaehyun’s dish at your internship in Florence to your time here at MasterChef, it has brought you to the conclusion that maybe Jaehyun was right: you’re not fit or qualified enough to be a chef. 
“In a competition, you should not associate your emotions with your overall performance. Whatever you create here in the kitchen is what we judge.” He says sternly with his hands placed on top of the marble of your countertop. “You and I are both aware that this is a competition. You are aware that your performance and the dishes you create are going to be commented on by judges. But as judges, we make those comments, good or bad, are to help you improve.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t feel like comments to me. I don’t feel like you’re helping me improve. I feel stuck with no direction given. I just feel like you have this predisposed idea of who I am after all those negative encounters we’ve had in the past which is why you treat me like this.” You finally get it off of your chest. You feel extremely vulnerable in front of Jaehyun. All of your emotions that you’ve held in for so long are beginning to hit the surface. “And this is why I’ve decided to do everyone all a favor and withdraw.”
He pushes himself off of the countertop and holds in a sigh. You let your head hang low. His eyes land on the cardboard box sitting on the floor. It’s filled with all of your cooking utensils. He sees an old washed out apron sitting right on top of all the pans and dishes. Stitched right near the upper corner of the apron is a name. It’s not your name, but your mother’s name. The apron has been through a lot. It’s been through  a lot of washes. It’s been through a lot of spills. But you have never once thought of throwing it out because it was the only thing you had left of your mother. Aside from all the memories you have of and with her, of course. 
“Well, withdrawing from the competition means that you’re aware that you have no confidence in yourself.” 
“I hope you’re hearing yourself right now.” You mutter softly.
“Do you really think you’re not fit to be a chef?” He questions. 
“Well, you sure make me feel like it—” You scoff. 
“Cook me your best dish, then. If I think it’s horrible, then maybe withdrawing is the best decision.”
“I thought you’ve already made it clear that I’m not fit or qualified enough to be a chef—”
“You have sixty minutes.”
“Chef—”
“Your time starts now.”
Before you could protest, Jaehyun turns his back towards you and walks away. You’re trying so hard not to burst out into flames. The urgency to flip him off makes your blood boil. As he takes his seat at the front behind the judges’ table, you bend down to finish packing up your things. Jaehyun seems to pick up that you’re not taking up the challenge. 
“You claim that I was discouraging you this entire competition. You said that you have potential. You want to prove me wrong, right?”
You stop in your tracks. You sure do. You want to prove Jaehyun wrong so badly. With a burning passion. When he sees that you’ve stopped, he knows that he’s slowly changing your mind. 
“This is your chance to prove me wrong. Prove to me that you deserve to stay in this competition.”
You will yourself back up, fiery eyes meeting him. He knows that he’s turned the gears in your head. After you’ve given it much thought, you decided that if you were going to withdraw from the competition, you might as well show him what kind of aspiring chef they’re going to regret letting go of. You guess it was a pride thing. But you’ve never wanted to prove Jeong Jaehyun wrong so badly until now.
Jaehyun stares at you as you walk away from your station and into the large pantry with all the fresh ingredients. A smirk slowly begins to spread across his lips. You’re grabbing many ingredients from the pantry. There are some questionable pairs but ever since the start of the competition, you’ve always been experimental with your dishes. Surprisingly, they always turn out delicious no matter how ambiguous the ingredients are relative to each other. You finally return to your workstation to begin cooking your dish.
“Fifty-five minutes left,” he yells out to you.
You slightly jump. It’s just the two of you in the kitchen. If you were quite honest, it felt a bit intimate. But you felt a lot of pressure on your shoulders. Here you are, cooking for a world-renowned chef, after voluntarily withdrawing from a competition that he judges for. Here you are, cooking for a world-renowned chef who asked you to cook him a dish to prove him wrong. 
A deconstructed pie. That is what you have in mind.
There are two ingredients that you’ve never paired together before; grapefruit and basil. You’re planning on making a deconstructed raspberry and basil pie. The pie will consist of basil jelly and grapefruit curd, topping it all off with Italian meringue. 
“What are you making?” Jaehyun asks when he walks up to your station.
“A pie.”
“In an hour?” Jaehyun questions. You slowly nod your head, trying to keep yourself focused on your work. “Pies usually take more than one hour to make.”
“It’s going to be a deconstructed pie. Grapefruit and basil. Instead of using the crust, I’ll be using graham cracker crumbles.” You explain while juicing your grapefruits. 
“Grapefruit and basil? Don’t you think that those two together would be a bit… risky?” 
You shake your head. “Basil goes well with lots of fruits. I wouldn’t be surprised if basil went well with grapefruit.”
“I’ve tried a grapefruit and basil pie once. I don’t remember where, but it was delicious. I have high expectations for this. Yours will be the second grapefruit and basil pie that I have ever had in my entire life.” He comments. What a way to put the pressure on you. You don’t say anything. “Alright, then I guess—”
“You’re distracting me.” You cut him off. “Do you mind going back to the front and sitting there while I continue doing whatever it is that I need to do?”
“Sassy,” he grins. “Fine. I’ll be up at the front. You have forty-five minutes left.”
Forty-five minutes left to prove yourself. At this point, you’re not trying to prove you are worthy of staying in the competition. You’re trying to prove that you are nothing what Jaehyun thinks of you. You’re trying to prove Jaehyun that you are fit and qualified enough to be a chef and that this is made for you. It is something you love doing. It is your passion.
Jaehyun plops his butt down onto his seat and watches you cook up your dish. You’re making grapefruit zest while making sure the grapefruit curd isn’t being overcooked. He finds himself staring at you with awe. 
When Jaehyun met you for the first time, he didn’t like you. You ruined his shirt. His favorite shirt. But another reason why he didn’t like you was because you didn’t look confident enough. When Jaehyun met you for the first time, you were hiding behind the executive chef, too humiliated by your own actions. He saw right through you at that moment. You had an inferiority complex. You were not confident enough in yourself. You were shy. You always doubted yourself. But when his eyes met yours, he saw a fire ignite within them. 
When Jaehyun met you for the second time, you weren’t a waitress. You were a line cook. A culinary intern. You ruined his dish. When Jaehyun met you for the second time, he still didn’t like you. It was because after all the months that have passed by, you still don’t look confident enough in yourself. It made him uneasy. But the only difference that time around is that although he still didn’t like you, he knew that eventually, he would, because he saw potential. Leaving the restaurant that day after tasting your subpar dish made him uneasy, knowing that he could’ve done something to lift your spirits up. He knew that he had to do something to make you learn how to be confident in your cooking because that was the first step to making perfect dishes. If you were confident to cook, your dishes would reflect it. When Jaehyun met you for the second time, he realized that he didn’t like you because you reminded him of himself.
When Jaehyun met you for the third time, you were taking a chance at MasterChef. It was a year since the last time he saw you. On your first and second encounters with Jaehyun, the both of you were in Florence. But the third time, the both of you are in Seoul. It almost seemed fated. When Jaehyun boarded the plane in Florence going back to Seoul, he couldn’t get you off his mind. What if he tried to lift you up? What was it that he could’ve done to encourage you? He regretted being cold to you. He knew that if he had just been a bit nicer, a bit more sincere, it would’ve further ignited the flame that was already lit within you. It was like the heavens had heard him and sent you to him for a third time. 
He knew this was his third and final chance to make things right.
“Twenty minutes!” He yells.
“I heard you loud and clear, geez.” You place a hand over your heart as you continue your work. 
You’re working on your Italian meringue. It was something you learned how to do while you were doing your culinary internship in Florence. Making Italian meringue is completely different from making regular meringue. It requires more precision and accuracy. It requires more attention to detail. If you mess up the meringue, you’re practically messing up the entire dish. 
You don’t want that happening. That’s the last thing you want.
While you’re waiting for the sugar water to boil at an ideal temperature, you’re beginning to plate your dish. Gently and slowly, you place a layer of grapefruit curd at the bottom of the bowl. It acts almost like a bed for the basil jelly and Italian meringue. At perfect timing, the sugar water has reached its ideal temperature and you immediately take it off of the stove. You walk over to your stand mixer, turning it on and gradually pouring in the sugar mixture into the egg whites. The egg whites slowly turn into a beautiful meringue. Sweet. Fluffy. Almost like marshmallows. Once you’ve poured the entire sugar mixture, you continue to mix the meringue until the bottom of the bowl runs cold to the touch. 
“Fifteen minutes!” 
Jaehyun waits for you to say something but nothing comes out. He checks up on you and realizes you’re too focused on placing the meringue into a piping bag. He never knew how pretty someone could look under the harsh light of the stage kitchen. The brightness only highlighted your features that were solely focused on creating the perfect deconstructed pie. 
This was a first for Jaehyun—being mesmerized by a contestant under his wing. And as his heart caught on fire, much like the gas stove he used to use when he learned to cook all those years ago, Jaehyun also hoped it would be the last.
Having the chance to see you again is definitely a chance given by fate. The idea that you could be gone from the competition out of your own will absolutely terrifies him. It’s the last thing he wants. He wants you to realize how much talent you have. He wants you to realize that you have a lot of potential. He wants to be close to you. He wants to get to know you more. He’s only been able to do that through your dishes. Lately, it’s been hard to look directly into your eyes because it makes him grow nervous. While you’re the only contestant that’s around his age, he’s never felt more connected to someone until he met you. You most likely feel the complete opposite of him, but this is because he has the tendency to push people away. He pushes you away because he’s scared that once he screws up this chance to make things right, he might not forgive himself. It’ll be all his fault.
“Ten minutes!”
You’re piping the Italian meringue onto the bed of grapefruit curd. After that, you’re slicing up the basil jelly into small cubes. You place the basil jelly cubes on top of the grapefruit curd along the Italian meringue. Lastly, you’re grabbing a handful of graham crumbles and scattering them carefully on top of the Italian meringue, basil jelly cubes, and the grapefruit curd. Your deconstructed pie is almost done. You rummage through the drawers to find a torch. You light the torch on to slightly toast the Italian meringue. You don’t want it to burn, you want a nice toast on the top. 
“Five minutes!”
You fix up your dish one last time with roughly four minutes to spare. You slowly head up to the front of the kitchen with your deconstructed pie. Jaehyun meets your gaze and he smiles. Oh, how you wish you could wipe that smile off of his face. Placing the dish right in front of him, you step back for him to taste it.
“Do you mind going through how you prepared this dish?” Jaehyun asks as he opens one of the drawers to pull out a spoon.
You clear your throat. “It is a deconstructed grapefruit and basil pie. It consists of grapefruit curd as a bed layer with basil jelly, graham crumbles, and Italian meringue.”
“Why did you choose to make Italian meringue instead of the usual meringue?” He asks.
“I chose to use Italian meringue for this dish because Italian meringue has a more marshmallowy, soft, fluffy consistency in comparison to ordinary meringue.” You explain. “I think the soft, fluffy texture of Italian meringue fits perfectly with the creamy grapefruit curd and basil jelly.”
“I’m going to take a spoonful of everything.” Jaehyun begins as he scoops a little bit of grapefruit curd mixed with graham crumbles, a single basil jelly, and a single Italian meringue. The both of you meet eyes and he puts the spoon into his mouth. 
As he’s taking a moment to savor the flavors, you let your head hang low. You’re expecting him to let out a frustrated sigh. You’re expecting him to come up with the rudest comment on your dish. It’s horrible. It tastes horrible. You’re waiting for those words to come out of his mouth—
“It’s… delicious.” 
Your head shoots up. He digs in for another spoonful of your deconstructed pie. “Sorry… what?”
“I said,” he says, “it’s delicious.”
You let out a breathless laugh. Were you hearing things right? Jaehyun quirks an eyebrow at you and you straighten up your posture. “Sorry, I just—this is the first time I’ve ever heard something nice coming from you.”
“It not only tastes delicious but it tastes familiar.” He mumbles softly. “It reminds me of this diner my parents used to take me to after basketball practice. The diner was somewhere near Yonsei University where my parents used to teach. That diner served grapefruit and basil pie. I think I was about twelve or thirteen years old. It’s been a while since I’ve had it but I could still remember it so vividly—”
“Mina’s Place?” You whisper.
Jaehyun’s eyebrows raise with surprise and his face is overcome with realization. Mina’s Place. The reason why he hasn’t been to the diner in a while is because it closed down when he made a visit. It was a sudden shutdown and his family never knew what happened to the owners. They were unique and both of his parents’ favorite place to wind down after a day of teaching culinary students. That diner’s grapefruit and basil pie had inspired him to follow the footsteps of his parents. It was the unusual pairing of basil and fruit that made him curious, it was what drove him to start cooking. 
“Yeah… Mina’s Place.” He mumbles softly. “It’s too bad it closed down too soon.”
Your head hangs low again. Mina’s Place was your mother’s product of hardwork and dedication. Your late mother had bought the space and created it into a diner where she was able to cook up whatever she wanted for her guests. It was what made her happy. But when your mother started to grow sick, it was your father that took over the diner in hopes that she would return. But your mother’s health continued to deteriorate until she passed away at an early age of forty-seven. Ever since her passing, the diner wasn’t the same. Your father had decided to sell the diner to a young couple who were looking to start their own restaurant. 
Your mother’s best-selling item on the menu was the grapefruit and basil pie. Until this day, you are grateful that she managed to pass the recipe down to you. You had loved and admired your mother’s love for cooking. You would spend most of your days watching her cook. You would ditch everything to learn how to cook, especially from your mother. The deconstructed pie that you had made for Jaehyun is a representation of how much you miss her and how much she inspired you.
“Thank you,” you whisper. Jaehyun looks at you confusedly. “Thank you for cherishing my mother’s passion, for cherishing her love of cooking. She would be thrilled to know that there was someone who loved her grapefruit and basil pie.”
“Y-You’re joking,” he shakes his head. “She’s your mother?”
You purse your lips into a tight line, nodding. “We closed down the place because she died of cancer. It didn’t make sense to take on the diner after her passing. My father had no idea how to cook.”
“Y/N, I’m so sorry—”
“I decided to study culinary arts because it’s the only thing that reminds me of her. It’s the only thing that brings me closer to her. I also wanted to open up a diner in her honor, to celebrate her life. I think that’s what she truly wanted… to spend most of her life with her family and at the diner.” You chuckle, wiping away a tear that slides down your cheek. “And don’t apologize. You had no idea.”
“But still, I—”
“I’ve decided to stick with my decision regardless of whether you enjoyed my dish or not. I’m going to withdraw from the competition.” You clasp your hands together. 
Jaehyun watches you as you carefully take off your apron. You place the apron right next to your dish before bowing to him. “Y/N, no—”
“Thank you for everything, chef. It was an honor cooking for you and I’m glad you enjoyed the pie.”
“Y/N, no, please. Stay here with—” Me. That’s what he wants to say. It almost terrifies him that this is the first thing that crosses his mind. It catches him off guard. He’s never had the urge to let you stay. He’s never been afraid of losing you. He’s never been terrified of slowly realizing your importance and your effect on him. “The other contestants. You’re worthy of the chance. Just like them.”
“I’ve already told the producers—”
“We can always take it back. You can always take it back.” He cuts you off. “Don’t withdraw. You have so many more things to accomplish, to conquer, to show off. You have talent, Y/N. Withdrawing from the competition will be the biggest mistake of your life—”
“Please don’t say all of that if you don’t even mean it—”
“I mean it. Stay.” He’s so close to begging. “Your mother was one of the few driving forces that led me to becoming a chef. If it weren’t for your mother, I probably wouldn’t be standing in front of you right now.”
“You’re lying,” you shake your head in disbelief. “You’re just making this hard for me.”
“Stay for your mother. I’m sure she would want you to finish the competition regardless of whether you win or not—”
“But you wanted me gone since the first round—” Never. He never wanted you to leave. He wanted you to stay. He wanted to help you. He wanted to encourage you to work hard for your dreams. 
“Do it for her. Do it for Mina’s Place.”
You fall silent. For a moment, you could hear your mother’s voice chanting you on. You could hear her giggles and laughter. You could see her bright smile. It makes your eyes glassy. Your eyes trail down towards the pie that you made. As you fixate on the pie, you wipe away a few more tears.
“Yes, chef. I’ll stay.”
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“How did you change her mind?”
Taeyong stands next to Jaehyun and watches you as you return your things back into their respective drawers at your station. Taeyong, along with Doyoung, had expected your station to be empty the following morning. But there you were, absolutely present, setting up your station before the next round of the competition begins. Jaehyun shoves his hands into his pockets and watches you intently, not being able to tear his gaze away from you.
“Let’s just say I worked my magic,” he answers softly. 
Doyoung glances at his co-judge, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. He follows Jaehyun’s line of sight and it lands on you. Taeyong seems to pick it up as well and a cheeky grin spreads across his lips. Taeyong has worked with Jaehyun for many years. They opened up one three-Michelin starred restaurant in Florence together and they ran the restaurant for many years. From Jaehyun’s inner thoughts to his feelings, Taeyong knows him so well. In fact, Taeyong hasn’t seen Jaehyun like this in so long. 
Work has been the main priority for Jaehyun. Taeyong was always trying to get his best friend to loosen up and meet some people while they were in Italy. But Jaehyun was always closed up and always stayed back in the kitchen. It was sad for Taeyong to see his best friend have a lack of social life—moreover, a dating life. Jaehyun’s last relationship was a couple of years ago and it ended on horrible terms. In particular, his breakup happened right before he boarded his flight to Italy. Taeyong knows that it left such a negative impact on his best friend. Jaehyun had promised to never fall in love again after his breakup, devoting his entire life to cooking and being in the kitchen… never leaving it once. 
But seeing how Jaehyun looks at you, Taeyong is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Alright, chefs! We’ll be starting in ten minutes! Relax, grab a drink, and we’ll regroup.” Doyoung announces. 
You suck in a deep breath, heading towards the water dispenser to get yourself a cup of water. Taeil follows behind you, grabbing himself a cup of water too. He tilts his head in confusion, analyzing your every move. You seem to notice and when the two of you finally make it up to the balcony that oversees the entire kitchen, you face him.
“Is there something on my face?” You ask.
Taeil shakes his head. “No! No, not at all. I was just—I thought you said you were going to withdraw from the competition.”
You take a swig of your water. “I did. But… I changed my mind. I decided to stay.”
“What changed your mind?” Taeil questions. Everyone’s beginning to gather at the balcony before the new round of the competition begins. 
Before you could even answer Taeil’s question, Chef Jaehyun stands in the space between you two. He leans over the railing of the balcony. You and Taeil share a look. You clear your throat, adding a bit more distance between you and Chef Jaehyun. Taeil studies your body language and it’s almost as if he reads your mind. Ah, Chef Jaehyun changed your mind. 
“Ah, I see.” Taeil slowly nods his head. “Well, good luck, Y/N. I’m sure you’ll do well in the next round.”
Taeil leaves you and Chef Jaehyun alone to talk with other contestants. You’re looking everywhere but at Chef Jaehyun, busying yourself by the water in your cup. 
Jaehyun can’t comprehend what’s going on with him. He can’t find the courage to look at you. But when he does, he can’t seem to breathe because his heartbeat picks up its pace. He clears his throat. “Are you ready for the next round?”
You finally look at him. You straighten up your posture. “Yes, chef.”
“Y/N, no, please. Stay here with—the other contestants. You’re worthy of the chance. Just like them.”
“Don’t withdraw. You have so many more things to accomplish, to conquer, to show off. You have talent, Y/N. Withdrawing from the competition will be the biggest mistake of your life.”
“I mean it. Stay. Your mother was one of the few driving forces that led me to becoming a chef. If it weren’t for your mother, I probably wouldn’t be standing in front of you right now.”
It’s hard to get rid of Chef Jaehyun’s voice out of your head. Whatever happened a couple of nights ago in the kitchen felt a bit too intimate. You were cooking one of your best dishes, a dish that meant a lot to you, for one of the most famous chefs in the world. It was just the two of you in the kitchen. Chef Jaehyun had begged you to stay in the competition. All of those events that night were driving you crazy.
What Chef Jaehyun does next snaps you out of your thoughts. He places his hand on your head and ruffles your hair. Your eyes slightly widen and you freeze. “Good luck.”
When he leaves to speak with the other contestants, you’re left all alone by the balcony with a heart beating so fast. You almost drop your cup of water but you catch yourself just in time. You place a hand over your heart as if it’ll help it stop beating so fast.
There’s been a shift between you and Chef Jaehyun ever since that night. 
You’ve always despised Chef Jaehyun. You didn’t even like him to begin with. Not one single bit. 
But now… you’re not quite sure anymore. 
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“There are only two more rounds left in the competition. But this round determines who has a chance to be the next MasterChef. Who will make it to the final round of MasterChef? We shall find out! For today’s challenge, the three of you will be paired up with one of us to cook up a special meal for your own friends.”
There are three contestants left in the competition. Those contestants are you, Taeil, and Seokjin. Each one of you is called up to the front to pick a slip of paper from a box. The chef that’s on your chosen slip of paper will be the chef that you will be paired up to cook with. Whoever you end up with wouldn’t matter because the three of them are perfect in their own way.
Chef Jaehyun is a perfectionist. He’s also competitive. He loves making sure that the food he puts out is more than perfect. It gives him relief and satisfaction knowing that his customers love the food that he makes for them. He’s surely known all over the world for being overly meticulous. He’s also known for running many successful restaurants. He has strong ties with restaurants in Florence. Being paired up with Chef Jaehyun means that you are guaranteed to make a successful dish.
Chef Taeyong is also a perfectionist but not as competitive as Chef Jaehyun. He always makes sure that he thoroughly enjoys the process of cooking. He’s almost like a mother. He cooks for people because he genuinely enjoys doing it. It’s a hobby that he enjoys doing and somehow, it brings him fortune and success. Being paired up with Chef Taeyong means that you’ll not only make a perfect dish, but you’ll also have fun making it and create a story along with it.
Chef Doyoung is not a perfectionist, but he has a great sense of his ingredients. He knows the compatibility of ingredients, which is something every chef wants to have. It’s a trait that is rare to find in chefs. This trait had led him to win MasterChef when he was a contestant. To others, his dishes might be ambiguous but once people try it, they would have never imagined such a dish to work out. Being paired up with Chef Doyoung means that you are willing to take risks that will elevate your dish and bring out uniqueness. 
When you open your slip of paper, you almost let out a laugh.
Chef Jaehyun.
Fate loves playing games with you. 
“I got Chef Jaehyun,” you hold up your slip of paper. You and Taeil exchange looks. 
When your eyes meet Chef Jaehyun’s, he bites back a smile that’s threatening to spread across his lips. The two other chefs can’t seem to hold back their smiles either. You look down, growing too shy with all of the attention on you.
“I got Chef Taeyong.” Taeil shows his slip of paper.
“And that means I got Chef Doyoung.” Seokjin finishes, holding up his slip of paper.
“Perfect. We’ll start in five minutes. During these five minutes, we will all discuss with our partners and plan out our dishes accordingly.” Chef Taeyong announces.
When Chef Jaehyun heads over to your workstation, you can’t seem to compose yourself. Your mind is going insane. You’re not sure if you’re going to end up regretting having Chef Jaehyun as your partner or be grateful that he could help you secure a spot in the finals. 
“I’m surprised you’re not sick and tired of me yet,” he mumbles. “It’s just always gonna be you and me, huh?”
“I’m surprised you’re not sick and tired of me yet either,” you shrug your shoulders. 
“I guess fate likes the two of us together.” He says, avoiding your gaze.
“I’m sure fate hates me and is punishing me by pairing me up with you.” You mutter underneath your breath. 
“I heard that.”
“You were supposed to.”
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Working together with Chef Jaehyun is a pain in the ass. 
“The sashimi should be cut like this!” 
“Yeah, I know! I can see it!” 
It’s been non-stop bickering for the past fifteen minutes. There’s forty-five minutes left before you have to send out your dishes to your friends. With the grin planted across Chef Jaehyun’s lips, you’re not sure if he’s doing this for fun or if he’s genuinely being strict and serious. 
“You’re in the way.” You nudge him aside to grab the bottle of Japanese mayonnaise. “Do you mind checking on my rolls?”
“They look good—”
“You didn’t even look at them!” You look at him as if he had ten heads.
“I don’t need to look at them to know if they look good or not.” He rolls his California rolls. “You need to be more confident in yourself. Do you think they look good?”
“Of course, because I made them.” You fold your arms.
“Then they look good! You have to trust yourself, Y/N.” He slices through the California roll before rolling each of them into Panko. “I feel like you don’t trust yourself enough.”
Chef Jaehyun’s right. You don’t trust yourself enough. When he notices how silent you’ve gotten, he finally takes a look at your California rolls. He analyzes the contents of your roll before smiling. “It looks perfect to me. You see, I didn’t need to look at them to tell you that they’re good. You put the right amount of crab meat. There’s a balance between the crab meat and rice. The roll is consistent. The rice is sticky enough. It’s perfect, Y/N, stop doubting yourself.”
“Really…?”
“Really. Now, get back to work because we don’t have much time left.”
As the two of you both get back to work, Jaehyun can’t seem to stop himself from smiling. If there was one thing he wanted to do with someone special to him, it was to make a meal together. He learns more about someone through the art of cooking. You’re an expert at baking and inherited those skills from your mother. You know your spices so well that they come to you so naturally. You know how to balance your ingredients. You know when two ingredients work and when it doesn’t. 
You’re the complete opposite of him. Jaehyun is an expert at everything but baking. He doesn’t have a great sense of spices and would often plan out his dishes carefully. Making a perfect dish doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s more on the practical side of cooking. Jaehyun thinks you’re the perfect match for him. Whether it be in the kitchen or as someone he’d like to pursue… he’s not sure. 
It would be a huge lie if Jaehyun wasn’t attracted to you. He doesn’t know when the switch happened. Maybe he liked you from the start. 
It’s almost as if fate had you written in his stars. When Jaehyun had been dumped by his ex-girlfriend right before he boarded his plane to Florence, he was devastated. He was devastated knowing that his ex-girlfriend whom he was planning on proposing to was cheating on him that entire time. He was devastated knowing that he lost one of his few passions; the love of his life. Heartbroken. Closed off. Focus on working. Focus on hustle culture. Never falling in love again. That was Jaehyun’s mindset.
But now that he thinks about it and all the encounters you’ve had with him, meeting you for the first time in Florence must be a fateful encounter. From spilling expensive wine all over his shirt to serving him a horrible dish as a culinary intern, no matter how embarrassing those experiences were, it must be fate. You make him worry about you. You make him think about you a bit too often. He goes out of his way to make sure nothing horrible happens to you. He doesn’t want you to be hurt.
Meeting you may be a special event that has happened in his life.
“Chef? Chef…?”
He snaps out of his thoughts. You’re giving him a funny look.
“You were saying?”
“You have some seaweed on your face, chef.”
“I-I do? Where—”
Before he could even wipe his face with his hands, you’re already reaching up to rub off the seaweed crumbs off of his face. He freezes in his spot. His eyes look down to meet yours. When you finally brush the seaweed crumbs off of his crimson red cheeks, your eyes shift to his. It’s your turn to freeze. Out of instinct, Jaehyun gently holds your arms. He holds you so carefully… almost cautiously. Somehow, he can’t speak. Somehow, everything that surrounds the two of you becomes nothing but white noise. His eyes slowly trail down to your lips. 
“You have fifteen minutes left! Fifteen minutes!”
You both are startled, repelling from each other. To calm your unsteady heart, you focus on finishing your last few sushi rolls before you begin plating them. Jaehyun stands more than a meter away from you, not making any sort of conversation with you for the remainder of the fifteen minutes. His heart is beating so fast that he’s afraid you could hear it ramming out of his chest.
It’s all starting to make sense. To him, at least.
He’s slowly—but surely—falling in love with you.
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The morning of the final round of MasterChef, you wake up still in disbelief that you’re one step closer to becoming the champion. In the semi-finals, your great teamwork with Chef Jaehyun has secured you a spot in the finals, giving you a bigger chance of winning the entire competition. There’s no backing down for you. The possibility that your dreams can come true is still surreal for you and now you’re willing to put in all the effort to make sure that possibility becomes reality. 
As soon as you enter the kitchen, you spot none other than Taeil, who’s already setting up his station. You and Taeil both find it funny how although you’re both closest to each other and have become good friends in the competition, here you both are, competing against each other to become the champion of MasterChef. It’s a friendly competition. You can’t imagine finishing the entire competition with anyone else.
“Hello, chef.” You greet him.
“Good morning, Y/N. Today is the day.” He smiles. “Good luck. Let the MasterChef win.”
Everyone begins to gather around. Your friends and family and Taeil’s friends and family. The three chef judges make their ways to the front after getting their hair and makeup done. The kitchen is set up differently this time around. Instead of the normal rectangular work stations, the station is set up as a circle that surrounds both you and Taeil. The two of you will work on opposite sides of the circle.
As you and Taeil get settled and wait for filming to start, your eyes catch Chef Jaehyun’s. You’re almost surprised and a bit taken aback to catch him already looking at you. He’s dressed up quite nice today. He’s wearing an indigo suit with his hair styled back. He has such prominent eyebrows, you notice, since he’s always had his hair down. He’s… handsome. 
And he smiles at you.
Not knowing what to do in return, you flash him a small, timid smile before looking away. In just a few minutes, the final round will begin and your fate will be determined. You spot your father who’s wiping away tears with his handkerchief. Sitting in his arms is a framed picture of your mother. Your eyes slowly tear up but you blink them away. 
“We will start in three… two… one… action!”
“Welcome everyone, to the final round of MasterChef.”
“Today, we will find out who is this season’s MasterChef.”
“Will it be Taeil? Or Y/N? We shall find out!”
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For the final round of MasterChef, you and Taeil will be cooking up three dishes for the chef judges. The first dish will be the appetizer. Following the first dish is the entree. The third and final dish is the dessert. You and Taeil were given a week to figure out what you’re going to serve the chef judges. You have decided to base your dishes around the theme of apples. All three of your dishes contain apples.
The first round of three begins and you’re cooking up your first dish. For your first dish, you’re creating a scotch quail egg that will rest on top of a bed of parsnips and potatoes. You envision this dish to replicate a bird’s nest, where the bed of parsnips and potatoes act as the nest that protects the scotch quail egg. The scotch quail egg is different, however, because you will incorporate apples into the coating that surrounds it. 
“Your time starts now!”
You and Taeil busy yourselves at your own sides of the circle. You’re beginning your dish by boiling a pot of water for your quail eggs. At the same time, you’re bringing out the ground pork and a couple of red gala apples. As you’re cutting the gala apples, you make sure to cut them into cubes to make them stand out in the scotch egg. From the corner of your eye, you can see Chef Jaehyun step off of the stage to head towards you.
“Hello, Y/N.” He greets you as he approaches your side of the station. “What are you making for us?”
“A scotch quail egg,” you mumble.
“With apples?” You hum in reply. “And what are you going to do with the potatoes?”
“I’m going to slice them up to replicate a nest for the quail eggs to rest on.” You answer.
“That seems like a bit of an easy dish, don’t you think?” He purses his lips into a tight line. “Do you think it’ll be enough to impress us?”
“Yes,” you mumble, trying your best not to let him distract you. 
“Are you sure your quail eggs are going to be cooked properly? They shouldn’t be—”
“Overcooked, yes, I am very much aware of that, Chef Jaehyun.” You cut him off.
He chuckles. Your ears perk up. “It seems like you don’t want me around. Am I distracting you?”
“Yes,” you answer and everyone around you laughs. “I guess you’ll just have to see what I have planned for you when I serve it to you later.”
“Sounds good. I’m excited to see what you bring to the table, Y/N.” He searches for your eyes, but they’re busy looking at other things. In reality, you’re just too shy to look at him. “Good luck, Y/N.”
“Thanks, chef.”
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Returning to your station, you keep the judges’ comments on your appetizer in your thoughts to improve on the next dish. The next dish that you’re going to cook up for them is the entree. Because your appetizer was easy to make, this left you ample time to begin preparing for your entree. You plan to serve the chef judges an entree dish that you call, rabbit two ways, in which you will serve them two different kinds of rabbit meat while incorporating bursts of apple flavors into it. The timer starts and you and Taeil get to work.
“I like how you presented this dish. It looks like a bird’s nest!”
Chef Taeyong’s comments on your dish had given you the motivation and desire to win the competition. From the start of the competition all the way to the final round, Chef Taeyong has been nothing but encouraging and genuine. All of his comments and advice shaped you into who you are as a chef today, at this very moment. 
“Although there are some burnt potatoes and parsnips in my dish, I think that it surprisingly complemented the sweet flavors of the apple in the scotch egg.”
Chef Doyoung, a MasterChef champion, is someone you always looked up to. You remember watching the season that he was competing in and having a gut feeling that he would make it to the final round. There was something special about Chef Doyoung and his dishes. Every dish he created had its own story, and of course, it would always look and taste delicious. Hearing his comments throughout your journey in the competition has also helped you learn and create a chef’s mindset. 
“I think I would definitely serve something like this as an appetizer at one of my restaurants. The presentation is spot on. I couldn’t have imagined a scotch egg to be presented in any other way. It’s almost as if you’re recreating nature, mother nature I would say, through your dishes. The flavors balance so well, which is not surprising because you’ve always had a good sense of your spices. Very well done, Y/N.”
Chef Jaehyun, although you disliked him at first, has truly been the one who wanted to see you succeed. Ever since he had tried to change your mind about withdrawing from the competition you couldn’t help but think that he was the one who truly liked you and your performance in the competition all along. If he didn’t try to change your mind, you would have probably withdrawn from the competition and returned back to the starting position of your journey. Chef Jaehyun has made you realize that if you truly want something, you have to work extremely hard for it. He made you realize that you’re better than what you think and most of the time, you’re just being hard on yourself. Someday, you plan on thanking him for being tough on you because it helped you on your journey to becoming a chef.
As you heat up the pan on the stove, you slice and dice up your apples to fuse them with the rabbit meat. Placing them onto the pan, you begin creating your artichoke puree that will amplify the flavors of the dish. From time to time, you could check up on the rabbit meat to make sure that you weren’t overcooking it. Overcooking rabbit meat would be horrifying because it would only mean that you would have to cook a new batch in so little time. It is extremely crucial to your dish. 
“You have fifteen minutes left!”
You spent the remaining fifteen minutes focusing on the rabbit meat since you have finished making the artichoke puree. After already beginning to plate your dish with the puree, you place the rabbit meat onto a frying rack to drain out the oil. Your hands are shaking out of complete nervousness. You want this so bad. But the fact that you’re serving a dish that you haven’t even tasted is such a huge risk to take. 
“Five minutes left!”
Drizzling a bit more of the artichoke puree on top of the rabbit meat, your nervous hands cause you to drizzle a bit more than needed. Pulling out a clean towel, you wipe off some of the puree that scattered on the sides of the dish. Glancing up at the time, you have one minute left to spare. You take these last few seconds to make sure everything looks good before handing them over to the servers.
“Time’s up! Hands up! Servers, please head to the back to serve the dishes.”
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The last and final dish you are going to serve the chef judges is dessert. Dessert is your expertise. Everyone is aware that if there was one thing you excelled at as a chef, it would be through your desserts. You would like to thank your mother for exposing you to the world of baking at such a young age. It truly helped you later on in life, especially in this competition. For this dish, you decided to create a dish that represented a fallen apple or an apple that has fallen from an apple tree. The dish is simply an apple panna cotta, but you will be presenting it in such a way that it looks like an apple that has fallen onto the ground. This dish is going to tie up your ‘apple’ series and hopefully help you win the competition.
“Hey, Y/N. I’m back.” Chef Jaehyun smiles as he visits you at your station once again.
You smile back at him. “Hi, Chef Jaehyun. Is there anything I could help you with?”
“You could help me by letting me know what you’re planning on serving us for dessert.” He grins. 
“I guess you’ll just have to find out,” you mumble softly. 
“Mysterious.” He nods his head as he begins to move on to Taeil’s station. “You’re going to surprise us?”
“Yes, chef.” You reply.
“Well, I hope it’ll be worth the surprise! Good luck, Y/N.”
“Thanks, chef!”
For your dish, you’re not planning on serving them a whole apple. You’re going to recreate the apple by making apple jelly. The apple jelly will be shaped like an apple by pouring the mixture into a silicone tray. Since an apple has seeds in the middle, you are going to toast up some pine nut seeds and place them into the middle of the jelly mixture once it’s set. To recreate the red color of an apple, you are going to place a red glaze all over the jelly. Since this dish is going to replicate a fallen apple, you are going to recreate soil by grinding up a mixture of nuts and raisins. This will act as the bed for the fallen apple. Lastly, you are going to recreate the leaves of the apple tree by using sugar and water, and the twigs of the branches with a sweet dough.
“You have twenty minutes left!”
You pull out your silicone trays and you nearly have a heart attack. The jelly is not completely set but you don’t have much time left to keep it in the fridge. You still have to plate the entire dish. Taking the toasted pine nut seeds off the stove, you place them onto a tray to cool down. One by one, you shove pine nut seeds into the apple jelly. The seeds keep popping back up, which confirms that your apple jelly still isn’t set properly. But with the time you have left, you have to take this risk. 
“Ten minutes left!”
You begin plating your dish. To plate your apple-themed dessert, you grab the bowl of fake soil that you created with an assortment of nuts and raisins and scoop out two spoons to create a bed for the fallen apple. After you do that on three plates, you carefully pop out the apple jelly from the silicone tray and place it on top of the soil. Then, to decorate the apple jelly, you stick your fake twigs into the jelly and place sugar leaves on top. As you grab the pot of red glaze, you stop in your tracks. 
From the corner of your eye, you can see Chef Jaehyun looking at you as you freeze in your spot. You look deep in thought. Suddenly, you shake your head and place the pot of red glaze back onto the countertop. He tilts his head in confusion.
“Ten seconds left!” 
Everyone is beginning to count down and you’re making final touches to your dish. Taeil, on the other hand, already has his hands up to indicate that he’s already done.
“Time’s up! Hands up! Servers, please take the dishes to the back.”
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“Alright, Y/N, please tell us what you have served for us.”
Stepping forward, you clear your throat. Each one of them looks at you with anticipation, but it makes you grow even more nervous. You feel more nervous than how you were at the start of the competition. When your eyes meet Chef Jaehyun’s, your mind can’t help but go blank. He gives you an encouraging smile and it’s enough for you to snap back to your senses.
“For dessert, I’ve recreated a fallen apple by making an apple panna cotta. The fallen apple is supported by a bed of soil which is recreated with an assortment of nuts and raisins. To replicate the twigs and leaves of the apple tree, I’ve made a dough for the twigs and used a sugar glaze for the leaves.” You describe your dish. All of their eyebrows raise. You’re not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“I saw you holding a pot of red glaze earlier and I assumed that you were going to use that to glaze over the apple jelly. But I see that you’ve decided not to use it. Is there a particular reason why you decided to do that?” Chef Jaehyun asks as he’s digging into your dessert by taking a bit of everything onto his spoon.
“I decided not to use red glaze for this dish because I felt like it would look a little bit too fake. I also think that it wouldn’t match the overall colors of the dish.” You explain. 
Chef Jaehyun smiles. “I think that was good judgment on your part. If it doesn’t look like it belongs on your dish, then don’t add it. Well done, Y/N.”
“Let’s all dig in.” Chef Doyoung insists.
As they all taste your dish, you nervously fiddle with your fingers. After they have all finished tasting the different components of your dish, they look back up at you.
“I think this is a unique dish, Y/N.” Chef Taeyong begins. He’s the first one to make a comment on your dessert. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The presentation is spot on again. I really like the balance of sweetness from the apple jelly and the richness of the soil. I enjoyed this dish. Thank you, Y/N.”
“Thank you, chef.” You mumble.
“I agree with Chef Taeyong.” Chef Doyoung smiles. “I really like how the jelly melts in your mouth and how this is counteracted by the crunchy texture of the nuts. The presentation of the dish is executed very well, it looks like a fallen apple. You’ve done a beautiful job, Y/N.”
“Thank you so much, chef.” 
“I agree with all of them.” Chef Jaehyun chuckles. “I see why you decided not to add red glaze to this dish. It would have completely ruined it. I am not one who likes desserts, but this has completely changed it for me. I love how it has the right amount of sweetness. The nuts balance well with the sweetness due to it being so rich in flavor. I would also serve something like this at my restaurant. You’ve come a long way, Y/N. You’ve done an excellent job in finishing up your three-course apple menu.”
“Wow, that means a lot, thank you so much.” You sigh with relief.
“Alright, we’re going to have a bit of a meeting now.” Chef Doyoung chuckles. “The two of you can go back and meet with your family while we go over your dishes and choose this season’s MasterChef.”
“Good luck, Y/N and Taeil.”
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“We have finally come to a decision.”
Everyone is gathered near the front of the kitchen. The three judges are standing right in front of you. You and Taeil share glances. Taeil flashes you a huge smile that you mirror back at him. It feels like a dream standing in front of the three chef judges, waiting for them to announce the winner of MasterChef. The journey that you took on this competition is one that you will never forget and one that will change your life forever. 
“It was hard to choose a winner for this season’s MasterChef.” Chef Taeyong begins. “Because the two of you have come such a long way since the start of the competition. The two of you have been through tough challenges and elimination tests, but you persevered, and that’s why you’re standing here today.”
“You have both improved and learned a lot since you started your journey here at MasterChef, and your journey continues even after the competition.” Chef Jaehyun clasps his hands together. “I personally think this season is my favorite. This final round has been special. You both served dishes that we have never even seen in the previous seasons of MasterChef. The both of you should be extremely proud of yourselves for making it this far.”
“But we do have to choose one MasterChef winner. The winner will be getting the first prize and a chance to open up their own restaurant or catering service. This will put you out into the field of cuisine and culinary arts, something that we’re all sure that you both came here for.” Chef Doyoung smiles. “Shall we announce the winner?”
“I think we should.” Chef Taeyong chuckles. “It was such a hard decision but…”
“But we have finally chosen this season’s MasterChef.” Chef Doyoung finishes it for him. “Y/N, Taeil, could you please step up to the front?”
You and Taeil head towards the front, hand in hand. Taeil gives your hand a tight, reassuring squeeze. Standing right behind him is his own family. Standing behind you are your relatives and your father, but also your mother, who’s looking down at you from the sky. 
“This season’s MasterChef is…”
You close your eyes. Your heart begins to beat faster than horsepower. You would feel like the only woman in the world if you hear your name being called out. Standing right here, with Taeil, in front of three world-renowned chefs, is another reminder of how much you wanted this, why you started this journey, and what you want out of it. It’s not only for you, but for your mother, who would always chase her dreams. 
“Congratulations, because you are this season’s MasterChef…”
“Y/N! Congratulations, you are this season’s MasterChef!”
It’s all a blur. Confetti shoots up into the air and falls down like snowflakes. You open your eyes when you feel yourself being attacked by your family with hugs. Taeil’s hand never lets go of yours and he pulls you into a tight, celebratory hug. Your eyes well up with tears. 
You can’t believe it.
If only your mother was here to celebrate your win with you. But you’re sure that she’s up in the skies, cheering you on, celebrating your achievement. It’s hard to breathe because it all feels so surreal. When you blink away your tears, your vision becomes clear again and you see the three chef judges coming in to join the big hug. Chef Jaehyun falls within sight and you share gazes.
He flashes you a wide, warm, genuine smile while mouthing ‘congratulations’.
Your heart skips a beat but you pay no attention to it.
You mouth back a ‘thank you, chef’.
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AFTER MASTERCHEF.
It’s been a couple of months since you won MasterChef and you’ve been assigned to work alongside Chef Doyoung at one of his new branch locations. You’ve been assigned this job in the meantime while you renovate your new diner that you’ve always wished of running. 
If Jaehyun were to be honest, he was quite sad (or should he say, jealous, but he will never admit it) that you were assigned to work with Doyoung. The days after MasterChef have been uneventful and boring. Everywhere he looks, it reminds him of you. Everything he does, it reminds him of you. Stubborn to admit it, he misses it. He misses you.
And so when he steps inside of Doyoung’s new branch location of his restaurant, Doie, he hopes that he could catch you there. Why? Because finding you has been extremely difficult these days. 
As he steps into the restaurant, he heads straight to the front desk. The woman working at the front slowly looks up and upon realizing who’s standing right in front of her, her posture straightens.  
He flashes her a warm smile. “Is Chef Y/N here?” 
“O-Oh! You’re Chef Jaehyun!” She exclaims. 
He smiles sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck. “Yes, that’s me. I decided to drop by and check this place out. I had only found out that Chef Y/N was assigned to work here in the meantime before the opening of Mina’s Place.” 
“Unfortunately, Chef Y/N already left. She left a couple of hours ago to attend to some personal matters.” The woman frowns, spinning a pen in between her fingers. 
“Oh, is that so?” He’s trying so hard to hide the disappointment in his eyes. “I guess I was a bit too late.”
“Do you want me to pass a message on to her, chef?” She asks insistently. 
“Oh, there’s no need. I guess I’ll just drop by tomorrow.” He says with defeat.
Why is it that it used to be so easy to bump into you? Why is it that it’s become so difficult to bump into you now? Why is it so hard to cross paths with you now? It’s been so easy to find you before. But now, when he tries to find you, he can’t. It’s grown into a difficult game of hide and seek.
“Actually—” Jaehyun begins before cutting himself off. “I’ll be right back.”
He rushes out of the restaurant and spots a flower shop right across the road. Stepping inside of the flower shop, he’s greeted by an elderly woman who’s watering a fresh batch of tulips. She places the pail of water back onto the black and white tiled floor. 
“Hello, young man, how can I help you?” 
He lets his eyes wander around the shop. He can’t seem to figure out what to get. 
“I’ve been wanting to get a bouquet of flowers, but I’m not quite sure which flowers to put together.” He scratches the back of his head. 
She giggles sheepishly. “Is it for a young lady that’s taken your interest?”
He’s caught off guard by the question. He lets out a shaky, breathy laugh. There’s no way he could be feeling this way for you. Even if he does feel like you’re someone special to him, it’s something that will take a while for him to understand. Liking you is one thing but falling in love with you is another.
“I—I mean—Yeah, I guess so?” He sounds confused.
She tilts her head. “You guess so? Well, young man, the fact that you’ve stepped foot into my shop to get a lovely lady a bouquet of flowers must mean something. She must be someone special.”
The old woman has a point. He wouldn’t be going out of his way to do all of this for you. He wouldn’t be trying to find you. He wouldn’t have the urge to talk to you, to get to know you more. 
“I guess you’re right,” he slowly nods his head when everything slowly becomes clear for him. “Alright. Do you mind putting a bouquet together for a young woman that I’ve taken interest in? I want her to like me just as much as I like her.”
The old woman breaks out into a wide smile. 
“Right away, sir.” 
When the bouquet of white daisies and red tulips is wrapped and bundled together with a plastic wrap, Jaehyun pays for the old woman’s efforts and time before heading back to the restaurant across the road. But before he leaves the flower shop, the old woman gives him words of encouragement. He gives her two thumbs up and heads back. 
The woman standing at the front eyes the bouquet of flowers in his hands when he enters. He places the bouquet on top of the counter. “I’m back.”
“You’re back, indeed.”
“Do you mind giving Y/N these flowers when he comes in tomorrow? You could place them in a vase to keep them fresh too.” He asks.
She nods her head. “Will do, chef.”
“Alright, thank you so much. I’ll head on out now—”
“Chef Jaehyun, are you sure you’re just going to give her the bouquet of flowers without a note?”
Shoot. He turns back around. “You’re right, I didn’t write a note.”
She slides over a stack of sticky notes and her own pen. “Here you go, chef.”
He grabs the stack of sticky notes and walks over to one of the tables for two. He plops his butt down onto one of the chairs and thinks about what to write and what type of note he wants to leave you. To him, it seems like he’s been sitting there for hours. There are so many things he wants to tell you, but he’ll have to say them one by one.
To Y/N, 
I dropped by Doie in hopes of seeing you. Would love to meet and catch up with you over a cup of coffee. I miss hope that we could get in touch soon. On the back of the note is my number. Hope to hear from you soon.
Jaehyun
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“A short video?”
The production team exchanges looks before nodding their head. Jaehyun has been called to have a meeting with one of the food companies that he helps endorse. The company is popular for their gluten-free food products. From gluten-free flour to gluten-free bread, the company most likely carries it. It was the first brand that Jaehyun endorsed mainly because he’s always been picky with his food, especially since his mother’s allergic to gluten. 
“Yes! With Chef Y/N! It’s a promotion video for one of the new brands we’re carrying here at the supermarket. We’re planning on having the both of you shop around one of our supermarkets and use the groceries to create a dessert for Valentine’s Day.” One of the PR managers explains.
“Did Chef Y/N agree to do the video?” He raises an eyebrow. 
“Yes, she just got back to us this morning. She’s interested in doing the video.” Another PR joins the conversation. 
“Great. I’ll do the video.”
Everyone looks at each other weirdly. That was such a fast response. They always had trouble negotiating with Jaehyun mainly because of his busy life. But this time, it was different.
“O-Oh? That’s perfect, chef!”
“When do we start?”
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A couple of weeks later, you arrive at a supermarket that’s been closed off to the public until noon. It’s been a while since you last saw Chef Jaehyun. You were quite surprised to hear that he had decided to do the cooking video with you. You were even more surprised when the PR team had told you that the MasterChef viewers had voted for the two of you to collaborate for the video. As for the reasons why the viewers voted for the two of you specifically… you still have no idea.
“Chef Jaehyun will be arriving in a bit, he’s running late because of traffic.” The videographer informs you. 
“No worries, I’ll keep myself busy in the meantime.” You smile, heading inside of the supermarket to take a look at the groceries. 
You start off in the produce section, trying to see what you can come up with for the video. There are fresh large strawberries that you think would be perfect for chocolate-covered strawberries. After all, you and Chef Jaehyun are supposed to create a dish that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day. You try to look for other alternatives, steering away from doing the basics. 
“Miss Y/N? Chef Jaehyun has arrived. He’s just outside of the supermarket.” One of the PR interns approaches you, almost startling you.
“Oh! Yes, alright, I’ll head on over with you right now.” You join her as you both walk back outside of the supermarket. 
As you walk through the automatic doors, the first thing you spot is a tall figure standing a few meters away. He’s talking to the videographers and the PR interns who are telling him what they have planned for the video. You hesitantly approach them, mumbling a soft, “hello.”
When Chef Jaehyun turns towards you, you see his eyes slightly widen before a flame ignites within them. For a brief moment, you get lost in his eyes because you find yourself focusing more on trying to steady your fast heartbeat. When you come back to your senses, you’re the first to look away. 
He clears his throat and you feel his shoulder brush against yours. “Nice seeing you again, Y/N.”
“Nice seeing you too, chef.” You mumble softly. Why do you feel shy?
“Are the two of you ready to start filming? From the scripts that we sent you, it’s going to be a casual type of video.” The videographer explains. “Just to briefly brush over what we have planned for the video, the two of you will be shopping for groceries that the company carries and sells and you will both cook up a dish together. It will be Valentine’s Day themed.”
The both of you slowly nod. “Are you ready?”
You look up to see Chef Jaehyun already looking down at you. You flash him a small, timid smile. “Ready, chef.”
“Perfect! Let’s start with the filming. Be yourselves and of course, have fun!” The videographer clasps his hands together and he pulls out his camera. 
You brace yourself.
It’s going to be a long day, that’s for sure.
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“Hello everyone, I’m Chef Jaehyun.”
“And I’m Chef Y/N.” 
“And today, we’ll be shopping around for ingredients to cook up a meal that you could cook for your loved ones this Valentine’s Day.” 
Chef Jaehyun pushes the cart while you look for some fresh fruits in the produce section. The two of you have agreed to cook two different dishes, a dessert and a main course. Chef Jaehyun will be in charge of the main course dish while you will be in charge of the dessert. 
“To spice things up, we have a couple of questions to answer while we shop.” You begin while you’re grabbing a bag of raspberries. 
“You’re going to play the couple game!” One of the PR interns says from her script. Your eyes almost bulge out of its sockets. You don’t remember a couple game written in the script. From the surprised look on Chef Jaehyun’s face, you don’t think he remembers it either. “We will give you two options and the both of you will answer on the count of three. Think of it as a compatibility game!”
“C-Couple game? Compatibility game?” Chef Jaehyun chuckles sheepishly. 
“First question! Fried chicken or pizza? One… two… three!”
“Chicken.” You both answer in unison.
“Wow, the compatibility is strong right off the bat.” The PR intern giggles. “Next question! Snow or rain? One… two… three!”
“Snow.” You both answer in unison again. 
“Wow, this must be fate.” The PR intern swoons. “Third question! Ice cream or cake? One… two… three!”
“Ice cream.” Chef Jaehyun answers.
“Cake.” You answer.
“The last few questions will only get interesting from here. Next question!” The PR exclaims. “Fall in love with your childhood best friend or fall in love with a celebrity! One… two… three!” 
“Fall in love with your childhood best friend.” You both answer.
“Interesting. Next question!” The PR continues to read off of her list of questions. “Choose the one who likes me or choose the one I like the most? One… two… three!”
“The one that I like the most.” You both answer. The PR intern grins as if her mission was accomplished successfully. 
After all of your horrible encounters with Chef Jaehyun, this was one of the few times that you were actually on the same page as him. The only times that you felt like he was on your side was when he begged you to stay in the competition and when he was your partner for semi-finals. You were slowly starting to forget about cold-hearted Chef Jaehyun, the perfectionist that loved to nitpick every single detail of yours. This side of Chef Jaehyun… is a side that you want to see often. 
In fact, you wouldn’t be surprised if you fell in love with him.
“Last question before we let you finish grocery shopping,” the PR intern snaps you out of your thoughts. “What are your ideal types?”
“I like someone who is easy to talk to, someone that I can communicate with without feeling embarrassed. It’s nice to have someone who’s transparent.” Chef Jaehyun is the first to answer the question. 
“How about you, Chef Y/N?” 
You think about it for a moment. You hum to yourself before shrugging your shoulders. “I don’t think I have an ideal type.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“Because I think that no matter what you like in a certain person, when you actually fall in love with someone, that person could be completely different.” You explain.
“You’re a hopeless romantic, Y/N.” Chef Jaehyun nudges you.
It’s an odd gesture, coming from him. You bite your lip, nudging him back. 
“If there’s a hopeless romantic out of the two of us, it would be you, Chef Jaehyun.”
The PR intern chuckles.
“It would definitely be you, Chef Jaehyun, since you were born on Valentine’s Day!”
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At the end of the shoot, you and Chef Jaehyun had insisted on cleaning up the kitchen before leaving the set. You’re busy washing the dishes and he’s busy putting the ingredients back into the cupboards and fridge. From the corner of your eye, you can see Chef Jaehyun leaning against the countertop, watching you. You almost drop the dishes into the sink, catching yourself right in time.
“How have you been?” You hear him ask.
You bite your lip. “I’ve been well, chef. You?”
“Better now that I’ve seen you again.” 
You clear your throat, letting out a lighthearted chuckle. “I’m not sure how you want me to react to that, chef.”
“Did you… get them?” 
You furrow your eyebrows in confusion. “Get the…?”
“The flowers…?”
“Flowers…?” You place the dishes back into the hot bath before gasping. “Oh, right! The flowers! Yes, I got them. Thank you, Chef Jaehyun. You didn’t really need to.”
“I wanted to give you a gift since I heard that you’re planning on opening a diner,” he mumbles softly. Is he… blushing?
“It’s true.” You smile. “I’m going to make my mother’s dreams come true.”
“I’m sure she’s proud of you.” He flashes you a smile. It’s a different smile. This time, you can feel the genuinity he’s expressing. It feels sincere. “Have you finalized a grand opening date?”
You turn off the faucet and wipe your hands with a towel. As you turn towards Chef Jaehyun, you don’t realize how close he’s been standing to you. You almost stumble back. Gulping nervously, you nod your head. “Sometime in July.”
“I’ll keep my schedules flexible in July, then. I’d love to join you for the grand opening.” 
“Oh, you don’t need to, chef. I’m sure you’re busy with other things.”
“If it’s for you, why not?” 
The two of you stare at each other. His eyes slowly trail down to your lips. You lick them out of instinct, frozen with your feet glued to the floor. As you fake a cough, he regains his focus and is the first to pull away from you. 
“Jaehyun? We have to get going for your next schedule.” His manager calls out to him.
The two of you glance at each other. He gives you a look you can’t seem to read. Jaehyun doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay with you. He wants to spend more time with you. He’s aching to get to know you more. There’s a sense of urgency and neediness. 
“You should get going, chef.” You mumble shyly. “Wouldn’t want to be late to your next schedule.”
What Chef Jaehyun does next completely catches you off guard. He ruffles your hair before caressing your cheek with the same hand. With widened and surprised eyes, your heartbeat picks up its pace. He smiles. It feels warm. He feels warm.
“I won’t be able to see you for a while but Happy Valentine’s Day, Y/N. You don’t know how happy I am to see you again.”
When Chef Jaehyun’s figure gets smaller and smaller, your heart feels tighter and tighter. You’re not sure how Chef Jaehyun feels about you. But what you’re sure of is that you no longer despise Chef Jaehyun. 
You’re slowly falling in love with him.
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[NEW] COOK UP HEARTWARMING VALENTINE’S DAY DISHES W/ CHEF JAEHYUN AND MASTERCHEF CHAMPION Y/N  1.2m views | 56k+ likes | two days ago
COMMENTS:
[pinned comment] Chef Jaehyun Official: Happy Valentine’s Day everyone~ #chefjaehyunxYN should we do another video together?
pastrychef_amy21: omg is it just me or does anyone feel like chef jaehyun has a crush on chef y/n?? doggolover312 replied: omg I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE THAT NOTICED.  luminescencexx replied: the way he looks at her >> get you a man like chef jaehyun ugh he’s handsome AND he cooks??? perfect package kjhdskjfh
galaxiesandstarsxo: they act like an old married couple sobs i always found their bickering cute since masterchef doggolover312 replied: but doesn’t chef jaehyun have a gf? i swear he did galaxiesandstarsxo replied: i think they broke up a long time ago? they were supposed to get married apparently… but something happened. they even unfollowed each other on socials doggolover312 replied: omg if that’s the case… chef y/n you still have a chance!!
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It’s your last day helping out at Doie and it feels bittersweet to be leaving. Here, you close a chapter to open another one. You’ve been helping out in the kitchen at Doie for months, right after you had won MasterChef. The time you were at Doie is something you’ll cherish. But you’re moving on to make bigger moves, making you and your mother’s dreams come true as one of them. 
On your last day of work, Chef Taeyong decides to surprise you with a visit. You’re in the middle of cooking up a dish when he arrives and asks you if the two of you could have a chat. You both find yourselves sitting in the loft that’s been closed to customers for the season. 
“How have you been?” He asks. 
You smile. “I’ve been well, chef. I’ve been enjoying every single day.”
He chuckles. “I can definitely see that you’re enjoying every passing day. You’re a MasterChef, after all.”
You cut right to the chase. “Am I in trouble, chef?”
“No, not at all. Far from it, actually.” He shakes his head. “I wanted to talk to you about something… or should I say, about someone.”
“Who?” 
He snorts. “Jaehyun, of course. Have you seen him recently?”
“Yes, chef. We filmed a video together for Valentine’s Day with one of his sponsors—”
“Now that makes sense!” He exclaims. He sighs with relief. “He’s been acting incredibly weird lately. In fact, he’s been acting weird for the longest time, since MasterChef, and it’s been driving me nuts.”
“Chef Jaehyun? Acting weirdly?” You ask confusedly. 
“How do I put this?” He sighs. “He likes you, Y/N. You may not think he does and he may not think he does either, but I see it. It’s crystal clear. It’s as clear as day.” 
You fold over, bursting out into laughter. It’s the reaction he expected from you. He got the same exact reaction from Jaehyun. Complete disbelief. Complete obliviousness. 
“Oh no, chef. I don’t think he likes me—”
“He does, Y/N.” Chef Taeyong cuts you off. “Listen, before his flight to Florence, his ex-girlfriend dumped him because she was cheating on him. Ever since then, Jaehyun has been such a cold-hearted person and worked his ass off. But I always felt that there was something off about him.”
“He got dumped before flying out to Florence?” You purse your lips into a tight line. “Maybe that’s why he was such in a bad mood when I spilled wine all over his shirt—”
“You both met each other before MasterChef?” Chef Taeyong flips out, eyes rounding like saucers. “In Florence, too?!”
“Yes…?”
“Makes sense.” He squints his eyes. “He kept talking about this restaurant, specifically about this waitress who somehow became a culinary intern—”
“That was me—”
“—and how he kind of regretted being so cold and rude to her because he truly saw potential and thought that she needed a boost of confidence—”
“He saw potential in me even back then—”
“—wait, the girl he was talking about was you?!” His jaw drops. 
You slowly nod your head. “I was the waitress who spilled wine all over his shirt. I was the culinary intern who messed up his dish. All those horrifying encounters with Chef Jaehyun had led me to think that he absolutely hated me. He was blunt and honest, which made my unconfident self to join MasterChef to prove him wrong.”
“And you did.” Chef Taeyong smiles before it turns into a grin. “But Y/N, you got it all wrong.”
“I got it all wrong? How?”
“Jaehyun never hated you. He never disliked you.” He confesses. “In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Jaehyun’s a weird guy, I know.”
“H-How? I don’t—I don’t understand.” You scratch the back of your neck, face filled with confusion. 
“When he told me about a waitress spilling wine all over his shirt, he laughed and said it was like fate was telling him to wake up.” He chuckles. “When he told me about a culinary intern messing up his dish, he couldn’t help but regret being harsh to the intern and wanted to go back but he already had to fly back to Seoul.” 
You’ve never really thought of how your encounters with Chef Jaehyun looked through his point of view. Now that Chef Taeyong was laying it all out for you, you were slowly realizing that your low self-esteem and confidence caused you to immediately conclude that he hated you. 
“Huh—”
“When you auditioned for MasterChef, Jaehyun actually wanted to say yes. In fact, he was the first one to say yes, but the producers of the show told him to say no to add more drama for the viewers.” He continues. “For your team challenge, Jaehyun was the one who spotted Euntae sabotaging your cake.” 
“It was him?” You whisper. 
He nods his head. “When we were deciding who to eliminate after your team lost the challenge, Jaehyun was proactive in convincing us to keep you in the competition. You were close to being eliminated but Jaehyun kept telling us that you had potential.” 
He saw potential in you. He was persistent in keeping you in the competition. In the end, Chef Jaehyun really cared. 
“I—”
“The day after I found out that Jaehyun stopped you from voluntarily withdrawing from the competition, I was curious as to how he managed to make you stay.” He smiles. “But when I looked at him look at you, I had already gotten the answer.”
You fall silent. Chef Jaehyun did everything to make sure that you felt like you were fit to be a chef. But you were just closed minded and immediately shut him down. All of his actions translated into intentions out of hate. You wish you had known, perhaps you would’ve developed a great friendship with him. You’re surprised he’s still coming back into your life to try at being friends with you after being so rude to him. 
“I’ve worked with Jaehyun for many years. I know him so well. I can read him like a book. When I saw how Jaehyun looked at you that day, I felt relieved because I’ve never seen him like that for so long.” He places a hand on your shoulder. “If my best friend decides to pursue you, just know that he has good intentions and that it’s a huge step for him, especially after a heart crushing breakup.”
“That is, if he really likes me.” 
“Oh trust me, honey, he does.”
Chef Taeyong lets out a sigh. The two of you stand there, looking out at the blue skies that overlook the busy streets of Seoul. Your life may be busy, but you wouldn’t trade it for anything else. You’re living out your dreams. 
“Hey, Y/N?”
“Yes, chef?”
“The reason why I dropped by was because I wanted to give you this.” He pulls out an envelope from a bag filled with many other identical envelopes. 
You quirk an eyebrow. “Can I open it in front of you?”
He hums in reply. “Go ahead.”
As you open the envelope, you pull out a white card. It’s almost as if you could read his mind. As you slowly open the white card, you let out a gasp.
“You’re getting married?!”
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THE GRAND OPENING.
It’s been a year since you won MasterChef. It’s also been a year since you started planning to start your own diner in memory of your mother. Mina’s Place. You decided to keep the name because it’s one of the few things that remind you of her. You even made sure the interior and exterior of the diner looked exactly how it did when the diner was still open. From the yellow seats and booths, the use of purple and lavender lighting to the gray tiled floors, you kept everything the same. The only difference is that the diner is located in a different area, right in the middle of busy Seoul. 
Today is the grand opening of the diner and you’re expected to serve a large group of customers. PR and advertisement has been your best friend, but your appearance and your win at MasterChef drove the anticipation of the diner’s grand opening even further. 
You arrive at the diner at six in the morning to prepare all of the ingredients. From the ingredients to the grapefruit and basil pie to the ingredients for your Korean brisket and kimchi burger, you had prepared them all on your own. It was only until eight that your co-chefs and waiters and waitresses had arrived to prepare for the grand opening. Around eleven-thirty, customers, Instagram influencers and foodies began to show up at the door, forming a long line around the strip.
“Chef Y/N?” One of the waitresses, Luna, pops her head through the door.
You’re crouching down, filling up the mini fridge with cartons of milk. You dust your hands off your apron and you slowly get up. “Yeah? What’s up?”
“Someone’s here to see you,” she flashes you a warm smile.
You look at her confusedly. “Are we missing someone on the team? I don’t remember anyone telling me that they were going to drop by—”
“It’s Chef Jaehyun,” Luna bites her lip. She’s biting back a huge smile.
Your eyebrows raise. Confused, you continue to gather yourself. Chef Jaehyun? “S-Sure, you can let him in.”
Luna leaves the kitchen to go fetch Jaehyun and you finish placing all the cartons of milk into the mini fridge. Moments later, you hear footsteps entering the kitchen. You stand back up, bumping your head against the table and groaning in pain. Crouching back down over the floor, you hear footsteps begin to scurry closer to you. 
“Oh! Are you okay, Y/N?” 
Before your hand touches the sensitive area, you already feel a familiar hand gently rubbing it to soothe the pain. You freeze up in your position, gulping nervously. Suddenly, Chef Jaehyun’s face is right in front of yours. He has a look of concern. Looking back at him with slightly widened eyes, your mind is completely wiped out of thoughts. What is this feeling? You’ve never felt this way before. You’ve never felt your heart beat so fast. You’ve never frozen up in front of someone. You’ve never lost your train of thought because of someone. 
Seconds later, you clear your throat, pulling yourself away. You’ve finally come back to your senses. “Chef Jaehyun… I had no idea you were planning on dropping by—”
“I wanted to join you in the ribbon ceremony for the grand opening!” He exclaims.
He remembered? He knew it was today? You and Chef Jaehyun have never established some sort of friendship after the competition. You like to think that the both of you have achieved the status of being acquaintances, but definitely not the status of being friends. 
“A-Ah,” you mumble softly. “Thanks, chef. You didn’t need to, I feel like it would be a bother and I’m sure you have other plans too—” 
You’re not sure when things began to change. You’re not sure when the atmosphere began to shift between you and Chef Jaehyun. It’s almost as if you’re seeing a different person. He’s much brighter, nicer, happier. Why is it making your heart swell? What are his intentions?
“I wouldn’t miss the grand opening to Mina’s Place for anything else,” he says softly. “Hey, Y/N?”
You raise an eyebrow. “Hm?”
“I got you a present to congratulate you on the grand opening of Mina’s Place.” 
“A present?” You blurt out. “Oh, no, Chef Jaehyun, you didn’t need to—”
“I wanted to.” He cuts you off. “Let’s go?” 
For a brief moment, you see his hand reach out to grab yours but he quickly pulls away upon realization. The two of you are not that close for such skinship. When he realizes it, he looks back up at you with panicked eyes. Was he really going to hold your hand? You clear your throat, tearing your eyes away from his. Instead, you both walk out of the kitchen side by side.
Sitting on one of the light brown hardwood tables is a lavender box wrapped with a thin white ribbon. You glance at Jaehyun as if asking for permission, he gestures to you to go right ahead. Gently untying the ribbon, you take the lid off the box. A small gasp escapes your lips.
Sitting inside the box is an apron, but it’s not your regular apron. The apron looks just like the one in your old family pictures. Yellow with white straps. It’s simple and clean. It’ll show the stains of your hard work. It’ll feel like home. 
But when you pull it out, there’s one little difference to the design. There, embroidered in white on the top left corner, reads the words “Mina’s Place.” It looks just like your mother’s handwriting, the original font of the brand, and it makes your eyes well up with tears. For a brief moment, when you hold up the apron, you could imagine your mother standing right before you with it on. 
“Chef, I—” You’re having trouble forming the right words to say. 
“So she’ll be with you, right above your heart, every step of the way,” Jaehyun pauses for a moment, “Chef.” He gives you a smile so fond, you are again struck with disbelief. 
Hearing the word ‘chef’ come from Chef Jaehyun is something you want to hear over and over again. You want it to play through your head like a broken record. Chef Jaehyun has always been hard on you, but you knew that he was only hard on you because he only wanted the best. Chef Jaehyun is always hard on everyone and you failed to notice that. He truly wants the best for the people he works with and most importantly, the people he teaches. Maturing is realizing that you were ignorant of Chef Jaehyun’s true intentions and immediately thought negatively of him because of your past encounters with him. 
“D-Do you mind saying that again?”
“I’m proud of how far you’ve come, Chef Y/N. This is only the beginning.”
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After a long first day of opening, you and your team of chefs and waiters and waitresses see the last customer out. The grand opening has been such a dream to you. There was a long line that wrapped around the block. The diner was packed with many people. The line never truly saw its end until an hour before closing. When the last customer walks out of the diner after complimenting how delicious their food was, you feel your legs give out and you sigh with relief. Slowly getting back up onto your feet, you head to the back kitchen to congratulate your team.
“And we are officially closed until tomorrow morning!” You exclaim. That is, until you spot a celebratory cake sitting right in front of you on the countertop. Your team of chefs and waiters and waitresses have their phones on and recording your surprised face. “Oh you guys, you shouldn’t have!”
“Congratulations on your grand opening, chef!”
Your eyes scan the kitchen. There’s Luna, a good friend of yours from university who worked as a waitress at a hotel restaurant. She quit her job in a heartbeat after you had offered her to work front of house with a better pay. Standing right next to Luna is Minhyuck, who just graduated from culinary arts college and has been wanting to get into the kitchen as soon as possible. You saw your younger self in him, which is why you hired him on your team. Right next to Minhyuck is Yena, a rookie pastry chef that’s planning on entering MasterChef and figured working with a MasterChef champion would help her. Next to Yena are Wheein and Dohyun, who are line chefs and also your co-culinary interns in Florence. Lastly, there’s Mark and Donghyuck, two best friends and college students who were looking to get jobs as waiters.
“You guys are going to make me cry.” You pout your lips.
“To Mina’s Place!” Mark exclaims.
“To Mina’s Place!” Everyone else exclaims.
You smile, leaning in to blow out the candles. Everyone cheers. But slowly, everyone puts down their phones and stops recording video. You look at them confusedly as they begin to flash you encouraging and cheeky smiles and grins. 
“Why are you guys looking at me like that?” You ask.
“Well, would you look at the time, we should get going!” Dohyun looks down at his wristwatch, avoiding your question.
“Oh, yeah, you’re right. My mom’s going to kill me!” Wheein is rushing to gather her things.
“Wheein is my carpool driver, so I should get going too.” Yena bites her lip.
One by one, everyone starts to leave the kitchen and the diner. When it’s just you, you slowly turn around to see Chef Jaehyun entering the kitchen. He clears his throat and scratches the back of his neck nervously. You tilt your head in confusion.
“Y-You’re still here, chef?” You question.
He nods his head. “I wanted to drop by and see your last customer out.”
“O-Oh, you didn’t have to—”
“I wanted to.” He smiles. “I was wondering if you could…”
He falls silent, having trouble finding the right words to come out. You stand there, expectantly, waiting for him to finish. The first thing you notice is how red Chef Jaehyun’s ears are becoming. The second thing you notice is how he can’t seem to look directly into your eyes. The third thing you notice is that… Chef Jaehyun has become shy and nervous around you. Have the tables turned?
“If I could…?”
“If you could teach me how to make the grapefruit and basil pie.” He blurts out and it comes out as a jumble of words. 
You bite back a smile. “Are you going to steal my recipe and start selling grapefruit and basil pie at your restaurant?”
“Of course not,” he panics. “I would never do that.”
“I’m not sure if I could trust you,” you fold your arms, continuing to tease him. “Jaehyun.”
“I won’t,” he says softly, finally finding the courage to look into your eyes. When it sinks in that you called him by his name, his gaze softens. You feel your heart swell. “I promise. That is, if you promise me one thing too.”
“Of course,” you smile. “What is it?”
“You’ll accompany me to Taeyong’s wedding.” 
“I’d love to, in fact, I was invited as well—”
“As my date.” He finishes. You almost choke on your spit. 
Is this really happening? Jaehyun looks incredibly nervous. You bite your lip to stop yourself from smiling so wide. You slowly nod your head in response.
“I’d love to, Jaehyun.”
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THE ‘REAL’ FIRST TIME.
When Jaehyun’s parents pick him up from elementary school, it’s pouring showers outside. But the only thing that lit up the gloomy streets of Seoul was Mina’s Place, a diner that he and his parents would frequent every Friday to reward their efforts for the past week. Both of Jaehyun’s parents are well-known professors at Yonsei University, specifically in the culinary arts program. Jaehyun’s father was a chef alongside famous chefs like Baek Jongwon and Lee Yeonbok. Jaehyun’s mother was a pastry chef who was known for her win at a famous pastry competition back in her days. 
And Jaehyun… was a mini chef in the making. 
On a gloomy Friday afternoon, Jaehyun and his parents sit in their usual corner of Mina’s Place. A woman seeming to be in her late thirties heads over to their table with a menu. She’s wearing an apron and a chef’s hat. 
“Welcome to Mina’s Place, what can I get you started for today?” The woman asks, pulling out her notepad after gently placing the menus down onto the red table. 
“Hi Mina, we’d love to have the usual!” Jaehyun’s father exclaims. “That grapefruit and basil pie has never left my mind since the last time we were here.” 
“That’s such a relief to hear…” The woman, whom Jaehyun now knows is Mina herself, sighs with relief. She writes it down in the notepad along with his mother’s order. She clicks her pen before stuffing it into the pocket of her yellow apron. “I’ll have your orders ready in a bit. In the meantime, make yourselves at home!”
Jaehyun’s eyes wander around the diner. Although this diner was the place he and his parents would frequent, this diner was extra special for a reason. That reason being that his parents got engaged right in front of the diner while it was owned by different owners. During that time, the diner wasn’t Mina’s Place yet, it was a fast-food restaurant. 
Jaehyun’s attention is disrupted when Mina comes back to their table with their orders. His eyes land on the little girl standing right beside her. She has such large innocent eyes. She looks curiously at him. She seems to be somewhere around his age. She’s sporting a mini apron that looks exactly like Mina’s. 
“And who is this cute little girl?” He hears his mother ask Mina.
Mina places her hand on the little girl’s shoulder, bringing the little girl closer to her. She cuddles against Mina. “This is my daughter. Her name is Y/N.”
“How old is she?” His mother continues to ask questions out of curiosity. 
“She’s ten.” Mina pinches her daughter’s cheek. 
“Oh, she’s two years younger than Jaehyun!” His father joins in the conversation. “They could be friends!”
Jaehyun makes eye contact with the little girl. She looks up at her mother before looking at both of his parents. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she looks back at him and sticks out her tongue. He feels taken aback, eyes slightly widening. 
“I think they would get along quite well!” Mina smiles. “Doesn’t little Jaehyun want to be a chef when he grows up?”
“He does,” his mother nods her head. “Does Y/N want to be a chef as well? Take after you?”
“She sure does! They could even go to culinary school together! Maybe go to a cooking competition or something!”
Friends? Jaehyun scoffs, sending a glare at the little girl. They have an intense staredown. To the adults, it looks like they’re staring at each other because they have crushes on each other. But in reality, Jaehyun’s having a staredown with the little girl because she provoked him. He pokes his tongue at her in return. Her eyes widen as if she did not expect him to put up a mini fight. They could even go to culinary school together? There’s no way that that’ll happen. Cooking competition? Absolutely no way. 
“I think my little daughter here has a crush…”
“Jaehyun, sweetie, isn’t Y/N so pretty? You can’t seem to stop staring at her.”
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THE REALIZATION OF (MANY) THINGS.
“That was you?!”
“I can’t believe that was you!”
Sitting by the water fountain, you and Jaehyun talk about your real first encounter with each other when you were kids. From the outside of the reception venue, you can hear the DJ playing a remix of cha cha slide and the guests chanting along. Taeyong’s wedding has been memorable. It was nice to see one of your mentors getting married to the love of his life. Not only that, but you’ve been having a great time with Jaehyun. Since it was getting quite stuffy inside the venue, you and Jaehyun decided to stroll around the garden outside to get some fresh air. 
“You know, sometimes I think that we’ve always had fateful encounters.” Jaehyun begins. He’s aching to hold your hand. But he knows that he wants to take things slow and carefully. He’s so in love with you that he doesn’t want to mess this up. 
“Fateful encounters? What makes you say that?” You ask.
“I came out of a horrible breakup before flying to Florence to run a restaurant with Taeyong. It was such a huge coincidence to have a beautiful woman spill expensive wine all over my shirt.” He chuckles.
You jokingly glare at him. “It was an accident.”
“I know, I know.” He waves it off. “It was an even more big of a coincidence to have the same beautiful woman serve me a dish at the same restaurant.”
“Makes sense.” You nod your head in agreement. “And then we met again at MasterChef but I was a contestant and you were the judge.”
“You know, when I heard that you were withdrawing from the competition, it was like my entire world was crashing down.” He says softly. “It was like I was reminded of all the times I’ve met you and how I couldn’t let you go. I had a feeling that there must’ve been a reason why I met you after getting dumped by my ex-girlfriend.”
“But you showed me that it’s worth working hard and that it’s worth chasing your dreams.” You smile. “I haven’t thank you yet for that but... thank you, Jaehyun. If it weren’t for you, I would probably fly back out to Florence and pick up another job as a waitress.”
“And yet, I would still look for you.” He confesses. “If somehow you stuck with your decision of withdrawing, I would’ve still looked for you, no matter how far the distance.”
“Really?” You whisper.
He smiles. “Yes. I mean, how could I forget the beautiful woman that spilled expensive wine all over my shirt?”
You playfully slap his arm. “You’re really going to tease me for that for the rest of my life, huh?”
“Of course, if only you allow me to be with you for a long time.” He says and it slowly turns into a soft, shy mumble. “Agh, this is so hard!”
You quirk an eyebrow. He’s turning away from you, throwing a cute little fit. “What’s so hard?”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you something but I keep getting nervous because you look—” He stops himself. “You look so pretty and whenever I look at you, I lose my train of thought and all of the things I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
“What is it that you need to tell me?”
“Our fateful encounters.” He begins to tell you, with his back facing you because he’s too nervous to look at you. “After MasterChef, I did everything I could to find you, to see you, to get to know you more. When Doyoung told me that you were going to be working at his restaurant for a while, I kept visiting in hopes to see you but you weren’t there.”
“You did?”
“Yes, which is why I gave you those flowers!” He exclaims. “And then when we were asked to shoot that Valentine’s Day video, I agreed to do it in a heartbeat when I found out that you were going to be joining the project.” 
“Oh...” 
“It used to be so easy to look for you because of all of our fateful encounters. But after MasterChef, it’s become a mission to find you. But now that I’ve finally found you again, I knew that I couldn’t let you go no matter what.” 
“Jaehyun...” You trail off. 
He sucks in a deep breath before slowly turning back around to face you. “Y/N, I hope you know what I’m trying to say, where I’m trying to get at with this... but...”
“But?” You have a feeling you know what he’s going to tell you, but you would rather wait for it to spill past his lips. 
“I’m—” He begins before looking down at your feet. His eyebrows raise in shock and he lets out a small gasp. “Oh, you’re wearing them.”
You almost want to curse at your two feet for ruining the moment. You look down at your heels that you’ve chosen to wear to the wedding. It’s the pair of heels that Alessandro had given to you when you broke your heels after tripping over yourself and spilling wine all over Jaehyun. 
“These heels? Yeah, I was given—”
“You’re wearing the heels that I gave you.” He cuts you off.
“You were the one who gave these?” You whisper.
His eyes meet yours and he chuckles, nodding his head. “Of course. When you got back up after tripping over, I noticed that your heels broke and so I stopped by one of the shops along the strip to get you a new pair. I think I dropped it off with Alessandro because I was running a bit late to—oof!”
“It was you. It’s always been you. This entire time.” You crush him with a hug. He’s caught off guard and sits there in shock for a brief moment before melting into your embrace. 
He slowly pulls away and grabs your hands. “As I was saying...”
“As you were saying...” You continue.
“With all our fateful encounters... with those pair of heels... with all of the times I’ve crossed paths with you, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way in so long.” He continues. “Y/N, I’m so in love with you. I’m already so nervous telling you this right now, especially while holding your hands. I just wanted you to know that I have feelings for you and you could completely reject me, I understand—”
“I’m in love with you too, Jaehyun.”
“Really?” He whispers, still in shock. “You’re giving me a chance?”
“Only if you give me a chance.” You chuckle.
“You don’t know how happy you’ve made me, Y/N.”
“You don’t know how much I want to make you happy, Jaehyun.”
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WELCOME TO THE NEW SEASON OF MASTERCHEF.
“For today’s challenge, we will be recreating Y/N’s most famous dish!”
All of the contestants let out gasps when you step onto the stage to join the three chef judges. The judges for the new season of MasterChef remain the same; Chef Taeyong, Chef Jaehyun, and Chef Doyoung. After having them beg you to guest on the show, you decided to give it a shot.
“For today’s challenge, you will be recreating my famous dish of a deconstructed basil and grapefruit pie.” You smile. “To start this challenge, let us all gather around the front so that you could learn how to master your own deconstructed pie!”
You begin by making your way towards the demo station where you will be showing the contestants how to make your famous pie. Everyone joins in and gathers around you to get a glimpse of how to make your famous pie themselves. Standing on the stage a couple of metres behind you are the three judges, you watch you begin your demo.
Jaehyun folds his arms and lets out a happy sigh. Taeyong glances at him and quirks an eyebrow. “I wonder who that beautiful woman is cooking at the demo table over there.”
Taeyong snorts and rolls his eyes. “Jaehyun, that’s your girlfriend.”
Jaehyun chuckles, nodding his head. “Oh right... she is. That’s my girlfriend—actually, my fiance.”
“Your what? Since when? H-How—” Doyoung and Taeyong share shocked looks while Jaehyun digs into the pockets of his jeans to pull out an engagement ring. Your engagement ring, to be exact.
“Since last night.” He holds up your engagement ring in one hand and shows his engagement ring that he’s wearing on his other. “She doesn’t like cooking with her engagement ring so I’m just holding it for her.”
“Dude...” Taeyong clenches his chest.
Jaehyun snorts. “Dude...”
“Wow, I’m really the only one left that’s single, huh?” Doyoung sighs.
The two chefs comfort him by patting his back.
“She’ll come around soon, Doyoung. You just gotta be patient.”
“You never know, she’ll be a chef too!”
“Chef Jaehyun?” 
The three of them shift their attention back to the contestants. You’re the one calling out to Jaehyun. He quirks an eyebrow. “Yes, Chef Y/N?”
“A couple of the ladies here are wondering if you’re single,” you chuckle. 
Jaehyun shares a knowing look with you. “Well, I hate to disappoint but I just got engaged to the love of my life.”
They let out sad sighs and groans before everyone gets back to learning how to make your famous pie. Taeyong smirks. 
“You’re breaking so many hearts right now, Jaehyun.”
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💌 author’s note. she’s FINALLY here 😩 again, i apologize for keeping this off for such a long time. i’ve been super busy with school and just life in general. to everyone who’s been super understanding and patient, thank you so much. from the bottom of my heart, i sincerely thank you for waiting for such a long time. i also wanted to thank @sehunniepotwrites for hearing me voice out my frustrations and all of my excitement throughout writing this fic. nikki truly saw all of the emotions that i’ve experienced and gone through while writing chef!jae. i remember always wanting to write a chef!jae fic and bring chef!jae to life, but there was a lot of pressure and the feeling of doubt.. i felt like i had to do it justice and the fear of not writing it to the best of my ability (esp with me being a perfectionist), it was something that held me back from finishing this fic. but i managed to pull through and i realized that it doesn’t matter, what matters is that i enjoyed writing this fic and if that feeling of enjoyment can be felt through those who read it, that’s more than enough for me. but anyways before this gets longer, thank you so much for reading!
and as always, feedback and comments are always appreciated!
taglist (some of the tags didn’t work so if u didn’t get the notif, i’m sorry!): @anya-writes-stuff​ @swifterauhl​ @tyongblr @alwaysthefirstsight @doyoungsmovingcastle​ @pinkyzae​ @sunshinein17​ @jaehyunnie77​ @dreamycomets​ @seventeeneration​ @srutz​ @coupsiesluv​ @nctdom​ @moonchele​ @freshprunecowboyapricot​ @chimmybaek7​ @forhaever​ @ten10vly​ @fluffyjaes​ @gyujaehyun​ @so-showme-ill-shownu​ @winniet​ @yipyipmorals​ 
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yutaholic · 2 months
Text
the scent of blood, act I (M)
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pairing: jaehyun (nct) + you (reader) + yuta (nct)
genre: the one where you end up sharing a house with Jaehyun, your vampire ex, and his werewolf roommate Yuta, who is also your ex.
warnings: mild language; mentions of blood and violence; descriptions of witchcraft; brief dialogue about fertility and pregnancy; explicit sexual content
a/n: this is the first part of a duology; check my masterlist for other parts; happy reading!
“Hang on, Yuta. Please, baby. We’re almost there.”
The desperation in your voice rang out through the woods as you shuffled between the trees, dragging Yuta beside you. He was teetering closer to unconsciousness and whatever waited for him beyond, but with the last of his strength, he moved his feet as best he could to match your steps.
His arm around your shoulders and yours around his waist, you kept mumbling incantations, chanting prayers to the goddess above that whatever magic was in your witch blood would be enough to save the boy you loved. But you knew it was too late.
You paused your mumblings to say, “Stay with me, Yuta,” before starting them again. He was slipping away, you could feel it. His heart was slowing. His body burned with fever. You could sense the venom coursing through his blood like wildfire, claiming him with its curse.
Tears pricked at your eyes, but you fought them back with everything you had. Now was not the time to cry. There would come a time, after you’d done all that you could to save him, that you could reckon with your guilt.
This is all my fault, you thought bitterly. Never would you understand why monsters were so drawn to you.
The werewolf had ambushed you while you were on a quiet moonlit walk with Yuta and though you managed to drive him off with a mixture of spells and rage, the crazed man had sank his fanged teeth into your boyfriend’s shoulder. Yuta was protecting you, shielding you with his body even though you begged and screamed for him to run.
The bite was meant for you. Many more were intended to follow until nothing was left of you. Because witches were the natural enemies of werewolves.
And vampires.
With that thought, you lifted your eyes, having had your attention on the ground, putting one foot in front of the other as Yuta became dead weight at your side. You were hauling him now with all of your might. Prayers of safety offered up to the goddess became pleadings for strength.
The house came into view. Relief washed over you, but it was short-lived. You banged on the door vigorously and hoped he was inside and not elsewhere… feeding.
Yuta went slack and your body quivered, your muscles protesting. You grit your teeth and held him, refusing to let go if it was the last thing you did.
The door opened and there stood Jaehyun. He looked exceptionally pale, contrasting with the blood red crimson staining his lips.
So, he had been feeding.
There was a tiny flicker on his face, a sign of surprise, but any and all emotion was swiftly replaced with resentment. Which was fair, considering your history together.
“How can I help you?” Jaehyun asked gruffly, totally ignoring the injured man at your side. The blood dripping from the wound in Yuta’s shoulder snared his attention for a moment, but fortunately, the vampire was sated.
And the wound already reeked of werewolf venom.
“I’m calling in a favor,” you said, knees buckling. At any moment, you were going to keel over and take Yuta with you. Your strength was at its threshold.
And yet the vampire made no moves to assist you. “I wasn’t aware I owed you one.”
You shot your ex a furious glare and snapped, “Do you really think your father’s brain tumor just disappeared like some miracle?”
Jaehyun blinked, taken off guard.
You whispered, “I bled so much for those spells.”
Jaehyun finally acknowledged the man in your arms and reached forward, getting ahold of Yuta and folding him over his shoulder with the grace and might only a vampire could have. “Come inside.”
You hurried in and followed Jaehyun to the sofa where he laid Yuta down. Dropping to your knees, you surveyed him, finding only the vicious bite on the bridge of his shoulder. It was deep and infected with the curse of the wolf.
“What the hell happened?” Jaehyun asked, standing over you.
“We were attacked.”
That much was obvious. Jaehyun didn’t know what he was expecting. You were in no state emotionally to give him a breakdown of the past few minutes.
You refused to believe what was happening. The wolf venom was evolving inside Yuta, that much you could feel. His body temperature was rising, higher than ever before. Higher than a human could survive. It was mutating him, rather than kill him. Some men didn’t survive the curse.
Yuta was different. He was resilient. His strength would ultimately save his life.
Jaehyun could see the man on his couch had succumbed to the curse and though he was comatose now, he would awaken as a monster very soon. Slipping a hand to your shoulder, Jaehyun coaxed, “He’s too far gone. There’s nothing you can do.”
You shivered at the cold touch of Jaehyun’s hand on your skin and the warmth the gesture sent through you. Kindness was the last thing you deserved from him. You shook your head vehemently at his words, biting your lip while the tears fell down your cheeks. “I can draw it out of him,” you said hurriedly, in vain. “I need something silver and a…”
Jaehyun spoke your name and nothing more. Nothing else needed to be said.
You slumped against the couch, defeated. Taking Yuta’s cold hand between your own, you left a kiss across his knuckles.
“Is he your lover?” Jaehyun asked, though he knew the answer by the way you were reacting to losing him. Not so long ago, a similar fate was visited on you and Jaehyun.
Your voice broke. “Yes.”
“I will help him, but only because I owe you a favor, as you said.”
You peered up at the vampire in disbelief, wiping at the tears on your cheeks with a fist. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Jaehyun afforded you no emotion. He kept those under lock and key in his frozen heart. “You need to go. When the transformation takes over, he won’t be able to control himself.”
You nodded reluctantly. More than anything, you wanted to stay and see him through it, just as you had when the vampire before you was claimed by his curse. Rising to your feet, you leaned down and left a parting kiss on Yuta’s forehead. “I love you,” you whispered for his ears alone, hoping he could hear you in whatever darkness had swallowed him. “And I’m sorry.”
Jaehyun led you to the front door and checked outside before letting you pass, asking, “Are you alright to get home on your own?”
“My magic will protect me.” You just hoped it would be enough.
Jaehyun grabbed you by the arm as you made to leave, stopping you in your tracks, and said, “Be careful.”
His cold touched warmed you again and in that moment you craved any morsel of absolution from him you could get. You hugged the vampire tightly, burying your face in his chest and remembering the man you once loved.
Jaehyun didn’t push you away like you expected him to, all things considered. Instead, he held you flush against him.
You panicked when you realized what you were doing. How dare you embrace him when you were the reason vampire blood coursed through his veins. Fresh tears cascaded down your face. “I’m so sorry,” you whimpered, then you ran from there as fast as you could.
Jaehyun watched you leave, returning to the house only when you had disappeared from his sight into the shadow of the woods.
That was a year ago. Since then, you’d sworn of spells. And dating.
You were indescribably lonely, but you knew that was the price you had to pay. With your magic, you attracted death and destruction, and not much else.
Not a day went by that you didn’t think about Jaehyun and Yuta. Jaehyun was a man of his word, he would have seen Yuta through his dark night. There was no doubt in your mind you’d left Yuta in good hands, but you wondered how they had changed in a year. Did they hate you as much as you hated yourself?
You tried not to think about that, but cooped up in a house with only your cat as company lended itself to too much thinking.
It was the creed of the witch that you must protect humans from monsters; a duty you’d kept for most of your life, but for now, you tried to stay home. You isolated yourself in your tiny apartment doing a slew of remote jobs to keep the bills paid.
Then, one night, a piercing plea for help rang out in your ears. One only you could hear.
You knew that cry. It belonged to a fellow witch. And even though you had never met, everything in your body and soul screamed that you must help her.
Throwing on clothes, you were out the door. You followed her voice in your head. It was an alarm in your ears, but as you ran, the calls grew quiet. You were running out of time.
And you weren’t the least surprised when her pleas drew you into the woods bordering your town.
These goddamned woods. Everything that went wrong in your life happened beneath these trees. This was where monsters hunted humans. Here, witches fought and died to protect men from the demons they’d become.
The call faded out. She was gone. You stood and closed your eyes, reaching out for her. Though witches came from all lands and backgrounds, they shared the same magic in their blood.
You continued forward, taking out your phone and realizing you had no service. Not that there was anyone you could call in this situation. The clock read quarter to midnight.
One foot in front of the other. That was all you could do. You were following the remnants of her beacon, tracking the tiniest hints of her. Eventually, you arrived at a clearing where a pyre was burning and the blood drained from your face.
Never in your lifetime had you seen a witch burn, but the trauma carried inside you from the generations that came before.
Before you could fully process the horror of what was happening, there was movement to your left and to your right. Sharpened by years of training, your body kicked into gear, recognizing you had waltzed into a trap, and you bolted.
A host of cloaked shadows chased after you with the intent of running you down. Traps lay scattered through the trees, but you managed to evade them. You lost all sense of time and space as the only thought on your mind became survival.
Spells were draining too much of your power. You were swarmed, overwhelmed. Offensive magic by its nature was taxing. You were a healer, not a fighter.
Someone landed a decisive blow to your side, sending you reeling to the ground. You felt your bones break and you instinctively curled into a ball, protecting your head with your arms.
Then, a howl rang out in the woods and the footsteps scattered.
As the darkness swallowed you whole, you saw a wolf with blood red eyes inching toward you.
You woke up on a plush mattress, covered in blankets. Sweat cooled on your neck, chilling you despite the bed’s warmth. Your fingers twitched. Someone was holding your hand. Your vision was blurry when you first opened your eyes, but a figure came into focus. He was sitting on the edge of your bed, watching you intently.
You gasped in disbelief. “Yuta?”
Yuta smiled. “Hi, baby.”
You sat up sharply, throwing your arms around his neck in a hug, but you cried out in pain the moment you did.
“Easy,” Yuta chided, steering you gently to lay back down. Though the corners of his mouth were raised as he fought a smile at how quick you’d been to embrace him. “You’ve got some broken ribs.”
“I need to make a potion,” you said, running a hand down your stomach. You could feel the bruises.
Yuta brought a hand to your shoulder, trying to stop you. “You’re welcome to do that when you can walk, but even I can feel your magic is drained.”
You attempted to sit up one more time and wheezed, “I need to. If I can just…”
“Lay down,” came a familiar deep voice.
You glanced up to see Jaehyun in the doorway and your face hardened with a frown. It wasn’t in your nature to be bossed around.
Jaehyun unfolded his arms and stepped into the room. “You’re staying here until we figure out who is after you.”
“I can’t stay here,” you argued, looking to Yuta for help, but he said nothing. “I have things at my place. And my cat.”
“That wasn’t a request,” Jaehyun said coldly.
Yuta was a little gentler. “Nyx will find her way here.”
You tensed with worry at the thought of your beloved cat and cried, “What if someone hurts her?”
The thought hadn’t crossed Yuta’s mind, but he knew what that damned cat meant to you and said, “I’ll go find her.”
You grabbed his arm when he rose from your bed. “No, wait. You can’t. What if whoever attacked me is out there?”
“Goddamn, woman,” Yuta teased playfully. “Make up your mind.”
You were in no state for banter and you let your hand fall from his arm, lowering your head to hide the tears gathering in your eyes. You were scared to death. It was happening all over again. First you lost Jaehyun. Then you lost Yuta. Now, you were losing yourself.
Your heart couldn’t take anymore.
Yuta almost collapsed in a heap as he felt your emotions, but before he could console you, Jaehyun spoke up, “Get the cat. I’ll make sure she behaves herself.”
You scowled at him, but you appreciated his concern for Nyx.
Yuta left without another word, obviously in a hurry.
Jaehyun sank down on the edge of the bed and handed you a cup. You took it with a small thanks and put the mug to your lips. You didn’t know what you were expecting, your host was a vampire after all, but you were more than relieved when the hot tea warmed your hoarse throat.
The two of you stared at each other, as if a silent battle of wills was taking place. There was endless animosity and hurt, but maybe some longing too.
Jaehyun broke the silence to say, “He did well. The werewolf transformation.”
You figured that, given the wolf you had seen the night before and had presumably rescued you. It was enormous and hard to believe Yuta was somewhere inside it, ruled by beast blood.
“And he stayed here?” With you, you almost added, but pinched your lips together.
“Yes. He’s a decent roommate. After a few weeks when he could hunt and feed himself, I expected him to leave, but he never did and I never asked him to.”
You snorted back a laugh. “My exes, a vampire and a werewolf, living together. Unbelievable.”
“You can count yourself in there too for now,” Jaehyun said firmly, taking the empty cup from your hands and setting it on the nightstand. “We aren’t letting you out of our sights until we know what is hunting you.”
“Jaehyun, with all due respect - ow!”
You yelped in pain, foolishly trying to get up again and your broken ribs protested even the simplest of actions. Not to mention, every muscle attached to them screamed in pain.
Jaehyun caught you in his arms as you staggered and set you carefully back into bed as if he were an endless well of patience. Which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. “You never learn,” he grumbled under his breath.
You held onto his arms as you sank back onto the mattress. “My magic is depleted. I’ve never felt this empty.”
Jaehyun took note of your trembling hands clinging to him and he softened. “You’re in too much pain.”
You huffed, “I can take pain. I’m built for it.”
“Not when I’m here and can do something about it.”
“What do you mean?”
Jaehyun leaned in close to you and cradled your cheek. His voice was low. “I’m going to kiss you.”
You sucked in a breath in surprise. “What?” That was the last thing you expected him to do. It felt wrong, forbidden. Kissing a vampire. Him being the love of your life not too long ago was beside the point.
Jaehyun’s lips brushed yours and he sounded amused when he said, “You know how the kiss of a vampire works.”
“I can’t,” you sighed weakly. Vampires were your enemies. But this wasn’t just a vampire. This was Jaehyun.
“Yes, you can,” he coaxed, holding your jaw between his fingers and tilting your head.
You knew he was waiting for you to close the rest of the distance, because no matter how much he wanted to get you out of pain, Jaehyun would never steal a kiss without your permission. You met your lips to his and he started slow, building and building until you were panting into each other’s mouths.
A calm feeling settled over you, which became a heavy fog. Your mind slipped into a euphoric haze and your body went numb. You couldn’t taste the venom on his tongue, but you felt it seeping into you until the pain was gone and your limbs felt heavier than the world.
This was how vampires lulled their prey, rendering them helpless. They could feed at their leisure with no resistance, gorging in excess on blood until there wasn’t a single drop left. There was no pain, no fear. Only a blissful high that took them into the clouds. And eventually to their death.
Jaehyun lowered you to the bed, careful not to press his weight onto you, ever mindful of your injuries. He would kill whoever hurt you, rip them apart piece by piece. You moaned and Jaehyun tore himself away from you before he ran out of strength to do so, and pressed a parting kiss over your pulse. His mouth was dry, craving your touch, but more than that, he craved your blood. He wanted to taste you and drown you in ecstasy.
You let out a small noise, tired but relaxed. The allure of his venom made you want more of him, but also something inherently Jaehyun and the connection you once had with him. He could bite into your neck and drain you dry, and you would still beg for more. Such was the nature of the beast.
“Be a good girl and rest now,” Jaehyun purred, brushing some of your hair from your brow. “Don’t make me tie you to the bed. Although, if memory serves, you always did like that.”
“Jae…,” was all you could manage before you faded into deep sleep, safe and sound in the lion’s den.
Hours passed. You woke in the evening, just before sunset.
There was a bathroom attached to your room and you staggered in, relieving yourself and cleaning up. The person staring back at you in the mirror was battered and bruised, but alive.
When the door to your room opened, you came out, hand pressed to your waist where the worst of your pain lingered. “Look who’s here,” Yuta announced, motioning inside with his hand.
Your black cat strutted into the bedroom, looking furious and disgruntled.
“Nyx,” you exclaimed, rushing over as your feline familiar leapt onto the bed and meowed at the top of her lungs, letting her complaints be known. You collapsed on the bed, petting and kissing her, but she was quick to turn and put her butt in your face, tail flicking with annoyance.
Although, with one sniff, Nyx realized you were hurt and gave you a headbutt to the nose in apology.
Yuta watched affectionately. “Here,” he said after a moment, holding out a familiar necklace. “Your Moonstone.”
“Oh my god. Thank you. You have no idea.”
“I know what it means to you.”
You slipped the necklace on, feeling whole and complete when the crystal rested between your breasts. It was the last act of magic your mother ever did, sealing all of her blessings for protection and strength to you in the little stone.
Yuta clambered onto the bed, smiling at your disheveled hair and puffy face. It was obvious you’d slept the day away, though he and Jaehyun agreed it was in your best interest. “So, did you and Jaehyun get the awkward as hell conversation out of the way?”
“More or less,” you deadpanned, running your hand down Nyx’s back.
Yuta chuckled, lowering his head in the hopes of hiding his eyes. “He still loves you, you know.”
“What?”
“Come on, baby. Don’t play clueless.”
You bristled and shot back, “I’m not playing anything, Yuta.”
Something came over Yuta; an emotion you didn’t quite recognize. His gaze hardened on you and his voice was both silky and razor sharp when he hissed, “Me and him have a lot in common, don’t we? You came into our lives, we were turned into monsters and you left us.”
“It wasn’t like that,” you said, shivering as a chill descended on the room.
“Ever since I turned, I’ve wanted to ask you - why do you do this? Why do you hunt creatures like us? As if we had any choice in the matter?”
Tears burned your eyes at that. His anger was justified. “I protect humans from monsters,” you told him softly, coaxing. “That’s it. I don’t hunt anyone. And besides, you’re not like them.”
Yuta set his jaw and snapped, “I’m not? Then, why didn’t you come back for me?”
You began wringing your hands in your lap, because they were shaking. Emotion was overwhelming you, the strongest being guilt. It was soul-crushing. “I wanted to. So many times.”
Yuta had thought about you every day since he turned, since you left him there. He would never admit it, but he caught himself staring out at the woods every morning and every night, hoping you would come back for him.
You never did.
“What about Jaehyun? You didn’t come back for him either.”
“You don’t understand. I…”
Yuta leapt to his feet and snarled, “I don’t understand? Are you fucking kidding me?”
Jaehyun appeared at the speed of light, making you jolt in surprise. “Enough,” he said harshly, grabbing Yuta by the arm. “She’s not strong enough for this right now and you know it.”
“Let him, Jaehyun. I deserve it,” you mumbled, hanging your head in shame.
Jaehyun said your name in reproach. “Don’t be a martyr.”
Yuta looked past Jaehyun at you and cried, “I never would have left you.”
I know. “I’m sorry,” was all you could say. You knew no words would help. No apology would ever soothe the sting of betrayal and abandonment.
Jaehyun fisted his hands in Yuta’s shirt and hauled him away from you. “Take a walk, Yuta.”
“I fucking hate her,” Yuta yelled. The anger was billowing inside him now to the point he would burst at any moment, stoked by his wolf blood.
Jaehyun knew that, but in the past year, he had also come to know and more importantly, understand Yuta. “That’s the wolf in you talking,” Jaehyun countered. “The human in you is still in love with her.”
That made you flinch. It hurt more than all the rest. Nothing was worse than wanting and longing for the one thing you couldn’t have.
Yuta didn’t like hearing it either and he shoved Jaehyun back. When it came to raw strength, they were equals, but Yuta’s anger gave him a slight edge. “I’m not human anymore and neither are you,” he hissed, bitter.
They were arguing over the very thing that had led to them no longer being human - you.
Fortunately, Jaehyun outmatched him when it came to experience and skill. Putting himself between you and Yuta, though he knew Yuta would throw himself in flames before he ever hurt you, Jaehyun said, “The two of you can work out your shit when she’s healed. Maybe I’ll join you. But for now, you need to go. I won’t tell you again.”
Yuta glared, but after a pause, he turned and stomped away.
Hearing the back door slam shut a few seconds later, Jaehyun was satisfied that Yuta had enough distance between them and finally faced you. He decided to lighten the moment with some humor. “Was he always that temperamental?”
“Spirited,” you mumbled, your eyes still on your hands in your lap.
Jaehyun quipped, “Total opposite of me, I guess.”
There was a bite to his tone that you didn’t miss. You couldn’t hold back the tears anymore and they rolled down your cheeks. “I never tried to replace you. I need you to know that.”
Jaehyun was taken aback, but he told you gently, “I know.”
You wiped your face roughly. The tears only brought you more shame. “I met him and we just clicked. After I lost you, I swore I would never love anyone again. He showed me that I could.”
Jaehyun lowered to the edge of your bed, watching you intensely. He knew you were avoiding his eyes like your life depended on it, but he wanted to hear what you had to say. About Yuta. About him. When you didn’t say anything else, he asked, “When you fell for him, did you stop loving me?”
You shook your head.
Jaehyun wanted to hold you, to kiss you. To put all of your doubts to rest. To steal away your pain and tell you that everything would be okay.
Nyx chose that moment to approach him, crawling across your legs and sniffing in his direction. Jaehyun chuckled at her wary posturing and held out his hand to her, letting the cat smell his fingers. He probably had a different scent than she remembered - the cold scent of a vampire, but when Nyx moved toward him and rubbed her body against his side, you knew she had recognized him.
Jaehyun scratched her back and between her ears, earning a pleased little mew. “You remember me, huh?” he teased her cutely, running his fingers down her nose.
You smiled, thinking back on those times Nyx would sleep on his lap or on his chest, purring contentedly. She always made a point to show you how easily she could steal your man.
There were similar memories with Yuta too. Only he and Jaehyun had ever been allowed into your home and into your heart.
Jaehyun’s question was still circling in your mind. When you fell for him, did you stop loving me? The answer was no. Your heart belonged to Jaehyun, but you’d come to accept it belonged to Yuta too.
Finally meeting Jaehyun’s eyes, you asked, “Do you think it’s possible to be in love with more than one person?”
“I’m not the right person to ask,” he said nonchalantly, scratching Nyx’s chin with his finger. “I’ve only been in love once in my life.”
You blinked. “With me?”
Jaehyun paled and it was no surprise he deflected, “You should get some rest.”
Your heart sank when he got up from your bed and you reached out, taking his hand. His fingers felt so cold between yours. “Don’t go. Please.”
Jaehyun heaved a sigh. He would do anything for you. All you had to do was ask. He lowered back to the bed and looked to you expectantly.
“Were you in love with me?”
Jaehyun made a face. Did you really not know? Or did you just need to hear him say it aloud? “Of course, I was,” he told you somberly. “Head over fucking heels.”
You got lost in his dreamy eyes and you were content to stay there forever and ever. Both of you felt like you’d never been apart, but also like you’d waited an eternity to be together again. You were two pieces put back together, having found their way home again.
But you tensed with more tears and let go of his hand. “You know what hurts the most?”
Jaehyun wondered how your answers would differ from his, or perhaps be exactly the same. “What?”
“We were so happy.”
“I know.”
You choked on a sob and held onto him desperately when Jaehyun enveloped you in his arms, burying your face in his chest. Though he was ice cold to the touch, his embrace was warm. You breathed him in, smiling faintly to find that though you could smell the curse of a vampire in his blood, he still had a scent that was purely Jaehyun.
He tucked you into bed, drawing the blankets up and over your shoulders. Jaehyun knew he may have numbed you to pain, but there was nothing his venom could do for your heartache. All he could do was hold you and wipe the tears from your cheeks with his fingers.
You couldn’t sleep. You’d rested enough, but feeling Jaehyun nestled against your back with his arm around you soothed your aching soul. He never left your side.
A raspy voice came from the doorway, “Careful, Jae. You’re spooning a witch.”
You lifted your head and shot Yuta a glare. His annoyance was misplaced.
Yuta took off his jacket and tossed it onto the nearby chair, startling Nyx, and asked in a condescending tone, “Did the two of you have fun while I was on my walk?”
“We just talked,” Jaehyun said levelly, rising from the bed. He was sensing another confrontation.
“About me? I’m flattered.”
Jaehyun scolded, “Don’t be a dick.”
Yuta escalated from agitated to enraged in the time it took you to blink. “Keep my name out of your mouth.”
You flinched as if his anger had just slapped you across the face, but the fire in you was not to be outdone. “What is your problem?”
Yuta pointed between you and Jaehyun, and snipped, “I don’t want the two of you talking about me. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” you barked back, infuriated that he had disrupted the tiny bit of peace Jaehyun had given you.
Yuta stomped out of the room and your eyes followed his back until he was out of sight. Jaehyun gave you a quick scan, making sure you weren’t hurt or upset by the exchange and was pleased to find only irritation.
You were on the mend. Your spark was coming back.
The kitchen a short ways beyond the living room was covered in a heavy layer of dust. As to be expected.
Jaehyun had, at long last, allowed you to meander about the house, deeming you healed enough. Your ribs still hurt and you didn’t have full range of motion, but you could walk without passing out from pain.
Given that Jaehyun couldn’t go out during the day, you made a list of the things you needed and passed it to Yuta, who begrudgingly agreed to run the errands. But the moment he was out of sight, Yuta picked up the pace. The sooner you brewed a potion to heal your battered body, the better.
Sifting through the pots and pans tucked away in a cabinet, you found a pot big enough and put it on the stove. Jaehyun came around the corner, surveying your work, and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly when you scooped out an enormous dust bunny from the pot and held it out to display on your hand.
“Nyx, get out of here,” you commanded your curious black cat. “You know how bad your allergies are.”
She didn’t need to be told twice and hauled ass back to the comfort of your bed. One speck of dust near her sensitive nose would make your feline familiar sneeze for a week.
Jaehyun watched you bring the big pot of water to a boil, muttering words to yourself. It brought back memories of you in your own kitchen, which was full of jars and vials, and made Jaehyun smile fondly. You fancied yourself a green witch; it was your strongest magical connection.
Yuta arrived with the rest of your ingredients and tried his best to stay mad at you, but like Jaehyun, he couldn’t resist watching you invoke your magic. You were in a little world all your own, forgetting that your exes were in the room as your makeshift cauldron began to sputter and pop.
Then, the final touch, you took out a knife and prepared to make a cut in your palm.
Yuta was there at your side in a flash, grabbing your wrist tightly and stopping you in your tracks.
Broken out of your trance, you gawked at him, but before you could question why, Yuta said, “You’re forgetting something.”
You followed his gaze to Jaehyun. The vampire’s eyes had gone dark, until his irises were mere slivers. Hunger crept into every feature of his face. His lips were parted.
You swallowed the lump in your throat. “I’m sorry. I forgot. I…”
“Shh,” Yuta interrupted you, now putting his body in front of yours like a shield. Only a few hours ago, the positions were reversed. Jaehyun protected you from Yuta’s monster urges, now it was his turn. “Jaehyun, go upstairs.”
Jaehyun nodded his head absently, but didn’t move.
“Can you go far enough away that you won’t smell it?”
Jaehyun nodded again, gulping to wet his painfully dry throat. He already knew he was attracted to your blood. Having seen the blade so close to your hand, knowing your blood would drip into the pot, had torn a very visceral reaction out of him.
But he was a man in control of his impulses, and willed himself to the highest reaches of the house, locked away.
You didn’t move or speak until Yuta relaxed and stepped back.
Seeing your worry, Yuta offered a placating smile and explained, “He’s pretty good at controlling his thirst, but he’s still a blood-sucker after all.”
You nodded, unnerved. With the coast clear, you resumed your craft and made a tiny cut in your palm, adding your blood to the brew, which was healed the moment you downed your finished healing potion.
Yuta watched the relief flood your body. It filled his too, knowing you were no longer in pain. Then, he remembered he was angry with you and set his jaw with a frown.
“Yuta,” you called after him when he started to leave.
“What?”
You hated that the metaphorical dust hadn’t settled between you and him. At least with Jaehyun, you felt progress had been made in accepting the pain you’d both been through in losing each other. But Yuta gave you no peace, no surrender. He was clinging to his anger like it kept him sane.
“You have every right to hate me,” you started, searching for the right words. What combination would best lead up to a long overdue apology. You wanted to apologize to Yuta over and over until he forgave you, but saying “I’m sorry” didn’t feel like enough for the hell you’d put him through.
Yuta pivoted back to you and rolled his eyes. “Don’t start.”
You followed him toward the door, knowing he was trying to make his escape. “After everything we said and what we meant to each other…,” you trailed, biting your lip to stifle the tears. “And then I left you here.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Yuta groaned. He wasn’t ready to deal with his feelings. Or yours, for that matter.
You grabbed his arm and made him face you again, crying out, “I thought I was doing the right thing. You have to believe me. I was trying to save you.”
Yuta stared into your face and asked, “What the hell do you want me to say?”
You laid yourself totally at his mercy. “That you forgive me.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“Why not?”
Yuta roared, “Because just looking at you is killing me! Don’t you get it? I was so in love with you!”
You had never heard him raise his voice before, but it didn’t scare you. Not for an instant. This was the passion you knew he had, the fire that coursed through him even before the curse of the wolf stole him away. “You still are,” you told him, calm. “And I’m still in love with you.”
Yuta narrowed his eyes. “You’re a liar.”
You shook your head in defiance and stood your ground. “I’m not a liar. You know that. You know me.”
“I hate you,” Yuta seethed, forcing out the words through his teeth. Every inch of his body rebelled against them.
“Then, I’ll go. If I leave, I’ll be at their mercy. You and I will be even.”
The thought alone made Yuta growl, a sound that wasn’t the least bit human. He gathered you in his arms, holding you flush against him. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he whispered, his breath hot on your face. “I will kill them if they touch you.”
You rose to your tiptoes and met your lips to his, draping your arms around his shoulders. Yuta nearly crushed you in his grasp as he kissed you back, kneading your hips in his hands. His kisses were hungry, starved for you, and you were no better, whimpering into his mouth.
Yuta fisted a handful of your hair at the nape of your neck and yanked you back, another inhuman sound leaving his lips when he broke the kiss almost violently. You stirred the wolf inside him like no one else could. “Fuck,” he cursed under his breath, tearing himself away from you and walking toward the door.
You stood there, running your fingertips over your lips where you could still feel the heat of his kisses, still tasting him on your tongue. He tasted like the thick smoke of a fire and it was heady. You were craving more of it, wanting the smoke to fill your lungs.
His kiss was the opposite of Jaehyun’s. The venom of the vampire had been soothing, numbing, but the werewolf was inciting and reckless.
“I am so fucked,” you mumbled to yourself, running a hand through your hair. A cold shower was now at the top of your list of priorities.
Opting instead for a long hot bath, you dressed in some clothes Yuta brought from your apartment when he’d collected your ingredients and walked out into the living room in search of your housemates.
Yuta was nowhere to be found, but Jaehyun was sitting on the sofa reading a book, which he closed the moment he heard you coming toward him.
“Could you… smell my blood?” you asked him curiously.
“Yes.”
You joined him on the couch, though you left ample room between your bodies. “Does it bother you?”
“Not in the way you think.”
It took a moment for his words to register. “Oh.”
“Don’t worry,” Jaehyun quickly added. “I would never feed on you without your consent.”
“That’s good to know.”
Jaehyun studied you for a moment. “What’s on your mind?” You’d clearly asked those questions for a reason.
You smiled faintly. He could always tell when something was gnawing at you. “I want to put a spell of protection around this place.”
“What do you need?”
“Just my blood,” you told him.
Jaehyun’s eyes flickered. Swallowing that thought down, he murmured, “I’ll go back upstairs and come out when you’re done.”
“I have to wait for nightfall. The moon has to be out.”
“Yuta will protect you then.”
That night, the moon was veiled behind clouds, but you could feel her gaze on you. Witches and vampires and werewolves were all children of the moon, after all. Only humans belonged to the sun.
Sitting in the backyard on the grass, just shy of the stairs, you made a fresh cut in your palm, barely flinching after years of repetition. Magic slept in your blood and with the edge of a blade, it was unleashed. As you let the blood coat your fingers, you traced a rune from memory on the ground, stained crimson.
The red wolf, bigger than any dog you had ever seen, watched you from the trees. His eyes were fixated on you, every muscle in his body taut. He was ready to spring into action if anything should threaten you. This was his territory, as were you, and he was prepared to defend both with his teeth.
You locked eyes with the werewolf as you whispered your incantations into the earth and breathed them out to the moon above, comforted by the knowledge that she listened to your every word. There was only so much your magic could do, but with this spell and her blessing, the house would be concealed to unwanted visitors for a time.
Finished, you got to your feet and made to bandage your hand with some gauze you’d tucked into your pocket. You let out a sound of surprise when Yuta appeared at your side, naked as the day he was born, and seized your wrist. You watched, breath bated, as he cleaned your hand with his tongue, tasting your blood for the first time.
With one chaste kiss from his blood-stained lips, the cut on your palm closed and only a tiny mark remained.
You stared at him, lost for words. Your heart was thumping faster. He looked even more beautiful under the moonlight. The goddess clearly had her favorites.
“Don’t worry. I don’t crave your blood,” Yuta taunted, smirking.
“You healed me,” you said in wonder.
Yuta flushed, all the flirtation leaving him. You were looking at him in reverence, undeserving of a monster. “Wolves heal fast. I wasn’t sure if my venom would work on you or not, but I guess it does,” he told you blithely.
“Thank you.”
Yuta was bashful and he quickly ushered you back into the house, trying to hide his feelings.
Inside, Jaehyun looked more tense than usual. His eyes fell from your face to your hand, but he said nothing. The sight of you staring up at Yuta like he was the sun and the moon and everything in between tore his heart in two.
Once upon a time, you looked at him like that.
The next few days passed without incident. Things were understandably awkward. In your first twenty-four hours with them, you had kissed both Jaehyun and Yuta. You wondered if they knew. Did they talk about you while you were asleep?
For a week, you played innocent, because you honestly didn’t know where you stood with either of them. Jaehyun and Yuta were content to let you lead. Neither of them pressured you for time or attention. They seemed to know all three of you were on shaky ground with each other.
The vampire and the werewolf, however, took turns protecting you. Your guardian rune had done little to soothe their instincts when it came to whatever had been hunting you. Sometimes you caught them turning sharply toward the door, as if they sensed something outside.
Whatever had nearly taken your life was lurking, unsatisfied.
Jaehyun grew increasingly pale and weak. Yuta spent the nights in the woods, on patrol in his wolf form, leaving Jaehyun to guard the house. By day, Yuta rarely left your side, but you caught him stealing cautious glances of Jaehyun.
It wasn’t until the two of them disappeared for a while that you realized Jaehyun was starving and the longer he went without blood, the weaker he became.
You drifted around the house, searching for the two of them. The house was a little too quiet for your liking. When Jaehyun descended the stairs from the upper floor, you noticed immediately that his eyes shone a little brighter and the dark shadows on his face were gone.
“What’s wrong?” Jaehyun asked worriedly. Everything in your body language was off.
“I woke up and both of you were gone,” you told him before you could stop yourself, embarrassed at how you sounded like a needy child.
“We never left the house. You’re safe.”
You nodded, thanking him.
Yuta came down the stairs a few minutes later and you couldn’t help but study him with blatant scrutiny. Now, he looked pale and weak, like he and Jaehyun had traded places. The usual flush of his cheeks was gone and the fire was dim in his eyes.
“Yuta?”
“Hm?”
Curiosity got the better of you. “I never see you eat.”
Yuta told you nonchalantly, “I eat in wolf form.”
“Ah,” you said, but you weren’t done prying. “What’s on the werewolf menu?”
“Deer mostly. What do you think wolves eat?”
That was a pleasant surprise. “You don’t eat people?”
Yuta grimaced, like that was the most unappetizing thought he’d ever heard. “No. I hunt as a wolf. In wolf form, I’m ravenous. In human form, I’m never hungry. Deer meat is very filling.”
You looked to Jaehyun and asked, “What about you?”
“I drink blood,” he replied dryly.
“Obviously, but how do you get it?”
Yuta smirked, amused. It was clear you had your suspicions and you were digging for an answer. He tapped Jaehyun’s arm and asked, “Should we tell her?”
Jaehyun released a loud, heavy exhale. “Yuta lets me feed on him.”
Your eyes widened. “Really?”
Jaehyun’s explanation was sincere, “I had qualms about feeding on humans. Even though I didn’t kill them, I only took what I needed, but human blood has become so tainted with drugs or alcohol or disease.”
Yuta quipped, “Werewolf blood is gourmet shit apparently.”
You had absolutely no clue why the thought of Jaehyun feeding on Yuta made your mouth water. “That’s… interesting,” was all you said, for lack of a better word.
“It satisfies me longer,” Jaehyun added, ignorant of your rapidly changing mood.
You shifted on the sofa across from them, asking innocently, “What about witch blood?”
Yuta replied sharply, “Don’t go there.”
You fixed him with a look, perturbed at him dismissing you. “I’m only curious.”
Yuta stared you dead in the eyes and said, “No, you’re not. You wanna offer yourself up to him on a silver platter. I can smell it.”
Jaehyun recoiled. That was news to him. He studied you, trying to see what Yuta had seen.
Needless to say, Jaehyun tirelessly ignored your scent, because aside from his attraction to your blood, he also craved your body. Now, focusing on you, the other scent attached to yours slapped him in the face.
Arousal.
Heat flushed behind your cheeks and you glanced away nervously. “Smell what?”
Yuta’s attention traveled down between your legs for a moment before returning to your pretty face. “You,” he growled. “I can smell you.”
You crossed your legs and gaped. “Jesus Christ. Are you kidding me?”
“No. And believe me, I would love to give your body what it wants. But not in present company.”
You had no choice but to let that comment bounce off you, because it did nothing but play with your heart and rile up your body. You whipped around to Jaehyun and asked, “Can you smell me too?”
He certainly did now. There was no expression on Jaehyun’s face and his voice had the emotional depth of a rock when he replied, “I’m not comfortable answering that.”
Well, that was answer enough.
You got to your feet hurriedly and fussed, “You both could have warned me. Goddamnit. I’m out here getting close to you and both of you can smell everything about me.”
Yuta retorted, “You’re just extra crabby and horny right now because you’re ovulating.”
Your lips parted with a gasp.
“Yuta, this is not helping,” Jaehyun groaned, running a hand down his face.
Yuta shrugged. He was thoroughly enjoying this at yours - and Jaehyun’s - expense. “Old habits die hard, I guess,” he sang, tilting his head as he raked his gaze up and down your legs. “Even when I was human I could tell when you needed that good shit.”
The tension in the room was unbearable, but beyond that, you felt vulnerable and exposed. You didn’t know what all they could sense about you. Was it just the changes in your body? Or could they read your heart too?
“I’m going for a walk,” you said, finding your voice after what felt like an hour.
“You can’t go outside,” Jaehyun droned. “You’re being hunted.”
“Then, I’m going to my room.”
Yuta and Jaehyun watched you go. The sound of your door shutting echoed through the otherwise silent house.
You landed in a heap on the bed, disturbing Nyx who had been asleep, and decided to lay back on the mattress, your head beside her fluffy hip. Closing your eyes, you tried desperately to fight the images in your mind. Images of being caught between Yuta and Jaehyun with their mouths on your neck and their hands on your sex.
“Get a fucking grip,” you grumbled, carding your fingers into your hair. It was burning up in your room and in your skin.
It had to be the vampire and werewolf effect. They were amplifying your hormones. Fuck all the unresolved tension and feelings between you. This was definitely just chemical. And maybe a little magical.
With you gone, Yuta was left with Jaehyun to toy with and that was always enjoyable to him. “Don’t tell me you couldn’t smell it too?”
“Of course, I smelled her.”
Yuta bit his lip. The memories playing in his mind were downright lecherous. You were nothing short of intoxicating to him. “She used to ride the soul out of me.”
Jaehyun set his jaw. His thoughts weren’t exactly clean either.
“Sometimes she kept riding me even after I came. I told her that almost killed me,” Yuta continued with a chuckle. “I used to get so close to tapping out, but Mama didn’t raise a bitch.”
“Are you done?” Jaehyun snapped. He didn’t need to be thinking about you riding him either, but that’s exactly where a stroll down memory lane had taken him.
Yuta was full of mischief, cocking his head to the side. “What’s the matter, Jae? Don’t like being reminded that we’ve both been inside her?”
Jaehyun swallowed back his emotions. He hated that all of this was turning him on so badly. He was too in touch with his feelings and they shamed him for craving your body when he was overly invested in the state of your heart.
Yuta braced his hands on his thighs and got to his feet, saying, “Well, I’m going for a run before I go in there and plow our girl.”
“Our girl?” Jaehyun questioned, his gaze heavy.
Yuta snorted. “She’s mine, but she’s a little bit yours too. That makes her ours.”
Jaehyun didn’t argue. He had no argument. Part of him was considering stepping aside and letting you be happy with Yuta. But the other part, the dominant part, knew you belonged to him as much as you belonged to Yuta.
Once Yuta was out the back, shifting into the enormous wolf and galloping into the trees, Jaehyun dragged his feet over to your door, knocking hesitantly.
You opened the door, hiding all the emotions and hormones rushing through you as best you could. “Yes?”
“I just wanted to check on you.”
“I’m okay. How about you?”
“I’m fine,” Jaehyun lied through his teeth.
You noticed the lack of a flirtatious and slightly obnoxious werewolf which prompted you to ask, “And Yuta?”
“He went for a run.”
The unknown and the tension was killing you. So you asked him point blank, “What are you sensing about me?”
Jaehyun was carved out of stone, going rigid. “I would rather not say.”
You slumped with disappointment. “Same old Jaehyun. Keeping all of his thoughts and feelings to himself.”
Jaehyun’s brows furrowed. You were upset with him, but why?
“I never knew how you felt about anything,” you told him in a small voice, rubbing your arms. “Especially me.”
Jaehyun defended, “I prefer actions over words.”
You peered up at him, having forgotten just how much he towered over you. “You always… hid your heart from me.”
“How could I?” Jaehyun shot back, hurt weighing down his voice. “It was in the palm of your hand.”
Your eyes flickered.
With a reproachful shake of his head, Jaehyun walked away. You misunderstood him and nothing pained Jaehyun like not being understood. For his kindness being perceived as indifference.
He cared too much and to hide that, he often convinced those he loved most that he didn’t care at all. Hard, cold indifference. That was Jaehyun’s greatest lie.
You didn’t hesitate to chase after him. “Am I wrong for wanting you to be honest with me?”
Jaehyun glanced at you over his shoulder as he walked away. Your scent was smothering him. It was stronger with the heat of your passion and he was no match for you in that regard.
You stopped, clenching your hands into fists and digging in your heels, and yelled after him, “Fine. Run away, you coward.”
Something snapped. Maybe it broke altogether. Jaehyun spun around and was only a few inches from you with superhuman speed. He held up a finger and snapped, “Don’t you ever tell me I’m running away when you’re the one that left!”
You flinched like you’d been shot, but then fire licked out at your skin and you taunted, “Finally... some fucking emotion!”
“You want emotion?” Jaehyun countered roughly. “You are the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever met!”
You stuck your tongue out of the corner of your mouth and said, “Do something about it then.”
Jaehyun wrapped an arm around your waist while the other went behind your head, his hand getting a grip on your hair. He stepped toward you until there was no space left between your bodies, and his lips ghosted over yours. “I could take you until there was nothing left to take,” he growled in barely a whisper.
You practically melted on the spot to the point he was the only thing keeping you upright.
“You want me to use my words? I would rather use my mouth.”
That sent a shiver through you like nothing else. “God, you make no fucking sense,” you huffed, rising to your toes to kiss him.
Jaehyun lilted back, just out of your reach. “And you do? You’re a walking contradiction.”
You pursed your lips at being rejected. “Am not.”
Jaehyun came in for the kill. “You and Yuta are the same. You think because you scream every little thing you feel from the rooftops that your feelings are more valid than mine.”
Now, that was infuriating beyond words. Slipping out of his arms, you made a beeline for the back door.
That was the last thing Jaehyun anticipated and he charged after you, but he was too late. You shoved the door open and escaped outside, leaving the vampire to stand in the shadows and call your name in annoyance.
You held up your hands and taunted, “I can’t hear you. All this sunlight is in the way.”
Jaehyun gave you one last scathing glare and slunk away, out of sight.
There was movement behind you and you spun on your heels, not surprised to see a naked Yuta walking up. At this point, you didn’t bat an eye. It’s not like the curse that transformed him into a wolf could also conjure clothes.
“I do that too sometimes,” he told you, snickering. “Go outside in the daylight to get away from him.”
You snorted, turning back to the house. A bit of sadness hit you for Jaehyun’s sake. You imagined him sulking and the mental image was a blow to your already wounded heart.
Yuta came up behind you, capturing you in his arms and pressing a gentle kiss to your head. “Come on. Let’s go inside.”
You leaned back against him, gravitating to his warmth, and ran your hand over his arm. He was scalding to the touch. “I need a minute,” you murmured, melancholy.
“Okay,” Yuta said, tightening his arms around you.
You sighed, smiling. “You don’t have to stay out here with me.”
“I’m protecting you.”
That made you remember why you were with them in the first place. “I still have no idea who wanted me dead, but I see them in my nightmares,” you told him gravely.
White hot rage came over Yuta at the thought and with a sharp twist of his body behind you, he landed at your side as the wolf.
You held out your hands, staring up at the creature with both fear and awe. You opened your mouth to apologize - it in no way was your intention to stir his beast blood - but you didn’t have the strength. Tears burned your eyes.
A simple mention of how close you had been to death was enough to overwhelm Yuta’s emotions and make him succumb to his curse. It was a visceral, painful reminder of how much he loved you. And what loving you had cost him.
The wolf curled up on the ground calmly, resigning himself to a few involuntary minutes in this form. He steered you with his head to sit between his long outstretched legs. Which you did.
You rested back against his furry chest and let your eyes flutter closed. There was no safer place in the world than in the clutches of a big bad wolf.
The days grew colder. Winter was over the horizon. You caught yourself looking out the back window, watching the wolf trotting through fallen leaves.
A strange sort of complacency settled over the house. You had accepted you would be there for the foreseeable future. Nyx already claimed it as her new home and wasn’t particularly keen on returning to your tiny apartment.
Frankly she liked the presence of men and made sure you were watching whenever she clambered into Yuta or Jaehyun’s laps for cuddles.
Both the vampire and werewolf had made runs to your place until your bedroom in their house started resembling the one in your apartment with the way your trinkets were stacked everywhere and in each available nook and cranny. The kitchen looked like a proper witchy apothecary now, but you had no clients to brew for.
Yuta and Jaehyun were wary about you contacting anyone outside of the house. They didn’t know who was friend or foe. As the days passed, you felt more and more isolated.
While Yuta never hesitated to show you affection, though nothing ever went past a kiss, Jaehyun was putting considerable distance between you and him. Yuta said he was having a reckoning with his feelings in typical dramatic vampire fashion.
That answer made you laugh, but didn’t satisfy you.
A breaking point was inevitable. You knew your relationships with Yuta and Jaehyun needed to be set in certain terms. But any attempts to talk to Jaehyun were rebuffed. The divide between you and him was growing, and it was killing you slowly.
Maybe he decided you weren’t worth the pain. You, on the other hand, had realized you were willing to endure any pain or punishment to be with Jaehyun and Yuta.
None of it made sense. Least of all to you. But your heart wanted what it wanted. And the only thing that scared you worse than death was losing them.
When you stepped outside beneath the full moon, your hair was damp and your skin was dewy from a shower. You were wearing a flimsy, thin dress, knowing you would be soaked with sweat in a few hours from another nightmare of the unknown figure that wanted you dead. It was the only thing you could wear to sleep.
Walking across the yard to the trees, you saw Jaehyun sitting on an unfurled blanket at the base of one, leaning back against it. His arms were propped on his knees and his face was gaunt, pensive. Trapped in the house during the day, he liked clearing his head in the night air.
The sun would kill him, but the moon embraced him. Like the rest of her children.
“Yuta told me I could find you here,” you said timidly, assuming your presence may be unwanted.
Brusque, Jaehyun replied, “You should be inside. It’s not safe.”
“I’m perfectly safe next to a vampire,” you retorted, sitting down beside him.
Jaehyun glanced at you before looking away into the darkness of the woods beyond. You weren’t wrong. There was no Hell on earth like what awaited anyone that tried to take you from him.
You couldn’t tear your eyes from his perfect profile, lingering on his long lashes and the pretty curve of his lips. You wanted to kiss him, to make him yours again, but you didn’t have the courage. Yet. Instead, you whispered, “I should have come back for you.”
Jaehyun shook his head. “It’s in the past. You need to let it go.”
“I can’t,” you said, desperately wishing he would look at you. “You were everything to me and I… tried to forget about you. I hate that.”
“You were protecting yourself. And you were trying to protect me too.”
“I could have done more.”
“You don’t know that. Your hands were tied by your oath.”
Exasperation snuck up on you then. He was giving you the absolution you wanted, but you knew you didn’t deserve it. “Why are you forgiving me so easily?”
Jaehyun met your eyes. “You know why.”
“Jaehyun…,” you trailed, inching closer to him. You wanted to be near him, wanted him to hold you like he used to.
“Hm?” Jaehyun hummed. He was hiding. He was fighting back every reaction. If you only knew how bad he wanted you.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“About what?”
A tear escaped and rolled down your cheek. “I’m in love with him, but I’m in love with you too.”
Jaehyun blinked. The mask was slipping. He turned to you, leaning his head against yours, and said, “This is all my fault. All of it.”
You shook your head, opening your mouth to argue.
“I should have told you how I felt about you every day. Every goddamn day,” Jaehyun said bitterly, turning away in shame. “It’s my fault Yuta came and filled the void I created.”
“You’re wrong,” you told him, taking his face in your hands and making Jaehyun look at you again. “I knew how much you loved me and I knew how much I loved you.”
Jaehyun searched your eyes. You were so close. He knew what was about to happen and he wasn’t going to stop himself this time.
You sank deeper into his arms as they curled around you and cried, “Please. Love me again.”
“I’ll always love you,” Jaehyun whispered, running his thumb over your cheek and wiping away another tear. “If you die, I’ll die too so I can love you again in the next life. Maybe our fates will be kinder then.”
More beautiful words had never been spoken to you. You carded your fingers into his hair and kissed him, closing your eyes and making more tears fall. Jaehyun kissed them away, tasting the salt on his tongue, and pressed his lips to yours hungrily.
You moaned softly when Jaehyun’s hands roamed your body, touching you over the thin dress. He lowered you to the blanket beneath him, but you never stopped kissing his lips for a moment. His body felt so heavy on top of yours, so familiar, but you felt heavier in his arms, like all the pain and longing was gathering inside you to finally set free.
Jaehyun brushed his lips down your neck, hyper aware of your pulse thundering faster. He wanted you so badly he couldn’t stand it and the feeling was mutual. You wrapped your legs around his waist and arched your body into his.
“Jae…,” you gasped when he rocked into you, biting your lip as he sucked beneath your ear. You fisted his shirt and started pulling it over his head, raking your fingernails down his naked back the moment you could.
Jaehyun groaned and propped himself over you, staring down at the mouth-watering sight of you beneath him, legs hooked on his hips. His clothed cock was flush against your covered sex, your dress having fallen to the tops of your thighs.
“Keep going,” you told him breathlessly, wondering why he had stopped. You reached down and tugged up your dress to reveal your panties, which were already getting damp with arousal.
“Are you sure?” Jaehyun asked.
You nodded. “I want you.”
Jaehyun smiled as you held his head in your hands and pulled him down to you, sealing the words with a kiss. He wasted no more time and stripped off your dress before shoving his pants down his thighs.
Your panties ripped with one tug of his fingers, making you giggle. Then, Jaehyun spread you apart for him and fit his cock into your entrance, propping himself over you and slowly easing in. While you moaned at the stretch, Jaehyun growled a low, “Fuck,” in your ear as he sheathed himself to the hilt inside you.
The vampire kissed the corner of your mouth, white hot arousal coursing up his spine at the way your lips parted in pleasure. He rocked back and thrust into you, humming softly when your nails pressed into his back.
You completely forgot that you were outside in the open air. All you knew was how good Jaehyun made you feel, how perfectly he fit inside you. Watching his face tense with ecstasy almost finished you. The sex was slow, intimate, and made you realize the depths of your love for him had no end.
Making love beneath the full moon felt like the most natural thing in the world.
Jaehyun let your little sounds spurn him on. He rested more of his weight on you, fisting a hand in your hair, and picked up the pace, his hips meeting yours with a heavy smack. His tongue lapped at the sensitive skin beneath your ear. He was attracted to the racing of your blood, your pulse thumping just inches from his lips.
You were fading into a supernatural high, drowning in his vampire venom. Your body had never felt lighter. You moved in tandem with Jaehyun, trying to take all of him and faster. Your fingers pressed into his hips, drawing him into you.
Jaehyun tightened his hold on you and fucked you harder, groaning into your open mouth as your lips brushed. You were so close, he could feel it. Your entire body was restless, legs locking on him, arms squeezing around him desperately. It was both too much and not enough.
The venom pulled at the corners of your vision. You were building to a peak and the nearer you came to the edge, the less you could keep yourself quiet. Jaehyun licked his tongue in your mouth, getting off on the moans leaving with your every breath. He kept that hard pace, driving into your wet sex and watching your breasts bounce.
You found purchase in his skin, long red lines healing mere seconds after you made them, but you loved the way he arched his back under your touch.
“Let go, baby,” Jaehyun said with a tenderness that surprised you given his jarring pace. “I got you.”
That was all it took. Your body obeyed him without a second thought, climaxing in his arms and crying out in ecstasy. Jaehyun stared down at you in wonder, licking his lips at the sight of you shaking with orgasm and feeling your walls clamping on him.
You grasped his shoulders and panted for breath, trembling with sensitivity as you floated down from your high, but the high from his venom lingered, leaving you dizzy. Blinking through the tears in your eyes, you gasped aloud when you saw Yuta sitting in the tree above you.
Jaehyun stopped mid-stroke, finally noticing the werewolf’s presence, and grumbled under his breath.
“Yuta, what the…,” you started, bristling. How long had he been there?
“Keep going. Don’t let me stop you,” Yuta said coyly, raking his tongue over his teeth. “I’m thoroughly enjoying the view.”
You narrowed your eyes at him, but your mouth parted with a moan as Jaehyun thrust harder inside you, stealing back your attention.
Fire lit itself in Yuta’s gaze. He never thought he’d enjoy watching someone else fuck you, but given the over abundance of feelings between the three of you, it wasn’t that unexpected.
Jaehyun pushed any mention of Yuta out of his mind and focused on the hot, wet vice of your cunt. He wasn’t going to last much longer, especially with the way you gripped him, swollen with release.
You staggered out a breath; he felt even tighter and deeper after you came. “Jae,” you whispered, nibbling at his neck. “Fill me up. Please.”
Jaehyun slapped his hips into yours and stilled, letting out a long, satisfied groan as he released inside you. He lifted onto his hands and knees, easing his cock in and out of you until you’d milked the last drop out of him.
You whimpered when he finally slipped from between your legs and crashed at your side, panting. Running your fingers through your hair, you didn’t flinch when Yuta dropped from the branch and landed next to you.
Stripping out of his clothes, Yuta asked, “Is it my turn?”
You were still trying to catch your breath and rasped, “Yes.” The sight of his naked chest and abs, and his hard cock standing at attention, made you press your thighs together.
Yuta dropped down and smashed his lips on yours in a heated kiss. You could barely keep up with him, feeling his venom battling with Jaehyun’s. Yuta’s taste made you fearless and fiery, banishing the mellow haze.
Jaehyun sat up and fastened his pants, gulping at the sight of Yuta kissing you and pawing at your breasts. It should not have aroused him as much as it did.
Yuta flipped you over none too gently, making you snicker. He always was rough. Something about your body woke the animal in him even before he became a monster.
You fisted the blanket and whimpered his name when Yuta pressed his hand at the base of your neck, pinning you down. He made room for himself between your thighs and prodded the head of his cock at your folds.
Yuta swore in his mother tongue when he penetrated you, raspy praise slipping from his lips like honey. You gloved around his cock tight, pulsing with desire. “Are you sure you’re a witch?” Yuta purred in your ear. “I think you’re a goddess.”
You arched into his touch, turning your head and baring your throat for him to kiss. Sweat cooled across your skin, but you were scalding, on fire. His lips and tongue felt so good on your neck, biting and sucking over your pulse.
Yuta steadily picked up the pace, thrusting his thick cock into you until he was balls deep inside. He knew the wet slick of your pussy was a mixture of yours and Jaehyun’s climax, and it only riled him up more. The arousal knocked the wind out of him. So did the tight grip of your sweet cunt.
“Fuck,” he mumbled in your ear, showering you with praise as he always did. “You feel so good, baby. You like it deep?”
You hummed, crying out when he slapped his hips hard into your ass, filling you with every inch of his cock. There was one thing Yuta and Jaehyun had in common - they worshiped your body, never hiding just how easily you reduced them to creatures of pleasure.
When they were between your legs, you owned them. Mind, body and soul.
Yuta sat up on his knees abruptly and steered you with him, hands heavy on your hips. “Show me how good you take that dick.”
It took all of your strength to stay upright on all fours with the way he throttled into you. Yuta was worked up over watching you with Jaehyun, but also wanted to make you come just as hard, refusing to be outdone.
Speaking of Jaehyun, he shifted and adjusted his pants, his cock half hard. Never, not once, in his life did he ever thinking about sharing the girl he loved with anyone, but Yuta was different. He liked watching Yuta slam his hips into your ass. He liked listening to the noises Yuta got out of you.
Jaehyun was sensual. Yuta was vigorous. Both of them were passionate. And both of them were in love with you. They were two sides of the same coin.
The same thought was going through your mind. The vampire and the werewolf were like ice and fire. And you were burning alive between them.
Yuta tipped his head back and moaned. You were throwing yourself against him, meeting his strokes, trying to take all of him. You were going to drain him dry at the pace you were going. Yuta had watched you match Jaehyun’s rhythm and claw at him, desperate to have him take you for all you were worth.
You were no different with him. Yuta smirked to himself. You really did belong to them both.
The moment you felt his cock twitch and release, you clenched with orgasm, moaning through your second high. Though your ears were pounding and ringing, you could hear Yuta’s raspy groans and the little nothings said in his mother tongue as he fucked you full of his load.
You slumped to the ground, all of your strength leaving you. You were tired and sore, and so goddamn satisfied. You could feel Yuta’s hands smoothing up and down your sides before finally pulling his spent cock from your folds. “No more,” you whimpered, shaking. “No more.”
Jaehyun scooped you up in his arms like you weighed nothing and carried you into the house with Yuta a step behind him.
In the morning, you woke up between a vampire and a werewolf. Neither of which needed sleep, but couldn’t bear to be parted from you for a moment.
“She’s finally awake,” Jaehyun rumbled, his voice deeper than ever.
Yuta brushed his fingers down your arm and taunted, “Do we need to carry you?”
“Shut up,” you whined, sitting up and running a hand into your hair. You quickly grabbed the blanket when it started to fall down your body, almost revealing your naked breasts. As if they hadn’t seen them already.
Jaehyun rose and pressed a long, lingering kiss to your neck where a bruise lay hidden in your skin, a testament to the passion of last night. Yuta mirrored him, never one to be outdone, and kissed the other side of your neck, beneath your ear.
Your eyes fluttered closed and you could finally breathe again when they both parted from you. Coming to your senses, you spoke your thoughts aloud, “I need to whip up some pregnancy prevention since both of you finished in me last night.”
Yuta reminded, “You didn’t tell us not to.”
“I know that.”
After cleaning yourself in the bathroom and dressing, you walked out and smiled at the sight of the kitchen. Slowly but surely it had come to be yours. Part of you was beginning to accept that this was your home now.
You decided to make the concoction extra strong. Just in case. From what you knew, vampires and werewolves could impregnate humans. Your witch blood made no difference.
Yuta watched you like he had never seen someone so beautiful. When your pot sputtered and smoked, he asked, “Are you sure we can even get you pregnant?”
You scoffed back a laugh, stirring the liquid until the fumes started to smell correct, and smarted, “Men could be a million years old and still produce sperm.”
Yuta chuckled.
“I want to be careful,” you added as you concentrated on pouring some of the scalding mixture into a cup.
Jaehyun seemed more worried than curious when he asked, “Is there a longterm spell you could do?”
You grimaced. “I’m really not supposed to tamper with my fertility to that degree.”
“But this?” Yuta said, pointing at your cup.
You lifted the mug in a mock toast and said as you put it to your lips, “Is plan b.”
Jaehyun’s voice was grave. “Any offspring either of us made would kill you when you birthed it.”
Your eyes widened. Both you and Yuta looked at him in shock.
“I’ve heard stories,” Jaehyun explained. No wonder he was unnerved.
You swallowed the lump in your throat. There was a bitterness on your tongue that didn’t come from the brew you were drinking.
Yuta furrowed his brow at you. “What’s wrong?”
You shook your head, resistant.
“What was that thought you just had?” Jaehyun pressed.
They could read you too well. “It’s nothing,” you lied.
“Tell us,” Yuta said gently.
You looked down at the cup in your hands awkwardly and confessed, “I always pictured myself with a baby one day.” You took a deep breath to help you get the rest of the words out. “A child to pass my magic to. Teaching them spells. Showing them all the wonder in nature.”
Jaehyun and Yuta exchanged glances. The sadness that flooded through them was palpable.
You shrugged away that god-awful feeling and sighed. “What’s meant to be will be, but maybe that future isn’t for me.”
They watched you down the rest of your cup.
It was Yuta that approached you first, winding his arms around your waist and kissing your temple. “I will make sure you have everything you want in life. I don’t care what it is. You will have it.”
You simpered. “You never could accept that some things are out of your control, Yuta, but that never stopped you. I loved that about you.”
Jaehyun closed the distance, also tangling his arms around you and leaning down to kiss the corner of your mouth. “Unlike me, who never put up a fight.”
You shook your head, because any self-deprecation would not be allowed. “You pick your battles, Jaehyun, but when you fight, you fight to win. I loved that about you.”
Held between them, you closed your eyes and breathed in their scents. They were doing the same. It was time to face the reality that you were in love with a vampire and a werewolf. And you were completely and hopelessly theirs.
Yuta looked hopeful, but his voice was shaky, unsure. Like he was worried your answer would hurt him. “What if you stayed here for good?”
You frowned. “I don’t know if I can.”
Jaehyun smoothed a hand down your back and asked, “Why not?”
“You really think we can work? The three of us?”
“I do,” Yuta said without hesitation. “Last night proved it.”
You weren’t surprised he felt that way. Not in the least. “Sex is one thing, but love is another. Do you really think we can share each other?”
“You belong to us. We belong together,” Jaehyun said firmly.
You knew that now. You felt it in your bones and to the very core of your soul. Lowering your head, you murmured, “You’re forgetting one thing - I’m not an immortal.”
Yuta paled. Jaehyun flinched.
“One day, you’ll have to bury me.”
“Can’t you do a spell or something?” Yuta pleaded.
Your expression was grim. “I could. There are spells that would keep me young, but they come at a cost. One I don’t think I can pay forever.”
“What if I turn you?” Jaehyun asked.
You startled, but it wasn’t an unexpected suggestion. However, it pained you. “Don’t. If I become like either of you, vampire or wolf curses will destroy all the magic in my blood. And in me.”
Yuta tensed with tears and he didn’t try to hide them. Jaehyun’s face filled with sorrow, like he was mourning your death already, but he understood your choice. You couldn’t fathom life without magic. It was a part of you; a fundamental part of who you were.
You forced a smile for their sakes and coaxed, “Let’s just… cherish the time we have with each other right now, but keep in mind that a day will come when you’ll have to go on without me.”
“And when that day comes, we’ll go with you,” Yuta said, looking to Jaehyun.
Jaehyun nodded his agreement. “No matter what.”
That tugged a genuine smile from your lips.
You fell into bed with them, a tangle of limbs. They kissed every inch of your face and neck, your breasts and your collarbones, your thighs and your hips.
You were trapped between them, hands wandering, but knowing exactly where to go, where to touch. They pleasured you to the point you were drowning in them, barely able to come up for air before they dragged you back in again.
The passion was endless and so was your love for them.
You slept soundly, well into the afternoon. Yuta was sprawled at your side. He had lost count of how many times he came with you, inside you. His ears were still ringing and his pulse was still throbbing.
Jaehyun clambered out of bed and cleaned himself in the bathroom. He braced his hands on the counter, breathing deeply in and out. His mind was racing. The answer had to be staring him in the face, but he couldn’t see it.
He was blinded by love and dazed from ecstasy. No matter how much water he splashed on his face, he couldn’t see straight. The hold you had on him was maddening, all-consuming.
Yuta watched Jaehyun walk out and he turned to you, tucking the blanket snugly around your naked body and leaving a kiss on your cheek. He was certain you needed plenty more rest after the past few hours and doubted you would wake up any time soon.
Jaehyun stood by the window, arms folded. Yuta approached him, having only enough energy to yank on some pants that hung low on his hips.
“So, we’re royally fucked, aren’t we?” Yuta quipped, trying to lighten the insufferable tension in the room.
Jaehyun said nothing. He had no words to describe how he felt. The utter fear coursing through him that at any minute death could steal you away. How was he supposed to live without you?
Two years had been agony for him. How would he survive a decade? Or a millennia?
Yuta did not appreciate the lack of an answer and reached for Jaehyun, grabbing him by the jaw roughly and turning his head until he had the vampire’s undivided attention. “Use that big brain of yours and figure out what the hell we’re supposed to do,” Yuta snapped.
Jaehyun smacked his hand away, narrowing his eyes angrily. “What can we do?”
“Give up then?”
“Never.”
Satisfied with that, Yuta let him be for now and sat down on the sofa, chuckling when Nyx immediately leapt into his lap for chin scratches. “How about you, little demon child? Any suggestions?”
Nyx put her paw on his chest and arched up to press her nose to his lips in a kiss.
“I’m telling your Mama,” Yuta teased, petting her back.
Nyx headbutted him again and again, purring like a motor for all to hear.
Jaehyun ambled toward the kitchen, running his fingers affectionately over all the things you’d accumulated in your time there. He had spent every day missing you, missing the piece of his heart you’d stolen.
This couldn’t be the end. There had to be a way.
Jaehyun finally spoke, “I’ve heard it said that soulmates are two broken pieces made whole again. What if ours was split into three?”
Yuta smirked. “Hm.”
“I knew that day when she brought you here that you would stay. I felt it. I knew you were supposed to be in my life. At first, I thought you were the one that would bring her back to me.”
Yuta bobbed his head in agreement, running his tongue across his teeth as he always did when in pensive thought. “The three of us are meant to be together. I can feel it too,” he said, then he flipped mercurially on a dime to taunt, “I’m not gonna fuck you though. So stop flirting with me.”
Jaehyun rolled his eyes and snorted, but he had come to know Yuta always resorted to teasing and humor when the mood became heavy. The vampire came around the counter and sat on the couch opposite of Yuta, facing him.
Yuta was fighting the dread in the pit of his stomach like his life depended on it. Which it did. Because if he lost you, a long immortal life was no longer worth living.
“We can’t turn her,” Jaehyun said, as if reading Yuta’s thoughts. “That’s not what she wants. We can’t steal her magic or her choice away from her.”
Yuta argued gently, “But we can’t live without her. I’d rather die than never see her again.”
“Me too.”
A silent understanding passed between the vampire and the werewolf. Somehow, they would figure it out.
Then, in the same instant, they both stiffened.
“Did you smell that?” Yuta asked, a snarl sneaking out with his breath.
Jaehyun was scowling. “I heard it.”
“Something is going on outside.”
You sat up in bed, senses prickling. There was no denying your magic felt the danger and all of your instincts were on edge. The rune of defense you had placed around the house alerted you that some unknown force was getting too close for comfort.
Jaehyun came into the room with Yuta a pace behind him.
Your eyes were wide with fear. “What’s wrong?”
Yuta marched right over to you, took your face between his hands and smashed a kiss on your lips. “Stay here with Jaehyun. Promise me.”
“Yuta, don’t,” you pleaded, adrenaline working its way up your spine. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Baby, I’m a werewolf,” he said, prying your hands from him.
Leaping out of bed with only the sheet wrapped around you, you shouted, “No, I won’t let you.”
The wolf in him was itching for a fight. To finally inflict some goddamn retribution on those that had hurt you. Yuta was already heading for the door and called over his shoulder, “I’m not asking your permission and I’ll get your forgiveness later, one way or another.”
The sight of him walking away terrified you. Your heart was screaming that this would be the last memory you ever had of him and you’d be damned if you let him run to his death for your sake. “Yuta!”
Jaehyun swept you up before you even knew what was happening and cooed, “Shh, look into my eyes.”
You rooted in place, like you had lost all control of your body. Your eyes glazed over and your mind sank into some deep, dark place out of reach.
“Jesus, you put her in a trance?” Yuta exclaimed, rushing over to you and waving his hand in front of your face, calling your name.
Jaehyun was shaky and apologetic. “She was trying to chase after you. I panicked!”
Yuta shook you by the arms. “Baby, can you hear me?”
Your lips were parted. You were on some faraway cloud, soaring higher and higher, rendered into a wholly unreactive state by the vampiric charm.
Jaehyun carried you over to the bed and laid you down carefully. “Let her sleep it off. We have things to discuss.”
“You are going to catch hell for this,” Yuta said with a scoff, following Jaehyun out of the room to plan their attack.
When the vampire’s trance eventually wore off, you were seething uncontrollably. You jumped out of bed, naked, and threw on an oversized tee, hands clenched into fists.
Yuta was back and you had never seen the mixture of fury and fright he was currently wearing on his face, which he quickly tried to hide with a wolfish grin in your direction.
Stomping across the room, you pointed squarely at Jaehyun and roared, “I will deal with you later.” You marched right over to Yuta and asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, darling,” the werewolf sang, guiding you to straddle his lap.
You resisted, bracing a hand on his chest and staying on your feet between his outstretched legs. “You’re lying. Don’t ever lie to me. What did you see?”
The mischief on Yuta’s face melted away. Swallowing the bitterness on his tongue, he told you, “They’re humans.”
The floor was ripped out from underneath you. “What?” you exclaimed in disbelief.
“And…,” Yuta hesitated, looking to Jaehyun and earning a nod to continue. “I smelled witch blood on them.”
You gaped. It couldn’t be. History was repeating itself. You were a fool to think it wouldn’t. “Humans are killing witches?”
After all you had done for them. Not just you - all the witches. The ones that bled and died for the humans. The loss and the pain endured for the sake of humans was felt by every witch across generations.
“It would seem so,” Jaehyun said coldly, but even he was scared beyond