Yoon Jong-woo arrived in Seoul at high noon on a hot day in late June. The sun stripped the world of shadows, turning the city flat and unreal – a painted backdrop propped up on some great stage.
Or something. Jong-woo’s seat was next to a window, and it’d been a five hour drive up from Busan on an open road. His brain was a little fried.
Jong-woo clambered off the bus on unsteady legs. The air in the station terminal was humid and tasted of car exhaust. His stomach lurched at the first inhale. He waited for the nausea to pass, only to stumble forward with a yelp.
“Hey!” Jong-woo snapped.
The man who’d pushed past him glared as if Jong-woo was the one in the wrong. Jong-woo watched him amble off toward the station, jaw tight. He shook his head with a low grunt.
The porter got the cargo door open and then stood by as people surged forward. Jong-woo wanted to wait out the crowd, but his suitcase turned up right at the front – and then tumbled right off the bus, helped along by a sour-faced man. Jong-woo hurried to check on his laptop. He sat back on his heels with a dismayed groan, fingers pressing over the spiderweb fracture at the center of the screen.
“Sir,” he called, “Sir, you damaged- sir!”
The sour-faced man disappeared inside the station. Jong-woo packed his laptop away in short, jerky motions. He checked his phone as he crossed the parking lot. There was a repair shop within walking distance. The first apartment he planned to visit wasn’t too far away either, twenty or so minutes on foot. He would drop off the laptop and go check it out. It would be fine.
It wasn’t fine.
The repairs cost Jong-woo a month of what he had budgeted for rent. The apartment he visited required about three times that amount for a place the size of a shoebox. The next three were hardly better; Jong-woo reduced his requirements significantly, expanded the search area, to no avail. Prices remained stuck at unaffordable even as the apartment quality took a nosedive. By the time he stumbled upon Eden Goshiwon he had mostly resigned himself to spending a night out in a park somewhere. He wasn’t so hard up yet as to bother Jae-ho. The man was already providing Jong-woo with a job, he didn’t need to babysit him as well.
Jong-woo didn’t bother reading through the apartment listing. He called to confirm the price, ate the rest of his meager lunch in a hurry, and went to find the first of four busses he would need to reach Eden. The location was so remote that even the GPS on his phone had trouble locating the place. Jong-woo ended up wandering in the general area for good half hour before he managed to find a local who knew of the goshiwon and could point him in the right direction.
Eden stuck out at the top of a steep hill. The closer Jong-woo got, the worse the building looked. He stopped at the bottom of the rainbow steps that led up to the complex. Eden Goshiwon looked like a ghost in the midday haze. The sun beat down on Jong-woo’s face and shoulders and his back was wet with sweat yet Jong-woo felt cold, muscles tense and shivery.
“No way,” he said, “I can’t live there. I can’t.”
He tugged his suitcase around and watched in dazed dismay as one of its wheels rolled down the hill, cracking over the uneven cement. Jong-woo hung his head. Maybe it was a sign, he thought morosely. Maybe he belonged in Eden Goshiwon after all.
“Are you lost?”
Jong-woo looked up. A man stood at the bottom of the hill. He watched Jong-woo steadily, generous mouth curled in a smile.
“No, I am – I am fine,” Jung-woo said, remembering that he had been asked a question.
The stranger held up something. “Is this yours?”
Jong-woo squinted against the sun. It was the wheel from his suitcase, slightly misshapen and starkly dark against the stranger’s pale fingers. “Ah, yes. Thank you.” He made his way down, the suitcase a dead weight at his side.
The man handed him the wheel once he was close enough. He was taller than Jong-woo, broader at the shoulders too. Jong-woo stood in his shadow. It was a relief, after such a long time under the sun.
“You must not go up there,” the stranger said.
“What? You mean,” Jong-woo glanced over his shoulder, at the goshiwon. A woman had appeared at the top of the stairs. She watched them, red lips unsmiling. Jong-woo hurriedly looked away. “What’s the matter with her?” he muttered under his breath.
“There was a fire, not so long ago. The place is falling apart,” the stranger continued.
That explained the cheap rent. “Thanks for telling me,” Jong-woo said. He shifted from foot to foot, looked over his shoulder again. The woman was gone.
“There is more you should know if you’re thinking about staying at Eden,” the stranger said. “Let’s talk over a drink. I know a good place nearby – my treat.”
“I really don’t have the time right now,” Jong-woo said.
“I won’t keep you long,” the man promised. He reached for Jong-woo’s suitcase. “Allow me.”
Jong-woo let him have the suitcase, mostly out of surprise. “It’s heavy,” he remembered to protest, half a block later.
The man only smiled. He wasn’t even dragging the suitcase, Jong-woo realized, but carrying it like a duffel. The remaining wheel never touched the ground.
Show off, Jong-woo grumbled internally. His own arms felt about ready to detach at the shoulders.
The stranger led them to a small family restaurant in a much nicer part of the neighborhood. They got a table in the back where the air was cooler, and sat in silence while the waitress bustled off to bring their menus and water.
“Seo Moon-jo,” the stranger said.
“Huh? Ah, Yoon Jong-woo,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo smiled. He was handsome, Jong-woo thought. Strong jaw, pronounced nose, high cheekbones. He looked like the sort of man that would be on TV.
And he kept looking at Jong-woo.
“Something on my face?” Jong-woo asked tartly.
Moon-jo’s smile widened, showing too many pearly teeth. “I like you.”
Jong-woo was distantly aware that he was gaping like a fish.
“There is nothing for you at Eden Goshiwon,” the man continued. “The people are trash. The building is rotten through. How much did she want for the room?”
“190,” Jong-woo said.
“You are pretty, she’ll offer you a discount.” Moon-jo’s smile disappeared. The man leaned close, black eyes bottomless. “Don’t go back there. Not for any price.”
The waitress returned. She handed them menus and prattled about the lunch specials, her smile shallow. Jong-woo breathed a little easier.
“What’s good here?” he wondered.
“I will order for you,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo glared at him over his menu. Moon-jo’s mouth split in another toothy smile.
“If you don’t mind,” he amended.
“That’s fine, thanks,” Jong-woo said flatly.
He handed his menu back to the waitress and listened to Moon-jo order. The man was effortlessly charming, and had the girl flushed with just a few seconds of attention. It made Jong-woo ill at ease.
“How do you know so much about that goshiwon?” he asked once they were alone.
“My office is in the neighborhood,” Moon-jo said. “I’m a dentist.”
He didn’t elaborate. Jong-woo played with his chopsticks, eyes darting to the man and then away. “Look, Seo-sshi-”
“Call me Moon-jo,” the man said.
Jong-woo puffed his cheeks in exasperation. “Look. I appreciate that you’re trying to help. I don’t want to stay up there either, but I’m out of options. Maybe in six months-”
“Stay with me,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo faltered. “Huh?”
“I have a spare room. You can stay with me,” Moon-jo repeated. “Until you save enough to get a place of your own,” he added, possibly in response to Jong-woo’s stunned silence.
“You are in need of a roommate?” Jong-woo asked dubiously.
Moon-jo shrugged. “It wouldn’t hurt to take a look, would it? You can text a friend the address, let them know where you would be. I don’t mind.”
Jong-woo thought it over. Moon-jo was a stranger. He was also just plain strange, forward and casual in his disregard of social norms. It wasn’t right.
“What’s the address?” Jong-woo asked.
Moon-jo’s smile was pleased.
The waitress came back with their order. Jong-woo sent Moon-jo’s address to Ji-eun with a quick note that he was considering the place and going for a visit, then dug in with gusto. The food was good. The soju was even better, and the conversation flowed a little easier with alcohol to smooth the way. Moon-jo read crime novels. Moon-jo was a Raymond Chandler fan. Jong-woo ended up sharing the plot of his own novel, caught in the moment and the novelty of an attentive listener.
They took a taxi from the restaurant. Jong-woo watched the city spin around them, curiously content. He could feel Moon-jo’s eyes on the side of his face. It didn’t bother him too much anymore, even if he did wonder what the man’s angle was.
He had called Jong-woo pretty.
Jong-woo pressed his cheek against the window, skin burning. The soju had gone to his head.
The taxi pulled up in front of a tall glass building. Moon-jo got Jong-woo’s suitcase from the trunk and refused to let Jong-woo carry it. “You are a guest,” he said.
“I thought I was going to be your roommate,” Jong-woo countered.
Moon-jo’s grin reflected in the glass walls of the elevator, sharp and bright.
The apartment was on the top floor. Jong-woo followed after Moon-jo, trying not to squirm too obviously. The building was nice. The apartment was nicer, all open space and large windows and an actual skylight in the living room.
Jong-woo lingered in the doorway, shoes still on. “I can’t afford this,” he said.
Moon-jo tilted his head. Jong-woo shivered; the man’s gaze cut to the bone.
“180 a month,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo shook his head. “That’s not a fair price-”
“180,” Moon-jo said, “and you let me read your novel as you write it.”
Jong-woo licked his lips. It was a good deal – too good. “What’s in it for you?” he asked. No way was Moon-jo that interested in his writing.
“Your company,” Moon-jo said, disarmingly direct.
Jong-woo bent to take off his shoes. He touched his face surreptitiously, wincing to find it still flushed with alcohol.
The kitchen was large and modern-sleek. Jong-woo trailed after Moon-jo as the man pointed out the various appliances, most of which Jong-woo had no intention of ever touching no matter how many times Moon-jo repeated that he was welcome to everything in the apartment.
The living room was less intimidating, in that its furnishing didn’t require an introduction or a manual to operate. Jong-woo stood under the skylight. The sun was setting, the sky above them a bruised red. Jong-woo felt like he could breathe freely for the first time since he’d stepped off that bus.
“Thank you,” he said.
Moon-jo said nothing. Jong-woo knew without looking that the man was smiling.
The bedrooms were off to the side, two doors facing each other across a short hallway. Moon-jo opened the door to the left and stepped aside. Bed, desk, a walk-in closet larger than some of the apartments Jong-woo had seen that day. One of the walls was entirely glass. Jong-woo watched the sun set over Seoul, his reflection gaining contour as the world outside darkened.
“Do you like it?" Moon-jo asked.
“Yes,” Jong-woo said, and looked up. His breath caught.
Moon-jo stood behind him. His pale face smiled at Jong-woo, looking ghostly against Seoul’s skyline.
Jong-woo spun around. The distance between him and Moon-jo was tolerable now that he could see the other man properly. “Yes, thank you,” he repeated.
“Bathroom is down the hall,” Moon-jo said. “There is a terrace on the roof. Would you like to-”
Jong-woo’s phone buzzed in his pocket. It was Jae-ho; Jong-woo excused himself with a wince. “My boss,” he explained.
Moon-jo nodded in understanding and closed the door on his way out. Jong-woo still kept his voice low as he answered, reluctant to intrude on the man more than he already was.
“Jong-woo! Did you find a place yet?” Jae-ho boomed.
“Yes, but hyung-”
“Let’s meet up tonight. I’ll send you the address.”
Jong-woo agreed through gritted teeth. He had forgotten how overbearing Jae-ho was in the years they had been apart.
Moon-jo was in the kitchen. He had an apron on and was in the process of slicing a chunk of bloody meat into strips. The apron had Kiss the Chef on it, Jong-woo noted.
“Do you like bulgogi?” Moon-jo asked.
“I have to go out,” Jong-woo blurted. “My boss invited me to go drinking, and – I’ve got to go.” He didn’t know why he was explaining himself. They had just met, Moon-jo didn’t have the right to expect anything from Jong-woo.
“Sorry,” he added.
Moon-jo set the knife aside. “It will keep. Where are you meeting?”
Jong-woo told him. “I can drive you,” Moon-jo offered.
“That’s alright, it’s just a train ride from here.” Why hadn’t Moon-jo driven to work, if he had a car? “But, um, I should probably take a shower first.”
“You are home. You don’t need to ask permission,” Moon-jo said.
“Right. Thanks,” Jong-woo said.
He thought about Moon-jo as he washed Seoul off his skin. The man was fast becoming a sore spot, the kind that invited bored fingers to press and bruise.
“This is your copy of the key. And this is my number. Call me if you will be coming back late,” Moon-jo told him in parting. He had waited for Jong-woo by the front door and stood there while Jong-woo pulled on his sneakers.
“Thanks,” Jong-woo said. “Um. Bye.”
He saved Moon-jo’s number while he waited for the train, then texted Jae-ho to tell him he was on his way. The train was late and Jong-woo was bored, so he sent Moon-jo a brief message as well.
This is my number – Jong-woo
Moon-jo replied immediately.
See you tonight.
Jong-woo stared at his phone. He turned the screen off and tried to think of something that wasn’t the strange dentist.
Jae-ho was already waiting. He grabbed Jong-woo by the shoulders and steered them into the nearest bar, going on about how busy he was, how well his company was doing, how happy Jong-woo should be to be coming into the city to a job.
“You must work hard, Jong-ah,” the man said, for the third time since they had sat down. “I hired you because you’re smart, but you still need to work hard.”
Jong-woo stared out the window so he wouldn’t have to look at Jae-ho’s flushed face. “I will, hyung.”
“So you found a place?” Jae-ho asked.
“Yes,” Jong-woo said, relieved at the change of topic. “I went to see a room at this goshiwon – you should have seen the place, hyung, it looked like it came out of a horror novel-”
“Why don’t you stay with Ji-eun?” Jae-ho interrupted. “That’d be nice, won’t it? You could touch her and kiss her whenever you want.”
Jong-woo managed to keep his mouth shut, but something must have shown in his expression because Jae-ho sobered.
“You have a bad temper, Jong-ah,” the man said. “Is this how you show your gratitude?”
Jong-woo apologized. Jae-ho laughed, waving the apology off like he hadn’t demanded it in the first place.
They drank until late. Jong-woo nursed his beer and watched Jae-ho line the table with empty bottles, mind hazy. He followed the older man outside for a smoke break with the intent to excuse himself entirely.
“Want one?” Jae-ho waved a cigarette pack Jong-woo’s way.
“I quit,” Jong-woo said. His eyes were on two men shoving each other in the parking lot.
“You quit, huh. Well, we’ll head to the next place soon.”
“I actually –” One of the brawling men tackled the other to the ground. Jong-woo’s heart jumped. “Hyung, shouldn’t we stop them?”
“Don’t butt into other people’s business,” Jae-ho said. “So, you’re staying at a goshiwon?”
Jong-woo forced himself to look away from the two men. “No. I’m renting a room from someone.”
Jae-ho hummed, disinterested.
The fight in the parking lot was now a beat-down. The man who had fallen wasn’t moving. His assailant was braced above him. Jong-woo watched the man’s arm rise and fall, rise and fall.
“He will kill him,” Jong-woo said.
“This kind of thing happens all the time, don’t take it so- Hey!”
There was buzzing in Jong-woo’s head. He crossed the parking lot, Jae-ho’s voice a distant irritant. The drunk man blurred out of sight, replaced by a man in fatigues. Jong-woo put him in a chokehold. He was distantly aware that he was screaming.
The man on the ground was still.
Jong-woo startled. He looked at the water bottle Jae-ho had thrust under his nose, then up at the man. His ears still rang with the ambulance siren.
“That was really something,” Jae-ho laughed. “Didn’t know you had it in you, Jong-ah. Let’s go, I’ll take you to a good place for a drink.”
“I’m going home, hyung,” Jong-woo said.
“Home? It’s still early. Come on, I’m buying.”
Jong-woo stood up. “I really have to go.” It was nearly eleven. He’d texted Moon-jo already, and hoped that he wouldn’t wake the man when he got back.
“Jong-woo!” Jae-ho shouted.
Jong-woo stopped walking. He turned around slowly, his hands clenched into fists.
“Come here,” Jae-ho said.
“What is this about, hyung?” Jong-woo sighed. He was tired and his head hurt.
“You think I am joking? Come here!” Jae-ho snapped.
Jong-woo looked at the man. Jae-ho was red in the face – whether with drink or anger, it was hard to tell. His expression was severe.
Jong-woo made himself go to him.
“Jong-ah, you can’t act like this,” Jae-ho said. “I am your senior, and your employer. I’m telling you this for your own good. Get a hold of your temper, or you won’t make it anywhere in life. Do you understand?”
Jong-woo nodded. He kept his head bowed so he wouldn’t have to look at the man.
“How’re you getting home?” Jae-ho asked.
“Train,” Jong-woo said.
“You’re taking a taxi,” Jae-ho told him.
He had his wallet in his hands, Jong-woo realized. Jong-woo shook his head. He was so angry he couldn’t speak.
“I will take him home.”
Jong-woo spun around, chasing after the familiar voice. The world didn’t quite settle right and he stumbled. Moon-jo grabbed his arm to steady him.
For once, his eyes were not on Jong-woo.
“What’re you doing here?” Jong-woo asked.
“You texted me,” Moon-jo said. He was still looking at Jae-ho, eyes so black they appeared hollow.
“Who is this?” Jae-ho asked.
“This…ah, this is Seo Moon-jo. I am renting a room from him,” Jong-woo said. He had his back to Jae-ho. It was rude, but he couldn’t turn away from Moon-jo.
“Is that so? Well, thank you for taking care of my junior,” Jae-ho laughed. He had already taken Moon-jo’s measure, Jong-woo bet. The nice suit, the expensive watch, the way the man held himself all spoke of class – of money. And money, Jae-ho respected.
“You should thank him, Jong-ah,” Jae-ho continued. He clasped Jong-woo’s shoulder briefly, his hand damp with sweat. Moon-jo’s eyes followed the motion.
“I was going to take the train,” Jong-woo ground out.
Moon-jo looked at Jong-woo at last. His mouth curved up slowly, shifting the shadows that lay over his face. “If you would like,” he said.
The easy capitulation soothed something in Jong-woo. He snorted through a smile.
“I will be leaving first, hyung. Thank you for tonight,” Jong-woo said.
“Nice to meet you, Seo-sshi,” Jae-ho called after Moon-jo’s retreating back.
“This way,” Moon-jo said. Jong-woo fell in step with the man, biting down on a grin.
Moon-jo led them to a black BMW. He opened the door for Jong-woo without a hint of irony.
“You didn’t have to come,” Jong-woo said. Streetlights danced over their faces, the city a blur of color. Jong-woo turned away from the window. It was nice inside the car, dark and quiet.
“I was running an errand nearby when I received your message,” Moon-jo said. “It was on my way.”
Jong-woo glanced around the car. There was a shopping bag on the back seat, something from a department store. “You’ve got the alibi covered,” he said.
Moon-jo laughed. It was a pleasant sound, Jong-woo thought. He rested his head against the seat and watched Moon-jo drive, the man’s pale face smudging in and out of focus.
“Have you eaten?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo leaned against the hallway wall for support. They had made it to the apartment, though Jong-woo didn’t exactly remember getting out of the car or going into the elevator. His head felt too heavy. All of him did. “Not since lunch,” he said, and stared morosely down at his shoes. He tried to toe them off and almost toppled over.
“Allow me,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo squinted. Moon-jo smiled up at him, suddenly on his knees in front of Jong-woo. He had his hand wrapped around Jong-woo’s right ankle.
Jong-woo swallowed. He had to say something, had to tell Moon-jo no. His heart beat in his throat.
Moon-jo eased his shoe off, then the other. He held Jong-woo by the ankle to keep him still. His hands were cold but warmed quickly against Jong-woo’s skin.
“A moment,” Moon-jo said.
He had left the department store bag by the door. There were slippers inside, soft and gray. Moon-jo helped Jong-woo into them.
“Why?” Jong-woo croaked.
Moon-jo rose slowly. He stood between Jong-woo’s spread legs, so close Jong-woo could lean in and bite his Adam’s apple if he wanted to.
“I like you,” Moon-jo said.
“I have a girlfriend,” Jong-woo blurted.
Moon-jo smiled. “You misunderstand,” he said.
Moon-jo stepped away. Jong-woo’s world expanded beyond the man. He squinted against the hallway light, feeling strangely exposed.
“I will reheat the food. You should take a shower, babe,” Moon-jo threw over his shoulder.
Jong-woo stared after him. He shuffled off toward the bathroom, ears red.
They had dinner. The bulgogi was good, the meat tender and well-seasoned. Moon-jo watched Jong-woo eat with a pleased expression. Neither of them spoke. Jong-woo couldn’t remember the last time he had sat with someone without feeling the need to do or say something. It left Jong-woo warm and content, and a little off-balance.
Peace was a strange thing to find in a stranger’s home.
Jong-woo woke to his phone blaring like a siren. He lay in bed for some time, trying to beat what he remembered of the previous day into some semblance of sense.
It was early still, barely past seven. Jong-woo crept toward the bathroom with his towel and the clothes he meant to wear bundled against his chest. He washed quickly and slipped back into his room to grab his back pack. The apartment was quiet. Moon-jo was either still asleep, or already gone.
Jong-woo passed by the kitchen on his way to the door. There was a covered plate on the table where he’d sat at dinner, and a note.
Eat before you go, babe.
Jong-woo dropped the note. He lifted the cover off the plate and stared at the egg sandwich Moon-jo had made for him, toasted gold and still warm.
“Who is misunderstanding what?” he muttered.
Jong-woo ended up running to catch the train, but at least it was on a full stomach.
Jae-ho’s office was housed in a stout granite building with a nice lobby and security pads on the doors. There was no one in yet. Jong-woo paced in front of the door, feeling vaguely queasy. He thought about texting Jae-ho to let him know he was there.
Jong-woo startled. A man had come out of the elevator, heavy-set, his face mostly obscured by hair. He glared at Jong-woo through his glasses with open suspicion.
“Ah, I’m Yoon Jong-woo. The intern. I’m supposed to start today,” Jong-woo said.
The man shoved past him to unlock the door, muttering something under his breath. Jong-woo ground his teeth and followed him inside.
The office was small and cluttered. Jong-woo scanned the room for somewhere to sit. There was an empty desk next to where the rude man was clacking away at a keyboard.
“Sir? Is there anything you would like me to do?” Jong-woo called.
The man ignored him.
Jong-woo took a seat at the conference table stationed near the door, his back to the rest of the office. He sent a message to Ji-eun while he waited. After a moment of indecision, he sent one to Moon-jo as well, thanking him for breakfast. His phone buzzed almost immediately.
Jong-woo stared at the screen. Do you call everyone babe? He wrote, deleted the question, then wrote it all again and pressed send.
Why? Jong-woo asked.
I like it.
Jong-woo almost dropped his phone. He scrambled up to greet Jae-ho and the people who had come in with him, a woman and a man. Jae-ho introduced them as Son Yoo-jeong and Go Sang-man respectively. The man who had spent most of the morning pretending Jong-woo didn’t exist was Park Byeong-min.
“This is my junior from college, Yoon Jong-woo. Treat him well,” Jae-ho said.
“He is so cute! How old are you, Jong-woo?” Yoo-jeong asked.
“25,” Jong-woo said.
“So cute,” she repeated.
Byeong-min glared over his shoulder. Jong-woo pretended not to notice.
“You can take the desk next to Byeong-min,” Jae-ho said. “Byeong-min, look after him, alright?”
Byeong-min grunted. Jong-woo sat next to the surly man and waited for someone to give him something to do. Jae-ho disappeared into his office and didn’t appear again until it was time to clock out. Jong-woo had gained an unwanted pair of sandals in the interim, along with an apologetic text from Ji-eun postponing their date. He didn’t have an excuse when Jae-ho announced that they’d be hitting a bar after work.
“How’d you meet that man – Seo-sshi, was it? The one you’re staying with,” Jae-ho asked, too many beers later.
“You’re staying with a friend, Jong-ah? How nice!” Yoo-jeong cooed.
Jong-woo didn’t correct her, or answer Jae-ho. He didn’t want to talk about Moon-jo. He didn’t know what to say, anyway.
“Jong-woo has a way with people. Everyone likes him,” Jae-ho slurred. “It was the same in college. The teachers loved him. Do you still write, Jong-ah?”
“I do,” Jong-woo said.
“What’s so good about writing,” Byeong-min mumbled.
Jae-ho snorted. “You should give it up. It was fine in college, that’s when you get stuff like that out of your system. But you’re in the real world now. Focus on making money, Jong-ah. That’s what matters.”
“Here comes the lecture,” Yoo-jeong laughed. Sang-man laughed with her without seeming to know what it was they were laughing about. He kept checking his phone under the table.
“It’s the truth!” Jae-ho shouted. He was well and truly drunk now, his cheeks a ruddy red. He pointed a finger at Jong-woo’s face and almost jabbed him in the eye. “Where did writing get you, huh? Listen, listen to me. Give it up. You hear me?”
Jong-woo clenched his jaw. His glass was by his elbow, half-full. He heard it smash in his head, saw himself grab Jae-ho by the collar. “Who are you to say that?” the Jong-woo in his mind screamed. “Who are you to tell me to give up?”
Jae-ho settled down, distracted by something Yoo-jeong said about a client of theirs. Jong-woo breathed through his nose until the shaking in his hands stopped. He moved his glass so it was out of immediate reach.
They parted ways at an intersection lit up by karaoke bars and convenience stores. Sang-man had to rush home to his wife. Jae-ho peeled off to drink alone. Yoo-jeong offered to take a taxi with Jong-woo, but Moon-jo lived in the opposite direction, so she headed off on her own as well.
Jong-woo was left with Byeong-min. He tried to get the man’s attention, but his superior was too busy glowering at his shoes to notice.
“I will be leaving, then,” Jong-woo said.
“D-don’t think you can m-mess around just b-because you’re friends with the b-boss!” Byeong-min snapped. He still had his back to Jong-woo.
“What? I am not,” Jong-woo began.
Byeong-min surged forward, clipping Jong-woo’s shoulder as he rushed past. “D-don’t mess around!” he shouted.
Jong-woo stood under a streetlight, his shadow a pool of ink at his feet. “Let it go,” he told himself, “Let it go.”
The last train had passed, so Jong-woo took a taxi back. He spent the drive staring at his phone, his fingers paused over Ji-eun’s name. He avoided looking at himself in the glass elevator of Moon-jo’s building. There was something ugly in his chest; he didn’t want to catch a glimpse of it looking out of his eyes.
The apartment was dark. Jong-woo picked his way across the living room, feeling as if he was wading through a dream. He wondered what Moon-jo would have done with Park Byeong-min in Jong-woo’s place.
The bathroom door opened. Moon-jo stepped out, a towel hung low over his hips. He paused in the doorway when he caught sight of Jong-woo.
“Welcome home,” the man said.
Jong-woo jerked his eyes away from the scars on Moon-jo’s chest. “Sorry, I’ll – I’ll go.”
“Want to have a beer on the roof?” Moon-jo asked. The bathroom light flicked off.
Jong-woo stood in the doorway to his bedroom, considering. “Yes,” he heard himself say.
“It’s the door by the elevator. I’ll leave it open, come up when you’re ready.”
Jong-woo nodded. Moon-jo walked past him and into his own bedroom. He didn’t turn on the light, just disappeared into the blackness inside, his pale body there then not.
Jong-woo closed his own door. He thumped his head against it a few times, then flicked on the lights. Shower, rooftop, beer with Moon-jo, bed. No thinking about work in the morning. No thinking about anything at all.
It sounded like a good plan, until Jong-woo went into the bathroom and found the shower stall still damp and the air heavy with the smell of Moon-jo’s shampoo. He almost walked right back out. His reflection in the bathroom mirror was hunted.
The shower helped. Jong-woo pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of track pants, slipped on his sneakers, and went in search of Moon-jo.
The door that led up to the roof was plain and coarse, at odds with the rest of the building. It was propped open with a brick. Jong-woo pulled it shut on his way through. He climbed the metal stairs quickly, his steps ringing hollow in the dark. The stairwell was unlit, but it didn’t matter. There was only one way to go, anyway.
Jong-woo didn’t know what he’d expected. Laundry lines, probably, maybe a potted plant or two. Lots of concrete.
The garden was a surprise.
There was a pebbled path from the door to the railing. Moon-jo waited there, his back to Seoul, a beer can held loosely in one hand. Jong-woo picked his way to him. He didn’t know if Moon-jo shared the roof with the rest of the building. The plot of soil in the shape of three overlapping diamonds suggested communal use, but something about the neatness of everything in sight made Jong-woo think that this place belonged to Moon-jo alone.
Moon-jo handed him a beer. Jong-woo popped the lid and settled next to the man, taking in the view as he drank. He recognized some of the plants – neat rows of lavender, patches of red begonia, a splatter of marigold at the edges.
“This must take a lot of work,” Jong-woo said.
“I could be paying someone to take care of the place,” Moon-jo noted.
“Are you?” Jong-woo asked.
Moon-jo smiled. He pointed to an apple tree growing near the edge of the plot. “This is the first year it bore fruit. You came at a good time.”
They drank in silence for a while. Jong-woo looked over the ledge, at the sprawl of buildings and streets.
“How’d work go?” Moon-jo asked.
“I want to beat my superior to death with a sandal,” Jong-woo said, and winced. Not the best of things to share. He looked at the Moon-jo through his lashes. The man watched him steadily, a slight curl to his lips.
“That would take a lot of effort,” Moon-jo said, then added, “Why a sandal?”
Jong-woo told him about Park Byeong-min and his ill-fated purchase. “I don’t blame Yoo-jeong-sshi,” Jong-woo said, “He might’ve thought they’re as good as married if she’d accepted the sandals. He’s the kind.”
“She should not have involved you,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo shook his head. “He doesn’t like me anyway. It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo drank what was left of his beer. He set the empty can on the ledge and leaned against the railing. The night smelled of flowers.
“I have been thinking about your book,” Moon-jo said.
“Yeah?” Jong-woo said, trying not to sound as pleased as he felt.
“The reason your protagonist strangles his victims – it’s dishonest.”
“Dishonest?” Jong-woo repeated, too surprised to be offended by the casual slight.
Moon-jo set his beer down. “Put your hands around my throat,” he said.
Jong-woo stared. Moon-jo came closer, crowding Jong-woo against the railing. He leaned down. Jong-woo’s eyes strayed to the pale expanse of his neck, then jerked back up to the man’s face.
“He doesn’t want to feel his victims grow cold. He wants to touch their passion, their fire.”
Moon-jo caught Jong-woo’s hands and brought them up, to his neck.
“Don’t,” Jong-woo whispered.
Moon-jo’s eyes were soft. He wrapped Jong-woo’s hands around his throat and held them there. Jong-woo pressed down, slowly, gently. Moon-jo’s heart beat under his fingers.
Jong-woo broke away with a gasp. “That was,” he swallowed.
“What did you feel?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo looked up. Moon-jo watched him, his eyes shining liquid in the dark.
“Warmth,” Jong-woo said. His hands shook.
Moon-jo smiled. “Want another beer?”
“No, I should – I should sleep.”
“Sweet dreams, babe,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo stumbled on his way down the stairs. He caught himself against the railing, panting, eyes wide in the dark. His pulse was loud in his ears.
The sense of danger followed him in his bedroom and under the covers. Jong-woo turned the light on and found a notepad. Words poured onto the page, inelegant but honest. His pianist murdered his lover. He wrapped his hands around her neck and felt her burn.
Jong-woo woke up with the pen still in his hand and the notepad crushed between his chest and the bed. A few pages had come loose. He read through them, face slowly flushing. The flow was good, but something about the rhythm –
Jong-woo put the pages away, telling himself he would rewrite them later. A murder scene should not read like sex.
Moon-jo was in the kitchen. He had a white Hanley on and drank his coffee with the single-minded intensity of an addict. Jong-woo paused in the doorway, caught by the image of the man looking sleep-soft and unkempt.
Moon-jo raised his eyes. He smiled, and Jong-woo took an instinctive step back.
“Good morning, babe. Have some.”
He nodded at a plate of waffles. Jong-woo shook his head.
“I have to go. You’re not at work today?”
“The cabinet opens late on Fridays. We close late, as well. I may not see you tonight,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo aah-ed in agreement. “Well, have a good day.”
Moon-jo watched him without saying anything. Jong-woo excused himself with an awkward wave and went to put on his sneakers.
He was just about ready when he heard Moon-jo approach. Jong-woo glanced over his shoulder, then whipped around in alarm. The bloody thing in Moon-jo’s hands turned out to be a waffle in a plastic baggie.
“Strawberry jam,” Moon-jo said.
There were two waffles, upon closer inspection. A sandwich of a sorts. Jong-woo’s lips quirked.
“I’m starting to feel like Hansel,” he said.
Moon-jo smiled in open delight. “I promise not to eat you.”
“And I promise not to burn you alive,” Jong-woo said.
They grinned at each other. Jong-woo looked away first, distracted by his phone buzzing in his pocket. A text from Ji-Eun. He read through it quickly, then caught sight of the time and winced.
“I’ve got to go,” he told Moon-jo.
Moon-jo held the door for Jong-woo, and then watched him until the elevator came up, shoulder braced against the doorframe. Jong-woo tried not to mind or squirm too obviously. He waved once he was in the elevator.
“See you, babe,” Moon-jo said.
The elevator doors closed. Moon-jo’s eyes stayed in Jong-woo’s mind, black and burning, the entire ride down.
The train was crowded. The hum of voices and push of bodies brought the world back into focus. Jong-woo felt as if he had just woken up, halfway through the train ride.
Can’t wait to see you tonight, he wrote to Ji-Eun.
Me too! Ji-Eun responded, and then,
See you, oppa
Jong-woo froze. He re-read the text, shoulders slouching in relief. For a moment, he had seen– But Ji-Eun would never call him that.
He was first in the office, and was busy at work when Byeong-min came in some ten minutes later. The man grunted something under his breath in response to Jong-woo’s greeting. He didn’t remove his headphones until Yoo-jeong and Sang-man strolled in at five minutes to eight.
“You look terrible, Jong-ah! Are you sick?” Yoo-jeong exclaimed.
Jong-woo forced a smile. “I stayed up last night. I’m fine,” he said.
Yoo-jeong hummed in understanding. She ruffled Jong-woo’s hair and said something about too much fun. Byeong-min’s envious eyes followed the sway of her hips, then turned on Jong-woo. Jong-woo thought about digging them out with his fingers.
“Jong-woo, I have a project for you,” Sang-man called. “I will send you two .ppt files. Combine them into one presentation. Add some charts, too, to illustrate the tables – it will make sense once you see them. Ask Byeong-min for help if you need it.”
“Okay,” Jong-woo said. He had no idea what a .ppt file was, but Sang-man had already turned his back to him.
The files came in. Jong-woo opened them up, and then spent good twenty minutes learning to navigate PowerPoint. He drew a blank once he got to the data tables. They were just numbers. How would he turn them into charts? What sort of charts should they become, anyway?
The internet, for once, was not of help. Jong-woo didn’t have a foundation of tech knowledge to build on, so the quick tutorials were of no use. He didn’t have time for anything more in-depth.
“Byeong-min-sshi? I am stuck. Could you show me how this works?” Jong-woo tried.
He had to ask two more times before Byeong-min deigned to look at him, and then almost punched the man in his snide, disgusted face.
“You d-don’t know even t-this much? Are you an id-diot?” Byeong-min sneered.
The man reached over and did something to the tables that made them transform into pie charts. He turned back to his own work, muttering under his breath. Jong-woo inhaled deeply. He cycled through the undo and redo buttons until he pieced together what his superior had done.
Jae-ho came in bearing food some hours later. Jong-woo turned from the screen eagerly, and then almost tripped over his chair.
“What happened?” Jae-ho asked. He followed Jong-woo’s eyes, to where Moon-jo stood just inside the doorway. “Isn’t that-”
“I’ll be right back,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo watched him approach, smiling his usual empty smile. Jong-woo made himself stop at a polite distance.
“Let me guess: You were in the neighborhood,” he said flatly.
Moon-jo’s smile gained teeth. “I’m just dropping this off.”
He had a shopping bag with him, which he handed to Jong-woo. Jong-woo accepted it warily.
“I saw them when I was buying the slippers,” Moon-jo explained. “I went back and got them today. They are too heavy to wear at home, but I thought they may be of use around the office.”
Jong-woo pulled out a sandal. It was of masculine cut, the interlocking straps supple leather dyed the same soft gray as Jong-woo’s house slippers. It weighted Jong-woo’s hand like a hammer.
“You should take those off,” Moon-jo said and nodded down, at Jong-woo’s feet. “They don’t suit you, babe.”
Jong-woo looked over his shoulder. His colleagues turned back to their food, feigning disinterest.
“Aren’t you running late for work?” he hissed at Moon-jo.
“It’s my practice. The cabinet opens when I get there,” the man responded.
Jong-woo’s hand tightened around the sandal. Moon-jo’s eyes dipped there, then returned to Jong-woo’s face. His entire face shone with excitement.
Jong-woo blew out a breath. He fished out the other sandal and set the pair on the floor, slipping them on as quickly as possible. Moon-jo nudged the plastic pink ones aside with his foot.
“Thanks,” Jong-woo muttered. The sandals fit much better, and felt nice on.
Moon-jo’s eyes curved. “Anytime, babe. See you at home.”
He left without as much as glancing at the other occupants of the office. Jong-woo’s mouth twitched in a reluctant smile. He returned to the break table and picked up his plate.
“Sorry, that was my roommate,” he said, as nonchalantly as he could.
“He calls you babe?” Jae-Ho asked.
Jong-woo fumbled with his chopsticks. He hadn’t even noticed. “That’s just how he talks,” he said.
Jae-Ho snorted. “I knew there was something off about him. You should watch your back, Jong-ah.”
“What?” Jong-woo asked.
“You know,” Jae-ho made a crude gesture with his hands, laughing. Yoo-jeong giggled. “You better lock your door at night.”
Jong-woo rose to his feet. “Don’t talk about him like that,” he snapped.
The laugher stopped. Jae-ho’s expression grew dark; Jong-woo stared down at the man, chest heaving, hands clenched into fists.
“What was that?” Jae-ho asked quietly.
Jong-woo ground his teeth. If he said what he wanted to say, he would get fired. He shook his head. “I’m going back to work.”
“Jong-woo. Come with me,” Jae-ho said.
Jong-woo stilled. He closed his eyes, inhaled, and turned to follow Jae-ho into his office.
The day continued in that tone. There was more work, most of it involving software Jong-woo had never used. Byeong-min answered his questions with insults. Jong-woo held his tongue and thought about cracking a coffee mug against the man’s skull.
“Y-you’re leaving?” Byeong-min scoffed as he put his own things away. “If I w-were you, I’d s-stay and d-do my j-job.”
Jong-woo glared at his computer until everyone left. He put his head down briefly. Then he texted Ji-eun.
I’m sorry, I need to work late today.
Ji-eun responded with a short, It’s okay, oppa. Jong-woo wanted to explain – his computer was still in for repairs and he needed to learn about spreadsheets and formulas as quickly as possible, or he might commit actual murder – but Ji-eun shouldn’t worry about any of that. I’m sorry, he wrote instead.
It’s alright, we’ll see each other over the weekend, right?
Yes, Jong-woo wrote, No matter what.
No matter what, Ji-eun agreed.
Jong-woo put his phone away and resumed his battle with Excel, heart a little lighter.
He caught the last train just a little before midnight. It was a fifteen minute walk from the station to Moon-jo’s apartment, the night sticky and hot. Jong-woo rubbed at his eyes as he walked. He saw empty cells every time he blinked, mocking him with invalid values.
The lobby to Moon-jo’s building was mostly glass. It shone in the dark like a beacon. Jong-woo’s steps stuttered once he was inside. A familiar figure stood by the elevators, back to Jong-woo.
“Hey!” Jong-woo called out.
Moon-jo turned around. He saw Jong-woo and his expression shifted, like a veil lifting. “Hi, babe. I thought you’d be asleep by now.”
“I had to work late,” Jong-woo said. He caught the endearment this time, and it made him flush a little. Had Jae-ho not been an ass about it, Jong-woo might have brought up the topic with Moon-jo again. As it were, he was tempted to start using something of the kind himself, just to be contrary. “And you?”
“I took a patient after hours, as a favor. A police woman.”
The elevator doors opened with a quiet ding. Moon-jo followed Jong-woo inside. Jong-woo stared at the elevator doors and tried not to look at Moon-jo’s reflection in the glass wall. His skin itched.
“I know her superior,” Moon-jo said.
“Oh.” Jong-woo glanced at the man from the corner of his eyes, and found him grinning in his direction. He quickly looked away.
“She told me something interesting,” Moon-jo continued.
“A case?” Jong-woo asked, attention caught.
“Of a kind. Someone has been killing cats in Eunhye, and in a very gruesome fashion. The local station received more than a dozen reports.”
“That’s – who the hell does something like that?” Jong-woo exclaimed.
“Officer Ahn is wondering the same. She suspects the killer will graduate to human victims, if he hasn’t already.”
The elevator reached their floor. Jong-woo followed Moon-jo into the apartment in a daze.
“Was that him? The one with the glasses?” Moon-jo asked.
“The man you want to kill,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo froze, one shoe still on, the other in his hand. Moon-jo smiled at him.
“Yeah,” Jong-woo said. “I wouldn’t actually – he’s got his own issues.”
“And he’s taking them out on you,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo shook his head. He didn’t want to talk about Park Byeong-min. “It’s fine.”
“I could help,” Moon-jo said.
“With what? Hiding the body?” Jong-woo joked.
Moon-jo smiled. “That, too.”
Jong-woo laughed. He patted Moon-jo’s arm as he passed him by. “Goodnight.”
Jong-woo thought of Moon-jo’s offer the next day. He didn’t laugh this time; the hot, ugly thing clawing at his throat didn’t let him do anything else but snarl.
“Don’t talk about Ji-eun like that,” he told Jae-ho. He wanted to tear the man’s tongue out of his mouth so he wouldn’t able to say Ji-eun’s name ever again.
Jae-ho whistled. “Two days in a row. Jong-ah, what am I going to do with you?”
He motioned for Jong-woo to follow him. To the roof, this time, so he could dress him down as he pleased. Jong-woo ground his teeth so hard his gums hurt.
“I wanted to push him off,” he said, too many hours later. His reflection glared, starkly pale in the darkened window.
“Why didn’t you?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo rested his head against the window, a smile breaking the tight line of his mouth. “You’re supposed to tell me to let it go, not urge me to kill my boss,” he sighed.
“Mm, I’m not that inner voice. I’m the other one.”
“The one with the pitchfork?" Jong-woo asked.
“A scalpel would do just as well,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo laughed quietly. Moon-jo was doing something in the kitchen; Jong-woo turned so he faced the room, his back against the glass. Only the kitchen lights were on. Moon-jo’s face was ghoulish under the bright light, his large eyes and generous mouth accentuated by thick shadows.
“Why did he hire me?” Jong-woo wondered.
“The same reason anyone does anything. He wants something from you,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo had figured as much. He thumped his head against the window, restless with agitation. “I’ll tell Ji-eun not to visit anymore. How can he talk about her like that? She was his junior in college, he’s known her since she was a kid. That fucking asshole!”
Moon-jo came into the living room. He set a tray on the coffee table – soju, glasses, a plate of soondae. Jong-woo wondered if Moon-jo’d made it himself, if he had ground the meat and poured the blood with his own hands.
“You hate him, yet you work yourself to exhaustion for his company,” Moon-jo said.
“That has nothing to do with him,” Jong-woo protested.
Moon-jo motioned him over and Jong-woo went, rubbing at his eyes. Moon-jo handed him a glass.
“Hate who you want to hate, babe. Kill who you want to kill. That’s more human, isn’t it?”
“You talk like a psycho,” Jong-woo told him.
Moon-jo smiled. “I’m just honest.”
Jong-woo drank his soju to the bottom. Moon-jo refilled his cup, then clinked his own against it and drank. His lips were a dark, dirty red.
“I’m meeting Ji-eun tomorrow,” Jong-woo blurted.
Moon-jo hummed in response. Jong-woo pushed forward, uncomfortable but determined to pursue the topic for reasons he didn’t want to examine too closely. “We’re going to see a movie. I’m not sure what to do after – do you know any good spots? For, um, a date?”
“I might,” Moon-jo said. “I don’t know about your Ji-eun, but there are places I would like to show you.”
Jong-woo nodded absently. Moon-jo grinned at him from across the table.
“On Sunday, then,” the man said.
Jong-woo was tired and a little drunk. He didn’t think much about agreeing, and once he did, there was no polite way to take it back. It would be a bonding exercise, Jong-woo told himself. Perfectly normal.
“It is normal,” Ji-eun told him, a day later. The wrinkle between her brows said something else.
“What?” Jong-woo asked.
“It’s just,” Ji-eun hesitated. “You talk about him a lot,” she said.
“I don’t,” Jong-woo said. The back of his neck felt hot.
Ji-eun looked at him. Jong-woo grimaced.
“Okay, maybe I do. He’s just so weird.”
“Why did you move in with him, then?” Ji-eun asked around a mouthful of ice cream.
Jong-woo stared at his own cone and thought about Eden Goshiwon. He didn’t want to talk about money with Ji-eun, so he shrugged and said something about the location being good. Ji-eun hummed in agreement.
“Do you want to go somewhere else?” he asked.
Ji-eun shook her head. “I have to finish up something for work, so I think I’ll be heading back.”
Jong-woo hailed a taxi. Ji-eun kissed his cheek in parting, her eyes soft. “Let’s see each other soon, oppa.”
Jong-woo waved after her, heart warm and light like it hadn’t been in months.
It wasn’t far to the station. Jong-woo took a back street to avoid the weekend crowds. He froze at the mouth of an alley, eyes wide. A man in a white dress shirt and dark slacks stood at the other end. His face was in shadow.
“Hey!” Jong-woo called.
The man looked up. He had a phone to his ear, a cigarette hanging between thin lips. Jong-woo bowed his head in apology and hurried on. It took a few blocks for his pulse to slow to something normal.
Jong-woo decided that his imagining Moon-jo was the work of a guilty conscience. He stopped by an ATM on his way back home and withdrew two months’ worth of rent. Moon-jo hadn’t asked for a first month’s deposit, but Jong-woo figured he’d show faith and do things by the book.
Moon-jo wasn’t home when Jong-woo got back. Jong-woo put the money in an envelope, wrote rent on it, and went to slip it under Moon-jo’s door. He stumbled a little when he rose. The door gave under his weight, and Jong-woo was suddenly in Moon-jo’s room.
Jong-woo stepped inside cautiously, pulled forward by curiosity and a prickling sense of unease. The bed was made. There were things in the closet, suits and dress shirts and several pairs of leather shoes nestled next to a low cabinet. Jong-woo pulled out a drawer at random. Undershirts and underwear, all neatly folded. He closed the drawer, eyes flitting around the darkened space. No pictures on the nightstand, no half-dead plants by the window, not as much as a sock under the bed. The effect was eerie. The whole room felt staged – like a movie set, made to look realistic but palpably not.
There was a binder on the desk. Jong-woo grabbed it eagerly, relieved to find something lying around. He squinted at the pages slotted inside. The text was difficult to make out in the dark, but there were pictures. Jong-woo recognized Eden Goshiwon. It was an article about the fire Moon-jo mentioned on their first meeting. Jong-woo flipped through the rest, and found much of the same – newspaper clippings, some accompanied by photos of grim-looking men. The woman with the red lipstick was in a few. Jong-woo’s stomach clenched, recalling her dead stare.
“Did you find anything interesting?”
Jong-woo dropped the binder. He hit the edge of the desk, the burst of pain distant and unimportant.
“I’m sorry,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo tilted his head. He stood in the doorway, a hulking shadow with bright eyes. “Why are you sorry, babe?”
Jong-woo swallowed. “For – for coming into your room.”
Moon-jo made his way inside, steps slow. Jong-woo drew into himself as the man advanced. He watched Moon-jo kneel to gather the fallen binder. Moon-jo watched him back, eyes flat.
“Do you want to know?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo shook his head. “It’s none of my business,” he said.
Moon-jo held the binder out, still on his knees. He had it open to a page. Jong-woo stared. That was – that was a picture of him. His face was partially turned away, but it was him, the suitcase he’d brought to Seoul just visible at his side.
Jong-woo pushed the binder aside and grabbed Moon-jo by the shirt, tugging the man up with shaking hands. “Why?” he snarled, sick with anger and fear.
Moon-jo wrapped his hand around Jong-woo’s wrists, holding his hands pinned at his throat. “It wasn’t personal, babe. Not then.” He smiled, soft and open. “I will explain, if you want to know. But once you know, there’s no going back.”
Jong-woo stared at him, his breath rattling in his chest. He yanked his hands away and took a step back. Moon-jo watched him intently.
“And if I want to leave instead?” Jong-woo asked.
Moon-jo’s mouth parted. Jong-woo waited for the reassurance that he could go – waited for the other man to lie.
Moon-jo said nothing.
Jong-woo took the binder from Moon-jo’s hands and stormed out.
He didn’t know what he’d expected. A trail of cold cases tied to Eden Goshiwon and its strange occupants certainly wasn’t it. “Why haven’t you shown this to the police?” Jong-woo asked.
“The evidence is mostly circumstantial,” Moon-jo said. He had been hovering near the entrance of the living room while Jong-woo read on the couch, but came forward readily once he was called. Jong-woo would compare him to a dog if a wolf’s maw didn’t fit his smiles so much better.
Jong-woo snorted. “And not so legally obtained,” he guessed. He tapped at his own picture, fingers trailing down a page of handwritten notes. “You’ve got my conversation with the landlady down to a T. Do you have their phone line tapped?”
“Yes. A recent development,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo pursed his lips. He turned the page so he wouldn’t have to look at his own face anymore. “Who’s this?” he asked.
“Kang Seok-yoon,” Moon-jo said readily. “He moved in two days ago.”
“That’s where you were, that night you came back late,” Jong-woo muttered. Moon-jo didn’t deny it. “Do you really think they’ll hurt him?”
“Yes,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo studied the picture. Seok-yoon looked young, and a little lost. Eden loomed above him like a cross over a grave.
“How’d you learn about that place?” he asked.
Moon-jo watched him. “The woman who runs the goshiwon – Eom Bok-soon. She once oversaw an orphanage. It burned down, many years ago.”
“Oh,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo reached over his shoulder. He paged through the binder, tapping over pictures as he went. “The twins. The man with the glasses. Eom-sshi. I remember them.”
“Were they,” Jong-woo floundered, distracted by Moon-jo’s warmth against his back. “Was there something off about them, then?”
“I don’t know. My mother – the woman who adopted me. She didn’t like Eom-sshi at all.”
Jong-woo noted the past tense. “That doesn’t mean she’s a killer,” he said carefully. “What made you suspect her? Why did you dig so deep?”
“A feeling,” Moon-jo said.
“Take me there tomorrow,” Jong-woo said. Moon-jo went still beside him, barely breathing. Jong-woo looked up. “Take me to Eden,” he repeated.
Moon-jo’s eyes were hungry. “Anything you want, babe.”
Jong-woo nodded once, and looked away. He did. He wanted.
It was starting to be a problem.
Eden was uglier than Jong-woo remembered. He shielded his eyes against the morning sun, studying the mottled walls and grimy windows through the cage of his fingers.
“It looks deserted,” he said.
Moon-jo hummed in agreement. Jong-woo glanced at the man from the corner of his eyes. He wasn’t used to seeing Moon-jo in casual clothes. The black tee and ripped jeans were probably meant to help him blend in, but with his height and how ridiculously fit he was, he drew looks anyway. Jong-woo overheard a group of schoolgirls wondering if he was a celebrity in disguise on their way over.
“I should talk to him alone,” he said.
Moon-jo looked at him. “That’s not what we agreed on.”
“It’ll look weird, the two of us coming up to a stranger,” Jong-woo said.
“I’ll do it, then,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo held in a snort. If Kang Seok-yoon wasn’t spooked already, talking with Moon-jo would do the trick. “I’m closer to him in age,” he said, trying to be diplomatic. “It’ll be more natural if I approach him.”
Moon-jo frowned. He looked up at Eden; a young man appeared at the top of the stairs. He had his head down and moved slowly, occupied with dragging what looked like a speaker strapped to a dolly down the narrow steps.
“Hide,” Jong-woo hissed.
“No,” Moon-jo said, sullen.
Kang Seok-yoon reached the landing. He startled visibly when he noticed Jong-woo and Moon-jo, but was quick to offer a smile and a polite bow. Jong-woo took note of the dark circles under the boy’s eyes.
“Sorry, if you’ll excuse me,” Seok-yoon said, trying to edge around them.
Jong-woo plastered on a smile and moved in his way. “Hello. Do you live up there, by any chance?” He pointed at Eden.
Seok-yoon blinked at him. “I do,” he said slowly. His eyes flit over his shoulder, his entire body hunching on itself.
“That’s great! I’m looking for a room,” Jong-woo said. “How’s it in Eden?”
“It’s…” Seok-yoon looked at Moon-jo.
“He’s a friend,” Jong-woo dismissed, drawing the boy’s attention back to him. “The room’s for me. My name is Yoon Jong-woo.”
“Kang Seok-yoon,” Seok-yoon said.
“Nice to meet you,” Jong-woo offered.
“You – you’re really looking for a room?” Seok-yoon asked.
Jong-woo nodded. “I’m crashing at my friend’s,” he said, jerking a thumb back at Moon-jo, “but his roommate’s coming back in a few days. This is the only place I found that I can actually afford.”
“Tell me about it,” Seok-yoon said, smiling at last. Jong-woo smiled back. “I guess – I have to get to a gig, but we could talk on the way, if you’re free?”
Jong-woo agreed readily. He made shooing motions behind his back, which Moon-jo completely ignored.
Seok-yoon was a rapper. He did a bit of his program as they walked, on Jong-woo’s request. His smiles became more frequent the farther they went from Eden. “It’s a little run-down,” he said once Jong-woo brought the conversation back to the goshiwon. “The people are – well, it’s what you’d expect from a goshiwon, I guess. It’d be nice if you lived there, hyung,” he added, his smile turning shy.
“I’ll come look at the room,” Jong-woo promised.
“I will come with you,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo glared at the man behind Seok-yoon’s back, but Seok-yoon only laughed. “Hyung has a very good friend,” he said.
“Yeah,” Jong-woo agreed flatly. Moon-jo’s smile was smug.
They stayed through Seok-yoon’s performance. The boy had a good voice and the kind of presence that drew people in. There was a sizeable crowd around him soon. Seok-yoon glowed under the attention, looking even younger in his joy.
Jong-woo invited him for drinks, after. They went to a small bar near the park where Seok-yoon’d performed. It was a good chance to pick the kid’s brain, and if it kept him out of Eden a little longer – well, Jong-woo was all for it.
“Here’s my number,” Jong-woo said. They were about to leave; Moon-jo’d gone to take care of the bill, and he thought he should use the time and approach Seok-yoon a little more personally. “Text me if you ever feel like talking.”
“Thanks, hyung,” Seok-yoon said. He seemed like he wanted to say more, but Moon-jo returned and there was no longer an excuse to linger.
“He looks scared,” Jong-woo commented as they made their way back to the station.
Moon-jo was a shadow at his side, his expression blank. Jong-woo nudged him with an elbow.
“What’s gotten into you?” he asked.
“You worry too much about that boy,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo gaped. “Too much? You’re the one who thinks they murder people over there!”
Moon-jo said nothing. Jong-woo squinted at him; it wasn’t his imagination, his bottom lip really did stick out a little.
“Well, let’s hope it’s just a shitty goshiwon,” he said.
Jong-woo slept poorly that night. He saw Eden every time he closed his eyes, and woke from a dream of walking down a long, endless corridor to the sound of his phone buzzing. Jong-woo stared at the screen with bleary eyes.
This is Seok-yoon, he read, and sat up in alarm. It was 2:20 in the morning.
Why’re you not asleep? Jong-woo asked.
Can’t sleep, Seok-yoon typed.
The walls are thin.
Someone’s being loud upstairs.
Jong-woo tried to think. You have neighbors upstairs?
No, Seok-yoon said, There was a fire up there, whole floor burned down. The landlady says it’s empty.
Maybe I should go check
Jong-woo almost hit the dial button in his panic. NO he sent, then added in rapid succession:
Stay in your room
Lock your door
OK hyung, Seok-yoon wrote. Sorry. I’m a little jumpy haha
It’s ok, Jong-woo lied. His heart beat in his throat; he could feel it at every swallow.
Seok-yoon’s next text came slower than the rest. You’re really coming to see the room?
Yes, Jong-woo told him, as soon as I can
See you, hyung
Goodnight, Jong-woo wrote, then added, because he couldn’t not, Be careful
Seok-yoon sent him a smiley face.
Jong-woo spent the handful of hours before he had to get up for work in a shallow, restless sleep. He grunted in response to Moon-jo’s attempts at conversation in the morning, and ended up falling asleep on the train.
“It happens,” Jae-ho said benevolently when Jong-woo stumbled in the office, forty minutes late and sweaty from running back two stops in the summer heat, “I trust you’ll make up the time.”
“I will,” Jong-woo said. He managed to keep his voice even, but it was an effort.
Jae-ho patted his shoulder and left, presumably for a meeting. Jong-woo collapsed in his chair. He felt Byeong-min’s eyes bore into him, but didn’t feel like dealing with the man, so he pretended not to notice.
Seok-yoon sent him a message, a little after noon. Just woke up, it read. Sorry for last night.
Something in Jong-woo’s chest eased. You alright?
I was being dumb
Let me know when you’re coming, I’ll treat you to something good.
Sure, Jong-woo said, smiling to himself. Take care
“W-who’re you t-texting?” Byeong-min demanded.
Jong-woo looked at the man. Byeong-min scooted his chair back, stuttering something about Jong-woo doing his job. His face shone with sweat.
Jong-woo turned back to the month’s accounts. His eyes slipped from row to row, the numbers blurring. Perhaps he should vary his pianist’s MO, he thought. He couldn’t imagine wanting to touch someone like Byeong-min that way – hands around his neck, body pressed close. It was much too intimate.
Jong-woo’s hands clenched into fists, burning with the phantom warmth of Moon-jo’s skin.
“Good work today,” Jae-ho called. He’d returned from lunch looking pleased, and hadn’t left his office since. “Jong-woo, you staying late?” the man asked.
“Yeah,” Jong-woo said, trying to hide how badly he’d startled at the sound of his name.
“Don’t forget to close the door on your way out,” Jae-ho said, in a tone of a father scolding a willful child.
Jong-woo raised his hand in acknowledgement. He worked as the office emptied. His eyes hurt and he kept making stupid mistakes. He checked his phone for a message from Seok-yoon intermittently, which didn’t help his concentration.
Byeong-min remained behind as well. Jong-woo had planned to finish up the accounts before leaving for the night, but quickly came to realize that such a thing would not be possible unless he beat Byeong-min to death first. The man kept looking over Jong-woo’s shoulder, grunting uncomplimentary things under his breath.
“I’ll be leaving first,” Jong-woo announced. He got his stuff together and nodded Byeong-min’s way. “See you tomorrow.”
“Figures,” Byeong-min muttered. Jong-woo’d expected an insult of some kind, and was prepared to ignore it.
“D-did you sleep with Shin-sshi, t-too? Is t-that how you g-got t-this job?”
Jong-woo’s steps stuttered. He turned around slowly, caught between disbelief and a strange and overwhelming urge to laugh. Byeong-min sneered at him.
“Too?” Jong-woo asked.
“T-that man you live with,” Byeong-min began.
There was a coffee mug on the table. Jong-woo didn’t remember picking it up. Byeong-min backed away but Jong-woo was quicker, and didn’t hesitate when he swung.
The mug broke at the side of Byeong-min’s head. The man went down, squealing like a pig. Jong-woo watched him curl into himself. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.
He made himself leave. It got easier to breathe once he was outside. Easier to think.
“Fuck,” Jong-woo groaned. He wondered if he’d have a job to go to in the morning.
Moon-jo’s building was quiet and cool, a blessing after an hour spent in a congested train. Jong-woo dozed off in the elevator. The ding of the doors opening at his floor had him listing forward, startled from a waking dream.
Moon-jo greeted him with a smile that quickly flattened into a frown. He grabbed Jong-woo’s hands, turning the right one over in his palm. Jong-woo stared at the torn, bruised flesh with distant surprise.
“What happened?” Moon-jo demanded.
“I hit someone with a coffee mug. It broke in my hand,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo pulled him into the kitchen and pressed him against the counter. He kept a hand loosely wrapped around Jong-woo’s injured wrist while he rummaged through a cabinet. Jong-woo watched his face, too tired to feel self-conscious. Moon-jo caught his eyes and smiled.
“The one with the glasses?” he asked.
“Mm.” Jong-woo winced at the first press of an alcohol-soaked swab. He tried to pull away. “It’s just a scratch.”
Moon-jo held him still. “It could get infected if it’s not cleaned properly.”
“Let me do it, then,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo ignored him in favor of wrapping a bandage over his hand. He secured it at the wrist, his fingers lingering over Jong-woo’s palm. Jong-woo yanked his hand away with a scowl.
“What did he do?” Moon-jo asked.
“Nothing,” Jong-woo said quickly, then amended, “It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”
“You already know my thoughts on this,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo laughed. “I don’t think murder will make anything better.”
“I disagree,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo’s phone rang. It was Jae-ho; Jong-woo pressed the power button to make the ringing stop.
“Seok-yoon says there’s someone on the second floor,” he told Moon-jo.
“When did he tell you this?” Moon-jo asked.
“He texted me last night. He said he couldn’t sleep, because someone was being loud upstairs.”
“He has your number?”
Jong-woo frowned. “Yes, I gave it to him yesterday - that’s not the important part! The second floor’s supposed to be badly damaged, right? It’d be a perfect place to hide things.”
Jong-woo’s phone rang again. Jong-woo made to silence it, then fumbled in his haste to answer when he caught sight of the caller’s name.
“Oppa, what did you do?” Ji-eun asked.
Jong-woo ducked out of the kitchen. He heard Moon-jo follow him into the living room, but was too focused on Ji-eun to pay the man much attention. “Did Jae-ho call you?”
“Of course he did! He’s worried about you – I’m worried about you!” Ji-eun said. She sounded upset.
“I’m sorry,” Jong-woo said.
“This isn’t like you, oppa,” Ji-eun said.
“I’m sorry,” Jong-woo repeated.
Ji-eun sighed. “Jae-ho thinks it’s better if you don’t go to the office tomorrow,” she said. “Let’s meet in the evening and sort it out. Me, you, Jae-ho, and Park-sshi.”
“Okay,” Jong-woo said.
“It’ll work out,” Ji-eun said. She sounded a little better, which was all that Jong-woo cared about.
“Yeah. Sorry to bother you.”
“It’s not a bother,” Ji-eun said firmly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
“Yes,” Jong-woo promised.
They said their goodnights. Jong-woo closed his eyes, too tired and angry to move.
“I’ll come with you,” Moon-jo offered. He’d overhead, since he’d been openly eavesdropping. Jong-woo was neither surprised nor overly bothered.
“That’s–” Jong-woo swallowed the instinctive denial. He’d have to apologize, he realized. He’d have to bow his head to Jae-ho and Byeong-min and say that he was sorry. “Only if you want to,” he said.
Moon-jo looked pleased. Jong-woo averted his eyes. “I’ll go visit Eden tomorrow. Since I’ve got the day off.”
“I can –”
“You will go to work,” Jong-woo said. “You have appointments scheduled, don’t you?”
Moon-jo frowned. “You will call me when you’re done.”
Jong-woo rolled his eyes, but agreed. He sent Seok-yoon a quick text to let him know he’d be there in the afternoon. Seok-yoon replied with a gif of a cartoon bunny jumping up and down in excitement.
“If one of them does something strange-” Moon-jo began.
“-I’ll go for the throat,” Jong-woo finished. He raised his head to grin at the man, sharing the joke.
Moon-jo smiled back, teeth flashing like something sharp in the dark.
Jong-woo spent the morning with his pianist. He muttered a distracted goodbye to Moon-jo as the man left for work, but otherwise had no memory of time passing. At some point his hand started to hurt too much to hold the pen and he stopped writing – just for a moment, just to stretch his fingers and check his phone for messages – and realized that it was three in the afternoon. Jong-woo’d promised Seok-yoon that he would be at the goshiwon at four. He hadn’t even eaten yet.
Jong-woo showered, stuffed a couple of leftover dumplings in his mouth, and ran to catch a taxi.
Seok-yoon was waiting for him in front of the building. He looked tired, but smiled readily when he saw Jong-woo.
“Sorry, I lost track of time,” Jong-woo said.
“It’s ok.” Seok-yoon glanced over his shoulder, at the goshiwon. “We could get something to eat first,” he said.
“Is the landlady not here?” Jong-woo asked.
Seok-yoon looked at him. His face was drawn, his shoulders tense. “Hyung,” he said.
“Are you the young man who called on the phone?”
Seok-yoon stiffened. He turned to face Eden, moving closer to Jong-woo as he did. The woman with the red lips stood at the entrance. She smiled at them both, eyes curving.
“Ah, yes,” Jong-woo said. “That’s me.”
“Come on in, come – it’s so hot outside. I’ll get you some iced coffee.”
The woman – Eom Bok-soon; she introduced herself among chatter about the weather and the state of the economy and how nice Jong-woo looked – bustled them inside. Jong-woo followed her down a dank corridor, Seok-yoon trailing a step behind.
“You’re lucky, we just had the room open, you’re the first one to see it,” the woman told Jong-woo. She looked him up and down, mouth drooping a little. “Where’s your luggage?”
“At a friend’s. Is this the room?” Jong-woo asked.
“Oh, yes! Right across Seok-yoon, too. You should reserve it now, if you’re interested. The rent is good here, rooms go fast.”
She unlocked the door. Jong-woo took in the moldy walls, the stained bed, the desk crammed under a window so small and dirty it let in no sunlight at all. There was barely room enough for him and Eom-sshi to stand inside.
“It’s a good place,” the woman said. “The people are nice, too. Aren’t they, Seok-yoon?”
“I can show you around if you would like, hyung,” Seok-yoon said.
“Let’s do that,” Jong-woo agreed. He turned to the landlady, smiling his most deranged grin. “You don’t mind, do you? Just a few minutes. You could get us that iced coffee in the meantime.”
“That’s fine, but,” the woman began.
Jong-woo strode out of the room. “Thanks. What’s over there? The kitchen?”
“Yes,” Seok-yoon said, hurrying to follow.
Jong-woo looked over his shoulder, just before he turned the corner. Eom Bok-soon stood where they’d left her. She wasn’t smiling.
“That was –” Seok-yoon’s laughter was strained. He straightened, visibly pulling himself together. “Well, this is the kitchen. The bathroom is further down the hall – it’s not a pretty sight, be warned.”
“I’m going upstairs,” Jong-woo told him.
Seok-yoon froze. “What?”
“I’m going upstairs. Stay here. I’ll be back in a few minutes. If the landlady comes, tell her I’m in the bathroom.”
Seok-yoon nodded, eyes wide. Jong-woo patted his shoulder and took for the stairs.
The door to the second floor was closed. A sign on the wall read, women dorms, the paint faded. No one had cared to tear it down.
Jong-woo pressed his ear against the door. It was quiet, or perhaps the door was too thick. The doorknob turned in Jong-woo’s hand.
“W-who are you, mister?”
“Fuck!” Jong-woo snapped, heart in his throat.
The stranger on the stairs covered his mouth with a curved hand, oohing like a child. “You said a ba-bad word,” he giggled, contorting his whole body as he spoke.
Jong-woo swallowed. “Do you live here?” he asked.
“Ye-yes,” the man said. “Why are you he-here, mister? Do you wa-want to pla-play?”
“I got lost,” Jong-woo lied. “Excuse me.”
Seok-yoon had been waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Jong-woo grabbed the other man by the elbow and tugged him forward, toward the exit.
“Young man!” Eom-sshi called from her booth in the front.
“We’re going to get something to eat,” Jong-woo called back. “I’ll let you know by the end of the week.”
“The room will be gone by then!” the woman warned.
Good, Jong-woo thought.
He took Seok-yoon to the restaurant Moon-jo had shown him on his first day in Seoul. “I’m paying,” he said. It was the least he could do for the man.
“I said I’d treat,” Seok-yoon protested.
“Next time,” Jong-woo told him. Under better and more sincere circumstances, preferably.
“Are you really looking to rent a room at Eden, hyung?” Seok-yoon asked.
They’d gotten their orders, and were already a few glasses into a bottle of soju. Seok-yoon’s cheeks were red. He snuck glances at Jong-woo from under his lashes, poking at his food more than eating.
“I was,” Jong-woo told him. He leaned forward to refill Seok-yoon’s cup. “Seok-yoon, tell me about the people who live in that place.”
Seok-yoon licked his lips. “I don’t know them too well,” he said. “There’s the twins. One of them is sort of… not all there. He laughs when he talks, and the things he says sometimes,” Seok-yoon shivered.
The man on the stairs, Jong-woo thought. “And the other one?”
“He’s a little better. Hasn’t given me any trouble, at least. Not like the gangster that used to live in your room. He used to bully me about keeping quiet, but now, I kind of miss him,” Seok-yoon shook his head. “He was unpleasant in a way that made sense, you know?”
“Then there’s the guy with the glasses – he’s got some sort of monitoring device strapped to his leg. He leaves his door open, and he’s always watching porn.” Seok-yoon’s face twisted briefly. “I think I hate him the most.”
“That’s all of them?” Jong-woo asked.
“There are two rooms on reserve,” Seok-yoon told him. “Someone’s out, I guess, and the landlady said a foreigner rented the room next to mine a week ago. He hasn’t shown up yet. Actually,” Seok-yoon grinned. “When I first saw your friend, I thought he might be the guy who’s supposed to be coming back.”
“Why?” Jong-woo asked, startled.
“No reason, just a feeling.” Seok-yoon rubbed at his eyes and stifled a yawn. “Sorry, hyung. I haven’t been sleeping well lately – you saw the rooms, and with the banging at night… It’s hard to relax.”
“That’s not how you go about convincing someone to move in,” Jong-woo said, trying to lighten the mood.
Seok-yoon set his glass down. “I’m not,” he said, his eyes wide and serious.
“Hyung, if you can afford it, you should live somewhere else. Anywhere else.”
“That’s what he said,” Jong-woo told Moon-jo over the phone, some hours later.
Moon-jo hummed in response. “You shouldn’t have tried to go in alone,” he said. Jong-woo rolled his eyes. “Where are you now?”
“On my way to meet Jae-ho. What’s that sound?”
“A Gates-Glidden drill,” Moon-jo said. “I’m cleaning a root canal.”
Jong-woo stopped walking. “Right now?”
“The patient’s under anesthesia,” Moon-jo said.
“I don’t care!” Jong-woo told him. “I’ll text you the address! You go back to…drilling.”
Moon-jo chuckled. “See you soon, babe. Don’t kill anyone without me.”
Jong-woo hung up on the man, growling under his breath. He saw his reflection in a nearby store and had to force the smile off his face. He looked like a lunatic.
The bar Jae-ho had chosen was all glass, the tables small and intimate. Jae-ho was already there, as was Ji-eun. Jong-woo paused in the doorway and watched them talk. His hands clenched at his sides.
The front door jingled open. Jong-woo stepped aside, but not quickly enough to avoid a collision with the man who had just entered.
Byeong-min glared at him. Jong-woo ground his teeth and nodded in greeting.
Byeong-min shoved past. Jong-woo followed after him, eyes on the back of the man’s head.
Jae-ho waved them over. Jong-woo sat next to Ji-eun. Ji-eun took his hand under the table, squeezing briefly. Jong-woo flinched. Ji-eun let go, then pulled his hand up by the wrist. The bandage wrapped around his palm was stained red.
“Oppa, what happened?” Ji-eun exclaimed.
Jong-woo pulled his hand away. “I’m okay,” he said. Ji-eun didn’t look convinced.
“Shouldn’t you ask Byeong-min how he is, Jong-ah?” Jae-ho said.
Jong-woo looked at Byeong-min. The man ducked his head, muttering to himself. “He looks fine,” Jong-woo said.
“Jong-woo,” Ji-eun said, distraught.
Jae-ho sighed, looking every bit the put-upon, concerned boss. “Jong-ah, we’re here to help you, but you have to help yourself first. Apologize to Byeong-min. Show some sincerity.”
“I won’t w-work with h-him!” Byeong-min broke in. “H-he’s insubordinate, and r-rude, and – and – now t-this!”
“Do you have anything to say, Jong-woo?” Jae-ho asked.
This was where he was expected to grovel, Jong-woo thought. His throat closed up. His teeth ached, jaw clenched tight enough to hurt.
Jong-woo’s phone rang. Jong-woo glanced at the screen. He exhaled harshly and stood up.
“I have to take this. Excuse me.”
Byeong-min grumbled something. Jong-woo heard Jae-ho urge Ji-eun to order. “Let him cool off,” the man said. Jong-woo’s hand tightened around the phone.
The sun was just setting outside, the city darkening from the bottom up. Jong-woo watched the sky as he waited for his mother to pick up.
The call clicked through. “Jong-woo?”
“What’s wrong?” Jong-woo asked.
“I’m sorry to call so suddenly,” his mother said. She sounded tired. She always did.
Jong-woo sighed. “Just tell me.”
“Well, it’s – it’s your brother. He had an episode, and we had to take him to the hospital. He’s okay, but the bill…”
“How much do you need?” Jong-woo asked.
His mother hesitated. “Are you able to help? I’m sorry, there is no one else I can ask-”
“It’s fine. Tell me how much,” Jong-woo said.
His mother wouldn’t give him an exact number no matter how he pressed. Jong-woo logged into his bank account once she hung up, looked up the remaining balance, and sent most of it back home. If he got fired tonight, he wouldn’t have enough money for a ticket back to Busan.
Jong-woo swore and almost dropped his phone. He glared up at Moon-jo. The man smiled down at him, suit jacket folded over one arm. He had glasses on. Jong-woo stared, momentarily distracted.
“Something to do with Eden?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo shook his head. “It was my mother. My brother’s in the hospital – he has epilepsy, and doesn’t always remember to take his meds. They can’t cover the bill.”
“Do you need help?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo looked at him. He swallowed, throat burning. “No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
Moon-jo nodded. He looked over Jong-woo’s shoulder, into the bar. Jong-woo schooled his expression back to something placid and inoffensive.
“Let’s go in,” he said.
Moon-jo opened the door for him, and grinned when Jong-woo broke his calm façade to glare at him. Jong-woo rolled his eyes.
There were bottles on the table, and plates of grilled meat. Byeong-min sat slouched in his seat. Jae-ho spoke quietly to an attentive Ji-eun, leaned partially across the table. He pulled back when he caught sight of Jong-woo. Ji-eun turned towards him, concern clear on her face.
“Jong-woo, did something happen?” she asked. Her eyes flit to Moon-jo, and she inclined her head in a confused greeting.
“Nothing important,” Jong-woo dismissed. “This is Seo Moon-jo, my roommate. Moon-jo, this is Min Ji-eun.”
“Very nice to meet you, Seo-sshi. Thank you for taking care of Jong-woo,” Ji-eun offered.
“Likewise,” Moon-jo said. His smile was a little too wide, Jong-woo thought. He cleared his throat.
“You remember Shin-sshi and Park-sshi.”
Jae-ho nodded. Byeong-min stuttered a greeting, looking at neither Moon-jo nor Jong-woo.
“Seo-sshi,” Jae-ho spoke up, “I would be happy to have you join us at any other time, but we are in the middle of something.”
“I told him to come,” Jong-woo said. He sat down. Moon-jo sat next to him, eyes laughing.
“This is a private matter,” Jae-ho said in that familiar, scolding tone.
“It concerns him, too,” Jong-woo said. He watched Byeong-min hunch his shoulders with dark amusement. “If I lose my job, I won’t be able to pay my rent.”
“If you lose your job, you can work for me,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo blinked. “What?”
“What do you do, Seo-sshi?” Ji-eun asked, face brightening.
“I am a dentist,” Moon-jo said. His eyes, as always, remained on Jong-woo. “My receptionist is going on maternity leave starting next month. You won’t have to do much. The pay is better, too.”
Jae-ho waved his hand. “Now, wait a minute. Nobody said anything about Jong-woo getting fired. We’re here to clear the air, nothing more. Jong-woo will apologize to Byeong-min-”
“Why?” Moon-jo interrupted.
Jae-ho snorted. “Why? Seo-sshi, do you go around hitting your coworkers for no reason?”
“I had a reason,” Jong-woo said.
“That doesn’t matter,” Jae-ho said. “Violence is never the answer, Jong-ah. You have to work on your anger. This is for your own good.”
Moon-jo laughed, the sudden burst of sound drawing startled attention. “Look at him,” he said, leaning toward Jong-woo, “Mr. CEO, pretending to be cool because there’s a girl present.”
Jae-ho stood up. His face was red. “Who’re you to talk to me like that?” he demanded.
Jong-woo hissed at Moon-jo to be quiet; Moon-jo grinned, eyes swinging to where Byeong-min was trying to merge with his chair. “And you. The pervert. Watch yourself if you don’t want to die.”
Jong-woo shot up from his seat, tugging Moon-jo with him. “Let’s go. Ji-eun, I’m sorry – Moon-jo, now.”
“Sure, babe.” Moon-jo kept on smiling as Jong-woo dragged him through the bar. Jong-woo glanced back and saw Ji-eun looking after them with wide, frightened eyes.
Moon-jo took the lead once they were outside. Jong-woo waited until they reached his car, then shoved the man against the door. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he snapped.
“That’s what you wanted to say, wasn’t it?” Moon-jo asked. He was still smiling, the bastard.
Jong-woo snarled, too angry to speak. He let go of the man and stomped to the other side of the car, slamming the door shut.
“Seatbelt,” Moon-jo reminded.
Jong-woo glared straight ahead. There was a sigh, then Moon-jo leaned into view, eyes large and dark behind his glasses. Jong-woo felt like he’d swallowed his tongue. He couldn’t breathe.
“W-what’re you doing?” Jong-woo snapped.
Moon-jo’s eyes curved. “Seatbelt,” he repeated. He drew the seatbelt down, across Jong-woo’s chest. His fingers burned against Jong-woo’s hip as he secured the buckle. Jong-woo scooted toward the window, glaring.
Moon-jo settled back into his seat. “Your boss doesn’t want to let you go,” he said.
Jong-woo grunted in agreement. He knew he should be happy to keep his job, but Jae-ho’s posturing left a sour taste in his mouth.
“Did you figure out what it is he wants from you?” Moon-jo asked.
“No,” Jong-woo said.
Moon-jo looked at him. “Would you like to know?”
There was something giddy in Moon-jo’s gaze, something not very nice. Jong-woo was reminded of the night he’d found the binder in Moon-jo’s room. He found himself nodding.
Moon-jo’s mouth split in a wide grin. He made a sharp right turn, joining a line of cars going in the opposite direction.
Jong-woo rested his head against his seat. “Back there – why did you that?” he asked. He couldn’t not.
Moon-jo was silent for a while. Jong-woo closed his eyes, dozing in the quiet comfort of the car.
“I was angry,” Moon-jo said at last.
Jong-woo cracked an eye open to squint at the man. “Why?” Jae-ho was an asshole, but he’d been mostly respectful to Moon-jo. Byeong-min didn’t even have the guts to look the man in the eyes.
“They messed with you,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo stared at the man. He ducked his head after a moment, ears red.
They drove on in silence for a while. Jong-woo tried to figure out where they were, but the streets they passed looked similarly unfamiliar, so he gave up.
“Officer Ahn stopped by today,” Moon-jo said. He pulled into a residential street; Jong-woo didn’t pay much attention to the address.
“How bad are her teeth?” he muttered.
Moon-jo smiled. “She was the root canal. They caught the cat-killer. From her description, I am almost certain it’s one of the Eden twins.”
Jong-woo sat up. “Did they charge him?”
“No. They could only pin one corpse to him, and the crime was dismissed as an accident. Officer Ahn was very upset.”
Jong-woo grunted in agreement. “Do you think – is that Ji-eun?”
“Ah,” Moon-jo said, “We’re right on time.”
They were at the end of a driveway that led up a high-rise apartment building. Another car sat parked further down, the engine still running. Ji-eun’s face was clear in the glare of the headlights. She said something to the man with her – Jae-ho, Jong-woo realized with a start – and turned to leave.
Jae-ho grabbed her arm.
“Wait,” Moon-jo said. He had his hand around Jong-woo’s wrist, keeping him from opening the door. “We’re here, nothing will happen.”
Jong-woo subsided, but only because Jae-ho had let Ji-eun go. They spoke quietly for a few more seconds. Ji-eun left. Jae-ho watched her go before sauntering back to his car. He drove off. Jong-woo stared after him, teeth clenched.
“We could follow him,” Moon-jo said. “He lives alone. We could–”
Jong-woo snapped the seatbelt free and grabbed Moon-jo by the collar of his pristine white shirt. “Will you stop talking like this?” he demanded.
“Does it scare you?” Moon-jo asked softly.
“Yes!” Jong-woo snapped. His hands were shaking. His chest felt too warm and his breath heaved, as if he were running.
Moon-jo wrapped his hands around Jong-woo’s wrists. He moved slowly, still watching Jong-woo with that open, hungry look on his face. He leaned close. Jong-woo, determined not to back down, held still.
“Why did you come with me, that day?” he asked. His breath burned over Jong-woo’s lips.
Jong-woo swallowed. He shook his head; he didn’t know. He didn’t have an answer. Moon-jo moved so he could speak into his ear, their cheeks pressed together.
“Could it be that you’re the same kind of person as me, babe?”
“What kind is that?” Jong-woo asked. His voice sounded shredded.
“The kind that could kill a man, and enjoy it,” Moon-jo breathed. “The kind that chooses not to, even so.”
Jong-woo slumped against Moon-jo’s chest. He tugged at his hands half-heartedly. Moon-jo tightened his grip, keeping him still.
“You weren’t made for Eden,” the man said. “You were made for me.”
Jong-woo shook his head. “You need therapy.”
“Mm. Every other Tuesday, 7pm.”
Jong-woo pushed himself up. “Seriously?”
Moon-jo nodded. Jong-woo rested his head against the man’s shoulder. “Good,” he said, the word muffled.
He pulled back. Moon-jo let him this time. “Where to?” the man asked.
Jong-woo’s eyes strayed to the empty driveway. He saw Jae-ho’s covetous gaze in his mind, clear and damning. “The point is that you can choose what to do, right?” he asked. “You choose who to be, and who not to be.”
“Yes,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo exhaled slowly.
“Take me home,” he said.
The car thrummed to life. “Whatever you want, babe,” Moon-jo said, and Jong-woo believed him.
Jae-ho hadn’t told Jong-woo to stay home, so he went to work the next day. Byeong-min hunkered over his keyboard and didn’t as much as twitch his way. Yoo-jeong and Sang-man were unusually quiet, and kept sneaking glances at Jong-woo and Byeong-min. Jong-woo wondered what sort of bullshit Byeong-min’d fed them.
“Jong-woo, in my office.”
Jong-woo stood up gamely. Jae-ho had just come in, at half past eleven. He wore his disappointed boss face. Jong-woo glanced at one of the animal statuettes displayed in the office. They looked pretty solid, probably wouldn’t break as easily as a mug.
“I want you to write a letter of apology,” the man said. He sat behind his desk, but didn’t tell Jong-woo to take a seat. Jong-woo leaned against the door instead. Jae-ho tracked the motion with narrowed eyes. “Two letters, in fact – one to Byeong-min, and one to me.”
“What did I do to you?” Jong-woo asked.
Jae-ho laughed. “What did you do? I gave you a job, I let you work for me-”
“I didn’t ask you to,” Jong-woo interrupted.
“What?” Jae-ho asked, voice low.
“I didn’t ask you to give me a job,” Jong-woo repeated. “I didn’t ask to be insulted, or underpaid. I’m not writing an apology.”
“You talk like you don’t believe I’ll fire you,” Jae-ho said.
“I believe it. I just don’t care,” Jong-woo told him.
Jae-ho studied him. “Is this because of your new friend? Seo Moon-jo, was it? Let me tell you, Jong-ah, that man’s not going to help you. Why would he? Everyone looks for what they can get. What can he get from you? Think about it. You’ve got nothing.”
Jong-woo’s lips pulled into an ugly grin. It was interesting to hear how people thought, from their own mouths.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Jong-woo fished it out under Jae-ho’s disapproving glare. He looked at the screen, and felt his stomach drop down to his toes.
“I have to go,” he said.
“What? You- aish,” Jae-ho barked out a laugh, disbelieving and angry, “Jong-woo, if you leave now-”
Jong-woo didn’t hear the rest. He took the stairs down, unwilling to wait for the elevator, and hailed a taxi as soon as he hit the street.
Seok-yoon didn’t pick up. Are you alright? Jong-woo wrote, then, Get out. I’m coming. Get out of there.
There was no response. The messages remained unseen under Seok-yoon’s short, heart-stopping plea.
Jong-woo called Moon-jo next. The call went to voicemail immediately; Jong-woo remembered that the man was at some sort of conference across the city and swore.
“Hello, what’s your emergency?”
Jong-woo exhaled harshly. “My friend is – I can’t reach him. I think he’s in danger.”
“What’s your friend’s address?” the dispatcher asked.
Jong-woo told her. “Send someone as soon as possible.”
“Don’t worry, sir. We will contact the local police station, and have someone do a wellness check.”
Jong-woo bit back a curse. He tried to explain, but couldn’t find the words – there was no solid proof he could offer, nothing he could say that would have the police dig as deep as they needed to in order to find the rot in Eden.
“Please remain calm, sir,” the dispatcher said.
Jong-woo hung up. He sent another text to Moon-jo, a hot, sick feeling welling up in his throat.
The driver got lost a block away from Eden. “It’s not on the map,” he said, gesturing at GPS screen. Jong-woo paid him and got out of the car. He ran the rest of the way. The rainbow steps shone under the sun, the street in front of Eden empty and quiet.
Jong-woo paused to take a breath. He glared up the length of the building and darted inside, not willing to wait another moment.
Eden was humid and dark. Jong-woo’s steps carried a dull echo, the only other sound the metal whirr of a fan. Eom Bok-soon wasn’t in her booth. Down the hall, doors gaped open. Jong-woo peered in each, and found the rooms empty. He paused in Seok-yoon’s doorway, heart dropping. The bed was torn apart. There were clothes on the floor, a pair of headphones under the desk. Jong-woo knelt to examine a red spot on the floor with shaking fingers.
“It’s b-blood,” someone giggled.
Jong-woo turned around. Something smashed into his head; he fell against the door, still on his knees. The world spun in shades of red. He saw a metal pipe hanging from a man’s hand.
“We’ll keep him with the other one,” a woman said. Eom-sshi, Jong-woo thought dizzily.
He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. Two sets of arms hauled him up and he let himself sag in their grip, head rolling limply.
“Give me his phone,” Eom-sshi said.
One of the men groped down Jong-woo’s body. Jong-woo waited until the man let go of him entirely, tensed his legs, and threw his body backwards.
There was a yelp, then a sick thud as the man who held Jong-woo struck a wall. Jong-woo surged forward and crashed into the second man. It was the twin, his mouth opened in a ghastly smile. Jong-woo grabbed the sides of his head and slammed him against a doorframe, again and again. Something cracked. Jong-woo's hands were wet with blood.
“We need him alive!” Eom-sshi wailed. Jong-woo turned toward her voice with a snarl.
The pipe came down over the back of his skull. Jong-woo fell forward, and his shadow rose to meet him.
Jong-woo woke in a dark room that smelled of old blood and piss.
His head felt like raw meat. He was lying on his hands, which were tied together so tightly behind his back that his fingers were going numb. Jong-woo attempted to roll on his side to relieve the pressure on his arms. His leg spasmed and Jong-woo almost bit through his lip, holding still against a shock of burning pain. He looked down his body. His right leg lay strangely, the knee twisted too far to one side.
“You shouldn’t have done that, young man.”
Jong-woo pushed away from the voice. He let out a garbled shout as his broken leg dragged against the floor.
Eom-sshi smiled. She sat on a chair at the far side of the room, under a single bulb hanging from a naked wire. She had Jong-woo's phone in her lap. One of the twins lurked at her side. He was watching Jong-woo with large, empty eyes.
“Where’s Seok-yoon?” Jong-woo snapped.
The woman tilted her head. Jong-woo followed her eyes, and saw a body crumpled against the wall behind him. He crawled towards it as quickly as he could. Seok-yoon’s face was swollen, his mouth crusted with dried blood. Jong-woo fumbled for the man's hand, twisting his wrists raw in the bindings. He found his pulse and sagged in relief.
“The police are on their way,” Jong-woo said.
“They came by already,” Eom-sshi responded. Jong-woo looked at her over his shoulder; Eom-sshi grinned at him. “A wellness check for a twenty-year old. Aigoo, what’s the world coming to.”
Jong-woo ground his teeth. “My roommate knows where I am.”
Eom-sshi lost her smile. “That’s why you are still alive,” she said.
Jong-woo swallowed. Realization hit, too late. “It was a trap.”
Eom-sshi hummed in agreement. She pointed to Seok-yoon, “The young man, for you,” and then, to Jong-woo, “You, for my son.”
“Moon-jo’s not your son,” Jong-woo snapped.
“Because of that woman?” Eom-sshi snorted. “I shouldn’t have given him away. She offered a lot of money, but he ended up doing so well – a dentist, with his own practice.” She shook her head with a regretful sigh.
“It doesn’t matter. He wants to come back; he comes around often enough. He’d help with things, too – not like his brothers. They’re only interested in playing.”
The twin lurched forward, grinning. “M-my b-brother,” he began.
“He deserved it,” Eom-sshi snapped. “He’ll either get better, or he won’t. It’s his own fault.”
The twin wailed, half a sob, half a hysterical laugh. “I w-want to h-hurt him,” he giggled. “I w-want to cut him o-open.”
“You can have him when we’re done,” the woman dismissed.
Jong-woo hurt too much to move, and could barely think over the pounding in his head. He angled himself so he covered most of Seok-yoon, mouth in a grim line. He’d bite the bastard’s throat out if it came down to it.
“How many people have you killed?” he asked.
Eom-sshi smiled at him. “More than I can remember. You know, you remind me of him a little. If only you’d come to Eden when you should have. Moon-jo would have followed you, I am sure, and then we could’ve worked it all out.” She sighed, put upon. “Hush, now. Let’s see how much you’re worth.”
Jong-woo grit his teeth. The pain in his leg grew worse as time slipped by, his hands long numb behind his back. He tried to think of a way out. Distantly, he hoped that Seok-yoon would not wake up before all was through, whatever the outcome.
A sharp, insistent knocking startled Jong-woo from his stupor. His head shot up in alarm. Across the room, Eom-sshi got up from her seat with an expectant smile.
“Who’s there?” she called.
“It’s me,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo swore. “Go back!” he shouted. Eom-sshi shushed him.
“Open the door,” she said.
The twin ambled forward. He got the door open – it was a heavy, metal thing, no way to break it down – and stepped aside.
Moon-jo walked in. He had his hands in his pockets, his dress-shirt unbuttoned at the collar, the tie gone. His eyes flicked to Jong-woo, then focused on Eom-sshi.
Another man came into the room. He was short, his scowling face half-hidden behind dirty hair and thick-rimmed glasses. Something blinked in the dark. A monitoring device, strapped to the man’s leg. The pervert, Jong-woo thought. He held an axe in one arm. Jong-woo’s heart jumped sickly.
“Took you long enough,” Eom-sshi scolded. She had her hands on her hips, her round face split by a pleased smile.
“I’m sorry to make you wait,” Moon-jo said.
The woman waved him off. “You’re here now. I’ve got your room saved – you think I didn’t know it was you calling all those months ago? I recognized you the first time you came by. A mother never forgets.” She patted his arm. “You have to do something for me, if you want to stay. Just one little thing.”
Moon-jo watched her, waiting. Eom-sshi laughed.
“Oh, you’ve gotten so scary! Here it is, don’t glare. You see that boy over there, the one behind your pet? Cut his throat for me. He’s drugged up, won’t even struggle.”
Jong-woo pressed against Seok-yoon. Moon-jo turned his head to look at him, and Jong-woo shivered. His eyes were dead. Like Eom-sshii’s. Like the twin’s, the pervert behind him.
“Jong-woo is mine,” Moon-jo said.
“You can keep him here,” Eom-sshi allowed. She smacked the twin quiet when he tried to protest. “You can do anything you want with him. He won’t be able to leave you, not ever.”
Moon-jo nodded. Jong-woo breathed out in a sob, straining against the binding around his wrists. “Moon-jo,” he said.
Moon-jo advanced. The pervert came with him, the axe swinging menacingly at his side. Jong-woo averted his eyes.
Moon-jo knelt down in front of him. “Don’t worry, babe,” he said. “I’ll take care of you.”
He urged him aside. Jong-woo pushed against his hands, growling. “What happened to choice, huh?” he hissed.
Moon-jo watched him, unblinking. “I chose you,” he said.
He wrapped his hands around Jong-woo and lifted, bodily moving him aside. Jong-woo struggled as hard as he could. He barely felt his leg anymore.
He did feel the scalpel nudging between his wrists, snapping the zip tie free. Moon-jo pressed the scalpel in his palm. Jong-woo gripped it tight, heart beating fast.
Moon-jo moved toward Seok-yoon. He knelt down again. The pervert followed him, and held out a knife. “Do it quick,” he said.
Moon-jo reached for the knife. He rose as he did; the knife turned in his palm and slid into the pervert’s chest, to the hilt.
There was a moment of silence. The next, the pervert reared back, screaming, the axe rising over his head. The twin rushed forward. Eom-sshi, Jong-woo noted, had already slipped from the room.
Jong-woo jerked his eyes back to the fight in time to see a grinning face and the glint of a blade. He swiped blindly with the scalpel and heard a man scream. The twin rallied, too mad to be held back by pain. He stomped down onto Jong-woo's broken leg with a high-pitched giggle. Jong-woo nearly blacked out from the pain.
There was a dull thud. Jong-woo blinked black out of his vision. He saw the pervert writhing in a corner. Moon-jo had the twin by the neck. The knife was in his hand, gleaming red.
“Don’t,” Jong-woo groaned.
“Just him,” Moon-jo said, not taking his eyes from the twin’s distorted face. “Just once.”
“It’s never just once,” Jong-woo forced out.
Moon-jo looked at him. His eyes burned, but they were no longer flat, no longer the eyes of something inhuman.
Moon-jo dropped the knife. He punched the squealing man in the face until he sagged, nose broken, eyes swollen shut.
Moon-jo let him go. The room was quiet save for their breathing, and rapidly approaching steps. Jong-woo turned to the door in a panic. “Who-” he began.
“Seo-sshi? Anyone down there?” a woman asked, her voice echoing down the stairwell.
“We’re here,” Moon-jo called.
Officers flooded the scene a moment later. Jong-woo collapsed against Seok-yoon, shaking slightly. “His leg is broken, and he may have a concussion,” he heard Moon-jo say from a great distance.
“I’m fine,” Jong-woo said. The words came out slurred.
There was a hand on his face. Jong-woo slitted his eyes open, recognized Moon-jo, and closed them again.
“You did good,” Jong-woo said.
There was a brief silence, then a low, jagged chuckle.
“Rest, babe. I’m taking you home.”
Jong-woo woke up in a hospital bed, with Moon-jo watching over him like a particularly handsome gargoyle.
The concussion turned to be a fracture in his skull, and his leg was broken in three places. Moon-jo showed him his chart. He also stayed with him through the police questioning and helped Jong-woo make up believable bullshit on the spot, which Jong-woo greatly appreciated.
“How is Seok-yoon?” Jong-woo asked once the officer in charge left the room, a disgruntled look on his face. They’d just created a whole lot of paperwork for the department, Jong-woo bet.
“He’s fine. Mild concussion, some bruising,” Officer Ahn said. “We sent someone to pick up his belongings. Does he have anywhere to go?”
“I don’t know,” Jong-woo said. He looked up, at Moon-jo. Moon-jo frowned down at him.
“He can stay in my room,” Jong-woo said.
“Where would you stay, then?” Moon-jo asked.
Jong-woo raised his brows. Moon-jo's eyes widened briefly.
“The boy will stay with us,” he told Officer Ahn, his tone strong with newfound conviction.
“How nice of you,” Officer Ahn drawled. She got up, collecting her notes and, Jong-woo was startled to see, a familiar black binder. “I’ll let his doctor know, so he can tell you once Kang-sshi wakes up. Take care.”
“Thank you,” Jong-woo said. Moon-jo inclined his head.
They were left alone, for the first time since Jong-woo had woken up. Jong-woo glanced at Moon-jo from the corner of his eyes. He felt nervous suddenly, his body hot with some strange feeling.
“They caught Eom Bok-soon,” Moon-jo said.
“Good,” Jong-woo breathed. “Do you think they’ll be able to charge her?”
“I have faith in Officer Ahn,” Moon-jo said.
Jong-woo nodded. The woman was obviously dedicated, and didn’t seem like she would let go of this case without a fight. “That’s good,” he repeated.
Moon-jo leaned down. He covered Jong-woo’s hands with his own, stilling their nervous fiddling. Jong-woo turned his head slowly. Their cheeks brushed together. They were too close. Neither of them pulled away.
“How are you?” the man asked.
Jong-woo licked his lips. Moon-jo followed the motion with his eyes, his expression turning hungry, and Jong-woo –
Jong-woo wanted, and was tired of pretending otherwise.
He was the first one to lean in. He felt Moon-jo still under his lips, his mouth soft and giving. Then the man kissed him back and oh, it was so good, to have him press Jong-woo against the pillows, to feel his teeth bite over his lips and down his jaw, his throat. Jong-woo moaned. He felt like he was burning from the inside out.
“We have to stop,” he panted.
Moon-jo growled in disagreement. Jong-woo carded a hand through the man’s hair and tugged him up, chest heaving. Moon-jo let out a low groan and Jong-woo had to kiss him again, hot with the realization that Moon-jo liked having his hair pulled.
“I have to call Ji-eun,” Jong-woo said between desperate, stinging kisses. “I have to tell her that I – that you are –”
“What am I?” Moon-jo asked. He kissed the soft spot under his ear, and Jong-woo gripped his arm, pleading brokenly.
“You are mine,” Jong-woo said at last.
Moon-jo rose above him. His lips shone red, bitten soft and dark. His eyes gleamed.
“I can be anything you want, babe," he said.
“This is good,” Jong-woo told him. “You are good as you are.”
Moon-jo stared at him. He lowered his head and kissed him so gently that Jong-woo trembled with it.
Jong-woo had come to Seoul, looking for something. He found it in a strange place, but that was alright.
He was never letting go.