For most people, a Friday night spent at one of the hottest nightclubs in the city would be the definition of an ideal night. Not for Taewon, though. Not when it was a club he owned, and not when he was here for business purposes only.
He arrived about an hour before opening to see to some new shipments that had arrived and to make sure that everything was running smoothly. When doors opened, he disappeared into his office at the back of house to do some necessary, albeit annoying and tedious, paperwork.
He jumped slightly when the alarm on his phone went off, signaling it was time for the meeting with the potential new buyer. Standing up, Taewon walked over to the mirror he had in the corner to make sure he looked presentable. Well, good enough, he thought as he exited the room, pushing his hair behind his ears so that it stayed out of his eyes.
Even though the club had opened less than an hour ago, it was nearly at capacity. Not that he was surprised in any sort. When he approached the VIP section, the two bouncers nodded at him and moved to allow him entry. Taewon walked up the small set of stairs and over to where his client was.
The meeting went smoothly overall, and though Taewon didn't exactly agree with some of the things the man said, he seemed like he knew what he was doing, which would bring a lot of money in for both parties. Inclining his head as a farewell, he watched the mans back until he disappeared into the crowd.
"I need a drink." he muttered to himself. He could have easily waved his hand and have had a drink placed in it immediately, but for some reason, felt like heading down to the main bar and ordering from them.
So that's what he did. It took a while due to the mass of dancing bodies, but eventually, he arrived at the bar. One of the bartenders instantly stopped what he was doing and headed over to Taewon. "What will you be having tonight, sir?" the man asked.
"Mmm," Taewon hummed, thinking it over. "Boulevardier." he finally answered, eyes roaming around as the bartender began to make his drink of choice.
성운 bore the same kind of interior like almost every other club that riddled the streets of Seoul, the identical booths that adorned the wall to the right, the circular glass waist-high tables dot around the far end of the room, the black and shudderingly sticky floor, the shelves behind the bar staff members that support dozens of different types of alcohol, and not to mention the hideously bad attempts at dancing from rather heavily inebriated patrons on the 'dance floor'. nevertheless, this certain club had promptly become moon-young’s hideout for the night, her need for alcohol mostly being the drive behind her presence here.
sitting in a medium-sized rectangular black plastic booth with a clear view of the entrance and easy access to the emergency exit nestled to her left, moon-young sat by herself, her only companion being the two empty glasses of wine and her thoughts. it was a predictable outcome, really; being left to her devices. knowing her friend, jia probably got ‘distracted’ somewhere between her trip to the bathroom and returning, and was not to appear soon again – unless with her latest conquest. but without the presence of her friend and her arbitrary ramblings to snare her attention in place, the goal of the night waned just the same -- which was to erode her mind from the horrible week she'd just endured.
turned out, coming back to Korea after spending five years abroad wasn’t going to be as much a walk in the park as her associates would’ve claimed for it to be. moon-young did land a job at the local news station, but also took a mighty fall down the hierarchy pyramid during the abroad – korea transition and, in turn, now had to suffer under the most egomaniac management ever. her boss might as well have spawned from the pits of hell with his outlandish tasks and not-so subtly sexist comments that somehow had to dropped in almost every conversation. holding her job hostage was one of his favourite tricks, moon-young rapidly experienced, and oh man, did she hate him. hated men like him who thought they had a right to be terrible, standing tall and imposing just because they could. it was a barely veiled hostility that could drive any employee mad, but not her. not while her determination was her sanity, and one she desperately clung to. not while she knew her capabilities defeated his in a fair game and her resolution to peg him down a notch was powering her through it.
all she had to do was last, wait till the opportunity would be within arms reach, and in the meantime, unleash her pent up vexation on a night out with friends, like this one. staring down at the empty glasses, the woman released a sigh, before stepping out of the booth. she needed another drink.
at the bar, she ordered another rosé and watched as the bartender moved to get her drink. however, getting another wine turned out to be a more difficult ordeal than previously imagined, and with a furrow of the eyebrows, moon-young caught the bartender abruptly abandoning her drink in order to cater to someone else. who in the hell? her eyes narrowed to see which person took precedence over her, but only to widen as a remnant of her past took a living form in front of her. in the fraction of a second, moon-young got transported back in the past as old memories pervaded her mind. memories of a love passionate and bright, broken promises, and a shattered heart. moon-young suddenly felt light headed, and there were these muddling thoughts that skittered like sparks, words burning her lips before the realization they had left.
“Tae Tae?” an almost forgotten nickname rolled off her tongue in a surprising but awkward manner, like it was a word foreign to own pronunciation despite being one so freely used once upon a time. her voice was softer than the harsh emotions whirling inside, her expression akin to someone who might’ve seen a ghost – which would not even be far from her perceived truth.
before her stood a phantom of the past, someone who so cruelly had imprisoned her heart before disappearing without a word or any trace, leaving nothing in his wake but shattered pieces of what once beat for him. emotions that moon-young had thought to have made peace with poured through her again, and while the initial shock protected her from fully exposing them, they still yearned to be validated. to be shown. at the core? a betrayal felt so deep in the bones, it formed a bite on its own.
“So you’re still alive, huh?” her tone was accusatory, maybe even hostile - but it was what he deserved.
Honestly, there wasn't really much to take in. Or, well, nothing new to take in. Like it was every night open for business, Nebular was packed. Probably at capacity. Same old, same old. If they were truly at the 800 person capacity, and everyone had a drink or more, he was grossing an average of 15 million Won, at the very least.
Taewon leaned his hip against the bar, crossing one leg over the other as he drummed his fingers on the wooden surface. It wasn't as if he was impatient--he couldn't care less how long it took for his drink to be made. This was just his thinking stance. Usually it was used to think about operational things for the Dragons, but right now, it was used to calculate the nights gross profit.
He was broken out of his train of thought when the drink was placed in front of him and turned, nodding his thanks to the bartender. Picking it up and taking a tentative sip, he hummed in satisfaction when it was made exactly the way he liked it. Even if it wasn't, he wouldn't have said anything. He wasn't that much of a dick. Well, not to his Nebular employees, anyways.
He continued to take a few more sips, setting the glass down gently on the bar when he was done. It was then that he noticed the lack of a human presence around him when there were some a few minutes ago. Interesting.
It was to be expected. To most people, he appeared intimidating; full sleeve of tattoos illuminated by the bar lights, a handful of piercings and the cold aura he exuded. Not exactly welcoming. Plus, many of the patrons knew he ran the Dragons, one of Seoul's largest mafia groups. That was all the incentive they needed to stay the hell away.
Snorting to himself, Taewon picked the glass up again and took a sip. Bad idea since shortly after that, he heard the 'Tae Tae' and choked, causing the liquid to go down the wrong pipe. His eyes widened drastically from panic, though not because he was choking. No. Panic because there was only one person on the entire planet called him that and there was no fucking way she was here now when they hadn't seen each other in years.
No way, he told himself, no fucking way. But yep, there was a way. There was definitely a way, since when he lowered the glass slightly, he locked eyes onto Moon-Young.
If the glass he was holding had been any thinner, it definitely would have shattered given how strong he suddenly gripped it. Taewon was squeezing the glass as if it were his anchor, the only thing keeping him tethered to reality. The mental block he had put up several years ago was now clearly broken, memory after memory hitting him like a fucking wave.
He took a step back away from the bar and shook his head slightly as if he were trying to get away from the onslaught of them all. It was too much, too much all at once. He was still human after all. Still had feelings, no matter how much he tried to lock them away and ignore them.
Seeing Moon-Young after all these years, especially in his own club, was sending him right into full-blown panic. Should he run? Too late, she already saw him. Should he pretend he never saw her? Well, that was a dumb idea, since all of the tension in his body was pretty much a dead giveaway. Before he could really dwell on it, he heard her speak.
And well, he deserved that.
He was still alive, yes, but for all she knew, he had died. It was a shitty thing he pulled, to vanish without any reason and without any notice, but it was better than the alternative: to tell her. There was no way he was going to tell her that he was becoming a member of the Dragons, a group and lifestyle he swore up and down he would never become involved with. And to suddenly tell her that he was becoming the leader of the Dragons? No. He wouldn't do that. So he did the only thing he could think of at the time.
Even now, so many years later, there was no way he was telling her about the Dragons. That was a secret he'd keep to himself for as long as he could. If she found out, so be it, but it wouldn't be from him.
Taewon quickly swallowed down his fear and schooled his face into a neutral, indifferent expression (one that he'd mastered over the years) in order to reply to her. "Clearly," he began with a snort, taking another sip of the cocktail. "Or else you'd be talking to a ghost, and science has pretty much proven that ghosts aren't real, sweetheart."
It was a low jab, he knew it. The old Taewon, the one Moon-Young knew so well, would never have said it, would never have used that tone. But the old Taewon was gone, vanished, and never coming back. This was him now, and there was no way he was changing, not even for an old love.
even before the phantom responded and made himself truly alive again, moon-young could see it. could see it with the way his gaze was stripped of the light it once brightly held and in how the radiant colours of his aura were drained and now only shone in cold, monochrome shades. he was still as tall and present as ever, but it was like the very essence of him had slipped out and sunk into the crevices of the earth. moon-young was able to witness the return of her ex but experience his death all the same – for the person who had his identity was someone else than the boy she once knew.
she could have seen it coming, could have prepared for the reunion to be this dreary -- because wasn’t it always worse than pictured in the head? moon-young had dreamed to meet him again, just to lay down the words she spent concocting into a lethal poison over the years. had hoped it would be as cathartic as stoking a fire and burning his belongings to ashes, uncaring that part of her soul got lost in the flames as well. maybe she even hoped he’d burn with it, just to make him feel the pain that tore her heart apart, but life was not like that, was it? instead of healing the scars left behind, this encounter shaped up to feel like it was just cutting old wounds open again, and even though moon-young would never admit it, his words lashed against her skin more than ever before.
her heart faltered, her chest sinking into her belly so intensely that she thought she may very well be ill. moon-young didn’t answer for a moment, mind running half a mile and throat stuck with all the words she wanted to say but refused to. she wanted to yell at the audacity of him, entering her life again like she was supposed to be ready for it. hated how he could instil emotions so turbulent it shook her core and robbed her from the hard-hearted mien she was supposed to be serving during this reunion. he deserved to be crushed under the weight of his actions - deserved to be hurt the same way he hurt her when he didn’t even said goodbye or broke things off before disappearing - but moon-young was no fool. this person, the one standing right in front of her with a gaze too empty and words too cold, was not capable of apologies or regret. she doubted her words would reach him even if she poured all the emotions she was currently tightly clamping behind her passive expression into them.
moon-young allowed her heart to break again, let herself briefly mourn the person she’d lost for a second time now, but also prohibited for it to swallow her whole again. she also didn’t allow herself to run away, despite knowing her questions about his disappearance would remain unanswered and he wasn’t the tae-won she wanted to talk to. if anything, moon-young would show him she’d changed as well. that she could match him in this game of apathy.
“well, for all i know you could’ve just made a deal with the devil to return back to the world of the living.” she retorted, hand planted on her hip. her eyes lowered to the drink in his hand, and moon-young remembered how the bartender had abandoned her order to fetch him one. “if you did, it must have been a premium one. how much did you have to pay exactly to become someone of enough importance here to get priority over drinks?” her head tilted and she raised an eyebrow out of curiosity. if moon-young wouldn’t get any answers about the past, she might as well gun for the present.
“maybe you can pay for mine as well. i do think i deserve one.”
and if she couldn't get any apologies, she might as well try to at least gain a free drink.
Taewon could tell the second his words registered, the second they made impact. He could see it in her eyes, the way the light seemed to vanish. Could see it in her posture, the way her shoulders fell and she sort of caved in on herself. Even if the actions were subconscious and she wasn't even aware of it herself (which seemed likely), he noticed. He used to notice everything about her, and the years apart seemed to have brought no change to that.
Time to put a stop to that, I think. murmured the devil on his shoulder, and Taewon all but nodded in agreement. To give himself something to do, he gulped down nearly half of his drink and took his sweet old time setting the glass down. Even after, he didn't speak, didn't acknowledge Moon-Young's presence right next to him. He was too busy shoving all of the past memories back into the corner cell of his mind and locking them in there for good.
But then she spoke again, and the memories that were freshly locked away rattled against their mind cage, threatening to escape. No. They were staying there and that was final. Swallowing thickly, he once again schooled his face into the trademarked expression of indifference as her words seemed to finally register with him.
The metaphorical devil sitting on his shoulder shrieked with glee at what was said, and Taewon couldn't help but chuckle a bit himself. His hand gripped the glass and was halfway to his lips when he paused to speak. "Oh, that's exactly what I did," He took a sip and swallowed, moving the glass away from his lips before continuing, "Lucifer's one of my best friends. He let me return for no charge at all, just the promise that we'd keep in touch." And oh, was he keeping that promise.
An inscrutable expression crossed over his features, mind reeling as he tried to figure out how to respond to her next comment. Should he tell her this was his club? Or would that be giving too much away? Then again, they hadn't seen each other in years and for all she knew, he could've launched a startup or became the CEO of a company and was now a billionaire. Which he was--a billionaire, that is. It was probably safe to tell her this was his club, as long as he left out where he got the finances for it. If, for some reason, it was asked, he'd lie and say he owned a company. Also sort of the truth, since he owned the Dragons. Not a company, but still somewhat of a business.
It was then he remembered that he actually needed to respond with a verbal answer. "How much did I have to pay?" he repeated, a grin slowly forming on his face. "Nothing. I paid nothing. I own this club, of course I get priority over drinks." If he didn't, there'd be a problem. That didn't mean he wanted the bartenders to neglect other customers in order to attend to him, since that would result in loss of business, but he did want to receive his drinks in a timely manner.
Taewon then raised a brow in amusement. "Oh you do, do you?" he wondered, tone clearly amused. But it was a rhetorical question and he wasn't expecting an answer. "Maybe I could." But they both probably already knew that he wasn't buying her a drink. With a single motion, he drained the rest of drink and set it down on the wooden surface of the bar. He then checked his watch, stepping away from the bar and smoothing out his shirt. "I'll see you around." And then he disappeared into the crowd behind him, having no intentions of "seeing her around."
the words echoed through moon-young’s head, hollow and distant. there was a ripple in time where the world seemed to pause around her, rooted in its place by a dissonance strong enough to question reality. the rest of the sentence was a distorted jumble, one she could probably decipher if her focus wasn’t so honed in on that tiny information she’d just obtained. it shouldn’t have struck her as dumbfounded as it did; they had spend many years in separate orbits by now and taewon resembled more of a stranger than a soul from the past. anything, she was now painstakingly reminded of, was possible. for all that could have happened during their time in worlds apart and what she was witnessing right now, her ex now owning a club should be as much of a surprise as it was a revelation of his life without her.
(guessed that if you deprived someone long enough, even a little dose could sweep them off their feet.)
moon-young wondered what other tiny secrets his form could house, her eyes unconsciously searching for stories in the irises of his glacial gaze and even in the crooks of his shirt. of course, there was nothing to be found. it seemed that her ex had locked everything away in a treasure chest hidden and guarded somewhere on the bottom of the ocean, like his own davy jones’ locker. she once held the treasure map of him, but the years away had wilted it till the point that all what remained to be faded lines of what was – the key to the affairs of his heart having become as reachable as a constellation in the night sky.
whatever life taewon had established for himself, it was clear moon-young no longer had a part in it. she had simply become a faceless bystander, only able to catch glimpses of him in a blurred momentum or through a glassy window. rationally speaking, this might just be the best for the both of them. there was no need in welcoming the past back into your life, no matter how harmless of a guest it currently might seem. their past, while filled with memories warm enough to keep her from freezing on even the coldest days, had become too complicated to keep easy – too raw of hurt to build anew on top of it. maybe it was just their fate to remain phantoms from a ceased life once spent together.
moon-young could accept it, but it didn’t stop a treacherous ache from blossoming within as taewon shattered their reunion as quickly as his presence had instigated it. see you around, he said. they both knew those were empty words. the woman remained silent, her eyes watching him disappear into the crowd with something akin to melancholy. after he got lost from sight, she allowed herself to release a shaky breath and pinch her eyes closed. her heart felt awfully heavy despite beating so fast it may very well burst out of her ribcage. moon-young cursed at herself, frustrated that he managed to be the one walking away still.
opening her eyes, she found the glass of wine she ordered in front of her. with a huff, she gripped her drink and downed it in one sitting – not even bothering with savouring the taste like she usually would. moon-young set the glass back on the bar, along the appropriate amount of won bills, before casting her gaze on the crowd again. not wanting to spend more time in a club owned by her ex, the woman set on route to find her friend and get them both out of here.
jia would understand once she explained everything.
moon-young weaved herself through the masse of people, head turning ever so timely as her eyes searched for the familiar figure she entered the club with. it was not that hard to recognize the drunk face of jia and within ten minutes, she had spotted her friend laughing drunkenly at something a guy awfully close to her said. moon-young quickly approached the two and caught the end of the guy’s phrase.
“let’s go to my place.”
performing her duty as best friend, she quickly interjected by physically putting herself between the two and shooting him a steeled gaze.
“I don’t think so,” she replied, while grabbing her friend by the arm, ready to drag her away. jia was never known to be the cautious one when out clubbing, finding no harm in flirting with even the most troublesome types. this was not the first time moon-young had to interfere before the drunk risked her life in a dangerous gamble of purposed one-night stands.
“moonieee~” her friend slurred, before bursting into a fit of giggles herself.
the guy, on the other hand, looked far from amused at the girl’s sudden appearance. he gazed down at her with an intense glare of his own, his stature building up to impose intimidation.
“the fuck is your problem. are you her mother or something? she can decide for herself if she wants to come home with me.” the whiff of alcohol in his breathe was enough to determine his drunken state, and moon-young had to withhold her gag reflexes.. this was another thing she absolutely despised about drunk people, especially males; they remained ever so persistent to get laid for the night – never taking a goddamn hint.
“sorry but you’ll have to find someone else to woo for tonight. we’re going.” she waved her hand dismissively at him while turning around to drag her drunk friend towards the exit. but before any steps could be taken, a hand gripped her shoulder and halted her into place.
“i don’t think so.. the fun is just starting here, why don’t you two stay?” his lips had curved into a smirk, though his gaze burned with nothing but malicious intent. nevertheless, moon-young refused to be intimidated by the likes of him, instead biting back with equal threatening words.
“the only fun you will get tonight is a trip to the hospital if you don’t let me go.”
there was a strict personal rule where moon-young didn't allow herself to start fights. her mother might argue that her definition of what starts a fight was too loose, but she begged to differ. any fight started was any step towards her and her loved ones she didn't like. they were in a club, so she couldn't exactly punch someone without getting kicked out – but then again… wasn’t leaving what she wished to achieve? either way, moon-young was prepared to retaliate.
After that brief but terrifying interaction, Taewon headed back to his office for a much needed break. Or screaming session. Whatever worked, honestly. The second the door was shut and locked behind him, he grabbed one of the throw pillows on the love seat, pressed it to his face and began to shout. Because what the fuck was that? That whole messed up interaction. After not seeing Moon-Young in years, what were the chances that she suddenly showed up in the same place as him, the same time as him, in the club he owned? Probably very close to zero. Yet they somehow managed to come true, leaving him absolutely shaken to the core. He didn't think he'd be recovering any time soon.
The last ten minutes had seen him taking a trip down memory lane, reuniting with ghosts from his past, and having the floodgates known as repressed memories get thrown open. Not exactly the highlight of his evening. And it had his mind absolutely reeling. Not to sound dramatic but he wasn't ready for this. He probably would've dodged the club altogether had he known this was on the agenda for tonight.
Taewon knew he sounded like a coward. The big bad leader of the Dragons, Seoul's largest mafia, was afraid of a simple interaction with an ex. For most, interactions with an ex would definitely be awkward, yes, but certainly not unbearable like this one was. This one felt like a burning flame scorching his throat as it went down, leaving him raw and open to be taken apart. In a good way. Maybe.
The reason? She wasn't just an ex. She was his first love, the only person he could be his true self around, the only soul he felt comfortable opening up to. And then everything changed. He changed, and not for the better. He left behind his one true love for this, the life he promised himself he'd never get involved in and stay far as hell away from. He wasn't sure if he'd ever hated himself more.
Another ten or so minutes passed with his head buried in the pillow, breathing deeply. He then figured he should head back out to the main floor so took a minute to compose himself, splashed some water on his face, rolled up his sleeves and got his shit together. Then, taking a deep breath, he ventured out onto the dance floor. Taewon stopped at the threshold leading to the main to survey the happenings of the club. There wasn't anything that needed to be observed or looked after, but wanted to make sure.
He pushed himself off of the wall and started walking towards the front entrance to check in with the bouncers, pushing through the throngs of people as he did so. However, before he even made it halfway, a small commotion was heard that caused him to stop where he was. He recognized those voices very well, both of them. Turning on the spot, he caught the tail end of the interaction. And that was enough for him to put the pieces together and cause his blood to boil.
"Geonwu," he snapped, watching as the male's eyes widened in fear upon recognizing his leader's voice. "Enough." His voice was just loud enough to be heard over the bass, but not super loud, which made it that much more terrifying. "Go to my office. I'll deal with you in a minute." Nothing else was said and he watched the male's retreating form until it disappeared from site. Only then did he turn to Moon-Young and her friend. "Are you two okay?"
despite the brazen attitude displayed, a small voice of rationalism battled for total ownership of the body and mind, naggingly reminding moon-young that her actions might have repercussions, and perhaps of great severity. words had that attribute of being able to travel at lightning speed, gossip rarely losing traction in such a digital world. it didn’t really matter that she was not currently working or among a crowd of drunken patrons; news of her starting an impromptu fight in a club could very well reach the office. and if that were to happen, her boss would without question double down on his beliefs that women were too emotional for this type of profession and raise a new circle of hell, if not trying to fire her.
nevertheless, these internal qualms – while present – were no match against the obduracy that framed the mind. unyielding in her stance against those who utilized intimidation when their advances were shot down, moon-young readied her fists in case the guy needed a broken nose to finally understand neither of them was going to entertain his drunk ass. may she sign her own damnation with it or not.
but then the improbable happened. a voice interjected before either attacks could enter the battlefield, one that rang like a bittersweet hymn she wished to have forgotten. once again, moon-young found herself nearly doubling in shock as he entered the scene. for a moment, she wondered if this is just a sick game of him: allowing just one respite before cruelly ripping her world asunder with his presence. didn’t he know he revived every emotion she didn’t want to feel? like some twisted phoenix born anew from the ashes. that thought passed quickly though, being dismissed by the cold realization that for playing a game, one had to care enough to join, and caring was no longer his domain ( not anymore).
still, moon-young could not quite believe he was there without motive, not when he’d abandoned her so easily again moments ago. her eyes fleeted from him to the guy, the exchange between the two catching her by surprise. did they knew each other? the realization caused her stomach to churn, echoing the concerning thoughts of the mind. in the past, moon-young could have never imagined tae-won associating himself with people like the guy in front of them - not even when she had come to know the awfully cold-hearted father figure of his - but this was not the past anymore, and the fact that she currently didn't know what her ex would do unnerved her.
“you know him?” she inquired instead of addressing his question after the guy left, “some company you keep.” there was a hint of distaste and bitterness surrounding the remark. a bit unwarranted perhaps, given that he got that creep off their backs, but moon-young figured out the two could be uncaring together ( and he kind of deserved it either way with how he left her for a second time).
her friend, however, in her oblivious and drunken state, held a whole different vision of the tall male in front of them.
“moonieee! you know him?? you never told me you know such a good-looking guy!” jia exclaimed, gaze switching between the two. her friend clung to her side and leaned closer, eager to gain the details about the handsome stranger. “who is he? a friend? lover? past hook-up?” jia’s volume was far louder than intended, even attracting the questioning gazes from some others nearby, and moon-young internally groaned. this was certainly not the time or place to reveal her ex’s identity to her friend.
“I’ll tell you some other time. let’s get you out of here and into a cab first, okay?” she responded, earning a whine in return.
“but I don’t want to go yet~ do you know how much it cost me to get us into this club?? Not one, not two, but three horrible dates! three !!” her friend held up three fingers for visual emphasis. “let's get one more dri- heyy you know what, “ jia’s gaze travelled back to tae-won, lips curving into a lazy smile “ you want a drink? let us treat you for scaring that guy away.”
“ ah yes, no. i think he has far more important things to do-“ moon-young quickly said, not even wishing to think of that scenario. it was a train wreck she’d have to reserve for another time, like never. “let’s just grab our coa-“ her sentence got interrupted by a finger pressing against her lips, hushing her.
“shhh, let the man speak for himself” her friend slurred, before tilting her head to the ex. “what you sayy, drink on us?”
The very second Moon-Young's eyes were upon him, Taewon knew what was going to be asked well before it was. It wasn't just because he knew her inside and out and could read her like an open book. No. It was written all over her face--the "how the fuck do you know him" sort of look.
Then she actually said it aloud. Even though he'd been anticipating the question for a while, it still made a lick of anger rush through him and he turned his face away, staring at the flashing lights until everything was under control. "Yeah, I know him," he started. "He's one of my employees." Employee wasn't exactly the right term, but it was close enough. There was no way he was going to say to her that Geon-Wu was actually part of a gang, one that he ran. So he left it at employee for now. He completely ignored her jab about "the company he kept" and checked the time on his watch, pretending as if it were far more fascinating than she was. Of course, it was all an act, but there was no fucking way in hell that he'd let her know just how affected he still was by her presence.
The watch act was broken when Moon-Young's friend practically screeched her presence, Taewon having pretty much completely forgotten that the friend was here. The second he'd sent Geon-Wu away, his "Moon Moon" had been the only thing on his mind. And holy sweet Jesus, how the fuck did one respond to that. Here he was, the gang leader who was able to deal with some of the foulest things on the planet, yet didn't know how to respond to being called attractive.
Before Taewon could really dwell on a potential response, the friend continued. If he had had a drink and had taken a sip right as she said that, the drink would have been all over both girls at this point. Yep. Not expecting that. He felt like he had to respond but didn't know how to. They were friends and lovers at one point but that was all in the past. "Something like that." he muttered, looking away.
It was all his fault, he was well aware and didn't need any reminders. Though, he was broken out of his train of thought and somewhat mollified when the friend mentioned how hard it was to get into the club. He knew Nebular was popular but not that popular. However, he wasn't too fond of how she had to use dates to get in.
At the offer of them buying him a drink, Taewon couldn't help the small smile that crept across his features. He wasn't in the mood for another drink and knew Moon-Young would probably combust if he accepted the offer. "That's okay, thanks though," he politely declined. "Perhaps another time. How about, instead of a drink, you let me walk you out and call you a ride home?"
moon-young loved her friend, treasured jia like a breathe of fresh air in a room brimming of heavy smoke, but if annoyances could kill, her drunk friend would be six feet underground by now. a frustration burned her stomach, not only at her friend but at herself too. the once dauntless mindset that emboldened her had crumbled way too easily for moon-young’s liking, her precious armour gone like it never existed in the first place. she hated how after all these years - after having thought to have finally freed herself from the anchored weight of hurt he put her through – that he was still able to evoke such emotional discord. she hated the current unwelcome sense of fragility occupying her body in his presence, hated how he made her want to run away, like the coward he once was.
moon-young hated how she could not even blame her drunk friend for pushing on, having left the details about her ex in the past and way before she met jia. why? because she believed back then, with almost religious conviction, that not acknowledging what happened might grant her the power to get through it. because she had foolishly hoped to convince herself that he hadn’t wrecked her and that she wasn’t desperately holding onto the broken pieces of her heart like letting go meant falling apart. because to deny the truth was to survive in the waves threatening to drown her.
but all of that didn’t matter now. not anymore - not when the past had come to collide with the present in such a way it left her battered by the swell of unbridled emotions she’d been compartmentalizing all this time.
moon-young had planned to leave regardless of what her ex would respond, but she supposed small mercies hadn’t abandoned her completely. she relaxed upon hearing him decline jia’s offer, the relief almost palpable. her chest loosened for a momentum, the hope of him announcing his departure again adding air to the tangled lungs.
alas, misfortune seemed the order of the night.
"Perhaps another time. How about, instead of a drink, you let me walk you out and call you a ride home?"
“you don’t have to-”
the contrasting responses melted into each other as they simultaneously left their lips. moon-young sent a warning glare into her friend’s direction, but jia being jia, feigned ignorance and proceeded to dive from the line into the sinker part of the plan. the drunk woman untangled herself from moon-young’s side and stumbled clumsily to taewon, wrapping her arms around his.
“ don’t mind my moonie, we’d love to have you walk us out and help us with a taxi! that is so sweet ! isn’t he sweet?”
“he had his charms…” moon-young muttered, the words escaping her before the realization hit her. it struck an embarrassed shade across her cheeks, her breath hitching as a prayer swiftly followed. god did she hope that the music was loud enough to mute her voice.
the rest of the affair remained all but a distant memory existing of sounds and blurred motions. moon-young kept her gaze mostly to the ground, unwilling to weaken her resolves further with a glance of him. it was not until the cold bite of the night air stole the warmth from her body and the black car pulled up in front of them that she allowed her eyes to wander. even as moon-young kept her face still as stone, her eyes betrayed the emotions unfurling from her center. years of unspoken words and locked feelings, all crashing against the walls of the heart.
a thousand questions and a million words - but none of them were uttered that night.
instead, she let one simple sentence roll off her tongue, echoing the same empty sentiments as the one in front of her had expressed earlier that night.
Shit like this wasn't usually something Taewon handled. Wasn't usually part of his domain. This type of thing was usually handled by members of lower importance, shunted off to be dealt with by members trying to prove their worth to him. But somehow, somehow, this deal had been given to complete and utter newbies. Why? He didn't know. He had absolutely no idea why something of this caliber was given to newbies to handle. This was one of the most important deals they've had, and would have, all year. It should definitely be handled by one of the upper-level members.
Safe to say he was furious when he found out. In the end, it was decided that the newbies would be there to observe, but for the most part, the deal would be handled by Taewon himself, his second in command, and a few other higher-ups. Six Dragons in total. Who knew how many the other party would bring.
Saturday night, the night of the deal, came a little too fast for his liking. He'd have much preferred the meeting to have taken place in a property he owned for safety reasons, but after negotiating for a bit, agreed to meet at a bar and restaurant in "neutral territory".
The place was packed when the six Dragons arrived, which was good since the chat of the other patrons would drown out any chance of being overheard. They all took a seat on one side of the designated table, Taewon and his second in the very center. They didn't have to wait for very long as the other party rolled in only a few minutes after. To most, it would seem as if a bunch of friends we're meeting for dinner, and they were, but they weren't friends and they were here to discuss a partnership, a trade deal.
Thankfully, everything started off smoothly and there were only a few disagreements, mainly on each groups cut of the money. Honestly, now that he thought about it, Taewon could've easily sat this deal out considering how good it was going, but it was probably for everyone's greater interest that he was here.
it had been a week, and even though moon-young had been more than grateful the encounter with her ex had not repeated the last seven days, she could not say her mind was completely absolved of him. tae-won, frustratingly enough, lingered around in true ghost fashion. he was there in idle thoughts, bitter remembrances and treasonous reveries - like a curse she could not get rid of - and she hated it. hated how he consumed her mind at waking and slumbering hours, hated how all the reunion did was rupture the defence she once deemed invincible. tae-won haunted her and moon-young bitterly wondered if he would ever leave her alone. maybe this was the fortunate death rattle people spoke about, the sound of an end to come. or maybe it signified that she might very well be taking the ghost of him to the grave, like their own twisted version of romeo and juliet. either way, by the time of the weekend, moon-young was ready to be liberated from her ex’s mental presence.
fortunately for her, tonight might just be an evening spent without tae-won’s phantom occupying the chambers of her mind, her complete attention being held captive by something far more exciting. while moon-young’s return to korea had not been without an abundance of trials and tribulations, a nascent light finally managed to scatter the dark clouds that shadowed her. an unique opportunity had been carried by the winds of the past into the present and had landed squarely in her hands, as if destined to be held only by her. moon-young was more than grateful to have landed her current job, but she would have been a fool to decline the offer an old connection presented her. it would get her one step closer to realizing a dream that had been sitting in abeyance for years now. to tail someone with a career in the production of documentaries was a reverie on its own, let alone to actively contribute to it. it didn’t matter the risks that the current subject held: this was worth the risk, she had decided.
so there she was; standing in front a …. restaurant? truth to be told, when moon-young was informed about the documentary and it covering the gang scene of seoul, she half-expected to be standing in some back alley for footage. a restaurant just seemed too crowdy for conducting any sort of illegal business - though, she supposed that a great density of people within a room did have its perks as well. how those operating in the underground could utilize those perks was beyond her still, but moon-young guessed that she was about to find out soon enough.
“moon-young!” a familiar voice caught her attention, her head turning towards the noise. a small smile curved her lips as a taller, male figure infiltrated her sight and the woman bowed to greet her old friend from back in Europe.
“chan-sung! thank you so much for letting me tail you on this project. it means a lot.” she expressed with gratitude.
chan-sung merely waved her off and returned the smile.
“don’t worry about it. i should thank you too since you are helping me after all. “ he nudged his head into the direction of the restaurant’s entrance. “you ready?”
moon-young averted her gaze back to the building while trying to calm the nerves sparking under her skin by inhaling as much faux confidence as possible from the evening air. everything is going to be fine. all they needed to do was sit and pretend to have a nice dinner with each other and the hidden camera and sound recorder would do their work on its own. besides, the purposed gang members were supposed to be newbies anyway according to chang-sun’s trusted source. they were going to be safe fine... right?
“yes, let’s go.” she slowly nodded, before trailing behind her friend into the restaurant.
immediately upon entering, it became clear why the gang members picked this particular night and place to conduct whatever they would be conducting. almost every dark wooden table was occupied and the only noise you could hear was a cacophony of chatter, music and sizzling food. how they were supposed to acquire a recording of the right conversation among this discordance she didn’t know, but judging from the unbothered expression on her friend’s face as he confirmed their reservation, he did, and that was enough to still the worries gnawing from the bottom of her stomach.
moon-young silently followed the waiter and chang-sun as they made their way further into the restaurant, her gaze wandering across the different tables as she did. the waiter soon stopped in front of a small table and bowed in signification that it was theirs. chan-sung, acting like the rightful role of a date, pulled her chair back for her first. moon-young muttered a thank you, before sitting down, and as her friend scooted the chair closer to the table, he moved his head close to hers.
“big table next to you.” he whispered, before walking towards his own seat and brandishing a bright smile.
moon-young carefully allowed herself a peek at the big table closest to them, her gaze landing on twelve figures sitting opposed of each other. at first, the woman did not note anything particularly dubious about them: they just looked like a party of friends dining - but the more her gaze lingered, the more recognizable one’s features became. in fact, one of the persons started to look creepily alike to the one that had been plaguing her mind all week.
“tae-won…” her breath hitched as the ghost of an ex had suddenly materialized again. at first, moon-young wanted believe that this was just an illusion pulled from the deep depths of her conscience. yet, the apparition did not dissolve with time.
Right now, Taewon was currently rethinking his earlier thought of how it was in everyone's greater interest that he was here. Yes, it was probably still great that he was, but he was seriously wishing he wasn't here. The problem was that he was bored to tears and found himself tuning out of the conversation quite often. Honestly, someone could ask him what was discussed over the last five minutes and he would have not a single damn clue. An explosion could take place right in front of his nose and he wouldn't even bat an eye, too lost in his own little world of boredom to notice.
He was broken out of his daydreaming by a nudge on his shoulder. Blinking stupidly, he turned to see the quote-on-quote second-in-command, Heejun, sending him an amused look, gesturing towards one of the men from the opposite party, staring right at him and clearly expecting a reply. Well, shit. Taewon had absolutely no idea what was said. "Sorry," he apologized with a shake of his head, "would you mind repeating that?" There was no point in pretending otherwise--it was clear to everyone that he wasn't paying attention and had no idea what was going on.
He made sure to pay hella attention to the conversation for the next ten minutes but inevitably found himself zoning out again. This time, instead of just his mind wandering, his eyes began to wander as well. They just so happened to land upon a man that had been dead set on bringing the downfall of all of Seoul's gang life for years, including the Dragons. Taewon was very familiar with him, even if he didn't know his name. Either way, he knew this couldn't be good. Clearly this dude had an informant somewhere, somehow, and knew that there was an important meeting here. That made him way more uncomfortable than he'd choose to admit.
"We've got company," he muttered to Heejun, subtly gesturing towards gang-destroyer man and then returning his attention towards the rest of the table. "I hate to break up this party a little early," he began, "but sadly, we've got bad company a few tables over. Let's continue another time and for now, enjoy some dinner and get to know each other." Even though it was said in a light hearted manner, everyone knew there would be no more discussion.
When the waiter came, another round of drinks and food was ordered. Taewon was absorbed in conversation with Heejun about something random when he noticed a figure approach the gang-ender's table. Curiosity peaked, he turned his head and nearly spat out the drink he'd just consumed. Moon-Young. What the fuck was she doing here? And with him? It was then he realized that he knew absolutely nothing about her anymore, nothing since the day he ended things and departed. For all he knew, she could be an astronaut or something.
However, it was clear that she had already noticed him and he wanted nothing more than to sink into the floor. Because there was no way she didn't know what gang-destroyer did, no way she wasn't here for that, no way she wasn't about to become a gang-destroyer herself. And since destroyer was here for the Dragon's and Moon-Young was here for destroyer, she'd now know he was the leader. Fuck. Shit. What a fucking clusterfuck.
"Fucking hell," he muttered, ignoring the look thrown his way. He really didn't want her to know what he became, that he became the leader of the group he despised, a whole entire lifestyle he swore he'd have nothing to do with. Now he'd never hear the end of it.
to catch a sight of a love slipped beyond her reaches was something moon-young survived once now. it had certainly not aligned with the dreamscape the years of sitting in hurt and ponders had crafted, but she had accepted the reality of their reunion rather much quicker than the reality of abandonment years back. no longer was moon-young under any delusion that the person she once considered her homeland, her nexus, was absolved from doing something as cruel as disappearing with no warnings, no signs beneath the lines of chats. to have him create wounds he once healed upon reunion was, in remembrances of the past, not that surprising. capturing that face for a second time this week, however, was. and among a group of suspected gang members nonetheless.
it felt as if every whisp of air was pulled from the lungs, her mind stunned in ways moon-young almost forgot how to breathe. thoughts bounced around in her skull, words building scenarios that just did not make sense. moon-young thought to have forsaken denial in regards to taewon, but with the sudden urge to bury those thoughts deep within so no one – not even herself – could hold onto the roots of its existence, she didn’t quite know anymore. the picture her mind painted with the colours the information leaked was something she refused to account as realism. it was just impossible. not in any cursed dream, roguish reverie or tragic nightmare did her ex ever being part of a gang appear, so why would it in reality?
chan-sung seemed to note the paling of her complexion, keen eyes catching the turbulent waves of emotion in the gaze of the woman. he tilted his head slightly to follow the transparent string of sight, mouth forming a small shape sembling the ‘o’, before releasing a curse. “ah, shit.” the forward profanity snapped moon-young out of her stupor, her eyes quickly shifting towards her ‘date’. “what? what is it?” she asked in a whisper, heart beating thumping with a sense of morbid curiosity. her date merely leaned back in his seat, fingers tapping against the table, gaze lingering on taewon, before releasing a sigh. “he is not supposed to be here. this complicates things a lot more.”
moon-young trailed his gaze back to her ex, and the world started spinning, its colours seeping into grayscale. the thought of chan-sung knowing taewon just didn’t feel right, but the ponders about everything he could know unsettled her more. she found herself clenching the fabric of her dress, her legs tugged further back as her form leaned closer to her friend.
“do you … know him?" her voice trailed slowly, like her words were unwilling to take flight. chan-sung blinked, undoubtedly marking the targeting interest in his mind, and nodded. “of course i do. you ought to know the most important members of the gang if you wish to document them, right?” he winked.
the soft palette of her tummy veered into an ill feeling. even though the dagger of calamitous love had been removed years back, what should be burrowed under the skin poured out in heart-stopping waves of something. to have chan-sung confirm the truth she yet wished to deny was a death of its own, and perhaps the most harrowing one. moon-young did not why she was reacting so strongly to this news, could not grasp why someone as unbothered as taewon still managed to unearth the gates to her emotions like he didn’t leave her to ruins. he didn’t owe her any image, so why did she feel almost betrayed by it?
the distress on her face might as well have written out the thoughts on the table, chan-sung being able to detect the whirlwind of emotions as easy as shooting a sitting duck. he began to lean forward as well, arms resting on the table in front of him, a glint of sudden interest sparking his gaze. “do you know him?" he returned, eyebrows slightly raised in inquisition.
“yes..” she responded with candor, stinging in retrospect, “but I don’t want to talk about it.”
chan-sung let out a sigh that spoke disappointment, head dropping slightly. when he looked up again, there was an almost pleading yet commanding quality to his expression. “look, i don’t want to force you into sharing things you are uncomfortable with, but if you really know him – or have known him - it would greatly contribute to our documentary. imagine how much it would help us to have an account on the team who has history with-“
“i said i don’t want to talk about it!” moon-young snapped, louder than intended. the gazes from nearby tables told her that much, and her cheeks heated up in embarrassment. “sorry,” she quickly apologized, before releasing a soft sigh. “sorry chan-sung. it's just that.. i am willing to help you with everything else because, frankly, i want some answers myself, but that’s where the personal involvement stops. maybe i am ready to talk about it in the future but now, it’s just not gonna happen. also, if you can excuse me for a moment-“ she slowly stood up from her seat. “i think i’m going to the restroom for a second.”
moon-young didn’t bother to wait for her friend’s response and started to walk away from the table, heart thundering so badly it might jump out of her ribcage. she just needed to be somewhere, anywhere that was not there. for the grounds that were once her reality were now crumbling beneath her feet, and she didn’t want to fall before any of them.
Despite the fact that he was seated several tables away, nearly on the other side of the restaurant surrounded by the loud drone of people talking over dinner, Taewon still managed to hear Moon-Young. Hear her loud and clear, almost as if she were seated right next to him. How? Well, he'd probably say it was loud and lots of people heard, but that was a lie. Deep down, he knew it was because he was, had been, so in tune with her that it was a subconscious response to look out for her in any and every way that he could.
Attention caught, he watched the rest of the interaction through narrowed eyes, eyes that narrowed further when she got up and walked off to what he presumed was the bathroom. And then the internal debate started. Should he continue on with dinner and pretend he never saw the gang destroyer and Moon-Young this evening? Or should he use her temporary absence as an opportunity to interrogate and intimidate the shit out of the gang destroyer?
It only took a moment for his decision to be made.
"I'll be back," he muttered to Heejun in an undertone, standing up. "Excuse me." he apologized to the rest of the table and departed before any questions could be asked. Eyes locked onto his target, he began to think about what he could say, because 'how do you know her and what is she doing here?' didn't seem all that intimidating.
Before he could decide on a set plan of attack, he arrived at the table. Instead of sitting in Moon-Young's vacated seat, Taewon chose to stand and loom over his "opponent". "Interesting choice of company," he began, tone an eery calm. He had to approach this carefully as he didn't want this man to know just how involved the two were. "Thought this 'stalking and destroying', whatever you call it, was a mans job? Why bring a woman into it?"
Truthfully he didn't believe a single word he'd just spouted. This was just as much of a woman's job as it was a mans. Well, maybe not the gang destroying thing since it wasn't a job for anyone, but detective work, reporting, etc., definitely was. But he had to say something to lead up to what he wanted to say.
Finally, Taewon decided to take a seat, now sitting directly opposite the other. "What a coincidence it is that we both ended up at the same restaurant," he began, "couldn't have anyhing to do with the fact that you're stalking me, stalking others, with the odd, burning desire to bring down the entirety of Seoul's gang life, could it?" Bored, he pulled a small knife out of the lining of his dinner jacket and began carving something onto the wood of the table. He'd normally never do something like this, but wanted to use the knife as an intimidation tactic of sorts.
Figuring his few precious fear-inducing moments were coming to a close, he decided to cut the shit. "Why you brought her here, I don't know. But you and I both know that she knows nothing about me, nothing about Seoul's gang life, nothing. And it's going to stay that way." His eyes finally flicked upwards, attention momentarily off of his carving. "If I find out that she's still involved in your shitty choice of activities, and if I find out that you told her any of this," Taewon paused for dramatic effect, now resuming his carving, "I will have you killed and have your head delivered to me as a trophy."
Carving finally finished, he stood up, making sure everything looked exactly as it did when he arrived. He leveled the man with one last icy glare before departing and heading back to his own table, taking a seat and jumping right back into the conversation as if he'd never left. There was nothing to even indicate he'd ever been to the other table, no way for Moon-Young to know.
Except for the tiny dragon with a slash through the middle of it engraved into the dark wood.
the bathroom was empty save for herself, giving moon-young the liberty to let loose the emotions she so tightly clamped under the mask. it was this moment when the river burst at its banks and spilled over the edges of composure, creating a tempestuous sea that flooded every sense. the restless waters quickened the heart and stole breaths from the lungs till the figure in the mirror became blurry and the cold steel of the sink had to be grasped for support. moon-young gritted her teeth as she closed her eyes, frustrated at the betrayal that was her body and mind in this whole mess. it was one thing for that wretched ghost of an ex to deprive her from a dignified reunion, but to terrorize her further with a version of himself that only confirmed the heart-wrenching reality of their present was something else. they were strangers once again. moon-young had no delusions that their story was not over -- but why did it feel like she was still writing pages? why did his name still spell out pain like all those years mending the heart was all for nothing? how was it that after everything had happened, taewon was still able to cut to where the soul meets the bone?
get a grip on yourself, moon-young.
opening her eyes, the woman allowed herself to look back into the mirror. there were memories in the glass, ones that painted a reflection bit more younger and a bit more broken. brought forth were the emotions that once owned her; the deep well of sadness, the bite of betrayal, the unwelcome shadow of feeling lost -- everything was revisited, but not without purpose. moon-young opened the door to the past in order to retrieve the right kind of fragments -- the right kind of hurt -- and smelted it into a weapon of knowledge. a stark reminder that the heartbroken girl was someone of the past. the years might have shaped taewon into someone she could barely recognize anymore, but she would show him that present moon-young was different as well.
if the reality was growing apart so far they had become adversaries, then fate was cruel, though not less true. the days of false hopes had died alongside the girl who wept tears of heartbreak and screamed into the void like it would make him return. it was time to embrace the present, no matter how twisted it turned out to be.
it was time to meet her ex’s ice with fire.
moon-young didn’t know how long she spent grounding herself in the restroom and hoped that chan-sung wasn’t too annoyed when finally leaving walking out of the door again. she also tried her damn-hardest not to have her gaze fleet back to the other table as she walked back to her seat, eyes strictly pinned to her purposed ‘date’. it was then how she noted a strange change in composure in chan-sung, one that spoke remarkable unease. she could see it in the way his fingers nervously tapped against the wood and how his back completely was straightened as if the muscles had tensed into a locked position. had something happened? moon-young carefully sat down back in her chair, eyes still on her friend who looked a bit paler.
“so… where were we?” she spoke when he wouldn’t. this seemed to snap chan-sung out of his own mind, eyes slightly widening in surprise as if he had not even anticipated her return. his posture only seemed to become more vertical in her presence and he coughed into the back of his hand. “right-‘’ he began, while averting his gaze.“ look, moon-young… aaaish, how do I say this?” chan-sung took a deep breathe, before letting out a sigh. “ I don’t think this is a good idea anymore.”
moon-young furrowed her eyebrows, confused what exactly he meant.
“this as in being here?” she questioned.
“no – well, yes… but also about you helping me with the documentary.”
“what???” she gaped in disbelief. “ didn’t you just say that you needed me to help you by giving information about me and-“ his name almost slipped from her lips but moon-young swallowed the letters just before they fell from the tongue. shaking her head, she proceeded to tackle the complete 180 turn of her friend’s mindset. “ I thought you wanted my help. what changed? did something happen when I was gone?” did he say something? she thought but didn’t say. if he did, chan-sung held his tongue. instead, her friend merely gave her an apologetic grimace.
“sorry moon-young, i just realized that I could get into real trouble if my boss finds out that I poached an employee from yours.”
that didn’t even make sense, and they both knew it. there was no overlap with working hours, moon-young was dedicating her free time to help the documentary. the white lie from an otherwise honest friend only nourished the suspicions growing inside her stomach and the woman felt herself growing desperate, knowing that there was not much ammunition in her arsenal to fight against the words of a ghost.
“ chan-sung, don’t do this. let me stay and help you with the documentary. look, I am willing to give you information about my past with him if you want.” oh how easily she folded… part of moon-young felt wrong for selling out like this, but this was probably the only opportunity she would get, the only step closer to realizing her dream. taewon had already tarnished the past, she would not let him have her future too.
yet, even with this offering, chan-sung did not give in. he might treasure information, but he valued his life more. another shake of the head told her enough, the following words unneeded.
and just like that, the light was conquered by darkness again. there was a silence in the soul, one that chilled the blood and brought the synapses of the brain to a standstill. for a moment, moon-young remained unresponsive, seemingly frozen in time. for a moment, the woman was shattered and an old reflection jumped out from its skeleton. there was the same kind of numbing heartbreak, followed by the powerless sensation that rendered even the most vital spirit immobile. it stretched throughout the body, threatening to work in repetition – right until her eyes catch the carved figure in the table. it was then when the younger reflection fractured as well, cracked by an emotion burning from its core. anger cut through the frost and reached back into the soul, melting the fractures into a stained glass portrait of a woman both present and past.
moon-young felt herself standing up from her seat, hands clenched into a fist. her ears were deaf to the words from the other side of the table, the presence of her friend vanishing under the heated gaze targeting another. there was no fear or rationalism rooting her to safety -- the only thing that commanded her entire being at the moment leading her right to the table next to them. right to him.
“if you rather not have the entire restaurant’s attention on you, you better follow me right now.” she whispered sharply once she stood close enough to taewon. she did not bother fixing a glance to the rest of the table while turning around and starting the march towards the exit.
once outside, moon-young turned to her ex and levelled him with the sharpest glare she could produce.
“what did you say to him?” she asked, before holding up her hand “ - and don’t even try to act ignorant because we both know I am not stupid.” indignation fuelled the dauntless attitude as moon-young continued to verbalize the wrath blazing inside, despite the knowledge that he was a dangerous gang member now. “ just… ughh, you have absolutely no right to interfere with my life! you left me, remember?? so what I do with who should be none of your goddamn business.” moon-young pointed her finger against his chest before crossing her arms.
“you have to fix it taewon.. and if you don’t want to, you better give me a good reason for sabotaging the opportunity that would have brought me closer to realizing my dream.” a shaky breath left her body as some of the initial fury subsided, part of her composure returning. she pressed her lips together, before crossing her arms.
Dinner had come during Taewon's little "confrontation", so that when he sat back down he was greeted with what looked like Seolleongtang, but a fancy version. He wasn't quite sure, since Heejun was the one that had ordered it, but it looked good nonetheless. However, it didn't look like he'd be getting any time whatsoever to enjoy it.
He'd dropped out of the conversation in order to eat in peace but before he could take what he thought was his fifth bite, he was nudged yet again. "What, Heejun?" he asked, exasperated. Couldn't a man just eat his damn soup in peace? Apparently not, because nothing in his life was ever peaceful.
"You've got comp--"
The company showed up before the second could finish his sentence. And now he was sitting there, thinking about what he should do. To be honest, he didn't give a single fuck about having the entire restaurant's attention on him since once the patrons glanced at him, they'd immediately look the other way. Perks of being an intimidating gang leader, he guessed. So one part of him definitely wanted to stay right where he was just to piss her off. But the other part, the part that thought all of this was funny, wanted to go outside just to humor her. So that's what he did.
Taewon took his grand old time to walk outside and the very second his feet hit the pavement, Moon-Young rounded on him. His face remained impassive as she laid comment after comment on him, not showing any sign he even heard her. That would just serve to irritate her more, which was his goal. What did he say to him? Well, there was no way he was telling the truth so. "I told him to stop staring at me," he began, finally looking down at her. "All of the stares the two of you were sending my way were really starting to creep me out. Yes, I was aware of all of them."
Okay so not at all what he said, but the stares were bothering him, so why not tell a little white lie? Then Taewon completely ignored the rest of what was said in order to zero in on the last sentence. Opportunity. Dream. Those two words ran rampant in his head, repeating over and over. Getting involved in this particular type of journalism whose sole function was to follow and report on Seoul's crime and gang life? If she knew what it really was, what she was getting herself into, there was no way this would stay her dream.
Now he had to be careful with how he proceeded here since he didn't want to give too much away. But he also really didn't want her to pursue this particular career path. "Your dream is to be killed?" he finally spoke, voice quiet, dangerous. These "journalists" or reporters were thrown (or threw themselves) right into the front lines of crime and gang life in order to get the best information. Often times they didn't make it out without injury, sometimes without their own lives. He knew firsthand just how violent and bloody these could be and with the recent turf wars taking place between some of Seoul's gang life, it was about to get even bloodier.
She had absolutely no idea what she would be signing herself up for and he was determined to keep her away from it. "This so called 'opportunity' of yours would put you right into the line of fire and there is a near one hundred percent chance you won't be walking out alive. Though if getting killed is your dream, then be my guest."
And without another word, Taewon turned on his heels and walked back into the restaurant just wanting to finish dinner in peace.
his words gave pause to moon-young’s angered momentum, heart stuttering to a halt within the rib cage as an almost threatening line fell from the phantom’s lips. there it was; the betraying shock -- a sign that while reality was factually presented in front of her, part of her still had foolishly clung to the wisps of a fantasy where taewon wasn’t deeply entrenched in the underworld of society. had it been simple disbelief or silly hope? it didn’t matter. moon-young’s eyes no longer burned blind, the last illusion dissipating into the kind of black smoke you regret staring at as it revealed nothing but a tragedy. it brought the sharp reminder that the man in front of her was no longer a soul of ivory and gold, changing her world for the better. a person once so sacred, was now a sin meant to be condemned. a history she wished she could rewrite.
tae-sun’s dishing of truth was old news though, and if he actually knew her, he would know those risks wouldn’t deter her. moon-young’s dream to become a documentarist was not crafted out of naivety or ignorance. she knew how dangerous this line of work could be, knew that the truth always had its own price. but that didn’t matter, not to her. moon-young was willing to forego the risks and put her life on the line alongside her heart if it meant being able to shedding a light on parts of the world people rather forget or ignore. she was determined to leave a legacy in fragments of truth -- in bleeding words that would leave a stain long after death. moon-young was not to be halted from pursuing her dream by anyone, let alone her ex.
she balded her fists, anger rising like the tide again. people say that anger is an acid - a poison - that could do more harm to the vessel in which is it stored than on anything which it is poured, and there might be a sliver of truth to that, but moon-young did not care as long as it reached the other nonetheless. she was willing to become a double edged sword if it meant being able to cut her opponent. besides, anger had kept her running when love had betrayed her. so, she let the emotion run freely, wore it like a tailored dress. moon-young was angry at him, for pretending to care and having the last word once again. well, she couldn’t do much about the former, but the latter had an opening. a chance she decided to take for all the petty reasons.
[maybe she wasn’t much better]
taking hurried long strided to catch up to the ghost, moon-young brushed past him only to block his way with her body. “ i got your warning, but here is mine; i will find out every nitty gritty detail about this underworld of yours with or without chan-sung. so feel free to prepare as you please, you can pull the trigger yourself for all i care, it’s not like it’s much worse than what else you’ve done.” there was a flash of hurt, before a bitter smile appeared. “or maybe you won't. you are a coward after all." she started to turn around. "see you taewon." were her last words, before she walked back to her table where a paled chan-sung was sitting nervously.
“what happened?? what did you do??” her friend immediately questioned upon her return, wide-eyed and visibly stressed. moon-young felt bad for how on edge chan-sung appeared to be, his usual joking spirit having been chased away by the sheer possibility of ending up in a ditch somewhere tonight. still, she could not help but feel slighted by how he kicked her out of the documentary.
“nothing,” she replied nonchalantly, while grabbing her bag. “i think we’re done here. you want to grab a dessert by that cafe we visited a couple weeks ago?” moon-young flashed her friend a warm smile. “my treat.” she did not wait for a response and started to walk towards the exit. judging on the hurried footsteps behind her, chan-sung did prefer to follow her rather than being left alone in a restaurant with a table full of gangsters.
moon-young could have left the restaurant without a single glance, but she had always been weaker than wanted; even she could not resist one last gaze. one last peek at him.
Though it be a small word, it had a mighty effect. It had bounced around Taewon's head for a while, clouding his mind like a fog that was refusing to leave. He wasn't a coward. In fact, he was anything but - taking over his father's group despite not wanting to in the slightest, sacrificing everything and everyone he loved in the process. That behavior didn't spell coward.
Eventually, the fog dissipated, leaving a clear head behind. A clear head that realized he didn't give a shit in the slightest. Let her call him a coward, who cares what she thought. She wasn't part of his life any longer, so truly, her opinions didn't matter. If she wanted to get involved in this line of work, that was her choice. He was done trying to protect her at all costs, especially since she already knew what she was getting into and chose to ignore his warnings.
That was the last he'd thought of Moon-young.
It had been weeks and the only thing he'd been thinking of was business. He'd expanded the family business — signing overseas partnership deals for exporting product and attracting new local clientele with lucrative yet attractive contracts. He'd bought a bunch of new property and was set to open a handful of new nightclubs and restaurants. At the suggestion of a few members, he'd bought several supercars and formed a street racing team, keeping the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut for himself.
Honestly, everything was going great. Too good, in fact, and that should have been the first warning. It was opening night of his new club, 궤도 (orbit), when everything turned sour. Pausing the conversation with the pretty blonde on his lap, Taewon reached into his pocket to pull out his ringing phone. There was something about seeing his second's name flashing on the screen, especially when they all knew what an important night this was, caused him to answer.
"Make it short." he snapped.
"We've got a problem. Hannam-dong, right by the bridge."
"Why can't you take care of it?"
"I really think you should be here for this one."
There was something in Heejun's voice that made Taewon concede, hanging up with the promise to be there in ten. "How would you feel about going for a little ride?" And soon, they were speeding down the Hannam-daero in the Absolut en route to the bridge.
"You better have a good reason for bringing me out here." was the first thing out of his mouth after stopping the car, walking towards the members that were there.
trickles of information, lingering whispers, remnants of violence, traveling rumours. moon-young gathered the data all piece by piece, stitching them together into a tapestry of the underworld. it was surprising how easily one could gain access to a library of forbidden words. drunk lips let loose secrets but purposed flattery opened the gates to new places and old archives. with undivided attention, moon-young was able to find out some more about her ex and his criminal endeavors. the club she had been to last month? an illusion of neon lights and alcohol, veiling a shattered, much more illegal reality. tae-won? he wasn’t a pawn awaiting orders like a sheep controlled by the will of the shepherd; he was the leader. the leader of the dragons, a mafia who ruled seoul’s underworld with blood and drugs. it was a crimson titled bestowed upon him after the death of a father, and a succession of one too many years ago.
[ this information sat silently and stony in a dark palace of the heart — like a tyrant with a silly hope to be dethroned].
moon-young could have stopped her search at that point, could’ve decided taewon wasn’t a constellation worth mapping out, but her curiosity had always been an endless well — a place that knew no bounds, only echoes. whether moon-young liked it or not, the phantom of an ex had tossed the book that was her life into the air,, its pages blown into such a disarray it could never be put back together to tell the same story. secrets had made the ink bleed, sullying the words that once read so true. tattered and tainted, there was no choice but to abandon what was once there and begin anew. and if taewon refused to help, moon-young would write her own story, starring the truth and only the truth.
whispers crept through the silence, unbidden and uncaring. moon-young took these whispers into her hands, ones speaking of an enemy of one’s gang who could become her friend, and decided to spin clouds out of them. a risky manoeuvre with the chance of becoming a storm she could not weather. she wasn’t afraid of the rain, though; the fear laid in the lightning that could strike closer to the heart than she’d like. nevertheless, the woman pressed onwards and melted her identity into a member of the serpents, the rival of the dragons.
lately, the serpents had been trying to conquer some territory in seoul, leaving a good window in for moon-young to gain more knowledge about the city’s crime scene and the dragons. moon-young didn’t think it would be so easy to infiltrate their ranks yet here she was; standing besides the car with a gun heavy in the pocket and weary eyes on the scene in front of her as other members tried to rob one of the dragon’s drug transports.
being a mere rookie, moon-young was only assigned to the task as back-up force. though, she suspected after being handed a weapon to kill, also because they wanted to test her. after all, the truth of loyalty almost always surfaced in collusion with waves of danger. a sense of unease lingered in the cold, midnight air as the heist continued. moon-young watched the others, names and faces she had now seen from time to time, with a shaky breathe and thundering heart.
it was supposed to be a simple robbery — one that slipped through the shadows and under the eyes of those occupied with the opening of a new club. but things were never that simple, were they? things start with a dark figure as it approached the group with skipped steps and hurried paces; a whisper, muffled by the wind yet oh so striking in its tone; a sideway glance from seok-do, an older member with smoke in his lungs and brutality in his veins; black cars appearing on the road and delivering dangerous silhouettes.
“you.” the rough voice of seok-do commanded, gaze set on another. “get in the car with the goods.” a tall boy labelled kidali (키다리) obeyed and walked over to the van.
“the rest. draw your weapons,” there is a small cough and the sizzling of a sigarette as it’s put out against the asphalt concrete.
moon-young’s heart stopped. not because of the initial confrontation with the dragons, but because another unanticipated person soon entered the fold — one she could recognize all too well.
lightning dashed in the space between the bones and the soul, striking true in ways uninviting and shattering. the words of exchange became muffled under the acute beats of the heart — why him? why had it to be him? the gun in her hand suddenly felt a lot heavier, the air around her limited. why, tae-won, why? tension was brewing around them, and moon-young could pick the intent from both parties from their expressions; stubborn, arrogant, malignant, threatening. she was the prime witness of it all, the confrontation between the vipers and the dragons, yet all moon-young could do was pull her black mask a little higher, and hope.
hope tae-won would not recognize her.
hope that if he did, his bullets would hurt less than her once broken heart.