(Originally posted 5 Oct 2014 on tumblr)
Eun-sang stifled her yawn and tried not to resent the fact that she hadn’t slept since Sunday morning. She had, at least, made a quick detour home after meeting up with everyone at Hyo-shin’s apartment in order to reassure her mother that yes, everything was fine; change clothes; and stuff a backpack full of additional clothes, her phone charger, and toiletries to take back to the office.
(When she had tried to apologize for the reporters lurking outside the apartment building, her mother had shrugged it off. As long as you’re okay. Ki-ae told me that Won already has one of his people looking into it.
That had been a small relief, and then Hee-nam, smiling, had added, You and Hyo-shin would have made such a good couple.)
Bo-na’s driver had dropped her back off at YBS afterwards, and after a quick report to Yoo-mi and PD Yoon, Eun-sang had gone straight back to work.
(“I spoke with Lee Hyo-shin, and he thinks this—love triangle business is something entirely separate,” she had said when she pulled them aside. Even though Hyo-shin had given her his permission to share everything, Eun-sang still kept back as many details as she thought she could. “The attorney general did suppress the first set of pictures, but they had a falling out on Saturday. Hyo-shin suspects that his father told the tabloids to go ahead with the story as a means of retaliation, or he simply refused to pay again when they got the pictures of me and Choi Young-do.”
PD Yoon had frowned at that. “The attorney general intentionally caused a scandal—or didn’t prevent one—for his only child?”
Yoo-mi hadn’t said anything.
“Lee Chan-hyuk is…” Eun-sang had needed a moment to pick the most correct and careful words. “He is as exact and demanding when it comes to his son as he is with the justice system. Transgressors aren’t tolerated.”)
By Tuesday afternoon, Eun-sang was exhausted, and there were many other people on the floor who looked as tired as she felt. If she wasn’t careful, she ended up rereading the same paragraph three or four times before she realized why everything seemed familiar. The boost from the coffee that President Park had brought that morning had long since worn off.
But the end was in sight. Around three in the morning, Writer Ji had unearthed an article about campaign financing that, after several more hours of digging by a dozen other staff members, had painted a circuitous but solid connection to the Hong family. That had set off a round of worn-thin but fervent applause shortly before eight, which PD had quickly quashed with orders to keep digging up evidence. He had then tasked Yoo-mi and Writer Ji with scripting the exposé segment and VJ Han with leading the other VJs in grabbing any appropriate footage they could get their hands on.
Yoo-mi, in turn, had told Eun-sang to whittle her original presentation down to the barest essentials: a two-minute segment that would be suitable for the audience and sketch out the sequence of events. She had accepted Eun-sang’s fourth draft a little after noon.
PD Yoon and Yoo-mi were now meeting with President Park and a cadre of YBS lawyers, going over the script and a rough cut of the video footage to double and triple check that they weren’t about to run afoul of the law. While the Hongs would undoubtedly file a lawsuit within hours of the broadcast, President Park was entirely willing to fight back, provided their material was carefully vetted so that everything was above reproach.
Eun-sang was in the middle of trying to decide whether she ought to run up and down a couple flights of stairs to see if that would help her regain her focus when her cell phone rang: Kim Tan.
She declined the call for the fourth time that day, but this time she sent a text back. Give me a second and I’ll call you back.
It only took a couple minutes for her to take an elevator down to the archives (though she did have to ignore the speculative, awkward looks from a few people who got in and out of the elevator along the way). Normally, the archives were a fairly quiet place, but Eun-sang spotted several people who had been recruited to their temporary team scurrying around. It was more difficult than she liked to find an empty room she could barricade herself in. Once the door was locked and the shades were down, she called Tan back.
“You’re going to pay the bill for this call,” Eun-sang told him when he picked up on the second ring. “Shouldn’t you be in a meeting, anyway?”
“I’m calling you between meetings,” Tan insisted, as if she ought to be available during the workday simply because he was. “What’s going on with Hyo-shin sunbae?”
“Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
“Because he ignored all of my calls last night, and this morning he shut his phone off. You said you’d watch out for him.”
Eun-sang did not sigh at his slightly accusatory tone. She knew, better than almost anyone, how Tan could work himself up over something like this. It did not mean she had to indulge his flair for the dramatic. “First, stop panicking. Second, did he not message you at all last night?”
“All he said was to ask you what had happened. Our lawyers informed us about the love triangle scandal last night, too. Won said he had them put out a statement this morning.”
So Eun-sang told Tan everything she knew and everything she could guess at, and with that came an equal sense of guilt and relief. Guilt for dissecting, in detail, everything Hyo-shin had said and done in her presence; relief for having yet another person she could share this burden with. Eun-sang had never really understood Tan and Hyo-shin’s friendship, but there was no denying how deeply they cared about each other, and that was a bond she could rely on.
“He said he’s going to be skipping classes for the rest of the week and blaming it on his filming schedule for A Daughter’s Revenge,” Eun-sang said. She had half collapsed in one of the chairs and was resenting the fact that it was not as comfortable as the one at her desk. Her eyes were closed to give them a much-needed rest. “Right now his plan is to stay on set until filming wraps on Thursday night. That’s why he’s got his phone off. He promised to check in with us.”
“Keeping himself busy is good.”
“Yeah, that’s what he said. In the meantime, we helped him pack up everything he wanted to take to Chan-young’s place last night. Bo-na’s got a moving team—they should be there right now, actually—that’ll be taking care of his things.”
“I’ll call Da-kyung. He can stay with us, right, hyung?” There was a quick, muffled discussion on Tan’s end, and when Tan came back, he sounded pleased. “We have plenty of space.”
“You can fight with Chan-young over sunbae when you’re back in the country. For now, just let it go, Tan. He’s got enough to deal with right now and we already have a plan.”
She did not say that Hyo-shin, as desperate as he had seemed last night, had never once indicated he was planning on asking anyone, let alone Tan, for a place to live. Hyo-shin wasn’t stupid. He could have gone straight to Tan for help and known that Tan would have given him everything he needed.
Yet he hadn’t, and Eun-sang wasn’t sure why.
It was unfortunate that Ha-sun had scheduled dinner at seven, if only because it meant that Young-do wasn’t able to watch the end of YBS’s investigative report on the prison release scandal. He had wanted to see her name in the credits to confirm that she had written portions of it. There were a few particular turns of phrase he thought she was responsible for.
(He wondered if she had been behind the quick dismissal of his father, among others, as the one behind the conspiracy. The paranoid parts of him wondered if he could trust YBS in pinning the blame on the Hong family. If it was true, it meant his father didn’t have a head start on this power struggle, and that was too good an opportunity to trust in completely.)
Kyung-ran or Sang-joong would fill him in on the rest of it, so Young-do closed the YBS website, shut off the tablet, and exited the car when his driver opened the door. He made sure his suit coat was buttoned smoothly and his tie was perfectly knotted before he accepted yet another bottle of single malt Yamazaki. He had sent one last night, but a second bottle couldn’t hurt.
It didn’t take long for a servant to guide him into the parlor, where Ryu Ha-sun was waiting. She wore a tea-length dress in pale blue with a subtle abstract pattern and sapphire studs in her ears. “Grandmother is in dining room already,” she said once they had greeted each other and she had directed a maid to take the whiskey from Young-do. Unlike during his last visit to this house, Ha-sun did not smile.
“How is she?”
“Better than yesterday,” was all Ha-sun said.
Pyo Sook-ja was, indeed, in the dining room when they entered. She was in her wheelchair at the head of the table, and this time she had an IV stand to accompany her oxygen tank. Her hand might have trembled slightly when she raised it, but her voice was no less commanding when she ordered, “Have a seat.”
Young-do took the seat to her left; Ha-sun circled around her grandmother and took the seat across from him. Almost before Ha-sun finished placing her linen napkin across her lap, three servants materialized from the kitchen with the first course: a selection of cheeses, breads, and crackers paired with flutes of champagne.
But Pyo Sook-ja didn’t touch her food when her staff disappeared. Instead, she skipped straight over any sort of pleasantries and cut to the heart of the matter. “I wanted you to come here today, but I did not invite you to dinner. That was Ha-sun’s doing as a way to force me out of bed and to try to eat something more than broth.”
“You need to keep up your strength, Grandmother.”
Sook-ja ignored her granddaughter’s interjection. “I spent a great deal of the time I was awake yesterday talking to Min Seung-hyun, Lee Sang-hyun, and other members of the Zeus board. They wanted my advice on what to do about a certain young man who thought he could trick them into supporting him without regard to the precarious position he could have placed them in.”
Young-do kept his voice smooth even though the apprehension he had worked hard to suppress all day was threatening to bubble to the surface. “And what did you tell them?”
“I told them to wait,” Sook-ja said. “Because I—”
A coughing fit took her then. Ha-sun tensed and set down her champagne glass until it passed. When she was assured that her grandmother’s breathing had evened out, she went back to her food. She was the only one eating.
“Because I may have a use for you, Choi Young-do, much as you have a use for me. I will not be able to oust your father entirely, but I can put you on even footing with him. Or close enough that whoever wins control of Zeus in the end will have done so because of his own skills and cunning. I can give you a fighting chance.”
They were lofty promises for a woman who stepped nearer to death each day. But Young-do knew Sook-ja wouldn’t be making these kinds of promises unless Ha-sun, as her heir, was also onboard with whatever it was she was going to propose.
“I appreciate the influence you hold, and I would be grateful to have you on my side,” Young-do said carefully. “But what price would such an alliance come at? My current resources are rather more limited than I’d like.”
The smile that spread across Sook-ja’s face chilled him even before the words left her mouth. “As far as I understand, you have neither a fiancée nor a girlfriend.”
Young-do glanced at Ha-sun, but her face was a mask as she spread brie across a slice of bread. His fingernails bit into his palms, and he forced his hands to relax. It was only a partial success and did nothing to relieve the sudden tension in his shoulders.
“I don’t,” he said, and then he began to recite the excuses he had used over the last two years to fend off his vice president or other members of the board whenever such a thing had been hinted at. “I’m only twenty-four. I hadn’t planned to look for a fiancée until after I had graduated at least. My mother also thought that was the best idea.”
He hadn’t planned to get married while he was still, inconceivably, in love with Eun-sang. His father had shown him what happened in marriages without love, and fear that he would become even more like Dong-wook had him wary of following the same path. He would never force another woman into the same position as his mother had once been.
(The same position that Tan had been dangerously close to with Eun-sang.)
“An engagement would suffice, then.” Sook-ja started to say something else, but she began coughing again.
This time, Ha-sun got up from the table and called for one of the staff. A man hurried in from the parlor, and he waited silently until Sook-ja’s coughing fit subsided. The woman who appeared a moment later saw what was going on and hurried out almost immediately.
Ha-sun rested a hand on Sook-ja’s shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze. “Grandmother, why don’t you go rest? I can handle the remainder of the conversation.”
Sook-ja nodded mutely, hand pressed over her mouth as she tried to suppress another round of coughing. Young-do somehow remembered his manners and got to his feet to say goodbye as she was wheeled out.
Ha-sun watched her grandmother for a moment before she sighed and went back to her seat. Young-do stayed standing.
Ha-sun looked up at him, and after a beat, said, “The second course is a lobster bisque, and the main course is an herb-crusted beef tenderloin in port wine sauce with portabello mushrooms, a potato puree, and broccoli florets. Dessert is crème brulee with berries. Of course, appropriate alcohol was going to be served with each. Do any of those sound appealing to you?”
“Would you mind sitting? You’re quite tall, and I’d prefer not to have to crane my neck like this while we talk.” Some part of his anger must have slipped through his expression despite his efforts, because Ha-sun smiled a little. “Did you really not think this was a possibility when you came here?”
“It might have been possible, but I didn’t think it likely. We have had very little to do with each other for most of our lives.”
“That’s true. I have never wanted much to do with you, either, considering your behavior when we were in school together.”
Young-do accepted that barb without comment because it was true. “Then why the sudden change of heart?”
“Because you are an opportunity to get something I want, just as my grandmother and I are to you.” She paused then. “Please, sit. It has been a long weekend for both of us, I think.”
After a moment, Young-do took his seat. He picked up his flute of champagne but did not drink.
“Thank you.” Ha-sun pursed her lips briefly while she gathered her thoughts. “The shortest version of the story is this: my grandmother retired once, Young-do, when I was four. Our fortune isn’t tied up in a single company or even a conglomerate—it’s actually tied up in a trust, and sometimes there are…interesting rules attached to them.
“When my father turned thirty-five, she gave up her position as trustee and turned everything over to him. Three weeks later, my parents were killed in a car accident. My mother died instantly; my father died of complications ten days later.”
Ha-sun said it as calmly as if she were reciting someone else’s tragedy. And perhaps she was—at four years old, there was probably very little she remembered of her parents.
“During one of his final lucid periods, my father apparently had my grandmother promise that she would find a suitable husband for me. She calls it his dying wish.” Something flickered across Ha-sun’s face, but Young-do couldn’t figure out what it was. “Upon his death, control of the trust reverted back to her, and it will stay there either until she dies, I turn thirty, or she relinquishes control to me. While the promise she made my father isn’t legally binding—thank goodness—it is morally binding for her. Grandmother has said she is willing to let me take control in all but name if I am engaged and have a wedding date set.”
Threatening children with their inheritance was a familiar parenting tactic among Korea’s elite, and it had often worked for the parents who chose to employ it. Dong-wook never had—he had other ways to intimidate his son—but Rachel and Myung-soo had both complained about it to Young-do on more than one occasion.
“Why don’t you just wait until she dies?”
Ha-sun wasn’t thrown by the callous question. “Because she has been dying for two years now, and I’m running out of time.”
“Time for what?”
“The elections for the National Assembly are just over eight months away. Grandmother is a staunch supporter of the Saenuri Party; I want to back the Unified Progressives. I can’t do that to the extent I like without full control of the trust.”
Young-do raised an eyebrow at that. “You’re willing to get engaged to me just so you can dabble in politics?”
“I am, quite frankly, willing to be engaged to anyone who is willing to accept my terms. You will take minimal persuasion, I think.”
It was a diplomatic way to say that he was close to desperate, Young-do noted with sour amusement. “What are your terms?”
“I’ll vote however you like when it comes to affairs within Zeus, and on affairs where Zeus has an interest in a company I have voting powers in, I will vote as you require, provided it isn’t going to be detrimental to another of my holdings. Our prenuptial agreement will clearly spell out that we independently control our fortunes.”
Which meant she wanted to be able to make a clean break at any time. Young-do finally took a drink of his champagne. Ha-sun didn’t have a company, so there wouldn’t be any mergers to undo, unlike the mess with Dong-wook and Esther six years ago.
“I don’t care how long the engagement is, but Grandmother will likely want a say in that. Regardless, until she dies, I turn thirty, or I achieve my goal, you will be stuck with me as your fiancée or your wife. In exchange for all of this, I want your assistance in getting as many United Progressives elected into the National Assembly as possible.”
Young-do set down his drink. “All of this, just so you can get a small political party a few more seats in the National Assembly?”
“Are the terms not sweet enough for you?” Ha-sun asked, and Young-do did not miss the hint of sarcasm in her voice or the way she steeled herself before she said the next words. “How about this? I won’t ever complain about any girlfriends you have, provided you say nothing about mine.”