(Originally posted 19 Oct 2014 on tumblr)
Perhaps one of the things Eun-sang was happiest about when she was finally allowed to go home for the night was how few people were waiting for her outside the YBS building. A love triangle that already had two scathing rebuttals from both Zeus and Jeguk was nowhere near as interesting as the accusation that the Hong family had manipulated politicians and the Ministry of Justice for the last six years in order to get their youngest son out of jail early.
There were only a couple of photographers lying in wait, and Eun-sang walked past them and to the waiting car. The driver opened the door for her and took her backpack; she thanked him and slipped inside the car as quickly as she could.
“I saw your name in the credits!” Bo-na hooked her arm through Eun-sang’s and beamed at her, delighted. “It was a fantastic piece.”
“Only a couple minutes of it were completely mine. Writer Nam and Writer Ji did most of the work.” It was a little difficult to buckle her seatbelt with just one hand, but Eun-sang didn’t actually want to push Bo-na away, either. She was wrung out. It was nice to have someone to lean against, to soak in the comfort of having someone she trusted next to her. If she wasn’t careful, she might close her eyes and fall asleep on Bo-na’s shoulder. It had been a miracle she hadn’t once nodded off while she was at the office.
The driver started the car and pulled away from the curb.
“Still! Do you want to grab anything to eat? We’ll stop wherever you want.”
“Honestly? I just want to go home and sleep. I still have to go in to work tomorrow. They kept us decently fed, I promise,” she added.
Bo-na wrinkled her nose, but she ordered her driver to take them straight to Eun-sang’s house. “Did you hear from Hyo-shin sunbae today?”
“No, but I talked to Tan and let him know what was going on. You?”
“I sent him some text messages, but he never got back to me,” Bo-na said. Then she sighed and dropped her head on Eun-sang’s shoulder. “Chan-young said that all of the things sunbae wanted to keep with him got moved to his house, and the moving company said they got most of the rest of it taken to the vacation home. Tomorrow morning they’re handling the furniture.”
Eun-sang rested her head against Bo-na’s and closed her eyes. It felt so much better to block out the harsh glow of Seoul’s electronic billboards and rest her eyes, at least for a little while. If she fell asleep in the middle of the conversation, Bo-na wouldn’t be happy with her. “What else did Chan-young say?”
“That he told his father the truth.”
Young-do called his vice president as soon as he was in the car. Sang-joong picked up on the fifth ring.
“Did you know Pyo Sook-ja and Ryu Ha-sun were going to offer marriage in exchange for their support?” Young-do asked. He kept his tone light, but there were knives behind his words.
Sang-joong was quiet for a moment. “We never spoke about it, but I strongly suspected it was a possibility.”
“In the future, Vice President Kwon, I expect you to share any such suspicions before I can be taken by surprise.”
The lack of an apology grated on Young-do’s nerves, but he wasn’t about to demand one, either. Young-do had known his bachelor status was one of his best bargaining tools—it simply wasn’t one he had been prepared to use yet. He should have expected and planned for what he had walked into. His naiveté wasn’t something he could blame Sang-joong for.
“Did you accept?”
“I told Ha-sun I would need time to think about it.”
The silence on the other end was deafening.
Young-do pressed his free hand flat against the seat to keep from making a fist. “She has given me until Friday. If I accept—”
“Do you have the luxury of that if, sir?” It was the first time Sang-joong had ever interrupted him that Young-do could remember, and his quiet voice did nothing to mask the tension in his words. “Pyo Sook-ja owns five percent of Zeus Hotel. That’s fourteen percent between the two of you. We can’t win against your father without her.”
“Are you finished?”
One heartbeat, two— “I am.”
“If I accept, I’ll escort her to an event. We will end up in the press, and after that it won’t be long until we announce our engagement.”
“I understand.” The vice president had put his neutral mask back on, and Young-do was torn between being relieved the man had backed down and wanting to strangle him for it. “Is there anything else you need from me tonight?”
“Where is my mother?”
“She left the hotel about half an hour ago. I believe she was headed home.”
Young-do ended the call with Sang-joong and tossed his phone on the seat beside him. He tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and consciously tried to relax, starting with his shoulders. The last few days had reminded him that his mother didn’t do well with men who were keyed up, and the last thing he wanted to do after they’d reached a tenuous truce was to spook her. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. This time, he was going to tell her in person about what might happen.
The crowd of reporters outside his mother’s home was smaller than it had been that morning, and he swept past them without acknowledging their presence. The front porch light and most of the other lights in the house were on, and the sight steadied him a little. Enough that when he walked into the living room where his mother waited, he could greet her with a small smile.
Kyung-ran set aside her laptop when he walked in and stood up so she could give him a hug. “How did it go?”
He pulled back so he could see her face. “How do you feel about a daughter-in-law?”
She stiffened in his arms, and Young-do wished he could take back his glib tone. Her eyes widened and her lips thinned, but she didn’t say anything for a few seconds. He let her draw him wordlessly onto the couch so they could sit, knee-to-knee.
“Pyo Sook-ja wants you to marry her granddaughter?” Kyung-ran asked quietly. She had taken one of his hands in both of her own, but he wasn’t certain if she was trying to comfort him or gain strength from him with the gesture.
Young-do nodded. It didn’t take him long to sketch the outline of his conversation with Ha-sun. The only detail he left out was Ha-sun’s orientation—ultimately, it mattered less in the grand scheme of things than the fact that a marriage would be as advantageous to her as it was to him.
Kyung-ran squeezed his hand when he finished. He searched her face for a beat before he asked, “What do you think I should do?”
“Turn them down,” his mother said immediately.
Young-do wasn’t certain what kind of answer he had been expecting—all he knew was that her statement hit as hard as being thrown on a judo mat. But her next words were the ones that truly sent him reeling:
“Don’t fight Dong-wook on this, Young-do. If the board wants to reinstate him, then let them. Don’t marry Ryu Ha-sun for the chance to win. You will inherit the company in due time.” She reached out to cup his face in her hands. He held very still. “Don’t wager six years of your life against control of Zeus. It isn’t worth it.”
“What about you?”
The smile she gave him was far from reassuring. “I’ll be all right. If I have to, I can always leave—”
“No.” Young-do grabbed her hands tightly and pulled them away from his face. He didn’t let go. “You can’t abandon me to him. Not again.”
Kyung-ran’s eyes welled with tears. She didn’t let them fall this time, and that was somehow worse than the last time he made her cry.
Young-do loathed himself afresh for wandering back into this territory twice in three days, but he didn’t take the words back. He needed her to understand, even if he couldn’t find the perfect words to explain.
“I spent years hating myself for not being able to say goodbye to you,” he said, and he didn’t care about the desperation creeping into his voice. “And it’s not—it’s not fair to blame you for any of it, I know that, I just—I can’t lose you again. I won’t. Promise you won’t leave me again.”
This time the answer wasn’t immediate. The silence stretched thin and brittle between them, and Young-do’s blood went frigid in his veins. “Please, Mother.”
“I’m still afraid of him,” Kyung-ran whispered.
It was his turn to squeeze her hands. “So am I. But I am more afraid of you disappearing. If we can work together, if you can trust me, if you can help me—maybe we can beat him.”
“I don’t want you to win, Young-do. I want you to be happy.”
“Then stay in this house, with me. Whether or not he regains control of the company.” He shut his eyes so the next part would be easier to say. “Or take me with you, if you have to run.”
When he opened his eyes again, her face was wet with tears. “I promise.”
Rachel was not as patient a conversation partner as Kyung-ran was. She interrupted Young-do’s story frequently to ask questions or to make annoyed noises, as appropriate. By the time he was finished, he had given up on trying to second-guess what was going to get a reaction from her and had flopped down on his back on his bed. He had tossed his jacket over a nearby chair, undone his tie, and taken off his belt, which was as far as he could go with just one hand available. He didn’t want to put her on speaker phone in case the noise caught his mother’s attention.
“What do you think I should do?”
“Take the deal,” Rachel said. Each of her words were perfectly measured and cold. “You need Pyo Sook-ja behind you if you’re going to have any chance of beating your father now. If he regains control of the company, he will have too much leverage over you. He could force you into an engagement that suits him instead of you—and you don’t want to be in that kind of fight with your fiancée.” She didn’t have to expound on that particular scenario. “No matter how much he and Pyo Sook-ja despise each other, he wouldn’t be able to break the engagement without serious repercussions, not when she is the third-largest stakeholder in the company. Ha-sun could be your buffer against something worse, and with her by your side, you could try to oust your father again later down the line.”
Young-do let out a low whistle of admiration. “What would I do without my logical sister?”
“Be an idiot,” Rachel said in her familiar comforting, cutting tone. “You already know all this. I’m just here to remind you to listen to your head for once in your life. Right now, your best chance to walk away with everything is to accept Ha-sun’s proposal.”
“And possibly marry her. Six years is a long time, Rachel.”
Rachel was quiet for a moment, and when she spoke again, her words were a little softer. “I’m not saying it would be easy, Young-do, even if the math side of it works out cleanly. At least you won’t make the mistake of thinking this arrangement is anything more than business.”
He almost laughed at that. That would be all he needed, to fall in love yet again with a woman who would never—could never—return that affection. Young-do knew his heart better now than he had when he was a teenager, and his heart did not do anything by halves.
“I won’t,” he promised. “If I accept.”
“You aren’t going to?”
“I’m not sure. Right now it’s two to one in favor. I’m not sure right now who else gets a vote.”
“The only one whose vote matters is you, Young-do.”
Was it? Young-do had grown up knowing his father would in all likelihood choose his wife based solely on her ability to increase Zeus’s holdings. The board members and stockholders were operating under the assumption that he would do so the same thing, even without his father directing things. It had been something he had accepted as inextricable from his position as the sole heir to the Zeus fortune.
At least until Cha Eun-sang had walked into his life. Her romance with Tan hadn’t been the only exception among their generation—Bo-na and Chan-young were still going strong from all reports. But until Eun-sang, he hadn’t ever really entertained the idea of anything different.
Until Eun-sang, it hadn’t ever mattered. And truthfully, it didn’t matter now, either. At some point, he needed to let her go. Perhaps an engagement to someone else would be the final prodding his heart needed to let go of a romantic fantasy and let him become the real friend she had asked him to be.
But going through the motions for six years? The idea pressed heavily upon him, heavily enough he couldn’t brush it away easily. Six years accompanying a woman he didn’t love to events, sharing a home with her. Six years of his mother having a daughter-in-law who was only there to take up space.
Could he and Ha-sun even become friends? Or would those years pass by in silence and separate schedules and occasional business meals before board meetings and votes?
Would the home he had now stop being a refuge and return to being a place he spent as little time in as possible?
He didn’t know. All he knew for certain was that he had until Friday night to decide.