City Hunter: The Bear and the Monster
The crack of the handgun echoed off the polished marble floors. The man she had sworn to protect had pushed her roughly aside, scorning the sacrifice her profession demanded of her.
She didn't see the bullet's impact, but as she recovered from the fall and swung her weapon up in an effort to regain some semblance of control over the tragedy unfolding around her, she saw the bright crimson stain on his light blue jacket.
Light blue? The President had been wearing his usual dark suit. Come on, Na-na. What's this compared to having your boss hold a gun to your head? Quit seeing things.
But the vision held steady, and her eyes widened with the worst kind of horror as she realized it was Yoon-sung who had taken the bullet meant for the President. Yoon-sung whose jacket was stained with blood. His blood. The precious blood of the man she loved.
The bullet had pierced the left side of his chest.
As soon she had processed this, her reaction was instinctive. A second shot rang out as she pointed her weapon at the would-be assassin and squeezed the trigger so hard that her fingers turned white. She felt her face twist into an expression of ferocity.
Jin-pyo jerked backwards, his crisp white dress shirt blossoming red—but it was too little, too late. Yoon-sung was already falling…
"Attention, attention. Korean Air Flight 847 from Seoul to LAX, originally scheduled for a 2:30 departure, has been delayed due to the approach of inclement weather. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. New departure time to be announced shortly. Your patience and understanding are appreciated. Thank you for choosing Korean Air."
Na-na shook her head, clearing away the memory of that terrible afternoon. A centimeter to the left, and that bullet would have pierced Yoon-sung's heart, and every miserable lonely night she had lived through for his sake would have left her with nothing but memories. But for once, the God her late Protestant mother had worshipped and whose cross her friend Sae-hee wore at her neck had been kind to her. Na-na may have lost her parents, but she had been allowed to keep Yoon-sung.
She had been strolling aimlessly through the airport for some two hours, more reluctant to leave her home country than she had been willing to admit in front of her friends and colleagues at the Blue House.
Of course, how could she do otherwise? Leaving was the right choice. Her life in Korea had been one of suffering. Her parents' death at the hands of Kim Jong-shik. The slandering of her father's character. Her endless struggle against poverty.
Where she would go from here mattered less than who she would go with. Perhaps one day she would be ready to return to Korea, but for now she would live in the States near Yoon-sung's mother and Shik-joong. Yoon-sung would be joining them later once he was fully recovered.
Once he was fully recovered? The last time she had spoken with Yoon-sung, she had sensed he was hiding something. What was it? On his initial arrival at the hospital, there had been several complications from the wound. A surgeon had eventually extracted the bullet, but Yoon-sung had lost too much blood. His memory came and went.
Sometimes, he would eat all the japchae she cared to offer him, but at other times even the mention of food was enough to sour his mood.
Even now, he kept his secrets. Maybe his recovery wasn't going as well as the doctors had hoped.
Maybe he was dying.
She balled her hand into a fist and rapped it against the side of her head. Stop it, Na-na! He'll be fine. He just doesn't want you to worry.
She sighed and turned to head for the nearest waiting room. Might as well enjoy a soda while she waited for her flight. Of course, considering the events of recent months, a little soju would have been more tempting. But after that embarrassing night on the couch at Sae-hee's, she was done with the soju for a while.
She glanced across the concourse at the foot traffic headed in the opposite direction, towards the departure terminals.
She blinked. A familiar head of thick chestnut hair had caught her eye. But it couldn't be him. He was still at the hospital, recovering.
She wanted to call out, but her breath was too short for that. Instead, she picked up the pace and made a u-turn to follow him. But by the time she reached the other side of the concourse, Yoon-sung's apparition had vanished.
That was when she turned and saw him standing behind her, less than ten feet away, healthy and whole, but eyeing her with a blank expression. Still she didn't say a word.
Slowly, something in her heart that had been blocked ever since he took the bullet broke free. The tension dissolved, and at almost the same moment, they grinned at each other.
Part of her wanted to shout at him and ask him why he had hidden the truth from her. His posture and bearing were certainly not those of a man recovering from a near-fatal wound.
But she couldn't yell. The relief, at least for now, was simply too great.
"Bear Na-na," he said, in the gentle voice he had used with her when she had been recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound. "I have something for you."
Her brow crinkled in a frown. "The monster has another surprise? Haven't we both had enough of those to last a lifetime?"
His grin widened, but instead of attempting a rebuttal, he raised his right hand to show her what he was holding between his thumb and forefinger.
It was a ring.
She stared at it. Something Yoon-sung's mother had said when Na-na was visiting her sickbed came back to her.
"Did he give you anything? A ring, perhaps?"
Once again, she rapped a fist against the side of her head. This time, she had to be hallucinating. Even in her sunniest daydreams, she had never dared to entertain the notion that he would go so far as to. As to…
As if sensing her thoughts, he closed the distance between them and took her left hand, sliding the ring onto her fourth finger until it fit comfortably. Then he cleared his throat.
"It's real," he said. "I was going to give it to Da-hye, but she said I'm boring now that I'm not fighting criminals. I think she has a crush on the new prosecutor."
Na-na knew this was a sentence that would never have appeared in one of her dreams, so she was forced to accept the man before her as the real thing. "You're lucky this bear is in a good mood today, or I might throw you over my shoulder again for a comment like that," she said, laughing.
His grin turned sly. "I'm going to owe you some money, you know."
"Huh?" This threw her for a loop. "You're going to owe me some money?"
He withdrew his wallet and began pulling out hundred-dollar bills one at a time. Her eyes grew wider at the sight of each successive bill. When the count reached ten, he took her left hand again and placed the bills firmly in her palm.
He pointed to the bills. "That's one thousand dollars."
"I can count."
He waited as if expecting more of a response.
The heat began creeping up her neck even before her conscious mind had found the explanation for his strange behavior. One of their earliest conversations in her apartment, when the two of them had reached their uneasy agreement to live together, rose to the surface of her memory with unexpected force.
If you hold my hand, that's fifty dollars. A hundred if you hold my shoulders. A hug costs three hundred. Five hundred for a peck.
But he had given her. One. Thousand. Dollars.
Which could only mean…
Before Na-na could protest, Yoon-sung took her face in both his hands, just like he had on the rooftop that night, and pulled her forward.
They were married in L.A.'s Koreatown that fall. Ex-president Choi, Yoon-sung's biological father, sent them a generous wedding gift. Several of their friends from their days at the Blue House sent gifts, too.
However, the only audience in the quiet sanctuary that day was Shik-joong and Mrs. Lee. This was just the way the couple wanted it.
Na-na was under no illusions. She knew it wouldn't be easy. Living as Yoon-sung's unlikely housemate had been difficult enough. They would clash just like they always did.
But this, too, was just the way they wanted it.
As husband and wife, they would be free to argue as much as they liked. But this time, there would be no close shaves with death. No bullets. No hit-and-run encounters with a speeding car. No kidnappings. No crazed Jin-pyo to separate them.
They would be free to give vent to the feelings that had built, each for the other, throughout the course of their mad adventure together.
This was just the way they wanted it.