Another job interview, another change in the interviewer’s face when they realized she was The Seo Heiran. The same Seo Heiran who lost millions of dollars for her last employer. The same one that might have a lawsuit slapped on her any minute now. The same one who had allegations of negligence levied against her. She had a scarlet letter on her, she was forever tainted.
The rest of the interview would be rushed and disingenuous. She knew the minute she walked out of the door, her resume would be tossed in the trash.
It was exhausting and frankly, a waste of expensive makeup. She walked up her drive way, feet sore in her Manolo heels and her face feeling heavy under layers of high-end foundation and concealer, anything to hide the purplish bags under her eyes.
It had taken her a few days of laying lifelessly in bed before she had the energy to get dressed and if it wasn’t for this interview, she wouldn’t have left home.
Shoving the door open, she stepped into her house, scanning the living room. She kicked her heels off padding over to her couch when she heard Lucy’s giggles. Her feet rooting to the ground when she took in the sight in front of her.
Mark was shirtless, passed out on his stomach on the couch. Lucy was sitting on the floor in front of him, dutifully filling in the outlines of his tattoos with a set of cheap watercolours. Paint streaked her round cheeks as she gripped the brush tightly in her fist.
Heiran held her finger to her lips, hushing her to avoid waking up Mark before crouching down next to her to wipe at her cheeks. “Sunshine, what are you doing? You shouldn’t paint on Mark, sweetie. You need to ask for permission first.”
Heiran turned to see Mark blinking heavily at her, “She asked, I said yes but I fell asleep after a while.”
Heiran gulped, her eyes moving from the sleepiness under his lashes to the red flush on his chest as he sat up, creases from the couch pressed into his skin. She skimmed her eyes over his arms where his typical black tattoos were shaded with new colours.
“Lucy, go wash up, okay?” She cooed.
Her daughter nodded before rushing up the stairs. Heiran watched Mark from the ground before he scooted over and patted the spot beside him. She hesitated, it felt strange falling back into a routine with Mark. The things she had said to him in anger still hung heavily in her mind, even though he never brought it up. He still showed up at her house, still offered her anything she needed.
She was mad, resentful, furious and largely unprepared to deal face to face with the feelings she felt for him when she yelled at him. But no matter how mad her father made her, at the end of the day, there was nowhere else she’d rather be than with Lucy and Mark.
Heiran had given up trying to understand what she felt or why she felt it.
It was there, in her heart, like the small embers of a fire. With enough water, you could douse it forever but with a strong enough gust of wind, it could burn a forest down.
Should he decide to help her turn the world to flames, she’d deal with it then.
“Thanks for watching her.” Heiran murmured, as she sat down next to him, eyeing the patches of dried paint. It was sweet, seeing a man so intimidating, bend his will for her daughter.
“Yeah, don’t worry.” He said, his lips hitching as he skimmed the familiar silk shirt that hung off her shoulders. The same shirt he had stared at on his laptop for 2 hours before deciding to buy it and ship it to her.
He was right. It did look good on her.
Mark instinctively shifted away from her, giving her room on the couch so that they weren't pressed too close together. Heiran noticed right away, it was hard not to. She and Mark always orbited around each other, but unlike the actual planets, they touched more frequently. It was always his hand grazing some part of her or her standing too close to him.
So she felt the distance.
“Tired?” He asked, his eyes pinned straight forward, away from her face.
She stared at his profile, her eyes judging and inspecting his face before testing out her theory.
“Yeah, a little bit.” She said, reposition her legs so that she was a fraction of an inch closer to him.
And like clockwork, he angled his body away from her.
Heiran wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be hurt or offended because at that moment, she was feeling a little bit of both. Until she remembered the fight they had. One that she was sure she had apologized for and so had he. For ’s sake, he bought her a designer shirt that cost more than some people’s rent.
She figured the water was way under the bridge by this point.
There were only two people that Heiran held grudges against, her father and Jaebum. But even Jaebum was making her soften a bit. She just wasn’t the type to let anger hover over her. Her anger was often like a sugar high, it would come at you full force before petering out into lethargic crash.
The crash always made her feel the worst about herself.
Heiran knew that she and Mark had heads before and that they had lashed out at each other, her more than him. But there was rarely ever any residual bad feelings.
But this time must be different.
He must feel really guilty.
“Stop treating me like a bomb ready to go off. Just because I yelled at you before doesn’t mean that I’m going to blow up again. I said my piece to you, we talked about it, made amends and so we should move on. I’m not the type to hang onto things once it’s been settled.”
“I’m supposed to be making it up to you.” He said carefully.
She leaned back against the couch and snorted, “Yeah, I know and trust me, I’m still waiting, this shirt, although gorgeous, is not enough for me, sir, but that doesn’t mean you have to treat me differently.”
Mark hesitated, eyeing her carefully before he moved to press his thigh flush against hers.
Ah, balance was restored.
He hummed as he sank into the couch, “How did the interview go?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She muttered.
He watched the way her eyes drooped shut, knowing that this was just one of a long line of interviews that went wrong. “Look, I don’t know how you’d feel about this…”
She pulled her gaze to him, “What?”
“I know some people, not bad people, but people who could maybe help you. It’s the same people who helped me with the bar.” He said softly, “If you’re okay with it, I could set up a meeting. It could help with your job search or other options.”
Heiran opened her eyes, watching Mark skeptically, “I don’t know…”
“Think about it.” He said softly, “Maybe the guy I know has contacts that could give you a job or just advice or someone to talk to.”
Heiran’s eyes flickered over his, “Does this guy know what you do?”
“Not really, but he knew that I’m into shady and wanted the bar to be cleaner than the rest of my life.”
“Right. I’ll sleep on it.” She mumbled. “Why do you even have the bar? What did you want out of it?”
“The money that goes in and out of that bar is clean. It’s completely untouched by GOT7 except for me and Jae.”
“Why does it matter if it’s clean and untouched?”
He knew that she was asking the question for a reason, he could see it in her eyes. He spent too much time not putting words to his actions. He was strategic but sometimes it was easier to keep that strategy in his head and out of his mouth.
“I might not want to be in this life forever.” He said slowly, “If I choose to leave, I’ll have a safety net.”
She watched him carefully, “This life is everything to you. It saved you from DS. Your best friend works for GOT7 and the others are from allied gangs. Would you really ever leave?”
“If I had a good enough reason, sure.” He fired back, not breaking eye-contact.
felt tight, “You’re loyal to the bone.”
“I am. But I’m more loyal to myself. I owe GOT7 a lot but I know I paid my dues. I stay because I don’t need to leave.” He admitted. “That could change."
She felt her breathing constrict in her lungs just as Lucy’s footsteps thundered back down the stairs. “I’m done!”
Heiran pulled her legs off of Mark and watched Lucy moved her paints away and wiggle her between the two of them.
Mark reached for his shirt and pulled it over his head. Heiran began combing Lucy’s fingers with her fingers before splitting her hair and starting to braid half. Mark handed Lucy the remote, letting her flip through the channels before threading his fingers through the other hand of her hair.
Heiran’s fingers stilled and watched him expertly braid her hair, “How on earth…?”
“Used to do it on rope.” He replied.
She smiled lightly before continuing, “They’re looking for my replacement at work.”
“They’ll just hire someone who knows how to say yes to everything they want. They want to cover their as—behinds, and they want a warm body to do it.” He smarted.
“Probably.” She muttered.
Mark’s fingers slowed, “Have you spoken to Jaebum?”
Lucy paused and glanced up at Mark before facing the TV again. He winced and shot Heiran a look before finishing Lucy’s hair and turning to the TV as well.
Heiran just sighed, “Not really. We sometimes text or he calls to tell me about paperwork I need to fill but that’s basically it.”
Mark nodded, “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to hate him.” She admitted quietly.
Mark stilled, mulling over the words, “I don’t think that’s something I relate to, I have to say.”
“I don’t have feelings for him but I can’t just pretend he doesn’t exist. It’s not as easy as I thought. Especially because of this.” She muttered, flashing him the ring on her finger.
He frowned, “Why are you telling me this?”
“I don’t know. I feel like I need to remind you that just because I’m talking to him, doesn’t mean that anything’s changed. There’s a lot of history but my mind is made up.”
“I don’t get jealous.” He fired back. “You don’t need to walk on eggshells around me when it comes to him.”
She chuckled and he forced a questioning gaze at her. She shook her head, “Remember when I said you’re my healthiest relationship?”
“This is the reason why.”
He watched her, how her eyes seemed to be slowly burning out, the spark that he had grown to love fuelling was fading. Her lips barely twitched upward and there was something in the way she moved, the way she walked that lacked purpose. “How are you doing?”
“I’m happy with my life, you know, minus Jaebum and my dad and the crime that’s taken over it, I was happy with my job, my daughter, my friends, it was enough. I wasn’t greedy for more. People would always talk to me like I missing something though. Like I wouldn’t be complete unless I had a husband or boyfriend. Frankly, I don’t think I need one. I’m happy where I am. I can handle my life, I’m strong enough to be a mom and a dad to Lucy and a husband and a wife to myself.”
She gulped and he froze when tears filled her eyes. Not angry tears that he was used to seeing but pure sadness and exhaustion, “But sometimes I want it. I want to be greedy for more. I want a husband or a partner that could see when I need help, that could tell when I need to hear something and say it without me asking for it. I want someone to help pick up the slack when I lose my ing job. I don’t want to worry about how long I have until I start missing bill payments alone.”
“You have a husband.” Mark muttered quietly.
She scoffed, sniffling. She blinked her tears back and shook her head, “No, I want a real husband. Someone I want to help me. Someone who I don’t feel weak when he carries some of the weight or tells me that everything will be okay. Someone who tells me that they’re proud of everything I’ve done for Lucy. Sometimes, not always, I miss not being alone.”
“I’m sorry you’re going through this.” He said so earnestly that it nearly brought the tears back to her eyes, “If it’s any consolation, I think you’re phenomenal. I could never do or be what you do for Lucy. You’re a gold standard for parenting. You’re also doing your best, that’s all anyone will ask of you. Sometimes your best isn’t enough, sometimes life makes it hard but you’re you. You’re smart, capable, quick on your feet. If you keep doing your best, things will work out.”
She sank and glanced at Lucy whose eyes were blinking heavily, “Yeah?”
“And, I know I said I’d drop it, but Jaebum is your husband now, why not…use him? You don’t have to have a marriage but maybe try to make the most of it when you’re feeling alone.” Mark said, he didn’t bother trying to mask the indifference in his voice.
“You said sometimes it’s hard to hate him.” Mark prompted.
She scrunched her face up in response, “Doesn’t matter how hard it is for me to hate him, I’ll never forgive him for what he did to you. Doesn’t matter how hard his life was, he made yours harder out of greed. I’m not okay with that.”
“That’s not your grudge to hold.”
She shrugged, “I can multi-task. I have a lot of free time now.”
He gave her a weak smile that dropped as quickly as he forced it up, “I wish I didn’t tell you about that.”
“I’m sorry I brought it up.” She said softly.
He shook his head, “That’s not why I regret it.”
“It’s the past. I like to leave it in the past.”
Heiran chuckled, “That’s impossible.”
He frowned, “What?”
“You can’t leave things in the past. They won’t ever stay there. They come back at the most inopportune moments. That’s how it works.” She explained.
He wasn't convinced, “It’s not your job to try to heal my wounds. I’m an adult, I need to learn to deal with shi—business, myself.”
Her smile grew as she leaned her head back against the couch, “God, I like you a lot.”
Mark’s eyes widened. He couldn’t understand her. She made no sense to him sometimes. “Why?”
“I don’t know, I just do.” She did know.
The truth was that it was unbelievably attractive to her that Mark didn’t want to unload his emotional trauma on her with the expectation that she’d untangle and fix it for him. He didn’t go to women assuming they’d want to put him back together. He never wanted his role in her life to be to give her more problems than solutions.
But knowing this, only made her want to help all the more.
“Don’t regret telling me things, Mark. Because I don’t regret telling you things about me.”
He just stared, like she was a Rubik’s cube that he could solve with his eyes alone.
“I uh—asked to stop getting paid.”
Heiran stared silently at the ceiling, “Mark.”
“Wait, let me rephrase. I asked to stop getting paid from the money we got cleaned by you. Your dad doesn’t know. He’d think I was trying to undermine him or something. I just asked that it come from some of our other accounts.”
She turned to look at him, “Does that mean it’s dirty?”
“No, you’re not the only way we clean our money. You were just the biggest and fastest way.” He assured.
She chewed on her lip, “So…you’ll be okay?”
“I will. It’ll just take longer for the money to get to me, but my bills will still be paid on time.” He said simply.
She scrunched her nose up, “You didn’t need to do that. What’s done is done.”
“I don’t think that’s enough for me anymore.” He muttered.
She smiled slightly, “Well, thank you then. Where will you clean the money now?”
He shrugged, “Not sure, SmartLogic will probably claim bankruptcy and close down. And I’m sure we have people working on a backup to funnel money just as efficiently as we did with you.”
She nodded while chewing on her lip, “We haven’t really had any threats against me recently, have we? Things have been quiet.”
“Maybe Jaebum got them to back down. The marriage must’ve worked.” He wondered.
She hummed and moved her attention back to the tv. They sat like that for an hour, silently staring at whatever show Lucy had left on. It wasn’t until Mark felt a weight on his arm did he realize that Lucy had fallen asleep.
He was about to tell Heiran that maybe they should call it a night when he noticed her head bobbing. Sighing, he wiggled the remote out of Lucy’s hand and turned off the tv before carefully lifting Lucy up into his arms.
Walking on the balls of his feet, he carried her up to her room, gently tucking her in under her soft pink blankets. He clicked the switch on the night light that was plugged in, the same one that Lucy demanded that she didn’t need. But whenever he’d walk past her room, he’d see the glow.
He watched the light play off her face. Children were so pure, it was a crime that the world made sure to find ways to ruin them. He patted the top of her head, with a silent promise. Until she was off to college, he’d have his eye on her, he’d watch her and make sure nothing ever bad happened to her. Even when he wasn’t a part of her or Heiran’s life anymore.
After making sure she was comfortable, he went back downstairs to deal with the second baby in the house. Standing in front of her, he reached a hand out and tenderly skimmed along her cheek before lifting her up into his arms, curling her against his chest.
“I know you’re awake.” He murmured when he was halfway up the stairs.
She huffed, her eyes fluttering open but she didn’t bother lifting her head from his collar, instead she tucked her face into the crook of his and took a deep breath. It made pebbles on his skin rise. He smelled like peach and cinnamon, much sweeter than she’d expect from him, “How’d you know?”
“Your breathing wasn’t even.” He replied as he carried her up the rest of the stairs.
“Why’d you still carry me?” She asked.
He nudged her door open with his foot, “Because you wanted me to, you big baby.”
She didn’t fight back as he made a show of laying her down in bed and pulling the covers up to her chin and patting her halfheartedly on the head. She let out a huff of a laugh and hummed, snuggling under the covers as Mark moved into the bathroom.
He shuffled through her counter, looking from something to clean the makeup off her face. He had sat on the edge of the bathtub countless times watching Heiran’s painstakingly complex skincare routine before bed. But all of these products were starting to look and sound the same as he read each label.
But his laser focus was suddenly ripped away when his eyes landed on an old picture, the corners folded and creased. It was slid into the edge of the bathroom mirror and Mark wondered why he had never noticed it before. Maybe it was because every time he was in her bathroom, he was too busy staring at her.
He pulled the picture out of the wedged corner and held it up to his face. His lips twitched, realization dawning on him. The shock on his face remained as he dug his phone out to make sure to take about 10 pictures before finally speaking up.
“What the hell is this?”
Heiran was halfway to dream land, cozy and snuggled up when she heard him. The amusement and absolute bafflement in his voice had her eyes snapping open. Mark was in her bathroom, what on earth would he have found to sa—
“Wait! Stop!” She shouted,