It was almost half past six in the morning when Ryujin arrived home. She stepped inside the quietness of the house and let a small smile creep on her lips as she approached her cats who slept on the couch, snuggling against each other.
“Hey there, Byulie, Dallie.” She kissed the top of their heads and gently the fur behind their ears as to not wake them up, then went straight to the kitchen to prepare breakfast before Yuna woke up.
Ryujin tried to push everything to the back of her mind and pay attention to the knife on her hand as she cut the green onions, but her lip had to start stinging again. Was it bleeding? Ryujin touched it with the back of her hand, but no blood came out.
“Good morning!” Yuna’s voice boomed in the kitchen, making Ryujin flinch and almost drop the knife to the floor as she turned to her. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle--- Ryujin, what happened?!”
Yuna ran to her, the frown creasing her features more and more as she stared at Ryujin’s face.
“Nothing.” Ryujin looked down again, but Yuna held on her chin and forced her to meet her eyes.
“Nothing?! Are you serious? Did you clean it already?”
“Yes, I did. Please don’t worry and sit while I finish breakfast.”
Yuna huffed, but obeyed. “Was it the loan sharks?”
Ryujin sighed, topping the noodles with the chopped green onions and setting the bowl in front of Yuna. She grabbed her own bowl and sat in front of her. “No. There was a creep harassing a girl at the club and I gave him what he deserved.”
A shiver ran down her spine as the image popped up in her mind again. The terror in the girl’s beautiful face as he grabbed on her arms... she shook her head and filled with food.
“I’m sorry,” Yuna mumbled, so low Ryujin thought she heard it wrong.
“You’re only going through that because of me.”
“Stop it, already. That’s not true, and I’ve told you that enough times.”
They ate in silence after that, while Ryujin still tried to push back the images and voices in her head.
“I went to the convenience store down the block the other day and they told me they would let me work there after school. I could make some spare change to help out!”
“But it would be only two or three hours, and it’s safe and close to home-”
“You are not working, Yuna!” Ryujin shouted, banging a fist on the table.
“But I’m tired of not doing anything to help! It pains me to see you like this, you already dropped out of school, now you got into a fight because of that job!”
“I did what I had to do, I don’t care about school and I don’t care if I get hurt.”
“What about me, and what I care about?”
Ryujin met her teary eyes. “You should care about school and your team.”
“Am I not allowed to care for you, then?”
“I know you do, but I have to do this. I’m willingly making the sacrifice so you can have a normal life. I’m doing this so you don’t have to, and if you end up working as well, you’ll make sacrifices too, and that’s exactly what I don’t want.”
“So I’ll keep living said normal life, going to school and floorball practice, while you go through this by yourself?”
“Yes, exactly. And no more discussion about this.”
Yuna stood up and tried to storm off the door, but Ryujin was faster, standing in between. “You can be mad at me all you want, but you’re not going to school by yourself.”
“You’re hurt, and I’m not a kid anymore, I’m not afraid of-”
Ryujin’s sharp and quick exhales were the only sound in the room for the following seconds.
“Did something else happen? You’re not normally this stressed out,” Yuna asked, her hand grasping on Ryujin’s, and she felt her body relax the same second.
“It was just a rough night.”
Yuna pulled her into a hug, and Ryujin buried her face on her sister’s neck. Somewhere she always felt safe and like no one could and would ever hurt them.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you,” Ryujin said.
“I’m sorry too, I know you’re working hard for the both of us.”
“If you really want to help, then work your absolute hardest at school and floorball, yes?”
Yuna nodded against her shoulder and pulled away.
Ryujin gave a small smile. “Now let’s go, I don’t want you to be late.”
She turned from the bar, served the two vodkas to the men at the counter and approached the source of the call.
“Yes, boss Park?”
“Follow me inside for a bit, will you?” He smiled at her.
She followed him to the back, to his office, where he had called her to just the night before.
“Guess what?” he asked, with an unsettling smirk.
“You’re gonna have your first job tonight! I mean, right now.”
Ryujin gulped, her gut twisting. “N-Now? But...”
“Do not worry, he’s in our special room waiting for you.”
No. It didn’t feel true yet, and she had to do it... right now?!
“Take off your apron, put this on your face and wear this hoodie.” Boss Park handed her what seemed like a mask and a black, oversized hoodie. Ryujin grabbed it with a trembling hand, realizing the mask was a balaclava. “Neither I or you want him to recognize or memorize your face.”
Ryujin stared at the black mask on her hands, with only two holes for the eyes and one for the mouth.
“Don’t be afraid, you’ll be safe.”
She was scared, but it was not about her own safety. She never wanted this, she never asked for this-
“He’s like your father.”
Ryujin raised her head the same second, her eyes huge. “Like my father?”
“Got himself and his family in debts for alcohol and gambling.”
A sudden rage pulsed in every vein of her body, overshadowing any previous fear or worry. She clenched her jaw, taking off the apron draping over her front and nodded at him.
“Just follow the corridor, go down the stairs at the end, and it’s the first door at your left. You know what to do,” he said, and Ryujin was about to leave the room when he spoke again. “You’ll receive the money by the end of your shift tonight.”
She nodded without looking back and left the room, following the way he told her. Before entering the room, she threw her shoulder length black hair back and flung the mask over her head, adjusting it so she could breathe and see properly, and put on her hoodie.
She took one, two, three deep breaths, and with each one, her fists balled harder with the thoughts of her father. That was the only way she was ever going to bring herself to do it.
The door flew open, and in the center of the damp, dimly lit and otherwise empty cellar, there was a chair. Tied to it was a man with a paper bag flung over his head.
“H-Help me!” he cried as he heard the sound of the door, thrashing his body on the chair he was sitting on with his feet and hands tied.
Ryujin froze for a second with the sight, but even faster she remembered what he did. She took a step forward, then another, and with it, she removed the bag hiding his face, throwing it aside. A middle-aged man, looking pathetic with pleading eyes at her.
“Please, don’t hurt-”
Ryujin swung her fist into his face so fast he couldn’t even finish his sentence. He yelped, and was about to open his mouth, but Ryujin punched him again, a good, stronger punch that even made him fall to his side with the chair tied to him. She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and brought him up, not knowing if she should pity him for everything that was still to happen to him, or just pure disgust.
“You piece of ,” Ryujin spat, her voice even deeper than normal. “What made you think you could do what you did to your family?”
“I-I was trying to help, I wanted to earn lots of money for them!”
“Shut up!” Another punch to the face. “You disgust me. Men like you only think about themselves. Not even for a second you put your family, your children first. They will suffer because of you, and now, you’ll suffer because of me.”
When Ryujin’s boss told her about this new job, she couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want to. She never wanted to beat people up for a living. All she wanted was to have enough money for her and Yuna to survive.
But maybe it wasn’t so bad, if she could give a piece of hell to the ones who deserved it.
The TV played in the background as they had breakfast. Ryujin turned her head when the news anchor announced there had been a car accident caused by illegal street races not far from where they lived, and there had been a casualty.
“People throwing their lives away like this...” Ryujin gripped on her mug, making her best in keeping her breathing steady and ignoring the images her brain wanted to show her. “Ungrateful asses.”
Yuna looked at her with worry in her eyes, but she didn’t have time to say anything because the bell rang, followed by three strong knocks on the door. Yuna stopped munching on her toast and widened her eyes at Ryujin.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. You don’t even leave the table, you hear me?” Ryujin whispered to her.
Yuna nodded, and Ryujin went to open the door.
“Good morning!” the three men Ryujin hated the most after her father smiled at her. The one in the middle, their spokesman, irked an eyebrow at her. “Nice cut you have there. Little girl got herself in problems?”
“It’s none of your business. What do you want?”
“After all this time, you still ask?”
“It was supposed to be next week.”
“Well, life is unpredictable, and we need the monthly payment now, so, hurry up, we don’t have all day.” His voice changed, not the previous mocking tone anymore.
Ryujin grasped on the door knob in an attempt to not sink a fist on his face instead. “Give me a minute.”
She closed the door and rushed upstairs, ignoring Yuna’s eyes on her. She grabbed the envelope at the back of her nightstand drawer and went downstairs again.
“Here.” Ryujin shoved the envelop into the guy’s hands. “Now leave.”
“After we count.” He smirked, taking the bills out.
Ryujin sighed, leaning on the door frame.
“Alright, it’s all good. See you next month, then. And say hi to your sister!” He stuffed the envelope in his pocket and waved at her as he left, followed by the other two.
Ryujin forced a smile and closed the door, taking in a deep breath and returning to the kitchen.
“You done?” Ryujin asked, stuffing the rest of her toast in .
“Yes. Was it them?”
“Yes, but don’t worry, it’s all good.”
“But they were supposed to come next week.”
“That’s what I told them, but it’s okay, really.”
“But you haven’t received your salary yet, right?”
“No, but boss Park gave me a bonus the other day, for the good work.”
Yuna pouted, dropping her head.
“What is it?”
“You should have used that bonus to treat yourself with something good, not to give it all to them!”
Ryujin smiled, patting her head. “When I receive my salary, I promise I’ll treat myself with my favorite mocha bread. And some for you, of course.”
“No, there’s no need! Get yourself two, then.”
“No, one for me, one for you, and that’s final. Now, go get your things. Don’t forget your equipment for your practice today.”
Yuna ended up smiling as well and complied without fighting back.
Yes, Ryujin hated to lie, especially to her sister. But it was true that the money she got from the added responsibilities at her job had already started to show its benefits.
The night of work was almost over. Ryujin stretched her arms up, cracked her neck to release tension, then cracked her knuckles, and as she did so, she noticed how they were starting to get bruised. She had to take care of it, or else Yuna would notice, and that was the last thing she wanted.
“Ryujin,” Sooyoung, her coworker, called her. “Boss Park wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh, thank you.”
A job, at that hour?
Ryujin made her way to boss Park’s office at the back and knocked, stepping inside after the affirmative answer.
“Oh, Ryujin, take a seat.”
She complied without a question.
“You probably know why I called you, right?”
“Exactly! But this one is different, and I’ll need you to listen to me carefully.”
“We’re not bringing anyone here. Instead, I’m sending you after this person.”
“Wha-what does that mean?”
Boss Park fetched a folder from a drawer and placed it in front of Ryujin, who stared at it, but didn’t dare touch it.
“Inside you have all the information you need about her. We thought you would be perfect for the job since you’re a girl, and I didn’t want to send a guy to hit a girl, you know? Even I have some principles.”
Ryujin widened her eyes, her jaw clenching hard.
“Her brother disappeared and we don’t know where he is, so we’re sending a warning through his sister. She’s still a student, so, try not to leave any visible marks. We don’t want people to go ask her what happened,” he explained, and with each word, Ryujin clenched more and more her fists, feeling her nails digging into her skin.
He finally opened the file, and when Ryujin saw a few photos of her, she lost any strength she had.
“I think you might remember her from a few nights ago. Her name,” he said with a chuckle as he leaned back in his chair, “is Choi Jisu.”
A/N: Hope everyone liked the first chapter! Yes, there are a lot of mysteries, but don't worry, everything will be explained in due time :))