They spent the entire weekend together, making up for all the time that they’ve lost. They had so much to talk about, so much to love. And it was a comfort knowing, on the day that they parted, that they would still meet again in a matter of hours, and when they would, so much would have changed.
That did not go unnoticed by their friends, who saw the palpable shift in their relationship from miles away. Perhaps it was because they already knew it would happen and because Sung Gyu had talked to them about it. Yet, on monday when they met up for breakfast in the morning, both DOng Woo and Sung Yeol did not forget to congratulate them, and also Sung Yeol made it a point to, rather rudely, remind them that they were the ‘mum and dad’ of their group, and now that it was out of the way, they focused on fighting off aqua-life.
Sung Gyu submitted the prepared documents for a lawsuit to attorney Lee on Monday itself who was expected to submit the lawsuit itself to the local court the same week. He also got Sung Yeol to share the online petition among the students and they put up a physical petition which a pair of Minhee’s students volunteered to secretly get signed by their peers. Dong Woo put materials together and planned different related activities for the marine life week at the university, and everything seemed to have a smooth start at the beginning of that week as well.
At the same time, life for Sung Gyu and Minhee slowly but definitely changed. For a start, the two of them met up almost every evening after work, then they either walked along the beach, hand in hand, or spent hours in his living room under the glow of Hotteokkie’s tank, wrapped around each other. They still had so much to think about, so much to talk about, which they allowed themselves to take one step at a time.
One evening, days after they finally got together, he and Minhee were in his living room, under the glow of the fish tank, surrounded by the wind and the tranquility of the ocean coming through the opened windows. He didn’t remember how it started or even when. But from the time of the sunset until dusk fell upon them, until the lavender and grey of the sky turned into a midnight blue, Sung Gyu held her in his arms and he’d been kissing her. They were just quiet and mindless, lost in their own world of happiness and bliss. Minhee would pull away just to hum and mumble sweet nothings in his ears, he’d gaze into her eyes and find all the lost pieces of himself within her. Then he would lean over and kiss her again; on her shoulders, her cheeks, the lids of her eyes, the furrow between her brows. He would leave a trail of butterfly kisses down her neck, gentle and moist, and she would thread her fingers through his hair, trace the shape of his eyes and his lips. Her hands would wrap around his waist, feel his skin, and slowly they would test their boundaries, one by one, pushing to see how far each of them could go.
At some point, when he was gently nibbling on her skin, just at that graceful curve of her neck, Minhee hummed quietly, yet, much to his surprise, she pulled away from him. There were things that they hadn’t yet talked enough about. Boundaries. Consent. He didn’t know how Minhee preferred to be pleasured, and Minhee didn’t know how he’d like her to please him as well. So at that very moment, what worried him was if he had pushed a boundary that she did not want him to. His initial reaction was to extricate himself from her and give her space.
“Sung Gyu we….we have to talk about something” Minhee told him, her voice quiet, breathless in hum of the ocean wind.
“I’m sorry” He told her as he cautiously peered into her eyes. “Um, did I-did I do something you don’t want me to-?”
Minhee seemed to understand what he implied. The smile that she gave him at that time made him sigh in relief. She reached out and caressed his neck. “No, no, no….you were good, Sung Gyu, you were perfect”
Sung Gyu didn’t know what he could say in response. He felt like his heart leapt out of his chest.
Minhee tilted her head thoughtfully as she gazed into his eyes, and he did the same, just watching her, waiting for her to respond.
“Sung Gyu I…” She started after a while, in a low whisper, not quite meeting his eyes. “I want to make love to you...and I want you to make love to me”
He swallowed hard, staring at her. The waves continued to roll outside, and his living room was scented of the salty breeze. Minhee continued.
“I know it's probably long overdue, but you know...I didn’t want to do it yet, because it isn’t the same anymore. And I hadn’t really tried…”
Sung Gyu took a deep breath. They’ve talked about intimacy to a certain extent, but going deep into that direction was never a part of their conversations. Sung Gyu knew how she felt about it, and he didn’t want to be the one initiating that conversation lest he sounded too impatient or too eager. He wanted her to approach that topic in her own time, in her own pace when she’d decided it was time. He supposed that now was it.
“Talk to me” He told her, lifted his hand and took hers in his own. “Tell me how you want me to make you feel…”
Minhee smiled at him at this, and under the dim moonlight in the dark of the room, Sung gyu couldn’t really see it, but her shy smile would be accompanied by a deep, embarrassed blush as well. “I love how you always make me comfortable...Sung Gyu….I like it…” She swallowed and met his eyes. “Very much”
Sung Gyu reached out and tenderly touched her hair, tucked it behind her ear. “We’re in this together, aren’t we?”
Minhee nodded, staring at him quietly, and Sung Gyu let her gather her thoughts again. It couldn’t be easy for her, as she had admitted to him herself, she hadn’t been confident in her body especially in terms of intimacy that she had avoided altogether. A lot of things had changed for her since her recovery and that included gaining her self confidence again. And it was a part of Sung Gyu’s responsibility to make her feel comfortable and slowly ease her into that aspect of her life again.
“You know how things are different for me, now, right?” She asked him quietly, and he nodded as he continued to hold her hand. “Which means, I don’t-I don’t by penetration anymore”
“Okay” He breathed and gave her an encouraging smile. “Which means…”
“Which means we would have to settle for...alternative means…”
Sung gyu thought the way that she worded it out was quite adorable and it made him smile. “I think that can be arranged”
Minhee made a face. “And we-we would need to use...um...toys…and-”
If he was to be honest, although he wouldn’t say it in words, that made him a bit excited. “What do you have in mind?”
Minhee bit her lower lip, making him feel all sorts of things, and he gazed up at her with his heart in his throat. It took her a second, then two. Then she grabbed his hand, leaned in and left a brief but passionate kiss on his lips. “Come on” She muttered before she slipped off the sofa seat, and he followed after her. She led him towards his bedroom, traversing the length of the corridor quietly, gracefully as she continued to hold his hand. His heart was pounding so hard at the possibilities, and he thought he wasn’t even ready for that. But when she looked at him, when she smiled and with thousand million stars in her eyes, he realised that he had wanted nothing more.
Sung Gyu made love to her that night, in all the right ways he knew. She led him on in the right directions, and he took everything slow and deliberate, focusing on her comfort and her pleasure and giving her all the time she needed to adjust, to get used to this new change. He could tell that he’d made her happy, that she’d slowly come to gain her confidence again. It was there in the way she let him touch her on all the right places and gave into the pleasure that she felt, it was there in her smile, that hopeful gleam of her eyes. He kissed her, touched her, felt her and made her come, and so did she for him. They made love the entire night, only their quiet whispers and hums overpowering the sound of crashing waves outside. And later on, they lied in bed together in the bliss of their love, warmly cocooned in the blankets as he held her, her head pressed closer to his heart.
“Oppa?” She called somewhere during that night. He hummed, glancing down at her, only to see her staring across the room, out the parted curtains at the rolling waves. “I’ve been thinking about something,” She said.
“What have you been thinking about?”
She lifted her head and laid against his shoulder. “Other than the fact that I love you” Minhee laughed as she said this, and he laughed along with her. They fell quiet after that, and she laid her hand on his chest, her fingers tracing patterns on his skin.
“I think I want to forget about the surrogacy for now” She told him at the end.
Although he hadn’t brought it up recently, Sung Gyu had been thinking about it as well. What he felt back then was that, just like she said, surrogacy for her was more of an option, a last resort. She decided on it, believing that she’d have to skip love and marriage all together in order to find happiness again. Minhee wouldn’t say it in so many words, but Sung Gyu had always known that she’d secretly sought after that form of happiness through the course of her life, which she, since the surgery, she’d convinced herself she wouldn’t have.
Perhaps until now.
Sung Gyu moved just the slightest so that he could see her better. “Is that what you want to do, Minhee?”
She nodded, reached for his hand and kissed him on his knuckles. There was a moment of thoughtful silence as she gazed down at his hand, then she met his eyes. “I think I want to take things slow,” She told him quietly, a dreamy stance in her voice. “And right now, I think what I want to do are couple things….you know, go on dates, travel, watch sunsets together, kiss under the rain, make love…all the cliche things that couples would do”
“Couple things…” He muttered, laughing softly at the endearing term and placed a chaste kiss on her head. “We can do all the couple things you want”
“And I want us to decide together….when we want to have a baby” Minhee went on as she caressed his hand. “I want us to decide when we want to be parents, both of us, after we’ve done all the things we want to do together...does that make sense to you?”
At this, Sung Gyu put both his hands around her and held her closer in his embrace. That made perfect sense to him, and in every way possible. A child was a big responsibility, and he too wanted to love her and help her find herself again, make her feel comfortable being in a romantic companionship before they become parents. As easy as it sounded, given that they’ve known and probably even loved each other for a decade, the process wouldn’t be simple as that. They would now see each other every single day, every good and ugly part of them. They would now wake up next to each other to their heads in birds nests and with morning breath, they’d live under the same roof, being their very own people. They would, inevitably so, have disagreements, fall outs, and moments of passionate reconciliations, and they would have to ease into the rest of the world now not only as individuals but also two people who shared certain aspects of life. In that sense, yes, what Minhee wanted was completely reasonable, and-
“-That’s what I want to do as well” Sung Gyu told her in response. He rested his chin upon the crown of her head, and closed his eyes, reveling in the feeling of her hand gently caressing his skin. “We’ll do it when we both are ready...we have plenty of time…meanwhile-,” He started and pulled her away from him just so he could look into her eyes better, see into her soul, the joy within them. “I would love you. A lot. And we would do all the things that you want us to do”
“And rescue turtles” She reminded him.
“And rescue turtles,” Sung Gyu agreed.
“And send Aqua life to jail”
He laughed. “That too”
Minhee laughed as well, and she buried her face in his chest again. Sung Gyu held her close, traced her arms and shoulders with his fingers and thought about their life that lay ahead. Everything was uncertain by now, for so much had changed. But he also understood that it was a good uncertainty, for only so many good things would be awaiting in their way.
“Oppa” Minhee called him yet again, and he glanced down at her.
A beat of silence, and Minhee pulled away from him. There was a mischievous look in her eyes as they met his own. “I want you to do something for me”
“And that is?” He raised his brows.
She bit her lips and ran her hand up his arm which made his skin prickle, which made him warm. “I want you to do that thing you did...earlier...”
Sung Gyu already knew what that meant.
“Okay” He grunted as he moved, and proceeded to turn Minhee onto her back. Then he raised above her, cradled her head in his arm. “Which part?”
Minhee’s hands raised to wrap around his neck, pulling him closer to her, their skin, warm and moist, rubbed against each other.
“All of it” She whispered in his ear, and he smiled as he moved down to catch her lips between his own.
Life for Sung Gyu, Minhee and the rest of the Anti-Aqua life team moved on since then. Things worked out as planned and expected, with only little things amiss. The lawsuit was accepted by the court and an investigation was called by the prosecution later that week, which happened to have quite an ugly start. Dean Jung was none too happy with the decision that his own academic staff had taken against him and his partners, and accused Sung Gyu for conspiring against the university’s interests. Although dean Jung demanded disciplinary actions against Sung Gyu and the rest of his team, it couldn’t stand a chance as the petition came out with a landslide of a majority going against the corrupt act of putting the turtle lives in danger. The online petition too received an overwhelming response, all standing against the university’s actions, all of which lead to a possibly positive end to the lawsuit as well. However, Sung Gyu did end up losing his grants over the entire debacle and was soon on the wrong side of the city counsel as well. But did he really care about it? Sung Yeol had asked him, meekly so, in his office room over lunch.
“ them” Sung Gyu told him without a second thought, and when he saw the horror in Sung Yeol’s eyes, he gave him a reassuring smile “Don’t worry, I’ll still pay you”
He was glad that Minhee’s grants were untouched and that she earned as much as he did, because if they were to have a baby at any point in their lives, Sung Gyu did not want to end up dirt poor and homeless at the end of this all.
Meanwhile, Sung Gyu and Minhee continued to rescue turtles, and they also continued to love. They had silly little date nights at the end of almost every week, which irked their best friends that they had to make time for them as well. They released Dojjeongie back to the ocean which was quite an emotional affair. Sung Gyu held Minhee in his arms that morning, kissing her long on her head, comforting her as they stood among the waves, watching the turtle slowly swim back home again. The very next week, however, they had a new set of hatchlings, which couldn’t make Minhee happier. The week after, they rescued another loggerhead together. Minhee told him as they brought it back onto the ship again, that it would be called Nurunga, and Sung Gyu didn’t try to stop her this time, for he knew that things have certainly changed.
After months and months of a legal battle, awareness programs and protests, Sung Gyu’s team won at the court against Aqua-life and the conservatory got their land back. They had a big surge of hatchlings spurting out of the sandy ground, swimming into the waves and starting their lives again. Although they weren’t certain just how many of the babies survived, the team also knew that if any of them ever wanted to return home, their shore still awaited; tranquil and free.
Almost a year had passed since they got together. The conservatory grew bigger, another vet joined them whom Myung Soo eventually fell in love with. They had a quick wedding, for Yuna, Myung Soo’s fiancee, ended up getting pregnant quite too soon. But they were far too much in love to think otherwise, and the wedding was held a few feet away from the conservatory itself, on the beach, under the brilliant sunset as the waves kissed the shore and the sky turned from grey to dusk. There wasn’t much of a crowd, as both Myung Soo and Yuna weren’t fans of big weddings and big crowds (Myung Soo was especially concerned about keeping the beach clean) yet, the party went on for hours.
What happened that night, just before the couple could leave for their wedding night, was something that Sung Gyu wouldn’t have imagined, once, for the life of him. Minhee was standing there with him, holding him by his arm, her dress, a shimmering white, dampening by the waves along its hem. She didn’t seem to mind as she was lost in her own world with pure glee, and she didn’t even show a slightest shift, a single sign, before it all happened. Soon, right before the couple could leave, Minhee grabbed his hand and led him further away from the beach.
“Minhee, what’s-” He started, confused by the turn of events. He didn’t think they were about to leave the wedding early. Minhee wasn’t likely to. But he couldn’t even get his words out when they stopped at some point on the beach, and he was rendered speechless by what he was seeing.
A badly and a dodgily drawn love heart on the sand, it was. And in the middle of it, in equally badly done writing;
‘Will you marry me?’
Sung Gyu thought he would have been the one to ask first, but Minhee certainly did beat it to him. And if he was to be honest, it was far, far better than what he had in mind. He’d expected that this would come at some point. They’ve known and loved for eleven years now. Yet, Sung Gyu was left speechless, breathless. His heart pounded so hard as if it was about to burst.
“Well?” Minhee asked him, shyly clasping her hands together. Adorable she was, and so, so beautiful. Sung Gyu loved her more than anything else in the world.
“Are you-is that-,” He stammered and vaguely gestured at the heart on the sand “...For me?”
“Are you...are asking me-?” A little quieter this time, as he took a step towards her.
She nodded again, and when he gazed down at her, her eyes were filled with tears.
“Oh Minhee, oh sweetheart” Sung Gyu muttered, his heart blooming, bursting like fireworks; he approached her in two strides and swept her right off her feet. The rest of the wedding goers had gathered around them by then; cameras were clicking, voices were ringing in the air around them. Sung Gyu hugged her close in his arms; his best friend, his lover, his everything, and soon to be his wife and the mother to his child.
“I will” He muttered, caressed her head and threaded his hand through her hair. “A thousand times, I will”
They called it the ocean of life, and Sung Gyu realised why they said so only after he moved into Yeongdo gu. Twenty two year old Sung Gyu, fresh out of the army, still young, still terrified would have never imagined his life to take the turn that it did; and he knew, hadn’t he met Choi Minhee, it would have never have been the same. He realised that he’d started looking at the thirty three years that he lived as ‘Before Minhee’ and ‘After Minhee’. Before her, his life was akin to a ship in a stormy sea. Lost, broken, meaningless, floating alone with its sails coming undone, moving in the every direction that the waves would take him. She was the wind to his ship, ths sail, the captain, all of it. Minhee gave his life a purpose and she gave him a reason to go on living. It was for this reason that Sung Gyu didn’t know what he could possibly do with himself had he ever lost her, even at the verge of that possibility. He needed his sails, he needed his wind,he needed his waves or nothing would be the same again.
And Minhee, on the day that they first held their son on the day he was born, told him she felt the same.
And also that she thought Sung Gyu and their baby looked the same.
If there is anyone who read this story until the end, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This was supposed to end much sooner, but timing just didn't work out right. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless, more than a week after Sung Gyu turned thirty three.
A word about this story, I really love it for the themes that I attempted to discuss. The inspirations were many; a random reddit post (Minhee's story about the ovarian tumour and surrogacy), a random tweet (Aqua-life misquoting Minhee's research and Sung Gyu's characted taking a stand) and lyrics of Sung Gyu's 'Hush' (More or less the basis of the story itself) and I really loved putting a lot of elements together into creating it.
A few things I need to clarify; South Korea isn't very big on turtle conservation, its just one of my own passions as a tropical islander that I included into this. Although leatherbacks and Loggerheads are there in South Korean seas, my research did not give me enough information about them, as in which beaches they frequented etc. Also the university is Yeongdo-Gu is real but its more of a Marine engineering university, so I just made things up along the way. Everything pertaining to Minhee's condition, however, is true.
I hopd you enjoyed reading this story as much as I did writing it. Continue to love Sung Gyu, and Infinite. Beaches and turtles and sharks too, if you can.
Stay healthy and stay safe!