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and we'll never be royals

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Kim Yoon-hee led two lives.

In one life, Kim Yoon-hee first met Lee Sun-joon in a loud disagreement over court jurisdiction in Professor Jung's first year municipal law class. They argued each other to a standstill while the rest of the class looked on, open-mouthed, and then they argued for another six months until Yoon-hee kissed him in the middle of the law library. Kim Yoon-hee was a devoted daughter and sister, a second-year student at the top of her class, and a law-abiding citizen.

In another, Yoon-hee met Moon Jae-shin and Gu Yong-ha when she was a scholarship student studying at the same hagwon in high school. They discovered a certain complementary set of interests and skills, and they continued to hone them for years afterward. Yoon-hee earned another name, and Daemul -- Daemul was not, technically, a law-abiding citizen.

Kim Yoon-hee kept her two lives judiciously separate, until the night that Lee Sun-joon picked up the wrong smartphone at dinner.

Then they came crashing together all too quickly.

Moon Jae-shin audibly grunted when Sun-joon entered the apartment behind Yoon-hee, and Gu Yong-ha twisted his face up.

"Ahh, Daemul," Yong-ha complained, and Yoon-hee sensed Sun-joon tense up behind her at the nickname. "This is a top secret meeting, you can't go bringing just anybody in here." He flapped a hand in their general direction without getting up from where he was lounging at the table. From looking at him, one would think that they had all the time in the world, instead of the reality of planning a theft that had to be perfect within a day.

"Lee Sun-joon can be trusted," said Yoon-hee. "He'll keep the secret." She could imagine the put-upon face that her boyfriend was making behind her, but it was true -- while his attempted protective smothering had been irritating for the last few days, she knew that she could trust him with their lives.

"Oy, you," said Jae-shin. He was perched on Yong-ha's countertop, his face hard and unfriendly. "What are you doing? This isn't a place for you."

"I'm here for Kim Yoon-hee," said Sun-joon stiffly.

Yoon-hee might have smiled if she wasn't so exasperated; Sun-joon always managed to put his worst foot forward at first. "You told me that you feel strongly about the injustice of Mayor Ha stealing from the people of the district to benefit his business," she said.

"How very noble," said Yong-ha. He was grinning. His outfit tonight was very bright -- peacock blue pants with a metallic gold shirt. The matching blue suit jacket hung across the back of his chair. He sat up straight with a clap of his hands. "Lee Sun-joon, do you plan to inform on our activities to Senior Policeman Ha In-soo?"

Sun-joon frowned. "No."

"Good, that's settled," Yong-ha declared brightly.

"What, that's it?" demanded Jae-shin. He looked like he actually might get up off the counter. "This clown says 'no' and you believe him?"

"Daemul believes him," points out Yong-ha, opening his laptop. "And we have to rob a casino in the next," he showily checked his enormous watch, "22 hours, so I'm personally inclined to trust her." He waved her over. "Hey, Daemul, bring your pretty face this way."

Yoon-hee crossed the room, aware that Sun-joon was following, and leaned over Yong-ha's shoulder. He had pulled up detailed blueprints of the interior of the casino.

“How did you get that?” Sun-joon asked. “Those records aren't open to the public.”

“Oh? Don't you know?” said Yong-ha. He spread his hands open wide, smiling broadly. “I'm Gu Yong-ha -- ah!” He squawked at the end when Jae-shin kicked him. He dramatically rubbed his side, turning a betrayed stare on Jae-shin.

Yoon-hee laughed and bumped Yong-ha out of the way so she could sit in front of the computer. “I can access the casino's security camera feeds,” she said, pulling up a secured internet connection, “but someone will need to go into the tunnels under the casino to tap into the cables.”

“In this suit?” Yong-ha wrinkled his nose dramatically, shaking his head.

Yoon-hee jumped as Jae-shin appeared at her shoulder. “You never do anything; what use are you?” he said to Yong-ha, and he held his hand out for Yoon-hee’s tools.

Yoon-hee ignored his outstretched hand. "We need to finish planning before you run away somewhere!"

"Run away?" Jae-shin demanded, indignant and clearly on the edge of a surprised laugh, and she grinned up at him. Behind her, Sun-joon audibly shifted his weight.

Yong-ha loudly cleared his throat. All three of them looked at him. Jae-shin was leaning over one of Yoon-hee’s shoulders and Sun-joon over the other. “This will be very amusing,” Yong-ha said.

Sun-joon hadn’t stopped frowning in four days. It was an expression that Yoon-hee was familiar with, thanks to the early days of their acquaintance, but she had more recently grown accustomed to the sight of his smile. She liked his smile.

Judging from the intent way he was staring at the laptop, she wouldn’t be seeing his smile again any time soon. Yoon-hee took a deep breath to settle the nervous beat of her heart, and she raised her shoulders and studied her monitors.

The two of them were squeezed into the back of a van filled with the displays and cables that Yoon-hee had spent years salvaging and piecing together. As usual, Jae-shin and Yong-ha were bickering over the earpieces while getting into their positions. “You should do what I say,” Yong-ha was insisting. “I’m the leader!”

Yoon-hee snorted at the same time that Jae-shin loudly scoffed, “You? With those paper fists?”

“There he is,” said Sun-joon intently, pointing over Yoon-hee’s shoulder. Yoon-hee was running four monitors showing box after box of camera feeds, and sure enough, Sun-joon had spotted the box where Yong-ha had sauntered into view, making his way toward the brightly-lit front doors. He stood out even among the throngs of casino guests, wearing sunglasses and a particularly sharp burgundy suit with a canary yellow tie.

“Yeorim sunbae, you’re on the casino cameras,” she said into her microphone.

She thought Yong-ha winked up at the camera, then he lifted his hand to his Bluetooth earpiece and kept talking. “Listen to this guy! You spend that much time thinking about my fists? Oh Geol-oh, I'm flattered.” Over Jae-shin’s sputtering, Yong-ha added, “Besides, we always meet at my apartment.”

“Following that logic, we use my equipment,” Yoon-hee pointed out, grinning. “Does that mean I can be the leader?”

“I like a woman who takes charge,” said Yong-ha as he passed from one camera view into the next. He adjusted his suit jacket lapels with a rakish tug and jogged up the steps.

Enough,” said Jae-shin, just as Sun-joon opened his mouth to protest too. Yoon-hee rolled her eyes at both of them. “I’m at the back.”

With several keystrokes, Yoon-hee switched the casino security staff’s feed for the kitchen back entrance to show a loop of an empty alley. “Ready,” she said, and on her own private monitor, she saw Moon Jae-shin, dressed in black, step into view and lean against the side of the kitchen doorway. He nodded up toward the camera. Yoon-hee wiggled her fingers in a wave he couldn’t see, and she settled in to wait.

Yong-ha charmed his way into a seat at the tai sai table, bowing and smiling and passing around palmed packets of ₩50,000 notes so smoothly that Yoon-hee wouldn’t have realized he was doing it if she hadn’t known to look for it. The two-man security patrol made its hourly sweep of the kitchen entrance, and Jae-shin neatly flattened both of them and stuffed them into a crate on the bottom of the stack next to the dumpsters. Through it all, Sun-joon sat at her side, a silent mountain of disapproval.

Or so she thought, until, out of nowhere, he said something.

“What?” said Yoon-hee distractedly. She wanted to keep an eye on Yong-ha inside the casino, and she figured that she really ought to monitor the police band to be sure that they hadn’t aroused any suspicion yet, and someone had to send check-in texts to their extraction team--

“Kim Yoon-hee.” She turned to look at Sun-joon. He was watching her steadily, his expression thoughtful and bordering on warm, and then his gaze slipped past her. “What is he doing?” he asked, and Yoon-hee saw it, too.

Ha In-soo stared up into the camera, unblinking, like he was staring straight into Yoon-hee’s eyes, as he walked through the glitzy casino front doors.

“Omo,” she said, hand flying to her mouth, “he’s early!”

Onscreen, Jae-shin's head rose sharply. “Who is?”

“Ah,” said Yong-ha, and while the camera resolution wasn’t high enough to show it, Yoon-hee could hear the smile in his voice. He was looking up at Ha In-soo standing over him, flanked by those two idiot patrolmen who followed his every step. “My very favorite senior policeman.”

Yoon-hee couldn’t hear Ha In-soo’s response. He was standing close enough for the equipment to pick it up, but Jae-shin loudly demanding, “Is that jerk here?” drowned out his voice.

“Did you come to inspect your father’s casino?” Yong-ha asked, all solicitous innocence. “I’ve been here all night; I can assure you that it’s safe and secure.”

“We need to move,” Yoon-hee realized.

“What’s happening?” Jae-shin asked, sharper.

“What?” said Sun-joon, and Yoon-hee climbed over him into the front of the van. She got stuck between the seats for a minute, and then Sun-joon boosted her through and she scrambled into the driver’s seat. “What are you doing?”

“Ha In-soo knows we’re here; they’ll be searching for a van-- The extraction team,” Yoon-hee shouted as she jammed the keys into the ignition and the van roared to life. “We need to do this early; you should call!”

“Not now!” Jae-shin shouted over the unmistakable sound of a punch followed immediately by a pained grunt, and then two things happened at once: Yong-ha’s Bluetooth signal turned to static, and someone thumped on the van’s back door and yelled, “Hey!

Yoon-hee paced the floor of Yong-ha’s tiny living room, her phone pressed to her ear. She'd never understood Yong-ha's love of this apartment. It looked more New York City than Seoul. It was entirely white, a riot of sharp angles and bizarrely-shaped, uncomfortable furniture; Yoon-hee preferred the worn, warm set of rooms that she shared with her mother and her brother. But she liked this apartment when her friends were in it -- Yong-ha defending the pedigree of his fancy coffee table in the face of Jae-shin's derision; the sofa a riot of dirty clothes and apple cores because Jae-shin slept on it more than he slept at his father's estate. It was too empty and still without them.

Yoon-hee paused at the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city lights. It was so quiet in the apartment that she imagined she could hear the faint sounds of traffic from 17 floors below.

“We should go get them,” Yoon-hee said, turning away from the window. She hung up on Yong-ha’s recorded voice telling her to leave a message for the fifth or sixth time.

“We agreed to meet here,” Sun-joon said practically. He hadn't tried to convince her to sit down in a while; he'd just been standing with her as she called three phone numbers over and over again. “We don't know where they are. If we leave, we could miss them and it could put our alibi into question.”

It was hard to believe that the man calmly explaining the most reasonable point of action was the same man who’d hid his face with a scarf and wildly punched a casino security guard in the mouth two hours earlier.

“I don’t care about the alibi; we shouldn’t just sit here!”

“Kim Yoon-hee,” said Sun-joon, and she only realized that she was shaking when he touched her elbow. She pressed her forehead against his shoulder and let him put his arms around her. He didn't try to convince her that everything would be fine, for which Yoon-hee was grateful. Sun-joon was all too logical. He understood as well as she did the risks that they'd taken, and what it would mean to be caught by Mayor Ha's son. And that was only one possibility -- what if they'd been hurt? Jae-shin was reckless with his personal safety. Yong-ha could talk their way out of almost any situation, but a million things could have gone wrong. Someone could have been stabbed, or hit by a car, or--

The door opened. “Look at this! Do we need to come back later?” said Yong-ha’s voice, and Yoon-hee's heart leaped.

She clutched at Sun-joon's jacket and laughed with relief. She went up on her toes to look over Sun-joon's shoulder and saw Yong-ha and Jae-shin staggering in together, Yong-ha supporting Jae-shin’s weight. “Did you get shot again?” Yoon-hee demanded, stepping away from Sun-joon.

“Again?” Sun-joon repeated. He sounded alarmed.

"He hid the wound for ten minutes," Yong-ha said tightly. That sounded familiar -- they tended not to find out that Jae-shin had been hurt until the mission was finished or he started falling over, whichever came first. Yoon-hee tsk-ed through her teeth and went to find the first aid kit.

Jae-shin lifted a blood-stained hand, holding an equally blood-stained tie, away from his own side long enough to wave them off. “Don’t be so squeamish,” he said, as Yong-ha settled him on the sofa. Yoon-hee knew where to find a more accurate assessment of Jae-shin’s condition than Jae-shin himself, who always gruffly insisted that he was fine right up until he passed out from blood loss. She looked to Yong-ha.

“Squeamish? Aigoo, I sacrificed my very best tie for you!” objected Yong-ha, mock outraged. His face was pinched but he smiled at Yoon-hee as she brought the first aid kit out from under the kitchen sink, and she felt the knot in the pit of her stomach slowly begin to loosen.

When Yoon-hee’s phone finally rang with a call from an unknown number, Jae-shin -- sprawled across a couple of towels that probably hadn't saved Yong-ha's white sofa, scowling at Yong-ha as Yong-ha fussed over him -- didn’t flinch, but the rest of them jumped. Yong-ha almost upended the bloodied bowl of water they’d been using to clean Jae-shin's wound, and Sun-joon barely managed to catch it in time.

Yoon-hee sat back on her heels and lifted the phone to her ear. “Am I speaking to my favorite scholar?” asked the familiar voice of their one-woman extraction team, and Yoon-hee smiled.

“Hello, unni,” she said.

“Then I’m happy to report that the package has been delivered to its proper owners,” said Cho-sun over the phone, sounding viciously pleased. Her voice warmed. “After being successfully stolen, of course. Thanks for the distractions.”

Yoon-hee looked up. Jae-shin and Yong-ha were both motionless, Yong-ha's hands still cupping Jae-shin's cheeks and Jae-shin's hand still raised and poised to start shoving Yong-ha off him again. Sun-joon's steady expression was belied by the bandaid still stuck to his forehead that he'd clearly forgotten about -- the product of a brief argument with Yong-ha. All three men were watching her hopefully.

Yoon-hee tried to keep her face straight, even for a few seconds, but she couldn't do it under their combined attention. She beamed and flashed them a thumbs up.