Go Se-yeon is not in the service of self-pity. So when Min disappears into tiny fragments of dust, she does her best to hold her head high and go on with her life. After all, there’s no guarantee he won’t be back. And when she sees him again, she’s going to give him a piece of her mind.
Honestly. How dare he? Yeah, it would be pointless if she died then, but she hardly thinks her life is more worth saving than his.
That’s one big difference between the Go Se-yeon that died and the Go Se-yeon now. Back then, she wouldn’t have hesitated in believing that her life was worth more than someone else’s. Even Cha Min’s. Now, though, she lays awake and dreams about telling her family, about coming clean, about living her life as a living, breathing, legal person.
It’s hard enough telling her parents. Her father doesn’t believe her at first. Her eomma is quick on the uptake, sees the solid pain resting like an eclipse behind Se-yeon’s still-dark eyes. Abba turns away and doesn’t look at her.
It hurts. It really does. She knows they can only think of her face as Mi-do, that they look at her and see someone she is not. Se-yeon’s family has always been her number one, her fallback, the most important people in her life. Her mom, her dad. Min. And though she has her mom back, technically, it’s not the same. It might never be the same.
It’s a month later when she comes forward with her identity. Legally, that is. It’s very messy. They do DNA tests and fingerprints and blood tests and comparisons — enough to make Se-yeon’s head spin. But there’s no denying it: she is Go Se-yeon, in the flesh.
(These tests don’t convince her father. They have been forged in the past and will be forged again in the future.)
Ji-uk uses this to argue his absolute innocence. Surely, if Se-yeon hadn’t died, that couldn’t make him a murderer, could it? But Se-yeon latches on to her experience as a prosecutor and helps lead the plaintiff while they question her. Yes, she remembers what happened. She lies about coming back to life — no one really needs that kind of knowledge, not anymore — and says she screamed until Cha Min dug her out of the grave, helped her get plastic surgery and whatnot, it’s really amazing what modern medicine can do — and maybe not everyone buys it, but it’s really the best explanation she can get.
Somehow, some deep down part of her doesn’t want Seo Ji-uk to die just yet.
No. She wants him to suffer. She wants to see him waste away in a jail cell until he realizes there’s no one coming for him. He has no one left. He is the one who attacked her and she is the one that put him behind bars. She wants to see the calculatory gleam in his eyes flicker and fade away with every passing day, knowing there is no escape for him. There is no running from his sins.
It’s a little intense of her. But honestly, she thinks he deserves it. No one should be allowed to kill or assist in killing so many people in cold blood. And to think she’d been (briefly) attracted to him when they worked together.
To say the court case goes off without a hitch would be the biggest lie Go Se-yeon has ever told. Granted, she has told a lot of lies, most of them to herself.
They have all the evidence, and the testimony to back it up. But some people — and rightly so — are not convinced. They know they are missing some part of the puzzle. Part of Se-yeon’s plan requires evidence of fraudulent lab reports, her own autopsy included — not hard to get, but hard to convince people of. She relies on those grad school days of writing paper after boring paper to get her through the hearings.
Ji-uk does not confess. He insists to his lawyer that they plead Not Guilty. His whole argument centers around the fact that Se-yeon is not dead.
Were he a better prosecutor, were it not his life on the line, Ji-uk may have won.
But Se-yeon is the best at what she does. She follows leads no one else thinks to investigate.
She tells them. She tells them about Min and his disappearance, about Heejin and her mother, about Oh Tae-jin and Oh Yeong-chul and Seo Ji-uk. The only thing she does not tell them about is Abyss.
She wears her money-winning smile, the one that made older lawyers underestimate her. Now she is smaller, and daresay smarter — there will be no fooling her this time.
“Witness, is there anything else you’d like to state for the record?”
“Yes, sir.” Se-yeon finds Ji-uk’s — no, Tae-jin’s eyes from across the room and stares. He will know this stare — she has used it time and time again on culprits to drag the foaming truth from their lips. “I am not the first person Oh Tae-jin assisted in harming. There are countless others. The photo containing him as a child in the background of a victim is evidence enough. However, if I may be so bold, I would like to recommend a life sentence for the defendant.”
Tae-jin’s eyes widen imperceptibly. He has lost that intelligent glare in his eyes, replaced it with panic.
Abyss appears on the ledge in front of Se-yeon. She glances at it, stricken, then turns back to the court.
“Thank you for your testimony, Ms. Go Se-yeon.” It’s the judge’s dismissal. She leaves the empty Abyss behind and sits down in the court between Mi-do and Hee-jin. Hee-jin, whose cheeks are still tearstained from her own testimony, her own forced reliving of childhood and adulthood trauma alike. Se-yeon can’t imagine what it must be like to even attempt to reconcile the current version of Tae-jin with the one Hee-jin remembers. A strong brother, a protector, turned into someone so weak he would kill for the same man who caused him infinite grief. Evil may not always have a reason, but even this Se-yeon finds hard to believe.
The judge slams his gavel down. A hush falls over the court. He parts his lips to say, “The court finds the defendant, Oh Tae-jin, guilty of all accused crimes. He is hereby sentenced to lifelong imprisonment.”
A wicked smile curls at Se-yeon’s mouth. She will visit him, she knows. She will remind him to hate himself. She will make him remember what it means to be truly afraid.
It’s a week or so later that Lee Mi-do’s doorbell rings. Se-yeon is the only one home, so she answers it, making sure to remember the placement of a glass bowl on a nearby vanity if need for it arises. Lan Cosmetics director and mother of Cha Min stands before her, scarf thrown haphazardly over her thinning shoulders.
“So,” she says. “You’re Go Se-yeon.”
Se-yeon swallows thickly. “Yes,” she says.
Ms. Eom — Cha Min’s mother, no one to be afraid of — rises to her full height. Where she was shorter than Se-yeon before, she now towers half a head taller. Se-yeon clenches her teeth and carefully runs through her list of available weapons in her head. It makes her feel more at ease. Like she can fight back.
“So you deceived us,” Ms. Eom says. “The entire family.”
“Not Min,” Se-yeon says. “Never Min.”
Ms. Eom steps past her and makes herself at home on the couch. She is a regal being, starkly royal in Mi-do’s contemporary apartment. “I see.” The hand holding her purse strap trembles. Ms. Eom looks pointedly out the window. “Then… I assume you know where my son has gone?”
Se-yeon purses her lips, willing her eyes not to water. She remembers it like it was a real dream, something that happened to her and something created by her fragmented imagination. She remembers leaning in to kiss him and meeting nothing but empty air. “I don’t. I’m very sorry.”
Cold air snakes through the apartment despite the long windows and sunshine. Se-yeon is still standing, unsure. She is not often so hesitant.
“If you hear anything,” Ms. Eom says, her voice louder and more violent, “you’d best let me know immediately. He’d better still be alive. Otherwise…” She trails off, staring Se-yeon dead in the eyes. A warning. A reminder.
As if she could forget.
But how can she doubt him if he promised to find her again?
So many things that should be impossible are decidedly not. They have been made reality. But for now, Se-yeon falls into the couch and watches as Ms. Eom departs. She doesn’t bother to close the door. It’s very tempting, really, to open the window and see if she can join Min out there in the open sky — but she has responsibilities, a life to make for Hee-jin, torment to wreak for Tae-jin, people to defend and wait for.
Days later, when she sees Hee-jin again, both finally in their right mind — or, well, what could pass as such — she says, “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking,” Hee-jin says, “that I want to be as far away from this city as possible.”
“How far are you willing to go?” Se-yeon asks.
“A friend of mine… she and her dad moved out to the country last year. Maybe I could… but I don’t want to impose or anything…”
“Hey.” Se-yeon takes Hee-jin’s face in her hands and forces their gazes to lock. “I will do whatever it takes to help you feel at peace.”
At this, Hee-jin cries. She cries and she cries and she cries. By the time she has fallen asleep, the TV blaring background noise that neither paid much attention to, the sun is already well below the horizon, and Mi-do is on her way home.
“I see you two are getting awfully friendly,” Mi-do says cheekily when she walks through the door.
“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Se-yeon grouches, but she is, for once, happy to be teased.
And sooner still she finds the video on Min’s phone.
Three years is a lot of time to skip through. So much happens. Se-yeon moves in with her family and then back into her old apartment, her things still there and gathering dust. No one else had wanted to rent the place, much less live there. At first, a daily life feels more unnatural than the time she spent chasing after her killers. But… it grows on her.
Like this, something so clear in her memory that she now appreciates so much more: her father, catching her eye across the dinner table, that familiar twinkle growing bigger every passing day as he realizes that yes, this is his daughter. Her mother and her busybody hands, always working, always creating. The shop and the dingy street in front of it, the rush of cars as they whiz by on their way to somewhere else. They live above the shop, yes, but it is not like before. Not unlike before, either.
She’s unsure about moving into her old place, too — but if she doesn’t the dust will make its territory in all of her old things, whether or not she feels connected to them. Loathe as she is to move away from her parents, they are convinced in her legitimacy — that’s really all that matters. So long as she has her parents, she will be alright.
(Min would be an added bonus, but, well. Maybe here, he’ll be able to find her.)
Mi-do comes by to help her move her newer belongings. They do some basic spring cleaning, too: throwing out things Se-yeon has no use for anymore. She keeps the pictures of her and Min from high school. They’re a reminder. She can not forget to be humbled, and she can not forget her beginnings. The way the boys would line up outside the school to greet her. It’s not something she can expect now. She’s kind of relieved, honestly.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office offers to rehire her, but Se-yeon turns them down. They mail back the pictures she’d taped to her drawers. Pictures of her parents, her friends, herself. (One of Min.) It’s too much to even look at the desk she used to sit at, remember when her boss was only Seo Ji-uk, a cute ambitious prosecutor who rivaled Se-yeon’s talent and wit. He used to rest his hands on the back of her chair and look over her shoulder at evidence, scan through layers of clues and deductions right behind her head. She remembers how she used to shiver when she leaned back a little too far and felt his too-cold knuckles through the fabric of her blazer. Now, even the idea of being so close to him makes her gut wrench in disgust.
The first thing she does after moving and getting all her things in order is visit Tae-jin. It’s been eight months since he’s been put away, and just over a year since Min disappeared.
“Se-yeon,” Tae-jin breathes. His voice trembles like he’s a little kid. Se-yeon feels him shaking through the receiver.
“Oh Tae-jin,” she greets coolly. She’s been preparing herself for this. For seeing him broken.
“Why are you here?” he asks.
“I had to see you for myself,” she says. “How deep is your pain now?”
Tae-jin closes his eyes. Some distant part of Se-yeon feels guilty for this — she knows she’s one of the last people he’d want to see. A complete stranger would be more welcome. She is the one who put him behind bars, after all. She is the reason he could not escape into death’s realm. He does not answer her question. Instead, he asks, “How is Hee-jin?”
“You don’t have the right to know,” Se-yeon says, but something in her softens minutely. He is a disgusting murderer, but she still sees his face and wants to be weak. “She’s moving. Far away.”
“That’s good.” Tae-jin doesn’t meet her eyes. He’s shaking like a leaf in the autumn breeze, every nerve standing on end.
“Min disappeared,” Se-yeon says without thinking. Tae-jin looks up at her. She reaches into her bag and finds Abyss there, just as she’d expected. It does not glow when she pulls it out. “This is the marble now.”
“Are you fucking serious,” Tae-jin says. It’s very out of character for him, but then, what would Se-yeon know about his character?
“That’s what I thought, too,” she says wryly. “Anyway, there are no second chances now. I hope you spend a lot of time reflecting so you can do better in your next life. Maybe be a decent person.”
“I didn’t choose to be where I am now,” Tae-jin spits.
“You didn’t choose your beginnings,” Se-yeon counters. “You chose the rest of it.” She stands up, vicious eyes looking down on him. “I hope you’ll have an explanation for me the next time I visit.”
She does not miss the way his head hangs as she slams the receiver back and storms out of the building. Like he’s exhausted. Like he’s given up.
Later that day Se-yeon drives Hee-jin out to the train station, where they’re greeted by Hee-jin’s friend, Na-woon. Se-yeon watches as they hug, tearful, and swears on her still-beating heart that if anything happens to Hee-jin she will seek out the offender and tear them limb from limb.
Hee-jin turns, finally, to Se-yeon. “Thank you,” she says, and she’s crying again.
“Don’t cry,” Se-yeon says. “This is a good thing. You’re safe. You can recover.”
“I…” Hee-jin takes a steadying breath. “It’ll be weird. Different. I’ll… I’ll miss you.”
Se-yeon smiles, a genuine, bittersweet smile. “There you go again, being nice to me.” She thumbs away Hee-jin’s tears. “Listen. You’re going to go to the countryside, and you’re going to be the most badass country girl to ever see the plains. Got it?”
Hee-jin nods, her own smile pulling at her mouth.
“Good.” Se-yeon squeezes Hee-jin’s hand and watches as her friend disappears into the train. Se-yeon stands there until the wind from the train is gone, and the crowd begins to thin. She will not admit it out loud, but she will miss Hee-jin. Perhaps more than anyone else she has left.
(Thankfully, she does not have to miss her parents anymore. And Min, well, that’s a different story.)
A private law firm hires her: not as a prosecutor, but as an attorney. She’s been studying, but she’s not yet entirely comfortable with defending rather than attacking. As the saying goes, the best defense is often a good offense. Or is it the other way around? She also needs to brush up on her civil law — prosecutors deal primarily in criminal cases, where attorneys also take on civil cases.
Being an attorney, however, is harder work when dealing with guilty clients. They don’t meet her eyes, like Se-yeon can sniff out their crimes. Usually, she can, and pushes for them to plead guilty for a lighter sentence — and so she doesn’t leave criminals running around the streets. They don’t always listen to her.
It infuriates her. Plus, her coworkers don’t seem to get that Se-yeon’s much more talented than any of them; they keep asking her to wear higher skirts and smile more. Se-yeon always levels them with a glare that could kill — a one-shot KO — and turns back to her computer, filing away cases and writing reports.
Her boss is guilty of it, too. After five months of working there — much longer than she could’ve held out before — Se-yeon slams a heavy stack of folders onto her desk. A hush falls over the office. Some guy nudges his friend next to him. Hwan Il-sung.
“What do you all think you’re doing?” she demands, her voice icy and low. “Have you never seen a woman before?”
Her coworkers stay silent, looking around the room.
“I could write you all up for participating in workplace harassment,” she says. A pointed look at Il-sung. “After all, there’s CCTV footage of you touching my waist and making groping motions behind my back.”
Il-sung furrows his eyebrows. “Come on, Se-yeon. It’s just a joke.”
“Don’t talk to me so casually,” Se-yeon snaps. “I will be taking this up with the higher-ups. Unless it ends right now. ”
Everyone exchanges anxious glances. Se-yeon slams her folders down again, a loud shock reverberating through the room.
“You have a week.” Then she sits and angrily sorts her documents.
Three days later, Se-yeon’s boss calls her in to his office. She pointedly leaves the door open, knowing what people do to persuade silence or compromise. She is entirely unwilling. Her boss sits with his fingers laced in front of him, dust scattered over his dark suit. Aging is not treating him well — his hairline is receding and his lips are perpetually caught in a scowl. He pulls on his reading glasses and sorts through documents.
“Go Se-yeon,” he drawls.
“Mr. Kim,” she says, bowing quickly. “What can I do for you?”
He leans back in his padded chair. “I’ve heard some complaints, Se-yeon, about your behavior in the workplace.” He shuffles through handwritten sheets of paper on his desk. “Many in our office don’t appreciate your brazen attitude.”
“With all due respect, sir, I believe more in doing my job than in fraternizing with my coworkers,” Se-yeon says coldly.
“I understand that. However, due to your inability to work with others, we may have to let you go.” Her boss twirls a pen in his fingers. “But, here’s the thing, Se-yeon. I like you. And I think we can work out an arrangement.” He glances toward the open door. “If you’d be willing, meet me in my office after work today.”
Something in Se-yeon snaps. “Sir,” she says, in the kind of sickly-sweet tone that goes with inimitable rage, “I have no interest in sleeping with you to keep my job. If you couldn’t tell, I have a fiance, and I’m not the type to cheat for any reason.” She smiles — her killer smile, the one that still leaves men shaken to their core — pulls her company lanyard and ID from around her neck, and slams it on his desk. “I’ll be packing up my things, then.”
“Se-yeon—” he starts, but she doesn’t give him the chance to.
“If you’re going to say you’re not going to fire me, then I quit anyway.” Se-yeon breezes out of the room. Within half an hour, her belongings are packed, and she’s out in front of the bus stop.
Se-yeon would not call herself an angry person. Passionate is probably a better word. But now — right now, she’s full of so much hatred, so much rage, that she almost understands why some people kill. Almost. She sits on the bench and cries furious tears, tears that make her angrier. She imagines Min sitting next to her, putting his arm around her, telling her she did the right thing and that even if he’s not there to protect her, she’s capable of protecting herself — and her tears are no longer angry but sad, rueful, wishing, wanting.
She calls Mi-do that night.
“Of course you’re justified,” Mi-do rages. “That’s totally uncalled for! Who did he even think he was?”
In the background, Dong-cheol chimes in. “But do you have another job lined up?”
“Doesn’t matter!” Mi-do says. “Besides, you’re Go Se-yeon. Any firm could make a name for themselves with you in it.”
“I’m just saying—” Dong-cheol starts, but Mi-do shushes him.
“Do you want to come over? Have some beer?”
Se-yeon sighs, increasingly tempted. She misses the month after Tae-jin’s first trial, when she and Hee-jin sat around Min’s house and drank and drank until they couldn’t see straight. She misses Hee-jin. She misses Min.
“Sure,” Se-yeon says.
“Okay. I’ll see you soon.” Mi-do hangs up.
Se-yeon looks back at her phone, scrolls through her contacts. Her thumb hovers over Min’s name. Cha Min, heart. She knows if she taps call, his phone in her dresser will go off. She does not call. Instead, she hops out of bed and slips her shoes on, drives the thirty minutes across the city to Mi-do’s apartment.
Days later still, she visits Tae-jin in jail again. He looks more haggard, more worn down. She’s too tired to feel satisfied by it.
“Why did you kill?” she asks.
Tae-jin doesn’t look at her, again. “I don’t see how that’s important. What’s important is that I did it.”
“And yet you plead not guilty,” she snarks. Tae-jin winces like she’s struck him between the eyes, and Se-yeon relaxes. “I just… I need to know.”
“Do you?” He looks up at her. “What if I’m just evil? What if I’m just Oh Yeong-chul’s son?”
“There is no just,” Se-yeon insists. “Besides, you don’t really have anything to hide now.”
Tae-jin is silent for a long moment. Se-yeon sighs.
“Listen, if you don’t want to—”
“I thought I had to,” Tae-jin says. There’s something desperate in his eyes, a long-lost hope of being understood, a clutching fear. “I needed to tie up all the loose ends. So everything could be normal.”
“And what’s normal?” Se-yeon asks. “Killing people after work?”
“No.” Tae-jin anxiously taps his fingers on the table. “I wanted — I wanted to try normal.”
“You wanted a normal life and you were willing to kill people to get it.” Se-yeon has very little sympathy for him, and it shows. He searches her eyes for something, anything. “You could’ve told Hee-jin. She would’ve been on your side.”
Tae-jin ducks his head. “I was scared.”
“I know,” Se-yeon says.
Well, three years after she opens her private law firm with Mi-do — she affectionately still calls it Go & Do, even if its official name is Lee Mi-do Law — and helps Dong-cheol move around furniture while Mi-do sorts files and paperwork. The anniversary of Min’s disappearance is coming up. It doesn’t hurt as much this year as it did last year or the year before, but Se-yeon’s heart still feels like it’s twisting around itself in a vice. She’s not forgetting what he looked like, but pictures aren’t doing him justice anymore — like they ever did — and she’s forgetting what it felt like to be with him, even after knowing him for twenty years. She’s starting to forget that endearing naivety and even the slopes of his reborn face.
Mi-do and Dong-cheol get married, and it’s one of the most beautiful things Se-yeon has ever been a part of. She takes pictures of the two of them as they sit together, Mi-do kissing his cheek, Dong-cheol staring at her with all the love in the world at his disposal. Se-yeon’s not sad per se, but it’s bittersweet.
In the elevator of a department store later that day, Se-yeon finds herself alone with a man and Abyss in her pocket, weighing her down. They both wait silently for their floor. The man fidgets with his coat sleeve and says, not looking at her, “I’m sorry, miss, but uh, you’re very pretty, and I was wondering if you’d mind getting a meal with me sometime?”
The bags under Se-yeon’s eyes — shrinking with product and cream, but still very much present — feel heavier at his words. Quietly, she holds up her ring finger and points to the same ring she’s worn for three years. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I have a fiance.”
The man blusters and gets off the elevator the next time it stops, even though it wasn’t the floor he’d requested.
Se-yeon sighs to herself, leaning her cheek against the smooth metal wall of the elevator. She’s starting to wonder if this is even worth it.
A month later it is the anniversary. Mi-do forgets, so Se-yeon shouts some excuse and makes her way to the amusement park by bus. Her car is in the shop, and she tries not to use it too much regardless. She gets strawberry ice cream and drops it, of course she does, if she hadn’t dropped it back then Min would still be here with her —
“Se-yeon.” Great, now she’s imagining him again. That’s exactly what she needed. She turns around anyway to see the Min that her mind creates.
He is thinner than she remembers. Scared. This isn’t how she wants to remember him. She closes her eyes and turns around. Doesn’t say anything.
“Se-yeon.” His voice is more insistent, like a siren pulling at a sailor’s last strand of will. She shakes her head — clears her mind of all thoughts, good and bad — and takes one step away from him.
Arms wrap around her torso. Se-yeon jerks away and finds herself nose-to-nose with none other than Cha Min.
Tears spring to the corners of her eyes. Everything stops, if only for a moment. “Min?” she breathes, too softly for anyone to hear, but his mouth cracks into that goofy smile of his, the one Se-yeon has spent far too long only thinking about and watching in the same video over and over and over —
“It’s me.” He places his hands resolutely on her shoulders. “I’m back.”
“I… How?” Se-yeon clutches at his arms, like if she lets go he’ll disappear again. Vanish into nothing. She’ll learn forward and meet nothing but air.
Min glances around the amusement park. Something catches in his throat, a wad of remembered fear. “Can we — Can we talk about this somewhere else?”
Se-yeon searches his eyes. She nods. “Let’s go back to my house.”
They take the bus back to her apartment. The man living downstairs still lets his cardboard pile up under the stairs, but Se-yeon hasn’t gotten on his case about it in a while. She’s certainly not going to start up again today. She drags Min up the stairs — he doesn’t look remotely surprised that she’s living in the same apartment she was killed in.
“You still get nightmares here, don’t you.” It’s a statement, not a question. Se-yeon shrugs and pulls him down, down next to her on the bed.
“They’re not as bad as before,” she says. Min’s eyes fall on her mouth and don’t move. Se-yeon swallows thickly. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” His voice cracks. “It was so hard.”
“I know,” she says, fisting her hands in his shirt. He’s real, he’s real, he’s real. She isn’t imagining this. Min’s eyelashes flutter as he leans forward, zeroing in on Se-yeon’s lips.
He kisses her with all the longing of three separate years. Se-yeon makes a tiny noise into his mouth as he presses against her, all love and strength and safe. Min’s palms cup her cheeks and they’re both crying, just a little bit — Se-yeon had been starting to lose hope, she’d been starting to wonder if Min would ever make it back to her but — now he’s here and it’s real —
They have a lot of catching up to do. Min has a family, friends, a life to reconnect to. Tomorrow they will go see his mother and she will also cry tears that betray her many sorrowful nights. They will call Hee-jin and meet up with Mi-do and Dong-cheol. But for now, in this moment, it is Se-yeon and Cha Min, reunited at last, having suffered and conquered the trials of both life and death. They might not be able to expect a forever. But, as things are now, so long as they have each other, both are certain everything will be just fine.