The red string of fate is an East Asian belief, and according to this myth,
the two people who are connected by the red thread are soulmates, destined lovers, regardless of place, time, or circumstances.
The thread may stretch or tangle; but it will never break...
The soft rays from the rising sun begin to filter through the gaps of the smooth silk curtains that reach the floor. A red flower blooms in the middle of the snow white threads. Blood. An artwork.
The masked man glances at his watch, then leaves without a trace he has ever been there. His fresh kill sits motionlessly in the chair behind the mahogany desk, almost as if the plump man had just fallen asleep there.
Fall is Sunggyu’s favourite season, merely because it is named such. He loves winter for the endless darkness, since he thrives in darkness. But fall brings with it a sense of calmness, as if the world can be quiet and beautiful and there is nothing wrong in it—with it. Sunggyu likes fall.
For someone who had just received two million dollars in cold, hard cash, Sunggyu’s apartment is surprisingly empty. Of course, it is equipped with all the bare essentials like the refrigerator, a television, a couch, his bed... But not much else. If Sunggyu was out, the apartment would look like it hasn’t been lived in at all. The only telltale sign that someone actually spends time there is that the place is ridiculously clean.
So Sunggyu is sitting on the couch, with a stiff, beige file in his hands. His fingers are pale, much like the rest of him, and long, slender, and soft. His hands almost look fragile, a stark contrast with the amount of death they are culpable for and capable of.
The file contains his next mark. He has two months.
The leaves have all turned red on the first day Sunggyu visits the area his target lives in. It is not a political figure that will earn him millions this time, but a regular civilian—on the surface—who appears to be a pizza delivery guy living in a shabby, rented apartment out of the city area.
Sunggyu reads a book as he spends time in the cafe nearby, with a piping hot Americano and a couple of doughnuts. More specifically, he’s reading a Geography textbook, and puts it down from time to time to make markings on the pages. Several pens and highlighters are strewn on the table around his food. Sunggyu pushes up his glasses every once in a while, perfecting the part of a typical student.
It may seem slightly off for a 32-year-old to be playing a university student, but Sunggyu, with his harmless baby face and platinum blonde hair, fits in effortlessly.
For five years, Sunggyu has been at the top of his game. He had started out as a shaky amateur despite being trained by one of the best assassins there ever was. But when his teacher died, Sunggyu rose to fill the gap. And he rose, indeed.
As dusk approaches, Sunggyu puts his things in his nondescript black backpack, and politely returns his plate and mug to the collection area, before leaving the cafe. He’s gotten enough of the general atmosphere of this place now, having observed the streets the entire day. But tomorrow he will have to explore.
A slightly chilly wind blows on the morning Sunggyu walks down the street in light footsteps and a khaki trench coat. He has dropped the diligent student look today.
The scent of fresh flowers wafts by, and when Sunggyu draws closer to the quaint little flower shop that is strategically situated by the crossroads, he stops dead in his tracks.
Sunggyu likes death and destruction, his soul is as dark as the devil’s. Some have even nicknamed him so for the fine work he has done.
But the sight in front of him has him mesmerized.
A man in a sky blue checkered shirt, with a yellow cardigan tied around his neck, has just taken out a chalkboard that proclaims “Fresh flowers! Today’s special~ Lovely white daisies” with an adorable drawing of a boy holding out a bouquet of flowers. Then he touches the petals of the tall sunflowers that stand by the doorway, and closes his eyes for a moment to enjoy the sweet scent.
It is the most beautiful thing Sunggyu has ever seen in his life.
So this is how he falls.
There is no redemption for Sunggyu, only retribution.
In the darkness, he sees his target walking home furtively, practically sticking to the side of the brick walls of the short building that is made up of a row of shophouses. Sunggyu moves in the shadows, silently, like a fleet-footed cat stalking his prey. It’s past midnight, and the streets are completely empty except for the few drunk people fallen over on the sidewalk. There’s no one else to watch except for Sunggyu’s target.
Sunggyu passes by the flower shop while tracking. He remembers the florist’s face, and halts in his steps momentarily when there is a rush of images flashing through his mind like an old black and white film being fast-forwarded way too fast for anyone to catch anything at all. Then a soft voice says “come back”. And Sunggyu’s mind is clear again, as if nothing had happened, and all he hears is the wind whistling in his ears.
But there is no time to dwell. Sunggyu presses on with his task, even though he’s left all confused.
His mark disappears into an apartment building with a rather old metal gate, and Sunggyu stays hidden for a while as he watches. The lights come on in the third floor apartment after a while, and Sunggyu waits till they go out. That’s Sunggyu’s cue to leave. His research is done for the night.
Sunggyu lights a smoke after he passes the flower shop, lingering by the side of the road a couple of shops away, wondering if the proximity would bring back what he had experienced earlier. Nothing happens.
Sunggyu comes and goes like the wind. The next few days pass with the same routine. But one thing is different.
He doesn’t see the florist. Sunggyu had thought at first that he must have missed him because of the timing, maybe he was late to work or it was his day off. Sunggyu doesn’t see him for three days, and he wonders if the florist had perhaps gone on holiday. It doesn’t bother Sunggyu that much, since he still has more than a month to go before he wraps up this case.
On the fourth day, Sunggyu admires the flowers outside the shop.
“Hello, buying flowers for a special occasion?”
Sunggyu has heard this voice before, but not like this. He just can’t pinpoint where and when. He turns, knowing that the voice belongs to the florist.
“Yes.” Sunggyu says simply, with a small smile.
A slight frown passes the florist’s features for a moment before he returns a warm smile of his own.
“Perhaps I could recommend something?”
“So... What occasion might this be?”
The florist thinks for a moment, then gestures towards the interior of the shop. “I have some pretty daffodils that just arrived yesterday, you might want to take a look.”
Sunggyu smiles in thanks and follows the florist into the shop.
The variety of flower scents are overwhelming, yet they present a sense of serenity at the same time. Sunggyu finds that he actually enjoys the feeling.
“Here you go.” The florist shows him the white daffodils he has just taken from the floral refrigerator.
Sunggyu takes them and studies them closely. “White ones...”
The florist just nods and smiles.
Sunggyu looks up at him. “I’ll take them.”
“How do you want them?”
“Just a simple ribbon will do.”
Sunggyu thanks the florist with a small bow as he leaves the shop, and the florist walks out with him. He holds out the three stalks of white daffodils bound together with a gold ribbon to the florist, who looks completely taken by surprise.
“It’s nice to meet you, Myungsoo.”
“How did you—”
“Your nametag. Although the words are a little hard to make out at first because of the colours.”
“Oh!” Myungsoo grins sheepishly, running his fingers through his jet black hair before rubbing at the back of his neck.
Sunggyu’s still holding the flowers.
Myungsoo realizes, and his gaze alternates between Sunggyu’s face and the flowers a couple of times before he finally takes them. “Thank you...” He looks expectantly towards Sunggyu for a name.
Sunggyu doesn’t give any. He just smiles again and takes his leave.
Sunggyu doesn’t speak to Myungsoo in the remainder of the time he has before the deadline of his target kill. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t want to. He thought observing him might be a tad too creepy too, so Sunggyu spends the rest of his time focused on his task at hand instead.
The day of the assassination comes quietly, but Sunggyu is more than ready for it to be over. Being prepared is something Sunggyu is extremely used to, regardless if he has actually done enough groundwork for his assignment. As with all professional assassins, Sunggyu has back-up plans, and they usually suffice if something doesn’t go according to plan. He rarely has to use them.
But there are always exceptions.
Sunggyu strikes two hours before midnight, his stealth and skill made sure that his target won’t even see him coming.
Except he does.
“Kim Sunggyu, they’re coming for you.”
Sunggyu stares unblinking at the man who is slowly going limp, sputtering blood as he tried to get the words out of his mouth. The ability of keeping a straight face is one Sunggyu never had problems mastering, but right now it is taking more effort than ever to do it. His targets had never known whom he is, much less his name. Sunggyu doesn’t fluster, he doesn’t even make a sound. He’s too good for such a slip-up, if that’s what the people who supposedly want him are looking for.
The man takes his last breath.
Sunggyu lets himself take a deep breath as well, then it’s time to clear up and leave.
The kill had gone messier than Sunggyu had wanted it to be. The man hadn’t even put up a struggle, as if he already knew he was going to be killed and he was just submitting to fate. But Sunggyu slipped up, got the wrong vein, and that was how the man even had time to speak.
Sunggyu gives himself five minutes to do a quick scour around the apartment that he has snuck into before a couple of times. There has to be something he had missed.
There isn’t. Because Sunggyu is absolutely sure it wasn’t there when he entered to make his move.
But it is there now—a postcard in gold, with the words embossed in a fancy cursive font, “Carry on and you will find your end. Or step down and find liberation.”
Sunggyu studies the card for a moment, then decides it’s safe to leave it where it is. He disappears from the apartment like he has never been there.
Step down… Sunggyu has his hands in his coat pockets as he strolls by the river.
It is past midnight, and there is no one else around except for a few couples making out on the benches in the park by the river.
Sunggyu picks a particularly dark spot where the street lamps don’t reach, and stops, resting his forearms on the railing as he stares out at the gentle ripples on the river.
“You’re a strange one.”
Sunggyu can recognize that voice anywhere, he just did not expect to hear it here and now. He doesn’t flinch, but instead smiles slowly as he turns to look at the man who spoke.
“I can say the same about you.”
“Pretty sure you’re the stranger one.”
“Pretty sure that’s debatable.”
“If we have to debate about this then I’d like to have your name first. It’ll be nice to know whom I’m up against in case I need to yell your full name to prove a point.”
Sunggyu grins, though it’s just the faintest hint of one, when Myungsoo smirks, somewhat victoriously even though he hasn’t won.
“You already know my name. This isn’t very fair, is it?” Myungsoo presses on, when it becomes clear that Sunggyu still isn’t revealing his name. The smirk gives way for a slight pout.
Sunggyu knows his defenses are melting, if he is even capable of that. He doesn’t know exactly how that feels like, but he knows that he has never experienced this weird fluttery sensation in his entire life. It’s like his stomach has gone all light and it somehow hurts—not physically, but more of a dull ache.
“I should never have accepted those flowers—”
“Sunggyu. My name is Sunggyu.” He hasn’t uttered his name in years and it honestly feels weird. He knows what his name is, he’s heard people say it, but to say it himself makes him feel like he exists. That he is indeed Sunggyu, he is alive, and he is real. But no one knows the real Sunggyu.
“Hi Sunggyu-ssi. Well, it’s nice to meet you, even though you’re a pretty difficult person.”
That draws another soft laugh from Sunggyu. He didn’t think he was still capable of that. “So, Myungsoo-ssi, what are you doing here instead of curling up in bed with your girlfriend on such a chilly night?”
“I, unfortunately, do not have a significant other to curl up with. But I fortunately like the cold, so here I am.”
“Ah, and here I was, thinking you’re stalking me.”
“I could be.”
Sunggyu smiles and says nothing.
Myungsoo doesn’t, either, and the silence that follows is filled with apprehension.
Sunggyu thinks the air literally stills between the both of them, as Myungsoo goes slightly rigid. Sunggyu wants to speak again, but he has said too much tonight. It’s time he left. In fact, he should have left when Myungsoo appeared. He should have been out of here without any other traces. Having Myungsoo run into him—or did he really—tonight is untimely.
But Sunggyu stayed.
“I’m still a little puzzled as to why you gave me the flowers that day and then disappeared for an entire month even though you knew exactly where I would be, but, thank you anyway. I guess I’ll be on my way now...” Myungsoo lets his sentence trail off, and spins around on the ball of his foot.
Sunggyu knows he’s just pretending to leave. He won’t. Not until Sunggyu responds, anyway. So he does, even if only to save Myungsoo the embarrassment. “I didn’t think you would actually want to see me again.”
And that is the first time Sunggyu feels regret. It sounded too sad, too desperate, it showed too much. Sunggyu shrugs but it’s still too late to take back his words.
“I was taken aback when you gave me the flowers and just left, but I have to admit I was pretty intrigued. Besides, I’m sure you didn’t give me flowers for no reason at all, so I obviously need to find out why.” Myungsoo smiles.
It is genuine and filled with warmth, and Sunggyu breaks into a slight smile, only to realize it moments later.
“You’re not going to tell me why, are you?”
Sunggyu looks out at the river and keeps quiet.
“You will.” Myungsoo says cheerfully and slips something into Sunggyu’s coat pocket before he walks away. “See you soon, Sunggyu-ssi.”
Sunggyu has stayed in his apartment for the past two weeks, alone and cut off from the world. The creepy anonymous message is starting to get to him, because he has done a lot of digging and talked to numerous contacts, yet no one has any idea whom that might be.
Saying his teacher died is an easy, straightforward way of putting it. Truth is, he was murdered most mercilessly. If Sunggyu were to say he isn’t afraid of having the same done to himself, he would be lying. It’s not embarrassing to be afraid, he supposes. It is one thing to acknowledge death, but it does not necessarily equate to not fearing it.
The only one thing keeping him together is the pressed daffodil that he has not taken out from his coat pocket since Myungsoo put it in there. He had attached a thin red ribbon to one of the petals, making the flower a bookmark, and drawn a little heart in one of the corners in red ink, his initials written next to it.
Sunggyu has to see Myungsoo again, somehow.
There’s something about that man, something Sunggyu can’t quite put a finger to, but just something that makes Sunggyu feel like he needs Myungsoo in his life.
He needs to figure out what’s happening.
It’s been a month since Sunggyu last saw Myungsoo, and the only clue he has is “L”. Granted it’s a huge leap from where he was a month ago, but it doesn’t really help that much.
Maybe if he stays under the radar for long enough, whomever left him that message may think that he has quit. But escaping isn’t really his thing, because escaping doesn’t solve a thing. He will figure this out, but for now...
Sunggyu leans back in the armchair and closes his eyes.
A field with smatterings of flowers. Or perhaps it is a meadow?
He opens his eyes again.
It is a field.
Or, to be precise, Myungsoo’s field.
Sunggyu didn’t think Myungsoo would be there when he followed the flower truck through the city to the countryside to where he is standing now.
Myungsoo is standing in front of the gate with his arms crossed, looking miffed and way too amused at the same time. “Just so you know, Sunggyu-ssi, it’s been a month.”
Sunggyu nods, looking Myungsoo straight in the eye without much of an expression.
Myungsoo narrows his eyes and stares right back at Sunggyu.
Sunggyu looks away first, chuckling softly. “Okay, I’m sorry. I was busy.”
“I hope you know that’s not an acceptable explanation.”
Sunggyu nods again.
Myungsoo sighs and opens the gate to let him in.
“You own this place.” Sunggyu says, more like a statement than a question.
“I do, yeah. My parents left it for me, but it’s been mine for nine years.”
Sunggyu raises his brows, impressed. He has done only a little bit of looking into Myungsoo’s history—he had to, just in case, though not too much because there isn’t anything suspicious on the surface and Sunggyu thought he would like to find out about Myungsoo through Myungsoo himself—so most things are still going to surprise him.
“Come, I’ll show you around.”
Sunggyu follows Myungsoo through his flower fields, with Myungsoo introducing his flowers. He talks animatedly when it comes to his favourite flowers—sunflowers. Sunggyu thinks it fits him, Myungsoo is like a sunflower, bright and beautiful and anyone who sees him would be naturally drawn to him.
He finds himself enjoying the warm afternoon sun under the lush cloud cover. Sunggyu has never had the luxury of time or freedom for this in the past, so it is an entirely new sensation to him. He glances at Myungsoo looking right at home as he walks through the fields, and wonders how it must be living for years like this.
He may try it too, some day, if he can. But Sunggyu doesn’t think someone who has led a life like his would be able to enjoy a life like this.
“What’s your favourite flower, Sunggyu-ssi?”
Sunggyu snaps back to reality and looks at Myungsoo, who has stopped a couple of metres ahead of Sunggyu and turned around to face him.
“Well... I don’t think the answer’s written on my face, Sunggyu-ssi.”
“Maybe I find your face more beautiful than any flower.”
Myungsoo laughs and shakes his head. “That may actually already be obvious.”
Myungsoo shrugs and spins around to continue walking.
Sunggyu watches him, and he’s scared to acknowledge the emotion that has been slowly creeping up on him.
“Stop standing there and catch up, Sunggyu-ssi!”
When dusk falls, Sunggyu is still there.
Myungsoo has not said anything about needing Sunggyu to leave, nor about himself having to leave.
Sunggyu does not want to overstay his welcome, yet at the same time he wants to keep being here. He has felt safe while he is here. Myungsoo’s beautiful flower fields are like a safe haven. Even Myungsoo himself made Sunggyu feel like the world can be right and it can be fair.
Perhaps quitting is the right choice.
Perhaps Sunggyu should just stay here for the rest of is life. He can help Myungsoo tend his flowers, he supposes. It doesn’t sound like a bad life, honestly.
Sunggyu hears Myungsoo’s footsteps and turns back to see Myungsoo heading his way where he is seated on the top of a small flight of stairs that overlooks part of the fields.
“I called for delivery. I assume you’re staying the night.”
“If that’s okay with you.”
“It is. It does get lonely here at times since I’m usually just here by myself.”
Myungsoo takes a few steps down and sits next to Sunggyu.
Sunggyu notices he sits unnecessarily close, but he’s not complaining, of course.
“I come here with my assistant sometimes, but it’s mostly just me since the staff working on the fields leave for home in the evening.”
“Yeah, so I enjoy the company. Yours is particularly pleasant.”
“Thank you,” Sunggyu says after a few moments.
It is that same night that Sunggyu knows that the sense of calmness and security he has been feeling all day will not be for long. His phone buzzes, and there’s only one thing it can mean—a new job.
Sunggyu can’t stay the night after all.
“I knew there was something dangerous about you the first time I set my eyes on you,” Myungsoo says quietly when Sunggyu tries to slip out the door.
“I’m still not too sure, but I know that if you leave now then we will probably never be.”
Sunggyu looks at Myungsoo, not entirely sure if he’s getting the right idea from Myungsoo’s words.
“There’s a lot more to you than you think you are, I know that much. You don’t like yourself very much, but I do.”
Sunggyu is staring now.
“I find you really intriguing and I’d like to get to know you better. And in case it isn’t clear enough to you yet, yes, I do like you. Just so you know, I don’t just invite people in here and let them stay.”
That’s the thing—Sunggyu has never thought of himself as someone who’s allowed to have emotional attachments because feelings are a risk. Sunggyu didn’t think that it is possible for anyone else to have such feelings towards him, either. He’s done way much, too much, that he doesn’t deserve to live a happy, carefree life.
Or does he?
Myungsoo reaches for Sunggyu’s hands.
“I don’t know what it is about you, but whenever I see you, I feel like you’re meant to be a part of my life.”
Sunggyu glances downwards at his hands in Myungsoo’s.
“I can be all yours if you want me to, but there’s something holding you back. If you don’t let go of that, if your heart belongs elsewhere, then I guess I won’t make you stay. But I wish you would.”
One week after Sunggyu accepts the job, he receives another message telling him to quit or people are going to get hurt. Sunggyu knows who they are referring to. There can only be one person, and he isn’t ready for anything bad to befall that one beautiful ray of sunshine in his life. Not now, and not ever.
So Sunggyu bolts.
If this life can’t quit him then he will find a way to quit it.
He hears the words that Myungsoo had said to him last on the night before he left all the time.
“Go if you have to, but come back.”
It has never occurred to Sunggyu before, but it suddenly hits him that this is the voice he had heard in his head that one time he passed by Myungsoo’s flower shop.
Three years later—
The last green leaf falls from the tree. Fall has arrived.
Myungsoo is rarely at his shop now, leaving the daily operations to Sungjong and instead opting to spend his time in the tranquility of his flower field. But today, Myungsoo brings a fresh batch of sunflowers.
The ones that stood by the door three years ago have long wilted, and Myungsoo had never replaced them. Perhaps he didn’t want to, or maybe there just wasn’t a need to. But today, Myungsoo wants them back.
He doesn’t really know why, he just had a nagging feeling about it all week, so he makes the journey to deliver the sunflowers, along with an array of miniature potted flowering plants. He stays the entire day, chatting with customers, some of them whom he has known for years, and some new ones who are unexpectedly interested in flowers.
When dusk falls, Myungsoo tells Sungjong to leave first, and Sungjong does, gratefully.
Myungsoo doesn’t really know why he’s staying either. He just feels like it.
So Myungsoo stays till the cloudless sky is pitch black, with only the faint twinkling of the stars dotting the darkness. He steps out of the shop then, just quietly staring up at the sky while touching the velvety petals of the newly bloomed sunflowers.
A slight breeze blows past, and a dried fallen leaf rattles along the ground past his feet. Myungsoo looks at it for a moment, then looks in the direction the leaf had come from.
The stranger standing quietly in the darkness doesn’t intimidate Myungsoo, because Myungsoo can recognize that frame anywhere. The dim light from the street lamps illuminate the stranger’s side profile.
Myungsoo lets his fingers glide off the petals, and straightens up, facing the stranger.
“Took you long enough.”
Sunggyu smiles as he walks towards Myungsoo.
He looks different now, Myungsoo notices. Gone is the platinum blonde hair, and in place is dark hair that looks wine red in the street lights. But the most significant difference, is Sunggyu’s smile. As Sunggyu goes closer to him, Myungsoo can see the slight creases around his eyes and his lips.
Sunggyu looks happy.
And when Sunggyu stands just before him, Myungsoo breaks into a wide smile that mirrors Sunggyu’s. They don’t need anymore words. They reach out to embrace each other at the same time, and when Sunggyu’s lips meet Myungsoo’s, Myungsoo knows.
Now Sunggyu can truly be his.
The night hides many things. And Sunggyu isn’t the only one it hides on the night he finally goes back to Myungsoo.
The other man is of Myungsoo’s stature, and has a sort of makeshift ring made out of red string that wraps around his ring finger snugly. The moonlight catches on the edge of his lips as they curve into a slight smile, and it glints off a silver necklace charm that has the letters K & L engraved on it.
He disappears into the night like he has never existed.