Serving his country was all that Lee could help for. The son of immigrants from South Korea, Lee knew Korean well enough to make him a valuable asset. After 9/11, Lee wanted to serve his country. Fresh out of college, Lee was a Junior analyst with the CIA.
He wanted to fight terrorism, to protect his country, but instead his superiors saw him as a Korean. They didn’t care that he could speak fluent Arabic and Farsi, or that he had studied linguistics in college. He was Korean. He spoke Korean. He had family still in Korea. He was going to Korea. At worst he could work as a liaison with the South Korean intelligence agencies, at best he would prove to be a field asset; and so it went, Lee’s formative years in the CIA were spent tucked away in some listening post in Seoul. It was a cold December, years before the heatwave would be an issue, years before Lee would be a problem. This is where it all began.
By his third year in Korea Lee had proven himself to be a valuable asset. His training moved from analytical to operational until finally he was a trained killer operating for the CIA. It was a game of cat and mouse in South Korea and Lee often found himself working in opposition of Nork agents, and alongside South Korean intelligence. He was as far removed from the War on Terror as possible; but, he didn’t care anymore. He was serving his country, he told himself. It was in his fourth year of service that he met her.
She was a radiant beauty, unlike any he had seen before. Her accent was a bit funny but she seemed endlessly optimistic. Seoyeon, she introduced herself. Just Seoyeon. There was a graceful informality about her, an inviting warmth. Lee was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. She drew everyone in with her happiness, it was infectious. Even in his dark line of work, Lee couldn’t help but smile when he was with Seoyeon. The two even took a trip to the village his grandparents grew up in, paying their respects to the family. A year later and she was Lee Seoyeon. She was the only person to call him Jihyun. She insisted Lee was too formal, that he was too formal. He didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of the end. The older members at the Agency watched Lee with a cautious eye; a family in the Agency wasn’t fair, not to the agent and not to the family. Most troubling to them, however, was Seoyeon’s seeming complete lack of family. In Korea that was nearly unheard of. There were only certain circumstances that would warrant the existence of someone like Seoyeon in South Korea without a family, without an identity to speak of; none of them were particularly good, and Seoul was being as tight-lipped as ever. When Lee’s section chief tried to inquire, the only response that Seoul gave was that Seoyeon was important. A relationship was trouble. A relationship with someone important was extra trouble.
Life couldn’t have been better for Lee. The years blended together and Seoyeon didn’t ask much of his job. Officially, Lee worked for the State Department and was often away on political missions. It was standard policy not to tell your family you worked for the Agency. It could be used against them, against you. Lord knows there were plenty of people that would seek to do Lee harm if they knew of his family, if his family knew what he did. Operational Security was important. For those years all Seoyeon knew was that her Husband worked long hours, that Jihyun was a part of a life that she could never touch. There was something about him always closed off, always secret. It caused tension in the family; arguments, fights, desperate late nights worrying and crying and pleading for Jihyun to come home. He hated the name Jihyun. Every time she said his name, choking back the tears, it tore him apart inside. She wanted him to retire, to settle down in Seoul with her. It was a nice plan, but unrealistic. He couldn’t tell her about the faces he saw at night, of the men he had killed, of the men he had tortured.
It took him awhile, but Lee learned that the War on Terror wasn’t necessarily always kept in the Middle East. He learned that when a man with a black bag over his head was drug into his safehouse in South Korea. He learned what the War on Terror really meant when he watched the South Koreans brutalize the man under his and the CIAs careful instruction. It turned out the man didn’t even know anything; he wasn’t a terrorist, just an Iraqi in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fighting continued with Seoyeon. Then his drinking started. He couldn’t shake the nightmares, the faces, the screaming. Then his daughter was born. She was beautiful, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Lee considered his daughter, Se-ah, to be the only good thing he produced. It was a truth he still held to this day. Of a life of sin, murder, and destruction, Se-ah was pure. When Se-ah was born, the nightmares stopped. Even his Section Chief celebrated. They were out all night drinking Soju when the news broke. For two months, Lee had no work. He was allowed to bask in the birth of his daughter and tend to his wife. That changed. All things change, eventually, and everything that is good in life doesn’t last.
Lee returned to work with a renewed purpose, a renewed vigor. There were no more fights with Seoyeon who was too distracted raising Se-ah. They lived like that, peacefully, for another three years. Lee continued to kill but they didn’t haunt him quite so much. There wasn’t enough time for nightmares when he was waking up to the sounds of a baby crying, and when she grew older, the sounds of a scared child wanting to hold her mother and father to scare the monsters that had invaded her dreams away. Life wasn’t ideal, but it was good. Another year and Lee would be able to have a clean break from the Agency. His section chief had promised as much. It was what Seoyeon needed, it was what Se-ah needed. What he needed. One more year and he would take them back to the States, take them to live with his Mother and Father in California. He would put this killing behind him, this life of violence and depravity. He even quit drinking, for a time. One month until retirement and Lee was tapped again. This time it was by the South. The Koreans needed someone with his skill, his expertise. He didn’t want to do it. Chief O’Brien even told him he didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t until he saw the target that he had agreed. A notorious North Korean, a man who was responsible for a slew of murders in South Korea. He killed three of Lee’s friends over the years, and Lee would be lying if he said he had not desired revenge when he took this task.
The job went as well as could be expected. Lee couldn’t understand why everyone had such sour faces when he returned. He offed the guy in Thailand. A real simple operation. He just pulled up alongside the targets car and used magnets to attach a bomb to it. One explosion later and the North Koreans were short an assassin. At headquarters, however, everyone seemed to be avoiding his eye. They all had guilt on their faces. They all looked like they wanted to say something but couldn’t. He didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until he felt a hand upon his shoulder. His first instinct was to tense, but then he heard O’Briens voice.
“It isn’t good,” O’Brien Said, voice low and tense, “Lee, there was an attack. No one saw it coming.” Lee was confused. He had not seen any indication of an attack during the flight back to Seoul. There was nothing on the news, nobody at said anything. His confusion was apparent on his face even when Saul O’Brien led him to a conference room. Normally they interrogated prisoners there, but it was also one of the only rooms with absolute privacy. A Korean man stood there, body prostate in a full bow before Lee. His fists were clenched, balled up, and it was obvious he had been crying recently. What was hit? What was lost? Was this man the victim? Lee had so many questions, but none of them had been the right question.
”Regretfully I must inform you that your daughter, Lee Se-Ah was killed earlier this morning.”
The words became dulled. The entire world became dull. Emotions cycle through Lee without control; sorrow, anger, rage, sorrow, anger, rage all in a carrousel of never-ending agony. Lee couldn’t focus. Everything else Saul and the Korean tried to tell him seemed to be a blur now. Seoyeon was in the hospital. Se-ah was dead. This man, this sniveling man had been in charge of their protection detail. What protection detail? How had he not noticed? His sorrow dulled his sense. If he were in his right mind, Lee might have killed the man in that room right there. Part of him could not believe the words he was hearing. Seoyeon, Se-ah…The things that were most precious to him. It hurt worse than any bullet could. It turned out Seoyeon was the daughter of a rather high level North Korean defector. Her father had been assassinated previously, leaving Seoyeon alone. It was why she spoke in such a funny manner, Saul explained. The South Koreans gave her a new identity and decided it was for the best to keep her completely anonymous. There was a leak in the agency, Saul said, and nobody knew who the mole was. It was a nightmare. That was the first night since Se-ah was born that Lee had nightmares. He should have been there, should have stayed with his family. He could have protected them. He should have protected them.
The next day he went to the hospital. Seoyeon begged his forgiveness. He begged her forgiveness. Neither one of them could honestly look the other in the eye without feeling a twinge of blame. It tore at the fabric of their relationship. Worse still, Lee was papered out early. Saul figured with everything that had happened, Lee would want to go home. Lee wanted revenge. The South Koreans wanted to keep it quiet. The CIA wanted to keep it quiet. It was a matter of saving face, it didn’t look good when things like this happened to the relatives of CIA Operatives. It didn’t look good when North Korean defectors were attacked, either. Seoyeon didn’t stay with him for long. He drank often, almost constantly. They didn’t argue, rather it was the silence that did them in. Marriages do not often survive the loss of a child, and Lee was no exception. Seoyeon was safe, at least, in the United States. But, Lee still wanted revenge. It was that revenge that led him to a place he never thought he would go, a place he never thought he could go. It was meeting Seoyeon that ultimately changed the course of Lee’s life. If he hadn’t have met her, he probably would have been recognized as a hero. Revenge had a funny way of festering, of boring deep into someone’s heart. It was a beast that Lee knew only one way to feed, but without the CIA Lee had to turn elsewhere. It was personal, this time. The CIA had let him down, had let his family down…The same could be said of South Korea. Lee would have to look elsewhere for support, and he knew just where to find it.