When Song Jihyo and Lee Kwangsoo went to meet up that morning at Kim Jong Kook's gym, they were rather dubious about the entire situation. Jong Kook had outlined his plans when inviting them to meet, and it was only because he was their friend that they had shown up at all.
Once they arrived, after greeting each other, Jong Kook began to explain in more detail.
"So I called you here today because we've been having some problems on the show. The Running Men haven't been performing as well as we should. I decided we needed to do something about it, because it's not right that the guests keep on winning."
Jihyo and Kwangsoo looked at each other, then back at Jong Kook.
"We're not that bad, are we?" Jihyo said.
"I won the animal kingdom episode," Kwangsoo said.
"It's not good enough to have the occasional win. We get beaten too often. Like when Shinhwa came on the show - we lost really badly."
"I won the first day of the Shinhwa episodes," Jihyo said.
Jong Kook waved a hand. "Like I said, it's not enough to win just occasionally. We should do better as a team. That's why you're here. Running Men need extra training. You've all been getting a little lazy."
"And what about yourself?" Kwangsoo demanded.
Jihyo was also not convinced. "Extra training? Do I need that?"
Jong Kook made a face. "You could stand to be a little better, Jihyo, don't you think?"
"She really could," Kwangsoo agreed.
"And you," Jong Kook turned to him, "you could stand to be a lot better."
"Me! You're not so good yourself!"
Jihyo laughed, while Jong Kook tried not to. "Well, that's why we're all here," he said.
"Where is everyone else, though?" Jihyo asked.
Jong Kook took out his phone and checked it. "That might be a problem. Gary and Haha told me they're too busy. Ji Suk Jin told me no and hung up on me. Actually, I didn't think he would come, but it would have been rude not to ask, you know. Oh, and Yoo Jae Suk hasn't called me back. I don't know what's wrong with them all, isn't this a good idea?"
Jihyo and Kwangsoo exchanged a look. Neither answered.
"Wait," Jong Kook went on, "here's a message from Yoo Jae Suk." He held up the phone and played the message.
All that could be heard was the sound of laughter. Then: "Training, that's a good one!" Followed by more laughter.
The message ended.
Kim Jong Kook frowned at his phone in consternation, and then put it away.
"Oppa, we're here."
"Seriously, Hyung, it's better if they don't come. Think about it, Gary, Haha and Yoo Jae Suk don't need to get any better than they are. It works out better for me - I mean, for us - if they don't."
"What about Ji Suk Jin?"
"He doesn't count. He wouldn't improve anyway. It would be awkward."
Jihyo laughed again, and this time Jong Kook joined her.
"It's just a warm up run, Jihyo," Jong Kook said.
"I don't like running."
"It's because her legs are so short."
Kwangsoo sighed. "You should accept truths about yourself. It might cause some character growth."
Jihyo glared up at him. "Not all of us are built like animals of the African plains."
"Jealousy is an unattractive trait in a woman."
Jihyo thumped his arm.
"I can hit you back, you're not even really a girl!"
Finally, Jong Kook broke in. "Hey, hey, you two can stop bickering like this. We're not on camera."
"Oh, she's not like this for broadcast, she's just like this."
"I think we should start our run."
"Oppa..." Jihyo said, her tone coming very close to whining.
Kim Jong Kook was many things but immune to Jihyo looking at him like that was not one of them. He sighed. "What do you want to do, then?"
Jihyo smiled and turned to look at Kwangsoo. "I have an idea."
Five minutes later Jihyo and Kwangsoo were on the floor.
Jihyo had Kwangsoo in a headlock, her legs wrapped tightly around his chest.
Kwangsoo was screaming. "WHAT IS THIS? THIS ISN'T FAIR. I DEMAND JUSTICE."
"What was that, Giraffe? Whose legs are too short?"
Jihyo gripped him tighter with the aforementioned short limbs. Then she started giving him a noogie.
"I WANTED TO GO FOR A RUN."
"Yeah," Jong Kook said, watching serenely from the sidelines, "don't worry, we won't warm up with wrestling every day. But for today, I think it's okay."
The three of them didn't really talk to the others about what soon became their regular meetings to train. It became something just for them. Perhaps they - well, Kwangsoo, anyway - had the motive of secretly improving their skills and abilities, in the hopes of coming out on top in games or increasing their chances of gaining the ultimate prize - the coveted individual win.
Or perhaps it was just that they enjoyed spending the time together. Even when Kim Jong Kook had them meeting at early hours, or tried to make them do a lot of running.
The next time they met after that first day, there were obstacle courses at a nearby park. The time after that they met at the climbing wall. Next there was three-way tag ripping, and the time after that they played table tennis for two hours (more because they were having fun playing table tennis than for the purposes of training).
Once, and only once, Jihyo and Kwangsoo tried to teach Jong Kook how to hula-hoop. It was not a success.
They didn't bring up hula-hooping again.
The skies over Seoul were grey and there was a cold bite in the air, made worse by the light, steady drizzle of rain. Jong Kook stood near his car, looking over the Han River, with his phone to his ear.
"Hey, Kwangsoo, where are you? Did you forget we're supposed to meet for a run?"
"I just want to say that it was Noona's idea."
"Going out to drink beer instead."
There was a muffled yell as Jihyo slapped a hand over Kwangsoo's mouth and wrenched the phone from him. Quickly she spoke to Jong Kook. "It's raining, Oppa."
"Yeah, it's raining, I noticed. I'm out here getting wet."
Jihyo laughed. Kwangsoo was still flailing, his head held tightly by Jihyo under her arm.
"Come and drink with us," she said.
Jong Kook looked around, taking in the grey sky and the deepening puddles. His feet were wet.
"Yeah," he said, "Okay."
One day, shortly after the hula-hooping incident, a weight-lifting session at Jong Kook's gym had quickly devolved into a bickering session between Jihyo and Kwangsoo, which eventually resulted in an arm-wrestling competition between the two.
Jong Kook refereed as they sat at the table, muscles straining, Kwangsoo becoming increasingly annoyed at not being able to win.
He kicked her under the table.
Jihyo leaned in and sank her teeth into the back of his hand.
In the end it wasn't entirely clear who won.
But since they both ended up on the floor doing push-ups while Jong Kook stood over them using his lecturing voice, it felt like neither of them did.
It was another rainy day, even colder than the last, and Kim Jong Kook didn't even bother going to the pre-arranged meeting spot. He called Kwangsoo before he even left home.
"Hyung," Kwangsoo greeted him upon answering, "Jihyo's mother made me cookies."
"Is that so."
"And now we're eating them and watching TV under blankets."
Jihyo's voice was heard then, and Jong Kook pictured her leaning her head against Kwangsoo's to join the conversation.
"Oppa, come and join us," she said.
Jong Kook was already on his way out the door. "Yeah," he said, "but next time we seriously are going for a run."
The following week, Jong Kook congratulated himself for deciding to meet at the outdoor running track, rather than at the gym, where there was ammunition like dodgeballs and boxing gloves. And also for choosing a day when the weather was fine. Today was the day.
"Oppa, I still don't want to run." Jihyo said, looking particularly mutinous.
"Ah, Jihyo - "
"Hey, aren't I in charge here?"
She looked him up and down disdainfully. "I'd like to see you make me run."
Kwangsoo gaped. "Are you going to let her talk to you like that?"
"So you'll go for a run, Kwangsoo?"
"Sir, yes sir! I'd love to go for a run, sir!"
"That's good. You can carry Jihyo, then."
Jihyo's expression immediately turned sunny. "Yeah!"
"I don't agree to this!"
"You, don't talk to the leader like that." Jihyo launched herself at his back and he was too surprised to let her drop, hands coming up to catch her legs under the knees. She hauled herself up the rest of the way so she was seated properly on his back. She bounced happily. "Let's go."
"Seriously, it's really good training," Jong Kook said.
"But... she's the insubordinate one!"
Jong Kook looked at his watch. "I'm timing you. You should hurry and start."
Jihyo grabbed his hair. "Go go go!"
"I'm not a horse!" he yelped.
But he started trotting off down the track, anyway.
"You can run faster than that!" Jong Kook called after him.
"I don't believe my life sometimes," Kwangsoo said, as he increased his speed.
"You talk too much," Jihyo said, wrapping her arms firmly around his neck.
"And you weigh too much!"
Jong Kook smiled as he watched his protégés' progress around the field. "Ah, it's a nice morning to be outside," he said.