Had Gu Yong Ha been the heroine of a romance novel, it would have been obvious to the reader that it was love at first sight when he first laid eyes on Mun Jae Shin. Yong Ha had always been a disobedient and bored young boy, but now that he was on the brink of taking the first tentative steps towards adulthood, his father had enrolled him in a school where he hoped Yong Ha would learn the basics of Confucian philosophy and make influential friends.
Yong Ha however had other ideas. He found all his classmates boring and stupid, with the exception of a boy his age who always sat at the back of the room and never said a word. Said boy always wore the worst clothes, his hair was a mess and the sullen look on his face spoke of hidden depth – while also scaring all the other boys. In short, he was a mystery, and mysteries caused Yong Ha’s heart to beat faster.
His patience ran out during lunch, while the midday sun stood high above them and even the teacher had given up on making himself understood over the singing cicadas. A quick bow, a bright smile and “Hi, I’m Gu Yong Ha” made for an introduction that nobody had ever misconstrued as polite.
The boy raised his head for a moment, before he decided not to answer at all. Not that Yong Ha minded; he simply threw an arm around the boy’s shoulder and beamed. “Let’s be friends. The other boys are all so boring.”
Mun Jae Shin – as the teacher cried a moment later – shoved him away without so much as a word.
“You’re like a wild horse, aren’t you?” Yong Ha moaned as they sat in front of the lecture hall from which the teacher had banished them for the day.
Jae Shin glared at him – or tried to, as much as the heat permitted him to.
“Yes, you’re a crazy wild horse. I think I will like being your friend.”
“You’re not my friend. Leave me alone.”
Yong Ha didn’t even consider doing that. “Just wait. I’m Gu Yong Ha, and I always get what I want.”
Mun Jae Shin snorted and ignored him for the rest of the day, and the next day, and the day after. But nothing he tried would deter a determined Gu Yong Ha.
“And that is how you became friends?” Yun Hui asked after a pause full of disbelief. Yong Ha could see the smirk she tried to hide behind her cup of wine. She had those little wrinkles in the corners of her eyes. Her husband’s stoic poker face only emphasized them.
“Well,” Jae Shin helpfully added. “That is how we met.”
“It’s good to know that some things never change,” Seon Jun replied dryly. The aside at the both of them was obvious, but Yong Ha didn’t really mind. He probably deserved a little mocking as retaliation for… just about everything he said to him. That’s what friends were for, after all. “However, some things do change, and I seem to remember that Professor Kim Yun Shik has an early lesson tomorrow, so he should stop drinking and return home.”
Yun Hui – or rather Yun Shik, since she wore her male disguise more often than not – raised an eyebrow and quickly snatched Jae Shin’s cup from his hands, spilling a few drops on the varnished table of the inn. She glanced to Seon Jun, daring him to stop her, and then she downed the cup in one swallow, sighing happily.
In the end, sensible Seon Jun won and cajoled her into going home, leaving Yong Ha and Jae Shin at a silent table in a noisy inn. Pity the two had become so reserved in their old age – although not surprising in Seon Jun’s case. In nights like these he really missed Seonggyungwan.
“They haven’t stopped bickering since they got married, have they?” Jae Shin remarked, more to fill the sudden silence than to have a conversation.
“Maybe that’s how they keep the fire alive,” Yong Ha mused. Time for another drink. “Please don’t tell me you’re leaving already, Geol O. I would be the most terrible friend if I let you go. You of all people need to have a little fun, my friend!”
Jae Shin’s suspicious look was more pleasing than the wine he had drunken so far. “What, no excuse about left-over paperwork or an early shift? Which I know you don’t have?” He put on his best mad grin.
Jae Shin sighed. “No, just you and your idea of fun for tonight.”
It was long past midnight when they finally left the inn. Jae Shin was hiccupping furiously due to some lovely gisaengs waving goodbye, but he moved too sluggishly to escape efficiently. Yong Ha, who clung to his arm, didn’t help either, instead he laughed uncontrollably until the inn was out of sight.
“That never gets old, you know?” he giggled, imitating a hiccup.
Jae Shin tried to shake him off, but after a decade of practice, Yong Ha had learned how to stick to him like a lucky charm if he wanted to. He just had to anticipate Jae Shin’s movements.
When his last laughing fit subsided, he noticed how warm Jae Shin felt in the cold night, and drunk as he was, he cuddled closer, rubbing his chin against the strong shoulder attached to the arm he was hugging. Their steps echoed through the empty streets before them.
“I love you, you know that?” Yong Ha suddenly thought, and somehow the words snuck out of his mouth between two yawns.
He felt more than heard Jae Shin’s chuckle. “Time to get you home.”
“I mean it!” Yong Ha protested. He lifted his head to look at Jae Shin’s reaction and felt decidedly woozy because of it. It probably was time to get home. “It’s just… seeing Seon Jun and Yun Hui together, I feel like I’m left over sometimes. Like…” the precise words were stuck to the tip of his tongue, “like how there are always losers in romantic stories. And that would be you and me in this one. Just not quite, because I always liked you most, Geol O.”
Jae Shin raised his eyebrows and looked at him strangely for a moment, after which he apparently decided to follow his original plan of getting Yong Ha home. So typical. If in doubt, press on and ignore the rest.
After that, Yong Ha forgot about time and space for a while, enjoying the pleasant closeness and the wine clouding his mind. At least until he was rudely jerked back into reality by his servant opening the door to his home and arguing with Jae Shin, blaming everything on him. “My poor master,” Yang Suk cried, grabbing his right arm to tear him from Jae Shin.
“Don’t want to,” Yong Ha murmured, startled by Yang Suk’s sudden resemblance to his nannies, who refused to take no for an answer as well. He kept talking too, but Yong Ha wasn’t listening, since what he said was unlikely to be useful.
“Stay here tonight, Geol O, like in the old days, okay?” he finally suggested as a compromise.
Jae Shin sighed. “Alright. I’m not sure I’m in the best condition to walk home anyway.”
And now that Yong Ha really paid attention to it, his cheeks did seem a little flushed and he did smell almost as much of wine as he probably did himself. Yang Suk was still not pleased, but glad that his master could finally be persuaded to leave the cold and move inside, which meant he could go back to sleep himself.
Jae Shin didn’t make so much as peep as Yong Ha dragged him towards the bedroom. In the last remnants of the crisp night air that followed them, Yong Ha couldn’t help but wonder why. Something had to be wrong with him. Maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned being jealous of Seon Jun. That could have brought back some bittersweet memories. In any case, it had been a good idea not to let him leave. Who knew what his crazy friend would get up to if he was alone?
The covers felt warm, as did Jae Shin and the soft pillow. It really felt like being back at Seonggyungwan, although they rarely shared a room then.
“The room is big enough for you to sleep over there,” Jae Shin mumbled, yawning after spreading the blankets brought by Yang Suk.
“Not really. We both know you would cuddle me into a corner sooner or later and I need space,” Yong Ha said, backing his argument by pressing as close as he dared.
Jae Shin grumbled in protest, but gave in far too easily. He really wasn’t himself today, so Yong Ha gave up on his well deserved rest and instead sat up, looking at his friend in the shadows of moonlight that stole past the papered walls.
“What’s wrong with you today?” he asked, suddenly serious.
Pretending to sleep Jae Shin had turned his face away.
“I know you’re awake, your mouth is pressed shut and you never do that when you’re really asleep.”
Sighing deeply, Jae Shin opened his eyes, still looking away. “Nothing, just a bit tired, that’s all.”
“It’s not nothing!” Yong Ha pouted. “You’ve been giving in all day, this isn’t like you.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I just didn’t mind your idea of fun today, or maybe it was just one of those days.”
“You never like my idea of fun.”
“You sure?” Jae Shin challenged. He had finally turned around and his eyes glittered in the sparse light.
In retrospect, he really shouldn’t have said that, Yong Ha thought. It was bound to go wrong in some way, with both of them drunk and a bit cranky. It didn’t help that he felt lonely and that it had been ages since he had last been taken in by an interesting woman. He was frustrated, and so was Jae Shin, although why he couldn’t tell.
Still, neither of them would have expected Yong Ha to kiss Jae Shin on his deliciously full lips. And that was exactly what he did, without as much as a second thought. Jae Shin felt like passion personified during that brief moment when their lips touched, or maybe that was just his anger.
“There, wasn’t that fun?” Yong Ha asked breathlessly after recovering his speech. Few kisses had left him this confused; his heart was pounding in his ears. More from fright than arousal, he hoped, since Jae Shin wouldn’t really appreciate that, he would… just stare at him as if he hadn’t yet understood what had happened.
“No,” he groaned finally, his raspy voice startling Yong Ha. “Now can we please go to sleep?”
For once not knowing what to do, Yong Ha let his head fall down on his pillow, where he pondered the kiss that still hung between them until he fell asleep.
Yong Ha woke up to Jae Shin murmuring nonsense into his almost naked shoulder, which had some not entirely unexpected consequences. However, he still had to piss, and so he left his room and his sleeping friend to shake off the last of last night’s drunkenness. When he returned – dressed and with a jug of water, Jae Shin was already up and waiting for him, looking even more dishevelled than usual in yesterday’s clothes.
“Sober again?” he asked Yong Ha, as if being drunk had anything to do with it. Well, it did, but not in that way. He didn’t think the question deserved an answer and simply handed over the jug of water. Jae Shin would feel like he was dying of thirst right now.
“So,” Yong Ha began while Jae Shin greedily started to drink. “I suppose we have something to talk about.”
Jae Shin raised an eyebrow. “No, not really.”
To prove his point, Yong Ha moved closed, while Jae Shin eyed him suspiciously. He waited until he drank – and pounced in him. A surprised yelp and a brief tussle later, Yong Ha had Jae Shin’s arms pinned above his head. Their eyes were locked in a battle of wills, Jae Shin’s fierceness and passion fuelling Yong Ha’s tenacity. It took an eternity until their lips met, and while it was obvious to Yong Ha that while he knew what he was doing, Jae Shin didn’t. His innocence awoke a degree of tenderness and affection in Yong Ha that he hadn’t known before. He kept moving his lips, gently at first, so that he wouldn’t scare him, but in end with as much lust and love as he could manage. He only broke the kiss because he needed to take a proper breath (and frankly, his arms were starting to hurt).
Jae Shin looked more attractive than he ever had before, out of breath, covered in water and clearly confused. Taking mercy on him, Yong Ha offered him a hand when he sat up.
“If you do that again, I will punch you.” Jae Shin croaked, but it lacked the force of his real threats, and Yong Ha was far to used to them by now. They had never worked on him, because he knew that deep inside, Jae Shin didn’t like to hurt people, much less his friends. Something suddenly occurred to him, though.
“You know,” he joked, grinning widely, “If this was a romance novel, you would be the girl.”
“I could have fought you off at any time.”
Yong Ha shrugged. “So?”
For that, Jae Shin finally pushed him away.