It turned out that there were no less than five Blue Messengers, working in concert. So-hoon and Min-hwa were concubines of the new Minister of War. There was also Jung-sook, the second wife of the Minister of Personnel. The last two Blue Messengers were So-hoon’s mother and aunt. The mother was frail and limited herself to posting bills on doorways, but the aunt was extremely hardy and the best rooftop-jumper of them all. None of them could write worth a damn.
Moon Jae-shin learned all of this during his second meeting with So-hoon. She had waited for him to catch her on a rooftop during his evening shift, then handed him a message that she had composed herself and demanded that he correct it for her. She wanted, she said, to make sure it was properly written before she went to the trouble of copying it out on several hundred more pieces of blue paper. While he wrote, trying not to let the occasional hiccup disturb his handwriting, she told him all about the Blue Messengers. It was much more information than he had really wanted to have.
After he shoved the pamphlet back at her, So-hoon asked if she might bring her sister-concubine Min-hwa along to the next class.
Jae-shin stared at her. “This is not a class,” he said. If Jae-shin had wished to become a teacher, he would have stayed at Sungkyunkwan with those punks Kim Yoon-shik and Lee Seon-jeon. He didn’t want to see poorly-written handbills flung from the rooftops of the capital, that was all.
“How would I know,” retorted So-hoon, “never having been to one? But we have things to say, and someone has to teach us how to say them in such a way that the men who run this nation will listen.”
The Blue Messengers did have things to say. They were extremely angry about the corruption that allowed powerful ministers to drive hard-working families into bankruptcy, then take advantage of others' troubles for their own selfish gains - by, for example, taking their daughters as concubines to pay off their debts.
In principle, Jae-shin strongly agreed with their complaints. Moreover, it would certainly be hypocritical for him, Moon Jae-shin, to tell anybody that they should not run around on rooftops and risk their lives to make a better world than the one they lived in.
In practice, Jae-shin was very certain he had not volunteered to hiccup his way through secret, extremely illegal meetings to teach the concubines of powerful Noron ministers how to compose pointed political epigrams.
And yet, somehow, the next week, he found himself back on the rooftop where So-hoon and Min-hwa waited, with brushes in their hands.
The following week, Jung-sook was there as well. The week after, it was So-hoon, Min-hwa, Jung-sook, and So-hoon’s aunt. “How foolish can you get?” demanded Jae-shin, in great exasperation. “You go out one by one, fine. But when all four of you come out together, how can it not be noticed?”
“Our lives have not had so many opportunities in them,” said So-hoon’s aunt, “that we can afford not to seize one with both hands when it comes our way.” She held up her brush, gripping it fiercely like a kitchen cleaver. “To make others understand the wrongs that fire my heart, I’ll gladly risk death.”
What could you say to something like that? A person who was quick with their tongue -- Gu Yong-ha, for example -- might be able to come up with a retort. Jae-shin hiccuped miserably, and rolled out the sheet that he had prepared listing the most significant radicals in hanja.
His preoccupation did not go unnoticed. Jae-shin woke bleary-eyed one afternoon to find Gu Yong-ha leaning elegantly on the doorframe of the room Jae-shin occupied in his father's house. Seeing Jae-shin awake, he came forward, flipping open his fan.
“I seem to recall that last month, you were only on night duty one day out of five,” he drawled. “The rest of the time you lived in the daylight, like a human. You looked so well-rested, I almost couldn’t recognize you. But now!” He snapped his fan shut and leaned down to tap him on the chin with it. “Unkempt, sunken-eyed, and extremely close-mouthed -- ah, there’s the Geol-oh I’ve known for so long.”
His mouth smiled. His eyes didn’t. Jae-shin grunted and rolled over. If Yong-ha heard about his predicament, he would laugh so hard he fell over. Still, there was nothing to be done; the Blue Messenger’s secrets were not his to share. Yong-ha had lived with frustration before. Jae-shin was pretty sure it wouldn’t kill him this time, either.
Yong-ha sat down on the pallet next to him and rested his arm on Jae-shin’s side. “It can’t be that you’re so eager to make yourself beloved by your colleagues in the guard that you’d take on extra shifts,” he mused, as if to himself. “You hate them and they mistrust you. So if you’re taking additional night duty --”
Jae-shin rolled back again, dislodging Yong-ha’s elbow. “We said we weren't going to meet until yu-shi.”
“Did we?” said Yong-ha, lightly. “I thought we said shin-shi. My error.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Should I wait while you dress?”
Jae-shin snorted and dragged his blanket up over his head. Eventually, Yong-ha sighed and went away again. When Jae-shin went to the gambling house at yu-shi, Yong-ha had left him a message: he had pressing business in the merchant’s district, and would have to meet with him another time.
The next time Jae-shin met with the Blue Messengers, So-hoon said, “My mother wants to attend a class.”
“...All right,” said Jae-shin, warily.
“My mother can’t climb,” said So-hoon, “so we’ll have to meet in a secret room on the ground somewhere.”
“All five Blue Messengers in a room on the ground somewhere,” said Jae-shin. “Yes, that seems wise.”
So-hoon’s aunt smacked him over the knuckles with the end of her brush. She still could not properly form the character for ‘righteous conduct,’ but she seemed to take a great deal of joy in wielding her writing implement for all the ways it had not been intended. “Don’t be rude,” she snapped. “Does a person who is able to jump on a rooftop deserve more learning than a person for whom all this leaping about is not possible?”
Jae-shin looked down at the inky smear on his knuckles, and sighed. He didn’t know why these Blue Messengers should think he was possessed of a complete knowledge of the secret rooms available in Hanseong. His entire strategy as the Red Messenger had centered on the inability of city guards to enter Sungkyunkwan. It had also relied heavily on making as little noise as possible, a goal that was significantly harder to achieve when teaching a class, especially one that included So-hoon's aunt. “I’ll see what I can find,” he muttered.
The next day, he caught up with Gu Yong-ha in the marketplace. “I need a room that won’t be found,” he said, without preamble. “It needs to be easy to reach. Ground floor. Not a basement.”
“Tell me why.”
Jae-shin said nothing.
“Well, then,” said Yong-ha. He picked up a piece of yellow silk, draping it thoughtfully over his arm. “It sets off my complexion nicely, I think. I won’t ask you what you think of it, because your opinion would be wrong.”
“There’s nobody who knows the city like you,” said Jae-shin.
“Some people,” said Yong-ha, “could not wear this color.” He folded the fabric carefully into a square. “On them, it would be tacky, I agree. On me -”
Jae-shin reached out and grabbed his wrist before he could twirl off. “Gu Yong-ha,” he said, and looked straight into his eyes. “I need this from you.”
Yong-ha met his gaze. His mouth was a set line. Still, after a few moments, he murmured, “There’s a warehouse my father sometimes uses near Namdaemun. It’s empty now, waiting for a delayed shipment of lacquerware.”
Jae-shin frowned. “Does it belong to your father?”
“You needn’t worry, Geol-oh,” said Yong-ha. He patted Jae-shin’s shoulder with his free hand, elaborately condescending. “It’s a communal warehouse. My esteemed family and my precious person will be placed in no particular danger from whatever cause you’re risking your skin for today.”
Jae-shin nodded, and let go of Yong-ha’s wrist. “Let me know if the lacquerware comes in before next week,” he said, and added, by way of thanks, “The silk is nice.”
Then he left. He felt Yong-ha’s eyes on him as he went.
Four days later, in the warehouse by Namdaemun, So-hoon's mother set her cane aside so that she could clasp Jae-shin’s hands between both of hers. “Thank you for your kindness to my daughters,” she said, tears in her eyes, “and for your warm heart, which fights for justice.”
This was worse than the aunt and her brush. Jae-shin muttered a thanks under his breath and hastily reclaimed his hands.
He got his breathing under control, then looked around, counting heads. “Are So-hoon and Min-hwa not here?” He found despite himself that he was irritated by this. There was no reason this should be; he himself was the one who had told the Blue Messengers that it was risky for all of them to come to each class at once. If So-hoon and Min-hwa had finally decided to take his advice, he should be glad.
Still, they had said they would be here. He had written out his notes accordingly, doing his best to prepare more advanced exercises to suit their higher skills. If they didn’t plan to attend, it would have been polite to let him know in advance.
“I’m here,” said Min-hwa, slipping in the doorway. She was the quietest Blue Messenger, generally preferring to let So-hoon speak for her, and she flushed with embarrassment whenever Jae-shin looked at her. Jae-shin suspected that her family was of a higher rank than So-hoon’s, and she wasn’t used to speaking to men at work and in the marketplace the way the others were. Now she addressed her remark to So-hoon’s mother, rather than Jae-shin. “So-hoon is coming over the roofs. She wanted to drop some messages by Deoksugong Palace before coming.”
Wonderful. Now, Jae-shin was not only annoyed by So-hoon’s tardiness, but anxious in case she’d been caught by the guards. He’d told his colleagues that he’d received a tip that the Blue Messenger would appear over Bukdaemon tonight, in the opposite direction of Namdaemun, but they could easily choose to disbelieve it.
It occurred to him to wonder if this particular situation was a curse laid on him by one of the many teachers whose classes he had skipped throughout his years at Sungkyunkwan. The thought was not a comfort.
“We’ll begin,” he said, hiccuped, coughed, and reached desperately for his notes, “by once again going over the characters for ‘corruption and depravity’ -’”
It turned out this was not the correct place to begin. So-hoon’s mother did not know how to hold a brush. If she had been an ordinary young student, Jae-shin would simply have grabbed her arm and placed his hand over hers until she understood the correct placement of the fingers, as when teaching Kim Yoon-shik how to hold a bow. Given that she was somebody’s respected mother, and arthritic to boot, Jae-shin had no idea how to proceed. It did not help that So-hoon’s aunt had a very clear idea of how to proceed, which was to constantly talk over Jae-shin’s fumbling efforts to explain.
Ten agonizing minutes later, So-hoon’s mother’s first triumphant calligraphy stroke was interrupted by the sound of the warehouse door sliding open. Jae-shin’s head jerked up, but it was only So-hoon. Then he took a second look and realized that So-hoon was panting hard, the black of her face-mask soaked with sweat.
“I think I lost them --” she gasped out, and Jae-shin immediately sprang to his feet. “Wouldn’t have come -- but guards in the area, searching houses --”
And indeed, now that he was listening, Jae-shin could hear distant shouts and footsteps. He should have heard them long ago. If he’d been alone, on a mission, he would have. But the effort of trying to teach had distracted him completely, and now his inattention had placed them all in danger.
He cast a desperate glance at the back door. If they got out before the other guards arrived, most of the Blue Messengers could go over the rooftops and escape, but he couldn’t think how to get So-hoon’s mother safely away. Perhaps if he stayed to fight them off, there would be time -
As he was thinking this, the back door opened.
Jae-shin blinked. All of a sudden, the warehouse was boiling over with silks, veils, and broad-brimmed jeonmo. He blinked again, and the image resolved itself into a collection of extremely elegant gisaeng.
Jae-shin blinked a third time, hoping against hope that this time when his eyes opened he might encounter a situation that made sense. He did not. He did, however, see a face that he face he recognized: Cho-seon, who had once been the most sought-after courtesan in Moran-gak, and also the former Minister of War’s most secret weapon in the fight against the Red Messenger, and also, incidentally, a boon companion of Gu Yong-ha.
The old Minister of War was in prison, and Cho-seon in any case had rather dramatically left his employ. Still, Jae-shin's muscles tensed instinctively, bracing for a fight.
Cho-seon saw his arm lift up and gave him a faint, amused smile in response. As she glided past, she whispered in his ear, “You invited us for a celebration, to surprise your fellow guards. Sit down. We’ll handle things from here.”
Then she was past him, as were the rest of the gisaeng. At this point, Jae-shin was seized with the inevitable fit of the hiccups. When he looked up again, the Blue Messengers had all vanished in the midst of the river of swirling gowns, and the front door had just opened to reveal a dozen guards.
A veiled and behatted gisaeng took advantage of Jae-shin's confusion to pull him down and drop herself into his lap. Jae-shin grabbed at her arms, ready to push her off as gently as he could. His abdomen was already braced for another onslaught of hiccuping.
The gisaeng lifted a hand to brush aside a veil. From under the broad-brimmed hat, Gu Yong-ha winked.
Jae-shin’s stomach muscles immediately relaxed. He was so relieved that he found himself tugging Yong-ha closer instead of pushing him off, wrapping him in a close embrace. Yong-ha clearly approved of this maneuver. He squirmed around on Jae-shin’s lap, snaking arms up around his neck. Annoyingly, Jae-shin’s groin twitched with interest. This did not escape Yong-ha, who smirked up at him.
Jae-shin rolled his eyes heavenwards. You couldn’t give Gu Yong-ha a fingers-breadth of encouragement, or he would take the whole arm.
“Moon Jae-shin!” exclaimed Lee Jung-hoo. He was one of the guards that Jae-shin most disliked for his propensity to take bribes and ignore wrongdoing under his nose. In that sense, Jae-shin supposed it was fortunate that he was the one leading the charge here. “What’s going on here?”
“Ah,” said Jae-shin, “I see you’ve … found … the party.” He could hear the flat monotone of his own voice. Yong-ha had dropped the veil back over his face, which did not entirely hide his broad grin. “What took you so long to get here?”
“The party?” said another guard.
“Party!” exclaimed a third, happily.
Jung-hoo began to laugh. “Moon Jae-shin,” he said, “you rascal! We thought for sure when you brought us that tip that you were trying to throw us off the scent, and get all the glory of capturing the Blue Messenger to yourself. A party!”
“I … knew you’d think that,” muttered Jae-shin. He really should have suspected they would think that. “I'm glad you followed my clues,” he went on, forcing the words out of his throat. “You've been working hard. Please … enjoy the surprise.”
“Oh,” said Jung-hoo, leering, “we certainly will. Let’s share this celebration, Moon Jae-shin, and get along well.” He reached out towards Yong-ha’s shoulder, tugging at the gauzy collar-line of his jeogori.
Jae-shin hastily yanked Yong-Ha in close. “Get your own woman,” he muttered, in something as close to a crazy-horse growl as he could make it. Yong-ha’s body was shaking with laughter, which was extremely unhelpful. “This one’s mine.”
Jung-hoo whistled. “Listen to him! That girl must be really something!”
Yong-Ha buried his face in Jae-shin’s chest, his jeongmo bumping painfully against Jae-shin’s chin. Jae-shin felt, more than heard, his desperately muffled yelps.
Jae-shin scanned the room. All of the Blue Messengers seemed to have been whirled away by Cho-seon’s women. “We’re going now,” he announced, and stood up, dumping Yong-ha unceremoniously out of his lap. Then he reached down and grabbed his wrist, tugging him up again to his feet. “To do, uh, more private things. Enjoy the party.”
A chorus of whistles and noises followed them as they left. Nobody seemed to have a single qualm about deserting their post in the middle of the night to drink wine and carouse with gisaengs in an empty warehouse. Jae-shin really hated his colleagues.
He also hated Yong-ha, who was practically weeping with the effort of stifling his laughter, but nonetheless managed to gasp, “More private things? What kind of private things, Geol-oh?” It should have been difficult for a person who could barely breathe to sound seductively insinuating, but Yong-ha managed it.
“A private conversation,” snapped Jae-shin, and tugged him into the nearest dark alleyway. He shoved him back against a wall and stepped in close, so no one else could hear.
Yong-ha’s eyes sparked under the gauzy brim of his wide hat. “What do you think of these clothes? Do they suit me as well as they do our Big Shot?”
“What do the clothes matter?” said Jae-shin. “Whatever you wear, you're Gu Yong-ha. What are you doing here?”
“Coming to your aid,” said Yong-ha, “again. Unasked, again. How many times now is this? Even I can’t keep track, and I grew up in the accounting books. Perhaps I should keep receipts.”
Jae-shin took in a breath, and let it out again, slowly. “Should I say I’m grateful?”
“Probably,” said Yong-ha. “There are certainly ways you could thank me.” His voice made it sound like exactly the kind of suggestion one might expect a person to make when up against a wall in a dark alley, but it took on an edge as he went on: “One of them might be to start telling me when you’re planning to risk your neck. If you think I’ve got nothing better to do than to wait here every night for a week to see how you mean to get yourself killed today --”
“Following me around,” muttered Jae-shin. He should have known this, too: of course when he asked Yong-ha for a recommendation for a place to perform secret activities, Yong-ha would make it his business to find out what they were. Perhaps a part of him had, in fact, known.
“Saving your life,” said Yong-ha. “I’d thought, these past months, that you'd begun to place a value on that article. It’s very irritating to discover that I might be wrong.” He reached a hand up and wrapped it into the hair on the nape of Jae-shin’s neck. Jae-shin could feel his frustration in the tightness of his grip. “I don’t like being left out of things that are interesting, Geol-oh, but more than that, I don’t like being wrong.”
Jae-shin blew air out through his nose. Yong-ha's hold on his hair hurt. Then again, last time they'd had a conversation like this, Yong-ha had punched him in the face. In retrospect, he could concede that he might have deserved it.
He meant to go on to tell him the truth: that he hadn’t sought out this danger, not this time, but fallen into it by chance, and then found he couldn’t leave it behind. That the secret of the Blue Messengers wasn’t his to tell, and so could not be shared.
Instead, he found himself leaning over until his nose practically touched Yong-ha’s ear, and asking a question that he had spent several years not asking. “Why Ha In-soo?”
Yong-ha had not expected this change of subject any more than Jae-shin had expected to make it. “What?”
“Ha In-soo,” said Jae-shin. If they were going to talk about things that were past, they might as well talk about all of it. “You, who followed me around like a shadow for ten years -- once you got into Sungkyunkwan, you went out of your way to befriend that Noron bastard.” Jae-shin wasn’t in fact certain that ‘befriend’ was the right word for Yong-ha’s days of brilliant malice, toying with Ha In-soo and being toyed with in return. Still, it was the word he had.
Yong-ha was silent a moment. “You don't know how boring you feel,” he said, finally, “spending days and nights in fear for some crazy person’s life, all the while knowing they haven’t spared a single thought for you. I’m Gu Yong-ha. I’m not made to be boring.”
“Norons are boring,” said Jae-shin.
Yong-ha pressed a hand to his heart. “How can you speak of our righteous friend Lee Seon-joon that way?”
Jae-shin snorted, sending Yong-ha’s veil fluttering. Yong-ha carefully rearranged it. He said, “Norons, Sorons, whatever. Cruel people, though -- cruel people are extremely boring. Our esteemed student council president taught me that, if nothing else.”
“I spared a thought for you,” said Jae-shin.
This was true. He’d thought it through time and time again, during his days as the Red Messenger: of course that crazy bastard loves me. But does he love me enough to want to die? No. And do I love him so little I’d see him die? No. And does he love what’s right more than he loves his own laughter? That can't be known now, and if I like his laughter, then maybe I’d better not know it.
It had annoyed him, of course, to watch Yong-ha dance around after Ha In-soo. It had hurt, too -- but then, he had known Yong-ha meant it to hurt, so what else was there to be said? He had not been in a position to stop Gu Yong-ha from doing anything he chose, not unless he was also willing to let Yong-ha prevent Jae-shin from walking his own path of self-destruction. Which he was not. Or, at least, had not been.
But that had been a long time ago, at the beginning of everything. Before Kim Yoon-shik, and Lee Seon-joon, and the Geum Deung Ji Sa. Before the dream of a different world had become plausible enough to fight for, and to live for. Before Yong-ha’s secrets, too, were laid bare.
Yong-ha was watching him -- silent, still. Giving him room to explain at his own pace, which was a rare enough gift, from Yong-ha, though not one that Jae-shin usually felt the urge to take advantage of. He didn’t particularly want to now, either, but it seemed there were things that still had to be said. “I spared a thought for you,” Jae-shin repeated. “Still, I made mistakes. So did you. That was then. Things are different now.”
“Are they?” said Yong-ha, sweetly. “It’s remarkable how similar they seem.”
“Not to me,” said Jae-shin. He took a step back, and tilted Yong-ha’s jeongmo upwards, so he could hold his eyes. “I'm not the same, and neither are you. If this were only my secret to tell, you would have known it already. You would have known from the start.” He grinned suddenly, and saw Yong-ha blink back at him. “You’re Gu Yong-ha.”
Then he leaned forward, underneath the wide hat-brim, and kissed Yong-ha on his open mouth..
It was something of a relief, how natural it felt to be doing this sort of thing with Yong-ha. No hiccups, no nerves, no discomfort in the stomach -- at least not until Yong-ha, sliding his hands down Jae-shin’s chest, reached for his cock through his gwanbok.
If you gave Gu Yong-ha a fingers-width, he would take the whole arm. Jae-shin choked and punched him in the shoulder. “We’re in public.”
“It may interest you to learn,” said Yong-ha, “that such activities are actually much easier to hide, in public, than putting your face on another person’s face.”
Jae-shin could have pointed out that in these corrupt times, nobody would think much of a member of the city guard kissing a courtesan in the middle of the street at night. Then again, in these times, it was possible that nobody might think much of a member of the city guard receiving a handjob from a courtesan in the middle of the street at night either.
Either way, he didn’t think this was an argument that was going anywhere useful, and there were other concerns to be addressed. He captured Yong-ha’s wrists in a firm grip, to prevent his hands from wandering just at present, and said, “In the current business, can Cho-seon be trusted?”
“Cho-seon,” said Yong-ha, “has been collecting all those blue messages to hang in a place of honor on her wall.”
Jae-shin nodded. When he thought about it, this made sense.
“You could have asked her to begin with, you know -- may I have these back?” asked Yong-ha, politely raising his wrists, and Jae-shin’s hands along with them.
“No,” said Jae-shin. Trusting Yong-ha was all well and good, but in some things Yong-ha was still profoundly unprincipled.
Yong-ha laughed, and leaned back against the wall. “Oh, well. I meant to say, you do realize there’s half a dozen people who could help those Blue Messengers better than you? Cho-seon is one. Big Shot is another. If you haven’t told Big Shot about this, you really are a fool. I know!” he added, as Jae-shin opened his mouth. “It’s not yours to tell, you’re sworn to secrecy, on and on. But if you mean what you say -- if you’re not just taking risks for the sake of it, but because it’s something that you think needs to be done -- then you’ll listen to what I’m saying, Moon Jae-shin. There's others who can do things as well as you.”
Jae-shin shut his mouth. On the one hand, his heart rebelled at the idea of bringing Kim Yoon-shik into yet another dangerous situation, just when everything seemed like it was settling down at last. On the other, he couldn’t deny that Yong-ha had a point. If anyone seemed to be born for the task of helping the Blue Messengers, it was Kim Yoon-shik. For one thing, that kid actually had teaching experience.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, finally, and let go of Yong-ha’s wrists. “Let’s go home now, all right?”
“Your home,” said Yong-ha, with a smirk, “or mine?”
Jae-shin rolled his eyes and didn’t answer -- but when Yong-ha made the turning towards his own house, Jae-shin turned down the road with him.
The next week, when he went to meet with the Blue Messengers on the rooftop, Cho-seon was there too, and Yong-ha as well. This was Yong-ha’s first time on the rooftops and he didn’t take well to it. He kept sending nervous glances down towards the ground. Still, he had insisted that he wouldn’t miss this for anything. “How can I not be there,” he’d declaimed, “to generously receive the gratitude of five beautiful women?”
“Four women,” Jae-shin had said. “So-hoon’s mother doesn’t go on the roof.”
“So-hoon’s mother?” Yong-ha had said, and Jae-shin hadn’t been able to help it; he’d let out a laugh. He was very much looking forward to the meeting of Yong-ha and So-hoon’s aunt.
But of course when the time came So-hoon’s aunt was as charmed by Yong-ha as everybody else in the world. She beamed at him, and said, “I understand we have you to thank for helping us last week. What a handsome hero!”
“Oh, well,” laughed Yong-ha, edging a little closer to the center of the roof, “it was nothing, really. Simply my duty as a righteous citizen.”
“You were marvelous,” said Jung-sook, to Cho-seon. “Handling all those terrible guards so easily! I would have been so frightened without you!”
Cho-seon smiled and murmured, “Simply my duty as a righteous citizen.”
Jung-sook flushed. Cho-seon held her gaze for a moment, then shifted to So-hoon and Min-hwa. “You know,” she said, “you’re living dangerous lives, all of you. If you don’t want to stay where you are -- in the household of the Minister of War, or the Minister of Personnel -- it’s possible to disappear. Go somewhere else. Begin anew. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.”
It was Min-hwa who spoke first, this time. “I take no joy in being the concubine of the Minister of War,” she said, in her small, breathy voice. "But living in his house, we learn his secrets. The more we learn of the unjust behavior of those who claim to govern this land, the more we can make known. And the more we can make known, the more we have a chance to make things change.”
So-hoon laced Min-hwa’s fingers into hers, and gave a firm, proud nod. “If even the Left State Minister’s son, Lee Seon-joon, can take to the streets to speak out against injustice as the Red Messenger,” she said, “how can we give up out of fear for our own safety?”
Jae-shin fought back a scowl. Yong-ha said, brightly, "Oh! But wasn't it proved that Lee Seon Joon wasn't the Red Messenger?"
"Everyone knows that was just a ploy by the Left State Minister to get his son out of prison," said So-hoon. "The people will always honor the true Red Messenger!"
"Oh, of course!" agreed Yong-ha, his voice choked with throttled laughter. Then he grabbed Jae-shin’s arm to prevent himself sliding further towards the edge of the roof. "It's fine! I’m fine!”
Jae-shin was fairly sure he was going to be hearing jokes on this subject for the next several weeks. From out of the corner of his eye, Jae-shin could see that even the imperturbable Cho-seon was biting her lip. He reminded himself that it didn’t matter. Who cared if that punk Lee Seon-joon was still getting credit for the blood and sweat that Jae-shin had put in over several extremely difficult years of his life? The days of the Red Messenger were over now, anyway.
Now Jae-shin was just one person among many, working to build a better world.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been a better instructor,” he said to the Blue Messengers gathered on the rooftop. “If you want to keep learning, I’ll keep trying my hardest for you. However -” He felt a nervous hiccup gathering again, then felt Yong-ha’s hand, firm on his arm, and took a deep breath to fight it back. “If you’ll all give me permission - there’s a teacher at Sungkyunkwan I think you should meet.”