“… Right. You’re Lee Kang To. Even if Joseon’s people called you a devil- you, Lee Kang to, didn’t back down. If Bridal Mask is still alive, you’ll catch him. I know you will.”
Shunji knows he’s supposed to let go now so Kang To can have some space. He’s supposed to let go because he has his own sorrow to wallow in, and because, sometimes, it really is for the best that people mourn alone. At least, that’s what he was thinking minutes before.
But his hand says otherwise. He’s flustered and tired, but the grip on Kang To’s arm is unrelenting. His grip is strong, but he’s tired. Tired and hungry, wanting nothing more to lay out his futon and crawl underneath the sheets and curl up like a baby.
But his hand is unmoving, and he knows that deep down, that’s how it should be. Lee Kang To’s expression hardens, and Shunji’s half aware that the taller man might just rack up the effort to clock him square in the jaw. But Shunji has the perseverance of a bull and it’ll take more than just a few punches for him to back off and let the other man run off into the night with a busted forehead and a myriad of other bruises god-knows-where.
But the arm slackens, and Shunji loosens his grip before letting go completely. Head bowed with a look of utter defeat marred on his face, the other man stands placidly in place. Blinking away tears, he leads his best friend into the only place they both knew will be home to them for a very long time.
After dressing his wounds and eating- A joke from the heavens, really. Starved and broken, the both of them, and all they managed to hold down is some soup and a few slabs of bread.- they set out the futons in Shunji’s room and settle in. Before long, the taller of the two drifts off and Shunji’s left to watch over him as the zephyr hovers in and cools their skin.
He sees a child. He sees a child who’s had his food, his toys, his motherstolen from him. He’s hollow to the very bone, and everything is as bleak as it seems with no guiding light shining at the end of it all. Sunken cheeks, face drawn, dark rings underneath his eyes- neither dead nor alive. Everything someone like him doesn’t deserve, comes to Shunji’s mind. Because Kang To isn’t perfect, but he tries his hardest to make ends meet. This is not how it’s all supposed to end. He isn’t supposed to lose his mother and his brother in one night. He isn’t supposed to lose his first love. But the poor soul does. All three, gone with the drift of the wind. A shell left behind with nothing but a chalky complexion with skin and bones to go with it.
Shunji watches the other man’s chest rise and fall steadily, and he unbeknownstly shifts closer. The breeze picks up its pace and the rice paper shutters flap against their holdings. Shunji doesn’t pull the comforter over Kang To, but instead slips out of his own and into the other man’s. It’s like when they were younger. Hours of sparring later, collapsing right next to each other in the grass, and waking up later in tangled limbs. But this time, he doesn’t intend to have Kang To wake up to a hand over his face and a knee digging into his stomach. He positions himself as far away from the man as he can without being back in his own futon. When content, he splays his arm over the other’s chest, forming a protective shield.
Well, as protective as it could be, Shunji guesses. The air begins to chill, and even though the covers are snug, the icy feeling seeps into Shunji. He pulls the cover to their chins, and puts his arm back where it was. Finally satisfied, he tries drifting off himself.
It’s later in the night that Shunji realizes that Kang To was never asleep to begin with. And neither is he, as Shunji knows that he can’t afford to wake Kang To up with screams from his nightmares regarding his dead brother. And Kang To himself probably has images of charred bodies burned into his own retinas. Sleep is an afterthought, but Shunji was tired. So, very tired. And cold. He should have closed the damned shutters beforehand.
But he feels Kang To turn over and face him. He pretends to sleep as he feels the latter’s intense gaze burn into his throat. He thinks that maybe Kang To will slip away and let him sleep into his terrible dreams and find a place where he too can have his nightmares in peace. The thought causes a heaviness to press against his chest, and he unwillingly lets a tiny frown crease into his features. He feels Kang To shift again, his arm moving along with him, and thinks that this is it.
But instead of getting up, he gets closer. Close enough that Shunji can let his eyes flutter open and see Kang To’s chest pressing against his nose. An arm encloses him from behind and he feels his own arm tighten around the man’s back.
The chill persists, but this time, Shunji doesn’t feel it. And he thinks, neither does Kang To.