Chasing The Winter Moon ♥
Pairing: Moon Jae Shin / Goo Yong Ha (GeolRim fic)
Post Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Overall Rating: Probably NC-17
Requested by: hoshiko_malfoy
Summary: Following an epic scandal at their university, two master scholars search for their own meaning of love.
“He makes me doubt myself, Yi Mae-chang,” Goo Yong Ha complained to the gisaeng pouring him a cup of soju bitters. “There are times when he looks at me and I forget that I am a man. Tell me! Is that right? Shouldn’t I argue to him that he should take himself off someplace so I can never see him again? It reasons that without him near, I would retain my manhood and not quiver like a young girl when I see him.”
As if to spite him, Hanseong’s twilight skies were clear and bright although a storm lurked on the horizon. The tea house’s windows were open to let a rare warm winter breeze clear the often smoky rooms and a brave cricket chirruped in a cluster of river rushes. A faint wind carried in the scent of the river, a fresh clean fragrance perfumed with the tang of the nearby lemon grass and Yong Ha sighed, hating that the fragrance reminded him of his wild obsession.
Beyond the tea house, a group of children were playing in the street, dodging a little girl screwing her eyes shut while they shouted out where their other playmates were standing. A splash of red fabric winked from the young girl’s clothes, her dress tie bright against the duller grey of her outer robes. She shrieked when one of her companions touched her, a slightly older little boy intent on distracting her. Her shrill yelp turned to hiccups and then laughter as the boy tried to cure her of them.
Frowning deeply, Yong Ha turned his attention to the woman serving him, her extraordinary beauty leaving him as unmoved as the warm alcohol simmering on the brazier. By all accounts, Yong Ha reasoned he should be happy — at least mildly content but the ennui he carried in his heart continued to plague him despite the world’s attempts to cheer him up.
“What is it, Mae-chang?” He prodded the fire with a long metal poke. “Tell me, why do I allow myself such nonsense when there is so much more to life than to worry after him?”
“I am but a gisaeng, my lord,” She said, bowing her head. Her elaborate hair weave jangled as she moved, strings of metal butterflies engaged in aerial battles with the jade cherry blossoms on her hair pins. “I could not imagine having the wisdom to counsel you.”
“You damn me to my ignorance then,” Yong Ha quipped, a wide vulpine smile transforming his cold features. “And don’t tell me tales about gisaeng and their lack of wisdom. My grandmother was a gisaeng. I’ve never met a more formidable and fierce woman. I am certain my grandfather passed away just to escape her. If he’d known how the world could tremble at her touch, he wouldn’t have paid out her contract and married her.”
“Your grandfather sounds like a wise man, my lord,” Mae-chang murmured, folding down onto her shins to sit besides the reclining scholar. Her dress rustled as she moved, the yards of iridescent fabric shimmering in the soft lantern light.
She studied the young man sitting next to her. Long-limbed and pretty faced, Yong Ha was a favoured patron for many of the women at Jade Carp but none held his attention for very long. With his brightly coloured clothes and generous nature, Yong Ha was easy on the eye although at times, hard on the heart. He sampled and flitted, a teasing rogue whose smile never reached his eyes that left each of them a little heartbroken when he carried his affections to another.
Yi Mae-chung knew she would be one of those women she’d heard whispering longingly about Yong Ha. She forestalled sleeping with the scholar for as long as she could; sipping cold water to calm her arousal when he whispered naughty things in her ear as they watched an opera performance or biting the inside of her cheek when his sensual mouth skimmed over the soft skin of her neck.
Catching Yong Ha’s sidelong glance at her face made Mae-chung’s heart stutter and she methodically recounted the number of spices she used in making the delicate tea one of her older patrons preferred. She’d reached the fifth ingredient when one of Yong Ha’s skillful hands touched the small of her back, his fingertips working wide massaging circles over her spine. A dip into the cleft of her back and she was undone, tightening the cross of her legs to stave off the tingling sensations running down her belly and burying into the curl of her womanhood.
“You never press me for… more company, do you?” Yong Ha inched forward until his breath warmed her hands. “Why is that? Don’t I please you?”
Mae-chung knitted her fingers together and slowly inclined her head to stare haughtily down at her patron, steeling her voice lest her trembling gave her away. “You please me greatly, my lord. I was under the impression I was someone you spoke to as well as someone you thought desirable.”
“You are, Yi Mae-chung,” Yong Ha asserted. “You are indeed.”
He rolled over onto his back, nearly knocking over the soju cup. Mae-chung made a grab for it but the dainty porcelain rolled away, leaving a trail of pungent alcohol in its wake. Exclaiming softly, she patted at the puddle before it could soak into the mat, focusing more on her task than the lean-bodied young man who now found her ankle worthy of attention.
“You are a distraction, my lord,” She tsked. “As well as being distracted yourself.”
“He distracts me,” Yong Ha sat up quickly, folding his legs under himself. Mae-chung folded the cloth, despairing her patron’s moods. “I am telling you, I need to change my thoughts… change how I feel! If only I knew how.”
“Who is this he that you speak of? The last time we spoke I believe you mentioned someone named Lee Sun Joon. Or do I have him confused with the other… what was his name? Kim Yoon Shik?”
“Mae-chung.” The look Yong Ha gave her would have withered if for not the twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “The Great Secret is done for. Everyone knows Kim Yoon Shik is really Kim Yoon Hee and a woman!”
“I am certain I did not know,” She said with a teasing smile. “Although I did hear something about a woman scholar at Sungkyunkwan but I did not believe it.”
“Ah, now you sound like our beloved and austere Lee Sun Joon.” He retrieved the cup from her lap and refilled it, weaving off her grasping hand. “No…no, I can serve myself. Sit there and look pretty as you lie to me about not knowing Kim Yoon Shik — now or perhaps always has been Yoon Hee — is really a woman.”
The butterflies jingled again as she nodded. “I swear I did not know.”
“I can smell a lie,” He said, tapping the side of his nose. “Everyone knew. It was the worst kept secret since… well… my affection for a certain crazy person. Only Lee Sun Joon was ignorant of it. Even the blind man who peels off the dead cabbage leaves in the kitchen knew. I’m surprised it took him — Lee Sun Joon, not the blind man — so long to find out. I knew almost immediately on seeing her.”
Mae-chung allowed herself a small smile at his boasting. The mimicry and arrogance were masks he wore and they often slipped in her presence, revealing the tender-hearted romantic Yong Ha hid from the rest of the world. When he peeked up at her from under his drawn lashes, she couldn’t help but laugh. The comical look on his beautiful face reminded her of her misbehaving little brother.
Tapping his nose with her fingertip, she said, “So why didn’t you say something?”
“Because not saying something promised to be much more entertaining than saying something,” He replied airily, sipping at the soju. “Oh, this is cold. Can you heat this up for me again?”
“Of course, my lord.” Adjusting the stoneware pot over the brazier, Mae-chung measured out a draught of soju and poured it into the heating bowl. Twisting a sprig of lemongrass into the alcohol, she stirred it carefully, allowing the leaves’ sweetness to permeate the liquid. Turning to grab the soju bottle, she nearly jumped when she discovered Yong Ha pressed up against her, nearly a hairsbreadth away. “My lord!”
“Can I count on you to be discreet, Mae-chung? From one gisaeng to… well… a descendent of a particularly frightening former gisaeng?”
“I am certain she is not that frightening, my lord. Not if she is your grandmother.”
“No, trust me on this. She is most frightening. But regardless, I need to hear you say that you can keep my secrets, Mae-chung.” Clasping her hand to his chest, Yong Ha said, “For all that we talk and banter, I feel as if I can share with you my deepest secrets.”
“You can trust me, my lord but I must ask; why not tell those you already trust?” Mae-chung struggled not to close her hand into a fist, wishing she could grab the heart she could feel frantically beating in the man’s chest. She longed to soothe it, to stroke at his face until he sighed in contentment but the furious tempo had nothing to do with her and everything to do with the secrets Yong Ha kept to himself.
“Because the one I trust the most is the one who would undo me,” Yong Ha whispered. “Promise me, Mae-chung. Promise me that I can tell you this one thing and it won’t be spoken of beyond us.”
Yong Ha’s eyes were damp, nearly frantic as they searched her face, looking for any shred of sincerity or loyalty that she might give him. Unable to speak around the lump in her throat, Mae-chung nodded, murmuring a low sound she hoped sounded like assent.
“I am in love with him, my dearest almost-cousin gisaeng Mae-chung.” Yong Ha licked at his lips, rubbing at his forehead as he tested for the fever he knew in his bones consumed him. “I have tried to forget him. I have tried to stop speaking to him but I find reasons to seek him out. I have done everything in my power to push him towards a woman — the infamous Kim Yoon Hee — because I knew he was — is — fond of her but then at the last minute, my treacherous nature dissembles and I sabotage any efforts I have made.”
“You speak in riddles, my lord. You say you love a man when I know — know in my heart and through my body as you touch me — that you love women. You live for them. You excite them with a glance and when your fingers glide over our bare skin, we cannot help but wish for more. Yet you would have me believe that you love a man?”
“A man — a singular, exasperating man — who tolerates me at best even when he professes that he loves me as a brother,” Yong Ha corrected.
“Yes, that one then,” Mae-chung replied, dismissing Yong Ha’s interjection with a wave of her hand. “You would have me believe that you are in love with him? Is this one of your teasings, my lord? Because I have not lain with you? I can tell you, you do not have to say such things to justify my interests or lack of. I have merely been waiting… the anticipation of being with you has… excited me during the longest and darkest of days.”
“Ah see, that is the jest that the heart plays on us,” Yong Ha said, a mournful note in his plaintive voice. “You wait because it excites you. I am with you because you do not try to seduce me like the others and at this time, I find myself longing more and more for my Exasperation than for a woman.”
“My lord!” Mae-chung struggled to find something to say, unable to turn away from Yong Ha yet longing to flee the room to repair her shattering heart. “I…”
“It is not that I do not want you,” Yong Ha pleaded, taking up her hands. “You are a glorious woman and any man — even my grandfather who longed never to see another gisaeng in his entire life time — would die a happy man just to have the taste of you on his mouth. I want you. My body wants you. I ache when you touch me and there are parts of my body that sing funeral songs when you take your leave of me.”
“Then what is the matter, my lord?” Mae-chung cried. “What is it that turns you from me? From women? Why then? Why?”
“Don’t cry, little cousin.” Yong Ha wiped at her tears as they fell from her eyes, dabbing at her cheeks so as not to ruin the makeup she’d put on before seeing him. “The why of it is that no matter how much my body longs for you and to be fair, any and all women, my soul and heart belong to Moon Jae Shin and he does not want them; even if he could.”
“Get out of that, Geol Oh,” Yoon Hee slapped at her friend’s back. “You will ruin the ink.”
“Ink?” Jae Shin bent back over the burbling pot. “I thought it was stew.”
“How could you think that was stew?” She frowned, picking up a stir to test the liquid’s viscosity.
“I’ve eaten what you’ve cooked,” He said, making a face. “It smells exactly like your stew. Probably tastes like it too.”
Jae Shin easily sidestepped the slap aimed for his shoulder, ducking out of Yoon Hee’s reach with a twist of his hips. Nearly knocking over a small table, he danced around its edge, keeping away from her as she chased him through the small work room.
Tiring of the game, she huffed and drew her robes in, squaring her shoulder to fix him with a glare. “I will have my revenge later.”
“I think you had your revenge when I took the first bite of your bibimbap.” Jae Shin laughed and held up his hands in surrender when she turned on him again. “Okay, I surrender. No more.”
“Good,” She sniffed, content with her temporary victory. “Now tell me why you’ve come by. I can’t imagine it was to pick food from my table considering how poorly I cook.”
“No. You have apples. It’s safe to eat those.” He plucked up one of the yellow-red fruit from a bowl and hefted himself up onto one of the work tables near her bubbling pots.
“Are you bored?” She eyed him.
While he’d cleaned up some since their rise to high-term scholars, Moon Jae Shin still retained his rebellious scruff, barely acquiescing to convention by wearing clean clothes and brushing his hair. On the surface, he appeared more of a brawler than a scholar but the others in their quartet knew better. Jae Shin could argue rings around them in philosophy and law and despite earning his teachers’ grudging respect, refused to participate when called upon. Instead he spent most of his time listening to her argue with Lee Sun Joon and Goo Yong Ha about the complex simplicities of Confucius’ teachings.
She thought of him as her older brother, as much as she loved her true brother, Yoon Shik and where others found Jae Shin’s anti-social nature boorish, Yoon Hee thought of it as armour he wore to keep others from hurting his heart. The loss of his brother weighed heavily on Moon Jae Shin and despite the King’s affection, the toss-and-tumble of clan politics plagued his thoughts. Only Goo Yong Ha seemed able to break a smile from Jae Shin’s stern countenance but lately even the rake appeared to have lost his magical touch.
“No, I am not bored,” He replied, rubbing the apple on his chest before inspecting it for bug bites. Satisfied with its health, he took a small bite, chewing at the sweet flesh. A runnel of juice rode the web of his hand and he brought it — and the apple — up to his mouth, sucking the liquid before it went any further. “Why?”
“Because you look…” Yoon Hee contemplated what to say before deciding. “You look like your skin is on too tight.”
Jae Shin frowned, turning the words over in his mind, testing them out to see if they fit. He nodded once and murmured. “I… think that’s a good way of seeing it. I would agree.”
“Is it anything you would like to talk about?”
“How is talking about it going to make it go away?” Jae Shin asked, bristling slightly.
“Because I might be able to see a way out of your problems,” She replied, sighing at his contrary nature.
“You couldn’t get out of your own problems,” He muttered, reminding her of the mess she’d made at Sungkyunkwan and the scandals she’d caused for their four. “How are you going to help with mine?”
“Because who else is going to listen to a grumpy badger like you?” They’d come a long way in their friendship, from grumpy dominance to a reluctant sharing and finally to an open camaraderie that allowed Yoon Hee to take liberties most people would fear to even suggest to Moon Jae Shin. “Sometimes you have to depend on friends, sunbae.”
“It’s my friends that have me here,” He grumbled, taking another bite of apple. “Especially Goo Yong Ha.”
“What has Yeorim done now?”
“Nothing,” He complained, bruising the apple in his clenched fist. The meat gave under his fingers, cracking the skin. “He’s done nothing. After all of these years, he’s no longer shadowing me… torturing me with his silly looks. I hate it. I keep expecting him to pop out of doorways or maybe assault me in the halls but there is nothing. It’s like seeing a ghost out of the corner of my eye only to find out it is the wind pulling at a mist. It’s unsettling.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Yoon Hee frowned at him, blowing the small fire out to let the ink cool. “Haven’t you always wanted Goo Yong Ha to give you more… space? Be less emotional?”
“Less emotional, yes,” Jae Shin argued. “Around less, no.”
“He’s abandoned you? For whom?” She stopped fretting over the ink, straightening up to meet her senior’s eyes. “Your Goo Yong Ha? Your Yeorim?”
“My Yeorim has abandoned me. I don’t like it.” A whisper escaped him and Yoon Hee almost didn’t believe what she heard. “I miss him. I hate missing him.”
“It sounds as if you love him,” She teased. “Like when you thought you loved me.”
“You were easy to almost love.” Jae Shin picked at the apple’s flesh, pinching off tidbits and popping them in his mouth. “You’re a woman. I knew you were a woman, even if I couldn’t have you. Even if you were — are — Sun Joon’s…”
“I am not his,” She declared, wagging a finger under the rumpled scholar’s nose. “He is mine.”
“Yours then. Pfah,” Jae Shin hissed. “It’s the same. You are a woman. Goo Yong Ha is definitely not a woman so I cannot love him. Not that way.”
For all of her innocence in love, Yoon Hee heard the heartbreak and longing in Jae Shin’s voice. Yeorim’s absence unsettled him and he missed the flamboyant, outrageous flirt as if he were missing a part of his own body. “And why not? If I am proclaimed a scholar — me! A woman! Why can’t you love Yong Ha? Is it so wrong for you to say that maybe — perhaps you could love someone like Yong Ha? Like your Yeorim?”
“Yes, it is wrong. For all of his flirting, he is — and always will be — a lover of women, dongsaeng,” Jae Shin growled. “And I’m not certain if he is worth risking my life for.”
Putting her hand on Jae Shin’s chest, Yoon Hee cocked her head and asked, “If love isn’t worth risking your life for, what is?”
“I have already been broken once,” Jae Shin whispered, turning away before Yoon Hee could see the emotions spilling out of his heart and onto his face. “I can’t… I won’t risk myself again. Not like that. Not even for Yong Ha. I’d rather not know I could be loved by him than know that I’d never be loved by him at all.”