Chasing The Winter Moon ♥
Pairing: Moon Jae Shin / Goo Yong Ha (GeolRim fic, SKK fic)
Post Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Overall Rating: Probably NC-17
Requested by: hoshiko_malfoy
Lesson One, Two, Three, Four
Summary: Following an epic scandal at their university, two master scholars search for their own meaning of love.
Jae Shin fingered the scrap of paper slipped to him during his midday meal. Like many of the other scholars, the break in the middle of the day meant a hastily eaten bowl of leftovers from the night before and rice, with the barest minimum of panchan. He’d barely dipped his chopsticks into a dish of heavily spiced cabbage when a blue liveried page appeared at his elbow.
Meet me at the funerary. Before fifth session. — Kim Yoon Hee
After a few blustery storms, winter settled in to stay, paralyzing most of the city with an icy grip. Sungkyunkwan was not spared, sharing the city’s misery behind its frozen walls. Outside of the funerary building, icicles fought wars along a tall pine tree as the wind picked up, slashing the ice shards against one another to fill the air with a tinkling discord.
He’d already decided to duck out of the fifth session before Yoon Hee sent her note and the missive only sealed his determination to skip out on Civil Responsibilities towards the Lower Class.
The ink smeared under his touch, the paper damp from the moisture in the air. Fidgeting, he paced off in the small open space in the middle of the structure, keenly remembering the first time he’d found himself outside of the building’s wooden doors and discovered the young man he’d grown fond of was actually a woman.
He couldn’t have been more shocked than if he found out Yong Ha lusted after him.
The door opened behind him and Jae Shin slid back into the shadows, unsure if it was Yoon Hee or one of the university’s scholars coming to check on the deads’ belongings. The person coming through the door wore a gat and Jae Shin frowned, soaking into the darkness.
“Geol Oh?” Yong Ha called out, peering into the shadows. “Are you here?”
The young man was as brilliantly dressed as usual, this time in a bright violet and golden ensemble that seemed nearly sacrilegious in a place where the dead were prepared but the solemn look in his sad eyes seemed mournful enough for any funeral. Always delicately handsome, Yong Ha’s expressions seemed to border on childish until an observer got to his eyes. There was no child-like innocence behind that wicked, amber flecked gaze and his sharp tongue and keen wit often skewered many an unsuspecting scholar intent on undermining the society-savvy young man.
It hurt to look at him, Jae Shin realized. Even as the days stretched between them, kept apart by time and circumstance, Jae Shin knew every inch of skin on the man’s face and could almost feel the weight of him against his arm. So much of their lives were spent knitted together, sometimes loosely and in times of strife, tighter but Yong Ha was a constant, as much of a part of him as the moon was to the night sky.
He’d spent hours with Dae Min, listening more than talking as the young man chattered about their studies and different interpretations of philosophies. In all of the time he’d spent with the other scholar, Jae Shin often thought of Yong Ha and wondered if he would share some of Dae Min’s views or merely laugh them off as naïve prattle. The flirtatious scholar was known for his cutting wit and suffered fools only long enough to lead them into a false sense of security; more likely to prick at Dae Min’s wandering thoughts than encourage them.
Jae Shin now wondered if he’d been one of those fools.
“Yong Ha?” He took a hard look at the piece of paper with Yoon Hee’s message. Flicking the paper up for him to see it, Jae Shin asked, “Did you make him — her — write this?”
“I asked her, yes,” Yong Ha admitted. “I wasn’t sure if… I sent you a note that you would come.”
“Why?” The man narrowed his eyes and stalked around the low shelves piled with incense cones and scrolls.
“I wasn’t sure if… you’d be here for me. Especially if I asked.”
“When have I ever not been there… here for you? You have to lie to me now? We’ve come to lies between us?” Jae Shin’s rage took over him, turning his vision nearly red with a misplaced anger. Yong Ha was back to his old games; games he played before Sun Joon and Yoon Hee entered their lives.
For all the playful teasing between them, Jae Shin knew he was an embarrassment to the other man. Yong Ha never seemed to understand his unease at the fripperies Yong Ha embraced and as Jae Shin turned away from the more elaborate clothing the others wore in a display of wealth, the scholar seemed more resigned to Jae Shin’s wearing of darker cottons than supporting his desires. The differences of their outward philosophies hadn’t mattered at the time. Jae Shin knew Yong Ha was sympathetic to many of his causes but now Jae Shin pondered if the other man hadn’t just been humouring him, stringing him along while Yong Ha manipulated the others around them.
They would rarely meet in the open, something Jae Shin hadn’t minded at the time considering his dislike of crowds and Yong Ha hadn’t seemed to mind, fueling the wild reputation Jae Shin encouraged to shield himself from others. Being Yeorim’s Geol Oh served him for many years, affording him a respite from the demands of an aristocrat born to serve a land’s court rather than its people.
But was he just another weapon in Yong Ha’s social armory? Jae Shin asked himself. Or did Yong Ha actually have affection for him…however slight…however undeserved?
“I haven’t seen you lately,” Yong Ha snapped back. “You’ve been distant. I haven’t seen you in nearly two weeks and every time I get near you, you find some excuse to get away.”
“Do you expect me to be at your beck and call whenever you snap your fingers at me?” The simmering anger in Jae Shin’s voice erupted, growing louder with each step he took towards Yong Ha. “I have always been there for you. Can you speak the same for me?”
“What are you saying? Are you meaning that I’m not by your side when you need me?”
“I’m saying that you’re not by my side until I need you.” He retorted. “Hardly ever because you want to. Hardly never when I might want you there.”
“That’s unfair, Jae Shin.” Yong Ha winced, hearing a truth biting through the anger. “I have always been your friend.”
The pain in Jae Shin’s eyes couldn’t be masked by his gruffness and the growling scholar stalked away, turning on his heel when he nearly reached the wall. Biting at his lip, he tried to shove his temper down but it rose, a phoenix born on a bitterness he didn’t know he had. His heart burned, turning to ash the fabled bird fed upon to rise.
“You are my friend when no one is looking, Yong Ha.” His whisper cut deeper than any blade he could have sharpened and Yong Ha gasped, touching his own chest in shock. “Or when you are bored and want me to instigate something to entertain you.”
Yong Ha reeled, struck hard by Jae Shin’s harsh words. “It is that Dae Min? Is he the one feeding you these words?”
“Do you think I need someone to think for me? Do you believe that because you are not around I need Kim Dae Min to think for me? To chew my food? To pour me some tea as if I’m a simple-minded thing?” Jae Shin poked at Yong Ha’s shoulder, pushing the man back a step. “How do you think I took care of myself while you were playing around in Han In Soo? Where were you then for me?”
Yong Ha reached for Jae Shin, needing to get his hands on the other man — needing to stop the sourness flowing from Jae Shin’ s pretty mouth. “Don’t say these things. Don’t.”
“If I don’t say them now, will you listen to them later? After you’ve walked away and told yourself that I’m merely in temper?” His eyes glittered, more from tears than anger. The anguish in his chest bloomed, cutting into his heart until he felt he would bleed out from the pain. “Isn’t that always how we end? With your chin up high and your back to me as I chew over what I said that offended you?”
“Are we really arguing about this? You and I?” Yong Han’s fingers ghosted over Jae Shin’s face, touching at the light scruff on his chin. “Are we really having these words?”
“We should have had some words a long time ago,” He admitted softly. “I just didn’t know what to say.”
Jae Shin’s tears came, driven by hurt and anger he’d kept inside. Unsure of what hurt more, the pain of his breaking friendship or the fact that he wanted to cross over to Yong Ha and cup his face to kiss the sardonic twist of his mouth and say he’d never leave him.
“We’ve been friends for… more than ten years.” Yong Ha’s robes rustled as he moved. “We’ve…we have always had each other.”
“You have had me,” Jae Shin whispered. “But have I had you?”
“He said that to you?” Yoon Hee whistled under her breath, cupping her hands around a steaming tumbler. “Aish, what are we going to do with the two of you, sunbae?”
Propriety and society long tossed aside for the sake of comfort and her unconventional nature, she still wore men’s clothing while out in public although she’d gladly shed her itchy gat for an elaborate hairpin gifted to her by a shy Sun Joon. Yong Ha studied the young woman as he sipped at his own tea. They sat together comfortably, friends sharing their troubles over a steeping tea pot but his mind drifted, caught in the guileless beauty of the man who walked out on him.
“He doubts me. Me!” Yong Ha growled, leaning forward to pick at a piece of honeyed ginger. Nearly lifting it to his mouth, he instead waved it to emphasize his point. “Have I not always been his greatest champion? Who else would keep track of his points to tell him when he was about to be expelled for lack of studying? Me!”
“I have to ask, hyung,” Yoon Hee’s eyes glinted gleefully at the misuse of her honorific, knowing it delighted Yong Ha. “If Geol Oh doesn’t like studying, why is he here? At Sungkyunkwan?”
“You know him,” He replied with a sigh, balancing his chin on his fist, leaning on his knee with his elbow. “He is brilliant, Daemul. He looks wild, acts uncontrollably and belligerent but he has a kind heart and an even hungrier mind than you. Until Professor Jung arrived, there was no need for Jae Shin to attend classes and there was no one who could challenge his thoughts. All of our time here, he’s been sliding back further and further into a hermetic life and I worried for him. His place is… his natural place is to lead.”
“He is too rough to be a leader.” Yoon Hee made a face. “I love him. He is a brother in my heart but he would be a horrible leader. He is too grumpy.”
“He is grumpy because he is shy,” Yong Ha admitted, picking up his cup. “Don’t tell him I told you. For all that he loves me — and I know that somewhere in that tiny brain of his that he loves me — he will not hesitate to skin me and make a hanbok from my hide if he found out I told you that.”
“That he is shy?” She cocked her head, contemplating the possibility. “I can see that. Now that I know him better. Before… long time before… I was too scared of him to believe that but now, I can see that.”
“He hides, like a wounded badger lurking in his lair and when someone comes near, he strikes out and draws blood.” The man sighed. The years of his friendship with Jae Shin were marked with sporadic tempers and misunderstandings, all eventually swept to the side by Yong Ha’s willful ignoring of any bad behaviour until Jae Shin gave in.
Did I make you like this, Geol Oh? He thought suddenly. By not demanding you be with others… by being selfish and wanting you to be only mine, have I condemned you to a life of loneliness and regrets? Have I cut short your happiness only to preserve mine?
“You should have named him osori.” Yoon Hee’s voice startled Yong Ha from his thoughts. He blinked at her twice and she said slowly, “Badger. You should have named him badger instead of Geol Oh.”
“Ah but see, Daemul, a badger — however fierce — is not beautiful. A horse — especially a wild one — is.” Yong Ha smirked, remembering the day he’d bestowed his best friend’s nickname. “And if Moon Jae Shin is one thing… it is beautiful.”
“So what are you going to do then?” She pressed. “This person — Kim Dae Min — is he the one who has started the rumours that you and Jae Shin are lovers? Or at least one of you wants the other? It’s very complicated. Too many half-whispers and not enough evidence to follow back to the source.”
“Those are the best rumours,” He admitted. “Should I be worried for Jae Shin in this? Do I have to shore up his reputation?”
“It does not help that he slept in the same room as me and never knew I was female,” Yoon Hee pointed out.
“He knew before any of the rest of us,” Yong Ha said then tapped his cheek with his index finger. “Well, I suspected but he knew.”
“How?” She glared at the man suspiciously. “You never told me that.”
“He hiccups when he’s around women,” Yong Ha said smoothly, skillfully omitting the revelations Jae Shin experienced while peeking through the funerary building’s doors. “It’s a horrible affliction. One he’s had since we were children. Even his mother — rest the spirit of her in peace — made him lurch and gasp. I thought it would go away as he got older but sadly, no. It’s why I’ve never been able to get him to one of the tea houses and into a gisaeng’s arms. It’s why he’s….”
Yong Ha shut his mouth, pressing his lips together tightly. Curious, Yoon Hee moved forward, narrowing her eyes to peer into the man’s face. He refused to meet her gaze, only gaping at her in surprise after she pinched his arm.
“Aish, see what habits you learn when you share space with Geol Oh? That hurt!”
“After everything that we four have been through, you would not share that secret with me?” She asked, pinching at him again. “Tell me. Or I will pluck out the embroidery on your jacket like a spider needing silk for its web.”
“You are a vicious, wicked thing.” Yong Ha whined, leaning back to take himself out of her attack range. “You must swear that no one else will find out.”
“Who would I tell?”
“”Lee Sun Joon,” Yong Ha pointed out.
“Alright, so I would tell him but shouldn’t he have the right to know as well? Everything we are is laid open to each other. It is something we all should know.”
“If I tell you and you tell him, then I will have company when Jae Shin burns my body to ash,” He murmured. “Because he will kill us all.”
“I promise. We will die next to you,” She swore, rising to her knees and inching closer to the man. “Now tell me.”
“For all of his wildness — our Geol Oh,” Yong Ha whispered, careful to keep his voice as low as he could lest someone passing hear him. “Our wild horse is still untouched. He has never known… the touch of a woman and probably… never will.”
The gambling hall Jae Shin fled to was a far cry from the elegant tea houses Yong Ha preferred. Here there were no beautiful gisaeng to fill his cup with warmed soju and the gentle whispering banter of cultured young women was absent, replaced with the hoarse mutterings of low-breasted women calling out to passing men in the hopes of a quick dally and coin.
Pushing past the rough cotton curtain strung across the entrance, Jae Shin tossed up a coin to the man behind a low counter, demanding a bottle of whatever his money could buy. He carried a ceramic jug to a darkened corner table and sat down hard, the chair rattling beneath his weight. Pulling out the cork stopper, he stared at the nothingness in front of him, blinking when the world turned to a watery shimmer and wiping at his face when his lashes grew too wet to hold back his tears.
He didn’t look up when someone else came through the curtain. Too far away from the door for the escaping heat to be much of a problem, he ignored the shouts of displeasure coming from the bartender at the man standing in the threshold. Jae Shin was on his third mouthful of gut-stabbing soju when the shadows surrounding him deepened. Growling, the scholar tossed his head back, ready to tear into the person hovering over him when he recognized Kim Dae Min.
“Hyung.” Dae Min crouched next to Jae Shin, pulling up his long sleeves and coat to avoid ruining his clothes on the dirty floor.
“Get out,” Jae Shin muttered, jerking his head towards the door.
“Are we back to that then?” He asked softly. “Have I done something to earn this anger?”
While showing a calm and placid demeanor towards the man, Dae Min’s inner voice screamed in frustration. He’d caught wind of Jae Shin’s meeting with Yong Ha and the rumours began to seep through the university before he could even make it out of the front gate to find Sungkyunkwan’s rebel. He’d heard everything from a reconciliation between the two scandal-weary friends to a raging battle where one had struck the other dead; the victim varying from person to person.
Once outside of Sungkyunkwan’s walls, Jae Shin’s trail was even harder to find. The man seemed to be liquid shadow, disappearing from notice between a blink of an eye. After three false starts, he’d finally found someone who saw the shaggy-haired aristocrat duck into a gaming house, coins jingling in the pockets of his loose jacket.
One would think it would be easy to find someone that pretty walking through a crowd of peasant, Dae Min muttered to himself as he browbeat a stall owner for information. Just because he dresses like cheonmin, doesn’t mean he can pass for one.
His relief at finding Jae Shin increased when he spotted the man’s stormy countenance. No reconciliation bred anger and a furrowed brow, not even for the infamous Geol Oh. Forcing himself to calm his nerves before entering the main room, Dae Min gave the bar attendant a withering glare before going to Jae Shin’s side.
“I don’t want company,” Jae Shin muttered. “Not even yours.”
“This…” He waved his hand, encompassing the gaming hall in his derisive gesture. “This is not the place for someone like you.”
The man’s explosive snort was bitter and heavy. “How do you know where someone like me belongs? How do you even know what makes me that someone?”
“Because I have spent time with you, no?” Dae Min nearly recoiled as something chitinous and scary skittered past the table, its weaving body chittering on legs too many for him to count. “Please, hyung. Let me take you someplace where we can talk.”
“I told you,” Jae Shin slurred, drawing out another mouthful of raw soju. “I don’t want to talk.”
“Then we don’t have to,” He murmured, tentatively reaching out to rub at the small of the man’s back. Unlike other times, Jae Shin didn’t flinch and Dae Min nearly laughed with the sheer satisfaction of it. The feel of Jae Shin’s warmth under his palm excited him, sending tingling reverberations through his body and down to his shaft. “Please, hyung. Being here, in this place with you, makes me fear that you will stumble out into the cold if I leave you. And if you are too drunk, you will die out there. It is that cold and I fear for my hyung in this.”
“He hurts me, you know,” Jae Shin murmured, turning the bottle around on the table. The stoneware guttered the wood, leaving behind circular scrapes and exposing the grain through years of grime.
“Who? Me?” Dae Min asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
“Yong Ha. Goo Yong Ha.” He banged his fist on the table, proclaiming the man’s name loudly. The people around him barely raised their heads to look towards the disturbance, long used to drunken screams and shouts. “He does his best to hurt me sometimes… or rather, does very little at all and hurts me the deepest…without even trying.”
“Your Yong Ha?”
“Mine? He is a whore, flitting about to anyone with coin or a smile.” Jae Shin turned his head, missing Dae Min’s grin. “A centipede whore. He attacks because it is in his nature, taking out chunks of my flesh and heart with each bite…injecting me with a poison that blinds me… makes me want to go back to him because I am numb and insane. That is what Yong Ha is. A centipede.”
“I’d rather have this comparison of Yong Ha to a centipede when there isn’t one nearby to take offense.” Dae Min shuffled closer to Jae Shin, watching the ground for any further movement. “Please, hyung. Some place safe. Some place warm. And preferably with better things to drink.”
“I like it here,” He mumbled, hooking his arm around the crockery. “It’s comfortable.”
“A strong wind will come by and we will be buried under its roof,” Dae Min replied, sliding his arm under Jae Shin’s. The heat of the man’s body struck him and the sweet lemony scent of his hair filled the young scholar with a longing he couldn’t shove aside. Determined to heft the man up, he was momentarily stymied with the complication of moving a reluctant Jae Shin while hardened by his touch when the older man leaned on him.
He’d never come this close to fully touching Jae Shin’s body and he was tempted to go further, sliding his hand between the gap of the man’s jacket and explore the warm skin and muscles beneath the cotton. A bump of their hips and Jae Shin shifted, sliding his rear along Dae Min’s thigh as he struggled to get up. Keeping a tortured whimper of desire from whisking through his pressed lips, Dae Min forced himself to concentrate on getting Jae Shin to his feet, releasing the man only when he was certain the scholar had his balance.
“I don’t want to go back to Sungkyunkwan. He is there. Probably lurking in the shadows of my room to chew on my feet.” Jae Shin pursed his mouth and looked around for the soju bottle he’d purchased. “And I need to take this with me.”
“I wouldn’t mind lurking in your room to chew on parts of you,” Dae Min muttered to himself, blinking innocently when Jae Shin shot him a curious, slightly inebriated glance. “Leave that, hyung. Where we’re going, there will be better things to drink.”
“Where?” He eyed the man suspiciously, refusing to let go of his bottle.
“To a tea house I know.”
“He goes to those. Invasive creature. Wicked thing,” Jae Shin grumbled. “Centipede. I should have been in charge of the names. The ones he comes up with? They make no sense.”
“No, this is not one that Yong Ha would go to. Not many men know about this one. Only men who need…time away from life — from their carefully constructed and false lives — and from their women…they go here.” Dae Min shook off Jae Shin’s mumbling objections. “Let me take you, my Geol Oh — let me take you some place where we can be… together. Where we can be free. Just the two of us alone.”