(Originally posted 23 Feb 2014 on tumblr)
Hyo-shin shoves the last notebook into his backpack as Chan-young steps inside the broadcasting room. “Bo-na already left,” he points out, just in case the first year didn’t notice that everyone else is gone. “I thought she said she was going to meet you by the front doors.”
“We are going to meet. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“You should have come earlier then,” Hyo-shin says. He slings his backpack over his shoulders and heads for the door. “I’ve got to go.”
But Chan-young doesn’t step aside. Instead, he shifts to place himself directly in front of the door. It is a passive rebellion, and a clever one at that. If Hyo-shin is going to leave the room, he will have to physically move Chan-young out of his way.
“Bo-na might like it when you get territorial, but you’re not my type.” He makes a show of checking his phone for the time. “I’m going to be late for my tutoring session.”
“Are you the person I should be thanking for not being invited to sit with Young-do today?”
“You should thank Moon Joon-young for being a more interesting target.”
Chan-young doesn’t flinch, precisely, but he does look away for a moment. Part of Hyo-shin wants to take back the venom from his words, but the rest is too busy trying to ride out the waves of guilt that have been plaguing him since yesterday morning, when he picked Joon-young for Young-do. There was nothing noble or heroic or praiseworthy in what he did yesterday, and the fact that Chan-young came here to thank him for it makes his throat burn with barely suppressed bile.
He needs the attention off of him as quickly as possible, or else he might actually have to throw up, and he would rather not have an audience for that. “Why don’t you think it was Bo-na’s doing? She is Young-do’s friend.”
Chan-young gives him a wan smile. “I’ve heard how she talks about the other social welfare students. I know she loves me, but—”
“—I’m not here to listen to your relationship insecurities. In fact, I should have left five minutes ago.” He gestures toward the still-blocked door and finds, to his surprise, that he doesn’t have to fake the annoyance that seeps into his words. It is something to cling to in order to stave off the nausea.
Chan-young finally steps away from the door.
Hyo-shin nearly leaves the room, but he pauses with his hand on the doorknob. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply. Or tries to, at any rate. His lungs feel too small for his body.
“Who do you think is worse, Chan-young? The person who hurts others, the person who could stop it and doesn’t, or the person who stops it only when it affects him?”
After a long moment of silence, Chan-young quietly says, “The person who doesn’t interfere.”
Hyo-shin smiles at the wrong answer, opens his eyes, and exits the broadcasting room.
He takes a side door so he doesn’t have to pass by Bo-na and walks home in the rain. There is an umbrella in his bag, but the cold water trickling through his hair and down his neck and back is a good distraction from his guilt.
His mother waits to scold him about his soaked shoes, muddy hems, and the dirty water he dripped on the carpet until after Hyun-joo leaves. He lies about losing his umbrella at school and promises to take more care next time. It was an accident.
(The first puddle, that is. He stepped in the second, third, and fourth simply because he could, because it sent a shock of chilly delight through him, because it was a stupid, silly, childish thing he would not dare to do if anyone else was around.
He stepped in them because, for a moment, he remembered what it was like to have fun. He buries the memory of it in his heart, out of sight, like a miser with his treasure.)
The worst part about leaving Korea, Tan writes, in an unexpected bout of honesty Wednesday night, was that it was my fault. Somehow, I found my brother’s breaking point. I still don’t know what it was, exactly, that made him decide to send me away. He didn’t tell me, and I didn’t have the courage to ask.
You’ve always been a brat, Hyo-shin sends back in an attempt to lighten the mood, because sometimes Tan’s words are weights upon his chest. It could have been anything.
I know. So does that mean he got tired of how I was acting, or did he get tired of me?
Hyo-shin decides he hates Zeus Hotel that Saturday, when his grandfather makes an unexpected announcement during the weekly lunch.
“I will be retiring at the end of the month,” he says in between sips of wine. “Chan-hyuk, I have made a strong recommendation for you to be appointed in my place. Officially, there is no word on my successor, but I doubt you will be disappointed.”
His father carefully sets down his fork and knife. “Is everything all right?”
“Your mother has simply convinced me it’s time I step down and let younger men have the chance to serve the country.” Then he looks at Hyo-shin, and Hyo-shin’s stomach drops out from under him. “After all, I can’t expect to have three generations in the office unless I give up the seat at some point.”