Thursday, July 23, 2009

[Fanfic] Schoolyard Mercenary

Schoolyard Mercenary

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“I killed him!”

Yi Jung was brandishing a sunny smile when he set his first foot on the ‘battlefield’, but hearing the impishly triumphant declaration sent him cussing under his breath. He plastered an unperturbed façade and marched on.

Ammunitions? Check. After engaging in several ‘battles’ here, he learned that it was true when they say the best form of offense was defense. His bandoleer was filled with the best bullets in the world: patience, patience, and some more patience.

Camouflage? Check. Well, at least his recent fountain wrestling with Woo Bin made it for him. He chose to wear a coffee-colored Galliano suit; with water seeping into its fabric, it got a tad darker. Any stain-inducing assault to his immaculate outfit would be more or less feckless now. It wasn’t a big deal for him if he would end up having the garment auctioned like the others, but he figured that if he was planning to live through these ‘wars’, he would have to defend his…own uniform. At least once.

“Yi Jung sunbae.”

He looked over the heads of the platoon of boisterous ‘soldiers’, and he spotted Ga Eul standing on the other end of the lot. His smile dimpled back into place for a fleeting second; it almost felt like he was going to rescue his princess from a horde of…gremlins. He raised a hand to symbol ‘stop’ when Ga Eul moved to approach him.

“Mission accepted,” he whispered to himself, straightening his tie.

And the battle began.

“I killed him!” the shrieked reiteration of victory came, arresting Yi Jung’s attention fully again. He craned his neck around to locate the source of the voice. While he knew that his smile was already an obsolete weapon (in these creatures’ home turf, at least), he never attempted to discard it, believing he could find a way to worm under these little devils’ skins with it. He flashed his movie star-white teeth now, which was answered with a mischievous set of uneven milk teeth.

“Who did you just…kill?” He actually fumbled for kid-friendly synonyms of the last word, as he thought he sounded too profane speaking it in front of a sweet little thing. He was suddenly very glad he didn’t find any: the obnoxious glint in the girl’s eyes made him think that even the word ‘kill’ was very light. He found himself searching for a more extreme synonym now.

“Him,” the girl said, wagging her index finger to her open lunchbox. Yi Jung mentally slid his first ‘patience’ bullet into his mental gun, cocking it ready. He stooped over the lunch box and found a half-eaten hamburger minus the top bun.

“You killed the hamburger?”

The girl nodded enthusiastically, plaits swaying with the gesture. “Want me to show you how I did it?”

“Sure,” he said unsurely.

The girl snatched a bottle of ketchup from a nearby table. Giggling, she squeezed the bottle and carefully drew a smiling face on the patty with the sauce, then scooped it up to show it to Yi Jung.

“He’s smiling,” Yi Jung described.

“Not anymore,” the girl laughed, and without another word smashed her palm against the food. The other kids started to gather around him and the girl, young eyes engrossed with the burger-murder spectacle.

“Stop that,” Yi Jung chided, somewhat panic-stricken. “I’m going to be your teacher for the clay modeling class today, remember? I won’t allow students with dirty hands to attend my subject.”

The child’s face convoluted in horror. “Nooo! I have to make clay grapes again! Teacher said she will help me!”

“Dirty hands, no clay class,” Yi Jung repeated.

The girl fidgeted, chewing on her bottom lip. The other kids exchanged glances and murmurs. “Ummm… If I clean my hands, I make clay grapes?”

Yi Jung nodded.

“Okay then! I’ll clean it!”

Somehow, he didn’t even flinch when the girl pressed her hands flat against his suit. It was a reflex already—the little devils had done these kinds of things before. Even worse.

The girl giggled when she started rubbing her palms up and down his front.

“Hee Young!” cried Ga Eul, marching straight towards where they stood. “Hee Young, how many times have we talked about this already?”

“Ga Eul,” Yi Jung called, once again raising a hand to stop her.

“But sunbae…”

“Kids,” he ventured with a wink. “It’s not like I’m not used to them.”

That did it.

The cluster of little creatures began rejoicing as if what he had just said was an announcement of freedom, and not for the first time since he went to help Ga Eul teach, he felt as if he was in a miniature hell…

…that was probably worse than the real hell below his feet.

Mud, ketchup, burger buns, Play Doh stains, and something really smelly and unpleasant (that he preferred not to know what) were dabbed at his suit, at his face. He felt little molars too, sinking through his suit and onto his skin beneath.

“Stop!” he heard Ga Eul yell. “Stop it! Kids! Hee Young, Sou Jung, Lee Soon! Stop!”

“Ga Eul,” he called, shielding himself from the attacks. Oh, yes. He terribly needs an SOS now.

“Stop it!”

A silly I-feel-like-I’m-in-a-zombie-movie thought sailed across his mind, and when he thought he was being dragged down to the ground, the little hands began peeling away from him.

“I. Said. Stop!”

A couple of seconds—eternities—passed. When he finally opened his eyes, the chaos was gone, and he was jailed in the arms of his all-time heroine.

“Hi,” he greeted Ga Eul with a chuckle. “You saved me again.”

Ga Eul couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “Sunbae, you’re not actually coaxing the kids with toys and sweets to…well, do this, are you?”

Yi Jung looked shocked. “You think I’m coaxing them to pound on me like I’m their favorite chew toy or something?” He unlocked her arms and scrubbed at his face. “Please. What made you think I’ll do such a thing?”

Ga Eul ducked her head, but he could still see her blushing. “You like calling me a superheroine.” It was a statement, not a question.

Yi Jung laughed, and it was his turn to imprison her in his strong embrace. “I don’t need to have an army of little monsters to torture me so I can call you my superheroine. You've already given me what I needed for me to feel safe…and saved.”

That short sentence caused a thousand memories to rush through his head. His heartbreak, his pain, the jigsaw-shaped potsherds….

He shook his head and blinked the memories away. They didn’t matter anymore because everything that matters now was enclosed in his arms. He smiled at his thought and instinctively leaned forward, letting his eyes flutter close, breathing her breath, slowly closing the distance between them and—

—plak!

He chewed his lower lip in annoyance, feeling the burger patty that was hurled at him sliding down his face. The thrower giggled from somewhere behind the bushes.

“Kids,” Ga Eul reminded him with a hint of laughter. “It’s not like you’re not used to them.”

He rolled his eyes. No, he didn’t think he was going to be used to them.

Ever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

[Fanfic] Cinderella in Rubber Shoes

Cinderella in Rubber Shoes
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“You came.”

It was a statement, but the way Woo Bin’s body arched into a hesitant posture and how the ghostly swirl of smoke from his last Red Devil stick coiled up into a question mark shape symbolically and effectively turned it into a question.

“It’s a brotherly instinct,” Yi Jung responded with a one-shouldered shrug. “I heard the Woo Bin nine-one-one alarm going off, so what do you think I should do?”

Woo Bin perched himself precariously on the fountain rim. “Stay tucked in bed, perhaps,” he suggested. “I don’t really know where you get the idea that me brooding is an emergency. Besides, a sleep-deprived So Yi Jung is no fun.”

Yi Jung chuckled and executed a mock punch that landed on Woo Bin’s jaw. Woo Bin comically turned his head to the side and convoluted his face in pretended hurt. He threw the cigarette away, permitting himself a short gulp of laugh.

“Seriously, bro,” Woo Bin said through a lopsided smile, “you need to sleep more—get some rest. Your energy’s a tad scaling down lately.”

“Says the man who did nothing during the past few days but space out and make his eye bags droop lower to his cheeks,” countered Yi Jung. “If by ‘energy’ you meant the Casanova vim, I don’t think I have plans of shooting it up back to the same level it has five years ago.”

“Serious about being stick-to-one, I see.”

“It’s one of the perks of being in love,” Yi Jung affirmed.

“Perks,” Woo Bin snorted. “Yeah, right, being in love…”

Despite Woo Bin’s attempt to keep his words from sounding too bitter, an awkward silence reigned over them to meaningfully punctuate the statements. For some reason, it felt like it somewhat embossed the emotions he was supposed to hide. Yi Jung shuffled his loafers on the pavement uncomfortably and shifted his weight to his other leg, a frown replacing the dimpled smile. He stuffed his fists in his overcoat pockets before looking up at Woo Bin.

“Correct me if I’m wrong. This is all about a woman?”

Woo Bin searched for any judgment or ridicule in Yi Jung’s face and found none. He raked one gloved hand through his hair—his automatic gesture following a foolish deed, like letting someone else know one of his deepest insecurities—and took a lungful of breath.

“What if it is?” he asked rather sourly. “Don’t tell me you’re going to give me an advice, we have the same feather.”
Yi Jung laughed. “I’ll still give you one even if you don’t want to listen.”

“You can't if don’t know the whole situation.”

“That’s why you’re going to tell me everything first.”

Woo Bin smirked. “Make me.”

That wasn’t so much of a dare. Yi Jung lunged with a half-laughed, incoherent battle cry and collided with his friend, toppling both of them backwards to plunge into the fountain. Woo Bin flailed his arms and threw jabs, but Yi Jung easily dodged each and caught him in a headlock in one swift move. Just as Yi Jung was preparing to use the leverage, Woo Bin grabbed a handful of his suit and yanked him down to splash deeper into the chill water.

“Damn it, my roll-ups are all wet now!” Woo Bin guffawed, suddenly remembering the pack of cheap chocolate-filter cigarettes in his windbreaker pocket.

“Yeah, and you owe me one Galliano suit.”

Barking another laugh, Woo Bin gave Yi Jung a playful rabbit punch, then disentangled himself from the latter’s arms. He hoisted himself up the rim.

“You’re free to take anything from my closet,” Woo Bin chortled. “But you really have to buy me a new pack of Black Bats.”

Yi Jung brushed his wet bangs away from his eyes as he emerged from the water. “You’re really exasperating, you know that? I gave you Lucky Strikes on your birthday and you still subscribe to cheap sticks.”

“The kiss of ordinary cigarettes are way too exquisite than that of luxury fags; those who think otherwise are just overwhelmed by the price. Besides, the only thing you paid for was the pack. Whoever thought about studding it with diamond and ruby is completely out of his mind.”

“I forgot how impossible it is to please you,” Yi Jung sighed, shrugging off his dripping coat. “But tell me now…who is it?”

And Woo Bin forgot how hard it was to get rid of a determined Yi Jung. The years they spent together taught Woo Bin that trying to stray away from the topic was just a waste of time; Yi Jung would never let go of a question until he gets the answer to it, no matter how long it would take him.

“Is it Miss Les Miserablés?”

Woo Bin snorted. Yi Jung has this way of giving their girls nicknames after the most notable characteristics they have or anything that could be considered their trademark. It was a shame, but the boys have to admit that it was easier that way than to remember each girl’s name. There were exceptions though—those who, in a way, touched their hearts.

As for Miss Les Miserablés...Well, he wouldn’t have remembered that American girl they met at a Victor Hugo Broadway musicale if Yi Jung hadn’t mentioned her now. He couldn’t recall the wench’s face, but he could remember Ji Hoo commenting that she was winsome. She was way too sweet for his tastes though.

Yi Jung must have read his face. “No? So…is it Miss Fashionista?”

Oh, that woman Woo Bin remembered—she was sex on legs, clad in a fabric-deprived little black dress when he first bumped into her in a benefit fashion gala last year. There was something very attractive about her, but her being too snooty was an immediate turn off.

Yi Jung climbed up beside him. “Miss Playboy bunny?”

Seriously, did Yi Jung think he would last a day with that woman? He tried so hard not to offend the blonde in saying that he preferred black-haired Asians...after thirty minutes of nonstop flirting with her.

“Miss Centerfold?”

Woo Bin arched a brow. Three days? Four? He wasn’t certain about how long his relationship had been with that French model, but it was no different from the other flings he’d had with Miss Toothpaste Commercial or Casino Girl or Lady Russian Roulette...

“Don Juan, you’re not going to let me mention every girl you’ve been with, are you?”

“All I know is that I’m not going to tell you who the woman is.”

“Give me a hint, then.”

“Look, bro—“

“Song Woo Bin,” Yi Jung stated firmly. “I can figure it out on my own. Just give me a hint.”

A sigh. “If you think I’m exasperating, I don’t know what word I can describe you with. But fine, I’ll give you a clue.”

Yi Jung flashed his dimpled beam. “I know you will.”

Woo Bin ran his fingers through his locks once more while his friend’s expectant face loomed in his peripheral vision.

“Sort them out,” he said nonchalantly, “and cross out everyone with the ‘common denominator’. The only girl who’ll remain is the…the culprit, I might say.”

He ended with a mirthless laugh, but Yi Jung drank in his every word and was now thinking hard. It took the latter no more than a minute to figure it out.

“No way,” Yi Jung breathed incredulously, eyes wide. “Y-you don’t mean…Cinderella in rubber shoes?”

It stung. Just hearing the nickname Yi Jung gave Yang Sun Byul made his heart drum painfully against his breastbone. The little event that earned her the title came rolling back in his head...

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He and Sun Byul had argued the night before that rainy Valentine’s Day. While he didn’t consider patience as an overrated virtue, he never said that he would hold on to it even if the circumstances were beyond human toleration. Or beyond his toleration. He had to admit that even if Sun Byul was kind and innocent, she was still one of the most stubborn creatures he had ever encountered. Woo Bin thought their quarrel that night was just petty, and only when he attempted to kiss her the morning after did he realize that she had been really angry. He couldn’t remember how many times he uttered apologies; he even used his high caliber sweet-talking that would normally make any woman blush. Well, she did blush…only it wasn’t because she was flattered, but because her anger meter was elevating a notch.

He left immediately not because he was fed up—he just needed to think of something that would make her anger peter out. He was driving his yellow sports car and the rain was beating hard on his windshield when he noticed a pink blur moving on the sidewalk. He squinted at its reflection at the rearview mirror and slammed on the brakes when he realized it was actually Sun Byul.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” he remembered himself rebuking her as he dragged her angrily inside the car. “Running in the rain like that—do you plan on having me hospitalized?”

Sun Byul opened her mouth to retort, but she shut it up again when his words sank in. “Having you hospitalized? Wait, I think it’s me who’s in the rain!”

“My point exactly!” he answered through gritting teeth, his viselike hold on the steering wheel getting tighter. “Do you realize how much I would worry if something bad happens to you? What if I hadn’t seen you? What if—”

The pink stains on her cheeks sent him suddenly tongue-tied.

“Sun Byul?” he asked warily.

She shyly ducked her head. “Y-you know, you better work on your coaxing skills some more. Sometimes your smooth-talking gets too cheesy…”

He gaped. “I’m smooth-talking?!”

“Are you not?” she challenged. She crossly wiped her hands on either side of her pink jogging pants in attempts of drying them up or something, but it was completely useless because the garment was also drenched with rain. With her rosebud pout and her ponytail askew, she looked like just a little girl who was scolded for playing too long in the rain. Woo Bin chided himself for not being immune to her charm, feeling his own version of fury dwindling away.

“Here,” Woo Bin said, handing her his trench coat. “I’ll get you something warm to drink once we get to the nearest convenience store.”

She sneezed twice, and when she didn’t make any move to accept the coat, Woo Bin himself swaddled her with it. It was only when he looked down that he noticed she was only wearing one tennis shoe.

“Hey…”

“I left it,” she snapped with a hint of embarrassment. “If I take more time on tying its lace I wouldn’t have caught up with you.”

Woo Bin was flabbergasted. “You went out with only one shoe?”

She cocked a timid nod, lifting her shoeless foot and wiggling her toes underneath the wet sock. “I would’ve taken off the other, but you’re driving way too fast I don’t even have a second to do it.”

Woo Bin flashed a questioning look.

“I have something to give you, that’s why,” she finally said, shooting him a curious look. “And you have my permission to laugh, no need to hold it back.”

“I don’t find anything funny,” he said honestly. “You could’ve just phoned me so I could go back, and you wouldn’t have to go running like that. It was Prince Charming who chased Cinderella, not the other way around.”

She rolled her eyes at him as she dug for something in her pockets.

“About last night,” Woo Bin continued, this time a little uneasily. “I’m really sorry about it. I don’t think it’s completely true that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so you don’t really have to cook for me next time and…”

“I know I’m a bad cook,” she croaked. After seeing last night that her timer was actually a smoke alarm, Woo Bin didn’t have the heart to disagree with that. She hated it when he lies, although she couldn’t exactly note when he was saying the truth or when he was just bluffing. Ever since she told him about it, he made it a point not to tell lies to her. His ‘smooth-talking’ wouldn’t count as tell tales, because in one way or another, they were still the truth—as both his eyes and heart could attest.

“Here it is,” she said in delight, handing him a pair of gloves. “I’m aware that you have a plethora of gloves, but I hope you still accept these as my valentine’s gift.”

Woo Bin took the items from her without a word. She flipped them palms up to reveal small pink hearts stitched into them.

“I’ll appreciate it if you’ll wear them,” she said coyly. “That way, it will be like I’m just holding your hands, even if I’m away. Those pink hearts…”

“Yours and mine?” he queried and she nodded. “Now look who’s getting too cheesy here…”

He laughed when she jutted her lower lip out.

“I’m just teasing, you know,” he said. “I love them, thank you…”

As if words were not enough, he closed the distance between them and caught her lips in a soft, persuasive kiss, expressing his gratitude in his most heartfelt way.

That, for the record, was his first real kiss.

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“Ah, so it’s really her?” Yi Jung shook him out of his deep reverie.

“Bingo,” he sighed, then looked at the stitched hearts on his right glove. “My sweet, personal karma.”

“What happened?” Yi Jung sounded profoundly concerned now, and Woo Bin wasn’t so sure why he didn’t seem to like it.

“I think I don’t want to discuss anything about it tonight,” he decided. “I’m sorry, bro.”

“Are you sure?”

“A hundred one percent,” he confirmed with a grin. “I’ll let you know if I’m ready to talk about it.”

Yi Jung silently blew at his slowly-drying bangs and hummed something under his breath. He was waiting for Woo Bin’s decision to change.

“I’m serious,” Woo Bin declared. “You’ll be the first one to know everything about it.”
Yi Jung cocked an eyebrow when Woo Bin lifted a fist. He suppressed a giggle, knocking his own fist with it.

“Deal,” Yi Jung cheered. “I don’t want to force you, even if I think it’ll somehow lighten your load. I already expected that you won’t talk—I’ve noticed how you became selfishly masochistic these past few days, punishing yourself…”

Yi Jung swung his legs out of the fountain and stood up, preparing to leave.

“But if it goes overboard,” Yi Jung pronounced in earnest, “I’ll stop it.”

“And how will you do that?”

“Braggart, what made you think that you’re the only person who can make a punching bag out of anyone?”

“So you think that hurting me can lessen my pain?” Woo Bin sniggered.

“A hundred and two percent.”

Without any warning, Woo Bin launched one last blow on Yi Jung’s stomach.

“Off you go now bro,” Woo Bin ordered. “You still have to make up a story on why you’re going on a date soaking wet.”

Yi Jung coughed and flashed a smile. “Ga Eul’s already used to my unusual appearance whenever I come from your place. She considers it normal now so there’s no need to invent fibs anymore.”

“I can see Ga Eul shortening your leash. She’ll think I’m a bad influence.”

“Pipe down, idiot,” Yi Jung snapped with a glare. “You can’t influence someone who’s just as bad as you. I’ll see you later.”

“Later,” Woo Bin nodded.

He watched his friend’s retreating back. When the last footfall echoed, his attention was arrested by the slowly dying ember of the Red Devil he discarded a while ago. He picked it up and smoked the last inch remaining, savoring its strawberry tang while wondering where the partner of the tennis shoe he kept in his closet could possibly be.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Caricaturist

I stumbled upon this little picture at photobucket while I was searching for the images I'll incorporate to a previous post (which was badly messed up). I remembered uploading this ages ago. It's from one of my cartooning practice sessions with NCR editorial cartoonists under the tutorial of Mr. Rene Aranda, editorial artist of The Philippine Star, during the regional Mini Press Conference and Contests back in high school. XD

I thought I'd share. Hehe.
The caricature is of Sybill, the partner/subject I chose for this activity. The notes around the drawing were of the other contestants from different schools. :)

Photobucket

Trivia: The Alexander F. Padilla Jr who wrote his name at the left lower corner of the drawing, is only nine years old. XD He's sooo Santino-like and cute and awesome and *insert all adorabibble-related adj here*. Hehe!

[Fanfic] Four-Leaf Clover

A/N: I and Mamu are working on a series of ficlets based off the Korean drama series 'Boys Over Flowers'. This is a 'teaser' (of sorts) for the whole series. We're still working on the next installments.




***

Title: Four-leaf Clover
Characters: Song Woo Bin (in the forefront), So Yi Jung, Gu Jun Pyo. Mention of others.
Genre: Angst, romance, humor
Notes: Contains SPOILERS from the end of the series. This is actually a 're-imagination' of the special episode focusing on Woo Bin, "After Story episode 2: Five Years After". The fic is also hosted at fanfiction.net.

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He clenched his fist around the stems of the half-destroyed bouquet, not even flinching at the thorns that painfully sank into his palm. Pain? He snorted disdainfully. He erased that word in his life’s dictionary a long, long time ago.

Smirking bitterly to himself, he lifted his eyes warily and stared at her back, at the way the fabric of her orange sundress hugged her curves. His arms used to envelope her soft profile, too… and the manner the wind whispered through her hair, it reminded him of the very way he played with every precious strand while murmuring sweet nothings to her ears…

He let out a sarcastic laugh. Who would’ve thought that a harmless-looking lady like her can defeat a proud, violent Mafia bloke like him? It was so Samson-and-Delilah-ish: she managed to crush his heart into smithereens by just uttering a few words.

...but had she betrayed him?

Refusing to think about it, he veered his mind towards somewhere else. Memories then came flooding his headspace when he let his eyes flutter close, bringing him back to the time when he first cross paths with this woman.
___

Insecurities were the last thing an onlooker would think about if he would scrutinize Song Woo Bin that night. The young man was sporting his characteristic lopsided smile, and the way he carried himself in his dapper windbreaker hinted of the start of his Don Juan-ish escapades for the night. Unknown to everybody, he was struggling to keep the cool facade unyielding...and he was slowly crippling himself inwardly in the process.

He found a bar in a quite squalid alleyway in search of a different kind of refuge. He wasted the whole day there, imbibing countless bottles of beer—yes, beer over expensive wine or cocktail—and by dinner time he finally felt the kick of the drinks.

His surroundings were getting fuzzy; he was gripping the edge of the bar top for support and for the first time in his life he scowled at the aftertaste of alcohol in his tongue. His temples were throbbing hard and the sole idea playing in his mind was to find the loo—or anywhere else where he could possibly throw up. He wobbled from the stool; he looked up, and the dim lights of the bar loomed around him like some local gangpeh1 he encountered before, cornering him, threatening him…

“Yo, mah bros,” he said rather comically, “wanna play a game?”

And with that, he started throwing uncontrolled blows and kicks around, hitting anything solid that came in their path. There were feminine shrieks overlapping the soporific music—he thought he saw fleeting faces of admiring, blushing girls, and he scowled at them in disgust. Seriously, why does the majority of the female population prefer to have kick-ass boozers as their ideal mates? He knew he couldn’t understand it so he never tried to. As long as he could use it to his advantage, he wouldn’t really care.

By the time he released his last punch, the beer-stained floor was already carpeted with unconscious men that he beat black-and-blue all by himself.

He brushed the warmth that trickled down his chin—blood, he realized with a note of surprise—and marched out of the awkwardly hushed scene. He slumped against the nearest wall once he escaped the suffocating atmosphere of the place, his breathing a tad labored as though he had just run a marathon. He laughed quietly to himself and reached inside the pocket of to get his last Black Bat stick.

“Is the commotion over, Sunbae-nim2?”

His fingers twitched around the cigar. He snapped his head at the direction of the voice while his other hand instinctively curled up into a fist. Blinking twice, he discovered that the speaker was just a girl; he willed his breathing to steady and permitted himself a sigh of relief. Funny oaf, he chided himself. Is this a sign that I should never go alone on a binge again? Perhaps I should invite Yi Jung next time…

“Sunbae-nim? Are you alright?”

“Sunbae-nim?” he echoed with a one-sided smile. “Do I look old enough to be addressed like that?”

The girl seemed to tense. He trapped the cigarette between his lips once he successfully lit it.

“Not that old to be called Ahjussi3,” the girl responded too coyly that it was almost impossible to tell if she said it in jest or not. “I mean…well, I initially said it out of respect, but squinting now, I can say that you do look older than me.”

He thought of arguing but something in her voice forced him to swallow a string of narcissistic remarks back down his throat, along with the sour rush of his breakfast, lunch, and dinner for today: beer. Who knows, the lassie might not be lying at all. He himself felt ugly and old in his own skin tonight.

“Good girls are taught to tell the truth, aren’t they?” He said with a half-released laugh and blew a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke, which she timidly waved away with her hands. He tilted his head to study her face. “No fag?”

“What?” the girl asked with furrowed brow.

“Fag, mama,” he said in nonchalant abandon, raising a brow. “Cigar. You don’t smoke?”

She frowned. “No.”

He shifted his weight to his other leg while he went on studying her. Even behind the alcohol-induced blur in his eyes he could tell that the girl was of exquisite beauty, the kind that would work its way to your head and cling there for a long time until someone or something more beautiful comes to replace it. He had seen beauties before, but none deserved to stay in his head for even a single minute. This time, however, the charm of innocence proved to be a factor to make this face a potential afterimage in his mind. He absentmindedly nodded to himself.

The only lights falling on them were moonlight and the band of colored fluorescents escaping from the bar. He could clearly see how the glowing colors bounced off her buttermilk skin and her slightly wavy hair that swirled down to her elbows. The lights played on her eyes, too, he observed.

It was only when she looked away that he noticed she was blushing under his scrutiny. He chuckled and limply let the cigar fall to the ground.

“I should be going back inside,” she said, carefully avoiding eye contact. “I suppose that the commotion is over already…”

“It is,” he confirmed readily, “because the one who started and ended it is standing right in front of you.”

She stepped back once but unexpectedly, she didn’t look scared. With exaggerated slowness she lifted a hand and brushed a thumb on his chin. He tensed at her warm touch; much to his surprise, he didn’t pull away.

“Sunbae-nim,” she said with reproach, eyes focused on the dried trail of blood there, “I know you’re old enough to know that you don’t have a set of milk teeth anymore—they won’t grow back once they go off. I guess it’s really true that bad guys lose their teeth so soon even before their hair turn white.”

“You’re breaking my heart,” he said as he pouted in mock hurt. “I’m a bad guy?”

She smiled and stepped back. “Good guys don’t start trouble.”

“Good guys and heroes often stop trouble,” he added in retaliation. “I stopped what I started, so I’m not fully a bad guy.”

“I can’t argue with that,” she laughed and took a bow. “I’ll be going now.”

She came to a halt when he blocked the entrance.

“Password?” he asked with a devilish grin.

She rolled her eyes but answered anyway. “Please?”

“Wrong answer.”

“Please is wrong?”

He winked. “Song.”

“What?”

“Song Woo Bin.” He gently took her hand and planted a soft kiss on it. “That’s me. Not Sunbae-nim or Mr. Bad Guy.”

Flushing scarlet, she tugged her hand away from his lips. “S-so that’s the password? Y-your name?”

“No, but yours is.”

“My name?"

He nodded eagerly. "I'll only let you in if you give me your name."

There was nothing else she could do but sigh in defeat.

“Yang Sun Byul4,” she said quietly.

“Sun Byul,” he repeated. What a fitting name, he thought. Byul—a star.

Sun Byul pushed him when he didn’t move. “Excuse me, Woo Bin Sunbae.”

“Quit attaching the title,” he complained as he shimmied drunkenly to the side. “It makes me feel a lot older—never mind the respect part. And by the way, Sun Byul—“
She stopped in her tracks.

“There’s a small flaw in your bad-guy-lose-teeth theory,” he said over-cheerily. “I didn’t lose any tooth tonight.”

“That doesn’t explain the blood,” she said with a final wave, obviously dismissing his statement as a lie.

“My cut lip does,” he answered back. “And thanks for the balm.”

The devilish smile was back on his face when she came to halt once again.

“Balm?”

“The kiss,” he said. “Your skin’s more than enough to heal my—”

He ended his sentence in a loud gulp of laugh when she threw him a glare that accused him of being a pervert, before she hurried inside.

___


The flashback betrayed him, he realized as he refloated to the present. He hadn’t completely deleted ‘pain’ in his vocabulary. In fact, he had been soaking in it all this time, enjoying its presence.
Ha, so how’s that? Prince Song the masochist? He rolled his eyes at his own thoughts.

After their first meeting, he and Sun Byul kept in touch. It helped that Sun Byul actually studied in Shinhwa University as well; they were both wide-eyed when they ran smack into each other while she was hurrying to her next class. Woo Bin remembered resisting the urge to punch Jun Pyo that day after the said F4 leader suggested on giving her the ‘red card treatment’ because she didn’t bother to apologize for the little incident. Some things never really change, he thought then, rolling his eyes.

Sun Byul escaped the professor’s reprimand afterwards, thanks to Woo Bin’s undying charm that she refused to acknowledge at first. And then they started their frequent meetings. Whenever Woo Bin thought the F3 wasn’t paying him any attention, he would sneak out of the private lounge and convince Sun Byul to ditch her remaining class so they could go out. They would walk hand-in-hand, laughing and teasing each other, sometimes stealing kisses and sometimes even ‘accidental’ touches. Without a doubt, Sun Byul liked him—he could even swear that she actually loved him. Well, he did love her...

…and he still does.

He tightened the grip on the thorny stems until a certain wetness was felt. He didn’t bother to know if it was just sweat or blood. Physical pain was, needless to say, no match for the ache throbbing in his chest right now.

Gathering all the courage he got, he marched towards Sun Byul. She let out a gasp when he grasped her arm and forcefully swung her around.

That was when the realization hit hard: he wasn’t in pain.

He was angry.

“What’s the reason?” he demanded. He drowned himself in the blackness—and blankness—of Sun Byul’s eyes as he waited for her answer. His eyes then traveled down to her lips.

“I’m sick of it,” she whispered. “I’m sick of your kindness.”

Everything went in slow motion after she said that word. She whirled around, the sound of her stilettos decrescendoing. He watched her retreating back with gnashed teeth and angrily suppressed a growl, effectively destroying the bouquet by smashing it against the pavement.
___

“Woo Bin, come over and play with us.”

He grudgingly peeled his eyes away from the flower he was cradling in his hand and focused them on Jun Pyo and Yi Jung, who were busying themselves over another childish game of building blocks. He pressed his lips in a thin line as he stood up and efficiently astonished the other boys by swiping the little wooden tower off the desk. He wordlessly turned around and left, but not before he heard Jun Pyo asking: “What’s his problem?”

Okay, so he was brooding. The proud, cool Don Juan of F4, who was popular for always carrying the I-can-always-fix-everything-with-a-wink-and-a-flash-of-smile attitude, was brooding.

Well, he sighed, Why the hell not? I’m still human.

He perched himself on the stairs and thought about…those days when the F4 shone. Their high school days, the times when their world changed because of Geum Jan Di’s entrance in their lives. He remembered the way the whole school would gather to wait for their arrival; he remembered his tap dance, the movements of Yi Jung’s hands that the God of Pot blessed, Jun Pyo’s boiling temper about false scandals involving Jan Di, Ji Hoo’s silent times and his careful strumming of the guitar…

“The memories will always be the same,” he murmured as he stared down at the four-leaf clover he was twirling with his fingers, “but I could’ve been the one to change.”

Let’s go back, he told himself.
___

And go back he did.

It felt like home, being back there in their private classroom. Woo Bin settled himself on his cozy old chair with a satisfied sigh. A book toppled down to the floor when he accidentally brushed against it; when he picked it up, and old snapshot slipped out of the dusty pages.

Gu Jun Pyo, Yun Ji Hoo, So Yi Jung, and himself.

The little boys in the picture grinned at him and he couldn’t help but to smile back. How could he be so naïve to think that they’d stopped shining? Friends like them would never cease to shine. Yes, sometimes they’re weird, sometimes teeth-achingly sweet, and never by any means nondescript. They were his special gifts.

As long as he has friends like them, the world would be beautiful and life would blossom beautifully like no other flower.

A movement to his side arrested his attention; he snapped his head at it, and found his nose inches from a birthday cake.

“How can you go here alone?” Yi Jung complained churlishly, sliding the cake closer towards Woo Bin. “Gu Jun Pyo started to feel bad, somewhat. Didn’t we promise to be together forever?”
A toothy grin spread over Woo Bin’s face.

“Happy?” Jun Pyo asked, trailing Yi Jung.
“Happy birthday!” Yi Jung greeted contentedly.
Woo Bin playfully lifted the cake to his eye level and blew the candles out in several puffs. The moment his fingers came in contact with the icing by mistake, a mischievous thought flitted across his mind. Jun Pyo and Yi Jung were sharp as ever, of course; they dodged out of reach as soon as Woo Bin commenced flinging amorphous lumps of icing at them.
After almost half a dozen years, F4’s private room once again echoed with laughter.
Woo Bin realized that brooding wouldn't—would never—suit someone like him at all.
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Additional notes:
1. Gangpeh- also spelled 'kkangpae' or 'ggangpae', it is a Korean gangster. An organized crime gang is called a 'pa'.

2. Sunbae- what you call your “senior” or anyone who's older than you; is often used with the suffix “nim” which makes it polite. It can go without the suffix but it is more casual that way.

3. Ahjussi- a middle-aged man.

4. Yang Sun Byul- yes, she's practically an OC, but there is a real girl who broke up with Woo Bin in the After Story episode. It's like I just gave her a name and a story with Woo Bin. 'Byul' means star.

As I have said above, some scenes from this will be a part of a multi-chaptered series I'm co-writing with a friend. Consider this a 'teaser'.

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"If love is the answer...can you repeat the question?"- anonymous