“Grandpa It is I hansung. I’m doing well in Hwarang House. At first, you forced me to come here. But I like it here now. I learned from a dear friend.. that a hard land can become a path. I learned that when you leave your footsteps together, a rough land can become a path. I’m writing you a letter because.. I want you to know.. that I will receive my own punishment from now on.. Danse did nothing wrong. I do not know about the bone-rank system, but Danse is just my brother. He’s someone who is always on my side. Someone I can trust more than anyone.
Grandfather, I made a friend among the Hwarangs; Who said he will walk with me. I will live freely. I will not think about family names and power. I will live as a Hwarang.”
“He Is Not Dead I cannot say, and I will not say That he is dead. He is just away. With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand, He has wandered into an unknown land And left us dreaming how very fair It needs must be, since he lingers there. And you — oh you, who the wildest yearn For an old-time step, and the glad return, Think of him faring on, as dear In the love of There as the love of Here. Think of him still as the same. I say, He is not dead — he is just away.” ― James Whitcomb Riley
“Ya, what are you doing here? Children have no place at the Okta.” His voice rang out across the crowded hall as he stalked towards me. His long black hair was carefully pulled back, his red robes of the finest silk brushed the floor as he moved gracefully to my side.
“Ohh Abeoji, I’m sorry.” I mocked him “Do you want me to take you home? The elderly should not be out so late.” My beautiful friends giggled behind me nervously, their painted faces glowing whenever Ban Ryu glanced in their direction. They weren’t as used to his beauty as I was, having grown up with it. Still, even I had to admire how radiant he was.
I first met Ban Ryu when I was 6 years old. He was a tall, strong, 8 year old boy, always surrounded by friends who looked up to him for his power and influence. Ban Ryu seemed to be more knowledgeable than those his age, but to me, his face seemed to hold sadness, his eyes guarded. I remember running up to him that very first day, my favourite children’s book in hand.
“Read to me, please!” The boys behind him had snickered and poked Ban Ryu before he sent them a death glare and pushed past me, his eyes meeting mine briefly. I’d felt tears sting my cheeks and walked to the riverbank in humiliation. To my surprise, Ban Ryu followed shortly after, without his followers, wordlessly taking the book from me to begin reading in a clear voice. From that moment on, he looked out for me. We met by the riverbank behind the Okta almost every night in the warm months. He often confided in me the problems he had with his stepfather, or his distaste for a local boy Soo Ho.
One uncommonly chilly night, when I was about 14 and he, 16 something changed. We sat slightly closer due to the cold, and I became very aware of how long his eyelashes were, of the endless black pools that were his eyes. The way his whole face seemed to relax when he was next to me, a small smile creeping onto his lips. Every time his arm brushed mine, I felt chills that had nothing to do with the weather.
“Ban Ryu,” I breathed, leaning towards him. “Don’t you think I’ve grown so much since you first met me?” His eyes widened slightly and he swallowed.
“What a question. Are you an idiot? Of course you’ve changed. Come, I’ll take you home, it’s too cold for you out here.” He roughly pulled me up and walked a few steps ahead on the way back. I frowned a little. Did he not feel anything?
We spent time together just the same as always after that, separately, never in front of his friends. But I knew now how I felt. I was in love with Ban Ryu. With the way he made me feel safe, protected and understood. I made him smile and he made my heart glow.
“Listen to me!” Ban Ryu’s annoyed voice cut through my reminiscing, pulling me back to the Okta. “Go home, this is only a place for the fabulously beautiful” He reached over and tugged on my hair.
“Ouch!” I slapped his arm angrily. “Then why are you here?” I stuck out my tongue, while my friends looked at each other with wide eyes. This was normal though. If we were weren’t by the riverbank, Ban Ryu and I bickered and teased worse than siblings. He’d asked me once, to keep our time together secret. He didn’t want to show weakness to anyone, except me.
Ban Ryu’s regular crowd appeared behind him suddenly, their eyes clouded with a little too much to drink.
“Oh my. If it isn’t Ban Ryu’s little stalker. Go home ugly duckling, but leave your friends” one of Ban Ryu’s least favourite followers stared at the girls behind me, his eyes raking over them like a predator. “Move.” He shoved me so hard I lost my balance and tumbled backwards, my skirts flying up. The jerk turned around and laughed, seeing me all dishevelled on the floor. My “friends” giggled as well, their eyes on the awful (but obviously wealthy) guy still trying to get their attention.
I sat still for a beat willing myself not to cry but when I finally met Ban Ryu’s eyes I burst into sobs and rushed out of the Okta. I know he wants to maintain his image but letting one of his buddies embarrass me - that was too much. I ran straight to the riverbank, furiously wiping my tears. My chest constricted with sobs as I cried out my embarrassment, frustration and heartbreak over the fact that it really didn’t seem like Ban Ryu loved me the way I did him. Reputation or not, if you were in love with someone you would protect them, right?
Heavy footsteps sounded behind me and I hid my tear-swollen face.
“Y/N, look at me. Did you hurt yourself when you fell? Don’t cry anymore. Please.” I was shocked. Ban Ryu’s sweet and concerned voice filled my ears and I got the courage to look at him. His lip was slightly bleeding and he was breathing heavily but his eyes were focused only on me. Suddenly, he pulled me into a tight hug.
“That was too far. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this is my fault.” He rubbed small circles on my back, his deep voice softly tickling my ear.
“How could it be your fault?” My voice shook slightly. His whole body tensed. His hands, little fists on my back.
“I make them think it’s okay to tease you with how I act. Okay to say-” He broke off, “Ya, I’m so angry I can’t even say it. What he said to you, how dare he-” the usually so careful and eloquent Ban Ryu choked on his words again. “When he touched you, I just about killed him. If the guys hadn’t have pulled me off of him I would’ve."
I pulled away, shaking my head.
"Why? You want us to be apart in public. You don’t want people to know we’re………friends.” I hesitated, not willing to call it what I knew he wanted it to be. I was ready for more, I loved him more. He watched me carefully for a few seconds before seeming to decide something. Slowly he raised his hand to my cheek.
“Friends?” He whispered so low I could barely make out the words. Ban Ryu moved closer while I watched him, anticipation blocking my throat. When his lips gently brushed mine, I felt my body melt into his, my arms going around his neck.
“You are more than my friend, Y/N. You are my safe haven. My love.” He kissed me once more, deeper this time before pulling back to give me a bright genuine smile.
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