“Come on, Sa-hui,” Hae-ryung says with a coaxing smile. “Really? Don’t you want to fall in love with a handsome lunatic, even the slightest bit?”
Her eyes are so bright, fastened to Sa-hui’s face. Sa-hui feels that she will be able to see the truth if Sa-hui denies it, but in front of Oh Eun-im and Heo Ah-ran, how can she do otherwise? In the end she shrugs, just a little, and says, “Well, maybe.”
And all three others laugh and take a drink in solidarity.
And perhaps Oh Eun-im and Heo Ah-ran believe she’s told the full embarrassing truth, but Hae-ryung still shoots Sa-hui a sideways glance, and Sa-hui wonders if the question was merely a test. If she already knows that Sa-hui has been in love with a beautiful lunatic for some time.
When do Sa-hui’s feelings date back to?
Not just working with Hae-ryung. Proximity to Hae-ryung does affect her, and Hae-ryung’s work ethic and gusto are admirable, but it’s not just that—Sa-hui knows plenty of enthusiastic hard workers. No, she thinks it started the night of the hazing ritual. When Hae-ryung reached out and took the bowl away from Sa-hui. “This one, I will drink.”
And she drained it so casually. Even her first bowl, Sa-hui struggled to finish. She was not used to such hard liquor, still isn’t really. But Hae-ryung drank the bowl easily, and then drank Officer Yang himself under the table.
Maybe she did it just to prove herself and spite the male historians. But, with the way she took that bowl from Sa-hui… she certainly saved Sa-hui from humiliation. (Sa-hui could not have drunk many bowls more without collapsing, and the historians would have loved to laugh at Lord Song’s daughter making a fool of herself.) Either way, even if Sa-hui wants to think she doesn’t need anyone to protect her, the thought of it makes her heart beat a little faster. The thought of Hae-ryung’s reckless smile, and her lack of hesitation in draining the bowl down. Gulp gulp gulp. And she’d wiped her mouth with her sleeve.
Really such a beautiful lunatic.
She’s halfway to falling asleep when Hae-ryung nudges her hard in the side. “Sa-hui, we have to stay strong!”
She looks up blearily. Why on Earth had she thought it was a good idea to drink when she was trying to stay awake?
“Think, if you fall asleep, the evil spirits will stay in your body, and your lifespan will be shortened. The curse of Gyeongsin.” Hae-ryung’s tone is grave, but her eyes are laughing. “I can’t possibly let something like that befall a smart, honorable, beautiful woman like you.”
Sa-hui nods at Oh Eun-im and Heo Ah-ran, who have fallen asleep leaning against each other. “But you can let it happen to them?”
Hae-ryung shrugs mock-dismissively, and Sa-hui snorts. Though, she does actually want to rise to this challenge. Stay awake through Gyeongsin. “Thank you for thinking of me, then. Now I can live a little longer. I am in your debt.”
“Anything for milady.” Hae-ryung is not usually so formal; it should sound like a joke. It doesn’t. Sa-hui’s cheeks burn, and she looks away.
For a moment they sit quietly. Sa-hui has no idea what to talk about on a night like this; it does not seem right to speak of work, but she and Hae-ryung have never discussed personal matters. Not just the two of them alone. Somehow the prospect is frightening. And beside her, she feels that Hae-ryung is thinking very hard about something, trying to come to some climactic decision. She is afraid a word from her will destroy the equilibrium, so she keeps quiet.
Hae-ryung speaks at last, but her voice is light. “I really must see to it that the evil spirits are driven out of your body, Sa-hui. Otherwise, how could I forgive myself?” She tilts her head. “Staying up might not be enough. I know another method.”
“Tell me about it, then.”
“I don’t know if you would accept it, though. A noble woman like yourself. It is a little undignified.” A sideways glance. “The first step involves taking all your clothes off.”
Sa-hui wets her lips.
“Well, it sounds worth trying.”
They do it in the backroom, the archives, between shelves of records. The Office of Royal Decrees is empty, and outside Oh Eun-im and Heo Ah-ran are sound asleep, but the eyes of a hundred dead historians are still open, watching them desecrate this place where all their work is stored and protected. Sa-hui bares herself to their scrutiny shamelessly. What does any of that matter when there is a more important observer—when Hae-ryung’s eyes travel slowly down her body, when Hae-ryung slowly places her hands on Sa-hui’s shoulders, steadying her, before trailing those hands down to squeeze her breasts, trailing them down further…
And Sa-hui groans. “Aigo,” it might be written in a sachaek, but she barely enunciates it. She’s imagined this before but never done it. Hae-ryung has, it seems—people do say things about unmarried women her age—her hands are sure and her face is concentrated, and she does marvelous things beyond recording.
And when she has taken Sa-hui apart and left her as drained as a bowl of liquor, she lifts a wet hand to her face and licks Sa-hui’s essence from her fingers. “No more evil spirits,” she pronounces. As if she can tell by taste. “We’ve driven them all out.”
Sa-hui laughs. And she believes Hae-ryung. She believes that she will live a long time, and that she can stay awake all night, and that both tonight and in the future, she will have Hae-ryung with her. And the thought of that makes her very happy indeed.