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I will punch you in the face (with my lips)

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Hyunjin punched him in the face.

… by accident. That was important. Or it would be important, if Hyunjin didn’t wish he could punch the annoying bard a second time.

Unfortunately, they were currently caught and bound in the bandits’ cave, back to back, and if Hyunjin wanted to break free fast, the knife in his arm guard would also stab the annoying bard in the back. And he had to admit that that annoying mouth was currently the only thing preventing the bandits from slashing their throats and leaving them to bleed out in a ditch.

Fuck.

So Hyunjin lost himself in the memory of the bard’s stupid soft cheek on his knuckles, the impact he felt before the bard’s head snapped back and he stumbled away. The blood on his teeth when he smiled up at Hyunjin, who had honestly (oh, his past self new nothing) meant to punch the lackey of the village’s head who refused to pay him. The space around the bar had been packed, and someone was pushed into the lackey just before Hyunjin hit him.

The annoying bard.

Hyunjin, feeling sorry and embarrassed, had kicked the lackey a few metres away, relishing in the thump of a body against the wall and then the following slump to the floor accompanied with the sudden scared quiet of the room. And then he’d glared at the guys who had been pushing the annoying bard and escorted him out, meaning to apologise. He had not meant for the annoying bard to follow him on the dusty dirt road to the next village and never stop talking.

“You really should let us go, my dudes,” the annoying bard laughed – Jisung, oh how Hyunjin wished he didn’t know that name – “I mean come on, have you ever seen a man as beautiful as him? It would be a crime to kill us, a crime.”

The first that hit Jisung’s bruised face after that was deserved, and Hyunjin wished he was the one who did the punching.

“You trespassed into our territory, we will do as we wish,” one of the bandits crossed his head and lifted his chin as if he was almighty. For the moment, he was. “We have heard of a witcher with ties to the queen, and we can’t let him run to her and tell her about our secret drug ring.”

Hyunjin closed his eyes and groaned quietly. Life was just out to get him specifically.

“Ah, we don’t kiss and tell,” Jisung said, and Hyunjin just knows he’s winking and putting on his ‘flirting’ face. “Wait, Hyunjinnie, you know the queen? Me too!”

Hyunjin wished he could close his ears too. Those were definitely the words the bandits needed to hear right now. Yes. Good thinking there, Jisung.

“Who are you that you know the queen?” Another of the bandits spoke up, walking closer. “Maybe we can exchange your dead remains for money.”

Jisung, at least, had nothing to say to that. “Ahaha, a joke, of course! How would I know the queen! Why would he know the queen? He’s a witcher, not a witch.”

Hyunjin groaned. “The queen and I are on bad terms right now, and I won’t tell her about your drug ring because I will kill you all.”

Finally, blessed silence. Hyunjin counted his heartbeats and breaths, relaxing his shoulders. Quiet. Nice. Now if only there was a breeze carrying some fresh mountain air.

“Hey,” Jisung hissed, “don’t encourage them!”

And the room broke in frantic yells and panic as they tried to decide what to do since both their prisoners apparently knew the ruler of the kingdom, except of course if they were lying. Hyunjin sighed.

“Hyunjin,” Jisung whispered, shuffling around, “how do we escape? You have a plan, right?”

Hyunjin took a deep breath. “I have a knife in my boot,” he told Jisung quietly, “if we stand up at the same time, I can take it, and cut us free.”

Jisung let out a breath. “Oh, that’s good! I knew you got this.”

Hyunjin just brought his legs under him, swiping the dagger from his boot – really, what kind of bandits didn’t tie their prisoner’s legs? – and as he stood with Jisung scrambling to his feet himself, he cut the ropes tying them together.

The bandits noticed a second too late, and drew their swords a second too late. Two put up half a fight, but soon they all lay dead on the floor, blood splattered all over Hyunjin. Hyunjin wrinkled his nose, and made an attempt to wipe the blood off of his daggers on the only bandit who still had a clean shirt.

“Where did that second dagger come from?” Jisung, his wrists still bound, interrupted Hyunjin.

“You’re still here?” Hyunjin shoved the daggers back, one into his boot and the other under his arm guard where it was concealed under black leather.

“Wait so you could have broken free all along with the dagger in your sleeve? Why didn’t you…” understanding slowly crawled across his expressive face, followed by a bright smile. “Hyunjin! I knew you care about me!”

“I don’t,” Hyunjin said, but somehow couldn’t stop himself from untying Jisung’s hands. He took his sword from where the bandits had tossed it in a corner and drew the blade. More bandits would still be outside. Jisung picked up his lute and hugged it close to his chest.

As Hyunjin had expected, a few bandits were in the surrounding woods, just far enough to not have heard their companions’ dying screams. Hyunjin killed the ones that attacked him and let the others run away.

When he reached the road, he lifted his fingers to his mouth and whistled.

Loud breathing and stomping reached him not much later.

“Hyunjinnie!” Jisung emerged behind him, cheeks flushed under his bruised face, lute strapped to his back. “I don’t understand how –” he gasped for air, “– you can run through the woods so fast. Wait for me.”

Hyunjin, however, only had eyes for the beauty that approached him now. “Kkami!”

Kkami was his trusted companion and only friend. And a horse. But she was the best. Better than all humans he ever met. A good listener too. And quiet. Unlike a certain annoying bard.

“Oh, pretty,” Jisung stumbled towards Kkami, who neatly stepped around him as if he was just an unusual kind of tree.

“I’m so proud of you,” Hyunjin whispered to her, leaning his forehead against hers and stroking her long neck. Kkami was truly his only friend.

Hyunjin climbed up on her back in one smooth move. He patted the parts of her neck he could reach and steered her down the road with his legs alone. She started walking in a comfortable walk, one that she would be able to hold for days. The sun was high in the sky, the trees green, the birds singing. It was calm now. The breeze smelled of forest and moss and rotting leaves and flowers in bloom. Hyunjin could hear his own heartbeat as well as Kkami’s, their breaths aligning like they so often did on long journeys.

It was wonderful.

Except that his and Kkami’s weren’t the only heartbeats he heard.

“Oh, can I also ride on your horse? No? Alright then, it’s your horse, I understand. Did you call her Kkami? That’s so cute. Like you! You were so badass back there, I had literal goosebumps. I must admit the blood splattered clothes fit you very well. And did you see their faces when they realised we got free? And oh, we busted a drug ring, if you were on good terms with the queen we could totally go to the capital and receive money for doing good deeds in the name of the crown. But alas, we’ll have to live as vagabonds! Lonely heroes on their way to defeat evil!”

Yup. There he was.

“I should write a song about it. I can write a song about us. I will write a song about you! Hyunjin, how do you feel about songs? I promise I’ll also credit Kkami with defeating a villain, of course, she’s lovely. Do you think a long ballad would be suitable? Or a drinking song? If you don’t mind, I’ll try some freestyles, yeah?”

“Shut up.”

“Ah, but I write my songs by freestyling! I just start singing, play some chords, and continue until I find sounds and words I like. You know, as a starving artist with only my lute, I can’t rely on making notes and writing my lyrics down, I have to memorize them as I come up with them! So talking to myself helps with that, obviously. And now I have you, too! You will help me, right?”

Hyunjin contemplated kicking Jisung in the face. It would… even be possible, he realised as he studied the distance between his leg and Jisung’s head. He’d have to stretch weirdly though, and unless he shifted his weight, the kick wouldn’t be very strong. The movement would surprise Kkami though, and while she definitely wouldn’t mind or be inconvenienced, Hyunjin was sitting comfortable and breathing in synchrony with her.

Why mess that up? He could just pretend he wasn’t hearing anything, anything at all. A fly, maybe. A bee. Human voices? The last time he heard a human speak was one of the bandits, before he stabbed him in the chest with his sword and left the body in the shrubbery.

Oh, the calmness of the forest… so quiet… so nice.

In the late afternoon, the trees gave way to the next village, with fields spreading out into wasteland and far away mountains. The village was just big enough to have a bit of stone ground in the middle, with a river and a mill. An inn sat in it’s center.

Hyunjin sighed. He had exactly no money, which meant he’d have to ask for a job first before he could rent a room. However, he had yet to see a village that didn’t have at least one monster to get rid of. It just meant he’d have to go monster hunting before he could go to sleep for a day.

“Oh, are we staying here, Hyunjin?” Jisung stood in front of Hyunjin when he jumped off Kkami. And Jisung grinned. He swaggered towards the door of the inn. “I don’t have money, but I’m sure I can get us a room in exchange for entertainment! I’ll sing of your victories, witcher, and the town will love you!”

“Uh… bard,” Hyunjin said, because he’d actually have to warn him, didn’t he? “Jisung.”

Jisung turned to him with wide eyes and his grin turned into a soft smile.

“That might not help. As a witcher, people don’t usually… like… it… when I’m around.” Hyunjin gestured to his appearance, dark leather armour splattered with blood. Long white hair bound together but he knew there were leaves caught in it. It really spoke for itself. His glowing eyes didn’t help his case. “I’ll ask for a monster to kill, which will hopefully get us a meal and a room, and Kkami a place in a stable. That’s all, and only if we’re lucky.”

A look of something crossed Jisung’s face, there and gone too fast for Hyunjin to read. He squared his shoulders and bared his teeth. “Trust me on this, Hyunjin.”

And Jisung sauntered into the inn as if he owned it.

Hyunjin and Kkami shared a look. “I don’t know either, Kkami, sweetheart,” Hyunjin sighed.

Kkami neighed quietly.

“I know, I know, I better go and save his ass or something,” Hyunjin cringed. He was actually going to, wasn’t he?

Kkami snorted.

Hyunjin rolled his eyes. “Yah, don’t laugh at me! Wait here, okay? If anyone comes at you, you know how to drop kick them.”

Jisung had maybe one minute alone in the inn. Somehow, Hyunjin expected there to be fire and screaming and new bruises on Jisung’s annoying face.

One minute, and yet what Hyunjin found when he opened the door was Jisung pointing a finger at him, yelling, and cheering from a crowd of mostly drunk farmers and a handful of young women who curiously turned their heads.

“That’s him!” Jisung was laughing, too. “He saved my life.”

Hyunjin didn’t have time to process that before he was shoved next to Jisung by a smiling man with a long beard and a cup of beer was handed to him. The women oohed and aahed.

“Jisung-ssi, why didn’t you say he’s pretty?”

“Mr Bard, he truly looks as beautiful as you said! A hero!”

“To have defeated a Barghest! I’ll drink to that!”

Jisung cheered with the small crowd, and Hyunjin lifted his beer in cheers, setting it back down when it seemed like most people were briefly shifting their attention to their own drinks. Alcohol did nothing for him, and he didn’t like beer. Jisung swiftly switched his own cup with Hyunjin’s, and when Hyunjin brought the cup up to his face, he noticed it was water.

“I told you to trust me, Hyunjin,” Jisung said quietly.

Hyunjin could only nod.

“Oh, your hair is so pretty,” one of the older women said, sliding into the seat next to him. “I’m the co-owner of this establishment, by the way.”

“Um, thank you,” Hyunjin swallowed a mouthful of water. “I’ve been meaning to ask if you had a job for me here.”

Jisung, now a few metres away, strung his lute and started singing a catchy song about ‘that time a handsome witcher saved me from the beast’ which, despite his raspy throat, sounded good – if you could ignore the terrible text. And the fact that it was all lies. Well, Hyunjin had to admit that he did save Jisung from certain death, but there was nothing heroic about it, and Hyunjin also hadn’t taken off his clothes to use his undershirt to bind a cut on Jisung’s ankle.

“We are uncertain still,” the woman quickly tugged Hyunjin out of his thoughts with her serious tone. “A monster dwells upstream. Sometimes the river is dyed red, or pieces of ripped clothing will pass the village. My niece disappeared two weeks ago. One of the farmers went up to see what was causing the issue last week, and he never returned. One of his shoes did, though.”

“Hmm,” Hyunjin nodded. “I have a few ideas of what it might be, and none of them are good.”

The woman nodded, smiling worriedly. “If it really is a… monster, as you say, we will of course pay you accordingly. For now, your drinks are on us – see it as a gesture of good will for saving that bard.”

With a polite smile, she turned to attend a group of newly arrived villagers.

Hyunjin eyed the sliver of fading daylight streaming in through the dirty window. If it really was a drowner, it might move closer to the village when hungry. Drowners lived in streams and ponds and sewers, but if this one was upstream it might not take long for it to decide to live closer to the village. Hyunjin remembered the mill. There must be a body of water directly connected to it.

And if the last death was already a week ago, then he’d have to hurry. He finished his water and got up.

“Jisung,” he said when he reached him and Jisung had taken a small break from singing to hydrate. “I’m going after a monster here. I will be back by moonrise.”

Jisung smiled a gummy smile, eyes sparkling. “You’ll be back?”

“I’ll be back,” Hyunjin agreed, wondering if it would destroy his fragile positive image in the village if he punched Jisung in the face right now. Why bother though, Jisung’s bruises were just reaching their darkest point, another one wouldn’t even be visible.

Hyunjin turned and left, hearing Jisung loudly announce that Hyunjin was going to defeat the monster.

Kkami was eyeing him.

“What,” he grumbled. “So, he was right. So what. I still have to go kill a monster now.”

Kkami snorted judgingly.

Together, they swiftly galloped towards the mill, and in a slower tempo they followed the water upstream.

There were a few hills there, some shrubbery that quickly turned into tall trees, the river courving and going into the forest. The smell was the first thing that told him something was wrong here, so he got off Kkami, drank one of his witcher potions – never a fun experience, the way his insides twisted and bones shuddered just wasn’t a good vibe – and he felt his sight sharpening, eyes turning black.

Kkami, unbothered queen that she was, turned to snack on some leaves.

Hyunjin followed the smell of blood and death deeper into the woods to a clearing. A dark pond greeted him, and yes, this was it. He would never get the smell out of his hair.

He kicked a pebble into the water.

The water made waves, but not the ones physics predicted the pebble would have created.

In the end, killing a drowner wasn’t that much different from killing a human. They were, after all, human shaped with extra gills and fins. Somewhat. The difficulty didn’t lie in their superhuman strength, but Hyunjin was a witcher, and he had drunk his potions. Not even the coldness and darkness of the water surrounding them really bothered Hyunjin.

The difficulty lay in the fact that Hyunjin didn’t like the quiet that came after. He waded out of the pond, wet and cold, hair plastered to his forehead, the slippery head of the drowner in his arms, and what greeted him was cold starlight and absolute silence.

He walked the way back to the village. Kkami was waiting where he left her, but he didn’t want to ruin his saddlebags by getting them wet with smelly pond water and the drowner’s blood.

The moon rose just as he made it back to the village.

And when he opened the door to the inn, the first thing he saw was Jisung’s annoying face. Could his day get any worse after this?

“You’re back!” Jisung smiled again (why did he smile so much, and why did he smile at Hyunjin?) and then he saw the water dripping down his clothes and the monster’s head in his arms. Naturally Hyunjin couldn’t really grab the head in one hand, it was too fishy for that. Jisung winked at him, before turning back to the room. “The witcher defeated the monster! Your village is safe now!”

Cheers sounded through the room, which seemed to be packed with the whole village and not just the handful of farmers from earlier.

“Should I leave the head outside,” Hyunjin asked the woman who had spoken to him earlier.

She took a look and briefly looked nauseous. “Yes, just leave it outside, thank you. I’ll prepare a room and a bath for you, master witcher.”

Hyunjin blinked. He didn’t think he’d ever been addressed with this much honest respect. “Thank you.”

“Follow me.”

Through a crowd of mostly drunk cheering, the owner led him up a narrow stairway in the back, and opened one of the doors for him. There was a fairly big bed, a small window with curtains, and a tub behind a paper screen.

“Uh, excuse me,” Hyunjin stopped the woman just as she walked past him with the promise of getting someone to bring up hot water, “my horse, she’s outside. Could you send someone for her? If it’s too much trouble, is there a stable I can bring her to?”

The woman smiled. “Of course, dear. I’ll send my son, he’ll take good care of your horse.”

Relieved, Hyunjin started to undo the straps of his armour, putting the pieces on the clothes rack next to the tub. Hopefully the leather would be dry by morning. When he was down to his undershirt and pants, the woman returned with two people following behind her, all of them carrying buckets of steaming water.

“Thank you,” Hyunjin smiled politely, only to be told thanks in return, ‘for saving the village.’

… Jisung must be composing an epic ballad.

Tired, Hyunjin decided to not care about that right now, and fully undressed. He was just starting to relax in the hot water when the door behind him opened. Jisung’s familiar heartbeat sounded in the room. Hyunjin closed his eyes and sighed.

“Are you – oh.”

“What,” Hyunjin groaned. “Don’t tell me they only have one guest room and thus you simply must share with me.”

“Ah, yes, actually. How did you know?” Jisung crossed the room and sat next to Hyunjin, keeping his eyes strictly on Hyunjin’s face.

“Just – a hunch, I don’t know. Are you blushing?”

“No.” Jisung blushed.

Hyunjin hummed and started to cover his arms and chest with soap. It smelled too strongly of flowers, but maybe that would cover the lingering smell of blood and forest. He moved on to wash his hair, getting his fingers tangled in the knots.

“Wait,” Jisung interrupted, “let me do that.”

Stunned, Hyunjin didn’t move when Jisung grabbed the soap out of his hands.

“Your hair is really pretty,” Jisung murmured. “I want to braid it and give you a flower crown. Did you know that one of my aliases is Dandelion?”

“I did not,” Hyunjin said, because Jisung’s aliases were the most conceivable piece of information he just received.

Jisung laughed and used his hands to wash the soap out of Hyunjin’s hair. “You pretend you’re all tough and dramatic but really you’re a big softie.”

“Are you talking about yourself,” Hyunjin replied, because really, he did not come here for an emotional evaluation.

“Aw, no,” Jisung lightly splashed water in Hyunjin’s face, “I never pretend to be all tough and dramatic, I am all tough and dramatic.”

Hyunjin wrinkled his face in disgust. “You’re annoying.”

Hyunjin noticed how Jisung’s musician’s fingers lightly lingered on the scars on his shoulders and back when he washed the soap away. He let Jisung hold his hands and massage a pleasant smelling oil into his skin after he dried and got dressed in a long nightshirt the inn had kindly provided for them. He sat still as Jisung used a towel to gently dry Hyunjin’s hair, and in the absence of a comb used his fingers to disentangle the worst of the knots.

Jisung, for once, blessed Hyunjin with silence. Hyunjin still noticed Jisung. Even when he wasn’t talking a steady stream of nonsense, his presence was still… loud. Strong. The many buttons on Jisung’s jacket were undone with skilled fingers, and Hyunjin pinched himself when he finally remembered to look away. He walked through the room, closing the curtain, locking the door. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and looked everywhere except at Jisung, who pulled the nightshirt over his bare skin.

“You don’t mind sharing the bed, do you?” Jisung asked at last, sitting down next to Hyunjin.

“If I did,” Hyunjin replied, raising an eyebrow, “I’d have removed you from this room already.”

Jisung’s annoying mouth formed a big, heart shaped smile.

Hyunjin wanted to punch him. With his mouth. On Jisung’s mouth. He shuddered internally. Oh no. This wasn’t happening. He was definitely not going to kiss the annoying bard on his annoying mouth. Nope. Not happening.

“Thank you for saving my life,” Jisung said, serious. “Not just from the bandits, but you also kinda saved me back at the other village. You also punched me, but I know that was an accident.”

“I will punch you again,” Hyunjin grumbled, getting under the covers and scooting to one side, “it just won’t be an accident.”

Jisung laughed. “You’re really funny, you know that? I think most people don’t even notice, which is a shame.”

“You’re not funny,” Hyunjin yawned.

“Is that a challenge? Keep thinking that, then. I’ll make you smile.”

Hyunjin didn’t dignify that with an answer. He closed his eyes.

“Sleep well, Hyunjinnie,” Jisung murmured, burying himself in the blanket just a hand width away.

“Night,” Hyunjin returned after a pause.

It didn’t take long for Jisung’s breath to even out and his heartbeat to slow. Hyunjin listened to the muffled and fading noises of the inn for another while before he allowed himself to drift off. Even witchers needed sleep.

When he came back to consciousness, the first thing he noticed was the early morning light streaming in from behind the curtain. He still had his eyes closed and felt no need to move for the moment. Jisung’s heartbeat sounded steady, his breaths warm against Hyunjin’s neck. Hyunjin was warm and comfortable in a way he hadn’t been in a long time, the sheet comfortable around him.

Arms tightened around him, and a voice in the back of Hyunjin’s mind started screaming like the house was on fire. Except Hyunjin really didn’t mind burning houses, he was a witcher, why was his brain screaming? He firmly told himself to shut up and enjoy the lingering sleep. Awake time would be later.

“Hrngg warm,” Jisung murmured, and threw a leg over Hyunjin’s hips.

That woke Hyunjin.

Wide eyed, he stared down, only to see Jisung half on top of him. He realised that it wasn’t the blanket that was so comfortably warm and soft, but Jisung, because Jisung was draped all over him.

Carefully, Hyunjin tried to extract himself, but Jisung only tightened his hold on him.

“Fuck,” Hyunjin whispered.

What did one do when one woke up with a human octopus attached? Hyunjin didn’t know, so he tried to breathe normally and not disturb Jisung further. The bruises on his face were thankfully already fading into lighter shades of purple, but Jisung must have been exhausted. One of Hyunjin’s arms was free, and he’d left a bruise balm on the small table beside the bed, in case he hadn’t healed fully in the morning.

Carefully, Hyunjin reached over, scooped a bit up with his finger, and very carefully started to cover the bruises on Jisung’s cheekbone and temple. Jisung didn’t wake.

After a while, Hyunjin closed his eyes and fell back asleep. When he woke up again, it must have been late morning – golden light illuminated the room. Jisung was staring up at him, wide eyed.

“You drool in your sleep,” Hyunjin told him and gently pushed Jisung off him.

Jisung blushed furiously and wiped at his mouth with his sleeve, eyes not leaving Hyunjin.

Hyunjin stretched and stood. He opened the curtain, squinting against the bright daylight. When he turned to Jisung, he found Jisung rubbing at his eyes, looking lost in the center of the bed, blanket pooling around him. His hair stood around his head and looked – despite all logic – fluffy.

“I – uh, did I sleep on you?” Jisung averted his eyes.

Hyunjin hummed, turning to his clothes. His armour was dry, luckily, but he’d hate to wear the same undershirt and pants again. He’d have to find a river where he could wash his clothes soon.

“I’ll go find the toilet,” Jisung mumbled and left for the door. He almost stumbled in the doorway. “Oh, clothes! The nice lady must have left them for us.” In front of their door, indeed, was a neatly folded pile of clothes. Simple linen undershirts and pants, nothing fancy but of good quality.

When they had fully dressed and Hyunjin had wrenched his hair into a bun, they made their way downstairs just to find the barkeeper grinning widely at them, reminding Hyunjin that this village thought him a hero.

Thankfully, Jisung did all the talking, and Hyunjin could eat as much breakfast as he liked. Maybe he should keep Jisung around.

A handful of villagers came together to bid them goodbye, and the woman from the inn for some reason apologised for being unable to pay him, but instead offered a horse. A cute, mischievous black mare that had been her niece’s favourite, and as such had never learned how to be a proper farm horse. Jisung thanked the villagers profusely and loudly, and sang another rendition of ‘the handsome witcher saved my life’ as they left.

Out of sight and out of earshot of the last farm belonging to the village, Jisung’s voice went high and panicky.

“Hyunjin! I don’t know how to ride a horse!”

Hyunjin just looked Jisung up and down slowly, making his point. Jisung was, after all, sitting on his horse. Sure, he was also hugging his lute to his chest and also gripping the saddle with white-knuckled fists.

“Ha! I did it!” Jisung whooped then, and pointed a finger in Hyunjin’s face. “You smiled!”

Hyunjin wiped the smile off his face, furrowed his brows and glared. “No.”

“You did! I clearly saw – Hyunjinnie you’re so cute when you – ah!” Jisung blanched and cowered over his horse, who had just made a bigger step than usual to nose Kkami in the face.

Hyunjin laughed. He couldn’t help himself. Jisung was confident, or good at bullshitting confidence, and pretty, and annoying, and brave. And he was afraid of riding on a horse.

He leaned back just a bit, letting Kkami know to stop just by shifting his weight. Jisung’s horse also stopped, probably because it had decided Kkami was the best living being on the planet. What a smart horse. Hyunjin jumped off and patted the black horse on the nose, smiling at her.

Kkami snorted loudly.

Hyunjin grabbed the reins of Jisung’s horse and started walking. “Just relax, Sungie,” he said without looking over his shoulder. “I’ve got you.”

“What about Kkami?” Jisung sounded very relieved and adorably worried about Kkami.

Hyunjin hummed. “She’s the best. The smartest. She’ll walk with us on her own. You’re the one that needs to learn how to communicate with your horse. What’s her name?”

“Uh,” Jisung paused. “I forgot? Or they didn’t say.”

“Well, then you should start by naming her,” Hyunjin replied, and then started to talk about horses. What they liked to eat, how to care for them, what they did when they felt good and what they did when they felt scared, and what to do to calm a scared horse down. He talked about saddle care and the different kinds of signals most horses learnt from humans, and then he talked about Kkami.

Jisung listened.

And Hyunjin, the complete and utter fool that he was, talked himself hoarse (ha, get it, horse?) and taught Jisung how to not fall off his newly acquired companion.

In the afternoon, they rested by a stream, Jisung complaining about sore legs the entire time and whining when he tried to sit climb back up on the horse. Hyunjin laughed at him, which made Jisung smile brighter than the sun in the sky, and they decided they’d just walk next to their horses to relieve the stress put on Jisung’s legs. After a while, Jisung started singing again. Maybe it was chronic. Still, Hyunjin found himself enjoying the company, and if his ears didn’t betray him, Jisung’s lyrics were better now, too.

As the sun set behind some mountains in the distance, the annoying bard’s voice cracked from dehydration every few minutes. Jisung settled for humming melodies. Hyunjin caught a small animal for them to eat and built a fire on a clearing off the road. Jisung found an apple tree. As night fell, they huddled close together under Hyunjin’s thin blanket.

“I’m seriously unironically glad to have met you,” Jisung’s loud voice startled Hyunjin, who’d gotten used to the quiet and the fire’s crackling. “I forgive you for punching me in the face, too.”

Hyunjin took it all back. The annoying bard was annoying and Hyunjin did not enjoy his company at all. He sighed, pouring all his long suffering pain into the release of air.

“But only because you’re pretty,” Jisung continued his monologue.

That was it. Hyunjin couldn’t listen to another word. He leaned in, punching Jisung in the face. On the mouth. With his mouth.

Jisung made a strangled noise and returned the kiss with a small smirk in the corner of his lips.