The door of the lounge opened rather loudly, announcing the arrival of the Shinwha heir. Gu Jun Pyo rushed in, an anxious look in his eyes and when he saw Yi Jeong leaning over the pool table, he walked towards him, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“So! What happened? What’s the matter?” he asked, slightly shaking the potter. Ever since his mother had put up that joke of an engagement, he was always worried something could happen to Jan Di or his friends and when a rather urgent “Come to the lounge, I need to speak to you all” message had arrived, he had rushed in the car to get there as soon as possible.
“Yeah, shake him, you can even go as far as to throw him a punch or two! I was just about to try that, he refused to say anything unless we were all here!” Woo Bin complained looking at his best friend, rather frustrated.
“I actually have an idea on what’s going on, but I want to hear it from our Casanova here.” Ji Hoo smiled, the only relaxed one. He had been worried before actually seeing Yi Jeong, but now it was clear it wasn’t the kind of emergency they all were afraid of. When Yi Jeong was angry, his eyes were cold and dark but now he looked more embarassed than furious.
“Speak up!” Jun Pyo ordered him and Yi Jeong walked to the couch, sitting down with a sigh.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you guys. Nothing bad happened. Well, not yet.”
“You have exactly three seconds to tell us what’s going on, or I swear I’ll punch you right in the face!” Jun Pyo rushed to the couch, but Yi Jeong raised his hands to stop him.
“Hey hey hey! I’m sorry! It’s all ok! It’s just that…” he looked away, clearly at loss of words and Ji Hoo took pity on him.
“Why don’t you start with telling us what happened yesterday night? Because this is about Ga Eul yang, am I right?”
Yi Jeong closed his eyes and let his head fall behind, leaning against the couch.
“I need your help. To protect her.”
The three guys looked at each other, someone alarmed, someone cheering inside. Yi Jeong’s denial phase was over, it seemed.
“What are you talking about?” Jun Pyo asked, taking a seat.
“Things changed from last week, when I told you about our bet. I didn’t mean to, but the whole situation got out of control.”
“Well, not to spoil your fun bro, but it was kinda clear from the beginning that you were bound to loose that bet.”
“Hey!” Yi Jeong glared at Woo Bin, but the mafia prince just grinned at him.
“It wasn’t even a tough battle, you capitulated in just a week.”
“Thank you so much for the support, Ji Hoo.” Yi Jeong replied, looking at his friend slightly resentful.
He knew some teasing was inevitable and yet he didn’t like being made fun of.
“So what happened yesterday, after you dragged her away like that? Monkey couldn’t shut up a second when I was driving her home, she kept talking about you two.”
“And why don’t you tell us about the evening before, as well?” Ji Hoo intervened. “You know, when we decided to paint Jan Di’s room…”
If looks could kill, his friends would be already dead. They knew it was difficult for him and yet they wanted details. Shouldn’t they be on his side and just support him without asking so many questions?
“We talked, both evenings. We sorted things out.” Yi Jeong tried to keep it to the minimum, but the look in Woo Bin’s eyes wasn’t reassuring.
“You two just talked?” the mafia prince arched his eyebrow “You’re not the talkative type, bro.”
“Ga Eul yang is.”
“And? Details, bro, details.”
Yi Jeong snorted and stood up, moving away some steps. “What do you want to hear? That you were right and I was wrong? That she’s tougher than me? That she won’t take ‘no’ as an answer?”
“Did you really try to reject her?” How the hell could Ji Hoo ask such questions with a straight face? It was so sarcastic he could feel it from miles away and yet his eyes were wide and innocent.
Yi Jeong lowered his head, preparing to confess to his friends. He needed to tell someone other than Ga Eul, because even if she had forgiven him, he still couldn’t forgive himself for what he had done.
“I tried to make her see.” he told them with a flat voice. “I tried to force her to understand what I really am. I almost went too far, but even if she was scared, she refused to give up.”
He was sure his friends understood what he meant. He could feel it in the sudden chilly atmosphere: Ji Hoo’s face was unreadable, Woo Bin’s incredulous and Jun Pyo’s cautios.
“If you harmed her, Jan Di will come looking for your head.” It was Jun Pyo who broke the thick silence and Yi Jeong was grateful he couldn’t hear a hint of judgement in his voice. “But you didn’t, did you?”
With a deep breath, Yi Jeong turned to look at him, shaking his head. “No, I didn’t.”
But how close had that been? He could have lost everything he had now, just because he couldn’t accept what he was feeling.
“What the hell, Yi Jeong, were you crazy or what? How could you?”
Woo Bin was putting the puzzle pieces together, remembering the day he had gone to the porridge shop, Ga Eul’s paleness, her obvious uneasiness. It must have happened the evening before, when Yi Jeong had stormed out of the lounge, after telling them about the bet. She had masked her fear so well he hadn’t been able to recognise it till now. What a brave girl.
“I wasn’t thinking.” Yi Jeong closed his hands into fists. “She was driving me crazy and I could only think about revenge. But she stopped me.”
“And she forgave you.” Ji Hoo tried to gentle his expression, shaking his head.
And then it came, just like Yi Jeong knew it would. Just like he wanted. A sudden, violent, punch caught him in the stomach and he bent forward, stifling a groan.
“Hurt her again, and Geum Jan Di will be the last of your worries.”
The sudden statement, like the punch, didn’t really catch them by surprise, coming from Woo Bin, who had stood up and was now facing Yi Jeong.
“Did you hear me?” he repeated. “I’m not joking.”
Indeed he wasn’t. Prince Song’s eyes were flaming, that same look he had on the night Yi Jeong had been beaten up. Among F4, they never really talked about it, but they knew Woo Bin was their heart, their guardian and it was clear the mafia prince had extended his protection to Jan Di and Ga Eul too, the two girls that had changed them so deeply.
“Didn’t I tell you already?” he kept on, towering above Yi Jeong. “Ga Eul yang is a nice girl and she doesn’t deserve any suffering. Nothing can justify something like that. She was driving you crazy? And what does it matter? Are you a beast? Or was your pride the problem, because she was showing you something you didn’t want to see?”
Yi Jeong didn’t react, just catching his breath. “I know. Kick me as long as you want. I deserve it. I can’t be feeling bad enough when I think about what I almost did to her. Ga Eul yang may have forgiven me, but I didn’t.”
“Enough.” Jun Pyo ordered, walking between the two guys. Woo Bin stared him out for a few seconds, then he backed off, going back to the couch.
“Ok. I’m sure he got what I meant.”
“I have.” Yi Jeong was massaging his stomach, a pained expression still on his face. “But trust me, you won’t have to warn me twice.”
“Next time it won’t be a warning, Yi Jeong.”
“I said enough!” the Shinwha heir thundered and as always, when Gu Jun Pyo wanted something, he got it.
“Tell us what happened next.” Ji Hoo asked, breaking the silence. He couldn’t help to blame Yi Jeong for the sudden tension between them, but he knew he had no right to. His love for Jan Di had been and still was a source of trouble among F4. For the umpteenth time, he wondered how long he would have still loved her and for the umpteenth time he knew it would probably have been forever. Jan Di was his soulmate, he had acknowledged it long time ago. Only time could tell if he was destined to be her lover as well, or just her Guardian.
“We talked. She kinda forced me to. And then…” Yi Jeong shrugged. “Let’s just say she could extract the truth even from a rock. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, and most of all, I couldn’t lie to her.”
“So…” Ji Hoo crossed his legs, a grin on his face. “Are we talking to an ex-Casanova now?”
Yi Jeong deeply breathed in and then he nodded. “Definitely.”
There, he had said it, the dreaded word that would forever put an end to his life as he knew it. Exchanging promises with Ga Eul was one thing… but stepping out in the open with his best friends was entirely different. Jun Pyo, Ji Hoo and Woo Bin were the family he never had, his brothers, the people he trusted most in the world and telling them about something so important meant acknowledging it was truly real. It was scary and yet it felt right.
A sudden silence met his words and the three boys just stared at him to the point he started to feel uneasy.
Maybe Woo Bin was going to punch him again?
“Ga Eul yang really did it.” Ji Hoo finally said, smiling widely, his eyes full of gentle happiness.
“Commoners…” Jun Pyo was incredulous. “I can’t believe I saw the day the Casanova fell in love.”
“Bro… Are you sincere about her?” It was a very serious question.
Yi Jeong smiled at Woo Bin, a slightly troubled smile. “It seems ages since we asked the same question to Jun Pyo. I was even the one who warned him about the danger of what he was doing. And do you remember what you told us, Jun Pyo?”
“That a real man takes responsibility, from beginning to end.” he answered, with a bitter smile. “I suppose I should add a condition now: if the parents don’t get in the way and don’t try their best to make your life a living hell.”
“And that’s exactly why I need you guys.” he looked at each of them, as serious as Woo Bin. “You all know what happened to my brother. You know I can’t do what he did, not that easily.”
“Do you think your grandfather will try to mess with Ga Eul yang?” Ji Hoo asked, going to the heart of the problem.
“Yes. I know he will. Fooling around and having fun is ok with him, but when he will realise that I’m actually dating one girl for more than a few days, he will make his move.”
“Have you thought about the possibility of keeping it a secret?”
“That’s impossible, Woo Bin. My staff reports to him and Ga Eul yang would never agree. She’s a stubborn girl.” he smiled at his last remark, fully knowing that Jun Pyo was thinking about another commoner, equally stubborn.
“Ok. How can we help you?”
“Well… I’m sure he will try to bribe Ga Eul yang and when it won’t work, he will try to ruin her family, so that they will have to transfer to another town. Jun Pyo, Ga Eul’s father works for one of your companies.
You can help me making sure he doesn’t loose his job.”
“I’ll see about that.” The Shinwha heir promised.
“Woo Bin, I need one of your men to trail Ga Eul yang, if that’s possible. I want her followed everywhere she goes and an immediate report if by chance my grandfather attempts to speak with her personally.”
“Yes, but discreet. Ga Eul yang will skin me alive if she knows I’m having her followed.”
The mafia prince smiled and nodded. “I’ll choose the men personally. I’ll organise turning, so she’s guarded at every hour. Do you want to put a microphone or a GPS in her phone too?”
As absurd as it was, Woo Bin was perfectly serious, and Yi Jeong knew it. “A GPS could be useful, but I’ll have to talk to Ga Eul yang about it before doing it.”
“The laundry girl could use one too.” they heard Jun Pyo mutter and they all chuckled.
“As for the rest…” Yi Jeong’s eyes wandered on each of them, but they insisted on Ji Hoo “Geum Jan Di is her best friend and she will be the first one to know if something happens to Ga Eul yang. Keep your ears open. Even if we try our best to prevent anything from happening, my grandfather could outsmart us and even if Ga Eul yang promised me she won’t let her pride prevent her from asking for help, I don’t want to let my guard down.”
Ji Hoo nodded almost invisibly and Yi Jeong knew he had got the message. He was the closest to Jan Di right now, but asking him directly in front of Jun Pyo would have hurt him.
“Thank you guys.” He said, definitely relieved. Now that he told them everything, he really felt better.
How could he have ever thought about keeping it a secret from them?
“So…” Woo Bin grinned with his wolvish smile and Yi Jeong knew he was in trouble. “Now that we have covered the basis. How much whipped are you, from one to ten?”
“I say 11.” Ji Hoo chuckled.
“I say 100!” Jun Pyo laughed.
And Yi Jeong understood his friends had forgiven him and they were all by his side again. They would have protected Ga Eul yang, all together.
It was a relief.
He couldn’t help but think that he would have preferred some more punching to all the teasing that was ready for him, but he knew it was inevitable.
After all, brothers always do that.