Yunho stares at the door of his office, his legs spread wide as he sits and waits. There are two piles of paper on his desk. The one that his secretary adds to every time she walks in with a click in her heels, and the one that she takes from before she walks out with the same click following her step.
Someone knocks on the door, and Yunho sits up hurriedly, straightening out his back and trying to look busy. His father walks in before Yunho has time to tell him to please do so, smiles warm-heartedly and lets a huge stack of papers fall on the desk from his arms.
“Yunho, my son,” he starts and reaches over the desk to flick a piece of dust off his shoulder.
He tosses a briefcase on the desk as well, taking out a tablet computer, which he plants on the desk in front of Yunho with some kind of diagram opened on the screen. Then he fishes out a small black planner and starts leafing through it.
Yunho stares at his father’s face, a kind face, worn out by hard work and lots of laughing. He can’t really take it anymore. There’s a minutes-long silence, but his father never once checks to see if Yunho understands everything or if he is even looking at the diagram in the first place. Yunho sits and stares some more.
His father is hardly paying attention to him, lathering the desk with another heap of binders and papers and contracts. He always licks the tip of his forefinger before flipping a page on his planner. Yunho thinks his father’s fingerprint must have faded out from all the licking. A perfect crime, they could to commit a perfect crime together, is what he thinks.
“Yes sir, no sir, I don’t know sir,” Yunho answers quickly and stands up behind his desk. He glances at his desk, but no paper on it is worth taking with him. He decides on a red inkpad. Yunho slides it into the pocket of his dress pants. The family stamp is in the drawer, but who cares. Yunho won’t be singing any new papers in the near future. Or maybe when he makes a new electricity contract. But even that can be done with his smartphone, anyways.
“Dad, I’m going to be a chef,” he says, squeezing the inkpad in his hand inside the pocket. It gives him odd courage.
He walks out of the door and smiles at his secretary. Who knew, the girl is actually sort of pretty. Beautiful even. Or maybe it’s just the relief Yunho is experiencing. She doesn’t have a taste in fashion though, that’s for sure. She waves at him, her face is bright, but her jacket is so last season.
“But you don’t even know how to cook, son!” Yunho’s father yells after him. Yunho’s feet feel light, he smiles. Maybe it’s just that she doesn’t have enough time to go shopping.
It doesn’t take Yunho long to find a suitable cooking class. It’s chiefly targeted towards new husbands and fathers, young men who would love to live modern lives as modern men who act according to modern gender roles, but sadly have no idea where to start.
The easiest class, Basics One, starts the earliest, nine o’clock in the morning. Yunho walks in, eyeing the crowd of apron-clad young men chatting amiably amongst themselves. One reason the class is so popular is that the instructor is supposed to be quite pretty. Yunho wonders if she’s prettier than his ex-secretary. He reckons cooking class instructors have more time to do shopping than secretaries, at the very least.
Yunho looks around the classroom, and he forgets everything about the supposedly pretty instructor when his eyes reach the last row of cooking tables laid around the room. Yunho’s feet move by themselves, leading him towards the back of the room, and he settles nervously behind a table. The person behind him leaning against the wall clears his throat, and Yunho’s hands shake. Or maybe it’s his heart that’s shaking internally, or it’s the world that is shaking, but something must be shaking, that Yunho is sure about.
Yunho takes the blue apron lying on the table in front of him and ties it carefully around his waist. He takes a deep breath and turns around to face the person.
“So, you one of those newly-married wanting to learn how to cook?” he asks and tries to smile. The longer it takes for the person to answer him, the longer the person just stares at his face with his blank, huge eyes, the more crooked Yunho’s smile turns before he’s sure that the corners of his mouth must be pulled back all the way to his ears.
The person stares for a moment longer before he opens his mouth.
“I’m your new bodyguard, Jung Yunho-ssi,” he introduces himself. “My name is Kim Jaejoong, your father hired me to keep you safe from the inevitable consequences of your resignation and the installation of your sister in your place.”
Yunho doesn’t have much to say and he turns around before he manages to embarrass himself further. One thing is for sure though—this one is definitely pretty. And he has a great taste in fashion too, as far as Yunho is concerned, the fitted suit looks amazing. He really seems to have enough time to go shopping.
My bodyguard, Yunho muses. Huh. Well, it could be worse, he reckons. This Kim Jaejoong could be one of those new fathers, after all. And who says he isn’t, really, just because he is a bodyguard doesn’t mean he cannot be married. He could be a father with a newborn baby for all Yunho knows.
It only takes Yunho’s brain a nanosecond to force him see the extremely unwanted image of the beautiful bodyguard with a tiny baby in his arms. Shivers run through his spine, and he thanks the God he believes in and all the ones he doesn’t believe in too, when the instructor suddenly walks in through the door.
“All right, my dear gentlemen!” she announces cheerfully and claps her hands together. She is wearing a sweet apron with a flowery pattern and looks extremely energetic. The type that gets anything done when she really wants to. “I am your instructor for this course, please call me Miss Eom. Let’s get it started then, shall we! Has everyone found their aprons?”
Enthusiastic affirmative answers fly around the classroom, but Yunho has concentrated all his energy on the back of his skull as he tries to see the man standing behind him through his head.
“Very well then! We shall start with— what about you though? The young man in the back of the room?”
Yunho’s eyes widen and he points at himself questioningly, but Miss Eom is not looking at him but at the man, Kim Jaejoong, standing behind him.
A great excuse to turn around and stare at him as well.
Kim Jaejoong looks exactly the same that he had looked two minutes earlier, but even so a feeling runs through Yunho, a great relief, one might even describe it as the utter and heartfelt happiness of a reunion long due.
“Me?” Kim Jaejoong asks and his voice is just as low and husky as it had been two minutes earlier. Yunho is already planning a night out in karaoke for the whole cooking class. Surely Jaejoong wouldn’t even have to be persuaded to come along and then Yunho would have a great excuse to listen to his voice a lot more.
“Yes, you, why are you not wearing an apron? Are there none left?” Miss Eom asks him.
“I’m not a participant in the class, Miss. I’m only here as Mister Jung’s bodyguard.”
There are murmurs and gasps around the classroom, but Yunho hardly pays attention. How can anyone manage to look so dreamy when they’re face is so blank?
”No, no, mister, that will not do,” Miss Eom scolds Kim Jaejoong playfully. “Bodyguard or a CIA agent for all I care, if you are going to be inside this classroom, you are going to wear an apron just like everybody else. Now, are there any extra ones left?”
The young men in the class look around, wanting to be helpful, but the class is fully booked and all tables and aprons are in use. Miss Eom does not let it get her down and in a second she has conjured up an extra apron from her bag, one that looks delightfully identical to the one she is wearing herself.
Yunho looks on frozen as she hands the white floral apron to Kim Jaejoong, who wordlessly puts it on and ties it around his waist.
God, that Kim Jaejoong. Not only has he got some fashion sense, but he would definitely look handsome even in the old jacket Yunho’s ex-secretary, the current secretary of his younger sister, wears. He definitely looks handsome in his neatly cut dark suit that has now been covered with a girly apron.
Kim Jaejoong’s face remains as blank as ever, but somehow Yunho can sense a slight aura of hostility around him.
The menu of the day is the most basic of Korean stews: the class is given the task of making a pot of reasonably edible kimchi stew.
It takes a while for Yunho to get used to one Kim Jaejoong in a flowery apron staring at him when he cuts up the ingredients according to the instructions given by Miss Eom. Kim Jaejoong never says a word, just stands there staring at Yunho, occasionally taking a few minutes to patrol the classroom and the front lobby, or glance around the room as if checking for something or someone. His constant hovering gives Yunho ample time to take a good look at the man, and he starts wondering what his dad had even been thinking. Kim Jaejoong is a good few inches shorter than Yunho, and looking at the apron strings around his waist, that one might be more than a few inches smaller in circumference than his.
He doesn’t really dare to talk to Kim Jaejoong but the man keeps a close eye on him, and when the dish is finally done and Yunho picks up a spoon to sample it, Kim Jaejoong’s hands grab his arm in a speed of light.
“It might contain poison,” Kim Jaejoong gives as an explanation and takes the spoon from Yunho’s hand. “I’ll taste it first, sir.”
Yunho doesn’t really want to let him, but it’s what the man gets paid for, he reckons. Kim Jaejoong carefully spoons up a small amount of the reddish soup, blows it slightly before inserting the spoon into his mouth.
Then he grimaces.
“Jaejoong-ssi!” Yunho shouts and manages to have the whole class turn around to stare at them. Yunho dashes to grip Kim Jaejoong’s waist in case he might fall down. He is already searching for his cell phone, but his head is blank. What was the national emergency number again? Or should he call the poison information centre? Anything to save Kim Jaejoong’s life! Tears are already forming in Yunho’s eyes as he squeezes Kim Jaejoong against his chest.
“S-sir,” Kim Jaejoong coughs, his face squished against Yunho’s apron.
“Don’t talk, Jaejoong-ssi,” Yunho says and feels a grave grief grip his insides. “Help will be here soon!”
“With all—cough—due respect, sir,” Jaejoong coughs and tries wriggle his head away from the constriction of Yunho’s two arms. Yunho just grabs his hair and presses his head even tighter against his shoulder. “You might—cough—want to consider your future career path and occupational prospects again.”
Yunho releases his new bodyguard slowly, and Kim Jaejoong grabs himself a glass of water at once. Miss Eom stares at them with an incredulous half-smile on her face, and the young father cooking in the table next to Yunho is openly laughing.
After one day of cooking class, it is apparent that Yunho is not a very good cook indeed.
After a week, Yunho’s skills are not getting much better. Everyday, Kim Jaejoong tastes his dish first, and everyday Yunho waits with a glass of water or juice to give him as soon as he finishes coughing over whatever the menu of the day is. Miss Eom tries to pay him extra attention and see what he is doing wrong, but she has a whole class full of men, some better than others but still all beginners, so Yunho is mostly left to his own devices.
Then after a week a miracle happens. When Kim Jaejoong puts the spoon in his mouth, this time rice cake soup, it comes out empty and without the company of an ugly grimace. Yunho’s hands automatically reach out to offer him a glass of plum juice, but Kim Jaejoong just puts the spoon down with a very satisfied look on his face.
“A little less salt next time, sir,” he remarks.
Yunho doesn’t realise it immediately, but the whole classroom is clapping at him.
It only takes Yunho three days for the haze of success to clear out, and another three to start suspecting something fishy. His dishes keep getting better and better each day, but he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything any different than before, or that he has understood some crucial point about cooking that he never knew before.
It all does get a lot clearer when Yunho one day, while coming back from the toilet, stops just outside of the classroom’s front door to adjust his shoelaces. When he straightens back up, his eyes happen to fall on the back of the class—where Kim Jaejoong can be seen chopping something feverishly. Yunho freezes on his spot, watching as Kim Jaejoong busies himself with tasting, seasoning and adding things, adding more water, taking something out, all while wearing his white, flowery apron. When Kim Jaejoong lifts his head up to glance at the doorway, Yunho quickly hides himself behind the wall. His heart is throbbing inside his chest and for some reason, his cheeks feel a little bit hot.
Taking a calming breath, Yunho composes himself and walks through the door towards the table. Kim Jaejoong is hanging around like nothing is out of ordinary, his blank eyes following Yunho’s every movement closely.
Yunho stops next to the pot and looks down at the bubbling stew.
“It’s boiling up alright?” he asks, trying to sound nonchalant. Kim Jaejoong nods his head but his expression doesn’t change one bit.
“Seems to be rounding off pretty well, sir,” the man answers and licks his lips.
When the class ends and Kim Jaejoong tastes his stew, nodding in approval and giving Yunho a small compliment, Yunho is a little bit closer to knowing how it feels like to be in love.
Yunho leans in a bit, offering a cup of juice to Kim Jaejoong like he always does. He doesn’t let go of the cup though, when Kim Jaejoong tries to take hold of it. Instead, he lifts it up to the bodyguard’s mouth. After a slight recoil and a flustered glance at Yunho, Kim Jaejoong opens his mouth and accepts the drink Yunho is giving him.
For some reason, he doesn’t meet Yunho’s eyes for a good ten minutes after that.
Days go on, cooking class goes on, and every day Yunho goes on hiding in the doorway, observing Kim Jaejoong fiddling with his stews. The results keep getting better and better, and while Yunho still has no idea what he is doing wrong, Kim Jaejoong seems to have gotten the whole picture and can now work magic around and over whatever Yunho manages to create.
It’s rather odd, really. No one ever told Yunho bodyguards cook this well. Or maybe it’s just Kim Jaejoong. The man surely is one of a kind. A bodyguard with a flowery apron. At least he has stopped coming to work dressed in a suit. Instead every day when he greets Yunho at the door to his apartment to escort him to the cooking class, his clothes seem to be getting more and more casual.
Yunho almost forgets it’s his bodyguard, in fact. Kim Jaejoong starts to seem like a relatively quiet, unusually polite friend with an unusually blank face. Yes, that’s it; a friend.
Yunho makes it a habit to give Jaejoong something to eat every morning. He has to wake up so early in order to pick Yunho up from his apartment and make it to the class by nine o’clock, so Yunho feels a bit sorry for him. He makes sure to make something he could not possibly ruin, like toast with jam. He joins a food-related group on Facebook and learns how to cut out the edges and cut the toast in half so that it forms two pretty triangles.
Another day he brings a small box of cut-up apples. The pieces are uneven and oddly shaped, but at least he managed to get off the peels. Most of them, anyway.
The best part of it all is that Jaejoong has to drive, and that makes it absolutely necessary that Yunho feed Jaejoong on their way to the cooking class. After the first few times, Jaejoong takes to it and doesn’t recoil every time Yunho’s hand appears in front of his face. Now he eats out of Yunho’s hand with ease.
The day passes by, and Yunho has just finished sweating onions when a familiar figure walks in the classroom.
“Dad,” he breaths out, and finds Jaejoong next to him tensed, frozen on his spot.
Yunho’s father walks in, trying not to make a fuss but he ends up making one anyway as the young men in the room all stare at him.
“Son,” he greets, and nods at Jaejoong. “Jaejoong-ssi.”
“Dad, I’m not going back to doing business,” Yunho starts before his father can say more. “Jihye is better at it than me anyway, dad, just please let me do this.”
His father looks as kind, and as formidable, as ever.
“Keeping the disappointed ex-investors away, are you Jaejoong-ssi?”
To Yunho’s great surprise his father completely disregards him and starts talking to Jaejoong instead.
“Yes sir, it’s going well,” Jaejoong answers, and he looks cautious, his face is tense.
“We got a few threats in the mail again yesterday about the ruined project, I’m sure you were informed about it?”
“I was, sir,” Jaejoong answers again and his eyes dart to Yunho and back quickly. Yunho feel his knees weaken and he rubs his sweaty palms against his thighs. His hand hits something and he slides his palms into the pocket of his dress pants. It’s the red inkpad he had confiscated from the office the day he marched out. It gave him courage then, and he could as well use some more of that kind right now. Yunho wraps his lean fingers around the inkpad and squeezes it tightly in his fist inside the pocket.
“And now son, do you understand what kind of situation you put your little sister in just to attend this, I don’t know, this… cooking class?”
“Dad…” Yunho tries weakly, but he’s never been one to talk back to his father. “You know Jihye is better than me at it all—”
“I do know that son, but unlike you I care about her and don’t want to leave her struggling in a position that she is not ready for yet!”
“Did you even ask—”
“Now, son, I think you should come and deal with your mess! I had given you the benefit of doubt and tried to back off for a few weeks, but the investors are not giving up on this matter. You know it’s not for Jihye to deal with.”
Yunho has his own doubts about the truth. He keeps in close contact with his little sister, and she has not expressed a word of being frustrated with her work. In fact, Yunho knows she was secretly happy when Yunho resigned and she got a good reason to be promoted.
“Come on son, let’s go,” Yunho’s father says and grabs his arm to drag him on. Yunho refuses to budge, but his arm is pulled forward and his hand slides out of his dress pants pocket.
It takes Jaejoong only a nanosecond to grab Yunho’s arm as well and put pressure on his wrist.
“Sir, you had better leave right now!” he yells and stares desperately at Yunho’s hand covered in deep red. There are voices in the classroom, fellow students shaken by the sudden commotion.
“Yunho-ssi does not care about your business, sir!” he cries out and before Yunho’s father has a chance to say anything, his cell phone rings. He gives Jaejoong a last incredulous look and marches out of the room to answer his phone.
It is, once again, Yunho’s turn to stare at Jaejoong as the other fusses over him with glossy eyes.
“Where’s the wound? Where is the wound??”
Yunho finally understands what’s wrong and shakes his hand, confused.
“It’s ink, Jaejoong-ssi.”
“Huh?!” Jaejoong is barely listening to him, tucking up his sleeve in search for a wound.
“Jaejoong-ssi!” Yunho raises his voice and tugs his hand out of Jaejoong’s hold. The movement makes the man pay attention again, and he raises his chin, looking up at Yunho’s face.
Yunho digs the inkpad out of his pocket, showing it to Jaejoong.
“It’s ink,” he reiterates, and Jaejoong takes a step back, resting a palm on his heart. “I took it with me from the office when I left.”
“What the hell…” Jaejoong breathes out, his eyes barely blinking as he searches Yunho’s face for any sign of pain.
The gaze is rather intense, almost uncomfortable, and makes Yunho feel nervous. It’s as if Jaejoong can see through him, like he knows all his secrets and what he likes and what he doesn’t and he knows all about it. It makes him want to confess.
“I know you fiddle with my dishes, Jaejoong-ssi,” Yunho blurts out suddenly. “And then have me think it’s my own cooking getting better.”
Jaejoong has tensed once again, his lips slightly ajar as he stares at Yunho’s face. For once his usually blank face is a bit more open, he looks slightly scared.
“But it’s okay, I don’t even want to be a chef, really,” Yunho says and after Jaejoong gets over being dumbfounded, he giggles. He giggles, utterly hopelessly. Yunho doesn’t think he has ever seen the man even smile before. He must be doing something right. “I just wanted to stop doing that and. Well. Chef was the first thing to cross my mind.”
Jaejoong looks at him, and he’s still smiling, a hand raised up to cover his lips. What beautiful lips they are.
“You really take other career paths into consideration, si— …Yunho-ssi,” he smiles. “I don’t know if I can keep up with your cooking any longer. If I dare to say the truth… I think you might be getting worse.”
A smile splits Yunho’s face in half.
“I’m just happy you weren’t poisoned that first time you tasted my kimchi stew.”
He takes hold of Jaejoong’s hand and carefully caresses the top of it with his thumb.
Then a kiss on the lips takes him by complete surprise.
Jaejoong leans back, licking his lips with a very thoughtful expression on his face. It’s Yunho turn to be stunned and his mouth drops open a little bit. When Jaejoong notices his expression, he giggles again.
“Had to get a taste before you do,” he explains with a twinkle in his eye. “Not poisoned. You can now eat up, sir.”