What Doesn’t Kill You

by Shinju Yuri (真珠百合)
illustrated by calintz

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/40939.html)

When Hyun-woo rose up from his seat and said, “I should go back; Sung-min’s mother is visiting”, he silenced the entire room.

“….Lee Sung-min’s mother?” said Eun-jae finally.

“Yes,” said Hyun-woo. “She’s been criticizing his housekeeping all week, so he’s a little upset.” He turned and seemed to realize the room was staring at him. He seemed to feel some further explanation was needed. “I thought it was pretty weird too. I mean, I always thought he’d risen out of some puddle of venom or something, but I guess he has actual parents.”

“Critizing his housekeeping?” said Ki-hyun. “What the hell? What about his housekeeper?”

“He doesn’t have one,” said Hyun-woo. This earned him further blank looks, so he added, “He has to keep ritual cleanliness a lot, so it’s just easier if he does the work himself.”

“With spirits, I expect,” said Eun-jae. “Fairies or gnomes or something.”

“With beeswax, mostly,” said Hyun-woo.


illustrated by calintz

When he walked into the complex, it was suspiciously quiet. He walked into the living area and saw Sung-min’s mother curled on the floor with her nose half-hidden under her tails. “Hello,” he said politely.

Sung-min’s mother opened one silvery eye and lifted her head, transforming as she went from her kumiho form to her human form. Hyun-woo still remembered how he felt when he had found out that Sung-min was the son of a Taoist scholar and a nine-tailed fox. “Complete lack of surprise” pretty much covered it. “Dear Jin Hyun-woo,” she said graciously, managing to make ‘dear’ sound more like ‘delicious’, as usual. “We did miss you while you were gone.” This was apparently a royal we, as her son was nowhere in sight.

“Where did Lee Sung-min go?” he said.

“Somewhere,” said Sung-min’s mother. Something about her suggested a tail twitching in irritation. “Really, you would think he would be delighted that I was giving him a few little hints about his lintels.”

Since Hyun-woo had seen her idea of a ‘little hint’, he remained silent.

“I do wish you would find him, dear,” said Sung-min’s mother. “It’s almost time for supper.” She smiled and Hyun-woo took an involuntary step backward. “I hope, although I don’t expect, that he took my suggestions about his kimchee to heart last year.”

“I’m sure he did,” said Hyun-woo. He went back out the door and whistled for Ha-Neul. There was a mrr from behind the house, so he went there to find the great black tiger peering interestedly beneath the porch. Hyun-woo considered this for a second and then put his head under the porch. He said, “Hiding isn’t going to make it any better, you know.”

“Yes, it will,” said the elegant terror of the capital, the man who froze people with his smile and cut through his enemies with his words. In the dim light of the cracks between the boards Hyun-woo saw that Sung-min was looking feral and hunted, like a cornered dog. “I can just stay here until she leaves. I’m sorry to do this to you but some sacrifices must be made.”

Hyun-woo looked at Ha-Neul. The great cat flicked his tail and wiggled his way under the porch. Hyun-woo straightened up, feeling that there were some things that prying eyes should not see. He counted to five and then heard Sung-min yelp and swear viciously, and a variety of thumps, bangs (one of which sounded distinctly like someone’s head making sharp acquaintance with the porch) and finally Ha-Neul backed out, pulling Sung-min by his long hair.

“Die in a thousand years of suffering and be reborn as a hog,” hissed Sung-min.

“After supper,” said Hyun-woo.


The worst part about his mother, Sung-min thought, was that while she was always critical and usually out to drive him insane for his own good, she was always charming. It wasn’t fair. It was like she got away with murder only because she was elegant and wore silken brocades and embroidered gauzes and carried sandalwood fans. It made him feel as if he was a child again being scolded.

Revered Father, he composed in his head, Your honored wife is making my life a misery. Please come and fetch her, or you will have no one to offer sacrifices to your altar. How did you like the book? Hyun-woo is fine. Sincerely, Your humble son. Regretfully, he discarded the idea. It wasn’t that his mother ruled his father. It was more that he was perfectly willing to let her have her own way so that he could spend more time with his books. And his parents were very fond of each other, and Sung-min was tolerably fond of them, if they kept well away from him.

He slunk like a thief through his own house. His mother had as a matter of course taken the best bed in the house (ie, Sung-min’s) and was disposing herself comfortably across his pillows. Ha-Neul was stretched across a path of moonlight in the main room. Sung-min turned away and went quietly to Hyun-woo’s quarters. Hyun-woo was asleep, dressed in a loose white robe. His light hair fell over his face and his hand was curled next to his cheek. He had flung off the coverlet in his sleep, and the heavy, quilted brocade was puddled against his back and legs.

Sung-min stared at him for a long, long moment, cataloging the strong lines of Hyun-woo’s arms and the corded grace of his back. He was like an ivory statue Sung-min had seen once in a mass of offerings in a temple to the Celestial Emperor. His dark golden lashes fell over his cheeks like fans. Sung-min walked to the bed and knelt down. As he stretched out his hand, his black and red sleeve made a pleasing contrast against Hyun-woo’s white sleeping robe and his tanned arm. He leaned forward and kissed the skin behind Hyun-woo’s ear. Hyun-woo shifted a little but didn’t wake up. Sung-min shrugged his robe off and leaned over further, bracing his hands on the bed so he caged Hyun-woo in. He licked a long, slow stripe down Hyun-woo’s neck and to his shoulder, bracing himself so he could have one hand free to stroke down Hyun-woo’s muscled chest and down to his abdomen. Hyun-woo shifted again lazily, open and relaxed. Sung-min almost felt bad about taking advantage, but it wasn’t as if Hyun-woo couldn’t rip his head off. Or —

“I take it your mother is asleep?” said Hyun-woo sleepily.

Or something like that, anyway. Sung-min slumped down. “Traitor,” he said bitterly. “Deserter!”

“It was not my fault I was called away,” said Hyun-woo. He worked one hand free and patted Sung-min as best as he could. “I don’t see why you get so upset, anyway. I like your mother.”

Sung-min froze.

“If you’re just going to lie there staring at me,” said Hyun-woo presently, as Sung-min continued to stare at him in mute horror and disbelief, “I am going to go back to sleep.”

“Demon,” said Sung-min. “I knew it. Only a demon in human form would like my mother. I must inform the king instantly.”

“Your mother is not evil,” said Hyun-woo, irritably. “Well. Mostly not evil. You’re just mad because she wants grandchildren.”

I can’t even do that!” howled Sung-min. ” Nobody would want to marry me! It’s not like I’m pure-blooded anything! In case it has escaped her attention, she is a fox and my father is human!”

“Mostly human,” said Hyun-woo, who had once had the privilege of meeting Sung-min’s father.

“And besides,” added Sung-min crossly, falling on his back, “No matter what she says I can’t do that thing she does.”

“What, the thing where she turns into the other gender?” said Hyun-woo, who had also been privileged to see Sung-min’s mother do it. “I thought your father has pictures of you as a –”

“We are not talking about this any more,” said Sung-min, loudly.

“But you were so cute in the little –” began Hyun-woo, in a suspiciously even voice.

Clearly the only thing to do was kill him before he finished. Sung-min got as far as wrapping his hands around Hyun-woo’s neck, and Hyun-woo heaved up and flipped them both over, landing straddled on Sung-min’s hips. His sleeping robe slid off his shoulders, exposing the golden line of his throat and collarbone. “At least you have a mother,” he said.

Sung-min stilled. Hyun-woo had been orphaned before he could remember his parents and had been raised by his teacher, who had died just before Hyun-woo had met Sung-min and Ha-Neul. He wanted to say something but his glibness failed him.

“Anyway,” said Hyun-woo. “If you have woken me up for no reason I will kill you.”

“Is that a fact,” said Sung-min. He slid his hand up over Hyun-woo’s hip, running his thumb over the hard line of the bone there. Hyun-woo began to flip open the fastenings of Sung-min’s under-robe. Sung-min pulled the tie of Hyun-woo’s sleeping robe loose, and it fell open, exposing his front.

Hyun-woo shivered as Sung-min trailed his hand up his stomach and to his shoulders, sliding the robe off in a white pool. He leaned down, bracing his hands on the bed, and kissed him. “Think your mother will stay out of the room this time?” he said. Sung-min winced at the memory.

“We are quite finished talking about my mother,” said Sung-min firmly. He slid his hand down again, and Hyun-woo shivered, his eyes falling half-closed. He ground his hips against Sung-min’s and Sung-min hissed, his hands digging into Hyun-woo’s hips for a second. He pushed himself onto elbows and Hyun-woo leaned back enough to let him sit up. He kissed Hyun-woo deeply and Hyun-woo’s arms wrapped around him, his fingers digging into Sung-min’s back. Sung-min bent his head and bit at the tendon of Hyun-woo’s shoulder to make him claw at Sung-min’s back. He was pleased when Hyun-woo’s head tilted back, when he gasped and shuddered.

Hyun-woo wedged his hand between them, wrapping his hand around himself and Sung-min as far as he could, bringing them together. He worked his hand up and down awkwardly, and for a second Sung-min wanted to let him, to watch Hun-woo as he shuddered and ground against him, but he couldn’t stand it. He reached out and fumbled for a jar of oil and pushed Hyun-woo’s hand away, slicking them both. Hyun-woo’s eyes were wild and blank. There was a white tension in his mouth that Sung-min thought was beautiful. He kissed his lips, nipping them coaxingly. Hyun-woo lifted himself enough that Sung-min could prepare him, at least a little. He was impatient, though. Sung-min found he was impatient, too; he wanted more and more.

It was confusion and chaos, and something in Sung-min craved it, welcomed it. Hyun-woo knelt over him and slid down, shivering. He caught his breath, burying his face in Sung-min’s neck and Sung-min held himself as still as he could bear, waiting until Hyun-woo began to move, slowly at first, and faster and faster, his eyes half-closed and nearly hidden by the fall of his hair. His face was deeply flushed.

Hyun-woo stiffened suddenly, his head falling back. Sung-min dug his fingers into his hips and shuddered, trying to keep control even as Hyun-woo made a quiet sound and came all over their stomachs. It was too much. It was. He made an animal sound deep in his throat and lost the last slipping threads of his control.

Afterwards he lay on his back with Hyun-woo slumped across his chest. He felt sleepy and content, sated. Hyun-woo’s hand curled through his hair, and Sung-min flung an arm across Hyun-woo’s back.

“Your mother says your father might come to visit,” said Hyun-woo, sleepily.

Sung-min really thought that he was going to cry.

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