"If you want to improve, you have to learn, and yes, I am aiming this at you, Wangnan."
Koon stood in front of a whiteboard, a marker in his hand. He had drawn up several diagrams on the board, each captioned with meticulous detail. He was giving a lecture, hoping to help his team improve in intelligence and not just physical combat.
Koon took his jobs seriously, but he could see Team Tangsooyook did not feel the same way. In fact, as Koon glanced at the few individuals behind the motley crew that was Team Tangsooyook, even Shibisu's team didn't have their heart entirely in this lecture. Shibisu had been excused, since he knew this stuff as well as Koon did. Laure, as usual, was dozing, and Anak and Androssi were having a silent mental argument, their eyes glaring daggers at each other. Rak was finishing off his sixth banana.
Koon sighed, feeling a headache growing. At least Hatsu was paying attention. The swordsman was sitting attentively in his chair, though Koon could see his hand inching towards his sword, the urge to train his physical prowess emerging again.
As for Wangnan and his team...Koon noticed how none of them, save for Goseng, were paying attention. Wangnan himself had his head down on the table.
"Wangnan, are you sleeping?" Koon asked. He was tempted to throw his marker at Wangnan's head but didn't-Baam was sitting right next to Wangnan in the first row, his eyes wide and curious. He was watching, and it was more than enough to put Koon on his best behavior. Koon would make any sacrifices, big or small, for Baam's sake. Anything for him.
"No! I'm not! I'm totally awake!" Wangnan shouted, jumping to his feet and knocking over his chair with a loud clatter. Behind him, Yihwa snickered, though Koon observed how she had set the edge of her chair on fire and thought she didn't deserve to be so gleeful.
"Yihwa, your chair is on fire," Koon called out wearily.
Yihwa looked behind her in alarm, panicking and knocking the flaming chair over. It was a miracle the flame did not consume anything beyond her chair.
Koon clutched his marker tighter, reminding himself why he had set about this impossible task in the first place. He had to help Team Tangsooyook get better. "Yihwa, take the chair and get rid of it outside. I don't want this room catching on fire."
Yihwa leapt to her feet, running outside with the chair. Koon let out another hefty sigh.
"Now that you're all awake, can you please pay attention? This is important."
Wangnan squinted at the board. "Isn't this just another one of your stu-stupendous plans? Why are we learning a new one when the old ones work? We've been practicing."
"The test is in a few days," Goseng added, a bit hesitant. "You said so yourself that we should trust our training and trust our teammates. Changing the plan now wouldn't be good."
At least Goseng was smart, Koon thought wryly. He would answer her.
"This isn't a new plan," Koon said. "Well, it is, but it's not any that we're going to use, ever. I've drawn up a hypothetical plan here, as an example."
Koon glanced at Baam. "Some people learn best with examples."
Baam caught him watching and smiled. Koon's entire world lit up with that one smile. Suddenly, the task at hand didn't seem so impossible.
Koon cleared his throat. "Today, I'm going to teach you about strategy and tactics."
"That's the same thing," Rak interrupted. "Why call it two different names? Why are you always so extra, blue turtle?"
Koon swore he was going to murder the crocodile one day. "They're not the same thing. That's the whole point of this lecture."
"This is stupid," Rak declared. "A great leader such as myself doesn't need to know this. I'm already the smartest person in this room."
Rak stood up, dropping his banana remains onto the floor. "I've ran out of bananas."
Without another word, Rak marched out. Koon could only stare after him.
"Why did you even come here in the first place?" Koon muttered under his breath.
"You know, he's right," Anak announced. "I'm the strongest here-"
Androssi let out a laugh and Anak turned to glare at her.
"-I don't need to learn this. Besides, our team's already ahead of yours, Koon. The ones who really need to catch up are you guys."
Koon carefully set his marker down. "I did say this was optional for you."
"I thought you might be teaching something cool," Androssi said. "But I should've known better."
She sighed dramatically and stood up.
Anak rolled her eyes. "You Koons are all the same, up to your devious tricks and schemes. I don't need those to win."
Koon's hand twitched. "Are you two done?"
Anak smirked at him and didn't reply. Instead, she walked out, with Androssi not far behind. Androssi waved goodbye at him.
"You might as well take Laure with you," Koon called out.
Androssi shook her head. "Nah. It's Hatsu's turn for Laure duty."
"So. Would anyone else like to leave?" Koon asked.
The members of Team Tangsooyook exchanged glances, but none of them left. Koon smiled smugly. Although they weren't on par with Shibisu's team, they at least knew he was their only hope.
"Right. If we have no other interruptions, I'll continue." Koon picked up his marker again. "As I was saying, strategy and tactics are different. You might think they're the same, but they're not. Strategy involves the typical planning you're used to. The plans that we come up with before a test? These are strategies. The broad idea, if you will. It's what you plan beforehand.
"Tactics, on the other hand, are what happens during. As I'm sure you all know, tests and battles never go the way we plan. This is where tactics come in. The split-second choices you make in a fight-these are the tactics. They let you adjust to any situation accordingly. As the phrase goes, you have to 'adjust tactics'."
Koon pointed to his diagrams as he spoke. "Each of you excel at one, but are fairly poor at the other. I want you to practice what you're not good at. That's the only way to improve."
"Right, so what are we?" Wangnan asked. "Which am I?"
"Tactics," Koon replied instantly. "You're decently smart, Wangnan, at least in battle. You analyze and react to situations well. Planning more than a few steps ahead though? That's where your weakness lies. In fact, almost everyone here is bad at strategy. I want you to be able to adjust your tactics to the overall strategy. Always aim for the goal."
Baam beamed. "You're good at strategy, Koon-ssi!"
Koon felt his face heat up slightly at the way Baam said it.
Koon was a master at strategy and tactics. That was what made him excel as a light bearer. Yet, as Koon watched Baam from afar, even his skills at both failed him when it came to the one thing he wanted.
Koon cleared his throat. "I'm actually good at both, Baam."
Baam's eyes shone with interest. "Really? You're more amazing than I thought."
Koon had to tear his gaze away, if only for a moment. He could feel his heart beating loudly in his ears, and wondered if Baam could hear it, too.
"And you excel at tactics, Baam," said Koon, trying to reassert some control over his body. "More so than the rest. You're able to see more than just one or two steps ahead."
"But not enough to plan a strategy," Baam concluded. He caught on fast to everything he was taught.
"Right." Koon shrugged awkwardly. "Anyway, I'm going to pair you up now. I have come up with a few scenarios and I want you to practice. Remember, the key is to observe and analyze. Stop and think about a choice you're making. Think about how it impacts the game, not for the next five minutes, but for the next twenty. Always think about it in the long run."
There were lots of grumbling from the group present but Koon ignored them. He hadn't failed to see the one person who hadn't made any complaints-Baam.
"Koon-ssi, will you help me?"
Koon looked up from his pocket, where he was going over the results of the last lecture. Needless to say, most people had done poorly. Goseng had shown promise, and Koon made a mental promise to teach her some more. She was perhaps the only worthy person among Team Tangsooyook to teach.
Koon put away his pocket. Baam was standing in front of him, his hair tied up in a ponytail. Briefly, Koon wondered if Baam was copying his old hairstyle.
Koon shifted on the couch he was seated at, making space for Baam, who accepted the invitation. His bangs were in his eyes and Koon absentmindedly reached a hand out to sweep it to the side.
"Help with what?" Koon asked, realizing they were a little too close for his comfort.
"Strategy," Baam said. "You're great at it. You can come up with a strategy for everything, so I thought, why not learn from the best?"
Not everything, Koon thought. There's one strategy I can't come up with-the way to win your heart.
Out loud, Koon said, "Sure."
Baam took out the sheaf of papers Koon had handed out earlier. "I was wondering about this one."
Baam leaned in, and Koon felt his breath cut short. Baam was way too close, even more than usual. He wondered if Baam heard the hitch in his breathing.
"We can take it a step at a time," Koon somehow managed to say. In his mind he thought, Maybe I'll make it happen today. Maybe I'll finally say it.
But like all his meticulous plans before, this one fell to pieces before it even began. Koon found himself at a loss, his usual courage and bravado failing him.
"Observe and analyze, right?" Baam said.
Koon nodded in reply, not trusting himself to speak. Baam leaned in even closer, his golden eyes watching Koon's intently.
"So, we know the number of opponents," Baam said, the first to break away, turning back to the sheaf of papers in his hands. Koon was missing it as soon as it happened; Baam's eyes were like a drug he couldn't get enough of.
"And we have data sheets on them. I think the first thing we would do in this situation is analyze the enemy. Or, in any situation, really."
"That's correct." Koon forced himself to look away from Baam and at the paper. "Note the terrain. Knowing the battlefield is just as important as knowing your opponents."
Baam moved the papers so they settled in between their laps. His hand shifted, moving closer to Koon's leg. Koon felt like he might die, his pulse racing wildly. They were sitting directly next to each other, their bodies a few millimeters apart.
Baam pointed at a section of the page. "Can you clarify this part for me?"
Koon obliged, the way he always did whenever Baam asked something of him. Baam asked more questions, and Koon answered. An hour went by before they finished.
"Thank you, Koon-ssi," Baam said. He put the papers to the side and turned towards Koon.
He paused, something unreadable in his eyes. Koon wondered if he had done anything wrong just now.
"Can I ask you something?"
Baam hesitated. Koon could see him debating something in his mind, though he had no idea what. What did Baam want to know, that he was so afraid of asking? Koon had never denied him anything.
"May I call you Aguero?"
Koon froze. His brain told him he heard the question wrong, but his heart was singing something in his ears, something he only knew in his fever dreams.
At Koon's silence, Baam's smile fell, worry taking over. "Sorry. I just thought-never mind. Ran calls you that. He's family, and I'm not."
Baam shook his head and looked away. He stood up abruptly, collecting his papers and tucking it under one arm.
"Thank you for your time, Koon-ssi."
As he made to walk away, Koon stood up.
Baam stopped, though he didn't turn around.
"Yes," said Koon, his voice nearly a whisper. "You may call me that, Baam. You are family to me."
Koon swallowed. "And maybe more."
Slowly, a smile broke through Baam's features. He put down his papers and stepped towards Koon, until they were face to face. Koon could see every detail on his face.
"Tactics, right?" Baam said, a little breathless.
"You said I was good at tactics," Baam said, smiling. "I think I've handled that pretty well."
Koon blinked. For once, his brain was slow at processing. "What do you mean?"
Amusement sparkled in Baam's eyes and Koon realized maybe there were some things he was perhaps blind to.
"You came up with the strategy, and I handled the tactics, all the tiny steps in between to get us to the goal," Baam said. "Though, I wasn't really sure about the strategy until just now. I thought maybe I had read it wrong."
"Strategy?" Koon asked, bewildered. "For what?"
"For this, Aguero."
Baam leaned forward and closed the distance between them.