Mina thought that morning took way too long to come that day as she had stayed awake for most of the night, quietly eyeing the arms that were wrapped around her.
Arms that held her as if she would disappear if they didn't hold on to her enough.
Arms that weirdly felt like the ones of a stranger.
Nothing had happened, not after the kiss nor when they both went to bed that night.
Minhyun was a man of principle that wouldn't sleep with a girl he loved before marriage and strangely enough- Mina felt relieved that things had stopped where they did.
It wasn't that she disliked his touch, it wasn't that she didn't want him - because she liked him, she really did, or at least it felt that way to her.
The young woman unexpectedly felt tears whelm in her eyes each time he kissed her skin, each time he whispered to her that he loved her.
These weren't the type of tears one would shed from happiness, she felt miserable, torn apart.
Mina closed her eyes once again, hoping that sleep would come to her with counsel but it didn't, it never did when one was troubled- instead all she could think about was his face.
The face of a man she had met only a few weeks ago, a man who she had cried and laughed for, a man she had already missed more than she could imagine.
A man who knew her better than she did.
Why was it that she could not shake him off? Why was it that the scar on her head burned every time they saw one another?
He was supposed to be her past and not her present and yet it was him that occupied her mind when she was awake and him she thought about when she felt happy.
He was everywhere.
He was in every little thing that she liked, every breeze, everything.
The young woman silently sat up, pushing Minhyun's arms away from her who was quietly sleeping, his face at peace and all that she felt was remorse- remorse for not being able to give herself to him fully.
Mina carefully walked out of the room, in need for a walk and almost instinctively headed out.
She couldn't bear to see the tall and dark walls, she wanted to escape the dense air, she wanted to see the sun.
She went through the quiet kitchens with its flames long gone- its backdoor leading to the outside of the castle, her ancestral lands.
Mina was hit by the scent of a calm morning, skies painted with watercolours and dewy grass that dropped their beautiful crystals onto her naked feet.
She watched as the faraway tree tops danced along the slow breeze and stared at the hill in front of her- soon noticing a familiar figure standing underneath the lone tree that had looked after her family for centuries, generation after generation.
She knew that the tree would be there even after she would become a mother and her daughters after her too- it was a nice reminder that although life comes and goes, some things always remain the same.
Mina slowly walked to him, in no rush, it was always like this with them.
It was as if no matter how long time passed- they always came back to one another while everything happened so quickly with Minhyun.
Soon, Hyunjin noticed her too and waited.
"You're awake early…" he said in a breath after some time spent looking at one another.
"...I didn't sleep."
Mina noticed the slight but yet present frown between his eyebrows that he tried to hide from her.
"...Nothing happened." She told him, quickly understanding what her words might have implied "...Nothing."
Hyunjin almost sighed in relief, almost.
What right did he have to be relieved? It was over, all of it was.
She had made her choice.
"...Why are you telling me…?"
"...I don't know." She answered, her eyes shaking.
Mina could feel her chest tightening.
She wasn't stupid, she knew that she loved him and was even more sure of it after the past night.
And yet she could not shake off the sentiment that those feelings weren't truly hers and that they were only an illusion.
How could she not doubt herself under the circumstances they had met?
She walked to the tree and rested her forehead against it.
It all felt so familiar- the two of them there, at dawn, peeking at a shy sun that had just been born from the darkness.
She closed her eyes.
"I used to love this tree as a child." She told him, half sure that he already knew " I used to hug it every time I was having a hard time."
"...I know." He said, as expected.
She slowly wrapped her arms around it, hoping that maybe it would comfort her again and felt phantom limbs embracing her too.
A ghost of her past lovingly resting its head on her shoulder while whispering sweet words in her ears.
<< You don't have to come here anymore, I'll be your tree...I'll be the pillar that supports you through the toughest storms and I'll be the flame that keeps you warm at night.>>
She turned around to meet his eyes.
<<So let's marry when we are a little older, so that I'll keep my promise, so that we'll see each tomorrow together, so that we'll never have to bid farewell when night comes…>>
Mina stood there, slightly shaking as it all became clear to her.
"...I loved you too didn't I?" She whispered tears flowing down her cheeks.
Hyunjin bit his lip, holding back his.
"...You did." He answered.
The young woman looked up to him crying even more.
"...I loved you more than anything."
"...You did." He replied again, tears also filling his eyes.
"...And do you still..-"
"Always…" he answered.
Mina leaned against the tree, feeling the strength in her legs leave her.
"Why...Why would you…" she cried "Why did you leave if you did-"
"I had no choice…" he said, wiping her tears away.
Mina took his hand, further pressing her cheek against it.
All of the emptiness in her heart that had plagued her for the past few years explained by three simple words.
She loved him.
She loved him so much that, although free of his memories, her soul still remembered and missed him.
"Why...Why...Please tell me…"
"I can't...I promised your brother never to tell you about it."
"...Why do you all think that I can't handle the truth? Why do you all think that I am made of glass?" She sobbed "Don't you understand that not knowing doesn't make the worries disappear? Don't you understand that thinking about what might be wrong with me everyday might cause me more pain than knowing the truth?"
Hyunjin bit his lip.
"...You'll hate me if I tell you the truth."
"No I won't, you know that I won't...What's keeping you from telling me?"
"...I don't want you to suffer again."
Mina tightened her grip on her hand.
"I won't, but if I do, it will be momentary and then I'll heal...Please."
Hyunjin hesitated but finally brought his free hand to her forehead, where the scar from that day still remained.
Mina flinched, feeling that same burning and throbbing sensation.
"...You never lost your memory because of a prolonged high fever Mina….You lost your memory because of a head trauma….And you almost died from it."
Her mind went blank for a second and then it started.
It started as a small, weak headache and then her world began spinning, screaming voices from that day coming back to her in loud crashing waves.
"Someone was sent to kill you…" he continued before stopping.
Mina watched as he turned pale and yet, filled with rage and anger- she had never seen him this angry.
Or had she?
She remembered him shouting and crying at an old man that looked to be a doctor.
She remembered him being dragged out of her room.
"And the person who hired that man was my own mother."
Hyewon knew that the last person Sunggyu must have expected to come knock at his door this early in the morning was her.
And yet she stood proudly, hood hiding her dark locks.
"...Princess." said the man, noticing the imposing guard standing by her side "...I see that you did not come alone."
"I am not stupid, why would I come here without taking any precautions?"
A scoff escaped Sunggyu's lips.
"...Come in." He said and she did, following him to a small room.
Hyewon indicated to the guard to wait for her outside and closed the door behind her.
"What brings you here?" Asked Sunggyu, pouring wine in an empty glass.
"...You know why I am here, to warn you."
He laughed, taking a sip of his drink.
"If you do not give up on your foolish quest for power, you'll die. I'll make sure of it."
"What will it be then? Poison? Assassins? Or will you put a dagger through my heart yourself princess?"
Hyewon tensed up, slightly letting go of the knife handle she had been holding onto under her cape.
She watched confused as the man started giggling.
"...What's so funny?"
"Ah...Myungsoo…" he sighed with a smile on his lips and sparkling eyes " Do you know how ridicule you made him look by coming here?"
Sunggyu walked to her and took her hood off.
"...Pretty and yet...Not intelligent enough to stand by his side."
His smile only grew when she frowned.
"His words carried weight last time because of his confidence...But you being here can only mean two things…" he began
His hand came to rest on her cheek.
"The two of you either are way weaker and at a disadvantage compared to what you are trying to make us believe and have to resign to threatening me like this to win…..Or you don't trust Myungsoo enough to protect you and Kami until the end and felt like you had to act on your own….In which case it means that Myungsoo is alone and an easy prey."
Hyewon bit her lip, soon realizing that she might have made a mistake by coming to the house.
It wasn't that she distrusted Myungsoo, but she indeed knew that she and Kami weren't first in his priority list.
Hyewon knew that if it ever came down to her or his sister, that Myungsoo would pick Mina over her.
"...He isn't alone."
"Really? You doubt him, so does his own sister and Minhyun-...Well Minhyun won't last long either."
Hyewon pushed his hand away.
" ...Myungsoo's threats were real and so are mine."
"Then why am I still alive? Why do I still breathe when I am a nuisance to your plans?"
"Because of Kami, we are keeping you alive because you are her family."
"If that's truly why you are keeping me alive...Then you stand no chance."
"And why is that?"
"Because the ones around you will all get in your way, hold you back when it is time to act…"
"So you don't care about a single person but yourself?"
"I don't, I would kill my family with my own two hands if needed to reach my goals."
Sunggyu finished his glass, putting it down on the table.
"...I care about the natural order of things and birth rights, I care about this country's future. I can't let Myungsoo have what isn't his..."
"There is no natural order, no one is born more deserving than others- some are just born lucky like you and I. That's it." Replied Hyewon "Each person deserves to have as much as we have."
"Then give your title away princess, give it away and all of your privileges to some peasant since they deserve it as much as we do…"
Hyewon bit the inside of her cheek.
"I wonder how a girl like you would survive...You've never done chores nor have you ever lived in misery." He smiled "You wouldn't last a day…"
Sunggyu came closer to her.
"Why all this? What made you so mad that you want things to change? Why do you want to give up rules of old and traditions?" He asked "Well...Not that I am really curious, I already know why."
A smile appeared on his lips as he ended up behind her, leaning in to whisper in her ear.
"If you want Kami...I could give her to you and you two could be together for all I care...If only you marry me."
Hyewon turned around.
"Kami could live with us without it looking suspicious since I am her brother and you two could have the romance you both hope for…."
Hyewon hated herself for considering the idea for a second.
But what if she could stay with her?
What if she never had to say goodbye?
" We would just need to have one child to continue my family line...this is all that I will ask of you apart from supporting me in my fight against Myungsoo."
"...And what if I refuse?"
"Then we'll be enemies again and I'll take all of you down, without sparing anyone."
Hyewon clenched her fists, feeling herself hesitating.
She knew that she couldn't trust him and yet his swords were tempting.
She really could have it all, but at what cost?
She would have to give up her brothers and her friends.
"...Can you give me some time? I need to think about it."
"...Alright, but you don't have forever princess."
Sunggyu sat on his chair and she could see it, he would never fit the throne.
"After the party…"
He would never be a true king.
Mina stood dumbfounded after hearing his words.
What did he mean by the fact that she had almost died? What did he mean when he told her that his mother was responsible for everything?
She didn't want to believe him and yet,it all made sense.
Why would she have such a scar if she had just fallen? Why would she have no memory of it from when she was a child when everyone around her told her she got it when she was little?
"I'm sorry...Please don't panic and breathe."
It was then that she realized she hadn't been breathing properly and fell back against the tree before slowing sitting down on the ground.
Her head felt like it was about to explode.
Hyunjin quickly knelt before her, his arms embracing her- and that's when it all came back to her, the events of that day.
It had been a day or rather a morning like this one, beautiful and calm and the two had met up at that same exact place, at the same exact time.
She remembered how he kissed her and how she kissed him back, she remembered them lying in the grass and laughing as dew drops rolled down their faces.
She also remembered the black shadow that suddenly appeared, large terrifying eyes fixed on her and how she lost consciousness after a heavy blow landed on her head.
She remembered hearing Hyunjin struggle with their assailant and she remembered the quick fading steps as the barks of her dogs echoed near the castle.
She remembered feeling Hyunjin's warmth while she grew colder and she remembered thinking that she would never see another morning, that this would become the last dawn of her life.
But it wasn't the only thing that came back to her.
It was like a door had been opened with each single memory leading to another and another.
And she finally remembered everything.
Mina finally came to herself hearing the prince calling out her name.
"I'm sorry- I'm sorry I shouldn't have told you-" he trembled,tears flowing down his face " Myungsoo warned me and I should have listened-"
Seeing him like this took all of her panic away, maybe because it almost felt like she was truly seeing him again as herself for the first time in years.
Or maybe because of the overwhelming thoughts reminding her of how happy they used to be together rushing through her minds.
Her hand reached out for his face.
He used to be so young, he still was and yet- she could tell that the innocence in his eyes had been ripped away from him.
His smile was gone too, the one that was pure and carefree- and it broke her heart beyond what she could describe and she grieved for it.
"...Hyunjin." she gently called out.
He looked up to her and calmed down seeing her eyes unexpectedly at peace.
"...Don't cry…" she said wiping his tears away with her thumbs not realizing that she was also in tears " Please…?"
Hyunjin looked at her in confusion.
"Yes." She nodded with a smile.
"...All of it?"
"....Every single kiss, every single smile,every single word you whispered to me…" she smiled "All of your night visits, all of the letters you wrote me, all the flowers you gave to me…"
Mina's voice trembled.
She had so much she wanted to say, ask and yet, she couldn't.
"...Why did you leave…? Why...Why didn't you stay by my side…?" She asked with a shaking voice.
"...You almost died because of me…." He said " My mother didn't want me to give up on my throne to live a peaceful life with you and yet I insisted and it pushed her to-"
He froze,biting on his lip.
"…How could have I stayed?"
"How can you know that it was her…?"
"Everything points at her...The killer that day...He only tried to kill you and not me even when I had seen his face…"
"...It could have been an enemy of my family."
"Why would they kill you and not Myungsoo when he is your family's heir?"
"...My mother wants me to be king but I don't." He explained.
"Doesn't she care for your opinion…? Your feelings?"
"She never did….The attack itself is proof of that"
"...She thought that by getting rid of me you would obey her…"
Hyunjin took her hand.
"...I wasn't able to gather enough proof to prove that it was her who did it and so she is still free….The only thing I could do for you was to stay away…It was the only way I could protect you."
Mina looked at the rising sun, feeling her chest tighten.
They had only been fourteen at the time, way too young to deal with such issues.
Mina had been somehow spared the trauma and pain all this time by forgetting everything but what about him?
She couldn't begin to imagine how much he must have blamed himself, how much he must have suffered for all these years.
"...It wasn't your fault, you couldn't have imagined things would turn out this way."
"I should have been careful, I shouldn't have been so careless-"
"We were kids Hyunjin…You can't blame yourself for having been innocent and hoping for happiness."
Hyunjin also stared at the horizon.
"...What happens now…? Do we go back to how we used to be before that time?" He asked.
Mina gently clenched his hand.
"...You already know the answer."
Hyunjin sadly smiled.
Mina bit her lip to keep herself from crying again.
"...I may still love you from the deepest part of my heart...But it's mostly because of past memories I have just found back….Memories from four years ago." She whispered " Four years is a long time for people to change and we aren't the same people we used to be back then…"
She watched as their fingers intertwined, she watched in pain as he gently rubbed the back of it with his thumb- almost to tell her that it was alright and to continue.
"We can't go back to loving one another as we used to...So much happened and we ended up hurting one another involuntarily…"
" I don't mind the scars, I don't mind past pains…"
"But can you be sure that you won't resent the years you lost because of me later on? When we grow old?"
" I won't."
Mina teared up.
"...But I can't say the same thing...I already resent you for leaving me once...And I also resent you for coming back and wrecking my life upside down...And yet I still love you but even the fact that I love you feels uncertain to me."
She took a deep breath.
"Your time might have been frozen since then but mine...I lived a different life Hyunjin, a life without you that I sadly also enjoyed…"
"...So you are choosing to give up on us because you are scared." He whispered "...Scared to start again."
A small smile appeared on her lips.
" So are you..You could have chosen not to see me ever again knowing that I might remember everything and hurt once more...And yet…"
A weak laugh of defeat escaped his mouth.
"...We used to be so selfless...I guess we really did change."
"We really did…"
Mina gently rested her head on his shoulder and stayed this way for a few minutes.
"...I'm going back soon…" whispered Hyunjin.
"...To my country."
"...Will you be coming back?"
"...I will eventually, I have to."
Mina caressed his hand, trying to engrave its warmth in her memory.
"...Hyunjin...Thank you for everything." She said "....And sorry."
Hyunjin managed to smile and leaned towards her, kissing her cheek.
"....And thank you….Thank you for having been a part of my life." He said.
Myungsoo walked through the narrow streets of downtown London that always were dark even when the sun rose up in the sky.
"You always choose the strangest places to meet up." He said to the masked man who waited for him, leaning against a wall.
"It's not far from my workplace."
The man handed him an envelope.
"This is what I found out today...It's not good."
"The nobles coming back from the colonies...They probably won't be on our side; they are all from families that have shown a clear dislike for you and your new title."
The man sighed.
"...I'll deal with them one way or another."
"They also might be planning on distabilizing the current economy."
"...To turn the public against the current government."
The man nodded, taking a deep breath.
"...We have one more issue Myungsoo."
"Open the envelope."
The prince obeyed only to freeze once his eyes laid on the paper he was holding.
It couldn't be.
"What will you do about Minhyun?"
"...I'm not sure."
Sungyeol took off his mask and ran his hand through his hair.
" We can't be shaken, not now."
"But this is…"
"Myungsoo." Called out his friend " We have to tell him." He seriously said.
Myungsoo sighed, putting the file back into the envelope.
"...And for the other issue?"
"No one in that guild knows about who Gong yoo is , he is a fraud."
"...So it's confirmed." Stated Myungsoo " Let's take him down as soon as everyone gets here."
"We have to hurry, he plans on marrying Minhee next week."
"I know, don't worry." Comforted the new prince.
Sungyeol nodded, eyeing his friend, wondering if he was alright and yet- he knew better than to ask, Myungsoo liked to be left alone and disliked people trying to get into his head.
"...See you then-"
"Why are you willing to work with me again? I thought you left all the shadow work behind."
Sungyeol smiled, it was unusual for him to ask such personal questions.
"...Because I think I understand you better now...I know how it feels to want to protect someone else."
"So you love her..?"
Sungyeol looked up to the bright sky above them.
" I always used to be angry on the inside...Because the world frustrates me, because no matter how hard I work things never get better…" he began " But when I am with her I feel at peace, I feel like nothing else matters…"
The sculptor walked to his old friend.
"I don't feel like I need to put a label on what I feel for her...If I get to be with her, it's all that matters...Isn't it enough?" He finished.
"...It is." Smiled Myungsoo.
"What about you? Is there someone you feel this way about?"
Love was a luxury Myungsoo couldn't afford to have.
It was the one thing he had given up on.
He could live without love, he could live without feeling cared for.
"There's no one and there will be no one in the future too."
Sungyeol couldn't help but feel bad for him, especially since he now knew how great loving someone was.
"...Lone wolves always die Myungsoo."
" We all do eventually. What matters is how quickly death comes for some."
"...Do you intend to die?"
A small laugh escaped Myungsoo's lips.
" Who knows?"
Hyunjin stayed by Mina's side even after their tears stopped flowing only for the blue sky to be replaced by sad and gray clouds that poured their misery upon the pair that had gone through more than enough for the day.
Maybe it aimed to mirror their anxious and grieving hearts, maybe it had taken pity upon them.
The two old friends ran inside, drenched, a state they often found themselves in since they had met again.
However none of them beamed with excitement or happiness like the previous time- instead they were both suffocating with unspoken words and feelings that were kept deep down in their chest.
Hyunjin hadn't told her how much she meant to him and Mina hadn't been able to say how strange she had begun to feel when she stood by him.
I was a slow burning feeling, like the warmth of a fireplace warming up frozen limbs.
It was slow but ever growing.
Hyunjin had wrapped her in a wool blanket after drying her hair with a towel.
He had appreciated each second,knowing that he would never get to be this close to her again after that moment.
The prince admired how the wet strands of her hair fell onto his trembling finger tips, how her eyes would shyly and painfully meet his.
Hyunjin wanted to tell her that he would be alright and not to worry- but it was a lie he didn't have the strength to repeat anymore.
The young man eventually left her for the night, silently kissing her hand before he went back to his room-finding himself alone for the first time since they had escaped the capital.
It was a dark, quiet and starless night.
The kind of night that made the soul feel lonelier.
The kind of night that made one's body and soul feel cold.
It is all for the best.
It had to be, otherwise he had no idea as to how he would endure the pain.
He would have to get used to it eventually if he was to stay by her side to see her get married and build a family.
It would be a life of pain and yet- it was the path he had gladly chosen.
The man clenched his fists around his sheets, cursing fate when a shy knock echoed in his room.
"...I can't sleep." Whispered Mina behind the door "...Can I stay with you if you are still awake?"
Hyunjin stayed silent, knowing that he had confused her more than enough.
She needed to go on without him, she didn't belong by his side maybe she never had.
"...I know that this is selfish of me...To come see you after what happened in the afternoon…" she began
Hyunjin silently got out of bed and walked to the door, stopping in front of it, his fingers tracing the masterfully carved wood.
He wondered what kind of face she was making but knew that there must have been tears in her eyes, he could hear it in her soft voice.
"...But I am scared...Scared that things will never go back to the way they used to be after today...And I can't sleep because of it."
Hyunjin bit his lip, resting his forehead on the door- he also feared what would come next, he feared the distance that would eventually come in between them.
The prince heard her sigh.
"...Maybe you're asleep and in that case...Good...It might mean that you are alright…" she sadly said "....I don't know what I was looking for by coming here anyway…"
He heard her turn around, seemingly leaving.
Hyunjin opened the door and gently grabbed her wrist before even understanding why he had done so.
She looked back at him, surprised.
"...I am not asleep." He finally said, looking down at her hand in his somehow distressed state "...I was not sleeping."
Mina's heart was racing, not out of surprise but because of how she felt the need to throw herself into his arms as soon as his skin touched hers- something she hated herself for.
She already belonged to someone, or at least she thought her heart did.
"Me neither…" she murmured.
"I know,silly...You just told me." He replied with a light smile.
Maybe it was the way he stood in the entrance, the way his fingers intertwined with hers- but Mina suddenly got a feeling of deja-vu.
She had stood there in that exact same spot before, holding his hand and even kissing it.
Or had it been him? She wasn't sure and yet the memory or illusion of him embracing her and kissing her cheeks felt all but too real.
The Hyunjin from her vision was tall, way taller than what he would have been if they played together as children and so she shied away from the thought that seemed to be no more than a fantasy made by her subconsciously.
And what did it say about her? That she let herself think of another man in this way?
"...What are you truly doing here?" Asked Hyunjin, noticing the pink hue and flustered look on her face she used to make when they met at night.
"...I...I don't know." She answered, her eyes locked with his "...I wanted to see you...I needed to."
"...Needed?" He repeated, his heart beating faster.
She hesitated, knowing what she might be applying by using the word.
It was the distance, she thought, that made her hesitate, she wouldn't be so confused if she was next to Minhyun and able to feel him.
It took all Hyunjin had for him not to kiss her right there and instead he hugged her,burying his face into her neck.
"...You make things difficult for me…Really."
"...I know…" she replied, hesitating before finally caressing his back with her hands.
"...You shouldn't have come here." He whispered in her ear.
Mina shivered as her hands travelled down the hills that were his shoulder blades.
"...You do remember how I feel about you right?" He reminded her, as if warning her as their eyes met again.
"How could I ever forget…?" She said in a breath.
"...Then why are you hugging me like this...Why are you-"
"I don't know-" she interrupted him, her pupils shaking " I don't know...Everything I have been feeling since I met you has only confused me…"
Tears pooled in her eyes.
"At first you scared me...Because you just seemed to know everything about me...things that even I don't remember...You're a ghost of a past that I have long forgotten."
She sighed as they got closer.
"...And yet...And yet when you are not with me I am restless...I keep thinking about you and the few memories I have of you and I miss you…" she trembled " I miss talking to you and I miss holding your hand and I am scared that you'll go away suddenly… I am scared that I'll go back to who I used to be."
Hyunjin sadly frowned.
"I...I don't know what to feel...I am questioning myself endlessly and it is torturing me." She whispered as their faces got closer.
"...Then did you come to clarify your feelings?" He asked, his nose touching hers.
"...I might have." She quietly said.
Hyunjin cupped her face, his breath against hers.
He knew that it was wrong and yet no longer cared.
"Then...Can I kiss you?"
Mina froze as she hanged onto his nightshirt, her heart racing and her head spinning.
Hyunjin caressed her cheeks with his thumbs.
Mina parted her lips, hesitating as they heard footsteps coming towards them.
The young woman quickly backed away to Hyunjin's disappointment only to see the old butler come out of the shadows.
"Your Grace-" he called out " I was looking for you everywhere…"
A flustered and confused Mina forced a smile.
She had almost said yes.
She had almost kissed him before she could answer him.
"...Sorry, I needed to ask the Prince something..." She replied " What is it?"
"There is someone looking for you."
"At this time of the night…?"
The young woman frowned, knowing that there was only one person that would visit her this late and guilt came back rushing to her.
"...Alright...Go to sleep now, it's late... I'll greet him myself." Said Mina to the old man who bowed and left.
The two young people stayed quiet for some time thereafter, not daring to look into each other's eyes.
"...Sorry to have bothered you this late at night...I should get going." She whispered, stepping away from him.
She wanted to run away,hoping that they both would forget about what had been about to happen.
Hyunjin grabbed her wrist as soon as she turned her heels away from him and slowly loosened his grip to take her hand, ever so gently.
"...Is it Minhyun?"
She slowly nodded.
"You know why…" he said, his heart tightening.
"...I don't feel the same way."
"And yet...Here you came…" he murmured " In the middle of the night, looking for me."
He bit his lower lip.
"...We both know what was about to happen."
Mina's eyes shook with guilt, knowing that he was speaking the truth.
"...I already promised him that we...That we would be together, and no matter what I might have felt for you recently...I still like him." She said, slowly loosening his hand off of hers.
Hyunjin stood still, frozen as she left.
A pained laugh soon followed by tears escaped his lips as he hid his face behind his hands.
"...A promise?" He whispered " We promised ourselves a future way before you ever met him…"
Hyewon stood up, tensed after hearing Myungsoo talk about his meeting with Sunggyu.
"...He threatened you directly?"
"The bastard." She cursed before sitting back down on her chair. "I'll kill him-"
Myungsoo walked to her and poured some tea back into her cup.
"That's not why I called you here Hyewon…" He said
Myungsoo leaned against the window of his room, eyeing Kami talking to the princess's ladies-in-waiting in the green royal gardens.
Kami had rushed back to the palace she had just left as soon as her brother departed, frantic, showing that she clearly knew what her family's motives were.
She knew and yet, Myungsoo wondered how much they shared with her and how much she was involved in everything.
He trusted the young woman but yet couldn't help but feel nervous.
"It's about her."
"...What's wrong with Kami?"
"...I know about the two of you."
Hyewon's whole body froze as she met his eyes.
He wasn't scary nor threatening- but there was a coldness in his gaze that indicated to her that this was a serious issue.
Something that could really get in the way of their plan.
"...She isn't like her brother."
"I know…" said Myungsoo " But we still have to be careful, Sunggyu will use the two of you to get what he wants."
"He is probably threatening her already but if he ever finds a way to prove to the world that the two of you are…in a special relationship...The tide might turns against us."
Hyewon grabbed a handful of her dress in her hands and clenched it until her joints turned white.
"...Are you asking me to let go of her?" She asked, her throat dry.
Myungsoo shook his head.
"...You know that I care for your happiness...But I won't lie...This might threaten all that we have worked for until now." He whispered "....He threatened my sister and all of you."
Hyewon lowered her head.
She had come too far to give up on everything- even for Kami.
She had people to protect, a peace to uphold and no matter how cruel fate was to torture her along the way, it was her role.
One that she wouldn't give up.
"...There can't be a forever for the two of us anyway." Replied "But...But could you give me more time?"
What Hyewon needed were memories to give her the strength to go forward even after all ended.
Memories to remember her by, memories that would help her remember that she too was once a person and not just a doll supposed to wear a crown.
"...Of course." Gently said Myungsoo before taking her hand.
Hyewon slightly smiled.
"But please be careful...The man is mad."
"Let him underestimate us...If he ever attacks us I'll show him that I am not an useless princess and that I can put him through hell."
Myungsoo smiled, reassured that she hadn't lost her temper.
"There will be another party soon." Stated the prince " They'll probably make a move then."
"Again? So soon?"
The prince nodded.
"It's to welcome the troops coming back from the colonies."
"...There are a few noble men in them am I right?"
"Sons of nobles yes…Sent away for...misbehavior. "
"...Do you think they'll side with us?"
"Some might...We'll see."
"I was thinking that we should get married next week." Said Gongyoo, turning pages of the daily newspaper.
Minhee froze, her cup of tea in hand.
The man stood up and walked to the young woman who tensed up, leaning back into her chair.
"...Are you still scared?"
"You are forcing me to marry you...How could I not be?"
"...We used to love one another...You'll love me again."
Minhee put her cup down.
How foolish could he be to think that she would forgive him?
"...I won't marry you without my parents here. I am their only daughter, they deserve to see me get married."
Minhee found it funny that it was the one and only time her parents had been useful to her.
"Don't you know? They are coming back this week with the soldiers from India."
"Most of the nobles from the colonies are coming back, soon it'll be the King's birthday and senior nobility is expected to attend the event. "
Minhee clenched her fists, she had a bad relationship with her parents.
All the pair saw in her was a pretty doll to be sold to a man of notoriety and had expressed great disappointment if not hatred for her for not marrying the previous year- going as far as locking her in their mansion for weeks when the rumors were going around that she had lost her innocence to a unknown man.
"...Do you think they'll let you marry me?"
A smile grew on the man's lips that soon kissed her forehead.
"They won't be able to refuse me and the gold I'll bring them."
Minhee's blood ran cold, did he know?
"...We don't need your gold." She lied.
A smirk appeared on his lips.
"The public might not know about the financial struggles your family is currently experiencing but I do…" he smiled before playing with a few strands of her hair " I heard that your parents owe money to quite a lot of people...And that it is also why they went away to India to find a new way to earn money...Word travels faster among us merchants than what you think…"
Minhee hadn't forgotten her mother's words as they went away- words that instructed or rather ordered her to find a match before their return.
The young woman could see how things could work his way if Minhyun's messenger didn't arrive in time and yet, he was her only hope.
"So you better find that dress quickly." He laughed " Because this wedding is happening whether you want it or not."
Minhee slowly nodded.
"...I have to get going then...Before the shops close today." She said,standing up, needing to get to Sungyeol as soon as possible before her chest exploded.
"Do you want me to come?"
"Grooms are not supposed to see the wedding dress until the ceremony."
"Why does it matter? I should have my say in what you choose, I'm your husband to be."
Minhee clenched her fists, wanting them to lend on his face that she dreaded.
"Please…? This will be my one and only wedding...Let me do this properly."
"...Alright. But don't be late for dinner." He ordered.
Minhee picked her purse that hung in the entrance and went out, shaking.
She stood still for an instant, swallowing tears before she called a carriage.
"...To the shopping district." She told the driver,feeling Gongyoo's piercing stare through the window.
She would have to walk there.
Mina nervously went down the stairs only to see Minhyun stand in the entrance, drenched and yet as handsome as she had last seen him.
His wet dark hair poked at his eyes as he tried drying his face with a handkerchief that had probably been handed to him by the butler.
"...Mina." He called in a breath as he finally noticed her in her white nightdress, standing still, clenching the wooden staircase's railway in her pale hands.
She stayed silent for some time, trying to think of something to tell him.
She was still mad at him and yet- she had missed him more than what she would have liked to admit.
"...Please say something." He whispered, taking a step closer to her.
Mina climbed up another stair step, keeping the distance between them.
"...What do you want me to say?" She asked, biting her lip.
"...Nothing..Sorry, I...I just struggle with conversations...That's all..." He sighed
A scoff escaped her lips.
"Yes...I might have noticed, it was so hard for you to speak to me that you forgot to tell me quite important things altogether lately right?"
"...It was never my intention to hurt you."
"And yet...You did…"
"And I have regretted it every second of every day since then…" he told her " I understand now that I should've told you everything…"
Minhyun took a courageous step closer to her and this time she stayed still.
"...Don't move." Said Mina and yet , for the first time he ignored her words and walked to her.
It was when Minhyun was at an arm's reach that the young woman began to move only for him to gently take her hand in his.
"...Don't run away again...please…" he begged resting his forehead against her shoulder " I'll tell you everything so please….please allow me to stay." He whispered.
Mina bit her lip.
"....Why should I give you another chance..?" She asked him.
"...There is no reason for you to but…If you do I'll make sure that you'll never regret it…" he explained " I'll serve you until the day I die…"
Mina gently laid her hands on his back, she could feel him tense up under her touch, an electric spark traveling through her fingertips like the thunder growling outside.
"...I don't want you to serve me...I just…I just expect you to be honest with me…"
"What do you want to know..?" He said looking up to her. "I'll tell you everything"
Mina felt herself weaken under his soft gaze.
"Not here...Let's go somewhere warmer." She said before leading him away to another place.
Mina slowed down as they passed by Hyunjin's room, feeling somehow sad that he wasn't there- a thought that only made her self-hate a little worse.
She had been the one pushing him away, how dared she be hurt that he hadn't come after her?
She truly was the worst and she knew it- her inability to clearly choose one of them would be the end of her.
"...It's a beautiful room." Said Minhyun as they entered a warm living room.
Mina sat on a sofa, soon imitated by the young man.
They stayed silent at first, staring at each other's hands without making a move.
Minhyun hated that she was on her guards with him.
All he wanted was to go back to the way they used to be before, careless and happy- filled with excitement as they got to know one another.
"...It might be hard to believe but….It was all in order to protect you...Or so I thought…" he lowered his head "Or maybe it was my way of pushing back the inevitable…"
He looked up to her.
"...I knew that this situation would make you lose your smile eventually...I wasn't ready to see a loved one suffer...Not again."
"...Again..?" Asked Mina confused.
Minhyun froze, his hands now clenching at his trousers.
"...What I am going to say might disgust you…I will understand if you choose never to see me again but...I want to tell you everything, without leaving a single detail out."
Minhyun took a deep breath, his face turning into a pained expression she had never seen on him.
"...There was someone I used to love more than life itself…" he began in a shaking voice.
Mina watched as his joints turned white.
"It was a person that made life worth living for me, someone that brought sun to my days even when rain clouded the skies…Someone that made even the worst parts of my existence bearable…"
His eyes filled with tears as his eyes stared at the floor beneath his feet.
"...That person was Seongwu…" he confessed " My best friend...The man that I had offered my heart to."
Mina would've been lying if she had pretended not to be surprised by his confession- and yet she soon forgot her surprise because of the way he silently began crying.
Unknowingly she started tearing up too, seeing how much pain he was in.
"I lived in bliss for some time with him, we shared the same room at school and it was almost as if we were a true couple regardless of our gender…" he explained " We would sleep in the same bed, dress together and share the same meals...We would take walks on the school grounds...We would exchange love letters secretly at night and read it under the light of a candle…"
Mina gently took his hand as they began shaking.
"It all came crashing down one day when rumours about the two of us and the nature of our relationship reached our ears, rumours that soon reached even our parents." He said "Our whole world came crashing down one day when they came to the campus and brought all of us together."
Minhyun hid his face behind one of his hands as tears poured from his eyes she could tell were still full of pain.
"They sent him away in the end to a place abroad and a few months after that...I heard that he died of some local disease." his voice began trembling
Mina gently wrapped her arms around his shoulders,crying with him.
He soon replied by bringing her closer and burying his face in the crook of her neck.
"I don't even know where they buried him...Where he rests…" he sobbed " I never got to say goodbye…They just ripped him away from me…"
Mina could feel his whole body shake.
"...When the rumours started...That's when he lost his smile and I never saw it again…"
His tears ripped at her soul, the sound of his voice breaking was so painful that she struggled to breathe.
"It was all because of me...If I had been more careful...If I had been stronger… I would have been able to protect his happiness."
"Don't say that…Don't…You're not responsible for what happened-"
"Still...That's why I wanted to protect you from everything...It was selfish, motivated by things that did not concern you and that ended up hurting you…But it was all because I wanted to see you happy even for another day…"
Mina took his face in her hands, having long forgiven him already.
How could she not when he had opened up this much to her?
"...Don't you hate me?"
"...For everything…For having been with a man, for hurting you because of the memory of him…"
Her fingers wiped away his tears that kept flowing down his cheeks and soon kissed them, hoping that this simple gesture would soothe his pain.
"How could I hate you for having loved? How could I hate you for having been happy before knowing me…?" She said with a kind and caring smile.
She slowly lost her smile and took her hands off of his face.
"...But I am scared about what this means when it comes to the two of us…" she confessed.
"Because it feels like you are trying to forget him by staying with me…By trying to love me..."
"He is gone…"
"And yet you know what is said about grief...It's love persevering." She whispered "I won't ask you to stop loving him for me...But I can't be with you if it's just for me to become a tool you use to get over him."
It was now his turn to take her face in his hands.
She was so precious to him, more than she could imagine.
"It's true that I probably won't be able to love you more than I loved him but...I still do love you and want to be with you…" he smiled "You were the first sunshine that peaked in my life after years of darkness, you were the first person who brought happiness back to me after his death…"
He leaned in and kissed her forehead.
"Everything that I feel for you is real…"
Mina looked up to him with pained eyes.
"...I am confused about what I feel." She confessed " At one point I was sure that there was you and only you in my heart but….Not anymore..."
Minhyun slightly froze before putting strands of her hair behind her ear.
"...Is it Hyunjin?"
She slightly nodded.
"Do you love him…?"
"I don't know…" she replied
"...I think I do." She said in a tiny voice.
She looked up to see his kind face a few centimeters away from hers.
"...Then will you give me a chance? A chance to make you happy regardless of what happens?"
Mina frowned in confusion.
"Aren't you angry…?"
"Why would I? Like you said...How could I be mad at you for having feelings for someone else? It's not something that you can control…" he explained " And I am not fully over Seongwu myself either…"
The tip of his nose touched hers.
"Let's be happy together Mina...We might struggle along the way but I want you...I want you to stay by my side and I want to stay by yours…" he said " Will you give me a chance?"
Mina could feel his breath against hers, she could feel his hands holding her waist,she could feel how softly they rubbed her sides.
Minhyun kissed her carefully as if she would break if he held her too tightly.
Mina wrapped her arms around his neck as he pulled her onto his lap.
It was her first kiss, a kiss that tasted of tears and she wasn't really sure if they were his or hers- maybe both.
But why was she crying?
Why was her heart both filled with joy, excitement and at the same time an overbearing weight in her chest?
Her nightdress had come up to her thighs where his hands now rested against her naked skin, she felt them travel up to her hips where they stopped once more.
Mina gasped for air as they finally breathed.
"I love you…" he confessed.
Nothing felt new to her, not being kissed,not being held this way, not even hearing a man tell her that he loved her.
She could remember a sweet voice whispering loving words in her ears in a broken voice.
<<I have to leave again...But nothing will separate us, not even the sea, and even death if it ever was to take one away from us...I'll always be yours and you'll always be mine right?>>
Mina buried her face again in his chest.
<<...Even if you forget me forever…I'll keep on loving you from afar, always.>>
She remembered sobs and warm tears on her skin, but whose?
"Are you alright…?" Asked Minhyun.
She remembered opening her eyes to see a young man leaving her room, a man with long blonde locks.
Tears flowed down her cheeks as she hugged Minhyun closer to her.
What else was she forgetting?
Were these even memories?
It didn't matter, she had made her choice.
Chapter XV: Timing.
Mina stood silently after hearing his words, not because she had nothing to say but because of how tears ran down her cheeks.
She had no right to cry, not when the one in pain was him and not her.
She hated herself for being so selfish.
It wasn't panic that first filled Mina's heart, nor was it anger because he had hidden the truth from her, what she felt was a deep concern for the man - a heart wrenching tear in her chest that felt like it would never heal.
Hyunjin respected her silence, knowing that he had no right to tell her what she should feel or not.
She had the right to cry, get mad or to be unbothered.
"...Hyunjin ..I…" Mina finally managed to let out in a broken voice.
"...You don't need to say a thing if it's hard for you to speak." He whispered " I have prepared myself for whatever your answer will be and I won't mind it even if you decide to forget all about me again."
He smiled, petting her hair.
"If you want me to stay, if you want me to leave forever, if you want to hate me...Everything is fine with me as long as it is what you truly desire." Explained the Prince.
Mina's heart tightened again for she could see that he had no hope left in his words- He had been prepared for her rejection all along.
"...It was never in your mind that I might choose you? Why...Why are you giving up?"
Hyunjin gently wiped away her tears.
"Because I know that you love another...Because I am not selfish enough to tell you to leave him for me." He whispered "I might have dreamed about it...But that's as far as I am willing to push things."
"...You deserve someone better…" Mina sobbed, avoiding his eyes.
Hyunjin faintly frowned.
"...That is for me to decide...I am willing to give up everything for you but this…"He said,holding her face up.
He smiled, tears also pooling at the corners of his eyes.
"This is the only thing I am proud of, to have chosen you…" He explained "...And I'll never change my mind so don't say that...I beg you."
"...I am sorry…" she cried
"It's ok…" He reassured her.
He clenched his fists, trying his best not to break down.
"...Can I ask you something…?" He whispered.
Mina looked up to him to finally see the tears he had tried so hard to conceal, rolling down his face.
His fingers grazed hers.
"...Can I hold you once?"
Mina bit her lip.
"...Will you leave if I do?"
"Not until someone comes stay with you here…" he whispered "...But I can leave tonight if that's what you desire-"
Mina embraced him tightly burying her face in his chest.
I want you to stay.
These were simple words and yet some that she did not manage to tell him, she couldn't be selfish- not when she had caused him this much pain.
"...Do what you want...But please...Please know that I don't hate you...That I don't dislike being here with you…"
Mina wondered how things would have turned out if she had met him first, before ever getting to know Minhyun.
She knew that she would have fallen for him, she knew that he would have been the only person in her eyes.
And so Mina realized that Minhyun and her might not have been fated, that it had all been a question of timing- and maybe that was what Love was about, a question of timing.
Some people fell in love simultaneously, others at different times, missing one another by a few weeks, months or years.
If only she hadn't lost her memories.
If only he had come back a few weeks before her first party.
If only he had been there and had met her eyes first.
Hyunjin finally hugged her back, trying his hardest to carve the feeling of her body in his arms in his soul for it might be the last time he would ever be this close to her.
Kami walked home, needing some fresh air for her head pained her greatly.
It was becoming clear to her that things wouldn't end well for someone, be it Myungsoo,his family or hers.
She knew that the plotting wouldn't stop and that Myungsoo wouldn't give up for whatever reason it was that pushed him to do what he was doing.
And Hyewon...Hyewon would get caught in the middle of it as well as her friends.
Kami hadn't told her about her suspicions, how could she when the traitors in question were members of her own family?
"The King has an heir!!" Shouted a merchant selling newspapers on the sidewalks.
A small group of passersby surrounded the man, looking at the copies of the day's paper.
"The son of the Count of Norfolk was a bastard...?" Asked a poor woman confused
" A bastard? Ah! And they always pretended to be better than us!" Shouted a rich man.
"They are better than you, do you know how much they have done for us little people???" Screamed a worker back at him " They built hospitals, gave us food, founded orphanages and schools for our children! It is more than what the royal family and you filthy leeches have done in centuries!!!"
Kami stepped back as the two men began fighting and as others joined the fight.
"Let's go." Said a familiar voice, grabbing her wrist and dragging her away.
"...Woohyun?" Replied Kami, blinking "What are you doing here?"
"I was looking for you." He added " Your maids told me that you left for the palace."
Woohyun brought them to a small and quiet street.
"What was that..?" She asked, confused.
" I couldn't let you stay there...Haven't you heard what is happening all over the country right now?"
Kami sighed, she hadn't had the time to read the news, she had been too preoccupied knowing that her brother might shatter her world into pieces.
"Attacks on nobles and the rich are happening all over the country...You would have been in trouble if they caught you there."
A slight gasp escaped her lips, was it really that bad?
"...Do you think that they will-"
"No it won't turn into a revolution, the lower classes are swearing their loyalty to Myungsoo…"
"...Then a civil war."
"...Between those who think that legitimacy of birth overrules blood ties and those who will support the King's son no matter what."
Woohyun stared at her, seriously.
"...Your brother is one of the rebels isn't he?"
Kami's blood almost froze at the words.
" You can tell me the truth…" he sighed " Everyone that attended Cambridge knows how much he hated Myungsoo."
Kami lowered her head.
"...Is this why you came to me? To ask me this?" She frowned "Why? Do you think that I support his cause too?"
He shook his head.
" I just came to check on you."
"Because you left me alone at the royal party and went home by yourself…?"
Kami felt tension leave her body.
"...I looked so stupid...standing there alone…"
" I'm sorry…"
"And people started whispering things about me...Making fun of me because my date gave up on me…"
"...Wait...Are you teasing me?"
A smirk appeared on his lips.
"...What if I am?"
Kami hit his arm.
"Ouch!!! You looked just so stressed! I wanted to help!!!"
Kami hit him again,kicking his lower leg.
" Well hitting you does help!!! So stay still-"
Kami stopped as Woohyun whimpered.
"...You would have been alright if I did let you fight I think-"
"Shut up or I'll kick you again."
Woohyun wiped away the dust off his clothes.
"...So what will you do?"
"What will you do about your brother?"
"...I should probably tell Myungsoo."
Kami froze again, looking with fear at Woohyun.
"You know how Myungsoo is. He is a careful man, do you really think that he would accept the title of heir without finding out who would become his enemies?"
"...Then why is he leaving him alone?"
"He needs proof to convict the son of a Duke of treason."
"He's a prince. He can do whatever he wants."
"...If you truly think that then you need to read more about how politics and power work."
"...What? Are you insinuating something?"
"Yes I am."
"...I should hit you more-"
Woohyun grabbed her wrist as she was about to slap him.
"Listen. You might think that you know how the world works but you don't." He explained "You can't learn everything through books and you and your friends don't seem to understand how bad things can become if you aren't careful enough."
Kami took her wrist out his hand.
"Why are you telling me this???"
"Because you told me where you stand in this conflict without any hesitation."
Kami swallowed her saliva.
"...And? Why do you care?"
"You know why I care. I don't want you to get harmed." He said " So you need to learn how to play the game that is politics, you need to be careful when you speak, what comes out of your mouth can later harm you."
"...That is none of your business."
"...You're right. But you have to accept the fact that you are not prepared for what is about to come your way."
Kami ignored his words and sat on a wooden box.
"...Why can't Myungsoo just arrest Sunggyu and execute him?"
"...What do you think would happen if he were to just kill him? Nobles would see that it is only a question of time until their new prince comes for their neck." He explained " Myungsoo and his family might be liked by commoners but are dearly hated by the rich...Do you really think your brother is the only one plotting?"
Woohyun leaned against the wall opposite to her.
"...If Myungsoo kills your brother without an irrefutable proof of his treason it would set the whole country on fire."
"...Then what? What should we do? We can't let my brother get his way!"
Woohyun crossed his arms, his face growing cold and serious.
"...What do you mean by why?" Asked a surprised Kami.
"No matter how much you dislike him, he is your family. A family you are part of." Began Woohyun " What is it that makes you so easily give up on them?"
Kami tended to forget that Woohyun was more than a jokester, that he was clever beyond what most people expected him to be - she felt stupid for underestimating him.
"...My friends...I want to protect them." She partially lied.
"No. I know that you love them but you are not the type of person to let your parents die for them." He said " There is something else…"
Woohyun grew silent for an instant.
"...There is someone else."
A small pained smile grew on his face.
"Well...It was something I had suspected when you left last time after your talk with the princess…"
Panic filled Kami's mind as she met his eyes, empty of any threat or anger.
"...It's not what you think."
"It is...Your silence earlier meant more than words Kami."
The man walked to her, gently petting the wild strands of hair on her head.
"...You're easy to read, you carry your emotions on your face for everyone to see." He stated "...People will take advantage of it."
His hand gently cupped her cheek.
"...But it isn't a bad thing...It means that you are honest and haven't felt the need to lie your way through life." He whispered " I hope you'll get to stay that way."
A small smile appeared on his lips.
"...Please don't tell other people about it." She begged.
"You didn't have to ask...I never intended on telling others about the two of you."
A sigh of relief escaped the blonde woman's mouth.
Woohyun finally stepped back with a light but forced smile on his lips.
"...This is more painful than what I thought." He laughed.
"Don't, it's not your fault if you don't feel the same way."
Woohyun pinched her cheek.
"If we had a choice in the matters of the heart, do you really think I would have chosen to like a wild woman like you?" He smirked
"But I am happy with just this."
Kami raised an eyebrow.
"Well isn't a lover supposed to be a friend? Isn't it the best part of it? To be able to share things that you appreciate with a significant one?" Woohyun said " I am fine with just being your friend if you'll permit it."
"...Will it really be ok with you if that's all we ever get to be?"
Woohyun nodded and reached his hand out to her.
"...Do you remember what I told you about handshakes?"
"...They were created to show strangers that you weren't holding any weapons...It was a sign of peace."
"But they are also a form of contract."
"...You want to make a contract with me?"
"...I am listening."
Woohyun came closer to her.
"A promise to be your friend without any ulterior motive…"
"But you like me…"
"I won't act upon my feelings. This is my promise." He smiled " I am a coward, I am not willing to risk losing you just to get to hold you."
Kami hesitated before finally taking his hand.
"...It won't be easy for you." She said.
"It has never been easy being with you from the very beginning." Smiled Woohyun.
"...Are you a masochist?"
Woohyun sat next to her, satisfied by how he had managed to conceal his heartbreak.
The man knew that telling her how much he truly wanted her to love him back would have only driven them apart.
It had been a hard but simple choice to make.
Getting to see her every day or so was more than enough for him- he knew that there would never be another woman like Kami in his life.
"...I was curious about a thing." He asked.
It was enough and yet he couldn't help himself but wonder if things could have turned out differently.
"...Did I have any chance…?"
Kami threw her head back, eyeing the darkening skies.
"...Yes...Do you remember that time we were in the library?" She explained "...I met her there just after you left...Until then, I thought that there could be something between you and me one day." She confessed.
Kami met his eyes.
"...If she hadn't come in that day, if you had stayed for a little more and held me back before I bumped into her...Things would have probably been a whole lot different."
"...I see." Smiled Woohyun before turning his eyes away from her.
The man also stared at the skies and the large full moon that spied on their conversation.
"...Well...At least I won't have to deal with Sunggyu as a brother-in-law…"
A giggle escaped Kami's lips.
Woohyun closed his eyes, bidding farewell to a short but meaningful first love.
A first love that did not even get to bloom before it withered away- it was true what people said, first loves were fated to end in pain.
"...Since we are talking about him...How did you know he is back? He hasn't been to any formal event yet."
"...You don't know? He is in the palace as we speak." Said Woohyun " I met him there when I went to look for you."
Myungsoo sat alone in his study room, sighing at the piles of documents he was still to read when a knock broke the night's silence he had gotten accustomed to.
"...Come in." He said in an exhausted voice.
The door opened as he closed his eyes,laying back onto his chair.
" So...How does it feel?" Asked a familiar and yet unwelcomed voice.
"It's a lot but not something I hadn't expected….Sunggyu."
The prince opened his eyes to the sight of Kami's brother, standing before him with his arms crossed.
"Seeing your reaction or rather lack of...You knew that I was coming to see you didn't you?"
"...It wouldn't be like you not to come here and manifest your displeasure at the current situation." Spoke Myungsoo, calmly " You always like to make a fuss and make a lot of noise, it's in your nature."
Sunggyu clenched his fists.
The man had never liked him, from the very first time they had met, introduced to one another by their parents.
There had always been a strange and yet annoying aura to Myungsoo- maybe it was the way he walked with his chin held up higher than most people, maybe it was the way he talked with an assurance that could never be shaken, maybe it was because he always carried an all knowing smile on his lips.
Sunggyu hated how he always surpassed him at every single thing he could challenge him to.
Myungsoo had always been the golden boy that made his silver shine poorly and now he stood, a prince in nothing but name- a title that should have been his.
"It's been a long time...Did you miss me?" Asked Myungsoo with a small smirk on his lips.
Sunggyu frowned before loudly putting down his hands on the table making his ink bottle and pen fall on the carpet.
"...You are as annoying as I remembered you to be." Growled the elder man.
"Was I wrong? I know that I am the first person you rushed to see after coming back." He still smiled "Anyone would think the same don't you think?"
Myungsoo was so close that Sunggyu could have easily choked him and yet he stood still- knowing that he would lose his life by openly attacking a prince and that Myungsoo would beat him in a second.
He was better at fighting too after all.
"Don't be mistaken. I am here to warn you."
Myungsoo deeply disliked Sunggyu, there was no doubt about it, but he was also a person he had known forever and cruel was the way a person's heart worked- Myungsoo could never fully hate him for he knew how he had been brought up.
He knew that all of his violence, although unforgivable, was a product of a deep insecurity that ate at his soul.
"Give up the throne peacefully." He stated " This is the first and last chance I am giving you."
Myungsoo's face grew darker.
"...You seem to be gravely mistaken,Sunggyu." Began the prince "The one giving you a last chance here is me by letting you speak to me in the first place."
Myungsoo stood up, towering the older man by a few centimeters- his eyes cold and dark.
" If you think that I don't know what you are plotting you are mistaken, what I am doing right now is giving you a chance to apologize and quietly go back to your pitiful life while you still can."
"...Do you think people really believe that you are the King's son? Do you think that they'll quietly take the throne once the old man dies?"
Myungsoo took a report file and opened it, reading it.
"People do not care for blood lines...The fact that you believe this just shows how much you underestimate the common people." He said " People tolerate the ruling class when they are still of use to them...Especially nowadays...They'll side with the person that helps them the most."
A scoff escaped Sunggyu's lips.
"And you think that person will be you?"
"Well...Would it be you when you are rumoured to treat your servants worse than trash?"
Myungsoo picked the pen off the floor and signed a document.
"...Tell me Sunggyu...Have you ever done something for someone that wasn't yourself?"
"Of course ! I-"
Sunggyu froze, genuinely not remembering caring or wanting to do good for someone else.
"See? This title you so desire...It's one that doesn't allow you to be selfish, not if you want to be a good ruler." Smiled Myungsoo " I have given up my freedom and future for it along with my family...Would you be able to do the same and to gain nothing in return?"
Myungsoo walked to him and placed the piece of paper against his chest.
"...Selflessness and generosity in an adequate amount bring loyalty."
Sunggyu looked at the paper with a large amount of money written on it.
"...What is this?"
"The salary I pay all of the spies I have placed in your surroundings."
"...Why would you tell me this? You are lying."
Myungsoo sat on his desk, his hands stained with the black ink that he wiped on Sunngyu's clothes.
"I know that you are close to no one...All of your servants be it the ones who serve your food or those who help you change your clothes...Is there even one you can clearly tell is on your side?"
" The fact that I tell you this changes nothing for me but it is a warning for you. I am always watching you."
Myungsoo pushed the man away from him, done with him.
"...I can always fire all of them."
"How will you know that the new ones you'll hire won't all be sent by me?"
Myungsoo sat on his chair, crossing his legs.
"I don't care if you throw yourself at me and end up dead, you're that reckless after all…." He stated "... But if you try to hurt those I love in the process, then I'll make sure to find something more painful than death for you."
Sunggyu bit the inside of his mouth.
"Now leave. I am busy and don't have any more time to spare you." Said the Prince before going back to his work.
Sunggyu scoffed and walked towards the door, stopping just as he was about to exit the room.
"...There is something you might have not taken into consideration Myungsoo." Smirked Sunggyu " Yes, I might distrust people and dislike them but at least I do not think of them as pawns."
The older man turned around with a smile on his lips.
"People have their own will and that's what makes them annoying...Do you think all the players around you will stay still and act the way you like?"
Myungsoo clenched his fists although keeping a calm face.
"...Do you think that your sister will blindly bow down to your plans ? When she fled as soon as she could? Do you think that you'll be able to protect all of them until the end?"
"There will be a time when you'll make a mistake and I'll be there then to take advantage of if, and you'll just have to watch powerlessly as I take everything away from you." Said Sunggyu " This isn't a warning, this is a promise."
Chapter XIV: Maze of Memories.
Felix didn't really know what to think anymore, he had virtually been abandoned by both his brother and sister in a foreign country in which he had no friends (not that he had a lot back home either).
The prince should have felt betrayed and yet quite enjoyed his freedom.
The freckled man had spent his first few days in England exploring London with Hyunjin who probably knew the capital better than Berlin itself - only for him to leave to meet his first love once again after some time.
Felix knew almost nothing about the woman except that she had broken his brother's heart and soul and that he was still struggling to live after what had happened to her - an incident he strictly refused to talk about to anyone.
And so Felix had decided to read all the books in the royal library until the day they finally went back home.
It was an anticlimactic development to this new found freedom of his and yet- it was in character with who he was.
Felix wasn't like his brother and sister, he wasn't adventurous or even motivated by passion.
Felix was a quiet young man that was satisfied with the smaller things in life.
"P…Politics." murmured the blonde boy, looking for the right shelf among thousands of books.
It was amazing to him how there were so many books and yet no one there to look at them.
"Politics…." He hummed to himself.
"Here." Said a voice behind him, hands resting on his shoulders.
The boy, startled, turned around to see a tall man standing before him, his body towering over his.
Felix had always been small and thin for his age, especially compared to Hyunjin or other boys their age, but never had he felt this tiny before.
It wasn't a complex, it wasn't something that usually bothered him, it wasn't like he would be sent away to fight a war.
Felix's role was to silently sit in a corner of the royal palace and to make sure to make himself as forgettable as he could,something that his small stature helped quite well.
"Hmm?" Asked the stranger.
The young man quickly recognized the face of the new crowned prince of Britain and his handsome looks - dark wavy locks that fell right on top of his piercing onyx orbs
It was actually the first time they had ever exchanged words or had been this close to one another and yet Felix remembered how mesmerized he had been by his appearance at the banquet.
The prince oozed natural charisma and looked like he had been born for the role, which he had in a way.
"Y..Your Highness-" nervously stuttered Felix before bowing and hitting his head against the solid chest of the prince.
The young man froze, embarrassed,not daring to raise his head.
Hyunjin always joked that he was clumsy and maybe he had been right.
Felix wanted to disappear as soon as possible.
"...So...Are we supposed to stay like this?" laughed Myungsoo.
Felix quickly stepped back, shyly blushing and hitting the back of his head against the shelf only for it to be softer than what he had expected.
The man finally realized that the shelf in question was Myungsoo's hand that had kept his skull from hitting the hard wooden furniture.
Felix shivered as he felt his fingers graze the nape of his neck as he took his hand back.
"Careful now." He smiled checking his reddening hand.
Felix didn't know what to say.
"..S...Sorry I panicked." He blushed before coughing.
Felix finally looked up to Myungsoo with curiosity, thinking about what he knew about him from his brother.
Felix had heard Hyunjin talk about him in good and good only, always telling him how clever and caring he was.
Hyunjin would tell him about his accomplishments and how he had been the top student of the whole of Cambridge, acclaimed by many scholars for his writings that implied progressive and yet revolutionary thoughts for the time.
Talks about equality that had only been quietly whispered until then.
"Am I that scary for you to be this surprised?"
Felix shook his head.
"N..No I...I just didn't think you would be here."
"...Well...I don't know...Because the library has been empty ever since I first came here…?"
Myungsoo smiled and picked books about politics that the boy would have otherwise struggled to reach.
"I like books and learning so we will meet each other again, I just couldn't come before because I was too busy. " he said before handing him the books.
"You don't have to thank me-"
The two heard the door open and turned around to see Kami and Hyewon as well as her ladies in waiting, entering the library.
Myungsoo grabbed Felix's wrist and dragged him behind a shelf.
"Let's wait an instant." He whispered to the young man before spying on the girls.
Hyewon held onto Kami's hand and showed her around the room.
"Do you like it?" She smiled at her blonde girlfriend who looked amazed at the scrolls and old leather books.
"...Are these the original copies?"
"Some of them are."
Felix could feel the prince's large hands holding him still unaware of how scarlet the boy had turned.
"It's amazing…" smiled Kami.
Myungsoo slightly frowned, wondering how the two knew each other- he trusted them both and yet, couldn't help but be wary of how unusual the pairing was.
It all boiled down to Sunggyu and their relationship.
Kami might have hated her brother but he still was family to her and Myungsoo knew how thick blood ran in the nobility.
It wasn't something that he could overlook and neither was it something that she could ignore if it ever came to it.
"Could I borrow one?" Asked Kami
"Of course you can." Replied Hyewon,placing a kiss on her cheek.
The prince raised an eyebrow before sighing, realizing what the nature of their relationship was and ran a hand through his hair as he felt the heavy, deer-like gaze of the young prince against him.
"Let's go see them shall we?"
Felix blinked in confusion before following him out of their hiding spot- he struggled to understand what had happened.
"Hello." Said Myungsoo out of the blue to the new couple "Kami." He greeted her.
Kami eyed him and his smile,the same one he offered her every time they met and yet, she wondered if he knew about her brother's plan.
Myungsoo always knew everything one way or another.
"Please don't call me like that.." begged the man.
"Why not? You're the Crown Prince now."
"Still...I have known you forever."
"...And yet you did not think that telling me or your own sister about it was necessary."
Hyewon clenched her arm,pressing her to stop talking about the subject knowing fully well how it all affected the man.
"Please don't fight..."
Hyewon saw his eyes die a little more.
"...We won't, I have to go back to work anyway." spoke the man before pinching Kami's serious face with a sad smile only Hyewon could read "Don't frown it doesn't suit you~"
Kami pushed his hand away, ready to fight him just like when they were younger.
"...Take care of her Hyewon." Spoke the prince, throwing a knowing look to the princess who straightened her back.
Hyewon nodded and Myungsoo turned around to Felix who couldn't keep his eyes off him.
"It was nice finally meeting you kiddo." Smiled Myungsoo, gently patting his head.
" You knew who I was…?"
"Well...Hyunjin told me a lot of things about you." Kindly said the crown prince before pointing at his cheeks " A cute and tiny young man with pretty freckles and golden hair." He repeated, remembering Hyunjin's letter.
Felix blushed, remembering to scold Hyunjin for describing him in such a way- he didn't want to look cute anymore.
" See you later." Smiled the crown prince before leaving.
The group watched as Myungsoo left before they turned their attention to the blonde boy who was still flustered by the whole meeting.
"...How have you been Felix?" Smiled Hyewon hugging him.
Felix coughed,bringing himself together to finally spare her a glance.
"Well…? My trip hasn't been what I have hoped for so far…But it is fine."
"Sorry...I should be spending more time with you…"
Felix lowered his head as he smiled, he knew that his siblings tended to be busy- Hyewon as the legitimate daughter of their father and Hyunjin because he might become King one day in her stead.
Felix just hadn't been in the picture for these matters, people just naturally assumed that he wouldn't inherit the throne and in fact, the boy did not care.
What the golden young man wanted was for them to be happy and live as freely as they could- something simple to hope for and yet the hardest thing for them to achieve.
He wanted to give back to them all the care and protection they had provided for him, especially Hyunjin who had fought numerous bullies who would call Felix names, going as far as to bleach his hair so that they wouldn't be able to say a thing about his own.
"I'm alright...Don't worry about me." He smiled "I know that you are busy…"
Felix felt the heavy stare of Yujin, whom he had briefly seen in the corridors before without ever getting to talk to her.
"...I should get going too."
The young man slightly acknowledged her before also leaving the room- Felix was uncomfortable around strangers and always wondered what they thought of him although he actually disliked hearing these thoughts.
He knew what most of them thought anyways, he was a shameful existence to an otherwise majestic family.
Therefore, running off to a calm place was what he did the best and so that's what he did.
"...He is cute." Whispered Yujin after some time.
Minju rolled her eyes knowing where this conversation would lead them.
"Oh don't start again please-"
"How could you leave him alone Hyewon..? He is like a lonely puppy…Did you see his eyes?"
"I did not-"
"You're cruel for that...Imagine being in a foreign country alone...Abandoned by your siblings…"
"..Stop it."sighed Minju under the confused gaze of Kami.
Yujin took a deep breath and crossed her arms.
"What is…?" Asked Hyewon.
"From tomorrow onwards, I am taking care of Felix if you won't."
Minhee entered Sungyeol's bright atelier, a smile on her face as she saw him standing in front of a large block of uncarved ivory marble- the man visibly not noticing her as she came closer to him.
Minhee carefully wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head against his back.
"What are you thinking about?"
Sungyeol turned around and hugged her.
" You...Well...About what kind of statue I should make of you. "
"And do you have an idea?"
"Not really...I was hoping to find one by talking to you, is there something that you want?"
Minhee ran her hand on the marble, covering her gloved fingers with white dust.
"...I want to look free."
She nodded with a faint smile on her lips.
"I have never been free, not once…" she explained " My parents used to control my every move and when I became an adult I...Well you know what I did...I tied myself to men that wanted to control and use me too."
Sungyeol frowned before tightening his grip on her hips.
He hated that she had been forced to live that way, he hated that people had been this cruel to her.
"So…How should I do this ?"
"This is something for you to find out ,mister ~" She laughed and so did he, lightly.
Sungyeol rested his forehead against hers,losing his smile as he rubbed his thumbs on her waist- remembering how the other man had tightly wrapped his arm around it, like a boa constricting around its prey.
It had bothered him, pushed him over the edge to save her when he had sworn himself to not interfere with things that weren't his to deal with.
"...He lets you out?" Simply asked the man, worried.
"He thinks that I am looking for a wedding dress."
"And he believes you?"
"He thinks that I won't be able to do a thing because I am too scared of losing my reputation."
Minhee caressed his cheek, thinking.
"...I would be lying if I told you that I didn't….But a lonely life with a ruined reputation is better than being wedded to a monster."
"I won't let him ruin you and even if he manages to...We'll all make sure to protect you."
"I know." She smiled.
Sungyeol's hands travelled up her waist.
"...I won't leave you alone, unless you want me to."
Minhee's eyes sparkled as she gently kissed him, her fingers in his hair.
She brought herself closer to him, her chest against his and she could feel his heart race.
"...We should start with some sketches…" said Sungyeol, stopping her before they went too far.
"...What kind of sketch?" She asked,running her hands on his body, amused by his flustered expression.
Minhee noticed a faint blush on his cheeks, a barely noticeable heat peeking at the tip of his ears that were turning red.
" I...Hm…I was thinking...Maybe sketches with less clothing and no corset could be a great idea?"
"...You want to sculpt me naked?" Blushed Minhee
"No-! Just...Just without the heavy dress...You can wear something more simple that's what I meant to say." He explained, red.
Minhee stopped to think before carefully taking his hand.
"...Well you can keep the usual dress if you are more comfortable with it-"
"I want you to sculpt me without anything on." She whispered "I want you to sculpt me naked."
"...Are you sure?"
"Will you really be ok with it…?"
The man sighed, blushing.
The sculptor buried his face into her neck, almost drunk on her scent- a flowery perfume blending together perfectly with the way she naturally smelled.
"Because how do you expect me to work on your statue if you are naked before me…? We've just kissed…"
Minhee smirked a little before taking his face in her hands.
"Well...I thought you were a professional? Surely you can separate lust and work ?"
"Not when it comes to you…"
He looked up to her, their eyes meeting.
"...And it isn't just lust." He whispered " I want your heart too."
" You have it…"
He shook his head.
"We have the beginning of something but...Your heart isn't mine yet."
"But I know that in time it will happen...And that I'll be yours and you fully mine." He smiled.
Minhee nodded before he kissed her, pushing her a little more against the table- resting her hands on it to hold herself up.
"...So…How will you make the statue..?" Asked a red Minhee.
Sungyeol ran his hand down her body.
" ...One step at a time…" He said, stopping each time on her face, neck, chest, stomach and thighs.
A shiver travelled up her spine as his fingers traced her legs on top of the fabric of her dress.
"...So...What will it be today..?" Asked Minhee.
Sungyeol stopped to think, eyeing her pink cheeks and the way her chest rose every time she needily took a breath.
The man took his sketchbook and opened it along with a sharpened pencil.
"...Your hands and arms."
She nodded and he got closer to her, his hands looking for hers.
Minhee eyed him as he brought her right to his lips, carefully pulling the gloves off of her fingers with his teeth.
Her heart raced as he then proceeded to kiss them and then go up her arm, pulling at the sleeve to go down her shoulder and then slipping her arm out of it- revealing her skin to him.
"...There we go." He said before kissing her shoulder and sitting back on a stool, his sketchbook in hand. "Now try and sit still…"
Minhee nodded, finally remembering to breathe and sitting tensely on the table's edge, looking for his gaze that finally left hers for the paper before his eyes.
The doctor's visit had been short and reassuring, Mina had nothing but a small cold that would probably go away on its own.
Hyunjin sighed with relief as they walked through the mansion a few hours later, exploring it as requested by the young woman who was back to being her usual energetic self.
"...So you used to come see me here right?" Asked Mina.
Hyunjin nodded as he held the entrance door open for her that led right into the blooming gardens of the castle.
It looked exactly the same as the last time he had seen it- even the smell of the bright flowers , every little detail that made this place what it was had been left in place as if frozen in time.
Hyunjin understood why Myungsoo and his parents had kept her away from that place, it managed to bring back memories that he too had seemed to have forgotten.
"What did we usually do together?" She asked, smiling while carefully touching one of the white lilies.
Hyunjin came closer to her, also touching the flower with his fingertips.
"What children usually do at that age...We just played together."
Mina pouted, looking at him.
"You have to give me more details than that! You know that I can't remember a thing…It's not fair."
"...Would you like to remember me?"
"Why wouldn't I? I feel bad that I can't remember you...And I have this odd feeling that we used to be very happy when together...I want to find all of these memories back." She whispered with a gentle expression on her face.
Hyunjin lightly smiled and walked ahead of her, leading her towards the maze of bushes that surrounded the castle.
They used to run in them, hiding from their servants until they went away.
"We were happy...I had the best time of my life back then."
Mina eyed him curiously.
"...Then you either had a sad life after that or...Or you really liked the time we spent together." She stated, walking around the maze.
Hyunjin stopped and so did she, turning around to see him as she no longer heard his footsteps on the gravel.
"...Which one do you think it is?" He asked "A life too hard to bear that made even the tiniest memories enough for me to go on or real bliss that overshined the rest of my life?"
Mina felt her heart skip a beat- maybe because of the way he looked at her, his eyes filled with strong emotions she struggled to decipher, or because of the heartbreaking ring to his voice that let out words that carried so much meaning she was yet to fully understand.
Mina could tell by the way his jaw tensed up, and by the way his pupils trembled that it all meant a lot to him and so her heart raced- out of happiness that someone cared that much for her but also out of sadness for she could no longer share these memories with him.
They were his and his alone and no matter how much he would tell her about them, they would never come back to her, they were lost.
"...I hope...I hope that it's the second option...But then again if it is I…" She lowered her head " I don't know how I should apologize...It all meant so much to you and yet I-"
Mina felt his hand take hers, gently rubbing the back of it- the mere feeling of it almost bringing tears to her eyes.
"Hey...I am not blaming you for anything ok?" He began with a sweet voice "It does make me sad...But it isn't your fault…"
The young woman managed to swallow back her tears but was still unable to shake off the awful guilt that plagued her.
"...I have something for you." Hyunjin said, taking a small box out of his pocket, hoping that it would make her feel better.
"What is it?"
And so she did, a light and beautiful melody filling the air as a little figurine spinned.
It was comforting, like freshly cleaned bed sheets.
It was warm like an embrace.
It was beautiful like the first blossoms of spring.
It felt like youth and innocence altogether.
"...Is this me?" She asked, looking at the long black hair and the familiar beauty mark on the figurine's cheek.
"It is." He smiled.
Mina unknowingly brought the small wooden box to her chest.
"...Did we make this together..?" She asked in a tiny voice.
"Do you remember…?"
Mina shook her head.
"I don't but…It feels like we did."
"...You're right….Well it wasn't exactly just the two of us, a professional helped us but...It was our idea and we composed the song together."
Hyunjin grew silent for an instant, it wasn't a question he had expected her to ask but then again, he understood that it was important for her to know the hows, the whys, the whens and the wheres of everything.
"...By the tall and old tree on top of the hill."
The young woman nodded and looked at the box again.
Mina could tell by the look of it that it had been used a lot, opened and closed several times along the years.
The H of his family's name almost erased by time itself.
"I forgot about it…" she said "And yet it's all eerily familiar…" she explained.
Mina turned around and sadly smiled at him.
"...That's how I feel most of the time. Stuck in limbo between a past that I have forgotten and a future that I know won't fill up the emptiness in my chest."
She stopped and sighed.
"...That's why I used to live in the present, every second of it...But even my present is broken and painful now and I don't know what to do anymore…"
Mina felt his hand tighten around hers.
"But this…This is amazing." She said, eyeing his present " Because it's a physical reminder that I used to be happy as a child and that I had a life before all of this..."
She smiled and rubbed the back of his hand.
"Thank you for the present...Can I really keep it?"
"It was yours to begin with…It just found its way back to its owner." Hyunjin whispered.
Hyunjin got closer and ran his index on the carved letter "The H is for Han...Not Hwang…" He explained softly "We made two boxes...You gave me yours and I gave you mine."
"...I don't know where yours is." She sincerely answered, apologetically.
"I figured so...It's ok."
"No it's not…"
Mina slightly frowned, saddened.
"...You say that you are fine but...But I know that I must be hurting you in a way." She said " You don't have to pretend that everything's alright…"
Mina eyed him and his mesmerizing beauty.
Silver chains on a skin that shined like light bronze under the sun, and golden hair that framed his diamond like features- always sharp but soft.
There was a slight shift in her chest, a small tingling sensation that pushed her to swipe away his hair out of his face, her fingertips grazing his cheek.
It felt like the right thing to do.
"You can get mad at me...You can even shout at me if it helps you feel better…" she said " Because that's the only thing I can do to help you…."
Hyunjin gently grabbed her hand and took it off his face, he didn't want to let himself hope for things that would never happen.
"...What I need is just this." He whispered, bringing her hand to his lips " I just need you to me stay by your side."
"...In which way..?"
A sad smile appeared on Hyunjin's lips.
"...As a friend."
Mina's heart tightened as she clenched his hand.
His voice suddenly sounded so weak, so defeated and she hated it.
"...There you go again...Making that kind of face…"
"...What kind of face?"
"...You look heartbroken, in pain."
"Maybe because I am."
Mina parted her trembling lips, feeling stupid suddenly.
She didn't need to get her memories back to understand why, why he had been this way with her from the start.
It all made sense, why would a grown man look for her after all these years otherwise?
Why would he care for her this much?
"...The woman you talked about last night….Was it me?"
Another smile appeared on his lips, one that almost made her cry because of how painful it looked.
"...Took you long enough to guess." He whispered.
Chapter XIII: Trust.
"...Aren't you hungry?" Asked Mina after some time spent in silence.
"I haven't eaten anything since lunch."
"Well yeah….We did run away before the banquet started."
Mina played with the covers of her bed unsure as to how to keep the conversation going.
Things had gotten awkward after Hyunjin had apologized.
She had never meant to make him feel bad, she had just spoken as she remembered another one of their memories.
The young woman pushed the sheets off of her and sat on the edge of her bed, facing Hyunjin who was sitting on a chair next to her, their knees touching ever so slightly.
"...We could get something to eat in the kitchen."
" I could ask your butler to bring us something, just lay down please-"
"No." She replied, crossing her arms across her chest " I am in the mood for exploration tonight."
A defeated smile appeared on the prince's lips.
He knew that he wouldn't be able to convince her to rest.
"...At this time of the night?"
And she smiled too, although bitterly, remembering how much she had loved her secret excursion with Minhyun that one time, on top of the capital's roofs.
Would they ever be able to go back to the way they were previous to that evening?
The young woman quickly chased the thought out of her mind and smirked.
"Why not? Are you scared? Are you scared that some ghosts will chase us?"
"... I am not. I am just worried about you." He sighed running a hand in his blonde locks " You were quite sick until a while ago."
"Well maybe I would feel better without a corset on." She stated, implying that he could help her out of it "How could you let me sleep like this?"
Hyunjin swallowed his saliva, slowly realizing that maybe she had mistaken the nature of their previous relationship.
How could she not when she had barely any memories of them?
And yet he would have liked her to remember the important bits to avoid awkward situations like this one.
"...I'll go get a maid."
"Will you really wake a poor woman at this time of the night for a corset…?"
There was a deep shade of blush on the man's cheeks that she couldn't see thanks to the dim lighting of the room, how could she not realize what she was asking of him?
"You just have to pull these two ends of the lace." She indicated, turning around.
The prince carefully and with shaking fingertips pushed away her long black hair that covered half of the corset and her back.
He watched carefully as the curls rolled down her neckline only to cup the side of her chest.
"...I..I'll close my eyes then."
A laugh escaped the pretty lips of the young woman who grabbed his hesitating hands.
"Well...You are a young unmarried woman and it wouldn't be proper of me to do so?"
Mina rolled her eyes, she had vague memories of them bathing together as small children and memories of them sleeping in the same bed.
"We were childhood friends, you don't really count as a man for me since,in theory, we basically grew up together right?"
"...But you don't remember it."
"And? What counts is the way you see me, you see me as family."
Everyone but a clueless Mina would have heard the sound of his shattering self-confidence.
Just a childhood friend? Not a man? Family?
Hyunjin was pissed as he finally untied the lace of her corset- he hadn't expected her to love him but this was a lot to take in.
Maybe she was just dumb or painfully oblivious to the way men acted towards women they loved.
"See? It wasn't that hard, thank you."
Hyunjin wouldn't tell her that he had still closed his eyes and quickly turned around as she started taking off her clothes to get into the night dress that the butler had left for her on the side of her bed.
"What are you doing..??"
"Changing…? You can't expect me to stay in my ball gown for all eternity right? Do you know how uncomfortable these are???"
Nothing would have prepared him for what she said next.
"Well it's not like it matters to you right…? You are not into women." She said, putting on the dress.
"...What do you mean?"
"You like men right?"
He could understand everything but this, how could she think that when he had been staring at her with love flowing from his eyes every time they met?
It was true that he didn't care about other women, but it was because he had eyes only for her.
"You can be honest with me-"
"I am! Well no- I am not gay! Why would you think that???"
The woman stared at him with confused eyes.
"...Well you are a handsome prince and potential heir to a throne and still single, not only that but also the fact that I have never seen you talk to another woman apart from me and your sister so I just assumed-"
"I am just not interested in other people."
Mina paused before carefully speaking.
"..Do you want me to send you back to London?" He said.
Mina sat on the bed once again, fully clothed and slightly embarrassed now that she realized she had been mistaken.
"...I like women, one especially...That's why you might have been getting….the wrong idea."
"...Is it someone I know?"
Hyunjin wasn't really lying, Mina didn't know the person she used to be, the one he loved.
She was oblivious to how much they used to love one another.
"...We should get to the kitchen, let's talk while walking." She said slightly embarrassed, taking his hand and standing up.
The pair escaped the bedroom, guided only by the light of a candle.
The hallways weren't as dark as one would have expected, moonlight lit the walls where paintings after paintings were hung.
Hyunjin remembered thinking as a child how Mina wouldn't have existed if one of these people hadn't had children and would always spare a small prayer for her ancestors for making it so that she existed in his world.
"...So that woman that you love…" began Mina, letting go of his hands " Is she pretty?"
"She is." He laughed "She is beautiful."
"Is she kind?"
"The kindest person I have ever met."
The pair turned around a corner that led to the main staircase.
"Is she clever?"
"...She is but can be dumb and clumsy sometimes...But that's one thing that makes her even more lovely.."
" ...She would probably be mad if she heard you say that…"
"Well she wouldn't know would she?" He smiled "And then again I would get to see her pout and slightly be mad at me...She is adorable when she does so I don't mind it."
Mina held onto the railing as they went down the stairs, a massive piece of art made of finely carved stone way older than Buckingham palace or any other palace used by the current royal family.
"You truly love her a lot..." She said before looking at him " She is lucky to have you."
"...No she isn't."
"Because she has been in danger several times because I am a royal...I shouldn't be near her and yet..."
"And yet you struggle to stay away am I right?" She sadly smiled. "Love is like a drug, one can hardly keep himself from it."
"...The worst and yet best type of drug there is."
Mina first stepped down on the marble floors and reached her hand out to him as if to cheer him.
Hyunjin gladly took her hand back and joined her.
"...I am sure she disagrees. I am sure she is happy to have her lover nearby." She comforted him with a smile.
If only it was true.
"...She doesn't love me...She loves another."
Mina stopped in front of the kitchen's door and looked at him, concerned.
"...Are you ok?" She asked, worried.
He wanted to embrace her and tell her that no, he wasn't and that he needed her- and yet he just smiled again before caressing the top of her head.
"...I am fine, don't worry about it." He sighed "As long as she is happy I don't mind it."
"...But it hurts doesn't it…?"
Mina unexpectedly hugged him to cheer him up.
Hyunjin hesitedly brought his hands up to her back and gently caressed it- what an odd situation this was.
Hyunjin would have never expected to be cheered up by the person that caused him to be in pain to begin with.
"...Let's stop talking about sad things shall we?" He smiled as she looked up at him with teary eyes " Wait- What's wrong?"
"I don't know...It's just so sad and I'm sorry- I don't know what's wrong with me too."
Hyunjin wiped her tears, his heart tightening up at the sight of her in this state.
"...Hey...Don't cry. I should be the one crying, not you."
"Why don't you…?" She asked, sniffling.
Hyunjin gently cupped her face with his right hand and rubbed her cheeks with his thumb, hoping that she would soon smile again.
"I have shed enough tears...I have just accepted that we will never be."
"....Is she engaged? Married to the man?"
"No she isn't."
"Don't give up." She said, fire in her eyes "You're a handsome, kind and caring prince full of charms...You lack in nothing so be confident in yourself, I am sure she'll realize how good of a person you are and go back to you one day."
Hyunjin blinked, surprised at the turn of the situation- would she really cheer him on if she knew that she was the one he loved?
The one thing that surprised him the most was her choice of words.
He had never mentioned that they had been together before to begin with and so he guessed that it had been her subconscious speaking on her behalf.
"Let's go?" She told him.
It was as if she was telling him that she remembered and to hang on to whatever hope he had left for them.
Mina entered the kitchen, soon followed by the prince who didn't know how to react to her words.
"...Hyunjin, we might have not thought this through." She suddenly said, bringing him out of his thoughts.
The young woman pointed at the multiple stoves that weren't lit.
"...Have you ever cooked in your life?"
Mina walked to a counter and took a baguette and handed it to him.
"...Then bread it is for us tonight."
Minhee was walking to Minhyun's mansion, hoping that he would let her in although she came to visit him out of nowhere.
The young woman took a deep breath before ringing his doorbell that opened a few seconds later.
"You are…?" Asked a maid.
"A friend of the daughter of the count of Norfolk." She said " I need to speak to the count."
"His Grace is not feeling well today...Please come back another day."
"I can't. This is a pressing issue."
"Let her in." Whispered a grumpy voice behind the servant.
The maid stepped aside and Minhee came in.
Minhyun looked awful, dark circles highlighted his exhausted eyes and his pale skin, he looked like a living dead.
"...You look awful." She commented out loud.
"...So do you." He replied.
Minhee brought a hand to her cheek, she wasn't in a state to judge his appearance, she hadn't had a good night of sleep in weeks and knew that her dark circles were even worse than his.
"...If you are here looking for Mina, she isn't here."
"I'm not looking for her…"
Minhyun eyed her.
"...You're here because of your fiance then right?"
The young woman nodded.
"...Could you tell me what you found out about him?"
"Nothing, yet. The messenger should reach us in a few days at most, I'll let you know then."
"...I see...Thank you for your hard work then...." she told him, ready to quickly leave.
It wasn't that Minhee disliked the man, she had no particular feelings towards him but did feel uncomfortable under his gaze.
Minhyun was the exact opposite of herself, a person that lived a life planned and organized to the smallest details when she preferred to live her life day to day full of surprises.
Minhyun crossed his arms.
"So...Will you apologize?"
"Your two friends. They did warn you that he was bad news and you ignored them."
"...I'll have to eventually."
"...I don't have the courage yet."
" You still have some time anyway, Mina's not in the capital, she's in her family's castle." He told her " Make up your mind before she comes back-"
"What? But her brother just became a prince-"
"And that's why she left. She felt betrayed."
"No one told her?"
The count sat down on a couch, inviting her to do so too, it was more than what she had ever expected of him.
"...I did not tell her."
"....So you knew." Stated Minhee, taking a seat in front of him " And she resents you for it."
He nodded, putting a hand on his face.
"...I should have told her the truth even if Myungsoo ordered me not to...She trusted me and I broke her trust."
"Then go to her and apologize...You know how she is...She may seem mad but I am sure she understands why you kept everything secret."
Minhee offered him a gentle smile, he wasn't that cold after all.
The young woman had always thought him to be devoid of any emotions and found herself nicely surprised to see that he in fact cared.
"...And you can't leave her alone in that castle...Not when her whole world just fell apart."
The frown on Minhyun's forehead deepened.
"...She isn't alone."
"Kami is with her?"
"...His royal high-.. Hyunjin left along with her."
Minhee blinked, she did not remember them being close.
This news explained the worried look on the count's face and the dark circles.
"...So you'll stay here without doing a thing?"
"She chose him...What do you want me to do?"
Minhee knew that her friend hadn't chosen the prince because she preferred him over Minhyun.
She had eyes for him only and she could predict that she took him along with her because he was in fact, a stranger- a welcome quality during a time when everyone close to her seemed to betray her in a way or another.
"Go after her! Tell her what you feel about her! Show her that you care!"
"I care! That's why I am not going after her, I respect her choice-"
"Bullshit." Swore Minhee,making the man freeze.
"You're just scared. Scared that she'll still be mad at you when you see her again."
Her words seemed to sting him.
"...What if she hates me?"
"If you really think that she does, then maybe you shouldn't be with her because you don't know her at all." Stated Minhee " She wouldn't stop liking you for something like this."
Minhyun stayed silent for a moment before standing up again.
"...I'll go then."
"...Will you come with me?" He asked
"Not now...I have things to deal with before I see her again."
"I have an engagement to break...After all my apologies wouldn't look sincere if I apologized while still being tied to him." She slightly smiled.
"Don't, I should be the one thanking you for helping me."
Minhyun looked up to her, eyes filled with remorse.
"...I didn't do it for you."
"I know but it's alright,you did it for her at least." Minhee smiled "...You're not the bad guy you might think you are Minhyun and she knows it too so don't be too hard on yourself ok?"
Minhyun stared at the ground.
"...Even when I am this jealous of him? For being able to be with her? Even if I am angry deep inside that she did not choose to be with me regardless of what happened…?
"Why would you be jealous of him?"
Minhee raised an eyebrow.
"...He is a prince."
"You're a duke and Mina doesn't care for titles."
"He is handsome."
"You are too."
"...He...He seems more outgoing and in touch with his feelings than I am."
"And it's something you can learn to do too…You are as great as he is and you have an advantage."
"You have known her for longer than he has, even before meeting her thanks to Myungsoo."
Minhyun sadly smiled.
Mina had been a distant dream of his before they had even met, before he could even put a face on her name.
Myungsoo would tell him of how kind she was, how she cared for others and how she was clumsy.
The new prince would tell him all about her and he had begun to appreciate her in his mind, sometimes wondering about what she was doing at different times of the day…
And then he finally met her and shockingly enough, she was just like what he had imagined her to be.
But Minhyun also knew the power that new meetings held, he had been a victim of one of them.
One day walking into their classroom only to see a new stunning face that he would later spend hours describing in his diary.
He remembered the rush, the passion, how much his soul burned at the time and the soft moments that filled a heart starved of affection.
Minhyun knew that one second was sometimes enough for someone to see another in a new light, only a second was necessary for fire to be sparked in a heart.
"Then go proudly and get her back." Smiled the young woman.
Minhyun wouldn't let Hyunjin have her, not when he had finally found someone that could make him happy again.
"...Are you going now?"
"I have to finish some work but I'll go right away after that.."
"Then I won't make you lose your time any longer." Said Minhee standing up "I'll get going."
Minhyun gently grabbed her wrist, feeling bad for receiving more help than what he could provide back for her at the moment.
"...A little advice for you, stay away from Gongyoo if possible. You never know what a cornered man might do."
"Don't worry...I'm not alone anymore."
Time was ticking slowly for Hyewon now that Kami was gone from her life.
It was as if all hope for happiness was lost and that her life was over.
She was now only a tool, a chess piece to be used for politics.
"Princess...Are you alright?" Asked one of her ladies in waiting, Yujin, who was sitting next to her on her bed.
"I am fine."
"No you're not fine Hyewon...We can tell." Sighed another girl, Minju.
Hyewon could never lie to the pair, it was as if they could read her heart.
Minju and Yujin had been her first friends in life, two wonderful and cheerful girls that shared the most special bond she had ever seen.
She remembered the day where she caught sight of them in her garden, holding hands with cheeks flushed.
She remembered how they would sometimes go out for romantic walks on their own.
It wasn't a wild kind of love, but it was soft and comforting, beautiful and delicate.
It was something she admired and longed for too.
"...How does it feel to be loved back by the one person that you desire?"
The pair exchanged a worried glance.
"...It's pure bliss, it's like a cup of tea during a harsh winter, a warm blanket during a cold night, the first rays of light after it has rained…" explained Minju, taking Yujin's hand " It comforts the soul."
That was all she wanted, for her soul to be comforted and to have someone that is hers and hers only.
Hyewon wanted to be someone's priority too, she wanted someone to think about her first when danger occurred, she wanted to not be alone when storms came.
It wasn't like nobody cared about her, she was surrounded by loved ones - Myungsoo,Hyunjin, Felix , her two friends and even Mina in a way since she knew that she would remember her one day.
But each one of them had someone in their mind that they wanted to protect above all others, and she was no one's first choice.
"Do you love someone?" Asked Yujin out of the blue, making the princess freeze.
"...How could I?"
"Why couldn't you?" Replied Minju.
"...I am too busy."
"Were you busy too the few times you disappeared recently?" Reminded the girl again, crossing her arms across her chest.
Hyewon had been scolded by the two when she finally came back to the palace, they had almost sent the royal guards looking for her.
"...I met someone. Someone that I like." She finally confessed.
"How is he?"
The pair exchanged another gaze.
"...Oh, we didn't know that you…"
"...Well I didn't know either until recently."
Yujin came closer to Hyewon, eyes shining with curiosity.
"How is she? Is she pretty? Do we know her-"
Minju pulled Yujin back.
"Calm down-" she laughed, making the princess smile.
"She is my age, gorgeous with blue eyes and golden hair...She is so well spoken and yet wild…"
Minju's face turned white.
"...Blonde with blue eyes you said?"
"...There was a similar woman that looked for you a hour ago in the corridors...I told her to go back because you weren't feeling well and that she would have to contact your secretaries to be able to see you…"
"...Did she tell you her name?"
"Amy…?... Kami? I am not sure."
Hyewon jumped out of bed and onto her feet.
"Where are you going???" Asked Yujin ,almost falling trying to follow her.
"I have to see her-"
"Wait she must have left- we'll call her back to the palace tomorrow."
Hyewon's heart was racing, she had thought that Kami would never see her again.
She had thought that she would resent her forever- and yet.
Hyewon ran out of her room and into the hallways only to find her sitting against a wall a few meters away from her chambers.
Hyewon hid herself behind a column out of reflex, she wasn't sure what to tell her.
"...Miss you can't stay here." Sighed two guards standing before her.
"Why not? Am I bothering you? I am as silent as a vase, what could possibly bother you?"
One of the men coughed.
"This is the palace and...For a noble lady like you to be sitting here is...inappropriate."
"I am the one that gets to care if it is appropriate or not , not you two."
"But...It's almost night time you have to go back-"
"Not before I speak to the princess."
"We'll give your message to her so please-"
"It's about private matters, lady things sir…" she slightly smirked " Or maybe you would like to know such things…?"
The young guard blushed and shook his head.
"Princess!" Shouted Yujin, finally reaching up to Hyewon and blowing up her cover.
The two men and Kami looked at the column, finally seeing the peeking head of the princess behind it.
"P..Princess!"bowed the men.
"...Yujin I'll kill you later." Whispered the young woman under her breath before stepping out of her hiding place.
Her eyes met Kami's that looked rather cold, or maybe hurt? She couldn't tell.
The blonde woman stood up and curtsied.
"Leave us." Hyewon ordered the guards and they did.
Minju took Yujin's hand and dragged her away, knowing that she would like to speak to her alone.
Hyewon slowly walked up to Kami, heart beating.
"...I'm sorry...My ladies in waiting forgot to tell me that you were here...I would have come right away otherwise."
Kami stayed silent, only eyeing her.
Hyewon had been surrounded by scary people all of her life, strong women that had terrified her- especially her mother and Hyunjin's.
She remembered the cold stares that could kill a person and yet none had scared her as much as the sapphires that pierced her soul at that moment.
Hyewon knew that it wasn't hatred that resided in her eyes, it was something worse,maybe disappointment.
"You shouldn't be here...You should have gone home." She whispered.
"...Really? Is that what you want? For me to just go and never see you again?" Kami clenched her hands "...Because if that's what you want then I'll leave."
"That's not what I meant-" panicked the princess "What I meant to say is...You're supposed to be mad at me…? And I should be the one looking for you…?"
"And yet you didn't."
"...Because I thought you hated me-"
"Then you are an idiot princess."
Hyewon blinked, no one had called her that before.
"I was hurt and still am because you lied to me but...I wouldn't hate you for it." She sighed " You had your reasons."
And so had Kami , her reasons for coming back so quickly to her motivated by her brother's scheming.
Kami wouldn't be able to protect everyone,but she would at least protect her with all her might.
"...I'm sorry...I should have told you the truth." Apologized Hyewon "...I wanted to at first but...I got scared."
Tears pooled in her eyes.
"...I was scared that you would leave me...I was scared that you would think I faked it all…"
" I know you did not."
Kami hesitated before taking her hands.
"I just do…Because I like you and I want to be with you."
A small smile finally appeared on Kami's lips.
"...I am usually a rational person and look at me now…I am a mess, but I don't regret it."
Hyewon melted into tears.
"I like you too…" she sobbed " And probably nothing I say will convince you of it but...I truly do…Even if it will lead us nowhere...I do."
Kami hugged her.
"Let's not fight again ok?"
Hyewon buried her face in Kami's neck, hoping that by staying like this Fate would take pity on them and spare them the inevitable future coming for her.
"...I promise you." Replied Hyewon.
A sob resonated in the empty corridor.
The pair turned around to see Yujin and Minju behind a column, tears filling the youngest one's eyes.
"...I tried to stop her but she was too curious-"
"...Congratulations…?" Repeated the princess.
"You are not alone and old anymore!"
Minju covered Yujin's mouth with her hand but it was too late.
"...You are lucky that Kami is here Yujin, or I would have tied you to a chair."
"How's everyone's reaction to the news?" Asked Myungsoo to Minhyun who had come to see him.
"It depends." Replied Minhyun, eyeing his papers "The common people are taking the news well and people don't mind you inheriting the throne since they know all the good your family has done for them."
The younger man sighed.
"...But the nobility and rich merchants disagree strongly and have begun to show resistance. Some of them are saying that it is all but a scheme and that the throne belongs to Hyunjin."
Myungsoo sat back on his chair and leaned his head backward.
"....Apart from the prussian loyalists, there are also those that are saying that they have a better claim to the throne through their bloodline than you…They don't believe that you are the king's son."
"...It was also something we had expected...Do we know who is leading them?"
"We don't, but I have my suspicions."
Myungsoo's mind wandered onto the face of Kami's older brother.
"...The Kim from the secondary branch." Spoke Minhyun.
"Kim Sunggyu? Do we have any proof that he is the one?"
"No we don't, but he is the one with the greatest claim… And you know how he is."
Minhyun nodded, he had too many memories of the man acting like a tyrant on the grounds of Cambridge- driving some students to suicide or pushing the director to expel them.
Myungsoo and Minhyun along with their other friends were however untouchable,protected by the name and notoriety of the eldest boy of the Han family who was known by all to be the future of Britain's nobility, the man who might turn the public back into their favours in an era when blue blooded individuals were more and more disliked.
Nobility losing its power was a thing that scared every noble in Europe for all of them knew what had happened in France only a few decades ago, it was a fate that loomed over their head that would not remain on their shoulders if people took to their weapons.
"We'll be alright…" sighed Minhyun.
Sunggyu was clever and yet often let his intelligence be overwhelmed by his arrogance, making him do stupid things for the sake of satisfying his ever growing sadistic ego- only surpassed for his hatred and jealousy for Myungsoo.
"...We still have to prepare."
"For potential rebellions." Replied Myungsoo.
"We should be fine, we made sure of that before the announcement."
"Still...We could have missed something, it's never a bad thing to be careful."
"What would you have me do then?"
"Plant spies in most noble houses."
"...That's a lot of people...I don't have that many people that I can truly trust."
Myungsoo stood up and walked to the window of his office.
"Then let this be an opportunity. I'll also send people to these houses too, let's compare their reports and determine who is loyal to us and not."
"...And like this we'll see which families might be plotting against us." Said Minhyun.
"Exactly." Smiled Myungsoo.
Minhyun walked and leaned himself against the window's frame.
"...How's Mina?" Asked her older brother, crossing his arms.
"Why don't you go ask her yourself?"
"...So you don't know."
Myungsoo onyx eyes were focused on those of the younger man that was too exhausted both physically and mentally to keep up his poker face.
"Why? Why aren't you with her? You know that she left."
"I have work to finish first."
"...I know you, you value work but not to the extent that you would neglect people you care for."
Minhyun looked at the empty gardens under the moonlight, remembering the night they had fought.
He had followed her, hoping to explain himself to her and make things right until he had seen Hyunjin holding her hand.
The young man hadn't felt pain like this in a long time, not sure as to if he was angered by the nerve of the prince who should have known that she was taken already or by her for giving in so easily to his touch.
And yet he stayed still as he always did when he needed to act on his feelings the most.
"...You two fought right?"
"...Yes we did." He confessed "Because of the secret you made me keep."
"...I'm sorry." Apologized the new prince.
"For what? It was necessary, I thought so too."
"But you regret it don't you?"
It was her gaze that was haunting him, pretty eyes filled with tears of betrayal.
It was the way her irises trembled.
It was the way her eyebrows turned into a pained frown.
It was the way her soft hands had pushed him away with all of her strength.
It was the sight of her back, leaving him.
"...Every second since I saw her realize that I had been keeping everything from her." He whispered "And so I'll go to her as soon as I finish my work, to win her back."
Myungsoo eyed him.
"...I won't stop you but...Make sure not to hurt her in the process, that's all I am asking of you."
"...Won't you see her?"
"By what right would I?" He sadly smiled " I would deserve it even if she decided not to see me ever again."
"You know that it won't happen...She adores you too much."
"Will she still when everything we planned ends? Will anyone that matters to me still like me then?"
Minhyun rested a hand on his shoulder.
A sad smile appeared on Myungsoo's lips.
"Will you really?"
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