(Chapter Six of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Six: Light's Protection
The door burst open and he didn’t even have to wonder who it was. Only one person was so blatantly oblivious to the common courtesies of society. Then again, he was that person’s prisoner so he couldn’t truly complain. He looked over from the small bay window where he sat, his back against the side of the niche. The second prince strode over to his side, nudging his legs, which had been stretched out before him, aside so he could sit on the edge of the window seat.
For a few minutes, they merely looked at one another.
Sungmin had meant what he said earlier to Taeyeon about taking the chance to fall in love should she be given it. However, what of himself? He hadn’t lied when he said choosing the life of a mage meant choosing loneliness. To open himself up, to allow another into his life only gave him another chance to lose that person. He wasn’t sure if he could see the chance for love a great enough reward at the chance of opening his heart. That was, he knew, the only course if he allowed the prince to get close to him.
He knew it from almost the moment they had met that night in the maze. He had never physically responded to a person so strongly before; not even to Taeyeon, who was seen as a great beauty in the Light Kingdom, regardless of her royal status. Also, he had never met anyone who was so willing to attempt to be with him. He knew the prince just wanted his body, just wanted to share his bed, but that was far more than anyone else had ever wanted from him.
His parents, while they loved him, wanted to hide his magic, wanted to deny that he had been blessed with the Light. It had taken him awhile to decide to be a mage after their deaths. He had felt becoming a mage both a great freedom and a great insult. He hoped that once he became a full mage he could make his parents proud of him somehow.
Eeteuk had accepted him as a mage not because he was the only one to do so after the war had ended, but because of how he had applied to the king. He had spoke of dreams of doing good with the Light, of finding a way to combat the mania that came with too much exposure to the Light. He was determined, relentless and, yet, he always wondered if that was why the king accepted him as a mage. In the end, Eeteuk asked what he hoped to accomplish from all this supposed good he was trying to attain by being a mage. He had simply answered to make his parents proud. The next day, he was given a decree to live at the castle so he could train to be a mage.
Taeyeon had always treated him differently than anyone else. Innocent, friendly Taeyeon, who was beautiful both inside as well as out, was his first friend; the king took a few months to warm up to him. However, he wondered if Taeyeon would still be his friend had she not also been blessed with the Light. No, he stopped that train of thought immediately. Taeyeon was too essentially, wholly kind to have treated him differently as she had when they first met. She was his friend, the closest anyone had ever been to him. It was a shame that their love for one another did not extend beyond that of a deep and abiding friendship.
Suddenly, Sungmin realized he wanted to find someone, wanted to be close with someone in a romantic way. Even if it couldn’t be forever, even if it was for just a few days or a few weeks – however long he was to be kept prisoner – he wanted a little piece of intimacy. He stared at the prince who stared steadily back. Yes, he wanted intimacy and, not with just anyone, but with this prince, this man before him.
“She’s not really my fiancée,” He confessed softly,
Kyuhyun’s eyes slowly widened until they couldn’t get any bigger. Then, they narrowed sharply, “What?”
“The princess has her own reasons for entering a fake engagement but they are her reasons to tell. My reason was the promise of companionship, regardless if it didn’t mean for forever,” Sungmin explained, “And also the chance to help a friend who needed me.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Kyuhyun questioned, “Just this morning you were pushing away my advances.”
“Because I realized Taeyeon has a chance to be with someone who loves her as more than a friend. And because I realized I want the chance of some kind of intimacy,” Sungmin answered,
“So, I’m just very convenient to your purposes,” Kyuhyun scowled,
“No, you’re not. Convenience is never leaving the Light Kingdom. Convenience is having my life continue on as it always has been. Convenience is having never met you,” Sungmin argued, “But by some chance all of those things didn’t happen. I left the Light Kingdom and my life has changed so much already since then. I met you, regardless of the particulars of that first meeting.”
“But had someone else been so bold with you –”
Sungmin pulled the prince to him and silenced him with a kiss. He released his hold of the front of the prince’s shirt and stared steadily at Kyuhyun who still leaned into him, “No, I was attracted to you from the first.”
Kyuhyun sighed, “I’m glad you’re not engaged.”
“I thought you might be,” Sungmin quirked a smile,
Kyuhyun shook his head, “That’s a part of it. The other part is that Princess Taeyeon is too hard to hate. Even disliking her is a chore all on its own.”
“An apt description,” Sungmin agreed, crossing his arms loosely about his torso as he continued to lean back against the side of the niche,
“Since you’ve been honest with me, then I should tell you to go find Taeyeon in the garden maze,” Kyuhyun sighed,
Sungmin sat up straight, eyes widening, “What? Why?”
“She overheard Siwon and me talking and, well, he wasn’t painting a very good picture of her the way he was talking,” Kyuhyun explained, “Not seriously, just trying to act like he didn’t care for her. Well, I think – no, I know she took it the wrong way. I was just going to let my brother go after her, but, perhaps she would rather have a friend right now instead.” He gave a small smile, “Besides, perhaps my brother deserves to suffer a bit for what he said.”
Sungmin nodded as Kyuhyun moved so Sungmin could get off the window seat. He strode to the door when he paused and looked back at the second prince, “What I said before was true, Taeyeon has her own reasons for the engagement so it’s her story to tell. I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone what I’ve told you here.”
“I’m to lie to my own brother?” Kyuhyun questioned, raising a brow, “I’m to allow him to believe he has no chance at all to be with the beautiful princess?”
“Yes,” Sungmin said simply, “Either you keep Taeyeon’s secret or you lose your chance with me.”
Kyuhyun’s eyes narrowed, “Regardless of what happens, I will have you.”
Sungmin snorted a laugh as he turned and threw the door open, “We’ll see about that.”
Kyuhyun stood there glaring, hands on his hips, “Does he not realize he’s still my prisoner?”
Sungmin stepped out onto the back terrace and headed to the maze. He saw the prince immediately watering a few of the plants there, but decided to ignore him. He understood the prince’s rationale for what he did, but the damn man could have been careful about where he said his words. He closed his eyes and allowed his magic to stretch out around him.
He grasped for threads of magic, immediately sensing the strong presence of the prince on the terrace. He nearly stumbled back at the Dark Magic that pulsed around him so vividly. He opened his eyes and gazed at the maze. It was formidable magic, which had created the maze and he knew it was the first prince to have done it. Closing his eyes again, he allowed his magic to branch out like thin threads of spider web, seeking, searching for a trace of Taeyeon’s. Even if she hadn’t used her magic, those blessed by it would always have a trail unless they consciously erased it.
He felt it then, the thin, bare trace of Light Magic. Opening his eyes, he purposefully strode into the maze without a thought of the prince he knew was watching him. He allowed his instincts to guide him, knowing the only other Light user was Taeyeon. He didn’t pay caution to where he was, what turns he made, he simply followed the trail. All he cared about was finding Taeyeon.
He stopped in a break in the leafy walls, finding himself in the entrance to a rose-filled sanctuary. In the middle of the cylindrical area was a stone bench and there sat the princess with her knees drawn up and her head on those knees. He rushed to her side, sitting on the bench by her feet.
“Taeyeon?” He said softly,
She raised her head and looked at him unashamedly with her red, tear-filled eyes. Sungmin straddled the bench and pulled her into his embrace. She sat perpendicular to him, her head tucked beneath his chin and her back to the entrance. She hugged her arms around her torso, her legs hooked over his one thigh as his arms wrapped around her firmly, protectively. She didn’t cry out loud, but she shook like a leaf in a windstorm and her tears immediately soaked through his jungchimak. He knew he could take away her sorrow by explaining to her what the prince had been trying to do, that it had all been an act. However, just like how he couldn’t allow Kyuhyun to tell Siwon about the engagement, he couldn’t tell Taeyeon. They had to come to peace with one another on their own.
He opted for the next best thing, “Prince Kyuhyun told me what happened. You should talk to the prince, Taeyeon.”
She shook her head instead of answering, scared at how weak and broken her voice might sound.
“You know it’s far better to face a problem head-on rather than run away from it,” Sungmin said gently, “Especially if we’re to continue to stay here. I have a feeling Prince Kyuhyun won’t let me go free within the next few days.”
“Can I… Can I… Can I just feel sorry for myself a little bit longer?” She hiccupped, “I just want to wallow in self-pity for a bit. Then I can go back to being strong.”
Sungmin laughed lightly as he hugged her tighter, “Of course you can. You can be weak whenever you want, Minx, so long as I’m here to be strong for you.”
“Thank you, Min,” she replied softly, the tears continuing to fall despite his rational presence beside her.
She sat in his embrace, selfishly leaning in his strength in silence. She closed her eyes and fell into the warm peace of the moment. Despite their close relationship, there was never a time when either of them needed such comfort of the other person. This comfort, this level of closeness and intimacy was nice, Taeyeon found. She felt safe and comforted. She didn’t want to leave his embrace to face what would be a painful confrontation with the first prince. However, he was right: she had to talk to Siwon. He had toyed with her feelings. She had thought him a friend at least and had freely expressed her esteem of him, but it had been all been a lie.
“When we return to the Light Kingdom and if neither of us has any prospects, would you be engaged to me in truth?” Taeyeon asked quietly,
Sungmin blinked before he moved his head away so he could look down at her, “Taeyeon, are you giving me a conditional marriage proposal?”
Taeyeon stared up at him and nodded, “You said I have a chance for love while you are destined for loneliness, but I think that we could be very happy together. We would always have each other – you would never be lonely.”
Sungmin stared at her for a moment. She was sincere, he could tell by her tone and her gaze. His heart selfishly wanted to grab the chance of eternity with at least one person. Why not with Taeyeon? The thought of not having a future of loneliness was horribly tempting. However, he knew Taeyeon could have more than just friendship in a marriage. Regardless of how much he wanted forever with someone, he couldn’t allow Taeyeon to sacrifice her own future happiness.
“I know I can be naïve and trust people to easily, but I’m not a mean person and I believe I can be smart when I want to be,” Taeyeon went on when Sungmin was silent for far longer than comfortable, “And I know my magic is unstable when I’m emotional, but you would be able to control my magic and you always know how to calm me down.”
Sungmin could counter most of her points. He could state that a Dark user would have a better time controlling her magic by using water against fire. He could remind her the times when he couldn’t calm her down and her brother had to be called upon. However, he knew her well enough to know when she was being stubborn and he had a feeling that if he countered her points, she would somehow think up other, stronger ones that he wouldn’t be able to argue against. No, best to keep with these simple arguments that would be easily deflected once the time came.
“Taeyeon, you know me better than anyone else. You give me friendship when no one dares come near me,” Sungmin said softly, “But you know we’re just friends. You could have so much more in a marriage than just friendship.”
“But do you know how good friendship alone is?” Taeyeon questioned, “So many political marriages have less than that to build on.”
Sungmin touched her cheek, his finger running down along her jaw until it was beneath her chin. He tipped her face to his and leaned in. He touched his lips to hers and kissed her. His lips were firm but gentle, the kiss warm and sweet. He pulled back, breaking the contact. His steel-blue gaze swept over her pale amber one. She lowered her head and tucked it beneath his chin again, huddled in his embrace.
"Do you understand now?" Sungmin asked quietly as he held her, turning his head so he could press his cheek against the crown of her head,
She didn't say anything. She merely nodded. She couldn't pretend ignorance. She couldn't act like she didn't know what he was talking about. She had felt it almost the exact moment his lips touched hers. She felt... nothing. His lips were warm and the kiss was soft, but there was no pull at her heart, no need to keep the kiss going. There was no heat, no spark. It felt like exactly what it was: a kiss between friends.
"Are you strong enough to return to the castle or do you want to remain here longer?" Sungmin asked after seemingly endless moments of comfortable silence.
"I want to return to the castle. It's his home, but this is his creation. It hurts far more to be here," she admitted as she slipped her legs off his thigh and he stood from the stone bench. He held out his arm but she took his hand instead, fitting her small hand into his, "You refused my proposal. The most you can do is hold my hand."
"You just want to act like you don't need him," Sungmin read easily, "And I didn't refuse your proposal. When we return to the Light Kingdom and neither of us has anyone then... then I will ask for your hand formally."
"Really?" Taeyeon began to smile at him,
"But, you have to keep yourself open to anything until then," Sungmin stated firmly, "That includes making peace with the prince."
Taeyeon sighed heavily as he led her out of the rose sanctuary and into the maze path, "Fine."
"You have to lead me out, Minx, I have no idea how I got here," Sungmin said lightly,
She rolled her eyes, "This way then." She turned and continued down the path, the same way Siwon had taken her just the other day.
"I have something to confess," Sungmin said quietly as they made their way down the maze path,
"You're not the only one with an eye on a prince," Sungmin said lightly even as he felt his face heat up,
Taeyeon stopped immediately, tugging Sungmin to a halt with her firm grasp on his hand, "What?"
"Ah, so much happens when we're not together," Sungmin offered her a small smile. He tugged at her hand, forcing her to continuing walking with him; "I'm not just the second prince's prisoner. I'm also the one he wants in bed."
Taeyeon's eyes widened as her cheeks pinked, "Min!"
Sungmin raised a brow, "Would you rather I not tell you?"
"Well, that's the simplest way I can say it. I apologize for your sensitivities, but I can't treat you like a lady and tell you what's happened to me," Sungmin explained,
"Fine, fine," she waved away his words, "So, what's been going on?"
"Nothing really, he just... suggests things when we're together," Sungmin shrugged,
"So he wants to use your body?" Taeyeon asked,
"I want to use his body, too," Sungmin said lightly, knowing his face was probably as red as the princess'.
"I suppose you could find worse," Taeyeon murmured,
"He's the one who told me to come find you," Sungmin informed,
"He seems to be the only one to get any warm emotion from Siwon easily," Taeyeon confessed, "And he spends his mornings with his father... oh, you could certainly do worse, Min."
Sungmin chuckled, "Does this mean he gets your blessing?"
"Oh, but Sungmin, if there's a chance for you to fall in love with him or for him to fall in love with you, please allow it," Taeyeon implored, "I'm not the only one given a chance here and I don't want you to miss it."
"Taeyeon, I already said -"
"I know what you said, but just because the mages of old have been alone, does not mean you have to follow that same path," Taeyeon argued, "The fact that I am your friend breaks tradition already. The fact that the prince isn't afraid of you being a mage proves that this situation is far from traditional. So, please, Min, don't allow the past to dictate your future."
"I won't try for anything because I refuse to allow myself any amount of false hope, Taeyeon," Sungmin said sternly. Then, he sighed and his tone softened, "But I'll allow things to play out as they will. I won't resist whatever fate may throw my way."
"Sungmin, when the time comes for us to return to the Light Kingdom, if you have a chance to stay with Prince Kyuhyun and be happy, I want you to take it," Taeyeon said quietly as they neared the end of the path, the appearance of an exit out of the maze before them,
"But, Taeyeon, just earlier you mentioned the engagement -"
"I will find another to marry," Taeyeon replied, "You were the one to first mention love and the chance to grab it if it came."
"Yes, but that was in relation to you-"
Taeyeon stopped him, tugging at his hand again as they stood in the exit. She stared up at him, amber gaze narrowed stubbornly, "Well, now I'm say it in relation to you, Sungmin." She raised her free hand and held the side of his face affectionately, "I love you and I would never ask you to sacrifice your own future for my own."
Sungmin stared at her for a moment before he turned his head and kissed her fingers. He took that hand in his, his fingers knowingly running over the stiffened joints, "If life were simple, we would love each other differently and we could easily marry."
"But life isn't simple, so we must use what fate gives us," Taeyeon agreed.
"Well, then we'll just have to make sure that if I am happy then you must be, too," Sungmin said as he dropped her left hand and continued on to the castle, her right hand still firmly in his own. "That means talking to the prince."
"I will," she muttered quietly, resentfully,
"Soon, Minx," Sungmin said firmly,
She rolled her eyes, "I love you a little less right now."
He had seen the kiss.
Soon after the mage had gone into the garden maze, apparently knowing exactly where Taeyeon was, Siwon followed. He had reached the rose garden just as the two kissed. She had been sitting in the mage's lap, her back to the rose garden's entrance. They were so close already and the kiss only brought them closer. He had turned and left the way he had come. The entire time he had shook with physical anger.
He knew he had to control the anger that was burning in him, borne from a pain that stabbed through the vicinity of his heart. If he didn't control his anger soon, he would bring the maze down upon them all. That, or a rainstorm would pour a flood upon the castle. For a brief moment, he wanted all of that chaos. He wanted the destruction, the ripping up of the land, simply to assuage the bitter, biting pain spreading from his chest.
The dark emotions swirled within him and he clamped down on them and his emotions ruthlessly. He was distantly grateful that it was the middle of the afternoon and his magic weaker than if it had been night or closer to sunset. He had paused on his way out of the maze to close his eyes and inhale slowly, deeply. He called upon the control he had gained years ago after he had erected the gardens. Like a steel clamp over his emotions, over his heart, he felt an almost coolness sweep through him. When he opened his eyes, he was under control again.
He had decided to wait near the gardens so as to catch them as they left. He knew it important to talk to the princess as soon as possible so as to dispel the misunderstanding between them. He had waited close to the entrances, wandering around the corner when he heard them coming closer in an attempt to make the meeting coincidental rather than planned. However, when he was rounding the corner to meet them "accidentally", he saw Taeyeon stop Sungmin from continuing forward.
He watched as she raised a hand and held the mage's face much like she did to him just the other day. He watched as the mage turned his head and kissed her raised hand.
He turned away and headed to the fields beyond the gardens. His emotions were boiling over again and he didn't know if he could control them this time. If he was to cause destruction with his magic, best to do it away from his gardens - the one place he found peace. After seeing Taeyeon and Sungmin together, he wondered if he could ever find peace in his gardens again.
Sungmin was sitting on the window seat again when Kyuhyun entered. With his back against the side of the niche, his legs stretched out before him and arms crossed about his torso, he had been gazing out the window. The sky was dark, had been dark since almost the time he had re-entered the castle with Taeyeon. The rain came down from black clouds in thick sheets, big drops of rain splattering against the windowpane. Along with the pouring rain, the wind howled fiercely, suggesting a level of power as loud as its sound. Sungmin had tried to peer through the darkness at the vegetation, but it was impossible to see anything out in the dark storm. However, he imagined pieces of flora flying everywhere, pulled apart by the storm.
"The storm isn't natural," Kyuhyun confirmed his thoughts as he approached the window seat and sat on the edge,
"I didn't think it was. It came on too fast, not to mention the feel of magic all around," Sungmin stated as he turned his gaze from the black sky to the prince, "He wasn't at dinner."
"I honestly don't know where my brother is," Kyuhyun sighed, "I visited with my father after dinner and he knew the storm was Siwon's doing."
"At least there's some comfort in this. It means you didn't tell your brother about the engagement," Sungmin said,
Kyuhyun narrowed his eyes, "You told me not to tell."
"I didn't think you'd do it," Sungmin replied, eyes widening slightly. "Besides," he cleared his throat and hastily looked away, "I told Taeyeon to speak with your brother. They should handle their own problems."
Kyuhyun stared at the mage's profile for a few silent moments. Finally, he said, "Fine. I'll let my brother figure out his own answers then."
"Tell me, Prince Kyuhyun, is the reason I'm being kept prisoner because I threatened you that first night or because you want to sleep with me?"Sungmin asked bluntly, turning his face again to lock gazes with the young prince,
"Because I want you," Kyuhyun answered almost immediately, "I couldn't care less if you threatened me or not, I could have easily defeated you even before I began leading you through the maze. I wanted you and I knew the only way to have you was to keep you here. It was just fortunate I had a legitimate excuse to force your stay."
Sungmin stared at the prince. He felt his heart beat a rapid tattoo at the prince's words, felt a warmness start in his chest and spread to the rest of his body. It was always like this whenever the prince was around. He felt shaky, anxious, yet calm and comfortable. The paradoxical mix of emotions always made him more aware of the prince, of his actions and words.
Finally, Sungmin threw him a smirk, "Just because I told you the truth about Taeyeon and me, doesn't mean I've capitulated."
"You also kissed me," Kyuhyun reminded, his voice dropping to a sultry tone that was warm and hinted at secret, dark pleasures.
Sungmin suppressed the urge to shiver as he managed to reply, "I thought it a good way to make you stop talking."
Kyuhyun's dark eyes narrowed slightly, "Oh? Do you use that with Princess Taeyeon as well?"
Sungmin laughed as he turned his head to look out the window again. The jealous tone he heard in the prince's voice oddly warmed him. He felt firm fingers grip his chin and he was forced to look back at the prince. He was startled to find Kyuhyun kneeling with one knee on the window seat, towering over him slightly, their bodies just inches apart.
"I saw you two out by the garden maze," Kyuhyun said, jealousy heating his tone, "You two certainly seem to be more than just friends."
"We're just friends," Sungmin stated, not know why he needed to clarify the point, insist upon it until the prince believed it. All he knew was that he wanted to wipe the scowl from the younger man's face, wanted to kiss away the frown and feel those slender, firm fingers everywhere. "We're just very close."
Kyuhyun's dark eyes bore into Sungmin's before finally, he dropped his hand, but stayed just where he was, staring down at the mage. "I will have you, Sungmin," he said quietly, his voice firm yet gentle.
"You'll have to convince me then because I'm not just going to jump into bed with you," Sungmin replied simply, his hand reaching out and laying on Kyuhyun's hip. Then, slowly, he ran his hand up the side of the prince's torso, slid it to the front to caress his chest, tantalize the prince's neck until his hand settled firm on his jaw, "Make sure you're good at convincing."
Kyuhyun stared for a moment. His eyes were partially hooded, the lids slowly lowering as Sungmin's hand had travelled higher up his body. He slowly leaned his face closer, closer - so close that Sungmin could see the slashes of silver in his dark irises. He leaned closer until their lips were a hair's breadth apart, their breaths mingling. He closed the small distance, just enough that his mouth touched the other's, caressed like butterfly wings, and then he was off the seat and away.
"I'll see you in the morning," Kyuhyun said, a slight smirk on his lips before he turned and sauntered out of the room.
Sungmin swallowed hard. Now he knew he wouldn't be able to resist for much longer.
Kyuhyun walked down the corridor, giving a nod to servants he passed.
The mage had capitulated - slightly - but that's all he needed to move in on him. He had to make sure he could convince him? Well, that wouldn't be too hard, he was sure. The mage sent fire racing through him, electricity sparking up through his limbs, all with just a look, a touch or a single word. Such physical attraction to a mere stranger and he wondered why he had never reacted to another person like this. There was a time, another person, but that was a different attraction, a different feeling.
He pushed those thoughts away as he reached his bedroom door in the opposite wing. Opening the door, he spotted a solid shadow by one of his windows, inspecting the storm, "Kangin, you're early," he said lightly as he entered the room.
The door closed behind him firmly, a clicking sound signaling the lock falling in its place.
The next morning when Sungmin descended the stairs to meet Kangin and Kyuhyun for training, Taeyeon was at his side dressed in her blue and white mage robes again. Kangin raised his brows, but a subtle shake of his head from Sungmin silenced any obvious questions. Taeyeon at his side, kept her gaze straight ahead, distracted. Kangin led them away, casually conversing with the second prince as the other pair followed.
Sungmin had left his room that morning only to find Taeyeon waiting for him. Considering she was in her mage robes, Sungmin had exclaimed upon them immediately.
"Please," was all she said. Quiet and shaky.
He had stopped instantly. He offered her his arm and said nothing more as she walked by his side, her gaze to the ground.
The other day after they had come back into the castle, Taeyeon had pleaded fatigue and he led her to her room. He thought nothing of it when Taeyeon did not appear at dinner. She probably didn't want to face the prince just yet, so he allowed her avoidance of the problem. It didn't matter if she showed up, however, because Siwon hadn't been at dinner either. However, this morning, as she said that one word, her amber eyes seeming even paler than usual, the light appearing to have gone from her eyes, he cursed himself a fool. He should have known she wasn't okay after a few laughs the previous afternoon.
Sungmin looked up as two footmen stepped forward to open a set of tall double doors. The Dark Mage had led them to a large ballroom that seemed to span half the length of one of the side wings. Sungmin mused that it was just like the Castle of Light. The ballroom was long, found at the end of a side wing. The shape of the ballroom was defined by tall, thick pillars that formed a circular perimetre, giving the ballroom a rounded shape. The walls were lined with tall windows, one wall made completely out of glass, giving way to the back fields. Because of the ballroom's expansive length, it gave view to half of the garden maze and the fields beside and beyond it.
"I figure since it's raining outside training for Sungmin would be impossible," Kangin explained as he led them to the centre of the ballroom, "I believe this is the next best location. It's large enough so that we can't destroy anything if anyone gets too enthusiastic." Kangin turned towards the princess, prepared to argue with her about training.
However, she had already detached from Sungmin's side and was walking away. The three watched as she made her way to the glass wall. It was Sungmin who brought their attention back to training by clearing his throat.
"I thought if they were both missing at dinner that it meant they were talking," Kyuhyun stated, brow furrowed thoughtfully,
"What is going on?" Kangin questioned and then held up a hand, "Do you know what? I don't want to know. The last thing I want is royal drama on my mind. Okay, let's begin training. Sungmin, you're going to have to keep training to form fire while your hand is wet. Until you've mastered that we can't continue."
"I know, I know," Sungmin insisted as Kangin withdrew the cup from the other day and filled it with water.
Sungmin walked over to the closest pillar sat on the ground, back against solidity. He had chosen the spot so he could be near enough to observe the mage and prince and also because he could watch Taeyeon clearly. The spot brought him farther from her, but he could see her.
She stood almost sideways, her shoulder and upper arm pressed up against the cool glass, turned just enough so she could press part of her forehead against the glass wall as well. Her hair was flowing freely around her again like a thick curtain of silky locks. She hadn't wanted to do anything that morning, but had found the strength to force herself out of bed and into her mage robes. For some reason, she didn't want to wear the clothes that would most likely be those of the late queen's like the dress she wore the other day.
After Sungmin had left her in her room the other day, she had gotten into bed and cried herself to sleep. She hadn't woken again until dawn when it took her several hours to convince herself to stop crying and to get up. If the horrible pain pitting inside her was the result of an infatuation, she didn't want to know what love felt like.
She gazed out at the black sky, gazed sightlessly out through the pouring rain. She closed her eyes and relished the feel of the cool glass against her skin. She concentrated on that refreshing feeling, that calming feeling. She knew if she continued down her train of thought the ballroom would be engulfed in flames. Her right hand sought out her left and slowly her thumb massaged her left palm. She concentrated on making her mind like clean slate.
A hand on her shoulder jolted Taeyeon out of her reverie of blank thoughts. She whipped her head towards Sungmin who stood beside her, "What-"
"I called your name several times," Sungmin interrupted, his steel-blue gaze watching her with obvious concern,
"You're done training already?" Taeyeon blinked, straightening away from the glass and looking past Sungmin to Kangin and Kyuhyun who were conversing near the double doors. "I... I was thinking."
"There's no fire, so I'm not worried," Sungmin said as he took her hand and looped her arm through his own. Then, he squeezed her hand before dropping his own, "But unless you give me reason not to, I'm going to worry anyway."
"I'll talk to him today," Taeyeon insisted, "I just... I just couldn't yesterday, not so soon after hearing and... Today," she promised.
Sungmin shook his head, "When you're ready. I shouldn't have insisted upon anything. When you're ready, Taeyeon."
They joined the other two men and were led out of the ballroom. When they reached the front foyer, Kyuhyun suggested Kangin join them for lunch and the Dark Mage agreed. Kyuhyun had mounted the stairs at a sprint, calling back he needed to change for lunch. Kangin excused himself to the library and Sungmin led Taeyeon back upstairs.
"You should change into a gown," Sungmin suggested softly, "If you're often seen in mage robes word could get back to our kingdom."
Taeyeon reflected upon the simple yet beautiful gowns that had appeared in her room the previous morning. They were beautiful, posh enough to fit her station and simple enough to fit her tastes. Someone who would send her such gowns seemed to understand her. She had been wrong, hadn't she? But Sungmin was so insistent she speak with the prince. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding. She hadn't misheard, but a misunderstanding could have still taken place.
Sungmin stopped walking, forcing Taeyeon to do the same. She realized then that they were before her door and she had been silent the entire time. She looked up at him and attempted a smile, "Yes, I'll change into a gown. Will you escort me down for lunch?"
"I'll see you in a half hour," Sungmin nodded. He waited until she was inside her room before retreating to his own.
Taeyeon was at Sungmin's side as the prince led them to the dining room, Kangin at their back. She had changed into a gown as she said she would. It was emerald silk again that seemed to wrap around her in one piece. The sleeves were made of ivory-coloured lace that trimmed the top edge of her dress and then wrapped around part of her upper arms, leaving her shoulders bare. The silk formed to her bust and torso until it flowed loose at her waist to her knees where the edge was trimmed with more lace. Her dark locks were still falling free down her back without any adornment or ties. Sungmin was glad she had decided to change. He could see some of her confidence restored in her face.
"Protocol would suggest I lead you in," Kyuhyun said lightly, "However, under the circumstances, it's probably wise I don't. Besides, it's fitting that your fiancé escort you in, no?"
Sungmin furtively watched Taeyeon's face for a reaction. He had heard the emphasis on the word 'fiancé' and could gladly strangle the prince for it. However, Taeyeon didn't seem to notice it. In fact, she was staring straight ahead into the dining room, her grip on his arm suddenly turning to steel. Sungmin stopped immediately when he realized Kyuhyun had also paused. When the second prince continued, Sungmin finally saw what Taeyeon had: Siwon sat at the head of the table and to his left sat one of the consorts from the other day.
"My dearest brother," Kyuhyun greeted flippantly, "And one of our lovely consorts. What a pleasure to see you again," he threw her a warm, bright smile.
Kyuhyun sat at his seat, Kangin going to the seat beside his as Sungmin led Taeyeon around to the other side. He ensured he sat in his previous seat, deciding it best Taeyeon be separated from the consort. When Taeyeon sat down, her face was up, her gaze steady and rose from the ground. Her posture as she sat was perfectly straight. She stared straight ahead at the empty seat before her. It was just as well no one sat there, because all her attention was focused on the prince and the consort who now sat in the seat that had been hers for two days.
"Your brother invited me to visit today and what a surprise it was," the consort said as they began to eat lunch, "Of course, understandable considering all this rain. Being cooped up indoors for long periods must be so boring."
"Oh, I agree," Kyuhyun stated before his brother could say anything, "Although, this storm is ruining a lot of plants out there. I'd be surprised if the gardens are still there after the storm."
"But that's a worry for the gardeners not yourselves, Your Highness," the consort stated, placing a light hand on the prince's, "And, if I may be so bold to state, cutting the maze down to half its height would do wonders for the landscape. It blocks a view to the back fields."
Kyuhyun merely smiled as he took a sip of his drink. Over the rim of his cup, he glanced at his brother. Siwon sat silent, eating his food, taking sips from his cup and giving the occasional nod as if he weren't truly paying attention to what he was doing. He was simply going through the motions of a meal without any thought around him. However, Kyuhyun saw the pause in his movements when the gardens were mentioned. Kyuhyun saw his grip tighten around his cup when the consort offered supposed improvements to the maze. Kyuhyun saw the slight twitch in his hand when the consort had touched him, suppressing the instinct to pull his hand away. Whatever was going through his brother's mind to invite the consort, he was sure Siwon was regretting it now.
Sungmin caught Kyuhyun watching Siwon. Indeed, he had been fighting the urge to shoot dark glances at the prince himself. He had hopes that Siwon would finally be the one to interest Taeyeon. After years of suitors - before and after their fake engagement - Taeyeon had never given one a second glance, had never treated anyone more than a mere acquaintance. She never allowed any suitors to take her hand or escort her anywhere. He knew she kept her distance not out of purpose but simple unawareness of the suitors. They passed through her life as meaningless people - they had never enticed her to pay attention to them.
Siwon had been different, Sungmin realized. He had begun to realize it bit by bit and the scene in the garden maze only solidified his belief. It was in the way she sat so naturally with the prince that first day when he was reunited with her. It was in the way she said his name so casually, so warmly. It was in the way that she had allowed the prince to heal her. It was in the way she tried to escape being hurt by trying to make their engagement real. He knew that if she was afraid of being hurt, it meant she could be hurt and that could only be done by someone who mattered to her.
Sungmin picked up his cup to sip his drink. When the liquid touched his lips, it was warm rather than cool and refreshing. He casually put down his cup and turned to look at Taeyeon. He allowed his magic to flow, to sense. He saw no fire anywhere, but he could feel waves of magic pouring off her as she continued to stare straight ahead, her fork held loosely in her hand. He knew she was trying to contain her emotions again, knew she was close to unleashing magic. Magic that was already spilling from her like a reservoir broken open. Magic that was already heating things around her, the easiest of which being liquid like his drink.
Before Sungmin could do anything, Taeyeon slowly stood up, a footman running forward to pull back her chair for her.
"Please excuse me, Your Highnesses," Taeyeon said calmly and steadily as if she weren't on the brink of chaos.
She turned in their general direction, not even looking at Siwon or Kyuhyun. She dipped into a deep curtsy before leaving the dining room.
"Well, that was certainly rude," the consort stated, "She didn't even wait for either of Your Highnesses' permission!"
The moment the dining room doors closed behind her, Taeyeon bolted. She still wore the soft leather shoes she wore with her mage robes, having forgotten to change shoes as she changed clothes. She ran swiftly through the castle to the back terrace, not caring who saw her or what they thought. She had been trying desperately to control her emotions the moment she saw the consort sitting beside Siwon.
She knew the burning jealous that had immediately lit within her was irrational. She had been there all of four days and, for two of those days she had sat in the seat to Siwon's left, however, that didn't mean it was a seat for solely her. For all she knew, the consorts took turns sitting there. To think that, however, didn't calm her. Rather, it enraged her further simply because it meant she was just like the other consorts to Siwon. All calm she had managed to muster that morning was gone. She knew she needed to calm down or cool off.
She burst through the back doors and onto the terrace, inhaling deeply as the rain poured down on her. Immediately, she was soaked, the silk clinging to her already chilled skin. Her hair was plastered to her face, neck and all along her upper back. She embraced the pouring rain as a necessity to defuse any fire magic that might try to ignite with her emotions. She clenched and unclenched her left hand, trying to loosen up the joints that had tensed up even more as her entire body had seemed to seize at seeing Siwon with the consort.
Taeyeon heard the distant sound of her name. Before thought and consideration, she began running. The rain whipped against her skin like cold pebbles, the sheets of rain blurring her vision, practically blinding her as she ran without destination. All she knew was that she had to get away, had to escape everything behind her. She wasn't strong enough for this, wasn't strong enough to confront the prince and to acknowledge her hurt feelings. She was tired of crying, tired of worrying, tired of hurting every time she thought about Siwon.
She tripped, stumbled when she tried to regain her balance and fell to the ground. She felt the burn as the ground scraped at her knees and her forearms, which she had raised to protect her head. She felt sore as she pushed herself from the ground and forced herself to run. She had wanted to just lie on the ground and stay there, but she had to escape still. She knew she wasn't a strong person physically or emotionally, but she had to keep running.
She didn't know how long she ran, whether it was a minute or five, but she slipped again and fell to the ground. For a few moments, she just lay there breathing heavily from exertion. She inhaled the scent of soil, grass and rain. She closed her eyes to block out the pouring rain and to try to calm her mind. Slowly, achingly, she rolled onto her back, keeping her eyes closed. The rain fell upon her like a waterfall as she lay wherever she had fallen. Her calves were burning from running so much. Her arms were limp at her side, numb from the cold rain. All she could truly feel was the soreness in her left hand and the constant pain in her heart.
She closed her eyes.
I'm not strong enough for this.
Kangin had allowed magic to sense his surroundings the moment he had left the dining room. The moment the princess had left, he knew that the lesser mage wanted to follow her. With one glance, however, he conveyed his message to the younger man: if the princess unleashed fire magic, a Dark user would have better chance in defusing the fire.
He caught her trail immediately and ran after her. He had begun calling out her name, hoping she would stop and allow him to help her control her magic. If any servants commented, he knew the princes would deal with it later. At that moment, his main concern was Taeyeon and what havoc her magic would do. No, his main concern was Taeyeon who was Eeteuk's sister. He would protect Taeyeon even if Eeteuk hadn't asked it of him.
As he followed the direction of her magic, he came to the back doors which were shut. He took in the puddles of water before the doors,
"We have people grabbing mops and buckets," a footman ensured, taking a step towards the mage but keeping approximately two metres between them, "It'll be cleaned up soon,"
"No need," Kangin said as he swiped his hand in the air, drying the floor immediately.
He stepped towards the doors. If the floor was wet, it meant the doors had been open at one point. He opened the doors and slipped outside, shutting the doors firmly behind him. He surveyed the landscape before him. Directly in front of the terrace was the maze. Would she go into the maze? He wasn't sure; however, she had mentioned flowers before. Perhaps she would run into the gardens. He sensed her magic far before him. If he headed into the garden, he would have to navigate the maze all while trying to head in her direction.
He broke into a run and entered the middle entrance into the maze. He followed the trail and it turned right. He paused, knowing he was already deviating away from her direction. He continued down the path, finding a left turn and went down it immediately, knowing he had to keep going in the direction opposite of the castle. He continued on, taking turns based on where he sensed her magic. Three times he had to double back, finding himself at a side exit of the maze.
Once back in the maze, he found himself in the heart of it where a small, circular court was, several path entrances meeting the court. In the centre was a small gazebo made of dark mahogany wood. Or, what was left of a gazebo; its roof had fallen in on itself. Kangin paid no attention to the gazebo, knowing it was just more damage from the first prince's on-going storm.
For someone who dedicated his magic to plants for years, he certainly knows how to ruin it all. Kangin mused as he glanced around him.
He walked to the point of the circle, which was farthest from the castle and looked straight ahead. He could now only feel the smallest amount of magic. The rain was defusing her ability to use fire magic, but the only way to diminish the magic itself was if she was reigning in her emotions. He wondered if the waning magic was due to her own control or, heaven forbid, something else.
He decided to take more control of the situation. After all, if Siwon was willing to risk his precious garden to a tantrum, then he'd risk the maze in order to reach the princess. He raised his hand, his palm barely brushing the wet wall of leaves. His slid his palm to the side and the tall bushes parted under his silent command. He walked through the new hole and continued through each wall, parting them so he could go on, always heading in the direction where he felt her magic.
Kangin parted another wall and he found himself staring out at the open fields. He swirled around to look back into the maze, but he couldn't feel the magic anymore. He turned back to look at the fields. He wasn't wrong. He had felt her magic in this direction up until a few moments ago. She wasn't in the maze, he was almost sure. He headed out into the fields and hoped he wasn't wrong, that she had escaped into the fields rather into the maze as he had previously guessed.
As he walked, he scanned all around him. With her magic completely unable to be sensed by him, he had no idea what direction to go. He decided to keep walking straight, away from the castle, and tried to catch any sign of her. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps she was in the maze when he saw up ahead a lump in the grass. Without even stopping to question, he ran at full speed, dropping to his knees when he reached Taeyeon's side.
She lay in the grass, seemingly belonging there dressed in her green dress, darkened by the water. Her face was pink and when he placed his hand on her forehead, felt the heat sting his palm. She had spiked a fever again and this one was higher than the last. After quickly checking that she had no injuries beyond the scrapes on her legs and arms, Kangin slipped his arms beneath her, picked her up, holding her high against his chest and began heading back to the castle.
"You, Princess, need to stay away from water," Kangin stated darkly, "More importantly, what the hell has been going on while I'm not here?"
The remainder of the walk was silent. He dried her completely with his magic and concentrated on keeping her dry. If the prince's storm didn't end soon, he'll have to force it to end with his own magic.
Taeyeon woke up to a world of softness and warmth. She blinked several times before she realized her face was burrowed into her pillow, that she was curled beneath sheets and a thick blanket. As she straightened, she felt the slide of material, realizing she was still wearing the gown from before, but it was dry now. Slowly, she pushed herself into a sitting position to orientate herself.
She looked around her slowly, recognizing the room she was staying in. One glance at the windows indicated it was still dark and storming outside. Inside the room was barely lit up, the walls licked with yellow and orange light and her eyes were drawn to the source. The fireplace was lit, flames dancing within. She spotted a dark shadow in one of the cushioned armchairs by the fireplace. She was still far enough not to depict details in the person's clothes or profile, but somehow she knew.
Her heart was speeding up on its own accord. It was twisting painfully as thoughts from before threatened. However, she knew she was too tired to unleash any magic. Tired and resigned. Her thoughts were not a moment of weakness because she was weak. She was tired of everything and everyone. She couldn't handle being so emotional all the time; her control on her magic wouldn't be able to handle it. She threw back the sheets and when the other person didn't move, she wondered if they were awake.
Slipping from the bed, she tentatively padded over to the armchair and as she stood beside it, she gazed down at the sleeping prince. His head was tilted to the side slightly against the sides of the chair's back, his hair falling loose about his forehead. His arms, which may have been crossed over his chest at one point, were loosely folded at his waist. It wasn't the fact that Prince Siwon was in her room - again - that surprised Taeyeon. It wasn't even the fact that he was sleeping. What surprised her was the relaxation of his face during sleep. She realized then that the strong features of his face were emphasized by his seriousness, his lack of emotions. But, now, sleeping, all the muscles of his face were relaxed, the strong lines softened somehow.
She reached over with her left hand, her fingers trailing along his brow, pushing strands of hair from his forehead. Slowly, those fingers caressed along his jaw until they flattened against his cheek, holding it gently, her thumb lightly stroking the apple of his cheek. Her ministrations were enough to wake him. She found herself staring down into his dark eyes, entranced, enchanted and enticed.
"You're finally awake," Siwon said quietly, raising his hands to cradle her face,
Taeyeon sat one thigh on the armrest so as to bring herself closer to the prince. He drew her closer and closer until she slipped completely over the armrest and onto his lap. However, once there, she didn't struggle to move off him. Her amber gaze merely swept over his face and locked with his obsidian eyes.
Siwon leaned his face closer to hers, slow inch by slow inch. He saw her eyes flutter close, taking away his pleasure at seeing close-up the swirling golds in her eyes. Their lips were an inch apart. A centimetre. No more than a hair's breadth.
Damn his previous proposal. He would kiss her now. He needed to kiss her now.
He inhaled slowly, deeply, preparing himself to close that miniscule space and finally kiss the princess. Before he could do so, however, she brought her lips closer, pressing their mouths together for the first time. At first, Siwon was startled and then, his lips firmed and he worked his lips over her own. He ran the tip of his tongue along the seam of her lips. Taking her bottom lip between his teeth, he nipped at it, causing her to gasp in surprise.
With her lips parted on that gasp, he slowly slid his tongue between her lips. He felt her surprise through the kiss, felt the slight tensing of her body. He slanted his head more, allowing for a deeper kiss. He touched, tasted and tickled her tongue with his own. He felt her relax again, felt her drawn into the kiss. He felt her lips firm and she pressed her mouth more firmly against his own as she kissed him back.
He tried to tease her, tried to draw her tongue into his own mouth. He wanted her to taste him, to deepen the kiss from her own side. Before that happened, she pulled away just enough to separate their lips, but still close enough to have their breaths mix, warm puffs of air against each other's skin.
She opened her eyes and stared into Siwon's for a heartbeat. Two heartbeats. Three. Then, her lips, her body, her warmth were gone from his own. She stood before him beautiful in the emerald gown, the warm colours of the fire behind her framing her as she gazed at him with jewel-honeyed eyes. She gave him a small, sad smile.
"This is goodbye, Siwon."
(Chapter 7 - Light's Temptation)