(Chapter Eight of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Eight: Light's Respite
Siwon kissed her with everything he had. He kissed her, putting every bit of emotion he had left in him into that kiss. He slanted his lips and already she was parting her own, allowing him entry into her mouth. Her tongue met his and partook in a heated duel as he pulled her body completely against his own. She was small, slight, and unbearably soft in his arms. He wanted to take her fragility and protect it forever, keep it forever.
He felt the emotions whirling within him like a firestorm. Emotions he had long forgotten were seeping back into him, breathing life into the shell he had become. His heart, which had never been moved before, was now bounding within his chest as if so full of emotion it threatened to burst. His lungs relished in the air he took in, partially composed of her breath, of her very essence. He wanted to make the kiss last forever, wanted to feel her everywhere forever. When he first saw her, he knew he wanted to keep her. Now, he knew he needed to keep her.
Taeyeon was the one who broke the kiss. Her hands had slipped down to his chest and she pushed away slightly as she forced her lips away from his. She was gasping for air as he allowed her to stand up straight, his arm never moving from her waist, his other hand buried in her hair at the nape of her neck. Suddenly, her gasps turned into full-bodied coughs as she brought the crook of her arm to shield her mouth. She felt Siwon pull her more firmly against him, her cheek against his chest as his hand slid from her neck to her back, rubbing firm but gentle strokes up and down either side of her spine.
“Of all the things to forget, I forgot I was sick every time we’ve kissed,” Taeyeon mused once her coughing had ceased, “I apologize if you get horribly sick because of me.”
“I can heal myself of any cold without too much trouble,” Siwon insisted as his hand continued to rub her back soothingly, “And I would have healed you, too, if Kangin hadn’t mentioned your aversion to being healed when it wasn’t serious.”
“It’s a waste of magic and soul when my body has its own defences,” Taeyeon defended lightly,
“Ah, but Kangin has nothing left, or so he claims, and I have very little left,” Siwon said, “So really, there’s no risk to either of our souls to take away your illness.”
“Everyone has a soul,” Taeyeon said stubbornly, “Even Kangin, regardless if he’s a full mage, has a soul.”
“A soul that has been completely engulfed by the Dark? That’s not much of a soul,” Siwon stated,
“But it’s still a soul,” Taeyeon insisted, “Besides, if he were damned he wouldn’t be so kind to me.”
“Soul or no soul, he has a sense of duty that guides him now,” Siwon explained, knowing that Taeyeon was ignorant in most things related to magic. “He has been a full mage for several years now, despite being just 25-years-old. He remains here out of duty to myself and Kyuhyun. Although we were friends first, as I said before, duty is all that is left to him after his emotions have been sacrificed to his magic. Once he feels his duty is complete, he will leave.”
“Where to?” Taeyeon asked quietly, somehow, instinctively, scared of the answer,
“Before the war, do you remember anything about mages?” Siwon inquired,
“Nothing. I was six when the war began and I’ve never thought to learn about mages. All I ever know is what I’ve learned from Sungmin,” Taeyeon answered, hesitant in saying the mage’s name,
“Do you know what happens when someone is exposed to too much magic?” Siwon asked,
“If it is too much Light Magic then they become manic. If it is too much Dark Magic then they become despondent,” Taeyeon answered, “Is that why Kangin will go away? He doesn’t seem sad at all.”
“No, he doesn’t, but he plans to leave before it gets that extreme,” Siwon explained. He hesitated and then stated, “The mages of old, once they realized they were becoming manic or depressed would go away so as to protect others from their chaotic states.”
“But where do they go? Just in complete exile for the rest of their lives?” Taeyeon inquired,
“No, they go away and…” Siwon inhaled slowly and sighed heavily; this was not something he wanted to tell her, “End their lives.”
Taeyeon gasped as she pulled away enough to be able to look up at Siwon, “So, eventually, Kangin will…”
Siwon nodded sadly, “I believe he’s waiting for me to ascend the throne and, then, he’ll leave.”
“Wait… all mages? Does this mean that Sungmin…?” Taeyeon felt her hand trembling as she raised it to cup over her mouth;
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell you this! Before you got engaged he should have told you what lay in his future!” Siwon practically growled as he released Taeyeon and paced away.
The heat of desire turned into anger almost immediately from the mention of the lesser mage and also the mage’s deception to the princess. He raked his fingers through his hair in a blatant display of exasperation and anger. It had been so long since he last felt any emotion so intensely; he almost didn’t know what to do with himself. For some reason, from the moment he met her, Taeyeon had been able to revive his emotions from the ashes of his soul like the flowers he had resurrected around them.
Taeyeon followed his progress as he paced agitatedly back and forth. When he stopped, his back to her, his hands on his hips, she slowly approached him. She touched his arm to draw his attention. He remained silent and she realized he waited for her to talk. She wanted to tell him everything and yet, she still couldn’t bring herself to say the words. So, she opted for the lesser evil of having his anger targeted at her rather than the vulnerability that would come with her confession.
“I’m going to allow Kangin to train me,” Taeyeon said simply, her voice a quiet confidence as her hand grabbed the chain that was always around her neck. She absently played with the ring that was usually tucked beneath her neckline, knowing that her decision would upset her brother; “In all honesty, I’m surprised the flowers didn’t go up in flames during our kiss and I don’t want to be constantly worried about my emotions.”
Siwon sighed. She had emotions unlike his lack of them. He should encourage her to relish them, to express them, to feel them to their fullest capacities. He shouldn’t smother them, shouldn’t allow anything to stop her from feeling them. With her magic so greatly affected by her emotions, he knew the best way to free her emotions was for her to control her magic.
If she trained in magic, it would be the lesser evil compared to having to dull her emotions. He couldn’t do that, couldn’t stop the natural, almost effervescent glow that lit up her face and eyes with her emotions regardless if happy or sad. If she didn’t learn to control her emotions, some of that light would be taken away because of the hold she would put on her emotions. Speaking out against her training was, essentially, helping to take away her light. He couldn’t live with himself if her light was ever completely extinguished.
“Why are you telling me this?” Siwon asked simply as he turned to face her, no anger or bite to his tone; just simple curiosity; “It is your decision.”
“I’m telling you this because I want you to know. Because I am going to do this whether you like it or not, but I would prefer to have your blessing in this,” Taeyeon answered,
“Why does it matter what I think?” Siwon asked quietly, absent-mindedly holding his breath as if scared of the answer,
“Because it’s you I love,” Taeyeon whispered, breathed, as if the words were of her very life’s essence.
She hadn’t anticipated saying the words, hadn’t even believed them to be true until she said them. Hearing the words from her own mouth made them real, made them practically palpable. She knew then that she couldn’t regret saying the words and wouldn’t try to take them back or apologize for them. She would stop running away and being a coward.
So, she lowered her hand from her necklace and stared at him unwaveringly as she repeated with more of her quiet confidence, “I love you, Siwon.”
He slowly released the breath he had been holding, his hands gripped tightly at his sides to stop himself from grabbing her and hauling her against his body once more. She was right to worry about his flowers and it surprised him how easily he had forgotten about their welfare when all he cared about was kissing her, pushing her to the brink of want and madness he seemed to tread every time she was near.
He saw the anticipated hope that glowed from her amber eyes and he knew that she needed to hear his blessing. He replied, “I think it’s best that you accept the offer to train with Kangin.”
“Thank you, Siwon,” she smiled at him brilliantly, her smile rivalling the light of the sun.
She pushed away the slight disappointment at not hearing him say the words back, but soon relished in his approval of her choice. He believed he had very little left of his soul and she had seen often enough his lack of emotions. However, there were times when she saw sparks of emotion, like how easier he smiled when Kyuhyun was around or the anger and jealousy she easily seemed to entice in him. She couldn’t disregard the blatant, fiery desire that had consumed him just moments ago, but she fought those thoughts away in an attempt to stop herself from blushing as brightly as a red rose.
“I think it’s time I return to the castle and rest,” Taeyeon announced, every bit a princess without the hauteur,
“I will gladly escort you back,” Siwon said as he offered her his arm. “There’s work I had abandoned in the study that needs attending.”
“I will rest in the study then, so you can have company,” Taeyeon declared lightly as she tucked her ring back into her gown’s neckline;
Siwon raised a thick brow at her before chuckling softly, “Very well, Your Highness.”
“Well, at least you weren’t very difficult to find,” Sungmin stated as he entered his room, closing the door behind him.
When he had left Taeyeon and Siwon, he had headed up the main staircase and then paused at the top, knowing that the servants were probably eying him with curiosity and wariness. The former because he looked confused and the latter because he was a mage. Of course, he was used to the latter. The former, he simply ignored.
Realizing he had no idea exactly where to look for the second prince, he decided to retreat to his bedroom. Kyuhyun had stated he was heading to that wing earlier that morning – Sungmin had a suspicion where in the wing the prince had been going to before giving the message to Taeyeon – and the second prince had a habit of showing up in his room without warning. He was sure that if he waited long enough, Kyuhyun would eventually come to his room.
Kyuhyun sat on the window seat that Sungmin had grown accustomed to sitting on to contemplate and admire the view. He sat much as Sungmin did, with his back against the side of the niche and arms folded about his torso. He had the inner leg stretched straight before him, the outer leg bent at the knee, his foot flat on the seat.
“If I didn’t want to be found, no one would have been able to find me,” Kyuhyun said quietly, his gaze out the window. He hadn’t even moved an inch when Sungmin entered; “Not even Siwon would have found me.”
“Then why did you want to be found?” Sungmin asked as he approached, sitting against the other side of the niche, one leg propped up like the prince’s, the other leg planted firmly on the ground.
“Because sometimes it’s best if one isn’t left alone with one’s thoughts,” Kyuhyun replied cryptically. He leaned his head back and, face still tilted towards the window, closed his eyes.
“Why did you want to be found by me?” Sungmin prompted, “That’s the only explanation for you to be here, because you wanted to be found by me specifically.”
“Because I wanted you to be the one to find me,” Kyuhyun answered.
Sungmin stared at the younger man, considering his words. He had always believed that the attraction between them was merely physical. Indeed, he could only afford such a relationship with someone with his future so precarious. However, was the prince suggesting an involvement of more than just their bodies? What was worse was that Sungmin was contemplating such a relationship.
What would it be like to know someone’s innermost thoughts and feelings? What would it be like for someone to know his innermost thoughts and feelings? It was true that he and Taeyeon had close to that. She certainly knew most of his thoughts and he was sure he knew most of hers. But he knew that while he and Taeyeon were close in the emotional and mental sense, they could never be physically close. He never desired her in such a way and she never desired anyone at all. But, with this young prince, could he find someone to be close with in every sense of the word?
“Does this have to do with why Kangin started training you?” Sungmin asked simply, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Ever the observant one,” Kyuhyun mused.
Sungmin waited, but Kyuhyun said nothing. He wondered whether or not to push the prince to tell him. Indeed, he had no right to push. All they ever shared or talked about was their mutual physical attraction to one another. To insist upon a more substantial answer would be asking entrance into the prince’s private life, asking to know him intimately.
As Sungmin sat there silently, regarding the prince, he wondered if he dared risk knowing someone as intimately as he knew the princess. To know someone inside and out was to end up caring for them, to have them matter to him. To know someone completely was to be responsible never to betray them, never to hurt them. As the silence continued, Sungmin was startled to realize that he wanted to take that risk. He wanted the prince to answer his question.
As if reading his mind, Kyuhyun spoke again; “Like the princess, my magic is easily triggered by my emotions. However, while her problem is that her magic is too great, my problem is that my emotions are too volatile.”
Sungmin remained silent, not wanting to interrupt the prince. Scared that, if he did, the prince would stop talking.
“My emotions can easily trigger my magic and leave me in a state so vulnerable that my magic can consume me wholly with little force,” Kyuhyun confessed, his voice a soft rumble, his body completely still.
When Sungmin still remained silent, the young prince prompted softly, “Please… say something.”
Sungmin blinked, startled at the quiet fragility in the younger man’s voice. He realized then that while he remained still, his hands were fisted tightly and slightly, ever so slightly, shaking. “But you always seem so care-free, so happy. Even when you’re upset with me you’re over it fast.”
“You have often seen me during the day,” Kyuhyun explained, “Rarely do you see me at night. Do you not recall the first night we met? Do you not recall how easily my magic was released? No, of course you remember, it caused you to be injured.”
“I pushed you into that state of emotion,” Sungmin said matter-of-factly, “Besides, you healed me afterwards.”
“Small retribution,” Kyuhyun murmured.
“Does it work?” Sungmin inquired, “Does training help contain your magic?”
“Yes. Very rarely does my magic get the best of me,” Kyuhyun answered, “It’s only during the night when I am still susceptible. It is a double curse that I must be wary of my magic at night time along with the Dark of my soul. During the night I’m vulnerable to evil, temptation and magical chaos.”
He laughed softly, self-mockingly as he slowly opened his eyes, the dark orbs seeking Sungmin’s face; “I’m a cruel bastard to want you, to willingly expose you to such instability.”
“But, perhaps, I’m the right person to be exposed to that instability,” Sungmin offered simply, his steel-gray eyes locked with Kyuhyun’s; “As a mage, I can help you control it, help you reign it.”
Kyuhyun stared at him, his entire body still, not even his lungs expanded to take in his breath. His heart, on the other hand, was racing. He had never contemplated such a possibility when he realized his attraction to the lesser mage. He had completely forgotten that the mage, although being a Light user, would be able to stabilize him, stunt his magic if it grew too wild. He had completely forgotten how being with the mage could benefit him and completely focused on his desire and need to simply be with the mage.
Why, then, was he so reliant on Kangin for that very reason? As a Dark user, not to mention the Dark Mage, Kangin could easily control his magic, easily soothe him during the turmoils of the night. He was drawn to Kangin’s control and strength; relied on it almost selfishly. He knew that Kangin was with him every night only because of a sense of duty to his prince, out of loyalty to their friendship. He knew that the moment he was stable enough, Kangin would never step through his bedroom door again.
Kyuhyun slowly rose up onto his knees and edged closer to the mage, stopping only until his thigh was outside Sungmin’s and his leg draped over the edge of the window seat, tangled with the older man’s. For a moment, all he did was stare down into the mage’s eyes, his gaze sweeping and searching for something Sungmin didn’t know what. Sungmin moved until his back was against the window sill and pane, more firmly on the seat. He pulled the prince’s other leg so both of the younger man’s knees were planted on either side of his hips. His hands simply lay on Kyuhyun’s waist.
Kyuhyun raised a hand and touched it to Sungmin’s cheek. Slowly, he caressed across his jaw, spiked through the hair the mage had not shaved off before his fingers settled warm and firm at the base of his skull. Slowly, ever so slowly, he lowered his lips to the mage’s. He felt the other’s lips move against his in a slow, seductive kiss. He traced the mage’s lower lip with his tongue and was granted entry almost immediately. He slipped into the hot, wet mouth and felt as if he tasted the sweetest ambrosia.
Then, he retreated, pulled his lips away. Staring into the mage’s eyes, he leaned in for one more, small, chaste kiss, before he lowered his torso against Sungmin’s, pressing his cheek against the other’s shoulder. Sungmin said nothing, merely wrapped his arms around the prince, Kyuhyun’s arms folded between their bodies. He was startled when he felt something warm and wet drop onto his bare bicep and trace along its curvature. He remained silent, but moved his head towards Kyuhyun’s and touched his cheek to the prince’s crown.
Sungmin had wanted the risk, wanted beyond physical intimacy.
Kyuhyun had repaid him by silently crying in his arms.
That evening after dinner, Taeyeon went with Siwon to his study under the premise of wanting to read a book before going to bed. Sungmin, who had been distracted throughout the meal, merely nodded, pressed a kiss to her forehead and ascended the main stairs. Kyuhyun had been absent from the meal, so Siwon was easily left with just Taeyeon, leading her to the study. He sat behind his desk and began looking over papers as she browsed the shelves of the study. Taking a book down, she retreated to one of the leather armchairs before his desk. Pulling her legs up onto the seat and crossing them, she opened the book on her lap.
They had fallen into a comfortable companionship after leaving the gardens that morning. Taeyeon knew her confession had gone far to soothing Siwon's restless jealousy. She also knew, however, that her supposed engagement to Sungmin made him keep his distance, at least, physically. After the gardens when she had rested in the study as he worked, she had indeed rested, sitting by one of the windows, soaking in the sunlight. She had never felt so comfortable in a man's presence who wasn't Sungmin. At the same time, she was completely aware of Siwon; her heart was completely aware.
During lunch, they had talked of mundane things such as the weather and the food they ate. Neither commented on the coincidental absence of both second prince and lesser mage. After lunch, Taeyeon had retired to her room, truly needing the comfort of a bed and Siwon had left for the gardens. When Taeyeon had left her room to go down to dinner, Sungmin had been waiting for her in the corridor to escort her. He had been silent and, from the look in his eyes, decided not to question him. When he chose to talk to her - and he would - then it would be of his timing, not because she asked or prompted him.
Now, she had found herself in the company of the first prince once again. It was odd how comfortable she felt around him and at the same time felt her heart racing. She felt calm in his presence yet acutely aware of every movement he made, could practically feel his gaze every time it so much as passed over her.
Shaking her head at the contradictions within her, she began to read her book.
"Did you fight in the war?"
Siwon's pen hovered over paper. Had he truly heard those words? Slowly, he looked up from his work and found the princess staring at him, her amber eyes wide in innocent curiosity and her head slightly tilted to the side. In her lap, atop the book, her right thumb slowly massaged her left palm.
"I was nine when it began," He replied and continued writing,
"But you would have been sixteen when it ended," Taeyeon spoke again, "You obviously hold strong Dark Magic, they did not try to utilize your magic for the war?"
Siwon's thick eyebrows narrowed, "Of course not. Granted, my magic ability was a widely guarded secret until I was sixteen, but even so, my parents would never have allowed anyone to use me for anything."
"You must have been very cherished as a child," Taeyeon smiled wanly as she looked back down at her book,
"Did your brother try to use you?" Siwon questioned, his voice low and deadly,
Taeyeon immediately raised her eyes to his, "No! Eeteuk would never do such a thing! I just... I overheard a few times... once when I was nine, and then ten... then again when I was twelve... Since Eeteuk was a very young king, he had to rely on the royal advisors a lot during the war. He accepted their council on everything except when I was involved. He dismissed the advisors who ever suggested such a thing of me."
Siwon let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. "It's good to hear your brother has some sound judgement when it comes to you."
She smiled wistfully then, her gaze going past the prince, "I'm thankful for that as well. He's all I’ve had for a very long time. I was very sheltered, as you know, and while I do regret what that has prevented me from knowing of my people... my kingdom... the world... I have never resented my brother. Everything he has ever done has been to protect me..."
Her hand rose to her necklace, fingering the ring there, her thumb swiping back and forth over the royal crest. She blinked then, pulling herself out of her own reverie. She offered the prince a smile and then returned to her reading, her hand dropping from her necklace and continuing its habitual massage of the left palm.
"Then he must be a great brother indeed," Siwon said as he stood from his desk and strode to the door, "He sounds like he makes the decisions I make in regards to Kyuhyun." There was a gap in his speech as he opened the door and muttered something to someone in the hall. "At least, that's what I try to do. I suppose it's harder since Kyuhyun's an adult and has always been very independent. Even Father had some trouble reining him in when we were younger."
Taeyeon laughed lightly, "That sounds like your brother. He's very... lively and flippant but never cruel. I would suggest he was the happier of you two, but we've already discussed how you were not always so serious."
"No, even before my gardens and magic use, Kyuhyun was happier," Siwon conceded as he closed the door and came back to her side, but pulling the other chair beside hers and sitting in it. He held out his hand, "Your hand, Princess."
"We were 'Taeyeon' and 'Siwon' in the gardens earlier. Must we return to formalities?" Taeyeon asked softly as she placed her left hand in his.
"Taeyeon, then. But in public, we must be formal," Siwon said as he opened a small vial that had been in his other hand. He poured a small amount of clear liquid onto her hand before putting the vial on his desk, "I've noticed all day that you're constantly massaging your left hand. Considering this is my fault, it’s only right that I soothe the soreness."
“What is that?" Taeyeon asked, tilting her head again,
"Lavender oil. I had some made after lunch," Siwon explained as he held her hand palm-up with both of his hands; thumbs rubbing the rounded surfaces of her palm.
Taeyeon rested her left arm on the armrest and leaned her head against the back of the chair, closing her eyes; "Tell me more. Why weren't you as happy as your brother?"
"Kyuhyun was just always bursting with emotions," Siwon answered easily, his eyes sightlessly on her hand as he worked the calming oil into her soft skin; "If I could be sad, he would be sadder. If I could be happy, he would be happier. If I could be angry -"
"He'd be angrier?" Taeyeon offered, amusement in her tone,
Siwon chuckled, his laugh a warm, low rumble; "Viciously so. I warrant if I were planting at a young age he would destroy my garden immediately if in a tantrum."
"He doesn't seem so intensely temperamental now," Taeyeon commented,
"I have several theories on that, one of which is that he uses his magic and in large amounts," Siwon stated and then added, "But, no, many things have happened. Using his magic is only a part of it."
"You mean your mother's death?" Taeyeon asked tentatively, softly.
Siwon was silent a moment, taking care to gently massage each finger, alleviating the stiffness from the smaller joints. Finally, he answered, "Yes."
Taeyeon remained silent, knowing she was walking on unstable grounds. She should retreat now and change the subject. Siwon, however, continued talking even as her question remained silent.
"It was in the seventh and final year of the war, although at the time we didn't know it would end then. Fire magic had gotten within the grounds. The entire back fields were bursting with flames so bright I thought it was daytime when I was dragged from bed," Siwon said quietly; "One of the servants was rushing me out, my brother already out of the castle. We were out of the castle when one of the footmen said that Kyuhyun had run to the back of the castle. I ran after him."
"Why would he... of course," Taeyeon gasped quietly,
"Yes, he wanted to put out the flames with his magic," Siwon confirmed as he turned over her hand so his thumbs could massage the back; "At fifteen, he wanted to use his magic, but it was also a secret. He felt that such drastic times called for all secrets to be made known. When I arrived, Kyuhyun was trying to put out the fire. He saw me, looked at me with wild, dark eyes and begged me to help... I don't know what it was, but all instinct told me to use my magic rather than take him and retreat."
"Was he in much danger?" Taeyeon asked quietly,
"When I got there, he was surrounded by flames almost as tall as his shoulder. I unleashed all the magic within me, without a single thought of tempering my magic. It rained suddenly, heavily, almost as if an entire ocean had fallen upon the fields," Siwon told, his voice even. "The fire was out within minutes, but the heavy rain continued to the point where Kyuhyun and myself were washed away onto the back terrace. Kangin arrived then and ended the rain."
He stopped massaging then, simply holding Taeyeon's hand, his gaze down, but not focused on anything in particular. When he continued, his voice was soft and hollow, "That's when I realized what it was I couldn't see because of the flames. Two other bodies were with us on the terrace when the rain stopped: my mother's and a mage's."
When Siwon stopped speaking, Taeyeon squeezed one of his hands as best she could with her left, which wasn't very tightly at all; "You don't have to finish."
Siwon shook his head, "No, I do. Neither of us have been able to talk of that night since then. Apparently when we were being evacuated, my mother had realized the mage had gone to put out the fire on his own. She had seen the flames from afar, knew how expansive they were. She wasn't good with water magic but earth magic... she could have trained mages how to utilize earth magic. However, it was hard to use her magic with the fields completely covered in flames and she was afraid of causing the castle to crumble from an earthquake.
"She used her water magic alongside the mage's. She... She wasn't used to using water magic and she hadn't used so much magic at once for years. The flames were being fought back when she collapsed, completely drained of strength. Kyuhyun had arrived then and had started to use his water magic because the flames had already crept closer and were in danger of engulfing our mother," Siwon said, "After he got the flames far enough from our mother that he could take her, Kyuhyun didn't pay attention and was almost burned. The mage blocked the path of the flame, using his water magic too late. His robes caught on fire but he was just newly accepted to train as a mage and panicked instead of using his magic to put out the fire.
"Kyuhyun had to choose then to help the mage or pull our mother way from the fire. He pulled our mother as far from the flames as he could and tried to run back to the mage to help him, but he was already on the ground, the flames were out but he wasn't moving. The flames threatened to come closer then and he grabbed the mage and pulled him back to where our mother was. I don't know why or how, but he got distracted again and the fire encircled him, his magic dispelling the flames from getting within that circle," Siwon told, "And that's when I arrived."
"Your... your mother and the mage..." Taeyeon murmured,
"They had inhaled too much smoke. Mother was... already weakened because of her magic use and, so... the doctors said after so much smoke, her heart failed. The mage had horrible burns... they said he went into shock and his organs began failing... they were both dead before the rain stopped," Siwon answered, quietly.
"I'm sorry," Taeyeon stated quietly.
She stood from her chair and sat on the armrest of his. Her feet dangled between his knees as she pulled his head and laid it in her lap, her left hand stroking his head, brushing tendrils from his temple and forehead as she tried to comfort him.
"There's nothing to apologize for," Siwon said quietly as he closed his eyes, the scent of the lavender oil and her ministrations soothing him, calming the restlessness which had risen from his remembrance of the past.
"Fire magic is from my people," Taeyeon said, "My people killed your mother."
"It was an accident that Mother was involved," Siwon argued,
"My people purposefully killed your parents," Siwon countered, "Not... not all my people... Someone did, but they were of my kingdom."
"They were not of your kingdom, Siwon."
Siwon raised his head from her lap, "Taeyeon, a Dark user means my kingdom."
"That murderer began a war, began the killing and sacrificing of both kingdoms. If that person was from your kingdom, then they would not do something that would place their own neighbours, their own people in danger," Taeyeon said firmly, her hands cupping his face gently as her amber eyes gazed at him sternly, "For all my naïveté, I know that one person cannot define the entire kingdom, especially when that person is not the monarch. For all the bitterness and, indeed, hatred, I have held for the Dark Kingdom all these years, I have a feeling that your father did not order my parents be killed.”
“He didn’t,” Siwon insisted,
“Then perhaps neither of us has to apologize for the sins of our people,” Taeyeon offered, “But it is our responsibility to ensure that our kingdoms, our people, learn from the mistakes of the past. We need to ensure that this truce brings about true peace and not this tense interlude that we have been living in for the past eight years.”
“Are you suggesting we bring the kingdoms together as it used to be in the past?” Siwon asked,
“It worked for centuries, did it not?” Taeyeon gave him a small, soft smile as her hands fell away from his face, “My brother would be so proud of me. Being a diplomat on his behalf. He’s always so worried about another war tearing our kingdom apart.”
“It must have been difficult for him to become king at such a young age,” Siwon said as he took one of her hands in his; “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be king at the age of twelve.”
“I should go to bed, it’s getting late,” Taeyeon said then, slipping off of the armchair.
Siwon retained her hand, “Will you allow me to escort you to your room?”
Taeyeon gazed into his eyes as he slowly stood, towering over her, “Yes.”
They walked in silence down the corridors, now slightly dimmer as the lights were turned low. In an hour or so, the corridors would be drenched in darkness save for the moonlight flooding in through the castle windows. Taeyeon was completely aware of his strength, of the muscles beneath her hand as it lay on his arm, of his tall frame that seemed as strong as an oak. She was aware of the heat he practically radiated, seeping into her own body and settling in her bones, warming her.
Siwon’s senses were encompassed by the princess. The smell of lavender was still evident from the oil he had used to massage her hand. It mixed with the clean, fresh scent he often smelled when she was around. It was an intoxicating mix and he had to remind himself constantly to shut the door on any desires to be closer to her. Regardless of her confession, she was still engaged to another man.
Worse yet, he couldn’t find anything in the mage that he could hate or even dislike. The mage seemed as determined and disciplined as Kangin and he couldn’t find fault with such dedication to his chosen profession. The mage was also obviously devoted and loyal to Taeyeon and, as much as that twisted his heart and made him rage inside, that still wasn’t a reason to hate the other man.
Siwon, however, did notice from the first his brother’s interest in the lesser mage and, that, while troubling, was a curiosity in itself. Kyuhyun had never shown so much as a passing glance at anyone, even the consorts who visited the castle. While his demeanour was often happy and light, he never showed any intensity towards someone or because of someone. The second prince’s attitude after the lesser mage had been hurt that first night still replayed in Siwon’s mind. He wondered if the mage could care for his brother as Taeyeon said she cared for himself.
As they reached her bedroom door, Siwon pushed away his selfish thoughts. While he loved his brother and would do anything and everything to ensure his safety and happiness, he knew part of his thoughts of throwing his brother with the mage was because of the princess.
“Goodnight… Siwon,” she said softly as she slipped her hand from his arm and turned to her door,
His hand reached out for her arm before he even contemplated what he would do next. She paused and looked up at him in silent askance. “Did… Did you truly mean it?” He asked tentatively, “When you said you love me – did you mean it?”
Taeyeon blinked up at him, “Of course I did. I wouldn’t have said it otherwise. I’m not some ninny that spouted those words just to have your compliance with my decision to train. Indeed, I didn’t even acknowledge my feelings until you asked me why your opinion mattered so much to me.”
“I… I’ve told you before that I scarcely feel any warm emotions – any emotions, really,” Siwon stammered, suddenly feeling his heart pounding madly in his chest and his mind racing to find the right words while he worried over what she thought, what she would say and how she would react; “I… to you…”
Taeyeon raised her free hand to his lips, barely touching the pads of her middle- and fore-fingers to silence him; “It’s okay, I know. Furthermore, I didn’t say the words in the anticipation or hope you say them back to me. I said them because I know them to be true and I wanted you to know. You told me you care for me, and that’s all I need to know.”
Siwon’s dark eyes gazed into hers. His eyes were piercing, seemingly to sink deep into her soul and bury itself there, seeming to know each dark secret within her. Finally, he nodded and kissed her fingertips,
“Sleep well, you still feel like you have a fever,” Siwon murmured.
He turned and strode away.
Taeyeon watched him a moment before slipping into her well-lit bedroom, her face flushed but not from the fever.
“You shouldn’t have sought me out. Despite this being your kingdom, anything could have happened to you. Especially after the sun goes down,” Kangin admonished.
He sat in an armchair by the fireplace, his dark gaze peering into the flames. He had been in his home, close to where the two kingdoms’ lands met, when there came a knock to his door. He hadn’t thought it odd, since often people came calling to have him heal this or fix that with his magic. He always thought it hypocritical they seek his aide while also shunning him. However, he couldn’t fault their contradicting logic, especially with his complete involvement with Dark Magic. He knew they feared his lack of a soul and, indeed, he feared for them. It was why he chose to live in isolation.
He had answered the door and was surprised to find the second prince standing there in all his dark glory. He had shared his dinner with the prince who hadn’t spoken at all and Kangin hadn’t prompted him. Indeed, even when they journeyed back to the castle, Kyuhyun had remained silent. Now in his room, Kangin finally spoke to him.
When the prince, who was in the bathroom doing his nightly toiletries, didn’t reply, Kangin added, “You know I would have come to you eventually.”
“I… I needed you sooner,” Kyuhyun finally said as he stepped out of the bathroom, turning the lights off behind him, “I didn’t know if I could wait all night for you or not.”
Kangin glanced over his shoulder at the prince who slowly walked over to the foot of the bed and stopped. Kyuhyun propped a shoulder against a bedpost and folded his arms loosely about his torso, simply staring back at the mage.
“Does this have to do with what happened this morning in the study?” Kangin asked,
“What did Siwon say? Was it about you using magic?” Kangin inquired,
Kyuhyun nodded, “The same old argument again. I suppose it’s been so long since he’s said anything about my using magic that when he did, I was caught off guard. I was angry and defensive even though, rationally, I knew what he was saying was just to protect me… as he’s always protected me.”
“The training has certainly helped you control your magic. Do you feel yourself stronger at night, too?” Kangin asked, his tone even, emotionless as always,
“I don’t know. You’re always with me and, so…” Kyuhyun gave a small shrug of his shoulders, “And, yet, I fear what would happen if you weren’t here.”
“You’re stronger than you think you are, Kyuhyun,” Kangin said as he slowly rose from the chair, “You worked with a single-minded determination to get control over your magic while fighting your own volatile emotions. I believe that, if we tested you, you would be fine during the night.”
“It took me almost eight years to get to this level of control,” Kyuhyun grounded out, his frustration at the timeframe and his own abilities evident in his tone,
“Yes, but think to your training, what you’re able to do with your magic. Regardless of how long it’s taken you, you’re at a high level of control over your magic,” Kangin insisted as he walked over to the prince, “You shouldn’t so easily disregard your abilities, Kyuhyun. Magic is a difficult and chaotic thing to control, yet you’ve achieved it nonetheless.”
Kyuhyun sighed softly, “What’s worse is that all of Siwon’s worries are not unfounded… I can feel the effects of magic usage.”
“We can stop training if you wish it,” Kangin said, “I never said you had to train to use your magic after you gained control.”
“I know… I wanted to learn how to use my magic,” Kyuhyun replied, “But I can feel my emotions wavering. They’re still as volatile as ever, but the brighter emotions, the happier ones… they feel forced sometimes rather than natural.”
“Then it is time we stop training,” Kangin insisted, “If your soul is in such danger already, we must stop.”
“No,” Kyuhyun said firmly, his voice hard, “That is the last thing we’re going to do. Even if you refuse to train me, Kangin, I will continue on my own.”
Kangin sighed heavily, “I’d rather you train with me then.”
Kyuhyun gave him a curt nod. He looked away then, his expression softening, “Kangin… please… please don’t leave me tonight. Especially not tonight.”
Kangin didn’t say anything for a moment. He firmly believed the prince strong enough that he could end things between them. However, the prince seeking him out was a new thing and revealed a vulnerability Kyuhyun often hid. What happened that morning in the study had greatly affected the second prince and, after he had left the study, Kangin had been unable to find him. He began to wonder if the prince was truly gaining strength or if this show of weakness was just more proof that his soul was descending fast into the Dark.
“I told you many times, Kyuhyun: for as long as you need me, I will not leave you,” Kangin said, finally, his voice gentle but firm.
“Thank you,” Kyuhyun murmured.
Then, he stepped into the Dark Mage’s arms.
“I assume Prince Siwon escorted you,”
Taeyeon practically jumped back against the door at the voice. She breathed heavily as she turned accusing eyes to the mage who sat on the foot of her bed, back against a post and legs stretched out before him. Once she got her wits about her, she approached him, hands on her hips.
“You need to warn me before appearing in my room suddenly,” Taeyeon warned,
“I never do this back home, I decided to take advantage,” Sungmin threw her a grin.
“Because if you did it at home my brother would kill you himself,” Taeyeon murmured, “Or, heaven forbid, force you to marry me right then and there.”
“So, did you tell him?” Sungmin asked as Taeyeon walked to the dresser where she had placed the clothes that had been lent to her.
“Tell him? Tell him what?” She asked innocently as she pulled out a simple, cotton, white, sleeping gown.
“That’s a no,” Sungmin said decisively,
“I tried,” she insisted as she disappeared into the bathroom, “I promise you, I did try. Several times last night.”
“Ah, the elusive ‘last night’ where you did who-knows-what to the prince,” Sungmin said, amusement evident in his tone,
“I tried, but he kept interrupting me. Then he left before I could finish my sentence,” Taeyeon recalled,
“You’ve spent most of the day with him today. At least, I’m assuming so since I wasn’t around,” Sungmin mused, “I have a feeling you had a hundred times to tell him.”
“It’s… it’s a little complicated,” Taeyeon said as she came out of the bathroom dressed in the sleeping gown, her hair free from its earlier tie.
“You always say that and I’m beginning to feel that it isn’t complicated at all. You’re just making it that way,” Sungmin scolded lightly,
Taeyeon sighed as she came to the bed and climbed atop, settling herself against the headboard. She grabbed another pillow and hugged it as she stared at the mage. He stared back, waiting.
“I told him I love him,” Taeyeon muttered,
Sungmin’s graying eyes widened, “That’s great! That’s so good, Taeyeon! That’s – wait… do you?”
Taeyeon blinked before she cried defensively, “Yes!” She breathed deeply, steadily, before burrowing her chin in the pillow she hugged and continued on quietly; “What we were talking about this morning… you asked me if I was scared of risking my heart. Before Prince Kyuhyun came in, I was going to say that I had already risked my heart even before I realized what was happening. Then after we left the study to go outside… there was this moment and… and I had said the words prior to even planning to say them, to even knowing what was in my heart. Then after I said the words, I realized them to be true, that my heart wanted to say them before my mind even acknowledged them.”
“You’re scared,” Sungmin commented, his words a statement rather than a question.
“I’m petrified,” Taeyeon confirmed, “He didn’t say it back and I’m okay with that, truly I am because he did say last night he cared for me. But saying those words… it felt good and right and, at the same time, I felt more exposed than I have ever felt. I mean, how much do I even know about the prince? He says I know him more than anyone else and yet, I’ve scarcely known him a week!”
“Love is mysterious like that,” Sungmin shrugged, “I can’t say from experience since I’ve never been in love, but that’s what I’ve heard and that’s what I’ve seen. It’s for love of you that your brother allowed us to be engaged. He certainly doesn’t want me to marry you. Friend or not, he knows what lies in a mage’s future. At the same time, for the love of his people, he didn’t send out a search party for you but directed me to go alone.”
“It would’ve caused a war otherwise,” Taeyeon defended,
“I know. He said the same thing and said you’d understand. Indeed, I understand his motives also. I’m just saying that love cannot have boundaries placed on it. We cannot tell ourselves not to fall in love with a person until we’ve known them at least a week. We cannot tell ourselves not to fall in love with a person strictly who’s of the Light,” Sungmin shook his head, “It’s scary to love someone, I’m sure, because it puts us in a very vulnerable position to get hurt. However, we should never be scared to love.”
“For someone who’s never been in love, you certainly talk a lot about it,” Taeyeon muttered,
“I’ve never been in love, but I have loved and do love,” Sungmin explained, “You, for example. And I have been scared every day that I have loved you, Taeyeon.”
“I would never do anything to hurt you though,” Taeyeon insisted, amber eyes wide,
“I know that. In the beginning, I was scared you would end up hurting me somehow, but now, I’m scared for you. I’m scared of losing you somehow in some way,” Sungmin said softly, “I’m even scared of returning back to the Light Kingdom where we cannot have such private conversations anymore. One of the best things that have occurred for me since this fiasco began is that I’ve been able to spend more time with you.”
Taeyeon’s expression softened as she smiled, “You know I love you, too, Min.”
Sungmin sighed as he swung off the bed, “Well, if you’re taking risks, I’d be a coward not to do the same thing.”
Taeyeon straightened in her seat and blinked at him confusedly, “What?”
“I’m going to the second prince,” Sungmin announced with formal airs even as his steel-blue eyes danced with amusement, “We talked earlier and, well, perhaps he would like some company this evening.”
“Is he okay? He seemed very upset when he left the study,” Taeyeon asked tentatively,
“I don’t know. If he isn’t, well, I’ll just have to make sure he is, right?” Sungmin gave her a small smile, “Get some sleep. Don’t want you to stay sick for too long. Although, you haven’t coughed or sneezed lately.”
“I have a feeling Siwon healed me a little,” Taeyeon said exasperatedly,
“What a cruel prince to take away some of your illness,” Sungmin replied sarcastically as he strode to the door. He glanced over his shoulder, “Goodnight, Minx.”
Sungmin left the princess’ room and found himself in a darkened corridor. Slowly, he released his magic out, seeking for the source of Dark Magic that would mark the second prince’s location.
The Dark Mage rose from the bed, his body tired. He headed over to a window, the moonlight shining in the only light in the dark bedroom. Leaning a shoulder against the window frame, he gazed out into the starry, night sky. He went over his previous conversation with the prince in his head again.
The last thing he wanted was to put Kyuhyun’s soul in danger. He had begun training the prince so as to control his magic. Once it was evident that Kyuhyun could control his magic like second nature, Kangin had been prepared to stop training him. However, the prince had asked him to continue to train him. When Kangin had refused, Kyuhyun had even gone so far as to beg him to train him. He remembered the night as if it had happened yesterday.
He had come to the prince’s bedroom as he did every night and it was the first thing Kyuhyun had said when he walked through the door.
“Teach me,” Kyuhyun had said.
Kangin had almost walked out on him that moment had it not been the peculiar look in the younger man’s eye. He was determined to have his way. He wanted a reason, however, to train the prince. He didn’t want to waste his time when it was some whim the prince had gotten. He had turned back to the door, seemingly in a gesture to leave when the prince had lunged the distance between them. He felt his hand clasped in the grasp of two cold, shaking hands. When he had turned back around, he had found Kyuhyun kneeling on the ground before him, his head bowed.
“Please!” Kyuhyun had whispered.
Kangin could have said no. He could have yanked his hand away and left the room. He knew even if he denied the prince the training, Kyuhyun would welcome him back into his room the next night anyway. However, the quiet tone in which the second prince spoke was fragile, as if should he speak any louder, something would break, some chaos would ensue. It was that delicacy, that vulnerability that had first began their particular relationship. The relationship that went beyond mere mage and prince, beyond friendship. The relationship that moved him to begin training the prince, that moved him to be with the prince every evening and every morning.
“Why?” Kangin had asked.
At first, the prince had said nothing so Kangin reciprocated with his own silence. Eventually, Kyuhyun told him his reasons. Kangin remained silent for minutes afterwards; minutes filled with debating and arguing within his own mind. Finally, he had given a small affirmative and Kyuhyun had quickly risen to his feet and embraced him tightly, murmuring over and over his thanks. It wasn’t until Kyuhyun was hugging him and had his face buried against his shoulder that Kangin realized the prince had been crying.
Pushing away from the window, Kangin walked back to the bed and stared down at the sleeping prince. Kyuhyun lay there with the most peaceful expression the mage had ever seen. His face free of artificial emotions, forced smiles and just relaxed. His arms flung to the sides with seemingly carefree abandon and the blankets down by his waist, exposing his bare torso and arms. Had he any affection left, Kangin assumed he would have smiled with affection just then. He reached over and pulled the blankets up and over the prince’s torso before turning away from the bed and heading to the door.
With one last glance back at the prince’s bed, he opened the bedroom door to leave.
He found himself face to face with another mage.
Sungmin theorized that if he could use his magic to find Taeyeon, he could do the same with the second prince, especially if the prince was concerned about his magic during the night. He had set out into the castle using his own magic as a guide. He had paced himself, dodging into shadows, niches and behind pillars if he heard servants about. It was fortunate that not many were up at that hour and the lights in the corridor had already been shut off for the night.
He found himself in the other wing of the castle. He felt himself close to the source of magic he felt, but the rooms on the third floor appeared to be all guest rooms. He doubled back to the stairs and made his way up another level to for the fourth floor and returned to the west wing. He paused at the mouth of the wing, however, suddenly unable to sense the magic at all.
Sungmin blinked into the darkness. What had happened to the magic? Could the prince be asleep now? Is that why he could no longer sense it? He hesitated, wondering if perhaps he had been a bit presumptuous after all. He was about to turn back when he remembered the way the prince had been in his arms that morning and the startling realization that the younger man was crying.
Taeyeon had obviously taken some big steps today towards becoming a stronger person, even though Sungmin knew her to be stronger than she believed. She was also taking steps towards getting what she wanted, being with whom she wanted. After all their talks and his prompting to take chances, he could hardly back away now and not take his own advice.
He stared down into the dark corridor and made up his mind. Even if the prince was sleeping, then at least he knew he was okay for now and then he would speak with Kyuhyun in the morning. Taking a deep, slow breath to steel himself, he headed out into the west wing, approximating where he had felt the source of magic from the floor below. When he was sure he was in the right spot, he faced the only door in that vicinity.
Before he could raise his hand to knock on the door, it swung open and there stood the Dark Mage.
“Sungmin?” Kangin raised a brow at him as he stepped into the corridor, closing the door behind him.
“Sorry,” Sungmin stepped back, “I was… I was looking for Prince Kyuhyun. I must have been wrong about the direction.”
“Direction? Did you use your magic to come here?” Kangin inquired,
Sungmin nodded, “Yes, but I guess it was your magic I was sensing.” He turned to leave when he stopped abruptly and turned back to the mage who hadn’t moved away from the door; “Wait… why are you here? I thought you lived by the border between the two kingdoms.”
“I do,” Kangin confirmed, “And I assure you, you would never be able to sense my magic unless I wanted you to do so.”
Kangin finally stepped away from the door and turned away from Sungmin, heading towards the servants’ stairs. He paused, a few steps away from the door, “And I suggest you return to your room. The second prince is sleeping now.”
Sungmin stared as the mage disappeared into darkness. He hesitated and then walked over to the door, trying the knob. He found it locked. He looked back the way the mage had gone. What was he doing here, so deep in the castle? What business did he have here at this hour of the night? Furthermore, if it wasn’t Kangin’s magic he sensed then…
Sungmin stumbled back away from the door as if suddenly burned.
Without a backwards glance, he escaped into the darkness and away from what he was sure had been Kyuhyun’s locked bedroom door.
(Chapter 9 - Creeping Darkness)