(Chapter 16 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 16: Remorse in Darkness
"It's not winter and you're not a bear, so stop hibernating."
Sungmin burrowed his head further beneath his pillow. He tried to tug his blankets over his bare torso and head, but they wouldn't budge, as if caught on something.
"Breakfast is in ten minutes, Sungmin, and I don't think your first moment back would be a good time to miss breakfast with the king and princess," Kyuhyun's voice was soft and tinged with light sarcasm,
"I had breakfast every day with Taeyeon for six weeks," Sungmin's reply was muffled from beneath the pillow,
"Now you're just saying things to make me jealous," Kyuhyun lightly pushed at the pillow covering the lesser mage's head; "Come on, Sungmin," He yawned, "Come have breakfast so I can have dinner and then go to sleep." Sungmin tried to burrow deeper into his bed when Kyuhyun nudged him with his elbow; "You had breakfast every day with Taeyeon for six weeks. The least you could do is have breakfast with me once."
"Damn, spoiled brat," Sungmin muttered as he suddenly shoved his sheets off of him and rolled out of bed; "Guilting me with insignificant words just because you couldn't have something you wanted." He continued talking as he padded over to his closet to grab fresh clothes. Before he completely disappeared into the closet, he popped his head back to glare at the young prince who was swinging his feet to the floor; "Don't you dare leave like a hurt and wounded puppy because you know I'm grumpy and you know I still care about you."
"I'm not waiting around while you're grumpy. I'll be down in the dinning room with the others," Kyuhyun stated with the hauteur of the prince he was. He paused at the door, staring at the panelling, and didn't notice that Sungmin now stood at the closet door, half-clothed, watching him; "I missed you."
"Okay, you're not allowed to leave my room," Sungmin tossed the shirt he had been putting on onto the ground and strode to Kyuhyun.
Sungmin turned the younger man around and, hands on his shoulders, pushed him against the door. Pinning him there, Sungmin stared directly into the prince's eyes, "I missed you, too," he said simply, "I missed you more than you will ever know. I missed you so much that I began to believe that I would never see you again. I missed you so much that I began to worry that I would be alone for the rest of my life."
Kyuhyun's dark eyes widened so much that Sungmin could see the slashes of silver in their black depths; "Sungmin."
"It's going to take me a day or two to adjust to the reality that you're here... with me... and I'm scared that I'll become happy... too happy;" Sungmin swallowed hard, a lump forming in his throat; "In my experience, when someone... when a situation becomes too happy, something goes wrong. So, I'm scared that we pushed the limit with the week we had together... and I'm scared that I'll lose you."
Kyuhyun dislodged one of Sungmin's hands from his shoulder as he raised his own arm. The young prince lifted his hand to the lesser mage's face, cupping the side, his thumb brushing the soft, sensitive skin beneath Sungmin's left eye.
"Sungmin... you're crying," Kyuhyun said quietly,
"I... I want you, Kyuhyun," Sungmin stammered, blinking back the hot, stinging tears; "I want you to be... my anchor. I want you to be my anchor but... but I'm scared... I'm scared to lose you... to lose you... to lose my soul. But... but I want you... I want you."
Kyuhyun was startled, surprised when Sungmin's strong frame began to shake. Never before had the lesser mage shown such vulnerability to him. In the beginning he had been the one to ruthlessly pursue the mage, but as they became more comfortable with one another, their true natures began to show. Kyuhyun had become the one who was wary and scared while Sungmin had become relentless and sure.
His heart clenched at the older man's words. He knew, though. He knew who Sungmin's anchor was, knew who kept the mage's soul safe and protected. He knew that Sungmin's soul had been protected for years before he had ever met the Lesser Mage of Light.
Kyuhyun thought perhaps he should have been jealous or angry. He thought he should be selfish and greedy. He thought he should resent or hate, and, yet, he didn't. Instead, he understood. Instead, he felt relief.
He managed a smile as he used his palm to wipe the tears from Sungmin's cheek. His hand slid to the back, cupping the nape of his neck, pulling him closer and closer until Sungmin's body was pressed against his. He slipped his other arm around Sungmin's waist, holding him securely.
"I can't protect your soul when mine's not whole," Kyuhyun said as he leaned his forehead against the other's; "But, Taeyeon's soul is whole and she'll keep yours safe."
"That's not how it's supposed to work... not now that I have you," Sungmin shook his head, shutting his eyes as the tears flooded his vision, burning him; "The one I love is the one who's supposed to be my anchor... supposed to protect my soul."
Kyuhyun tried to swallow, his mouth suddenly as dry as a summer day; "The one who loves you is supposed to protect your heart," he replied, his voice raspy from the emotion that was overflowing his own heart now pounding a rapid, powerful tattoo within his chest; "Taeyeon can have your soul... I never thought I would say that, but I can... I can say that because I know I can't do that. Taeyeon can... and I won't risk your soul just for jealousy's sake."
"If it's not you... I don't... I don't want... I don't want you to end up hating me or... or hating her," Sungmin stated, opening his eyes, moving his head back enough to see into Kyuhyun's eyes clearly; "It's my fault she's my anchor, she doesn't deserve any hate... she doesn't need anymore -"
Kyuhyun pulled Sungmin's head closer, kissing him firmly, slanting his lips to deepen the kiss. He tasted him, flooded his senses with him and pushed Sungmin's fears away. He broke the kiss abruptly, pulling back just enough to draw air into his lungs, his forehead leaning against Sungmin's once more.
“I could never hate her. Even before you told me the truth about the betrothal and I wanted to hate her, I couldn’t,” Kyuhyun stated, “But, I know you both better now. How could I ever come to hate her when she’s helping me by protecting you? No, Sungmin… if anything, I am grateful for her help.”
“Damn, I’ve missed you,” Sungmin murmured as he suddenly captured the other’s lips with his own, surging forward to taste him, caress him. When he pulled away, they were both gasping for air. “Should we go get breakfast?”
Kyuhyun nodded, “I’m starving. Finish getting changed and I’ll see you down there.”
Sungmin stared into his eyes for endless seconds, as if trying to see into the younger man’s soul; “I know I didn’t say it directly, so I’m saying it now so you understand me. I’m saying it now so you won’t have any doubts. What I don’t want to happen after I repeat it, is you replying in kind out of obligation. In fact, I don’t even want you to reply at all unless you’re 100 percent sure.
“I love you, Kyuhyun.” Sungmin repeated. He leaned in again to briefly, gently brush his lips against Kyuhyun’s, “You’ve lost more emotions than I have, but already I can see you getting some back… But I can wait until then.”
“What if you have to wait too long?” Kyuhyun asked, his heart clenching painfully at the thought.
He certainly was attracted to the Lesser Mage and he was coming to care for him deeply, the emotions slowly seeping back into him, surrounding him like a shield. However, he didn’t think it was love, not yet. He desperately wanted to give the words back to the older man, but Kyuhyun knew they wouldn’t be true and he knew Sungmin deserved nothing but the truth.
Sungmin shook his head, “Until you tell me you want to end this, whatever it is between us, then, I will wait. We could grow old and I could be at death’s door, but so long as you don’t end this, then I will keep waiting even after death.”
“I never thought I would find someone who would want me for me,” Kyuhyun admitted softly, “When I’m around people, I act practically manic to convince Siwon that my soul is intact and no one who’s sane would be able to withstand me acting like that. The concubines –”
“Consorts,” Sungmin corrected warningly even as he smiled,
“Yeah, yeah, them… they only tolerated me because I’m royalty,” Kyuhyun said, “But, you…”
“Realized the crazy was a mask? Yeah, I saw through the crazy,” Sungmin replied, “And I never thought someone would want me despite being a mage.”
“Okay… you need to let me go down to breakfast – well, my dinner – because, if not, I’m going to end up dragging you back to your bed and it took me long enough to get you out of it,” Kyuhyun murmured as Sungmin kissed him again and again.
“I don’t see why you wanted to get me out of bed in the first place,” Sungmin replied, his lips making a path along the other’s jaw and down the strong, smooth column of his neck.
“Taeyeon,” Kyuhyun grounded out,
“Well, you certainly know how to stop a reunion,” Sungmin said as he pushed away from the door so several inches separated their bodies now, “I haven’t been alone with you at all since I returned yesterday.”
“I know,” Kyuhyun sighed before smiling ruefully at him, “But, when I was talking with Taeyeon last night she was definitely not like the princess I remembered. She was… sad. Before, she was timid and subdued. but at least she was happy… almost effervescent. Last night? She was sad and it enveloped her, fell off her in waves.”
Sungmin sighed, “Yeah, I know,” he walked back to where he had thrown his shirt. He picked it up and pulled it on, “She tried to keep busy during the tour and she ran herself ragged… Her philosophy was that if she was busy, then she wouldn’t have time to be sad. And, now that the tour is done she has nothing to occupy her until she assumes more diplomatic duties. She plans to help her brother run the kingdom.”
“That is quite the undertaking,” Kyuhyun acknowledged,
Sungmin walked back into the closet and returning with a jungchimak that was more casual than the ones he usually wore. Simple in design, it was jet-black, but made of cotton and there were no embellishments of any kind. Unlike his usual robes, these had short sleeves and, while it still hugged his torso and the tails flared away for ease of movement, they weren’t as long as traditional mage robes, ending a third of the way down his thighs.
“Taeyeon’s gotten it into her head that she’s been useless all her life and, as much as I love her, she’s not wrong on that estimation,” Sungmin finished hooking the tiny closures, securing the sides together and, then looked up at the young prince’s curious stare, “What? I don’t always wearing silk robes every day, all day.”
“Well, I suppose I should have guessed as much,” Kyuhyun muttered, “But, considering the entire kingdom believes you two are together… shouldn’t you wear silk robes every day, all day?”
“Is this what I’m to expect when I come live in the Dark Kingdom?” Sungmin asked as he opened the door and gestured for the prince to precede him, “Should I convince Eeteuk to upgrade my wardrobe prior to abandoning him?”
“No, no,” Kyuhyun waved his hand as if waving away the other’s words, “Who am I to want anything just because everyone will think my heart belongs to a farmer.”
Sungmin smacked the younger man upside the back of his head.
“What the hell!?” Kyuhyun rubbed the sting on his skull with both hands,
“I’m starting to believe that you don’t even realize it when you’re being a brat,” Sungmin said as he folded his arms over his chest, “I’ve decided words don’t work.”
“So, you’ve decided to start physically abusing me?” Kyuhyun hissed,
“Only until we return to the Dark Kingdom,” Sungmin shrugged, his steel-blue eyes lit with amusement, “I can hardly do that there, I’d be committing treason.”
Kyuhyun scowled as they continued down the corridor towards the dining room.
“You’ve eaten a quarter of the food on your plate,” Eeteuk commented as his gaze drifted to where his sister sat adjacent to his left,
“I’m full,” she shrugged as she reached for her water,
Eeteuk’s hand fell over her hand before she could grasp her glass. His fingers tightened ever so slightly over her hand which seemed smaller than before, her skin cool to touch; “Taeyeon, I know you. I’ve raised you for fifteen years; I know you. We’re the same. We get stressed or upset and our appetites disappear immediately.”
Taeyeon sighed as she forcefully slipped her hand out from under his, “I’ve already had his lecture from Sungmin, Eeteuk, I don’t need to hear it from you, too. I have some things to do regarding the tour.”
She stood up and immediately a footman ran to pull out her high-back chair so it wouldn’t impede her.
“Sit down,” Eeteuk said, his gaze direct and unwavering at his sister, the footman hesitantly retreating,
Surprise quickly rose into her face before it disappeared, her amber eyes narrowing, “No.”
Eeteuk’s eyes widened fractionally, also out of surprise, before his pale brown eyes narrowed, too; “Sit down, Taeyeon. Now.” His voice was low and cold and brooked no argument whatsoever.
Taeyeon’s fists shock slightly at her sides, her nails digging into her palms. She was tired and on edge since coming home. She was tired after the tour and considering she was still recovering from being sick. She was on edge because, suddenly, she had nothing to keep her busy, nothing to occupy her mind except… She clenched her jaw, to further control the emotions that were suddenly crashing through her like waves against a crumbling coast. She swallowed hard in an effort to push down her feelings, feeling her palms begin to itch with heat. Distantly, she heard the soft bubbling as her and her brother’s drinks began to slowly boil.
“Taeyeon,” Eeteuk repeated, “Sit. Down. Now.”
She knew she was being childish and, even worse, she was being disrespectful to her brother in front of the servants. However, if she couldn’t even stand up to her own brother, how would she ever survive standing up to those outside of the castle walls? How would she ever prove herself worthy of being her brother’s advocate, his proxy? She knew he wasn’t testing her, but she was testing herself. She wasn’t going to back down any longer.
“No,” she said finally, her voice quiet but, thankfully, calm and still; “I’m full and I have things to do, so I am going to leave the dining room. I’ve already had an endless number of lectures from my fiancé; I don’t need to hear them again from you, regardless that you’re brother and king to me. Be thankful that I even ate at all.”
Eeteuk rose to his feet, raising a hand. Taeyeon was acutely aware of the sounds signalling that the servers and the footmen had retreated from the dining room. Suddenly, the silence was blaringly loud to the princess, half-sure that she could hear her heart beating; sure that her brother could hear her heart, too.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Eeteuk demanded, “You disappeared for a week but came back asking for more responsibility, seemingly more mature and less naïve. You leave the castle for a month and a half and now you’re disrespectful, petulant and stubborn. How am I supposed to trust you as my proxy if you’re acting this irresponsible and you’ve barely begun!?”
Taeyeon ruthlessly steeled herself against her reaction, his words striking at her like a whip. She knew how she was acting, but she was reaching her breaking point. The week she spent in the Dark Kingdom, she worked to stop being so naïve and ignorant. The month and half she spent travelling around the Light Kingdom, she worked to be mentally stronger, more responsible and hard-working. She struggled to be useful, to have a purpose. She had done more growing in the past seven weeks than in the remaining 21 years of her life. She needed a break.
Sharp pops echoed in the room and, judging from the sound, Taeyeon knew that both glasses had exploded from the pressure from the water suddenly heating, the formed bubbles causing the glass to explode.
Her gaze dropped to the table, the white table cloth now contained two splotches of spreading water, shards of glass scattered all over the dishes and food.
She spun around trying to avoid reaching-distance of her brother, causing her chair to topple over with a large clatter. She stormed out of the dining room, the soft leather of her flats silent on the waxed, wooden floor. Taeyeon nearly ran into the large body of the Dark Mage as she strode with purpose, oblivious to the cautious, curious stares of the footmen who had retreated into the hall from the dining room.
“My apologies, Princess,” Kangin said formally, his hands on her shoulders to steady her. Suddenly, he saw the vulnerability in her gaze and felt his hands begin to heat up as they remained resting on her shoulders. “Princess?”
“I need to be alone. Go keep my brother company so he can’t come bothering me,” Taeyeon said as she pulled away from him and disappeared, rounding the main staircase.
“Breakfast time has changed?” Sungmin inquired as he and Kyuhyun entered the dining room just as the table was set once more.
“No, there was a situation and the table had to be cleared,” Eeteuk explained from his end of the table.
“A situation?” Sungmin raised a brow as he walked behind Eeteuk to take his usual seat which was the left to Taeyeon’s seat; Kyuhyun sat to Kangin’s right.
“Eeteuk… I mean, the king made Princess Taeyeon mad,” Kangin said simply, his arms folded over his chest. When the young king threw him a dark glare, he raised a single brow, “They were going to find out eventually.”
“How did making the princess mad result in the need for the table to be cleared and everything replaced?” Sungmin asked as he slowly sat down, his curious gaze unwavering on his friend and king,
“She got angry, our drinks boiled too quickly and the glasses exploded,” Eeteuk said with a wave of his hand as an attempt to appear more casual and flippant while talking.
Sungmin blinked and then narrowed his eyes, “Was she angry when she left?”
Eeteuk stared back, “Yes and don’t you dare go after her, Sungmin. She’s acting spoiled and I know that’s my fault for that, but she’s shown me she wants to make some changes in her life. That tells me that I can’t treat her like a little child any longer and that includes having you run in and play the hero every time I stop allowing her to get her way.”
Sungmin raised a brow, “Yes, she has been spoiled and sheltered over the years, but I’ve hardly ever done that. I’ve been protective, sure, but I’ve never coddled her, Eeteuk.”
The young king sighed as he reached for his glass which had been replaced. He sipped before looking down into the liquid as if all his answers were in that goblet. He looked back up at his friend, “I know, but you wanted to go and find her didn’t you?”
“No,” Sungmin answered immediately,
Eeteuk stared at him, blatantly surprised. Even Kangin had raised a curious brow and Kyuhyun looked at him as if he had grown another head.
“Taeyeon can take care of herself, especially after everything that’s happened the past seven weeks,” Sungmin sat back in his chair, loosely folding his arms about his torso; “She’s also become more adept at controlling her magic. The fact that she allowed it to get out of control, however, does say something about how angry she must have been. But, as I said, she can take care of herself. She’s not as ignorant as she was before and she’s never been stupid. She knows what she needs to do to calm down and keep her magic reined in.”
Eeteuk said nothing at first. Sungmin spoke with such resolve in his sister’s ability that he was swarmed with conflicting emotions. He felt proud for his sister to inspire such unwavering confidence in others. He felt jealous that he had not been there to witness her growth from his little sister to the young lady, the ambassador who, according to the reports, captured the hearts of their people. He felt guilty that he had such doubts in his kin, when it was obvious the three other men at the table had more faith in her.
He was her brother. He had loved her since birth when they had him come to their parents’ bedchamber to attend to his newborn sister. He had protected her when their parents had been murdered. He had sheltered her, spoiled her, ensured she had all she wanted and desired to keep her happy, to protect her from the painful memories of their parents.
She, above all others, had his trust over the years. He worked through each king-related decision by talking to her. After each meeting with the advisors, he told her what had been discussed and decided. He had told her on two separate occasions that he trusted her unreservedly and, yet, not too long ago he had just contradicted himself. He did trust her; so much so that it almost scared him.
When she had begun to request more responsibility, to become his proxy, he easily handed over to her duties. However, observing her since she returned from the tour, he could tell something was wrong and his brotherly instincts told him to protect her, shield and shelter her once more. He wanted to give her an out, give her the chance to step back from the role she had requested and take the burden from her. He had been worried about her health, knowing how she responded to stress. And, so, he had lashed out.
The lesser mage cleared his throat, drawing the king from his reverie. He glanced up to see that the others present were watching him cautiously.
Slowly, he lowered his glass, “I was cruel to be kind,” he admitted; “But it seems that the princess no longer needs to rely so heavily upon me any longer… I didn’t need to use such drastic measures to protect her from herself. It seems that, although I have watched over her all these years, the short time she spent away from me was when she grew the most. I don’t know what to feel more upset about – that she is an independent lady; that I wasn’t there to witness it; or, that I didn’t truly believe it.”
“For all his talk, the king is the one most anxious to go seek out the princess,” Kangin explained simply to Kyuhyun and, then, began to eat.
“SIRE!” The cry echoed in the dining room as the double doors were shoved open, one of the footmen standing there breathing heavily as if he had just run a marathon,
Eeteuk raised a single brow, “Yes?”
“Fire,” his breath was wheezy as he gulped great amounts of air, “Ballroom… floor to ceiling.”
Eeteuk jumped to his feet. Before he could rush towards the door, Kangin subtly tugged on his hand before continuing eating. He looked wildly down at the mage, “What? Did you not just hear him? There’s a damn –”
“That would be your sister coping,” Kangin said before filling his mouth with more food.
“I know you are all about letting her fend for herself… but seeing a ballroom full of fire sounds intriguing,” Kyuhyun admitted as he stood from his chair, grabbing a roll of bread before sprinting out of the dining room.
“I… are you sure we shouldn’t go… check?” Eeteuk asked, looking back and forth between Kangin and Sungmin, ignoring the footman who looked at a loss at what to do.
“Yes, she’s fine,” Kangin insisted, “She knows how to fully protect herself against fire and she knows how to protect her surroundings so nothing is harmed while her magic vents.”
“Kangin,” Sungmin addressed as he slowly stood, “I just realized something… since the princess and I returned yesterday, you haven’t taken the seal off her magic.”
Kangin’s eyes suddenly widened as he jumped to his feet, his chair clattering to the floor in the effort. He hissed a string of swears as he bolted from the room, the king and the Lesser Mage of Light following close behind.
Kyuhyun could feel the sweat accumulating on his skin as he closed the ballroom doors behind him. He was immediately engulfed in an unbearable heat as he stepped into the encompassing flames. The fact that he was sweating profusely but feeling no pain suggested his defenses against fire was working. He placed a shield of water magic around him, forming a protective bubble that deviated the flames but not the heat. Drops of sweat slid down his face and neck and into the high collar of his jungchimak. The further he remained in the fire, the more aware he became of how damp his skin felt, how hard it was to breathe as his lungs began to scream for air, to be filled to capacity.
He wasn’t sure how long it was until he saw Taeyeon’s form sitting on the ground, her eyes closed and head bowed, one hand massaging the other in her lap. Slowly, he made his way to stand before her and, then, sat down, stretching the boundaries of his shield to include her so that he would be able to see her, so that fire would not separate them.
“Princess,” he said softly so as not to startle her.
How trained she was showed when, although she flinched, her concentration did not falter. Slowly, she raised her head and surprise was in her eyes.
“Prince Kyuhyun?” She blinked, “I don’t… how are you in here with me?”
“Although this is quite a miraculous blaze you have going on, I’ve been training for years to have my water magic protect me against fire,” Kyuhyun explained, “At least, against fire magic. I’ve never tested it out against a natural fire.”
“Oh… shouldn’t you be having breakfast – er – dinner?” Taeyeon prompted, concern evident in her eyes, “You must be tired.”
“I am, but making sure a friend is okay seems more important than sleep,” Kyuhyun said, “Are you? Okay, that is.”
“Yes, I just…” she sighed heavily,
Kyuhyun was aware that he began to feel the telltale heat on his skin that was just minutes away from an actual burn. Consciously, he forced more strength into his barrier, knowing if the princess were to really unleash her magic, he would need to escape. His magic would never hold up against hers.
“I was just so tired of everything,” she explained, “The past seven weeks have been a trial and while I know I’ve made some good changes in my life, it’s happened so fast and… I just needed a break from everything.”
“A moment to just let all your inhibitions go?” Kyuhyun guessed, his expression softer than she had ever seen; “A moment to just not worry about anything and just let yourself… feel… let yourself go?”
Taeyeon nodded, dropping her gaze; “I know it doesn’t sound very good, especially since I’ve been bemoaning how weak-willed I am…” Her slender shoulders shrugged slightly; “But, I suppose old habits die hard.”
Taeyeon felt the hole growing inside her, as if an abyss were opening up beneath her soul, trying to pull her in. The hollowness was being fed by her despair, regrets and guilt. She had been sad for so long and after the war ended, she had pretended to be happy, especially when with her brother. She hated worrying him. When Sungmin befriended her, she found a source of content, a source of rest in his presence. He didn’t ask, demand or expect anything of her. She was free to let the smiles go, close her eyes and just sink into his warm strength.
For some time, however, she began to feel restless. The truce between the kingdoms was not true peace and she felt an itch, an uncomfortable anticipation that the tension would snap and the kingdoms would be thrown into war once more. Every day she saw her brother grow more and more serious, his shoulders weighed down by the constant possibility of war. She wanted to do something. She needed to find a purpose in life.
When she had been in the Dark Kingdom, she had realized her naïveté was only helping the tension and stopping true peace from occurring. She realized she saw the other kingdom as no one else had since the war began. She realized that she could bring a new perspective to her kingdom and people. She had found purpose even if it cost her her heart.
But, she was unaccustomed to work. She was unaccustomed to endless hours of travelling, of facing crowds of people, the anxiety of rejection eating away at her composure. She was unaccustomed to not being heard, to being told no. Every time she stood before the people to talk, she was reminded at how spoiled and pampered she had been. She had been so confident, so haughty in her position and title that, even though she was aware that the suitors who came calling for her were interested in her crown, she never acknowledged that no one else willingly accepted her. Her brother loved her and Sungmin was her best friend. But did the maids like her or were their smiles merely given to secure their jobs? Did the footmen actually care about her safety or did they tolerate her because of orders?
Over the past six weeks while on tour with Sungmin, the princess had learned that her pedestal at the top left her very vulnerable and very alone. It made her even more self-conscious about herself and her magic.
Her brother’s words, although she agreed with them, was the last straw and she broke under all the pressure.
“Maybe I’m just fooling myself,” Taeyeon said quietly; so quietly that Kyuhyun had to strain to hear; “All this talk about being my brother’s partner… being an ambassador for the kingdom. Why did I ever think I could do all that? For 21 years I’ve done nothing more than live in this castle and go about doing as I pleased without a care for anyone else… without a care for what happened outside these walls. One week away from home and I believed I could change so much? I’m even more naïve than I was before I left the kingdom.”
Kyuhyun blinked, startled at the calm voice the princess used to tear at herself. Did she truly believe that of herself? When he met her, he had found her so self-assured that she never let his brother brow-beat her into cowering into a corner. He had found her so strong-willed that she inflicted massive bodily harm to protect her identity and, thus, protect her kingdom. He had found her capable of anything when she took control of her future by training her magic and daring to love a Dark Prince.
Kyuhyun was acutely aware of the bubble around them and how it seemed to ripple in some places as if beginning to boil, regardless that it was magic and regardless that he had complete control over it. His gaze concentrated on the princess before him as he saw her shoulders slump, saw the slight tremble in her tiny hands now clasped in her lap. He had heard the sadness, the hopelessness in her voice. He could see the negativity in the lines of her small body. He had been wrapped up in his own grief for so long, that he was surprised he didn’t see it sooner in her, even after they spoke the previous night. He knew she was upset, yes, but not to such a degree. He never realized how fragile the princess’ state of mind was.
He heard a soft pop and he knew that tiny bubbles were forming on the surface of his barrier; her fire magic slowly overcoming his water magic.
“Taeyeon…” he said softly, warningly as he slowly stood up, knowing he would only have a few minutes before he had to escape the fire and, yet, not wanting to leave her alone.
That’s when Kyuhyun saw it.
Taeyeon seemed oblivious to the second prince repeating her name, calling her, beckoning her, practically pleading. Indeed, she seemed completely ignorant to the fact that white wisps of smoke were beginning to crawl up around her crossed legs and wrap around the lower portion of her torso. She seemed unaware that the white smoke tightened around her, like tangible binds constricting her, capturing her.
Her hands rose from her lap to clasp over her mouth and Kuhyun heard more little pops as more ripples ran through his barrier and the water began to boil more and more. The heat was suffocating now and he could feel his hair sticking to his face and neck, could feel the silk of his mage robes clinging to his body. His fists clenched at his sides as he poured more strength and magic into his barrier, trying to make it last just a little bit longer.
Laughter bubbled up from Taeyeon’s lips. However, it was not the usual light, melodic laugh that Kyuhyun had heard from her before. Now, it was shrill and bitter, the kind of laugh that bordered on insanity. She threw back her head as she laughed harder and harder, her small frame shaking from the effort. The laugh sounded cruel as if she was mocking her own worthy efforts, as if she was mocking everything about herself.
Tears rolled down her cheeks and they drew the prince’s attention to her amber eyes and that’s when he knew; desperation lit her eyes, begging for Kyuhyun to help her, to stop the laughter.
Suddenly, the heat and the fire disappeared and Taeyeon collapsed forward onto the ground. Kyuhyun was kneeling before her, gently picking her up, and leaning her against him.
“Damn, her magic is every bit as strong as I guessed,” Kangin stated as he, Eeteuk and Sungmin ran over from the doors; “It took longer than I thought to control the fire and I don’t even think that’s her magic completely unleashed.”
“What happened?” Eeteuk questioned, his eyes narrowing at the prince,
“She’s exhausted,” Kyuhyun snapped at the king, even as he wiped at her tears with his thumbs; “She’s had to repress her emotions her entire life and she’s tired of having to do so. It’s not healthy for someone to keep such a rein on something that should be natural and freely expressed. She’s had to temper her emotions for so long, that it’s a wonder she didn’t break before now!”
“I thought you said you sealed her magic before she left?” Eeteuk demanded, throwing his glare towards the Dark Mage,
“I did,” Kangin replied in measured tones; “Clearly her magic overcame the seal.”
“You said she would be okay,” Eeteuk threw the accusation towards the lesser mage; “You said she was coping!”
Sungmin raised a defiant brow at the king before turning his gaze on the princess, worry evident in his eyes and every line of his body.
“Kyuhyun,” Kangin said quietly, firmly, cutting the younger man off when he opened his mouth to lash out at the king.
Kyuhyun’s dark eyes burned with anger, but he held his tongue and, eventually, dropped his gaze, concerning himself with the princess.
“I will tend to the princess,” Kangin stated as he stepped forward and squatted down to take her into his arms; “I want no interruptions so I can ensure her health and so I can ensure everyone else’s safety. I am taking over the ballroom in order to do this, so I suggest, Sire, that you keep everyone away.”
“I’m to bed,” Kyuhyun said as he slowly rose to his feet, “I’m too tired to even eat.”
“I’ll escort the prince,” Sungmin said as he threw one more glance at Taeyeon before leaving with the second prince.
“Did I do this, Kangin?” Eeteuk asked quiely, “Did I push her to this?”
“No, but blaming everyone else isn’t the answer,” Kangin said bluntly as he gently laid the princess back onto the marble floor; “Taeyeon will be fine. As Prince Kyuhyun said, she’s just exhausted. All that pressure was just building up inside; it’s good she’s had the release.”
“What’s the meaning of the night flowers, Kangin?” Eeteuk asked tentatively, staring down helplessly at his unconscious sister; “I know there’s more meaning to them, but no one will tell me… I need to do… something – anything – to make this right again… would having the flowers in here help her heal? Will they make her happier or sadder? I think it is both.”
Kangin sighed heavily as he reached out and brushed back the bangs from the princess’s forehead, “It is both. She confided in me, Eeteuk, but it’s so hard not to tell you because I love you so much.”
“Then, don’t tell me,” Eeteuk said softly, reaching out, his fingers brushing the mage’s shaved head; “I won’t be upset with you for it. I don’t like you suffering or struggling because of me… not after everything I’ve already done. If you were right… if I was her anchor… then I have failed her,”
“No one is perfect,” Kangin replied softly,
“I failed you, too,” Eeteuk reminded, the turmoil evident in his soft brown eyes,
“I let you fail me,” Kangin argued, “I should have fought harder for you. I should have damned the consequences and forced you to see me, to talk to me. Had I fought with everything I had, Eeteuk, no one would have stopped me. You failed me, but I failed us.”
Kangin grabbed the king’s hand before he could pull it away. He brought the king’s fingertips to his lips, staring up at him, his face still unreadable as before, but his silver eyes filled with warmth; “We’re past that, now… we were both young and ignorant. Continuing to dwell on it will only make the suffering last longer.”
“I have no excuses for failing my sister,” Eeteuk practically choked on his words,
“Magic is still new to Taeyeon and she hasn’t practiced it in weeks,” Kangin reminded kindly; “Besides, we don’t know for sure who or what her anchor is.”
“Could her anchor be related to the night flowers?” Eeteuk asked,
Kangin hesitated, before saying regretfully, “Perhaps… I can’t say more.”
“Please tell me again, Kangin… tell me again that she’ll be okay,” Eeteuk’s voice had dropped to a whisper, his voice catching as tears veiled his light brown eyes; “If she weren’t okay… if I lost even just a piece of her… if I thought for even a moment her soul was… I wouldn’t survive it, Kangin… it’s the one thing I would never be able to survive.”
Kangin turned the king’s hand, brushing a kiss to his knuckles. He squeezed the long, slender fingers once before releasing them; “She will be okay.”
Eeteuk swallowed hard as he turned his head away. Kangin watched as the young king slowly reined in his tumultuous emotions, sealed up and strengthen his composure. When Eeteuk finally looked back at him, the calm and collected mask was back in place on the king’s face. He nodded once as if there had been something needing his approval. Without another word, but with a swift glance to his sister, Eeteuk turned and left, the double doors shutting behind him with an echoing snap.
Kangin sighed heavily as he turned his attention back to the princess. He crossed his legs as he sat beside her and crossed his arms over his chest. He willed the large ballroom to be thrown into darkness, the only light coming from the pale sunshine from outside. Bowing his head until his chin rested against his chest, he murmured,
“You’ll forgive me, Princess, for napping before I attend to you. You’ll be out awhile, yet.”
“How are you feeling, Father?”
“As if I’ve been abandoned to my grave,” he muttered from within the safety of his large, four-poster bed; “First my baby boy and then the firstborn – both leaving me as I lie here in bed coughing up every organ within my body. One goes off to a kingdom where, if his identity is realized, his life may be threatened. The other goes off to the complete opposite side of the kingdom probably trampling about in mud and building fences for the farmers.”
“You’ve become dramatic since I left,” Siwon commented dryly as he slowly lowered himself to the chair by his father’s bed.
It had been a difficult decision to leave after Kyuhyun had left with Kangin. He needed to keep himself occupied, but try as he might, even his mind couldn’t keep to the tasks he did in his father’s stead. More often than not, his eyes often wandered from whatever tome was open before him, slowly casting about the room as if expecting to find a certain princess lounging there, a small smile ready for him. Even during the boring, albeit important, meetings with the advisors couldn’t keep his attention (granted, that wasn’t new, considering all of the advisors had a horrible tendency to drone monotonously).
He tried to keep his body occupied, but even the once-soothing task of gardening failed him. He was sure the head gardener thought he had died and gone to heaven when Siwon has approached him to tend the maze. That fiasco went so far that Siwon had to practically bodily stop the head butler from running off to find some kind of healer, especially since Kangin had disappeared. Siwon nearly beheaded the man for quietly suggesting to a footman to try and find a mage from the Light Kingdom.
Then, the first prince realized he couldn’t stay within the common rooms of the castle without being reminded of the damn princess. He avoided the dining room like the plague, did his work in the library instead of the study and, whenever he even glimpsed the maze, he ordered whatever window or door he was standing before to be boarded up. Of course, not a half hour later, the boards would be taken down after the king would hear his son’s ridiculous orders.
Siwon knew he was slowly going insane with agitation, frustration and anger. He held the anger close, wrapped it around him to protect him from the sadness from getting too close. In the back of his mind, he was even aware that guilt haunted nearby in the periphery, waiting for his guard to waver or fall before attacking.
The prince also knew the entire staff was on edge, never knowing what mood he was in. Before, when he was emotionless – except for the times he was with his brother or father – the staff knew what to do to help keep the castle running smoothly. Now that the prince apparently had some festering emotions, all the servants were anxious for whatever commands would be dealt; especially if they were orders they knew the king would reverse soon afterwards.
Siwon was on edge. He felt as if the tension within him was coiling tighter and tighter and, when it released, no one would be saved from whatever manifestation his emotions took. Even though his emotions weren’t as volatile as his brother’s and his magic not even coming close to Kyuhyun’s, he knew his magic would set out to destroy, much like anytime he caused a storm.
It was with these thoughts in mind that Siwon, three weeks earlier, had entered his father’s room and succinctly and systematically explained why he was leaving for one of the country estates. Siwon knew, as he stood there with his hands clasped behind his back in a sign of pure respect to the man who was both father and king, his father was sorely tempted to guilt him into not leaving. Siwon knew his father’s odd quirks and he had seen the flash of mischievous in those aged, but sparkling eyes. However, his father had wished him well and bid him goodbye; of course, after threatening Siwon to ensure the heir did not get himself killed.
Now, after four weeks away from castle and king, Siwon sat beside his father’s bed, realizing that, for the first time, part of his mind was not completely absorbed in his father’s well-being. He realized it was selfish, but while he was away, he had thrown himself completely – mind, body and soul – into whatever labouring tasks he could, regardless of the shock and awe the people responded with.
He narrowed his eyes, peering into the dimness of his father’s bed, “Are you even still ill? You haven’t coughed once since I’ve come into the room.”
“I’m still sick, but I’ve been coughing less. Makes me wonder if I’m allergic to my own sons,” the king stated, his serious tone edged with a hint of amusement.
“I do hope Kyuhyun returns soon,” Siwon mused in a dry tone, “Your humour seems to know no bounds when he doesn’t visit you for even a day. I dread to wonder what antics have happened over the five weeks he’s been gone.”
“I have to keep myself entertained, don’t I?” The king questioned, “It’s not like I can have the head butler in here telling me tales to keep my mind invested in between reading the legers and accounts to me. No, the most entertainment I’ve had these past few weeks has been seeing the staff dissuade the advisors from even coming to my room.”
“They dared?” Siwon raised a thick eyebrow,
“I think he was pushed in by the others,” The king relented, “But the head gardener came in here, swinging a sharp pair of shearing scissors, threatening the advisors to leave me be.”
“What is the gardener doing all the way over here?” Siwon questioned,
“What do you expect when you tell the entire damn staff to make sure I don’t die while you’re gone,” his father exclaimed, the effort sending him into a coughing fit.
Siwon, however, was surprised that the coughing was less pronounced and the attack itself did not last as long as usual. For the first time since his father became ill, he felt hope lightening whatever was left of his heart.
“You’ve been gone for three weeks. Why has it begun to rain again now that you’re back?” His father questioned, his voice like a bark now, strength behind his tone rather than weakness as what would usually happen after a coughing fit;
“Father, if I could solve that,” the prince flicked a hand in the direction of the nearest window; “Then, I would certainly stop it, wouldn’t I? I don’t like destroying the gardens.”
“Well, they certainly don’t hold top priority with you anymore,” his father snorted, settling back against his stack of pillows; “You’ve been gone for three weeks, but it’s been four weeks now that the head gardener and the other gardeners have been tending to your maze and the terrace flowers.”
Siwon shrugged his broad shoulders, “It was time to put idle things away. I should be more focused on my duties, especially if I’m to assume the throne one day. Although, I gladly wonder if perhaps that will be postponed considering your constitution seems to be getting better.”
“Idle things? You call something that kept you sane an idle thing?” His father’s tone was incredulous, “Your brother, who I questioned often as being half insane the way he flitted about and was volatile and unpredictable, admired the way gardening gave you peace. He often bemoaned the fact that he hadn’t found something with which he could be preoccupied. You call that idle?” His father shook his head, “Siwon, I did not raise you to be so willfully ungrateful.”
“What do you expect me to say, Father? Gardening doesn’t bring me peace anymore. My flowers, my maze – none of it holds the same appeal it once did,” Siwon said, his voice taking a bitter, angry edge; “I take ten steps into the maze before turning back around because I’m already bored. I try to tend to the terrace flowers before I call for one of the gardeners because it’s not worth my time anymore. Things change, people change and it just so happens that’s what happened to me. The back fields could burn for all I care!”
When his father remained silent, Siwon inhaled sharply,
“Father, I didn’t… not towards Mother, I –”
The king waved a hand as if waving away his son’s stammered words; “Please credit me with knowing you better than that, Siwon. I know you would never disrespect your mother and certainly not her death. You’re angry and you’re upset and you have been for quite some time now. The intensity of these feelings is only reflected and emphasized by the fact that the gardens could be destroyed and you wouldn’t care.”
“You make me sound ruthless,” Siwon stated quietly,
“No, you’re just someone who is hurting, has been hurting since a particular princess left and you’re too stubborn to do the one thing that will end all this pain,” his father replied, his tone quiet but warm, comforting Siwon as if he were a child and his father were wrapping him in a blanket;
“Marry one of the consorts?” Siwon suggested lightly,
“With your tone, I have to guess sometimes whether you’re being intentionally stupid or if you’re teasing your father,” the king softly growled,
Siwon sighed heavily, turning his head to look out the window, the skies black despite the fact it was noon; “Why is it so hard to admit one was wrong?”
“Because otherwise, people would be wrong all the time, intentionally, without having to fear consequences,” his father replied; “And, because people wouldn’t be able to learn from their mistakes. So, Siwon, are you wrong? I’ve only been hearing bits and pieces.”
“At first, I didn’t think so. I thought I was so completely in the right that my anger… my actions and words were completely justified,” Siwon answered; “But the more time I spent alone… the more time I had to ruminate on these damn memories, I began to realize that the pieces just didn’t fit together, that I was missing some vital piece of information and, because of that one piece, I couldn’t see or accept the whole picture. I couldn’t dismiss little things despite knowing more, knowing better of her.”
“At least, now, you’re admitting this has to do with the princess,” His father commented lightly, “Before I had to trick you into acknowledging her existence.”
“Since the moment Kangin carried her into the study… it has always been about her,” Siwon said quietly, firmly.
“Hmm… and, so, what will you do?” His father prompted, “Will you go after her?”
“She must hate me now,”
“Win her back.”
“Have you forgotten? She has a fiancé… at least, I’m beginning to wonder if that was just a façade…”
“Fight for her.”
“But, he’s the better man,” Siwon replied, “As much as I hate to admit it, in the end, I want her happy… I want her to have the best in every aspect in her life. The other man can protect her better, knows her better… damn it, he probably even loves her better than I ever did; look at how I treated her!”
“You’ll never know unless you try,” His father replied, shrugging his broad shoulders; “If I gave up so easily, I might never have convinced your mother to give me a chance.”
“For all I know, they could be married by now,” Siwon replied, his voice impossibly soft; “It’s been weeks since we heard talk of a wedding because they have been touring the kingdom together. They could already be married and moved to an estate of their own. They could…”
Siwon instinctively lowered his head. He slouched forward in the chair to press the heels of his palms against the hot sting of tears in his eyes, propping his elbows on his thighs. He remembered when he had had seen the pair kiss in his garden - his garden! – and recalled the roiling, dark emotions that quickly and effectively captured him. He remembered the second kiss he had witnessed when the couple had been sitting on the seat of a bay window. That had precipitated to him lashing out at the princess with all the anger and hurt in his heart. Just the thought of her being with another person, loving another person, made him physically ache and made his heart pump painfully.
“You’ll never know unless you go,” His father prompted again, “And if you continue to wait around here for an answer, then you’re giving her more time to forget about you, more time for her to move on and marry this mage.”
“I’ve already felt so much pain because of her and as each day passes, it seems as if the pain has been for naught but a stupid lie… if I were to pursue her and accept her wholly into my life… she could destroy me, Father,” Siwon’s voice was a bare whisper; “She would be able to hurt me like no one else and I would not survive it… not from her of all people.”
“I told you before, Siwon, that life is all about the risks,” his father said gently, his expression softening with affection and concern for his eldest child; “When I first began to pursue your mother, I thought it all a grand challenge. However, as time passed and she still had no emotional reaction to me… it became harder and harder to confront her.”
“What made you decide to do it?” Siwon asked, practically begging as he looked up, not caring that tears rolled down his cheeks; “What made you continue to go back to Mother, day after day, even though she never seemed to respond to you?”
“I told myself that each time would be the last, but, after she walked away from me – every time – all I could think to myself was ‘just one more time’,” his father answered, “A part of me felt foolish and weak for running after her each time she rejected me, but I found it to be a growing importance to try and give her back some emotion. Before I would go up to your mother and pester her with idle conversation – pointless questions and chatter just to hear her voice, to have her attention – I would watch her training from afar. She was truly magnificent and it’s a shame you and Kyuhyun have never seen her in such glory.
“She would be in her mage robes and her arms would move in graceful arches, her fingers stuck together and palms flat as she commanded large whirls of water in the air. Her feet would slide and step, tracing patterns in the grass as if she danced with the water,” his father’s tone grew warm and wistful; “Watching her gave me courage, somehow… made me believe that, if I succeeded, then she could be more than my queen. She would protect our kingdom and family. One of the reasons why I let her go fight the fire in the back fields on her own, Siwon, is because I believed in her, because I knew how strong she was. If I had to face an army and could only choose one person to protect me, the choice would always have been your mother.”
“But, I don’t have those overwhelming feelings for the princess,” Siwon said, “How many times have I given up on her? No, Father… what happened with you and Mother is different from this. I don’t love her like you loved Mother.”
“And why should you? She was only here, what, a week? Siwon, I pursued your mother for years,” his father stressed, “What your mother and I had had been built over that time. You’ve known the princess a week, but the feelings I see in you have never been there before, regardless of the countless number of consorts thrown your way. You didn’t even realize that you confessed to loving her, it’s become such a natural part of you.”
“Or, it’s not love.”
His father sighed heavily; “But, you won’t know unless you go to her and at least attempt to reconcile. Love is different for each person; it takes a different course for each person. What you feel for the princess may very well be love. You cannot compare the love I shared with your mother to what you feel, son. It would be like comparing a seed to a flower in full bloom. They are in different stages, but it doesn’t mean that the seedling cannot grow into a beautiful flower. You just need to be willing to try and make it grow.”
Siwon looked away, not even bothering to be subtle about wiping away his tears. “You had to use a flower analogy, didn’t you?” He asked quietly, dryly.
However, his father knew this to be rhetorical and they fell into a comfortable silence.
“How badly is my brother going to forbid me from ever using magic again?”
Kangin opened his eyes and looked down to see Taeyeon staring up at the ballroom ceiling.
“He’ll leave you alone,” He insisted; “He’s just worried about you. As am I, Taeyeon. Are you okay?”
“Yeah and, Kyuhyun was okay, but I have a feeling that’s because he was protecting himself,” Taeyeon spoke quietly, “I could have done some serious damage and all I was preoccupied with was my own damn need to vent.” She laughed bitterly; “I haven’t changed at all, I was just playing at being better, more mature.”
“Are you done feeling sorry for yourself?” Kangin asked simply; “I understand why you’re upset and, I can even sympathize, but you need to get on with your life.”
“I am,” Taeyeon stated, “That’s what this was all about. I needed just a moment before I moved on; a moment to just process everything that’s happened the past seven weeks. Then, I can put it behind me… forget… finally. It’s all so overwhelming.”
“Sometimes forgetting doesn’t help,” Kangin advised softly; “Yes, you need to move on, but what’s happened is a part of you, made you who you are… even what happened with Siwon.”
“I know that, but if I put it behind me… if I try to forget, then, I won’t hurt so much,” Taeyeon admitted, allowing her eyelids to slowly close, “Kangin, you said you sympathize… does it ever stop hurting? Does it at least start hurting less?”
“Honestly?” Kangin prompted,
“No,” Kangin answered; “People who say that it ever hurts less or stops hurting never had to get over someone they …loved.”
“Why do I have a feeling you were going to say someone they were destined for?” Taeyeon asked tentatively,
“Because I wanted you to never give up… to keep hope,” Kangin replied,
“I don’t need hope, Kangin. I need reality, I need honesty,” Taeyeon said; “Being sheltered has only led to crippling me.”
“Being sheltered has become a crutch for you, but it protected you from the pretenders of the world… has protected you from the dangers outside the castle walls,” Kangin reminded, “I will give you the honesty you want, Taeyeon. I will always be honest with you. I never stopped hurting until I was able to talk to your brother again… until we made things right between us.”
“I’ll be honest with you, too, Kangin. I haven’t been happy for a long time. I’ve had moments of happiness, particularly when Sungmin came to court and became my friend, but away from him or when I’m alone, I’m thrown back into the sadness of the reality that my parents were murdered and I will never see them again,” Taeyeon admitted. Her voice broke when she added, “It’s getting harder to remember them. If I don’t have a portrait in front of me, I close my eyes and conjuring their faces is just as hard as learning to control my magic was. When I dream, I don’t even hear their voices anymore…”
“The sadness hasn’t faded?” Kangin asked
“The only time I’ve forgotten the sadness… the darkness… the only time I’ve forgotten was when I was with Siwon,” she sat up slowly, curling her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs; “He was more than a passing fancy… he was more than the first male to catch my eye…”
“He was able to sympathize with your station,” Kangin prompted,
“That’s how it began, but when we spoke, it was more than just court life and intrigue… when we were together, we weren’t Princess Taeyeon and Prince Siwon, we just were,” she explained, her voice impossibly soft; “He became my friend… my confidante.”
“Like Sungmin?” Kangin asked,
Taeyeon shook her head, “More… he became my sanctuary. Even when he wasn’t beside me, just knowing he was there in my life made me happy. And, now…”
“You finally found the peace you were looking for,” Kangin said gently, reaching out and squeezing her shoulder comfortingly; “You clung to your brother as the only thing bridging your past to your present; as the last piece of your parents you had… you devoted yourself to Sungmin, someone who befriended you and finally reminded you what it was like to be happy away from your brother. But, it was Siwon who was able to banish the dark from your life.”
Taeyeon nodded, swiping away the sudden onslaught of tears with her palm, “And, now, he’s gone…” She self-mockingly laughed; “How pathetic I must be to cry so much over a boy. I truly must be going half mad for falling for the first guy I meet who isn’t Sungmin… thinking such ultimatums about him… acting like my whole world is ending just because he hates… he sent me away.”
“No, Taeyeon, anyone who’s been in love feels as you do. I know that’s how I felt during my years away from your brother,” Kangin said, slowly dropping his hand from her shoulder, watching her peculiarly,
“I appreciate the comfort, Kangin, but even I can hear how weak I sound,” Taeyeon laughed bitterly, “I get away from the castle walls for a few days and I think I can take on the world… I come back and practically demand my brother let me become a liaison. I talk to the people about unity and trust, solidarity with our brethren of the Dark Kingdom… how presumptuous I have been when I can’t even stand on my own two feet!”
She laughed again and Kangin got to his knees, his hand clasping her arm firmly, “Taeyeon, look at me!”
Taeyeon looked up at him with confusion and sadness in her bright, silver eyes.
Kangin’s eyes widened, shaking her, “Taeyeon, snap out of it!”
“Snap out of what!?” She questioned, trying to shake his grip off,
With his free hand, Kangin made a small wave in the air, forming a floating square of water, its surface perfect and smooth, “Look at your reflection.”
Reluctantly, Taeyeon did as she was told before her eyes widened and she gasped, her hands flying to her mouth; “My… my eyes.” Her gaze was wild as it connected with Kangin’s, “What’s happened? Why?”
Kangin grabbed at the water, effectively cancelling the spell, “You were growing manic,” he explained, his free hand cupping the side of her face as he peered down into her eyes, his own silver eyes searching, trying to find a hint of amber; “I thought I was imagining things earlier, but when we first came to the ballroom, I thought I heard laughter in the flames… you must have gone manic then, too.”
“I… I… I have to stop training,” the princess stammered, pulling away from his hold and scrambling to her feet, “I… I can control my magic better now. All I have to do is control my emotions again and I’ll be fine. I did it for years, I can do it again.”
“Taeyeon, what happened earlier was accumulation of all the years of controlling your emotions,” Kangin said as he slowly rose to his full height, “Your magic is intense and immense, Taeyeon. Even the slightest burst of emotion can set off a fire without your brother’s seal on your magic. You’re not like Kyuhyun whose emotions are so powerful they make his magic unpredictable. For you to be in complete control of your emotions without training, you would have to let go of all of your emotions.”
Laughter bubbled from her lips then. She shook her head in disbelief as she doubled over with laughter, holding her stomach as if it ached from the exertions; “It’s impossible! Everything! What’s the point of even trying anymore? And, I sure as hell can’t ask my brother to seal my magic again – that would be constantly draining him and I can’t go back a step – I do have some pride left… as unwarranted as it is.”
“Taeyeon,” Kangin took a step towards her, alarmed to see wisps of white smoke beginning to ribbon around her extremities;
“Heck, who knows if his seal can even work on me! Or, maybe I’ll need both of your seals,” she laughed again even as trails of tears ran down her cheeks, “Maybe my magic isn’t meant to be sealed? Maybe there’s only so far I can go before…”
“Before!?” Kangin lunged towards her, his hands on her upper arms, shaking her as if trying to physically wipe the silver from her irises,
“Before it’s time to give up,” She said softly and, for a moment, Kangin believed she was pulling back from the edge.
Her laugh came shrill and loud then, echoing in the large ballroom. Kangin pulled her roughly against him, wrapping his arms around her as if he could protect from the ribbons of white that continued to wrap around her, closer and closer to her torso. He wasn’t sure how long they stood as thus before he realized her laughter had turned into loud, gasping sobs. Her body shook violently, her eyes pressed against his chest, wetting the silk thoroughly with her tears. His arms cocooned her protectively as she slipped her arms from between their torsos to slip then around him, hugging him back, burrowing closer to him as if seeking the warmth protection of his strong body.
“What’s happening to me, Kangin?” She asked between her sobs,
“You remember lesson one, Taeyeon… you need an anchor for your soul,” Kangin said softly,
“I LEFT HIM IN THE DARK KINGDOM!” Taeyeon exclaimed, abruptly pulling away from Kangin, flashing angry, silver eyes at him, but Kangin knew the anger was self-directed.
He pulled her back into his arms, worried she was closer to the edge than he had previously presumed, worried she would tumble over at any moment.
“We’ll figure something out,” Kangin promised, slowly turning them around so he could look at the doors. He had heard the subtle opening of one of the double doors. Unsurprised, he found the king standing in the doorway, light brown eyes filled with concern. “I need to do some research in the library and meditate to recall my own training as a mage, but we’ll figure something out… I don’t want to leave you alone, however.”
“My brother,” Taeyeon cried against his chest, “I… I want my brother.”
Kangin saw the surprise in Eeteuk’s face as the king slowly walked closer,
“You sure? You don’t want Sungmin?” Kangin asked, voicing the worries he knew were in Eeteuk’s head,
She shook her head, “No… no… want Eeteuk. He’s the only one who’s ever seen me like this… the only one who knows me like this…”
“I know how to pull her back from the edge,” Eeteuk explained quietly when reached them.
Instinctively, without a single doubt, Taeyeon immediately turned away from Kangin and launched herself at her brother, hugging him tightly as if he were the only thing keeping her sane.
“Let’s go, Taeyeon, okay?” Eeteuk prompted softly,
“Flowers?” She raised her head from his shoulder, looking up at him desperately, “Flowers?”
He nodded, tucking her to his side, his arm wrapped around her shoulders, “Yes, just like last time.”
She nodded against his shoulder, closing her eyes against the hot sting of tears, trusting her brother to lead her safely.
“Eeteuk?” Kangin looked at him worriedly,
“I’ll bring her back from the edge,” Eeteuk insisted, “Go research and meditate, I’ll keep her from the edge.”
“Where will you go?” Kangin asked, glancing at the princess’ face and wishing he could see if her eyes were still silver.
“To the flowers,” Eeteuk said simply as he turned her towards the glass wall of the ballroom.
Kangin watched as the king led his sister to a set of glass doors hidden amongst the floor-to-ceiling windows and escape to the outside. Then, he turned on his heel and ran straight for the library. He had a soul to save.