(Chapter 18 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 18: Heart of Darkness
In the darkness, Eeteuk saw the First Dark Prince’s eyes widen in surprise. The fireplace came to life then, flames bursting forth, casting the spacious room with a dim, warm glow. Immediately he saw the familiar face of the little boy he once knew.
Suddenly, the king’s eyes narrowed, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I came to see the princess,” Siwon admitted, confusion on his face and still not knowing who was before him. He glanced to the corner of his eye towards the princess, “When I came here, there was someone already in here with her.”
Eeteuk blinked, startled, “Sungmin?”
Something akin to pain flashed through the prince’s face before it was replaced with anger. He shook his head, “No, it looked like he tried to stab her and when I pulled him away, a knife dropped. I fought with him, but he pulled out another knife and tried to slash me. He left before I could do anything… I would have chased after him, but I didn’t want to leave the princess.”
“How do we know you’re not the one who tried to attack the princess!?” The guard questioned, reminding Eeteuk that a sword was still pressed against the prince’s neck,
“Teuk?” A soft voice pierced through the silence.
Eeteuk was immediately at his sister’s side, “Tae? Don’t!” He caught her as she struggled to sit up, falling almost immediately. “Why did I never realize how incredibly stubborn you are!?”
“What’s… going on?” She asked softly, leaning heavily against her brother. She looked over his shoulder and stiffened immediately, “Siwon!”
“Taeyeon, someone tried to kill you… you have no recollection?” Eeteuk asked, raising a hand to her forehead,
“The closest I’ve been to waking up was just now,” Taeyeon replied, “I feel like I’ve been sleeping for days.”
“Just one,” Eeteuk said as he helped her back down to the bed, “Sometimes I wish I could lock you up in the nursery… I lose ten years off my life every time you scare me like this, Tae.”
“I have to keep you on your toes somehow,” she smiled weakly at her brother, forcing herself to ignore the prince in the room.
“Kangin said you were in danger,” Eeteuk said seriously, “And Siwon said someone was here when he arrived.”
Despite the princess ignoring his gaze, Siwon repeated what he had told the king and guard.
Noticing that her brother was looking at the prince peculiarly, Taeyeon stated, “I believe him. If he says something, it’s always the truth… or, at least what he believes is the truth.”
“How did you get here?” Eeteuk looked back at Siwon,
“I was walking the perimeter of the grounds considering whether or not I should wait until the morning, but I ran into Sungmin and my brother in the back fields practicing,” Siwon explained, “They let me in through the barriers protecting the castle.”
“And they told you where to find my sister?” Eeteuk demanded,
Siwon’s eyes widened ever so slightly, giving away the fact that he hadn’t known who was interrogating him. Almost immediately, his expression was schooled once more, “No, Your Majesty, I found her on my own.” At the raised brow the king sent his way, he added, “I was able to sense her magic and I followed it to her room.”
“Not… possible,” Taeyeon said quietly, looking at her brother rather than Siwon,
“It’s true,” Siwon said, trying to move towards her. He hissed when the sting of the blade cut into his skin and it was only Taeyeon’s cry of distress that cleared his mind. He stared at her, feeling satisfaction that she was finally – finally! – looking at him. “I came directly to you because I could sense your magic.”
She shook her head weakly, her hand gripping her brother’s arm, “Not… possible.”
“Why? Because I’m not a mage?” Siwon questioned, his thick eyebrows narrowing, “I may not be like Kangin or Sungmin, but I can sense large amounts of magic and Kangin has said more than once that yours is the largest he’s ever encountered.”
Eeteuk felt the weak grip of his sister’s hand, knew she was trying to grab him harder, silently begging for help. He turned so that he was facing the other three in the room, “She is not questioning your capabilities,” Eeteuk insisted as he gently pried his sister’s hand from his arm; “She means it’s not possible for you to sense her magic because she has almost no magic at all right now.”
“I… I… how is that possible?” Siwon questioned,
“You’re his anchor,” Eeteuk said, then, reaching out to brush the strands of hair from her eyes,
“What?” Siwon and Taeyeon said in unison, the latter in a softer, weaker tone.
“You’re his anchor,” Eeteuk repeated, “He was able to find you because his soul was seeking you. Despite your lack of magic, his soul will always be able to find you so long as you’re his anchor.” He stood up from the bed, placing his hand on the guard’s arm to lower the sword from Siwon’s neck, “So long as my sister is his anchor, she will be safe with him.”
“Sire, are you sure?” The guard glanced warily at the Dark Prince,
Eeteuk stared directly at Siwon before nodding, “Yes, I’m sure.” He turned his attention to the guard, “I need you to gather the other guards, the ones who aren’t on the battlements. Search the castle from top to bottom; we still have an intruder somewhere who tried to kill the princess.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed, “If they dare remain within these walls, we’ll find them.”
“I want you to instruct the other guards, but afterwards, I want you to return here with the housekeeper. She will escort our guest to a room and you will be posted outside this door,” Eeteuk commanded, “One of the other guards will check on you every hour. Should you get tired, they are to send for me or Sungmin. Do you understand? You do not leave your post unless the Lesser Mage of Light or I replace you. I am taking no chances with my sister’s life.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” the guard nodded, “I will escort you back to your rooms on my way downstairs.”
Eeteuk turned his attention to his sister, “Do you want him to stay here until he can be escorted to a room? Tell me now, Taeyeon, because I can make him wait outside.”
“You really shouldn’t say things like that to me, Teuk,” Taeyeon said softly, “Giving me options to run away even though I’m sure both you and I are tired of me taking the easy way out.”
“So long as the easy way out doesn’t kill you,” Eeteuk replied quietly, his tone somber, “I’ll visit with you in the morning.” Turning his attention to the prince, his light brown eyes grew deadly, “If you do anything to upset my sister in any way, I will personally administer retribution.”
Eeteuk turned and headed towards the door, the guard at his side.
Once back at his door, Eeteuk glanced at the guard, “As always, there are certain things no one else need know.”
“I understand, Sire,” the guard bowed slightly,
“This includes the identity of our guest. Am I right to assume you know who he is?” Eeteuk questioned,
“The moment you said his name, Your Majesty,” the guard confirmed,
Eeteuk nodded, “I’m putting a lot of trust in you and, I know it can be a burden, but do not disappoint me.”
“Never, Sire,” the guard replied.
Eeteuk slipped into his room, closing the door firmly behind him. The moment the lock was in place, Eeteuk ran for the bed, lunging for the Dark Mage’s side.
“Kangin, speak to me, please,” Eeteuk gently shook his shoulder,
The Dark Mage, who was lying flat on his back, opened his eyes, “I was sleeping.”
“What the hell happened?” Eeteuk questioned and, then, his hand rose to his mouth as if physically attempting to stop his gasp, “You took on her pain didn’t you? They tried to kill her and you received the full blow!”
With a wave of his hand, the fireplace and all the candles in the room lit with bright blazes. He gasped again, noticing the remnants of a stab wound over Kangin’s heart already healing.
“You could have died!” Eeteuk yelled as his fingers gently brushed over the jagged line, telling him that the knife had been twisted as it had entered,
“Better me than her,” Kangin said, immediately removing the king’s hand once he began to feel the heat of healing magic,
“Don’t say that!” Eeteuk cried, “Don’t you dare say that! I’m not choosing my sister over you and I’m not choosing you over my sister, so don’t say stupid things like that! Damn it, don’t do stupid things like this!”
Kangin reached up and brushed away the tears beginning to trickle down the king’s face, “The royal family must be protected at all costs.”
“That’s a stupid rule and I won’t have you doing that…” Eeteuk pulled back then, both hands clapped over his mouth and his light brown eyes widened in horror, “No… no, please don’t tell me…”
“Eeteuk,” Kangin said tentatively as he slowly pushed himself up, wincing at the pulling pain in his chest, the tissue and muscles incredibly tender despite his healing magic.
“Don’t sit up!” Eeteuk gently pushed Kangin back to the bed and, then, cradled the younger man’s face with both his hands; “Please, Kangin… please tell me you haven’t been using the same protection spell on me all these years.” His tears fell onto Kangin’s face as he continued to beg, “Please… please tell me you didn’t do the same thing for me.”
“How can I do anything less?” Kangin asked simply as he pulled Eeteuk to lie at his side,
“That means every attempt… it wasn’t because the assassins couldn’t do their job, it’s because –”
Kangin pressed his fingers to the king’s lips, “Shh… just talking about it is going to make you hurt more, Eeteuk. What’s done is done and, if given a choice, I would do it all over again. Besides, considering you’re a king, there weren’t as many attempts to kill you as I thought there would be.”
The Dark Mage grew silent then, when he realized that the king was being ravaged by silent sobs shaking his slender frame. He brought Eeteuk closer against his side, turning towards him just enough to kiss his forehead.
“I did what I had to do, Eeteuk,” Kangin said quietly, his lips against his skin; “Despite how we parted, there was no way I was going to completely leave you.” He hugged him tighter, “I would never have been able to leave you unless I knew I could protect you. I would have fought harder to get back to you during the war if I didn’t have my own protections surrounding you.”
Eeteuk’s cries became audible at that point.
“And, after meeting Taeyeon again, seeing the little princess all grown up… I came to love her almost immediately even if I did not recognize the feeling,” Kangin continued, his hand slowly stroking the older man’s back in comfort; “I had to give her the same protection I afforded you, not because she was your precious person, but because she became precious to me, also.
“I’m a stubborn person, Eeteuk and, despite these past weeks, you’ll come to realize I’m very difficult to live with. I like things my way and have lived alone for so long I may forget I need to share and be considerate. I am always willing to compromise, but only if given reason to do so. I will always respect your opinion, although there will be times I’ll forget to ask for it. But, there are certain things I will not compromise on and one of those things is your safety,” Kangin stated; “I’m not so selfless that I’ll protect you from anything that can hurt you, but if there is purpose, malice or ill intent behind the injury, you will never feel it and the same goes for Taeyeon.”
“I hope they capture whoever it was that tried to kill her,” Eeteuk said quietly, deadly, “If I ever get my hands on them…”
“You’re the king, Eeteuk… you just have to be a good king,” Kangin stated simply, calmly,
“I know… and that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t kill everyone who ever suggested I lock up my sister,” Eeteuk hissed, “No, Kangin… I know how to remain just despite my emotions, but I don’t have to like it and I can be ruthless in private.”
“Indeed, you can,” Kangin murmured, “Let us sleep now… it’s been an eventful evening and I need to sleep if I am to do another healing session with your sister.”
“She woke up tonight,” Eeteuk said, his tone lighter and his body relaxed now, the relief evident in his voice; “Once she gets her strength back, I’m going to strangle my damn sister.”
“How is she?” Kangin asked,
“She’s very weak. I told her I’d come back in the morning and I’m keeping constant guarding on her,” Eeteuk explained, “And… Siwon is with her.”
“And you left him with her!?” Kangin questioned incredulously, “Did you hit your head at some point this evening? Why would you do that to her!?”
“She wanted to talk to him,” Eeteuk answered. He was silent a moment before explaining, “The entire time I was there, I kept thinking to myself if you and I were in their situation, what would I do? Despite all the pain between us, I would want every chance I could get to talk to you again. Besides, he came all this way to see her… See, I can be just.”
“You left him with your sister in her bedroom?” Kangin stated slowly,
“I didn’t say I didn’t threaten him,” Eeteuk replied lightly, “Besides, I can still hit him in the morning for making my sister cry.”
“Even if Taeyeon is partially to fault?” Kangin prompted,
“Yes. I don’t have to be rational when I’m playing the brother,” Eeteuk said, settling against the Dark Mage.
Silence fell between them and, finally, Eeteuk fell asleep, his hand spread over the healing wound over Kangin’s heart.
“Why are you so weak?” Siwon asked the moment the door closed behind the king and guard.
It was ridiculous how his heart raced faster now than it did with a sword pressed against his neck. He was sure his palms began to sweat the moment he realized he was being left alone with the Princess of Light. He rubbed his palms against his slacks as surreptitiously as possible.
“Because I almost died today,” Taeyeon said weakly, turning her head on her pillow so that she faced towards the fireplace and away from him.
Siwon grew silent, having to remind himself to not to go to her side; to remain away from her. The worse thing he could ever feel would be her recoil if he tried to hold her. He fisted his hands to further stop himself from even trying to reach out to her. When he spoke again, he was his old self again: controlled, serious and expressionless. Unlike his old self, however, he was not emotionless.
“How did you almost die today?” Siwon asked,
Taeyeon had to look away from him. She couldn’t look into his eyes and see his anger and hatred. Or, worse, she couldn’t see his apathy. The possibility that he could be indifferent to her hurt Taeyeon more than she thought it ever could. She had been so sure that she would have been able to move on, to forget about the Dark Prince and the week she spent by his side. Despite her family and friends with her, despite Sungmin being at her side almost every day since they left the Dark Kingdom, Taeyeon still felt lonely without him. She missed him constantly.
“I tried to use up all my magic,” Taeyeon answered, closing her eyes, quickly becoming as emotionally exhausted as she was physically.
“What the hell is wrong with you!?” Siwon demanded, his heart arresting at the thought of her using up her magic.
He knew what it took to get rid of one’s magic. He remembered the icy coldness that passed through him when he found out his brother’s research to get rid of his own magic. The thought that Taeyeon had attempted such a thing made his blood turn to ice.
Taeyeon flinched at his cutting tone, but remained silent. She could guess what he was going to say, indeed, she was surprised Eeteuk hadn’t scolded her the moment she had woken up. However, the thought that she had disappointed Siwon brought pain all the same. Beneath the sheets, she fisted her hands, her nails digging into her palms as she willed herself not to cry. She had shown weakness before the Dark Prince so many times already. She would show him she could be strong. She would show him that she could live without him even if she knew she died just a little more every day they were apart.
“Why would you… !? No… no, I can guess why you would,” Siwon’s voice was like a hiss through his clenched teeth.
He pushed away from the wall, needing to pace rather than fall at her side again. He had clung too easily to her in the past. Perhaps that was why she lied to him, believing he was too weak to accept the truth. He would show her that he could be reliable, that she had him to be strong for the both of them. He wouldn’t fail her again.
“Did you even know what would happen if you tried that!?” Siwon demanded, swinging back to face her; “Did you know you could die!?”
“No, I did not,” Taeyeon replied quietly, surprised at how calmly she was able to speak; “I didn’t have long to research, so, when I found a way, I just did it. My first concern was protecting the people.”
“Your first concern should have been yourself!” Siwon exclaimed angrily, “You always do this! You never stop to consider the danger to yourself!” He slammed a fist against a post at the foot of the bed, “Damn it, Taeyeon!”
Taeyeon didn’t reply – couldn’t reply. She was wholly focused on keeping her emotions under control. She felt relief in knowing that her magic was too depleted to give away her real reaction.
“Damn it, say something!” Siwon commanded,
“You want me to apologize for what I did, but I refuse to apologize for trying to protect my family, friends and my people,” Taeyeon stated simply, using the last of her strength to speak.
“I want you to apologize for putting your life in danger!” Siwon countered,
The door suddenly opened, the guard from before bursting in brandishing his sword in the processes, “Princess, sorry to interrupt, but it’s time our guest to seek his room.”
Siwon opened his mouth to argue, then, stopped himself. In the dim light of the room, he could see that Taeyeon was impossibly paler than before.
“We’ll talk tomorrow, Princess,” Siwon stated quietly,
“Will we?” Taeyeon replied off-handedly.
Siwon gritted his teeth to stop himself from replying. He had to remember he was in her kingdom, her castle with her people. He had to play nicely and by her rules if he wanted to accomplish his reason for coming to the Light Kingdom in the first place. Remaining silent, he left the room and allowed the old, kind-looking maid to lead him away.
“Princess, are you okay? Do you need anything?” The guard asked,
“Just tired,” Taeyeon muttered. She waved her hand, but the fire refused to die. She sighed heavily, “Just extinguish the fire, please.”
“Of course, Princess.”
“She’s my best friend,” Sungmin said, pushing the Second Dark Prince against the door the moment they both were in the bedroom.
“I know that,” Kyuhyun said as he raised his hand to the back of the other’s neck, massaging it gently; “You don’t have to keep reminding me. Truly, Sungmin, if there’s one thing I’m completely sure about, it’s that you and her are just friends.”
“But, you’re still not sure about me,” Sungmin stated,
Kyuhyun sighed, “Yes, I have reservations. There, I admitted it, okay?”
“At least you’re being honest about it,” Sungmin replied, closing his eyes and leaning back against the younger man’s hand, “I’m going to go check up on Taeyeon. Did you notice how odd the guards were acting? Do you think it’s because we let Siwon into the castle?”
“I don’t know, but I can still sense my brother’s magic, so, at least we know he’s not dead,” Kyuhyun stated matter-of-factly; “Tell her that I’ll visit with her this evening before we go train, okay?”
Sungmin nodded, “Of course.” He moved away from him to allow Kyuhyun to move away from the door. He grabbed the prince’s arm, “If she’s awake, I’m going to talk to her, so, if I don’t return it may be that I fell asleep there.”
“I would have assumed as much,” Kyuhyun replied. He suddenly reversed the grip so that he was holding Sungmin’s arm, “Try not to kill her if she is awake. Besides the fact that she’s a princess – the princess – and your best friend, keep in mind she only did what she did to protect other people.”
Sungmin sighed heavily as he opened the door, “I’ll try my best to not kill her. But when she pulls stunts like this, it’s really hard to not strangle her.”
“You love her,” Kyuhyun reminded,
“Yeah, I do,” Sungmin glanced over his shoulder, “I love you, too.”
Kyuhyun waved him away, “Yes, yes, so you say. I’ll see you in the evening.”
“Thank goodness, you’re finally awake!” Sungmin stated from the doorway. He glanced over his shoulder at the guard, “Get some sleep. Our princess is demanding even when she’s sleeping, huh?”
“I would never risk my position by admitting to such a belief,” the guard replied with a stoic expression,
Sungmin grinned, clapping the other man on the shoulder, “Very well. Go seek your bed. I will remain with the princess until her brother wakes.”
The guard nodded, looking over Sungmin’s shoulder at the sleeping princess, “All of the staff are hoping for her quick recovery.”
“I’ll let her know,” Sungmin replied,
The guard stared at him directly, “When the princess was first engaged to you, we all had our doubts. We still worry since you are a magic-user, but, perhaps you are the best person to protect her.”
Sungmin raised a brow, “Protect her?”
“You don’t know? Someone tried to kill the princess last night!” The guard explained, “The guards have been searching all night but I was told about an hour ago that they still haven’t found the culprit or any evidence of where they could have gone.”
Sungmin’s eyes widened, “She can’t remain here!”
“I agree. Please, for the princess’ sake, I ask you to take her away again,” the guard stated, “There have been several attempts on the king’s life over the years, but there have been almost none on the princess and the other servants and I believe that is because you are her constant companion.”
“I will do everything I can to protect the princess,” Sungmin assured, “Thank you for protecting her in my absence.”
Sungmin slipped into the room, closing the door firmly behind him. Approaching the bed, his steel-blue eyes narrowed on the silently watching princess, “You cannot understand how relieved I feel to see you awake, Taeyeon.”
“I’m sorry to worry you, Sungmin,” Taeyeon insisted quietly,
“If I didn’t just finish training all night, I would strangle you, Taeyeon,” Sungmin muttered as he sat on the bed. He reached over, his fingers brushing her forehead, “Still no fever, fortunately.” He sighed heavily, his fingers trailing along her cheek as he let his hand drop away, “Did you awaken when the stranger tried to kill you?”
Taeyeon shook her head, “I woke up when Eeteuk and the guard were trying to kill Siwon.” She let her eyelids drop, adding absent-mindedly, “Yes, after you and Kyuhyun apparently let him into the castle.”
“He wasn’t the one who tried to kill you, was he?” Sungmin demanded,
Taeyeon opened her eyes, her amber eyes glaring sharply, “Don’t be ignorant, Sungmin. You know Siwon would never hurt me,” she looked away, “Emotionally, yes, but not physically.”
Sungmin sighed, “I suppose not… apparently they still haven’t found the intruder.”
“I could have died yesterday, Sungmin,” Taeyeon stated quietly,
“Yes, and I could kill you for risking your life like that,” Sungmin snapped,
“Sungmin,” she looked at him directly, her eyes bright with unshed tears, “I could have died last night…”
Sungmin immediately lay down beside her, pulling her into his embrace, the sheets between them; “Yes… you could have. In all honesty, Taeyeon, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner or more often over the years.”
“You’re not helping,” she cried against him, her small fist weakly hitting his chest,
“Well, we can’t be both emotional,” Sungmin said as he hugged her tighter, “What would be the use if we were both to cry?” He bowed his head, pressing his lips against the crown of her head, “Damn it, Taeyeon, to think I almost lost you again…”
“Why, Sungmin? Why would someone want to kill me?” Taeyeon questioned, burying her face against his shoulder, her tears soaking his robes, “What did I do wrong? Is it because of my magic? Is that it? Is it because I’m a magic-user? I should have listened to Teuk all these years… I shouldn’t have even tried. I –”
“Shh…” Sungmin stroked her head, pressing it against his shoulder, “You’re not the only magic-user in the castle, Taeyeon –”
“Yes, but even my brother hid the fact he –”
“There has never been an attempt on my life, Taeyeon,” Sungmin reminded gently, “They’ll avoid me, talk about me, but no one has ever tried to kill me. If there was an attempt on either of your or Eeteuk’s lives it was not because of magic use. Unfortunately, it’s because you’re the princess.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Sungmin… I haven’t done anything wrong,” Taeyeon murmured, “I know I didn’t think beyond myself for a long time, that I was selfish and self-absorbed, but I never hurt anyone. Is it because I’ve started doing something? Is it because I’ve started helping my brother?”
“I think we need to get some things straightened out,” Sungmin stated, “You were naïve and sheltered and, so, never were given cause to worry about other people, but you were never cruel or even rude; you were just ignorant to the world around you. You cannot fathom why someone would want to assassinate you or your brother. It simply is the way it is because of your stations. When people have power and influence, there will always be those who will try to steal it away.”
“Was that guard telling the truth when he said there have been several attempts on Eeteuk’s life?” Taeyeon asked quietly,
Sungmin sighed, “Yes… He was very determined to hide them from you.”
“How did I never know?” Taeyeon attempted to rise up to look down at him, but her arms gave way quickly and she fell back on top of him,
“You were there for one,” Sungmin admitted, gently rearranging her so her head was on his shoulder again; “The year I first arrived, we were heading to one of the other estates –”
“There was a horrible carriage accident… that was an attempt?”
Sungmin nodded, “They deemed it so; they found one of the axles had been partially cut through.”
“Well, that was certainly a failed attempt… you and I were the only ones to get hurt in the accident. Eeteuk didn’t even suffer a bruise,” Taeyeon recalled.
Sungmin closed his eyes, “You should rest… and I need to sleep.”
Taeyeon nodded against his shoulder. Taeyeon felt on the brink of sleep when she found herself whispering, “I was so happy to see him again.”
Sungmin made a noise letting her know that he, too, was still awake even if he didn’t look like it.
“I guess you don’t have to drag me back to the Dark Kingdom since he’s here instead, hmm?” Taeyeon murmured, “I’m scared, Sungmin… it sounds irrational, but I love him even more than I did before. How is that possible if I haven’t seen him for almost two months?”
“Love isn’t rational,” Sungmin managed to say, fighting against the temptation of sleep; “Heart racing, difficult breathing, and obsessive thoughts – do any of those things sound rational? And, yet, that’s how people in love feel: uncomfortable.”
Taeyeon laughed softly, “I hope this means you’ve fallen in love, too.”
“Yes, that bratty prince has effectively stolen my heart,” Sungmin sighed heavily, turning so he was angled more towards her, getting more comfortable; “My heart wasn’t safe from the moment I first met him.”
“So… I should talk to him,” Taeyeon said,
“Don’t make it too easy. He was a jerk,” Sungmin said, “Now, can we go to sleep?”
“What the hell is going on here!?”
Sungmin sighed heavily, “I’ll never get to sleep, will I?” Sungmin gently slipped his arm and shoulder out from under the princess and sat up. Eeteuk, Kangin and Siwon were all standing in the doorway. “We were just talking.”
“It looks a like a lot more than just talking!” Eeteuk exclaimed as he rushed to the bed, grabbing Sungmin by the high collar of his jungchimak, “You snake! Take advantage of my sister when she’s vulnerable, will you!?”
Sungmin rolled his eyes, “Kangin, can you please knock some sense into him? He can’t think beyond his brotherly senses.”
Kangin walked up to the end of the bed, leaning a shoulder against the inside-face of a post. He crossed his arms, “I don’t think I can knock sense into him. The situation looks pretty bad, Sungmin. Weakened princess, mage caught intimately holding her as she lies naked.”
“She’s not…” Sungmin struggled to look over his shoulder with the king holding onto his collar, “You’re naked!?”
Taeyeon blinked, wiggled a bit beneath the blankets before nodding, her cheeks slowly infusing with pink; “So it would seem.”
“How could you not know!?” Sungmin questioned, he had been sure she would’ve been dressed the other day after he and Kyuhyun had left her bedroom,
“I was a little preoccupied to stop and consider what I was wearing beneath the sheets,” Taeyeon muttered in defense.
“What do you mean preoccupied!?” Eeteuk demanded, “What did this snake Sungmin do to you!?”
Taeyeon sighed heavily, “Too much yelling for the morning… Sungmin didn’t do anything; we were just trying to sleep.”
“Then he can sleep out of your bed,” Eeteuk said, throwing Sungmin from the bed. He sat on the mattress, replacing Sungmin’s seat, “How are you feeling this morning – why are your eyes red!?” He turned his glare on the lesser mage once more, “You made her cry!?”
It was the Dark Mage’s turn to sigh and roll his eyes, “Eeteuk, try to think rationally. Since when has Sungmin ever made Taeyeon cry?” Without missing a breath, he gestured his head back towards the door, “He’s made her cry more times in seven days than Sungmin’s probably done in seven years.”
“Your choice in males worries me, Tae,” Eeteuk murmured,
Taeyeon, as if finally realizing Siwon was also in the room, stared at her brother with bright eyes, “Teuk, can everyone leave? I need to put on clothes.”
“If you want me to heal faster, I need the light… I need the sun,” Taeyeon interjected, “Besides… if I stay here someone could…”
Eeteuk swore softly as he reached over, brushing away her tears, “I thought you were handling last night quite well, but I suppose it’s because you were so tired.” He stood from the bed, “Alright, everyone out, Princess’ orders. When you’re done, just call out and I’ll escort you to the study, we can open up the glass doors there.” Eeteuk began moving towards the door when he halted, realizing Sungmin hadn’t moved an inch, “I believe I said everyone out. That includes you, snake.”
Sungmin rolled his eyes, “Taeyeon just admitted she can barely raise her head; she was not lying. She will need help to dress.”
Eeteuk’s eyes narrowed, “No! No, no, no! I am not leaving you here with my sister to help her dress!” He exclaimed as Sungmin began to help Taeyeon sit up.
“This truly is too much yelling for the morning,” Kangin sighed, shaking his head, “Taeyeon, you obviously need help. We can get a maid to help you, or I can help you. I can see to your injuries while I help you. I can even close my eyes as I help.”
Tentatively, Taeyeon nodded her consent. Being so dependent was a trial on her pride. She never even had maids help her dress when she was old enough to do dress independently. How was she supposed to show a strong and independent side to Siwon if she was so weak and debilitated?
“There, will that calm you?” Kangin questioned the young king,
Crossing his arms, Eeteuk grumbled, “I don’t like it either. There are entirely too many males being near my sister in a half-dressed state.”
“There are too many people in my room,” Taeyeon growled softly,
“Yes, well, that’s what happens when you let snakes like him,” Eeteuk gestured towards Sungmin, “Into your room.”
“You told the guard only you or Sungmin could replace him!” Taeyeon countered, slowly getting annoyed with the coddling.
Eeteuk tilted his head, regarding his sister, “Still no magic?”
Taeyeon blinked and, then, glared at him, “You’ve been trying to get me mad all this time?”
“Yes, and it clearly worked, but you still haven’t answered my question,” Eeteuk answered, suddenly completely calm,
Taeyeon sighed heavily, turning to lean her forehead on Sungmin’s shoulder, “No… still no magic.”
“Damn,” Eeteuk swore again, “Alright, Kangin, help my sister, I’ll wait in the hall for you to finish.”
Sungmin tilted Taeyeon’s face towards his with a finger beneath her chin, “I’m going to sleep for the rest of the day, so I’ll visit with you tonight,” he added quietly, “With Kyuhyun.”
She nodded weakly.
“Take it easy today, Taeyeon,” Sungmin said solemnly, “Try to let your magic build up again.” He pressed a light kiss to her lips before allowing Kangin to replace him at the princess’ side.
Taeyeon’s amber gaze widened before they narrowed, “Sungmin,” her voice was a soft growl once more,
“Good morning, Princess,” Sungmin threw her a smirk and wink before heading for the door. When he was abreast with the Dark Prince, he clapped the other man on the shoulder. Seeing the other’s dark glare, Sungmin resisted the urge to grin, “Try not to make my princess cry, Siwon.”
“If I had my magic I’d just make everyone shut up,” Taeyeon sighed as Kangin slowly helped her sit at the edge of the bed, tucking the blankets around her so only her shoulders and arms were bare.
“Eeteuk, can you get her some clothes? If I leave her, she’ll fall over,” Kangin said,
Eeteuk nodded, glancing at Siwon as he strode to the closet, “You, Prince Siwon, need to go out into the hall.”
Siwon stared at Taeyeon for a moment, but the princess was ignoring his presence once more. Without a word, he left.
“No, the library,” Taeyeon said, attempting to lift her head from Kangin’s shoulder, but failing.
The Dark Mage walked past the study door, the princess in his arms with the king and First Dark Prince in his wake; “But the library doesn’t have doors to the outside. I thought you wanted the sunlight.”
“I can lay on one of the couches by a window,” Taeyeon insisted; “I… I don’t like sitting in the study.”
“I swear, Taeyeon, if you were anybody else, I would have dropped you on the floor long ago,” Kangin stated, the barest hint of humour in his tone.
Taeyeon smiled softly at him. Kangin was fast becoming like another brother to her.
Once in the library, Eeteuk easily used his wind magic to move a chaise by a wide and tall window. After ensuring that the princess was comfortable lying on the chaise, Eeteuk began to heal her head as Kangin did a second healing session that morning. Kangin stopped just in time to catch Eeteuk as he began to sway.
“Just once a day,” Taeyeon told her brother, “I won’t have you risk yourself.”
“I’m not risking myself,” Eeteuk insured as she smiled down at his sister, “I know my limit with healing the mind.” Ignoring Kangin’s suddenly questioning stare, Eeteuk continued, “I have town meetings to attend today, so I’ll be leaving the castle…”
“I’ll be fine,” Taeyeon insisted,
Eeteuk nodded, “I’ll be back by dinner.” The king left then with Kangin beside him. Once in the hall, he turned to the younger man, “Kangin, you know who the people are that I wholly trust with my sister. Only they can go near her.”
“Who will be protecting you?” Kangin questioned,
“I’ll have an army of guards with me,” Eeteuk insisted, “But someone tried to kill Taeyeon last night and they weren’t able to find whoever it was… they could still be in the castle for all we know, but Taeyeon’s too weak to even consider moving to a different estate.”
“Someone will be with Taeyeon at all times,” the Dark Mage insisted,
“If she doesn’t want that someone to be Prince Siwon then abide her wishes,” Eeteuk said,
“Naturally,” Kangin replied. His silver gaze narrowed, “When did you have to heal minds during the years we were apart?”
“After my own attempts to get rid of my magic,” Eeteuk admitted simply, “I didn’t have anyone to heal my body, so I slept for two weeks. Then, I began healing my mind… I can’t even describe how difficult and painful that is.”
“Damn it, Eeteuk, both you and your sister have no sense of self-preservation,” Kangin hissed,
Eeteuk smiled sadly, resisting the urge to reach out and touch the mage in the open, “Such is the life of royalty.”
“No, not all royals have been so generous,” Kangin hesitated, before saying, “I know your parents would be proud of you and Taeyeon.”
Eeteuk swallowed hard, glancing away, “Thank you for saying that… Take care of my sister.”
“And you, my king, take care of yourself,” Kangin replied,
Nodding, Eeteuk headed towards the dining room for breakfast.
Kangin watched until he could no longer see him and then leaned back against the wall waiting for a signal for him to enter the library.
“You went so far that your mind needs healing?” Siwon broke the silence between them,
“I don’t know why you’re asking a question when you know the answer,” Taeyeon said quietly, her gaze on the blue sky outside,
“Damn it, Taeyeon, I came to talk to you but every time… I just want to yell at you, you make me so angry,” Siwon admitted, walking so that he stood beside the large window.
“Then, leave me alone and come back when you’re being rational,” Taeyeon replied, letting her eyelids fall; “Yelling at me when I can’t yell back is mean.”
“You know I yell because I care,” Siwon grounded out, hands fisted at his sides.
Whatever way he had imagined to the princess would be, the conversations thus far were falling short of his expectations. He was yelling at her last night and here he was angry again. This time, however, he went so far as admitting his feelings. He acknowledged then that he was naïve to believe he would have been able to apologize and she would forgive him just as easily.
“That’s a pathetic excuse to yell,” Taeyeon said simply,
Siwon forced himself to react; she waved away his admission so easily as if he hadn’t left himself just a bit vulnerable. Was she indifferent to him now? Was he too late? It had been almost two months since he had last seen her, heard her voice; was that all it took for her to forget she loved him once? He clenched his fists even tighter at his sides, his resolve solidifying. If that was the case, he would make her fall in love with him again and prove that he loved her then and loved her still.
“Just tell me this, Taeyeon… tell me the truth: are you and Sungmin truly engaged?” Siwon questioned,
Taeyeon opened her eyes then, willingly staring directly at the prince, “No. We never were. It was a guise to keep my suitors away.”
“You never told me,” Siwon said, his words a statement rather than an accusation.
“At first, I didn’t know you. How could I trust you with one of my biggest secrets?” Taeyeon shrugged slightly, weakly bringing her left hand to lay on her chest so she was able to massage her hand with the right; “However, I will remind you that, near the end of my stay, I did tell you the truth of why we had been engaged.”
“But, not that it wasn’t legitimate,” Siwon was silent for a moment and, then, “You told me once that you loved me,” he reminded quietly, trying to force all emotion from his voice. He was horrified to realize that his voice trembled ever so slightly. Silently, he hoped she hadn’t noticed.
“I did,” she acknowledged, her tone as calm and collected as before; “I understood you because we are both royalty; our stations have affected our lives similarly. But, I didn’t know all of you, indeed, in comparison, I know next to nothing about you, Prince.”
His name on her lips used to be a soothing balm for his heart, but now, her formalities cut him deeply; “You know the important things. You know my deepest fears, Taeyeon, things no one else knows.”
Taeyeon felt as if her heart was lodged in her throat. She let her eyes close again as if from fatigue, when, in truth, she wanted to hide her threatening tears. His words wrapped around her like a warm blanket, making her feel safe and loved. And, yet, she knew he didn’t love her. She was more like a novelty to him, something new and different from the consorts that flung themselves at him. However, when that wonder disappeared, he would lose interest in her as he did when she was still in the Dark Kingdom. She had to prove to him that she was worth loving. She had to make him fall in love with her.
She pressed her thumb into her left palm, massaging it roughly to the point of pain, trying to distract herself from her emotional pain with a physical kind; “I know what you fear, Prince, but I don’t know what makes you happy.”
“Why do you think I’m here, Taeyeon? You make me happy,” Siwon admitted, scared he might choke on his emotions,
It scared him to his soul to openly admit to his feelings – feelings he had been missing until the princess came along – but, he had suffered already from withholding how he truly felt. He never even told the princess that he loved her when they were still in the Dark Kingdom. He wanted to tell her, let out all the emotions he had been holding in since she left him. And, yet, he knew if he declared himself so soon after seeing her again, she might bolt. Worse, she might reject him. No, he would rather wait to tell her until he was sure she loved him again.
Taeyeon dug the fingers of her right hand into her left, clutching her hands to her chest as she bit down on a sob. How could she resist when he said such words? However, how could she trust him again? He had acted like he cared before and, yet, he had still asked her to leave. He had still told her to love another person, flinging her love back at her. If she showed her love for him again and, in the end, he still disregarded her emotions, if he turned on her again, her heart wouldn’t survive a second time.
“What is it? Your hand?” Siwon questioned, suddenly kneeling beside her. He pulled out a small bottle then and, the moment he uncorked it, the sweet smell of lavender floated around them; “I brought you more oil… in case you didn’t have any more. Do you want me to –”
“Is everything okay?” Kangin questioned from the doorway, his silver eyes slashing at the prince like never before, “I thought I heard a cry.”
“It’s her hand,” Siwon defended, corking the bottle; “You know, I’m getting sick and tired of people just assuming that I’m the reason every time Taeyeon gets upset.”
Kangin raised a brow, “Well, you have to admit you’ve been the cause before. According to the king, the Princess of Light never shed even a tear until you came into her life.”
“He’s exaggerating,” Taeyeon murmured, abruptly turning on her side so that her back faced him; “Kangin, he’s right. People need to stop accusing the prince. Next, you’ll all attempt to attack him just because I stub a toe. Prince Siwon has been nothing but polite since he arrived and, indeed, has been inquiring after my health. What happened is all in the past, it’s time to move on.”
“Very well, but that means I have more time to bother you, Taeyeon,” Kangin replied simply; “You need to rest.”
“I can rest here,” Taeyeon replied and, then, added softly, “The sun feels wonderful.”
“I bet it does for a Light user. Siwon, it’s time you let the princess rest,” Kangin said, stepping away from the door, signaling the prince to leave. He crossed his arms over his chest, brooking no arguments.
Siwon reached across, pressing the bottle into her hands, trying to catch her eye even though she was facing the back of the chaise; “We’ll speak again later, Taeyeon.”
Taeyeon hesitated and, then, closing her eyes, answered, “So you say, Prince.”
“I’m not a child,”
“Well, you’re certainly weaker than one at the moment,” Kangin replied as he tucked Taeyeon into her bed, “But, your injuries have healed and it looks like I was able to heal the burns without scarring. Just a few more healing sessions and your strength should be coming back.” He straightened, “We’ll do another session in the morning with your brother.”
“Tell him I’m okay and to not visit me tonight,” Taeyeon said, “I hate worrying him and he loves to fuss and with all of your fussing I feel if he fusses any more I’ll end up smothering him with a pillow.”
“I do believe that’s called treason,”
Taeyeon, too weak to raise her head, sighed as she recognized the voice immediately, “Why is there a party in my room every evening?”
“Why don’t you just banish all these people from your bedroom?” Kangin shrugged. He glanced at Sungmin and Kyuhyun who had entered, “Ready to train?”
Kyuhyun held up his hand, “I have just eaten my dinner-slash-breakfast. I believe a time for digestion is acceptable before you begin to throw boulders at me.”
“Very well, but I’ll know immediately if you two have been slacking in practice just because I’m not around every evening,” Kangin warned, “I’ll be in the back fields warming up.”
“What have I gotten myself into when I agreed to have the Dark Mage train me?” Sungmin sighed heavily as he casually sat down on the mattress at the head of the bed,
“He’s like a teddy bear,” Kyuhyun shrugged as he leaned against one of the posts at the foot of the bed. He folded his arms over his chest as he locked gazes with the princess and his expression softened, grew more somber; “How are you feeling? I apologize for not visiting you sooner,”
“A little better after soaking the sun in all day… still as weak as a kitten which is very lowering and humbling,” Taeyeon admitted with a rueful little smile; “But, it’s a consequence of my actions and I won’t shy away from it.”
“Do you regret it?” Kyuhyun asked seriously, “To find a way to possibly get rid of your magic and actually attempt to do it?”
“Do I regret trying to protect others? Never. Do I regret not preparing more prior to attempting? Yes,” she replied, “I didn’t do as much research as I could have. I was impulsive and, once I had an answer, I went with it.”
Kyuhyun straightened away from the post, eyes widening ever so slightly, “You didn’t know you could die?”
“Before and in the beginning? No. After the first few hours, the meditation and the magic release became second nature… freeing,” Taeyeon replied, “My mind began to turn to other things and it was then that I realized that I may die.”
“It’s why we were able to control her magic somewhat once we reached the dungeons,” Sungmin explained. Instinctively, he reached over, brushing strands of her hair from her eyes; “Despite the complete release of her magic, she was filled with the colder emotions which kept the mania of Light magic in check. With Eeteuk, Kangin and myself we were able to get into the dungeons and protect ourselves from the fire.”
“I had assumed as much,” Kyuhyun admitted, “If it hadn’t been night time, I’m not sure my magic would have done much help keeping the castle cool against the fire.”
“I am sorry for all the trouble I caused,” Taeyeon insisted. She sighed, “Once again I did not consider the consequences,”
“You meant well,” Sungmin consoled, brushing his palm against her forehead to assure himself for the tenth time that she was afebrile,
“But I should have done better,” she countered,
“But at least you do something,” Kyuhyun defended; “That can’t be said for most royals throughout history, especially for those who aren’t monarchs. It is a shame, Taeyeon, that your people will never know what you have suffered to protect them and your kingdom.”
Taeyeon sighed softly, “Perhaps,” she murmured softly without much conviction.
“We’ll leave you to rest,” Sungmin said as he stood, “I noticed that there’s a constant guard now outside your door.”
Taeyeon nodded, “Eeteuk wanted to take no risks.”
Sungmin nodded, “Kyuhyun? Shall we go?”
“I’ll join you in a moment, I just wanted to speak with Taeyeon privately.”
Sungmin raised a brow before giving a short nod, “I’ll wait for you in the hall, then.”
“Don’t trust me?” Kyuhyun teased although his expression was blank,
“Completely. However, the guard may not,” Sungmin replied as he headed for the door.
Silence filled the room as Sungmin exited, the door shutting softly and firmly behind him.
“Were we right, Taeyeon, to let Siwon see you last night?” Kyuhyun asked, “Sungmin reveals nothing of you and I haven’t been in favour with my brother since I left the Dark Kingdom.”
“I would have appreciated seeing him when I wasn’t so indisposed,” Taeyeon commented, “But perhaps having him see me at such a low point pushed me enough to gather my courage. I was able to gather my composure and hold it like never before, so, there is that, I suppose.”
“But, perhaps just a little peeved at Sungmin and I?” Kyuhyun teased lightly,
She smiled softly, “Ever so slightly.”
“I must admit to hoping for reconciliation between you and my brother,” Kyuhyun stated, “He believes himself a cold person, that the intense magic used to create his gardens has completely infused his soul with Dark. I believe otherwise. When you came into his life, I saw something in him that I haven’t seen since before the war ended. I saw him react to someone like never before. He is surrounded by consorts and, since the war ended, none of them have even come close to the way you affect him.”
“Kyuhyun, your words are pointless,” Taeyeon stated, “I’ve already decided to reconcile with your brother, but I’m not going to give in until I have his heart securely in my keeping. I can’t do the same thing I did when we were in the Dark Kingdom, I can’t throw my heart at him and hope he’ll keep it safe.”
“Because he’s already failed to do so,” Kyuhyun nodded his understanding, “No, I agree, make my brother fight for you. He needs to prove he’s worthy after what happened before, hmm?”
“Not that he’s not worthy, but I need to know that I don’t have to be perfect for him even if I wish it so. I need to know that if things get rough he won’t leave,” Taeyeon explained, “I know I am far from perfect or ideal, but I’ve been working hard to be better, to stop running from difficult things. I need someone who will work as much as I will to make a relationship work… if not, what happened two months ago will be repeated.”
Kyuhyun smiled softly then, “You underestimate your worth so much, Taeyeon. I don’t think you even realize why you make such a perfect anchor, why you’ve worked as Sungmin’s anchor for seven years. What happened in the Dark Kingdom was a combination of both your and my brother’s faults, but I’ve seen you work and work to correct your mistakes. Indeed, I understand completely what you meant just now about needing someone to equal your effort. If my brother cannot measure up, when you find someone who does, I would want to meet them.”
“Now you underestimate your brother?” Taeyeon inquired,
“Not at all. He, like you do yourself, discounts his own worth. However, you’re beginning to know yourself better while he remains lost. I hope he finds himself in time, or else, I believe he will lose you,” Kyuhyun said. He paused, then, asked, “If I may be so bold… do you love him? My brother, I mean.”
“I do, and, that is why I will fight until there is no hope for us,” Taeyeon replied,
Kyuhyun grinned, “I’ll be cheering for you.” Kyuhyun gave a slight nod, “I’ll let your rest now. Will you continue training with us once your strength has returned?”
Taeyeon nodded weakly, “Yes. If I am to fight for my heart, then it is only fair that I fight for my soul, too.”
Kyuhyun was almost at the door before he heard the soft call of his name. He paused, looking over his shoulder, “Yes, Taeyeon?”
“I’m sure he has told you, but I have not. So, listen well, Prince Kyuhyun, for I will not repeat myself: I love Sungmin and always will, but he is just my best friend. He loves you wholly… completely. You bring him a different kind of joy and happiness. If you let him into your life, he will love you for the rest of your life; he will take care of you for the rest of your life. If you let him into your life, Sungmin will never waver.”
Silently, Kyuhyun exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding since she began speaking. As he turned back to face the door, hiding a relieved smile, he called back, “I understand, Princess.”
With that, he left the room and joined the Lesser Mage of Light.