Word count: 23.4k
Summary: What starts as another tedious royal ball, where Minseon does her best to hide from the suitors her father has chosen, turns into the beginning of an eternity.
Author's Notes: Thank you to S who without cheering me on and helping beta this fic I probably wouldn't have finished it. Warning for the use of semi made up elvish phrases. I love this fic dearly and it's my first crossover fic and I hope I can continue to write more in the future ;3; anyway enjoy~~~
i really dont bite come be friends with me ;3; --> twitter: @babyxius
"Are you ready, my daughter?"
Minseon glances up at her father, gritting her teeth through a smile before staring at the golden doors of the ballroom, the only thing separating her from yet another royal ball. Her stomach churns anxiously and the tiara upon her head feels like boulders weighing her down. She sucks in a deep breath and sighs, wishing just for this to be over soon.
"Yes, father," she replies- a lie told through her teeth.
Hooking her arm in her father's, she straightens out her shoulders and tries not to sigh as the servants fiddle with her hair and ensure her tiara is in place. They fix the wrinkles in her midnight blue dress and apply red dye to her lips and perfume to her neck, almost until the cloud of scent makes her sick, before looking to the caller standing ready by the doors.
With a final nod from her father, the caller pushes open the golden doors. The Moonlight Festival, held this year in the Kingdom of the Southern Shores, quietens at their entrance. The music becomes just a whisper, the chatter stops entirely, and all eyes turn towards the entrance. Minseon reminds herself to breathe under all the stares dressed in glittery eye pigments and lined in kohl.
The blare of the trumpets almost makes her visibly startle. "Announcing the entrance of His Highness, King of Terran of the Central Woodlands, and Her Highness Princess Minseon."
There's a round of applause as Minseon descends the golden stairs, carpeted in red, with her father. The ballroom is decorated in deep reds in honor of the Blood Moon, only visible once every century. However, all of the crystal vases, silver plates, and glasses embedded with sapphire that glisten with the lights from the opulent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are all for show. Each year, a Moon Phase is celebrated in a new kingdom, each palace trying to show off its riches and power.
Minseon almost despises it all because though this occasion is special for all the kingdoms, royal balls are worthless. Parties are for the social elites to size each other up, compare their wealth, and ensure their social standing.
The air, saturated with perfumes of all scents and magic, is making the churning in Minseon's stomach worse. She presses the palm of her hand to her stomach in hopes to ease how sick she's starting to feel. Terran is the only non-magical kingdom, and Minseon, being human herself, is weak to an overexposure of magic. As the party resumes around them, faeries and pixies flit through the air, dancing over her head and sprinkling dust into her hair. The orchestra plays once more and everyone begins to dance and chatter again, and Minseon's father doesn't give her a moment to breathe before whisking her away into the crowd.
"Ah, Your Highness," Sungjae, Prince of the Werewolves from the Northern Mountains, stops them immediately to formally introduce himself. Minseon recognizes him from the many files her father had given her in hopes she'd seek out a suitable partner on her own.
Frankly, Minseon would rather be cursed by a witch to eternal sleep than marry a prince.
Sungjae's pointed canines glisten as he smiles, eyes flashing red briefly as he catches Minseon's gaze. "May I be the first to offer you a dance?"
Minseon hardly opens her mouth to protest when her father speaks in her place. "She'd love to," he says, jovial as he slides Minseon's arm off his and leaves her with a gentle smile as he's whisked away deeper into the crowd of royal magical beings to discuss politics and trade among other kings and lords.
Sighing, Minseon looks past Sungjae in hopes of anyone who could save her. She'd leave in a heartbeat if she knew her father wasn't watching with expectations as high as the moon.
"Shall we, then?" Sungjae says, voice sickeningly sweet as he takes Minseon by the hand and leads her to the center of the ballroom.
Minseon presses her lips together, willing herself to hold down the shiver at the base of her spine as Sungjae rests a hand on her waist. He takes her right hand, leading her in the dance so powerful that he makes her stumble on her dress.
"You look beautiful tonight, Princess," he says, fingers drumming on Minseon's waist. His tongue grazes over his canines as he meets gazes with Minseon. "I feel as though I should let you know that I just recently defeated an alpha prince to my western border back home. It's truly an astounding tale."
And so he drones on. Minseon had stopped listening the second Sungjae had opened his mouth. She looks over his shoulder to see if her father was still watching- and unfortunately he is- and swallows thickly. There's nothing she can do to escape.
Sungjae brushes her bangs from her eyes as he continues to talk about himself, and it’s truly a challenge to suppress a shiver then. She doesn't know exactly how much time passes, but she's more surprised Sungjae's body can hold up his head with how large his ego is. Honestly, it would be a shame if she were cursed to eternal sleep or had taken her own heart to spare herself in this moment- her beautiful gown, glittering like golden stars lighting up a galaxy, would be ruined if she did. Even her tiara, golden leaves wound around pink flowers, was beautiful and simple- enough to make her happy when she abhors royal parties.
So she grinds down on her teeth and lets out a tight-lipped smile as the prince laughs at his own, poor joke, grating on her ears.
Sungjae lets out another heavy laugh at some other offensive joke he's told, a snarl caught in his throat. "There was a time I protected my people from an onslaught of wild dragon attackers. Please, Princess Minseon, let me indulge you in such a wonderful tale of my actions."
Minseon may only be human, Princess of the Capital City of Terra of the Central Woodlands with no magical abilities to her name, but she is only mere seconds from putting a knife straight through this prince’s heart.
"You'll have to excuse the Princess," a voice comes beside her ear- Junhee, she realizes. The small faerie flits between their faces and smiles sickeningly sweet. She straightens out the crown of red roses upon her head and pats down the red velvet cape draped on her tiny shoulders, her translucent wings fluttering almost imperceptibly save for the sound of tinkling bells. "Princess Minseon's father has requested to see her briefly."
Sungjae looks offended, but Junhee stays firm before him, unintimidated by the fact that Sungjae could probably swallow her whole if he wanted, until he finally takes a step back.
"We will meet again soon then, Princess," he says, bowing deeply with the sickest grin Minseon's ever seen. Her stomach jolts uncomfortably at the tone of his voice, dripping with hunger, as he blends back into the crowd.
For the first time that night, she finally breathes easy.
"Thank you, Junhee," Minseon says, holding out her palm for her friend to land on. She makes her way to the edge of the room, praying no one stops her. "I owe you for this."
Junhee giggles, faerie dust glittering as it lands on Minseon's palm. "You still owe me for last time too."
Minseon smiles, straightening out Junhee's crown of roses and dusting off her red cape with the pad of her thumb from the stray pixie dust. "I'm sorry you have to come to my rescue so often."
Junhee shakes her head, plopping down cross legged in Minseon's palm and pressing out the creases of her pink dress over her thighs. "I would do anything for you, Princess," she teases, her smile so big that her wings start fluttering even faster, faerie dust building up in Minseon's palm. "Though I would not mind if you let me pluck a few flowers from your gardens. There are only so many flowers blooming in the Eastern Woods and I'd love to have a new crown."
"To impress a certain fae prince, perhaps?" Minseon hums, smirking.
Junhee blushes furiously, flitting up to her feet and jumping indignantly in Minseon's palm. It only feels like air brushing against her bare skin. "I don't have anyone to impress! Certainly not any fae prince! Especially not-"
Minseon glances up to see Taekwoon, Fae Prince of the Eastern River, hovering over the tips of her fingers. Junhee's wings flutter at odd rhythms, her face hot and ears flushed to the tip. She bunches her hands at the front of her dress and glances down shyly at the little bells at the end of her shoes.
Taekwoon looks at Minseon softly, eyes intense and silently asking to land on her palm. Minseon nods, and Taekwoon stands before Junhee, much taller than her. He coughs nervously, straightening out his black suit before holding out a hand to Junhee. "Would you like to dance with me?" he says, voice as soft as the sound of his wings beating.
Junhee nods, taking Taekwoon's hand and lifting off from Minseon's hand. She looks back at her friend for help, but Minseon just smiles as she flies off. She's sure Taekwoon genuinely likes Junhee- at least if his shy smile and the reddened tips of his ears are anything to go by as Junhee pushes her hair from her shoulders and laughs.
Minseon watches them dance from the edge of the room, smiling from how happy her friend is, but her hopes to remain alone and invisible for the rest of the night are dashed too soon. There's a gentle tap to her shoulder, records flashing through her mind as she recognizes the man as the Elven Prince of the Southern Shores, Prince Hongbin. He's charming for what it's worth- dressed in an off white suit embroidered with golden trim and buttons with the elven kingdom insignia. His ears, down to the point, are decorated in gold jewelry and a golden crown sits upon his head, three shining sapphires embedded in the center of the family crest for the ocean waves crashing against the kingdom's shores. The crown pushes his bangs over his soft, brown eyes and he smiles so that his dimples show and the shine in his eyes brightens.
"Are you enjoying yourself so far, Princess?" he asks, his voice gentle as they meet gazes. Minseon appreciates Hongbin keeping his magic aura to a minimum- her stomach has started making her feel uncomfortable again- but there's nothing about the prince that makes her eager to stay around any longer. Her father had probably cornered the poor prince into ensuring that they talked tonight.
"I am," Minseon responds, trying to hide the bitterness from her smile. "It really is a wonderful party."
Hongbin hums and just smiles his charming, dimpled smile. He leans down close to Minseon and whispers, "I'm sure no one would notice if you escaped to the gardens, if you'd like. I can only imagine how this many magical beings in a room must make you feel."
Minseon nods, swallowing thickly. She catches herself before letting her jaw drop.
"If anyone asks, I wouldn't tell a soul that you've gone down the corridor off to the left of the ballroom, taken a right at the end of the hallway, and a left at the library- especially the King of the Central Woodlands." Hongbin stands tall, quickly glancing around the room before locking gazes with Minseon. "I'm sure the King would be most interested in the recent politics of the Southern Shores. Perhaps I should go talk to him myself."
Minseon lets out a sigh of relief, nearly sagging against the wall. She looks up at Hongbin and decides he'd likely remain true to his word. "Thank you," she stutters, bowing her head in gratitude. "I don't know what to say, Prince Hongbin."
But Hongbin just shakes his head. "You look gorgeous tonight, Princess Minseon, and I'm sure many socialites would agree with me, but I'd think you'd shine with a genuine smile on your lips."
Minseon smiles, genuine this time, as she turns for the left corridor at the edge of the ballroom. "Goodbye then, Prince, and thank you," she says, holding out the edge of her dress and bowing once more. Hongbin nods, a twinkle of mirth in his eyes flashing as he turns around quickly and heads to the corner Minseon had last seen her father sitting.
Sucking in a deep breath, Minseon moves swiftly along the edge of the ballroom, staying close to the wall and where the servants stand to keep out of sight. No one notices as she leaves through the left corridor and starts making her way down the long hallway. A few servants bustle around her, whizzing by with plates of food and incredibly sweet desserts on golden trays, but none pay her any mind.
Not long after she takes a right at the end of the hall does the castle fall silent; the music from the ballroom is merely a whisper. The sound of her heels clicking against the marbled floor echoes along the corridor. While the ballroom was decorated in heavy reds and golds, the corridors are more simply decorated with white marble floors and walls and golden decorations sparse along the walls. It's just light enough for Minseon to see where the library is, the hallway lit by a few candles along the wall and accompanied by moonlight streaming through the open windows. She checks behind her quickly, ensuring that no one is following her, before taking a left at the library.
The ornate glass doors are not far off from the library, just as Hongbin had said. She takes care to open the door slowly, in case it creaks and alerts a stray servant, but it makes no sound as it swings open wide enough for her to slip through. She carefully shuts the door behind her, pressing her forehead to the glass from the relief of finally escaping.
She breathes out a sigh, breathes until her hands stop shaking, and takes in the scent of the ocean in the breeze. The air is warm for late spring, saturated with the ocean as it blows through the flowers in the garden. Minseon looks around, making out patches of tulips, roses, jasmines, and violets growing along the castle walls where vines wrap their way higher than Minseon can see. The cobbled path is lined with small blooms of daffodils and daisies, winding beneath weeping willows lit by lights encased in glass.
It feels ethereal as Minseon walks along the stone path, holding the small train of her dress in case it may drag along the flowers. Her breath catches in her throat when she spots a gazebo at the center of the garden, lit by small lights that shine brighter under the darkness of night. Drawn to it like a magic spell, Minseon makes her way to the gazebo.
And then her heart jolts for a new reason.
Sitting along the bench inside the gazebo, surrounded by twinkling lights, is a girl Minseon's never seen before. Her white dress, nearly sheer, cascades over her long legs to the floor. The gold trim, lined along the bodice and decorated over her shoulders and collarbones like webs where the top of her dress would rest, glistens with the lights over her tan skin. Her hair is braided intricately, falling over her shoulder and down to the center of her arm. Atop her head sits a golden tiara, leaves of gold built around sapphire flowers, embedded into a small crown for a princess.
Minseon hasn't even had a chance to catch her breath before their eyes meet. Warm brown eyes gaze back at her, lined with kohl, brightened with gold on her lids, and framed with long, dark eyelashes. The girl's cheeks are dusted in light pink pigment, her lips painted with a dusty pink. And once Minseon feels her heart stutter in her chest, she notices the girl's ears- elongated at the tips and decorated with gold jewelry.
"Hello," she breathes out, swallowing thickly in hopes it stops her heart from jumping up to her throat.
Startled, the girl smiles nervously, almost anxiously as she glances at the garden around her. "No one followed you here, right?" she whispers.
Minseon shakes her head.
"You won't tell anyone I've escaped from the festival, will you?"
Again, Minseon shakes her head. "How could I expose you for escaping when I've also done the same."
The girl laughs softly at that, biting down on her bottom lip as she glances up at Minseon. "I suppose it would be rude of me then if I didn't offer a seat to a fellow deviant princess." She shifts to her right and pats the space beside her, smiling wider as Minseon takes the seat.
"I don't believe we've met before," she starts, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ears. "I'm Hayeon, and I would prefer if you'd just call me Hayeon. However, outside of this garden I am formally Princess Hayeon of the Elven Kingdom of the Southern Shores."
Minseon bites down on her lip, doing her best to hold down an eager smile. "Outside this garden, I'm Princess Minseon of the Terran Kingdom of the Central Woodlands. I'll warn you though, I take a pretty good shot with a bow and arrow so it is better for your own sake if you just call me Minseon."
At that, Hayeon laughs under her breath and Minseon can't help but smile. Hayeon's eyes light up even brighter with mirth when she presses a little closer into Minseon's space. Minseon catches the scent of Hayeon's perfume as the princess sits so close that hardly a hand could fit between their thighs.
"So, what brings you out to my garden?" Hayeon asks. "I'm sure the festival is just riveting from all the stories told by drunken lords and princes about just how rich and amazing they are."
Minseon snorts, quickly covering the heated flush flooding her cheeks. "Well there is that," she says, clearing her throat in hopes of hiding her embarrassment. "And since I'm non-magical, I get overwhelmed easily from all the magic at royal festivals like this. Prince Hongbin noticed and told me how to find the garden."
"My little brother did that?" Hayeon's eyes widen in disbelief. "He's usually pretty dense, but I suppose I should thank him for leading a beautiful princess out here who has kept me company."
Minseon feels her heart stop, just for a moment, before it beats heavy in her chest. She blushes hot under Hayeon's gaze and hopes that by staring at the ground, Hayeon won't notice her reddened face.
"Thank you," she breathes out, struggling around her heart beating in her ears. "I suppose I should thank him also. I'd probably be sick to my stomach and I wouldn't have met such a wonderful princess either."
This time Hayeon flushes, ducking her head so that her bangs hide her pink cheeks, but she easily laughs off her shyness. Her eyes are twinkling when she looks back up at Minseon. "I'm sure his ego will be happy to hear so much gratitude," she laughs, and Minseon can't help but laugh alongside her.
They talk deeper into the night about anything that comes to mind. Minseon loses track of time quickly after she tells Hayeon just how close she was to ripping out Prince Sungjae's heart. (Hayeon confesses that she wishes Minseon had because she herself almost punched Sungjae in the face when he'd thought it'd be hilarious to show her up to boost his own ego.) Minseon lets out just how much she hates her father taking her to these balls and setting her to meet princes, and Hayeon agrees with every word as her father does the same. Hayeon reveals that she is currently training to be the kingdom’s official Caster, demonstrating with magic bursting from her palm. Eventually they find they have mutual friends in Junhee and Taekwoon, and they talk about the two faeries so in love with each other and blind to it until the Blood Moon is high in the sky.
And for once, when they're both smiling together under the twinkling lights of the gazebo, Minseon realizes that she feels happier than she has been in a long time.
Just before the chime of midnight, Hayeon lets out a sad sigh and nervously twiddles her thumbs in her lap. "I have to leave soon," she says, looking dazed at the lights intertwined with the wood of the gazebo. "I have to at least pretend that I was at the festival the whole time and say my goodbyes to the guests."
Minseon's smile falls. "Right," she murmurs, looking down at her hands in her lap. "I will have to head back as well."
Hayeon rests a reassuring hand over Minseon's, imparting some of her magic when she senses Minseon's heartbeat pick up with anxiety. "The partings will be long; you're free to stay in the garden until it's closer to the end of the festival. The magic is less likely to affect you once the larger magical beings leave."
Minseon nods, pressing her lips into a thin line. "Thank you, Hayeon."
"We'll meet again," Hayeon says, standing to her full height. When Minseon stands beside her, it’s only then she realizes that Hayeon is slightly over a head taller than her.
"Promise?" Minseon asks.
Hayeon smiles, brushing Minseon's bangs back from her eyes and fixing the tiara on her head. "I promise."
And with that, Hayeon leaves for the festival, the last of her Minseon sees is the train of her white dress disappearing behind the gazebo. She sags against the wood, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart with the warmth of Hayeon left in her hands. The gardens seem much more silent without Hayeon, the lights much more dull. Minseon shivers as the cold of the night finally sets in, but she doesn't leave the gazebo just yet. She waits until her teeth are nearly chattering and her fingers are as cold as ice before she leaves the gardens behind and heads back for the ballroom.
The magic in the ballroom had lessened to an almost bearable point by the time Minseon steps back quietly into the festival. She looks around the room for any glimpse of Hayeon, or even Junhee, but her father is the first person she bumps into.
"Come, my daughter, our carriage awaits outside."
Minseon holds back her sigh and leads her father outside, stopping far too often at every socialite passing by to wish them well on their travels home. She's only half paying attention, hoping that she'd catch one last glimpse of Hayeon, but is met with Hongbin as they make their way to the exit.
"I hope we may meet again, Princess Minseon," he says, bowing before lifting his gaze to meet hers. There's a twinkle of mischief in his eyes, similar to Hayeon's, that she hardly catches before her father nudges her side.
"It would be an honor," she replies stiffly, gritting out a smile. It looks realistic enough that her father is beaming by the time they make it out to the carriage, helping her in first before sitting across from her.
"It seems like you enjoyed yourself tonight," he says, looking proud and hopeful as he sinks back into the seat of the carriage.
But just as the carriage takes off for their home in the forest bordering the Southern Shores, Minseon thinks back to the comforting magic Hayeon had cast in her hands and the smile she'd left stored as a precious memory in Minseon's mind.
"I have enjoyed myself tonight."
Minseon flips through another page, then flicks past a few more. The library is silent save for the sound of paper between her fingers. She sighs, skimming through the text and not understanding a single word of it.
"Minseon," Kyungmi, her closest friend and personal servant, warns. "You're flipping through the pages too quickly to be studying."
Minseon sighs even louder, shutting the book and tossing it off to the side. Kyungmi's black cat ears twitch atop her head as the book lands with a soft thud on the ground. "I can't read another bit of it," Minseon whines. She huffs and sinks back into the piles of pillows she had spent far too long sitting on. "I think I'll lose my sight if I look at another word from that book."
Well, that was half the truth. The text she had been reading was about the origin of elves and Minseon was having trouble focusing with a certain princess on her mind. It feels like she's been having a lot of trouble focusing recently, considering it's been two weeks since the Moonlight Festival.
Kyungmi sits up from where she had been lying down on Minseon's thighs, her black tail flicking sharply behind her. She gives Minseon a knowing look, the same look she's been chastising Minseon with since they were kids and Minseon skipped lessons to spend more time playing in the gardens. "You're distracted," she says simply. She straightens out her simple black dress and tucks flyaway strands of hair back in her braid before staring back at Minseon intensely.
"And what lead you to that conclusion," Minseon adds sarcastically.
But Kyungmi doesn't flinch, sitting incredibly still and staring at Minseon in that way that cat hybrids do. To this day, it still bothers Minseon a little how unnaturally still Kyungmi can get when she means to get a truthful answer out of her.
"So what if I'm distracted," she murmurs, turning her attention to instead pick at a loose thread at the end of her light pink dress. "I think I'll lose my mind if I look at any book for even a second longer."
Kyungmi sighs, scooting closer to Minseon and taking the loose thread at the end of her dress and ripping it off. Then she takes down Minseon's hair from the bun Minseon had carelessly thrown it up in that morning in a hurry and instead starts to braid it neatly. "I know you've studied a lot already, but you do have an examination tomorrow," she says, working intently on Minseon's hair. There's something affectionate and motherly in her tone- something she's always had- when she speaks.
"I know," Minseon sighs. Hayeon flashes through her mind as Kyungmi finishes braiding her hair. "I know I have to focus, it's just-"
There's a sudden knock at the library door. With three swift, loud knocks, the door swings open gently. Jinyoung, one of the king's servants, steps up to the pile of pillows. "The King requests your presence, Your Highness," Jinyoung says, bowing respectfully. His brown cat ears press flat atop his head, brown tail swinging lazily behind him.
Minseon presses her lips together, glancing over at Kyungmi in hopes she knows. However, Kyungmi looks just as confused as her. "Why has my father called for me?"
"The castle has visitors, Your Highness," he says. "The King expects you to look presentable and meet him immediately in the throne room."
Minseon lets out a long groan and flops over, forgetting that Kyungmi had just fixed her hair. "It's likely a boring, dull suitor," she huffs. "I haven't spoken to anyone since the Moonlight Festival." And then she gasps, suddenly struck with a horrible, awful, terrible thought. "It's not Prince Sungjae, is it?"
Kyungmi, ears and tail standing straight on edge, frets with Minseon to sit up once more and meticulously messes with her hair until it's back in place.
But Jinyoung shakes his head, his tail swishing wildly for a moment. "The magical presence in the castle is not strong- certainly not one of a werewolf."
"Good. That's good," Minseon sighs in relief. "Who is it then?"
"The King specifically instructed me not to say." Jinyoung pauses before looking pointedly at Minseon. "He did not wish to have another repeat incidence of having to turn away families- such as when Prince Dongwoo had visited last winter."
Minseon winces. Dongwoo had been sweet but her father was practically forcing them together when he had another he loved. She had done everything to avoid marriage at all costs.
"Right," she sighs, standing to her feet and straightening out her dress. "Will you please let my father know I'll be there soon?"
Jinyoung nods and Minseon makes sure to thank him as the library door closes behind him.
Kyungmi makes a few last touches to her hair and ties up the black lace underneath Minseon's bodice to a neat bow in the center of her back. "Let me just..." she murmurs to herself, glancing briefly around the library for Minseon's tiara perched carelessly on the ancient wooden desk. She shuffles back with it and neatly styles Minseon's hair around the golden tiara. "There," she says, taking a step back to look at Minseon from head to toe. "You look about as presentable as you can be."
Minseon huffs a laugh and lightly pushes Kyungmi's shoulder, who smiles after she does. "Thank you for having confidence in my looks."
Kyungmi bows, sarcastically formal. "It is my duty, Your Highness."
Minseon groans with the formality, but Kyungmi doesn't let her waste a second longer. She ushers Minseon into her black heels and pushes her out the door. They wander down the hall together, talking in hushed whispers about who the guests are until the anticipation is almost too much. As they round a corner and pass by the cat hybrid maids carrying fresh sheets and towels for the guest bedrooms, Minseon bets that it could be Junhee bringing news of Taekwoon. Kyungmi pinches her side, silently telling her to use her head for once, and argues that it's likely dignitaries coming to ensure trade agreements between kingdoms.
They descend the grand staircase at the center of the castle. Minseon nods to the guards as she passes them by, turning down a hallway on the left behind the staircase. They pause at an ornate, gold door at the furthest end of the hallway, an entrance in line directly with the throne rather than at the front of the throne room. Minseon pauses for a moment at the door, sucks in a deep breath with both hands wound so tight around the door's handles that her knuckles have turned white, and pushes the door open.
She steps in quickly, eyes to the ground as she walks to the side of her father's throne, not having to look behind her to know Kyungmi had shut the doors behind them. She straightens out her posture when beside the king's throne, folds her hands in front of her, and bows. When she looks up, the first person she notices is Prince Hongbin, dressed in a casual white and gold suit. He smiles back at her fondly, his cheek dimpling as he dips his head in greeting.
The second person she notices is Hayeon, standing behind Hongbin. Minseon's breath catches, and she takes in Hayeon in her short white dress as if she was merely a mirage and might disappear if she so much as breathes. Minseon hadn't expected to see her again until there was another royal celebration. Her hair is down this time, falling over her shoulder in cascading waves. Gold bands of jewelry wrap around her upper arms, bracelets flashing at her thin wrists. Gold pins are stuck in her hair, holding back loose strands from her face. She smiles gently, like they were strangers, but there's something more personal that flashes in her eyes.
"Prince Hongbin and Princess Hayeon,” Minseon says, trying her best not to stutter.
They tip their head in respect before Minseon's father speaks. "Now that we are all gathered here, what is it you wish to speak to us about?"
Hongbin first looks to his sister before he looks to the king, the subtle tremble of his hands well hidden as he shoves them into the pockets of his trousers. "Your Highness, I have come to ask your permission to court your daughter. I hope you may give us your blessings."
Minseon's heart falls and shatters like glass. She feels suddenly anxious as she looks at Hayeon, hoping that this was some joke. Whether Hongbin had misread her at the Moonlight Festival or whether he really had good intentions to date her, Minseon wasn't ready for it- at least not with any man.
She bunches her hands in the front of her dress, swallowing thickly around the anxiety building in her chest- suffocating in her throat. She'll pull Hongbin aside and set him straight, break his heart if she has to.
When Minseon looks back to her father, the man looks as ecstatic as ever when another prince asks his permission to court her. He hums, squinting as if he'd be able to read Hongbin's true intentions. "And, Minseon, do you consent to this?"
Minseon presses her lips into a tight line, holding back the words on the tip of her tongue. "If it's okay with you, father, and everyone else here, I'd like to speak to Prince Hongbin for a moment."
The room falls silent for a brief period while Minseon's father ponders on it. "Very well," he finally decides, his broad smile falling a little at the corners. "You all may discuss the terms of your relationship briefly."
"Thank you, father," Minseon says, bowing at both her father and the entourage from the Southern Shores that had come to the palace. Minseon waits for Hongbin to step towards her before she turns and heads out the same doors she'd entered through. She doesn't wait for Hongbin to catch up to her, or Kyungmi either knowing her friend is following close behind them all, and leads them towards one of the spare rooms at the end of the hallway.
Hongbin starts as soon as they enter the hallway. "Princess, wait-"
"Please," Minseon interjects, grinding down on her teeth in hopes of caging how awful she feels. "Please wait until we are in private."
Hongbin falls silent after that, trailing slightly behind her as they make their way down the hall and turn into a spare bedroom on the left. Minseon sits down tiredly on the freshly made bed and waits until Kyungmi shuts the door behind them before she even breathes out a sigh.
Hongbin looks around the room curiously, glancing at the walls and the door before he meets gazes to Minseon. "Just one moment, please," he whispers. Kyungmi and Minseon watch in awe as he closes his eyes and folds his hands into a symbol, fingers interlocked and palms cupped, and chants an Elvish spell. A yellow aura builds around his hands, flashing a bright light that fills the whole room before it disappears.
"A silencing spell," he says, opening his eyes once more and glancing towards the door of the room. "No one will be able to make out our conversation if they choose to use magic to eavesdrop."
Minseon lets out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding in. However, her nails are still digging into her palms as she watches Hongbin take a seat. She sucks in a deep breath, looks to Kyungmi for reassurance, and does her best to swallow down her fear.
"Hongbin, I can't accept your proposal," she murmurs, clenching her fists tight. "And it's not any fault of yours more than it is my own. It's just," she sighs, looking anywhere but at Hongbin, "I am not ready for a relationship. And I fear that my father may have pushed this on you instead of letting this be a choice of your own will. So instead, I'd like it more if we just remained friends."
She exhales, the knot of anxiety in her chest loosening. However, when she manages to gather enough courage to look at Hongbin, who had fallen oddly silent, she's surprised to see him smiling.
He chuckles, hiding his smile behind his hand. "I'm honored to be turned down so eloquently," he snickers. "I'd like to stay friends too, but that isn't why I'm here."
Minseon's jaw nearly drops.
"I'm here in place of Hayeon," he says, looking up expectantly for a reaction. Minseon's hands jerk in her lap just at the mention of Hayeon's name, and Hongbin can't help but smile wider. "I think your feelings for her are much different than yours for me."
Minseon flushes, ducking her head in hopes that her bangs cover her red cheeks. Her heart has already sped into double time.
"In truth, Hayeon is the one who wishes to court you." Hongbin laughs lightly at the dumbfounded look Minseon has taken on. "I've never seen my sister so starstruck about anyone before- though she'd never admit it- so I've decided to help her."
Minseon figures her cheeks must be dark red. There's an uncomfortable heat that crawls up her spine when she thinks about Hayeon liking her back.
Hongbin sighs, "So after thinking through this with her, we've come to the conclusion that the best way for you to spend time with Hayeon was under the pretense that you and I would be in a relationship."
Minseon pouts, pressing her palms flat to her dress. If they all played it careful, they could get away with it. And though Minseon would rather not be in a relationship with Hayeon in secret, holding hands in the darkness and kissing behind closed doors, she figures it's the best she'll be able to get to spend serious time with Hayeon at all.
"Kyungmi? What do you think?" she asks. Hongbin turns around to face Kyungmi, and for the first time, Kyungmi flusters under his gaze.
"Whatever will make you happy," she replies softly, glancing away from Hongbin and keeping her eyes to her shoes.
It doesn't take Minseon long after to come to an answer, her heart stuttering just as she makes out the words. "Okay," she exhales. "If you are serious about our relationship being for image only, I'd-" she pauses, her hands warm where she remembers Hayeon's on hers- "It would be my honor to be in a relationship with Hayeon."
"Great!" Hongbin exclaims, getting quickly onto his feet. He smoothes out his uniform before putting forth his elbow for Minseon to hook onto. "Shall we, then?"
Minseon smiles, takes a deep breath, and locks her arm around Hongbin's. Kyungmi gives her a reassuring nod as she opens the doors and follows behind them.
The walk back to the throne room seems longer than before, the click of Minseon's shoes echoing off the floors resounds loud in her head. She does her best to try and control her rapidly beating heart but it's out of control by the time they reach the gold doors. It doesn't help the anxiety bubbling up in her chest that this could all go wrong when Hongbin doesn't give her a second to gather herself.
Her father is beaming when she stands back at his side, Hongbin to her right, that she almost feels bad for lying to her father like this.
“I have accepted Prince Hongbin’s proposal, and we have discussed the terms of our relationship,” she says, doing her best to stop her voice from shaking. But she smiles, feeling ecstatic knowing that this means she'll get to love someone of her own free will. Hayeon smiles widely, ecstatic that she almost bounces in place, but she quickly gathers herself and schools her expression.
“Fantastic!” The king exclaims, clapping as he stands. He looks proudly at Minseon and Hongbin. “Would you and Princess Hayeon like to spend a few nights here? I am sure you are eager to get to know my precious daughter, but I have heard rumors of trouble brewing at our western border and I'd rather you travel when it was safer.”
Hongbin bows politely. “If you’d have us, Your Highness, we would be honored to stay.”
“Excellent!” The king stands from his throne and clasps his hands together. “Minseon, why don't you show them around the castle? We can rejoin once more at supper!”
“Yes, father,” Minseon says. She looks towards Hayeon and bites down on her lip to contain her happiness. “Princess Hayeon? Would you like to join us?”
Hayeon looks back at the entourage, and after a few of them nod, she turns back to Minseon. “I'd love to.”
"Ah, I'll be sure to get everyone from the Southern Shores settled in," the king adds. "Run along, now. Minseon, please take good care of them."
Minseon smiles. "Yes, father, I will." She waits for Hayeon to stand on her left, another servant stepping in line with Kyungmi, before making her way out of the throne room.
They stay fairly silent as they walk towards Minseon's room first. Minseon makes sure to point out a few things along the way, meaningless things just to divert attention away from them. Hongbin smiles and makes a few comments as they walk up the grand staircase. Hayeon keeps mostly silent because to everyone else, she is only tagging along.
At the end of the hallway is Minseon's room. Minseon opens the door and lets them all in first and shuts the door behind herself. In the front of her room is a small seating area that connects both to the bathroom and to her own bedroom. She lets Hongbin and Hayeon look around for a short moment before taking Hayeon's hand in hers and nodding towards both Kyungmi and white tailed cat hybrid servant from the Southern Shores.
"Hongbin," she says softly, looking at the man intently until her request finally clicks. He locks his hands together and whispers the silencing spell over them, nodding when the yellow light has finally encased the room.
Hand held firmly in hers, Minseon tugs Hayeon after her into her bedroom, shutting the door behind them. She releases the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding in, her stomach doing somersaults just from the nerves. It's only when Hayeon squeezes her hand that she snaps out of her daze.
"I am so happy you accepted," Hayeon sighs, cupping Minseon's hand in hers. "I have to admit that I was a little afraid you wouldn't."
Minseon's breath hitches. The butterflies in her stomach aren't making it any easier to breathe. "Truthfully, you're all I've thought about in these past few weeks. I didn't think we'd get to meet again this soon."
Hayeon laughs breathlessly. From this close, Minseon can see sparkly white pigment on her eyelids and the pink dye on her lips. "And I am sure you didn't expect our next meeting to be under such conditions."
"Correct," Minseon sighs. "But I couldn't be happier, Hayeon." Even though just saying it couldn't convey exactly just how happy she is, Hayeon flushes as she seems to understand it.
Hayeon briefly glances around Minseon's bedroom, smiling to herself before she glances back at Minseon. "Come. Let's talk this out with Hongbin."
Nodding, Minseon leads them out into the common room, hand still intertwined with Hayeon's. They take a seat on a couch opposite of Hongbin and the one Kyungmi sits on. Hayeon presses close to her side, cradling their hands in her lap, before she indicates to the other hybrid by Kyungmi's side.
"Jaehwa also knows of our plan," she says. Jaehwa gives a subtle nod at the call of her name, nervously playing with the end of her brown ponytail. "She was raised alongside Hongbin and I so neither of us treat her any differently."
"Same with Kyungmi," Minseon adds. Kyungmi simply stares intently at everyone in the room, no doubt ensuring their good intentions before she leans back into the couch, batting at Jaehwa's anxious tail swinging in her face.
They make sure to discuss the details for their plan. Hayeon and Hongbin had packed enough for three days, though they truly hadn't planned to stay at all. The trouble at the Central Woodland's western border was news to them, and playing it safe was best. They would have arranged for Hayeon and Minseon to meet again at another royal festival, where the crowd would have been the best cover for them, but they wouldn't pass up the chance they were given. Three days was a lot of time to spend together, even though they had to be careful in the daytime when most servants in the castle were bustling about with their chores.
"Night is your best cover," Kyungmi says softly. "Most servants are asleep and you'll have an easier time coming up with an excuse if you two are caught together without Prince Hongbin."
Meeting privately only at night gave them less time to spend together, but Minseon promised to cherish every moment of it.
"And what about after you leave?" Minseon asks, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. She swallows thickly, glancing nervously at her hands. "What will we do then?"
Hayeon purses her lips in thought. "Hongbin and I will have to leave the Southern Shores on personal matters for three weeks. However, we plan to invite you to stay for at least a week, if not more depending on what our father agrees to."
Minseon nods solemnly. Two weeks without Hayeon had felt like an eternity. Three weeks was going to feel like a lifetime.
After discussing the terms of the relationship, Minseon leads them back out of her room and finishes the tour of the castle. She walks with Hayeon pressed close on her left and Hongbin at a distance on her right, pointing out the library at the end of the hallway and rooms Hayeon and Hongbin were likely to stay in. They make their way back down the staircase and Minseon shows them the conference room and the training room. They pass by the king upon reaching the weaponry room, and Hongbin easily covers the space between them by wrapping an arm around Minseon's shoulder and sending the king one of his charming smiles. The king seems thrilled by it, and they all manage to hold their snickers back until the make it to the library on the first floor.
They make it to the garden just as the sun is beginning to set. Hayeon looks out in awe through the windows, pointing at all the flowers that don't grow in the Southern Shores. Minseon leads them all outside for a little bit. She nearly forgets Hongbin is standing by her side with how excited Hayeon is to be out in the garden, bending at all the flowers she's never seen before and admiring them with the bright, curious eyes of a child. She asks to pick a few, then weaves them into her braided hair and smiles nearly brighter than the sunshine.
Minseon watches fondly, her heart fluttering frantically like a bird trapped in a cage. At night, Hayeon wouldn't be able to see the flowers properly and Minseon kind of wishes this moment was something just shared privately between them.
Jinyoung comes to fetch them for supper as soon as the last of the sunset's warm orange glow is cast on the garden. They follow him to the dining hall, Hayeon refusing her brother's plea to take the flowers out of her hair. The table is set with a feast far too large for just the four of them, but they bow to the king and take their seats. Hongbin sits between Minseon and the king while Hayeon sits opposite of Minseon.
Minseon's father is animated throughout dinner, actively asking Hongbin questions about the politics of the Southern Shores. Minseon can see the soft blue of magic glowing from Hongbin, keeping the king enchanted in their conversation of safety at their border with the mer kingdom in the Southern Sea. She makes sure to chime in every so often, just enough to make it seem like she is paying attention, but the king is too enamored with Hongbin to notice. Most of supper is spent sharing glances and shy smiles with Hayeon and trying her best not to fumble with her silverware.
Supper finishes fairly quickly, the king offering that Hongbin must be tired from traveling all this way. It's quite late as it is, so Minseon leads Hongbin and Hayeon off to their rooms, wishing her father goodnight before walking up the grand staircase and leading the elves to rooms at the opposite end of the hallway from her own bedroom.
She stops at Hongbin's room first, waving him goodnight and whispering a quiet thank you for everything he's done for the both of them. The room next to his is Hayeon's, but she reaches for Hayeon's wrist before she steps inside.
"Goodnight," she whispers, gaze caught in Hayeon's dark eyes. This close, even in the dimly lit corridor, she notices the sleepy, uneven droop to Hayeon's eyes. Her heart shudders for a moment as Hayeon smiles back.
"Until tomorrow," she replies, slipping soundlessly into her room. Jaehwa whispers politely after she enters the room behind Hayeon, white tail winding around Hayeon's waist as the door shuts behind them. Minseon sighs and makes her way to her own room with Kyungmi at her side.
"Are you okay?" Kyungmi asks, though cut off by a yawn. Her hand brushes through Minseon's bangs as the silence fills Minseon's bedroom to the brim.
Minseon nods, fingers wound in the front of her dress and sliding it off. She steps into her nightgown before she meets Kyungmi's intense stare. "Yes," she says, the pads of her fingertips still tingling where she'd held on to Hayeon's wrist. "I don't think I've been this happy in a long while."
Kyungmi smiles, helps Minseon ready for bed, and slips out of the room wishing her sleep well. However, Minseon spends a long time awake looking out at the stars from her bedroom window, praying that everything will be okay.
The days slip by like sand between her fingers, impossible to grasp in its entirety. Minseon, however, saves the grains of memories she can get, tucking them into her heart as the three days wind down and the threat from the west dies down. When she knows her father is free of meetings and official affairs, she makes it a point to be in his sight with Hongbin at her side. They take short walks around the castle and hold hands when they know her father is watching to convince him that it's more than just for show. And even though Minseon is only doing this for show, she certainly wouldn't be able to put up with it for long if Hongbin wasn't as nice as he was.
When they are together, in the small moments her father or his advisors aren't watching, Minseon asks about Hayeon. Hongbin is all too happy to tell her everything- from stories about growing up alongside her to her favorite things. With rapt interest, Minseon listens to everything and cherishes just how similar she is to Hayeon. In return, Minseon tells small stories of herself in hopes that Hongbin will relay them to Hayeon when they turn in for the night.
Minseon is with Hongbin for most of the days, and the only moments she can get away from him are when he uses all his charm and wit to capture her father's interest in politics. Then, when Hongbin and her father disappear into one of the smaller staterooms to comfortably discuss business and trade, she takes off towards the library where Hayeon spends most of her time alone. The time they can get in the daylight is often spent in the library or in Hayeon's room. Minseon craves for any moment they can get, Hayeon's smiles and laughter starving her for more.
But once the daylight hours pass and Hongbin officially announces that he's going to turn in for the night, Minseon has uninterrupted stretches of time with Hayeon. They are more free to roam around the castle, hand in hand for long stretches of empty corridors. On the first night, they walk side by side, speaking in hushed whispers as they approach the kitchen and sneak cookies out from the pantry. They eat in the garden under the moonlight, laughing until their cheeks hurt and staying long until exhaustion clings to them and they can barely stand up on their own.
On the second night, with both Kyungmi and Jaehwa tagging along, they dress in commoners robes and sneak out from the castle through a secret door in the garden's wall. The village center isn't far, and the look on Hayeon's face at the sight of the Starlight Festival was worth the trouble of sneaking out. Eyes lit bright, Hayeon pulls Minseon along to look at the wares from street vendors and food she's never seen before. Lost in the crowd of the festival, they walk hand in hand and laugh more freely without the burden of being princesses. When they stumble upon the festival's center, a wide space cleared out for couples to dance, Hayeon doesn't hesitate for a moment as she pulls Minseon to the center for a dance.
Smiling sweetly, looking only at her, Hayeon puts a hand on her waist and interlocks their fingers. "Share this dance with me," she whispers, pulling them close together so that their bodies are almost flush with each other. Minseon follows her lead, laughing when Hayeon spins her around until she’s dizzy and smiling when Hayeon praises her for what little dancing ability she has.
As the dance ended, as the music of a soft ballad wound down to its last note, they were so close they could've kissed. Minseon, looking up at Hayeon with the light of the stars twinkling behind her head, wished Hayeon had kissed her. Her heart was still thrumming from the dance- from Hayeon's sparkling eyes and red lips- when Jaehwa pulled them apart with a tap on her shoulder. It was time to head back to the castle lest they be caught.
Minseon hadn't forgotten about it, she'd had that feeling of being so close to Hayeon engraved in her heart, that she was distracted with Hongbin on the last day. Hongbin noticed, asked about it, but Minseon was still too tongue-tied to divulge in any of the details. They spent less time together that day, Minseon instead spending more time on her own to sort through the jumbled mess of feelings in her head.
Tonight was the last she'd see of Hayeon for nearly a month, and she would go crazy if she left things on the note they had last night. So just after they finish supper together and Minseon walks Hongbin to his room, she stops Hayeon at the foot of her door with a hand wrapped gently around her wrist. "When the clock strikes nine times, meet me at the gardens," she whispers. "Wear something warm as it gets a little chilly at night."
Hayeon nods, a look of understanding flashing in her eyes. She glances around the hallway, looking for anyone in sight before taking Minseon's hand between hers. "Goodnight," she says softly. "I will be waiting."
Minseon smiles until the door shuts, the silence of the hallway punctured only by Kyungmi stepping up to her side. "Would you like me to stay on watch for you?" Kyungmi asks- though cut off by a yawn.
Minseon smiles and ruffles Kyungmi's hair. "That's okay. You look like you may fall asleep on your feet."
Kyungmi smiles sheepishly, rubbing the back of her neck just as she lets out another yawn. She pushes open the door to Minseon's room and makes her way to the small door off to the side of the common room where her small bedroom is. "Goodnight, Minseon, and please be careful."
Minseon nods. "I will," she whispers, stepping into her room and shutting the door behind her.
As soon as the door clicks shut, she leans against it and sinks to the ground, her heart beating so fast in her chest she fears it may break through her ribs.
Thinking of Hayeon, she quickly undresses and slips into a silk nightgown and removes the tiara from her head. She grabs a warm coat and slips out of her room to wait for Hayeon in the garden.
It's not long after the clock chimes finish that Minseon hears the castle doors creak open. She walks back along the cobbled path from where she'd been sitting, pulling her coat tighter around her shoulders, until she sees Hayeon. She's still dressed in white, though now in loose pants and a white, sleeveless shirt that hugs her figure. Her clothes are decorated in golden accents, similar to those clothes that she wears during the day, that somehow shine brighter under the moonlight. She hugs a red cloak around her shoulders, smiling as she steps to Minseon's side. Taking Minseon's hand in hers, she interlocks their fingers and gives a comforting squeeze.
"Lead the way," she whispers.
With a silent nod, Minseon tugs Hayeon behind her, thankful of the darkness for hiding her red face. They walk silently side by side, pressing closer as a breeze sinks under their coats. There are a few lights strung through a canopy of trees, candles nestled in glass that twinkle in the darkness. Hayeon looks on in quiet awe, pausing to catch the flower petals that float in the wind and fireflies that blink in the palm of her hand.
They walk a little further along, out of the trees that canopy the cobbled path, and Hayeon stops with a quiet gasp. Sectioned off from the rest of the garden sits a small bench, each end tied to a thick tree branch above, ropes intertwined with vines and flowers blooming underneath the moonlight beaming down. Beyond the canopy of tree branches is a clear night sky, stars twinkling with a clarity Hayeon has never seen before. The branches of weeping willows sweep across the ground with the gentle breeze, surrounding the secluded area in waves of green leaves twinkling with small lights.
"This place is a little enchanted," Minseon says, glancing up at Hayeon only to catch the twinkle in her eyes. Long eyelashes flutter against her tan cheeks, as if it were a mirage that might disappear when she blinks. "Junhee visits often and casts faerie dust on the flowers and the willows. They capture the shine of the moonlight."
She hears Hayeon sigh softly behind her. "It's beautiful," she whispers breathlessly. If Minseon had stared at Hayeon even a second longer, their gazes would have met as the last of Hayeon's words were carried away by the wind.
They sit together on the bench tied up to the tree, Minseon gently starting the swing while Hayeon, mesmerized, carefully cups the flowers winding around the ropes tying the swing. They sit in comfortable silence for some time, long enough for the moonlight to shine down through the canopy of willows. No one disturbs them, not even the palace guards who patrol at night, and Minseon is incredibly thankful that there's nothing to ruin this moment. They aren't held to the responsibilities their titles bring or the expectations their positions bring. Alone and removed from the castle, Minseon doesn't have to pretend around Hayeon to be the upstanding, perfect princess she's expected to be.
Tonight, she's allowed to be herself, and the way Hayeon's eyes shine when their gazes meet tells her Hayeon is thinking the same.
They talk about nothing and everything for as long as they can stand the cold, hands still intertwined and pressed together between their thighs. Once the beginnings of exhaustion starts to creep through Minseon's bones she yawns, eyes drooping sleepily for a flicker of a moment. Hayeon chuckles at her, and she gently leads Minseon's head down to her shoulder, brushing her bangs from her face with gentle fingers. The chirp of the cicadas and the soothing pattern of Hayeon's thumb rubbing circles across the back of her palm is nearly enough to lull her to sleep.
"Through the trees of the Central Woodlands, the sky looks different," Hayeon whispers, a hand slowly carding through Minseon's hair. Minseon startles from her daze when Hayeon stops momentarily, only to reach over and pull Minseon's coat tighter around her shoulders. "But, you know, if you'll miss me when we part- even a fraction of how much I'll miss you- just know we share the same sky. I'll look up at it every night and remember this. I'll think of your eyes with every twinkling star in the night sky."
Hayeon's breath hitches audibly. Minseon sits up, feeling awestruck as their gazes meet. Hayeon's cheeks are colored pink, visible even in the dark. The raw honesty makes her heart skip, the words echoing in her head until she's sure she'd never forget them. Just like the night previous, the world suddenly feels full of just them.
"For as much as I'll miss you, I'll look up at the night sky too and think of the dark intensity of your eyes that captured me in an instant," Minseon breathes. "I'll think of you every day until we see each other again."
They're close, so close that their shoulders bump together when Hayeon cups Minseon's cheek. Minseon bites down on her bottom lip, longing for the distance between them to close. There's a pang of longing in her chest, like the night the first time they met. Her exhale feels heavy with the realization that Hayeon, enigmatic and captivating, had drawn her in like a siren's song since the first time they'd met.
After a beat of terse silence, Minseon leans in and kisses Hayeon, the softest press of lips making her breathless. Hayeon's hand on her cheek pulls her closer, keeps her pressed close as they kiss under the starlight. Hayeon is flushed and breathless when she pulls back, staring at Minseon with such intensity that Minseon almost shivers under her gaze.
Even just this much has Minseon longing for more, everything from the night at the festival culminating until she surges forward and kisses Hayeon again, more strongly. Hands interlocked around Hayeon's neck, Hayeon's free hand gripping her waist tight, they kiss until they can hardly breathe. Minseon holds on to every thread of this moment until her lungs begin to ache and her heart is threatening to burst.
Their heavy breathing is almost deafening. Hayeon leans forward, pressing a lasting, sweet kiss to the corner of Minseon's lips. "Even though I know that you are human," she starts, gazing deeply into Minseon's eyes, "you've cast such an enchanting spell over me." Fingers gentle, she brushes a few strands from Minseon's face and tucks them behind her ear.
Just before her hand falls, Minseon catches it between hers and holds it almost tightly, unwilling to let this moment escape like the rest. Her heart drums like thunder in her ears, hands almost shaking around Hayeon's. The words are on the tip of her tongue to let Hayeon know just how she feels, threatening to spill from her lips as waves crash unrelenting against the shore. But there's a spark of magic at her fingertips, zipping like fire through her hands, and she doesn't know what Hayeon had cast but the tension gripping her chest finally eases. She exhales, letting Hayeon's hand go, her heart finally calming down.
After a long while of silence, watching the stars and moon and silence curled up against each other, Hayeon speaks again. "Tomorrow, Hongbin will send you off with a book. I've enchanted it so that we may write to each other in the month we can't meet. No matter how far apart we are, I'll be able to reach you through the book."
Minseon nods silently, taking Hayeon's hand loosely in hers. "Thank you, Hayeon."
With a small hum, Hayeon nods and locks their hands together. "You're welcome."
When Minseon finally starts to drift asleep, Hayeon startles her awake and leads her off to bed.
As soon as they enter the castle, they let go of their hands. Minseon almost feels a physical ache at the loss, but she understands. A servant passes them as they walk by, but she only awards them a curious look and a bow before continuing on her way. Minseon and Hayeon walk on in silence until they reach the second floor, at the last moment where they part ways.
"Sleep well," Hayeon whispers, no formalities as she speaks. Her smile is kind, blindingly bright as she turns and heads for her room without a second glance. Minseon can't get the words out around the lump in her throat, not even a whisper goodnight as the longing hits more painfully the further the distance between them increases.
Minseon slips into her own room, sliding off her coat, crawling into bed, and sinking under the covers. Caught in the swirling maelstrom of her thoughts, Hayeon at the center of all of it, sleep doesn't come so easily. It takes Kyungmi crawling into bed beside her, likely woken up by the emotions she feels swallowing Minseon alone in her bedroom, until she falls asleep with a hand scratching behind Kyungmi's ear and the other clutched over her chest, her heart beating rapidly with every moment she spends staring up at the ceiling and remembering the way Hayeon had kissed her.