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per aspera ad astra

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per aspera ad astra

*

          There’s a legend whispered amongst the people to warn their children about love. They say it’s a tale that happened long ago, a tale that makes you want to carve your heart out because of sadness, a tale that started out with love and ended with bitter hatred, a tale with no happy ending—not for both of them.

A tale that starts out like this:

Khun Aguero Agnis wasn’t really fond of being a king. It’s not that he wasn’t great at it—of course he was, this is the Khun Aguero Agnis they were talking about—but because being king meant that he had too many things to do that he can’t even take a break to just breathe. Bringing their enemy kingdom to their knees felt so much easier than all the paperwork that needs to be reviewed and approved.

“Your Majesty,” Someone interrupts his wallowing, bowing politely at Khun as the door opens. “You have a visitor.”

Khun glares at his royal adviser, before looking down on the mountain of paperwork he had to finish. “Do you think I have the time to entertain visitors, Isu?”

“Ah, that’s too bad.” A familiar voice cuts through the air making Khun stop momentarily. “So the new king doesn’t have time for an old friend?”

Khun looks up immediately, recognizing that familiar voice anywhere. He removes the hood on his head and just like that Khun feels like the light had come back to him again—golden eyes shining in mirth, a teasing grin on his lips as he looks at Khun. His long hair was tied up in his usual ponytail but unlike his usual royal clothes, he wore an innocuous clothes that wouldn’t stand out in the crowd and there was no shining crown on his head.

“Bam.” Khun says breathless. His lips pull up in a smile, as it always does when he sees Bam. It’s been months since they last saw each other and for the first time since he became king, Khun finally feels like he can breathe again. “What are you doing here?”

“I can’t visit you now?” Bam raises a brow, entering the Khun’s room like he belonged here. He places the hood gently on the chair as he leans back on Khun’s table. “Ah, the perils of being a king. How’s the paperwork?”

“Dreadful.” Khun groans. “Can I just hand over my kingdom to you Bam? I’d gladly do it if it meant getting rid of all of this.”

Bam laughs and the sound makes Khun feel warm all over. Like this, Khun can forget the paperwork that he has to finish. Like this, he can momentarily forget that he is a king and he has a duty to the people. Like this, he can forget about the world and focus on Bam.

“I don’t think your people would approve,” Bam teases him. “After all, our kingdoms are enemies, Khun.”

Khun snorts. If it was up to him, they wouldn’t be especially since Bam was the next in line for the throne but Jahad was too paranoid and had too many trust issues that Khun couldn’t even try to send a letter without him getting an assassin in return.

“Did you sneak out again?”

Bam sighs. “The Elders are forcing me to choose a girl to marry again. Says, I’m on the right age.”

Khun buries down the ugly words burning in his throat at Bam’s statement. He buries down the scorching feeling that makes its way to his stomach as he imagines Bam with someone else. A nameless girl from some kingdom that would be able to stay by Bam’s side, a girl who would be the subject of Bam’s smiles, who could love Bam without the world telling her no.

Khun hums. “Did you throw a tantrum?”

“Yeah, like the ones you do.” Bam replies, not even missing a beat like he had already expected Khun’s response. “I told them I’m already looking for one but they won’t believe me until I bring that girl back to the kingdom.”

Khun closes his eyes, looking down on the ground and tries to keep his expression in check. He knows this, had known since long ago when Bam was a commoner in their kingdom and Khun had befriended him, not knowing he was the missing heir of the enemy. He had known that Bam was looking for someone, knows that Bam’s been chasing after her for so long but still, even as the years go by, even if Khun hears that so many times, the pain would still be there. It feels like someone had peeled off the bandage on the wound that was still healing, ripping it off so slowly and painfully that the cracks from the wound started to spread. It feels like the scratches on his heart, the ones that Khun thought weren’t there had been poured with alcohol and the pain burns him right through.

Khun Aguero Agnis knew that there was no way that he could stay in Bam’s side because he was a king of the enemy kingdom and Bam—

Bam already had someone he loved.

Someone who wasn’t Khun Aguero Agnis.

When books talk about love, they talk about the happy and giddy feeling that comes along with it. They talk about the butterflies in the stomach, the warmness of your chest, the blush on your cheeks. They talk about love as if it’s a blessing. They don’t tell you that love rips your heart out when you’re not looking, lets you bleed on the side of the road not knowing when you’ll die. They don’t tell you that love was painful, like being stabbed with a thousand knives and being tortured in the worst ways possible. They don’t tell you that love makes you feel hopelessness and despair.

Loving Bam was both—every time Bam was near, Khun felt himself relaxing, felt himself being happier than he usually is, felt the warmness slowly creeping from his stomach to his chest making his heart hammer against his chest but loving Bam also came with the thousand knives being stuck to his heart, attacking him over and over again as if they wanted Khun to bleed. Loving Bam felt like heaven and hell at the same time.

“So,” Khun says and he keeps up the façade of the disinterested king. “Did you find her yet?”

“No.” Bam sighs. “But I will! Because to me, she’s everything.”

And to me, Khun closes his eyes and lets the pain simmer down. You are everything.

“Bam.”

With every second passing, Khun’s breaking his own heart. Right when he realized that Bam was the heir to the enemy throne, he knew that he couldn’t be selfish. Bam deserves someone better than he is—shrewd, tainted, unpleasant—someone who could stay by his side, someone who would support him when no one else will, someone who would put his entire trust on Bam.

Too bad that someone wasn’t Khun and it would never be Khun—

“Hey Bam, spar with me?”

Bam beams at him, not even one ounce of hesitation. “Sure!”

Bam is a great sparring partner and he doesn’t soften his blows and takes Khun seriously. There’s fluidity in his movements, born and trained into him when he became the prince. Khun misses the times when things were simple and Khun Aguero Agnis had Bam’s attention, had those golden eyes staring at him as they played in the markets of the kingdom, had those laughter and smiles directed at him.

How foolish had he been back then, thinking that nothing would ever change.

He parries Khun’s sword effortlessly, bringing the sword to Khun’s neck and stopping just before blood is drawn.

“Is it worth it?” Khun asks yet he already knows the answer to his own question. “Exchanging your freedom just to find her? You didn’t want to be a prince, didn’t you?”

Bam nods. In this light, his golden eyes seem to shine even brighter. “I know,” He says before those golden eyes turn to Khun, seriousness bleeding in his expression. “But this was the only way to find her.”

—because Bam would give up everything, would reach the stars if she asked, would put himself in danger if it meant finding her, and would never look back at anyone who wasn’t her.

Khun smiles bitterly. He hopes at least that Bam would be happy. “I know where she is.”

Bam whips his head to Khun, eyes wide in surprise. This might as well be the last time Khun sees those golden eyes directed at him with full focus, shining in hope and happiness that Khun feels himself breaking at the mere thought of that happiness being directed to someone else.

But Khun Aguero Agnis knows that that happiness would always be because of someone else. Like the jewels he keeps inside the box, he couldn’t reach out and touch Bam, not because he didn’t want to but because he couldn’t. Bam wasn’t his—never was his. Khun never had his heart, not even for one second because right from the moment they met, someone had already occupied every nook and cranny.

“I wish you happiness, Bam.” Khun places a paper between Bam’s hands and maybe for the last time, he smiles at Bam. Even if I’m not there with you. “I really do.”

Bam looks at the paper and the happiness in his face is something Khun carves out in his memory. He may never get to see this, never again. He stares at Bam and memorizes the curves of his lips as he smiles, memorizes the way Bam’s breath hitches, memorizes the way his golden eyes reflects the happiness that his heart must’ve felt. Khun memorizes the way Bam touches the paper so delicately, knowing that his search for her was over.

Bam looks at him, the smile on his lips stretching. “Thank you,” Bam says before he grabs Khun’s wrist, pulling him towards him and Khun feels his heart stutter against his chest. Bam places his hands on Khun neck, hugging him tighter. “Thank you.” He repeats and for a moment, Khun indulges himself. For a moment, he can pretend that Bam won’t leave this place and look for the person he loves the most. For a moment, he can pretend that Bam would stay by his side. For a moment, he can have this. “Thank you, Aguero.”

“You’re welcome.” Khun says, patting Bam’s back. Bam needs to go now because if he doesn’t— “Now go find the lady of your dreams.”

If he doesn’t, Khun might do something he’d regret. If he doesn’t, Khun will fall even harder and break his heart even more. If he doesn’t, Khun might beg Bam to stay.

Bam nods and releases him and the expression on his face is gentle. “Thank you.”

“You’re going to wear that word out.” Khun deadpans.

Bam laughs and Khun commits that laughter to memory.

Khun looks at him and sees all the parts of Bam that he has grown to love. Khun looks at him and sees comfort and warmth, the same way Bam brought comfort and warmth in his life during the first time they met. Khun looks at him and sees the golden eyes he loved so much. Khun looks at him and sees the kindness in his smile, the gentleness in his expression. Khun looks at him and sees the person Khun Aguero Agnis fell in love with.

“Go.” He says and he’s thankful his voice doesn’t break. “Be happy.”

Even when I can’t.

“Your Majesty,” His Royal Adviser and long-time friend looks at him with sadness on his eyes. He knows, of course. Shibisu was one of the most observant people Khun knew and he knew Khun too well after dealing with him for years. “Was that really okay?”

Khun smiles albeit sadly. “To him, she is everything. How am I supposed to compete with that?”

“Khun—”

“It’s fine.” Khun says, dismissing him. It’s not the first time I’ve been so self-destructive. “Don’t let anyone else enter my room. I need to finish all my work.”

Shibisu nibbles his lower lip and Khun’s prepared to use his power if he doesn’t obey but Shibisu merely sighs, bows and leaves.

In the confines of his room, Khun breathes in and wishes for the tears to stop flowing.

A month later, he receives an invitation from Bam. Khun tore it apart and sets it ablaze without even reading the contents.

Be happy, Khun says as he watches the flames flicker out. That is the wish of the man who loves you.

Years down the line, Khun receives news that King Jyu Viole Grace had died of poisoning. The primary suspect was his queen, Rachel. Khun clenches his fists so hard that it draws blood.

On that day, another kingdom lost its king.

*

There’s a legend whispered amongst the people to warn their children about love. They say it’s a tale that happened long ago, a tale that makes you want to carve your heart out because of sadness, a tale that started out with love and ended with bitter hatred, a tale with no happy ending—not for both of them.

They say that due to the king’s anger at the betrayal, he becomes the cruelest and heartless person in his next life but even then, the story does not have a happy end:

Khun Aguero Agnis was known as the bastard of the barrel. He was heartless, merciless, cruel, and was driven by greed. He could kill a person without remorse, torture them for information without even blinking. They say if you managed to cross paths with him you already have one foot in your grace and if you managed to anger him, then you have a death sentence leashed to you and it was only a matter of time.

Rak knows him differently, more different than anyone else. “This could be a trap. Hansung’s planning something. It isn’t like him to meet us in the darkness, Blue Turtle.”

“He’s always planning something,” Khun hums and the cane makes a loud thud as Khun walks. “It’s just a matter of knowing what.”

Rak grunts and crosses his arms. “And you know what that is?”

Khun merely hums knowing that it gets on Rak’s nerves.

“Heh. Whatever, you sneaky turtle,” Rak rolls his eyes and gives Shibisu his guns. Without it, he looks bare and almost harmless. Almost. “If you get one scratch on that turtle, I’ll spell forgive me on your chest with its bullets.”

Shibisu grins, already too used to Rak. “Yes yes, oh Great Rak Wraithraiser.”

“You wouldn’t waste the ammo.” Novick says from behind Shibisu. “And he’d be dead before you spell out the whole word.”

Michael points at Khun’s cane, the unnerving smile ever present on his face. “What about that?”

Khun laughs, twirling the cane around. “Who would deny a cripple his cane?”

Shibisu snorts. “If the cripple is you, anyone who has common sense.”

“Yes well,” Khun looks at his watch, gesturing at Rak. “It’s a good thing we’re meeting Hansung then.”

Shibisu raises a brow at him. “I don’t think you can call a member of Jahad’s council a person without common sense.”

“Hey Isu,” Khun grins, placing his knife on Isu’s waiting hand. “Ever heard of keep your enemies closer?”

Parley. It was the street law which Khun doesn’t know why Hansung knows about it, not when he was one of the noblemen from Jahad’s council. Khun had been surprised when Hansung had sent it to him, not because the council shouldn’t have that information but because Hansung Yu went out of his way to request a parley. Any parley was done in neutral territory and both parties should be unarmed. It should feel safe but Khun never trusts anybody and this felt like a honey-trap in the making.

“No matter what you hear, do not join the fray unless I give the command.” Khun says, sharp as he glares at all of them. He doesn’t trust them, of course, but they are under his command and they fear the Bastard of the Barrel and that’s enough to keep them in line. “Stay sharp and stay hidden.”

“No mourners.”

“No funerals,” echoes the rest of the gang. Among them, this was a passage of good luck, a saying that meant stay alive for us not to have any mourners or funerals. In a life where they’ve been beaten, bruised and tossed by society more than they could count, that was a reminder.

Hansung Yu wasn’t an intimidating man—no, rather than intimidating, Khun would describe him as annoying. He was too cunning for his own good and his eyes were a reflection of Khun’s. Eyes that know and has seen everything. He was short, shorter than any gang leader but Khun feels more on guard with him than anybody else’s.

“So,” Khun starts, just as his cane makes a loud thudding sound on the ground. “What business does one of Jahad’s councilmen want with us?”

Hansung makes a slow sip of his coffee. There’s no one with him, Khun realizes, not because he doesn’t take this seriously but because he has never considered Khun and the Dregs to be a threat.

Interesting.

“Khun Aguero Agnis,” Hansung says, opening his eyes as he looks at Khun across the room. There’s a sharp look on his face, something that doesn’t bode well for Khun. “Bastard of the Barrrel, they call you. You were first arrested when you were ten.”

“Oh?” Khun replies, cockily. “Are we reminiscing?”

“Twice again that year. Twice at eleven but you haven’t served anytime since.”

Khun shrugs. “You know, I cleaned up and lived an honest life.”

“Bullshit.” Hansung snorts. “You’re the youngest person ever in the history of Ketterdam to run a betting shop, to be the floor boss at the Tower Club for more than two years doubling its profit twice.”

“So we’re listing my achievements now then.” Khun deadpans.

“You’re a blackmailer—”

“I prefer information broker.”

“You’re also a con artist—”

“I merely create opportunity.”

Hansung hums. “Tell me, Mr. Khun, how do you get your information?”

Aguero smirks. “Safes, of course. Everyone has a secret they’re not willing to share but too bad my hands are too good for their locks. Did you come down here to discuss my achievements or do you want to get into the reason why you requested a parley with the Dregs?”

“Not with the Dregs,” Hansung says. “With you.”

Hansung looks at him, an unreadable look on his face making Khun’s hand twitch. He has never liked Hansung, not since the first time he had met him. “Have you ever heard of Jurda parem?”

“Jurda, I have.” Khun raises a brow. “It’s a stimulant. It’s harmless.”

Jurda parem is different.” Hansung says. “With Jurda parem, a tidemaker who can control currents can summon waters or moisture from the air or nearby source can alter his own state from solid to liquid to gas and back again.”

“Bullshit.”

Hansung sighs. “It’s up to you if you believe me or not but the job I’m offering you is quite different. The maker of Jurda parem—Jinsung along with Jyu Viole Grace, wishes to defect to our country and along with him the formula to the drug.”

Khun rolls his eyes. “So you want me to steal this person from whatever prison they’re in?”

“Not just whatever prison they’re in.” Hansung says and his lips quirk up in amusement. “The Ice Court.”

“The Ice Court?” Rak narrows his gaze at Hansung. “Not a chance, coffee turtle.”

“Well,” Khun says, dusting the imaginary dust on his clothes. “I’d say it’s a pleasure but it’s honestly not.”

“Ten million kruge.”

Khun ignores him. “Be careful on your way back, lest you get attacked.”

“Twenty million kruge.”

Khun stops. Twenty million wasn’t a cheap price. It would probably take all the council’s efforts to procure that amount. The council needed that parem enough that they’d be willing to go bankrupt over it to hire a criminal like him. Khun wants to laugh. The Ice Court was the most secure place in the world. It’s the most protected safe that no one has been able to breach. Many have tried—various criminals who thought they could rescue their leader or criminals who thought they could get out but they get caught and they’re never seen again. Khun Aguero Agnis wasn’t going to be one of them.

“Still a no,” Khun shakes his head. They might need the money and twenty million kruge would be enough to last them a lifetime but he wasn’t going to sacrifice his life for someone else. “Have you got any more delirious proposals or should we end the parley here?”

“Oh, you’d be very disappointed if you don’t take this job,” Hansung says, calmly. He sips on his coffee and Khun fights the urge to throw his cane at him. If this cane was made to break bones, then it can break a tea cup just fine. “Since the person you’re rescuing is an old friend.”

Khun raises his brow. “I’m pretty sure I don’t know who Jinsung or Jyu Viole Grace is and frankly, I don’t care.”

“That’s right,” Hansung hums. “You call him by another name.”

Khun’s brows furrow. He had no one to call friend aside from the people who are already by his side. Were they going to kidnap Shibisu or Rak just to threaten him then? It’s a move he considered but honestly, it would be such a pain. It could probably lead to the Dregs versus the council and for Khun that was the worst possible outcome.

“Twenty-fifth Bam.”

Khun doesn’t realize he’s moving until he has the cane pressed on Hansung’s throat. “Where did you get that name from? Who told you?!”

Rak stays silent on Khun’s side, fists clenched. Khun knew that if he didn’t attack Hansung, Rak would. That name—it meant more to both of them than anyone else. That name was a name no one else except his closest friends knew and they all agreed never to bring him up again.

In the Dregs, there’s a saying that if you piss off Khun Aguero Agnis, it was akin to a death sentence. It’s the rules they give to every newbie that comes to the Dregs—never ever piss off Khun Aguero Agnis: never touch him, never breach his personal space, never use him for your own personal gain, never betray him if you don’t want death coming after you. They say he’s cruel and mad but they don’t know the exact reason why. They don’t know the golden eyed, brown-haired boy that died and with him, any speck of kindness in Khun Aguero Agnis.

No one else knows about the Twenty-fifth Bam.

“It doesn’t matter where I got it from.” Hansung replies, calmly. Khun tightens his grip on the cane, pressing it to Hansung’s throat even further. “But Jyu Viole Grace is what became of the Twenty-fifth Bam.”

“No.” Khun spits out. “Bam is dead. Don’t use ghosts to do you fucking bidding for you.”

“I assure you that he is not.” Hansung says and he slowly grabs something on his pocket. It doesn’t even deter him when Khun’s close to choking the air out of him. “She said you would want proof.”

From his pockets is a photograph. Khun glances at it and his eyes widen in surprise. Slowly, he releases Hansung and stares at the photograph. There was no mistaking that golden eyes, of all things, Khun would never forget those eyes. His hair was longer, tied up in a ponytail and he seemed more mature but Khun Aguero Agnis didn’t love Bam just for Khun not to recognize him.

“Blue Turtle—” Rak’s voice wavers. “Black Turtle, he’s alive.”

Khun closes his eyes and the words are etched into his soul. Even when he had become the Bastard of the Barrel, those words were the words that held him together. Even when he kills and kills and kills without remorse, those words were the reason why he still had his humanity intact. He remembers Bam’s last words like it was yesterday, “Khun. I’ve always loved you.”

“Thirty million.”

Hansung raises a brow. “I thought you’d do it for free.”

“I’m self-destructive but not to that extent,” Khun deadpans. “And I need a crew with me. It isn’t exactly easy to find people who would go to the Ice Court just for fun.”

Hansung hums, probably not believing any of Khun’s words. “Fine. Thirty.”

Hansung offers his hand. Khun shakes it without taking off his gloves. There’s a curious tint in Hansung’s eyes, “So it’s true then, that you never take off your gloves for any reason.”

Khun has heard of stories, rumors to why—they say that Khun Aguero’s Agnis were the color of blood after all the people he had killed, they say that Khun Aguero Agnis was a demon and one touch you’d die, they say that Khun Aguero Agnis’ touch gives misfortune to everyone and is littered with scars.

“Pick one.” Khun thinks of Bam—thinks of how unlucky Bam was to meet him, thinks of feeling of despair as he sees Bam sacrifice himself for him. He thinks of Bam and says, “All the rumors are true enough.”

The team consisted of five people—Khun, Rak (his most reliable sharpshooter, unfortunately), Shibisu, Endorsi (a heartrender with the most reliable skill who could control the heart and some parts of the brain unfortunately) and the annoying swordman who Khun would rather not have picked but his skill was needed, Hatz. They were the very same people who were with him on the first year in Ketterdam, they were the five people Khun doesn’t want to see because they reminded Khun of him and they were the very same people who knew Bam before he died.

“Ice Court?” Hatz frowns. “Are you really that foolish, Ugly Earrings?”

Khun smirks. “Just imagine the bragging rights you’d get to have.”

“I don’t care about the bragging rights,” Hatz’ glare sharpens and he crosses his arms on his chest. Ah, so that habit of his hasn’t changed. “The Ice Court is impenetrable. Too many floors. Too many securities. Too many guards. It would be a miracle if we even get inside.”

“Getting inside isn’t the problem.”

“—it’s getting out.” Someone says as she enters the room. Endorsi looks between Khun and Hatz before she averts his gaze. “I didn’t know you were including him in your crew.”

“Dig up your pasts later,” Khun cuts them off before they go back to being antagonistic to each other. “Right now, I need you to focus on the mission. We’re getting Jinsung and Jyu Viole Grace out of the Ice Court.”

“Why?” Shibisu frowns. “Even at the prospect of money, you aren’t the type to do this.”

Khun looks at him, looks at all of them. These people—they were supposed to be his crew. They were supposed to be a team that would rely on each other. They knew each other’s strengths, knew each other’s weaknesses, knew each other because of the three years they’ve been together. They knew too much and it was too painful for all of them to see each other and not be reminded of him.

“Because,” Khun knows without a doubt that these people would follow. “Bam is alive and he’s inside the Ice Court.”

Like what Endorsi said, getting in wasn’t a problem—

“You want us to get in by being prisoners?!” Endorsi shouts, brows furrowed. She’s more irritated at Khun than usual, probably because Hatz was there on the corner with his arms crossed on his chest looking at Khun sharply.

“Basically, you want us to replace the prisoners that’s going to be placed in the Ice Court.” Shibisu sighs. “Khun, how would that even work? We unchain and take their places somehow without alerting the guards or other prisoners and seal the wagon afterwards?”

Khun smirks. “Bingo.”

“Any impossible things you’d like us to accomplish?” Endorsi says, sarcasm evident in her voice.

Khun merely smirks back. “Do you want a list done alphabetically or chronologically?”

The plan works, more or less. If there was one thing about Khun Aguero Agnis was that he was an excellent lockpicker and an even better strategist. Gears run in his head so fluidly, fast enough that he could always get out of the situation he was stuck in.

Khun had been prepared—or so he thought he was. When Hansung had given him that photo, he would deny it to everyone but himself but he felt like a spark of light had come back and the darkness that surrounded him was slowly going away. When Hansung had told him that the Twenty-fifth Bam was alive, Khun Aguero Agnis knew he would do everything just to get him back.

There’s a legend in the Dregs—some people believe it while others don’t. They say it wasn’t just Khun Aguero Agnis, the bastard of the barrel, who made the Dregs fearsome. No, they say that it was because of someone else. They say that there were six people who managed to con, steal and do every impossible thing that made the Dregs rise up to the ranks and become what they are now. They say that before being named as the Bastard of the Barrel, Khun Aguero Agnis was known as someone else: the Wraith.

The Wraith had been legendary—a ghost no one could find, a presence hidden in the shadows, a person who had ears and eyes all over the city, who could uncover every secret that you might have hidden in your sleeves. There was no information that the Wraith didn’t know. But the Wraith had died seven years ago, along with the best crew the Dregs had ever had—or so the legend goes.

What they don’t know is that Khun Aguero Agnis had taken the role of the Bastard of the Barrel leaving the shadows behind because of one person, Bam. What they don’t know is that before Khun Aguero Agnis became the Bastard of the Barrel, there was someone else sitting on the throne.

Khun had thought he was prepared, prepared to see Bam again, prepared to get him back at all costs but when he sees him again—that brown hair that Khun loved cradling in his fingers had gotten so long that it went past his hips, those golden eyes stared back at him and Khun feels like someone had finally given him the oxygen he needed to breathe.

“Khun, I have always loved you.”  Those last words are the words that Khun had stitched into his soul and those are the words that Khun would never be able to forget. When Bam had sacrificed himself for them, Khun felt himself dying with him.

Bam had died not knowing Khun had loved him back.

Bam looks at him now and it makes Khun’s chest hurt. Golden eyes are staring right back at him, those golden eyes that Khun never thought he’d get to see again.

“Bam—” He feels like someone had cut off his air and all he could do is choke out Bam’s name. Before he can stop himself, Bam had grabbed Bam’s wrist, pulling him closer until Khun feels grounded, feels that everything was real. “You’re alive.”

“Khun, I have always loved you.”

Bam looks at him and opens his mouth, “Who are you?”

Khun finds out, moments later, that Bam had lost his memories trying to save a girl named Rachel.

Again, Khun thinks and feels his heart break. You’re willing to throw your life over and over again for her.

*

There’s a legend whispered amongst the people to warn their children about love. They say it’s a tale that happened long ago, a tale that makes you want to carve your heart out because of sadness, a tale that started out with love and ended with bitter hatred, a tale with no happy ending—not for both of them.

They say that because of the person he loved losing his memories, Khun Aguero Agnis tries to tell him his feelings on their next life. That too, didn’t end up well:

In his defense, it’s not like Khun wanted this end result. He knows that he should do something, say something—anything but the words are stuck on his throat and he could only feel the warmth of Bam’s hands on his body, his lips all over him, tattooing every part of Khun’s body as his.

“Bam.” Khun moans, clinging to him tighter. Like this, he can pretend that Bam is his, even just for a while. Like this, he can pretend that Bam loves him as Bam clings to him tighter, tighter, tighter. “Shit! Harder—”

“Close.” Bam murmurs, speeding up. The headboards creak as Bam pushes harder, finds his leverage before hitting the spot that makes Khun see stars. If he was more focused, Khun would marvel at Bam’s beauty on top of him: golden eyes shining with concentration, sweat trickling down to his neck, his usually neat almond hair all over the place because of Khun’s hand, lips swollen and pink. If Khun was focused, his thoughts would’ve screamed, I did that. I did that and no one else.

When Khun comes, he comes moaning Bam’s name.

When Bam comes, it’s not Khun’s name that leaves his lips.

Khun knew at the first time he had told Bam such a proposal, he knew he was digging his own grave but if there was a fact about Khun Aguero Agnis, it was that Khun would always be so weak for Bam. When Khun had seen Bam with such a forlorn expression, staring at a certain blond girl from a distance, Khun knew he would do anything to erase the expression on Bam’s face.

He doesn’t want to see Bam again looking like that. He doesn’t want to see Bam focusing his attention on her when Khun was beside him, trying to reach his heart. How naïve. Khun had forgotten that Bam’s heart wasn’t with him in the first place.

Maybe it was the sadness on those golden eyes or maybe Khun Aguero Agnis was just a masochist, “Hey Bam.”

Bam turns to him and wears the smile that Khun wants to wipe away. Bam shouldn’t be forced to smile like that. “Yes, Khun?”

“Do you want to forget her?”

“What?”

“I can help you.” Khun says, smiling at him. “I’m trying to forget someone too and wouldn’t it be beneficial to both of us?”

I’m trying to forget you.

Khun doesn’t know why Bam agreed but every time Bam holds him a little closer, whispers Khun’s name like a benediction, envelops Khun in his warmth like Khun was meant to be there, Khun pretends that in the sanctuary of this room, Bam was his.

“Bam, want to get dinner?”

For some reason, after doing sex, Bam prefers to be held. He buries his head on the crook of Khun’s neck, humming. “What time is it?”

“Almost 7.”

Bam hums. Khun laughs and detangles himself, stretching at the foot of the bed. “Any preference today?”

“Ah.” Bam suddenly says and when Khun turns to look at him, he’s looking at something on his phone. He throws Khun an apologetic look. “Sorry, Khun. I promised Rachel I’d eat dinner with her today.”

Khun knows that this thing of theirs would bring him pain. After all, what kind of person would willingly sleep with the person they’re in love with knowing that the person was chasing someone else? Khun had been self-destructive before but not to this extent.

Khun had forgotten that Bam only agreed to this so that he could forget Rachel. Khun tries to mask his expression, a smile emerging on his face. “Sex and run? Is that the kind of person you are?”

Bam laughs at Khun’s teasing. He grabs his shirt, putting on his pants before he kisses Khun on the cheek. “See you tomorrow. Lock the door when you leave!”

Khun knows that he was slowly killing himself. In the middle of sex, he could pretend that Bam was his but reality was different. Bam loves someone else and it would never be Khun. After all, it was never Khun, wasn’t it? No matter when, no matter what—Khun Aguero Agnis wouldn’t be able to compete with her.

Khun feels like he’s moving on autopilot. He feels hollow and numb. He feels like the end of the world could come and he wouldn’t care. As he grabs his clothes, he looks at Bam’s apartment and wishes for nothing more than to stay. As he looks at Bam’s apartment, he sees some of his things littered around and it makes him laugh bitterly.

Khun had forgotten that Bam wasn’t his. In a haste, he grabs a pen, knowing that he can’t disappear in Bam’s life without an explanation. If he did, Bam would track him down and Khun can’t have that.

The words flow in so easily. He tells Bam about all of it and it feels like decades worth of words.

Khun had a habit ever since he was young. When he found something worth protecting, he would keep it in a box because he didn’t want to taint it or have somebody else break it. Khun finds himself laughing.

It’s funny, Khun thinks as he closes the door and it feels like heartbreak all over again. Bam had actually never given him a key to his apartment.

Bam,

By the time you read this, I’d probably be gone already. Don’t go looking for me, okay? If that thought ever crossed your mind. When I first told you I would help you forget her, I didn’t know what came over me but I didn’t want to ever see that sadness in your eyes. Maybe Rak was right and I really am a masochist.

Remember when I told you I had someone I wanted to forget but I wouldn’t tell you? The truth was, from the start, it was always you.

There. I said it.

Bam. Jyu Viole Grace. From the very start, I had been irrevocably in love with you. From the start, there was no one else but you.

And that was the most painful part. Loving you while you were in love with someone else.  If you would break yourself over and over again for her happiness, I’d do the same for you but I realized, I wasn’t fooling anybody. I was taking advantage of you and this thing between us. I didn’t offer you this to forget her, no, I offered you this because I wanted you to look at me, even if it’s just a single glance.

But Bam, I’m a greedy person and once you looked at me once, I wanted all your attention focused on me.

But I also wanted you to be happy. I hope she can make you happy.

Forever and irrevocably yours,

Khun Aguero Agnis

 

 

 


There’s a story that less popular but loved all the same. Some say that it’s a tale of what happened long ago, a tale that makes people grieve about people they don’t even know, a tale that makes them cry because of sadness. It’s a tale that started out with love but no one knows if it ended the same way.

They say it starts with a king—powerful and handsome king who ruled the south. Golden eyes that reflects a thousand battles and long brown hair that makes people stop and stare in awe. They say that when she brought home a girl—blond and timid and declared her to be the next queen, everyone was celebrating in happiness.

They don’t know that the king himself was overcome with grief. He doesn’t know why. He has been searching for this girl for years. She’s his happiness, the person who gave him the light when he was stuck in the dark. For the king, this girl had been his star.

But when he looks at the girl, he doesn’t feel happiness. No, when he thinks of happiness, a familiar shade of blue hair flashes on his mind. When he thinks of happiness, he sees a crown, blue earrings and a smile so soft that Bam feels his heart hammering out of his chest. When he thinks of happiness, he thinks of sparring and getting out in the dark alleys playing through the market. When he thinks of happiness, he thinks of the north kingdom’s king, his best friend and the person who had given him Rachel’s address.

When he thinks of happiness, Khun Aguero Agnis flashes on his mind.

“Bam?” Rachel looks at him, her voice soft and her smile kind. “Are you okay? You’re spacing out.”

Bam nods. He wants to see Khun. “I’m okay, just tired.”

Rachel places her hand on his cheek. “I’m sorry, Bam.”

That’s the last thing Bam hears before the darkness swallows him whole. Bam feels like falling into eternity and all he thinks is ah, I really want to see Khun.

The story says that due to the devotion the king had held, he meets Khun Aguero Agnis and falls in love with him and this time, he tells him. They manage to survive in the city full of bastards and thieves, where the weak would be preyed on and beaten. Ketterdam was not a place for soft people, for people with humanity still in them.

But with Khun Aguero Agnis by his side, Bam manages to do just that. Shibisu and Rak are with him. Along with Endorsi and Hatz. With a team like this, no matter what Ketterdam might throw at them, Bam knows they’ll make it out just fine.

Or so he thought. When it was time to pick between himself and Khun, he would always choose Khun every time. He smiles at Khun, maybe for the last time. “Khun, I’ve always loved you.”

Always.

When Bam wakes up, he does not remember who he is nor does he remember Khun Aguero Agnis. When he wakes up, he is no longer Twenty-fifth Bam but Jyu Viole Grace and when he meets a man with eyes strikingly blue as the ocean, Viole feels like drowning—feels like someone had cut off his air as he drowns and drowns and drowns at the man’s eyes.

He feels familiar and the hug given to him was the warmest hug Viole had ever felt. But the words that are stuck on his throat makes its way to his mouth and the most devastating expression erases the relief on the man’s face. “Who are you?”

“What happened to him?” The man grits his teeth, looking at his master for answers. “How is he even alive in the first place?”

“Worry about that later kid.” Jinsung says. “We have to get out of here. Now.”

The man nods and he composes himself. There’s something in his expression that Viole doesn’t like—the sadness on his eyes, the way he keeps looking at Viole like Viole was going to disappear if he took his eyes off him, the way he clenches his hands when he meets Viole’s gaze.

Who are you? Viole wants to ask him but he doesn’t want to see the expression on the other man’s face again. Why do you feel so familiar?

Perhaps they would always end up in an unfortunate manner. Perhaps fate was laughing at them, watching them dance around each other.

Perhaps, Bam had been a little too preoccupied to notice that the light in Khun’s eyes were slowly dimming until he could no longer look at Bam in the eye any longer.

When Bam enters his apartment, it’s quiet. He hums. Khun probably already went home. It’s unusual for him not to text Bam about it though.

Bam enters his bedroom, feeling his cheeks warm up when he sees Khun’s clothes on his closet. There are a couple of clothes mixed with his and during Khun’s stay here, Bam can’t even remember which are Khun’s and which are his. He’s about to go take a bath when he sees a note on top of his nightstand.

Bam smiles. Ah, another one of Khun’s notes, is it? Maybe that’s why Khun didn’t text him.

Humming to himself, he grabs the note on the table.

When he reads the first sentences, the smile slips off from his face.

By the time you read this, I’d probably be gone already. Gone? Gone where? Bam feels his breath hitch. Don’t go looking for me, okay?  Why wouldn’t I? Where are you Khun? Without thinking about it, Bam grabs his phone, entering Khun’s number like it’s etched on his soul and immediately pressing the call button.

“The number you have dialed—”

Again.

“The number you have dialed—”

Again.

“The number you have dialed—”

Bam tightens his grip on the note, his chest getting heavier as he reads on Khun’s next words.

Bam. Jyu Viole Grace. From the very start, I had been irrevocably in love with you. From the start, there was no one else but you.

Oh.

At the very thought of Khun loving him, Bam feels goosebumps all over his skin. Warmth bubbles in his chest and he can’t help the smile on his face. I had been irrevocably in love with you. So why? Why are you leaving me?

Loving you while you were in love with someone else.

No. No. No. Bam already knows where this is going. He dials Khun’s number again. “Aguero, answer me. Answer the phone, please.”

I was taking advantage of you and this thing between us. I didn’t offer you this to forget her, no, I offered you this because I wanted you to look at me, even if it’s just a single glance.

“I’ll look at you. Every morning when we wake up. At night when you fall asleep in my arms, my eyes are for you. Just answer the phone, Aguero.”

But Bam, I’m a greedy person and once you looked at me once, I wanted all your attention focused on me.

“It’s yours.” Bam whispers when the other end of the line goes dead again. “It’s yours, Aguero. I’ve just been blind to see it. It’s yours so come back.”

But I also wanted you to be happy. I hope she can make you happy.

“You can make me happy.” Bam hears his voice crack, his grip on the paper loosens and his eyesight goes blurry at the tears pooling in his eyes. “You do so come back, please.”

Forever and irrevocably yours, Khun Aguero Agnis.

“If you’re mine, I’m yours. Have always been.” Bam realizes now that he’s too late. He thought that they would have time, that Khun would always be by his side and Bam could take his time telling Khun he loves him—he loves him in the mornings when he was sleepy and bumping into things in Bam’s apartment, he loves him in the night when Khun’s under him pliant and begging at Bam, he loves him in the times in between where there was nothing but silence and Khun’s warmth comforting him.

He loves him. He loves him. He loves Khun Aguero Agnis.

But Bam had been too late.

Forever and irrevocably yours, Khun Aguero Agnis.

Bam crumples down on the ground, tears dripping from his eyes. He feels like someone had carved out his heart and left it on the ground. “Then I’m also forever and irrevocably yours, Khun Aguero Agnis.”

The extra key on Bam’s pocket feels heavy.