I'm Jaemin. Descendant of King Doyoung, born of Queen Ailiseu. The first five years of my childhood passed by mostly peacefully in Imperial Palace surrounded by enormous affection. I was a sweet, cute boy. Everybody loved and adored me. Then one day the sky blackened for the mourn of entire palace, and the darkness directly fell upon my head. My father had ascended the throne after his father died and become the ruler of a world power. I thought, "What a glorious day" but our joy didn't last long. I had two big brothers back then, Yukhei and Mark. I met them in the big garden behind Imperial Palace but the look in the eyes of my brothers were sour. Our father had ordered us to climb the Tower of Justice.
The happiness of princes in fairy tales is a big lie. We either ascend the throne or are slain. That day I found out that once a prince ascends the throne and becomes the King, he first takes the lives of his brothers to prevent unrest. That was our imperial law, executed by the God itself. What I learned next is much more important. Even ancient laws cannot stand against the brotherly love rooted deep in the heart. Yukhei, the eldest, had looked at me with teary eyes and walked up to me. When I winced out of fear, he hugged me tightly, squeezing my limbs. A childhood passed with his affection and radiance and I trusted him more than anybody else.
"I promise you, brother, if I ascend that throne one day, I'll never be like our father. I'll never slay my brothers."
I wanted to run away. But our father wanted us to see all of that. So that we should mind our steps. Those seven coffins, floating like boats on the sea, never left my mind. The shadows had begun surrounding me, and I was at the mercy of their cruelty. One day, I would be carried in one of these coffins. When I was six years old, sudden death of Yukhei turned everything upside down. A congenital disease that took him from world at age twelve. The distress descended on me like a nightmare. All I experience was fear, sadness and pain. Gone was the refreshing rain, the sweet warmth of spring and the scent of blooming branches. No longer was the life, he was captive in hell. In his brother's funeral, Jaemin was forced to stay beside his other brother Mark, who never spoke a word to him.
On top of Yukhei's coffin, he gently put a red camellia and cried pitifully.
Red camellias were fiery and pretty flowers, regarding the love and compassion, and death, at some cases. It all started when Yukhei said he smelled of red camellias, and was just as lovely. Then others confirmed it and the flower became one with Jaemin. Even when he was bleeding and stinking and had nothing beautiful in his wrecked, neglected garden. With the death of his dear brother, he was at his reddest, death stage of childhood. How many stages of this fierce, angry flower he would have seen before his own very end came, was a mystery but he never remembered seeing the other colours after painted in blood.
It had been difficult to adapt to a new life without Yukhei who gave him piggybacks and played with him in garden. Their mother Ailiseu locked herself away after the death of her firstborn, and while a prince fell, another rose. Now the eldest, Mark was the heir to throne and one day, he would kick the board off Jaemin's feet. They never talked about this nor anything else but younger knew his brother wouldn't have mercy. He'd taken after their father of cruel eyes and rough hands. Men like him had no mercy to spare, painfully obvious by the way he butchered seven brothers, seven people of his skin.
Jaemin's new life in Imperial Palace suddenly became worse and the garden he used to run freely became a prison. He'd been chained to his fate, sitting still and waiting for the day the King would die and Mark would give the execution order. Fratricide. Sacred law of Lord because goodness of kingdom came before anything else. He would be in his room watching outside, the servants that ran around. When he was seven, his father commanded to accompany him for a visit to Military Castle. Mark was only four years older but boys grew up fast and princes never had the chance to be children in the first place. They stared at each other weirdly upon coming across and parted ways quietly. The lion and the lamb. It was easier to accept the fate and get ready for it.
He listened to lords talk about Yukhei and suppressed tears from falling. His brother had been the loveliest person in the world. He would never harm or offend Jaemin and quite often, would take him to Secret Garden, squeezed away from the cold stones of Imperial Palace. The garden of the forgotten because only in that place, they could forget the sorrowful future that's yet to come. Even after Yukhei died, Jaemin still lingered amidst the colorful ivy and flowers of heaven. His heart burned with agony, the ashes flaring up whenever the dream of his brother hit him. Everybody questioned why he was so quiet and aloof but how could he talk when his mouth was full of blood? Could the words carry his pain, would they do justice to his longing?
A brother's heart was bonded with his siblings, it beat with their pulsation. When one of them broke, it all came down. Nothing was as it seemed. That day in the castle, Jaemin watched his father closely and noted how strange he acted about his dead son everytime he was mentioned. As though the ghost of Yukhei was breathing down his nape. While his father struggled, Mark was looking ahead whole time, and first amber of suspicion dropped on his heart at that moment. He could have avoided the cues but Jaemin had never been the type to act dumb when something bothered him.
While wandering by high walls of castle, Jaemin found a wounded bird at the edge and stared with sad eyes. It must have fallen or soldiers shot it, a common way of training in kingdom. Either way, how horrible it was to kill an innocent animal, or a person. The Empire butchered many innocents starting with princes that were all six feet under now. Their screams remained as pained echoes in graveyard. The princes who lived became all forgotten, like they never existed. Not for him, who would join them one day. Living by remembering was his punishment. He was scared of darkness because executioners stemmed from it. The books wrote the untold tragedy of princes and Jaemin read them all.
He too knew one day those shadows would come for him. Sweet sleep was forbidden, shadows strolled around his room and everyday he cried in fear of those silhouettes grabbing and throwing him away like they did to hundred boys before. They all drowned in their own blood, laying lifeless, delicate, little birds who tasted nothing but wickedness of this world. Everybody said princes lived a fairy tale but they were a tragedy from head to toe. All the colors faded from his sky the day he saw seven coffins floating in air, and after Yukhei died, his sun never shined again.
"It will die soon."
Jaemin looked up and first time in years, the moon appeared in his blackened sky. If crescent eyes and sweet smile were anything to go by, glowing gilded in dark sheet of night. "Perhaps it should," he murmured, looking down at the bird. "To escape the malice of this world."
"They are just birds," moon boy pointed out, a smart mouth. Jaemin wasn't bothered at all. The boy was cute, probably a soldier candidate, dressed in grey slacks and jacket with embedded Empire flag. "I am Jeno, by the way. I know who you are."
Jaemin looked at him. "Jaemin," he said because no, the boy didn't know him. "Help me take the bird inside. Perhaps physicians can help it heal."
Moon boy arched a brow. "You should let it rest already."
He shook his head, crouching next to squirming bird. It seemed in pain, it also hurt Jaemin because he despised seeing innocents suffer. "Everything dies. But maybe we can save some."
Moon boy laughed, mirroring his position. His auburn hair set up a fire under sun, pulled in a cute bun. "You aren't a savior. As you said, everything dies one day."
Perhaps he was right but Jaemin's mind was hazed by sorrow and weight of his heart. He was no savior yet this moon boy was. Lee Jeno had appeared out of nowhere but he stayed for years because he was the only light in prince's empty sky. His support during hardships, his saver during troubled times and love of his life. They took the bird to nursery that seemed baffled to why she was expected to treat a bird but she didn't disobey. While bird was taken care of, Jaemin and Jeno waited together. The latter was really talkative and the time spent with him was never prosaic because he always managed to to uplift the mood of younger.
Jeno was only a year older and he had been here since he was five, not that long but he was a slave. Bound to train and serve the Empire which he didn't seem to have any interest in. He didn't further mention his old life, though, probably too hard for him to. Jaemin couldn't imagine being taken away from your homeland and forced to work for somebody else across the world, it was so terrifying. No child should go through such a fate but then again, his own fate wasn't any better.
While they were walking down a hall, moon boy watched him closely and chuckled happily. "You move like a fairy."
Jaemin turned to him with questioning eyes. It was a weird thing to call someone. Fairies were colorful and full of life, bringing happiness to world, and Jaemin was none of these. He was born to die at the hands of his own brother.
"Fairies are...nice," he said, unsure of how to answer. Pretty eye smile perhaps proved he said something right. Lovely curve of his eyes was enchanting, enough to put him under smell and when he smiled, it became even lighter everywhere.
"So are you."
Jaemin shook his head. "I'm really not."
Jeno giggled, the sun touched his hair and caught fire again, auburn strands dancing like flames. There was something so alluring in him, something splendid, and Jaemin could look nowhere else. He never knew a human could be so pretty. So much life, spirit and desire in him despite his past. No lip could bear smiling so wide if it wasn't for the sake of good things. No eyes could shine so bright if it wasn't for making stars jealous. He was the sun, moon and stars everyone envied.
At the end of day, Jeno promised he would take care of bird and let it fly since Jaemin was leaving with King. He looked after moon boy as Commander Jaehyun pushed him inside of castle and witnessed the way sky got clouded. He dreamed about Jeno all night, even when his mother came to pet his head. Her eyes were glassy and burdened but she still kept her face pretty and sat next to King. She'd lost her firstborn a year ago and mourned for him entire time but she was a queen before a mother. At the end of dinner, he shared his desire to visit castle often to improve his fighting skills. Castle had many qualified soldiers.
King nodded in agreement. "As my lion son wishes. Mark will accompany you too."
Mark dropped his fork roughly and glared at their father. "I don't want this brat to tag after me."
"Behave," Queen hissed, shivering when Mark pushed his chair and stood up roughly. Jaemin quietly watched, he'd never more than a watcher to events that ensued around him anyways. Especially when it was about Mark, he was even more attentive and careful to avoid drawing extra attention. One day, his brother was going to be the King and give the execution order. No need to get familiar.
"Let him," King said with a hand on her arm and they watched Mark walk away with angry steps. Jaemin looked down at his plate, the steak, the rice, and felt like throwing up. Would it hurt so much when they strangled him to death? Would he feel his stomach churn and reel while his mind was disconnected from reality? How did death feel like? He knew where it came from. Executioners of Head Priest were all deaf men who were trained to not hear the cries of victim. They were dressed in bleak hues and flowed through halls like sinister shadows. They were the ones that murdered all his uncles, and he would don same destiny.
Princes from all centuries shared the same graveyard.
Next time he visited Military Castle, Jeno was not around. He didn't want to ask about an ordinary candidate but continuously checked the yard, though it was in vain. The sky was dull because of the absence of moon boy and clouds gave him severe headaches. Jaemin listened to Master's advises and followed his instructions to move in field, learning how to fight skillfully. Yukhei had known fight but gone down in a way all men loathed: dying of a disease. When he remembered the look on his father's face, he felt something twist deep in his stomach. While everyone in the yard watched, he threw up with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Mark was no late to scold him. He shoved him back and grabbed the sword, grimacing in disgust. "Stop playing men games when you're such a coward. Get inside!"
He was only four years older, but Jaemin didn't feel like talking against him especially in this condition. He'd been humiliated enough but it wasn't the harsh looks that hurt his heart. Even the thought of his brother being purposely murdered gave him endless pain. Would his father kill Yukhei? The truth was terrifying just like the ruthless law of Empire because he would have. The one that slain all his brothers, that he grew up together, wouldn't hesitate to kill his son. When the seed of evil sparked in a man, it burned up until all humanity was gone.
Jeno found him crying in the backyard where guards that wandered in high walls ignored his pitiful state of tears. At first, moon boy looked unsure of what to do but he was quick to decide on. He sat beside him and began talking nonchalantly, trying to draw younger's attention. Despite his loud, boyish voice, it was soothing, almost serene with the choice of words. Talking about trees, lakes and animals in his homeland. After a while, it magically worked and Jaemin's sobs died out. In a sense of awe, he stared at Jeno through wet lashes, rest of his face hidden into his arms.
"See? I am interesting enough to get your attention," Jeno said, swelling his chest. He looked quite cute when he tried to play dumb and not further embarrass the younger. "Your tears are blended in with puke, that's kind of disgusting."
Jaemin swallowed. "Where have you been?"
"Commander Jaehyun took me somewhere I needed to be. Let me." He spat on sleeve of blue tunic and attempted to wipe his face, much to younger's chagrin. But the look in his dark eyes was lovely, taking joy from Jaemin's revulsion with childish soul, and it eased him for some reason. He stilled and let moon boy wipe his chin, then dry his skin with other sleeve. "A prince like you shouldn't be covered in puke."
"What happened to bird?" Jaemin asked, taking in the pride of Jeno's eyes. He pointed up and they looked at clear, blue sky, stained with a few grey clouds. Perhaps it would rain soon, those clouds seemed to be full of heavy pour. Jaemin hated the rain for how loud and eerie it became in Palace because he never knew when shadows would act on. When they would crawl under soft carpet and swoop down onto him.
"I let her fly after her wings recovered. I hope she is somewhere better now."
"You too think it's a bad place, then," Jaemin said, because moon boy had thought he was overreacting back when they found the bird.
Jeno smiled at him and Jaemin was surprised at how full of life and light he was. He had been too, once, first five years of his childhood until he saw seven coffins floating. One for him in future. He shivered with the painful thought, digging his feet into soil. Life of princes was nothing but fake luxury and glory. At the end of day, he was in the palm of his big brother to be crushed later. Princes were nothing but preys and there could only be one predator. One for all. Mark would feel no remorse while murdering him, expecting a reign of peace and mighty and only way to ensure common content was getting rid of remaining brothers as the law ordered.
How funny a single law shaped their entire lives. Deciding who would kill and die before they were even born.
"You think it is and I'm supporting my prince's opinion," Jeno said, stretching his legs.
Jaemin raked at his own leg, stilling with dull pain. "I will die soon." He watched surprise grow on Jeno's face, wondering the reaction of this stranger yet familiar moon boy. It was all concern as he leaned in and grabbed one of his hands, holding tightly.
"Are you sick?" He asked, voice so small, too small compared to minutes ago. When he was worried, his brows pinched together and his features aged up. Sighing in relief upon Jaemin shaking his head, Jeno patted his hand in desire of learning the truth of this. "What is it then? You can tell me anything. I would do my best to protect you."
Jaemin's heart twisted pitifully. Nobody could protect him. It was the law of Empire, sharper than any steel and no sword could break it. This was his destiny written deep in bones that rattled with fear of dying. There was no escape from fate. It couldn't be manipulated and changed, he just had to obey like a good boy. He gulped dryly, looking down at their intertwined hands. "Other princes die when King ascends the throne. I will too when my brother Mark is crowned."
"What does that mean? Who can murder his own siblings?" Jeno asked, eyes wide open with shock. His innocence almost made Jaemin laugh out of pity because how little did he know about Empire and its system. Before witnessing that look of moon boy, he didn't even know humans could be so pure and sweet. Or was it specifical to Jeno? Shyly, he pulled his hand back and shivered with sensation of lingering touch. It felt like they were still holding on to each other.
"Don't you know the religious beliefs of Empire? Didn't they teach you yet?"
Jeno looked away, rubbing at the back of his head wearily. Slowly, he shook his head and picked at his nails roughly. Concern was no longer an expression on his face, sorrow had taken over. "I really didn't have much time to learn such things when training occupies all my time," he quietly said, and the tone of his voice promised he couldn't say more. He was forcefully kidnapped and made to serve a kingdom he hadn't even known about, it was horrible. Jaemin's heart ached for him because he knew how much children shouldered in this cruel place. They were given the weight of whole world at such young age and left in aftershock pain rest of their life.
Jaemin told him about religious law and how King must slay his brothers for the future of Empire, so they wouldn't fight for throne and put the folk in danger. Moon boy listened with much attention and at some parts, his face twitched and grimaced. Thought of brothers killing each other just for a crown was disgusting for him, but Jaemin knew the importance of fratricide. Greatness of Empire meant more than a few boys that wandered around uselessly. Their lives were worth nothing in comparison to the future of kingdom. He understood this. He was forced to understand when he saw those seven coffins.
He didn't mean anything as a person, nor a boy. He was just a tool for emergency in case all other princes died and an heir was required greatly. That's why King and Queen bred many children, only to be murdered. And for Jaemin, it was the biggest sin and he wondered why their Lord was so keen of murdering innocents.
"How can you just accept this fate?" Jeno asked with a frown after he was finished. "You shouldn't die for anyone! It's your own life and you deserve to live it as freely as you want."
Jaemin looked away. No. He didn't. His death meant bigger things for Empire, that's what the fate promised. "You don't know anything," he murmured and stood up abruptly. "I should take my leave. See you later, Jeno."
While he was walking to the frontyard, he heard the other run, and halted to see what he was planning to do. Jeno grabbed his wrist and gestured at sky again, but with devotion on his beautiful face this time, glowing brighter than all celestials combined. His light was unmatchable, even after being kidnapped and dragged to a stranger place, he never let anything sully him. Jaemin just stared because he had no idea how to react.
"You saved the bird and gave her another chance in life. I will save you too!" Jeno yelled, face blushing red. "I will save you so you can fly as high as you desire!"
Jaemin thought about it whole night, the day after and perhaps all the time. Much to his surprise, Mark didn't tell their parents how he threw up in the middle of training. Knowing him, he probably forgot since he never bothered to care for Jaemin. Either way he was glad that they didn't learn because his mother would have been concerned. She had lost a kid and was still carrying out his memories, because pain of losing a child was the worst. He didn't want to be yet another burden on her already hunched back. When he arrived to Castle again few days later, Jeno was waiting for him at the yard. He waved at Jaemin with sun haloing around his auburn hair, looking like crimson wheat in fire, and younger felt himself burn under his radiance.
Days in Military Castle turned to weeks, then years. Every day he rode there and trained with masters, then met Jeno in hidden corners of loud halls. Jaemin's war started in his heart, in the little room he kept the memories of moon boy and his crescent eyes, flashy hair, lovely smiles. Everything was so easy and hard with him at the same time because Jeno was so alight, too vibrant. Sometimes it was blinding to look at him for long but spending time with him was worth it all. They would sit together, smiling to each other, secretly stealing food from kitchen and running through secret tunnels. They were both training to become soldiers but for younger, it had never been about that. The reason he came to castle was because he felt like breathing for the first time in years.
When Jeno was by his side, all worries and fears vanished. It was only both of them having fun like children, as if his soul didn't exist before him nor without him. Moon boy was the dream of a world that shined upon him. The closest and furthest dream of reality. Either in sky or dark eyes, there were stars he was bound to watch because a small, foreign boy from across the land symbolized freedom. Freedom that he was never allowed to have but nobody knew about Jeno, nobody knew how he smiled when they held hands and laughed together. What they don't know, they can't take it from me.
Jaemin was glad to know Jeno because at nights, when Imperial Palace was buried in darkness and shadows strolled outside his door, he could keep himself sane by the vision of moon boy. Executioners breathed down his nape to take him away and he couldn't afford to blink even once. He almost never slept and he never wanted to, his body and mind already used to dealing with insomnia. He'd accepted to die one day but it didn't mean fear didn't reel his heart. He was only a kid, only ten, and the sky was empty except for the moon that just lately showed up. All his stars and suns had disappeared when he saw the seven coffins. One for him.
He was no stupid. Just like he knew his fate, he also knew his feelings. What his heart ached for when shiny smile flashed at the back of his eyes or when his fingertips itched with longing to touch Jeno again. He was never the type to hide from cruel reality of world and as learned lately, his heart. Jaemin was at the love stage of red camellias and his scent was redder than ever, even darker than the time Yukhei died.
When he was eleven, his mother announced that she was pregnant again and the world shattered. One more coffin. One more kid to die. He wouldn't be alone in the path of blood and darkness. He ran out of palace, marching the streets and alleys to reach his only stutter of light. Only Jeno could cease the pain in his heart, only he was allowed inside his chest where they both sheltered. With a sheen of his dark eyes, moon boy could end the wars and rise the sun for him. All they needed was each other: friends, confidants. When he arrived Castle, soldiers seemed surprised upon his sight but made way for him. Big, strong, scary men. Did executioners look like them too? If they did, Jaemin couldn't even last a second under their rough hands. He was too weak.
"Where is Jeno?" He asked Commander Jaehyun, who eyed him attentively and bowed with respect.
"He is in the class right now, my Prince-"
"Bring him here," he said, not even an order, just a desperate need. While Commander informed other guards, Jaemin sniffled and fiddled with his fingers, sitting on top a board, waiting for his world to light up again. A few minutes later, he felt the sky clear up because brightest torch of love had arrived. With a sob, younger jumped off and ran up ro him, meeting halfway, though careful to not make much of a show. Everybody in the castle was watching with curious eyes but he was only immersed in Jeno's dark, soft gaze. "Come with me."
They passed through the gate and familiar halls. A thousand times they'd been here, running, hiding, laughing and everytime it felt like first time. Their joy was so great it never got old. Their friendship was so strong it never wore out. For privacy, Jaemin opened one of the secret tunnels and made sure nobody was around before pulling Jeno in. It was dark and dusty, with the sounds of castle echoing all over but it was theirs. It belonged to two of them. Immediately, Jeno cradled his chin, caressing each cheek with soft hands. Jaemin sighed with relief and shifted closer, bumping their foreheads gently. Tears threatened to fall and his lips wobbled sadly.
"Nana. What happened?"
Jaemin sobbed. "My mother is pregnant again. She'll breed another kid."
Jeno hugged him tightly, stroking his hair. Slowly, they crouched down and perched on for balance. They lost all sense of reality when they were together, and hugged each other so tight their limbs were interlocked. How much he wished to stay like this forever but for boys like him, fate didn't work at all. Losing control was terrifying but Jeno would hold him through the fall, no matter how hard they both would crash. For long years, moon boy had been his friend despite the fact that Jaemin would die soon and in his own mind, designed ways to rescue him. His sweet moon boy. His adorable confidant. Abandoning him alone in this stranger realm would be the most difficult thing.
"We don't know if it's a boy yet, Nana," he said, trying to sound hopeful. Then he chuckled lightly. "Perhaps you will have a small, cute sister. We would take her to the Star Lake."
Jaemin shook his head. He didn't have an ounce of hope in him. The baby would be a boy, another kid to slay, another coffin to bury six deep under. "They are only breeding boys to kill us when we are no longer needed. I will die with my little brother as soon as Mark ascends the throne."
Jeno looked at him sadly, as though he was offended by such heartless words. "You shouldn't be thinking like this. We are not important because we last, it's the perseverance of love that keeps us going." He then turned solemn, trying to swell his chest, trying to look big and strong. Like he did whenever he wished to show Jaemin he wasn't alone. "And haven't I told you will be flying high over the clouds one day? Don't you believe in me?"
He didn't. Jaemin only believed in facts, only had faith in stories of princes that ran away but was brutally murdered for trying to escape the law of Lord. Fate never let them go but for Jeno, he still smiled and sheltered in his chest to avoid growing uneasiness. His mother's pregnancy had pushed him over the edge and he wasn't the only one who despised it. Mark was also against the idea of another brother, sick of bearing with one already. They never really talked. After Yukhei's death, responsibility of crown prince had fallen upon him. The heir to throne, the King who'd massacre them. Every night, Jaemin locked his room securely and tucked under sheets to ignore the shadows surrounding his bed. They were waiting to end him, to push a huge sword through his chest and take his essence of life.
He valued days with Jeno more than his own life. When he wasn't in castle for training, he escaped Imperial Palace as much as he could and ran to arms of his moon boy, who always greeted him with brightest smiles. Sometimes, they even fled out of Military Castle to visit Star Lake but couldn't stay for long since Commander Jaehyun would immediately notice. They were kids and they were free, despite being captive in separate shackles. Jeno was a slave who was brought to Empire for army, and Jaemin was a prince who was on death warrant. That would count an interesting sight to witness but for him, it was salient.
Jeno was beautiful. Jeno was radiant. His hair burned under scorching sun and eyes gave light to entire sky when it was night. Watching him was like watching a flower blossom under the sun, and Jaemin never missed a second of it. They were both made of memories and adorned with flakes of pain, sorrow and anger. Pain of being unable to control their lives. The sorrow of losing someone beloved. The anger of being chained to a prison. When he talked about his past briefly, moon boy mentioned how ordinary it had been. Sleep, wake up, work and help his family. The day Imperial Army sieged their island, emergency bells had echoed all over and still to this day, Jeno hated the sound of it.
Jaemin remembered his own childhood. He had lived such wonderful five years. Yukhei said that the day he was born, they rang bells from sunrise to sunset because it was a sacred day in their religion. Head Priest himself had come to name and wash him, as though he wasn't another prince to entomb on future. They both had good childhood years until it was all crushed and perhaps it was another reason they grew very attached to one another. Masters paired them to train sometimes and they wouldn't even have time to actually fight while laughing at each other. Jeno's auburn hair was longer than his own and put in a ponytail and the way it bounced made him so happy.
The day his brother was born, Jaemin was hiding in his chambers. It was his companion Renjun that walked in and delivered the good news. A prince was born. If he gulped dryly and cried quietly, it was only for him to know. Another coffin to accompany him in death. Two of seven coffins. Would there be more All of a sudden his parents had become the most horrible people in his eyes because of the way they bred kids just to kill later. They were so cruel for chaining their own kids to death since birth. He stayed back with Mark while King named baby boy Auryn, a legendary warrior of Empire. Shall his future be as pure as his heart. Queen Ailiseu looked down with hooded gaze and Jaemin wanted to cry. They knew what they were doing.
"He is ugly," Mark commented, face twisted in rage. He hated them with a passion. Probably his only desire was becoming the King and slaying them both. "He looks like Jaemin."
"Mark!" Queen warned him. "All three of you are so handsome."
"I'm leaving," Jaemin mumbled, turning on his heels to walk out. He didn't have it in him to dote on a baby, his brother. He had seen his birth, would he witness the death too? He didn't want to see more deaths and hopefully, shadows would catch him alone in the room. Next morning, he went to Military Castle and pulled Jeno into a corner. Moon boy tucked his hair behind an ear and stroked his cheek gently, as he always did.
"You are so pretty," he would say and Jaemin would believe. Mark's insults didn't matter when the moon itself was complimenting him because the moon was the most beautiful thing in the world. Big, shiny and silver; warm, soft and gentle, just like Jeno.
"I wish to make you my companion," he said, fiddling with the hem of Jeno's tunic. Was it heat that crawled up his neck? He didn't need to feel ashamed in front of this boy, who would never ever judge and criticize him. "You will stay in the palace, next to my room. We will be together all the time."
The silence of Jeno was concerning because he never was quiet. Moon boy always talked loud and clear, awakening the sky, scaring the birds, irritating the people. Despite carrying a heart carved out of pain, his will to live never faded and Jaemin hoped it would never. He deserved to live the best fate of all and after his death, Jeno shall return to his homeland and reunite with his dear family. How much he wanted to give him this. Another chance in life without shackles. Putting the moon in chains was the worst decision of all time and they should all pay for it.
"Oh." Jeno's chest vibrated under his hand and Jaemin giggled with his joyful laughter. Moon boy fondled his chin, smiling slyly. "My Nana wants me close. I can never turn him down, fortunately."
"Do you accept?"
Jeno pouted his lips. "I want nothing more than being by your side all the time," he said with blush set high on his cheekbones. Jaemin stared in fascination. "When can I come with you?"
"I will talk to King today. Do you really want this?"
Jeno laughed again, shocked by the way he repeated the question. Of course he did want. They were best friends, more than confidants, the closest bond two young boys could share. Their blood blended, laughter mingled and they had become one in heart. After spending time in the backyard watching recruits and eating lemon cake, it was time for separation, the most hated time of the day. With absence of light upon him, Jaemin returned to Palace and passed through golden halls to enter Throne Room where his father was working on sheets. King Doyoung smiled at him and gestured him to take a sit.
"I am surprised you are here," he said, sharply intelligent. "Do you need anything, Jaemin?"
"I want to take a soldier as my companion guard. I will reach twelve next month."
His father raised a brow. "Is that an early name day present you're asking for?" Jaemin shook his head and he dropped the ink, leaning back on chair. Even his posture screamed of regal. "Is it that boy from castle? The one Jaehyun bought from North."
The wording made him uncomfortable and Jaemin squirmed around. Bought. You couldn't buy a person, let alone a kid. It was slavery and stripping humans off their rights to make your own property. Giving a nod, he watched his father's expression and decided to add more. "He is Jeno. He taught me Northern fighting stances and skills. Men here fight with honor."
His father seemed to have fun. "Do we not?"
"I haven't seen a battle," Jaemin answered, sweating immensely for how thin the ice he was walking across. His father never hurt him but he still remembered the look on his face about Yukhei, who was never given a proper explanation of his disease and just buried away like it was nothing. The one that killed seven brothers. Seven coffins. He could do anything with the amount of atrocity he'd in him.
"I hope you will not," King waved off. "As you wish, my son. I'll send a raven to Jaehyun to prepare the boy."
For the first time in years, Jaemin went to sleep without much difficulty and dreamed of a moon that cracked into two and blood dropped from middle. Despite how gore it was, he didn't feel scared. The moon was full of blood and fatally wounded but nothing lasted forever. It wasn't lasting that made things beautiful and important. The moon would heal and crack would fade in time and it would be back to glowing in sky. Next morning, he was walking back and forth in the room, waiting for actual good news from Renjun. As expected, his friend came in to inform Jeno had arrived. If Jaemin ran to the frontyard in nothing but slippers and nightgown, it was nobody's business.
"Nana, it's cold!" Moon boy yelled upon seeing him, meeting him halfway as they always did. The way their hands found each other and fingers laced smoothly fastened his heartbeats, almost ripping out of his chest. "You really are so enthusiastic to live with me. I'm so cute, aren't I?"
Jaemin giggled and pulled him inside, showing him the halls, the portraits, the paintings. This and this and this. With Jeno's arrival, cold walls of Imperial Palace lit up. His ability to bring colours to everywhere he went was captivating and Jaemin couldn't stop gravitating towards him. This was his best friend, his confidant, his pretty moon and there was nobody else that could stars envy his vibrance. Jeno was one in a million and he belonged to Jaemin. His sweet boy. Despite the fact that he was supposed to share a room with Renjun, younger didn't even show him that place because deep down, they both knew it was not needed.
"We shall visit King after breakfast," Jaemin said, sitting on his bed as Jeno looked around. He pointed at little statues and joked about how ugly it was, making younger whine because they were pretty. He halted at the mention of King and side eyed him tentatively. His little nod wasn't much promising and Jaemin didn't understand the reason. "Are you alright, Jenmoong? Does something bother you?"
"I'll have to confront people who have bounded you to execution," he said, grimacing his face. Then he looked at him with devotion in dark eyes, face solemn and diligent as though he wasn't just a thirteen year old boy. My sweet boy, Jaemin thought, wearing a sad smile. Worst part of dying would be abandoning him because they could have spent many more years together. "You will not die. I will save you. When the time comes, we will run away from this kingdom and never look back."
Jaemin shook his head. "You can't run from fate. It always catches up wherever you go."
Jeno walked up and crouched in front of him, laying his head across Jaemin's knee quietly. Younger sighed and threaded a hand through auburn hair, admiring the way how soft it was, dancing through his knuckles. Like every part of Jeno, it was angelic and seemed to inhale. Full of life and light, what a boy. "You won't die," he said sternly, sounding much older than he was. They were just children but it was always kids that had to suffer. "I will take you to my island, would you want that?"
Jaemin blinked. As far as Jeno described his homeland, all he knew was that it was a green, beautiful island full of cherry blossoms. Oh. How nice it would have been to play hide and seek around trees, their cheeks as pink as the leaves, their happiness enraging all the wilted flowers. How impossible it was. "Perhaps we can," he said, knowing it's a lie. "We definitely can one day, Jenmoong."
First day of his arrival passed by without any problems. His parents scanned him throughly but seemed to like his cute face. Mark was nowhere to be found, probably out for hunt with his own companion Haechan. Jeno met Auryn who made grabby hands towards him and moon boy flashed his traditional eye smile while patting the chubby fingers of baby. On the path to chambers, they talked about things to do in palace but honestly, there wasn't much to do. They shared the bed and woke up all tangled, laughing while trying to unravel. A few days later, he remembered Secret Garden and beamed at Jeno who was consuming a bowl of hot soup. He waited for moon boy to finish eating before wiping his face and grabbing his wrist, running through halls and halls, entering tunnels to reach their destination.
As they neared, the sound of the birds and water caressed their ears. Sound of freedom, only thing left from his brother Yukhei who promised he would have never slain him. Jeno giggled at pink leaves that tickled his face and Jaemin thought his voice sounded better than anything musical note. Freedom was flowing behind large leaves as they ran through. At the first ray of sunshine, his lashes fluttered and angels sang hymns. It'd been long since he last came here because he had been with Jeno, who was looking around with awe. He was mesmerised and bewitched by the sight and Jaemin felt proud for managing to captivate him. Though it really wasn't hard to make him smile. Moon boy had millions of souls inside and each one was a joy to witness.
Secret Garden was a small dome that was forsaken, full of colorful, exotic flowers and ivy wrapped across walls. By the edge of dome, the ocean was rhytmic with the woodnotes of birds that gathered around. The floor was all grass, small flowers lightly swaying with soft breeze and rhythm of birds. Jaemin watched Jeno bend down to stroke flowers gently, smiling at the way seeds brushed across his palm. "Is it magic that gives them a soul?"
"It is the palace," Jaemin said, a little unsure. "My brother Yukhei found this place and showed me how to get here. I would sit in a corner and watch him swing a sword. He would invite me but I was scared of touching such a sharp weapon."
Jeno stood up and shouldered him playfully. "You are such an outstanding swordsman now. I think he would have been proud of you."
Jaemin nodded sadly, looking towards the open edge of dome where birds had come together. Any kind of bird: sparrow, quail, goldcrest. Unique, captivating birds singing for them. For a reason, they loved coming here, always chirping and putting up a show. Jeno laughed at birds and angered them, instantly apologizing to be more attentive of their feelings. After birds forgave him, they chuckled and leaned across the edge, watching the ocean flow furiously beneath. What a view. Secret Garden never failed to envelope him in warm serenity, with his only sense of freedom beside, one that he could never reach. He was allowed to see, feel, but never experience. It was alright. Jeno was by his side, their shoulders brushing, their hands tightly intertwined. It was something they couldn't take away.
"You are so beautiful," moon boy told him, staring at his face with tinted cheeks. "Like a dainty daisy swinging above ocean, wind has embraced your body and sun kissed your eyelids."
Jaemin blushed, hanging his head low to escape embarrassment. Why did he talk like this? "We are just kids, Jenmoong. You are talking like adults."
"Are you calling me romantic?" Jeno slyly asked, cornering him against the soft, flowery pillar. He cutely bumped their noses and Jaemin felt his heart drop, a fatal beat ringing in his veins. The sun caught a fire in auburn hair and younger was first to burn. Jaemin's joy was incalculable with him. They shared bed as though it was nothing, cuddling loosely, waking up each other by tugging at hair or biting on bare flesh. For his twelfth name day, moon boy made a bracelet for him and in comparison to all wealthy presents, his gift was the only priceless one. It was purely made out of affection and he couldn't forget the look of shyness in dark eyes. At night, when the party ended, Mark who never spoke to him during his name day, celebrated it right before leaving. His face was cold and reserved yet Jaemin didn't feel him ooze anger. He just didn't care.
When with Jeno, the life in Imperial Palace became way better in all aspects. They spent most of time in Secret Garden, doing picnics, acting like aristocrats that held cups with one finger, playing games of imitation. Their days were filled with laughter and happiness and Jaemin had never felt so good before ever since he saw the seven coffins. Perhaps moon boy was right when he said humans weren't important because they lasted. It was those precious moments that made life beautiful and worth of living. They were like gods at the dawning of the world, and their joy was so bright they could see nothing but the other.
They watched the sunrise and ignored the sunset because the light should never leave their life. They followed the stars at nights and laughed beneath sky dome. They were bonded to each other through heart and mind. When Jaemin's skin bled, so did Jeno's. When his mood shifted, so did Jeno's. It was interesting, as though moon boy was half his soul. Perhaps he was. That would explain why he effected him greatly and how they felt so absent, broken when they stayed apart a little too long. Jeno could be lofty sometimes, and he was full of charm and grace, and eloquent in his choice of words. Whenever he talked to Jaemin, he never failed to make him blush for how daring and sweet he was. Jeno was one in a million and he was younger's everything.
When he was fourteen, death again pricked the leaves of red camellia and shed the reddest tears. It was Mark who came to him with dull eyes and said their mother was dead, and Jaemin was once again chained in grief. Why did the noises quiten? He could only hear the sound of his heart. This smell... He wished to smell roses. Smell of blood and red camellia burned his throat. The wind blew and took everything with it. Was it still blowing? Where were the birds and angels and demons? Nobody heard his voice. The God avoided his prays, because he couldn't stop the death. He felt hands hold him, and could know the owner of this touch even in pitch darkness. Everything else had left and only Jeno remained.
"Nana, it will be okay," he was whispering, brushing his sweaty hair. Was he laying on his bed? It was soft and smelled like both of them. They always slept together, with tight hands and cuddles. "Sleep now and wake up when I say your name."
The funeral of Queen Ailiseu was the darkest day ever since Yukhei's death. Jaemin could only stand up due to Jeno holding his waist, and he was grateful for that. His eyes were bloodshot and stung so bad, headache going worse every second. There were sounds all over but he was deaf to all. Auryn was crying in caretaker's lap and Jaemin wished to pacify his brother. He was only two years old and already left motherless. When he saw her coffin, he began sobbing, lunging forward to touch her one last time. His father looked at him with painful eyes, carrying the coffin with other guards. Mark was on the left side but he was apathetic. It was Jeno that shoved him back to let coffin taken outside, and they followed slowly.
The sky was dark. The sun wasn't shining. The stars had gone blurry. Even the glow of Jeno was unable to heal him. His mother had been sweet, considerate, despite being shackled in a horrible system. She played with him in the garden and made flower crowns for him, praising his cuteness, patting his hair. He would always believe in her words and chuckle lightly, running around trees, bouncing on earth barefeet. She was the most beautiful part of his childhood and now she was gone. Why was she gone? He didn't want to see the death of beloved ones anymore, he wished to die first before witnessing them shoot away from his sky.
After funeral, Jaemin returned to Imperial Palace while his father and brother stayed in the tomb. He desired to stay too but his wobbly legs threatened to give out anytime. His entire weight was on Jeno as moon boy carried him inside, where they saw Auryn crying for mother and servant left in shock. Jaemin despised how loud he cries, inconsiderate of other's agony, but realized it was just a kid, a baby. His brother was so young and their mother always took care of him, as she raised all her children by herself. Squeezing Jeno's hand, he took strength from him and stepped forward to touch Auryn's head. He halted with hand contact and looked up at him with shiny brown eyes that were a reflection of his.
His brother was a relic from his mother and Jaemin had to take care of him. Mark wouldn't. King wouldn't. The responsibility of his little brother was on him. As expected, his father locked himself away in chambers to grieve for his wife, while Mark was as indifferent as ever. None of them questioned the well-being of small boy and it angered Jaemin because Queen wouldn't have wanted this. As weeks passed following her death, they were now trying to adapt a new lifestyle without her and even King. Jeno and Jaemin visited Auryn everyday, took him to Secret Garden to play, then back to his room for sleep.
Most of time, they were alone again, with shadow of blood hooding their gaze. Moon boy was the only anchor to keep him going. But even his light was extinguishing. Jaemin could see hurt and pain filling into his features that grew sharp with age, because he was now seeing the truth beneath younger's words. His fate was written and death couldn't be stopped when it desired to take whatever it wanted. The shadows would come to take him one day as well and he would be another coffin joining hundreds down below. If he'd grown quiter, calmer, more introvert, Jaemin didn't criticize. Because his love never lessened. His love endured and it was the most precious thing.
Then the night would fall open and while Jeno slept peacefully beside him, their limbs all over each other, Jaemin would space out while watching his face. Moon boy's entire life was founded on him, following the younger like a satellite, circling around his orbit. He desired to go back to his homeland with Jaemin one day but it was impossible. It was unattainable. He didn't wish to abandon Jeno, he didn't want to leave everything behind and fade like a flower in winter. Every smile, every touch, every cuddle. In afterlife without any of it, he would be so cold, shivering miserably. But the dead didn't feel anything. The living suffered after losing a beloved. He'd experienced the pain of it with Yukhei and his mother.
The room was very dark but he could make out Jeno's features, his strong jaw and gentle shape of moon eyes. Jaemin wished to see his eyes open, a thousand times he'd seen but would never get tired of it. It was the only light in his life, it was the only light he needed to follow. Sometimes he shed quiet tears while only shadows watched because perhaps everything could be completely different. They would start a new life somewhere in distant island, wake up everyday looking into each other's eyes, spend the days running across fields but he knew he couldn't have it. Fate couldn't be escaped. Once the Lord decided on a fate, one way or another, it would have happened.
The day Jeno turned sixteen, Jaemin began taking notice of change within him. The way he got taller, bulkier and prettier as if he hadn't been enough alluring already. His limbs were long and strong, arms and chest muscled with years of training because he still was a soldier. While younger was mourning after his mother, Jeno had continued training to not weaken because he still was Prince's companion and knight. Auburn hair was still as shiny as the time they met, always in messy buns or ponytails and Jaemin wished to grow out his hair too. Maybe he wouldn't look just as goos but he wished to share same style with him.
Jeno was a regular part of Imperial Palace and everybody knew who he was. Youth boys and girls shyly glanced at him, blushing upon the sheen of his eyes, and Jaemin watched with growing jealousy in the pit of his stomach. But moon boy never looked back to them. He only smiled at him, so bright and lovely as though Jaemin was the reason of his fragile jar of happiness. That day, in his sixteenth birthday, sunshine hit his face and painted softly, yet no ray of sunlight could match up to glow and warmth of his joyful, genuine smile. Painfully, Jaemin realized it was the happiest Jeno had been in long months. He was dragging him down with himself and had no idea how to stop it.
To think it'd been so many years since they met, and now both were young men, was strange. Time flowed swift and smooth with Jeno because he had this power to fasten the time and make everything better. He made sure every second was worth living even when pain weighted them down. Both for him and others. Jeno was too many things and couldn't be explained through existing words. He carried the moon in his eyes, sunshine on his smile, flowers across his graceful skin. Lasting wasn't important and it was the faith Jaemin held on to with the hope of his sweet boy continuing living even after his death.
Even when he was dead, Jeno could shelter in their memories and never regret the fact that they knew each other once. It would break Jaemin's heart if he wasn't remembered nicely. He didn't want moon boy to forget about him or even worse, despise the life they spent together. At least, he wished to live in his memories, no matter how broken and ruined his mind would have been. He wished to be selfish like this for once.
"Brother!" Auryn pierced through his deep trance, bouncing on his lap with wobbly steps. He'd grown, only to be murdered. Sometimes Jaemin saw Mark stare at them from a distance, probably designing how to get rid of them when he ascended the throne. King wasn't doing any good ever since Queen's death, mentally and physically weathered for losing the woman he loved and bred him four sons. Jaemin felt bad for him but didn't have it in himself to console his father. To even think he had a hand in Yukhei's death gave him shocks of tremors. Smiling down at his small brother, he patted his hair, pinched soft cheeks. He should never see the shadows, he thought to himself, face twisted in sour. Auryn was too innocent for that.
After Jeno's name day, Jaemin felt something change between them. Moon boy was more daring, bolder, even shameless. There was desire in his touch when they hugged, lingering fondness in his dark eyes while watching him for hours without growing tired. During long hours they spent in Secret Garden, when they would be laying over grass and chatting freely, Jaemin always felt the weight of moon eyes seeping through him. Intensity of affectionate looks would make him blush, and cause him to lounge around to escape his gaze. Jeno was always right behind with a full laughter, wrapping around his waist, drawing him in closer, being the adorable boy he was.
The glint in his eyes was familiar, the younger had it embedded at the back of his mind. He had this sweet smile memorised in a special part of his heart. All dark, moon eyes, a little romantic and intimate. The sun shined upon them but Jeno simply put it to shame for how impeccable he was. One day, those beautiful eyes filled with tears, pain of his face hurting Jaemin as though they were one flesh. Sorrow didn't fit such a boy. He belonged to sweet summers and spring sprout.
"Don't let me live a day without you, Nana. I don't know a life without you."
Jaemin gulped. Seven coffins flashed before his sight, shadows falling over the dome, cornering him yet again. He would die one night and the day would dawn late for the death of another prince. This reality shaped and morphed his entire life because no matter how hard he tried, fate was decided. The ink was dry. Even if he ran, they wouldn't stop searching for him because he was a menace to Empire, though he wanted none of it. A bloody system that's built on slaying innocents from all age had never been glorified for a boy like him. He could never fit in, never accept what it offered. Washing in the blood of innocents would only choke him and he no king wanted to see blood.
"You shouldn't live for anyone else," he said, cupping Jeno's cheek. "It is your life and my desire is to see you bloom beautifully. If I can't accompany you, visit the island no matter what because wherever you go, we will be together forever."
Jeno sniffled, tucking into his chest. They cuddled tightly until dinner, and weeks again passed by in Imperial Palace. Sometimes they were outside in the yard with Auryn who played with his friend, watching him fall and laugh and live like a child. Sometimes they grabbed swords and trained in a corner. Moon boy was obviously a better fighter but he lost on purpose to make younger happy, though mere stretch of his lovely lips was enough to cheer him up. He didn't care about fights and losing or winning. It's not beautiful because it lasted. It's beautiful because of the feelings they experienced throughout. And every second with Jeno was worth living.
Jaemin tensed up when he saw Mark walking to the backyard, with three of his guards. Something was happening. After warning servants to watch over Auryn, they followed the prince to backyard where a crowd had gathered. When they approached closely, all they saw was blood and agony, torment of a mighty kin. Mark was whipping someone to death, unrestrained anger oozing off with every lethal beat of lash, echoing in garden like a thunder. Everybody else was staring in utter fear, only unfazed ones were his guards. They were monsters just like their prince. Jaemin swallowed, feeling Jeno's hand linger on his arm.
"Mark!" He called out, hoping his voice could be heard. Even though it could, he wouldn't be taken serious by his brother. Shaking off Jeno's hand and walking forward, he pushed guards aside and attempted to touch Mark's shoulder but he was quick to retreat when he suddenly spun around. Eyes of craze, hooded by bloodlust. This was a beast standing before him, a demon in human disguise. Why was his brother so angry all the time? Ever since childhood, he had been distant to his own kin, cruel to everybody else. What was the reason of his never-ending pour?
"Get off," he ordered. "I won't hesitate to strike you."
With the open threat, Jeno came to stand beside Jaemin immediately, face solemn and resilient. Nobody could harm younger when his companion was right here, sharpened by desire to protect him, laced with many emotions none of them could ever understand.
"If the slave has made a wrong, there are other ways to punish him. Just stop hitting."
Mark sneered, baring his teeth. There was no veil he needed to hide under, he despised Jaemin and displayed it proudly. His rage was raw and hurtful, yet he stood upright as his brother hovered above his face. He'd never been afraid of Mark, though cautious and beware. "Quit being such a baby. I am not buying your fake innocence."
Jaemin scowled. "I do not need to fake anything, just like you. Release the boy." He gestured at squirming slave, whimpering in pain. His cries were dreadful. He'd never felt such physical pain before but could only imagine how it felt, on top of being humiliated in front of others. Since his brother didn't react, just stared him down, Jaemin hoped to get on his nerves and trigger him. "Mark, you are only sullying your reputation dealing with a slave in front of everyone."
"They will all cheer when I slay you, though," Mark stated with an empty face, even emptier eyes and Jaemin felt Jeno freeze beside him. He took it very personally but younger didn't even wince, just stared into his brother's gaze. He wasn't flaunting, nor celebrating, just stating an accurate fact. How right he was. When Mark noticed younger wasn't fazed by reality, he ordered the guards to take the slave to dungeon. Then passed by Jaemin, shouldering him roughly.
That night, Jeno was seething with rage. Basically fuming at some point but Jaemin didn't share same feelings. His brother didn't try to threaten him. He had better ways to do that. Mark only stated the hypocrisy of folk who'd despise him for hurting an innocent but celebrate for killing his brother. With soft and fond words, younger pulled moon boy to bed, hugging into his chest tightly. They should never let each other go until the last breath. They had nobody else to trust, didn't even want to. The light was only through their eyes and Jaemin could die by following his radiance. Their light was the only trustworthy one.
When Jaemin's fifteenth name day arrived, he was woken up by sweet pecks gracing his face. Giggling shyly, he hugged Jeno's neck and straddled his lap. His smile was wide and perfect, looking so gentle, so tender. Jaemin caressed his cheeks and bumped their foreheads, inhaling moon boy's musky smell deeply. Threading a hand through auburn hair, massaging his nape, pressing a kiss to arch of his brow. It was a wonderful morning. So beautiful that his weak heart couldn't carry the burden of waking up like this everyday. Such a great love should be punishable because it made him keep going and slowly fade away under the weight.
"My Nana has grown so much," Jeno said, pinching his cheeks. "You become prettier each day."
"You're one to talk. What's your gift to me?"
Jeno winked mysteriously. "I will show you after the party."
Jaemin sighed. There was a party, wasn't it? He really didn't wish to attend his own name day celebrations but everybody would be so shocked upon his absence. Not that King would even let him escape in the first place. Lately, he was better, at least leaving his chambers and attending Council meetings but nothing was the same. After Queen died, they all scattered around. Though it wasn't like their family bond had ever been unbreakable. Just when she was alive, they would at least have breakfast and dinner together, and live orderly according to her rules. Now it was all gone. The only vibrant thing in his life was Jeno, nothing else, nobody else.
"Can't you show it now? I don't think I can wait until night," Jaemin begged, pouting his lips in a way Jeno absolutely adored. But moon boy pouted back and kissed his cheek chastely. The answer was obvious and younger sighed with annoyance. It would have waited until the end of party.
The day was filled with crowds and gifts. Jaemin was dressed in blue, Jeno's favourite colour, and everybody complimented the way he looked today. If Jeno sighed loudly with envy and stomped his foot everytime a guest praised him, Jaemin took pleasure from his jealousy. He was so cute when he was jealous, cheeks painted red, eyes narrowing threateningly. For years they'd known each other and he still didn't known younger only took his words serious. His heart never pounded so hard for somebody else even by their mere gaze. It was only and only Jeno who was under his skin, in his veins, closer than his lifegiver. But his obliviousness was also adorable for how he acted towards strangers that he thought to have impressed Jaemin.
After a lord passed, he bit on his bottom lip and turned to Jeno whose scowl was so deep. He could have some fun. "What a young, handsome man. He was such a gentleman as well."
Jeno's eyes widened. "He wasn't that handsome," he growled out, squirming around in discomfort. "I am more handsome than him. Wait for a few years and I will also become taller."
Jaemin shrugged. "I don't like very tall men. I would like to feel mutual when I look into my man's eyes."
He felt dark eyes bore through his skull, trying hard not to laugh because he wondered when it would have clicked. It didn't take long. Jeno may not be a genius but he was smarter than many others. "You are messing with me," he stated, glaring at him but even his anger was so precious.
Jaemin laughed. "You're so bright," he joked, then Jeno huffed out angrily and grabbed his wrist. They ran by guards and entered a dark hall, and his back was pushed against the wall immediately. Jeno was pressing onto him, cornering him the way adults did. It wasn't a very presentable position for cunning eyes but managed to cut his breath off. He didn't care about what others saw and thought. His eyes were only locked on dark ones, staring at him as though he could see his soul, read his mind and feel every emotion.
"My Nana is being a brat. Is it the effect of your name day? Do you feel spoiled by all the attention and presents?"
Jaemin smiled and pressed a kiss to his cheek, making Jeno grin widely. "Perhaps I am," he murmured, wrapping his arms around latter's waist. "Am I not allowed to act like a brat for once?"
Jeno brushed his hair back, stroking tenderly. His eyes had gone hooded immediately, because even the moon got exhausted and weighted down with burden. At this point, Jaemin was purposely making him suffer by keeping him in his life but he didn't know what else to do. He wished him closer than anything. He wished to be happy entirely before shadows would take him away. Seven coffins, one for him and one for Auryn. For the future of Empire. That was the fate God itself decided and there was no possible escape. There shouldn't be. Even if Jaemin managed to run, he could never be comfortable for how he knew fate was just behind. It didn't let anyone escape the shackles of oppression.
"You are free to do anything you want," Jeno said. Tears of his eyes promised much deeper meaning beneath the words. You can be free. He couldn't but that was for another day. Today, he was turning fifteen and everybody he loved was right beside him, starting with this beautiful, gorgeous boy.
The party passed faster than he thought, by greeting guests, receiving endless gifts, getting asked for a dance but turning down all offers because Jeno was fuming quietly. Under the table, they were holding hands. If others had seen it, perhaps they would leave him alone but Jaemin didn't like to display their relationship. Friendship. They were best friends yet why did he feel like there was something more lately? Shyly, he scratched at his jaw and locked eyes with Mark across the table. His brother hadn't spoken a word to him after the incident and was yet to give him a present. He didn't want his gift or good wishes. That would mean nothing when he was supposed to be Jaemin's executioner soon.
"Brother!" Auryn yelled, having spilled water all over his thighs. With a sigh, Jaemin grabbed a bunch of handerchief and wiped his slacks. Jeno had already called a servant to take prince inside to change his outfit, because little boy had a weak stamina. He often got sick. After Auryn was gone, they continued criticizing and judging the attire of guests, laughing at horrible choice of clothes for the party of prince's name day. They were still kids. A boy of fifteen was meant to become a man already but Jaemin had no reason to please others. He was going to die when Mark ascended the throne. Best thing he could do was living the way he desired without worrying about how people thought of him.
"This guy has been looking at you for minutes," Jeno talked. His jaw was set tight. Jaemin didn't even look towards the mentioned person because he only had eyes for moon boy. He looked so handsome in black attire tonight. Flawless line of his nose, high of his cheekbones, the pulse on his neck. Slowly, Jaemin put his fingertips on pulse and felt how fierce it throbbed. This should forever continue. Even after he was executed, his light and pulse shall never die out. All he wished for Jeno was the image of him returning to his homeland and finding the family he had to leave behind.
"I only see you," he whispered and dark eyes beamed. All the rage in his orbs was swept away, and Jaemin was proud of himself for blooming flowers on the soul of pretty moon. He didn't whine about anyone else rest of night and waited patiently until everybody celebrated younger's name day. When the party ended, Jeno held his wrist and led him out of ballroom swiftly. With soft giggles, they walked through halls and secret tunnels to reach Secret Garden, alight with moonglow in midnight, silver shadows upon colourful flowers and ivy. Jaemin took notice of three blindfolded men sitting in a corner with instruments in their lap. He let out a bubble of laughter at the sight because Jeno couldn't possibly have done this.
"Did you really do that?" He asked Jeno, who shrugged with a smirk.
"Blindfold was required. We can't let anyone see our secret heaven." He flicked his fingers and the men began the music, filling the air with much intimacy. They smiled at each other under moonglow, innocent and happy for being together, for spending time with each other.
Jeno held his hand and pulled him to the middle of dome in front of the musicians, blending amidst the shadows. In dark pits of moon eyes, he saw his reflection. Setting a hand on Jaemin's waist, he pressed them close. A little huff of breath abandoned its cage and they began moving with the music, though both lacked basic skills since learning how to dance never had been necessary. Jeno was too graceful while dancing despite his taller and heavier body. Younger tried to mirror his movements, sometimes stepping on his foot and making him crack into a subtle smile. He liked seeing him suffer and struggle, yet his hands were ready to lead him through dance.
They turned around the floor in tight circles and their eyes never strayed away. Always on each other. Jaemin was a little in awe by dark intensity of Jeno's crescents, unable to stop the pounding of his heart. Lean muscles budged under his hand as they danced and once again, moon boy showed him a sight that'd never been done before. Jeno was the most beautiful sight ever and as though his presence simply wasn't enough, he managed to make everything even better. What a boy he was.
"You are a hideous dancer," Jeno whispered in his ear, controlling Jaemin's body and spinning him around. While he swiveled senselessly, he stole a look around. The dome was magical and so were they. When Jeno hugged his body back, their chests bumping, he forgot everything. Now looking into his face, he felt like he never really appreciated how beautiful Jeno was. Those shiny eyes, the way strands fell over his forehead, sharp cut of his jawline and softness of his tan skin.
"You are gorgeous," he whispered. Moon darkened as he blushed and hugged him tighter. That night, they danced under open dome, the flowers eyewitnessed and music never stopped for them. The day dawned a little late for them, poured in moonglow and first ray of sunlight, but nothing could match up to happiness that grew inside his chest. He felt so warm, so full tonight, also a little heavy for how great his emotions were. He felt complete in Jeno's arms as if he'd been unfinished before, missing quite many of fragments that shaped his soul. Together, they were finally one.
Things changed between them. Their hands lingered more, laced with realised love and daring lust. It was more than friendship, it was more than romance. They were half of each other and could never exist without the other. Every morning, Jeno woke him up with wet kisses. Every night, Jaemin sang him to sleep. Unconsciously, they'd begun growing their hair together and would braid each other's hair. Though moon boy got too tickly when it was his turn, and younger loved teasing him by scratching his skull more.
"Nana!" He'd whine cutely. "How can you be so rough when you have got such soft hands?"
"I'm not even acting rough. You are being dramatic."
Jeno shot him a look, sly and lovely. "I'm gonna show you the rough."
Then he would take Jaemin in lap and spin him around until the walls were aggravated by his screams. Renjun would come in to check what was happening but upon the sight, left with a mouthful of curse. Younger would be embarrassed, striking Jeno's thick skull but also laughing with him because their joy was so bright. Whole palace was familiar with them already.
Perhaps way too much because in time, Jaemin started to notice people staring and talking behind. Servants were side eyeing each other while cleaning the room, looking for an evidence to prove claims of their secret affair. It also began to annoy him because nobody had the right to poke into his life. While Jeno had left to visit Commander Jaehyun in Military Castle for some unknown reason, Jaemin was watching Auryn play with his friends in garden. It was autumn already, weather cold and rainy most of time. As though air wasn't enough, Jeno was gone and left him at the mercy of his absence. He wished to be embraced by his moon boy as soon as possible, fingers itching with desire to feel him.
Then Mark showed up out of nowhere and walked up to him. He'd already become a man, handsome, tall and strong, enough regal to be a King. In Imperial Palace he'd made a name for himself, the wild beast that's vicious and dangerous. Those sharp eyes of him didn't miss a scene and never forgave a traitor. All guards and servants ran out of his way but Jaemin didn't bat an eye. He didn't even talk to him ever since his name day, didn't hold him worthy of hearing his voice. Why was he here now all of a sudden?
"Come with me," he ordered once he stopped, gesturing somewhere in distance after scanning Auryn. Jaemin sighed briefly, wishing this to end already because he was really fed up with bullshit.
"He can't hear you. We can talk here."
Mark tightened his jaw, crossing his arms across his chest. His gaze was unforgiving and judging. "Do you wish your little brother to hear what kind of a whore you are? Alright then. Do you know what the folk is talking behind you?"
Jaemin frowned. "Watch your language. You can't talk to me like this."
"It's what everybody says. They're all mocking the way their prince is dicked down by his own guard. How can you dare sullying our family's dignity?"
Jaemin sprang to his feet, shoving Mark roughly. Guards squirmed at his audacity but he couldn't care less. His face was burning with heat and shame. He was no whore. Even if he was, fuck whatever they thought of him. "There is nothing such as family dignity, brother. One day you will shed my blood and call it the glory of your reign. And they will all cheer for your decision."
Mark stared at him. Something had cracked at the back of his eyes but he was way too stained in malice. Men like him were a menace because they got rid of their own feelings to avoid suffering. Or simply born without feelings. Jaemin could never know. Then Mark squeezed his fist and last thing he saw was hatred twist of his brother's face before everything blacked out. He'd punched him. His strike didn't hurt more than his bleeding heart. This time, red camellias burned with desire to destroy but he had only blossomed to wilt. Jaemin had no right to ask for more.
He still was in the garden when his sight came back, and Auryn was crying loudly. Avoiding the pain on his face, Jaemin hugged and pulled him close. Mark had already left, he could go to hell. Calming down Auryn was harder than enduring the pain as he was carried inside and physician tended his eye carefully. It'd become purple already and ruined his entire face. Jeno would be so angry when he saw it. Sighing deeply, brushing the hair of his little brother, Jaemin rested in nursery for a while until the door was cracked open and King thundered in with much hurry.
"Jaemin, my valiant son. What happened to you?" He asked, kneeling by the bed. "Is what I've heard true? Did Mark hurt you?"
Jaemin remained quiet. The answer was obvious, wasn't it? Who else could even strike a prince in Imperial Palace? His father gritted his teeth and yelled at guards to bring Mark here despite his begs. He didn't want things to get more complicated than it already was. "It's alright. Just a fight between brothers."
"I know he isn't close with you to joke such way," King said curtly. "He will pay for his doing."
When Mark arrived, his face was cold and apathetic. Even though their father walked on him and hovered above, he didn't wince. He never would. He was a wild beast but being cornered didn't enrage him because he was stronger than enemy. While they were having a staring contest, Jaemin hugged Auryn tighter and tucked him into his chest. Why did he have to witness all of this? He promised his brother wouldn't see the shadows but the ugliest monsters were now ahead of him.
"I hope you have an explanation for this," King said, voice uncontrollably rampant. His yell reminded that of a roar and Jaemin grimaced distastefully. "Why did you hurt your brother? You shouldn't be hurting your own kin!"
Mark shot him a look, peevish and disgusted. "You slain your seven siblings the moment you sat on the throne, father. Do you really think you have right to judge me?"
Jaemin froze in shock, staring at the way King's back tensed with harsh accusation. No filters and no holding back. Mark was raw and honest while slapping their father with facts, and it pushed him to the edge of madness. It was a topic nobody was allowed to talk about. The law was the law, a command from their Lord. Killing was a bad thing but slaying your own blood wasn't because it was for greater good. Countless innocents were wasted for this aim, and Jaemin would too be one.
"It was for the future of the Empire. Not for my own intention. I did what the laws told me, as my father and his father did."
Mark gritted his teeth, sneering annoyingly. He glanced at Jaemin and his eyes lingered on Auryn who looked back at him scaredly. It's who he was, what he was. No different than the monsters that came before, and he seemed to have accepted this reality. They couldn't change the fate, it was already written and everybody knew the role they were supposed to play. "Does it matter at all? They were the brothers you laughed and fought together. Without looking for any other way out, you killed them."
King trembled and it didn't go unnoticed. He was desperate right now, had been ever since Queen's death. Jaemin witnessed the way his father confronted the massacre he'd done, butchering seven brothers, seven youth that all died in pain by executioners. The shadows. The coffins. It never left his mind and apparently, his father didn't forget either. "You're overstepping your borders."
"Let me," Mark challenged, swelling his chest. "I am so sick of you and this little bitch always looks down on me because he won't be the one who murders his own blood! He is so mighty because he will die and I will be his executioner!"
Auryn sobbed when Mark yelled, and Jaemin covered his ears carefully. Loud voice of his brother vibrated the floor and he wasn't even done yet. His face was contorted in pain and hate, directed to everyone around him, but Jaemin couldn't understand why he was the target.
"A stupid law orders the death of all remaning brothers when the eldest becomes the King. While Yukhei lived, I knew my fate was to die but after you got rid of him, I had to carry out the duty of fratricide. Little Jaemin once believed Yukhei would have spared us but he wouldn't, he couldn't!" Mark's eyes spewed fire. "Don't even think you're better than me because you are destined to fall. I am not the monster you've thought of me, you shouldn't have treated me like one."
King shoved him, trying to push him out of the room while Jaemin just watched. He had to be dumb to not realise what he just said. Getting rid of Yukhei. Once he felt as though his father was involved with his brother's death but what possibly could it have been? Everybody loved and admired Yukhei, starting with their parents. Image of them killing his brother was so unrealistic but it shouldn't be. The one who put his seven brothers in tombs wouldn't hesitate to harm his own son either. A monster was always a monster and even though they were under disguise sometimes, their true spirit couldn't be hidden.
"Get your hands off me!" Mark shouted, pushing King away. Guards seemed unsure of what to do, watching family drama ensue before their eyes. They were so fucking embarrassing and Jaemin wanted to cry with all overflowing emotions weighing him down. "You always told me to get close to my brothers. How was I supposed to get emotional with them when I'm supposed to kill them one day? How would I carry the burden? How will I?" He hissed, tears running down flushed cheeks. He looked ruined, destroyed, broken, like his true self.
Jaemin flinched with realization, eyes widening, feeling Auryn shiver in his lap. He never considered the possibility of Mark being afraid of getting familiar with them and then fight the burden of slaying his brothers some day. He never thought such a thing because he was the second youngest, whether it was Yukhei or Mark, he was raised to die. But after the death of firstborn and replacing him as successor, Mark was expected to kill them one day. Pain of dying by the hands of your kin was hard but what about killing them? His whole perceptive changed in seconds and Jaemin sadly watched his brother wipe his tears away, gulping roughly to compose himself. How upsetting that under same sky and law, they lived completely different lives.
One was afraid of dying, and the other was scared of killing his brothers. They were the chained victims of Empire and its system. Both him and Mark were locked in this prison and there was no way out. Kill and die and the wheel kept spinning.
That night, it was raining and it'd taken hours to lull Auryn to sleep. His little brother was baffled and terrified by today's events but Jaemin was calm, dreadfully calm. He walked over to terrace, the ocean misty and stormy ahead. Even through hard raindrops, he could hear the screams of sea. Barefeet slipped across wet marble, but his blood was too hot to feel the cold right now. Hands having grabbed railings, squeezing tightly until his knuckles turned white. In seconds, his hair was soaked, rolling down all over his body. With wet lashes, he watched the rain and storm, bruise of his eye throbbing harshly.
But nothing could surpass the pain in his heart.
He was shaken when somebody wrapped around his waist. With arrival of moon boy, it began pouring, and he could now feel it pelting, refreshingly cool, down onto him. Moon was perhaps supposed to be cold but Jeno was warmer than the sun as he hugged him from behind, pressing a kiss to the back of his nape like a gentleman. He no longer was the boy he used to be. While dying himself, Jaemin had also dragged Jeno down and he felt horrible for ruining his life. He'd laid his heart open for Jaemin but younger couldn't treasure it the way it required. A lightning painted the sky white before it turned back to black, roaring through the night. All of Imperial Palace was probably forced to awaken by now.
"No matter what it is, I will always hold and carry you. I will always line up my stars across your pretty eyes. Just don't leave me alone."
Jaemin shed tears with Jeno's words and rain swept his pain away. The bond they shared was more than friendship and relationship, it was something only two people who knew the cruelty of the world could get to feel: a sense of pleasure, comfort and security in one another. Thanks to Jeno, he'd found his radiant light and followed it to this day but even stars had a lifetime. Everybody died, everything gave out. He couldn't be free, no matter how much he desired to stand beside his boy and watch the sky. But Jeno could be. He had to. Having separated from his family at a young age, he trained and grew up in stranger lands yet he would return to his homeland safely. It was the least Jaemin could have done.
He turned in Jeno's arms and hugged him, hiding in his neck, gripping his beautiful hair. Jeno was the beauty of red camellia and only with his presence, it smelled of something other than blood. It smelled like love and affection and Jaemin cried more, clinging to him even tighter. His beautiful friend. His morning star. His reason of waking up everyday. His sweet confidant. My dear beloved. Whenever you look at the moon, I will be here. Say my name, and I will hear you.
But before he died, he had things to unravel and learn.
Next few days, Jeno took care of him as if he was a baby. He caressed his hair and kissed his forehead, covering him at nights, waking him up with breakfast and spoon-feeding him without a shame. He was quite mad about the bruise of his eye but kept it quiet, so quiet that Jaemin grew cautious. Whenever somebody bottled their emotions, it exploded massive. He didn't want his moon boy to be hurt by a beast like Mark. Oh, Mark, who was afraid of getting familiar with his brother because his destiny had been founded on murdering them. Getting ready for death hadn't been easy but preparing to kill your own kin? It must have been horrible to deal with.
Thinking about it, even though they hadn't been particularly close, Jaemin was always shoved up to Mark's face. Always in the same palace, in the same garden, in the same table. They both disliked each other's presence but was forced to breathe same air and unconsciously, they got to see the other. He saw the way his brother was distanced from their parents, not even shedding a tear at mother's death or how he disobeyed King's orders all the time. Only a boy with enough courage could talk against His Highness and Mark never had any problem in being disdainful. And his attitude was excused because he knew something others didn't.
You got rid of Yukhei.
Jaemin shuddered with memories and Jeno hugged him, tucking his teary face into the crook of younger's neck. He was also suffering greatly and every second next to him would be another punishment but they really didn't know how to stay apart. They had no idea how to separate and live without each other. It was simply impossible after years of friendship. It wasn't just friendship anymore. Something much more, something like holding hands and running off to shack up with in the mountains. How nice it would have been. Jaemin dreamed sometimes, when Jeno fell asleep beside, snoring lightly, arms locked around his waist. They would settle down and spend every day together, cutting wood, catching fish from nearby lake, playing hide and seek that'd end in sweet, wet kisses.
He had no idea how he got lost in those eyes of Jeno like the night sky, when the seed fell into his heart, when it took root and sprouted. But Jaemin wasn't regretful of his feelings, how could he? A heart was fed with love same way wood fueled fire and without the light of his moon, he was destined to be unhappy. He would die soon but at least he was loved, he loved, and it was enough to bloom flowers on his chest. The flowers that formed a bridge of string between his and Jeno's heart. Even the death couldn't cut that thread, even death couldn't take them off each other. They were one, too tight, too close to be taken apart. Wherever they were, it always two of them.
Then he would look at Jeno, who was very serene, still as a stature, bristled in the dark. Wake up and awaken the world, all the light, happiness and warmth were gone when he was disconnected from world. A single boy gave the world everything it needed but never deserved because world was full of forsaken souls who had no roads to take. Some thought the dead were gone but the truth was that, they were still here. In the cold stones of walls, in the rooms of laughter, in the halls of dark rains. They never left, never stopped yearning and disturbing the fresh soul who still touched the earth. They were the anguished ghosts stumbling in the dark. Sometimes when he walked down the hall of Imperial Palace, he felt cold breath of ghosts against his nape, or heard their blurry sounds echoing in high ceilings.
For a palace that was a graveyard to thousands of princes, it was no surprise that some of their souls still lingered here. Would Jaemin become one of them? He hoped for a silent ending, dying and waking up in afterlife. His heart couldn't endure being stuck in this place and watching his moon boy from a different dimension. A few more weeks passed without much noise and problem. He never ran into his father for some reason but saw Mark at some cases, after the bruise of his eye healed. His brother was apathetic as always yet his words rang inside Jaemin's head. Just like him, Mark was also chained to this system, perhaps even the reason he was so angry about everything all the time. Auryn was very scared of him lately and Jaemin made sure they didn't come across since his little brother was sensitive.
Jeno and Jaemin were alone again, most of time, spending days in Secret Garden. While he was drawing something, completely immersed in his sketch, moon boy sneaked up on him and enveloped him in a warm embrace. Being mad at him for ruining his drawing wasn't even an option, not when Jeno tucked into his neck and inhaled his smell as though it was fresh air. They cuddled or rolled around often, trying to take joy from every second of their union because it was to end soon. Every night, Jaemin began to notice shadows approaching, closer each day. Death was crawling up at him and they didn't have much time left. They should live as good as possible without borders and limits.
When Jeno was seventeen and he turned sixteen, they went to Star Lake for a picnic. It was a lake with hundreds of stars on the surface, glowing under moonlight, not even swaying a little with water. An old magic that no longer was used but significantly gorgeous. They stretched out by the edge where there were many other people, thankfully failing to recognize him, and felt like normal boys for once. Two lovesick boys that couldn't look away from each other and wanted to indulge every moment they got to spend together. The confession wasn't anything great, as subtle as they'd always been because it was those small moments that made life beautiful. For big impact, you didn't need big reasons. And it wasn't beautiful because it lasted.
They were again in the Star Lake one day, past afternoon, burning under scorching sun but refusing to leave this beautiful heaven. In this place, they were not Jeno and Jaemin. They were only two stranger boys, holding hands, tangling legs, smiling brightly. Jeno grazed his fingertip across the vein on younger's neck, the most important and lethal one. His eyes were more lethal than any other thing in the world. "I feel your love here, I feel the breath of affection across my vein and it feels safe, it feels like home."
Jaemin blushed under his dark gaze, shifting closer if possible because they were already so tight. "Am I your home?"
Jeno nodded, cupping his cheek gently. "I had no home after being taken away from my family but as you showed me, home can be another person. Someone that is just as warm and soft and safe. I am never lost when you're by my side."
He swallowed dryly, blinking away his tears. Oh. His sweet, sweet moon boy with the weight of world on his shoulders. Perhaps in another lifetime, they could be together in a sequestered place, only two of them. But this wasn't one. He could hold Jeno's hand and run away when there were no guards around but fate wouldn't stop chasing him. Fate would always come to take the price of his life as the law ordered. This life wasn't his own, it didn't belong to him. It belonged to vultures to feed on his remnants. Still, he stroked Jeno's cheeks and wiped shiny tears. He hated how the moon was eclipsed by sorrow of red camellia, because no matter how much Jaemin loved him, he only caused harm to the very person he was in love with.
"You will return to your home," he said, voice rough and strict. Jeno looked away with heaviness of his eyes, shaking his head, because he couldn't. But he had to. "I want nothing but this from you. If you don't go back to your island, I will always be broken, I will never forgive you."
"We'll run away," Jeno said, quiet and reserved. "I am planning everything. We will be gone soon, leaving the palace and its terror behind."
"You can't run from Imperial Palace, my Jenmoong. It always brings you back."
"It won't. I won't let it, Nana," he said deeply, widening his eyes. "I only live for you. Only you. I'll take you away and save you from this hell, make you as free as those birds. We will be together forever."
Jaemin looked at him pitifully. How could he tell him that people were either born free or not? Jeno was a free man and he would return to his family but younger was destined for this glorious death. You could put a free man in chains but you couldn't free a slave, who only believed to the order of fate. Still, his fingertips cradled the beautiful face gently. Jeno kissed his fingers when they grazed across his lips, and a shiver ran down Jaemin's spine. He smiled through tears. "I wish there was another lifetime, where you'd be my husband and we would live in a small home in a lovely town. There's nothing I want more."
Jeno looked hopeful at this, hovering above his face like an enthusiastic child. "We will go anywhere you want. I'll recreate the world for you all over again."
Jaemin shook his head. He really didn't understand, did he? "You can't run from fate, Jeno. I know mine."
"Fate doesn't shape us. To surpass our fears, we should try first. We should try everything, Nana. Each way and every chance. We should fight to have our own chance to reshape fate."
"This is not a fairy tale, Jeno," he said coldly. "If it was, I wouldn't have been in this situation."
On the road back to Palace, Jeno was quiet, eyes focused ahead. Jaemin supposed the reason he went to see Commander Jaehyun was because he was looking for a way out from this. He wanted to try every way but younger had been to all of it years ago. It was a dead-end, and fate had him cornered. All he could do was surrendering without fighting back. Few months passed too, and only time he saw his father was when they had to join an important meeting. Other than that, King even bewared staring towards his direction. He'd murdered his firstborn and Jaemin had to learn the reason. For this, his destination was clear but Mark was very careful to escape a possible confrontation. In the end, Jaemin was left in more confusion.
"Brother, your hair is so long!" Auryn told him, sitting on his lap. Jeno was silently reading a book on the desk but dark sheen of his eyes was spaced out. He was dying with Jaemin, light of his soul already burning low. Dragging such a moonchild down with himself was so selfish but even if he pushed him away, Jeno wouldn't abandon. Jeno wouldn't leave his home behind and it hurt so bad. He'd gone through so much and still stood upright to this day because he loved a prince that's to be buried soon. Maybe his strong shoulders were sagged, maybe his back was a little hump but he had a reason to stay alive. To protect and be with Jaemin. Even after the storm destroyed everything, people still found tree roots to build a new home, a new life. Jeno deserved all the respect for enduring this difficult, tiring journey of survival.
"Do I look as good as Jeno?" He asked playfully, raising his voice. Moon boy didn't react. He probably didn't hear.
"You look better! He's handsome too," Auryn whispered, eyeing Jeno tentatively. Because the latter was a guard and soldier, little boy was cautious of him as though Jeno didn't give him piggyback rides all around the garden.
"I heard that," he spoke all of a sudden and Auryn screamed, bouncing off Jaemin's lap and hiding next to bed. Less tousled, Jeno stood up and tried to catch him. Seeing him out of trance was good but he still didn't talk to younger. Unease and gloom settled in the pit of his stomach and he was angry at himself for offending Jeno because moon boy was the last person that deserved an outburst. When it continued like this for a while, Jaemin had to man up and confront him because he didn't want to waste their last moments. After sending off Auryn for sleep, he shoved Jeno down on the bed and straddled his lap with pouty lips and glassy eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said, interlocking their fingers, pressing a kiss to each knuckle. "I wasn't trying to hurt you, Jeno, but please forgive me. No longer do I know what I'm even doing."
Jeno looked up at him through thick, pretty lashes and cradled his face as gentle as ever. Despite all the heartbreaks and fights, his touch was always lovely, his touch was the only soft thing in this cruel world where big scary men ruled with roughness. "I'm not broken," he lied with a strained voice. "You can never hurt me, Nana. You are my everything."
Jaemin leaned down and put his cheek across Jeno's chest, where his heart beat fast. He could imprint this sound in his ears forever and be happy that his moon boy was alive, alive and safe, back to his homeland because after his death, there would be nothing to keep him in palace. Jeno should fly high and live the life younger would miss in future. Jeno should find his family and start his own when the time came. Even the thought of somebody else possessing him filled Jaemin with jealousy but he couldn't be selfish anymore. Being happy was his right. Only thing he wished was that hopefully, Jeno wouldn't forget him, that he would always keep in a secret room of his precious heart.
"Tell me about your island," he whispered, and moon boy began talking. Until dawn, he talked and talked, and Jaemin listened to every word. When Jeno silenced, all the sounds vanished and it put him in a grim state. Would afterlife too be so silent without his voice?
"I love you," Jaemin said before the sun rose. It rose for them and wouldn't set until they truly stopped caring for each other.
Next months were hard to remember because as time passed, everything became too blurry for him. He could only see Jeno and Auryn, he could only hear their voices, he could only feel their hands. Often, he tripped and fell because he wasn't focusing. Palace folk was talking behind his back but Jaemin was too clogged up to even care. He was drowning in himself, in his fate, by the fact that Auryn would have been killed with him. He couldn't protect a small kid from death and it made him feel so useless, so stupid. Everyday, he strayed further from his beloved and it hurt so much but there was no going back. The road that he always walked along, the light that always shined on him felt unfamiliar today for some reason.
The first time Jeno kissed him was at the end of his seventeenth birthday, and Jaemin kissed back with mutual desire. He wanted to claim his moon boy before anybody else, so that nobody could deny who he belonged to. They were inexperienced and sincere, taking off clothes under the flowery dome of Secret Garden, smiling into their lips. It was heaven when they fell back and laughed, hiding their tears in dark. Jeno held him so gently, so softly as though his skin was made of porcelain but Jaemin didn't want to feel like he was breaking apart. For once, he wanted to feel strong and unbeatable. Then birds were circling around the dome, chirping for them, woodnotes the only sound beside their moans.
Then Jeno was sinking between his legs, spreading them wide, sucking on his hole. He was kneading at his hips and leaving bruising but Jaemin liked the canvas of marks across his skin. And Jeno was raising above him, staring into his soul, those dark, lush, gorgeous eyes filled with tears. Tears didn't seem to leave their eyes. Sorrow shouldn't be the main focus of this magnificent night as their flushed skin met and became one. Tonight, even the moon had blackened so they could have privacy. Jaemin kissed him roughly and if Jeno let out a sob into his mouth, they both ignored it. Then he was thrusting inside of younger, cock heavy and erect, and it was the most beautiful feeling of ecstasy.
Perhaps stars were too far away and Jaemin wasn't free enough to touch them but this was the closest he could get to sky. Jeno fucked him and Jaemin held on to his shoulders, raking his nails up and down lean, tan back. He wanted both of them to be covered in each other, the bruises, marks and cum. And they were. Slowed rhythm of their body, deep thrusts of Jeno, the whorish moans he elicited from younger. Maybe that's the way people imagined him to be but this was only meant for both of them. His heart was so heavy and full tonight, as hours danced upon them but couldn't manage to break their bubble of pleasure and ecstasy. If I smile in the distant future, I'll say it was like that.
The intercourse changed many things between them. Sweet kisses on cheeks turned to wet, open mouthed kisses. Shadows strolled around the room but they drowned in the night of their eyes, enjoying every touch, every cuddle, every kiss. His body was a painting of Jeno's marks and Jaemin loved it more than anything. He made sure moon boy left more hickeys on his skin so that he would die as his lover, with his lingering touch. One day, younger woke up to a blustery morning and was unsettled with grim. Ferocious shadows were baring teeth, ready to engulf him and Jaemin wished to run as fast as he could. No matter how much he ran, fate would always chase. Rather than spending his life on the run because he escaped his destiny, he would prefer surrendering.
He looked at Jeno with low eyes and caressed his cheek. His sweet boy who carried moon in his soul. When the sky was buried in dark, his light was the only source in the world, his radiance was the only path he would follow onward. But even stars died out, even Jeno was exhausted from fighting and suffering. Those purple eyebags, tired wrinkles, hesitant inhales were a proof of his exhaustion. He'd caused the brightest star to fade in the last beat of their song, and Jaemin would never forgive himself for reducing the old, happy, shiny boy to this heap of sadness and depression. Jeno deserved better than him.
When Jeno woke up, Jaemin smiled languidly and told him to get ready. They should visit Star Lake for one last time. They should indulge each other one last time. While dressing up, it was slow and dull as though time had stopped for two of them. How chivalrous of it. Jaemin braided auburn hair and pressed a kiss on the crown of his head, inhaling spicy, musky smell. Their smell was always mingled but Jeno still kept his odour. Perhaps in the first shower he'd take after younger, his smell would be gone too. Then Jeno braided his hair too, pinning with a cute ribbon.
"It's going to rain," he said, staring out of window with dark eyes. "Why don't we just stay inside to enjoy ourselves?"
Jaemin smiled when Jeno kissed his bare tummy, kneading at his hips playfully. His purpose was very obvious. "It's for later. I want to see the stars, I want to feel how rain pelts on my skin."
He felt Jeno stare at him for a moment but didn't meet his gaze. How could he? He didn't see the shadows, he didn't live with them, they were only Jaemin's to see and witness. For years, he knew the time shadows would stop dancing and reach out to him but Jeno didn't. He shouldn't, anyways. He was already too broken and weathered and younger sincerely hoped somebody could heal his moon boy one day. With love and care, with words and touches, even though the image ruined him. Being jealous was no longer an option. Only important thing was Jeno's future, his well-being, his happiness. A boy like him, so sweet and adorable, should be indulged hopefully. Gods shouldn't let him drown in pain.
When they walked out of room hand in hand, Jaemin looked around Imperial Palace. First five years of his childhood had been undeniably beautiful with his brother Yukhei and mother Ailiseu. They were both gone, and it was his turn to join them wherever they were. The grey, painted halls that he ran across, the tunnels that he knew like the back of his hand, the sound of ocean that swiveled through entire place. He knew it all. He had been here, running, chasing, laughing, crying. He had been here once, many times, and for a last time. Red camellias had three stages of life: childhood, adulthood and fatigue. They didn't die simply. They were crushed by the pain of burden they had to carry.
He was at his colorless state, left in the dullness of death, under the mercy of dark shadows.
"You can't leave the palace, your Highness," the guard told him, the big main door shut close. Jaemin stared at it. There was only one reason the gates were shut down in Imperial Palace. While Jeno argued with guard, he felt his sight go black, chest heaving down. No falling yet. This sinister, cursed palace and folk couldn't witness his fall.
"Jeno, I need to see my father," he said, trying to smile. Acting like everything was normal. "I'm sure he will let us go once I talk to him."
"It's already so stupid to lock the doors. I'm coming with you."
Jaemin shook his head, unlocking their hands. Jeno stared at his empty hand. Sweet sweet moonchild, please forgive me one day. "Take Auryn to breakfast. I will join soon."
Hesitantly, Jeno nodded, reaching out and kissing his cheek. After he left, Jaemin glanced at guards with a low gaze. It was silent in palace, the servants, the politics, the people had been buried away. It should have been noisy, people should have been running around, gossiping behind walls, the rooms crowded but this silence was uncommon. This was fearsome because silence knew everything. "Where are they?" He asked.
"Prince Mark is in King's chambers. He passed away at the dawn."
While a prince fell in the dawn, another one rose. Princes like him were always beheaded in night because shadows could work best in utter darkness. Because while executioners murdered you, shadows swallowed up your screams. Jaemin wouldn't scream. In his last breath, he wouldn't surrender to the shadows that'd been terrorizing him ever since he saw those seven coffins. One for him. One for Auryn. Walking up to King's eerily silent floor and stepping inside had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. There stood him, his father, the King, lifeless and long gone. The bed was covered in black attire as though protecting the corpse from sunlight.
Jaemin stared at his father but not for too long. His chest was strangely vacant while striding next to Mark who was facing the ocean in terrace, shoulders upright yet taut. The time had home. The waves had arrived to take both of them down. For once in his life, he stood beside his brother and didn't feel cautious because the fate was already written. He had no fear anymore at the end of line. "How did he die?"
"Heart attack," Mark answered apathetically, but his knuckles turned white around the marble. "He was scared of facing what he'd done, so he brought his own end."
Jaemin blinked, watching the stormy sea, dark sky. Where was the moon? Where were the sun and stars? All of them had abandoned him in the last destination. "Why did he kill Yukhei?"
"Yukhie was an idiot. He had it coming. I told him not to but he thought he was the smartest for being the eldest." Mark sighed deeply. They bewared looking at each other, because in blue eyes Jaemin's funeral was held, while a brother's biggest fear ensued in dark orbs. No winning, no losing, they both went on with already drawn fates. "He talked so much, he talked so big, he shamed King for being a fratricidal maniac and promised he would have destroyed this system. In the end, father destroyed him."
Jaemin swallowed. His brother had been killed for disobeying and rejecting the message of Lord, but couldn't they see how mighty he died? Even his death was honorable and full of him because it was the Yukhei he admired. Yukhei who never confused his path, refused stepping on innocents to rise and chose to die instead of killing his own brothers. He died the way he lived and what a satisfying death it must have been. Only if Jaemin could be as brave as his brother. "You should have told me sooner."
Mark shrugged. "You always knew somehow but I didn't want you to learn at all. I won't be like him." They looked at each other sternly. There was pain and sadness in blue eyes but Jaemin looked past it. Not that he would feel grateful to Mark in his last moments, right? "The coronation will happen tomorrow. That night, it is bound to happen." You are bound to die. Jaemin gulped and tilted his chin. He wasn't going to bargain about his death.
"I only want one thing from you. You must do it no matter what, as my last wish."
Mark nodded slowly. "What is it?"
"Free Jeno. Send him back to his island and make sure he doesn't come back."
"Isn't he even allowed to visit your grave?" Mark said jokingly, but his expression was sour, bitter. He didn't like any of it either but just as Jaemin played his part, he too had to.
"Burn my body and give my ashes to him. It will keep his company the way he's been by my side for years."
Mark turned his head, jaw set tight, lips tugged down. If his eyes teared up, Jaemin blamed it on the lightning that struck. His brother nodded again, slower this time, and it was settled. A bargain on his life. They watched the sea again, the angry waves, the rough raindrops. It beat the dome of palace and ran down the marble, soaking their hands and hair. It was Jaemin's last rain. Last scenery. One of the last moments in life. Few years later, there would be another boy, another prince, waiting to die because it was a never-ending wheel. Nothing ever changed, nothing ever wafted. Many more princes to come and die and more coffins to float on the surface of sea.
"I'm so jealous of your stance," Mark said, avoiding his gaze, because it was a hard thing to confess. "I hated everything for the situation I was put into but you don't even bend before the wind even in your death. You will die and I will live with the shame of butchering my kin."
"This is the order of Empire," Jaemin said. "Sometimes circle of events doesn't change. People do, thoughts do, but world goes on. This will go on too. I'm no longer afraid."
When he returned to chambers, Auryn was on Jeno's lap, drawing something together. Their laughter filled him with joy and warmth and this was way better than everything. At least he spent his lifetime happy with his family, his moon boy, his naughty little brother. They became his light and guidance and Jaemin was forever thankful for that. By dinner time, he ignored shadows and had fun with them. Stepped on Jeno's drawings, broke Auryn's wand, then they teamed up and toppled Jeno, tickling him carelessly. He would never bow down, of course. Jeno, stronger than many boys, pushed both of them down and it was their turn to be tickled.
After dinner, Jaemin pulled Jeno into a corner and caressed his face. Kissed his cheeks and lips. Inhaled his smell, embedded it in his mind. Held his hands, stroked every knuckle, then led it under his slacks. He was already so wet for his moon boy whose eyes grew dark with lust, hovering above him in bed. It was different than other times. Despite being mere teenagers, they felt so old, like a couple at the edge of death. They hadn't been together for so long but definitely lived to the fullest. Jaemin had zero ounce of regret in his heart. If he was to reborn, he would want to spend it with Jeno again. Again and again.
When it was dawn, Jaemin stared out of window, naked and sweaty under Jeno's heavy body. His sweet, beautiful, pretty moon boy. His life didn't end, not yet, he should live until he was too old that he couldn't talk, most teeth absent, face wrinkled with many good memories. He gulped down the lump in his throat. The tears burned like vinegar as they ran down his cheeks. After him, Jeno would marry, perhaps have kids, take care of his spouse and kids same way he did to Jaemin and Auryn. For a beautiful boy like him, smart, handsome, skilled, suns would never darken. His own radiance of light would be enough to lead him through hardships and reach the happy destination. Because our hearts always took us where their dream waited.
Pushing his body aside carefully, watching his face, kissing his cheeks, Jaemin forced himself to get up as his sobs had worsened. It should end already. He put on a white gown and touched his hair, still braided by Jeno. He couldn't ruin his last relic, other than the marks of his lewd mouth that sparkled across his body. In the discreet part of closet, he pulled out the small bottle. It had taken weeks to get this poison through many people, paying a fortune to purchase. The most effective poison of entire continent. Shadows couldn't have him, nor Auryn, whom he promised to never witness the horrible sight. Nobody else could lay a hand on his body. Nobody could end the life he was gifted with, only him, if necessary.
And it was necessary.
Before leaving, he looked at Jeno again, took in his body, face, auburn hair. How restless yet beautiful he looked. Perhaps one day he would forgive Jaemin for doing this, but hopefully he would always be remembered with sweetness. Any other option hurt him because he loved this boy more than anything. He wanted him to be free and start a new life because he didn't deserve to suffocate in his pain. What would happen if they ran? Jeno would also be murdered the moment they were caught, and his death was the only thing Jaemin couldn't stand. His absence was the destruction of moon and world and he couldn't do it.
Jeno always thought the wounded bird they found in the castle was Jaemin, that he was someone he could heal and send high, but it was him. He was a free man, and soon enough he would be out of his shackles. Return to his home, restart everything and find the happiness they had lost in Imperial Palace. His moon boy would be alright, and it's all that mattered.
"My sweet confidant," he whispered with a smile and walked out of room. Guards watched him as he walked up to Auryn's room. Little boy was awake, waving at him happily. Jaemin kissed his chubby cheeks. "Why are you awake so early in morning?"
"Thunders disturbed me all night," Auryn whined, pouting cutely. "Didn't you hear? It was so loud!"
"If I didn't hear, it probably wasn't so noisy."
Jaemin sat down on bed and brushed his dark hair, squeezing the bottle in his palm. Lord wouldn't pity him for murdering his brother but he couldn't let shadows lay a hand on him. How scared he would have been when they embraced his small, child body. This way, it was easier and simpler with less pain. Opening the bottle of poison, he gulped down a dry sob and smiled at Auryn's bright face. How happy he was, unknown to news that'd spread today and the horror that'd come in by the dawn. He wouldn't have to witness any of it.
"Drink this, baby. It's still dark, it will help you sleep," he said, tapping his chin. Auryn curiously smelled the poison and grimaced, but drank a portion of it as Jaemin said. He did whatever his brother said, trusting him with his whole heart and how much he was admired the way he did with Yukhei broke him apart. Truly, there was only one thing stronger than any law and it was brotherly love.
"Brother, what is gonna happen now?" He asked, tasting the bitterness, and Jaemin quickly followed by drinking up the last of poison. Death rolled down his throat like lava and burned his organs, twisting his spine, but it was just imagination. Finally, the death he'd been waiting for years came to take him. He pulled Auryn into his lap and hugged him tightly, closing his eyes to avoid tears.
"We're gonna sleep now, baby. Tomorrow will be better, I will bring you flowers from the garden of god and angels will put a crown on your head."
"I love flower crowns! I want one made of daisies."
Jaemin nodded, holding him tighter. "Any flower you want, primroses, hyacinth. We will march across the garden and watch the sky at nights. Lord will let us into the gates of his heaven and we will be so happy here, baby. We will be away from all the pain and sorrow and problems."
He felt exhausted, and his body was slowly giving up. He didn't want to give up, denial of death, but had to. Acceptance came fast, though, he gave up and the world began to disappear under his low lids. The world unfocused, like squinting his eyes shut but they were wide open. Auryn gagged, but Jaemin covered his mouth and let tears fall on his soft hair. There it comes, he thought dully, staring beyond the window. The day didn't dawn. And Jaemin dreamed of many things, many years, many lifespans. Eye smile of a moon boy flashed at the back of his head and familiar large hands grabbed his but the sudden quake was too strong to endure. Jeno was gone in a second, his smile lingering in air, and Jaemin felt it swallow him next.
The bite was black and cold, like the wilting of red camellia.