Soo was tired. Tired of always being caught off guard, always blushing, always being teased.
Always being the one whose heart was racing.
But right now, Soo was especially tired of seeing Princess Yeon Hwa at the Fourth Prince’s side.
From her corner standing with the other court ladies, Soo narrowed her eyes when the princess fluttered her fan and gave the prince a coquettish look. He didn’t seem to notice, merely nodding at whatever the princess said, as he drank the fresh leaf tea Soo had made sure to prepare herself.
I want him to look only at me.
The Fourth Prince’s eyes flickered towards her then, as if hearing her selfish thought. Soo averted her gaze, hoping her face didn’t look as warm as it felt.
How mortifying, if he could actually read minds. He already teased her enough as it was; she wasn’t sure she could take much more.
Soo felt him watching her for a while, but when the weight of his gaze lessened, she peeked up. And there was the princess. Again. She might as well be hanging all over him, with how close she was.
It came upon her swiftly, the possessiveness. She should be surprised, but she wasn’t. While she had always wished for the Fourth Prince to open his heart, to expand the circle of those he trusted, the idea of the princess being one of those people made her stomach roil.
Princess Yeon Hwa had never liked her. The feeling was mutual. Just the thought of someone cold and cruel like the princess getting her claws into the Fourth Prince–
She would twist his heart, poison all the goodness he had inside. The possibility scared her. And Soo knew it was possible. The princess could turn the Fourth Prince away from her.
Soo did not doubt the prince’s feelings. She doubted herself. He was always the one pursuing her. When another had held her heart, she had tried to discourage him. It hadn’t worked. Now she looked forward to whenever the Fourth Prince visited her, enjoying their talks and just being with him.
“You are my person.”
But Soo never sought him out, never told him the same. She waited for him to come to her because she knew he would. The prince waited too. He waited and waited. And waited. Still, she held herself back.
How could the Fourth Prince know, truly know that his feelings were returned? That when he spoke to her, she longed to mirror his words back to him.
I am afraid of what will happen if I let myself fall.
Her ex-boyfriend and the Eighth Prince… Twice she had been burned. She didn’t think her heart could survive a third time.
Princess Yeon Hwa was clever and cunning. She would take Soo’s hesitation and spin it on its head, use any opening that could somehow pave the way to the prince’s heart. And the Fourth Prince… surely, surely he wouldn’t wait forever.
Soo’s love for him burned quietly, but that did not make it weak. If she let it, it would consume her.
Will you let him go and save yourself? Or will you claim his heart for your own?
A corner of the Fourth Prince’s mouth twitched upward at something the princess said. Soo’s fingers, clasped in front of her, tightened considerably.
She knew her answer.
The solution was simple. Soo had to let the Fourth Prince know how she felt. But how?
It was best to be straightforward about these things, as the Fourth Prince was with her. He laid his feelings bare, time and again. She should do the same.
However, Soo flushed at the idea of declaring herself and pulling the prince towards her. It was always the other way around and she couldn’t imagine doing it herself. Coming on strong wasn’t her, not anymore. She’d probably balk in the middle of it and end up embarrassing herself.
No, she had to start out small. Then possibly work her way up.
It would be nice to take the Fourth Prince off guard for a change.
Soo bookmarked the intriguing thought for later. For now, all she wanted was for the prince to know that her heart was open to him.
Soo started with small touches. A brush of her fingers against his when she served him tea and pastries. Grazing against his shoulder whenever she passed him.
Little, inconsequential touches to anyone else. Except her prince. She saw him twitch every time, however subtle, and could feel his eyes following her as she walked away.
If anything, her actions seemed to have the opposite effect of what she intended. He seemed confused, unsure if it was mere coincidence or perhaps wishful thinking. His smiles became a bit uncertain, his confidence subdued.
This isn’t what I wanted.
Why, when she finally decided to do something, did the Fourth Prince choose now to retreat? Soo puzzled over his reactions. It wasn’t as if he turned colder, but something about him had become restrained.
To make matters worse, the prince had been sent on an envoy mission not long after her determination to show him her affection. She hadn’t seen him for a week and she missed him terribly.
“Court Lady Hae. The Fourth Prince is here for you.”
Soo’s head snapped up, torn from her brooding. Thanking her subordinate, she made her way to the main waiting room as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself.
Even just the sight of his back was enough to calm her heart, which had grown uneasy the longer she had gone without seeing him.
The Fourth Prince turned at the sound of her entering the room. His eyes crinkled into half-moons.
The smile that graced his face was warm, and so much like his old smile, that she smiled back brightly. The prince blinked, seeming to come back to himself.
His smile turned small. Careful.
“I have something for you,” he said. He looked away, unaware of her disappointment, and opened the box on the table. “A collection of rare herbs from foreign countries. The merchants assured me that none could be found within the borders of our kingdom.”
Any other time, Soo would’ve been delighted. It was hard to enjoy her gift when the prince wouldn’t even look at her. Things couldn’t go on like this.
I have to make him see.
For the first time in a long while, Soo didn’t think before she acted. She stretched up, placing a hand on his chest to brace herself, and kissed the prince on his cheek.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” she said, her lips a murmur against his skin. “You are very thoughtful.”
Heartbeat racing, Soo didn’t dare look up as her heels met the ground once more. A court lady knocked and called out to her just then.
Soo took the opportunity to slip away, allowing herself only the briefest of seconds to sneak a peek at him. The Fourth Prince had gone rigid. She could not glean anything from his frozen expression, apart from shock.
She wanted to talk to him, but another prompting from the waiting court lady forced her to finally leave.
Please, Your Highness... don’t turn away from me now.
It took longer than Soo expected for the Fourth Prince to find her again. She wondered if it was because he was busy or because he was delaying the inevitable.
Still, there was that familiar flutter in her heart when he appeared before her in a deserted walkway. It was just the two of them now, the sun already sinking below the horizon.
She bowed slightly. “Your Highness.”
“Soo.” His tone was cautious. “Has something happened?”
Her eyebrows scrunched together. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“You’re not… acting like yourself,” the Fourth Prince said. He talked slowly, deliberate in every word he chose.
Irritation pricked at her. She didn’t like this new, wary way he was treating her. “I could say the same about you, Your Highness,” she shot back before she could stop herself.
“Are you angry with me?” He tilted his head to the side, at a loss.
No, you dummy! I’m in love with you!
“More like frustrated,” she muttered under her breath. She wasn’t sure if she was talking to him or to herself.
Tell him. Why can’t I just tell him?
The words were stuck in the back of her throat. Even now, just being near him, she could feel the love threaten to overwhelm her. If she voiced it aloud, she felt like she would drown.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” the Fourth Prince demanded. He made as if to grab her shoulders, but stopped at the last moment, his arms falling to his sides.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she replied, an edge to her voice. “I thought you didn’t like me being so docile.”
“This is more than that,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “This is something else.”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” she asked, straightening her posture. She finally met his gaze head-on, and tried to ignore the spark that sizzled between them. “You are blind, Your Highness.”
“You know I am not one for subtleties,” the Fourth Prince said, accepting her anger. He did not react to it, only stared at her with a patience that made her want to scream. “If I am blind, then help me to see.”
Swallowing, Soo buried her nerves and stepped forward, closing the distance between them. The Fourth Prince watched her quietly with that sharp gaze of his, the one that always seemed to see right through her.
If I give you sight, would you still want to see only me?
Slowly, so very slowly, Soo reached up and placed her hand behind his neck. She pulled his head down towards her; he let her. Neither of them was breathing, and Soo couldn’t quite meet his eyes this time.
Instead, she leaned forward and heard his sharp intake of breath. Then they were cheek to cheek. Their skin, cooled by the night air, warmed with their proximity. Her hand crept up to curl into his hair, holding him tightly to her.
Soo kissed him again, this time in the spot just by his ear. Then she was gone before the prince could even blink.
Run away, run away. All I do is run away.
Soo could not blame the prince for being confused, not when she summoned the courage to face him, only to flee in the end. She wanted to grab hold of him, but was still so afraid to fall.
If she gave him all of her, there would be no going back.
“Good morning, Your Highness.”
The next morning, Soo greeted him as she always did. She bowed before approaching the make-up materials lined up on the side table. Even without meeting his eyes, she could feel the intensity of the Fourth Prince’s gaze. It was heavy with questions; Soo was surprised her knees didn’t buckle under the weight of it.
She took the brush and dipped it in the concealer. Then, taking a deep breath, she turned towards her prince, who was sitting patiently. With practiced, gentle movements, she applied the make-up over his scar, all while aware of his eyes never leaving her face.
Soo expected him to speak up at any moment, but he remained silent as his scar was steadily covered. When she added the powder for the finishing touches, she finally looked straight into his dark brown eyes.
Soo inhaled sharply at the hope and uncertainty reflected back at her. Still, the prince said nothing.
Waiting. I’m always leaving him to wait.
Placing her makeup tools to the side, she lifted a hand and placed her palm on the side of his face. “Do you see now?” she asked, voice quiet.
“… I see,” he replied, completely serious, “that perhaps I’m still dreaming.”
“I have been caught between dreams and reality lately,” the Fourth Prince said. He searched her face – for what, she couldn’t tell. “And surely, this is a dream.”
Her heart clenched in her chest. Even when she all but declared her feelings, was it still so hard for him to believe what was right in front of him?
Did I take too long?
“It took me a long time, Your Highness,” Soo said, “but I realized what I want – who I want.” Her thumb stroked his cheek soothingly.
“And I want you.”
The Fourth Prince stared at her. “I don’t understand what’s changed,” he said.
He seemed genuinely confused, and she wanted to laugh in spite of her nervousness. Where was the possessive prince who swore he would make her his?
“Did you expect to wait forever?” she asked, unable to resist teasing him.
His answer, though, was a serious one. “If I had to.”
“And if my feelings never changed?”
The prince’s hand came up to take the one she had placed over his face. His fingers curled around her palm. “As long as you are in my life,” he said quietly, “then I would count myself blessed.”
This time she did laugh as tears sprang to her eyes. “What am I supposed to do with you?” she asked, overcome with affection and love.
Who had she been trying to fool?
He already has all of me.
Soo cupped his face with both her hands, leaning down until their gazes were aligned. She stared and stared without looking away as she usually did, immersing herself in his dark brown irises.
“You are completely my person.” Soo traced the lines of where his scar would be. “Mine alone.”
It was a heady feeling, to see the realization and wonder transform the Fourth Prince’s face. It was even more addicting to see the red flush his cheeks.
I could definitely get used to this.
A sense of mischief bubbled up, a remnant of her old self that she rarely let surface. But here, alone in this room, it was simply her and the Fourth Prince. A woman and the man she loved.
Soo plopped herself on his lap. She smiled when his arms automatically came around to support her even as his eyes widened a bit at her boldness. And she did feel bold. Invincible.
“I love you.”
A part of her had always thought the words would somehow trap her, but in this moment, all she felt was free.
The happiness coursing through her veins was exhilarating. The Fourth Prince felt it too, if his awestruck and elated expression was anything to go by.
Soo couldn’t help but lean in for a kiss. When their lips finally met, warmth beyond anything she could ever imagine flooded her heart. All this time, she had been so afraid to fall that she had never noticed she already had.
Her arms tightened around his neck, pulling him even closer.
I will… never let you go.