Yoo Si Jin's eyelids were just taking its own pace in letting the faint rays of sunset that shone through his window seep through when he suddenly heard a familiar voice—that certain, sweet timbre he knew he had just heard earlier. When he turned to the opposite side of his bed, he indeed saw her, sitting just a few inches away.
"You're here," Si Jin said casually, though he was undoubtedly startled at how she suddenly appeared in his own home which was somewhat far away from the palace. Still in his groggy, sleepy state, his hand instantly covered his face, thinking that he might have drooled while he was enjoying his slumber. "How did you come over here?"
"I found my own way to your place,"
He nodded drowsily, "I was planning to visit you in the palace as soon as I woke up. Did you miss me that quickly?"
"I was worried. I never got to ask you if you're fine when you visited,"
"Ah, jeongmal? You came over just for that? I thought you noticed the change right away when we met,"
"What is it?"
"Didn't see it?" Si Jin uncovered his face, flashing her a cheeky smile, "I have become more handsome,"
"Wha—wait, ya! Are you kidding me?" She scowled, but Yoo Si Jin found her innocent, yet irritated expression cute.
"I'm fine, seriously. Lady Yoon did a good job in taking care of me,"
Taking care? "Lady Yoon? Yoon Myung Joo-ssi?"
"Yes. Who else could it be?"
"No one else,"
"Then why were you asking?" Si Jin got up from his recline on his bed and faced her, and he did notice how her eyes rolled at him out of aversion. "I'm sorry, are you perhaps getting jealous of her again?"
She glared at Si Jin, "Again?"
"You were getting really envious of her back then when I gave you the book, am I not correct—"
"Aniyo!" She made a tut with her arms crossed, making him chuckle in amusement. She gets really cute when she gets possessive.
"This woman... Are you seriously envious of her being with me?"
"She's been with you for three months, how am I supposed to react to that?"
"Heol. Haven't I told you already? She's nothing more than my friend and my attending physician, and besides she's head-over-heels with Seo-gunkwan—"
"That doesn't count," She scoffed, but though she looked irritated, Si Jin found her cross expressions really, undeniably cute. And the fact that she could actually get jealous and possessive only made him smile as he stared at her.
She really likes me.
Leaning towards her direction with his knuckles pointing on his chin, Si Jin tries to get her attention, "Look at me, Kang Mo Yeon-ssi. Do I have to repeat myself again? She's not someone you're supposed to invest your time being jealous at,"
"Then to whom shall I spend hours getting jealous at?" She recalls asking him this question many months ago, and Si Jin did tell him indirectly it was the princess.
But she was the princess. So who else should she be envious of?
"No one," He leaned in closer, locking eyes at her, "I'm all yours,"
Hearing this from him, Mo Yeon leaned back, trying to hide the blush on her face with an annoyed frown. "Quit fooling around,"
"Wah, so you think I'm fooling around?" Si Jin sounded hurt, "I got you out from the brothel, took you in my home for protection, defended a nation just to save you, and yet you still think all I'm doing is a joke?"
"Then say it to me concretely," She pouted.
"That you love me. I have not heard you say it to me yet,"
Si Jin laughed, reaching for a stray strand of her hair and tucked it behind her ear, "Aren't actions more important and heartfelt than the words we speak? It could be fleeting, you know. You're being too materialistic," He tilted his head towards her in a cute angle, but Mo Yeon did not budge; she looked away quickly.
"I wanted to hear the words from you. I never heard you say—"
"Ah, kkamjagiya!" Mo Yeon shrieked when Si Jin blurted those words all of a sudden. She could just feel her cheeks heat up and redden in embarassment, "I was not ready!"
"Alright. Are you ready?" He said in a playful tone, "Saranghaeyo,"
He repeated the same words, but this time in a softer and slower manner. Si Jin loved how she could make such an obvious response despite having her lips pursed; her eyes were slowly getting dilated and her nostrils had a slightly noticeable change of size right after he uttered the words she longed to hear from him--a clear harbringer that she was deeply swayed. Kang Mo Yeon fumbled beneath her sleeves, unsure of what to respond with him looking fixedly towards her.
"Okay," She flatly said.
"Okay? That's all you've got to tell me?" Si Jin asked, and in just a split second, she started to bite her lips inward as she looked down bashfully.
"Nado saranghae, Yoo Si Jin-ssi," Kang Mo Yeon finally said, and she could see the genuine, amused expression he made at her reply. With some of his fingers on top of the back of her palms as they sat, she felt nothing but grateful they were finally just sitting inside his room, free from all threats and transgressions of enemies and traitors. They weren't in a battlefield, nor were they sheltered in some dungeon hidden deep within the forest. They were just here enjoying one simple, yet beautiful Spring sunset inside his bedroom--both of them finding solace with just the touch of their hands and their warm, endearing smiles.
More importantly, with their betrothal still intact, Kang Mo Yeon knew that everything would finally lead her to being with the man that she loves.
"So when are we getting married?" She broke the silence of her fiancee's wide and spacious room, "If you say I disappeared just days before our initial wedding day, then our marriage is already two decades behind schedule,"
"You're very calculative, even if you can't remember a lot from the past," Yoo Si Jin remarked, finally getting up from his bed, "If you'd come to look at it, we could have been together now, for twenty years,"
"You won't be taking any concubines, had we been married already, would you?"
"Ani. I'm sticking with you," He replied with ease, while she gave Si Jin a look of disbelief.
"You better stick with me. I'll give you as many children as you want," She remarked while she watched him disappear to his wardrobe closet, "Omo. I think we'd have about four or five children by now, Yoo Si Jin-ssi,"
"Aren't we too young to have five?" His voice resounded from the closet room, amused at what she said.
"We are that hardworking. Perhaps the youngest is about...four years old?"
He chuckled at the thought of a little kid running around his house's courtyard, and was just as tall as one of the miniature tables he had in his bedroom, "That's cute. Is it a boy or a girl?"
It took Mo Yeon a while to give him her response, as she still tried to picture out the image in her own mind.
"A little girl,"
"A little girl?"
"Ne. She's very pretty and sweet that she would love to snuggle in between us because she is scared of the dark," Kang Mo Yeon kept talking while Si Jin got dressed up, having all ears attentive to every word. He could hear her put all her thoughts into words from where he was, "The first three of our children would be boys, isn't that amazing?"
Si Jin smiled while taking out a new set of clothes from his closet, "Go on, I'm listening," and so she did.
"The eldest would be really strong. He loves running around, but he's the clumsiest among the five. The second would inherit your superior intelligence, so smart he topped Sungkyunkwan's gwageo examinations, and the third took interest in medicine. He'll be a great doctor," Mo Yeon continued catechizing him with how she had imagined things to be while slowly crawling towards Si Jin's spacious bed. She loved breathing in his fragrance left on the sheets.
"What about the fourth? Is it a boy or a girl we're having?" Si Jin rode along with her imaginative answers, and though he was finished getting dressed, he chose to remain inside the closet room for a while; he wanted to listen to her from afar.
"The fourth one's a girl," Mo Yeon calmly replied, "She's the kind of daughter that sees her father as her role model,"
"She would be the closest to your heart, so close that oftentimes I would get slightly jealous of her getting your attention most of the time,"
From behind the doors of his closet, Si Jin's lips curved to a warm, happy expression, as he paused for a moment, taking in every word she said. It somehow felt like it was not just some made-up story she had in mind, but it was rather her dream of a future together with him.
And he wanted to have that too. He wanted it badly.
For what it's worth, Yoo Si Jin loved the mere thought of Kang Mo Yeon giving him a clear perspective of how she wanted her future with no one else but him. He liked the idea of starting a family of his own with her, however, as simple as it may seem to be, it was not like that on their case. Having a family was just too risky, at least that was what he thought; it was like flipping a coin, uncertain whether his heirs would inherit the illness he feared he'd pass on. He did not want any of his descendants to suffer because of a weak link, or rather a weak root, which was him.
After hearing her wishes and musings being put into words, somehow it dawned on him that all these were just too far-fetched at present.
He could go anytime at this point.
One day, he would be surprised things would never be the same, nor how they planned it to be.
"Yoo Si Jin-ssi?" She called him, "Are you fine?"
"Ne," He decided to shake the gloomy thought off and finally came out of the room, and he saw the surprise and the puzzled look on her features, as she looked at him from top to bottom. Probably it was that he was wearing fine silk clothing, something that he usually would don when he would go outside.
"Are you going somewhere?"
"We are. I was supposed to take you out from the palace, but I'm surprised you made it here on your own," He straightened up the sleeves of his coat as he walked towards her, "I'm taking you back home after we go somewhere. You wouldn''t want to miss Samjinnal at night,"
"Ah, the festival,"
"Ever wonder how lovers spend their time together before they get married?" He looked at her, and she slowly nodded with a clueless expression on her face.
"I've never seen or have been in a wedding ceremony," She mused, "Much more encountered a celebration before it,"
"It's a complicated process, I tell you," Yoo Si Jin shrugged, reaching for her hand and helping her up from his bed, "It's a long ceremony of bows, mock battles, and exchange of silk and other gifts. Drunken folks and banquets and parties. We might as well spend some time alone before we get into that. What do you say?"
"What do you intend doing?" Mo Yeon asked him, but he raised both shoulders, indicating he had no plan.
"It's your call."
"But you're the man. And the byeongjo at that."
"But you're the princess. I'm merely just a retired war minister," Si Jin quipped while placing both his hands on her shoulders, "You have been through so much, you never got the chance to freely roam around since. We deserve a break,"
"You said the exact same thing when you held me as a witness of the Northern Siege," She mused.
"Maybe, but you're not my witness anymore," Si Jin clarified, a smirk forming on his lips once more, "You're my wife,"
She shoved him away, "We're not married yet,"
"Are you saying you're having second thoughts?" He popped a question, and she instantaneously shook her head in reply with her hands flailing helplessly towards him.
"Ani. Aniyo! Animida! I'm Yoo Si Jin's bride," She said it flustered as she may seem to be, but Mo Yeon was sincere in every word, "Jamkkanman,"
"Mwo? What is it?"
She moved closer towards Si Jin with a curious expression, "Is it okay to go anywhere in town?"
He nodded, "You have my word, Princess. As long as you're with me, you'll be fine,"
"Is it safe already?"
"Are you sure?"
Si Jin sighed, with his hands on both his hips, "I'll just send you straight home if that's the case—"
"No, we'll go out. Together. Arachi? Kaja," Mo Yeon quibbled, taking Si Jin's hand in a flash and dragging him outside with her. "Let's just walk like commoners around the village. That's what I want to do,"
Si Jin grinned as he followed her through, "Okay,"
It was during these moments when he can't help but marvel at her erratic yet bubbly personality in the smallest of things; one moment she prefers this, and then she easily gets swayed to another option when he says a word. And despite everything, she remains humble and cheerful at that. It was in her random, unpredictable and bizzare ways that Si Jin fell for her.
She may have lost a huge portion of her memories, but some things in her have been saved and kept from the funniest, and even the most oppressive tricks of time.
It was sundown, and as Yoon Myung Joo walked through the quiet aisles outside the Royal Infirmary, she saw from a distance the sun slowly descending behind the mountains surrounding the place. She heaved out a sigh of relief, delighted that the day ended on a good note. Compared to last year's horrifying condition, the city, and the country in general, has finally come back to its normal peaceful state; if she could remember back then, Joseon was under the grasps of fear and threats because of the Northern Siege, but after the retaliation of the country led by none other than the former Byeongjo Yoo Si Jin, the enemies were successfully warded off from the territories by force and by the establishment of fortresses. Since then, impending threats have been extinguished, and the entirety of Joseon lived with peace for the past quarter.
She wished deep in her heart that peace stayed within the nation forever, but that was too much to ask. Perhaps there could be manageable rebellions here and there, but at least, the nation would remain stable.
"Lady Yoon," a group of royal physicians greeted her with a respectful bow as they passed by, "We are glad you're finally back,"
She likewise greeted the group with a polite bow immediately, but as soon as she lifted her head up to meet them face to face once more, she realized the group of physicians were carrying bundles of familiar shrubs with them. If she were not mistaken, they were the exact same plants Kang Mo Yeon—or Princess Jeonghyeon as she would formally address her—sent back when she was still stationed with Yoo Si Jin's battalion at the North. "Where are you headed to?"
"At the Royal Infirmary. Her Highness, Jeonghyeon-gongju, instructed us to get these plants prepared for her future consort,"
"Consort?" She raised a brow.
"Have you not heard, Lady Yoon?" One of them spoke, "It turns out Yoo-byeongjo was originally the princess' groom-to-be—ow!"
"Shh! Lady Yoon was Yoo-byeongjo's former betrothed! You can't break her such news!" The other reproached after whacking the previous uinyeo with her own bundle of hawthorn shrubs. "M-Mianhamnida, Agassi! We did not mean to break it to you this way,"
"Ani, gwaenchanha," She smiled reassuringly, causing the group of royal uinyeo to look at her with confused faces. "I'm actually glad they're going to get married soon,"
"You're glad? But...you two looked so..."
"In love?" Myung Joo laughed, "Ani, we had to put on a show back then for our parents to feel secured, but even though we treated each other as dear friends, both Yoo Si Jin and I knew we were going to get married out of political and family security. We worked hard to convince our parents to sever our union, and now that we're free, well... We're both glad,"
She could hear three of four from they young ladies swoon and sigh at the thought of their seniors and even their princess having things fall into place, and she was glad they liked how things turned out to be for them, "Jeonghyeon-gongju did seem like she loved Yoo-byeongjo so much,"
"Who wouldn't fall for him? He's so manly and smart,"
"Ne. To think she planted these for him," Another replied. "I'm glad the marriage is going to hit two birds with one stone, Lady Yoon,"
"What do you mean?" Myung Joo asked.
"They both love each other. At the same time, both families agree to their union. Even Jeonha wanted Yoo-byeongjo for the princess ever since. Something like that does not happen regularly, perhaps they're truly fated to be together," The female physician replied with a smile, albeit that statement triggered something deep within her.
Compared to her case, Yoo Si Jin would not have any difficulty in arrangements, because coincidentally, the woman approved of him was the woman he truly loved. Everything was easy. Yoon Myung Joo, however, fell into a fate of forbidden love.
Her father only approved of a man from a yangban family, and nothing less than that. Given this strict principle of her father, it only meant she would be forced to marry a man she never loved, for it was only one man she had laid eyes on.
Seo Dae Young was the perfect one, the one who truly owned her heart. However, he was never among the options, and that mere plight she was in only brought her down and somehow envious of Yoo Si Jin and the Princess' happy fate.
"Yeah, I wish things turned out that way for me as well," She sighed, while the other ladies seemed intrigued.
"Nugu ni? Who is the lucky guy, agassi?" They crowded towards her, eager to know so much more from their senior until Myung Joo's eyes caught of a familiar outline of someone from a distance, just right in front of the gates that led to the King's throne hall. Slowly, she stretched out her arm towards that exact location, with her finger pointing directly towards the man in a Royal Soldier's armor.
"That's him," She smiled, causing everyone to face that direction. Even if the man was too far away, they all knew and identified who it was.
"S-Seo-gunkwan?" They gawked.
"But he's not of your same societal status," One of them remarked, "Would Yoo-yeonguijeong be alright with that?"
"That's the problem," She let out a heavy sigh, "Oh well. It might take me a long while to convince my father, but in time, it'll happen,"
"We wish that your happiness shall be granted too, Lady Yoon," One spoke, "Who knows, he might get promoted someday,"
"We shall be on our way now, agassi," Another said, initiating the group to finally bow and say their farewell to Myung Joo.
"Boil those leaves diligently," She reminded the young ladies before finally heaving a sigh and walking opposite to the Royal Infirmary. As she took one step after another along the stone-paved courtyard, she was moving inches closer to the unknowing soldier, who remained standing upright at the side of the outer parts of the gate. In no less than a minute, she was already one leap away from her beloved soldier.
"Is it your shift?" She hopped to his side, and she was surprised at how quick his head turned towards her direction.
"You can't do that," Dae Young told her, "I might take my sword out if you surprise me just like that,"
"But you didn't. You did not even hold the handle of your sword," Myung Joo quipped, pointing towards his free hands, while his sword remained secured on his left side, "You did see me coming, didn't you?"
Dae Young cleared his throat while looking forward, as though he was trying to clear himself from distractions, "If you're no longer busy, I can take you home,"
"Are you busy tonight?"
He glared at her, "What?"
"I said," She leaned in closer, "Are you busy tonight?"
Seo Dae Young could see the other soldier from his peripheral view grinning from ear to ear. He moved away from Myung Joo immediately, "Choi-gunkwan," He called the soldier's attention, trying to cover up the flushing of his cheeks brought about when Myung Joo secured a close distance from him.
"Are... Are we busy tonight?"
"Yoo-byeongjo tasked us one last mission before he formally steps down. We leave our posts by the time the night begins. Seriously, why are you asking me? Lady Yoon directs the question to you," Soldier Choi replied, and Seo Dae Young looked back at Myung Joo with an obvious look in his eyes.
"What mission is it?"
"It's classified, agassi," Dae Young said stoicly.
"I can't believe you're all taking orders from an ex-minister. You do know his commands are finally a wide range of has-beens, don't you?"
Dae Young straightened up, "It wasn't a command. It was a request. I acted accordingly on our will,"
"Unbelievable, you're falling for Si Jin's bargains as well?" Myung Joo crossed her arms and shrugged, while the two soldiers could only watch her while they stood on guard duty, "All this time, I thought my father was the obstacle to our relationship. And now, even your former commander is getting in between us, Seo Dae Young-ssi,"
"Yoon Myung Joo, you don't understand--"
"Never mind. I'm leaving," She stomped angrily towards the gate's exit, while Dae Young was left standing on the other side of the gate, unsure whether he was supposed to leave his post or not.
"Ya, Yoon Myung Joo-ssi!" Dae Young called from where he stood instead, but she kept walking away.
"Seo Dae Young, she can't go home on her own," Dae Young could hear Soldier Choi whispering from his own side of the gate, "She's the Chief State's Councilor's daughter. If people see her alone..."
"I'm still on guard duty," Dae Young muttered, though he was already itching to run towards the lady, who apparently was nearing the outside gates of Gyeongbokgung. In just a matter of seconds, she'll be outside on her own.
Four more steps...
"Oh, damn it," Dae Young grumbles as he finally left his post, now running towards Yoon Myung Joo's direction. "Ya, Yoon Myung Joo-ssi!" He called as he sprinted with his heavy armor on, and while the soldier was at it, Myung Joo finally turned towards him.
"Wah. You left your post. Am I that irresistable?" She remarked while the soldier ran until he was about a foot away from her. He was panting and sweating heavily, and if it weren't for his heavy padded armor and the metal that covered some parts of his body, he would have arrived earlier than he did. "That was enough to know how important I am to you, that you would leave your post just to call my name countless times," Her hands folded together beneath her as she said it rather dismissively.
Dae Young could only look at her with an apologetic expression, "Mianhamnida,"
"What are you apologizing for? You've proven enough. Now back to your post. I don't want you to get in trouble because of me," She turned around, but Dae Young grabbed hold of her hand instantly.
"You can't go home on your own,"
"I'll go. I can manage. I'll see you tomorrow," She said in a plain and vacant manner, something which appeared to be dismissive, but regardless, Seo Dae Young did not let go. In fact, his grip on her hand got tighter.
"I'll be done by the time the night begins. You have to wait for me. I'll you home," Dae Young said that still in his ever-stern and serious composure.
"You still have a mission to accomplish, don't you? I'm going on my own--"
"Yoo Si Jin is doing us a huge favor, so don't get mad at him." He explained, "He's not getting in our way,"
"Mwo? What is he up to now?"
Uh-oh. Dae Young nervously shook his head, "I...can't tell you,"
"You can't tell me?" She raised a brow, "Wae?"
Dae Young gulped, thinking of the bargain Si Jin made with him earlier that day right after his visit at the palace. While the two travelled back to the Yoo Estates on their horses, Si Jin suddenly revealed something very important, particulary for the soldier.
"So you're finally planning to push through as her consort?" Seo Dae Young asked the other man who rode his horse just half a meter ahead of him.
"It's the only thing I have in mind," He looked back at the soldier, "Wait a minute. I still have another concern in mind,"
"What is it?"
"Who'd be my successor, that's something I'm also thinking of at the moment,"
"As the war minister?"
"Ne," Si Jin nodded at Dae Young's query, "I think you would fit the bill,"
"What about Ahn Jung Joon? He's Joseon's best undercover soldier,"
"You're right. And if I give the position to him, then we'd lose Joseon's best undercover solder. I don't think he likes the limelight too, he'd rather work in the shadows. Do you get what I'm saying?"
Dae Young laughed inwardly at Si Jin's absurd proposal, "You've got to be joking--"
"Do I look like I'm making a joke out of this?" The former byeongjo looked daggers towards the soldier as he pointed towards his humorless expression, even though Dae Young could see how Si Jin was forcing himself to get his face exhibit a serious emotion.
"And if you truly aren't, then why would you give your position to me so easily? Because we're friends?" Dae Young shrugged, "I'm not buying it,"
"You scored high on gwageo examinations. You've had enough experience as a soldier. More importantly, you have become my apprentice and second-in-command. You have potential--"
"I thought you knew how the system works, considering you're a government official. What I've achieved during the examinations would not matter, because I'm not of yangban descent," He bantered.
"Ya. I may be whimsical and frisky at times, but I wouldn't be fooling around when it comes to politics, much more choosing a new minister," Si Jin thought he would finally convince the soldier, and yet Seo Dae Young persisted.
"It's only Jeonha who gets to appoint people,"
"Jeonha gave me the privilage to choose the next person in line," Si Jin sighed, getting vexed on a large scale he just wished to end the conversation immediately. Other than that, Si Jin observed that they were already outside the palace, and were bickering at each other on their horses. It caught every passerby's attention. "Aish, jeongmal. Are we going to squabble over such thing in the middle of town? Just listen to what I say: I'm appointing you. End of story. Now, can we just go home silently?"
"Why would I listen to you?" Dae Young shoved the matter off by maneuvering his horse ahead of Yoo Si Jin, "Just because you retired doesn't mean you can have the freedom to pull one's leg--"
"I'm not pulling your leg here, Seo-gunkwan," Yoo Si Jin addressed his friend formally as how he always did when he imposed authority, inevitably making Seo Dae Young halt from travelling any further, "I am in fact giving you a helping hand,"
"You love Yoon Myung Joo, don't you?"
Dae Young turned back when he mentioned her name, "So what?"
I got him, Si Jin thought.
"Get my position, and you'll be one of the ruling and the prominent class. The only obstacle that is here is her father, ain't that right?" Si Jin smiled, his soul rejoicing in triumph that he finally got his friend's attention.
Dae Young looked at Si Jin with a serious face, yet his heart was already yearning for it, "What should I do?"
"You can't tell Myung Joo about this, or else she'll wreak havoc with how things are supposed to go. You're going to have to fix the mess--"
"Just tell me what I should do,"
"Alright. Go straight to her father,"
Dae Young glowered. "Yoon-yeonguijeong?"
"Who else could be Myung Joo's father? Of course, it's him,"
"You do realize you're sending me to my own grave, don't you, Yoo Si Jin? Her father hates me!"
"It's all or nothing, nae chingu. You can be the war minister with just my approval, but if you really want her, then you must go straight to her father. If you want things to go smoothly, then this must only be between you and Yoon-yeonguijeong, do you understand?" Si Jin made a soft punch on the soldier's arm, "If you think you can't do it on your own, I'll help you out as soon