Fifteen

Small Universes Around Us
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Joseon Dynasty —— 1890

“Commander?”

Taeyong glanced over at his men who were smiling at him in a way that only spelled out trouble. He had just returned from a meeting with the King and Queen’s guards to discuss strategy, “What is it? Shouldn’t you be on your rounds or preparing for our journey?”

“Haeun is here.”

It was like his entire body caved at the mere mention of her name and the ache in his gut and in his soul that always clawed up his throat. It didn’t make sense that after all this time, she still had such an impact on him. Every little reminder of her would awaken an intense longing that lay dormant inside him.

“Right. Well, I’m sure you didn’t all have to come to tell me that.” He said stiffly. 

Doyoung grinned, “We are aware. We were just curious.”

“About?”

Young Ho cleared his throat, “What is your relationship with Haeun? We have seen you two together quite often and after the night at the pub…”

“Don’t you have Royals to guard?” Taeyong deadpanned.

“Well?” One of his other men prodded.

Taeyong sighed and rolled his eyes, “I am in a relationship with Haeun. I have courted her.”

His men erupted in cheers and even Taeyong couldn’t help but smile. “Alright, alright, that’s enough, get back to work.”

“Will you be marrying her?” Doyoung asked curiously. 

Taeyong tried to bite down the smile, “One day.”

“Oh my god. I’m so excited. Haeun is so nice, it’ll be so fun having her at the palace.” His men said enthusiastically. 

Taeyong snorted before unlatching his sword and hanging it up, “Okay, you’ve all had your fun, get to work.”

“Do we get to call her sister-in-law, yet?”

-----

He found her sitting with her back to him as she stared at the flowers surrounding the Queen’s garden. 

He moved towards her stealthily until he stood right behind her. He lowered his head and nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck. She smelled like caramel. 

“Hi, sunflower.”

She gasped and flinched before laughter shook her body. She reached back and ran her fingers through his hair. He sighed against her, only pulling away when she made to turn on the bench. Haeun tilted her head up and smiled when he leaned close to gently pressed his lips against hers. He kissed her a few more times before leaning back, “What brings you here?”

“Wanted to say hi to my favourite guard.” She murmured, skimming her fingers against his cheekbone. 

He sat next to her and kissed her shoulder, “Well, in that case. Hi, again.”

She loved staring at him, he was equal parts beauty and strength, her heart did jumping jacks whenever he got close. Sometimes, when she would lay in bed at night, she’d wonder what it’d be like to roll over and see him there. Next to her. 

It sometimes still astounded her that he was really hers.

Her smiled seemed halfhearted as she scanned his face. He frowned, nerves chewing at him, “Is everything okay?”

“My mother asked about you, wanted to know if you were eating well.” 

An embarrassed flush nipped at the tip of his ears, “I am, thanks to all the pastries and breads she sends with you. But why is that distressing to you?”

“My parents have approved of you but I can tell they’re still worried.” She mumbled. 

His brows quirked, “Worried?”

“About me marrying a man who risks his life everyday.” She said softly. 

Taeyong should’ve expected as much but it still stung to know her parents were skeptical, “Haeun, you know that I love you more than I can fathom. You…you are becoming my entire life. Every thought, every dream, every memory. They’re yours.”

She hummed and leaned her head against his shoulder, “I know, my love. I feel the same.”

“But your parents are right, darling. My life will always be put second to the Royals. Especially to the Prince.” He confided. “I-I am a selfish man. I wanted a woman because I love her but I didn’t pay much attention to how you’d be impacted should something…fatal happen to me.”

She closed her eyes, “Taeyong, please.”

“Haeun, I will not persuade you. You are an assertive woman who stands by her decisions. But I hope you keep in mind that one day I might leave you very, very lonely.” He whispered, sadness heavy in his gaze. 

She felt tears well up, “You are right, I stand by my decisions. I will stand by you, no one is making me give you up. But how is it so easy to speak about your mortality?”

“Death is a part of my job, it is my sibling, my partner, my friend. I have never gotten too comfortable with my life.” He said, “But when I met you, death felt like an enemy. Something that threatened to take me away from you. I fear it now.”

“Taeyong, no matter what happens, I will always love you. I will fight every higher power to be with you and to make sure you know how much my heart is yours.” She said firmly, “You have nothing to fear. You will never be leaving me. I will never be leaving you.”

He looked lovestruck as he watched her, “If I do die, I promise you will be the last thing I think about.”

“Aren’t you sweet.” She mumbled, kissing his cheek. 

His laugh faded as he mulled over his thoughts, “There is something I do need to talk to you about.”

“Oh no.” She grumbled.

He took her hands, his thumbs gently caressing her skin, “I will be accompanying Jaehyun to the neighbouring Princess’s Kingdom this week. His potential bride.”

Haeun’s face fell. She had naively thought that after their conversation, that the Prince would follow his heart and do what he believed was right. She assumed he’d say no to the proposal. “Wow, I cannot believe he is going to be married soon.”

“It is a surprise to all of us. Everything is moving rather fast now.” He said. “A lot of planning is going into it. I knew it was going to happen, but it’s a lot sooner than expected. I’ve been working hard to organize it.”

She frowned, “Wait, but the rebel attacks have been increasing outside the borders.  They have been more and more violent. Won’t it be dangerous to leave and travel to another Kingdom?” 

He nodded, “Yes. It will be rather dangerous, I have been in discussions with the other head guards to ensure that the Prince’s safety is maximized. This is a big trip, it will essentially set Jaehyun up for the rest of his life as King.”

“T-The Prince’s safety…but what about your safety?” She tried to stabilize her voice but it was difficult. 

He squeezed her hand and kissed the back of it assuringly, “We are making sure that the guards stay safe as well but it will be one of our more dangerous treks. The entire journey will take 7 days.”

“I assume you cannot take me with you? Perhaps stowing me away in one of the luggage carts.” She asked. 

He smiled softly, the woman he adored was making it hard to breathe, “I would love nothing more but unfortunately I cannot bring you.”

“Will you promise to be safe?” She asked quietly. 

He ran his fingers through her hair and pulled her close to kiss her on the forehead, “I promise, sunflower.”

“And think about me every night?” She asked with a pout.

If she asked for a country, he would gift her one.

He kissed her pout away, “That is not a question. I think about you even when I’m not supposed to.”

“Will you look at the moon?” She murmured, her worries easing away. 

He hummed, brushing his lips against her jaw, “Every night.”

-----

Since that day, it was like she and Taeyong lived in different worlds. 

He spent every second working with the other guards at the palace, ensuring everything was in place for the Prince’s journey to his potential bride’s Kingdom. She was more than happy to let him work, the more effort he put into planning, the better the chances he would be to return safely. 

The Kingdom, however, was buzzing with excitement. News had spread that the Prince was traveling to meet a Princess and everyone was anticipating his return. The thought of having a future Queen was the talk of the town. People with either heartbroken that the handsome Prince was going to be off the market or they were thrilled that a Royal wedding would be coming soon. 

That didn’t mean that Haeun didn’t stay up awake at night, worrying. Every time she heard her parents or townspeople talking about the escalating aggression of the rebels, the more she’d be filled with concern. 

She tossed and turned for an hour when a knock on her front door had her sitting up. She listened as her dad opened the door before soft murmuring filled the room. “Haeun!”

It took a second before she was flying down the stairs. Her father was by the door and Taeyong was standing outside of it, smiling at her. 

“Be back before midnight.” Her father instructed knowingly before handing her robes to her. 

She wrapped it around her shoulders before stepping out, closing the door behind her, “Hi, what are you doing out so late?”

He stepped close to her and she almost let her eyes close shut at his heat and scent, “I have some bad news, unfortunately.” 

“What’s wrong?” She said snapped, tense and nervous. 

His smile was calming as he cupped her face, “Nothing is wrong. But I was just informed that we are traveling to the Princess’s Kingdom at dawn.”

“Dawn? Dawn today? But that’s only a few hours away.” She said, her body trembling. 

He brought her close and pressed his lips to her head, “I know, but we realized that the rebels caught wind of when we were going to depart so to be safe, we are leaving earlier.” 

She grabbed his robes, “What if they’re planning an attack? Or an ambush?”

“We are prepared for all scenarios.” He reassured with gentle touches, “This is just a precaution. There’s nothing for your heart to worry about, my love.”

It was just too much. Tears spilled over her cheeks and she pressed her fists against her eyes, “I’m sorry. I know I said that I understood your duties and the risks but that doesn’t mean I’m not worried. I cannot sleep at the thought of something bad happening to you.”

“Don’t cry, sunflower. It’s nothing to cry over, I will be back, I will be okay.” 

Haeun glared at Taeyong as tears tumbled over her cheeks, “If you knew you were going to be okay, you wouldn’t have shown up outside my house in the middle of the night just to tell me that.” 

He cupped her cheeks and thumbed away her tears and pulled her close, “I came because I missed you, I wanted to see you once before I left, not because I wanted to warn you of anything.” 

She rolled eyes but he smiled. He leaned forward and gently pressed his lips against her forehead, “You’re insufferable, do you know that?”

“I know, it’s a miracle you still love me, sunflower.” He mused.

She tilted her head back to catch his eyes, the warmth in them flooding through her body, "I do. I foolishly love you."

He ducked down, skipping over chaste kisses and burned into until she was arched up against him, fingers digging into his arm. It was rather scandalous to do outdoors despite the empty streets and late hour but she didn't mind this time. She kissed him just as fiercely until he pulled back, breathless, beautiful and everything she wanted to protect.

It was beyond her how his eyes always spelled out every single one of his emotions. The love, longing, adoration was nothing short of breathtaking. "Loving you was the least foolish thing I've ever done."

She softened and curled her arms around

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