A Jade Pendant
Junmyeon pressed himself flat against the wall, his heart pounding in his chest. He could hear footsteps coming down the hallway, and he quietly prayed that they would pass by his hiding place.
Junmyeon’s heart stopped when the footsteps came to a stop right next to the tapestry. What would they do if they found him here? Junmyeon forced himself not to twitch and he squeezed his eyes shut. He imagined a broad, sharp-nailed hand reaching towards the tapestry…
“Prince Baekhyun!” A loud voice echoed from farther up the hallway. “What are you doing?”
Junmyeon forced himself not to make a sound. That was the voice of Yifan, the Prince of Dragons—and Junmyeon was in some seriously deep shit now.
There was a shuffling noise in the hallway. “My lord,” Baekhyun said. “I was just admiring this tapestry.”
“The Prince of Wolves admiring…this?” Yifan’s voice was getting louder, and Junmyeon forced himself to stay absolutely still and silent. “I made this when I was nine years old. I’m impressed my mother feels the need to hang this up.”
“Ah,” Baekhyun said awkwardly. Junmyeon heard a small shuffle, and he stared at the heavy cloth hiding him from view. If he remembered right, the tapestry was covered in a swirling geometric pattern. The Prince of Dragons had done that when he was only nine?
The Prince of Dragons spoke again, and Junmyeon nearly fainted when he realized that Yifan must be standing right beside Baekhyun in front of the tapestry. Could they sense him, somehow? Could they sense his mind-numbing fear?
“You shouldn’t be here, Baekhyun. These are the quarters for the Kingdoms of the Rabbits and Sheep. How would the Kings and Queens respond if they found you here? They would accuse you of…unsavory things, no doubt.”
Junmyeon blinked. He was positive that his mother and father would do more than just accuse Baekhyun of trying to kill him and eat him.
“And what would they say if they found you here, Prince Yifan?” Baekhyun snapped back. Junmyeon raised an eyebrow.
“I am the Prince of Dragons. My kind rule over all the animal kingdoms,” Yifan said coldly, an icy edge sharpening his voice. “Leave here. If I find you here again, you will be punished.”
There was a shuffling noise of what Junmyeon assumed was Baekhyun running away with his tail (figuratively) between his legs. However, Junmyeon heard no movement from Yifan, and so Junmyeon did not dare to come out.
Junmyeon gasped, and the tapestry shifted. Junmyeon pressed himself into the furthest corner of the alcove as Prince Yifan’s cold features came into view.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Prince Yifan said softly, moving to the side. “I figured it was either you or Prince Yixing that Baekhyun was looking for. Baekhyun is gone—you should return to your family’s quarters.”
Junmyeon forced himself to move, his heart pounding in his chest. No one knew much about Yifan, other than his face was constantly set in a cold, stony expression and that he was next in line to the Throne of Dragons. When his father passed on, Yifan would take his place in ruling over the Nation of Animals and all of their kingdoms. It was said that Yifan was wise and patient, but also a great warrior. Junmyeon had no interest in crossing paths with Yifan alone in a quiet corridor at the middle of the night.
“Your highness is too kind.” Junmyeon bowed deeply to Yifan. “Thank you.”
“Good night.” Yifan nodded at him, and Junmyeon took that as his cue to leave. The moment he rounded the corner out of Yifan’s field of sight, Junmyeon broke out into a dead sprint, quietly ducking back into his family’s chambers. His parents and siblings were all asleep, and no one would ever know of tonight’s events. Junmyeon fell onto his bed and curled up and closed his eyes. The terror of the night’s events had taken their toll on his mind, and Junmyeon welcomed the waves of fatigue that rolled down his mind, gently closing his eyelids and putting his thoughts to rest.
The next morning, Junmyeon picked warily at his food beside his cousin, Prince Yixing of the land of Sheep.
“What’s wrong?” Yixing stared at his cousin concernedly.
“Nothing’s wrong.” Junmyeon yawned and ate a spoonful of his oatmeal. “Why do you ask?”
“You seem more tired than usual. And…”Yixing hesitated.
“The Prince of Dragons is staring at you,” Yixing murmured.
“What?” Junmyeon blinked. He looked up and turned around to look up at the High Table and flinched. “Oh my goodness.”
“Did you do something?” Yixing asked curiously.
Junmyeon nodded civilly to Yifan, who smiled back at him, and turned back to his food, his heart racing in his chest and a flush rising to his cheeks.
“Last night, I went for a walk in the palace. Baekhyun caught me, and I was running away. Prince Yifan helped me out of a tight spot.” Junmyeon started eating his oatmeal in earnest, eager to flee the hall.
“Hm.” Yixing looked down the table. “Baekhyun doesn’t look too happy.”
Junmyeon grimaced. “Well, luckily the Summit only lasts for another four days. Then we’ll be back to our respective kingdoms again.”
“I wonder why Baekhyun seems so intent this year,” Yixing mused. “In the past there was always some tension between us, but this time…it seems more sinister.”
Junmyeon shivered. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “But you’re right. Something is different.”
“Then I suppose we’re safe.” Yixing glanced nervously at the High Table. “What would happen if…one of us got hurt?”
“Our families would probably go to war with the Wolf Kingdom, and the Emperor himself would probably choose a side.” Junmyeon finished off his oatmeal and bit into an apple. “I don’t know. It won’t come to it, though, so let’s not speculate.”
Yixing nodded in agreement, and they finished their breakfast in silence. Junmyeon hesitated, and glanced around the room. No one was watching them—now was as good a time to leave as any. Quietly, he and Yixing got to their feet and left the room.
“What do you want to do today?” Yixing asked.
Junmyeon hummed thoughtfully. They’d come to the Dragon Palace every year since they were ten years old, so there wasn’t much left to explore. “We could go to the gardens?”
“I’m worried that we’ll be alone there,” Yixing said nervously. “Especially since everyone else is still eating…”
“I don’t think anyone saw us leave, though.”
“I don’t want to risk it,” Yixing said firmly.
“Fine,” Junmyeon sighed. “Library?”
“Sure.” They started walking through the halls of the palace, and Junmyeon looked around, appreciating all of the high arches and light streaming in through high-reaching windows. Back home in the Land of Rabbits, their palace was quite different. The buildings were rounded, and there was less light.
“What’re you thinking about?”
“Hm?” Junmyeon looked over at Yixing.
Right at that moment, a servant was passing beneath a window and fell with a sharp cry. Junmyeon and Yixing abandoned their conversation as they rushed to the servant’s side.
“Are you alright?” Junmyeon carefully helped the servant sit down. “What happened?”
“I think I twisted my ankle,” the servant said tearfully.
“Oh no!” Junmyeon looked at the servant’s ankle, and saw that it did seem to be swollen. “Let us help you get back to your station. There should be someone who can help you over there.” He helped the servant to stand up and put one of their arms around his shoulders while Yixing took his other side. Together, the three of them began moving off towards the stairwell.
Unbeknownst to them, a thoughtful pair of eyes watched them go.
In the afternoon, all of the nobles were required to sit in on the Emperor’s court. This part was always rather boring, but incredibly important—all of the kingdoms aired out their grievances and gave reports on the state of their kingdoms. It was someone else’s job to take notes for his kingdom, but Junmyeon did his best to keep track of what was going on.
They’d held a court like this every day for the past three days, and today was the last day. Junmyeon’s mother and father, Queen Amber and King Henry, had stepped forward to give their report towards the beginning of the ceremony, and Junmyeon wondered if they would mention the tensions that had started developing with the Kingdom of Wolves.
Junmyeon wasn’t surprised when they hadn’t said anything of the sort. Perhaps, with time, the tension would die down again. The wolves and rabbits had always been at odds with each other.
Junmyeon had been startled when they’d announced that he’d turned twenty-one. Junmyeon supposed that it wasn’t uncommon to announce when their heir was an adult, but all the same, Junmyeon couldn’t stop the flush that rose to his cheeks when several Kings and Queens turned to look at him appraisingly.
Junmyeon looked away from the court proceedings, and felt a bolt of shock when he saw that the Emperor himself was looking at him. His eyes dropped down to the floor and he waited for the moment to pass, willing the flush in his cheeks to die down. He hadn’t been expecting this much attention at all.
The proceedings continued, and Junmyeon forced himself to pay attention. The Land of Bears was announcing that their youngest princess, Seulgi, had married a duke’s son within the kingdom. Junmyeon smiled at that—he knew Seulgi well, and he hoped that she was happy with her marriage.
Finally, the hour drew to an end, and the session was finished. Junmyeon shifted in his seat, ready to stand, when the Emperor rose to his feet.
“A final announcement before we adjourn,” he boomed. Junmyeon looked up at the dais and was surprised to see Prince Yifan fidgeting in his seat and looking highly uncomfortable.
“My son, Prince Yifan, has grown well. He has studied the ways of war, leadership and diplomacy all his life. At the age of twenty-two, I deem him suitable and ready for marriage with a partner of his choice. All members of the kingdom are welcome to approach him for his hand.” The Emperor folded his sleeves back. “That is all. With this announcement, our court sessions are adjourned.”
A wave of whispers and chattering rode out across the hall, and Junmyeon raised an eyebrow at his parents. The Emperor’s speech was customary—it was the law of their kingdom that anyone could marry into the Imperial Family. However, in the past, the Imperial Family mostly kept to itself with dragons marrying distant relatives and keeping their bloodline intact.
“The Emperor would save that announcement for the last day of court,” Queen Amber shook her head. “He always had a flare for drama. People will be after that poor prince nonstop until the summit ends.”
“Yeah,” Junmyeon shook his head. “He looked so uncomfortable.”
King Henry hummed thoughtfully, but didn’t say anything as they left the throne room.
True to the Queen’s predictions, Prince Yifan was flooded with offers from every corner of the kingdom. Junmyeon didn’t see the poor young man alone at all the next day, or the day after.
“It’s not like we won’t have chances to come forward even after the summit is over,” Junmyeon muttered. “What’s the rush now?”
“What, are you jealous?” Yixing dipped his toes into the small stream flowing through the gardens. “Just because Yifan looked at you one morning…”
“I’m not jealous!” Junmyeon frowned and continued plucking at the grass around him. “I was just wondering.”
“Sure.” Yixing smiled at him, and Junmyeon knew that his cousin was just teasing him. “I’m going to go up to the path for a minute, I’m pretty sure I left my shoes there. I’ll be back soon.”
“Alright.” Junmyeon sighed and leaned back on his arms as Yixing vanished up into the thicket behind them. They’d discovered this small clearing next to the stream last summer, and Junmyeon had been dying to visit it again.
Junmyeon closed his eyes and let the quiet stillness of the gardens wash over him. It was much better than the constant whispering and scheming going on within the palace as each kingdom tried to match their son or daughter to Yifan.
There was a rustling noise behind him, and Junmyeon opened his eyes. “Yixing?”
But rather than Yixing, a long-limbed figure stumbled out of the thicket and fell flat on his face.
“Oh!” Junmyeon jumped to his feet and hurried over. “Are you alright—Prince Yifan!” Junmyeon stuttered, drawing his hands away from the prince’s shoulders.
“Prince Junmyeon,” Yifan said, somehow managing to sound dignified even though he had just fallen flat on his face. “I didn’t think there was anyone here.” He slowly got to his knees, brushing the dirt off of his clothes.
Junmyeon took a step back, his heart beating nervously. “My cousin and I just wanted to spend some outdoors. We can leave, if you like.”
“Your cousin?” Yifan echoed, looking around.
“Prince Yixing, of the Land of Sheep.” Junmyeon forced himself to calm down. Yifan was talking to him normally, and he should respond in kind. “We only found this place last summer.”
“It’s very tranquil.” Yifan smiled at Junmyeon, and Junmyeon blushed. “I was also just getting some fresh air.” Yifan ran a hand through his hair, and then winced.
Junmyeon took a step closer and reached for Yifan’s arm, frowning. “Are you hurt? That was quite a hard fall…” He looked up, and blinked in surprise when he realized how close Yifan’s face was.
“I’m fine.” Yifan gently patted Junmyeon’s hand, and then withdrew his arm from Junmyeon’s touch. “Thank you for worrying about me.”
Junmyeon heard voices of a group of at least three people wafting towards them over the wind, and Yifan sighed. “I should go. I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”
“You must be entertaining quite a few audiences,” Junmyeon said sympathetically. “I won’t hold you.”
Yifan laughed at that, and Junmyeon smiled. Yifan’s eyes lit up when he laughed, and his smile was quite frankly, adorable. “I’ll see you around the castle, Prince Junmyeon.” He lifted his hand in farewell and strode across the clearing, jumping across the stream and crossing to the other side, vanishing into the tall grass.
Just as he vanished, a group of nobles came into the clearing. “Prince Junmyeon!” Irene, the Princess of Swans, smiled sweetly at him. “Did Prince Yifan pass through here?”
Junmyeon nodded, and pointed to his left. “I think he went that way,” Junmyeon said, smiling back at her. Hopefully, his misdirection would give Yifan a little relief. “Good luck,” he said teasingly.
Irene beamed at him and hurried off with her group of friends. Junmyeon shook his head and headed out of the thicket and back to the main path. Knowing Yixing, he was probably looking high and low for his sandals.
In the evening, Junmyeon sat down with his parents.
“Junmyeon, we think it might be best if you stayed here for a little longer with your mother,” Junmyeon’s father said seriously. “She has spoken to the Emperor of Dragons separately about the tensions between us and the wolves. He is working with her to provide a solution, but she will need to stay here for at least two more months. It will be a good experience for you.”
“I understand.” Junmyeon ducked his head, and sighed internally. The rest of his family, and the rest of the nations would be heading back to their respective kingdoms. The castle would be relatively quiet, save for the comings and goings of the Imperial Family. “I’ll stay with her.”
“Very good.” Henry looked relieved, as if he’d expected Junmyeon to put up a fight. “The rest of us will be leaving tomorrow, so be sure to say goodbye to your brothers.”
“I will.” Junmyeon sat still. “Is that all?”
“Yes. Goodnight, Junmyeon.”
“Goodnight Father, Mother.” Junmyeon got to his feet and went to his bed, his thoughts whirling. His parents were probably planning something—maybe they wanted to put him in the running for Yifan’s hand?
Junmyeon laughed to himself. That was highly unlikely—the Land of Rabbits was usually disregarded in favor of far more regal animals, like the Land of Peacocks or the Land of Tigers. But it might be perceived as slight if he didn’t put himself forward—so Junmyeon supposed that this was the safest way to go.
Maybe the palace wouldn’t be as quiet as Junmyeon thought. They had a perfectly valid reason for staying longer, but Junmyeon wouldn’t be surprised if other kingdoms also found reasons to stick around the palace and Prince Yifan as well.
The next morning, Junmyeon and his mother waved their family off. Junmyeon smiled when his little brother, Jongdae, stuck his tongue out as him before running off to the carriage. Jongdae had wanted to stay at the palace too, but their father had wanted him to help with things back at home.
Junmyeon’s father came over to give them both one last hug goodbye, and then the small carriage adorned with rabbit insignias was trundling out of the palace gates.
“Will I be sitting in with you on any of the meetings, Mother?” Junmyeon folded his hands behind his back and stretched out his chest.
“Not until towards the end.” Junmyeon’s mother sighed quietly. “The King of the Wolves has been…frustrating. It’s understandable, but at the same time, our concerns our understandable as well.”
“Hm.” Junmyeon frowned. He wasn’t exactly sure what was being negotiated—Junmyeon’s mother and father had been incredibly tight-lipped about it all. There were always tensions with the wolves—it was unfortunate that their kingdoms shared borders, and there were incidents of violence or unrest from both sides. Perhaps this was what she was talking about—if Junmyeon remembered correctly, fifteen years ago, a Wolf citizen had been executed for the murder of two rabbit citizens. Perhaps the King of the Wolves was still angry about that?
“You’ll come to know what’s happening all in good time.” Amber patted his arm gently. “For now, you can amuse yourself until I have need of you.”
“And when will that be?” Junmyeon asked.
Amber laughed. “Soon,” she promised. “We won’t be here too long. I promise you, Junmyeon.”
They headed back into the palace grounds. Junmyeon wondered if Prince Baekhyun had been asked to stay behind for the negotiations as well, and he shivered. It was unlikely—Prince Baekhyun was the youngest in his family. Nevertheless, Junmyeon glanced around nervously as he walked through the Palace Garden.
Yixing and his family had gone straight home in the morning, and so Junmyeon was without a companion. So far, Junmyeon had heard that several families, from the Land of Horses, Swans, Peacocks, Tigers and such other regal and beautiful animals had stayed behind. Junmyeon made a mental note to stay out of their way—he was here to help his mother, not get caught up in a harebrained scheme around the Prince of Dragons.
There was a rustling to his left, and Junmyeon froze. He slowly turned towards the noise, his heart thudding in his chest.
The rustling grew louder, and to Junmyeon’s immense surprise, Prince Yifan came wading through the tall grass. He was singing something under his breath, and he was carrying something over his shoulder and in his hand. His forehead was beaded with sweat, and Junmyeon flushed bright red when he noticed that Yifan’s shirt was unbuttoned all the way down. Junmyeon hesitated—Yifan hadn’t noticed him yet, and he could make a run for it right now—
Junmyeon felt something die inside of him when Yifan looked up and they made direct eye contact.
“Prince Yifan!” Junmyeon bowed. “Good morning.”
“Wha—” Yifan stopped dead in his tracks, his face going bright red. “Er. Good morning, Prince Junmyeon.”
Junmyeon smiled weakly. “Were you…catching butterflies?” Junmyeon eyed the net resting on Yifan’s shoulder, and the glass jar Yifan held loosely at his side. Junmyeon determinedly kept his eyes away from Yifan’s open shirt, but he couldn’t help peeking at Yifan’s sharp collarbones.
“Um.” Yifan lifted the net off of his shoulder and transferred it to the same hand holding the jar. He used his now free hand to tug the front of his shirt closed. “Yeah.”
“Ah.” Junmyeon pressed his lips together. “Did you catch any?” Why was he still asking Yifan questions?! Junmyeon wanted to cry at how awkward he felt.
Yifan’s face turned even redder, and Junmyeon felt a beat of shock. “No.”
There was a beat of silence, and then Junmyeon just couldn’t take it any longer. “I’m just going to keep walking then! Sorry to disturb you, Your Highness.” Junmyeon bowed again and then brushed past Yifan to continue along the path. Junmyeon walked as fast as he could, as far as he could, and didn’t look back.
Later that night, Junmyeon had a dream involving butterfly nets and warm, golden skin. He was running, laughing as the net fell around him. A beautiful pair of silver wings fluttered on his shoulders, and Junmyeon smiled.
“You’ve caught me, Your Highness.”
“Have I?” A deep voice mused. Junmyeon twisted around in the net, but he couldn’t see anything past the golden haze surrounding him. “Have I?”
A warm, brown hand reached out from the mist to gently stroke Junmyeon’s wings. Junmyeon preened, letting his wings flutter, and he slowly woke up from the dream, still smiling.
Junmyeon blinked and sat bolt upright. “What in the name of the High Emperor?” he murmured to himself, blushing hard. He’d told himself that he would just forget that incident with Prince Yifan and move on with his life like it had never happened—and then he had such an oddly pleasing dream about it.
Junmyeon shivered and climbed out of bed. Even if he kept bumping into Prince Yifan around the palace, he had to remember his place. Prince Yifan would probably marry a regal, lovely member of the Dragon Kingdom who would be fit to become the future Empress. Junmyeon wouldn’t have a chance with Yifan, even if he wanted one.
The next two weeks passed relatively uneventfully. Junmyeon’s mother was in deep talks with the Emperor and the King of Wolves every day, but she always told Junmyeon that she would call him if she needed him, and until then, he was free to spend his time outside.
Honestly, Junmyeon was starting to get antsy. The talks were probably long and boring, and much of the conflict would probably go over his head if he attended, but playing on the palace grounds wasn’t all fun and games either. The other noble sons and daughters from various kingdoms who had stayed behind all openly laughed and teased Junmyeon, assuming that he was there to vie for Yifan’s hand.
Junmyeon’s eyes stung as he perched on the bank of a lily pond, out in the palace gardens. He wasn’t here for Yifan’s hand! He was just here to help his mother.
Junmyeon wiped at his eyes and sniffled. He’d told himself that he would just ignore the others, but the constant barrage of snide comments about his clothes, his appearance, his manners, or the slightest slip or stumble was starting to take a toll on him.
Junmyeon froze, a blush dusting his cheeks. He hadn’t bumped into Prince Yifan since that embarrassing incident with the butterfly net (and the dream, although Yifan didn’t know about that). He started to get to his feet, but Yifan walked forward and put a hand on his shoulder.
“There’s no need to stand. Is it alright if I sit with you for a moment?”
Junmyeon flushed and straightened up. “Of course.”
Yifan settled down beside him, his long legs dangling over the edge of the pond. Yifan stared out across the pond, and Junmyeon took the chance to study the young prince for a moment. Yifan’s hair shoulder golden-brown in the sun, and his skin glowed in the sunset. Junmyeon’s eyes were drawn to his ear, where several piercings glittered, and Junmyeon blinked in surprise when he noticed two moles on the top of Yifan’s ear.
Junmyeon’s eyes drifted back across Yifan’s face, and he noticed a small, very faint mole on his cheek as well. For some reason, Junmyeon felt his cheeks getting warm, and he quickly looked away and out towards the lilies in the pond.
“Why were you crying?”
Junmyeon startled. “E-excuse me?” Junmyeon suddenly felt a wild desperation for a mirror to see if his eyes were red and puffy. It wouldn’t do to go back to the palace in such a state.
“You were crying, weren’t you?” Yifan kicked one of his legs out restlessly. “Why?”
“Um.” Junmyeon hesitated. He wasn’t sure how interested Yifan would be in his terribly mundane struggles—after all, Yifan was probably constantly looking at the bigger pictures of the animal kingdoms and their problems. He could probably care less about Junmyeon’s struggle. “I wasn’t…It’s nothing.”
“It can’t be nothing if you’re upset.” Yifan twisted to face Junmyeon. “Tell me about it.”
Junmyeon swallowed harshly at the ringing command in Yifan’s tone. How could he refuse a request like that? “Well…” Junmyeon hesitated again, but Yifan didn’t look away from him. “Well, you know…since your father announced that you were free to marry, everyone has been…restless,” Junmyeon said carefully.
Yifan’s cheeks went pink, but he didn’t look away from Junmyeon. “Restless?” he echoed. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Junmyeon said slowly. Was he really allowed to be this open and straightforward with the prince? Yifan hadn’t said anything to stop him yet, but Junmyeon didn’t want to push things too far. “You must know about all of the nobles’ interest in you.”
“In me?” Yifan repeated, and then scoffed, turning away to face the lilies. “I often feel that their interests lie beyond me.”
Junmyeon hesitated. He didn’t want to outright agree with Yifan—he’d been outspoken enough as it was. Perhaps silence was the best route.
After a few moments, Yifan spoke again. “So, everyone is interested in me. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Oh.” Junmyeon blushed and turned his head away from Yifan. “Well, since my mother is in diplomatic talks with the Emperor and the King of Wolves, she requested that I stay behind with her. All of the other nobles who stayed behind are interested in you, though, and so they assumed that I was, erm…aligned with their interests.”
Junmyeon didn’t dare look at Yifan now, embarrassment and shame rushing through his body. “I, well…I know, just as well as everyone else, that the Imperial Family consists mostly of dragons and the larger, regal animal kingdoms like the tigers or peacocks. Since everyone thinks that I’m here to compete with them, they mock me constantly.” Junmyeon pressed his lips together. “I thought it would be easy to ignore them, but it’s been getting more difficult of late.”
Yifan’s hand closed over his wrist, and Junmyeon flinched in surprise, turning back to face the prince. To his surprise, Yifan’s eyes were tight with worry, and he was looking up and down Junmyeon’s body.
“Has anyone hurt you? Threatened you?”
Junmyeon went bright red, but didn’t try and remove himself from Yifan’s grip. “No!” Junmyeon said earnestly. “Not at all.”
“I see.” Yifan scowled and released Junmyeon’s wrist. “That’s unkind.”
“Yeah.” Junmyeon frowned and looked away as his eyes started to sting again. “I’m not even the slightest threat to them. I don’t know why they keep picking on me.”
Yifan put a warm hand on his shoulder. “You shouldn’t look down on yourself,” Yifan said gently.
“Let me rephrase that.” Junmyeon sighed heavily. “I’m not even here to compete with them. I wish they’d just keep to themselves and not involve me. You know?”
Yifan nodded thoughtfully. “I do know.” He lifted his hand from Junmyeon’s shoulder, and Junmyeon turned to look at him. “Maybe I can help you in some way.”
“What?” Junmyeon stared at him, wide-eyed. “That’s not necessary at all! Please don’t go to any trouble to help me. I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be discrete,” Yifan said, getting to his feet. Junmyeon scrambled to his feet.
“Prince Yifan, you really don’t need to do anything. I can bear it,” Junmyeon said earnestly.
“Why are you so eager to go through this alone?” Yifan gave him an amused look. “Just wait and see. They’ll stop picking on you by tomorrow afternoon. I promise.”
Junmyeon hesitated. Should he keep protesting? But it seemed like Yifan would just do whatever he wanted.
Yifan seemed to take his hesitation as acceptance. “I’ll see you around the palace, Prince Junmyeon.” He raised his hand in farewell, and then launched himself into the sky.
Junmyeon stared open-mouthed as Yifan flew away, landing on a ledge in the palace and climbing in through the window. He’d always heard that members of the Dragon Kingdom could fly without any visible wings, but he’d never seen it in person before.
Junmyeon heard something rustle in the thicket surrounding the pond, and he began to walk back towards the castle, hurrying toward his and his mothers’ quarters. It wouldn’t do to stay out any longer, lest the others find him and start teasing him again.
The next day, Junmyeon stayed in his quarters all day. He was nervous about what Yifan had said he would do, and he didn’t want to be disappointed if Yifan didn’t act, but he also didn’t want to react to whatever Yifan had planned. Yifan had promised to be discrete, but Junmyeon wondered if that could really be possible.
Junmyeon’s mother finally returned to their rooms in the evening. To Junmyeon’s surprise, her eyes were lined with weariness as they had been for the first few weeks, but she seemed excited.
“Haven’t you heard?” Junmyeon’s mother came to sit beside him. “The Archduke of Dragons, Kyuhyun Cho, is going to host a ball tomorrow night!”
“Why does it matter?” Junmyeon asked, puzzled. “Dragon Kingdom affairs are usually closed to the rest of us.”
“I was getting to the exciting part,” Junmyeon’s mother said, smiling. “Duke Cho has also said that invitations have been sent out to select residents and guests in the palace, and it is rumored that Prince Yifan will be attending!”
“Oh.” Junmyeon felt his heart beat slightly faster in his chest. “I see.”
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if you got one?” Junmyeon’s mother squeezed his hands tightly for a moment.
Junmyeon just laughed. “I doubt it,” Junmyeon said, smiling. “I haven’t done much to catch the eyes of Duke Cho, much less Prince Yifan. Besides, I’m supposed to be helping you, not going to parties. When will you let me attend the talks with the Wolves?”
“Soon.” Amber sighed. “I know I keep saying that, but it really will be by the end of the week.”
“I see.” Junmyeon leaned back into his seat.
“I’m going to go draw a bath.” Junmyeon’s mother hid a yawn behind her hand. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Junmyeon nodded, and he let out a low sigh when his mother left the room.
Yifan had been discrete, just as he’d promised. The excitement around an exclusive ball around the palace would surely draw attention away from him, and once it became clear that he hadn’t been invited, the others would really believe that he wasn’t a threat to them.
Understanding Yifan’s plan gave Junmyeon an overwhelming sense of relief, but a moment later, Junmyeon felt a small beat of apprehension. Yifan had helped him, and now, Junmyeon owed him a favor. Junmyeon’s father had always warned against this—this was how even the most upstanding of people got dragged into political schemes. And owing a favor to the future Emperor himself—Junmyeon shivered. The implications were endless.
Junmyeon knew that he might be overreacting—after all, Yifan had appeared to help him out on a kindly whim. But Yifan had been born and raised to endure all of the political struggles of their court, and he might not be above manipulating those below him.
Junmyeon shivered and got to his feet. He went to his room and crawled under his blankets, apprehension weighing heavily on his heart.
The next day, Junmyeon felt relieved to find that he was no longer the target of snide whispers and mocking laughter. Instead, everyone was intent on finding out who had been invited to the ball and who hadn’t. As expected, Junmyeon didn’t receive an invitation, and by the end of the day, he had dropped beneath most of the nobles’ notice.
Junmyeon wandered around the halls of the palace. His debt to Yifan weighed heavily on his mind—he knew that it was such a small thing, but he didn’t want to get blackmailed into doing something he didn’t want to. Besides, even if it was a small favor, he owed a debt to the future ruler of the animal kingdoms! Owing Yifan was a big deal, and Junmyeon only felt himself getting more and more anxious as he kept walking.
Junmyeon forced himself to stop letting his thoughts whirl around in his head, and he stopped walking. He stared blankly around himself—he didn’t really recognize where he was. Junmyeon didn’t feel too worried about it and kept walking. The palace was a huge building, full of winding corridors. He just had to get to a window and head back in the general direction of the castle front, and he would find his way eventually.
Junmyeon eventually made his way to a huge window. Junmyeon gaped and stared out in awe—the view from the window was clear for miles, and he could see out and across the high mountain the palace resided on. He could see so far out that he could even see the ring of mist several miles down the side mountain concealing the paths back down to the rest of the land.
Junmyeon gasped and turned around. “My Prince!” Junmyeon turned and bowed, his heart hammering in his chest. He hadn’t heard anyone coming up the corridor behind, and yet Prince Yifan stood only two feet away.
“There’s no need to bow so deeply.” Yifan put a hand on his shoulder and raised him back up from the bow. “What are you doing in this part of the castle?”
“I was lost,” Junmyeon said honestly. “I was looking out the window to try and see which direction I should head towards.”
“Oh.” Yifan blinked. “I see.”
“Am I not supposed to be here?” Junmyeon glanced around nervously. He only knew the parts of the palace where the yearly summit was held, and not much else.
“No, no it’s okay.” Yifan turned away and motioned for Junmyeon to follow him. “Where do you want to go back to? I can lead you there.”
“If you take me to the library, I can manage on my own.” Junmyeon followed Yifan gratefully. “Thank you.”
A moment later, Junmyeon cursed himself mentally. He wasn’t supposed to give Yifan any more advantages over himself! What was he doing?
“Is something weighing on your mind?” Yifan guided them around a corner. “You seem…distracted.”
“I,” Junmyeon hesitated. Should he tell Yifan what he was thinking? “I wanted to thank you. You really helped me.”
“It’s no problem.” Yifan gave him a warm smile, but Junmyeon still felt anxious.
“But that also got me thinking,” Junmyeon said slowly, working up the courage to finish his thoughts. “Since you helped me, then…I owe you a favor.”
“What?” Yifan looked surprised. “You don’t owe me anything. It was an easy thing to do.”
“No, really.” Junmyeon looked away from Yifan nervously and swallowed the lump in his throat. It would be better to get this over with now, rather than have it plague his thoughts for the weeks to come. “You’re even helping me right now. There must be something I can do for you.”
“You’re very eager about this. Do you want to owe me something?” Yifan asked lightly.
“No! That’s really the last thing I want,” Junmyeon said, waving his hands earnestly. “I just feel that somehow, I should do something.”
Yifan gave him a calculating look. “If you really feel that you owe me a debt…well, there is something I’d like you to do.”
“Of course,” Junmyeon said quickly, tensing slightly as they kept walking through the halls of the palace. Here it comes.
To his surprise, Yifan stopped walking and reached under the collar of his shirt. He drew out a long, purple crystal on the end of a black strip of leather from beneath the cloth, and he wordlessly handed it over to Junmyeon.
Junmyeon turned the crystal over in his hands, and saw the sigil of the Imperial Family etched into the bottom of the pendant. “What is this?”
“This is something very precious to me,” Yifan said seriously. “Will you watch over it for me?”
Junmyeon held the crystal in his palm. “If it’s so precious to you, why are you entrusting it to me?”
Yifan smiled wryly. “I don’t think I can keep it safe for much longer,” he admitted. “But if I give it to you, no one except the two of us will know where it is.” Yifan gave him a warm smile. “An easy job, right? Can you keep a secret, Junmyeon?”
Junmyeon flushed at the intimate way Yifan was smiling at him. “Yes,” Junmyeon said softly, tucking the crystal away into his pocket. “I can.”
“Thank you.” Yifan reached out and squeezed his hands. “You’ve done me a huge service. When I ask you to give the crystal back, I will be in your debt.”
“Will we be locked into an endless cycle of debts then?” Junmyeon asked light heartedly, smiling as Yifan stepped closer to him.
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Yifan stepped even closer, and Junmyeon found himself entranced by Yifan’s jewel-bright eyes.
There was a beat of silence, and then Yifan stepped away. Junmyeon let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and smiled weakly at Yifan.
“Let’s keep going.” Yifan began walking again. “We’re almost to the library.”
“Okay.” Junmyeon hurried to catch up, the crystal heavy in his pocket.
Several days passed, and Junmyeon found himself bumping into Yifan nearly every day. Junmyeon wondered if Yifan was just keeping a closer eye on him because of the crystal. That made Junmyeon even more determined not to say a word, and Junmyeon always gave Yifan an innocent smile whenever they crossed paths. Sometimes, Yifan was entertaining a group of nobles. Sometimes, Yifan was passing by with a group of advisors. Sometimes, Yifan would be alone, and he and Junmyeon was stop and talk to each other for a while.
Junmyeon reflected on their short meetings, and decided that he liked them. He might even dare to say that he and Yifan were friends. Not best friends to be certain, but they got along well and Junmyeon found himself looking forward to the encounters.
The only risk to their meetings was that if anyone saw Junmyeon speaking privately with Yifan, he would incur the wrath of the courtiers all over again. Luckily, so far nothing had happened.
Junmyeon’s mother finally told him that she needed him at the negotiations today, and Junmyeon quietly followed his mother into the council chamber. He was surprised to see King Leeteuk and Prince Baekbeom of Wolves and the Emperor seated at the table, and Junmyeon immediately sank to his knees and pressed his head to the floor, his heart beating wildly. He’d never been this close to the Emperor in his life! Junmyeon felt his palms sweat as the gravity of the situation sank in on him. One wrong move, and he’d place his kingdom and his family at a disadvantage.
“Rise, Prince Junmyeon, and be seated.”
Junmyeon shakily got to his feet, bowed to the King of Wolves, and then took his seat beside his mother at the table.
The Emperor nodded approvingly, and Junmyeon glanced nervously at his mother. When he had asked her to explain the conflict to him, she had simply told him that he would briefed at the meeting. He began panicking and wondered if his mother had made a mistake—had Prince Baekbeom already been briefed? It must be a complicated issue if they had been in talks for weeks. What would happen?
“I have requested your royal parents not to inform you of the issue at hand,” the Emperor said gravely. “Do not worry. I will make sure that both of you princes understand the issue before we proceed.”
Junmyeon straightened in his seat, and glanced over at Prince Baekbeom. To his surprise, Baekbeom was hiding a smirk behind his hand, and Junmyeon narrowed his eyes slightly. Had Leeteuk already told him what to expect?
“Both of you have witnessed the conflicts between your kingdoms. It is difficult to have predator and prey exist side-by-side,” the Emperor said gravely.
Junmyeon nodded slightly. The people who lived in the villages near the border with the wolves lived in fear, and the border was usually lined with strong military forces to reassure the citizens that they were safe. However, incidents still happened, one way or another.
“There is no easy solution to these conflicts,” the Emperor said gravely, “Especially given how our animalistic tendencies manifest. For the wolves, hormonal changes can result in increased aggression and in the worst case, blood lust. For the rabbits, hormonal changes can result in periods of alertness that take a toll on the body and can lead to severe psychological affects and syndromes.”
Junmyeon glanced again at Baekbeom, and then back at the Emperor. In Junmyeon’s opinion, one sounded like it had a larger radius of harm than the other, but he held his tongue. The emperor was right—both were issues.
“For many years, the Kingdom of Rabbits has ignored how hormonal changes affect the behavior of the Wolves,” the Emperor said solemnly. “However, the Queen of Rabbits has been increasingly concerned, especially as these affects appear to have manifested in Prince Baekhyun.”
Junmyeon blinked in surprise. It did make sense—they were all in stages where their hormones were changing, and it was possible that they were the cause of Baekhyun’s aggressive behavior. But what did the Emperor want him and Baekbeom there for? What could two princes, both only in their twenties, offer to these three experienced diplomats?
“The Queen and King have reached an impasse in what should be done to control the situation.” The Emperor folded his hands beneath the long sleeves of his emerald green robes. “I was hoping that perhaps a fresh pair of eyes would be useful to the situation.”
“Your Highness,” Baekbeom said after a beat of silence. “May I provide a suggestion?”
“Speak.” The Emperor sat back in his seat.
“I would suggest that the Land of Rabbits cede a portion of their kingdom to the Wolves.” Baekbeom gave Junmyeon and his mother a level look before turning back to the Emperor. “If we become as aggressive and blood-thirsty as you say, then having extra territory to take out our need for violence without disturbing our neighbors will hold the peace.”
Junmyeon felt his mother tense beside him, and he quietly put a reassuring hand on her arm, his mind racing. Baekbeom’s idea was blatantly in the wolves’ favor, and there was no way they would agree to that. He would have to come up with something quickly.
“As I’m sure you know from your father,” Junmyeon’s mother said, a sweet smile pasted across her face, “Those are unacceptable terms for my kingdom.”
“You could not be insinuating that my father spoke to me outside of your negotiations, and broke his vow of silence to the Emperor?” Prince Baekbeom asked coldly.
“Enough!” the Emperor said sharply. “Prince Junmyeon. I would like to hear you thoughts.”
Junmyeon bit his lip for a moment, and the plunged ahead. “Your Majesty, you pointed out that hormonal imbalances are what cause these tendencies in the Wolves and Rabbits alike.”
“Go on.” The Emperor tilted his head to the side, and Junmyeon took a deep breath.
“Your Majesty, this issue sounds like an issue concerning the medical field to me. I would propose a layer of No-Man’s Land between the two kingdoms. In order to cross between the kingdoms, both Rabbit and Wolf citizens would have to submit themselves to an examination from both a Rabbit and Wolf doctor to determine if they are well enough to interact with others.”
Junmyeon felt his palms soaking through his leggings, but he didn’t dare move.
“I appreciate your perspective on the situation,” the Emperor said at last. “However, it would surely be very costly to deploy so many doctors to the border. I imagine that there are many, many wolves and rabbits alike who cross the border frequently. Perhaps the citizens of the border villages even cross daily.”
Junmyeon jiggled his knee as he thought for a moment. “If I understand correctly, your majesties, both of our kingdoms already have heavy military presences at the borders, with medical units to support them. I think it would be possible to incorporate psychiatric training to these medical units already present at the border, and they would be able to perform these tests. I am not an expert in psychology, but perhaps, if we created a collaborative taskforce of specialists from both of our kingdoms, they could come up with an efficient way of testing those who need to cross so that our borders do not become bottled up. And for those who have need to cross the border more frequently than others, perhaps we can come up with a system of permits that they can apply for?”
The Emperor sat back and smiled, and Junmyeon relaxed a little.
“This plan is broad,” the Emperor said, “and many fine details will need to be worked out. However, I find it to be an appropriate compromise. It promises supervision and input from both sides, and requires few new resources to be put in place.”
Junmyeon turned to look at his mother, and he blushed when he realized that she was beaming with pride.
“My son has a clearer mind than I do, Your Majesty.” She dipped her head. “This compromise sounds agreeable to me.”
“It also sounds agreeable to me,” King Leeteuk said quietly.
Junmyeon flinched and stared at King Leeteuk. He glanced over at Baekbeom, whose face was unreadable.
“Great changes like these take much time and finesse.” The Emperor’s voice was deep and solemn, but there was a smile dancing in the gleam of his eye. “This is what I propose: King Leeteuk and Queen Amber, the three of us will expand on this idea and determine the basics of what such a compromise will entail. Then, the two of you will return to your kingdoms and add amendments, and begin moving your resources and efforts as necessary to begin putting these plans into place. Are these acceptable terms?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Junmyeon’s mother bowed her head in deference.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Leeteuk also bowed his head, and Junmyeon lowered his eyes to his lap respectfully as well.
“Excellent.” The Emperor got to his feet and, and the four of them rose to their feet as well. “King Leeteuk, Queen Amber, you may begin to draft the initial terms with my advisors Luna and Minseok. I will meet with you again tomorrow.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty.” The four of them bowed from the waist as the Emperor left the room. When he was gone, Leeteuk and Baekbeom left immediately, speaking in low voices. Junmyeon straightened up, and his mother pulled him into a bone-crushing hug.
“Junmyeon, my son. I’m so proud of you!” She beamed down at him.
“Mother, that hurts,” Junmyeon whined half-heartedly. She finally let him go, and he rubbed at his ribs, wincing but smiling at the same time.
“Your father couldn’t have come up with a better solution,” she said warmly. “I really am very proud of you, Junmyeon.”
“Why did the Emperor only want us with him today?” Junmyeon asked curiously.
Junmyeon’s mother began to walk out of the chamber, and Junmyeon followed her.
“The Emperor likes to know who he will be dealing with in the future, and you have proved yourself. I would not be surprised if you receive more attention from the Dragons in the future.”
“I see.” Junmyeon privately wondered if Yifan would hear about this, and then he shivered. Why would he care if Yifan heard about this? Why would Yifan even hear about it anyways? Yifan may be the heir to the throne, but that certainly didn’t mean he was privy to everything that his father did.
“Soon, we will be able to go home,” Queen Amber said softly. “All thanks to you, Junmyeon.”
“Yes,” Junmyeon said softly, his mind still stuck on Yifan. “Soon.”
Just as his mother predicted, Junmyeon found himself under the scrutiny of more and more members of the castle as word of his role in the compromise spread around the castle. Junmyeon found his time spent on more social calls and court gatherings, and he couldn’t say that he minded too much. Even though he was gaining fame, no one thought he was bold enough to try and approach Yifan for his hand, and they didn’t bother him for it. If anything, most of the other nobles seemed to have gained respect for him, and treated him with more kindness and deference than they had before.
Junmyeon didn’t see Yifan for a few days, and Queen Amber and King Leeteuk were drawing towards the end of their talks. Junmyeon quietly wondered if he hadn’t bumped into Yifan because Yifan trusted him to watch over the crystal, now that he’d proven himself. While he was glad he appeared to have gained respect, he found himself missing his small encounters with the prince as the days passed.
Just when Junmyeon was starting to worry that the real reason he hadn’t seen Yifan was because he’d offended the prince in some way, Junmyeon literally ran into the man as he turned a corner.
“Oof!” Junmyeon went tumbling forward, and ended up tangled up in Yifan’s arms. “Prince Yifan!” Junmyeon scrambled to his feet and looked around anxiously. “I’m so sorry, are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” Yifan said, laughing. He climbed to his feet and patted Junmyeon’s shoulder. “I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen you. How does it feel to be the talk of the court?”
“For something good?” Junmyeon smiled shyly up at Yifan. “It actually feels pretty nice. It doesn’t feel as lonely and boring as before.”
“I’m glad.” Yifan reached out and ruffled Junmyeon’s hair.
Junmyeon pouted up at him and swatted his hand away. “Don’t do that,” Junmyeon said, a smiling tugging at the corner of his lips.
“What’re you going to do?” Yifan raised a teasing eyebrow at him. “Make that face at me until I stop?”
Junmyeon blushed and looked away. “Maybe,” he mumbled. He looked back up, and felt his heart soften when he saw Yifan looking down at him fondly.
“I heard that you’ll be leaving soon. Queen Amber and King Leeteuk’s talks are progressing very quickly.”
“Yes.” Junmyeon tilted his head to the side. “I’m glad.”
“I’m glad that a solution could be reached.” Yifan’s smile faded from his face, and Junmyeon raised an eyebrow.
“What is it?” In the back of his mind, Junmyeon wondered when he’d gotten used to talking to Yifan so informally. He knew that he hadn’t known Yifan very well for a while, but something had changed when Yifan gave him the crystal. Whether for better or for worse, Junmyeon felt comfortable joking around and speaking straightforwardly with him.
“Will you write to me when you go home?” Yifan blurted out, a hopeful look washing over his features.
The openness of Yifan’s expression made Junmyeon speechless for a moment. He nodded vigorously, and he felt relieved when he saw Yifan’s entire body perk up at his response. “I promise,” Junmyeon said firmly.
“I’m glad.” Yifan smiled at him. “I know that we don’t know each other too well, but…I’d like to hear about what you get up to. How the compromise goes, what goes on in the Rabbit Kingdom...whatever you’d like to tell me, I’m happy to listen.”
“I know.” Junmyeon smiled up at Yifan, and thought of how carefully Yifan had listened to him when Junmyeon had told him about his troubles. “You’ll hear from me when I go home. I promise.”
They both stiffened at the sound of a pair of footsteps coming down the corridor.
“I should go,” Junmyeon whispered. “See you later.”
Yifan patted his shoulder, and Junmyeon brushed past him, scurrying away to avoid the suspicions of any nobles. Prince Mark had been spotted speaking to Yifan alone in the gardens two days ago, and the court had ripped into him with no time to spare. It had been only a day of taunts, political moves, and quiet threats before Prince Mark had fled back to his kingdom, leaving vague statements about the state of his cousin’s health. Junmyeon had no desire to be ousted from the palace in such a manner, especially since things were going so well with the negotiations.
Three days later, and Junmyeon and his mother were preparing to step into a carriage that would take them on the day-long journey back to their kingdom. His mother was exhausted from the talks, but also pleased with how things were going. Junmyeon was mostly excited at the prospect of going home. He missed Jongdae and his father dearly, and living in the palace was exhausting.
Junmyeon had said his goodbyes to Yifan the night before, and he felt a pleasant beat of surprise when he saw Yifan emerging from the Entrance Hall and striding towards their carriage.
“Mother.” Junmyeon gently tugged on her sleeve. “Wait a moment.”
Yifan strode up to them, and towered over them. He gave Junmyeon’s mother an awkward smile, and bowed to her. “Queen Amber.”
She dipped into a deep curtsey. “Prince Yifan.”
“I wish you both a safe journey back to your kingdom.” Yifan looked at Junmyeon and hesitated. “Prince Junmyeon...you’ll keep your word, won’t you?”
Junmyeon blinked up at Yifan. Was Yifan talking about the letters, or Junmyeon’s promise to keep the crystal a secret? Either way, Junmyeon would stick to both. “Of course I will,” Junmyeon said warmly. “Thank you for your kind greetings, my prince.”
Yifan nodded and stepped back. Junmyeon and his mother got into the carriage, and when Junmyeon peeked out the curtain, he could see Yifan still standing in the courtyard, staring at them. Junmyeon caught his eye and gave him a sly wink before letting the curtain fall shut again.
His mother gave him a shrewd look. “I didn’t know you and Prince Yifan were close.”
“We aren’t,” Junmyeon said quickly.
“What did you promise him?”
“He asked me to send him updates on the progress of the negotiations with the Wolves.” Junmyeon sat back in his seat and yawned. It wasn’t a complete lie, he told himself. He knew his mother was probably trustworthy, but he also wasn’t sure what schemes she might have in store for him if he let slip that he and Yifan were close. “Aren’t you excited to go home?”
Amber gave him a suspicious look, but allowed him to change the subject. The carriage bumped and jostled over the dusty roads, and Junmyeon found himself looking forward to seeing his home and his family again…and also to writing his first letter to Yifan.
Four years later…
Junmyeon groaned and rubbed at his forehead in exasperation. “What do you mean they only drafted five new doctors into the Border Medic Division? We need at least ten more doctors to keep up with the flow of citizens across the border.”
“It is what it is, sir.” The reporting commander gave him a pitying look. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Prince Junmyeon?”
“If you see Prince Jongdae, send him to me,” Junmyeon commanded her. “Thank you.”
She snapped a salute and left the room, and Junmyeon sighed heavily, staring at the mess of maps, economic reports and drafts littering the table in front of him.
Four years ago, Junmyeon had suggested his idea for the compromise between the Wolves and the Rabbits. He still thought that the basic idea was a good foundation for peace, but he really hadn’t foreseen the sheer amount of logistics and complaints he would have to get through as they attempted to put the system in place.
Luckily, Junmyeon wasn’t alone. Jongdae also played a major part in making sure that the border was functioning as it should, and he also was their main diplomat. Junmyeon knew that their parents were proud of them for taking on such huge leadership before Junmyeon even ascended to the throne, or before Jongdae had officially become a Royal Advisor, as was befitting of the second royal son, but sometimes Junmyeon wished he could ignore all of the angry letters, complaints and incompetent military commanders who were knocking on his door all day.
The only mail he really liked opening was from Yifan. Junmyeon got to his feet and locked the door of his study before returning to his desk and pulling out an unopened envelope bearing Yifan’s personal seal. Junmyeon still kept his correspondence with the Prince of Dragons a secret from his family. He loved and trusted his family, but there was something enticing and exciting about keeping his friendship with Yifan secret. Of course, every summit, their closeness became more and more apparent, but no one really knew how strong their friendship had become over the years.
Junmyeon opened the letter and smiled when he saw Yifan’s familiar scrawl. The letter had the usual content—complaints about palace life, a funny story about a distant cousin, flourishing drama between families at odds with each other. However, the very end of the letter took on a more serious tone.
Junmyeon, Yifan had written, my father and mother have been steadily increasing their pressure on me to get married. I don’t know how much longer I can bear it. Nobles young and old, male and female, have been throwing themselves at my feet for the sake of their interest in power and the crown for five years now, and I don’t know how much longer I can take it. I think I will have to act soon.
Act soon? Junmyeon frowned and paused. Yifan had never told him that he was interested in anyone in the last four years. What could he mean?
Things will become clearer within the coming weeks. I’m sorry I never explained things properly to you, but I think I was afraid of how you would react. I’m sorry things ended up this way, and I hope you’ll have it within your heart to forgive me.
Junmyeon frowned and pulled out a blank piece of paper to write his reply. Junmyeon responded to the story, the drama, and Yifan’s complaints. He wrote his final thoughts without having to think twice about his words.
Yifan, I don’t really understand what you meant with the end of your letter. You never expressed an interest in marriage before now, and I was surprised to see that you plan on taking action soon. I hope whatever you do turns out well.
Whatever you have failed to explain to me in the past, I will accept. You know that I value you dearly, and I am certain I will forgive you once you explain what your mistake was. I hope you can have faith in me.
Junmyeon sealed the letter with wax and set the envelope inside his desk. He would make it a point to send the letter to Yifan with their fastest hawk tonight. He wasn’t sure what Yifan was planning, but he thought that Yifan would probably appreciate all of the support he could get.
Junmyeon sat back in his chair, lost in his thoughts. Yifan sounded like he intended to marry soon, but to who? He’d never talked about an interest in anyone. Perhaps he’d caved to his parents’ demands and accepted a political marriage.
Junmyeon frowned and rubbed at his forehead. If Yifan had accepted a political marriage, he was probably distraught. Yifan had a tendency for romantic thoughts about freedom of choice and love. Junmyeon could only hope that his letter would bring Yifan some comfort.
Later that evening, Junmyeon was sitting with his family at dinner. Jongdae nor their father were anywhere to be found, and Junmyeon sighed internally. Jongdae was in up to his ears with implementation of the new policy, and Junmyeon couldn’t actually remember the last time Jongdae had sat down at a family dinner.
Junmyeon’s mother glanced over at Jongdae’s seat, her expression rueful. “Both of you have really thrown yourselves into the new system,” she sighed. “I only wish Jongdae could have been a child for just a little longer.”
Junmyeon hummed noncommittally. “He might still come. Aunt Krystal said she would join us, but she hasn’t arrived either.”
“You’re right.” Junmyeon’s mother smiled at him. “Perhaps he’ll still come.”
A few minutes later, Krystal walked through the door. She sat down at the table, a gleam in her eye, and Junmyeon sighed softly. That gleam usually meant that Krystal was in the know about some gossip the rest of them hadn’t heard yet. Junmyeon appreciated the usefulness of having someone who knew everything going on, but Krystal also had a tendency to launch into long, rather over-personal or extremely sensitive anecdotes about the subject of gossip.
They began to eat, and Krystal talked eagerly to her sister. Junmyeon tuned out most of the conversation, his thoughts drifting to Yifan’s letter. He couldn’t help but worry about the prince.
“Junmyeon, are you listening?”
Junmyeon jolted back to reality. “I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly. “What were you saying, Aunt Krystal?”
“I have news from the Imperial Palace.” Krystal said, too eager to take any offense from Junmyeon’s lack of attention. “Word has it that Prince Yifan is engaged!”
“Really?” Junmyeon said sharply. “To who?”
“No one knows who it is yet,” Krystal said looking disappointed.
“Then how do they know he’s engaged?” Junmyeon scowled in frustration.
“The Dragons have a custom of giving an engagement necklace to their betrothed, and Prince Yifan openly admitted that he had already given his engagement necklace away.”
“An engagement necklace?” Junmyeon echoed. He suddenly thought of the crystal necklace curled up in a pouch around his neck, and he fought down the urge to pat it.
“The customs say that a Dragon will create the pendant for their necklace with their magic when they turn ten years old as a kind of rite of passage. The necklace is a very personal thing—each one is unique.”
“I see.” Junmyeon sighed and sat back, his thoughts racing again. Had Yifan given him his engagement necklace for safekeeping? Junmyeon felt a beat of shock—if it was as personal as his aunt had implied, why had Yifan trusted him so much four years ago? They’d barely known each other—in fact, Yifan giving him the necklace was probably what had drawn them together in the beginning.
They finished dinner, and Junmyeon went back to his rooms, still preoccupied with thoughts of Yifan. If Yifan really was engaged, then he would probably come find Junmyeon to retrieve it from safekeeping and actually give it to his fiancée—but what if people assumed the wrong thing, and thought that the two of them were engaged?
Junmyeon blushed at the thought. He couldn’t deny that he was attracted to Yifan, but he always assumed that his feelings would pass. Yifan was destined for a great partner, someone greater, wiser, and more elegant than himself.
He shook himself and forced his feelings back down to the back of his mind. It wouldn’t do to dwell on his attraction to Yifan—instead, he should focus on keeping the necklace safe.
Junmyeon lay awake in his bed that night. Should he tell his parents about the necklace? Yifan had told him to keep it a secret back then, but the entire land would know about Yifan’s necklace now. His parents would want to know if a visit from a Dragon was imminent, wouldn’t they? But what if they tried to use their friendship to ask for some kind of favor? Junmyeon didn’t think that they would—and besides, Yifan had told him to keep it a secret. What if they did start asking for favors? Junmyeon knew that his family was full of good people, but sometimes the temptation of a unique connection was too great. What should he do?
Junmyeon rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. For now, he would keep his promise to Yifan. After all, Yifan hadn’t given him the okay to tell anyone yet—and Junmyeon allowed himself to put his worries about his friends and family to rest as he fell asleep.
Junmyeon didn’t receive another letter from Yifan until two weeks later. That day, Junmyeon had to sit through an entire day of interviewees for medic candidates to fill the quota, and he wasn’t able to open Yifan’s letter until the next morning. He eagerly tore open the envelope, hoping to gain insight into Yifan’s thoughts, but there was only a few terse lines.
I’ll be visiting the Rabbit Kingdom tomorrow. You’ve probably already heard what’s been going on, and you might have guessed at what’s happening. I’ll explain everything when I see you next.
Junmyeon stared at the letter, and then it hit him. He’d gotten the letter yesterday, and if Yifan was expecting to arrive the day after his letter, then Yifan would be arriving at the Rabbit Palace today.
Junmyeon ran out of his study for his parents’ quarters. Normally at this time, his parents would be taking a break from the court sessions for a short afternoon tea. Junmyeon didn’t really know what he was going to say, but he knew that he should warn them that Yifan might come and that they really shouldn’t get the wrong idea.
Junmyeon skidded to a halt, and the guards looked at him curiously.
“Are my parents in their quarters?”
“No, Prince Junmyeon. They went for a walk in the Lavender Garden.”
Junmyeon nodded and sprinted away. Luckily, the Lavender Garden wasn’t too far—it was directly off to the east of the castle entrance.
Junmyeon jogged out onto the castle grounds, and he could see his parents’ figures off in the garden. Junmyeon rubbed at his forehead and went to join them.
To his surprise, he saw Jongdae with them. All three of them were smiling, and Junmyeon hesitated a little. He didn’t want to break their mood—it seemed that his family was always stressed out and serious whenever he saw them.
Junmyeon’s father turned around and saw him, and Junmyeon braced himself.
“Junmyeon!” His father smiled at him and beckoned him over. “Are you alright? You looked flushed.”
“I’m fine.” Junmyeon walked over. “I ran all the way here.”
“Is something wrong?” Amber and Jongdae came over to join them. Amber looked concerned as she peered at his face. “What is it?”
“Nothing’s wrong!” Junmyeon said earnestly. “I just um…I wanted to, er…” He wracked his brains. He should’ve thought this through—if he wanted to keep his friendship with Yifan a secret, then how was he going to explain why Yifan had only written to him and not his parents?
“Junmyeon?” Jongdae gave him a curious look, and Junmyeon pulled himself together.
“Prince Yifan wrote to me to say that he would be visiting us soon. Possibly today.”
“Prince Yifan?” Junmyeon’s mother echoed. “Why would he be visiting us?”
“Prince Yifan asked me to, er….to, to, um…” Junmyeon wracked his brains, trying to think of as vague an excuse as possible, but he was interrupted by the arrival of a gilded carriage rolling in through the palace gates.
“Oh my.” Queen Amber startled, and then started hurrying back towards the castle. “We must greet him properly! Who would’ve thought a Dragon would visit our palace?”
Everyone else hurried after her, and Junmyeon was saved from having to answer her question. Jongdae jogged off to grab a stablehand and explain the situation to him as the carriage trundled to a stop. The doors opened, and Junmyeon felt his heart skip a beat when Yifan climbed out.
Junmyeon had to wonder how a person could get better-looking every year. Yifan’s hair shone golden-brown in the son, and his skin was clear and glowing. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and Junmyeon could see the faint outline of his muscles beneath his shirt.
Junmyeon smiled at him, and Yifan shot him a smile before respectfully greeting Junmyeon’s parents, and then Jongdae and Junmyeon.
“What brings you here, Prince Yifan?” Queen Amber asked after a few minutes of polite small talk.
“I came to see Prince Junmyeon and Prince Jongdae about the implementation of border control. I understand that they’ve been taking the lead on the policy.” Yifan sent Junmyeon a look, and Junmyeon blinked in acknowledgement. That was such an obvious reason for a visit—why hadn’t Junmyeon thought of it?
“That is correct, my lord.” Queen Amber smiled proudly. “I’m sure my sons will be delighted to update you on their progress. But first, would you like to rest?”
“No, it’s alright. I just came from the Wolf Kingdom to see how Prince Baekbeom was holding up. I must also apologize for my late notice.” Yifan bowed deeply and glanced over at Junmyeon. “I’d meant to inform you all of my arrival much sooner than I did.”
“It’s no trouble,” Henry said smoothly. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I must insist that you rest for a while, Prince Yifan.” Amber smiled at the Prince and began to lead him into the castle. “The implementation will still be happening if you rest for a few hours.”
Yifan threw a reluctant glance at Junmyeon, who smiled weakly. If his mother wanted something, she usually got her way.
Yifan smiled a little and let himself be led away. Junmyeon stood still at the palace entrance, his hand coming up to pat the pouch hanging under his shirt.
“Junmyeon? Are you okay?”
Junmyeon blinked and looked over at Jongdae.
“You were rubbing your sternum,” Jongdae said. “Does your chest hurt or something?”
“Not at all,” Junmyeon said quickly. “We should prepare a report for Yifan later.”
“You know, you always tell mother that you and Yifan aren’t close.” Jongdae and Junmyeon started walking back into the palace. “I saw you two looking at each other, though. And Yifan wrote to you to tell that he was coming. He didn’t send anything to me.”
“We’ve become friends over the years,” Junmyeon said vaguely. “You’ve only met him once, haven’t you?”
“But shouldn’t he write to mother and father if he was going to visit?” Jongdae pressed.
“He should have,” Junmyeon agreed. “I don’t know why he didn’t.”
“There’s something that you’re not saying.” Jongdae scowled over at him. “You know that Prince Yifan hasn’t visited any royal households since he admitted to being engaged, right?”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Junmyeon said wearily.
“I wasn’t,” Jongdae said sharply. “Junmyeon…you wouldn’t keep something this big from us, would you?”
“What?” Junmyeon stared at Jongdae in confusion.
“You haven’t been secretly engaged to Prince Yifan for who knows how long?” Jongdae gave him a piercing look.
Junmyeon stared, dumbfounded. “Jongdae, are you insane?”
“I can think of no other reason as to why Yifan would visit our kingdom right after his engagement announcement.”
“Right after,” Junmyeon scoffed. “As if. It’s been weeks.”
“We’re still the first royal family he’s visited.” Jongdae’s scowl deepened. “Be serious Junmyeon.”
“I don’t—“ Junmyeon broke off with a frustrated sigh. “What do you want me to say, Jongdae? I would never hide something like that from you.”
“Then why is he here?” They came to a stop outside of their meeting room, and Jongdae folded his arms.
“He’s here to get that report from us.” Junmyeon frowned and reached out to open the door, but Jongdae put a firm hand on his wrist.
Junmyeon gazed levelly at his little brother. “I’m telling you the truth,” Junmyeon said calmly.
Jongdae let out a frustrated huff. “Why do you have to be so secretive? If he’s not here to tell us about your secret engagement, then at least tell me the real reason!”
“I’m sorry.” Junmyeon gentled pulled his hand out of Jongdae’s grip. “I promise you, Yifan and I aren’t engaged. That’s all I can say.”
“Hm.” Jongdae gave him a disbelieving look, but followed Junmyeon into the room. “You’re lucky that I was preparing to send a report off three days from now. We can just work hard to finish it off and give it directly to Prince Yifan.”
“Sounds good.” Junmyeon pulled up a chair to the long table in front of him, and began rifling through the stacks of papers. “What section should I start with?”
Jongdae pushed a stack of papers towards him. “You’ve been working on the border medic division, so start with that.”
“Alright.” Junmyeon pulled the reports towards him and began taking down an outline. He sighed internally—he’d been hoping to catch a short break, given the day full of interviews yesterday, but it looked like luck wasn’t on his side.
Junmyeon didn’t actually get a chance to talk to Yifan until the next day. Queen Amber had whisked Yifan off to rest, and then had proceeded to entertain him for the rest of the day. Yifan had dinner privately in his quarters, and Queen Amber and King Henry had insisted on showing Yifan a tour of the entire castle the next morning.
“Should we tell them that we finished the report, so they don’t have to keep buying us time?” Junmyeon murmured, staring out the window. He was sure he looked like hell—he and Jongdae had worked all through the night to finish the report as dawn broke out on the horizon. They’d gone to sleep for a few hours and woken up in a panic, only to discover that Yifan wasn’t breathing down their necks and instead seemed to be enjoying the palace garden.
“No, let them keep going. I’m going to go sleep a little bit more.” Jongdae pushed himself to his feet and stumbled out of the room, hiding a yawn behind his hand.
Junmyeon picked up the folder containing the report and glanced outside again. It was well into the afternoon now, and Yifan looked like he was alone outside. Junmyeon opened the door of the study, and nearly walked straight into his parents.
“Junmyeon!” Amber beamed at him. “Prince Yifan is such a lovely young man. It’s been delightful entertaining him.”
“I’m glad.” Junmyeon gave her a weary smile. “Thanks for buying Jongdae and I enough time to finish the report.”
“You’ve already finished it?” Amber sighed ruefully. “You boys work too hard. Your father and I never taught you how to relax properly.”
“How could we relax when the future emperor is on our doorstep?” Junmyeon asked lightly.
“Yes, about that.” Amber fixed himself with a pointed look. “You do know that Prince Yifan hasn’t visited any royal households since the news of his engagement broke out?”
Junmyeon barely resisted the urge to start tearing his own hair out. “I already had this conversation with Jongdae.” He brushed past his parents. “Yifan and I aren’t engaged. Can you even imagine it? The closest a citizen of the Rabbit Kingdom has ever gotten to the Imperial Family was our founder who was a royal advisor. No one would stand for it.”
“You listen to the mindless gossip of the other kingdoms too much,” King Henry admonished him. “You would make a fine partner for anyone in the entire nation.”
Junmyeon paused at that. “Do you really mean it?”
“Of course he does,” Queen Amber said gently. “You are wise, kind and courageous. We couldn’t have raised a better son.”
Junmyeon blinked, and blamed his watery eyes on his lack of sleep. “Don’t let Jongdae here you say that,” he said after a moment. “Thank you.”
“Junmyeon, you can tell us the truth,” Amber pressed him gently. “You can trust us.”
Junmyeon wiped at his eyes and turned around. “I promise, I am telling the truth.” Junmyeon smiled weakly at his mother and father. “Yifan and I aren’t engaged. Yifan’s here to get the report. That’s all.”
After a few moments, his parents relaxed their stance, and Junmyeon let out a quiet sigh of relief.
“Alright,” Henry said after a moment. “Alright.”
“I’m going to sleep a little.” Junmyeon turned around and began walking away. “Have someone wake me for dinner.”
Junmyeon sighed as he walked back to his room. He flopped onto his bed face-first and closed his eyes. He would think more about what Yifan wanted after he regained his sanity, and caught up on some sleep.
Junmyeon woke and saw someone sitting in a chair at his bedside. “Jongdae?” Junmyeon squeezed his eyes shut and yawned, sitting up and stretching his arms. “Is it time for dinner yet?”
Junmyeon opened his eyes and found himself face to face with Yifan. Junmyeon stared at Yifan, wide-eyed, and suddenly became very aware of the unruly state of his hair.
“Yifan!” Junmyeon shot off the bed and tried to flatten his hair down without a mirror. “What are you doing in here?”
“Keep your voice down!” Yifan glanced at the door nervously. “I don’t know if any servants are nearby.”
“Right.” Junmyeon dropped his hands to his sides and stared at his friend. He quietly thanked the gods above for not bothering to change his clothes before falling asleep. “So, what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to speak with you alone, and this seemed like the best time to slip away.” Yifan sat back in the chair and patted the bed beside him. “Come, sit with me.”
Junmyeon warily walked over to sit beside Yifan. “You barely gave me any warning for your arrival. I couldn’t even tell them you were coming until right when you showed up.”
“I sent my letter a day in advance!” Yifan blinked innocently at him.
Junmyeon punched him in the arm. “You know I’m up to my eyelids in work here.” He pouted at Yifan. “You should’ve given me more warning.”
“Well, it was hard to get away from home too.” Yifan sighed deeply and reached out to pat a stray curl on Junmyeon’s forehead. “Sorry, that was bothering me.”
“Don’t worry.” Junmyeon tried to calm his rapidly beating heart. “It’s fine.”
“Anyways, like I was saying, it was difficult to pull myself away from things at home.” Yifan poked Junmyeon’s nose before bringing his hands back to his lap. “You can imagine my parents’ reaction when they found out that I didn’t have my engagement necklace.”
“Oh yes, I heard about that. My aunt was positively brimming with excitement,” Junmyeon said dryly. “I’m impressed you’re alive. I can’t even imagine what my parents would’ve done to me if I’d pulled off such a stunt.”
“Well, you get certain privileges when you’re the heir to the throne.” Yifan groaned and buried his face in his hands. “Of course, the situation is more complicated than I initially made it sound, so it took some finagling to get out of there.”
“More complicated?” Junmyeon echoed. “What do you mean?”
Yifan let out a deep sigh, and then straightened up in his seat. “You must have put some things together.”
“Yes.” Junmyeon’s unconsciously raised his hand to pat the small pouch around his neck. “I’ve made some guesses. You gave me your engagement necklace a few years ago, because you were afraid someone would steal it, and then try and say that you gave it to them.”
“Go on.” Yifan gazed at him with a curious look in his eye—one that Junmyeon couldn’t quite place, and it made him nervous.
“So now you’re here,” Junmyeon said cautiously.
“To do what?” Yifan leaned forward in his chair.
Junmyeon froze, feeling very much like a mouse staring up at an owl swooping in. “To take it back from me to give to your real fiancée?”
Yifan groaned and leaned back, dropping his face back into his palms.
“What?” Junmyeon leaned back, his heart pounding at their moment of close proximity. “Was I wrong?”
Yifan paused, and then made a noise that sounded like a sob and a laugh combined. “Yes, you were wrong,” he said after a moment, his face still in his hands.
“Okay…” Junmyeon stared at Yifan in concerned. The stress from his parents must really be getting to him if he was like this—normally, he was much more eloquent. “How was I wrong? Do you want me to keep guarding the necklace?”
Yifan seemed to steel himself for a moment, and then straightened up in his chair, lifting his face to look at Junmyeon once again. “Sort of,” he said slowly.
Junmyeon stared at the bright red blush forming on Yifan’s cheeks. “Yifan?”
“Junmyeon, do you have the necklace with your right now?”
Junmyeon quickly pulled the pouch over his head and held it out to Yifan. “Here it is.”
“You’ve kept it in that pouch all this time?” Yifan sounded a little disappointed as he took the pouch from Junmyeon, carefully lifting the necklace out.
“Well, I check on it every night and hold it in my hands to make sure it’s the real thing,” Junmyeon admitted. “But I felt weird wearing it. I didn’t know what it was for a long time, and I didn’t really want to wander around wearing your possession. Besides, what if someone had seen me wearing it out in the open? Then our secret would have been done for.”
“Our secret,” Yifan echoed distantly, his eyes focused on the crystal. “Right.”
“You did say that it would be just between us.” Junmyeon leaned forward and put his hand on Yifan’s arm. “Yifan, is everything alright? You can talk to me, you know.”
“I know.” Yifan looked up at him just as Junmyeon looked away.
“I mean, I do have to admit, my feelings were a little hurt,” Junmyeon continued. “You never talked about marriage, and I always sort of thought you would tell me when you were thinking about someone, but since it never came up, I just assumed…well, maybe I just assumed that we were closer than you thought we were. I’m sorry I crossed that line.”
“Junmyeon,” Yifan said in alarm, reaching up to pat Junmyeon’s hand. “Junmyeon, no. It was never like that—I always thought we were close!”
Junmyeon looked up to meet Yifan’s gaze, and felt his mouth go dry when he saw the sincerity shining in Yifan’s eyes. “But you never talked about your engagement,” Junmyeon said softly. “So, I thought…”
“No, it’s not that,” Yifan said earnestly. “I was just too scared to tell you, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you doubt our connection.”
“It’s okay.” Junmyeon was suddenly hyperaware of Yifan’s hand over his, and he froze.
“Junmyeon?” Yifan blinked, and then looked down at their hands. Junmyeon tensed, sure that Yifan would pull away.
To his surprise, Yifan lifted his hand, only to hold Junmyeon’s hand with both of his hands.
“Yifan?” Junmyeon felt his voice quiver. This was something he’d told himself to never even consider, a dream that he’d denied for so long…was he still dreaming?
“Junmyeon.” Yifan squeezed his hands gently. “Even though you said it’s alright, I’m still sorry I didn’t do this properly.”
Junmyeon opened his mouth to reassure him, but Yifan stopped him with a look. “Let me finish,” Yifan said seriously. “I had a feeling about you, when we first met. You seemed trustworthy and kind, and I’ll admit, I originally gave you the necklace because you were the last person anyone would think had it. Nobles were driving themselves crazy trying to figure out how they could steal this necklace, but I never worried. I always knew that necklace was safe with you.” Yifan took a deep breath, and he loosened his grip on Junmyeon’s hands. Junmyeon didn’t say a word, and he lifted his other hand and placed it over Yifan’s.
Yifan smiled at him, and started talking again. “That changed, though. When I thought of you with the necklace, I knew it was secure…but as we’ve gotten to know each other more when we see each other every year, and when we write, I started thinking that maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad if you were the real owner of the necklace.” Yifan let go of his hands, and picked up the necklace from where it had fallen onto his knees.
“Junmyeon,” Yifan said seriously. “Will you accept this necklace from me?”
Junmyeon stared, speechless. His heart fluttered in his chest, and he opened his mouth to respond, but then he paused.
“What is it?” Yifan’s face fell. “Do I…was I wrong?”
“It’s not that,” Junmyeon said quickly. “It’s just…my parents. My family. Jongdae hasn’t been trained to ascend to the throne, and…”
“Jongdae can learn. Besides, he’s basically learning now, isn’t he?” Yifan held out the necklace again. “Junmyeon, I…I love you. Will you accept this from me?”
Junmyeon froze, his eyes widening. Yifan loved him?
Before Junmyeon could think twice about what he was saying, his body responded. “Yes.” Junmyeon held his breath, hardly believing that he’d agreed. He’d agreed. He was agreeing to marry Yifan. Was this a dream?
Yifan beamed, and dropped the necklace over Junmyeon’s head. Junmyeon reached up and held the pendant in his hands. It glowed when his fingers touched it, and he looked back up at Yifan with questioning eyes.
“It will always glow when your skin touches it.” Yifan beamed proudly. “It’s how I charmed the crystal.”
Junmyeon smiled a little at that and let the crystal fall from his fingers. “It’s beautiful.” Junmyeon smiled at Yifan. “I…should I give you something too?”
“Only if you want to.” Yifan smiled at him, and Junmyeon felt his heart melt a little. “What is the common ritual for Rabbit engagements?”
“Rabbits don’t usually exchange gifts for engagement.” Junmyeon lifted the crystal and tucked it under his skin. The crystal felt warm and light, as it always had when he’d held it before. “We usually host a banquet with the two families.”
“A banquet with the two families,” Yifan echoed, his gaze going distant for a moment. “We’ll have to think about how to arrange that.”
“My parents won’t believe this,” Junmyeon said suddenly. “Neither will Jongdae. They were all pestering me to ask if we’d been engaged this whole time…”
“Well, technically we weren’t.”
“But they won’t believe me! I thought you hadn’t come here to propose, but you…” Junmyeon suddenly stopped talking and went bright red.
“I did,” Yifan said softly.
“Yes.” Junmyeon stared down at his hands. He’d liked Yifan for so long, and it felt incredible to know that his feelings weren’t one-sided.
“I’m so happy.” Yifan reached out and squeezed his hands, and Junmyeon squeezed back, his heart soaring.
“I am too.” Junmyeon held onto Yifan’s hands as tightly as he could.
“I’ll see what I can do about arranging a banquet between our families once I go home,” Yifan said gently. “It’s important to honor both of our family traditions.”
“Thank you,” Junmyeon said softly. “I’ll talk to my parents too.” Junmyeon hesitated. “But maybe I should wait until after you leave…”
“That’s actually why I was waiting for you in here.” Yifan let go of his hands and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m leaving at dusk. My father sent me an urgent message.”
“Maybe it’s good that you won’t be here for all the chaos.” Junmyeon smiled at him. “You probably have to go soon.”
“I don’t want to spend so long away from you again.” Yifan frowned. “It was agony, waiting every year for those summits.”
“I imagine you’d want me to go live with you with your family,” Junmyeon said gently. “Don’t worry. We’ll be together again soon.”
Yifan sighed heavily and got to his feet. “Not soon enough,” he grumbled quietly, and Junmyeon smiled at that.
“You’re going to have to sneak out of here.” Junmyeon got up and walked over to the door, listening for anyone standing out in the hall. “How did you even sneak in here?”
“Magic.” Yifan snapped his fingers, and Junmyeon nearly screamed when he suddenly vanished. A few moments later, he appeared toe-to-toe with Junmyeon, and Junmyeon squeaked and backed into the door.
“I just had to time opening the door when no one was looking,” Yifan said in a low voice.
“I-I see.” Junmyeon closed his eyes and tried to will his face into a normal expression. Was Yifan really going to kiss him?!
There was a gentle brush against his forehead, and Yifan moved away. Junmyeon opened his eyes, and then smiled fondly at Yifan.
“I’ll see you soon.” Junmyeon reached out and patted Yifan’s hand.
Yifan nodded, and Junmyeon opened the door. He felt something brush past him, and then he closed his door when he was sure Yifan was out in the hallway.
Junmyeon walked over to his mirror and stared at his reflection. He lifted the crystal out of his clothes, and stared at it as the Imperial crest lit up in his palm.
“I’m engaged to Yifan,” Junmyeon whispered to himself, his fingers closing tightly over the necklace. “I’m…engaged to Yifan.”
Junmyeon slowly got up from his seat and walked back over the bed. He lay back down, his eyes staying wide open for at least another hour as he replayed Yifan’s proposal in his head over and over again.
Several months later, Junmyeon found himself in a carriage with most of his belongings. He was going to the Imperial Palace alone this time, and it wasn’t for a summit. His parents would follow him in a few days.
Junmyeon wasn’t afraid to be traveling alone. A small Imperial Guard had been sent to accompany him on the journey, and he knew he was in safe hands.
Junmyeon leaned on his palm and gazed out the window as foggy forest flew past. Just as he’d expected, his family hadn’t believed that he and Yifan hadn’t been engaged in secret. Luckily, despite their lack of belief, they didn’t seem to hold anything against him. Yifan’s father had granted permission for the marriage, and now, Junmyeon was on his way to start living in the Imperial Palace and beginning his training to become the Empress of Dragons.
Junmyeon knew that there were still many challenges ahead. They would be following the Rabbit Tradition of a family banquet when his parents arrived, and Junmyeon could only hope that it would go well. He also knew that the Dragon family was very guarded in their customs and nature, and Junmyeon didn’t know how or if he would ever be accepted by Yifan’s family.
Junmyeon’s thoughts turned to Yifan, and he smiled dreamily. The engagement necklace was a familiar, comforting weight around his throat now, and his hand automatically reached up to touch it.
Whatever trials were up ahead, Junmyeon knew that he would be able to overcome them as long as he had Yifan.