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Burn Out

Chapter Text

Yeong Shin had just gotten home from patrolling when he heard that the prince was suffering from a high fever.

 

“It’s just a fever and nothing more.” Seo Bi shrugged. “The sun is almost down, we have to close the gates up.”

 

Almost a year after the incident at the palace, the three of them began their journey to research about the resurrection plant, the monsters it created and the very source of the plant. Things, however, have not gone as they pleased, given that they were stuck in a village far from the nearest town. Autumn was nearing its end and the group barely had anything, and now they had a sick prince.

 

Yeong Shin hastily closed the gates and made sure the barricades were set. He turned to the physician. “Did His Highness overworked himself again?”

 

Seo Bi frowned and scratched the back of her neck. “It would seem so. He wasn’t bitten so he made sure he helped around the village before passing out. His Majesty didn’t tell us that he was ill and wounded.”

 

“His Highness is wounded?” the hunter almost shouted as he walked away. “Let me tend to him. I was able to get some herbs along the way.”

 

Seo Bi shook her head and let the man do as he pleased. She was not about to get in the way of a budding development. The physician was well aware of her two companions’ feelings, but she figured the two were much more oblivious than she had expected.

 

Later that evening, Yeong Shin slid into the prince’s tent. Across the dimly-lit room, he saw His Highness, unconscious on the rough straw mat. Upon closer look, the prince’s shoulder was exposed so his wounds had already dried up.The tiger-hunter sighed at the sight of the prince, who was too lightly dressed for a fall evening.

 

“His Majesty is quite foolish.” He said as he untangled his muddied coat. He placed it on top of the prince to keep him a little warm. “I’ll be back. I will look for something much cleaner and warmer. 

 

***

 

Chang sat up when he heard Yeong Shin leave. He looked down on his chest, where the other man’s coat was laid across. The prince ran his fingers across the fabric, it was rough and dusty and it smelled quite foul with sweat. But still, it kept him warm, and the prince preferred it as it was. 

 

When Yeong Shin returned, Chang had already closed his eyes. He almost evidently frowned when the coat was taken, and was replaced by a fur blanket. Surely, the blanket was softer and warmer, but it was not Yeong Shin’s coat.

 

“Your Majesty,” the hunter began. “You shouldn't be too reckless.”

 

The man carefully wiped the dirt and wound off the prince's shoulder. 

 

“The people need you here,” he sighed. “ I need you here.”

 

He worked his calloused fingers around the shoulder, wrapping it with a clean bandage. He gently placed a wet piece of cloth on Chang’s forehead.

 

Yeong Shin gave another exasperated sigh. “Your Highness, if you die, I'd go nuts. Please stop making me so worried.” 

 

When the prince was once again alone, his eyes shot open. The sound of the cackling flame and crying crickets irritated him. He longed for the raspy, needy voice that he heard from the tiger hunter. It was the voice of an anxious man yet the most endearing one for Chang’s ears.

 

The following morning, his body did not ache so much. He dressed himself and he remembered Yeong Shin’s filthy yet comforting coat, and how it greatly contrasted his neat and clean robes. He stepped out of his tent and immediately saw the hunter.

 

He came up to Chang and bowed his head. “Your Majesty, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard. Please rest some more.”

 

Chang hesitantly smiled. “I’m alright. How are the patients?”

 

“Seo Bi checked on them earlier. She said that the villagers did not know that the plague was like this and only a few were cured.”

 

The prince, afraid to meet his eyes, turned his back on Yeong Shin. “I see. Have you checked the area around the village? Where did the monsters hide?”

 

Yeong Shin stiffened and replied. “I haven’t checked.”

 

“I see. Please do so now. We must burn those bodies as soon as possible.”

 

With that, Chang walked off to the patients’ tent. 

 

***

 

Yeong Shin bitterly scouted the area. It wasn’t the first time that they talked without facing each other but the prince never turned his back on him. Half a mile from the village, Yeong Shin crossed a stream, and he felt the cold winds brush his skin.

 

He was ticked off with the way the prince had behaved, his refusal to keep an eye contact and how the prince had turned his back on him. Yeong Shin began to wonder if the prince had heard him last night. That’d be horrifying , Yeong Shin shivered.

 

As he examined the area, he felt that the wind was a little too chilly. It was a bright morning, but far too cold to be a normal one. Yeong Shin looked around and saw no animals, and he heard no birds or insects. The last sightings of the monsters were from last night, and they were at least a mile away. Winter should come in about two days, it’s too early.

 

Crash!

 

The man fell, and before he could get up, he felt some flesh rip from his neck. A bloodied undead screeched and attempted to bite him more, but Yeong Shin pushed it off and slit its nape. When he stood up, he saw a whole wave charging towards him, eager for the blood they smelled. 

 

They were quite far but the sight of them rapidly rushing towards him felt strangely comforting. It was almost stunning to see the gore dangling from their dirt-smeared body against such a pale blue horizon. 

 

“Hyung, please don’t leave me.”

 

He did not move from his position; he stared and pondered. 

 

“Tell me. Why are you so loyal? I heard about your family. I know that’s why you helped me. So that you could avenge them. My master and Cho Hak-ju are gone. Their sins will lay to rest with them.”

 

Perhaps I can finally rest as well. 

 

Yeong Shin looked ahead; his lips curled into a soft smile.

Chapter Text

About a year ago, Hanyang

 

He saw to it that Mu Yeong’s wife was resting before he stepped out of the scholars’ abandoned shack for some fresh air. It was late that night, and the prince had to take in his royal guard’s passing. He had to digest what the Queen had done, and he had to address Seo Bi’s recent discovery regarding the disease. 

 

He saw Yeong Shin, sitting at the edge of the wooden floor. The Crown Prince sat beside him and sighed wearily.

 

“Your Majesty, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard. You must rest,” said Yeong Shin.

 

He turned his head to the prince. Chang’s face was pale and his eyes had sunken deeper. The air around him was far too stagnant that the tiger hunter could not help but gulp.

 

“When Mu Yeong died,” the prince promptly began. “His last words were filled with apologies. It was almost as if he was apologizing for loving his wife.”

 

Yeong Shin turned his gaze to the ground.

 

“Say,” Chang continued dreadfully. “In such a short amount of time, I have lost so many people. How am I supposed to overcome this grief? ”

 

The other kept his head down. His chest felt heavy as he spoke. “I don't think that it's something you truly get rid of, Your Highness.”

 

Chang looked at him.

 

“It stays.” Yeong Shin added. “But it gets easy to bear with time.” 

 

***

 

It was almost noon. Chang looked around the village but he saw no signs of Yeong Shin. It had gone too cold that day that worry had begun stirring up the prince. 

 

“Your Highness,” the physician called him. “I’ve been looking for you. The villagers said up here in the mountains, winter tends to come a few days earlier. The farms at the foot of the mountains are unsafe, but this village will be alright.”

 

Chang’s eyes widened. “It’s winter?”

 

Seo Bi nodded. “We crossed the stream before getting here so there is no need to worry.”

 

Panic began to rise within the prince. His voice tensed as he frantically gripped on the physician’s shoulders. “Yeong Shin hasn’t returned since this morning.”

 

Seo Bi gasped. Before she could utter a response, the prince had already rushed out. As he ran, he looked back and yelled, “Take care of the villagers!”

 

Chang sprinted in a nervous wreck. He could not stomach another death. He could not afford to lose anyone anymore, especially not Yeong Shin. 

 

Amidst his sprinting, Chang felt the familiar distress lurk within him. Barely a year has passed since all hell broke loose, and now his mind had decided to poke at the fresh memory, reminiscing every bit of nightmare the prince had to live by.  

 

A still and dim hallway. His father’s bloodied head, rolling through the wooden floor. A weak old man, breathlessly crawling up to his lap, whispering comforts and words of survival.

 

 The prince almost tripped as more lamentable images made its way to the surface of his memory.

 

Snowy forest with white birch trees. Patches of dead leaves and twigs. Arms tightly wrapped around a lifeless body. A muted scream for the help that never came. 

 

Chang almost pulled his hair in sheer frustration. Chang kept his eyes shut as he ran and repeatedly shook his head. Chang almost screamed, but he didn’t.

 

***

 

Yeong Shin blankly stared at the sky. He didn’t know how long he was lying on the edge of the shallow stream, but he didn’t move from his position. Somehow, the bestial screech of the monsters from the other side of the stream had become a drowned out echo, and his ears had gone immune. 

 

As he lay still, he pondered. He didn’t know what made him even consider the idea of dying at that moment. Maybe it was guilt. He didn’t necessarily like the idea of him living peacefully so he traveled with the prince and Seo Bi. But the moment his heart felt at ease, Yeong Shin could simply not accept it. No. He had to suffer, that was his fate. He must suffer to atone for his sins. 

 

As he ventured deep into his thoughts, he found the crown prince in his memories. He saw the crown prince, grunting and pushing up the wagon. He saw him, slicing through every monster he could. He saw the crown prince, leading the people with passion. 

 

“It’s time to open your eyes and ears now! The people of this land are suffering. Now is the time to rise up. Face reality and do right by this country.”

 

Yeong Shin stared at the sky and chuckled to himself.

 

So that was it. That’s why I chose to live.

 

More than living, he chose Lee Chang.

 

***

 

Chang saw a man by the edge of the stream. He was certain that it was the hunter.

 

“Yeong Shin!” he called, his voice full of panic and distress.

 

He ran towards him and quickly kneeled beside him. He was taken aback upon seeing Yeong Shin awake, eyes wide with steady breathing. But the prince did not miss the bite from the neck, and the faint traces of blood that was still flowing out. 

 

Chang’s fingers were trembling as he pulled the other man up. Yeong Shin complied, never looking at the prince’s deadly glare. His legs were sore, and catching up to the prince’s pace was deemed difficult.

 

“What were you thinking!” Chang snapped later on. He was suppressing his hands from grabbing Yeong Shin. 

 

Yeong Shin, with terribly sunken eyes, kept his gaze glued to the ground. He muttered a quick apology. 

 

Chang furiously marched towards him and tightly gripped on the hunter’s shoulders. 

 

“You could’ve died!” 

 

“I know.” Yeong Shin’s voice was cold. “I know that. But I can take care of myself, your Majesty.”

 

The hunter brushed the prince’s hands off his shoulder and briskly walked past him. Chang pursed his lips, scared of what he’ll say next.

 

The prince didn’t want to shout anymore yet his blood still boiled. He hated feeling this way. All the thoughts and anxieties he suffered as he ran, all brushed off by the man he endured it for. 

 

His fists curled into a ball as he blurted out, “I heard you last night.”

 

Yeong Shin stopped. He kept his head down as he hesitantly looked back, but Chang could see the horror in his eyes.