Updated: Jun 23
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Episode 141. About 10 months (18)
"Ah. No. The schedule hasn’t changed. Have you finished all your work for today?” I asked as I quickly looked over at the Prince.
"Huh. Yes. Do you think my working abilities are a worthy example for the Imperial Guards? Hahaha… How often did the captain of the Guard, who worked with me for a while, talk about my performance today, I wonder? Haha. Oh! I was just about to ask if you are busy this afternoon. No? I’m glad you aren’t? I think I should go have a drink with him… Uh…”
He was looking at me and spoke quickly, then stopped as he felt the gaze of Second Prince Kyle on him.
And he asked innocently, “Why… Why do you have that look, Your Highness?”
“How do you interpret it?”
“Hmm. As if I have made a big mistake. It’s the look that you have when I’m about to be punished... As if...”
“Are you getting better at reading the room?”
“Huh, Your Highness. No matter what I did wrong... Ah! I will discuss work with the 3rd aide outside.”
Following Nick, who hurriedly stepped backwards, I also moved one step as I opened and squeezed my bandaged hand once.
“I’ll be taking my leave now."
But the Prince grabbed my arm again.
Both Nick and I were quite surprised.
I stopped and stared at the Prince's hand that was holding me and, as if realizing something, Nick bowed his head again to the Prince.
"Oh! Did my temporary Aide do anything wrong? Come to think of it, why are you still in the barracks? Did she offend you, Your Highness?”
“It’s not like that, Captain. Nothing happened.”
“Well, then you’ve really been waiting for me. If you want to wait for me outside... Huh! What’s with your hand?"
“He’s really astute...”
Maybe Captain Nick didn't hear the Princes’ hushed voice as he grabbed my hand and looked at it carefully.
"No, how did you... Are you hurt? Are you in a lot of pain?"
Wow! How did he become Captain of the Phoenix Knights with this kind of insight?
I had to believe that Captain Nick had an incredible ability to overcome his natural denseness…
Or maybe the Second Prince was a very kind person.
“Oh no, it’s okay…"
"Oh, no! It hurts me to see you hurt like this…”
“Oh my God!”
It happened so quickly that I couldn't believe it. The Second Prince mercilessly kicked Nick's thigh.
Well… That was to be expected…
I opened my eyes and looked at Captain Nick, who had crumpled one the floor like a paper doll.
Nick bounced up in surprise and his eyes widened as he saw the Prince's eyes filled with real anger directed at him for the first time in ages.
“Oh, God, I beg your forgiveness. Let's go, 3rd Aide..."
At the Prince's growling command, Captain Nick clicked his mouth shut, bowed more deeply than ever before, and hurriedly ran out of the barracks.
Just before leaving, Captain Nicks’ eyes were similar to that of the puss in boots at first glance, but were sad and soppy.
Back to the well of silence.
However, it was a different silence than before Nick came in.
He was really weird today...
“Sir, what’s wrong with you today?” I asked in all seriousness.
“Why do you ask me that?”
“Are you aware of how strange this is?”
He came one step closer.
I didn't know why, but I refrained from taking a step back.
“I know I have asked this question many times, but Your Highness, I'm going to ask you one last time. Do you happen to have feelings for me?"
I waited for a long time, but there was no answer. He just kept staring at me.
The air was suffocating.
"I know it’s a question that I’ve asked you a few times already, so you might feel offended, but my gut keeps hinting at it. Your Highness, do you have any strange feelings for me?"
Had there been a clock in the room, its ticking sound would have been deafening. Time passed, but the Prince still kept silent.
What? Why was he just staring at me like that…? Ha… It was frustrating.
Feeling uncomfortable under his steady gaze, I moved towards the barrack’s entrance.
“Why are you just looking at me?”
“We need fresh air. I'll open the door for a moment..."
I hadn’t taken two steps towards the door when the Prince's softly spoken words stopped me dead in my tracks.
“I think that’s it.”
I slowly turned around and looked at him.
“I think you’re right.”
I blinked, wide-eyed, and looked at him for a moment. Completely stunned.
"That… Those words are..."
The next words did not come out easily as if something was caught in my throat. I hurried back and drank the water on the table.
"Now. Your Highness says I am right. That you have feelings for me. Therefore. Your Highness likes me... Is that it?"
"... That's what most people say."
Heh heh heh heh heh heh.
It was real. My gut feeling was right. Oh, my God! Nonsense! How the hell did this happen!
For a moment, my mind reeled under the amount of superlatives that were running through it, but it all stopped, since he continued to stare at me with calm eyes.
No. Was that the way a man looked when he confessed?
I stared at him in disbelief, then forced my mouth shut and swallowed.
'That's what most people say.' There was an almost 99.999999% chance that he would've said that he liked me before I asked, but I just needed to check. Since I was a person who liked things to be clear.
I needed to hear it directly from him.
“Are you saying that you like me as a subordinate?”
His eyebrows twitched.
“Who tells his subordinate that he likes them?”
Again, a silly question.
I felt feverish, and my palms were sweaty.
I knew that I was pushing the issue, I knew what he had said: that he liked me, but I just had to be sure.
“Is that so. That… Are you saying that you like me as a woman, not as a subordinate?"
It was hard to believe. Actually, I couldn’t. So, I checked again.
I furrowed my brow and looked at his face, rolling the information through my head.
However, the gears in my head that normally spun so well, kept creaking.
As if the circuit had stopped, stuck on the words the Prince had said a while ago.
[...That’s what most people say... That's what most people say… That’s what most people say…]
I waved my hand vigorously, to erase those words from my mind.
"It's another test, isn’t it?"
"Or a hidden cam... No. A new way to trap and surprise me, maybe?”
He shook his head slightly without answering.
“Or is this a initiation ceremony? Are Captain Nick and the other knights hiding behind the barracks?"
“It is good to verify it several times,” the Prince interjected.
“Since you are a smart person, you would have noticed if that were the case already or...”
“Oh, or what?”
“You don’t want to believe it?”
I was speechless, as if I had forgotten the Empire’s language for a moment. As I stared blankly, he began to move.
“… Huh? Uh, uh! Why are you approaching me?”
“Because you don’t believe me.”
In just three steps he was right in front of me.
Oh, my God! He was towering over me.
Looking up at him, I took a step back to maintain some distance. Fortunately, he didn’t try to come closer again. Still, he was just one step away.
His hair, which had always been straight, was disheveled on his forehead.
A straight nose, a well-defined mouth, a sharp chin, and an intense gaze, directed straight at me.
“Tara Elias. Listen carefully. I like you as a woman.”
Doom! A loud drum echoed in my ears.
OH. MY. GOD.
I opened my eyes wide in surprise. I didn't know for how long I kept staring at him, dumbstruck. He folded his arms and looked down at me as if waiting for an answer.
And then, I saw it. It may have been an illusion, but those eyes that have always been either cruel, cold, blunt, ridiculous, or cynical, flared up in that moment.
I blinked and looked again, but those burning eyes only held his usual calm.
“Why do you like me?”
“I wonder about that too.”
"Yes. At some point, I started to wonder where you were and what you were doing. And…"
I felt like a parrot…
“Especially when we meet in an unexpected place like today…”
“When we meet?”
“I just like it.”
In an instant, heat rose to my face. What was the Prince doing, being so straightforward?
I was so flustered right now with him coming at me with these honest feelings.
But it was nothing compared to the uppercut that he blew into my dazed mind next, without letting me catch my breath.
“I can use it here...”
“I will take what you owe me here.”
I became a broken record again, repeating only 'What?' as I didn't catch on right away.
Seriously, how many people could think properly under these circumstances?
“I held your older brother one more day in the interrogation room.”
I felt like I was drowning. The memory of the interrogation room came to mind in an instant.
[Not a public, but a private request… I'll give you one.]
[From you? Well... I don't really like it.]
[I'll telling you, I'll be of great help. You don’t know what the future holds… Write it down? Awww. Sure.]
Why had I forgotten about that promise until now?
What? [You don't know what the future holds?] This was laughable...
I should have known that this offer for a private request would come back to bite me. His deep voice cut through my train of thoughts, letting me know that he wasn't going to back down on this.
"Remember, back then? When you persuaded me that day, I didn't like it very much. You said, 'you don't know what the future holds' ... It's really something you don't know. Is it?"
His upper body bent down; his arms still crossed. His face right in front mine.
"Huh... No way..."
“Yes, it's a perfectly private request. So, I'll to use it right here, right now."
I was so startled that I took another step back, but my path was blocked.
Since when had the desk been so close? My waist hit it. I was stuck.
As if he planned it. No, as if he knew I would lean back on the table, the Prince grabbed it with his arms outstretched on either side of me, easily trapping me between him and the desk…
“Let me guess… Is this what I'm thinking it is…?”
“Your guess is always accurate. Isn’t it?"
His grinning face had never looked so evil.