The Sky Between Us, and The World Ahead [Chapter 9B/20]
Authors: dreaminginside and seeeno
Genre: Adventure, Romance, Drama
Characters: Henry, Ryeowook, Sungmin, Jongwoon
Pairings: YeWook, HenMin
Summary: Home is behind, the world ahead, there are many paths to tread, through shadow to the edge of night, 'till the stars are all alight.
Glossary | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4A | Chapter 4B | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6A | Chapter 6B | Chapter 7A | Chapter 7B | Interlude | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9A | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Epilogue
Henry wakes up early the next morning, life of waking before the sun rose starting to return to him with their arrival at the manor, hardly any light shining in through the windows, darkness still playing over the room and silence reigning, not a sound echoing in the house.
He smiles as a semblance of consciousness returns to him, Sungmin’s arms still tight around him and breath soft against his hair, his head resting against Sungmin’s chest, nose pressing into the other man’s collar. He doesn’t move at all for a moment, relishing in the sound of Sungmin’s heart beating, letting his eyes flutter shut as he burrows in even closer to Sungmin, trying to burn the feel of Sungmin next to him, Sungmin’s arms around him, into his mind, knowing that he will need these memories to get him through after he leaves their makeshift sanctuary, shivering at the thought.
His tremble makes Sungmin stir, eyes blinking sleepily and smiling lightly when he sees Henry looking at him, hugging him close and murmuring good morning into Henry’s hair, pressing a soft kiss to his forehead. Henry laughs softly at Sungmin’s regular sleepy behavior, making him clingy and needy, mumbling senseless things at Henry.
“You don’t have to wake up yet,” Henry whispers, feeling slightly bad for waking Sungmin up but happy as Sungmin just whines and buries his head in his neck, humming lightly. “Go back to sleep, Min, there’s still a few hours until I need to go to the Lord, get as much rest as you can.”
He feels slightly bad for lying, but he doesn't want to get Sungmin or Jongwoon on the Lord's bad side. He's already disliked and in enough trouble as it is, and if he can spare Sungmin from the wrath he is so used to, then he'll do anything it takes.
Sungmin hums in agreement, quickly falling back asleep, and Henry waits long enough to know that Sungmin is soundly out before carefully extricating himself from the older man's arms. His filthy clothes are at least dry now, hanging from the door handle. It's his only solace as he quietly strips himself of the nicest clothes he's ever donned, grimacing at the feel of crusted mud against his skin.
Once he has folded the clothes he was wearing and replaced them in the drawer he took them from, Henry kneels on the mattress and places one final, lingering kiss against Sungmin's lips, his lover sighing contently in his sleep, lips quirking upward. Henry is reluctant to leave but he knows he has to, turning to head out the door, when he catches sight of Jongwoon, face screwed up in discontent in his sleep and blankets kicked to the foot of the bed. Henry's heart snaps, and gently he pulls the covers back over the eldest man, tucking him in gently before sidling to the door. He makes sure the handle is locked before he slips out, shutting it tightly behind him.
Sungmin gets up shortly after Henry leaves, sad smile on his face as he sees the empty spot beside him, sheets still holding a touch of Henry’s warmth and his lips still feel Henry’s last kiss. He had a feeling Henry might have been lying to him earlier in the morning, but left it up to the other man what he would do, trusting that it was what was best for him in the long run. It doesn’t make his absence hurt any less, but it allows Sungmin some small comfort as he leans back against the wall, letting his eyes slide shut and breathing slowly, holding onto memories of the night before like a lifeline.
When he finally opens them again, the room is bathed in morning light, and he sees Jongwoon beginning to stir, smiling softly as he realizes Henry must have replaced the other man’s covers before he left. Jongwoon doesn’t look in much of a better mood than the night before, but his eyes are sharper, less desolate, and Sungmin feels a small pang of relief shoot through his chest. Jongwoon looks at him curiously for a moment before sighing, swinging his legs until they hang over his bed.
“So he’s gone then?” He questions softly, and Sungmin simply closes his eyes again, nodding and swallowing the lump of fear in his throat about what will happen to Henry once he becomes ‘just another slave’ in the eyes of the Lord again, worried for him.
“He left earlier this morning,” Sungmin sighs, remembering Henry slipping from his arms and the soft close of the door before looking up at Jongwoon again, still concerned for his friend though he looks better than he had. “But what about you, Jongwoon? How are you doing?”
Jongwoon runs a hand through his hair and sighs again. "I could say that I'm doing better, but I would be lying." He leans forward, putting his elbows on his knees and resting his chin in his palms. He looks pensive, and his mouth works as he tries to find the words, and Sungmin's heart drops when he just gives up and rubs his temples.
"Jongwoon..." Sungmin starts softly. He doesn't know how to fix his friend, how to fix this situation where all seems completely hopeless. But he does know one thing for sure -- they aren't going to give up this easily. "It's not over yet. Don't give up so easily, we'll figure out something."
"How?" Jongwoon snaps, his voice caustic and desperate. "How are we going to change anything? We're nobody here. Do you honestly expect our word to go against someone who is clearly established in power? Do you honestly expect us to be able to convince Ryeowook against this? You know how he gets when he sets his mind on something. Do you honestly expect us to be able to do anything?"
Sungmin feels his heart clenching with every word Jongwoon says but he realizes Jongwoon is so consumed with grief at the situation that he can't possibly be thinking clearly. "Hey," he says so sharply that it makes Jongwoon eye him in confusion. "I'm going to ask you just one thing: do you love him?"
Jongwoon's chest constricts as the memory of Ryeowook telling him he loved him in the woods flashes behind his eyes, suddenly wishing he had said it back to the younger man, thinking maybe that would have swayed Ryeowook's decision to marry this girl. "I love him," he breathes, eyes burning but not willing to shed anymore. He's tired of crying.
"Then don't give up on him," Sungmin urges, eyes steeled against any retorts Jongwoon may have. "Ryeowook may have given up, thinking he's protecting us, protecting you, but we have no obligation to fulfill but to ourselves. Where's the Jongwoon that stood up against my father? The Jongwoon that I grew up with was every bit as stubborn as the Ryeowook we know."
“More than anything,” Jongwoon whispers, clenching his teeth and feeling that now familiar wave of hopelessness run over him, hardly having to think about his answer and knowing that he’s loved Ryeowook since the moment the other man kissed him, seeming so small in his arms that night, and wishes he could go back to that moment.
“Then get your act together and do something about it instead of moping around here,” Sungmin says, not harshly but truthfully, hoping that this approach will break through to his friend and get him back to where they could fight this. “You can sit here and feel sorry for yourself, or you can try and fight this, talk to him, try and convince him otherwise. If this were Henry I would be doing every damn thing I could to change his mind, but I can only wait to see what the Lord says and then you had better believe I will try my damnedest to save him from whatever fate that man gives him. You can’t love only when it’s convenient, Jongwoon. Or maybe you really don’t love him at all?”
That finally gets a rise from the other man, as Sungmin had hoped it would, Jongwoon standing up quickly and with fury in his eyes, walking straight up to Sungmin and looking nearly ready to punch him, fists clenched at his side.
“How dare you suggest that,” Jongwoon hisses, eyes narrowed and having to stop himself from punching his friend, hands shaking as he holds himself back, unbelieving that Sungmin would even think to say such a thing to him. “You have no right to question my feelings, Sungmin, you should know how I feel about Ryeowook.”
Sungmin fears he may have pushed his friend too far, but he would rather see his friend angry than depressed. It means he still has a chance of getting through to him. "Then why are you so reluctant to fight for him? What have we got to lose, Jongwoon? What do you have to lose?"
"Everything," Jongwoon snaps. "I have everything to lose. You heard what happened the last time Ryeowook crossed that lunatic. If, Luzo forbid, he should kill Ryeowook, or you, or Henry or Jongjin or Sungjin, what do you think I would do? Do you think I would be able to live with myself if that happened? I don't like what Ryeowook decided but I can understand why he did! It's a no win situation and Ryeowook chose the only way to fix it he knew how!"
"So your solution is to sit and passively let things go, come what may?" Sungmin presses, trying with all his might too keep his cool. He's frustrated and upset, not at Jongwoon but for him, and he wants nothing more than to light that spark in his friend's eye again, to get him to try and fight. "We don't have the same standards as Ryeowook does, we can do something without having a constant eye at our backs! Come on, Jongwoon, you were ready to rip my throat out for questioning your love for the man just now, and I'm on your side, you know this."
Jongwoon sighs heavily, blinking away the blind fury Sungmin's words had inciting in him, knowing Sungmin won't let sleeping dogs lie and despite feeling like there's nothing they can do, Sungmin's prodding gives him a little glimmer of hope. "What do you suggest, then?" he sighs, resigned.
“I suggest that you go talk to him,” Sungmin says honestly, seeing a spark of the Jongwoon he’s used to seeing emerge again, even if it’s behind such a resigned tone. “You can hardly call yesterdays ‘talk’ an actual way to find a solution. I think that you need to go find where he is in this place and actually talk to him, tell him what you just told me, see if there’s any way that you can avoid this.”
“Jongwoon, you looked about ready to kill me just now when I even suggested you didn’t love him,” He sighs as he watches the gears turn in Jongwoon’s mind, unending hopelessness seeming to be replaced with at least some reason, a shallow nod as Sungmin speaks to him. “If you talk to him with that same conviction, then surely there’s a way that the two of you can find to fix this mess. And this Jinseon doesn’t exactly sound willing, you might be able to find yourself an unexpected ally. I’m not saying it isn’t a gamble, but it’s one you’ll have to risk if you love him as much as you say.”
“Luzo willing,” Jongwoon mumbles, mulling over Sungmin’s words slowly and weighting how much faith he can place in them, agreeing in any case that he and Ryeowook do need to talk, feeling a pang in his chest at how they parted the day before, biting his lip. “I can talk to him in any case. Though it’ll be risky getting around without Henry, and I’m sure I’ll have to sneak around all those slaves and their wedding preparations.”
"I don't even know where Ryeowook's room is..." he mutters, sinking back down on the bed with a flop. He keeps teetering between defeat and the will to try, the emotions shining in his eyes. "This is hopeless. Luzo may have been giving us a lot of leeway lately but I think our miracles have run out."
"So we'll create our own," Sungmin retorts fiercely, determined to keep his friend from sinking back into depression. "Look at how far we've come! We saved two innocent people from a terrible fate, learned about a world much bigger than our own, found love..." He crosses the room from his bed, kneels down in front of Jongwoon and puts his hands on his shoulders. "Now tell me that isn't something worth fighting for," he finishes in naught but a whisper, hoping this pulls Jongwoon back from the brink.
Jongwoon meets Sungmin's gaze, and he sees in his friend's eyes the same glimmer that he saw the night they saw the stars for the first time, that boundless determination. But this time there's something more there too -- fear -- and it scares Jongwoon. The both of them realize the consequences of meddling with Lord Kim could be dire, but unless they want to lose Ryeowook, and possibly Henry, forever, they have to take action. It hits Jongwoon then that he's not the only one hurting, and he feels guilty for being so selfish, because Sungmin had no idea what was going to happen to Henry and it must be torture to not know.
“Well,” A small smile crosses his face and Jongwoon takes a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment and pushing away all his doubts, setting a look of determination in them instead, refusing to take all this lying down. He and Sungmin have come too far and have too much to lose that they’ve gained for him to quit on his best friend. “You might have to lend me some of that courage and bravery you always seem to have, Min. I don’t think I can get through all this on my own.”
A grin spreads across Sungmin’s face and he throws his arms around Jongwoon’s waist, pulling him in for a brief hug before standing up, thrilled at finally being able to break through to the Jongwoon he’s so used to, nodding in agreement at the man’s rooms.
“As if you could ever do anything without me,” He teases lightly, and feels a bit of a weight lift off his heart before becoming serious again, thinking through what they know so far in order to pull it off. “Well, we know that Ryeowook’s room isn’t anywhere around here, otherwise an escort wouldn’t have been needed to take hime back, I’m willing to bet he’s on the other side of this would be mansion. He said he used to be locked in, right? If you can find the door with the lock, you’ll be fine. And someone will probably tell him what happened to Henry too, if we can at least get that information then I’ll be able to rest a bit easier, we need a good course of action.”
"Right," Jongwoon nods, biting his thumbnail as he thinks. "The slaves are less likely to be out and about late at night, right? And that is most likely when Ryeowook will be locked up in his room for the night." His mind starts to get on a roll, shaking off the last of the sadness as he quietly runs over every detail they might need to think of.
"Probably," Sungmin agrees, pacing, trying to contribute any logic that he can even though his usual plan is to charge first and ask questions later. He suddenly stops and whirls around to face Jongwoon. "What if there is someone guarding the door?"
"Then we ask to have a word with Ryeowook. We are 'traveling companions' after all," Jongwoon quips without missing a beat. "It'll be more convincing if you go with me. I think that man saw right through Ryeowook and I. A bastard if I ever saw one, but not a stupid one," he growls. "You still remember how to pick a lock, right?"
Sungmin scoffs. "Of course I do. One of many tricks of the trade I learned as a fisherman. I just need something thin enough to pick it and a flat... anything, to turn the lock."
“I’m sure we can find both those things around this room,” Jongwoon gestures around their finely furnished room, thoughts whirring as their plan falls together and he begins to believe that they might actually be able to pull this off. “And we’ll need to do it tonight, while we’re still being treated so hospitably, this way none of the slaves will suspect anything hopefully.”
Sungmin nods in agreement and begins rummaging around the room, looking for the tools he might need that night, small smile crossing his face and a breath of relief escaping his lips. He knew they could come up with something to try and solve this whole fiasco if they just thought clearly, and this way they should be able to figure out everything they need to know and stiff avoid the ever imposing wrath of Ryeowook’s uncle.
“He’s meeting with that woman today too right? It’s the perfect time, we’ll be able to find out everything that we need,” He mumbles to himself, planning ahead the next few hours already and hearing Jongwoon’s hum of agreement. “I just hope we’ll be able to do something.”
“Well, it’s like you said, right, Min?” Jongwoon smiles tentatively, looking forward to being able to see Ryeowook again, but also feeling incredibly nervous, knowing he wasn’t the only one who broke last night, and Ryeowook has been all alone, no one like Sungmin to help put him back together. “If we’re together then we can surely do it.”
Sungmin smiles back, and nods, thanking Luzo for his friend coming back to him.
Ryeowook sits stiffly in his chair, hands folded in his lap and lips pressed tightly together. He's dressed in fine clothes, face clean-shaven and hair cropped much shorter that it had been in months. He resists the urge to twist his fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck, as he was prone to do when he was nervous, but the hair there isn't long enough anymore, so he resorts to puffing his still-long bangs out of his face.
His uncle sits next to him, dressed equally fine and wielding his cane like a scepter. Across from them, Hwang Jinseon, dressed in a pretty white dress with her hair tied up in a simple but still decorative pattern, and her father, Lord Hwang from a southern province with not much to his name. He seems to be a genial man, Ryeowook thinks, but he's dealing with his scum of an uncle and so he doesn't hold his soon to be father-in-law in high regard. He holds back an exasperated sigh at the generic nicities the two older men are exchanging, opting to look anywhere but at the three people whose company he's forced to be in.
"So, let us get right down to business then," says Lord Kim, once the polite exchanges are over. "Shall we discuss the dowry you have offered?"
Lord Hwang nods, and Jinseon gives a tiny sigh that the two older men miss, but Ryeowook does not. He looks up to catch her eye, and a small smile graces her lips but doesn't reach her eyes, and Ryeowook knows she's about as thrilled about this arrangement as he is. He supposes if he were in her shoes, wed to a man merely for the connection that comes with it, he wouldn't be happy either. But his situation isn't much better.
Ryeowook tunes out the discussion as much as possible, humming Henry's lullaby in his head over and over, until the word 'mining' comes into the conversation and he snaps to attention. He has to bite his tongue at first, because Lord Hwang doesn't know of the arrangement with his uncle yet, but the man seems to have no intention of bringing it up. So Ryeowook clears his throat and speaks for the first time since the meeting began.
"I would like to make it clear that one of the stipulations of this marriage is that there will be no mining," he says clearly, earning a deadly glare from his uncle and a surprised look from Lord Hwang. Clearly his uncle had tried to get around their deal, because lueuror mining brings in great profit, but bites his tongue and settles for trying to scare Ryeowook into shutting his mouth. It doesn't work.
"Oh? And why is that?" Lord Hwang questions, genuinely curious. Even Jinseon blinks, her attention caught, but she seems to be under the traditional mannerisms of women don't speak unless spoken to.
Lord Kim practically dares Ryeowook to spill on the specifics of their deal, dares Ryeowook to tell them about the threats, but Ryeowook confidently meets his gaze and replies, "I happen to be against mining. Poor conditions for the workers in an unsafe working environment purely for the benefit of the rich." He turns to Lord Hwang and continues. "If it were coal mining it would one thing, but I know the only thing on your property is lueuror. Develop property, lease it to farmers, I quite frankly don't care what my uncle decides to do with the land, so long as there is no mining."
Both Lords are stunned speechless, and Jinseon's eyes sparkle. "Father, if I may say something," she says, her voice quiet and melodious. Her father nods and she looks to Ryeowook with something akin to admiration in her eyes. "I think that's a wonderful idea. Father always tells me about how his miners keep getting ill down in the tunnels, and it's a shame to their poor wives and children who lose husbands and fathers in accidents."
Ryeowook raises an eyebrow and almost feels his lips twitch into a smile, and realizes he might just have an ally left to him, even if everything else has been taken from him. He gives he a small nod and sees the complete surprise on both the older men’s faces, his uncle’s having carefully hidden disgust mixed in as well.
“Well, if that is what you wish I suppose,” Lord Hwang says, shrugging and willing to go along with his daughter’s fiancé’s wishes, even if they may be slightly eccentric, protests against mining because of the conditions being rather uncommon in their class. “The land is yours to do with as you please after you marry my daughter, it is a simple dowry but I hope you will find it useful.”
“It will be more than enough,” Lord Kim assures, shooting Ryeowook a look out of the corner of his eyes that clearly tells him he’s not yet won this argument, supporters and agreement or not, and it makes him sigh internally, having known it wouldn’t be this easy but still having held some hope that it would be. “We will find it very useful, Lord Hwang, believe me. Now, if you have a moment I would like to speak to you for a moment in private, and it would allow Miss Jinseon and Ryeowook to get to know each other a bit, the wedding is in six days time after all.”
“So soon!” The other Lord exclaims, and Ryeowook is inclined to bitterly agree with him, seeing a sour look pass over Jinseon’s face for the briefest of moments too, before it is schooled back into the proper decorum for a lady in public. “We do have much to discuss then. And it would be good for the young ones to mingle some I suppose, I’m sure they’ll be able to get along well and do their duties.”
Ryeowook nearly snorts at the talk of duties and wonders if anyone ever spares a thought to anyone’s happiness anymore, his being ripped away from him more with each passing second, and he imagines Jinseon’s situation is much the same. But he instead bites his tongue, and stands to bow when his uncle and Lord Hwang stand to leave, only letting the frown cover his face when they’re safely out of sigh, sitting down heavily and sighing.
"I'm sorry," is the first thing that comes out of Jinseon's mouth, and Ryeowook's attention snaps up to the girl. "I know this isn't what you want. I'm sorry my father is pressing your uncle to marry you off. I know he's only trying to secure me a good future, but..." She chews on her lip. "I can't help but think he's using you as a means for status through me."
Ryeowook takes a deep breath before flashing a reassuring smile at the poor woman. "It isn't your fault, so you shouldn't apologize. Besides, my uncle isn't exactly free of ulterior motives anyway. The greedy bastard just wants more coin," he trails off in a mutter. Jinseon gives a sad smile.
"Somehow I think keeping Lord Kim from mining is less about the workers and more about spiting him," she speculates wisely, settling her clasped fingers on the table in front of her. Ryeowook huffs, making his bangs fall into his face unceremoniously, and she giggles behind her hand as he swipes them out of his face.
"Yes, and no," he answers truthfully. Well, half-truthfully. "I have... a couple of friends, who practically lived down there," Ryeowook explains vaguely, but detailed enough to ease Jinseon's curiousity. "Though I can't see a reason why you would be so thrilled to be betrothed to a man you know nothing about besides his name. I don't even know how old you are."
“I’m twenty two, if you must know, and I’m not, to be truthful with you,” Jinseon sighs, expression saddening, and Ryeowook has to wonder just how similar their situations are, the two of them seeming more in the same hopeless little hole with each passing second. It’s a bit of a comfort to him, that at least he’s not alone in wanting to defy this. “I have my own love that I would have been contented to marry, but my father would hear none of it. He’s a Knight, but the appeal of having more ties to another Lord appealed to my father more, and thus here we are.”
“It would seem that you aren’t willing at all either,” Jinseon points out thoughtfully, and Ryeowook represses a twitch as Jongwoon flashes through his mind, the desolate look in the man’s eyes from the day before still haunting his mind. “Do you have a love of your own that you’re being torn from by this whole bloody arrangement?”
"Indeed I do," Ryeowook murmurs, thinking of Jongwoon and wondering if the older man hates him for the way he treated him last night. As much as it breaks his heart he almost hopes that Jongwoon does hate him. This whole mess would be less painful that way. But if he knows Jongwoon (and he likes to think that he does) who puts his all into everything, then he knows it wouldn't be that easy. "And it seems like we only had a fleeting hour to be happy before he took it away," he continues bitterly, jabbing his thumb in the direction of the door.
"I agree," Jinseon nods sadly. "I met Siwon a little over a year ago but I feel like I've known him my whole life. He just... I love him so much, and this whole arrangement just tore him up. When he came round my home the last time, my father told him I was to be wed and threw him out, and he stood outside waiting for me to come out. He kept shouting, 'it isn't funny, the joke is over, right? You got me' and rattling the gate but I couldn't see him."
Ryeowook cringes a little bit and looks at her in sympathy, acutely feeling her pain. He thinks back that it might have made him feel better if Jongwoon had been angry at him, had yelled, screamed, anything but that desolate look in his eyes, the desperate tone in his voice. His shoulders slump as he thinks of what he wishes he could have done, wishes he could still do, just gather him into his arms and tell him everything will be okay, that it’s all just a terrible dream and they can go back to how they were.
“I’ve known Jongwoon for less than a half year,” Ryeowook says softly, deciding to trust this woman and giving her what she deserves in return for her honesty, some of his own. “But I love him more than anything, I would do nearly anything for him. All he asked was for me not to leave him, and yet here we are. Even after everything he’s done for me, all I’ve done is break his heart.”
Jinseon, bless her heart, is only momentarily surprised, or at least the surprise only crosses her face briefly. If it bothered her that Ryeowook was speaking of loving a man despite being a man, she didn't show it, giving him a sympathetic smile. "The heart is unpredictable, isn't it? Capable of finding love in places where you least expect it. You're a brave man for accepting that, Kim Ryeowook."
Ryeowook finds himself respecting this woman more and more as she keeps speaking, and the thought briefly crosses his mind that even if it were a loveless marriage that the rest of his life wouldn't be so bad, than if he'd had to marry a spoiled princess. It still makes him cringe, though, the thought of never being able to belong to Jongwoon the way he would belong to this woman. "What a pair we are," he laughs humourlessly.
“Indeed,” She smiles back, a tad bitterly, but not without some respect for Ryeowook leaking through. “We seem trapped by these circumstances, but we can at least make the best of them, can’t we? I can see myself being friends with you, lack of love notwithstanding, and that is enough for me not to give complete hatred to this arrangement, though I’m not about to simply accept it until we’re standing on that altar.”
Ryeowook gives a bit of a laugh, a slight of humour slipping in, and he thinks he really could grow to like this woman, though never in the way he is expected to. “I can see myself being rather good friends with you, Miss Jinseon. It is simply regrettable that it must be under these guidelines, as I’m sure you can empathize. I simply have too much to lose if I do not go along with my uncle’s twisted scheme, in this particular case.”
Before he explain any further to Jinseon's raised eyebrows, there's a knock on the door and the caller doesn't wait for an answer before pushed open. It was one of the older slaves, hands gnarled and back hunched slightly, beckoning to the two young masters. "Lord Hwang is beckoning for the young Mistress," he says quietly, lowering his head humbly. "The road is long, m'lady. You have to journey home and prepare to move once the vows are exchanged." The two Lords stand behind the old slave, looking upon them expectanctly.
Jinseon sighs, before nodding. Ryeowook realizes he is expected to be the gentleman and stands first, moving around the table to scoot out Jinseon's chair and offer her a hand to stand. The two Lords beam (well, Lord Hwang beams, and Lord Kim smirks) as Jinseon gives Ryeowook a curtsey and a smile, and Ryeowook sees the understanding in her eyes. He smiles softly back, both of them knowing that the other wishes neither were in this situation, and for an extra bit of show he presses the back of her palm to his lips, looking as though he were wishing her farewell. He murmurs, "I'm sorry," so quietly that only she can hear it, and she nods slightly before taking back her hand and excusing herself.
“It was a pleasure to meet with you, Kim Ryeowook,” Jinseon says softly, adopting the proper tone for a woman when speaking in front of an audience, and it almost makes Ryeowook snort, hating how they all need to hide who they are. She means her words though, if only wishing their meeting could have been under more pleasant circumstances. “I will be seeing you again late in the week it would seem, good fate be with you until we meet again.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Ryeowook says, trying to keep the edge of weariness from his tone as Jinseon begins to walk to her father, bowing fully and in the full guise of what the heir to a Lord’s position should be, and feels some bile rise in his throat at how pleased his uncle must look, avoiding the old man’s eyes and looking nowhere but at the ground, hiding his eyes behind his bangs. “And it would seem to be so. All the best to you as well, Miss Jinseon.”
Ryeowook sighs as he hears Lord Hwang speaking to Jinseon as they leave and after proper pleasantries are exchanged, his voice carrying, see, it’s not a bad arrangement after all, the two of you seem to get along fine, he will make a fine husband for you.
But he's not the one I love, Father... trails down the hall, and it's the last of the conversation he can hear before it filters into silence. Ryeowook just stands there, biting his tongue so that he doesn't lash out at the slave who is tugging at his arm, telling him that he must return to his room now, the Master's orders, and he doesn't even look at the smirk that's surely there on his uncle's face as he storms past, yanking his arm out of the slave's grip.
"You are dismissed," Ryeowook says curtly, and when the slave opens his mouth to protest Ryeowook cuts him off. "I'm not a child, I do not need to be escorted to my own room. I am aware that you are under orders to lock me in, but trust me, I'm not going anywhere." I have nowhere to go, Jongwoon probably doesn't want to even look at my face right now, he thinks bitterly.
“I’m sorry, Young Master, but it is His Lordship’s orders,” The slave says softly, as if to direct Ryeowook’s slight obvious rage away from him, leading him down the corridor and to his room, opening the door for him and bowing even as Ryeowook ignores him. “And one more thing, Young Master. Your young friend, Henry, is being held in the dungeons under the count of treason for kidnapping the heir, his trial was during the time you were getting ready this morning.”
“What?” Ryeowook hisses, stopping the door from shutting and looking at the slave incredulously, even as the man looks around nervously. It’s then that he realizes how much the slave is risking by even telling him such information, his uncle sure to be furious if he knew any of his plans were being leaked, and instead smiles at the elderly man. “Never mind, thank you for telling me that. I appreciate it more than you probably know.”
“Henry is a good boy,” The slave says simply, closing the door slowly and fishing for the key to the lock. “And you are not so bad yourself, Young Master. I am sorry for the situation you are in.”
With that, the door closes and Ryeowook is caged again, sighing and sinking back against the locked doorway, emotionally exhausted, burying his head in his knees as he’s taken to doing.
“Oh God,” He mutters, fear striking through him for Henry, unsure of the fate of his closest friend, and useless when he’s locked in his room. “What am I supposed to do now.”
Ryeowook doesn't realize he fell asleep sitting at the door until he hears the doorknob rattling and hushed voices outside his door. He wakes with a start and scrambles away, glancing outside the window to realize it must be at least midnight, if not later.
"Shh, are you any louder, you're going to get us caught!"
"Says the one who nearly ran into one of the slaves running around."
Ryeowook stares at the door, not wanting to believe that those voices belong to who he thinks they belong too, because he must be dreaming. He slaps himself on the face, and it hurts, but he still doesn't believe it until the lock click and the door swings open, revealing Sungmin's grinning face and Jongwoon's uncertain gaze, and his jaw drops to the floor.
"Still got it," Sungmin chuckles, dragging Jongwoon by the collar into the room and closing the door quietly behind them. "Thank Luzo we got the right room, imagine how we would explain ourselves if we ended up at the wrong place."
“Jongwoon? Sungmin?” Ryeowook whispers, still in disbelief and convinced he’s dreaming, unwilling to believe that it’s really the two men in front of him, the thought not even seeming plausible. He doesn’t meet Jongwoon’s gaze when he looks up, instead focusing on Sungmin, the other man still looking quite pleased with himself for being able to break through the lock. “Have I finally gone mad, or are you two really here right now?”
“No, we’re really here,” Sungmin says, smiling lightly at the complete disbelief in Ryeowook’s eyes, and realizes that the other man genuinely didn’t think they would come for him, sighing and wanting to chastise him that he would think so lowly of them. “And you look different, no more fair Ryeona I suppose? But Jongwoon needs to talk to you, and you need to explain yourself to him,” Jongwoon nods hesitantly, looking terribly unsure of himself but with determination in his eyes, and Ryeowook shrinks back a bit. “And I need to find Henry. That about covers why we’re here.”
Ryeowook reaches up to tug at hair that isn’t there anymore and can’t help the weak chuckle when Sungmin mentions it, enjoying his familiar rambling, but sobering up again when he feels Jongwoon’s gaze on him and sighing, he’d been hoping that he wouldn’t have to argue with the man, his reason already set even though his heart jumps at the other man still wanting to come after him. He cringes again at the mention of Henry though, not looking forward to telling Sungmin the supposed current fate of the youngest of their group.
Sungmin notices the way Ryeowook falters when he mentions Henry and his gaze hardens. "Ryeowook. Where's Henry?" he asks sternly, fear slipping back into his heart as he remembers Henry breaking down in front of him the night before. Ryeowook bites his lip and looks away, catching Jongwoon's eye and the older man looks fearful too.
"They've locked him up," Ryeowook whispers, and Sungmin's breath hitches. "He's been charged with treason and kidnapping, he's somewhere down in the dungeon. I can't tell you where, it's a small network of tunnels beneath the cellar where the slaves live and I've only been down there once. If I knew," he says, interrupting Sungmin's attempt to speak, "I would have gone down there myself, Uncle be damned. That said, I'm not going to let that bastard keep him there if it's in my power to get him out. He's not going to slip through any loopholes this time."
Sungmin has to steady his breathing, Jongwoon's hand falling on his shoulder but providing little comfort. "What'll they do to him if you can't?" he asks, voice feeling much smaller than he wanted it to. His heart is racing a mile a minute, and he understands how Jongwoon must have felt the night before when he was so sure he had lost Ryeowook for good. "What if they convict him? You said... you said Kyuhyun's trial went so fast..."
It is with a heavy heart that Ryeowook keeps speaking. He already broke Jongwoon's heart, stomped on it, essentially. He doesn't want to do the same to Sungmin but he has no choice -- he needs Sungmin and Jongwoon's help to keep Henry alive. "They already have. The trial was this morning. I assume they haven't sentenced him yet because the... person who told me, said he was still in the dungeons." Sungmin whimpers and feels his knees wobble but Jongwoon holds him upright. "I won't let them kill him, Sungmin," Ryeowook says fiercely, and the fire in his eyes gives Sungmin a little hope. "My uncle doesn't hold all the cards. I won't let him die."
“Neither will I,” Sungmin says fiercely, a fire lit behind his eyes as he imagines Henry sitting in jail, cursing himself that he ever let Henry leave his sight and wishing he could rewind time to do something, anything to keep Henry from having to go face his fate alone. “I will break him out myself if I have to, I refuse to stand by and do nothing while he is condemned to death.”
“I’ll be able to get him out for my wedding, I can guarantee you that,” Ryeowook says slowly, hating the way Jongwoon flinches when he says wedding, having to swallow the bile rising in his throat at the thought. “My uncle wouldn’t deny me that right if I say he’s to be my best man. The problem is these six, nearly five, remaining days. Slaves aren’t known to be well treated prisoners, the guards are likely to starve him for their own amusement.”
Ryeowook has to hold back tears as he imagines his friend back in jail, having thought he’d rescued him from this kind of lifestyle all those years ago, hating that this makes him go back on his promises. He sees Sungmin’s fists clench and knows the other man is feeling just as much regret, anger surging off his very being.
"That's it, I'm going to go looking for him," Sungmin says, anger boiling in his blood. "You two figure out whatever it is you plan to do from here. I'm not letting Henry spend the entire day alone." He turns to leave, hand on the doorknob when Jongwoon catches him by the wrist.
"Sungmin, we almost got caught just trying to find Ryeowook's room, and that was just going down one floor. How on earth do you expect to sneak down several floors undetected? We may be being treated as guests, but being 'lost' will only get you so far," Jongwoon says, fear clear in his eyes but ever trying to be the voice of reason. Sungmin yanks his arm out.
"I don't care!" Sungmin hisses. "I'm not going to stand here and do nothing! It's like what happened in the village all over again! I didn't sit and wait for him to die last time, and I won't sit and wait this time either!" His worry for Henry only grows with each passing second, and he twitches in anticipation, eager to just get out and do something.
Ryeowook's mind reels, trying to think of something. In all honesty, he wants to be the one out looking for Henry, feeling that he owes his longtime friend at least that much seeing as its his fault Henry's in this predicament in the first place. But he knows Sungmin has a better chance at getting around unnoticed, an anonymous face among the working staff, and sighs. He turns and starts rummaging through his desk, giving a soft "Aha!" when he finds what he's looking for.
"Take this," Ryeowook says, tossing the object at Sungmin. The fisherman catches it and examines it, a small gold coin with a seal stamped on it. Sungmin raises his eyebrow and Jongwoon looks between the coin and Ryeowook. "Family seal. Anyone gives you any trouble, tell them you're a guest and show them this and they should leave you alone. I only have one though, so you'll have to come back here and get Jongwoon so that he doesn't get caught."
"Fine,” Sungmin only examines the coin for a moment before shoving it in a pocket, turning to walk out the door, thoughts focused completely on finding Henry and making sure he’s okay, making sure he stays that way. The only thing overriding his anger is the fear that Henry won’t be okay, and he’ll never be able to forgive himself if that’s the case, biting his lip and shaking his head to keep such thoughts from his mind, thankful he at least has some time to search before the sun comes up. “I’ll be back before night ends, and with any luck I’ll be able to find Henry before that. Thank you, Ryeowook.”
Ryeowook simply sighs as Sungmin rushes from the room, checking the corridor quickly before dashing out, determination in every step. He’s glad that Henry finally has someone who cares so much for him besides himself, and only hopes that Henry will be able to continue living to strengthen that bond. Jongwoon clearing his throat brings him back to the present, and he almost wishes he could have stayed in his head, not wanting to have to have this conversation with the other man, not wanting to have to hurt him anymore.
He’s afraid that might be what it takes to keep Jongwoon safe though, and quickly builds a barrier around what remains of his heart, taking a deep breath before meeting Jongwoon’s gaze.
“What do you want, Jongwoon?” He says tiredly, because he is, so very tired of all this. He wants to sleep and not have to wake up to this, to wake up back in Jongwoon’s arms in their cabin and not have to think about any of this. But he figures that they all have to stop living in the past sometime, and if it’s what he has to do, then he will. “You know my reasons, I’m sorry, but I can’t allow you or your family to be put at risk, your life means more to me than fleeting happiness.”
"Fleeting?" Jongwoon murmurs, and Ryeowook wants to bite his own tongue for his careless choice of words. He meets Jongwoon's gaze, and he sees the hurt clear in the older man's face. "Is that all we had? Fleeting happiness?"
Ryeowook sighs. "That's not what I meant, you know that. I just... I love you too much to put you in harm's way. To put the ones you and I both care about in harm's way." He moves from the desk and sits slowly down on the bed, leaving the plush chair by the door for Jongwoon to sit in. Jongwoon, however, stands awkwardly by the door, shifting on his feet and feeling like he and Ryeowook are back at square one as far as their relationship goes.
"Ryeowook," Jongwoon starts slowly, swallowing back the creeping depression and choosing his words wisely. "I know you're only trying to protect me, but you don't have to bear the weight of the burden by yourself anymore. I'm not a child, not like Kyuhyun was. Let me stand with you against your uncle. Isn't there power in numbers? Besides, you said your... bride, isn't exactly willing either."
Ryeowook feels a headache creeping on, and he rests his right palm across his eyes, laying back on the bed. "You don't understand, Jongwoon. You don't know the kind of power that man holds. When he beckons, people come. He knows how to abuse his power and get away with it. He gets what he wants, and if he wants you dead..." Ryeowook trails off. "I won't risk that. You're too precious to me. Sungmin and Henry are precious to me too, in a different way."
"Are we not worth fighting for?" Jongwoon says quietly, echoing Sungmin's words from earlier. Ryeowook tries to hold his tears back, hearing the desperacy in Jongwoon's voice, desperacy lined with heartbreak, and shakes his head.
"It's not that you aren't worth it, Jongwoon. It's that I'm not worth risking your lives. I told you, I love you too much to put you all in danger like that. The last time I fought, the one I loved most ended up swinging in a noose," Ryeowook replies shakily, biting his trembling lip, hand still over his eyes. He shoots up straight when he feels the bed dip beside him and Jongwoon is suddenly holding his free hand, tentatively lacing their fingers together. He stares incredulously at the older man, his eyes shining with love and determination and how does he not hate me right now?
"Love doesn't go just one way, Ryeowook," Jongwoon whispers. "You may not be willing to risk my life, but I am. I don't have anyone else on this Earth, as I certainly can't go back to where I came from. As much as I loved my family, I'm probably dead to them, and so they're dead to me."
“Jongwoon,” Ryeowook murmurs, feeling his breath catch in his throat and having to swallow past the lump in his throat to keep from crying, disbelief feeling his tone as he clutches Jongwoon’s hand like a life line. He wants to throw himself into the other man’s arms and simply agree to everything, to let Jongwoon have him again. His mind stops him though, and he looks sadly at their combined hands, taking another deep breath. “How can you even look at me anymore? You know what I’m going to say.”
“It’s because I love you,” Jongwoon says fiercely, seeing the waver in Ryeowook’s resolve and trying to take advantage of it while he can, hating the tired and hopeless look in the other man’s eyes and wanting to take it all away, wanting to simply give Ryeowook some happiness, to see him smile again. “And I’m not going to let you do this by yourself, please, Ryeowook, at least think about what else we can do.”
Ryeowook’s heart stops as Jongwoon speaks, and tears really do escape this time, he can’t help it and thinks Jongwoon’s really stuck the nail in his coffin by telling him he loves him, not that he didn’t know, but hearing it from his mouth just reminds him so much of what he’s already lost. He can’t just turn him away cold heartedly now, lowering his head as his tears drip onto his pants, dark droplets on the fine material.
Jongwoon bites his lip as he sees Ryeowook start to cry, a sharp reminder that he isn’t the only one hurting. He lets go of the other’s hand for a moment to lay beside him, tentatively pulling Ryeowook against him and feeling him latch onto him like a drowning man, tears wet against his shirt and muffled gasps that might be words against his neck, heart breaking all over again.
"There has to be a way," he murmurs into Ryeowook's hair, reveling in the warmth of having the younger man in his arms, feeling so right despite the hopelessness of the situation. Ryeowook trembles and he doesn't want to let go of Jongwoon, clinging to him like a lifeline. Jongwoon soothes him for a good while, murmuring words of comfort into his hair despite his own heart still throbbing in pain. "We just have to find it."
Eventually, Ryeowook's breathing evens out and Jongwoon realizes that he's fallen asleep in his arms. Jongwoon himself isn't tired though, the adrenaline from sneaking around still mixed with the ache in his chest that he knows he's eventually going to have to go back to his own room. So he opts to stay awake, tenderly brushing the bangs out of Ryeowook's sleeping face, looking more peaceful that he has in days despite the tear tracks stained on his face.
It's when the door clicks open and Sungmin slides back into the room that Jongwoon comes out of his own little world, alarmed at the put-out look on Sungmin's face. He doesn't even need to ask the question when he meets the fisherman's eyes, a frustrated shake of the head telling him that he wasn't successful in finding Henry. He sighs, not wanting to wake Ryeowook but knowing the younger man would be distraught if he left without telling him, and would probably convince himself it was all just a dream. So he gently shakes Ryeowook awake, sleep and the remnants of tears clouding his eyes.
"Ryeowook," he whispers, "we have to go. Sungmin couldn't find Henry but we'll try again tomorrow. The sun is almost up, I don't want to get you into more trouble. Just... think about what I said."
Ryeowook blinks sleepily before coming fully awake, sighing deeply and smiling a bit sadly as he knows their brief moment of respite has ended as he knew it would, but he feels more rested than he has in days, even if it was only a brief period. Real life comes crashing back as he sees the tired expression on Sungmin’s face, and nods slowly, knowing that this is what Jongwoon needs to hear from him.
“I will,” He says tentatively, not quite willing to agree with Jongwoon no matter how much he wants to, knowing that no matter what Jongwoon might say he does still care for his family, and Ryeowook still fears for his life above all. “And thank you, Jongwoon. For not giving up on me when you had every right to.”
Jongwoon simply smiles sadly back seeing Sungmin turned towards the door to give them their privacy, and brushes his lips softly over Ryeowook’s, a simple kiss for all it’s worth but it gives him some comfort, a little of the tension slipping out of Ryeowook’s shoulders as well.
"I would never give up on you," he breathes, pulling Ryeowook in for one last hug. He commits the feeling to memory, knowing that that's what is going to keep him going these next couple of days, until they find a solution to this problem. "Don't doubt me, Ryeowook. We'll figure out something."
Ryeowook nods into Jongwoon's shoulder, before pushing him away lightly. "Go now," he says softly. "I don't want you getting caught. Make sure you lock the door behind you or they'll realize someone has been here." Jongwoon lingers for a moment longer, pressing their foreheads together for a second, before pulling away and nodding at Sungmin. Jongwoon steps out first, throwing a last glance over his shoulder, and Sungmin moves to follow.
"Sungmin," Ryeowook calls, and Sungmin stops, merely looking questioningly at him. "Thank you for taking care of him." Sungmin falters, hands tightening on the knob, as though he didn't believe he'd done a very good job of it. In the end he give Ryeowook a tiny, sad smile.
"What are friends for?" he says. Ryeowook doesn't have an answer for him, and Sungmin sighs. "Good night, Ryeowook." And he disappears behind the door.
Chapter 10 Preview
Sungmin hits a dead end of cells in a barely lit corridor, the light coming from the flickering torch at the end of the row. He hasn't seen many prisoners in this section, meeting only empty cells, and is about to give up and back track. Still, he thinks it wouldn't hurt to check all of them, empty section or not. He peeks into the first four cells, and barely glances at the fifth and final one. It's so dark this far in that he can barely see anything, eyes meeting only inky darkness. He strains his eyes, lingering a little longer than usual, but sees nothing. He sighs and makes to turn when he senses movement, and ducks. But the person inside has seen him and before Sungmin can scurry away he hears the voice call out to him.
"No, don't go," the voice breathes, hoarse and barely above a whisper. Sungmin stops in his tracks, eyes widening. He knows that voice. It's not his imagination, right? But the voice continues and he knows it's real. "I know it's you, Sungmin."
Jongwoon and Sungmin- Heartless Decision- 07- GHOST
The Meeting- Serious- Tales of the Abyss
Jinseon’s Theme- Memory- Gundam 00
The Bedroom- 胡蝶の夢- Sengoku Basara
From the depths of despair: Silence Unbroken - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Meeting: Small Beginnings - Uncharted 3
Jinseon's Theme: It's Up to You - Eternal Sonata
Sneaking to Ryeowook's room: Night Time Excursion - Flower
Sorry for the uber late update everyone! Life has been kind of crazy with the end of the holidays and school starting back up. I hope you enjoyed this chapter!