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The Second Time

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It wasn't the first time. But it felt like the first, and it's one's feelings on these matters that should really count.

This is important, and it should be written down, if only Ha Hyo-eun could find the right words to make it as beautiful as it deserved to be. Everything she’d written that day had turned out as ugly and unworthy as her last suitor. She had, most definitely, had enough. Which is why she left Beo Deul back in the house and turned herself out for a walk around the garden. She was feeling quite sick, she told her attendant, and the fresh air was essential for restoring her spirits.

It had been dark for an hour, and the early summer air was cooling gently, the scent of magnolias still in the air. Hyo-eun was just trying to commit the sensations to memory for a poem later when the silence of the evening was shattered. Shouts echoed from outside the wall, and she heard the sound of running feet, almost parallel to her own path and approaching from behind. Hyo-eun gasped, whether from fear or excitement she was unsure. She picked up her own pace and was heading towards the house, when her way was suddenly blocked by the plummeting form of a figure tumbling over the wall.

A second gasp - this one higher and louder than before - was broken suddenly when a hand pressed itself firmly over her mouth. In the dark, two bright eyes implored her for silence.

Hyo-eun’s breath caught in her throat. The Red Messenger. Caught in the middle of a great campaign to empower the people of the markets, embroiled in a daring escape from the forces of Justice, forced to vault a wall and land in the garden of the Minister of War himself, only to find himself face to face with the Minister’s daughter.

She held the outlaw’s gaze, and raised her hand to bring it up to his wrist, only to find his arm twist suddenly, so her hand instead locked onto his forearm. It hardly mattered to Hyo-eun. All she wanted was to reassure him of her silence. Carefully, she forced that strong arm down, freeing her mouth to treat him with a bright, reassuring smile.

On the other side of the wall, she could hear muffled shouts of confusion. On this side, only the thunderous beating of her heart, loud enough for the both of them.

"We must be permitted entry to the house!" The shout from outside pulled them out of the moment. Keeping his arm locked tightly in her own grasp, Hyo-eun hurried back, pulling the Messenger in her wake.

Beo Deul was waiting anxiously, and was just about to cry out when she saw the two, but Hyo -eun hissed at her.

"Quiet! We must find a place to hide him."

In the candlelight, he was slight, athletic, and dashing in all black, with just a red sash tied around his sword sheath to identify who he was and what he represented. Still absolutely silent, his face was masked almost completely, excepting only a space for his eyes.

His eyes, which were even brighter inside than they had been before. Steady, shining lights that fixed on her own and seemed to see so much more of her than she’d ever shown outside her poetry.

(Eyes as lights. That was a good metaphor. She resolved to remember it.)

Without a word, Hyo-eun pushed him behind her changing screen just as the noise of the search reached her room. She couldn’t help smiling to herself - who would expect something like this to happen twice to the same girl! Spinning around with a dramatic swish of her skirt, she threw the screen door open, and demanded their attention with a scream, and all the indignant authority provided by her rank.

"What is going on out here?"

The search piled to a halt, as men floundered and stuttered, fighting among themselves as they each firmly declined the honor of being spokesman. The man who came forward, Hyo-eun recognized. An old peer of her brother’s from school. The friend of the man she once had the naivete to fancy herself in love with.

If only she could remember his name.

Not meeting her eyes, he bowed quickly.

"Forgive the intrusion, my lady. We are in pursuit of the Red Messenger, and your father..."

"My father gave you permission to interrupt my rest?!" she snapped. "Conduct your search quietly!"

He looked up briefly, and his eyes met hers. And if Hyo-eun wasn’t so absolutely confident of the genius of her hiding place, she would have thought he’d flashed a look backwards into her room.She almost imagined she saw a flash of a smile.

"My apologies, lady. We will disturb you no more."

With that, Hyo-eun closed the door and turned around to survey her room. The masked man was thankfully still completely hidden behind the screen, and there she retreated to fetch him out.

"Miss..." 

Beo Deul moved forward, but Hyo-eun shot her a look.

"Sssst!" She shushed her quickly, before she could reveal their secret.

When Beo Deul opened her mouth to protest, Hyo-eun "Ssssssss"ed again. And again, this time with a jerk of her fingers to represent a mouth closing off right now. She jerked her head towards the door.

"Mmmmmmm!" OUT!

Safely alone, she brought her secret ward out into the room and wordlessly entreated him to take a seat, the thrill of being alone with a dangerous outlaw only just outweighed by the fact they were alone in her bedchamber. A tear in the black material of his sleeve prompted her to reach for his arm, but he drew away as sharply as if she’d stabbed him, his beautiful eyes staring at her, reciting volumes of fear, apprehension and yes, definitely gratitude for her tenderness.

Hyo-eun hesitated, her arm still outreached, imploring him silently to let her tend to his injuries, until a rapid movement of his head declined that offer completely, and she gave him a gracious smile, ducking her head when she realized how long she’d had eye contact with him.

In silence, they waited, speaking volumes to each other with just their eyes in each furtive glance. In silence they let the search disrupt the rest of the house and let it shake back down to an uneasy calm. In silence, they conducted their goodbyes.

Hyo-eun stayed up until nearly the dawn, hit by the urge to write the best, most powerful poems of her life. Only Beo Deul’s insistence had her finally lying down to a sleepless dream.