After Pides had delivered his message, Kasser’s mind was thrown into chaos. He tried his best not to let it show, but he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering over dinner. When he finally got home, he excused himself to go to his office so that he could think.
Eventually, he realized that it wasn’t something he could try to figure out on his own. When he finally decided to get up from his desk, he was surprised to find that it had already gotten late.
As he stepped into Eugene’s bedroom, he was welcomed by the sight of her sitting at the table and scribbling away. The surface in front of her was full of random pieces of paper. She was so focused on her work that she didn’t even notice him coming in.
Quietly, Kasser walked up behind her and started to scan through the pages. They weren’t even proper sentences, just some thoughts and words.
Eugene finally realized he was there and turned to look up at him. “I just wanted to write down everything I could remember from my dream.”
“You should’ve sat down at a proper desk to do that,” Kasser scolded her. “Aren’t you uncomfortable?”
“It’s not like I’m doing anything serious,” she explained. “I initially just wanted to gather my thoughts. There were just so many that I decided to write them down. I ended up being so focused that I didn’t even think to move.”
Kasser nodded and put down a piece of paper that he had been studying. He spotted the old jewelry box on the table. “Is that the box from your parents?”
“It is. It’s locked though, so I haven’t opened it yet,” Eugene told him as she started gathering the scraps of paper.
As she tidied up, Kasser lifted the box and turned it over in his palm. At the bottom, he found a button sticking out, so he pressed it and the box immediately unlocked.
“You opened it?”
He nodded, lifting the lid. “It’s empty.”
“Well, that makes sense. It was really light,” she said. “Anyway, are you done with your work?”
Kasser hummed. “Mostly.”
Eugene watched as he played with the box. She could tell that something was on his mind but, for some reason, he wasn’t telling. She tugged at his sleeve and his eyes quickly found hers. “What is it?”
He sighed. “Now that I think about it, I haven’t really gotten your opinion.”
It was at that moment that Kasser realized that he had been thinking about returning to the kingdom all by himself. Although it was obvious to him that they should go back together, he knew it wasn’t obvious to her. She had finally met her parents after twenty years. He knew that she might have wanted to spend more time with them, which was why he was preparing himself to leave her behind.
“Whatever Sang-je is planning, he can’t hurt you,” he told her. “He’s a lark and you’re an Annika. Besides, if something does happen, the Arse family has enough power to help you.”
“Sorry? What are you talking about?” Eugene asked. She was confused.
“If we leave, I don’t know when we’ll be able to come back to the Holy City,” Kasser explained. “This is your home, it’s where you grew up. I understand that you’d be more comfortable here than in the kingdom.”
She frowned as he spoke. “Are you telling me to stay here? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m telling you to do what you feel like you need to do.”
“So you’re going to leave me here?”
He was silent. That was exactly what he was planning, but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to say it out loud.
Eugene’s frown faded as he struggled to speak. She got up from her seat and went to him. “Kasser,” she said softly, “You’re wrong. The person that grew up here wasn’t me. This isn’t my home. I never even considered staying in the Holy City as an option. I was always going to go with you.”
“But if you can’t turn down the invitation to attend the Celestial Festival,” he reasoned with her. “If we want them to accept it, we’ll have to make it look like I’m taking you by force—”
“No,” she said firmly. “What do you mean? You want me to act like you’re kidnapping me? And let you become a criminal? I’m going with you because I want to. If they don’t like that, then I will answer for my actions, not you.”
Eugene smiled at him. “I’ve heard it said that people die when they don’t sleep. And I can’t sleep without you.” She wrapped her arms around him, smiling even wider when he reflexively held her waist. “Can you sleep without me?”
Kasser’s stern demeanor dropped as he smiled down at her. He had no choice but to listen to what she said. It was her decision to make, and he couldn’t take that away from her.
He wondered how he survived before eating and sleeping alone. He couldn’t imagine life without her, and it was nice to know that she couldn’t imagine life without him either.
Kasser’s face was stern during the whole situation but now was finally smiling and hugging Eugene.
It didn’t matter whatever the excuse was, her statement was the answer. He couldn’t remember how he ate and slept alone before. The fact that she felt the emptiness the same way he did gave him great comfort.
The next day, Eugene lifted the jewelry box mindlessly. She opened it just as Kasser had the night before. What am I doing? she wondered. For some reason, it felt like the right thing to do.
As she looked inside, she saw a piece of paper that had been rolled up. It was so small that it was easy to miss it.
What can it be?