It took about a month (a very long and painful month), but I can finally call Hyun-Ki's essence 'familiar'. And believe it or not, he is very useful to me. Not only does he make a proper distraction for Jung-Hee, but he can cook very well, he cleans and sews. I think he lives by himself so he has to survive somehow. Even better than that is the fact that he lives in our ('our' meaning Jung-Hee and my) neighborhood. He lives on a different street but his apartment is very close. We've been walking home together for the past month or so and, needless to say, Hyun-Ki and Jung-Hee are always bickering with each other over me. I'd be flattered, but we're all guys! Well whatever.
"Takashiro, answer the next question," my math teacher calls on me. I look at the board and in a few seconds I have the answer. After I call it out my teacher tells me it's correct. Of course it is correct. I am smart and I take pride in making my life in this realm as enjoyable as possible. I sit down and take a glance over in Jung-Hee's direction. I am actually surprised to see him paying attention for once. Normally he is sleeping or looking at me in a very odd way but right now, his face is serious- almost inquisitive. His light brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail and his bangs are brushed to the side. His chin is resting in the palm of his hand and his fingers are curled slightly. His pinky is brushing his lips and my glance turns into a stare. I knew he was handsome, but for some reason he looks even more so right now. My heart is starting beat a little faster than normal. I quickly look away.
Hyun-Ki catches my gaze when I turn around. His look is 'all knowing'. I flush and glare at him. What is he implying? That I like Jung-Hee or something? Well I don't! Not like that anyway.
Class ends and I pack my things. Four classes until the day is over! I'm so excited! There is a seven-minute break between classes and I have to go to the bathroom before switching classrooms for music. I take my bag off the hook on my desk and start to put my books in it. The teacher is barking commands to do our homework and study hard. I am the first in our class and believe it or not, Jung-Hee is second. How that happened I don't know. Jung-Hee is smart, but lazy. I guess that's why he's second. At least he doesn't cut class, I think. Then I remember that I am basically what he goes to school for sigh in defeat.
Jung-Hee and Hyun-Ki wait for me outside of the classroom. They stand on separate sides of door and don't look at one another. At least they aren't bickering.
"You can go first," I say as we start to walk to class. "I have to go to the little boy's room."
Jung-Hee laughs through his nose and I am surprised at the Western gesture.
"I always go with you when you go to the little boy's room," he says. "I see no point in stopping now."
I roll my eyes and keep walking.
"You can go ahead," I say to Hyun-Ki.
"I have to make sure you don't get sexually harassed," Hyun-Ki replies coolly. I look at Jung-Hee's annoyed face and grin.
"Good point," I say. I quickly make my way into the boy's washroom. I've gotten used to going in the men's room. They have stalls just like the ladies room, so I'm quite lucky. Only with extreme cases do I use the nurse's washroom.
After I finish, I go to the sink and wash my hands. I hear squeals from outside the door. I sigh, knowing that Jung-Hee and Hyun-Ki are at it again. If it wasn't me, then they would shamelessly flirt with each other. They seemed to enjoy goading each other on just to see who would get on who's nerves first. I adjust my bag around my shoulders and walk out of the washroom.
It seems that today, Hyun-Ki has Jung-Hee pinned to the wall and they are sharing very intimate and gross words. Jung-Hee's expression tells me that he is very entertained. Hyun-Ki's expression… is something I can't really explain. For some strange reason, whenever I look at Hyun-Ki, I can't shake the feeling that he isn't who he says he is. It's not a bad feeling, because I don't feel like he's going to turn on me or anything, it's just that I can't clearly understand him. It's as if his essence is hazy. Something about Hyun-Ki is strangely feminine.
Although right now he looks like a predator having Jung-Hee pinned to the wall like that.
I shake my head and walk in the direction of the classroom.
"Don't be late to class," I say waving farewell to my friends. But I think I'm using that term too nicely.
It's very odd not walking home with anyone. Both Jung-Hee and Hyun-Ki have to stay in school for some reason and I really didn't feeling like waiting for them to finish. They begged me like little children, which was slightly cute, but mostly annoying. I make my way out of the school's gate, waving to a few people. The girls are practically dying because I'm not with Jung-Hee or Hyun-Ki.
"You should really wait for them oppa," a first-year says. "…Something might happen to you."
I shake my head and smile at the girl.
"It's alright," I say with my killer smile in place. "I will be okay. Thanks for your concern."
The first-year blushes and nods. It's odd, but since I'm acting like a boy, I might as well go all the way. I have perfected my 'pretty-boy' smile and use it every time I want someone to back off of me. It's exactly like in those girls comics. I smile, the girl melts and I am able to walk away coolly. The two other girls swoon and I wave slightly before making my way in the direction of the train station. My stomach starts to flip-flop and that nauseous feeling starts to come. I don't understand why, but I am alert.
I walk down the street a little before I see two men crowding around a girl. Her expression is frightened and before I can even think, my feet are running in the girl's direction and words are coming out of my mouth.
"Hey! Leave her alone!" I shout. The two men turn around and I notice that they are middle-aged. The pretty girl they are around doesn't look any older than me. That pisses me off even more. Humans were so disgusting. The pretty girl is wearing a very frilly dress with bows in her long blonde hair. She looks so cute! And that pisses me off more!
"Who do you think you are, brat?" one of the men asks. He looks like a foreigner. Damn Westerners, always trying to take what wasn't theirs! Well, I wasn't even from here so I really couldn't talk…
"I think she told you to leave her alone," I say frowning.
"Don't give a damn," the other man says. He takes a few steps toward me, trying to intimidate me, and grins. He is going to say something about my face and how girlie it looks. I just know it.
"But you know, you're kinda cute too," of course I'm right. "Are you sure you're a boy?"
"Why don't you find out, Jake?" the other man says. "That way we can have two."
I ball my hands into fists as Jake charges. I wasn't in the mood for playing. It only takes one smooth movement to have the man on the floor keeling over in pain. I run up to the next man and kick him in his groin. I stand in front of the girl and get ready for the men to come at me again. The foreigners scramble off the floor and usher apologies. They run off and I grin triumphantly. For once, I did not need Jung-Hee with me to fight someone off. I turn around to face the girl and the grin fades from my face.
Higher Region essence is coming off the girl in waves. I gasp and run. My hands cover my mouth and I feel nauseous again. Of course the one time I am without Hyun-Ki is the one time I meet someone from the Higher Region. And to make matters worse, she has seen my face.
Hana is going to kill me… Or rejoice that I'm going home early. This train of thought isn't making things easier on me. I slow down my running as I reach the station. I have a stitch in my side, my heart is beating so hard it hurts in my chest and my head his pounding. Higher Region essence made me unwell but I could live with it.
I look behind me and notice that the girl isn't following me and I let out a sigh of relief. If I was lucky, she didn't recognize me. Maybe she just thought I was just a regular Higher Regioner looking for the princess as well. Wait, but if that were the case, I wouldn't have run away.
"Oh crap!" I mutter angrily.
"Indeed, Princess," I hear her voice in my ear. I tense and stand erect, because I am unable to move. My heart just stopped beating.
"You were initially very difficult to track," the girl says. Her hands are on my shoulders and she pulls me to her. I could feel all the magic running through her and I inhale sharply.
"You- you aren't-"
"Bingo, my lovely lady," her voice suddenly became very deep and masculine. "I'm not a woman."
Fear keeps me rooted to the spot. I feel myself trembling. The boy is taller than I am by a few inches and it is not comforting. The boy makes a cooing noise and I swallow hard.
"You don't have to worry, Princess," the boy says. "I'm not going to take you with me right now."
I am surprised. I feel the boy release me.
"W-why aren't you going to take me back?" I ask still trembling.
"Oh I am, but I'm going to give you some time," he replies. "I want to catch you properly."
There is something very wrong and very challenging about that statement. I feel my fear starting to melt away and my rebellion is starting to grow. I was not ready to go home, so I was not going to go home. I made a promise to myself that I would go home when I felt like it- when I was mature enough.
"What makes you think I'll give you the chance, sir?" I ask grinning. I turn around, clenching my fists. "I will make sure I am not fooled twice."
The boy grins and walks away in his pretty dress.
"Why is everyone so weird?" I ask myself before crossing my arms over my chest. I snap my head forward, scowling. A few seconds pass and I feel someone stand by my side. I look to the left and see the boy that always seems to be on the train the same time Jung-Hee, Hyun-Ki and I take. Today his hair is in a bun at the top of his head with clips holding up extra strands. It takes everything I have not to hug the boy. His cuteness knows no bounds.
"Are you alright?" he boys asks and I blanch. Was I staring? Curse my weakness of cute things!
I laugh nervously.
"Well… um…" I stutter.
"With that cross-dressing man," the boy clarifies. "Was he bothering you?"
My surprise is clearly evident. This boy could tell that they guy- girl- whatever it is was a man? My mouth is hanging open and it takes me a few extra seconds to close it. Cute and perceptive? I want to hug him even more.
"N-no, I'm fine," I reply. "Thanks."
The boy tilts his head slightly to the side, his dark bangs shifting with movement. His large eyes are strangely full of maturity.
"Okay," the boy says. We are quiet for a while, waiting for the train to arrive.
When it comes, I move forward to get onto it. In a second, the boy takes my hand and leads me to a spot on the train before we are pushed back slightly by the masses entering. The poor little boy is nearly squished by me and to create more space in between us I lift my hands to hold onto one of the railings.
"I have a question," the boy says to me as the train moves once more.
"Is cross-dressing popular with the people here?"
The weekend is finally here! Now I can finally concentrate on my defense against that girl-boy. All week I've been trying to keep Hyun-Ki out of the mix. I tried not to walk home with him and I only succeeded once. He is now getting suspicious about everything and I don't think I can handle hiding much more. To make things worse, Jung-Hee is becoming more and more in tuned to the relationship between Hyun-Ki and I. Not that there is anything romantic, it's just Jung-Hee is starting to notice that I am not as close to him as I was before. It wasn't intentional, believe me, I just can't afford him knowing about me.
And for some strange reason, it hurts me to see Jung-Hee upset. It's not straightforward- not many people can tell he upset- but I can tell because I've known him so long. The small faraway looks he gives me, the lack of 'touchy-feely' and he doesn't give me that intense look as much as he did before.
"Geez, why should I care?" I ask myself as I get my shoes on. "The less people I involve the better."
"Oh! Miki," Hana calls. "Please bring thin slices home today! I want to have barbeque."
I shake my head and grin. I turn slightly and see Hana smiling at me. She has pretty long black hair and flawless dark skin. Hana's family has relations with the royal family. She's like my third cousin… or something.
"Okay," I say smiling. "I'll be back in a while."
"Why don't you take Kim Hyun-Ki with you?" Hana asks me.
I frown. What if that boy showed up again? Then Hyun-Ki would inform Hana and I would no longer be 'safe'. Yeah, like heck I was going to bring Hyun-Ki into this.
"Whatever," I mutter and walk outside the house. The day is so warm and people are out on the streets. That meant that the boy would have less of a chance to attack me. I make my rounds in the stores and everyone greets me readily. I am very popular with the vendors and it makes me feel even safer. After I walk around for a little while, I decide to go home. Hana gets worried very easily and since I don't have Hyun-Ki or Jung-Hee around, she'll go crazy if I stay out longer that I should. I start to walk across a bridge and stop to look at the water underneath. It reminds me of Jung-Hee. This is where we first met and where he gave me flowers. If I was a girl (I am but whatever) then I would have been flattered. I chuckle and continue to walk across the bridge. Jung-Hee is so funny sometimes.
Speak of the devil! I look up and Jung-Hee is right in front of me. He looks relieved and also a little beat up. His clothes are perfectly in place, but his hair and something about his attitude is a little ruffled.
"Hey! What happened to you?" I ask grinning. I walk toward him and he laughs.
"Your sister called me and the way she described it seemed like you've been out the house for hours," Jung-Hee explains. I frown and shake my head.
"I've only been out the house for an hour at most," I say. I lift my hand to fix Jung-Hee's hair. "Did someone attack you?"
"Those fangirls, I tell you," Jung-Hee lowers his head so I can fix his hair. It is very soft.
"Be careful, they bite," I warn him and he laughs loudly. I finish putting his hair back to its original glory and we walk the way to our street. Jung-Hee is very animated and as I expected, he flirts away until people start to stare. I don't want to admit it, but I kind of miss his attention. I inwardly blanch. Did that mean I was jealous? No! I have to squash this right now!
"Hm, Miki?" Jung-Hee questions. I look up at him.
"Nn?" I acknowledge him.
"Do you like Kim Hyun-Ki?" Jung-Hee asks me out-of-the-blue. I stare at him with an open mouth. Where in the world did this come from? I blush furiously.
"L-like as in what?" I ask, nervously. Jung-Hee places his hands in his pockets and that serious expression is on his face. I feel my heart speed up. Could someone look even better?
"As more than a friend," Jung-Hee replies without humor in his voice. I study his face for a moment and his eyes are insecure.
"No of course not," I say with a grin on my face. "Why are you jealous?"
My eyes widen. He wasn't supposed to be honest! I am very surprised and I lift my hand to touch Jung-Hee's arm. He starts chuckling and the next thing I know, I am pinned to a wall, on a quiet lonely street, with no one to see. You are in deep trouble Miki. Jung-Hee-the-predator locks his eyes with mine. He fixes me with that intense, all consuming stare and I can't look away. My heart is beating quickly and I feel blush creeping onto my face. I want to look away, but I can't.
"You're so cute sometimes," Jung-Hee whispers. "…But I don't like to share."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I manage to say. Jung-Hee releases a slow, soft laugh and pulls me closer to him. His arms are around my waist and his mouth is almost touching my ear. My breath catches in my throat.
"I'll be damned if I have to share you with anyone," Jung-Hee whispers breathily. He releases me and I can breathe again. I must've spoken too soon when I said Jung-Hee didn't flirt as much. Whenever he gets this close, my mind goes blank and I have the strangest feeling in my stomach. It feels as if butterflies are having a party in there and their fun makes my fingers clench, my heart pound and my toes curl. Curse those stupid insects!
Jung-Hee parts by giving me a kiss on the cheek and by then, my senses come back and I punch him in his pretty face. I am steaming as I walk down the street to my house. Jung-Hee is such a pervert! Okay, so he had me for a moment but I caught on! That idiot will not get me next time! I will make sure I don't get caught by him! I am walking down the street, trying to formulate a way to bring down Jung-Hee when my head starts to hurt. Instantly, Jung-Hee is out of my head for the moment and I am alerted to that girl-boy's presence.
My feet slow their pace and I ready my magics. I can't tell by his essence, so the only thing I can rely on is my sickness. Suddenly, my body is thrown forward and I crash onto the ground. My back feels like it was just burned and I cry out in pain. I feel someone else's magics slowly leaving my body. I can feel the skin on my back bubbling and sizzling. Or at least it feels that way.
"Oh my, I didn't think it was true that your pain tolerance was lowered," the boy says from behind me. I scramble up, with tears in my eyes. Since I am not in my realm, I have close to zero pain tolerance. My back is throbbing in pain, but I know there will be no scars. I am not to be injured because I am to be a delivered flawlessly to the Lower Region. The problem is, there is magic that can hurt me and will not show.
"Y-You're horrible," I say wiping my tears away furiously. I place the groceries to the side of the street. "Injuring your princess like that."
"I've been told you call you a runaway," the boy says. "So I have to bring you back anyway I can."
"I've told you that I'm not going to get caught twice," I say grinning.
The boy flicks his long hair behind his shoulder.
"What do you call this?" he asks me. I grin.
"Your capture," I say. My hands start glowing with my essence and I charge the boy. I punch at him and he dodges it, but misses the one I aim at his gut. I jump back but the boy grabs my arms and twists them behind me quicker than I could see him do it. My essence is drained from me and my eyes widen in horror. I feel pain shoot up my arms and I cry out. The boy pins me to the ground and I struggle to break free.
"That hurt Princess," the boy says. "But you forget the situation. You're the female here where as, I'm the male."
I want to use my holy magic and fry this loser's butt but I realize that my essence is absorbed by people of my own race and my plan is foiled. I grumble in protest and try to break free of his grasp. For such a puny looking boy, he is very strong.
"Don't struggle so much, Princess," the boy says. "It feels very nice."
I shriek in outrage.
"Oh you sick little-ah! Get off of me immediately!" I cry.
Suddenly I feel the boy's weight off of my back and I hear him let out a startled cry. I see him land a few feet in front of me, with his dress in a mess around his face. I am lifted by strong arms. I look up at Hyun-Ki's very angry face. He is glaring at the boy who dresses like a girl. I have never been so happy to see him and I now promise to never leave his side.
"How rude!" the boy says angrily as he stands up and brushes off the dirt on his dress.
"Higher Regioner's obviously have no class," Hyun-Ki growls. "How dare you treat the Princess this way! Have you no respect for royalty?"
"Look how you're holding her, you Lower Region dog!" the boy (who's voice is sounding more feminine now) says smirking.
"Oh shut-up!" I snap. "He has a right to hold me this way!"
"I don't need to listen to poor missionaries like you anyway," Hyun-Ki's face is masked in his friendly smile. "My authority exceeds yours even in your region."
The boy huffs.
"Don't be so sure," he says. "You'd better keep a watch on the Princess, then watch dog. She seems to have a way with the boys."
I glare murder at the boy.
"Keep a watch on yourself!" I spit. "You're outnumbered now."
"Oh, I'm not stupid enough to fight someone from a different region," the boy says. "But you're stupid enough to be alone, so I'll find you again, Princess. Or shall I call you Prince?"
I was starting to favor leaving my own region because people like him were in it. How dare he insult his own Princess!
"You have no respect for her and as a result you have no right to be in her presence," Hyun-Ki growls angrily. I've never heard this tone of voice from him so I'm surprised. What is even scarier is that his face still has that friendly smile in place. A shiver runs up my spine.
"You obviously don't know how to treat royalty so you must be lower-class trash," Hyun-Ki says. "But I thought at least lower-classmen knew how to treat ladies."
"You're just a dog, so you wouldn't know would you?" the boy/girl sneers. "You don't know about the upper-class."
"I don't care about class, because when it comes down to it, I surpass you all," I say angrily.
"Not right now you don't," the boy grins. "You're a runaway."
I flush and don't bother to fight the urge to punch the boy in his face. Hyun-Ki holds me back and I yell angry things as the Higher Region boy walks away. After my ranting is done I take a few deep breaths and calm down.
"I feel better now," I sigh and smile. I try to lift my hand to my forehead but I can't. Pain shoots through my arms and back. I collapse onto the ground.
"Princess!" Hyun-Ki cries obviously shocked. "Where does it hurt?"
I can't speak just yet because the pain it too much for me to handle. My body is trembling and I close my eyes against the pain. Why in the world would he hurt me so much if he knew I cannot tolerate pain?
"Hold on, Princess," Hyun-Ki says. As smoothly as possible, Hyun-Ki lifts me into his arms and carries me to my house. Along the way, everything turns dark.