Part 20: Monster
“I know you,” Janus said, breathless. “We’ve met before.”
That girl he had met in the forest all those years ago…she had been Emerald! How had he not realized that yet?! This was the girl who had told him that no matter what, she would always be his friend. She was the girl who had gotten him through so many dark times, since he knew that somewhere in the world, there was someone who cared about him.
Emerald peered up at him with her large eyes as if she was trying to place him in her memory. Slowly, it dawned on her. Her eyes went wide. “Janus…you…you were that boy that I found in the forest…weren’t you?”
Janus nodded. “I was running away from home and I ended up getting lost. You helped me find my way back.”
Emerald stepped away from him, a look of awe on her pretty face. “Oh my…” She put her hand over her heart and laughed. “All this time I thought that was a dream! I always had such strange, vivid dreams when I lived with the fairies, so I assumed…well, I had nearly forgotten it!”
Janus rubbed the back of his neck. “Honestly, so did I,” he said with a sheepish smile. “I never forgot what you said, but…I didn’t realize that girl was you.” He started to take a step towards her, but stopped. The fireflies were illuminating Emerald very much like they did the night they had first met, but he couldn’t let himself be infatuated with her beauty and her kindness. He didn’t love her. He couldn’t love her. Even if he wanted to, she was going to eventually marry Hunter. There was nothing he could do to change that. Hunter was the king, and his word was final.
“Well,” Emerald said, clasping her hands behind her back. She eyes had turned downcast, and Janus could tell she had to be thinking about the same thing. He wondered how deep her feelings ran for him, and if she would deny Hunter if she could. She paused, seeming to think about something. When she smiled again, she reached out her hand. “I want to show you something…”
Janus’ heart fluttered. He placed one hand over it, surprised at the strange feeling, and not knowing whether he liked it or not. Was this what the fairies were talking about? Was this…what falling in love felt like? He dropped his hands to his sides at the thought, and they tightened into fists. He couldn’t allow this to happen. In fact, maybe it would be best if they didn’t see each other so often. Emerald should be spending more time with Hunter, anyway.”
“I’m sorry, Emerald,” he said, starting to back away. “I…I believe I’ll go rest, now. It’s been a long day, and I have to get up early tomorrow.” He tried to smile for her. “Perhaps you could show me another time, or…or you could show Hunter?”
Disappointment flashed across the princess’ face, and she hid her hands behind her back once more. “Oh…I understand,” she said. Her tone was so soft it made his heart flutter again. And this time it hurt.
“I’m terribly sorry, Your Highness,” Janus said, giving a bow. “I…I’m feeling tired all of a sudden.”
Emerald shrugged and put a small smile on her face. “I can show you another time,” she said. “You should rest for now.”
A faint smile worked its way onto Janus’ face despite his attempts to thwart it. Even when he hadn’t known she was the very same girl as the one he had met in the forest all those years ago, he had felt at ease with her. Now that he knew, that familiarity was already growing stronger. The invisible string that tethered them together was growing stronger, and he felt it grow taut as he walked away from her. He was testing fate, and he knew there would be consequences. Fate was going to get back at him one way or another. In the end…would he and Emerald be together?
I mustn’t fall in love with her, he told himself. Even if I wanted to love her, I couldn’t. I would only end up losing her. Good things don’t happen for men like me. For monsters. She could never be safe with him. In a way, him defying fate was protecting her, which could be seen as an act of love. Couldn’t it?
“Shall I walk you to your room?” he asked, offering his arm.
The hesitation was clear on Emerald’s face, but she gave a nod and looped her arm through his. “Will…will I get to see you tomorrow, at least?”
Janus bit the inside of his cheek as he led her back towards the palace. “Well…since I lost the race, I have extra training to do,” he said after a moment. He focused on the path before them, then sighed. “I…maybe if I get done quickly, I may see you, but…I won’t make promises.”
“As long as I at least get to say hello to you,” said the princess, winking.
Heavens, she makes my heart race! Janus thought. He wasn’t quite sure whether he liked the feeling or not. It was too close to anxiety.
The walk back to her room was, decidedly, too short, despite the fact that he wanted to try and spend more time away from her. They said their goodnights, then Janus headed to his own room on the same floor. His shoes barely made a sound on the plush carpet of the halls, and there was nothing to distract his thoughts from the princess.
She was beautiful, but more than that, she was a gentle soul. The only soul on the planet that cared for him, most likely.
“No matter what, I’ll always like you!”
It was getting increasingly difficult to quiet his heart. His mind had always been the dominant part of him before, and it made him sensible. Was his heart taking over now, after being buried for so long?
He froze when he noticed King Hunter was standing just outside Janus’ bedroom. The king had not noticed him yet, and he debated backing up slowly to escape him. But then, what was he doing?
He cleared his throat and stepped forward, bowing low. “Good evening, Your Majesty,” he said, unable to meet Hunter’s gaze. “Were you…looking for me?” He could feel Hunter’s eyes on him, looking him up and down.
“I thought you might know where Emerald is.” His voice was cold, taut, like he knew exactly where the princess had been, and he didn’t like it one bit.
“I offered to take a walk with her in the garden, so we did. She is in her room now, though,” Janus said carefully. “Is…there an issue?” He realized he was still looking a mess, with disheveled hair and clothes from the day’s training. That must have been why the king was staring at him with such disapproval. Or at least, that was one of the reasons.
“I see,” Hunter said as he stepped towards him. “Well…thank you for entertaining her, I suppose.” He brushed past him to walk to Emerald’s room, but Janus didn’t let him go easy. As the king passed by, Janus reached out with his magic, focusing it on Hunter’s body so he would feel a sudden chill and terrible sense of dread. Then, before the king could turn a suspicious glare on him, he hurried into his room. But he heard clear as day what Hunter muttered before he shut the door and locked it.
Cursing, he leaned against the door and slid to the floor. “Yes, I am a monster,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “And I will make sure you know it, Your Majesty, if you hurt her.”
Maybe he wouldn’t allow himself to love Emerald. But he could allow himself to be a friend and confidant at the least. He would allow himself to be her protector, even if it made him the beast everyone thought him to be.
Maybe…for her…he could stand to be a monster.
~ ~ ~
The Unlikely Prince is BACK!!! I take wayyyy too many breaks with this, but sometimes it gets hard to juggle life, and when it comes to writing, the novel I’m working on often gets priority over this short story. I’ve been writing up a backlog of parts for it though, so I’m hoping to be able to not go on break for the next few months!
Anyways, I hope you liked this part! Janus is finally falling in love, but will he even be able to have Emerald in the end? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and God bless!