102 No Matter What Pt.3

    The twisted and damp linen sheets made squelching noises as Gyuri pounded at them with a wooden paddle. But while sweat beaded on her forehead and her arms ached from beating the laundry, the only thing occupying her mind was thoughts of Namjoon. Images of how his eyes crinkled when he laughed; how his dimples magically appeared when he smiled, and the way his eyes sparkled when he spoke all made her heart flutter as the mosaic images converged into that one perfect picture.

    Gyuri smiled.

    Ugh. What's wrong with me?

    A long sigh escaped her lips as she noticed her lovestruck expression reflected in the water.

    Stupid Subin! Snap out of it!

    She stared at her reflection in the stream and shook her head in dismay. "You can't fall for him" she warned herself. "You'll only end up broken-hearted in the end." Her reflection stared back at her determinedly but despite her attempts to dissuade her heart from harbouring such dangerous feelings, it remained unfazed. Like a germinating seed, her feelings for him had already taken root.

    "This is bad..." she muttered. "You're meant to be finding a way back, remember? You can't afford to get distracted!" She let out a long breath as she focused on the cloudless sky above. It was still late in the summer-the longest summer she had ever experienced. She couldn't remember how long it had been since she last saw rain. "Yoongi... dad... I wonder how you're doing." With her brows furrowed, Gyuri attempted to conjure an image of her brother and father only to open her eyes in worry as an uneasy feeling swelled in her gut. "I'm starting to forget what you look like."

    Gyuri dipped the linen cloth into the stream, her hand also plunging into the cool water. Against the hot rays of the summer sun, Gyuri welcomed the pleasant chilliness in her hands, the sensation momentarily taking her mind off her pending trouble. Instead, it allowed her to reminisce the time when Namjoon treated her scratches obtained from a touchy patient. Gyuri snatched her hand from the water as she blushed at the recollection.

    "Get a hold of yourself, Subin" she groaned. "Now's not the time for this..."

    But as she resumed her rhythmic pounding, her train of thought was already unavoidably revolving around Namjoon. Thoughts about what he was doing currently and whether he was taking care of himself danced across her mind, teasing her and stirring up emotions that, against her wishes, made her feel an array of things that she hadn't felt in a while.

    And the more she thought of him, the more other topics connected to Namjoon popped into her mind like a spontaneous growth of mushrooms after a thunderstorm.

    "I hope we can become firm friends."

    Gyuri shuddered as she recollected the fair-haired stranger's voice. His odd-coloured eyes, the brilliant shade of blue and the contrasting depth of brown, engraved in her mind's eye. Even though she had no reason to suspect him, there was something about him that made her apprehensive: her instincts were warning her to avoid his path.

    But that wasn't the only thing that eluded Gyuri of the Waekugin's presence.

    "It still doesn't make any sense" she mumbled to herself. "I can understand what they're saying but I can't speak in my own language."

    Gyuri closed her eyes as she cast her memory back to the last few days and how she had attempted time and time again to communicate with them. Nothing. Every time she tried, her lips failed to make the right notions and her words came out garbled and tongue-tied. It was like trying to speak a language you had never spoken before.

    "This is so frustrating. And here I thought they might know how to get back home..."

    Casting the wet sheets aside, Gyuri huffed as a stinging sensation suddenly invaded her eyes. She blinked. A warm tear slid down her cheek followed by another and another. Unable to maintain her nonchalant façade, a loud sob escaped her lips and soon, the mask, she wore, crumbled. Tears spilled down her cheeks as Gyuri allowed her bottled up anguish to escalate into uncontrollable sniffles. And just like an unexpected shower of rain, other emotions threatened to overwhelm her, finally free of the rigid restraint that was Gyuri's will to appear outwardly fine.

    "Dad... Yoongi..." she hiccupped as she hastily wiped her tears away. "I really miss you..." She pulled her knees close and hugged herself tightly. "I wish I can go back home."

    Gyuri rested her forehead against her folded arms, all the while desperately wishing that the past few months she had been in Saim was all part of a very realistic dream. Even now, she was still convinced that she was asleep and that somehow, she will one day wake up and be back home, in her bedroom, where she was supposed to be.

    "I wish I was back home" she repetitively chanted. "I wish I was back home. I wish I was-"


    "You must never lose it, okay? This ring will bring you back to your roots. It will bring you back to where you belong."

    Gyuri's eyes flew open. "What-what was that?" She blinked several times in confusion, the words echoing in her mind. "That ring..." Her grandma's jade ring appeared in her mind's eye again and her brows snapped together as she thought. "Could that ring... be a clue?"

    Made hopeful by this thought, Gyuri sat up and thought aloud, "When I time-slipped, the last thing I was holding was grandma's book..." Gyuri stared intensely at her hand. "But when I woke up, I didn't have it with me." She frowned. "Was I wearing the ring at the time?" Gyuri cast her memory back as far as she could go. But all she could recall was a vague image of the ring hanging loosely around her forefinger. "What if that ring is my ticket back home?"

    Gyuri sighed as she focused her attention on the sky. "It's a long shot" she murmured, "but it's better than nothing." She squinted at the sun's glare. "Maybe I dropped it when I woke up in that field?" she wistfully mused. But then she recalled a similar-looking ring around Jimin's hand and she chewed her lip. "I just hope it's still there."

    With her faith somewhat restored, Gyuri got up to stretch her legs, feeling slightly better after her impromptu outburst. "Even if I do find the ring, what am I gonna do with it?" she pondered aloud. "Should I try chanting something like Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz'?" Gyuri peered down at her durable canvas shoes and started clicking her heels together. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like-"

    Gyuri slipped.

    A wide expanse of blue occupied Gyuri's field of vision as she tumbled backwards, her body feeling light as her feet momentarily left the ground. Gyuri waited for gravity to take effect and for the inevitable pain of landing into the stream to slap her back. But to her surprise, both didn't come. For just as she was about to fall, two strong hands had grabbed onto hers.

    She locked eyes with her saviour.

    "Stupid... Gyuri" Taehyung grunted, his voice strained as he helped to pull her forward. "You need... to be more careful." Taking a few steps back, Taehyung pulled Gyuri upwards so that she was finally upright.

    "Thanks" she murmured as he let her hands go.

    Taehyung was about to reprimand her when he was suddenly distracted by her face. "Have you been crying?"

    Instinctively, Gyuri looked up to deny it but had only resulted in Taehyung getting a better view of her puffy eyes. She looked down immediately. "N-no..."

    He leaned in. "You have!" With his brows knitted together, he approached Gyuri while she shied away. "Why were you crying?" he asked persistently. But then, his voice lowered as he gritted out, "Has someone being bothering you?"

    "No!" Gyuri averted her gaze when she saw Taehyung's cross expression. "It's- it's nothing..."

    But Taehyung remained dubious. "Gyuri, if someone has been bothering you, all you have to do is tell me their name and I-"

    "That's not it" she cut in as she forced a smile. "I'm fine. Honest." Gyuri swept her skirt to the front as she sat down at the edge of the stream to resume her laundry washing. "I-I just accidentally hit myself with the paddle earlier" she lied. "That's why I had tears in my eyes."

    Taehyung watched as Gyuri resumed pounding the linen sheets, his gaze burning a hole at the back of her head. His heart ached seeing Gyuri upset-no matter what the reason. Seeing her hunched over the laundry made him suddenly think of how lonely her back looked. Her shoulders, slumped forward, were stooped as if she was carrying a heavy burden that was slowly crushing her. A burden which he wanted to alleviate if only she shared some of it with him.

    He sat down next to her.

    "What are you doing?" she questioned when she spotted him dip one of the sheets into the stream.

    "I am helping you."

    Gyuri raised her brow as Taehyung clumsily wrung the sheet to squeeze out the water. Noticing her stare, he glanced up and revealed his cheeky box-like smile. "Why are you staring at me like that?" he asked, his smile growing wider to reveal his crescent-shaped eyes. "Are you finally falling for my irresistible charm?"

    Gyuri scoffed before a smile curled at her lips.


    Gyuri looked at him.

    "At last," Taehyung's voice was gentle, "you smiled."

    Swiftly, Gyuri looked away to hide her reddening cheeks. "What-what are you doing here? You shouldn't be wandering nearby water. You can't swim."

    "I wanted to spend time with you" Taehyung simply answered as he continued to submerge the sheets into the water. "And besides, the stream is fine. The water here is shallow."

    The pair sat quietly next to each other, the steady trickling of the stream filling the silence that surrounded them. Content with just being near Gyuri, Taehyung continued to happily rinse the sheets, somewhat convinced that he was being useful. But as the silence wore on, Taehyung couldn't help but revisit the events which occurred not so long ago. The smile on his face slowly slipped away.



    "That imperial guard from before..."

    Gyuri turned to him.

    "...who was he?"

    "You mean Chim Chim?" Gyuri focused her attention back to the laundry. "He's just a friend-"

    "Is he a suitor of yours?"

    "W-what?" Gyuri was astounded. "Suitor?" She had heard her dad mention that word many times before. Gyuri was quick to deny, "He's not my boyfriend! What makes you think that?"

    Puzzled slightly by her diction, Taehyung explained, "Because you were so...intimate with each other-"

    "No!" Gyuri fiercely denied, her face flushed pink. "That-that was an accident. I thought I already explained that to you."

    "Then, why did you let him get away with it?"

    Gyuri sighed. "Taehyung, I already told you, it was my fault. Chim Chim's innocent. I was trying to look at his ring."

    "His ring?"

    "Yes," she murmured, "I thought... I recognised it."

    Taehyung observed how the light from Gyuri's eyes dimmed as she mulled over the imperial guard's ring. It baffled him why Gyuri had been so downcast lately. After they had returned from the field, Gyuri had not been the same. She was constantly distracted-dazed-and never quite herself even when Taehyung had snuck her expensive delectable treats from the kitchen. And seeing her in her wistful state convinced him that the imperial guard had something to do with it. After all, who else could have caused her to be so troubled?

    Taehyung eyed Gyuri intently. If it were me, I would never make you cry. He got up abruptly and Gyuri peered up at him.


    With determination, Taehyung offered his hand out to her. "I know of a way to cheer you up."

    I have decided.

    "Hm?" Gyuri looked at him questioningly before reaching out to grab his hand.

    With his hand laced around hers, he held onto her hand tightly as he helped her up.

    I will be the one to make you happy.

    "Taehyung, what are you planning?"

    No matter what.
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