It’s like time stopped for a short moment.
All I could think about is that I’m really done for this time as my heart beat frantically against my chest.
Before I could react, however, the emperor gently tugged me by the arm and pulled me towards the bed.
His arm circled around my waist in a half hug and this position had me looking up at his face at close proximity.
My eyes darted around his face, noticing his complexion appearing much better than before.
He was staring at me so intently that I could see myself reflected in his golden eyes.
“You don’t have to wear the bracelet.”
He lightly scratched my palm with the tips of his fingers before smoothly prying the bracelet off my hand.
I was so distracted by his touch grazing my skin that I didn’t notice it was his plan all along, that or I might just be really sensitive when it comes to him.
My eyes followed the bracelet and he said,
“You don’t need it.”
I almost asked him if he was going to kill me if I didn’t have the bracelet on, but I managed to stop myself at the last second.
He hid the bracelet under the bed and went back to wrapping his arms around me once again, burying his head in the crook of my neck just like he always has, but clingier this time.
Although he had already slumbered for hours, his forehead was still hot with the lingering effects of fever.
“Say whatever it is you want to say.
I want to hear your voice.” He said in a deep, husky voice.
I didn’t know how to respond to that.
He seemed to be acting a little bit strange lately, and I could only guess that the persisting fever might have something to do with it.
But still… Why do I feel like he’s trying to tell me something
Did he really think that it was that easy If I could yell at him about everything he had done to me without holding back, I most definitely would.
Doing so would only put me in a tight position where the only thing that is guaranteed is my death.
And whose words does he want to hear anyway The doll’s or mine But just like in the original story, the emperor putting the bracelet away was a sign that he’s not following through his initial plans.
Am I perceiving this right
“I heard you collapsed after the ceremony.
You still have a fever, so you should sleep some more.”
Those words came from me, as Iona.
I carefully got out of his arms to pick the towel that fell to the side of the bed.
I was planning on washing it to place it back on his forehead, but I couldn’t reach it, with him still clinging to my hand.
“Hey… I need to grab the towel.”
He only stared at me without saying anything.
The hand touching my wrist was warm to the touch, and the heat coming off him reminded me of what the emperor did moments before that my face immediately flushed red.
The emperor’s gaze was on our clasped hands, his mouth parting and closing, like there was something he wanted to say.
“… Don’t leave.”
“I’ll just get you a new towel so you can feel better.” I was planning on getting a new towel, placing it on his forehead, and going to stay in the adjoining room for a while to take a much-needed breather.
Today was just too much for me that I can’t think straight.
And this is not good for my heart.
The emperor, who was currently flushed with fever, could be dangerous in so many ways.
Looking him directly in the eyes was something I have a hard time doing, especially today when he seemed to be so deep in his fever that he doesn’t know what he’s saying anymore.
The way he was speaking to me was not the way he usually spoke, and it was a worrying sight.
I tried to subtly pry his hand off to go to where the bowl was but the emperor’s grip remained firm on my hand.
“Your highness, my hand…”
“Don’t leave, Iona.
I can’t sleep alone.”
And when he looked up at me, I saw his eyes were pooled with tears, making me drop the towel I was holding.
He pulled me back to the bed and hugged me close.
At this point I knew he wouldn’t let go of me no matter how much I tried persuading him.
We stayed that way for a while longer still, with him hugging me by the waist as I gently ran my hands up and down his back.
His forehead was buried in my neck, and I felt the heat radiating off his skin.
If ingesting the holy water really was the reason for his fever then that’s just awful.
What else could possibly lead to his fever
I certainly hope that’s not the case.
I thread my fingers softly through his hair to calm him down, and I was about to drop my hand when the emperor said in a tearful voice,
Why was he apologizing to me I’m just a slave after all, one that was bought as a stand-in doll.
I took a deep breath, not giving any sign of hearing his words that would surely be perceived as being cold.
Honestly, I knew he was trying to treat me as Iona instead of just a mere doll, and he’s apologizing to the real me right now.
The arms wrapped around me are faintly shaking, like he was struggling to hold me close.
“I couldn’t stand not seeing you in the room.
I thought I lost you again, that you’ve disappeared somewhere that was out of my reach.”
He was talking about the day Liliana had disappeared, the beautiful day where they were supposed to have a picnic together that had turned into a nightmare.
He raised his head and looked straight at my face.
The corners of his eyes were wet with tears, the sight of it was making my chest hurt.
I’m sorry for being angry.
Everything’s my fault.”
His expression was just so full of sorrow and despair that I don’t have it in me to resist him.
He still needed someone to hang onto, someone he could lean on, and I promise to be that safe space for him for the remaining nine months.
At least until he meets Eris…