1 Excerpt [Spoiler Warnings]

Sneaking a quick glance at him under the cover of night, I could only hope that he wouldn't notice me peeking. Perhaps it was bold for me to do so, but here under a blanket of glistening stars, layer by layer, the complications of the world fell aside.

There was no palace. No alliance. No carefully crafted scene. Away from it all, I didn't have to be the virtuous and loving wife. Yet somehow, all my eyes and heart could hold was still him.

No, even though he was standing right next to me on these city walls, he wouldn't see me. His gaze was too preoccupied with the empire before him, too busy taking in the celebrating citizens that he swore to protect.

I must admit that there was a certain charm about it in the serious manner in which he observed the merry festivities on the streets. His eyes followed the motions of the children prancing around with paper lanterns, almost as if mentally assessing their qualities of life.

Slowly, bit by bit, a smile crept up his lips.

What was going on that made him smile so? Apart from the new gymnastics act that just began, I couldn't quite find the reason for it.

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"Why exactly are you looking at me like that?" He swang in a half circle towards me, mildly amused as his eyes twinkled in a way that seemed to rival the stars themselves. The moon's silvery glow illuminated the outline of his face, adding an angelic look to his usually pensive expression.

Was I caught? For a second, I was at a complete loss for words, simultaneously embarrassed and stunned. "Umm… you're good-looking?" The words accidentally slipped out of my mouth before I could fully process them.

No signs of surprise crossed his face as he nodded matter-of-factly, responding instead with a shameless, "When am I not?" The silly grin was still there, not yet melted into the shadows as it usually did. If anything, it widened to reveal a row of pearly teeth.

A draft shattered the brief stillness, and I, in turn, shivered. Wordlessly, he wrapped his own cloak around me, enveloping me in a pocket of warmth. His body heat seemed to seep through, almost as if he was instead welcoming me to an embrace.

I couldn't help but stare. There was no one watching, not at all a need for him to still continue our usual acts of intimacy. Colorful displays of light danced across his face, casting dreamy collages of iridescence.

"Look up." His voice was tender, the haughtiness from before replaced by sincerity, gently guiding my gaze upwards. My vision was met by bright explosions of countless colors.

Fireworks lit the before dark night as chaotic displays danced across the sky. Standing on top of the city walls, I watched as the world around me burst into life.

Wide-eyed and with a silly lopsided grin, I must have looked like a child. But for a split second, he did too, letting go of the guises he worked so hard on crafting. Time itself seemed to freeze, making way for this one moment of pureness and bliss that I would learn to treasure forever.

If only time really paused its course.

Seeing the fire greedily devour the palace, all I could think of was that distant memory from so long ago. Had so many years passed so quickly? Somehow, everything was the same but different.

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