Noticing that Noir was happily chatting away with Teacher Artemis, Solis found himself feeling rather strange – caught halfway between happiness and envy.
After a while, he couldn't remain aloof anymore. "Noir," he called. "Could you come here, please?"
The young prince immediately rushed over to him. "What happened? Are you feeling unwell? Is there any discomfort in your legs? Should I give you a massage?" Noir fired off a barrage of questions as he touched Solis's forehead to check his temperature and then measured his pulse.
Solis chuckled, amused and pleased by his concern. "Nothing's wrong," he said. "I just thought you'd be interested in learning something new."
Noir's chocolate eyes sparkled. "What new thing?" he asked eagerly.
Solis handed him a bulky file. "Do you want to take a look at our latest project? We're setting up a series of wind power plants and hydel power plants to replace the existing thermal power plants. It is currently the biggest project in Green City. Within two years, we'll completely replace all power plants with clean, renewable energy," he said.
Noir was astonished. Since he had been reading a lot, he knew about traditional thermal power plants, but he didn't know the details of wind and hydel power. He eagerly read through the papers Solis had given him, occasionally asking questions.
Both Teacher Artemis and Solis were astonished by Noir's quick mind and razor sharp perception. By the time the day ended, Solis and Noir were immersed in an active debate on several issues relating to the project, which continued even after they reached home.
Thanks to the ongoing discussion, though, the cook finally had the kitchen to herself without Noir usurping her role! She cooked happily, and served a lavish meal to celebrate, hoping that Boss Solis would keep Young Master Noir involved with work more often, just so she could cook in peace at least several days a week!
"Would you like to work on this project with me?" Solis asked Noir after they finished their dinner absent-mindedly, not even noticing the special feast prepared by the cook, much to her disappointment.
Noir grabbed Solis's hand excitedly. "May I? Really?"
Solis smiled. "Of course. I'd appreciate your help," he said. "We can go for a site visit tomorrow if you'd like…"
"I'd love that!" Noir exclaimed. He leaned forward and kissed Solis on the cheek. "Thank you, darling!" Then, suddenly realising what he'd done, Noir turned and ran, his face as red as a tomato.
Solis's fair cheeks were also dusted with pink.
Teacher Artemis and the cook exchanged a knowing look and giggled like teenage girls.
Solis stood up. "I'll…er…"
"Go and find your sweetheart Noir," Teacher Artemis finished for him. "We know."
Solis walked away rapidly, leaving the two elderly women laughing loudly behind his back.
It didn't take him too long to find Noir. The young prince was sitting by the fountain in the garden. He was in a daze and didn't even notice Solis's approach.
"What are you thinking about?" Solis asked softly, sitting down next to him.
Noir was so startled that he nearly toppled over and fell into the fountain. Fortunately, Solis caught him and pulled him up against his chest in a protective manner.
"Sorry," Noir mumbled.
Solis raised an eyebrow. "What for?" he asked.
"I…I just kissed you impulsively…I didn't mean anything by it," Noir mumbled, not meeting his eyes.
Solis fell silent.
Noir, who was waiting for a response, looked up when he didn't get any for a long time. He was taken aback at the miserable look on Solis's handsome face.
"Solis…? What's wrong?" he asked anxiously.
Solis laughed bitterly and shook his head.
Noir felt as if something was tearing his own heart apart when he saw the desolation and despair in the Solis's grey eyes. Almost involuntarily, he cradled Solis's face in his hands and said softly, "Tell me what's wrong."
Solis closed his eyes. "What do you think of me, Noir?" he asked.
"A friend…a confidante…" Noir murmured. "Actually…you're more than that."
"Am I still a substitute for your master?" Solis asked.
Noir shook his head firmly. "Not at all. You may look like him, but you're very different. You're you. I won't mix you up with my Master," he said quickly.
Solis sighed. "I wish you would," he whispered. "If it's the only way you could love me…"
Noir froze. Then he shook his head, sure that he was suffering from auditory hallucinations. There was no way Solis would say something like that…right…? But what if he really did say it? Wouldn't that mean Solis…liked him?!
Noir peered at Solis's face worriedly. "Solis…I think I may misunderstand if we don't make this clear now," he murmured. "So, please, tell me – what do you think of me?"
Solis laughed bitterly. "I think you're the most amazing man I've ever seen…and I hope that I get to spend the rest of my life with you," he said flatly. "I'm hopelessly in love with you, couldn't you tell?" He looked away, his eyes downcast. "But don't worry, I know you only have your master in your heart and there's no place for me…I won't force you into anything. If you ever feel uncomfortable with anything I do or ask you to do…like this engagement business…please let me know and we'll stop immediately."
Noir was rendered speechless.
Solis stood up abruptly. "Don't stay outside for too long," he said. "It'd be terrible if you caught a cold."
He turned to leave, but Noir caught his hand.
"Don't go…" Noir whispered.
Solis sighed. "Noir…if you ask me to stay now…I'll be the one with the misunderstanding. I'll begin to think that you, too, have feelings for me…" he said quietly. "Please let me go."
Instead of releasing his hand, however, Noir hugged him from the back. "I do have feelings for you," he whispered softly, his voice almost inaudible. "I care for you very much…I just don't know yet if it's love or not. But I do know that seeing you sad makes me feel like my heart is being stabbed, and seeing you smile makes my heart skip a beat…"