I'm back with more ZenxShirayuki goodness! :D This story strays a bit from my usual type cause though there's still romance, there's more suspense and peril :3 Still, enjoy nonetheless!
Disclaimer: I do not own Akagami no Shirayukihime :( Fiddlesticks.
Shirayuki leaned back against the wall of the palace, her hands folded behind her as she waited patiently for the Second Prince of Clarines to meet her.
The two had not seen each other much recently due to various circumstances which gave Zen more work to turn his attention to. But he had twisted his way out of getting the rest of the day off and had promised just to spend time with her. She smiled at the thought of seeing him again for more than a flash of two seconds in the halls of the castle; she was glad to have him all to herself for a little while.
The sun overhead was shifting toward the West, and though it was past their designated meeting time, she continued to wait patiently. She closed her eyes for a brief moment as a nice breeze blew by, sending her shoulder-length apple-red hair drifting off in front of her.
At last she heard familiar approaching footsteps off to her right and reopened her eyes to have her vision greeted by the Prince, turning the corner of the building she leaned against. He took a moment to catch his breath before approaching her.
"Zen!" she greeted him happily, dashing over to him. "Are you okay?" She looked him up and down.
"Shirayuki." He returned the greeting with a sincere smile. "Yes I'm fine. I had to rush here because I feared you'd think I wasn't coming. I'm sorry. The meeting went on longer than I expected. Discussions kept coming up about some troublesome things happening recently."
"It's fine." She reassured him. "I didn't mind waiting. So where do you want to go?" she asked.
"I thought we'd just go for a walk around the town or the forests. Whatever you want." He offered.
"I think that sounds wonderful." She blushed slightly.
Zen led the way through the Gate of Poets as the guards wished the two of them a safe trip. Shirayuki walked beside him, and though the atmosphere between them was mostly comfortable, there was a slight air of awkwardness, so she fumbled for something to start a conversation.
"So what did you discuss at the council meeting?" she wondered.
"Oh, you know the usual crimes; attempted robberies, several people being assaulted, teenagers doing stupid things." He sighed. "It's a real shame that people have nothing better to do with their lives."
"I'll say." The girl agreed. Wow. She thought. So even Clarines has those kinds of problems, just like Tanburn. I guess those things really do happen everywhere…
The pair was given many wide-eyed stares, and various forms of polite greetings and bows as they continued through the town. It was not everyday that the Prince went for a stroll among the commoners. Plus, Shirayuki's red hair was obviously being noticed as people murmured and shot her curious glances. She simply smiled back at all of them, but silently dismayed that she had no hood to cover herself with. But Zen could easily tell that Shirayuki was troubled and also not used to such behavior as being treated so formally. She kept shifting her shoulders and bowing her head in embarrassment and it was plain to see that she was feeling uncomfortable. He found her embarrassment adorable, however he did not want to make her feel awkward.
"Would you like to take a stroll through the forest?" he asked casually.
"Y-Yes!" she answered immediately. "I-I mean, of course." She corrected herself, sending him silent gratitude with her emerald eyes. His irises told her that she was welcome and he turned to lead her off away from the town.
As the number of people and buildings began to dwindle, Shirayuki's tense shoulders began to relax. They passed a group of three teenage boys who gave them interested looks, but once they were out of sight, it was only the forest that surrounded them now.
Zen led her deep into the woods to a quiet place he had often visited when he slacked off his duties. He had stumbled upon this place long ago; it was in the very heart of the woods and no one had ever bothered him there. He glanced at his companion and saw her eyes double in size at the scene before her.
A small clearing opened up before them and was surrounded by thick-trunked trees that stretched their branches up as high as the clouds would allow. She was stunned and her feet were rooted to the ground, her jaw slightly ajar in awe. The sunlight sliced through the leaves, every color from off-white to auburn, and dappled the jade grass.
"Wow…" she breathed.
Zen waited a moment for her to take it all in before reached down and taking her hand in his.
"Come on. Let's keep going." He pulled her gently along with him and she turned her head every which way, trying to gather in all the scenery. Her fingers curled into his as they continued to walk, their boots padding softly on the squishy moss underfoot. Birdsong filled the air and squirrels scampered up the trees, but aside from the little songs and fluttering of wings, there was no sound. Even the distant sounds of the lively town were completely omitted.
They did not keep track of exactly how long they walked, but judging by the way the sun had shifted, Zen assumed it had been nearly an hour. Still holding her hand, he lightly squeezed Shirayuki's fingers and gave her a slight tug, indicating that they should start heading back. She nodded in agreement but he did not miss the slight disappointment that slipped into her eyes.
"I'll bring you back here next time we get some free time. How does that sound?" he flashed another small smile.
"Mm!" she nodded, beaming. "I'd like that."
"Okay then. It's a date." Zen did not realize the words that had escaped his lips until they had been spoken. It just sounded so natural to say that it had slipped out, but now her cheeks were starting to blush. "Ah…well…I mean-"
But he did not finish as the bushes rustled off to one side and they both turned their heads quickly to avert their attention to the noise. It was a rapid thudding kind of sound and Zen placed his arm before Shirayuki and pushed her back. A second later, the bushes parted as a large stag exploded from the leaves. The Prince and the pharmacist gaped in surprise and quickly stepped back as it swerved away from them, it's sharp antlers just barely whisking past Zen's hair. It dodged around them at the last second before stumbling off and disappearing into the forest. Shirayuki and Zen stared after it in shock for a second before they gathered their composure again.
"A…Are you alright?" Shirayuki stammered, worriedly.
"Yes, it missed me. I don't get it though. They're usually so tame." Zen mumbled. "Are you?" He asked, looking her over. Her hand was pressed over her heart which was pounding frantically.
"Yes. Just a bit startled." She reassured him. "But I wonder what was wrong with it." She said.
"What do you mean?"
"It was limping…" Shirayuki trailed off, following where the creature had gone with her eyes.
"I wonder what that was all about." Zen turned his attention toward the way the animal had come from. "It came from where we entered." He noted.
"Do you think it was running from something?" she posed the question, glancing back to where they had entered the woods, where it merged with the town.
"I'm not sure." He answered. "Either way, lets head back a different way." Zen suggested, taking her hand again and beginning to pull her off toward a slightly different direction.
"But Zen, that's the only way to get back to town." She reminded him reasonably. Even though the idea of going that way did not exactly thrill her, she was still the slightest bit curious.
"You're right." He sighed. "Well this is a dilemma."
"W-Well maybe it was nothing." Shirayuki put in. "Something probably just started it." ,
"I suppose…" but his suspicious tone clearly told her that he was still uneasy about all of this. "Well then let's go. But stay close to me." He ordered.
His right hand reached across his waist and gripped the hilt of his sword as he began to walk, Shirayuki following behind him. She felt a bit flattered at how easily he was willing to protect her; less like a Prince and more like a knight.
They neared the edge of the woods without difficulty and began to relax as they saw the town in the distance.
Shirayuki let out a small sigh of relief but instantly regretted it as she saw a figure off to her open side. She quickly turned to Zen and tugged at his arm, his name halfway out her throat but was cut short as she felt rough hands on her shoulders. She yelped as her arms were locked behind her back and her wrists were bound by a strong, firm hand. She caught a quick glimpse of Zen whipping around to face her, panic and then anger crossing his face.
"Shirayuki!" he began to unsheathe his sword but failed to notice the other two figures behind him.
"Zen, behind you!" she managed to cry out but it was too late. Both of them men behind Zen secured one of his arms each and knocked the blade out of his hand; it clashed to the ground.
"Hey!" Zen barked, turning on them. "What is the meaning of this? Don't you know who you're dealing with and just where you are?"
"Oh we're quite aware, Prince Zen." The man on his left replied. "But we promise not to hurt you. We just want the girl."
"What did you say?" Zen growled.
He then got a good look at their attackers and realized that they were the same three teenage boys that they had passed before entering the forest. They now all wore long, black capes with hoods, but Zen made sure to get a good look at each and every one of their diabolical faces. They all had wide shoulders, the one to his left had brown hair and the one to his right had his black hair in a small ponytail. The man who restrained Shirayuki had dark spiky hair and a look on his face that made Zen's stomach boil with rage.
"Like he said," the latter boy repeated. "We only want the girl. But if you can't keep quiet we could just knock you out and leave you here."
"What do you want with her?" he asked in a low, threatening voice.
"Oh not much." His adversary replied. "She is the one with the rumored red hair. Maybe we can sell her off somewhere." Here he yanked her arms tightly upward and she cried out in pain. "But not before having a little fun." He finished.
"Don't you dare…" Zen warned, his eyes alight with wrath and fire. But the other man just smirked.
"You're pretty cute, ya know?" he growled lustfully into her face, bringing his free hand to her cheek.
"Get your hands off of her!" Zen snarled, pushing himself forward only to be pulled back.
Shirayuki tried to shake the hooded man's hand off of her face and break away. She gathered herself and prepared to scream for help, but then he roughly pushed his hand against her mouth. Zen tried to shake his attackers off but was kicked in the stomach and the other two dropped him and let him fall to the ground. He opened one eye and watched helplessly as Shirayuki strained to fight the dark-haired boy off.
"This is going to be a lot more fun than throwing pebbles at deer." He moved closer to her, pressing his palm harder against her mouth. She struggled with all of her might, trying to scream and attempting to bite his skin, but to no avail. She tried to free her arms, but his grip was too great and he pulled her wrists up again roughly until he heard a satisfying crack. Shirayuki screamed against his palm as tears formed in her eyes.
"Shira…yuki…" Zen wheezed, still winded. He wanted to get up but his body was still sore. He glanced at the two men above him but both their gazes were fixed on his friend as she was assaulted. The Prince slowly began inching his hand out to his sword but he would have to do it slowly if he was to not be noticed.
He could hardly watch as the girl continued to struggle. Though her left arm was numb, she continued to thrash about violently, her determination and perseverance unrelenting. The hand over her mouth was beginning to feel heavier as her breath shortened but she managed to jump up. The bones in her right arm, which still had feeling, protested as she pushed up, twisting it the wrong way but she ignored the pain as she felt the satisfying feeling of her head colliding with the man's chin. His grip loosened as he cursed in surprise, and the girl took this chance to step on his foot with all of her weight. He yelled out again and the other two men began to move forward to assist him as Shirayuki broke away, panting heavily and holding her left arm which hung uselessly at her side.
Her gaze met Zen's and time seemed to freeze for an instant.
His eyes told her to run.
This was her chance.
But she stayed.
She lingered a second too long, not even having to think over what she wanted to do. She knelt down and was about to help him up by the arm but never even got close enough to touch him.
"You bitch!" The loud voice coming from behind her bellowed angrily as fingers grabbed her hair and flung her backwards. Shirayuki landed painfully on her back and tumbled once to lie on her stomach, her right arm beneath her body, her eyes squeezed shut in pain. She quickly tried to push herself up but only succeeded in having her back collide with the boot that came crashing down onto her spine. She yelped again as her right arm was crushed beneath her, now both of them completely useless.
"You little bitch." The man repeated, leaning more of his weight on her. Shirayuki sputtered in agony as she felt her insides twist and she coughed violently as the pressure increased. Her lungs weren't working anymore as she tried to fight for breath but was only pinned harder against the ground. She heard another crack, followed by a second and then a third, and at last she gave in and lay still. She heard harsh snickering above her and buried her face into the grass, tears streaming down her face.
At this point, Zen had far more than snapped.
The pain in his stomach vanished as he reached out with both arms and grabbed the boots of each of the men above him. With a massive strength, he pulled them both with all of his might as they went crashing down. Grabbing his sword, he leapt to his feet with inhuman speed. Knocking the two stunned men's heads together, he turned on the remaining one, pointing his sword at his throat.
"Let. Her. Go." His voice was cold venom, and his tone was deep, which somehow made it more frightening than if he had shouted it with a blood-curdling bellow. His eyes were narrowed and burning with fury and pure hatred as he held his blade firmly with unwavering resolve.
Fear sparked in his enemy's eyes for a brief moment before he smirked. "How about you back down, pretty boy?" he said slyly. As he spoke, he leaned more of his weight on Shirayuki's back. A small whimper escaped her body but it was so frail and winded that Zen barely heard it. But he heard it nonetheless and he gritted his teeth.
"Don't make me do this." Zen stepped a bit closer, the blade moving closer as well.
"You won't have the guts." The black haired man spat back. "Now if you don't step back, I might accidentally crush this young lady here." He dug his heel into her back again and Shirayuki threw her head back in agony, her entire body a mix of numbed or throbbing.
Zen wavered, his eyes flashing down to her. She turned her face toward him and he froze when he saw the pain on her face; tears smeared her cheeks, blood trickled from her forehead where a rock had scraped it, her eyes were filled with desperation and pleaded for help.
But then, her emerald irises flashed with a flicker of willpower, yet Zen took a step back in horror at the condition he saw her in. He lowered his sword and Shirayuki's eyebrows furrowed in dismay; he knew that she was silently telling him to fight, no matter what happened to her, but he simply could not bring himself to do such a thing.
Then, her eyes asked him to run, but as she had done for him before, he refused and shook his head.
The hooded man smirked at their failed plans.
"Good." He grumbled. "Now drop your sword." He directed at Zen.
But before the Prince could comply, Shirayuki gathered herself. Then, in one swift movement, she pushed herself up against the man's weight with only her right arm. Using all of the force in her body, even though she could not feel most of it, she pushed up with everything she had before she collapsed back onto the ground and was still.
Surprised at the sudden action, the man above her was forced off balance and stumbled. Zen took the opportunity and shot forward, kicking him as hard as he could. The blow landed directly on the solar plexus and sent the man crashing into the trunk of a nearby tree to fall forward onto his face to lay unconscious beside his partners. Zen glared at them for a long moment with hard eyes to make sure they would stay down.
Then he collapsed to his knees.
He dropped his sword and reached forward tentatively toward Shirayuki's unmoving form. She looked so much smaller than ever before with her body crumpled like a broken doll. His eyes felt hot with tears and he tried to force them back.
"Shirayuki…?" he whispered. He reached forward and gently rested his hand on her shoulder. He expected her to wince in pain, but she did not move at all.
He thought it would have been better if she had winced.
Her eyes were closed but the trickle of blood from her forehead had ceased, yet her nose was now bleeding instead. He gently ran his fingers through her hair but did not dare to touch any other part of her just yet. "Shirayuki…?" he asked again, a little louder.
The tears in his eye swelled again as her eyelids fluttered open slowly, like tattered butterflies' wings ripped and torn by the talons of some falcon. Zen fought to not break down at the look on her face.
He slowly reached forward and slid one hand under her head, brushing his knuckles against her cheek. She gave a small smile, relieved that he was alright. She opened her mouth and attempted to speak his name but all that came out was a scratchy little sound that made his ears hurt.
"Shh. Don't talk. Please." He murmured. "Where does it hurt?" he asked.
Shirayuki smiled hopelessly up at him and shook her head.
Zen swallowed. "Nowhere?" he clarified.
She's completely numb. He thought in dismay.
He did not want to touch her, but he simply could not leave her there as he ran off to find help. That did not even make the list of possible options.
He could care less if the three men were to wake up and run away for he knew their faces now and getting her help was much, much more important.
Slowly, he reached forward and asked permission to touch her with his eyes, which she consulted to. Carefully, he slid his arms under her body, turned her onto her back and held her on his lap. Supporting her shoulders and head with one arm, he placed the other on her left arm with fingertips lighter than wool. They both knew it was broken, and even at his touch she was unfazed.
Zen pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and gingerly cleaned the blood off of her face, stroking her hair gently. Her chest was heaving frantically and her breathing was shallow and hitched. Zen let the bloodied handkerchief fall to the ground as he then rested his hand on her stomach. First, he ran it up her right side to find that one of her ribs was cracked there.
Finally, one of the tears fell from his eyes.
Her breathing became more labored and he soon realized that she was crying as well.
"Shirayuki…" he whispered to her again. He wondered if she were crying from the pain she knew she would have felt or if she was glad to be alive. But her eyes told him that she was sobbing because she was happy that he was alive. That's all wrong, Shirayuki. He thought. You're too caring about others.
He then ran his palm up her left side and found two broken ribs there. He bowed his head and rested his forehead lightly against her chest. "Shirayuki…" he hugged her closer. "I'm sorry…I'm so…so sorry…I couldn't protect you."
He felt her shake her head, trying to indicate that he was not to blame, but he knew that he was.
At last, Zen lifted his head and looked down at the girl in his arms. She was still wheezing and her eyelids were beginning to close, her body trembling. "I'm going to have to carry you back." He told her and she gave him a look saying that she understood. "Brace yourself." He warned.
Slowly, he stood to his feet and lifted her along with him, but the movement somehow dissipated her numbness and she felt a horrible ache throbbing throughout her body. A small, pained noise escaped her lips and he apologized miserably to her.
He began walking as quickly as he could without hurting her, leaving his sword along with the three unconscious teens behind him in the woods.
He glanced down at the girl again, her face now twisted in pain all over again and her chest heaving even more desperately than before.
"Shirayuki, just breathe. Breathe." He repeated over and over to her.
But he was not even sure if she could hear him anymore.
She was still again, and Zen rushed onward.
Zen sat at Shirayuki's bedside.
The second he had been sighted by the guards at the Gate of Poets, he had immediately told them to call for a doctor and assistance. Kiki and Mitsuhide had been some of the first to arrive and had hardly believed what they had seen. After they had rushed Shirayuki to the doctor and left her in her care, Zen had quickly explained what had happened and ordered that the area they had come from be scoured for the assailants. Mitsuhide and Kiki had lead the patrol and about half an hour later, he had been informed that they had all been sustained and arrested and his sword was returned.
Then, the doctor, a tall woman with thin, black hair, had informed him of Shirayuki's condition. "She's broken three ribs as well as her left arm. One of her lungs was on the verge of collapse and her back and stomach are severely bruised." She had told him. "It will take a while for her to heal completely. But she should be fine after a few days of rest." He had nodded grimly. "But you know, Your Highness," she had went on. "If you hadn't been there, it could have been much…much worse." And with those words she had left him alone with her.
Shirayuki was now dressed in a long, thick nightgown with the blankets of her bed covering her body up to her shoulders. The setting sun was casting long shadows through the windows and Shirayuki's pale face was now alight with a pinkish color. He sat there by her side until the sun set, and he intended to stay the entire night, and the next day; however long it took until she woke up. Yet Zen was shocked when her beautiful, emerald eyes opened after only a little more than an hour.
"Ze…n." She rasped.
"Shirayuki!" he exclaimed. "Are you feeling any better? Do you need something?" he asked eagerly.
"Mm mm." She shook her head from side to side and laughed very lightly, like a tiny silver bell on the verge of breaking. "I don't need anything." As she continued to speak, her voice became steadier. "And I feel a lot better than before." She smiled weakly up at him and Zen dreaded the words he knew she was about to say. "Thank you, Zen." She whispered.
"No." he gritted his teeth. "Why are you thanking me?" he bowed his head in shame. "I couldn't protect you against those guys." His voice was filled with bitterness.
"Of course you did." She denied him. "If it weren't for you…things could have been a lot worse if you weren't with me." Her familiar words met his ears again.
"But if I hadn't brought you there, it never would have happened!" he clenched his hands into fists on his knees.
"But I would have gone out alone today anyway if you hadn't been able to meet me." She smiled up at him. "Stop beating yourself up. I'm really, really grateful. Thank you, Zen." She whispered again.
"But I-" he tried to go on.
"Shh…" he looked up at her when he felt her warm hand on his. Her left arm was secured in a sling but her right was still fully mobile, which they were both grateful of at this point.
He slid his hands out from under hers and placed them on top. He held her wrist in one hand and gently stroked her soft skin with the other. He rolled up the long sleeves of her soft nightgown to see faint blue marks on her forearms from when she had been restrained. She closed her eye for a moment and let his caressing calm her, then reopened her eyes.
"Thank you, Zen." She told him once more.
"Why do you keep saying that?"
"Because I mean it." She said firmly. "You saved my life today."
"And I promise, I'll never let you even get hurt next time. No. There won't even be a next time." He vowed, placing her hand back on her stomach and running his fingers through her silky, red hair.
"I know." She closed her eyes against his touch and pressed her cheek into his palm.
"Shirayuki." The way he said her name told her that he was about to say something important and she opened her eyes again and their gazes met. "From now on, to you, I'm not the second Prince of Clarines," he told her. "From now on, I'm your knight." He vowed solemnly.
She was speechless for a moment before she found her voice once again.
"T…Thank you." She gave him a tiny smile. "And…Zen?"
"What is it?" he leaned closer to her, as her voice seemed to be dying as she was overcome with enervation.
"Ah…when I get better…" a yawn interrupted her and Zen smiled in amusement, caressing her bangs. "Can we go back to that place?" She asked.
"Of course." He agreed. "We can go whenever you want. I'll always make time for you, my princess." He promised.
"And," she went on. "Now that those men have been taken care of, there will be fewer topics for your council to discuss…"
"Which means we can have more time together." He finished for her. She smiled and nodded. "Well then until that day comes, I'll be staying by your side no matter what."
"Thank you…" she breathed, her eyelids failing her. Zen leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Her eyes reopened as he pulled away. "Ah…Zen?" her voice was tiny and shy.
"What is it?"
"One…one more?" she murmured.
"Of course." He smiled, leaning forward and kissing her cheek again.
As he leaned down to do so, she kissed his cheek as well, and gently wrapped her right around his neck.
He longed so badly to embrace her, but he would wait until she was healed for that and he told her so.
"Okay." She breathed happily. "I'll wait impatiently for that day, my knight."
A/N: Kya, hope you liked it! I was thinking of cutting it into two chapters and ending the first one at the divider, but I decided not to leave it off on such a terrible cliffhanger :'3 And I didn't plan on writing an epilogue at first, but by the end I couldn't help myself X3 It will be up soon~
So please, pleeease review my friends!