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Backfire

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The swell of her chest, cradled by the rich satin cups. Winding, glossy hair which she ruffles between her fingers, pale pink lips and full cheeks. That's all Jungkook can decipher from his view by the window.  

"Kookie?"

"Earth to Kook?"

"Jeon Jungkook!" 

Jungkook bites his lip so hard it could draw blood as he's jostled, two pairs of youthful eyes staring at him in concern. 

His eyes are wide, like someone caught by their parents, as he grins sheepishly. It's not that far from the truth he supposes. 

"Yes angels?"  

Jeon Yuna rolls her eyes. "Why are you staring outside? What is so interesting?" 

Jungkook protests as she stalks over to where he's sitting and peers out the window. It wasn't intentional, he just was bored and gazed out the window whilst unpacking. And then suddenly, there was a beautiful girl shedding her top in her room and even though he perhaps should've looked away he didn't. He breathes a sigh of relief, the room is now empty. 

"What is so interesting?" Jeon Yeseul asks as she places the toy rabbit on the freshly made bed. 

"Our brother must have been staring into space as usual." Yuna remarks, eyeing him suspiciously as she observes the empty green space of the grounds below. 

"So," Jungkook clears his throat, "Are you excited for your first day Seulie?" 

"Who would be excited for the first day of school? And I have been here l since I was nine." The twelve year old retorts, wholly unimpressed.

He internally curses. "I meant Binnie." 

"Yubin is not here." 

He shoots up in his seat. "What?" 

His eyes scan the dormitory for his youngest sister, who just turned old enough to enrol, and who his father specifically instructed for him to look after on move in day. 

"Fudge." He curses, "Where did she go?" 

The other sisters shrug, Yuna occupied with a magazine and Yeseul continues unpacking the youngest's things. 

"This is her dormitory, why would she be-" Jungkook huffs, standing up, "You two continue unpacking, I will go find her." 

"That is what we have been doing all along! You are absolutely no help at all!" Yuna yells after him as he disappears past the heavy oak door. 

"We? You mean just me." Yeseul scoffs. 

"Shut it." 

Jeon Yubin, or just Binnie, wanders along the grand mahogany tiled corridors with the red carpet in awe, weaving through the porters shifting large trunks and older girls in prim skirts and fur coats reuniting with joyous squawks and hugs and kisses. The grand fire place infuses the air with smokey wood and warmth which travels straight into the young girl's heart. She could certainly feel at home here. 

"Wah," She exhales in delight at the sight of a server bearing an enormous cheeseboard wizzing past, craning over her shoulder to catch the last of it. "Umph." 

She lands on her bottom and looks up nervously as a much older student looms over her, arms crossed and face set in annoyance. 

"Pardon me." She squeaks. 

The elder scours her apathetically. "How irritating. Young girl, you should really-" 

"Are you alright?" 

Yubin is pulled to her feet by a much friendlier looking girl, who seems around the same age of the mean one. 

"Y-yes, s-sorry." The younger girl stammers, bottom lip wobbling with mortification and fear. 

"Oh, please do not cry, sweetheart. Accidents happen." The older girl pats her head. 

"Since when did you allow yourself to accept apologies on behalf of me, squalor?" The other snaps. 

"Since when was the head girl supposed to be rude and intimidating to young, new students?" The rounder faced one responds calmly, crouching down a little to Yubin's eye level. "Are you lost, dear? I can walk you back to your room." 

"I do not know my room. I just want m-my brother." Yubin sniffles helplessly. 

"Your brother?" 

Jungkook rounds the corner, panting a little as he scans the bustling foyer for any tiny kid that could be his youngest sister. He sighs in relief when he spots two long plaits and pink bows. 

"Jeon Yubin! I told you not to go walking off by yourself!" 

He doesn't pay heed to who's watching or listening as he stalks towards his sibling and swoops her into his hold. 

"Kookie." She pouts, burying her face into his shoulder. 

Only then does he look beyond her to the two figures in front. Jungkook gawks, blinking thrice to confirm that it was that girl, the one he spotted through the window a short while ago. Her initial amused expression at the sibling's display morphs to bewildered as the unfamiliar boy gawks at her. Then utterly horrified as his eyes wander to her chest and she draws an arm across her breasts protectively. 

"Jungkook?" The girl squeaks beside her. "This is your sister?" 

The boy's gaze snaps to the familiar girl. "Mina? What are you doing here?" 

Mina chuckles, her previous sour attitude transforms to charming in front of the boy. "I'm the head girl, remember? I have to be here to help the girls settle in." 

"Come to think of it, it was rather foolish of me to ask, I have to do the same tomorrow when all the new boys arrive." Jungkook laughs slightly. 

Mina giggles. The girl beside her gags and ponders an exit strategy, stepping back slightly. 

"My lady, I did not catch your name?" 

She stills, realising the pervert is talking to her. The girl considers for a moment whether she should even bother sharing that detail with this Jungkook fellow. He waits expectantly, nervously, under a gaze which makes him feel rather small and unpleasant. 

"Lee Aera."

Jungkook's eyes bulge as she bows. Surely he was mistaken...he's a little frazzled from the events of today and his sight was playing tricks on him. So, he bows, only for her to bow back again. He looks to Mina with confusion. 

"A ratbag." She mouths. 

"I see you do not adhere to customs, Miss Lee." Jungkook chuckles uneasily at her lack of curtseying.  

She notices his obvious disapproval. "And I suppose, you are used to traditionalists, Mister Jungkook." 

"Lord Jungkook." Mina coughs beside her. 

Aera rolls her eyes. "May I ask who your parents are?" 

It was another odd question, to enquire about both parents.

Jungkook rolls his shoulders back a little, keen to assert superiority. "My father is Lord Jeon of the Jeon Estate." 

Her lack of outward reaction irks him. All the while, she internally mulls over who he really is and what this encounter could cause for her. 

"Do you not find your mother worth mentioning?" 

Mina gasps, even Yubin's mouth drops as she curiously witnesses the exchange. 

Jungkook's jaw clenches. "Our late mother was Lady Jeon, the daughter of the Count of Dalia." 

"Goodness, you really are a Lord." Aera remarks dryly, unfazed by the revelation. "If you would excuse me, Lord Jungkook, Lady Mina, I have prefect duties to attend to."  

"About that," Jungkook makes her halt, "I thought I knew most of the final years, especially the prefects at the Ladies school. What is your role exactly, Miss Aera?" 

Mina scoffs. "Jungkook, her role is hardly-" 

"You are a prefect, I am assuming?" Aera cuts in.

"I am head boy." The statement delivered with more indigence than intended, "Do you...not frequent school life often?" 

"Head of the scholar's programme. Pleased to make your acquaintance." 

Jungkook doesn't know whether to react to the outstretch of her palm for a shake, or the monstrosity that is her role. 

He carelessly shakes her hand for a split second. "Scholar programme?" 

Mina suspires in disgust, scowling at Aera. "You heard correctly. Unfortunately, the Ladies Institution has also taken to accepting...the less fortunate through our gates. A huge pity, tarnishing the atmosphere of the school. But I suppose it does elevate public perception, we would not want more commoners to come here and protest about elitism." 

Jungkook laughs a little. "A shame, indeed. I thought the Ladies Institution would be safe considering the circumstances."

"What circumstances?" Aera's eyes narrow. 

"Well, even commoners have little care for what women are doing." Jungkook explains as if it's obvious. 

Aera should not be surprised at the usual chauvinistic attitude displayed by a man, especially the head boy of the Gentlemen Institution of all places. 

"Women should have as much right to education as men. It is an issue which all of society should be concerned with, from the commoner to the aristocrat." 

Jungkook tilts his head in confusion. "Well, you are here are you not? To receive an education suitable for women." 

Aera sighs slightly at his ignorance. "It would be bothersome to try and explain such a concept to a dull-witted imbecile like yourself, Lord Jungkook." 

She does not wait for a response, waving to little Yubin. "It was nice to meet you, my Lady." 

Jungkook stares after her departing form before lashing around to Mina. "What on earth is wrong with that woman?" 

"She is a squalor, Jungkook." 

"A squalor ?" He repeats with intrigue. 

Despite both The Institutions' disdain for such creatures, who were considered lowly and unworthy by paying students, Jungkook does not feel as much disdain for Lee Aera. Although, she was irritating, discourteous and seditious and he wondered how knowledge of her existence has slipped through his fingers. He knew everything about everyone from scholars- or squalors - to the marquesses. He is Lord Jeon Jungkook after all, son of the most important man in Retrorsum. 

 

Chapter Text

"So, Aera," The headmaster peers at her over his spectacles and clears his throat, "I just wanted to discuss your choice of classes for this term. I would kindly ask for you to reconsider some of your options." 

Her face hardens as she hears just what she expected. "Sir, all I did was choose subjects which are available in the brochure." 

"Yes," The man pauses, "You are quite correct, however, we appear to be lacking both staff, and student demand-" 

"So why offer them in the first place?" Aera protests. 

"W-well, it is the first time since our founding that a student opted for the business course." The headmaster trails off, rather wary of the young woman. A lot of people in the school are. 

"So you no longer have the adequate staff to run the business course?" She clarifies. 

"Correct. So, if you would be inclined to change to change to another course?" 

Aera exhales in annoyance, arching an eyebrow. "And what would those entail?" 

The headmaster flexes his fingers and finds the final year course brochure, conveniently placed at the centre of his desk as if it was a coincidence that Aera would be reconsidering her options, licking his thumb before flicking to the first page. 

"Embroidery and handicraft?" He looks up with feigned interest which Aera returns with disgust. The man's face drops back to page. 

"Home furnishing and decor?" 

Silence. 

"Servant management?" 

Aera glares. He hiccups. "My apologies, I forgot that you are probably more likely to be one than have them." 

He chuckles nervously. 

"How about French? That's more akin to your interests." 

"I was barred from that course." Aera recalls stiffly. 

The headmaster gapes in remembrance at the many complaints that the girl spoke better French than the actual teacher. 

"Literature? Actually, come to think of it, did Mister Brown forbid you from that course as well?" 

"I was simply concerned that all the books on the curriculum were poorly written, mushy romance books which portrayed women as useless, dependent creatures." 

The headmaster wails. "There you go again with that women this women that nonsense. Miss Lee, need I remind you that you study at the only educational institution for women in the country?" 

"You call home furnishing and decor a form of education?" Aera cries. 

"A woman's dwelling in the home, she must be educated in all forms of the domestic and the home is her pride." He argues. 

Aera groans at the rhetoric which almost every member of her society seems to hold. "And a man should be able to roam free in the outside world and pursue whatever he wants, travel wherever he wants, learn whatever he wants and read whatever he wants?" 

"Exactly. Because men earn money, or have the money in the first place." 

"Only because women are not allowed to inherit or work for wages! It is a perpetual cycle of oppression which they cannot break free from." 

"I told you not to use the O word on these fine green pastures of female upliftance and education." The teacher barks. 

"Upliftance is not a word." Aera jeers. 

"And you said women are not free to read." 

"I think we both know that anything I say about women does not usually pertain to me." 

"I'll say!" He exclaims, stabbing the page with his finger. "Here! Something that men do too, equestrianism and horse upkeep. How about this one?" He pleads. 

"No." Aera crosses her arms in resistance. 

The headmaster closes his eyes and inhales deeply, a sickly sweet smile overcoming his face. 

"Well, my dear, that leaves us with one option. A crucial course, with vital skills for life, and knowledge which all modern women must know." 

Her ears prick, body shuffles forward with interest. "Which one?" She enquires hopefully. 

"Marriage and motherhood." 

The man screams a little as he fist collides with the heavy wooden desk, standing with fury. 

"I refuse to do anything but the business course, it is well within my right to choose. And if you try and make me do anything else then I will go to the board of governors." 

And that is how Lee Aera found herself standing at the gates of the Gentlemen Institution with a written slip from her headmaster, which the gatekeeper scrutinises with disbelief and fetches a colleague to confirm with a telephone call. 

When she's finally let in, Aera hurries up the long winding drive, a little bitter that her school refused to provide a carriage. If she was someone like Lady Mina the headmaster would personally escort her in one of those newly invented motored car. 

She scoffed at the thought, cursing the chauvinistic man in her head so heavily that she failed to notice the gawks and bewildered chatter as she stomped towards over the lawn and towards the grand main building which is far more magnificent in size and appearance than the one at her school down the road. 

"Pigs." She mutters under her breath, walking straight past a staff member who opens his mouth to enquire about the nature of her visit and up the long white stone steps  to the giant front doors, finger aiming for the doorbell until a boy slips out the door. He stops in his tracks at the sight of her, face struck with confusion and Aera takes it as an opportunity to slip past into the building. 

She sighs in exhaustion, eyes darting around the enormous entrance hall for anything resembling the reception. 

"Lee Aera, transfer from the Ladies Institution." She informed the gobsmacked receptionist, perhaps the only other woman in this entire school, handing over the note.

She shouldn't even be surprised as the woman lunges for the telephone, skittishly twisting the dial and asking a few questions, eyes darting between Aera and the note. 

"I bet your superior is a man." The girl sighs quietly, lightly kicking her boot against the front desk. 

"Follow me." 

She hurries after the receptionist, ignoring the invasive looks, whispers and occasional heckles as they advance through the buildings. 

"Here." The woman knocks on the door and leaves with a simple nod and a sympathetic look. 

Aera wonders why she looks sorry for her and hopes she just misread the expression. 

"Enter!" A voice barks. 

She swings the door open slowly, as the teacher starts. "That must be the new addition to the class, just a mix up of-" 

His speech dies in his throat. 

Aera smiles awkwardly. "Hello, sir." 

"classes." The teacher finishes weakly. 

Her smile fades as everyone stares in shock, a pen clattering to the floor, utter silence. 

"My name is Lee Aera...I am from the Ladies Institution." 

"That is obvious." Someone calls from the back. 

Laughter shatters the silence, Aera glowers at the sight of Jeon Jungkook. 

He shakes his head, sinking slightly into the chair. It wasn't even him who said it! 

"I am Mister Ellis Kang. Please sit over there, you are late Miss."

"My apologies." Aera fakes, internally scowling as she's forced to be seated directly in front of Jeon Jungkook. 

"So we meet again." He remarks quietly but smugly from behind. 

"Indeed." She grits out, setting out a pen, bottle of ink and paper. 

Jungkook ignores his friends' inquisitive looks and tries to focus on the chalkboard. Except he can't, and stares at the back of Lee Aera's glossy hair and wonders why she's now his classmate, and how there could be a woman sitting amongst men at their educational institution.

"She has some nerve, coming here." Byunjae comments, glaring at the back of her head. 

Kijung jeers beside him in agreement. "This is not the place for a woman." 

Aera turns, unimpressed, and looks him up and down like he's vermin. 

"And who are you to make such a judgement, little boy?" She smiles. "You have not even seen how clever I am yet." 

"Little boy?" He repeats, gobsmacked by the insult to his smaller height. "Why you.." 

Aera's already faced the board again, Byunjae chokes down a snort and even Jungkook cannot smother his small smile. 

"Is there a problem gentlemen?" The teacher, young yet strict, enquires. 

"No, sir." Jungkook affirms. 

"As expected from our honourable head boy and his lackeys." Mister Kang utters sarcastically. "Would you care to tell me what eight hundred and eight two divided by fourteen multiplied by twelve is?" 

There's a slight pause. "Seven hundred and fifty six." Aera mutters, a good five seconds before Jungkook declares the answer. 

"Correct. Now Chae Byunjae, two to the power of thirteen minus fifty seven plus negative forty five?" 

Byunjae looks to his friends like a stricken deer, Jungkook shrugs with amusement. 

"Um, er-" 

"Eight thousand and ninety." Aera murmurs. 

He glances at the back of her head, then to Kang Ellis and all his classmates waiting expectantly as the numbers jumble in his head. Is he really going to trust a woman? On mathematical concerns? 

"Eight thousand and ninety." He breathes, defeated. 

"So you arrived there eventually." Mr Kang rolls his eyes, "And Ki Kijung? Lee Aera would you make a problem for him? Bare in mind you will need to know the correct answer." 

It's a test. The teacher is testing her mathematical abilities and how she'll fare in a classroom of men. 

Aera isn't scared of many things, and definitely not men. "Forty-one thousand eight hundred twelve multiplied by six minus thirty-one thousand two hundred eighteen divided by four multiplied by sixteen."

Kijung's eyes narrow as he barely processes the numbers, glancing around the classroom for help yet no one budges. 

"You really know the answer to that?" Jungkook doubts. 

"Of course. How about you, Kijung?" Aera smirks. 

The aforementioned boy stares at her, beseeching with his eyes for the answer. Yet unlike with Byunjae, she does not spill. 

"Er- um," He almost sweats under the expectant stares. 

Lee Aera leaves him to suffer a little more, before whispering. "One hundred and twenty-four thousand." 

Kjung repeats it without a pause, 

Mister Kang sounds an incorrect noise from his throat. "Wrong. So, Miss Lee what answer did you arrive at?" 

Jungkook smirks at the prospect of the cocky woman caught out. 

"One hundred and twenty-six thousand." She supplies. 

His face drops.

"That is correct." Mister Kang's eyebrow arches half impressed, half surprised as he nods in acknowledgement. "I was doubtful that you could survive even ten minutes in this class but clearly you are better than some of our male pupils." 

Kijung curses under his breath, fists clenched. 

"Ki Kijung, I suggest you brush up on your skills if you desire not to upstaged by a woman again." 

Aera scowls slightly at the implication, she ponders whether it was too early to get on the teacher's bad side.

"Cheer up, old fellow. One day there will be a machine to do this all for us." Jungkook claps Kijung on the back in an attempt at comfort. 

Byunjae chuckles. "And who will invent that?" 

Jungkook snorts at the mere idea. "I shall pay a much more clever and disciplined man to do it." 

"Sir, I would appreciate it if you would not use the fact that I am a woman to taunt other students. I think I just proved that arithmetic is not dependent on whether one wears a skirt or not." 

Deafening silence. Everyone waits with bated breath to see how their strict teacher will react. Kang Ellis' eyes darken a little, lips drawing flat as he focuses on the girl. 

"Miss Lee, this is my class and I will comment how I see fit. If you do not find the comments agreeable then you can always hurry back to the Ladies Institution." He drawls.

"I would just like you to treat me like every other student in the class, that is all sir." Aera furthers her point and the teacher's aggravation. 

"An equal you say?" Mister Kang smirks coldly, presenting his cane. "Then I suppose you would be alright with some lashings for misbehaviour?" 

Jungkook feels the air escape his throat at the prospect. Some others gasp, some leer at the thought. 

Aera blinks. The most admonishment she'd had at her school was a ruler slap on the wrist, and the male teachers would greatly refrain from physical means. 

"If...if that is what it takes then so be it." She affirms confidently although her heart pounds exponentially. 

Mr Kang's face transforms from smug  to conflicted and then resolves to determination. "As you wish, Miss Lee. Please come to the front." 

It is rather mortifying yet short journey towards the teacher's desk, she hesitates in front of him, eyes widening as the man roughly grips her shoulders and turns her around to face all the pupils. 

The boys range from astonished to amused, to her surprise Jungkook looks horrified. He shakes his head at her. 

Say you are sorry. Say no.

But Aera believes this momentary humiliation will be worth it in the long run. 

"Hm, where shall I choose today?" Mister Kang taunts, cane tapping her hand slightly. "Here?" 

"Or maybe here?" Aera stills as his cane trails up her leg, slightly exposing her stockings until he reaches her thigh and hits harder, making her jolt. 

"What about here?" 

Jungkook feels sick as Mister Kang's stick travels from the front of her thigh and around the back. He lurches out of his chair and stalks to the front, grabbing the cane and hurling it across the room. 

Mister Kang sighs, rolls his eyes at the anticlimax. "Alright. Let us end today's class." 

He flips his coat tails back with indignant flamboyance, glares at the pair stood at the front but cannot say much. It's Lord Jeon Jungkook after all. Then the man stalks out the room. 

Areum almost collapses in relief, although she'd never admit it.

"Why did you do that? I am not some damsel in distress." She snaps. 

Jungkook scoffs disbelievingly. "By God, you are something else. Not even a thank you for saving you from utter humiliation and a whole room of men witnessing you in such an unbecoming state?" 

"Who says it is unbecoming? If he does it to boys then-" 

"He does not hit us there! Only little boys get hit there." Jungkook exclaims. "He took advantage of your naivety. He - he was enjoying it." 

Aera pauses, chastising herself for assuming. It was difficult, she knew nothing about how the male classroom operated and she didn't want to be alienated, yet she never anticipated a teacher taking some sick twisted pleasure out of her lack of knowledge. 

"Then I apologise, Lord Jungkook. I did not know." 

Jungkook sighs frustratedly. "It is unsafe for you here. Please, God knows why you decided to come here but you should go back to learning at the Ladies school." 

Aera shakes her head. "I will learn and adapt. You need not be concerned, my Lord." 

Jungkook's adamance stalls, my Lord. 

"Say that again."

Aera frowns, confused. "Do not be concerned." 

"No, the other part." 

"I will learn and adapt." 

"No, no, the ending!" Jungkook groans. 

"Lord Jungkook?" 

"Gah!" He exhales, glowering at her. "Miss Lee, you are so..." 

"So?" She repeats obliviously. 

"I do not know how such a pretty face ended up in such unfortunate circumstances." He huffs, eyeing her form in disgust. 

"Excuse me?" Aera cries, "Same could be said for you: the most handsome men are always such vile creatures." 

Jungkook mulls over her words and grins. "So the lady finds me handsome?" 

"Is that what you obtained from my words? So you are not only vile, but dull witted too." Aera rolls her eyes, shoving past him to her desk.

"Dull witted?" Jungkook refutes, "I regret to inform you that I am quite intelligent." 

"Everyone has varying opinions of what degree of 'quite' can mean." She deadpans. 

Jungkook grabs his chest as if he had been stabbed. "Lee Aera, you wound me." 

"Shame it is only figuratively." She retorts, eyes on her notes from class. 

Jungkook exhales slowly, frowning to himself at the flaming excitement in his chest. Why is he so enthralled? Why would such a girl amuse him? Her principles and conduct should disgust him. She is a threat to society, to customs, to aristocracy. Lee Aera holds such dangerous, wanton views. She is not someone he should associate with in any capacity, it is disgraceful that he, Lord Jeon Jungkook of the county of Jeon, has to share the same air with such a woman. 

Yet he does not care.

Chapter Text

"Who are you?" Kijung demands as they wait for the next class to start. 

Aera glances at the furious boy looming over her and suppresses a laugh. "I told you, I am Lee Aera."

His eyes narrow, hand slamming on her desk.

"You know very well what I meant. What family do you come from?"

Jungkook waits curiously for the answer. He knew Lee Aera wasn't an aristocrat, but how exactly common could she be? Surely she'd at least be the daughter of a political advisor, or a fairly successful businessman.

"And what would that matter?" She enquires, tilting her head.

The question hangs limply in the air. Jungkook scoffs. Of course it mattered, both schools comprised of the elite, the affluent, the aristocratic. Outsiders are undesirable.

Kijung laughs disbelievingly. "You are truly common?"

"So what if I was? Then a commoner beat you at mental arithmetic." Aera smirks.

"Are you a squalor?" Byunjae interjects with fascination.

"She is." Jungkook supplies.

Aera rolls her eyes. "Commoner or not, scholar or not, woman or not, I earned my place here. So, gentlemen, if you would just accept the fact of the matter and be on your way it would make it easier for all parties involved."

Jungkook chuckles, whilst everyone else stares with astonishment at her statement. "This is not the place for a commoner and it definitely is not the place for a woman. I suggest you hop back to the Ladies school and learn something more suitable for your position."

"And what exactly is my position, Jungkook?"

There's a gasp somewhere as she forfeits the prominent man's title.

Jungkook's eyes narrow. "Perhaps with your education you could be a governess for some years, and then some poor soul's wife."

"Poor soul? I could say the same for your future wife." Aera retorts, barely affected by his words. "And I will not marry, so my position can hardly be a wife."

"You will not marry?" He splutters.

"No. Why? You think a woman must marry?"

"Of course! It is a woman's destined role to be a wife." He insists.

"Says who?" 

"Says..." Jungkook's brows furrow, "Says...says..." 

Aera smiles smugly. "Who said that a woman must be a wife?" 

Jungkook pauses and mulls over the question. Who did say a woman must get married? Was it a law? Did one of the ancient Kings of their land decree it? Did their Gods say as such? 

"It is just the fact of the matter." He maintains. 

"And who established such a fact." She probes. 

"Society." He determines. "Society says so." 

"And does society always stay the same? Can society not evolve? After all, if society did not change then your father would not rule Jeon County, a King would rule over the whole nation instead." 

There's outcries and insults flung around the classroom upon her declaration. Three students exchange confused, amused glances at the commotion sounding from the classroom as they round the corner on the way to their economics lesson. 

Park Jimin bursts through the door. "Chaps, chaps, what is all this hullaballoo a-" 

The others crash into his back. 

"What in the damnation are-" Kim Taehyung stops, staring at the girl in the centre of the room in bewilderment. 

Sam Samuel peeks over his shoulder, his jaw slackens. 

"Gentlemen!" Jungkook hoots sarcastically, "Come meet our new classmate." 

The three stumble over with caution as if Aera is a wild animal ready to attack. 

She stands from her chair and curtseys to the three. 

"Lee Aera, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She glares with warning at Park Jimin. 

Lee Aera?

"Lord Kim Taehyung. The pleasure is all mine." He grins, pressing a chaste kiss to her hand. 

Jungkook scowls. "That's Lord Park Jimin of Park County, and this is His Lordship Sam Samuel, son of the Earl of Meaden. And that idiot is of Kim County if you could not tell."

The trio are amused by the severed introductions. 

"So, Miss Lee, what is a fine lady like you doing in our classroom?" Taehyung enquires with extreme interest, the rest of the class listening in. 

"We are supposed to have a business course at the Ladies Institution-" 

"You go to the Ladies school?" Jimin blurts. 

"Yes." She glowers quickly at the boy before donning her smile again."Since I was sixteen." 

"Oh, so you joined rather late?" Sam Samuel comments. 

She nods. "Indeed." 

"Why was that?" Taehyung questions. 

"She is a squalor." Jungkook interjects. "And why did you curtsey to them but not to me?" 

"Because I did not like you from the moment I set eyes on you." Aera responds bluntly, eliciting a laugh from Samuel. 

Jimin frowns, dumfounded. "Scholar?" 

"Squalor." Jungkook corrects immaturely. 

Aera says nothing, as she always does when the matter of her title and status arises. 

There's a thundering clap from the teacher at the front of the classroom, effectively cutting off the squabble as everyone scatters to their seats. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The men wave a suspicious Lee Aera off as she proceeds down the drive at the end of the school day, signalling she had survived her first day at the Gentlemen Institution. 

As soon as her figure is small amongst the luscious grass and towering trees, they turn crashing towards the Headmaster's office with Jimin hobbling behind. 

"What on earth are you rushing for?" He complains. 

"This is a matter of urgency, Park!" Ki Kijung proclaims, fronting the group. 

"Indeed. We need to save our school!" Chae Byunjae cheers, stopping for a moment to grab Jimin and Sam Samuel and urge them forwards. 

Jungkook strolls after the group with a roll of his eyes and a chuckle. 

"Jungkook, you have to be the spokesman." Kijung orders as they wait outside the Headmaster's door and raps upon the thick mahogany. 

He barely awaits a response, barging into the enormous office, always swelteringly hot from the hearth of the fire place, his thick but friendly Labrador bounding over to slobber all over them. 

The headmaster looks up from his papers with disdain, only lessening so as Jimin, Taehyung and Jungkook follow the initial three boys. 

"To what do I owe this pleasure, young men?" He drawls sarcastically. 

For Jungkook as the claimed spokesman, the opening of their case is a disaster. 

"Why would you allow such a monstrosity-" Byunjae starts.

"A woman! A bloody woman!" Kijung laments. 

"Pardon me? Do not be so-" Jimin protests. 

"My father will hear about this-" Byunjae cuts in. 

Taehyung grins. "Good going uncle. What a breath of fresh air in such a boring-" 

"Is that what you care about in this situation?" Samuel laughs disbelievingly. 

Kijung huffs. "A disgrace to the school. A chip in our reputation-" 

Jungkook exhales, giving Taehyung's uncle a knowing look as everyone but him rants and raves about the predicament. 

When they finally come to their senses, gazing at Headmaster Kim's apathetic expression, they halt all speech. 

The man rolls his neck with annoyance, sliding his spectacles off and closing his bottle of ink as they watch in semi nervous silence, aside from Jungkook. Finally, he leans back in his handcrafted leather armchair and flexes his hands. 

"So, gentlemen, now that you are not squawking over each other, I trust that you have picked your best talker to elucidate your shared point?" 

Jungkook clears his throat as the others watch like hawks. 

"Well sir, we had quite a shock this morning in Mathematics when a pupil from the Ladies Institution suddenly arrived and declared herself to be the newest student of our classroom. She appears to be taking many classes which are not suitable for a woman, much less a Lady-" 

"She is not a lady of the society, she is a child of a modest home." The Headmaster reminds him. 

"Even so, sir, the Gentlemen Institution is no such place for a woman, noble or not. How on earth was this allowed?" Byunjae vexes. 

He jolts in his chair as the Headmaster's icy expression turns on him. "You dull witted boy! Do you think I opened my arms to such a terrible idea?" 

"Then, how did it happen sir?" Jungkook enquires curiously. 

Master Kim sighs, closing his eyes in dread from the memories. "Headmaster Kim from the Ladies School-" 

"That is one of my other uncles. A rather younger and useless one." Taehyung supplies. 

"Yes, thank you Taehyung. Unfortunately not all of us could inherit the land, could we? Some of us have to try our luck in schooling." The man scowls at the heir of Kim County.  

"But sir, this is the best, most respectable school in the country. Many covet your position." Jungkook attempts to butter up the stern man. 

"Indeed. Anyway, my brother tried his best to tame the shrew yet she insisted on taking this cursed business course, and of course, no lady in the thirty years of that institution's existence would ever make such a choice. Until this Lee Aera." 

"Why is it an option in the first place then?" Samuel asks. 

Master Kim gutturally groans. "Because one of our founding sponsors insisted upon it for the condition of their funding. We thought no one would ever...actually choose that dreaded course. We never even had staff in place at the Ladies Institution to teach such a thing." 

"So, she chose it and the only option was to learn it here?" Jungkook figures, brow furrowing in confusion. 

"Sir! You have the last say in everything which concerns this school. Why did you not say no?" Kijung whines. 

"I tried! By God, I tried. I rejected a good dozen times, then I put her through rigorous tests which I thought she would fail and when I tried to rig the results she saw right through me. Then I gave her harder tests and she passed them again." 

"But she is common. How were you defied by a common girl?" Jungkook puzzles. 

Jimin bristles in his chair. 

"She may be common but her benefactor certainly is not!" The headmaster scoffs, glancing at Jungkook. 

"Benefactor?" Jimin echoes in confusion. 

"Yes, obviously benefactors must be kept confidential per their request and regulations, so if you desire to know, ask the girl. You will not get a peep out of me." 

"You mean to say, we cannot rid ourselves of that woman because of some powerful backing? We will have a woman studying amongst us for the rest of the year?" Kijung clarifies. 

They all groan except Jimin and Samuel. 

"How am I supposed to concentrate with a beauty like that flitting around the school?" Taehyung sighs. 

"You say that about a common girl." Jungkook scoffs. 

"Yes, why did it have to be a common girl? If it was the likes of Lady Mina I would not be so fussed." Byunjae complains. 

"It is because she is common she dared to make such a move. Ladies would never frequent our classrooms, like we would never venture into theirs."

Jungkook shakes his head amused by the comment, before pausing, eyes widening. 

"Say, sir, if she is allowed to come here, then are we not allowed to go there?" 

"Squalor, go fetch me some more paper." 

Aera waited for some  pushover to fetch it for the arrogant, spoilt head girl. A throat clears behind her. 

"Almighty squalor one, go fetch my paper." 

Aera rolls her eyes at the familiar nickname. "Fetch it yourself." 

"Why you- Amelia be a dear and fetch it will you? My corset is awfully tight today." 

Amelia nods like an energised beagle. "Yes, of course Minnie." 

Aera pities the younger girl's naivety. She's a noble woman too, and yet here she exists as a lapdog. She always wondered why most of the student body, particularly other noblewomen, were so fixated on Lady Min Mina. Perhaps it was she was known as the oldest and most powerful, noble woman in the school, although others weren't far behind. And her immense beauty was scuppered by her awful arrogance, disdain for the scholars and reverence of views which were so backwards in Aera's opinion. 

She taps her thimble against the table and wonders what would be taking so long, rising out of her seat impatiently. 

"Where are you going squalor Lee?" Mina demands. 

"To see where Mrs Ryu is. She is abnormally late." 

"Who says you can do that?" Mina protests. "That is the job of the prefect." 

"I am a prefect." Aera counters, barely looking back as she turns the door knob. 

Mina hurries out of her seat, no qualms about her corset now, hurrying after her, Parisian stilettos clacking against the wooden floors as the staff go to great lengths to bow and curtsey to her. 

Aera marches into the reception, then her eyes furrow at the sight of half a dozen horse drawn carriages parked outside. 

"Do we have visitors this morning?" She asks the woman at the desk. 

"I guess so, Miss." Dara looks ready to faint, "Although I have heard no news of such." 

"What is happening?" Mina exclaims behind them, panting slightly. "I was not informed of this." 

"I do not know, my Lady." Dara exasperates weakly. 

"Aerie, are you staying here long?" 

Aera twists around in surprise to find Jeon Yubin, a first year she'd grown very fond of, behind Dara's desk. 

"What are you doing here Binnie? Do you not have class this morning?" 

Yubin hops off the chair beside Dara and ducks under the latch, running to hug her leg. 

"Miss Baxley sent me out of piano class." 

"Why? The lesson must have hardly began." Aera grins in amusement at the girl and ruffles her hair, influx of carriages forgotten. 

The nine year old pouts. "She said I was hopeless at concentrating. But it is so boring and I cannot read the notes." 

"No need to fret, little one. I was just as bad at piano at your age and now I can play all sorts of useless songs. You know why they insist for you to play?" 

"Why?" 

"So you can attract a suitor." Aera drawls. 

Yubin gasps. "A suitor?" 

"Yes but you need not be good at piano unless you actually enjoy playing it." 

"Why?" 

"You are a Jeon, there will be men lining up and down the country trying to marry you regardless." 

Yubin giggles. "Then I shall not play, it makes my head hurt." 

"Squalor! Do not dare to encourage other students to be as impish and unladylike as you." Mina warns. 

Yubin scowls at her words and indignantly raises her voice. "Do not talk to Aerie like that, you mean witch." 

"Jeon Yubin?" 

Jungkook frowns as he stands in the foyer, shedding his top hat and jacket along with the group of ten something men behind him. Aera looks to Dara in confusion, who returns her expression, albeit blanched whilst fumbling for the telephone. 

"Kookie!" His sister dislodges from Aera's leg to sprint over and attach to his. 

"What is the meaning of this?" Mina demands, horrified. 

"Mina," Jungkook nods in acknowledgement, unfolding a piece of parchment, "We are here for nine o'clock embroidery class." 

Aera checks her watch. "You are a half hour late." 

His face falls at her lack of irritation. If anything, Mina is the annoyed one. 

"What embroidery? Are you here to make a mockery of our school Gentlemen? Have some fun with the Ladies? Because I assure you, your presence is welcome here but not in our classes." Mina raves. 

"Oh lighten up our dear head girl, they just came to learn some sewing. How harmless." Aera muses, approaching Jungkook. 

“Did you miss me so much you could not wait a few days, my Lord?” She teases. 

“I thought, we should follow in the spirits of you, Miss Lee and partake in some female education.” Jungkook attempts to be serious. 

Rather than look appalled as he hoped, Aera breaks into a grin.

“I know you are being disingenuous Lord Jungkook but I cannot help but feel warm at such a sentiment.”

She’s mocking him. Before Jungkook can consider a retort, a sullen middle aged woman and who he assumes is Taehyung’s ‘useless’ uncle, the headmaster of the school, hurry across the foyer, the latter very stressed.

“Gentlemen!”

“Uncle, it is so good to see you!” Taehyung exclaims.

“Sir, what is the meaning of all this?” Mina cries indignantly as everyone else had paid no heed to her concern.

“Ah, I see the head girl was here to welcome you, chaps,” The younger Master Kim laughs uneasily, “My brother informed me just this morning about your visit and I was just briefing Mrs Ryu about it, sorry we took so long. I hope you were not waiting too much.”

He scans the large group, eyes shine with something Aera can’t distinguish as they land on her.

“Ah, well you are all acquainted with Miss Aera, I am sure she will help you settle into our classroom life.”

“Well acquainted?” Mina puzzles over how the aristocrats would be familiar with the common girl, “Classroom life?”

“Gentlemen,” Aera catches on, “I suppose you will be here for our classes until the afternoon?”

“Indeed.” Jungkook affirms.

“Well follow me, embroidery class is just this way.”

She marches forward, all the boys glancing to Jungkook uncertainly. He nods after her figure and they scramble after. Detaching Yubin from his leg, Jungkook sighs and muzzles her hair.

“Goodbye, my dear sister. Perhaps I will see you soon?”

“Maybe. Bye Kookie!” She waves as he sets off after the group.

The head girl, head master and the embroidery teacher stare in bewilderment as Aera leads the pack away.

“What disaster has that wretched girl started?” The man mutters.

 

Chapter Text

"Cousin Taehyung?" Kim Amelia flounders, doing a double take at the influx of men following Lee Aera. 

"Amelia? How is my favourite cousin?" 

"I am quite...alright. May I ask what you gentlemen are doing in embroidery class? Oh Lord Jimin, Lord Jungkook, good morrow." Amelia rushes to curtsey, their classmate's checking out Taehyung's beautiful cousin with expressions which make Aera feel queasy. 

"They are here to learn how to embroider. And some other classes which they do not offer at the Gentlemen Institution." Aera supplies, grimacing as Jungkook follows her across the room and directly to her work table. 

"May I help you?" She hisses as he sits in the chair she previously occupied. 

He crosses his arms with smugness. "I am exactly where I intended but thank you for the concern." 

Aera scowls. "That is my seat." 

Jungkook sighs, faking weariness. "I am a Lord, I cannot stand for too long. Besides, I am higher than you, I have to-" 

What he was not expecting was to be shoved off the chair, throwing his head up in surprise as she smiles innocently. "Fetch your own chair." 

His mouth flies open in shock, the others also watching the event with astonishment. 

"Did you just push a Lord to the floor? You common scum, how dare you!" Mina cries out, storming over to help him up. 

"Lord, peasant, King, commoner - all get treated the same when they take what is mine." Aera drawls as she cuts a piece of fabric off a roll, bearing the sharp scissors with more passion than needed. 

Mina gulps before maintaining her indignant resolve. "Apologise. Now." 

"One should not apologise for things they are not truly sorry for." Aera retorts nonchalantly, not even sparing the head girl a glance as she traces petal shapes on the patch. 

Mina seethes as the scholar undermines her authority, which she always does, only this time was it showing her up in front of a dozen gentlemen. 

"My lady," Jungkook soothes, placing a hand on her shoulder gently. "Do not fret. I am used to Aera's brutish manner." 

"What do you mean? You know her?" Mina demands with horror. 

"Yes, we all do. Our group consists of students who share Mathematics, Economics, Politics and business administration with Miss Lee." 

The ladies gasp. 

"W-w-WHAT!" Lady Mina exclaims, rather unladylike by society's standards, head lashing to the girl in question. 

"Gentlemen, would you sit down? You cannot learn to embroider by standing like statues by the door." Aera ignores the commotion as the female students demand answers and protest as they are paired off with a male counterpart at their desks. 

"Mrs Ryu, may we start the lesson please? We have barely twenty minutes left." Aera dryly requests from the useless teacher who has merely stood in stunned silence watching this entire debacle occur. 

"Y-yes, good idea." The teacher agrees, severing Mina's enquiry.

The so called gentlemen ruined the last twenty minutes of the usual peaceful atmosphere of the embroidery class. 

"Jungkook have you learnt how to running stitch yet?" Taehyung hollers across the room, startling his cousin. 

"Yes, I have moved onto baste stitching." He yells back, elbowing Aera in acknowledgement. Once the porter had fetched a dozen more chairs, he had immediately saddled up to her, much to her and Min Mina's displeasure. 

Aera curses as the needle slips and almost pricks her. "Watch yourself, incompetent fool. And you hardly made it past running stitch, look at the terrible inconsistencies." 

Jungkook snorts. "Like yours is much better." 

"I'll say!" Kijung exclaims from the desk behind him, disgruntling more pupils, "A man is out-sewing you, squalor."

The boys wait expectantly for Aera to become annoyed at the suggestion yet she does not. "Like how I outdo you in Maths, Marquess Kijung?"  

He immediately shuts his mouth, scowls as he pierces his fabric. Jungkook smothers a chuckle in his throat, Byunjae is less tactful and guffaws at the memory. 

"If I am so bad at sewing, why do you not teach me better?" Jungkook pouts. 

Aera sighs. "You use this stitch to tact things together before you run them through the machine." 

"Ah, the machine." His eyes shine with interest. "Will I-" 

"No. You barely started sewing ten minutes ago." She kills his excitement. 

"Alright, alright. No machine." He grumbles. "You were saying?" 

"You choose a colour which contrasts from the fabric so you can see when to take it out. We shall do an even stitch, it is just like running but much wider and looser and then tie a loose knot at the end." She explains, huffing as Jungkook begins to freestyle and completely ignores her. 

"Like this?" 

"No, that is just running stitch all over again. Hand it here." 

"No." 

"Jungkook, hand it here." She demands. 

"The Lord will not hand it over." He teases, eyes flickering to hers with mirth. 

She rolls her eyes and attempts to take it off him. "Give it." 

"No!"

He gasps as a sharp, sudden jab digs into his finger and stops all movement. 

Aera tuts at his stricken face. "That is why you should not play around with sharp things, Lord." 

Jungkook watches with his lip protruded as contrary to her harsh words, she gently grabs his hand and inspects the tiny wound, grabbing a handkerchief and dabbing it slightly before blowing lightly. His eyes soften yet he breaks out of her gentle touch. 

"Did I give permission for you to touch me?' He snaps, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. "Do not forget your place." 

Jimin winces at his friend's harsh words spark a fiery glare upon the girl.

"You came here to try and remind me of it I suppose?" She spits, throwing the handkerchief in his lap. 

Jungkook feels odd as she looks at him with immense dislike. 

Forget trying to be nice to him, he is truly a lost cause, Aera scolds herself for showing kindness to their staunch head boy. 

As the bell chimes, signalling the end of class and the porters burst in to clear away the embroidery equipment, Aera helps as usual whilst her classmates stay seated. 

"A squalor's duty." Mina tells Jungkook, as she's sauntered over from her chair. He tries to smile in agreement, unable to take his eyes off Aera. He's never envied a servant before, but the way she smiles at them, chats animatedly makes him wish that she could stop looking at him with annoyance, disgust, sometimes hatred. He wishes, feels his chest tighten as she wanders to Kim Amelia's desk and exchanges some words, the latter nodding and hurrying in his direction. 

"Hello, again Lord Jungkook. How have you been?" She smiles. 

"Amelia, how nice to see you." Jungkook exchanges pleasantries, keeping a watchful eye on the pair in the corner. 

He could have sworn he heard Lee Aera laugh. His fists flench, and he stiffens in his seat. 

Taehyung wasn't supposed to make her laugh, they were supposed to be making her existence miserable. It's not fair if only he was being the bad guy. 

"Hello class I-" 

The booming voice which silenced everyone's chatter halts. Everyone stares at the handsome man at the front, he stares back with astonishment, gaping like a fish out of water as his eyes flit over familiar individuals. 

"Seokjin?" Taehyung bellows, "Look Amelia, my dear brother is here." 

"What are you doing here, Seokjin?" Amelia gasps from her desk. 

"Wh-what are you doing here? Taehyung? Jimin? Jungkook? Kijung? Byunjae-" He lists in bewilderment, stilling at the sight of a familiar girl, voice dies in his throat. He pales. 

Aera wills him not to say anything as his bulged eyes don't shift from her direction. 

"Squalor!" Jimin suddenly exclaims, "I ran out of paper, help me fetch some." 

Aera, much to everyone's shock, leaps out of her seat with newfound pliancy and follows after him. 

Jimin stops briefly and whispers, "Do not say anything and follow outside in a bit." 

Seokjin swallows, waiting for the door to close before he feigns surprise. "Ah, class I forgot the textbooks, my apologies. Hold on for a bit." 

Jungkook gages the event with suspicion and annoyance. 

Why would Lee Aera be so obedient with Jimin and only Jimin? 

Meanwhile, in the corridor.... 

"Are you crazy?" Aera hisses, yanking Seokjin up by the collar as he throws himself into a bow.

Her head lashes around the building to check it was just the three of them. 

"Your H-" 

"Not here, Seokjin." Jimin cuts in. 

"W-why? What is going on?" The elder perplexes. 

Aera crosses her arms. "I could the same for you. What are you doing in the Ladies Institution?" 

"Me? What about you? Why on earth is he calling you a squalor?" The eldest stresses.

She rolls her eyes. "Miss Lee. Here I am just Miss Lee, the scholar." 

Jimin undercuts Seokjin's appalled state. "So, you have just been here as a scholar for the last two years? And no one recognises you? The headmaster does not even know?" 

"Correct." 

Jimin exhales for a long time. "And your benefactor? Not your father I am assuming." 

"Correct." 

Seokjin blinks. "You mean to tell me, Your-" Aera glares, "M-miss Lee, that no one here knows who you truly are? Except Jimin and I?" 

"Yes, and if either of you tell anyone I will order for you to be taken to Dalia and executed. Understand?" She states nonchalantly, smiling as the two boys gulp and adamantly nod their heads. 

"I-I am sorry for calling you a squalor, your- Miss Lee. It was all I could think of before he opened his big mouth-" 

"Hey!" Seokjin exclaims. 

Aera chuckles. "Come on, the class will get suspicious." 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jungkook stares Jimin down as he arrives back with Aera, bearing all the parchment.  

"Why did he bring her if he was just going to carry it himself?" He grumbles. 

"I have never seen Lee Aera take orders as a scholar, perhaps she is quite taken with him?" Amelia giggles at the thought. 

Jungkook scowls. "Perhaps." 

His expression deepens when Jimin has a polite word with his desk partner, who eagerly hurries to Taehyung's side and Aera replaces her. 

Seokjin bursts through the door with a pile of dusty old hardbacks. "Apologies for the delay, the storeroom is an utter mess." 

"You ought not to run errands like that Sir, it is either the porters or the squalor's job." Mina makes a point of glaring at the back of Aera's head. 

"I will only run errands for Lord Jimin, if I am feeling nice." Aera retorts. 

"Why him?" Jungkook blurts. 

Aera glances nonchalantly over her shoulder. "Because he is the most handsome." 

It sounds sarcastic, but Jungkook is always too hot headed to pick up on these things. 

"No he is not. There are more handsome men here!" Jungkook argues. 

Aera purses her lips and nods. "Lord Taehyung is a close second. Nevertheless, my opinion still stands." 

"Ugh!" Jungkook groans, throwing his head to the front. 

Seokjin sighs at the glower etched on the young man's face. "May I begin? Or shall we just debate about who the most handsome man in the class is all day?" 

"It is you, sir." One of the girls confess. 

There's laughter, Seokjin smiles. "Well at least someone here has common sense. Now, let us continue your studies of the History of Retrorsum." He flips to the page to the lesson plan the school provided him with. "Ah, today we are discussing the history of the peerage of our great country." 

"If it it so great then why did you choose to study in Dalia instead?" Jungkook scoffs as he dwells in a petty, sour mood. 

Seokjin rolls his eyes. "To escape brats like you...and my best friend is the prince of the country so the prospect sounded pretty good to me." 

"How is the Prince?" Taehyung grills his brother. 

 Seokjin ignores the question to rant. "I would appreciate if you would all call me sir despite the fact that my own brother, and male friends are pupils at this female school now too apparently. A rather mind boggling fact which the staff did not tell me nor have any of you explained yet."

"It is all Lee Aera's fault!" Mina exclaims, "You wretched, common-" 

"No need for such unpleasant words, Lady Mina!" Seokjin panics as his eyes dart to Aera, "Miss Lee, would you like to explain?" 

She shrugs. "Ask Jeon." 

"Jeon?"  The aforementioned boy outcries, "Why you little-" 

"Class!" Seokjin claps his hands and chuckles nervously, "Anyone who feels less passionately about the situation, please care to explain?" 

"We just wanted to see what happened in a lady's class, sir. That is all." Sam Samuel, a rather quiet participant offers. 

"Well you have seen, so please stop violating customs and return to your institution. This entire situation is unbecoming, obscene and a mockery to our peerage and tradition." Mina complains, the ladies murmuring in agreement. 

Jungkook crosses his arms and leans back in his chair, throwing a smirk across the room. "We will stop when Lee Aera stops frequenting the Gentlemen Institution." 

"Well then, the ladies shall have to deal with your irritating face and uglier presence in their classrooms until I qualify in the business course in yours." Aera determines, smirking back. 

The clamour of protests and complains break out in the classroom, the brand new teaching assistant stands wearily at the front, glancing at a nonchalant Aera and then gazing at Jimin, who looks equally defeated as him. 

"So, let us talk about the seven main aristocratic families of Retrorsum and their territories!" He bellows, thwacking a large map on the chalkboard. The class goes silent, he exhales and points his teaching stick to an area. "Who can tell me what this area is called?" 

"Kim County!" Taehyung bellows, "That is us, dear brother and cousin. Our vicinity!" 

Aera winces as he shouts in her ear, continuing his rambling. "Our grandmother birthed seven sons and our father is the eldest, so is now the Duke of Kim." 

"And one of your uncles is the headmaster of this school, and the other is the headmaster of the other Institution?" Aera asks. 

"Yes. Those are the fourth and sixth sons, obviously by then the options were running out a bit." Taehyung giggles. 

"My father is the third son! That is why I am a Lady of Tertium of Kim County." 

"But the Duke technically owns the whole county right? In all of them, they are the overarching owners of all the places, towns and land in their counties?" Aera enquires. 

Jungkook rolls his eyes and feigns a yawn. "Is this just a lesson for commoners? Anyone with some pure blood knows this stuff." 

Her eyes narrow. "If my questions are boring you, mister I know all there is to know, then just be quiet and go to sleep. No one even asked for you to be here." 

"Now, now, Miss Lee." Seokjin winces. "Taehyung would you like to answer her previous question?" 

The boy nods eagerly. "So when I inherit the land-" 

"But I thought he is the elder son?" She puzzles. 

"I want Vante." Seokjin interjects. "I will inherit that along with Islandia." 

Aera's eyes finally shine in recognition. "I see." 

"Do you even know what Vante is? Or Islandia?" Jungkook jeers. 

"Yes, I do. Many centuries ago, Lord Kim Leon fought his older brother the Duke of Kim, Lord Daniel for the right to the Kim County and managed to take the land where Vante stands now. He made himself King of the land and called it Dalia and went onto went on to conquer the now defunct country of Lelia and expand the country. Years later he gave back Vante to the Duke of Kim as a peace offering, under the condition that it remains a part of Dalia as well. So now Islandia is the official border between the two countries and Vante is a historically shared land between Retrorsum and Dalia which makes them cordial." She wipes the smug look off his face. 

"You must really love Dalia, to give up the whole of Kim County for it, sir." Byunjae comments. 

"Of course my loyalty will always be with Kim County and Retrorsum as a whole. It just makes more sense for me to have such ties with Dalia than Taehyung because of Prince Namjoon." He explains. 

"I suppose you do not know much about Dalia, squalor?" Mina taunts, "Sir, would you please explain to our non peerage classmate?" 

Aera swallows her laugh. 

"That will not be necessary." Jimin states dryly, trying to smother his outrage as everyone unwittingly continues to disrespect the highest person in the room. 

Jungkook's brow furrows, he shoots Jimin an accusatory look, which is ignored. 

"If we are not going in a particular order, obviously the Park family is part of the seven. My father is the Duke of Park, I am the heir as the oldest son." 

"What is Jihyun getting then?" Kijung nosily enquires. 

"Well obviously he will get a large bit of Park land, I will just be the overarching ruler as a Duke, a concept of power which we have already established. Stupid." 

"What are you getting Kijung?" Aera teases. 

"As the son of the Earl of Miranda, I will inherit it." 

"What is Miranda? A town?" She whispers to Jimin. 

"Yes, a large town and village in the Min province." He whispers back. "It is famous for spices. Anyone who is from this country would know it." 

Aera nods, deciding that she shouldn't ask too many questions in case they realised she is technically a foreigner.

"That is part of Min Province, where my family are from." Mina makes a point to look at Aera. "My brother Yoongi shall inherit the overarching land."

"As will my cousin, Lord Hoseok with Jung County." Jung Haewon pipes from the back. 

"The town of Meaden, of which my father is Earl, is in Jung County." Sam Samuel smiles at Aera. 

She nods in acknowledgement. "I have been." 

"You must live near there?" Taehyung enquires nosily. 

"Yes." Aera lies for simplicity. "It is near." 

"And who can tell me which this place is?" The young teacher points to the largest area on the map. 

"Mine." Jungkook declares. "And what would that be Miss Lee?"

Aera almost gags, rolling her eyes at his smugness. "Jeon County."

"And what do you know about-" 

"Jungkook, need I remind you that I am the teacher here? Do be quiet. I have a headache forming." Seokjin snaps, ruler clacking against the last area. "This is Lee County. It is the most unique out of the seven provinces due to its averagely sized yet prolific land. Historically, the Lees have been great at business with great assets and now they are even royalty in Dalia."

“It is a great shame you ended up as a common Lee rather than a noble one, squalor.” Jungkook chides. 

Jimin chokes, Seokjin groans. "Jeon Jungkook, comments like that are vastly inappropriate!"

"You are not one for lecturing on appropriateness, brother." Taehyung winks. 

Seokjin's eyes narrow. "Do not be comfortable because you are my brother. I am not afraid to use this blasted stick!" 

"Are you familiar with Lee County, squalor?" Byunjae asks, "I suppose that is where your ancestors must have come from." 

Aera rolls her eyes. "Yes. I know of it." 

Jimin suppresses a snort. 

"The Duke of Lee County, Lord Lee Benjamin is married to Princess Helena of Dalia, who gave birth to a son, Prince Namjoon and a daughter, Princess Aurelia." 

Jungkook stiffens at the aforementioned name, Taehyung sending him a knowing grin.

"I heard that our Lord Jungkookie here is set to inherit Lee County as well as his own province. Then he will truly be the most powerful man in Retrorsum, even Kim County will seem like a village in comparison." 

Jungkook glowers at his friend. "Taehyung, shut it." 

Mina frowns, mulling over his words. "But...how would that be possible...unless?" She gasps with horror. "Are you betrothed to the Princess?" 

The room silences with smothering tension as Jungkook's jaw ticks. Luckily, the dreamy, oblivious Kim Amelia shatters their bated expectation. 

"Sir, you spent many years in Dalia so you must have seen the princess in person. I heard she is very pretty."

Seokjin swallows. "Well...yes. I saw her Highness in person." 

Mina raises an eyebrow. "So she is not pretty?" 

"I did not say that!" 

"But it was implied by your lack of answer." Haewon interjects. 

"It is not my place to make judgements on a Princess!" Seokjin cries. 

"That will be Jungkook's task, along with managing two counties at once." Kijung snickers. 

"I am not betrothed to anyone." Jungkook insists. "I am a free man." 

"Besides, Lee County can only be under a Lee." Aera comments as she inspects her nails with boredom, ignoring Jimin's pointed glare. 

There's a gasp, the class quietening again. 

Jungkook's gaze narrows. "And who are you to make that judgement?" 

Aera lifts her head high. "I am a Lee." 

There's a pause before the room bursts with laughter, Byunjae and Kijung slapping their knees as if she'd told the joke of a year and the ladies hiding  gleeful giggles behind their dainty hands. 

Jimin pretends to laugh along whilst internally horrified, Seokjin pinches the skin between his eyebrows in an attempt to calm his soaring panic. 

"I would not expect you to know this squalor, but because the King and Queen of Dalia did not have a son, the next in line of the throne is now their daughter's son Prince Namjoon. By law, His Highness cannot be the ruler of Dalia and a ruler of Retrorsum at once. Thus, whoever marries Princess Aurelia shall become the ruler of Lee County." 

Aera scowls. "No. Princess Aurelia will be the ruler of Lee County." 

"Her Highness is a woman!" Kijung protests. "That is not possible!" 

"It is quite possible." Aera argues. "There is no law in Retrorsum which prohibits women from inheriting land." 

"Inheriting and ruling are rather different." Jungkook remarks dryly. "Women can inherit land from their late husbands and then it is passed to the eldest son upon her death or given back to the estate. A woman cannot rule and she cannot possess land in her own right." 

"The laws can be contested and the phrasing of the ancient law of Retrorsum has been interpreted to suit male needs and desires. Need I remind you of the great Debora of Torium, who ruled the ancient tribe of Min?" 

"That was centuries ago!" Jungkook counters. "We have seen sense since then." 

"If people saw sense then an arrogant fool like you would not become the most powerful man in the country." 

Jimin grabs her shoulder with vigorous shock, Taehyung's jaw slackens. Seokjin's knees sink until his bottom hits the desk. 

 Jungkook opens his mouth to breath fire. 

The bell rings. 

 

Chapter Text

"Have you bloody lost it?" 

Aera raises an eyebrow. "Excuse me?" 

Jimin gulps. "I mean, do you not think you are being a little too bold?" 

Aera sighs. "Jimin, that class consists of the most dim witted, slow paced, ignorant creatures you could find at both schools. I would not worry your pretty head and focus on not seeming like you are taking a liking to me." 

"A liking to you?" Jimin ridicules. "I am simply defending you-" Aera glares, "You, Miss Lee, from offensive comments." 

"Thank you for the concern, although it is not needed. I can defend myself, Jimin. And it is odd behaviour for a Lord to defend a scholar anyway." 

"You are not just a scholar." He grumbles to himself. 

Aera kisses her teeth and fondly pats his shoulder. "I am not in your next class. Hurry along before that awful boy becomes suspicious."

"You should be careful with Jungkook." Jimin warns, suddenly very grave. " Are you sure about this business course? He can be very nasty when he wants to be." 

She grins. "So can I." 

Jimin sighs and shakes his head. "I warned you. Do not say otherwise when everything implodes." 

"Oh, stop being so negative. Everything will be fine." Aera waves him off down the hallway. 

She checks her watch and grins. Free time. 

"Lee Aera!" 

Or not. 

Seokjin chuckles at the girl's displeased expression. 

"You did not want to see me?" 

"What are you doing here?" Aera enquires suspiciously. 

"Here to talk. Is that not allowed?" 

"You know very well what I mean, Kim Seokjin. Now follow me." 

Seokjin grimaces, following the stern woman through the door onto the glass veranda, he knows better than to offer his arm to walk or make a fuss about holding the door open. Upholding societal customs is not worth having his ear lectured off. 

"What happened?" 

Seokjin chuckles uneasily. "Why do you think something happened, my Lady?" 

"Prince Namjoon wrote to me." 

He falls for the bait, crying out. "Why that blabbering-" 

"So something did happen." Aera muses. "I knew it would be odd for a Lord, let alone the first son of the Duke of Kim to be a mere teaching assistant at our school. Did the King banish you for good?" 

Seokjin groans. "Well...you see... what transpired is...Gah! I do not think it is appropriate to discuss." 

Aera rolls her eyes. "Why? Is it indecent?" 

Of course it would be. The subject of the matter is Kim Seokjin. 

He scowls, kicking at the luscious grass. "I had to flee. You er- do you remember Lady Farida?" 

Aera closes her eyes with dread. "Oh God. Seokjin, surely you did not?" 

"Ouch!" He flinches as she thumps him in the shoulder. "I- I did. Alright?" 

"Namjoon spends his life saving you from trouble yet even he cannot excuse his friend acquainting himself with most of the female court. She is married, Seokjin! To a royal advisor of all things." 

"I know. I know." Seokjin breathes. "His father told my father and now I am stuck here until goodness knows when, whilst my uncles laugh at my misfortune and I have to teach brats like Jeon Jungkook." 

"Why did they put you in the Ladies Institution after knowing about your depraved ways?" Aera scoffs. "You must not misbehave here. You are not just a foreign aristocrat and the Prince's best friend anymore." 

 "I could say the same for you, Miss Lee." Seokjin grumbles.

Aera glowers. "Keep my secret safe or I will tell your brother why you winded up here." 

Seokjin snorts. "Oh please, he will not care. If my playground was Dalia's royal court, then Taehyung's will be here." 

"How fantastic." Aera drawls. "I will remember to stay well away from him." 

Seokjin laughs. "He is really quite harmless. It is Lord Jungkook who you should be concerned with." 

Aera tilts her head with intrigue. "How curious. Jimin said the same." 

The older boy turns solemn. "Do not agitate him too much. I have heard some alarming tales." 

She gasps. "Like what?" 

"Nothing suitable for a Lady's ears." 

 "I am not a Lady." She scowls. 

"I can assure your secret inside the classroom, but I will not treat you as such outside. Do not forget who you really are." Seokjin scolds. 

She huffs with annoyance and disappointment. "You are simply no fun." 

-

"Aerie!" 

"Darling Binnie?" Aera beams. "Are you finished for the day?" 

"Yes." The girl extends her arms. "And you?" 

"Indeed." She picks up the young girl and tries to iron out the wisps of her hair with her fingers. "Do you wish to head back to your chamber?" 

Yubin shakes her head. "I would like to stay here." 

"In the entrance hall?" Aera laughs. "Why, my child?" 

"Because I am expecting- Jungkookie!" 

Yubin wiggles out of her grip and across the large expanse, small feet clacking against the polished, wooden floors and into her brother's arms. Jungkook smiles and strokes the back of her head. Aera watches the scene with interest, observing how he seems so uncharacteristically gentle. Or perhaps he prefers to only show her his hostile side to her, something which is apparent when he accusingly glares at her behind his sister's back. Taking Yubin's hand in his, he marches over. 

"Who said you could touch my sister? She is a Lady, a Lady of Jeon." 

Aera blinks. "She is also someone I am very fond of. And she is fond of me." 

Jungkook scowls further. "Yubin, do you know who this is?" 

Yubin nods eagerly. "Aerie! She is like my older sister, Kookie. She keeps me safe like you do." 

Jungkook falters with surprise as he absorbs his sister's words, looks at the older girl with a slightly softer expression. "Is that so?" 

"Yes." Yubin giggles. "She chases the monsters out of my wardrobe and stops the older girls making fun of my plaits." 

Aera shifts, a little bashful as Jungkook practically stares into her soul. "You do that?" 

"I-" 

"What are you doing here?" 

She's effectively cut off by the livid fifteen year old form of Jeon Yuna storming towards them, planting herself in front of Aera. 

Jungkook rolls his eyes as his sister glares at him. "Is that how you should address your older brother?" 

"So it is true." Yuna laughs humourlessly. "How dare you come here with your lackeys and cause so much chaos. This is an outrage, dear brother." 

She glances behind her, eyes narrowing at Aera. She sneers. "And what now? Flirting with a scholar?" 

"He wishes." Aera retorts. "Now if you will excuse-" 

"Jungkook! Aerie!" Jeon Yeseul, the free spirited twelve year old skips towards the four of them with a lazy smile, jumping to a halt. "What is the occasion?" 

Her brother sighs. "What have you been told about how ladies conduct themselves, Yeseul?" 

"Good to see you too, brother." She grins, totally ignoring his scolding. She turns to Aera. "I missed you, Aerie. Do you not help out with French class anymore?" 

Aera scratches her neck with discomfort. "I am awfully busy these days, Yeseul." 

Yuna's eye twitches. "Indeed you are! I heard you are taking classes at the Gentlemen School. I suppose this vile swap over was your brilliant idea." 

"Your brother's actually." Aera smiles coldly. "Goodbye." 

Yubin and Yeseul whine with protest. "Can she not join us for tea?" 

"Most certainly not." Jungkook refuses. 

"Please Kookie?" Yubin pouts. "It would make Binnie so happy." 

He sighs, trying to avoid the youngest's pleading stare. 

"Please? Please, please, please?" Yeseul whines. "Otherwise, it will be so boring." 

Jungkook scowls. "Alright! Fine. The carriage is outside, hurry along." 

The youngest cheer, each grabbing one of Aera's hands and tugging her through the towering archway before she can even protest. 

Jungkook watches the spectacle in disbelief, turning to his sibling who's closest in age. "When on earth did she become close with our sisters?" 

Yuna rolls her eyes. "Yeseul loved her from the beginning despite my warnings, Yubin is much the same." 

The carriage ride is awkward to say the least. Aera tries to maintain a neutral expression and she's sandwiched beside the two youngest girls, Jungkook opposite her with his knees knocking against hers every time there's a bump in the road. 

"This is a very tight squeeze considering I was not expecting a fifth guest." He remarks sourly, teeth gritted. 

"Oh, do not be like that, brother! The tea room is hardly ten minutes away." 

Ten minutes too long, Aera thinks as they speed over a pothole, the back of the carriage thrown forward. Jungkook catches the leather seat in front to steady himself, barely registering how he's caged Aera's body with his until he looks up and gages her shocked expression. 

Yubin giggles. "The roads in Kim County are quite bumpy!" 

"Indeed." Jungkook remarks, fire playing in his eyes as he withdraws himself rather slowly. His eyes don't stray from Aera's, her face set with an expression Jungkook struggles to read. 

The carriage finally advances up a stony, winding path up to a grand building which Aera can only gage out the corner of the window due to her backward facing position. 

"We have arrived, My Lord." The driver announces, opening the latch to let him out. 

Jungkook lands on the drive with more flamboyance than Aera considers necessary. 

Yuna as the oldest of the Jeon Ladies processes out first, assisted by her brother's hand as she gracefully touches the ground. 

Then Yeseul who leaps out the vehicle, receiving a disapproving glare from Jungkook. Yubin has to be lifted out due to her tiny stature and slight fear of heights. 

And lastly, Lee Aera, who Jungkook begrudgingly holds his hand out for. "I do not know why I am extending my noble hand for a commoner." 

"Then do not bother." She retorts, swatting his hand away. 

Jungkook scowls. "You should take a Lord's hand when he offers it." 

He attempts to grab her hand, which Aera dodges, tipping the fragile carriage and stumbling backwards little. Jungkook snatches her other hand, which then sends her tumbling forward through the hatch. Aera bends her knees to prepare to land smoothly as she can, eyes widening as a hand wraps around her waist, Jungkook planting her rather gently on the ground. 

"That was totally unnecessary." Aera huffs, immediately shoving him off. 

"You were falling!" 

"Because you pulled me! And it was not falling, it was an unprecedented exit." 

He snorts. "If that is what you wish to think, be my guest. But I saved you." 

"You sabotaged me in the first place." Aera retorts as the sisters watch on. 

"What a delightful little circus act." Yuna drawls sarcastically. "May we proceed? Or shall we watch the pair of you play cat and dog all day?" 

Jungkook sighs with annoyance. "Follow me." 

Aera tries not to stomp towards the enormous limestone building with giant glass windows and a pillared porch encased with ivy. 

"Have you been to Thorny Tea Rooms before Aerie?" Yubin asks innocently. 

Jungkook chuckles. "Yubin, why would a common girl come here?" 

"There is nothing wrong with being common, Kook." Yeseul lectures. "The only difference between the common and the noble is that fate put us in different circumstances."

"God put us in different circumstances, not fate." Yuna counters. "It is a relief that your benefactor provides you with adequate dresses, scholar, or I would not be seen dead with you in public." 

Aera rolls her eyes. "I would rather be dead than accompany you, Lady Yuna." 

Yeseul sticks out her tongue at her older sister. "Indeed, she is Yubin and I's guest and I kindly remind you that you should not harbour animosity towards your sibling's friends." 

"Friend?" Jungkook chuckles, nodding to the head waiter who immediately scrambles towards them. "What would father say if you went home and said you befriended a common girl?" 

"Would he care?" Aera frowns quizzically. 

Jungkook ignores her. "We have a fifth guest on our table." 

"Yes, of course my Lord." The waiter nods, beckoning several others who rush to bow and take their coats, Aera lacking one due to being dragged out, and then escorting them past the main dining room. 

Servers practically dive out the way despite bearing towering, tiered china plates of sweet treats and steaming tea pots. 

So the Jeons are the real deal, Aera muses to herself. 

It's pretty, the private room. Pristine white table cloth contrasting with the vibrant, fresh vases of flowers. Aera can tell by the strong floral scent that they were picked and arranged this morning at the very earliest. The cutlery is so shined that it could give her a headache. 

Her bottom has hardly sit the plush velvet seat when the tea is brought in finer china than she gaged in the hallway, her cup just filled as the sandwiches, cakes and scones are paraded in, the head waiter stands with pride as everything goes swimmingly, a serene expression etched on Lord Jungkook's face. 

"Is there anything else I can get for you, My Lord?" 

Jungkook smiles. "Sherry and two glasses for myself and this Lady here." 

The waiter's gaze flickers over Aera with brief curiosity, who raises an eyebrow at Jungkook. 

"And shall everyone vacate the room as usual, My Lord?" 

"Yes." 

And that's all it took for the numerous staff to pile out. Yeseul groans, immediately slouching into her chair. 

"I hate how so many of them come." 

Yuna laughs. "We are the Jeons, my dear. Of course they want to please us." 

Aera pours milk in her tea and offers some to Yubin who nods. "A lot, please." 

The older girl grins, grabbing the bowl of cubes. "And sugar no doubt?" 

"It is a must!" Yeseul pipes up from across the table. 

Jungkook watches the display with outward indifference, barely acknowledging how the sherry arrives. 

"I thought you liked to adhere to customs." Aera snaps him out of his reverie. 

"And?" Jungkook responds. 

Aera gives him a quizzical look. "It is not customary for a man and woman to drink together in the afternoon." 

He shrugs. "My sisters are here. It is hardly scandalous." 

"But you do not know if I drink or not." 

He rolls his eyes. "All women drink, and the ones who say they do not are simply lying to seem pure." 

Aera laughs a little, which surprises him. Makes him feel a little warm. "Well at least you know. Would you like milk?" 

He shakes his head. "I do not drink tea."

"Fair enough." 

"Pour my sherry instead?" 

Yuna looks up in alarm upon the request. "Jeon Jungkook!" 

Aera's eyes widen, she looks to younger girls questioningly. They look equally as stumped. 

She tries to remember the customs of Retrorsum which she feels fairly confident in after dwelling here for two years. However, pouring a drink for a man, even if it in the company of others...is that unsavoury in this society? In hers, no one thinks anything of it. 

Jungkook ignores his sister, looks at Aera expectantly. Is this a test? Is he trying to see how much a trailblazer she really is? 

"My hand hurts. Do it yourself." She smiles innocently enough. Jungkook scowls. 

Yuna relaxes. "You are smarter than you look, scholar." 

"You are not." Aera retorts, face transforming with smile as Yubin piles food onto her plate. "Thank you Binnie." 

Jungkook wonders if it would be nice to be on Lee Aera's sweet side. Would it be more satisfying to be on the receiving end of that smile? How about the cause? 

"So, how has everyone been since I saw you last?" He decides to steer the conversation. 

"Why were you at our school?" Yeseul cuts straight to the chase. 

He forces a smile. "Well, Seulie, you see...Aera here started attending classes at the Gentlemen Institution and gave some very interesting opinions on the matter of gendered education-" 

"What does gendered mean?" Yubin asks. 

"Male and female education," He revises, "And so, we thought-" 

"Who's we?" Yuna demands. 

Jungkook scowls. "Myself, Kim Taehyung, Park Jimin, Ki Kijung, Sam Samuel, Chae Byunjae and others. We thought it would be interesting to see what happens in a Lady's classroom." 

The table grows silent. Aera sips her tea and waits for the commotion to begin. 

"Interesting to see what happens in a Lady's classroom?" Yuna repeats with disgust. "Why you depraved, salacious little-" 

"Steady, sister." Jungkook warns. "It was mere interest. Untwist your mind." 

She gasps. "Untwist my mind? It is you who came where you do not belong, for some fun no doubt." 

"Fun? What would be fun about school?" Yeseul laughs obliviously. "And why did you go to the boys' school, Aerie?" 

Aera pauses mid chew as the attention is thrown to her, holding up a finger so she can finish. 

"Any day now." Yuna derides. 

She swallows. "There is a lesson called Business which they do not teach at our school, so I have to go over there to learn it." 

"You have to?" Jungkook refutes. "No, you chose to. You, squalor, are the reason why both schools are in chaos." 

"You chose to come to the Ladies school, I did not ask you to nor is there a lesson in your school brochure which only runs there." She counters calmly. 

"But why must you learn business?" Yuna puzzles. "Women do not do business." 

"Women in Retrorsum do not do business yet." Aera corrects. "But we can. I heard tales about businesswomen in other countries." 

"Businesswomen?" Jungkook repeats the foreign word. "And what tales were these?" 

"Fashion designers in Paris, textile factory owners in England, and Dalia is just starting-" 

"Nonsense." Jungkook rebukes. 

"Do not ask if you do not want to hear." Aera jeers. 

Yuna dwells in deep thought. "Female fashion designers in Paris? That is in France?" 

Aera nods. "Yes, and in Milan in Italy. Europe is very progressive these days." 

Yuna's eyes shine with intrigue. 

"How would you know that?" Jungkook enquires with suspicion. 

"Did you forget that I study amongst the daughters of the wealthiest in the country? I hear things." She plays it off. 

 "I would like to go to Europe. Everyone is so uptight and boring in this land." Yeseul huffs. 

'Jeon Yeseul! You cannot say that." Her brother scorns. "Retrorsum is the greatest nation in existence." 

"Then why did Lord Seokjin and Lord Jimin decide to study in Dalia?" Yeseul counters. 

"Seokjin is childhood friends with the Prince." 

"So are you." Yuna undermines him. 

"We were not as close."

"And what was Lord Jimin's excuse?" 

Jungkook frowns. "He came back, did he not? Must not have been fun in Dalia like it is in Retrorsum." 

Aera scoffs under her breath. "Neither are much fun." 

"What was that?" Jungkook glares. 

"Nothing, my Lord." She responds airily, picking up her teacup. 

"Right." Jungkook's eyes widen as he watches her. "You have oddly perfect etiquette for a common girl." 

"I live amongst the noblest Ladies in the country. You pick up manners quickly." 

"I thought you only really associated with the scholars?" Yuna comments.

"She associates with me." Yeseul lours. "And other girls who are not scholars. You are just a snob." 

Aera coils back in her chair as a sister squabble appears to be brewing. She pours herself a generous amount of sherry and gulps half the glass, Jungkook's hand enclosing around her glass and confiscating it. She glowers at him. 

"I did not intend for you to quaff it all when I ordered it." 

"May I have some?" Yubin timidly requests, side eyeing Yeseul and Yuna who glare at each other. 

Jungkook sighs. "Just tea for you, goblin. And girls, cease your bickering. This was supposed to be a nice family celebration." 

"It is hardly family if the squalor is here!" Yuna derides. 

"Mind who you are speaking to." He snaps. 

The girls silence themselves as their brother raises his voice, a fairly rare occurrence. His jaw ticks and he glares at the tablecloth, surprised with himself for getting worked up over an insult that wasn't even directed at him. In fact, Jungkook should be happy that at least one of his sisters dislikes the girl. 

"Is everyone finished? I have to head back for Evening Mass." Jungkook sighs, throwing his napkin on the table. 

Aera tries to make her existence as unnoticeable as possible a they proceed to the exit, holding a pouty Yubin's hand.

"Everyone fights when we are together." The youngest whispers sadly. "Seulie and Yuna argue all the time. Kookie is always telling Yeseul off ." 

"What about you Binnie?" 

"I just try to survive." 

Aera cannot help her laugh, much to Jungkook's annoyance as his stare pierces her. 

"My brother and I used to fight a lot too. I would not worry." 

"What changed?" 

"We grew up." 

"You have a brother?" Jungkook asks as he helps his sisters into the carriage. 

"Yes." Aera responds to his question but refuses his assistance as she climbs in. 

He rolls his eyes. "How old?" 

"Twenty one." 

"Job description?" 

"None of your concern." Aera brushes him off. "Thank you for tea by the way." 

Jungkook falters a little at the nicety. "It was not my pleasure but since my sisters wanted you to come..." 

Aera bites back her smile. "I see you have a soft spot for your sisters." 

He diverts his gaze to the window, bashful. "Is that how it seems?" 

"Yes. I think it is nice." Aera confesses. 

"Nice?" Jungkook repeats. "I never thought you would associate me with the word nice." 

Aera shrugs, also staring out the window. "Me neither." 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Dance class?" Aera echoed in disgust whilst the rest of the final years squeal in delight. "With the boys school?" 

They were summoned to the great hall for an important announcement. 

It was decided mere days ago. 

"Brother," Master Kim of the Ladies Institution laments, "what shall we do to sort this horrifying occurrence?" 

The headmaster of the Gentlemen Institution frowns. "There's nothing we can do about the girl, but I believe the young gentlemen could be stopped. Most of them just came over for a look at your pupils after witnessing how pretty the common girl was." 

The sixth son rolls his eyes. "Anything to rid myself of them. If any of the girls' parents find out I am done for." 

"So what about a compromise? No invading of classrooms of such, but a class that is mixed in itself?" 

"And what would that be?" 

"Dance class." 

"So," Their headmaster claps his hands, "Ladies, it is upon a first sign, first receive basis and there will be up to twenty five places." 

Dara hardly places the easel down before several large frocks rush towards her and struggle over the fountain pen. Aera remains seated, apathetically watching the supposed noblest ladies in the country squabble over a pen and paper. And all for a simple dance class with some men. If it was a trip to Paris or a grand feast then perhaps she would be bothered. 

"How pathetic." Lee Hyejin scowls. 

Aera chuckles slightly. "Pathetic is a little harsh. I would say, overly keen." 

Lee Jieun rolls her eyes. "Must you always be so kind about those girls? They only scorn us for being common, we should at least insult them behind their backs." 

Aera shrugs. "I prefer being rude to people's faces." 

Min Mina waltzes to the front of the disastrous excuse of a queue, met by no resistance, and audaciously writes her name above all the others, at the top of the list.  Then she proceeds out the hall with her entourage. 

Lee Jiwoo sighs sadly as the four of them observe. "If only I had the authority and respect to march over and slap my name on the list." 

"She is not respected, she is feared." Aera retorts, "And what exactly is stopping you from writing your name on the list?" 

Hyejin scoffs. "There is up to twenty five places and there are forty of us." 

Jiwoo's shoulders sink further, Aera slings her arm around the girl. "That is a sixty two point five percent chance to dance your heart out in the gentlemen's ballroom. Quite large." 

Jieun groans. "Alright, big brain, even with a sixty whatever percent, she will still need to battle that hoard of beasts over there." 

Aera grins. "Not if I do it for her." 

"What?" Jiwoo gaps. "Aera! Aera! Ae-" 

But the girl has already headed straight for the chaos, head held high, determination set on her face. They part like the red sea. 

Hyejin tilts her head quizzically. "I never understood how we all winded up as the common Lees at this place, yet Aera seems like nobility in some aspects. It is most bizarre." 

"She is a step above nobility." Jieun comments sarcastically. "There is something in about her, one just cannot put one's finger on it." 

Lee Jieun, Lee Jiwoo, Lee Hyejin. 

Aera secures the last three spots and tears the list off the easel with stern finality which no one questions, handing to list to the secretary, who almost gulps. The Headmaster snatches the list out of Dara's hand, almost crushing the parchment in bemusement. 

"Why is Lee Aera's name absent?" He hisses, glaring daggers at the aforementioned girl's back as she waits for her friends before exiting.

"S-sir, I do not know. She just wrote the other Lee scholars in and left." 

"This simply will not do...This will not do..." He frets. 

"A chaperone?" She repeats, grimace adorning her face. "Why on earth should I be a chaperone?" 

The headmaster rolls his eyes at his office's most frequent and disruptive visitor. In fact, hardly a week can ever pass without him and Lee Aera scowling at each other from across the the thick oak desk, the latter slumped in the leather arm chair as if she's right at home. 

"Because you know the Gentlemen's school...and the pupils well. It will put the Ladies at ease, many of them will never have stepped foot there before. And there is to be no funny business-"

"Not my concern if people decide to be funny." Aera deadpans. "I would prefer to dwell in my room rather than direct a bunch of quivering, lonely girls through a building with a simple floor plan and watch a bunch of springy, lonely boys eat them with their eyes. Saves myself from throwing up." 

"Miss Lee! Those are some salacious implications!" The headmaster feebly objects. "Even so, would you not protect your peers against such ungentlemanly behaviour?" 

The scholar glances up from her cuticles and scours the man suspiciously. "If that is a risk, then you are welcome to cancel the whole thing or better yet chaperone the pupils yourself, sir." 

He exhales, a long, slow, desperate lamentation and pinches between his brows. "What do you want?" 

Aera smirks. 

"Why does the squalor get her own carriage?" Mina complains, all but stomping on the pebbled drive. 

"Do not be so rude to your great chaperone or somehow your carriage will end up lost." Aera taunts, slamming the hatch of the Lady's shared, crammed transport. 

Mina scowls through the window as Aera waves with a splintering grin. She checks that every girl has been assigned a carriage before leaping into her own private one. 

And with a whistle, and the whinny of horses, the long train of carriages are off towards the Gentlemen Institution. 

"They have arrived." Taehyung chirps, peering through the golden frames of one of the many giant, finely arched windows. Women flock out with dizzying excitement, skittish grins and a spring in their step as they hurry in dresses which are more elegant than usual. 

Except Aera. She decided to dress formally to truly embody the ever serious role of ballroom chaperone, in an all black ensemble, only to be called an old widower by Master Kim before they left. 

"Ladies, this way!" She instructs, ushering them through the hallways of the place she was mildly acquainted with.

She sighs in relief as the towering, grandiose doors which lead to the ballroom come into view, two porters bowing before revealing the inside. Aera almost gapes, the surrounding women gasping in surprise. The deep oval arch of the ceiling, carved with gold in the prettiest swirls and ornate details, somehow smoothing out into archaic yet beautiful paintings. Arrays of chandeliers hanging, glimmering from the light which floods through the rows of arched windows. The pure white marble expanse of the floor contrasting with the exorbitant wall decorations, fine mirrors, candle fixtures- 

The doors close. Aera blinks, she'd forgotten what grandeur looked like after all these years. And she smiles, thinking of how all she has to do is walk around for an hour before rounding up the girls, returning to school in her wonderfully lonesome carriage and eating the personally prepared dinner she was promised, twirling around. 

"And where do you think you are going, Miss Lee?" 

Aera can only scowl as Jeon  Jungkook smirks, planted in front of her with a smugness she cannot be bothered with today. 

"Chaperone Lee today. And I am finished, so if you would excuse me." Aera smiles flatly, trying to side step Jungkook and failing. 

He quickly blocks her path and she steps the other way, looking her up and down and chokes on a laugh. "Is the funeral before or after dance class?" 

"After. And it will be yours." She grits through her teeth. "Now move." 

"Move what?" 

"Your abhorrent face out of my vicinity." 

Jungkook pouts mockingly. "That is not what I meant and we both know it." 

Aera sighs. "What do you want?" 

Jungkook shakes his head slowly and grins. "Oh, Aera, you should not have asked." 

And all she can do is utter a sound of protest as he grabs her arm and tugs her towards the ballroom, the porters throwing the doors open for the Lord in an instant. The previous clamour of chatter ceases, even the younger years who were roped in to be the orchestra stop warming up and stare in bewilderment. 

Jungkook clears his throat, never particularly perturbed by attention as head boy and general arrogant man, and switches his contact to a more polite slight touch on Aera's back. Her face remains etched in a scowl as he subtly shoves her towards some familiar faces. 

Jimin scours her with horror. "Who on earth wears black to dance?"

Aera rolls her eyes. "I am a chaperone, not a dancer." 

Jungkook kisses his teeth. "I, as head boy decree that you must dance today." 

"That does not mean anything." She deadpans. 

"Fine. As a Lord I-" 

"I hurt my ankle." Aera lies. "And there are exactly twenty five men and twenty five-" 

"Jungkook!" Mina hurries over, "What are you scheming?" 

"Ah Mina, I was just encouraging Miss Lee to join in on the fun and dance with us." 

The head girl groans. "My Lord, she is just here to chaperone-" 

"But that is boring." Jungkook whines. "I want to see her fall over her feet." 

Aera glowers at him. "Shall I kick you in the shins?" 

His eyes widen before settling on amusement. "As if I would be stupid enough to be your partner." 

"I will." Jimin volunteers, just as the warm up music begins again, the rather stern looking teacher standing on stage at the front. Jungkook scowls as his friend whisks Aera to a spot rather far from him, hardly noticing as Mina taps her foot impatiently. 

"Jungkook? Will you not ask me to dance?" 

"Right." Jungkook absentmindedly agrees, too focused on the pair whispering across the room. 

"They dance differently here!" Jimin mutters. "Good thing you were not paired with Kook." 

Aera groans. "Retrorsum dances so boringly slow. I mean, this music is dire." 

"Your outfit is dire. Did someone die?" 

"Oh haha." Aera rolls her eyes, lightly punching him in the shoulder. "You better be a good teacher, I do not want to make a fool of myself." 

Jimin smirks. "We were made to be dance partners. Remember when we won the court's polka competition?" 

She raises an eyebrow, amusement glimmering in her eyes. "Very true." 

Jimin smiles. "You did invent it. I heard it has spread to Europe, congratulations." 

"Ouch!" Jungkook flinches as Mina indignantly treads on his foot. "What was that for?"

"Stop looking at them and focus on me!" 

"I was not." Jungkook rolls his eyes, sends daggers across the room one last time before focusing on Mina. Then he nods to Sam Samuel. 

"Swap with Jimin." 

The boy merely nods meekly. 

"The Mazurka has only just become popular here." Jimin informs Aera as they wait for the orchestra to finally be ready. 

Aera grimaces. "Only just? I thought that was introduced in my parents' youth." 

"Well our land moves rather slower than yours." Jimin chuckles. 

"I know that very well." Aera bemoans. "It is like I travelled to the past." 

Jimin laughs. "It is not that bad, we are just more conservative." 

"Less free, and even more close minded and repressive which is saying something considering where I-" Aera corrects indignantly before a hand touches her shoulder.  

She recognises him as Sam Samuel one of Jungkook's supposed lackeys, although he's only ever appeared as polite, quiet and respectful to Aera. 

"Yes, your Lordship?" 

Samuel flushes. "I er-," He turns to Jimin, eyes gesturing to a sullen Jungkook. Jimin rolls his eyes. "May we be partners?" 

Aera looks unsurely to her current partner, who shrugs. "You are in good hands. Sammy make sure she understands what is happening." 

"Of course, my Lord." Samuel smiles weakly as Jimin pats him on the shoulder, sternly pacing to Jungkook. Aera pays no notice to the ridiculous displays of masculinity in the room. 

"Everyone get into position!" The dance master demands. 

The music starts. Aera does not recognise it, suddenly she's very glad that her scholar friends mysteriously vanished from the dance list as they appear to be having no introduction. In fact the room is filled with Retrorsum's nobility who no doubt know these routines like the back of their hands. 

"This is a Baroque dance, L'Allemande. Just follow my lead." Samuel raises his voice over the music. Aera nods as if that would mean anything to her. 

He grabs her hand, dragging her forward as the violin bursts into song. "Kick up your legs. Good, now turn on the spot. Kick back two steps. Come forward." 

Aera flits forward, laughing at his stressed demeanour. 

"Do you know contrétemps ballonné? Just cross your arms behind your back. Yes, like that." 

The music finishes. Samuel is a flustered mess which would make an outsider believe he's the one who doesn't know how to dance. 

"You did surprisingly well." He pants. 

"You are a good teacher, my Lordship." Aera smiles. 

Samuel turns even redder. 

"That was delightful!" Mina beams at Jungkook, face falling as his eyes are set on Samuel and Aera, brow furrowed. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Welcome back." Byunjae drawls. 

"Delighted to be here." Aera responds dryly as she makes her way to her assigned desk, in the middle next to Jungkook. She has no clue how such a position came to be and why, but it wasn't bothering her as much these days. 

Today the chair was empty.

“Where is Lord Jungkook?” She asks. 

“Why?" Kijung grins. "Miss him?”

Aera scowls. "What about you? How will you function without your master?" 

Kijung balks. "Why you little snivelling-" 

"Now, now Mister Ki." 

Aera stiffens slightly at the voice of Mister Kang, the maths teacher who seems to have it out for her. His eyes leer over her for longer than necessary, she glares back. He scoffs to himself and turns to the chalkboard, before pausing and glancing at the empty seat beside her. 

"Where is Mister Jeon?" 

"Head boy duties, sir." Byunjae announces. "Pst." 

Aera turns quizzically to the viscount. "What?" 

"Jungkook put me on child minding duties so try not to spoil Kang's mood today." 

Her eyebrows furrow. "Why would he do that?" 

He shrugs. "I am just as stumped as you. Would have thought he would like some tales of your suffering to listen to at supper." 

Aera simply rolls her eyes in response and sits in thought. She would've thought Jungkook would want her to hear of her writhing under the grotty teacher too, but now she's not so sure. In fact, ever since she's sat next to Jungkook, Mister Kang hardly looks her in the eye, or grills her over problems or even makes fun of her being a woman.   

And then Aera can hardly concentrate for the next hour, barely reacting as Jimin, Taehyung and Samuel enter for economics. Samuel frowns at the girl's vacant expression, waving a hand in front of her face. 

She blinks, glancing up at him. He smiles shyly and laughs a little. 

"You looked troubled. Are you alright, Miss Lee?" 

"Yes, yes. Perfectly fine, thank you, Your Lordship." Aera smiles. 

Samuel glances at the spot next to her. "This spot is free today? 

She shrugs. "I guess so." 

"May I sit?" 

Aera hesitates. It's odd. He's not even here... 

"I do not reign the classroom so you may do as you please." 

Samuel chuckles. "You have a funny way with words." 

"I do?" 

"Yes. I like it." He smiles small, eyes darting from hers to his desk. 

Hers widen a little. "Oh. Thank you." 

Taehyung watches suspiciously from across the room, glances to Jimin who shrugs.

Aera sighs, cutting through the gardens on her usual way back to the Ladies Institution until she catches an unusual sight in the distance. Jeon Jungkook running between the tulips and bluebells, a young boy in tow, chasing after him. She stops and watches with puzzlement. Half at herself for thinking that he looks pretty amongst the spring flowers. 

"He is gentler than he appears, you know."

"Good heavens! You scared me." Aera huffs indignantly, raising her hand as if to thump Seokjin as he appears out of nowhere. "Where did you come from?" 

"I will have you know that I teach politics here." He lours. "Furthermore, it is you hiding behind a bush not I, so drop the accusatory tone." 

"I was not hiding!" Aera protests. "I am observing." 

Seokjin smirks, eyes darting pointedly to the distance. "You mean to say, admiring.

"I was doing nothing of the sort. I was just wondering...Oh whatever." She huffs, beginning to stomp away. 

"Now, now, do not sulk. I have information." 

Aera turns expectantly. "Of what?" 

"Of the boy you have taking a liking to, of course." He grins. 

Aera scowls. Seokjin gulps. "Alright, alright. Jungkook got excused from class so he could spend the day with Monty." 

"Monty?" Aera repeats. 

"That boy over there. Monty found out from the post a few days ago that his mother has passed away." 

Her face falls. "That is awful, poor boy." 

Seokjin nods. "Indeed. Jungkook requested time out of class to try and cheer him up." 

Aera watches him play with the younger boy in the distance. Her chest starts to feel strange. 

"That sounds so..." 

"Unlike him?" Seokjin guesses. "Jungkook is actually a very good man to those on his good side." 

It's almost as if the aforementioned Lord heard his name spoken across the garden as he looks up, eyes fixating directly on Aera. She momentarily freezes under his blank stare, before blinking and beginning to walk rather briskly. 

"Squalor!" Jungkook yells. "Wait there."

Aera and Seokjin share a surprised look as he jogs across the lawn, Monty bounding after like a puppy. 

"Seokjin, I missed you." Jungkook grins as he finally arrives in front of them, yet when he says it he's not looking at the man. 

The eldest notices, rolling his eyes. "Are you sure it was I that you missed? Now, if you would excuse me, I have to head back to the Ladies school." 

He scampers. 

If Aera noticed Seokjin's implication or his exit, she does not react, sharing eye contact with the young boy instead. He's like a porcelain doll with large glassy eyes. Aera blinks. Monty bursts into tears. 

Jungkook gasps. "What did you do?" 

Aera gapes at the accusation. "Nothing! I promise." 

Jungkook glares at her, crouching to the child's height. "Monty, what is the matter?" 

"She looks like my mother!" Monty wails. 

Aera grimaces with pain, Jungkook falters. She gasps in shock as the boy attaches to her leg and sobs again. 

"M-monty that is not-" 

Aera holds up her hand to silence Jungkook's outrage, and simply strokes the boy's hair until he's mellowed down again. 

"Pick him up." She orders as the grip on her leg loosens. For once, Jungkook listens and hoists Monty into his arms, his body loose from emotional exhaustion. 

"Poor child." Aera sighs at the boy in Jungkook's arms. 

"You...thank you. For handling that so well, he is only eight and just lost his mother." Jungkook uncharacteristically fumbles hesitantly over his words. 

Aera shakes her head. "It was the least I could do. Do you need help with him?" 

It's hardly needed but Jungkook finds himself nodding. "Yes, I do." 

So that's how Aera finds herself wondering through the lower school's chambers, somewhere she's probably forbidden, opening corridor doors for the man as he bears the snoozing boy. Finally, Jungkook signals to a door and upon pushing it open, there's a four poster bed and a barely smouldering fire place.

Aera whistles. "My room is not half as nice as this." 

"You are a scholar." Jungkook answers, although not bitingly. 

She rolls her eyes and advances to the fireplace, using the metal prod to rifle through the molten ashes in order to ignite the flames again. Jungkook tucks Monty under the covers. 

"I see myself in him." Jungkook explains, back turned to her. "I felt alone then. I did not want him to feel the same." 

Aera's heart cracks a little, she's glad she cannot see his face or it would break. 

"You are a kind man." She fans the fire. 

 "Do not say that. You would not think that if you really knew me." 

Aera swallows. "Then let me." 

Jungkook turns quickly, suddenly facing her with a conflicted expression. 

"I cannot." 

He likes when words like nice and kind fall from her lips and the recipient is intended to be him. How she looks at him with gentler eyes sometimes, thinks he isn't too bad. 

But he is. He's a wolf, ruthless, cruel even, when he needs to be. 

He just hopes Aera will never truly witness that side of him. 

“You want to invite Lord Jeon Jungkook to chess club? Have you lost your bloody mind?”  Hyejin demands.

“He is respected. He is not feared.” Aera states.

Her friend huffs, hands clenching. “So what?”

“He could spark the change which we believe in.” Aera smiles to herself hopefully. “Where he walks, they all follow.”

“Lee Aera, what on earth are you getting at?” Jieun cries, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her. 

Aera sighs, shrugging her off. "When he walks into a room, everyone's eyes turn to him." 

"So?" Jieun blinks. 

"So, scholars' voices can only project so far. We need someone influential on our side." 

Hyejin scoffs. "And you think the bloody Lord of Jeon is the most sensible candidate?" 

"The country worships that family and he is the heir to Jeon County so...it kind of makes sense." Jiwoo mutters to herself. 

Aera smiles. The other two glare. 

"Exactly." The unofficial leader of the group smirks. "We need him." 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Aera bounds in with unusually excited vigour she never possesses when frequenting the boy's school. She slides into her chair next to Jungkook, who squints suspiciously at her enthusiasm.

”Lord Jungkook.” Aera starts.

Jungkook’s eyebrows furrow further at her unusual formality. “Yes, Ae-squalor?”

He internally curses at his fumble which Aera pays no heed to. 

“Would you like to come to chess club today?” 

"Chess club?"

"Yes."

"You play chess?" Jungkook repeats. “You?” 

Aera scowls. “Fine. Do not come.” 

Jungkook smirks. “No, no. Do proceed, I am quite fascinated.” 

“Seven o’clock at the Ladies school. Be punctual.” She warns.

“We shall see. I am a busy man.” He grins, receiving an impressed look in return. 

Jungkook had already determined to go.

Three minutes to seven that evening, Aera stands at the front of the room surrounded by three unimpressed Lees. 

“I just cannot believe you invited Lord Jungkook, one of the biggest chauvinists in the land, to this.” Hyejin hisses.

Jieun scoffs. “It appears that he will not even come. Did you really think he would listen to a scholar anyway, a woman at that?” 

“Now, now. No need for pessimism.” Aera brushes them off. 

Jiwoo bites her lips nervously. “I have a bad feeling about this.” 

Three figures storm through the door. The girls chatting amongst themselves immediately silence. The clack of their boots against the stone floor echoes around the room. 

Jungkook gazes around the room with amusement. 

“I thought you sent us on a wild goose chase, squalor. Why such an antiquated room in the depths of the school. Secret club?” He teases like they’re the only ones in the room. 

Aera looks past him to Park Jimin and Kim Taehyung. She expected it but it disappoints her all the same.

”Gentlemen, please sit.” She ignores Jungkook’s words and gestures to the spare dwelling at the back. 

Jungkook smirks before his pack swagger to the back in a manner which has Aera rolling her eyes. 

So arrogant,  she thinks to herself as he settles in his seat with great emphasis and extends a smirk to the front of the room. 

Aera clears her throat. 

"Thank you for coming everyone, I see a lot of familiar faces which is nice." 

"But Aera, are we playing chess today?" Lena, a regular enquires, skittishly glancing to the men at the back. 

Aera side-eyes the stack of chess boards on the table. 

She purses her lips. "I am not sure." 

"What do you mean not sure ?" Hyejin ridicules under her breath. 

Aera waits for the footsteps in the hall to grow closer before a figure strides through the door. 

Jeon Yuna halts, raising an eyebrow at the silent room. 

Aera smiles and curtseys slightly. "Lady Yuna, what a pleasant surprise." 

Except it wasn't. She had been expecting it. From the day Jeon Yuna heard of overseas businesswomen and behind her eyes revealed the cogs whirring in her brain. Curiosity and dissatisfaction. 

'If they can do it then I can too.'

And the next point of call, her older brother's reaction.

Jungkook rises from his chair in astonishment which quickly morphs to immense displeasure. Nevertheless, he doesn't desire to cause a scene in front of a group of common girls, nor does he want to be seen as undermined. So he marches to the front, Yuna's face paling into guilt-stricken expression. She's surprised as her brother waltzes straight past her and up to Lee Aera, snatching her hand in his and tugging her out the room. 

And for another time that evening, it's stunned to silence. 

Aera struggles in his vice grip. "Unhand me. Now." 

Jungkook's jaw clenches as he yanks her along the cold, stone hallway and around a corner until they are what he considers an appropriate distance from the chess club dwelling. Then he thrusts her hand back to her. 

Two pairs of blazing eyes locked onto each other, neither wavering. 

"How dare you." Jungkook starts with a chillingly soft warning. 

Aera raises an eyebrow. "How dare I what?" 

Jungkook steps forward with such agile lithe that Aera's backed into the wall of the small cavern before she can even blink, back harshly smacking the solid archaic wall. She can barely compute how Jungkook's hand slides between her flailing head and the stone and draws away as quick as it came. 

Maybe Aera should feel scared but all that thrums in her veins is amused excitement as she waits for the man in front of her to explode. 

"My sister." Jungkook seethes. "Do not try to corrupt my sister." 

Aera smirks. He is smarter than she ever gave him credit for. 

"You do not wish for your sister to play chess, my Lord?" 

Jungkook exhales sharply at the endearing tone.

My Lord. 

"You know very well what I mean."

Aera blinks innocently. "I do?" 

"A bitter, common girl trying to soil ladies of the society with dangerous, backwards views about how they should conduct themselves and what their place is." He spits. 

Aera resolves what she already suspected. Jeon Jungkook, who teetered on the edge of a potential ally, is a sworn enemy. 

He is more than a thorn in her side; they stand on opposite sides of the battlefield and he is far too gone for Aera to make him see the light. 

She knew it from the beginning, so why does it feel like a stab in the heart? 

Aera swallows. 

"Your poisonous views." Jungkook inches closer with menace. "My sister is a Lady, the noblest in the country as the eldest of the Jeon clan, and if you ruin her in any sense then I will destroy  you." 

A short while passes as her eyes dance over his face blankly. 

Finally, Aera hums as if he's asked her which waistcoat to don.

"Destroy me?" She echoes playfully. 

She steps forward, their already brief proximity diminishing until his hot breath hits her lips and their noses slightly touch. 

"Not if I destroy you first." 

Chapter Text

"What in the flaming pits of hell happened with you and Jungkook the other day?" 

Aera's behind has hardly touched the chair as Jimin frantically demands answers. 

She sighs, settling back in her chair and carelessly tossing her parchment and pen on the desk. 

"Why do you care?" 

Jimin rolls his eyes. "Because I think you are heading down a dangerous path right now. One that you cannot afford to." 

Aera smirks. "You should warn your pal not to mess with me instead." 

As if one queue, Jungkook waltzes into the classroom, his friends flocking behind as usual, current dwellers chirping greetings to their beloved head boy. 

Aera almost gags. 

Jungkook stares at the empty chair beside his desk for a brief moment before nonchalantly sitting, side eyeing Aera and Jimin discussing something at the side of the classroom. He huffs.

"Sam Samuel! Come sit here." 

The aforementioned boy blinks, gaping as if he wants to protest before sighing and collecting up his stuff. He resignedly sits by the head boy who ruffles his hair with vigour.

Samuel scowls.

"Do not scowl like that, I am merely warning you." Jimin whispers. 

Aera bares her teeth which makes him lean back a little with fright. "Meddling into affairs of a woman who can handle herself very competently." 

Jimin sighs for the nth time before he grows serious. "My loyalties lie with Jungkook." 

"I figured." Aera mutters disinterestedly. 

"This was my last warning. Seriously." Jimin repeats. 

His urgency actually makes her glance up from her notes. "I understand. But I am choosing  to take no heed to it." 

He shakes his head, dread swirling in his stomach about what was about to come. 

"So, from what I gather, you would like me to spy on the squalor, Lord Jungkook?" Min Mina smirks over her dainty china cup and takes a sip with mirth. 

"Yes." Jungkook affirms. "Have eyes on her at all times." 

Mina arches an eyebrow. "May I ask why?" 

Jungkook grins. "Take a guess." 

Mina tilts her head in thought. "Two things come to mind." 

"Oh? Pray tell, Lady Mina." He muses. 

"First and foremost," She pauses dramatically. "The Lord Jungkook took a fancy to our infamous squalor." 

Jungkook chokes on his disliked cup of tea. "By God, no." 

Mina smirks with satisfaction. "So you desire to get rid of her?" 

Jungkook stills. Fragments of her laugh, touch, her sometimes soft eyes.

"Yes. I aim to rid the students of our society to such an odious threat." He states as if he's trying to persuade himself. 

"My Lord," Mina chuckles. "Do you think I have not tried?" 

Jungkook swallows. 

My Lord. My Lord. 

Why has he associated it with her? 

"And what stopped you?" 

"Her benefactor. The oh so mysterious benefactor who appears to have both Master Kims of our schools around his thumb." She scoffs with annoyance. 

Jungkook's eyebrows furrow. "Master Kims around his thumb...if he has Lords of Kim County around his thumb then..." 

"He must be powerful indeed. More than any pupils at our respective institutions." 

"I wonder, who he must be?" 

"Who is he really?" Jiwoo enquires. 

"Who?" Aera repeats nonchalantly as she brushes her hair in the mirror, ignoring her roommate's imploring stare. 

"Oh, come on. Lord Jungkook!" 

Aera's eyes snap to glare at her. "Keep your voice down." 

"Oops. Sorry." Jiwoo squeaks. "But in all solemness, you must see something in him, Aerie. Otherwise you would never have invited him to chess club."

"By God, will I ever be able to live that decision down?" Aera mutters to herself, before raising her voice. "It was a test." 

"A test?" Jiwoo inches closer. "About what?" 

Aera rolls her eyes as her friend grabs her brush and attends to her locks so she has no excuse of a distraction. 

"I wanted to see how far he has gone. Whether he really believes in the archaic, oppressive nonsense of this land or whether it was just because he is a man of the society and never had exposure to other views. But he was clearly the former." 

"And what made you think he might be the latter?" Jiwoo presses. 

Aera pauses, her heart slows. "There were moments." 

Jiwoo coos teasingly. "Moments?" 

Aera waves her hand as if to protest. "I was wrong. There were no moments. He is irredeemable and thus an enemy of progress." 

"An oppressor." Jiwoo chimes. 

She stiffens. An oppressor. 

Sure, Jeon Jungkook is an oppressor. A proponent of keeping women in boxes, reducing them to pretty wives in the cage of domesticity. So why did she always tiptoe around that fact? 

"Sir, it is me! Prized head boy, you really cannot tell me who Lee Aera's benefactor is?" Jungkook laments. 

The headmaster sighs. "No. I cannot." 

Jungkook scowls. "Why? Is he on the board of trustees? Family of a founder? He donates regularly to the school?" 

"Jeon." The man warns. "I cannot discuss this with you but..." 

Jungkook's eyes light up. "But?" 

Master Kim sighs. "When a pupil is in grave trouble, the guardian must come." 

The head boy mulls over his words before his mouth opens a little. 

"I see." 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was Aera's turn to peruse the junior boarding house and ensure that they are sticking to the strictly assigned bed time. Aera hated prefect duties; she deemed them an unnecessary role which gave certain pupils a feeling of entitlement over others. It was bad enough being a scholar, subjection to the power abuse of prefects was even more of a headache. Luckily for the them, Lee Aera was forced to be their protector. 

"For the first time since the beginning of the world, the Groom was as beautiful as the Bride." Aera recounts a Fairytale in French as they all gather on the small bed in the infamous squalor dorm of which all nine junior scholars reside. 

Somewhere Aera has fond memories of living in for a year before she was deemed a senior pupil. The other Lee scholars called it hell. 

The girls frown. "As beautiful as the bride? How can that be?" 

"You shall find out next time." Aera grins as there's collective groans, she presses her finger to her lips. "Everyone to your own beds, if I hear a peep then no one will ever know the end to the story." 

Her grin widens as they shoot off into their crowded rows of beds without another word. Aera blows out the lighted bedside lamps, murmuring individual goodnights as she goes. 

"Aerie?" Jung Lena, the eldest junior scholar at sixteen, murmurs. "Why has the day and time for chess club moved?" 

Aera hides a grimace. "Security purposes. Is that all? I better check on the other chambers." 

Yeseul shakes her head, so Aera moves towards the door, frowning as she hears a large creak on the other side. She kicks the solid oak door open so quickly that the unknowing eavesdropper cannot react. There's a shriek of pain. Aera blinks at the sight Kim Amelia sprawled on the crimson carpet, her nose gushing with equal colour. 

"What are you doing outside the scholar's dormitory?" Aera demands, eyebrow raised. 

"I-I thought this was the way to the bathroom! It is pitch black!" Amelia stutters, more stunned at Aera's apathetic enquiry than the blow to her nose. 

Aera tilts her head with suspicion at the girl who attended the school since nine years old. 

"This is the junior building." 

"Yes?" Amelia whines. 

"You are a final year, my lady." 

Amelia blanches with horror as she realises that all the penultimate and final year pupils did indeed live in the section of the enormous building which faced opposite where she had been caught. She would have had to have travelled through the whole of the senior wing and the massive stretch of junior chambers to get here. 

Aera smirks, sidestepping the girl on the floor. 

"She was spying on me?" She mutters to herself, knocking on the chamber door around the corner. 

"Enter." 

"Lights out." Aera announces bluntly, barely acknowledging the room's dweller. 

"Lee Aera?" 

"Yes, Lady Yuna?" Aera smiles flatly as she stands in the doorway. 

She's already behind schedule and bound to get in trouble with the matron if one of her corrivals decide to snitch. 

"Close the door and come sit here." 

Aera gives the girl an unimpressed once over. 

Yuna swallows, less confident. "Please?" 

"And the matter is? Shall I fetch matron?" The scholar enquires, shutting the mahogany door but very much remaining in her spot. 

The noblewoman clears her throat. "I desire to join chess club." 

Aera chuckles. "I see." 

Yuna scowls. "I see? That is all you have to say?" 

"Well, what would you like me to say?" 

"I want you to say," Yuna lowers her voice a little from its tense manner, "I would like you to say, you will allow me to join." 

Aera taps her chin as she pretends to consider it. "If you tell me how you discovered chess club in the first place." 

She blinks like a startled rabbit. "I...I am Lady Jeon Yuna! If I desire to know, I will know." 

Aera sighs amusedly. "I see." 

Yuna's top lip quivers with annoyance. "Fine. I bribed the third year scholar with sweets. She told me you ran a chess club, invitation only." 

Aera nods . "I do indeed. Alas, I do not recall inviting you, my Lady." 

"Then allow me to be the first member without invitation." The younger girl presses. 

"And why exactly is the reason you wish to join?" 

Yuna pauses, gaping a little.

"I think I can learn a lot from you, Miss Lee." She finally answers with abashment. 

Aera smiles. "Are you good with secrets?" 

The younger beams. "Brilliant." 

The scholar crosses her arms, analysing the girl carefully. 

"And what about your brother?" 

"To hell with what my brother thinks." 

"What do you think?" 

Jungkook's face remains blank as all the eyes in the room settle on him, waiting hungrily. Suddenly, the heat from the fireplace is overwhelmingly hot and his riding attire far too suffocating. What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend trip to Taehyung's country estate suddenly took a surprising turn. 

The head boy swallows. 

"It is a rather drastic measure, is it not?" 

Everyone groans in disappointment. 

"Oh come on, Jeon. It is the perfect plan to rid us of her once and for all." Ki Kijung coaxes. 

"She would never trespass into our classrooms again." Chae Byunjae adds hopefully. 

"Do not tell me she made you soft? Do you actually care about the squalor?" 

Jungkook's face darkens. "Of course not. I just-" 

"Chaps, what is everyone huddled around for?" Kim Taehyung enquires as he enters the drawing room, throwing himself over the back of his mother's designer arm chair. 

"Jungkook is hesitating over seducing the squalor. Talk some sense into him." Kijung laments. 

Taehyung's eyes widen. "As in Lee Aera?" 

Everyone nods. 

He breaks into a grin. "Well if our dear head boy is not up for the challenge, I will certainly-" 

"I will." Jungkook cuts him off, jaw tense. "I will do it, alright?" 

The large group of boys whoop with merriment. 

"I bet ten remuns that he can do it!" 

"I bet twenty remuns that he will not be able to seduce that minx." 

"Thirty that he can." 

"Forty he cannot and my family heirloom." 

Jungkook glares into the taunting flames, chest stuffed fury, stomach swirled with something bitter akin to dread as everyone gleefully supposes over his predicament. 

"Do not tell anyone outside of this room." He orders. 

The group of ten something boys quieten at his grave tone. Taehyung glances around the room of one of his many country houses. He frowns. 

"But Jimin went for a nap." The Lord of Kim County pouts. 

"Especially do not tell Jimin." 

Jungkook nods in agreement. "No one breathes a word of this to anyone. Keep it amongst yourselves." 

 

Chapter Text

Aera loved country walks for as long as she could remember. 

And she liked to do them alone. 

"Where are you off to, squalor?" 

She closes her eyes in dread, boots halting over the dewy grass with disbelief. Aera lashes around, looking the boy up and down with immense distaste. 

"None of your concern, Lord Jungkook." 

He nods smugly, donned in sparkling boots, a black pocket cap and tweed overcoat. All clearly tailored by the finest designers in Retrorsum. Meanwhile, Aera wore a plain grey cotton dress, woollen stockings underneath and her well used, scuffed boots. 

"Are you not going to ask how I found you? Why I am here?" 

"Asking questions means I have to be subjected to your voice. And you were obviously following me, and will continue to do so. Why bother to ask?" She deadpans, beginning to walk again. 

Jungkook grins as he trails a little behind. They round the opulent marble fountain, water spouting out of the cherub's mouth and hitting the basin in a calming way. 

"How did you know I was going to follow you?" 

"Because there is a certain look in your eyes when you desire to pester me." Aera mutters. 

The head boy whistles lowly. "Do you pay that much attention to me, Miss Lee? I am quite flattered." 

"Look who is talking. Who pursued who?" She retorts. 

Jungkook frowns. She was rather nonchalant today. Perhaps it was the sweet chirps of the blue birds or the distinct sweetness of honey suckle which lessened her will to react to him. 

"Pursued?" He echoes. 

Jungkook stumbles, eyes wide as Aera suddenly stops and turns. She smirks slightly at his off guard demeanour. 

"I never need to look for you, my Lord." 

"Why?" 

"Because you always find me."

The air escapes Jungkook's lungs. She smiles slightly and rolls her eyes. 

In a flash, she's off again. 

Jungkook blinks, and shakes his head to get ahold of himself. His cap flies across the lawn, he curses, checking to see if Aera had witnessed his blunder. Luckily she hadn't, she was tearing ahead as if he didn't even exist. Jungkook scowls, marching to his stray hat and snatching it up. He jogs after her, wondering why he's even here and what on earth he's doing. 

"Lee Aera!" He orders. "Slow down." 

"Hurry up." She calls, not even sparing him a glance. 

Jungkook's eyes narrow. He begins to sprint towards her. Aera's eyes widen as the aristocrat tears forward, and her instincts tell her to run. 

But not out of fear, out of the thrill of competition. 

"I think I might be faster than you." Aera taunts, jetting across the meadow. 

Jungkook scoffs under his breath. She's a lot faster than he'd imagined a woman to be, not that he'd chased any except his sisters around the house when they were younger. 

"You most certainly are not! Slow down while I am being nice to you." Jungkook yells. 

"You are never nice to me!" Aera chimes. 

He sighs, picking up speed as they zig zag through the wild flowers and tangles of grass. 

Aera feels a thrill as her lungs burns and her heart hammers, squealing with delight as Jungkook almost catches her around the waist. She narrowly avoids him and swoops through a cluster of trees. 

Jungkook raises his eyebrows at the unfamiliar territory as he follows her. He weaves between the ancient woodland, trying to ignore how the light shining through the peaks of the trees cast a beautiful glimmer on Aera's skin. 

"Can we stop now?" Aera pants as he determinedly stays mere inches behind her. "The ground is getting uneven." 

"You started it." Jungkook argues. "Give up or keep going." 

Naturally, Aera keeps going. She impossibly accelerates, ignoring her muscles screaming at her to stop. Jungkook groans, throwing himself forward to match her pace, he grabs the back of her coat. Aera stumbles from the sudden jerk, foot falling askew over a stray chunk of bark. Jungkook tenaciously holds on to the back of her as she falls forward down the steep incline of dead leaves and rocks, bringing him with her. 

He tries his best to shield her as they roll over a few rock faces, rotten leaves flying in the air, a few birds deserting from the disturbance. 

They hit the bottom of the forrest. 

Aera groans. "I told you the ground was uneven, idiot." 

She opens her eyes to glare at him, blinking as Jungkook lies underneath her with his eyes closed and brow furrowed. 

"Are you alright?" She asks quietly, tapping his cheek. 

Aera gasps as his hand envelops her wrist and in a flash, Jungkook has rolled them over. She lies deathly still on the forrest floor and he kneels beside her, top half hovering directly over her. 

Jungkook stares at her. 

Looking at the girl with the plain frock, tousled hair, rosy cheeks and the most beautiful smile he'd ever witnessed on a human being. 

He felt free. 

Away from the bounds of the school and high society and who he had to be. 

He felt free. 

But Jeon Jungkook cannot afford the luxury of freedom. 

He cannot fumble, cannot slip, cannot show weakness. He must be perfection and be seen as perfection. 

He needs people to dote on him, adore him, admire him and respect him. He can only do that within the mould Retrorsum's lineage had created for him.

So he must destroy her, before he lets her destroy him. 

"M-my Lord?" Aera sits up hesitantly as he plucks some leaves from her hair. His face is set in deep thought. 

"Hush." Jungkook mutters, tucking the left side behind her ear. He tilts his head, Aera swallows as his eyes dance over her face. 

"I never actually realised how pretty you are." Jungkook breathes. 

That's a lie. He thought it from the first day he met her. 

Aera raises an eyebrow to mask her surprise. "You are pretty too, My Lord." 

Jungkook malfunctions. "I...am...pretty?" 

He bursts into laughter. Aera frowns. Jungkook stops, clearing his throat bashfully. 

"You really think I am pretty? Not handsome?" 

"You could be both." Aera shrugs, picking some pine needles out of his locks. "You could be neither." 

Jungkook's eyes narrow. "There you are. For a moment I thought you hit your head and became nice." 

"Likewise." Aera scowls. 

He scoffs. "Get up." 

Aera tries, she really does. But there's a searing pain in her shin every time she wills her legs to move. 

Jungkook rolls his eyes, unable to detect her discomfort. "Today would be splendid." 

Aera yelps as he tries to tug her upwards, Jungkook drops her in surprise. 

"What in the heavens are you doing?" Aera barks. 

Jungkook kneels, ignoring the sullen girl's glower as his hands make way to the hem of her dress. 

"Ouch!" 

Suddenly his behind hits the forrest floor. 

"Did you just kick a Lord ?" He exclaims. 

Aera's arms cross over her body protectively as she perches on the rock, mouth agape. 

"Y-you, you debauched, brazen, impish miscreant!" She utters incredulously. "How dare you try to lift my dress!" 

Jungkook flounders for a moment. 

"I-I was trying to inspect your leg! I promise. Why else would I ever go near your hem? I am insulted that you would think I would go willingly within a mile of you-" 

Aera sighs. "If you had just warned me, then I would have understood." 

Jungkook kisses his teeth. "I am a man of action. When I see someone in distress I-" 

"So you act this way with most women?" Aera raises an eyebrow. 

Jungkook rakes a hand through his hair, laughing to himself in exasperation. "This cursed woman. She is- No. I do not." 

His eyes widen as Aera's hands trail to the end of her skirt, eyes never divert from his as she raises it higher. 

Jungkook swallows as the outline of her legs come into view, a hole ripped in one of her stocking revealing skin. 

He clears his throat, scrambling off the floor to kneel again. Aera swallows a laugh as his fingers hover over her stocking. 

"May I?" Jungkook enquires, peering up. 

"You may." Aera smiles reassuringly. 

He falters a little as he pulls it down, trying not to look anywhere else except the site of injury. He winces along with Aera as the garment peels away and there's a trickle of crimson, the surrounding skin the pinkish colour which he knows will become purple splotches later. 

"This must hurt." He sighs, opening his coat and reaching into his breast pocket to procure a handkerchief. 

Aera tilts her head curiously as he wraps the fine cloth around her shin with more care than she imagined the head boy could possess. It feels weird. So she tries to annoy him, like Aera always does when she thinks anything other than bad things about the man in front of her. 

"Will you not kiss it better?" Aera teases. 

Jungkook raises an eyebrow at her playful tone and smirks, grabbing her hand and kissing it. 

"I am a gentleman. I will not kiss anywhere below here." He drawls, tapping her chin. 

She pulls away quickly and clears her throat. "Shall we depart?" 

Jungkook chuckles. "And how do you intend to return in that state?" 

Aera shrugs. "I think I could walk it off." 

He sighs at her bullheadedness and turns his back to her, grabbing her arms and throwing them over his shoulders. 

"Hey! What are you-" 

He hoists her onto his back with little effort. Aera exhales with annoyance, thumping him in the back. 

"Ouch. Stop wounding me, I am an important man." Jungkook almost whines, squeezing her thigh through her dress. 

Aera hits him again. 

"Alright! Alright!"  

 

Chapter Text

"By God, are you stalking me?" Aera demands as she rounds the corner of the library shared by both schools, Jeon Jungkook leant against a marble pillar with an amused expression. 

"Nice to see you too, squalor. We run into each other an awful lot these days." 

Aera scours him with distaste, an act which Jungkook has grown oddly fond of. 

"What are you here for?" 

He blinks. "What do you mean?" 

Aera rolls her eyes, gesturing to their surroundings. "I meant what book are you here for? Or are you illiterate?" 

Jungkook scoffs, grabbing a book off the nearest shelf. He holds it up smugly. "I came for this." 

"Stockings and Sensibility ?" Aera grimaces at the passionate embrace of the couple painted on the cover. "You really are a pervert." 

Jungkook's eyes widen. He glances at the book and internally curses. "It is not for me! Byunjae asked me to get it for him." 

Aera raises an eyebrow. "Since when did the son of a Viscount ask for favours from the son of a Duke? You hardly even do favours for Lord Taehyung or Jimin." 

"I do." Jungkook insists. "And this is definitely for him. Anyway, what are you reading?" 

Aera holds up the stack of hardback books. Jungkook skims through the French titles. 

"You must speak French very well." 

"I do." 

He frowns. "That is unusual for a scholar." 

"I never said I was the usual scholar." Aera smiles, unperturbed by his implication. "If you would excuse me, my Lord." 

"You are not excused." Jungkook chimes. Aera sighs. "You must sit with me whilst I read." 

"You said that book was not intended for you." She retorts. "Find a better one for your excuse and come sit with me by the window." 

"The window?" Jungkook glances at the array of desks, arm chairs and loungers. "Why the window?" 

Aera ignores his comment. He kisses his teeth with annoyance, resignedly skimming the shelves for a mildly digestible read. He's never been a big fan of reading.  

"You are struggling to pick, are you not?" Aera suddenly emerges. Jungkook jolts, knocking his head against the shelf. 

"Ouch! Why can I not go five minutes out of harm's way if you are around?" 

"Not my fault that you have nerves of jam." She retorts, arm brushing against his ear as she takes something off the shelf and shoves it into his chest. "Here." 

Jungkook glances at the hardback. "Le Livre de la Cité des Dames?" 

Aera nods. "You should read it." 

Jungkook scoffs. "It looks rather dull." 

"So do you, and people still waste time getting to know you." Aera drawls, sauntering away. 

Jungkook scowls, striding after her. He reluctantly sits in the deep alcove. 

"Why do you sit by the window? There are perfectly good seats elsewhere." 

"Because when reading becomes less appealing, I can window watch instead." 

"Window watch?" Jungkook repeats curiously. 

"See here." Aera gestures to the elderly gardener who shuffles over the green stretch, shovel in hand. "That is Mister Baxley. But if I did not know him, I would make up a story in my head." 

"A story. How curious." Jungkook muses, eyes trailing as the old man disappears from their sight. "About the servants?" 

Aera rolls her eyes. "About anybody. I saw you walk past this window before we were properly acquainted." 

"You made up a story about me?" The revelation makes him feel both scandalised and flattered at once. 

Aera smirks. "Perhaps." 

"Pray do tell, Miss Lee." He mockingly begs, lowering his face to hers and pouting a little.  

Aera kisses her teeth with faux annoyance. "If you insist." 

"I certainly do." He interjects. 

"I shall have to amuse you then, how can one defy the request of a Lord?" She sighs sarcastically, glancing out the window. Jungkook waits patiently, a rare occurrence, for Aera to expand. 

"You seemed more handsome then, because I had only heard you open your mouth that one time." 

His smug smirk transforms into a scowl, opening to produce some biting remark. 

"Alas, you are not all that bad, my Lord. For a chauvinistic nobleman, you are slightly tolerable." She saves herself. 

His mouth shuts. 

"You were surrounded by others, like you always are." Aera's brow furrows. "I envied you. Like some gravitating force which pulls things in, everyone seemed to hold onto your every word and their eyes shined like you were some prized possession." 

"You envied me?" Jungkook swallows. 

"Everyone swears by your words like they are droplets of gold." 

"Not you, Aera." He replies softly. 

She won't look at him, stares out the window instead. 

"And what will that cost me?" She finally turns, meets his gaze head on. 

There's a challenging flicker in her eyes. 

"You know very well. I am a man of Retrorsum." Jungkook determines. 

"And I am a free thinking woman." Aera responds with equal conviction. 

They stare at each other, neither wanting to back down. 

"You could be my woman." Jungkook finally breaks the silence with a suggestive smirk. 

Aera blinks then bursts into laughter. 

Jungkook's eyes widen in surprise. "Why? What is so humorous about that?" 

Aera's body shakes at the ridiculous idea, she slaps a hand to her mouth to try and stop the giggles. 

Jungkook's mouth drops open in disbelief. "Stop laughing!" 

Aera nods, wiping the slight tears which sprouted from hilarity, and presses her lips together, or tries as they keep curving upwards. 

"You-" Aera clears her throat in an attempt to be serious, "Lord Jungkook, are you drunk?" 

"No." Jungkook swallows down his deflating pride. "I was- never mind." 

She stares out the window, seemingly oblivious to his wounded ego. "At first I envied you, until I realised you were vacant. As though...you were still lonely despite being surrounded by people." 

His breathe hitches. 

How did she know? Was he that easy to read?

"Speak for yourself." He scoffs. "I am perfectly happy." 

"It is merely a story remember? I know who you are now." Aera rolls her eyes at his defensiveness. "No need to be tetchy." 

Jungkook exhales wearily. "Sorry." 

Aera tilts her head in puzzlement as he appears to battle with his thoughts. "Is something the matter, My Lord?" 

What could he possibly say? He cannot disclose how she reads him like no one else could, even before they became properly acquainted. He cannot say how he feels conflicted over the supposed bet and how his jeering classmates have risked abundances of remuns on the prospect of him seducing her. He cannot admit that when she laughed at the prospect of being his woman, his stomach swirled bitterly. 

So he reaches out and tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear, catching them both off guard. "Nothing, darling." 

"What on earth." Aera flinches back as if physically repulsed by the term. "I am not your darling, darling." 

Jungkook's eyes narrow. "You will be." 

"Will not." 

"Will to." 

"I want to read and you have proved to be nothing but a distraction." Aera scowls at his pettiness. 

Jungkook grins. "Why? Too handsome?" 

"Too irritable. Now, be off with you. Make yourself scarce immediately." Aera all but shoves him off the window seat, ignoring Jungkook's protests. 

He throws himself on a sofa in the prefect common room with a sorrowful groan. 

"Did you do it yet, Kook?" 

The head boy immediately scowls, sitting up. "Do what?" 

"Seduce the squalor of course." 

Jungkook glares at the boy in front of him. "None of your business." 

"Now, now, head boy." Kijung grins, slinging an arm over him as he joins the conversation. "It very much is our business. I bet a pretty sum of remuns that you will pull it off." 

Byunjae sighs as he overhears them, striding over with his arms crossed. "Indeed it is. I mean, the minute anyone spots her they inform you and you hurry over and pretend its fate. She still has not fallen for that?" 

"You went on a long stroll and received no results. Rather disappointing." 

Jungkook's eyes turn to daggers. "Watch who you are speaking to." 

The boy gulps. "My apologies, my Lord. I just thought you were superb at charming women. This is a rarity." 

"I'll say." Kijung snorts. "That Lee Aera-" 

The speech dies in his throat as the door swings open, revealing Park Jimin and Kim Taehyung. 

"What about Lee Aera?" Jimin demands.

Jungkook rolls his eyes and sighs. "Nothing much. They still cannot believe she is enrolled in our classes." 

The others nod along like obedient dogs. 

"Right." He comments suspiciously, glancing at the book in Jungkook's lap. "What is that?" 

Jungkook's hands wind protectively around the copy of Le Livre de la Cité des Dames. "None of your concern." 

Jimin scowls. "Very well." 

With that he walks out the common room, feeling very unwelcome. 

Jungkook feels guilty. But he had an inkling that informing Jimin about the seduction plan would not be a good idea. 

Taehyung sits between him and Kijung, snatching the book. He reads the title with utter befuddlement. 

"Kook, why on earth are you reading a book about women?" 

Everyone stares at him incredulously. 

"To play along." Jungkook answers half heartedly, snatching the book back. 

"Ahhhh." They chorus in relieved understanding. 

"For a moment, I thought that woman had really sunk her teeth into you." Kijung chuckles. 

Jungkook says nothing as he stares at the book. He tosses it to the boy in front of him. 

"Return this rubbish tomorrow." 

 

Chapter Text

"Miss Lee, there is a carriage outside waiting for you." 

Aera blinks at the receptionist. Dara shrugs, leaning in closer and whispering. "The sender is your benefactor. Your absence has been approved by the headmaster." 

The girl scratches the back of her neck in nervous confusion.

"The gentlemen said to add that you are not in trouble." Dara adds with a smile, waving the message with amusement. 

Aera's shoulders relax. "A day trip?" 

"Yes, he said you shall be back by ten o'clock this evening at the very latest." 

"Well I better get my coat." She grins with mild excitement. 

Her spoon plummets into the winter soup with such effect that half of it sloshes over the side onto the crisp table. The head waiter winces in the corner of the grand restaurant. 

He winces. “Aera, dear, everyone who is anyone is going.”

“But I am a nobody!” Aera protests, clutching the spoon with vigour. 

Her benefactor rolls his eyes, gently easing the utensil out of her grip. “Yes, in your head you are.”

"At school I am." Aera insists, eyes pleading. "And I like it that way. It means I can silently move around and then BAM." 

The man jumps back in shock at the clamour, his wooden chair tipping against the plush carpet. He clutches his chest and scowls. "Thank God you are not my daughter. Evil, evil child." 

She pouts. "That is not very nice, uncle." 

"Go to the ball." He orders sharply. 

Aera exhales heavily, averting her eyes from his hopeful gaze.

"It is a masquerade affair, for the love of God." He laments. "No one shall see your face." 

No reaction. 

"What will your father say if he finds out that you did not attend?" The older man implores. 

Aera scoffs. "To hell with what that old git thinks." 

"Lee Aera!" He outcries. 

She sticks her head high with defiance. 

"Go to the ball. That is my wish for Christmas this year. And it is most certainly your mother's." 

Her resistant resolve begins to crumble at his desperate pout. 

"You seriously cannot think of a better wish?" She grumbles. 

"No, my dear child. I would like to see you attend the ball. Truly." 

After along while Aera sighs again, half heartedly glowering at her lunch companion. 

"Fine. I shall go to the bloody ball." She mumbles. 

Aera stands outside the boutique in dread as she absorbs the shop front. Shocking colours and patterns, ruffles, rouging, feathers, lace, crushed velvet, bedazzled bodices and essentially anything which screamed 'look at me!". That was exactly what Aera did not want her ball gown to encompass. It was bad enough that she promised to go. 

The man chuckles beside her, tilting his head with amused bewilderment. "No wonder they often have bricks thrown through the front window. Most cannot stand the thought of Retrorsum women dressing like this." 

"Retrorsum women dress like my grandmother. Bleary, dull and like thou shall be modest is scribed on their foreheads. A century behind, poor souls." Aera sighs apathetically, her white shirt tucked into a pinstripe long skirt, cropped matching waistcoat over the top is a very literal embodiment of her defiance of Retrorsum custom. To top off the tradition shattering, societally obscene look, a small top hat sits over her long, flowing hair. 

If her benefactor wasn't who he was, she would've certainly been arrested by now. 

"You sound just like your mother." He muses as passers-by gawk at the pair in their matching hats, the man equally as eccentric in his flouncy garments. "Shall we go in?"

Aera wordlessly enters the shop, greeted by the clerks stunned or disgusted expressions. 

"Sorry, we are appointment only." 

"I am the appointment." Aera cocks an eyebrow, waltzing in as if she owned the place...which wasn't that far from the truth. 

She saunters past the last staff member and through the velvet curtains before she can sound words out of her mouth, jaw slackening. The man trails behind her, apologetically nodding.

"Terribly sorry. That is my Goddaughter, here for the three o'clock." 

Each woman looks to the next in horror before they sprint into the fitting room. 

"It is custom?" Aera repeats with immense displeasure. 

"Yes, madam." The store clerk gulps. 

Aera sighs, turning to her benefactor. "Be honest, how bad is it?" 

A Henrietta Bombelle creation is always certain to catch eyes, but a custom piece...

"I have not seen it." He admits as they eye the draped mannequin warily, pondering what could possibly lie beneath. 

"May we observe?" Aera asks the head tailor with a forced smile. 

She should have never agreed to something where her mother was concerned. 

The woman nods, and two clerks take each end of the black cloth and dramatically pull it back. 

Aera and her Godfather both stare at the dress, one in amused horror, one in shocked wonder. 

"God almighty!" 

Aera returns to school in a sour mood. 

"Lord Jeon Jungkook was looking for you." Is the first thing Jiwoo says to her as she enters their shared chamber. 

Aera sighs. It had been a long day. 

"Is that so?" She mutters disinterestedly. 

Jiwoo raises an eyebrow. "You will not ask what he wanted?" 

"Just say it." 

"He asked about your circumstances." 

Aera scoffs. "Why would he want to know about my circumstances?" 

Jiwoo frowns and nods. "That was what I said. Then he asked if I knew anything of your benefactor." 

Aera's entire face draws into a scowl, eyes looking like they could kill. Since when did Jeon Jungkook care about where she was, what she was doing and most importantly, who her benefactor is? And why was he asking her friends things that are none of his concern? 

Jiwoo gulps, shifting further onto her bed upon noticing her roommate's darkness. 

"I-I did not say anything. I mean, I do not even know who your benefactor is!" 

"No one does. And it will stay that way." Aera states with an eery sense of calm. "If the topic is me, do not talk to that boy again. Understand?" 

Jiwoo swallows. "Yes, Aera. Sorry." 

Aera shakes her head. "No, I apologise for my curtness. I am rather tired and it was not the most pleasant news to hear upon arrival." 

"Okay. I understa- Where are you going?" Jiwoo exclaims as Aera marches out the door, having hardly returned five minutes ago. 

Anyone who is in distance of Lee Aera swiftly dives out of the way as she advances down the hallways. Dara watches in bemusement from her desk as the trailblazing girl marches out the same grand arch she'd merely entered through moments ago. 

She suddenly holts. 

"Hold on a minute, why should I waste my breath walking all the way to the boy's school to shout at some worthless imp? That makes me look bothered. And it makes me look like I have something to hide." She mutters to herself, whirling around and storming back through the front entrance of the building.

"Is everything alright, Miss Lee?" Dara calls from the doorway of the reception office. 

Aera smiles with a new sense of clarity. "Quite splendid, Dara." 

"Go, go, go!" 

Aera charges towards the carriage parked near the deserted back entrance of the school, heart thrumming as she throws herself in the back of it. 

"Did anyone see me?" She pants. 

Park Jimin scowls, eyes flickering the the leather suitcase which has been flung on top of him and back to Aera. "There is no one out there for miles. Did you have to risk bashing my face in like that?" 

"Would have been an improvement." Aera smiles sarcastically, Jimin rolls his eyes and knocks against the carriage wall. 

The driver whistles, hoofs gallop and then they're off. 

"So, care to explain why I have to share a carriage with you to Min County?" 

"Mother's orders." Aera rolls her eyes, Jimin's widen. He sits up, tossing the luggage to the floor and resting his feet on top with acute scepticism. It wasn't like Aera to listen to anyone but herself.

"Really? Your mother told you to reside at my place in Min County?" 

Aera clicks her tongue. "Of course not. She ordered me to attend the ball, and where else can I stay except with you?" 

Jimin gasps. "You- you are- the ball? You- what?" 

Aera pinches her brow as he splutters. "Yes. I am attending the Winter Masquerade Ball hosted by the Duke of Min in Min County's opera house. Thank you for that helpful input." 

The nobleman shakes his head. "But...what will you wear? And who will you go with? And how will you explain who you are?" 

"It is a masquerade ball, Lord Jimin. One is not allowed to request another's identity at such an event. Or have I understood Retroric custom incorrectly?" Aera drawls, settling back in the carriage and shutting her eyes. She is a heap more relaxed about the logistics of it all than her friend.

Jimin sighs. Then lets out a small wail. "You are scaring me. This is so unlike you." 

"If I do not go, my mother will skin me alive and my father would...." She shudders, chuckling humourlessly. 

They both look out the window with horror as they contemplate what the man would do. 

"Anyway," Aera clears her throat. "You need to teach me everything I need to know before tonight." 

Aera's eyes widen as she observes the ballroom below, or rather the grand entrance hall of the Min Opera House. The floor was crisp white marble with red marble pillars bearing historical marble statues of the Min dynasty lining the walls. The statues of the important figures touched the towering ceiling which was literal gold, embellished with intricate carvings of musical notes and instruments along with the Min family crest. In the centre hung the biggest chandelier Aera's witnessed yet in Retrorsum, strung with an incessant amount of rubies, the Min's family stone. Something Seokjin taught her in History class. 

She stood at the top of the curving marble steps, all eyes seemingly turning to her and chatter dimming. 

She had descended straight from heaven. Red satin, usually considered far too vulgar and erotic in that shade, suddenly transformed into a mysterious charm as it descended against the white marble, long enough but untraditionally narrower than most dresses. It only cascaded out a little, contrary to other Ladies' puffed out dresses, you could almost see the silhouette of her figure. The usual corset obviously lied beneath the red satin, accentuating her waist, the bodice speaks for itself with its rich, smooth material stopping over her bust and exposing the slightest curve. Her dainty collarbones are exposed, the material gently curving into a v shape akin to angel wings and ending as tiny sleeves. 

The other ladies donned puffed out skirts with thrills and beads and everything which screamed wealth, puffed sleeves covering the expanses of their arms, material creeping to their chins.

To say this woman was out of place was an extreme understatement. 

So much skin, curves slightly illuminated, the red potentially alluding to dangerous things. 

"What in the Dalia is that?" Jung Haewon exclaims. 

The aristocrats of The Institutions had found each other rather quickly, though they stuck to the customs of not requesting each other's identities, nor calling each other by name.

They were stunned. 

"That cannot be Dalian, it is Parisian. More specifically, Henrietta Bombelle." Kim Taehyung, fashion enthusiast corrects whilst marvelling at the dress. 

"Henrietta Bombelle?" Lady Mina repeats with shock. "I never saw that dress in the store." 

"It must be custom." Taehyung deliberates. 

The women gasp. "Custom?" 

"Surely not." 

"Who is she?" 

Indeed, who would such a woman be to acquire as custom dress from the most sought after designer in high society? 

Jungkook emerges out of the lavatory, rather serene after emptying his bladder of all the sherry he'd knocked back before coming. He glances up, confused as everyone's heads appear to gravitate towards the winding staircase. 

His breath hitches as the mysterious woman descends the steps. Jungkook drinks in her attire with wonder, bounding over to the group which he is certain are his friends. 

"Who do you suppose that is?" He asks the masked boy he's certain is Taehyung, who shrugs. 

"I have not the slightest idea." 

Jungkook, along with many others cannot seem to take his eyes off the stranger. 

"My lady, may I have this first dance?" 

Aera hesitates, hoping the boy before her is Jimin. 

"It is me, idiot." He mutters. 

Aera breaks out into a grin, the only exposed part of her face asides from her eyes. 

"You may." She takes his hand as the ascend the dance floor, the orchestra easing into the first dancing number of the night. 

"I could hardly recognise you under the mask, but the dress definitely gave it away. For someone who does not desire attention, your dress is rather counterproductive." He scoffs as they twirl past the other couples. 

"I will cut you some slack and not hurt you considering you taught me this dance today." Aera freely scowls behind her mask, Jimin smirks. 

"What can I say? I have always been the charitable type." 

He winces as Aera's heel grinds into his toe. 

The number finishes, to both their relief. Jimin releases her and bows, Aera begrudgingly curtseys. 

"When can we leave again?" She whispers. 

Jimin sighs under his breath.  "You need to survive for at least an hour and a half." 

"Duly noted." Aera nods, planning to spend at least a half hour hiding in the powder room and then perhaps another strolling through the beautiful gardens she caught a glimpse of when arriving. 

The music for the next dance begins. 

"Not the Polonaise." She bemoans. 

The two have no choice but to dance together again as no one else seems to want to dance with them. Aera doesn't know whether to feel offended or relieved. 

"It is always the second dance at Retroric balls." Jimin subtly sticks his tongue out as she has to practically bend to the floor to curtsey at him, whilst he merely has to dip his head froward in a bow. 

"To parade your partner around?" Aera scoffs at the unfavourable dance, one she hardly ever performed, as he grips her extended arm and leads her to one side of the ballroom. 

"Exactly. Now come on." 

They stand in a long train of couples. Aera tenses as she feels eyes burning into the back of her scalp as they wait for the cellos to join in. 

It's all going swimmingly until the two parallel lines form a circle and Aera remembers she has to weave four partners away from Jimin, avoiding eye contact as her hands barely slip into another, then the next, the third possesses the familiar smell of bergamot, amber and forrest. Aera falters a little, half a second too quick to the next partner. 

She feebly returns the stranger's smile as their joined hands raise in air, before they set and spin and then she's winding four positions down the circle again, finally able to breathe. 

The third man was definitely him. 

She noticed that Retrorsum had scrapped the move of the gentlemen kneeling on the floor whilst the ladies twirled around them. How fragile. As if being below women for a few seconds would cancel out all the preached male superiority of the capital. 

A while later the music stops. Aera and Jimin make their way to the side of the room, a historical Min figure digging into Aera's back like she thought pressing herself against the wall would make her invisible. They glance in surprise as a figure emerges in front of them. 

"May I have the next dance, My Lady?" 

He's looking at Jimin for permission who simply turns to Aera for her opinion. She stares at him blankly, Jimin glares back. 

"For Pete's sake, it is me! Seokjin!" The older man whisper yells. 

Aera sounds surprise. "Why not say that to begin with?" 

His eyes roll behind the mask. "Because in Retrorsum we do not-" 

"Yes, I have heard that silly rule. Most convenient for husbands who desire affairs and those seeking unspeakable flings." She comments dryly, procuring horrified expressions from the two boys. Aera giggles as their disproval shines through their masks. 

"Did I tell a lie?" She furthers as they remain in silence. 

Seokjin sighs and shakes his head. "No, you did not. It is a rather unfortunate truth." 

Aera turns to Jimin. "You should find a partner who enjoys the bland, low paced Retroric repertoire. I shall not bother you until I desire to leave the ball." 

Jimin grins. "Thank the heavens. Now, if you will excuse me, I have had my eye on that woman over there since I stepped into the hall." 

Seokjin and Aera roll their eyes as they wave him off. 

"Forewarning, the next number is the Mazurka." 

She groans. 

Jungkook is having a hard time keeping track of which of his friends, or he hopes are his friends, are where and with who as he parades around the ballroom, switching partners as often as possible. Much to the ladies' dismay. He can't stop looking for the girl in the red dress, and she's surprisingly hard to find considering her bold outfit, it was the main topic of conversation of the evening. 

He's had enough of dancing, straightening his coattails as he advances to the other set of stairs which lead further into the opera house, ascending them and turning slightly left before sighing in relief. Even with their backs turned on the expansive limestone balcony, Jungkook recognises his classmates immediately. 

He creeps up and latches his hands on Taehyung's shoulders, who screeches in shock. Byunjae slaps a hand on his mouth. 

"Quiet down or we will attract unwanted attention." 

They've all shed their masks, Jungkook doing the same with a grin. It's technically not breaking the rules if they're not currently at the ball. 

"How are your evenings progressing, gentlemen?" The head boy enquires. 

Chae Byunjae grins. "I am pretty certain that I danced with Lady Haewon."

He scowls as they mockingly coo. 

Taehyung hums. "I want to talk to the girl in the red dress." 

Their amusement stops, eyes flickering to him curiously. 

"Why?" Jungkook raises an eyebrow. 

"Just because." Taehyung shrugs. "She seems interesting." 

Ki Kijung snorts from the glass doors, making everyone turn in shock, recovering as he sheds his mask. 

"Interesting is one word for it. I could have sworn I saw Park Jimin dancing with her. Alas, he seems to have moved on. " 

"Now is your chance, Tae." Byunjae muses. "Though I would not bother if I were you, the girl is clearly a whore." 

"Maybe that is why he should bother." Kijung adds, they cackle. 

Jungkook's face sets blankly. "Why would you call her a whore?" 

The pair quieten at his somber tone. 

"Kook?" Byunjae starts unsurely. "A woman in a shoulder exposing red dress? Which is clearly not Retroric. What else are we supposed to call her?" 

"What a woman wears is no indicator of what she does and who she fairs with. Nor is it your concern." Jungkook lectures. 

Everyone turns to him like he's grown three heads and a tail. He scowls further. 

"I mean, are we saints? Have you never stripped your shirt off after playing sports or hunting whilst in plain view of female servants?" 

"But we are men." Kijung scratches the back of his neck as if he cannot fathom Jungkook's words. "It is not the same." 

"How is it not the same?" Jungkook huffs. "It is exactly the same. It is hypocritical!" 

"My, my." Park Jimin emerges with a grin, Sam Samuel trailing after him. "What have you idiots said that made Jeon speak so passionately for once?" 

"They called the girl in the red dress a whore." Taehyung deadpans. 

Jimin's grin falls. "What?" 

"God." Byunjae groans. "Chaps, stop making me feel like I committed high treason. I bet everyone else, including the ladies, would be inclined to agree." 

He points at the masked attendees in the gardens below, some smoking cigars, others chatting with frosted glasses in their hand. 

"Come on Byun, let us free ourselves of such miserable company." Kijung serves a withering look to Jungkook, which quickly dissipates as Jungkook glares in return, jaw taut. 

The two of them leave. Jungkook exhales with annoyance. 

"Was I being unreasonable?" He turns to Taehyung. 

Taehyung pauses, glancing over Jungkook's shoulder as if he didn't know what to answer. 

Finally, he blinks. "I think that Aera girl has rubbed off on you, and not in a good way." 

"Taehyung!" Jimin protests.

"What?" The boy scowls. "He has been soft since her. Have you forgotten the-" 

"Shut up." Jungkook seethes. "Get out of my sight. Now." 

He lashes around, softening a little at the sight of a pale faced Sam Samuel. 

Taehyung sighs, glancing at Samuel unsurely. "Come on." 

Jimin glances between the pair with suspicion, following after them. 

Jungkook stays there for a long while, so much so that his friends had been up countless times to beg him to come back and dance, the masked society wondering where the nobleman disappeared to even if they could not voice their intrigue. 

He stared out into the moon illuminated grounds, leaving the balcony doors open so he can hear the orchestra downstairs as he basks in the evening scent of roses to try and ease his mind. 

Too soft. That Aera girl. 

He only really valued what Jimin and Taehyung say, they're his best friends, closest confidents and they were always honest with him. 

Maybe Taehyung is right. He's let Lee Aera pull wool over his eyes and suddenly he's spewing a load of nonsense which a common girl told him. 

What would his grandfather say? He shivers at the cool breeze. 

Taehyung had seemingly disappeared, or was too preoccupied to check on him. Perhaps he didn't want to see Jungkook for the rest of the night. 

"Kook." Jimin bursts through the portière doors, followed by a sheepish Byunjae and Kijung and Samuel who looked skittish as usual. "Come on now, an hour has past, you have missed an abundance of dances. It would be nice for us all to do the gentlemen's dance together." 

And Aera's going to drag me home soon, Jimin thinks. 

"It is nice out here." Jungkook gestures to the green expanse below. "Come stand here and think for a little while, then we shall go." 

"Bollocks to that!" Jimin huffs, marching inside. 

Kijung and Byunjae look at each other like their head boy had officially lost his marbles, nevertheless they trudge over to the edge. 

Sam Samuel gasps, pointing at something in disbelief. 

Amongst the maze of rose bushes, a figure which is unmistakably Taehyung and the girl in the red dress sat on a bench, Jungkook can only see the back of her head as the boy leans in and kisses her. 

Jungkook momentarily frowns yet turns away. "Give them some privacy." 

Immediately, the boys spring from the stone railing and turn back to the building.   

Jungkook glances back again but they're gone. 

 

Chapter Text

"Last dance." Jimin mouths across the room, Aera exhales in relief, feeling jittery and overwhelmed. 

She thought she would be able to handle it. All the disapproving scowls and shocked whispers and leering eyes. But it was all too much. 

Nevertheless, she didn't want to spoil Jimin's fun, flitting around the dance floor with as many partners as he pleased, his mirthful laughs ringing around the hall. 

So she sat on one of the ivory chairs set on one side of the room designated for ladies to rest from dancing. Aera's feet ached and she struggled to breath in the impossibly tight corset, felt like her heart was in her mouth as she gazed into oblivion. 

This was the safest place for a woman to be, she wouldn't make the same mistake of wandering in the gardens alone ever again. 

"Are you alright?" 

She stiffens as a shadow casts before her across the white marble; amber, forest and bergamot immediately invading her senses. 

Aera swallows and gingerly lifts her head. 

Even behind the leather mask, it's painfully obvious that it's him. No mask could hide such devastating beauty. 

Aera nods, not trusting herself to speak. 

"Then may I have this last dance, my Lady?" 

Aera stares at the outstretched white gloved hand, her stomach lurching with a befuddled mix of dread and intrigue. 

She slowly nods again. Jungkook chuckles lightly, plucking one of her heart strings. 

"You have little words, My Lady. Are you always this shy?" 

Aera shakes her head immediately, which widens Jungkook's smile as he leads her onto the dance floor. 

She curtseys shallowly as he deeply bows. 

"I suspect you are from a land that is not this one." Jungkook speculates as the music begins. "This dance is called The Embrace, are you familiar with it?" 

"Sort of." Aera mumbles, avoiding his famously intense gaze. Normally it wouldn't bother her in the slightest, but tonight it far from normal and she is not Lee Aera but the girl in red. 

She finds it odd how Jungkook keeps his hands at a slight distance from her body, their palms ghosting over each other, his other hand hovering over her shoulder. 

"I always do this." Jungkook murmurs. "Unless I want my partner's affections." 

Aera smirks, pitching her voice to sound like the usual Dalian nobility. "So you do not desire my affection?" 

Jungkook blinks at the bold question. She reminded him of her. 

"I hope I do not cause the lady offence-" 

"I hope the gentleman realises I was kidding. I do not desire your affection." 

"Good." Jungkook grins. "I think we would make good friends." 

Aera internally cackles at the irony. "How so?" 

"You remind me of someone I am quite fond of." 

Aera falters a little, stumbling slightly as Jungkook steps back and she forgets to. 

Jungkook effortlessly catches her. "Ah," He sighs mockingly. "You were doing so well, almost like the Retroric." 

"I remind you of someone?" Aera enquires, subtly she hopes. 

Jungkook's eyebrows raise. "Well, sort of. Just your humour, I suppose. She is incomparable though." His voice softens at the end, his eyes turn vacant. 

Aera doesn't press the subject further as he appears to drift into his mind. 

She just doesn't understand why she can't take her eyes off him for one moment. 

"I hope you do not pay heed to what people say here. They are simply jealous." 

"Jealous?" 

"They either want to dance with you or dress like you." Jungkook explains. "We are rather traditional here. I am sure they crave the freedom which you possess." 

"Ah, my dress." Aera muses. "Yes, I have overheard some rather unpleasant things." 

Jungkook grimaces. "I apologise on our society's behalf." 

Aera wonders what on earth has happened to him. Where had the overbearing Retroric national who lived, breathed and defended their custom with every fibre of his being run off to? 

The penultimate move is a twirl, Jungkook lifting her by the waist as gentlemanly as he could. Aera, unfamiliar with the dance, laughs in surprise at the sudden move. 

Jungkook falters as he places her back on the ground. 

That laugh. 

His heart beats as he wordlessly stares at the girl, other couples finishing the last steps as Jungkook remains frozen. Aera curtseys as the strings kiss their last note goodbye, says "Good night, my Lord." and turns to leave. He doesn't know what comes over him as he grabs her hand, tugging her forward a little. 

My Lord.

He could've sworn he saw the blur of a formation of three beauty marks on her wrist. 

But before he can say anything, Jimin is there in a flash. 

"Time to go, My Lady." Jimin smiles as if nothing is out of the ordinary. 

Jungkook blinks, swallowing hard. "You know her?" 

"Of course. She is a family friend from Dalia, I am her chaperone and guardian for the night." 

Jungkook cannot ask any further questions, especially as they've attracted curious eavesdroppers who undoubtedly recognise the two Lords behind their masks. He couldn't violate etiquette so freely as to ask who the girl in red is. 

Besides, how could it be her? That's ridiculous. This was one of  the most high society events of the year. 

"I see. Good night, Lady...and Lord." 

"Good night, Lord." Jimin winks, Aera merely waves as her heart hammers in its ribcage. 

Her and Jimin leave as quickly and as subtly as they can, sprinting through a bush in order to reach the Park carriage. 

"The things I do for you." Jimin pants. "Did you see his eyes? Looked like he saw a ghost." 

Aera bites her lip. "Do you think he realised?" 

"Do not flatter yourself." Jimin giggles. "There is no way Jungkook knows you that well." 

The girls burst into clamorous giggles as Jiwoo and Aera waltz around the abandoned classroom. Even Jeon Yuna can hardly suppress her smile. 

"You see her hands? If you are dancing with a true gentlemen he will not lay a finger on you unless necessary." Aera narrates as they clumsily flail around the stone floor. 

"But what if I want to?" Jiwoo imitates a mans voice, suddenly bending Aera's spine. The whole room squawks and hoots at the hilarity. 

Until the heavy wooden door swings open. 

Aera glances at the door, still hanging in Jiwoo's arms. Everyone goes silent. 

Lady Min Mina flanked by Lady Jung Haewon and her cousin Min Millicent stand with their arms crossed, victorious expressions on their faces. 

"What do we have here?" The head girl demands. 

Aera clears her throat, winding herself out of Jiwoo's arms. "Chess club." 

"It did not sound like chess club, squalor Lee." Mina raises a pointed eyebrow. 

"Because we got a little distracted." Aera counters. 

The members murmur in agreement. 

"Are you sure that this is chess club?" Mina presses. 

"Yes. Would you like to watch us play?" Aera challenges, hardly perturbed by the implication. 

Mina turns to look at her lackeys, they shrug helplessly. 

The noblewoman huffs. "I will get you next time, squalor." 

"You are practically begging for us to get caught." Lee Hyejin sighs as the whole chess club gather in the lower school scholar dormitory. 

Lady Yuna, head laid in Aera's lap rolls her eyes as she takes up an entire bed, sans Aera, for herself. 

"Are you scared of Lady Mina? She is nothing but an embarrassing airhead." 

Aera coughs down a laugh. "Yuna, that is not nice." 

Jeon Yeseul, the newest member, agrees with her sister for once. "She just wants our brother's affections. For years now. Anyone with self respect would have given up by now." 

"Your brother is rather handsome." Lee Jieun adds. 

Hyejin snorts. "So one should grovel at a man's feet because of his face?" 

The other final year scholar scowls. "Not I. But perhaps she is blinded by his good looks." 

"Actually, I wanted to talk about women's modesty today. Unless you desire to debate about Lord Jungkook's handsomeness all night?" Aera drawls sarcastically. 

"You would know." Jiwoo pipes up. 

Everyone snickers, including his sisters. Aera rolls her eyes. "I wanted to talk about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man." 

The girls finally quieten as Aera begins her talk. This is really what chess club is. 

Conversations

about 

Her

Equality 

Self-sufficiency 

and

Suppression

It wasn't the smoothest abbreviation but the final year Lees couldn't think of many activities that the real identity of the club could exist behind. 

"Women live in a world if you are too independent? A whore. Too dressy? A whore. Too opinionated? A whore. Men are scared of women who do not believe that they exist for them. They are afraid is a woman can think for herself or worse yet, disagree with them. Because, my darlings, to disagree with men is to disagree with society. Why? Because men built society to revolve around them. And they put women in boxes of domesticity. So God forbid a woman should sail around the world by herself or open a perfumery or work in a bank. Why? Because men said they shall not? Men determined these as roles for men by men." 

"That is outrageous!" Yuna scowls, taking everyone by surprise. "Why should I not open a boutique? Why should I not design clothes? Because Retroric men forbade it? I am Jeon Yuna, I can do whatever I please!" 

"That is the spirit, sister." Yeseul chimes proudly. 

"Physical strength does not equal intellectual strength. Qualities which are often associated with women such as emotional, sensitive, caring, compassionate, kind - these are not weak traits! Nor are they exclusive to women. Nor are qualities of strength, courage, bravery etcetera exclusive to men. As a woman, you can be physically strong, you can be brave, you can be outspoken and if you are none of these things that does not make you inferior to men. Nor is a sensitive, emotional man inferior to his counterparts. In fact, if you have to marry a man, it would be better to choose one with sensibility and who can bloody listen." 

And three nights after that. 

"Tonight I want to speak about how women dress and why we are made to be ashamed of our bodies." 

And three nights after that. 

"Tonight I want to tell you about businesswomen overseas." 

And the final night, when Aera knows it will not go on for much longer. 

"Tonight I want us to have an open conversation about female sexuality." 

"Female sexuality?"  Jung Lena repeats the foreign subject. 

"Yes. Many of you are not aristocratic, yet we are surrounded by such people. On the one hand, this dwelling may be able to elevate your status in the world." Aera hesitates, considering her phrasing. "On the other, there are dynamics of power here that the commoner has no choice but to bend under. Sometimes, gentlemen will pay attention to you. They may dote on you, give you gifts, keep you company and entertain your thoughts. They may tell you sweet nothings and worm their way into your heart." 

"But why? We are common, well, expect some of us." Hyejin adds, conscious of the four or five noblewoman here. 

Aera clicks her fingers. "Pardon me, but it is usually a desire to..." 

"To?" Jiwoo frowns with confusion. 

Jieun rolls her eyes. "To do the unmentionable with you." 

The girls gasp. 

Aera nods gravely. "In most societies, a woman's so called purity is unfortunately her entire personality and if not married and known to lose such a thing, she shall be shunned. I want you all to look upon these women with only kindness. It is not their fault, and their male counterparts are never subjected to such humiliation, shame or scorn. Some women are banished to live destitute lives forever and some may be impregnated with so called bastard children." 

"That is awful." Yeseul pouts. 

"Indeed. So be vigilant. If a nobleman suddenly pours his focus on you, do not be naive. He is most likely after one thing. And if you surrender yourself to him, it will only be you, as the woman, who bears the brunt of shame. That is how abhorrent our society is." 

Aera takes a deep breath. "Sometimes, these men will force women. They have status and power and they can toss people aside with the drop of the hat. That is another deep rooted issue of most countries. He can say he had his way with you and everyone will believe it, his friends may even pat him on the back for it. That is why women must stick together, if you see a nobleman trying to seduce a woman, because there is a grave difference between courting and seduction my dears, help her. Intervene, and if it persists, advise her to flee. Because women have scarce options when it comes to these things." 

"You know a lot about this topic." Hyejin frowns suspiciously. 

Aera nods. "It happened to my friend." 

Everyone gasps. "What happened to her?" 

She can hardly tell them what actually happened. 

"She travelled many miles away, to a place called Greece. I hear she is happier there." 

"Anyway," Aera clears her throat. "Women must stick together and protect each other as best as we can." 

Everyone was rather shaken by Aera's tales and the CHESS club disbanded rather early for the night, forgoing their usual gossip and chatter after the heavy topics of the evening. 

Aera fulfils her prefect duties in silence, tallying the grades of each scholar and her etiquette progress on a chart which she had to present to the headmaster tomorrow morning. 

A head peaks around the door of the prefect common room. 

Surprisingly, it's Kim Amelia who stands at the door, stiff and pale. 

"Can I talk to you?" 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Aera!" 

Her eyes widen at the sight of Jungkook. She immediately turns around and walks the other way. 

"Hey! As the Lord of Jeon, I order you to stay there." 

He huffs as she continues walking away. 

"Lee Aera!" 

She scowls as she catches up to her, jumping in front of her. Aera lurches left only to be blocked, then right with the same effect. 

"What is it?" She demands. 

Jungkook's face falls a little. "I have not seen you for ages." 

"So?" Aera blinks. 

Jungkook pauses. "Oh." 

How did this all start? She was a trailblazing woman, an outrage to society who infiltrated their classrooms and demanded to learn subjects which were for men. And then he tried to fight back by invading the female space only for her to welcome them with amused, open arms. A mere commoner who argued with him about lineage, and came with him and his sisters for tea. He watched her dance with another man with sludge in his stomach, teased her, taunted her, received those things in return. Feared her, when he found out his eldest sister had fallen under her wing, vowed to destroy her. Ran in the forrest with her, tended to her wound, kissed her hand. Watched the sunlight cascade against her skin in the library window as she told him something about himself which everyone failed to realise. 

And now what? 

Was he really supposed to rid the Institutions of her? 

Could he really do it? 

Because it had been a fortnight since Aera had been cold with him and quite frankly it was killing him. 

He clears his throat. "Are you dropping out of the boy's school yet?" 

Aera's eyes narrow. "You would like that." 

He wouldn't. "Yes, I would like that very much." 

"I sit in the corner and do not bother anyone." Aera deadpans. "Especially you." 

Jungkook struggles for a response as she shoulders him out of the way. 

"Where are you going?" 

Aera exhales with annoyance. "Go away." 

"What?" 

"Get lost." She snaps. "Just leave me alone." 

Jungkook's eyes widen. She's never been this hostile with him, and she certainly isn't joking. 

"Why?" He whispers.

Aera looks at him with conflicted eyes, like she wants to say more. After a short while she just rolls them and carries on walking. 

Jungkook cannot fathom why Aera would be mad at him. In fact, a few weeks ago they were getting along rather well. 

What changed? 

He stares at her shrinking figure in bewilderment. 

"Home furnishing and decor is doing my head in." Jiwoo huffs as they sit in the water garden, right by the lily pond. 

Aera raises her eyebrows. "I can imagine. There are only so many rugs and fireplaces one can analyse." 

"When do you finish the business course?" 

Aera sighs. "A week more and then there are the end-of-winter term exams."

Jiwoo sounds disgust. "Is that why you have been studying so often?" 

Aera nods. "I have to prove myself." 

"Lee Aera!" 

She groans at the familiar voice in the distance. 

Jiwoo's eyebrows shoot to her hairline. "By God, is that who I think it is?" 

"Just ignore him." 

"You cannot ignore a Lord, he will have our heads!" Jiwoo retorts, all but shoving Aera up and running. "I am out of here!" 

Aera brushes herself with a scowl as she stands up, stomping over to the boy who aimlessly waves with a splintering grin plastered on his face. 

"I told you to leave me alone!" She exasperates when she finally reaches him. 

Jungkook says nothing, extending something towards her. 

Aera glances at the bunch of flowers, obviously handpicked, ribbon barely keeping them together.

Her heart softens just a little. 

Jungkook takes her silence as acceptance, his grin impossibly widening. 

Until Aera grabs them roughly and hurls them into the body of water beside them. The flowers scatter mid air and fall, some floating on the top, others sink along with Jungkook's shoulders. 

Aera suddenly feels guilty as he looks at her with something akin to hurt. But what gives him the right to be hurt? What had she ever done to him? 

"What did I do wrong?" 

He sounds so small and unlike his normal arrogant self that Aera does a double take. 

"Nothing, really." Aera states tonelessly. "I just do not see the point of this." 

"Of what?" 

Aera gestures between herself and Jungkook, unsure of what to call it in words. 

Enemies? Acquaintances? Friends? 

"Most things in life are pointless." Jungkook determines, grabbing her hand before she can protest and pulling her further through the garden. 

There's no point resisting, Aera knows. She had been doing it for weeks and he only responds more passionately each time. 

She blinks at the hamper by another pond, this one significantly clearer of pond scum, lily pads in full bloom. A blossom tree stood right beside it, scattering its petals across the water. 

"What is this?" Aera eyes the blanket wearily. 

Jungkook points to the statue which stands in the middle of the pond. "That is my mother." 

Aera stares at the stone woman in the middle of the lake, ringlets of curls and a smile which resembles Jungkook's. 

"Oh..." 

"It is her birthday today." 

Aera swallows. Everyone in the country knew that the Lady Camellia Jeon shortly passed away after giving birth to Yubin. 

"Happy birthday My Lady." Aera shouts across the pond to the statue and curtseys. 

Jungkook looks at her with a gleam in his eyes, bursting into laughter. "God, you are so refreshing." 

"Her name is Camellia Jeon, she is Dalian. They put the surname after the first name unlike here, so Jeon Camellia sounded strange." Jungkook explains. "She died when I was nine." 

Aera thinks it's always difficult to respond to death. "Sounds like you are very close. Mother's boy?" 

Jungkook nods with a slight smile. "Completely. My father and I...we are not the closest." 

"Oh?" Aera sounds surprised. 

Jungkook shakes his head. "I think most assume that we would be, but I was actually shipped off here and raised by my Grandfather in the holidays." 

"What about your siblings?" Aera frowns. 

"My father doted on my sisters." Jungkook admits with an underling of bitterness.

"What is your Grandfather like?" 

"Dead." Jungkook deadpans. "How else would my father be a Duke?" 

"Of course, silly me. You are not fond of him then?" 

Jungkook's eyes darken. "Not at all." 

There's a stretch of silence, Aera reaches into the hamper and grabs a bunch of grapes, throwing one to a nearby duck. 

"What about you?" Jungkook suddenly enquires. 

"Huh?" 

"What is your family like? You said you had an older brother." 

Aera stiffens. "I do." 

"He is twenty one, if I remember correctly." He adds. 

She nods. 

Jungkook turns to her. "Tell me about your parents. Would they like me?" 

Aera absorbs his hopeful expression. She nods again. 

"My father would adore you." 

Jungkook grins. "What about your mother?" 

Aera tilts her head in thought. "She would warm up to you eventually." 

"Yes, mothers are quite protective of their daughters." Jungkook muses. 

"It would be my brother you have to worry about." Aera deliberates. "If you hurt me, your head would end up on a platter." 

Jungkook swallows, his joviality suddenly sullied. 

Aera smiles. "You will not hurt me though, will you My Lord?" 

The air dissipates from his lungs, acridness creeping into his stomach, heart lurches. 

"I-" 

The duck quacks, making the pair jump slightly. Aera giggles as it waddles up to her with a friend, beseeching for another grape. 

Jungkook breathes a sigh of relief. 

"Hello again, greedy thing." Aera coos, pointing to the new one. "Is this your lover?" 

He swallows, throat like sand as she tosses a bunch of grapes by the pond. 

"I got rid of them." She turns around to inform him, noticing his blanched demeanour. "Are you alright?" 

Jungkook feebly nods. 

"What were we talking about?" Aera muses aloud. "Oh, you said your mother is Dalian right?" 

"The daughter of the Count of Dalia. I have never met him." Jungkook thinks nothing of the question. 

"He is a nice man." Aera replies. 

Jungkook frowns. "What?" 

"He sounds like a nice man." Aera repeats. 

"Sorry, I thought you- never mind. My hearing is not great." 

"How did your parents meet?" 

Jungkook swallows as Aera lowers herself, top of her head hitting his thigh and resting there. 

"At a ball. The Winter Masquerade one, have you heard of it?"

Aera nods. "I heard the Ladies talking about it. Sounds fun." 

Jungkook absentmindedly plays with the ends of her hair. "It was alright this year." 

"Just alright?" 

"I argued a little with my friends." 

Aera glances up in interest, Jungkook drops the ends of her hair sheepishly. 

"It was not serious." He dismisses. 

"So they met at the ball. Love at first sight?" She diverts the subject. 

Jungkook's lips turn. "My mother wore a rather custom breaking dress. No one wanted to dance with her." 

Aera grins. "I think your mother and I would have got along swimmingly." 

Jungkook nods with a small smile, slipping a strand of her hair between his fingers. "It was red. And shoulder-less. I think it must be popular in Dalia because-" 

Aera shoots up, almost head butting him in the process. "Your mother's dress was shoulder-less and red?" 

Jungkook laughs at her astonishment. "Yes. Crazy, I know. But there was a Dalian lady wearing a very similar dress this year, so I think it is customary in Dalia." 

No it is certainly not, Aera wants to say. 

"I think you would like Dalia." Jungkook adds as an afterthought. "It sounds more free." 

"For women?" 

"For men too." Jungkook averts eye contact and gazes across the pond. "Things are strict here. I have to be a certain way." 

Aera nods. "I think I know what you mean." 

Jungkook stares at her for a while. 

"What?" Aera scowls. 

He shakes his head. "Nothing, nothing." 

"This was nice." Aera admits quietly. 

Jungkook smiles slightly, she almost seems shy. 

"It was. We should do it everyday." 

"Every single day?" Aera echoes. "I have a life to live." 

"So do I!" He protests. "I am a busy man."

"And I am a busy woman." Aera huffs. "I am a prefect!" 

"I am a head boy." 

"All you have to do is walk around the school and smile."

Jungkook gasps in offence. "What a gross understatement." 

"What else do you do then? Scheme ways to kick me out of the classroom?" 

The amusement wipes off Jungkook's face. 

"It was just a joke." Aera mutters. "I have to head back now." 

She pushes herself onto her feet and waves. Her sleeves are loose today, slip down and expose her wrist slightly. 

There's a formation of three beauty marks on her right wrist. A detail Jungkook never knew about. Until now. 

And he remembered exactly where he first saw it. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"How is the spying going?" 

Lady Mina smirks. 

"We have her trapped." 

༻✣✤✣✤༺

The boys look up as the door of the prefect common room bursts open with an almighty richochet.  Jungkook's entire being ignites with something so viscous and ugly that every muscle stiffens, every hair stands on edge as the blood roars in his veins as he gazes at Kim Taehyung in front of him. 

He lunges towards him, and manages to land his hands on the scruff of Taehyung's neck before several figures wrench him back. 

"What on earth are you doing?" Jimin outcries, wrestling Jungkook's hands into his hold, which is proving a difficult job as Byunjae tries to sit on Jungkook's flying feet. 

Taehyung shoots off the sofa and jumps around the back of it, completely bewildered. "What the hell is your problem?" 

"Did you know?" Jungkook demands. The way Taehyung's face morphs into horror is sufficient reason for Jungkook to lunge at him again. 

"What are you talking about?" Jimin whines as he runs in front of Taehyung to try and stop Jungkook from hitting him. 

"Let this bastard say it." Jungkook seethes. "Admit it, Taehyung!"

"I kissed the girl in the red dress." Taehyung exhales shakily. 

Jimin stills, frowning. "Who? What? When?" 

"At the ball." Jungkook chuckles humourlessly. "I am surprised she did not tell you, as her chaperone.

Jimin's eyes widen. "The girl in red? Jungkook, I can expl-" 

The door of the prefect common room flings open. 

"Lee Aera." Sam Samuel pants. "Headmaster's office." 

"Our headmaster?" Byunjae enquires. 

He frantically nods. "Looks serious." 

Jungkook practically shoves him out the way as he runs down the corridor. 

"Jungkook!" Jimin yells after him. "What are you going to do?" 

Aera slouches in the leather chair before both Master Kims, the man she gets in trouble with every week and the more revered, stricter head of the Gentlemen Institution. 

"Conspiring against the Institutions?" Aera repeats slowly. 

The mahogany door bursts open, the two head masters immediately bow at the presence before them. 

"Sire." 

The Duke stiffly nods. "What on earth do you think you are playing at?" 

He's not talking to Aera, he's talking to them. 

The younger Kim swallows. "My Duke, we-" 

He stops as his older, prouder brother clamps a hand on his shoulder. 

"Causing extreme chaos of classroom crossovers between the Ladies and Gentlemen schools. Telling the scholar's illicit tales in French. Weekly meeting of a secret club where Miss Lee discussed abhorrent, obscene, dangerous views. with noblewoman in the room. Continually disrespecting the peerage by defying orders given by the higher pupil authority." 

Aera bites her tongue for once.

"Your proof?" Her benefactor raises an eyebrow. 

The Master, rather smugly, throws parchment on the desk. "Written testimonies. Lady Min Mina, Lady Kim Amelia and Lady Jung Haewon amongst others." 

"And the scholars attested to this, as well?" The nobleman presses. 

"Who bloody cares what the scholars think!" Master Kim counters, swallowing as he realises who he raised his voice in front of. 

"I care." 

The icy declaration has both Kims blanching in their boots. 

The younger gulps. "Sire, the scholars say that it is not true and the noblewoman involved in the so-called uprising club also denied these accusations." 

The Duke smirks. "And that would be a multitude of accounts against these measly three?" 

The man lifts the papers from the desk and casually tears them in half, throwing them against the desk with an ugly clatter. 

Even Aera is taken aback, never witnessing the man to be so stern. 

"No, my Duke." The eldest Kim sighs. 

"And what did you propose to do with my beneficiary?" 

Neither men speak. 

Aera cocks an eyebrow. "They wanted to expel me." 

The Duke's face twists with displeasure. 

"If that is even uttered as a mere threat to Lee Aera again, I will withdraw every sponsorship, donation, and family member and friend from both Institutions and send them to study abroad at the Dalian Academy. Is that understood?" 

There's a long stretch of silence, both men wide eyed and ghostly pale. Aera's eyebrows shoot to her hairline in surprise at his icy tone. The hearth of the fireplace isn't the only cause of the thick, suffocating air of the office as seconds stretch on in silence, the Duke's resolve unwavering. 

"Miss Lee, I think you misunderstood. We did not say expulsion, we merely said that other pupils have been expelled for similar reasons." Her headmaster chuckles forcefully. "Of course, I would never dare to suggest that Miss Lee herself would be removed from the school. It was simply a matter of stern words-" 

"That is what I thought." The Duke cuts in. "I do not want my time wasted over such a ridiculous matter again." 

"Of course not, sire." The two headmasters snap their necks into bows, Aera stifles a laugh. "We are terribly sorry for the miscommunication." 

"Good day, gentlemen." The Duke drawls with unfeeling, Aera serving a smug smirk to the two men, particularly the eldest as she follows the man out. 

"Jungkook!" Jimin yells after the head boy, muffled out by the pounding of footsteps. 

He storms into the Headmaster's office. It's just the two Master Kims, mid heated discussion. They glance up in confusion. 

"Mister Jeon-"

Jungkook curses and backs out quickly, turning into the corridor again. He races down further and further yet there's no sign of Lee Aera, not even a wisp of hair. 

They stand in a deserted classroom, away from prying ears. 

“Your father knows about this…incident.”

Aera’s mouth tumbles open. “Uncle!”

He holds his hands up innocently. “He was there when I received the news. I almost died trying to persuade him not to come here himself.”

Aera’s eyes almost bulge out of her skull at the mental image of that man bursting through the Institution’s gates.

“Well, in that case, thank you. I think I would have died if I saw that man without drinking a gallon of sherry beforehand.” She shudders. 

“You dislike your father that much?” Her benefactor shakes his head with amused disapproval.

“I do not understand how you two get along so well. Total opposites.” Aera responds sourly.

“Well, you may dislike him a little more now.” He grimaces as her head snaps up with furious curiosity.

“Good grief, what did that old crow say?”

“He has…sold your cottage in Kim County.”

Aera blinks. “He what?”

“Sold the cottage in Kim County.”

Aera shakes her head from side to side, the man gazing down at her with perturbed anticipation.

“He. Sold. My. Cottage?”

“Well, yes.” He grimaces. 

“The one I bought? With money I won?” Aera confirms with disbelief. “Oh, the old hag has really progressed to the next level of outrageousness. When I see him I ought to just,” Aera squeezes the air in front of her, “ring his neck in front of all his stuffy friends.”

Her benefactor’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline.

“Now, now, my dear. Let us not be too hasty.”

“He sold my cottage! And I am the hasty one?”

“F-fair point, Aera.” The Duke stammers.

Aera pauses for a second.

“Where am I supposed to spend the Winter holiday?”

༻✣✤✣✤༺

Jungkook paces the entrance hall of the Ladies Institution over and over. All his friends had scurried off at some point or another due to his fouler than foul mood, Taehyung being the first to flee. His three sisters hurry into the hall. 

"Brother, what is the matter?" Yuna demands with worry. 

Their brother never calls for them, let alone all three at once. When the butler sprinted into tea with a note, she thought there might had been a death. 

"Lee Aera." He states. 

"Yes?" Yeseul probes expectantly. 

Jungkook exhales harshly. "Is she a noblewoman?" 

The three sisters look at each other incredulously. Yubin giggles. 

"Why on earth have you pulled us from afternoon tea in pedantic urgency to ask such a stupid question?" Yuna deadpans with utmost irritation. 

"Yes, what has led you to ask such a thing?" Yeseul sighs. 

"Her arm has three dots." Jungkook points to his wrist. 

Yubin scoffs disbelievingly. She yanks up her sleeve. Jungkook balks, it's the exact same formation. Yeseul does the same, and sure enough the identical pattern to the girl in the red dress is dotted on her skin. Yuna rolls her eyes. 

"Well there we have it. It is pretty common among women to have this mark." 

"B-but...I could have sworn-"

They glance at the footsteps entering the hall. Kim Amelia's eyebrows raise at the entire Jeon clan in the hall. She vaguely curtseys at Jungkook. 

"What is occurring?" She grins, nudging Yuna. The girl kisses her teeth and grabs her sleeve, drawing it to her wrist. The same formation of freckles. 

"See, dear brother?" Yuna deadpans. "Lots of women have three dots on their wrist. It is not exclusive to Lee Aera. And what in the heavens made you think it made her noble?"

"Because there was a girl at the Min Masquerade ball!" Jungkook huffs. "And she had the same laugh. And the same wrist pattern." 

"Aera was with us on the night of the Min ball. She was telling us, mostly Yubin, bedtime story about how her piano teacher used to keep the fingernails of her favourite student in a jar." 

"What?" Jungkook grimaces at the story, glancing to Yubin who nods in confirmation and shudders. 

"Most grotesque." The youngest mumbles. 

"Well is that all, dear brother?" Yeseul remarks dryly, pretending to curtsey. "Utmost gratitude for forcing me apart from my jam and cream scone." 

Jungkook scoffs. "You shall live." 

The three sisters serve him withering glares and leave to go back to tea without another word. Kim Amelia smiles awkwardly. 

"I take it you were mistaken?" She tries to hide her amusement. 

Jungkook sighs, shaking his head at his friend. "I guess so, Amelia. I guess so." 

But deep down, he cannot quell the feeling that Lee Aera is not just a scholar. 

༻✣✤✣✤༺

Aera drops her ink pen as Mister Kang shouts that the exam is over, relief flooding her veins. She aced that exam. Practically flinging the paper in the teachers arms, she whizzes out classroom with the strong desire to feel the crisp air of the outdoors.

“Aera!”

She suppresses a groan as Jeon Jungkook almost skips towards her, face consuming grin present as always.

“I hear that you are on the holiday welfare programme.”

“I beg your pardon?” Her eyes narrow.

“When pupils are unable to go home for Christmas, so people volunteer out of the goodness of their own-”

“Yes. I know what it is. Now how on God’s green earth did you find out that I am on it?” Aera demands.

Jungkook taps the side of his nose. “I am a Lord of Jeon. Nothing gets by me.”

Aera rolls her eyes. “If you say so.”

“So.” He clears his throat, throwing something heavy on top of her. Aera yelps slightly at the sensation of cloth in her mouth.

“What is wrong with you today?” She snaps, punching him in the arm once she wrestled the thick fabric off her face.

Jungkook opens his mouth in offence. “Is that how you thank someone who gifted you a coat?”

Aera blinks, extending the fabric out before her to get a better look at it. It’s not exactly her style with the fur trimmings - she felt bad for the animals- and black was a little bleak in her opinion. But overall it was practical and sturdy, so she attempts to put it on without much fuss.

Jungkook snatches it out of her hold before her arm can even find the sleeve.

“Allow me.”

“I can put my own coat on.” Aera scowls.

“A gentleman does not allow a lady to put on her own coat!” He protests.

She gives him a scornful once over. “Since when were you a gentleman?”

“Since when were you a lady?”

“I never claimed to be.”

“Well I am glad you know it.” He huffs, pulling the front lapels of the jacket quite firmly due to his sullenness. This causes a rather unpleasant yank at the back of Aera’s neck, which warrants him a kick in the shin.

He grits his teeth as Aera gives him a sickly sweet, fake smile.

“Thank you for the coat, darling.”

“You are most welcome, darling.” Jungkook retorts with equal, unfeeling sarcasm, going so far as to pinch her cheek for emphasis.

“Is that everything, Lord Jungkook?” Aera glowers.

“No. I got distracted. Before I forget,” He clears his throat and dramatically puffs out his chest, “I have decided to be charitable this year. Thus for the winter holiday, I am Lee Aera’s kind, handsome and generous host.”

Jungkook runs before she can process the information, a splintering grin overtaking  his face as he hears an appalled outcry and footsteps pounding after him.