(Chapter 2 of the Beyond Words series.)
Chapter Two: What I Hope to Be
And I'll still love you
beyond what words will say
I'll take your every suffering moment
and bring a better day.
I'll still love you
more then what I hope to be.
Let me wrap my arms around you,
let me take your breath away.
“You’re… a prince?”
Donghae could barely believe the words leaving his mouth as all strength left him and he dropped the dagger. As if forgetting the sharp point pressed against his stomach, he took a step forward. Having been trained in fencing and kendo, the Princess anticipated his movements and took a complimentary step backward, one hand still clutching the thin-bladed sword as the other hand kept the top of the robe closed.
“The apple boy… You’ll be charged for treason,” The Princess stated, voice low and steady,
“I… I couldn’t go through with it,” Donghae confessed, his tone suggesting he wasn’t even going to try to defend himself, simply stating that he had failed what he had been sent to do. “Despite how I feel… how others feel… I can’t take your uncle’s life. I… I just can’t.”
The Princess said nothing at first. Donghae had lowered his dagger and had even turned away from the bed before the Princess had approached him. Finally, the Princess spoke again, sword never wavering, “That doesn’t change the fact that you were here to kill my uncle.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you, Princess, are a man,” Donghae replied calmly, confusion still writ in his dark eyes,
The Princess was silent once more, just gazing at Donghae. He never drifted his gaze away, kept them locked in those eyes that had captured him in the store earlier that day. The moment he set eyes on the Princess at the store, his heart had begun a rapid tattoo. Now, that he was face-to-face with the Princess again - no… the Prince, his heart was acting of its own accord once more, beating rapidly within his ribcage.
The silence stretched between them, but still, Donghae was relentless in his gaze. He tried to read the Prince’s eyes, tried to understand the emotions he saw conflicted in their depths. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he stepped forward again and the Prince took a step back, almost missing his timing. Donghae reached towards the blade pointed towards him, gripping it enough with his fingers and knew that he’d be able to pull it away without resistance. He didn’t know how he knew, he just did. He pushed the sword away from him, to the side.
The Prince dropped the sword to his side, the blade reflecting the moonlight that poured into the dark room through the open balcony doors. He said nothing, but simply allowed his free hand to drop away from the closure of his robe, allowing it to gape open as it had done so previously. He stood there, motionless and didn’t even bat an eyelash when Donghae’s gaze finally moved from his own.
Donghae couldn’t help himself. Now that they had moved a few steps away from the shadows that surrounded the four-poster bed, more moonlight cascaded upon the Prince. His eyes slowly traveled down the column of the Prince’s neck to the big V that the robe made. He caught the shadow of the Prince’s Adam’s apple and wondered how, for twenty-three years, no one had noticed such an anomaly on the Princess’s body. He was now doused in moonlight and Donghae clearly saw the smooth muscles of the Prince’s chest. He found himself drawn once more towards the Prince - despite the fact that it was now Prince rather than Princess - and once again, stopped himself before he made an obvious movement.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t turn you in,” the Prince said without conviction.
Donghae snapped his eyes back towards the Prince, trying to understand what he was doing. His eyes searched the Prince’s and could only see one emotion shining through those dark eyes that twinkled in the moonlight: relief. Donghae gave a slight nod, signalling his agreement to this little play,
“I won’t tell the world your secret, if you let me go,” Donghae replied weakly. Even if he hadn’t seen into the Prince’s eyes, he would’ve made that vow anyway.
“Very well,” the Prince said before clearing his throat and repeating in a tone just slightly deeper, slightly more masculine than before, “Very well.” He walked across the room to a dresser and sheathed the sword. The Prince then walked back and headed out onto the balcony and looked across the grounds. When he returned to the room, he brought back Donghae’s belongings. He handed them to him,
“What?” Donghae asked as he stuffed the rope and claw back into his bag, closing it and slinging it over a shoulder,
“If you go out there again, there’s a chance you’ll be caught,” the Prince explained as he moved towards a door that turned out to be a walk-in closet. Donghae hesitantly followed, standing at the doorway as the Prince turned on a light for the closet and began looking at the shelves, “If you’re caught out there, I won’t be able to help you… if you escape through the house and out the drive accompanied by me… you’ll be fine.”
“What are you doing?” Donghae asked curiously as the Prince pulled out a simple Hanbok set, “It’s the dead of night, no servants should be about and you’re…” The Prince flashed him a glance just as Donghae realized it, “The servants don’t know… do they?”
The Prince shook his head as he glanced at Donghae, “Um… can you step out for a moment?”
Blinking, Donghae took half a step back to allow the door to close between them. He could hear the Prince’s movements beyond the door and then asked, “Who knows?”
The door opened and the Prince turned his back to Donghae. At first he just stared but then the Prince prompted, “The ties, please.”
Donghae blinked before starting towards the Prince. He grabbed the ties of the back of the Hanbok’s chima, or skirt and began tying them securely. Once done, the Prince walked away, snatching the matching jeogori, or jacket, of the Hanbok from a chair within the closet and began pulling it on. Donghae found himself following the Prince towards, what he hoped, was the door out of the room when the Prince suddenly turned to face him,
“You have to be incredibly silent,” the Prince warned, “The house may be asleep, but that doesn’t mean a servant can’t walk about because they’re restless or Princess Sooyoung can’t leave her room for a glass of water.”
“Who knows?” Donghae repeated, his gaze sweeping over the Prince’s attire before landing on his eyes once more, “Not that many considering you just went through the trouble of getting dressed in a Hanbok.”
“My uncle, obviously,” the Prince replied, “And my cousin, Kyuhyun. That’s about it.”
“Twenty-three years… how?” Donghae couldn’t believe it, yet the truth was standing right in front of him, staring him - literally - in the face,
“If someone ever got close to learning the truth, they were either fired or were moved to a part of the house where I didn’t frequent. So a maid could suddenly be placed in the kitchens simply because she may - may - have walked into me having a shower,” the Prince explained, “My uncle worked hard to keep my gender a secret and when I was old enough to understand what was going on… I worked hard to keep it a secret.”
“But why?” Donghae prompted,
“We have to get you out first,” the Prince insisted as he opened the door. He peered out into the darkness of the corridor. He opened the door wider and stepped out into the hall, “It’s clear, we’d better-”
The rest of his words were swallowed up by Donghae’s kiss. He was startled, he was shocked, he was on fire. He felt those lips on his own, firm and unrelenting and as soon as it began, it ended. He took an instinctive step back,
“W-what was that?” the Prince hissed angrily,
“Since the moment I first saw you in the store that’s all I’ve wanted to do,” Donghae admitted, his gaze on the Prince, even in the darkness, his gaze never wavered,
“But that was… that was before,” the Prince stammered, “now you know that I’m-”
“I don’t care,” Donghae said simply.
The Prince felt his cheeks heat and knew, had there been more light, the apple boy would see his cheeks redden. He cleared his throat as he turned away, shaking his head slightly as if to shake off his blush, “We should hurry.” Before Donghae could say or do anything - although he wouldn’t truly protest - the Prince slipped down the dark corridor. He followed.
The swish of her - his - skirts was what Donghae mostly followed down the long corridor. He was finding it a hard time to adjust all female pronouns in his mind associated with the Princess - no, Prince - into male pronouns. They reached the point where the east and west wings joined together before a large, window that reached almost to the ceiling from almost the floor, light pouring into the darkness, fingers of light barely penetrating the wings’ dark corridors. The main staircase met this intersection to form a T. The stairs were in circular atria that looked down into the entrance hall of the house. At the opposite end of the banister opening where they were standing, were more stairs which led to the house’s third floor.
Donghae, peering up and around at the vastness of the royal house’s interior, suddenly bumped against the Prince’s back. He opened his mouth to question her - him - when suddenly the Prince’s hand clamped over his mouth and pushed him back into the shadows of the east wing. The Prince shoved Donghae into an alcove, pressing him against a wall of the alcove that was cast in shadows by the large window’s moonlight.
“What is it?” Donghae asked quietly when the Prince removed his hand,
“Princess Sooyoung,” the Prince replied before signalling for silence once more.
“Don’t tease me because I’m young. I couldn’t say a word because I was too shy,” a sweet, melodic voice sang, drifting towards them in the darkness as footsteps paused at the top of the stairs. Silence ensued.
Donghae knew that the Prince was concentrating on the Princess, silently willing her away. He, however, couldn’t help but notice that he was effectively sandwiched between the alcove’s side wall and the Prince’s body. Heat filled his body and Donghae could practically hear his heart thundering and suddenly stopped breathing, hoping it would quiet. He kept his gaze past the Prince’s head, hoping to distract his wild heart. He saw the streak of pale light at the end of the east wing where he had left the Prince’s door open.
Footsteps sounded, fading away from them. Finally, the barest sound of a door opening and closing was heard. Donghae felt the Prince relax then, exhaling a breath of relief. Now that they were alone one more, in the dark, Donghae could now feel his heart hammering away, let alone hearing it clearly. He swallowed hard, hoping the Prince didn’t realize how stiff he was keeping himself. He knew if they didn’t leave that darkened corner, Donghae would be arrested for more than just treason.
Thankfully, the Prince pulled away from him and stepped back into the corridor, “Hurry before Sooyoung decides to make an encore performance,” the Prince whispered urgently, grabbing Donghae’s hand and hauling him towards the main staircase.
From that point on, they were practically in a mad dash for the front door. Donghae caught himself before he stumbled several times during the journey and knew himself a fool. He was never clumsy, never tripped and yet, his mind kept going back to the fact that the Princess - no, the Prince, damn it - had his hand wrapped around his own. The Prince’s fingers were long, delicate yet firm. His hand was strong and warm and Donghae almost wanted to make himself trip just so that their run for the front door was stalled, so that he could hold that hand for just a moment longer.
Unfortunately, they reached the door rather too soon, and before he could even begin to count the heartbeats that had skipped since the Prince had taken his hand, they were outside, running down the long, driveway that led from the house to the main gates. At the house, the driveway became a circle, pierced in the centre by a simple yet elegant, fountain.
Donghae ran behind the Prince and could only be awed at her - his, wow this was hard - stamina. They had been running for at least five minutes now and not once did he seem to falter in his steps, not once did he hear him gasp for breath. They reached the main gates and the Prince led them off to the side of the gates where a door was cut through the stone wall. The Prince quickly punched in the code and opened the door for him,
“Go,” the Prince hissed as he looked back towards the grounds, “I don’t know where the guards are, I can’t see where they are in their rounds.”
“Go,” the Prince looked back at him, “Whenever this door or the gates are opened, it’s logged into the security system. If the guards saw it’s been opened, they’ll come running.”
“This isn’t over, Princess,” Donghae insisted,
“I just let you off from treason,” the Prince narrowed his eyes.
In that moment, Donghae saw it. He saw the Prince in all his glory, in all his strength. He saw the control in which the Prince held himself, kept to himself. He saw the makings of a great king and yet wondered how the entire country couldn’t see it. Donghae felt himself drawn once more to the Prince. This time, however, he was drawn towards the power he could feel practically flow from the Prince. Before the Prince could stop him, he grabbed his chin between thumb and forefinger and brushed his lips against the Prince’s.
“Because you let me off… that’s why you know it isn’t over,” Donghae said simply, “If you wanted it to be over, you would’ve handed me over to the guards.”
The Prince was completely still. The only part of him that moved were his eyes which were now searching Donghae’s face, divided into moonlight and dark shadows. Before the Prince could say anything, Donghae slipped through the door,
“It isn’t over,” he repeated quietly and the Prince watched as he disappeared into the darkness.
The Prince was silent as he walked through the royal house, his slippers falling silent on the carpets that dissected the wooden floors. He had reached his bedroom door in the east wing when he paused, his hand hovering over the handle. He looked up and stared at the door, probing his memory over and over again. Suddenly, he took a step back. Donghae hadn’t closed the door on their way out, so why was the door closed now? He took another step back and another until his back was pressed against the opposite wall. His eyes had adjusted early on in the corridor, and now he could see the pale line beneath his door made by the moonlight and could feel the barest of drafts; he now knew that the balcony doors were still open.
Who was it? He wondered. Who had come across his room and closed the door. It couldn’t have been a servant, he could feel it down to his very core that it hadn’t been. If it had, alarms would’ve been raised that the Princess wasn’t in her bedroom in the middle of the night. So, it must be one of the family. Who? He crossed his arms over the closure of his jeogori. The only person up and about had been Sooyoung. Had she returned after they left, realized his door was opened and gone to investigate?
Slowly, slowly, the Prince slipped away. He returned to the juncture of the wings and leaned against a wall, glancing towards his wing every now and again.
“Unni?” The Prince whirled around to see Sooyoung coming up the stairs once more, a glass of water in her hand. “What are you doing here?” Sooyoung asked before taking a sip of her water,
“Getting water?” The Prince countered simply. For as long as he could remember, Sooyoung had always awoken at least once a night for a glass of water,
“It helps me sleep,” she shrugged before giving him a toothy smile; her typical response to the familiar question. “But that doesn’t answer what you’re doing here,” she peered down towards the east wing, completely dark; “You know, for years I’ve asked Father to let us keep some lights on in these hallways. He doesn’t realize how dark it gets on our floors, especially since his hallways upstairs have windows aplenty.”
The Prince nodded noncommittally, “Well, I should get back to my room.”
Sooyoung looked at him peculiarly before nodding and turning towards the west wing. The Prince watched until she slipped into her room and heard the soft thud of her door closing. Then, he turned and returned to the east wing. He felt himself breathing easier. Sooyoung probably noticed the door the first time around but didn’t go to closing it until she went back down for more water.
As he reached his door, the Prince was in mid-lecture, silently scolding himself for his foolishness and paranoia. The evening, indeed, the entire meeting with Donghae had tipped his equilibrium into confusion. He felt off-balance and somehow, for some reason, felt at peace. With one last glance towards the main intersection, the Prince opened his bedroom door, slipped in and closed it firmly behind him.
“You gave Sooyoung quite the scare,”
The Prince stepped away from the door where he had jumped back against at the realization his room was not as empty as he had left it. He breathed heavily as he walked towards his walk-in closet and shrugged off his jeogori.
“What do you mean?” The Prince asked as he turned on the closet light and tossed the jacket onto the chair within,
“Sooyoung came to my room, pulling me from my enormously comfortable bed insisting that she heard something in the east wing,” Kyuhyun explained as he stifled a yawn. He had followed the Prince to the closet, now leaning a shoulder against the doorframe as he crossed his arms lightly, “I told her I’d take care of it and sent her off to get another glass of water. I thought she was just being fanciful when I come here and note two things wrong. First, your door is opened which never happens because anyone could walk by and see you sleeping,” he paused as the Prince turned his back to him. He instinctively reached forward and undid the ties of the chima, “and second, you’re not even in bed to get stupidly seen.”
The Prince stepped out of the chima and began hanging it, with its counterpart, and returning it to its respective place. He snatched up his robe which he had simply tossed to the ground earlier that evening and slipped into it, tying the belt loosely. Silently, he pushed past his cousin and walked towards the balcony doors. He closed the doors, but left the curtains open.
He turned around to face his cousin, “What are you-” He froze as he saw Kyuhyun, standing a mere two feet from him holding up a dagger.
“We’re best friends. Don’t start lying to me,” Kyuhyun said simply as he held out the dagger to him. The Prince took it and Kyuhyun headed for the door, “I’ll see you in the morning.” The door closed after him.
The next morning, Kyuhyun entered the Prince’s room to find him sitting in bed against the headboard, idly braiding the hair he allowed to grow out to add to the secret. Still dressed in just a robe and the blankets pulled to his waist, the Prince didn’t even give any indication that his sanctum had been disrupted. Kyuhyun dragged the chair from the vanity table to the bedside. He fell into it with a grace that only a prince possessed and crossed one knee over the other. Cross his arms loosely, he just watched his cousin.
“My secret’s been found out,” the Prince said finally,
“Is that the outcome of the assassination attempt?” Kyuhyun inquired,
“Assassination attempt?” The Prince asked lightly, not wanting to give anything until Kyuhyun revealed what he knew,
“Well, there was a dagger, hence I said assassination. And since you, dear cousin, are live and well and right in front of me, that is why I said attempt,” Kyuhyun explained simply, the hint of a smug smirk on his lips.
The Prince rolled his eyes before relenting, “Yes.”
“You let them go.” It was a statement rather than a question, but the Prince nodded anyway; “Why?”
“At the last moment, he hesitated and stopped. He was leaving when I cornered him with my sword,” the Prince explained,
“How’d you corner him from your bed?” Kyuhyun inquired,
“I wasn’t in bed,” the Prince replied, “I had heard some noises from the balcony and I stuffed a pillow beneath my blanket and hid in the shadows with my sword. On his way in, he was too concentrated, too alert to approach. But after…”
Kyuhyun remained silent, patiently awaiting for his cousin to continue.
As if on cue, he did, “After he lowered his dagger and turned away, I could see my opening. He was distracted, probably from the thoughts that prompted him to not execute the assassination.”
“Why was he after you?” Silence and then, “Who was he after?”
“To other people, it really is peculiar that I have my own wing,” the Prince mused as his fingers finished playing with his hair and allowed the braid to loosen without tying it, his arms crossing over his chest,
“Oh hell,” Kyuhyun felt as if cold water pumped through him, “he was after Father? If I ever meet him, I’ll kill-”
“No, you won’t,” the Prince replied. Kyuhyun looked at him and stared. The Prince had risen one eyebrow at him, his lips in a firm line. It was the most arrogant, dictatorial expression he had ever seen on his cousin’s face; he almost felt proud. Almost.
“I told you, he didn’t want to go through with it,” the Prince interjected, “And I got the feeling he was sent here by someone else. Who knows what’ll happen to him since he didn’t complete his mission or whatever it is you’d call it. All I know is that you are not to do anything to him Kyuhyun.”
Kyuhyun’s eyes narrowed, slowly getting to his feet, “This bastard is sent to kill my father and you expect me to remain idle?” His voice hadn’t raised in volume, instead, it had lowered in volume, but it had the same effect. His words were low and steady and practically a growl.
“He can tell the country that I’m a man,” the Prince said steadily, calmly, as he held his cousin’s fiery gaze,
“All the more reason to seek him out and kill him,” Kyuhyun stated seriously, his fists now at his sides and clenched almost painfully. “Can’t you see? Not only is Father in danger from this … this… this assassin - but so are you, hyung! That’s why we have to-”
“I trust him.”
Kyuhyun blinked before adjusting his stance. His feet at shoulder-width apart, and arms crossed over his chest, he narrowed his eyes even more, “You what?”
“I trust him,” the Prince said simply; “He’ll keep my secret and he won’t make any more attempts on your father’s life.”
“Hyung!” Kyuhyun hissed,
“Kyuhyun!” The Prince exclaimed, his tone low and deadly. As graceful as a cat, he extracted himself from the comforts of his bed and stood directly before his cousin, never breaking eye contact. Arms still crossed, his eyes narrowed dangerously, “I have lost both parents before I can even know what they are, who they are. A few years later, the only mother I have known dies. The last parent I know, the first person in my life I have ever known as a parent, is your father. I’ve lost three parents, Kyuhyun. Do you think I would deliberately risk the life of my fourth and last parent?”
Silence fell upon them until Kyuhyun swung away, storming towards the door, “Make sure that you don’t!” He threatened before leaving, the door slamming behind him.
The Prince tightened his arms around himself, reminding himself to keep his temper in check and kept himself from going after his cousin to strangle some sense into the young man. Seething, he stormed towards his closet and nearly snapped the plastic when he turned on the light.
A soft knock was the only warning given before the bedroom door opened and his eldest girl cousin swept into the room, dressed in her university’s school uniform. She came up behind the Prince who sat at the vanity, and placed her hands on his shoulders.
She smiled at his reflection, “Father was worried when you didn’t show up at breakfast with Kyuhyun.”
“I’m not that hungry,” the Prince replied just as his stomach released a fierce-sounding growl.
Taeyeon’s eyes brightened as she laughed, “Sure, sure. What happened? How come you didn’t come down?”
“Kyuhyun and I fought,” the Prince said simply,
“Ah, and Hanbok are quite difficult to do up in the back alone, hmm?” Taeyeon said as her hands went to the ties of the chima and made quick work of them, “To think, the country’s most beloved princess was made to starve because of two simple strings.”
“I’m not the-”
“Yes, you are,” Taeyeon interrupted as she turned to the bed and grabbed the matching jeogori that had been tossed there. She returned to the Prince and smiled at him again, “From what I hear, uncle was a pretty great king and the entire country was hoping you’d be a boy so you could inherit. But you can’t, but they love you anyway because you are your father’s daughter.”
The Prince met Taeyeon’s eyes in the mirror and held them. He knew his emotions were always read in his eyes and he knew that his cousin had inherited the same habit. However, now as he watched her, her eyes were shuttered, unreadable. She was hiding something.
“You’re getting bullied again, aren’t you?” The Prince asked, his fists clenching in his lap,
“Not as directly as before,” Taeyeon replied easily, suddenly breaking their eye contact. She suddenly became preoccupied with brushing nonexistent lint from the jeogori as she continued, “Really, it’s hard to be bullied when I’m never around anyone.”
“WHAT!?” The Prince jumped to his feet and turned around to face her. His hands gripping the back of his chair, the Prince tried to catch his cousin’s eye, but she refused, “What did you say?” He repeated, not caring that his voice had slipped to its normalcy rather than the higher, lighter tone he used with the world.
“Um… well,” he saw her struggle for a deep breath before she looked at him, a smile on her face that didn’t reach her eyes, “You see, everyone else keeps their distance. I don’t get bullied anymore, but if someone talks to me, they get bullied.” She cleared her throat as she laid the jeogori across the back of the chair, “But I am happy to report that my book bag no longer mysteriously ends up in the school’s pool!”
The Prince could feel his blood pumping angrily, his heart beating wildly as he clenched the back of the chair. He could feel the muscles in his hands strain at the ferocity of his grip, but he didn’t care. If he loosened his grip even just a fraction, he knew nothing would stop his temper from unleashing itself on the bullies that had plagued his cousin since the moment she first ventured out to university.
The King didn’t know. Not even Kyuhyun or Sooyoung, who attended a different school, knew. The only reason he knew was because he was the only one at home one day the previous year when Taeyeon had returned home from school. She had been subdued when he had greeted her and been suspicious immediately. He asked but she denied. After dinner, she had come to his room and cried herself to sleep in his bed.
So, no one else knew, but he did and only because of dumb luck. He knew that she was late to class because it meant less idle time to be around the others. He knew she soared in grades because she hid in the library for the past two years. He knew each and every thing that had happened to Taeyeon since she started university and he hated it. He hated that she had to go through it simply because she was different, because she was a princess. He especially hated it because he couldn’t do anything. A knight cannot go save his princess cousin while wearing a Hanbok and his hair braided.
“Don’t. Please don’t,” she insisted softly as she backed towards the door, that smile still plaster on her face as her eyes brimmed with fat tears, “I’ll show them. I’ll show them I’m not just a princess, that I can do something with my life. I’ll prove them all wrong so for now… for now they can all just burn in hell!”
The Prince closed the distance between them and pulled her into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her and embraced her firmly as she cried into his shoulder. He realized too late that his cousin was flush against is front, his flat and muscular front. He stiffened for just a moment, but when her stifled cries reached his ears, he softened once more and just held her, to hell with the consequences. Kyuhyun understood, so surely once he explained things to Taeyeon then…
After a few deep breaths, Taeyeon pulled away, her eyes averted as she wiped at them with the back of her sleeve. She looked up at him, smiling through her tears, “Sorry for being like this, especially after you and oppa had a fight.”
The Prince shook his head, “No… it’s fine.” He watched Taeyeon, barely breathed as he waited for her to question him, demand explanations.
It didn’t happen.
She took a moment, but composed herself quickly, “Do I look a mess?” She asked, grinning at him as she ran a hand through her dark hair.
“A good mess?” The Prince offered with a playful grin of his own.
She laughed lightly, “If you weren’t a girl, unni, I’d hit you,” she turned and headed for the door, “Perhaps I’ll channel that and hit oppa instead.”
“I approve, I completely approve of that decision,” the Prince called after her. When the door closed on her laughing reply, the Prince practically collapsed into his chair, “Damn that was close.”
The library was where Kyuhyun and the Prince had their accounting lessons. To be princes, to rule, they had to be able to manage finances, not just their own, but the house hold. They needed to understand the business of the house and of the country. Of course, they still had the royal accountant, but the King insisted that they understood what was going on, that ignorance was unacceptable in any area of life.
The library was a perfect square, as wide as it was long. The walls were lined with books and books. Halfway up the high walls, the upper bookcases were pushed back a meter on all sides from the lower bookcases, forming a ledge. A sturdy, metal ladder was built that led from the ground to that ledge to allow access to the upper bookcases. On one end of the library were two desks that faced each other from opposite sides. On the other end were couches surrounding a fireplace. The door to the library was found in a wall between these areas.
It was at the desks where Kyuhyun and the Prince sat. Their professor had just left, but he had made corrections and notations to their assignments so both were busy pouring over those. So engrossed with their work, neither had heard the library door open, not even the presence of another person until the butler declared,
“A visitor, Your Highness,”
Both looked up.
“Erm… for the Princess,” the butler amended.
The butler stepped aside as a young man entered, dressed in jeans and a plain hooded sweater. The Prince stared at the man. Kyuhyun stared at the Prince. He slowly turned his gaze to the man and knew that this was him. This was the assassin. This was the one sent to kill his father.
He jumped to his feet, the force of his movement causing his heavy, leather office chair to topple on its wheels and fall. The butler had flinched at the sound of the crash and the Prince had snapped his attention away from Donghae and towards his cousin. He glared at Kyuhyun warningly. Kyuhyun returned the gaze, his eyes narrowing before scowling. Fists clenched at his sides, Kyuhyun left the room, practically shoving Donghae aside with his shoulder.
The butler stared after Kyuhyun with shocked eyes as Donghae regained his balance. The butler then began darting his eyes back and forth between the Prince and Donghae, not sure what to do.
“Leave us,” the Prince said simply as he stood from his desk and walked over to Kyuhyun’s, righting the chair.
The butler bowed and left, the door closing firmly after him. The Prince walked over towards the couches and gestured for Donghae to do the same. Donghae sat down on one of the three couches that formed a box with the fireplace; the Prince sat on the one opposite so that they faced each other.
“He knows,” Donghae said simply,
“He found your dagger,” the Prince countered.
Donghae sat there silently for a moment as his thoughts registered. One moment he was hearing the voice he could only describe as warm honey. Then the next moment, he heard the voice that was the same but more… deeper, warmer. One moment he was watching the Princess dressed in a Hanbok as always, stand and walk as graceful as any ballet dancer. Then the next moment, the Prince was sitting before him as intimidating as any bouncer at the dance clubs he sometimes visited.
It was such a small word, such a simple word. Somehow, however, those three letters formed a word that carried so much weight, so much importance. It drifted across the sitting area to the Prince and he felt its importance, felt it quite profoundly. He didn’t feign ignorance, there was nothing else Donghae would be asking about.
“In the beginning, my uncle created the lie to protect me,” the Prince explained, “He himself is a second son and when my father met his untimely death, he suddenly found himself thrust into the role as leader of the country. He told me that Father had been dead just a few hours, but he had felt the responsibilities almost as if the feelings were tangible. He had felt burdened immediately and wanted… wanted to spare me from that. I had lost my father and my mother had died after giving birth to me. Having the entire country on one’s shoulders is a lot to bear and he wanted to save me from that.”
“But you’re the rightful heir! You’re not a princess! Damn it, you’re not even a prince! You’re the King!” Donghae exclaimed.
The Prince glanced at the door before shooting Donghae a silent warning. Then, he said, “So, you’d rather I be at the end of your dagger rather than my uncle?”
“No! That’s,” Donghae ran both hands through his hair, “Had you been crowned, no one would’ve sent an assassin after you!”
“My uncle knows more than I about business and the country,” the Prince admitted freely, “If I had been crowned, they would’ve sent an assassin sooner.”
“So your uncle did it to protect you,” Donghae said roughly, “What happened after? What happened once you came into your majority?”
“As soon as I was old enough to understand my circumstances clearly, my uncle and I had worked it out,” the Prince replied, “I would be taught and educated as my father had, as the heir to the crown. Once I turned eighteen, I would assume the throne as is my right.”
“That was five years ago,” Donghae stated,
“Indeed, and do you remember how the country was?” The Prince asked lightly, “Even then, the economy was faltering. It began in North America with the economy weakening. Then Britain joined the ranks as trade between the power countries was becoming strained. We were feeling only the edge of it, but it was still there, looming like a shadow. At that point, the country was already wavering in their support for the monarchy.”
“You were the one everyone wanted! The late King had ruled South Korea brilliantly and all had been heartbroken when you couldn’t inherit,” Donghae stated, his frustration now seeping in.
“Would everyone still want me if I revealed myself? Would everyone still want me if I told them that for eighteen years I had been lying to them all? Deceiving the entire country? Would everyone still want me if they realize that I had falsely taken away their hopes eighteen years previously when it was announced I was a girl?” The Prince questioned, his voice even, his arms crossed loosely.
Slowly, he rose with the grace he always carried but somehow, all Donghae could see was the prince inside. The Prince walked over to a nearby window and looked out at the grounds. He saw the perfectly mowed grass, the perfectly planted flowers, the perfectly high stone wall that surrounded all of this. He could see the tops of trees beyond the stone wall, but nothing else. In the far distance, he could see the rising buildings and skyscrapers, but just their upper halves.
“I have lived a sheltered life for twenty-three years, but I know how the country feels about the monarchy,” the Prince stated, “As much as your appearance surprised me, I wasn’t surprised that there was an assassin sent for my uncle. I know that the country is waiting for Kyuhyun to ascend to the throne, hoping that the King will step down sooner rather than later.”
The Prince turned around then, startled to find Donghae closer than before, much closer. Somehow, apple boy had moved quickly and quietly and now stood so close that he could practically feel the heat radiating from his body. He locked gazes with Donghae before continuing.
“The country’s support of the monarchy is already fragile. If I reveal myself, that support will surely shatter and I assure you, there will be no love lost despite me being my father’s son,” the Prince said simply.
“Your rightful place is the throne,” Donghae argued, his voice soft and urgent at the same time as his dark eyes swept over the Prince’s face, trying to understand, to read more, “Don’t you want it?”
“Of course,” the Prince replied easily but then added, “but I told you what the consequences would be. I can’t risk the monarchy simply because of my selfish reasons.”
“It was selfish of your uncle to take it from you-”
“He was protecting me!”
“Then why doesn’t he protect his son!?” Donghae retorted,
“He couldn’t,” the Prince said. At Donghae’s quizzical look and narrowed eyes, he explained, “Kyuhyun’s mother was still alive. The circumstances of my birth allowed for my uncle to be the only one to know my gender. Afterwards, my aunt was the only one to care for me. No maid or nanny was allowed to see me naked. My aunt dressed me and took care of me.”
“The Queen was apart of this too?” Donghae questioned, “What the hell-”
“She understood my uncle’s reasons, but disagreed with his methods-”
The Prince shot him another warning look before continuing, “However, by that point, it was already too late. It was too late the moment my uncle announced I was a girl. If anyone realized that he had lied, they would charge him for usurping the throne, despite his good intentions. I never truly questioned anything until I was about eight or nine and realized I was being treated like Taeyeon and Sooyoung rather than like Kyuhyun. For about a year I got away with wearing boys’ clothing but after that, I reverted to what I usually wore. The public took it as my ‘tomboy’ stage, but in truth, it was a year where I learned things and understood why things were the way they were.”
“Let’s say that for a moment I may - MAY - understand what was going through your uncle’s head when he started all of this,” Donghae said roughly, “But I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to. It’s my life,” the Prince replied with just a touch of hauteur.
“I want to know one more thing: why did you give me the chance to get away?” Donghae asked,
“You’re not the only one who doesn’t like my secret,” the Prince stated. When Donghae merely blinked at him, he elaborated, “I’ve gotten used to my life as it is. However, it’s a burden. It’s a burden that I have to make sure my bedroom door is always locked or closed. It’s a burden that my cousin has to attend on me even though he himself is a prince. It’s a burden that I have to alter my voice to hide any sense of my masculinity. It’s a burden that I wear a Hanbok everywhere, everyday simply because it hides my figure the most, the easiest.”
“That doesn’t answer-”
“Having someone else know, even if that someone is a stranger, gives the greatest relief I have ever felt,” the Prince interrupted. “The amount of people who know has grown to four people. It hasn’t been that many since my aunt died nineteen years ago. It was impulsive and quite possibly idiotic of me, but I wasn’t about to lose another person who knew my secret… I just couldn’t.” He turned around with a swish of his skirts and looked out the window once more, this time his eyes concentrated on the pale blue sky of the late winter season. “I apologize for the blackmail, but I need silence when it comes to my secret.”
“You didn’t need blackmail for my silence.”
The Prince shivered when he felt the words against his cheek, the lips against his ear, the warm body at his back. He saw Donghae’s hands brace against the window sill on either side of him, trapping him against the tall window.
“What… do you mean?” The Prince heard himself say,
“The moment I first came face-to-face with you at the grocery store,” Donghae breathed, “I knew that whatever you asked of me, I would do your bidding. Princess or no princess. And after last night: prince or no prince.”
“You shouldn’t be so close,” the Prince said, pushing past Donghae.
For a moment, Donghae was startled at how easily he was pushed away, but then he realized his folly. For some reason, probably out of habit, he still saw the Prince as a female, as the country’s beloved princess. But he wasn’t a female and was actually the prince the country had wanted for so long. He turned and caught the Prince’s wrist, stopping him from walking away,
“If anyone sees, they’ll think I’m just trying to court the princess,” Donghae said, his eyes locked with the other’s.
“But we both know that I’m not a princess, that I’m a prince, another guy like you,” the Prince said low, threateningly as his eyes narrowed,
“My heart doesn’t seem to care what your gender is,” Donghae said simply,
“What?” The Prince questioned,
“In the grocery store, last night and the moment I saw you in this library - my heart’s been beating like crazy every time I’m around you,” Donghae admitted freely.
The Prince felt heat creeping up his neck, could feel his own heart beat a rapid melody. He could feel Donghae’s grip on his wrist. He felt those strong fingers, wrapped securely around his wrist, the heat from that hand branding him, as if making him the apple boy’s and the apple boy’s alone. Suddenly realizing his gaze had dropped to that hand, he snapped his eyes back up to the other man.
“And… what about you?” The Prince challenged, summoning all the hauteur he had never used all his twenty-three years of life. “What do you care of my gender?”
“Doesn’t bother me as much as it should,” Donghae replied before pulling on his wrist, pulling the Prince into his arms easily. He wrapped his free arm around the Prince’s waist, holding him securely against him, “Let me court you, let me attend you like any other man would to a princess.”
“I’m not a princess,” the Prince stated sternly,
“No, you’re not, but the rest of the world doesn’t know that,” Donghae said lightly, “So let me play courtier and I’ll keep your secret, help you protect your secret.”
“I’ve already your silence-”
“You can leave the grounds with my escort. You can see the outside world if someone from that world is protecting you. I can keep you safe outside those stone walls in a way Prince Kyuhyun and any number of body guards cannot,” Donghae insisted, his hand tightening just a fraction on his wrist, his arm embracing just a fraction more securely.
It was the best bait, the Prince knew. It was no secret that the Princess rarely left the grounds and even then, it was for the most formal of occasions. To see the outside world, to explore it without being mobbed was like the most sweetest of fruit: so tempting, so delicious. The Prince could already feel his body reaching for it.
He looked directly into Donghae’s eyes and tried to read their dark depths, “What do you get out of this? What does keeping me company, escorting me outside of the grounds, do for you?”
“Besides your company?”
The Prince snorted at the statement.
“I may be younger than you, but I get the chance of letting you see the world as it is,” Donghae said, his voice simple and true, “Taking you outside of the grounds helps me convince you to take the crown… the country wanted you to be king. I want you to be king.”
The Prince narrowed his eyes as he caught Donghae’s chin between thumb and forefinger, “If - IF - I were to agree to this charade, let me just make one thing clear.” Donghae nodded as much as the Prince permitted with his firm grasp of his chin; “To the rest of the world I’m a princess. But to you, when it’s just the two of us, I am a man. As such, I refuse to be led around by a presumptuous dongsaeng, do I make myself clear!?” The Prince demanded, his tone firm, clear and completely male, completely commanding, completely royal.
A lop-sided grin tugged at Donghae’s lips, “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Your Highness.”
“Brat, call me Eunhyuk,” the Prince muttered resentfully before tilting Donghae’s face and leading him into a kiss.
(Chapter 3: On the Inside)