(Chapter 3 of the Beyond Words series.)
Chapter Three: On the Inside
And every time I ask
you assure you're doing fine
but your heart looks good by smiling
you couldn't fool mine.
By the end of the night your pilliow sits to dry,
in a crowded room your singing,
but on the inside you sigh.
It was a few days later when, after breakfast, Eunhyuk was summoned by the King to the study. He swept from the family dining room to the study down the hall. However, once it was just him and his uncle, he walked with the steadiness and strength of the prince he was born to be. He walked up towards the desk where his uncle now sat, having finished breakfast ahead of all of them. He closed a book containing the family accounts, presumable looking over the finances, as Eunhyuk approached and placed his glasses atop the book.
“Eunhyuk… Kyuhyun’s worried about you,” the King said simply.
“When you welcome someone who isn’t family, it is more than nothing,” the King stated, “For twenty-three years you never sought out any companions outside of your cousins. Why now? Who is he?”
“A few days ago Kyuhyun and I snuck off the grounds, it was his grocery store where we hid from the crowds,” Eunhyuk explained calmly, his hands behind his back rather than folded demurely in front as a princess should. “He treats me like a normal person,” and it was the truth. Granted, not the whole truth, but it played a part in Eunhyuk’s attraction to Donghae.
“That’s all well and good Eunhyuk, and I understand the want of normalcy,” the King insisted, “I was a prince too… but your circumstances are different from mine, you know the risks-”
“I do, and it’s because I do that you have nothing to worry about Uncle,” Eunhyuk said swiftly, “I know what the consequences are if my secret is found out, so I know how careful I am to be. I simply want a companion from the outside world. I understand yours and Kyuhyun’s concern, but it’s unwarranted.”
“Eunhyuk, from the moment you were born I wanted nothing more than your happiness. If you want a friend, I want to allow it… and he may treat you like a normal person, but he’s still a man. In his mind he might be courting the princess, he might-”
Eunhyuk held up a hand, silencing his uncle, “Uncle. I think you’ve forgotten that I am, too, a man. I understand the emotions of a man, the desires of one. I’ll explain to him simply that our relationship is to be nothing beyond platonic-”
“He may not like it-”
“Then I’ll find someone else,” Eunhyuk shrugged simply, crossing his arms over his chest, “Uncle, I know how to protect myself.”
“And that’s why I’m having so much trouble with this,” his Uncle sighed heavily, “Since you were born, Eunhyuk, I have protected you with more ferocity than I have protected my own children, simply because you have more to lose. But in this, in your friendship with this… grocer… I cannot protect as I’ve always been. I cannot…” He sighed as he stood up, “Sometimes, it’s harder to be a parent than to run a country.”
He paced to a window and after a moment, the King swung around, arms crossed, “I should banish him from the grounds, forbid you to see him.”
“I know what I risk-”
“You risk your life!”
Eunhyuk stood there silently, blinking. Finally, he cleared his throat and shifted his weight amongst his feet before taking up a stronger stance, “Kyuhyun left nothing out, did he?”
“He was worried for you, as he should be. Your anger is unfair and unwarranted, Eunhyuk,” the King stated, his voice warning. “Fully knowing what he does other than running a grocery store-”
“He stopped! He couldn’t go through with it!” Eunhyuk defended, his voice low and firm, “Why would I risk my life along with my secret? He knows what he risks being in my company, he knows the threat from the crown!” Eunhyuk ran a frustrated hand through his hair, undoing the braid it had been in. He turned narrowed eyes on the King, “Uncle, of all things, why would I risk your life for my own benefit? Huh? Why would I do that after all you have done for me!?”
“I don’t care about my life, Eunhyuk! I care about yours!” The King roared, the shelves practically shaking from the sound, “He was sent as an assassin and all you see is someone to be your friend!”
“I can hold my own in a fight,” Eunhyuk grounded out, “I have been trained for years-”
“I don’t doubt your ability,” the King interrupted, “Don’t puff out your chest just because you think I’m insulting your ego. I know you can defend yourself, Eunhyuk. But why should we tempt it? Why allow for you to be in a situation where you have to defend yourself!?”
“Why can’t you trust me!?” Eunhyuk demanded, his voice a low growl,
“What the hell do you mean-”
“Just trust me!” Eunhyuk exclaimed, his arms crossed tightly now, “I know what I’m doing, I am not stupid! I can defend myself, I know what the risks are I am not the damned sheep in the lion’s den!”
A knock on the door cut off any response the King may have had. He called for them to enter. The butler appeared,
“A Lim Donghae to see the Princess,” the butler intoned, his flushed cheeks telling both the Prince and the King that their yelling hadn’t been completely muted by the study’s door.
The King waved the butler away and immediately began walking, “Where are you going?” Eunhyuk demanded, not caring how insolently he was behaving before the butler.
“To your parents,” the King said simply as he neared the open door,
“My… why?” Eunhyuk questioned, following him out the study, his eyes narrowed suspiciously,
“Because you’ll do what you want, you always have,” the King growled resentfully, “I want them to know that I had nothing to do with this.” Before they reached the entrance hall, the King turned around suddenly and rounded on Eunhyuk, “You are not to be alone with him - ever. Do you understand me?”
“If I want to be, I will-”
“No!” The King’s exclamation echoed in the hallway. Once silence fell again, he continued, his voice low but threatening, “I will allow you to befriend the bastard if you must, but I’ll be dead first before I let you foolishly risk your life, too.”
“Maybe I should let you befriend him first then,” Eunhyuk grounded out.
The slap that ensued echoed with a clear and defined tone. The King lowered his hand even before the echoes died, but Eunhyuk saw the instant regret fill his uncle’s eyes. All his life, his uncle had never raised a hand to him, in truth, for the four years his aunt had been a part of his life, Eunhyuk recalled she had been disciplining himself and Kyuhyun. He saw his uncle’s face which had once been red with anger and frustration, pale immediately; his dark eyes soften and clear with remorse.
“At least one footman will always be in the room,” Eunhyuk said simply, quietly, his eyes not quite meeting his uncle’s. Regretful or not, Eunhyuk still couldn’t look at him. Not yet, not so soon after being hit by the man.
The King stared at him for a moment before nodding and turning away. Eunhyuk stood still as his uncle continued to the entrance hall where he informed the butler that he’d be going to the royal cemetery and to call for the car to come to the front. Eunhyuk stood still and silent as, after a few minutes, the front door opened and closed, signalling the departure of his uncle.
Eunhyuk blinked and turned to his left. He hadn’t realized that they had stopped before the family dining room’s doors. Sooyoung stood there, hesitantly, her hand playing with the doorknob as if unsure if she should come out into the hall or remain in the dining room.
“Father… Father was very angry,” Sooyoung said tentatively, quietly, as she stepped into the hall and to his side, “I’ve never seen him…” She raised a hand to his cheek which still throbbed and stung from the hit, “Are…”
“I’m fine,” Eunhyuk insisted stiffly as he stepped away from Sooyoung’s hand,
She dropped it, hurt. She cleared her throat and attempted a cheery tune, “I heard you have a guest?”
“Yes,” Eunhyuk said absent-mindedly, replaying what had happened between his uncle and himself, “Where is he?”
“I think he was brought to the parlour,” Sooyoung answered.
Eunhyuk had taken three steps before he heard his cousin call out to him. Without turning, he called back, “Yes?”
“Can… Can I get you ice?” When all that greeted her was silence, she added, “Please, unni.”
Eunhyuk sighed heavily before nodding, “Very well.” As he heard her depart for the kitchens, he focused his stride towards the parlour. All the while, he still felt the warm sting on his cheek.
They were sitting out on the terrace behind the royal house. Eunhyuk was sitting silently, a compress in his hand was soaked from the ice melting. Donghae sat across from him, arms crossed.
“Put the ice back on,” Donghae stated flatly.
Eunhyuk raised an arrogant brow as he dropped the compress on the table between them. He shifted in his seat to look over the back gardens, crossing his arms loosely, “I’m fine,” Eunhyuk said simply.
Donghae eyed the footman who stood at the doors of the terrace that led from the drawing room, “If this is causing so many problems, Princess, perhaps I should just-”
“Don’t,” the Prince said stiffly, “And that’s a royal command.”
Donghae knew it was foolish to feel light-hearted at such a decree, but he did anyway. He did, however, fight the silly grin he knew was already tugging at the corners of his mouth. It had been six days since he met with Eunhyuk in the library, which meant it had been a week since he first saw the Prince face-to-face. It had only been seven days and yet, to Donghae, he felt he had already grown so much. Then again, he thought, that might have to do with the fact he almost killed a man. He grew serious almost as fast as he had gone happy; “Your uncle-”
“Will get used to it,” Eunhyuk interjected.
Donghae blinked. It was true that the Princess was rarely seen in public, but those who had seen the Princess, had attended the invite-only balls at the royal house, had always claimed she was quiet but very polite. From the short time he knew of Eunhyuk, he was straight-forward but still considerate. He had never seen this short-tempered, arrogant side to him.
“Princess…” Donghae began wearily,
“In a week we’re holding a ball,” Eunhyuk said, turning his head enough to look at him directly, “Will you come? It would be a good place to introduce our… companionship.”
“Courtship?” Donghae grinned at him.
Eunhyuk rolled his eyes and stood up, looking away. He blushed all the same; “Yes, well… will you?”
Donghae allowed the silence to stretch just a bit. The same even tone was still there, and yet, Donghae sensed the shadow of another tone. He heard a whisper of it, saw it in the way Eunhyuk had tightened his arms just a fraction, the way the Prince now stood a bit stiffer; the Prince was nervous, tentative. It was a side that Donghae had never seen in a man, but then he remembered that the Prince didn’t socialize much outside of the royal family.
“Of course,” Donghae said finally and he could see the Prince physically sigh. “What is it for? Charity?”
Eunhyuk shook his head, “Celebrate Taeyeon’s twentieth birthday and my twenty-third birthday.”
“I knew the Princess’s birthday is soon. But… Your birthday is four weeks away,” Donghae blinked,
“Yes, but my birthday also marks my parents’ deaths. So, my birthday’s always been celebrated in early-March rather than in April,” Eunhyuk explained, glancing towards the terrace doors where the footman stood sentry, “Since Taeyeon’s birthday is early-March, we always celebrate it together.”
“So next week?” Eunhyuk practically jumped when he heard Donghae’s voice at his ear. He turned around immediately to find Donghae just inches from him. “When and where?”
“Next… Next Saturday,” Eunhyuk explained, hoping he wasn’t stammering. He cleared his throat as he force his words to remain steady and strong, “It begins at nine.”
Donghae took his chin between thumb and forefinger, “I’ll be there,” he leaned in for a kiss.
Eunhyuk stopped him with his palm just as the footman called at him to stop. Throwing the footman a stern look, he looked back at Donghae, “I told you I’m not being led around by some young pup.”
Donghae nudged Eunhyuk’s hand away with his nose, “Ah, but that was for private settings. With that footman here, it isn’t just you and I,” then after a moment, added, “Princess.”
“Oh fuck you’re right…” Eunhyuk muttered in the most un-princess-like manner Donghae had ever seen but then didn’t fight him when he pressed a chaste kiss to his lips.
“You owe us money!”
It had been five days since Donghae was on the terrace with the Prince. Now, however, he was walking backwards, away from the very large, angry-looking men who entered the store. He felt himself back up against a bin holding melons and silently cursed himself; he had let them corner him so damn easily. Three of them surrounded him and with the bin behind him, he was covered on all sides. He glanced passed them towards the door, but knew it was useless. One of the men had locked the door on their way in.
He gripped the bin behind him tightly, he wouldn’t be able to get away, but he wasn’t going to cower either, “What are you going on about?” Donghae spat at them,
“We gave you money to support this little trash bin,” one of the men said gruffly, gesturing towards the small grocery store, “That money was advanced payment for your assignment. We thought we didn’t hear anything because they were keeping things hush-hush-”
“And to our surprise,” another man interjected, “The King is spotted going into the cemetery, but NOT the way we wanted! He was supposed to be in a coffin!”
The third threw a punch at Donghae, his thick fist connecting with Donghae’s stomach, “That’s for playing dumb with us.”
“I can’t… I can’t give you the money back-”
Another hit, this time to his jaw. “What?” The man who had punched him asked mockingly, “I’m sorry I didn’t quite get that.”
“Not yet,” Donghae managed, his words slurring because his jaw hurt so damn much, “I need time to get the money to pay you back.”
This time, a fist to his stomach once more. When Donghae slumped against the guy, the big man used his free hand to land a punch against his cheek. Donghae fell sideways, one arm wrapped against his stomach, the other arm wiping away the blood he tasted on his tongue. He wanted to fight back. God, how he wanted to, but he knew he couldn’t. Fighting back against the three men was pure suicide. Despite their differences in size, Donghae knew he could handle his own against one, but not all three. Besides, fighting back would just make them more angrier and hurt him more relentlessly. He had his pride, but he wasn’t going to risk his life over it.
Besides, Donghae thought, he still had to think of Changmin. From the ground, he glanced at the clock and was praying hard. Changmin had gone out with friends for lunch. He prayed hard that Changmin wouldn’t return soon to be pulled into this mess. So, Donghae lay motionless as the men began to tear up the store. The quicker they got out of there, the more time he could buy before Changmin returned. He would never risk Changmin’s life.
Donghae felt the cool floor against his cheek as he tasted more and more copper on his tongue. His stomach felt as if it were on fire and his jaw felt as if it had been ripped from his skull. He could hear things being torn down, could hear produce being thrown and smashed. He heard the distinct sound of glass breaking and cans being thrown against hard surfaces. He heard the register being opened as one of the men returned to him. All Donghae could do was look up at him, silently willing them away already.
A hard boot made contact with his stomach. Donghae rolled onto his back as he gasped for air, both arms wrapped around his stomach. It felt as if it had been shred to pieces, as if it were being slashed with fire again and again. Beyond his pain, Donghae distantly heard the other two calling the last to leave already. He opened his eyes in time to see that same boot heading at him in a swift kick. He knew nothing but darkness and fiery pain.
It was just after lunch and Kyuhyun was escorting his and Eunhyuk’s music professor out of the house. He was about to turn back into the house when he noticed a car down by the gates. He saw a guard arguing with the driver of the car when suddenly a third person walked into view of the gates. When the guard suddenly stepped back and opened the gates, Kyuhyun turned back towards the driveway and stood there waiting. The third person climbed into the passenger seat of the car and the car drove in the moment the gates opened just enough for it to squeeze in.
The car bolted down the driveway at an alarming speed, skidding to a halt just before the front porch. Kyuhyun was startled when it was his sister who climbed out of the car of the passenger seat. He immediately came down to the car which, now that he could see it up close, was actually pretty old and worn out. The back bumper, for example, was being held up by duct tape.
“Taeyeon? What’s going on?” Kyuhyun asked as a young man came out of the driver side and ran around the car towards the back-passenger door.
He watched as Taeyeon opened the door and the young man, who must be a year or two older than himself, pulled out a familiar man who was obviously unconscious.
“What’s he doing here!?” Kyuhyun demanded, his hand reaching out and clasping Taeyeon’s shoulder,
“Please, I found him like this,” the young man said as he tugged Donghae’s arm around his shoulders and hauled him up, “I… I didn’t know where else to bring him.”
“Oppa, we can’t just turn him away,” Taeyeon said as she looked up at her brother, “Especially since this is unni’s friend.”
Kyuhyun looked back and forth between Taeyeon and the young man’s pleading expressions. Finally, he took in the sight of Donghae’s unconscious form. He saw the purpled skin of his jaw and cheek, the crooked nose, the dried blood on his shirt and lips.
Kyuhyun released Taeyeon’s shoulder and went to Donghae’s other side, pulling his arm around his own shoulders, “C’mon, the parlour’s the closest room. Tae, get the door and then go find Eunhyuk.”
Taeyeon nodded as she scrambled to the door and pushed it wide open for them. Together, Kyuhyun and the young man dragged Donghae into the house and towards the nearest door in the entrance hall. Taeyeon immediately questioned the butler for the Princess’s whereabouts and dashed in that direction. Kyuhyun and the man carefully deposited Donghae on a couch.
Kyuhyun wiped at his own brow with the back of his sleeve as he grabbed a chair and brought it closer to the couch. He gestured to the stranger to sit who looked at him gratefully, “Who are you?” Kyuhyun asked finally,
“I’m a childhood friend of Donghae’s,” he explained, crossing his slender but toned arms over his chest, “My name is Kim Junsu. I went to his grocery store and found him… the place was trashed, the register broken into… If I hadn’t searched the place, I wouldn’t have found him. He was on the ground and…” Junsu sounded as if he were talking through his teeth, “If I had enough money I would’ve taken him to the hospital or something but… but maybe not even then… I knew… I knew he knew the Princess… he said that they were… friends and…” He sighed heavily, rubbing his face with both hands before crossing his arms again, “This was the only safe place I could think of to bring him.”
“He didn’t come here on his own to kill my father, did he?” Kyuhyun questioned simply, his eyes on Junsu, “He was sent here last week by someone.”
Junsu sighed heavily again before nodding, “Not someone, but a group… he needed to support himself and his younger brother. The group gave him money to keep the store open in exchange for the assignment. After he failed to…”
“Go on,” Kyuhyun said flatly, his eyes flashing dangerously,
“After he failed to… erm… do the assignment,” Junsu stammered before clearing his throat and strengthening his tone, “After that, he told me how he couldn’t do it. I wasn’t surprised, it was never in him. He was worried, he knew he couldn’t keep it from the syndicate that he had failed, but he wanted to keep them in the dark for as long as possible.” His eyes narrowed dangerous as he looked back at Donghae, “I never thought they’d stoop this low… I knew- we knew - how dangerous the syndicate could be if they wanted… but I never knew how fast they’d turn on one of their own.”
“He knew there were risks if he didn’t kill my father?” Kyuhyun asked, feeling a chill sweep through his body as his eyes slowly drifted towards the unconscious man on the couch.
“Yes… especially since they had given him an advanced payment,” Junsu said darkly. He wiped away at angry, hot tears, “Had I know what they’d do… I wouldn’t have… damn it, I would’ve left him alone.”
Before Kyuhyun could ask more, the door burst open as Eunhyuk ran in and it slammed shut when Taeyeon followed on his heels. Junsu moved to stand up to bow properly, but Eunhyuk waved him down and just came to a halt beside his cousin,
“What…?” Was all he could manage. It suddenly felt as if his throat had been clogged up and he had lost feeling in his entire body as a cold wind seemed to embrace him.
Noting that Junsu was having difficulty repeating his story, Kyuhyun answered Eunhyuk’s question. Eunhyuk jerked his gaze to Junsu when said person touched his arm. Junsu was standing and gestured to his seat, silently offering it to the Princess. A peculiar look flashed in the Prince’s eyes and Kyuhyun instinctively placed a hand on Eunhyuk’s shoulder. Before Eunhyuk could either rail at him or punch Junsu as Kyuhyun was sure he was about to do, Kyuhyun practically shoved Eunhyuk into the chair.
Eunhyuk stared at Donghae as the others faded from his mind. With his thoughts concentrated on Donghae, he didn’t hear when Kyuhyun left to call the doctor or when Taeyeon offered to bring them tea.
Donghae didn’t regain consciousness for the remainder of the afternoon. When the doctor arrived, he immediately ordered for an ambulance and Donghae was taken away. Eunhyuk had been determined to go with him, but with Kyuhyun’s hostile look and Taeyeon’s anxious look, he said nothing, merely stating he wanted to be informed should anything happen.
After the ambulance left, Kyuhyun had retreated to his room so, it was up to Eunhyuk and Taeyeon to escort Junsu back to his scrapheap of a car.
“I’m sorry,” Junsu blurted as they reached his car. Eunhyuk raised an eyebrow when Junsu turned towards Taeyeon, “This all happened because they wanted Donghae to-”
“Only myself and Prince Kyuhyun know the circumstances,” Eunhyuk interrupted immediately when he realized where Junsu’s train of thought was going. When Junsu looked at him confusedly, he added, “The other princesses are unaware of how Donghae and I first became acquainted.”
Realization lighted the young man’s eyes and Junsu nodded absentmindedly as he fumbled with his keys. He looked at the Prince, “Still…”
“I know,” Eunhyuk replied simply, softly. He could tell that Junsu was genuinely remorseful. Even more so, he could tell that the other man was thoroughly and completely worried for Donghae. He watched as Junsu distractedly walked around the car and fumbled to open his car door. “You’re…you’re going aren’t you?”
Junsu looked up as if forgetting where he was and who they were. After a moment, he nodded,
“I’ll make sure you’ll know if anything happens, Your Highness,” Junsu promised, his eyes now narrowed in determination, “Any change at all… you’ll hear of it.”
They were simple words and considerate thoughts and yet, to Eunhyuk, they brought a world of relief to his suddenly tumultuous afternoon. He nodded gratefully, as graceful as the princess he was supposed to be.
“You’re a good friend,” Taeyeon said suddenly. Junsu’s eyes flew towards her and blinked, “To Donghae-sshi I mean… you brought him here immediately and now you’re going to stay with him at the hospital…” She took a deep, steadying breath before repeating, “You’re a good friend.”
Eunhyuk saw the pain clear in Junsu’s eyes. He bowed briefly to them before slipping into his car and speeding away. By then, Eunhyuk’s gaze had turned to his cousin. Something had been peculiar about her voice and he never realized it until he saw her eyes. Since they were all home schooled for the first eighteen years of their lives, all of them had lived sheltered lives. Since Taeyeon stepped outside the ground gates, she had known nothing but cruelty and coldness. Now, he saw she watched Junsu drive off with eyes full of wonder, yearning and envy. In that moment, he realized that Taeyeon had finally seen what real friendship looked like and wanted something like it for herself as well.
He turned towards Taeyeon, wanting to pull his cousin into another embrace and comfort the pain he saw beneath all the emotions in her eyes. However, the moment he faced her, she came to him and wrapped her arms around his shoulder, pressing his head against her shoulder. When he felt her hand gently stroking his head, he realized what she was doing. Despite being younger, despite being in pain also, Taeyeon had unselfishly decided to comfort him instead. The briefest shadow of his ego made him hesitate before he realized to her, he was a female, he was allowed to have a weak side. So, taking a deep breath, he relaxed in her arms and allowed the tears he had been fighting for so long to finally run their course.
Two days later, Eunhyuk was lying in bed. He had heard nothing of Donghae and the hospital had given him no information, princess or no princess. He had half a mind to find Junsu and kill the liar, but his thoughts were so preoccupied that the past two days had passed without him realizing it. The ball celebrating his and Taeyeon’s birthday was to begin within an hour and Eunhyuk lay in his room, still dressed in his oversized, flannel pyjamas.
Soon, the driveway would fill with fancy cars as government officials, important business men and their high status families would enter the house and be shown to the ballroom which took up the entire west wing’s ground floor. Eunhyuk sighed as he rolled over so his back faced his door. He closed his eyes and tried to forget everything and just saturate himself completely in his thoughts and worries of Donghae.
The door burst open and a pair of voices exclaimed, “You’re still in bed!?”
Eunhyuk rolled onto his stomach and proceeded to bury his head beneath his pillow when he heard two sets of feet move, each to either side of his bed.
“We’re supposed to be down in the ballroom in forty minutes and you’re still in pyjamas!?” Sooyoung exclaimed.
“She could start a new fashion trend,” Kyuhyun offered lightly.
“I refuse to leave my bed,” Eunhyuk’s muffled reply came from beneath the pillow.
“It’s your birthday ball!” Sooyoung argued immediately, “Taeyeon’s been in her room for hours, but I know that she’s at least dressed!”
“Unfortunately, noona, I’m actually inclined to agree with Sooyoung this time,” Kyuhyun stated and Eunhyuk could practically hear the smirk on his dongsaeng’s face.
“C’mon,” Sooyoung said as she grabbed his arm and pulled him up, “I’ll find your Hanbok for tonight and oppa can help you with whatever else.”
Eunhyuk threw Sooyoung a dark glare which she promptly retaliated to with one of her bright, toothy smile. He sighed heavily as he allowed her to pull him to his feet; he really couldn’t argue whenever she threw a winning smile his way. She dragged him over to the vanity and practically shoved him into it before scolding him as she disappeared into his walk-in closet.
Eunhyuk caught Kyuhyun’s stare in the mirror. “Don’t give me that look,” Kyuhyun said with a shrug as he grabbed the brush and began brushing Eunhyuk’s long hair, “Father sent us to get you and as much as I hate balls as much as the next guy, you know he’d kill us both if you didn’t show up.”
“I know,” Eunhyuk muttered as Kyuhyun put down the brush and began pulling and twisting his hair, “It’s just…”
“I know, you’re worried about him,” Kyuhyun stated. Eunhyuk noted the usual malice that Kyuhyun used whenever he referred to Donghae, but he immediately realized that this time it lacked its usual conviction, “But I got word from Junsu-sshi and he insisted that Donghae will contact you as soon as he can.”
Eunhyuk crossed his arms, “He said he’d keep in contact with me.” He glanced towards the closet, “Kyuhyun, she’s been in there too long. My Hanbok is already hung and waiting, she might see my boxer briefs and wonder…”
“Sooyoung,” Kyuhyun called, “Hurry it up before Father comes to personally find Eunhyuk!”
Sooyoung immediately sailed from the closet. Eunhyuk finally took the time to observe his cousin. She was dressed in a beautiful dark blue, empire-style dress. It formed to her bust and , from the gold ribbon beneath her breasts, the skirt flowed out. Made of what seemed to be silk, the dress was cut just below her knees where the material made the dress look like ocean water floating about her. Her short hair flipped up at the ends, her smile seemed brighter when she came to them at the vanity.
Holding up the Hanbok with its gold chima and cream-coloured jeogori, Sooyoung stated, “This is by-far, one of the most elegant looking Hanbok of yours I’ve ever seen!” Then she gave Eunhyuk a slanted look, “but I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again. This is the 21st century and I wish you’d wear something other than a Hanbok - to your birthday ball, at least.”
“So do I,” Eunhyuk muttered quietly, but Kyuhyun had heard and tugged at a strand of his hair warningly.
Sooyoung laid out the Hanbok on the bed before coming back to the vanity. She had her eyes on Eunhyuk’s hair before she glanced at her brother, “Oppa, it’s scary how well you do her hair.”
“Well, I have been attending on noona for years,” Kyuhyun said lightly. He had separated Eunhyuk’s bangs and made them sweep to the side. Then, he had begun to French braid his long hair diagonally from the side part on the left side of Eunhyuk’s forehead to the right side of the nape of the neck. He braided the rest of the hair, then coiled the tail into an elegant bun on the right side of the base of Eunhyuk’s skull.
Sooyoung sighed as she went back to the Hanbok and disengaged the gold-coloured chima from the hanger, “I swear oppa, I’d pay you to do my hair one day.”
“You’re hair’s too short,” Kyuhyun argued once he secured one last jewelled hairpin to the bun.
“Give it a few months,” Sooyoung muttered as she brought the chima to her cousin, “C’mon, unni, we don’t have any time to sit about being idle.”
Rolling his eyes, Eunhyuk took the chima and disappeared into the bathroom to change properly. From within the pristine-white room, Eunhyuk could hear the muffled bickering of his cousins and almost forgot his previous worries. Almost.
Eunhyuk couldn’t think of a more boring way to spend a ball. For the first hour - for it took him that long to circumvent the ballroom - he had to walk around and greet each guest. Of course, Kyuhyun accompanied him; Eunhyuk was sure it was more out of Kyuhyun wanting to witness his suffering rather than keep him company during his boring journey. The only satisfaction Eunhyuk got was that Taeyeon was also suffering the same fate, but she was being escorted by the King. By the time they reached their starting point, Eunhyuk was swearing vengeance against his uncle who had told them to greet everyone.
“That was fun,” Eunhyuk murmured as he plastered on another fake, sweet smile as they took a place against one of the pillars that lined the ballroom.
“Indeed. There were at least six soon-to-be-wealthy sons who were eyeing you,” Kyuhyun smirked.
Eunhyuk tightened his hand on Kyuhyun’s arm in warning. “If you let any of them ask me to dance, I’ll kill you,” he grounded out.
“You know protocol,” Kyuhyun teased, “Three waltzes to lay suspicions to rest, then you can sit and let everyone fawn over you for the rest of the ball.”
“I wish uncle would’ve let me remain a recluse in this,” Eunhyuk muttered resentfully,
“Considering how much the public love you, that’s unlikely. If you never made an appearance at all, they’d grow suspicious and actually try and look for information on you,” Kyuhyun reminded lightly as a couple bowed towards them and he inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“Well, I wish there were more than just waltzes… those damned sons are pretty frisky with their hands,” Eunhyuk stated darkly.
Kyuhyun stifled a laugh, “Well, I bet you resent Mother for decreeing only waltzes at royal balls since she loved them so much.”
“I hate it when you’re right,” Eunhyuk sighed,
“Really? I love it,” Kyuhyun grinned as he tugged him towards the centre of the ballroom where many were waltzing already.
“Now you’ve resorted to throwing me to the wolves?” Eunhyuk somehow managed to sneer as he smiled serenely, tug at Kyuhyun as he glided.
“No, we’re going to dance. That takes care of one and then I’ll throw you to the wolves for the last two,” Kyuhyun explained.
Acquiescing , Eunhyuk allowed himself to be led to the dance floor and took up the stance with Kyuhyun. Immediately, Kyuhyun pulled him into the flow with the others dancing. They danced in comfortable silence. After years of dancing thus, the waltz had become second nature to them. After a moment, Eunhyuk broke the silence between them.
“I swear, if one of those mangy mutts tries going south of my waist, I’ll knock him out,” Eunhyuk stated firmly, “I won’t care who sees or what they think. I’ll knock him out then rip off his favourite appendage.”
“Whoa, hyung,” Kyuhyun said quietly, “That’s a little harsh. How would you feel if someone swore such violence against you?”
“It wouldn’t be needed since I would never be so damn horny with my hands,” Eunhyuk practically growled as he let his gaze drift to those around him.
He had gotten accustomed to seeing the upper class at balls in the royal house. The family hosted three balls a year: Christmas and a birthday ball for each Princess and Prince. Because Sooyoung and Kyuhyun’s birthdays were in early February, a ball would take place honouring them both, just as the present ball was for Taeyeon and Eunhyuk.
Eunhyuk sighed, “You know, sometimes I really hate being a princess,”
“Because you suddenly realize why all males are animals?” Kyuhyun suggested with a straight face,
“No,” Eunhyuk gave him a pointed glare before softening, “But it’s Taeyeon’s ball too and I wish I could dance with her… and Sooyoung during your ball. I can’t do things for them like you can.”
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “You’re not missing a lot.”
Eunhyuk shook his head, “It’s different from my perspective. I want to protect them but I can’t because to the world, I’m just a girl too.” Suddenly, his eyes narrowed as he kept his smile on his face, “By the way, we need to keep an eye on Sooyoung.”
“Oh?” Kyuhyun raised an eyebrow as they twirled around the room, he tried to search the crush for his youngest sister, “Why?”
“Did you see what she’s wearing tonight? If those damn pups are grabby with me and I’m in a full Hanbok, imagine what they’ll be doing to her! What is she wearing anyway?” Eunhyuk demanded in a slight growl, “She should be covered from ankle to neck!”
Kyuhyun laughed as the music decrescendo to an end and he and Eunhyuk returned to their place by a pillar once more, “She’s nineteen.”
“All the more to watch over. Look, she’s practically holding court by the punch bowl!” Eunhyuk whispered urgently.
Silently laughing at his cousin, Kyuhyun swept the ballroom with his eyes to the appointed place. When he caught sight of his sister surrounded by young men, all looking like ravenous wolves, the laughter died from his eyes. Eyes now narrowing, Kyuhyun barely contained the urge to go over to the pack and toss them out on their hind legs.
“Come, hyung,” Kyuhyun practically growled as he pulled him along, prowling towards the group,
“If we’re too obvious she’ll get stubborn and jump at the chance to annoy us by dancing with all of them,” Eunhyuk warned,
“I won’t be obvious. I’m throwing you at them so they have something else to preoccupy them,” Kyuhyun stated as they rounded on the group. “Sooyoung,” he greeted his sister who eyed him suspiciously but smiled all the same, “I was wondering if you’d let your favourite brother partner you in the next dance?”
“You’re my only brother,” she laughed up at him as she placed her hand on the proffered arm.
“All the more to say yes,” Kyuhyun sent an icy glare towards the young men who had been chatting with his sister before sweeping her from the group and towards the dance floor.
Eunhyuk watched them with dark eyes before they disappeared beyond the wall of men. Summoning his reserve of charm, he smiled at the guests around him and tried to think of soothing thoughts to keep himself - and his fists - in check.
He wasn’t sure how, but Eunhyuk got through the remainder of his required two waltzes without throwing a punch. Now he sat at one end of the ballroom on a settee. He sat in the middle so to avoid those who wanted to sit beside him. However, he was still surrounded by people, especially those grabby sons he wanted to avoid so much. It was either avoid them, or kill them.
As those around him chatted, Eunhyuk sat perfectly straight, his hands folded in his lap, his head partially bowed as if being humble. He smiled serenely and replied noncommittally when the occasion called for it. Between responses, his eyes would casually scan past his flock, trying to find any of his cousins who could be his saving grace. When he couldn’t stand the sons bragging about themselves anymore, he mentioned he was thirsty and almost immediately all of them scrambled to get a drink for the Princess.
The first to return made his heart skip a beat. Instinctively, Eunhyuk rose from the settee just as the young man bowed before him. He grabbed Eunhyuk’s hand and brushed his lips against Eunhyuk’s knuckles.
“Donghae,” Eunhyuk murmured as the pack returned, all holding glasses of punch in their hands.
They stared like bloodthirsty wolves at Donghae who had garnered attention from the Princess none of them had achieved before. With his free hand, Donghae offered a glass of punch. Eunhyuk took it and handed it to the nearest son,
“I’m not thirsty after all,” Eunhyuk said, startled how breathless he was sounding.
“Then may I ask for this dance?” Donghae asked.
Before Eunhyuk could even finish his reply, Donghae had pulled him away from the sons, through the crowd and towards the dance floor. With one hand gripping Eunhyuk’s firmly and his other hand at his back, Donghae led Eunhyuk into the waltz with the other dancers. They fell into a silence as all they did was stare into one another’s eyes.
After a moment, Eunhyuk looked down, “I didn’t know what happened to you.”
“Junsu told me what he promised you, but I wanted to surprise you tonight,” Donghae explained quietly. He glanced past Eunhyuk’s head to where the sons were now watching them with murderous intent. “You had quite the flock there.”
“They’re all trying to vie for my hand,” Eunhyuk muttered resentfully,
“You smiled indulgently for them… too bad it was all fake,” Donghae snorted,
“What?” Eunhyuk looked back at him now,
“That picture-perfect smile you had before,” Donghae explained, “It was clearly fake. You were smiling like crazy while your eyes hardly ever lit up. And what was with your head? The entire time, you were sitting ramrod straight but you had your face slightly tilted down.”
“How do you think I avoided attention to my Adam’s apple?” Eunhyuk revealed, “Most of those pups, indeed, most people, never look past my face. So if I tilt it downwards, they never think to look at my neck. I avoid necklaces or jeogori with patterns at the collars.”
“On the note of jeogori, can I say this Hanbok looks beautiful on you, Princess?” Donghae stated lightly,
Eunhyuk tightened his grip on Donghae’s shoulder as they twirled around the room, “No you may not. Damn, you have no idea how much I wish for one night I could just wear a tuxedo like you and Kyuhyun.”
“The life of a princess is difficult,” Donghae said simply. When Eunhyuk looked away again, he added, “Are you happy?”
Eunhyuk didn’t look at him, but plastered his serene smile on his face as he noticed more and more people were turning their attention to them. He knew why they were all staring. After so many years, everyone had realized the pattern. They had all realized the Princess danced a maximum of three dances then never took a step towards the dance floor again, that’s why her dances were so coveted at the balls that were thrown by the royal family. Now, however, the Princess was dancing an unheard of fourth dance and with a nobody at that.
“As happy as I can be,” he managed after a moment.
“Stop that,” Donghae hissed at him,
“With everyone else you can fake your smiles and lie through your teeth, but not with me.” When Eunhyuk still didn’t look at him, his hand at the Prince’s back pulled him closer until they were practically flush with one another, “Not with me, Eunhyuk.”
Eunhyuk sighed, “Very well.”
He glanced at Donghae as they danced in silence and finally took notice. The side of his face was still bruised on his cheek and jaw. There was a small white strip over the bridge of his nose as if it had been pushed and set into place and Eunhyuk remembered how crooked it appeared before. He looked at Donghae’s lips which were split several times and the nasty red lines they made on those lips he kissed so many times already.
Donghae caught his perusal and grinned at him, “I’m fine,” he insisted,
“Really?” Eunhyuk asked, unconvinced,
“Really,” Donghae nodded, “Junsu wouldn’t let me leave the hospital if I wasn’t fine.” Suddenly, his eyes narrowed as he turned serious, “About the hospital bills, I’ll pay you back when-”
“Finish that sentence and I’ll kill you,” Eunhyuk interjected, locking eyes with him,
“Damn it, Eunhyuk, I’m a man I don’t need taking care of,” Donghae hissed,
“And you keep forgetting that I, too, am a man and I refuse to not take care of you,” Eunhyuk said roughly, both hands tightening their grip on Donghae’s hand and shoulder. “Too long I’ve played princess, Donghae. I told you before I don’t like being led by my dongsaeng. So either you let me do this, or I’ll kill you with my bare hands.”
Donghae blinked. He was startled to hear the fierceness in the Prince’s voice, feel the almost-painful grip on his hand and shoulder. Suddenly, his serious expression was broken by a lop-sided grin, “You like me.”
Startled, Eunhyuk almost stumbled in the waltz, but Donghae pulled him along, recovering quickly, “What?” Eunhyuk demanded in an urgent whisper,
“You like me,” Donghae repeated teasingly.
Eunhyuk roll his eyes, “Maybe.” Suddenly he narrowed suspicious eyes at the other, “Is that why you asked me to dance? Because you know I don’t like being led and in this, I have to be led?”
A mischievous light entered Donghae’s eyes, “Yes and no. I get to hold you in public and no one can say anything.”
Eunhyuk snorted in an un-princess-like manner, indeed, even an un-prince-like manner before muttering resentfully, “Brat.”
As Eunhyuk was being approached by Donghae, another young man was approaching Princess Taeyeon. Getting punch with her brother, she hadn’t realized the young man or his intent until he was beside them.
“Princess, would you do me the honour of dancing with me?”
Taeyeon looked at him startled. Kyuhyun looked at him suspiciously. Junsu straightened from his bow with a small, tentative smile. Taeyeon glanced at her brother who sighed and nodded. She held out her hand and Junsu took it,
“Go look for Sooyoung,” Taeyeon insisted before she was pulled away, “There’s at least five guys trying to dance with her.” She caught a glimpse of Kyuhyun going after their sister before she was pulled through the crowd by Junsu.
He pulled her into the dance easily. They danced in silence for a moment as Taeyeon tried to find a place for her eyes. With any other partner, she’d look at them and talk easily. For some reason, she couldn’t do that with this partner. His hands felt warm wrapped around her hand and at her back. They were warm and strong and comforting.
Junsu had seen her almost the immediately when he and Donghae had entered the ballroom. She had been walking with Prince Kyuhyun. While the Princess wore cream and gold, Princess Taeyeon wore a dress of silver taffeta. It was strapless and reached just above her knees. Below her bust was a thick, pale green ribbon that tied in a neat bow at her back, the tails trailing down her skirts. Her hair wasn’t curled or primped, but remained straight. It gathered by her left ear, threaded with small, thin ribbons the same green as on her dress and secured there with a band of pearls.
“How’d you get in?” Taeyeon asked finally,
“Oh, with Donghae,” Junsu explained, “He wanted to come and surprise the Princess, but I refused to let him out of my sight until he was completely back to normal.”
“That’s… that’s very kind of you,” Taeyeon stated, her voice distant,
“It’s what any friend would do,” Junsu stated as his eyes watched her.
Something changed and he didn’t know what. One moment he was dancing with a girl who’s eyes were so expressive, he could practically read her mind. The next moment, her eyes grew shuttered and a cold feeling swept through him as he could no longer feel the warmth in his arms.
“I… see,” she murmured.
“Did I do something wrong?” Junsu asked quietly, “Say something wrong?”
“No, of course not,” Taeyeon said lightly.
Junsu narrowed his eyes. He moved his hand from her back to more to her side and tightened his hand slightly, “Then why won’t you look at me?” She flinched and Junsu immediately regretted his angry tone, “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have-”
“Just… just move your hand,” Taeyeon grounded out as they moved to the dance without missing a single step.
“My… hand?” Junsu looked at her confusedly as he moved his hand to her back again, “Are you hurt?” When she said nothing, Junsu narrowed his eyes, “I’m taking you to the Princess.’
“No, please,” Taeyeon finally looked up at him, her eyes wide and pleading, “I’m not hurt!”
Junsu moved his hand to her side and pressed on it gingerly. She flinched, her hands on his shoulder and hand gripping tightly as she stumbled in the dance. He immediately pulled her out of the dance and lowered his hand from her side, but refused to let go of her hand.
“Either I take you to the Princess or to your brother, you decide,” Junsu stated, his raspy tone growing rough with concern.
“Fine, fine,” Taeyeon muttered, “To my cousin then.”
Junsu nodded and looked out amongst those dance. He caught Donghae’s eyes and signalled for him. Within moments, Donghae and the Prince were before them. Before even reaching them, the Prince knew something was wrong,
“Taeyeon?” Eunhyuk looked at her worriedly, her face had already gotten quite pale and she had an arm wrapped around her torso.
“We were dancing and I realized she was in pain whenever my hand held her side,” Junsu explained, quiet enough that those around them didn’t hear.
Eunhyuk’s eyes grew wide before they narrowed, “When did this happen?”
Taeyeon’s eye were on the floor when he answered, “Two days ago… it’s why I came home after lunch from school.”
Eunhyuk looked around them but couldn’t find Kyuhyun. He looked towards Junsu, “We’ll take her to the hospital-”
“You can’t leave,” Taeyeon stated, “You’re the Princess, you can’t leave.”
“You’re a princess too,” Eunhyuk stated, his voice slipping to its natural tone,
Taeyeon offered a weak smile, “But you’re the Princess. I suppose if you were a prince you could do as you please… but as always, the double standard applies to us.”
Eunhyuk’s eyes narrowed but said, “Junsu, take her. As soon as this damn ball is over I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
Junsu looked at Donghae hesitantly who only nodded encouragingly. Finally, Junsu nodded at the Princess and quickly removed Taeyeon from the ball. Eunhyuk sighed heavily the moment they were gone from his line of view.
“Did you want to escape to the terrace?” Donghae asked quietly.
Eunhyuk nodded and allowed himself to be led from the ballroom and out the doors to the terrace. Because the doors had been closed, no one else was out there but them. Donghae led them over to the banister than lined the terrace and Eunhyuk sat on it, leaning against a pillar.
“We can’t be gone for too long,” Eunhyuk murmured, his eyes closing. Somehow, within the past five minutes, he had gotten very tired very fast.
“We’re just ten feet away from the ballroom,” Donghae stated,
“Yes, but I’m a girl to them,” Eunhyuk sighed, “I can’t be missing for too long or… rumours might start.”
“That’s bullshit,” Donghae hissed,
“That’s my life,” Eunhyuk corrected when he finally opened his eyes and locked gazes with Donghae, “But all I want to be is with Taeyeon right now. From what Junsu described, it sounds like her ribs have been injured, if not broken.”
“Because Taeyeon is a princess, the moment she began university, she’s been bullied,” Eunhyuk explained, his eyes gaining a dangerous glint as he talked, “They’ve been leaving her alone lately, but isolation is another type of bullying. To break her ribs… I swear if I ever find out who those bastards are I’ll…” Eunhyuk let out a frustrated sigh as he wiped away angry tears, “I’ll probably tell Kyuhyun. It’s not like I can do anything while the country sees me as a princess.”
“My answer is no,” Eunhyuk said suddenly. He looked at Donghae with angry eyes through a veil of hot tears, “I am not happy. I can’t act as I want, I can’t speak as I want, damn it, I can’t even protect my cousins as I want to all because to everyone else I am a princess and not a prince. You heard Taeyeon, she won’t even let me protect her because I’m just a princess like her!”
Donghae could say nothing, so he stepped closer to Eunhyuk and wrapped his arms around him. Eunhyuk buried his face against Donghae’s chest, feeling the thud of his heart against his cheek. Donghae’s embrace tightened and finally, Eunhyuk slipped his arms around Donghae’s waist, holding him securely.
“I hate this,” Eunhyuk cried, “I hate this so damn much.”
Donghae held him tighter, more securely, more protectively as he pressed his lips to Eunhyuk’s perfectly braided hair. He let his eyes slip close as he remained silent, allow Eunhyuk to finally remove the lid off of his emotions. A shadow slipped back into the ballroom which was full of lights and laughter. Outside on the terrace, it was the complete opposite.
(Chapter 4: Every Suffering Moment)
(A/N: Because sometimes I like to draw... Here are the dresses Eunhyuk, Sooyoung and Taeyeon wore. At some point I may come back and colour them.)