Pairing: Zhou Mi/OC
Summary: Zhou Mi is a prince who dreams of a common life. Sun is still searching for the knight in shining armor of her childhood. When their respective families arrange for them to be married, they struggle to find together the freedom and happiness they so longed for apart.
Notes: First attempt at Suju fanfiction. Extremely AU.
Sun sealed the second envelope and set it down on her desk next to the first. Letters to her friends—one to Suzy, and one to Heechul. She’d written to them about her new life in the palace, about how it was comfortable, how the people were kind, and yet how she missed them both terribly, how she still wished she could leave everything, could come back to them. But then, she had written of finding a small sanctuary in the palace gardens, something so familiar in its warmth. And so, she had ended with words of reassurance, words that promised she was finding some happiness here, despite it all.
She sighed. Yes, she hoped her words were convincing enough.
She hadn’t written much about Zhou Mi.
He hadn’t been completely left out; he was important enough to be spared a few words. So she’d told them about how nice he seemed to be, how caring, how concerned he was for her wellbeing. Nearly a week in the palace had taught her that he had a reputation amongst his servants for being considerate, generous, and not very fond of formalities. But how did she tell them more when she didn’t even know it for herself? So she saw him at the dinner table, and every now and then out on the palace grounds. He was away more than he wasn’t. Out visiting the commoners, the captain had told her.
Sun chuckled at that thought. Why, she’d probably written more about the captain than her own fiancé!
There was a knock on the door then, and Sun opened it to find Mrs. Lee.
“I’ve brought the books you asked for, dear.”
Sun grinned. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Lee!” she said, accepting the two volumes—one each of poetry and prose. “I hope they weren’t too much trouble to get.”
“Not at all, my dear!” the woman assured her. “And I’ve already talked to the captain about getting another library key made so you can go for yourself. If you’re interested in books as worn as these, why, you’re sure to find something in there that piques your interest! There are books older than this palace, I’m telling you!”
“You’ve helped me so much,” Sun said, looking down at the books in her hands. “I had copies of these at home, but…. I didn’t have much time to pack. I must have forgotten them. They were my favorites, so really, I don’t know what I would do without you!”
“You could come with me to the library when you want something new to read,” said the woman. “Assuming you don’t have your key by then.”
Sun shook her head. “These should tide me over for a while. I do have a few books in my own collection that I haven’t quite finished yet. There are just pieces in these I like to read over again from time to time, which is why I asked you for the favor.” She walked over to her desk, setting down the book of prose and picking up the letters. “I wonder, would you mind doing me another favor? Would you make sure these get into the outgoing mail?”
“Certainly, my dear,” said Mrs. Lee, accepting the envelopes. And then she smiled. “I should be on my way, I suppose. The palace doesn’t manage itself, you know!”
Sun clutched the book of poetry closer to her side. “I’ll walk with you!” she said, stepping out of the room and closing the door behind her. “I was going to take this outside to read, anyway.”
Zhou Mi met Kyuhyun when he was seven years old, the latter only five. The prince saw him carrying a bucket of water into the stables, doubled over with the weight of it, setting it down every few steps because it was just too heavy for his small arms to bear.
So Zhou Mi did what he thought was right, without thinking, and picked up the bucket and carried it the rest of the way in.
Of course, when he turned back around and was met with a face that was nothing short of shocked, he realized he might have done something wrong.
He smiled. “Hi!” he said, sticking out his hand. “I’m Zhou Mi.”
But the other boy continued to gape, and Zhou Mi thought maybe the fact that they were complete strangers wasn’t really the problem.
He lowered his hand. “Is… something wrong?”
The boy closed his mouth and shook his head, violently at first, and then more slowly, before stopping completely and nodding instead. He swallowed visibly, staring at Zhou Mi with wide eyes. “You…” he began. “You’re… the prince! Prince Zhou Mi, Your High—“
Zhou Mi waved his hands frantically in front of his face. “No! Stop that!” he practically shouted, and of course, the boy did what he was told. “You don’t need to do that. Zhou Mi is fine. Mi is better.” And then he grinned, sticking his hand back out. “Let’s try this again,” he said. “I’m Zhou Mi.”
The boy looked at the hand being offered to him, then up at Zhou Mi, then back at the hand, before finally deciding to grasp it in his own. “I’m… Kyuhyun,” he said a bit hesitantly. “Cho Kyuhyun.”
Zhou Mi’s smile widened. “It’s nice to meet you, Kyuhyun,” he said. “We’re going to be great friends, I know it!”
And it was true. Hours later, the two boys were still together, sitting on the raised stone edge of the courtyard fountain, dangling their feet over the edge, telling jokes and laughing together. They stayed that way until an angry palace maid shooed Kyuhyun along, back to his chores, bowing apologetically to Zhou Mi as she passed. Even then, he gazed longingly at Kyuhyun’s retreating form, wanting just a few more hours, a few more minutes, with his playmate. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a great day, so much fun.
For a prince, friends were hard to come by.
After a lazy afternoon in the gardens, Sun began to walk back toward the palace, swinging the book of poetry at her side. The verses swam in her head, still fresh. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
But then she stopped, suddenly finding herself face-to-face with someone completely unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome.
She smiled. “Good afternoon, Captain Cho.”
He bowed slightly. “Good to see you, Miss Byun. And please, Kyuhyun is fine,” he said.
Sun shook her head. “Captain, I couldn’t—“
“So you’ll call Zhou Mi by his name, but not me?” He feigned a hurt expression. “I feel cheated.”
Sun couldn’t help but laugh at that, and all at once she felt very at ease in the captain’s presence. “Right,” she said. “Kyuhyun. But then you will call me Sun.”
Kyuhyun smiled. “Are you going back inside? Would you walk with me, then?”
She nodded, and the two walked side-by-side in silence for a ways before Sun felt comfortable asking what she had been wondering.
“You and the prince are… friends?”
Kyuhyun nodded. “Since we were both little. That kid got me into heaps of trouble. Always trying to do my work for me.” He chuckled. “But yeah, we’re stuck with each other. We just choose to make the most of it.”
Sun pretended not to hear that as a comment aimed at her. Instead, she asked, “He did your work for you? What do you mean?”
“Ah, well. My mother was a servant here, so I was born into that. I worked in the stables for most of my childhood. So the first few months of my friendship with Mi were… tense, I guess you could say, in that it was fun to be around him but I paid for it later. But I guess he talked to his parents? After a while, I started getting invited into the palace for… playdates, you could say.” He sighed then. “You know,” he said, “it was because of Zhou Mi that I got an education at all. And he pulled a few strings to get me admitted into the royal guard. But this”—he pointed to the badge on his red coat signifying his status—“I earned on my own.”
Sun was impressed. “Is that what you wanted when you were young? To be a guard, or a captain, I mean.”
Kyuhyun nodded. “It made sense to me,” he said. “Mi did so much to make sure I’d be set in life, so that I could break that cycle of servitude and leave here if I wanted. But he’s my best friend. If I had left, I wouldn’t have been able to come back so easily. Sure, maybe I’d see him every now and then when he made visits to my town, but, well. I felt like this was the best thing. I can be there for him, knock some sense into his head if need be, and repay him all at once.” And then he smiled. “But I won’t lie. The authority and adventurous aspects of the job were really appealing. I do enjoy it.”
“But if you had left. What do you think you would have become?”
Kyuhyun cocked his head to one side. “I can’t say I know,” he said. “I never really gave it much thought. Maybe I would have done something with music? But that’s a little unrealistic.” He shook his head. “Enough about me. What about you? I hate to seem insensitive, because I know you don’t care much for this situation, but suppose there was no arrangement. What would you have done?”
Sun appreciated his insight, but to be quite honest…. “My mother would have found a way to marry me off anyway,” she said. “Or at least she would have tried. I would have fought it, of course. And ideally, even if I married someone else, I’d make him let me work. Do something. Other than sit around and nod my head as he barked out orders all day.”
She could feel Kyuhyun’s eyes on her. “That’s what it is to you, then,” he said, his tone a little more incredulous that she would have liked. “You know, not all men are pigs. A few of us see marriage as more of a partnership.”
Sun lowered her eyes. “What do you know about it?” she mumbled. She hadn’t meant for Kyuhyun to hear.
But of course, her luck. “So maybe once I dreamed. It was a long time ago, to be sure. But Zhou Mi,” he said, briefly touching her arm to get her attention. “Zhou Mi definitely won’t be that kind of husband. He already propositioned you with friendship, did he not? That’s all he wants, really.”
How much does he tell you? She’d have to keep that in mind. But something else caught her attention. “That’s… all?”
Kyuhyun nodded. “Hyung is… about as happy with this situation as you are. He’s an idealist, I guess you could say. Which can be either admirable, cute, or annoying as hell, depending on how you look at it.”
Sun couldn’t help but laugh at that. And then she prodded for more. “But what do you mean by that? An idealist?”
Kyuhyun sighed. “He wants a perfect, fairy-tale life. Well, wait. I shouldn’t say that. Most of it he just wants to be normal.”
“That’s why he’s always gone, isn’t it? He’s out visiting the townspeople.”
It was strange. She tried to think of a time when he’d visited her village. Maybe once, on an official visit, with the entire royal family, but…. He was gone so often these days. Once didn’t seem quite enough. It didn’t match up.
Kyuhyun nodded. “Right. He really wants that simplicity. But the romance, I guess, is what I mean. He wanted to marry for love, but as a prince…. I should say you, as a commoner, had more of a chance at that than he ever did.” And then he looked away, adding later, almost after-the-fact, “Even I never had a shot at it.”
Sun opened her mouth to speak, but they had reached the door to the palace, and Kyuhyun turned, smiling at her. “Well, Sun, we have reached your destination. I’m afraid this is as far as I can go. Good day.”
And then he turned quickly about and was gone, leaving Sun completely unsure of how to feel.
Though she did know she wanted him to stay.
“No, don’t go. I’m begging you. Please.”
“I—I’m sorry, I…. I can’t. I just can’t.”
“You can’t leave. You can’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
“You have to let me go—“
“I won’t. I never will. I need you. I love you!”
The pain. There was so much pain. Kyuhyun’s heart was breaking, ripping him in two. It burned within him, the heat bursting, bleeding out of him through his tears. He wanted to die. Wanted to die, to leave this world, this agony, behind. A world in which he couldn’t have her was a world in which he didn’t want to live, never could live. Never. Not ever.
They say to have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all. But he would have taken a thousand loveless lives in the place of this one if it meant he didn’t have to feel so broken, so hopeless, tossed to the bottom of the blackest hole and left to wither for all eternity. How could it possibly get any worse?
He felt a hand on his shoulder, soft and reassuring. Zhou Mi. His best friend, but—
He didn’t want him to see him like this, in his darkest hour, curled in on himself in his bed, shaking because he’d cried himself empty. He refused to open his eyes, wasn’t even sure that he could, that he ever wanted to again. That would mean facing a world without her, acting as if it was really possible to go on alone.
But then, he felt the hand slide up and around his shoulder, and the bed dipped as another body laid down beside him, holding him close. And in that moment, he knew he wasn’t alone. Not completely.
And that was the only thing that made it bearable.
Zhou Mi could see them from where he was standing. His best friend and his future wife. Walking together, back toward the palace. Laughing, talking, hands clasped casually behind their backs. Zhou Mi even saw Kyuhyun reach out and touch Sun’s arm once, to get her attention. His hand didn’t even linger.
It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d been replaced. Maybe the situation wasn’t so bad, but he couldn’t help it. Jealously was not the word he would use, but he felt oddly usurped, unsettled because of it.
Then again, he tried to console himself, to justify these feelings. She was the woman he was to marry. She didn’t love him, and he didn’t love her. But he wanted to be her friend, and had told her as much. He had offered, taken that extra step, that risk. And yet there she was, with another man, and looking more at ease than she ever had with him. Had she sought Kyuhyun out? Had she wanted a companion and thought to ask someone else over him?
Was he already losing in her heart?
He sighed, looking away, trying to gather himself. He didn’t want to make assumptions, and he wasn’t one to lose his temper, ever, but still it was unnerving. To have the nagging feeling that it could only get worse….
No, he wouldn’t let that happen, couldn’t let that happen.
So he had to start by getting her attention.
“After all this time, you still won’t let it go?”
Sun shook her head, gripping tighter the handle of her basket. She’d gone to the market with Suzy to buy fruits and vegetables, and somehow, as it always seemed to do, the conversation has slipped to their childhood. Perhaps it was because they were getting older that they sought to hang on to the fantasies of their youth. After all, when they were children, they still thought they could change the world, still had it in their heads that their paths weren’t set and their lives were malleable.
“Call me crazy, for hanging on to a crush for so long, but—“
“Yeah, definitely crazy.” Suzy sighed. “You’re nearly eighteen, Sun. This is getting a little ridiculous.”
“I know, I know.” She smiled. “Even I sometimes think that. But how can I help it, when only one person in the world has ever made me consider a different way of life? You have to give him some credit for that.”
“If you put it that way, he deserves a trophy, knowing how stubborn you are. Oww, hey!”
Sun had hit her best friend in the arm, but then she smiled, deciding to take a different approach. “It’s not so much that I want that one guy. It’s more like I want that kind of guy, you know? Someone who would treat me as an equal. Of course, if I ever find that specific person again, I’ll jump at the chance to be with him. Who wouldn’t? Even I’m a sucker for romantic serendipity.”
“You read too much,” Suzy said. Of course, what she meant was, “You have unrealistic expectations of life,” but she would never have been so blunt.
“Yeah, whatever.” So maybe she bordered on overly sentimental; she did wear that ring on a chain around her neck, after all. But she wasn’t entirely delusional. She knew, for the most part, not to mix her dreams and reality.
But only a few months later, she found herself in the arms of a red-coated stranger, twirling in circles on the dance floor, blinded by a sparkling silver ring, her heart full of hope.
Maybe, just maybe, it all could be real.
A/N: A big thanks to my beta, oreocookeys. As I was telling her, college was kicking my ass, and still kinda is, so this is way overdue....