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.
“Your Highness, Miss Byun, we’ve arrived.”
The door of the carriage swung open with the words of the driver—one of Kyuhyun’s men, as the captain found himself too busy organizing the security detail for the upcoming ball to accompany Zhou Mi and Sun on this particular outing. Though the ride to the village had been more than tolerable with Zhou Mi’s company and pleasant conversation, Sun wasn’t eager to spend more time than necessary in the stuffy carriage interior; opening a window only did so much, and certainly wasn’t a substitute for real fresh air and sunlight.
Zhou Mi, seated on the opposite bench, looked at her as if he was thinking the same thing, stretching his arms out in front of him before sliding toward the open door and stepping out of the cab. Then he turned, offering Sun his hand, which she gladly accepted as she, too, followed him out into the daylight.
Stretched out before them was a long, sandy road, lined with quaint little houses and eager street vendors. The little marketplace was ripe with energy, the salesmen bustling to and fro, waving their arms, shouting, laughing, and smiling. The sights, the sounds, and the smells all reminded Sun of home, of her own village, where such was the way of life, and for a moment she was transported back. She closed her eyes, breathing it in, just taking a moment to remember what she’d left behind, the excitements of common life she’d traded for royalty; then again, the amount of time she knew Zhou Mi spent here made her think that its appeal wasn’t completely unappreciated, and perhaps she wouldn’t have to give it up completely.
“Oh.” She opened her eyes then, looking first at the hand that was still clasped in Zhou Mi’s, and then to the prince himself, who was looking at her not with concern, but with a smile that revealed his understanding. “Sorry, I was just….”
But she trailed off then, as she slipped her hand from Zhou Mi’s, as he had reached forward to grab it again with the opposite hand, lifting to the elbow closest to her. She hesitated for only a moment before slipping her arm through a bit, linking them, trying not to blush as she thought about how far they’d come since the day of their first meeting.
“So they know who you are,” Zhou Mi said, but Sun knew it wasn’t just about her status. It was a testament to their friendship more than anything.
They walked forward together, into the marketplace, between the rows of haggling vendors. Zhou Mi greeted each and every one of them, introducing Sun to most, stopping to converse for a while with some others. They were bursting with questions. “When’s the wedding?” they would ask. “Can I get an invite in exchange for a free set of dishes?” “Have you thought about serving this at the reception?”
Zhou Mi handled the barrage with ease. “Not for a while yet, Mr. Kang,” he’d say. “Oh, Mrs. Jung! How about you sell your dishes to me at full price and I’ll invite you anyway? And it wouldn’t be a reception without your famous samgyupsal, Mrs. Seo!”
And Sun would listen, smiling and bowing back as she was introduced, every so often adding her own few words of greeting. She would laugh at the jokes the townspeople shared with Zhou Mi, would nod in agreement when Zhou Mi answered questions about her, and she was happy, feeling very at ease. But those jokes and those questions were always directed at Zhou Mi, not her, even if the vendors were inquiring into her stay at the palace. She couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit like an outsider, seeing that these people felt more at ease with a royal than one of their own kind. Was she so unrecognizable as a commoner, now? Had she changed so much in the weeks she’d spent at the palace that she’d lost her common air?
Sun pulled herself closer to Zhou Mi, as if his presence would keep those thoughts at bay. And he just smiled down at her, for he couldn’t possibly know what she was thinking.
“Zhou Mi! Oh, Prince Zhou Mi! Over here!”
Zhou Mi and Sun turned together, facing the source of the noise, a petite, older woman with a handsome face and a bright smile. Zhou Mi laughed upon seeing her, pulling Sun with him as he approached her stand.
“Mrs. Han! It’s so good to see you today!” Zhou Mi said, releasing Sun’s arm to take the hands of grinning woman in front of him. “How have you been?” he asked eagerly.
“Wonderful, just wonderful!” she said, beaming. “My son has finally done something about his little crush, I think. Of course, he won’t tell me anything about it, but the way he’s been smiling and looking so positively giddy lately, I think I can reasonably expect a handsome dinner guest within the next few weeks.” She laughed, her smile turning the tiniest bit sly for a moment. Then she asked. “Where is the captain today?”
“Business kept him at the palace today, I’m afraid,” Zhou Mi said. “He’s arranging security for the ball. Oh, you did get your invitation, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did, my dear, though I am not sure why you’d be sending it to an old woman like me. I haven’t danced in ages!”
“But you will come, won’t you? You and your son? He can bring a friend,” Zhou Mi added, chuckling.
Mrs. Han slapped his arm playfully. “You won’t stop pestering me unless I agree, will you?” Then she let out an exaggerated sigh. “Fine, fine. I suppose I’ll come. But I won’t dance unless it’s with you. And, oh, would you be so kind as to give me a ride?”
Zhou Mi laughed. “Yes, of course! I’ll send a carriage just before sunset.”
“You’re a good boy, Zhou Mi,” Mrs. Han said, and then she turned to Sun. “Now who is this lovely young woman?”
“Mrs. Han! Surely you know.”
“Of course I do, dear! You did tell me you’d bring her. And of course she fits your description so perfectly.” Sun giggled, seeing the guilty smile Zhou Mi gave her at that; he’d been caught talking about her. “But I wouldn’t deny a man the privilege of introducing his wife.”
“Future wife,” Zhou Mi corrected. “I’m afraid you’re getting a little ahead of yourself, Mrs. Han.”
“Oh good. Now I don’t have to scold you for not inviting me to the wedding.”
Zhou Mi smiled, looking at Sun as he said, “This is Sun, my fiancée.”
How habituated Sun had become to that concept!
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Sun said formally, bowing.
“Oh, there’s no need for that, darling!” Mrs. Han said as Sun lifted her head. “Though I am so happy to have finally met you, too! And I’m glad that you’re so pretty, or I might feel a bit more indignant about you stealing Zhou Mi away from me.”
Sun laughed at that, covering her mouth modestly with her hand, but Zhou Mi flushed, embarrassed. “Mrs. Han!”
“Oh hush, Zhou Mi! You’ve never had a problem with my teasing before!” Then she turned back to Sun with a smile. “It’s good that you have a sense of humor! I like you already! Tell me, dear, is Zhou Mi treating you well?”
It almost caught her off guard, finally being asked a question. She glanced quickly at Zhou Mi before answering, sincerely, “Oh yes, very well.”
“Do the two of you get along?”
Another question! “Yes, we do,” Sun answered, grinning.
“And don’t you think Zhou Mi is handsome?”
Sun paused, the question not only one she hadn’t been expecting, but one with plenty of implications. She looked at Zhou Mi, meeting his eyes for the briefest of moments. She was caught, for she couldn’t exactly lie.
“I do,” she admitted, looking down in her embarrassment. “He is.”
“Wonderful!” Mrs. Han exclaimed, her happiness completely uncensored. “You’ll be having babies in no time!”
Sun blanched, gaping at Mrs. Han with wide eyes, hearing Zhou Mi’s uncommonly high-pitched laugh from beside her. “Mrs. Han, you’re too much!”
“Just making predictions,” she said. “It’s not like I’m making a wager. Though, you know, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea….”
“Oh, would you look at that? The sun’s already falling!” Zhou Mi said, and Sun followed his eyes upward, smirking when she found it completely untrue. “We should be heading back. There’s so much to do!”
“No you don’t, sir! Not without kimchi!”
And so, with a few more nervous laughs and some hastily exchanged money, they bid Mrs. Han farewell, making their way back to the carriage with enough fermented cabbage to feed the entire palace staff twice over.
The first few minutes of the return trip passed in silence between the two of them. Zhou Mi kept his eyes away from Sun’s face, choosing instead to stare longingly out the window after the village dwellings as they faded into the distance. He missed their conversation already, and he wanted to speak to her, to look at her at the very least, but he just couldn’t, suddenly too afraid to turn and find her staring back at him; he didn’t want to think too hard on Mrs. Han’s “prediction,” but those dark chocolate irises would certainly sear unwanted images into his brain.
“Hmm?” It was on reflex that he turned; luckily for him, she was staring at his hands, which were resting on his knees. “Oh,” he said, flexing his fingers. “Sorry. I usually have a pen and paper to distract me.”
“Yeah.” He nodded, and sensing that her gaze was rising to meet his, he immediately turned his attention back to the window.
Another still moment later, save the rattling of the cab, Sun broke the silence. “Is that what you want?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“That,” she said, and out of the corner of his eye he saw her pointing finger. “To be amongst those people, to live that way. It is, isn’t it?”
Zhou Mi nodded, not too fervently, but without hesitation. “Common life has always appealed to me,” he said.
“It’s so much more free, isn’t it?” He straightened up, his body turning to face Sun’s, his eyes focusing on his hands, clasped in his lap. “As it is, I can hardly be my own person. My entire life’s story was written before I was even born. Or, rather, the second I was, when they knew for sure I was a boy. Get married, ascend the throne, produce an heir.” He took a second to swallow at that. “I used to think I could change it, that I wouldn’t have to live up to every expectation, or that at least I’d retain some sense of free will, but every day it seems I have less and less….” He sighed, trailing off.
“That’s completely untrue, isn’t it?”
Zhou Mi frowned. “How so?”
“So maybe you don’t get to pick your job, your house, or your wife,” Sun said, and the emphasis on the last word may or may not have been supplied by Zhou Mi’s own mind, “but those things alone don’t define your life, do they? You get to travel all over the country. You get to meet people of all walks of life. You can and are using your position to help others. You’re writing a book. Those are things a commoner would never be able to do. Commoners can’t move, in any direction, at all.”
“Having mobility doesn’t change the fact that my life is defined by these standards. I’m defined. Like an object, a word. I’m conceptualized, and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m not even human.”
“You say that like commoners don’t live by any rules at all. Standards exist there, too, and they’re just as limiting, if not more so.” Zhou Mi watched as Sun crossed and uncrossed her ankles, restless. “Look, at least you can dream. You’re allowed to aspire to be an author, or a vagabond, even. Commoners are taught from a young age that there’s no use in aiming high.” Then she added in a very small voice, “I was six.”
Zhou Mi chanced a look at her, then, and what he saw nearly broke his heart. She looked so defeated, then, staring down at nothing, her lips downturned, eyes so sad. Did she really feel that helpless, that incapable? Had she really never dreamed?
“Surely you wanted something,” he tried, softly, gently.
Sun shrugged. “I mean, I couldn’t completely give up. I was young, and it would have killed me. And unlike you, I do think hypothetically from time to time.” She smiled weakly up at him then, eyes meeting his for the briefest of moments, but it was she who tore them away. “I wanted to travel, like you, to see other villages, maybe even other kingdoms. I wanted to be a nomad, to keep moving so my mother and her stupid rules couldn’t catch me. At least, that was what I was determined to do after I was told I couldn’t.”
So after age six. “And before then.”
Sun was still, almost tense, for a moment, and then, “Before then doesn’t really matter anymore.”
Silence crept into the carriage once more, but Zhou Mi, desperate to keep the conversation alive, to cheer her up, at the very least, added, “I had other dreams, too. I wanted to be a knight.”
Sun looked at him then, eyes suddenly alight and curious, and he found he could not look away. “A… knight?”
Zhou Mi nodded. “Yes,” he said, and he smiled as he reminisced. “My father kept a lot of them around. Though they weren’t knights, exactly, but guards, like what Kyuhyun is now.” He chuckled. “Of course, to me, they were all the same thing.”
“Kyuhyun….” Sun mumbled, and the faintest of smiles returned to her face. “You know,” she said, “when I was younger, I knew someone who wanted to be a knight, too.” She let out a small laugh. “He didn’t want to be a real knight, though, because he said he knew real knights and they didn’t go on as many adventures. He wanted to be like a knight in a fable.”
“He wanted to be just as handsome and courageous, right?” Zhou Mi said, grinning.
Sun giggled. “Yeah, and he wanted to marry a princess.” Her face fell slightly then, and she reached up, as if to finger a necklace, only to rub at the collar of her dress. “He asked me to be his princess, actually, and we pretended we were married for a while, until my mother told me I wasn’t allowed to see him again.” Her hand fell to her side once more. “I held on to that fantasy for a long time, longer than I should have, really. But one of the last things he said to me was that we would meet again, and I…” She swallowed. “Even if I was just a child, he was the only person I had ever wanted to marry, and I wanted so much for my life to be like a fairytale, to meet him again, to fall in love, to marry him for real….”
Zhou Mi blinked, sitting in a stunned silence as he took it all in. It was a moment before he realized she had stopped talking, and was just sitting there, smiling at him. And somehow, he found the strength to ask, with his eyebrows raised in what he hoped was interest rather than fear, “What was his name?”
Sun looked pensive for only a moment. “You know, he never told me his name,” she said. “Not his real one, anyway. I called him Lancelot, because that’s who he wanted to be, and that’s who he was to me.” Then she chuckled. “It’s strange. I’ve never talked about him with anyone other than Suzy. I never really trusted anyone to understand….”
But Zhou Mi had stopped listening, too shocked to move, to talk back, to do anything but stare at her. He searched her face for signs of familiarity, or rather, for something that would prove it was all in his head, that it was absolutely untrue, a complete and utter falsity.
Because if it was true, that meant all the time he’d spent telling himself it could never be real, that she hadn’t returned because she didn’t want to be with him, and that it was useless to hang on to an impossibility, was for nothing.
“Zhou Mi? Are you okay?”
Zhou Mi shook his head, trying for clarity. “Yeah,” he said, smiling in what he hoped was a convincing way. And he reached for her hand as he said, “I’m glad you shared that with me.”
Because that seemed like a much better option than screaming Lancelot is me.
“Now I just need to get the measurements for your waist and… there! All done.”
Sun stared at herself in the mirror as Mrs. Lee rolled up her measuring tape, trying to picture herself in the ball gown that they were sewing for her, or maybe the wedding gown that she’d be wearing not so long from now. And then she chuckled; how easy those thoughts came to her these days—dancing with her fiancé at a ball, getting married…. The longer she stayed in the palace, the less atrocious it all seemed. She tried not to blame the toxic palace air for her change of heart.
“Did you have any colors in mind for the ball gown, dear? A nice blue, perhaps?”
“Hmm?” Sun turned to Mrs. Lee, the question registering in her brain. “Not blue,” she said. “I had this one sapphire blue dress I wore to all the parties in the village.” Then she thought for a moment. “How about red?”
“Oh yes! A splendid idea! Red will look absolutely amazing on you!” Mrs. Lee gave Sun a small nod. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take these numbers to the seamstresses.” And with that, she left the room.
Sun kept that thought in her head, of looking “amazing” in a red dress, of seeing Zhou Mi’s eyes widen when she made her entrance, of making his jaw drop. And she wanted it, too, to know that he would look only at her for an entire evening, and that no matter how dashing he looked, no matter how many other offers to dance he received, he would accept her hand first.
She looked down, having wandered over to her desk, and saw her necklace lying on top of it, the simple silver chain strung through a simple silver ring. Remnants of a past life, of a person she once thought she needed.
She picked up the necklace.
She’d wanted to marry him once. If she had to marry anyone, it was going to be him. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t seen him in years, because he’d said they’d meet again. But that hadn’t happened.
She opened the drawer.
She’d seen a silver ring on Kyuhyun’s finger, had agreed to follow Kyuhyun to the palace because she’d thought it could have been him. And as she’d had neither confirmation nor denial, she’d entertained the idea that she and Lancelot could still be together, somehow, even if they had to run away.
She dropped the necklace into the drawer.
But none of that mattered anymore, because that thing she’d hated for so long, that she’d only wanted once in her entire life, she suddenly found herself wanting again, and with someone completely different, someone completely unexpected.
Not Kyuhyun, but Zhou Mi.
And she closed the drawer for good.
A/N: So, I actually gave away all the secret pairings in another post that no one read lolz. Also, if you have money to spare, check THIS out.
Once again, mega thanks to oreocookeys for keeping me in line :]