The ground was cold under Taehyung’s bare feet as he padded as quietly as he could down the marble staircase. He could hear his step-sisters’ snoring through the door at the top of the stairs and prayed they would stay asleep a little longer to give him time to make breakfast before being tasked with a million other things to do.
His dog Yeontan met him at the bottom of the stairs, his little tail wagging happily as Tae stooped down to run his fingers through his soft fur. “Come on,” he said as he made his way toward the kitchen. The early morning sunlight was streaming in through the windows lighting up the small fireplace and the pots sitting on the counter beside it. Taehyung quickly tied his apron around his waist to cover his white tunic and black trousers from the mess that was sure to appear - the last time he had brought his step-mother breakfast with a speck of flour on his clothes he’d gotten a lecture on the importance of cleanliness and asked how she was meant to trust him to keep the house clean if couldn’t even manage to keep himself free of dirt.
Yeontan weaved in and out of his feet as he made the porridge and scattered a few of the spare oats outside for the birds and mice to find. “Don’t worry,” he told the dog. “I haven’t forgotten about you.” He threw him down some of the scraps of meat he had managed to salvage from his dinner last night. He didn’t have a problem sharing with Yeontan, all of his food was scraps anyway.
“Taehyung!” The scream broke through the tranquil silence like nails on a chalkboard.
“Well, that’s our peace and quiet over with for the day,” he said to the dog. The stream rising from the bowls of porridge flushed his cheeks red as he carried them up to his step-mother and sister’s rooms.
His step-sisters were still sleeping when he placed their bowls on their bedside tables, quickly removing himself from the darkened room but when he entered his step-mother’s room it was to see her sitting up, glaring at him despite the smile he sent her way.
“Morning Step-mother,” he said brightly as he slid her tray on to her lap. She barely ate a spoonful before spluttering and throwing the spoon back into the bowl so hard it clattered against the sides and splashed porridge over his apron and face. He could feel the stickiness of it on his cheek as he tried to wipe it away.
“It’s cold!” she exclaimed.
“I just made it,” he tried to defend himself.
“Don’t talk back to me boy,” she said, the glare she sent his way cutting like shards of glass. “Make me another bowl. Fresh. I’ll know if you reheat this one. Then go into town and buy some bread, the loaf we ate last night was stale. And place an order with the seamstress for your sisters.”
“Yes, Step-mother,” he said with a small nod as she finished listing off tasks. He lifted the tray from her lap and made his way across the plush carpet of the room, stopping when her voice sounded again.
“And be back before noon! You still have to wash the floors and dust the shelves in the library!”
Voices sounded all around him as he weaved his way through the crowds, from bakers and fishmongers and merchants yelling to attract attention to their wares to people gossiping with friends to the sound of the royal army who had only returned that morning. People were pushing in every direction he could see children running between the legs of their parents. A huge smile was plastered on his face as he made his way down the cobbled streets. He loved when his step-mother sent him into town on errands. He got to be free of their watchful eyes for a few hours, interact with other people and even talk to his friends if he had time.
“Taehyung!” one of said friends called out to him. He turned to see Jimin poking his head out of one of the upstairs windows of the bakery and waving so enthusiastically he feared the other would fall. He pushed his way through the crowd to enter the small shop.
“Morning Tae,” Ynoogi said from behind the counter at the same time that Jimin came rushing down the stairs and slammed right into his side under the pretense of a hug, nearly sending both of them toppling to the floor.
“Morning to you too Jimin,” he laughed as he righted himself. “Morning Yoongi-hyung.”
Jimin’s laughter echoed in his ear as he finally let go of the younger. “We haven’t seen you in almost a week, I missed you! How are the step-bitches?”
“Jimin,” he scolded even if he found himself silently agreeing with his friend.
“What? I’m right!”
“Anyway,” Yoongi cut off his fiancé. “What are you looking for today Tae? Or are you just stopping by to say hi.”
“Just a loaf of bread please, hyung,” he said with a smile. Yoongi nodded and began wrapping up the bread whilst Jimin slid over a pastry with a mouthwatering buttery scent wafting from it, and bright red jam in the middle. He shook his head and bit into it, knowing by now that there was no use arguing, the two of them would gang up on him telling him he looked too skinny and how he deserved it for dealing with his family… if he could even call them that.
“Have you seen the officers milling about?” Jimin asked, an excited gleam in his eye.
“Yes, please explain to Taehyung-ah how you have been drooling over members of the royal army all while your soon-to-be husband is standing right beside you!” Yoongi shouted as he handed Taehyung the parcel.
Jimin rolled his eyes and Taehyung had to bite his lip to stop the laughter that was building up in his chest from spilling out. “I’m still marrying you, aren’t I? Taehyung still needs to find himself a man.” He wasn’t so sure he agreed with this statement. Would he love to find a person who would understand him and care for him and spend the rest of their lives together? Of course he would. He just didn’t believe it was going to happen anytime soon. Instead he just sat back, enjoying the sweet taste of the pastry and soaking up the sound of his two best friends bickering.
The sound of a trumpet sounding shattered the air of peace around them with all three jumping and turning to stare at the others before rushing outside. The streets were somehow even more crowded than before with people jostling to get closer to the base of the statue of the king where a tall man was standing with a scroll in his hand, the man with the trumpet standing off to his side, the royal crest displayed proudly across both their chests.
“What do you think is going-”
“Shh,” the people around them cut Yoongi off as the tall man began to speak.
“This is an announcement on behalf of His Royal Majesty, the King. A ball will be held in the palace to celebrate the birthday of His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince Jungkook one week from now. The King and Prince request that all eligible young men and women attend the ball, as it is their intention that the Prince will use this ball to select his future spouse. Everyone is welcome to join in on the festivities.” And with that the man stepped down from where he stood, making his way over towards where a large group of the royal army was assembled. The people gathered were silent for all of two seconds before erupting into even more noise than before as they all began excitedly discussing the news. He could hear shouts about dresses and suits and hair products, the finest silks and the most expensive jewels. Taehyung was only thankful that he had already been to see Hseok earlier to place his step-mother’s order with him for new dresses.
Jimin tugged on his arm. “You have to go to the ball with us Taehyungie! It’ll be good for you to have a night off! Yoongi will even dance with you if you come, isn’t that right hyung?” The older man nodded with a small smile on his face. “See! You might even catch the eye of the prince!”
Heat flared in his cheeks at the joke. “Stop being ridiculous Jimin.”
“What? It’s possible. You’re the most handsome man in this kingdom, Taehyung, except for my own dear finacé, of course. The prince would be blind not to see that.”
“He’s right, Taehyung-ah,” Yoongi said as Tae shook his head, as if it would block out their words. They had often tried to compliment him, and while he didn’t think he looked bad, he knew they were simply being ridiculous now. There was no way the prince would ever notice him, a plain boy turned servant in his own house.
“I’ll come to the ball if I can, I’ll have to ask my step-mother first, but only if you promise to let this whole lark about me meeting the prince go.” Jimin readily agreed, moving on to talking about how he now had an excuse to get all dressed up, and talking about the champagne they were sure to have at the palace. Taehyung laughed at his friend’s antics before waving goodbye to the two of them and pushing his way back through the crowds, his step-mother would be expecting him home soon, and he would need to tell her about the ball straight away. He was thinking of what to say to her for her to agree to let him go when someone bumped into him and sent him falling over the cobblestones beneath his feet. His eyes flew closed and his hands reached out to brace himself for the instinct, muscles already tensing but the impact never came.
Instead, two strong, warm arms wrapped around his waist. He opened his eyes as his body returned the right way up to be met with the most handsome face he had ever seen. Standing with his arms still wrapped tightly around him was a man with huge dark eyes that held the brightest of lights that were staring directly into his own. His black hair was long enough to frame his eyes where it fell at the sides of his face and his lips looked soft where they were pulled into the shyest of smiles displaying the cutest bunny-like teeth. He even had a small scar under his right eye. It was then that Taehyung looked down to were his hands were pressed against the man’s chest from their close proximity to see that he was wearing the white uniform belonging to only the highest ranking officials in the royal army, surprising for his obvious youthful appearance, yet supported by the medals shining on his broad chest.
He startled as he took in the rank of the man in front of him, pulling back and stammering out apologies. Only he would be able to bump into one of the most powerful men in the kingdom when he was falling.
“There is no need to apologise,” the man said in a voice like honey as he bent down to retrieve Taehyung’s basket that he had dropped, the parcel of bread thankfully still safely inside as he held it out to him. And oh, god, he sounded as good as he looked. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. Yes. Thank you for catching me,” he said as he gratefully took the basket offered to him.
Neither of them said anything for a second, simply drinking in the sight of the other. “I’m sorry,” the man said. “I have to go, they will be waiting for me to return to the palace,” he said gesturing to the men in uniform, most of them already mounted on their horses. He seemed to hesitate for a moment before speaking again. “Forgive me if this is forward, but will you tell me your name?”
“I’m Taehyung!” he said as he rushed off back through the crowds. He had to leave now if he wanted to avoid being yelled at once more today. He paused just long enough to glance back over his shoulder at the man’s smiling face as he rushed off.
His step-mother was ecstatic when he told her the news about the ball, immediately ordering him out of the house to organise her and her daughters’ outfits, ranting about how they would need new dresses and shows and necklaces and how wonderful it would be when one of her girls caught the eye of the prince. Taehyung couldn’t help but think that if the prince did happen to take a liking to one of her daughters then it would only lead to his misery later in life. He did not doubt that there was some good in them but they were spoiled girls, their natural goodness hiding beneath layers of greed fed by their mother, he could only imagine how much worse they would get in the palace with riches galore and a whole army of servants to wait on them hand and foot.
He didn’t argue with getting to spend more time out of the house that day and immediately set off to see Hoseok, his mind already thinking how if he managed to get all of his chores done in time she might just let him go.
The week spent preparing for the ball is even more hectic than normal. He scrubs the floors and dusts the shelves, cooks meals based on his step-sisters’ new diet aimed at clearing up their skin in time for their fated meeting with the prince. He spends even more time at night trying to mend his only semi-good shirt by candlelight with Yeonta sleeping at his feet in the hopes that he will be able to wear it. And, although he loathes to admit it, he finds himself wondering whether the handsome officer will be at the ball and if they might be able to share a dance.
Whenever Hoseok arrives on Thursday afternoon, the day before the ball is set to take place, to drop off the dresses he whispers to Taehyung, “I have a little something for you too,” he says holding out another box tied with a purple bow.
Hfe freezes in shock for a moment before accepting it. The ribbon falls away with the briefest tug and he lifts the cream lid to reveal the most beautiful black suit. “Oh Hobi,” he breathes. “It’s stunning.”
“And it will be stunning on you,” he says with a smile like the sun.
He shakes his head and tries to push it back into Hoseok’s hands. “I can’t accept this. I have no way to pay for it.”
Hoseok’s smile falls away into a more serious expression. “I don’t care about the money Taehyungie. You deserve this. You are the most selfless person I know and you deserve to have a good time, even if it’s just for one night, and I will do anything in my power to make that possible.”
They both nearly fell backwards with the force with which Taehyung threw his arms around Hoseok.
That was how he found himself the next day, minutes before the carriage was set to take them off to the ball, standing in front of the shard of mirror he had in his attic room. He stared at his reaction, his dark hair carefully combed and the black suit Hobi had made for him making him look more handsome than he ever had. Excitement fizzed in his veins as he took in his reflection. This was actually going to happen. He was going to go to a ball held by the prince at the royal palace. He couldn’t believe it.
He had woken up two hours early today to ensure everything he could possibly be asked to do was already taken care off by this time. His fingers were still a little red from all the scrubbing but there was nothing he could do about that. He gave a little nod of satisfaction and pet Yeontan one last time, with a promise that he would be home soon, before making his way down the stairs.
His step-mother and step-sisters stood in their elaborate dresses of bright colours by the front door chattering excitedly but stopped when they took in the sight of him. “What are you wearing?” Jihyo, the eldest asked of him with a sneer on her face and distaste evident in her voice.
“My friend Hoseok, the tailor made it for me,” he said with a proud smile.
“Why?” the younger, Soomni, asked.
“For the ball, of course. I’ve already done everything you’ve asked of me and I’ve washed the floors in the drawing room twice. Please Step-mother, let me go. I only want to go and dance with my friends, I won’t bother you at all and I won’t even go near the prince-”
“Of course you won’t go near the prince! Especially not in these stolen clothes!” She yelled tugging at his sleeve.
“Well, obviously,” she huffed. “Look! It’s not even finished,” she said tearing the sleeve at the seam. “There is no way a profession like Jung would allow this out of his shop. And besides, how were you supposed to have paid for this?”
“It was a gift,” he insisted, hands coming up to protect the other seams where his step-sisters had begun to tear the suit to pieces.
“A likely story!” Jihyo shouted.
Tears welled in his eyes as the sound of stitches ripping filled the air and his voice joined it as he begged them to stop.
“That’s enough girls,” his step-mother said as he finally dropped to his knees. “You will not cross the threshold out of this house for the next twenty-four hours, Taehyung. And I expect you to be cleaned up by the time we come home.” And with that they turned and left, the door slamming shut behind them, the noise echoing throughout the empty halls.
He knelt there crying until his chest hurt from the sobs racking through his body and his knees ached from the pressure of the marble. Shakily he rose to his feet, feeling like he was about to collapse at any moment and slowly made his way down the dark corridor to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water. The entire room was dark when he got there but the cool liquid trickling down his throat helped him to feel more human again.
“Oh, sweetie, it’s okay. We’ll have you sorted in no time.”
Taehyung screamed, turning quickly to find a gorgeous young man standing in the now lit doorway, looking perfectly calm like he was meant to be there. The glass slipped out of his hands at the sight, smashing into small shards on the stone floor. The man tutted before pulling out a strange, silver stick-like object and giving it a small flick. Suddenly, the shards lifted into the air, flying up until they formed a glass sitting on the counter beside him, perfectly identical to the other one. Taehyung simply stared, unable to move, and wondered whether he had fallen asleep in front of the door.
“Don’t worry about that, Taehyung-ah, I have to do the same thing with my husband all the time. He’s amazing but clumsy as all hell,” the man said taking a step into the room, the candles on the wall suddenly lighting with a soft glow as he did.
“How do you know my name?” he asked, taking a better look at the man now. His clothes were far too expensive to belong to someone from the town whose name he had simply forgotten, and besides the man was too strikingly handsome to be easily forgettable. His broad shoulders made him appear strong but his smile and eyes were kind.
“What do you mean? Of course I know your name! I’m your fairy godfather!” he yelled, waving his hands about. One of the pots sitting on the counter clattered to the ground and turned violet on the side in which he still held the stick. “Woops,” he said with a sheepish smile and gave another flick of his wrist and Taehyung watched in amazement as the pot righted itself.
Taehyung turned towards him once more. “You’re serious? I have a fairy godfather?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” he asked as if he was being really stupid right now.
“Because, well, I’m me. I’m Taehyung. I’m ordinary.”
The man shook his head with a small smile. “Oh Taehyung-ah, you are far from ordinary. Now, let’s get you to this ball, Lord knows you deserve it.”
“But, fairy godfather, I can’t. My step-family will be there and they have forbidden me from going, besides I have nothing to wear,” he said gesturing down at his now destroyed suit.
He simply waved off his concerns. “What do you think I’m here for? I’ll have you fixed up in no time. And call me Seokjin hyung, fairy godfather is just my title.” Skeojin came up and took a hold of his shoulders, turning him slightly to the left and then slightly to the right, humming as he did it. “Black is too drab for you,” he said. “It’s a lovely suit but it won’t help you stand out the way I know you can. Your face is too pretty to waste that potential. I’m thinking something more regal, more future prince.”
“But Seokjin hyung, I don’t want to be the next prince. I just want to see my friends and maybe dance with that nice officer.”
Seokjin smiled softly at him. “Of course. Still, no point not looking your absolute best, and I must say, I am good at clothes. Just stand still a moment please. Shoulders back. That's it.”
Soekjin hummed happily and began to wave around what he could only assume was his magic wand before the strangest sensation took over him. It started from the hairs on the top of his head, slowly trickling down until it reached the tip of his toes. It was cold like heavy snow, but light too, somehow tingling as it went. The slight headache from the crying disappearing with it, the soreness of his muscles vanishing, and his stomach gave the strangest little lurch, as if going over a big bump in the road in a carriage going too fast, and was all over in less than a minute.
The first thing he noticed was the look on Seokjin’s face, one of absolute pride, his eyes shining almost as brightly as his smile. The next was how the fabric he was wearing suddenly felt heavier, more luxurious. He glanced down to see himself and let out a gasp. His jacket was like one someone royal would wear, cobalt blue with white trim, golden buttons gleaming in the faint light of the kitchen, the high collar rising to accentuate his long neck. He had a pair of beautiful white gloves on and white trousers he was scared he would dirty on the horse ride to the ball, yet he couldn’t deny how beautiful they were, and there on his feet were the strangest shoes. They shone in the light and appeared almost white and almost blue depending on which way you looked at them, however they were the most comfortable shoes he had ever worn.
“They’re glass,” Seokjin whispered when he saw where he was looking. “It’s sort of my speciality.”
“Glass?” he asked looking up.
He nodded. “It won’t break, don’t worry about that. Now come here.” He moved them both towards one of the long windows on the far side of the room and Taehyung watched as the glass morphed until it showed his own reflection back at him. He stood in shock at the finished look, his mouth falling open. There was no trace of tears or sleepless nights on his face, and his dark hair had been curled making him look even more expensive. His lips were tainted with the subtlest red and he wouldn’t have believed he was looking at himself if not for the three small moles on his face.
“Thank you,” he managed to form and he wasn’t sure if Seokjin heard it for a second before he shook his head.
“My pleasure Taehyung-ah. Now, come on, you need a carriage.”
“A, A carriage?” he asked, turning to find Seokjin already rummaging around the pantry full of vegetables.
“Of course, can’t have you looking like that and arriving on a mule now can we? This’ll do,” he said lugging out a large pumpkin and ignoring the raised eyebrow Taehyung was sending him. “Hopefully it won’t stay orange like last time,” Seokjin said as he dragged it outside through the small door connecting to the gardens. “As I said, I’m better with fashion.”
Taehyung scampered after him, not quite understanding but also not wanting to miss a second of what was going on. His stomach was starting to feel funny, a mixture of nerves and excitement and disbelief bubbling in it and making all his nerves stand on end. Seokjin had taken a step back and was once again waving around his wand as the pumpkin grew in size, growing and growing until it was huge, bigger than the small carriage his step-mother and sisters had driven off in, and the stem of it began to expand until thich vines had crawled down the sides and curled into large circles, pushing it off the ground and suddenly they were wheels, made of shining silver. The pumpkin itself was slowly changing colour to match, the thick vegetable turning to metal and glass until in front of him stood the most gorgeous carriage he had ever seen, even the lord and lady who lived in the village beside the town didn’t have such a one as this, he doubted if even the king did.
“Not too shabby, huh?” Seokjin was grilling at his dumbfounded expression as he inched closer, reaching a hand up to touch the cool metal, through the glass windows he could see seats upholstered in the softest looking velvet and had to fight off more tears springing to his eyes, though for a very different reason this time.
Soekjin was slowly making his way towards the few field mice he could see eating the seeds and oats the birds hadn’t managed to snap up that morning. “Hello little ones, would you like to help your dear friend Taehyung for the night?” he asked as he knelt in the grass in front of them. They let out excited little squeaks that warmed his heart and before he knew what had happened in the place of the six mice sood four horses, a driver and a footman who excitedly waved to him before connecting the horses to the carriage.
“Thank you, Seokjin hyung, it’s beautiful,” he said as he took in the full view in front of him. This had all happened for him. He was going to go to the ball and dance with his friends and find the handsome officer. He was going to be free for one night. There was no way he would ever be able to thank him enough for what he had done.
“You’re welcome, Taehyung-ah.” He held a hand out and helped him into the carriage, beaming with pride. “Your step-family will be enchanted with a spell so as to never recognise you, always will your appearance be altered by a trick of the light when they look at you but you must return home before midnight. I wish I could give you longer, I do, but my magic will wear off after the day it is cast. Promise me you will return before then.”
“I promise,” he said as he sank into the luxurious upholstery.
“Good. Now go have fun! And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
“Jungkook, you need to stop sulking,” his father scolded him from where he sat on his throne. He stood beside him, bowing in greeting to all those who approached him, and he couldn’t count how many maidens’ hands he had kissed by this point in the night, he was just thankful the doors would be closing soon, the stream of people wanting to meet him dying out.
“I’m sorry father, but you know this wasn’t my idea,” he said after nodding his head at another lord who approached him.
“Yes, you have notions of travelling around the kingdom by yourself until you meet someone who catches your fancy enough to make them the person you will rule beside, as if I am willing to let the future of our kingdom be so uncertain. You need a spouse Jungkook, and you need one soon. I will not be around for much longer, you know this. And I want to make sure you and this kingdom will be okay before I am gone.”
“I know, father. I am sorry, I understand,” he said, turning to take in the sight of his father in front of him. The king looked frailer by the day. He and the queen had been surprisingly old when they had him, and the whole kingdom was starting to wonder if they would even be able to have children at all. His mother had died when he was only a boy, his father raising him, but recently he had grown sick, the illness aging him faster than anyone would have liked. His heart ached with the thought of losing his father yet he couldn’t help but believe he shouldn’t have to marry in a hurry just because the king would die soon. He wanted to marry someone he had a connection with, someone he loved. He had heard tales from his parents and the nurses and maids in the court of how after only spending a short time together they knew they had met their future spouse, the one they were meant to be with, and he wanted that for himself. It was the reason he found his mind wandering back to the young man he had stopped from falling the other day. He had been beautiful and had the deepest voice that made Jungkook melt, and he couldn’t shake the feeling of him in his arms, almost as if he fit perfectly in them. He wondered if perhaps he could be that person for him, he had definitely felt a spark. However he had only been able to catch the first half of his name as he rushed away from him - Tae.
The feeling of him had been replaying in his mind constantly since that day last week, distracting him in meetings and causing people to question whether he was alright, one of his advisors even questioning if he needed to see a doctor. He shook off their concerns, but hadn’t told anyone other than Namjoon, his best friend and highest advisor, about him. The elder had been excited for him even if he teased him that he might be able to win against him in a fight at their next training session if he kept up this same dazed set of mind.
The doors to the ballroom closed with a muted noise as relief flooded through him he could finally start properly looking for the man who had been haunting his thoughts. His eyes scanned the sea of people in front of him from his raised vantage point beside the thrones. It was hard to find anyone in this crowd, there were too many faces, dresses and suits of every fabric and colour from the most expensive silks of the nobility to the cotton of the villagers. He couldn’t find that dark hair and angelic face anywhere and he was just about to give up hope when one of the doors at the top of the stairs opened enough to let a lone figure slip through.
Oh god, he was late. He was late and the doors ahead were already closed, the sound of musicians playing and people talking seeping out from behind them. He didn’t even have time to focus on the idea that he was inside the palace, or marvel at the paintings on the walls or the chandeliers hanging above him, he needed to get there and beg them to let him inside, he couldn’t waste all this hard work Seokjin put into him and his friends were waiting for him. He finally reached the end of the long hall but surprisingly there was no one at the doors. He pushed one of them open hesitantly, a doorman on the other side helping to open it enough for him to slip through. He gave them a nod of thanks and turned to look down at the ball spreading out below him.
It was magnificent, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, the huge windows displaying the royal gardens lit with torches, the chandlies sparkling in the lights, catching on the jewels of the people below them dressed in the most beautiful of clothes, tables filled with trays of mouthwatering food and wine, and although he couldn’t see their faces from this angle, the king and prince on the raised platform of the thrones, their respective advisors stood to either side.
Blood rushed to his cheeks when he noticed a few people turn to look at him, attracted by the movement and he hurried to make his way down the stairs thankfully locating Jimin, Yoongi and Hoseok stood by one of the tables filled with food.
“Taehyung!” Jimin exclaimed when he approached them, handing off his golden goblet of wine to Yoongi to embrace him before holding him still to examine him. “You look incredible.”
The blush on his cheeks darkened. “I did try to wear your suits,” he said, hastily turning to Hoseok who was staring at him with his mouth slightly open. “They destroyed it, I’m so sorry, but a friend gave me this to wear.”
Hoseok shook his head. “No need to apologise, this is gorgeous, I would have worn it over mine too! I need to meet this friend of yours,” he laughed.
“You look amazing, Taehyung-ah,” Yoongi said with a gentle smile. Their compliments were warming him from the inside and he whispered a small thank you, turning shy. The feeling only worsened as he noticed as he noticed the people all around the room staring at him, their gazes failing to be discreet.
“People are looking because I’m late,” he murmured embarrassed.
“Oh, sweetie,” Jimin laughed. “That’s not the reason they’re staring. It’s because of how good you look, and they’re all jealous.” His eyes darted behind Taehyung’s shoulder as the musicians slowly quietened. “And they’re about to stare a whole lot more.”
Taehyung watched in confusion as the three of them bent into a bow. The music came to a complete stop and the sound of conversation around him disappeared. His stomach filled with lead as he slowly turned around.
Stood in front of him was the young officer, dressed in an expensive white jacket with gold lapels and buttons, only now he realised he wasn’t a high ranking officer, he was the commander of the whole army, the thin golden crown on his head betraying him as the prince.
Taehyung froze for a moment, the realisation that the man he couldn’t stop thinking about was the prince booming in his head. The feeling of everyone’s eyes in him and the dawning of the rank of the man in front of him startled him out of his epiphany and he was about to sink into a bow when the prince opened his mouth.
Taehyung’s eyes went wide. “Me?” he squeaked out before he could stop himself. How could he have talked to the prince like that? Without even bowing first? Everyone here would have his head.
“Yes,” the prince spoke, drawing Taehyung’s attention to his plump pink lips. “The one I caught in the market, I stopped your fall. I’m sorry if you do not remember me,” and oh god, now he could see the flash of nerves in his eyes, quick enough that only Taehyung would be able to see it.
“I do,” he said, and apparently it was the right thing to say, because as soon as the words left his mouth a blinding bunny-like smile broke out on the prince’s face.
“I’ve thought about you many times since ten, I’ve hardly been able to stop.” Heat flared on his cheeks once more and his nerves prickled, the feeling of shock slowly lifting from his body. Though nothing could have prepared him for the sight of the prince bending into a deep bow, dark eyes remaining fixed on his own and asking, “May I have this, the first dance?”
His ear vaguely registered the muffled sound of Jimin’s gasp behind him and the whispers of the crowd gathered around them, all of them eyeing him warily. Yet those big, doe-like eyes and bright smile captured his focus so fully he couldn’t look away as he said a quiet, “Yes.”
The prince’s face only brighted as he held out a gloved hand, still in his bow, for Taehyung to slide his own into. Taehyung could feel the warmth of his hand through the fabric as he led them out into the middle of the ballroom, the light of the chandelier sparkling above them. The prince gently took his other hand and lifted it to rest on his shoulder before sliding his own down to rest at his waist and slowly the music started.
The sounds of strings came first and then the prince was spinning him around the dance floor. Taehyung had never felt this before, so light, so carefree, he was sure if it wasn’t for the prince’s hands on him he would have floated up to dance among the stars. He didn’t hear or see the crowd, all he could see was the prince and how his eyes were fixed on his own.
The prince led them with a grace that looked effortless but which showed years of practice, his movements so smooth it made them look as if they were gliding across the floor. “I’m not a very good dancer,” Taehyung admitted quietly.
“I beg to differ,” the prince said and it sent shoots of warmth up and down his spine. “You’re naturally elegant, you needn’t worry. Besides, I’ve enough training for the both of us.”
Taehyung breathed out a small laugh at that. “I suppose that is true, Your Highness.”
“Jungkook,” he said, eyes shining with something he couldn’t quite name - sincerity? vulnerability? “Call me Jungkook.”
The warmth from a moment ago settled in his stomach at the words. “As you wish, Jungkook.”
“And what might I call you?” he asked and only then did Taehyung notice how they had grown closer since the start of the dance, so that he could feel Jungkook’s breath on his cheek.
“Beautiful,” he said but something about his voice made him doubt that he was complimenting his name.
They didn’t notice when the first song stopped and another one began, more couples joining them on the dance floor. They stayed like that, blissfully unaware of everyone else, enchanted by the other. They spoke softly, Taehyung explaining how he was here with his friends, telling Jungkook about them when he asked, in return telling him about Namjoon, his best friend and how they used to annoy the royal tutors together when they were younger, how he was like an older brother to him and the wisest man he had ever met despite his young age. He told him about how they used to sneak snacks from the palace kitchens and how Namjoon didn’t need to practice sword fighting much anymore but still did it almost everyday just for Jungkook. Taehyung told him about meeting Jimin and Yoongi and Hoseok when they were merely children in town with their parents, how they had played together in the cobbled streets, grown up meeting as often as Taehyung could gain a few hours to himself, how he and Hoseok had watched Jimin and Yoongi dance around each other for years, how the three of them had made their dreams come true with their businesses.
“And you?” Jungkook asked. “What is your dream?”
“To fall in love,” he answered honestly. He had spent many nights in his attic room dreaming about finding someone to love him for him, someone who would cherish him and treat him with respect, someone who would hold him and whom he could hold in return, to exchange kisses with in the night, and shy smiles that no one else would know about and not care if they did. He often told Yeontan that one day, he hoped he would find someone who would make him feel at home.
Jungkook’s gaze deepened. “I have the same one. I have begged my father for years to allow me to take my time and marry someone I love. He is sick and I will be king soon, and he agreed to let me have this ball to help me find that one person before it is too late.” And neither of them said what they both knew, that maybe that person was in front of him right now.
“Jungkook,” came a low voice beside them , snapping them out of their reverie. He turned to see the same tall and handsome man he had come to recognise as Namjoon. He bowed politely to both of them before speaking again, though Jungkook did not remove his arms from around Taehyung. “I’m very sorry to interrupt, trust me, but some of the guests are getting antsy and beginning to talk of how you have danced with no one else all night. It has already been an hour. I would love to leave the two of you alone, but please, just two or three dances and then you can come back to each other again.” His gaze was apologetic but his voice was firm.
Jungkook nodded sadly, reluctantly taking a step back from Taehyung, but leaving one of their hands clasped together as he led them over to a nearby window, Namjoon close on their heels. It was only when he got close that he saw who was there. His friends stood talking amongst themselves, only stopping to notice them when they were beside him.
“Your Highness,” they said, Jungkook stopping them before they could bow again.
Jungkook’s smile widened. “Taehyung has been telling me all about you three. May I have this dance?” he asked, offering a hand to Jimin. “If, of course, your fiancé has no objections?”
“Oh, he’s fine with it,” Jimin said, readily accepting the hand offered, sending a smirk in Taehyung’s direction. “I have a lot to tell you.”
Jungkook danced with each of his friends in turn, even pulling a flustered Yoongi out into the middle of the ballroom to dance a waltz with him. Taehyung either danced with whosever Jungkook wasn’t dancing with or talked to them all, finally trying the rich wine and flaky pastries at the nearest table, he even danced with Namjoon when he offered his hand who made him blush when he said he had never seen Jungkook look at anyone else like that, ow he kept sneaking glances at him and becoming less and less subtle about it as time went by, eventually when Namjoon and Jungkook decided he had spent enough ti8me dancing with the others to not have people complaining he had spent the whole night with Taehyung he took his hand once more and danced the next dance with him again, this time a more upbeat one that had him being twirled about and feeling giddy enough to laugh loudly and not care who heard.
When the musicians started into another song Jungkook slowled them until they were barely moving, swaying between the bodies of people moving about them. “Do you want to escape for a few minutes?” he asked quietly so that no one else would hear.
Taehyung nodded and then he was being taken by the hand and led out through the door open to the royal gardens, the cool night air refreshing on his heated skin. It was quieter out here, the music a muffled noise bleeding out through the door, fading slightly as Jungkook led them down the stone path through the green bushes filled with flowers. The stars shone overhead, twinkling down on them and when he looked up he could see the full moon looking down on them. They didn’t speak, comfortable in the silence, basking in the warmth of the other by their side. Eventually Jungkook pulled them to stop beside a bubbling fountain and sat on the stone bench looking at it. “This is one of my favourite spots in the palace,” he told him. “My mother and I used to sit out here on summer evenings, joined by my father if he could get away, and we would talk about everything and nothing until the sun went down. I came out here everyday for a month after she died, to feel closer to her.”
His heart both swelled and cracked as he listened to Jungkook talk. “I lost my own parents,” he said. “My mother died when I was very young, I can barely remember her but I can still picture her smile. My father died two years ago, only a year after remarrying. He was the kindest man I’ve ever known, and I aim to make him and my mother proud every day.”
Jungkook pulled their joined hands into his lap, thumb stroking over the back of his hand. “Do you still live with your step-mother now?”
“Yes, and her two daughters, although I hope to leave soon. They are not the nicest of people.”
“I am sorry,” Jungkook said with more sincerity than most people had when talking about this subject.
“It’s fine,” he said with a shake of his hand. “Let’s not talk about them. You said this was one of your favourite spots, where are the others?”
Jungkook smiled. “The gallery and the swing the maids had built for me when I was a child.”
Taehyung’s eyes lit up. “The gallery? An art gallery?”
Jungkook laughed, the sound like music to his ears. “Of course, what other kind of gallery would I be talking about?”
“That was silly,” he said flushing.
“No, no.” Jungkook shook his head, “It was cute.”
Taehyung smiled once more. “I love art, I don’t get to practice much anymore but I loved to paint when I was younger.”
“So did I,” Jungkook said excitedly. “Come on, I’ll show it to you now.” He stood up but slipped his hand out of Taehyung’s. He watched in confusion as the prince removed his own gloves, throwing them onto the bench before holding his hand out to ask for permission for Taehyung’s once more. He held it out slowly and watched as Jungkook delicately peeled off his glove and placed them in his own pocket before ducking down to brush his lips against his knuckles in a kiss. Warmth flooded through him in the most amazing way as he stood and pulled off his other glove himself.
The pair stood there looking at each other for a moment, Jungkook reaching a hand up to run his fingers through one of Taehyung’s curls before tracing his hand down to cup his cheek. Taehyung leaned into the touch tilting his head, the two of them drawing in closer until there was only inches between them when the unmistakable sound of feet on the stone path startled them.
Jungkook quickly pulled them behind the tallest bush, completely hiding them until the sound of footsteps and a woman and man’s voices passed them by. It was only then that they realised they were standing with their chests touching, Taehyung’s hands coming up to rest against Jungkook’s whose hand was still on his cheek, the other on his waist. The young prince looked beautiful, his hair stunningly dark against the green of the bush behind him, his dark eyes filled with light, his pink lips slightly parted. Taehyung couldn’t look away. And then they were leaning in, closer and closer, until there was no space left between them. Their lips met in the softest of touches before Taehyung pressed closer. Jungkook’s lips were sweet and even softer than they looked, they parted slightly, letting out a hum that made Taehyung’s nerves stand on end, every part of him set alight. Jungkook’s hand carded through his hair, pulling him closer, his grip on his waist tightening and pulling a noise out of Taehyung that he had never made before. The tip of Jungkook’s tongue came out to swipe against his bottom lip causing Taehyung to let out a quiet moan before they both pulled away, panting slightly.
They stood there silently drinking in the sight of the other for a moment, neither daring to speak until Taehyung took a step back. His mind was racing with a blur of thoughts, did he really just kiss the prince? He didn’t feel like any of this was real and yet he felt more like himself than he had in years.
“Would you, um, would you like to go to the gallery now, hyung?” Jungkook stuttered out, voice shaky.
Taehyung nodded as Jungkook pushed himself off from the bush, his hand coming to rest on the small of Taehyung’s back as they walked.
“Are you meant to call people hyung?” he found himself asking before he really knew what he was doing. It made him feel strange to hear Jungkook call him that. He had always been the youngest amongst his family and friends, and now to hear the prince call him that, someone who outranks everyone else in the kingdom bar the king, was strange yet he couldn’t deny the way it made heat rise in his belly.
“Um, I’m not really meant to,” Jungkook said. “It’s not seen as right, but sometimes I call Namjoon it in private.” The tips of the younger’s ear had turned red and his head was slightly ducked to avoid looking bTaehyung in the eye. It sent a shiver through him, knowing Jungkook used that word so sparingly and yet here he was calling Taehyung it.
They avoided the ballroom as they reentered the palace, instead walking through a door at the other side of the garden, closer to the gallery as Jungkook had informed him. This area of the palace was quiet, everyone else was at the ball and it was so far away that they couldn’t even hear any of the noise from it. The candles in the chandeliers above were only glowing with a dim light, catching on the gold frames on the walls and door handles. The carpet underfoot was so deep that their feet sank into it as they walked, muting the noise of their footsteps.
“The royal chambers are in the floors above,” Jungkook said. “My father’s are on the highest floor and I am on the one below. Usually the only people in this wing of the palace are us and the servants, except Namjoon comes into mine quite frequently since it’s more comfortable to have discussions where there is less chance of being overheard by noisy courtiers.” Taehyung hummed, encouraging him to go on. “The gallery is just down here, and on the floor above us are the rooms we use for studying and fencing practice. Oh, and the library.”
“Do you read often?” Taehyung asked. He loved to read when he had some spare time, relishing in the tales of adventure and love.
Jungkook flushed. “No,” he said quietly. “I was never really good with that, I got bored easily. But I like the library and I’ll sit in there a lot with Namjoon.”
Taehyung laughed softly. The prince was cute when he was embarrassed. “So you’d sit with me if I was reading?” He didn’t know where this boldness came from but he laughed louder when he saw how fast Jungkook nodded.
“Of course I would.”
When they reached the gallery Taehyung could barely believe his eyes. There had been paintings lining the walls of the palace but they did nothing to compare to the sight in front of him. There was a huge room, bigger even than the ballroom, with white walls covered in paintings of every subject, ranging from past kings and queens, to gardens and animals, people dancing and kissing to children playing, lakes and mountains to flowers and fields. There were statues too, made of materials he didn’t even know the name of. He walked around in a state of awe, barely able to speak as Jungkook explained what he knew of each piece or stories of them he had from his childhood, making up stories about them if he didn’t know anything interesting about them.
After making a lap of the room they sat in the centre and talked and talked, conversation covering every topic imaginable and they only stopped when Taehyung swore he could hear something. “What was that?” he asked.
“That noise?” There it was again. “It’s probably the sound of the clock ringing out midnight,” Jungkook said.
Taehyung frose. Had he really been here that long? Did he really have to leave so suddenly? Had they been talking for hours when it had felt like minutes? The next toll of the bell hurried him into action as he stood. “I have to go,” he said rushing out of the door as fast as he could.
“Wait, Taehyung! What’s the matter? Hyung! Did I do something? I’m sorry, please don’t leave! The ball’s nearly over anyway!” Jungkook called as he rushed to catch up.
Taehyung turned his head without stopping, his steps getting quicker. “No, no, Jungkook, you haven’t done anything wrong. I need to leave now, I have to go home! I promised I would be home at midnight!” God, why was the palace so big? All of these hallwas created a maze that confused him as he rushed through them. Where was the door?
“Can’t you stay for one last dance and I will explain it to your family? I’m sure your step-mother would understand,” Jungkook said as he closed in the distance between them. The bell chimed once more. It would only do so six more times. Taehyung broke into a sprint as he rushed down the halls, the door he had entered through coming into sight.
“I’m sorry, Jungkook, I really am! I wish I could stay!” he yelled as he burst through the doors, the guards lined up outside turning to look at them. He fled down the stairs so fast that one of his shoes fell off behind him and he didn’t even stop to pick it up, ignoring the pain ihis feet as he ran. Hi carriage was just in front of him, if he could get into it - he jumped in just as the door opened, yanking it shut behind him as they rushed as fast as they could away from the palace.
They barely made it out of the palace gates and into the trees on the side of the path leading into town when the carriage disappeared from under him, turning back into a pumpkin as it rolled along the path. Taehyung caught himself from falling face first with his hands coming to sit on the path for a moment and watched as his beautiful clothes melted away to reveal the rags he had been wearing that morning before he changed into Hoseok’s suit. His face stretched into a bittersweet smile when he noticed his glass shoe was still there on his foot, the one he hadn’t managed to lose in his haste to get away from the palace. “Thank you,” he said out loud, sure Seokjin would be able to hear it, wherever he was, and clutched the shoe to his chest. “At least I have this to remember tonight by.” And with that he stood up, placed the mice in his pocket so they wouldn’t get lost and started the walk back to the house through the dark and empty streets, the stars keeping him company.
“Why would he leave like that?” his father asked the next morning as he sat in a large armchair in Jungkook’s chambers. “Why would he run away from a prince?”
Thankfully not many people had seen Taehyung run out last night, only a few guards and carriage drivers, he couldn’t bear to imagine the uproar it would have caused, how many people would be hounding him this morning if they had. It did mean, however, that he had the unpleasant job of relaying the story to his father and Namjoon.
“I told you. He said he needed to be home before midnight, that his step-family weren’t very good people. He seemed panicked though, almost scared, but I need to find him. He’s the one, father, I’m sure of it. We had that instant connection you always talk about, the one you had with mother, and we spent the whole night talking and learning about each other, and I spoke with his friends. I know he’s the one I’m going to marry, father, if he’ll have me.” He turned to face him then, to show him how serious he was about this.
“And do you think he will?” his father asked with more interest this time.
“Your Majesty, if I may,” Namjoon said from his side. “I saw the way the two of them looked at each other, and when I danced with Taehyung he seemed genuinely taken with Jungkook, and that was when they’d barely spent an hour together, they were gone for hours after that. I’m almost certain he will say yes if Jungkook asks him to marry him.”
His heart swelled at the support and reassurance of his friend.
“Then how are we to find him?” the king asked. “You do not know where he lives or his last name.”
“No, but I know it is on the opposite end of the town and that he lives with his step-mother, surely there can’t be that many people who fit that description. And I’ll know him when I see him. Besides, I have this for extra proof,” he said glancing down at the glass shoe in his hands.
It turns out that there were more houses on that side of the town than they had anticipated. Jungkook and Namjoon had been riding all day, the latter approaching each house and asking if a young man by the name of Taehyung lived there. (They knew if they sent Jungkook it would cause too much talk and they were aiming to keep this mission as quiet as possible, everyone had seen his face for the first time in years after the ball and he was the talk of the kingdom.) Most of the time they were met by a confused or curious no, the few times the answer was yes they were met by someone who looked nothing like his Taehyung.
It was with a defeated sigh that they rode back into the town with the goal to set out again tomorrow to visit the rest of the houses. Even their horses could tell how disappointed they were and he felt bad for them, they must be tired by now.
“They need a break before the rest of the ride back to the palace,” he told Namjoon.
“Thank god,” the elder said. “I'm starving. There’s a bakery over there, and if we don’t stop I think I might just ride into it.”
Jungkook laughed but led the horses over anyway. They tied the reins to the post outside dragging over a nearby bucket of water after asking a merchant who was packing up his stall for the night for them to drink from before walking into the small shop. Instantly they were met with the smell of fresh bread and warm pastries just finished baking. His mouth watered at the sight of the delicious goods behind the counter.
“Just a second!” called a bright voice from the room at the back of the store. He swore he knew it from somewhere, “Sorry about that- Your Highness!”
“Jimin!” The hunger and exhaustion disappears from his body at the sight of the shorter man in front of him, looking just as surprised as he feels. “What are you doing here?”
“This is Yoongi and I’s bakery, Your Highness, the one I told you about at the ball?” And of course, now he remembered, both Jimin, Yoongi and Taehyung had told him different things about the couple owning a bakery in the town. Giddiness started to take over his tired body as he realised, this was it, this was how he would find Taehyung. He could kiss Jimin right now! “Your Highness, why are you here? Do you need something to eat?”
He shook his head. “Jimin, where does Taehyung live? I have been searching for him for the past two days, please, tell me where he is!”
“Taehyungie? He lives just past the end of the lane branching off from the main road at the big oak tree.” Past the end of the lane? They had been told that the lane only went so far as an old fishmonger’s house, that there was nothing past it, no wonder they hadn’t found him!
“Thank you, Jimin!” he yelled, already running outside and mounting his horse, Namjoon trailing close behind. They set off with an renewed urgency, the only sound between them the rush of the wind in their ears and the clopping of the horses’ hooves on the path. They vered to a quick right at the huge oak tree splitting the main road from the lane, bypassing the merchants house and not pausing to slow when the neat path underfoot disappeared into grass and trees, the only indication that someone even travelled this way being the line where the grass was slightly shorter and what appeared to be fresh wheel marks.
In front of them a grand old house emerged from the trees, the tall iron gate barely open enough for a body to squeeze through. The house looked like at one time it had been beautiful, with its size and huge windows, the garden peeking out from the opposite side but had lacked the proper care for years, although it was clear somebody had tried their best to preserve its old status; someone his gut told him was Taehyung.
The stones of the drive crunch underfoot as the two men approached the door, the horses left tied to the gate. The sound of Namjoon’s knock echoing around the inside clearly heard. It wasn’t long before the door opened to reveal a woman with grey streaked hair, tied up into an intricate knot at the back of her head, wearing a long sweeping dress the colour of blood. Her eyes widened at the sight of the two men in front of her before dropping into a clumsy bow. “Your Highness, My Lord, to what do we owe the pleasure of your visiting us so late in the day?”
Namjoon spoke before he could, the feeling of bile already rising in his throat, mixing with the bubbling rage in his stomach, as he took in the sight of the woman who had caused Taehyung pain. “We are here looking for a young man, ma’am,” he said tone cool as ever but Jungkook could recognise the way his jaw was clenched tightly and his eyes were hard. “He goes by the name of Taehyung.”
A look of panic flashed in her eyes so fast you would doubt it was ever there before she answered. “We have no one fitting that description here.” His muscles tensed at the blatant lie but he kept his mind clear.
“Then would you mind gracing us with a cup of tea?” he said, ignoring the way both sets of eyes turned to look at him. “We have been travelling all day in search of him and are tired and thirsty. It is a long ride back to the palace and we would be much obliged to you for helping us.”
To her credit, the woman barely hesitated before nodding and taking a step back to allow them into the house. It was as he had expected from the outside, outdated although remarkably clean and from the door of the drawing room he could see two young women about his own age watching their every move like a hawk. He looked into the doorway of every room he could see from his place in the entrance, unable to spot any sign of Taehyng living there. They were introduced to the young women as her daughters and told to make themselves at home while she readied a cup of tea.
One way or another he was leaving this house with Taehyung.
He had already retired to his bedroom in the attic for the night and was talking with Yeontan when he heard footsteps outside of his door. He stood up to approach the door, unease prickling at his skin - no one ever came up here, pretending he didn’t exist after they had been served their dinner.
The sound of the lock sent a shock of ice through him. Yeontan rubbed at his ankles, yipping at him to ask what was wrong and why he had stopped petting him but he couldn’t move. All he could think was why? Why now? What had happened? They had never done this before. Had they found out about the ball?
He moved to the window to see if he could catch a glimpse of his step-mother but what he saw was even more confusing - horses. And then he saw the symbol on their saddles. Jungkook.
He ran to the door banging on it and yelling, screaming until his lungs ached, begging for anyone to let him out. Yeontan even joined in by barking, upset by his owner’s distress. He screamed for what felt like hours until he finally heard it, the sounds of a different set of footsteps rushing up the stairs to his room and his screaming intensified, banging on the door until it was flung open to show Jungkook standing there.
The prince immediately dropped to his knees to gather Taehyung into his arms, uncaring about the dust on the floor, stroking through his hair and kissing his temple lightly, hushing him as he cried into his shoulder, the feeling of utter relief washing over him.
“I am here now,” he said in that soothing voice of his. “I am here and if you wish, you will return with me to the palace.” He nodded unable to speak.
Yeontan interrupted them by wiggling his way in between them and demanding their attention. They both laughed weakly. “This is the one I was told about? Yeontan?” Taehyung nodded. “He will get on well with the dogs at the palace.”
Everyone in the kingdom came to know the tale of the prince and the commoner. How the young man had charmed him with his heart as beautiful as his face, how they had danced all night long and how the prince had returned with him to the palace a few days later after finding him being treated with such cruelty by his step-mother and sisters. They knew how later that week the prince had asked the commoner to marry him and how their wedding had been the event of the decade with everyone in the kingdom invited to the palace to celebrate, the cake baked by two of the new prince’s best friends and their wedding suits designed and made by the other. And now the servants in the palace talked of how the entire place was filled with laughter and joy, the way the dogs all followed around the two princes wherever they went and how the new prince’s friends became almost permanent fixtures there. They even spoke of how the crown prince called only his prince hyung, slipping into more romantic pet names once they were married.
And with all the news from the place the people of the kingdom knew the two princes had found their happily ever after.