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“How do you find the night so far, Mr Lee?” Comes from a voice that he knew so well just as the back of his hands, mischievous yet so cheerful.

“Stop calling me that, it is rather irritating.” Is what he tells the other, voice accusatory but still, a smile delightfully tugs at the corner of his mouth thereafter.

“Have you been enjoying yourself?” The other simply inquires, eyeing the crowd before them.

Taeyong smiles widely, knowingly and purposeful, as if to mock his true thoughts about the ball. “Tonight is just as how I expected,” he turns his heels around to face the latter, “boring and terrible.”

The excited murmurs and giggles around the hall brings no delight to his heart. Even the glamorous dresses of every woman excitedly dancing the night away accompanied with their dazzling companions in exquisite coats, or the extraordinary dishes prepared and set on multiple tables, or the sparkling chandeliers hung on the high ceilings that he used to marvel, and most definitely not the glass of champagne on his hand could defeat the foolishness he thinks this is all for.

“Your mother is watching.”

“Just as every mother and their daughter after their tail in this hall.” Taeyong exhales, quite loudly, upon meeting gazes with his dearest friend. “You seem to fancy the night, John, do you not?”

Johnny, his dearest friend, chuckles behind his own glass of champagne before he could clink it with Taeyong’s.

“You must know that I was never once delighted with such event,” Johnny speaks after drinking the last bit of his drink, “as they are nothing but pretentious.”

It piques Taeyong’s interest, very much so, for all these years he had envisioned his dearest friend to have fondness with such events as he would always politely carry a woman on the dance floor to waltz, or share a lovely conversation with some other guests unlike of him who wish to never form any sort of attachment with others, only for him to know that he surprisingly does not.

“Pretentious, you say?” Taeyong raises a brow in question, challenging but curious. “What of you then?”

Johnny smiles ever so lovely and dashingly, perhaps, it is the most wonderful Taeyong has ever caught a sight on from this night.

“I do believe that these certain events are pretentious but I do not intend to be one,” he offers Taeyong a small smile and a nod, signalling him to move somewhere to walk, “as I only wish to show gratitude towards whoever asks of me to dance by some mothers who wishes me to court their daughters.”

Taeyong laughs as he suppose his friend is not wrong, because every man and woman in this place as they know of is meant to reach an end point in a certain point of time—marriage, that is.

Having their legs shackled is what the society deemed to only be acceptable, for if you do not, then you shall witness the misery waiting upon you. That is what they were taught after all—that they ought to find an other half to marry and form another life to satisfy the expectations of the many and never their own. An obligation passed down by the lineage than of a dream.

It is quite an exquisite encounter to have met another whose perspective mirrors yours, and with that, Taeyong must be so lucky—because in a time such as this era, he had found a soul just as his.

To have known Johnny while growing up is to have an ally that will certainly value each thought and feeling you ought to have.

“And has anybody have yet to charm you, John?” Taeyong questions once they were far out of the crowd, now just the two of them in the blossoming garden of the Pristons. “With all the ladies you have met.”

Johnny sighs deeply and then chuckles to himself. He then sat on the nearest bench made out of cement and carefully placed his now empty glass beside him.

“I am afraid nobody has ever had, Taeyong.”

If it was not Johnny who he was conversing at this moment, perhaps Taeil or Jungwoo, Taeyong would caught on the genuine sadness there lies upon their voices for they had always dreamed of marrying someone someday.

It was simply foolish of him to think that Johnny not being able to find someone to marry would truly hurt him. After all, Johnny is an ally. Someone who perceives life just as the same.

“I suppose you wish to throw me in the pit of the evil’s dark abyss, my dear friend.” Johnny says, leaning his weight backwards and uses his hands to balance himself out to stare at the sparkling nightsky.

Taeyong then laughed, allowing himself to find comfort beside his oldest, dearest friend. “The two of us certainly envisions marriage as a punishment, it is quite humorous.”

“And do you not think it is?” Johnny continues to marvel at the sky, with its vastness and how it was beautifully dotted with millions of stars.

As the wind blows, Taeyong visibly shudders. He carefully moves a little closer to Johnny to somehow ease the cold.

“That makes us look rather hateful.”

“Only it is true,” Johnny turns his head this time to chance a glance at Taeyong, closing their gap even more, “especially when you are forced to do so. How are we supposed to find happiness there, Lee?”

“I suppose you are right.” Taeyong agrees with a smile on his face upon turning his head, too, to share a look with his friend.

The slow melody playing on the orchestra weaves through the cold blow of the wind, allowing the two men in the enormous space and stupendous garden of the Pristons’ to shiver in unison.

However, it was not enough to bring themselves to find their way back inside the hall, instead, they stayed outside to find solitude with the nightsky that the crowded hall inside is not able to offer.

 

 

 

 

The next morning he hears a frantic knock against the door, he is already aware who must be disturbing his sleep.

“Dearest, you must make haste!” He hears from outside the blanket that was draped all over his body that allows himself to hide from his mother. “Lady Lacombe should be waiting for your call.”

Taeyong rolls his eyes, opting to do so instead of releasing a groan or a kick under the covers. The last thing he would wish to do this day is to visit a lady who he knows nothing of, or someone he would not wish to court for he deems it very unnecessary.

For the longest time, Taeyong had expressed his apathy for such predicament. His mother has heard it so many times, while she is everything but uncommitted.

Without a response from him, his mother gets ahold of the hem of his blanket and then pulls it off of his body. Taeyong was left stoked and unprepared of what is to come.

“Should you be down to prepare or must I drag you?”

“I do not intend to call for Lady Lacombe,” he pulls back the blanket over his body and faces against her, “please, mother.”

“Do you wish to ruin your life?” She raises a voice at him, visibly vexed, alarming Taeyong out of his purpose to bind back with sleep.

And out of indignation, Taeyong brings himself up to sit—now facing his mother with much courage that seemed peculiar to her as she would rather fail to acknowledge that her son is more of capable.

“I certainly do not, mother...” he wished to tamper down his building emotions, always the one to resist and to endure, “that is why I ask of you to let me do what my heart wishes to.”

“To paint?” The nonchalance in her voice only fuels the frustration in his chest. It hurts him inevitably to witness his own mother to show all but support in his desires.

“Yes.” He tells her, firmly and full of confidence for he is exhausted with all this. He simply wish to live freely.

She heaves a deep breath and tends to her aching temples with her fingers. “But you are bound to be miserable without a wife and children.” She responded through gritted teeth.

“You do not know that.”

“Look at your cousin, Caleb, who pursued music but miserably failed and can no longer find a lady to marry!”

That very statement had gone stale. Taeyong could no longer imagine how much he have heard that line from his mother as an attempt to terrify him how awful must it be to not marry.

“But I am not him.” Now it is him who exclaims his words to his mother, frustratedly so. “Do you not trust me, then? That you think I am not capable of making my own choices? That I cannot figure out how must I pay for my life?”

“I am still more capable than you are, my dearest. I know what is best for you!” She gestures her hands with large movements in hopes to emphasize her thoughts.

Taeyong is tenacious and that is what his mother is rather familiar with. “That does not permit you to belittle your son.”

“Dearest,” she scoffs, now sitting by the end of the bed, “you must know that it is not what I meant.”

“You do not have to deny as you already did, mother.”

He did not wish to hear another word from his mother, for he is certain that he would genuinely be displeased by it. So he runs. Far away from his mother who truly had never understood him.

Somewhere safe and sound.

 

 

 

 

Gardens, small or huge, will always be a safe space for Taeyong.

Since he was very little, he would usually spend his spare time in their garden that his sister loves to tend to. She loves flowers, especially roses, and anything green to perfectly fit in her wonderful collection of blooms in the garden.

They had just finished their first meal of the day and Taeyong once again sits himself in the middle of the field of grass in their huge garden, with nothing in his mind but a desire for freedom. As free as the birds flying in the sky, the wind blowing, and the clouds slowly traveling in the vastness of the clear, blue sky.

He took quite some time alone there by himself, only for a little while, a familiar presence sits near him.

“It must be taxing.” Comes from the person who had seemingly disturbed Taeyong’s solitude.

Without removing his gaze from the sky, Taeyong speaks. “What is, sister?”

“To keep pretending.” His sister concludes, which eventually caught Taeyong’s undivided attention. He wished to continue marvelling at the sky, but the words from his sister made a confusion for him to wholly fathom.

Taeyong gathers his focus only to his sister, looking at her with burrowed brows. “I do not understand.”

She smiles, it effortlessly reaches the corner of her eyes, then entwines her hands with Taeyong.

“I must say that I have witnessed how you look at him,” she admitted the words with ease and Taeyong feels rather nervous and for whatever reason, he does not know, “quite fond of you.”

“You must elaborate, sister, for—”

Taeyong’s words had been cut off by the soft touch of his sister against his cheek. Somehow, it made him remember a moment ages ago when she would comfort her, if he is upset, with that very gesture.

“I shall tell you that I do not wish to judge, brother.” Her expression began to gather as what an understanding must look like, and Taeyong felt as if he was about to melt. “You and John are rather astonishing together.”

“Should you mock me for we are both men?”

“Certainly not,” she caresses the soft skin on his cheek, “I only meant that you two would look wonderful... oh,” she paused as a realization dawned upon her, “does that mean you are really fond of him, then?”

Taeyong rolls his eyes and playfully bats his sister’s hand away from his face.

“You should know the answer by now.”

She shrieks, very loudly than what she had intended to, in excitement.

Taeyong finds his own footing, very much eager to be elsewhere for his cheeks are certainly burning now and he would not entertain another whimsical chaff with his sister.

“Do not leave me!”

He laughs and runs away from his sister.

 

 

 

 

If only his mother were as understanding as his sister, perhaps, Taeyong must be elsewhere now than hiding himself in the garden.

She was persistent and have always been. It leaves Taeyong baffled each time she would force him to do something out of his will, one that she deems perfect for him.

Only the truth is, she does not—for what of the image of their family was never as important as what of him.

He found himself again hiding in one of the bushes, beautifully trimmed by their ever hardworking gardeners, where he often takes refuge when he is upset. The flowers and the clear sky were always such a wonderful companion. Not one to judge.

“There you are.” Taeyong had gone stiff upon hearing the interruption of his peace. With much care, he wiped the tears away from his cheeks before he gets caught. “I have been looking for you, Lee.”

Somehow, this kind of disturbance is not one Taeyong would despise. If he must confess, it shall be deemed as one of the greatest confidante there is other than the bed of flowers in the gardens or the enormous sky.

“I shall not be astounded by that truth, John.” It brings a smile onto his face that was once sullen. “You seem to find me each time with ease.”

Johnny settles on the grass beside his friend. “I suppose that is true, however, this time it was with your sister’s assistance.”

The smile plastering his mouth widens as he imagined his sister lending a hand to his dearest friend so as to find him. She really is his most treasured sibling out of the five.

“I thank you.” Taeyong answered and a single tear escaped his eyes.

Johnny had perfectly seen how his friend’s eyes glistened with tears. A worry builds up in his chest. This is certainly not the finest sight to see.

“Taeyong?” He whispered, afraid to startle his friend even more. “Did something happen?”

He could not find the courage to look in the eyes of his friend, so he stares back at the sky—pleading the constellations to grant his freedom from the restrictions of life as the son of the Duke and the Duchess. The tears now begins to fall on his cheeks once more, unfaltering and warm against his skin.

Johnny wished to do whatever it takes to comfort Taeyong, but he lets him be.

Taeyong is not one to expose the side of his such as this to anyone but Johnny, so he allows him.

Johnny hurts to witness his friend in such a state, so he gathers him inside his embrace to calm his raging emotions. And Taeyong nothing but leans, deflating in the warmth which Johnny’s arms could offer.

And little by little as the sky becomes darker and the clouds no longer visible, he managed to breathe normally once more. Johnny’s presence is incredibly huge that he feels secured every time.

“Are you better now?” Johnny whispers again and Taeyong nods.

“Let me apologi—”

Taeyong’s supposed apologies for weeping like a child, as he withdraws himself from Johnny’s embrace, were ceased by a pair of soft and warm lips on his own.

It all happened quite quickly that Taeyong had no time to even fathom.

However, Johnny retreats as quickly as he could, guilt immediately dawning upon him for what he had caused his friend.

“I apologize.” Johnny managed to say, unable to meet gazes with Taeyong. His face was plastered with shame and fear.

Although he finds it all amusing, Taeyong still responds. “Unnecessary.”

“I did not mean to harm you.” That, he certainly believes. Inflicting harm on Taeyong is not one he promised to do. It was only his body moving on its accord, eager to feel Taeyong’s lips on his own.

“Would you do it once more?” Taeyong questions, delightful and wishful.

Johnny gulps, “Tae—”

As diverting as it might seem, Taeyong supposes that Johnny leaves him no choice but express his truest feelings. So he cradles Johnny’s face with his two hands and brings it closer to him.

The way their lips had touched each other sparks a sense of contentment in their hearts. It caused them to create noises they have never made or heard of before, but it should not bother them for the desire to finally touch and feel each other has come to life.

Taeyong feels complete than impure and he wonders if this is what love feels like.

“I burn for you.” Taeyong admits wholeheartedly, unashamed and eager. His lungs begins to loosen up from its constraints, the sense of freedom he yearns for for such a long time.

“So do I,” Johnny confessed after one more touch of their lips, leaning his forehead against Taeyong feeling rather heavenly, “I burn for you.”

It takes nothing more to attach their lips to one another again so tenderly but those words.

For now, they could soar in delight. This must be the freedom they wished for so long. All close to the heart.