- Burn The Floor -
“Siwon-ah, are you free this afternoon?”
The question had Siwon pausing in the act of buttoning his waistcoat. “Why?”
Donghae raised an eyebrow. “I was expecting a simple yes or a no. Since you’re asking me why, does that mean you already have plans?”
Siwon sighed, resuming his task. “Yes, but if it’s something important, then I might have to forgo.”
Donghae came round to sit at the edge of Siwon’s bed. He’d already finished dressing and as usual, despite the simplistic cut of his attire and the casual tie of his cravat, he looked like one of those rakish young lords women couldn’t keep sighing over for. “Well, actually, I was wondering if you could accompany me to Agilis est Circus. I really want to get tickets to their show.”
So it was nothing important, but something he could probably still make a bit of time for. “Will that take long? I'll need to be back in town by three."
"I think we should be back by then. We can ask hyung to close up slightly earlier today.” Donghae eyed him questioningly. “So where are you headed to at three?"
Siwon turned away from his brother to look in the mirror, working on his cravat. "Meeting up with an acquaintance."
"Tch. You work too hard. Do you ever have fun?"
It was not the first time such a comment was made by Donghae. But this time round, strangely it did strike a chord with him. "Not my thing, you should know that by now," he replied, hoping he sounded blasé enough.
Fun was really such a foreign concept to him. Eeteuk had his ladies to keep him entertained and Donghae had always gravitated towards artistic pursuits. But for Siwon, most of his adult life had revolved around their business. The people he'd meet up with or the things he’d do were for the purpose of serving the business. In his quiet times, aside from horse riding and training, he preferred the company of books.
“Yes, I know,” Donghae scoffed. “So tonight, after you’re done with your meeting, let’s have dinner together. There’s a place I know where we can sing our hearts out!”
Donghae did enjoy singing; his brother had a good singing voice, though some might not like his nasal tone. Siwon stifled a sigh. He was not fond of the rowdy establishments that Donghae and Eeteuk tended to frequent; he would usually try to limit such outings. But he realized then that since coming to Formosus, he’d not been out with his brothers. On that account, he knew he had to give in. “Fine, I’ll join you.”
Donghae flashed a wide grin as he got to his feet. “It’ll be fun, I promise!” He winked, and started heading out of their shared room. “I’ll let hyung know of our plans.”
Siwon watched his brother leave. Donghae had always been the one to actively keep them together. Eeteuk was a natural-born leader and they'd follow him to the ends of the earth, no questions asked, but Donghae was the glue that kept their bond tight. Siwon envied the other sometimes, in that despite their complicated lifestyle, Donghae still managed to retain a sense of innocence and was genuine in his interactions with the people around him.
The thought pricked at his conscience. Was he ever genuine with anyone? Even with his brothers, he knew he'd held a part of himself back. He trusted them with his life, yes, but he could never allow them fully into his heart. Or anyone else for that matter. The pain of loss might have dulled over the years, but Siwon could not trust himself not breaking apart should it happen again.
Unbidden, the thought of Yesung suddenly crossed his mind. Siwon started, then inwardly shook the thought away and resumed with his toilette.
“Hello, ladies. Time for lunch!”
Kyuhyun smiled fondly as he entered the metal caged enclosure where his three companions were resting, carrying two large buckets of meat. As was his practice, he poured forth his goodwill in a mental message, telling them he was a friend. He didn’t actually know whether it worked or not, but he liked to think so. It was just a silly habit he’d adopted and continued doing despite the fact the animals were already familiar with him.
Shimkoong, the active white Bengal tigress, started rolling on her back playfully, exposing her belly. Kkoming, the laidback black panther, did not move from her resting position, though her ears twitched forward with interest. Melo, the sweet lioness, simply raised her head and watched him.
“Today is the last performance of the week, so tomorrow we will get to rest again,” he said conversationally, setting the buckets down. With practiced hands, he bolted the enclosure door even as he kept his eyes on the three animals. “So this evening, let’s do our best!”
Melo let out a short roar, as if answering him, which made Kyuhyun smile again. The animals remained where they were, not making a move towards him or the food he was holding. They’d been trained to wait for his permission to do so.
He was about to pick up the buckets again to make his round when Henry’s excited voice called out to him. “Hyung! Kyuhyun hyung!”
Keeping his eyes on the cats, he answered over his shoulder. “What is it?”
“The merchants we met the other day are here! Eunhyuk hyung is giving them a tour!”
For a moment Kyuhyun was confused, before he realized who Henry was talking about. The faces of the two ridiculously handsome merchants they’d met in the woods three days ago came to his mind. He scowled; what was Henry being excited for? “So? What has that got to do with me?”
“They are headed this way,” Henry replied and he could hear the other grinning. “Eunhyuk hyung told them you’re an animal trainer and that you’re feeding the cats now. The one named Donghae wants to see you in action.”
Kyuhyun bit back a curse. What was Eunhyuk thinking, giving a tour of their premise to outsiders? And since when was his feeding activity something of a show? Also, that Donghae person was a tad annoying with his carefree attitude, poking his nose in places he had no business doing so.
He heard the cats’ collective low growls and realized they had picked up on his negative energy. Hastily, Kyuhyun tried to think of something pleasing; the first thing that came into his mind was Prince Jongwoon’s laughing face teasing him the other day.
But he didn't have time to dwell further because it wouldn’t do to get distracted. “Henry-ah, keep an eye on them.”
There were only a handful of people in their troupe who could be in close proximity to the cats, one of them being Henry whom he often allowed to assist him with training and feeding. It was strange considering Henry was a relative newcomer to their troupe, but the animals had taken a liking to him since the first time Henry asked if he could assist him.
Once Henry came inside, Kyuhyun gave a command to the animals. "Stay. Don't move."
Shimkoong righted herself back, coming up on all fours, facing the door, position alert. Kkoming still feigned disinterest but Kyuhyun knew otherwise; her ears were pulled back, on alert as well. Melo, the gentlest of them, merely tilted her head in curiosity.
Kyuhyun turned around and saw Eunhyuk approaching with the merchants. He frowned, not bothering to hide his displeasure at being interrupted. Eunhyuk threw him a sheepish smile, giving a little shrug. "Hyung, what are you doing?” he demanded through the bars of the enclosure. “You know we don't let outsiders come close to the animals," he said, refusing to spare the visitors a glance.
Eunhyuk let out a nervous chuckle. "Ah, Kyuhyun-ah --”
“Please do not be angry with your friend, Kyuhyun-ssi,” the one named Donghae cut in, forcing Kyuhyun to look his way. The man flashed a friendly, albeit apologetic, smile. “I was the one who insisted. But I promise, we’re just going to observe from here, outside of the enclosure.”
“Of course you are!” he snapped testily. “As if I’m going to allow outsiders inside here.”
Before Donghae could respond, his brother -- Siwon, wasn’t it? -- stepped in. “Please forgive my brother, Kyuhyun-ssi. He can be like a child sometimes,” he said, earning a sputtered ‘yah!’ from the one being called a child. “If it really upsets you for us to be here, we will gladly take our leave.”
Kyuhyun was tempted to tell them to bugger off. But the brothers, annoying as they were, had been nothing but polite in their interactions so far. It was hard to hate them, and Kyuhyun thought it was unfair that aside from being extremely good-looking, they seemed to be of a good sort as well. They were dressed formally today, their clothes well-tailored but not quite the type nobles would wear. Still, for them, the term ‘clothes maketh a man’ did not apply; Kyuhyun had seen them in their shirtsleeves and thought they could have easily passed off as nobles and none would be the wiser.
He let out a long, deep sigh. “Keep your distance. And don’t speak or make unnecessary noise,” he warned, narrowing his eyes specifically at Donghae. The man nodded, though he was grinning happily. Rolling his eyes, Kyuhyun turned sharply and started instructing Henry to assist. He heard Eunhyuk speaking softly to the merchants to move back further away from the enclosure.
“Sorry for making all of you wait,” Kyuhyun apologized to the three animals eyeing him steadily as he came closer whilst Henry went around to place the meats at designated spots.
He kept chatting whilst pouring forth his goodwill again through a mental message, until Henry was done minutes later and went to stand guard at the door.
“Alright, let’s eat! Shimkoong,” he called out, clapping his hand once, and the tigress immediately bounded to her designated meal spot. “Kkoming,” he said next, whistling then. The black panther got to her feet gracefully and sauntered to her spot. Kyuhyun smiled at the last of the lot, his favorite. “Melo-yah, go go!” he said, snapping his fingers. The lioness answered with a growl before moving off.
Kyuhyun watched them eat for about a minute before slowly backing away, eyes still on them. He heard Henry opening the door softly, and thereafter he exited the enclosure by walking backwards still. Once he was out, he quickly, but quietly, bolted the door close again.
Even though it’d been years since he trained the cats and there had not been any unsavory incident thankfully, Kyuhyun knew he could never afford to be complacent. He still did everything by the book, because no matter how tamed a wild animal might have become, it was still a wild animal; its survival instinct would always overrule any pattern or routine it might have been used to.
“Thank you, Henry. Good thing you’re around,” Kyuhyun said, clapping the younger on the back.
“I was with Eunhyuk hyung when they came by,” Henry leaned in to whisper. “I knew you’d need help.”
Sighing, Kyuhyun walked up to Eunhyuk and the merchants. “I hope you’re satisfied by the performance?” he said, making sure each word was dripping in sarcasm.
At least the one named Siwon seemed fairly embarrassed; his brother, on the other hand, was positively beaming. “That was fantastic! How docile they all are. It’s really fascinating to see beasts like them be tamed into submission.”
Kyuhyun narrowed his eyes at the misconception most people seemed to have. “They are tamed, yes, but they are never submissive. We humans can never truly be masters over such beasts; their survival instincts will always prevail. If I make the wrong move, they will not hesitate to tear me apart. So I have to be the one who has to put my life willingly -- maybe even stupidly -- on the line. That is how I earn their trust.”
“But how is that trust when it’s so fragile?”
Kyuhyun turned to Siwon, and saw the hard glint in the man’s eyes. Somehow, it felt like the question was not specifically about the animals. Kyuhyun wasn’t particularly interested to know beyond that, but nonetheless, decided to humor the man.
"Trust is never meant to be absolute in the first place. Trust is meant to be a lifelong effort, so that you’ll not take things for granted.” He flashed a mirthless smile and gestured to the enclosure. “When you train with animals such as these, you learn this is the fundamental truth of what trust really means.”
Siwon raised a brow. "Having never dealt with such animals in the manner you speak of, I will take your word for it."
His brother suddenly coughed, and Siwon turned to him with a slight frown. “Sorry,” Donghae said, clearing his throat slightly, looking somewhat amused. “My throat feels a little dry.”
"Oh, let’s get you something to drink then,” Eunhyuk said, a little too brightly as if it was the cue he was waiting for. “I think it’s best if we continue on as well; Kyuhyun has other things to attend to, I’m sure.”
Kyuhyun shot a dirty glare at his troupe member, silently promising the other an earful. Eunhyuk pretended not to notice.
“Thank you for allowing us to watch, Kyuhyun-ssi. I really can’t wait to see your performance next week! We’ll be in the front row, cheering you on!”
Kyuhyun merely grunted, feeling partly annoyed at Donghae but also partly taken in by the other’s effervescence charm. He could see why Eunhyuk would find it rather hard to say no to such a child-like man.
“Good day, Kyuhyun-ssi,” Siwon said with a nod. “Thank you for being accommodating.”
As for this one, Kyuhyun didn’t quite know what to make of him. On the surface, Siwon seemed the perfect gentleman. He was not cold nor aloof, but he wasn’t exactly warm either, especially in contrast with his brother. It would be quite mean to call Siwon bland, but perhaps this was merely a carefully crafted persona. At least, to Kyuhyun’s mind, he had a feeling that Siwon was one of those who would come unraveled given the right circumstances or perhaps with the right person.
“Hyung, you won’t be needing my help further, right?” Henry suddenly spoke as Eunhyuk and the two merchants took their leave. “Can I just follow Eunhyuk hyung along for now?”
Kyuhyun had forgotten Henry was with them. He frowned at the younger. “Don’t you need to practice or do some checks for your act later?”
“Already did earlier. Anyway, don’t you think those two are interesting? I’d like to see if they’d notice anything going missing on their persons.”
With a cheeky grin, Henry ran after the trio. Kyuhyun had wanted to call the troublemaker magician back, but decided it was not a bad idea for Henry to palm off something from the two as a small payback.
Toilette - the process of grooming and dressing oneself
The last chapter had some of you confused, so here's what you need to know for now:
1. When a scene is in italics, it means it's either a dream or a flashback/memory
2. There was a boy who was saved once upon a time
3. There is someone (not one of the main three leads) looking for the werewolf