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Memoirs (Part 1)

Title: Memoirs
Prompt: Memoirs of a Geisha
Pairing: Sungmin/Zhou Mi, Sungmin/Kyuhyun, side:Donghae/Eunhyuk
Rating: PG
Word count: 11,491
Summary: We do not become geisha to pursue our own destiny; we become geisha because we have no other choice.
Beta:luvey and junjou_robotica
A/N I know that I did the book and movie no justice, but I hope that you enjoy it regardless. Never ending gratitude to my two betas <3

(Quotes directly taken from the book and/or the movie are in italics)

Sungmin could barely remember the sound of his mother’s voice, but her words still echoed in his mind. “Each step you take will move you down the path you are destined. Happiness is not something that comes to us, but rather is something we must never stop striving for.”

Perhaps it was childish innocence that kept his hope alive that unseasonably cold summer evening. Any thought that his family would come for him vanished the moment he was shoved into that dimly lit doorway and checked for imperfections.

“This one is too willful. You can see too much water in his eyes.”

“Water is good to guard against fire. You won’t have to worry about the okiya burning down with this one here, Kangin-sshi.”

“It is too late to send him back now.”

Even now, Sungmin wondered what caused Kangin to pull him through the door when he clearly had reservations from the moment he laid eyes on the young boy. He supposed there was something else he saw behind the desire to step outside of the boundaries. Maybe Kangin had heard something similar to what Sungmin’s mother had always told him.

“Water is powerful. It can wash away earth, put out fire, and even destroy iron.”















~*~*~
















“The only reason that Kangin tolerates Heechul is because he brings in good money.”

Leeteuk had said this so Sungmin one early afternoon as they were straightening up the geisha’s room. Sungmin only gave him a small nod, and gingerly placing the lid on the box housing the folded up kimono.

“Do not forget that it is Heechul that pays for the food in your stomach and the clothes on your back.”

“You haven’t told me what a geisha is,” Sungmin almost mumbled as Leeteuk ushered him up a small step ladder before handing him the box to store away.

“You will find out soon enough, Sungmin. Simply do as you are told, and in time you will be sent to school to become geisha yourself.”

Sungmin still did not understand what he meant, but the soft smile on Leeteuk’s face gave him a small amount of hope.















~*~*~
















“Minnie, you can’t keep spacing out like that. You know what Heechul will do if he finds you in his room when he gets back. I, for one, value my life and don’t want to jeopardize my chances of becoming more than a servant.” Ryeowook’s voice echoed in his ears, quickly reminding him of his position. He was no longer the scared little boy looking through the window for a glimpse of his parents at any chance he could get.

It was sad, really. His entire fate rested in the hands of a temperamental diva that seemed to delight in the misery of others.

“I know what you’re going to say, but both you and I know that it’s Heechul that pays for the clothes on your back and the food in your stomach; and if we’re lucky, the school we’ll be starting,” Ryeowook added with a small sigh, barely glancing at the other young man.

“Sometimes I really wonder if you’re an old grandpa in disguise, Ryeowookie,” Sungmin teased, carefully folding another of Heechul’s priceless kimonos that he routinely and thoughtlessly left strewn across his bedroom floor. How one person could be so careless and selfish was a mystery.

“One of us has to be this way or we wouldn’t still be here,” Ryeowook replied with a huff. His eyes widened at the sound of the main door opening. “Quick! We need to get out!”

The same fear struck Sungmin and he scrambled to get Heechul’s cosmetics in order before shuffling to the door and coming face-to-face with the man he had been hoping to avoid at all costs. While Heechul was no doubt one of the most beautiful men Sungmin has ever seen, there was nothing more terrifying than the fury slowly building in his eyes.

“I thought I told you to keep your hands off of my things!” Heechul screamed, rampaging through the room after pushing Sungmin to the side, throwing boxes and jars against the wall. “How can I use them now? All I’ll hear is; ‘Heechul, you used to smell of jasmine. What is this new perfume, kimchee?’” Sungmin gasped when Heechul finally turned his gaze back to him, storming toward him once more.

Sake iwasstrong on his breath, although not nearly as strong as the grip he had on the younger man’s hair.

“If I ever catch you in my room again, I will destroy you along with any ridiculous and incredibly small chance you have of becoming anything more than someone who cleans my floors. Do you understand?”

All Sungmin could manage was a soft whimper, and a small movement he hopes resembles a nod.

“Ryeowook, keep him out of my room. I don’t care what Leeteuk tells you.”















~*~*~
















“What did I do to make Heechul hate me so much? I’ve only ever done what Leeteuk has asked of me,” Sungmin mutterd softly, fingers curling around the rag in his hands. His movements stopped for a short moment as he looked up at his companion.

“I think he’s afraid of how pretty you’re becoming,” Ryeowook whispered, eyes darting around for any sign of said man. If Heechul were to hear him, Sungmin wouldn’t be the only one Heechul detests.

“I’m just a servant, Wookie,” Sungmin replied, sighing softly as his gaze fell to the floor all over again.

“That doesn’t matter.” Ryeowook started moving once again, scrubbing the wooden floor in circles. “I heard Leeteuk and Kangin talking, and I think we’re finally going to start school!”

School. Maybe that would be the answer to his problems. Was dressing up and putting on a show, purely for the sake of other men’s entertainment, really the way he wanted to spend his life? It wasn’t as if it could be any worse than being Heechul’s slave.















~*~*~
















Sometimes, life had a way of turning everything upside down. Maybe it was punishment for some great misdeed Sungmin had committed in a former life, or maybe he was simply born under an unlucky star. Heechul seemed to make it his personal mission to make Sungmin miserable the moment he discovered the two younger boys were going to begin their instruction. The thought that one day he might become more than Heechul’s servant was enough for him to remain diligent in his studies and chores. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save him any of the suffering that came with being the most hated person in Heechul’s life.


Many times, Sungmin had caught a glimpse of Heechul stealing forbidden moments with another man in a corner of the courtyard hidden from view. Sungmin figured it wise to keep his mouth shut. He had unwillingly angered the other man more times than he could count, and had been beaten by Leeteuk as a result. The worst punishment he incurred had come from Heechul claiming that he had stolen an emerald hair pin from his dressing table.

“I will beat you hard, so that Kangin doesn’t beat you harder.”

Heechul wore the pin in question a week later.

As fate would have it, one evening changed everything for Sungmin. It was only a few years after he had been thrown into his new life, and the evening was cool with the aftermath of rain.

Had Heechul been more careful with his indiscretions, or less vengeful towards the one he saw as a threat, maybe things would have ended up differently.

The sun was setting as Heechul and his geisha friend Kibum stumbled into the entryway Sungmin had barely finished scrubbing moments before. The way they giggled and swayed was as much of an indication of their intoxication as the heavy scent on their breath. Ryeowook tried to assist the two men, but was quickly pushed aside when Heechul motioned the other younger man over to them.

“Sungmin,” Heechul slurred as they stumbled into his room, “come here. It is time for you to practice your calligraphy.”

Dark grins were etched on the two men’s faces, sending a horrible chill up Sungmin’s spine. He complied nonetheless.

“A kimono like this would take a lifetime to earn. A geisha as desired as he should keep a better watch over his things,” Heechul whispered with a devious laugh, pulling out a beautifully embroidered royal blue and silver kimono.

“That’s Eunhyuk’s. How did you get it?” Kibum gasped, delight dancing in his eyes as he looked over the garment in Heechul’s hands.

“Bribed his maid, of course.” There was nothing but darkness in Heechul’s eyes as he placed a brush heavy with ink in the young boy’s hand.

“Go on.”

Sungmin swallowed thickly as his hand slowly moved to hover over the beautiful piece of silk. Surely there would be consequences for following Heechul’s orders. What could he do when an ecstatic Heechul was grasping his wrist and pressing the brush into the fabric? The only hope Sungmin could hold onto was that perhaps this would lead to a bit of favor in Heechul’s eyes.

His heart hammered in his chest as Heechul and Kibum pushed him down the road toward another okiya.

“Don’t let anyone see you,” Heechul hissed, shoving Sungmin’s in the back to urge him up the stairs. Sungmin focused his entire attention on running up the stairs and setting the package in front of the door as quickly as possible. He almost breathed a sigh of relief as he turned to leave. That is, until he heard the slide of a wooden door and his eyes met a pair of surprised, almond-shaped ones. His face was painted in much the same way that Heechul’s was; the owner of the kimono. Eunhyuk.















~*~*~
















“You thieving rat!” Kangin bellowed, pouring an ice-cold bucket of water over Sungmin’s back. It only took a moment before the crack of the switch sounded through the courtyard, followed shortly after by Sungmin’s shrill scream. “That kimono was worth more than you!”

“Kangin, stop! You’ll hurt your back!” Leeteuk pleaded, grasping Kangin’s arm before the third blow could land, “let me do it instead.”

With a disgruntled grumble, Kangin reluctantly let the switch fall to the ground and turned to step back into the okiya.

“I suggest whatever you have done to upset Heechul, you stop right now,” Leeteuk whispered before the bamboo bit into Sungmin’s skin again.

How he wished it were as simple as that.















~*~*~
















“I told you not to let anyone see you,” Heechul chuckled, walking past Sungmin and sitting himself down at his dressing table the next day. He was far more smug than Sungmin would have thought, but it didn’t really surprise him.

“Whatever I have done to make you angry, I apologize,” Sungmin said softly, body folded over and head bowed.

“You are asking for forgiveness?” Heechul’s grin scared Sungmin all over again. He gave Heechul a small nod.

“Swear yourself to me.”

What other option did he have?















~*~*~
















“He was running away.”

Heechul’s voice bled into his consciousness, and Sungmin tried to lift his head, only to be met with a splitting headache. “Why else would he be up on the roof?”

Sungmin could barely see the look of disbelief that momentarily crossed Leeteuk’s features, but what reason did he have to argue?

“You’re racking up quite a bill, Sungmin. That hair pin, the kimono, your schooling, and now this doctor’s bill; not to mention the money I paid for you in the beginning. You have no reason to run from here anymore.” Kangin had an almost weary look on his face as he glanced at the half-conscious boy. “We are all you have left.”

Sungmin was confused to find his arm wrapped in a splint, and even more so when Leeteuk began reading him a letter from his home town.

“This humble person regrets to inform you that six weeks after you left for your new life, the suffering of your honored mother came to an end. After another two weeks, your honored father left this world to join her…”

Leeteuk sighed softly, folding up the paper before raising his head to look at the disoriented young man.

Loss seemed to come in multiples. The news of his parent’s passing hit Sungmin just as hard as the news that he would work off his debt for the rest of his life as a servant.















~*~*~
















Time seemed to drag along as Sungmin continued to watch Ryeowook run off to his lessons every day. How he longed for a life that didn’t consist of scrubbing floors and catering to Heechul’s every whim.

“Wookie, wait!” Sungmin shouted, the moment he realized the other young man had left behind his shamisen on his way to school. It only took a moment for him to slip on his sandals and run along the same path he had taken only weeks before. It seemed a much shorter path than he remembered, and soon the instrument was delivered, leaving Sungmin with a rare moment to himself.

“Why would someone as lovely as you have such a look on his face?”

A soft voice almost startled Sungminas he pulled his gaze from the river. The sight that greets him takes his breath away. A young businessman crouches next to him with a dazzling smile and a tilt of his head.

“Do you like sweet plum or cherry?” the businessman asked. “I prefer sweet plum myself.”

“To eat?” Sungmin realizes how stupid he sounded the moment the words left his mouth, but the small burst of laughter that the other man let out eased his mind a little bit.

“Come here.”

It’s only when he pulled Sungmin to his feet that Sungmin realized how tall and slender the businessman was, and a light blush washed over his cheeks. It only took a moment to reach the sweet ice cart, and before Sungmin could say anything the other man ordered a cup of each flavor.

“Chairman Zhou, we will be late for the theater.”

Sungmin turned his head to the voice and was greeted with the sight of two geisha. They looked the picture of elegance standing amongst the cherry blossoms, and Sungmin was momentarily stunned into silence.

“It’s alright,” the chairman replied with a soft smile, handing the cup with red syrup to Sungmin, “we visit the theater every year. It can wait for a moment.”

It was silly, but Sungmin felt something in his heart flutter in that moment, and picked up a spoon of the flavored ice to smear across his lips, painting them the same red as the geisha’s.

“Now I’m a geisha too!” he blurted out with a smile, earning another laugh from the tall man.

“So you are. Just remember that even the most beautiful geisha stumble from time to time,” Chairman Zhou said with a smile, crouching down once more to place a handkerchief with the change into Sungmin’s bandaged hand, “so keep that in mind next time you take a tumble. No more frowns, alright?”

Sungmin nodded, stunned once more at the kindness of the stranger.

In that moment I changed from a boy, facing nothing but emptiness to someone with purpose. I saw that to be a Geisha could be a stepping stone to something else: a place in his world. The money the chairman had given me could have bought fish and rice for a month, but I gave it back in prayer, keeping only his handkerchief. I asked one day to become a Geisha, and then somehow, to meet him again.
















~*~*~
















The seasons began to change, and before he knew it, Ryeowook was ready to make his debut.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, Minnie. I was so worried about my dance,” Ryeowook whispered as Sungmin helped him into his coat. Anxiety was written all over his face, amid a blooming happiness. One that Sungmin wished he could be sharing in the same way. “Does my hair look alright? Am I lopsided?”

“You look beautiful, Ryeowook. Don’t worry so much,” Sungmin assured him with a smile he hoped looked genuine.

“Ah poor Ryeowook. It’s his debut, but everyone will be looking at you,” Kangin said, looking both Ryeowook and Heechul up and down before stepping to the side to allow them onto the waiting rickshaw, “Sungmin, open the gate.”

“Everything will be fine,” Sungmin whispered to his friend as he stepped past.

“Aish, that boy,” Leeteuk said with a sigh, shoving a rather unflattering jacket at Sungmin a few minutes after the door was closed behind them, “he can’t very well debut without his shamisen. Take it to them.”

Snow was on the ground, but Sungmin moved swiftly and carefully to keep from falling and damaging the instrument he was entrusted with. The ground was slick in the courtyard of the teahouse, but Sungmin managed to even out his breathing and carefully hand over the instrument to one of the waitresses without a problem.

He could hear the sound of laughter, and before Sungmin could stop himself he’d stepped over and stolen a glance between the opening of the wooden doors. The noise of his footsteps was enough to catch someone’s attention. The same door he was looking through slid open. Without thinking, Sungmin fell to his knees in a bow. However, the person that opened the door didn’t say a word, as Sungmin lifted his head and was shocked with the face that greeted him.

The chairman didn’t even have a moment to greet him before Sungmin was slipping his shoes on and running back to the okiya.















~*~*~
















“Sungmin! Open the gate! We have an important guest!” Leeteuk shouted, shoving the young man toward the front of the okiya.

Sungmin did as he was told, and soon a familiar man was stepping into their home. The same eyes that looked upon him with shock all that time ago were now accompanied by a smile as he walked past Sungmin. Heechul was always beautiful, but this man exuded a kind of elegance that Heechul could never have had.

“I would never question the great Eunhyuk, but you could have anyone you wanted. Why would you choose a country boy like Sungmin?”

Sungmin could hear Kangin speaking from his place outside the sitting room the two men are having tea in, and heard Kangin continue. “I would give you my Ryeowook if he weren’t already tied to Heechul.”

“I wouldn’t dream of asking,” Eunhyuk replied. Sungmin thought he could see a smile on the geisha’s face.

“Besides, I’m sure you can see how much of a waste it would be for Sungmin to remain a maid.”

“If you weren’t the kind-hearted man I know you to be, I would think you were scheming against Heechul,” Kangin said, chuckling softly. Sungmin could barely contain himself; were his prayers being answered?

“I am thankful then that you do not have a suspicious mind, Kangin-sshi.”

“Then perhaps you can pique my interest with your offer, Eunhyuk-sshi.”

Sungmin had always known Kangin to be a shrewd businessman, so it didn’t surprise him how quickly he had reached the point of negotiation.

“I will cover Sungmin’s schooling and all of his expenses until after his debut.” Eunhyuk’s voice was calm, and even Sungmin was astonished by his words.

“Now I know that you are teasing me,” Kangin replied, the same shock still lingering in his voice.

“I could not be more serious, Kangin-sshi.” Sungmin heard the faint sound of Eunhyuk taking a sip of his tea, followed by the light clink of porcelain meeting. “If Sungmin has not repaid his debt within half a year of his debut, I will pay you twice over.”

“That’s impossible! Too little time! No geisha has ever…” Kangin’s audible outrage was quickly interrupted.

“I’m sure you won’t mind agreeing to one simple condition?” Eunhyuk asked, posture never wavering, “if Sungmin earns back his debt in the time allowed, you will have no part in his future earnings.”















~*~*~
















“Eunhyuk is up to something,” Heechul bit out with a sneer as he watched Ryeowook help Sungmin into his kimono a few days later.

“It certainly isn’t for the money,” Leeteuk answered, shaking his head at how spiteful Heechul was being.

“It’s the kimono you ruined,” Heechul drawls, stepping in front of Sungmin with another devious look in his eyes, “he wants to get even.”

Sungmin paid him no mind, and instead turned to his friend. “I am so far behind, I’ll never catch up to you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you,” Ryeowook assured him. Heechul quickly shoved him to the floor.

“Ryeowook! You will never speak to him again! You are rivals now.”

Such was the world that they lived in. Best friends and companions turned into enemies simply because of another rivalry.















~*~*~
















Sungmin was far more eager than the other people in the classes he attended, and a good deal older as well. But he didn’t let it bother him and worked with far more diligence than he had the last time he found himself in those rooms; these classes were just one more stepping stone on the path to the happiness he desired for himself.

Something was different this time. Sungmin watched the way that Eunhyuk moved and the way that he talked, and found a quality he hadn’t ever seen in Heechul. There was a gentleness and kindness there, something he wanted nothing more than to emulate. It was such a stark contrast to the only geisha he had known, and the soft hand he used to guide Sungmin only made it that much easier for him to pick up his training.

“Donghae, this is my new protégée, Sungmin.” Eunhyuk said with a soft smile, introducing Sungmin to a slightly older man dressed in a well-tailored suit.

“As lovely as his teacher,” the man replied with a soft smile and a nod of his head before continuing down the road.

“Donghae is my danna, Sungmin. One day, if you are lucky, you too will have a patron,” Eunhyuk explained as they made their way back to Eunhyuk’s okiya that afternoon. There was a long moment of silence before Sungmin found the courage to speak up.

“About your kimono-,” Sungmin started, only to be interrupted by Eunhyuk.

“You may apologize, if you wish. But I am no fool, Sungmin. I know that it was Heechul.”

“He is jealous of you,” Sungmin commented. Eunhyuk shook his head in response.

“He is indeed jealous. But of you, not me.”

Eunhyuk smiled as he watched Sungmin drink his tea. “You are always in such a hurry, but I suppose that works in our favor. What normally takes years, you must learn in months. We will transform you.”

Remember Sungmin, Geisha are not courtesans, and we're not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word Geisha means artist, and to be a Geisha, is to be judged as a moving work of art.
















~*~*~

















Everything that Sungmin learned in the following months brought him small amounts of happiness and a new hope that he would one day be able to meet the chairman again. Not as a simple servant, but as an elegant geisha.

“Today is the day, Sungmin. This will bind us together for the rest of our lives.” Eunhyuk said with a soft smile as he dipped a comb in hot wax and ran it through Sungmin’s hair. It was a painful process, but after suffering through it countless times, Sungmin no longer complained.

There was so much work that went into preparing for a debut, and Sungmin could feel the nervousness churning in his stomach as he blew out the fire on the end of his charcoal stick and began to draw in his eyebrows and line his eyes. His face was already covered in a thick coat of white paint, and all that was left was the red to stain his lips. A smile crossed his face as he thought back to that day on the bridge, and a different kind of anxiety began to build inside him.

From that moment I told myself when I make tea, when I pour sake, when I dance, when I tie my kimono… it will be for the chairman, until he finds me...until I am his.















~*~*~
















“This is quite the treat, Eunhyuk. It isn’t everyday that one is able to bear witness to the debut of such a beautiful and talented young geisha as he. What did you say his name is?” Donghae asked later that evening as Sungmin performed the dance he had been practicing.

“Sungmin, Donghae-sshi,” Eunhyuk replied with a proud little smile, eyes flitting between his patron and protégée. Donghae was a generous man, but he knew the thoughts that hid behind his warm smile.

“Ah, yes,” Donghae said absentmindedly as Sungmin gracefully glided over to the table of men, lifting the porcelain teapot in front of him to pour Donghae another cup. Sungmin’s heart nearly skipped a beat when nothing came out, and a chuckle from Donghae had his cheeks heating up beneath his geisha mask.

“Determined, isn’t he? If there was a drop left, Sungmin would have gotten it out.”

“Donghae-sshi, don’t tease him. He is new to this,” Eunhyuk said softly, still hiding his true feelings behind a demure smile. After all, it wasn’t as if Donghae belonged to him, not matter how much he may wish it.

“What a beautiful dance, yes Ryeowook?” Heechul chose that moment to slide in between Sungmin and Donghae, taking both of the fans the young man had been dancing with minutes before and twirling them gracefully. “His fans are so hypnotic that you don’t even notice his feet.”

A small burst of applause erupted from the table of men, and Heechul shot a smug grin in Sungmin’s direction.

“I’m afraid that these days, even a common servant can call himself geisha,” Heechul began once more with an added bit of drama to his voice, “isn’t it lovely to see such a sincere young apprentice?”

The men gathered around the table make a multitude of sounds of agreement, while both Eunhyuk and Sungmin turn their eyes to Heechul.

“Surely you would like to thank Heechul for his gracious compliment?” Eunhyuk knew that Sungmin had the gift of quick wit, and wasn’t about to lose an opportunity to knock Heechul down a couple pegs.

“There are many things I would like to say to Heechul,” Sungmin began softly, more eyes falling on him as they wait for him to continue.

“Sometimes silence is the best choice,” the venom in Heechul’s voice that would have once sent Sungmin’s blood cold did nothing then but build up his confidence. There wasn’t anything that Heechul could do to him anymore. He was no longer a scared little boy tied to a tyrant.

“What better advice to follow than one’s own?” Sungmin’s remark stunned the table to silence, and he could feel the rage building in the geisha next to him.

“I will destroy you.”

The threat was whispered, and Heechul swept out of the room moments later with Ryeowook trailing nervously behind.















~*~*~
















“He can destroy you, and he will try. Heechul will follow you from teahouse to teahouse, spread rumors, and steal clients. All in the hope that Kangin-sshi will adopt you instead of Ryeowook. If you are named the heir of the okiya instead of Ryeowook, Heechul will lose all of the power he has worked so hard to gain.”

Eunhyuk was explaining to Sungmin as their rickshaw bumped down the road. They were traveling to a new area that Sungmin had never been to, and it was a little overwhelming to attempt to take in all of the sights.

“We simply have to find another place for you to practice your skills; a place that Heechul won’t think to follow you.”

The air was musty and Sungmin could barely hear the words Eunhyuk was speaking into his ear as they stepped into the building they had stopped in front of. A sumo ring was the last place Sungmin would think someone would want the company of a geisha. Though it was just as well; Heechul would never come to a place like this. He would think it beneath him.

“You will meet Chairman Zhou today, a longtime client of mine. He is the head of the Zhou Electric Company, and is here with his partner, Kyuhyun-sshi. You may find Kyuhyun-sshi to be quite the challenge, Sungmin. He does not like Geisha.” Eunhyuk’s explanation was quick, while guided them to the place where two well-dressed men sat a few rows up from the ring.

“Simply be attentive and I will do the rest.”

Sungmin gave Eunhyuk a small nod and nearly gasped when they arrived at their seats.

“Chairman Zhou, President Cho, I would like to introduce you to my protégée Sungmin.”

The chairman looked almost as surprised as Sungmin was, but quickly smiled instead.

“Is this your first sumo match, Sungmin? You will have to ask Kyuhyun-sshi to explain it to you; I can’t tell one wrestler from another.”

“That’s his diplomatic way of saying that he hates sumo,” Kyuhyun remarked, not even bothering to look up at the two men joining them. “Sit.”

Eunhyuk quickly ushered Sungmin to sit down next to Kyuhyun, while he took a seat on the Chairman’s other side. He leant into whisper into Sungmin’s ear before he could sit.

“Heechul, that snake. He followed us here. Quickly turn your attention to Kyuhyun. He will not try to steal him from you. He finds Kyuhyun’s scars repulsive.”

“But Eunhyuk, I…” Sungmin attempted to reason, but was quickly hushed.

“Mislead Heechul. Go now!”

Without any other option, Sungmin took a steadying breath and turned to look at Kyuhyun’s profile. Eunhyuk had mentioned that he was wounded and was a war hero, hence the scars. Despite the fact that he did nothing to make Sungmin’s heart flutter, the young geisha did as he was told.

“Perhaps Kyuhyun-sshi would be so kind as to explain the rules?”

“There are only three things that matter in life; sumo, business, and war. You understand one and you understand them all. But why would a geisha care? You spend your time plucking strings and dancing,” Kyuhyun stated blandly, briefly turning his head to look at the younger man.

“Please forgive me, but I beg to differ. What is sumo but a dance between two giants? What is business but a dance between companies?” Sungmin replied softly, being sure to smile sweetly at the rather off-putting man.

“That man is the greatest wrestler,” Kyuhyun commented, seeming to no longer find Sungmin’s presence to be a nuisance, and continued with his explanation, “he may be small but he uses movement to his advantage. Victory does not always belong to the powerful.”

Sungmin, despite his earlier thoughts, was somehow entranced by the movement of the men in the ring. What Kyuhyun had said was true, and despite being much smaller than his opponent, it was clear who had the advantage.

Eunhyuk, who had been conversing with the chairman the entire time, swiftly stood when he saw Heechul approaching them. There was no reason to risk the progress they had made. “It seems as if our time has come to an end.”

“Not yet! I want him to see!” Kyuhyun insisted, lightly grasping Sungmin’s arm as he made a move to stand up as well. Sungmin turned his head once more to the ring, just in time to see the smaller man throwing the much larger man outside of the ring.

“I can see why you like sumo, Kyuhyun-sshi. You cannot judge a man’s power by his appearance.”

Kyuhyun smiled.

“Eunhyuk, you may bring him again.”















~*~*~
















“You have reached the right time in your life, Sungmin. You have something that is precious; something that men desire more than anything,” Eunhyuk said in a hushed voice. It was a few weeks after the sumo match, and Sungmin’s popularity had only grown within that time despite Heechul’s best efforts to prevent it. Of course, there had been rumors spread about the young geisha, and unfortunately, there were some that they had been helpless to fight against.

“You have heard of the eel and the cave?”

“I live with Heechul,” Sungmin replied simply, accepting the intricately wrapped rice cake from his teacher.

“You are untouched, Sungmin. Men like that.” Eunhyuk slipped on his jacket and sandals carefully before accepting the hand of the rickshaw puller to help him into his seat. “We call this mizuage, and in order to become a full geisha, it must be sold to the highest bidder. Slip this to Kyuhyun-sshi discretely. It will let him know that your mizuage is ready.”

The very thought of doing something like that with someone that he held no feelings for caused a lump in Sungmin’s throat.

“What about the chairman?” Sungmin inquired softly, still clinging to that little bit of hope.

“He will not bid against his partner. Come, we have arrived.”

Sungmin stepped down and clung tightly to the small box in his hands. Fear and anxiety coursed through his body, but a gentle nudge from Eunhyuk reminded him of his place. Geisha are not free to love, after all.

“Ah Sungmin, the chairman thinks I should take more pleasure in life. Theater and the arts,” Kyuhyun said to the pretty young man as he took his place to pour the businessman a cup of sake, “what do you think?”

“It is useless to push a cart sideways,” Sungmin said after a brief pause, earning a bout of laughter from the other men seated around the table, “one could not wish for Kyuhyun-sshi to be anyone but Kyuhyun-sshi.”

“I could not have said it better myself,” Chairman Zhou replied with a bright laugh and a small shake of his head.

Sungmin almost allowed himself to be entranced again, but the black box Kyuhyun opened and handed to him broke him out of any would-be daze.

“A trinket I found the other day. My mother used to wear something similar.” There was a slight flush to Kyuhyun’s cheeks, but Sungmin convinced himself that that it is simply the alcohol. He was at a loss for words, and Kyuhyun’s expression faltered for a short moment. “Do you not like it?”

“Forgive me,” Sungmin said softly, looking down at the ornate hair comb in his hands. It took him a moment and a deep breath, but the rice cake he was told to give to Kyuhyun was passed to him under the table and away from prying eyes. “I’ve never received a gift before. I am deeply grateful, Kyuhyun-sshi.”

“What a beautiful comb,” a familiar voice broke into the conversation, and before Sungmin had realized, Heechul was pushing the comb into his hair with a malicious grin.

“Such a joyous occasion. Sungmin is finally getting everything he deserves. Now if you will excuse us, we have another engagement. Many in fact. Let’s go Ryeowook.”

Heechul left just as quickly as he came and Sungmin couldn’t help but feel the unease setting in.















~*~*~
















“Wookie, what did Heechul say about me? You have to tell me,” Sungmin pleaded a few nights later, after being turned away from giving another of the rice cakes to the town doctor. It was utterly confusing that a man that seemed so interested in him would turn down a chance at something countless men coveted. That was, of course, if the man who was doing everything in his powr to sabotage Sungmin wasn’t taken into consideration. “Please, I have to know. You visited the doctor, didn’t you?”

Ryeowook was on the verge of tears as he looked at his best friend. What could Ryeowook have said, when he knew what Heechul would do to him? He never asked to be caught up in all of this.

“What did Heechul say to him?”

“He…he told him that you bring men back to your room every night; merchants, sailors, and even common fishermen. Heechul kept going on and on, but the doctor started looking sick and told him he didn’t want to hear any more. M-Minnie… I’m so sorry,” Ryeowook cried, tears spilling over and charcoal leaving faint lines down his cheeks.

“It isn’t your fault, Wookie,” Sungmin replied, voice shaking a little.

“Is Eunhyuk cruel to you as well?”

“No. He is kind to me, but I can’t help but worry that he is taking me farther from the things that I want.”















~*~*~
















“What is this?” Heechul shrieked, throwing a poster with Sungmin’s face on it down on the table at breakfast mere days after Sungmin’s visit to Ryeowook “who is responsible for this?”

Sungmin was just as surprised as the rest of the men sitting around the table. When Eunhyuk spoke of casting a wider net, Sungmin never knew that this is what he had meant. All of the apprentice geisha had been practicing for the recital coming up at the theater, but this was the first Sungmin had heard that he would be the main attraction.

“I would assume Eunhyuk,” Kangin replied with a shrug, biting into a piece of fish and ignoring Heechul’s ranting.

“Spoke with the director behind the scenes, I’m sure,” Heechul sneered, eyes narrowed at Sungmin.

“Not every geisha uses that kind of currency.” Sungmin didn’t let it bother him; Heechul was becoming increasingly spiteful, but the only thing it showed was his desperation.















~*~*~
















“Everyone has come to watch you dance, Sungmin. Even the doctor.” Eunhyuk couldn’t seem to hide the excitement in his voice as he helped Sungmin get ready for the most important performance of his life.

“What if I dance poorly and shame myself, you, and the okiya? What if nobody takes interest?” Sungmin fretted, his heart hammering in his chest much the same way it had the first time he had met Eunhyuk.

“Hush. It will be glorious.” Eunhyuk didn’t look distressed in the least, and Sungmin found comfort and confidence in it.

“It is time.”

Sungmin wasn’t sure how he managed to make it through his dance without error, but the raucous applause when he lifted his head from the ground after it was over told him that he managed to survive. A quick glance at the audience before he stepped into the back set his heart fluttering all over again.















~*~*~
















“I do hope my performance pleased you, doctor,” Sungmin said with a bow, standing shoulder to shoulder with Eunhyuk.

“You danced with such profound intensity and passion, how could it not?”

“I humbly thank you,” Sungmin replied with another small bow, “if you have heard any gossip, doctor, I hope that you will follow your own advice.”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“Seek a second opinion,” Sungmin whispered next to his ear as he slipped another wrapped rice cake into the doctor’s palm.















~*~*~
















“Sungmin danced beautifully tonight, didn’t he Eunhyuk?” Donghae inquired with another one of those charming grins. Eunhyuk felt his heart clench, but nodded regardless.

“I could not be more proud.”

“I am not one for the theater, Sungmin, but I think you may have changed my mind. You were wonderful tonight,” Kyuhyun said the moment he thought nobody was listening. It was clear that he wasn’t comfortable expressing himself, but Chairman Zhou clasped a hand on his shoulder to ease the tension.

Sungmin only allowed his gaze to linger on the Chairman’s face a moment longer than was necessary.















~*~*~
















“How much longer is this bidding going to take?” Kangin asked, glancing at the doorway for any sign of Eunhyuk.

“It can’t be that much longer. Who would want a plum when someone else has already had a bite?” Heechul said spitefully, head turning at the sound of the door sliding open, “what is it? Twenty… Thirty yen?”

Eunhyuk didn’t dignify Heechul’s words with a response and simply handed a piece of paper with a number on it to Kangin.

“This can’t be the right amount.”

“It is. Sungmin has made history. No mizuage has ever sold for more, and he has repaid his debt,” Eunhyuk replied with a satisfied look toward Heechul and a smile for Sungmin.

“Of course, none of that will go to him, or to you, Eunhyuk.” Kangin replied, setting the paper down on his desk “It will go to this okiya.”

“I do not understand. We had…” Eunhyuk looked slightly bewildered, but tried remained calm.

“That Sungmin will inherit as my heir,” Kangin finished his earlier sentence, only to be interrupted.

“You wouldn’t dare! You promised the okiya to Ryeowook!” Heechul screamed, throwing a vase to the ground and looking around the room with an accusatory glare.

“I can do as I please,” Kangin said calmly, not even sparing a glance at the shattered porcelain at their feet, “I am no fool. Ryeowook would only be your puppet.”

“I have given my life! Who pays for the rice in your bowl? The silk on your back?”

“You have also given us your temper and disrespect. You’ve never even had a danna. Instead you chose that merchant; sneaking around at all hours. Not like a geisha, like a common prostitute.”

The force of Kangin’s words hit Heechul like a ton of bricks. All of the sadness and anger Heechul had accumulated over the years reflected in his eyes at that moment.















~*~*~
















“Thank you, Eunhyuk,” Sungmin whispered softly after Heechul stormed out of the room, standing slowly and following Eunhyuk outside, “may I ask who?”

“The doctor, Sungmin.”

It wasn’t as if there was any reason for Sungmin to be disappointed. The person he had wished to have won was not even bidding.

“Was Kyuhyun-sshi disappointed?” Sungmin asked after a moment, taking a steadying breath and looking through his eyelashes at the other man.

“Kyuhyun-sshi did not bid; he said it was against his principles,” Eunhyuk informed him, turning to his student with a small sadness in his eyes, “the doctor was opposed by Donghae…my Donghae. He…he was actually the highest bidder, but I let it go to the doctor. Please forgive me, Sungmin.”

Sungmin could hardly blame him. Eunhyuk was only doing what he could to protect his heart, after all. Each person carried their own little sadness, but it was up to them if they let it consume them, or decide to drown that sadness with whatever threads of happiness they could find.















~*~*~
















Were he and Heechul really that different? Sungmin couldn’t say anymore. They were both simply people searching for their own happiness in a world that was far too cruel. He could only hope that his own fate wouldn’t be as sad and bitter as Heechul’s.

“Sungmin, your room is too small. Take Heechul’s.”

The silence that smothered the room was like the calm before the storm. In that short minute, Heechul’s world had been flipped upside down, and everything he had gained over the years was ripped away from him without mercy. Anyone that had ever encountered Heechul before should have seen it coming.

Each step that Heechul took over the next few days was tense; the stress slowly beginning to eat away at him until all that remained was a crumbling mask of the geisha he once was. His normal tantrums began to escalate until almost every room in the house was in much the same state his new one had become.

“What are you doing? Get out of my room, Heechul,” Sungmin ordered, stepping in to his recently acquired quarters and moving to get a look at what the older man was doing at the dressing table.

“Is this where you keep it?” Heechul asked sarcastically, pulling out a familiar white piece of cloth Sungmin had been secretly cherishing for years now and placing it against the left side of his chest, “next to your heart? Oh, but Sungmin; don’t you know? Geisha are not free to love.”

“Give it back!” Sungmin screamedm lunging forward and attempting to recapture the chairman’s handkerchief as Heechul dangled it over the flame of an oil lamp “don’t touch it!”

Heechul simply began laughing softly, until the sound became crazed and his eyes wild. While Sungmin wa desperately trying to put out the fire consuming the one thing he held most dear, Heechul saw an opening and took it. Fire began to consume the room, and Heechul simply found the other oil lamps before pouring the oil across the hallways and smashing the glass against the wall.

Sungmin screamed, and Leeteuk had to pull him from the building before he was injured.

I could be him. Now I am Geisha to this house. I could be him. Were we so different? He loved once. He hoped once. I might be looking into my own future. Until the real future came falling from the air.













~*~*~














The war came as quite the surprise to Sungmin, only a few short months after he had become a full geisha. Gone were the elegant silks and exciting nights spent in the company of rich men, only to be replaced by unease and panic throughout the streets. Sungmin had packed all of his belongings and was being ushered down the street by Eunhyuk. The façade that Sungmin had never seen waver began to crack that day, and he could see small stress lines written on Eunhyuk’s face.

“You have to go, Sungmin. The Chairman is sending me to the countryside to be a nurse’s aide. He will come for you soon,” Eunhyuk said, being helped into a rickshaw by the man he had just mentioned. Eunhyuk turned to him.

“What about Sungmin? Can he not come with me?”

“He will be safe, Eunhyuk.” Chairman Zhou assured him, gesturing to the cart puller to depart before turning to Sungmin with a wary smile, “Kyuhyun-sshi has a friend in the hills; a kimono maker. It is remote there. You will be safe.”

“But what about you? It’s dangerous here, Chairman.” Sungmin fretted,, fear slowly making its way onto his features as he was also helped into another cart and handed his suitcase.

“This is where our factories are. Please don’t worry about me, Sungmin. I will be alright.”
Chairman Zhou didn’t look completely confident in himself, but Sungmin gave him a small nod anyway.

“Now go. I will express your gratitude to Kyuhyun-sshi.”

Sungmin’s eyes travelled over the changing scenery, as he tried to hold onto the small bit of hope left in his heart.


Part 2: Click here