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everything is beautiful in its time

Chapter Text

“It’s been nice seeing you again, hyung,” Geonhak said genuinely, clinking his glass against Youngjo’s. “It’d be wonderful if we could catch up sometime.”

“That’d be perfect.” Youngjo agreed. He took a small, catlike sip before giving him a wave. “You have my number, right? Just give me the word! Love you!”

Geonhak found himself rolling his eyes at the endearment as Youngjo disappeared into the sea of people on the ballroom floor. 

“Love you too, hyung,” he said quietly. However annoying his sudden and frequent confessions could be, it was certainly nice to be able to find a friend like him in a circle like this. 

Parties held by the Imperial family were great. Free champagne, free food, dances, and beautiful people. Venue sizes meant that they could be prohibitively massive, but they were usually limited to the very highest berths of society, and just receiving an invitation was the greatest existing sign of social validation. Not that Geonhak ever needed any social validation, having been born and raised into obscene wealth himself, but he supposed that the reminder was always nice.

Not to mention, the palace was absolutely gorgeous

Geonhak placed his empty flute on one of the attendants’ trays as a group of them walked by, starting over to the tower to grab another. 

As the primary residence of the Imperial family, Gyeongbokgung’s interior has seen a high volume of refurbishments and remodeling in the past few years. This party essentially marked the palace’s first official opening after almost a decade of construction. The place had retained its traditional architecture and charm, with intricate patterns of green, blue, and gold woven amongst verdant red pillars and frames like the shades of the sea at sunset. However, there was a certain touch of simplicity to the design that hadn’t previously existed. The tapestries and patterns on the walls flowed through the entire hall, chandeliers with fiery designs hung from the ceiling, tall windows made the room appear so much bigger than it actually was. Banquet tables covered by tablecloths embellished with red, blue, and gold had been lined up along the sides of three walls, and the halls were decorated with elaborate sculptures and displays.

Geonhak finished his next flute of champagne in no time at all. He came with Seoho, but at some point, he’d lost him in the crowd. With little else to do, he began to make his way over to where Keonhee was making conversation with a couple of men in navy suits. But when he saw a flash of red and gold in the corner of his eye, slinking away into the corner of the ballroom, he followed without thinking.

He found the youngest prince of Korea on one of the bridges over the moat, leaning pensively on the railing with one hand and holding a flute of champagne in another. It was a clear night, and from the sky, the moon was staring intently at its identical twin reflected on the surface water.

“What, Your Royal Highness? Flaking at your own party?” 

Dongju turned around. His eyes were just as clear, bright, and curious as Geonhak remembered them, and he always thought that the Prince somewhat resembled a baby deer, or a bunny in the springtime. Something wild, something delicate. 

Dongju laughed, and it was a sound that made Geonhak’s heart ache in the strangest ways. It echoed into the night, bouncing off the garden pond and permeating the deepest troughs of his memories. “It’s not my party, technically. And I’m just getting some air.”

These days, it was hard for them to avoid each other. They were both heirs, and often shared the same duties and frequented the same events despite their families having very different claims to wealth and fame. Furthermore, after the media shitstorm that their last encounter had caused, it has become even more difficult for them to interact in any sense without fearing the paparazzi, rumors, and prying eyes.

“Why are you here, hyung?”

The Prince of Korea called him hyung . That, already, should have been a ridiculous thought, but he’d learned to get used to it in time.

Geonhak shrugged. “I was wondering where you were going.”

They stood in silence for a very long time. Geonhak leaned over the railing as well, gazed at the moon, at the flowers on the other end of the royal gardens. 

“How have you been, Your Highness?”

Dongju closed his eyes.

“You can just call me by my name, hyung,” he told him quietly. “We’ve been over this.”

Cautiously, hesitantly, Geonhak put an arm around the small of Dongju’s back. 

“Dongju,” he said, trying his best to sound clipped yet savoring the syllables on his tongue. He gestured to the garden that surrounded them. The banquet hall sat just a few yards away, humming with activity and casting light from its windows. “We’re not exactly in private right now.”

Dongju rolled his eyes, reclining into his touch. “Does it matter? We might as well be.” 

He was right. There was nobody out here, and there wasn’t much of a chance that anyone would leave the banquet hall so early. 

Dongju turned around. His eyes were like the garden pond at night, wide and clear and reflecting the full moon and the few stars visible in the Seoul sky. And then, as if to completely undermine Geonhak’s concerns, he leaned forward to give him a kiss. 

That caught Geonhak off guard. He moved to the side a little, which made Dongju’s lips land on the corner of his mouth instead of the middle. He felt his pout against his skin.

“Here.” Geonhak cupped both of Dongju’s cheeks and pressed a deep kiss onto his mouth proper. Dongju giggled into it, pulling the two of them closer together. By the time they parted, Dongju was practically doubling over in laughter.

“I missed you,” Dongju said earnestly. “I’ve missed you a lot.” 

It was just the two of them, Geonhak thought. For once, it was just the two of them. And that, he found, was that much more dangerous than being in the eye of any paparazzi. 

“I’d better be going.” Geonhak awkwardly pulled his arm away from Dongju’s back. “There were some. Investors. I wanted to talk to.” A pause. “About investments.”

“Right.” Dongju pursed his lips. “I’d best check up on Myeong. He might’ve crashed the champagne tower again.”

“Next time?” Geonhak asked quietly. Dongju smiled thinly, giving him a mute nod. He had already started to walk away from the bridge, but somehow, he thought he heard him repeat it.

Chapter Text

Geonhak gets back to the apartment late on a crisp winter afternoon, taking his shoes off and kicking them to the side of the mat. It’s beginning to get dark outside; with the cold night breeze and the bite of winter air, he’s relieved to finally be indoors again. Seoho’s watching something loud and obnoxious on the TV. As soon as Geonhak enters the room, Seoho begins to complain, which is really the exact thing he’s come to expect from his roommate at this point. However, he’s found that the topic of complaint is always a brand new surprise each time.

“He’s cutting the fish so thick! Why is he cutting it so thick! This is a complete disaster. He’s short on time, it’s not going to cook all the way through, and he’s going to lose!”

He tosses his laptop bag on the armchair and sits down next to Seoho on the couch, shuffling close to absorb some warmth. The cold air from outside is still singing on his skin, nipping at his fingers and cheeks. From the way Seoho was talking, he expects to see some kind of Master Chef-esque cooking show. Instead, the screen is filled with cartoon people with ridiculously colorful hair serving really beautifully animated food. Personally, Geonhak sees nothing wrong with the fish. It’s picture-perfect in a way only cartoons can be.

Squinting at the screen, he asks: “have you ever even cooked in your life?”

Seoho huffs, hugging the cushion in his arms tighter and scooching just a little bit closer to Geonhak’s side. And he’ll never admit it, but that makes his heart jump just a little bit. Especially as of late, all of Seoho makes his heart jump. Just a little bit.

“It doesn’t matter. I know everything I need to know from anime.”

Geonhak takes advantage of the proximity and shoves him. “Nerd.” Against his better judgement, he keeps watching. The fish guy does end up losing and Seoho gloats, but Geonhak thinks that it’s less proof that Seoho has any actual cooking knowledge and more so a product of the fact that Seoho’s seen this particular episode at least a million times at this point.

“You should cook more often,” Geonhak says nonchalantly, “since you allegedly know so much about it. From anime.”

Seoho scrunches his nose. They both know he’s tried it, and Geonhak doesn’t even want to think about the mango cheesecake he’d attempted last time. It was such a waste of perfectly delicious mangoes. “There’s a big difference between theoretical expertise and practical expertise, Doya.”

“Okay.” 

They sit for a while and watch the rest of the episode. To Seoho’s weeb credit, the end song kinda slaps, but Geonhak’s eyelids are drooping by the time the next episode starts up.

Suddenly, Seoho frowns. “You’re cold.” He looks at the coat rack, then at the couch, then at Geonhak. “It was cold outside, isn’t it? Didn’t you wear a coat today?”

“Sn’t that cold,” Geonhak mumbles. “M’fine.”

Suddenly, Seoho take’s Geonhak’s hand, lacing their fingers together and winces at the contact. Geonhak’s breath hitches. 

“Liar. Your hands are freezing .” Seoho clicks his tongue. He squeezes Geonhak’s hand, then strokes his fingers along the back of his palm. “And they’re so dry. I keep telling you to moisturize. You never do.”

God, Seoho’s hands are so, so warm and soft. And it’s hardly surprising, because sometimes, Geonhak’s convinced that Seoho isn’t just the human embodiment of sunshine-- he’s literally the sun in human form. Rays of light come off of his face every time he laughs. He gives light, radiates warmth in both a metaphorical sense and a literal one. 

Geonhak’s mind simply turns off. 

“Really should,” he says idly. “M’sorry.”

Seoho rolls his eyes, settling even closer to him. “Don’t apologize to me, you buffoon. Take care of yourself.”

“Okay,” Geonhak hears himself say. For you.

Chapter Text

"Cold yet?" Geonhak asks while he adjusts Dongju's scarf. It would be better if Dongju didn't scratch at it so often, but alas, Dongjus will be Dongjus.

"Not at all!" Dongju exclaims, puffing out his chest as if to prove his point. Needless to say, the display is not very convincing. He is shivering and his face is red. Geonhak rolls his eyes and plucks Dongju's iced americano out of his hands.

"Let me hold this," he mutters, almost as an afterthought. "Your hand is shaking."

"It is not!"

It is.

"I can't believe you got a cold drink in the middle of winter," Geonhak sighs. When Dongju leans forward, he reluctantly lets him take a sip.

"I can't believe you got a hot chocolate," Dongju retorts, "like, how old are you?"

"It's the drink of the season! And coffee's bitter." 

Dongju shakes his head. "You're so weird, hyung." He stutters his words a little as he shivers.

Still holding the americano, Geonhak lifts Dongju's sleeve with his free hand and takes his hand. It's also very, very cold, and Geonhak makes a mental note to buy him a nice pair of gloves as soon as he has the chance. He'll probably protest at first, as a show, but in Geonhak's experience, Dongju has never exactly been the type to reject nice things. 

"You're clearly freezing, Ju. Let's get you home."

Dongju hides a smile underneath his scarf. It's easy to tell that he's smiling when you look at his eyes. He leans closer to Geonhak, as if trying to soak up as much of his warmth as possible.

"Fine."

They decide to spend the rest of the day on the couch watching Christmas movies and laughing at cheesy holiday commercials, with Dongju curled up on Geonhak's chest and Geonhak's fingers running through his hair. They don't make it far into their marathon; within less than twenty minutes, Dongju is sound asleep in Geonhak's arms.

Chapter Text

Seoho deftly wove his way around the reef, tail swiveling to avoid corals and schools of tiny fish. The ocean was bright today, sunlight streaming into the depths and accentuating the colors of the deep blue waters, the reefs, and the rocks. There was a chasm up ahead, splitting the shallows and opening up to a deep, dark abyss. 

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” He called out into the darkness. Just a few seconds ago, he thought he saw a familiar grey fin disappear behind one of the cliffs, but it was gone as soon as it had appeared. It wasn’t strange; Geonhak moved fast, and he was almost always moving.

There was no reply. Seoho sighed to himself, and bubbles rose to the surface. So this was the game that Geonhak wanted to play. He took a moment to steel himself, to gather up the courage, then dove straight into the depths. 

It wasn’t quite the twilight zone, not here, but little sunlight from the reef reached the shelves on the ravine. Maybe Geonhak could see better down here, but Seoho’s eyes, accustomed to the light of the shallows, had to squint in order to make out shapes and avoid bumping into rocks and the occasional lobster. He stuck to the cliffs, making sure that he’d be able to find his way back no matter how far he swam. 

“Geonhak?” Seoho called, but his voice dissipated into watery echoes. “Geonhak!” 

He paused for a moment to scan his surroundings. Then, a flash of yellow appeared just ahead of him, and he immediately started swimming over as fast as he could. 

“I know you’re there, Geonhak! Give it up already!” 

At this point, Seoho was getting tired. His tail was strong, sure, but as an angelfish, he wasn’t exactly used to swimming long distances in deep water. Once again, Geonhak was a dirty, dirty cheater, but it’s whatever. He stopped again to catch his breath, having lost sight of whatever it was he just saw, holding on to the cliff to keep himself balanced. 

Suddenly, the current shifted, and that was the only warning Seoho had before something came tumbling out of one of the caves. He had a second to react before Geonhak charged right into him, and both of them went tumbling backward in one big lump. 

“Does that mean I win?” Geonhak said cockily, pinning Seoho to the seafloor. 

Seoho rolled his eyes and tried to push him off, but he was too strong, so he opted to just go limp. “You’re a cheater. You aren’t supposed to move around while you’re hiding.”

“Sorry. I literally have to keep swimming. Shark things, you know.” Geonhak grinned, revealing a row of sharp teeth as if proving a point. And not for the first time, Seoho wondered if he should be afraid of him. Someone like Geonhak could literally end him in a single bite, his arms strong enough to snap his neck like a toothpick, but whenever they were together, well. He felt safe. Braver and bolder than he would be otherwise, like Geonhak could protect him from all the scary life-forms beneath the mesopelagic zone, all the rumored horrors of the deep.

Seoho struggled again, and this time, Geonhak let him up. “That’s a lie and you know it,” he told him, dusting sand off of his tail. 

Geonhak bumped him affectionately, then began to swim in circles around him. “Come on, Seoho. You got to hide in the reefs. You had the advantage of home turf. It’s only fair.”

At that, Seoho hummed. He stopped Geonhak by grabbing him by the forearm, looked into his eyes, and bumped their foreheads together. Geonhak smiled thinly, and Seoho couldn’t help but let out a giggle in response. 

“You’re so cute,” Geonhak said fondly, brushing a strand of hair out of his face.

Seoho prayed that it was dark enough such that the blush on his face wouldn’t be visible. “Say that about yourself,” he mumbled.

“I’m not cute! I’m big and scary.”

“And cute,” Seoho insisted, sitting down to inspect Geonhak’s tail. 

The scales on Geonhak’s tail were rough like coarse sand. Or tiny teeth. Now that was a funny thought-- Geonhak was covered in millions of tiny, tiny teeth, and here Seoho was, running his hands through them as if he were patting down his hair. 

Geonhak wrinkled his nose in the way that scrunched up his entire face. “That tickles.”

“Should’ve thought of that before having ticklish skin.”

The scales ran halfway up his waist and all the way up his back, complete with a long dorsal fin to help him swim. Seoho didn’t really like that fin; it made back hugs unnecessarily difficult. 

Eventually, Geonhak sat down next to Seoho and rested his head on his shoulder like it belonged there. Even his hair was rough, itchy on Seoho’s skin, but Seoho simply closed his eyes and lost himself in the moment. Hours passed, schools of anchovies swam by, the sun moved over the abyss, and neither of them moved a muscle. 

It was just the two of them down here, and they had just about all the time in the world.