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Sparks in Our Hands

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one: embers

It’s cold.

That’s the only thing Seokmin can think about, watching his breath come out misty, heavy; watching it swirl before him, mixing with his sister’s breath too as they stand together.  After living in this kingdom - the northernmost inhabited place in the entire world, thank you very much - his entire life, one might think he’d be used to the bone-chilling cold.  And normally he is, but not when he has to don his princely attire that doesn’t quite fit right above anything thermal, no matter how many alterations he makes, just to stand outside for hours on end.

But this is tradition, and he’d be a poor prince if he disregarded centuries of tradition just because he’s cold.

Plenty of his ancestors have stood in this same spot before, back to the grand palace doors, facing the strong, intimidating Theylan Mountain range; left elbow brushing that of their eldest sibling, freezing their ass off as they play their role in the coronation ceremony.

Simply put, he is here to support his sister.

The new Queen.

Despite the cold, despite the dark, looming clouds that threaten a blizzard standard for this time of year, despite the fact that it’s nearing dusk and they’ve been out here all day, Yeoreum is handling everything with the grace of the queen she’s been learning to be.  Hair dark as night and as long as her upper body falls down her back in loose curls, stark black against the white attire she wears.  It matches Seokmin’s own, except the lapels are dripping in gold accents, fit for a queen.  Her face, young and beautiful and so much like their father’s, is icy and severe as she listens to the rites being read, the rites passed down from generation to generation.  The rites that will make her Queen.

She has been preparing for this all her life, and Seokmin has been watching her all of his life.  He shadowed her as eagerly as he could have, ever the loving, supportive younger brother.  Now he is here beside her, still as loving and supportive as ever, watching as their mother quite literally passes on the crown to her.  It sits atop her head like it was always meant to be there, and Yeoreum’s broad shoulders straighten.

Seokmin grins, as do their parents.

And the citizens remain quiet from the sidelines, bundled in blankets and thermal wear Seokmin is incredibly jealous of.

The royal guard, at least, is suffering much like Seokmin, and he catches Soonyoung’s eyes with a friendly smirk, noticing the way his friend shivers in the cold.

But the ceremony is almost over and then they can go inside and eat and drink.  So Seokmin tells himself to hold on a few minutes more.  He silently wills Soonyoung to hold on too.

Yeoreum steps from his side, towards their mother, and then turns her back to the mountains.  Turns to face her citizens with the biggest smile he’s ever seen on her usually stoic face.  It reminds him of his own, and the pure joy in it is palpable.

He returns it with something similar, making his eyes go wide just to draw a laugh from her.

This morning, she’d joked that, as queen, she wouldn’t be allowed to laugh anymore.  Seokmin had retorted with a loving “you don’t laugh anyway so what difference does it make?”

But she laughs now, clear and crisp and happy as it echoes through the crowd, and Seokmin wonders if the people watching at home can see, can hear how utterly happy she is.  If a silly giggle like that translates well through a screen.

Their mother steps forward, ever graceful, even in her aging years, to join her daughter and address their people.

“Citizens of Aerant,” she proclaims, with all the strength and elegance of royalty, “I present to you your new Queen - “

Something sharp and shining whistles past Seokmin’s ear, like a fly without the buzzing, and it glints dangerously in the lights set up out here.  Like a warning he does not heed until it’s too late.

It embeds itself in his mother’s throat.

There is blood on her clothes, blood on Yeoreum’s white jacket, her face -

Screams of terror, of despair ring through the palace grounds -

The ring of daggers unsheathed -

The sharp crack! of rangers cocked -

Seokmin is in the middle of it all, watching helplessly as reality slows to a heavy, dreamlike pace, as a black-clad assassin approaches.  Behind him, Seokmin’s father’s cries sound muffled, far away; Yeoreum’s sharp commands, no doubt to the Guard, are faint.  Like Seokmin’s underwater.

The assassin is tall, thin, and as deadly as the emblem on his jacket suggests.  It’s an emblem Seokmin knows well, a scourge from across the mountains, a scourge that has found its way into their kingdom.  And the assassin’s eyes are cold, calculating as they peer at him above a black mask that obscures half of his face.

“On behalf of Rang Ara,” he murmurs, in a voice far more melodic than Seokmin would expect from someone of his trade, “we are here to take Aerant back for its rightful rulers.”

And just like the emblem he bears, the name is one Seokmin knows well.

It falls off his lips in a choked gasp, stolen from him by a knife to the gut.

 

Seungcheol’s this close to giving up politics for good.  He put one successful senatorial campaign under his belt, that’s enough to be considered a long and illustrious career, right?  With a deep sigh he stops pacing to plop into his chair and bury his face in his hands.  The air in his new office is cold and filtered - it smells like the ocean, crisp and cool, and maybe in different circumstances it’d give him images of black sand shores and the wind whipping through his hair - and it’s not quite enough to cool the sweat on his brow.  Why is he so nervous?  He’s been preparing for this day for months now.  Almost a year.  Ever since he began his campaign.  So why the nerves?  Why now?

His comm vibrates again on his desk and he doesn’t look at it.  All morning he’s been receiving messages - from Jihoon, Chan, Vernon, Seungkwan, even another senator to whom he’s spoken maybe six words - all congratulating him on his first day, wishing him luck.  And it makes his stomach churn even more.

Why did he think he could represent his district?  There’s two million people in Varyx alone, all of them depending on him for help - damn this was a bad idea -

Seungcheol takes a slow, deep breath, the way Jihoon taught him, and then another.

He can do this.  He’s been preparing - and he won the election for a reason.

In his head, he repeats the mantra he’d developed over the course of his campaign, one he’d recited before debates and outings and press junkets.  One his mother used to murmur to him years and years ago.

You are capable, you are strong, you are enough.

A part of him supposes its comforting qualities might have diminished over the last several months, with how much he’s been saying those words.  But the instinct of it makes him feel safe.

Makes it easier to breathe.

There’s a gentle knock on the door and it hisses open.  Seungcheol lifts his head and smiles a bit when he sees Hongjoong.  His aide slips inside the office and closes the door from the console.  He looks as frazzled as Seungcheol feels, dark blue hair askew, face darkened and hands shaking just a bit.  The solidarity brings warmth to Seungcheol’s chest, and he sits a little straighter in his chair.

“Is everything all right, Hongjoong?”

The young man nods and walks over to place a holopad on the desk.  It’s opened on a calendar application - already filled with events and meetings and Goddess knows what else.  “I came in early to talk with the other senators’ aides and then I created this schedule for you this week.”  He sighs.  “There’s so much to do, Senator.”

Seungcheol sets the pad down and smiles.  “Just call me Seungcheol, remember?”  And when Hongjoong opens his mouth to protest, Seungcheol gently cuts him off.  “It’s not a problem; you’re only three years younger than me.  Practically my little brother.”

“Is that a short joke?”

He grins at Hongjoong, looking so young and small in his perfectly pressed suit, tips of his long, blue hair touching the dark collar.  “No?”

They share a laugh that sounds awkward and stilted to Seungcheol’s ears and he blames both of their nerves.  Not only is it his own first day, but it’s Hongjoong’s too.  They’re both outsiders here in this too-cold building.

At least they have each other.

“Thank you for doing that though, Joong,” Seungcheol says softly, finding his dark brown eyes.  “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I’m just doing my job,” the young man mumbles, face flushing.

“Well either way, I appreciate it.”  Seungcheol stands and hides his shaking hands in his pants pockets, trying to put a smile on his face but it feels forced, even to him.  Hopefully Hongjoong doesn’t notice it.  “Did Yuto call, or anything?  I’d expect my royally-appointed guard to be here for my first day but I haven’t seen him.”  He’d become Seungcheol’s bodyguard several months ago, once his campaign began picking up momentum, and this is the first time Yuto hasn’t been at his side in a long time.  It’s a little strange, if he thinks about it, but the young man must be doing something important.  At least that’s what he tells himself to keep the anxiety down.

“Yes, actually!”  Hongjoong pulls out his comm and swipes at the screen a few times.  “Ah, so he said he was going over some last minute details with Guard Captain Sohn but that he would be here in a couple hours.”

Seungcheol morbidly hopes no one tries to assassinate him before then, because he’s not sure how deep Hongjoong’s affection for him runs.  Not that he’d ask the kid to actually take a ranger bolt for him but… “Well, all right.  Thank you.  Did I miss anything else before I came in?”

“Yes!”  Hongjoong swipes a few more times, brow furrowed in concentration, tongue poking out between his lips, and Seungcheol smiles to himself.  He always forgets what a sweet energy Hongjoong has about him.  It calms his nerves that much more.  “Your friend Mr. Le - uh, Chan called.  Told you to call Jihoon?”

Seungcheol suppresses a groan.  That can’t be good.  Especially if he’s calling Hongjoong.  Well, he decides, of course they’re calling Hongjoong.  Cheol won’t pick up his own damn communicator.  “I will later, I promise.  Right now I have to deal with… my first day.”

He feels the smile on his face falter.

“Are you nervous?” Hongjoong asks with an arched brow.

“Uh… no?”

Hongjoong smiles.  “If it makes you feel any better, I was talking to Donghyuck and he says his senator wants to meet with you.”

Seungcheol hums and reaches for the discarded holopad on the desk, reading through the schedule as best as he can with his mind unable to really focus right now.  “Who’s his senator?  That uptight jerk from Audym?”

“Nope.  Joshua Hong.”

Joshua Hong.   The pad clatters onto the desk rather loudly and Seungcheol clears his throat, mind suddenly going blank.  The way it always does in Joshua Hong’s presence.  “Oh.”

“You know him, right?  From before you were both senators?”

Seungcheol’s brain takes a moment to start working again, and he remembers being in this same building, a decade ago, and the way Joshua Hong smiled at him.  “Uh… yeah.  Yes.  Ten years ago.  During that year’s Youth in Politics internship program.”

“That’s right.  He brought that up on the campaign trail.”  Something dreamy passes his young face and he smiles.  “I can’t believe you know him.  He’s like - famous.   I mean not only is he the son of Hong Jaeun and has all that money but he’s a war hero.   Dropped out of college just to fight in the Nostrian war?  That’s amazing.  Sometimes I wish I could fight in a war.  It…”  Suddenly Hongjoong frowns, apparently catching onto the fact that Seungcheol isn’t really following his rambling.  But how can he when Joshua Hong wants to see him?  He knew this would happen once he became senator but… well he hoped he’d have more time to prepare.  “Are you all right, Seungcheol?  You look pale.”

Thoughts come and go, flitting around Seungcheol’s head at hyperspeed, and he sighs.  “Yes, thank you.  Just nervous.”

Hongjoong smiles wide and it lights up his youthful face.  “So you were lying.”

“Of course I was.”  Seungcheol smiles though.  “Should we get started with today’s schedule?  I think - “

 There’s another knock on the door and Hongjoong tenses the tiniest bit, no doubt just as scared as Seungcheol is.

But he can’t spend forever hiding out in his office, not when there’s work to be done.  Not when his people need him.  So he takes a deep breath and tries to relax his face as best as he can.

“Open it, please, Hongjoong.”

The young man does as he’s told and presses a button on the console beside the door.

The door opens and in walks none other than -

 Joshua Hong.  Of course.

Fantastic.

A little ways behind him, blocked by the door and Joshua himself, stands his thin but deadly bodyguard, Xu Minghao.  Seungcheol’s heard stories of the way the man has treated those who threatened his senator and right now, with the black ink of his Nostrian dragon tattoo curling along his neck and the side of his stoic face, assassin’s blade resting on his hip, Seungcheol’s pretty certain Minghao wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if he said something bad about Joshua.

But saying something bad about Joshua Hong is easier said than done.  He’s just as beautifully intimidating in person, like Seungcheol remembers.  He hasn’t aged much since he was fifteen.  Perhaps less baby fat, more muscles.  His suit is dark, the tie a stark black against his too crisp, too white shirt.  Brown hair is styled out of brown eyes, and those brown eyes never leave Seungcheol’s as he steps towards the desk, leaving Minghao in the hall.

Seungcheol isn’t sure he’s breathing, but whether that’s because of his nerves or Joshua Hong’s presence, he isn’t sure.

“Hello, Senator Choi,” Joshua says quietly, always so soft-spoken, a gentle smile on his handsome face.  “Welcome to your first day at the senate building.”

“Uh, Senator Hong.  Hello.”  Seungcheol stands up and makes his way over to shake the other man’s hand, trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism by using his title instead of his name.  It also helps him retain a bit of sanity, too.  Maybe if he pretends he’s the senator he’s supposed to be, it’ll work out for him. 

Joshua grasps his hand tightly, squeezing the little bones in his hand a bit too hard.  “Call me Joshua, please,” he responds with that wide smile, still maintaining eye contact.

What does he see, Seungcheol can’t help but wonder, trying not to shrink away from this all too familiar gaze, still so intense after all these years.  What is he to Joshua Hong?  A scared, poor farm kid?  A nervous senator, sweating under the collar of his suit?  The same wide-eyed teenager he met ten years ago?

“Uh,” he stammers, “right.  Joshua.  You can call me, er - “

“Seungcheol.  Yes, I remember.”  Joshua grins and releases Seungcheol’s hand.  He resists the urge to rub away the stiffness in his bones.  “Did you really think I would forget?”

“I, uh, er…"  He clears his throat and ignores Hongjoong's frown, the way his eyes flick between them, the awkward set to his frame.  "Do you personally greet all the rookie senators?"

"Mm, not really.  But you're special, aren't you?"  His smile softens, and he still doesn't look away, gazing into Seungcheol’s eyes like he can see straight into his soul.  Fuck.   "Not just because of our… history, but because you're the first… Varyx farmer we've had here in ages.  Since my father's early days.  So congratulations, Seungcheol.  You should be proud."

Proud of what, Seungcheol thinks.  Proud of being the only poor guy in a group full of rich people?  "Er, thank you."

Joshua reaches out then and claps Seungcheol on the shoulder.  His hand is strong, palm warm through the fabric of his suit, and he squeezes Seungcheol's shoulder a bit too tightly.  Just like their handshake.  "Come, Seungcheol.  How about a tour?"

"Oh I've already had - "

"Not a tour from an experienced senator though."  He's already dragging Seungcheol out of the office before he can say anything to a bewildered Hongjoong, and he winks as they step out into the hallway.  Minghao glances at Seungcheol with something he can only describe as indifference before moving to stand behind his senator.  "My father was a senator for over thirty years, remember?  I was practically raised here."  His hand slips off Seungcheol's shoulder, down his back, and Seungcheol forces a shiver away.

This is going to be fun.

 

Joshua walks with him around the entire building, showing him everything, Minghao trailing behind them.  He takes Seungcheol to the other government agencies housed here, shows him the lesser-used restrooms and the small kitchen no one's ever in, a smile on his face like he’s revealing some deep, dark secrets.  And then they're walking by the other senators' offices.  Artificial light floods the hallways, as it's too overcast outside to provide any natural lighting, and to Seungcheol it all kind of seems… well, artificial is a good word.  From the incessant silence to the over-the-top blue accented decor everywhere, this place feels artificial.  Like at any moment, the queen's gonna pop out, shout "you've been pranked!" and Seungcheol will wake up at home in his lumpy, shitty bed in the Varyx district, Jihoon snoring from the other side of the room.

"Something the matter, Seungcheol?" Joshua asks as they near the main chamber now, hand still on his back.

The fact that he can probably feel how tense Seungcheol is only serves to make him more tense, and his back already hurts.  "Er, no."

"It's overwhelming, isn't it?"

Seungcheol turns and opens his mouth to respond but the look on Joshua's face sends him into a coughing fit instead.  He’s so handsome, so intense, and Seungcheol is not prepared for it this early in this morning.  "Uh, um, it - yeah.  Overwhelming."

Joshua rubs between his shoulder blades as they stop in front of the main chamber doors and smiles softly, hands warm and seeming to find their way beneath Seungcheol’s suit jacket for the way he shivers.  "Deep breath, okay? Today is easy: we're preparing for our meeting with Prince Jeonghan tomorrow by deciding what we want to discuss with him.  That's all."

Seungcheol nods, and Joshua's comforting hand is gone as he opens the door.  He strides in first and Seungcheol follows, taking a deep breath.  And then another.  The other four senators sit along the table, talking quietly amongst themselves.  Seungcheol recognizes each one of them, but especially Jeon Wonwoo of the neighboring Orixa district.  He'd endorsed Seungcheol's campaign and now he gives him a friendly smile, and Seungcheol remembers his kind congratulatory message from earlier.  Some of the nerves dissipate.

So he has two allies here.  Sort of.  Maybe.

"Friends, colleagues," Joshua says and he grasps Seungcheol's shoulder again.  All eyes are on them.  "This is Choi Seungcheol, the new senator from Varyx.  Make sure you treat him with the same respect you would me."

"And if we don't respect you to begin with, Hong?" Wonwoo asks, as deadpan as his face is.

Joshua laughs, a bit too loudly.  It’s a taut sound that almost grates on Seungcheol’s nerves.  "Oh Wonwoo.  Always a delight."  He leaves Seungcheol's side to sit down.

They're sitting in district order.  Joshua's first, representing the people of the capital city district.  Then Jung Jaehyun from Audym, Zhang Yixing from Dyak, Jo Jinho from Terrai, Wonwoo from Orixa, and then Seungcheol at the end of the table.  As expected.  Their bodyguards stand a ways behind each of them, and Seungcheol wonders how Yuto being absent looks to the others.  Of course, he doesn’t blame the kid - guard matters are guard matters and are highly important, but he might feel better with his guard actually here.  Less of a sore thumb.  He quietly takes his seat and pulls out his comm to take notes.  No one else does.

"What time is the prince supposed to be here tomorrow?" Jaehyun asks.

"Oh eight hundred," Joshua responds.

"So we won't see him till ten or so," Yixing says.  "Probably hungover."

"Hey, have some respect," Wonwoo says with a smirk.  "That's the prince, and Hong's future brother-in-law."

Is this all they do?  Talk and jab at each other?

Seungcheol shifts in his seat, uncomfortable with the topic of conversation.  Sure, he might not be the biggest fan of the prince either but… is this right, for his senators to be sitting here, talking about him like this?

"I might be engaged to Queen Iseul but that doesn't mean we can't discuss the fact that Jeonghan's always late to everything."  Joshua laughs and it seems lifeless.  "We should decide on topics though.  Before we forget."

"Before we forget"?

"I have some ideas," Seungcheol ventures, and he sounds meeker than he would like.

Joshua smiles at him, and those dark eyes are back on his.  "Ah, is this going to be more saving the planet stuff you built your campaign around?"

Seungcheol’s heart sinks.  Just like that, the warm Joshua Hong, a friend from his past, discounts him so quickly.  He expected it from the rest of these senators but...

"Relax, Choi.  No one actually expects you to do any real work around here," Jinho says.

"Goddess knows we don't," Jaehyun says, and everyone laughs.  Like it’s a joke.  Well, except for Wonwoo.  He's fiddling with his suit sleeve, eyes decidedly elsewhere.

"Uh - well."  Seungcheol clears his throat.  Is this some kind of alternate dimension?   "I think my constituents expect me to get some work done on their behalf.  That's why I was elected. Need I point out that I had the biggest voter turnout ever in my district's history?"

Yixing waves his hand dismissively.  "Yes, yes, we're all aware.  Congratulations," he deadpans.

"It's impressive for a farmer from a backwater district," Jaehyun mutters too loudly to be keeping it to himself.

Seungcheol opens his mouth to retort and then closes it.  This isn't the time nor the place.  Goddess, it's his first day.  Of course he's going to face some resistance.  Of course it's not going to go the way he wants.  He takes a deep breath and lets it out.  He just has to get through this and then he, Jihoon, and their friends can go out and get shitfaced, and Seungcheol can complain drunkenly about everything.

Just gotta get through this.

 

Seungcheol ends up getting shitfaced alone.  He called Jihoon while he was heading home to his new apartment building, the one that houses him and the other five senators in the almost unbearably wealthy capital city district, and he wasn't really surprised to hear that Jihoon had run into some issues with the clinic and wasn't going to make it.  There’s always something wrong at the clinic, and Seungcheol tries not to take the wordless, directionless blame in Jihoon’s voice, as their people’s new senator.  But whatever.  He and Chan, Seungkwan, and Vernon could still go out and have a grand old time, right?

Wrong.  Chan had called a few minutes later as Seungcheol was combing his hair and said something about a last minute job for the gang.  Something Seungcheol hadn’t asked for more details on, since that seems to kind of defeat the purpose of his current legal status.  So here Seungcheol is, at the most elite and expensive club on Tellun, sitting alone at the bar on his fifth drink.  He's been here for a couple hours, and the throbbing bass has settled inside his bones at this point.  He glances behind him at the dance floor and his gut twists.  Couples grind to the music, bathed in moody purple lighting, each of them wearing a different mask across their eyes.  Seungcheol too.  Apparently, it's Club Ixorra's speciality.

More power to them.  Now the wealthy and powerful can fuck without consequence.  Just like everything else they do.

Seungcheol takes a drink and winces as the alcohol burns his throat.  Fuck the wealthy.  Fuck the senate.  Fuck Joshua Hong, especially.  He's the face of all these people.  A stupid, handsome face.  He represents the rich and the powerful, most of whom make more money in a year than the average person in Varyx makes in a lifetime.  Fuck, he's pissed.  That "meeting" went nowhere and all they're going to talk to Prince Jeonghan about tomorrow is stupid fluff that isn't going to help anyone.

Angrily, Seungcheol downs the rest of his drink.

He really wants to quit politics.

After a few more minutes of drinking alone and wallowing in his anger, Seungcheol decides to leave.  He’s plenty wasted and he’d prefer to get home at a decent enough time to maybe sober up before bed, so that way his hangover isn’t so bad in the morning.  So he downs another shot and is about to stand up when -

"Hey handsome," a soft, lovely voice says from beside him.

Seungcheol looks over to find a tall, broad-shouldered man standing there.  He's got a black lace mask over his eyes, half obscured by long blonde hair falling over it, and it matches the rest of his outfit: an all black suit with delicately designed lace sleeves and a teasingly low v-neck.  And he's really rather beautiful.  For a rich guy, no doubt.  Seungcheol clears his throat, realizing a bit too late that he’s staring.  "Hey," he slurs, drawing the word out into more syllables than necessary..

The man smiles and sits down next to him, with more grace than Seungcheol’s ever seen a person command.  It’s sort of intimidating, definitely alluring.  A few feet away, out of the corner of Seungcheol’s eyes, a tall, muscular man stands, off to the side.  Maybe this guy's friend.  "You look lonely," Beautiful Man says, and his voice is the sweetest thing drunk Seungcheol has ever heard.  Low and throaty and warm.  "And upset.  Is everything okay?"

The alcohol in Seungcheol’s body answers for him before he can even think.  "Work's terrible and my friends cancelled on me,” he huffs over a sigh, wishing he had another shot to lose himself in.

"I'm sorry to hear that."  He places a soft hand over Seungcheol's, long, thin fingers stroking along his knuckles, and flashes that beautiful smile.  "Is there room in your life for a new friend, darling?"

They're in the restroom maybe fifteen minutes and two drinks later, door locked and Beautiful Man pressed up against the wall.  Masks came off during the first heated kiss and Seungcheol pulled away long enough to study the man's face. He's got perfectly bow-shaped lips that Seungcheol really enjoys kissing and soft features that almost look feminine but somehow on him, it works.  Big, wide eyes, high, sharp cheekbones that are familiar to him but he can’t really put his finger on it.  Not that he cares to right now, with his half-hard erection tenting his pants rather uncomfortably.

So Seungcheol just breathes out a slurred "anyone ever tell you you look like the prince?" before he's kissing him again, and Beautiful Man laughs into his mouth, a high, utterly perfect sound.

Seungcheol very quickly gets fully hard.  It's been way too long (thanks senatorial campaigns) and it doesn't help that Beautiful Man's moaning softly with every kiss Seungcheol brushes against the smooth skin of his neck.  Smooth, beautiful skin that he very much wants to mar with bite marks.

"You sound so good," Seungcheol whispers before kissing him again, roughly.  

Beautiful Man whines into his mouth - Seungcheol swallows it eagerly - and presses even closer, rubbing his hips against Seungcheol's. And oh fuck he's hard too.

Seungcheol breaks the kiss to meet Beautiful Man's lovely brown eyes.  They're both breathing heavily and the other man's sweet, bow-shaped lips are swollen and red and Seungcheol wants nothing more than to find a bed or a couch or some kind of surface so he can properly fuck him.  But there's no time for that.  Not while his heart's pounding like this and pleasure's coursing through his veins, like liquid heat.  He grinds his hips, and Beautiful Man gasps, eyes fluttering closed.

"Oh…"

"Call me Seungcheol," he grunts as he rubs his hard cock against Beautiful Man's own, the friction of his pants making him moan.  White-hot pleasure bursts through his entire being and Beautiful Man whimpers again.  It's a lovely sound, one that makes Seungcheol shiver and he bites the soft skin of his neck, right at the juncture where it meets his shoulder.  He wants to hear that noise again, and again, and again.

The rutting of their hips becomes quicker, rougher, more frantic.  Beautiful Man’s moans fill the room, echoing off the walls, and Seungcheol’s murmuring dirty praise near his ear, tapping into a side of himself that only ever comes out in these moments.  Confident.  “Tha’s it, baby.  You’re so good.  So good.”

He grips Beautiful Man’s hips harder, probably hard enough to leave bruises but fuck he doesn’t care because this is it, this is all he wants out of life: really hot sex with a damn gorgeous stranger in a club bathroom.  Beautiful Man’s moans are all he wants to hear for the rest of his life and holy shit he’s so fucking drunk.  But it feels good.  Stars, it’s so good.

A few more ruts and Seungcheol’s reaching the edge.  His hips start to stutter and every drag of his clothed cock against Beautiful Man’s feels like someone’s lighting his whole being on fire.

“I’m – I’m gonna,” Beautiful Man gasps, nails sliding under the collar of Seungcheol’s shirt and scratching his back.  “ Fuck , I’m gonna – “

“Th-that’s it, baby,” and Seungcheol moans.  “Come for me.”

He pulls back to watch.

Beautiful Man tilts his head back against the wall as his hips still.  His eyes flutter closed and a broken moan escapes his mouth as he comes.  The way he arches his back, the way his fingers curl into Seungcheol’s shirt, the way the purple lights hit his smooth, flawless skin.  It’s all a bit too much and Seungcheol comes too, spilling into his underwear, muffling a groan in the perfect column of Beautiful Man’s neck.

They’re both still breathing heavily when Beautiful Man brushes his lips against Seungcheol’s, and he laughs softly.

“That was… wow.”

Seungcheol snorts and pulls back.  The uncomfortable wetness in his underwear makes him grimace.  “I uh… I don’t usually do stuff like this.”

“What, dry hump handsome strangers in a club bathroom?”

“Exactly.”  Seungcheol smiles and reaches out to fix Beautiful Man’s soft, blonde hair so that it falls in his eyes again.  Those beautiful, deep brown eyes.  “What’s your name?”

He smiles and honestly it’s sinful the way he looks right now.  Smiling like that with his cheeks flushed and lips swollen and red, breathing a bit heavily with every word.  “Ah, why don’t I stay the sexy, mysterious stranger?”

“And how am I supposed to contact you if I want…”  Seungcheol trails off, uncertain how to phrase it.  How does one ask a one-night stand that they wanna dry hump against a bathroom wall again?

His smile widens and he runs a hand down Seungcheol’s chest.  “If you really want me again, meet me here next week.  Same night, same time.”  He kisses Seungcheol’s cheek as he walks by.  “Maybe I’ll see you again, hmm, Seungcheol?”

Once he leaves, Seungcheol leans against the wall and takes a deep breath.  What was that ?  The last time he’d done something so reckless and without thinking was in college.  He’s a senator , for fuck’s sake.  A poor, rookie senator, at that.  If this gets out… the others are going to lose their minds.  He sighs and exits the bathroom, wincing at the way his wet underwear drags against his skin.

 

It’s cold.

It’s cold and the sharp mountain wind whips through his hair, against his face, and Seokmin feels so numb, every muscle in his body is throbbing, but he keeps going.

In front of him, Soonyoung stops and holds out his arm so Seokmin can grab it.  His face is tight with worry, dripping with sweat, even in the freezing mountain air.  His fingertips are still red with Seokmin’s blood, with Yeoreum’s…

Yeoreum.

She’s behind them somewhere, dead before she ever got to be queen.

At the hands of the assassins tearing through the mountain paths after them.

“Come on, Your Highness,” Soonyoung breathes, gripping him tight.  “We’re almost to the Tellun border.  We’ll be safe there.”

The salve they’d managed to spread along his stomach, to try and close up the wound he now sports, is already starting to fail, Seokmin can feel the wet heat of the blood beginning to spill again, and he stumbles in the snow.

What’s the point of running?  The assassins can just follow their tracks… and-and if he survives… what’s left for him, back home?  Aerant is now in the clutches of some upstart and... 

He sinks into the snow, on weak knees that can’t support him anymore, and he’s never felt more hopeless.  His entire family, his life has been ripped from him so quickly.

So violently.

And for what reason?

Why?

A sob tears its way up Seokmin’s throat and he tries to push Soonyoung away when he comes to help him up, but he doesn’t have the strength.

“Please, Seokmin,” he whispers, sounding as desperate as Seokmin’s ever heard him, and it hurts his heart.  “Please, we have to keep going.  It’s my duty to protect you and I can’t leave you here.”

Images flash through his mind, images of his family slaughtered.  His people.  The white stones of the palace grounds red with blood.  How fast everything just fell apart.

He stands on shaking legs, clutching to Soonyoung for support, and everything’s spinning.

“I can’t,” he whispers.  “Ye-Yeoreum - “

“She’s dead, Your Highness,” Soonyoung says, eyes wide and frantic and shining with tears.  “They all are.  You’re the only one left and Aerant is going to need you.  Please, Seokmin.  It’s not too much further.”

The desire to give up flares up so strongly, it almost overwhelms him.  But he’d be a poor prince if he ordered his guard to leave him to the snow, to the hunters after them.  So he swallows the tears, he swallows his pain and his fears and clings to Soonyoung with everything he has left in him.

They head for Tellun.