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The Truth's Worth

Chapter Text

It starts, poetically, with a storm.

It’s an omen Yoongi will not consider until much, much later.

He never thought he would find himself in the premises of the royal palace on a Saturday evening, but he learned with time and adversity that he tends not to find himself where he expected to be. Still, it feels a bit odd, to sit in the reception hall amidst guests whose sole birthright would have denied him a seat there had he not poured sweat, blood and tears to earn his place among them and achieve what his younger self had deemed an unreachable dream.

Even his younger self, though, in all his innocence, naivety and preposterous ambition couldn’t have envisioned the true luxury of the palace, a striking parallel to the life he now leads, sometimes against his own will, jaded by the opulence of the upper crust even more now that he has climbed high enough to be considered one of them.

In another life, Yoongi might have fit among this crowd. He might have oozed the same sense of overbearing arrogance they hold themselves with, might have dutifully and deliberately kept himself away from the reality of the world beyond golden gates and silver talks. As it is, he knows too much of the struggles of hunger and cold and unreachable dreams to feel anything but contempt toward these people who treat money like a friend and people like tools.

He’s always distinctly aware of his own success, because at times it feels like he’s earned it and at others not at all. It’s always there, in a corner of his mind, the road paved with traps and lures and the bridges he’s had to cross. He knows he doesn’t belong in this world, in these walls of brilliant white ornate with ostentatious gold. He knew it the moment he stepped in and the expensive leather of his dress shoes somehow felt out of place in this microcosm where status isn’t earned and fought for but freely given to those born under the right stars.

He’s seen the curiosity in the gazes of a few of the guests, the barely disguised judgment, the unbridled disgust. He might as well have worn a sweater with the words ‘nouveau riche’ embroidered on it.

Perhaps it is why he isn’t having as bad of a time as he expected to.

It’s always a small victory of his own, to break apart those symbolic barriers and hold his chin up proudly, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips as he defies the expectations they have of him. They dwell into their own corner of the world, unable to grasp the meaning of his presence among them, unwilling to see that as everything changes around them, they stay afoot, focused on their own privileges, shunning those who deserve them more. It sets him above them, whether they know it or not, the fact that he doesn’t care what they think, even takes pleasure in their foolish hope that it could affect him at all.

They don’t understand that he’s already vanquished the odds, stacked against him as they were, and that their judgment means nothing in the face of it.

They will never understand that it fuels him, enrages him enough to continue to be exactly what they want him to be –separate, untouchable, free.

Or free enough, anyway.

“Stop glaring at people.”

Yoongi blinks, turning to his side to glance at Hoseok, who isn’t even looking at him, too busy casting a highly skeptical look at the piece of art that was just rolled onto the stage. It’s an abstract sculpture of a bronze stick, long and thin, arrogantly titled ‘The Value of Time’ as if the people in this room have any idea of the weight and meaning time can carry beyond their own reality.

“I’m not glaring at people,” he says, which is a blatant lie.

Hoseok lifts a single, dubious eyebrow.

“What the fuck is this anyway?” Yoongi hisses under his breath, waving a hand at the sculpture. The auction has started, and it’s already above fifty thousand American dollars. It doesn’t help with his glaring situation.

“Art,” Hoseok murmurs, but he sounds unsure. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.”

“You mean in their wallet and connections.”

Hoseok hums in agreement and tears his gaze away from the sculpture, resting his elbows on the table.

“Stop glaring at people,” he parrots, but it’s more amused than chastising. “I want to be invited to these things again.”

“Why?”

Yoongi knows the chagrin in his voice is a bit hypocritical –he came, after all, against his better judgement– but Hoseok won’t hold it against him. He knows Yoongi had his own reasons to accept the invitation, even though he was understandably shocked to receive one in the first place.

“Because the food is exceptional, and I just love to terrorize the lords and ladies of this world with my terrible manners,” Hoseok replies, matter-of-fact, chugging his glass of champagne down to ensure his point is made.

Yoongi has to concede it is an irrefutable argument.

“And I know you’re actually having fun,” Hoseok continues a little too loudly, unbothered by the disapproving gazes it attracts. He winks at a lady wrapped in an immaculate fur coat, grin widening when she turns up her nose and quickly looks away. “I heard you mumbling about how good the wine was earlier. You can’t fool me. I see all and I hear all.”

“Maybe turn down the God complex when you’re in one of these crowds,” Yoongi grumbles. “You might accidentally start a cult. Again.”

Hoseok laughs, the sound ricocheting in the otherwise quiet room. Thankfully, the attention is diverted from their table by the loud bang of the auction hammer.

“That was fun,” he says, with pride Yoongi doesn’t think he’s entitled to feel at the reminder. “See the bright side, Yoonie, you won that painting that caught your eye and you got an opportunity to do your favorite thing in the world: looking tough and scary.” He leans forward to gently pat Yoongi’s forearm. “I think some of these people are even actually scared of you. They’re not just pretending to be nice like Jimin and I.”

Yoongi gives him a small, adoring smile as he lays his hand on top of Hoseok’s, immediately digging his nails into the tender skin above his radius.

Hoseok yelps, pulling his hand away. “You’re the worst best friend I’ve ever had,” he hisses, glowering.

Yoongi nods placatingly, his eyes drifting back to the stage where they are rolling in the next art piece. It’s a painting of a hyper-realistic duck dressed into a pink and white apron. He barely holds back a groan.

“I need a cigarette,” he huffs begrudgingly.

Hoseok waves him off with a flourish, motioning a passing waiter for a refill of champagne. Yoongi stands up just as the waiter reaches their table and Hoseok pats his hand in gratitude, giving him a sweet but determined smile as he tells him to leave the bottle. Yoongi walks away with a resigned shake of his head.

They were notified upon their arrival that they only have access to a restricted area of the palace, but that it included the wide gardens, so Yoongi lets his feet lead him there. He has to go through a wide terrace to get there, where a smaller group of guests are scattered, chatting about the magnificent art they got a chance to purchase tonight and how delightful it is for Prince Jeongguk to be there to oversee the auction and how curious –though they say it more like it is suspicious– that Prince Seokjin didn’t attend his own brother’s charity gala. Yoongi ignores them completely. The painting he won earlier –after an exhausting back and forth with an anonymous bidder who stubbornly tried to outbit Yoongi and then gave up entirely– was very clearly the best out of the proposed selection, but he doubts any of them would be able to tell.

The stair rails are ornate mahogany, and he spares a thought for the poor soul who has to maintain it in pristine condition before he ventures further into the darkness, away from the gaudy event and the abundant gold that makes him worry about a potential headache blooming in his temples.

A royal guard stares at him as he walks by, grip tight on the shotgun resting at his hip, eyes cold, but he doesn’t try to stop him, so Yoongi lights his cigarette and steps into the maze of expertly trimmed bushes and masterfully crafted sculptures of what he surmises are ancestors of the royal family. The smoke burns on its way down his throat as he inhales deeply, and he lets himself revel in it for a moment, casting a glance back at the palace. It’s brightly lit, the building standing imposingly against the blackness of the night.

He’s seen it before, even remembers visiting its grounds when he was an easily impressionable child on a field trip. It had seemed immense back then, blinding in its opulence, the white stone walls glistening under the summer sun. It feels smaller now that he is an adult, but it still screams with the sickening superiority and perquisite of its inhabitants.

Yoongi wonders if the King is roaming the hallways right now, watching the city spreading beneath his feet, struggling to survive while he sits at the top of his hill, boasting about all that he has and never fought a day in his life for.

He is reaching the central fountain when he feels the first drop of rain. 

He looks up, and only notices then the heavy clouds that have gathered in the sky, a dark grey that swallows the stars, commandeering the night.

Another drop falls on his cheek, rolling down to his neck.

“Fuck,” he whispers to himself, just as a loud growl of thunder tears through the quietness he had found so far away from the glamour of the reception hall.

A breeze blows across his face violently, and then it is as though floodgates have opened right above his head, rain pouring over to wash the world anew and drench him in the process.

He runs for shelter, heading back towards the palace, but he quickly realizes he won’t make it back inside before his very bones are soaked –and his outfit ruined, which Hoseok would surely find more disagreeable than the former. He ducks under the statue of an odd-looking lord of some sort riding an even odder-looking horse and takes a moment to survey his surroundings. There is still a whole yard between him and the terrace he exited from earlier.

There is another building, smaller than the main body of the palace but just as opulent, and most importantly, closer.

Yoongi knows they are technically not allowed to venture this way, but he’s sure they can make an exception when there’s a storm raging. It’s not his fault that their land is so damn ginormous that he has to run a marathon under the rain to get back to the reception hall. And it won’t be a problem at all if he doesn’t get caught. If he does, they’ll probably suspect he wanted to steal something like the disgusting peasant he is, and he can definitely work with that. It’ll make a nice story to tell in the very few parties he attends, even though it’d be sure to ban them forever from ever attending one of these soirées and Hoseok might never forgive him.

He makes a split decision, because even his friendship with Hoseok isn’t worth catching pneumonia, all twenty-one years of it. He squints to see through the rain and spots a deserted terrace not too far, feeble light trickling from a French window to illuminate it dimly. It’s probably a terrible idea, but it has a roof, so it’s currently the best terrible idea he has.

Yoongi shrugs off his suit jacket, holding it over his head in a poor ersatz of an umbrella, and dashes forward. 

He has never been afraid of a little rain. As a boy, he remembers being severely scolded by his mother for running outside at the slightest drop from the sky, mouth wide open to collect the rain as though he was parched from walking through the desert for days. He remembers staring mournfully from the window after being punished for ruining yet another set of clothes but still enjoying the beating of the rain against the glass and the whistling of the wind slipping through the cracks his mother never had the means to fix, seemingly singing a song only he could decipher.

He remembers the rush of excitement washing over him then and feels none of it now, waterfalls pouring over his head as if to make it up to the child who wasn’t allowed to raise his head against the storms and feel stronger for it.

He reaches the terrace quickly, jumping over the mahogany fence that separates it from the garden, and lets his arms fall to his sides, catching his breath. His shoes are ruined, his pants tight against his legs and his shirt is stuck uncomfortably against his skin, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. He sends a mental thank you to the horse statue for the feeble and ephemeral but somewhat efficient refuge it provided.

He looks down at his hand. His barely consumed cigarette is out, the paper soaked and translucid, and he sighs heavily, looking back towards the reception hall. The rain is so heavy he can hardly see through it, so he’ll just have to wait here until it simmers down enough for him to head back to his car, because there is simply no way he’s going to walk back to that reception hall looking like he went through a washing machine. There’s only so much disdain he can take before he snaps.

Waiting for the storm to pass it is, then.

He takes a step back, moving away from the rain completely, and plucks his silver cigarette holder from his pocket, taking another one. They’re safe, thankfully, and he lights it quickly, inhaling deeply, letting himself relax as he listens to the heavy downpour, like the flow of a wild river punctuated with the roar of thunder.

“Could I bother you for one?”

Yoongi startles, the voice so unexpected against the relative peace of his mind that it takes every bit of his self-control not to let out a high-pitched yelp.

“Shit man, you scared me!” he exclaims accusingly as he swirls around.

And promptly freezes.

Because whoever he was expecting –most likely, another fool like himself who was caught by surprise by the storm and found refuge here– it was not the goddamn Duke of Whatever, Lord High Commissioner of All Living Beings, Prince of Everything, heir to the throne Kim Seokjin.

His first thought, entirely and alarmingly unhelpful, is Holy fuck.

His second thought, no more worthy of merit, is that none of the pictures he’s seen before have actually done him justice –and he has seen many, because the prince’s face is plastered all over magazines and tabloids on a monthly basis, usually with a tacky headline fawning over his handsomeness and his number one sought after bachelor status.

He does look handsome in those pictures, perfect to a fault, but they pale in comparison to how gorgeous he truly is, all plump lips and striking brown eyes and sharp jawline. He’s wearing a white buttoned-down shirt, the top buttons open on smooth, golden skin, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, tucked into a pair of dress pants with a thin leather belt.

“Oh,” Yoongi breathes out, rather eloquently.

He hopes for a moment that the storm might drown it out, but the prince’s lips jump with the beginning of an amused smile, and his third thought, now that the shock has somewhat subdued, is that providence can go fuck itself.

Yoongi clears his throat.

“Sorry,” he says, straightening his back as he bows diligently. “Your Highness.” He pauses and looks up at the prince, body still curved toward the ground, to quirk an eyebrow. “Your Majesty?”

Something akin to mirth flashes in his eyes, but it doesn’t reach the elegant curve of his lips this time.

“Both wrong,” the prince says, but he doesn’t sound particularly dismayed. “And I honestly liked it better when you weren’t so formal. I don’t think we’ve reached the ‘shit man’ stage yet and it might be a little offensive in the long run, but Seokjin works fine.”

Yoongi has been in the presence of enough falsely modest wannabe socialites and wealthy hypocrites to see right through it, but he has also learned that nothing irks them more than actually playing into it.

He should have bowed deeper, apologized for the intrusion, thanked the royal family for all their benevolence and spewed out eternal regret over his lack of knowledge of protocols and proper decorum.

Instead, he straightens back up and shrugs. If he’s going to get arrested and thrown in jail for trespassing and whatever else they’ll find to accuse him of, he might as well go out with a bang.

“Seokjin,” he says with a nod, testing the name on his lips. It flows more easily than he thought it would.

To his surprise, Seokjin doesn’t wince or show any sign that his request for Yoongi to use his name was mere politeness. He smiles, pleased, his eyes crinkling lightly at the corner.

He has a charming smile, something innocent about it that can only be staged, carefully crafted by his years of bearing the name and status he does. Seokjin’s job description is to be charming, and Yoongi refuses to let himself be fooled.

“Min Yoongi,” he says flatly.

“I know who you are,” Seokjin replies, and Yoongi has to make a conscious effort to keep the shock from taking over his traitorous face. He doesn’t think he is very successful. “My brother is a fan.”

“He is?” Yoongi hears himself ask bemusedly.

Seokjin nods. “That’s why he invited you to his charity gala, after all.”

He waves an elegant hand towards the reception hall, and Yoongi stares, dumbfounded.

“Oh.”

He didn’t know, until now, why he got an invitation in the first place. He had simply assumed, as had Hoseok and the people at his label, that his name –and wallet– had become big enough in the entertainment industry to earn him a seat in this sea of heirs and heiresses of fortunes whose ancestry he can barely fathom. He has been known to work with charities, after all, and to be a connoisseur of art –probably the only one who actually attended tonight’s event, if the fact that there was only one person who disputed him the breathtaking painting he won at the auction is anything to go by. He never entertained for a second the idea that his invitation had more to do with who he is as an artist and less with the number of zeros on his latest Forbes estimation.

Even more shocking, he never imagined that a member of the royal family –second in line for the throne, with that– would actually listen to his music, and like it

He can’t picture it, Prince Jeongguk, with his wide innocent eyes and juvenile smile, jamming to Yoongi’s claim that he is the king, when he could very well be just that one day, if not for his older brother standing in front of Yoongi right now. The mental image is so ludicrous his mind can hardly conjure it.

“So,” Seokjin says when the silence stretches beyond comfort, “about that cigarette?”

Yoongi blinks, too stunned to formulate a coherent answer, and digs in his pocket for his silver case, holding it open for Seokjin. For the prince. Whom he is standing in front of, wet bangs sticking to his forehead, his suit soaked and rumpled.

Because all of this is his life, apparently.

Seokjin smiles again and delicately picks a cigarette from the case, slipping it between his lips. He stares expectantly at Yoongi, who manages to shake himself back to this odd reality before the atmosphere turns awkward again. He takes a cautious step forward, keeping a reasonable distance between them, and flicks at his lighter.

Seokjin leans in, close enough for Yoongi to catch a whiff of his cologne, minty and sweet. The flame casts ethereal shadows over his face, dancing idly into the warm pools of his eyes. They meet Yoongi’s almost inadvertently as he sucks on the cigarette to light it, and Yoongi’s breath catches in his throat.

He takes a step back as soon as the cigarette is lit, resisting the urge to clear his throat and make the dangerous thought that flashed through his mind painfully obvious. That would sure earn him more trouble than this experience has been worth.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Yoongi says, glancing over his shoulder at the pouring rain.

His face pulls into a grimace without him meaning to.

Seokjin curves an eyebrow, a corner of his mouth tugging upward. “I’m used to people either wanting to run away or overstay their welcome, but I don’t think anyone has ever been so eager to get away from me that they’d willingly choose to brave a thunderstorm.”

There is something almost somber to his tone even though the smile doesn’t leave his face. Something deeper that Yoongi wants to explore and flee from with equal verve. Something of himself he recognizes but doesn’t want to name. Something lonely, but resigned.

He points a finger at the open door in Seokjin’s back. “Can I go back to the reception hall this way?”

“You can,” Seokjin says. “But I’d rather you didn’t, if you don’t mind.”

A surge of excitement drums at the tip of Yoongi’s fingers, but he chases it away hastily, rubbing them together and leveling the prince with an inquisitive look.

Seokjin winces, but even that doesn’t manage to affect his naturally good looks. “There is security posted at the door,” he eludes quietly. “It would be a disservice to us both to make your presence here known. They would probably spend the rest of the night interrogating you, which I’m sure you’d rather avoid, and that would result in my personal security being reinforced because of the clear breach, and that’s something I’d rather avoid. I don’t particularly fancy losing what little peace and freedom I’ve managed to negotiate.”

Yoongi wets his lips, huffing a quiet sigh. “Okay. So what?”

“You can stay here until the storm passes,” Seokjin offers.

Yoongi takes a long drag of his cigarette, blowing the smoke up in the air until it dissolves into nothingness. When he glances back at Seokjin, he thinks he catches his gaze on the curve of his throat, but it might very well be a product of this parallel reality he has clearly stepped into, so he dismisses it.

“Okay,” he hears himself reply.

Seokjin beams, wide and beautiful and Yoongi immediately regrets not flinging himself over the fence and pushing against the storm.

“Do you want a drink? As a thank you,” Seokjin asks, as though he’s not the one doing Yoongi a favor by letting him stay here instead of forcing him into the battering rain or saving him from a bruised ego and reputation after spending a night locked up by the royal guard. “I have whiskey and gin.”

“Whiskey,” Yoongi answers.

“Come in.”

Seokjin swirls on his heels before Yoongi can fully comprehend the request, walking inside, cigarette in hand. Yoongi pointedly urges himself not to let his eyes skim down his figure, keeping them firmly set at the back of his head instead. Hoseok would be proud of him –that’s a lie, he would be extremely disappointed.

Seokjin turns around when Yoongi doesn’t follow, curving a brow. “Is everything okay?”

Yoongi motions wordlessly at his still burning cigarette. Realization flashes on Seokjin’s features, a playful smile tugging at his mouth as he brings his own cigarette up to his lips, takes a long drag and expels a wide cloud of smoke inside the room.

There is something decisively defiant about it, as though such a simple action could spark a revolution and he wouldn’t truly care, his brown eyes sparkling with a challenge. Yoongi surmises that he probably isn’t used to being scolded, what with being royalty, but there is also something else there, an underlining proclivity for rebellion that shouldn’t be so attractive but is.

Yoongi’s feet take him inside without leaving his mind time to catch up.

It’s a beautiful room, smaller than it looked from the outside. Books are lined against the wall to his right, old volumes mixing with glossed newer ones, an imposing oak desk sitting in front of the shelves. On the other side of the room, two wide plasma screens are broadcasting what Yoongi is surprised to realize is live footage from the reception hall. One of the TVs is showing the stage, the auctioneer currently talking about the next piece up for grabs. The other screen shows the guests, sitting at their respective tables in a conciliatory and desperately dull silence. Yoongi tries to spot Hoseok in the crowd, his friend usually standing out no matter the number of attendants –he is, after all, wearing a velvet purple suit in a sea of plain tuxedos– but he’s distracted from his investigation by the strong drift of a minty cologne and slender, elegant fingers presenting him with a glass.

“Thank you,” Yoongi says, meeting Seokjin’s eyes as he bows lightly.

He takes a sip of whiskey, barely stopping himself from downing the whole thing to assuage his still ticking nerves. It burns at his throat, hard, strong, a hint bittersweet. It’s one of the best whiskeys he’s ever had, and a welcome relief.

His gaze drifts back to the screen, catching a glimpse of Prince Jeongguk sitting at the very front of the room near the stage, chatting politely with someone Yoongi can only assume is a baron of some sort. He recognizes another member of the royal family at Jeongguk’s table, Kim Taehyung, their first cousin, and curiosity sparks in his chest and out of his mouth before he can stop it.

“Why aren’t you at the gala?”

Seokjin looks surprised, if not at the question at least at his bluntness. He turns around and walks up to the liquor cart, putting out his cigarette in the ashtray resting there.

Yoongi follows to do the same, feeling Seokjin’s gaze on him even when he pointedly doesn’t meet it.

“It’s my brother’s night,” Seokjin says matter-of-factly.

It isn’t much of an explanation, but Yoongi can’t blame him for the deflection. They don’t know each other, and though Yoongi tries to live his life as honestly as possible no matter the person in front of him, he knows it’s a hardly acquired luxury, to be able to get away with the consequences. He doesn’t imagine Kim Seokjin, first of his name, has many opportunities for honesty, considering the world he was born into.

Still, Yoongi reads the papers regularly enough to piece some things together. It is commonly known that the Kim brothers have a strained relationship. Yoongi doesn’t know what theory holds the more truth, the one tabloids favor, raving about their rivalry over the throne in melodramatic fashion worthy of the worst TV shows, or the more serious sources that claim the tension between them stems from the childhood trauma that slowly made them drift apart. He doesn’t really care, if he is completely honest. Royal squabbles are just that, squabbles, and the only reason he knows about it in the first place is because of Jimin and Hoseok’s regular argument over whose team they favor.

Hoseok is a fervent supporter of Team Seokjin, because ‘Jeongguk is too innocent and precious to be jealous of his brother, but Seokjin looks like he could charm you into giving him the moon while stabbing you in the back at the same time and you know I love a man who knows how to fight dirty.’

Looking at him now, Yoongi thinks Hoseok couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Seokjin doesn’t look like he could hurt anyone, his skin too clear, his smile too pure.

Yoongi knows it has to be an act, the facade of perfection he’s been taught to cultivate throughout the years of grooming he’s received to prepare him into inheriting the kingdom. There is no stain in his public image, no scandalous party with friends, no poorly made decision while he was abroad to study, no hushed rumor of misbehavior of any sort.

There is only the small, speculative taint of his relationship with his younger brother, barely of enough substance to stand any ground when faced with the image of excellence he nurtures.

Yoongi never believed in perfection; it’s a flawed concept in itself.

“You know that’s not gonna help with the fact that the press thinks you two hate each other, right?”

Seokjin goes very still, sucking in a quiet but sharp breath, and for a second Yoongi sees it, the slightest crack, a breach of humanity through the mask. There’s anger, bewilderment, a scorching fire dancing in the deep brown of his eyes, and then there is nothing of substance, the staged, charming smile back on his lips and this unsettling carefree attitude, like nothing can affect him.

Yoongi expects himself to sneer internally at the superiority it exudes, but somehow he doesn’t. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like a display of authority and supremacy. It feels like witnessing the disclosure of a secret jealously guarded, only for it to be snatched away at the slightest hint of a long forgotten truth.

“You’re a bit rude, Min Yoongi.”

Seokjin doesn’t sound particularly thwarted, rather amused.

“I’m not rude, I’m honest,” Yoongi retorts. “Maybe you’re just not used to it.”

There is a silence, heavy but miraculously not uncomfortable.

“Maybe you’re right,” Seokjin says, voice barely over a murmur.

The air feels subtly electric, alive with an obscure sense of excitement for what is to come that Yoongi knows he can’t blame solely on the storm still raging outside.

It’s in the way Seokjin’s dark eyes linger on his face for a moment and he fails to conceal the intensity they contain. It’s in the way his fingers traipse over the hem of his glass absentmindedly, and Yoongi feels his pulse throbbing against his temples. It’s in the way Seokjin’s throat visibly quavers as he swallows, turning back to the screen.

And Yoongi might not always be perceptive –which is why, Jimin tells him, his bluntness tends to hurt people who are not prepared for it– but he knows how to spot interest in someone’s eyes.

It’s a dizzying thought, but it compels him.

His mouth goes dry, so he takes another sip of whiskey and tries not to lose his mind over the fact that the heir to the throne might be royally not straight. 

Seokjin’s gaze softens, oblivious to his internal turmoil, and Yoongi follows it to find him carefully watching Prince Jeongguk, who is leaning across the table to speak to his cousin Prince Taehyung, smiling broadly.

“I’m always watched and scrutinized at these events, my every move dissected and pulled back together to fit a narrative I have no control over,” he says, voice distant. Yoongi wonders whether he even realizes he is not talking to himself. “Tonight is important to him. I didn’t want the press to make it about me.”

He clears his throat, and his ears flush in embarrassment, as though that bit of unaltered truth he just shared with Yoongi is a source of shame. “But mostly I have to let others shine every now and then. My handsome face tends to erase all competition.”

Yoongi tries to prevent his lips from curving into the ghost of a smile, but his brain has seemingly been rendered inoperative.

“I’m sure it does, Your Excellency,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Seokjin snorts, surprisingly uncouth. “Still wrong,” he says offhandedly. “Why come to a formal event at the royal palace if you don’t even know how to address a royal properly?”

“I didn’t exactly expect to meet one of you,” Yoongi points out. He didn’t expect any of what his evening turned out to be. “And I’ve never been one for decorum.”

It’s not quite a smile that blooms on Seokjin’s face then. A corner of his mouth quirks up, eyes flickering with something unidentifiable that makes a shiver run down Yoongi’s spine.

“So I’ve gathered.”

Yoongi is about to reply something he will most certainly later regret when they are interrupted by the light ring of a phone. Seokjin’s gaze roams across the room, falling on the small table sitting next to the brown-leather couch facing the screen.

“My apologies,” he tells Yoongi, before grabbing it and answering. “Hello?”

His eyes drift back to the screen, the one showing the stage. The auctioneer is presenting a large painting of a blooming cherry tree. It’s a beautiful piece –definitely standing out in the sea of awful works Yoongi has been submitted to throughout the evening– with radiant colors that somehow don’t take away from its overall harmony. If Yoongi were inside, he might have placed a bid on this one, even though he is already greatly satisfied with the painting he won earlier. 

“What’s the current situation?” Seokjin asks. There is a silence as the person on the other side of the line answers. “Let Tae have it, then. He’ll know what to do with it better than I would. I think I’m done for the night anyway. I don’t want Gukkie to know.”

Yoongi’s brows dip into a light frown as his eyes fall on the small table by the couch. There is the program for the night, the same one he received along with his invitation, listing the various pieces being auctioned. Some of them are crossed out, others underlined or circled.

He glances back up at Seokjin when he hangs up, depositing his phone back on the table.

“You’re bidding,” Yoongi says, a statement rather than a question.

Seokjin purses his lips, chewing on his bottom lip. Yoongi feels like he’s just uncovered one of his deepest secrets, and then he ponders on the thought that unwillingly crossed his mind earlier, on the way the hair at the back of his neck seems to tingle every time he feels Seokjin’s gaze on him. He wonders if the accumulating shocks of the night have clouded his mind enough for him to read between lines that aren’t even drawn.

That would be an actual secret, one that cannot be priced or appraised. If Yoongi’s instincts are true –and they seldom fail him– this is a secret that can tear Seokjin apart and leave him bare for the world to witness, the deceitful mask of perfection and uniformity shattered at his feet.

He knows what it feels like, to hide, to fear, to forget how to be.

He knows better than most, and his heart pangs with sympathy for the man standing in front of him, not a royal, not the fabricated embodiment of excellence, but a man with a secret bigger than most can carry. A man whose whole existence is a lie.

“Yes,” Seokjin says finally, pulling Yoongi out of his meandering thoughts.

Yoongi snorts and picks up the program, scanning the list rapidly. There is the painting he won earlier, circled twice.

Silver linings. It’s a beautiful abstract piece, an explosion of colors on a black background, and a single silver line curling across the canvas, seemingly tying it all together.

He narrows his eyes on Seokjin. “Are you the one who made me spend fifty extra grand for my painting?”

Seokjin gives him an apologetic smile, but it is belied by the amused glint in his gaze. “In my defence, I really liked it. And those fifty extra grand are going to charity, Yoongi. Are you telling me you regret giving money to charity?”

Yoongi throws him a pointed glare, emboldened by the playfulness he can read in Seokjin’s gaze. He ignores the foolish flutter in his chest at the sound of his name uttered in Seokjin’s regal lilt.

Seokjin answers with a wink. It nearly knocks the air out of Yoongi’s lungs.

He ducks his head to hide the bashful smile curling on his mouth, gaze flicking back to the list. His lips pull into a grimace of disgust. “Beyond the stars, really?” he huffs, with little to no effort to conceal his disdain.

“Hey!” Seokjin exclaims, and it’s so strikingly different to the proper, well-mannered way he has behaved up until now that it makes Yoongi’s head whip back up. His neck aches a little, but he doesn’t regret it because it allows him to witness the expression of utter affront on Seokjin’s face, eyes wide and lips parted. “It’s a beautiful piece!”

“Just because it’s beautiful doesn’t mean it’s good,” Yoongi quips, deadpan.

“I don’t care if it’s good, I care if it moves me,” Seokjin replies. “I like art that touches me. Who cares if it’s technically perfect if it has no spirit? True beauty speaks beyond aesthetics.”

Yoongi digs his teeth in his bottom lip to suppress another smile. It’s another spectacular failure.

“Alright, Your Imperialness,” he says teasingly. “I’m sorry.”

Seokjin tips his chin up, satisfied, and although Yoongi is convinced he must have people fusing apologies on their knees at the slightest hindrance, he can’t bring himself to feel annoyed at the pettiness of it.

Seokjin plucks the list out of his hand, putting it away. “You’re still wrong. That one doesn’t even exist.”

Yoongi shrugs unapologetically, taking a sip of his forgotten whiskey. “You could just tell me what the right one is.”

“I could,” Seokjin replies, and leaves it at that, a malicious twinkle in his eyes.

Yoongi tells himself the thrill coursing through his veins is a direct consequence of standing in such close proximity with the heir to the throne, though he knows all previous discomfort has been washed away by Seokjin’s amiable smile and oddly relaxed posture.

“So, why are you bidding? Couldn’t you just ask for whatever piece you wanted?” he asks, before he lets himself entertain the idea of unveiling the lies Seokjin tells himself for what they are.

“I don’t actually buy much,” Seokjin says, looking a bit contrite at the admission. “I just want to make sure the event is a success, because Jeongguk worked hard on it and it’s important to him.”

“What if you win?”

Seokjin shrugs. “Then I win and if I don’t want to keep it, I donate it anonymously to a museum.”

Yoongi tries really hard not to groan out loud. This perfect act must be tiring even for Seokjin himself, and it’s definitely dismantling every expectation Yoongi had of him. He doesn’t like this feeling. It’s unpredictable and unsettling, how effortlessly Seokjin is defying everything Yoongi thought he knew about people like him in such a short amount of time. He was more at ease when he was just another blue-blooded roturier locked up in his gaudy palace. He’s too human now, too real, reachable.

“I usually don’t win, though,” Seokjin continues as if he read through Yoongi’s mind. “I mostly bid to make the prices rise.”

There’s a glimmer of mischief in his gaze, and Yoongi tells himself it is not an attractive trait. It’s far from the first lie he told himself tonight.

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“Are you going to tell?” Seokjin fires back.

Yoongi would have to be a fool not to grasp the double meaning of the words, but it’s made all the more clearer by the intensity of the gaze Seokjin fixes him with.

An intoxicating silence settles between them, charged with implications Yoongi now has no choice but to consider.

He licks his lips, hesitating, and when Seokjin’s eyes flicker to his mouth, a brisk movement Yoongi would have missed entirely was he not staring back just as brazenly, he finds he is unable to look away from the fire they contain.

Yoongi’s fingers shake against his glass. He tightens his grip.

Seokjin is holding his breath, waiting for him to answer, concerned and guarded, but equally hopeful. Yoongi wants to tell him the trust he seems to have placed in him is unwarranted, but that would be another lie.

There’s another storm happening, right in front of him, pulling apart defenses and leaving nothing standing but the depth of this secret they now share.

“No,” Yoongi finally replies, his voice low and intense to his own ears. “I’m not.”

Seokjin breathes out, quiet but battered. There is something devastatingly sad about it, about the way he still looks utterly gorgeous even as he crumbles under the weight of the relief on his shoulders, still looks impenetrable even when they both know the veil has fallen.

“It stopped raining,” Seokjin murmurs, though it cuts through the tension between them like a cry of agony.

Yoongi glances away at the window. Seokjin is right. The air is still humid, but it feels lighter, a telltale sign that the worst of the storm has come to pass.

“I should go,” Yoongi says faintly.

Seokjin hums absently, and when Yoongi looks back at him, his gaze is fixed into nothingness, his brows furrowed. He seems far away and yet closer than he’s ever been tonight.

He tilts his head slightly to the side, catching Yoongi’s eyes.

He still looks perfect, and something powerful surges in Yoongi’s chest, a compulsion to find the crack in a seemingly immaculate canvas and ruin it. That’s art, the kind none of the people he’s met tonight could understand –touching imperfections, desecrating purity. Baring truths.

Even if it’s just for him to see, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. He wants to ruin it, that lie that stands in front of him and wants him to believe this advertised perfection is not a mask to fool the world.

Perhaps it’s even simpler than that. Perhaps he just wants, and after years of being deprived of the things he desired, of being told he was foolish for wanting more than the condition he was born into, Yoongi feels entitled to it. To demanding and taking, and taking, and taking, until he’s satiated.

He never truly is.

He leans forward a little, watches as the movement makes Seokjin hesitate for a moment, his fingers twitching nervously in the air between them.

“I won’t tell,” he promises, a truth in all the lies they told each other and themselves.

Seokjin blinks once and stares at him blankly. He goes still, fingers tightening on his glass, posture impressively straight. Yoongi wonders if his boldness will get him more of a reaction for a moment, until he sees Seokjin’s ears, brightly flushed. His lips part, and the breath he expels is heavy with something Yoongi can’t quite decipher, rough and electrifying.

And then Seokjin moves, so aggressively quick that Yoongi thinks for a moment he will either punch him or deliver him to the security team he said was posted behind the door for a much bleaker fate. He takes a step forward, looking down at him with undisguised heat, from fear or something else entirely. His long, elegant fingers curl at the collar of Yoongi’s shirt, pulling harshly, pulling hopelessly, pulling.

Yoongi goes, unable to resist the call –unwilling, perhaps.

“If you do, I will ruin you,” Seokjin says, words urgent against Yoongi’s illusory nonchalance.

Yoongi barely has time to acknowledge the way his body shivers at the unbridled threat.

His world crashes, not with a fist he expected to punish him for his bluntness, but with a mouth pressing against his own, warm and demanding and fucking regal.

His mind provides him with one thought, one single, earth-shattering thought before his mind lets itself be fully overwhelmed by the lips nibbling at his own like they already know the things that make him tick.

What the fuck.

Seokjin kisses him like a drowning man holding onto the smallest flicker of hope for survival, and Yoongi blindly reaches behind him to put his glass down so he can grip at his waist, tethering him to the ground they stand on, shaking but stable. Alive.

Seokjin’s hand cups his neck, pulling him closer until their chests collide and Yoongi’s mind ceases to function, giving into it completely. He licks at Seokjin’s bottom lip, greedily collects the sharp intake of breath he’s rewarded with. His fingers pull at Seokjin’s shirt, yanking until he can slip his hand underneath, feeling the smooth skin of his narrow waist burning under his touch. 

He grips, hard, and Seokjin retaliates by clutching at his hair, pulling just enough to make a litany of curses clutter Yoongi’s already clouded mind.

Yoongi pulls back, dizzy, breath crashing against Seokjin’s mouth in billowing pants. He looks up into his eyes, darkened with the same raw desire Yoongi feels raging in his chest, and tugs him down into another all-consuming kiss. Seokjin presses forward and Yoongi steps back with the force of it, the back of his knees hitting the couch’s armrest.

He sits, tugging Seokjin down with him by the collar of his shirt, his free hand fiddling with the buckle of his belt. Seokjin moans, and the sound is so unexpected and so overwhelmingly obscene that Yoongi stops kissing him altogether.

“Sorry,” Seokjin murmurs, voice wrecked already, looking flushed and disheveled and perfect in all his imperfections.

Yoongi frowns, failing to catch his breath. “Why are you apologizing?”

“I haven’t done this in a while,” Seokjin says quietly.

Yoongi finds himself smiling, softer at the edges than he would normally allow himself. “Well, you could just lie back and think of England.”

Seokjin freezes and blinks at him, lips parting in stupor. And then, his face breaks into a grin and he giggles, fucking giggles, crystal in a world of gold, his shoulders shaking with it. Yoongi ignores the pride that flutters in his chest as he captures the sound with his lips.

He stops thinking entirely when they fall upon the couch, his mind overrun as clothes are peeled off and his hands travel up the length of Seokjin’s body, spread out and naked and shivering with unbridled hunger. His ears fill with the sound of his smart, upper-class accent whispering profanities against Yoongi’s hair, lips trailing burning paths against his face, his neck, his shoulders.

It all feels unreal. He knows it can’t be happening, not really.

He feels drunk, on whiskey, on the aftermath of the storm lingering in the air, on the warm body flushed against his own.

There is only one thought left in his mind, smothering and all-powerful.

Seokjin, Seokjin, Seokjin.

Yoongi finds Hoseok exactly where he left him, with the notable difference that there is now an empty bottle of champagne sitting in front of him, and another one well on its way there.

He sinks into his chair, barely aware of his surroundings.

“Where the hell have you been? I almost had to arm wrestle the waiter for another bottle because I didn’t have you to scare him into complying.”

“We need to leave,” Yoongi breathes out. His voice is hoarse, foreign to his own ears.

Hoseok stares at him, eyes roaming over him. He’s made a decent job of looking presentable. He knows his clothes aren’t too rumpled, or at least just enough that he could blame it on the storm. His cheeks are back to their natural, pale complexion, not flushed with desire and exhausted pleasure anymore. He knows, rationally, that there is no neon sign with the words ‘I just had sex with the crown prince’ flashing over his head. It just feels that way.

He grabs the bottle of champagne by the neck, taking a long swing of it, judgmental gazes be damned.

“Why do you look like you just had an encounter with a ghost and gave it a blowjob?” Hoseok asks, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

Yoongi chokes on champagne, coughing and spilling half of it over the front of his shirt.

Hoseok’s eyes widen, and he leans forward to slap Yoongi’s arm with more vigor than he should be capable of after all the alcohol he’s consumed to make the evening bearable.

“You filthy animal!” he yelps, face breaking into a wide, ecstatic grin. “Who did you fuck?”

“No one!” Yoongi replies, a beat too quickly.

Hoseok slaps his arm again. “Liar! Was it a lord? A baroness?” He leans heavily against the table, hands moving agitatedly.

Yoongi groans, burying his head in his hands. He heaves out a deep breath and pulls them back on his knees, rubbing his fists against the material of his pants. It’s almost dry now.

“Hobi,” he says gravely, “we need to leave. Now.”

Hoseok frowns, but he seems to perceive the urgency in Yoongi’s tone for what it is —desperate— because he nods, pushing himself to his feet with unsettling grace.

“If we’re never invited again, I’ll blame your dick,” he says matter-of-factly.

Yoongi darts a glance at the guests sending them hostile glares at the nearby tables.

“Yeah, I’m sure it won’t have anything to do with the fact that you singlehandedly emptied the palace’s stocks of champagne.”

He pushes Hoseok toward the exit, heart still racing.

“Seriously though, did you actually fuck a ghost or something? You’re being weird. Weirder.”

Perhaps he is, Yoongi ponders to himself. But with the evening he’s had, he thinks he’s allowed to lose his fucking mind.