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A Diamond In The Rough

Chapter Text

Kyungsoo stirs the steaming hot drink in front of him, enjoying the rich, warm smell as it wafts up to his nostrils. Turkish coffee, the ambassador had explained: don't drink the sludge at the bottom. In a few months, it will be all the rage amongst the nobles, and in less than a year, some unscrupulous merchants will find a way to trickle it down and dilute it so some of the more well-to-do commoners can afford a sip. He's tuned out the ambassador's speech on free trade between the two countries. This is his father's business. None of it concerns him. Yet. He has made up his mind earlier this week, and today is the day he can put his plans into motion.

‘The sultan would not approve,’ he can hear Baekhyun repeating, over and over a thousand times this week already. Baekhyun lacks a prince's perspective. His father is old, in failing health, and has lost touch with his people, and if Kyungsoo is going to rule, he must take it upon himself to know the people he's going to rule over. This city is the shining jewel of their growing empire, bursting with artisans and merchants and scholars. But they all prostrate themselves in silence before golden silk robes, and any attempt at getting to know them goes out the window.

He takes a shallow sip, savoring the dark brown liquid. It is very different than tea. Very full. There is a lot of sugar, but he can still detect the bitterness from the beans. A pleasant contrast. It is a good omen, he concludes.

"I really must recommend that you reconsider, your highness." Baekhyun protests as he dutifully removes the pins from Kyungsoo's hair, loosening the tight bun and unraveling it until it fully extends down to his waist. He grabs a brush and smooths the locks out methodically. "To go without guards, without any ceremony, this is dangerous for anyone, much less the heir to the throne ."

Kyungsoo tilts the mirror so he can see Baekhyun's warped reflection in it as the old man braids his hair into a tight plait. "If the streets are so dangerous that a regular citizen is in danger just by walking through it for several hours, then there is a problem indeed, Baekhyun." He stands once Baekhyun is finished, appraising himself before the mirror. The robes are faded gray and sand, rough on his skin, but clean. Baekhyun nearly had a conniption fit when a servant brought them to him, and cried as he washed them himself, over and over until he finally accepted that they could be worn by the prince.

Well, 'accepted' may be too strong of a term.

Baekhyun holds a length of fabric before him and Kyungsoo leans forward so he can wrap it around his neck, fashioning it into a hood and pinning it with a plain silver pin. Baekhyun glowers pitifully at the pin, as if it were the one who convinced the prince to embark on this wild plan. Kyungsoo chuckles and pats his shoulder, making his way to the far eastern corner of the gardens where he's plotted to scale the wall, Baekhyun trailing behind him and watching as he disappears over it.

Perhaps this was not the best of plans, Kyungsoo begrudgingly admits as he feels an unfamiliar ache in his stomach and yet another citizen bumps roughly into his shoulder. At least they walked on in silence this time, instead of the several harrowing accounts where the perpetrator insisted that he apologized and watch where he was going. The food does not resemble anything like the meals in the palace. The streets are not lined with merchants and artists, but rather beggars and whores, and the stench of it all has permeated into his clothes. It seems that this was either the dumping grounds for chamber pots, or the people have chosen to forgo them completely and just go where they please, like animals. This is nothing like the bright, wide avenues that surround the palace, but Kyungsoo is long past confusion and has settled firmly into being completely lost. He can see barren lands on the horizon, so he must have made it all the way to the outskirts of the city.

The prince sighs in relief as he spots the familiar golden sashes of palace guards, and makes his way toward their small group. Baekhyun is probably worried sick, and he can still make it back in time for dinner.

"Guard!" he calls out as he approaches the cart they are huddled around. They turn, regarding him suspiciously, some hands moving to rest on the swords on their waists. He pulls the hood back, revealing his face more clearly. "Bring me to the palace immediately. I do not wish to ride atop that cart. Summon a palanquin if there is one near."

Four of them turn to the final one, who hops off the cart and smiles at Kyungsoo. It was not a friendly smile. He saunters toward him, and the prince feels increasingly uncomfortable as the man towers over him, forcing Kyungsoo to have to crane his neck to match his gaze. The guard stuffs a piece of dried meat into his mouth, chewing slowly. He must have taken that off of the supply cart. "And who the fuck are you, eh? Learned some fancy words, didja?" he sneers out in the common tongue.

Kyungsoo takes a slow breath as he reflects on his lessons on forgiveness and leadership. The man could not have known. He offers a small smile. "I am Prince Kyungsoo, and I wish to return to the palace. Your haste and discretion will be much appreciated."

The guard lets out a loud, throaty laugh, and the others join in. He must be the leader. "We're graced by the crown prince himself today, boys!" They go for another round of uproarious laughter as they start to circle him, and Kyungsoo's eyes widen at the dark direction of the conversation. "You letting us take turns with your royal cunt today, your highness, or you want us all at once? I'll let you have pick of the cart; whatever you can carry once we're done with you."

Kyungsoo's palm connects with the guard's cheek before he realizes what is happening. Everything seems to slow down, the whole group standing in shock, his hand still tingling from the impact. The man's face reddens even more than the handprint and he shoves Kyungsoo back, knocking him into a couple of children who instantly scatter. He stumbles and lands hard on his rear, and looks up in surprise.

"Free buffet for us then, and it's all you can fucking eat," the leader menaces, stepping slowly toward Kyungsoo, who holds an arm up defensively.

"Sorry! Sorry..." a voice chirps beside Kyungsoo in common tongue, and someone's grabbing him by the arm and pulling him to his feet. Kyungsoo pushes them off roughly, but it is not a palace guard. A man, tanned skin with cut, sun-lightened hair and plain clothes, smiling broadly at the guards, holding his hand out like he's trying to placate a wild animal. "This is my cousin, he's working on his acting." He lets out an easy laugh, like everyone should join in. "Not a prostitute, kind of loopy. I'm so sorry for the confusion." He wraps his arm around Kyungsoo's again, trying to pull him off to the side as he bows repeatedly.

"He assaulted a palace guard, boy," the man growls as he draws his sword, pointing it at his rescuer. "That's punishable by death."

No, it was not, Kyungsoo thinks. Someone slapping a guard might face, at worst, a public lashing. He gulps nervously and clings tighter. Not that he'd want a lashing.

"Again, I'm sorry," the man says, bowing some more and Kyungsoo realizes they're slowly nearing a small alleyway. "His omma only had the one, and he's kind of slow so she spoils him. It's sad. Sad story. I'll tell her all about this, and he won't be having any desserts for a month, don't worry!"

"You can tell her if she raised him better, she'd still have a son."

"You're right. You're totally right. That's a great lesson. How about — how about I hook all of you up with Madame Jin's girls? As a thank you? They've got new ones just last week, and trust me, they can soothe just about any pains, eh?"

This manages to slow the guard down as he eyes the boy thoughtfully. The others behind him consider the offer as well. One dead idiot or a free, fun day at the nice whorehouse. The leader slowly sheathes his sword and the others follow suit. "You better keep a closer eye on your cou—"

"Wonho, the cart!" cries one of the guards, and they all turn back to it, except for the man next to Kyungsoo, who doesn't even bother to glance back as he leans down to Kyungsoo's ear. "Run." he whispers, dragging him quickly down the alley.

They break apart and run at full speed as one of the guards yells "Get them!" Kyungsoo is panting as he tries to keep up with the man, who's clearly in much better physical shape than him as he leaps over crates and sidesteps carts, occasionally glancing back to make sure Kyungsoo is still behind him. They run forever, and Kyungsoo is almost about to accept that the empire will die because he did not think to bring a servant on his little adventure when he startles at his surroundings. They were definitely back by the marketplace near where this all started. He can see the flat plains against the setting sun again.

"Are you lost?" he hisses.

"Shh, this way." And it's not fair that the other man's voice is so even, like he's not even tired when Kyungsoo's lungs are burning, but he follows him behind a stall to where a pile of boxes are stacked. They climb up and up, the man pulling himself onto the roof of a building and turning around, offering a hand. Kyungsoo's pride is thoroughly bruised for the day, so he grabs it and they hoist him up. Kyungsoo tries his damnedest to pretend that they're just walking on very uneven ground with unsavory puddles as they jump to another roof before climbing through a small window, nearly invisible, on the side of an old building.

"Water," Kyungsoo rasps out once his feet land, and he follows the man over to a large clay pot, where he hands him a ladle. He has never had to pour his own drink in his entire life, but he accepts it gratefully, drawing and taking large gulps right out of the large spoon.

"I'm Jongin, by the way." the man offers as Kyungsoo scoops up more water. "Babo, I don't know what your game was, but those guards are not ones to mess around with."

Kyungsoo has finally had enough that the dizziness is fading, and sets the spoon down. Babo, he plays back, remembering. Idiot? He pulls off his hood and looks around at their surroundings. This isn't even a proper room. The tiny window is one entrance, but the other side is completely open, jagged wood giving way to a giant hole. Not even a roof on that half, with broken pieces of ceramic on the floor there. All of the furniture - if it can be called that - is on his side: just crates and boxes, and a very ornate and out of place rug spread out in front of him.

"You got a name, babo?"

"...Kyungsoo."

Jongin laughs, and it's a musical, full laugh. "You weren't kidding then? You're so pale, and you talk funny. What are you, a noble's servant? What are you doing way out here?"

Kyungsoo wonders that himself and nods absently. Sure, a servant. His stomach growls loudly, and Jongin chuckles, walking over and rifling through some of the boxes near the gaping hole.

"Tell you what, babo. Because you helped us today, I'll treat you to a feast." He walks back toward Kyungsoo, holding out a couple slices of the dried meat and a handful of — strawberries. Kyungsoo stares at them in wonder.

"These are fruit." Jongin says softly. "They're really good."

"I know what they are." Kyungsoo says, but accepts them gratefully. "W-...what did you mean by help you?"

Jongin smiles impishly and sweeps his hand back at the crate. "We actually managed to clean out the entire cart today. It's a new record!" He gestures for Kyungsoo to follow, and the prince obeys, chewing on the salted meat. Jongin pulls out goods here and there to assess. "Ahh, I told them to leave these if they found them," he says, tossing a sack down in disgust. " Worthless ."

Kyungsoo leans closer to see and his jaw nearly drops at the sight of the pale green pods. Raw coffee beans. Several kilos of them. It would be enough to buy a nice house near the palace. "Worthless?" he repeats.

"They taste disgusting. It doesn't matter if you boil them or eat them raw, they're inedible."

"This is the sultan’s food!" Kyungsoo realizes.

"Like I said, a feast!"

"You stole this!"

"....Uh, yeah. Well, we stole it."

Kyungsoo scoffs. "And you're the-...the babo ! Don't you know what these even are? They're meant to be roasted and ground and drunk. It's coffee, and it was meant for m-...for the prince!"

Jongin rips another bite of dried meat and chews on it as he stares at Kyungsoo in amusement. "That sounds complicated," he says around the mouthful. "Also, you're enjoying the royal prick's food right now too, so don't go preaching to me. You got somewhere to go?"

Kyungsoo bites his tongue and reminds himself that this is his rescuer, and possibly his only chance of navigating back to the palace in one piece. He shakes his head, and they eat in silence as they watch the sun set through the giant hole in the wall.

Jongin stands up and rolls up the thick rug, gesturing for Kyungsoo to follow him. He tosses it through the hole onto the roof and steps up onto it. Kyungsoo sees a makeshift ladder as he approaches, and gingerly climbs up, not trusting it to hold his weight. Jongin has rolled the rug back out and is laying back on it, looking up at the night sky. Kyungsoo sits down awkwardly on the corner of it.

"So your parents wanted you to work in the palace, babo?"

"Huh?"

"Naming you after the prince, they have some high hopes for you then?"

"Uhh...yes..." You could say that.

"You speak high tongue really well. Or I think you do anyway."

Kyungsoo lets out a small laugh at the compliment. "I did not catch your family name, Jongin?"

Jongin shrugs, folding his hands behind his head and stretching out like a cat. "I don't know. Probably Kim. Everyone around here is a Kim."

Kyungsoo furrows his brows in confusion. "Probably?"

"The moon looks so nice tonight. I'm going to sleep up here. You're free to join me if you want. The room smells like food, and it’s distracting when you’re trying to sleep."

Kyungsoo blinks at the sudden subject change, but chooses to let it go. Tomorrow, he decides to himself, eventually settling down on the other side of the rug. Tomorrow, he'll ask Jongin to help him find his way back.

Chapter Text

There are few things that the heir to the Do throne has not experienced in his twenty three years on this earth. He has tasted exotic foods from around the world, lain with the most gifted, sensuous of concubines—

For the first time in his life, Do Kyungsoo was sore. And itchy. And the right side of his face is heating up to the point that he worries he must be feverish.

Slowly, he forces his eyes to open - and nearly rolls right off of the roof when he finds himself almost nose to nose with the boy from the marketplace yesterday. He has to squint, with the morning sun growing directly behind the sleeping body. The prince palms the side of his neck at the unfamiliar stiffness there. His thighs do not want to respond to his commands, and his feet feel like he must have walked on sharp rocks for hours.

Jongin, the boy with no family name, who does not understand the value of luxury goods, who very much so saved his life yesterday. Kyungsoo can see him much clearer in the morning light: his hair is the color of the Turkish coffee Kyungsoo had less than twenty four hours earlier, cropped unevenly at shoulder length and unkempt, his skin browned by the sun, peppered with small scars. He is rail thin and in rags. Beyond his sharp, square jaw contrasting with the more pointed, slender faces of this district's citizens, Kyungsoo isn't sure he would be able to identify him in a crowd.

His savior is an orphan and a common thief. Kyungsoo wonders how to approach this. Jongin is not above looting palace carts. Would he hold Kyungsoo ransom in exchange for gold? Kyungsoo smiles wryly. Definitely not for coffee beans.

Kyungsoo edges toward the hole, quietly dropping down into the room below and walks over to the crates. Food for the palace, but there are some other boxes there too. He does not recognize the pattern of the rug they slept on, but surely it was another ambassador's gift intended for the sultan and prince. Is this how this boy lives? Freeloading off of the palace with petty theft? Kyungsoo sighs and shakes his head, lifting lids and opening boxes. There is a palace guard's gladius propped against the wall, its signature emerald pried off and clasp long since worn down, but the edge seems capable still. Did he steal this? Did he kill for this? A large box with some foreign inscriptions reveals a suit of plate armour, and Kyungsoo gasps at the memory that he once was promised such a suit for his twentieth birthday present from the Nihon emissaries.

A loud, dull thud causes Kyungsoo to jump, and he looks over to see the rug, rolled back up and on the floor. Jongin lands a moment later, nodding at him in a quick greeting and walks over to the hole, pulling his trousers open and pissing over the side of the building. Kyungsoo averts his eyes.

"You didn't eat any of the food, did you babo?"

Kyungsoo's stomach growls in response. It was aching now. He had never gone so long on so little.

Jongin laughs his musical laugh and tucks himself back into his pants, stretching as he walks past Kyungsoo. "It's good you didn't. That food's not for us. You got somewhere to be?"

The prince fights the urge to correct him that the food was actually for Kyungsoo . He is wary. Jongin seems friendly enough, but he seemed friendly to the guards yesterday as he robbed them blind too. "I need to go to the palace," he tries. "I will reward you if you escort me there."

Jongin cocks an eyebrow in amusement. He leans against the window, arms crossed as he looks Kyungsoo over. "Why do you need to go there? What do you even have as a reward?"

Kyungsoo is ready, nimbly prying off the pin on his hood and holding it out to Jongin. "This is silver. It is worth at least a whole day of food. Once I reach the palace, I will give you more." Jongin does not move to take it, and his eyes remain steadily on Kyungsoo's face, uninterested in the small bar. "I need to...I need to see my father."

"Did he get you a job there after all?"

"Y-Yes. But I have to be there today."

Jongin nods, uncrossing his hands and pulling himself through the window. He turns and offers a hand out to Kyungsoo, swatting aside the pin the prince tries to give him and grabbing his wrist instead. "Kind of explains why you went to the guards yesterday, I guess. But really, babo, you should have chosen better ones to beg favor from. I mean, were you born yesterday?"

Kyungsoo says nothing as he hesitantly clips the pin back into place once he's on his feet again, looking expectantly at Jongin.

"I'll take you to the palace. Don't worry about payment. Just stop being so dumb."

Kyungsoo swallows the insult and trails behind Jongin as they navigate the rooftops back to the ground, where his nerves finally subside enough that he can feel the aches in his stomach again. Jongin sets an easy, leisurely pace along the sides of the streets, deftly avoiding carts and people. Kyungsoo steps where he steps, but he doesn't manage the invisibility that Jongin seems to possess and occasionally catches a shoulder or has to sidestep quickly to avoid running into someone.

"Do you not talk much, babo? Or are you just slow?"

"I am not slow. I am not a babo. I am hungry ."

"You're snippy when you're hungry." Jongin does not look back, but Kyungsoo can hear the smile in his voice, and he pulls his hood lower to hide the scowl.

They walk down a narrow alleyway, and Kyungsoo stops when Jongin holds a hand out. "Be right back," he says, and disappears into the back of a small shop. He reappears less than a minute later and tosses something at Kyungsoo, who fumbles, but manages to catch it before it hits the piss soaked ground.

"Breakfast!" Jongin exclaims happily, taking a big bite out of his.

Kyungsoo examines the small, soft, ball shape in his hands. It is hot, shiny, cream-colored, and has a weird spiral pattern on the top. He sniffs it curiously. It smells inoffensive. "What...is it?" he asks.

Jongin laughs as he pulls him out of the alley, quickly inhaling another bite as he turns down another street. "You serious, babo? It's a steamed bun."

The blank look on Kyungsoo's face slows Jongin to a stop. "...You serious ? What do you eat?"

Kyungsoo blinks and looks down at the bun nervously. "Just...regular food."

"This is regular food, babo." Jongin sighs, and pokes at Kyungsoo's bun. "...It's bread, and this shop's in particular even has egg inside."

"Did you steal it?"

Jongin cants his head to one side, and Kyungsoo can't decide if his expression is one of amusement or irritation. He hovers a hand over Kyungsoo's bun, "If you don't want it..."

Kyungsoo stuffs the bun into his mouth quickly, biting off nearly half of it. The filling is mostly grease, with a little meat and a thin sliver of egg. It tastes better than anything at the summer harvest feast and Kyungsoo almost moans in relief as he tries to savor the bite for as long as possible. He ignores Jongin's snickers and follows once he starts moving again.

"Walk next to me. I feel like I'm being followed and it's creepy."

The bun is gone before he realizes, and he longs for more, eyeing Jongin's greedily. At the next street, Jongin stops where two small children are huddled against a wall. He breaks the remaining half of his bun into two pieces and hands each of them one, ruffling the hair of the smaller child and continuing down the road without saying a word.

"Do you know them?" Kyungsoo asks.

"I know what starvation looks like."

"How are people starving? I don't understand."

"Well, babo, when people don't eat food, they starve."

"No, I mean...the sultan provides food for people who are too poor to afford it. The programs have had increased fundings every year."

Jongin lets out a loud, bitter laugh. "Which sultan? Seungsoo? Since when?"

Kyungsoo does not hear his father's name very often, and only in reverent tones by the priests. It comes out of Jongin's mouth like a curse, a despicable thing. He recovers a moment later. "Do you not know? Is that why you steal from the palace car-"

Jongin presses a hand over Kyungsoo's mouth and steps right up against him. "Unless you want to try your luck outrunning the guards again, watch what you say, babo." His voice is soft, and his eyes hold no threat, but Kyungsoo steps back shakily.

"...T-the...royal adviser Kwon..." Kyungsoo starts once they've resumed walking. "...He has grants provided by the Sultan to distribute food to the poor, and funding for landowners to house them. You see, there is no need for...what you do. The Sultan provides if you are unable to."

Jongin stares at Kyungsoo as if he's spoken another language, but he had said everything perfectly in common tongue. "Babo, did your master tell you this? Your skin is so pale, so maybe you've really never been outside of your master's house, but that stuff does not exist." He shakes his head slowly, looking up to the sky and brushing a frustrated hand across his eyes. "Kwon only gives food to his pets, and even they only get scraps when they dance like good puppets for the sultan. The landlords? They pay off the palace guards so they are left alone to do whatever they want. Your master must be higher up in the world if even his servants buy that shit."

Kyungsoo is shocked into silence as he tries to gauge whether Jongin could be lying or just misinformed. But it is not just Jongin who is in rags. Even before he met him, Kyungsoo saw the condition of the people, the streets, for himself yesterday. But could that really be the truth?

Jongin grabs him by the wrist and guides him into a large building. This one is clean. Nice even. Kyungsoo's eyes form nearly perfect circles at the sight inside. Women of all shapes and sizes, some bare-breasted, others fully nude, with men drooling over all of them.

"You took me to a whorehouse ?" he squeaks.

Jongin continues pulling Kyungsoo deeper into the building, pushing past some girls who reach for him, but get ignored. They make their way down a long corridor, and the prince recognizes that they are now in a bath house. He looks curiously at Jongin when he lets his wrist go, to find him stripping out of his clothes and wading into one of the pools.

"Come on, babo, you can't go to an interview like that!"

It would be embarassing, Kyungsoo concludes, if he were to show up at the palace a day late, looking like a refuge. He hesitates, but eventually takes his clothes off, folding them neatly and setting them on a bench before spiralling his braid up into a bun and joining Jongin.

"Wow," Jongin says, and Kyungsoo feels a poke at his stomach, "No wonder you don't know anything. Must be nice. You're smooth like a baby."

Kyungsoo is not fat, as the prince must have respect for his body and show an image of health, but his stomach is soft. He looks over at Jongin's tanned stomach and can see the muscles where the skin adheres too tightly, not from muscle mass but rather lack of fat. He sees small scars and fresh scrapes cover Jongin's body. Kyungsoo's eyes dip too low, linger too long, and he reddens, quickly looking up at Jongin's face to catch a smirk.

"Do you need to go next door?" Jongin asks in a teasing tone.

Kyungsoo does not understand. "What is next door?"

"The men's bathhouse."

"Are we not in the men's bathhouse?"

"No, we're in the actual bathhouse. The men's bathhouse does not have baths." Jongin purses his lips to hold back a laugh as he waits for Kyungsoo to figure it out.

Kyungsoo blinks slowly, "...What does it have then?"

"Men." Jongin says, a small giggle escaping, "Like the women in the previous building."

Oh. And Kyungsoo scowls as Jongin guffaws at him. He splashes some water into Jongin's face, which prompts a water war between the two before Kyungsoo surrenders, sputtering and blinded.

An older woman waves at them, motioning for them to get out. Jongin wades back out and stands before her, unabashed by his nudity. Kyungsoo follows, but stays in the side of the pool, water up to his waist.

"Jonginnie, you have not been by in ages! I did not know whether I should mourn and set out candles for your soul to find its way here."

"Jinnie-noona," Jongin teases, "If I died, the first place my spirit would go is to raid the kitchen here. I would be the fattest ghost in the district." He accepts the bundle of clothes in her arms and the friendly smack to the shoulder, smiling cheekily.

The woman turns to Kyungsoo and gives him a severe look. "You bathe for free, and you do not even come out to greet me? Jongin-ah, what kind of friends are you making?"

Jongin turns to shoot Kyungsoo a pointed look as he ties his new robe, and the prince reluctantly pushes himself out of the pool, awkwardly covering his crotch and bowing slightly at the woman as he dashes toward his clothes.

"I'm sorry, noona, he's a dummy." Kyungsoo feels Jongin dig an elbow into his arm. "This babo doesn't know anything. This is Madame Jin. She owns this entire strip of buildings. Say thank you, babo!"

Kyungsoo is feeling uncharitable as the clothes cling to his freshly cleaned, damp skin, but he bows again at the woman, mumbling out a 'thank you for your generosity' and trying to avoid eye contact as much as possible. Even he has heard of Madame Jin, who runs a series of whorehouses catering to all, but especially the upper class. There is a chance she might recognize him in turn, and the last thing he needs is for gossip to spread that the crown prince snuck out of the palace disguised as a commoner to visit a whorehouse.

"I don't remember saying you can treat this place like a puddle in the street, Jongin-ah. I allow you to visit, but what is this business?"

"It was an emergency, noona. You can count it as one of my favors."

"Boy, I have paid you back for all your help!" A thwack to Jongin's shoulder again, and Jongin makes an exaggerated show of ducking and rubbing his arm.

"Three favors, Jinnie-noona! You promised!"

Madam Jin pinches his waist, and Jongin squeaks, stepping back and whining. "We were just leaving!"

Kyungsoo knows they must be close to the palace by now. Madam Jin's buildings were placed as close to it as legally possible, which meant they should be approaching the inner gate soon. He looks to his side at Jongin, who's finally stopped whining about the damage he took for Kyungsoo. He was quite handsome once he's washed up, actually. His skin looks golden and glowing in the mid-day sun, and his hair slicked back to look almost managed. His eyes are beautiful: almond shaped and a lighter brown than Kyungsoo's. These are thoughts he does not need to be entertaining right now.

They reach the bridge leading to the inner gate, and Kyungsoo grabs Jongin's arm, stopping them before they step onto it. Jongin turns to him, brow raised in question. "I wanted to thank you." Kyungsoo says softly, looking into Jongin's eyes and knowing that this is about to be goodbye. "You will be rewarded, but I wanted to say thank you. It was...very kind of you to bring me back here. I learned a lot today, and I will see what I can do to fix things."

Jongin smiles warmly and pushes Kyungsoo's forehead with his finger. "Babo. If you get this job, you need to be good and stay out of trouble. Who's going to save you if you try to go pick a fight w-"

" You two?" roars a voice, and next thing Kyungsoo knows, he's pulling himself up from the pavement, vision dizzy and head ringing to see Jongin yelling and trying to wrestle a sword away from one of the guards yesterday. He's overpowered, and another guard grabs him by the waist and tosses him backward, sending him flying off of the bridge and landing underneath with a sick thud.

"No!" shouts Kyungsoo at the same time someone shouts "Stop!" The leader from yesterday manages to deliver a vicious backhand to Kyungsoo, sending him onto his back and the sky spinning momentarily before he's hoisted up by two guards. Slowly, his eyes come to focus to find Baekhyun standing before him, looking horrified and covering his mouth with his hand.

Baekhyun is clenching his teeth, Kyungsoo observes groggily, hearing the awful grinding sound. He watches as Baekhyun squeezes his eyes tightly shut for several seconds before pulling on as calm of a facade as he can manage, and announcing to the guards to escort him - gesturing to Kyungsoo - back to the palace immediately.

The guards obey the prince's head servant, although they whisper amongst themselves as to why he would want a thief brought into the palace when judgment can be dealt right here. They make it, finally, into the palace grounds, and Baekhyun rushes to his side, shoving the guards' hands away, tears streaming down his face.

"Thank the gods, thank the gods you are safe. I have looked all day." he sobs as he supports Kyungsoo's weight, but by now Kyungsoo can walk on his own and just clings to him for emotional support. He tastes blood in his mouth and can still hear the ringing, but one side of his face is numb and he tunes out Baekhyun's babbling as he tries to decipher what the nagging feeling in his brain is trying to tell him.

He slows them to a stop. "Baekhyun." he says, letting go of the man and straightening his robes shakily. "Have these men arrested."

Baekhyun motions at the stationed guards, and they come forth, taking the other guards' weapons away and remove them without question.

Kyungsoo swishes saliva and spits out blood. His vision is normalizing. There is still something he is forgetting.

Baekhyun winces and reaches up, using his sleeve to wipe away the residue on the corner of his mouth. "Please, your highness, let's get you cleaned up and the physician look at you. We can deal with this trash later."

Kyungsoo gasps and grabs onto Baekhyun's arm. " Jongin !" he exclaims, turning quickly and running back toward the gate. Baekhyun calls after him, but the prince does not stop until he reaches it. "The boy who was with me," he tells one of the new guards. "Under the bridge."

The man looks back at Baekhyun, who's caught up and nods. He calls out to some others, and they lower themselves under the bridge. Kyungsoo has a sinking feeling in his stomach as they resurface minutes later. "Sir, there is no one there."

Chapter Text

"Jongin! Jongin!" cried a panicked little voice, and small hands rained down on his face and chest. "Come on, wake up!"

"I told you," came another voice a few feet away. "He's dead."

"Not dead yet." Jongin mumbles, weakly shielding his face from the barrage of hits. They stop, and Jongin yelps in pain as a body lands on top of him, squeezing his ribs.

"Oh, sorry!" Sehun says as he gingerly pulls away, looking remorseful.

"It's fine," Jongin says, giving the kid a weak shove as he slowly pushes himself upright. He feels like he was tossed off a cliff and trampled, but doesn't suspect that anything is broken. They're in an alleyway not too far from Madame Jin's buildings, he realizes. "What happened?"

"I saw you fall off the bridge by the palace," one of the boys in the back offers. Jongin squints at the body silhouetted by the setting sun. It's Moonkyu, one of the older boys who runs errands for Madame Jin. "You're lucky. You landed right on some bolts of fabric that they were transporting to Lord Lee's house. Sehun and Taemin were about to sneak some off for Jin's new girls, so we all dragged you over to here."

Jongin hears soft footsteps approaching quickly and turns. Wonshik shoots a cautious glance over his shoulder as he jogs up to the group. "You live! Coast is clear. I don't know where those guards went, but no one's looking for you."

"Did Kyungsoo get into the palace?"

"The kid with you? He sure did," sneers Taemin, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of him. "An old servant came out and ordered the guards to drag him inside."

Jongin stands up too quickly, grateful for Sehun shouldering some of his weight and keeping him upright. "Did you see what happened?"

Taemin shrugs, looking to the others for confirmation. "We were kind of busy, you know, saving your life... But what's it matter?"

Jongin shakes his head. "If they think he's a thief, they'll kill him! He's suppose to go work in the palace with his father."

"Wait, where are you going?" Wonshik shouts, reaching out to catch Jongin as he stumbles down the narrow alley.

"I gotta go save him."

It takes longer than he'd want, but beggars can't be choosers, and the wait helps Jongin recover somewhat as he pieces together his proposal. He has to go on the slim hope that Kyungsoo is still alive. The other boys are only willing to help him to an extent. They don't owe anything to Kyungsoo, but they're not injured and can move deftly through the city, able to go to the drop point and bring what he needs back quickly. He takes a deep breath and is determined to hold his ground as he matches Madame Jin's suspicious look with his own easy smile.

"Jinnie-noona, I need to call in a really big favor..."

"Sir, if he died, then he died in service of the sultanate. It is an honor not many commoners will ever have. He would be proud." Baekhyun has a very odd idea of what is considered comforting words.

"He would have rather lived." Kyungsoo says, looking down miserably at his reflection as Baekhyun combs through his wet mane. He had a angry bruise on his cheek and a gash above his brow, but the physician had done an adequate job and assured Baekhyun that with hourly applications of the smelly poultice, the swelling and color would be gone by morning.

A knock on the door brings a scowl to Baekhyun's face. "I am sorry, your highness," he says as he stalks toward it. "I told them specifically that you were retiring for the night." He inhales as he swings the door open, ready to unleash some wrath upon whichever unfortunate soul did not receive the message, but stops as he recognizes one of the sultan's servants.

Chanyeol steps in and bows deeply before Kyungsoo. "My prince," he says, averting his eyes, although everyone in the room knows he's seen Kyungsoo's purple cheek, still obvious despite how significantly it's already faded. "Your father requests your presence in the Great Hall."

"Please tell my father I am not feeling well." He was in no mood for politics tonight.

Chanyeol nods, but persists. "I'm afraid the sultan will insist, my prince. A royal emissary has arrived, and he will be expecting a full court."

Kyungsoo looks at Baekhyun, whose face reflects his own curiosity. It is late. Past dinnertime even. "Who is it?" he asks.

Chanyeol bows again. "My apologies, sir, but I am afraid my knowledge on geography is too lacking. I did not recognize him."

Kyungsoo arrives in the ornate hall in time to hear a timbre voice say something he does not recognize. He sounded impatient. A pause and then the high lilt of a young woman's voice speaks in high tongue. "The prince ...would like to know if he may proceed," she says unsteadily. He steps up to the raised platform and bows to his father, who looks curiously at the strip of fabric wrapped around his head, covering the offending cheek and an eye. Kyungsoo offers no explanation, and turns to sit on his throne. Before them is a congregation of veiled women in sheer silks of different solid colors, gathered around a man in armor. Kyungsoo suppresses a gasp as their eyes meet.

Jongin's eyes widen as he locks gaze with the prince. His face is a mix of confusion and panic as he looks over Kyungsoo's garb.

"Please inform the prince that it is against policy to hold prisoners within the palace," the sultan says, turning to his son and gesturing at the crowd. "This is Prince Kai of...ahh…?"

The woman dressed in red standing next to Jongin leans toward him and whispers, but his attention is fully on Kyungsoo. She clears her throat and tries again, as forcefully as subtlety would allow. Jongin finally opens his mouth, and lets out a stream of words that Kyungsoo does not recognize.

"Your highness, this is Prince Kai of Agrabah, and we were travelling through here when his servant was mistaken and arrested by palace guards. He is requesting that he be released, and as a show of gratitude, have brought humble gifts from our country." She motions toward some of the other girls, muttering too soft for the words to reach the thrones. Three girls come forward, each proffering a small, engraved, wooden chest.

"I have never heard of any place called Ah-grabah." Advisor Kwon says, stepping toward them. The girls bow immediately and take a step back. Jongin looks down at the shorter man defiantly.

"The palace library is available to you, Advisor Kwon. Perhaps you should make use of it, to better serve the sultan." Kyungsoo says, stepping down and walking briskly toward them. "It is a smaller nation near Nihon. Can you not tell by his armor?" He offers a small smile at Jongin, inwardly sighing with relief.

"Ah yes, that would be it," the Sultan sighs, oblivious to the advisor's thinly suppressed sneer and hostile tone. "Unfortunately, as I was saying, we do not keep prisoners here. I will send a guard to check the jails."

"That will take some time," Kyungsoo speaks quickly. "They must be weary from their journey. You all should rest here for the night at least, and we can clear everything up in the morning."

The Sultan nods, looking proudly at Kyungsoo. "I think that is an excellent idea, as it is quite late." He turns expectantly over at Jongin, who still hasn't taken his eyes off of Kyungsoo. "You can relay his description to the guard, and he will try to locate him immediately."

The girl on his side shakily translates, and even at this distance, Kyungsoo does not recognize it. Jongin nods and softens his gaze, saying something back. "Prince Kai would be very grateful to accept your offer," she says, bowing deeply.

"If you are not too tired," Kyungsoo says, "Perhaps you will allow me to show you the palace gardens."

Jongin's eyes narrow in suspicion, and Kyungsoo can see Advisor Kwon leaning closer in interest, as the prince does not volunteer any interaction between himself and foreign ambassadors. He turns to the man trying to string along, "I believe you are already quite familiar with the gardens, Advisor Kwon. Your time might be better spent with a book."

They walk in silence through the gardens. Alone. Jongin's party had been settled into their guest rooms for the night, and Kyungsoo has dismissed Baekhyun as well. Jongin looks around nervously as they slow to a stop near the fountain. Here, they were as alone as they could be within the palace.

"Prince Kai?" Kyungsoo asks with a small giggle. "What is that?"

"I heard it in a story when I was a kid." Jongin says, shrugging. "You..."

Kyungsoo waits patiently, stepping out so he faces Jongin directly.

Jongin raises a hand toward his face, but stops halfway, unsure. He tries again, fingertips barely touching the fabric covering Kyungsoo's cheek. Kyungsoo glances to the side, confirming the gardens were still empty, and slides off the cover. The gash is just a thin line now, and the bruise had faded already to a pale green and yellow patch.

"You are the prince."

"Yes."

"I thought they were going to kill you."

"For a bit, I thought they were going to as well. My servant came out and stopped them." Kyungsoo bites his lip anxiously. "I went back to look for you. You were gone."

Jongin does not say anything, looking like he wants to shrink away. Kyungsoo latches on to the last thing. "So you came to rescue me?"

"...Yes."

"That was a hare-brained scheme." Kyungsoo says, laughing lightly to hide how touched he was. "What did you bring to bargain me back?"

Jongin takes a deep breath, looking down at the ground. "Those beans. Y-...you said they were valuable."

Kyungsoo smiles broadly, beyond charmed. "They are. What language were you speaking? I had never heard it."

"It is ogre language. It is a game in common tongue." Jongin says softly.

"And the women?" Kyungsoo asks, and even he can hear the note of jealousy in the question.

"Madame Jin's new girls. They looked exotic enough and no one would have recognized them yet. One of them knew enough high tongue."

Kyungsoo impulsively takes Jongin's hand, playing with the fingers. "You call me babo, but you bring whores and stolen coffee to the palace and pretend to be a foreign prince to barter for someone you've only just met. I think you should reconsider who's the babo here."

"I think I should leave." Jongin breathes out, and from here Kyungsoo can see his eyes shining, can make out the bruises hiding in the shadows of his helmet. He extracts his hand from Kyungsoo and steps back, offering a small, awkward bow.

"Why?"

"You are safe. You...did not need rescuing at all. Will the girls be able to leave safely in the morning?"

"Of course, but—"

Jongin looks up at the wall behind them and silently makes his way to the same tree Kyungsoo had scaled yesterday. He stops and starts undoing the clasps of the heavy armor. "I suppose this is yours."

"Wait." Kyungsoo says, holding a hand out as he drops the plates to the ground gently. Jongin looks back at him, brows lifted in confusion.

"Stay.”

Chapter Text

 


Stay.

 

Kyungsoo holds his breath and leans forward, pressing a quick kiss onto Jongin's lips. Jongin stares back at him, guarded.

 

"What was that for?"

 

"For rescuing me yesterday," Kyungsoo says softly, leaning forward and finding his lips again, this time, holding it for a moment longer.

 

"And that?" Jongin breathes out unsteadily.

 

"For rescuing me today," Kyungsoo says, reaching up and caressing his cheek. He looked so lost.

 

"You did not need rescuing today."

 

Kyungsoo answers by cradling his head with both hands, pulling him down and this time, Jongin kisses him back, and Kyungsoo feels like there is too much meaning, too many unspoken words, being loaded into it that he is not grasping. They gasp as they break apart, Kyungsoo holding him in place a breath away, leaning Jongin's forehead against his own. He feels like he has to hold on or Jongin will slip away into the night. He can feel the anxiety building in his chest.

 

"That," he whispers against his mouth, "is because I am so happy you are alive, and here." Jongin's next kiss says the same back to him, the relief of finding him safe apparent. It deepens and he can taste the wine from the hall earlier on Jongin's tongue. He suckles on it, but Jongin steps back, licking over his lips and eyeing Kyungsoo warily.

 

"I am not a prince in disguise..." he says quietly, although his eyes are dark and hooded. "I'm just a street rat. A thief. I don't even have a family name."

 

Kyungsoo smiles, feeling his heart flutter. He plants another kiss to Jongin's chin and the other glances around cautiously. They are isolated here, but it is lit well enough that someone could make out their movements from further away. "I know exactly who you are," he asserts, taking Jongin's hand and giving him a determined look as he guides them out of the gardens.

 

They step quietly into his rooms, the door shutting behind them with a soft whisper. Jongin's eyes flicker between arousal and doubt as he takes in the room before him. Kyungsoo brings him back down for another heated kiss, not allowing the moment to pass. He walks them backward across the floor until his knees hit the bed and they collapse on top of it, Jongin reaching out to brace himself at the last moment to keep from crushing him.

 

"You don't owe me anything," Jongin murmurs, but his hands stroke down Kyungsoo's sides, and he nibbles on the prince's lower lip eagerly. He gasps in pain though when Kyungsoo bites down on his upper lip.

 

"Stop speaking," Kyungsoo orders, reaching down and untying the sash of his robe, impatiently pushing the offending fabric off of Jongin's shoulders. Bronze skin revealed, he affixes his mouth to Jongin's collarbone as he works on undoing the knot of his trousers. The flesh under his mouth is firm and hot, and he can feel the heartbeat thrumming rapidly underneath.

 

Something gives in Jongin's eyes and he shrugs the robe off the rest of the way, kicking his boots and pants over the side of the bed as he works on removing Kyungsoo's clothing. Kyungsoo rakes short nails down Jongin's chest, feeling it bump over his ribcage. Too skinny. He continues tracing an invisible trail downward, dipping his thumb into Jongin's navel briefly, and finally wrapping his hand around the hot length underneath just as Jongin manages to undo the thick golden fabric. Jongin cries out in surprise and digs his fingers into the the silk beneath, clawing at it in frustration. "Why do you have so many things on?"

 

Kyungsoo chuckles breathlessly and allows Jongin to yank off his pants and boots while he unties the small strings to his inner robe and slides it off with the thicker state garment. Both now fully nude, Jongin dives down and catches his lips as they tumble in a mess of limbs further into the bed. Kyungsoo returns his hand to Jongin's erection as the other licks hotly into his mouth. This prompts Jongin to buck his hips steadily into the prince's, eliciting gasps of pleasure from both. Kyungsoo soon catches his own arousal, lining them up together, and closing his fist as best he can around them. Jongin covers his own hand around Kyungsoo's, snarling at the sensation as they move up and down in sync.

 

"I don't—, I need—," Jongin grunts out, shaking his head after, out of his mind with desire as he bites down Kyungsoo's smooth, pale neck.

 

"Have you been with a man before?" Kyungsoo asks, voice gravelly.

 

Jongin shakes his head again, staring hungrily at the red marks blooming on Kyungsoo's milky skin from his ministrations and leans down to leave more.

 

 "Do you—..." Kyungsoo begins, biting his lips hesitantly. Jongin looks up at him inquisitively, but Kyungsoo offers nothing other than a quick kiss before pushing him off and rolling to his feet. He gives Jongin's hand a squeeze when the other lays it on his back. "I'm not going anywhere."

 

He spots a brass oil lamp on his dresser and brings it back to the bed, smiling at Jongin's confused look. Kyungsoo opens his mouth to explain, but a surprised moan escapes instead as Jongin takes his length into his hand, squeezing and stroking slowly. "Here," he says, pouring some oil onto his hand and slicking up Jongin's erection with it, pulling a long whine from Jongin's throat as his hand glides much smoother with the lubrication.

 

Jongin attacks him with another desperate kiss as he lines himself up with Kyungsoo's entrance and pushes forward slowly. There is an ache, and it only grows more intense as he feels Jongin breaching. He lets out a high pitched whimper when he feels himself stretch as the widest part of the crown slides in, digging his fingers into Jongin's knobby shoulders.

 

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. Does it hurt?" Jongin breathes against him, planting light kisses over his face. He moves to pull out, but Kyungsoo locks his legs around Jongin's waist, tugging him forward quickly, pushing him all the way to the hilt and causing him to hiss in pain this time, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. "Just stay still for a moment," Kyungsoo grits out, feeling tears welling in his eyes.

 

"Babo," Jongin whispers softly, stroking his fingers over Kyungsoo's face and wiping away the beads of sweat along his hairline. "I thought you did this before."

 

"I have," Kyungsoo huffs out, finally opening his eyes to Jongin looking down at him with concern. The pain was dulling. The sting was still there, but it had faded as well. "I was just never the receiver."

 

"Who was?"

 

"The other persons."

 

Jongin knocks their foreheads together gently and blows air in his face when Kyungsoo scowls. "Who?"

 

"A dignitary, a couple of pleasure slaves. They must have...prepared themselves before coming to me."

 

He sees Jongin's lips form a thin line and squeezes around him, causing Jongin's eyes to widen and his arms threatening to give. "You're here, you are inside of me, and you're going to be jealous right now?"

 

Jongin flushes and shakes his head, pressing an apologetic kiss to Kyungsoo's lips as he tries to conceal a proud smile.

 

"Move. Slowly."

 

Jongin obeys, pulling out slightly and returning with shallow thrusts, watching Kyungsoo's face carefully. It is uncomfortable and foreign, but the ache dissipates with every drag inside him. "More," he whispers, pulling Jongin back down to lick inside his mouth, and their tongues dance as Jongin deepens his strokes. The room fills with the sound of skin slapping on skin and soft gasps and deep moans. It starts to feel good, and the pleasure grows as Jongin's movements grow needier. His length brushes against something inside Kyungsoo that sends tingles down his scalp with every thrust and shoots straight down to his own arousal, which bobs solid and swollen and neglected between them, desperate for friction.

 

"Ah, touch me..." Kyungsoo gasps into Jongin's mouth and grabbing blindly at his hand to drag it down between them as Jongin grows more sure of his movements and that he's not hurting the other, and picks up a frenzied pace. Jongin's lips never leave his, and Kyungsoo whimpers loudly against them when he finally feels Jongin's hand wrap around him, strokes matching his own into Kyungsoo's body. Kyungsoo cums with a long, drawn out whine when Jongin sucks hard on his lip, spasming around him and Jongin follows suit a moment later, the sight before him pushing him over the edge with a low groan.

 

They recover laying side by side, Jongin's fingers swirling through the sticky puddle on Kyungsoo's flat stomach as he watches with fascination. Finally regaining his breath, Kyungsoo tilts his head up to see Jongin had sloppily spelled out his name on Kyungsoo's skin using the prince's own release and looks over at him with narrowed eyes. The boy looks smugly at his handiwork and paints a small, stylized heart underneath.

 

"You are a bold thief indeed, not content until you've branded the prince and made off with my heart," Kyungsoo says teasingly, brushing a lock of hair out of Jongin's face..

 

"Oh no, you've caught me. What will happen now?" Jongin says dramatically, biting a smile back as he rolls onto his side and rests his chin on his fist.

 

"It is very precious to me. It would set a bad example if I did nothing."

 

"What is my punishment then?"

 

"I don't think I can ever let you leave. You will have to stay with me forever."

 

"I don't think your father would approve of that."

 

"Let me worry about my father."

Chapter Text

Baekhyun lets out a very undignified shriek at the sight of a broad, tanned back when he brings the prince's breakfast the next morning. He nearly faints when he sees Kyungsoo's head pop up on the other side of said back and realizes that both bodies on the bed are fully nude. Jongin gallantly tries to shield Kyungsoo's body with his, but Kyungsoo laughs and climbs over him, wincing slightly at interesting newly sore areas. "Baekhyun was there since I came into this world. I have nothing to hide from him."

 

"My apologies, my prince, your highness, I was not aware...that you two had bonded so well last night," Baekhyun says, sounding not remotely apologetic. Judgey old man.

 

"Baekhyun, this is Jongin," Kyungsoo says, beaming as Jongin tries to grab his clothes off the floor from under the prince's feet. He grabs the folded pile from Baekhyun's hands and starts pulling the pants on. "He will need new robes."

 

The name means nothing to Baekhyun. He purses his lips, but nods as he goes to the dresser and pulls out another set, walking back and setting them down at the foot of the bed, eyes cast downward.

 

"He's the one who saved me," Kyungsoo adds, sitting down and allowing Baekhyun to brush through his mussed hair and pull it back into a high bun. Now recognition comes to Baekhyun's eyes, and he gasps as he looks back at Jongin, standing awkwardly but fully dressed by the bed. He surveys the bruises on the left side of Jongin's face and clicks his tongue.

 

"Those guards attacked two princes. The Sultan will have to execute them. It cannot stand."

 

Jongin's eyes widen and he holds his hands up, ready to confess, but Kyungsoo has planned this since last night. "Only one, Baekhyun. Only me."

 

The servant blinks and looks back and forth between the two of them in confusion.

 

"I'm not concerned with the guards. We have more pressing matters." Kyungsoo says, standing up and gesturing for Jongin to sit. "Pull his hair back as best you can. It's almost time for court. We have to take down a snake today."

 

Baekyun scowls at the mess that is Jongin's hair, but eventually transforms it into a smooth, small bun as Kyungsoo explains that the Sultan is not corrupt, but rather old and duped by his royal advisor, who has been defying his orders and greedily leeching the city.

 

 

The entire hall falls silent as the Prince prostrates himself before the Sultan. Seungsoo raises his eyebrows but holds his hands out and orders his son to rise.

 

"My lord, I am afraid I bring bad news today." Kyungsoo speaks softly, but the entire court is so silent, his words have no trouble being heard. "We have been mislead by Advisor Kwon, who has poisoned our city and its people. He has robbed the programs you have set out for our citizens and the corruption has trickled down to the nobles and palace guards."

 

The advisor steps forward, leaning down heavily on his staff as he focuses only on the Sultan. "My deepest apologies, your majesty. I do not know what I have done to provoke the crown prince, but it seems he is misinformed on the current state of things."

 

Seungsoo waves at the advisor, silencing him as he levels a look at the prince. "These are very troubling words, my son. Where did you get this information?"

 

"Perhaps from the foreign prince who warmed his bed last night?" Advisor Kwon sneers out. "I believe Prince Kai was devastated he lost his servant on his way to the palace, but I assure you that one foreigner's negative experience does not reflect the populace at large, nor does it imply some insane conspiracy."

 

Kyungsoo gives the advisor a withering look, and he can see the court leaning in closer at the latest development. The prince was possibly the most private individual in court, with no known acquaintances or relationships and nobody has ever managed to buy favor from him, despite the many who have tried or sent tempting surrogates in their place. "Are you spying on the royal family, Advisor Kwon? Am I under suspicion?" he asks sharply.

 

Kwon bows deeply, putting on a simpering, condescending tone, "I would never dream of it, your highness. However, one of my men was...passing by the gardens yesterday when he observed the two princes in a rather...compromising position before finally retiring to the prince's quarters."

 

"Your little birds, you mean," spits out Kyungsoo. Advisor Kwon was especially proud of his network of spies that he allegedly only used to monitor the nobles. He calls them spies, but they were parrots, regurgitating exactly what Kwon wanted them to say back to Seungsoo.

 

"Enough squabbling!" shouts the Sultan, frustrated and anxious. "This is— ...Advisor Kwon, you will remain silent until I allow you to speak. Prince Kyungsoo, please explain yourself."

 

Kyungsoo bows. He expected this behavior from Kwon, and should have known better than to rise to the bait. No matter. "You know I would not bring such things before you without evidence, father." He holds a hand up and four men are brought up behind him, chained together. "These were palace guards on the outskirts of the city. They are under direct orders from Advisor Kwon to loot through import carts and bring them to him first. They have raided royal supply carts and city carts alike. They have killed children with his blessing. The artisans and scholars that come to the palace are the only ones in the city, as the college has closed from lack of funding despite your monthly contributions. They are Kwon's puppets, and I have them here today as well, as they are tired of not being allowed to put their skills to work aside from acting like they and their nonexistent colleagues are doing well. People are starving and homeless in a city where we have promised that no man will see such a sight.

 

"These are outrageous lies!" snarls Kwon, stepping in front of the prince.

 

The Sultan's eyes spark fire and he grimaces as he signals for guards to restrain the advisor. "I have ordered you to be silent, first off. But more importantly, he is the crown prince, and you will not disrespect the heir to the throne or it will not matter what evidence has been levied against you." He takes a few long, calming breaths and turns back to Kyungsoo, softening his gaze. "This saddens me greatly, but I will hear what these men have to say and Advisor Kwon will face a trial."

 

 

It takes some convincing, but Jongin manages to get his crew to come forth to the prince and relay what they know about the corruption in the noble class and the guards. Moonkyu and Taemin are most helpful, as their legitimate errands take them through the wealthier areas of the city and they interact more with the servants, who are ever too eager to spill juicy information on their masters. Advisor Kwon was found guilty and exiled, and the palace guards are reshuffled to ensure that those who were at least the most corrupt and vicious were imprisoned. It was a start.

 

Seungsoo worked tirelessly to right his empire, but he passes too soon and Kyungsoo is proclaimed the new sultan. He mourns his father's death, but quickly settles on reforming the city and finishing Seungsoo's work. The wealth is better distributed, the commoners celebrate, and there is always Jongin at his side. The empire prospers.

 

Jongin stays under the guise of a foreign prince who's fallen in love and absconded his throne, taking lessons in private from trusted teachers. They were sworn to secrecy by thinly veiled threats, but there was no need, as the teachers were just as easily charmed by Jongin as the Sultan was. And Jongin was a quick study, speaking high tongue fluently within the first year. His scars have faded, his hair has grown out, but he still has the nut brown skin and sun-lightened locks of his past, and the nobles have taken to sunbathing and some even shortening their hair to create smaller buns echoing the exotic prince, much to Jongin's disgust. 

 

Kyungsoo catches the sadness in his eyes sometimes when he recognizes someone from his past, in the streets, and they clearly - luckily - do not recognize him, as his time in the palace with the fine silks and ready foods have changed his appearance, and who would consider the Sultan's foreign husband to be someone who's vanished from the streets after stealing from some guards? His friends are doing well for themselves, but they do not visit the palace aside from Sehun, who comes on holidays to fill Jongin in on everyone's lives, which possibly does more harm than good. He knows Jongin does not regret this life, but it is still bittersweet sometimes.

 

 

Jongin looks most beautiful glistening with a sheen of sweat on his golden body, Kyungsoo decides as he catches his breath. He strokes down Jongin's narrow waist and presses a kiss to his shoulder.

 

"What is it, babo?" Jongin asks, catching Kyungsoo's hand and bringing it to his own lips with a soft smile. In bed, in private, they always revert back to common tongue. "Can't you just bask?"

 

Kyungsoo grins, swatting his nose and leans back, stretching his body out. "I was just thinking you've done quite well for yourself," he says teasingly.

 

"How so?"

 

"You've gone from a beggar to a king. You've made history even though history will never know."

 

"I've never begged in my life," Jongin says indignantly.

 

Kyungsoo shoots him a pointed look, watching as Jongin flushes at the memory of what they've just done flashes back through Jongin's eyes: Jongin pressing his face into the pillow, wailing and begging desperately for Kyungsoo to give him his release.

 

Jongin clears his throat. "For food or money anyway. That's what we were talking about."

 

Kyungsoo laughs, and they slowly shift to how in such a short time, they - together - have completely transformed this empire into such a prosperous, happy one. Such a contrast from how life was before they had met.

 

"A whole new world." Jongin says, nuzzling sleepily into Kyungsoo's shoulder.

 

"A whole new world." Kyungsoo agrees, kissing Jongin's forehead as sleep takes them.