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redux, rebirth, resurgence

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Bonghwan tries to pull his life together after everything—he really does.

With Minister Han erased from the timestream entirely (haha, suck on that ), there’s no scandal for him to be fired from the Blue House, and he throws himself into creating masterpiece after masterpiece for the table that even gets the president herself to come down to thank him.

Once, that would have had him crowing for weeks and using it as a pickup line for girls—and he still does use it. He tries finding many beautiful women to bed like before (although now making sure the entire time that all of them understand that this is just a casual one night thing beforehand), and he hasn’t lost any of his game, but—

But it’s just not the same.

(It had been incendiary with Cheoljong, but what he misses the most is maybe just waking up in his arms and feeling well-loved—in all respects—as Cheoljong opened his eyes, smiled that dimpled smile, said “My Queen,” in a reverent, bass tone, and basically made him feel as though he was the center of his entire universe.

And then sometimes they would have sex again, yes, that would lead to the court maids tittering away later, but—

But it was way more than that.)

His giant, gleaming skyrise apartment feels odd and empty, his bed is cold no matter who he manages to seduce into it, he keeps thinking of funny things that happened that he should tell Cheoljong or Hong Yoen or even Court Lady Choi, only for reality to slam in and reassert itself, and it truly feels sometimes like he’s in a blackout again.

What’s the point of all this?

But that’s a dangerous train of thought to go down.

He should be happy—hadn’t he been desperately fighting for a way back to his life this entire time? And as for seeing Cheoljong’s dreams through—they changed history together though, wasn’t that enough?

And their child—their child had lived on and ruled well as well—

(At the time when he had first found out he was pregnant, he had pretty much had a nervous breakdown, but gradually—he had grown to accept it.

Had even started to look forward to it a bit—daydreaming about what a good, doting dad Cheoljong was going to be, what meals he could make for the kid, and how he was totally going to kill anyone who even thought about harming then.

And then—

Well, maybe he should at least be thankful he didn’t have to give birth—god, labor would have been a fucking nightmare, but—

He can’t help feel as though something has been stolen from him.

Not just his kid who he had carried in Soyong’s body all those months—his Cheoljongie, their life together, the friends and allies he had made, the dreams that he had wanted to see fulfilled—

He gets why Soyong decided to just end her life, he does, but in the dark of the night, staring at his ceiling, he can’t help but feel as though he had done all the heavy lifting, only for her to waltz in at the last minute and take all the credit.

Had Chelojung noticed the difference?

Byeongin never had, but—surely Cheoljong would have?

God, he wishes he could ask him.)

He knows he’s fallen into a pretty bad state when one day his father looks over at him from across the table during one of their family dinners and quietly asks if he’s feeling alright.

Something has to change to snap him out of his depressive funk, so he decides to finally leave the Blue House and throw himself into starting up his own restaurant a few years earlier than planned. It’s an exhausting process—there’s almost as much intrigue and infighting to get the building set up and the staff he wants as when he had been Queen, and lots more paperwork, but at least it consumes his thoughts and time and energy.

There’s also some surprising upsides—the woman he hires as the maitre’d for his new restaurant, Chae Hwayoung, reminds him so much of Hong Yeon—she has the same open smile, friendly cheer, and seemingly inexhaustible energy. He immediately begins to hang out with her and rant about his small problems (not the big ones because the big ones would probably get him committed to a mental institution), and she seems a bit uncomfortable at first, telling him firmly that she has a boyfriend.

He hastily reassures her that he has no romantic interest in her, and no one in his entire staff believes him, but as months go by with him obviously not hitting on her, at least she relaxes a bit.

(At one point he would have totally slept with Hong Yeon—had even attempted to technically—but now—

It would feel weird.

And weirdly—almost a betrayal of Cheoljong the way none of his other flings had been?

He doesn’t really know how to explain it—but at this point it would feel like sleeping with his sister, if he had a sister, so he’s not even tempted.)

“You seem distracted,” Hwayoung comments as she neatens up a stack of leather bound menus. “Are you worried about opening night?”

Bonghwan snaps out of it, quickly reassuring her, “That is absolutely the least of my worries. Everything will go perfectly, I’m sure of it. After all, there’s me in the kitchens, and you out here, so how can we fail?”

Hwayoung beams at him. “Thanks boss! That’s definitely a morale booster! But let’s not tempt the Fates, huh?”

And of course Hwayoung is right (further evidence that he’s not wrong to see her as Hong Yeon), because while the restaurant opens smoothly, and everything seems to be going swimmingly at first, when he comes out to greet some VIP guests from some chaebol, all his prepared words go flying out of his head when he sees a familiar face with sharp cheekbones and seemingly mild eyes peering at him.

(He—

It’s Cheoljong. )

“Cheoljong!” he immediately cries out, reaching out to grasp his shoulders and make sure he’s real and not a sign his mind has finally given way (as solid and broad as ever— real ). “Cheoljong! Oh my god—you’re here!”

Cheoljong stares at him, his brow furrowed. “…yes—have we met?”

(Oh.

Oh, this wasn’t—this wasn’t a dream, and this wasn’t—this also wasn’t exactly his Cheoljong, was it?

But—

But he really looked just like him —and even had his name, which was really fucking weird, but maybe people nowadays in this changed world did name their kids after Joseon rulers, who knows

Was reincarnation a thing?

If transmigration was, then reincarnation should be too, right?

Holy shit, were all the tropes in shitty webnovels true?

Should he be thanking the heavens that he hadn’t ended up with some kind of System that shocked him every time he went OOC? Because he sure as fuck wouldn’t have been able to survive that—)

He feels a tugging motion and looks down to realize that Cheoljong is trying to politely leave his grasp. He immediately lets go of him (oh—awkward—) and then lets out a fake laugh while frantically using both hands to scratch at the back of his head. “Uh—sorry about that. Um—you just—you just look a lot like a friend of mine—a very good friend of mine—”

“Uh-huh,” Cheoljong says, leaning away from him a bit and glancing over at the other people at the table (oh right—this was a chaebol party, wasn’t it?). “Right. And your friend’s name was also Cheoljong?”

“It’s the weirdest coincidence, isn’t it?” Bonghwan replies, a wide grin pasted to his face. “Anyway, yeah—welcome everyone, so glad you could make it here, I hope the food is all to everyone’s satisfaction?”

Everyone at the table murmurs in assent, and Bonghwan beams more genuinely, thanks them, and bows, before again turning to Cheoljong. “And you? What was your favorite dish?”

Cheoljong looks somewhat taken-aback. “Ah—I haven’t tried everything yet, but the spicy ramen is quite good.”

(Spicy ramen—

It couldn’t be a coincidence, right?

He was even acting like Cheoljong—what with the befuddled look but still mildly polite tone.

He might be delusional, but—

But it can’t hurt to get to know this guy a bit better?)

“Glad to hear it!” he beams at him. “It’s a recipe I perfected over many attempts. So—you’re also a Cheoljong? I’m Jang Bonghwan—as you know. And you’re with the—Joseon Holdings?”

“Yes—I’m Lee Cheoljong, and I am the new VP of Services,” Cheoljong looks somewhat uneasily around to the other people assembled at the table before saying, “And these of course, are all my seniors in upper management who I hope will guide me well.”

(Ah—no matter what life, his Cheoljongie gets stuck in weird leadership positions with an unstable court, huh?

Well—he hopes he does well, he deserves it after his previous life.)

“Wow, I’m so flattered all of you came to the opening of the restaurant,” Bonghwan says, affecting a short bow over towards the other people at the table before continuing, “You all must come again—I will definitely take care of you all.”

(More specifically, he’ll take care of Cheoljong, but of course he won’t stiff Cheoljong’s superiors since first of all, he has a reputation to maintain, secondly, that wouldn’t do Cheoljong any good, and third, that might make them never come to the restaurant again.

He can’t have that.)

“We’re honored,” Cheoljong intones with a polite smile, and then effectively turns around, dismissing him.

Bonghwan isn’t deterred (this is just their first meeting after all), and as soon as he sees that Hwayoung has a minute, he grabs her and tells her to get him all the information he can on Lee Cheoljong.

“Right now?” she goggles at him. “There’s still two hours left before we close—”

“Tomorrow then! Just—as soon as possible! It’s extremely urgent, Hong Yeon!”

“Hwayoung,” she immediately corrects before pointing out, “And it’s not like I’m some kind of private detective—”

“Don’t give me that, any maitre’d worth their salt knows all the gossip everywhere, or else how would you guys know who to bump and who to give reservations and the best seating to? Get on it,” he orders.

And Hwayoung truly is a queen among maitre’ds because by the next morning, she’s already compiled a whole notebook for him to page through.

Lee Cheoljong: 29 years old, appointed the VP of services of Joseon Holdings just a month ago, father was a former trader in Joseon Holdings found guilty of insider trading, and is still currently serving his sentence. Mother died when he was still a teenager, and he has one older brother who is apparently engaged to a former Olympic archer. He is seen as somewhat frivolous around the company, has a close friend named Hong Byeolgam, and he appears to be single.

(Hong Byeolgam in this life too? And an older brother in love with some girl really good at archery?

This guy has to be Cheoljong’s reincarnation.

Although why Cheoljongie has to suffer through yet another set of people sticking him in a leadership position only in order to use him as a puppet as he probably tries his best, Bonghwan has no idea, but he definitely deserves any support Bonghwan can give him.

Although—

A good question is, if Cheoljong has a reincarnation, does Kim Soyong as well?

…does that matter, though?

He doesn’t really know how their relationship went after he left, but he’s pretty sure that the one Cheoljong had fallen in love with was him.

…in Kim Soyong’s body, that’s true, but he hadn’t seemed all that attracted to just her body when he had first woken up in the Joseon era, so it probably wasn’t just the body.

But it had probably helped that he had been a girl.

…is he going to end up fighting Kim Soyong for real this time for Cheoljongie’s affections??

Bring it! He’s had way too many sleepless nights imagining what he’d say to her, and plus, she got him last time!

He deserves a lifetime with him as well!)

“Uh—boss, are you worried we’re going to come under attack or something?” Hwayoung prompts, and Bonghwan only then realizes that he’s puffed up his chest and put up his fists getting ready to fight imaginary Kim Soyong.

He hastily sets down his fists and says, “Just—getting pumped up. Great work Hwayoung, next step—get us into catering a lunch or something for Joseon Holdings.”

Hwayoung’s eyes widen. “But—don’t they have a cafeteria?”

“A special catered lunch, just for the service division,” Bonghwan emphasizes.

Hwayoung tilts her head, and she gets a bit of a knowing look in her eyes. “…someone you want to impress, boss?”

“You could say that,” Bonghwan acknowledges, already thinking through the menu he should provide.

(Ramen as part of a catering job was always tricky since the noodles could grow soggy so easily.

One solution of course would be to keep the broth and noodles separate in some kind of buffet serving station thing, but then the problem would be keeping the noodles fresh and springy and the broth hot.

An excuse for him to personally oversee the matter he supposes—and can he send a special invitation just to Cheoljong?)

“Huh,” Hwayoung muses before grinning at him. “That’s kind of cute. No idea you were bi, boss!”

(…does he count as bi?

He guesses he should—after all, it’s not like he doesn’t still appreciate women, and boobs are awesome, and as for men—

Well, it could be that Cheoljong is just the exception to everything, or it could be that Cheoljong was so great that it ruined him for all other men forever.

It’s probably just easier to call himself bi.)

“Yeah,” he mumbles with a shrug.

“Well, I guess a fancy catered lunch might work,” Hwayoung says, scrolling through her contacts. “I mean, everyone appreciates good food regardless of gender, right? What else? Do you want flowers or something—or would that seem too girly?”

(Shit.

Bonghwan had thought he knew everything about wooing the woman, but here was the thing: Cheoljong wasn’t a woman.

It shouldn’t be that hard—he had already made him fall in love with him once right? And pretty much without trying! By the time Cheoljongie had fallen out of love with Hwajin and fallen for him, Bonghwan hadn’t even accepted staying in that time period yet!

Cheoljongie had even said he loved his arrogance and selfishness and all his other flaws!

But—

Bonghwan had been a woman back then.

A fairly pretty woman at that.

And of course, he’s extremely hot now, but—a guy.

….was there a way to figure out of Cheoljong could possibly be bi—he hadn’t seen much indication of it back in Joseon, but then again, the Joseon era was the one who had Confucian elitists declaring homosexuality wicked and depraved, and driving that whole scene underground, so, even if Chelojongie wasn’t opposed to the D, it wasn’t like he could run around advertising it.

It’s not even a really open thing right now here—and given Cheoljong’s precarious state in the chaebol right now, it again probably wasn’t something he’d publicize or that Hwayoung’s contacts would know about.

So—probably the only strategy here is to brazen through, get close to Cheoljong, figure out if he possibly bats for both teams—and hey, stranger things had happened before. After all, Bonghwan had thought he was 110% straight when it turns out that he’s only like, maybe 70% straight.

Maybe 60% whenever he thinks about Cheoljong’s mouth…

But anyway—the tried and true method of winning him over through his stomach first!)

--

Hwayoung is a goddess among maître-d’s because within a week, she’s managed to secure a catering contract with Joseon Holdings for the next six weeks, and she’s happily organizing the staff to test out the new catering menu that he had designed.

(The woman deserves a raise.

Or a promotion to restaurant general manager? Because the catering thing was definitely out of scope of her maître-d duties, and yet she accomplished it with aplomb anyway.)

The staff loves the spicy ramen bar, japchae, galbi jjim, salt encrusted trout, Cobb salad, and fancy French dessert bar, and so does the staff of Joseon Holdings.

However unfortunately, he has no idea if Cheoljong enjoys it or not because he never shows up.

Three weeks pass, and no matter how long Bonghwan hangs around the catering space, or extends the hours, he never sees the man.

(Cheoljong never ate all that much back when he had been king either—he had always been busy with conspiracies. 

The most Bonghwan had ever seen him eat was when he himself had brought food for him to eat.

…Well, it might look a bit strange, and certainly this Cheoljong might be able to see some implications in him delivering him some ramen himself—but it wasn’t like it was late at night, and really, someone needed to make sure the man didn’t keel over and die of overwork.)

Bonghwan has already put together the perfect bowl of spicy ramen before he’s even completely thought through the matter, and it’s not too hard to ask for some directions towards Vice President Lee’s office (everyone loves someone who brings them delicious free food). He goes up a few floors, and then he’s knocking at the door.

“Come in,” he hears a slightly distracted voice say.

He takes in a deep breath, pushing open the door and smiling at a Lee Cheoljong who is blinking at him mildly in surprise. “Hi!”

“Hi,” Cheoljong echoes, staring at him as he sets aside some papers he was looking at. “Can I help you with something?”

(Ugh, that Cheoljong’s polite voice when he wants to get rid of someone.

Wait, does he not even remember who he is?)

“Uh—do you not remember me? I’m Jang Bonghwan, the owner of Royals—”

“I remember you,” Cheoljong cuts in, a polite smile on his face (uggggghhh whyyyyy). “Do you have some business with us?”

“…As a matter of fact, yeah, I do,” Bonghwan says, setting down the bowl of ramen on a free spot on his desk and sitting down in one of the chairs. “We’ve had a catering contract with the services department of Joseon Holdings for three weeks now—three whole weeks, and the boss of the department doesn’t even come down to eat a bit of it? Tsk, tsk, doesn’t look good for us—so I thought I’d come up here personally myself to tempt you with a taste.”

Cheoljong stares at him and then stares at the bowl on his desk, moving a couple of his folders and papers over. “I—it’s been pretty busy, and surely you don’t need a VP coming down to eat your food. It’s all very good, and you already have a sterling reputation—”

“Sure, and yeah, I know, but like you said, I have a reputation to uphold, and so you’re going to eat it and like it,” Bonghwan states, pushing the bowl forward some more. “Come on—it’s even the spicy ramen you said you liked!’

Cheoljong dumbly takes it over and takes a sip. Bonghwan notes the immediate relaxation in his shoulders as he slowly begins to use the chopsticks to pick up the noodles. “It’s very good—although you really didn’t have to come here personally, you could have sent it with an assistant—”

“Thought you deserved more of a personal touch,” Bonghwan says carelessly, sitting back in his chair.

Cheoljong raises an eyebrow at him as he continues eating. “Are you not going to eat as well?”

“You have no idea how early chefs eat, do you?” Bonghwan asks, leaning forward. “We generally eat before the restaurant opens because otherwise we’re going to be cranky and hangry and mad throughout all of service, and the food isn’t going to taste good that way.”

“Fair point,” Cheoljong acknowledges, shucking off the well-tailored jacket of his suit to fully lean into the bowl (hahaha yes, no one can resist the lure of Bonghwan’s spicy ramen!). “But then—shouldn’t you be getting back downstairs?”

“Oh, Namseon can handle it,” Bonghwan says dismissively before narrowing his eyes at him. “What? You want me to go that badly?”

“I’m surprised you want to stay,” Cheoljong says drily, his chopsticks tapping against the bowl. “Is watching me eat so fascinating?”

“No—uh—I’m just checking your reaction to the ramen,” Bonghwan improvises (he could actually watch Cheoljong eat all day…) “Here I thought you liked it a lot, considering you said it was your favorite dish of the entire place—and yet, you’ve never come back to Royals or downstairs when there’s a whole ramen bar laid out there.”

“…You’ve been keeping an eye out for me?” Cheoljong asks, giving him a sideways glance as he tips up the bowl to finish off the soup.

Bonghwan glances away so he doesn’t stare at the long pale line of Cheoljong’s throat. “Well—maybe? You remind me of my friend, you know—and it’s not like it wouldn’t do my restaurant some favors to have a VP of Joseon Holdings patronizing the place.”

“Given that you’ve worked at the Blue House before, I’m very unclear how much luster I could lend your place,” Cheoljong states, neatly wiping his mouth with a napkin.

“…You’ve looked into me?” Bonghwan asks, something in his chest fluttering a bit.

“It’s on the bio of the website of your restaurant,” Cheoljong points out. “And all the reviews.”

“That you had to have searched to read,” Bonghwan says triumphantly, inwardly fist-pumping (good, good, good—curiosity is a good sign).

Cheoljong is quiet and then switches topics. “I was always curious—what made you decide to stop working for the Blue House? Your tenure was well-acclaimed throughout, from what I have heard.”

“Yeah,” Bonghwan acknowledges with a shrug. “It was a great gig, I’m not going to lie. But after my accident—”

(I met you, and then I lost you, and nothing really felt the same after that.)

“—I had a change in perspective,” Bonghwan says instead, swallowing down the lump in his throat. “Things were—hard for a bit, but I—I needed something new. I needed a change, so—I left and started my own place.”

“And—do you find that things are better now?” Cheoljong asks, tilting his head.

Bonghwan gazes at him and replies seriously, “Yeah, I really do.”

Cheoljong holds his gaze for a bit before sitting back, a rueful smile drawing up the corners of his mouth. “…I can imagine. It must be nice—being your own boss, answering to no one.”

“I’m in the service industry, you think I answer to no one?” Bonghwan shoots back with a grin.

Cheoljong’s smile grows a few degrees warmer as he tilts his head in acknowledgement. “Touché. I worked as a waiter before—no matter how many board meetings I sit through, I think happy hour shift was worse.”

“Oh, happy hour shift is the absolute worst,” Bonghwan says cheerfully (could this be Cheoljongie opening up to him?). “Twenty-somethings yelling for more drinks, old-timers trying to outdrink each other, and god help you if someone mixed up the items on the menu that day—”

“—trying to avoid tripping over feet that have been stuck out, the giant parties who keep changing their orders, someone who always wants to speak to the manager—well, it certainly gives you perspective,” Cheoljong says, spreading out his hands to encompass his desk.

“Yeah,” Bonghwan laughs. “Waiters have it super tough—and thank you by the way, for the big tip you gave everyone when you guys came, you wouldn’t believe how many rich assholes don’t bother.”

“I can very much believe that,” Cheoljong acknowledges with a sigh.

“Got any good stories?’ Bonghwan asks, leaning forward some more.

Something shutters closed in Cheoljong’s face, and he leans away from him. “Nothing of any note to someone who has worked before at the Blue House, I’m sure,” he says politely, glancing at the clock on the wall. “Do you need to go clean up? It appears the lunch should be over.”

(Crap, they were doing so well, and now this dismissal?

Did he think he was digging for gossip and that he was going to spread it around?

Fuck, he hates that Cheoljong keeps ending up in intrigue and back-stabbing places—they can’t just have nice and open and honest conversations without Cheoljong getting suspicious at him!

….Okay, okay, so he’s going to have to reassure him.

But Cheoljong also wants him to leave now, so it’s not like he really has time to say anything—and just saying, “Oh, I’m not here to spy on you” isn’t going to cut it anyway.

…Texting. He needs to get his number, so they can vibe properly again, because goddamnit, they had been so close to normal just now.)

“Yeah, I do need to help out my staff,” Bonghwan says, flashing him his most charming grin. “Well—it was great talking to you! Really hope to see you again—how about you give me your number so that I can send you updates on what cool new dishes I come up with?”

Cheoljong’s eyebrows furrow. “…That’s a lot of effort, isn’t it?”

“What, texting you dish ideas? Please—you’d be helping me out, I love having people to bounce ideas off of,” Bonghwan says, taking out his phone and looking expectantly at him.

Cheoljong is still for a bit before he shrugs and slowly takes out his own phone. “…Alright. Why not? Here.”

(Success!

Albeit, not like a lot of enthusiasm—but it’s a start!

He had wowed Cheoljongie with his late night letters without even knowing it was him—surely he can pull off the exact same thing as before via text?

…Of course, all the sappy poetry he recited out before that Cheoljongie had appreciated so much, this Cheoljong would probably know the actual origins of and think he’s kind of being a hack.

…but this era also has enough cute animal videos to drown in, so there are options here!

Tons of options!)

“Great!” he beams at Cheoljong, takes the bowl, and waves as he leaves. “Can’t wait to see you again! I’ll definitely be sending you tons of messages, so if your plan has a data cap or something, you better let me know now!”

Cheoljong blinks, some amusement flickering in his otherwise still eyes. “…No caps, send away.”

“Okay! I warned you though!” he flashes him a grin before leaving and not looking back.

(There, cool right?

Operation, Get Cheoljong to Fall in Love With Me Again, started with just minor issues!)

--

At first when he sends Cheoljong pictures of food and cute animals, asking for his opinion, he’d be lucky to get a response by the end of the day with something mild like ‘looks nice’ or ‘cute’.

Still, Bonghwan is nothing if not persistent, so he powers through those perfunctory replies, asking more questions about if Cheoljong thinks that a earl gray silk pie or mini-bundt cakes would look better on the menu (“earl gray silk pie”), whether he thinks red pandas or baby elephants are cuter (“red pandas, but baby giant pandas are cuter”), and if he thinks he should go with a blue silk tie or a purple silk tie, modeling both of them for him (“purple”).

It takes two months of persistent constant texting, but Cheoljong actually begins to take the initiative to randomly text him as well (“such a long meeting, bored”) and shows up at his restaurant once or twice.

Bonghwan greets him with delight, even the second time when he brings a familiar pair with him—a man who looks just like Prince Yeongpyeong who glares at him with a stony expression, and a grinning man who looks just like Hong Byeolgam.

“My brother, Yeongpyeong, and my friend, Hong Byeolgam,” Cheoljong introduces, a faint smile on his face. “I thought I’d treat them to a nice meal.”

“And that we could get to try the spicy ramen he keeps raving about!” Hong Byeolgam adds with a laugh.

“Uh—honored, for sure, but I have to ask—were your parents both history geeks or something?” Bonghwan asks, looking from Cheoljong to an impassive Yeongpyeong.

Cheoljong’s eyes soften for a moment as he looks down. “Our mother was,” he says simply.

(Oh shit.

He’s an insensitive ass bringing up his parents.

Great, great first impression, like Yeongpyeong needs any more of a reason to hate him besides just that he’s always suspicious.)

“Uh well—they’re really cool names,” he hastens to say, ignoring for now Yeongpyeong’s frosty gaze. “Great people to be named after—you couldn’t do any better really. So spicy ramen for sure—anything else?”

“Maybe that baked fish you mentioned you were perfecting before,” Cheoljong says, smiling at him and then glancing down at the menu. “And the roasted black oyster mushrooms—and definitely the earl grey silk pie.”

“Of course,” Bonghwan winks at him as he takes their menus and hands them to a bemused Hwayoung. “I’ll make everything myself—besides the earl grey silk pie, that’s our lovely dessert chef. Who by the way, was very pleased that you voted for the pie instead of the bundt cakes.”

“I can’t wait to try it,” Cheoljong says simply.

So of course he takes the greatest care in making all the dishes and bringing them over, and of course he takes great pleasure in how cleanly Cheoljong finishes off his portions, the ecstatic noises coming out of Byeolgam’s mouth, and even the flicker of bliss in Yeongpyeong’s eyes.

When the men invite him to sit down and drink as the one who created such delicious food while also enjoying the pie, he could hardly refuse. The alcohol flows freely, and Byeolgam proposes a toast to him.

“To the man who made the best food I’ve ever eaten!” Byeolgam announces grandly, raising his cup up high. “Truly worthy of being a former chef of the Blue House! The president’s loss is our great gain!”

“It really is,” Bonghwan acknowledges with a smirk, clinking his glass against Byeolgam’s while nodding to the rest.

Byeolgam downs his glass and slams it against the table with a sigh of relish, filling it up again. “I’m serious—I haven’t even eaten better when I went to Director Kim’s house, and you know that guy has been filling his pockets all over the place—”

“Byeolgam,” Yeongpyeong interrupts, shaking his head and pulling his glass away. “You have had way too much—”

“Have not!” Byeolgam protests, grabbing it back. “It’s not like that isn’t common knowledge! You know I’m good friends with one of his distant nephews—”

Cheoljong coughs lightly, and Byeolgam pouts. Bonghwan just laughs (they never change) and proposes that they play cards, and soon he is raking in the money they deign to put on the table.

(If he ignores the clothes and the lighting, it would almost be like they were once again back in the Joseon era—although this time he’s not allowed to torture Byeolgam with army exercises just because he feels like it.)

This becomes a regular occurrence after a bit—every few weeks, Cheoljong will arrive, sometimes with both Yeongpyeong and Byeolgam, and sometimes with only one of them, but never for some reason, alone.

(Does he still not trust him?

They’ve dropped hints and gossip about all sorts of going-ons at Joseon Holdings, about Director Kim and the rest of his family, and he’s not entirely sure alcohol is the only reason for their loose tongues.

Are they testing him?

Well, it’s not like he’s going to tell anyone, so sooner or realize they need to realize that and trust him.)

Sadly, instead of Cheoljong at last warming up to him and arriving at his restaurant along and inviting him for a private drink (a man could dream), he arrives as part of a giant Joseon Holdings directors drinking session, and they seem to be piling on as many drinks as possible onto him.

And Bonghwan is a fan of drinking sessions and drinking contests (because he usually wins), but this seems like—a lot. It’s obviously fantastic for his restaurant’s alcohol revenues, seeing how many bottles of soju they’ve ordered and emptied out, but Cheoljong, despite his pretty fantastic alcohol tolerance (only really outmatched by Bonghwan’s own) is starting to look distinctly glassy-eyed, and his head is starting to loll around a bit.

Also, he doesn’t like at all how some of those directors are whispering and glancing at him while loudly proclaiming that ‘oh, Vice President Lee, you’re so drunk, let us help get you to a hotel.’

(Is this some kind of creepy corporate intrigue thing where they dump him in bed with a hooker and then get him caught red-handed by the press or something and ousted?

Yeah no, not on Bonghwan’s watch.)

He immediately steps forward, smiling his best customer service smile while also radiating his ‘fuck all of you, I’m the chef’ aura that has Hwayoung scurrying over from across the room. “Hello, is Cheoljong here drunk? You guys don’t need to worry about that, I’ll handle him.”

One director with a slightly weasel-like face narrows his eyes at him. “Oh, we couldn’t trouble you with that—”

“Oh, it’s not trouble at all, we’re friends after all, I insist,” Bonghwan says loudly, patting Cheoljong’s cheek to try and wake him up a bit. “Hey—hey, Cheoljong. Want to go with me or them?”

Cheoljong opens his eyes blearily, looking between him and the group of directors, before patting Bonghwan’s shoulder and slumping against him.

“See?” Bonghwan says proudly, trying not to let the thrill of Cheoljong’s familiar weight against his body show on his face. “So I’ll take care of him—you guys just enjoy yourselves. Hwayoung! Another round for these gentlemen—and on the house this time!”

That shuts up the directors’ grumbling (although he notes their faces for future reference), and leaves Bonghwan to shuffle Cheoljong off while attempting to figure out his address.

Unfortunately, Cheoljong seems to be in no state to recite numbers, just dumbly blinking at him when he asks, so Bonghwan just gives up and hails them both a taxi to his own place.

As he half stumbles and half walks an insensate Cheoljong into his apartment, flipping on lights as he tosses him onto his bed, he grumbles under his breath, “Really not the way I imagined you coming here for the first time, but…”

Cheoljong doesn’t respond, just curling up on his pillow some more, and Bonghwan sighs, goes out to the kitchen to get him a glass of water and some ibuprofen, and then sets it on the bedside table while turning Cheoljong who is now lying on his back.

“Hey, come on, I gave you my own bed, so the least you can do is not be in danger of choking on your own vomit,” Bonghwan says, adjusting him and arranging the blankets around him properly and then carefully brushing his soft bangs off his forehead.

Cheoljong’s eyes flick open, and he looks up at him, his eyes briefly narrowing as he takes him in before his eyes travel to the bedside table, and he relaxes a bit.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” Bonghwan says, jerking his hand back (his pining isn’t that obvious, right?). “No need to thank me from rescuing you from that pit of vipers, just drink some water, and if you feel like throwing up, the bathroom is over there—nah wait, hang on, let me get you a plastic basin or something, that way my carpet is safe and you don’t have to run anywhere—”

“…Why are you so nice to me?” Cheoljong asks, looking him in the eye.

Bonghwan freezes then awkwardly laughs, rubbing the back of his neck. “You—I said this before, but you remind me of someone I used to know—”

“Who was that person to you?” Cheoljong asks, propping himself up and taking the glass of water. “You said a ‘very good friend’ before, but—this seems a bit far, for someone who just resembles your friend.”

(Husband, king, friend, partner-in-crime, confidant, father of his child—

Too many things to say, really.)

“Just—we were very close, okay,” Bonghwan looks away.

“What happened to him?” Cheoljong asks, sipping the water and looking at him.

“He—I—it’s complicated,” Bonghwan says lamely, running his hands through his hair and then saying, “Besides—even if I didn’t know him, I still would have helped you out. Those guys were all creepy! They looked as if they were about to strip you and then take you to some creepy hotel! No way I was going to let that happen in my restaurant.”

Cheoljong looks at him with some amusement. “You like playing the hero that much?”

“You’re damn right I like playing the hero,” Bonghwan says with an arrogant toss of his head. “No one is allowed to be cooler than me—especially in my own restaurant.”

Cheoljong laughs a little before coughing and then furrowing his brow and covering his mouth. Bonghwan immediately rushes into the bathroom to dig out a plastic basin and rushes back to shove it into Cheoljong’s hands. “Okay, okay, let it out—better out than in, right?”

“I’m fine,” Cheoljong murmurs, letting out a nasty-smelling burp before frowning and gulping down more water. “I’ll be able to get out of your hair soon—I’ll take a taxi or something—”

Bonghwan pushes Cheoljong back down onto the bed when he tries to rise up. “You’re not going anywhere—you can barely walk in a straight line right now, you think I’m going to go let you outside to puke in the street or the taxi? Friends don’t let friends get stuck paying the cleaning surcharge fee of a taxi when they should be sitting still and resting.”

Cheoljong looks up at him, not bothering to get out of his grasp. “Is that what we are? Friends?”

(…If he said yes, was he locking himself into the friendzone?

But if he said, ‘no, actually, I think I’m in love with you’, that would be super weird and creepy given that Cheoljong is both drunk and in his bed.

Friendship is a start, and plus, just being able to spend time with Cheoljong again is really—

It’s so nice.)

“What do you call two people constantly texting each other and playing card games and drinking together?” Bonghwan says instead, letting go and rearranging the blankets around Cheoljong. “What, what do you think we are?”

“I’m still trying to decide that,” Cheoljong says seriously before smiling at him. “But I do think—thank you. For helping me out.”

“Don’t mention it,” Bonghwan says gruffly, manfully attempting to keep the fact that his heart reflexively sped up at the sight of those familiar dimples reappearing. “Here—you go ahead and sleep, and don’t mind me—I just need to go get some blankets for the sofa—”

Cheoljong immediately tries to get back up. “I can’t make you take the sofa, this is your place—”

“Yeah, it’s my place, which means I get to decide if the guest takes the bed or not,” Bonghwan shoves him back down again. “And my bed is closer to the bathroom, so you’re staying here.”

Cheoljong settles down a bit, looking at him with half-lidded eyes. “…we could share?”

(Ohhhh.

Oh, that’s a dangerous place to go.

Especially with Cheoljong looking all mussed and flushed like that—

Yeah no, he doesn’t mean it like that, and besides, it’d be creepy when he’s still half-drunk.)

“Nah, I kick in my sleep,” Bonghwan lies, walking over to the linen cabinet to take out another quilt. “You get some rest—you’re going to feel like shit tomorrow.”

Cheoljong blinks, and then he smiles at Bonghwan, the dimples appearing again. “Okay. You’re—actually not a bad guy, Jang Bonghwan.”

“Uh, yeah? I’m your hero, remember?” Bonghwan says, holding the quilt in front of him as a shield.

Cheoljong laughs softly, shakes his head, and then waves him off, flopping back down onto the bed on his side. “Sure, alright. Good night, hyung.”

(Oh, that’s deadly.

Now he wants to hear Cheoljongie call him hyung all night long—

And he better stop thinking about that right now because no way is he going to be able to tend to the boner in his pants with Cheoljong right in his bedroom, that’s just weird and creepy.)

He somehow manages to get through the night with not all that much sleep (a combination of him restlessly trying not to think dirty thoughts and also keeping an ear out for whether or not Cheoljong is choking/puking) mainly by just getting up and starting to simmer the ox-bone broth for the haejang-guk he was going to need in the morning. When the broth looks the perfect light color, he goes ahead and tosses in the soybean sprouts, napa cabbage, scallions, ox-blood, and fermented soy paste. He also sets out some fried eggs with kimchi, and then for good measure, makes two virgin bloody Marys as well.

(People are stupid when they think that normal bloody Marys would solve hangovers, all it does is delay them.

He should know, he’s drunk enough of them to have figured it out.)

“Is that haejang-guk?” Cheoljong says raggedly from behind him.

Bonghwan whirls around to see Cheoljong leaning against the doorway, looking a bit pale and wan. “Yep—here, come on, sit down. You’re definitely dehydrated, so drink this first, and then if you feel up to it, there’s eggs.”

Cheoljong sits down and takes a long gulp of the haejang-guk before letting out a content sigh and looking gratefully up at him. “This is really good.”

“Well yeah, I’d hope so, given how I’m the best chef ever,” Bonghwan says, getting himself a bowl and also sitting down and taking a sip (ah, just right, even if he isn’t hungover).

Cheoljong chuckles then winces as he rubs his temples. “…are you just always like this?”

“Like what?”

“So arrogant yet oddly kind,” Cheoljong says simply, drinking more of the soup.

“Hey, you’ll find that I’m perfect except for the fact that I have many flaws,” Bonghwan says, pointing his chopsticks at him while his heart races.

Cheoljong huffs out another laugh while also picking up his chopsticks and using them to pick up the kimchi pancake. “I can see that.”

“Is that how you talk to your hyung?” Bonghwan demands mockingly, using his chopsticks to open up the egg so that the yolk bursts and golden liquid spreads across the plate.

“How would you like me to talk to you?” Cheoljong asks, glancing up through half-lidded eyes.

(Okay, like—

Is it just him, or does Cheoljong feel kind of flirty?

No, right? It’s probably just wishful thinking on his part.

But it’s nice that they’re at least friendly now?)

Bonghwan shrugs, pushing the bloody Mary in front of him. “I don’t know really—but you better have decided that we’re friends by now.”

Cheoljong takes a sip of the bloody Mary and then smiles at him, his hair turning a bit brown under the sunlight. “Yes, I do believe we are. Tell me hyung—how do you make this bloody Mary, it’s delicious.”

So Bonghwan happily lists out the ingredients to how to make the perfect non-alcoholic Bloody Mary (it’s the Worcestershire sauce proportions, get that wrong and the entire drink is done), and then they spend a sunny morning just lazily chatting about Bonghwan’s favorite dishes to make, Cheoljong’s experiences with various street food, and an obscure, slightly meta drama that they found that both of them were fans of, before Cheoljong apologetically has to take his leave.

After that, Cheoljong really is much more friendly—always replying to his text messages, sending cute animal videos of his own whenever he manages to find them, specifically waiting to order until he appears whenever he comes to Bonghwan’s restaurant, insisting that he needs his personal recommendations, inviting him out for drinks with his friends, and even inviting him to play golf with his brother and his brother’s fiancée.

Yeongpyeong is about the same as ever, staring at him impassively as though he’s a snake (apparently he can just never win with this guy), although he does soften a bit around his fiancée, who, while looking nothing like Hwajin, still reminds him a lot of her, with her calm aura and delicate prettiness.

(He wonders how Hwajin was, afterwards.

The history books had never mentioned her—although it had mentioned that Prince Yeongpyeong had married her, so he guesses they’re a romance that crosses over lifetimes.

That’s nice—

He hopes his counts as that too.)

“I feel as though I should remind you that she’s taken,” Cheoljong says dryly, shaking Bonghwan out of his musings while staring at her.

“Oh, I know,” Bonghwan says quickly, tearing his eyes away and refocusing on Cheoljong. “Taken women are way too complicated—take it from someone who knows and has learned his lesson there.”

“Wow, hyung, I heard stories, but I couldn’t quite reconcile them with you,” Cheoljong says lightly, hefting his golf club up.

Bonghwan raises his eyebrows. “You heard stories? …did you have me investigated?”

Cheoljong looks a little abashed at that, scratching at his cheek while dipping his head down. “…Yeongpyeong insisted.”

“Right, right, just blame your older brother,” Bonghwan lightly hits Cheoljong’s shoulder with his own. “Well—what did you think? Were you impressed? Anything in particular you want to ask me or want to request for me to cook?”

Cheoljong stares at him for a while before shrugging and setting his golf club down by the ball. “…Byeolgam never found all that much, and besides—I feel like the person from what he found before your accident isn’t the same as you now.”

(It’s scary sometimes, the amount he’s changed, and how he can’t really explain any of it without sounding like an insane person.

But—one thing he has to be thankful to Kim Soyong, he guesses, is that he got the chance to live in her shoes for a bit.

It certainly gave him a lot of perspective on both himself and the world—and it led him to meeting the best friends he’d ever had along with the love of his life—

But then it all got ripped away again, and he’s left with nothing more than memories.

Well—and apparent reincarnations maybe, so at least he gets a second chance, the way Kim Soyong also did in a way.)

“…you got that right,” Bonghwan says thickly before there’s some polite claps from behind him as it seems Yeongpyeong’s fiancée scored a hole-in-one.

“Great job!” Cheoljong also cheers, clapping for her as well.

“Olympic archer, and ace golf player…you’re not even a little tempted?” Bonghwan asks jokingly, swinging his own gold club over his shoulder.

(Cheoljong had been so smitten with Hwajin before after all—

But not enough to dampen Bonghwan’s appeal apparently.)

Cheoljong’s eyebrows shoot up. “Uh—maybe if I had met her before she and my brother started dating? But definitely not after they met— Yeongpyeong is so gone on her, it’s not even funny.”

Yeongpyeong glances over at the mention of his name, raises his eyebrows at Cheoljong, and then gets drawn back into conversation with his fiancée, smiling happily at her and putting his hand on the back of her waist.

“See?” Cheoljong rolls his eyes ever so slightly. “They’re in the honeymoon phase before ever going on the honeymoon—although that does make it easier for me and Byeolgam to put together the slideshow we’re showing at their wedding reception.”

“That’s so sweet,” Bonghwan comments with a laugh, kicking at the perfectly green grass of the golf course. “You’ll have to show it to me after.”

“Or you could be there to see it,” Cheoljong suggests, looking over at him. “I still have to bring a plus-one for the wedding.”

Bonghwan stands there, shock-still, just staring at him.

(That—

That doesn’t seem entirely platonic—

But then again, people brought friends to weddings all the time too, right?

….He needs to move slowly but purposefully.)

“…you’re not bringing Byeolgam?” he asks carefully.

Cheoljong snorts. “Byeolgam has his own invitation and plus-one—if he ever plucks up the courage to ask him.”

(Huh.

Good to know.)

“Well—I’d be honored then,” Bonghwan grins at him before gesturing over at Yeongpyeong. “If your brother doesn’t attempt to murder me first, though.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about him, he’ll probably be too blissed out the entire time to pay any attention to anyone other than Haeun,” Cheoljong grins back at him. “I’ll have a lot of best man stuff to do, but it’ll be fun, I promise. They already got a really good DJ booked.”

“Well, that’s a relief, although I should warn you that I will probably be critiquing the food and cake the entire night,” Bonghwan informs him.

“As long as you don’t do it where Yeongpyeong or Haeun can hear—they worked really hard picking out the food,” Cheoljong says seriously, his tone belied by the way his mouth quirks up.

They stand around as Bonghwan miserably fails at getting the ball anywhere close to into the hole (look, he’s just not a jock, alright?), and Cheoljong attempts to demonstrate the proper way to swing, even moving his arms around for him, but of course, that just makes his attempts worse.

“Well—it takes practice,” Cheoljong comments as the golf ball goes flying into the lake. “I’m sure you’ll get better the more you try.”

Bonghwan raises an eyebrow. “Considering that we’re friends, golfing buddies, and you’ve even invited me to your brother’s wedding now—you want to tell me exactly what you’re plotting for Joseon Holdings?”

Cheoljong’s hand shakes, and the golf ball rolls about five inches away from the hole. “I—plotting?”

“Oh come on, I saved you from some nefarious drunken blackmail scheme, remember?” Bonghwan says, putting his hands on his hips. “No one does that unless they want someone discredited, and the only reason they would want to discredit you when so far you’ve been nice and obedient is because you’re plotting something, so spill. I can’t help you unless I know what’s going on.”

Cheoljong stares at him for a bit, before looking away and chuckling, a low bass sound. “Hyung—were you investigating me as well?”

“I catered at your company for six weeks, I heard gossip,” Bonghwan says, waving his hand. “So? Still don’t trust me? All that stuff you guys talked about during the card games and drinking sessions, none of that ever leaked—”

“I know,” Cheoljong interrupts, his gaze steady on him. “And you helped me when you didn’t have to so—I trust you.”

(At last.

He could eat up this joyful feeling in his chest with a spoon.)

“So what’s so important that they want you out after bringing you in? Did you catch someone embezzling?”

“Among other things,” Cheoljong admits, his face smoothing out into a serious expression. “There’s—no hard proof, but I’m sure it’s there. And there’s other abuse rampant in the system as well—many people who should have been fired long ago, but instead everything was hushed up and they’re still there. My father—he knew, and he wanted to change things, so they framed him and got him arrested.”

“So this is revenge then?” Bonghwan asks.

(He can get behind that, he’s always been a big fan of revenge.)

“This is righting a wrong,” Cheoljong says, his eyes burning with intensity. “So if I have to play the puppet for now, I’ll do it—but I’m going to bring them down.”

“I believe you,” Bonghwan says solemnly, placing a hand on his shoulder.

(After all, this is the man through sheer force of will—and of course Bonghwan’s help—went from a joke of an emperor to one of the most important emperors of the Joseon era.

There isn’t much Cheoljong can’t do if he has the right allies with him—and Bonghwan will see to it that he succeeds in this lifetime as well.)

“I’ll tell Hwayoung to keep an ear out when directors from your company come by—I remember those assholes who got you drunk, so I can definitely give you some good intel,” Bonghwan continues, already planning out what exactly to tell Hwayoung. “And anything else you need, just let me know. I can always cater again or even be part of the catering staff for any big, fancy galas you guys might have.”

Cheoljong glances at Bonghwan’s hand that is still on his shoulder (whoops—would it be weird to remove it now though?) before looking back up at him and smiling at him with a smile so bright and sunny and sweet that Bonghwan kind of wants to swoon.

(So apparently, he can once and for all say, Cheoljong is deadly to him no matter what body he is in.)

“Thank you,” he says seriously, reaching up and clasping Bonghwan’s arm with his own hand. “I—you don’t have to do any of this—”

“I want to,” Bonghwan insists.

Cheoljong’s dimples appear and his grip grows tighter. “Yeah. I’m—I’m really glad I met you, hyung.”

“I’m glad I met you too,” Bonghwan can’t help but say back to him helplessly.

Cheoljong grins at him, squeezes his arm again, and then lets go, so Bonghwan has to as well.

After that, Bonghwan is fully involved in Cheoljong’s scheme—eavesdropping on conversations, texting Cheoljong key points on a burner phone, occasionally snapping photos, and constantly in consultation with Byeolgam again, just like old times.

Although unlike old times, Byeolgam keeps slanting him knowing looks whenever he receives a text message from Cheoljong or decides to send him some pictures of some stuff.

“Okay, why do you keep smiling at me like that, it’s creepy,” Bonghwan says finally, after grinning and replying to a text from Cheoljong about giant Snorlax pillows with a “!!!! WANT”.

“Oh, just admiring your cute little pining over there,” Byeolgam says airily, waving his hands around. “It makes me feel better about my own prospects.”

Bonghwan feels his stomach drop. “Cute pining—is it that obvious?”

“Uh, very,” Byeolgam comments, raising an eyebrow. “You didn’t think you were being all that subtle, did you?”

“No, but—but does Cheoljong know?” Bonghwan demands frantically.

“Cheoljong would have to be very, very very oblivious and dense to not have noticed, and believe me—Cheoljong is none of those things,” Byeolgam replies.

(….Well, shit.

But—

If Cheoljong already knew that he had feelings for him and still hung out with him and called him hyung—did that mean he was okay with it?

Or that he just thought he was useful and keeping him around for all the intel he was providing?

…God, now he wishes he knew more about how Hwajin and Cheoljong’s relationship had dissolved—it would at least give him some idea of exactly how Cheoljong saw him—

But Byeolgam was right there, wasn’t he?

And he would definitely have some insight into Cheoljong’s mind.)

“So—is—is Cheoljong interested in men at all?” Bonghwan asks pathetically, looking down.

Byeolgam shrugs. “He’s mostly been interested in women, as long as I’ve known him. I do think there’s been one or two men though—nothing serious.”

Bonghwan slumps down further into his seat.

(Great, just great.

Not only did Cheoljong probably just see guys as like a booty call, Cheoljong probably knew way more about gay sex than he did.

How did sex between two guys work anyway?

Like—he had had a great time with Cheoljong before—mind-numbingly good—even thinking back on it makes him a bit slack-jawed—but he kind of lacks the parts for that now.

Although he did gain back some much missed parts—every day he checks his dragon and dragon balls and is ecstatic that they’re all still there.

…it’s butt stuff, isn’t it?

He’s watched some gay porn to try and figure it out, and he had a girlfriend who stuck a finger up his ass once—but it hadn’t been all that appealing. 

Although—Cheoljongie had played a bit around with him once there and that hadn’t felt terrible—it had been kind of filthy hot, actually—

Different body though.

It probably felt different for a girl?

But anyway—he’s out of his depth there, and it’d probably be weird to ask Byeolgam.)

Byeolgam pats him sympathetically on his back. “I wouldn’t be that discouraged though! That’s the past, and I’ve always felt like Cheoljong really likes you—it’s also why Yeongpyeong is always glaring at you.”

“Really?” Bonghwan perks up a bit. “I thought he was worried I was going to steal away his fiancée.”

“Well, now he can add that to the list along with despoiling his baby brother,” Byeolgam jokes, pouring him more soju.

“So you think I have a chance?” Bonghwan can’t help but ask, looking up at him.

“I do, but keep in mind, I’m a hopeless romantic,” Byeolgam sighs, downing his own cup of soju. “Let me tell you—I know a little something about pining after unsuitable men, and it never gets any easier.”

“Who are you pining this much over anyway?” Bonghwan asks, curiously peering at him. “Cheoljong mentioned you trying to ask him to Yeongpyeong-hyung’s wedding.”

Byeolgam lets out a bark of laughter before pouring himself more soju. “Cheoljong should mind his own business—the guy I’m in love with is not only part of the Kim family and in a sinecure director spot, but also extremely straight, firmly thinks of me as his great hyung, and comes crying to me for love advice. Just yesterday, he came to me weeping that he got rejected by some maître-de, and I had to pretend to be sad about it and comfort him. He hugged me while crying, and I held him in my arms…”

“…well, it sounds like it’s not all bad,” Bonghwan says diplomatically.

Byeolgam makes a see-saw motion with his hand and sighs. “…there’s weird little benefits sometimes, I grant you, but I’m living on scraps.

“Then just invite him to the wedding,” Bonghwan declares, slapping him on the back. “It’s not like it can get that much worse, can it?”

“You should really not tempt fate so much, you know,” Byeolgam comments, staring into his wine cup. “…but why not. Cheoljong and Yeongpyeong have been hectoring me this entire time, and now even you’ve started so—weddings are a romantic time, so either I will finally have a chance, or everything will go disastrously wrong, and Hyunwoo will fall in love with a bridesmaid and propose to her on the spot.”

“That’s the spirit,” Bonghwan says encouragingly. “Weddings are aphrodisiacs for the recently rejected; everyone is super desperate to get it on. Your confession will definitely work then.”

Byeolgam gives him a look. “If you’re that confident, then you should probably make your feelings clear to Cheoljong then too.”

Bonghwan coughs awkwardly. “Didn’t you say that Cheoljong already knew?”

“Sure, but he doesn’t really get it,” Byeolgam shrugs. “You just kind of came out of nowhere and started spouting things about some old friend—but you’re already this ride or die for him. It doesn’t quite add up in his head; does intrigue him though, so if that was your strategy all along, good job.”

(…intrigues him, huh?

That was also part of what drew Cheoljong to him back in the Joseon era as well, right?

To the point that the man had even made a dictionary just for him…

Of course, there’s a question of if sexy and mysterious offset him now having no boobs and now a dick instead, but at least it can’t hurt.)

This confidence carries him through all of his next few planning sessions with Cheoljong, and lets him experimentally lean closer a few times to catch a whiff of his woodsy yet citrusy, expensive cologne while moving his hand a bit closer to Cheoljong’s.

The result is just Cheoljong smiling at him, bumping their shoulders together, and not backing away at all while giving him directions for his brother’s wedding next week.

(…that seems to him like Cheoljong’s not all that opposed to them becoming a bit more intimate, but he still can’t say for certain.

It seems highly unfair that he finds out that he’s bi but doesn’t manage to gain a gaydar or anything.

Or maybe gaydars are things that are honed?

But he doesn’t want to go to gay bars and stuff to hone it—he only really wants to figure out Cheoljong—)

“Bonghwan?”

Bonghwan startles from his reverie, remembering that he’s still on a weekly call with his mother and that this is definitely not the time to be thinking amorous, pining thoughts. “Yeah, Ma?”

“You said you’re going to a wedding next week?” his mother asks, and he hears the beat of the treadmill in the background. “Will there be any pretty girls there that you can finally settle down with?”

“Ma,” Bonghwan says in exasperation, sitting back and rolling his eyes at the ceiling. “I don’t know anyone at the wedding besides the friend who invited me—”

“That’s perfect! Go be your sociable self, and make some new friends there!” his mother encourages. “Or—charm the friend who invited you! You two must be very close for her to invite you as her plus-one—”

“Ma, my friend’s a guy.”

“Oh,” his mother muses a bit in silence while she keeps running before continuing, “Really? You’ve mentioned your new friend so many times that I thought for sure she was your new girlfriend—”

“No,” Bonghwan says before taking a deep breath and saying, “But—um—you’re not—totally wrong.”

“Oh?”

(He may as well tell her—she’ll probably react alright.

They may just have to keep it a secret from his father for now though.)

“He’s—I’m in love with him, Ma,” he confesses, his chest tight.  

There’s silence from the other end of the call, as even the treadmill stops, before his mother finally says, “So….is the reason you’ve never settled down because you’re gay?”

“Ma! I’m bi!”

“Okay, okay, okay, you’re bi,” his mother says, and he hears as she unscrews a water bottle and takes a drink. “Well—I can’t say that’s not a bit of a surprise, but—are you serious about your friend?”

(Two lifetimes and an entire sexuality and gender crisis, how much more serious can he get?)

“Yeah,” he admits thickly, looking down at the table. “Yeah—I’d marry him in a heartbeat here if it was legal.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to go to Taiwan for the ceremony,” his mother says briskly as his phone dings several times. “It’ll be a fun trip—and then later you can adopt or get a surrogate or something, that will be nice, I will finally have grandchildren—”

“Ma, too fast!” he chides, a lump definitely not appearing in his throat. “I haven’t even confessed yet!”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” his mother asks, “That’s not like you, my son—you always go for what you want.”

“It’s—it’s complicated, okay,” he lets out a breath. “He’s—he’s worth it though.”

“I’d expect nothing else from someone that would finally make my son want to settle down,” his mother says firmly. “Well then—hurry up, and meanwhile, I’ll figure out a way to let your dad know without him dying from shock.”

“Thanks Ma,” Bonghwan says sincerely, patting his own chest. “I’ll—I’ll let you know.”

It’s all well and good to have decided to somehow confess to Cheoljong, but the details escape him even while he mulls  over which tie to wear to the wedding, setting out all the ones he has and the ones he bought on a table in the restaurant.

(Obviously, he should just tell him his feelings, but should he confess everything?

If he confesses everything, he’s going to sound absolutely insane.

But—if Cheoljong’s main sticking point is how he suddenly developed feelings for him, it’s going to be a bit tricky to explain without talking about time travel and reincarnation—)

“Is this for a date? Definitely the blue one,” Hwayoung says decisively, peering over his shoulder to look at the ties he had laid out on the table. “And congratulations boss! I knew you and Mr. Lee would be very happy together!”

Bonghwan snatches up the blue tie from off the table while glancing over at Hwayoung. “It’s not a date—or at least, I don’t think it is exactly—”

“Right, because all the yearning looks and snuggling have just been you guys bonding as bros,” Hwayoung says with a completely straight face.

Bonghwan makes a face. “I—look, it’s complicated, alright? He’s got a company to take over, and I’m—still trying to figure out how to confess to a guy.”

“Oh,” Hwayoung’s eyebrows shoot up. “I thought you would have already, boss!”

“Everyone says that,” he grumbles, gathering up the rest of the ties.

“I guess it’s different with true love, huh,” Hwayoung says cheerfully, helping him pack the ties. “Well—however you do it, I’m pretty sure Mr. Lee will say yes! He even invited you to a date, so it can’t be that he’s not interested. And the two of you seem really close—I think it’ll be fine!”

(…Yeah, they’re friends, right?

Even without all the reincarnation and time travel stuff—no matter why it exactly started—they still have that, right?

But—if he really learned the truth of everything and somehow believed him—wouldn’t it be weird for him to find out that his previous queen and wife was actually a man?

He’d have to cross that bridge only if he got to it—first was the confession of feelings that may not come as a surprise, but at least probably wouldn’t result in Cheoljong punching him in the face.

And even if it’s a polite rejection—he can live with that.

He just wants Cheoljong in his life again.)

“…Thanks, Hwayoung,” he says, offering her a grin. “Remind me if things go well that I owe you another raise.”

Hwayoung rolls her eyes a bit but adds, “And extra vacation days?”

“…Sure, why not,” Bonghwan says generously. “Maybe even a promotion.”

(At the very least, if it doesn’t work out, Hwayoung will probably bring over ice cream for him to cry into.)

--

The wedding is a very elegant, luxurious, but stylishly understated affair. The hotel reception hall is filled with happy guests, Haeun is resplendent in both her princess-style white wedding gown and her red hanbok, looking every inch the royal consort that Bonghwan back then had been stunned by (although—it’s nothing on Cheoljong wearing a very sleek, slim-fitted suit), and Yeongpyeong in his blue hanbok looks happier than Bonghwan has ever seen him in two lifetimes.

The slideshow Cheoljong and Byeolgam prepared makes everyone both coo and laugh, and he sees some genuine tears in Yeongpyeong’s eyes when Cheoljong finishes his best man speech, praising his older brother and sister-in-law.

The food is plentiful, as is the alcohol, and even Bonghwan has to admit by the end of the night that even though he’s not drunk, his face is awfully red, and he’s feeling pretty loose.

(It’s because he keeps trying to find a good time to talk to Cheoljong, but Cheoljong is obviously fairly busy with all his best man duties, so Bonghwan just keeps awkwardly downing drinks.

Byeolgam seems to be in nearly the same position, always mooning over some twink, and also occasionally looking over at Bonghwan and then quirking an eyebrow and toasting him.)

“Do you think locking Byeolgam and that guy in a closet together would be too on the nose,” Bonghwan asks idly, setting a choice slice of cake in front of Cheoljong.

Cheoljong takes a bite of the cake and glances over to where Byeolgam is giggling at something Kim Hyunwoo said, with his arm wrapped around his shoulders and whispering into his ear.

“You know, for once, I think he may actually have it covered,” Cheoljong says dryly, stretching out and draping his own arm over his shoulder. “Although never say never—he always backs out at the last minute.”

Bonghwan laughs, and as he cranes his neck back, he notices the time. “Aw great—it’s already this late? The trains won’t be running anymore, and the taxis are going to be packed on a Friday night…”

“Do you want to come to my room, hyung?” Cheoljong suggests, tilting his head and smiling at him.

(….that sounded kind of flirty?

Well—why not?

At least he’d get him in private to finally confess, and then—

And then if it went badly, he could, like, slink off to the hotel bar or something to drown in his sorrows.

Although—he needed to make sure it didn’t look too obvious, what with all the eyes Joseon Holdings had on Cheoljong—they might even have someone here, he wouldn’t put it past them.)

“….yes, but let’s make sure it’s staggered—that way you have some plausible deniability,” he says, patting his arm.

Cheoljong’s eyebrows rise, and then he laughs and grins at him. “Always looking out for me.”

“Well, someone has to, what with your big brother a bit preoccupied right now,” Bonghwan jokes, nodding to where Yeongpyeong is cuddling with his new wife.

Cheoljong chuckles a bit before patting his back, finishing off the cake, and then standing up again. “Let me just go congratulate my brother again—and you can make your way up to my room in the meanwhile? It’s 1709, and here’s a key-card.”

(Wow, he was prepared.)

“Sure,” Bonghwan agrees, and then fidgets with the key-card the entire way, up the elevator, into the spacious suite, and then after he sticks the keycard into the slot to turn on the power, he fidgets on the sofa as he starts to feel more sober.

(So—

Just come out and say it?

Damn, he should have prepared something—like flowers, or spicy ramen, or something—

But those weren’t things he could bring to the wedding without questions, so—

There’s just him.

Him and his feelings laid bare.

Was that really enough?)

“Hey,” Cheoljong greets him, closing the door behind him, and then furrowing his brow. “You look—not that great. Should I order some honey-lemon water maybe, or—”

“So—so I feel like—like there’s something I have to say to you,” Bonghwan struggles out, standing up and staring at Cheoljong.

Cheoljong’s eyes widen, and his hands fidget at his side. “Oh?”

Bonghwan laughs awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head. “I mean—I don’t think it comes as a surprise, but—I really like you Cheoljong. Like—in a non-platonic fashion. In a more than bros fashion—a gay fashion—you get what I’m saying?”

(There, it’s out in the open now.

Now what?)

Cheoljong chuckles a bit at that and reaches out to smooth the lapel of his jacket, leaving his hand there, right over his pounding heart. “Yeah, I do.”

“Then you—do you—what do you think?” Bonghwan asks lamely, not daring to move.

Cheoljong frowns a bit at that, looking up into his eyes. “…mostly, I’ve been thinking over and over again—why are you helping me so much? Why do you know so much about what I like? Why do you sometimes look at me as though—so, I have a sort of crazy question to ask you: are you a time traveler?”

(Did he figure it out????

As expected of his Cheoljongie but—)

“Is this something like Tenet or one of those rebirth novels?” Cheoljong continues. “Did you—the person you say I remind you of, is it actually me from the future?”

(…Pretty close, but somehow, even stranger than that.)

“Uh, no. You got part of it right but—I didn’t know you in the future, I knew you from the past.”

“The past?” Cheoljong echoes, his brow furrowing. “Then—are you talking reincarnation?”

“Partially—weirder than that even,” Bong-hwan admits, running a hand through his hair. “It’s—it’s pretty crazy. You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“Try me,” Cheoljong says simply, taking his hand back and leaning against the wall while looking at him.  

“Could you—could you at least give me an answer to my confession, first?” Bonghwan asks desperately, his cheeks burning red. “Byeolgam said you’re not that into guys, but—I—I really need to know—”

Cheoljong’s eyes soften, and he draws close again, a hand against his cheek. “Byeolgam doesn’t know everything about me, and besides, you’re not just any other guy. I like people who are kind to me and help me, so—here’s your answer,” he says simply, and then kisses him.

(It’s—both familiar and strange.

Familiar because it’s Cheoljong’s soft lips against his, the scrape of his stubble over his jaw, the way his tongue licks against his mouth like a question—

Strange because he’s now taller than Cheoljong, and when he wraps his arms around him, his hands nearly span his entire waist, and he has to angle himself down—

But it’s all so heady that he could practically faint.)

He’s gripping him tight, their hips slotting together when Cheoljong suddenly gasps and then draws away, his eyes glowing.

“What the fuck,” he says heavily before gripping Cheoljong’s shoulders. “Cheoljong! I swear to god, if someone now decides to transmigrate into your body, I’m going to start flipping tables—”

Cheoljong’s eyes stop glowing, and he lets out a shuddering breath, before he looks around the room, then looks directly at Bonghwan, and the smile that appears on his face could outshine the sun as he grabs his hands.

“…You—I get it now—you’re Kim Soyong’s reincarnation! Soyong! My queen!”

(….holy shit.

Did Cheoljong just get his past life’s memories back because of—what, true love’s kiss or something?

Well—that might as well happen given everything else.

But explaining—

Fuck, this wasn’t going to be fun.)

Bonghwan wrenches his hands away and says unsteadily, “Not—not exactly.”

Cheoljong stares at him in bewilderment. “But—you act exactly like her—and why else would you have appeared out of nowhere to help me—”

“So, you know what transmigration is?” Bonghwan asks before waving his hand, “Of course you do—you just mentioned rebirth novels. Well—you remember that time I jumped into the lake?”

Cheoljong’s eyebrow arches up. “Which time?”

“Point,” Bonghwan acknowledges before continuing, “The first time. Do you remember what I said to you when I woke up?”

“I remember everything you said,” Cheoljong says quietly before his brow furrows. “You said—you were actually a man—ah. Well—that also explains what you wrote on that rock the second time you jumped in.”

(Huh, he hadn’t realized Cheoljong had seen that—although he guesses that’s how he knew he had jumped in.)

“Yeah, well—during my accident, apparently I transmigrated into Kim Soyong’s body after she committed suicide,” Bonghwan shrugs. “Then you know—I couldn’t figure out a way back, and everything happened, and then I decided to help you even though based on my history book, you were destined to lose—”

“I was?” Cheoljong stares at him. “Didn’t you say that you only support winners?”

(He remembers that?)

“Uh—I decided to make an exception,” Bonghwan replies, rubbing his cheek.

Cheoljong’s face softens, and then he lets out a deep chuckle. “Well—thank you. Without you—many things would have turned out badly.”

“Yeah,” Bonghwan takes a deep breath and continues, “But—you remember when I got shot?”

Cheoljong’s eyes trace over his face, and he murmurs, “After that—I did feel as though you were different—I never needed to use the dictionary anymore, and you—it felt as though something was missing.”

(That shouldn’t make him feel warm and fuzzy inside because that sounds like an incredibly lonely experience for Cheoljong but—

But Cheoljong had noticed.

He had realized that Soyong wasn’t him. )

“I—I’m sorry,” Bonghwan finally says, stepping forward and reaching out before drawing his hand back. “You—you were happy though, right, with Kim Soyong? And our son—you raised him well.”

“I was—as happy as I could be, I suppose,” Cheoljong says slowly, “And I—I showed our son the letter you wrote for him—he treasured it greatly—even though now I’m realizing that he never got to meet you…”

Bonghwan bites his lips as his eyes sting a bit. “You must—think it’s all really strange…”

“It is strange, but in the end—I think I only have one question for you,” Cheoljong says, stepping forward, “Are you still in love with me?”

Bonghwan sputters, “I literally just confessed to you!”

“Good,” Cheoljong says simply, placing his hand back on his cheek. “Because in this life and the next—I am so far gone on you.”

He kisses him, and this time Bonghwan just allows himself to close his eyes and sink into it.

(He—

He had never let himself imagine this far.

He had enough disappointment to last him through one lifetime or even two, but this—

This is all he could have dreamed of.)

His hands go up to hold Cheoljong’s face in his, and he frantically licks the inside of Cheoljong’s mouth until they both have to draw away for air, and Cheoljong decides to lick at the side of his neck instead while murmuring, “For you—your accident was only about a year and a half ago—it must have been hard for you—”

“What’s a year and a half to a lifetime?” Bonghwan asks, moaning as Cheoljong hits a specifically sensitive part of his neck. “And—wow—you are taking this all—surprisingly well.”

“Well—it is a previous lifetime, like you said,” Cheoljong says, drawing away a little, his eyes growing a bit hazy. “It’s—a lot to take in—and seriously, why do I have to fight against the Kim family in every lifetime—but right now—we have a lot to catch up on, don’t we?”

“Yeah, we do,” Bonghwan says thickly, kissing the corner of his eye and pulling him into his arms while sitting on the bed.

It’s getting pretty hot and heavy, with Cheoljong’s dress shirt having been pulled out of his pants as Bonghwan practically rips it open and runs his hands greedily up and down Cheoljong’s abs (where he got the time to work out, Bonghwan doesn’t know, but he’s definitely not complaining about it right now).

Cheoljong is equally enthusiastic, having shucked off Bonghwan’s jacket dragged his shirt off, and then starts to move his hand down his waist and into the back of his pants—

Bonghwan jerks as Cheoljong touches his ass, and Cheoljong blinks, taking his hand back and momentarily pausing his goal of sucking hickies across Bonghwan’s collarbone. “Oh—do you not want to—”

“Uh, no, I—I want to, just—give me a sec,” Bonghwan babbles, scrubbing at his burning face. “I haven’t—with a guy before actually—although I have watched some porn—”

“What, really? You never tried things while you were in the military?” Cheoljong raises an eyebrow.

Bonghwan sputters, “A friendly handjob between bros is very different!”

Cheoljong’s eyebrows rise even higher as he lets out a laugh. “Uh—well, maybe but—what do you want us to do?”

(It’s a great fucking question, because again, Bonghwan had never imagined getting this far.

And all his own experiments had been—not so fruitful.)

“Um—what do you want us to do?” Bonghwan instead turns the question to Cheoljong.

Cheoljong’s eyes darken as he draws close to his ear to murmur in a low voice, “ Everything —but only if you want to do it too.”

Bonghwan swallows, feeling as though he’s on fire and also that he needs to get his pants off now or else he’s probably going to explode like a teenager. “I—as long as you walk me through it—I just want you.”

Cheoljong lets out a sound that’s halfway between a moan and a groan at this point, biting at his neck before drawing away and staring at him with eyes that are completely blown out. “…I want to be your first in something, something that you won’t be able to forget or write off as just a friendly gesture between ‘bros’.”

Bonghwan bites him back on his chin for that while chiding, “Anything from you, I’d remember, but—just remember that if you’re going to put something in my ass, to go slow.”

Cheoljong flashes him a smug smile. “It’s going to take a lot of time and more than my fingers to get your ass ready for my cock—and I don’t think I have the patience for that tonight. However,” he kisses his lips while drawing a hand down his chest and toying with his belt. “This would be your first time fucking a guy too, wouldn’t it?”

Bonghwan has to close his eyes at the thought and try to imagine Director Han naked in order to not just come then and there. “Can—are you okay with that?”

“I wouldn’t suggest it if I wasn’t,” Cheoljong points out, digging through his kicked-off pants for some packets of lube and some condoms.

“…Wow, someone thought he was going to get lucky~” Bonghwan states, grinning wolfishly at Cheoljong.

“You’re not subtle, you know,” Cheoljong states simply, pushing him down and then sliding out of his boxers to reveal—

(Okay, yeah, Cheoljong was right about that not fitting without a lot of prep—

Fuck, he’s not sure how it’s supposed to fit at all????

Like, obviously it fit in him before back when he had been in a girl’s body, and somehow it looked bigger than before—)

“Like what you see, hyung?” Cheoljong asks sweetly, stroking himself up and down a few times before reaching behind with fingers shiny with lube and inserting one inside with a groan.

Bonghwan briefly manages to shut his hanging jaw and looks dumbly at him. “How—you’re really—you’re really good at this—”

“Unlike you, I did have some more in-depth encounters in the army and afterwards,” Cheoljong says, letting out a slight moan as he works another finger into himself. “But—the only man I have ever been in love with is you.”

(If his heart grows any bigger, it might actually explode out of his chest.)

“Should I—I can touch you, right?” Bonghwan says awkwardly after putting on the condom, reaching out towards Cheoljong, who has somehow already worked three fingers into himself.

“Please— ah —do,” Cheoljong says, the tendons of his neck standing out as he thrusts his fingers in and out, the slick sounds echoing through the room. “Didn’t you— ah —didn’t you say you watched some porn?”

“You know how unrealistic porn is,” Bonghwan complains, leaning in and kissing the side of Cheoljong’s neck while putting a hand on his cock (well, it feels pretty much the same as before—it’s probably the idea of it going up his ass that makes him think it’s bigger than it was). “I prefer a more hands-on experience.”

Cheoljong lets out another deep chuckle that goes up to a whine as Bonghwan thumbs the vein running up Cheoljong’s cock the way he remembers he liked it. “Well then—Bonghwan—get in here.”

Despite Cheoljong’s reassurances, Bonghwan still goes slow, lining himself up and sliding in inch by burning inch, gritting his teeth to the point that his forehead is completely sweaty in an effort to not just thrust himself to the hilt in this tight, soft, hot heat.

(So one thing he’s realizing—

Cheoljong is tight. )

Ah—oh—ah —Cheol—Cheoljongie—how are you feeling?” Bonghwan babbles, rocking his hips as he works himself in.

Cheoljong lets out a moan, his mouth open and panting for breath as he tosses his head around and his hand comes up to play with his nipple. “ So good, ah —harder.”

Bonghwan thrusts his hips hard and has to catch his breath as sheer ecstasy flows up his spine. “Li—Like that?”

Yes ,” Cheoljong moans then suddenly laughs as he pushes himself up to kiss him. “I finally get to teach you something about sex.”

“I think— oh my god —I think you were pretty experienced before,” Bonghwan says doubtfully between trading kisses with him and working up to a sustainable rhythm.

“Sure, but— ah —I had never heard about reverse cowgirl before— there, right there— and besides— oh— how many men can say that they’ve had the chance to deflower their lover three different times?” Cheoljong asks, reaching out a hand to stroke his cheek.

Bonghwan leans into his touch, his hands gripping Cheoljong’s hips hard as he drives into him faster. “Did that go in your— fuck —in your dictionary too?”

He gets a slap on the ass for that, and he can’t deny the way his cock jumps at that, and apparently neither can Cheoljong, given his little gasp.

“That reminds me— fuck that’s good —I need to punish you a little—all those wrong definitions,” Cheoljong says, moaning and nipping his ear.

“Hey— ah —they—they were all right after a fashion!” Bonghwan protests, grabbing Cheoljong’s ankle so he can properly hook it behind his back.  

“Anti-fans are a spiritual guardian protector?” Cheoljong points out, arching an eyebrow and looking unfairly handsome as he licked his lips and toyed Bonghwan’s nipples.

“Okay, but like, anti-fans really are obsessed with someone— oh god, oh god— sometimes they’re even more obsessed than the real fans!” Bonghwan points out, then whimpers, as Cheoljong clenches around him.

“Mm, maybe. But you’ve still been a bad boy, so I think we should start your training a little early,” Cheoljong whispers into his ear as his hand creeps around, and his fingers stroke at his hole.

Bonghwan literally has to stop thrusting in at that, raggedly trying to catch his breath. “I—god you’re too hot , Cheoljongie—you’re devouring me—”

“I think you want to devour me too,” Cheoljong murmurs, his index finger circling his hole. “I can feel youtrying to suck me inside—do you want me to?”

“Ye—yeah, do it,” Bonghwan says, reaching out and starting to stroke Cheoljong’s cock in time with his thrusts (this is more hand-eye coordination than he’s used to—but also mind-blowingly good??? )

Cheoljong’s finger working its way inside feels a lot different from that one time one of his ex-girlfriends did or even when he had awkwardly attempted it himself—he eases his way in, slick and slow, and when he finally does make his way all the way in, he unerringly finds and presses down on a spot that makes Bonghwan see stars .

There again! ” he begs, angling his own thrusts so it hits the point in Cheoljong’s body that he seemed to like so much.

Cheoljong is just gasping too now, his finger’s actions erratic as he cries out. “ Ah—ah— love you—love you so much—hyung—Bonghwan—my queen—my wife—my husband—”

It’s too much for him, so he just buries his head in the crook of Cheoljong’s shoulder and cries out as he comes. Cheoljong shudders as well, and white liquid soon bursts out and starts trickling down from where Bonghwan is grasping him.

(…was it that good their first time?

He doesn’t remember, but—

This was amazing for their first time in this lifetime.)

“Hey,” Cheoljong murmurs, unsticking his cheek from Bonghwan’s chest and looking up at him. “How are you feeling?”

“….I think all my brains just came out of my cock,” Bonghwan confesses, not even bothering to move.

Cheoljong laughs, reaching up to stroke his cheek, and a smug grin on his face. “I’m glad I gave you a good first time. Again.”

Bonghwan rolls his eyes before pulling out, disposing of the condom, and then awkwardly grabbing some tissues from the bedside table to help clean them up (when he gets feeling back in his legs, he’ll go to the bathroom to get some towels to do proper cleanup). “Glad I gave you a good time too, considering how you basically proposed to me while you were coming.”

Cheoljong doesn’t look abashed at all, propping himself up and stretching luxuriously. “Well—we were already married last lifetime, but it doesn’t feel right to call you wife now. Does it bother you?’

“No,” Bonghwan replies immediately before adding, “But I expect a proper proposal at some point! I helped you win a throne last life, and I’m about to help you achieve supremacy in a company in this one!”

“That’s true,” Cheoljong says, moving closer to kiss him on the forehead. “I’ll make it all up to you—the life you didn’t get to live with me, our son, everything, I promise.”

(…that’s his Cheoljongie.

He’ll keep his promises or die trying.

And Bonghwan is explicitly here to keep him from dying while trying so, he has to succeed.)

“…I know,” Bonghwan says, moving Cheoljong so that his head is against Bonghwan’s chest. “You don’t have anything to make up for, because it’s not like it was your fault, but—I know.”

Cheoljong snuggles into the crook of his neck, kisses his collarbone, yawns, then says sleepily, “….I’m so happy I can see you again and call out your real name, Bonghwan.”

“Love you too, Cheoljong,” Bonghwan says, hugging him to him and pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

--

Getting together with Cheoljong doesn’t actually change that much about their lives. They still hang out together and with Yeongpyeong and Byeolgam (and Byeolgam’s boyfriend who he finally managed to confess to that wedding night), with Hwayoung also joining them sometimes, Bonghwan still feeds Cheoljong information he hears, and Bonghwan’s restaurant still runs smoothly.

(After all, they do need to keep their relationship under wraps until Cheoljong’s position is at least a bit more stable.)

The things that do change—well Bonghwan’s apartment is feeling a lot less empty these days, his bed is for sure not cold, he’s finding out that gay sex is pretty fucking great, and he’s gradually easing into telling his father about who he’s gotten serious with.

(His mother is just ecstatic and over the moon that he’s settled down, already forwarding him articles about adoption and surrogacy.

Cheoljong chuckles when he reads them over his shoulder and just flashes him a dimpled grin. “You should let me propose properly first—but I’m not opposed.”)

He’s reading through some of the articles, thinking through their options (he knows his mom would prefer a surrogate, but he thinks adoption would be nice, there’s so many kids that need a home) when he notices a tiny girl hanging around outside their restaurant, peeking inside.

(She looks—weirdly familiar.

Also, more importantly, she looks underfed and malnourished.)

“Hey, who’s that?” Bonghwan asks Hwayoung, who looks up from their reservation list.

“Oh—I think that’s one of the orphans from the orphanage down the road?” Hwayoung says, glancing at her. “I think I’ve seen that one more than once—she keeps trying to get a look at the kitchens.”

“Well, we might as well let her have a look,” Bonghwan decides, taking out some chapssaltteok he had pilfered from the kitchen before going outside.

The girl immediately attempts to look elsewhere, moving behind a bench, but Bonghwan just crouches down, holding out the chapssaltteok, and says, “Hey, kid. You hungry?”

The girl shakes her head, but her eyes don’t move away from the chapssaltteok in his hand.

(Well—

Stranger danger and all that.

Maybe he should call over Hwayoung, that’d be less freaky right?)

“Well, I’ve got too much of these, so I’m just going to set them here,” he says, wrapping them in a napkin and setting them on a bench.

The girl immediately snatches away the chapssaltteok, then looks at him and mumbles quietly, “…thank you.”

“No problem,” Bonghwan replies, waving his hand. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Kang Damhyang,” she replies, stuffing the wrapped chapssaltteok into her pocket.

(….Damhyang.

God, why did her life—and her parents lives—seem to suck in every lifetime???

This was unacceptable—he was going to fix this.)

“Damhyang—you sit right here while I make a call,” Bonghwan says immediately, sitting down on the bench and taking out his cellphone. “Cheoljong? Yeah, uh—can you come over soon? I’ve got something I need to discuss with you.”

(Maybe they were going to end up doing things out of order, getting a kid before they even got married, but then again, when had they ever done things properly in order?

And besides—

He’s going to make sure everyone in this lifetime gets a better life than the last, including him.)