Yeong-shin had drunk his soju too quickly, he knew, but he was nervous. He knew it was a ridiculous feeling, particularly after having been with his royal highness for nearly six months now, but nevertheless he was. It was strange to be here, in a prince's own sitting room, with only a small table separating them. It wasn't so bad when Seo-bi was with them, but she usually departed very soon after their evening meal, leaving just Yeong-shin and Chang to pass the hours until it was time for them both to go their separate bedrooms.
Well, of course they were going to separate bedrooms. It wasn't as though they'd each go to the same one... right?
“Another?” Chang asked him, and Yeong-shin hovered his hand over his own glass. Chang, who'd already lifted the carafe, put it back down with a frown.
“I need to be alert,” Yeong-shin said, though the protest sounded feeble. Chang insisted he shared meals with Seo-bi and Yeong-shin for their company, but Yeong-shin somehow couldn't quite believe it. Surely he must have been kept near for Chang's protection. It was what he was employed to do, wasn't it? It was his job to protect his highness in his exile... Never mind that their conversations had become warmer, gradually moving beyond matters of business and security.
Usually Yeong-shin could even believe they were becoming friends, but tonight he was anxious. He'd begun to think of Chang in ways it wasn't right for a commoner to think of a royal, for all that Yeong-shin had never been particularly impressed by the upper class. Chang was a prince, not his friend, and certainly nothing more.
Chang gave Yeong-shin's words some consideration, but then he was reaching across the table and gently taking Yeong-shin's rough hand into his. Chang's skin felt smooth and dry, a stark contrast to Yeong-shin's scarred and clammy hand and Yeong-shin sucked in a sharp breath at the unprecedented contact. They'd only ever touched like this in the heat of battle. Chang met Yeong-shin's eye, his gaze intense, and then he firmly pushed Yeong-shin's hand aside and poured another measure of soju into his glass.
“You are here as a member of this household- a friend- Yeong-shin, not as my guard. You needn't be always vigilant,” Chang said, his eyes demurely downcast but his hand still on Yeong-shin's. He thought there was a hint of color in Chang's cheeks, but surely that must be the reflection of the candles that lit the dim room. It couldn't have been a blush.
Yeong-shin could have pulled his hand away at any time. In fact, surely to not do so was strange, but he couldn't bring himself to be the first to break the contact. At last Chang released him, though his fingers brushed against his palm in such a way as to make a shiver of want run through Yeong-shin's body.
Yeong-shin knew he must be gaping at the prince, so he hastily looked away and picked up his glass. He swirled the liquid, smelling the sharp odor of alcohol, and thought about drinking it. But Chang had had only one glass, and every instinct in him was screaming that he did need to stay alert because the situation felt dangerous.
They could speak together very companionably, usually. When Seo-bi was there to cut the tension between them Yeong-shin could even appreciate how close the three of them had become, how much what they shared was like the little family dynamics he'd missed for so long. Chang was his friend, only... sometimes, it felt like he could be something else, too. But if he was wrong, if he'd misjudged Chang's intentions, it could ruin everything.
What they already had was so precious to him, was it really worth the risk, just for the chance of something more? And yet...
Chang had picked up his own glass, his head bowed over it, and Yeong-shin felt the bizarre urge to knock his glass out of his hand, just to get some kind of reaction from him. To see Chang so calm, when Yeong-shin was so unsettled, was infuriating.
And then he saw it: Chang's hand trembled. It was subtle, but as Yeong-shin stared at him, he saw the way the liquid flickered against the edge of the fine porcelain around the edge of his cup. He looked at Chang more carefully, and saw the way his chest moved, the way he pulled in silent, sharp little breaths completely at odds with their relaxed setting.
Yeong-shin looked up from his examination, and found Chang watching him intensely. His lips were parted, and as Yeong-shin watched, the tip of his tongue brushed against his bottom lip, making the inside of his mouth shiny and inviting. Yeong-shin's own hands trembled as well and his cock stirred with foolish hope, the flesh between his legs completely unaware how impossible what it longed for was.
They held gazes for what felt like a very long time- surely much longer than was polite. “I- um,” Yeong-shin said, desperate to fill the silence, but totally unsure what to say. Chang lifted an eyebrow in inquiry and Yeong-shin gave a small groan, shaking his head. It didn't matter. Yeong-shin could not be the first one to voice his desires. He had too much to lose, if he was wrong. Yeong-shin knew he would always be able to find work, so it wasn't his employment he feared for, but rather the loss of Seo-bi and Chang. He couldn't afford to sacrifice the closest thing he'd found to acceptance, just to satisfy a sexual urge.
“I should retire,” he said. “It will be an early morning. I will be training the two new guards.” Chang nodded in understanding, even if Yeong-shin did think perhaps he looked a little disappointed, and Yeong-shin got to his feet, leaving his soju on the table. He gave Chang a respectful bow of his head, and then walked slowly to the door.
The further he walked away from Chang, though, the heavier his feet seemed to feel. It felt so wrong to leave him, even though he knew it was his duty. Yeong-shin knew with every reasoning part of himself that leaving was the right and wise thing to do, but his yearning seemed so much more demanding.
At the last moment Yeong-shin stopped before the door of the sitting room. He stood there, quivering with the surge of adrenaline that was flooding him. From behind him he could hear Chang stand as well and take a few steps nearer to him.
“Yeong-shin?” Chang asked, his voice soft and sensual.
“Unless... there's something else you require of me, your highness?” Yeong-shin asked, his back still to Chang and his voice barely above a whisper. He closed his eyes, begging silently that Chang would tell him to stay.
Chang was behind him now, standing close enough that Yeong-shin could feel his breath on the back of his neck. Yeong-shin clenched his hands into fists, to keep himself from turning and grabbing his master instead. And then Chang was touching him as though he'd been able to read Yeong-shin's mind, just the tips of his fingers curling around the swell of Yeong-shin's bicep.
“Yeong-shin, if I ask you something, will you vow to me that you will answer honestly, without fear of repercussions? It is important that you understand that no matter your answer, your place in my household is safe, and will not affect the friendship between us.”
Yeong-shin let out a mighty breath of relief, and turned to face his master. Chang was looking at him with enough heat to scorch Yeong-shin down to the soles of his feet. “Yes, my lord?” Yeong-shin asked breathlessly. His whole body swayed into Chang's space, so near to falling into his arms a heavy wind might have knocked them together.
Chang didn't ask, though, he just curled his fingers against Yeong-shin's cheek and stroked the rough skin there, his eyes devouring Yeong-shin's face. “Yes?” Yeong-shin repeated, and then: “Yes...” when Chang slid his palm around the back of Yeong-shin's neck and tipped his head back.
Yeong-shin had never kissed someone taller than him, and it was odd to angle his face up, but there was nothing strange about the way his mouth burned to be caressed. And, when Chang did not move quickly enough, Yeong-shin pulled Chang down to him, pushing up onto his toes so he could press them together.
“Your highness,” Yeong-shin moaned against Chang's lips, and Chang wrapped his arms around his back and pressed their bodies together, so hot and overwhelming that Yeong-shin feared his trembling legs would not hold him.
Chang ravished Yeong-shin with his mouth, teeth and tongue, their kisses unafraid. They'd both wanted this too long to hold back. It had been more than a year since Yeong-shin had lain with a woman, and a great deal longer since he'd been with a man, but there was something primal about the pushing and sliding of lips and bodies that he'd never had to learn, and would never forget.
Yeong-shin reached back blindly, grasping for the latch of the door of the sitting room, then firmly slid it shut, locking the door from any intrusion.
“Yeong-shin,” Chang groaned against his neck, as his body undulated against Yeong-shin, proving that he was just as affected by the embrace as Yeong-shin was. He tugged Yeong-shin back into the room, back towards the thick floor covering by the fire, and Yeong-shin followed along after him as trustingly as a lamb on a lead.
“I've wanted you for so long,” he mouthed against Yeong-shin's skin. “I've dreamed of how you would taste, of how your body would feel against mine.”
“Yes,” was all Yeong-shin could muster, and then Chang was tugging them down to the mat by the fire and they were grappling at each other's clothing, as though they hadn't already waited six months, and another moment apart was intolerable.
Yeong-shin's trousers had scarcely been pushed down to his thighs before Chang was grasping him, his large, warm hand on Yeong-shin's cock the most electrifying thing he'd ever experienced. “Your highness!” Yeong-shin gasped, and then he writhed in ecstasy as Chang pumped his cock with his fist, the angle of his hand and the pressure exerted perfect. He's done this before, Yeong-shin thought, and then Chang was bending over his lap and taking Yeong-shin into his mouth and Yeong-shin really did have to slap his hand against his mouth to muffle his cries.
Chang held Yeong-shin firmly down by the hips and sucked his cock like he'd been trained in a brothel. Chang had definitely done that before. Yeong-shin knew it would only hasten his already quickly approaching peak, but he couldn't help but watch Chang as he bobbed his head over his lap, without the least hesitation, for all that he was a prince pleasuring a commoner.
“Your highness,” Yeong-shin panted, all too soon, and pushed urgently at Chang's shoulders. It had been too long, and he'd wanted this too much. “I'm going to-”
Chang just looked up at him, his eyes heavy lidded and his lips stretched around Yeong-shin, and then it was too late. Yeong-shin arched his back and helplessly came, his orgasm so overwhelming he couldn't stop the small shout that escaped him before he'd thrown his forearm over his mouth to stopper the sound.
While Yeong-shin lay in a wrecked heap below him, Chang shoved down his own trousers and grasped his thick cock in his fist. He braced himself over Yeong-shin, his eyes traveling from Yeong-shin's face, down to his still throbbing cock, and then back up to his face. Yeong-shin would have returned the favor, but Chang didn't give him a chance. Proving he was as affected by passion as Yeong-shin had been, not long after Chang's eyes rolled up in his head and his cock spewed between them, strings of seminal fluid dripping down onto Yeong-shin's belly and groin.
“Yeong-shin,” Chang groaned, as though Yeong-shin had done anything other than lay beneath him, too stunned to lift a hand.
“Your highness” Yeong-shin said reverently, because while he hadn't participated, he thought it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
Chang dropped his body onto Yeong-shin and began grinding their cocks together, his spend making the movements slick. “Yeong-shin,” he repeated, this time his voice sleepy and husky and Yeong-shin turned his head so that Chang could kiss him.
Eventually Chang lifted his heavy body off of Yeong-shin and laid down beside them. He used the hem of his tunic to wipe his seed off himself, and then off of Yeong-shin as well, and Yeong-shin chuckled when the gesture tickled his sides. Chang smiled at him warmly, and laid a proprietary hand on Yeong-shin's abdomen, as though he wanted to feel the way his muscles tensed as he laughed.
That effectively stilled the laughter in Yeong-shin's throat, and he watched Chang warily. Now that the passion that had built so high between them had burned away, he felt uncomfortable again, uncertain what Chang would expect from him. Would Chang want him to leave now that he'd taken his pleasure, or would Chang want him to stay?
Maybe Chang could sense his misgivings, for he spoke first. “I've wanted you, I believe, since the moment I saw you. Surely you must have seen it in my mind, so vivid were my imaginings.”
“Me?” Yeong-shin gasped, unable to help himself. He could only imagine how wretched he must have looked when they'd first met. He'd scarcely slept in days, spending his days securing Jiyulheon to prevent the plague victims from escaping, and his nights sheltering with Seo-bi in the barn, too afraid to sleep because he did not trust her to stay away from the monsters she still thought of as her friends and patients.
Yeong-shin shook his head in puzzlement. It wasn't unheard of for a lord to take a handsome peasant boy to his bed, in exchange for favors to the boy's family or lavish gifts that could be sold for money. Yeong-shin had never had the youthful beauty that some boys did though, and he now was too old and hardened to be of interest to any lord that he'd ever heard of.
“Surely you could find a pretty concubine to fill your hours,” he said doubtfully, even though he knew he argued against his best interests. It still just seemed so impossible that it was him Chang had chosen, when surely he could have had much better. “I'm sure some of the better brothels can be discreet, even it's a boy you want.”
Chang just shook his head, smiling at Yeong-shin. “I don't want a concubine. I want to seduce my lovers, not buy them.”
Yeong-shin had never heard of a high born man having qualms about keeping the company of concubines. He'd even been with them himself, after his family had died and all he had to show for their sacrifice was the blood soaked bag of coins he'd earned in Ahn's army. He'd been so desperate to feel anything other than grief then, and the madams at the local brothels had been more than happy to part him from his coin in exchange for the fleeting pleasure their girl's had to offer.
Then again, all the sexual relations in his life had been transactional in one way or another. If he hadn't paid for it with money he'd given something else in exchange for it. In the army, he'd traded reciprocal favors with other lonely soldiers and later he'd slept with the women eager to show their gratitude to Yeong-shin for killing the tigers that stalked their village.
Maybe it was different for nobles. Privately Yeong-shin thought it would be very difficult to tell a prince no, even if he wasn't paying you, but he kept that to himself. Chang liked to think of himself as above other nobles, and mostly he was. Truthfully, Yeong-shin thought that he was above all men, be they nobles or commoners.
Yeong-shin just shook his head at him wonderingly, pleased at Chang's words despite his confusion. “You aren't like any noble I ever met- my lord,” Yeong-shin added hastily, and Chang grinned at him.
“How man nobles have you met?”
Yeong-shin made a face. “Too many,” he said, and then Chang really was laughing. It made Yeong-shin feel warm and cherished to see it.
Yeong-shin leaned up on his elbow so that they faced each other, their mouths close enough to touch.
“I think I must have looked like a mangy dog when we first met, and I don't believe you wanted me then,” he said, his eyes sparkling with challenge. He'd never been playful with a lover before, but something about being with Chang made him feel free enough to do so.
Chang looked back at him, his eyes slanted with amusement. “Didn't I?” he asked, and stroked a finger over Yeong-shin's left cheekbone. “You had a cut, right here. And under your lip. And then I saw you fight, and I wondered who could have possibly landed the blow, as quick and skilled as you were.” Yeong-shin only had time to widen his eyes in surprise before Chang was leaning down to kiss him again.
He thought that he'd been kissed more this evening than he had in the whole of life before, and it was wonderful.
“I was fascinated with you, from the beginning,” Chang said against his lips. “Anyone I met who might have some knowledge of you, I asked: Who were you? Where had you learned to fight? How did you become such a good shot? Had they ever seen such a handsome man?”
Yeong-shin grinned at that and pushed Chang's shoulder, though not to shove them apart. Instead Yeong-shin followed the gentle sway of Chang's body, so that he was the one leaning over Chang now. “No you didn't,” he protested, looking down at Chang's face with fondness, not trying to disguise his feelings now, not when Chang so clearly was doing nothing to hide his own.
“You doubt the word of a prince?” Chang said, but in such a way that it was clear he was teasing. “Didn't you know that princes never lie?”
“Ha!” Yeong-shin said, but before he could express his doubt further Chang just ducked down and kissed him again. It proved a remarkably efficient way of silencing Yeong-shin.
Later, after their conversation had dwindled away and their eyes grew heavy, Yeong-shin knew it was time for them to part. “I must go,” he said, glancing up at the ceiling as though he could see the moon high above them. Although his guard would be patrolling the exterior of the house at all hours, Yeong-shin knew he would need his rest to resume his duties in the morning. He did not doubt that the guards were skillful and attentive, but he only trusted himself to put the lives of Seo-bi and Chang above his own, and preferred to watch over them during the waking hours.
“Yeong-shin,” Chang said, his voice hesitant for the first time. “You could stay with me tonight, if you wished to. As long as you left before breakfast, you would not be observed by any of the servants.”
Yeong-shin looked at him sharply, wondering for the first time at Chang's demands for privacy, and how important it had been to him that the servant's quarters were in a separate dwelling from his own. In fact, Chang had insisted that only Yeong-shin and Seo-bi actually live in his home; all other staff came inside only during very restricted hours, to serve meals or to clean. Yeong-shin had thought it was only Chang's aloofness that kept them away, but a stray suspicion made him wonder if Chang had hoped for this all along.
“What about Seo-bi?” he asked, not voicing his thoughts, since he was not sure how he felt about them. It made his stomach feel fluttery, to think that Chang had wanted him from the beginning, and Yeong-shin wasn't just a convenience because he had no other easy options.
Seo-bi's room was on the separate side of the house from Chang's though, while Yeong-shin's was adjacent to his. Ostensibly it was to observe the tradition of women living separately from men, even though Seo-bi had never seemed to care for such societal rules. Now Yeong-shin wondered if Chang had arranged their rooms thus to make meetings between them easier?
Yeong-shin would later think that had been what had given him the confidence to accept what Chang was offering him, instead of keeping part of himself separate from Chang, as a protection.
“Never mind,” Yeong-shin said quickly. Seo-bi was a very early riser, and would be out of the house and into the little workshop Chang had built her before Yeong-shin and Chang were even awake. There was really no reason they could not stay together in safety.
“Yes, I'll stay,” Yeong-shin said, his apprehensions easing just a little more, and when Chang gave him an affectionate smile he knew he'd made the right choice.
Chang took Yeong-shin to his room and Yeong-shin stepped into it cautiously. Chang's bed was more than large enough for the two of them The part of himself that was unused to being wanted had wondered if Chang expected Yeong-shin to watch over him as he slept, or to sleep on the floor, but Chang just pulled him to the bed, helping him remove his clothing as he walked, and then gently pushing him down onto the soft bed. He continued to watch Yeong-shin as he removed his own clothing, messily tossing it into a pile by the bed for his servants to tidy the next day. Then he was following Yeong-shin, pulling him into his arms. The intimacy felt somehow even more charged here in Chang's bedroom, this space that was Chang's sanctuary from the world.
After Chang had lavished Yeong-shin with more sweet, directionless kisses, he blew out the candle that burned on the table by his bed.
“Sleep well, my dear,” Chang said, as familiar as though they'd been lovers these last six months, and curled his arm around Yeong-shin's waist. It probably should have felt constrictive. If it had been anyone else it surely would have, but Yeong-shin felt safe in a way he hadn't since he'd been a child, too young to really know what it was to be afraid. Even though Yeong-shin knew better, it didn't feel like anything bad could happen to them here.
Yeong-shin cautiously placed his hand over Chang's where it rested against his waist, unsure of his welcome, and Chang responded to the touch by turning his wrist so they could lace their fingers together.
Yeong-shin found that he slept more deeply in Chang's arms than he had in many years. Thereafter there seemed very little reason to return to his own bed.