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Pagliuzza is much quieter than Korea. Three years into its construction, it’s become something of a small community with its own unique brand of excitement, but it’s never going to be as busy as life back home had been.

Hanseo thinks he likes it that way. He’ll always miss the hustle and bustle of life back in Korea, but he’s adjusted quite well to his newer, more peaceful life on the island Vincenzo purchased not far from Malta.

There’s a spot on the island, where the coast gives way to a small cave-like structure. If you crawl through the caverns, you’re led up a slight incline to an opening that serves as a low cliff overlooking the water. Hanseo has grown quite fond of the location. It’s good for mornings like this one, when he’s feeling particularly retrospective.

He does this every so often. As pleasant as life is out here, Hanseo has never thought it necessary to forget everything that happened before this. He doesn’t covet everything he’d endured under his brother’s vicelike rule, but he does think that on some level, those moments made him stronger. Would he repeat them if given a choice? Hanseo isn’t so sure about that. But did he come out of them more powerful? Most definitely.

Not repeating them would have also most likely meant not meeting Vincenzo, too. Hanseo treasures Vincenzo greatly. It’s not just that he helped Hanseo see that there was a way out of the hell he’d been living in, either. It’s how Vincenzo is like the closest thing to actual family that Hanseo thinks he’s experienced since his mother’s passing.

So maybe he would have gone through all of it again. The fear, the torment, the happy moments spread few and far between…if it meant he could finally be at peace like he is now. Hanseo thinks that he should probably start figuring out what he wants to do with his life going forward, but he also thinks that he quite enjoys what he has going here on Pagliuzza.

In any case, Vincenzo has made it crystal clear that he has plenty of time to figure it out. Pagliuzza is a refuge for tired warriors, and Vincenzo very much thinks that Hanseo counts as a part of that criteria.

“Why do I even bother asking others where you’ve gone off to anymore?”

Hanseo is sitting cross-legged at the mouth of the cave when he hears Vincenzo’s voice. He must have been deeply lost in his own thoughts, because he hadn’t even heard the other man’s approach. Vincenzo is always ridiculously calm, though, so maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. Either way, he has somehow managed to climb his way up to the topmost part of the cavern with a mug of coffee in each hand, and as he moves to sit at the opening of the cave across from Hanseo, he extends one mug out to him.

Hanseo accepts the mug and takes a sip. The weather outside is perhaps a bit too warm for hot coffee, but he savors the drink nonetheless. “You’re going to join me?”

Vincenzo shrugs his shoulders as he turns to face the water. “Why not? I don’t have any important business this morning.”

Hanseo doesn’t mind, either. Vincenzo, despite being his usual, no-nonsense self, is actually very fun company to have around. Now that he’s completely let his guard down around Hanseo, he tends to laugh and smile a lot more. It’s seeing him that way that has Hanseo so attached to him in the first place.

The days here in Malta are usually spent in Vincenzo’s company. Hanseo hasn’t yet decided what kind of work he wants to do for the rest of his life, but Vincenzo is always offering little bits of advice about running a business here and there. They both know Hanseo can’t go back to Korea and try to run Babel again, and frankly, Hanseo doesn’t care to dig up all that chaos again. However, the thought of running a company under more legitimate grounds and showing his late brother how it’s done is always tempting.

Or maybe he could work alongside Vincenzo here in Malta. A future on an island paradise, drinking coffee every morning and seeing the beach all day long…isn’t that everyone’s biggest fantasy?

“Good,” Hanseo finally replies, nodding toward Vincenzo, “you deserve a break every so often, hyung. Are you busy later on?”

Vincenzo seems to ponder the question around a sip of coffee, before he shrugs his shoulders. “Off and on. It’s mostly meetings today. Why do you ask?”

“Why else?” Hanseo questions. “I was wondering if we would get the chance to hang out today.”

He sees Vincenzo’s expression soften there, before he releases a long sigh. “Ah…it has been some time since we last got to relax together, hasn’t it?”

Hanseo nods almost immediately. “As much as I like helping you with work, I want some time to have you all to myself.”

Hanseo is notorious for saying things without thinking about them beforehand. While his feelings for Vincenzo are obvious enough, he doesn’t usually make an effort to bring them to Vincenzo’s attention.

The thing is, there’s definitely something between them. The two of them haven’t really bothered to discuss what exactly it is, but it’s there. Hanseo has gotten to know what it feels like to hold Vincenzo’s hand, and he’s definitely fallen asleep on the man’s shoulder more than a couple of times. In the past three years, the two have become about as inseparable as they can around Vincenzo’s work schedule, but they’ve never bothered to throw around labels such as ‘boyfriend’ or ‘lover’.

Which Hanseo is pretty okay with. So long as he still gets to enjoy his days with Vincenzo, he doesn’t give a damn what title their relationship deserves.

“That’s audacious of you,” Vincenzo comments back bluntly, though the tiny smile at the corners of his lips tells Hanseo he’s not offended. “I’m free this afternoon, and then all this evening. Shall we do lunch?”

Hanseo brightens at the sideways agreement that Vincenzo gives him. “Lunch sounds good to me. Your place or mine?”

Vincenzo seems to ponder the question for a second, before he shrugs his shoulders. “Mine. But you can cook while I’m busy if you’re looking for something to do.” Really, that’s Vincenzo’s way of suggesting Hanseo have something ready for him by the time he gets home.

It’s less about him being demanding and overbearing and more about him knowing that Hanseo can come up with something they’ll both enjoy. One thing he’s gotten to do a lot more of since he moved here is cooking. The island serves a number of people that grows every day, which is a part of why Vincenzo is always so busy, so Hanseo has never bothered with trying to get his hands on a maid or cleaning service out of respect for the need for work around the rest of the island.

For himself, an able-bodied adult who is perfectly capable of taking care of those things on his own, Hanseo finds doing the cooking and cleaning somewhat humbling, and he’s discovered in himself a talent for the culinary arts. It starts out with looking up recipes online and following them, and the next thing Hanseo knows, he’s throwing his own unique twist on them. Vincenzo has also shown him the ropes on a few Italian dishes, and even though he’s quite the critic with that particular type of cuisine, Hanseo has received mostly good reviews on his cooking.

Vincenzo has long-since given Hanseo access to his home. This isn’t the first time he’s been over to cook meals while Vincenzo is away. To be quite honest, if the guy asked him to do it every single day, he would. He’d cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for one Vincenzo Cassano.

Either way, once Vincenzo has dismissed himself off to his first order of business for the morning, Hanseo finds himself in the other man’s home, staring directly into the pantry with his hands on his hips and an apron tied around his waist.

It’s warm out, but it isn’t unbearably hot. Vincenzo thinks he should be home a little after one, so it’ll probably be hotter by then. But it’s still unseasonably cool for this time of year, so Hanseo thinks it’ll be a nice afternoon to enjoy lunch out on Vincenzo’s patio. That in mind…he could grill something, couldn’t he?

It’s too early in the morning to start cooking what Hanseo immediately has in mind, so instead, he dices up onions and peppers and other vegetables, throwing together a quick marinade for chicken breasts. Once he’s got that sat in the refrigerator, he looks about the rest of the kitchen. What else could he make that would be considered refreshing for an outdoor lunch?

Hanseo winds up chopping up a handful of different fruits and putting together a summer fruit salad, before he concocts a honey-lime dressing and tosses those into the refrigerator as well. Satisfied, he exits to the living room to wait the couple of hours he has left before it’s time to start cooking.

Vincenzo’s living room, despite the amount of money he’s put into this place, isn’t terribly extravagant. Hanseo imagines it’s because he doesn’t spend much time at home, let alone in it, but he doesn’t have much more than his living room furniture, a television, and surround-sound speakers for the moments when he likes to sit down and listen to classical music (which Hanseo has personally witnessed plenty of times now, much to his own personal delight). The television is mounted on the wall across from his couch, and if Hanseo pushes a button, it draws the curtains for him so that there’s no glare.

But it looks so nice outside that he forgoes the button this time around.

He puts on some medical television show he doesn’t recognize and sits down.

And instantly gets bored.

Or maybe the proper term is ‘fidgety’.

Hanseo doesn’t know why, really. He’s not sure if it’s because there’s nothing to do while he waits to finish cooking or just because he’s excited for Vincenzo to come home and try his lunch. Hanseo selfishly craves approval from Vincenzo, so he’s looking forward to the man’s opinion on today’s meal.

Regardless of reason, Hanseo finds he’s not paying the show any mind, so he shuts it off and instead opens his phone.

His Bluetooth connects to Vincenzo’s speakers, and he contemplates putting music on. Usually, he does so when he’s about to start cooking anyway. It helps to keep him in the zone once he gets started.

But he’s still got a good hour and a half before it’s time to start cooking.

…What the hell.

Hanseo throws on a rock station and rests back on Vincenzo’s couch, folding his hands behind his head. He lets his eyes fall shut. The music brings him back to an afternoon at Jipuragi, when it had just been himself and Mr. Nam and Ms. Hong. He doesn’t recall where Vincenzo had been off to, but the topic of their afternoon had been one Choi Myunghee, who Hanseo had learned is heavily loathed by everyone at Jipuragi. Initially, he’d been observing the discussion, but once Ms. Hong had started wildly dancing Zumba in an exaggerated imitation of her, Hanseo had been sold. Soon enough, all three of them had been moving about the office, cackling enthusiastically while they mocked her dancing.

Something about that makes Hanseo fidget harder.

And the next thing he knows, he’s on his feet, full-on dancing. Hanseo doesn’t know what’s gotten into him, but he soon goes from imitating those same Zumba moves to jamming on air guitar while fluttering through the living room. He bangs his head to one particularly strong guitar line, and then both attempts and fails a backflip off of Vincenzo’s couch. He’s only got somewhat of a limp afterward, though, so it’s fine.

In any case, the time he’s been wasting before lunch whizzes by with all that, and before Hanseo knows it, he’s cooking. He leaves the rock station on as he slides open the door leading to Vincenzo’s patio and gets started.

Vincenzo’s home is one of the structures on the island built closest to the shore. It’s still a decent walk to the water, but it’s mounted on the edge of a hill that leads directly down to the sand, so the patio is more a loft with a set of stairs that leads down the hill and toward the sand.

That’s why Hanseo likes being out here so much. Vincenzo has constructed a wooden structure that’s not unlike a small living area, with patio furniture, a grill setup, and even a space for an open bar. And it all looks out at the distant beachfront. Why he doesn’t use it much is beyond Hanseo, but when given the opportunity, Hanseo himself makes good use of it—usually with planned meals like these.

Just a little past one, Hanseo has everything ready. On the table in the middle of the patio, he has concocted a spread of grilled chicken, fruit salad, and avocado toast, as well as cold cocktails as refreshers. Vincenzo probably has to go back to work after they have lunch, so Hanseo has also set aside water for him just in case he chooses not to drink, but everything is ready.

This isn’t the first time he’s made lunch for Vincenzo, and it won’t be the last. But this is, however, the first time he’s wound up covered in food in the process. That in mind, he heads for Vincenzo’s room to change. He’s only a bit smaller than the man, so the clothes fit mostly the same.

He manages to find a pair of knee-length navy blue shorts and a light pink button-up that he French-tucks into his shorts before he plays with his hair a bit. He doesn’t really have to look good for Vincenzo, but it’s something he does anyway.

It’s as he’s heading back out onto the patio that he hears the living room door come open.

“It smells incredible in here—”

Vincenzo stops short just as Hanseo is in the patio doorway and points at him.

“Are you wearing my clothes?”

Hanseo laughs and scratches at the back of his neck. “I made a mess while I was cooking and didn’t have time to go home and get clean ones, so…”

Vincenzo curses, but quickly waves it off and starts out toward the patio. “You decided to do an outside lunch?”

“It’s a nice day out,” Hanseo replies as he follows Vincenzo out. “I figured you’re going to be in stuffy buildings all day long, so why not have some fresh air during your lunch?”

Vincenzo nods his head in approval, his gaze scanning over the spread on the table. “It looks amazing, you know. I think this might be your calling.”

“Do you?” Hanseo questions around another laugh. “Maybe. But let’s not focus on that for now.” He claps a hand on the backrest of one of the chairs. “Take a seat, hyung.” After Vincenzo obeys, Hanseo puts together a plate for him and then fixes one of his own, taking a seat across from him. “How’s work going?”

Vincenzo frowns and raises a hand into the air. “Don’t do that. I don’t want to talk about work—I’ve been talking about work all day long.” He surprises Hanseo by going straight for the cocktail prepared for him and downs a big gulp of it. Afterward, he takes a bite of avocado toast. Hanseo damn near melts when he sees him swoon over the taste. “Seriously, Hanseo, you’re onto something with this. I should hire you as a chef.”

“I don’t know about all that.” Hanseo waves both hands nervously in response. “I’ve still got so much to learn.”

“So learn it and then let me hire you as a chef,” Vincenzo replies stubbornly, drawing an easy laugh from Hanseo’s lips. “It’s not like I’m rushing you out of here, you know.”

“You say that a lot, hyung.” Hanseo swallows a mouthful of chicken. “I’m flattered—I think I say that a lot, too. I’m not going anywhere any time soon, but I don’t know if I want to be a chef, either.”

Vincenzo nods his head in understanding. “You’ve been deprived of years of self-discovery. You can take all the time you need. I’m just saying that you’re a praiseworthy cook. I know other people would love to taste your food.”

Hanseo smiles almost solemnly there, shaking his head. “I like cooking for you, though.” He doesn’t have to look up from his food to know Vincenzo is staring at him. “You always get so excited. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”

Vincenzo ponders those words, before he sighs a little. “You’ve done a lot right other than cooking. Everything you did up until your hospitalization took a lot of bravery, Hanseo.”

Hanseo bites his lip. He spent years thinking that the brave thing to do was to own up to his brother and suffer through the torment—hoping that maybe one day Hanseok would give him something for all his hard work. In the end, it had been mistake after mistake of attempting to brainwash himself and failing. By the time Vincenzo and Jipuragi had opened his eyes, he had already done so many terrible things. Sure, he’d stepped up since then, but he’s hardly a hero.

“Thank you, hyung,” He bows a little over his food, then turns his head up to see the look of disapproval on Vincenzo’s face.

“I mean it. I’m proud of you.”

Hanseo is about to continue eating when he feels the hand clasped over his own on the table. He glances up at Vincenzo, his stomach doing a backflip. How is it that this man has become so comfortable around him that he’d be willing to look at him that way, let alone touch his hand so freely? The first time Hanseo had tried to hug the guy, he’d damn near jumped right out of his suit and taken off.

And yet, here they are now…

He opens his mouth to speak, but Vincenzo gets there first.

“After lunch, I have two more things to attend to. Once that’s done, you should go on a walk with me. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the beach at sunset, hasn’t it?”

It really has been a good amount of time since Hanseo last walked with Vincenzo along the beach. He’s seen it plenty of times for himself, but he’s never been one to turn away time with Vincenzo. And considering the man is trying to comfort him right now…

Of course he’s going to accept.

“…I’d love that.” He brightens almost immediately, to which Vincenzo lets out a sigh of relief.

“Jeez…I thought I’d almost thrown you into a depression.”

Hanseo resists the urge to flick a strawberry across the table at Vincenzo.

Lunches with Vincenzo are always nice. Hanseo tends to ramble at the beginning, talking about menial things that have happened recently or just reflecting like he does in the mornings at the mouth of that cave. Occasionally, Vincenzo will step in and say a thing here or there, but eventually, they drift off and eat in silence. And it’s always a comfortable silence. It always feels to Hanseo like a precious moment that’s exclusive between the two of them. They’re enjoying their space together without having to fill it with conversation or anything like that.

With that in mind, Hanseo is understandably disappointed when Vincenzo has to leave. The two of them clean up together and then Hanseo follows Vincenzo to the door, deciding it’s probably time for him to head back to his own place.

“I’ll text you once I’m out,” Vincenzo tells him once the door is shut behind both of them, holding his phone out as if to explain. “We can meet at your usual spot.”

“That sounds good,” Hanseo smiles broadly, but Vincenzo cuts him off by way of pointing at his chest.

“And change into some different clothes.” Hanseo thinks he sees Vincenzo getting a little embarrassed, but he quickly rushes in to clutch at the sleeve to the button-up. “Your arms are bigger than mine—you’re going to stretch the shirt out.”

Hanseo can’t help but laugh. “Okay, hyung. I’ll wash them and bring them back to you later.”

Vincenzo nods in acknowledgment, then claps Hanseo on the shoulder and starts back toward his office.

Hanseo allows himself the selfish little moment of letting out a dreamy sigh. It’s not just about Vincenzo, either—it’s about everything. Life here is so much more relaxed than it had been back when he had been working alongside his brother and the lawyers from Wusang. He works here where he can, but he doesn’t have to live in fear of what it could mean when he’s being summoned to Vincenzo’s office or watch the way he words his questions or statements. Vincenzo is a little bit on the uppity side when it comes to certain things, but he lets a lot more slide than he used to.

Hanseo has fun every single day, and he gets to see the shore and explore what is quite honestly a hidden paradise, and on top of that, he gets to discover more and more about himself without having to worry about what opinions others have about it. Vincenzo doesn’t find it weird that he has turned a small cavern into a hideout or that he likes to cook in his private time. He doesn’t get offended when Hanseo makes a small mistake and try and flip a table at him.

Hanseo is so much freer here than he has been ever since his mother passed away.

He brushes that thought away, however, deciding he’ll save this kind of dreamy thinking for when he’s alone in the mornings. Instead, he tugs at his sleeve, scoffing softly.

“…They aren’t that much bigger…” He mutters as he starts back to his own home.

--- --- --- --- ---

Vincenzo’s punctuality is quite honestly unreal. It’s very obvious he’s a businessman through and through, because when he promised Hanseo a walk during the sunset, he promised it right down to the last minute. Hanseo is standing in the sand at the bottom of his favorite little cavern when Vincenzo sends him a text, and the sun looks like it’s just about to make its descent over the horizon.

I’m on my way now,’ it reads as simply as ever, and Hanseo wonders if Vincenzo is going to stop and at least change into something more comfortable.

Minutes later, he discovers that the answer to that is ‘no’. In true Vincenzo Cassano fashion, he’s clad in that same suit of his, with his hands tucked into his pockets, as he approaches. Hanseo feels a bit underdressed by comparison, this time sporting his own pair of dark shorts and a pinstriped button-up. Not that he minds the sight, really. Vincenzo wears a suit better than most men Hanseo has seen, and that isn’t just the crush-influenced bias talking, either.

“Good…” Vincenzo comments as he approaches. “You changed.” Hanseo thinks he’s less trying to poke at him and more looking for conversation, though, as he immediately gestures for Hanseo to walk with him afterward. It’s a natural response, really, considering the only sounds around them right now are the wind and the way the tide sounds waxing and waning up on the shore.

“I was tempted not to,” Hanseo teases lightly, though the playful smile he’s wearing makes it obvious he doesn’t mean anything by it. “That shirt was really comfortable.”

Vincenzo scoffs, looking ahead of him as they walk along the shoreline. They’re not even looking at the sunset yet. “That’s because they’re hand-tailored. Besides…you look better in what you’re wearing right now.”

Hanseo blinks and looks down at his own shirt. He untucks one of his hands from his pocket and gives it a little pull. “You think so? I don’t remember if I had this one custom-made or not.”

Vincenzo gives the words some thought, before he finally speaks up. “I have a tailor in Malta who could fit you for just about anything. When’s the last time we left the island together?”

To be quite honest, it has been a long time since Hanseo has left the island for any reason. If Vincenzo is inviting him out on the town, he’s not about to say no. “I…I don’t recall.”

“Well, would you like to go?” Vincenzo questions bluntly. “It’ll have to be sometime next week, but…”

“You’re taking me out shopping?” Hanseo folds his hands behind his back, unable to resist smiling widely at Vincenzo. “I’d love that.”

“You know…you never turn anything down,” Vincenzo observes aloud, one eyebrow cocked. “Is that an old habit?”

…huh. Hanseo doesn’t think he’s ever really thought about it like that. While he definitely never told his brother ‘no’ in response to damn near any request, he doesn’t think that it’s one and the same with the current situation. With that in mind, he shakes his head after a few moments of thought, the smile on his lips dying only amidst said pondering. “I’m sure it was at some point, but this isn’t the same as that. I just like going places with you.”

He sees the gears turning in Vincenzo’s head, and watches the other man nod slowly as he processes the words. “It’s good that you’re enjoying yourself. You deserve it.”

Hanseo finds himself resisting the urge to reach out and take Vincenzo’s hand. He’s aware of how Vincenzo doesn’t handle physical contact all that well, and while the man has allowed him to hold his hand or lean on him before, Hanseo is always careful about just how often he solicits that kind of contact. To be quite honest, he doesn’t fully know why Vincenzo has such an aversion to touch, but he’ll respect it whether or not the guy wants to tell him one day.

So he keeps his hands to himself. He tucks them back into his pockets and they keep walking, slipping into that comfortable silence all over again. By now, they’re both watching the horizon, where the sun is about midway through its dip below the horizon. Hanseo is in the process of admiring the smattering of colors this phenomenon creates when he feels a gentle tug on the hem of his shirt. He pivots just in time to see Vincenzo gesturing toward a small sitting area that had been created specifically for this scenery. Vincenzo is always such a planner when it comes to things like this. Hanseo imagines he perused this side of the island and knew exactly what he wanted before construction even began.

“Come on. It’s starting.”

In the early part of the sunset, the light casts an interesting pattern of color onto Vincenzo’s features, and Hanseo finds it difficult not to stare for a moment, but he soon manages to shake himself free from his thoughts and follows Vincenzo to the area. It’s nothing more than a couple of benches and a small concrete table for drinks, but that’s plenty. Vincenzo takes a seat and crosses one leg over the other, and Hanseo joins him a foot or so away.

This is their life right now. A peaceful existence that, while busy in its own way, is anything but chaotic. Vincenzo seems content spending all day working, which is perhaps a product of the fact that he’s been doing it all his life anyway. Hanseo understands that, which is also why he’s left turning himself inside out trying to find things to do on the days Vincenzo can’t give him work. But it’s a cakewalk compared to how things were back home.

Hanseo prefers it, for the time being. He’s still deciding what kind of life he wants.

“You can come a bit closer,” Vincenzo tells him almost absentmindedly, and Hanseo finds he’s been staring aimlessly over the horizon once more. He clears his throat and obeys, and he’s rewarded by an arm slung around his shoulders. It’s a little surprising, but Hanseo imagines contact like this is easier for Vincenzo if he gets to instigate it.

Either way, he can’t help himself—as the sun starts to disappear behind the distant view of the water and the amalgamation of purples and oranges and yellows becomes darker, he scoots over until he’s pressed against Vincenzo’s side and leans up against him, bringing a hand up to play idly with the one on his shoulder.

It’s quite honestly the perfect end to a busy day. Vincenzo has probably been looking forward to unwinding in his own place, but he made the time to spend with Hanseo, and here they are, enjoying the sunset together.

“…I should’ve brought drinks with me,” Hanseo muses with a soft scoff, to which Vincenzo sighs aloud.

“We can drink when we go back.” They do that often, though. Hanseo spends evenings with Vincenzo when he can, and sometimes they drink wine or whiskey. Others, it’s soju, and every so often, Vincenzo has a surprise craving for makgeolli. Hanseo isn’t sure what that’s about, but when Vincenzo drinks it, he always mentions Ms. Hong and her father. Hanseo hasn’t ever worked up the courage to ask, mostly because he knows of the late Hong Yuchan and his death. Instead, he enjoys the drinks with Vincenzo as per usual.

Tonight won’t be any different, either.

And neither will tomorrow. This is just how things have turned out for them during their stay on Pagliuzza. And while Hanseo isn’t totally certain he’s going to stay on the island forever with Vincenzo, he’s going to enjoy it while he’s got it.

He thinks sometimes he should be straightforward about his feelings for Vincenzo, but other times, he can’t bring himself to cross that line. What they have right now is perfect, and while it’s ambiguous whether or not it means anything romantic, it’s special in its own right, and Hanseo is content with that.

Maybe in the future, they can confront it, but right now, Hanseo will take his calm nights enjoying beachside sunsets and fantasizing about drinking in Vincenzo’s living room.

“By the way,” Vincenzo cuts through the peaceful silence, tracing little circles on Hanseo’s shoulder, “you were walking strangely earlier, at lunch. Did you hurt yourself?”

Thank goodness for the increasing darkness around them, because Hanseo can feel his ears and cheeks getting hot just remembering his big blunder in the living room. “Oh, that? It’s nothing you need to worry about, hyung.”

Vincenzo scoffs. “That only makes me more curious, you know.”