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About this community
Mods butterflyweb and nemesis_cry welcome you to Elysian Knights, a community dedicated to the fictional universe of the DBSK fanfic Acts of Contrition and its subsequent sequel, Acts of Insurrection.

Fics can be navigated according to the tags found here.

A tentative chronology of events in the verse:

Soulmate (JaeChun)
Ego (Yunho-centri, HoMin)
Transient (MinSu)
Acts of Contrition (eventually OT5)
Triangle (MinHoSu)
Contract (Heechul, Shihan)
Acts of Insurrection (OT5)
Amethyst (JaeMin, OT5)
Acts of Succession: Sunderance (OT5)
Acts of Succession: Solitude (broken!OT5)
Acts of Succession: Strength (YunChun, JaeMin, OT5)
You Make Me Want to Be A Man (HoSu, OT5, Utada/Bora)
Etchings (HoMin, YooSu, JaeHo, YooMin, JaeSu, MinSu, OT5)

Other AUs in the same verse:
Dune (YunChun)

July 2008
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6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31

Title: Acts of Succession: Strength
Authors: butterflyweb and nemesis_cry
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Yunchun, Jaemin, OT5.
Summary: The death of the Empress splinters more than public opinion.
AN: Third in the story arc, set years after Acts of Insurrection.







Jaejoong crosses and uncrosses his legs every twelve seconds, the muscles in his thighs aching for sitting down so long. By rights, he shouldn't even be here. It's not his place to observe these meetings between the potential future royal spouses.


But Changmin insisted and he couldn't come up with a reason to refuse. At the very least, so that his lover--his Emperor--might feel safe in the presence of his intended.


This one, at least, looks completely non-threatening. Thick braids and a sunny smile, she's barely looked at her husband-to-be since she came in. Instead, the luxurious room seems to have mesmerized her completely.

"Yes, it's very beautiful here, isn't it?" Changmin drawls, boredom evident in his voice. He's sprawled in his chair, sunk low, making no effort to impress. Showing no interest. It's a small comfort, Jaejoong thinks, remembering the girl before, who'd gushed and inched closer with every word she'd spoken. Whore.

"Yes, your Highness," the girl responds, eyes on the carpet now, the bold and broad pattern. Gold thread everywhere, finery and artifice to keep her entertained while the empire starves.

Another day and Jaejoong might surprise himself with such Guard-like thoughts.

"Tell me about you," Changmin orders, interrupting the silent spell. "Only child, daughter of a councilor and what else?"

The girl tilts her head, looking at the paintings on the walls instead. "Oh, not much... I never went to school, studied the classics..."

"I didn't ask for your curriculum," Changmin snaps, running a hand through his hair in sudden irritation. Jaejoong looks away. The younger man has a vicious temper as of late, an entirely too short fuse. It worries him, the edge that Changmin seems to constantly be on. The bruises under his eyes and the hollowness of his cheeks. But he stays silent. He hates himself for it.


His possible future wife jumps at the tone, for the first time meeting his eyes. She's dimwitted and fragile. If he yells too loud, it's likely they'll have to glue her psyche back together.

"For-forgive me..."

She's not given a chance to correct herself, Changmin interrupting her to nod to the page. "Next."

He hasn't looked at Jaejoong once since they've entered.

The older man watches them lead the next one in, small and demure and no older then seventeen. Children. It's ridiculous.

This one has to be told to sit and Jaejoong imagines the chair is barely cooled by the stale air in the chamber before another one occupies it. He wonders how they feel, paraded like this, lambs before the wolf's teeth. He doesn't pity them, not quite.

Not all.

"What's your name?" Changmin intones imperiously, stifling a yawn behind his hand, and Jaejoong sees in the girl's eyes the same expression he saw mirrored on his own many years ago. The memory is fleeting. These girls are from good families, tools in their fathers' political careers. It's sickening.

"Utada," she replies softly, fingers tight on the arms of the chair. A beat later, and she adds a hurried, "your Highness."

Changmin looks at her like he looked at the rest; half awake, half resentful. Jaejoong wonders what he sees. An opportunity? A trap? He grits his teeth. A betrayal? Our bed is cold without you, he wants to tell him, but it's not the time. Not the place. It never is.

"And what makes you at all different from the last dozen?" Changmin mutters, gaze wandering away from the girl.

"I don't want to be here," she replies, her voice clear, without trace of an accent. She's just a child. Jaejoong leans forward, hands loose between his knees.

Changmin laughs, humorlessly. "Counting on my sympathy? Keep dreaming."

She raises her chin, almost imperious and something about it makes Jaejoong want to smile. "I'm not, your Majesty."

Changmin looks at her in silence for a long moment. "What are you good at? Anything?"

"I'm seventeen, your Majesty," she replies, fingers digging ever so slightly into the sides of the chair. It's a nervous gesture, childlike and unfeminine but more natural than anything they've seen for the past hour. "I can beat anyone at sabacc." A shrug. "My parents tell me it's unladylike."

"They're right," Changmin snipes, sitting up a bit. "Classic or gambit?"

The girl shows teeth when she smiles. "Anyone can play classic." Her foot slides up the floor just a fraction, an impulse to gather her knees up to her chest staved by the thick yellow dress she's been made to wear. It sits strangely on her. "Gambit with high stakes, now that's interesting. Do you play?"

"Enough to know that you're underestimating classic if you think it can't be a challenge. Gambit's good for reckless braggarts--stakes are higher but the competition's lower." Changmin leans forward as he talks, something lighting up a little in his eyes.

Jaejoong clings to the moment. It's the first time he's seen Changmin look less than murderous in long weeks. That a seventeen year old girl brought on the change is a jarring thought.

"Classic is boring," Utada snaps, something like frustration at being challenged openly visible in her eyes. It's not an expression an Empress should bear. It's also not what she should have said to Changmin.

The other man's expression darkens just as swiftly, fingers grasping the girl's wrist in reprimand.

"That's not how you speak to your emperor."

The light in the girl's features dies swiftly, fear taking its place and Jaejoong wants to shake him. Digs his fingernails into his palm to keep from getting up and doing just that. Godammit, Changmin. What the hell is wrong with you? This is not who his lover is. This is not the leader he knows he can be.

"Get out," he snaps, letting go of her wrist, letting her stumble backwards.

Pride flashes in her eyes as she rights herself, gathering her skirts to keep from tripping, but it's a farce. Her chin trembles and again Jaejoong sees himself, huddled in the bathrooms of a tavern on Elysia, trying to erase the unwelcome feel of a man's hands on him.

The page steps forward, ushering her out. "The next one is more agreeable, your Majesty..."

"No!" Changmin thunders, drawing himself up full height. "No more."

Jaejoong wants to breathe a sigh of relief. As disgusted as he is by this entire thing, his prevailing thought is that none were chosen. It's one less thing pulling Changmin away from them, one less obstacle he has to combat. He moves to stand, to wait till the room is cleared before going to Changmin, when the younger man speaks again.

"The last one. She'll do."

The words make him stop in his tracks. "What?"

Changmin throws him a sharp look, teeth bared in an ugly snarl. "You need a hearing aid, Jaejoong? The last one. U-something. She'll do."

U-something. That's all she is, not even worthy of a name. Jaejoong grits his teeth against the urge to curse his lover into oblivion for his callousness. Marriage should be a sacrament, not this. He's chosen the youngest of the lot, the one he can actually harm. Just like the men on Elysia who preferred him to Yoochun because he was weaker. It's a comparison he never wanted to make.

A thousand and one words sit on the tip of his tongue, poised like daggers, like needles waiting to be let loose to sink in familiar skin. But silence is all he can give Changmin, staring at him a long moment before turning on his heel, leaving the room and ignoring the shouts for him to stop.

On Attica, he may not bear any official rank, but no one stops him. He's been seen shadowing Changmin's steps long enough to be treated like someone important. Doors part to let him pass, irrespective of the security clearance required, a path cleared accidentally or otherwise until he's back in their room - his and Yoochun's at least - tears in his eyes and the will to punch someone near overpowering. How did they end up like this, broken up and cruel?

It can't go on.

"Jaejoong?" a voice intones, the old dialect twisting the syllables. He's always loved hearing the turn his lovers' tongues put on his name, but this is how he knows himself. How he always has.

He wipes at the invisible tears on his cheeks, forgets that crying is Yoochun's weakness, not his.

"I can't...we can't keep doing this, Yoochun-ah," he whispers, looking up at the other man, at features he knows better than his own.

A hand catches his, fingers in a tight grip.

"He's marrying a seventeen year old girl," Jaejoong presses, looking for affirmation. For support. He doesn't know where he stands anymore.

Yoochun nods, without understanding. He can't understand. Jaejoong presses his face against his lover's shoulder, slides his arms around his waist. "I don't...this isn't him, Yoochun," he breathes, words sliding from anger to worry. "He doesn't sleep, he doesn't eat...he acts like he doesn't even fucking know us anymore..."

His lover tightens his embrace, crushing him in warmth and familiar comfort. "Okay," he sighs.

Okay.

Lips press against his neck, fingers tightening in his hair to urge their mouths into contact. Jaejoong whimpers.

It's goodbye.

Okay, it says, I'll get them back.


***

His body is tired, sore from lying on hard stone floors and shimmying through structural holds. Hyukjae calls him a grease monkey in every sense of the word and he calls the other man a true friend, but only in his head. Wincing as he strips from the jumpsuit to step under the shower, Junsu washes quickly, heavy-duty soap through his hair and over his skin. He doesn't stay long--he's avoided Yunho enough over these pasts weeks. When he comes out, the lights are dimmed except for the holoscreen, the scene the same day after day and Junsu has to hold his tongue to keep from snapping at the other man. It's like a bad case of deja vu that he can't shake. Junsu wonders when Yunho last went outside this damned room.

Moving towards the bed, he's about to ask Yunho to turn it off when a 'breaking update' comes through over the feed, the image abruptly shifting to that of the palace. Of Changmin.

Junsu feels his stomach drop out.

His lover looks like death.

Dark half moons under his eyes, an even darker twist to his lips and his expression is akin to the one Junsu remembers hovering above him when he returned from the Acheron. A lifetime ago and still so close, like it was yesterday.

The bed creaks, Yunho shifting to sit up and that sole movement sparks his anger. It's his fault that they're not there to help. That Changmin looks like this.

"Turn it up," he's told, the holoscreen still old enough that it takes touchpad commands. Junsu does as told, the cultured tones of a female filtering into the room, speaking in Basic over the footage.

"--this afternoon, Emperor Shim announced his marriage to Hikaru Utada, daughter of senior council member Hikaru Shinji. The two are due to be wed--

Junsu turns it off, plunging them into darkness. His heart feels too weak to keep up with the sudden shortness of breath that sticks in his lungs. He can't hear anymore.

"Shit," he mutters, biting his lips to hold back much firmer curses. He's getting short of breath just thinking about it. Changmin and some woman. Married. "Is this for real? Is he really..." A glance to Yunho tells him not to bother, annoyance like fire in his veins because after all this time Yunho is the last person he should be relying on for an answer.

The other man has screwed everything up, mistake after mistake.

He nods now like it doesn't matter.

"And what... you don't give a fuck?"

Yunho doesn't look at him. "He's made his choice."

Anger chokes him. "You stupid bastard," Junsu spits, scrambling off the bed, fighting the urge to hurl the touchpad at him. "Haven't you learned anything? Didn't you see him?"

The former captain just stares at his hands. "He has advisors. He has Jaejoong. Yoochun. And now he has a wife." He wets his lips. "That's the way of the Empire."

"He's your lover! You abandoned the Guard for him, or did you forget?" His chest heaves with the force of his anger, hands clenched into tight fists. "Don't you know a damn thing about him after all this time?"

Yunho's head snaps up, eyes dark and fixing him with his gaze. "I gave him a choice, Junsu. Whatever he's brought down on his head, he's earned it."

Junsu wants to laugh. To cry. To hit him. "So that's it? That's it, then? We turn on the feed tomorrow and they tell us he's been killed, you'll what, shrug and say he dug his own grave?"

The other man has the grace to look cowed by the question. He should be.

"You know, when you love someone, you're supposed to forgive them." Junsu fastens his pants, tugging on shoes hurriedly. "Not be a pig-headed asshole who knows better... that's not the man I love." A snort of derision. "That's no more than a pathetic coward." He turns towards the door, needing to get some air, to just get out of here before he does something else he'll regret.

"Where are you going?" the other man snaps, rising from the bed.

Junsu bares teeth. "Following your example, Captain."

And leaves.

***

Left alone, Yunho doesn't indulge in self-pity. He did what he did, spurred on by circumstance. It's not like he acted on his own. He left because he saw no other way--and because he needed proof that he was right before he could consider returning. It doesn't matter all that much that he's since locked himself in this room, shutting himself out to the outside world.

It's not so easy to go back and lay Jiexi's sins open before the court, in practice. Changmin might believe him, but he might not. And even so, it's too late. He can't abdicate without tearing the empire asunder. It's a lost battle and Yunho knows when to quit.

The room still reverberates with the slam of the door, the dull hum of the feed small comfort as he switches it back on, watches them play Changmin's image over and over again. He forces himself to ignore the words, to not give himself an out to cling to. Forces his eyes to stay trained on the other's misery.

At least that's tangible as far as the eye can see.

As is the clear absence of Jaejoong or Yoochun in the background of either shot. He tries not to read too much into that.

It may be hours before he moves again, the words 'wedding' and 'engagement' replaying in front of his eyes like code for something much more sinister, and then the only thing to rouse him is the knock on the motel room door. Probably Junsu who forgot his key. He doesn't allow himself to think that the other man won't come back.

Muting the feed, he crosses to the door, keying in the opening code only to drop the touchpad in shock when he sees the man on the other side.

"Next time you want to hide from your lovers? Word of advice: don't use U-Know as a pseudonym. I may not be schooled on Attica, but I'm not an idiot," are the first words thrown in his face after better than a month of silence, Yoochun shouldering past and into the room without waiting for an invitation.

Yunho feels struck dumb. "What are you doing here?" he gets out, closing the door, hand tight on the handle. "Why aren't you with them?"

"Suddenly you care?" the other man snorts humorlessly, rounding on him with a frown that would've been familiar many years ago. It's a jarring excuse now. "I could ask you the same thing, Yunho. Guess I'm not as brave as I look. At least we have that in common."

The insult has his jaw set, shock fading under anger and annoyance. "You went to all that trouble to look me up just to come insult me to my face? You couldn't badger me into it there, you want to try here?" He sneers. "Let me guess, you came to put this on me when you can't even take care of them."

"Yes, that's exactly why I came here," Yoochun snaps, moving closer, chest heaving with breath and what must be restraint. "I can't take care of them so I'm asking you--" His Adam's apple bobs with tension, as if he's trying to find his words. "I'm begging you to come back with me."

Yoochun's gaze is like a vice in his chest, around his throat, choking him. He can't deny that he misses the man who stands in front of him, the ones who they've both left behind. He doesn't lie to himself. But he knows that he can't back down either. Knows Yoochun won't understand.

"I'm sorry, Yoochun-ah. I can't."

"You son of a bitch," the other man accuses with such unabashed hatred that Yunho doesn't see it coming. Doesn't feel the punch until it's caught him in the jaw, sending him back into the closed door.

Yoochun hits well, he remembers dimly from a time long past. His fist is open and loose but it bears profound anger as he turns. Pain radiates over Yunho's cheek and it's the most alert he's felt in days.

Enough, at least, to dodge the second hit when it comes, letting it land instead into the door.

Yoochun spits expletives and Yunho uses his advantage to push the other man away, hard, sending him stumbling back and to the floor. "I'm not going to fucking fight with you, Yoochun. Go home."

"I'm not leaving, you fuck!" he swears, charging again even as he sways on his feet. It's ridiculous and stupid and shouldn't be happening in the first place. They shouldn't hate each other, but there's no other explanation for the way Yoochun kicks and punches and screams until they're pressed into the wall, chest to chest and it's anyone's guess who's really in control.

"I'm not leaving," Yoochun grits out, knocking his head back as he thrusts forward, nothing but desperation in the act.

Yunho hisses, his mouth bloody and jaw aching, hating this, hating Yoochun for making him do this. He pulls the other man's hair, trying to force him off but Yoochun is kissing him with too much teeth and fuck, he's missed the way they taste--

"Why did you leave us?" the other man sobs against his mouth, nails digging into Yunho's skin. "Why, damn you!"

He has no answer for him like he didn't have an answer for Changmin years ago, after Elysia. All the words that come to his lips seem insufficient, wrong somehow. All that comes out is 'I'm sorry'. And he means it.

Yoochun clutches him even tighter.

He can't stop himself and doesn't want to, kissing the other man, tasting the copper of each other's blood. Yoochun, Jaejoong, both of them have always been slight but Yoochun feels damn near fragile under his hands, even as the other man starts to undo his trousers, to push his boxers off his hips.

"Yoochun..." he starts, the words ready to be a refusal, hands tensing on the younger man's shoulders to push him away. His mouth is taken in another brutal kiss, rough teeth biting his lips, possessing him whole and it does the trick. Yunho forgets, caught up in familiar taste and even more familiar moans, body sagging against the wall, ripe for Yoochun's desire.

The other man pulls him away from the wall, sending him tumbling face down to the bed. It's never been like this between them--never, but it's Yoochun. It's still just Yoochun.

He breathes hard against the mattress, the other man stretching over his back, lips at the nape of his neck as he undoes his belt.

"Our bed..." Yoochun whispers against his shoulder, sounding choked. "Our bed is cold. Jae and I can't keep it warm by ourselves."

"Changmin..." he begins, losing his words against the sheets because Yoochun is touching him, palms hot and purposeful, intent on delving between his thighs.

"Changmin is gone to the Imperial bedchambers," his lover breathes, biting his hip, skimming teeth over his tail bone. "He doesn't let us touch him."

Yunho closes his eyes, something aching in his stomach even as his hips jerk, hands scrambling over the smooth sheets to get a hold on himself.

"He's...he's afraid," he gets out and the words make him sick with guilt, heavy in his chest. He and Changmin are too much the same.

Yoochun sobs dryly against his back, the weight of his body heavy and comforting at the same time. "He doesn't sleep." A finger breaches him, wet with saliva and still painful. Yunho muffles his groans.

"Do-do you?" he manages between harsh breaths.

The finger stills, another added instead, fucking him roughly because this planet demands it. The circumstances leave no room for gentleness.

"No."

Yunho grits his teeth, pressing his forehead against the mattress, fingers curling. "Fuck...I...the--the marriage?" It hurts even as it leaves his lips.

Yoochun wraps an arm around his waist, trembling as he does so. "The council," he gasps out and that in itself is answer enough. Changmin wouldn't have gone through with it if there was another way. He wouldn't have betrayed them for some woman he just met. He hopes Yoochun knows this, tries to tell him only to find pain laced with pleasure suffuse his senses as the other man thrusts into him harshly.

He lets out a pained grunt, biting into his arm to distract himself from the pain, feeling the wet of Yoochun's tears on his skin. It shouldn't be like this between them. He...he needs to make this right. Yoochun pants heavily against his neck before moving, hand slipping on Yunho's hip, palms damp.

He nods to sign that he should keep going, not that Yoochun needs to be told. He fucks roughly, rutting rather than making love, clinging to him like he's about to run away and it's that if nothing else that makes his heart melt just a little. He's put that fear in his lovers. It's on him to fix it.

"Yoochun," he breathes, relishing the taste of his lover's name on his lips.

"Yunho," comes the groan into his shoulder, the sharp prick of teeth as Yoochun moves faster. "Y-yunho..."

Fingers tug at his erection, stroking him to full hardness again and if he closes his eyes, Yunho can almost feel Jaejoong's lips on his skin. Junsu's touch. Changmin's sighs. God, he misses them. He feels his own loneliness catch in his throat, shutting his eyes tightly, pushing his hips back into Yoochun's.

"Love you," he tells him, because he hates that there is doubt. Hates that he caused it.

Yoochun keens low in his throat as the words register, as they become a mantra on Yunho's lips and he moves faster, shaking from within and shaking the bed they're on. Yunho reaches back a hand almost blindly, hoping to touch his hip and finding fingers intertwining with his instead.

"Gods, Yunho--"

He comes with a cry, hips jerking forward in a final thrust, brushing Yunho's prostate and dragging him down with Yoochun, coming over the other man's fingers.

He can feel Yoochun's trembling against his skin, hissing as the other man pulls out of him but stays close, arms still wound around his torso. "Come back," he whispers, kissing Yunho's throat, his ears. "Please come home."

Tears well up but never spill. He's stronger than that. Instead, he reaches a hand to his neck to tug the metal dog tags over his head, flinging them to the floor. There goes his past, his allegiance to it all. All that's left is a gaping hole and Yoochun's hand over his heart.

He doesn't hear the door click open until it's too late, until Junsu is standing there, mouth hanging slightly open as he takes in the scene.

"What are you doing here, Chunnie?" he breathes and it could be worse, Yunho tells himself. He could still be dripping blood from Yoochun's well-aimed hits.

Yoochun doesn't answer him, hiding his face against Yunho's shoulder and squeezing his hand, and for the first time, Yunho thinks he honestly gets it.

"He's taking us home."

***

She's waiting for him when he comes in, maids scurrying by a side passage to leave the Imperial couple to their wedding night. It's such a farce that he wonders at no one noticing. Even their vows were a mockery. Surely his council must know about his lovers. That's why they've been driven away, one by one, until it's just Changmin and his new wife.

Seventeen years old. Barely a woman and already married. She stands before him like a statue, eyes averted.

"Good evening... husband."

He closes his eyes, fights the wave of dizziness that swarms over him. This can't be happening. When he opens them, she is still there, the sheer fabric of her nightgown clinging to her young body, robe pooled on the floor at her feet. She's shaking and Changmin feels sick, feels sorry, because she doesn't want this anymore than he does. Strange that when he has the most power, he feels the most impotent.

She tries a shaky smile, holds out a hand to him. It wavers.

He rolls his eyes, moving to shake off his robe and it's the wrong move because it sends her reaching for the ties on her nightdress, clumsy fingers fiddling with loose knots, intentionally left like that by wily handmaids.

It's ridiculous. Even when he tries to do the right thing, he still screws up.

"Here," he breaks the silence, stopping her in her tracks. The heavy, rich blue robe hangs between them, the collar wrapped tightly in his fist. "You're cold."

Her gaze flashes to the bed, but she's smart. She takes the offering with a quiet 'thank you'. He waits till she slips it over her shoulders, reaching forward and knotting it firmly around her waist. She watches him with a gaze half suspicion and half fear and he feels it drag him down, misery and exhaustion sucking at him like tar.

He wants to tell her don't worry, wants to climb into that bed and just sleep without the fear that he won't wake up again, but all that comes out of his mouth is foolishness. "Do you want to play cards?"

She blinks, disbelief clearly etched upon her features. It's possible she'll think he's some weirdo who can't get it up. It's possible she has expectations, just like everyone else, but he's tired and part of him - a part he's come to hate - is resigned to the idea. He's the emperor. Someone to be feared, not liked.

Why should it be different with his own wife?

If the visions are right, she'll try to kill him, in the end. For some reason, he can't bring himself to hate her for a crime she has yet to commit.

"I don't have a deck," she replies quietly, still trying to gauge his reaction.

He sits heavily on the bed, rubbing at the back of his neck. "There should be one in the desk, in one of the drawers." Changmin nods to the furniture in question, shoulders aching with strain. "Come on. You can show me the benefits of gambit style sabacc. Convert me."

Moonlight throws a ray over her smile, flashing off white teeth that aren't all straight. It's the imperfections, he thinks, that make her most human.

"Found it," she announces happily, moving to sit a safe distance away without trying to make it seem like she's afraid of him. She's a brave girl to be here in the first place, he thinks. Braver than he is.

"You deal."

She cuts the deck with practiced hands, this way and that, until the cards are hopelessly jumbled, passing him him four and keeping four for herself, setting the deck down on the mattress between them. She pulls one free. "High card draws."

The neutral field ends up being the red ribbon sewn into the bedding, symbol for something or other that Changmin can't bring himself to remember. He's more invested in the game than silly superstition, watching short nails pry two cards from the deck. Her lips turn to a pout that's all too telling and absolutely confusing all at once. It's too early in the game for high stakes.

His own hand is weak.

"Hit me," he sighs, toeing off the open sandals and gathering his legs under him.

She grins, small and smug, passing him a card and there's nothing saying it won't change its value before he's even picked it up. It's hard to hold back a grin when he picks up Balance, sliding the card into his hand and willing it to stay.

"Hold."

His bride says nothing, dealing herself cards with an absent smile, looking up only once it's his turn once more. "This is nice," she comments weakly, but sincerely, drawing his robe tighter around her neck. It's not that cold.

He looks up from his cards at her, caught off guard for a moment, but tries to smile back, as unfamiliar as the action feels. "Yeah. It is."

She, at least, doesn't seem to hate him.

"Is this--" she clears her voice, eyes intent on the cards in her hand. It's the best game face he's ever seen and it makes him swallow his earlier thoughts. "Is this all you want from me?"

A legitimate question it may be, but it leaves him feeling older than he is by about a century. Hiding a yawn behind his hand, he sighs, measuring his words. "Tonight, I just want to play sabacc." It's not like he can make promises for the future. The Sight is a tool, but he's too tired to use it. Just like his body, his mind.

It's okay, others will use them for him.

"You mean you want a seventeen year old to beat your ass," she grins, boyish and courageous, freer with her words than any of his advisors. Than his own lovers. It's comforting.

He snorts, shifting to lie on his side, back aching from sitting hunched over. "Game's not over yet, wife." Another card joins the ones on the bed.

It's a strange name for her, but he doesn't mean it as an insult. Instead, it's almost intended to honor her. The girl who agreed to tie her fate to his.

Utada mimics his position, moving to lie sprawled on her front, feet up in the air. "Whatever you say," she teases, drawing three more cards and poking her tongue out at him.

For a second there, she looks almost happy.

***

It gets harder and harder to sleep alone, especially with preparations for the new Empress in full swing and no word back from Yoochun. That's the MO they settled on to make sure they don't give rise to suspicion, but it means his evenings and nights are now free and empty, virgin land to be plowed with dark thoughts.

Virginity makes him think of white bridal gowns and Changmin's wedding. Of the fact that he's been evicted from the emperor's bed in favor of a seventeen year old girl.

Tonight like every other night, it's enough to shake him from between cool sheets and send him wandering through the palace, footsteps unavoidably leading him too close to the Imperial quarters. He stares at the tall, closed doors, the guards outside who pay him no mind. He's been usurped for a child and the anger is sudden, nearly choking him. He's tired of this. He wants his lover back. He wants wide smiles and trust and to kiss him back to sleep after nightmares. And if Changmin won't come back to their bed, well fuck it, he'll go to his.

He moves to the doors, punching the controls hard, the guards knowing him too well to stop him.

Inside before better judgment and protocol can choke the life out of him, he squints to see. He's never been allowed in here before, never been invited. This is the first he sees of the lavish room, the high alcoves and painted ceilings, the ashen feel about everything around him.

The first he sees of the bed and its occupants.

A dark blue robe shifts and rises, the person wearing it someone younger, more feminine than his lover could ever be.

"What're you--"

"Get out," he grits through clenched teeth, for the first time considering violence as course of action. And he thought the girl would be lost and vulnerable at the palace. He thought she'd need protecting.

"You--you can't be in here..." she starts shakily, darting a look at the slumbering form on the bed and he snaps.

"Get out!" he shouts it this time, startling Changmin awake and sending her hands to her mouth in shock. If he has to tell her one more time--

She scrabbles to her feet, bare soles on cold marble floors and Changmin's robe on her body--and he can't tell if she's naked under it, doesn't know what he'd do if he found out but it's not fair and though he tries to hold himself in check even though he's still stepping forward, moving closer until Changmin's voice jerks him to the present.

"Go to your room," he's saying, fingers around the girl's wrist and shamefully, Jaejoong remembers the grip when it was vicious and cruel and thinks he preferred it then.

She looks back and forth between them, uncertain, before nodding and scurrying towards the door, giving him a wide berth before slipping out.

"Jaejoong, what are you--"

He doesn't let the words leave his lips. Doesn't give him time to be cruel, to be furious or spiteful. Instead he brings their mouths together, the kiss harsh and unforgiving, crawling onto the bed to straddle him.

Changmin tries to fight him off, but his every move is heavy with sleep and exhaustion, fingers tightening against his chest in the end in a pathetic semblance of a shove. It's not until he starts choking for breath that Jaejoong releases him, a fist in his hair and the other against his neck.

"How could you fucking throw me out for her?" he spits out, betrayal and hurt bleeding from him as if from an open wound. Changmin's hands still pushing against his chest, the younger man's eyes wide with fear and Jaejoong doesn't understand, doesn't know what he's done to deserve this.

He bows forward, hiding his face against the younger man's neck, gritting his teeth until he fears he'll crack them. "Changminnie, please...fucking quit it...stop pushing me away..."

For someone who's saved his life so many times, who's held him and listened to him and watched him come apart in tears of pain or pleasure, Changmin is but a poor echo of those days, reaching out to him only when he sags in defeat. "You didn't say anything. I got married and you didn't say anything..." He inhales. "And I'm the one pushing you away?"

There's a sharp little sob that sounds close to his ear, but he doesn't dare look up.

"You treated me like I was... like I was a stranger," Changmin whispers. "You wouldn't even call me by my name."

"You keep insisting you were the Emperor," Jaejoong reminds, clutching him defiantly. "You told Yoochun not to say your name..."

His lover shakes. "Everyone else said so." A beat. "Is that why he left?" His voice is small. Too small for a ruler, for his twenty six years. "He...he said I made the others leave... did I make him leave, too?" His misery is so thick Jaejoong feels like he's choking on it, watching as the other turns his head to look away from him.

"Changmin--"

"I hate--I hate being alone," he whispers and Jaejoong tastes guilt.

"I'm sorry," he finds himself replying though it wasn't what he'd meant to say tonight. He had imagined accusations, brutal force and destroying what little is left of them. Defeatism is its own brand of pain and it hits home just as keenly.

Changmin slides back to the sheets and for the first time Jaejoong notices the bed is still made. There is no blood. Nothing was consummated here but misery and lonely hours. The thought of it shouldn't make him breathe easier but it does. When he looks down, his lover's eyes are on him.

"She's seventeen, Jae... is that really what you think of me?"

"I..." he swallows hard, shame washing over him.

Changmin closes his eyes, hides his face in his hands. Hides from him.

"Please leave."

"No," he refuses, ignoring the attempt. "I'll stay." They've been listening to him for so long, and always at the wrong moment. If he goes now, the empire is doomed and Changmin with it. He might care about the former but he cannot live without the latter. He knows that well enough and so when the time comes to touch his hands to Changmin's and wrestle them away from his face, he doesn't give up despite his lover's half-hearted protests.

Love you,he thinks. Loved you since we met.

"Jaejoong..."

He kisses him soundly, none of the anger left behind it, the force or the hurt. Just want. Just love and the hope that they aren't too late to fix this.

"I'm sorry, Changmin-ah," he repeats, speaking against full lips. "I'm sorry. You aren't alone. You never will be."

The younger man doesn't look like he believes him, doubt in his gaze and it's well justified after being made into a puppet by the council, after being paraded around like a statue without thoughts or aspirations. He's so much more.

"Want you to remember how it used to be," he murmurs, wincing when calloused hands grip his shoulders. They don't push him away. They hold him in place.

"Show me."

Relief crashes over him, eyes closing under the rush, determination taking its place. There's still a chance for them, for things to be like they were. He takes Changmin's mouth gently, brushing his fingers through the younger man's hair, shifting to lie beside him. Changmin doesn't respond for a long moment, before an arm curls around Jaejoong's side, hand snaking under his shirt.

It's warmth, not heat that envelops them, the sheets rumpled by the press of their bodies as Jaejoong slips his hands where he knows to please, stroking and trying to get his way despite the irrational fear of being replaced still so near at hand. Insecurities have no place between them, not ever. He has to let go.

There are no words between them, only clothes sliding away, a sinful union in a sacred bed, the faces of other emperors staring down accusingly from the walls. Jaejoong sends them all a mental 'fuck you' and rolls his hips against Changmin's. The younger man moans softly beneath him and fuck, he's missed that sound. Changmin's ribs are too prominent, the knots of his spine sticking out in sharp relief and Jaejoong is ashamed that he let this go on. That he wasn't there to help him sleep, to cook him a meal he could eat without fear. Changmin is right. They left him alone.

Never again, he promises with each kiss, each touch of his hand.

Changmin writhes, expression halfway between pleasure and pain, but he doesn't let go and so Jaejoong goes on, hooking his lover's legs over his shoulders and curving his spine, ignoring his own aches to draw out the gasps that kept him breathing on the Cerberus when Yoochun was taken. The gentle gaze that led him to trust Yunho with his life. The purposeful hands that led him to touch Junsu like he deserves to be touched.

A vial of oil is pressed into his grasp, his lover staring at him intently, as if to make sure he won't run away.

"I love you." Jaejoong slicks his fingers with the warm liquid, reaching between Changmin's legs. "Always will."

The other man doesn't reply and who can blame him? Jaejoong makes a point to be gentle with him after all this time and neglect, shuddering when he feels warmth around his fingers and his lover's cock twitching in his palm. He takes his time, stretching him slowing, finding the place inside him that would bring him pleasure, stroking it over and over until Changmin is shivering with want. And when he's finally inside him, he stays still for a long moment, bending to kiss that familiar mouth.

Changmin kisses back, his mind elsewhere and a jump in his skin when he feels foreign hands on his body.

Jaejoong barely resists reaching for his gun.

"It's just us," Yoochun mutters, a hand on his back, appeared as if out of nowhere. "We took the private passage so the guards wouldn't see."

And of course, the other man would choose this moment to make his presence known.

In the dark, their faces are shadow and light, eyes flashing with something that looks suspiciously like tears and Jaejoong doesn't know what to do, if he should stop. He doesn't want Yunho to think it's been like this since he left. He doesn't want Junsu to think he's been forgotten.

But then Changmin keens and pulls him down, hides his face in his shoulder and moves, sharp little thrusts leaving him gasping into the sheets. For a moment, he has the horrible feeling that he made it all up, that they're alone after all. Until he feels the bed sink on either side of them, Junsu curling up to Changmin's side and kissing him sweet and slow and sorrowful, thumbing away his tears when they start to flow. Warm hands on his hips and a forehead pressed to his shoulder, a hand running along the back of his thigh.

"How--" he starts, only to find Yunho pressing a finger to his lips delicately.

"We're back for good," the older man breathes, something thick like a sob in his throat. "Promise." Whatever his actions may've done, Yunho doesn't lie, his word is good as the predictions of an oracle and Jaejoong clings to it, holding out a hand to the other man.

Changmin inhales harshly, searching their eyes, the darkness between their bodies until he sees Yoochun and fresh tears rise to his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he breathes, in counterpoint with Jaejoong's thrusts, salt sliding to pool in his ears, a hand fisted in the sheet. "I'm so sorry--"

Yoochun shakes his head, a hand cupping the younger man's cheek. "Tomorrow, Changmin-ah. Tomorrow."

Wet eyes are dim with hope. "You'll be here?"

A kiss is his answer.








fin (for now?)

Comments

Ugh, just. *___* ;_; I can't even imagine how much more perfect this story can get. The raw frustration and beauty of it all just brings tears to my eyes.

Thanks so much for another amazing chapter. *_* =] ♥