Of the three countries that had once collectively made up the nation of Veekay – the kingdom itself, plus the Grand Duchies of Gazetto and Alicenine – the latter maintained the most European character.
All three were, to outsiders, curious mixtures of the European and the Japanese. But it was Alicenine that sported the most Germanic place names – like, for instance, the capital city, Kuchen. It was not only home to the Grand Duke, his family, and the country's Parliament and Prime Minister, it was the site of the nation's Oktoberfest. That was the bit of German culture that everyone enjoyed most of all.
Kuchen was also home to the nation's most prestigious university, Rosenstolz, which was attended by the children of the wealthy and titled. (Because Alicenine might have been a democracy in practice, but there were families who just couldn't let go of their ranks, either). Among those attendees was the eldest son of the Grand Duke and heir to ceremonial Head-of-Statehood, His Grand Ducal Highness Shou Ohara.
Shou tried very hard to seem like Just Another One of the Guys. And, indeed, most of the students treated him as if he were no big deal. Nobody addressed him as “Your Highness” or “Your Grace,” they just called him Shou. He was just another member of the basketball team, just another guy hanging out at the picnic tables on warm days.
But sometimes, there were uncomfortable reminders of his status. Like, for instance, today in history class, where the teacher just HAD to bring up the secession of Alicenine from Veekay.
“As you well know,” the teacher said, drawing a crude map on the board with chalk, “at one point, the Grand Duchies of Gazetto and Alicenine were once a part of the Kingdom of Veekay. And, as you probably also know, they seceded when the ruling dukes of each territory – the Tanabe family of Gazetto and the Ohara family of Alicenine – asked the king at the time, Kisaki, for more autonomy. When Kisaki refused, they both decided to secede and become Grand Duchies.”
Shou felt like every head in the class was turning toward him the moment the teacher mentioned his family name. It wasn't exactly a common one. Indeed, you could probably count the number of Oharas in their country that weren't part of the Grand Ducal Family on one hand and have fingers left over.
“But what is lesser known,” the teacher continued, “was the role of technology in that decision. Why did those two districts want more of a say in government? Because they felt they were contributing substantially to the economy, since they were the first districts in the kingdom to develop . . .”
The teacher drew a lopsided thing on the board that could have been a boat with a big paddlewheel, or could have been a donut squashed underfoot. Nobody was really quite sure.
“Steamboats!” the teacher said. “Steamboats were the key to the development of what became the Grand Duchys. Because of steamboats, commerce was able to move much more quickly between the capital and . . .”
Shou relaxed. Now the guy was just going to start boring them to death. He sensed the people who had been looking at him turning their heads away. He could go back to being just a normal guy again . . . or so he thought. Five minutes later, it was back to, “And the Ohara family, knowing full well how much economic power they wielded, became the first to officially declare succession . . .”
The heads turned toward him again. Shou felt like crawling under his desk. It's not my fault this guy is boring us to death, he thought. Blame my ancestors.
It was a reminded of what he so often wanted to forget – that he'd always be held to slightly different rules of life and love, just because of who he was.
* * *
At the conclusion of his last class of the day, Shou headed out to his friends' usual meeting place – the picnic tables in the central quadrant. As it turned out, he was the last to arrive. Nao was at one end, a potted plant in front of him, fussing with the leaves. He noticed Shou right away, though, and gave a big wave, yelling, “Over here! We've been waiting for you!”
His yell distracted Tora and Saga, who were at the other end of the table and had been quite close to kissing when they were interrupted. Not that it would have surprised any of them. Tora and Saga made out whenever they thought they could get away with it – including in the back of class. Nevertheless, Saga gave Shou an indignant “Took you long enough” as he pulled away from his lover and straightened his shirt.
“Can I help it if I walk slow sometimes?” Shou said, plunking down on the bench – at which point the fifth occupant looked up from the book he was studying, smiling quietly.
“Hi,” Hiroto said.
“Hi yourself,” Shou replied. “How was class today?”
“The usual,” Hiroto said. “There was a pop quiz in biology. Ryo was looking over my shoulder at the answers again. And then in Veekayan literature, Sensei made me read out loud – for about 20 minutes.”
“He probably liked the sound of your voice,” Shou said.
“I think it was more like he was bored and just didn't feel like teaching the class,” Hiroto replied.
“If it's old man Nanasaki, he will come up with any excuse to not do his own job,” Tora said. “One time he just gave us page numbers to read and sat on the chair behind the lectern and dozed off.”
“And this is the best school in the country?” Saga said. “I'd hate to go to the bad ones.” Turning to Shou, he added, “So what was so interesting in your last class that you got beat by all of us out here – even Nao?”
“Hey!” Nao retorted. “I had something to carry! Miri-chan here needed extra work. Sensei put me in charge of the greenhouse this semester, remember?”
“You NAMED the plants?” Saga said.
“Of course I named them,” Nao replied. “They have personalities too, you know? Miri-chan here is one of the fussier ones. She won't bloom fully unless she's exposed to just the right amount of sunlight.”
The others just looked at each other. They were used to this by now. Nao was very happy in his little plant world, and they weren't going to interfere with that.
“Anyway, Shou, you haven't answered my question,” Saga said, turning his attention back to the highest-ranking among them.
Shou let out a deep sigh. “I had to sit there and listen to the professor talk about my own family. Which I should be used to by now, but every time it happens, it's like there's a spotlight shining right on me.”
“Anyone say anything?” Tora said.
“No,” Shou said. “They just sort of . . . stared.” He looked away from the others. “I just want to feel like a normal student, okay? I know that I'm going to be Grand Duke someday. Not that it's all that big a deal, since it's mainly a ceremonial position. But until that happens, well . . .”
“I understand,” Hiroto said.
Shou looked over at him. “You do?”
“You're the Ducal Prince,” Hiroto said. “But you're a person first, right? And you just want to be a PERSON for awhile, especially since you're still young. You don't want to feel like you're this . . . thing that belongs to the country.”
“That's a good way of putting it,” Shou said. “Thank you.” And why was his heart beating harder? He was feeling . . . things he really shouldn't be feeling. Just like every other time he was around this guy. He had to put that away.
“Well, we're all going to have duties in the court someday,” Saga said. “We ALL come from ranking families.”
“Yes, but Shou IS going to have more,” Tora said. “Hiroto has a point – he needs to not be a Grand Duke while he still can.” He put his hand on his friend's shoulder. “Hey, it could be worse, right? You could be facing what Prince Yo-ka is over in Veekay. He's not just a prince, he's a CROWN prince. Meaning he's actually going to be running that place someday.”
“Aren't you related to him?” Hiroto said.
“Distantly,” Shou replied. “I think all high-ranking nobles in the three countries are related somehow.”
Tora and Saga glanced at each other. “You think that means you and I are. . .” Tora said.
“Your father's an Earl. Mine is a Herzog” – the German word for Duke, used within Alicenine to represent the highest class of non-rulers, since “Duke” specifically applied to the ruling family. “Too much separation in rank. We're clear. Not that it would matter to me if we were related anyway.”
“Whoa,” Tora said. “Incest?”
“It is NOT incest!” Saga snapped. “I just SAID we weren't related.”
Hiroto leaned across the table and said quietly to Shou, “If it's anything to you . . . I've never thought of you as the next Grand Duke. To me, you've always just been Shou – and that's all you need to be. A title is a title, it doesn't affect who you really are.”
Shou blushed. “Thank you,” he said.
Dimly, he could hear Saga saying, “And that's why they have Cullings over in Veekay, you know. They figured out that royalty marrying royalty was intermarriage, because they're all distantly related. So they figured they'd have their prince pick someone from the general populace. Never mind that it's a nasty process – they round them up like cattle and pick them off like clay pigeons.”
“Cattle and clay pigeons?” Tora said. “Sounds about as sexy as dead fish.”
“You know what I mean!” Saga retorted.
But both of them were quietly noticing what was going on with Shou and Hiroto. It was hard not to.
* * *
Later on, as Tora and Saga were walking together back to the student parking lot, Tora said, “Are you going to say something to Shou, or should I?”
“We've both dropped a ton of hints,” Saga replied. “He won't take them. He's completely blind to his own feelings.”
“I don't think he's blind,” Tora said. “I think he's deliberately avoiding them.”
“If he is, he's stupid,” Saga said. They reached the parking lot, and he fished in his pocket for his key. They took turns driving to school most days, as each of them had been given a luxury car for high school graduation, as most sons of nobles were.
“Maybe not so stupid,” Tora said. “He says he wants to forget about being Grand Duke, run away from it, but . . . him being the next Grand Duke is precisely why he thinks he and Hiroto shouldn't be together.”
“Ridiculous,” Saga said, unlocking the passenger side of the car first. “It's not like his family objects to same-sex relationships. There's already been one Grand Duke with a male consort, and the line of succession isn't necessarily vertical. Long as the Ducal Prince has at least one sibling who might have children, it's all good – and Shou has TWO siblings.”
“That's not it,” Tora said, climbing into the car. “I think he believes his family will think Hiroto isn't good enough.”
“Not good enough?” Saga tossed his books in the back, got in the driver's side and buckled his seatbelt. “Hiroto is the son of a Marquis.”
“Yes,” Tora said, quietly. “The ILLEGITIMATE son of a Marquis.”
And then there was nothing but the sound of the engine turning over. Tora had brought up the elephant in the room, the thing none of them talked out loud about.
All of them were sons of nobles. Even Nao, who seemed like a regular, if eccentric guy, was the son of a Count Palatine, equivalent to a lower-level Earl in Veekay. But most of them came from conventional families – two parents and siblings, their mothers all at least gentry by birth.
Hiroto was the product of his father's affair with his secretary, a commoner. He acknowledged the boy as his son and heir after his wife gave birth to three daughters, but did not have a son of her own. (His father had a bit of an old-fashioned streak and still believed that titles should descend through the male line if possible.) On the surface, everyone treated Hiroto like he was any other “silver spoon brat” – except there were always whispers behind his back. People knew.
They drove in silence for a block or two, and then Saga said, “Well, then, if Shou's going to talk the talk, he's got to walk the walk, right?”
“What do you mean?” Tora said.
“He wants to be a person first and the next Grand Duke second? That means reaching out and taking everything he wants. Living on HIS terms. And that includes Hiroto. He wants that relationship? He should have it – and believe in it so strongly that everyone will HAVE to respect it, including his parents. We're having a talk with that boy tomorrow.”
“We are?” Tora looked over at his lover.
“Yes, we are!” Saga said. “We can't have those two just moon over each other forever! They need to take the next step! They need to be a couple! They need to . . .”
“Fuck like rabbits?”
Saga stopped the car at a light and glared over at Tora. “Is that all you ever think about?”
“Seems to me that you think about it a lot, too.”
“Doing is not the same as thinking.”
“Speaking of which,” Tora added, “my parents will be out this evening. Meaning my wing of the house will be free and clear. And yes, that's an invitation.”
“You're changing the subject,” Saga said.
“I thought we were on the subject of fucking like rabbits?”
“We were on the subject of Shou and Hiroto! And yes, I'll take you up on your invitation, as long as you promise you're going to talk to Shou with me tomorrow!” He stomped on the gas as the light turned green.
“Okay,” Tora said. “We'll talk to him. We'll sort him out. We'll get them together. And then . . .”
“Tomorrow, YOUR parents are going out, right?”
Saga gave a sigh. “You're impossible.”
“Hey, if we're successful, we're going to want to celebrate, right?”
Saga groaned. He was used to this by now. Tora did, indeed, have a one-track mind. But that was okay. His own mind was more on the same track than he would often publicly admit.
* * *
Shou was in his suite of rooms at the Ducal Palace when a knock came on his door.
He looked up from the book he was sort of half-reading. Who was that? The servants usually didn't disturb him when the door to his suite was closed. Both his parents were out. His siblings hadn't been seen since he got home, and he wasn't expecting anyone.
“Shou?” Saga's voice said. “We know you're in there. Open up.”
Of course, that didn't necessarily mean that nobody was there.
He knew damn well that the palace guards knew his friends had carte blanche to come into the building. He also knew that Saga wasn't going to go away until he opened that door.
“We're here to talk,” Tora's voice said. “Don't worry, we're not armed.”
And where there was Saga, there had to be Tora as well. Shou opened the door, looking around – fortunately, there was nobody else there than his two friends. “So why are you here?” he said.
“Well, you weren't at the picnic table this afternoon, for one thing,” Tora said.
“And you know Wednesday is when I have my late class,” Shou replied. “I'm never at the table on Wednesdays.”
“Plus, there's something we've been noticing lately,” Saga said. “A lot.”
Shou sighed and stepped aside. “Come in,” he said. “I'm sure I'm going to be hearing about it.”
“Oh, you are,” Saga said, as he and Tora walked into the rooms. “And we're going to cut right to the chase. Why haven't you asked Hiroto out?”
Instantly, Shou looked thunderstruck. You might as well have hit him over the head with a baseball bat. “What . . . what makes you think that I want to . . .”
“We have eyes,” Tora said, sitting down on one of the two non-desk chairs in Shou's office area. “That's why.”
“Every time you're with him, it's as if the rest of us didn't exist,” Saga said. “And he hasn't exactly shown a lack of interest in you, either.”
“He blushes if you say his name,” Tora added. “Hell, he blushes if you say a syllable of his name.”
“It is REALLY obvious the two of you need to be together,” Saga said. “Now, what's holding you back? It's not that you're shy about liking men.”
“Guys,” Shou said, weakly, “I . . . I haven't made up my mind about . . .”
“About what?” Saga said. “About liking him? If that's not making up your mind, I'd hate to see crazy in love.”
Shou looked away. “I'm not sure my parents would approve.”
“You ARE an adult, you know,” Tora said. “You're allowed to make your own decisions about who you love.”
“I'm an adult, but I'm also the next Grand Duke,” Shou said. “And I have to act like a Grand Duke.”
“Bullshit,” Saga said. “What happened to all that stuff you were saying yesterday, after those guys were staring at you in class? All those things about wanting to be just another one of the guys? Not having to be the Ducal Prince 24/7? If you WEREN'T the Ducal Prince, you'd ask him out in a heartbeat, wouldn't you?”
Shou slumped over a bit. “Yes,” he said, softly.
“I didn't hear that,” Tora said.
“Yes, I would have, dammit!” Shou said, throwing himself into his desk chair. “You think I don't want to ask him out? You think it's not tearing me up inside having to suppress my feelings for him? If he didn't come with so much baggage . . .”
“Baggage?” Saga laughed. “What baggage? He's the last person in the world who would have a shady past.”
“You know!” Shou said. “His parentage! This country is liberal about a lot of things, but they're still not going to let a Ducal Prince get together with an illegitimate child of a nobleman.”
“Who said they won't?” Tora said. “First of all, Hiroto isn't exactly hidden in the shadows. He's his father's legally acknowledged heir. And even if we wasn't? He's still HIROTO. He's still the guy you want.”
“And may I remind you that you're from a family that's all about change and taking risks?” Saga said. “Your ancestors told King Kisaki to fuck off. They formed the first constitutional monarchy government in the region.”
“They only beat Gazetto by three months,” Shou said.
“They still beat them!” Saga said. “And this country was the first to allow same-sex marriages for Ducal Princes and Princesses. So why not a relationship between a Ducal Prince and a Marquis' acknowledged heir who just happened to be born to someone other than the Marquess?”
“Look, Shou,” Tora said. “You're all about just being you. We love that about you. I sure as hell wouldn't want to hang out with a Ducal Prince who ACTED like one. But sometimes . . . you start remembering you're the next Grand Duke, and forgetting you're a GUY. And when that happens, you only hurt yourself.”
“I don't forget that I'm a guy!” Shou retorted. “I just, well, am thinking about my obligations.”
“Obligations shlobligations!” Saga said. “You're not Grand Duke yet, are you? You won't be until your father decides to retire, and that's probably not going to be for awhile.”
“My dad likes the free travel that comes with the job too much to retire,” Shou said.
“And we're not asking you to MARRY him!” Saga said. “Just ask him out! Have a picnic! Take him to the amusement pier! Do SOMETHING!”
“If you don't let him know you like him,” Tora said, “some other guy may step in.”
Now, Shou looked startled. “You – you really think so?”
“Oh, yes,” Tora said. “I see guys giving him the eye all the time.”
“Some really good-looking ones, too,” Saga said. “Competition? You have it in spades. So if you're going to make a move . . .”
There was a pause – and then, Shou snatched up the phone on his desk. “Can you excuse me?” he said. “I'm going to make a call.”
“Sure,” Saga said. “We're going to be leaving, anyway.”
But he wasn't heard. Shou was frantically dialing away. “Hiroto? This is Shou . . . yes, hi. Look, I need to ask you something. Do . . . do you want to go to the piers Friday night? . . . No, just us. . . . Yes, this is a date.”
Tora and Saga slipped out. “We were successful,” Tora said.
“We'll see if he actually goes through with it,” Saga replied.
“You think he won't?” Tora said. “Mark my words, they'll be making out more than us by next week.”
“I just hope nobody does give him a hard time, you know?” Saga said. “Both his family . . . and the other guys.”
“If they do, they'll have to answer to us,” Tora said. “We're the guardians of this relationship. We need to be, because we're the ones who made it happen.”
“Well, at least started it happening,” Saga said. “We'll see how it goes from here.”
“And since it looks like we were successful, how about that celebration?”
Saga shook his head. “You really do have a one-track mind sometimes.”
“And you wouldn't want it any other way.”
Saga had to quietly admit he was right. He wouldn't.
* * *
Shou was, quite frankly, nervous as hell when he was waiting on the pier for Hiroto to show up. But why should he be? It was just Hiroto, right? They saw each other every day! Of course, they'd never seen each other in the context of a DATE before. That made everything very, very different.
Hiroto arrived, driven by a member of his father's staff. “Hi,” he said. “Am I on time?”
“You're early,” Shou said. “But then again, so am I.”
“Oh, good!” Hiroto fidgeted with the collar of his shirt. “I . . . I . . . what do you want to do?”
Right now, Shou thought, I just want to look at you. You're adorable.
But he said out loud, “How about the Ferris wheel? That's always a good place to start.”
“Okay!” Hiroto smiled ear to ear. “Lead on!”
And so, they went on the Ferris wheel, and the bumper cars, and the roller coaster. They played the games where you had to throw rings around a traffic cone or pop a balloon with a water gun in order to win a prize. They got cotton candy and popcorn, and sat down on a bench to eat it.
Just any two young people on a date. It was as if one of them wasn't the Ducal Prince, and the other wasn't the illegitimate son of a nobleman.
Halfway through the popcorn, Hiroto suddenly said, “I'm very glad you asked me out tonight.”
“You are?” Shou said, looking surprised.
“Yes. I didn't think that you were asking me on, well, a date when you first called. But when you did, I nearly fell on the floor. It's something that I've wanted for a long time.”
“I've wanted it for a long time, too,” Shou said. “I've just been, well . . .”
Scared? Stubborn? Just a plain idiot? There were plenty of words for it, and none of them sounded good.
“It's all right,” Hiroto said, softly. “I know why you didn't. It's hard, isn't it, being the Ducal Prince? Having everyone put standards on what you can and can't do, who you can and can't date . . .”
“My parents have always been lenient,” Shou said, quickly. “It's not like my family still RULES the country.”
“But they're the living symbols of the country,” Hiroto said. “That's why we still have a Grand Duke. Because the people need someone to be the embodiment of Alicenine. And that person has to be held to standards.”
“I don't care about standards,” Shou said. “I know that now. I'm going to live my life as me, not as the future embodiment of the nation. And that means having who I want in my life.” He paused. “It can't have been easy for you, either.”
“Sometimes, it's been fine,” Hiroto said. “There's a lot of people who are cool with me and just accept me as my father's heir, not matter what the circumstances of my birth were. But there were others who, well . .. . wouldn't let me forget it.”
Shou put an arm around Hiroto's shoulders and squeezed. “I'm sorry you've had to live like that. I'm sorry people are closed-minded assholes. I mean, it's not like you could HELP how you were born.”
“My father said he couldn't help it, either,” Hiroto said. “His marriage to my stepmother was pretty much an arranged one. Their families pushed them to be together. He convinced himself he was in love with her, but he really wasn't. And then he met my mother, and, well . . . they fell for each other. I was born about a year and a half later. My father pretty much shocked everyone when he acknowledged me and made me his heir.”
“How do you feel about it?” Shou said. “Being your father's heir, I mean.”
“I've never really felt much like a nobleman,” Hiroto said. “My mother and I always lived in a cottage on the grounds of my father's manor – I don't feel like I grew up in a grand house. But I accept the position. My father is a great man, and I want to carry on his legacy. There's just one thing, though – I don't want to do what he had to do. I'm not going to date or marry who my father wants. I want to do my own thing.”
“It's what I'm going to do, too,” Shou said. “My own thing.” He paused. “And because of that . . .”
Hiroto looked quizzical. What was Shou thinking, with that devious smile?
“I'm going to ask you on another date.”
“Really?” Hiroto looked utterly thrilled.
“Really,” Shou said. “Maybe a movie?”
“I'd love that!” Hiroto said. He leaned over toward the other man, brushing their lips together – and they lingered for a long moment, a sweet kiss that gradually turned hotter, their mouths opening slowly, tongues starting to tease each other.
Hiroto pulled back, blushing. “I'm looking forward to being together more,” he said.
“Me, too,” Shou replied.
There'd be other kisses now, and other dates. Shou had taken, what seemed to the surface, to be a small step – but for him, it was a very big one.
* * *
Tora and Saga got back into Saga's car, after Saga put the item he'd been carrying in the trunk. It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and they were off to make a very special delivery.
“It's not like you to be that generous,” Tora said.
“What do you mean?” Saga started the car and pulled away from his family's house.
“Offering to pack them a lunch for their date?” Tora said. “I mean, you're happy Shou and Hiroto are together, so am I, but isn't that going a bit far?”
“It's a special occasion,” Saga said. “Today is their third date.”
“So?” Tora said. “What's extra-special about that?”
“Think about it! The third date is always the first sex date. If the clothes are coming off, that's when it happens. Those two are having a picnic on a remote part of the Ducal Estate. Sounds like a prime recipe for fucking to me.”
“So you packed them a lunch for that?” Tora said.
“Yes, I did,” Saga said. “And I threw in a couple of extras. Things I think they'll need.”
“You didn't put any sex toys in there, did you?” Tora said.
“No,” Saga said. “I'm not that blatant. Hell, not even YOU are that blatant.”
As they drove the rest of the way to the Ducal Palace, Saga hummed happily to himself. If things went well, Shou would be having the time of his life.
* * *
The young couple sat together on the blanket, Hiroto leaning on Shou's shoulder. They were very content just to stay like that for the moment.
It was a picnic, all right – but it was less about food than it was about being together. Shou had been pleasantly surprised when Saga had arrived with the packed basket for their date, but so far, it had been untouched.
“Maybe we should see what's in it,” Hiroto said.
“Why?” Shou said, teasingly. “Don't you want to kiss some more?”
“I do,” Hiroto replied. “But I'm curious about the basket, too. What did Saga pack for us?”
“Well, let's see.” Shou raised the lid. “A couple of bentos. A bottle of wine and some glasses. Some little cakes from the conbini, and . . .”
He slammed the basket shut suddenly and backed away as if it were explosive.
“What?” Hiroto said. “What's in there?”
“Um, just the food and wine,” Shou said, quickly. “I'll get out the bentos and we can . . .”
But before he could cover up for his awkwardness, Hiroto was reaching over him for the basket, flipping the lid and looking inside. He slammed it just as quickly.
“That . . . is what I think it is, isn't it?” he said.
“Oh, it is,” Shou replied. Leave it to Saga to put condoms and lube in a picnic basket. Most likely, Tora was in on it, too.
“Why did he . . .”
“Because Tora and Saga are perverts,” Shou sighed. He hoped Hiroto wouldn't see how he was blushing and trembling slightly, thinking of the idea of using the gifts, of his date stretched out naked on this blanket, naked and open to Shou's exploring hands and mouth . . .
“Oh,” Hiroto said – and was it Shou's imagination, but was he blushing and trembling, too? Wishful thinking on his part. Best to get back to what he was doing, take the food out – and be confronted by the sight of the sex things all over again.
“Shou?” Hiroto said, and Shou realized he'd just been sitting there, at a loss for words, for . . . how long? Fifteen seconds, thirty, five whole minutes?
“I'm . . .” Shou looked over at his companion. Move, stupid! he told himself. Open the basket and get the food out! Ladies and gentlemen, behold the next figurehead of your state . . .
“What?” Now Hiroto looked completely confused – and did his blushing and trembling get more intense? Shou didn't even know what was real and what was his imagination anymore.
And then, before he could say another word, he leaned over and kissed Hiroto, hot and intense, and felt the other man respond right away, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him closer. That just made Shou all the bolder, opening his lips and pushing his tongue forward, hearing Hiroto let out a small moan in his throat.
Their hands were almost instantly moving to the front of each other's shirts, grabbing and bunching at the fabric as the kiss went on, their tongues sliding against one another. Hiroto reached for one button, tentatively unfastening it – and it seemed to open the floodgates for both of them. They couldn't undo each other's shirts fast enough, one button popping off and rolling across the blanket, neither of them caring.
When the shirts had been tossed aside, they kissed again, hands roaming over now-bared skin, touching everything and everywhere they could. Shou let one hand slip down toward the other man's waistline, caressing the smooth skin of his belly as he did, and let it come to rest on top of his belt buckle.
He felt like he was an explorer about to cross the threshold to an ancient tomb of exquisite treasures. He leaned back out of the kiss and said, breathlessly, “Can . . . can I . . .”
“Yes,” Hiroto gasped. “Please . . .”
With that word, they both wasted no time. They fumbled with each other's belts, buttons and zippers, and couldn't get pants and underwear off fast enough. Hiroto reached slowly and tentatively toward Shou's growing erection, sliding his fingers along it delicately, looking at it in awe.
“Oh . . .” he said. “Oh . . . yes . . .” His confidence gradually grew, as he wrapped his fingers around it and began to stroke, slowly.
Shou closed his eyes and moaned. It was, to him, the most exquisite pleasure he'd ever felt. Neither his solo explorations nor his teenage experimentations with more experienced lovers compared to this.
He leaned over and kissed Hiroto hard again, and his own fingers wrapped around his lover's cock, sliding along it, feeling for the first time everything he'd secretly wanted to touch all along. They stroked each other at a leisurely pace, memorizing new textures and sensations with their fingers.
The two of them moaned softly in their throats, stroking faster, Shou running his thumb over the tip of the other man's erection and feeling Hiroto shudder against him. Which just made them both feel all the hotter, and before they knew it, they were tumbling to the blanket together, rolling over so that Shou was on top.
Shou leaned back, looking at the other man lying under him, skin flushed with passion, lips swollen from their hard kisses, cock erect and gorgeous. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in his life.
Why, he thought, did I wait so long to be with him like this?
He lay full-length on top of Hiroto, kissing him hard again, shifting his hips so their erections would rub together – and instantly, he felt Hiroto tremble and start to move, thrusting up against him. The two of them began to move as one, rubbing against one another, cock sliding against cock.
Shou moaned, and began to thrust harder, grinding against his lover, wanting nothing more than to feel that intimate connection. He was completely immersed in him, breathing in his scent, feeling his heat, and when their kiss broke, Hiroto let out a long, deep sound that could only be described as pure lust.
“Oh, my God, baby,” Shou groaned in return, thrusting against Hiroto faster, harder, wanting to hear that sound again, to immerse himself in sensation even more. He felt his lover's hands moving down his back, stroking the skin, going lower and lower as the two ground against each other.
When Hiroto reached Shou's ass, there was none of the hesitancy of before. He grabbed it with both hands, squeezing it, then releasing, then squeezing again. Now it was Shou's turn to let out a lustful groan, pushing his index finger into Hiroto's mouth. Hiroto sucked it, stroking it with his tongue as Shou moved it in and out, matching the rhythm of their thrusting, grinding hips, both cocks leaking precome now.
Hiroto suddenly stiffened, and then let out a loud cry, his hips thrusting upward hard as his body trembled with ecstasy. Shou continued to thrust against his lover's skin, now slicked with come, which made him feel hotter, the pleasure was getting too intense, he could hardly bear it . . .
When the ecstasy broke over him, it was so intense that he saw white. He gave himself into it completely, the pulses overwhelming him in hot waves, until he collapsed on top of the other man, panting hard, kissing him softly.
They just held onto each other for a long moment without words. None were needed.
Finally, Shou rolled off Hiroto. “I . . . I need to clean us up . . .” He fumbled in the picnic basket.
Hiroto sat up and looked downward. “I came a lot,” he said, sheepishly.
“We both did.” Shou found a small folded towel at the bottom of the basket. Of course, Saga would have included that, too. “You just felt so good.”
“So did you,” Hiroto said. As Shou leaned in to wipe them off, he leaned over and kissed him. “I'm so glad this happened.”
“Me, too,” Shou said. “And it would have – with or without Saga's little gifts.” He imagined he owed his friend a thank you for giving them the suggestion. Of course, if Saga asked him directly if they used the condoms and lube, he'd say no – honestly. But that didn't mean he was giving them back. They'd need them, eventually. They'd just work up to going all the way. He finished his job, tossed the towel aside and stretched out next to his lover again.
“I just wish we could stay here like this forever,” Hiroto said, wrapping his arms around Shou and leaning his head against his chest.
“We can stay here for the rest of the afternoon, at least,” Shou replied. “We still have to eat our food.”
“Oh.” Hiroto shifted a bit. “I guess we need to get dressed for that.”
“Who said we had to?” Shou said. “We're alone. There's nobody around. We'll have a naked picnic, just you and me. How does that sound?”
Hiroto closed his eyes. “Wonderful,” he said.
Shou held the other man closer. He had a LOT to thank Saga for now, it seemed. Because from now on, he wasn't letting Hiroto go for anything. Not for convention, public opinion, or official duty.
He was going to make his own rules in his life. That's what a future Head of State did, right?
* * *
EPILOGUE – SEVERAL YEARS LATER
Saga paced in the hall, impatiently. A glance at the clock revealed he had reason to be impatient. Shou had to be ready to leave in an hour – and the stylists hadn't even been granted access to his rooms yet.
Of course, he'd come to expect this over the last 12 months, ever since Shou's father had officially retired and Shou had stepped up as Grand Duke. As his Chief of Staff, Saga was in charge of making sure he was in the right place at the right time – which wasn't always easy.
Tora, Saga's second in command, approached him. “So where is he, anyway?”
“The usual,” Saga said. “Shacked up with his consort. I swear, those two fuck even more than we do. I didn't think it was possible.”
“You kind of brought that on yourself, you know,” Tora said.
“You mean, that picnic basket?” Saga replied. “I had to do that. They wouldn't have started doing it otherwise. Problem is, they've never STOPPED doing it. I suppose I'll have to deal with the situation personally.”
He turned and headed down the glass hallway that led from the main part of the palace to the family's bedchambers. Only the master suite was occupied at the moment, though. Shou's siblings had moved out after his installation ceremony, and the staff had their own quarters.
Good thing, Saga thought, as he stood outside the door listening to the noises of passion within. Those two are so loud they can probably hear them all the way in Veekay - where we're SUPPOSED to be going.
“Once you two have finished fucking,” Saga called, “we DO have to get a move on, you know. You two need to be dressed, styled and ready to go in an hour. This IS your first out-of-country visitation as Grand Duke, remember, and it would look bad if you were late for Prince Yo-ka's wedding. He attended yours, now you have to return the favor.”
There was no indication that he was heard at all, of course – just an increasingly loud series of gasps and moans. Saga shook his head. Time to start thinking of excuses to tell the royal staff at Veekay when they walked in late. Birds on the runway, family member seemed to be very ill but it was a false alarm, super-emergency meeting with the Prime Minister . . .
As he was about to reenter the glass corridor, he heard a loud, climaxing cry that stopped him in his tracks. That was followed, a few seconds later, by Shou's voice, ragged with spent passion, calling, “Tell the stylists five minutes!”
Saga shook his head as he went down the corridor again. Outside, he could see Nao working with some shrubs, and he waved to him, happily. When Shou took office, he knew that there was no other appointment Nao wanted other than Chief of the Palace Gardens, and he insisted on doing much of the hands-on work himself.
He found the stylists, who were sitting around the salon looking bored. “The Grand Duke and Prince-Consort Hiroto will receive you in their chambers in five minutes,” he said. He returned to Tora, who was just outside, looking a bit smug.
“You got through to them?” he said.
“More like they finished up just in time,” Saga replied. “They're incorrigible.”
“But they're happy,” Tora said. “That's what matters.”
Saga had to admit that – and he was proud of Shou for pursuing his happiness no matter what. There had been a bit of pushback from his family, but that had been overcome fairly easily – mostly by Hiroto's father, the Marquis, personally meeting with the Grand Duke and Duchess. When Shou had proposed, about a year or so after college, his parents approved the union.
And, yes, Saga had to admit a bit of pride in the fact that they were together because of him. He was an unusual fairy godfather, to be sure, but he had definitely helped out in a Happily Ever After.