It was a warm midsummer night. A bright full moon shined upon a small child slowly picking his way through the crisp dusting of pine needles on the forest floor. He rubbed his grumbling stomach miserably, biting his lips at the sour, gnawing pain. His feet hurt from hours of directionless wandering, but he struggled onwards, desperately hoping to find his way home. When a knotted stump caught his tattered shoe, he couldn’t even attempt to hold back a sharp cry at the sting of a scraped chin and chaffed palms. His wails quickly turned into silent sniffles, however. He didn’t want to attract the attention of the beasties and monsters that his mother always told him about during their bedtime stories.
Thinking of his mother and the warmth of his bed stirred up a fresh wave of tears. The boy curled into a ball on the offensive stump and harshly rubbed the dirty, ripped cloth of his shirt across his dripping nose.
“I c-can’t just s-s-sit here crying,” he whispered to himself like a prayer. “I-I have to… find my way b-back home!”
A warm gust of wind blew across his face, tousling his messy bangs and freeing a few leaves from the black tangles. He jumped at the howl of a lone wolf in the distance and tried to swallow his tears.
But… Where am I?
The light chime of a bell ghosted across his ear, catching his attention. He raised his face and quieted his sniffles, listening warily. His heart sped up in anticipation.
Is there someone here?
The bell chimed again. This time, the boy could tell that it came from somewhere to his right. He unsteadily pushed himself up and began blindly following the sound.
Maybe they can help me?
He clawed his way through several clumps of bushes, wound around a dense, maze-like collection of saplings, and crossed a twinkling stream, following the increasingly clear peal of the bell. Sweat combined with the humidity of the forest to cling to his skin and drip from the tips of his hair. When he saw the hot radiance of a bonfire up ahead, his limbs buzzed with renewed vigor. The light bathed the trunks and mulchy earth with a warm, orange glow and blew a feather of hope aflutter in his chest. The child’s muddy, sweat-stained face broke into a smile—he could just barely make out the sounds of laughter and music past the line of trees in front of him. He roughly propelled his legs forward, pushing past the soreness in his muscles.
When he broke into the clearing, he gasped, spellbound at the sight before him.
An ethereal gathering of fairies laughed and danced under the light of the moon, their gossamer wings and shimmering clothes catching the glow of firelight as they spun gracefully on the ground and in the treetops. The boy’s eyes widened when he realized that the orange glow he saw in the distance hadn’t come from any bonfires, but from dozens of small fire sprites, flickering and twirling in between and above the ever-fluid bodies of the larger dancers. A ragtag group of sprites played enthralling music at the center of the circle—a woodland pixie with a white flower atop his head passionately pulled a spider-threaded bow across a violin, an opossum-like creature joyfully pounded the drums, and it looked like a set of pipes were playing themselves… Wait… The boy gasped again when his eyes caught the near-invisible form of several wind spirits giggling and flitting along the hollow, wooden tubes.
“Wooow,” he breathed.
“Well hello there, little one…” A soft, lulling voice called out from behind the boy. The child turned to see who had spoken, but nobody was in sight.
He heard a light, bubbling laughter.
When the boy looked up, he was stunned into a stupor by the beautiful being sitting on a tree branch above him. A tall, slender man smiled down, his warm green-blue eyes twinkling with curiosity. He had long, silver hair that shined and glowed as it spilled across his shoulders. A nearly transparent outfit of gossamer hung loosely on his frame. The boy felt his mouth go dry as his heart sped up. Although the creature didn’t seem to have wings on his back, he was far too pretty to be human.
The fairy held an ethereal beauty that left the boy entranced. He couldn’t help but stare in wonder...
The harsh protest of the child’s empty stomach startled them both. The boy blushed to the tips of his ears and ducked his head as the fairy let out a surprised chuckle.
“Ahh… I-I’m r-really sorry!” The boy squeaked, waving his hands in the air in embarrassment. “It’s just that I… I umm—“
“It looks like you wandered into my party just in time!” The fairy interrupted his stammering, gracefully floating down in front of the child. He knelt to the ground, coming face to face with the small figure, and placed one cool finger below the boy’s chin. He gently pushed the boy’s blushing face up to meet amused emerald eyes.
The boy felt his heart speed up again.
He bit his lip and blinked, flustered.
The fairy just laughed and took the child by his hand, pulling him towards the bright circle of otherworldly dancers.
“Come! Tonight we shall eat, drink, and be merry!”
The boy followed obediently, eyes wide, still in a daze.
The chatter of voices and the peals of laughter crescendoed when the silver-haired fairy entered the circle.
“You’re finally here, your majesty!—”
“—Dance with me!”
The boy blushed anew, nervous from all the attention directed their way. He sped up to close the gap between them and hid behind the silver fairy, holding onto his cool hand tightly. It seemed that every sprite and creature in the meadow was bowing or curtseying to them, while the fairy leading the boy simply smiled and waved in response.
They stopped at the center of the circle, where a bed of soft green moss covered a giant tree stump. The fairy sat down and pulled the boy into his lap. With a commanding wave of his hand, golden baskets with intricate designs of vines and flowers floated in the air towards them, carried by buzzing clusters of sprites with fluffy dresses reminiscent of bumblebees.
The boy’s mouth started to water in time with his growling stomach as the baskets drifted closer. He could see overflowing piles of perfectly ripened fruit decorated with colorful flowers. Their pleasantly sweet fragrance teased his tongue.
The fairy giggled at the boy’s shining eyes and plucked a bunch of grapes from a nearby basket. He pulled off a single ruby-red grape and held it to the boy’s lips.
“Try these, I’m sure you’ll like them…”
The boy shyly, albeit eagerly accepted the fruit. His small tongue curled against the smooth, cool skin of the hard orb. When he bit into the plump flesh, a burst of rich, almost achingly-sweet juice filled his mouth. His eyes brightened in delight as he let out a small moan of pleasure. The fairy hummed, his face melting into a warm smile.
“So, what’s your name?”
In his dreamy, food-induced haze, the boy failed to recall his mother’s warning that he should never give a fairy his name.
“Mm… Yuuri, I’m Katsuki Yuuri,” the boy said with his mouth still full, some of the sticky juice dripping down his chin.
The fairy beamed down at him, pleased, and continued to feed him the rest of the grapes one-by-one. As the night went on, he kept picking new and increasingly stranger selections from the baskets for the boy to try.
“—Umm, is that a flower??”
“Yep! It’s one of my favorites… Say ahhhh…”
“So hold it in your palm like this… And just slurp… No, no, you have to do it harder… Yes, that’s it Yuuri!”
“That’s a really pretty shell”
“Isn’t it? Now we have to drink it all at once, ok? One, two, three!”
Yuuri couldn’t tell how many hours had passed, but the fairies and woodland creatures showed no hint of ending their festivities. His body felt warm and his head felt light and fuzzy, as if the aches and stresses of the day had just melted away. He sluggishly ran his fingers through the long locks of smooth, silver hair within reaching distance of his perch in the fairy’s lap and grinned drunkenly up into playful green-blue eyes. The silver-haired fairy petted the boy’s head fondly, chattering lightly.
Yuuri looked out dreamily into the crowd around them as his face relaxed into a smile.
Everyone looks like they’re having so much fun!
His belly was comfortably satiated and the music made him feel light and full of energy. His fingers and feet started tapping in time with the drums, moving with excitement and anticipation as though they had a will of their own. When the violin sang out a particularly high trill, Yuuri hopped to his feet, surprising the fairy by spinning in a neat, cute circle, the bewitching music guiding the swing of his arms and the bounce of his toes.
“Wow!” The fairy exclaimed, clapping enthusiastically.
“Let’s dance!” Yuuri declared. He held out a chubby, inviting hand, his shyness having been chased away quite a while ago by the food and drink. The fairy grasped the boy’s tiny fingers with a twinkle in his eye and gracefully stood to twirl him around, guiding him across the clearing in an impromptu waltz.
Yuuri danced and danced as the night went on. Perhaps it was due to the magic of the fairy circle, or maybe it was because of the captivating smiles and warm touches of the fairy that had so enchanted him, but Yuuri didn’t get even a little bit fatigued.
Eventually, the moon began to fall and the other fairies disappeared, one-by-one, until only Yuuri and his silver-haired friend were left, dancing to a soundless tune that only the two of them could hear. The fairy swung the child into a final twirl, released his hand, and bowed. Yuuri, dizzy from the spin, did his best attempt at a bow in response, earning him a chortle and a light tousle of his hair. “Well, Yuuri Katsuki, I never expected to have so much fun tonight!”
Yuuri grinned in return. He wholeheartedly agreed. Tonight had been the best night of his life!
“But, alas, all things must come to an end…” The fairy looked at the boy with a pleased expression and a fond smile. “…Unless…” The fairy’s eyelids drifted half-closed enticingly as he slowly leaned down.
“…How would you like to stay with me… Forever?” He whispered conspiratorially into the boy’s ear. After several heartbeats, he stretched out his hand, palm up, and winked at the boy.
Yuuri found himself nodding dreamily, drawn in by the glowing smile and misty blue eyes…
It would be so wonderful to always be with such a beautiful person, eat such delicious food, and have so much fun all the time!
Yuuri leaned forward. Right before he was about to grasp the fairy’s hand, images of his mother, father, and sister suddenly flashed through his mind. Yuuri’s hand jolted, hovering over the fairy’s palm.
They would be really sad right?
His eyes widened. The thought of his crying mother painfully wrenched at his heart.
They’re probably really, really worried right now!
He slowly dropped his hand and glanced apologetically at his new friend.
“I’m really sorry… But I think my family would be really sad… If I didn’t go home.”
The fairy’s eyes widened in surprise.
Tears began to well up in Yuuri’s soft, brown eyes as his mind cleared. “I’ve never been away from home at night… and…” Yuuri looked down guiltily, his lip starting to quiver. “…They wouldn’t think that I r-ran a-away, right…?”
What if… they don’t want me anymore?
Yuuri’s eyes and nose started to sting, the dripping, salty wetness blurring his vision. He squeezed his clammy hands into fists, growing more and more anxious with the pound of each heartbeat.
What if they forgot about me?
“Of course not, dear Yuuri!” The fairy interrupted the boy’s panicked thoughts, trying to project calmness through his soft, soothing voice. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you home soon.”
Warm hands came up to wipe away the boy’s tears and snot, lightly pinching his rosy cheeks. When his sniffles finally receded, Yuuri looked up to see a small, reassuring smile, tinged with a hint of sadness.
“Now, let’s get you something really nice as a souvenir so your family won’t think that you ran away, ok?”
Yuuri nodded, rubbing at his slightly sticky face one last time.
“Great! Let’s go!”
The fairy clapped in excitement and pulled on the boy’s hand. In the blink of an eye, their surroundings changed from the earthy tones of the forest to the glitz and glamour of what looked to be an extremely opulent treasure room. Yuuri’s jaw dropped in awe. After several confused blinks, he rubbed his eyes.
Where am I? How did we get here?
The high ceiling of the room was coated in gold leaf and studded with glowing pieces of amber. A large crystal chandelier drooped from its center, lighting the room with the glow of hundreds of tiny slumbering light fairies. All sorts of shiny treasures cluttered the chamber, piled into several small hills. Yuuri had never seen most of these items in his life, but thought that he recognized a few from the picture books that the traveling merchants had sold to his family. He could tell that they were all quite precious. Chests overflowed with sparkling gold coins, rubies, diamonds, and pearls; a pile of bejeweled crowns of all shapes and sizes were piled haphazardly atop a throne of pure silver; terrifyingly sharp weapons and goblets of all shapes and sizes were littered across the floor. There were also many mysterious items that Yuuri did not recognize. It was overwhelming.
The fairy looked down at the boy, gesturing towards the room of treasure with a flourish of his arm and a cock of his hip. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Yuuri nodded, still too astonished for words.
The fairy grinned. “You can pick out anything you want in this room. Just say the word and it’s yours!”
Yuuri’s eyes widened. After a few blinks of disbelief, he smiled shyly and blushed.
“So?” The fairy leaned down, encouraging the boy to pick out a gift.
Not sparing a single additional glance at the multitude of valuables around him, Yuuri pointed a small, wavering finger up at the fairy.
“Me?” The fairy pointed at himself, flabbergasted. “Well, that’s—“
“No, no! Of course not!” Yuuri shook his head furiously, blushing to the tips of his ears again. “You can’t own a person!”
The fairy’s eyes widened in surprise.
“O-or a fairy, I mean! You can’t own a fairy either!”
Embarrassed by his own outburst, Yuuri looked down and poked his fingers together before shyly mumbling in a voice that the fairy could barely hear.
“I thought that… It would be really nice if I could… have… a little bit of your hair?” He gazed admiringly up at the silver wall of silk. “It’s so smooth and pretty and I really like touching it… So…” The boy glanced up shyly, unsure.
The fairy let out a delighted gasp, a tinge of pink dusting his cheeks.
“Of course, Yuuri! I’d be happy to…” He plucked a single strand of silver from his head and handed it to the boy.
“Now don’t you lose it, ok? Since it’s a very special gift from me!”
Yuuri nodded with vigor, biting his lips in happiness and cradling the silver strand in his hands like it was the most delicate and precious thing in the world. The fairy sighed and knelt down to give the boy a warm hug, inciting another light blush.
“I think it’s about time we get you home, Yuuri,” he whispered. After a lingering pause, he lightly pressed a pair of cool lips against the boy’s forehead.
Yuuri saw a flash of light and heard the bright chime of a bell as his eyelids drifted closed. Before he was fully pulled into the velveteen folds of sleep, however, he thought he heard someone whisper into his ear.
“I’ve got you, Yuuri.”
A loud voice…
Yuuri furrowed his brow in annoyance and snuggled up into a tighter ball.
So happy… So warm…
A really nice dream…
“Oh my gosh… Dear boy, please, please wake up! Yuuri!”
That voice sounded familiar. And maybe a little desperate…? Yuuri’s fingers twitched.
He squinted as he cracked opened his eyes against the too-bright light of day. He could tell that he was lying on the ground, with a soft bed of crisp-smelling pine needles cushioning his back. The cheerfully cacophonous chirping of birds told him it was early morning. The sunlight filtered through the foliage of the towering oaks, pines, and birches, scattering a kaleidoscope of golds and emeralds onto the soft earth below.
“Yuuri, thank god you’re awake!” His eyes focused on the face of a woman who was peering down at him with a terrified expression and pinched lips. Her long brown hair tickled his forehead.
Hmm… That reminds me of… something?
“Are you ok?” The woman lightly slapped his cheeks, jostling him fully awake. He sat up and blinked his eyes in recognition.
The next thing he knew, Yuuri was knocked back onto the ground in a fierce tackle of a hug. He could feel a warm wetness soaking through his shirt.
“I’m so glad you’re ok!” Minako pushed herself away and proceeded to pat him down and analyze every inch of his small body, tears of relief filling her eyes. “You are ok right? You’re not hurt anywhere?”
“I think so?”
Minako squeezed him in a tight hug again, peppering wet kisses across his face.
“Yes, Yuuri?” The woman looked at Yuuri with a joyful smile.
“I need to… apologize to mama for playing for too long in the woods last night…” He shrunk in on himself guiltily. “I hope they don’t think I ran away…”
“What do you mean?” Minako looked at the boy with a confused wrinkle in her delicately arched eyebrows. “You went missing in the forest almost a week ago.”
Yuuri’s face fell.
But… But I remember playing in the forest last night…
Minako held his shoulders tightly and directed a piercing stare at him, her brown eyes hardening with an almost-scary intensity. “What happened to you?”
“I was just… I… I…” Yuuri trailed off.
I was playing in the forest. And then… And then it was night? And I was running…?
Minako waited in silence, her gaze not leaving Yuuri’s confused face.
After a long pause, Yuuri replied carefully, his quiet voice small and unsure. “I don’t remember.”
Minako’s grip on his arms loosened.
“I can’t remember anything!” Thinking back to last night–or was it last week?–felt like trying to walk through a wall of wool. The more he pulled at his memories, the more lost and tangled and confused he became. Yuuri frowned and worried at his lip.
After a long, considering look, Minako sighed and patted Yuuri’s head. “Well in any case, I’m glad you’re ok.” Minako gave Yuuri one last hug, more gently this time. “Let’s get you home. The Katsukis have been worried sick! Can you walk?”
Yuuri nodded and stood up.
After Minako patted off the pine needles and mud that Yuuri had rolled all over himself in his slumber, she took his hand and led him home. As they followed the small dirt path to Hasetsu Village, Yuuri stopped several times to turn and look back at the looming wall of trees.
He had the nagging feeling that he was missing something very important.