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From Sea to Shining Sea

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As a prince, Daichi knew that he’d have to deal with a lot of things that he didn’t necessarily want to, including people. Ever since he was tiny, he’d been brought up with the knowledge that he’d have to do things in the best interest of their kingdom, even if it wasn’t something he really wanted for himself. Luckily Daichi was a very loyal boy, and his love for his kingdom and its people was fierce and strong, much like Daichi himself. In fact, even Daichi’s parents thought he might be a little bit too loyal to the crown, even as young as he was, and so they assigned him something of a caretaker. Oikawa was a boy about Daichi’s age, a ward of the castle training in both the way of the sword and in intellect, and Daichi’s parents hoped that having a friend the same age would entice Daichi to let loose a tiny bit more.

 

Oikawa seemed to think that meant it was his sacred duty to get Daichi into trouble whenever he possibly could, which was, if you asked Daichi, far too frequently. Even as old as they are now Oikawa gets them into things that they have no business getting into, as if they were still children. Daichi remembers being young and wandering the halls of the underground tunnels where they got lost for an entire day, when Oikawa had broken down into tears when he thought that they’d be stuck there forever. Daichi didn’t have the heart then to tell Oikawa that their ‘exploring’ hadn’t really gotten them very far, though the winding of the tunnels kept them from being able to easily remember which was the way back out the way they came.

 

There had been the many instances of breaking into the smallest royal library, where all the restricted and forbidden books were kept, the ones that were not meant for the tiny grubby hands of children, even ones who wanted desperately to learn everything in the world. After a while it became quite normal for castle staff to find the crown prince and his companion curled up together in a fluffy chair, or stretched out side by side under a research table, heads stuck together as they read from one ancient tome or another, absorbing as much information as they possibly could.

 

Even now they’re in a similar position, both of them tangled together in the comfortable window seat of Daichi’s bedroom, Oikawa reading aloud from his most recent acquisition from the Hall of Knowledge. Daichi’s not quite sure what kind of book it is, although a lot of what Oikawa’s read up until now has been related to magic in some way, though it’s not quite a book of spells. Oikawa knows better than to read spellbooks aloud when they don’t know what the spells do, especially after the first time he did it. They’d both wound up sporting bunny ears and fluffy tails for two weeks while the official court mage tried to reverse the effects. Sometimes Daichi finds his mother giggling over a picture that she’d managed to get of the incident, the two of them holding hands and pouting at whoever took it.

 

They’d learned quickly then, to be able to tell actual spells apart from the descriptions of them, and from other information, like the history and usage of them, so that they didn’t end up in another situation like that, or worse. They’d been reprimanded fiercely, and Daichi can still remember how hard they’d both cried as even Daichi’s mother, possibly the sweetest, gentlest woman in the entire kingdom, had scolded them for doing something so potentially dangerous. They’d slept together that night, cowering under Daichi’s heap of blankets, fluffy tails quivering as they wiped tears on each other’s shirts until they fell asleep, hoping their new appendages wouldn’t be permanent.

 

Daichi shudders as he thinks about it, and he’s glad that they’d learned their lesson quickly and hadn’t gone through anything similar afterward. Once was quite enough for him, and they were honestly incredibly lucky that it hadn’t been something more serious, or anything that couldn’t be reversed. Oikawa sighs suddenly, and pokes Daichi in the stomach with his toes until Daichi looks up at Oikawa’s pouty face.

 

“Are you listening at all, Dai?”

 

Daichi wraps one hand around Oikawa’s ankle to stop the insistent poking, and he laughs as the pout on Oikawa’s face grows. “Yes, of course I am.”

 

“Really. That far off expression says you weren’t very taken with today’s subject.” Oikawa wriggles his ankle in Daichi’s grip and only stops when Daichi soothes his hand up Oikawa’s calf instead, squeezing at the tense muscles as he thinks.

 

“It’s fascinating. That one passage just reminded me of when we were kids, that’s all.” Daichi can feel the grin spread across his face, and he can tell that Oikawa knows exactly what he’s talking about, even without clarifying, by the little nose scrunch. Daichi decides to tease him anyway. “You looked so cute with those fluffy ears.”

 

Oikawa grimaces, something close to a petulant growl in his voice. “Not as cute as you.”

 

And that just makes Daichi grin wider, not as opposed to being called cute as Oikawa is, though nowadays ‘cute’ is not the most common word that people use to describe him with. Esmeralda soars into the room and swoops into Daichi’s lap, black scales glowing almost orange from the dusk sun spilling through the window. Your mother says you both need to come down to dinner, they have something to talk to you about. She delivers her message and a flicker of fire before pouncing onto the floor, where she sits primly and stares at them, her tail twitching behind her. She growls when they don’t make any effort to move, and Daichi laughs at her before untangling his legs from Oikawa’s and swinging his feet to the floor.

 

As he stands she flaps her way over to him, draping herself across his shoulders and flicking her tail in Oikawa’s face, which he playfully grumbles at as he puts the book to the side to follow them. The walk down to the dining room is peppered with Oikawa’s chatter about what they’d just been reading, and Daichi listens quietly. They’re just outside the grand doors to the dining room when Oikawa abruptly quiets, and all at once Daichi feels a sense of foreboding, something almost sinister floating in the air before the door swings open and his mother calls a greeting from where she and Daichi’s father are sitting at the table.

 

The feeling doesn’t really get any better, and Daichi glances at Oikawa to see a similar sense of something not quite right etched across his face, though Daichi knows that to anyone else they both look perfectly normal. Still, it has Daichi on edge, and he and Oikawa sit just a little closer to each other than strictly necessary. Daichi’s parents don’t even seem to notice, so used to how close the two boys have been since they were tiny, and they smile at them both as the night’s dishes are laid out on the table. Then it gets suspicious, because everything that’s being served is either Daichi’s favorite or Oikawa’s, and most of those things are rarely ever made together.

 

Oikawa notices as well, Daichi knows, can tell by the way that Oikawa taps his fingers on his own thigh that he thinks something is up, too. Daichi’s running through a list of potential topics in his head when Esmeralda pipes up, still draped across Daichi’s shoulders. You ought to pay attention before you miss something, don’t you think? Her voice, if you can call it that, is warm and amused.

 

Daichi’s parents are speaking to each other for the moment, quiet words that Daichi can hardly hear, until finally his father looks over and raises his voice to address them. “Well, I suppose we should get right to the point.” He takes a sip of his drink before continuing. “Daichi, we’ve arranged for you to be married.”

 

Next to him, Oikawa nearly chokes on whatever he’d just taken a bite of, and Daichi thumps him on the back and turns back to his parents incredulously. “You’ve…arranged a marriage?”

 

His mother carefully sets down her fork and nods. “Yes. With the tumultuous state that the world is in, we need to form positive bonds with other kingdoms to ensure we can try to avoid needlessly entering into any wars.” She smiles softly at him. “If you really oppose, we can try to figure out something else, but this is the best way to secure the safety of our people.”

 

And this is when Daichi can feel Oikawa shake beside him, just before he jumps from his seat and smacks his hands to the table top, startling Esmeralda into taking flight from Daichi’s shoulders to perch on one of the light fixtures on the wall. Daichi’s a little distracted by her upset grumbling, and Oikawa’s well on his way to seething rage when she decides that she’s fine. Oikawa points one long, trembling finger at Daichi’s parents, his voice quiet in anger as he addresses them. “That’s not fair!”

 

“Tooru.” Oikawa barely indicates that he’s heard Daichi’s stern voice, only drops his outstretched hand back to the table and sighs quietly.

 

“That’s not a fair way to put it. You both know that with his sense of duty, Daichi will do anything for the good of the people, whether it’s in his best interest or not.”

 

Daichi’s mother speaks quietly but firmly. “Tooru. Sit.” Oikawa obeys, knowing better than to ignore a command from the queen, and he drops a hand to Daichi’s thigh comfortingly, even as he resumes eating, petulant pout still on his face. She turns to Daichi again. “The prince and his entourage will be here in a week’s time. You might like to use that opportunity to learn a little more about Sapphiran customs before they arrive.”

 

“Yes, mother.” The name of the kingdom is vaguely familiar, and after a bit of thinking Daichi remembers he and Oikawa reading about it in one of their world history books. As far as he remembers, the Kingdom of Sapphira is a coastal one similar to their own Viradia, located on the opposite shore, pretty much as far away as any two kingdoms can be. He makes a mental note to do more research since that’s all he can remember, and by the thoughtful tapping on his thigh he can tell that Oikawa is thinking the same thing.

 

There’s a satisfied hum, and then Daichi’s mother’s voice again, pleased at her son’s answer. “Don’t worry too much, Daichi. I hear the prince is very cute.” And then she winks at him and continues eating, like she talks about potential suitors for her only son every day. “Finish your dinner, children.”

 

Daichi’s father murmurs an affirming sentiment, and Daichi can see Oikawa turn a little pink out of the corner of his eye, still after so many years pleased to be reminded that the King and Queen think of him as one of their own. The rest of dinner passes with quiet conversation and the enjoyment of the always exceptional food, at least until dessert. Then the chef comes out with a miniature version of a wedding cake, a tiny white three tiered thing decorated with elaborate roses, and Oikawa makes a noise like a strangled cat before he hops out of his chair and flees the dining room.

 

Both of Daichi’s parents laugh, and they give each other a look that Daichi knows is them communicating through their soulbond before they turn back to him, and Daichi’s father pipes up, amusement laced through his deep voice. “We thought maybe we should test what kind of cake you’d like, and Mika,” here the chef blushes a little, “was very eager to start figuring out the perfect recipe.”

 

Daichi’s mother smiles at Mika, who has been the head chef as long as Daichi can remember. “Of course, we’ll have to find out what flavors your betrothed prefers before we can really decide, but there’s no harm in trying things out, hmm?”

 

And Daichi can’t help but smile at how excited they all look, how happy they are over something so simple. And Oikawa is right, that he’d do anything for the people of his kingdom, and he knows that if this marriage is the way to secure a positive future, then he’ll do his best to make it work. As the crown prince (and future king) he has a duty to do what’s right for the kingdom and its residents, and he’s glad that his parents know that he understands that as well as they do.

 

The cake turns out to be one of the best they’ve ever had, just the right amount of sweetness, the perfect ratio of moist cake to filling, and not an overwhelming amount of frosting, just the way that Daichi likes it. While he eats he muses over what his mother had said, ‘your betrothed’, and tries to figure out how he feels about it. He wonders if they’re expected to fall in love, and he wonders if he can fake it if he needs to, or if they can get along well enough without it. He wonders if they’ll think he’s broken because he’s never felt that way about anyone, that he doesn’t know if it’s even possible for him to feel like that.

 

He bids his parents goodnight when they’re all finished with dessert, and he takes a piece of the cake with him for Oikawa, who will whine at him for missing it even though he was the one to run off. Esmeralda swoops down from atop the light fixture and flies alongside him as he heads back to his bedroom, where she flops across his pillows as soon as Daichi opens the door. Oikawa is curled up in the window seat, book open across his lap, though he doesn’t quite look like he’s actually reading anything. Instead he’s gazing just off to the side, probably watching the way the flowers in the garden below move in the breeze through the window.

 

Daichi watches him for a minute, and then he walks quietly over and pokes the tiny plate under Oikawa’s nose. He tries not to laugh at the scrunchy nosed face that Oikawa makes, but then Oikawa looks up and pouts at him as well, and he can’t keep it in. After a minute Oikawa gives in and starts giggling too, and Daichi nearly drops the plate in his lap when Oikawa reaches out to flap a hand at him. It doesn’t take long for them to calm down again though, and Oikawa shuts the book and slides it off to the side. He sighs at the piece of cake before he starts to eat it slowly, savoring each bite. Daichi knows he’s still stewing on what Daichi’s parents had told them, knows how protective Oikawa can be over him, how upset Oikawa is on his behalf.

 

“It’s okay, you know.” Daichi speaks softly, settles next to Oikawa on the edge of the plush seat. “We’ve always known it was a possibility that they’d arrange something, and you know how I feel about love anyway.”

 

Oikawa finishes his cake and looks at Daichi seriously, plate held carefully in his hands. “I know. But that doesn’t mean they should be able to just use you as a pawn in their grand plans. You should have a choice too.”

 

“And I do. You know they would listen if I said no.”

 

“But you’re not going to say no, are you?” Oikawa blinks those big doe eyes at him, and Daichi sighs and runs his hand through Oikawa’s hair comfortingly.

 

“No, I don’t think I will. You know as well as I do the state of world relations right now. Things are tenuous at best. No one is really quite sure where the unrest is originating from. If marrying this prince can bond our kingdoms together and help to create a more stable peace, then I think it’s worth it.”

 

“What if he’s not nice? Or tries to have you killed off so he can take over?”

 

Daichi drops his hand to Oikawa’s shoulder and laughs lightly. “Well, I’ll have you there to protect me, won’t I? You did promise.”

 

Oikawa grins up at him, finally. “Yes, yes I did. Can’t get rid of me, you know. Not even when you get married.”

 

“I know, I know.” Daichi takes the plate away and sets it on the nightstand on his way to the dresser. “Come on, it’s time for bed already.”

 

There’s an agreeable hum from Oikawa, and then he wanders away to his own room to get ready. Daichi changes and slides under his blankets, Esmeralda barely opening an eye to see why she’s being disturbed. After a couple of minutes Oikawa is back, and he wiggles into his usual spot between Daichi and the wall. It doesn’t take much longer after that for them to fall asleep, and Daichi listens to Oikawa’s even breaths and Esmeralda’s tiny rumbly noises until he follows them into dreams.

 

~~~

 

The next morning dawns bright and clear, and when he wakes, it takes a while before Daichi is awake enough to remember the events of the previous day. It occurs to him suddenly that in six days he’ll be meeting the man he’s intended to marry, and for a moment he wants to just burrow back under his blankets and hide until he figures out how he’s supposed to feel. Unfortunately he knows that doing that won’t make any difference, aside from wasting time that he could be using more productively, and now that he’s awake he’s not going to be able to fall back asleep anyway. Oikawa shifts and groans next to him, and Daichi looks over to see Oikawa flat on his back, Esmeralda curled up contentedly on his chest.

 

It’s adorable, quite honestly, but Daichi knows from experience how uncomfortable it can be, even though Esmeralda isn’t really that heavy. Of course, Esmeralda seems to have a particular love for teasing and torturing Oikawa whenever possible, and Daichi has more fun watching than stopping her, though Oikawa complains as much as possible. Even now Oikawa turns his head, looking pleadingly at Daichi, knowing that the dragon won’t move on her own anytime soon. Daichi looks back consideringly, trying to decide if he wants to let Oikawa fend for himself or not.

 

Oikawa pouts at him, and it makes Daichi laugh. He pokes at Esmeralda until she huffs and crawls onto Daichi’s pillow instead, because he knows if he just leaves, Oikawa will whine all day, and Daichi really wants to focus on researching Sapphira, not listening to Oikawa act like a 5 year old. They take their time at breakfast, at least until Oikawa’s errant owl, a brown and white speckled beauty, swoops in and lands on his shoulder, ruffling her wings and messing up Oikawa’s hair.

 

Oikawa sighs out a whine and tries to fix his hair only for her to flap again. “Bree, why.”

 

Daichi smiles, because Bree is just as big of a mischievous brat as Esmeralda is. The only difference is that Bree likes to disappear on her own sometimes, and Esmeralda is more than content to stick like glue to one or the other of them at most times. Sometimes, though, they disappear together, like they’re doing now, flying toward the wide doors of the dining room, and frankly Daichi doesn’t want to know what trouble they get into together. They both make screechy noises goodbye just before they drift through the door, and he and Oikawa both hum in response before they’re gone.

 

After that flurry of activity they finish breakfast slowly, in no immediate rush to get off to anything. There’s no official business for Daichi to attend to, and training isn’t until late afternoon, so their whole morning is free. Daichi wants to see how many books they can find with information on Sapphira, but he and Oikawa have been in the libraries and Hall of Knowledge so much that it shouldn’t take much time at all. Oikawa seems to already know what Daichi wants, because Daichi doesn’t have to tell him which direction to go when they leave the dining room, they just head straight for the smallest library, where most of the information on their world is located.

 

The walk is quiet, and the library is still empty when they get there. They split up and head for the back bookshelves, each of them on one side of the room. Daichi almost immediately sees Oikawa pull a book off the shelf, and then reach of another, flipping it open to check the contents before sliding it back on the shelf. Daichi sighs and gets to his shelves, already knowing there was going to be an abundance of material to go through. He has a feeling that most of the information will be scattered, a little snippet in one book, a relevant paragraph or two in another. He doesn’t really expect to find any books exclusively about Sapphira, not like they have for Viradia, but he hopes that he’ll find enough to not make a fool of himself when the prince and his attendants arrive.

 

They end up with 6 books from that library and decide to read through them before searching out any more. Daichi really doesn’t want to be reprimanded for mixing books from different sources, like they so often were when they were younger, and he figures this is plenty for the time being. They settle down in their usual spot in Daichi’s window seat, side by side this time, and flip open the first book. This one is just a general overview of their world, so there’s only enough room for a paragraph of each kingdom. Oikawa hums as he skims over most of the content, until he finds the one tiny section for Sapphira.

 

It tells them what they already know: Sapphira is the third largest kingdom, just a bit smaller than Daichi’s own. The kingdom of Zelene, which separates Sapphira and Viradia along the northern coast, holds the title of being the largest, with its size being about twice as big as Sapphira. Sapphira is known for its beautiful beaches, and particularly for the leaves of the trees that grow there, which are exceedingly durable, thanks to their exposure to the sun, wind and sea spray. The trees also grow fruit, though it’s not quite as popular or useful as the leaves.

 

“Well, that wasn’t very educating.” Oikawa flips the book closed when they come to the end of the sentence.

 

“Yeah, we knew all that already, huh?” Daichi reaches for the next book in the pile as Oikawa leans down to put the other one down as the start of their pile of completed books. “I wonder how many times we’ll read the same thing.”

 

As it turns out, every one of the books they picked up has that exact information. Luckily they also contain other useful things, more information about Sapphira as a whole, a little bit of its history. One book is almost exclusively about the lineage of the royal bloodline, which tells them that the prince has a very long line of ancestors. It also has the fact that Sapphira’s royal family has a curious penchant for producing children in multiples, most often twins, though there are a good number of triplets and a couple of memorable higher numbers. He wonders if the prince has any siblings, or if he’s one of the few generations with only a single heir.

Unfortunately, none of the books they have are that up to date. Daichi makes a mental note to see if they can check out some of the world newspapers later on to see if he can find more about the current rulers. After they’ve gone through all the books they can find first, of course. It’ll be good to know about the current royal family, but the customs and history have to come first. It would be a travesty if the prince arrived only for Daichi to somehow offend him into returning to his kingdom, never to glance at Viradia again. The six days they have should be plenty, but if there’s any special arrangements that need to be made, Daichi wants to have the time available without having to rush.

 

They manage to get through all those books and gather a new bunch from a second library, and that’s when they take a break for a late lunch before they have to go off to training. Daichi really enjoys the knight training, in a way that he thinks other royals wouldn’t, but he’s grateful that Oikawa was intelligent enough even as a child to know that it would be in Daichi’s best interests. Of course, Oikawa has always been the perfect manipulator. Crocodile tears from the small ward of the castle who was supposed to be the crown prince’s protection in future years was an effective method to get Daichi’s parents to insist that Daichi train alongside him.

 

Oikawa hadn’t been scared, like he’d told the King and Queen, but he’d already had the idea that a helpless prince would only be a burden to them both should they get in a bad situation. Now the two of them are both fierce opponents, though in different ways. Daichi is much more solid than Oikawa could hope to be, but Oikawa makes it up by having more swiftness in his arsenal. Training today is an easygoing one, stretching and facing off against some of the other knights, though there’s only a couple that dare to spar with Daichi. He is the crown prince, after all, and who knows what would happen if he were injured.

 

Thankfully there’s at least a few of the knights that are more worried about him knowing how to defend himself properly than getting reprimanded for roughing him up a bit. They go a few rounds, and then the last one is between Daichi and Oikawa, and everyone else watches in glee. The grin that Oikawa has plastered on his face is cocky, like he knows he’s going to win, though to date they’re mostly even. Daichi would be ahead by one, but Oikawa claims it doesn’t count because he tripped, and that’s the reason he lost, not the fact that Daichi had managed to get the point of his sword against Oikawa’s throat at about the same time.

 

Oikawa looks confident, but he also looks tired, at least to Daichi. He’s sure that none of the others can tell since it’s so slight, but he’s known Oikawa for far too long, and even the tiniest things are easy for Daichi to notice. He’s more playful than competitive today, too, which is just fine with Daichi. It gives them both a chance to use their showier, fancier moves that aren’t necessarily the best for a serious fight but are fun to use anyway. The knights get a kick out of the performance, and they both call it even and take a huge bow at the same time, grins bright on their faces as they store their equipment and head back into the castle.

 

They separate in Daichi’s wing of the castle, both of them to their respective rooms to shower and change before they tackle more reading. Daichi sighs at the size of the pile they have this round, and settles down on the plush cushion of the window seat to wait for Oikawa to finish getting cleaned up. He looks out the window as he waits, watches the flowers in the garden below swaying in the gentle breeze. He wonders if his betrothed likes flowers like he does, or if he’s like a lot of other people, who think they’re frivolous and not worth attention. Daichi’s parents had the garden planted there purposely, so that he and Oikawa could see them bloom and grow even cooped up inside Daichi’s room like they always were.

 

When Oikawa finally shows up, it’s with a thud of the door opening and a tray filled with drinks and snacks balanced in his hands, likely thrust upon him by Mika, knowing they’d be hungry after practice. He sits gently next to Daichi, and they polish off the food before touching any of the books. If they got crumbs in them, neither of them would hear the end of it, and the book keepers could be awfully terrifying. Oikawa rids them of the tray when they’re done, setting it on a table in the hall before closing the door and scooping up the first of the new set of books.

 

He sits back down practically in Daichi’s lap and Daichi just readjusts so Oikawa can lean back against his chest and they can both see the book’s contents. This one is a bunch more of the stuff they’ve already found, and Daichi has almost decided to move on to the next when something new shows up at the end of the section. It tells of a greeting custom, which Sapphira uses to determine if another kingdom is respectful enough to be worthy of their attention. If the greeting is lackluster, or worse, downright disrespectful, the Sapphiran royals will leave and dismiss any concerns of the offending kingdom without further question.

 

Unfortunately it doesn’t actually tell what the greeting is, but at least Daichi now has something specific to look for. There’s also a mention of something about a ball, and Daichi can just feel Oikawa getting excited already. Oikawa absolutely loves any chance to get all dolled up and fancy, especially if that chance is a royal ball held in the castle, where it’s easy for him to steal off and disappear when he wants to. He also loves helping Daichi get all dolled up, revels in it when Daichi asks for his help in finding something that looks good without being overly princely.

 

He pokes Oikawa in the side and continues reading. The ball is supposed to be a masked one, in order for the visiting Sapphiran royals to gauge how people in the kingdom are treated, most especially in the situation where it’s not known who is royalty and who isn’t. Daichi isn’t worried about that at all. He treats people well, no matter their standing or class, and so does everyone else that he knows. He’s more concerned about the special greeting, and he hopes they have a book that goes over it well enough that he doesn’t offend the Sapphirans back to their own kingdom.

 

Oikawa makes a thoughtful noise and closes the book to pick up the next, clearly already considering what they might need to think about for the upcoming preparations. This book is fairly thin, and Daichi is a little skeptical that it has anything useful in it, but neither of them are the kind to actually judge a book by its cover. Or size, in this case. Which is good, as it turns out, because this is a book entirely of customs, and there’s the greeting one they need in fine detail that soothes Daichi just a little. Apparently it’s very close to a regular greeting, which Daichi thinks is part of the point. It makes sense, he thinks, to try and see who respects you and who doesn’t bother to try.

 

It’s overall a traditional Viradian handshake, both hands clasped around each other’s wrists, except that the Sapphiran custom requires that one side have the Sapphiran royal’s hand on top, while the other is the opposite, to show that they believe that they are equals. It’s a simple enough gesture, not too complicated, but still having the ability to show a lack of care in researching Sapphiran customs. Daichi is glad that he and his family are so mindful of others, that their nature allows them to be so caring and accommodating of others.

 

Now that he knows what to do he’s a lot less worried than he was. There’s still a chance of things not going how they’re supposed to, of course, but at least their research has mostly already paid off. He’s more concerned now with the prince himself, who he is as a person, rather than who he is as the heir to his throne. Oikawa flips through the rest of the book, and there’s not really a whole lot of new information, so he just tilts his head against Oikawa’s and lets him decide if something is important enough to warrant Daichi’s attention.

 

While Oikawa starts on a new book Daichi wonders how long they’ll have to make a concrete decision, and if the other prince has any qualms about the whole arrangement. He knows on his part he’s a little unsure about how it will go, but he knows that he’ll do it because it’s the right thing to do. He wonders if the other prince feels as strongly for his people as Daichi does for his own, if he’ll also do whatever it takes to ensure their safety, or if he’s more the kind of person who looks out more for his own benefit. From what he knows about Sapphira, though, this union will be more than beneficial to them. The joining of their kingdoms will make the both of them combined the biggest power, even bigger than Zelene, if only by a little bit.

 

Daichi closes his eyes and slumps forward, wraps his arms around Oikawa’s waist and rests his cheek more comfortably against Oikawa’s shoulder. Oikawa trembles a little, and Daichi can tell that he’s laughing at him, but now Daichi is comfortable and warm, and it feels like the perfect time for a little nap. The sun moves warm across his face, and by the time he slides his eyes open again his back is stiff and the sun is setting slowly on the horizon. Oikawa is still warm against his front, his hands clasped over Daichi’s, and he’s humming a quiet, familiar tune that Daichi recognizes after a minute, a Viradian lullaby that Daichi’s mother used to sing when they were younger.

 

There’s a noise at the door, and they both jolt a little and then laugh, Daichi’s sleep roughened and Oikawa’s melodic as always, and then Esmeralda pops easily into Daichi’s head. Daichi, it’s dinnertime again, are you ready this time? I heard there’s pie for dessert! And that just makes Daichi laugh harder, and Oikawa giggles again, though he has no idea what Daichi is laughing about. Daichi finally separates them and they both stand carefully, stretching the kinks out before ambling to the over to the door, where Esmeralda and Bree swoop in as soon as it’s opened.

 

Dinner is mostly the usual affair, devoid of Daichi and Oikawa’s favorite foods, which is much less suspicious than the night before. They chat pleasantly over the course of the meal, and Daichi’s mother expresses how pleased she is that they managed to find all the information they needed already. She and Oikawa get in an enthusiastic discussion about how to spread the news of the ball, and what sort of preparations they might need to make. Daichi and his father both listen in amusement, far too used to how well the two get along, and Daichi’s father only interrupts for a moment to express a hope that it won’t be too extravagant. Daichi’s mother just laughs and pats his arm in response.

 

Even Esmeralda snorts from her place draped across Daichi’s shoulders, all too used to how very grandiose royal parties can get. Of course, Daichi’s mother uses the opportunity to mention that since it’s the welcoming party for his fiance, he should have more of a say in it then a usual ball. She knows that it’ll still be mostly Oikawa’s planning, but without her to ramp up the excitement as much, it’s a lot less likely that they’ll end up with a hundred swans in the courtyard and half the castle gilded. Oikawa somehow manages to run his mouth and stuff it at the same time, and it’s a miracle he eats as much as he does when he hardly breaks for breath.

 

Dessert is indeed pie, warm apple pie, and Esmeralda flaps excitedly at her favorite treat. Mika even brings an extra plate just for her, and Daichi watches fondly as she gets an extra large slice of pie all to herself. It is good, and even Oikawa stops talking long enough to really appreciate it. Mika reddens a little at their compliments, though it’s nothing new to her. As he eats, Daichi thinks about the ball, about what might be a good theme, something fancy enough to please the visiting royalty but not so much that it looks like Viradia is flaunting their wealth. He’d hate to offend them even after figuring out their special greeting by making it seem like his kingdom is trying to prove something.

 

He wonders what kind of color scheme would be good, wonders what the prince would prefer, and then he wonders what he looks like. They have yet to go through the newspapers, but he doesn’t think he wants to rely on them to find out what the prince might be like. That’s something he’d rather figure out himself, in person, rather than through other people’s opinions. He’ll look to see how the Sapphiran people feel about the ruling family, though, because it will be smart to least know a little about how the kingdom is ruled before they meet. He’d hate to be blindsided by someone who is cruel or uncaring about their people.

 

His parents’ judgment is good, though, and he doubts they’d put him in a situation that he would hate like that, especially one that may potentially put their own kingdom in danger. The point of this whole thing is to foster goodwill and to try to create a more positive environment in which their kingdoms can prosper and grow. That would only happen if both kingdoms could agree on how to run a kingdom, otherwise there’d be fights and arguments galore, and it wouldn’t be good for anyone, involved or otherwise.

 

Oikawa begins to chatter again as dessert finishes, and Bree swoops down from her perch and sits on his shoulder, ruffling her wings in his face until he laughs and stops talking to pet her. Daichi finishes his pie as Esmeralda settles across his shoulders again, full and content. He bids his parents goodnight and tugs Oikawa along after him, intent on some quiet time before bed. They break apart to change, and meet again in Daichi’s bed, where they lean against each other and discuss what they’d learned earlier in the day.

 

“Tomorrow I want to go through the newspapers and see what we can find about how the people of Sapphira feel about their ruling family. I’d rather not learn anything in detail about the prince, though, I want to save that to find out myself.”

 

Oikawa nods. “Okay. We can do that after the meeting we have to attend with your parents. And we don’t have training tomorrow, so we’ll have plenty of time.”

 

Daichi hums in response, and then they talk for a while about what could be on the agenda for the meeting. He doesn’t ever really have any decisions to make, but his parents like him to be involved, and usually they all have a chat so they can see how much he’s learned. They take into account if he or Oikawa have any strong opinions about anything, as well, and since both Daichi and Oikawa go out among the people, the king and queen trust their judgment about matters that really make more of a difference for the common people.

 

They both get sleepy eventually, trailing off into talking about things that don’t have any bearing on anything, nonsense thoughts and Oikawa mumbling about the possibility that there’s life out amongst the stars, and how cool it would be to be able to travel in space. Daichi takes that as his cue to turn the light off and go to sleep, before Oikawa comes up with any of his more weird theories, which typically keep them awake hours and hours after they should be in bed. His parents won’t be pleased if they show up overly tired and unable to pay attention, and if there’s anything that they don’t want to do, it’s to anger Daichi’s mother.

 

Oikawa just turns and clings on to him when he slides back under the covers, content to trail off on an unfinished thought and drift off to sleep. Bree perches on the headboard above them, ruffling her feathers gently as she settles, and Esmeralda finally flies over and curls herself around Daichi’s head on the pillow, comfortable as ever. Daichi drifts off to the various sleep noises that they all make, happy in this little world of his. The last fleeting thought he has is to wonder how much it will change with this new situation.

 

~~~

 

The next morning is a little busier, and Oikawa disappears to get dressed properly before breakfast and the meeting, which Daichi also needs to do. Daichi’s almost completely dressed, outfit all neat and buttoned properly, when Oikawa barges into the room and points fiercely at Esmeralda. “Where’d you hide it this time!”

 

Daichi raises an eyebrow and tries to hide his smile. “What now, Tooru?”

 

Oikawa whirls to face him. “She stole my circlet again, didn’t she?”

 

Daichi doesn’t have to look at her to know she’s making the toothy dragon grin that means that she did, indeed, do whatever Oikawa is accusing her of this time. He sighs. It’s like dealing with children, honestly. “Es, can you please return Tooru’s circlet? You know how important it is.”

 

Esmeralda just yawns and rolls off of Daichi’s pillow, landing upside down on the mattress, where she continues to stare and grin. Oikawa squawks at her. “How did you even manage that? I only took it off for bed.” He turns to Daichi with a pout, arms crossed against his chest. “Dai, you know how upset your mother will be if we’re late. Make her give it back.”

 

“Ezzy, go get it, please.” Daichi reaches for his crown, settled upon the nightstand in the same place they’d left both his and Oikawa’s the night before. It’s a pretty, sturdy thing, all smoothly polished silver, intricate only when you get close enough to see the delicate carvings in its surface. He settles it easily on his head, where he knows it seems even brighter against the dark color of his hair. Esmeralda huffs and flips over, lays on her belly for a minute before Daichi gives her a look and she sends a tiny fireball at him when she flies by.

 

Instead of flying out the door, though, she just soars across the room and into Daichi’s generously sized closet. He follows, and watches as she goes to the shelf that’s just above Oikawa’s reach, disappearing from view for a moment before she reappears with Oikawa’s circlet in her mouth. She grins around it before letting go to let it drop easily into Daichi’s outstretched hands. Luckily it’s a very hardy piece of metal, the same as Daichi’s, though Oikawa’s circlet is a thin, simple band with the same intricate carvings.

 

He exits the closet and Esmeralda follows, perching on Daichi’s shoulder when he stops in front of Oikawa. He settles the retrieved treasure upon Oikawa’s fluffy curls, reminiscent of the very first time he’d done it, when they’d first gotten them. Daichi’s parents had insisted that Daichi be the one to do it, since Oikawa was his personal adviser (or at least, he would be when they were grown), and Oikawa had been so excited, that they’d let him bestow Daichi’s upon him as well. Usually the king and queen would present the prince with his new crown when he was almost a teenager, but they made an exception that time. Oikawa was extraordinarily proud of the whole thing.

 

It fits better now than it did then, and they’ve both grown into them, learned how to balance with the extra weight. Oikawa waits until Daichi pulls his hands back, and then he’s looking in the mirror to be sure he looks his best. He adjusts his blazer, straightening a button or two before flashing Daichi a goofy grin and making an exaggerated ‘after you’ gesture towards the door. Bree, still perched on the headboard, ruffles her feathers and makes a noise that sounds awfully close to disdain. Then she swoops across the room to leave ahead of them, and Esmeralda makes a chirpy noise as she pushes off Daichi’s shoulder to follow.

 

Breakfast is a simple setup, and Daichi’s parents have likely already eaten by the time they get to the dining room, since they’re nowhere to be found. They tend to eat earlier than Daichi and Oikawa do, mostly because their duties as the King and Queen require more preparation and time than anything that the crown prince has to attend to. Even the meeting today, though Daichi has to attend, doesn’t actually require much advance notice for him. They eat, enjoying the food but not taking their time, and they’re done with enough time to wander leisurely to the grand audience room.

 

Esmeralda and Bree appear just as they reach the doors, and each perch carefully on their owner’s shoulder, standing as tall and regally as possible. They try very hard to be intimidating, and Daichi thinks it’s a bit cute, though Esmeralda insists that she isn’t cute, she’s fearsome. Bree gives him a look like she knows exactly what he’s thinking and she’ll be happy to change his mind for him, and Daichi just barely restrains his smile. Next to him, Oikawa clears his throat and stands tall, and gives a tiny nod to one of the knights stationed next to the door.

 

The knights pull the doors open in unison, and Daichi and Oikawa enter side by side. All the attention in the room is on them as they head to where the king and queen sit at the head of the large table. Daichi’s place is the first seat to the left of his mother, and Oikawa sits to his left after that, and both of them incline their heads respectfully to Daichi’s parents. Daichi’s mother holds her hand over her mouth as they nod back, and Daichi just knows that she’s smiling and thinking something about how grown up and mature they seem. He supposes he can’t fault her, though, not when even he can remember when they were younger, sitting in these same chairs and swinging their legs back and forth since their feet didn’t quite touch the floor, childishly serious looks on their faces as everyone talked around them.

 

Esmeralda lets out a soft noise and a tiny lick of flame as she opens her mouth, and Bree resettles her feathers as she sits on Oikawa’s shoulder, careful this time to not mess up his hair like she normally would. The last two people arrive late, and the others in the room grow visibly agitated in the short span of time between when they should have started and when the two stragglers arrive, even though the king and queen maintain the same pleasant, neutral expressions the entire time. The town advisers are both extremely apologetic, and they immediately apologize to the room in general, and then more specifically and pointedly to the king and queen.

 

After that, the meeting goes well, if not very quickly. Each of the advisers has something pertinent to speak about, and each issue seems to have more detail than the last. Daichi pays careful attention, and though Oikawa fidgets with his hands most of the time, Daichi knows that he’s soaking in all the information as well. Everything seems fairly standard, though, which is good, and Daichi can tell that his parents are pleased that most things seem to be in good working order, especially before such an important event for the whole kingdom, whether everyone knows about it or not.

 

There’s only one thing out of place at the moment, on the outskirts of the kingdom, where the food is supplied from well tended farms. It seems that some of the crops aren’t growing as well as they usually do, and while it’s not at a point to disrupt anything, it’s still something that should be kept an eye on to prevent any unexpected disasters. Daichi listens carefully and takes note of which farms have been affected so that he can check them out on his own later on. The advisers pack up, then, satisfied with their given reports, and the king and queen leave the room first, surrounded on the way by respectful bowing.

 

Oikawa nudges his leg with his hand, and Daichi glances over just enough to see his face. His voice is a whisper, barely loud enough for Daichi alone to hear in the commotion around them. “Time for a vacation?”

 

Daichi hums thoughtfully. “With all the preparations and the prince arriving, I don’t think we have time, but it doesn’t seem too bad, for the moment. We’ll keep an eye on it as much as we can.”

 

They all file out and go their own ways, and Daichi and Oikawa head for Daichi’s parents’ private sitting room to discuss what they learned in the meeting. It doesn’t take too long, and they agree with Daichi’s assessment of the crop issue, leaving it to them to keep an eye on the situation as they can around their schedule. Bree and Esmeralda start to get fidgety after a while, and Daichi uses the opportunity to excuse them all. The creatures fly off the instant that the door is closed behind them, going off to get into some sort of trouble, Daichi is sure, and he and Oikawa meander lazily toward the library.

 

They flip through the available newspapers, and find that the people of Sapphira are fairly pleased with how they’re being ruled. There’s really not a lot, which isn’t that surprising, since Sapphira is across the land, as far as it can get from Viradia, but there’s not really anything about the royals being cruel or neglectful or generally awful, so Daichi figures that’s as good as he can hope to find out. They wind up rifling through most of the papers, skimming as they go, since they don’t really have anything to hurry for. There’s not much that’s eye catching, though, which Daichi considers a good thing.

 

This is pretty much the last day they have that won’t be busy with preparations for the arrival of the prince and the subsequent ball, so they decide to settle in Daichi’s room to read a bit and make a list of the things they’ll need to do. Daichi has control of the parchment and pen, though Oikawa pauses every so often in his reading aloud to suggest something else for Daichi to write down. By the time they’re both ready for lunch they’ve gotten through another chapter of their book and have a fairly comprehensive list of what needs to be done in the next few days.

 

Lunch turns out to be fairly loud, with some of the castle servants joining in, and Esmeralda and Bree swooping in halfway through covered in mud and grass. Daichi gives Esmeralda a Look, because her being that dirty means bath time, and if there’s anything Esmeralda hates it’s baths, which means nothing but a fight for Daichi. If he’s lucky he’ll only end up a little singed. He continues eating while trying to remember when he left the last outfit that she’d set alight, figuring it’s better to make one worse than to ruin another.

 

Thankfully they stay in one corner of the dining room instead of spreading their filth everywhere, though Bree does make a mess when she flaps to follow them down to the bathroom. She doesn’t mind a bath now and then, so Oikawa is the truly lucky one of the two of them. Esmeralda leads the way to the bathroom, knowing that Daichi has methods of punishment that aren’t worth prolonging the torture. Daichi detours to his bedroom to change first, so that he doesn’t ruin another fairly nice outfit, and then heads to the bathroom where Esmeralda waits.

 

As a sort of reward for behaving, Daichi lets her choose which soap she wants, and whether she wants bubbles in the bath or not. She does, and takes great joy in blowing them around and popping them. Daichi watches, amused, until she decides she’s had enough, and then he gets to the hard part: actually cleaning her up. Thankfully she’s not very big, only about the size of a cat, but she can be feisty, especially when Daichi has to lather up parts of her she doesn’t particularly like being touched, like her legs. Oddly enough she doesn’t mind when Daichi has to wash her belly, just flops over on her back and wiggles when he does it.

 

The worst part is her face. Daichi tries very hard to not get soap in her eyes or ears, but she doesn’t like it at all, and moves a lot more, which doesn’t make it easy for him. This is also the part where she most tends to get all agitated, and even with his sleeves wet, one nearly catches when she lets out a growl and a threatening tendril of smoke and fire. After he finally gets the mud off her face, he rinses her, and after they’re done she takes the opportunity to shake as much water off as she can, before Daichi opens the bathroom door and she bolts for who knows where to finish the drying herself.

 

Daichi cleans up the remnants of Esmeralda’s mess, and then he bathes himself, eager to get clean again. He’s wet already anyway, and all the supplies are out and ready, so there’s not much reason not to. He hums as he washes up, and when he’s done, he gets dry and wraps himself in one of the fluffy black bathrobes that they have in abundance in every bathroom. He leaves the dirty clothes in the hamper there and scurries across the hall to his own room, changing into a more casual outfit than the one he’d worn in the morning.

 

Oikawa strolls in a few minutes later, similarly cleaned up, Bree perched on his shoulder, circlet perfectly positioned on his still slightly damp hair. He almost looks more the part of a dutiful, regal prince than Daichi does. Then Esmeralda swoops into the room and nearly knocks Oikawa completely over, and he curses a little as he rights himself, thoroughly dispelling the illusion of a grand ruler. Daichi nearly falls over laughing, and the list they’d made earlier crinkles under his hand as he braces himself on the window seat. Oikawa pouts at him and straightens up again, holding one hand out so Daichi can hand him the parchment.

 

He wonders if they’ve got everything they need written down, or if there’s some thing that they’ll forget until the last minute and have to run around to find in time. They’ve got ideas for food, and for decoration, and for the masks that they’ll have made specially. There’s areas of the castle and gardens that need to be checked and cleaned and prepared for the prince’s stay, and they still need to decide exactly where they’ll put him. They could use the rooms in Daichi’s wing, or put him and his entourage a bit further away, in one of the wings reserved for guests, though those aren’t quite as ornate.

 

It might be better in the long run to just use the rooms at the end of Daichi’s wing, because once they’re actually married, Daichi is sure they’ll be expected to share a room instead. He wonders briefly how much time he has until the wedding, wonders if his parents already have a date in mind, or if they’ll let Daichi and the Sapphiran prince decide themselves. He knows there’s likely to at least be a time frame in mind, and he makes a mental note to ask his parents later what it is.

 

For now, he decides that the best way to avoid any sort of disrespect is to house the prince and his entourage in his own wing. It might not be the smartest thing strategically, especially if it turns out that someone in their party can’t be trusted, but it’s worth it to avoid potentially showing that the crown prince of Viradia is untrustworthy himself. And in any case, Daichi knows that he can hold his own, and Oikawa is always at his side, ready to lay down his life at any second to protect him. He slips the list out of Oikawa’s hand to write down the newest decision, and Oikawa reads over his shoulder as he writes. He doesn’t make any noise of protest, and Daichi knows he’s thinking the same thing that he’d just gone through himself.

 

After a minute Oikawa hums consideringly, but there’s no complaints or corrections to Daichi’s newest task, which means that he’s come to the same conclusion as Daichi. It’s not quite approval, but Oikawa knows how to think diplomatically as well as Daichi does, and knows when it’s best for that to come before strategy and vice versa. And since neither of them know yet how easy it might be to accidentally offend their honored visitor, it’s best to err on the side of caution anyway. The rooms at the end of the hall will be as far away as they can get without putting them somewhere that might be deemed as disrespectful, and Daichi and Oikawa will just have to work with that.

 

Daichi’s not worried, honestly. Most people will automatically assume that as the crown prince he won’t be well versed in combat, if he is at all, and that will most definitely be their first mistake. Then there’s Oikawa, who looks nothing like a typical knight or bodyguard, deceptively lithe and more resembling a pretty centerpiece than a skilled swordsman. And then, of course, is their secret, the one that very few people have any knowledge of. Even Daichi’s parents don’t know that they’ve gained the ability to actually properly use magic spells. So, really, neither of them is truly worried. They can both hold their own against even the strongest of their knights, and against each other.

 

With the quarters for the prince decided, all that’s really left is to actually get to work on their list of things to do. He figures the easiest thing to do is to find the head butler, so he can tell them what rooms they need to have prepared. Esmeralda abandons the window seat when she realizes that Daichi’s going to leave, settling herself on his shoulder so that she doesn’t have to fly. Off on an adventure, are we?

 

Daichi laughs to himself. I suppose you could call it that. Oikawa doesn’t really pay him much attention, far too used to the way that Daichi and Esmeralda communicate. He lets Daichi lead the way, just follows along easily as they may their way to the servants wing, where they can figure out where the head butler is working at the moment. They could ring one of the service bells located throughout the castle, but they’re not in a hurry, and Daichi doesn’t want anyone to think that it’s an urgent matter to rush to.

 

They don’t find him in his quarters, but one of the sweet maids tells them that the last she heard he would be in the kitchen, so they head there instead. The kitchen is busy but mostly quiet since it’s still hours until the next meal, and Mika and Satou are seated at the large table in the middle of the room, discussing something over a basket of rolls. Esmeralda launches herself off of Daichi’s shoulder, sliding down the long table until she’s only a few inches from the basket, and then she grins her toothy dragon grin up at Mika, who laughs and feeds her a bit of bread.

 

They all smile at Esmeralda’s antics, the way she flops over on her back and swishes her tail back and forth as she chews on a roll. Satou stands and bows, though Daichi’s told him for years that he doesn’t have to. “Your Highness.”

 

“Satou. I hope we’re not interrupting anything.” Satou shakes his head, and Daichi continues. “I’m sure you’ve heard we’re expecting guests in a few days?”

 

“Of course. Have you decided where to situate them?”

 

Daichi nods. “Yes, can you prepare a few rooms at the end of my wing, please? Two or three should be plenty, I would think.”

 

“Of course. I’ll see to it that it’s done properly. For now I’ll take my leave.” Satou bids them goodbye, departing after a rub to Esmeralda’s belly, and Daichi and Oikawa take seats at the table.

 

Mika is excited when she starts to talk, even as she hands them each a golden brown buttery roll. “Can’t wait to see the prince, can you?”

 

Oikawa snorts lightly, and Daichi grins at how childish he can be sometimes. “Yeah, it will be something alright. We’re going to hold a masquerade ball to welcome him.”

 

If there’s anything at all that can get Mika’s undivided attention, it’s the mention of a party, because parties mean food, and lots of it. Luckily they have to decide what kinds of food to have available for the party anyway, so they’ll actually knock two items off their list already. Mika pulls out a little notepad, and starts suggesting different dishes that they could serve. “It might be good to stay away from a lot of dishes that have tomatoes, though, what with the crops as they are. We could manage a few, I think.”

 

Daichi frowns as he recalls the information from the meeting earlier that day. “Are those the crops in the north farms that aren’t growing as well as they should?”

 

“Yes. ‘As well as they should’ is a bit of an understatement, though, from what I’ve heard from the delivery boy.”

 

“Huh. The advisers didn’t make it sound so dire.” Daichi looks over at Esmeralda, taps his fingers on the table to get her attention away from the roll she has cradled in her paws. Need a favor, sweetheart.

 

She huffs and bites into the bread, eyeing him almost disdainfully. Yeeeeees, Your Highness?

 

Can you and Bree take a quick flight around and see what’s going on out in town, please? Daichi half listens to Mika and Oikawa discussing different dishes while waiting for Esmeralda’s response.

 

She flops over, bread still in her mouth, and cocks her head at Bree, attentive on Oikawa’s shoulder. Okay. See you soon Daichi.

 

And then they’re gone, coasting out through the half door that leads from the kitchen to a path into town. It doesn’t take long for them to disappear from view, and Daichi turns back to the conversation just in time to hear that Mika is familiar with a number of Sapphiran dishes, ones that he’s never heard of before. Oikawa raises an eyebrow at him in question. “Be a good idea to welcome them with something familiar, yes?”

 

“Yeah.” Daichi nods. “Very good idea.”

 

Mika smiles at them as she writes something down in her pad. “Would you like me to make some of them for you to try beforehand?”

 

Oikawa’s elbow lands in Daichi’s side, sharp like his stare. “You oughta see if you like your future husband’s cuisine, you know.”

 

He is right, though. Even if he doesn’t have to deal with it for long, he knows they’ll at least visit Sapphira at some point, and it would be exceedingly rude to demand food that they may not be used to making. Plus it would only show respect to the prince, which can really only be a good thing. He nods slowly, and Mika looks overjoyed to do something different. They wind up staying in the kitchen until dinner, watching and helping and tasting whatever Mika shoves their way. By the time they get out to the table, they’re already half full just from testing.

 

They help to carry out some of the dishes, and Daichi’s parents smile at them from where they’re already seated at the table, ready to eat. Dinner is nice, though he and Oikawa don’t eat nearly as much as usual, thanks to their time in the kitchen. Esmeralda and Bree show up again at the end of the meal, this time thankfully still as clean as when they left, and they wait until Daichi and Oikawa are leaving to join them. They race each other down the hallway, Esmeralda flying upside down like she does sometimes, Bree coasting along near the high ceiling. Daichi’s not sure if either of them actually win, doesn’t know how they even decide these things, honestly.

 

He plops down into the window seat, Esmeralda in his lap, and Oikawa and Bree spread themselves out over his bed. The crops aren’t doing as well as the adviser let it seem. The tomatoes on the north farms are almost nonexistent, and the land doesn’t look right. It seemed pretty quiet in town, too, so we didn’t really gather any actual information.

 

Daichi frowns, and looks over at where Oikawa is staring intently at the ceiling, clearly absorbing whatever information Bree is relaying, which should be the same as Esmeralda’s. He looks as concerned as Daichi feels, and he knows they have to investigate whatever is going on to cause these problems before they manage to disrupt life in the entire kingdom, and that means soon. They’ll have to juggle this with the preparations, and hopefully they can figure everything out without putting the visit at risk in any way.

 

Esmeralda seems to be done with her report, and she rolls off his lap to join Bree on the bed instead, stepping on Oikawa as she goes, clearly uncaring if she’s squishing any of his vital organs. Oikawa groans and sits up, hand on his stomach, and shuffles out of the room without a goodbye, off to change for bed. Daichi knows he’ll be back soon enough, and stretches as he stands to change himself. His pajamas are comfortable, and he’s sleepy full from dinner and the snacks beforehand, which has him almost drifted off before Oikawa even returns.

 

~~~

 

It’s drizzling when he wakes the next day, and he groans before turning and shoving his face into Oikawa’s chest. For his part, Oikawa is used to it, and half consciously pats at Daichi’s head before leaving his arm draped over his side to fall asleep again. The creatures shift on the pillow, though neither of them make any move to actually get up, and Daichi sighs as he lets himself doze off for a few more hours. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t changed by the next time they awake, and he knows that going back to sleep any further won’t help anything. They have things to do, important things, and they can’t let a little miserable weather affect that.

 

They take a bit longer than normal to get ready, still a little groggy, and Daichi nearly drops his sword on his foot when he tries to strap it on the first time. There’s a noise from the bed, where Esmeralda still lays, one that Daichi recognizes as a snort. He glares over at her but all she does is let her tongue loll out of her mouth, and Daichi can’t look at that without at least smiling. He gets the sword on the second try, tight and secure against his left hip. The hilt is shiny silver, intricately carved to match his crown, the same designs swirling down the scabbard, and he knows that people think of it purely as a decoration, a shiny display piece fit for a prince.

 

Oikawa wanders back in, circlet crooked on his head as he fiddles with his own sword. His is practically the opposite of Daichi’s, wide and long, looking like he could knock someone out just by tapping them with it, if he could manage to lift it. That’s what the two weapons have in common, though, their deceptive looks. It takes almost no effort at all for Oikawa to handle his sword at any time, though it looks almost ridiculously heavy. He finishes tightening the buckle of his belt and looks up at Daichi with a muted smile.

 

Esmeralda perks up on the bed, and bounces a couple of times before launching herself into the air over their heads. Bree rolls off the pillow with the commotion, and she ruffles her feathers in irritation before she joins Esmeralda. Breakfast is quiet, his parents absent from the dining room, likely at another meeting or holding court in the throne room to listen to the troubles of the people in person. Fitting for the damp, chilly weather, it’s hot oatmeal for breakfast, with a variety of fresh berries and cream, though Oikawa also adds an obscene amount of sugar to his.

 

Bree perches on the back of a chair across the table and stares them down until Oikawa finally relents and tosses a berry in her direction, letting it arc high in the air so she has to launch herself off the chair to get it. Of course she finds it massively entertaining, and they spend the rest of breakfast trying to finish eating in between tossing the sweet morsels as far across the room as possible. It only takes a few throws for Esmeralda to decide to join in, and then it seems like the two creatures are in another race of some kind.

 

At the very least it raises their collective mood considerably, and by the time they finish and make it to the kitchen, they each have a very content creature draped across their shoulders. Mika hands them each a fresh slice of bread and bids them a good day on their way out the door to the path that leads most easily to the outskirts of town, where most of the farms are located. The drizzle has almost disappeared, but it looks and feels like it will start again at any second, and they have to tread carefully as most of the ground is puddles and mud from the overnight rain.

 

They stand just outside the doorway, and Daichi wonders if they should head to the stables for horses, or if they should just walk. In his peripheral vision he sees Oikawa tilt his head curiously, and he knows that he’s considering the same options. Esmeralda grumbles, and he remembers how much she dislikes being wet. They have a bunch of cloaks hung in the kitchen though, so he grabs one for each of them, and while Bree removes herself from Oikawa so he can put his on before she settles again, Esmeralda refuses to budge, using the cloak as her own personal shield against the wetness she so loathes.

 

The hoods are far large enough to cover them sufficiently, even Daichi, with his crown and entire dragon, and he figures the best way to really observe the town is to walk through it as much as possible. Oikawa gives a tiny sigh at Daichi’s first step onto the path, and Bree rustles her feathers as he follows. They proceed in silence, only the sound of the wet ground beneath their boots and the slight clinking as their swords shift against their hips drifting around them. Everything is oddly quiet, as even with the rain there should be people and animals around, going about their business. It’s when they get halfway to the farms that it changes.

 

All of a sudden there’s a hurricane of noise, birds chirping and cawing and screaming in the trees they’re walking under. The longer they walk the more agitated they get, and Daichi is highly confused. After a bit a few birds swoop down at them out of the treetops, but they only seem to have eyes for Bree, who huddles as small as she can on Oikawa’s shoulder. It’s strange, because usually animals aren’t bothered by Bree since she doesn’t really register as a regular animal to them. The agitated squawking continues until they break from the tree cover, and then everything is silent again.

 

When they pass the end of the meadow and get to the edge of the farm, Daichi notices something even more weird than the way the birds were acting. He gets closer to the edge of the path, and Oikawa stops as well, curious. The drizzle has started back up again, but the ground where the crops should be growing isn’t wet at all. It should be, because as far as Daichi knows it’s been raining for a few hours at the very least, if not all night. The ground on the road is wet, full of puddles and tricky spots of mud, nothing like where the water is almost beading on the surface of the dirt of the crops.

 

The dirt feels as normal as dirt usually does, with the exception of not being nearly as wet as it should be in this weather. Daichi makes a confused noise as he stands back up, a small pile of dirt cupped in his hand, which he holds out for Oikawa to look at as well. Oikawa looks as confused as Daichi feels, pinching a bit of the dirt between his fingers and squinting at it.

 

“What is this.” It’s not a question, because Oikawa knows that Daichi wouldn’t have an answer anyway. “It’s not wet.”

 

Daichi nods. “Yeah. It should be soaked through by now but it’s just. Dry.”

 

Oikawa hums and rifles through the small pack on his belt, finally bringing out a small corked bottle that he uncaps and pours the dirt in from Daichi’s hand. “Maybe the royal mage can test it or something.”

 

Daichi brushes the rest off his hands and turns back in the direction of the farmer’s house. The first thing they need to do is talk to him and his family and see if there’s anything they can remember that seems strange, if there’s maybe a reason for the dirt being the way it is. He doubts there will be, though, just has the feeling that something isn’t quite right with whatever is going on here.

 

It turns out that he’s right, because when they speak to the farmer he tells them that aside from the crops not growing, which is likely caused by the water not absorbing, nothing else has been noticeably weird. They ask about the other farms, to see if any of them are experiencing the same problem, and while Daichi and the farmer talk about that, Oikawa wanders around outside the house, to see if he can spot anything that doesn’t belong. There’s really nothing to find, and even when they check on the actual crops all they find is a bunch of tomato plants. Very, very small tomato plants, but still tomato plants.

 

Everything else seems to be in order, even the other crops on that particular farm, and Daichi requests that if anything else happens, or something changes, the farmer send someone to the castle to let them know. He also promises to try and find a solution, and that he’ll come back to check up on them again soon. They walk a different way back to the castle, more towards town, in an effort to avoid the shrieking tunnel of avian life again. There’s only a few animals along their way, and they all scurry out of their sight as fast as possible, but they don’t create a ruckus, so Daichi is thankful for that, at least.

 

They head in through the front of the castle instead of the kitchen, though they have to head there anyway to return the cloaks. Esmeralda takes off as soon as Daichi gets the cloak unfastened, and they make their way back to the kitchen with her flying high above them, glad to be in out of the dreary weather. Daichi agrees with her, happy to be back in the warm halls of his home, especially when they get to the kitchen, which is even warmer than the halls with the ovens on to prepare lunch. With their things hung nicely they move to the dining room, settling down next to Daichi’s parents.

 

Over lunch they discuss what they’d discovered out on the farm, how the crops were growing worse than the adviser had said, but how it was one in particular, rather than a bunch of them. They also mentioned the dirt, and how it was completely dry, even in the rain, how when the farmer tried watering the crops it did nothing but bead up on the surface. The king and queen agreed that the best course of action would be to see the royal mage first, just like they’d planned. The rest of lunch is mostly quiet, though Daichi can tell his parents are communicating themselves, using their bond to their advantage.

 

After that they head to the basement, where Benjirou has his own rooms, separate from most of the others. It’s mostly for safety, because the potions and spells that are used can sometimes be volatile, and no one wants to be caught up in one of the royal mage’s infamous experiments. True to form, as Daichi and Oikawa walk down the corridor, there’s a muffled bang and a plume of smoke that drifts out of the door at the end of the hall. Daichi is glad that Esmeralda and Bree had flown off on their own after lunch, content to go find a place to nap. Neither of them do well with unexpected booms, especially when they come with clouds of smoke and various sparks.

 

Benjirou throws open the door and sees them a few feet away, and he grins. He’s honestly not that much older than they are, but he’s extremely talented, and there’s no one that they trust more to assist the kingdom. He just also happens to be very good at blowing things up, usually in experiments trying to improve one thing or another. To be fair, most of the things he works to fix or improve end up infinitely better than they were before, even if the process does involve some accidental mixtures and a few big bangs.

 

After they wave the dark purple smoke out of the room, they explain why they’ve come, the problem with the crops and that they found the dirt suspicious. It’s easy to tell him how the dirt wasn’t soaking up water, and Benjirou squints at the little bottle of dirt they brought back with them. He spills a little into the palm of his hand, poking at it a bit before dumping it into a tiny dish, which he drips some sort of liquid over. It could be water, or some kind of potion, Daichi’s not sure. He just watches, waiting for Benjirou to have something to say in his own time.

 

They wind up spending the rest of the afternoon there, watching Benjirou work, trying out everything he has on hand to figure out exactly what’s going on. Apparently it’s not a simple thing, which Daichi had figured, but there’s always the hope that once in a while something will be easy to figure out. This isn’t one of those times. By the time dinner rolls around, they leave Benjirou to more experiments, resolving to see if they can find anything in any books in the time they have between dinner and bed. They’re distracting while they eat, and Daichi’s parents don’t push them to talk, knowing that they’re focused on figuring out the current problem.

 

None of the books they have in their rooms have anything useful in them, and it’s far too late to traipse over to any of the libraries to find any more. Oikawa hums distractedly while he skims a particularly thick book, though it’s not the one he makes when something is actually interesting, so Daichi doesn’t bother to ask if he’s found anything. He closes his own book with a snap, and then he gets up to take off his sword and get ready for bed. They’ll have to see if Benjirou has any conclusions in the morning, or if they can find any decent information themselves. Oikawa sighs as he shuts his own book, and then he disappears to change as well.

 

Sleep that night is not the easiest, and Daichi hopes that they can find a solution soon, if it’s going to affect them both this badly. Even Esmeralda and Bree have given up on trying to sleep with them, instead curling up together in the window seat. He and Oikawa both toss and turn, and Oikawa mumbles incoherently, keeping Daichi from falling asleep, at least until he pulls Oikawa to his chest and wraps his arms tight around him. The closeness seems to help, because Oikawa stops mumbling and starts breathing more evenly, and it’s not long after that when Daichi manages to drift off too.

 

~~~

 

Daichi awakens to an empty bed, which is unusual. Typically Oikawa is the one out of the two of them to wake up later, to beg to stay in bed and cuddle as long as possible. This time Oikawa is in middle of Daichi's bedroom, still dressed only in his pajamas, swinging his sword steadily through the air. His movements are graceful, smooth and steady, even though Daichi knows he couldn't have been up for very long. Daichi watches sleepily for a bit, content enough to let Oikawa work out his frustrations on his own.

 

Esmeralda wakes and seems to consider the situation a bit by deciding to join in, shooting tiny fireballs into Oikawa's path. At first Oikawa is startled and nearly gets himself burned, but then he realizes what's happening, grinning over at the dragon before turning to properly get into position to strike down anything she throws at him. The size of her projectiles changes, and she adjusts the angle and speed as well to keep Oikawa on his toes. It gets harder when she decides that staying in one place isn't enough variety, and she takes to the air instead.

 

Daichi watches, and then lets himself drift again, lulled by the familiar sounds of Oikawa's breathing and Esmeralda's pleased mental chattering. He's not sure how long it's been when he wakes again, only that it's a while later, and Oikawa is stretched out in the middle of the floor, breathing heavily, sword cast to the side. Esmeralda is upside down on the floor on his other side, eyes bright and mischievous, clearly pleased at their game. She lets out a lick of flame that tickles at Oikawa's arm, and he hisses as he snatches it away. Daichi can't keep in the laugh, and it echoes lowly around the room, drawing their attention to him.

 

"Oh. Finally awake, are you?" Oikawa props himself up with his hands stretched out on the floor behind him, giving Daichi the smile that he knows means Oikawa's trying to be cheery.

 

He yawns before answering. "Yes, I am." He stretches, finally, and listens to his joints pop with satisfaction. "You were up awfully early today."

 

"Yes, well. Things on my mind." Oikawa pushes himself off the floor, scooping his sword up when he's standing again. "Gonna go change. We should get to breakfast already."

 

Daichi flaps a hand at him. "Sure, sure. See you soon."

 

He slides out of bed after Oikawa's shut the door behind him, and he considers what they should do during the day. There's definitely a visit to Benjirou needed, to see if he's gotten anywhere with the weird dirt. They'll save that for much later on, though, so that he's had time to actually test it. Daichi hums as he gets dressed and thinks that they should probably survey the rest of town to see if there's anything going on that they didn't manage to see the day before. While he hopes there's nothing else, with the strangeness of the circumstances behind the ill growing crops, he wouldn't be surprised at all if there was anything else going on.

 

He has a duty to serve the people, to make their lives as fulfilling and happy as he can. Lack of crops means a lack of food, and that can only lead to worse things, which means their lives certainly won’t be very fulfilling or happy. When he comes back it’s apparent that Oikawa had been thinking along the same lines, because he’s outfitted well enough for leaving the castle, circlet and sword both firmly in place. He nods when he sees that Daichi has donned his sword again as well, and leads them down to the dining room. Bree finally ruffles herself up and out of the door just before Daichi closes it, easily catching up to where Esmeralda is flying above Oikawa.

 

They go through breakfast quietly, with even Daichi’s parents lost in their own thoughts, though Daichi takes the opportunity to suggest that Esmeralda and Bree take an extended flight around the lands to see if there’s anything amiss anywhere else. Oikawa nods his assent, and Daichi’s mother praises his critical thinking with a smile.

 

Afterward, Daichi leads the way to one of the smaller entrances at the front of the castle, where they keep their fancier outerwear hung neatly along the wall on one side of the corridor. The rain from the day before is gone, but they can see through the windows that some clouds still linger, blocking the sun from warming them as it usually does. They each pick their favorite cloak off the wall, and this time Esmeralda doesn’t huddle under it like she had the day before, not with knowing she has a mission ahead of her. She does settle on Daichi’s shoulder again as they leave, content to save her energy for when they actually have to take off.

 

It’s likely that the two won’t return until the next day, if they want to really get a good understanding of whether or not anything strange is going on elsewhere. Daichi hopes there isn’t anything, but he has a feeling that his hope is going to be crushed. For now the creatures accompany them to the town square, down winding paths and past the homes of many of the kingdom’s people, relaxed across the shoulders of their owners. Daichi keeps a careful eye out for anything out of the ordinary, and he can see Oikawa doing the same next to him. They’ve made it a decent distance down the road when Oikawa nudges him in the arm, and Daichi looks over to see a house with a small placard nailed to the door frame.

 

It’s the typical way to show that a house has a sick person inside, in case a healer wanders by, or other helpful townsfolk who may want to lend a hand. Daichi notes where the house is, so he can see about sending someone to check up on the occupants. For now they keep going, and everything seems normal when they arrive at the town square, if a little quiet. That could just be the weather, though, people not wanting to wander too much out of doors with the slight threat of looming rain.

 

Well. I guess we should be on our way for realsies. I shall return to you, valiant prince. Esmeralda is sassy as always, and Daichi laughs at her way of saying goodbye. He scratches behind her ears for a minute before she shakes him off and takes to the skies. Next to them, Bree flaps her wings, and Oikawa’s circlet nears meets the ground with the force that she musses his hair. Oikawa groans, but he’s still smiling, and he waves as they rise high into the sky, unencumbered by things like ceilings. After they mostly disappear from sight Daichi turns back to the square, observing the few people who pass by.

 

The ones that notice that the prince is among them pause and bow, respectful, before continuing on their way, well aware that Daichi hardly demands the kind of treatment that requires them to disrupt their day any more than that, unless they wish to speak to him. Oikawa wanders over to one of the shops, one that has elegant vests lined in the window, all sleek material and shiny buttons. He doesn’t have to ask Daichi if they can go in, because by the time he opens his mouth Daichi is already holding the door open, smile on his face.

 

Even when they come to town for business, Oikawa somehow always finds something captivating to gawk at for a bit, and Daichi can’t resist the urge to buy him something. Oikawa always insists that if Daichi buys him one, he has to get one for himself as well, otherwise it’s not very fair. Daichi doesn’t think of it that way, but it makes Oikawa happy to be part of a pair, so he’s content to go along with it to see that smile on his best friend’s face. They need to figure out what they’ll be wearing for the ball anyway, and wearing something new to greet their important visitor wouldn’t hurt.

 

The shopkeeper lights up when he sees who’s entered, and he comes out from behind his counter to bow and kiss both their hands. It makes Daichi laugh, and Oikawa blushes, unused to that kind of attention, and the shopkeeper grins at them. He’s known them both since they were tiny, and most of the clothes they’ve worn have been made by him. Oikawa immediately rushes off to the wall of formal cloaks, while Daichi goes back to the window to get a better look at the vests that had caught Oikawa’s eye. There’s one that’s perfect for him, a pale mint with delicate white buttons shaped like leaves. Daichi makes a tiny gesture to the shopkeeper, and he nods, waiting until Daichi’s gone over to attract Oikawa’s attention to wrap it up discreetly.

 

“Find anything interesting, Tooru?”

 

Oikawa is excited when he turns to Daichi, one hand still clasping the edge of a light cloak. “This is perfect for you, Dai.”

 

The cloak is light and flowing, an impressively soft fabric that looks like the night sky, a swirling mix of black and deep purple, scattered with tiny pinpricks of silver, so closely resembling stars that Daichi wouldn’t be surprised if the shopkeeper had told them that he’d gathered them from the heavens himself. He’s more than impressed, and Oikawa looks so pleased to have found something so wonderful. “Okay. It’s gorgeous. Your taste is as impeccable as ever.”

 

Oikawa beams at the sincere compliment, and he hands the cloak to Daichi before clapping his hands together and heading off to the shirts instead. He wanders around the shop and adds a few more things to the pile without asking Daichi’s opinion, confident in his choices after Daichi’s affirmation. Daichi gently lays the garments on the counter and watches Oikawa instead. He takes note of the things that Oikawa lingers on that he doesn’t take, things that Daichi knows he’d like for himself, but won’t take unless Daichi insists. He looks over to the shopkeeper briefly, sees that he’s keeping track of those things, already well aware that Daichi is intending on purchasing them too.

 

“Delivered to the castle as usual, Your Highness?” The shopkeeper’s voice is amused, likely imagining them trying to carry everything around with them on their travels. They’d tried that once, and they’d nearly dropped everything into a giant mud puddle after carrying it for hours around the town square. Daichi’s learned since then, and now they pay a bit extra to have it delivered instead. He knows the shopkeeper would do it for free, but that doesn’t seem very fair to him, and so he makes sure to send extra back with the bill anyway.

 

“Yes, please. I’ll send payment after I’ve gotten back to the castle myself.”

 

“As you wish. Enjoy the rest of your day, Your Highness.” The shopkeeper calls out a farewell to Oikawa and busies himself wrapping the items already on the counter. After they get outside Daichi notices him gathering the things that Oikawa had lingered over, and he smiles to himself, pulling Oikawa over to the next shop.

 

They listen to the townspeople discreetly as they continue to shop, though they don’t buy too much more. Daichi takes note of a few other people who aren’t feeling well, and one other farm that has discovered that their crops aren’t growing properly. This one seems to be the victim of the nearby creek, though. It seems that the creek has overflowed and flooded one of the plots of land, effectively drowning the plants in that area. It’s not entirely unheard of, and it’s not one of the more scarce items they grow, so it shouldn’t affect the kingdom too much, though it’s obviously a loss of profit for the farmer and his family.

 

Daichi decides that they’ll check the status of that farm on the walk back to the castle, after they finish up the business they have in the square. They make a stop in the textile shop, one that specializes in embroidering draperies, tablecloths and the like. The seamstress isn’t in the shop at the moment, but her son assures them that they can have the tapestry, a respectful hanging with the emblem of Sapphira on it, completed within a day or two, leaving plenty of time before the masquerade to have it hung properly in the grand ballroom.

 

After that’s done they leave the main section of town, wandering the side streets, observing the people as they go. Everything seems to be in order, aside from the few houses that they’d heard about earlier where someone is sick. Daichi decides that it’s better for them to not go in themselves. That may put too much stress on the person and their family, to have one of the royal family around in such a delicate setting, and he’d rather not make anyone worse off than they already are. Oikawa takes notes on which houses they are, so that they can try and send around a healer or two to lend their assistance.

 

On the way back they make their last important shopping stop, at a nice comfortable building just off the edge of the town center, where a woman makes the masks that they’ll need to conceal their identities at the ball. They wind up there for quite a while, helping to meticulously design what each of their masks will look like. Daichi’s is a dark purple dotted with tiny silver pinpricks to look like stars, with black feathers standing up along the top edge for a little flair. Oikawa’s is almost the opposite, with the main part of the mask in white, with silver vines painted along the edges. He gets feathers as well, fluffy white ones in the same place as Daichi’s, complements of each other, like most things that have to do with them.

 

That task completed, they take the long way around the opposite side of town they came in on. There’s another house here with the illness placard, but otherwise everything seems fine, at least until they get to the farm. Here, it’s the exact opposite of the farm from the day before. Where there the dirt had been bone dry even in the rain, this soil is soaked, still under a couple of inches of mud and water, tiny bits of greenery poking up every so often. There’s quite a number of plants drooping on the ground, limp and lifeless, some of their roots loosened from the ground by the excess water.

 

The farmer is hard at work on the far end of the plot, diligently trying to replant the crops one by one, though it doesn’t look like it’s going very well. He greets them easily as they walk up, and sighs as he tells them how the creek had overflown unexpectedly the day before. Daichi nods as he listens, remembering the weather. At the time it hadn’t seemed like it was enough to over fill the creek, but if it had rained a lot upstream too it makes sense that it would all flow downward. The farmer thanks them for checking up on them, and assures Daichi that they’re just fine, but they’ll send a message to the castle if they need anything.

 

By the time they make it back to the castle it’s lunch time, food already being brought to the table, and they hurry to hang their cloaks and get into the dining room. Daichi’s parents are absent again, which isn’t anything unusual, so it’s just Daichi and Oikawa. Oikawa sits practically in Daichi’s lap, scooting their chairs as close together as possible and leaning heavily against Daichi’s side. It makes it a little awkward to eat, but Daichi’s used to Oikawa’s moods, how sometimes he just needs them to be as close as they can be to each other.

 

“Hey Dai.”

 

Daichi swallows the bite he’d just taken before he answers. “Yeah?”

 

“Can we do some extra training today?”

 

“Worried about the prince, huh. I’m sure everything will be fine.” He nudges Oikawa’s side. “But sure. After lunch. We’ll visit Benjirou first. Finish eating.”

 

Oikawa nods and moves away enough for them to eat properly, at least a little soothed, for the moment. They finish up after a while, and then head back down to the basement, where there is a lack of suspicious explosions. There’s a clattering inside Benjirou’s room, though, and Daichi sighs and braces himself before he knocks lightly and opens the door. Luckily nothing blows up then, either, though it has happened before. Benjirou looks up at them and frowns over the vial he has in his hand, clearly bothered by something.

 

“Your Highness.” Benjirou inclines his head just a bit and then frowns some more at the vial.

 

“Benjirou. Have you found anything?”

 

“Only that it’s some kind of a curse. A tricky magic is involved, I’m just not sure what kind yet.”

 

Oikawa hums and squints at the vial himself. The tiny bit of dirt inside is glowing faintly blue, but that doesn’t tell them much at all. There’s a few more vials lined up on the table between them and Benjirou, and they all have the dirt, too, though they aren’t all blue. “Strange.”

 

Benjirou hums an agreement. “Very. But I’ll keep working on it, I should be able to find something soon. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”

 

Daichi nods. “Good luck. We’ll be at the training grounds for a few hours if you need us by then.”

 

They head straight to the training grounds, which are thankfully empty. Even Daichi is starting to feel the apprehensive itch that must be making Oikawa feel uncertain, and getting it out through hard, rigorous training seems like an exceptionally good idea. The sound of their swords clashing together is a certain kind of soothing, almost methodical, and they practice until they’re both panting and sweaty. They take a short break to get something to drink, and they both plop on the floor to rest for a moment before they get back to work. It certainly won’t hurt for the two of them to be on top of their game, just in case anything does happen.

 

Break time is over quickly, Oikawa still jittery and ready to go, and they manage an intensely long bout where neither of them stays ahead of the other for very long. It’s typical of them, really, almost always on even ground with the other, especially since they both know the other’s weaknesses like they know their own. They’re both incredibly tired and sweaty by the time that they stop, Daichi finally able to slip in one hit that has Oikawa slipping to the ground as his weight bearing ankle is swept out from underneath him.

 

They slump on the floor and breathe heavily for a while before they pull themselves off the floor and head to their rooms. Daichi sighs as he leans his sword against the wall next to the bed and unbuckles his belt to get undressed. He slips on a robe afterward to walk across the hall, and gets to the bathroom first, starts to fill up the big tub so it’s all ready for when they’re done washing. He can already tell that they’re going to have to soak for a significant amount of time to avoid strained and exhausted muscles. There’s a good amount of time left between now and dinner, though, so they should be satisfactorily pliant by the time they have to get out.

 

Oikawa comes in after Daichi’s already under one of the showers washing up, the scent of his favorite soap drifting pleasantly in the air. Daichi laughs under his breath as he hears Oikawa humming to himself, and he thinks to himself that he’s glad the sparring was successful at relaxing him, even a little bit. He knows they won’t truly get to relax until they figure out both what’s going on in the kingdom, and what kind of a person Daichi’s betrothed is. If there’s going to be conflicts that they haven’t thought of or considered yet, or if this actually will be a good match. Daichi still hasn’t quite figured out how he’s supposed to be feeling about it all.

 

He sinks into the scented bath first, sighing as the hot water envelopes his body, closing his eyes and relaxing as much as possible. It’s not much longer when Oikawa steps in, too, letting out a pleased noise when he finds the temperature as hot as he likes it. They lounge in the water at opposite sides of the tub, legs meeting in the middle. Daichi’s glad that they have such roomy bathtubs, since Oikawa’s always insisted on them sharing together, even when they got ‘too old’ for that sort of thing, as one of the previous maids had said. They stay there until the water is almost cold, and there’s a knock at the door, someone announcing that dinner will be served shortly.

 

Benjirou is at the table with Daichi’s parents when they get there after getting dressed again, and over food he explains that he thinks he’s figured out what kind of curse is on the farm. It will take him a while to find a counter curse, or an effective potion, but he’s already working on it, so it shouldn’t take too long. Daichi and Oikawa take turns telling Daichi’s parents about everything they observed in the town, including the number of ill townspeople, and the flooding of the other farm. They agree to send one of the castle’s healers around town in the next couple of days to see if they can help.

 

The rest of dinner is quiet and companionable, and Daichi just barely resists yawning at the table. His mother would have his head if he did that, though, he knows, so he manages to keep it in. Oikawa covers his mouth discretely next to him, and Daichi knows he’s having the same problem. It makes Daichi grin, and then Oikawa is glaring at him, petulant like he was as a child (still is, sometimes), sticking his tongue out at him. He makes sure that Daichi’s mother can’t see him, though she must notice anyway, because she laughs lightly and smiles in their direction.

 

“You both had a busy day, and you look tired. About time for bed, yes?” They both know that tone of voice of hers, know that it’s not a time to protest that they aren’t children anymore, and don’t need to be told when to go to bed.

 

Instead they nod, and finish their dessert before bidding Daichi’s parents goodnight. The walk to Daichi’s room is slow, both of them still feeling the intense training session in all of their muscles. Crawling into bed without Esmeralda and Bree there is a little odd, and Daichi hopes that they’re safe wherever they are right now. He’s sure that they’ll have stopped at some point, and he wonders where they might be. Oikawa tucks himself against Daichi’s side, head pillowed on his shoulder, even though he can actually use the pillow without arguing with a mouthy dragon for once, and then he nuzzles his face into Daichi’s neck. It’s comfortable and warm, and Daichi lets his thoughts trail off as he slowly falls asleep.

 

~~~

 

They sleep extra late the next day, waking close to noon, and as Daichi blinks in the bright midday sun, he muses that they must have been much more tired than they’d thought. Either no one had wanted to wake them for breakfast, or else someone had tried and realized that they were dead to the world and couldn’t be woken. Daichi’s not sure which he would prefer, to be honest. It’s not really a problem, since mostly today they’ll only be waiting for Esmeralda and Bree to return with their findings. There’s not much left on their list of things to do to prepare for the prince’s arrival either.

 

Daichi tries to squirm away as Oikawa moves around, waking himself up, and winces as Oikawa accidentally jabs his fist into Daichi’s side. He can’t help the reflexive smack back, swatting at Oikawa’s shoulder instead, and Oikawa jerks away, eyes wide but still sleepy. It’s pretty cute, not that Oikawa would accept that observation, except for the fact that his fist is still in Daichi’s side. Oikawa blinks a few times and moves to get in a sitting position, and that’s when he notices. He pats Daichi’s chest gently in apology and yawns, which just makes Daichi yawn too.

 

Eventually they pull themselves out of bed, and Oikawa slips through the hidden passageway to his room instead of using the hallway. Daichi laughs, knowing that Oikawa would be appalled if anyone saw him so disheveled this late in the morning. By the time they’re dressed and meeting again in the hallway, it’s almost time for lunch, and they walk to the dining room leisurely. Daichi looks out the windows they pass, and he wonders when Esmeralda and Bree will arrive. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Oikawa doing the same thing, looking into the sky with a thoughtful expression on his face.

 

They don’t show up during lunch, which is their favorite time to crash unsuspectingly back into their lives, especially if they’ve just gotten into trouble. Daichi and Oikawa wander back to his bedroom to settle down to read until they do show up, comfortingly close in the window seat, one thick book spread across both their laps. The story is intriguing, about an eclectic group of friends who experience some weird things before deciding to hide from them, only to be found by trouble personified anyway. They’ve gotten through a few chapters when the door rattles and their companions practically crash through it, soaring through the air toward the window. Oikawa just gets the book closed and out of the way when Esmeralda crashes into their laps, and Bree smacks them each with a wing as she lands on Oikawa’s shoulder.

 

Hi Daichi! Esmeralda is apparently in a cuddly mood, and Daichi laughs as he rubs her belly like she wants.

 

“What’d you find on your quest, Ezzy?” Daichi keeps petting her even as she turns over and settles seriously, staring into his eyes.

 

Ready? She waits for his nod, and then he can see in his mind what she’d seen on her flight. The first thing he notices is that the beginning of the creek isn’t any fuller than it normally is, which makes the overflow at their part suspicious. He also notices that as they go, there’s a few people sick in each town, and it doesn’t seem like any of the townspeople actually think that any of the sicknesses are out of the ordinary. The good thing about Esmeralda is that she doesn’t have to talk to anyone, which makes it much easier for her to get and deliver information without the effect of it changing when being passed around.

 

He sees all the different towns, sees the occasional farm with various problems, one or two in each town that aren’t growing properly, just like theirs. Most of the issues seem to be bunched along the main route that crosses the entire land, and as Esmeralda flies Daichi sees a fancy carriage traveling along the same road. Even without the flag hanging just behind the driver Daichi would’ve known that this is the envoy from Sapphira. They’re moving along at a steady pace, and it looks like they’ll arrive right when they’re expected, though they still have a few days until then.

 

Closer to the coasts it seems like the towns and kingdoms aren’t as affected as the more inland ones, with the exception of Viradia. It occurs to Daichi that it’s awfully suspicious that the most affected places are ones the Sapphiran prince has passed through, but there’s no way to tell whether that’s a coincidence or something else. He hopes it’s not caused by the prince, hopes he’s not welcoming trouble right into his kingdom with a handshake and a promise of more power for him to use. There’s no use in assuming, though, not when they don’t have much information to go on, and it would be unbecoming for him to suspect the prince with no evidence.

 

When they’re finished with the memory viewing, Daichi pets Esmeralda until Oikawa and Bree finish too, and then Oikawa shakes his head and frowns. “It’s awfully suspicious, isn’t it? That most of the problems seem to be where the prince has been?”

 

Daichi hums. “It could be a coincidence.”

 

“A very suspicious coincidence. After all, this stuff only started happening recently.” Oikawa pauses, flicking his fingers through the air as he thinks. “Recently. And the only thing that’s happened recently is your impending nuptials.”

 

Esmeralda yawns and pushes off Daichi’s lap to curl up on one of the bed pillows. Daichi nods slowly, dropping his hand to the seat next to his thigh. “Right. Which doesn’t make the prince any less of a suspect, does it.”

 

Oikawa stands abruptly, and Bree flees to the bed with a huff and a flap of her wings. “Well. He won’t be allowed to waltz in here and do as he pleases, not without a fight.” He drops to one knee in front of Daichi, hand held out, eyes bright and fierce. He waits for Daichi to rest his hand in the outstretched one, and then he speaks, voice deep and serious. “I swore I’d protect you with my life. And I will. No matter what happens.”

 

“I know.” Daichi clasps their hands together and slips off the window seat to the floor to squat in front of Oikawa, staring straight into his eyes. “I trust you.”

 

They spend the rest of the time until dinner discussing possibilities, thinking up anything and everything that could happen and what they’ll do if it does, making plans to ensure the safety of themselves and the kingdom. They’re talking in hushed voices almost the entire way to the dining room, too, though they stop before they enter, not wanting to give Daichi’s parents a reason to be on edge about the prince’s arrival when they don’t know for sure that he has anything to do with the curiosities. Over dinner they do talk about what their familiars had found, how there are a number of towns, especially in their kingdom, that are having the same strange occurrences.

 

It’s decided that they’ll help as much as they can, in order to promote inter-kingdom relations. They can’t have good bonds with other kingdoms if all the people are sickly or starving, and Daichi’s family particularly believes in doing whatever they can to assist others, anyway. It’s one of the many beliefs they have that Daichi thinks ought to be a lot more common than it apparently is. It’s something he grew up being proud of, the way his family cares for everyone, no matter who they are. He knows they’ll do their best to help as many people as they can, starting with the townsfolk that they’ve already sent the healers to assist.

 

After dinner they head back to Benjirou’s room, and there’s a series of strange noises as they walk down the hallway. Oikawa knocks this time, loudly, and waits until the next noise dies down a bit before he opens the door slowly. There’s no smoke, at least, though there is a fading shower of pink sparks above the table.

 

Benjirou looks up, an almost manic expression on his face, and he grins at them, which really doesn’t make him look any more sane. “Daichi! Oikawa! I’ve found a solution. It will take me a while to produce, but there’s a potion that should work to reverse the effects of the curse.”

 

Oikawa claps excitedly, and Daichi can’t help but grin at how it makes Benjirou look more like a puppy being praised by its master. “Great job. Let us know if you need anything. We’d like to make enough to send off to the other towns that are experiencing the same problems, if we can.”

 

Benjirou nods. “Of course. I’ll do my best, Your Highness.”

 

They head back out then, content to let him get back to work. It’s close enough to bed time, anyway, and they separate to get changed before they join their still slumbering creatures in Daichi’s bed. Esmeralda shifts to curl sleepily around Daichi’s head, and she flicks her tail into Oikawa’s hair. Bree makes a snuffly noise on the other pillow, and Oikawa smiles as he reaches up to smooth down her head, touch gentle. Daichi yawns, and then Oikawa does, and then they wind up giggling at each other for a while before they trail off. It’s not much longer until they’re both lured off to sleep by the sound of Esmeralda’s tiny dragon snores, which is the last thing Daichi hears after he closes his eyes.

 

~~~

 

The next day is when they really figure out how detrimental the seemingly innocent sicknesses in town are. Their first stop is the textile shop, to pick up the tapestry that was promised to be ready. The person at the counter is another boy, this one younger, though he looks more worn down than the other one had been. He looks surprised to see Daichi and Oikawa enter the shop, and he rustles through a notebook on the counter before he looks up at them again, stricken.

 

He bows harshly, and his voice is loud and shaky. “I apologize, Your Highness!” He raises his head, and he’s so upset that there are tears in the corners of his eyes. “My brother accepted your order, but both he and my mother have fallen sick and they haven’t been able to work in the past few days. I don’t think I’m skilled enough yet for the work you need.”

 

Daichi pats the boy on the shoulder gently. “It’s okay. Calm down a bit.” The boy, Niko, according to his cheery name tag, nods. “Okay. First of all, has a healer seen your family yet?”

 

“Yes, they’re upstairs right now. I think he said they’d be okay soon.”

 

“Okay, that’s great. Now, all we need is a tapestry with an emblem on it. Nothing fancy, I promise. Do you think you can manage that by tomorrow morning?”

 

Niko breathes out a sigh of relief, and his trembling hands still. He looks down at the written order again. “Okay. Just an emblem. I can do that.”

 

Daichi smiles softly. “Great. Don’t stress too much. Send a message to the castle if you need anything, otherwise we’ll send someone over in the morning, okay?”

 

“Yes, Your Highness.” Niko bows again, his nose almost brushing the counter, and Daichi can’t help laughing.

 

“You’re a good kid.”

 

He waves as they leave, still a little too flustered to manage to get out from behind the counter, and he yells a goodbye even as the door closes behind them. Oikawa looks much more worried than Daichi feels, almost angry, but not quite. He waits until they get around the corner to start talking.

 

“What if it’s not done in time? Do you know what it will look like if we don’t have it? How disrespectful?”

 

“Tooru. Calm down.” Daichi takes one of Oikawa’s hands in his own, slides their fingers together so that Oikawa can’t clench them. “It’ll be fine. If it’s not finished in time, we’ll just explain to the prince. He shouldn’t berate someone for getting sick, it’s not like they could help it.”

 

Oikawa nods, though he really doesn’t look very placated. Daichi looks around, wondering if there’s anything to distract Oikawa from letting his thoughts take over and run rampant. There’s a cafe a few shops away, one they haven’t been to in a long time, and he tugs Oikawa over by the hand. There’s a number of delicious looking pastries assembled in the front case, and Daichi nudges Oikawa into getting them a nice table before he tells the girl behind the counter what they’d like. It’s not quite lunch time, but Daichi figures if they eat here they don’t have to worry about trying to get back to the castle quickly in order to eat, only to come back out.

 

He finds Oikawa at a tiny table in the front, looking out the window over the rest of the busy square. There’s a significant amount of people out, unlike when they’d come the other day, and Oikawa looks serene watching them all bustling back and forth. It’s a good look for him, much calmer than he’d been even a few minutes earlier, stressing over the tapestry. Daichi settles down in the seat across from him, and the girl he’d given their order brings over a tray with a few pastries and two ceramic cups, filled with steaming hot chocolate.

 

Oikawa smiles at him and reaches for a soft cream filled confection, which he savors slowly before licking the remaining sugar off of his fingertips. Daichi takes one that has a dollop of red berry jelly on top, and it’s almost better than the pastries that Mika makes in their own kitchen. Almost, but not quite. It’s still wonderful though, and he washes it down with some of the hot chocolate. Across from him, Oikawa’s finished off another treat, something chocolatey, judging by the smear on his cheek. They go through the rest of the tray, and finish their drinks, full and ready to get back to their errands.

 

Daichi takes the tray back up to the counter, where he pays even though the girl that had served them tries to insist it’s not necessary. Oikawa waits near the front door while she tells Daichi he doesn’t have to pay, and still while she reluctantly tells him the total price. He gives her more than enough and thanks her with a smile, and then they leave, even as the girl stutters a thank you.

 

Their next stop is to pick up their masks, and Daichi listens to Oikawa musing about the people walking around the square as they walk to the shops along the edge. The mask building is as quiet as it had been days earlier, and the woman inside is working diligently when they step inside. A glance tells Daichi that it’s their masks on the table in front of her, which is a little disappointing since they were supposed to be completed already. He can see Oikawa’s face change in his peripheral vision, and he lays a gentle hand on his arm before he can let whatever it is that’s poised on the tip of his tongue burst forth.

 

Daichi waits for the woman, Reika, to look up from where she’s meticulously blending the black and purple dye on his mask, and when they meet gazes he inclines his head. She breathes out an ‘oh’ and stands carefully to bow to them, making sure not to jostle her workspace. “Greetings, my Prince.”

 

“Greetings, Reika. I can see you’re still working on our pieces.” Daichi is gentle with his tone, careful to not sound like he’s angry or upset.

 

“I’m sorry, I fell sick shortly after you left your order and only just finished recovering this morning.” She bows again and waits for his response, glancing worriedly towards Oikawa before facing the tabletop again.

 

Oikawa speaks up before Daichi gets the chance to open his mouth, voice fierce but kind. “Has a healer come by? Are you sure you’re well enough to be working already?”

 

She looks momentarily surprised as she jerks upright, but her expression melts quickly into warm fondness. “Yes, Your Grace, they were here yesterday. They told me I’d be good as new today, and it seems they were correct.”

 

A slow nod comes after Oikawa has searched her face, likely for any signs of stress or untruthfulness, and then he speaks up again. “As you say. How long do you need to finish?”

 

Daichi gestures to the materials laid across the table. “And is there any way we can help out?”

 

“It will only take an hour or two more.” She settles into her chair again, and gestures to the two on their side of the table. “Of course you can help, if you wish, though you don’t have to, Your Highness.”

 

Oikawa claps his hands together with a bright, excited grin and drops elegantly into the nearest seat. “Oh, lovely, arts and crafts time! What shall we do?”

 

Daichi laughs as he sits as well, and then he rolls up his sleeves and waits for instructions. Reika smiles broadly and slides over two strips of cloth, one black and one white, and two piles of matching feathers, along with two small containers of glue. “You can glue the bottom of the feathers to half the fabric, and then add some more glue and fold the fabric over to cover the ends completely.”

 

They both nod, and Oikawa pulls the black set over to himself, sliding the white pile to Daichi with a smile. It’s comfortably quiet as they all work, Reika humming a soft melody under her breath as she delicately swirls silver vines onto the edges of the white mask while the other dries. They all concentrate on their own tasks, until both he and Oikawa are done, looking down at their strips of feathers proudly. Daichi looks up and realizes that Reika has finished Oikawa’s mask, aside from attaching the feathers, and is almost done dotting on the silver pinpricks meant to be stars.

 

She finishes with a twist of her wrist, and sighs softly, though Daichi doesn’t think it’s a normal kind of sigh. It seems he’s right when she gently pokes at one of the stars that he had just watched her place, and her finger comes away clean, no smearing or shifting of the paint at all. She pulls both masks and the completed sets of feathers toward her, and flips them gently over. Then she holds one of the feather strips to her mouth, where she blows on it and carefully attaches it to the proper mask. She repeats it on the other, and then smiles down at the final pieces, clearly proud of her finished work.

 

“Almost done, now. Just one more step.” Reika rises and takes both masks with her to a small wooden box, where she places them both inside before closing it and taking her seat again. “Now we wait a bit.”

 

While they wait Reika tells a story, her voice rising and falling in a glorious melody as she describes a world they’ve never seen, full of creatures and people they’ve never known, and yet somehow it still feels, in their very cores, like a truth. Oikawa’s hand finds his as she tells of a great friendship, one that had kept an entire world from falling apart at its very seams. How that friendship had, with the assistance of some magic and a great deal of cleverness, used love as the greatest weapon possible.

 

Daichi gets lost in the tale, and he hardly notices the passage of time, the world around them, as they wait with bated breath to reach the conclusion. By the time the last word trails off there’s tears clinging to his eyelashes, and when he manages to glance at Oikawa sees a single tear trailing down his cheek. They don’t unclasp their hands, even when they rise and she hands them their masks in a single cloth bag that Oikawa takes in his free hand. They bow in tandem, thanking her for her work and for the story, and then they’re on their way yet again.

 

The sky is darkening already, though time didn’t seem to pass all that quickly in the shop, and Daichi wonders if Reika knew more of the kind of magic she spoke of in the story. If maybe she’s somehow one of the otherworldly creatures as well, or related to one. The way she’d used her magic to assemble their masks had a wisp of something to it that wasn’t quite the magic of Daichi’s kingdom, and he wonders now if it was because of something he’d never known before. He tugs at their still entwined fingers and Oikawa shakes his head slowly, still a little dazed even as he lets Daichi lead them back home.

 

The quiet thoughtfulness of the walk is broken the instant they step through the door of the castle, replaced by a cheerful chattering coming from the dining room, where Daichi can see his parents sitting at the table. He leads them to his room first, since Oikawa seems unwilling for them to separate, to drop off the masks with the rest of their new garments. Oikawa’s hang easily alongside Daichi’s, still a surprise, at least until the next day. Daichi smiles to himself as he thinks about the gleeful expression Oikawa is likely to have when he hands them over.

 

In the dining room the chatter is still energetic, someone clearly excited about something and hardly able to contain it. Along with Daichi’s parents, there’s Benjirou, flailing his arms about in the air, and Mika, setting full, steaming dishes on the table. There’s also the tomato farmer and his family, the adults sat on one side of the table, the two young girls off to the side with Esmeralda and Bree, giggling happily as they watch Esmeralda making shapes with her smoke. The farmer and his wife incline their heads as they notice Daichi and Oikawa enter the room, though Daichi waves one hand to indicate that they shouldn’t get up.

 

Daichi’s father looks at them consideringly as they approach the table. “Busy day, boys?”

 

Oikawa sighs and lets Daichi answer for them, pulling out his chair instead. “We had business with Reika, the mask maker.”

 

Daichi’s parents exchange a knowing look and nod sagely at each other. Daichi’s mother’s voice is exceedingly soft when she speaks, not unlike how Reika’s had been just a while earlier. “For all she appears young, Reika is exceedingly wise. It would do you both well to remember what she may have told you, for her experience knows no bounds.”

 

They both murmur agreement and settle in their chairs, hands still linked between them. Benjirou waits until they’re all waiting attentively, and then he stands with a flourish and a grin. “I’ve finished the potion that should remove the curse on the crops.” The farmer looks ecstatic, and he turns to his wife happily, who takes his hands and beams. Daichi’s parents look pleased, and Benjirou has a look of pride stretching into a grand smile on his face. We’ll have to test it tomorrow, but I think it will work just as we need it to.”

 

“Was it a difficult magic?” It’s the first time Oikawa has spoken since before they made the masks together, and it’s a little softer than usual, though Daichi is sure no one else would be able to tell.

 

Benjirou tilts his head, like a curious puppy. “Well, yes, actually. It was very strange. I could tell it was magic right away, but it took me quite a while to unravel it enough to even begin to figure out what kind and how to counter it. In fact, I’m still not completely sure about exactly what classification of magic it is, but the potion should do what we need it to.”

 

Oikawa hums lightly and taps the fingers of his free hand on his thigh. “Admirable job, Benjirou.”

 

Daichi’s father makes an agreeable noise. “Aptly stated, Tooru.” He looks around the table. “Do we have any other business to discuss, or shall we get to dinner?”

 

Heads shake, and then the farmer’s wife calls their children over, and Esmeralda and Bree fly to their owners as the young girls take seats. Mika and one of the kitchen girls serve everyone, and dinner is a pleasant affair, a little quiet but comfortable. As they finish dessert, Oikawa looks a little jittery, and on their way back to their wing of the castle Daichi nudges him in the side, a clear invitation for him to spill what’s on his mind.

 

“What if the tapestry isn’t made in time?” He blinks, and stares up at the ceiling, trusting that Daichi won’t lead him into any walls or columns. “What if the prince is the nasty sort, and he uses anything he can to leave us without help? Or worse, digs his way in under our defenses only to tear us apart from the inside?”

 

Daichi hums, stopping in front of his door, holding Oikawa from walking further by a hand on his arm. “The tapestry will be fine. If he doesn’t understand that simple thing, then he’s obviously not a ruler we want to deal with. We just have to be prepared for anything.”

 

Oikawa’s voice is distractedly quiet. “What if he’s the one with the strange magic?”

 

“Then we’ll be ready to deal with that too. I have faith in us, and the people we surround ourselves with. If he’s the one causing these disturbances, then we have a duty to stop him, and to fix it.”

 

“Okay.” Oikawa finally looks away from the ceiling, and he smiles at Daichi, a wobbly thing that Daichi’s not used to seeing on him. It transforms abruptly into one more cheery, but still a shadow of his usual bright grin. “Be back soon, then, Daichiin.”

 

He skitters off down the hall before Daichi can smack him for the childish nickname, and Daichi enters his room instead. Esmeralda swoops in just before the door closes, tumbling onto the bed in the least graceful way Daichi’s ever seen from her. He shakes his head at her and she sticks her tongue out at him, still upside down. Daichi changes and is sliding into bed, pushing his cheeky dragon to the side as he goes when Oikawa comes back.

 

“Come on Tooru.” Daichi holds the blanket up so Oikawa can slip in next to him, curling up into his side. He drops the edge of the blanket behind Oikawa and tucks his nose into his hair, tightening his arms around him. His voice is hardly over a whisper. “It will all turn out just fine. We’ll make sure it does.”

 

Oikawa murmurs an agreement and slips his hands under Daichi’s shirt, tracing nonsense patterns until he finally falls asleep. Daichi follows not long after, hoping his words turn out to be the truth.

 

~~~

 

Daichi adjusts his crown again, certain that it’s sitting crooked on his head, though he can’t see it. Oikawa shoos his hands away and fixes it himself, eerily calm compared to his worry of the night before. “We’ll be fine, Dai. You said so yourself.”

 

“Yes, well. We will. I hope.” He resists the urge to reach up to his crown again, knows that Oikawa would make sure it looked exactly as presentable as it should. Niko appears on the path to the front of the castle, and Oikawa breathes out an audible sigh of relief. Daichi steps forward when he finally makes it through the door, and he gives the tapestry a quick glance before depositing it in Satou’s waiting arms so he can be sure it’s properly displayed. “Thank you, Niko. Your payment is here. And how is your family?”

 

Niko bows and accepts the envelope Daichi hands to him before answering. “Very well, Your Highness, thank you. We very much appreciate your patronage.”

 

“Be well.” Daichi bows his head, and then Niko is off again, eager to get home now that his job is completed. A royal messenger appears from the basement, and he bows to both of them before continuing on his way, most likely to deliver the potion not only to the tomato farm, but to the ones in the other towns of the Viradian Kingdom as well. Hopefully it worked successfully, and they could try to distribute it to the other kingdoms too.

 

And then the only thing left was to await the arrival of the Sapphiran prince. Daichi takes his place at the front of the castle, Oikawa at his side, while respectful guards stand on either side of the large front doors. The day is sunny with just a hint of a breeze, fresh and gorgeous, the epitome of a perfect day in Viradia, and the sound of the approaching carriage floats easily to where they stand waiting, even before they catch a glimpse of it.

 

They watch the carriage as it follows the path until it stops right in front of them, twenty feet away that feels like only two and two hundred at the same time. Oikawa brushes their hands together as a measure of comfort as the driver disembarks and holds open the door. The first person to step out is tall, with brown hair held up in a knot at the back of his neck and huge brown wings. He steps to one side of the carriage as someone else gets out. This one is tall as well, and Daichi wonders for a moment if all Sapphirans are of considerable height. His jet black wings match his hair, and he spares Daichi and Oikawa a wicked grin as he steps to the opposite side as the other man did.

 

A pale, slender hand reaches out of the door, and the brown haired man takes it gently and holds it as the last occupant of the carriage finally steps into the daylight. Daichi feels his breath catch, and he’s not quite sure that he’s not dreaming suddenly. The intricate golden crown settled on his head looks like vines, twisted and tangled around one another. This person, the prince, isn’t as tall as the others. In fact, he’s just a bit shorter than Daichi himself. His hair practically glows in the sun, bright silver, and his wings match, almost blinding as they flutter lightly behind him. His smile is sugar sweet and hellfire hot, and Daichi hardly blinks, entranced, as a thought settles heavily in his mind.

 

He’s not sure if this man is trouble or salvation.