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Worthless Pride

Chapter Text

"You'll grow to love him," his mother tells him as she secures the obi around his slim waist. It's a task meant for the young servant girls but this will be her last moment of privacy with her only child for a long time. She walks around to face him, settling her dainty fingers on his shoulders, a doleful smile on her face. "It will be impossible for him not to fall in love with you."

Tooru keeps his head lowered in preparation for his new position. For eighteen years, he has always been held in high regard. He's a prince. The son of a king whose influence stretches far and wide. Nonetheless, Tooru was also born an omega and regardless of the blood that courses through his veins he was born to be acquiescent.

The throne that is his, by birthright, will go to his half-sibling; a female alpha who his father brought back with him following the war over eight years ago. Although the girl's mother is a nameless whore without an ounce of royal blood in her body, it's her offspring that will lay claim to what Tooru has always wanted. It burns him with an envy like no other every single time he thinks about how he's being sold off to some savage prince while that bitch—

"Tooru, you'll ruin your face," his mother says, fretting over him with a handkerchief as she pats at the hot tears that roll down his cheek, "I'm so sorry but this is the only way. Kiyoko will be queen and you, my dear, you have to stay strong, Tooru. It's the only thing you can do."

Tooru looks into the eyes of his mother— the woman who birthed him, fed him at her breast, and raised him without handing the task off to the wet nurse like so many women in her position would have— he wordlessly pleads with her to not make him go through with this. His mother understands his unspoken plea yet she lowers her head and pretends not to notice.

She walks over to the vanity to pick up the ornaments for Tooru's hair. "Which ornaments would you like to wear today, Tooru?"

Expression hardening, Tooru digs his nails into the palms of his hands, his eyes piercing like knives. "Just pick one," he says, tone clipped, "It's not like you've ever had an issue with making my decisions for me."

Wordlessly, his mother picks the ornaments she thinks looks best and adds them to Tooru's hair. She's almost done when there's a tap on the shoji screen. The servant girls are there for the final preparations before the ceremony begins.

Per his mother's instructions, Tooru is given a heady wine that she claims is meant to help ease his nerves but he knows that it's meant to make his scent sweeter and more appealing than it is at the moment.

"Drink all of it," his mother says, using her index finger to tilt the saucer up.

Tooru has a good mind to spit the wine in his mother's face. But like the obedient son he is, he tilts his head back and drinks it all up. A servant girl is there instantly to pat the corners of his mouth, careful not to smudge his red painted lips. Afterward, his mother tells him that he's a beautiful bride and that she is proud of him as she hugs him tightly.

Tooru doesn't return her hug. He stands there, arms lying limping at his sides, hidden under the heavy sleeves of his kimono. His heart aches because as much as he despises his mother right now, he still loves her, and it pains him to be betrayed by her of all people. When the one-sided embrace is over, they make their way to the grand hall where the guests are waiting. He finds himself grateful for the wine as it grants him the courage he needs to put one foot in front of the other.

Hundreds are in attendance for the union between two great nations, though, a handful of them are there to witness the prideful prince submit like he was bred to do. Alphas whom Tooru publicly rejected in the past or bested in some sport that wasn't meant for omegas to take part in are taking a sadistic delight in watching him walk down the aisle knowing that with this marriage he will not only lose any claim he might have had to the throne but his pride as well.

Up until now, it's been the one thing that Tooru has always held over others' head. His title, his importance. Now he will be left with nothing. Still, Tooru holds his head high.

It doesn't hurt that he's beautiful. 

The kimono he's wearing is an unnecessarily extravagant mesh of colors and fabric with wide sleeves and a long tail that has a dove embroidered on it. Aside from his face, Tooru's neck is the only piece of flesh that's allowed to be visible and it's not without a reason. His long hair is pulled up into a neat bun, silver ornaments adorning it, to reveal the unmarked glands on the nape of his neck.

They want it to be known that he is unmarked and untouched; that he's pure for his betrothed.

Tooru feels like prized cattle.

At the front of the grand hall, standing on a raised dais is the kingdom's high priest, a shrine maiden, Tooru's father, and Tooru's betrothed who stands with his broad back facing the audience.

Tooru has never seen Iwaizumi Hajime a day in his life but he's heard rumors of the man's brutish nature.

During his morning bath, Tooru overheard his handmaidens giggling about the size of the prince's form and the darkness of his skin.

Their allies in the south are not as refined as them, Tooru's mother once told him when he was younger. 

They’re a warrior people who settle their disagreements with bloodshed instead of intellectual debates like they do here in the west.

It's disgraceful.

There's no way that Tooru will survive in a place like that.

Reaching the altar, Tooru stops and stands next to the southern prince. They're both ordered to kneel on the provided satin pillows and they remain that way throughout the ceremony. Two servant girls have to assist Tooru in the task and he is thankful. While the priest drones on and on about duties between alpha and omega, Tooru steals glances at the prince out the corner of his eye.

The handmaidens were right. The prince is very large, even for an alpha, though, he's a few inches shorter than Tooru, and Tooru takes a little pride in that. As for the alpha's skin, it isn't as dark as the naive girls made it out to be. In their defense, they're accustomed to the pale complexions that are often seen around the kingdom. Still, the alpha's coloring stands out but not in a necessarily bad way. It's just different. Even the prince's eyes are a peculiar shade.

Tooru catches a glimpse of those green eyes when the alpha glances in his direction. Of course, Tooru quickly looks away and keeps his eyes downcast for the remainder of the ceremony. Until it's time for him to kiss the prince, that is. Slowly turning his head, Tooru finally looks at the prince full on and he can't say that he's terribly disappointed with what he sees.

Sadly, Tooru isn't given the opportunity to stare for too long. Suddenly, Hajime touches the sides of Tooru's face, his sizable hands warm and calloused. He softly presses his chapped lips to Tooru's painted lips and then he moves away. It can barely be considered a kiss at all but it's enough for the marriage to be finalized. And as much as Tooru wasn't looking forward to any of this, he somehow feels cheated.

The wedding celebrations are held at their palace as is in their customs but tomorrow, Tooru will leave the only home he's ever known behind for a new home. At the reception, Tooru's mother slips him more wine to prepare him for the big finale.

Is he upset that, instead of spending this time to cherish their final moments together, his mother is trying to get him drunk so that he'll be easier for his husband to screw? Of course, not. Tooru isn't upset at all. Actually, he's furious, and it's becoming a task to mask that, along with the other emotions he’s feeling, thanks to the amount of wine he's had and how uncomfortable his kimono is.

It doesn't help that his half-sister is seated at his father's side where Tooru once sat not too long ago. The fact that they don't even have the decency to wait until he's gone before they replace him, further infuriates Tooru. From his place on the stage next to his husband, Tooru watches with envy as his father laughs at something Kiyoko says, how his father looks at the product of his infidelity as though she’s worth more than his own legitimate son, and apparently she is because she is the one who will carry on the king’s legacy. 

During his time over in the east fighting off foreign invaders, Tooru’s father spent his ruts at a brothel, buried deep between the thighs of whichever omegan whore’s scent appealed to him at the time. And that is how Kiyoko came into the picture.

Tooru will never forget the day his father brought that child into their home. It makes him physically ill just thinking about it. 

Seemingly oblivious to the rage boiling inside his new bride, Hajime plays his role as a foreign royal perfectly. He only speaks when he's spoken to unless he's speaking to the few men he brought along with him from the south. Whenever anyone gives them a wedding gift, Hajime accepts the gift on their behalf. Probably because it's no secret that Tooru isn't in the socializing mood.

Hajime doesn't sound like how Tooru imagined him to sound. He doesn't sound like a mindless brute who favors bloodshed over debates. Tooru is even impressed with how fluent Hajime is in the Western tongue, and he has to admit that Hajime's accent is endearing. Regardless, he's still wary of this stranger. He'll wait to see how civil the alpha is when they're alone.

Which won't be too long from now because Tooru's father is now standing up, the great room thrown into silence by the action. With a wave of the king's hand, servants shuffle out of the far corners of the banquet hall to gather the newlywed's gifts. Their gifts will be packed into carriages for their long journey tomorrow. For once, Tooru isn't all that excited about the prospect of gifts or traveling to unseen places.

His father gives a short speech about duty and honor that Tooru half-listens to. Instead, he thinks about the many places he'd rather be right now than here. He thinks about all the chances he's had to run away, to avoid this fate. However, his naivety and blind trust in his parents led him to his own demise. Every omega who is born to a king or queen, rather they be legitimate or illegitimate, will never have a claim to the throne. It has been like that for centuries.

The best that Tooru can hope for is that his husband will do right by him in all ways. Though he's sure that is highly unlikely.

Tooru is jerked back to the reception hall when his handmaidens come to prepare him for his wedding night. Reluctantly, he allows them to escort him to the private chambers that have been set aside for that "special" occasion.

"Get me some wine," Tooru orders one of the girls once he's freed from his kimono, only a sheer robe covering him,

The girl meekly bows her head and turns to fetch the wine. As she's stepping out of the washroom, Tooru's mother is hurriedly walking in. At the sight of her, Tooru scowls.

"Are you here to walk me through it?" he snidely asks.

She ignores the snub. "This is a very important moment, Tooru. Your marriage to Iwaizumi-sama's son ensures the realm maintains its fragile peace. You must also keep the prince happy because it ensures your own safety and happiness."

Tooru scoffs, "Are you saying that if I just lay down and let him mount me like a bitch, it'll be best for me?"

"You are an omega, Tooru. Never forget that."

Tooru grits his teeth.

"Get rid of your pride," his mother tells him, her eyelashes damp with tears, "It will do you no good anymore. Your father and I are partial to blame for the way you are. We should have prepared you for this early on but I didn't want you to grow up like I had."

"I'm scared," Tooru confesses quietly, "I don't want to go through with this. Please, don't make me do it."

His mother hugs him. "I'm sorry, Tooru. But this is the reality for us omegas."

Tooru wants to yell at his mother, blame her for this, for everything but he's well aware that his mother has never truly had a say so in anything. Even as the queen, his mother has always lived under a short leash. It will be the same for Tooru. 

The handmaiden returns with the wine. Tooru and his mother share a brief drink together, and then she departs. Her only advice for him tonight is to let his instincts take full control in place of his mind. He isn't sure if he can do that but he doesn't seem to have a choice.

If the marriage isn't consummated tonight, the Iwaizumi clan have the right to null the marriage. With no marriage, that means no treaty, and with no treaty, that means war.

With his hair no longer in a bun and his face clear of makeup, Tooru doesn't feel as regal in the loose, satin yukata he's wearing. He feels small and afraid during the short walk through the ensuite to the bedroom where his husband waits. The absence of his handmaidens has never been missed until now. They've always been a constant in his life, hovering around him whenever he wakes or prepares for sleep. Now his husband will fill that role.

A lump forms in Tooru's throat, his eyes stinging with tears. He tries to look at the bright side. Hajime isn't hideous so that should make this a little easier for him. The wine isn't doing what Tooru hoped it would, though. His head feels fuzzy and his face feels warm but it does nothing for his buzzing nerves or racing thoughts. If anything the wine seems to intensify his anxiousness.

Tooru steps into the bedroom to see Hajime standing up, his bare back facing him. The alpha's lack of clothing shouldn't startle Tooru as much as it does. This is their wedding night. He's certain that he will see more than just Hajime's chiseled back.

As a distraction from the alpha's partial nudeness, Tooru glances around the lavishly decorated bedroom filled with books they wouldn't be reading and art they wouldn't be admiring. What a poor choice of decor for a honeymoon suite.

His eyes are scanning the remainder of the room, taking in the sitting area in the far corner, and the many lit candles, and the broad chest that's right in front of him. Tooru's eyes snap shut in shock. Opening them again, he adjusts them to the image of Hajime standing in front of him, his face an unreadable mask. Tooru gasps when Hajime clasps his chin with his right hand, his gaze piercing.

"You're anxious," Hajime whispers, it's the first thing he's said to Tooru all night.

Tooru knows it isn't a question yet he nods his head anyway.

Hajime frowns, his thick eyebrows coming to meet in the center of his forehead. "Do you understand what they expect of us?" he asks.

Tooru feels like crying. "Yes," he says.

Swallowing thickly, Hajime drops his hand from Tooru's chin and takes him by the hand, leading the omega to the futon with sluggish steps as if he's walking them to the executioner. They sit on the futon, their thighs touching. Tooru is grateful that Hajime hasn't fully undressed yet. The alpha is still wearing a pair of black undergarments that stop short of his knees. He tries to count the scars on Hajime's legs to calm his nerves but then Hajime is kissing him.

Hajime kisses Tooru on the cheek first, almost as if he's testing the waters. Tooru has no idea how to react to it so he just sits there, fingers playing with the hem of his sleeves. His hands tremble when the alpha kisses him on the neck, his hot breath tickling Tooru's earlobe, pulling a low whine from the omega. Hajime kisses him again in the same spot.

The kisses aren't unwelcome. At least not entirely. It's just that Tooru knows nothing about Hajime and he would like to know something about him before they did all the things that were required of them.

You are an omega, Tooru. Never forget that.

Tooru eyes began to water. That's right. He's an omega and rather he liked it or not, this is what he was born to do. Biting down on his lip, Tooru raised his trembling hands to the slash that kept his yukata secured and pulled it loose. Beside him, Hajime stiffened. As the fabric slid off his pale shoulders, Tooru lowered himself to the futon, his back touching the cold sheets. He shivers, feeling the cool breeze on his bare skin, his nipples hardening in reaction.

Hajime's eyes take the omega in, darkening with lust. Unable to hold his tears back, Tooru turns his head to the side and closes his eyes. He wants Hajime to hurry up and get it over with so that he can go to sleep. He's startled when he feels the alpha pulling the sleeves of his yukata up to cover his shoulders.

"I can't do this," Hajime says, fully covering the omega's body with the yukata.

Tooru's eyes snap open, his head lifting to get a good look at the alpha. "You can't do this?" he asks, frowning in confusion, "Is something wrong with me?"

"There is nothing wrong with you, Tooru."

"Then what's the problem?"

Hajime moves over to his side of the futon. "You're crying!" he exclaims in exasperation. Sighing, he lowers his voice, "If this isn't something you want, I'm not going to make you do it."

"But if we don't consummate the marriage—"

"Let me worry about that."

"They'll know if we did it or not." There was no way for them to lie about it. He's also worried that he has upset Hajime and that won't do good for their union. "I won't cry," he promises, "I'll be a good omega."

Hajime turns on his side, facing Tooru, his large bicep serving as a pillow for his head. "You don't even sound right saying that." He smiles. "You'll be a good omega. Do you even know what that means?"

Tooru has to take a while to come to the conclusion that Hajime is teasing him. Mimicking the alpha's position, Tooru rolls to his side.

"You don't know me well enough to know what does or doesn't sound right on my lips," Tooru says haughtily, "I know more about being an omega than you'll ever know."

"I know enough about you. As for my knowledge of omegas." Hajime winks. "I am well versed."

Tooru scoffs, his lips quirking, "What could you possibly know of me?"

Hajime rubs his chin, pretending to be in deep thought. "This marriage isn't of your choosing," he says.

Gasping theatrically, Tooru's eyes broaden in feigned shock. "How did you figure that out?"

"I have my ways," Hajime says with a mystical flair.

Tooru snorts. Then, Tooru rolls over to his back, his hands coming up to muffle his laughs. He doesn't think he's laughed like this ever since his father announced his marriage to the southern prince nearly a month ago. The laughter continues until reality gradually returns. Staring at the high, vaulted ceiling Tooru remembers what his mother told him about his duties to his kingdom. Hajime is nothing like Tooru expected but this could be a farce.

"How will you convince them that we consummated our marriage?" he asks, his tone diplomatic.

Hajime, who has been staring at Tooru this entire time, says, "They'll take my word for it but it'll be easier if you carried my scent..."

No one as ever scent marked Tooru. At least not intimately. He is going to allow Hajime to do so only because it is necessary. This has nothing to do with his curiosity to find out how the alpha smells because for some reason he hasn't been able to pick up on his scent all night and he's dying to know.

"How will you do it?" Tooru asks, his high cheekbones flushing at his inexperience.

"I'll just rub up against you. Will that be alright?"


Hajime curls his arms around Tooru's torso, bringing the omega closer to his side, securing him in his natural warmth. Pressing his cheek against Tooru's cheek, the alpha begins rubbing against the soft skin, rousing both their scents. However, Tooru's sweet scent is overpowered by the scent of cinnamon and something earthy. He assumed that Hajime's scent would be potent considering his caliber yet he wasn't expecting this. Tooru can feel his mental control slipping, the tenseness in his muscles loosening, and an unknown sensation coiling in his belly. His skin feels hot. 

"That should do it," Hajime says, his voice thick.

Tooru's chest heaves, his breathing shaky, as his senses slowly return to him. Through unfocused eyes, he stares up dazedly at Hajime, his eyes asking a question that his mouth is currently unable to ask.

"I'm next in line to the throne," Hajime explains, "that makes me a natural pack leader."

Tooru should know that considering he's the son of the king. Still, experiencing the power of a pack leader like this is different. It's honestly terrifying because despite Hajime being understanding tonight, there is no guarantee how long the alpha's patience will last. And, with a scent like that, Tooru won't be able to put up much of a fight. 

"Get your rest. We'll be leaving at dawn."

The alpha is still cradling Tooru in his arms with no intention of relinquishing his hold unless Tooru asks him to. It's not terribly uncomfortable so Tooru doesn't make a fuss over it. He ignores the tiny voice in the back of his mind that tells him that he isn't making a fuss about it because he likes being held like this, he likes feeling treasured. It's a lie. Tooru is just exhausted from a long day, that's all.

Secretly, Tooru wishes that Hajime will always be like this. He wouldn't mind being married to the alpha if that was the case. 

Chapter Text

It's the morning after Tooru's wedding and he's kneeling on the cold floor, vomiting inside a vase that has been in the royal family for generations. His father more than likely had the vase added to the honeymoon suite to further show off the wealth of their kingdom; as if the entire ceremony wasn't enough. Had his father not handed over his title and sold him off, Tooru might have felt remorseful for ruining the heirloom.

For all of Tooru's intelligence and common sense, he failed to foresee his current predicament. Hours prior to their scheduled departure, he tore out of his sleep like a man possessed, throwing Hajime's heavy arm from his waist and crawling out of the futon in search of anything to empty the contents of his stomach into. Which wasn't much considering he didn't touch any of his food at the reception last night. The washroom seemed too great a distance so Tooru grabbed the first porcelain vase in sight and shoved his face into it, only realizing too late that it was the same vase that once sat in his father's library.

Tooru still has his face lowered into the opening of the vase but it's more so out of shame rather than a need to ensure that everything is out. He's too embarrassed to face Hajime, who was kind enough to hold his hair back while he disgraced himself. Something this humiliating should be suffered through alone. Tooru wouldn't even want his handmaidens to see him like this, let alone a perfect stranger.

"Too much berry wine?" Hajime asks gently, his hand rubbing soothing circles on the omega's back.

This man isn't a stranger, though. He is Tooru's husband and while this may be their first embarrassing situation, Tooru knows it will not be the last. However, that doesn't change the fact that he wants to be left alone right now.

Lifting his head, Tooru immediately regrets it, his eyes snapping shut to ease the influx of pain. But it's futile. He presses the heels of his hands against his temple, hoping that the added pressure will cease the throbbing at least. Hajime is talking to him but Tooru can't be bothered to make out what the alpha is saying. There's a brief pause of silence, and then he can feel himself being lifted off the floor.

"What—Put me down!" he yells, affronted by the alpha's actions, his arms flailing about theatrically.

Hajime blows out an amused huff of air. "I'll have someone fetch you a remedy." Reaching the futon, he carefully kneels down and deposits Tooru delicately on the mattress. "Best to take care of it now," he says, brushing the omega's hair away from his face, smiling when Tooru moves away from the touch. "You don't want to be sick on our journey."

Tooru has to agree with Hajime on that. Nonverbally, of course. He hasn't quite reached the point where he's willing to openly agree nor disagree with his husband about anything. They're still in the getting-to-know-you-stage but it would appear that Hajime intends to bypass that step altogether.

How can Hajime already be so comfortable with holding Tooru's hair during such a private moment? Their marriage is only a day old. As of now, their marriage is unconsummated so it's hardly a marriage, to begin with. Aside from their sham union, they don't know anything about one another, and neither of them appears to be physically attracted to the other.

Tooru's eyes contradict the latter statement, his heavy-lidded gaze following Hajime's retreating form, tracing the ridges and curves of the alpha's wide back.

He retracts his statement.

Tooru will admit that he finds Hajime's outward appearance, pleasant, to say the least. Although, that doesn't mean that he's ready to get on all fours and let the alpha mount, claim, and fill him with a litter of pups. It's just to say that if it were to ever come to that, Tooru would much rather take Hajime's knot while lying on his back.

That is beside the point. The point is, Tooru doesn't understand Iwaizumi Hajime. He can't comprehend why Hajime does not take full advantage of his status as, not only Tooru's lawful husband but as an alpha, and take what is rightfully his. Why is Hajime going out of his way to pretend as though their marriage is consummated, and why is Hajime taking care of Tooru when he could have easily rolled over and gone back to sleep?

All of this overthinking is making Tooru's headache worsen. Considering his current state, he isn't in a place where he should be turning down help, regardless of if that help is possibly just a ploy to get him to lower his guard. So far, Hajime hasn't given Tooru a reason to believe that his actions are anything but genuine. Is it that difficult for him to believe that this is simply the alpha's true nature? Well, yes, it is very difficult for Tooru to believe that, and he has his reasons.

Eventually, Hajime returns with a piping hot cup of turmeric tea, blowing on it several times before bringing it up to Tooru's lips, his other hand secured behind the omega's head to prop him up. Tooru is reluctant at first but the calming quality of Hajime's eyes compel him to open his mouth, it's as if he's in a trance. The tea burns its way sweetly down his throat, settling hot on his unsettled stomach, causing him to gag slightly.

Hajime lowers the cup, giving Tooru enough time to swallow, and when the omega appears to be fine, he raises the cup to his lips again. There's only a small amount of tea left but Tooru isn't sure he'll be able to stomach another sip of it.

Stubbornly, Tooru pinches his mouth shut.

"You have to drink all of it," Hajime says, voice low yet stern.

Tooru shakes his head, an action that would have sent his handmaidens scampering off until he required their assistance again. The action does nothing to deter Hajime, not in the slightest.

"Stop being an insufferable brat and drink!"

Appalled by the nerve of Hajime to speak to him in such a manner, Tooru momentarily forgets his new role as the obedient wife and reverts back to the arrogant prince. "How dare you—" He's caught off guard by the feel of warm porcelain being pressed between his lips, clicking his teeth. To avoid choking and further humiliating himself, he swallows the tea.

Hajime's smile is apologetic. "I knew it was the only way to get you to open your mouth," he explains, watching to make sure all of the tea is consumed.

Tooru hates that he was outsmarted that easily, by a southerner no less.

"Go back to sleep," Hajime says, setting the empty cup aside, "I'll wake you in an hour."

The moment Tooru's head touches the pillow, his eyes grow heavy. He doesn't protest when Hajime brings the sheets up to his chin, tucking him in. He thinks he imagines the way the alpha's fingers linger on his face.

Later, he will reproach Hajime's earlier deception, remind the alpha that despite his lack of authority in their union, Tooru isn't the one for mind games. He drifts off thinking about that, his internal vexation incongruous to the contented expression on his face and the gentle purring he does while he sleeps.

None of Tooru's family members come to see him off. Only the royal courier, two servants, and one of the palace's guards are present at the gates early that morning. Hajime is walking down the line of carriages with his men, ensuring that the horses' reins are secured, the provisions are well stocked, and the cabin that contains Tooru's valuables are locked in case they encounter bandits on their journey.

Disregarding the courier's well-practiced speech of how Tooru's poor mother is so distraught that she can't bear to see him leave and his father is preoccupied with his kingly duties but sends his regards, he listens to the sound of Hajime's hearty laughter in the distance. His husband is far too casual with his subordinates. Tooru isn't fluent in the southern language but he can surmise the lack of honorifics used when the soldiers address their prince.

The tone the men are using now suggests that they're discussing a scandalous topic, more than likely the prince's wedding night. Tooru's face heats up, his head whipping in the direction of the group of men. If they're discussing the prince's wedding night then by default, they're discussing Tooru.

" assist you in better understanding the Southern Kingdom's unique culture, my prized slave will be accompanying you," the courier says, pulling Tooru's attention away from the boisterous laughter to see a young omega stepping forward, his head lowered. "Yahaba is knowledgeable of all the five kingdoms' customs and laws. He is also fluent in three languages."

Tooru gives the omega a once over, starting from the short, brown tufts of hair on his head, lowering his eyes to take in the standard, grey yukata that all servants of the royal palace wear. The only thing that sets Yahaba apart from a typical servant girl is an orange obi that does nothing but let the nobles know who to report to if Yahaba ever gets out of line. His critical observation ends with a brief look at the shackles on the omega's ankles.

"He'll do," Tooru says, waving a dismissive hand at the courier, he grows tired of the man's face. "Come, Yahaba, I will show you to your carriage."

"Forgive me, Tooru-sama," the courier interjects, his voice far from apologetic, "but wouldn't it be wise to have Yahaba sit with the coachman throughout the journey? To give a slave his own carriage is preposterous."

Tooru purses his lips, his look contemplative. "Was it not you who just praised this same slave for his intelligence? His vast knowledge of the five kingdoms means he's valuable, as well. Doesn't that at least grant him a ride in the carriage?"

The courier bows his head, a show of agreement with Tooru's statement. "Even still, Tooru-sama, the ultimate decision is not yours to make." He smiles smugly in the direction of Hajime. "It belongs solely to your husband."

Tooru loathes betas. At least the ones he's encountered which have always been those who hold a high position in the court. A month ago, he could have had this man publicly stripped and beaten for his insolence; though he's never dished out that form of punishment even when it was within his power to do so.

"We're all set," Hajime says as he walks up. "Have you said your goodbyes?"

Tooru gestures to Yahaba. The omega has yet to lift his head or make a peep. "The palace's courier was kind enough to lend me his slave. Yahaba will help me to understand your culture." He bites his lip, tilting his head to the side slightly, inwardly cringing at how far he has to lower himself. "Would it be okay if Yahaba rode in the second carriage? It's where my books are but it's still enough room."

Hajime frowns, and Tooru fears the alpha will repeat the courier's statement but he's wrong. "The second carriage won't do. He can take the third carriage, there's more room to breathe." Looking over his shoulder, he gestures for one of his men to come forward. "Watari-san will take him."

Watari, a short beta with a kind face, offers to take Yahaba's small bag from him. Once he has the bag, he slings it over his shoulder and begins walking in the direction of the third carriage. When Yahaba moves to follow, the shackles on his ankles clink loudly, drawing the beta's attention. A few words are exchanged between Hajime and Watari in the southern language.

"Do you have a key?" Hajime asks the courier, effortless switching back to the western language.

"A key?" the courier repeats dumbly.

Hajime looks to Tooru. "Isn't that what you call the item that is used to unlock things?" he asks, tone heavy with sarcasm.

"From my understanding, yes," Tooru answers, biting his lip to suppress a smile.

The courier's plump face is growing redder by the second, he looks close to exploding. He shouts at the servant flanking his left side to unlock Yahaba's shackles. As the servant does so, Yahaba looks on, his eyes brimming with joyous tears. For Tooru, this was just about him wanting to have his way but seeing Yahaba's reaction makes him wonder why he never used his title in the past for something this meaningful.

Tooru is still thinking about Yahaba's expression long after the Western palace is out of sight and the sun has lowered in the sky, the first day of their journey approaching its end. Across from him, Hajime is reading over a map that marks the expected course of their journey from west to south. The alpha's thoroughness is another redeeming quality; Tooru has been keeping a tally.

They've been riding in silence for hours, and while Tooru is grateful for that silence, he's in need of a break from his thoughts.

"How long until we reach the Southern Kingdom?" he asks.

"About two weeks. Could be a few days more."

It slipped Tooru's mind to ask Yahaba about his heats. That kind of information is important to know while traveling.

"Will we pass any habitable caves or inns on our way?"

"Do you require either of those things for your heat?"

Tooru shifts in his seat, quickly glancing down at his lap, back at Hajime, and then back at his lap again. "My heat? No." He shakes his head. "We are not—I'm sure you would like to know about that." His neck takes on a crimson tinge, soon his face will follow suit. "Don't you know that it's impolite to ask an omega about their heat?"

Of course, Hajime notices the omega's blush but he refrains from teasing him about it. "My apologies. I assumed you were asking because you needed me to make accommodations for you. Is that not why you asked?"

"I was asking for Yahaba's sake, not mine." Tooru pauses, and then adds, "If you must know, my heat will not be of any inconvenience to either of us during our travels."

"I don't see it as an inconvenience at all," Hajime says, tone suggestive.

Feeling scandalized, Tooru gasps loudly, bringing a hand up to cover his parted lips.

Hajime laughs at the omega's over the top reaction.

"I knew that was just an act last night!" Tooru folds his arms over his chest, his chin tilted upward. "You almost had me fooled, too. I thought you were a gentleman but you're nothing more than a lecher!"

"I'm a lecher for being attracted to my own wife? How so?"

Tooru opens his mouth, and then he snaps it shut, his eyes widening at the realization of what Hajime said. Entire face heating up, Tooru turns his head toward the small window directly to his left. He intends to stay like that for the remainder of the day to avoid further humiliation as he's sure that Hajime is only saying these things to tease him.

"Tooru." The sudden usage of his given name startles Tooru, his head turning to face the alpha once again. "What I said didn't just apply to last night," Hajime explains carefully, his eyes never leaving Tooru's face. "Our marriage will remain unconsummated until you're ready to change that. I will not spend your heats with you until you want me to."

"What if I never want to consummate our marriage?" Tooru asks, "What if I never want to spend my heats with you?"

A flash of hurt crosses Hajime's face. The look is gone by the time Tooru blinks as if he's imagined it. "Then, we will never consummate our marriage and I will never take care of you during your heats," Hajime promises.

"You make it sound so easy."

"What's difficult about it?"

Tooru sighs, "They'll expect me to be full of pups within the month." He bites his bottom lip, his muscles tensing. "How else will we accomplish that without...being intimate?"

Hajime chuckles, the hearty sound puts an abrupt end to Tooru's distress. "You're quite the worrywart. I would never have taken you for the type."

"This is the second time that you've insulted me. To my face, at least."

"I did not mean it as an insult."

The alpha's smile contradicts that statement. Tooru has a good mind to wipe that smile clean off Hajime's face, forcibly if need be. But he has to admit that he's afraid of potentially angering his husband, though, at the same time, Tooru is curious to see that side of Hajime.

"Was that your first time liberating a slave?" Hajime asks, changing the subject.

"I did not liberate anyone," Tooru clarifies, "It was who you had Yahaba's shackles removed. Why did you do that?"

Hajime doesn't understand the purpose of the question, his confusion showing on his face. "Are you displeased?"

In all honesty, Tooru is indifferent but he keeps that to himself. "I'm curious, that's all. Allowing Yahaba to ride in the carriage would have been enough to impress me if that was your aim."

The implication offends the alpha greatly. "Is that what you think I've been doing?"

Tooru scoffs. "Well, of course." Theirs a tiny voice in the back of his mind telling him that he should just leave it at that. Naturally, he doesn't listen. "Can you really blame me? I've grown up hearing stories about your primitive culture, how you settle every disagreement with bloodshed. You may act and speak like a well-mannered prince but underneath all that you're still a southern savage. I'll be keeping my guard up around you!" 

Hajime laughs; it's a dark and hollow sound, the light never reaching his eyes. He leans over in his seat, broad frame boxing the omega in. "We both know that if I wanted I could easily tear down that guard of yours, crumble it in my hand until its nothing more than ash. I have no reason to put on an act, there's no need to impress you. In fact, the treaty is contingent on you impressing me and my primitive people!" Sitting back, he taps the carriage's ceiling with his knuckles. "Do keep that in mind, Tooru-sama."

The carriage slows to a stop, the coachman can be heard yelling at the men behind him to halt as well. Wordlessly, Hajime rolls up his map and gathers the few books he intended to share with Tooru. Opening the door, one of his men is already outside to await the prince's orders. Words are exchanged in the southern language, and then Hajime leaves the carriage without another glance in Tooru's direction.

Moments later, a timid Yahaba steps in, bowing his head as he scoots into the seat across from Tooru. "Hajime-sama asked me to keep you company for the time being," he says quietly, "I hope that's alright with you."

Still reeling from Hajime's jarring words, Tooru doesn't respond nor does he acknowledge Yahaba's presence. He just stares off into space, eyes unfocused, the lingering scent of cinnamon in his nostrils.

"Tooru-sama, we're here."

"Where's here?" Tooru drowsily asks, clenching his eyes against the rays of light. "And get that candle out of my face." He blindly swats his hand at the air.

Yahaba leans back to avoid being hit. "That's the sunlight, your grace. It's morning and we've just entered the Southern Kingdom's territory."

That seems to get Tooru's attention. He lifts his head, grimacing at the dull pain in his neck from the poor sleep posture. Being cooped up in a carriage for days on end has his entire body sore and his head stuffy. As one can imagine, Tooru's mood hasn't been the best, but he doubts anyone knows the true reason behind that. He has trouble admitting it to himself.

"How long until we reach the palace?" he asks, smoothing out his yukata and patting his hair to make sure it's still somewhat decent.

"We should arrive tomorrow night."

Turning to the source of the sunlight, Tooru draws the silk curtain further back to better see their surroundings. There doesn't appear to be anything deserving of another glance but the same can be said about the other places they've passed through during their journey. If Tooru never sees a tree again in his life, he thinks that will be perfectly fine. Unimpressed, he yanks the curtain back, shutting out all light.

"Wake me when we reach the palace," Tooru says, turning over to go back to sleep.

"There's a hot spring nearby," Yahaba blurts out, his voice lowering when Tooru's head jerks in his direction. "I wanted to know if you would come with me since we're the only omegas here."

A hot soak does sound tempting. Heaven knows Tooru needs it. He hasn't bathed since they were in the Central Kingdom and that was days ago. The further south they traveled, the hotter it became, turning the carriage into a furnace on wheels. Besides, Yahaba is right. They are the only omegas present and it's best if they stick close to one another.

Tooru's thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the embarrassing sound of his stomach growling.

"I figured you'd be hungry," Yahaba says, holding up a green furoshiki filled with food.

Gratefully, Tooru accepts the food, smiling politely as he does so. "I don't know how I would have survived these days without you." His husband hasn't checked on him at all during their travels, not that Tooru expects that out of the alpha. "When I am done we'll go to the spring."

Yahaba smiles. "I'll give you your privacy while you eat," he says, opening the door to the carriage to take his leave.

Tooru unwraps the furoshiki and begins eating. All of his meals have been about the same: Rice balls, nuts, berries, and the occasional smoked meat. They don't stop as much, and when they do stop it's not for long, so smoked meat has been a rarity. But he's grateful for what he can get. Grateful for what Yahaba brings him, that is.

Two weeks have passed since they left the Western Kingdom. Hajime hasn't spoken a word to Tooru since he reminded the omega of how little his opinion mattered. In so many words, Hajime made it clear that he didn't have to go out of his way to impress Tooru or be a good husband. The only thing that matters is that Tooru is a good wife—a good omega.

So far, he's doing a piss poor job at both.

For the sake of the Western Kingdom, Tooru will try to make amends with Hajime even though he's never been the one to apologize to anyone for anything because it's rarely a time when Tooru is wrong, to begin with. Quite frankly, Tooru doesn't think that he's in the wrong now. It is a known fact that the people of the Southern Kingdom are nothing like the people in the other kingdoms. Their ways are barbaric, at least that is what Tooru's parents told him. Even still, Tooru will apologize for offending Hajime. It'll kill him to do so but these are the sacrifices that must be made in order to maintain peace between their kingdoms.

Stepping out of the carriage, Tooru is greeted by the sound of splashing and laughter in the distance. Turning his head in the direction of the noise, he sees Hajime, Watari, and the other men standing ankle deep in a stream, splashing water at one another, their tan skin glimmering under the sun's rays.

"I hope your meal was pleasant, Tooru-sama," Yahaba says, carrying a heap of folded fabric in his arms.

Tooru tears his gaze away from his husband's naked chest. "It was. Thank you, Yahaba." He glances around the small clearing. "How far is the spring from here?"

"Not that far."

The hot spring is situated inside a cave, granting the omegas much needed privacy. While Tooru undresses, Yahaba steps forward first, dipping his toe into the crystal blue waters to gauge the temperature. He assures Tooru that the water is perfect, that it's not unbearably hot but warm enough to be relaxing which is indeed perfect. Still, Tooru is wary as he approaches the spring because he's never seen water this blue before. Above them, enough sunlight filters through the small openings in the jagged rock to help them see better. He finds it reassuring that he'll at least know if something is lurking in the waters.

"It's splendid, isn't it, Tooru-sama?" Yahaba remarks, fully nude and far from modest, "Watari-san told me that this spring once possessed magical powers granting anyone one who bathed in it eternal youth."

Tooru snorts, "Is that what he told you?" he asks, hoping his tone will put a permanent end to any more talk of southern fairytales.

Either Yahaba is oblivious or he doesn't care about Tooru's lack of interest. The omega continues sharing the fairytales Watari told him and the ones he's read about during his cultural study of the Southern Kingdom. According to Yahaba, a lot of the kingdom's fairytales have influences on their laws and their overall way of life.

Naturally, Tooru thinks that further proves his point that the southerners are barbarians but then he reminds himself that in the Western Kingdom a man can be put to death for killing an owl because, in a western fairytale, it was an owl god who taught their ancestors how to read and write. Every year they hold a festival in the god's honor. But at least they celebrate the gift of knowledge rather than something foolish like immortality.

Drowning out Yahaba's chatter, Tooru sinks his body into the warm water, his eyes closing as he relaxes his sore muscles. He didn't realize how much he needed this until now. Magical or not, the spring feels heavenly.

"But my favorite story about this spring," Yahaba says, dipping his head back in the water so that only his flushed face is visible, "is the story of the first king bringing his bride here on their wedding night. The first king loved her so much that he asked the spring not to prolong their lives but to grant them a long and happy marriage, and the spring granted his wish. To this day, every crown prince brings their new bride here. Isn't that romantic?"

Tooru's eyes snap open. "Is this why we stopped here?" he asks, panicking slightly.

Yahaba lifts his head from the water, his expression sheepish. "I believe Hajime-sama planned on stopping here long before the wedding ceremony. But don't worry, I don't think he's going to disturb you."

"I hope he doesn't," Tooru says though he doesn't really feel that way. The hot spring's location is an ideal spot for lovers but they aren't lovers. "That man didn't even have the decency to check on me at all during our journey. I doubt he has a romantic bone in his body. There's no way he brought me here to follow through with such a tradition."

"Actually, Tooru-sama, the food that I gave you this morning was from Hajime-sama."


"I apologize for not telling you sooner but Hajime-sama told me not to tell you because if you knew, you probably wouldn't eat. He's been giving me food and water to give to you this whole time."

"Why would he care if I ate or not?"

"You're his wife."

"Our marriage is one of convenience, not love."

"Does that really matter?" Yahaba lowers his head at the sharp glance Tooru shoots in his direction but he doesn't stop talking. "Does one have to love a person to show them kindness?"

No, love is not needed for people to be kind to one another. Of course, Tooru knows that. He just assumed that Hajime hated him after the things he said. Apparently, he was wrong. It makes him wonder what else he might have been wrong about.

"Yahaba," Tooru says after a moment's silence, "can you tell me more about the Southern Kingdom?"

For two weeks, Tooru had the opportunity to learn all he could about Hajime's homeland or at least try to understand the basics of the southern language. Instead, he spent his time sulking, sleeping, and reading books he's already read. He's fortunate that Yahaba is as competent as he is. Yahaba gives Tooru a brief yet comprehensible rundown of the Southern Kingdom's customs, starting with everything that Tooru will need to know for the royal reception tomorrow night.

"A representative from each noble clan will present you a gift," Yahaba says, they're walking out of the cave now, dressed in clean yukatas. "Most of the gifts will be related to encouraging fertility so please do not be alarmed. Oh and there's another thing that takes place at the reception but I think it would be best if Hajime-sama explained it. I've read about it in several texts but the interpretations vary."

Tooru feels as if his head is going to spin. There's no way that he'll be able to remember everything that Yahaba has told him. Although, there is still so much he's curious about.

"Do they really settle their disagreements by fighting?" Tooru asks.

Yahaba pinches his brows together in deep thought. "I believe you're referring to Trial by Combat. That was outlawed decades ago by Hajime-sama's great-grandfather, King Kai."

"Decades ago?" Tooru's parents and a good majority of western royals speak as though the unfair trails still occurred. "I had no idea," he admits, face burning with shame.

"I'm sure there are a lot of things that Hajime-sama doesn't know about the west as well."

"He at least knows our language. I never even took the time to learn his."

"It's not too late," Yahaba assures him.

Up ahead they can see the southern men circled around a tree stump in the clearing. Hajime is seated on one side of the stump, a subordinate across from him, both of their elbows resting on the top of the stump, their large hands interlocked. The onlookers, including Tooru and Yahaba, are silent as the men remain like that for several moments. Tooru nearly jumps out of his skin when Hajime suddenly slams the other man's hand on the stump, pinning it down with his own hand. He's further startled by the loud cheers that erupt from the crowd immediately afterward.

"What on earth are they doing?" Tooru whispers to Yahaba.

"It's called arm wrestling, Tooru-sama." He pauses to listen in on what Watari is saying as he pats Hajime on the shoulder. "Apparently, Hajime-sama is always victorious."

Tooru scoffs. "As if that's something to brag about," he says despite the tiny bit of pride he feels at knowing his husband is undefeated in this silly game.

Just then, Hajime turns his head in Tooru's direction and their eyes meet. Tooru expects Hajime to glance away, pretend to not notice him standing there but the alpha doesn't. Hajime nods his head in greeting and Tooru does the same. He thinks that's the end of it but then Hajime is standing to his feet, walking in his direction.

Yahaba adjusts his arms to keep from dropping the sack that contains their soiled clothes. "I'll go tend to these," he says as Hajime approaches, "We can finish our lesson later, Tooru-sama." He takes his leave.

Nervously, Tooru combs his fingers through the damp ends of his hair, his eyes looking everywhere but at the approaching figure. Damn Yahaba for ditching him like this. The next time he sees the man he will have to remind him that they are both from the west so by default they are to stick together.

"Tooru-sama," Hajime greets, tone neutral.

"Hajime-sama," Tooru matches the alpha's tone.

"Care to walk with me?"

Tooru nods his head.

They walk away from the clearing, away from the rowdy chatter of the men, pass the horses that are resting on the cool pasture, toward the stream. Hajime walks a few paces ahead of Tooru, only glancing back every so often to make sure the omega is still keeping up. Which is unnecessary considering, Hajime is able to sense Tooru's presence. Tooru wonders if Hajime is simply looking back because he wishes Tooru was by his side instead but he doesn't want to make that known. It's then that Tooru realizes that they're both prideful, stubborn people.

Pinching the sides of his yukata, Tooru pulls it up slightly, like he used to do when he was a kid and his mother wasn't looking. The lack of restriction on his knees makes it easier for him to stretch his long legs and match Hajime's stride. Tooru keeps his eyes ahead, pretending not to notice the pleased smile on Hajime's face. While he was enjoying the view of Hajime's back, walking beside the alpha like this isn't so bad. They don't stop at the stream like Tooru expects them to. Instead, they continue down the stream, staying on the water's bank.

"Where are we going?" Tooru asks, noticing how the bank is beginning to narrow, and how misty the atmosphere has gotten.

Hajime smiles. "The edge of the world," he says.

Tooru eyes the alpha skeptically. "This isn't another southern fairytale is it?"

"I see Yahaba-san told you about the hot spring."

Tooru might have found the faint blush on Hajime's face endearing if he wasn't for the fact he was too busy fearing for his safety. The mist has grown thicker now, making it difficult for him to see where he's going. It really looks as if the stream water is rolling over the edge of the world but Tooru knows that isn't plausible. There is no such thing as the edge of the world, right?

Sensing Tooru's building anxiety, Hajime brushes Tooru's palm with this thumb, silently asking for permission to take his hand. Tooru doesn't even think. He quickly grabs Hajime's hand, twining their fingers together, his grip tight.

Eventually, Hajime halts their steps. "Open your eyes, Tooru," he whispers into the omega's ear.

Tooru doesn't even remember closing his eyes in the first place. Can't believe he showed this amount of fear, to begin with, in front of Hajime, no less. Give Tooru a bow and arrow, he'll always hit his mark. But when it comes to nature, Tooru is no match.

Slowly opening his eyes, Tooru is met with a sight that is as grandeur as it is terrifying. He can see now that the stream water was indeed rolling off the edge of the world but it isn't disappearing like he thought. The water is falling into a larger body of water that sits below, large black boulders protruding out from the bottom. With a closer look, Tooru can see that similar to the stream this water appears to be falling over.

"Where does it all go?" Tooru asks, "What is this?"

"They're waterfalls," Hajime explains. "This is the smallest one. There are two more but we can't see them from here."

Tooru remembers reading about massive waterfalls similar to this but like most of the things he read during in his childhood, he assumed it was all made up. As magnificent as the waterfall is, Tooru can't stare at it for too long without overthinking. He keeps thinking about what would happen if he fell in. Would he be lost forever? Or would he wash up on the other side of the kingdom?

"It's beautiful," Tooru says, turning his head away from the waterfall to look at Hajime, "Thank you for bringing me here. I've never seen anything like this in the west." He's never really seen anything outside the palace's walls. With him being an omega, his father never let him out as much. "Yahaba has told me a lot about your people. I was wrong about the things I said. Please understand that I only know what I was taught."

Hajime sighs, "Tooru, they're not just my people. You're my wife now so they're your people as well."

"I just need time to adjust. A month ago, I thought I was going to be king." Tooru drops his gaze, blinking away tears.

"You detest the idea of being a queen because of how your mother is treated but that is how things are done in the west, Tooru. In the south, queens are just as important as the king."

"I know that it's considered a great honor to birth the next ruler." Tooru scowls. "Aside from that, what importance could a queen possibly have?"

"There is still so much for you to learn. What have you been doing all of this time? Yahaba-san knows a great deal about the southern culture. Have you not been asking him about what's expected of you?"

Tooru narrows his eyes at the alpha. "That is none of your business." He refuses to tell Hajime that he has been sulking for the past two weeks. "We still have another day before we reach the palace. That gives me enough time to learn all I can."

Hajime shifts uncomfortably, his face heating slightly. "I thought that...maybe it would be best if we rode together. They will expect us to be in the same carriage. We have to keep up the pretense that we're a happily married couple."

"Did we stop here because you wanted to take me to the hot spring?"

Sheepishly, the alpha scratches the side of his face. "That was the plan, yes. It's tradition, you see. But we don't have to—"

"If it is the tradition of your...our people then I will allow it." Sooner, rather than later, he is going to have to accept his new reality. Tooru figures this is a good place to start. "That is if you still want to take me."

"I do," Hajime says, far too quickly than he would have liked. Clearing his throat, he adds, "I will take you tonight."


Five Kingdoms

Chapter Text

"Are you afraid?" Hajime asks even though he already knows the answer. He could smell the mild distress when Tooru walked into the cave. "I'll cover my eyes if you'd like."

Tooru stands at the edge of the hot spring, his hands clutching the front of his yukata with an iron-like grip. He tries his best to mask his nervousness, but he fails miserably. When he agreed to visit the hot spring with Hajime for the Southern kingdom's post-wedding tradition, he completely forgot about the lack of clothing that's required.

"I'm not afraid," Tooru says, his chin tilted upward to further prove that statement.

Hajime sees right through the false bravado. There's a playful glint in the alpha's eyes. He opens his mouth as if he intends to tease the omega, but his words die on his tongue the moment Tooru begins undressing.

While he disrobes, Tooru avoids Hajime's heavy gaze. Instead, he focuses his attention on their surroundings. The sun has set hours ago. Moonlight seeps through the cracks above but it isn't enough to fully illuminate the cave. Tooru can only see Hajime, and vice versa because of the spring. Somehow, the spring's water still shines bright and blue. Earlier, Tooru assumed it was the sun's rays that gave the illusion of sparkling blue waters but now he can see that he assumed wrong.

Once his yukata is removed and he's standing there, fully nude and shivering, Tooru begins folding the fabric neatly. Hajime is still watching him, his expression unreadable. With the fabric now folded, Tooru can no longer stall. He places the yukata on the nearby boulder next to Hajime's clothes. Immediately after the yukata is set aside, he covers his groin with both hands.

Tooru can only imagine how silly he looks standing there with his shoulders hunched awkwardly, covering himself like a child. In his defense, he has never been nude around anyone aside from his mother and his handmaidens.

Suddenly, Hajime's hands emerge from the water. "I won't look until you say it's okay," he says, covering his face.

Tooru narrows his eyes. "You say that after you've already seen more than enough."

"I only saw above the waist." Hajime's words are muffled by his hands. "You have my word."

Tooru has to stop himself from making a comment about how the word of a Southerner means nothing to him. So far, Hajime has proven that he is a trustworthy man. Until Hajime proves him otherwise, Tooru is going to trust him— to a certain extent.

The water feels just as amazing as it'd felt earlier that day. Tooru hopes there will be more springs like this when they reach the Southern palace; preferably a private one. He bends his knees slightly, submerging a majority of his torso into the water so that only his shoulders, neck, and face are visible. Across from him, Hajime is still covering his face, his breathing noticeably heavier.

"You can look now."

Hajime drops his hands into the water and then he opens his eyes, his gaze meeting Tooru's. Instinctively, Tooru diverts his eyes. He stares into the water and immediately regrets it. Gasping softly, he turns his head away.

"What's wrong?" Hajime asks, startled by the omega's actions.

"Make it go down!" Tooru yells.

Frowning, Hajime glances into the water. When he realizes what all the fuss is about, he smiles. "I can't make it go down any further than that," he says, amusement clear in his voice. "You see, I'm not erect."

Tooru faces Hajime, making a conscious effort not to look into the water again. "You're not?" he asks skeptically.


Tooru audibly gulps. If Hajime is being truthful then that means, even while flaccid, Hajime's cock is impressive, to say the least. There is no way that Tooru is allowing that thing anywhere near him. He does have a sense of self-preservation, after all. Something that large will surely cause internal damage. For all that Tooru knows, Hajime's cock is the standard size. It's not like he has anything to compare it to. Even still, he wants nothing to do with it.

As if he can read the omega's mind, Hajime chuckles. "I'll do my best not to touch you with it." He's obviously enjoying himself. "We're just here for a bath, that's all."

"How thoroughly do you have to bathe me?" Tooru asks, realizing all too late that this a question he should have asked prior to undressing.

"Is the idea of me touching you that repulsive?"

Quite frankly, the idea of Hajime touching him isn't repulsive in the slightest. All of it is just new to Tooru. He isn't sure how he's supposed to react to any of this. His father was never an affectionate man. The few times his mother doted on him as a pup were brief, barely worth a mention. The idea of intimacy, on any level, frightens him because he doesn't know how to handle it.

Tooru isn't sure why he decides to share this with Hajime. But he does.

Hajime smiles in understanding. "I thought it was because you hated me," he admits quietly.

"I don't hate you." For some reason, admitting this makes him feel bashful. His face, which hasn't quite recovered from seeing Hajime's groin, takes on a darker shade of red. "You're not as unbearable as I thought you'd be. In fact, I enjoy your company for the most part."

"You actually said something nice to me." Hajime leans closer, eyes wide and searching. "Or is it the heat from the spring getting to your head?"

"Keep that up and I'll take it back," he says.

Hajime laughs heartily. It's a pleasant sound. At this proximity, Tooru can practically feel the vibrations in the water from the alpha's laughter. The ripples reaching out to caress his skin. Tooru can feel his muscles relaxing. There is something about Hajime that makes him want to put his guard down. He wants to trust this man, fully, without reservation. However, Tooru's mental guard will remain intact.

This, he thinks, is the only way he'll survive from now on.

"I was under the impression that you were given lessons prior to our wedding night," Hajime says once his laughter ceases. "Is that not a custom in the west?"

Tooru knows the kind of lessons that Hajime is referring to. His mother once told him of the lessons she was given before marrying his father. Thankfully, he has never had to endure such a thing. Prior to their wedding night, a pleasure expert teaches omegas how to keep their alphas happy. They also get them used to the feeling of being touched by someone other than themselves. The training is extensive and intrusive, especially for omegas, like Tooru, who have yet to experience their first heat.

While Tooru understands the basics of mating, he has no idea what it'll feel like. And that is what scares him. The unknown.

Although now, Tooru wishes that his parents would have cared more about preparing him for all of this. Well, his mother did try but he didn't listen to her the weeks leading up to his wedding. He was too busy sulking to pay her any mind.

"It is a custom in the west, but my father omitted me from those lessons."

Hajime's eyebrows furrow in confusion. "He should want you to be prepared or at least knowledgeable of what to expect." Ignorance makes it all the easier for a person to be taken advantage of. 

"Are we going to discuss this all night or are you going to bathe me?" Tooru doesn't want to be reminded that his father, once again, failed him. "I'm anxious to see if this spring actually has magical capabilities or if it's just another meaningless fairytale."

"The results aren't immediate. We'd have to be happily married for decades before we can determine that."

"Of course, there's always a catch."

Hajime brings his hands out of the water. "My parents are still very much in love and I am often told that my grandparents were happy together." Carefully he touches the white ribbon that is tied around Tooru's hair and lightly tugs. "They had their disagreements but that is expected of any union."

Tooru's hair falls over his shoulders, the ends dipping into the water. "Do you truly think that we can have a happy union?" he asks, more so out of curiosity than actual hope.

"We can if you allow it." Hajime caresses Tooru's hair with his hand, his touch feather light.

Tooru barely notices the alpha's touch. He finds himself hypnotized by the way the blue light from the spring bathes Hajime's tan skin and how that same light dances in the alpha's green eyes. When his father told him that his husband would be the Southern Prince, he expected someone hideous and ill-mannered. Not someone this exquisite. For once, Tooru is happy that he was wrong.

"You make everything sound simple," Tooru says quietly, "You're good at selling dreams."

"I will be king one day. Isn't that one of the requirements?"

Tooru cracks a smile. "I may not have any experience with carnal pleasure, but I am well versed in politics." He shivers when Hajime's heavy hand settles on his shoulder. "You're well on your way to being a charismatic king."

Hajime keeps his hand there, allowing Tooru to get used to it. "When I was a pup, my mother persuaded my father to focus more on teaching me about foreign affairs and customs rather than sword fighting." His other hand continues caressing Tooru's hair as he speaks. "At the time, I wasn't sure how she was able to achieve such a thing. My father is a great warrior. He wanted me to be one, too. Yet, he agreed to replace my sword training with academics. That was the first time I realized that omegas are more powerful than the world gives them credit for."

"How did your mother persuade him?"

"How do you think?"

It takes Tooru longer than he cares to admit figuring that out. He blushes furiously at the implication. But his thoughts are put on hold when the hand that was previously on his shoulder moves to his upper back. Hajime is closer now. Their chests are touching, and Tooru is certain that he can feel something else brushing against his stomach. Realizing what it is, his eyes widen.

Hajime apologizes. "I said that I would do my best not to let it touch you," he reminds the omega. "No promises were made therefore no promises have been broken."

Tooru's heart is pounding erratically, his chest heaving slightly.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"It's fine," he somehow manages to get out.

Hajime brushes Tooru's hair over his shoulders so that the long tresses fall down the omega's back. "My mother has the eyes of a hawk. She'll know before anyone if we've consummated our marriage or not." His large hands travel down Tooru's back slowly, stopping just above the top of the omega's backside. "This bath should help you loosen up a bit."

"How do I know this isn't just an excuse for you to touch me?" Tooru whispers, his voice strained.

"What if it is?" Hajime smirks. "Would that upset you?"

"No. Touching is fine, I suppose." 

Tooru only says this because he is enjoying this more than he thought he would. Having Hajime close like this feels nice. It feels safe. With his permission, Hajime's touches become more purposeful. The alpha begins caressing him in other places but he's sure to stay above water. As innocent as the touches are, Tooru can't stop his body from reacting. He never realized he was touch starved until now.

However, Hajime doesn't allow things to go too far. Turning his attention away from Tooru's body, he dips both of his hands into the water, scooping it into adjoined palms. 

"Close your eyes," Hajime whispers. 

Tooru closes his eyes. While Hajime pours the water on his head, he can hear the alpha whispering an incantation in the southern language. Although Hajime is fluent in the western language, it's obvious that he's more confident when speaking in his native tongue. The sound of Hajime's voice, whispered softly like this has an odd effect on Tooru's body. He can't explain the feeling. He only knows that he likes it. It's then that Tooru realizes that he wants to touch Hajime.

"Do I have to bathe you, too?" Tooru asks once he's instructed to open his eyes.

"That isn't required."

"Seems unfair that you get to have your way with me like this..."

Hajime catches on quickly. Smiling, he leans back, giving the omega a full view of his upper body. "You're right. Forgive me," he says.

"I apologize if this offends you," Tooru starts, reaching out to settle his hand on Hajime's chest, "but I've never seen anyone as broad as you. Is this the standard size of alphas in the south?"

"It varies."

Tooru drags his hand down Hajime's left pectoral muscle, grazing over a taut nipple. Curiously, he lifts his hand and stares at the dark nub. He traces his finger around it slowly, enjoying the smoothness of the alpha's skin. Unconsciously, he licks his lips, his tongue tingling expectantly. Catching himself, Tooru tears his gaze away from Hajime's nipple and glances up at the alpha.

Hajime's eyes have darkened considerably but aside from that, the alpha is reserved. "Enjoying yourself?" he asks casually.

"This isn't about enjoyment," Tooru says dismissively, "I'm simply curious."


"Well, everything." He gestures between them. "All of this," he specifies. 

"You act as if you've never nursed yourself during your heat."

Tooru has never had a heat, though. He only knows what he's overheard in passing conversations or read in one of his father's picture books when he was a child; a book that he should not have read. Even then, the small amount of knowledge that he has about sex isn't nearly enough to be considered helpful.

"I've never had to do that." Tooru quickly thinks of a lie. "My heats are very painful. I have to drink poppy milk to help me sleep."

Hajime nods in understanding. "You more than likely slept through the brunt of it." He pauses, his look contemplative. "So, you've never pleasured yourself?"

"How is it that you're comfortable asking me something so personal?"

"I take that as a no."

"Obviously I've never done that. I already told you of my inexperience."

"You said you were curious," Hajime says, "What are you most curious about?"

Years ago, when Tooru was a pup, he saw a couple kissing under a sakura tree in the palace's courtyard. That memory has stuck with him all this time. He even hoped that one day he could kiss someone as passionately as the young lovers had kissed. But the few suitors he had in the past never sparked that interest in him. At the wedding ceremony, Tooru thought that finally, he would get to know what if felt like to be kissed.

Imagine his disappointment when Hajime didn't deliver.

"Kiss me," Tooru says, "And not like you did at the ceremony." He rolls his eyes at the memory. "I want a real kiss."

Hajime flushes at the insult. "We were in front of your parents. The entire Western kingdom," he says in his defense, "I couldn't kiss you like I wanted."

"Like you wanted?"

"You were just so beautiful in your kimono. I wanted to kiss you the moment I laid eyes on you."

The sincere confession makes Tooru's heart swell. "No one is watching us now..." 

Hajime's hand rests below Tooru's ear, his thumb caressing the omega's cheek as he leans forward and kisses him. The alpha's lips are softer than Tooru remembers. Although, the one time they did kiss is hardly memorable so he's more than likely mistaken. No matter, this is the kiss that Tooru will remember for years to come. He knows this because of the way his skin tingles and burns as if a million fire ants are crawling beneath his skin. The way his world seems to crumble around him. 

It's unnerving yet exciting. Tooru can't place the feeling. He just knows that he wants more of it. Pressing his body closer to Hajime's, he tries to convey this to the alpha. In response, Hajime circles his arm around Tooru's waist, pulling far too close for comfort. Tooru stiffens when he feels something very large, and very hard rubbing against his lower stomach.

Almost immediately, Hajime ends the kiss.


Tooru shakes his head slowly, his breathing labored. "That was my mistake," he says.

Hajime removes his arm from around Tooru's waist. "It'll go down. Eventually."



Tooru rephrases his question entirely. "When it gets like this, what helps it go down?" He notices the odd look the alpha gives him. "It's different for alphas, right? Whenever I get them, they just go away on their own."

"Different things help," Hajime explains vaguely, "I will admit that it may take longer than normal with you being here."

"Should I leave, then?"

"Do you want to leave?"

Tooru wants to continue kissing but he has a feeling that if they keep that up, Hajime will have a harder time restraining himself. The alpha's scent is stronger than normal, and his green eyes are so dark they look black. This entire time, Tooru didn't stop to think about how any of this may affect Hajime. Being a natural born pack leader means that the alpha is more in tune with his primitive side. The side that knows nothing aside from claiming and knotting. It's a wonder Hajime has respected Tooru's boundaries for this long. Even now, Hajime is giving him the opportunity to leave before things go further than he would like.

"Yes, I think it'll be best if I retired for the evening."

Hajime smiles in understanding. "Very well," he says, "I will be with you shortly."

Near the opening of the cave is a large tent that Hajime set up for them. Tooru is glad that he doesn't have to walk all the way back to the main camp in his damp yukata. He changes into dry clothes and then he brushes his hair. A single candle is lit, allowing him to see his reflection in the small mirror Yahaba unpacked for him. Tooru's cheeks are still flush. That's probably because he can't stop thinking about their kiss.

And the kiss isn't the only thing he's thinking about.

Tooru wonders what would have happened had he stayed behind. Just yesterday, the mere thought of Hajime touching him was not a welcome one. Now, he finds himself disappointed that he's here in this tent and not in the cave with Hajime.

The first thing that Hajime teaches Tooru about is the use of honorifics in the Southern kingdom. For the most part, they're the same except for a few differences. Most noticeably is how the slaves are addressed. In the west, slaves are viewed as less than human. They're tools to be used whenever and however their Master deems fit. Therefore, they are not given honorifics. But in the south, regardless of a person's place in society, they are still to be addressed properly.

"Be careful of how you address Yahaba-san once we reach the Southern palace," Hajime says, they're in the chariot seated across from one another, only a few hours from the palace. "There he is considered a free man and you have to treat him as such."

Tooru frowns. "How will he serve me then?"

"Yahaba-san will be paid for his services."

That seems fair, Tooru supposes. Yahaba is intelligent and resourceful; nothing like a typical slave. And, if Hajime wants to pay Yahaba for his work then so be it. As for the use of an honorific, that is something that he will have to work on. He was raised to view slaves a certain way and talk to them a certain way. That isn't going to change overnight.

"You don't always address me properly," Tooru says, recalling the few times Hajime uttered his name, "In the west, only parents are given that privilege."

"In the south, the privilege is given to family. You're my wife. That makes you family by default."

Tooru doesn't argue with that.

"Okay, what else do I need to know for the royal reception?"

Hajime purses his lips in thought. Naturally, Tooru's eyes zero in on the slight movement. Last night's kiss is still fresh on his mind. He thought that it would be an easy way to satisfy his curiosity and that would be the end of it. Instead, Tooru really wants Hajime to kiss him again. They could spend the entire journey to the Southern palace kissing and he wouldn't mind at all.

"If the king and queen offer you food or drink, take it," Hajime's voice interrupts Tooru's fantasies of steamy kisses that lead nowhere, "Even if the taste isn't to your liking you are to say otherwise."

"Do you think I would insult the king and queen?"

Hajime gives Tooru a flat look.

Tooru sighs, "Well, I would never insult them intentionally."

"My father is a forgiving person, but I can't say the same for my mother. Do mind your tongue when you're around her. At least for my sake."

"What's this? An alpha intimidated by an omega? That's unheard of," Tooru gasps theatrically.

Hajime smiles. "Perhaps one day I will tell you the story of how my parents met. For now, let's focus on our lesson."

The learning session with Hajime is far more enjoyable than the short lesson Tooru had with Yahaba yesterday. And it doesn't take a scholar to figure out why that is. After Hajime goes over what Tooru should expect out of the royal reception, he tests the omega on his knowledge.

If Tooru gets all the answers correct, he will be rewarded with a prize of his own choosing. Tooru doesn't need to think about what he'll ask for because he already knows what he wants.

"What will you say after receiving a gift?" Hajime asks.

Tooru's reply is swift, "I will say nothing. A kind smile will do."

"If the king asks you for a dance?"

"The king won't ask me directly. He'll ask you."

Hajime seems pleased. "Okay, this is the last question," he says, voice taking on a serious tone, "What must you never do when we're in the company of others?"

This was the part of the lesson that didn't sit well with Tooru. He will try his best to address Yahaba with an honorific, and he will try not to speak unless he is spoken to. However, Tooru isn't sure if he'll be able to adhere to this final rule.

"Defy you," Tooru answers reluctantly.

"Do you understand why that is?" Hajime doesn't wait for an answer. "I will not pretend that my people are without faults. There are still laws that have been in place for centuries. Doesn't mean that they're morally right. It's just the way things are. This is one of those laws. No matter what, you must never openly defy me. When we are alone, you're free to voice your opinions and I will always listen. But never when we are in public."

"How grave is the punishment for publicly defying you?"

Hajime's expression is grim.

It's enough to answer Tooru's question. There was a time when his mother had defied his father in front of foreign diplomats. His father wanted Kiyoko to dine with the royal family but Tooru's mother told him that it would be a disgrace to have her at their table. Bad enough his father shamelessly flaunted the product of his infidelity around the palace.

Tooru felt proud of his mother for speaking up. Even though Kiyoko still dined with them that night, he was happy that his mother was there to voice what he was too afraid to say. That night, once their guests retired to their quarters, his father reminded his mother that she was to never go against him in the presence of others. After that night, his mother remained indoors for weeks to hide the dark bruises that marred her pale neck.

"On a much lighter note," Hajime says, his voice upbeat, "You answered every question correctly. What would you like for your reward?"

The alpha's change in demeanor helps to lighten Tooru's mood. Peering out of the small window, he feigns disinterest.

"I haven't really thought of it," he says absently.

Hajime nods. "In the meantime, I will teach you the basics of the Southern language—"

"I want a kiss!" Tooru blushes at his outburst. Clearing his throat, he broadens his shoulders, "You said that I could have anything I wanted. I have more than enough material things, so a kiss will do."

"Well, I am a man of my word," Hajime says in a diplomatic tone. He extends his hand. "Come here, Tooru."

The gentle order has Tooru's body moving long before his brain can give the command. Taking Hajime's hand, he allows the alpha to pull him over to the other side of the chariot. He sits beside Hajime. It's a snug fit but Tooru can't be bothered by that what with the way Hajime's hand cradles his head, bringing their lips together in a tender kiss. Tooru isn't sure if he's addicted to the sensation of Hajime's lips against his own or if he's addicted to the strange heat that pools in his lower stomach every time the alpha's tongue enters his mouth. Perhaps it's both.

All too soon Hajime pulls away, and Tooru whines in protest.

Hajime chuckles, "There is still much for you to learn. You know nothing about the Southern tongue. It'll help if you at least understood the basics."

Feeling bold, Tooru cups Hajime's face, startling the alpha into silence. "I think this is all I need to know about the Southern tongue."

He kisses Hajime, consequently ending all talk of lessons in the meantime.

This is nothing more than an exploration, Tooru tells himself. Kissing Hajime means nothing to him. It doesn't change his views on their arrangement nor does it change how he feels about being sold off. The way he sees it, he lost his ability to make his own decisions months ago. Though he is starting to wonder if he'd ever had that privilege, to begin with. Regardless, he might as well take something for himself.

Every time Hajime pulls away, Tooru pushes forward, only granting the alpha a small reprieve when his lungs begin to burn from the lack of air. In between small inhales and exhales, he kisses Hajime, his fingers fisted in the collar of the alpha's robe. Unconsciously, he begins rubbing against Hajime, the friction causing his flesh to heat up and his scent to intensify.

"That's enough," Hajime says, voice soft yet stern. His hands are firm on Tooru's hips as he pushes him away. "This space is far too small. I wouldn't be able to ignore your scent..."

Tooru's mind is in a haze yet he can understand Hajime's unspoken words. "We should continue my lessons then." His voice sounds foreign to his ears. He sounds drunk.

Hajime isn't faring any better. He's staring at Tooru, eyes heavy-lidded and dark. "That would be wise," he says.

"I should return to my side of the carriage."


Tooru glances down. "Your hands, Hajime-sama..."

Hajime mutters his apologies and removes his hands from Tooru's hips. Awkwardly, Tooru moves back to his previous seat, patting his hair to make sure his bun is still intact. Although he's ashamed of his actions, Tooru can't say that he regrets anything. Kissing is fun; it's exciting. The last time he's done anything that made his heartbeat race as much as this was...

Tooru can't recall a time that he's ever felt this way.

After a while, Hajime gathers himself and picks up where they left off without a hitch. He starts with the standard greetings. The alpha's restraint continues to impress Tooru. He's always had a penchant for getting under people's skin, riling them up knowing full well that they couldn't lay a finger on him. The young nobles who'd attempted to court him were always easy targets for his mischief.

Tooru wants to see how far he can push Hajime but he knows that if he were to succeed in riling the alpha up, he would be the only one to suffer. His mind supplies him with the memory of Hajime's flaccid cock in the water. His treacherous mind also tells him that he wouldn't suffer, necessarily, but Tooru dismisses the thought. He shouldn't be thinking about that right now. Or ever, for that matter. 

They'll reach the Southern palace soon and he wants to make sure he learns all he can.

Hajime remembers the day clearly.

He was returning from a hunt with his friends when his mother met him at the palace's gates to share the news of his engagement. The king in the west feared their military forces, as he should, and he wanted to avoid war at all costs. His only son was rumored to be beautiful and fair. But most importantly, he was said to be healthy; perfect for bearing pups.

Up until then, Hajime assumed his father would arrange for him to marry the Eastern princess. They are allies of the Eastern kingdom. Have been for decades. Strengthening their alliance by marriage seemed like the best thing, politically speaking. The Southern kingdom gains nothing from allying with the Western kingdom. His father only agreed to the alliance because he's not the man he used to be. War is the last thing his father wants at his age.

When Hajime's mother told him of his engagement, he felt nothing. To him, it was just one of the many duties that were required of him. He brushed up on the western culture, and the language. He even tried to learn as much as he could about his bride.

Not because it was required of him. Hajime simply wanted to know. He hoped that despite the circumstances of their union, they could grow to love one another. The law permits him multiple wives if he so chooses but Hajime doesn't want a harem. He wants what his father has with his mother.

During the long journey to the west, Hajime fantasized about meeting his new bride and sweeping him off his feet. He is no stranger to romance or intimacy. In his younger years, he may have had a fling or two. Enough for him to know that he's capable of wooing someone.

His father tried to warn him. He told Hajime to stay on his toes while he was in the west. At the time, Hajime thought his father was worried about possible deception from the western king. He even warned his men to remain alert during their short stay.

But it wasn't the king that Hajime had to worry about.

"It doesn't look like much," Tooru says under his breath, holding the curtain back to stare out of the small window. They've just reached the gates of the Southern palace. "I was expecting more…"

No, it wasn't the king that Hajime had to worry about at all.

Hajime inwardly sighs. "This is the outer border," he explains.

Tooru doesn't say anything. He just continues staring out of the window, his eyebrows pinched together.

By now, Hajime knows that Tooru doesn't say these things to purposefully agitate him. The omega is a product of western privilege. People in the west think they're better than the people in other kingdoms which is why no one wants to come to their aid during crises. The western king should feel lucky that Hajime's father even met with him to discuss a marriage arrangement. Though Hajime can't say that he's entirely disappointed by his father's cooperation.

Hajime wasn't lying when he told Tooru that he wanted to kiss him the moment he laid eyes on him. On their wedding night, Hajime found the omega's anxiousness endearing. Before that, he was indifferent toward Tooru. Seeing that side of the omega changed that, though. Things were going well, better than Hajime could have imagined, but then Tooru just had to… well, be Tooru.

Shattered were Hajime's hopes of tender romance.

All is not lost. Hajime thought that it would take months before Tooru warmed up to him. And he was prepared to patently wait until that time came. But they've already come a long way. They've bathed together, and they've kissed. More than once. He still can't believe that Tooru practically initiated their second kiss. Can't believe that something as innocent as kissing has managed to get him this worked up.

The omega's sudden gasp is enough for Hajime to know that they've long passed through the outer border's gates.

Hajime smirks. "Still think it doesn't look like much?" he asks smugly.

"Its…" Tooru can't find the words, for once.

That's startling, Hajime thinks. He pulls the curtain back on his side to get a look at what the omega sees. It is a sight that he has witnessed several times before, yet it never gets old.

Their chariot is approaching the palace's open gates, hundreds of the kingdom's citizens are on either side, eager to get a peek at the foreign bride. Every one of them is holding lanterns. From the distance, the yellow lights look like fireflies dancing in the night. Beyond the gates, the main structure of the palace can be seen, along with the small homes that are nestled in the surrounding mountains.

Hajime glances at Tooru, finding the awestruck expression on the omega's face to be a more pleasurable sight. As they pass through the gates, the loud cheers from the common folk can be heard.  Those who watch the parade from above throw fresh lavender over the balconies. A group of children runs on the side of the chariot, waving at Tooru excitedly.

Shyly, Tooru waves back. Which seems to make the children run faster, but their small legs are no match for the galloping horses.

"They'll never forget that," Hajime tells him.

Tooru closes the curtain. He's visibly overwhelmed. "What do you mean?" he asks, still blankly staring at the covered window.

"For children, all it takes are small acts of kindness to win their favor. When you become queen, they will remember this moment, and they will adore you for it."

"What of the others?" He looks to Hajime, his expression hopeful. "Do you think they will accept me as their queen when that time comes?"

Hajime smiles. "Only if you refrain from referring to them as primitive," he jokes.

Tooru diverts his gaze, his cheeks heating up. "I'll admit that there is still a lot that I don't understand about the culture. But, I promise not to say anything like that again," he says, voice sincere.

"Then, yes," Hajime answers confidently, "when the time comes, they will accept you as their queen."

Hajime is graced with a rare, genuine smile from Tooru that makes him want to kiss him. But then the chariot finally comes to a stop. He supposes that will have to wait until later.

The sour scent of distress wafts to Hajime's nose. Even without his superior sense of smell, he'd know that Tooru was nervous what with the way the omega's entire form was trembling. Reaching forward, he takes Tooru's clammy hands into his own.

"Relax," he calmly instructs.

Tooru's breathing quickens, his chest heaving rapidly.

Hajime releases one of Tooru's hands and uses it to touch the back of the omega's head. He brings their foreheads together; their gazes are locked, and their breaths mingle. Silently, he urges Tooru to match the pace of his breathing. Outside of the chariot, muffled voices and movement can be heard. The noise intensifies Tooru's panic. With their time running out, Hajime tries a different method.

Purring softly, he nuzzles the omega, rubbing their cheeks together. Instantly, Hajime's scent overpowers the smell of distress, but he doesn't stop until Tooru's breathing returns to normal. He pulls away right before the door to the chariot is opened.

Tooru is staring at him dazedly, his brown eyes glazed over. He'll need a moment before he fully returns to himself, though, it's better than him being a bundle of nerves.

"Welcome home, my son," Hajime's mother greets him as he walks up the short steps that lead into the palace with Tooru at his side.

Hajime steps forward and embraces his mother, glancing over her shoulder, he scans the small crowd in search of his father. "I take it the council is gathered," he says when he doesn't see the man. 

His mother ends the embrace with a quick peck on his temple. "They're expecting you," she whispers into his ear, "First, introduce me to your new bride."

"Tooru," Hajime says, turning around to take the omega's hand, "Come meet my mother."

Taking Hajime's hand, Tooru moves forward, his head bowed respectively. "It is an honor, your grace," he says in the southern language to the best of his abilities. 

"You're just as beautiful as the rumors depict," his mother says, smiling at Tooru warmly.

Hajime knows that his mother has already begun to analyze every little detail about Tooru. Had he known that the council would hold a meeting as soon as they arrived, he would have given the omega a heads up. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to leave Tooru is his mother's care for now.

"I apologize on the king's behalf," the woman starts, "He's currently meeting with his council. Hajime, you should head over. I will look after Tooru-kun."

"I will not be gone long," Hajime promises Tooru.

Tooru bows his head.

His mother puts her arm around Tooru's shoulder and leads the omega into the palace. Her ladies in waiting follow behind them. When they disappear through the large, ornate doors, Hajime heads over to meet with the council.

"…how do we know that Oikawa-sama will uphold his end of the bargain?" Hajime hears one of the council members say when he enters the sacred area.

The king's council hold their meetings on the sandy shores outside of the palace. Six, large, grey boulders circle around a black marble table. The boulders have been there for centuries. Hajime isn't sure how they got there. No one really knows.

It is forbidden for anyone other than those in attendance to come near this place. So, they're guaranteed privacy despite the absences of walls. At the head of the marble table is his father, a weary expression on his face. But at the sight of his son, his brown eyes light up.

"Welcome home, Hajime," the king says, only staying in his seat for the sake of decorum. He gestures to the empty chair to his right. "We are eager to hear about your journey."

The other men in the room greet Hajime dryly. Paying them no mind, he smiles at his father as he takes the seat. Once he is seated the meeting continues.

"We have his omegan son," one of the older men wheezes out, his eyes drooped low. He looks like he'll pass out at any moment, "If he betrays our trust, we will send the bitch's head to him!"

Instinctively, Hajime let's out a growl of disapproval. "That is my wife you are referring to," he reminds the old crone through gritted teeth. 

"You've consummated the marriage, then?" another member asks.

Six alphas sit on his father's council. There are six boulders, therefore, there must be six, wise alphas to advise the king in times of need. Hajime doesn't like any of them, personally. They're the sons and grandsons of the men who lived during a time when the Southern kingdom was deserving of its bad reputation. Which means they were raised to embrace that way of thinking.

And, it shows.

"Yes," Hajime answers.

Iwaizumi-sama nods, his expression pleased. "I knew that I did not have to worry about sending Hajime on his own." He looks to his council members, his eyes hardening. "If Oikawa-sama violates the treaty in any way, we will punish him accordingly. However, his son is now a part of my family. Do not speak of harming him again. Understood?"

There is a collective nod of agreement.

The king continues, "Tonight, we celebrate my son's return and his union." He stands to his feet. "We can discuss the details of the treaty at another time."

"Have you claimed the omega?" the old crone from earlier asks Hajime, his beady eyes piercing.

Hajime sighs, "I will do so during Tooru's next heat," he says just to get them off his back, "From my understanding, I am to adhere to our laws when it comes to that, no?"

Iwaizumi-sama knows that tone all too well. He cuts in before his son's temper flares. "That is correct, Hajime. Bonding is not required immediately. You are more than welcome to wait until Tooru-kun's next heat if that is what you want."

"That is what I want."

"Very well," his father says.

Inwardly, Hajime is amused. He knows that his father is eager to end this meeting. The sooner he can get his hands on a goblet of wine the better. He thinks that's the end of it, but he forgets that the old crone is pushing one-hundred years without any signs of dying yet. A man like that doesn't give up easily.

"Marriage is more of a Western concept," the elder says, "It does not exempt the omega from our tradition. He is to be given a collar until you claim him. You can present it to him during the reception since the noble clans will already be in attendance."

Hajime stiffens. "Collars are for omegas who are being courted by alphas from noble clans. Tooru and I have skipped the courting stage. We are married."

In their lessons, Hajime failed to mention the collar system and its significance to Southern culture because he didn't think that Tooru would have to wear one. The collars aren't a bad thing. Quite the opposite, but Hajime doubts Tooru will share that view.

Hajime looks to his father for support.

Unfortunately, the king has no support to give. "Gorou-san is right. That is the law, Hajime. Married or not, Tooru-kun is still an unclaimed omega. With you being heir to the throne, he will be given a collar that reflects his importance." His father looks to the other men. "The presentation will take place near the end of the reception. Meeting adjourned."

And that's that.

Chapter Text

Words can't begin to describe the beauty of the Southern Palace. Tooru has to make a conscious effort to keep his mouth from hanging open as the queen escorts him through the grand foyer. The ivory walls are lined with marble pillars. In front of the pillars, silent guards stand tall, their faces stoic and their eyes unblinking. The guards' capes are turquoise and their armor polished gold. Proudly, they wear their kingdom's colors.

Overhead, the oval ceiling is painted in blues, golds, and greens. The image portrays the birth of the kingdom. According to legend, the first people to inhabit this land were birthed from the ocean. In other sources, they were cast out of the sea as punishment for rebelling against their mother. Regardless of the interpretation, the origin of the first people remains the same. They were from the ocean.

The Merpeople chose an alpha male - the strongest of their warriors - to rule them and ensure the continuation of their race. The Southern kingdom still worships the sea and holds annual festivals in honor of the first inhabitants.

Hajime and his father are said to be direct descendants of the Merpeople. Because of this, they are rumored to draw their strength from water. Every battle that the Southern kingdom has won, there was a body of water present. The few battles they've lost were in places that were barren and desolate. Southern people cannot thrive in a place that does not promote life. At least, that is what the legends say. Of course, Tooru doesn't believe in such things.

Looking away from the mural, Tooru glances at the queen out of his peripheral. He's startled when he finds the woman's intense gaze on him.

The queen's eyes are abnormally blue, reminding Tooru of the hot spring's water. Her skin is a shade or two darker than Hajime's. Thick, black hair flows down her back, stopping right above her rear. Her hair is parted down the middle by a gold headpiece that has small turquoises encrusted in it. Her turquoise dress hangs off her shoulders revealing the tribal markings that cover her shoulders and arms.

The Barbarian Queen is what the westerners refer to Iwaizumi Amari as and not because she is the queen of the Southern kingdom but because she is the daughter of an Eastern tribe elder. A majority of the Eastern kingdom is made up of small tribes that come to the Eastern king's aid in time of war. Why the Southern king took the daughter of a small tribe leader over the Eastern king's daughter is unknown.

"I hope the journey from the west wasn't too harsh," Amari says, placing a comforting hand on the small of Tooru's back. "I remember my journey from the east. It was most unpleasant."

"It wasn't too harsh." Feeling his response is inadequate, he adds, "Hajime-sama was a fine travel companion."

Amari's smile is knowing. "You two are still at that stage then," she says in regard to the use of honorific, "I suppose it'll take some time for you to get used to each other."

"Was it the same for you and his majesty?"

"His Majesty and I were well acquainted before he asked for my hand in marriage."

The information surprises Tooru. He always assumed that the king and queen's marriage was arranged like so many other royal marriages. After hearing this his curiosity has been piqued. Unfortunately, their conversation must end here.

Amari drops her hand from Tooru's shoulder, putting a respectable distance between them. "And so, it begins," she says as they wait for the large doors of the reception hall to be pushed open. "All eyes will be on you the entire night. Do keep that in mind."

Tooru doesn't get a chance to respond, though, it's not like he has any idea how to reply to the woman's warning. He's thrust into the large reception hall where the celebration is well underway.

Musicians play a buoyant tune on their instruments. Several guests dance in pairs. Above, there are half-naked female and male betas performing on turquoise ribbons that are suspended from the vaulted ceilings. Tooru's face heats up as he watches one performer bend her body in odd angles, her legs spreading wide as she does a split mid-air. The jeweled ensemble she wears only covers her breast and other private areas, but there isn't much left to the imagination.

Tearing his gaze away from the aerial performer, Tooru sweeps his eyes across the room. There are at least a hundred people in attendance. A majority of the guests are dressed in expensive garbs while the rest are clearly servants.

A few men and women in the crowd wear gold collars around their necks. Each collar has a different colored jewel in the center. The people aren't slaves because their clothes are far too extravagant. But the collars give Tooru the impression that they're somehow lower in social stature than the people who do not have collars.

Hajime didn't bring up collars in their lessons so Tooru assumes they're insignificant. He tries to take in as much of the room as he can to help him adjust to his surroundings. Admittedly, he feels extremely overwhelmed. The music seems unbearably loud, the room is crowded, and there are so many colors flashing before his eyes. Tooru nearly screams when he sees a man blowing fire out of his mouth across the room.

Amari places a gentle hand on his back. "If they see you like this they will view you as unfit for a man like my son," the queen whispers into his ear. "Many of the noble clan leaders wanted Hajime to take one of their heirs instead of a foreigner. They still desire such a thing. Your position isn't secured until you bear a child. Until then, you must prove to them that Hajime already has a suitable mate."

Hearing this angers Tooru. Even though he doesn't desire Hajime, the alpha is still his husband and he refuses to allow some second-rate omega to take what belongs to him. He didn't endure an uncomfortable carriage ride just to get here and have another title snatched.

Swallowing his nerves, Tooru straightens his shoulders, holding his head high. Behind him, Amari watches with a pleased expression. When Tooru appears to be put together, the queen finally gestures for the royal courier to announce their arrival.

Following the announcement, the musicians cease their song and the performers halt their actions. The guests part on either side of the room, making a clear path for the queen and foreign bride. Tooru receives a mix reaction from the crowd as he passes by.

Some of the people smile, others openly express their distaste. Aside from that, there's curiosity, jealousy, and plain indifference. The ones who appear to be jealous are all omegas. One female omega stands out above the rest and it is as if she is trying to murder Tooru with her gaze alone. Tooru has to school his features. He wants to return the gaze tenfold, but he mustn't lower himself for the sake of a woman he doesn't know or care to know. 

Aside from that woman, no one else stands out to Tooru. He notes that a lot of them appear to be more interested in his yukata than his face. They do not wear yukatas and kimonos in the south, so their gawking is expected.

At the front of the room, Tooru and the queen sit on decorated cushions around a table that is covered in fruit, cheese, and goblets of wine. Two more seats are there for Hajime and his father. Their seating area is raised high enough that they can overlook the entire room without a problem.

Once they're seated, the music starts back, and the performers continue the entertainment. Some of the guests whisper to one other. Tooru is curious to know what they're saying.

"You did well," Amari says, picking up a goblet of wine and handing it to him. "During my royal reception, I got into an altercation with the daughter of a noble clansman." She smiles at the memory.

Tooru accepts the goblet, but he does not sip. "An altercation?" he asks for further clarification.

Amari picks up her own goblet, taking a quick sip. "Here, the young men are encouraged to shed their virginity. It is seen as a right of passage," she explains, "In his youth, the king enjoyed this period in his life far too much. Outside of the ritual, he had many lovers. A lot of them were angry that he did not choose them as a bride. One of them took their anger out on me. It cost her."

Assuming the worst, Tooru gasps.

"Not her life." Amari laughs quietly. "I only yanked out a few chunks of her hair." She points to the crown of her head. "It's never grown back."

Tooru covers his mouth to stifle his laugh.

Amari continues, "Hajime was much like his father. I expect you'll have your fair share of enemies because of this. Do not be like me, Tooru-kun. I learned that it is best not to react to everything."

"I will keep that in mind, your majesty."

"Good. Now, let's drink!" She taps Tooru's goblet with hers. "This night will go by faster if you have plum wine in you."

Tooru thinks he should stay far away from wine but he takes a sip anyway. He'll be sure not to overdrink like he did at his wedding reception. The talk with Amari helps to ease his nerves. The music that is playing now is pleasant, and Tooru has to admit that the aerial performers are truly something. Tooru is on his second goblet of wine when the reception hall is once again thrown into silence.

The king's arrival is strikingly different from when the queen made her presence known. Every head in the room is bowed as the king makes his way to the seating area, Hajime at his side. The two men are about the same height, but Hajime is noticeably taller.

Tooru has always been told that the Southern king is a great warrior. However, the man doesn't look like it. Well, he looks as if he may have been a great warrior in his younger years but now he just looks tired. His green eyes are heavy-lidded; it's as if he's one blink away from falling asleep. His chestnut hair is wavy and stops shy of his shoulders. There's a small braid entwined in his hair with what appears to be a seashell tied at the end. Unlike Hajime and Amari, the king's skin is more olive-toned than sun-kissed.

When the king is close, the scent of the sea hits Tooru. It's a powerful scent that he finds surprisingly calming, reminding Tooru of the same calmness the atmosphere possesses before a great storm arrives.

Tooru watches the king raise his hand, the sleeve of his royal blue robes sliding down his arm to reveal a gold bracelet on his wrist and the many gold rings on his fingers. With that one gesture, the reception picks back up. The king takes his seat next to his queen while Hajime takes the seat next to Tooru.

"Welcome to the Southern Palace, my dear," the king says to Tooru as he reaches past his goblet of wine and picks up the glass vase that is meant to be used to refill their goblets. "We'll get more acquainted some other time," is all he says before bringing the vase to his lips.

Hajime and Amari share an exasperated glance.

Tooru was expecting a more formal introduction, but he's relieved that the king doesn't appear to be in a rush to discuss the terms of the marriage arrangement. He's had enough talk about the treaty with his own father. 

"Tooru, we need to talk," Hajime says, making a move to stand.

Amari stops him. "They're about to present the gifts. It will have to wait until after that."

Sure enough, the guests are beginning to form a line in front of the dais. Some are holding items in their hands while others have servants standing behind them carrying large chests. With the king's approval, the first person in line steps forward with a bow. The alpha is carrying a small jeweled box in his hand.

Hajime is there to translate everything for Tooru.

"Koutarou of the Bokuto clan," the alpha says to Tooru directly. "My clan presents you with ripe pomegranates." He opens the jeweled chest to reveal the fruit. "We pray that this will assist you in conceiving a strong heir."

Tooru is too distracted by the alpha's strange hair to worry about the implication. Remembering his lessons, he smiles and bows his head.

Bokuto returns the smile. He sets the chest down at the base of the dais. Then he reaches into his pocket, taking out a silver brooch. "This gift is from me," he says holding up the brooch. It's a silver owl with small turquoise stones for eyes. "I was told that owls are sacred in the west. They are sacred to my clan, as well."

The kind gesture startles Tooru. "Thank you." He looks to Hajime. And Hajime leans over to whisper in his hear, helping him with his pronunciations. Tooru nods his thanks. "Thank you, Bokuto-san."

Bokuto steps forward and hands the brooch to Tooru. When Tooru takes it, Bokuto bows his head and then takes his leave.

"It's lovely," Tooru says to himself.

Hajime leans over to look at the brooch. "In his spare time, he crafts things," he says with a smile, "Bokuto-san is one of the strongest warriors in the kingdom. He's fierce on the battlefield, one of the deadliest fighters I've ever seen. He's also the heir to the richest clan in the kingdom." 

"And his hair?" Tooru just has to ask.

Hajime chuckles. "Been like that for years." Taking the brooch from Tooru, he unclasps it and pins it to the collar of the omega's kimono. "He probably saw a spirit when he was a pup. I think it scared him so badly that his hair changed colors like that."

Tooru scrunches his nose. "Spirits aren't real," he mumbles.

Another clan representative steps forward with a gift. Then another one follows. Each time, Hajime tells Tooru small tidbits about the person to help familiarize the omega with the different noble clans. Most of the people who present him a gift are clan heirs or relatives of the main family. One person boldly presents Tooru with an illustrated book that depicts erotic positions.

Yahaba had warned Tooru that a majority of the gifts would be of this nature. Still, he is shocked by how open everyone is about sex here. In the west, it is just one of those things that was never talked about publicly. Perhaps that is how things are in Tooru's family, though. He hasn't seen much of the west if he's being honest with himself. For all that he knows, the west and south aren't that different.

Tooru's thoughts are put on pause when a gorgeous omega steps forward. There are two servants behind him carrying a large chest. The omega's black, curly hair frames his face delicately. He's wearing a white, sheer gown that sweeps the floor with every movement he makes. The thin straps of the gown are tied behind his neck, leaving his shoulders and a good bit of his collarbone exposed. If Tooru could see behind the omega, he would see that his back was completely exposed as well.

"Akaashi Keiji," the omega says, voice smooth and enchanting, "I am here representing the Inoue clan in my fiancé's place." He steps to the side to gesture to the chest. One of the servants opens the chest and takes out a thin article of clothing that has been dyed with indigo. "These gowns will keep you cool at night."

The gown appears to be see-through. Tooru suspects the gift is meant for more than just keeping him cool. But he smiles at Akaashi anyway. When the omega bows his head, Tooru notices something that he overlooked earlier. Akaashi wears a collar that has a large ruby in the center. Despite the demeaning ornament clasped around his neck, Akaashi is the epitome of regal. The omega doesn't carry himself as if he's inferior. If anything, he seems proud of his status.

That bothers Tooru more than it should.

When Akaashi takes his leave, Tooru happens to catch the way Bokuto's eyes follow the omega. Tooru may not understand love but he does understand longing. He knows it when he sees it. Well, things may prove to be more interesting here in the south than Tooru assumed. 

"That's all of the gifts," Hajime says, quickly standing to his feet, "Come, there's something I must speak with you about."

Tooru's eyebrows furrow, but he can hear the urgency in Hajime's voice. He sets his goblet on the table and attempts to get up.

"Noble ladies and gentlemen," a loud voice suddenly booms from the audience, "it is time for the prince to claim his omega! Please, gather around!"

Scowling, Hajime curses under his breath.

Tooru doesn't quite understand what the man is saying but he can tell by Hajime's expression that it isn't anything good. Frowning, he turns his head to where Hajime's scowl is aimed, and he sees an elder walking forward, holding up a shrouded item in the palms of his hands. Glancing back at Hajime, Tooru waits for an explanation but the alpha is still watching the elder approach.

Beside him, he can hear Amari whispering to the king.

"…my love, what is the meaning of this?"

"Not here," is all the king says as he stands to his feet.

Hajime looks to Tooru, his eyes filled with an unspoken apology. "Come here, Tooru," he speaks in the western language so Tooru will understand him. He outstretches his hand. 

At first, Tooru is hesitant. His instincts are going haywire and he can sense the tension in the room. Yet, he recalls their short time together, how kind Hajime has always been to him. He feels as though he can trust Hajime enough to take his hand, so he does.

Gently, Hajime pulls Tooru to his feet, pressing him close to his side. "Remember what I said about openly defying me…"

Tooru's heart sinks. He searches Hajime's face for further explanation but the only thing he finds is remorse.

The elder approaches the dais and holds up the item in his hands. A servant steps up to pull the black cloth away, revealing a gold collar that is more intricate than the other collars Oikawa has seen. The band of the collar is neatly interwoven, and three, large sapphires sit in the middle. If Tooru didn't know any better, he would assume it was nothing more than decorative jewelry. Unfortunately, Tooru does know better. He can see the small lock on the back of the collar and he doesn't have to guess who will hold the key to that lock.

Hajime steps forward to retrieve the collar. The elder hands over a small key that is then used to unlock the collar. Turning around, Hajime faces Tooru.

"This is to ensure everyone knows that you are the future king's intended mate," Hajime says mechanically as though he is reading off a piece of parchment. "Anyone who touches you, knowing full well what this collar represents will be sentenced to death. If you allow another to touch you, both of you will be sentenced to death, do you understand?"

No, Tooru doesn't understand yet he nods his head anyway. Inwardly, he's cursing Hajime and every goddamn person in the hall. They expect him to further debase himself by wearing a collar. Tooru is furious. He's so furious that his hands are trembling. He has to ball his hands into fists to settle them.

Hajime steps forward, only stopping when he's directly in front of Tooru. "Kneel," he says in a tone that leaves no room for discussion. Yet his eyes are pleading.

With great reluctance, Tooru sinks to the floor, his movements unsteady. It's not a position that he is accustomed to so his knees quiver under the pressure of his body, but he holds himself up.

"This is a great honor," Hajime says for all to hear, "You will wear this token of my affection proudly." He leans forward and places the collar around Tooru's neck.

The moment the collar is clasped, Tooru's head drops in silent defeat. Around them, the guests are cheering loudly and celebrating what they view as a joyous occasion.  Tooru has the intense urge to murder them all and bathe in their blood. The cheering only ceases when the king stands.

The king gives a speech about new beginnings or something like that. Tooru isn't listening. He's too busy plotting his revenge. Hajime offers to help him to his feet but Tooru stands on his own. He takes his seat next to Amari, keeping his eyes downcast and his mouth shut.

And that is how he remains for the remainder of the reception.

"…she was as beautiful as the sea," the king drunkenly sings, his voice far too high-pitch, "and as beautiful as the moon!"

"That's quite enough of that," Amari says, struggling to keep the large man upright. When he leans over for a kiss, she nudges his face away. "What would our enemies say if they saw you like this?"

The King chuckles, his green eyes bright with mirth. "Fortunately for me, there isn't an enemy in sight." He begins humming to himself, seemingly in his own world.

Hajime smiles fondly. "Do you need help with him, mother?"

"No, go be with your new bride." She gives Hajime a look. "I'm sure he is in need of comforting."

"I tried to warn him," he says in his defense.

"You care for him." Amari smiles. "I was worried at first, but I can see now that you two will be fine."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I just know it." The king slumps against her, his heavy snores can be heard. Sighing, Amari adjusts her body to accommodate the extra weight. "I know a lot of things, my son."

"Let me help." Hajime moves to grab his father.

But his mother's next words freeze him in place. "Just like I know that you two have never been intimate."

Hajime knew that his mother would be difficult to convince. His father blames it on dark magic. It's no secret that the Eastern tribes dabble in that sort of thing. But Hajime thinks that all mothers are intuitive like this. 

"Tooru didn't want it and I wasn't going to force him." 

"I'm happy that you respect his boundaries, Hajime. That is how relationships should be, but you know the council will not share my views."

Hajime is well aware. "Mother, please don't tell them," he pleads.

Amari snorts, "I am offended that you think I would ever betray you. You know I despise those old crones as much as you do. It'll be our secret."

"I apologize for ever doubting you." Hajime touches his mother's cheek and places a kiss on the other. "I should go to him now."

"You should."

Hajime takes his leave.

At the other end of the hall, Tooru and Yahaba are waiting for him. Yahaba has been in the south for only a few hours but has already made himself at home. Hajime saw the omega at the reception getting acquainted with several noble clansmen. It wouldn't surprise Hajime if Yahaba had a suitor by the end of the week.

"Have you been shown to your room, Yahaba-san?" Hajime asks.

"Yes, I have, Hajime-sama. I was just keeping Tooru-sama company. I will take my leave now." He bows. "Thank you for your hospitality. Goodnight to you both."

Tooru doesn't utter a word to Yahaba nor does he lift his head to watch the omega depart.

"We will live in the east wing of the palace," Hajime tells Tooru. "Follow me."

Again, Tooru doesn't say anything. He simply follows Hajime down the long corridor.

The east wing of the palace is the second largest wing with five bedrooms, two private baths, a drawing room, a small library, and an indoor swimming pool. Hajime is excited about having his own side of the palace. As a child, he lived in the west wing with his parents. Then when he turned fifteen, he moved into the barracks with the soldiers and has lived there since.

Hajime tells Tooru this despite the omega's obvious disinterest.

"Here it doesn't get as cold as it does in the north but when it gets cold we can heat the water in the pool," he shamelessly boasts.

Tooru halts his steps, sparing a glance over his shoulder. "Hajime-sama, are we alone?" he asks for seemingly no reason at all.

Hajime glances over his shoulder, as well. "Yes, no one will bother us until morning."

"I see."

"Why do you-"

Forcefully, Tooru shoves Hajime causing the alpha to stumble back. "A fucking collar?!" he shouts angrily, tears brimming his eyes. He shoves at Hajime again with more strength than Hajime thought the omega possessed. "How dare you!"

Hajime grabs Tooru's wrists, pinning them to the omega's side. "I did not know they would make you wear one," he tries to explain. 


This is the first time Hajime has heard such foul language from Tooru. Oddly enough, he finds it very attractive. But this isn't the time for a hard on. He has to regain control of the situation on the off chance that someone passes by.

Backing Tooru into the nearest wall, he keeps a firm grip on the omega's wrist. "I did not know that they would have you wear a collar," he repeats, sternly this time. "I found out right before the reception. Tried to warn you, too."

"Why did you never mention this in our lessons?"

"I wanted to focus on the important things."

"How is this not important?!"

Hajime grits his teeth. "Lower your voice. You do not want anyone to overhear you."

"I hate you," Tooru spits out venomously, hot tears rolling down his face. "I hate this place. You made it up to be this perfect world where I would be more than just your brooding mare, but it was all a lie!"

The omega's words cut him deep. Releasing his hold on Tooru, Hajime takes a step back. "I told you that there was more for you to learn. I told you that my people were far from perfect."

"You put a collar on me!" Tooru shouts it again as if he's having difficulty believing that this is really happening. "I feel like your pet, not your wife."

"The collars are not meant to degrade you, Tooru. A lot of omegas are happy to be given collars."

"Do those omegas wag their tails?" he asks sarcastically, "Do they roll around in exchange for treats?"

Hajime sighs, "I won't waste my words if you refuse to listen. Our chambers are around this corner. Come."

Tooru perks up, holding his hands up in front of him, he bends them at the wrist, mimicking a dog. "Yes, master!" He drops his hands and scowls. "When we're in public, I will play along but when we are alone like this, do not touch me. Do not dote on me. I am not yours. I don't care how many collars you put on me. I will never be yours!"

The omega storms off, disappearing around the corner. Their chambers are lavishly decorated but neither of them takes the time to admire anything. Hajime is furious, yet he tries his best to rein that emotion in. Though, Tooru makes it very difficult.

"Where are the handmaidens?" Tooru asks, anger still lacing every word.

"There are none."

"I'm supposed to undress and bathe myself then?"

Hajime stands in front of his vanity untying his robes. "I'm sure an intelligent westerner like yourself is capable of that much."

In the mirror's reflection, he catches the stunned expression on Tooru's face before it quickly vanishes. It would appear that the omega isn't used to the tables being turned.

"If someone as daft as you managed this long without assistance then I sure I can." Tooru glances around the room, eyes landing on the large bed "What is this?" he asks, frowning.

Sighing heavily, Hajime turns around to see what the omega is referring to. "That is a bed," he says, facing the vanity again. He has his robes off. The only thing left is his trousers. "You sleep on it."

"Where's the futon?"

"We do not sleep on futons here."

Tooru throws his hands up in exasperation. "First, I have to endure the staring at the reception. Then, you put a collar on me. Now that I want to sleep and forget this night ever happened, you're telling me that there's no futon?"

"Of course, people stared at you!" Hajime shouts, facing the omega again. "We don't get a lot of westerners here and you're very…" He refuses to call Tooru beautiful right now while the omega is behaving like a brat. "Pale. You're very pale. As for the collar, it isn't as bad as you're making it out to be. And the bed is very comfortable. You would know that if you actually tried it out before passing judgment on it like you do with everything!"

"It wasn't because I'm pale!" Tooru seems to only hear the first part of Hajime's outburst. "That woman stared at me all night because of you!"

Hajime frowns. "What woman? What on earth are you talking about?"

Tooru rolls his eyes. "Grey eyes, auburn hair." He gestures to his chest animatedly. "Prominent breasts that she did not mind flaunting!"

Realization washes over Hajime, his expression relaxing. "Oh, you mean Mikoto-san…"

"Who is she to you?" Tooru demands, crossing his arms over his chest.

Hajime sees an opportunity, so he seizes it. "We were lovers in the past," he admits, watching Tooru's expression carefully.

"How long ago in the past?"

"I ended things with her a year ago."

Tooru frowns. "That wasn't long ago at all."

"I never said it was. I only said it was in the past." Hajime tilts his head to the side, his look contemplative. "Why do you care? You've made it very clear that you don't fancy me."

"I don't care at all. I was only curious to know her relevance to you."

"So, you wouldn't care if I rekindled things with her, made her my second bride?"

For once, Tooru doesn't give an immediate response. The omega is silent for some time, and it's then that Hajime realizes that Tooru is jealous. Which is strange considering Tooru has made it clear on several occasions that he isn't interested in him. Hajime tries not to think about the kisses they shared. Dismisses the warmth he feels in his chest at the thought of them. Although it was very real for him, Tooru only saw it as a way to experiment. Those kisses meant nothing to the omega. 

"Rekindle things with her. I don't care!" Tooru's face contradicts that statement. "Is that why you never pushed me for sex? Because you knew that you could get it from someone else whenever you wanted?"

How did they get on this subject in the first place? Hajime wonders. Only moments ago, Tooru told him that he hated him and that no matter what, he would never belong to him. Now the omega appears to be near tears at the thought of Hajime taking a new bride. He isn't sure how to respond to the questions. The honest answer is no. Hajime never pushed Tooru for sex because that's the kind of person he has always been. He has no intentions of seeking others for sex, either.

However, he isn't sure if he wants Tooru to know that. He's been honest with the omega from the start and he's shown more of himself to Tooru than he ever has with anyone else. It seems unfair that he is the only one who's trying. 

"Yes," Hajime says with a shrug of his shoulders, "I never pushed you because there are so many options for me here. I could take a new wife tomorrow and no one would bat an eye."

The room is dimly lit by candlelight, so Hajime assumes that's the reason for the gleam in Tooru's eyes. He doesn't realize the omega is crying until he smells salt in the air.

"I see." Tooru diverts his gaze to the far wall, away from Hajime's face. "What happens to the treaty if you take another wife?"

"The treaty will remain intact as long as we're married. Taking another wife does not interfere with it. However, the wife who births a worthy heir first will rule as queen."

Tooru slowly nods his head.

Hajime is beginning to regret what he said but he knows he can't take it back now. Instead, he moves to his side of the bed and pulls the duvet back. He's been exhausted since the start of the reception. This discussion with Tooru has served to further drain him. The omega's tears bother him, but he holds himself back. Rather it is intentional or not, Tooru has once again hurt him with his words. Hajime will no longer stand for it. 

"Which door leads to the washroom?" Tooru asks.

"The second door to your left."

Tooru leaves the room without another word. 

As soon as the door to the washroom is closed, Tooru sinks to the floor and sobs uncontrollably. The tears flow out of him endlessly, the pain he feels is like no other. It's as though he's suffocating. Every breath he takes is ragged, the air refusing to feel his lungs properly.

Whining, he reaches up and yanks at the collar around his neck, trying to rip it off but it's futile. Frustrated, Tooru bangs the back of his head against the heavy door. He does it again, hoping that the pain in his head will cancel out the pain in his chest. It doesn't. The only thing he succeeds in doing is giving himself a headache and another reason to cry.

Tooru meant what he said. He hates it here. He doesn't want to be in this strange place where the people show far too much skin and the king is a drunken fool. He doesn't want to share a bed with a man who only pretended to care about him.

Shockingly, learning that Hajime's behavior toward him was fabricated hurts him more than knowing that he has a collar around his neck. Tooru thought that with time he could be happy here. That he could be happy with Hajime. But the alpha doesn't even want him. Not that Tooru can blame Hajime. Who would want a disinherited brat like him, anyway?

When there are no more tears left in him, Tooru struggles to his feet and then makes his way over to the sink. Picking up a washcloth, he dips it in the warm water that the servants have left out for them to use. After washing his face, he stares at himself in the hanging mirror.

His eyes are bloodshot, his face is just as red, and his hair is all over the place. It's pathetic. Setting the towel aside, he unravels his yukata and slides it off, staring at his frame in the mirror. Why would anyone want an omega as lean as him? His features aren't soft like Yahaba's and he isn't curvy like Mikoto. Yet, he thought Hajime was pleased with his appearance. 

Tooru is never good enough for anyone. Not his mother, not his father. Why did he think Hajime would be different?

Staring at the collar, Tooru's face contorts into a mask of fury. First chance he gets, he's going to find a blacksmith and have them cut the collar off. He fantasizes about selling the collar for food, supplies, and a carriage to get him back home. Then, he remembers that there is no place for him in the west. This is his home now. If he runs away, there will be no other place for him.

This will be his final resting place. He might as well just get used to it.

Tooru is startled by a light knock on the door. Quickly, he wipes his eyes and hurries to slip his yukata back on.

"Tooru?" Hajime says from the other side of the door.

"What?" Tooru frowns at his harsh tone. He tries again. "I'll be out in a minute."

"Is everything okay?"

For a moment, Hajime sounds as if he genuinely cares to know the answer to that question. But Tooru hasn't forgotten what the alpha told him. He refuses to be deceived again.

"I said I will be out in a minute," he snaps irately.

Hajime doesn't reply. It's silent for some time. The alpha more than likely returned to bed. Tooru waits until several minutes pass before he opens the door to the washroom. In the bed, Hajime appears to be fast asleep. The fact that Hajime can sleep while Tooru is clearly distressed is proof that the alpha doesn't care for him.

Tooru glares at the back of the alpha's head as he slides under the duvet, careful to keep distance between them. Although it takes him nearly an hour to fall asleep, he continues to glare at Hajime's unruly hair that he actually thought was adorable at one point until he does. Even in his sleep, the tears continue to fall.

This time, Hajime is there to wipe the tears away.

Chapter Text

Sometime during the night, or perhaps it's early morning, Tooru awakes to the sound of muffled voices. Figuring it's simply a figment of his imagination, he attempts to roll over to his side and go back to sleep, but a heavy object has him trapped in place. Eyes slowly opening, Tooru has to blink several times to adjust his vision. Once he does so, he glances down to see Hajime's arm pinning him to the bed. Thinking nothing of it, Tooru snuggles closer to Hajime's warmth, his cheek grazing against the alpha's chest.

The movement causes Hajime to startle awake, his hold on Tooru instinctively tightening. Once again, Tooru hears the sound of hushed voices coming from the corridor. Whining quietly, he lifts his head to see what the ruckus is.

"What's the matter?" Hajime asks with a yawn, his eyes closing again.

"Voices," Tooru mumbles.

"It's nothing. Go back to sleep..."

Yawning, Tooru lowers his head, resting it on Hajime's bare chest. Hajime brings his hand up to cradle the back of Tooru's head. The alpha's body is warm, his skin surprisingly smooth. Tooru wants to lay here forever.

Everything is quiet after a while, but then there is a loud knock on the door, jolting them both out of their slumber. The noise breaks the spell they're both under. Fully awake, Tooru takes one look at their intimate position and he scowls. One of them had violated the other's personal space while they slept. Tooru is sure that it wasn't him because after last night he wants nothing to do with Hajime.

Before Tooru can shove him off, Hajime takes the liberty of removing his arm. Mumbling an apology, he throws the duvet back and climbs out of the bed to inspect the corridor for the source of the loud noise. Tooru sits up in the bed. That's when he notices that he's on Hajime's side of the bed instead of the other way around. So, that means that it was him who violated Hajime's personal space.

Quickly, Tooru moves to his side of the bed, hoping that Hajime hadn't noticed anything. He blames it on his habit of fighting in his sleep. He couldn't have possibly sought comfort from Hajime during the night.

Several minutes pass before Hajime returns. The alpha bypasses the bed and walks toward the washroom.

"What's going on?" Tooru asks.

"Ceremonial hunt," Hajime tosses over his shoulder.

Yahaba may have told Tooru about the ceremonial hunts that take place the morning after a prince's wedding. Since their wedding was held at the Western Palace, the hunt was postponed. According to Yahaba, whatever game Hajime kills during his hunt, he will serve it to his new bride at some kind of festival that's supposed to be held in the coming days. Tooru can't really remember the details. He might have tuned Yahaba out when the man tried to explain it to him. He has an awful habit of doing that.

Tooru watches Hajime return to the washroom. When the door is shut, Tooru hurriedly throws the duvet back, taking a large breath of air. It's so hot in the bedroom that his yukata sticks to him like a second skin, the cloth clinging to places that it shouldn't cling to. Tooru's hair is damp and sticking to the sides of his face and he feels extremely gross.

Fanning himself, Tooru looks around the room for his trunk that he brought with him from home. The only thing he sees is a wardrobe on the opposite side of Hajime's. Quickly, before the alpha can return, Tooru tiptoes out of bed. He opens the wardrobe, finding nothing but the nightgowns Akaashi-san gave him at the reception. He isn't sure when the servants placed the gowns there. 

Tooru picks the first gown he sees, but he doesn't immediately put it on. He feels too sticky and uncomfortable. First, he'll need to take a bath. Returning the gown to the wardrobe, he walks back to the bed. He's settling under the duvet when Hajime steps out of the washroom, dressed in only a pair of short, brown trousers and nothing else. There are gold bands on both Hajime's arms and gold bracelets on his ankles.

"You're going out like that?" Tooru asks, openly gawking at the alpha.

Hajime glances down at himself, obviously seeing nothing wrong with his appearance. "What else am I supposed to hunt in?"

"Clothes," Tooru deadpans.

Sighing, Hajime heads for the door. "Too much clothing will get in the way." He glances at Tooru before opening the door. "Depending on how well it goes, I'll be gone until late evening."

Tooru nods his head.

Hajime lingers as though he's expecting more, but Tooru looks away, pretending not to notice. After a while, the door closes with a soft thud. Tooru waits until he is sure Hajime is long gone for him to curse under his breath. His mother used to hate it when he would swear. She told him that it was the language of the peasants yet she never reprimanded her father for all the swearing he does.

Besides, Tooru is far away from home. He can do whatever he wants. Except he can't publicly defy his husband, openly voice his opinions, or scratch his neck because there was a large collar preventing him from doing so.

Tooru curses again, this time just for the hell of it.

Touching the back of the collar, he brushes his fingers across the small lock. Well, he supposes he can always murder Hajime and snatch the key from the alpha's corpse. An uneasy feeling settles in Tooru's stomach at the thought. His dislike for Hajime hasn't quite evolved into hatred despite what he tells himself. For now, all thoughts of murdering Hajime will have to cease.

In the meantime, Tooru decides to take a brief tour of the east wing since he can't sleep anymore.

The first couple of rooms are all bedrooms that are nearly as large and extravagant as their bedroom. Further down the corridor, there is a small library full of colorful tomes and parchment scrolls. The floor of the library is a painted map of the five kingdoms that is more detailed than any map Tooru has ever seen. Tooru will dedicate more time to the map later, preferably once he's had a bath and more sleep.

Soon, Tooru discovers the indoor pool that Hajime boasted about, but he doesn't stay long enough to admire it. His main goal is to find a bathtub. Unfortunately, Tooru doesn't find one on his tour. But, it hasn't all been for naught. In one of the smaller rooms, he finds the trunks that he brought from the west, along with their wedding gifts, and the gifts that the noble clans gifted him at the reception.

Tooru picks up a jeweled chest, opening it to reveal the ripe pomegranates. The servants shouldn't have stored these here, he thinks. At the sight of the fruit, Tooru's mouth waters. As one could imagine, he didn't eat much at the reception, and prior to that, he couldn't recall the last time he had a proper meal. Tooru can hear Yahaba's voice inside his head, warning him not to eat the pomegranates.

But, of course, Tooru disregards the voice entirely. He doesn't just eat the pomegranates, he devours them in such a way that he would have been ashamed had anyone else been present. Thankfully, no one is around to see Tooru greedily lick his mouth clean. It's a shame that Bokuto-san's clan only gave him three pomegranates, though. Pouting, Tooru sets the chest back on the floor, and then he leaves the room.

Returning to the main bedchamber, he does what he should have done earlier. He checks behind the various doors inside, and sure enough, there's a bathtub right next door to the washroom. From the looks of it, a servant has already prepared a bath for him as the tub is filled with hot water. There's another door in the room that leads out into the corridor.

The servants more than likely use it to do their tasks without disturbing them. Tooru isn't sure how he feels about that. On one hand, he likes how accessible everything seems to be. The servants don't have to be told to prepare him a bath, they just have it done. But, on the other hand, Tooru doesn't like the anonymity that the servants possess. He'd like to actually see who's serving him for security purposes.

Tooru will have to worry about that later, however. He's beginning to smell and he refuses to remain in soiled clothes any longer than necessary. As he undresses, he's careful to unpin the brooch Bokuto-san gave him, setting it on the edge of the tub for safe keeping.

A fragrant scent wafts up to his nose as he lowers himself into the hot water. Fully submerged, Tooru closes his eyes and rests his head on the back of the tub, the ends of his hair dipping into the water. It feels strange being alone right now. Back home, he was always surrounded by a servant or a group of handmaidens during his morning routines.

Tooru supposes he'll just have to get used to this feeling of loneliness. Aside from the absence of handmaidens, soon he'll be without Hajime, as well. The alpha has made it very clear that he's only entertained Tooru as long as he needed to. Now that Hajime is here amongst his people, he can do whatever he pleases, have anyone he wants.

Good riddance, Tooru bitterly thinks.

He never wanted to marry Hajime in the first place so this is perfect. Now he can keep his father's kingdom safe without having to submit to a brutish prince who runs around half-naked like some savage. In the midst of his frustrated thoughts, the image of Hajime in his traditional hunting attire flashes before Tooru's eyes. The nerve of Hajime to leave their chambers with only a loincloth covering him. Granted, it wasn't necessarily a loincloth yet it was revealing all the same. It's as though Hajime wants to be coveted by every omega in the kingdom.

Even Tooru can't deny that Hajime's body is worthy of admiration. Hajime's body reminds Tooru of one of the sculpted statues that lines the foyer of the palace. Every part of him seems to have been crafted by the gods, from his sunkissed skin to the hard ridges and curves of his muscles. And Hajime's lips...

Tooru's eyes snap open, a soft gasp escaping him. He doesn't understand what has come over him, but his entire body feels hot, the heat radiating from his lower abdomen as if a fire has been set in his belly. Glancing down, he stares at his erect cock. Instead of feeling annoyed like he normally would at a time like this, Tooru can only feel intense desire.

Clumsily, he fists his hands around his erection, tugging on it with more force than necessary. This is his first time doing this. Naturally, he doesn't really know what he's doing. But after he adjusts his hold, he finds the action to be quite enjoyable. Closing his eyes again, he allows his thoughts to be consumed by Hajime. He doesn't have much to fantasize about aside from their kisses, but that's more than enough for his inexperienced imagination.

Tooru has to bite his lip to muffle the sounds of his desperate whines and breathy moans. Even then, he's loud enough for anyone who happens to pass by to hear. The pleasure is too immense for Tooru to care about that, though. He raises his hips out of the water, his thrusts becoming faster and more desperate as a foreign feeling builds inside of him.

Suddenly something hot is spilling over his hand and stomach, his body trembling spasmodically. Tooru feels like he blacked out immediately after, but he can't be sure. After a while, the feeling in his limbs return and he can move them without a problem. Still in shock by what just occurred, Tooru makes quick work of cleaning himself. Once he's done, he gets out of the tub.

Tooru blames his actions on the hot water and whatever the servants used to scent the water. It's the only plausible explanation that he can come up with. It isn't until he's sliding the mesh nightgown on that Tooru suspects his sudden arousal to be the cause of something else. Feeling the soft fabric sliding against his skin shouldn't arouse him as much as it does. But with every movement he makes, with every caress of the mesh material against his skin, Tooru's thoughts return to Hajime.

Lying on the bed, Tooru tries his best to fall asleep. The sun has yet to rise, meaning he has at least another hour before he has to start his day. Yet, as much as he tries to sleep, Tooru's body refuses to allow him that privilege. Eyes still closed, Tooru smoothes his hands down his clothed thighs, stopping when he reaches his knees. Slowly, he pulls the gown up, exposing himself.

Instead of touching his cock again, Tooru's instincts guide his finger to his pulsing entrance that has been deprived of attention. Pressing his middle finger in all the way, he moans quietly. All too soon, he realizes that one finger isn't nearly enough. Luckily he's wet enough so that it's easier to add another finger. It's a snug fit, but it isn't an uncomfortable feeling. In fact, Tooru finds that he quite enjoys the sensation more than he thought he would.

Blindly, he reaches his other hand out for the pillow that Hajime's scent clings to. As his fingers move inside of him, he presses the pillow to his face and inhales the scent of cinnamon. His cock demands his attention yet Tooru's hands are occupied at the moment. Once again, he allows his instinct to guide him. Without removing his fingers from his heat he rolls over to his stomach, the pillow now pressed to his groin.

As Tooru fingers himself, he ruts against the pillow in such a vulgar way that if he could see himself his face would be red from shame and not contorted into an expression of mind-numbing bliss. Tooru cries out for Hajime, wishing that the alpha was there to touch the parts inside of him that his fingers couldn't reach. He releases for the second time that morning with Hajime's name on his lips.

Tooru falls asleep soon after.

Hours later, Tooru and Yahaba are having breakfast out on the veranda, a perfect view of the white, sandy beach and the dark waters of the sea beneath them. Their breakfast consists of fresh fruit, salted meat, and smoked fish. It's during one of their many tedious conversations that Tooru figures out the reason behind his little episode earlier that morning.

"Pomegranates are an Aphrodisiac," Yahaba explains in response to Tooru's inquiry about the edible gifts he received at the reception. "In small doses, they're fine, but eating more than one is sure to incite arousal. Chocolate, as well." He pauses, giving Tooru a cautious look. "Tooru-sama, you didn't eat any of the food they gave you, right?"

Tooru scoffs, "Well, of course not," he lies through his teeth.

Yahaba doesn't appear to doubt this claim. The omega smiles in relief. "You should have someone taste the food beforehand, at least. Forgive me for being frank, but you're a foreigner. There's a high chance that there'll be several assassination attempts or worse."

"What could be worse than an assassination attempt?"

"Being captured and held in exchange for ransom, I suppose."

Well, Tooru has to agree. He would much prefer them to kill him and get it over with rather than subject him to any further degradation. Besides, no one was going to pay the ransom for him. If anyone abducts Tooru, he's as good as dead.

"Are you looking forward to the tea party? Yahaba asks.

They've left the veranda to return to the east wing. Tooru is too busy thinking of a way to get rid of the pillow he humped that morning before Hajime returned from hunting to register Yahaba's question. They're standing outside the royal bedchamber when Yahaba asks a second time. This time, Tooru responds.

"What tea party?" he asks, already dreading the event.

Yahaba frowns, the cheery facade dropping. "Tooru-sama, do you ever listen to a word I say? I told you about the tea party during our lessons. While the heirs are out hunting, their chosen omegas gather for tea and crafting."

Tooru blanches at the thought of him sitting around gossiping and knitting with a group of bitches that he could give two shits about.

"I'm not going," Tooru says with a dismissive wave of his hands. "I do not want to be disturbed for the remainder of the morning."

"They're already here, Tooru-sama."

"Pardon me?"

"Your guests are awaiting your arrival in the drawing room." Yahaba smiles nervously as the expression on Tooru's face gradually sours. "The queen even sent you a dress..."

Tooru sighs heavily, "Is it mandatory that I attend?"

"If you want to make a good impression."

"Very well," Tooru says, smiling derisively, "I will not be attending. Carry the message along."

Yahaba bows his head. "I'll be sure to let Mikoto-san and the other omegas know. They've been asking about you all morning..."

That gets Tooru's attention. "Asking about me?"

"Yes, they're all eager to meet the prince's wife."

They're all eager to size him up. Tooru isn't stupid. If his memory serves him correctly, Mikoto did not have a collar when he saw her at the reception. The tea party is only meant for chosen omegas who are betrothed to noble clansmen. So, how is it that she's allowed to attend?

Of course, Yahaba has the answer.

"She accepted one of her many suitors after the reception." He gives Tooru a knowing look. "Now that she has a collar she'll be invited to all of the social events."

That means that Tooru will be seeing more of Hajime's ex-lover. Wonderful. As if he doesn't have more than enough things to worry about as it is. The woman more than likely knows that she can take Hajime away whenever she likes. That's fine, she can have him. Still, Tooru is going to make it known that regardless of who ends up with Hajime he was there first. He'll also make it known that he doesn't need an alpha to validate him. He was born a royal.

"Where is the dress that the queen sent for me?" Tooru asks feigning disinterest.

Yahaba smiles. "It's hanging up in your wardrobe by now."

Tooru raises a curious brow.

"Oh, yes!" Yahaba's eyes light up the way they do before he shares a bit of his vast knowledge. "Each wing of the palace has its own group of servants and each of them has a set of keys to access the chambers. You'll rarely have to tell them to do anything. They're quite efficient."

"So, they just go in and out of our bedrooms without us knowing?"


"How will I know the difference between an assassin and a servant if I've never known the latter?"

"An assassin wouldn't tidy up the place?" Yahaba states with uncertainty.

Tooru might have laughed if it wasn't for the fact that he's eager to get to the drawing room and show Mikoto up. Although he tells himself that he could care less about the woman and her obvious interest in his husband, a very large part of him does care. 

The dress the queen sent for him isn't nearly as revealing as the style of dresses that he's seen most of the omegas wear around here. Still, Tooru feels exposed without any sleeves covering his arms. He's at least thankful that the dress is long enough to accommodate his height. The shade of blue is also a nice choice. He'll be sure to thank the queen the next time he sees her.

Without any handmaidens to assist him, Tooru had trouble styling his hair, but he managed to make himself look somewhat presentable. He never gave much thought about how pale he is until he's in the drawing room with the bevy of omegas. Most of them are as dark as the queen while the rest are olive-tone like the king. Even without the language barrier, it's obvious that Tooru is an outsider. Thankfully, Yahaba is there to translate for him, though, so far he hasn't required the omega's assistance.

None of the omegas have said a word to him. And, it's no secret why that is. The omegas have already chosen a side. They're all sitting around Mikoto listening to the woman brag about her collar. The only time they glanced in Tooru's direction was when he made his entrance. All eyes, even his, are currently on the beautiful brunette with the alluring grey eyes that Tooru yearns to claw at.

"My sources tell me that Mikoto-san was Hajime-sama's lover in the past," Yahaba whispers to Tooru.

Tooru sighs, "Yes, I know." He pauses. "Your sources?"

"Well, it's actually one source. Watari-san may have mentioned it to me."

"You two are close..."

Yahaba shakes his head, a smile on his face. "Watari-san and I are only friends. Besides, I did not come here seeking a companion. I am only here to assist you with anything you may need."

"What else has Watari-san told you about Hajime-sama's past lover?"

"Only that the two had more of an intimate relationship that lasted for no longer than a couple of months. He also told me that Mikoto-san wants to be queen at all costs. She has quite the reputation."

"Ah, so she's a whore."

"No, Tooru-sama. She is an opportunist."

That changes things. If what Yahaba says is true that means Mikoto doesn't love Hajime, she only loves his title. To think that Hajime would be willing to settle for someone so shallow. Although, at least she doesn't reject Hajime and belittle him like Tooru has done on multiple occasions. Even Tooru has to admit that Mikoto is the better choice in this situation.

"I apologize for my tardiness," Akaashi Keiji says as he walks into the drawing room looking as regal as ever.

Almost instantly, the omegas who were listening to Mikoto's story scurry off to Akaashi's side. Reluctantly, Mikoto joins them. All of them seem to be fighting for Akaashi's attention, but the omega barely acknowledges their presence as he makes his way across the room.

"Tooru-sama," Akaashi greets with a bow.

The sudden attention startles Tooru, but he quickly recovers. "Akaashi-san." He returns the greeting.

"May I sit with you?"

Tooru glances to the empty cushion next to him. "Ah, sure..."

Akaashi smiles. Then, he faces the other omegas, a small pout on his face. "There doesn't appear to be enough room over here. My apologies." He sounds apologetic yet it's obvious that he isn't. "We can catch up some other time."

Tooru doesn't understand what just transpired, but he's pleased when he sees the group of omegas, including Mikoto, return to their previous location. Two servants enter the room with platters of ribbon, thread, and assorted trinkets. Each group has their own tray of materials.

"Today we'll be crafting union bracelets," Akaashi explains to Tooru. "If you're familiar with the Eastern kingdom's betrothal necklaces, union bracelets are a similar concept, except here, your mate wears the bracelet even in death."

Yahaba adds, "The king still wears the bracelet the queen made for him. I think it's romantic."

"I, too, think it's romantic, Yahaba-san," Akaashi says.

Sighing, Tooru speaks in the western tongue so that only Yahaba can understand him. "I think it's a heap of horseshit."

Akaashi chuckles. "I'm not a fan of these social events, though, I will admit that the union bracelets are lovely." Both Tooru and Yahaba are stunned by how fluent Akaashi is in the western tongue. Akaashi reaches into one of the trays, taking out a roll of silver ribbon. "My mother was born in the west. She lived there until she came here to marry my father."

Well, Tooru sure feels like an imbecile.

Thankfully, Akaashi changes the subject. "Are you looking forward to the festival tonight, Tooru-sama?" he asks while he adds trinkets to the ribbon.

Tooru looks at Yahaba expectantly.

"There are four important wedding traditions," Yahaba explains patiently. "First, there is the visit to the mystical springs. Following that, there's the reception and the ceremonial hunt. The last event is a festival held in honor of the newlyweds."

"I thought the reception was to honor us."

"The reception is for the noble clans. The festival is for the entire kingdom."

"Will I be given another collar?" Tooru's bitterness is palpable.

Akaashi isn't as amused this time around as he was by Tooru's first outburst. "You're not happy with your collar?" he asks in bewilderment.

"Of course, I'm not happy with my collar," Tooru snorts disdainfully, his face twisting in disgust. "I'm not a dog!"

Luckily, the other omegas are too busy crafting their bracelets to pay Tooru any mind. But it's obvious that Akaashi doesn't appreciate Tooru's words. Instead of causing a scene like Tooru expects the omega to do, Akaashi resumes his task of adding trinkets to the ribbon. After a while, Akaashi speaks up.

"My mother did not come here by her own free will," he speaks softly, yet there's an edge to his words, "During the war, she was stolen from her village and sold into slavery. She suffered for years until my father, a traveling merchant, saved her. He brought her to his birthplace and they were happy for some time. The war waged on for years and soon my father was enlisted not long after my mother gave birth to me. As expected, my father was killed in battle." He laughs dryly. "You see, there's no place for a merchant on the battlefield..."

Without his father around, his mother turned to the pleasure house for income. She managed to keep them clothed and fed before she ultimately died years later. By the time of her death, Akaashi was old enough to provide for himself.

"It wasn't an easy task what with me being an unmarked omega without an ounce of royal blood in my veins," Akaashi continues in that same, gentle tone, "I feared that an alpha would claim me without my consent or that I'd be taken and killed afterward. I was fortunate that neither of those things happened. A nobleman saw me at the stall I worked at in the market. I suppose he thought I was worth something because, after two weeks of visiting with me, he presented me with his collar." He touches the collar on his neck, his expression fond. "Since then, I've known nothing but luxury and happiness. You may see the collar as some kind of curse, but for a lot of us, it's our salvation."

"Even still, you're happy to be someone's property?" While he's somewhat moved by Akaashi's story, Tooru can't grasp why anyone would be proud of the collar. 

Akaashi gives Tooru an odd look as if Tooru is the one who doesn't make any sense. "I come from nothing. Of course, I am happy to belong to someone. And, even though my betrothed is no longer here, I still reap the benefits of his title. It may be difficult for you to accept this because you were born of privilege. Not all of us are that fortunate, Tooru-sama."

Last night, Hajime tried to explain the collars to Tooru, but he refused to listen. All this time, he assumed their sole purpose was to remind him of his new place in life, to remind him that he was property. Instead, the collars are more than that.

"Tooru-sama is still learning about the Southern culture," Yahaba tells Akaashi, "We do not have collars in the west. It will take time for him to adjust."

"Do you always make excuses for Tooru-sama?" Akaashi chuckles.

Yahaba's face heats up. He doesn't want to answer that.

"I'm still here," Tooru snidely reminds them.

Akaashi reaches into the tray, taking out a roll of gold thread and handing it to Tooru. "Here, you should make something for Hajime-sama."

"I'm sure Mikoto-san is already making him something."

"My apologies, I thought you were wearing the crown prince's collar, not her."

Tooru is torn. On one side, he loves how forward Akaashi is, it makes for a more interesting conversation. The other side of him, the royal side, wants the omega to remember his place. However, Akaashi is the only omega in the room, aside from Yahaba, who is treating him as though he's an actual human being and not a piece of furniture. He doesn't have many allies in the south, it couldn't hurt to be a little lenient this time.

Peering in one of the trays, Tooru picks up a tiny trinket that is in the shape of a bow and arrow. For the sake of fitting in, he will craft a bracelet for Hajime. Doesn't mean he has to give it to the alpha, though.

"You said that your bothered was no longer here..." Tooru allows the statement to linger, hoping that Akaashi can figure out the rest.

Akaashi does so easily. "Yes, he was killed during a scrimmage on the border when a rebel tribe from the east attacked. I'm allowed to wear his collar whilst I mourn for him."

"I am sorry to hear that," Tooru says and he actually means it.

"We weren't in love though I will miss his friendship."

"How long has it been since then?"

"A month."

Tooru's expression is telling.

Akaashi smiles somberly. "Although he is no longer with us, I must honor him. His father will unlock my collar during the winter solstice. Here, the winter solstice represents new beginnings, you see."

"But that's two months from now. Seems unfair that you have to wear it for that long."

"I am not disappointed that I have to wear the collar for another two months. What worries me is my life after the collar is removed. I do not want to return to my former life of poverty."

Because Tooru feels as though he's stepped on enough toes for one day, he will not mention Bokuto's obvious interest in Akaashi. The omega believes that once the winter solstice arrives, his life of luxury will be snatched away from him. However, Tooru suspects that Akaashi's happiness will continue much longer than the omega thinks. It's strange how comforting that thought is. He's never truly cared about anyone else's happiness aside from his own, but he wants Akaashi to be happy.

Tooru wonders if it's the pomegranates.

"...I should make another one for my dear Hajime-sama," Mikoto's sultry voice carries across the room, "I'll give it to him at the festival tonight..."

The other omegas giggle, a few of them stealing glances at Tooru. He tries his best not to appear bothered yet it's difficult. The woman has no shame at all. She has the audacity to speak of Hajime in such an affectionate manner. In Tooru's presence, no less. And, what is Tooru going to do about it? Nothing.

"I see you've been made aware of Mikoto-san's interest in Hajime-sama," Akaashi says.

"If she wants him," Tooru says through gritted teeth, "she can have him."

"I know we don't know one another that well, but you don't seem to be the type to give up without a fight."

Tooru glances at Mikoto, his expression venomous. "Your assumption is correct. However, this is an area that I know nothing about." Sighing, he tears his gaze away and stares at his lap in defeat. "I pretend as though I don't care whether he takes her as his wife or not, but that isn't true. I don't want to be replaced again." He keeps his eyes downcast to hide the moisture in his eyes.

"Then, you will not be replaced," Akaashi says, "Alphas are simple creatures. If you're open to it, I can help you ensure that Hajime-sama never thinks about taking another wife."

Tooru gives Akaashi a curious look. "How so?"

Akaashi's smile is devious. "Come with me to my abode when this is over. We can prepare for the festival together." He looks at Yahaba. "Yahaba-san is welcome, as well."

The sound of Mikoto's voice carries across the room again, this time she's talking about her past trysts with Hajime, and it's just the push Tooru needs to accept Akaashi's help.

"We need to loosen you up first."

"I'm loose enough," Tooru insists impatiently, gesturing with his hands, "There's no need for all this!"

Akaashi grins down at Tooru as he continues to straddle the omega on his bed. "You carry yourself like a shrewd virgin. Hard to imagine you've shared a bed with an alpha like Hajime-sama."

Turning his head to the side, Tooru tries to hide his face in the pillow. When Akaashi invited him over he didn't expect anything like this. The omega gave them a brief tour of his lavish home, then he ordered his servants to help Yahaba find a dress for tonight. Tooru assumed that Akaashi wanted to get him alone, and he was right. However, he didn't think this was what the omega had up his sleeves.

"Do you want Mikoto-san to steal your alpha?" Akaashi asks.

"No, I don't want that cunt anywhere near Hajime-sama!"

Akaashi giggles. "You're very vulgar, Tooru-sama." He caresses Tooru's face with his hand, his face lowering. "If you can't even look at a lowborn like me in the eye then how will you be confident enough to woo Hajime-sama?"

Tooru's snaps his head in Akaashi's direction, an insult on the tip of his tongue. Yet, he's floored by the omega's proximity, their noses nearly touching, their gazes locked. He remains in that trance, missing the way Akaashi is slowly straightening up.

"Eye contact is important," Akaashi says quietly. "Alphas love to be in control, but that doesn't mean that you have to always submit to their whims. When we're done here, you'll be able to make Hajime-sama do whatever you want without a touch."

Tooru scoffs at that, "I don't have anything to entice him with. Mikoto-san has large breasts, you have curves and whatever tricks your mother taught you." He winces. "I apologize for that. I'm not accustomed to holding my tongue. That doesn't make it alright, though..."

Akaashi continues smiling. "My mother was a whore," he states without shame or resentment, "I have long accepted that. But she never taught me any tricks. What I'm telling you is what I've learned from my own observations." Lightly, he caresses Tooru's shoulders. "Would you believe me if I told you I was a virgin?"

"No, I would not believe that." Tooru barely registers the touch, his attention solely on Akaashi's face.

"I've never known an alpha's touch," Akaashi admits, "or anyone's touch." 

"I do not mean to offend you when I say that that is hard to believe."

"No offense is taken." Akaashi lowers his hands to Tooru's hands, moving them to settle on his waist. "I'm confident in myself, that's all. You have every reason to be confident, too. You're very beautiful, Tooru-sama. As for your body..." He gives Tooru an appraising look. "You have more to offer than you think you do."

Tooru can't take his eyes off Akaashi. Akaashi has succeeded in getting Tooru to loosen up, and Tooru doesn't even realize it.

"Pretend I'm Hajime-sama," Akaashi says as he slowly rocks his hips back and forth. "Mounting you like this, it's pleasurable, but I can mount any omega I want. What makes you any different, any better than anyone of them?"

"I'm royalty."

Akaashi chuckles airily, his movements becoming more purposeful. "Royalty, lowborn, we're all the same when the candles are blown out. When it comes to sex, your royal status doesn't mean much of anything."

That's the only thing Tooru can think of that sets him apart from Mikoto. At least, initially. With further coaxing from Akaashi, Tooru reminds himself that unlike other omegas, he's lean muscle instead of plumpness and curves. While most omegas were learning how to seduce their prey, Tooru was mastering archery and sword handling. All of these things made Tooru think that he was less of an omega, but now he can use them to his advantage.

"Have you given up already—"

The rest of Akaashi's taunt is cut off, the words dying on his tongue as he's abruptly rolled over and pinned to the mattress. Above him, Tooru is straddling him, a triumphant expression on his face.

"You were saying?" Tooru smugly asks.

For a moment there, Akaashi has to remember that they're only playing around. "You're well on your way, Tooru-sama," he says.

Tooru beams at the praise. "I'm physically stronger than most omegas. Do you think Hajime-sama will like that about me?"

"Yes, I honestly do. Hajime-sama's family is filled with warriors. Did you know that the queen and king spar together?"

Tooru's eyes widen. "Really?" His mother and father would never. "The king allows the queen to participate in his training?"

"Their training," Akaashi corrects. "When the soldiers are off fighting wars who do you think defends the palace?"

"I assumed there were soldiers who stayed behind."

"Yes, that is true. But if they fall in battle, who do you think stands in their place?"

Tooru has never thought of that. He never had a reason to think about that.

"There is still so much for me to learn, I suppose," he says, feeling ashamed of the number of times he's had to say that.

Akaashi nods his head. "For now, we'll focus on the current task. You've finally realized your worth. You'll need to keep that in mind for our next lesson. Alphas such as Hajime-sama love a challenge. They're not as intuitive as us omegas so you'll need to show him that you're interested without fully submitting."

Tooru can't hide how eager he is to learn all he can. All of this time, he's been under the impression that everything he wants should be handed to him. But that kind of thinking isn't going to get him anywhere. In order to maintain his position, he's going to have to play the game and win.

"Are you going to mope all night, Hajime-sama?" Watari teases, handing the alpha a small jug of wine.

The man's sudden appearance yanks Hajime out of his thoughts. Forcing a smile, he gratefully accepts the wine. Taking a swig, he tries to rid his mind of the argument he and Tooru had the previous night. It's been on his mind all day, even interfering with the hunt, and nearly costing him their prey. Luckily, his friend was there to land the killing blow. His other friends teased him endlessly, thinking that Hajime was distracted with lewd thoughts of his wedding night. How wrong they were.

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Hajime hands the jug back to Watari. "Thank you." He looks through the crowd again in search of a familiar face. Finding none,  at least not the one he's looking for, he sighs, "I'm going to go check on Tooru. I haven't seen him since I left this morning."

"The festival just started. I'm sure he'll be here soon enough."

"Not after what happened last night," Hajime mutters.

Watari smirks. "Lover's quarrel already?"

Hajime is about to reply with a biting remark when he's interrupted by the soft call of his name. Assuming its one of his many admirers who refuse to back off, he's reluctant to face them. He only does so when he sees the stunned expression on Watari's face. Turning around, Hajime is met with a startling sight.

Tooru is standing there or at least, Hajime thinks this person is Tooru. Since his eyes appear to be of no use, he relies on his nose instead. Sure enough, it's Tooru. Hajime can smell the ripe scent of peaches on the omega and the underlying hints of his own scent from when he unintentionally scent marked Tooru as they slept last night.

"I hope your hunt went well," Tooru says, staring at Hajime through thick, dark lashes. "I made something for you while you were away..."

The thin straps of Tooru's sapphire dress tie behind his neck, leaving his arms, shoulders, and back exposed. Tooru's long hair is parted down the middle by a gold headpiece, a small sun-shaped charm dangling in front of his forehead. Aside from the collar, the only jewelry Tooru wears is a gold armband that curls around his arm. Hajime can't help but admire how the light from the nearby flames bathe Tooru's skin in such an enticing way. He's always found Tooru beautiful yet the omega is breathtaking right now.

He's literally breathtaking. Hajime is finding it difficult to speak.

Tooru unclasps his hands, revealing a small bracelet. "May I have your hand, Hajime-sama?" he asks in a gentle voice that is incongruous to the condescending tone that Hajime has grown accustomed to. "The bow and arrow represent my passion for archery. I added the sun symbol because it reminds me of you."

Hajime watches as Tooru ties the bracelet around his left wrist. "I remind you of the sun?" he asks dumbly.

"Yes," Tooru laughs, "You remind me of the sun." Once the bracelet is secured, Tooru releases Hajime's hand. "I wanted to give you that just in case I lost it during the festival."

"It's a union bracelet..."

"I know."

Hajime has to say something. He needs to apologize for lying to Tooru. What he had with Mikoto was in the past. He has no intentions of rekindling things with her. The only person he wants is Tooru, and the omega needs to know that.

Tooru glances over his shoulder, and then back at Hajime. "I promised Akaashi-san that I would visit the booths with him." He smiles at Hajime. "Come find me later, okay?"

Gods, Hajime has been rendered to a dumbstruck fool. The only thing he can manage is a slow head nod. Tooru smiles again before he turns away and walks off with Akaashi and Yahaba flanking him. Hajime stares after the omega longingly. Absently, he wonders who gave Tooru that dress. He doesn't know if he should thank them for allowing him to see more of Tooru's gorgeous body or if he should have them hanged because now everyone can see more of Tooru's gorgeous body.

Watari leans over and pushes Hajime's chin up, helping the alpha close his mouth. "You're drooling, Hajime-sama," he chuckles. 

Hajime scowls.

Another one of his friends walks up. "Was that the western prince?" he asks.

"Yeah, that was him," Watari answers. 

The alpha hums. "Too bad he already has his collar." Laughing, he looks to Hajime. "Then again, I think I'd risk a death sentence for a small measure of paradise."

Calmly, Hajime places his hand on the alpha's shoulder. "Joke like that again and I'll rip your spine out of your body and choke you with it." 

Watari and the alpha audibly gulp.

Hajime leaves the men standing there while he walks in the same direction as the omegas. Before the night is over with, he is going to tell Tooru how he truly feels. 

Chapter Text

"You did well, Tooru-sama."

Tooru casts Akaashi a skittish glance. "Do you think so?" he asks, turning to sneak a glance over his shoulder.

"Don't," Akaashi warns in a hushed voice. "You mustn't let him in on the game until you have won."

It already feels as though he's won what with the way Hajime is following them around the festival with a love-drunk expression on his face. Whenever they stop at one of the various booths to look at the merchant's goods, Tooru steals glances at Hajime, careful not to be noticed by the alpha. Several times the prince is intercepted by his brothers in arms, common folk, or the occasional omega who hopes to woo him with their coquettish charms. But none of them manage to deviate Hajime from his course.

"Prince Hajime is determined."

Smiling at Akaashi's comment, Tooru picks up a jeweled comb and admires it. "His behavior is disgraceful," he says, although he doesn't think that in the slightest. "He's following behind us like a lost puppy." He returns the comb to its place on the velvet tablecloth.

Akaashi chuckles.

They spend a great deal of time at the next booth where the merchant allows them to try on the jewelry. Akaashi and Yahaba giggle while trying on different rings and bracelets. In the provided mirror, Tooru tries on a pair of dangling earrings that are so long that they touch the top of his naked shoulders. He wants to purchase the earrings but he doesn't have any coins on him. He's staring at the small starfish stud that accentuates the earrings when he catches Hajime staring at him through the mirror's reflection.

Tooru turns around to see that Hajime is closer than the mirror portrays.

"I didn't mean to startle you." Hajime flashes an apologetic smile.

"You didn't startle me."

Hajime doesn't comment on the obvious lie. Instead, he takes out a gold coin and hands it to the merchant. "For the earrings," he explains.

"Thank you," Tooru says with a shy smile, "I didn't think to bring any coins with me." Though it isn't as if he has any coins to bring.

"No worries, I'll buy you anything you want."

Glancing around at the other stalls, Tooru's eyes light up at the prospect of Hajime taking him to every booth and spoiling him with things he doesn't need. He's always had a penchant for overindulging in materialistic items. There's also his inexplicable desire to be alone with Hajime right now. That isn't to say that he doesn't enjoy Akaashi and Yahaba's company. The omegas are the perfect companions. It's just that he's envious of the other couples he's seen around the festival. A festival such as this, with the lanyards of lights hanging and musicians playing, is a romantic affair that should be enjoyed by lovers.

"Hajime-sama," a sultry voice calls, "I have something for you."

Tooru's dream of a romantic evening with Hajime is shattered at the appearance of Mikoto. The woman is daring in a red, strapless dress that has a high split, her tan thigh peeking out. Mikoto's purpose for wearing that dress tonight is painfully obvious.

"You should go see what she wants," Tooru quietly says.

Without another look in Hajime's direction, Tooru walks away from the booth, Yahaba, and Akaashi trailing behind him. Balling his fist at his sides, Tooru thinks of all the horrible things that he wants to do to Mikoto. But if he physically attacks the woman, he'll risk Hajime taking pity on her, and he can't have that. 

Tooru's murderous thoughts are interrupted by Bokuto's friendly greeting. The alpha is waiting in line at one of the food stalls with another alpha who has an odd hair color and strange markings on his hair. Both of the alphas are dressed in the same hunting attire as Hajime.

"Bokuto-san, Kyoutani-san," Akaashi greets with a demure bow.

Yahaba and Oikawa mirror Akaashi's bow.

The alpha's greet them in return. Afterward, Kyoutani returns his attention to the long line they're standing in while Bokuto can't take his eyes off Akaashi. Seeing this, Tooru can't help but smile. The man's interest in Akaashi is so obvious that Tooru is sure that Akaashi has picked up one it by now. Then again, Akaashi doesn't seem to notice a thing. The omega is staring off into the distance where a merchant is selling dyed silks.

"What is this line for?" Yahaba asks, breaking the awkward silence.

Bokuto blinks. "Um, it's for." He looks toward the front of the line to read the sign.

"Sweet ice," Kyoutani cuts with his deep, gruff voice.

"I've always wanted to try that," Yahaba says, more to himself. "They sold it at the festivals back home, but I could never afford it." He chuckles.

Akaashi tears his eyes away from the fine silks. "Everyone should try sweet ice at least once in their life," he says with a grin, "I'll buy you a cup. You too, Tooru-sama."

The alphas allow the omegas to stand in line next to them to avoid an even longer wait. Listening to Bokuto trying and failing to hold Akaashi's interest with idle conversation gives Tooru secondhand embarrassment. From a subjective standpoint, Bokuto is a handsome alpha, his physique nearly as impressive as Hajime's. Though, anyone else may think that Bokuto is more physically desirable than Hajime. It's just that Tooru is biased. Aside from the alpha's physical appearance, Bokuto is very kind. Doesn't hurt that he's the heir to the richest clan in the kingdom. One would think that Akaashi would be hankering for the man's attention.

Instead, Akaashi seems bored and uninterested.

"I don't really care for board games," Akaashi replies to Bokuto's inquiry.

Bokuto isn't deterred. "What kind of leisure activities do you like then?" he asks.

Akaashi links his arms with Yahaba's arms, pulling the omega close. "I prefer physical activities," he jokes suggestively.

Yahaba's face heats up, but he giggles along with Akaashi. Tooru tries to hold in his giggles but he fails. After his lessons with Akaashi earlier that night, Akaashi showed Yahaba a thing or two, as well. There may have been some kissing and touching involved. Intimacy between omegas is a common thing yet it's shameful to speak of it publicly.

Thankfully, Bokuto doesn't seem to understand Akaashi's implication. "You like to wrestle, too?" he says, happy to finally share a common interest with the omega. "Kyoutani and I wrestle a lot. I win most of the time," he boasts.

Kyoutani grunts in response as he's too busy ordering his sweet ice.

"Perhaps you two could wrestle together," Tooru suggests, gesturing between Akaashi and Bokuto, "That is a thing here, isn't it?"

"Yes, alphas wrestle with their omegas all the time," Bokuto says.

Turning away from Bokuto, Akaashi faces forward. "That is true. However, I am not your omega."

That puts an end to all discussion on the matter. Akaashi's tone wasn't harsh yet his words still stung. From the looks of it, Tooru's hopes of playing matchmaker will never come to pass. He won't bother Akaashi if the omega isn't interested in Bokuto.

"Here," Kyoutani suddenly says, handing a cup of sweet ice to Yahaba.

Yahaba gasps in surprise. Taking the offered cup, he bows his head. "Thank you, Kyoutani-san."

Kyoutani glances at Bokuto. "Are we done here?" he asks.

"Yes," Bokuto says, he looks to the omegas, "Enjoy the rest of your night, ladies."

They leave the food stall after Akaashi purchases sweet ice for himself and Tooru. On their way to the booth where the dyed silks are being sold, Akaashi fills them in on the mysterious Kyoutani Kentarou.

"I've actually never heard him speak until now," Akaashi says in between chews, "Kyoutani-san is the queen's nephew, and he's Hajime-sama's first cousin. He's lived here for years, but I've never heard him utter a word. Rumor has it that he has quite the temper. But he seems nice enough." Smirking, he nudges Yahaba in the arm gently. "Seems to have a soft spot for our Yahaba-san."

Yahaba nudges Akaashi in return. "You have an admirer of your own. Don't think we didn't notice how Bokuto-san was looking at you. Isn't that right, Tooru-sama."

"That's right," Tooru chimes in, "And you were so mean to Bokuto-san."

Akaashi's smile drops. "I wasn't too mean to him, was I?" he asks quietly.

"No, you just crushed his heart, that's all," Yahaba jokes.

Tooru says, "I thought Bokuto-san was a fine man. Was I wrong in my assumption?"

Shaking his head, Akaashi glances around to make sure no one is eavesdropping. "Bokuto-san is a very fine man and if things were different, I would be more than happy to accept his advances. It's just that, the Inoue clan watches my every move."

"They watch you?"

Akaashi shifts nervously. "Can we discuss this some other time?" he asks, his eyes pleading, "It's such a lovely night..."

Well, it's obvious that there is more to the picture than Akaashi will allow them to see at the present moment. Tooru will not push the omega for answers now, but that doesn't mean that he won't bring it up again some other time. If the Inoue clan are harming Akaashi in any way, he would like to know so that he can use what little influence he has to put an end to it. It's the least he can do in return for Akaashi's kindness.

Ending all discussion about admirers and overbearing clans, the omegas make their way to the dyed silks. Despite Yahaba and Tooru's advice, Akaashi spends the remainder of his allowance on the silks. He claims that he needs to have more dresses made. They've seen Akaashi's wardrobe with their own eyes. Akaashi has more than enough dresses.

"Tooru-kun, there you are." The queen greets from her spot under a large, purple tent that's filled with decorative cushions, pillows, and a table of food. "You're just in time for the tourney." She smiles at Yahaba and Akaashi. "Your friends can sit with us if they like. There's plenty of room."

An invitation to sit with the queen is something that Yahaba nor Akaashi can pass up. They're delighted to join Tooru. And, Tooru is smug as hell when he catches Mikoto and her followers scowling at them from across the seating area. He takes the seat beside the queen, smiling at the woman when she compliments his dress and headpiece.

"I will have more dresses like this made for you," Amari says, touching Tooru's arm gently.

The woman's touch is nurturing in a way, and Tooru can't say that it is wholly unwelcome. Tooru's parents weren't the affectionate type and touching of any kind was strictly reserved for mates in the west. His mother only showed him affection when she wanted him to comply. So it will take him time for him to get used to how touchy everyone here seems to be. 

"Thank you, your majesty," Tooru says.

Amari turns her attention to Yahaba. "You look stunning, Yahaba-san. I'll have some dresses made for you, as well."

"Yahaba-san already has an admirer," Akaashi says, grinning mischievously, "Kyoutani-san bought him a cup of sweet ice, your majesty."

"I'm sure he was just being nice," Yahaba says.

"Do not expect a collar from my nephew, Yahaba-san," Amari says as she picks up a vase of wine and pours a glass. She hands Yahaba the glass of wine, and then she flashes him a cheeky grin. "Kentarou is Eastern born. The alphas there give craft betrothal necklaces for their intended!"

Yahaba blushes. Taking the glass, he hurriedly brings it up to his lips and drinks. Tooru and Akaashi have a good laugh at Yahaba's expense. Soon, the queen has a glass of wine poured for them all. They drink and continue to tease Yahaba until the conversation veers into a different subject.

"Each scar represents a kill," Amari explains the meaning behind her tribal markings, her blue eyes shining like gemstones in the firelight. "Most are from the bears and wolves I've battled. Some are from men who've tried to invade my father's land."

"Bears and wolves?" Tooru asks incredulously.

Amari chuckles. "Yes, Tooru-kun. Where I come from the wolves are bigger than horses. The bears stand taller than men." Her expression turns somber. "My sister, Kentarou's mother, died fighting the great wolf, Ōkami."

"I'm sorry to hear that, your majesty."

"My sister did not die in vain. She took Ōkami's left eye with her to our ancestral plain. And, a year ago, Kentarou avenged his mother's death." The queen's voice fills with pride and fondness when she mentions her nephew.

"You said that the markings represent kills, your majesty?" asks Yahaba.


Akaashi, Tooru, and Yahaba share nearly identical expressions of shock. Kyoutani's entire back is covered in rows of neat, horizontal scars. There are at least one hundred of them. It makes Tooru wonder how many scars Hajime would have if he adhered to Eastern customs. The alpha has fought in his share of battles, and Tooru is positive that Hajime has drawn blood before. Though, it's hard to believe that the charming brute who believes in fairy tales has the capacity to kill.

"The tourney is about to begin," Amari announces, clapping her hands in excitement.

In the center of the large seating area, Hajime, along with Bokuto, Kyoutani, Watari, and the other men who were involved in the morning hunt stand across from a group of men that Tooru has never seen before.

Tooru has no idea what's going on. Thankfully, the king is there to explain the purpose of the tourney and the rules that the participants must follow. Unsurprisingly, the tourney is simply another one of the events held in honor of the prince's marriage. As for the rules, the men have to fight until only one of them is left in the circle.

Sounds easy enough.

Each of the men is given a small clay bowl filled with an unknown substance. The king orders the warriors to go out into the crowd and find a person who is willing to give them their favor. One of the men walks to where Mikoto is sitting. Tooru assumes the man is the fool who gave the woman his collar. Taking his eyes off them, he watches as Kyoutani walks up to Yahaba and asks for his favor. Tooru and Akaashi grin at each other.

"Will you do me the honor?" Hajime asks, voice grabbing Tooru's attention.

Tooru knows that everyone is watching them right now. So, he stands to his feet. Taking the bowl from Hajime, he stares at the red paint. He glances up at Hajime in confusion.

"Paint my forehead and my chest," he whispers in the western language.

Dipping three fingers into the cool paint, Tooru scoops out a small amount. Carefully, he paints across Hajime's forehead. They're standing so close that Tooru can feel Hajime's breath fanning his face. Kissing Hajime for good luck crosses his mind yet he isn't bold enough to kiss the alpha while they are being watched like this. Tooru's hand lingers on Hajime's chest after he's painted the skin.

"Win," Tooru says, lifting his eyes to meet Hajime's gaze, "and I'll reward you."


"Win and you'll find out."

Hajime smirks "I look forward to redeeming my reward shortly."

When Tooru takes his seat, Akaashi leans over and whispers, "It's hard to tell if you're playing the game or not, Tooru-sama."

It's meant to be a compliment for how well Tooru is excelling yet Tooru has to admit that he doesn't know if this is all a game to him or not anymore. The only thing that he knows for certain is that he doesn't want anyone to else but him to have Hajime.

Once the king steps out of the circle, the tourney begins. And, it begins with a vicious move from Kyoutani who lifts a man over his head and throws him out of the circle. Onlookers cheer loudly at the display. Beside him, the queen says something in what sounds like the Eastern language under her breath. Whatever the woman said, it's obvious that she approves of her nephew's actions.

There are so many men in the circle that Tooru loses sight of Hajime. He at least knows that the man is still holding his own because he hasn't seen him thrown from the circle yet. Bokuto proves that he is more than a good-natured man when he kicks a man in the chest and sends him flying out of the circle. In the same instance, he spins around and puts another man in a chokehold. As the two men fall to the sand, grappling at one another, Tooru's eyes skim the mass of painted bodies for Hajime.

He can see Hajime better now that a majority of the men have been defeated. Soon, Hajime punches Mikoto's alpha so hard that the man stumbles out of the circle. Smiling smugly, Tooru settles his hands on his folded thighs, his fingers digging into the fabric of his dress anxiously. Watching Hajime fight has his blood pumping and his heart hammering in his chest. Despite his obvious interest in the tourney, Tooru tries to maintain his decorum as best he can.

Now that there are only five alphas left in the circle, Hajime's fighting kills shine through. The alpha is light on his feet, fast, and ruthless. He knees one of his opponents in the stomach, and then he shoves the wounded man out of the circle.

Only Bokuto, Kyoutani, and Hajime remain. The cousins strategize; they attack Bokuto simultaneously until the alpha is dangerously close to the circle's line. But, Bokuto proves to be a difficult opponent. With the agility of a dancer, he avoids the line and evades the alpha's continuous assault, earning himself a round of applause from the crowd. Even the queen praises him.

Bokuto's luck is short-lived, however. When Bokuto dodges one of Kyoutani's blows, Hajime crouches down and sweeps his leg out, tripping the alpha. Although Bokuto recovers from that attack, Kyoutani lightly shoves him out of the circle as he's regaining his footing. Cursing loudly, Bokuto fists his hands in his hair in frustration as everyone laughs good-naturedly.

The tourney continues without a hitch. Hajime and Kyoutani wrestle one another to the sand, snarling and snapping at each other with their teeth. Tooru thinks of two wolves fighting over scraps. When Hajime dominates Kyoutani by putting his teeth at the alpha's throat, Tooru can feel a scintilla of warmth trickle down his spine. Seeing Hajime like this, in such a primitive way, is doing strange things to him.

Kyoutani manages to throw Hajime off him. Rolling to the side, Hajime gets on all fours. Kyoutani mirrors Hajime's movements. The alphas circle one another like lions closing in on their prey. Gradually, they adjust their bodies into a crouching position, the infinitesimal movements barely noticeable to the untrained eye. But Tooru's eyes are trained to pick up the slightest of movements thanks to his past sword training.

Kyoutani lunges at Hajime first, and it costs him. Waiting until the alpha is close, Hajime rolls out of the way. Kyoutani catches on to Hajime's trick fast enough to avoid leaving the circle on his own accord, however, he isn't fast enough to evade the kick that sends him tumbling over the line.

"Prince Hajime is our victor," the king announces proudly.

Everyone stands to their feet to applaud Hajime's victory. Through the thick crowd, Hajime finds Tooru's face easily, a boyish grin on his face as he seeks his wife's approval. Tooru beams at Hajime, his smile bright and dazzling. Soon, the crowd dissipates as some people return to whatever they were doing prior to the tourney.

"Go to him, Tooru-kun," Amari says, "Let everyone see that you're proud of your husband."

Tooru suspects that when Amari says, everyone, she is referring to Mikoto. The thought of Mikoto being the one to praise Hajime personally, and not him, has him quickly moving through the crowd. He keeps his eyes on Hajime and the alpha holds his gaze, both of them in a trance-like state. Out of his peripheral, Tooru catches a glimpse of red.

Mikoto is also making her way through the crowd. The nerve of this woman continues to baffle Tooru. He's never met anyone so stubborn aside from himself. Perhaps that is the true reason why Tooru is intimidated by the woman. Her tenacity and pettiness match his own. Instead of turning around and returning to the queen's side, Tooru pushes onward.

The omegas reach the oblivious prince at the same time. Mikoto calls out to Hajime, and the alpha turns in her direction. Before she can utter a word, Tooru stands in between the two, his chest nearly touching Mikoto's. The woman squares her shoulders, making herself appear bigger yet it's futile because Tooru has the actual height. He stands his ground.

"Hajime-sama is mine," Tooru practically snarls, his lips curling back to reveal his fangs. "Approach him again, for anything, and I will claw your eyes out, you bitch!"

Tooru says all this in the western language so Mikoto doesn't understand him fully yet the woman can smell Tooru's bloodlust, she can sense the threat, and it's enough for her to back off. As she retreats, the onlookers who are fluent in the western language translates Tooru's threat for their friends who aren't fluent.

Everyone is whispering and pointing in Tooru's direction, some of them laugh at the expense of Mikoto while the others stare at the westerner in wonder. It doesn't take long for the incident to reach Mikoto's betrothed's ears, and from the look of it, Tooru doesn't have to worry about the woman imposing on any more of his social events. He expects she'll be collarless soon. 

Facing Hajime, Tooru asks, "Is there somewhere we can go? Somewhere private?"

Hajime takes Tooru by the hand and together they maneuver through the bustling crowd.


They have to walk further down the beach, near the sea grotto, to get away from the constant stares and whispers. Tooru has never seen the sea this close up. He's caught glimpses of it from the safety of the veranda or the windows in their bedchamber.

Being this close is terrifying. Yet, he can't look away from the gentle push and pull of the waves. If Tooru strains his ears a little, he can make out a voice speaking to him, urging him to come closer, to reach out and touch...

"Careful," Hajime says. 

Blinkly rapidly, Tooru retracts his hand away from the murky depths. His body moved of its own volition. Had Hajime not been there, Tooru thinks he might have followed the voice to the bottom of the sea. Still reeling from the out of body experience, he presses close to Hajime.

The alpha chuckles. "I won't let her take you," he promises.


"The sea."

They stand a safe distance from the water. Tooru has almost forgotten their purpose for leaving the festival. He's still thinking about the sea. Hajime referred to it as her. The voice that Tooru heard had been a woman's voice, he's sure of it. But there's no way that Hajime should have known that. Tooru is sure that he was just imaging things, though. Dismissing the thought, he gives Hajime his full attention. 

"Tooru, I owe you an apology," Hajime says, "I should have never allowed you to believe that I would take Mikoto as my wife. What I had with her is in the past and that is where it will remain."

"You lied?" Tooru's eyebrows furrow, confusion marring his features. "Why?"

"I wanted you to feel how you made me feel." Before Tooru can blow up like he's prone to, Hajime explains, "You told me that you hated me and I know you see me as some thick-skulled brute with no emotions, but that isn't true. I care just as much as you do. In fact, I think I care more than you."

Tooru crosses his arms over his chest defensively. "Don't presume to know my heart."

"You did not mean it when you said you hated me?"

"At the time I meant every word of it." Tooru scowls at the alpha's stunned expression. "You put a collar on me! And I know that they're supposed to be beneficial to omegas here but where I come from they're degrading. Slaves where collars!"

Hajime shakes his head, his eyes downcast. "When will you understand that you are no longer in the west, Tooru? You can't hold us to the same standards of your people. Before deciding that you hate something, take the time to learn the purpose of it, the meaning behind it."

"You should have warned me!" he argues.

"When your father told you that your husband would be Southern born, did you take the time to learn about my culture?"

Hajime already knows the answer yet he waits for Tooru's response.

"No," Tooru answers, "But—"

"I saw the libraries in the Western palace," Hajime says, with no intention of stopping until he's made his point, "They are vast in their knowledge of the Southern kingdom. The history of the collars along with their sole purpose is mentioned in several texts. All you had to do was ask a librarian and they could have found the passages for you.  Anything you wanted to learn about my culture, you could have taught yourself. The information was within your grasp yet you refused to educate yourself. How is it that I'm the one to bear the blame?"

"You are not going to spin this all on me!"

"That is not my intention. I only want you to admit that you never cared to learn about my culture so that you can stop blaming everyone for your ignorance."

Tooru glares at the alpha; he hates being read so easily. "When I initially learned of our engagement, I did not care to learn anything about you or your people. Still, I've made efforts to learn all that I could. I was not properly educated on the collar system, however. That is why I reacted the way I did."

"Can we come to an agreement tonight, then?"

"What sort of agreement?"

"I want to be with you, Tooru," Hajime says, his words sincere, "I want our union to be a happy one, but it's obvious that we have a lot of differences to sort through. Before we put forth the effort, answer me truthfully. Do you see yourself ever falling in love with me?"

Initially, Tooru thinks it's a preposterous question. They can barely go a full day without butting heads. On top of that, they know nothing of one another aside from the tidbits of information that they'd gathered from careful observations. He doesn't think he will ever appreciate the collars the way Akaashi or the other omegas here does, and if he could, he would return home and reclaim the throne.

But, the throne will never be his. Murdering his half-sister wouldn't change that. Tooru will even admit that a part of him has always known that his father would never hand over his title to him. The collar isn't going anywhere until Hajime marks him so he might as well get used to it. As for his feelings for Hajime...

"Yes," Tooru says, the word coming out easier than he thought it would.

He doesn't pull away when Hajime touches the side of his face. In return, Tooru brings a hand up and settles it over Hajime's hand. Hajime tilts his head forward, bringing their foreheads together. They don't kiss. They just stay like that, gazing into each other's eyes.

Here, in the Southern kingdom, this small gesture is more intimate than a kiss. It speaks volumes.

"Tonight, I will show you how we celebrate," Hajime says, soft enough to maintain the tranquil setting, "Tomorrow, we shed our stubbornness and have a proper chat. Agreed?"


As promised, Hajime buys Tooru anything he wants, sparing no expense. Batting his pretty eyelashes, Tooru even manages to get Hajime to buy a few trinkets for Yahaba. A servant has to carry all the new purchases to their rooms while they enjoy the remainder of the festival. After he's had his fill of the merchants' stalls, Tooru allows Hajime to hand-feed him a piece of the wild boar the kingdom's warriors killed earlier that day. Tooru has had several goblets of wine so he's more relaxed and open to trying things that his sober self might have been firmly against.

Like dancing, for instance. Tooru has never been much of a dancer. He thinks that his limbs are too long for him to look anything but awkward. Yet, he dances alongside Akaashi and Yahaba as they try their best to mimic the sensual rolls of the bellydancers' hips. The dancers are kind enough to pull the omegas to the side and show them the short routine so that they can participate in the second performance.

Tooru is having too much fun to feel insecure. He just knows that it feels good to be carefree, weightless. What does it matter if he looks like a complete fool? The king is sure to make sure the supply of wine never runs dry so everyone present is nearly as drunk as Tooru is. No one will remember a thing in the morning.

In truth, Tooru doesn't look nearly as bad as he thinks he does. And, unbeknownst to Tooru and his friends, there are three alphas—Hajime, Bokuto, and Kyoutani, in particular— who are searing the memory of the omegas belly dancing to their minds.

"Where's my goblet?" Tooru asks, their performance is over and he wants more of the delicious plum wine.

"Don't drink too much or you'll get sick," Hajime says.

"Did you drink it?" Tooru cups the alpha's face, searching his eyes. "You did, didn't you?"

"I did," Hajime admits, his laughter giddy.

Tooru narrows his eyes. "You're such a brute," he says the word with a hint of fondness, "You'll just have to get me more then."

"I think that's enough for tonight, Tooru."

"We can share it. I'll drink half of it and you drink the other half."

"How do I know this isn't a trick?"

Raising his head haughtily, Tooru says, "I am a man of my word."

A servant brings another goblet of wine. Taking the wine, Tooru holds it in Hajime's face, and then he raises it to his lips. Despite his claim of being an honorable man, he gulps down the wine greedily, some of it spilling down the sides of his mouth. Laughing, he lowers the goblet and gives Hajime an apologetic smile.

"Forgive me, I couldn't control myself."

Leaning forward, Hajime licks up the droplets of wine that rolls down Tooru's chin. Tooru almost drops the goblet. The feel of Hajime's hot tongue on his flesh sends his thoughts to his time in the bathtub that morning.

"Forgive me," Hajime said, his smile smug, "I couldn't control myself."

Tooru stares at Hajime's lips and thinks about how badly he wants to kiss them.

"How long do these festivals usually last?" he asks.

"Until dawn at least," Hajime replies, oblivious to Tooru's current thoughts, "There'll be fireworks soon."

While Tooru would love to watch the fireworks, he is more interested in finding a quiet place. The festival is still underway yet there are those who appear to be down for the count. Akaashi keeps nodding off on Bokuto's shoulder. Every time the omega opens his eyes and sees that his head is touching the alpha, he scoots away. But he always ends up close to Bokuto despite his efforts to stay away. Across from them, Yahaba is chatting with Kyoutani about Eastern folklore and customs. Well, Yahaba is doing all of the talking. Kyoutani only nods here and there to show that he's listening. 

Tooru supposes his friends wouldn't mind if he retired for the night.

"Would you be disappointed if we missed the fireworks?" Tooru asks, twining his arms behind Hajime's neck.

Hajime settles his warm hands on Tooru's exposed back. "Did I ever tell you how much I love you in this dress?" Lightly, he caresses the smooth skin, trailing his hand down Tooru's spine.

"It doesn't hurt to hear it more than once."

"Spare us, please!" Watari shouts, garnering laughs from the people nearby.

Tooru blushes furiously. "Can we go somewhere quiet?" Their bedroom preferably.

"Yes, let us go where no one will bother us," Hajime says, giving Watari a pointed glare. Standing to his feet, he pulls Tooru up with him. "Bokuto-san, see to it that Akaashi-san makes it to his abode safely." He looks to Kyoutani. "Cousin, look after Yahaba-san. "

Hajime staggers slightly as they turn to head toward the palace. Tooru isn't in any better shape.

"Be mindful of the servants, Hajime-sama. Don't leave too much of a mess for them to clean!" Watari yells after them.

They barely make it to their room before Hajime has Tooru pressed against the nearest, sturdy surface, his tongue down the omega's throat. Tooru kisses Hajime back just as desperately. Hajime has enough restraint to suggest that they get inside their room before things can escalate. Tooru isn't sure how far he's willing to go tonight, hasn't really given it much thought. He just knows that he misses this. He misses Hajime's lips and the taste of Hajime's tongue.

They're sitting on the edge of the bed taking a breather when Tooru gets the random urge to change out of his dress.

"Hajime-sama will you help me?" he asks, turning around and gesturing to the back of his dress.

Hajime is eager to help. He unties the straps with finesse; more than likely gained from personal experience. Standing up, Tooru holds the loose fabric to his chest as he walks over to his wardrobe. While he changes into one of the mesh nightgowns Akaashi gifted him, he tells Hajime how much he enjoyed the festival and how happy he is that Hajime bought him so many nice things.

When Hajime doesn't respond, Tooru throws a curious glance over his shoulder. The alpha is staring at him, his mouth hanging open.

"What's the matter?" Tooru asks, pulling the nightgown over his buttocks and pass his hips.

Hajime remains speechless.

Suddenly, Tooru has a thought; a thought that only an inebriated person could conjure. Could Hajime-sama be behaving this way because he suspects what Tooru did that morning?  Gasping quietly, Tooru quickly dresses. He didn't have time to get rid of Hajime's soiled pillow that morning due to the tea party. Then, he went to Akaashi's house immediately after that. If Hajime lays on the pillow he'll be able to smell what Tooru did.

Crawling on the side of the bed, rump in the air and nose pressed to one of the many pillows, he hunts for any lingering smells that may cause alarm. Finding nothing on the first pillow, he tosses it aside and picks up another one. 

"Tooru, what are you doing?" Hajime frowns at the omega's strange behavior.

The question startles Tooru. He rolls over to his back, hiding the pillow behind him. "I'm not doing anything," he replies far too quickly to sound convincing.

"What are you doing with my pillow?"

Feeling cornered, Tooru figures it's easier if he confesses. "If I tell you, you have to promise that you won't get angry with me."

"I'm listening."

Biting his lower lip, Tooru keeps his eyes downcast. "This morning, I was hungry so I ate the pomegranates Bokuto-san gave me at the reception."

Hajime's eyes widen. "You ate...all of them?"

Tooru nods his head. "I was taking a bath when I suddenly To relieve that heat, I had to do...lewd things."

"I don't think I follow you."

"Do I need to show you, then?" Tooru slides his hands down his thighs until he reaches his knees. Then, he begins to pull the gown up, exposing his pale legs and thighs. "I'll show you what I did in our bed while you were out hunting..." 

Tooru has always had a penchant for provocation, but even he knows that this is going too far. Too bad he doesn't intend on stopping. 

Once again, Hajime is at a loss for words.

That's fine. Tooru wants Hajime's attention solely on him. He doesn't want the moment to be ruined with words. Doing this while someone is watching him shouldn't excite him as much as it does. But Tooru's upper thighs are wet with slick by the time he pulls his gown up, his hardened cock and puckered heat fully exposed. Hajime's breath hitches, the hunger in his eyes intensifying.

Reaching between his legs, Tooru keeps his eyes on Hajime as he presses a finger in. Eyes snapping shut, he moans quietly, a breathy Hajime on his lips.

Hajime nearly loses it. "Tooru, let me," he begs, kneeling on the bed.

Lifting his leg, Tooru halts Hajime's actions by placing his foot on the alpha's chest. "It's rude to interrupt, Hajime," he lightly scolds.

It's hard to decide which is more exhilarating between having this power over Hajime and performing such a lewd act in the presence of his husband. Tooru concludes that both are equally satisfying. He drops all pretense of a reenactment and rids himself of any and all inhibitions. Adding another finger, he throws his head back, his hips jerking in a desperate search for more. Tooru's fingers will never be enough and he knows that, but he's content with them.

For now, at least.

Tooru rolls to his side as his orgasm consumes him, his body convulsing as his fingers twitch inside of him. He peeks his eyes open at the sensation of Hajime kissing his ankle. The alpha's eyes are nearly pitch black, a clear sign that the alpha's inner beast has awakened. Removing his fingers, Tooru intends to wipe them on the duvet, but Hajime stops him.

"Can I taste?" Hajime asks, his voice sounding foreign to Tooru's ears.

He doesn't think he would have been able to deny Hajime anything while the alpha spoke in that voice. Giving his consent, Tooru holds out his wet fingers. Hajime crawls to him and opens his mouth, his tongue flicking out. Tooru slides his fingers into Hajime's mouth. The alpha sucks his fingers clean. 

"More." This time it's a demand.

Tooru reaches between his legs again to give the alpha what he wants, but Hajime grabs his hand.

"More," Hajime says again in that unearthly deep voice.

Grabbing Tooru's thighs, Hajime settles them on his shoulder and then he lowers his head. Tooru isn't sure what Hajime is up to until the alpha's fat tongue is lapping and prodding at his entrance. Choking on a scream, he raises his spine off the bed, his thighs clenching instinctually. Hajime's nails dig into Tooru's flesh, tearing the skin. The small addition of pain heightens the pleasure in ways that Tooru never knew were possible. The fire that burns in his belly now is a wildfire that spreads throughout his body, consuming everything, not the flicker of heat his fingers granted him.

Tooru is embarrassed by how quickly Hajime's tongue unravels him. He climaxes while Hajime's tongue is still thrusting inside of him, his thighs trembling around the alpha's face. Dazedly, he stares at the dark tufts of Hajime's hair, the man hasn't ceased his devouring despite Tooru's completion.

"Hajime, please," Tooru whines, "I can't...I can't take anymore."

Hajime sits up. Then, he flips Tooru over so that the omega is lying on his stomach. Pulling Tooru's ass into the air, all he says is, "More," before spreading Tooru's cheeks with both hands and resuming his task.

Tooru supposes it's his own fault for provoking Hajime. The alpha is a natural-born pack leader, after all. Sometime after his third orgasm, Tooru falls asleep, body spent. As he drifts off, he can still feel Hajime's tongue inside him.

The following morning Tooru expects to wake up to Hajime still behind him. Instead, he awakes to the alpha lying under him, his broad chest serving as a pillow for Tooru's head. Surprisingly, Hajime is already wide awake. He's been watching Tooru sleep. 

"Good morning," Hajime says, his voice back to normal though its raspier due to sleep, "Sleep well?"

The alpha knows damn well that Tooru slept like a newborn babe. Tooru can't recall the last time he's slept as good. He imagines Hajime is to thank for that. His tongue, rather. At the thought of Hajime's tongue, Tooru is reminded of his own actions last night. Even though he only remembers bits and pieces it's enough for his face to heat up.

"Did we?" he asks Hajime.

Hajime raises a curious brow. "Did we what?"

"Consummate our marriage?"

"No. You remain virtuous, don't worry."

Tooru snorts, "Not after that thing you did with your tongue." He blushes furiously, hiding his face on Hajime's chest. "I somehow feel tainted."

"I apologize for my lack of restraint, though, you didn't make it easy for me."

"We will not discuss that. Not now or ever."

Hajime chuckles. "As you wish. We will not discuss how you pleasured yourself in front of me ever again."

Whining, Tooru covers the alpha's wicked mouth with his hands. "I'm serious. It's bad enough that it happened. We don't have to talk about it." He peeks up, catching the expression on the alpha's face. Realizing what he said, he sits up, removing his hands from Hajime's mouth. "I didn't mean it like that, Hajime-sama. I just...I'm embarrassed," he admits.

"I understand, but it's just us here." Hajime smoothes Tooru's hair down; Tooru can only imagine how ridiculous it looks. He smiles. "When you're...aroused you don't address me so formally."

"I'll address you as Hajime more if you like."



Hajime rubs Tooru's arms tenderly. "I feared I would lose you," he admits quietly.

On the surface, Hajime doesn't seem like the affectionate type, but Tooru has seen the man's softer side on multiple occasions. Tooru expected a cold, withdrawn husband who would only show him kindness on rare occasion, and tenderness when he bedded him, perhaps not even then. However, he is fortunate to have Hajime. The man isn't afraid to be vulnerable. It makes Tooru comfortable enough to share his own vulnerability.

"I feared the same," Tooru says, his eyes watering, "I thought I was going to be replaced again." 

Hajime circles his arms around Tooru, pressing him close to his chest, tightly. "I'm sorry that I made you feel that way. I will do my best to make sure I never make you feel that way again. You're more than enough for me, Tooru." 

Tooru smiles. Those are the exact words that he needed to hear. 

Chapter Text

Tooru finds it difficult to have a serious conversation with Hajime. Every time Hajime speaks, Tooru's mind supplies him with images from last night.

That thing Hajime did with his tongue was downright degenerate. Tooru expects that kind of performance to be reserved for whorehouses and back alleys, not the crown prince's bedchambers. He's even more disturbed by how badly he wants to kiss Hajime despite the fact that he knows full well where the alpha's mouth has been. Even worse than that is how badly Tooru wants Hajime to do that wicked thing to him again.

"I can't do much about the collar for now," Hajime says. "If you'd be willing, we could mate during your next heat and I can remove your collar then."

Hearing that snaps Tooru out of his trance. Blinking rapidly, he adjusts his eyes to the radiate sunlight. They'd been sitting out on the veranda talking all morning, and it's nearly lunchtime if the sun's position in the sky is any indication. 

"I'm not sure when my next heat will be." Tooru isn't sure if he'll ever have a heat, honestly. Most omegas have their first heat by the age of sixteen, sometimes as early as fourteen. "What about during your rut?"

"About that," Hajime starts, a peculiar look in his eye, "I will be spending my ruts alone until after we've bonded."

Tooru tries not to show how much hearing that affects him. "I see," he says, tone clipped.

So much for obscurity.

"We promised to be open and honest with one another from here on out," Hajime chides.

They did agree to that prior to their conversation, and because of it, they've settled a handful of their differences without having to raise their voices or tear at each other's throats. But this is different. This isn't about the collar system or Tooru's selective ignorance. This is about Tooru's emotions, and he's never been good at expressing his emotions. At least not in a romantic sense. He's an expert at insults and tearing apart the things he doesn't like. 

However, for the sake of maintaining the peace, Tooru will make the effort.

"Are you aware of my halfsister's parentage?" Tooru asks.

"Yes, I am aware."

Tooru shifts in his seat, his eyebrows furrowing as he tries to find the right words. "One of my biggest fears is that you'll spend your rut with a commoner and I'll be forced to care for your bastard as though it were my own child." He figures it's best to be candid to avoid any misinterpretations. "I don't want to be made a fool of like my mother was."

"I have no intention of making a fool of you, Tooru." Hajime pauses. "Your fears aside, I didn't think this would bother you as much. You've made it very clear that you have no intentions of us consummating our marriage any time soon."

Casting a quick glance over his shoulder, Tooru lowers his voice and says,"Last night should be more than enough proof for you."

Hajime grins smugly. "So, you do want to have sex with me?"

"Don't get ahead of yourself. The idea of doing that with you isn't as repulsive as it used to be, that's all."

"But you're fine with us doing other things?"

Almost instantly Tooru is thinking about Hajime's head between his thighs.

"You're thinking about it now, aren't you?" Hajime asks, leaning forward in his seat. "I can do that again if you'd like. As much as you want, whenever you want—all you have to do is ask." He smirks.

Clearing his throat, Tooru straightens up in his chair. "Please stay on topic," he says in a diplomatic tone. Although, it's good to know that he can have Hajime perform for him whenever he wants. He sure to make a note of it. "Why do you want to spend your ruts alone?"

"No alpha wants to spend their ruts alone. I am only choosing to do so because I don't want to hurt you. It'll be easier once we've bonded. Until then, I will endure it alone."

"I am not fragile," Tooru says, obviously offended by Hajime's words.

"I never meant to imply such a thing. This topic may be better suited for my mother."

"What happened to us being open and honest?"

"That still applies. I'm unsure of how to explain it to you, therefore, I will allow my mother to do so. Are you fine with that?"

"Yes." But only because there is a lot that Tooru wants to discuss with the queen, and he can use this as an excuse to seek her out. "Do I need to send her a formal invitation?"

"That won't be necessary. We'll be having dinner with my parents tonight. You can speak with her then."

Since his arrival, Tooru has been waiting for the king to summon him or pull him aside to discuss the contents of the treaty. His father may have done a piss poor job of making sure Tooru was prepared for his wedding night and well versed in the Southern Kingdom's culture, but the man was sure to prepare Tooru for a meeting with the king. Tooru's father was adamant about him keeping quiet about his mating cycle. No one, not even Hajime is to know that Tooru has never had a heat. Tooru isn't sure why that matters so much, but he figures it's best if he does as his father instructed him to. Even when he's out of his father's reach, he fears the man greatly.

Suddenly, Hajime is standing and stretching his arms above his head. "The dinner will be a private affair. No need to worry." Dropping his hands to his sides, he takes in a deep breath of air and then he exhales. "I feel like going for a walk. Will you accompany me on this fine afternoon?"

Tooru chuckles. "It almost sounds if you're making a poor attempt at courting me." He stands up anyway.

"What if I did want to court you?" Hajime says in all seriousness;  they're walking in the courtyard now, on their way to some unknown destination. "And before you say it, yes I know that we're already married."

"We also share the same bed," Tooru adds, "I've also granted you privileges that a suitor should never have."

"I think this will give us a chance to get to know each other better. Our days won't always be like this, you know."

Come tomorrow, they'll both be preoccupied with their separate tasks. Tooru will either spend his upcoming days with the queen or the royal courier. They aren't going to allow him to be the future queen simply because he's married to Hajime. He has to learn how to be queen first. In the meantime, Hajime will be doing whatever it is he normally does. If they're lucky they'll get to spend time together after supper, but Tooru imagines that they'll both be exhausted by then.

"What difference will courting make?" asks Tooru.

"Had you done your research, you would know that, here, suitors are required to spend at least an hour out of the day with their intended."

Tooru thinks about elbowing Hajime in the side for the snub, but there are too many people around. Besides, he knows that Hajime didn't mean anything by the remark. And, if Hajime did mean something by it, Tooru knows that he deserves it. He's to blame for his own ignorance. No one else. 

"That applies to married couples as well?"

Hajime nods. "We wouldn't require a chaperone, but if you want someone to accompany us, that's fine." He's obviously teasing Tooru.

Feeling uncharacteristically playful, Tooru widen his steps so that he's several paces ahead of Hajime. " A chaperone won't be necessary, " he says, glancing over his shoulder, "I can take care of you on my own if you overstep." He faces forward, but not before he catches the way Hajime swallows thickly.

Akaashi told Tooru that sometimes a simple glance over the shoulder could prove more effective than a kiss. At the time, Tooru didn't believe it, but he can see now that Akaashi was right.

After regaining his composure, Hajime points our various structures during their walk around the palace. There are the stables to the east that sit upon green pastures, and the barracks to the west where a dozen or so soldiers are sparring in pairs. Tooru asks Hajime if that is where the king and queen spar. He won't believe it until he sees it with his own eyes. According to Hajime, the king and queen spar in a secluded area inside the palace. One day, they'll be invited to watch. 

From where they're standing, Tooru can see the sandy shore, the lining cliffs, and the merchant ships anchored at the docks. Hajime is in the middle of explaining their kingdom's trade agreement with the Eastern Kingdom when Bokuto walks up from the direction of the barracks.

"Hajime-sama, Tooru-sama," Bokuto greets with a bow, "I take it you two are enjoying your honeymoon."

"We are," Hajime answers for them both, more so out of habit than disregard for Tooru. "How were the morning drills? Did my cousin give you any trouble?"

Bokuto faces Tooru. "How is that he can care about our morning drills when he gets to spend an entire day with you, Tooru-sama?" he asks, a charming smile on his face and mischief in his amber eyes.

"You know better than I that alphas love their facades," Tooru quips,

Bokuto and Hajime share a look. Tooru wonders if he might have overstepped. But then Bokuto is erupting with laughter, placing a hand on Hajime's shoulder to keep himself upright.

"I see you have your hands full, Hajime-sama."

Hajime smiles fondly. "You have no idea."

"Watari-san is waiting for me," Bokuto says, breathless from all the laughing. "I should be going now."

Once Bokuto is out of sight, Tooru expects to be reprimanded for his loose tongue; his mother has been punished for far less. What Tooru doesn't expect is Hajime to kiss him. The kiss is nothing more than a gentle brush of Hajime's lips against Tooru's cheek. 

"What was that for?" Tooru asks, cupping his flushed cheek.

"I just felt like doing it," Hajime replies with a shrug.

"You're awfully affectionate."

"Does that make you uncomfortable?"

"I'm surprised, that's all. Alphas aren't known for their doting nature." Tooru is reminded of how transparent Bokuto is whenever he's in Akaashi's presence. It makes him wonder if all the alphas here were unafraid when it came to their emotions. "May I ask you about Bokuto-san?"

Hajime nods.

Tooru isn't one for gossip, but he doubts he'll get the answers he wants directly from the source. Technically, this isn't gossiping. He's simply curious and Hajime has told him countless times that if he wants to know something he need only ask.

"Bokuto-san has had his eyes on Akaashi-san for years," Hajime says in response to Tooru's inquiry. "But, Bokuto-san made the mistake of waiting too long. While he wasted time gathering courage he didn't need, Inoue-san swooped in and presented his collar to Akaashi-san. I'm hoping that my friend will not make the same mistake during the winter solstice. He isn't the only one who fancies Akaashi-san."

Of course, Akaashi would have more than one suitor. Aside from the obvious factors like Akaashi's beauty and virtue, the man has a mysterious appeal that draws people in. Everyone loves to try their hand at solving a complex puzzle. At least those who belong to the upper echelon of society. Tooru has never cared for the affairs of others, but he will admit that he is curious to know how Akaashi and Bokuto's predicament will play out. He's also happy that Hajime appears to be rooting for the same side as him.

"Hypothetically speaking," Tooru says as they're walking up the marble steps of the palace's south wing, "what would happen if Bokuto-san tried to pursue Akaashi-san before the winter solstice?"

Hajime casts Tooru a curious glance. "That depends on if anyone from the Inoue clan learns of Bokuto-san's attempts." Halting his steps, he turns to Tooru, his expression serious. "Are you asking out of mere curiosity or are you asking because you intend to play matchmaker?

The look Hajime is giving Tooru is telling. It would appear that the collar system is more serious than he previously assumed. But, there's nothing for Hajime to worry about. Tooru only wants to understand Akaashi's situation better, and he tells Hajime that.

"I'll admit that I'm a little jealous," Hajime says, feigning consternation, "My wife would rather focus on the affairs of another alpha than focus on his charming husband."

They're in the east corridor now, nearing their bedchambers. It's a wonder that Tooru hasn't tripped over his feet what with the way he hasn't been able to take his eyes off Hajime since they've entered the palace. Under the blazing sun, he couldn't gaze at Hajime without having to squint or avert his gaze. The way the alpha's skin seemed to absorb the sun was a marvel that he could not look upon. But now they're protected by the cool shade of the palace. Hajime no longer mirrors a sun god, but he's still something worthy of recognition. 


Tooru scoffs. "You're hardly charming."

Hajime chuckles, his eyes crinkling. "Care for a wager?" he asks.

"I'm always in the mood to win."

"A fortnight from now, you'll be madly in love with me."

Tooru blinks. "You're serious?" He can tell by the expression on Hajime's face that the alpha, is in fact, very serious. "I barely want to have sex with you yet you think you can make me fall in love with you in a fortnight." He laughs. "You foolish man."

"Your feelings aren't as guarded as you think."

Halting his steps, Tooru crosses his arms over his chest. "Are you sure about that?"

"I see right through you, Tooru."

Tooru laughs. "That horseshit may have worked on your past flings, but you are in for a rude awakening. I will agree to your wager and I will make a wager of my own." Every sentence brings him closer to Hajime until they're standing an inch apart. "A fortnight from now, you will be groveling at my feet and proclaiming your undying love for me."

"I grovel for no one."

"You'll grovel for me," Tooru whispers, his breath fanning Hajime's parted lips.

Smirking, Hajime leans in. "Shall we seal it with a kiss, then?"

Tooru closes the distance, kissing Hajime so hard that it feels more like a bite than a kiss. And, then he pulls away before the kiss can evolve into something else entirely. Taking a step back, he smoothes out his dress demurely.

"Now, if you'll excuse me I'd like to lie down," Tooru says.

"I'll leave you to it, then."

Tooru is curious to know what Hajime will be doing in the meantime, but he has to remain nonchalant. He currently has the upper hand and he knows how easy it'll be for Hajime to turn the tables. For all that the alpha is, the man is a worthy adversary. Although their wager is nothing more than a friendly sport, Tooru can't help but view it as more than that. He's always been competitive.

Wordlessly, Tooru turns away from Hajime and walks toward their bedroom. He can feel Hajime's eyes on him the entire time.

The king and queen host the newlyweds in a small yet luxurious dining hall on the west wing. As Hajime said, it's a private affair with the occasional servant dropping in to refill their cups. Tooru thinks he's had enough wine to last him a lifetime so he only drinks water while everyone else has wine. At this rate, he wouldn't be surprised if the southerners bled plum wine. The food is good. A little too rich for Tooru's tastes, but it's something that he can see himself enjoying once he's gotten used to it. So far, the conversation is light, though, Tooru is sure to keep his guard up.

"Did you enjoy the festival, Tooru-kun?" King Nagisa asks, his verdant green eyes watching the omega over the brim of his cup.

"Yes, your majesty."

Lowering his cup, Nagisa smiles. "I'm sure you're wondering when we'll be discussing the treaty. There's nothing to discuss, honestly. You are married to my son, therefore, you are a part of this family now. Should any complications with the treaty arise, it will be your father I will deal with."

Hearing that is a relief. Tooru would hate to be punished for his father's actions; he's suffered enough for that man. He thanks the king for his reassurance and that's the end of it.

Throughout the dinner, there are no awkward pauses or lulls in conversation. Amari is a lively host who knows how to pick topics that everyone can comment on. Whenever the conversation approaches its end, she's there with a new subject that's more interesting than the last one.

Tooru learns a great deal about the kingdom's culture from their conversations alone. Apparently, in the south public sex is a common thing, and Tooru should expect to see couples having sex on the beach. Also, there's a religious group that uses orgies as a way to communicate with the sea goddess. Since the group worships the kingdom's patron deity, there are no laws that prohibit them from their weekly orgies, but the king requires them to keep their meetings out of the public eye.

"I think it's just an excuse for them to fuck each other's wives," Amari snorts.

Nagisa chuckles. "As long as they're not killing each other or involving children in their ceremonies, they're free to do whatever they like."

Amari looks to Tooru. "You're quite red, dear." She grins wickedly. "I gather sex isn't discussed at the dinner tables in the west."

"It's not discussed at all," Tooru says bashfully.

"My apologies, Tooru-kun," Amari says sincerely. She changes the subject. "Hajime, have you decided who your generals will be?"

Tooru is grateful for the subject change. Not because his sheltered mind can't handle the talk of alphas mounting their omegas on the shore and orgies in the mountains. His skin is flushed from arousal, not mortification. He hopes the alphas won't pick up on the scent with their keen noses. 

"I've given it some thought, but I haven't made a decision yet," Hajime says. "After all, I still have time before my coronation."

Nagisa nods in approval. "I'm happy that you're taking your time with this. When it comes to choosing generals, you have to set aside any bias—"

The king's words die on his tongue as he glances at his wife. Following the king's gaze, Tooru gasps loudly. Amari's eyes are rolled into the back of her head, her limbs locking in an unpleasant manner. The hurried words she mumbles under her breath are incomprehensible and spoken in a voice that is not the woman's own. Tooru has never seen anything like this in his life. Even more startling is how Nagisa and Hajime appear unfazed by Amari's behavior.

Nagisa leans over to hear what his wife is muttering. By the look of it, the king can understand the woman clearly. After what feels like hours, Amari's eyes snap shut and her body goes limp. The king is there to keep her from falling over.

"What is it?" Hajime asks.

"Movement at the border," Nagisa says as he brushes Amari's hair away from her damp face. "I'll send a scout to confirm it."

"Mother is never wrong about these kinds of thing."

Nagisa's expression is blank. "She needs to lie down." He stands to his feet and gathers the unconscious omega in his arms. "Forgive me, Tooru-kun. My wife and I will be retiring for the evening. You two enjoy the rest of your meal."

Tooru's eyes are still bulging out of his head when the king leaves the dining hall with the queen in tow. He continues staring at the seat where Amari sat only moments ago when Hajime settles a hand on his shoulder. The gentle touch startles Tooru, causing him to jerk away from Hajime.

"What was that about?" Tooru demands. "And don't tell me it was nothing."

"My mother has visions," Hajime sighs, "They come to her at random."

"Visions?" Tooru speaks slowly, skepticism heavy in his tone. "Are you telling me that the queen is able to foresee attacks on the kingdom?"

Hajime turns so that his body is facing Tooru's, their eyes meeting. "I know that this is hard for you to grasp, but it's the truth. The stories you hear about shamans in the east are not fairytales. My mother has had these visions ever since I was a pup. Without her gift, my father might have died during the war and the kingdom would have fallen years ago."

All of it is a lot for Tooru to process. If he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn't have given it a second thought. Tooru has heard many stories about women that commune with the spirits and the necromancers who delve in the eastern woodlands. Every kingdom has its fairytales, and he knows that those tales hold some truth to them. Yet that was during a time when animals and humans coexisted. It was a time when their kind was more beast than human. Things like that didn't exist in their current world, right? 

"What will happen if what your mother saw is true?" Tooru asks, figuring that's more important than his inner crisis. "What does it mean for the kingdom?"

"If there's a disturbance at the border, it could mean anything, but my guess is that the rebel tribes are planning an attack. They probably sent a small party to test our defenses." Hajime expression turns remorseful. "My father will more than likely send me to push them back."

Tooru's heart sinks. "You'll have to leave?" he asks quietly, "For how long?"

"No more than a week or two."

"Can't Nagisa-sama send someone else?"

Hajime smiles. "Are you saying that you believe me when I say my mother has visions?" He settles his hands on Tooru's knees to keep the omega's legs from shaking.

This entire time, Tooru's entire body has been trembling and he's been emitting a distressing scent. Tooru doesn't realize this until Hajime touches him. The feel of Hajime's hands on his knees helps to ease his anxiousness, but what he truly needs is the alpha's scent. 

"I'm only concerned about our wager, that's all," Tooru says, trying and failing to keep his voice steady.

"Is that so?" Hajime brushes Tooru's cheek with his knuckles. "My absence will not affect our wager in the least."

Tooru leans into the touch. "Good. I want to see your face when I win."

Truthfully, he's worried about Hajime leaving and never coming back as men often do when they leave home to protect their kingdom. Admitting such a thing would be akin to him confessing his feelings for Hajime. Tooru isn't ready to do that. And, it has nothing to do with their wager. He fears that the moment he shows Hajime how vulnerable he truly is, he'll lose the little bit of control he has.

Once Tooru's scent returns to normal and his limbs still, they retreat to their bedroom.

The night is still young. Hajime offers to show Tooru the lavender fields, boasting that they're magnificent, even at night. He might have taken Hajime up on the offer if it weren't for how mentally exhausted he was. Today has been filled with more information than Tooru would have liked.

They keep their backs to each other as they change out of their day clothes.

It's now, of all times, that Tooru's thoughts return to ceremonial orgies and public sex. He wonders if Hajime has ever taken one of his lovers on the beach. Knowing Hajime's history, Tooru wouldn't put it past the alpha. He can almost picture it: Hajime bent over a faceless omega, fucking them into the sand in a near animalistic manner.

The image in Tooru's mind alters. Instead of a random omega, he pictures himself being mounted by Hajime. Unbelievable. He finds out that the queen is a sorceress and here he is thinking about losing his virginity, in a public area, no less. Dismissing the perverted thoughts, Tooru quickly dresses into his nightgown.

A new problem arises once they're in bed. Tooru wants Hajime to hold him, but he doesn't know how to ask for it without coming off as weak. The easiest thing to do is pretend as though he's content with the space between them. Days ago, he wouldn't have cared if Hajime stayed on his side of the bed, in fact, he would have preferred it. Tonight is different; their relationship is different.

"I never apologized for last night," Hajime says, interrupting Tooru's thoughts, "I know we both had our fair share of wine, but I shouldn't have allowed things to go that far."

Tooru frowns. "Where is this coming from?" He rolls over to his side, facing Hajime.

"I'm apologizing for taking advantage of you. I should have done so earlier."

"You didn't take advantage of me."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes, I knew full well of the consequences."

"Are you saying that you wanted that to happen?" he asks.

"I was curious to know if you'd be able to restrain yourself even when drunk."

"Careful, wife, that curiosity of yours will get you in trouble someday."

It's too dark in the room for Tooru to see Hajime's face, but he can imagine the scowl the alpha wears. Excitement fills him; riling Hajime up is by far his favorite past time.

"Is that a threat?" he asks, pretending to be cross yet there's a smile on his face that is shrouded by darkness.

"I will not feed into your games, Tooru," Hajime says, sounding hurt. The bed shifts as Hajime turns his back to Tooru. "Goodnight."

That's not the reaction Tooru was seeking. He'd hope that their playful banter would escalate to kisses and maybe even heated touches. However, it appears that his words have hurt Hajime. Feeling oddly remorseful, he scoots closer to Hajime and rests his head on the alpha's naked back.

"Forgive me," Tooru whispers, circling his arms around Hajime's waist, "It wasn't right for me to provoke you."

Hajime is silent for some time, and Tooru wonders if their relationship will always be like a pendulum; swinging from one mood to the other. At least this time, he's the one to initiate an apology. He thinks that is worthy of some kind of acknowledgment. Yet the seconds continue to tick by until Tooru decides to return to his side of the bed. As he's moving to do just that, Hajime grabs his hand, locking him in place.

"Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to be in bed with you like this while knowing that I can't touch you?"

"You can touch me, Hajime," Tooru says, placing a tender kiss on Hajime's shoulder blade. "You've touched me before..."

"You know what I mean, Tooru."

Tugging Hajime's hand, Tooru gestures for the alpha to turn over. When Hajime complies, he moves closer again, their bodies touching.

"If it frustrates you so much then why won't you just ravish me?" Tooru asks sarcastically,  "Alphas take whatever they like. They don't ask."

"Not all alphas," Hajime says. "When we consummate our marriage, I want you to want it. It's not enjoyable if you don't."

"You're a strange man." Hajime chuckles, and Tooru smiles. "Why do you care if I enjoy it or not?" He's genuinely curious.

Hajime scoffs. "And you think I'm strange? An alpha's happiness is contingent upon his omega's happiness." 

Tooru has never heard anything like that before.

"Who taught you that?" he asks.

"My parents taught me that." Hajime pauses. "Were you taught otherwise?" he asks, more so out of concern than curiosity.

"Well, I only know what I learned from my father's interactions with my mother." His mother was fourteen when his father married her. The way she described their wedding night made Tooru fearful of his own. But Tooru doesn't want to think about that now; or ever. "Hajime, how did your parents meet? You promised you would tell me."

Adjusting his position, Hajime rests his head on one of the many pillows and pulls Tooru's into his arms. Smiling to himself, Tooru rests his head on Hajime's warm chest, breathing in the alpha's scent.

Finally, he thinks.

"I must warn you," Hajime's says as he strokes Tooru's hair gently, "it's a very long story."

"As long as it's not boring, I won't fall asleep."

The story is far from boring, Tooru soon learns. Though, he suspects that has more to do with the way Hajime tells the story. It's as if Hajime is telling it exactly how his father told him when he was a pup; it's full of dramatic flair, pregnant pauses, and ominous foreshadowing. 

Nagisa and Amari met when the former was visiting the Eastern Kingdom with his father for a diplomatic meeting. While the kings and their advisors convened, the prince snuck away from the palace and ventured into the woods where he was attacked by a bear. Although Nagisa fought bravely, he was no match for the bear whose hide seemed impregnable...

"Amari-sama saved him, didn't she?" Tooru interrupts, "When she told me that she used to fight bears and wolves, I was skeptical, but that's where this story is going, right?"

"Yes, my mother saved my father from the bear." He nudged Tooru's shoulder with his nose affectionately. "Don't interrupt. I'm almost at the best part."

"Carry on, then."

Amari, who watched the fight from afar, decided to help the man who was foolish enough to trespass into their territory. After slaying the bear, she carried Nagisa to a nearby cave and bandaged his wounds. She looked after him for two days before leaving him at the palace's gates. No one knows for sure what happened during their time shared in the cave, but when Nagisa returned to the Southern Kingdom, he couldn't stop thinking about the tribe elder's daughter.

Tooru clears his throat. "May I interrupt?"

Hajime blew out an exasperated breath. "Go ahead." 

"I know that your father may have felt indebted to Amari-sama for saving his life. However, I don't understand why he was so infatuated with her after that. He was barely clinging to life. I doubt they even talked at all during their time in the cave."

"My father told me that he fell in love with my mother's scent first. Then when he saw her face, he knew that he wanted to marry her."

"She's a beautiful woman," Tooru admits quietly. "What happened next?"

A year passed before Nagisa returned to the east. When he did, he did not seek the eastern king's hospitality. Instead, he took a guide with him into the woods. It took nearly a week for them to find the Kuma tribe's village. In fact, the tribe's scouts found them first. The intruders were captured and taken to the tribe's leader. When the tribe leader demanded that Nagisa state his purpose, the prince boldly announced that he had come to ask for Amari's hand in marriage. He thought that his royal status gave him the privilege to ask such a thing.

"In the east, if an omega is of age, they're allowed to chose their own mate," Hajime says, "and they're also allowed to set their own rules. Some eastern omegas require their suitors to present them with the hide of whatever game they've recently killed. Other omegas will only submit to an alpha who can defeat them in single combat."

"I suppose Amari-sama was one of the latter omegas."

"Yes," Hajime chuckles, "My father refused to fight her at first, but once he learned that it was the only way to earn her hand in marriage, he agreed to her terms. They were each given a spear. No shields or any outside aid. They fought in front of the entire village for hours. My father said that he'd never faced anyone as fierce as my mother."

"He beat her, though," Tooru says.

"Not in the traditional sense."

"I don't follow."

"My mother was impressed by my father's fearlessness and his perseverance. So, I suppose you could say that my father did defeat her."

Tooru still doesn't understand. "Who won the fight?" he asks for clarification.

"She allowed him to win."

"You're telling me that Amari-sama was actually going to defeat Nagisa-sama? But...she's an omega."

"That she is."

"It's physically impossible for an omega to defeat an alpha."

Yawning, Hajime rests his chin on top of Tooru's head. "Eastern omegas are one of a kind." He pulls Tooru closer, drowsiness overtaking him. "I have a feeling that under my mother's tutelage, you'll be able to go toe to toe with me someday."

Tooru doesn't respond. Instead, he listens to Hajime's heartbeat as the alpha falls asleep. Despite his own exhaustion, Tooru stays up a while longer, fantasizing about having an epic love story of his own.

In the morning, Tooru wakes up alone.

Hajime's side of the bed is cold yet the alpha's scent lingers. Tooru reaches for his husband's pillow with the intention of snuggling it when he notices a slip of parchment. Recognizing the fine script, Tooru smiles. Hajime left him a short message to explain his absence. Currently, Hajime is at the barracks training with his men. Afterward, his day will be occupied with trivial council meetings, but Hajime promises Tooru that he will be thinking of him all day.

"Fool," Tooru mutters under his breath.

Folding the note, Tooru hides it in one of the books he brought with him from home for safe keeping. He tells himself that he will use it as proof that he has already won their wager. Yet he knows that isn't true. Throughout his morning routine, he thinks about Hajime's note. He continues thinking about it during his lessons with Yahaba in the drawing room. He thinks about it so much that, more than once, Yahaba has to ask him if he's paying attention.

"Tooru-sama, please take this seriously," Yahaba says, tapping the open book in front of them. "You need to familiarize yourself with the Southern Kingdom's allies. They'll be attending the king's birthday feast next month."

"Yahaba-san, we've been at this all morning," Tooru complains, "I've learned about the council, the noble clans, and the kingdom's main exports."

"We have a lot of material to cover."

Before Tooru can complain any further, he's saved by a soft tap on the door. They expect the visitor to be a servant or perhaps the palace's courier so they're surprised to see Hajime walk into the drawing room, still dressed in his training armor. 

"Hajime-sama," Yahaba says, bowing his head. 

"Yahaba-san, how are you today?" Hajime asks pleasantly, "I hope my wife isn't giving you too much trouble."

Tooru scowls.

"Not at all, Hajime-sama."

"You wouldn't mind if I borrowed him for a bit?"

Yahaba gathers his books. "Of course not, Hajime-sama." He glances at Tooru. "We can continue our lessons before supper." Then he takes his leave. 

"What brings you here?" Tooru asks Hajime. 

Hajime walks up to the table, but he doesn't sit. He's hiding something behind his back. "As your suitor, I am required to set aside an hour out of my day for you."

"I'm flattered," Tooru deadpans.

"You should be," Hajime says, obviously teasing, "The palace's fletcher spent all morning on your gift."

"My gift?"

Hajime reveals a wooden bow and a quiver filled with custom arrows. "If the bow isn't to your liking, I can have a new one made—"

"No," Tooru says, practically jumping to his feet. Tentatively he reaches out for the bow, needing to feel the polished wood beneath his fingertips. "My mother always hated that I chose archery over embroidery. I had to leave my bow at home..." 

Hajime hands the bow over. "I hear you never miss your mark. Is that true?" He places the quiver on the table, his eyes never leaving Tooru's face.

"Where did you hear that from?" Tooru glances at the quiver, noticing the painted sun on the beige cloth, and his heart swells. Apparently, Hajime remembers what Tooru told him when he gave the alpha his union bracelet at the festival.

"I talked to a few of the palace guards before our wedding," Hajime admits sheepishly.

Tooru stares at Hajime in a child-like wonder. "I could show you," he says, suddenly feeling unsure of himself, "Only if you want to see..."

"Of course I want to see with my own eyes if the rumors are true."

"What about your meetings?"

"We have an hour together," Hajime reminds him, "and I'm sure we can find a target or two around the palace."

Tooru doesn't even try to mask his excitement. He rushes to the door of the drawing-room despite his lack of knowledge about the palace's layout. But Hajime is there to guide him, and listen to Tooru's animated stories about hitting moving targets from great distances and the countless times he's got up at the crack of dawn to practice his beloved hobby. 

Chapter Text

Hajime is conflicted; he isn't sure which version of Tooru he likes best.

There's the nervous yet confident Tooru who kneeled beside him at the altar, the drowsy Tooru who purrs in his sleep, and there's the Tooru who is currently aiming an arrow at his head.

Actually, the arrow is aimed at the pear that Hajime was foolish enough to place on his head so that Tooru can further demonstrate his prowess as an archer. Which is unnecessary because Tooru has already proven that he's an exceptional bowman. Tooru hit every target in sight with a swiftness and precision that nearly made Hajime drop to his knees and grovel at Tooru's feet, his pride be damned.

The southern warriors prefer heavy axes, sharp swords, and their bare hands. Of course, like any proper army, they have archers who defend the palace from invaders and lessen the numbers of their enemies on the battlefields. But there are still those, mainly old-fashioned alphas, that view archers as cowards. There was a time when Hajime's father once thought the same, but then he had his ass handed to him by a woman—an omega who happened to be an exceptional archer.

"Did I ever tell you that my mother fancies archery, as well?" Hajime asks.

"Be still," Tooru says, drawing the arrow back ever so slightly. His brown eyes are sharp, piercing. "It'd be a shame if I ruined your face."

"Are you saying that you find me handso—" The words die on his tongue. Eyes bulging, he slowly turns his head and finds the arrow pierced pear hanging from the wooden target. He can't take his eyes off it.

Tooru walks over to where Hajime is still seated with a dumbstruck expression on his face, and he kneels down. The impact caused the pear to split, unevenly, down the middle. He catches half of it before it can fall in the dirt. Grinning smugly, Tooru brings the piece of fruit up to his mouth and takes a large bite, excess juice spilling at the corners of his mouth. Tooru brings a hand up to clean up the mess, but Hajime beats him to it. Though, instead of his hands or a handkerchief, Hajime uses his tongue.

"Why are you always licking me?" Tooru asks, blushing furiously.

"Because you like to be licked and I enjoy licking you."

Tooru covers his mouth with his hand to block an incoming kiss. "Should a suitor be this familiar? If you can't behave yourself, I will have a chaperone accompany me from now on."

Hajime chuckles. "My apologies, fair maiden. A chaperone won't be necessary, I will behave myself." He notices how Tooru has yet to take his eyes off his lips, but he refrains from teasing Tooru further.

"Apology accepted, noble suitor," he says, playing along with Hajime. Standing to his feet, he holds up the bow, his blush returning. "Can you have the Fletcher craft more bows and a larger quiver?"

"I'll put the order in today."

"Also, I will need a thumb ring." Tooru glances down at the leather glove on his right hand. "This glove feels...peculiar. I've never worn one before."

"Our archers here use gloves. I'm not sure if there's anyone within the palace walls that can craft a thumb ring." Tooru's face drops and Hajime can't bear the sight of it; he is beginning to realize he's already wrapped around his wife's finger. "But I'm sure there's a craftsman outside of the palace who can do the job."

Tooru's face remains inexpressive yet his eyes convey his optimism. "Perhaps you can dispatch one of your men to seek this craftsman out..."

Hajime nods. "That's a fine suggestion. I'll make the arrangements."

"You'd go through all that trouble for me?"

"It's no trouble at all."

"Of course, it's no trouble for you," Tooru scoffs; more so at his own expense. "You're the crowned prince. Is there anything you can't do?"

The question is rhetorical yet Hajime answers. "I can't control the clouds, unfortunately."

"Pity. I do enjoy the sound of rain while reading." Glancing down at the bow, Tooru feigns disappointment. "While I do appreciate your gift, noble suitor, I prefer a mate who can make it rain whenever I want." Tooru looks to Hajime, his chin raised stubbornly. "Seeing that you are incapable of this feat, I will have to reject your courtship."

Hajime struggles to contain his smile. "Oh no, fair maiden," he says, placing his hands over his broad chest theatrically, "I will die a thousand deaths if you deny me!"

Tooru muffles a giggle with his hand. Clearing his throat, he lifts his chin higher, his shoulders squared. "I will accept you as my mate under one condition."

"Name it and I shall make it so."

"Journey to the Realm of Rain, retrieve the purest drop before it hits the ground. Bring it to me and I'm yours."

"I will not return until I've obtained what you desire," Hajime proclaims as he bows his head.

Suddenly, Tooru laughs and Hajime joins him.

"Realm of Rain?" Hajime asks once their laughter dies down and their happy tears have dried. "You would have me travel that great a distance?"

Tooru shakes his head. "I'm not that terrible. I'll have you know that I am very pleased with my new bow. Thank you."

Their hour is nearly up. Hajime never realized how short an hour was until now. He wants to watch Tooru hit more targets. He wants to listen to Tooru tell him things about archery that he's already learned from his mother; he pretends not to know because he knows how much Tooru enjoys sharing his knowledge. Unfortunately, Hajime has meetings to sit through and men to train.

"Do you have to leave now?" Tooru asks, sensing the change in mood.

"Yes. But I'll be back for supper."

"I anxiously await your return."

Taking Tooru's left hand, Hajime brings it up to his mouth for a gentle kiss. "And when I return from the Realm of Rain with the..." He glances up at Tooru for assistance.

Tooru smiles. "Purest drop," he says.

"When I return from the Realm of Rain with the purest drop, I will claim you, fair maiden."

"I look forward to it."

A messenger comes for Hajime shortly after. Before he leaves to meet with the council, he walks Tooru back to the east wing where Yahaba is waiting for him.

Later that day, when Hajime meets Tooru in the dining hall for supper, he hands Tooru a small, glass vial filled with what he claims to be the purest drop from the Realm of Rain. Tooru doesn't question Hajime's claim nor does he ask the true source of the water. He simply accepts the gift and promises to keep it always.


The following day, Hajime and Tooru have lunch outside in the royal gardens, beneath the wisteria. A canopy of purple flowers protect them from the overbearing sun and casts cool shadows on their skin. Lunch consists of boiled quail eggs, seaweed rice, salted meat, and figs. The quail eggs remind Tooru of home. Usually, when he thinks of the west, the thought is followed by a sense of longing and deep regret. But as the days stretch on, those feelings lessen in intensity. Tooru has an inkling as to why that is.

"Which bird am I?" Hajime asks. Straightening up, he puts his hands on either side of his mouth and begins mimicking a bird's call.

Touching his chin, Tooru pretends to contemplate his answer. "An owl!" he exclaims.

"Is that going to be your answer for all of these? You're not even trying."

"I thought it sounded like an owl," Tooru laughs. It definitely did not sound like an owl; he just likes to tease Hajime.

"Owls go like this: Oooh, oooh!"

Tooru gives Hajime a strange look. "Have you ever heard an owl before? They don't sound like that at all."

"Of course, I've heard an owl before."

"Most owls hoot. It sounds more like this: Hooo, Hooo!"

Hajime frowns, his thick brows furrowing. "That's the same sound I made."

"Oooh, oooh! That's the sound you made."

"Is that not the same thing?"

"No, it is not the same thing. Did you know that a lot of owls screech?"

"They screech?" Hajime turns his body so he's facing Tooru, giving him his full attention. Despite how small the gesture is, Tooru appreciates it. It feels good to know that what he is saying means something. It's nice to know he's being listened to.

Tooru tells Hajime about the diverse owls that inhabit the western lands. In the western culture, the owl god who gave knowledge to mortals cut himself into a hundred pieces and that is how the different types of owls came into existence. Each owl has a unique skill—a magical power that they share with those who are worthy. The common folk pray to the grass owl in hopes that it'll protect them from disease and famine.

"Hunters favor the horned owl," Tooru says. He pauses, his look thoughtful. "Have you ever seen a horned owl up close?"

"I've seen one before but never up close. They're very fast."

"You have seen one up close." His brown eyes twinkle with mischief. "In fact, you see one every day..."

Hajime doesn't understand where Tooru is going with this.


No other explanation is needed. Realization washes over Hajime, his eyes widening and mouth falling open. Tooru isn't sure what's funnier: the fact Bokuto-san favors a horned owl or Hajime's reaction to his new discovery. He decides both are equally hilarious. Their laughter carries throughout the garden reaching the ears of anyone who happens to be near.

"How am I supposed to keep a straight face when I see him again?" Hajime asks once their laughter ceases. Grabbing Tooru by the arm, he pulls him closer and begins tickling him. "Wicked of you to even think such a thing."

Tooru tries to wiggle his way out of Hajime's hold, but that only makes Hajime tickle him harder. "Hajime," he squeals, "stop!" An unsophisticated chortle erupts from his throat and his face flushes as the laughter consumes him.

Hajime only lets up when Tooru is short of breath and tears are running down his face. "I've found your weakness," he teases.

The glare he gives Hajime might have been threatening if it weren't for the dampness of his eyelashes and the lingering blush on his face. Tooru thinks of tickling Hajime in return as an act of revenge, or perhaps he'll do worse. In the end, he decides to just lay there in Hajime's arms. Hajime is curling his fingers through Tooru's hair softly and the action has Tooru's eyes drooping low.

"Hajime," Tooru says.


"How much longer do we have?"

"You can sleep, Tooru."

"Will you be here when I wake up?"

"Depends on how long you sleep," he chuckles.

Tooru will try to sleep until suppertime then because when he opens his eyes he wants Hajime to be there. Perhaps it's the drowsiness that has him feeling uncharacteristically clingy. It has nothing to do with his developing feelings for Hajime. Except that it has everything to do with his developing feelings for Hajime.

He falls asleep sometime later and when he awakes he finds himself alone in their bedroom surrounded by Hajime's comforting scent.


"You're courting your own wife?"

Sighing heavily, Hajime turns to face the source of the judgmental voice. "Do you have a problem with that, cousin?"

"I don't understand why you would waste your time courting him if you two are already married."

"I never expected you to understand," Hajime chuckles,"You know nothing of romance."

For the past three days, Hajime has stolen Tooru away for no more than an hour. They've kept their visits within the palace's walls for the sake of privacy. Of course, now, Hajime knows that was foolish. The servants have been known to gossip amongst one another and are the sole reason for the public knowing things they shouldn't. Although it isn't against any law for Hajime to court his wife, there are those who feel as though his time would be better spent on preparations for his coronation and not wooing an omega he already has.

Then there are those—mainly the younger generation—who are in full support of Hajime and Tooru's courtship.

Watari chortles loudly at Hajime's comment. "Don't be too hard on Kyoutani-san, Hajime-sama. He's taken a liking to my dear friend." He quickly ducks to dodge the pebble Kyoutani throws at him, but his laughter doesn't cease.

"Yahaba-san?" Hajime asks Kyoutani. The three of them are leaving the barracks, the smell of sweat and iron still clinging to their skin. "He's a fine choice. Very intelligent." He grins in a way that he knows will annoy his cousin. "And very easy on the eyes."

"Fuck you," Kyoutani practically growls. He glares at Hajime as they continue walking. "Keep your eyes on your own omega."

"Sounds like you're already claiming Yahaba-san as your own," Watari snickers.

Kyoutani looks as if he's going to tackle Watari and silence him for good, but then his nostrils suddenly flare as he lightly sniffs the air. Slowly, he faces forward to see Yahaba and Tooru approaching them.

"Well," Watari whispers, "here's your chance, Kyoutani-san."

"Shut up," Kyoutani snarls under his breath.

Hajime and Watari laugh. But they straighten up once Yahaba and Tooru approach them. Teasing Kyoutani is always fun yet neither of them want to incur Kyoutani's wrath.

Once the formalities are out of the way, Watari and Yahaba carry the bulk of the conversation while Hajime and Tooru make small comments here and there. During the light conversation, Hajime learns that Tooru's understanding of the southern language is improving. He finds the information very pleasing. They're in the middle of friendly banter when Kyoutani interrupts.

"I'm leaving," he announces louder than necessary.

"Going for your daily swim?" Hajime asks.

Kyoutani grunts. Then he takes his leave without a backward glance.

"He goes for a swim every day after training," Watari says for seemingly no reason at all. He glances at Yahaba, who still has his eyes on Kyoutani's retreating form. "I hear he does it in the nude."

That seems to get Yahaba's attention. Face heating up, he jerks his head in Watari's direction. "Don't be so distasteful, Watari-san," he scolds. Taking Watari by the arm, he drags him toward the palace. "Come. Hajime-sama and Tooru-sama need their privacy."

After witnessing how easily Yahaba put an end to Watari's antics, Hajime is certain Yahaba will be able to handle his stubborn cousin. Kyoutani needs someone strong-willed. However, Hajime will refrain from interfering in his cousin's affairs.

"What do you have planned for me today?" Tooru asks, allowing his excitement to show. He interlocks his arm with Hajime's. "Will we read under the great tree again?"

"I wanted to show you the lavender fields. My great-grandfather, King Kai, had the fields planted for his wife. She brought the seeds with her from her homeland."

Tooru chuckles. "It sounds like all of your ancestors were romantics."

Unfortunately, all of Hajime's ancestors were not romantics. He's almost ashamed to admit that a handful of his ancestors were terrible husbands who had harems and fathered countless bastards. The king who ruled before his great-grandfather had even killed his wife because she smiled at another alpha. But Hajime doesn't tell Tooru about this. Not because he wants his family to appear perfect, but because the mood is too good to ruin.

"Were you able to practice this morning?" Hajime asks.

"For a little while." Tooru wrinkles his nose."Yahaba-san is very strict."

"Perhaps you can—"

Hajime doesn't get to finish his suggestion. They're intercepted at the palace's grand doorway by one of the king's messengers. At the sight of the beta, Hajime gets a sinking feeling in his gut. He might have surmised the nature of the message from the beta's bleak expression, but all of the messengers looked like that. Taking the rolled parchment, Hajime unravels it quickly and reads.

"Tell my father that I will do as he asks at once."

"I take it we will have to visit the lavender fields another time," Tooru says as the messenger walks off.

"My apologies, Tooru. I would escort you to the east wing, but it's urgent."

Tooru smiles but it doesn't reach his eyes. "I know my way now. I'll see you later then?"

"Yes." Hajime can see the burning question in Tooru's eyes; he's curious to know what the king's message says. He can't share that information until he has further details. "Please enjoy the rest of your day."

Hajime doesn't turn around to see if Tooru watches him leave or not.


As of late, Tooru has made a conscious effort to listen to Yahaba, not only during their lessons but during their conversations as well. He'll never learn anything if he's constantly tuning people out and ignoring Yahaba, who only wants to help him.

After his short visit with Hajime, however, Tooru completely ignores Yahaba's thorough explanation of the kingdom's various plants and their medicinal purposes.

Tooru may not be an expert in southern customs, but he at least knows messengers are the same everywhere. They only deliver two kinds of news: bad and terrible. And Tooru has a feeling Hajime received the latter.

"Yahaba-san, what do you know about the queen's visions? I...think I witnessed her have one the other night."

That's enough for Yahaba to forget about today's lessons. "Did you really? Tooru-sama, that's amazing!" He pushes the textbook aside and leans his elbows on the table like an excited child. "In the east, you're either born with the gift or it's given to you. I believe Amari-sama was born with it. I'm not certain how the visions work for her. They vary from person to person."

"Are the visions ever wrong?"

"I don't think so."

Tooru nods. "I see." Not wanting to linger on the subject, he glances at the horticulture textbook. "Please, continue with the lesson."

He tries his best to pay attention or at least pretend as though he's paying attention, but he fails. If the queen's vision is accurate and Hajime has to leave to defend the border then there's nothing Tooru can do besides hope for the best and wait. His mother used to do a lot of waiting. Any time there was a battle, no matter how small or insignificant, Tooru's father eagerly rounded up his strongest men and set off. Now that he's older, Tooru knows his father did more than protect the kingdom while he was away.

How many omegas were there? Was Kiyoko's mother the only one? Tooru's mother probably asked herself the same questions.

It makes him wonder if perhaps all men are unfaithful while they're away at war. Without trying to, Tooru imagines Hajime visiting a whorehouse after a grueling battle. He can see it vividly. Hajime—handsome and charming Hajime having his pick at whoever he wants. As upsetting as that thought is, Tooru is more afraid of Hajime leaving and never coming back. A week ago, his biggest fear was Hajime fathering a bastard and forcing Tooru to care for that child as though it were his own. Now he's afraid of losing his husband forever.

Tooru doesn't doubt Hajime's strength or Hajime's survival skills. But he knows how cruel life can be.

He manages to get through afternoon lessons. He declines Yahaba's offer of tea and instead spends an hour or so at the palace's training grounds. There's nothing like hitting imaginary enemies with arrows to clear the mind. Except, it isn't actually working to clear Tooru's mind at all. He's still thinking about the king's message and what it could mean; for him and his relationship with Hajime.

The wooden target is nearly covered in arrows by now. Tooru's arms are sore from the exertion. If he keeps pushing himself like this he's going to regret it. But Tooru likes the pain. He'll use it as a distraction from what's truly bothering him.

"Were you imagining my face in place of the target?"

Without taking his eyes off the target, Tooru nods. "Yes," he says as he releases the arrow.

Hajime eyes the target warily; it's nearly unrecognizable. "I take it you're upset with me for my abrupt departure earlier." He stands in front of Tooru, blocking his view of the wooden board. "I'm here now. You can hit me if you like."

As tempting as that offer is, Tooru can't pretend to be upset with Hajime. Admittedly, he's happy Hajime is here now.

Tooru sets his bow aside and stretches his arms to get the kinks out. "I'm not upset with you. I was just practicing."

Skeptically, Hajime glances at the protruding arrows and then he glances back at Tooru. "Do you always practice so intensely?"

Tooru chuckles. "No, not always. But after witnessing how terrible you are with a bow, I've decided to change my training routine." He'll never get over Hajime's poor technique. Although, it feels good to know that he's better than Hajime at something that requires physical strength. "You'll need me to protect your back if the palace is ever invaded." He regrets the words as soon as he says them.

Hajime's entire expression changes. "I'll feel safer knowing that I have you looking after me," he says in all sincerity.

"Hajime, please..." He can't handle the wait any longer. "What did it say?"

"You're very sharp, Tooru."


"I'm serious." Hajime touches Tooru's shoulder gently. "You never miss a thing. I love that about you."

This isn't the first time Hajime has complimented Tooru, but he's never used that word to describe his feelings. Tooru can't bring himself to meet Hajime's eyes; he's afraid of what he'll see if he does. Instead, he stares at the breastplate Hajime wears over his clothes. He tries to lose himself in the way the sparse sunlight creates a tiny rainbow depending on how narrow his eyes are.

"My mother's vision was accurate. The rebel tribes have returned."

"Tribes?" Tooru asks, keeping his eyes downcast. "I thought there was only one rebel tribe from the east."

"There was only one tribe, but now there are three. They want to overthrow the monarchy, permanently."

"What does that have to do with us?" Realizing what he said, Tooru clears his throat." What does that have to do with the southern kingdom?"

Hajime is smiling; Tooru can hear it in his voice. "They're too far south for the eastern king to intervene without my father's consent. This is our problem and we will handle it on our own." He pauses; a heavy, uncomfortable silence hangs over them for some time. When Hajime speaks again, there isn't a hint of warmth or playfulness in his voice. "I was instructed to select my generals today. We'll leave before dawn," he says, voice cold and detached.

Fools. Prideful, fools—Tooru bitterly thinks.

It's actually admirable, but Tooru is only thinking of himself. King Nagisa can easily call on his allies and only send a portion of his men to handle this matter. But that's too easy; too cowardly. Men like Nagisa and Hajime put honor above all else. Even their wives.

Tooru knows what he's supposed to say. Now is the time for him to be supportive and strong. That's what Hajime needs from him. Too bad Tooru is far too selfish to make things easier for Hajime.

"You're leaving so soon?" Tooru asks. He doesn't even try to mask his concern. "How long will you be gone?"

Hajime doesn't answer.

Glancing up, Tooru meets the alpha's gaze. When Hajime tries to look away, he touches Hajime's face and he makes him see. "How long?"

"It's hard to say."

"The border is half a day's journey. So, you shouldn't be gone that long. Right?"

"Could be two weeks. Maybe a month."

"A month." Tooru drops his hands to his side where they hang listlessly. "But we just...I just got here. You can' can't abandon me now."

Hajime's cold exterior deteriorates at that. The emotion he tried to keep hidden floats to the service. "Tooru, I'm not abandoning you. If it were up to me, I wouldn't go. But it isn't. The king has summoned me. Son or not, I cannot disobey him. Please, understand."

"I do," Tooru says. He understands perfectly. Doesn't mean he has to be okay with it though. For Hajime's sake, he sets aside his fears. "Rather it is two weeks or a month, I will be here when you return."

Hajime brings his hand up and touches the right side of Tooru's face. "I'll try my best to make it a swift return."

Tooru settles his hand over Hajime's. "Take longer than a month and I'll find a new husband." It's a joke, obviously.

Nonetheless, Hajime growls deep in his chest. "Tooru," he warns.

"Perhaps I'll find a husband who knows how to use a bow." He laughs. "And actually hit the target."

Unexpectedly, Hajime kisses Tooru and puts an immediate end to the omega's teasing. The kiss is nothing like the soft pecks Hajime gives him when their daily visits come to an end or the tender kisses they share at night before drifting off to sleep. All of Hajime's pent-up desires are transferred into that one kiss. Tooru tries to reciprocate. He tries to match Hajime's passion, but he doesn't come close. Because unlike Hajime, Tooru is still holding back.

Tooru's eyes are still closed seconds after the kiss is over. When he opens them, he's met with Hajime's intense gaze.

"I'm going to miss you, Tooru."

Tooru is going to miss Hajime too; dearly. However, he can't find it in himself to admit that. Quite frankly, he hasn't recovered from that kiss yet. He isn't sure if he'll ever recover.

"Yahaba-san will escort you to the great hall," he says after several moments pass. "I must go on ahead. I'll see you at the feast."

When Hajime leaves, Tooru curses under his breath. Why couldn't he tell Hajime how he felt? Hajime is always being honest and vulnerable with him. Why can't Tooru show Hajime that same level of trust? He tries to think of someone to place the blame on. His father never doted on him and his mother only doted on him to cope with touch starvation. He never had any friends or anyone to confide in. All of this is new to him.

As true as all that is, Tooru knows that isn't the reason why refuses to let his guard down. It's because of his damn pride.

Due to the short notice, the feast isn't extravagant. There are no aerialists or fire breathers present. The sole entertainment is provided by a group of musicians who play softly in the background throughout the night. The only thing that mirrors a typical feast is the food. There's a bit of everything to appease a wide array of appetites. Even smoked salmon; Tooru's favorite. And it looks delicious.

Tooru has no doubt that it is delicious, either. He's never been disappointed with the food here. It's just that he doesn't have an appetite. To keep Yahaba off his case, he nibbles on a slice of mango and takes small sips of water. Thankfully, the king is presenting the newly appointed generals with medals so all eyes are on him and not the untouched salmon on Tooru's plate.

Hajime made a fine choice of generals. Unsurprisingly, Bokuto and Watari made the cut along with two other men Tooru has seen around the palace but has never spoken with personally. He only knows one of them is a member of the Inoue clan, the same clan as Akaashi's deceased betrothed.

Come to think of it, Inoue-san died fighting the first rebel tribe's invasion. The sudden realization hits Tooru hard. The piece of mango slips out of his trembling hand and his breathing quickens. Images of Hajime lying on a muddy ground, bleeding out flashes before his eyes.

Amari touches Tooru's knee under the table, but she doesn't look away from where the king stands in the middle of the great hall. Although it isn't much, that touch is enough to keep him grounded.

"Tooru-sama, are you okay?" Yahaba whispers into his ear, careful not to draw any attention to them.

The noble clans and the council members are sitting out in the crowd. Tooru can't allow them to see how unhinged he is or he'll never hear the end of it.

"I'm fine," Tooru says. He picks up his cup and glances at the clear liquid. "Is there any wine?"

Of course, there is wine. Wherever the king is, wine isn't too far out of reach. Initially, Tooru thought the man was nothing more than a drunken fool, but he's beginning to learn that King Nagisa is many things and a fool isn't one of them. According to Hajime, his father drinks because it's easier not to think about the countless people he's killed during the war; drinking helps him sleep through the night.

It's the depressing side of war that musicians and poets rarely mention.

Tooru is nearly finished with his by the time the king's speech ends. A standing ovation is given to the new generals. Then, the king instructs everyone to mingle amongst one another and enjoy the rest of the feast.

"You're free to retire early if you need to, Tooru-kun," Amari says, his hand still on Tooru's knee. "I'll let Hajime know."

"Thank you, but that won't be necessary. I will stay here and show my support."

"Very well." Amari gives Tooru's knee a light squeeze and then she removes her hand. "I'm here if you ever want to talk about anything. Hajime's absence will not change the fact that you're a  part of this family now."

Tooru understands Amari's spoken and unspoken words perfectly. Regardless of if Hajime survives, Tooru will have a home here.

"Thank you, Amari-sama," is the only thing Tooru can manage to get out. Obviously, there's more he would like to say yet he's having a difficult time with his emotions tonight; he always has a difficult time with his emotions.

Amari doesn't seem offended by this. She leaves the table to sit at her husband's side. Once she's gone, Tooru lets out the breath he didn't realize he was holding in.

"How about we walk around and mingle?" Yahaba suggest. "Akaashi-san seems bored," he chuckles. "We should rescue him."

Tooru forces a smile. "Okay."

They're almost at Akaashi's table when Bokuto intercepts them.

"Tooru-sama, may I have a word with you," Bokuto asks. He shifts uncomfortably as he glances around the hall. "In private. I only require a moment of your time."


One of the many doors connected to the great halls leads out onto a veranda that faces the shore. Bokuto suggests they have their conversation there. Once they're standing outside, Bokuto gets straight to the point.

"Can you please give this to Akaashi-san?" Bokuto hands Tooru a small, rolled piece of parchment that has been tied with a red ribbon. "Discreetly, please."

"Why can't you give it to him yourself?"

"It's too dangerous."

Hesitantly, Tooru takes what he assumes to be a love letter. "You can give it to him at the winter solstice..."

Bokuto smiles sadly. "I'm not sure if I will survive that long. This isn't my first battle. I've had too many close calls and I don't know when my luck will run out."

"You fought in the battle against the first rebel tribe?"


"How bad was it?"

Looking away from Tooru, Bokuto stares up at the moon thoughtfully. "Eighty of us went to defend the border. The rebel tribe had half of that. Only thirty of us returned."

"Thirty?" Tooru slowly shakes his head.

"We underestimated them. It won't happen this time." Bokuto doesn't sound as confident as he tries to appear. "Amari-sama and Kyoutani-san have given us everything they know about the tribes. Everything from their fighting styles and battle tactics. We’re also taking more men."

"Yet you feel the need to task me with passing your message along to Akaashi-san."

Bokuto chuckles dryly. "War is unpredictable, Tooru-sama. You must always prepare yourself for the worst." He walks toward the door. "Thank you. I will serve Hajime-sama well and make sure that he returns to you."

"You protect yourself, too," Tooru says. "What good of a general are you if you die during your first campaign?"

Bokuto laughs; this time it's hearty and full of the usual warmth he exudes. "I will do my best."

Tooru allows several minutes to pass and then he returns to the feast. The first thing he does is scan the room for Hajime out of habit. During his search, he notices Kyoutani and Yahaba talking in a far corner of the great hall, At this distance, it's difficult to tell if their conversation is going well or not. Not wanting to spy, Tooru resumes his search for Hajime.

"Your darling husband and his majesty left together," Akaashi says as he walks up, "but I'm sure they'll return shortly."

"Actually, you're just the person I needed to speak with."

"Oh?" Akaashi smirks playfully. "Will you require my services for when Hajime-sama is away?"

Tooru snorts. "I'm not interested in dry humping." No matter how fun that sort of thing is.

"I have instruments of pleasure if you'd prefer that instead."

"Can you please be serious for once?"

"Who said I was joking?" Akaashi cracks a smile. "Okay, I am joking. You're so wound up all the time. Can you blame me?” He frowns. “Don't answer that. You said you needed to speak with me?"

"We can't talk here. Follow me."

A couple slips out onto the veranda so Tooru leads Akaash out of the great hall instead. He considers taking Akaashi to his bedchambers, but aside from the occasional servant, no one else aside from Tooru and Hajime has been inside. Tooru wants to keep it that way.

They walk to the nearest drawing room where a couple of candles are already lit and an unfinished Shogi board sits on the table. Tooru locks the door behind them to be on the safe side. This is a conversation he doesn't want anyone to eavesdrop on.

Tooru gives Akaashi the letter. "Bokuto-san wanted me to give this to you," he explains.

"What for?"

"Perhaps if you read it, you'll find out."

Akaashi regards the neatly tied ribbon for some time. The longer he stares at the letter, the more impatient Tooru becomes.

Tooru sighs, "You'll never know what it says if you stare at it all night."

"The ribbon is red," Akaashi whispers.


"Love, Tooru-sama. Red means love."

That information comes as a shock to Tooru yet he'll ponder on the various meanings of colors later. "Are you hesitating because you don't believe you can return Bokuto-san's feelings or is there some other reason?" He raises his hand to stop Akaashi from speaking. "Something that doesn't involve your collar. I know you can't accept anyone until the winter solstice."

"It doesn't have anything to do with that. Well, partially. I'm..."

Tooru gives Akaashi an expectant look.

"I'm afraid," Akaashi admits as though it pains him to admit such a thing. "Bokuto-san leaves tomorrow. There's a possibility that he won't survive."

"You're afraid that he'll fall in battle, the same as Inuoe-san."

Akaashi nods.

It's perfectly understandable. However, Tooru thinks Akaashi should at least read the letter for Bokuto's sake; Akaashi's sake as well. Bokuto risked a lot tasking Tooru with delivering the letter. And Akaashi deserves to know that someone cares about him enough to risk everything. Regardless of the battle's outcome, Akaashi will know Bokuto's interest in him went beyond lust.

"I'll give you privacy if you require it," Tooru suggests after he gives his opinion on the matter.

"Please stay."

Untying the ribbon, Akaashi carefully sets it on the table. Then, he unravels the letter with both hands. While Akaashi silently reads, Tooru watches as a kaleidoscope of emotions plays out on Akaashi's face. Everything from uncertainty, comprehension, jubilation, and then resignation. The letter is brief from the look of it yet every word is impactful. By the end of it, a single tear rolls down Akaashi's face.

"He's been in love with me for that long?" Akaashi says, mostly to himself.

Tooru can't help but add, "It's true. Hajime told me Bokuto-san has fancied you long before Inuoe-san gave you his collar."

"How?" Akaashi asks. "Why?"

"Hell if I know. You're not that great if you ask me." Tooru cracks a smile to show he's joking. They both chuckle. "I know that you'll be sentenced to death if you so much as a glance in his direction, but maybe you can give him something before he departs. That is if you care about him at all."

"Something like what?"

"I don't know." Tooru doesn't know a damn thing about romance aside from the things he's read in books. At the thought of books, he gets an idea. "There's a book of poems I brought from home. You can tear out a page of it and give it to him."

Akaashi smiles; he loves that idea. "Are you sure you don't want to do that for Hajime-sama?"

Tooru hasn't even thought of a memento to give to Hajime before he departs. All the other warriors will more than likely have tokens from their loved ones to keep their spirits high while they're away. He's a terrible wife for not thinking of that sooner. The drop of seawater that Hajime claims to be the purest drop from the Realm of Rain still sits on Tooru's vanity table.

"I will give him something else," Tooru says.

Akaashi looks at the letter for one last time. Then, he balls it up with his fist and walks over to the fireplace where he tosses the letter into the flames. They don't leave the drawing room until they're positive nothing remains.

After a quick detour, they return to the feast. Tooru thinks it'll be best if Yahaba delivers the poetry to Bokuto, but Yahaba is nowhere in sight; for the record neither is Kyoutani. So, Tooru passes the memento on to Bokuto.

For the remainder of the evening, Akaashi and Bokuto steal glances at one another from across the room. Although they think they're being discreet, Tooru catches them every time. Thankfully, he appears to be the only person who notices.

All around Tooru, love is blossoming. Out of their trio, he's the only one who's married yet his relationship with Hajime feels stagnant. And Tooru knows exactly why it feels that way. The only problem is, he isn't sure how to go about fixing it. He can always ask Akaashi for advice, but he doesn't want to disrupt the omega's glancing game with Bokuto. Tooru isn't comfortable enough with anyone else so it appears he's on his own with this one.

"I think I'm going to retire for the evening. Enjoy the rest of your night," Tooru says to Akaashi.

Akaashi barely glances in his direction. "Goodnight, Tooru-sama."

Once Tooru is in their bedroom, he opens the door to the washroom to see if the tub is already filled with water. Unsurprisingly, it is. Baths are relaxing; some people even say baths are beneficial to the thinking process. Hopefully, by the end of his bath, he will have thought of a solution to his problem.


Humming a wistful tune under his breath, Hajime undresses in front of his wardrobe. One of the windows aligning the far wall is missing a shade, granting him the aid of the moon's brilliant light.

The feast ended nearly an hour ago. Afterward, he went to the beach with his appointed generals and left an offering of lavender, salt, and gold coins for the goddess. If he didn't have Tooru, Hajime might have spent his night drinking wine on the beach. Might have found someone to share the wine with. But he's content with how his life is now. 

Fully undressed, Hajime intends to change into his sleeping robes when he hears the bed shift behind him. Turning around, he sees Tooru sitting up, the sheets pooling around his waist. Tooru is wearing one of those gowns that have haunted Hajime's thoughts for numerous days and nights. Hajime doubts Tooru has noticed how revealing the gown is.

All it takes is for Tooru to stand near the open window or a lit candle and Hajime can see everything. Of course, Hajime tries not to stare too hard. He'll only be hurting himself if he does. He never thought that having a beautiful wife would be this troublesome. 

Recalling his current state of undress, Hajime quickly faces the wardrobe again. "Did I wake you?" he asks.

"No, I've been waiting for you," Tooru says, his voice unrecognizable.

Hajime thinks nothing of it. "I'm sorry I took so long." The bed shifts again and soon he can hear the sound of Tooru's hurried footsteps approaching. "You don't have to—" He stiffens at the feel of Tooru's hands circling his torso, his body pressing so close that it's almost as if he's trying to imprint himself into Hajime's form.

Tooru kisses the slight dip between Hajime's shoulder blades while he glides his palms down Hajime's well-defined stomach. Closing his eyes, Hajime's head lolls to the side, a hushed exhale escaping him. The lower Tooru's hands descend, his confidence wanes. Hajime knows this because Tooru's touch becomes lighter and his breathing quickens. Delicately, he seizes Tooru's hands, twining their fingers together.

"Tell me what you want, Tooru." This is how Hajime knows how far he's allowed to go. Knowing this beforehand helps to keep him restrained. "Do you only want my lips tonight?" He can feel Tooru's head shake. "My tongue?" he patiently asks.

Tooru shakes his head again.

"My fingers?"

"No," Tooru says timidly.

Untangling their hands, Hajime turns around and touches Tooru's chin so that the omega won't be able to look away. He kisses Tooru's lips sweetly, but he doesn't linger.

"If you don't tell me how am I supposed to know?"

Tooru slides a glance out the corner of his eye, almost as if he's thinking of what he should do next. Hajime assumes Tooru's behavior has to do with his steadily approaching departure. He thinks it's best if they go for a walk and sort through all of this. But then Tooru is fumbling with the thin straps of his nightgown as he looks off to the side, his long hair shrouding his face. Hajime stands there, silent and unblinking. 

Tooru drags the fabric over his shoulder, down his arms, and flat stomach.

"Wait," Hajime says abruptly, settling his hands on Tooru's hips to keep the nightgown from sliding down any further, "tell me." He understands now what Tooru wants yet he still needs Tooru to say it. And it has nothing to do with his ego or anything like that. He needs to be sure that this is what Tooru wants. 

Whining quietly, Tooru moves closer until there's no space between them. It's as if he hopes to convey his thoughts through action alone. He kisses the tip of Hajime's nose and at the corner of Hajime's mouth. The slightest of movement brings their groins together, both of them gasping at the contact.

"Tooru, please," Hajime pleads, feeling his restraint slip with every passing second. 

"You know what I want, Hajime." Tooru rubs his cheek against Hajime's, stimulating the scent glands there. Their scents mingle and the smell of it eases his anxiousness. "I don't want a single part of you. I want all of you." He kisses Hajime.

Lost in the kiss, Hajime's hands drop from Tooru's hips, allowing the nightgown to fall to the floor. Stepping out of the fabric, Tooru slowly walks toward their bed. Hajime doesn't stop kissing Tooru. Not when they clumsily stumble onto the bed or when Tooru's thighs part and he settles between them. When their lungs are burning from lack of oxygen and they have to break apart for air, Hajime peppers Tooru's eyelids, his forehead, and his hair with kisses. The collar covers the lands on Tooru's neck so Hajime has to kiss and suck on the glands in Tooru's inner thighs as his fingers work inside of Tooru's heat. 

When Hajime is certain that Tooru is ready for him, and only then, he captures Tooru's lips as he enters him, savoring the taste of Tooru's moans on his tongue. Throughout the night, he watches Tooru's face closely, waiting for the slightest sign of discomfort or a change of heart.

But he never sees it; not once.

Chapter Text

"You leave tomorrow," Yahaba says, putting an end to the silence that has surrounded them since they left the great hall. He glances at Kyoutani, awaiting a response. When Kyoutani simply nods his head, Yahaba faces the alpha. "Kyoutani-san, is there something you would like to discuss with me?"

They're sitting on the black, rocky cliffs that overlook the sea. Far behind them, the palace and surrounding abodes are lit at their backs. Yahaba was initially wary when Kyoutani led him this far away from the palace. He doesn't remember when that wariness faded. He only knows that sitting beside Kyoutani, watching the dark waves crash on the shores, is oddly relaxing.

Well, it was relaxing until Yahaba's mind began to race with speculations. Everyone knows that the night before a warrior leaves for battle, they do three things: make declarations of love, give offerings to deities, and if they're already married, they fuck their wives. This is one of the few traditions the five kingdoms share.

Yahaba doesn't know if Kyoutani has adopted the sea goddess in favor of the many gods in the east and he knows Kyoutani isn't married. So, that only leaves the love declaration.

"Kyoutani-san?" Yahaba presses.

"I want to spend the night with you," Kyoutani says so quietly that Yahaba might have missed it if he weren't listening intently.

Abruptly, Yahaba turns away from Kyoutani. "If you only sought me out to sate yourself before battle then you will be disappointed."

"That isn't what I meant." Kyoutani sounds timid and a little bashful. "I'm not fluent in the southern tongue," he says in the eastern language.

Yahaba understands now that the alpha's silence is due to what he assumes is a language barrier. Facing Kyoutani again, Yahaba smiles. He assures Kyoutani, while speaking the eastern language, that he isn't as bad as he thinks he is when speaking the western tongue. After they get past that, Kyoutani clarifies what he meant earlier about wanting Yahaba to spend the night.

"It's my company you seek," Yahaba says in understanding. He blushes. "I'm sorry for misinterpreting your intentions."

"If I'd offered you a collar, would you have spent the night with me?"

Yahaba glares at the alpha. But then he notices the small smile on Kyoutani's face. "Are you...teasing me, Kyoutani-san?" Is this the same alpha who storms off in the opposite direction every time they spot one another across the courtyard or bump into each other inside the palace's corridors?

"I am."

"The eastern customs favor betrothal necklaces over collars, yes?"


"Every warrior carves a unique symbol for their chosen mate. They're even passed down generations. I hear it's considered a great honor to be given a necklace that is considered an heirloom. Even the eastern monarchy follows this tradition." Yahaba realizes that he's talking far too much. "Of course, you know all of this. There's no point in me telling you about your own culture." He laughs nervously.

Kyoutani's inconspicuous smile is no longer present yet the softness of his eyes tell Yahaba that he isn't offended or irritated by his unneeded explanation. The alpha lies down on his back, using his folded arms to rest his head, and closes his eyes. 

"What else do you know about my home?" Kyoutani asks. 

"There are twenty recognized tribes in the east. Amari-sama's tribe is the second largest in the kingdom—"

Kyoutani interrupts, "Our tribe is the largest," he says, peeking one eye open to look at Yahaba, "The great wolf, Okami, decimated the Raion tribe three years ago. That put us at the top."

Yahaba frowns. "My texts say—"

"Your texts need to be rewritten. You can ask my aunt if you don't believe me."

"It's not that I don't believe you—"

Kyoutani interrupts yet again, "You just believe everything you read in those fancy scrolls of yours. Is that it?" Both eyes are open now and his eyebrows are raised. "I see you don't like to be wrong, either," he says in regard to the cross expression on Yahaba's face.

Yahaba hits Kyoutani on the chest. "No, I don't like to be interrupted!" He realizes too late that his hand touched bare skin.

With the sun no longer in the sky and the palace's proximity to the sea, the night air is cool. It's not the sort of weather that requires extra layers of clothing but it's nice to have something covering the arms. Yahaba is wearing a cashmere wool shawl over his dress. Kyoutani is wearing an outfit similar to the ceremonial hunting attire that the southern warriors wear. Aside from the armor required for training, Kyoutani always dresses like this; practically nude.

Not that Yahaba pays attention to that sort of thing. 

"Aren't you cold?" Yahaba asks. He looks away to hide the redness of his face.

"I don't get cold," Kyoutani says, watching Yahaba curiously, "not anymore." He doesn't give Yahaba the chance to question what he means by that. "Tell me more about my home."

Yahaba crosses his arms defiantly. "I would rather not."

"Tell me about your home."

"My home?"

"The west. You were born there, no?"

Shivering slightly, Yahaba secures the large shawl around his body and tucks his knees under his chin. The action causes his dress rise up, exposing his ankles. He tries to pull the dress down, not wanting Kyoutani to see yet the alpha's sharp eyes catches what Yahaba fails to hide. Yahaba stiffens when Kyoutani lightly traces the deep scars.

"You were a slave," Kyoutani says, his flat tone masking his emotions. "These scars...they're from shackles. You must have worn them for years..."

There isn't a nice way of putting it: the scars are hideous. Instead of blending in with his skin like the other scars on his body, these scars stick out, red and thick. Yahaba hates the scars on his ankle most of all. At least the welts on his back are out of sight when he undresses and he can avoid wearing dresses that expose too much so there are times when he forgets they're even there. But the scars on his ankle are always visible, always reminding him of past.

"Eleven years," Yahaba says. "The shackles were removed recently but these scars have been here for some time." They're the product of an unattentive master. Yahaba outgrew his shackles at one point. Shackles that fit a child will not do for a person on the cusp of adulthood. They tore through his flesh every time he walked. It wasn't until he was sold to the western palace's courier that he was given new shackles. "I have Hajime-sama to thank for that."

Kyoutani glances up at Yahaba then back at the marred flesh around his ankles. Quietly, he pulls the hem of Yahaba's dress down. He returns to his previous position, closing his eyes.

"You're not from the west, then," Kyoutani says, "It is known that the Western Kingdom raided the Central Kingdom for human labor."

That is what started the great war nearly a decade ago. The same war where Tooru's father spent his time off the battlefield in whorehouses. The same war that haunts King Nagisa's dreams and drives him to drink his sorrows away.

"That is correct, Kyoutani-san. I was born in the Central Kingdom."

"Do you remember growing up there?"

"I remember everything was green," Yahaba says, a nostalgic smile on his face, "and warm." His smile fades. "That was before the war. I hear it's a barren wasteland now." He doesn't want to talk about this anymore. Too many bad memories. He turns his attention to Kyoutani. "The circles around your eyes...are they painted on?"

Kyoutani opens his eyes, but he doesn't comment on the subject change. "No, the circles are not painted on."

Yahaba slits his eyes. "Well, there's no way you were born that way." He touches the alpha's face, trying to rub what he thinks is war paint, off. "It doesn't come off..." His frown deepens.

"That's because it's not painted on," Kyoutani says calmly. "I wasn't born with them. They appeared after I ate the heart of Okami."

"You ate Okami's heart? The great wolf?"

"Yes. After I avenged my mother, I cut out the heart of the beast and ate it." Kyoutani's eyes light up in what Yahaba interprets as excitement. "I have Okami's coat in my room, would you like to see?"

Yahaba is still trying to wrap his head around Kyoutani's casual admittance of eating a raw wolf's heart. "Perhaps later," he says. It dawns on him that he may have agreed to visit Kyoutani's bedroom later. He'll have to clear that up some other time. First things first... "What happened after you ate Okami's heart?"

"We became one."

"What does that mean?"

"My senses have improved greatly." Kyoutani sits up and absently dusts the flecks of rock and dirt from his arms. "I'm stronger and faster than I was before defeating Okami."

"Are you referring to the five senses?"

"Only three."

"Fascinating," Yahaba says. He stares at Kyoutani as though the alpha is one of his many scrolls. Strange enough, Yahaba wants to dissect Kyoutani, pick him apart, and take a peek at what's underneath. Of course not in a literal sense; he isn't a fan of blood. But in a wholly metaphorical sense. "Can you please tell me more about your heightened senses?"

He leans into Kyoutani's space and immediately notices the heat that radiates off the alpha's body. If Kyoutani burns hot like this all the time then there's no wonder he prefers to walk around semi-nude.

"I know that you ate plums today because I can smell them when you speak."

Yahaba's eyes widen comically. "W-what? I didn't have plums for supper..." But he had plums for breakfast. Feeling self-conscious, he moves away from Kyoutani. "What else can you smell on me?"

Kyoutani smirks. "Do you really want to know?"

"No," Yahaba answers quickly.

"I can hear your heart." Kyoutani is no longer smirking when he says this. "Just now, when I told you that, your heart jumped."

"My heart did not jump," Yahaba lies.

"This entire time your heartbeat has been steady. It's all over the place now."

That's because Kyoutani is closer now, burning hot like a furnace. Yahaba thinks of removing the shawl, suddenly finding it uncomfortable but he's too nervous to make any sudden movements. Kyoutani has him trapped and he isn't even touching Yahaba. When Kyoutani touches the left side of Yahaba's face, the omega gasps from the warmth, his mouth parting open invitingly. Kyoutani's eyes lower, tracing the curve of Yahaba's cupid brow, taking in the plumpness of his lips. Yahaba inhales sharply because he knows what that look means.

But then Kyoutani's ears twitch. He looks away from Yahaba, in the direction of the beach. Yahaba follows Kyoutani's gaze. There are people throwing offerings into the sea. Upon a closer look, Yahaba sees Hajime, Watari, and other well-known warriors.

"I have to go." Kyoutani stands up. He extends his hand. "Come, I'll walk you back to the palace."

Yahaba takes Kyoutani's hand, but he turns down Kyoutani's offer.

"That's the custom here."

"What are the eastern customs for escorting omegas to their abodes?"

"There aren't any. Offering such a thing would be viewed as an insult. Eastern omegas are capable of looking after themselves."

Yahaba knows this; he only wanted to prove a point. "Then, treat me how you would treat an omega in the east." That's only fair if they're to be courting, right? Although, he doesn't know for certain if Kyoutani is interested in courting him. It isn't uncommon for warriors to seek platonic companionship before battle. "Kyoutani-san, what am I to you?"

"I haven't decided yet."

"Did you seek me out because you were lonely?" Yahaba wouldn't be offended if that were the case. Tonight was enjoyable. He even learned something new which is always a good thing.

"Lonely?" Kyoutani repeats the word as though he has no comprehension of its meaning. "I live in a barrack with thirty other men. I'm never lonely."

Yahaba smiles; it's obvious that Kyoutani isn't too happy about his current living arrangement. "What I meant was, did you only want my company for tonight or would you like to see me when you return?"

"I would like to see you when I return."

"Then I will wait for you."

At the time, it didn't bother Yahaba in the slightest but when he's tossing and turning in his bed later that night, he can only think of how badly he wanted Kyoutani to kiss him.

"Hajime, again," Tooru mutters listlessly, tangling his long legs around the alpha's waist tightly. "Please." He presses close, showing Hajime how wet and ready he is.

Whatever protest Hajime might have made dies on his lips. He begins to stir again, fully hard by the time Tooru grabs him, blindly guiding him where he needs him to be. Hajime assists Tooru with a hard thrust forward. Their broken groans and the sounds of their skin slapping fills the room once more. Hajime isn't sure how many times they've helped one another over the edge. Things began to blur somewhere between their second and third orgasms.

Tooru was meek and blundering their first go at it; he kept his face hidden in the pillow shyly and he blushed an angry shade of red whenever he moaned too loudly. Hajime remained patient, though. He paid attention to Tooru's body language, allowing it to speak to him in a way Tooru couldn't at the time. But after Tooru experienced the pleasure of a release from nothing more than Hajime's cock, he became insatiable.

Initially, Hajime imagined them making love sweetly. They'd fall asleep in each other's arms afterward. Hajime didn't expect them to spend the entirety of the night indulging in one another. He took as much as Tooru took. Tooru gave as much as Hajime gave.

Hajime's energy was nearly depleted, his cock painfully oversensitive, yet he kept a steady pace as he fucked Tooru deeply. Tooru's damp thighs are squeezed around him, his hips bucking swiftly, powered solely by carnal need. Long, red scratches cover Hajime's back and chest that Tooru's nails left behind. If it weren't for the collar blocking Tooru's swollen glands, Tooru's neck would be littered with teeth marks and bruises. Instead, Hajime has focused his attention on Tooru's collarbone.

"More," Tooru whines, euphoric tears rolling down his face, "more, Hajime."

Unbelievable— Hajime thinks. Here he is, so deep inside of Tooru that he can feel his bulge through the omega's stomach, yet Tooru is asking for more. In Hajime's defense, he's been fucking Tooru, with only short pauses in-between, for hours. He also didn't predict this sort of thing to happen so he's ill-prepared.

Nonetheless, Hajime has never been an ungenerous lover. If Tooru wants more then Hajime will give him more.

When Hajime abruptly pulls out, Tooru's eyes snap open and for a moment it looks as if he's going to attack Hajime. Any other time, Hajime might have taken the time to ask Tooru if it was okay to roughly turn him over, grab him by the waist and raise his ass into the air. But his ego suffered a minor blow and he's eager to satiate Tooru for good.

Tooru screams beautifully when Hajime slams inside of him, his heavy sack slapping Tooru's perineum. At first, Hajime worries that he may have been too rough but then Tooru is sitting up on his elbows for leverage and grinding on Hajime's cock in what Hajime thinks is the sexiest thing he's ever seen. That's saying a lot because Hajime has witnessed all sorts of things in his youth.

"How in the hell am I supposed to leave now?" Hajime mutters to himself. Starting at Tooru's shoulders, he glides his hands down the omega's gorgeous back, admiring the taut muscles and blemish free skin. Perfection. Every single part of Tooru is perfection. "I never want to leave this bed...never want to leave you..."

"Hajime, please," Tooru begs, he glances at Hajime over his shoulder, hair tousled and brown eyes glazed over.

That one look ends Hajime. He presses Tooru to the mattress, pinning him down with his large body, thrusting into his heat without his previous gentleness because he knows that Tooru isn't going to break nor will he bend easily. Total submission may arouse most alphas. Hajime, however, is overjoyed to have an equal in Tooru. He maintains that same, brutal pace until Tooru's entire body is shuddering and spasming around him. Tooru purrs as Hajime fills him for the fifth time that night.

"Satisfied?" Hajime asks, wincing as his flaccid cock is forced out of Tooru's body. The sound of Tooru's purrs is beginning to sound like quiet snores. He lays beside the omega and listens closely. "Tooru?"

When Tooru doesn't respond, Hajime sighs in relief. He doesn't think he would have survived another round. Ignoring the mess on the sheets and their bodies, Hajime gathers Tooru into his arms, smiling at the incoherent mumbling the omega makes in his sleep. Hajime is exhausted but it takes a while for him to fall asleep. Deep in his thoughts, he sniffs Tooru's hair and traces circles on Tooru's lower back. This is the second time he's thought about abandoning his pride for Tooru. The second time he's thought of bending the knee and groveling at Tooru's feet. 

Hajime would never have thought he'd be this strung up over a spoiled, Western brat. Despite himself, he smiles fondly at the thought. 

Dawn arrives earlier than both of them would have liked. Tooru sits up on the bed with the sheets tucked under his chin, watching Hajime walk in and out of the washroom and dress for his departure in a sort of haze. He snaps himself out of it when Hajime moves to put on his breastplate. Getting out of bed, Tooru walks up behind Hajime, helping the alpha secure the armor on.

"Thank you," Hajime says tiredly.

Tooru feels he should apologize for selfishly keeping Hajime up all night. Truthfully, Tooru never wanted his night with Hajime to end. He wishes that he would have given in sooner, but there's no point in dwelling on past mistakes or hesitancies. Besides, it isn't like Hajime isn't going to return.

Although, there's a chance that Hajime won't return.

"Would you like to walk with me to the gate?" Hajime asks, facing Tooru. He glances at Tooru's current state of undress. "After you put on some clothes, of course." He smiles.

Tooru nods wordlessly. His mind is still swirling with thoughts of Hajime dying on the battlefield. While he dresses, he misses how Hajime's eyes follow him around the room and how fondly Hajime watches him as he sits at his vanity and brushes his hair. Once Tooru is presentable, they leave the room. Despite how close they were last night, they walk how they always have with a small distance between them as though they were still in the courting stage.

Usually, Tooru would wait for Hajime to make the first move, but he's far too anxious to put up a front. Linking their arms together, he leans into Hajime, the coolness of the breastplate causing him to shiver slightly.

"It's cold," Tooru comments, not knowing what else to say.

"It gets like this at night and early morning. I could go back to the room and get something for your arms."

"That's okay. I don't want you to be late."

"I'll never hear the end of it if I'm late," Hajime mutters irately. "Last night, I threatened to make all the late risers ride in the back of the line if they're late. Imagine how cross they'll feel if me, the commanding general, is late," he chuckles.

Tooru smiles. "Is this your first campaign as commanding general?"


"Are you nervous?" Tooru shakes his head. "Of course you're not nervous."

"I am nervous," Hajime admits. "During my father's time as commanding general, he never led a failed campaign. I don't know if I am worthy enough to follow in his footsteps. I will do my best to make him proud."

Tooru takes Hajime by the hand. "Your father wouldn't have passed down his title to you if he thought you were unworthy. From my understanding, the role of commanding general isn't passed down through generations. It is a title that is earned. That means that out of all the warriors in the kingdom, King Nagisa trusts you with his legacy."

Hajime halts, and the first thing Tooru thinks is that he may have been out of line. He doesn't expect Hajime to cradle his face in his hands and kiss him. The kiss doesn't last long; it was nothing more than a soft press of their lips. Yet the kiss was impactful. Tooru could feel the emotions Hajime was trying to express through that kiss and it warms his heart.

"Thank you, Tooru," Hajime says. 

The remainder of the walk is pleasantly silent. Tooru isn't much of a morning person. Even when he would sneak out of bed early to practice with his bow, he dreaded dragging himself out of bed. But he's happy that Hajime woke him up this morning. He's happy that he gets to see his husband off. When they reach the gate, Tooru is surprised to see the king and queen.

Queen Amari is speaking to Kyoutani softly while King Nagisa stands to the side with his hand on Kyoutani's shoulder. This is the first time that Tooru has seen Kyoutani without his usual scowl on his face. If anything Kyoutani seems happy. At the appearance of Hajime and Tooru, however, Kyoutani's usual demeanor is back in place. He gruffly tells his aunt and uncle 'bye' and then hurriedly walks off. None of Kyoutani's family members seem surprised or affronted by the brusque attend. 

"Hajime, Tooru-kun," Amari greets with a kind smile.

To Tooru's surprise, Hajime frowns. "You two didn't have to come all the way out here." He sounds more like Kyoutani now. "This isn't my first battle."

Amari touches Hajime's face. "I will see you off every time you leave out of those gates, Hajime. You know that." She looks over at Tooru. "Hajime is only pretending that he doesn't like this because he wants to impress you."

Tooru giggles and Hajime's frown deepens.

"Amari, you're going to make him blush in front of Tooru-kun," Nagisa chuckles. 

"I'm sorry, Hajime. I'm just so proud of you." Amari's blue eyes are glistening as she speaks. She mutters something to Hajime in a language that Tooru doesn't understand. Whatever she says makes Hajime's face soften. 

After their moment ends, Hajime and Nagisa have a telepathic conversation of some sorts. No words are passed between them. They only stare at one another for some time before sharing a hug. Tooru doesn't know how to feel about the display. On one side, Tooru is happy for Hajime; it's obvious that Nagisa is very proud of his son. On the other side, Tooru feels envious of Hajime for having a father who loves and supports him. Tooru realizes that it's something that he wishes he had from his own father. This is Hajime's day, though. He isn't going to allow jealousy and bitterness to ruin their final moments. 

"If I have to stay longer than two weeks, I'll send a raven," Hajime says. The king and queen are speaking with Hajime's generals now so they have a little privacy. "There's an outpost near the border. You can write to me if you want."

"Do wives normally write to their husbands during such a short campaign?"

"No, but we're newlyweds." Hajime smiles. "No one will judge you for worrying, Tooru."

Tooru is far too prideful for that. "I will patiently await your return. Whatever I need to tell you, I will tell you when you return." 

Hajime cups Tooru's face, pulling him close. "I'm going to miss you," he whispers, sounding pained. "Will you miss?"

"You know I will, Hajime."

"Can I hear you say it?" Hajime asks and it sounds as if he's pleading. "I need to hear it, Tooru..."

Tooru blinks, a single tear rolling down his cheek. "I'm going to miss you dearly, Hajime," he says, voice cracking.

Hajima kisses Tooru hard. Tooru melts into the kiss. He tangles his fingers in Hajime's hair, holding him in place, never wanting to let him go. It takes a good amount of Hajime's strength to tear away from the kiss and pry Tooru off. It takes double the strength to walk away from Tooru to where his men are waiting.

Tooru isn't upset Hajime leaves abruptly. He knows Hajime wouldn't have been able to leave if he would have held on a second longer. But with Hajime no longer in sight, the walls around Tooru's heart that Hajime knocked down begins to rebuild themselves, brick, mortar, and brick. His mind is racing with endless possibilities so fast that it's a wonder his head doesn't roll off. Without Hajime around who will care for Tooru? There's only so much Yahaba can do. And who is to say that Hajime's parents won't turn on him—

"It is time to head back, my dear," Nagisa says, putting an arm around Tooru's shoulder. Tooru's building panic is washed away instantly as though a large wave overcame it. "You still have some time to rest before the day starts."

Amari is walking on the opposite side of Tooru, clasping his sweaty hand. "I'll have you a shawl made, Tooru-kun. The nights and mornings here can be cooler than you're used to. Would you like that?"

Tooru nods.

He's stunned by the king and queen's sudden attentiveness but it isn't unwelcome. King Nagisa's scent is calming, not in the way Hajime's is and it doesn't fill Tooru with the same emotions Hajime's scent fills him with. Still, he uses the king's scent as an anchor. Amari's random chatter is a distraction Tooru didn't know he needed. The woman is talking about the weather still. Nagisa comments here and there. Tooru even mutters a comment of his on. Before he knows it, they're inside the palace standing in front of Tooru's door.

"I'll send for you later," Amari says, hugging Tooru. She whispers, "Hajime's absence doesn't change a thing. You're still apart of our family."

Over Amari's shoulder, Tooru can see Nagisa smiling in agreement, putting Tooru's fears to rest. When the king and queen are gone and Tooru is lying in bed alone, curled up with Hajime's pillow, he doesn't cry like he thought he would.

As promised, Amari sends for Tooru later that morning after breakfast. The queen's personal courier guides Tooru through the royal wing and gives him a brief tour. Similiar to the east wing, the west wing has various rooms that serve different purposes. But the rooms on this side of the palace are larger, grander. Another difference between the east and west wing is that the west wing has an ascending spiral staircase that leads to an outside training pavilion.

The floor of the pavilion is a mosaic of a giant, naked woman rising from the sea holding a long spear. Tooru knows that the woman is the kingdom's patron goddess from the paintings he's seen around the palace. Green vines wind around the many, marble columns that enclose the area. Up here, Tooru has a bird's eye view of the palace and it's breathtaking.

"Good morning, Tooru-kun."

Tooru turns his head in the direction of the voice. "Amari-sama?" he asks, eyes wide with surprise.

Amari isn't wearing one of her usual, flowing dresses which is why Tooru is having trouble recognizing her. She's wearing a gold and bronze breastplate like the one Hajime wears when he's training except Amari's is shaped to her feminine frame, exposing more skin, mainly her muscular thighs. The leather sandals she's wearing stop just under her knees, her forearms and shoulders are covered with gold armor plates, and a long braid hangs down her back.

This is Tooru's first time seeing the woman's thighs; his first time seeing a muscular omega. Despite the masculine features, Amari is still delicate in an attractive way. She's strong and beautiful. The first thing that comes to Tooru's mind is how badly he wishes his body looked like Amari's. He wants to have her strength yet maintain sexual allure.

"I had this made for you," Amari says. She motions behind Tooru to where a servant is carrying an outfit like the one she's wearing. "I hope it fits."

Tooru is shown to a small changing area on the far end of the pavilion. In the mirror, he stares at the collar on his neck, tracing the sapphires with his finger. Sighing, he drops his hand. If he tries hard enough he can pretend as if the collar isn't there. Which is something he does more than he cares to admit. It's surprisingly light and never gets in the way of his hair or clothing. The only time the collar is a nuisance is when Tooru wants Hajime's mouth on his neck. He can't think about Hajime right now because he'll think about last night. 

He focuses his attention on changing into the armor. The armor fits him just fine but Tooru is a little self-conscious when he returns to Amari who is holding two long spears now. She smiles at the sight of Tooru.

"How does it feel?" she asks.

"I will have to get used to it." 

"Hajime tells me you're a fine bowman. That means you have upper body strength. At least in the arms." She walks around Tooru, appraising him. "I'm going to help you become stronger all over. Have you ever sparred with anyone?"


"Not even for fun?"

Where Tooru comes from sparring isn't considered a leisure activity. "No, Amari-sama," he says.

Amari nods. She doesn't appear to be judging Tooru so that's a relief. "Nagisa and I have accepted you. Hajime has accepted you. But in order for you to become queen, the people have to accept you. They will not support a queen they deem weak. You know this?"

"Yahaba-san may have mentioned it." Tooru shifts uncomfortably. "I am not sure what is required of me. How will I prove to the people that I am worthy?"

"There are three, separate trials. You have to complete them before Hajime's coronation. The first one will take place after Hajime returns."

"What is the first trial?"

Amari extends her left arm, handing Tooru one of the spears. "You will have to spar with Hajime in front of the noble clans," she says, no longer smiling. Once Tooru hesitantly takes the spear, she takes a step back. "Before we begin, I want you to know that I think you and Hajime are a perfect match and that is exactly why I will not go easy on you. I want you to succeed, Tooru-kun."

Tooru only has a brief moment to revel in Amari's admittance.

The woman's entire demeanor changes, her blue eyes crystallizing as the atmosphere around them shifts. A chill travels down Tooru's spine. Gripping the spear tightly, he bends his knees and prepares himself for an attack. All the preparation in the world isn't enough to prepare him for Amari.

"I want to show you something," Amari says as she stares down at Tooru. There's sweat on her brow but aside from that, she looks as pristine as she did when Tooru entered the pavilion hours ago.

Tooru, on the other hand, looks as if he's been mauled by a bear. For him, it sure as hell feels that way. He is more than eager to take Amari's offered hand. But he immediately regrets it as she yanks him off the floor. The sore and bruised muscles in his body ache, his head throbs from the sudden motion. Staggering, Tooru puts all his weight on Amari.

Amari laughs. "Give it a week. You'll be able to take a beating better. And by the second week, I imagine you'll be able to land a scratch on me." She winks.

The queen is arrogant, Tooru soon learned during their fight. She has every reason to be arrogant, too. Tooru hates losing. He hates feeling inferior and weak. Normally after suffering a humiliating loss like this, he'd be angry, spiteful. However, he doesn't feel that way at all. Whenever Amari knocked him down she would tell him where he messed up and she wasn't above praising Tooru when it called for it. She even took the time to give Tooru a braid to prevent his hair from getting in his face.

Amari is the kind of mentor Tooru has always needed; the kind he's always wanted. She's stern yet amiable. She's also patient and supportive. Tooru can't bring himself to hate someone who only wants him to strive and succeed. If anything, Tooru admires Amari and he's ashamed to admit that. He doesn't even admire his own mother.

They walk to the back of the pavilion and stand between two columns. The first thing Tooru notices is the beach. He's high enough to see outlines of the small islands and mountain ranges in the distance. All of which are within the kingdom's territory. Amari points to something directly below them. Tooru is surprised he didn't notice the large living quarters before. With a closer look, Tooru can see a group of warriors sitting around a small fire pit, eating lunch. Some of the other warriors are sparring in the sand. Others are standing off to the side, watching the fights with critical eyes.

"Who are they?" Tooru asks.

He knows they're warriors because of the armor they're wearing but he also knows that there aren't any women in the royal army. Naturally, he assumes they're betas. Female alphas are so rare there was only one in the Southern Kingdom and they ruled as the sole monarch centuries ago. And omegas aren't built to be warriors. 

"Those are my warriors," Amari proudly says. "I am their commanding general."


"Most of them are omegas." Tooru's eyes widen and Amari's smug grin widens. "There are five-hundred betas. Fifty alphas."

"Alphas?" Tooru's eyes are bulging now. "You command alphas?"

"Yes, Tooru-kun, I command alphas. If the goddess wills it, you'll command alphas one day too."

In times of war, when the bulk of the kingdom's forces are off fighting, the queen's army stays behind to defend the palace. Traditionally the queen's army only consisted of omegas and betas. But after Amari successfully oversaw the defense of the palace during the great war, alphas began to volunteer their services. She's the first queen to have alphas willingly join her ranks.

Tooru's admiration for Amari has grown tenfold.

"Do you think Yahaba-san would like to join us one day?" Amari asks, "Eventually, you will familiarize yourself with everyone. It's good to know the people you're fighting with. Even better if you have a good friend to rely on. Akaashi-san can join, too."

"I'll ask them." Tooru isn't sure how much he can or should divulge to Amari, though he wants a stronger bond with the woman. He figures he'll have to start somewhere. "Amari-sama, I...I've never had any friends. I'm not even sure if Akaashi-san and Yahaba-san view me as their friend." 

Amari smiles in understanding. "You are unsure of Akaashi-san's motives because you barely know him. And you worry Yahaba-san only spends time with you outside of lessons because he still views you as his master."

That is exactly what Tooru has been feeling. He doesn't know if he can trust them, but he would like to.

"May I suggest something?" Amari asks.

Tooru nods.

"Invite them over for an overnight stay. I'll have games and meals arranged for the three of you. The privacy will give you a chance to get to know them better. I'm sure Akaashi-san can do with a night away from the Inoue abode. Yahaba-san's...unfortunate past tells me he's probably never been invited to a royal slumber party. I'm sure they'll both be delighted to come." 

"I've never hosted a slumber party." But Tooru likes the idea of it. "How soon can you arrange everything?"

"I'm the queen, I can have everything done before supper."

Tooru might have hugged Amari if it weren't for the soreness of his body. He thinks verbal gratitude will suffice. "Thank you, Amari-sama." 

"I'll have my courier send a formal invitation to Akaashi-san. Would you like to invite Yahaba-san personally?" 

"Is that something a friend would do?" Tooru asks out of genuine curiosity. "Because if so, I'd like to invite Akaashi-san personally too." 

The pleased expression on Amari's face tells Tooru that was what she was hoping he'd say. Amari assures him that she will take care of the other arrangements. Then she dismisses Tooru who returns to the east wing to freshen up. Tooru figures if Hajime is going to be out risking his life for their home, Tooru can spend his time here building bonds and becoming the wife Hajime deserves and the future queen who's worthy of following in Amari's footsteps. 

Chapter Text

Feeling uncomfortably stuffed, Akaashi licks his bottom lip to catch a dollop of cream before it can drip down his chin. “It’s unfair,” he says to himself, closing his eyes.

“What’s unfair,” Tooru asks, craning his head to look at Akaashi. He’s in the middle of finishing a lemon tart, his own belly beginning to feel like it’ll explode if he takes one more bite. “How many times must I tell you, Bokuto-san will return.”

Akaashi scoffs. “It’s not that. I’m referring to all of this.” He outstretches his arms, gesturing to the seemingly endless platters of sweets and goblets of berry wine laid out on the floor around them. “My stomach isn’t big enough to eat all this. It’s unfair.”

Tooru laughs. He makes a move to turn around on the ornated pillow he’s sitting on but the wine has his limbs feeling heavy. Instead, he settles for laying down, his head nearly touching Akaashi’s. Feeling his feet brushing something soft, he’s reminded of Yahaba’s presence.

Out of the three of them, Yahaba is the only one who didn’t over-indulge on wine and cakes. He only ate and sipped a little.

“You two are going to be sick in the morning,” Yahaba says, sitting demurely on his own pillow.

“Yahaba-san,” Tooru starts, words slurring, “does the spread the Queen had prepared for us displease you?”

Yahaba bows his head. “Of course not, Tooru-sama. I’m very grateful to be here.”

“Then why don’t you seem to be enjoying yourself?” Akaashi asks, eyes still closed. “Are we poor company?”

“I find you both enjoyable,” Yahaba says.

Sitting up on his elbows, Tooru smirks at Yahaba; he’s too inebriated to realize how silly he looks. “I know what it is.” He raises his finger in the air as though he’s about to make a royal declaration. “You’re thinking about Kyoutani-san!”

Akaashi gasps theatrically, clutching the front of his white, silk dress. “Am I missing something?” he asks. “Did Kyoutani-san approach you before he left?”

“Yes, I saw him last night.” Yahaba sees how Akaashi’s face takes on a mischevious look. He shakes his head. “We only talked!”

“About?” Akaashi asks. He rests on his side, his hand and elbow keeping him upright. “Did he confess his undying love?”

Yahaba flushed. “No—”

Tooru cuts in. “Did he promise to return from the battle post-haste to return to you and make you his mate?”

“Did he tuck your hair behind your ear, and hold you close and very near,” Akaashi adds to the song.

Before the two can start a duet, Yahaba speaks louder. “Nothing happened between us. He was only lonely and wanted to talk with me before he left for battle. Lots of alphas do that.” He doesn't want to tell them about Kyoutani's confirmed interest in him too soon. 

That put an end to Akaashi and Tooru’s teasing. Their expressions turned somber, apologetic. Akaashi leans over to touch Yahaba’s knee.

“Sorry, Yahaba-san,” Akaashi says. “No more teasing.”

Tooru nods in agreement. “We see how he looks at you so we thought…”

They thought Kyoutani wanted to court Yahaba. Not use him to comfort himself before going into battle. It’s not an uncommon concept. Some omegas are even honored to be sought out by a warrior on the eve of war. But most times when and if the warrior returns home, they never seek that omega out again.

“Well,” Akaashi says, cheerily, “Kyoutani-san isn’t the only alpha in the Southern Palace. He’s not your only admirer, either.”

Yahana frowns slightly. “What are you talking about?”

“Let’s just say that I know a very wealthy and esteemed, noble clansman who has his eyes on a certain brown-haired beauty.” He winks at Yahaba.

Tooru grins, his cheeks red and hot from copious cups of wine. “Who is it? Tell me!”

“I’m surprised neither of you has noticed how the heir to the Matsuno clan watches Yahaba-san likes he’s something to eat.” Akaashi reaches for a grape from a nearby platter. His stomaches aches at the sight of it yet he eats it anyway. “His clan is the fourth richest in the kingdom.”

“That’s still an upgrade from Kyoutani-san,” Tooru says. “Aside from him being the Queen’s nephew, what other title does he have?”

“Well, he’s a renowned warrior, for one,” Yahaba says in Kyoutani's defense. 

Tooru waves a dismissive hand. “That’s an accomplishment but it doesn’t mean he’s wealthy. Yahaba-san, you should mate with someone who can take care of you and your offspring.”

“I think Yahaba-san should marry for love.” Akaashi stares off into space wistfully. “So few of us get the chance.”

Yahaba sees this as his opportunity to get the attention off himself. He reaches for a piece of fruit and says, “Tooru-sama is fortunate. Hajime-sama is quite enamored with him.”

It’s Tooru’s turn to blush. “Duty brought us together. Not love.”

“But love will keep you together,” Akaashi says, smiling. “I too have seen the way Hajime-sama looks at his new bride. He’s quite taken with you.” He gives Tooru a knowing look. “I take it my lessons were helpful.”

Tooru covers his face with his hands. Lowering himself back to the pillow, he groans quietly. “Hajime-sama is...he’s a proper love, it’s true. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I only wanted to…” He stops, realizing how open he’s being. “But it isn’t love.”

“Not yet,” Akaashi teases.

Yahaba decides to spare Tooru. He turns to Akaashi. “I hear Bokuto-san finally confessed to you.”

That shuts Akaashi up. Tooru and Yahaba laugh at the omega’s expense.

“We will not speak on it,” Akaashi says, tilting his head up defiantly.

Tooru purses his lips. “Hmm, you pry into Yahaba-san and I’s romantic life, but refuse to divulge information on your own. I think that’s unfair, Akaashi-san.”

“Are you going to have me hung, Your Grace?”

Tooru laughs. He picks up a grape and throws it at Akaashi. When Akaashi catches the piece of fruit in his mouth, Tooru and Yahaba squeal in delight. They take turns throwing grapes at Akaashi and watching him catch them with ease. The grapes eventually run out, but they find other forms of entertainment. Yahaba shows them a game he learned some years ago that involves mimicking animals and having someone guess which animal he was. The sounds Yahaba make are as impressive as they are hilarious.

Their loud, joyous laughter can be heard down the corridor.


An hour or so passes. They’ve migrated away from the pillows and are now lounging inside the small, multi-colored tapestry tent in the corner of the massive room. Akaashi is brushing Tooru’s hair while Yahaba admires the gold bangles he chose for himself earlier that night.

When they were escorted to the east wing and shown to this room, Yahaba and Akaashi were given a chest filled with dresses, each, to keep for themselves and their choice of any jewelry from a collection hand chosen by the Queen. Akaashi chose sapphire earrings that were small yet shined bright like the mystic springs. The bangles Yahaba chose are meant to be worn around the ankles which was why he chose them.

“Amari-sama wants us to train with you?” Akaashi asks after Tooru finishes telling them about his morning with the Queen. “Only the best are chosen for the Queen’s army!”

“I didn’t even know the Queen had an army,” Tooru admits. “I assumed my duty would consist of being mounted and bred, and perhaps that is still part of it, but to know that I’ll one day command an army of omegas is exciting!”

Yahaba’s grin is smug. “I was going to tell you during our journey here but I wanted you to see for yourself.”

Tooru smiles sadly as he thinks about how ignorant and stubborn he was, and while he’s still stubborn as hell, he’s eager to learn more about the Southern Kingdom.

“I’m not sure if the clan elders will allow me to participate,” Akaashi says sadly. “I’ve always admired the Queen. And I would love to be apart of your army, Tooru-sama. But the elders have the final say so.”

“Odd,” Tooru says, “I don’t recall a clan elder ever having reign over a Queen.”

“That’s correct, Tooru-sama,” Yahaba says, pleased that Tooru appears to be learning from their many lessons on clan dynamics. “If the Queen wants Akaashi-san in her ranks, she’ll have him. The clan elders can fuss all they like, but Amari-sama has the final say.”

Akaashi lowers his head. “But still, they’ll be upset.”

“Who cares if they’re upset?” Tooru asks. “They can’t control you.”

“But they can make my life a living hell,” Akaashi says quietly. Then he straightens up. “Come on, this is supposed to be a slumber party. Let’s talk about happy things!”

Tooru and Yahaba share a look. Yahaba speaks first, “Akaashi-san, does anyone from the clan ever...hurt you?” he asks. They’ve both noticed how Akaashi tenses whenever the clan is mentioned or how his eyes are filled with an unsettling distant expression when he talks about them.

When Akaashi doesn’t immediately answer. Tooru turns around, facing the omega. He takes him by the hand. “If they’re hurting you or you don’t want to be there, tell me. I’m sure there’s something that can be done.” Thankful for the wine, he gathers the courage and the wits to add, “You’re my friend.” The word feels foreign on his tongue. He'll get used to it. “I want you to be happy and safe.” Glancing over his shoulder, he looks at Yahaba. “Both of you.”

“That’s very kind of you to say, Tooru-sama.” Akaashi squeezes his hand. “I promise, if things become too unbearable, I won’t hesitate to ask for help. For now, everything is fine.”

Neither of them fully believe him. Yet, they can see the plea in his eyes so they drop it. At least, Tooru pretends to drop it. He makes a mental note to do his own digging into the Inoue clan.

“So, are the rumors true?” Akaashi asks moments later, his chipper voice dispelling the drab mood. Tooru and Yahaba raise their brows in question. “Is Hajime-sama really a beast in the sack?” he giggles.

Tooru burns bright red. “There are rumors about Hajime-sama?” His gut burns hot, but not with desire. He’s afraid of what he might hear.

Akaashi senses his fear. “No worries, there are only good rumors. I apologize if this comes off as rude or forward, but is he really a proper lover or are you saying that because you have no one to compare him to?”

“Well, what has Mikoto-san said about him? I’m sure she talks plenty.” And he’s certain she’s had enough loves to compare Hajime to. 

“Let Mikoto-san tell it, Hajime-sama is the sex god incarnate. He’s feral, rough. She’s bragged about her love bruises once or twice during their involvement.”

“Love bruises?”

“Marks of passion,” Akaashi clarifies. “They’re different than usual bruises, done out of passion, not hatred. He settles his hands on Tooru’s shoulders. “Do you have any?” He rests his chin on Tooru’s shoulder and gazes down. “I’d like to see them.”

Tooru’s entire face and half of his neck are crimson. “Akaashi-san,” he whines, “this is inappropriate. We're omegas..." 

“Actually, Tooru-sama,” Yahaba starts, “it’s very common for omegas to be intimate with one another. With consent, of course. It's not considered adultery because an omega cannot breed another omega." 

“How else will we get through our heats?” Akaashi chuckles at the morbid expression Tooru displays. “Relax, I’m not going to fondle you, Tooru-sama. I only want to see.” He waits for Tooru’s consent to undress him.

Tooru clutches his collar where the top of his halter dress is secured. “I don’t think I have any love bruises.” Hajime was so gentle and careful with him. “Perhaps Mikoto-san was exaggerating or lying. I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“When I’m taken, I want to have proof of that special moment for days to come so I can look at the marks and reminiscence.” Akaashi smiles and Tooru is reminded of how much wine the omega had earlier. 

But Tooru glances at Yahaba and can see how his face mimics Akaashi’s; they’re both imagining being bedded by someone who cares for them deeply and leaving love bruises in their wake. He wonders if he’s the only sane one in their bunch. Although a part of him can understand where Akaashi is coming from, especially now that Hajime isn’t around. The only thing he has are his memories of last night and the lingering scent of Hajime that clings to him. He wonders what it would be like to lift his dress and find a map of Hajime’s touch on his body.

Each of them retreats into themselves, their thoughts filled with conjured fantasies. Tooru longs for Hajime, he longs for his touch. He envisions himself running to the gates to embrace Hajime upon his return. He'll beg Hajime to bypass the feast he's sure will be thrown in the warriors' honor and spend the entire night with him, tangled in the sheets. They wouldn't have sex the entire time. Tooru wants to talk to Hajime and learn more about him. He misses Hajime already. The alpha hasn't even been gone a full day. 

Tooru thinks about their wager. A part of him wants to win and rub it in Hajime's face. Another, larger, part of him knows he's already lost the wager. Too bad Hajime isn't here to know that he's won. 

They spend the remainder of the night, deep in their thought. Eventually, the three of them fall asleep inside the tent, cuddling one another.


The following morning, Tooru’s and Akaashi’s stomachs reap the wrath of their indulgement and they pass on breakfast. Yahaba eats alone at the table, but they’re close enough to chat with him. Tooru regrets not learning more about Akaashi and Yahaba as individuals, but he’s content with the outcome of the slumber party.

While they slept last night, they bonded in a way that Tooru has never bonded with anyone aside from his mother when he was a child or with Hajime. To fall asleep around someone and allow himself to be that vulnerable means more than having a list of facts about anyone. He thinks they’re well on their way to be very close friends.

After Yahaba finishes breakfast and the servants clear his plates. They play a board game. Well, Yahaba and Akaashi play a board game while Tooru tries to figure out how the game works. It’s similar to Shogi— a game widely played in the west, but it isn’t quite the same. The longer the game persists, Tooru decides he doesn’t care to learn now. Board games are fun at times. But they can become boring easily. 

“We could go for a swim,” he offers, remembering the indoor swimming pools Hajime loves to brag about. “I’m sure your food has settled by now, Yahaba-san.”

Akaashi perks up. “I could go for a swim!”

They both look at Yahaba who appears to be in deep thought about something. When he catches them staring, he cracks a smile. “Oh, yes. A swim does sound lovely.”

“Then it’s settled,” Tooru announces.

There are three indoor pools in the palace and one of those pools are private, belonging to the King and Queen. Naturally, Tooru takes his guests to the pool closet to his bedchambers. They arrive to find three, bathing robes already set aside for them after their swim. Tooru is beginning to wonder if the servants are always lurking about and listening, waiting until they're needed. It doesn’t bring him any comfort at all as he's yet to see any of the servants who work on this side of the castle. But he dismisses the thought for now.

Quickly, undressing, Tooru slings his long braid over his shoulder and dips his toe into the pool. The water is cool and inviting. Smiling, he glances at his friends, finding Akaashi completely undressed as well and slowly wading into the pool. Yahaba has his back turned to them as he disrobes.

Tooru figures the omega will join them eventually. He hurries into the pool, splashing the back of Akaashi’s head with water once he’s submerged. Akaashi lets out a startled squeal and Tooru laughs.

“If it’s a war you want,” Akaashi declares, whipping around, sloshing water everywhere, “then it’s a war you’ll get.” He uses both hands to splash Tooru in the face.

Tooru dips his head underwater, avoiding a bulk of the assault. When he emerges, he laughs and wipes the water from his eyes as best he can. Blinking away the droplets, he sees Yahaba slowly getting into the pool, his left hand covering his right wrist in a peculiar way.

“How’s the water?” Akaashi asks Yahaba once the omega is wading toward them.

“It’s perfect,” Yahaba says.

Unable to help himself, Tooru grabs Yahaba’s wrist in a playful manner. “What are you hiding, Yahaba-san?” He pulls Yahaba’s hand away and looks at his wrist. When he sees the small, branded kanji, he yanks his hand back. “That’s the mark of a thief,” he hisses. He isn't sure how he's missed it. This isn't his first time seeing Yahana nude, though, the first time, he didn't really care for Yahaba's existence. 

Akaashi looks at Yahaba’s wrist and then at the omega’s face. “Is this true Yahaba-san?”

Yahaba’s eyes well with tears. Biting his bottom lip, he nods.

All of Tooru’s prejudice begins to return, creeping into his skin, his bones. He thinks to put distance between himself and Yahaba, recalling all the times he’s allowed Yahaba into his rooms, near his possessions. He wonders if the omega has ever stolen from him and his blood boils at the thought. How dare he, Tooru bitterly thinks.

“How old were you?” Akaashi asks. From the look on his face, he hasn’t decided how he feels about the mark yet. Unlike Tooru.

“Six,” Yahaba whispers, his voice cracking.

Tooru’s eyes widen. “Six?” He couldn’t believe.

Akaashi seems to understand something Tooru doesn’t. “You were hungry so you stole food from a merchant’s cart,” he says knowingly.

Yahaba scoffs. “It was a stale piece of bread the merchant was going to feed to the dogs. I took it. He saw me and chased me down. I remember begging him to let me have one little piece of the bread.” blinking away his tears, he holds his head up. “I’ve never stolen anything since. I was too afraid.”

A wave of guilt overcomes Tooru. Lowering his head in shame, he stares at his vague reflection in the water. He’s always so quick to judge. Always thinking the worst of people. It would've taken nothing to simply asks Yahaba for more insight as Akaashi did. He’s beginning to wonder if he even deserves to have friends.

“Tooru-sama,” Yahaba says, “I hope you won’t think less of me.”

Tooru lifts his head, revealing the dampness of his eyes. “I’ll be honest with you, I did think differently of you at first until I heard your story. I apologize for being quick to judge and a complete ass. Can you forgive me, Yahaba-san?”

“It’s natural for the high-born to harbor harsh feelings toward people like me,” Yahaba says. “I forgive you, Tooru-sama.”

“I don’t want you to view my birthright as an excuse for my behavior. If I offend you, please tell me. I want to be a better person.” He wants to be a better friend. “Though I understand if you find that hard to believe.”

“If we’re all going to be friends,” Akaashi butts in, “we’ll have to trust one another and be honest.”

“Akaashi-san is right,” Yahaba says. “Besides, how are we going to fight beside you if there’s no trust, Tooru-sama.” He smiles.

Tooru returns the smile. “I can’t wait for us to train together! Amari-sama had special armor made for me. I’m sure she’ll do the same for you both.”

“Hajime-sama will probably try to jump you the moment he sees you wearing armor,” Akaashi teases. “You may be a proper warrior by the time he returns.”

Tooru lowers himself in the water to mask his blush. But Akaashi and Yahaba can see it on the tip of his nose and they laugh. To shut them up, Tooru splashes them with water and that’s how the water wars begin.

His first, royal slumber party was a success, and though he wishes every day until Hajime’s return can be filled with laughter and indulgence with his friends, there’s work that needs to be done. The following day, Tooru resumes his training with Amari. The woman mercilessly whips him into shape, forcing him to push himself in ways he never dreamed of.

Afterward, Amari sends him away, bruised and sore. Then he has lessons with Yahaba until late afternoon. Lunch is brought to his chambers and he eats on the balcony. Following lunch, he’s given an educational tour of the palace grounds by Amari until late evening. Instead of eating dinner alone as he feared, Tooru is invited to eat with the King and Queen. They also urge him to sleep in Hajime’s old bedroom on the west wing.

The first night in Hajime’s old bedroom, Tooru snoops around, finding torn journal pages and trinkets, among other things. As curious as he is, he doesn’t read any of the journal pages. He isn't fluent in the southern tongue either so it'd be futile. But he does flip through some of the tomes left on the shelves. Some of the books are written in Tooru’s language. Those are the books he sets aside. 

He falls asleep reading a story about a dragon rider who was in love with her dragon. Every full moon the dragon turned into a beautiful man and only then could they consummate their love. That night Tooru dreamed Hajime was the dragon and he was the rider.

The following days were about the same. Tooru trained with Amari in the mornings, had lessons with Yahaba in the afternoons, ate lunch on the veranda, strolled through the palace grounds with Amari who wanted him to be able to walk around the palace confidently, always knowing where he was going, even if he were blind and deaf. Dinner with the King and Queen was always a pleasant affair. They never reminded him of his duties or made him feel like an outcast. A majority of their dinner conversations consisted of Amari bad-mouthing the council members and gossiping about the orgies in the caves.

Apparently, a few of the council members were apart of those orgies. King Nagisa always scolded his wife for her poor choice of topics, but Tooru could tell the King was never really upset.

On the fifth night, a full week since Hajime’s departure, Tooru falls asleep reading a book that was Hajime’s favorite as a child if the battered spine and unkempt pages are anything to go by. The story is about the merpeople who occupied these lands long before Hajime’s family. According to the book, the merpeople offered their firstborns to the goddess. In return, their crops grew plenty and harsh storms never struck their homes.

Tooru has a nightmare about the story. In his dream, his newborn pup is torn from his arms and thrown into the sea, a sacrifice for the goddess. Tooru jumps into the sea to save his son but the harsh waters drag him down to the bottom and he catches a glimpse of a palace made of golden seashells before he awakes, gasping for air and reaching out for a babe that isn’t there.

Tears run down his cheeks. Wiping them away quickly, he looks over, hoping to see Hajime there. He finds himself alone. He worries the loneliness will consume when he hears a muffled screamed. As the scream grows louder, more persistent, Tooru’s curiosity gets the better of him.

Getting out of bed, he picks up the candelabra from the nightstand. The sounds are coming from across the hall; the King and Queen’s chambers. Tooru knows he shouldn’t, but the screams sound familiar and tortured, they tug at his heart.

Quietly, he steps into the chambers, allowing the flames to guide his path. The first thing he notices is that the chambers are far larger and grander this his own. Which is expected. The second thing he notices is King Nagisa crying and screaming with his eyes closed as Queen Amari holds his head in her lap and whispers softly to him.

Tooru decides to take his leave, but then he sees the blood on Amari’s dress, near her stomach. Gasping loudly, he takes a step forward.

Amari glances up, her blues eyes sparkling even in the moonlit room. “He’s having a nightmare,” she explains. “Happens every night except this one seems to be taking its toll...”

“Amari-sama, you’re bleeding…”

“Don’t worry about me.” King Nagisa’s eyes snap open and her attention is back on her husband. She kisses his sweaty forehead. “I’m here, my love. You’re safe.”

“Did I hurt you?” Nagisa mumbles. He groans when he catches sight of the blood and Tooru pities the man. “You’re hurt. I hurt you. I keep hurting you,” he sobs.

“It’s but a scratch,” Amari says.

Suddenly, Nagisa stiffens. “Who else is here?” he asks, sniffing the air lightly.

“Tooru. He was worried.”

“Did I hurt him too?” Nagisa asks and he sounds so broken. “I didn’t mean to…”

Amari kisses his forehead again. “No, my love. You hurt no one.” She continues speaking to him softly, combing her fingers through his curly hair.

Tooru feels like he should leave. Yet his feet won’t move. He can see a bloody dagger on the floor near the bed and he draws his own conclusions. Still, there’s so much he doesn’t know nor understand. Amari waits until Nagisa falls asleep and then she walks Tooru across the hall to his bed.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Tooru asks when he’s back in bed and tucked in; thanks to Amari.

Amari smiles and smoothes his hair away from his forehead. It’s such an affectionate gesture that Tooru can only lie there and stare at the woman in awe. He feels so small next to her. Not in an inferior way, either. She makes him long for his childhood. She makes him wish his mother was more like her.

“The cut isn’t deep. I will bandage it with honey and I will be like new in the morning.”

“What are his nightmares about?” Tooru regrets asking almost immediately. “I’m sorry. That none of my business.”

“There’s no harm in you knowing. The great war still haunts my love. I’m afraid it’s the burden all heroes of war must face.”

A lump forms in Tooru’s throat. He swallows it down. “Will the same happen to Hajime?”

Amari's smile turns sad. “It’s difficult to say. Nagisa has done everything in his power to create a world where Hajime and Hajime’s children will never have to live with the guilt he lives with. But even the king can’t control the ways of men. War is always on the horizon.”

Tooru hopes Hajime will return to him unharmed and mentally kept. He doesn’t think he’s strong enough to carry his emotional stress and Hajime’s on his shoulders the way Amari does with Nagisa. The King’s nightmares were so real that he attacked Amari, mistaking her for an enemy long dead, slicing her with his dagger. What if Hajime does the same to him? Tooru never contemplated how war affects the mind. Some of his father’s past cruelty is beginning to make sense now.

“Tooru,” Amari says, “get some sleep. You have a long day tomorrow.” She leans over and kisses his forehead.

Then she leaves.

Tooru isn’t sure how or why but his stress suddenly melts away and his body feels heavy, his eyes drooping closed. It’s almost as if Amari has placed him under a spell. He sleeps throughout the rest of the night, peacefully.

“Tooru-sama,” the cloaked guard stops in front of him and bows, “a raven came from the northern outpost.” He holds up the rolled parchment in his hands, presenting it to the omega.

With a little free time on his hands, Tooru decided to see the renowned lavender fields. He wanted to wait until Hajime returned, but he couldn’t resist what with the way everyone spoke so highly of them. And he wasn’t disappointed. The lavender fields stretch on forever; miles and miles of neat, purple, fragrant bushes.

He found a stray stem on the ground and tucked it in his braid. He plans to pretend he’s never seen the fields so Hajime can feel good about himself when he gives him a tour once he returns. It’s deceptive, yes. However, he’s doing it for a good cause. Tooru was debating on reading another one of Hajime's old books under a nearby tree when the guard approached him.

Taking the scroll, he takes note of the wax seal that holds the Sothern Kingdom’s sigil; a merwoman holding a spear. Once he takes the scroll, the guard takes his leave. Tooru’s heart sinks. It’s been one week and three days since Hajime left. The alpha is due to return at the end of the week. But what if something terrible happened? 

Tooru’s eyes burn. Blinking, he looks up at the clear, blue sky, taking a moment to gather himself, sending a short prayer to the gods he hardly believes in. When he finally gathers the strength to open the scroll, he skims it, reading the last sentence before sighing in relief.

I will return to you, Tooru. You have my word.

That one line lifts Tooru’s mood. It’s not a declaration of love or anything substantial. Hajime wrote this letter to him and that alone makes his heart skip a beat. Then he reads the beginning of the letter and his heart aches.

Holding the rebel tribes back is turning out to take longer than initially foreseen. Hajime and his troops will not return for another month.

A single tear falls on the parchment, smearing Hajime’s signature at the bottom, blurring Tooru’s vision. He tries to think of the good. Hajime is still alive. He promises to return to him. A month is a long time, that is true. But Tooru would rather wait one month to see Hajime again than live a life without him.

Tooru folds the letter and places it behind the book’s flyleaf. Then he heads to his chambers to write his reply.

Chapter Text

With a fierce cry, Amari lunges forward, spear firm in her grip, her powerful thighs flexing at the sudden movement, her long dark hair flowing behind her like a silk curtain. She stretches out her arm, aiming for Tooru's plated torso. Pivoting his left foot, Tooru dodges the blow with ease and moves to return one of his own. He swings his spear, taking advantage of the weapon's lightness. Amari ducks into a roll and barely escapes. Quickly, Tooru turns around, raising his shield in time to block a hit from Amari.

"Good, Tooru," Amari says as she rushes Tooru again, lunging at him with all her force.

Tooru blocks and dodges every blow.

Three weeks and five days of brutal training have strengthened his body and his mind. When one of Amari's attacks slips through his shield, he doesn't fall to the ground. He endures the pain and remains standing because he knows if he falls, Amari won't stop charging at him. Amari lunges at him again, this time she jumps off the ground, knees bent to push her further.

Raising his shield, Tooru braces himself for impact. By doing so, he manages to keep his footing as Amari bears down on him. At the same time, Tooru thrusts his right arm, shoving his spear into Amari's side. When he hears the metal colliding with her breastplate, he grins. Amari moves back and accesses the damage.

"If you would've added a little more power to that thrust, you might have fatally wounded me," Amari says.

Tooru lowers his weapons. "I'm sorry, Amari-sama." He frowns, fearing rebuke. "That was not my intention."

Amari lifts her head, grinning proudly. "There's nothing to apologize for. I meant that as a compliment, Tooru."

"I still can't believe I finally landed a hit on you!"

"Why is that so hard to believe? You've been training diligently. It's only right that your progress is beginning to show."

Even still, Tooru can't help but wonder what it means that it took him this long to win a match against Amari. For the past three weeks, they've trained twice a day. Every morning, Tooru runs around the palace with the queen's foot soldiers before sparring with Amari. His body has changed greatly and there are times when he doesn't recognize himself. He can feel how strong he's become.

"If it took me this long to win a match, how will I ever win against Hajime?" Tooru asks as they're walking through the barracks where the omegan warriors are training.

Amari puts her arm around Tooru's shoulders. "My son is a fierce warrior, there's no doubt about it. But you are just as fierce, Tooru." She leans closer. "And you don't have to defeat Hajime to earn the noble clans' respect. You must show no fear and prove to them that when and if the time comes, you will fight to protect the kingdom."

"I would like to beat him, though." Tooru smiles. "Just to prove that I can."

"I understand completely."

A few of the soldiers who aren't sparring bow their heads as Amari and Tooru pass. Here and there, Amari stops to speak with the warriors to check on their progress and to see if there's anything they require. Tooru has noticed how often Amari does this; how often she checks on her subjects. On the days when Tooru doesn't have lessons with Yahaba, he walks through the palace with Amari and watches the way the woman interacts with everyone.

The people love her, that much is certain. Every merchant they pass offer Amari free vegetables and fruit, silks and jewelry, sometimes wine. She always refuses handouts. Instead, she pays for everything she's given which seems to make the people love her even more. Children chase after them, calling for the queen. Amari takes the time to speak to each and every one of them. She even gives them sweets.

Tooru once thought he wanted to be a feared ruler like his father. He thought being feared was better than being loved by people who didn't matter. But the people are the most important pieces to the puzzle. Without them, there's no kingdom, and without a kingdom, there's nothing for a monarch to rule.

"I had a dress made for you," Amari says, interrupting Tooru's thoughts. They enter the palace after leaving the barracks. "As you know, Nagisa's name day is approaching. Royals from all over will be in attendance. Well, at least the ones he likes." She laughs.

Tooru smiles sadly. "I hope Hajime will return in time for the king's feast..."

"You still haven't received a reply to your letter I take it."


"There are still two days left in the month. We'll just have to hope for the best."

The hint of sadness in Amari's eyes isn't lost on Tooru. He isn't the only one worried about Hajime. As much as he misses his husband, he can't sulk around. His lessons with Yahaba have proven helpful. Tooru has learned a great deal about the Southern Kingdom. He's even adapted to his surroundings and only experiences homesickness on rare occasions. He likes to think he's accomplished all this because he's spent less time pining and more time working to become a better person and future queen.

"If you don't like the color, I can have it dyed," Amari says. She hands Tooru the dress. "But I wanted it to match the jewels in your collar."

Tooru holds the sapphire dress up to his body and stares at his reflection in the mirror. "It's beautiful," he says, noting how thin and revealing the dress is. There are high splits on either side. "I'm not sure if I'm ready to have my legs and thighs out." Even having them out with his armor makes him feel self-conscious.

"You have put on some muscle," Amari says. "Personally, I think you're stunning, but I understand if you'd prefer adjustments."

He continues staring in the mirror, taking in all his physical changes. "Do you think Hajime will still find me beautiful?" he asks, sounding small, sounding nothing like the man he's become.

Amari stands behind Tooru, tucking his long braid behind his back and brushes strands of hair from his face. "I love my son, but if he doesn't think you're beautiful anymore then he is a fool."

Tooru laughs. "I think the dress is perfect as is. Thank you, Amari-sama."

"My seamstress needs to add more jewels and embroidery. Then it'll be ready." She takes the dress and returns it to her wardrobe. Walking back to where Tooru is standing she takes on a more serious face. "There's something else I wanted to speak to you about."

"Yes, Amari-sama?"

"Your heat has yet to come..."

Tooru has always known sooner or later the topic of his heat would arise. Truthfully, he's been waiting for the right time to open up to Amari about it since he feels he can trust the woman now. He's just afraid of what may happen once she learns the truth.

"I'm sorry," Tooru says, staring down at his folded hands. "I should've said something sooner but I hoped my heat would pass."

Amari touches Tooru's shoulder. "Be honest with me, Tooru. How frequent are your heats?"

"I've..." Tooru bites his lips. "I've never had a heat." He closes his eyes and waits for Amari's wrath.

It never comes. "Oh, dear." Amari squeezes his shoulder. "That is unfortunate. The treaty with your father was made under the impression that you've had at least two heats prior."

"My father...lied?"

"It would appear so."

Tooru's heart sinks. "I promise you, I had no part in his deceit. At least not knowingly. I just never said anything because I was embarrassed. Most omegas have experienced at least one heat by now." His eyes begin to water.

"I didn't have my first heat until I was nineteen."

Lifting his head, he stares at the queen with wide eyes. "Nineteen? Why so late?"

Carefully, Amari takes Tooru by the hands and leads him to a sitting area in the chambers. Taking a seat, she continues holding his hands. "I'm not sure why it took so long. I like to think it's because I fought against my second gender for most of my adolescence. When I was younger, I hated the idea of an alpha claiming me. I hated the idea of submitting and bearing pups."

"What changed for you?"

Amari smiles. "I fell in love with my equal." She makes sure Tooru is holding her gaze. "Before Nagisa and I were married, I was truthful about my latent heat. I understand in your position, with your marriage to Hajime being arranged, you didn't have the same opportunity. But I advise you to tell him as soon as he returns. It's better if it comes from you."

"What if my heat never comes?" Tooru asks, his voice cracking. "I can't be queen if I don't produce an heir. I can't stay with Hajime if..."

"Let's hope for the best. Tell Hajime and then wait and see what happens. I can do my best to keep the council off your backs."

Tooru blinks in surprise. "You're not going to tell the king?"

Amari sighs. "I'm not fond of keeping things from my husband. I will give you time to talk to Hajime and once you've told him, all of us will speak with Nagisa to see what can be done. My husband isn't cruel. He won't punish you for your father's deceit."

"What about the council? If they find out..."

"They won't." She gives Tooru a reassuring smile. "If only you could spend a rut with Hajime. Perhaps you two could conceive an heir then."

Remembering something Hajime once mentioned, Tooru asks, "Why can't I be with Hajime during his rut before we're bonded?"

"Hajime, like his father, is a natural born pack leader."

Tooru nods; he knows that.

"They're different from normal alphas because of this. I suppose you could say they're more in touch with their primitive side, especially during their ruts."

"I'm not sure I follow."

Glancing away, Amari tries to find the right words. "A typical alpha has some control during their ruts. They still understand the common tongue, they can communicate, and in some cases make conscious decisions. However, Hajime and Nagisa have zero control of their actions during their ruts. Its why Hajime spends his ruts deep in the mountain caves alone."

"What difference will us being bonded make?"

"You will have a mental connection as well as a physical and an emotional one. With that, you will be able to communicate with Hajime with more than words. He won't hurt you if he senses this bond."

Tooru frowns. "Hurt me..."

Amari faces Tooru again, her expression somber. "Nagisa and I were returning from the east after our wedding when his rut hit him. His men advised me to keep my distance. We were newly married and I wanted to help him through it. But no matter how adamant I was, his men would not allow me near my husband. Not that it mattered anyway." She chuckles, but it holds no humor. "In his blind rage, Nagisa found me. He wounded most of his men to get to me. You see, he had me the previous night, our wedding night. My scent lingered on him and it drove him mad with lust. He found me sleeping in our tent."

"Did he..."

"First, he dislocated my shoulder. I wouldn't submit as he wanted. I resisted him up until that point. After that, I was in too much pain to fight back. He was nothing like the gentleman I'd willingly given my virtue the night before. His eyes were no longer green, but blacker than death."

"How long did it last?"

"4 long days. On the morning of the fifth day, he returned to himself and found me lying beside him naked, bleeding and broken. His frantic cries woke me up." Amari smiles at the memory. "I'd never seen an alpha, let alone a king, cry and beg for forgiveness like that before. If he wasn't so remorseful, I would've never forgiven him."

Tooru can't imagine King Nagisa or Hajime being the kind of alphas to force themselves on anyone. So, that can only mean the alphas truly have no control over their actions during their ruts. From what Amari told him, its as if an animalistic entity overcomes them for that period of time. This shouldn't come as a surprise to him, though. His father is a natural born pack leader. Although, he always assumed the man was simply cruel around his ruts because he's just a cruel individual.

"What if I didn't resist Hajime at all?" Tooru asks. "If I submitted, Hajime wouldn't hurt me, would he?"

"It's too risky, Tooru. There are those who don't survive a pack leader's rut."

"Can't we bond outside of his rut or my heat?"

"Yes, but it wouldn't be legitimate, the bond won't be as strong." Amari stands. "Now, don't you have lessons to get to?"

Tooru nearly forgot about his lesson with Yahaba. He isn't sure if he'll be able to pay attention what with all the information the queen has given him. On his way to the east wing, Tooru recalls the story Amari told him. It's the only thing he thinks about throughout his lessons, and even during dinner that evening. And when he's in bed, tossing and turning, he has a nightmare about a beastly version of Hajime raping him in the woods. Once he startles awake in the middle of the night, he doesn't get much sleep after that.

"Forgive me for saying this, Tooru-sama," Yahaba says the following morning as they walk to the veranda for breakfast, "but you look rather pale. Did you get any sleep last night?"

"No, not really." Tooru takes his seat and stares blankly at the platters of food. "I don't have much of an appetite either."

Yahaba's face is full of sincere concern. "You should eat. You'll need your strength for sparring with Amari-sama."

At the mention of Amari, Tooru is reminded of the things they talked about yesterday. Most of all, he's reminded of his confession. Tooru wants to trust Amari, but this is a delicate matter. From the sound of it, his father purposefully omitted the truth about Tooru's latent heat during the marriage negotiations. The Southern Kingdom has every right to wage war against the Western Kingdom since the marriage arrangements were made on false claims. Typical of his father to deceive his own allies, Tooru bitterly thinks.

The worst part is, Tooru's father knowingly sent him into a dangerous situation. What if the rumors about the Southern Kingdom's ruthlessness were true. They'd have Tooru's head delivered to the Western Palace's gates or worse. His father could've at least let him in on his fraudulence.

"Tooru-sama," Yahaba starts, his concern growing the longer Tooru remains silent, "what is it?"

Discreetly, Tooru glances over his shoulder. He knows they're alone, but he can never shake the feeling that they're always being watched. During one of his tours of the palace with Amari-sama, the woman showed him the secret passageways the servants use to perform their duties without being heard or seen. Tooru can't help but feel uneasy about people he's never seen lurking in the walls of his bedchambers. But he dismisses the thought as unnecessary paranoia.

Even still, Tooru keeps his voice down when he speaks. "My father never told the king and queen about my heat." He sees the confusion on Yahaba's face. "I've yet to have my heat, you see. But my father made it seem as if I had." And the more he thinks about it, Tooru has also been dishonest with Hajime in regard to his heat. He feels like he's no better than his father. "The queen promised me that she would wait until I told Hajime before she spoke with King Nagisa."

Yahaba gives Tooru a reassuring smile. "I'm sure everything will be fine. The king and queen adore you, Tooru-sama."

"Do you think so?" Tooru asks, surprised by Yahaba's assessment. "I always wondered if they were only kind to me because of Hajime."

"I'm sure that's a partial reason. You make Hajime-sama happy. Of course, they would want that for their son."

"Until Hajime learns of my dishonesty..."

Yahaba's smile falters. "Your dishonesty?" he asks, unsure of the meaning. "You did tell him about your latent heat, yes?"

Tooru shakes his head.

"Well, at least you didn't pretend as though you've had a heat in the past." He sees how Tooru's frown deepens. "Oh, Tooru-sama, honesty is always the best route to avoid situations like these."

"I didn't trust Hajime during that time," Tooru defends. "I was trying to look out for myself."

"I suppose I can understand that. Look at the bright side, you can talk to Hajime about this yourself and get this sorted out."

"But what if I can never have a heat..."

"Every omega has a heat."

"That isn't true." Tooru pushed his plate away from him, having lost his appetite entirely. "In our past lessons, we learned about King Kai's first wife. She never had a heat so he had to remarry."

"I'm happy you've been paying attention," Yahaba says, trying to lighten the mood. It doesn't work. If anything Tooru's mood seems to lower significantly. Yahaba tries a different route. "King Kai still loved his first wife greatly. There are paintings and songs about their love. You may not be able to bear Hajime's children or rule as queen, but I don't think he will discard you."

"When I first came here, I would've been fine with that outcome," Tooru says. "But now, I want to be queen. I want to be Hajime's one and only." Because he loves Hajime. He even thinks he's in love with Hajime and he's known that for some time now. "I can't stand by while he marries someone else."

"Tooru-sama, we're still speaking hypothetically. Let's see how things play out before we jump to conclusions."

Tooru nods. Inwardly, he's already thinking of alternatives. Although being with Hajime during the alpha's rut is dangerous, it may be the only opportunity Tooru has to secure his position. What's a couple of broken ribs or a dislocated shoulder to losing his husband? Tooru thinks he's more than capable of taking that chance.

"We could skip lessons today if you'd like to nap after you train with Amari-sama," Yahaba says.

"I think that's best."

A guard hurriedly steps through the veranda, breaths labored and loud. "Forgive me, Tooru-sama, I came as quickly as I could." He hands Tooru the scroll. "There's been word from Hajime-sama."

Without a second thought, Tooru takes the scroll eagerly and unravels it. "Our warriors were victorious," Tooru says as he reads. "Hajime and his troops should be here no later than tonight." He closes his eyes and sighs in relief. Then he looks at the guard. "Thank you."

The guard bows and takes his leave.

"That's great news," Yahaba says with a smile. "I'm sure they'll have a feast to celebrate their victory."

Tooru doesn't care for a feast. He's just happy Hajime will be home soon.

Smiling to himself, Akaashi kneels down to pick a bushel of herbs from his small garden. Before his betrothed left for battle and never returned, he had the land set aside for Akaashi to do with what he liked with it. His servants always offer to pick the plants for him, but Akaashi prefers to do it himself. It gives him the opportunity to get out of his abode, away from prying eyes. Honestly, it's only one set of eyes that haunt his steps.

Although he didn't love Inoue-san, Akaashi wasn't opposed to spending the rest of his life with him. Inoue-san was kind and caring toward Akaashi. When he learned of the man's death, he was distraught, but he's been long past mourning. Inuoe-san's parents are still pleasant toward Akaashi and so are the other members of the clan aside from the clan's head.

Inoue Akifumi is the uncle to Akaashi's deceased betrothed and the head of the Inoue clan. Several times, the man has made his interest in Akaashi known and each time is more aggressive than the last. Initially, the man's advances were subtle. He would send Akaashi gifts and visit him daily under the pretense of checking up on him. Akaashi assumed the man was simply concerned but he soon learned the nature of Akifumi's true intentions.

One day, Akaashi was enjoying a bath outside in the hot spring behind his home when he caught Akifumi watching him. Instead of apologizing for his intrusion, the clan head continued to watch shamelessly. That isn't the only time Akaashi has caught the man watching him. And he even suspects Akifumi has spied on him during his past heats.

Akaashi is fortunate for his collar. Even a clan head can't disobey the laws of the kingdom. However, it still makes Akaashi uncomfortable. He's worried that once he's allowed to take his collar off, Akifumi will give him a new one, and Akaashi isn't sure he can turn him down. The man already has three, very young wives that he often mistreats. Akaashi doesn't want to be the fourth one.

After collecting all the harvestable plants in his basket, Akaashi takes the longest route back to his abode to bide his time. It's a pretty day with clear skies and a cool, consistent breeze from the sea, perfect weather for a serene walk.

"I prayed your face would be the first one I saw once I returned. I'm happy the goddess heard me."

Halting his steps, Akaashi turns around, his eyes widening in shock when he sees Bokuto standing there in full battle armor. "Bokuto-san," he mumbles, bowing his head, "I wasn't expecting you..." He fights the intense urge to run into Bokuto's arms. It would be inappropriate to do so.

Bokuto smiles. "Sorry, this is the path I normally take from the barracks."

"You always take this route?" he asks, startled by the admission. "I've never seen you."

"But I've seen you," he chuckles. "You walk with your head down a lot. Well, when you're alone you do."

Nervously, Akaashi glances around to make sure no one sees them. "I'll keep that in mind, Bokuto-san. Thank you." He turns to leave but stops himself. "I see that you were victorious in your battle." He wants to tell Bokuto how happy he is to see him so badly but he can't.

Taking a step closer, Bokuto continues holding Akaashi's eyes. "Did you read my letter?" he asks. hopeful.

Akaashi takes a step back. "Yes, I did. But you know there's nothing to be done until I am free of Inoue-san's collar."

"I don't mind waiting, Akaashi-san."

Bokuto is very handsome, Akaashi thinks absently. He's a strong, renowned warrior with a powerful family name, and from what Akaashi hears, Bokuto-san is thoughtful and sincere. He's the kind of alpha any omega would be happy to have. But Bokuto seems to only want Akaashi.

"The Winter Solstice is still months away," Akaashi says. "You don't have to wait that long. There are plenty of omegas for you to give your collar to."

"You're the only omega I want to give my collar to." Bokuto moves closer but he's sure to keep a respectable distance. "May I craft something for you? Actually, I've already crafted a golden owl for you. I want to give it to you, but only if you want it."

"No," Akaashi says. "You are known for your owls, Bokuto-san. I cannot accept a gift that may possibly endanger us both." Bokuto nods in understanding. Akaashi adds, "but, I will accept a more discreet token of your affection."

Bokuto's face lights up and it warms Akaashi's heart. He can't wait to see what Bokuto will make for him.

"Enjoy the rest of your walk, Akaashi-san," Bokuto says. "I await the day I can mirror your steps freely." 

"If the goddess wills it, that time will come soon." 

Akaashi turns and resumes his walk home. The entire time, he can feel eyes on him, and unlike the watchful eyes waiting for him at home, these eyes are not unwanted. 

Tooru isn't in the mood for a feast, especially since he's yet to see his husband. According to King Nagisa, Hajime and Watari rode in the back of the line to ensure no one was lagging behind. When Hajime reached the palace's gates, the councilmen were waiting for him to give his report of the battle. That lasted for hours, right up until the feast. While other wives got to greet their husbands at the gates earlier this evening, Tooru was alone in his chambers. He wanted to wait there until Hajime arrived, but he couldn't.

As the prince's wife, it's his duty to attend and put on a good face for everyone. So, that's what he does. Months ago, Tooru would've worn his disgruntlement proudly, allowing everyone to know and see just how dissatisfied he was with his current surroundings. Fighting isn't the only thing he learned from Amari, however. There are plenty of moments when Amari would rather be somewhere else, but no one suspects a thing because the woman knows how to school her features.

"Feasts can often be mundane," Amari told him one day, "but it makes the people happy and happy people are easier to rule over. So, tell the servants to keep your cup full and try not to look too bored and you'll do fine."

That's exactly what Tooru is doing tonight. Per usual, he's sitting at the long table on the dais beside the king and queen. Although it appears the feast's attendants are merrily minding their own business, Tooru knows all eyes are on him. He reminds himself to smile and he keeps his lips up to the brim of his cup, constantly sipping wine until the goblet is empty and a servant has to refill it.

Absently, Tooru glances around the banquet hall, taking in all the drunk, merry people, the belly dancers, minstrels, and fire breathers. Among the crowd, he can see Akaashi sitting with the Inoue clan and Yahaba near the dais. He wonders if either of them is as anxious as he is right now.

King Nagisa stands, raising his goblet. At the motion, a heavy silence falls over the banquet hall. "My son, Hajime, led a heroic charge against the rebel clans from the east," he says, deep voice echoing throughout the hall, reaching everyone's ears. "Join me in welcoming him and the other brave warriors home!"

The large doors open wide. Hajime and his chosen generals lead the way as the warriors flood the hall. People cheer and throw lavender buds to cover the floor the men walk on. Tooru fists his hands in his dress, under the table where no one can see. His heart is racing so fast it blots out all sound. The crowd blocks Hajime from his view momentarily and Tooru feels as if a fist is squeezing around his heart, he's so overcome with anxiety.

Things Tooru never considered before enter his mind. What if their time apart has weakened their relationship? What if Hajime enjoyed being away from him? What if Hajime doesn't miss him as much as he misses Hajime? Tooru digs his nails into his forearm, leaving deep, red crescents on his pale skin. He thinks about sneaking away while everyone is distracted. He doesn't want to be here. He wants to be anywhere else but here.

But then the warriors reach the dais to present the king and queen with their greatest spoil of war. Hajime holds up a chipped, ivory tusk from the helmet of the rebel clan's leader. When he does so, he looks at Tooru first. Something in his eyes puts all of Tooru's fears to rest.

"I defeated their leader in single combat," Hajime announces for all to hear. "He gave me this scar and I took his crown!" There's a deep cut near Hajime's right eye. It's not long but it stands out.

King Nagisa and Amari seem extremely proud, and the hall erupts into cheers. The king takes the tusk from Hajime and he pats his son on the head. After the small exchange, the feast continues. The warriors walk to their tables and are greeted by their friends and family.

"Mother, father," Hajime says as he walks up the dais, "wife." He takes a seat next to Tooru, gently touching his knee under the table. "I hope all has been well."

While Hajime catches up with his parents, Tooru observes his husband. There's something different about Hajime and it isn't surface level like the scar. He isn't sure what it is, and he isn't in the right mind to contemplate it now. Under the table, Hajime keeps his hand on Tooru's thigh and it feels like it's burning through the omega's dress. Tooru didn't realize how desperate he was for Hajime's touch until now. He wants to touch Hajime too, but he doesn't think he'll be able to contain himself. His blood is already running hot with desire from being this close to his husband again, his musky scent surrounding him.

Out of his peripheral, Tooru watches Hajime pick up a cup a servant places on the table for him. Hajime's hands have always been large, his fingers thick, but for some reason, they seem larger now. Tooru stares at how the fingers tighten around the cup and he wishes they were inside of him instead. Once the thought manifests, it's difficult for Tooru to think about anything other than Hajime's masculine fingers deep inside of him, curving and probing. Hajime's hot mouth on his. Hajime's tongue fucking into his mouth the same, vicious way his cock would inside his body. Tooru has to clench his wet thighs together to abate his stirring arousal and bite his lower lip to keep from whimpering.

"My love," Amari says to the king, "dance with me."

Nagisa doesn't hesitate. "Of course."

They stand and leave the dais walking hand in hand. As they walk off, Amari looks over her shoulder and winks at Tooru. He doesn't understand the meaning behind the gesture until Hajime leans over and whispers in his ear.

"Walk with me," Hajime says, voice low and gruff.

Tooru shivers. Nodding his head, he gives Hajime his hand and allows the alpha to pull him up. They walk down the short steps of the dais, but instead of walking through the great hall, following the king and queen's path, Hajime takes him to an obscure door. Stepping out the door, Tooru is met with the calming sound of the night sea brushing against the beach. Before Tooru can say a word, Hajime has the door closed and Tooru's back pressed against it.

Hajime grips Tooru's jaw as he kisses him deeply, his other hand cupping Tooru's bottom. The kiss is short, followed by a flurry of countless, hungry kisses all over Tooru's face, neck, and the small bit of skin his dress exposes near his chest. Tooru digs his fingers into Hajime's hair that's longer than it was when he left. There's also short stubble on the alpha's chin; it tickles Tooru but he likes it.

"Gods, I missed you," Hajime breathes in a ragged breath.

Tooru smiles. "And I you."

"I know," Hajime says, kissing Tooru on the cheek. "I see it in your eyes and I can smell it on you." He drags his hands down Tooru's thighs, itching the omega's dress up. "I want to taste it, too. Will you let me?"

"Not here," Tooru whispers, his fingers ghosting over Hajime's scar that somehow makes the alpha even more handsome. "Let's go to our chambers."

"That's too far a walk." Hajime takes Tooru by the hand. "I know a place."

They walk a short distance from the palace, behind a small cave, blocking them from any onlookers. Any other time, Tooru might've been against the idea of having sex out in the open, on the sandy beach no less. But he could care less right now. Hajime is home and Tooru's body aches for the alpha.

"Is this the cave where the orgies are held?" Tooru asks. He's lying on the cool sand, his fingers tangled in Hajime's hair as his husband kisses down his body through his silk dress.

Hajime reaches Tooru's ankles and he kisses each of them. "Orgies happen in the mountain caves." He lifts the hem of Tooru's dress slowly. "Don't tell me you're thinking about partaking."

Tooru playfully hists Hajime. "You satisfy me enough." A pause. "I hope the same can be said about me..."

Halting, Hajime stares up at Tooru, his expression serious. "You're the only person I thought about every day. Not my mother. Not my father. I only thought about you and how badly I wanted to get back to you." His gaze drops to Tooru's exposed legs. Slowly, he eases the dress up, his eyes following the movement. "How badly I wanted to get back to this."

"Sounds like you missed my ass more than anything."

"Says the person who was dripping wet in the presence of my parents," Hajime chuckles.

Tooru blushes. "Do you think they smelled anything?"

"Of course they did. My father probably did before any of us. He's the current pack leader. His senses are greater than any other alpha in the kingdom."

Tooru's embarrassment increases. But it's short-lived because soon Hajime has his head between Tooru's legs, his tongue, and mouth licking and sucking. Closing his eyes, Tooru squeezes his thighs around Hajime's face, loud moans falling from his lips. When Hajime pulls away, Tooru sucks his teeth.

"Why'd you stop?" Tooru asks, sitting up on his elbows to see his husband better.

Hajime stares at Tooru's thighs in awe. "You're stronger than you were when I left," he says. "You used to be softer. Now you're firm. I felt it when I embraced you, but now I can see it."

"I've been training with your mother. Do the change?"

"I love it." Hajime grins. "It means I can stop holding back with you."

"Holding back?"

Without a word, Hajime sits up and lifts Tooru partially off the sand, leaving only his head and arms resting. He devours Tooru just like that, gripping the omega's trembling thighs. Tooru moans and laughs giddily, feeling drunk on both wine and lust. Prior to his training, Tooru already had a high stamina. It's been proven he's capable of lasting several rounds with Hajime. However, Tooru has never been handled so roughly by the man.

Hajime bends Tooru in ways Tooru didn't know his body could bend. His hands are rough, his kisses painful, yet there's a layer of tenderness and love underneath it. Tooru tests out his new strength. When Hajime lifts his head, wiping his wet mouth with the back of his hand, Tooru frees himself from the alpha's hold and easily straddles Hajime.

Tooru helps Hajime out of his clothes; more like he tears the clothes off the alpha. Then he slips his dress over his head, casting it aside blindly. Hajime gazes up at him with so much adoration and desire that it empowers Tooru, fills him with confidence. It's been a while so there' some discomfort, but Tooru's wetness helps. He rides Hajime like a warrior rides a stallion; like a queen rides a king, powerful and sure, his hair blowing in the wind.

Typically, Hajime likes to be in control. He likes to take care of Tooru before he takes care of himself. Every time he tries to adjust their positions and see to Tooru's needs, Tooru pins Hajime in place and maintains his dominance. When Hajime's growls in frustration, Tooru rocks his hips harder and turns the alphas growls into groans of pleasure.

"As anyone ever fucked you like that?" Tooru asks when they're done and lying beside one another on the sand.

Hajime chuckles at Tooru's coarse language. "No, no one has ever fucked me like that."

"Good," Tooru says, "and no one ever will. Remember that."

"I see you've learned more than fighting from my mother." He rolls on his side and stares down at Tooru's face. "You're more confident now."

"I've always been confident," Tooru lies.

"Arrogance and confidence isn't the same thing."

Tooru smiles softly. "And what has changed about you, husband? You're still a brute from what I can see," he jokes.

Hajime chuckles, but there's a dark look in his eyes that Tooru nearly misses. "Yes, I'm still your brutish husband."

"Hajime, how are you really?" Tooru asks, his voice softening. He thinks back to the king's nightmares. "I understand war has its tolls, win or lose."

"Everything is fine now that I'm with you," Hajime says and it sounds like he means it yet the look is still in his eyes. He kisses Tooru and when he pulls away the look is gone. "I want you to come hunting with me tomorrow. There's an island nearby with plenty of game. We can leave in the morning."

"I've never been hunting before." But Tooru would love to go with Hajime. From what he's learned, alphas rarely bring their omegas hunting with them because of how dangerous it can be. This must mean Hajime sees Tooru as someone who can hold his own. "I promise I won't let you down."

Hajime kisses Tooru's forehead. "I know you won't. You're one of the best archers I've ever seen."

Tooru circles his arms around Hajime's neck, pulling himself closer to the alpha. He thinks about telling Hajime about his heat now, but the moment is too perfect to ruin. They'll be completely alone tomorrow. He'll have time to talk to Hajime then.

"We should head back," Hajime says. Then he glances down at Tooru's naked body. "Although, I suppose another go wouldn't hurt..."

Tooru laughs. "I agree."

He cups Hajime's face and kisses him.

On the other side of the beach, a hooded figure treads through the sand, their head bowed and their hands tucked in their sleeves. The moonlight guides their way along with familiarity. They've walked this path countless times, always under the covers of night. To the common people, they're nothing more than a ghost who silently moves throughout the palace, performing their duties out of sight. But to the royals who live within the palace's walls, they're one of the biggest threats.

And for good reason.

Reaching the six, grey boulders, the person hurries their steps. In the distance, a ring of fire is ignited. Six shadows gather around the flame, whispering amongst themselves, scheming.

"My lords," the servants says as she approaches.

A councilman waves the woman forward. "You have something of importance for us? For your sake, I hope you do." He folds his hands behind his back and waits.

The servant smiles. "The prince's new bride has lied to us, my lords." She lifts her head. "He's barren, unable to bear pups."

The councilmen gasp in unison. "This is a breach of the peace treaty," one man says.

"That's only the half of it," the servant says. "The queen is aware of this treachery, but she plans to keep it to herself."

"This will not go unpunished. We will see that this deceitful omega is dealt with. Then we shall get rid of this vile woman who's been poisoning our king's mind for once and for all!"