Days like these were Yuuri's favorite. He would sit under his favorite oak tree and relax. Today he brought some sewing to keep his hands busy, but focusing on his work became difficult when the breeze picked up. How could he continue when it kissed his scalp and cooled his skin? He looked out at the grass waves and allowed himself to become mesmerized. That’s why he loved this spot: it always had a new surprise for him. Earlier that spring, a family of birds built a nest in his oak. The trees that hid his small meadow from Hasetsu Road would also house more nests come summer. In a few weeks, it would be time for his favorite kind of wildflower to bloom throughout the field, peaking their friendly, purple faces from under the tall grass. Yuuri gently sat his sewing in his lap and placed his hands on the cold, moist earth beneath him. He almost didn’t want to leave, but the bugs would get bad an hour before dark, so he should probably head back home. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The world smelled soft and fresh. This place was truly special. Hidden from the road and completely untouched, Yuuri felt whole and at peace.
“Yuuri!” He startled, looking towards the trees.
"Hello, Minami!” Yuuri called as Minami approached, out of breath.
“Yuuri!” Minami gasped, “Guess-“ he swallowed dryly, “-Guess who is staying in the village tonight at your Inn!”
“I don’t know.” Yuuri gave in easily, but Minami began pulling on his arm.
“It’s one of the Kingsmen! He’s – get up – he’s checking out Hasetsu for the King to pass through on his – Yuuri, get up! – on his way to the Southern Kingdom! How cool is that?!”
“The King?” Yuuri stood. Minami nodded. “Our King?” Minami nodded harder. When he was younger, Yuuri was fascinated by the royal family. Beautiful and powerful, they were protectors of the Northern Kingdom, rising easily above the rulers of surrounding kingdoms but not letting greed eclipse their love of their people. But, after the War, the North’s beloved rulers were seceded by their son who had all the glitter of his parents but none of their wisdom. Simply put, Yuuri mildly disliked him.
“Yeah! Your parents asked me to fetch you so you could meet the Kingsmen. Let’s go!” Yuuri quickly gathered his things in his basket and followed Minami out of the meadow and onto the main road home. Yuuri’s eyes were forced to adjust coming from the bright field. The tree in the center was all the shade there was. Hasetsu Road, on the other hand, was lined on both sides with trees. They were careful not to step in the mud that was left over from yesterday’s showers. To his knowledge, the King hadn’t passed through Hasetsu more than once. Yuuri couldn’t have been older than nine or ten. He remembers holding his mother’s hand as the then-Prince passed their Inn. He was riding a white stallion that was almost as white as his long hair. His blue cape fluttered behind him and occasionally flipped to reveal a gold embroidery of the royal family crest. The golden crown that rested upon his head sparkled in the afternoon sun and seemed just as fragile as the snowflakes that made its shape. The Prince had smiled warmly, as if there were no problems in the world. Yuuri wondered what the King looked like now. Had his coronation aged him? Yuuri hoped so.
“Do you think that the King will stay at your Inn?” Minami asked.
“I’m not sure. The Kingsmen are probably worried about his safety, so he may just be passing through. But, now that I think about it, it would make more sense if the King was staying for a night or two. I mean, why else would the Kingsman stay at the Inn and not camp out?”
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if the King stayed at your Inn? Think of him bathing in your hotspring! Wait, but what if his ice magic freezes it or something?”
“The King can probably control what he freezes,” Yuuri answered confidently, but he really wasn’t sure. The only magic users in Hasetsu were Phichit’s parents, and, to his knowledge, they could control their magic. Yuuri became lost in his thoughts and didn’t notice Minami slowing down from his brisk pace.
“Hey, Yuuri…” Minami stopped completely.
“What’s wrong?” Tucking his basket under his hip, Yuuri stopped as well.
“I don’t want to intrude, but I’ve wanted to ask you this for a while…” he tensed, “Can I hang out with you at your secret meadow sometime?”
“Yeah, you can come with me anytime, but bring something to read, okay?” Yuuri smiled and Minami cupped his cheeks with his hands, beaming and blushing.
When Yuuri reached the Inn and said goodbye to Minami, it was late afternoon. He would have been home by dark if he had taken his time, but with Minami pulling his arm, the travel time was well reduced. Yuuri was happy to pick up the pace, though. He was excited to meet the visiting Kingsman. Despite his lack of admiration for the King, Yuuri was enchanted by the royal guards. It wasn’t easy, after all, to become a Kingsman. Only those handpicked by the sitting monarch with the recommendation of the highest general can join one of the strongest military units in the world. It was a great honor for the Katsuki family to host a Kingsman.
These thoughts and more kept him preoccupied as he entered his family’s Inn. He began to take off his shoes, but a large dog knocked him from his daydream and pushed him to the floor. He greeted it kindly; after all, passing travelers would often have animal companions. As long as any pets were well behaved and didn’t sit in the hot spring, the Katsuki Inn was one-hundred percent pet-friendly. It made Yuuri a little sad to realize how similar this dog was to his old puppy. He felt a twinge in his heart, and the dog must have sensed Yuuri’s sudden change in mood. It began to lick Yuuri’s face and nudge him fondly.
“Welcome home, Yuuri! I’m happy to see that the Kingman’s dog has taken a liking to you.” His mother smiled.
“So, this is the Kingsman’s dog?” The dog boofed and sat on Yuuri’s foot.
“Doesn’t it look like Vicchan?” They shared a smile, “By the way, you’ll have to thank Minami for me next time you see him. I offered to give him some bread in return for finding you, but he declined. Did you have a nice time on your walk?” Yuuri nodded in response.
“Did he tell you how long he’ll be staying? The Kingsman?” His mother took his basket, allowing Yuuri to lift himself off the floor. The dog nuzzled his leg, asking to be pet again.
“Only for a couple of days. I’ll introduce you when he comes down for dinner. Why don’t you go upstairs and see if Mari’s finished setting up the Kingsman’s room? Your father could also use your help in the kitchen later.”
“Okay, I will. Also, thank you for making me lunch today, mom!”
“Of course, Yuuri.” She kissed his cheek and handed his basket back. The dog followed as he made his way towards the Kingsman’s room, his paws making a nice rhythm against the wood floors.
“Thanks for making the bed. I’m going to go help dad with dinner. Could you put these up?” Mari leaned up against the door and handed Yuuri leftover pillows.
“Which linen closet did you get these from?” He took them from her, making sure not to drop any.
“The one near your room.”
“Alright. Thanks.” He made his way down the hall, keenly aware of where the dog was. At this point, it would break Yuuri’s heart if he accidentally stepped on the dog’s paw or something. He passed by a window that overlooked the hotspring and stopped when he saw the Kingsman stepping out of the water. He was… gorgeous. Strong, dark. Yuuri felt bad for staring, but he was overwhelmed with admiration. The Kingsman must have worked so hard to become strong like that. He couldn’t even imagine how determined one must be to even consider becoming a Kingsmen. You essentially devote your entire life to the royal family and spend every day putting yourself in harm’s way just to protect them.
And one of these incredible knights were staying at his Inn! Yuuri smiled to himself, leaning against the door frame. The Kingsman grabbed a towel from the bench and began to dry himself. His back was now to Yuuri who could see very well, even from such a distance, the scars that covered his body like an animal print.
Suddenly, the Kingsman turned his head and made direct eye contact with him. Yuuri’s stomach dropped. He jumped away from the window and ran to the linen closet. Back pressed against the door, he let out a deep breath and felt his heart pound. Why had that scared him like that? Did the Kingsman use some kind of magic?
“That… was intense.” Yuuri said to no one. The dog nudged Yuuri’s leg, reminding him that it was there. He gave it a nice pat on the head and sighed. “It’s strange to think that someone so serious would have you as a dog.”
“That’s not my dog.” Yuuri jumped and accidentally scared the dog, pillows falling to the floor with a soft puff. The Kingsman was standing right there, fully dressed in the traditional Kingsman uniform: light, breathable armor with the royal crest on the front and back of the chestplate. The armor was black, but the undershirt and pants were deep blue and white, the royal colors. Yuuri didn’t even hear him coming. How did he get changed so quickly?
“I’m so sorry, sir, I-“ he cut Yuuri off.
“No need to worry,” then, after an uncomfortable pause, “Her name is Makkachin.”
“Oh, uh, okay. Hello, Makkachin,” another pause, “Well, yeah, uh, I’m going to go help with dinner! Thank you!” He shoved the pillows into the linen closet and fled the scene with the dog close behind.
“Yuuri, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Mari commented.
“I might have.” Makkachin nudged his leg.
“Well, Mr. Ghosthunter, can you prepare one of the tables for our guest, please?” His mother teased. He took several napkins and cups, arranging them on the table carefully. Returning to the kitchen, he really hoped that Mari would be willing to serve the Kingsman in his place. He was too embarrassed to interact with him at all.
“Mom said it’s okay if I went ahead to bed early. I’m glad you got some alone time today, so I did all the chores. I was hoping you could do some serving tonight." She was right. That was very fair.
“Yeah, okay. Thanks for covering for me today.” They shared a smile and she dismissed herself. Yuuri took a deep breath and headed back out. There were no other guests at the Inn tonight
“Good evening, sir,” The Kingsman didn’t respond. “Tonight, we’ve prepared for you a local favorite: katsudon. We hope you enjoy. Please, let me know if there is anything I can get for you.” The Kingsman nodded and moved his hands, allowing Yuuri to place the bowl on the table in front of him. The Kingsman didn’t say anything at all, so Yuuri took that as permission to leave. When he returned to the safety of the kitchen, he inhaled deeply.
“I want to die.”
“What happened, Yuuri?” His mother asked from across the kitchen.
“It’s nothing. I just had an embarrassing experience with the Kingsman.” She looked worried, so he added, “Nothing embarrassing to the family! It was just an awkward encounter.”
“Well, I think your father and I can handle it from here if you want to go to bed, since you were out walking for so long. You’re probably tired-“
"No, mom!” Yuuri violently shook his head, “I can help! I promise!”
“It’s alright.” His father reassured, suddenly appearing. “We can handle it. Besides, there’s no one else staying at the Inn tonight, so we can take care of things. Are you hungry? I can make you some katsudon before you go to bed.” Yuuri sighed.
“I just don’t want to be a slacker. I didn’t really do much today…”
“Don’t worry, sweetie. Eat some dinner and go to bed. We’ve got a big day tomorrow preparing for the King’s visit,” and as soon as she said it, she gasped and put her hand over her mouth.
“So the King really is coming?” Yuuri asked.
“Nobody was really supposed to know until tomorrow…” His father panned. Yuuri’s mother laughed nervously and held her hands.
“It’ll be okay! Just don’t tell anyone yet!” His father gave her an exasperated look, but Yuuri saw him smile as he turned back to his cooking.
Yuuri sat in his room, feeling quite full. After his mother (accidentally) broke the news, Yuuri didn’t notice that Makkachin had disappeared from his side. He felt instantly bad when he pushed open the door to his room and found her asleep in his bed. How could he forget about her? He also wondered, briefly, if she had been fed, but these thoughts were quickly dismissed when he remembered how much his mother fed Vicchan.
“Makkachin, what if I was allergic to dogs?” He complained as he attempted to maneuver her around so that he would also have room to sleep. She opened her eyes and stood up on the bed, allowing Yuuri to tuck himself in under the comforter. When he was settled, she walked in a circle before lying herself down by his legs. Sleeping with a dog like this again warmed his heart. It had been years since Vicchan had passed away, and his family had decided not to get another dog in fear of losing it again. Yuuri had forgotten, though, how nice it was to have a companion.
As cliché as it sounds, Mari had found little Vicchan in the rain when she and Yuuri were playing in the outskirts of Hasetsu Forest. Yuuri couldn’t have been older than ten, if his memory serves him. They carried the little puppy home and begged, absolutely begged, their mother to keep him. She was, of course, on the fence, but agreed to keep him if and only if they talked with every family in Hasetsu to make sure it wasn’t theirs and swore their commitment to taking care of it. Those were, of course, small tasks compared to the reward of a new family member! And what a loved family member Vicchan was. The Katsuki’s grieved for his passing but would always be grateful for all the gifts he gave them when he was alive.
Mari’s laughter woke Yuuri up. Makkachin had pushed him to the edge of the bed sometime during the night. She had visited his room to wake him, but the sight of her tightly-wound baby brother being pushed off the bed by a Kingsman’s dog was too funny.
The Katsukis and the Kingsmen spent the morning preparing for the King’s visit. New bedding was fitted to each room, everything everywhere had to be cleaned, closets were rummaged through then reorganized, etc., etc.. The Kingsman had given Yuuri’s parents a rough estimate of the number of men that would be staying with them, and, simply put, it was overwhelming, far more than the usual traffic they received. But the Inn could handle it. The Katsukis could handle it. There were enough rooms if the Kingsmen roomed in groups of two or three, with the exception of the King and his Hand, who would have separate rooms.
The most difficult part of the morning, though, was not cleaning or re-organizing, but being told that certain things had not been clean or organized enough. The Kingsman was partly to responsible for this, but Yuuri’s mother’s sky-high standards were mostly to blame. She even went so far as to make Mari and Yuuri dig through the attic to find bedding “nice enough for our King.” Neither Mari nor Yuuri had any clue as to what this meant, but they certainly tried their hardest.
By lunchtime, everyone was exhausted.
“We are serving sandwiches for lunch. Is that okay with you, sir?” Mari asked. The Kingsman nodded, and, as soon as she left, gestured for Yuuri to sit beside him. Yuuri smiled nervously and lowered himself to sit by the Kingsman’s side. As he turned towards him, Yuuri realized he had never really looked the Kingsman in the eye before. He was quite handsome, but much younger than what Yuuri expected. In fact, he was probably younger than Yuuri.
“Yuuri, what are your hobbies?” Well, that was direct.
“I spend a lot of time helping around the Inn, but I also like to sew and read.” The Kingsman took a sip of water. Yuuri took this opportunity to ask something that had been bugging him all morning. “I’m sorry, but I want to make sure I’m pronouncing your name correctly…”
“Otabek,” Otabek said, maintaining eye contact with Yuuri. There was an awkward pause before Yuuri’s mother called from the kitchen.
“Yuuri!” She appeared at the door. “Can you go into town and run some quick errands?” He nodded, excused himself from Otabek’s table, and happily looked over her grocery list. Secretly, he was glad she interrupted his conversation. Also, it was always nice to step out of the house on beautiful spring days like this. It gave him some time to think, to process.
He didn’t show it to his family, but Yuuri was feeling very anxious about the King’s visit. Uncertainty is, after all, the root of all anxiety. If only Otabek had told them exactly when the King was coming. Instead, he had just reported that “The King would arrive soon.” Honestly, Yuuri had become more bitter towards the King in the past few hours than the past decade. He hoped a beautiful spring day might help him calm down.
When Yuuri stepped outside, though, he realized he was not in for a relaxing walk. In fact, he would probably need to run back inside and grab a coat. Cold weather? How strange! It was still early on in the spring; chilly days were not uncommon, but it had been warming up for a few weeks now. Strange weather indeed, but he dismissed it in favor of the matter at hand. He began the walk into town. Yuuri estimated that the total trip, shopping and all, would probably take two hours. Was two hours enough to relax?
He strolled down Hasetsu Road with his basket and notebook with the shopping list. Stepping over a carriage track, he wondered why anyone would ever want to ride in a carriage when they could walk. In a carriage, you can’t take in the full outdoors. Sure, walking might take longer and use up more energy, but being in the moment and being free has always been worth it.
“Yuuri! I’m so happy to see you again!” His best friend, Phichit, sung as Yuuri walked into the door of the town’s market. Strolling over to the desk that separated Phichit from the rest of the room, he held out his hands for an over-the-counter hug.
“Hey, Phichit!” After embracing, Yuuri pulled out his notebook and flipped to the grocery list.
The Chulunot's store wasn’t fancy like stores in the Capital probably were, but it was cozy. It catered usually to the citizens of Hasetsu and travelers passing through, so there was no need for frivolous décor. Phichit sat behind a small desk located in the corner of the room facing the entrance. He seemed to be updating a notebook where his family recorded purchases before Yuuri arrived, and slipped it into the drawer where their change was stored. In the store lining the walls were similar tables with various goods stacked on and under them. Eggs, wheat, fresh bread from the bakery, anything you could possibly need in a small town. In the middle of the room sat a circular, grass-green carpet, which Yuuri has always been fascinated with. Imagine all of the boots that have stepped on this rug! Someone who has been inside the King’s castle or another kingdom might have stepped on this rug. How cool!
“Four dozen eggs, nine chickens, forty trillion tons of flour, sugar?!… Oh my God, Yuuri! You’d think that the King is coming!” He leaned close to Yuuri over the desk. “So….. I’ve heard rumors that the King is coming.”
Yuuri clammed up. “Uh, I can… I can neither confirm nor deny-“
“Aw, Yuuri! Come on! I’m your best friend~!” Yuuri shrugged apologetically. Phichit sighed, “Fine, whatever. Here, I’ll help you grab all this. Do you want to borrow an extra basket for the walk home? This seems like a lot to carry.”
"Yeah, that sounds great. Thanks, Phichit.” They exchanged smiles and a basket, and Phichit hopped over the desk.
“So,” he said, grabbing Yuuri’s list, “go ahead and count out four dozen eggs. I’ll go ahead and grab the meat and milk from the icebox.” They were careful to collect the exact amount of groceries that Yuuri’s mother requested. After all, she was the last person Yuuri wanted to upset.
“And… here’s the money.” Yuuri sighed, fishing through his pocket. Phichit was back behind the desk attempting to record all of Yuuri’s baskets.
“Thanks.” He slid it in the drawer, “Hey, let’s hang out sometime. I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Phichit, I saw you two days ago. You stopped by the Inn and everything.”
“I am perfectly aware of that, Katsuki Yuuri! I guess I just enjoy being with my best friend. Not like you’d know the feeling or anything.” He turned away and crossed his arms dramatically, ending his monologue with a humph.
“Yeah, I’m only friends with you because you give me discounts.” Yuuri laughed, then turned towards the door. “Bye, Phichit!” He called, walking out.
“Wait a minute? Discounts?!” Phichit opened the desk drawer and checked Yuuri’s payment against his record book. Yuuri was already twenty yards from the store when Phichit came running out.
“Oh, my god! Yuuri! You’re the worst for scaring me like that!”
Yuuri turned back and waved, basket in hand, “Love you! See you later!”