Chapter 1: still and silent
Sardinia awakens to the sun in his eyes, the sound of the wind rustling the curtains, and a cold, empty side of the bed.
The sound of light but even breathing interrupts the silence of the morning. Only one person has his permission to remain in his private quarters overnight, so there’s no question as to whose breathing it is, nor any doubt that he’s to blame for the vacant side of the bed.
It takes Sardinia a minute to rub the sleep out of his eyes and open them well enough to visibly confirm Shinkai’s presence. He rests right where Sardinia anticipated he'd be, fast asleep in his chair with his flute resting in his lap, propped upright by nothing except maybe the mercy of gravity.
Simply looking at him causes great aches all over Sardinia’s body. With a loud groan, Sardinia unceremoniously shoves his face into a pillow—a soft, fluffy pillow that could have been Shinkai himself, or that Shinkai could have rested his own head on but didn't, because for all of his willingness to accept Sardinia’s other requests he is unbelievably adamant about ignoring this particular one.
Frustration over yet another night spent with Shinkai in the chair builds and builds in Sardinia's chest like the waves of a stormy sea until they propel him into motion. He throws aside the warm covers aside and leaps over to Shinkai, fully intent on demanding an explanation or at the very least, ensure Shinkai makes it up to him.
Once Sardinia’s actually in front of him, though, the irritation dissipates as quickly as it had formed. Up close, he’s defenseless against the way Shinkai’s messy hair falls across his eyes, how his lips part ever so slightly to breathe, the even rise and fall of his chest as he rests peacefully.
How does Shinkai manage to make it impossible to be upset with him even while he's asleep?
And Sardinia wants to be upset—wants to spoil himself rotten with the feeling. It’d be easy to punish Shinkai for ignoring his request, so easy like this, to take a fistful of his hair and tilt his head back and taint his lovely skin with a mark so gratifying he'd never rid himself of the desire to leave it again and again.
Sardinia banishes the thought almost immediately, mostly out of growing uncertainty. For how much he longs to claim Shinkai as his own, it means next to nothing if Shinkai himself doesn't wish to be claimed.
A soft sigh escapes Shinkai’s open lips then, followed by a heavier sound and a stirring movement. Sardinia remains rooted to his spot, strangely fascinated by every second of Shinkai’s return to the waking world.
“Good morning,” he greets as soon as Shinkai’s eyes blearily open, and follows it with an apology lacking even the barest hint of an apologetic tone. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
He blinks slowly, like he’s struggling to focus on Sardinia. Cute, Sardinia thinks. Like a sleepy kitten. “No...I saw a gentle color beckoning me closer, so I started running to it...I wanted to hurry to it.”
Sardinia leans down into Shinkai’s space, grabbing onto the armrest to prop himself up and nuzzling his nose against Shinkai’s throat as he breathes in deep, the now-familiar scent sending a wave of warmth through his body. “A gentle color?”
“Yes…” Shinkai swallows, attempting to clear the thickness from his voice. “It reminded me of you.”
A pang of regret at not taking the earlier opportunity flashes through Sardinia with those words. He presses his lips to Shinkai’s neck once, twice, lingers for a moment. “Me, hm? I am not so gentle as your dreams would have you believe.”
“If that were true, I don't believe you would keep me at your side as you do,” Shinkai states breathlessly, and so frankly that the assertion almost sounds confident—a manner of speaking which is almost foreign to the mysterious, aloof being Shinkai is.
Laughter bubbles up from deep within Sardinia, but not as deep from whence a strong wave of affection for the minstrel arises. He has too much faith in Sardinia, but Sardinia won’t bother telling him as much. It’ll make for a good learning opportunity.
“Good morning, Shinkai,” he repeats instead, brushing aside Shinkai’s hair and placing a kiss on his forehead.
Shinkai’s entire body relaxes into the touch. “Good morning, Sardinia-sama.”
Satisfied (for now), Sardinia finally retreats far enough to gaze into Shinkai’s eyes. “Are you tired? Does your neck hurt? I can't imagine you rested well on this meager block of wood.”
Shinkai meets his gaze head on, not looking particularly concerned, like he hadn't given it much thought yet. “I don’t—”
Unconvinced before Shinkai’s even finished speaking, Sardinia squeezes the soft spot between his neck and shoulder.
As expected, Shinkai winces. “Ah.”
With a wordless but obviously exasperated shake of his head, Sardinia sets Shinkai’s flute aside, grabs onto both of Shinkai’s hands and rocks back onto the balls of his feet, the momentum lifting Shinkai out of his seat. Sardinia holds back a sigh as he tugs the wrinkled scarf from his shoulders. “You should have undressed, at least.”
“I meant to,” he starts—or at least it sounded like he meant to go on, until Sardinia fully unbuttons his shirt and lets it slide from his shoulders. His words drop off just as elegantly as the cloth.
“Come,” Sardinia commands, taking one of Shinkai’s hands again and leading him to the nearby chaise. “If you won't join me in the bed, I wish you would choose to rest somewhere you can at least lay down.”
“I like the chair,” Shinkai reasons, gingerly placing himself as instructed while Sardinia steps aside to select a bottle of oil from his personal stores.
Amusement colors Sardinia’s voice, as it often does during idle chats with Shinkai. “You’re satisfied by so little.”
“I don't know.”
Clutching the bottle in his grasp, he returns to stand behind Shinkai who, fascinatingly enough, followed his latest instructions without any resistance again. All except the one where he sleeps in the bed.
A huff of breath rushes out of Sardinia’s lungs as he spreads the oil over Shinkai’s skin and kneads his fingers in firmly, as if to emphasize the strength of his exasperation. “Regardless of how fond you are of it, Shinkai, you needn’t hurt yourself sleeping in it. I’ve told you time and again that you’re welcome to my bed.”
Shinkai remains silent, save for the occasional sharp intake of breath, like even acknowledging the offer is out of the question.
“Won’t you consider it?” Sardinia continues, determined to elicit some kind of concrete response. “It’s much more comfortable, I assure you.”
“Do you dislike it?”
“I fell asleep on it one night, by accident. I spent three days working out the kinks it gave me. I simply can’t fathom why you would choose to sleep in it when I’ve asked you to rest at my side.”
“I find it sufficient enough for me.”
Hm. Maybe Sardinia will have his attendants remove it one of these days. Soon. “I’m not fond of settling for sufficiency.”
“How strange. I’ve never encountered such a problem.”
Thoughtful silence reigns for a solid two minutes until Sardinia’s hands freeze on Shinkai’s shoulders.
“...Shinkai, do you possibly continue to sleep in that chair because you know I’ll give you a massage the morning after?”
“Hm, I wonder.”
Sardinia musses his already untidy hair so thoroughly even an hour of brushing it probably won’t untangle it, Shinkai shaking with silent laughter through it all. When Sardinia drapes himself over Shinkai’s shoulder to place a frustrated but affectionate kiss against his cheek, he sees the faintest blush high on his cheeks; it might have been cute enough to forgive and forget his sneakiness, if not for the faraway look lingering in Shinkai’s eyes as he gazes towards the balcony and the world outside.
“Are you alright?”
Shinkai blinks. The blankness of his expression mirrors the emptiness of the sky. “Yes…”
“Should I stop?”
Slowly, Shinkai’s head moves back and forth. “It seems I’ve worried you...I apologize.”
Sardinia feels his brows furrow. “If I wanted an apology for every time you worried me, I’d be listening to them for the rest of my days.”
“I see.” Unable to hold his gaze, Shinkai flicks his eyes elsewhere.
An uneasy feeling twists in Sardinia’s chest. Suddenly longing for more contact between them, he rests his chin on Shinkai’s shoulder, inhaling the aroma of the oil now mixed with Shinkai’s scent. “Shinkai, do you not want to share my bed? Tell me and I’ll refrain from suggesting it again.”
Shinkai doesn't react any significant way to Sardinia’s words, but his heartbeat seems to pick up. “That's not it…”
“Then?” Sardinia prods, lips brushing against the skin of Shinkai’s neck. “Tell me.”
“Is it not my duty to play until you fall asleep?”
“Duty…?” The word leaves a foul taste in Sardinia's mouth; his lips curl down as he draws back again, seeking Shinkai’s gaze. “You have no duty to me, Shinkai.”
Shinkai opens his mouth, perhaps to make another point, but Sardinia isn't finished. Obligation was the very last thing he’d ever intended to force upon Shinkai.
“I ask such a thing of you because I long for comfort on sleepless nights, yes, but your music is not the only comfort you provide me.”
The vague discomfort that forces Shinkai to break eye contact troubles Sardinia far more than the original matter at hand.
Presumptuous though it may be, even for the king of a star, Sardinia longs for Shinkai to accept his every affection. The minstrel’s done well so far to receive him, yet there will be moments like these—ones where Sardinia pushes and Shinkai will either easily break or resist him. Perhaps the resistance he’s met is due to the nature of Sardinia’s request; Shinkai can’t actively do anything to satisfy Sardinia’s desires this time, because he doesn't understand what Sardinia desires in the first place: not Shinkai’s music, not his ability, but himself.
“...Yes, my k—”
Shinkai’s sentence cuts off abruptly, as he turns to respond to Sardinia and finds his king’s face hovering mere inches from his own. There’s no trace of surprise to be found on his face, merely idle curiosity.
A frown tugs at the corners of Sardinia’s lips again. Perhaps he will never know what Shinkai sees while he’s off in his own world, but if whatever it is puts a look like that in his eyes, then Sardinia would much rather make it so he is the only thing Shinkai can focus on.
Ever so selfishly, Sardinia slides an arm over Shinkai’s other shoulder, runs his fingers down Shinkai’s cheek, ghosts them over his lips as lightly as a feather—and yet it's enough that they yield and part, almost as though his body’s responding instinctively.
Shinkai is a piece of clay in Sardinia’s hands, waiting—and willing—to be molded into the shape that pleases him most. The thought is every bit as terrifying as it is thrilling.
“What do you see?” Sardinia murmurs.
Confused, Shinkai glances from Sardinia’s eyes to his lips and back again. “See…?”
“What do you feel?” he tries again, angling his head to face Shinkai fully, voice no louder than a whisper. “Tell me, my cute Shinkai.”
Shinkai swallows. “What should I assume you refer to?”
Slowly, so that Shinkai sees it coming every inch of the way, Sardinia closes the distance until the last thing left between them is a breath of air.
Chapter 2: dive too far you may drown
If only Shinkai could capture them - steal back some of the breath his king is always taking from his lungs. But it’s fine, Shinkai thinks, scooting closer until his hip rests adjacent to his king’s. Sardinia always returns what he takes from Shinkai in tenfold.
His king is not a morning person. Shinkai learns this quickly once he’s eased into the habit of practically living in Sardinia’s personal chambers.
Not to say Shinkai is a morning person himself, or a day person, or an afternoon person, really—it’s more that Sardinia’s taken to occupying his nights recently, so Shinkai finds himself resting through the brightest hours of the day more often than he ever has before, either trapped in the surprisingly rigid cage of Sardinia’s arms or resting in the comfort of—as Sardinia’s come to call it with no attempt at masking his disdain—Shinkai’s throne.
Shinkai doesn't quite understand that part. He watches Sardinia work from his actual throne quite often and not once has Sardinia ever used it to rest; somehow, he gets the impression they have different understandings of what thrones are used for.
...He has a feeling he’s missed something there, but Sardinia’s groggy mumbling beneath him takes precedence over whatever it is for now.
His king is not a morning person. Whether a testament to this fact or to how hard he’s been working recently or simply to how deep of a sleeper he is, Sardinia doesn’t so much as flinch when Shinkai slides a finger down his cheek, unable to resist the temptation to feel his king’s warmth.
It’s not the first time Shinkai’s yielded to this...pull inside himself, nor will it be the last—his king is quite adamant about spoiling the minstrel, after all—yet the delicacy of his resting features is no less of a wonder to behold. Shinkai marvels at how his discerning eyes, normally so keen, are relaxed into such a vulnerable state; his lips, normally twisted by a clever, teasing smile, part slightly, huffing breaths into the otherwise quiet air.
If only Shinkai could capture them—steal back some of the breath his king is always taking from his lungs. But it’s fine, Shinkai thinks, scooting closer until his hip rests adjacent to his king’s. Sardinia always returns what he takes from Shinkai in tenfold.
He strokes back several loose strands from Sardinia’s hairline until it’s back in some semblance of order; it’s less unruly than Shinkai’s tends to be but undoubtedly tangled. It’d be nice to run a brush through it once Sardinia awakens.
Sardinia would let him; he never tells Shinkai no, never has, not once. But Shinkai probably won’t ask anyway.
Vague memories drift along at the edge of his mind: countless days Shinkai spent wandering his days away. The edge of the sea gave him something to follow and the sunlight, the means to follow it. At night he would play, rest, eat, and move on—never a need to rush, never an excuse to stand still, only the crashing of the waves harmonizing with his melody, drowning all the other colors of the world in their depths.
Even now, on the edge of the bed belonging to the king of Sirena, that hasn’t really changed.
His king is not a morning person. He’s impulsive, cunning, alluring and unfathomable and that pull inside of Shinkai feels a little like the one that attracted him to the sea.
In the time he’s been at his king’s side thus far, he’s been content to follow Sardinia’s lead, the same way he walked the trail carved out by the waves: always at their side, close enough to touch.
With the water, he never breached a safe distance.
Then again, he’d never been this curious to dive in and discover the mysteries it held, or provoke the dangers lurking beneath the surface.
Shinkai’s fingers take on a mind of their own, tracing a pattern over Sardinia’s skin, a short ensemble of characters that speak far more than Shinkai would ever dare to - at least, until Sardinia’s lips part in response to the fleeting touch of Shinkai’s fingers.
He pauses. Repeats the motion, lingers, tugs at Sardinia’s lower lip. Sardinia tilts his head, hums.
A shiver runs through Shinkai’s body—chilling.
Sardinia shudders, shifts, sighs—exhilarating.
His heartbeat thuds so loudly in his ears Shinkai can’t hear Sardinia’s soft breaths anymore. As he traces the outline of Sardinia’s lips, he himself hesitates to breathe.
He draws such enjoyment from this, doesn’t he?
Memories flash through his mind like lightning, electric and powerful. Sardinia does enjoy it, so much, beyond a shadow of a doubt: Shinkai beneath his fingers, all the air whisked from his lungs, ready and willing to let Sardinia in as deep as he desires to go.
Shinkai wonders how it feels to be the one diving in.
“Won’t you continue?”
Shinkai flinches at the sound of Sardinia’s voice, but he doesn’t move away, even when his king’s eyes blink open, groggy and unfocused yet bright as the dawn sky waiting to greet them outside the balcony.
The mattress dips as Sardinia rolls fully onto his side, one hand lifting to capture Shinkai’s wrist. When Shinkai draws his hand back enough to grasp Sardinia, he interlaces their fingers and drags Sardinia’s hand up to his own face, where he places a light kiss to his knuckles instead of responding. With a content sigh, Sardinia’s eyes fall shut once more.
For a moment, Shinkai assumes Sardinia falls asleep—at least until a frustrated hum and an insistent shove of Sardinia’s hips against Shinkai’s side tells him otherwise.
“You know you’re allowed to touch me in my sleep, dear.”
He’s silenced by Sardinia’s other hand tracing a pattern across his back, a series of strokes and loops that altogether connect into something immediately recognizable—and mildly embarrassing.
“I don’t mind that, either,” Sardinia breathes, voice tense with barely repressed exhilaration.
“I...didn’t mean to disturb you. My apologies,” Shinkai murmurs, a blush high on his cheeks as he gives Sardinia’s hand another kiss and a light squeeze.
“It’s too early for apologies,” Sardinia sighs after a long moment of staring at Shinkai, his other hand flinging itself away, chagrin twisting his lips down. Shinkai smiles against Sardinia’s skin as a wave of affection crests in his heart. “So, you were watching me.”
“You slept in the bed?”
Sardinia untangles his fingers from Shinkai’s gently, but whatever warmth lost there returns instantly once Sardinia lays his fingers on Shinkai’s skin. The movement of Sardinia’s lithe fingers over his mouth sends another full-body shiver coursing through Shinkai, but the sudden cloudiness in Sardinia’s eyes washes even that comfort away like the rain.
“I wish you had.”
He says it quietly enough that Shinkai can safely assume he’s talking to himself, but Shinkai has to refrain from offering another apology anyway. Explaining himself would only be an excuse—besides which, it’s still too early.
Sardinia ruffles his hair playfully, the dismay in his expression only moments ago gone without a trace. Before Shinkai can utter any kind of protest, he’s halted by the words Sardinia cooes.
“Good boy, Shinkai.”
“I think I’ll rest a while longer…Stay here, Shinkai.”
With that, he drops his hand and drapes his arm across Shinkai’s lap, closing his eyes and burrowing into the sheets.
It’s not a question, or a request, really, but even if Sardinia hadn’t said as much, he’d never planned on leaving.
Just a little more sleep, then.
Or so he thinks, until he notices Sardinia peeking at him through half-open lids.
Shinkai tilts his head. The king appears deep in thought as he gazes up the minstrel, but what he could possibly be considering, Shinkai can’t even begin to guess at. “Sardinia-sama?”
“You’re supposed to rest with me,” Sardinia clarifies, linking his arms together around Shinkai’s waist and tugging so that Shinkai has to brace his arms on either side of Sardinia’s body to remain upright.
...Doing so is beside Sardinia’s point, isn’t it?
And yet, face to face with him like this, it’s obvious: no amount of sleepiness can dull the glint in Sardinia’s eyes; they shine like sunlight reflecting off the water, daring Shinkai to fall in. Uncomfortable as it is, Shinkai would remain in this position all day if it meant having the freedom to observe such beauty so closely.
“Lay down already.”
Shinkai folds his glasses and sets them aside. A huff of air rushes from Sardinia’s lungs as Shinkai gingerly stretches out alongside his body. His arms resettle around Shinkai and give a tight squeeze, but not so tight that it hurts, like he wants Shinkai as close as he can physically be.
“You’re warm,” Sardinia mumbles against the cloth covering Shinkai’s shoulder, his breath tickling the hair of the back of Shinkai’s neck.
Sardinia hums, nuzzling his nose into Shinkai’s hair and breathing deep. "I want to stay like this all day. Can I?"
"Is that a yes?"
Shinkai’s light laughter jostles them both. "If that is what you wish."
His name falls from Sardinia’s lips, voice far lower and much closer to his ear than Shinkai expects. “Good boy, Shinkai.”
Sardinia doesn't have to see Shinkai's face to discern his reaction; surely, he feels it well enough from where he is.
His king is not a morning person. But if the way Sardinia climbs over Shinkai’s body and settles above him is any indication that they won’t be going back to sleep anytime soon, Shinkai thinks that’s quite alright in the end; if one caters to his penchant for being spoiled enough, perhaps even a king can be trained to rise with the sun.
[continues to sweat at increasingly loud volumes]
Another cool, quiet night in Sirena passes peacefully as Shinkai rests in bed with his king, his head in Sardinia’s lap while Sardinia lazily brushes his fingers through Shinkai’s hair.
It’s calm, so calm Shinkai imagines waves rising in the distance and the breeze across his cheeks as he gazes out the open balcony. By Sardinia’s side is the one place Shinkai truly feels at home, but Shinkai also thinks it would be nice if one day he could take Sardinia to the place his home used to be.
Shinkai places his hand on Sardinia’s thigh wordlessly. Sardinia smiles softly and leans back against the headboard, hand still sifting through Shinkai’s hair.
Sardinia has only just begun to nod off when the seaside vanishes and Shinkai’s sight goes dark.
Grey clouds shining with light of the sun hidden behind; the fierce glow of embers in an all-encompassing darkness. Flashes of fire burn his throat and billows of thick smoke rush towards him; with all of this overwhelming his sight, everything except his king’s bright, piercing gaze seems so far away.
Sardinia’s eyes snap open the instant Shinkai’s hand touches his cheek.
He’s felt it before, this the telltale tension in Shinkai’s muscles when a feeling hits him. Not once has Shinkai described what the experience of having those feelings is exactly, but he assumes it to be unpleasant if the blank, faraway look in Shinkai’s eyes as Sardinia holds onto him is any indication.
The tension dissipates after a few seconds, but the stress must have aged Sardinia by several years. He grasps Shinkai’s hand against his face with one of his while the fingers of his other run down Shinkai’s cheeks, sighing with relief when Shinkai finally blinks and breathes deep and slow, as though he’s tasting the air. Sardinia puts his hand to Shinkai’s chest, feeling his heartbeat steady while he waits for the bard to speak.
“Someone is coming.”
The words reverberate beneath Sardinia’s still fingers, sending a sense of foreboding rising up as their weight sinks into Sardinia’s mind.
“Visitors…?” he murmurs, thoughts filling with images of kings from other stars: one, a companion, a constant helping hand; another, yet a boy, his heart and mind weighty with sorrow; another, a warrior hardened not only by doubt and betrayal—but also by the massive stick shoved up his ass.
Sardinia purses his lips. That last thought isn’t one he’s particularly keen on sharing with Shinkai yet. He'd rather not dwell on them, especially because if he's going to be stuck on that train of thought anyway there's another, much preferable direction to go with it in, one that doesn’t involve any kings with sticks shoved up places they shouldn’t be.
Some other night, maybe.
He shrugs off the thoughts and decides to consider the implications of Shinkai’s feelings later. For now he allows himself to relax against the headboard once more, grateful that Shinkai appears to be mostly back to himself. “I’ll do my own divinations as well, after our walk through town tomorrow. Was there anything else?”
Shinkai intends to inform him of the fire and smoke, but the words won’t quite leave his mouth; stuck there, a bitter taste soaks into his tongue. The words he finally force out form the same shape in the air between them as the lump stuck in his throat. “...There is a lonely feeling. Painful, almost.”
The king hums thoughtfully as he slowly traces a single finger over a whorl stitched into Shinkai’s shirt. “Is it bearable?”
Sardinia’s nail catches on a thread; Shinkai’s eyes catch on that finger. Color blooms high on his cheeks. “It doesn't seem like it’ll last long.”
The king’s lips twist. “I see.”
Sardinia can't be sure whether the far away look in Shinkai’s eyes is due to his attempts to distract Shinkai, or if it’s due to the distraction of a sight only he can see; either way would be fine, if only the tension in Shinkai’s body would dissipate once more.
Several minutes pass in silence. It doesn’t.
So Sardinia replaces his lap with a pillow and burrows himself against Shinkai’s side before Shinkai can resist, buries his face against Shinkai’s chest, wraps his arm around Shinkai the best he can. Several deep breaths filled with the smell of Shinkai’s skin have Sardinia practically melted against him, the two of them as close as they can be. Shinkai’s pulse speeds up beneath Sardinia’s hand, his body angles itself closer to the heat of his leg thrown between Shinkai’s and to the tickle of his breath against his skin, trembles under the weight of Sardinia’s gaze bearing down on him—
And finally, finally, Shinkai looks like he couldn’t possibly be focused on anything else.
Sunlight peeks into the room over the balcony, a sign that if Sardinia’s going to be ready to go into the castle town at all today he needs to rise now.
“Sardinia-sama,” Shinkai murmurs, shaking Sardinia’s arm lightly. “Wake up. You can’t sleep in.”
The king’s brows furrow, but his eyes remain clamped shut. “Hmm? Why not?”
“Because of yesterday.”
“You ordered me to force you to rise with the sun, or you’d never make it to town in time.”
Sardinia buries a very loud, very disgruntled groan into his pillow, frustrated by the idiocy of his self from...what, six hours ago? He groans again, louder. “Today is a new day. Ignore yesterday’s king.”
“Yesterday’s king is still my king,” Shinkai murmurs, amusement as transparent as the water in the garden ponds. “As are you. And this is what you wished.”
Sardinia groans into the pillow again.
A hand tentatively begins sifting through his hair at that, the way one does when testing the waters before diving in—cautious of the unknown, yet longing to leap. Sardinia lifts his head enough to get a glimpse of Shinkai’s expression, curious about the kind of face he might be making—
And immediately shoves his face down, fighting back the blush threatening to bloom high on his cheeks.
The hand in his hair applies more pressure, attempting to brush enough of it away to see his face. If Shinkai weren’t so obviously worried by his sudden behavior, Sardinia might have kept himself buried there for hours, but it’s so incredibly difficult to withhold anything from the one he would willingly give everything to.
If only he could.
He can give Shinkai this.
Sardinia turns his face again, far enough for Shinkai to see the heat spreading across his skin without lifting his head from the pillow. “...It’s the first time you’ve combed through my hair like this, Shinkai.”
Shinkai’s hand freezes in place; he doesn’t remove it immediately like Sardinia half expected him to. Sardinia takes this as a sign that maybe Shinkai wants to continue. Perhaps he simply needs a push.
“I wish you would continue.”
As Shinkai sheepishly obliges Sardinia’s latest wish, the king discovers another forming deep within his heart and at the front of his mind.
It’d undeniable; he wants more and more of Shinkai.
The desire grows day by day, Sardinia pulled by the weight of his seemingly boundless greed, down to ever greater depths.
It’s only a matter of time, he figures, until he’s pulled both of them deep enough to drown.
“Shinkai, let’s go.”
“Yes, my king.”
Like a pet wary of being left behind, Shinkai trails after Sardinia down the hallway, their footsteps echoing down the space in tandem.
Sardinia bites back a smile as he senses Shinkai’s eyes wandering between his back and the walls of the castle. Even though Shinkai won’t hold his hand (yet) the echoes of their steps and Shinkai’s gaze drawn to him both feel like proof that parts of them are connected.
He allows the sentiment those thoughts fill him with to add a spring (or should he say “sway”?) to his step, and subsequently turns the fight to hold back his own smile into a losing one.
There’s plenty of drawbacks to Shinkai refusing to walk at his side, but he supposes there are some benefits to it as well.
Shinkai blinks. They’re making their way down the corridor and Sardinia is walking at his normal leisurely pace, yet his hips...seem to be swaying more than usual. It could simply be exhaustion, or his eyes playing tricks on him. He wonders how long he’s had his glasses, if maybe it's time to replace them, but he can’t seem to recall exactly, so he gives up and focuses back on Sardinia’s—well.
He catches the king’s sparkling eyes briefly as he faces forward once more, the edges of his lips turned up with some degree of satisfaction.
Shinkai adjusts his scarf, breathing a quiet sigh of relief as cool air rushes across his skin. He almost wishes he’d never convinced his king to get out of bed.
An hour has passed, their pace so leisurely—and Shinkai distracted so easily—that they’ve only progressed a short ways into town.
Out of the corner of Sardinia’s eye, he observes Shinkai continuing to fiddle with a trinket acquired ten minutes ago, eyes sparkling with wonder even as he stumbles over a cobblestone. “It would be a shame if we were unable to acquire the perfect flowers for our visitors,” he remarks, reaching a hand out to steady his companion.
Shinkai appears almost completely unperturbed, fingers now twirling one of the trinket’s mechanisms. “Certainly, it would be so.”
Sardinia holds back a laugh. Apparently, not even Sardinia calling Shinkai’s name can distract him; perhaps the vendor hadn’t offered it for free because of Sardinia’s status as king, but rather because he’d been so charmed by Shinkai’s incredible fascination with it. “You aren't concerned in the slightest.”
“Hm? Who knows.”
“But you are rather taken with that toy, are you not?”
“Shall we take a nap when we return?”
A playful smirk tugs at the corners of his mouth. “And the cow jumped over the moon?”
“Who—” Shinkai finally catches himself then, mouth snapping shut wordlessly as he glances in the other direction. He cradles the trinket to his chest with one hand, avoiding Sardinia’s teasing gaze, an adorable pout on his lips.
Sardinia can't help but allow amusement to widen his smile. A strange sense of endearment tickles his heart. “My Shinkai. Would you take my hand?”
“...If it is your wish, I will,” says the minstrel, still in a tone as leisurely as they come. The proverbial flowers blooming around his head are the only insight to how delighted he is by the suggestion—and probably the closest he’ll ever come to admitting to having such desires of his own.
The looseness of his grip on Sardinia’s hand as it sways between the two of them has Sardinia’s heels clacking against the cobblestone pavement slower than before.
“We really may not make it in time. Shall we hurry?”
Everything about Shinkai, from the quizzical look on his face, to the careless way his robes wrap around his body, to the pulse Sardinia feels beating underneath his fingers, is mellow, relaxed; as gentle as the sunlight on Sirena’s great seas, and every bit as beautiful. Shinkai, for all of his strange ways, reminds Sardinia very much of the star he calls his home.
“No,” Sardinia replies at last, not bothering to pretend he'd been doing anything but gazing at Shinkai the entire time, “I’d like to take my time after all.”
Shinkai’s smile warms Sardinia’s heart through to its core. “As you wish, my king.”
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Chapter 4: anchors hidden somewhere beneath your skin
His name is all Sardinia needs to say. The name of the one who appeared in his life one day like a shell washed up on the shore. The one who made it feel as natural as though he’d always been there. The one who made it impossible for Sardinia to return to a life where his existence was a non-factor, whose presence became so ingrained in Sardinia’s routine that a day without him threw off the passing of time and made each hour blur into the next.
It’s all he needs to say for Shinkai to rise from the blankets to his knees and shuffle over to where Sardinia waits perched on the edge of the bed. The aches in his bones melt away as he melts into the encompassing warmth of Shinkai’s embrace.
“Did you miss me?” Thankfully, the cloth of Shinkai's shirt muffles his voice; if he had spoken clearly, it would be all too obvious how much he longs to hear Shinkai utter the words he can't bring himself to say yet.
“I slept until you returned.”
“I see.” Disappointment pinches at a place deep in his chest. Maybe it was too much to ask for, too soon. “Have I exhausted you by making you wait?”
“Not at all. I was...lonely, and knew I would see you in my dreams.”
Lonely. Such a sentiment shouldn’t flood Sardinia with so much satisfaction, and yet—
Sardinia closes his eyes, a breath halfway between a sigh and a laugh escaping him. A couple inches of water is all it takes to drown. “Such impatience.”
Judging by the sheepish tone of his response, Shinkai’s cheeks must be flushed bright red, like the sky painted by the setting sun. “...Forgive me.”
Gentle fingers continue to stroke over the back of his head, but Shinkai’s hold on him is just loose enough to pull back and gaze up. The color is every bit as striking as he’d imagined; when he reaches up and brushes his fingers over Shinkai’s cheeks the color deepens splendidly, and when he strokes them down over Shinkai’s lips, they part just as beautifully.
So impatient, but so obedient, and so willing.
“You missed me?” Sardinia breathes, fingers lingering on Shinkai’s lips, eager to feel the way his breathing changes pace as Sardinia leans his weight against Shinkai’s chest.
It’s all Shinkai has to say. The word reverberates under Sardinia’s skin, sending a shiver down his spine. It’s all he has to say for the thought to occur at the back of his mind once again: he shouldn’t feel so good knowing Shinkai’s suffered any amount of pain, no matter how trivial or short-lived, but what else can compare to the feeling of knowing that Shinkai spent hours doing nothing but longing for his king to return to his side?
It’s all Shinkai has to say for Sardinia to replace his fingers with his lips. And as he anchors himself there in Shinkai’s arms, Shinkai’s own satisfied smile burning against his skin, he’s unable to think of a single thing.
“You’ll stay, won’t you?” Sardinia asks, almost loftily, as though he’s already sure of the answer. Whether it’s the confidence of a man or the arrogance of a king that has him pressing another kiss onto Shinkai’s wrist, Shinkai can’t tell.
“Do you ask me as the king of Sirena?” he asks in turn, tilting his head curiously as he takes the chance to splay his hand over Sardinia’s cheek.
The corners of Sardinia’s lips twist into something not quite a smile, yet not quite a frown. There are a great many things in the world Shinkai can’t make sense of, but as he gazes directly at Sardinia’s strange expression, he thinks to himself that nothing he doesn’t understand is quite as much of a mystery as the man before him.
“The king of Sirena would not ask.”
"Hmm," Shinkai responds. "Is that so."
“Stay,” Sardinia repeats, the word no longer a request; it’s something demanding and selfish, but almost...desperate. Longing. Hopeful.
Warmth floods into his hand through Sardinia’s skin, prompting Shinkai’s answer as easily as if it had floated into him along with it.
“If that is your wish, Sardinia-sama.”
As soon as the door falls shut behind Erin and Sardinia, Shinkai holds up a deck of cards, eyes sparkling. Orion nods with a sigh—how can he say no?—and they settle themselves in at the table.
The sound of cards being shuffled fills the room; the two of them sit in silence otherwise, Orion gripping his folded hands while Shinkai relaxes like he’s perfectly at home.
Of course he is. Sardinia’s long left Shinkai’s side, but with the way Shinkai’s always watching Sardinia, his king must always be somewhere at the back of his mind.
It hadn’t occurred to Orion that Sardinia would ever allow him the chance to be alone with the bard, but if Sardinia’s head is the source of his exceptional foresight, then it only makes sense for his dick to be exceptionally shortsighted, just to keep things in balance.
“Why do you not ask?”
A surprise question comes from Shinkai as he deals the cards and finishes organizing the deck between them. Orion’s eyes flick up to his in surprise; there doesn’t appear to be any deeper meaning to the question, not even so much as simple curiosity. Perhaps puzzling out Orion’s problem is Shinkai’s way of making conversation.
“...What?” he relents after enduring a solid minute of Shinkai openly staring at him over the tops of his cards, which he holds in front of his face like a fan. The indeterminable color of Shinkai’s eyes harbors a rather unsettling depth. He’s quite a formidable opponent, Orion notes as he finally relents, picking up and analyzing his own hand.
“You are a king, like Sardinia-sama.”
Shinkai scratches at the corner of one card with a nail, now peering at Orion from beneath the shadow of his hat. The depth in his eyes grows. “My apologies.”
“No, I…” Orion grimaces at the cards in his hand, but glaring won’t change the cards into a better hand, so he heaves a sigh and fights the urge to slam them down onto the table. He can’t change the cards, but Shinkai may be right. While he fights back a shudder at the mere thought, perhaps he should strive to attain some of Sardinia’s qualities, if only because of their positions. “It’s as you suggest.”
“Did I suggest something?”
They blink at each other. “You just—about how we’re both kings, so I should be like Sardinia?”
Shinkai tilts his head at a quizzical angle. Orion contemplates the potential socio political repercussions of shaking it to check that it isn’t actually full of fluttering butterflies and flowers, at least until Shinkai follows up his thought, setting down multiple cards as he thinks things through one word at a time.
“As a king, Sardinia-sama can be quite selfish and demanding, can’t he?”
Isn’t that an insult? Why did he look so amused as he said it...? “Right…?”
“Still, when he desires something, he asks.”
Orion covers up the snort that escapes him with a cough, shuffling around the cards in his hand to avoid looking at Shinkai, who glances at him with a smile Orion can’t help but describe as wry.
“Does that surprise you after all?”
“So he does not simply take what he desires when he desires it?” he counters.
“I never said he asked first.”
Another smile tugs at Shinkai’s lips, something light and perhaps amused. Orion rolls his eyes while Shinkai flips several more cards over.
“Your point, Shinkai?”
Orion blinks, resisting the urge to sigh. If he weren’t already familiar with Sardinia’s...mannerisms, he’d wonder how his fellow king managed to make conversation with the bard at all. “Do you imply I should allow myself to be more demanding?”
“Hm? Why would I?”
...And if it weren’t for Erin, the degree of familiarity and casualness with which the bard spoke would unsettle him even more. “Is that not what you mean to say?”
“Would you be able to?”
“If you ask if you should, then there must be a reason you do not already.”
Orion sets two cards down, but deigns to answer. Shinkai hums.
“You are both kings.”
“A fact we have established, yes.”
“It’s strange...that you are in the same position, yet incapable of the same things.”
“You’re the last person I want calling me strange…” A question passes through Orion’s head a moment later, one he can’t stop from tumbling out. Part of it is idle curiosity, but the other part wonders about how Sardinia’s relationship with his attendant could differ so greatly from Orion’s. “Do you tell your king when there is something you desire?”
“No…” The bard replies slowly, eyes falling to the tabletop. Orion follows his gaze down, but there are only cards to be found. “That is something I am also incapable of.”
“Is there a reason you can’t?”
Shinkai’s lips draw up with the faintest hint of a smile; it appears and disappears in a heartbeat, like waves upon the shore. If there’s a word to describe the emotion peering through the cloudiness in Shinkai’s eyes, it doesn’t exist in Orion’s vocabulary. “Hm...who knows.”
A grimace pulls the corners of Orion’s lips down further. “Just like your king.”
“Indeed. Sardinia-sama is my king. You, Orion-sama, are Erin’s.”
“Is that supposed to mean something?“
“King or not, I would do anything for Sardinia-sama,” Shinkai continues. Nothing about his tone is particularly strange, nor are his words particularly notable, but something about the way his shoulders relax and his head falls back and the breathy way he speaks cause something in Orion’s chest to tighten. He waits in silence for Shinkai to finish his thought, inexplicably enraptured by the depths in his eyes, but it’s not until Shinkai’s eyes gaze right back into Orion’s that he realizes the bard has nothing more to say.
And not until Sardinia and Erin return to the room and Erin flits over to his side, wearing a self-satisfied smirk and the scent of another planet’s king, does Orion realize that Shinaki hadn’t needed to say anything more.
why yes, sardinia and erin are doing exactly what you think they're doing
thanks for keeping up/reading this far!! i hope it's been enjoyable (๑ ˊ͈ ᐞ ˋ͈ )ƅ̋