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Oranges and Honeydew

Chapter Text

He was never quite suited for this lifestyle, his throne was too big, his corset was too tight, the people were too greedy for him to care all that much about whether they were killed enough. Mutsuki wasn’t suited for the rich life, especially when he didn’t know where his family went. Family. As in the family he had joined over six years ago, he missed them all so terribly bad, it made his heart sink. Course, all he could do was hope, hope for some sort of change. This wasn’t going to last, he was certain, soon, someone was going to overthrow him and when they did he was going to fling himself welcomingly into their arms.

A jester was present in front of him, laughing at his absurd jokes and encouraging him to do the same. He wouldn’t laugh. He was as cold as a lake on a frozen over mountain. There was nothing to laugh about. Truly, this jester was trying his best, Mutsuki could see it on his face, he was chosen for this, forced to, he was fearful of his fate; who wouldn’t be? No one wanted to die.

It has been forever since he even cracked a smile, it had only been a few months, maybe he was just being overdramatic, no, it’s just that he would never smile for him. Mutsuki couldn’t even keep eye contact with the man that was his betrothed.

“Is there something wrong, dear? Is the entertainment not to your liking?” Immediate disgust welled up inside of him, a common feeling, never fleeting, it always stayed, festered, made him want to run out of the room and throw up. Mutsuki shifted in his throne, turned to look at Saeki, even when he was sitting, the monster still towered over him. Now was the time to think, he was getting better and better at it, selecting the options that wouldn’t send the man into a blind rage, wouldn’t end with Mutsuki having to go into hiding because of a black eye. The restriction of magic was mandatory, the drugs that were practically forced down his throat every other day didn’t help. Mages were wanted criminals after all, Mutsuki was just one of the painful exceptions.

“It’s fine, don’t fret about it,” There wasn’t much else to say, Mutsuki agreed to this, the last thing he wanted to do was make things worse. This marriage wasn’t pleasant, far from it actually, Mutsuki had spent most of his time locked up in the bedroom on purpose, knowing that the infamous “King Torso” would know better than to flatter him with compliments and shower him with gifts when he was in a mood. The one thing that Mutsuki respected about his husband, he understood what ‘privacy’ meant, despite it being a foreign word when it Mutsuki exited his chamber.

If he showed one single hint of displeasure at his current entertainment, the poor jester would be the one who paid the price. Executed like all of the other previous servants he had known for only a few weeks. If anyone was going to be hurt it would be him, and he was doing a damn good job at keeping Saeki at bay when it came to his favorite method of murder.

Chopping up torsos and hanging them up for display in the center of the kingdom, such a terrifying thing to witness, Mutsuki saw it himself when he was just stealing food for his own; there was no shame of the deceased’s genitalia being exposed, the bloody torso was always fresh and new, never old, and they always had scars, hauntingly on the one part of the body that Saeki flaunted in front of his many terrified citizens. That was one way to rule , he always thought. He was young and naive, only ten, he didn’t know any better, he couldn’t do any better either…

Mutsuki’s thoughts came to a slow stop, he didn’t want to think about that, it didn’t help that he was staring at Saeki the entire time, those gray eyes wandered too much, gazed over his body as if he were a treat. It was horrible. Was he really even concerned? Mutsuki didn’t want to find out, any form of affection would have been promptly rejected if they weren’t in public at the moment. He was humiliated by the fleeting cheek kisses, the supposedly tender holding of his hands, there were even occasions of actual lip on lip kissing, the most unappealing of them all. Tutting softly at his own foolishness, Mutsuki turned away and focused on the jester once more, taking notice of the sudden change in the man’s facial expression as his rulers’ turned their attention back to him.

It seemed like he was overwhelmed, he had to be, if he began to run towards the exit of the castle, whatever bravery that was left in him dissipated right before his eyes. Immediately, he found himself to be standing up, he knew where this was going, he didn’t want to be present to find out, hastily he backed out of the throne room, not even hesitating to turn away as soon as he heard Saeki’s wretched screams echo through the chamber, demanding that the man be stopped.

Running in a dress was difficult, unfavorable and painful since he couldn’t breathe properly because of the damned corset, but Mutsuki didn’t stop until he was back up into his chamber and had slammed the door shut before locking it. Here, he had some form of peace, looking out over the more scenic part of the kingdom, a large forest with almost inhumanly ginormous trees sprouting up and almost stabbing the blue sky with their green leaves.

Saeki didn’t chase after him, not until everything was ‘settled’, sometimes it took hours for him to come rushing up, cooing to Mutsuki through the door for a good fifteen to thirty minutes before ultimately giving up and leaving to do god knows what. His method of hiding wouldn’t last forever, he knew, if he kept this up the guards would probably barge in one day and cease him, even if he was dragged out screaming and crying for release. What was going through Saeki’s brain was beyond him, there were times where he worked extra hard to be as caring as possible and there were other time where he would go into a screaming and raging fit, this man was currently in his early thirties, it bewildered Mutsuki as to how he managed to stay ruler without being overthrown at some point for being so childishly dangerous.

It had to happen sooner or later. It just had to happen. Saeki’s iron fist on his kingdom would soon be unclenched at some point, when it did Mutsuki would take great pleasure in watching him die. But not yet, he needed to be patient. He would wait as long as it takes. Maybe his family would return one day, to rescue him, there was truly no way he was going to get out of this. At first he was in denial, but now he was relying on outside forces to come to his aid. Pathetic, he was pathetic. He shouldn’t have to need help, but he did, and that only upset him more.

With that in mind, Mutsuki hesitantly cracked the door, leaving it ajar before sitting down on his bed fiddling with the outfit that was supposed to be the castle’s most comfortable dress. He didn’t know how to handle his own situation at the moment, the best thing he could do was to just get used to it, something that he was very reluctant to do. Through his partially shut door and the almost soundproof wall, Mutsuki could still hear the muffled desperate pleas of a man who did nothing wrong. It almost made him consider shutting the door again but the noises were just enough to leave him frozen. Would he end up like that one day?

He knew back in the old days he might have, but now he was almost certain that Saeki was infatuated with him. He gave him a chance to survive after being caught, he even offered to fetch him a fresh pair of clothing when his old ones were torn to bits on that night. Mutsuki was merely foolish enough to accept, his terribly optimistic side making its appearance at the worst time possible. Because of that one kind gesture, Mutsuki wondered if Saeki was good after all. A price he would have to pay only a week later.

The young adult stayed in his sitting position, at least until the screams stopped and then laid down on his back, gazing up at the ceiling, watching, waiting, listening. As soon as he heard footsteps he would be shocked into fear and transformed into a submissive nobody, a nobody who would run, hide, and cower. If he had actually loved Saeki, well, that would be a different story, he would probably punch him and slap him and kick him for killing someone, but he couldn’t bring himself to do something like that, especially since his maid considered their marriage to be, “As fragile as a flower in a desert. Since it’s so new.”

Needless to say, that definitely meant that Mutsuki would fuck himself over if he retaliated in any way shape or form. He was already pissing Saeki off just from his constant hiding, more direct rejection would lead to anguish. As he was once again lost in his own abyss of thoughts, Mutsuki failed to notice the footsteps that he was playing in his mind were actually real. He failed to notice Saeki enter his bedroom as well.

Tap. Tap. Tap. It was faint, but somehow the noise that wasn’t made up in Mutsuki’s mind was the one that caught his attention. Tap. Tap. Tap. It was becoming louder, he was coming closer. Mutsuki felt his eyes trail away from the “Torso’s” direction, one last thing he could do to salvage at least some of his dignity.

His long bone like fingers were cold against his cheeks as his face was almost forcefully turned in the direction of the tall, intimidating man. That smirk, he didn’t like it, how Saeki’s gaze immediately travelled down, feasting his eyes on Mutsuki’s body as if it were a treat to be devoured.

Of course, Mutsuki would be lying if he said they hadn’t done it, it was forceful, and he was crying the entire time. It was obvious Saeki was expecting to get a pregnancy out of it and he was disappointed when it didn’t, that ruined him, Mutuski thought his distraught attitude was amusing to see. That month was fulfilling to say the least, he didn’t get hurt until something urged Saeki to go back to his normal self.

Tap. Tap. Tap. His fingers weren’t even against the wall, but his tick was still present, the tips of his fingers going in a certain pattern on his face, Mutuski felt like it always was when he dared to even sit next to him at the dinner table. Whenever he tapped he was thinking in some way, shape or form, leaving Mutsuki to try and analyze him as much as possible.

“You know Dear, I personally would like to believe that our relationship had a rough start. That being said, it seems like you’re warming up to me, leaving the door open, you’re too kind,” Saeki’s smirk only grew wider when Mutsuki whimpered, moving to squish his cheeks tightly as his own version of affection. Mutuski didn’t like that, one of his hands going upwards and yanking Saeki’s hand off his face, an action that the mindless king would consider to be simply adorable.

“I will never warm up to a murderer like you—” Mutsuki began in a dry and unsatisfied tone, yet his voice was still soft and fearful.

“And I especially didn’t leave the door open for your own satisfaction,” That was enough to shut Saeki up, at least, his fingers seemed to stop tapping. He was no longer thinking, he was getting mad, oh god why did he think saying that was a good idea, he’s done it now, he was going to get hit. Saeki lifted his other hand and Mutsuki braced himself, only to be met with a surprisingly gentle touch, that was… actually gentle. He should have known by now that it was disingenuous.

“Tsk, if you’re rude I’ll have to teach you a lesson, I’m the man of this relationship, you are the woman, you follow me , you respect me . But I’ve realized I’ve might have been unfair, clearly you aren’t ready to carry out the duty of a mother just yet. So, I’ve decided to allow you to leave, wander around, do women things. You’ll need a guard however, to keep you in check, I know you’re a whore, that’s why you were cross dressing around all those men when I found you. This guard will keep you from going astray,” Mutsuki flinched at the insult, flinched at not being considered a man, flinched because Saeki really was attempting to start a family with him just so that he could carry on his twisted bloodline.

Saeki’s hand trailed down towards his neck, wrapping around it and giving his throat a tight squeeze before promptly releasing it when he managed to get Mutsuki to muster out a hoarse choking noise, “You never make that face. Why don’t you make more expressions for me Tooru?”

His grip tightened again, Mutsuki was once again a submissive victim, to fearful to fight back while also praying that he wouldn’t die either. However, whether he wanted to fight or not, Mutsuki still squirmed like a fish out of water, his eyes beginning to tear up, this time Saeki wasn’t letting go, “All I get are blank stares and you chose to show emotion towards other people. Why? I give you presents and compliments. Even now you look ungrateful. I’m letting you leave . I’m letting you go outside of castle grounds, despite knowing you’re going to be a whore. You’re such an ungrateful little bitch.”

The insults pissed him off but as the lack of oxygen began to take its toll on him, so did his ability to think straight. Desperate to live Mutsuki squirmed more aggressively before feebly reaching up and punching Saeki square in the jaw, the release of air running down his pathways and arriving at his lungs making his actions all the more sweeter. He gasped and wheezed for a solid few seconds, in taking as much air as possible in case he was strangled. Saeki clearly didn’t have that in mind and instead punched him in the face in return, except his punch was much more powerful, had Mutsuki been standing upright he was almost certain that he would have been knocked onto the ground.

It hurt, obviously but the pain was almost worth it. Mutsuki would take almost any pain in exchange for his life. He couldn’t help but consider taking Saeki up on his offer, leaving would mean he was far away from any beatings, he could see what he was missing past the castle grounds. But if he had a guard, would that mean he would be hit by him too? Or would the guard be blissfully unaware of the abuse? Either way he did want to wander about, of course, he wasn’t going to go astray and be with other men or women, he already knew doing something like that wouldn’t last long.

Now all he had to do was just word this properly, anything could be said wrong nowadays, “I-I’ll leave and do women things… I’m sorry for putting you through all this trouble.”

Immediately, Saeki smiled his creepy smile, pleased with himself to an extent, “That’s good, the guard will be here in a few hours. I’m glad you’re learning your role Tooru. I knew I was right about you. You’re so cute. Like an angel.”

Flattery was getting him nowhere but Mutsuki still kept eye contact, even if he wasn’t free at least he would be out of the confining walls of the castle. He wondered if Sasaki was going to come and save him.

Chapter Text

“If I were you I would punch him,” Mutsuki’s maid was known for running her mouth, otherwise she was actually quite polite and did her best to make Mutsuki presentable when required.The bruises on his neck would be concerning, the maid’s solution: a rather large choker that would effectively cover the injuries. The bruise on his cheek would be covered with her usual dose of makeup, he wasn’t really allowed to wear much makeup, Mutsuki thought it was for the best, it made his skin itchy anyways, he wondered if he was actually allergic.

“Technically I’ve already done so, it didn’t end well. I suggest you don’t try to either,” He replied curtly, Touka Kirishima was someone he could partially tolerate. Would he enjoy having her around 24/7? He can’t say he would, there were times where she was pleasant and times she was frustratingly aggressive. Mutsuki already feared for her safety, perhaps it was her attractiveness that kept her alive, supposedly she had been working at the castle for over three years, a surprising feat for any servant.

Perhaps he was merely jealous of her bravery, even if it was stupid, she was clearly protective of him to an extent, her face always twisted whenever she caught him looking even more depressed than usual. She would hit him too though, they were just light smacks on the back of his head and almost extremely loud declarations that he should protect himself more often. It did cause her some more than necessary trouble, Mutsuki was sorry for that.

“Well?”

Well , what?”

“Were you an idiot about it?”

“How can you possibly be an idiot for punching someone—“

“I can tell, Torso got a bruise, but you were probably doing it to save your own life, no? It was a smart move, you’re creating boundaries. He’s not really pushing you into doing anything, he just doesn’t want you to bite back,” She explained while brushing the short bob that was Mutsuki’s pearly white hair. That was an actually logical reasoning to Saeki’s behavior. Touka could figure out things better than him, whenever Mutsuki was confused she would be able to pick up where he left off.

“Smart maybe to you,” He muttered quietly, he wasn’t too keen on being all that violent, if it meant being hurt he was never sure if it was completely worth it. Standing up when Touka motioned him to do so, she tightened the corset around his waist, grunting softly at the feeling of his midsection being squeezed so aggressively. He was pretty sure Touka was doing that on purpose. When that was taken care of Touka held out his evening dress, which Mutsuki snatched out of her hands and wriggled into.

It was an uncomfortable dress this time, too lacey and it exposed a little bit too much cleavage for his liking. All of his dresses were a bit low cut, but not as much as this one, and as reluctant as he was to admit it, Mutsuki knew that he was going to rewear it at some point, he always wore new dresses and his efforts to wear the same ones were almost always futile. Saeki took great pleasure in seeing him in many outfits, even more masculine ones, the servants knew this, they were more keen on pleasing Saeki than him when it came to wardrobe and food to eat at meal times. Touka being one of the few exceptions of course. Mutsuki had grown used to having the same dishes during meal times. At least the desserts were fairly digestible.

Once the dress was properly on his body, Touka tightened the laces on the back that trailed from the top of the dress to the bottom of Mutsuki’s midsection, “You look dashing, I would die to be in a dress like that.”

“Mm, are you being sarcastic?”

“Dunno, am I?” She hummed before stepping back and admiring her work. At the same time Mutsuki couldn’t help but admire her, she was annoying but she was also an abyss he would like to explore. He wouldn’t call this infatuation, but he was interested to an extent, she was fit to be a queen to say the least, but behind that attractive face and her pretty little eyes Mutsuki could sense some form of sadness, a sadness with multiple layers that needed to be peeled away.

Not even a second later Mutsuki had found Touka’s arm delicately wrapped around his midsection, “You’re corset makes you look like a twig though, do you even eat anymore?”

The touch sent a shiver down his spine and he laughed shyly before coaxing her arm away, “Now, now, we should keep our hands to ourselves. And yes, I have been eating, maybe my body just decided to be skinnier.”

There truly was no time to waste, Mutsuki’s ‘personal guard’ would be arriving at any moment, so hastily he picked up the hem of his dress and power walked down the large hallway towards the throne room, hearing Touka call out after him, “You and I both know who gets handsy when drunk.”

At that he couldn’t help but cringe, she was referring to that one time . He didn’t want to think about that right now, it was too embarrassing. Just the slight mention of it rubbed him the wrong way, not that it had traumatized him, it didn’t truly. But thinking about how straightforward and flirty he could be was breathtaking, Touka always said he didn’t think he had it in him. Of course, she would tease him at least it didn’t really lead anywhere and at least she could make fun of him for it. The woman chose not to stay quiet about the worst things.

He was reluctant to take his place back on the throne, sitting for so long was always extremely irritating and his corsets always felt like they were jabbing into his ribs. When he arrived, he sat down and didn’t say much else. Being so used to slouching and sitting criss-cross it was something he had to adjust to as soon as he could, he’s slouched too many times and his unintentionally rude behavior almost always lead to punishment. He couldn’t care less about rumors but if he could get one more thing off his back then he would be happy.

Saeki didn’t say much when he entered, only smiled his classic and supposedly charming grin; gross. He leaned and relaxed as much as he could, even then his heart was beating a mile a minute. He wasn’t quite prepared to see the new guard, he didn’t know what he would look like either, the lack of detail of who this person was was astounding.

Perhaps, Saeki hadn’t expected him to say yes? Or maybe he was choosing from a selection of people? Either seemed like a fitting theory. Watching the entrance closely, Mutsuki already found himself to be getting bored, with himself and the grandness of it all. The castle was screaming for his attention, all of the patterns and fancy window panes hid how dull it really was. Mutsuki already found himself to be dizzy just from the lack of complementary colors.

He was glad to have rushed in the throne room as an entire escort entered not long after, he should have known Saeki was getting a guard from the lady only known as the Big Madam. Had she had a real name, the whole kingdom knew that she would pride herself in it. Her knights might as well be considered slaves, they were raised from toddlers into fearsome warriors. Mutsuki felt his stomach begin to lurch once again. Needless to say, he wasn’t all that comfortable with being sold someone who’s mindset was only to kill and kill and kill some more.

There was something a bit off, the Big Madam clearly seemed a little upset about this specific transaction, when she was standing below them, she had a frown on her face, the shawl draped on her shoulders threatened to slide off, her dress was a bit indecent to say the least, he and Touka always said that she looked like a pig version of a prostitute. The pipe she was smoking released a large cloud of grey whenever she breathed, truly a terrifying thing for anyone of small stature to witness.

However in the presence of her rulers, it was clear that she was beneath him and Saeki, a hidden jealousy always burned in her beady eyes, “I’m giving up my most precious pet for this.”

When it came to insanity it seemed that Saeki and Big Madam were on the same level, obsessed with human beings and treating them like they were animals in a zoo. Mutsuki stayed silent, he wasn’t sure if he should be doing any of the talking, especially since Saeki looked like he was already pissed off at the woman’s mere presence, “Yes, yes. But I believe Tooru’s much more important than your pet.”

Big Madam’s eyes moved to look over at Mutsuki, breathing out another puff of smoke before scowling, it seemed like this was discussed a while ago, Mutsuki would never understand their rivalry, but he did understand that Saeki was risking public opinion because of this. If people had to choose death or life as a slave they would most likely chose live as a slave, even Mutsuki found himself to be willing to be under the custody of Big Madam, she was objectively a little bit safer than Saeki.

“Well then, come out. There’s no need to be shy,” She almost aggressively grabbed the collar of a male’s shirt, yanking him towards Saeki’s direction so the king could get a good look at him. Mutsuki was subtle about his observation, the boy had messy white hair similar to his though. Mutsuki’s hair had a bit more of a mint-like tint but the similarities were a bit uncanny, he was almost his height as well, maybe shorter, but Mutsuki could also see the muscles on his arms. He was scrawny but he also looked powerful.

Saeki wasn’t impressed, “You say this is your most powerful knight and yet you send me a pitiful child.”

“A transaction is a transaction, my sweet little Rei is all yours whether you like it or not, Your Highness,” Big Madam was not to keen on staying over, but she did have her servants carry out what looked like a large trunk and a satchel. As well as a much longer trunk that must be holding multiple swords. She was behaving like an overprotective mother, but ‘Rei’ looked less than content with being treated as such, despite his childlike appearance it seemed like he wanted to be taken at least a little bit seriously to an extent. Saeki didn’t say anything else, only flicking his wrist in his guest’s direction, wordlessly demanding that she leave. That was less climatic than Mutsuki had originally thought, especially since the Big Madam left promptly after his husband urged her to do so.

Rei didn’t seem to have much to say and almost impulsively he stooped over and picked up the large satchel, not showing much interest in retrieving his trunks or even bowing respectfully, “So~ Where am I staying~?”

There was a brief silence, Rei was odd to say the least, so much so that Mutsuki was actually compelled to stand up and get an actual good look at him. Saeki still wasn’t impressed, understandably. Mutsuki couldn’t even fathom how awkward he currently felt at the moment, how should he treat a bodyguard, he’s never had one before, he used to be able to protect himself and only himself. But then again the bodyguard wasn’t really meant to guard him, he was meant to hurt him if he did something wrong. The irony.

The only thing that was saving Rei from facing the wrath of Saeki was how much money he had supposedly cost, even Rei seemed to be aware of this and he looked more than ready to be a pain in the ass if he truly desired to do so. The aura attracted Mutsuki, he was interested to say the least, Rei seemed a lot like Touka, another book for him to try and crack open and read. And with that in mind, Mutsuki motioned for the male to come towards him, doing his best to not let his childlike curiosity shine through in front of everyone.

The facade wouldn’t last, Mutsuki knew, he would embarrass himself at one point, but he was relieved to know that Rei was more obedient then he let on, a possible mask the male was dawning, he truly looked like he could be a loose cannon, “I’ll show you to your room-”

“You don’t need to do that Dear-” Saeki immediately interjected. Just this once, Mutsuki wouldn’t have it.

“But I would like to, if he’s going to be near me constantly, then the least I could do is show a little hospitality,” It was a bit of a jab, Saeki actively lurched back appearing to be offended.

With that Mutsuki rose from his seat and circled Rei for a short moment, his eyes never leaving or wandering the focal point, “Please, follow me.”

Chapter Text

The soft tapping of Rei’s slightly heeled boots echoed throughout the hallway, it wasn’t intimidating like Saeki’s tapping, it was more rhythmic and soothing. Even then Mutsuki found himself to detest it, the tapping was still tapping and somewhere in his mind it reminded him of the tapping that Saeki did everytime he plotted, grew angry, became predatory. Mutsuki’s breathing quickened, but he kept quiet for the most part.

The castle was intricate, it had many rooms, since he was technically the owner, he didn’t see the issue in giving Rei a more fancy accommodation, it was on the second floor, where most of the entertainment took place, but there was an area sectioned off that served as the more higher class servants’ living area, of course there weren’t very many to speak of. Mutsuki distracted himself with this, focusing his attention only on the rooms and the area surrounding him, doing his best to block out the noise that was bothering him so much.

“Here-” Mutsuki stopped in front of an unused room, opening the door and stepping to the side so that Rei could enter and log his almost inhumanly large satchel behind him.

“I picked the most convenient area, this room is closest to where I sleep,” Saying that made him want to keel over, of course Rei looked more or less oblivious to what was really going on, a sign that to Mutsuki meant that he could at least ask a few questions as to who Rei was.

“Oh wow~ I’ve never been in such a fancy place before, am I really gonna live here?” Rei seemed to be entranced by the room, that was good, Mutsuki wanted him to be comfortable, he was the equivalent to a guest after all, he wasn’t sure how long Saeki was intending to keep him. At the same time Mutsuki felt guilty, this person was a slave, that was bought and gifted to him. A person as a present, Mutsuki didn’t think that Rei was some sort of possession, but he was still going along with it.

Now was the worst time for him to be feeling this, he knew, Mutsuki couldn’t help it. Womanly emotions. Yes, that was all it was, women were sensitive, right? He was just behaving like a woman, despite being a man, he needed to break this habit, Torso liked it when he showed emotions such as these. Weeping wouldn’t do him much good, there was always tomorrow and the next day after that as well as the years to come. He was prepared for his inevitable fate of an unhappy lifestyle, crying about it would only wear him out, “Yes.. You’re going to live here. It’s really no trouble, there are plenty of rooms like this one, I suppose this one just makes your occupation easier.”

Perhaps his more proper way of speaking was a turn off when it came to befriending Rei, already he was rolling his scarlet hues, finding himself to be more entertained with looking around, “Mmh. You talk really fancy for someone who was dragged from the forest six… uh… no five months ago.”

Well, it wouldn’t hurt to talk in his previous way of speaking, really it was just like how Rei was talking except it was a bit more slurred since he wasn’t necessarily from this kingdom. He was a traveler, he officially settled in the area when he was ten, even then he and his family would live out in the forest or in small villages in the outskirts of the land..

Of course everyone questioned Saeki when he declared he would be marrying someone he had found in the forest, everyone knew how odd it was, but never questioned their ruler. It was then Mutuski had to learn to speak more proper, one of the changes that he could tolerate. But even so, speaking like how he usually spoke meant he could be his normal self even if it was for a short while, so Mutsuki hesitantly changed his mannerisms, “This suit ya’ better?”

“Yes, quite,” Rei tapped his chin before nodding in approval, he seemed pleased with himself for getting Mutsuki to go more natural. Mutsuki himself was feeling a bit more willing to talk, even if his ‘commoners’ way of talking was even more improper than Rei’s.

“You know your job, right? I don’t have to explain anything to you?” Mutuski questioned, oh how his midsection was starting to ache, albeit him wanting to actually get to know Rei, his outfit was being very restricting when it came to actually breathing and for a brief moment he questioned Touka’s integrity as head maid since he was obviously in pain. Maybe it wasn’t just his corset, maybe he was actually intent on making a good first impression.

“Yeah, yeah, I guard you. I can hurt you if I wanna, that’s what Mama told me at least.”

“Least you’re gonna have fun,” Mutsuki snapped condescendingly before calming back down, forcing himself to get in a more proper and polite stance, flashing his own sweet partial smile. Not everyone in this kingdom was sadistic, he knew, the children were always impressionable and village adults were poor but generous, but still, if he met another person who was willing to hurt him or other people for that matter, he would actually ponder committing suicide. To him this option was more like running away rather than actually dying, sweet release was all he needed, no matter the form.

“To be fair, I never said I was gonna have fun with it, it’s always easier when it’s a stranger. Oh yeah and one more thing; please call me Juuzou~ It’s my own name that I came up with, I think it’s fitting I put it to good use now that I don’t live with Mama anymore,” Rei or Juuzou, didn’t look all that interested in Mutsuki’s distress, he did offer his own words of comfort, which made him a little less of a sociopath Mutsuki supposed. He needed to remind himself that Juuzou was from the Big Madam, a known abuser, an absolute bitch to put it lightly, it was only natural that her knights and warriors ended up morally skewed. It almost made Mutsuki pity Juuzou, but someone who wanted to hurt him was still someone who wanted to hurt him, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to try and get to know him.

“Fine, er, Juuzou. I hope you find your job to be satisfactory nonetheless,” Mutsuki returned to his formal way of speaking, much to Juuzou’s dismay.

“Hey, come on, don’t be like that, I promise to play nice,” Juuzou bargained, unfortunately for him Mutsuki wasn’t falling for his act of friendliness, and he watched as the other male stepped out of the room before doing a polite curtsy.

“I can tell you think this is a game, just know that if you hit me you’re hitting an human being. Saeki isn’t killing you because you were expensive, but I don’t care about the cost, when push comes to shove if I ever do break, you’ll be the first one to go,” His threat was so genuine sounding that Mutsuki himself wasn’t even sure if he was messing around or not. Juuzou didn’t seem to care, only grinning lopsidedly, and despite all of this Mutsuki knew he wouldn’t be able to avoid him like what he has done multiple times with Saeki.

What he said to Juuzou made him think, was he really that capable of doing something so cruel? No, it was just an empty threat, but really if it was just an empty threat then Mutsuki wouldn’t be questioning himself like this. He could sense the familiar feeling of his stomach turning inside out and quickly jetted out of the room, he refused to be seen like this. Weak and helpless, he didn’t like it, he couldn’t afford to have someone take advantage of his current state.

His breathing promptly quickened at the mere thought about getting touched or hit or cut, he felt like he was going to throw up, ironic since he hadn’t eaten anything all day. Running around the castle wasn’t necessarily helping him, but as soon as Mutsuki returned to his chamber he felt like he would be safe once more, even if that safety could be breached he found it to be better than nothing, anything was better than feeling sick every time he heard or witnessed something he didn’t particularly enjoy.

Womanly emotions, something had to be done about them, Mutsuki was fairly certain that men didn’t cry. As he progressed, the hallways seemed to grow longer and more winding and Mutsuki felt himself stumble, this happened often nowadays, so often that it was his new normal. Feeling dizzy, wanting to vomit, wanting to run away, wanting to go as far as to even kill himself, just felt normal. It pained him to admit something like that, just another justifiable reason for him to fuel his bitter hatred towards himself.

Using the wall to brace himself, Mutsuki continued onwards, doing his best to push these endeavors out of his head. His own mind was sending mixed messages, he wondered for a brief moment if he himself was starting to go insane. When he finally made it to his chamber Mutsuki threw up outside his singular open window, yanking off his dress part way and clawing off his corset, whimpering when the tips of his fingers were scratched by the hard fabric. His head was pounding and despite having his airways more free than ever he still felt like he was going to suffocate, his breaths coming out as labored pants. There were so many reasons to yell and scream and kick, but all he did today was meet a man. It took Mutsuki another second to dash back to the window and throw up once more, retching bile onto the ground below him, his chamber was technically on the first floor, that didn’t mean the height wasn’t making Mutsuki dizzy, the castle was so big and there was a cliff only ten feet away from where his vomit splattered.

He stumbled away and slammed the door shut, sinking down and sitting, slouching while spreading his legs in a painfully unladylike manner. It didn’t matter, that was no one watching him, there was no one who was going to stare at him, he couldn’t be bothered to wipe his mouth but he did wipe his makeup, which was starting to cling to his face more prominently since he was sweating. The paint like substance got on his right hand, his bruise not only hurting but also getting a bit red because of this makeup. Mutsuki was anything but calm, but he needed to collect himself, recount the meeting of Juuzou, at least get a mildly decent idea of who he was. Mutsuki found himself to zone out, his face going neutral, yet his heart was still pounding.

Juuzou, he was an odd person who wanted his name to be changed for no real actual reason, who wore fancy clothing just because he was being sold, who smiled at threats that any normal person should be terrified of, who was childish in nature, who still had that spark of someone who wanted everything to turn out okay, who wasn’t in the slightest bit worried to hurt someone and yet he seemed like someone who could care.

He was mixed bag, and that was terrifying. Mutsuki realized he wouldn’t be able to understand him, like how he mostly understood Touka or many of the other servants. The only way to figure Juuzou out was to get closer to him, Mutsuki’s heart began to pound much quicker against his rib cage.

No, he didn’t want to go any closer than he had too, but if it meant keeping himself safe- No, he wasn’t going to get closer- He wasn’t- He was too scared.

Mutsuki reluctantly stood up, stumbling over the fabric of his dress and turning, getting a good look at himself in the mirror, spit and vomit on one side of his face, smeared makeup on the other, his dress was wrinkled and torn as Mutsuki had violently tried to get it off without help, his torso being mostly exposed because of this. His fingers now looking the slightest bit purple on the ends due to his clawing. His hair was frazzled and he noticed how truly skinny and starved he was.

There was a moment of shock, but a moment of acceptance came not long after, any tears that dared to spill over were promptly wiped away. He stood up straight, approached the vanity cautiously and got a better look, Mutsuki smiled, “Hah…. I look so hideous.”

Chapter Text

Saeki was frustrated, Touka could see that, his aggravation would soon give way to an unavoidable anger, her best friend Yoriko was insistent that she check on Mutsuki and even fetch him, the young adult always seemed to calm Torso down in some way, but Touka was hesitant to do so. Still, it wouldn’t hurt, he had been gone for a decent amount of time, had he had kept a closer eye on him, he would most likely be confiding in her right now. She tutted at her own sudden and unintentional lack of responsibility, she blamed how much work she had that day as well. She officially started wasting her free time a few minutes ago.

She was quiet and quick with her movement, Mutsuki was someone who analyzed too much, she could tell, he was trying to look past the surface of almost every person he encountered, his over attentiveness was doing more harm than good. She wasn’t surprised in the slightest when he began to show reluctance to be around her, or he possibly was just avoiding her scoldings. Touka wouldn’t have it.

At first she knocked on the door, there was no response. She knocked again, still, Mutsuki seemed adamant on staying in his room. Touka made a note to check on the newcomer as well, if Mutsuki was unwell then she damn well knew that it was because of him. Finally, she felt her patience run out and opened the door, she wasn’t one for patience anyways. There on his bed, was a lump, covered up in blankets and quilts. At first Touka panicked, it wasn’t safe to be sleeping in a corset after all and she frantically tore off the blankets so that she could undo it for him. Seeing him naked was definitely not something she expected, at the very least Touka was relieved to not have torn off the blankets in their entirety.

Defined scars were on his back, Touka was drawn to them like a magnet, she had seen them before, but normally Mutsuki himself wouldn’t let her get a good look, he was always a stubborn ass. It was weird, he was muscular despite being so skinny, his scars were proof that he fought relentlessly in the past, a sign of a warrior or perhaps a sign of someone who has ran away so much that his past never fully escaped him. Some of the scars looked new and she knew why. But right now his scars were the least of her worries and Touka leaned over the bed in order to get a good look at Mutsuki’s face, appalled by the faintest traces of vomit. This meant she had to check out this ‘Rei’ person, she didn’t mind, he already seemed like someone who would piss her off anyways, might as well get started early.

But first, before she went, Touka tugged a handkerchief out of one of the pockets of her aperon, cleaning off the vomit as well as what makeup she could reach without making Mutsuki stir. He was as foolish as her younger brother, always getting hurt and into trouble, it was a nostalgic feeling but it wasn’t good either way. If Mutsuki was suffering he would always be a stubborn ass about it, either that or he just accepted a hug, hugs were the most preferable way of comfort Touka had discovered one night. Somehow, someway, despite not often enjoying any physical contact, Mutsuki made a few acceptions. It was probably good for him anyways, Touka understood that he needed to get used to the good parts of touches, the touches that truly mattered.

After gently placing the blankets over Mutsuki’s body so that they weren’t clump and in a much more organized fashion, Touka left, there were no rules against her running of course, but either way power walking would suffice, if ‘Rei’ was new then it was unlikely he would wander around without permission.

He was basically just a pet that needed to be trained, that’s one thing Touka could see as reasonable, whoever was fine with a mad man running around the castle was absolutely idiotic and the idea of him being a bodyguard or a knight for that matter made her cringe. Deep down she could see the appeal becoming a royal bodyguard, the pay must be high, unlike her wages, she wasn’t anything but a serf, she was legally not allowed to leave the lands she worked on unless she was content with being a fugitive on the run for the rest of her life. As a child, something like that would appeal to her, but it was time for Touka to face the fact that rebellion might not always be worth it. She knew how relentless Torso was with his fugitive hunting, she wouldn’t be able to handle running away long term, it was nearly impossible with the dense and incredibly large forest surrounding the kingdom.

As she neared the quarters where Rei was supposedly staying in, she heard a loud thump and not long after the sound of shattering glass, or it was a porcelain vase as she soon found out when she forced open the door and almost kicked what was flying towards her and landed on her face. Turns out that was merely a pillow. When she slammed it on the floor or of reflex, Touka was revealed the full truth about what Rei had done to the once neat and organized bedroom. It rubbed her the wrong way to say the least, she had recently cleaned that and made it look decent, she worked hard as well, the large room used to be covered with dust and cobwebs, now it was a warzone.

“E-Excuse me?!” That seemed to get Rei’s attention, he was still destroying things. Like he was making himself at home but worse, he was like a scraggly bird settling in it’s dirty, ugly nest, but Touka didn’t want to insult what remained of her work so she left it at that.

“Oh~ Hello, I didn’t know I was being watched~ Everyone around here is creepy I’ve noticed so I’ll let this slide,” Rei said that, but he really didn’t look at all offended, if anything he was more offended by the fact that he couldn’t break anything anymore.

Touka cleared her throat and stopped over to pick up the pillow, walking over to the bed and gently setting it down on the slightly messy covers. She needed to be rational about this, while she merely thought he was going to be someone clingy, it turns out he was more like a child if anything. Breaking things for not reason, feigning innocence over his misdeed, that sounded awfully similar to the mannerisms of a toddler, it was cute but in a deranged, ‘Touka didn’t completely understand but she couldn’t find another adjective to describe it’ way.

“Um, of course, well, Sir Rei, please don’t destroy your chamber, I understand you might be getting used to this new setting, but this new setting is also your home. If I were you I would treat it with some amount respect—”

“Juuzou.”

“What?”

“Call me Juuzou, silly! It’s not thaaaat hard to understand,” He flicked his wrist lazily, he knew he was ordering around a servant, he he was going to utilize that. What Touka was doing seemed to irritate him a little, she was straightening things up as much as possible while she was holding the conversation. It seemed like she wouldn’t give him the time a day if he was just someone talking to her.

Touka paused, but merely did a small curtsy in response, she understood his orders and would obey them, Rei was just a street rat it seemed, but he skyrocketed to a new social class in only a few hours because of the purchase. He would be treated like a servant by the royalty, but he was still high enough to be considered a knight, “As you wish. I came to check on you, and also to advise you on taking care of the Queen. I am fully aware I am not much but I am still the head maid.”

“So this is about Mutsuki? I see, I see. I guess you should carry on then, the Queen is so scary, she threatened to kill me, did ya know that?” Juuzou feigned some level of innocence, he was aware of what kind of game he was playing and he was treading carefully with his words now. At least he wanted to hear her out.

“Mutsuki, is… fragile I suppose. He doesn’t appreciate touches, he can’t handle certain actions towards him or sounds that surround him. At first he wasn’t like this but, things haven’t been well for him as of recent. Surely you understand.”

“He? Ohhh, I completely forgot he was dragged from the forest and was forced into being a wife, my bad, my bad!” He cooed, he was taking this well, too well. Of course there was some sort of catch, he wasn’t planning on making it easy.

Touka, however, was already starting to grow just the slightest bit impatient, “Yes, he told me everything about what happened but that’s not really the issu-“

“Anyways are we done here?”

“Absolutely not!”

“Jeez, calm down it was only a question.”

God, if this keeps up, Touka was certain her head would explode, Juuzou was so difficult despite looking so easy. She underestimated his stupidity, no, she also underestimated how bratty he was going to be, “Look, I found Mutsuki passed out on his bed and he threw up and this was after he visited with- with you. Which means you did something wrong, got it?”

“Really? I didn’t do or say anything upsetting, I’m actually innocent! Are you sure he just didn’t do that to himself on his own accord because that’s what it sounds like,” Juuzou didn’t hesitate to counter Touka’s argument, tutting and shaking his head.

“I beg of you.”

“Huh?”

“Go easy on him. If you hurt him, I swear on my fucking life I’ll hurt you back. He’s come too far now to have someone break him like this,” She clenched her fists. She didn’t know why she was getting all riled up, Mutsuki was cruel in his own way, threats, screaming, even throwing heavy objects if something ultimately made him snap. And yet she stuck by his side, someone had to, Mutsuki looked like he was in constant pain, something had to be done. From what she had heard about his previous life, Mutsuki was too good to be evil, but it was likely he could be if the right buttons were pushed and the stitches were sown tightly enough.

No, Mutsuki was an entire new entity to explore, perhaps he was already hiding his deteriorating sanity. There was no way of knowing for sure, was there? That bugged her, more than Juuzou’s backhanded comments, more than the Torso ordering her to make him a mud bath, God she fucking hated it when she had to make his mud baths.

“Break? Oh but I’ve think the Queen’s been broken already don’t you think? I would hate to be in such a position, think about it, he wastes his life away being lonely and yet a small interaction is enough to make him snap. What message does that send? Hmm?”

“You’re a little shit..”

Juuzou laughed, his laugh made her blood boil, “And what about you Miss~? I can’t be the only one who’s damaging him right? I heard from lil old Hinami that the Torso walks over to his room at this time~ Shouldn’t you be more concerned about whether or not his door is shut?”

Shit. Shit. Fuck. Shit. He was right, he was right. Touka didn’t hesitate to turn heel and run, she had to check, she just had to. She knew what happened on days like these, Mutsuki is harassed, does something to himself, sleeps it off, is awakened and is promptly traumatized. Again and again until they had appeared to veer away from that cycle of misery. And her she was practically allowing it to happen again, that wasn’t fair to him, Touka was more responsible than this and yet she let her subtle anger towards an obviously insane person blind her.

By the time she had arrived she hid behind the velvety curtains on one of the large windows that adorned the hallway and kept it lit with daylight, soon the chandeliers and candles would be lit. The chamber was active and yet she was too afraid to go in and do anything, she wasn’t strong like that, even if she was an argumentative and violent person by nature. Mutsuki was silent the entire time from what she had heard so far, she waited, Torso finally left the room, satisfied with whatever he had done.

Touka was close to stepping out, until she heard a pause in his footsteps, “What the fuck are you doing here.”

She slipped back into her hiding place, he was too close now to make any sort of move, but she recognized the other voice, it was so light and childlike that it had left an imprint already, “Me? That’s a long story~”

Chapter Text

There was a long pause, it seemed like the Torso wasn’t too keen on just allowing Juuzou past him, that dropped a major hint to Juuzou, so much so that he was even able to play it off as simple childlike innocence, an innocence that he considered to be his own personal weapon, “I apologize for the intrusion, I didn’t know that this was out of bounds, a maid was showing me around and I got sidetracked~ However, I am Queen Mutsuki Tooru’s personal bodyguard, so I suppose I just wanted to see where her quarters were as well, if my duty is to protect her.”

Touka almost laughed, Juuzou talking fancy like that? She thought he was physically incapable, but her worry for Mutsuki only grew, she didn’t want to be too hasty with her own actions either, she didn’t want to wait, she hated doing something like that in one of these particular situations, but she felt like she had to, if she was caught there was a good chance she risked a beating and being locked in a cold cell overnight.

Saeki had lifted up Juuzou by the collar of his shirt, upon close examination it even seemed like Juuzou was a bit phased at how intimidating Saeki actually was. His explanation seemed to get a pass, Touka continued to wait, she was staring at the doorway of Mutsuki’s room the entire time. She was beyond peeved when Juuzou attempted to even strike a friendly conversation with the man. She wondered if he was just messing with her now.

“You look too much like my Tooru, you’re nothing but an imposter, I want you to fix your appearance, starting with your hair,” Saeki declared, he was examining almost every part of Juuzou’s body, Juuzou merely blinked his red eyes and continued to smile.

“Of course~ Give me any order and I will comply Your Majesty, I was raised to be the ideal knight,” Perhaps Juuzou was afraid of dying too, he didn’t look like the type, but nobody wanted to die, there were people who didn’t fear death, but even then they wanted to keep living, Juuzou was probably one of those people.

“I will excuse this behavior, find your way back to your chamber and make these changes immediately, do not dare talk to me until you look appealing,” Touka couldn’t believe it, Saeki was never like that, it was because Juuzou was a pet, she reminded herself, an extremely expensive one at that. She shivered, that just rubbed her the wrong way, someone valuing the price of a person over anything else. Juuzou was dropped on the floor and needless to say he fell on his ass. The Torso had taken his leave, he looked ready to throw a tantrum, he was going to take out his anger on someone else, that was guaranteed.

Touka ceased the moment, she ran, her footsteps light and airy, Juuzou only watched. As soon as she made it in she stopped, Mutsuki was… More fine than she originally thought, he was sitting him, he had a nightgown on, which meant he was forcefully dressed. Yet he was still frightened as soon as Touka reached out he slapped her hand away and shrunk back. He didn’t need to say anything to get his message across, and yet he still did, “Leave.”

“But-”

“I SAID LEAVE! THAT’S AN ORDER!” His voice wasn’t shrill like most would expect, it was firm, serious, like how a stern parent would shout, his voice wasn’t very high either, it was hoarse, filled with exhaustion.

Touka backed off, all she could do was lift the hem of her skirt and curtsy, she would obey, there wasn’t much else she could do, “Yes, your highness…”

“Really? So that was all for nothing?” Mutsuki and Touka turned their heads, Juuzou seemed to be annoyed, for all the wrong reasons.

She clenched her fists and glowered, storming towards Juuzou, “You bastard-!”

Juuzou raised his hands up in defense and shook his head, sighing loudly in disappointment, “I’m not mad at you~ I’m mad at him~ Me and Miss Maid Lady almost got in trouble for you and you turn her away? Just like that? We could’ve died y’know!”

Mutsuki flinched, he didn’t say anything at first, but he flinched, his hands began to shake, “You wouldn’t have…”

“Pretty sure we would have, so why don’t you do us both a favor and apologize-” In an instant he was standing in front of Mutsuki, grabbing his cheeks with one hand and squeezing them. He seemed to be rather playful with his actions but, there was a hidden malice hidden within him as well, “Unless you’re perfectly fine with people getting hurt, but that’s all on you, you have no one else to blame but yourself for this!”

Touka took a step forwards, grabbing Juuzou’s wrist, her grip tightening significantly at the thought of the short man causing even the slightest bit of harm towards anyone really, “That’s enough! You aren’t going to solve anything-”

“I can’t apologize,” Mutsuki interjected, even with his face being forced up he was still looking down, his eyes were glossy and shined in the candlelight.

“Ehh? Why not? I was almost strangled and beat up for you.”

“Because… Because I don’t know what I should apologize for… You’re the ones who put your lives on the line and I still don’t know how pain I’m capable of causing, if this all ends then… Then.. Then I’d say ‘I’m sorry,’ but the only person I’m sorry for is myself for being an idiot…”

Juuzou loosened his grip and dropped his hand, Touka was still firmly holding his wrist just in case, a long silence filled the room. In a way it hurt, Mutsuki was practically saying that he didn’t fully care about Touka, she did almost get caught. She wasn’t fond of Juuzou in the slightest, but he put himself at risk in favor of her safety, she was grateful, reluctant to feel this way, but still grateful. If that meant nothing to Mutsuki then she questioned what actions she should take now, she hated to admit this as well, but the feeling was partially mutual, she would abandon Mutsuki if it meant ensuring her own safety. It made her cringe a little, but in the end it was just survival.

“Wow… I feel as though.. I totally just the minimal respect I’ve had for you. There’s no point in being sold as a bodyguard to somebody who obviously wants to die!”

“That’s not true! I… want to live..” He trailed off, did he really want to live? He wasn’t so sure himself. Death was still much better than this, eternal rest sounded serene, he needed it, so bad. But there was still always a ‘but’, what happened after he succeeded? Where would his soul land? Would he be lost to eternity? Or perhaps was there something far greater awaiting him?

“Liar. I don’t wanna follow someone who just wants to die, that’s boring,” Juuzou whined.

“You.. Don’t know that… If you really want to know, then.. then you should follow me loyally just to see if I do.”

“Just follow you? Like I said, I don’t want to.”

“I’m fully aware, but it’s your occupation now, in case you have forgotten, Touka had a choice, she has chosen to tolerate me, and I appreciate that more than you think, I enjoy it when she’s in my presence even if in the end we aren’t as close as we’d like to think. But you, you have to stay by my side… it doesn’t matter if you do not want to, you just don’t have a choice,” Touka loosened her grip on Juuzou’s wrist. What Mutsuki had said, was in his own way an apology, she was thankful but that didn’t eliminate her growing doubt and slight bitter feelings towards the situation.

Even if Mutsuki was acting composed, it was obvious that he really truly wasn’t, he looked ready to attack Juuzou if the other adult’s reluctance continued to go on. Juuzou ceased his opportunity to yank his hand away from the maid, he seemed to be more irritated with the holding of his wrist rather than Mutsuki’s apparent scolding. Touka didn’t even bother to reprimand him again, but she was ready if she needed to.

“You’re mad,” Juuzou protested, as if being bought like he was a pet wasn’t enough to put him in a bad mood. But then again, he was already in a bad mood when he arrived, his Mama abandoned him in favor of cash he never thought she would just sell him like that. At the very least she seemed reluctant to let him go, that reluctance would stay with him, a sign that she cared in her own way, that made him a little bit happier despite his situation.

“And you aren’t?” Touka questioned in a monotone voice.

“Nope! It’s just how I was raised,” He answered simply. What else was there to say really? Violence was normal, being brought to a place that was comparably less violent was throwing him off a lot, he wasn’t even sure how to behave. Would he receive harsh punishments for doing bad? Were there ‘Good Boy Points’? He wasn’t quite sure, perhaps he could ask sometime.

“You’re madder than me at least,” Mutsuki shifted on his bed, sitting more upright. Juuzou took offense to that and yet he hesitated to say anything. He had to admit he was curious, following the Queen of a country would be interesting, if Mutsuki could even be considered as one that is, he didn’t seem to be all that fond of such a prestigious title. It was understandable he figured, anyone who dealt with the Torso knew how scary he could be, Mutsuki would have to deal with the man for a lifetime. Even Juuzou, someone who surrounded himself in murder, would be reluctant to be around someone like Saeki, there was something odd about him, he couldn’t pinpoint it quite yet.

Ultimately he shrugged, perhaps their version of mad was not his version of mad. To him, mad was someone who did murder without fearing or thinking about death in general, Juuzou thought about death all the time, he didn’t think he feared it. Someone like Mutsuki looked like he could do something heartless, shut down the next day, and then completely forget about it. Odd. This place was odd. Juuzou couldn’t understand. He was glad he had at the very least gotten to use his new name, someone who was liberated from their parents deserved a new name he had concluded, the name of a proper adult. Or maybe that was something that occurred with love when two people united, love was foreign, he didn’t want to explore it. It sounded bad. It sounded like something that would chain him down.

“I might be mad, but then again who knows?” Juuzou found himself to be teasing Mutsuki, he knew that if he turned around he would be faced with a furious glare from Touka, already he could feel her eyes boring into the back of his head like he was soil that needed to be drilled.

“It’s not necessarily a matter of who knows,” Mutsuki trailed off quietly, he was well aware that this was someone who was raised to be violent, it was easy to classify him as mad as soon as he showed up and was tugged around like a small child. But Juuzou wasn’t a small child, from the looks of it he was quite a clever man, a clever man who seemed to want people to bleed.

“Anyways, I think I overstayed my welcome, I have to change my appearance for you too, can you believe that?”

“Changing your appearance much preferable than being executed by the guillotine,” Touka snapped in a more than irritated tone, clearly all three were done with each other to an extent. To think a total stranger could cause a rift in such a short amount of time. It was almost frustrating to Mutsuki and Touka, how he knew exactly what to say so that they would grow separated. It was eerily suspicious behavior but both knew that they were heavily outmatched if they even considered restraining him, Mutsuki relied on his magic, but now that it was gone he was rendered useless, Touka was just rusty, she hadn’t fought another individual in a long time. Not that either of them were in the mood to fight, but the thought was tempting and almost like bait, leading them to the fisherman who was Juuzou.

“I heard, do what you must, as long as it pleases him,” Mutsuki couldn’t care less, but he was curious, he wanted to know what Juuzou was going to change about himself, seeing how Torso was an impatient man, it was likely that the male would have to change himself by morning. That wasn’t a lot of time to actually change anything at all, it worried him a little. He worried that he might have to deal with a beating in Juuzou’s place. Those beatings were the worst, but perhaps it was good, less pain for everyone if it was just done on one person.

Juuzou didn’t say anything after Mutsuki dismissed him, he didn’t even bother to do a formal bow before exiting the room, he had a lot of things he needed to prepare for, in a few weeks there was going to be a hunt with the nobles, knights and bodyguards were required to join and observe the hunting grounds, a high honor not meant to be taken lightly in all countries, it was to commemorate a ‘union’ through all rulers, there was no doubt that Torso would be amongst one of the more disliked Kings, that meant attempted assassinations as well as a demand for an increased amount of security. Mutsuki wondered silently, who would train Juuzou, he had no control over that, he was fairly certain he would hardly ever be involved with Juuzou outside of formalities and the possible occurrence that he caught him in a vulnerable position. However, that wasn’t possible, it was just fate, he would see him get like this often. That rubbed Mutsuki the wrong way, especially considering how his reaction to it was less than pleasant, if he was even one to judge. He wasn’t that wasn’t even a vague thought that he needed to ponder on.

Touka, did not leave, she stayed, staring, waiting, for something that Mutsuki did not know. She was disobeying orders, he did tell her to leave, but now that Juuzou was gone he wanted her to stay, he wanted to talk a bit more, most of his temper had alleviated, at the moment he was in a more docile and feeble state of mind, he got like this when he was overthinking, it was a normal occurrence, before the marriage he would behave in this manner, it was nice to have such a familiar feeling stick with him to say the least, “Kirishima, you don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.”

“Hm? Oh, I see, for someone who pisses me off, he really does know how to settle you down,” Touka joked half heartedly, she didn’t seem all that interested in providing comfort at the moment, right now, she just looked like she wanted to have a friendly chat. It was understandable, Mutsuki didn’t want such comfort at the moment, sometimes a conversation was the best way to comprehend current situations.

“Perhaps, or maybe he just makes me think.”

“That’s understandable..”

“Mmh, I fear him though.”

There was a long pause, Touka shifted from foot to foot, she was hesitating, pondering on what to say next, “Is it true? You won’t apologize until you know how much harm you’ve caused? That sounds a bit pretentious..”

“It’s not like that… Maybe- Maybe I just wanted him to stop talking. Half the time I’ve said things that I normally wouldn’t say, I can’t even tell if I was genuine about the statement,” He trailed off, perhaps he would wait on his apologies though, he knew that he would have to make a lot more in the future, the least he could do for himself was extend the apology, then he was certain it would carry more meaning, no one else would understand his reasoning for doing something like that, but Mutsuki just knew.

Even so, he had a lot of things to say sorry for, perhaps he just had a habit of holding back too much, he was such a coward.

Chapter Text

Perhaps as the days went on there was an unspoken pact that had formed between the three of them, they wouldn’t interfere with each other, work and occupation took top priority. Mutsuki and Touka still chatted but it wasn’t as often, Juuzou had sparked the insecurity, their friendship dangling on a thread, the lack of trust was becoming more and more prominent and yet they still stayed close. Mutsuki because he felt like he wouldn’t have anyone else and Touka because she still wanted to be of assistance in her own stubborn way.

Maybe she just felt like she didn’t have much of a choice, Mutsuki understood. In this world there were no choices as far as he was concerned, just fate and destiny. And fate decided that the royal hunt would be pushed to an earlier deadline, specifically this very day. All of the kingdoms had found themselves to merge together just this once, a blend of cultures takes over for two days. In other words, this was a rather big deal. Hostility was growing, he could sense it, there was no possible way all the kingdoms would be getting along completely smoothly, he wouldn’t know in the end, this was his first time participating and he was sure that this participation would continue for years to come.

He grunted as his corset was tightened even more, the sudden yet familiar pain snapping him back into reality, Touka was being a bit more aggressive than usual, Mutsuki was just a tad bit worried, however, as soon as she heard his little noise of distress she was quick to undo her actions and make it a little less tight, as well as easier for Mutsuki to breathe, “My apologies.”

Mutsuki nodded in acknowledgement and forgiveness, training his head back to the vanity so that he’ll at least have something to keep his mind occupied, he stared at the flowers, the hairbrushes, counted the leaves of his favorite and only succulent, they were very cautious about letting him have plants in his room, it’s not like he could manipulate them anyhow. They were always adamant on making him as harmless as possible. As soon as he was fitted in his dress he immediately felt out of character and out of place, a normal feeling that he felt commonly but this time he felt it become amplified, other people were actually going to see him, in a dress, as the official queen. Queen. He tried not to think about it, he didn’t want to be known as a woman who crossed dressed, clearly that was never his intention, he was a man, but maybe he just wasn’t good enough for that, he certainly didn’t try hard enough if someone like the Torso noticed.

No that wasn’t true, he was doing his best, he just needed more time to prove himself, but that time had run out, he was nothing, a woman, hunted down and preyed on by a man he never wanted to meet in real life. He shivered and decided to focus on something else, it was pointless, he realized, it was just pointless, he would always long for the freedom he wouldn’t have, he longed for Haise’s cooking, he longed for Shirazu and Urie’s almost intolerable bickering but they were fighting over such petty things that it almost always made him laugh, he longed for Saiko, the girl who was practically like his lazy little sister despite her being older than him. He longed for his family, but they had no choice but to run away and leave him behind. He understood, he was the one who made them run. Staying would kill them and all he wanted was for them to be free, because they were the epitome of freedom, mages who ran and never looked back and could never be tied down.

Mutsuki wondered where he fit into that puzzle, he was always so keen on exploring so much so that he wanted to stay at least a week, a week was never enough, this time, a week cost him his family. If he ever got out, he would keep running, he would run and run to the sky or to the sea just to find them, he doesn’t know where they are, he doesn’t know if they would be coming back, he would look everywhere and the world was everywhere, the world was too big for him to grasp in his hands, and recently it was discovered that there was more of it, there was more, more places for him to look.

The itchy fabric of his elegant and disgustingly feminine dress being forced on him was proof that he was tied down, no one could ever tie a mage down, maybe he was just that weak. Juuzou. That crazy bastard. That crazy bastard whom he had found was nearly three years his senior. He exposed him, Mutsuki really was weak. He never wanted to be that, he always thought that he was being strong, he was wrong. There were other queens who were going to be at the hunt, he knew that they couldn’t be terrible, he would be grouped with them, perhaps they could provide salvation. He was practically alone in this situation, he needed help, even if it was from women he had never met yet, he needed help.

“You’re going to be fine. It’s not as if he can get to you while you’re in front of everyone.”

He tense, his hands going down to his sides, “That’s…”

“Not reassuring? Sorry, but it’s true. If I were you, I would go to as many events as possible, he can’t harm you in front of others, as shitty as that sounds it’s true, he’ll kill other people but not you, it’s a message he most likely wants to keep sending,” Touka was never one for advice but her suggestion struck a chord with him, to stay alive, to keep from getting touched, to evade harm to his already fragile body, he would have to surround himself in people, drown himself in social activities. He had never gone out despite Saeki allowing him to, for once he wondered if he should consider taking this offer.

She moved away and he took the chance to look at himself in the mirror, he was much more fancy looking than usual, he was relieved the skirt part of his gown wasn’t overbearingly puffy, in a way he looked a little less than a Queen and more of a youthful young princess. He didn’t know how to feel about that. He sighed softly, the color was suitable though, regarding his mood at least, gold, silver, black, it was all there, his emotions and actions were rather dark in nature. The crown on his head made him look more villainous in nature, it was also black and had several jewels to compliment the darkness. Mutsuki didn’t want to be a malevolent person, but if that is the persona that the Torso dictated then he would play the part, anything for him to not be harmed.

“I suppose I should send you off now,” Touka interrupted his thoughts once more, she was rather good at doing that, at this point it should be considered a habit. Her arms were crossed, she didn’t care as much as she used to, rightfully so. She wanted to pry some answers from him, he knew, she wanted to know why Saeki has dressed him that night, why he didn’t attack him but why he was still frightened. He couldn’t tell, being alone with him was enough to scare him anyways, she knew this, but she still wanted to learn more. Touka was stubborn and he had to bite back a snide reply to her snappy half harder observation.

“Yes… I don’t know if I want to go…” Mutsuki muttered, he was quiet and yet he was also truthful. Staying in the castle all alone brought him a sense of safety.

“Well, it’s a bit too late to change your mind isn’t it?”

“Mm..”

“Also-“ Mutsuki turned to look at Touka properly, she was still in her classic, rebellious stance, her hand moved to her hips, rather than remained crossed, “That crazy idiot knight of yours, I want you to keep him under control, it’s a favor but… I guess I simply hate him that much.”

Nodding and smiling ever so slightly, Mutsuki wordlessly approved of the small task he was given. He didn’t like Juuzou either but he wanted to know more as well, the Big Madam was a frightening creature and he looked up to her as if she were his actual mother. And all he seemed to be bitter about was that she traded him in favor of money, Mutsuki knew that there was plenty more that Juuzou should be angered about.

It was time to go, Mutsuki was aware Saeki wanted to leave early, he never wanted to know why, he gave up, he gave up on trying to figure him out. Rooting himself on Saeki’s twisted mind space was too taxing and frightened him beyond comprehension. His steps were light as he was lead down to the main entrance, where the carriage was waiting, it was very likely that Saeki was already inside. Letting out a small breath, Mutsuki prepared himself for the long and uncomfortable ride that was ahead.

He furrowed his brows and looked down once he stepped outside, the cool and crisp air of dawn chilled him to the bone, more than he was comfortable with, a servant held open the carriage door, Mutsuki couldn’t recall his name and stepped inside, luckily the carriage was vacant, which meant he could prepare himself for when Saeki did arrive. He sank down in his seat a little, only to prop himself back up due to how tight and uncomfortable the corset was, sitting was never comfortable as long as he was wearing the wretched thing. Mutsuki kept his head down, once again becoming enthralled in his own thoughts, sorting out his own feelings properly before adopting a more neutral state of mind, he was going to be okay, as long as he didn’t let things bother him, as long as he didn’t flinch, as long as he didn’t reject any affection or compliments, he would be fine.

The carriage shifted, Saeki was with him now, already the aura surrounding them turned cold and one sided as well as filled with mal intent, Mutsuki was the one who was more violent with his inner thoughts, but naturally he couldn’t and wouldn’t go through with them, he would rather just keep it to himself. He stared out the glass, anything to avoid eye contact, despite the sky normally being dreary in nature, he found himself to be at ease when the carriage made its way through the forest, the trees were flourishing, he appreciated that, at least not all life was suffering and that made him want to smile ever so slightly.

The aura lifted, ever so slightly, Mutsuki didn’t know how to feel about that and he questioned how suspicious that was and how tranquil he had suddenly become. He flinched a little as a hand began to affectionately run it’s long, bony fingers through his hair, if he dared to keep looking away he knew he would get in trouble, he was slow with his actions but he managed to maintain eye contact with the murky grey eyes that belonged to his unrelenting husband. He didn’t know if he was supposed to say anything or not, most of the time he was just meant to stand there and look pretty, he was decently sure, perhaps now that they were going to be stuck together for a good few days, behaving like a loving couple, loving on Saeki’s side in his own twisted ways.

Behind him he heard the trampling of horses, he had nearly forgotten that Saeki wouldn’t be the only source of his torment, he was glad that the more wiser knights were joining them to keep guard of the hunting grounds, maybe they would be able to control Juuzou. He was like a rabid dog, a clever one at that, Mutsuki couldn’t say that he was every going to be fond of him. He hadn’t realized that he was keeping eye contact for so long, and when his eyesight grew a bit fuzzy, he knew that it was time to stop and glanced away, taking the time to blink, that didn’t cease the caressing of his hair, unfortunately.

“There’s no need to be silent, it’s just us after all,” The comment was laced with ill intent, Mutsuki sucked in his breath and gave a slight nod of acknowledgement. And obedience. If Saeki truly wished to talk then he would talk.

He racked his brain for some sort of topic, anything that didn’t seem condescending or harsh in nature, he wasn’t too keen on getting hurt today or the next, at least prevent the punishment, if he was going to get hurt during these days he was going to get hurt because he was making his horse gallop too fast and had his face scratched by thin tree branches or bramble, “My apologies… I just can’t find a topic to speak about…”

That seemed to be enough to convince the Torso, keep his voice high and dainty, make it soft and sweet, it feigned the innocence he once had, excluding the more high pitched voice, Mutsuki wasn’t even sure he could lower his voice again, his fake voice was becoming his natural voice.

“That’s quite alright, I know something we can talk about,” Immediately Mutsuki found himself tensing, he didn’t trust whatever topic was going to come up, he dreaded it, really.

There was a slight tug on his pale locks, next thing he knew he was being yanked forwards to the point where he almost fell off his seat, Mutsuki audibly gasped and immediately placed his hands down firmly on the padded leather, now he was in a nearly excruciating sitting position, his corset was digging into his stomach. It was certainly better than falling off onto the ground, he was certain that if he fell then he would have a difficult time sitting back up. Saeki seemed to find his predicament a tad bit amusing, but his anger was still present, “If I see you conversing with another man without my permission, you’ll be in trouble. The only men you can talk to are the knights and me, them and only me… Please don’t be upset, I’m being generous,  you are normally restricted from talking to our knights so this is good, a lovely occasion for you.”

His hair was soon released, he already knew he had no say in the matter, as soon as he was sitting more properly, Mutsuki inhaled sharply and quivered, “I-I understand…”

Was there really anything else for him to say. The rest of the trip was silent, Saeki was pleased with himself to say the least, his creepily happy smile never fading throughout the duration of the time. The carriage slowed to a stop, they were there.

Mutsuki was first to step out, lifting up the hem of his skirt and stepping onto the ground, moving away from the carriage so that Saeki could also get out, the knights that had followed them carried on, the horses neighing, as they left to go to the territory early. Mutsuki spotted Juuzou, and Juuzou spotted him, tauntingly the enthusiastic male waved, he would be joining the knights it seemed, and good riddance Mutsuki thought before realizing that Juuzou would most likely be rejoining him when the hunting began.

As soon a Saeki caught up with him and just stood there, Mutsuki knew that it was his own signal that meant he wanted to lead him to the front of the large castle like structure, he had never been here before and despite how anxious he was beginning to feel, Mutsuki began to eagerly await the moment when he would get some time to explore the area in his own time. The rest of the queens would just be observing, there was nothing that was inherently keeping him from going off on his own, unless of course Saeki demanded he stay, however he was decently sure that since he hadn’t mentioned it, it meant that he could wander off if he pleased. Doing so would make his husband suspicious he countered in his mind, watching his steps as they approached the entrance, their linked arms keeping him nearly plastered to Saeki’s side.

The guards at the doors stepped to the side and opened up the entrance, even they looked scared of Saeki, Mutsuki kept his head down, there was an overwhelming amount of royalty present, he didn’t know that there were so many kingdoms, perhaps there were more joint rulers than he thought, it seemed that he had fallen a little behind with current times and he couldn’t really be bothered to catch up. It seemed all the women were on one side, and despite there being glances in their direction, for once Mutsuki was hesitant to join what would probably be the equivalent to safety. He was new, perhaps it was best to introduce himself? He didn’t know if he could, he was overthinking things again and he was certain that he looked just as cold and heartless as the Torso, that was just his new persona.

“Excuse me, pardon me-” There was a firm grasp on his free arm and Mutsuki instinctively jolted back into reality. Anxiously he trained his head upwards, his heart starting to beat so quickly that he was certain he was about to faint right in front of everyone. He relaxed when he realized it was just a woman, her long peachy orange hair stood out from all of the others, it curled into satisfying waves that rested gently on her shoulders, she was beautiful, but her breath smelled completely of wine.

“Ah-! What a lovely young lady, she should introduce herself,” Her voice was just a tad bit slurred but she wasn’t stumbling, it seemed that she was at the very least a little sober.

Mutsuki took the hint and curtsied hurriedly, his posture and stance being the slightest bit off due to how rushed he felt, “Mutsuki Tooru, Queen of Re, it’s a pleasure to meet you…”

He mumbled his words but they were audible, when he looked back up the woman was still smiling cheerily, her hand still on his wrist, despite introducing himself he was still being help, he wondered if he was being punished for something or he was just being judged and her expression was masking her disgust.

“Ah how adorable~”

A-Adorable?

Mutsuki faltered a little, Saeki looked about ready to drag him away from the woman, he seemed not only to be annoyed but extremely tense as well, his judgment always showed and it seemed like they both must have had some sort of negative history to warrant his sudden tightening grip on Mutsuki’s already thin and sensitive arm.

She didn’t let up, “Allow me to introduce you to the others, we will all be attending our own breakfast soon, you shouldn’t miss that either.”

“You can not just take my wife away from me,” Saeki finally spoke up, Mutsuki could already tell he wouldn’t have that much say in the matter.

“Oh nonsense! I won’t do her any harm~ I can tell I’ve already grown quite attached to her already and you’re already quite aware of the routine, breaking our established rules and policies that has been tradition for over two hundred years is disgraceful,” She clicked her tongue and shook her head as if she was a mother scolding her child.

“Tch-”

“I will return her when the hunt starts, we will all be outside in the same general area anyways and you aren’t required to hunt if you don’t want to, but then again, you’d be considered a woman,” She taunted lightheartedly and even dared to reach over and tug on Saeki’s cheek in a sickeningly affectionate way, Mutsuki braced himself for some sort of outburst, he knew what would happen if someone dared to treat the Torso in such a way, careless actions lead to violent consequences. He waited, but the outburst never came, Saeki loosened his grip, wordlessly admitting his own defeat it seemed, the woman was pleased at the very least and didn’t hesitate to drag Mutsuki away.

“Do not worry, I will uphold my promise like any good Queen,” She called back after Mutsuki and her were a fair amount away. Now he was completely alone, not really, but he felt alone, Saeki was just a presence he was used to by now. So walking away from him knowing that he would be safe for a certain amount of time felt… Good. It wasn’t freedom, but for some reason it felt like it, Mutsuki grasped onto it and clung to it, even though he was following a complete stranger, he felt better.

Chapter Text

Despite how fast they were walking, Mutsuki just couldn’t keep up, in fact he was practically being dragged to an unspecified location, he first thought that they would interact with the other royalty, it seemed that this wasn’t the case. In fact when they ceased their quick paced walking, they were in a large room that could only be described as a dressing room, there were multiple outfits everywhere, all of which were feminine in nature, implying that this was a dressing room meant for women. Mutsuki wondered if there was a similar room for men, if he could use that one instead.

“You’re the newest Queen, it’s tradition that we dress you up a little,” The woman explained in an uncharacteristically cheerful tone that just barely managed to rub Mutsuki the wrong way.

“Am I not… Dressed up enough?” He questioned, not all that keen about changing dresses.

“You look perfectly fine, but your outfit doesn’t match your personality now does it? You’re much too meek to look intimidating, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I-”

“Actually don’t answer that question just yet. First I would like to introduce myself, it would be rude of me not to do so, I am Queen Itori of Ammil.”

The kingdom she stated was a dead giveaway from what region she was from, Ammil was a cold and desolate kingdom, even so it was known for its vibrant entertainment despite how low the temperature was at most times. The vibrence that came from the areas people lived contrasted how lonely and boring the kingdom was outside of the games they played. Even so, it looked lovely from afar, the mountain peaks made for a lovely view to anyone who was faced westward.

“I can tell, you’re much more in touch with the outdoors, why not dress you as someone from the forest?” She questioned after her introduction, Mutsuki barely had time to respond as she hurried around and yanked a dress of a mannequin, nearly ripping the delicate fabric in the process.

“I’m… Not necessarily allowed to change outfits so suddenly, my apologies,” Saeki would get angry. They wouldn’t match and Mutsuki knew that would upset him in the future.

“No? Such harsh rules and restrictions you have to deal with, it’s upsetting, really. However, I promised your husband to return you safely, he spoke nothing in protest to a change in outfits,” She flicked her wrist and went back to examining the dress, it seemed like she dressed herself, Itori seemed painfully aware of all things fabric, even though she was just looking at a dress she gave off the impression that she had fitted others for a prolonged amount of time.

“You have no restrictions?”

“Hm? Oh no, something like that is beneath me, my husband and I may not be fond of each other in an intimate way, but we have both understand that in order to rule a large kingdom such as ours we must respect each other in our own ways. It’s always a shame to find out that fellow royalty has no such freedom, what is the point of being a ruler when you have rules to follow yourself?” Itori explained, circling Mutsuki.

“Well-”

“Knowing that you are married to Torso, it’s no surprise that you’re restricted,” She interjects.

Mutsuki clenched the fabric of his skirt anxiously, looking down and watching as his knuckles grew white, “It’s really no trouble.. He treats me well.”

A lie. A lie to make sure he wouldn’t get beaten. He needed to protect himself from the future somehow. Itori didn’t seem to be all the convinced, she quirked a brow before reaching forwards and undoing the back of Mutsuki’s dress suddenly and without his permission, “If he truly does treat you so well, then perhaps he will listen to you. Convince him not to murder his subjects, soon there will be no subjects left for him to even rule. If you don’t then don’t be all that shocked when you’re invaded by Ammil.”

That managed to send chills down Mutsuki’s spine, this was the cruelty of the kingdoms, all of which wanted to take advantage of each other, Itori was warning him, but it appeared that her warning was more of a challenge, a deadline for him to meet.

“Perhaps it’s best that Re gets invaded… I’m not good enough to be a leader…”

“You certainly don’t understand the gratitude of what you are saying. Ah the wonders of youth, you are much more naive than I thought!”

Mutsuki shook his head and covered his body, “And your behaving like a servant, shouldn’t a maid be doing this kind of work?”

“Nonsense, this is nothing compared to being the leader you so greatly fear, this dress will help you move around more as well, all of the queens will be changing soon to accommodate for the horses we are going to ride, we’re merely the first ones here.”

Mutsuki’s attempt to end the conversation fell flat and needless to say it failed. He didn’t want to talk about ruling, he didn’t want to converse about anything anymore, he would feel better when he was surrounded by the forest area they were going to hunt in and even then that mean interacting with Juuzou and he most certainly wasn’t looking forwards to that.

“Come now Miss Mutsuki, there’s nothing to fret about, in fact, conversing about invading other kingdoms is considered joking at this point, despite it being a threat. You’re one of us now, it’s only fair that you get accustomed to occasions such as these,” Itori cooed and Mutsuki could once again smell the wine in her breath, he wasn’t so sure he should be entrusting her with changing his clothing.

“...I don’t think I will ever be accustomed to something like this,” He spoke truthfully, she was drunk anyways, he didn’t think she would remember. He was one with nature, was as in he couldn’t surround himself in it any longer. This was just a rare occasion. In the past when he touched the bark of the trees it would send a shiver down his spine, he felt so much and he felt connected, he wondered if he would feel the same even with his magic capabilities being driven away, or if he would be just like any other human. But he was human, just with pointed ears and even that indication that he was some different species was hidden by his hair.

“Naturally, you will get adjusted, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t feel like something’s missing. Everyone has had the certain feeling one way or another and since these kingdoms only take up a fragment of the world it’s only natural that we crave something more,” Itori explained, sounding much more mature than she did just a few seconds ago.

She paused and yanked down Mutsuki’s dress, causing him the jolt and instinctively shrink away, she clicked her tongue and shook her head in disapproval, “My, my, this is quite a shame, the corset is so tight it’s bruising you.”

“Ah…” Itori didn’t seem to notice his scars, his hideous scars indicative of all the times he had to fight and protect himself, the lies that came with explaining them to other people, to hide himself.

“Don’t worry, I won’t look at your breasts.”

The outfit change was quick and less painful than when Touka did it, the corset had been adjusted, Mutsuki didn’t feel like he was being as squished, he knew that Touka was merely following orders, he didn’t hold anything against her, he was aware that Saeki wanted the ideal wife and that meant having the slimmest and more gorgeous body. The new dress while much preferable over the old one, made Mutsuki want to throw up, he couldn’t help it, he hated it, he hated the body he had. He was okay when he was in pants, he was okay when he was wearing his loose fitting shirts and knee high boots. He wasn’t okay with looking like this and despite all of his misgivings he still admitted to himself that in the end he looked beautiful. Just like what everyone wanted.

“Come now, it’s best we mount our horses! You look absolutely gorgeous!”

“W-We’re not-”

“Going to eat? No, I find it best that we have our fun, then our noon meal is much more satisfying.”

Mutsuki followed Itori obediently, like a lost puppy. She was much preferable over anyone else, she was pleasant, albeit intimidating on occasions, like a mother, but he would never say something like that out loud, he didn’t think she would appreciate him saying such things. She would accuse him of thinking that she was old, he knew, she gave off that impression.

When they left it didn’t take long for most of the rulers to follow, Mutsuki had ridden a horse before, but never while he was sitting sideways, he had to get adjusted to sitting like a woman too and this manner of sitting while riding horseback was especially uncomfortable. It was a shame, he had been looking forwards to eating breakfast, he was so unhealthy, perhaps it didn’t matter anymore, he wouldn’t be able to muster down more than half a plate anyways. He was getting thin, he wondered if Itori noticed while she was changing him into the dress she found fit.

The crown had stayed on, as well as some other accessories she deemed compatible with his new outfit. The dress was green, much lighter than the pitch black he was originally in, he looked less gloomy and more connected with nature, he appreciated that as well, if only it was a suit, he had never felt so terrible about clothing before. Perhaps it was because he was around so many people and he just didn’t know how to compensate for that.

As time marched on as did the horses and royalty, Saeki was quick to match his stride, Mutsuki noticed another horse behind him and tightened his grip on the reins attached to the horse when he realized it was Juuzou.

“Did she harm you?” Saeki drawled, his prying eyes looking ahead, directly at the person Mutsuki could only describe as a possible ally.

“N-No… She was quite pleasant.”

“You know I love you, I only want what’s best for you, you look so cute, yes, very cute,” Mutsuki was confused, was Saeki mad? He couldn’t tell, already his breathing began to quicken, all he could do was look away and nod in acknowledgement. His internal panic skyrocketing.

The string of compliments continued, Mutsuki was half ashamed, half angry, he wanted to punch something and he wanted to run, he just wanted to run. Much to his luck, Saeki and the other kings had to turn away to the hunting grounds, the women were restricted to the top of a hill, only meant to stay and watch on their horses that were just the slightest bit less majestic than the men. Juuzou would follow him he figured, they were all restricted to a hill, but there was no rule that indicated Mutsuki had to stay near the crowd, he knew most of the gossip would most likely be concerning the horrible things that Saeki has done, Mutsuki didn’t want to stay and listen to something that he already knew, especially if the information is farce.

As soon as they were settled the whispering started.

“He got married?”

“Yes, to the likes of her?”

“Ah… I pity her.”

“Should you? She hasn’t done anything.”

“That’s a good argument.”

“Pathetic, is she not aware she has power? She should realize her own strength.”

“I wouldn’t pester her, I saw her scars.”

Mutsuki jolted, of course, he should have known that Itori would run her mouth, slowly and trained his horse and directed it away from the crowd, moving it further away from the hell, Juuzou only watching, his ruby red hues watching him adamantly.

“Scars?”

“Poor thing, but then again that’s just what happens when you try to marry someone from the forest.”

“Shh-! You shouldn’t say such a thing.”

He moved his horse away even more, the whispers were fading. He wish he was more mature about this.

It’s true is it not?”

“You’re driving her away, if you’re so curious that you have to run your mouth like a heathen you might as well ask her.”

“I wouldn’t bother, she’s already gone…”

The whispers were inaudible, Mutsuki stopped, he was far along the hill, he glanced back, they were nearly specks, he cursed his good hearing for having to move so far away.

“They’re making fun of you!” Hot breath made its way to his ear and he gasped lightly, covering his ear with a hand before whirling back and glaring at Juuzou, it seemed that he was one of the few knights stationed in this particular area, the tree protected the queens but it could also be used as cover, Mutsuki immediately doubted the integrity of the knights after coming to such a realization.

“They’re not.. They’re… They’re just discussing me..” He murmured.

“You don’t sound all the confident in your answer~” Juuzou cooed playfully in response, perhaps Mutsuki could punch him, that would definitely help ward away all of his negative emotions.

“Shush, it’s not like you know anything.”

“Ehhh… That’s so harsh of you, Your Highness, I thought you were more polite than that,” Now Juuzou was just trying to rouse a reaction and needless to say, Mutsuki wasn’t having it.

Mutsuki snorted and then glared, before doing his best the calm down, his expression changing accordingly so that Juuzou at the very least couldn’t tell he was angry, “I can be my true self around you, consider yourself lucky.”

That alone made Juuzou look a little taken aback, whether or not he appreciated or was irritated at the backhanded comment was ambiguous, his casual grin, his fake grin still stayed, it was obvious he wasn’t very fond of Mutsuki either, “Well, that definitely makes me feel very lucky! Like I’m the luckiest boy in the world~ What would make my day better is if I got some sweets!”

At the very least he wasn’t interested in pestering him anymore, Mutsuki hesitantly concluded that they could move on and have a decent conversation, “Say, have you ever ridden a horse before? You look about ready to fall off.”

Again, Juuzou looked taken aback, Mutsuki stifled a small laugh at his reactions, but at the same time it was a bit sad, it seemed like the wild child hadn’t even dealt with social interaction before and for a brief moment, Mutsuki wondered if Juuzou was nervous as well, “You noticed? Yep! I admit to not riding a horse before! They’re so boring and don’t have any freckles at all, I don’t know why anyone would actually ride them!”

“Does it matter if they have freckles, they make transportation easier.”

“Sure if you’re fat and lazy!”

Just then Mutsuki thought of a prank he could pull, he didn’t believe that Juuzou had never ridden a horse in his life, it just didn’t seem plausible. Was Juuzou a liar? He wasn’t sure, but he found himself incapable of fully trusting him at the current moment. Either it was cruel prank or a lighthearted one, at the very least Mutsuki didn’t think Juuzou could get injured, right?

“Aha, does that make me obese then? They can go quite fast, you shouldn’t underestimate them.”

“Are you a weird horse lover or something?” Juuzou questioned with a tilt of his head.

“No, no, I’m just stating facts- If you kick it’s side hard enough it will go very fast,” He switched back to his original more normal sounding voice, a voice that gave off the impression that he was being genuine about his advice.

Juuzou glanced at Mutsuki, quirking his brow at the change in voice, debating on whether or not he should trust Mutsuki, slowly he raised his right leg, and Mutsuki held his breath. Forcefully, Juuzou kicked the side of his horse, unfortunately the kick landed on the uncomfortable part of the horse’s abdomen.

What came after was satisfying, the reared up in the air, ever so slightly before charging forwards, Juuzou letting out a surprised shout in sync with the trotting of the hooves. Mutsuki held back a small laugh, his grin widening after the first few seconds, but the grin quickly faded when he noticed Juuzou wasn’t stopping or at the very least was trying to and was being unsuccessful. Juuzou wasn’t lying, at the very least Mutsuki could come to that conclusion.

He wasn’t showing signs of stopping and Mutsuki grew worried, his harmless joke was actually harmful, how ironic. Mutsuki couldn’t chase after Juuzou in this attire but he still hoisted his other leg over the saddle. In a frantic desperation he kicked the side of his horse in the same general area that Juuzou did, he was fairly certain is dress wasn’t supposed to be sat on like this and he couldn’t care less. His horse reared and soon he was dashing after the knight who was supposed to be saving and protecting him, again yet another stroke of irony that would have made Mutsuki giggle if he weren’t so worried.

The queens seemed to take notice, neither Juuzou or Mutsuki were able to tell if they were going to take action or not. The thick bramble and lower hanging tree branches nearly slapped Mutsuki off his horse, he held up and arm to shield his face, daring to quicken his pace just to catch up. It didn’t take long for the bramble and trees to break out into a stream, there were no longer oak trees, instead a clearing of willow trees. The wind was blowing against Mutsuki’s face and he lowered his arm, the sleeve was ruined and he had a few cuts on his arm. Juuzou wasn’t yelling, excluding his one shout, instead he was clinging on tightly to the neck of the horse, like a child.

When he felt a hand on his side, he gasped, physical contact was not his strong suit. The hand pushed harder, more forcefully, Juuzou stayed on. Once last shove and he found himself toppling over and off the saddle, unprepared and not ready to brace for impact. He crashed into the bank, his clothing and armour getting soaked as he managed to roll onto his knees, the shallow mud around him causing him to sink. He coughed, slamming onto the ground at such a high speed taking the air out of his lungs.

He stayed on his knees, watching his savior, Mutsuki forcefully grab the reins of his horse and yank on them as well as the reins of his own horse. He was lucky and the horses slowed to a stop. Juuzou was… Oddly impressed, and intrigued. His pale hands were shaking from adrenaline, the mud dirtying his leather gloves, his chest plate was smeared and his boots were stained. At least he was wearing dark trousers.

Squelch.

The sound irritated his ears, his new hairstyle was also less than ideal, he was aware the Torso wouldn’t like this development, Juuzou made a mental note to find a different solution that would please the king.

“Ugh-” Juuzou snapped out of his thoughts, he wasn’t used to thinking that much over a pathetic joke. The source of the noise was of course Mutsuki, wading in the mud without his stockings and dainty shoes, the hem of his dress being bunched and lifted up with one hand. Though his progression was slow, Mutsuki ultimately made it and stood right in front of Juuzou, who could not for the life of him get back up on his knees even though he was perfectly capable of doing so.

“My apologies… I didn’t realize you didn’t…. I thought you were… I’m sorry,” Mutsuki stumbled over his words, not knowing what to say. Juuzou looked down and snickered, an action that confused Mutsuki to his core, his snickering was quick to convert into laughter.

“Y-You’re such an ass! You seriously tricked me!” Juuzou couldn’t help himself, even if deep down he was annoyed and irritated he just couldn’t help himself. As if Mutsuki was going to be genuine about anything towards him, it seemed like Mutsuki was establishing himself as an enemy and Juuzou liked enemies, enemies were what he was used to.

“I-I’m serious…”

His laughter died down.

“I’m sorry.”

Juuzou’s face began to draw a blank.

A hand extended out towards him, it was tanned, scraped and scarred, but it also looked soft and delicate like a flower. Instinctively, Juuzou reached out and took it, and right then, he found himself to be infinitely confused.

 

Chapter Text

Juuzou was confused by the action, no one was ever genuinely sorry about anything they’ve done to him, when people weren’t apologetic that was when he was the most comfortable, more accustomed to it was the proper way to describe it, he would always get them back on his own accord anyways, there was no need for apologies.

He was hoisted up to his feet, despite how thin he looked, Juuzou could make a fair assumption that Mutsuki wasn’t entirely skin and bones. Still, the young adult struggled a little, almost as if the task was pushing him to his limits. When Juuzou was standing Mutsuki was quick to start wading out of the mud and onto the hill, cleaning his bare feet on the tall and soft grass by partially kicking at the ground. That would have to do, cleaning his feet in the river meant wading through even more mud and it was hardly worth the effort.

Finally, Juuzou managed to muster up some sort of response, did this mean he wasn’t allowed to antagonize Mutsuki in return? He felt as if he was limiting himself by accepting this apology, “You’re not forgiven-”

Mutsuki slouched a bit in response, his hands draping onto his sides loosely and stayed there, the dress flowing freely once more and touching the ground. He was turned away but he still looked upset.

“But only because it’s only fair if I do something to you back,” Juuzou finished his sentence and Mutsuki perked up ever so slightly, it appeared that he was content with that.

Juuzou trekked up the hill, his boots were dripping with muddy water as was his breastplate and most of the clothes he had one, his body calmed down, Juuzou no longer felt his hands twitch, instead his eyes were doing most of the moving, examining Mutsuki as he dared to wander into the forest, leaving his shoes and stalking behind. He didn’t go too far in, enough for him to at least feel surrounded by the trees, flowers and numerous other plants. Juuzou stayed watching from afar, Mutsuki was obscured but he wasn’t completely gone, he didn’t think he had to protect someone who was just touching trees and staring at flowers. If he ever were to pull through with his duty then he would still shield the ruler with reluctance and only if he was actually threatened by something threatening.

“You really are obsessed with nature,” Juuzou commented, wiping off his clothing the best he could, caked mud always felt restricting.

“I wouldn’t say that… I feel connected to it, something that you wouldn’t understand,” Mutsuki had sassed right back, resulting in Juuzou snickering quietly and continuing to stay where he was.

“Of course I wouldn’t understand, because I suppose humans can’t understand anything~”

“Oh hush, I didn’t say that.”

“It was implied!” Juuzou singsonged cheerily, skipping forwards a few steps in an attempt to see what Mutsuki found so interesting. Perhaps Mutsuki was right, all he saw were boring green plants, however, Mutsuki looked much more invested in them than he was, almost everywhere he looked he would touch the plant to some degree, almost as if he were checking to see if they were alive and well. Juuzou snickered quietly because he didn’t understand after all, of course if he worked hard enough then he would be able to at the very least know what the other adult was doing but naturally he didn’t find that appealing. He functioned on gut instinct, violence and carelessness alone, Juuzou already felt the urge to slash a tree with his sword just to see if it would rouse any form of reaction.

He crouched down on the ground, eyeing one of the bushes intensely, he was already bored out of his mind. There was a small rustle and Juuzou squinted, hugging his knees but perking up, he heard a noise. Unfortunately, the source of the noise was just a boring old mouse, nothing interesting or overall exciting. Nature was boring like his original name, he wanted a change to happen soon so rather than try and pester the wildlife Juuzou opted for pestering the person right in front of him.

“Y’know, you are aware that you understand fewer things than a normal human can, right?” He questioned although it was a genuine question, if Mutsuki really was from the wild then he wouldn’t know very many human customs.

Mutsuki clenched his fists a little and Juuzou enjoyed watching his buttons being pushed so easily, “Then… What do you believe I do not know?”

“That’s a good question- Uhm- You don’t know… Things!” Juuzou declared conclusively, which only resulted in Mutsuki giggling, which wasn’t the reaction Juuzou was inherently looking for. He was trying to insult him after all. And really how was he actually supposed to know?

“I believe you don’t know how to interact with others,” Mutsuki stated bluntly, his tone shifting quickly to be more serious and firm. Juuzou huffed, it wasn’t a random guess made without any evidence to support his claim and he hated it even though he wasn’t showing it. Instead, he smiled lopsidedly and swayed back and forth on his feet, feigning childlike innocence as he always has.

“Is it a mage custom to be mean? Because that’s the impression you’re giving me,” He taunted, not hesitating to walk a bit closer to Mutsuki, who was now leaning against the tree like he was seeking some sort of peace or comfort.

“Perhaps I’m not adjusted to being around humans and just perhaps I’m more acquainted and used to being with my kind, who just happened to be driven away from nearly every kingdom due to ‘cultural differences’.”

“I didn’t ask for mage history-“

“Well, you received a brief summary of it anyways.”

“Is it mage custom to not tend to your wounds? Because your cheeks are bleeding a lot,” That was a bit of an exaggeration, still, it was funny to see Mutsuki reach up and touch the side of his face, finally wiping away some of the blood that had come from some of the more deeper scratches. Good, the blood droplets were beginning to be less and less appealing whenever Juuzou had the chance to glance over at Mutsuki’s face.

“I should’ve let your horse carry you out of the kingdom-“

“But you didn’t, no, you came after me like a knight in shining armor, be careful Your Highness , I don’t want you to steal the job I was bought to do!” He taunted before getting irrationally close to Mutsuki’s, standing up on his tiptoes a little to compensate for their slight height difference before blowing hot air into the shell of the adult’s ear. There was a loud gasp and naturally, Mutsuki shied away attempting to take few steps back before the heel of his shoe stubbed against a tree root. And as Mutsuki fell Juuzou swept in and caught him, his mud covered gloves grasped firmly on his waist, staining parts of his dress and even smearing on lighter parts of the fabric as the rookie knight adjusted his hold.

Pure red bore into delicate blue, despite Juuzou being the one who was reinforcing his annoying persona even he seemed to stop for a moment and stare. Mutsuki at first wanted to wriggle away, he hated it when people stared, but when Juuzou gazed at him it wasn’t filled with a separate motive, just morbid curiosity and a spark of something he couldn’t identify. It calmed him, this once he would allow the physical contact, it was keeping him from falling after all. Both could feel the awkward aura that was beginning to surround them, that was when things grew to be a bit uncomfortable, even so, this uncomfortable feeling didn’t emerge until after a minute or two. Could it even be considered as uncomfortable?

Juuzou snapped out of his slight trance and hoisted Mutsuki up back to standing position before he could muster a single word, Juuzou was confused once more and he didn’t appreciate his mind suddenly scattering on him just because of a simple touch, “See? I’m capable. More capable than you! I was made to protect- Hm… Hopeless people like you!”

“I’m not-“

“Also! Even though I only heard you speak a few sentences, I liked you waaay better when you talked normal, just something for you to think about!” He added on hurriedly, it was so weird how Mutsuki talked formally when he didn’t have to. It was snotty of him too, Juuzou was fairly certain he made it clear that he wanted to hear him talk less prim and proper, but then again he supposed he couldn’t have a say in that. Shameful how he rarely had a say in anything. Just a shame.

“This is normal for me now, there’s nothing really I can do about the way I speak,” Mutsuki shrugged, brushing off the sides of his dress and removing some of the now crusted mud off his sides.

“Well do something! Oh wait- I shouldn’t say that now huh? Now that I’m a slave and all.”

“I didn’t ask for a slave, but I didn’t ask for someone to control me either,” he reasoned half-heartedly.

Mutsuki moved to walk away, mainly to avoid more conversation before also adding on in a tone of voice that partially mimicked Juuzou’s own, “Also! Even though I don’t know whether or not you’re capable, I’ll like you waaay better if you learn to respect others.”

“So you’re a jester too-”

A light scoff was all he got in response, it was better than nothing, ultimately Juuzou was curious, he wanted to know more about these mages, maybe he could learn magic himself and build his own kingdom. The thought made him giddy, a paradise for everyone and everything, just a kingdom for him to have fun and do what he wanted, he was so close to being free, all he needed was to be let go, “You know what you should do? Tell me more about what being a mage is like, perhaps I’ll even respect you.”

“Hm… I don’t trust you enough to disclose that information,” Mutsuki was gently petting the nose of his horse, calming it down after purposefully riling it up, both horses were antsy, but it seemed like Juuzou’s horse calmed down much faster than Mutsuki’s own. The black stallion was already gnawing on the tall grass nearby, after all, if the horse wasn’t well, a horse, Juuzou would have related to the behavior immensely.

“Awh, do you not want my respect?”
“I don’t inherently trust anyone on a whim, besides, you’re a bit too careless for my taste, you shouldn’t just trust people when they’re your enemies.”

“We’re… Enemies? Then what’s the point of saving me, hmmm? Are you planning something malicious?” Juuzou questioned, pressing for an immediate answer.

“I’m not quite sure if we’re enemies… Yet. But either way I don’t trust you, you ruined my friendship with Touka-”

“By revealing the truth? This is a mere survival situation, it’s only natural for people to stick together just to keep each other alive and, how to I put this… Not dead. It’s so easy to read both of you, you’re both secretly frightened of the future, so your bond is just a fabrication to make you feel better,” He interrupted with his own explanation. Juuzou knew survival instincts when he saw them in action and needless to say he was always fascinated, perhaps because living and being raised with Mama meant hunting down prey, it was a fun little game, Good Boy Points being heavily involved in all hunting festivities, his points were always so fun, they were left on his body and it was nice to think that all of the praise he recieved was forever going to be on his body.

“W-We wouldn’t- We aren’t-” Mutsuki fumbled over his words, sometimes he didn’t like Touka, but really that was only when she was stubborn and angry, he didn’t think- no he didn’t believe they were using each other, if they were then they would constantly be discussing ways to break out or survive, but they didn’t. Maybe that was it, perhaps not talking about it and only thinking it was the issue.

“See? I’ve saved you from making a grave mistake your highness, if you latch on to anyone that’s sure to get you guillotined, or impaled, or plainly murdered in general,” Juuzou partially mocked, bonds were weird sometimes, he wondered if he was the only one who could see how having a companion only means dead weight.

“There’s nothing wrong with having someone to be around, this isn’t a battleground so you may as well drop your pathetic behavior otherwise I won’t be the one who’ll be guillotined,” Mutsuki dared to threaten. It was always so pleasantly annoying at first, like talking to a child, then it promptly grew upsetting. That wasn’t the truth and if it was then he was fine with denying it.

“I’m soooo frightened…”

“You should be, being alone is what will get you killed. Let’s just… Return to the hill and pretend this didn’t happen, we can also pretend that you aren’t a difficult person,” He scowled, never in his life had he met someone so difficult.

“I’ve got more training than you realize, I know how survival works,” Juuzou boasted proudly, crossing his arms defiantly.

“I’ve been running my entire life, I’m aware of how survival works too,” Mutsuki snapped while promptly getting on his horse and rolling his eyes, firmly gripping the reigns of the now calm animal. He wasn’t sitting on his horse properly, the strain of the fabric of the dress was letting him know that much. He didn’t think riding normally would be such an inconvenience because of a stupid dress.

“Is this you admitting that you are a nature child?” The knight found himself teasing once more.

“Hm… Maybe or maybe not, depends on the survival situation you’re referring to, who knows, perhaps I’ll answer your question once ,” Really they could go back and forth like this for ages, Mutsuki was fairly certain that there were much more productive things they could be doing, like returning back to the hill before facing punishment.  

“Yes but-”

“THERE!” Mutsuki was quick to switch his sitting position on the saddle, fortunately for his crotch that had a bunch of fabric uncomfortably bunched up in that general area. Juuzou stared blankly, every time Mutsuki saw him, the young man acted as if he weren’t afraid of getting hurt or killed and he always looked prepared to respond to anything on a whim. There was a tinge of jealousy that began to emerge, Mutsuki wished he could be that fearless, even if Juuzou’s fearlessness lead to carelessness over half the time.

He didn’t need to look to feel Saeki’s presence upon him and in front of him in no time flat, he shivered, it always sent a chill down his spine, he was like a shadow. A familiar large hand was placed firmly on his shoulder, now Mutsuki had no choice but to look up, he shouldn’t be so fretful over a hand, that was what one of the servants had told him when he first got betrothed, but he knew that those hands could do anything they wanted and how they were perfect for hitting and beating, “What happened? Your precious face..”

Saeki didn’t give two shits about his face.

“Um- Well-” Saeki would kill him if he found out that he was roughhousing, it wasn’t in character for the Mutsuki that was his ideal.

“Your Highness, the Queen had lost control of her horse, I pursued her and prevented the horse from going any further, I apologize for the scratches, I should have caught up quicker,” Juuzou interjected, almost perfectly mimicking a proper manner of speaking. Saeki wasn’t buying into the lie, however, Juuzou smiled, a smile with ulterior motives, that smile was an outright threat. Saeki moved to caress Mutsuki’s scratched cheek and he prayed that the select stains and tears on his dress aren't as noticeable as he originally thought and it was just his mind playing tricks on him.

The was a gentle tug, Saeki was usually much more forceful, however, seeing as there were people approaching the area a few kings who were already present, “We will discuss this later, dear.”

Discuss as in Saeki yelling at him, Mutsuki knew a pit would begin to form itself in his stomach as the time for this ‘discussion’ would grow nearer and nearer, already the pit was making itself present in his gut. Still, for Juuzou to take the downfall for him, to lie for him, Mutsuki felt a little bit happy, deep down perhaps Juuzou was a good person. Mutsuki glanced back at Juuzou, only to be met with an amused smirk, he took that thought back, maybe Juuzou liked toying with him instead.



Chapter Text

This wasn’t working, no matter how many times she tried the window was still smeared, Touka let out an exasperated sigh, this was more exhausting than she initially thought. Things were less lively without anyone needing to panic over pleasing the king and while that was a good thing, they were also so very used to not having to panic. At least she could tidy up Mutsuki’s room while he was away, she wished the best for him and she didn’t think he could get very hurt if he was surrounded by other people that the king was adamant on making alliances with.

Some of the knights had stayed behind, Touka didn’t know what for, perhaps to keep the servants in check, however, from what she had heard they were all taking it easy as well. This was a brutal place to be working, no matter how high the ranking they were all just serfs doomed to stay at the castle until someone sets them all free. She moved onto the next window, her shoulders and arms aching from having to reach up for so long.

“Yoohoo! Touka!”

Her mood improved immediately when she heard the cheery voice, “Ah- Yoriko!”

Her friend was walking hurriedly while waving excitedly, no matter what the situation was, Yoriko was always smiling, she was practically the opposite of Mutsuki who frowned or cried on a near daily basis, Yoriko came to a halt and smiled before fetching a small sack that she had been keeping secure in the large pocket of her apron, “Since the King is gone, I’ve decided to experiment a little, and I want to know your opinion on this-”

It was true, Yoriko and the other cooks mostly made the same meals, King Saeki leaving was like a breath of fresh air for all of the staff it seemed, Yoriko shoved the bag of food into Touka’s awaiting hands, to which Touka compiled by opening the sack and taking out what looked like one of the many sweets that Yoriko had seemingly made on her own. Despite them just being food the meticulous attention to detail and patterns Yoriko put in the dough, while her friend was waiting eagerly for her reaction, Touka took a bite, humming in contentment, Yoriko’s food always tastes wonderful, “Mm.. It’s good.”

Yoriko’s eyes lit up in excitement, placing her hands firmly on Touka’s shoulder’s shaking her a little, “Great! Because I expect you to eat all of them!”

“Wha-”

“You don’t eat enough, whenever I see you eating you’re just eating a loaf of bread, that’s not enough food for you to get by, especially since you’re working,” Yoriko scolded lightly, shaking her head and frowning deeply. She hated how Touka was always working and never taking the time to take care of herself.

“O-Oh, w-well, thank you. I’ve been trying to stay healthy, but I’m not really given much to work with,” Touka admitted, excluding those who worked in the kitchen, a majority of the servants were nearly starved half to death, it wasn’t uncommon for some of them to die, just today they had lost a kind elderly woman, who had been a maid for only a month, it seemed her body had given out due to the starvation, Touka sighed, what a terrible way to go. Yoriko could practically tell what Touka was feeling, it was almost like a sixth sense, she was quick to pull the other woman into a tight and supportive hug.

“Don’t worry, just come to the kitchen anytime you need a bite to eat, I’ll make sure to cover for you,” She whispered in Touka’s ears, she was so painfully optimistic, it was nearly deathly sickening, Touka didn’t want Yoriko to get hurt over her, the last thing she wanted was someone to die because of her.

“You know that you’ll get hurt if you get caught-”

“But it’ll be worth it, you’re one of my closest friends,” Yoriko argued moving away from the hug with a confident grin. She was certain that she could keep any secret, even if the secret was large scale by the King’s standards.

“I- Oh alright, but I won’t come all the time, I don’t want to get too caught up in something I might not be able to get out of,” Touka found herself complying to what Yoriko wanted, she wished this girl wasn’t so persuasive, now she felt like she had to come or else Yoriko would go out of her way to bring her food again.

“Spectacular, don’t worry Touka, all of us in the kitchen are working to get more meals out to everyone, in the meantime, I gotta go, we’re doing that right now in fact,” Yoriko smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of her neck.

“That’s perfectly fine, you take care and-” Touka gently pinched Yoriko’s cheek teasingly with a partially amused grin, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Ha! I’m not your child, but thanks anyways!” Yoriko waved and was quick to hurry her way back to the kitchen, lifting up the hem of her skirt just so that she could run faster. There was no doubt in Touka’s mind that Yoriko was working overtime along with the rest of the servants and cooks in the kitchen to get all of these meals distributed and complete. Touka clutched the sack of goodies close to her chest, a warm, bubbly feeling blossoming in her chest, she would make sure that these didn’t go to waste. Even if she wasn’t able to eat them all then she would make sure to save them for later, any extra food would ensure that she didn’t starve.

Now it was back to work, which was a shame, Touka never grew tired of Yoriko’s company, she could talk to her all day if she was allowed to. Touka stared at the remaining windows she had to wash, needless to say, she didn’t want to clean them anymore. She shook her head and picked up the rag and bucket of water she was using, she would finish off the windows later in the day, she had time, after all, it wouldn’t hurt to take a small break. Perhaps she could go to the stables and watch all the animals for a bit. There wasn’t really all that much for her to do, she was so used to constant work, the fact that she could take a break made her excited and skeptical at the same time. When the King was present, it was constant work, but now she didn’t have to work if she didn’t want to, it was throwing her for a loop.

She didn’t dare leave the castle grounds, even if it was for a tiny break, she didn’t want to look at all of the ‘displays’ that were scattered in nearly every small town, Touka already felt herself get a little sick to her stomach, the towns were like the castle, unsafe and nearly inescapable. Maybe she could tidy up her living quarters, it was getting a little bit too messy for her to handle.

Silently she wondered if Mutsuki’s new knight was having a wonderful time harassing him if she had a knight like that she would punch him right on the spot for being so disrespectful and immature. Would that even affect someone like Rei or… Juuzou? He looked very twisted in the head, maybe he was one of those freaks who enjoyed that sort of thing. Wonderful, now she had a permanent disgusting thought stuck in her head. Touka cursed her mind before setting down the pail and the rag down in front of her room, maybe she wouldn’t stay awake at all during her short break, getting some sleep would do her good, maybe she could awake with amnesia and completely forget about the gross image she had unintentionally put in her head.

Touka was quick to lay down on the bed, it wasn’t a very comfortable bed, in fact, it was essentially the equivalent of a bunch of sheets and a thin mattress, she could feel her bedframe whenever she laid or sat down in it, for now, she would have to make do, the old woman who had passed away didn’t need most of the items in her living quarters, Touka would do her best to try and add onto her bed.

Two days, she had two days to do whatever she pleased, the castle hadn’t been burned down yet, so the other servants and remaining knights had some sort of self-control. Or perhaps there was a supporter who was keeping them all in check and they just didn’t know it yet.

Touka fell asleep after that, her dream was odd.

‘Come back!’ She heard herself cry out, reaching towards three people, her family, they were there, but they were leaving already.

Her father looked back, blank-faced, there wasn’t anything there that would let him show any emotions or even talk, he simply waved, Touka’s mother following close behind.

The shortest one stopped, he didn’t follow after his mother and father, instead turning around, his hands in the pockets of his trousers. He stood there, waiting.

Touka ran, ran to catch up, ran so that they couldn’t leave her behind.

Swiftly he ran too, letting her chase him before moving faster and faster, Touka couldn’t keep up.

He was gone too.

He didn’t follow their parents, turning and running into the dark wilderness nearby.

He was lost. She knew.

She had to protect him.

Touka fell onto her hands and knees.

Her feet felt like weights and when she looked up again after catching her breath, she had no hope of reaching them.

Her hands were scraped and bleeding, she would keep running.

She would catch up.

Her brother, he was somewhere, and he was probably lost and crying, without their mother and father’s protection.

What was he thinking?

He couldn’t do this alone.

That bastard.

He left her to rot in the confines of the castle.

That idiot.

‘Ayato,’ she whispered hoarsely, she would catch up to him.

A loud ‘CRASH’

Touka jolted up out of her bed, cursing at the stiffness of her back, how long was she asleep for? She looked around, hearing the slight scraping noise of the wooden bucket she had left in front of her door.

“Ugh…” A soft groan emitted just outside her door, she was such an idiot, she should have brought the bucket inside of her quarters, Touka sat up and stretched, trying to get her back to be a little less stiff. She stood up and opened the door, she hoped that no one was seriously hurt, she was overreacting, hopefully.

On the ground was a tall man with hair that was almost as long as his torso, Touka let out a small sigh of relief, he didn’t look like he was in any serious pain, just caught off guard, she crouched down beside him, taking the bucket off of his foot and setting it to the side hurriedly, “Oh my! I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have left this out here.”

She expected to be yelled at, to be fair she did deserve a scolding for being careless, as reluctant as she was to admit that. But the man didn’t look the slightest bit angry, he was more bashful if anything, “No, no, that was my fault, I failed to look where I was walking and I ended up tripping, you’re not at fault.”

Now that she had gotten a better look at him, she realized that she hasn’t seen this man before, one of the knights? No, she was certain she had encountered all of them at one point, “Hmm… Are you a new servant?”

“O-Oh yes! Partially new at least, my father works out in the fields nearby and my grandmother recently passed away from what I have heard, so he sent me to take her place and bring back anything of value to the family,” He had explained quickly and anxiously.

Ah, so he was the grandson of that elderly woman, that was good, Touka always thought the poor maid didn’t have a family, she was glad to have been proven wrong, but she was a tad bit disappointed, so much for trying to make her bed more comfortable, “Well, I suppose that makes sense. Forgive me, again, I shouldn’t have left this stuff out here. I’ll do my best to make it up to you, starting now.”

If this man was going to work here, then that meant a lot of preparation for the worst living conditions he most likely has ever experienced, as well as instructions on how not to get killed as soon as the King returns, they were already losing so many staff, when winter arrives, the number of staff would only continue to plummet.

“You don’t need to do that simply because I tripped over something that belonged to you,” He shook his head hastily and got up off the floor, Touka craned her neck upwards, he was much taller than she had originally thought he was.

“I insist, really it’s no problem,” She got up from the floor and offered her best and most sincere smile.

The man only nodded, he looked almost afraid to turn down her offer as if she would hurt him, which simply wasn’t true, Saeki and his lackeys were the only ones who did all of the hurting, everyone else were rather good people at heart. And so the ‘tour’ began, Touka classified it as such at least, an introduction to how things worked, and where things would take place. She showed him everything, from where he was sleeping (assuming that he had technically inherited his grandmother’s living quarters) to secret hiding areas that some prior servants of the castle had made to avoid the wrath of King Saeki.

The entire time the man was listening attentively, had he had a quill and parchment he would have been writing down many notes as possible. Touka made sure that they walked around every area of the castle and while at first, it would be hard to memorize, she knew that he would get adjusted very quickly. Every servant that had come to work at the castle learned to get accustomed to nearly everything within one week, not doing so would mean death or severe torture, which may as well count as death too. Those who were sent to the torture room, never made it out and if they did make it out they would day not long after.

Finally, they looped back over to the living area of the servants, Touka turning and doing a slight curtsey, “That will be all, none of us like to see each other get hurt for no reason so please be careful if you truly are going to work here.”

She doubted he would stay permanently, he looked like the type of man who would flee at a moment’s notice, he was polite and kind, he didn’t belong in a place like this. Before she turned to leave and go back to her room so that she could get just a tad bit more rest before going back to work, “Ah- Wait, I would first like to know your name, since we are going to be working together most likely.”

“Touka, Touka Kirishima. And you are?”

“Hanbee Abara, at your service.”

“You don’t have to work here, you’ve got another full day to make up your mind,” She was quick to say, she was always hesitant whenever someone joined the staff, especially the rare ones who were doing such dangerous jobs willingly. They had plenty to live for, it was foolish of them just to give it up for the slightly higher pay.

“No, no, I made this decision when I was a child, it would be foolish of me to up and leave,” Hanbee explained pointedly, meek but determined about his new job. From Touka’s perspective, it looked almost like he was on a quest, but she was sure that wasn’t the main reason. There were so many factors that she wouldn’t be able to take into consideration unless he told her outright.

A part of her wanted to force him to leave before he ended up getting hurt, however, he seemed persistent and all she felt she could do was conjure up a warm but fake smile, “I see… Well then, we welcome you, but please be careful.”

“I will do my very best.”

“...I know.”

Chapter Text

“Shouldn’t you be guarding the queen?” Juuzou looked up from the parchment he was drawing on, Mutsuki and him returned to the hill and were commanded to stay there the rest of the time, Mutsuki was surrounded by the rest of the queens, all of which were praising him on what he had done to ‘tame’ him. Especially one of the queens, her peachy and curly hair made her stand out ever so slightly, she was much more elegant than the other queens who were more interested in gossip.

That didn’t leave much left for him to do when they returned back to the large castle Juuzou was quick to stray away, the day was painfully slow after the excitement he had felt earlier in the morning, there was also no noon meal, which left him irritable and craving sweets. He was aware that he wouldn’t really have any part in the large feast that was to take place after the fact, honestly what was the point in coming when he wasn’t going to get fed?

“Eh? I have to do that constantly, Mutsuki is fine on his own,” He really was, only a complete bastard would use his apparent shyness to his advantage, Juuzou admired that aspect about him but it completely annoyed him as well.

“A knight’s duty is to protect and be loyal to the very end,” Juuzou was warned, but he didn’t want to protect or be loyal. Too much work and effort. Apart from that, Mutsuki confused him all of a sudden, he didn’t like that feeling, it was such an ambiguous feeling, almost as if he couldn’t pick between two emotions.

“Well, not this knight, again, my lovely highness is very good at taking care of himself!”

“That’s not the attitude you should have,” His cot shifted, sinking down of the weight of one extra person, Juuzou trained his eyes upwards after that, away from his meticulous and semi-abstract drawings. No matter how many times he tried to shake him, this knight never failed to approach him and irritate him with his ‘wisdom’. His smile made him want to throw up everywhere, kindness was so disgusting.

“You can’t tell me how to behave er-”

“Shinohara,” He introduced, his kind smile almost never fading, Juuzou again wanted to throw up everywhere all over where they were staying.

“Shinohara! I might be a knight now but really this is merely slavery!” He missed Mama, he wondered how she was doing, he missed receiving her “Good Boy Points”. He deserved to have all of those points, he was even the most expensive and got her a lot of money, he wondered when he would get to go home to all the praise that he deserved.

“Aha… It does seem that way, doesn’t it? But that doesn’t mean you should ignore what you’re supposed to do,” The middle-aged man rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish grin, Juuzou was less than amused.

“I can, so I will and I don’t necessarily have to when the Queen is already surrounded by people, riiiight?” He drew out his words childishly before looking back down at the parchment, the more he stared at it, the more irritated he got at his drawings, he liked them abstract, they were more fun that way even if they were drawn in black ink, but now they were becoming more realistic as he kept drawing and that worsened his sour mood. He was new to all of this and he was used to constantly fighting to get what he desired, something that he simply wasn’t allowed to do now that he was a knight.

“That depends on whether or not you believe Mutsuki is safe,” Shinohara countered, Shinohara was nearly forty, he knew that protecting someone meant being close by naturally, but seeing as he wasn’t actually ordered to protect someone, unlike Juuzou, he really didn’t have much to do except keep watch.

“Then he’s fine, he’s the one who made me make my horse run into the forest!”

“That was him-?”

“Yep! He got me good! But that’s beside the point if he’s capable of manipulating people, then doesn’t that make him strong enough to protect himself?”

“Manipulative doesn’t mean completely capable, every time I’ve seen him he looked rather frightened. He might think you’re dangerous, or could be trying to get you to stay away from him,” Shinohara explained gently. Shinohara knew about a lot of things, Juuzou concluded, but he knew a lot of things too. Mutsuki was perfectly readable before he got suddenly confusing and Juuzou didn’t have to understand him to know that he wasn’t an ally, he thinks. Shinohara seemed to understand the queen’s reactions despite not even talking to him, it was interesting but it also made him seem like some sort of stalker or spy.

“Oh my! I had no idea-” Of course he had an idea.

“-I always thought that he was being mean for praise and attention, but now my opinion has been swayed,” It had not been swayed in the slightest. Juuzou sat up more properly, releasing some of the tension on his back that had come from slouching for so long.

“You don’t have to lie to me about how you feel. But still, I recommend that you understand him a bit more, that way your job will be much more easy,” Now Juuzou was a tad bit anxious, this Shinohara knight could read him as well, perhaps he should fight him in order to guarantee his own safety. That did seem like the more logical thing to do, possible threats should be eliminated immediately to ensure survival. Then again, he didn’t read all of him, that put him at ease.

“Just think about it, who knows, perhaps you two will even become friends,” Shinohara stood up, not before leaning over and ruffling Juuzou’s hair of course. Juuzou let out a disgruntled and stubborn noise, he didn’t know what that was about, but a part of him enjoyed the touch nonetheless, it wasn’t harsh like when he was praised by Mama, it was oddly relaxing instead. Still, he moved his head away, not too keen on suddenly trusting Shinohara just because he started touching his hair.

“Possibly, but unlikely!”

The older knight merely chuckled at that before leaving, he knew that Juuzou was being stubborn for no reason and he was keen on breaking through that shell of pointless violence and close-mindedness. He already predicted that the king would assign him as a mentor, he was one of the eldest knights after all, and for once if he was assigned to mentor Juuzou he would be content with the job assignment.

Juuzou watched as Shinohara left, and he let out a long and drawn out sigh, he wasn’t in the mood to check on Mutsuki, maybe the next big event he would, but not now, he was still annoyed and such, and he admittedly wanted to tease Mutsuki as much as possible which required him being in a more forgiving mood.

He eyed the rest of the knights’ sleeping quarters, he didn’t really like how it was open and there were knights scattered everywhere, the place smelled like complete shit and rats, as well as some sweat. At the very least he was a bit more separated from the large crowd, he knew that some knights had their eyes on him, he was small in stature, after all, they must be wondering how someone so short became a knight. Juuzou snickered quietly at the thought, he knew that if he ever sparred with any of them, he would definitely win, it was obvious to him at least, he was very confident in his abilities and it would be nice to let off some steam.

Now that he thought about it, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, if he fought someone he would most definitely feel refreshed and ready to ‘behave’ if that was what everyone really wanted. All that he needed to do was find someone to rile up, he figured the knight who was sleeping in the cot next to his would do, after all, he did look fairly aggressive despite being scrawny, “Psst, hey, I’m quite new, mind telling me what it’s like to be a knight?”

He would start out small, there was no need to rush into things, the knight with brown hair looked up from the worn book he was supposedly reading, he already looked annoyed at him for asking a simple question, “Were you not told what you’re supposed to do?”

“I know my orders, silly! But it doesn’t hurt to ask, there’s no need to be so mean~”

“Well, I’d be happy to teach you about the ways of being a knight, I am more skilled after all,” He was quick to boast with a proud grin, he wasn’t completely cocky, just confident in his abilities and excited to teach someone new.

“Yes, absolutely! You should train me and show me your moves, oh, perhaps a duel is in order?” A duel counted as a fight right? He was fairly certain it did. A duel… What a funny alternate meaning for a fight, were there rules? Fighting shouldn’t have any rules and if it did, that would take away all the fun.

“Why-”

“To see what I need improving on of course! We can be each other’s targets for improvement! I feel like that’s the way to go.”

“Hm… Perhaps you’re right, however, I wouldn’t challenge someone more experienced, you could get hurt after all,” He expressed genuine concern while his pride stayed stagnant never ceasing but never heightening to the point where he was unbearable. Juuzou couldn’t care less, he was still just a tad bit annoyed.

“But I feel like you should be more worried about yourself, what if I hurt you instead?” Juuzou asked innocently, tilting his head and batting his eyelashes, a slight jab at the other knight just to get his gears turning just a little.

“Impossible! I’m a very capable knight!”

“Then you shouldn’t be worried about dueling with me, correct? C’mon, it will be fun, for me mostly but still!” Another light jab, it was amusing to see his face grow a little bit red with anger. Though he wouldn’t comment on it so hastily. Juuzou fought like an untamed animal, it would only be fair if others did the same, it would remind him of Mama, whenever she sent out someone they always flail their arms and scream, he felt like he wouldn’t be able to fight someone else legitimately without them giving it their all. Fighting was a bloodbath, fighting was meant to be to the death, it was created just for that very purpose. At least that’s what Mama taught him. He really needed to stop thinking of her, now that he thought about it, he was a free man technically, not completely but this is his first time being outside, being anywhere really. The river bank he was shoved into was his first river, his first encounter with nature.

“Very, well, since you’re so confident. We shall duel, tomorrow at dawn, be awake and be ready to test your skills.”

“Yeah, yeah, I think, I will go check on the person I need to be guarding,” Here came the kicker.

“Oh yeah? And who might that be?”

“The Queen. Of Re. Tata~ I will be sure to be awake and well rested when we fight!” Juuzou stood up, taking his parchment, quill, and jar of ink with him, putting them carelessly in a satchel that he had stolen from one of the other knights, luckily he didn’t seem to have noticed he had been robbed, or perhaps he just didn’t like his satchel and already got a new one.

The knight who was so proud, so cocky, so easy to peeve raised his brows in genuine shock. This was the knight that had somehow become a royal guard overnight? This was the person who had been dragged out of the depths of hell just to serve in another hell? He scoffed and flipped over on his cot and stared at the damp and blank walls of the sleeping quarters. It was… Dumb, but at the same time a little sad. The little runt was thrown into a completely new world and he seemed fine with it, why did the get the feeling that he wasn’t fine? Perhaps he made a mistake challenging him, but now that he did there was no backing down, he would duel, his pride as a Takizawa was at stake and he refused to let himself be overcome with emotions, he knew how that worked out the first time he had dueled with a fellow knight in training.

He sighed, when did he become so inferior? Of course, this only meant he had to work hard, he had a queen of his own to impress, perhaps he could become a royal bodyguard as well. Queen Mado. Akira Mado. She was rude, stubborn and claimed she didn’t need protection, but if the very queen of Re had a royal guard at her disposal, ready to attack and defend, that meant that Akira should be prepared as well, he was ready to serve, and he worked hard for this. Takizawa knew how King Saeki functioned, one day he would be pleasant but the next he would be launching attacks and demanding the beheadings of many innocent peasants. They were the largest neighboring kingdom, Re was bound to attack.

Takizawa flipped back over and glanced out the rectangular hole sliced into the wall that was supposed to stand in for a window, the newbie wandered around outside, before ultimately entering the large castle, the boy was a runt, to say the least, not only that, but he probably had no idea what he was doing. Knowing that he felt a little better and found himself to be able to fall into a peaceful sleep, he may be a tad bit nervous, but he was determined enough to know that he would defeat this new knight and humiliate the Kingdom of Re in one foul swoop.

At least, that’s what he believed anyways.

Chapter Text

Dancing, there was a lot of dancing. By the time Mutsuki was finished he was dizzy, Saeki kept encouraging him to dance some more, to allow him to touch him, to look at him like a loyal wife would. Mutsuki shivered, but now he was at peace, Saeki seemed to have had his fair share of dancing for the night, but in due time he knew that would change quickly. It was best to excuse himself from the ball before he became completely overwhelmed in the chaos that wasn’t inherently chaos, just chaos by his own standards.

Saeki was keen on making alliances, that was the only reason why he didn’t trail after him and stick to him like a leech. Mutsuki didn’t understand, he never would, everyday it seemed like they were preparing for some kind of conflict. Either that or Saeki was purposefully making sure he was oblivious to any happenings, both possibilities made Mutsuki sick to his stomach and his guts flip inside and out. He would be blamed for something he couldn’t control if that happened. He would be blamed and he would be killed if he was caught. Caught for something he didn’t do.

“You’re quite the antisocial one, turning in for the night already?”

Itori… Mutsuki sucked in his breath and kept walking, he didn’t bother to be proper, he was slouching, moving slow and he couldn’t care less, the destination was still the same, a bedroom with a comfortable and soft bed. Not like the makeshift beds he had used to make with his magic, he would always bless the plants, thank them for protecting him, and create his own little cocoon away from the world, sometimes he would make a large shelter made of soft ferns and spiraling tree roots just because Saiko asked him to. His trail of thought was swiftly interrupted by Itori.

“Hey now, there’s no need to ignore me all of a sudden.”

“I’m exhausted, I just need some rest.”

“Perhaps… Or perhaps all you need is to treat your body correctly.”

Mutsuki paused, no, that wasn’t it, was it? He just… Didn’t eat all that much in general, trying to recollect any time he ate while in the presence of Saeki. For some reason his mind got a little foggy and his head started to hurt, a natural response from the suppressants he continuously got shoved into his mouth, Mutsuki sighed and opted to forget about it, “I’m just tired, that’s all, I’m not used to this, next year- next year I’ll be better.”

“Are you positive?”

“I don’t know why you seem to care, from what I remember, you’re just partial to me being a freak of nature, you’re merely curious, are you not?”

That seemed to silence Itori, enough for him to keep walking, his heels were beginning to get sore and he was certain his ankles were blistering, he couldn’t wait to take off these shoes, they were worthless in every way.

“Now hold on just a second you, curious does not initially mean I do not care, in fact, I am concerned-”

He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, he wasn’t used to such delicate touches, “Because you pity me?”

“Not at all- Perhaps a little, but that doesn’t matter to me at least. You’re quite pale, your body had bruises and scars, you’re thin and petite, but not in a positive light,” Itori explained, despite being constantly drunk she was still articulate with her words and description, it was jarring to say the least, Mutsuki wondered what she was like when she was completely sober, and if it was a rare occasion or not.

“I thank you for your concern, but I would rather rest, we can discuss this later,” He would rather not discuss it later, at all, he would prefer being left alone. He wanted so badly for people to notice Saeki’s ill treatment of him, but now that somebody has, he began to question himself, did he really want to be seen like this? A weak person who couldn’t fight back? That would just further the excuse to call him a woman. Mutsuki shuttered and rubbed his upper arms.

“Hm, do what you want. But I will keep that in mind the next time we get to talk,” Mutsuki couldn’t help but avert any and all eye contact with Itori. Wonderful, truly wonderful. Now he would be seen as weak. A whore for unwillingly sleeping with Saeki. A tramp, that’s what he was. He couldn’t help that. It wasn’t his fault, right?

“Very well, just let me turn in for the night and I’ll be out of your hair,” Mutsuki agreed very reluctantly, calming himself down enough to look straight into her eyes. Itori seemed to take the hint and left, much to Mutsuki’s relief, he was too exhausted to actually be assertive right at the moment. Once more he had a lot on his mind, even though the sun had just barely set. He really was bad with social gatherings.

Mutsuki paused when he reached the room where he was staying, he said ‘room’ very loosely, he knew that the area as a whole might as well just be considered a cottage stuffed inside a castle. He opened the door and made sure he was correct regarding location, he wasn’t going to simply fall asleep when he might be in the wrong room. Fortunately for him, there were signs that this was where he was staying. His more frightening crown was set on a desk, where he had left it earlier in the day after Itori had forced him to change outfits.

After reaffirming he was in the right place he slammed the door shut and laid down on his bed, he wasn’t sure if he was actually upset or not. Perhaps this time he was just tired from feeling so many things. He went from frightened, to irritated, to amused, to sad, he wasn’t used to feeling so many things all at once, he was especially surprised he was even amused for such a short period of time. That was a good thing , he reassured himself, he was feeling something other than a negative emotion. He was shocked this emotion came from poking fun at Juuzou of all things. Mutsuki supposed that’s just what happens when you finally get the satisfaction of messing with someone you disliked.

Mutsuki splayed out his arms and legs, he wouldn’t bother laying down properly and saving a smidgen of space, this bed was just like the one he had back at the castle, but for some reason it was more comfortable. Most likely because for once he didn’t feel completely restricted to it and his room. Yes, he could leave whenever he wanted here and suffer no repercussions because there were others around him who could serve as primary witnesses. He felt his stomach lurch once more when he realized that Saeki and him would both be sleeping in the same bed.

Now he wasn’t tired, he would go to be when Saeki went to bed, he knew he would be dreadfully frightened if he woke up and saw the long limbs and scarily bony face. Those beady, large eyes… Just staring into his soul and trying to undress him. Mutsuki jolted upwards and stood up, he didn’t want to talk to anyone either. Should he just wander? Maybe exploring would be a good idea, then he would know how to avoid people better then next day.

He wondered if it was really worth it though, his feet ached, not like he could see them, his dresses always covered them and there were occasions where he would question how clean they actually were. Perhaps he should take a bath, the water was usually cold unless it was heated up over a fire. Mutsuki went into another daze, Shirazu would always make sure baths were warm and comfortable for everyone, Saiko would always make him wear a blindfold but at some point in time everyone just stopped caring, not before Shirazu got whacked in the head by Urie for unintentionally glancing at his ass. One of the perks of running and being out of the system, you just couldn’t bring yourself to care anymore. All you would care about was the freedom, the call to adventure and the things needed for basic survival.

Ever since he had fled from his old household and picked up by Sasaki, Mutsuki never settled in one same spot, so just being here in a new location made him feel just the slightest bit giddy, even if it was for a short time, he felt a little less imprisoned and he figured that was at least one thing to celebrate.

He stared downwards where he would see his feet and kicked off the heels that he was wearing, already he was relieved of some of the pain, his ankles were blistered, and his toes felt like they were crushed even though they weren’t. The shoes he were given were much too small, but were the ideal size for any woman of high social status. Mutsuki wondered if all the other queens had to hurt themselves to be pretty, however, he didn’t want to delve deep into the subject, he had heard that some queens had it much, much worse than he had.

Now he felt ready to wander around. Mutsuki already knew that the back of the building was going to be unoccupied, slowly he opened the bedroom door, scrunching up his nose when the door made an unpleasant creaking noise. He stepped out and shut the door, that once again made the same unpleasant creaking sound, Mutsuki wondered if the hinges of the old door would ever get fixed or if he would have to deal with it the next year he came.

Mutsuki was slow with his walking, even without his shoes his feet ached and longed to stand on something soft. Perhaps he could use his freetime to go outside, he would like to surround himself in forest again. Now that he had been near and around nature, it was hard for him to go back to what mankind had made. His love for nature was like a primal addiction, when he was five he already concluded that he was born to be with nature. The same giddy feeling he got earlier in the day came back and Mutsuki couldn’t help but run, as much as his stupid dress would allow him to anyways.

Perhaps he could go to the dressing room and change into some trousers, surely there are trousers. But then again, it was a ladies’ dressing room, there probably weren’t any trousers to be seen unless.. Unless he went into the mens’ dressing room. Mutsuki shook his head, he knew if he did that he would get into trouble, it was hard to not go in for something easier to wear, but it was also hard for him because he knew that he shouldn’t be tempted by mens’ clothing anymore, he would be stuck as a woman forever no matter what he did.

He rubbed his eyes, he didn’t want to be a crybaby in the middle of the hallway, his desires had no significance in a place like this, or back at the castle that he was still reluctant to call home.

Finding the back staircase was relatively easy, it was just as grand as the front, he lifted up the hem of his dress and stepped down, the cool marble felt pleasant against his sore feet. Mutsuki reached the bottom of the staircase and was a tad bit lost on which direction he should go, he could smell where the kitchen was, it was right down the right hallway, but the left hallway also looked like it would be the most quiet. Mutsuki was tempted just by the smells, he couldn’t help it, surely the servants wouldn’t mind if he walked past them, he didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it.

When he arrived at the kitchen he found himself pausing and listening for chatter, surprisingly enough he only heard two voices. Well, most of the servants were practically worked to death making the large banquet and tidying everything up, it would make sense for most of them to turn in for the night, excluding the more higher up servants like maids and butlers. Mutsuki reached forwards and opened the door, peering in before stepping inside. As expected, the kitchen was large and grand. It wasn’t decorated, it didn’t look fancy in the slightest, but Mutsuki still got the impression that it was just… Grand.

The voices grew closer as Mutsuki walked along the kitchen, he spotted leftover bread and turkey, potatoes and the treats that were still in the oven baking. He didn’t want to intrude in the conversation, he wouldn’t bother the remaining servants in the slightest, but as soon as he walked past and they spotted him, Mutsuki could tell that he would be here way longer than he intended.

“O-Oh my-”

“Is that-”

“WAH IT’S THE NEW QUEEN-” One of them, a young, fair skinned woman squealed in excitement. The other servant, a man, looked unimpressed.

“This is- I don’t-” Unimpressed yet frantic. Mutsuki felt a growing pit of anxiety begin to flourish, had he frightened them? Had he done something wrong? Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone through the kitchen and chose a different route instead.

“You’re so lovely! Completely the opposite of the rumours! I thought you’d be more dirty and frightening!” The woman proceeded to gush, she drew closer and Mutsuki took a half step back.

“M-My apologies- I was just going out for a breath of fresh air- I didn’t mean to-”

“Can you believe one of the queens is here-”

“Well she isn’t here for us clearly, she-”

“Oh that doesn’t matter! I’ve never gotten the chance to see one, my, you’re so thin! Do you even eat?”

“D-Dear, you shouldn’t say things like that- You could get us into-”

Mutsuki held up a hand and smiled nervously, he wasn’t used to this, he never would be, he didn’t want to seem like someone who would just punish someone for saying the wrong thing, “I-It’s quite alright… I suppose I’m just not quite adjusted to eating such fancy food yet, it’s overwhelming so, I can admit to not eating as much as I used to-”

That was a half truth, fancy food was overwhelming, yes, but Mutsuki just couldn’t bring himself to eat nowadays, his homesickness was just that great, he longed to see his family again and he had no issue in admitting that he must have spiralled into a deep sadness because of it.

His answer seemed to satisfy the woman, she was definitely on the more.. Plump side, he could see why his petite figure might concern her, “Well we should fix that immediately!”

The man spoke up, he didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about talking to Mutsuki, in fact, he looked a little bit worried, where Mutsuki went, Torso followed as the rumor went, “I think it’s best we let her through now, she wishes to go outdoors, we shouldn’t keep her waiting.”

“O-Oh yes of course! My apologies your highness.. I made you wait, but I personally believe, you shouldn’t leave without a snack!” Mutsuki nearly held up a hand again to voice his protest, but he thought that doing something like that would be rude of him, he didn’t want to discourage her, she was such a nice woman. Reluctantly he lowered the hand he was about to raise, and watched the woman take a basket and fill it to the brim with pastries, fruit, jam and bread, along with a small knife. Mutsuki and the male servant watched and Mutsuki fidgeted in slight embarrassment, he had to give something back in return, he would feel all wrong if he didn’t.

Did he really look that thin? He didn’t think he looked that bad apart from his exhaustion. In no time at all a basket was shoved into his arms, Mutsuki nearly dropped it just because of how forceful the push was. He really was starting to get weak, weaker than he expected at least. It didn’t take long for him to be shoved out the kitchen as well, the woman letting out a flurry of apologies in an excited and overwhelmed tone. The door was slammed shut and Mutsuki was alone once more, there was a small pit of guilt that welled up in his stomach, he didn’t even get to give something to them in return, this felt more than wrong, he shouldn’t be taking and not giving. But since he was now outside, the caged in feeling  and small feeling of guilt he had was beginning to fade away quickly, his wandering soul yearning for him to venture out and be completely alone no matter the consequences and his past actions.

Mutsuki hurriedly walked towards the forest, pacing himself and making his movements more silent when he heard a door in the far distance, he was close to the knights’ quarters, he quickly disappeared in the shadows of the trees and plant life, only stopping when he reached a clearing, a lovely clearing at that. With a pleasant sigh he dropped the basket of food on the ground and just stood, looking around at all of the scenery. He briefly wondered if he was too close to the castle, he knew that there were fae that lived in the forest, they glowed at night, Mutsuki wanted to spot at least a few. They were always so lovely.

He glanced down at the basket that was filled to the brim with food, he wouldn’t be able to eat all of this at once, he wasn’t particularly the type of person to eat a lot in one sitting. The first time he did that he had nearly thrown up all over his dinner, already his stomach started to lurch. There was a light glow in the distance, it was small too, like a firefly, however Mutsuki knew that it was too early in the season for fireflies to be coming out. His negative mood turned into a more excited one, he had never actually witness a fae up close, only just barely managing to spot one many years ago when he went on a midnight walk.

At first he doubted he’d see any this close to him, perhaps the fae around here were more friendly? Slowly he sat down and settled in a patch of grass, his skin would have gotten the slightest bit irritated had he not been wearing something that covered his legs. His dress was meaningless to him, but at the very least it prevented him from getting a rash.

The glow grew bigger and closer, Mutsuki grew excited as more and more fae came into the surrounding area, one of them was especially close, Mutsuki hesitated before reaching forwards, one finger extended, he didn’t want to frighten the small creature. It seemed like his gentle appearance was putting the fae at ease, it inched forwards, slowly but surely, it wouldn’t take long until the two of them were touching…

“AUGH-!” The crack of a dry root and a loud rustling noise sent the fae scattering every which way. Mutsuki was the slowest to react, said person who let out a cry of surprise crashing into him and landing on top of his back. Mutsuki gasped and coughed, his dress was loosened up, he was relieved that he didn’t get the wind knocked out of him too badly as well. But even so, he was in tremendous pain, he was fairly certain his chest rammed into a rock.

“Well… At least I found you,” Mutsuki sighed, Juuzou was back to pester him it seemed, for some reason he felt more excited than annoyed. He changed his mind midway through thinking it, Juuzou did scare away the fae, that frustrated him a little.

“Congratulations, you’ve found me, now I would appreciate you getting off of me,” He scowled while grunting, Juuzou was light but still heavy enough to keep Mutsuki pinned down to the ground. Juuzou was quick to take the hint however instead of just standing up, he rolled over so that he would be laying on the ground right next to Mutsuki. Normally Mutsuki would be irritated, but he wasn’t for some reason and that bothered him. He would ignore that feeling for now, he wanted to be irritated and he would force himself to be irritated if necessary.

“I didn’t know you were so infatuated with plants, I’m starting to get concerned,” Juuzou began to taunt, Mutsuki found himself to be suppressing a giggle instead of giving Juuzou his desired reaction, he sat up and looked around, perhaps if he managed to get Juuzou to fall silent, he would see the fae once more.

“I wouldn’t say that, perhaps I was kept away from them for a long time and it’s just nice to be around them again,” From suppressants to a prior ban of plants in the castle, Mutsuki was itching to just be one with the nature surrounding him. The suppressants that held back his magic were starting to make him feel more ill than usual, Mutsuki figured that magic, at least for mages, wasn’t supposed to be so forcefully and consistently held back and kept in for so long. Being outside seemed to calm down the volcano in Mutsuki’s body.

“You’re weird-”

“You shouldn’t say such things when your own insult applies to yourself,” Mutsuki interjected with a raised brow, Juuzou was a very hypocritical person.

“It still applies to you doesn’t it? Then it should count,” Juuzou argued back.

“Perhaps, or maybe that just makes it fall flat, anyways what are you doing here? You’ve already been excused of your duties..”

“Well, I was going to show off and prove that I’m a better knight than someone else, but then some fat lady told me that you wandered off in the forest, so I think the question should be more about you and less about me.”

Mutsuki rolled his eyes, but it was a fair point, he didn’t know how to properly explain himself without looking crazy, the thought did spark some amusement however, this world was a strange one, he wondered why he was worried about looking crazy, Saeki was openly insane unless he’s talking to someone of high social status, “Because I just had to.”

“That’s a stupid ‘because’.”

“I don’t know how to properly explain it, alright?”

“Obviously- Is that food-” Immediately Juuzou’s attention went from Mutsuki to the basket of bread, jam and pastries, clearly more intrigued in eating rather than arguing. In a way his excitement was kind of cute, only a tad bit cute, just applying the word to someone like him was generous.

“Yes, would you like it? You’d be doing me a favor if you ate it,” Mutsuki wasn’t really that hungry, despite being so weak and exhausted from the lack of nutrition, he was quick to slide it over to the young man, who curiously peered over and reached into the basket, pulling out a cookie and studying it before taking a bite. Mutsuki watched Juuzou for a moment, adjusting his posture so that he looked a little more proper. He stared out into the forest, if they were quiet enough, perhaps the fae would emerge once more.

Juuzou paid no mind to what Mutsuki was looking for, instead he eagerly shoved pastry after pastry into his mouth, he had never tasted something so sweet before, with every bite he just wanted more. He glanced over at Mutsuki for a brief moment, he was quite thin compared to him and he was still giving him this food. Was this some sort of punishment? Perhaps a threat that practically mustered, ‘if you eat what food was given to me, then you’ll be an indirect cause of my death’. That almost made Juuzou stop eating, studying Mutsuki’s face he concluded that he was just tired, which was odd to him, considering how the sun had only just set.

He didn’t completely know his starvation worked, should he just stuff food into Mutsuki’s mouth and see what happens? Would he throw up right away or keep it down and throw up later? Would Mutsuki even throw up since he’s so relaxed? Perhaps he only throws up when he is frightened. Juuzou scooted closer to Mutsuki, despite shoveling the treats into his mouth he found that the basket was only half empty when he seized.

“Oi, Your Highness,” He was gonna get in so much trouble for this but surely the punishment wouldn’t be so bad, he recalled a time when Mama nearly cut off all of his fingers because she was so frustrated, he was lucky to keep all of them.

“Ye- MMPH!”

Juuzou shoved the cookie into Mutsuki’s mouth and he had to admit, the look Mutsuki’s face was priceless. Mutsuki himself almost fell over at the force of it all, not even able to voice his protest and nearly gagging, he coughed and swallowed so that he wouldn’t actually die, infuriated and not frightened to let Juuzou know, “What is the matter with you?!”

“Eh… Nothing’s the matter with me, you’re just skinny,” Juuzou avoided eye contact and rolled his eyes.

“So what?! I was always skinny!”

“Mmh,” Juuzou didn’t really believe that.

“Ugh, I forgot that it’s impossible to have a decent conversation with you! You’re so abnormal!”

“Really? Then what is normal, huh? Maybe normal for me is not normal for you? Have you ever thought of that?” Being called abnormal was an odd insult, perhaps he wasn’t normal at all, no, no, that felt wrong and it made his blood boil more than he expected it to.

“Your version of normal is meant for those with bloody mindsets,” Mutsuki argued, Mutsuki’s punishments were much more funny, Juuzou knew that he wouldn’t have the guts to actually punish him with fists, he was too weak and feeble to do such things anyway.

“Mutsuki-”

“WHAT?”

“You should eat more,” That seemed to shut him up, Mutsuki even looked… confused? That was truly a sight to behold. But then again, it was out of Juuzou’s normal to not fight back, Mutsuki lucked out.

Chapter Text

The night became much more crisp and cool, after being harassed by Juuzou, or at least that was Mutsuki referred to what he was doing as Juuzou took it upon himself to behave like a gentleman and take Mutsuki back indoors. If Mutsuki would let him right now he was being frustrating, “I don’t want to go back inside.”

“Yeah but your husband probably wants you back inside if that means anything to you,” Juuzou argued right back, he had force-fed Mutsuki one or two times throughout there time spent in the wooded area and he had to admit that it was funny seeing Mutsuki’s reactions. It was fun to learn more about a person who wasn’t a friend, either way, the change of his expressions, his oftentimes delayed responses to what was going on. Mutsuki was a…. Specimen. An entertaining one that also infuriated him sometimes whenever he was irrational with his thinking.

“You don’t know what he wants.”

“Eh? Then perhaps I should shove another piece of bread in your mouth, would that make you want to leave?” Juuzou knew that much already, Saeki was a weird man, even weirder than Mama sometimes, even Juuzou couldn’t understand him, which was why he decided that it was best to leap to a conclusion than draw none at all. However, if he truly was meant to ‘protect’ his wife, then he didn’t understand why he was given permission to hit said wife however he pleased if he misbehaved. What even counted as Mutsuki misbehaving? Perhaps misbehave to Saeki meant running off with other men, but Juuzou was a man, and Mutsuki ran off with him, did that mean he would need to punish himself as well? Mutsuki could punish him but he could also punish Mutsuki...  Saeki’s rules were confusing.

“Are you even paying attention to what I am saying?” Juuzou jolted as warm hands slapped themselves against his cheeks, Mutsuki was standing up and he was glaring as if he was irritated that Juuzou wasn’t giving him full attention.

He didn’t exactly hear what Mutsuki was talking to him about but he could understand what the general idea of it all was,  he tilted his head to the side, leaning his face against one of Mutsuki’s hands, they didn’t feel dirty like he had expected them too, instead they felt soft and delicate, “Attention is meant for lovers, are you implying that we’re lovers? Do you want me to give you the same attention as I would give a lover?”

The reaction he got was once again something he didn’t expect, Mutsuki jolted back, opened his mouth to say something, but then he just turned around and crouched down, the noise he let out could only be described as a strangled squeak. It was actually a little… concerning. Juuzou crouched down behind the queen, slinking his arms forwards and around Mutsuki’s slim but now natural shaped waist, he preferred seeing his waist this way, he never understood why women would make themselves look like twigs for no reason, “Mut-su-ki, answer the question~”

Juuzou didn’t know what he was doing now, lovers, really? He didn’t think he would possibly be able to survive being Mutsuki’s lover, but he was joking, mostly, Mutsuki was bound to catch onto his theatrics eventually. It wasn’t as if Juuzou understood what lovers did anyways, lovers were as odd to him as his normal was to Mutsuki, the concept of being intimate with someone was foreign. Mutsuki slid his hand and lightly touched Juuzou’s knuckles, Juuzou wondered for a short moment if his hands were cold by comparison, “...Juuzou, kisses are meant for lovers, are you implying you want to be kissed by me? Do you want me to kiss you like a lover?”

Somehow Mutsuki had managed to shift around, the heat coming from both of their bodies was nearly unbearable for Juuzou and made him want to pull away soon, “Huh?”

“I said-” Mutsuki was once again holding Juuzou’s face in his hands, but this time he was much more delicate about it, it wasn’t a slap like last time, “Would you like me to kiss you?”

“Uh…” What sort of answer was he supposed to give?

“If you’re having so much difficulty answering that, then why would you want to be lovers with me? I don’t mind jokes, I can tolerate your teasing and mockery, but if you plan on playing with my heart, then you deserve a slap more than a kiss.”

Then if not kissing Mutsuki sent him that message then, did he actually want… “Huh- What are you doi-”

It was chaste, at least to Juuzou it felt like it, but to Mutsuki he wondered if it felt longer, he was most certain that he didn’t do it right, he had only seen drawings of it before… kisses. They felt nice he supposed, nicer than he could have possibly imagined, he thought it would, he understood now why Mutsuki didn’t want to have his heart toyed with. Kisses were nice. Mutsuki stood up, Juuzou wasn’t holding him in place and either way, he wasn’t tight about it, he was just doing it to tease him, and hugs weren’t disgusting in any way, shape or form.

Smack!

The slap didn’t hurt him, he felt the impact of it though. He didn’t expect it, kissing must have been the wrong answer then, now he understood completely. Juuzou glanced up and Mutsuki was frowning, or, at least, he looked like he was beginning to cry, he wondered if his cheek was bruised or if Mutsuki was even capable of hitting him that hard, “Did you not hear what I just said? Idiot… Don’t kiss me, don’t do things that clearly confuse you, do you really think I haven’t noticed how long you think about things? It’s obvious to me that you don’t know a lot about this world so…” 

“You’re acting like I came from across the sea,” Juuzou averted eye contact, he didn’t actually think Mutsuki would punish with fists, he should reevaluate.

“You may as well have, you’re confused and you don’t even know it.”

“Hm… You gave me mixed signals, when you told me that you didn’t want your heart played with, you looked upset about it, like you actually wanted me to do it, so that’s why I did it,” To Juuzou it was a reasonable explanation for his actions, but in a way he was just being honest regarding what he had done. Mutsuki quirked a brow and averted eye contact, Juuzou felt like his mind was being bored into by the queen even though he wasn’t looking at him, he didn’t like that feeling at all. 

“Learning through actions is interesting, but you’re an amateur compared to most.”

“I still learned more, didn’t I? You aren’t my Mama so you don’t have to pretend you’re older than me. You don’t have to play pretend for anything at all.” Juuzou didn’t want Mutsuki to replace his Mama and he didn’t want him as a lover either, he would be most happy if Mutsuki were nothing at all, then it would be easier for him to learn more, if Mutsuki didn’t punish him and make him be a guard, just let him be free and unmonitored to do as he wished with his time. 

“If I really wished to be your mother then I would have branded you, whipped you and then claim that I only did so merely to help you learn,” Mutsuki scoffed and crossed his arms, clearly he thought he was better than that. 

“For someone who thinks they’re so clever, you don’t know much at all!” Juuzou grew tired of crouching, he stood up properly and placed both hands firmly on Mutsuki’s shoulders, he could once again feel how warm Mutsuki was despite how initially cold the air was. He couldn’t see that much anymore but his eyes slowly grew more adjusted to the dark blue hues of night, he could make out the soft outlines of Mutsuki’s face, he was frail but his face looked round and soft almost as if the adult wasn’t starving himself to death. Instead of being captivated Juuzou instead found himself to be more disgusted if anything, how was someone so pathetic a ruler anyways? These kingdoms must get a kick out of wedding weak people, that’s why most of the rulers always perished due to war, Juuzou knew because he had read about it once. It was an old book, and it was boring, but if he did want to overthrow anyone, hypothetically speaking, he felt as if he wouldn’t face a single problem with it. 

Mutsuki flinched underneath his touch and shook his head while letting out a small nearly inaudible sigh, it wasn’t a sigh of irritability, more like a sigh of tolerance, “I never implied that I thought I was clever. But you seem to be just fine with playing with other people’s emotions for no reason at all.”

“Mm, but deep down you think you’re clever and it’s annoying me, so stop.”

“I can’t stop thinking, I’ll think about what I want to think of you, and if you do try to stop me then I can tell Saeki that you intimately made contact with me and it will be the end of you.”

Juuzou rolled his eyes at that statement, Mutsuki did what he wanted if it benefited him, he had already concluded, he pretends to care about life unless he’s threatened, “You’re so heartless, but I understand~ You only want to kiss people like a lover if they love you and they’re wealthy but mostly wealthy.”

“That’s not true!”

“My apologies your highness, perhaps only wealthy. If you really did come from the forest then it’s no surprise that you’d marry someone so ugly for money to survive, but then again, you don’t seem to want to survive at all, so perhaps you just want your death bed to actually be a bed,” Juuzou taunted, he admitted to not knowing much, just that Mutsuki was a mysterious person who was taken from the forest, it was said he was with other people too, vague, not many details about the initial marriage were given, when Mama told him he would be working there, she gave the same amount of detail the public was given, but now he knew he was a mage more or less. Mages were bad supposedly, and not human, so Juuzou could pick on Mutsuki all he wanted, but Mutsuki acted extraordinary human, or at least that’s the best way he could put it, selfish and stupid too, he nearly felt bad for him about it, nearly. 

Mutsuki didn’t counter back this time, instead, he glared at Juuzou as if his insult was just a minor inconvenience, Juuzou didn’t really like that reaction for some reason, it was less enjoyable than the past other reactions. Mutsuki was very clearly choosing to merely tolerate him and his insults it seemed, he was stubborn, very stubborn. Juuzou wondered how someone so initially submissive and anxious could also be an asshole, those three traits mixed together made for quite the combination. Mages were also criminals, Mutsuki really was something else.

“Eh? Why are you pouting?”

“Because I don’t wish to dignify your banter with a response,” He looked away and bent over, picking up the basket of food, it was nearly half-empty, Juuzou had eaten most of it, not because he was hungry but because he had never tasted so many sweet tasting things before. 

“Fair enough,” Was there really much more to say? He had slandered Mutsuki enough but only because he felt like Mutsuki slandered him first, Mutsuki was a criminal, but he didn’t understand Juuzou, who was in his own right a criminal. Criminals should understand each other, Mutsuki must believe he’s better than him, which was something a criminal would most definitely think at least. 

“I don’t want to argue with you anymore, it’s clear that arguing with you is futile.”

“Futile? Or you’re just upset that I kissed you? You were my first kiss, did you know that?” From an outside perspective, yes, perhaps Juuzou could understand why Mutsuki was angry with him for kissing him like a lover, perhaps he could change the context of the kiss, thinking about it now, it was more like the kiss of an enemy. 

Mutsuki paused, already he was starting to make his way back to the indoors, he glanced back at Juuzou and then looked away, his expression didn’t change at all throughout the short time he was thinking, Juuzou thought it looked a little creepy, Mutsuki was in a near doll-like state, Juuzou didn’t think highly of dolls Mama had plenty for him to play with when he was younger, he couldn’t say that he ever truly liked them, “Perhaps I’m not mad, just upset that you thought kissing me was a good idea in the first place.”

“What a stupid thing to be upset about… It was more like a peck anyways.” 

“It’s not stupid to me so you may as well get over yourself!”

“Oh absolutely, but only if you get over yourself first.”

“Should I discipline you again to make myself clear?” Mutsuki was much less timid now, he looked angry as well, but his voice was soft, very unrelentingly soft in that moment, Mutsuki himself was considering doing something to teach Juuzou, 

Juuzou thought once more, must he really be so cautious about what he said and did? It just wasn’t fair, it especially wasn’t fair that Mutsuki wanted to be in control of him at all times, “I believe… If you hit me, then you would be like your husband. Deep down you know you don’t want to be like him, that’s why you’re going to spare me.”

He would call his bluff, there was no way that Mutsuki would slap him once more, that and Mutsuki was a wuss, he would never truly own up to what he was capable of, it was funny, but also disappointing. Nonetheless, the call out seemed to have worked, Mutsuki clenched his fists and grimaced before effectively walking away back towards the indoors, Juuzou followed suit, he knew that he most likely had to anyways, he would have to follow Mutsuki around for the rest of his life whether either of them liked it or not, Juuzou grew more annoyed than he already was at the thought, he was wasting his life away for a doll with a temper and hypocrisy as one of his main personality traits.

“You don’t have to follow me anymore, I will be just fine on my own, I’m only going to sleep, I doubt you’d like to stand in front of the doorway until Saeki returns from the celebration,” Mutsuki muttered quietly. 

“I will turn around after we’re inside,” He hummed in response, for now, he would act like nothing happened between them. Besides, it wasn’t as if they were that far away from the nearby kitchen that Juuzou had seen Mutsuki exit from, the forest wasn’t that dense either since they didn’t really go that far in, at least that’s what he thought at first, but it actually took them longer than anticipated to return. By then Mutsuki seemed completely done with Juuzou despite him staying silent a majority of the walk back.

Mutsuki stopped as soon as they reached the back entrance, and turned back to face Juuzou, “You can leave now.”

“Do you actually want me to leave?”

“Of course I do, and for both of our safeties we don’t ever talk about what happened, unless you would rather be mutilated and displayed to the public,” Mutsuki was fully aware of what would happen to Juuzou, such a scandal would most definitely cost them physically and mentally, especially physically, to Juuzou mostly, it was highly likely that Mutsuki didn’t know what would happen to him if he dared have an affair with anyone. 

“Mmh.”

“Is there an issue?”

“No, it’s understandable and either way I don’t care that much.”

“Ah right, you probably only care about having this basket of food, isn’t that right?”

Well, he wasn’t inherently going to ask for it, but now that it was offered to him, Juuzou didn’t really feel compelled to decline it, he still had many sweets he wanted to taste, “Would it be bad if I said yes?”

He would rather ask for a vocal confirmation that was more direct than the utter mess that came out of Mutsuki’s mouth the last time he tried to figure him out, Mutsuki simply shoved the basket into his hands and Juuzou shrugged, a direct response was much preferred over a confusing one that got him punished, “It’s not bad if you want it, quite frankly I’m more relieved that you’ll be able to eat it yourself and not force me to.”

“It was for your own health, you should be thanking me~”

“Over my dead body.”

“(Which will happen to be soon since you’re so keen on wanting to destroy your entire existence.)”

“What was that?”

“Oh, nothing~ Nothing I say is ever important by your standards anyway,” Juuzou lolled his head to the side and glanced over at the barracks where the other knights were staying, he partially wondered if they were watching him, especially that one knight he had the pleasure of provoking earlier. Perhaps he should ask Mutsuki a question, how does someone duel? Is it really just baseless fighting or is there some sort of code that Juuzou was supposed to follow? It wouldn’t matter to him either way but still, he wondered out of curiosity, it would be easier to plan out every single move that knight would make if duels did have a set of rules, naturally, he already knew that his competition would most likely avoid killing him and he would as well, reluctantly. If someone is left standing, that meant the battle was truly over. 

Mutsuki quirked a brow, he was studying Juuzou’s facial expressions closely in that odd doll-like way of his, “...I see.”

“Say, Your Highness, if you were to ever get in a duel with someone, what would you do?”

“Ugh, I thought you wanted to be done talking with me?”

“Well, yes, obviously, I hate you as much as you hate me but hypothetically speaking, if you were to challenge someone to a duel, then what would you do to win?”

“Don’t ask such meaningless questions. Wait a moment- Are you planning something?”

“No, not necessarily.”

“Liar, don’t do anything stupid.”

“I’m not lying! If I were lying I would be frantically coming up with an excuse right now and desperately pleading for your forgiveness while on my hands and knees.”

“Whatever you’re doing, I order you to stop right now.”

Juuzou narrowed his eyes in annoyance, “That’s not fair!”

Mutsuki had narrowed his eyes right back, and his fists were clenched as well, Juuzou could tell, the more he clenched his hands, the more strained his knuckles looked, “It’s fair if it means not jeopardizing the kingdom for petty reasons, if you’re dueling someone else then I demand you stop and never speak of it again. I can’t believe how immature you are!”

“I’ll do whatever I please, this is a rare occasion where I’m not forced to spend time with you and I can come and go because you’re being watched over like some prized possession, besides you and I are both aware of the fact that you don’t even like your kingdom, you’re just pretending that you do because you’re scared.”

“Ugh- I don’t care what you have to say about this, you aren’t fighting anyone. This isn’t just some battlefield where you can kill anyone you’d like.”

“Who said I was going to kill someone?!”

“You may think you have everything figured out, but you don't. So act civilized and normal for once, you’ve kissed me because you were confused, I won’t at all be surprised if you do something else that will end up pissing someone off.”

Juuzou growled, almost animalistically, he couldn’t do anything now that he had this position, it bothered him more than he thought it would, Mutsuki also showed his true self, someone who just wanted to control him instead of actually being his friend, “You don’t understand, I need this.”

Mutsuki quirked a brow in response, “So you need to be violent? That’s… Disgusting…”

Once again he glanced over in the direction of the barracks, were they being watched? He felt like they were being watched, perhaps it was because they raised their voices, Juuzou didn’t mind being watched, but he figured that Mutsuki would care, so he lowered his voice in order to avoid punishment, “Of course, I’m the most disgusting person you’ll ever come across~ So let me be disgusting before I have to play nice for you, that would be the best thing to do wouldn’t it?”

Mutsuki hesitated and began to fidget with his skirt, that was something he did when he was nervous, Juuzou knew that much. The other adult was looking around often as well, avoiding eye contact but also scanning his surroundings, thinking on which answer would be best to give, “...No… You’re to stay by my side the entire day tomorrow, understood? If do not show up in time for the hunt then I will ensure that you are fetched from wherever you are hiding.”

“...You’re no fun.”

“Good, this isn’t about having fun, it never was,” Mutsuki snapped and turned around to go back inside. Juuzou could hear people talking, despite being outside, which meant that the ball hadn’t ended yet, it was a little shocking at first, but then again, balls always seemed to last forever from what he had witnessed anyways.

If he apologized maybe he would be allowed to duel, there wasn’t any going back on the fight nonetheless, he was fairly certain he had provoked that other knight enough, plus he was aware that his own pride was a tad bit on the line, not completely, but he did wish to make some sort of impression, though Juuzou didn’t understand why he wanted to make that impression so badly, “To you, maybe, but unlike you I want to live my life to the fullest.”

There was a light smack to the back of his head, Juuzou almost hadn’t noticed Mutsuki positioning himself partially behind him, “There is no life here, if you run away then you will be hunted down and killed, and even if you do attempt to make the best of things, all you can do is be complacent to avoid punishment.”

“Pfft, have you ever tried?”

“Of course I have, that’s why I’ve decided to tell you now that your efforts are futile.”

“...I’d like to try on my own then, I’ll prepare myself for your beatings~” Juuzou snickered lightly, though he would appreciate it if Mutsuki stopped what he was starting, he couldn’t feel those hits like most people, but it would get rather annoying if this was going to be a trend between them. 

Mutsuki let out an exasperated sigh, he looked much more worn out than when Juuzou had first found him in the forest. If talking really was so tiring then perhaps he should stop speaking, that thought delighted Juuzou, he didn’t want to be nagged at either or criticized, not that he needed to be criticized anyway. He did understand that kissing people was wrong, not without meaning at least, he would be sure not to do that, kissing didn’t benefit him anyways, it was warm but then it wasn’t, it wasn’t satisfying or cause him an explosion of emotion, he could live without it.

“I’m retiring for the night, farewell,” Mutsuki spoke curtly and quick to open the door to what Juuzou assumed was a kitchen or back entrance, he stepped inside and slammed it shut, he was secretly angry, Juuzou understood that feeling all too well, Mutsuki wasn’t hiding it but at the same time it felt like he was, as if feeling too much emotion was going to make him explode. What a pathetic way to live.

He glanced down at the half-empty basket of food and delicately picked out one of the pastries he hadn’t tried yet and took a bite. He had yet to finish eating the bread and jam amongst other things, Juuzou glanced over at the barracks, if he brought a basket of food with him inside, then he had no qualms that he would either have to share or the knights and soldiers inside would assume he was engaged in some sort of secret relationship.

Gross, if that was the case then there really was no point in trying to live.

 

Chapter Text

The next day came all too quickly for Mutsuki’s taste, but that was all for the better, the previous night was an uncomfortable one, he had to deal with Saeki’s torment. When he woke up, he was plagued with those beady, soulless eyes of his, he was just lucky he had gone to bed early enough, so he did not have to interact with him. Still, laying next to him, being held by him, it was scary, Mutsuki went in and out of sleep most of the time, and during those short periods of time he was awake he would fear the worst and brace himself for some sort of strike, though it never came, it still left him on edge. 

He hated how Saeki asked him if he was having a bad dream when the terrible nightmare itself was him, just keeping eye contact was hard enough, he was just glad that he hadn’t gotten a new bruise that night. Mutsuki laced up his corset on his own that morning, he didn’t want to interact with Itori, not yet, and despite it being difficult to manage at first, he had set the corset to a tightness that would satisfy Saeki but be less painful on his already feeble body. 

Mutsuki struggled to get on the dress he would be wearing for the day, but at the very least it was preferable to the grim dark colored dress that he had worn when he had first arrived. He hated the routine of being dolled up for no apparent reason, rather, it made him sick to his stomach that his breasts were unbound and were visible albeit it being just his cleavage. It was humiliating, he missed his old clothes that didn’t require such work to get on and off, and his old clothes, unlike the dresses he wore now, did not cause rampant bruising around his waist and lower ribcage. 

He ran a finger over his lips, they were soft enough, it seemed like for today he wouldn’t have to make them look oddly plump and shiny. Touching his own lips made him think of the previous night. That kiss. Juuzou… Mutsuki slumped over a little and scowled, the knight was such a little rat, for more reasons than simply one. A part of him wanted to get him back, for all the things he said, but Mutsuki gave up as soon as the thought crossed his mind, he was better than that. He was so much better, and he was not going to end up like his husband, who, by comparison, was a mad dog who hurt anyone who so much as glanced at him in the wrong way. He was better than that… He was better than that. He was so much better than that and he never wanted to become someone like that ever in his lifetime. 

Rather than waste his time by talking with the other royals, he slipped by them and went ahead to retrieve the horse he had ridden previously, he heard that some nobles and ladies were going to join them for dinner, it was a very high honor, but it made him fret, more people meant more trouble for him. But perhaps that was the point, royalty would ask people to join them so that they could coddle them and then manipulate those people into being in their favor, an interesting tactic to stay head of their respective kingdoms.

When Mutsuki arrived at the stables, he found that he was one of the two people who had left early to retrieve their horses, even so, Mutsuki lurched away and did his best to go unnoticed, horses used by the kingdom of Re were naturally decorated with a dark blue and silver, they were the only horses that looked like they could trample a person and gallop away from their body as if it were some twisted game. Still, he found a great fondness in the horse he rode, it was obedient and friendly and let him pet its snout, something that none of the other horses he had ridden previously ever allowed him to do.

He hadn’t given his horse a name, but it definitely deserved one, Mutsuki was bad at naming things. He would settle with simply addressing it as ‘his horse’ for now, he was sure that would change when he came up with a name. Mutsuki reached out towards it and began to affectionately pet the creature and it let out a small whinny in response to his gentle actions.

“You’re quite popular with animals, yes?” 

A voice came from behind him, it was light and airy but at the same time it was deep, Mutsuki almost nervously turned his head in the direction of the noise, he didn’t have to brace himself for anything and yet he was, “N-No… Not necessarily.”

“Really? I thought you were quite good with animals, that horse was here last year as a spare, it was much more aggressive than it is now.”

“Oh…” Mutsuki stumbled over his own words, he had no idea what to say, he glanced behind himself before looking back at the horse, it looked much more hostile now, but it also felt like this hostility wasn’t directed towards him. 

There were some footsteps and they were close and then right next to him, a man stood next to him and looked unnaturally relaxed, it was nearly uncomfortable standing next to him, Mutsuki shuffled on his feet for a brief moment, suddenly everything he was wearing began to feel heavy and tight, but there was no need for him to be so nervous around another man, he was just being friendly, that’s all, nothing bad was going to happen to him. 

“You look nervous, oh, perhaps that’s because I haven’t introduced myself properly yet, I’m Uta, King of Ammil, I assume you’ve met my wife, she dragged you away the morning you arrived,” Uta chuckled lightly, any higher and his chuckle would have resembled the laugh of a young boy. Still, Mutsuki was a little creeped out, according to Itori, she was married to him, but they were on respectful terms and conditions, so much so that they weren’t even romantic towards or around each other, a platonic marriage. Was he really just creeped out by this man? Or perhaps he was just feeling something else, his face felt warmer than usual.

No, now wasn’t the time to feel confused, it was obvious Itori sent him, it just felt logical, “So if that’s the case… Then Itori sent you? There is no other reason for you to be here, I’m sure you have plenty of friends.”

“Itori? No, she didn’t send me, if she did then I would be less interested, we’re mostly free of each other’s orders,” Uta explained calmly, despite being a king, he gave off the impression of a more or less bored adolescent, his hair was cut as such, and based on complexion he not only looked young and handsome, but he also had a plethora of tattoos that seemed to nearly cover his body, the exposed parts that Mutsuki could see of course. 

The respectful relationship those two had, it almost made Mutsuki sick to his stomach, he wanted something like that, he wanted someone who would let him do as he pleased and didn’t judge him for what he looked like or his separate interests from them. He wanted it so badly he nearly crumbled at the mere thought of just feeling like he was respected, “Lucky…”

“Hm?”

“I-I meant about being allowed to do whatever you wanted, that much be nice…” Mutuski averted eye contact and glanced at the ground, there was hay everywhere and he could feel some of it getting stuck in one of his shoes.

“Hey…”

There was a light tap on his shoulder and Mutsuki turned his head, only to be face to face with Uta, his eyes were freakish and startled him, black with red irises, tattoos on his eyes?! This was much too close for comfort, Mutsuki gasped and stumbled backwards, all while the other male let out a simple, “Boo.”

Mutsuki was in such a hurry to move backwards, he slipped on the hay that lay strewn across the ground, he braced himself for some sort of impact but it didn’t come, instead he was toppled over at an angle, but still caught and held upright by his wrist, he couldn’t help but shout impulsively, “What is wrong with you?!”

“Usually scaring people shocks them into relaxing, you looked stressed, you don’t have to take this so seriously.”

Mutsuki’s eye twitched, he was annoyed but… He relaxed? Uta propped him back upright on his feet, although he gave his wrist an odd little squeeze before letting go. Odd, this place was so odd, that was all Mutsuki could conclude, it had odd characters, odd situations, and odds circumstances that left Mutsuki uncomfortable and blind to what he should do, “But isn’t it… Polite to not scare others who you just met?”

At that Uta merely shrugged, he was so carefree about it all, Mutsuki for some reason, wanted to keep up with him, he wanted to try hard to look carefree too, doing that… Would make things much easier for him to deal with. Unprompted Uta spoke up again, “I’m interested in you, Itori is too, never thought the Torso would snatch up any women, but here you are, standing right before us. How does it feel?”

“I-”

“You must be shocked and horrified knowing that you’re living while other people aren’t, your husband commits mass genocide, just know that you aren’t to blame for his actions.”

“Wait-”

“Also, you smell rather bad, is it because you’ve done it with someone else already, or have you just not bathed at your designated time yet?”

“P-Please stop asking and saying such personal things!” Mutsuki stuttered, he didn’t smell bad, he bathed just the night before, he was sure of it, and as for the other things… He didn’t want to think about it, or at least, his own mind restricted him from doing so. He could only think of the beating he would get afterwards if he did think about anything. Maybe it was wrong to behave so complacently in favor of Saeki, but it couldn’t be helped, Mutsuki didn’t want to, but… He would do anything to avoid being hit, even if it were for just one day. 

“It’s only a personal affair if you yourself make it into one.”

“Then… I’m making it into one… This is my life you’ve decided to ask about after all…” Mutsuki muttered softly, he began to clench at the fabric of his dress, the behavior was so normal to him now, that he didn’t even look down at his hands doing the motion. Instead he found himself to be staring at his own chest, he wanted it to be hidden, and began to come up with ways it could be. But he was young, he knew that very well, a young person wouldn’t simply just cover themselves up, young royalty were supposed to be proud of their bodies but he wasn’t, and he was aware that he was suffering because of it. 

“Not necessarily your life.”

“It feels like it is either way,” Saeki’s life was forever going to be a fragment of his now, at least Mutsuki was elusive enough to seem completely different from his husband but he supposed that only lead to more questions being asked. He could barely take this anymore, he felt like he was suffocating. 

He hastily probed his mind for the responses Saeki had trained him to say in situations like this because he knew that he needed them and Mutsuki knew he shouldn’t forget, those lies that he had to say so the truth about where he actually came from was a secret. Yes, him being taken from the forest was just He struggled to probe his mind more, what was he supposed to say again? He couldn’t remember. He probed his mind harder. He couldn’t remember. The panic was beginning to build up inside of him, more so than usual, just when he thought he couldn’t be more frightened and worried, he felt like he was about to crumble.

“Oi-” Uta’s hand was on his shoulder and Mutsuki snapped back at full attention, it was like he had forgotten where he was in that period of time, completely alone in his own head while drifting away from his body, deep down, he wished it was the first time feeling this way. 

“I said, not necessarily your life,” Uta reassured, but for some reason Mutsuki felt much less at ease, there couldn’t have been anything else he wanted to ask, Mutsuki quite honestly would’ve been grateful if someone would have allowed him to spill his past and then leave, forgetting that they ever met. It was always so compelling, the idea of having someone who wasn’t a friend but was there to get rid of all of his burdens. Mutsuki mentally stabbed himself, that was selfish, that was a selfish reason for wanting anyone around, that was selfish, he needed to stop thinking like that. 

Now wasn’t the time to be conflicted, he needed to say something, anything, “W-Well I suppose I can’t argue with that- But- uhm- well you see- Saeki enjoys his privacy and would much rather answer q-questions himself… E-Even so I most likely don’t know much about what you’re thinking to ask- So b-by your standards I’m completely useless!”

That was a stupid reply, why would he say that? Mutsuki couldn’t even take the time to criticise himself as he instead forced himself to smile, it was a soft smile, a smile he practiced doing in the vanity back at the castle. Uta, with his still relaxed demeanor, lifted up a hand, “It’s alright, the reason why I wanted to ask about your husband was because he had written a letter and placed a sort of request.”

“O-Oh, a request?”

“So you haven’t heard of it.”

Mutsuki paused, his right hand trailed down and began to pinch some of the fabric of his elaborate dress, twisting the folds and then smoothing them down as he grew increasingly more anxious, any much more of this and Mutsuki swore he may end up throwing up behind the bushes, “No… I- Well- He-”

What was he supposed to say? Married couples had faith in one another, they rarely held secrets and when they did it was common for those secrets to come out eventually. Mutsuki knew how much he craved this trust and reliance, but shied away when he thought of having a similar relationship with Saeki, he didn’t want that with him, he knew that much, but he also felt perpetually trapped in the void that was their so-called ‘marriage’. Mutsuki began to shift from one foot to the other, antsy and eager to leave, he wanted to know where the other royals were, surely it didn’t take this long to simply eat some breakfast, “I suppose he decided not to tell me yet.”

“If that’s the case, I don’t want to spoil his surprise,” Uta tapped his chin lightly, thinking but only slightly as he didn’t look completely ensnared in his own thoughts like Mutsuki was. 

“Oh, it’s quite alright… I don’t enjoy surprises…” Surprises hurt, Mutsuki pinched and smoothed out his skirt at a much more rapid pace, his heart was beating so fast, silently he urged himself to calm down once more, be like Uta who looked very informally relaxed and grew frustrated when he couldn’t do the same. If they were to ever talk again after this he was sure that he would go through the same cycle of indifference.

“You’re funny, you’re bitter sometimes, but then you’re nervous, and confusing, and then you’re normal,” Uta observed and Mutsuki couldn’t tell if he should take it as a backhanded comment or not.

He truly wished Uta would say other things that would allow him to properly formulate a response, he couldn’t quite understand why he felt so inarticulate and nervous. But then again, Mutsuki was aware that he was most likely inarticulate around many others and he was just now noticing. But if that was the case, why was he now just noticing? Was he really that flustered around Uta for being so relaxed and calm. Talking to this man gave him the sensation of talking to a friend who was way too friendly for their own good, “Uh- I’m glad I’m funny to you?”

Uta snorted lightly, but then extended a hand, “Come, I can help you onto your horse.”

Mutsuki graciously accepted, and gently placed his small hand in Uta’s own, he knew how to behave dainty, he had practiced often to make sure he didn’t stray from the guidelines that were set for him, he would prefer it if his face didn’t feel so heated. Uta was strong, like most of the other kings Mutsuki had witnessed during the hunt, but he was careful about it, he never went out of his way to show it off, in fact, it seemed he took more pride in his body art and crafts he made rather than brute strength, Mutsuki liked that about him, despite feeling threatened by his aloof attitude. Uta could lift him with ease, but he didn’t comment on how thin or light he was, instead he did what he said he was going to do and cautiously set him on top of the saddle, even making sure that Mutsuki was comfortable. It only took a second, but when it was all said and done Mutsuki felt a pang in his heart as if he wanted it to last a little longer, was this what it was like to pine?

He probably shouldn’t though, Uta was alluringly attractive, he had no qualms in believing that he most likely used that to his advantage and he wasn’t going to even think about what Saeki would do to him if he found out he had a mild attraction to someone that wasn’t him.

“You know, you’d probably have a clearer head if you rested more,” Uta suggested, Mutsuki froze for a short moment, it was like he was reading his mind and probing him despite just standing there and for some odd reason Mutsuki liked it. He enjoyed this sudden giddy emotion he was receiving, but he also knew it wasn’t good, he shouldn’t be happy about it, just thinking of the punishments he would receive if he was found out, this fear only grew when he considered what Juuzou had done cluelessly the previous night. 

“O-Oh you think so?”

“Yes, unless you don’t want to then I can’t necessarily stop you.”

“I would- Like a clearer.. Head? But I already sleep often, and I would like to think my head is doing just fine. A-Anyways, we should probably prepare to leave,” Mutsuki was starting to believe Uta was lying, he didn’t know why or what caused him to think this, perhaps it was because this was the first time he had formerly met with him before, therefore there was no real reason for him to be nice. Or perhaps it was just odd that he was suddenly giving him advice and trying to make him calm, Mutsuki just didn’t quite understand and he found himself to be immediately dumbfounded.

“You’re like a riddle-” Uta began and Mutsuki braced himself for some form of punishment for being such a difficult person to talk to. “-But I like it.”

Mutsuki’s stiffened shoulders relaxed, he liked it? He liked his personality? He liked...Him? The tense cool morning air was pierced by Mutsuki’s quiet and overjoyed laughter.

Chapter Text

Juuzou was roused early, early enough for him to want to go back to sleep when he was with Mama he was always allowed to sleep as much as he wanted, he would be given toys to play with the moment he woke up before she would begin to teach him things, many things. Shinohara was staring at him, like usual, Juuzou had gotten used to it, Shinohara always tried to read his mind like it was some sort of open book or story to be told. He couldn’t even get a moment of peace before the older man approached him, “Last night, you looked angry, is everything alright?”

Which briefly reminded Juuzou of… The thing. He felt odd about it, he didn’t have any feelings for the estranged Mutsuki, who was a pain and wandered everywhere, but Juuzou joked about it and joking was probably not the best thing he could have done in that situation, but needless to say if he stopped his jokes then he would feel even odder, “Oh I’m doing just fine! Mutsuki was just being a bore again!”

He could come up with a million reasons why he and Mutsuki didn’t get along, Mutsuki wouldn’t let him learn, but then sometimes he wanted him to? It was a confusing situation that Juuzou himself didn’t want to get into. Shinohara was reading him again, and Juuzou wanted to take it upon himself to punch his gut, which unfortunately wouldn’t work since he had his armor on already, “It’s more than just that, you can tell me anything if something happens to be bothering you.”

Should he? Juuzou understood what he did was wrong and put him on the chopping block in terms of The Torso finding out and punishing him (with a beheading most likely), that’s all he really needed to do, acknowledge it and move on. He understood that telling someone would most likely put him at an even greater risk, but it was Shinohara, who was dopey and stupid looking in his own right, so Juuzou couldn’t eliminate the possibility of telling him and leaving like nothing happened. Another few seconds passed and Juuzou made up his mind, “I kissed Mutsuki, but I guess I wasn’t supposed to.”

Mutsuki sent off a weird message that day, he always sent off weird messages, but this time it felt more personal as if he wanted Juuzou to kiss him in the sense that he would be better off with anyone even if that anyone was just him. Juuzou also wasn’t accustomed to flirting, which he knew was a thing because he saw Mama do it all the time whenever she wanted something. At least now he knew Mutsuki wasn’t much of a flirter, he didn’t seem like the type of person to be a tease, but Juuzou never questioned it until that night where they had gotten oddly tactile with each other. Juuzou must be the flirty one then, he was hugging Mutsuki despite not liking him all that much. Was it inherently flirty to embrace people? Juuzou didn’t see it as that, but supposedly hugs and kisses were explicitly meant for lovers, which was something he and Mutsuki made explicitly clear they were not. 

Shinohara clasped his hand over Juuzou’s mouth, for a brief moment, had Juuzou spoken too loud? It wasn’t as if anyone could hear, they were all talking so loud anyways so Juuzou didn’t see that as a possibility. Shinohara dragged him outside anyways to a more private area nonetheless and only unclasped Juuzou’s mouth when they were alone. Shinohara still glanced around before crouching down a little to maintain eye contact, something that in the end annoyed Juuzou, “What?”

“Why would you do that?”

“Huh?”

“I mean- Why would you kiss Mutsuki when you’ve made it clear you don’t like him?” Shinohara questioned, which made Juuzou think, perhaps it was just because Mutsuki was friendly and when pushed to a certain point would begin to jab back at him and Juuzou unintentionally carried it too far. 

“I- Uhhhhh-” Well it didn’t matter what he thought about Mutsuki now did it? The deed had already been done and so far it seemed like there wasn’t any going back. What Juuzou would normally receive after this was… nothing. This was the first time he had made a mistake in regard to physical touching, it made him uncomfortable to an extent. He was so used to being punished for other reasons, not bludgeoning someone when he was told to, accidentally using a different killing method that would cut his prey down too early, things like that resulted in very harsh punishment. But Juuzou never had to deal with other people in a way like this before, he received his punishment and whenever Juuzou was punished it also counted as his apology.

Shinohara shook his head and tsked softly, putting his hand on Juuzou’s shoulder firmly, “Well, either way, you should properly apologize, you probably made him very uncomfortable.”

“A..pologize?” Juuzou hadn’t done a proper verbal apology before.

“Of course, you’re going to be keeping guard soon, you could really do it at any time today, sooner is better than later though,” Shinohara reassured, Juuzou had to take a moment to process this. How was he supposed to go about apologizing? How did one apologize verbally? Was it just an ‘I’m sorry’ or was there more to it?

“Ah, I see!” Now that he thought about it, Juuzou really didn’t have much time to contemplate it, most royals were finishing their socializing and are starting to prepare for hunting. Being a woman must be boring, they mostly sat on a hill the entire day and watched their husbands kill animals the entire time, what was the point of watching the hunt when a good half the time they were incapable of witnessing the animal getting killed? 

Shinohara merely gave him a nod and then did something weird, placing his hand on top of Juuzou’s head and ruffling his white locks before making his way back inside. Juuzou cocked his head to the side, he didn’t know exactly why, but he enjoyed his hair being ruffled. If he asked was it possible Mutsuki could do it too? Well, he would rather ask that after he figured out how to apologize to Mutsuki. Which raised another question, did it even matter if Mutsuki ruffled his hair? Juuzou knew the answer, no it didn’t. It didn’t matter but he wouldn’t mind if Mutsuki ruffled his hair gently every now and then, he certainly had the small hands for it, a part of him also wondered if ruffling one’s hair would be therapeutic for someone as stressed as Mutsuki, given he’s always confused and tired and skinny.

“Maybe if he ruffled my hair he would be less mean,” Juuzou mumbled to himself and then burst out laughing at his own joke, he promptly made his way over to the stables where his horst was, there was no way Mutsuki would ever be nice to him. In fact, he was decently certain Mutsuki hated him, he didn’t know how much though. He probably hated Juuzou’s hair, his exceptionally pale complexion, and his almost dark red eyes. He probably hated how agile he was and how skilled he was with the numerous weapons he had grown up with as a child. He probably hated his personality because in his mind Juuzou’s personality was a wild animal and even Juuzou himself didn’t think Mutsuki would be completely far off on that last one. Juuzou followed his instincts like an animal, but it certainly didn’t make him wild, after all, if he were an animal he would’ve hunted everyone down and killed them with no hesitation and without someone to tell him to. It wasn’t like he had a desire to do that anyway. 

Juuzou practically leaped onto his horse, his armor weighed him down but he still felt light on his feet, if he could have it his way, he would for the most part only be wearing a chest plate and would have thrown off the metal parts that were on his arms and legs. He was off in a matter of minutes and rode out onwards onto the path where most of the knights, more specifically personal guards stayed next to their assigned royal. Juuzou knew that he was one of the rare few that didn’t disperse to guard the perimeter. Thinking about knights made him think about that snotty knight he was supposed to have a duel with, even now when he honestly could have asked Shinohara, he didn’t know how exactly a duel worked and if he should follow up with someone on the rules and guidelines. Mutsuki did order him to practically be by his side the entire day and be good, but Juuzou wasn’t really interested when it was sunset he would duel with the snobby knight and just get it over with, the next day they were leaving the hunting grounds entirely to go back to their kingdom. 

A single duel, all Juuzou knew was that it was like sparring and wasn’t meant to actually be deadly, the least Juuzou could do to appease Mutsuki was reinforce that it was hypothetically meant to be all in good fun. He spotted Mutsuki from a distance, he was smiling and even a tad bit flustered, next to him, was an aloof man, his eyes were weird and he had many body modifications. Juuzou was aware that he couldn’t feel it if he had done it, but he wondered what it was like to have permanent art on his body, would it get saggy with the skin as he grew older? It was a mystery. 

Mutsuki let out a small giggle before settling his horse parallel for Juuzou and suddenly it was quiet as the other man had given him a slight wave and settled with his own guard a good deal away from them. Mutsuki had fallen silent then, his blush slowly fading as well as his smile. Only then did Juuzou realize that he probably wasn’t capable of giving Mutsuki such joy.

The silence was long and made Juuzou antsy as more and more royals appeared, most settled down after a short while and finally after what seemed like an eternity they were off. Juuzou turned his attention to Mutsuki, his blush had faded but he was still blushing and he more or less still looked decently happy, Juuzou wasn’t sure when would be the right time to apologize or if he should even apologize right here, right now, in this moment. Mutsuki was probably eyeing him whenever he looked away, his eyes were strong when Saeki wasn’t bothering them and was at least two horses behind them. Juuzou wondered if Saeki loved Mutsuki that much, why he would allow him to be so far away, or if Saeki was just pretending he didn’t mind since there was that brief moment where he would be able to work his way through and trot his dumb horse right next to him like he had done the previous day.

“You’d usually be saying something by now.”

“Eh?”

“I suppose I’m just not used to you not talking, I apologize,” Juuzou got a little angry at that, naturally he wasn’t keen on expressing why he was, Mutsuki didn’t like him, therefore it would make sense for Juuzou to not interact with someone who didn’t like him and vise versa. 

“Oh, we can talk! I just didn’t think you would want me of all people to interact with you.”

Mutsuki turned his head forward and stared at all of the people in front of him, “Well, the truth is I don’t know what I’d like to talk about, it just feels unnatural when you aren’t talking, so please come up with something to talk about.”

Juuzou thought for a couple of seconds, maybe even more so, keeping track of time wasn’t really his strong suit, but either way it felt like Mutsuki was timing him anyway, his for once stern gaze bore into him and made him feel as if it were absolutely necessary he came up with a topic soon. Without putting as much thought as he’d liked to Juuzou blurted out what had most recently been on his mind, “Could you perhaps touch my hair?”

“...Huh?” Mutsuki cocked his head to the side in confusion and interest, Juuzou felt ready to hide, he supposed this was what it was like to be embarrassed.

“Well, today my hair was touched and I quite liked it,” He did his best to explain the contentment having his hair touched brought him.

“Ah, I see… So you would like me to touch your hair?”

“Maybe-”

Mutsuki fell silent, almost as if he were contemplating it, Juuzou doubted it, but it was still nice to know that despite being a difficult person, Mutsuki was still decent enough to consider touching his hair. Juuzou hadn’t even meant to spurt out such a stupid question, but he appreciated that Mutsuki didn’t laugh at him, make fun of him for coming up of something so random or chastise him for being ‘odd’ and ‘unnatural’.

“As a reward, correct?”

“Uh, I suppose so..”

“Hmm…” The conversation stopped almost immediately after it started, but it seemed Mutsuki was also not very interested in switching subjects to pick up their brief exchange. 

Juuzou was positive he should wait until they were alone to give his apology, but he felt oddly tempted to do it now, but that wouldn’t be the wisest decision on his part, they were surrounded by a lot of people at the moment, it wasn’t even worth it. At the same time, it was so hard to wait, Juuzou felt like they had more to talk about than just his hair wanting to be touched. Rather, he knew that the conversation was capable of being much more interesting than it currently was.

They had arrived close to the hunting grounds, Saeki had taken the opportunity to approach Mutsuki, Juuzou, for the most part, couldn’t really do anything about it, but it was almost blatantly clear that he didn’t like him so much so that he wasn’t paying a lot of attention to whatever Saeki was talking about right now. One thing did catch his eye and it was how nervous and on edge Mutsuki got, completely opposite of his more outspoken and admittedly aggressive side. It wasn’t hard to pick out the similarities in their personalities, as hard as that seemed, Mutsuki must have ended up picking some of Saeki’s behavior, maybe he did that to keep himself safer. 

“Your waist looks bigger than usual.”

“My apologies…”

“Tighten your corset when we return, I don’t fancy the idea of others thinking my wife is fat,” Saeki leaned closer to Mutsuki, uncomfortably close from Juuzou’s perspective. Also fat? Really? Mutsuki looked like a twig even without the corset, of course, that was a mere exaggeration, however, Mutsuki did seem dangerously close to getting to that point. Juuzou held back a small snicker that stemmed from being uncomfortable, couples just weren’t his thing he supposed and he looked the other way, not knowing what else to do about the situation. 

“...I’ll do that,” Mutsuki eventually answered, his voice had gotten higher as well. 

“Don’t be upset dear, I simply want to show off how beautiful you are despite where you came from, you understand, don’t you?” Saeki cooed, his voice was soft and if he tried hard enough it would be easy to hide his true intentions behind a persona of a mild-mannered yet polite man. 

“I-I’m not upset,” Total horseshit, Juuzou could practically smell how distressed Mutsuki was. Finally, the trail parted into two paths, one for the hunters and the other for the people who would rather sit and observe everything that was going to take place. Juuzou looked up, just in time to witness Saeki pressing an ‘affectionate’ kiss on Mutsuki’s cheek. Mutsuki didn’t slap him, instead, he was perfectly still until Saeki parted ways with them. 

They arrived to the hill, but they diverted from the group of women rather quickly and went back to where they stood before Mutsuki had pulled that little ‘joke’ of his with Juuzou and his horse, hopefully, that wouldn’t happen again because Juuzou still didn’t know very much about controlling his horse other than more or less letting it trot. They were away from most people, now was the best time to apologize, but Juuzou didn’t completely know how to go about it. Should he be blunt and straightforward? Or perhaps Mutsuki would appreciate a more subtle and toned down approach? Either way now was better than never. 

“Uh- Your Highness, I have something to tell you,” Juuzou physically cringed when he said ‘Your Highness’ it was much too formal for his tastes. 

There was no response so Juuzou spoke up again, “...Your Highness?”

Once again Mutsuki didn’t respond he was staring straight down at his dress, completely unfocused. Juuzou leaned forward and snapped his fingers in front of Mutsuki’s face, to which he gasped and jolted back, even Juuzou was caught off guard by the sudden movement and he lurched back as well, albeit not as much as Mutsuki did.

“Ah-!” Mutsuki blinked and ‘calmed his nerves’ though he still looked on edge.

“You weren’t responding.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Mutsuku muttered under his breath, but it didn’t stem from annoyance or ill intent, more like he was concentrating to, well, concentrate more. 

Juuzou jumped to carry the conversation from there, he had no idea what he was doing, “Actually, I believe I’m the one who should be apologizing, I kissed you when you didn’t want to be kissed and made you uncomfortable, I’m sorry.”

There was a long silence that followed, Juuzou had a feeling he had said the wrong thing, or perhaps the apology was much too early and hasty if that was even possible. Shinohara told him that apologizing sooner was preferable to later, however, Juuzou was beginning to regret taking his advice. Mutsuki had also hit Juuzou in retaliation to being kissed, that being said by his own standards Juuzou felt as if he had apologized already.

“Oh… I… Suppose I forgive you..?” Mutsuki eventually spoke up, completely unfocused on Juuzou and instead paying most of his attention to the multiple kings chasing after an innocent fox. Juuzou watched the hunters as well but found himself to not be as interested in what was going on as Mutsuki was. 

“You suppose?” Well, he could live with that, this was his first verbal apology, after all, Juuzou didn’t completely expect things to go smoothly, although he did like that it went better than he originally thought. Shinohara was right, it was better that he had apologized sooner rather than put it off until later. Juuzou however, found himself to more or less be dissatisfied with Mutsuki’s response, he wasn’t paying attention, even if this apology was going well on Juuzou’s end. 

Mutsuki let out a long and drawn-out sigh, finally, he had clambered his mind out of its own trance, “Yes, I suppose. It’s better to forgive and forget no?”

“I-”

“Plus you were particularly naive about romantic gestures and how they worked, so despite being peeved I understand more or less.”

Juuzou opened his mouth to make another comment before Mutsuki interjected once more, “I won’t forgive you for the comments you’ve made, in case you haven’t noticed, you don’t know anything about my past and how I got here…”

It was hard to argue with Mutsuki, who had suddenly regained whatever stern authority he had to voice his opinion, Juuzou shrugged and paid it no mind, he knew he would have to adjust and adapt to Mutsuki’s tonal shifts. He fumbled around in his armor, yesterday it was relatively cool, however today it had suddenly decided to be hot, “That’s understandable.”

“...Also, I’m shocked-”

“Oh, how so?”

“I didn’t know you could apologize,” It was a jab but it was also a friendly gesture, Juuzou could tell, Mutsuki had a glimmer of amusement in his eyes rather than the usual cold and empty look he got whenever he was painfully irritated with him and was thinking of an array of insults and comebacks. 

“I didn’t know you could joke,” Juuzou had jabbed right back, whatever heavy air that was between them had dissipated, for now, that much was true. Juuzou wondered how long that would last.

Chapter Text

There was a loud shrieking noise in the near distance, Juuzou was focused and trained his eyes to see what kind of animal they had caught and successfully killed. A fox was held up and all the men cheered, Juuzou couldn’t quite understand what was so appealing about killing foxes. They looked much too lean to provide ample nutrition, or at least that one did, it was so skinny and frail, no wonder it was struck down so quickly. 

Two fingers snapped in front of his eyes and Juuzou flinched ever so slightly and looked over to Mutsuki who was withdrawing his hand, “You weren’t listening to what I was saying.”

“I see,” Juuzou leaned back from where his eyes were transfixed and turned his head to look at Mutsuki, using his body language to let him know that he had his full attention.

 “I wanted to say that I appreciated your apology, but I did request that you didn’t speak of it again for our own safety, you’re very lucky that no one was around us eavesdropping. VERY lucky.”

He sighed in defeat, Mutsuki did say that but at least he wasn’t a bother when Juuzou did make his apology, “Who would eavesdrop on us anyway?”

“Ma-People. With good hearing,” Mutsuki did his best to cover his own slip-up, regular people could have good hearing too. 

“You were about to say mages weren’t you?”

“Uhhh-”

“Tell me more,” Mages sounded far more interesting than watching men carry a dead fox. 

Now it was Mutsuki’s turn to sigh like he was reluctant to share this part of his background but now felt like he was obligated to, “Some mages have exceptional hearing, that’s all…”

Juuzou wavered a little, it wasn’t fun to learn when the teacher in question was being a bore about it, “And why is that?”

“Because-” Mutsuki made a few almost frustrated gestures, “Magic… their parents may have good traits, there’s really a multitude of deciding factors.”

“Can you hear well?”

“No… I have average hearing.”

“What a shame,” There was a lot one could do with exceptional hearing, they could pinpoint attacks and the sources of sound, they could hear frequencies a regular human could not. 

Mutsuki didn’t appear to think much of Juuzou’s supposed disappointment, instead looking onwards for a few moments, there was no death cry but they did catch a deer. Deer didn’t really make a lot of noise when they died, for the most part, they were silent, “You call it a shame but I  would rather not have good hearing, if I did then I would hear things that I wouldn’t want to.”

There was a short moment of silence, Juuzou turned away from Mutsuki and watched the hunt as well, “Then what are you good at?”

There was a loud scream, except this time it was closer and it was a person screaming, immediately Mutsuki and Juuzou turned in the direction of the sound, they were decently far away but on the ground was a woman. Juuzou hadn’t paid much attention to who was there or not and it seemed that Mutsuki was having the same confused reaction as he tried to figure out what was going on. Mutsuki’s first instinct was to gravitate towards the crowd of women.

On the ground was a woman, she had long beautiful hair, it was a purple hue, unfortunately, that beauty was cut off by an arrow, it had hit her and she had fallen off her horse, blood trickling from her abdomen. Mutsuki was more than just unsettled, he could feel the rush of vomit threatening to slide up his throat. All of the queens had backed away from the sight, Mutsuki was compelled to do the same and he was already distant from them. 

Juuzou reached forward and lightly touched Mutsuki’s forearm, he knew what was going on, he knew because he had done this once before, attack one to make the others confused and then go in for the kill, it was a tactic that wasn’t his favorite but worked with a group of people, “We have to go.”

“H-Huh…? But.. It’s wrong to leave someone like that…” Mutsuki sputtered, his face was pale, Juuzou knew he wanted to run. 

“I don’t care, we need to leave before you get hit,” Almost impulsively Juuzou grabbed ahold of the reins of Mutsuki’s horse, another arrow flew out of the forest and nearly hit another woman. Juuzou took note of one particular queen, she had cropped and braided blonde hair, she looked stern and serious even in a dire situation like this. Most importantly her gaze was transfixed on the two of them and it wasn’t a friendly look either.

Mutsuki was silent, he was still staring at the scene, frozen and unsure of what to do, most of all he was deathly frightened and confused, he didn’t know what was going on and neither did anyone else. Juuzou put his hand on Mutsuki’s shoulder and shook him, Mutsuki was suddenly knocked out his trance if only for a few moments if only to listen to what Juuzou had to say, “Calm down, we’re only racing.”

“W-Wha-” Mutsuki’s voice was laced with uncertainty, he wasn’t sure where Juuzou was going with this.

“They’re catching up to us and if we don’t go over there, they’re gonna win,” Juuzou pointed towards a thick area of forest that was in the opposite direction of where the arrows were coming from. Mutsuki tried desperately to rationalize what Juuzou was saying. The firing of arrows was becoming more and more frequent, it began hitting horses and queens alike as they all began to flee.

Juuzou’s voice emerged from the chaos once more, his red eyes were deep and sparkled a little, “I don’t know about you, but I would really love to see you win.”

“I… Okay…” Mutsuki couldn’t rationalize what was going on, his complacency was almost immediate, that was a good thing in terms of what was going on around them right now.

“Then go ahead, I’ll be behind you,” Juuzou encouraged and Mutsuki inhaled sharply before kicking his horse firmly and dashing ahead, moving to a less ladylike position on his saddle so that he would have better control over his horse. Although Juuzou still didn’t completely understand how to stop his horse he kicked his horse as well and followed suit. Get away from whatever was happening and finding a sufficient place to hide. To Juuzou this was a nice change of pace, he was primarily a hunter, but for once he was the hunted, it made him think of all the things he would do to the attackers.

They traveled quickly and away from the scene, their horses galloping and making a lot of noise, Juuzou had lost track of where they ended up. Mutsuki had certainly slowed down his horse, Juuzou observed what Mutsuki did, and jerked on the reins. He was pleasantly surprised to witness his horse obeying him. Both came to a complete stop, Mutsuki still looking absolutely startled. 

“W-What do we do now?” Mutsuki interrupted to silence, he was grasping at his dress, twisting the lace and fabric desperately to calm his anxiety, his pupils in a state of miosis. 

Juuzou took a moment to think about that, they could hide, but that wasn’t something he usually did, he was one to turn around and fight. However, he knew he had to consider Mutsuki, who was dead weight and would get in the way of everything. He exhaled, it was almost a sigh of reluctance, “Hide.”

“But we shou-”

“Leave the horses, absolutely,” Juuzou finished Mutsuki’s sentence with a slightly irritated tone. Mutsuki was being too sensitive about everything right now and it just wasn’t working out. He was quick to jump off his horse, and approach Mutsuki, his hands grabbing the frightened adult’s waist and easily hoisting him up and off the horse. Mutsuki was light, unhealthily so and Juuzou had little to no issue with dashing off even further into the thicket with him in his arms. It was funny seeing Mutsuki not being stubborn, he was just stagnant, frozen in fear, too frightened to make his derogatory comments.

They were most certainly far enough, of course, this was merely an assumption. For the most part, Juuzou had spotted a well hidden cave and decided to hide Mutsuki there, he was tired and bored of running, fleeing wasn’t as fun as he thought it’d be. He entered, the cave didn’t go very far but it was big enough to fit two people, the vines and bramble in front of the entrance made it hardly visible unless disturbed. If Juuzou had poorer eyesight then there would have been a good chance he wouldn’t have seen it in the first place. He set Mutsuki down and then he was at a loss at what he should do, naturally he wanted to go out and hunt down the attacker, but he was unfortunately obligated to listen to what Mutsuki had to say too so Juuzou looked at him, “What would you like me to do?”

He wanted Mutsuki to give him permission to chase down whoever was launching the arrows, he wanted to stab them and send them into a living hell. Mutsuki must have seen how battle-hungry Juuzou was and he looked unsettled, “I…”

Mutsuki mumbled the last part, Juuzou couldn’t help but quirk his brow as he strained to hear what Mutsuki had to say but to no avail, “What?”

There was a sharp inhale and exhale of what was a shaky breath, Mutsuki spoke again, this time in a slightly louder voice, “You’re meant to ‘protect’ me… I think maybe it’s best for you to stay here…”

It was a letdown, but Juuzou didn’t complain, instead looking away and rolling his eyes, this was a good hiding spot, there wasn’t any need for Mutsuki to be protected. He sat down, quietly. It was boring that he had to wait but if the attacker did decide to travel out this far, the wait was going to be boring nonetheless. There was nothing else Juuzou could do other than draw his sword and keep it close at hand until someone sought them out or tried to murder them. 

Time passed slowly, Juuzou occupied himself by counting the pebbles that were on the cave floor, there weren’t very many but since they were so scattered Juuzou always ended up losing count. After that Juuzou tried to peer out to see if there was anyone coming, to which Mutsuki made the small protest that Juuzou shouldn’t poke his head out unless he wanted to get his face stabbed out. It was a fair argument but it was still annoying. Then when Juuzou was at his limit, something interesting finally happened. It wasn’t related to fighting, Juuzou was just that bored to the point where any small action would be good enough entertainment for him. 

Mutsuki wavered a little, it seemed he was bored to although he was good at hiding it. Eventually, Juuzou felt Mutsuki’s body against his side, he had fallen asleep. It was funny, definitely something Juuzou didn’t expect to see from him during a life or death situation. Juuzou didn’t even know if the matters were settled yet. Juuzou was glad he was wearing armor, it was hot and stuffy and that applied to clothes without metal, Mutsuki was a source of heat, case in point, it would probably be a while until Juuzou actually felt Mutsuki’s body heat. Of course, that didn’t stop Juuzou from feeling overwhelmingly hot, but knowing that he would be sweating a little bit less was a nice thought. 

Getting a close look at Mutsuki in this state was entertaining for a few minutes. Naturally, Mutsuki looked ill, he always looked ill and ready to keel over though Juuzou never really told him that out loud, apart from how skinny he looked of course. From this view Mutsuki’s eye bags were much more prominent, they were similar to Juuzou who had the same tired look below his own eyes. Mutsuki also snored a little before falling silent, there wasn’t much else to note, other than Juuzou was glad that Mutsuki hadn’t started drooling. Perhaps the stress overloaded Mutsuki’s body and that’s why he was asleep, either way, Juuzou felt compelled to stay perfectly still. Juuzou was meant to stay on high alert, he knew that much, Juuzou was fine with being reckless, but there was a specific line that he wouldn’t dare cross. For one, if he let his guard down he risked punishment, that punishment being death, which meant that he wouldn’t be able to do the things he always wanted to do. 

There were a few snappings of twigs and footsteps, Juuzou perked up and reached for his sword, picking it up slowly and quietly. He shifted into a more prepared stance, making sure that Mutsuki, who was still asleep, was behind him and more or less laying down comfortably. Juuzou lurched forward, there was a figure, it was cloaked, hunched over and bloody. In their shaky hand was a crossbow. Juuzou found himself to be smiling, this was his catch, his prey, it was hindered prey but it was prey nonetheless. This was the attacker, or at least one of them, Juuzou doubted so many arrows could be fired at once by one single person.

Mutsuki stirred and Juuzou briefly wondered if he should gag him just in case he made a noise, then he realized that doing such would probably get the end result of Torso swinging an axe at his head, an unfavorable outcome. He fumbled with the handle of his sword, it was uncomfortable, it was heavier than a dagger but not heavy enough for Juuzou to accurately swing it without practice. The way it was forged was nearly careless as if making the blade sharp was a mere afterthought, it compelled Juuzou to just throw it and risk using his fists, he was a very agile person, after all, he could take them, especially since the attacker was acting like a wounded dog. Juuzou ran his index and middle fingers over the blade, slowly, feeling the roughness of the sword. He eventually concluded that it could cut, but it would take a fairly decent amount of strength. A strength that he was most certainly capable of having.

Once more Mutsuki stirred, this time opening his eyes hazily, just in time to see Juuzou leap out from their hiding spot. His first notion was to scramble up and move back a little if his guard was attacking that meant something bad was going on, or someone got too close. Mutsuki touched his own forehead, his skin felt blisteringly hot and his own eyelids felt extremely heavy, there was sweat beading on his forehead and he reckoned it looked like he had just been rained on. 

There was a loud shout and a series of sounds coming from nearby, metal clashed but a quick squelch was the loudest sound of them all, followed by the splattering of a liquid. Mutsuki knew all too well what it was. His hands shook, he couldn’t stop imagining what it looked like, who was laying on the ground dead and having his insides torn out. Mutsuki tried to ease his own troubled mind but the thoughts just came flooding in, one by one. He had seen blood before, lots of it since he had initially grown up in what was now Saeki’s kingdom. Bodies lay on the grounds of the slum that was his village and people would pass by as if nothing happened in the first place. Mutsuki could never forget the one time his late brother and his ‘friends’ forced Mutsuki to touch a corpse once, just one of the many cruel jokes and games they would pull to make him suffer. And Mutsuki had done it, he was crying and had a bloody nose from being pushed to the ground and landing face first, he touched the body and it was cold, he had gotten blood on his hands and when he had run back on the way home Mutsuki didn’t hesitate to jump into the river to wash off all of the blood, the reminder of mortality, the sin of toying with the results of a murderer. 

Mutsuki clutched his chest and sucked in his breath the cease the oncoming breakdown he was dangerously close to having. Juuzou would come back and everything would be okay, he wouldn’t be injured, there wouldn’t be as much blood as Mutsuki was envisioning. Juuzou would say that he did it to ensure their safety and Mutsuki would be able to rationalize in his head that there was a good reason for it. 

He couldn’t help but stand up, his mind was playing tricks on him, he just needed to look at what actually occurred and then he would be okay, he could sit down and actually relax. Juuzou was standing, he looked like he was cussing out his bloodied sword, directly under him was the body, headless, crossbow unloaded and still clutched in their dirty unwashed hand. Juuzou had an arrow in his shoulder, Mutsuki wondered why he was behaving so strangely and not showing the slightest bit of pain. It was bloody, so bloody, not at much as Mutsuki envisioned but enough to make him want to puke up what little food was in his digestive system.

Mutsuki sat back down against one of the walls of the cave, it was cold, colder than the last time he felt it, his entire body felt so cold yet so hot at the same time, he sat perfectly still with no discernible reaction. In no time at all, he was asleep again.

Chapter Text

There was a blankness in his mind, it was dark like a void and yet it had more color than real life, Mutsuki was comforted by this, he wanted to stay in this void for a long time, free of problems and his life. Here he was himself, and he valued that above all else. 

He felt his body shake, Mutsuki’s physical body stirred, inside Mutsuki was screaming, he didn’t want to see anymore blood, he didn’t want to throw up everywhere and humiliate himself, he didn’t want to go back to the world where he felt he wasn’t taken seriously as a person. 

His body shook once more, Mutsuki struggled to stay unconscious. He didn’t want to wake up from his blank mind, it was heaven to him, here he didn’t feel sick of afraid.

“Mutsuki? Mutsuki.”

Much to his own displeasure he awoke and he felt a firm grip on his shoulder, he jolted and moved away from the contact. His vision was so hazy, but when it cleared up properly Mutsuki relaxed. It was merely Juuzou, his stomach lurched a little, Juuzou who had an arrow protruding out of his shoulder. Mutsuki rubbed his eyes and tried his best to ignore it, after all Juuzou didn’t look the slightest bit bothered by his injury so why should he? He swallowed the worry, his concern and tried to look as stable as possible, “...Yes?”

“You were sleeping the entire time so I looked around, we can stop hiding.”

“You looked around…?”

“Um, yes?”

Of course, Juuzou looked as if Mutsuki was going to get mad, there was a slight tensing of his body that indicated as much. Mutsuki stared at him, blinking slowly, was he really sleeping? He wasn’t quite sure, “Then.. Shall we go?”

Mutsuki reached out slightly and Juuzou took his wrist, a little too hesitant to directly take his hand and help him stand up. Mutsuki’s knees felt like jam and he appreciated the initial help he had gotten, he wanted to bathe, to ease his mind and just forget this ever happened. He could clearly recall how Itori would pleasantly joke about wars between kingdoms, it had just flooded into his head after some time. She was merely teasing but she was right, whoever seemingly assassinated one of the queens was to blame, and when they were found out and properly identified that would no doubt lead to some sort of tension. No, Mutsuki knew that a war was going to break out eventually and he couldn’t even dare to process what Saeki would do because of the stress and pressure. He could paint an image of the uncomfortable conversations that would lead to hostility, it made his stomach churn, war was far beyond Mutsuki, it was frightening and he hadn’t been directly involved in it before.

They stepped out and at first glance it seemed like Juuzou didn’t quite remember what direction they were going in, but slowly he began to guide Mutsuki somewhere. Mutsuki couldn’t quite remember either, perhaps it was because while they were fleeing he was either looking down or at Juuzou for some form of comfort. 

Juuzou was more or less pacing like a young girl, and Mutsuki was the ragdoll that he carried around with him, trying to be careful whenever he tugged and half the time not succeeding and unintentionally causing Mutsuki to stumble. Mutsuki didn’t mind that much, he was just as confused, but somehow they had managed to wander away from the cave and were now adrift in the forest. If Mutsuki was alone, he wouldn’t have minded, being lost amongst the trees and surviving off of what was provided for him, it was what he had done for most, if not all of his life. 

“I think we’re lost,” Juuzou said after a while, his voice was quite different from the low scuffling noises of their footsteps, it was decently high and sounded automatically bubbly whether it was meant to be or not. 

Mutsuki looked around to get a proper reading of his surroundings and none of what he looked at was familiar, he couldn’t hear any running water, only the occasional rustling of leaves a small animal or the wind caused. He didn’t know what to do, instead letting out a long drawn out ‘mhm’ and standing perfectly still. It didn’t make anything any more familiar, if anything it just made all the nature surrounding them more similar and confusing for him to properly process. 

“Let’s try this way!” Juuzou pointed in a random direction with a lopsided grin, Mutsuki cocked his head to the side but ultimately nodded silently, going somewhere was preferable to going nowhere though he was still rather tense, what if they came across into someone or something hostile? What if they weren’t able to get away in time? What if they ended up being mauled? Mutsuki shook his head and followed Juuzou’s lead albeit slowly, he was still on edge, his spine was tingling and he flinched whenever he heard a sudden noise. He was far from being completely comfortable around Juuzou, but he was glad he was holding his wrist and pulling him along, had he not been there when the attack happened, Mutsuki would have most definitely have stayed frozen in fear. 

They walked and they walked some more, Mutsuki’s feet began to ache, when they first went off to hide Juuzou was so fast and they got there in what felt like a few minutes, it was shocking that they had managed to get this turned around on the way back. Mutsuki was admittedly stalling which slowed them down even more, if they stayed lost he wouldn’t mind, he wouldn’t mind being stuck in the forest because it was preferable over being with Saeki. Mutsuki could have rotted away peacefully and he wouldn’t have minded, the concept itself sounded so nice. 

“Don’t be upset but I’m certain we’re even more lost,” Juuzou spoke up once more, his hand still had a decently firm grip on Mutsuki’s wrist, it was a miracle that Juuzou wasn’t irritated by the sweat that was beginning to culminate between their contacted skin. 

“...I’m not upset. Perhaps we should wait somewhere instead of walking,” Mutsuki was worn out at this point, his feeble body combined with the starvation he had caused himself was not a suitable combination. His feet were aching, more than ever, if there wasn’t any danger then there wasn’t much point in wandering around so aimlessly and hurriedly. 

Juuzou let go of Mutsuki’s wrist and nodded, seemingly not being able to come up with any better ideas, he didn’t hesitate to plop down on the ground with his legs crossed, he still had so much energy and for some reason he still wasn’t paying much attention to the arrow sticking out of his shoulder. Mutsuki sat down next to him, he wasn’t too close to him but it was close nonetheless, “You should treat your wound while we’re waiting.”

“Why should I? It’s not bothering me,” Juuzou countered, hugging his knees against his chest and and staring, already beginning to get bored since they were no longer active. 

“At least take the arrow out, it’s irritating me,” Mutsuki demanded, his voice remaining quiet. It was far from irritating, it had reached the point to where it was downright disturbing him, he couldn’t comprehend the insensitivity to pain Juuzou seemed to have and if he was not insensitive to it then Mutsuki couldn’t comprehend how calm Juuzou was being about it. 

“Awh, and I thought you were truly concerned,” He had taunted but did firmly grasp the arrow and began to pull and tug at it, working it out of his flesh and yanking it free from the fabric of his shirt. Mutsuki looked away the entire time Juuzou did so, he didn’t want to see any more blood then he had to.  

More time passed and Mutsuki began to grow increasingly anxious, by all means he didn’t want to be found, but there was an aching thought in the back of his mind. If they were found after so much time had passed what would happen to them? What would Saeki do to him especially? Mutsuki tried to distract himself by fumbling around with the dirt on the ground but the thought grew louder and louder like a muffled scream. Mutsuki knew he needed rest, he wouldn’t be able to walk very far if they got up right then and continued on their way, but it was stressful to stay put. Despite this freedom that was seemingly in his grasp Mutsuki was still pulled back towards Saeki because he didn’t know where else to go. He feared the hits but more importantly he feared for his future. If he left then it was unclear, and Mutsuki’s mind wandered to all the horrifying possibilities. But if he stayed then at the very least he knew what he was getting into and somehow knowing brought him an eerie sense of comfort and control. 

“Juuzou…”

“Hm?”

“What do you think will happen if we’re found?” Mutsuki asked, staring at the leaves scattered on the ground, he changed sitting positions, now also bringing his knees close to his chest, his hands resting on top of them as he lurched forwards and narrowed his eyes almost as if he were concentrating. 

Juuzou pondered on the question, he was pondering for too long, he was hesitating, Mutsuki leapt at the conclusion but Juuzou ultimately answered, “I dunno, taken care of?”

“...Oh,” That made sense, he reasoned with himself. It made sense. There was no way Mutsuki could get punished for being taken somewhere safe. It made sense. Mutsuki’s index finger drew slow circles on his dress covered knees. No, that was too good. Being taken care of was too good. Two fingers, his index and middle, they went in the same direction, creating a spiral.

“After all, we did run to stay safe! So I don’t see why we’d get in trouble,” Juuzou continued, his posture relaxed and calm. Mutsuki’s fingers made more spirals, nobody else could see them but him. 

He sharply inhaled, his fingers stopped drawing spirals, instead all of them began to tap against his knees, it was rhythmic, much like the Torso’s. Tap . He would hug him. Tap . He would coo to him. Tap . They would be left alone. Tap . He would grow angry. Tap . He would shout. Tap . He would hit him. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

“He’s going to kill me.”

“Huh?”

“He’s going to kill me-” He repeated softly, staring intently at his thin and washed out fingers, “-He’s going to fucking kill me.”

Juuzou was left almost unresponsive, “Well you don’t know for sure if he’ll actually-”

“He’s going to kill me. He’s going to smile and pretend that everything is okay but then he’ll fucking kill me, he’s gonna think I tried to leave,” He choked out, almost wheezing at what would happen to him. His fake high pitched voice faltered, revealing his deeper yet normal one. It was hoarse from the lack of use but it was also breaking as Mutsuki tried to collect himself. He couldn’t look like this, not now, he couldn’t lose his higher voice, the voice he had worked so hard on so he wouldn’t get punched in the gut. Throughout all of this his fingers continued to tap but at a much more rapid rate. 

“So what am I supposed to do about that, huh?”

Mutsuki shakily turned his head towards Juuzou, he didn’t look mad, just blank, almost confused as to why Mutsuki was telling him how he felt about their predicament. Juuzou stared right back, but for longer than necessary, “What do I gain from knowing this? Am I supposed to protect you from him?”

“I-I don’t know-” He muttered, clutching his chest that suddenly felt very tight, “I just don’t know…”

“Do you like being touched?”

There was a long silence, Mutsuki was too occupied with his own thoughts to answer, so Juuzou asked once more, “Do you like being touched?”

“...It doesn’t matter,” His fingers slowed down, Mutsuki’s knee was so used to the rapid pace he had settled at that going slower felt wrong and unnatural. He sucked in his breath and tried hard to focus on the things that made him happy, Mutsuki couldn’t think of much anymore, especially in the panicked state he was now, all he could focus on was the small plant in his room and he didn’t know why, all he knew was that it was doing the bare minimum of putting his mind at ease.

“I see,” Mutsuki was brought closer to Juuzou, he nearly didn’t feel the movement and shifting of his own body, then he was squeezed, tightly, firmly, and his body nearly went limp. Juuzou was squeezing his body so hard and yet Mutsuki didn’t feel like he was being crushed. His fingers could no longer tap in the position he was in and his knees were spared from the weird and painful overstimulation. 

Despite his body going limp, Mutsuki was still very tense, unsure of how to respond to this contact, his heart was still racing, beating against his ribcage almost violently. Juuzou must have noticed instantly and it made Mutsuki uneasy how quick he was to loosen his grip and make eye contact by making his face seeable through Mutsuki’s peripheral, “Don’t worry, Mama did this to me aaallll the time whenever I was sad, so I know what I’m doing.”

He figured he should say something, tell Juuzou whether or not he liked it or if he wanted to be let go but all he could muster was a small grunt. His hands were still shaking and sweating, his heart was still pounding, Mutsuki still wanted to scramble away and apologize profusely to Saeki in hopes that he would be spared. Instead he felt limp, deadweight but not quite as he was still conscious. He didn’t mind staying like this, and when he noticed he was finally beginning to calm down Mutsuki craned his neck to properly look at Juuzou, “...Why?”

“Why what? If you’re not specific I won’t understand.”

“Why are you helping me?” Mutsuki clarified shyly.

Juuzou’s grip loosened slightly, “Because, you want to keep moving then you should calm down first.”

Mutsuki glanced away, he was calmer, not calm enough to keep walking but calm nonetheless. He didn’t know why he was expecting a different answer, after all Juuzou had no reason to actually care. He knew Juuzou would give a similar answer to what he had just said but he still expected different and perhaps that was what made it so disappointing.

Despite his mind being put at ease by Juuzou’s incessant squeezing after what felt like a long time, neither of them got up and attempted to journey any further. He had moved away from Juuzou’s hold but he was still sitting close to him, his feet no longer aching and ready to be used. There were footsteps and the sounds of horses neighing and trotting, they had been found, they were saved, but Mutsuki’s fingers began tapping anyways, Saeki was going to kill him.