Kei steps out into the courtyard and looks up at the sky, doing his best to hide a yawn behind his hand. The stars are almost gone now and although dawn has yet to break, the sky is bright enough to shut out their light. The mornings are getting colder and Kei pulls his cloak a little tighter around himself. Behind him, beneath a large stone archway, his parents talk in low voices to the knights who would be accompanying him on this journey. Part of him wishes they'd hurry, he'd just as soon get in the carriage and fall back asleep. Still, he knows this is important. He pats the breast pocket of his cloak where he secretly carries a thick letter, sealed with their royal crest in fine golden wax.
Kei turns toward the voice with a smile on his face and runs over to his brother. Akiteru flings his arms wide open, inviting him in for a hug, but Kei stops short and grins.
"I'm not a little kid any more, you really think I'd coming running for a hug so easily?" he says, crossing his arms over his chest in mock pride. He knows this game. If Akiteru gets a hold of him it will be ages before he can get free again.
What Kei doesn't count on is the brief look of hurt on his brother's face. Kei’s eyes widen slightly behind his round framed glasses and he opens his mouth to say something or to ask what was wrong. But before he can say anything the look is gone, replaced with his brother’s usual smile. Taking advantage of his lowered guard, Akiteru swoops in for a hug, ruffling his hair amidst protest, "You're so right! When did my baby brother turn into such a big responsible adult, huh? Where's my cute little Kei?"
Kei rolls his eyes, half-heartedly pushing against his brother's chest and groaning, "You're so embarrassing, stop it. I can't believe Mom and Dad are going to let someone as embarrassing as you be king."
“Maybe you should be king instead. Adorable, huggable, King Kei!”
Eventually Akiteru does pull away a bit, at least giving Kei enough room to turn around, fix his glasses, and pout up at his big brother. Akiteru just laughs, leaning down to place a kiss on his forehead.
Kei makes a face and sticks his tongue out at him, “You're going to be king so you better work on being less embarrassing!"
At this point their parents have stopped talking with the guards, and are watching them fondly from under the high archway leading back inside. Kei reaches out a hand to them, "Make him stop already, don't just stand there!"
His mother, her long blond hair pulled back from her face in a loose braid, opens her mouth as if to speak but then stops, her silence hanging heavy between them. Kei's face twists in annoyance and confusion, looking to his father for help instead.
The King stands tall even in comparison to the guards. Kei secretly hopes he'll grow tall like him and overtake his brother. That would show him. This early in the morning his father isn't dressed with the regal flare befitting the ruler of a kingdom, but he still commands the attention of everyone around him. Kei watches as he wraps an arm around his mother's shoulders, gesturing his sons over with a wave of his hand.
"Akiteru, that's enough tormenting your brother, isn't it? Kei has to... well, he has to depart soon, you know."
Reluctantly his brother pulls away. He still stays uncomfortably close though and Kei nudges him with his elbow as they walk over. His freedom is short lived, because as soon as he nears his parents his mother bends down and envelops him herself. Where their skin touches she feels cold so he hugs her back, ignoring Akiteru’s whining behind him about not getting his own hug. Her grip tightens, and Kei thinks he feels the wetness of tears in his hair.
"It's okay, mom. I know it's my first time going out on my own, but I'll be alright," Kei pats her back gently, "It's important that I go, right? I'll make sure to deliver your message."
When she pulls away she wipes her eyes quickly and discreetly. He pretends he doesn’t notice. Instead, he turns to his father, who rests a large hand on his shoulder and smiles warmly at him, "We're proud of you, Kei. And we have something for you, for after you finish your mission."
“Of a sort,” His father continues, “You are growing into a fine young man, Kei, and this is a gift to commemorate your travels, and your first duty as a diplomat. It might seem like a simple task, but this is an important moment… one that should be remembered.”
Kei can’t help but to flush a little at his father’s praise. He was a diplomat now. He was doing something important, to help his country. But still… he’s curious, "Can't I just open it now? Do I have to wait?"
His father is quiet as he pulls a small box from inside of his robes. In the faint light of dawn Kei can make out the intricate carvings along its edges, their family crest inlaid with precious stones on the lid. On the front a large silver lock seals it shut. It is beautiful and well cared for, but it’s obvious from the metal trimmings that it is not newly made.
"Put this in with your personal belongings," his father says, handing it over carefully, "and do not open it until you are ready to come home.”
“You don’t want to ruin the surprise do you?” Akki adds, placing his hand on Kei’s shoulder.
Kei still doesn’t understand but his father’s words have a weight that he cannot ignore. The box itself is heavier in his hands than Kei expects, even with the stones in the wood. He shakes it gently, but there’s no way to know what lies inside without looking.
"How do I get it open?"
From around her neck his mother pulls a leather cord Kei hadn't noticed before and lifts it delicately over her hair. As it leaves the fabric of her blouse a small silver key comes with it, sparkling as it twirls in the air. Kei straightens his back and bows his head as she places the cord around his neck. The key is so light he can barely feel it against his chest. His mother's fingers linger for a moment on the cord, as if hesitating, before they fumble with the key and tuck it under his shirt.
"Don't lose that," she says, and her voice sounds fragile, "You wouldn't want to be stuck with a box that won't open."
Kei just nods soundlessly, feeling several emotions start to well up at once. He feels a squeeze on his shoulder and looks up at his brother. He groans when he sees Akiteru getting just as teary-eyed, "Were they this sappy the first time you left home?"
"...What? Oh, yes! Definitely. I... I still have my own box and everything!"
He's not totally convinced about that but shrugs it off. And then literally tries to shrug his brother off too. Akiteru eventually steps back and puts an arm around their mother.
“Kei, it’s time,” Even his father looks a little sullen now, but at least he's not weepy, "The sun will be up soon, and you need to take full advantage of the daylight. Now, allow me to introduce you..." He gestures to the knight he'd been speaking with earlier, "This is Captain Ennoshita. He and one of his men will be escorting you to Karasuno."
Captain Ennoshita bows, looking stiff in face of the royal family. Kei nods in acknowledgement and then looks back at his family.
"So... I guess I'll go then?"
Before he knows it his mother's arms are around him again. Akiteru follows her and just as he starts to feel like he might collapse, his father joins in on top of it all. He can't remember the last time they all shared a hug like this. Surrounded by all of them he can barely breathe. His muffled protests aren't paid any mind as they all start to speak at once.
"Make sure you eat properly."
"Stay close to the knights."
"Try and make some friends in Karasuno, okay?"
"Remember how much we love you, always, Kei."
Kei eventually manages to push himself out of the family hug, breathing in the cool morning air once more. He straightens his glasses and brushes a few stray strands of hair from his face, "I'll see you soon.”
He’s expecting some kind of response, but it seems like no one knows what to say. Kei looks between his parents, his brother, and the knight who looks like he'd rather be anywhere else. Finally, the captain breaks the silence "Well... shall we go, your highness?”
"I... yeah. I'm ready."
He turns to follow Commander Ennoshita to the carriage, pulling his cloak back around himself. Kei wasn't looking forward to the journey itself, but he was excited to visit an entirely different country. He had no idea what Karasuno would be like, and he couldn't wait to see it.
He almost trips as his brother's voice suddenly rings out through the courtyard. Turning back around he sees all of them, his mother, father and brother, standing together to watch him go. Akiteru's eyes are glassy like their mother's, but he smiles through it as he steps forward, and opens his arms for another hug. And this time Kei takes it, running up and hugging his brother back tightly, fingers digging into his shirt.
"Travel safe, Kei. I love you so much."
"I will, and I love you too,” Kei mumbles in to his shoulder. He raises his head and grins, “You better watch out. When I get back, I'll have learned all sorts of new things so you'd better be ready for me!"
Akiteru smiles back and raises a hand to ruffle his hair, “I’m sure you will. You can tell me all about it when you get back, okay?”
With a final look at his family he nods and climbs into the carriage. The sun was finally breaking over the horizon. He had a letter to deliver.